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Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

Marketing Your Business: How to Make a Big Impression Without Breaking Your Budget

In Marketing Communications on July 26, 2011 at 10:39 am

When I was in college, my father faithfully wrote to me just about every day. His letters weren’t long and they usually didn’t hold any earth shattering news. But I looked forward to them nonetheless. They were a connection to home, about 400 miles away, and a reminder that some one was thinking about me.

When was the last time you received a handwritten note? Perhaps it was a card on your birthday or a holiday greeting. Whenever or whatever it was, chances are that it was the first piece of mail you opened and that you gave the handwritten piece of correspondence much more attention than the monthly bills or the direct mail piece addressed to “Resident” or “Our Friends at …”

When you want to make a positive impression, remember your reaction to that personal touch and write a note to your customer, prospect or colleague. A handwritten note is a simple yet powerful marketing tool. It doesn’t need to be  long or on fancy paper, although I do favor using note cards imprinted with your company logo. It should, however, be heartfelt and handwritten. Use this simple method of making a good impression after meeting with a prospect for the first time, when a vendor goes out of his or her way to help you, when you complete a project for a client, or when a colleague celebrates a birthday or receives special recognition.

When people ask me about low-cost but effective marketing techniques, writing a note is always on the top of my list. Try it. You will appreciate the results.

What low-cost, effective marketing techniques do you use to promote your business? Please share your thoughts — and thanks for reading!

Copyright 2011.  Joan B. Marcus

How It All Began

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The Fine Art of Mulling It Over

In Effective Communication, Writing on July 21, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Mulling it over When I was in grade school eons ago, teachers were quick to admonish us when they caught us daydreaming — staring out the window, seemingly thinking about nothing in particular and certainly not working on the task at hand. They told us that we were wasting time, time that we would never recapture. But were we really?  Interestingly, after working as a professional writer for more than three decades, I find that daydreaming or unstructured thinking is an essential ingredient of good writing. When daydreaming is coupled with “mulling it over,”or structured, deep thought, it’s an unbeatable combination for writing better and more quickly.

I’m not sure why this works or how it works, but I do know that I do some of my best writing when I am away from my laptop, doing something that has nothing to do with writing. This makes sense because writing is not about filling paper or your computer screen with words. Writing is a thought process. Before you can find the right words to write, you need to understand why you are writing and who your audience is. You need to brainstorm ideas, research what you don’t know and organize your thoughts. Then it’s time to start writing.

How does this work? Well, here’s how this particular blog entry was written. A few days ago, while I was taking my morning walk, I had the idea to write a post about “mulling.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mulling” as thinking something over “deeply and at length.” It’s an essential part of writing but one that people often try to skip to save time. When I got home, I jotted the idea down and stuck it in a file with other ideas for blog posts.

Yesterday afternoon, I started scoping out the main ideas of the post, which gave me last night and this morning to think about it. While watering the garden this morning, I started mulling over the article and jotted down key ideas when I got to my office. I focused on the key point I wanted to make (thinking is critical to writing) and how I could best engage readers in the topic (starting with a story). I finally decided to use this post as an example so my idea would be more concrete. I quickly drafted and then edited the post several times.

The next time you are stuck when you are trying to write, give yourself some time to think. This isn’t a luxury and it isn’t a waste of time. It’s a critical part of the writing process. Bottom line —  think before you write and let your mind, not your fingers, do the writing for you.

When do you do your best thinking about your writing? Share your thoughts — and thanks for reading.

Copyright 2011.  Joan B. Marcus

How It All Began

Writer’s Block: What To Do When the Words Won’t Flow

In Writing on July 21, 2011 at 11:45 am

A few months ago, I started writing an article for my newsletter. I knew what I wanted to write about, I understood my audience, I had completed the research and I had organized my ideas. But the words just wouldn’t flow. I had one false start after another and grew more and more frustrated as time slipped away. I knew that the article was going no where and that I really needed to do something different to unjam my thoughts, but I was too stubborn to give up. And so I continued writing and hitting the delete button, wasting way too much time. This was writer’s block at its finest. Finally, in total frustration, I went to find something to eat, anything to get away from my laptop. Within 10 minutes, the opening paragraph had formed in my head.  When I returned to my office, I was able to complete a draft of the article in about 20 minutes.

