Why Proofreading Matters

This was tucked in my door the other day. How many mistakes can you spot?

Listen, I can appreciate that English is a hard language (it’s challenging for me at times!), but that’s even more reason to invest in a proofreader, especially for print materials. One “typo”? Meh — I might be willing to overlook it (but I know many others who wouldn’t). But when I count 5 mistakes on one flyer? That makes me wonder A) how serious you are about your business and B) what sort of mistakes you’re going to make with your service. (And mistakes with food make me twitchy.)

A quick proofread or copy edit of a flyer would be quick and affordable…and save you embarrassment and having people dismiss your service out of hand.

Repeat after me: proofreading matters!

How to Use Customer Testimonials: 13 Ideas

Wondering how to use customer testimonials? Here are 13 ideas.

1. On your website. Here are some ideas:

  • Home page
  • As scrolling text (scrolling testimonials) on the header graphic of your website
  • On specific service or industry pages
  • In a “Testimonials” or “Happy Customers” section

2. On the back of your business card. Don’t waste this valuable space — use it!

3. On press/speaking materials.

4. On a “Testimonials” or “Review” section on Facebook.

5. As the inspiration for a blog post or newsletter topic. Pick an idea or theme from one of your testimonials and write a blog post around it. For example, in the testimonial Lise gave me above, she mentions my ability to turn “geek speak” into approachable copy. Well, “5 Tips for De-Geeking Copy” would make a fun blog post or newsletter article.

6. On email signatures. Call it “Happy Customer Quote” or “Fan Mail” and put it after your signature and use a new one every month. Opt for short, punchy, even funny ones, or testimonials that are super, super specific and talk about the type of business you want to get more of. Different people in your company can use different testimonials specific to their jobs and talents.

7. On LinkedIn. This involves an extra step of asking your client, provided you’re connected to him or her, to write the testimonial on LinkedIn. But most people are happy to do so.

8. On invoices.

9. In newsletters (electronic or print). They make great sidebar items.

10. In brochures.They work well as call-outs in the body copy, especially if they’re reinforcing a particular message.

11. On packaging.

12. On auto responder emails. For example, think of the welcome letter people receive when they subscribe to your newsletter through Constant Contact (or some other email vendor like Mail Chimp).

13. In advertising. Again, used as a call out, it can help reinforce the message.

What other ways do you use testimonials? I’d love to hear about them. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how to solicit customer testimonials, follow this strategy:

  • Ask (be clear how you’re going to use it and ask if you can use the person’s relevant info, like name and company).
  • Receive (always in writing — keep these permissions on file).
  • Show gratitude. A heartfelt thank you is always appreciated. And pay it forward by offering to write a testimonial for someone else who does a great job for you.

Business Anniversary Ideas: Mark Those Milestones

It always amazes me when companies overlook the simple things, like their own birthdays. Marking major milestones, like 10 years in business, is a great way to engage customers, reinforce credibility, and garner press. Here are five business anniversary ideas to weave into your marketing plan.

1. Note it on your website. I’m not talking words, but rather some sort of a visual that appears on every page. (Yes, you’ll want to note it in words as well.) Adding a banner graphic that notes the anniversary and having it link to a retrospective blog post is a good strategy. (Bonus: add the banner to social sites, like FB, Twitter, and LinkedIn.)

2. Create a promotion around the number. For example, if you’re celebrating 10 years in business and you’re an acupuncturist, have a contest where you’ll give one lucky winner 10 FREE treatments. You can get a lot of mileage out of a contest like this, since you can promote it through your website, newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, email signatures, etc. To enter, people can fill out a form and write a brief statement (250 words or less) as to why they should be the winner and what they’d use the treatments for.

3. Expand your “About Us” section on your website. Add  “Through the Years” or a “Time Line” (or both) on your site where you visually walk people through some of your major milestones.

4. Throw a party. Seems obvious, right? Company anniversary celebration activities are a great way to let your business be REAL. Throwing a party mid-year (late June is a good time) is always a great way to thank people for their involvement in your success. I’m talking employees, customers, and vendors alike. Here in Massachusetts, a cool, fun place to hold a corporate event in Kimball Farm (great ice cream!) in Westford, Mass. Michael Katz of Blue Penguin has been holding anniversary events there for many years.

