Monday, 30 March 2015

How Can Social Media Help Your Business?

It is hard to believe that anyone isn’t really on board with social media, but a lot of businesses haven’t quite managed to settle of a solid strategy. Small or local businesses in particular tend to create a page, and never come up with a cohesive way to work it to their advantage.

Hiring an expert is a worthwhile investment with a lot of return. But not all business owners are convinced. What does social media really do for a brand, especially when that brand isn’t one of the well established names that permeate the global market?

A lot, actually. While the success of social media campaign from huge corporations aren’t able to be directly replicated on a small scale, you can learn a lot about what to incorporate into your own strategy.
For example, look at these recent cases of social success for big businesses, and what they can teach you:
#MumbaiInANewLight Promotes Phillips And Tourism In One Sweeping Campaign

Social Media Help Your Business

The Gateway of India is one of the biggest monuments in the tourist-friendly city of Mumbai. Phillips, in cooperation with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation decided to take advantage of the visibility and popularity of the site to help boost brand recognition and tourism in the region.

Using their new LED lights, they created a brightly colored spectacle. Then they released an app that let people create their own lighting, and share it for the chance to win prizes. The campaign was huge on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook as people flocked to the app to show off their own lighting scheme.

What You Can Take From It: People love the chance to play around creatively, and share it with others. Give them a chance, and they will take it.
American Express Releases OPEN Forum, Targeting Small Businesses With Combined Social and Content Strategies

Social Media Help Your Business

In the world of B2B marketing, it is important to target your audience correctly. Because AMEX was aiming for small businesses, they decided to give their potential (and current) customers what they could really use. So they created OPEN Forum.

Instead of going for something glitzy and trendy like many brands may have tried, AMEX kept it simple and focused on content. They created a place to read articles by industry experts on topics important to small businesses, then connect with a community and ask questions. They provided quizzes and panels. They paved the way for dialogue.

The Twitter page has more than 203,000 followers for the OPEN Forum alone.
What You Can Take From It: Consider what your audience really wants and needs, not what follows the current trends and popular tactics.
A1 Rebrands Their Sauce For The First Time In Decades, Fails At Pinterest But Becomes A Hit On YouTube

Social Media Help Your Business

A1 is a steak sauce, but they didn’t want to be a steak sauce any longer. They wanted people to think of their brand as associated with any kind of food that could use a bit of a kick. So they implemented a seemingly good idea, and created a Pinterest page that contained recipes and attractive food photos for users to try something new with A1.

This was a huge flop, as there are only 15 followers to their account at the time of this writing. However, what did take off was a video on YouTube where you see A1 on their Facebook page taking a step away from their long term relationship with steak, and exploring new avenues with lobster, pork, meatballs, chicken, and other foods.

Cheesy? Yes, but it has had more than 1,300,000 views, and counting.
What You Can Take From It: Sometimes your first idea doesn’t work, but that doesn’t mean your campaign won’t have an impact.


How Social Media Can Help Your Personal Business

Now that we have seen some examples of businesses really taking advantage of social media, here are some other reasons to get on board.
  • Turn your customers into believers: I love it when brands reply me on Twitter. As a customer, I feel much more willing to recommend a brand to my friends if I am somehow connected to the brand on social media
  • Build trust: We are in a world now where companies are expected to offer customers a personal touch. That means one on one engagement, and nothing makes that easier than social media. Not having an active account can actually damage your brand’s reputation.
  • Build other sources of awareness and traffic: Don’t depend on search engine traffic! Build a more reliable online presence by diversifying your sources
  • Learn about your customers: Customer statistics are easy to learn over sites like Facebook and Twitter. From basic demographics, to preferences, interests and potential tie ins to other businesses (collaboration hot right now), social media makes a great data gathering tool.
  • Monitor and influence social media sentiment around your business: It is never nice to hear an insult about your business. But not even knowing it is out there is even worse. Social media gives you a chance to monitor your own reputation, and address issues the moment they creep up.
  • Generate leads: The most successful call-to-action on Twitter is “Download”: Use this tip to promote your eBooks and build leads!
  • Keep your eye on the competition: Don’t just monitor your own reputation, also look at the other guys. The competition (and their customers) are on social media, and you can learn a lot by watching them.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

5 Steps to Make the Writing Process Less Painful


Writing is hard. It takes time, concentration, energy, inspiration, focus, and all sorts of stuff that feels "painful." It's much easier to step into the office and knock out two dozen emails, which might still equate to 2,000 words, than it is to sit down and write a 1,200-word essay.