Everyone can fall prey to writer’s block at some point or another. Generally, writer’s block happens when a person tries to start writing before he or she is ready. Writing is a thought process consisting of six steps. It’s not until the fifth step that you should actually start writing. If you try to skip a step to save time, you often find yourself stuck.

If you have completed the first four steps in the writing process — understand your assignment, brainstorm, research and organize your thoughts —  and you are still stuck, try these tactics to deal with writer’s block.

  • Take a break. Get away from your writing, even if it is only for a few minutes. A quick break from the keyboard can go a long way.
  • Develop a summary sentence. Forget about all the details and cut to the chase. Answer the question, “What am I trying to say?” If you can’t summarize what you want to say, spend more time organizing your thoughts before you start writing.
  • Play with the words. If you have had a few false starts, type a list of key words then start stringing them together. Don’t worry if your sentences make sense. Just play with the words. Before long, you will have a good opening sentence if you are ready to write.
  •  Give yourself a deadline. Some of my best writing is done when I am facing a deadline, either real or self imposed. Not only will this help you break through writer’s block, it also will teach you to write more quickly.
  • Start in the middle. If you find that you can’t write the first paragraph, try writing a different section first. Successfully writing one section or paragraph will often help you get unstuck.

What do you do when your writing gets stuck? Share your thoughts…

Copyright 2011.  Joan B. Marcus

How It All Began

Website Content: Spelling Errors Costly

In Marketing Communications, Writing on July 19, 2011 at 11:45 am

Okay, I admit it. I am probably (okay, I am definitely!) more sensitive to spelling and grammatical errors than the average person. It is one of the drawbacks of being a writer by profession. I go to the movies and catch the typo in the copyright infringement notice. I glance at a billboard and notice the missing or misplaced apostrophe. I log on to a website and decide not to buy anything because I see a string of misspelled words. What???

It’s true. When I visit a website that has blatant spelling or grammatical errors, I rarely make a purchase on that site. In the back of my mind, I am wondering if it is a legitimate site or if my credit card will be taken over by a shopaholic racking up a string of charges to my account. But up until now, I couldn’t prove that spelling and grammatical errors made a monetary difference to a company’s bottom line even though sloppy content obviously does nothing for a company’s image.

Sean Coughlan, a BBC News education correspondent, however, changed all that. He recently reported that online entrepreneur Charles Duncombe analyzed website sales in England and found that “poor spelling is costing the UK millions of pounds in lost revenue for internet businesses.” Duncombe believes that “…misspellings put off consumers who could have concerns about a website’s credibility.”

Do you have difficulty catching spelling errors on your website or in other work?  Here are some of my favorite proofreading strategies:

  1. Proofread a paper copy. Yes, I know. It’s better for the environment not to print what’s on your computer screen. When it comes to proofreading, however, it’s worth the cost. I edit on my laptop and when I think everything is okay, I print out a copy for a final look. It’s amazing how many times I find a spelling or grammatical error.
  2. Use a dictionary. A dictionary is a wonderful thing. I use both online and paper formats.
  3. Read from the end. Start at the end of your writing and proofread reading backwards. This forces you to focus on individual words.
  4. Take a break. It is difficult to proofread something you just finished writing. Take a break from it, even if for a few minutes. You may be surprised at what you find when you read it again.
  5. Ask someone else to proofread for you. A fresh set of eyes is always helpful in catching typos and spelling errors. This is especially important if your work is being printed professionally.
  6. Use spell check as a final check. The spell check feature is a wonderful tool as long as you proofread as well. The spell check function finds misspelled words, not necessarily words that are used incorrectly.

