Email marketing breakdown? Here’s your recovery plan

Has your email marketing broken down? Chances are it's fixable... here's your recovery plan.

Has your email marketing broken down? Chances are it's fixable: here's your recovery plan to help you rev up your email marketing.

If you own a car, chances are that at some stage it’s broken down. Whether it’s a flat tyre or something more serious, most of us have been there.

But just because your car’s broken down, does that mean that you decide that cars in general are broken? And you vow to never use a car again?

Unlikely!

You’re far more likely to get your mechanic to fix the car. (Or if all else fails, you might get a new car.)

Yet when email marketing breaks down, people are quick to say that “email marketing is dead”.

Is email marketing dead?

No, email marketing isn’t dead: it’s simply evolved over time. Just like there’s more traffic on the roads; and we no longer use crank handles to start a car engine, technology changes and evolves. And that’s what’s happened to email marketing.

Yes, you might be finding it harder to grow your opt-in list. Yes, your open rates might be down. And yes, your unsubscribe rates might be up. But that doesn’t mean that all email marketing is broken; it just means it’s time you tweaked it. Just like a car needs fixing and servicing, so does email marketing.

Still not convinced that email marketing works?

If you need convincing that email marketing works, here’s how my own email marketing is looking at the time of writing. In the past year my email opt-in list has grown by 36%; open rates have increased by 34%; and my click-through rate has increased by 414% (yes, you read that correctly). And in terms of earning dollars, my email list provides me with a regular flow of repeat consulting and copywriting work, referral business and eBook sales.

How did I achieve these results? By following the tips I’m about to share with you. Nothing more and nothing less!

I should also mention that colleagues of mine who are black belts in email marketing are getting even better results than I am: they have larger lists, and through this they are able to make sales on a daily basis. What they’re achieving is inspiring, and shows us what’s possible – and they’re getting these results without spending very much money on their marketing.

Email marketing is possibly the most cost-effective customer retention method

Customer retention is a vital marketing strategy; and email marketing lets you communicate with your Customers, Members, Advocates and Raving Fans cost-effectively and time-efficiently.

Can you think of any other communication method that lets you communicate directly with all your fans for just a few cents? At this point you might be thinking ‘social media’ – but this doesn’t let you communicate directly: there’s a very good chance your updates may not be seen. With email, they’ll see your message in your InBox… and even if they don’t open your email, at least you’re still front of mind.

So yes, email marketing still reigns. If you’re not getting the results that you used to get, it indicates that it’s time to give it a re-tune and tweak.

Here’s your 11-point email marketing recovery plan:

1. Review your costs

Are you finding email marketing expensive? If so, you need to look at the costs. In particular:

  • Email newsletter software: if you find your current system expensive, shop around. Many of my clients are raving about MailChimp‘s free plan; it’s very good. (Personally I use AWeber, and that works well for me.)
  • Labour costs: many business owners dislike writing newsletter content and setting it up. You have two main choices: either learn to do it yourself; or outsource it. One thing you don’t want to skimp on though is the content: we’ll come onto that later. Whoever does this needs to know what they’re doing, as it’s the content that will make or break your email marketing. So if you decide to write your own content, make sure you brush up on your copywriting skills.

2. Attract new subscribers continually

Just like cars need fuel, subscribers are the lifeblood of your email marketing and you need to work at continually attracting new (quality) subscribers. Make it easy for people to sign up to your list, for example by having a sign-up form on your website. And be sure to tell subscribers exactly what they’re signing up for: reassure them that their personal data will be kept private, and let them know how often you’ll contact them. Setting expectations upfront is a good thing.

These days it’s certainly become harder to entice new subscribers, and for this reason it can be a good idea to offer a high quality enticement. This could be a free eBook, Report or White Paper that subscribers receive in return for signing up. This gift should be geared to a common need your subscribers have; be of good quality; and not overly long (because you actually want them to read it!).

If you use social media, make sure that you’re regularly enticing your followers to sign up to your email list. It’s far more important that you grow your email list than your Facebook fans or Twitter followers.

Why? You want to own your customer data; you should not rely on a third party (such as Facebook). You have no control over Facebook. Imagine if the site closed down overnight for some reason: all your fans would be gone along with it. That’s why it’s so important that you focus on growing your email marketing list first and foremost: you shouldn’t build your business on someone else’s land, so to speak.

3. Email subject lines must be amazing!

Subscribers will choose whether to open your email or not based on your subject line. And to write an enticing subject line means you need to have good headline writing skills. Click here to see what makes a good headline.

If your headline isn’t strong enough, the rest of the content is immaterial. So writing a good headline is essential.