5. Give gifts. Identify your top tier clients and send them a gift that signifies your business milestone. For example, if you’re celebrating 20 years in business, consider sending an arrangement of day lilies to your top clients with a heartfelt thank you note (the day lily is the flower associated with 20th anniversaries).

Have some other ideas? I’d love to hear them. Leave ’em in the comments.

Messaging Strategies: Two Approaches

I recently worked on a messaging project for a client who’s in an industry where everyone says the same thing. Part of the reason for the message’s “sameness” is due to legal and compliancy issues. But the other reason has to do with fear.

When I thought about it, I realized this situation is no different from any other messaging challenge for any other industry. Basically, you can approach messaging in one of two ways:

1. Churn out the same consistent (and often expected ) messages that many, if not all, of your competitors are churning out and focus on your reach and how often you bombard the market with your message

Or

2. Turn the message upside down and on its head. Choose a different message that no one else is focusing on and/or take risks in how you deliver the message

Both strategies have pros and cons. But knowing which strategy you’re going to use will help make other decisions (like who to use for your marketing and writing) go more smoothly.

Buyer Personas Help You Evaluate Customer Perceptions (and Your Own)

Had an interesting conversation with the owner of a PR firm the other day. I asked how much business she gets from her website. Her response?

“I don’t use my website for lead generation. PR is personal, and people rely on word of mouth because PR is all about trust.”

I don’t doubt that referrals are important. But I think this PR person has fallen victim to what happens to many of us: our perception of our business is not necessarily the same as our customers’ perceptions of our business.

Sure, she may like to believe that choosing a PR firm should be all about trust, but I’d be willing to bet that someone searching for a PR firm isn’t thinking about grand themes like trust. He or she is probably thinking about concrete things like “I need a press release for my new product.”

Google’s Keyword Planner shows that the term “pr firms boston” receives a decent number of monthly global searches (anywhere from 100-1000 — Google is now cagey like that). Considering that there are only 215 competing web pages that use this exact phrase in the title tag, our trustworthy PR chick is likely missing out on some potential business.

Make sure you don’t fall into this trap. The only way to avoid it? By talking to your customers and finding out how they found you, what their buyer journey was like, and what went into their decision when they decided to hire you. (It’s also smart to talk to lost prospects as well.)

In the biz, this is known as a “buyer persona.” A good buyer persona will ensure that you’re not making silly assumptions about your customers and prospects.

By the way, I do a lot of work with Precision Marketing Group, and creating solid buyer personas is something the team over there does exceptionally well (and, no, they’re not paying me to say this). I wrote a post for them about buyer personas called “Here’s the Last Article You’ll Ever Need on Buyer Personas.” Check it out!

UPDATED 6-14-17

When to Review Your Marketing Plan

Your marketing plan is just that: a plan. It’s fluid. It’s flexible. It’s a living and breathing document. At least, it should be.

So how often should you review it? Ideally, every month. But I’m a realist and know many business owners can’t make that commitment. So aim for every quarter.

1. Review all activities from the last quarter. Think online, offline, print, newsletters, advertising. You get the idea. If you have a formal, written plan, simply refer to it and go through each item. If you don’t have a formal plan, don’t panic. Call up a Word doc and create a month-by-month list. Refer to your calendar and business credit card/checking statements to help jog your memory as to what you spent your marketing dollars on. As you review each marketing activity, indicate the results. The more specific and scientific, the better. For example, if you did a direct mail campaign to 1000 people and got 20 sales, you know you had a two percent conversion rate. If you don’t have these details, make an educated guess.

2. What are the top business-producing marketing activities? Which marketing activities produced the most leads? Which marketing activities produced the best lead conversions? Are the lists the same, different, or is there overlap? Note: I define leads as anyone who takes action: the person fills out a form, mails in a reply card, calls you about an offer, etc. I define conversions as leads that turn into paying customers.

3. What marketing activities did you and your employees enjoy doing the most? Do any of those activities match the ones on the top marketing activities list? If yes, note those.