It goes without saying, however, that content marketing is a critical component to positioning your company as a thought leader and relevant brand among your target audience. Why then, do so few business owners actually take the time to produce original content? Is it due to a lack of ideas?

I'd challenge any CEO to spend just one day writing down all of the questions his team, customers, investors, or partners ask and not be able to identify two or three great article ideas from that list. In our company, we've actually found blogging to be as valuable of a sales tool as it is a marketing tool. Great content can be a source for lead generation, but it can also be a source for answering questions your prospective customers bring up during a sales meeting.

When you can send a prospect a well-crafted article that addresses his exact question, you've got a powerful tool. You'll get extra points if it's published in a major news source in your industry or has high engagement via social media.

So what is the best way to actually get pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and start laying out some prose? Given my seventh-grade love for alliteration, here are the five steps I use when trying to bring out my inner Hemingway: Environment, Exploration, Extraction, Expansion, and Editing.


Environment: Where you write helps.

Given that writing is already a process full of friction, you want to set yourself up for as much potential success as possible. Although it might be the secret for some, sitting down to write in the middle of a busy train station with death metal blasting in the background after you've just eaten a giant hamburger is probably not the most effective way to kick off your writing session. It's a ridiculous situation to imagine, but it does shed some light on the impact your environment can have on your ability to write and think creatively.

The goal is to figure out your ideal environment as you approach your next article. Do you prefer music in the background or complete silence? Do you work best early in the morning or late at night? These details will vary from by individual. However, there is one thing that's universally effective: shut off your phone and close your email. You need to eliminate as many potential distractions as possible. One last thing to consider is scheduling. Like most difficult tasks, if you don't block out time for writing, it's very unlikely that you'll ever actually get it done. Set aside some time in your calendar one day per week or month or quarter, depending on the needed frequency of your writing.


Exploration: Getting ideas on paper.

You’ve locked your office door, poured a cup of Rooibos tea, and put on some Miles Davis.
Now comes the actual work. The second step in this writing process is Exploration, and it's about getting as much material written down as possible. Think quantity at this point. You want to open your mind and just start pouring out every phrase, fact, and anecdote you have locked up. It's fine if it's poorly written, chock-full of errors, and half based on false information. Exploration is about getting comfortable with your topic and examining it from every angle.

I've found there are three writing hacks in particular that help me the most during the Exploration phase. The first hack is to write in one-line sentences. This forces you to examine your thoughts on an individual basis rather than in the cluster of a paragraph. It can help you to avoid adding fluff to your writing and to focus on the valuable material.

The second hack is to write furiously in 15-minute sprints, and then rest for five minutes. By setting a short amount of time where you commit to writing non-stop, you force yourself to produce material and prevent a wandering mind liable for distractions. Once you've done your 15 minutes, reward yourself with some stretching or a new cup of tea. Just be careful not to check your phone or email and fall down a dangerous rabbit hole.

The last technique I use is to write in a plain text editor. Since our goal is quantity and not quality at the moment, we want to strip any grammar or spell checking out of our process. Don't distract yourself with red underlines and auto-corrections at this point.


Extraction: Finding the article within the article.