Many email newsletter systems let you send “split test broadcasts” (or “A/B testing”), which will let you test and measure different headlines to see which gets the best open rate and the best click-through rate. Give that a try, so you can see what your subscribers respond to.

Hint: if you did this a while ago (say a year or two ago), do it again. The world has changed since then, and so have people’s needs and motivations.

4. Develop a strategy for your email marketing content

This is where many people trip up, as they’re not clear on what they should be doing. There are 3 different kinds of email marketing, and you need to be clear on what they are, and the difference between them.

  1. Email newsletters: Most of the content (around 80%) should be focused on adding value to your reader, e.g. an article that they will find interesting or beneficial in some way. A maximum of 20% of the email should be sales-based. (And be sure to feature the value-added article first, and only then the offer.)
  2. Sales emails: Pure sales emails are an important tool in your email marketing toolkit, but use them sparingly as readers tire very quickly of being bombarded by sales messages.
  3. Autoresponders: These are a series of automated emails that arrive in short, sharp succession after sign-up. After all, you are most at front-of-mind when people have just joined your list. Autoresponders are generally short; have a personal tone; and are about adding value. Here’s some information on Autoresponders from AWeber.

All of these require a different approach. And the content for each of these will be very different… and ideally you will be engaging all 3 techniques. After all, if you were to drive your car just in one gear, your journey would be slow and frustrating, so you use all the gears available to you. Same with your email marketing: to get it cranking, you need to use all the techniques at your disposal.

You will need to suss out a way to mix the different email marketing methods: the email newsletters, sales emails and autoresponders should be working harmoniously together.

If that sounds hard, I’m afraid you should grit your teeth and do it, it is OK! It is worse to keep doing what you’re doing (and not get results) or to omit email marketing from your marketing campaigns altogether. After all, a mechanic often has to do diagnostics to find out what’s wrong with a car, so this is you doing the same thing for your business.

To give you a starting point, here is an email marketing calendar suggested by AWeber.

5. Create the content that fits your strategy

Now that you have a strategy to work to for each email, the goal of your writing work becomes a lot clearer. And be sure to treat your list like the VIPs that they are and give them quality information.

Quality content means including graphics and captions, as well as good writing. And be sure to provide links to your website where your readers can find more information.

Hint #1: Less is more. Rather than cram in lots of content and lots of articles, let one high-quality article be the feature of your email marketing. One clear theme will be more memorable than a multitude of messages.

Hint #2: This is the bit where most people get stuck; they’re not sure what their readers find most interesting/beneficial, and what they don’t like. There’s only one sure fire way to find out for certain. And that is covered in the next step:

6. Ask your readers for feedback

Email marketing can be a weird feeling: you spend hours toiling over it; hit send; and often you get zero feedback. If it weren’t for your statistics, you’d be wondering if the emails ever got sent!

If that’s how things are feeling to you, you need to get some feedback from your readers. And not just any old readers, but your biggest advocates, i.e. the kind of A-Grade customers you’d like to have more of.

If you know them well enough, ask them personally: be sure to ask open-ended questions to get their feedback, i.e. questions beginning with: how, why, what, when, etc.

Another option is to do a quick online survey to see what readers think. Just make sure you keep it simple (just 3 quick questions), and offer a prize draw incentive for those who take part. After all, their feedback is vital for your business, and as no-one really enjoys filling in forms, it’s wise to acknowledge that they’re sticking their neck out helping you by offering a reward.

There are free online survey tools you can use: SurveyMonkey is a popular option, and there are plenty of other services too. (Just do a web search for “free online survey”.)

7. Are there any treats in your email newsletters?

… or in other words, do you treat your readers like dogs?

Dogs love treats. And once you start giving them treats, they’ll want more and more. In fact, they’ll start expecting the treats – and boy will you get big, sad looks if you come up empty-handed!

Same thing in your email newsletters. Is there a little extra something you can easily slot into your emails? This Copyblogger article will give you some ideas and tips on creating this kind of email content.

By doing this in each newsletter issue (and yes, just newsletters, not sales emails or Autoresponders), your readers will start looking out for them.

8. Ensure your template is appropriate

All this wonderful content you’ve created needs to go into a branded email newsletter template. This should look smart and professional. But most importantly of all, your template needs to be smart phone compatible. Why? An increasing number of people read emails on their cell phones, so if your template is a few years old or not specially designed for cell phones, people might be unsubscribing and deleting your emails simply because they can’t read it.

Test and check your template; if it’s not cell phone compatible, you need a new template urgently.