4. What marketing activities did you and your employees hate doing? This is not the place to be coy or to think, “Well, we don’t like doing X, but we’ll get better at it.” Be honest. Do any of those activities match those on the top marketing activities list? If yes, make note.

Now, I’m not suggesting you should get rid of all activities you don’t like doing. But let’s say your company has a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You and your employees are active on Facebook and you’re starting to build a community. You also use LinkedIn consistently. But then there’s Twitter. You haven’t tweeted in months. You hardly have any followers. You and your employees don’t particularly like it. I’m a big fan of the “do one thing well” philosophy, and the truth is that adding Twitter to the mix might be overwhelming you and your employees, at least right now. So perhaps it makes sense to refocus the time you had earmarked for Twitter and put it towards Facebook and LinkedIn instead. You can always add in Twitter later, and you should keep it on your marketing radar. But the enthusiasm and effort you and your employees are showing towards Facebook and LinkedIn will make up for the fact you’re not on Twitter (at least in the short term).

Sometimes you’ll be in a situation where you hate a particular activity, but you recognize its value. Should you sacrifice your sanity for leads? No. Instead, this would be the time to outsource. For example, I have a client who has a blog, but she has no time — or interest — in writing posts. At the same time, she knows the blog is a “must-have” from an industry perspective and SEO perspective. So she outsources the activity to me. Every month, she knows I’ll be writing 8 to 10 blog posts. (This would be something you’d note on your marketing plan.)

5. What marketing activities do you wish you did (or did more of)? Make sure you can explain why. It’s perfectly fine to say, “We should be on Twitter” or “We should create a Facebook group,” if you have good reasons behind your proclamations.

6. Now look at the next four months. Take a hard look. What you want to do is make adjustments based on what you noted above. You want to weed out the activities that you know aren’t working and re-focus on the activities that are yielding good results.

For the activities that are yielding good results and that you and your employees like doing, would it make sense to devote more time and dollars to these activities? Would the investment yield more leads and increase conversions? While you can’t know for sure, you can make educated guesses. For example, if you ran a contest on Facebook during, say, April and it resulted in increased leads and more conversions that month, it might make sense to run a contest in September and December and see if the results are the same, better, or worse. This sort of experimenting will help you build an even stronger quarterly marketing plan.

Remember: avoid making rash judgments. If you’re thinking of eliminating an activity, ask yourself this question first and then drill down: What’s the problem with this particular marketing activity?

  • Is it the execution?
  • Is it the copy?
  • Are your metrics faulty (or non-existent)?
  • Is it some other reason?
  • Is it something you can fix?

If you go through this checklist and feel you’ve done everything right and that it’s not fixable, then it might make sense to eliminate it from the plan, at least for now. You can always add it back in at some point, should conditions change.

If you think the problem isn’t the marketing activity itself, but rather something else, such as the execution, then adjust your marketing plan to address the issue. For example, let’s say you’re thinking about eliminating email marketing because your open rate is low and you’re not seeing any direct business coming from the newsletter. As you consider the checklist above, you wonder if the problem isn’t email marketing itself but rather if you’re delivering the right message and including the best offers. And you’re wondering about the health of your list and the overall design of your newsletter.

You decide you might not be ready to lose email marketing just yet, but you know you need to do something different. This is where your marketing plan comes in. As you adjust your plan for the next four months, you add in these activities:

  • Research email marketing best practices
  • Research email marketing consultants
  • Have email consultants review email campaigns, make recommendations, and provide a proposal for implementing recommendations
  • Review proposals and make a decision

From there, the email marketing consultant will likely have a plan for re-launching the e-newsletter. His or her plan will flow into your plan. And six months from now when you’re evaluating your marketing plan again, you might be thinking very differently about your email newsletter.

But let’s pretend for a moment that it is six months later and your email marketing results are the same or even a little worse. It might be time to reallocate those marketing dollars elsewhere.

This is why it’s essential to review your plan regularly.

Need help? That’s what I’m here for.

If You Went Away for a Month, Would Your Customers Come Back?