Now we have a mess of words ready for some real analysis. The third step in the writing process, Extraction, is about sifting through the words to find the one or two golden nuggets. It's very likely that you've repeated yourself several times. It's just as likely that you've contradicted yourself several times. Since you've written in one-liners during Exploration, it should be easy to review each line (or idea), and ask what role or value it has in the article. When starting Extraction, I like to move lines around to find which order creates the best flow for the article. During this process, you must ruthlessly evaluate and remove any fluff that you've created. In addition, you'll want to notate anything that could use supporting facts or quotes to help strengthen your position.

The primary goal during Extraction is to formulate an outline for your article. Although some people prefer to start their writing process with an outline already in hand, articles often take shape organically and move in surprising directions if you use a more free-form approach as recommended in Exploration. As you rearrange your one-liners, you'll find a natural outline begin to take shape. This is an opportunity to identify any themes or possible headlines. Although you want to avoid detailed editing (such as grammar and spelling) at this point, it is helpful to start thinking about tense and transitions as your overall structure begins to take form.


Expansion: Filling in the gaps.

Once we've established our structure, consolidated our ideas, and identified the weak points in our argument, it's time for Expansion. This step in the writing process is all about filling in the gaps with better writing and key facts. This is where you'll combine your structured one-liners into actual paragraphs and start replacing made-up facts with quoted sources. Naturally you might come across external facts or ideas that will bring you back to the Exploration or Extraction phase, which is thoroughly encouraged. It's during Expansion where you turn ideas into an article

There are a few things to keep in mind that might aid the Expansion process. The first is to restrain yourself from formatting and styling your article. Although your go-to-press version is going to incorporate beautiful fonts and the strategic use of bold and italic formatting, you're still trying to crystallize your overall ideas, not the polish. Second, if you're planning on incorporating any graphics into your article, use placeholders such as screenshots until all of the actual writing is done. Design is a separate process and another tempting rabbit hole that you should avoid until you're comfortable with all of your wordsmithing. Third, as you're researching facts and supporting arguments, consider using a tool such as Evernote to help you organize your materials. This allows you to capture sources across multiple devices and interfaces, as well as tag and organize your materials in an easy-to-use format for future research. Finally, if you're sourcing any material from interviews, pay someone to transcribe the interviews. It’s well worth the money. You can use a services such as Longer Days or Rev.


Editing: Cleaning it up.

As much as you might want to just hit publish at this point, Editing is about taking a little extra time to make sure you've crafted a public-worthy thought piece. In fact, the first tactic in editing is to actually take a little extra time. Up until now, we've been working in 15-minute bursts with five-minute breaks. Before editing, you'll want to take a bit more time to step away and clear your mind from the last few hours of thinking. The goal is to have as fresh of a perspective as possible on the article to ensure you catch mistakes that might have otherwise slipped past you. The absolute best way to avoid those mistakes getting passed you is to have someone else edit your article entirely.

If you have a generous friend or colleague willing to help you for free, by all means take full advantage. For those of us who can't blackmail people into free labor, it might be worth hiring a freelance editor to review your work. Websites such as Elance act as marketplaces where you can find and hire freelancer editors for as low as $20 per article. If outsourcing your editing isn't an option, consider reading your article aloud. The process of hearing your words spoken can be enough to identify any poorly constructed sentences or ideas.

The last thing to consider during editing is the opportunity to sprinkle some SEO goodness all over your article. This is the practice of optimizing your content to be easily indexed by search engines for targeted keywords related to your products or services. Review your article for target keywords and craft a short meta title and description to help Google classify your article.

Whether you apply the process above or some other approach to writing, there is no denying the value writing produces along with the pain it causes. Good writing takes serious time and thought. If your brain hurts, it's probably a sign that you're working it out the way you need to in order to get an intelligent point across. Even if blogging and content marketing aren't at the forefront of how you promote your business or within your wheelhouse of responsibilities, the act of writing is a fantastic way to help you reinforce your understanding and perspective on any topic. Define a process, grab your pen, and start producing.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

How To Build An Email List

build-email-listNo matter where you are in our promotional stage, you need to build yourself a good email list. Here is why: emails go to people. They go directly to their inbox, on their request, and provides them with important information and links, while giving you a chance to sell to them. All while you go to them, not the other way around.