9. Write a sequel (or two)

Have you noticed how many popular books (and movies) have sequels? For example, there are seven books in the Harry Potter series. ‘The Hunger Games’ is a trilogy. So is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. Many authors and publishing houses have realised that readers want more and more and more. Each book leaves you wanting to read the next book.

Use the same approach in your email newsletters: rather than making each one a stand-alone blockbuster, write a mini-series. And then tell the reader that that’s what you’re doing, because then they’ll look out for the next email newsletter, as they’re already anticipating it. This does wonders for your open rates!

I’ve been using this approach myself, (a) by sometimes writing a mini-series in my email newsletters, and (b) including a short blurb with a teaser in a section entitled In the next issue. My open rates have never been looking healthier. Sure, it means you have to plan your content in advance (read: being organised and planning ahead), but it is very well worth it.

10. Re-evaluate the frequency

Are you sending your emails too often – or not often enough? Generally speaking, the more frequently you can send email newsletters (with quality content that adds value), the better.

If your email newsletters have broken down, rather than send the newsletters less often, you should tend to the items on this recovery plan and then send your newsletters more often!

Why? Life is incredibly fast paced and is speeding up. You need to keep up, rather than slow down, if you want your business to thrive. You can slow down when you’re retired. 😉

11. Be consistent

The biggest email killer by far is not being consistent in your frequency. Getting the newsletter out on time, every time is essential… no excuses. If you do not do this, believe me, it gets noticed. Your customers and prospects will start questioning your professionalism: they’ll wonder if you’re so slack in all aspects of your business. Whilst that sounds harsh, remember that people will judge you based on what they see (or don’t see), and will make assumptions about your business based on that.

So how do you get your newsletter out on time each time? My tips are to:

  • Draw up a production schedule for the next year. Identify (a) the send-out dates and (b) the materials deadline dates. Give yourself some time to put the newsletter together.
  • Write these dates and deadlines in your diary… and stick to them!
  • Use quiet times to your advantage and pre-prepare content in advance. Email newsletter systems will let you queue things waaaay in advance. So if you know you’re going to be on holiday, get that newsletter set up a week or two (or more) before you leave.

Summary

Email marketing continues to be the most cost-effective way to build relationships with your customers and to generate sales. If your email marketing isn’t delivering results, it’s not the medium that’s at fault, rather the implementation of it. So get under the hood and tinker and fine-tune till it’s humming again! (It may even perform better than it did before it broke down!)

If you follow this recovery plan, your email marketing could be zooming along more quickly than ever!

If you follow this recovery plan, your email marketing could be zooming along more quickly than ever!

 

How to generate more repeat business with a reminder system

Do you enjoy the convenience of receiving reminders from your mechanic when your car is due for a service? Or the vet reminding you that your dog needs its vaccinations? Or when the florist emails you to remind you of your spouse’s birthday?

These reminders are beneficial for both consumers and for businesses.

Why a reminder system is good for business

A reminder system is great for any business, as it means more repeat sales. Repeat business is desirable because it’s eight times cheaper than seeking new business. Getting existing clients back is a no-brainer if you want to maximise your profits!

But how do you implement a reminder system?

Implementing a reminder system might sound like a good idea – but where do you begin?

The best systems are computerised, rather than relying on human memory. The latter is just too unreliable – you need to systemise it. And the first step in systemising is to outline your after-sales process.

What’s an after-sales process?

Many business owners make the mistake of ending their sales process at the sale, but it’s what happens afterwards that impacts on whether that customer is going to come back to your or not. So make sure you do some of the following when a sale is completed:

  • Courtesy call to ensure your client is happy.
  • Feedback form (and acting on feedback given).
  • Thank you card: hand-written and sent in the post.
  • Newsletter sign-up: be sure to ask all customers to sign up for your newsletter.
  • Referral card: make it easy for your customers to refer their friends and colleagues.
  • Reminders: a-ha, yes, the all-important reminders! These could be phone calls, SMS messages, or emails – whatever’s appropriate to your business.

So how do you implement the reminders?

Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for this: you’ll need to do some research around software solutions that are suitable for your business. But it’s well worth doing, because of the extra sales and profit you’re likely to make.

The software solutions may be a generic CRM system (“Customer Relationship Management”), or there may be something out there that’s specific to your industry. Researching your competitors to see what they do can be a good starting point!

Of course, you may choose to go with a manual pen-and-paper system… the main thing is that you do implement some kind of systematic reminder process.

After all, not only is it good for your business, but most of your customers will be grateful for the reminder too!

 

Discover the one word you should never use in your marketing copy…

Actions speak louder than words: you shouldn’t need to spell it out that your business is “professional”.