It’s a provocative question, isn’t it? If you paused your business for a whole month, would your customers find somewhere else to go or would they hold out and wait for you? Does it depend on what you’re selling? For example, if you’re an accountant, would your clients wait out those 30 days or would they find someone else? What if you’re a doctor? What if you run a bagel shop?

And if people did go somewhere else for those 30 days, do you think they’d eventually come back to you? Are you that confident in what you give to your customers — I’m not talking the specific product or service, but what you GIVE them — that you know they’d come back because what you “give,” they can’t get anywhere else?

Intriguing, right? And you probably think it’s just a hypothetical. But that’s exactly what my favorite bagel shop in my hometown did this summer. It took the month of July off.

I’m a semi-regular customer. I go through bagel-craving spurts, so I might go a month or two (max) without a visit. Well, I showed up at the end of June one day, craving a bagel, only to be greeted by a handmade sign saying they were closed until late July. I actually had to read the note twice. We were talking a whole month. Whoa, I thought. That’s not going to be good for business. I went somewhere else for my bagel (it wasn’t as good) and filed away that Cafe Bagel was off limits until the end of July.

Well, guess what? I went back. Numerous times. And so did everyone else, it seems, given the full parking lot and the regulars (I know they’re regulars because the owner often greets people by name).

I don’t know if the owner simply “had” to go, business be damned (he told me he’d gone to visit his mother in Egypt, which is where he’s from), or if he simply assumed that because he makes the best bagels in town, the people would come back.

But it makes for an interesting challenge, doesn’t it? If you went away for a month, would your customers remember to come back? Or would they move on for good? If you think they might move on, what can you do to change the way you do business to ensure that they don’t?

Go do it.

Rules Change. If You’re Not Sure, Just Ask Your Customers.

It’s almost Labor Day here in the U.S. I remember being raised with the rule that you never wore white (mostly applied to shoes, from my recollection) after Labor Day. What do you think? Is the “rule” outdated?

Last week, JC Penney conducted a smart customer survey on its Facebook company page regarding this very question. The majority of the comments disagreed, saying the rule was outdated. Granted, this isn’t a scientific survey, but it certainly gives JC Penney something to think about, like maybe conducting a more formal survey of its core base and seeing if they feel the same way (my hunch is they will).

Imagine how this could impact the decisions JC Penney makes when it plans its fall lines. And while this may seem like “new” possibilities for JC Penney, keep in mind that the customer would simply see it as JC Penney meeting the customers’ expectations.

Don’t make assumptions about anything when it comes to your business. When you’re in doubt and in need of a sanity check, go straight to your customers for answers.

Have you ever conducted customer surveys? Were the results surprising?

Company Tagline Construction: What to Keep in Mind

I’ve been working with many clients lately who are rethinking their taglines or coming up with one for the first time. So I thought I’d write a post on some tagline “basics.”

What is a tagline?

In my mind, a tagline is a fun (yes, fun — we should all be having more fun, shouldn’t we?) way of branding what you do (or what your product does) in the minds of customers. The best taglines have staying power, and, over time, they can stand alone, meaning you could read or hear only the tagline, and you’d still know what it represents.

For example, I bet you can easily match the tags below to a company or product:

  1. Good to the last drop.
  2. We bring good things to life.
  3. When you care enough to send the very best.

But also keep this in mind: a tagline in today’s world is more than just a “line.” It’s a line that can create a whole new world of engagement for your customers and prospects…if it’s done right (more on this in a minute).

What are the Rules for Tagline/Slogan Creation?

I hate rules. Sounds so restrictive, and for every rule I give about taglines or slogans, I’m sure someone could easily give me a good example of someone breaking the rule well. So let’s call them guidelines.