With social media, you are competing with constant content from others around the web. On a Twitter feed, your tweet can be lost in an instant. On Facebook, it may never even reach their primary page. Pinterest, Google+, and LinkedIn? Same problem.
But when you use an email to connect, you are going right to their inbox, where they check every day. There are no distractions, as they will take more time to go through messages they find interesting or engaging, without flipping over to that cat video their second cousin tagged them in.


How to Build Your Email List

There are a lot of step-by-step email-building tutorials out there, but they make it a lot more complicated than it needs to be. Building an email list is as easy as just gathering names. More important is the work you put in to let it grow.
Here are some tips to take your email list from zero to hero fast.


Tip 1: Create A Call To Action On Your Website

Your biggest asset for a mailing list is your website. Your sidebar or footer can mention your list, or allow them to sign up for a newsletter. You can create a popup when they visit a page that asks them to sign up. Not to mention, you can put a CTA at the end of blog posts, telling them that they will never miss an update or important information again.
Just asking people to sign up will give you a lot of results.


Tip 2: Use Social Media To Drive Traffic

Social media is an important marketing tool, but also a tool for traffic. People click links to websites, they follow those links to your content, and from there you can advertise your mailing list. That is how the two can be incorporated into a combined strategy. Then you can increase your social followers by promoting your profiles in your emails.


Tip 3: Create A Landing Page

A good landing page is worth its weight in gold, especially when it comes to gaining email signatures. It is attractive, to the point, and creates a direct link to you and the user. According to research done by Search Engine Land, the conversion rate of landing pages can be as high as 5.31%. You should consider creating one specifically for your mailing list.


Tip 4: Use Registration For Perks

Having content that is only accessible by members is a great way to get people on a mailing list. It could be for special content, ebooks, videos, or posts that have more information that the usual articles posted on your site. They have to give you their email address to gain access.
You can also offer discounts and other perks.


Tip 5: Host A Webinar

Webinars are becoming increasingly popular, especially free ones. Not only does this offer you a chance to expand the content you provide, but it also gives you a great email mining opportunity. You can even provide “materials” for the webinar, such as resource lists that will be helpful to those who watch. So you will have permission to begin sending emails on a regular basis, in a more creative way than your average newsletter.


Take It To The Real World With QR Codes

If you provide a tangible product, or if you go to a lot of events that allow for networking, you should consider creating a scannable code that can be used through a smartphone and immediately signs people up for your mailing list.
Plenty of people have code scanners now, as they are offered free on both iOS and Android platforms. So start expanding into the real world, so you can target an even bigger audience.
If you have business cards that you have out locally, this is an absolute must. Just imagine how many people you can attract in your own neighborhood!


Tools For Creating Your Email List

If you want a professional tool that will help you send emails more easily, you can try these. They offer both email list building, custom newsletters, compatibility with design editors, and monitoring software for seeing your reach and success.
  • A pricy option in comparison to many others, it is also a lot more thorough. You have the option of four different accounts, starting at $50 per month for 5,000 profiles, and a per profile cost for anything after that. It send 10,000 free emails, and then adds to the bill as you increase your use. The higher the account, the more content and profiles allowed.
  • Campaign Monitor: This service is cheaper, and works with both a basic and unlimited account. You have a set amount of subscribers, and then emails you can send to them. It starts at only $9 a month, or you can pay per campaign.
  • MailChimp: With three plans to choose from, MailChimp will tailor your plan to your needs. So pricing will depend on your selections and what you can budget, making it more customizable.



Having a mailing list is crucial, and also rather simple. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will reap the benefits. So get started today, because every day counts.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

21 Expert Tips for Winning More Proposals


"Send me a proposal."

These words will send most agencies into a spin, working furiously to complete an insightful, in-depth document outlining what they can do for a client, how they can do it, and what it will cost.
The problem is that many agencies regard the proposal as the first phase in the sales process, when in fact, it should be one of the final steps.