There’s one word that bugs me like no other in business copy. It’s the most unnecessary, superfluous, dumb word possible. When I see it being used (which is often), I don’t know whether to snort with laughter or snort with tears. It makes me wonder which genius thought that that would be a good word to use in a business description.

And what is this abomination of a word?

The word that I loathe so much is… “professional”.

You see this word all the time; there’s no getting away from it. For example, I saw it signwritten on an electrician’s van when I was driving on the motorway the other day: it had “professional service” written underneath the company’s logo.

“Professional service”… as opposed to what? An unprofessional service? Or an amateurish service?!

The fact that you’re professional should be a given!

Surely, by its very meaning, the fact that you’re in business should signal that you’re a “professional”!

Yet we all moan about the cowboys in our industry; the people who give our trade a bad name; the people who rip off clients.

No siree, we want to let everyone know that we’re better than those sorts of goons!

We all pride ourselves on being professionals in our industry

While we may be professional in our core trade, are we professional in all aspects of our business? What does it actually mean to be professional in business?

Let’s have a quick brainstorm on what it means to be professional:

  • Answering the phone in a friendly, helpful manner – and passing on messages.
  • Responding promptly and courteously to phone and email enquiries.
  • Correct spelling and punctuation in all our company communications: emails, website content, blog posts, estimates, invoices, signage, newsletters, social media updates, and so on.
  • Keeping our uniforms, vehicles and premises clean and tidy.
  • Invoicing promptly and following up promptly for any late payments.
  • Keeping customers updated as to the cost, so that they don’t receive any nasty surprises when they receive your invoice.
  • Honouring any warranty or guarantee claims in a fair way, and going out of your way to ensure that the customer is happy.
  • Taking any complaints seriously, and resolving them. That means putting the immediate issue right (e.g. giving the customer a refund), as well as solving the root of the problem (e.g. identifying the flaw in your manufacturing or quality control process).
  • Giving sincere thanks to the customer for their business, and also to strategic alliance partners who have referred clients to you.
  • If you’re given a referral, keeping the referee updated with the progress, so that they’re assured that their client is in good, capable hands.
  • Ensuring that your website is up-to-date.
  • Regular blog updates.
  • Regular newsletters (be it quarterly, monthly, fortnightly, weekly, or whatever you choose).
  • Regular social media updates (be it weekly, twice weekly, or whatever you choose).
  • Completing work and meeting all deadlines, on time, every time.
  • Treating your staff fairly. That means having systems in place for job descriptions, performance reviews, training, promotion, remuneration, and so on.
  • Good financial management, including regular reporting and analysis as well as goal setting and budgeting.
  • Having a marketing plan documented, and sharing it with your team so that everyone knows the direction that the company is moving towards.

How does your business score against that checklist?

Can you confidently say that you do all of these professional things, all the time? Or are there a few gaps?

You may think this doesn’t matter…

You may think that as long as you’re a great electrician (or whatever you do), these little things don’t matter. But they matter very much to your customers.

After all, your customers probably aren’t experts in your industry. If you’re an electrician, your average client probably doesn’t know very much about wiring. So instead, they’ll judge the quality of your work based on the things they do know about.

Therefore an electrician who’s tidily attired in a neat uniform and who cleans up any mess he makes, will be perceived as being more professional than a scruffy electrician with greasy hair, and a crumpled uniform who leaves a mess behind.

Summary

Instead of resorting to words to explain that your business is “professional”, remember that actions speak louder than words.

If you demonstrate that you’re professional in every single aspect of your business, it’ll do a lot more for your business than slapping the word “professional” on your vehicle’s sign writing. Or on your website. Or in your printed brochures.

 

PS. The only place where the word “professional” is permissible is in your Testimonials. It’s OK for your customers to say that you’re professional, but it’s not OK for you to say it. Yeah, double standards, I know, but that’s the way it is. 😉

 

What is SEO? A beginner’s guide in plain English…

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is about making sure your website gets found online. And the way that most people find websites is via search engines.

Google is the biggest, most popular search engine with approximately 65% of traffic. Their competitors include Yahoo (approximately 15%), Bing (13-14%), plus some smaller players. *

How do search engines work?

We need to have a quick look at how search engines work in order to understand what SEO is all about.

In short, the goal of a search engine is to bring its users the most relevant results possible to their searches.

After all, if a search engine consistently gives you, the user, a load of bad results (e.g. poor quality websites, that don’t reflect what you’re looking for, or spammy websites), you’ll end up using a different search engine. The search engines want you to keep using them, so they want to give you relevant search results.

To give you relevant results leading to good quality websites, the search engines use complex formulae (known as “algorithms”) which look at a variety of factors when ranking websites. The higher the ranking, the more relevant the website is seen to be to the user’s search.