Copyright 2011. Joan B. Marcus

How It All Began

Website Content Drives Web Traffic

In Marketing, Marketing Communications on July 13, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Developing searchable and compelling website content is a critical marketing tactic that will increase your website traffic, whether you own a business or run a nonprofit organization. While good design and navigation are important to the success of your website, content is key. Website content serves two main functions — it helps people find your site and it makes your website interesting. To achieve this, your website content should be searchable and compelling.

Make web content searchable with keywords

  1. Choose customer-friendly keywords. The key to successful marketing is to make it customer centered. When it comes to keywords, use phrases your customers are likely to use when searching for your products or services. While there are many tools that you can use to research the effectiveness of keywords, start by listening to your customers. What words do they use to describe your products or services?
  2. Focus on keyword phrases. When you use a search engine such as Google or Bing to find information online, you use keywords that describe what you want to find. You may search using a single keyword such as “florist.” Most people, however, use a phrase, such as “fresh floral arrangements in Lehigh Valley, PA.” This narrows the search and makes the results more relevant. When you focus on keyword phrases, you develop a niche and make it easier for people to find your website in searches.
  3. Use keywords strategically. Each page of your website content should represent a different focus on your business or organization. For instance, if you are a florist, one page might be about fresh arrangements, another might focus on silk flowers and yet another might focus on your garden shop. Determine two focused keyword phrases for each page. Use the primary keyword in your title and the second keyword if possible. Use both keywords in your page description. When you write your website content, use both keywords in your opening paragraph of content at least once and preferably more often. Weave the keywords into your website content as much as possible but not so frequently that the copy sounds stilted.

Develop compelling website content your customers want to read

  1. Understand your customers. Any time you market your business or organization, your starting point should be your customers or target audience. Learn as much as you can about your customers, especially their pain points or needs. Provide relevant, useful content that your website visitors will want to read and share.
  2. Include a strong message. Include your marketing message or mission statement on every page of your website. Each page should add depth to that message. Your website content must be compelling to entice visitors to learn more about your business or organization, take a desired action such as purchasing a product or service or making a donation, and return to your site again and again.
  3. Write well. Website content must be well written. Otherwise, visitors will click off your site without a second glance. Focus on your message, mechanics and style. Your ideas should flow logically so visitors quickly understand your point. Content must be grammatically correct and free of all spelling errors. Finally, develop a writing style that reflects your business or organization.

How It All Began

Embrace Common Sense Marketing in Tough Economy

In Marketing, Marketing Communications on July 12, 2011 at 7:38 am

In today’s tough economy, you need to make every marketing dollar work harder and smarter than ever before. By focusing on marketing basics, you can keep your business thriving and growing. Challenging? Yes. Possible? Absolutely. Here are five common sense marketing techniques that will help you use your marketing dollars wisely.

  1. Know your customers. Regardless of the state of the economy, your customers should be the starting point for all of your marketing strategies. Winning a new customer costs two to four times as much as keeping a customer so it is a smart investment to do everything you can to keep your customers happy. Learn as much as you can about your current customers. Analyze their buying habits to find ways to increase sales to them. Make their experience with your company so outstanding that they provide word-of-mouth marketing to others. This type of marketing is priceless.
  2. Cultivate prospects. While current customers are critical to your success, you need to continually cultivate prospects if you want to keep growing your business. Focus on untapped prospect groups who would make profitable customers. Develop a plan to reach them. Position your products and services to be as attractive as possible to turn these prospects into customers.
  3. Focus your message on your customer. Marketing is all about the customer — or at least it should be. Unfortunately, too many businesses spend time and money focusing on themselves and never talk about what the customer wants to hear. Experts estimate that the average customer is hit with 3,500 to 5,000 messages daily. If your message has any chance of breaking through that barrage, it must be customer oriented. Your message should acknowledge your customers’ pain points, develop your solution and explain what makes your solution better than that of your competition.
  4. Sharpen your marketing tools. Now is a key time to look at how well your marketing tools are working. Does your website offer information your customers want? Do you give them reasons to return to your site? Is your newsletter focused on your customers and their needs? Are you using marketing methods that actually reach your target audience?
  5. Use low-cost marketing techniques to enhance your budget. There are many low-cost marketing techniques that yield big results if you are willing to use them consistently. When you network, follow up immediately with new contacts. Use social network sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook to stay in touch. Send an email or set up a meeting to build relationships. If you don’t follow up, networking is worthless. Send a hand-written thank you note when you meet with a prospect. Keep your database updated so you can stay in touch with customers and prospects. Speak to community organizations and professional associations. Volunteer on nonprofit boards.