A proposal is a document confirming previous discussions, not a conversation starter.
We could say you should stop writing proposals -- only contracts -- but that’s just simply not possible for most firms. There is value in this document, but you have to understand its place in the sales cycle and how a proposal from your agency should be used to win a contract.

We asked a group of professional what agencies can do to win more proposals. Here's their advice for securing more new business:

Don't Suprise the Client

Practice the concept of the 'No Surprise' proposal. In other words, do not present the proposal until you have reviewed every detail of it with your prospect. When they do see it, they know its coming. They know what is in it and have already agreed to everything. Now all that is left is for them to say 'yes.' Slow down the proposal, and speed up the sale.
- Matt Sunshine | LeadG2

Focus on the How, not the What

Don’t talk about what you can do for the potential new client, but instead focus on showing them how. Spend time understanding the prospect’s business and current challenges, and walk them through your agency’s process and onboarding strategy to show them the level of detail and organization you use to set them up for success.
- Marc Herschberger | Revenue River

Leave Out the Fluff

Understand needs, pain points, hurdles, etc., and address them with real solutions as concisely, easy to understand, and goal-driven as possible. The average amount of time humans spend concentrated on a task without becoming distracted is less than that of a goldfish. Don’t inundate potential customers with fluff and non-essential information. Get to the point without sacrificing value and quality.
- Craig Kilgore | Mainstreethost

Use Success Stories to Impress

Make sure you have great success stories that you can share with potential clients. At the end of the day, most, if not all, potential clients want to know you will provide value to them and generate positive ROI. Your success stories are the best way you can demonstrate to prospects that you can back up your talk. The effect is magnified when your success stories are in the same industry as your prospects or involve a similar situation. Make sure you’re not only doing your absolute best to create fantastic results for your current crop of clients, but you’re also using those success stories to your advantage to win new clients.
- Matthew Bivens | 98toGo


Give the Client an Insider View

One thing an agency can do to increase its chance at winning is to give a glimpse inside the company, not just with words but with solid proof. An example of this could be a short video highlighting the team they would be working with, what your company stands for, and any partnerships or technologies that make you a good fit for the client. Also, don’t forget to personalize the video to the client you’re trying to win.
- Bethany Shepard | Element Three


Determine Which Metrics Really Matter

Focus on the business metrics that matter most to the client, which means talking about revenue and profit rather than marketing metrics like awareness and engagement. It’s important to discuss aligning marketing activities to sales to show them the expected ROI on their investment. If you can do this in your proposal, you’ll be the winner.
- James Cox | Tracepoint


Focus on Solving Problems

The best thing you can do as an agency to win more proposals is to thoroughly diagnose your prospect’s problems and create your proposal around solving those problems. You may know the prospect needs help with other elements, but those should be secondary to solving their problems. Structure your proposal in this fashion as well -- here are the challenges you’re experiencing, and here’s what we’ll do to solve them.
- Spencer Powell | TMR Direct


Determine the Culture Fit First

Make sure the prospect is a good fit for your agency and culture first. If they are, invest time and resources understanding the prospect’s needs and challenges so you can provide a proposed solution that fits their needs and also works for your team.
- Brian DeKoning | Raka Creative


Propose What the Client Needs, not Wants

Go beyond what the prospect thinks he wants. Propose what you know will work for them. Make sure you explain that you heard them, but from your experience with other clients, you know that X, Y, and Z will give them much better results.
- Alisa Meredith | OverGo Studio


Decide if the Client Is Worth It

Decide on the initial call if the relationship will be mutually beneficial and has the potential to be long term. You will write less and win more.
- Trish Lessard | Media Junction


Agree to the Terms First

Although Aristotle said that the secret to humor is surprise, the proposal is typically not the time for humor and surprises. Prior to submitting a proposal, make sure you have clearly defined all the major points verbally with the potential customer.