These website  ranking factors include:

  • Keywords: does the website’s content use the same kinds of words as those that the user has input? If so, that’s a notch in your favour. Keywords are good! That’s leads onto the next factor:
  • Information-rich websites: search engines love good quality websites that are rich in unique, well-written content, which is regularly updated. It’s not just search engines that love it, but readers do too. And for the website owner, it’s an opportunity to use a rich variety of keywords, which will help rankings further still.
  • Inbound links: the search engines figure that a good quality website will be linked to from other good quality websites. Notice the word quality: if you have links to your site from spammy websites, it could count against you.
  • Bounce rate: have you ever followed a link to a website; didn’t like what you see; and immediately hit the “back” button to leave the site? That’s called a bounce. A bounce indicates that the website is irrelevant to the user’s search; and a lot of bounces for a particular website tell the search engines that the website isn’t a good quality one. So bounces are bad. (You can see on your website analytics what the bounce rate is for your website.) A high bounce rate is bad; a low bounce rate is good, and it’s one of the factors used by search engines when formulating their rankings.
  • Time on site: again, if users spend a good amount of time on your site, the search engines will figure that your website’s a good one. So the time users spend on your site is another factor addressed in the algorithms.

SEO means that a website owner is actively addressing these ranking factors used in the algorithms. It’s about taking a proactive approach to a website, and increasing its chances of getting good rankings for as wide a variety of search terms as possible. This might sound easy, but the goal posts are continually moving!

Things change over time

The list of ranking factors is a basic one, to give you an overview. But you should also be aware that these algorithms aren’t static – far from it. They’re continually being tweaked and fine-tuned.

So what’s a business owner to do with these changes in the SEO world?

There’s one strategy that’s never changed: and that is to have a well-built website, that’s full with good, information-rich content, and that’s updated regularly.

Don’t be tempted to try and “cheat” the system – it’s not worth it. It’s far better to focus on having a great site that real people (as well as search engines) will enjoy using.

 

* 2011 data from http://www.quantumseolabs.com/blog/seolinkbuilding/bing-google-market-share/

 

What’s a “normal” open rate for email newsletters?

Sending email newsletters can be a weird experience. Sure, you have a feeling that you’re doing the right thing by keeping in touch with your clients… but how can you tell if they’re actually having an impact?

After all, whenever you hit that “Send” button, it can be like sending your message into the Great Online Void. And that can play havoc with your feelings.

How to deal with the emotion-sucking Great Online Void

First of all, if your email newsletter campaigns feel like a Great Online Void, you need to remember why you’re sending the emails in the first place. And that reason is to stay in touch with your customers, and therefore stay front of mind. It’s all about communicating with them; making them feel valued; and maintaining a relationship with them.

If that doesn’t give you warm and fuzzies, then the fact that these newsletters are likely to be producing repeat business and also referrals should definitely leave you feeling good!

But tell me about facts, not just about emotions…

Facts are vital when it comes to email newsletter campaigns, and that’s why using specialised email newsletter software is such a good idea. The software measures your campaigns, and gives you data, with one of the key measurements being the “open rate”. That is, how many people opened your email newsletter.

But what does this open rate data mean?

Having the open rate data by itself can be meaningless…. how are you meant to know if the numbers are “good” or “bad”? You need something to benchmark against.

Email newsletter benchmarks

Here’s that all-elusive benchmarking information… and that is, that a good email open rate is considered to be between 20% and 40%. If you’re in a business-to-business industry, then the open rates should be at the higher end of that scale; and if you’re dealing with consumers, then the open rates are usually at the lower end of that scale.

Side Note: those are the percentages I’ve always worked to. While researching this article, I did find some recent statistics from email newsletter providers Mail Chimp and Constant Contact. However their percentages tend to much lower than those my clients achieved. I’d be very unhappy if my clients’ open rates were this low!

But wait-a-sec, that seems really low – most people aren’t opening my newsletters!

Ah, but let’s remember WHY you’re sending your newsletters. And that is, to keep in touch with your customers so you stay front of mind. And you’re doing that just by them seeing your company name in your In Box. OK, so it’d be nice if they were to open your newsletter, but it’s done its job to some extend if (a) your customer has seen your name, and (b) they don’t Unsubscribe.

Of course, it would be nice in the ideal world if everyone were to open your newsletters all the time, but we don’t live in that ideal world. We have to be happy with what we’ve got, and work our darndest to improve things by continually sending top-quality newsletters. It’s a constant effort to maintain (or increase) those open rates.

What does it mean if open rates start dropping off?