How It All Began

Eight Key Strategies That Boost Your Marketing Results

In Branding, Marketing Communications on July 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Like many things in life,  simple things can make the difference between success and failure. When it Boost marketing successcomes to marketing your small business, that is especially true. Here are eight key strategies that can boost your marketing results.

  1. Be consistent. Every business should have a strong, succinct marketing message that clearly indicates the customer need your product or service addresses, the solution you offer and what makes your solution better than that offered by your competition. Use this message consistently in all of your marketing tools as well as when you are networking. If you want your customers and prospects to understand what your company offers, be consistent.
  2. Be succinct. Keep your message short and to the point.
  3. Be persistent. Marketing is not a once and done event. It is a cultivation process through which you build relationships with prospects and clients by staying in touch, addressing needs and anticipating future ones. Plan to contact prospects and clients on a regular basis, in person, through social media and by email marketing.
  4. Listen. If you want to know what customers and prospects want, listen to them. Give them the opportunity to speak, whether it’s during your sales presentation or through a customer survey. Customer comments provide great insight when you are developing your marketing strategy.
  5. Personalize your approach. Everyone likes to feel important and in marketing, the personal approach is your opportunity to create that feeling. Know your customers and prospects so you can target messages specifically to their needs. On an individual level, send handwritten notes for birthdays or special achievements. Email articles that might be of interest. These are all important ways of staying in touch.
  6. Get organized. If you want to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way, get organized. Use — don’t lose — that stack of business cards you’ve collected. Every individual represents a potential new customer. Capture contact information in a database and keep it up to date. Create a system that works for you so you can follow up on prospects and customers who want to be contacted at a later date.
  7. Diversify. While this may sound more like financial advice, it’s important to effective marketing as well. There are many different ways to share your message with prospects and clients. The more channels you use, the more opportunities you have to reach your target audience. The key to diversification is to know your audience and how they like to receive information.
  8. Believe in what you do. If you want to sell a product or service, you must believe in it and in your ability to deliver value to your client. Help your client understand this value.

How It All Began

What the Declaration of Independence Can Teach Writers

In Writing on July 1, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Every Independence Day, my family follows the tradition of reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. It started as civics lesson to help our children better understand the meaning of the Fourth of July, beyond fireworks and barbeques. Today, it just seems a natural part of the holiday, as well it should.

As I was reflecting on the Declaration of Independence recently, I realized that the way this document was crafted provides a wonderful lesson in writing. While few pieces of writing will have the importance of the Declaration of Independence, it is always helpful to learn from a master of the craft. So, thanks to Thomas Jefferson for illustrating the following writing strategies:

  • Before you write, have a strong command of your subject. When Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, according to David McCullough in the wonderful book, John Adams, he wrote without referring to books although he did use his own previous writings. Jefferson was immersed in the thought behind the document, including that of British and Scottish writers, and the debate swirling in Congress, which allowed him to write freely.
  • Make every word count. The English language consists of thousands of words, each with a slightly different meaning. This allows a writer to choose the precise word that captures the desired meaning.  When Jefferson’s draft was shared with a review committee (even Thomas Jefferson had to deal with the approval process!), his words, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable…” were changed to the much stronger, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”
  • Write with one voice. Thankfully, the Founding Fathers were smart enough to know that a document of such importance could not be written by committee. Hence, Thomas Jefferson was given the job of drafting with a committee reviewing his work.

On that note, have a wonderful Independence Day and take a moment to read the Declaration of Independence. After all, that’s what Independence Day is all about!

How It All Began