  • Figure out what you want your tagline to accomplish. Should it incite passion? Should it educate? Should it be risky? Should it be clever? Why? Think about your prospective audience and consider what they would appreciate.
  • Brainstorm words you want associated with your business. Think specific and concrete, but don’t rule out thematic words like “enlightening” or “inspired.” A great place to look for words and phrases? Customer testimonials. Or ask your Facebook fans to shout out 2 or 3 words that describe your business, your service, your “essence.”
  • Brainstorm words you don’t want associated with your business. You know, like “poopy” or “swamp ass.” Unless, of course, those phrases apply in a positive way.
  • Now start brainstorming actual tags. Don’t edit yourself. And involve other people from your company. You never know where a brilliant idea is going to come from and you don’t need to be a writer or have a marketing degree to come up with something brilliant. However, when in doubt, hire a copywriter (like me! shameless plug!) to craft a tagline for you.
  • Keep length in mind. Typically, taglines should be short, punchy, and memorable. What’s the definition of short? That depends. The best taglines typically (but not always) fall in the five- to eight-word (or so) category.
  • Test, test, test. Test on current customers. Test it out with your Facebook fans (you could even turn it into a contest — have them vote for the best tag). Test it on people who know your business (e.g., your networking group, like BNI). Don’t allow people to simply say “I like this one.” Make sure they can explain why.

Blogging – A Reality Check

If you own a business, you’ve probably heard that a blog is a great way to add regular content to your site and that it will help get you found by potential customers who want whatever it is you’re selling. Both points are true.

But you want to know what else is true? Your blog won’t “make it big” overnight. Your blog might never make it big, depending on your definition of “big.” And if your blog does make it big, I can guarantee you one thing: it will require a lot of hard work, even after you make it.

Want proof? Here it is:

I recently stumbled on Young House Love, a husband-and-wife blogging team that has turned what started out as a simple blog to keep friends and family updated on the couple’s home improvement projects into a marketable, enviable brand. These are two beautiful people who are in love and doing beautiful work, so I was quite pleased when I read this honest assessment from Sherry on her blogging adventure, and I quote:

We’re not gonna lie – it’s the hardest job we’ve ever had. The biggest misconception is that our blog is a part time thing that we spend a few hours a day on. When friends and relatives picture me out on the patio with a magazine and a cocktail I snort with laughter. It’s hard to put into words how we manage to spend every waking moment working on the blog, but we’re essentially writing over 45 posts a month AND taking and uploading photos AND running an online shop AND offering design services AND coordinating giveaways AND answering up to 100 email and comment questions a day AND making & editing videos. Not to mention actually doing the projects on our home that we then photograph and write about. It’s pretty much a never ending to do list! In all honesty, I’m a million times busier than I ever was in my old New York City 60+ hour a week job. We work nights, weekends and on vacation (after all, the internet is 24/7!) so sometimes it can all be very exhausting. And I don’t make as much as I used to. I actually took a pretty hefty pay cut to see this full-time blogging thing through.

Sherry also makes another important point: she didn’t set out to write a blog that would fill a niche. She and her husband simply wrote about what they were passionate about, and the followers, slowly but surely, began to flock.

This point is worth repeating in Copy Bitch clarity:  passion-filled blog posts will attract more followers than writing around keyword phrases and creating optimized titles. Ideally, you should do both. But start with your passion. Unleash it. Let it lead you.

So you wanna blog for your business and have the sort of success YHL has experienced? Well, be prepared to:

  • work your ass off
  • write about things you really, really care about
  • do it regularly – yes, even when you don’t want to; yes, sometimes on weekends; yes, maybe even some holidays; yes, possibly on vacation
  • make mistakes
  • learn from your mistakes
  • ignore critics (well, most of them)
  • write, write, write
  • oh, and write some more

I realize not everyone is looking for their blogs to go ga-ga like YHL. But you know what? Even if you’re not looking to make it big like them, the bullet points above still apply, even for your modest 3-times-a-week business blog.

Update: It’s July 2017 and YHL took a major blogging hiatus a few years ago. They’re now doing a podcast and the occasional blog post.

My point: your blogging life will evolve. I’ve seen people hot-and-heavy with their blogs for years, and then they hit a wall. Others, continue on slow and steady.

So does your business need a blog? HubSpot and other marketing gurus say all businesses MUST blog. I hate “must” directives. You shouldn’t do something just because someone tells you to. Understand how your business *could* benefit, understand the drawbacks, and be realistic about what you can and can’t commit to. Blogging is a big part of my business, meaning I do lots of blogging for clients who are too busy to do it themselves. This a great compromise. Learn more about my blogging services here.