If your open rates are falling issue after issue, don’t panic straightaway. There are a number of different reasons as to why open rates fall off:

  • The database is ageing: open rates tend to fall over the years, as people tend to switch jobs and make other changes in their lives, meaning that their email address becomes invalid, or that they don’t need your product or service any more. That’s totally normal.
  • You’re not attracting new subscribers: the issue in the previous point is enhanced if you’re not regularly attracting new subscribers. Gaining new subscribers takes continual effort.
  • The subject lines are boring: many people will decide whether to open your email or not based on the attractiveness of your subject line. If your subject lines aren’t enticing, many people will stop opening the emails. Great subject lines are vital, and some split-testing around this will help you discover which subject lines work best for your target market.
  • The content is falling short of expectations: if people aren’t enjoying your content, they’ll stop reading your newsletters. However, this is the first conclusion that many business owners jump to, yet you need to look at the previous bullet points first of all before making any radical decisions about your newsletter content.

Summary

If you do spot your email open rates dropping off, the above list gives you a remedial tool kit to work through. However, don’t be tempted to change everything at once – you could be throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Do some tweaking and testing over a number of issues to see how that goes. And if you’re not getting anywhere, then try something else.

The main thing is that you do keep communicating with your customers, despite any hiccups in your open rates. Keeping the relationship going is vital.

And that’s exactly what you need to remember if you ever get the feeling that you’re communicating with the Great Online Void: you’re not, you’re communicating with your bestest and nicest customers. Even if you don’t hear from them in response, you should allow yourself to feel some warm, fuzzy feelings in the knowledge that you’re maintaining your relationship with them. Besides, regularly communicating with your best customers is the best kind of marketing you can be doing, so keep it up!

 

Nervous about going to a networking meeting? Here’s how to prepare…

You’ve been told that networking meetings are a great way to get more referrals. And after much consideration, you’ve reluctantly agreed to give networking a try. Even though you’re just a teeeensy bit nervous about the whole thing.

This quick guide will show you how to prepare for your networking meetings

1. Write your blurb in advance. Most networking meeting groups will give you a slot of 60 seconds or thereabouts for you to make your pitch to the group. Rather than risk fluffing your lines, write something in advance – and time it.

2. Smile! No matter how nervous you might be, smile! You’ll find that people will come up to you and chat. And it’s much more inviting for people to approach a smiley person, than one that’s looking grumpy or moody or terrified.

Besides, if you smile, you’ll probably begin to feel more confident too!

3. Introduce yourself. Don’t wait for other people to approach you; go up to them! Breaking the ice is easy; just ask what they do; who their clients are; where they’re based. Remember, everyone is here to talk business and to get to know more people.

4. Bring lots of business cards. Yes, bring a big stack of them with you. There might be a card folder or box for you to put the business cards into. Otherwise, don’t just hand them out willy-nilly – that’s the equivalent of spam. Instead, hand them out selectively to people you’ve talked to.

5. Follow up. Did you meet some interesting contacts? Follow them up and arrange to meet them over a coffee. Building relationships (and trust) takes time – certainly more than a 60 second sales pitch. If you’re prepared to put some extra effort into the networking outside of the meeting, you’ll see results far sooner.

6. Be patient. If you’re after instant results, networking meetings are the wrong tactic for you. Building enough trust to gain referrals takes time; people have to get to know you.  It’s more about nurturing relationships, and helping other people; giving in order to gain.

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be all set to go… so remember to relax, enjoy… and smile!

 

Why you need to talk the talk as well as walk the walk

Remember those noisy kids at school – and how they got all their attention? They’d be up to all kinds of mischief trying to bait the teachers. And they certainly got noticed – by the other kids, the teachers, even the parents. Yet the attention they got was rarely for their schoolwork; it was far more likely to be about a prank they’d pulled!

Things are much the same in the business world

In the business world, the noisy people tend to get the attention. How good they are at their jobs (or not) we don’t know, but they’re certainly very good at talking themselves up, in a most convincing way.

If you’re a quieter personality type, this can be annoying!

After all, there you are working away hard – usually long hours. And making sure that you cross all the proverbial “t”s and dot all the “i”s. You know you do a good job – possibly better than anyone else out there – yet the noisy competitor is getting all the juicy contracts. How unfair!

Fairness has nothing to do with it. (Your teacher may even have told you; “there’s no such thing as fair”… they were right, there isn’t.)

Doing a good job isn’t enough. You have to give yourself good publicity on the job you do. Because if you’re not going to blow your own trumpet, no one else is going to do it for you!

The good news is that you don’t have to do this in a noisy, irritating way. It can even be low key self-promotion – which is fine, providing that you are promoting yourself.