By discussing the scope, cost, timeline, and details prior to submitting a written proposal, you can uncover objections earlier in the process. Discovering those objections allows you to work through the prospect’s concerns with them, rather than having your proposal rejected because a competitor’s proposal looked better on paper.

Good business is relational and requires dialogue. Unfortunately, many agencies skip that and rush to provide a written document before either side is ready for a formal proposal. Agree on the terms first. Then, put them in writing, and sign the deal.
- Gray MacKenzie | GuavaBox


Set Expectations Early

Stop emailing proposals and telling leads to let you know a good time to discuss or to contact you once they have reviewed it. Too often, a lead looks at the proposal without an accompanying explanation as to why your services equal the cost. They get sticker shock, and you never hear from them again. Instead, set the lead’s expectations early that the proposal will come after you understand their specific goals and timeline. Once it’s time for the proposal, schedule a time where you can review it with the decision-maker. The first time they see the proposal should be when you’re on the phone or in a face-to-face meeting where you are going through it with them. Emphasize how your services will help them reach their quantifiable goals. This ensures the lead understands the value of your services.
- Lori Aitkenhead | Paveya


Guarantee That You'll Win

It sounds backwards, but don’t send a proposal until you know why and when you’ll win it. You should have addressed all the reasons why you might not have won the account. A proposal should be the written version of your verbal project agreement.
- Ed Marsh | Consilium Global Business Advisors


Show the Economic Benefit

In the first paragraph or slide, show the decision-makers the economic (i.e., dollar) benefit they will receive when engaging with you.

Demonstrate the increase in revenue using the lifetime value of a customer, and show margin improvement by highlighting the lower cost of customer acquisition.
- Chris Fell | g2m Solutions


Invest in the Client

Be willing to put your money where your mouth is. For example, if we are writing a proposal for a HubSpot user, we will do a complimentary evaluation of their portal. This serves multiple purposes: it gives the prospect a list of things that they can do to improve, and it demonstrates our depth of knowledge of inbound and how we might work together. It also gives us a better understanding of the activities needed to increase conversions.
- Rebecca Graves | Spot On


Forget the Proposal

The best way to increase your chances of winning a proposal is to not make them in the first place!
If you have been able to differentiate yourself and your company sufficiently in the sales process, as well as qualify the prospect for budget, you should simply be reviewing a plan that the prospect knows only you can provide and is already at a cost they know they can afford.
- Wes Powell | TMR Direct


Create a Stunning Package

In addition to providing a compelling and relevant proposal that clearly speaks to the client’s business needs, the one thing an agency can do to stand out is to deliver a visually compelling proposal. Forget Word documents. Deliver a presentation that stands on its own merit in both design and content.
- Bernie Borges | Find and Convert


Don't Forget to Follow Up

Keep the momentum going by scheduling another meeting. Don’t leave a meeting without scheduling a follow-up.
- Michael Reynolds | SpinWeb


Track Client Interest — and Interactions 

We create custom, password-protected proposals as landing pages. There, we host a link to our tailored proposal and provide an easy way for the client to contact the project point person. Our potential clients appreciate the obvious effort and personalization, and we love that we can see how and when they interact with our proposal.
- Amahl | Raka Creative


Convince the Client That You Are the Right Partner

If you want to win a proposal, follow two simple steps: show your prospect their own customized path to success, and then convince them why they need your agency to get there.
First, prove that you’re invested in them by doing your due diligence. That means building a customized solution that can’t be packaged up and sold to anyone else. Use data and research to show that you have a unique understanding of the client's entire marketing landscape -- from audience buying behavior and influencers to competitors and strategic growth opportunities.
Then, show how you are uniquely positioned to guide the client down the path to success. What makes your agency special? Do you have unique capabilities, partnerships, intellectual property, or methodologies? Know the value you bring to a partnership and understand why it can’t be replicated elsewhere.
- Eric Murphy | DigitalRelevance


Don't Overpromise

Be honest on expectations. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Instead, under-promise and over-deliver.