Here are five simple but effective ways in which you can boost your profile:

1. Customer testimonials

Feel a bit cheesy saying how great you are? Then get your customers to say it for you! Your best customers will probably be more than happy to give you a written testimonial, and that’s something you can use on your website, in your marketing materials, and even read out in networking meetings. Best of all, a customer testimonial is seen to be far more credible than you saying those things yourself.

2. Share your successes online

Launched a new website for a client? Revamped their brand? Installed a new IT system? Provided the project isn’t confidential, post details on your website, blog, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter profile. Your blurb doesn’t have to be long to get noticed!

3. Up-skill your sales techniques

Making a good first impression at sales meetings is vital; if you’re not a natural sales person, it’s well worth getting some sales training. It can be a huge confidence booster.

4. Create a sales kit

If you’re meeting a new prospect, showing them evidence of your work is a lot more compelling and convincing than just talking about it. So create a sales kit, which can include your portfolio, testimonials, profile document, and so on.

5. Talk yourself up at networking meetings

Use your 60 second pitch to share a story of how you helped a customer – and if you have something visual to go with it, it’s even more compelling.

By taking these steps, you’re not just raising your profile, but you’re also making it a lot easier for your contacts and strategic alliance partners to refer you to others.

You need to talk the talk as well as walk the walk

If you’re just walking the walk, very few people get to know about it. So talking it up helps spread the message.

And as we’ve discovered, there are indeed low-key, non-cheesy ways to promote yourself. You don’t have to be as brash as the loud kid at school. Gently does it – but just make sure you do give yourself some great publicity.

 

What’s best: a contact form or email address?

It's vital that a website's Contact Us page makes it easy for prospects to contact you.

It’s vital that a website’s Contact Us page makes it easy for prospects to contact you.

You’re working on your website, and you’re umming and ahhing about what to put on your Contact Us page. Should you use an enquiry form, or your email address – or both?

Let’s look at this from your prospects’ point of view

Why are they looking at your Contact page?

Um, probably because they want to get in touch with you, right? So it makes sense to encourage them to do just that, by making it as easy as possible for the customer to connect.

So what makes it easy for the customer to connect?

Well, that can vary from person to person. Let’s look at both contact forms and email addresses…

The case for and against contact forms

Contact forms (or enquiry forms) make it super-easy for customers to get in touch. Readers don’t have to launch their email software; they can easily just type in the info, click “submit” and bingo!

But contact forms aren’t perfect. Have you ever had the experience of filling in a contact form, and never hearing back from the company? And you don’t have a record of what you’ve just sent them, to follow them up?

Frustrating, isn’t it?

And most people will have had a frustrating experience with enquiry forms

Sometimes the frustration might be around the contact form asking you to select why you’re contacting them; and then a sub-menu pops up.

And the darn form won’t send until you’ve worked your way through all these “compulsory” boxes. Yet so often, none of the options seem to apply to you!

Another common frustration with enquiry forms is that you click “submit” and the message disappears into the ether. Often you have no record of what you said; and so often you never hear back from the company you’ve emailed.

If you want to use an enquiry form on your website, a simple (and very customer-friendly) thing to do is to add some words along the lines of:

Please contact us by filling in your details here – you can expect to receive a reply from our friendly team within 2 working days. If you don’t hear back from us by then, it means that something’s gone astray, so please give us a call on 123 456 as your enquiry is important to us.

That should encourage your prospects to submit their info.

The case for and against email addresses

The frustrations with contact forms give the benefits of including your email address: there are no drop-down menus; and you have a record of your message in your Sent Items folder.

The biggest reason you’ll hear for NOT including your email address, is that spambots might harvest your address and you’ll get bombarded with spam.

Um, what would you rather do: delete some spam emails, or miss out on an enquiry that could be worth thousands of dollars?

Most business owners quite happily put up with a bit of spam to ensure they’re not missing out on sales. After all, we’re in business to make sales! It makes no sense at all to miss out on enquiries by not including your email address.

And if you’re really that worried about spam, invest in a spam filter. If your email service provider doesn’t offer one, then look around for an add-on service – or change providers.

Summary

1. Make the contact form as simple as possible; don’t clutter it with lots of drop-down menus and other “compulsory” boxes.

2. Ideally, include an email address AND an enquiry form for ultimate customer-friendliness.

3. Put some friendly words alongside the enquiry form, to let prospects know how soon they can expect a reply, and what they should do if they don’t hear back within that time frame.

4. If you’re worried about spam, invest in a spam filter.

… In short, the most customer-friendly solution is to provide both an enquiry form AND an email address. That’s what’ll maximise your enquiry rate.

 

Why strategic alliances are your marketing goldmine

Would you like a regular flow of new business, without having to much selling or prospecting? Of course you would! What business owner wouldn’t?!

But yeah, like that’s going to happen…

You’ve probably already tried networking and cold calling and advertising and a heap of other so-called “low effort” marketing, and the time or money spent hasn’t been worthwhile.

Does that frustration sound familiar?

If you’re nodding away reading this, then you should familiarise yourself with something else: strategic alliance partners.

What’s a strategic alliance partner?

A strategic alliance partner is a company operating in the same industry as you, and which has the same target market, but you don’t compete directly.

Examples of strategic alliances:

  • Plumbers, electricians, builders, rental property managers.
  • Graphic designers, web designers, marketing consultants, copywriters.
  • Beauty salon, hairdresser, gym, personal trainer, makeup artist.

… Notice how they complement each other, rather than compete directly? That’s what makes a good partnership.

So why are these partnerships so important?

These partnerships are important because the clients of one business probably need the services of a related business. (Maybe not all the time, but certainly some of the time.) So most suppliers are looking for other suppliers to recommend.

The double-edged sword of referrals

Here’s the problem with referrals: when you suggest to your Best Ever Client that they should use a certain supplier, that infers that you recommend that supplier. And if that supplier does a good job, that reflects well on you.

However, if the supplier does a terrible job, that will reflect poorly on you. The Best Ever Client will probably doubt your future judgement and referrals – and that’s not a comfortable feeling if you’re passionate about delivering great products or services. You want your clients to be well looked-after. That’s why having suppliers you can trust are absolute gold.

Strategic alliances are all about care and trust

Being in a similar industry isn’t enough; the companies that are working together need to have a similar ethos around customer service.

That means it can take a little time and effort to find strategic alliance partners that are a good fit, but by crikey it’s worth it. Because if you get it right, you can expect to receive a regular flow of new business.

 

Are you using this little-known online trust building technique?

Imagine you’re looking for something online. You find a promising link on Google and click through to a company’s website. You quickly skim-read the home page and scroll right down to the bottom.

But uh-oh! You’ve just seen the Copyright date! And it says 2006! Immediately your alarm bells ring: is this company still in business? Is their website up-to-date?

All of a sudden, you’re not sure about the professionalism of this business, and you go back to Google to find an alternative supplier.

This example might sound extreme, but it’s surprisingly common online behaviour

When we’re evaluating a new supplier, and all we know of them is their website, every little element has an important role. And that includes the Copyright date in the footer.

You may not even have noticed this Copyright date before

If you haven’t noticed it, have a look at some websites, and scroll right down to the very bottom. There you’ll see some information, probably in a very small-sized font, along the lines of:

Copyright © XYZ Company Limited 2005 – 2012

The purpose of this information is to protect the company’s copyright of the content (i.e. they are asserting that the content is theirs, and that it is illegal to copy it). Copyright law applies internationally.

But this article isn’t about law, it’s about online trust building. So look at that example above again, and you’ll notice that there’s a date range.

What does this date range tell you?

The date range tells you two things:

  1. The business has been online since 2005, so the business itself has been around for a number of years. They’re therefore unlikely to be a “fly by night” operation.
  2. The last date is the current year. That means that they’ve probably updated their website recently, which indicates that the information on the website is up-to-date. Moreover, it tells you that the company pays attention to detail and is professional in its dealings.

Of course, that’s a big assumption to make

But it’s a very powerful assumption… and all from one little innocuous sentence at the bottom. It’s a small but very important (and easy) trust-building tool. And it’s one that you should be using.

 

How to find strategic alliance partners

So you’ve decided that strategic alliance partnerships are a good way to grow your business: congratulations! Now you have the big task of finding suitable companies to partner with: how do you do that?

How to find strategic alliance partners

The first step in finding possible strategic alliance partners is to draw up a shortlist of industries. Remember, these partners should have the same target market as you, but without competing directly.

The next step depends on how upfront you want to be in your approach.

  • The direct approach: Consult a directory or list service to identify the names and contact details of companies fitting your profile for a strategic alliance. Then make contact with those businesses.
  • The softly-softly approach: Network in places where people in those industries spend time. Or attend networking functions and events aimed at those industries.

What are you going to say when you make contact?

When you contact the possible strategic alliance partner, be clear with your intentions. Let them know why you’re approaching them; what you can offer; and what’s in it for them. Sometimes financial rewards can crop up in conversation; at other times, the organisations are just happy to have a relationship with a good quality supplier they can refer work to.

How do you grow the relationship?

Like any relationship, a strategic alliance partnership rarely just happens, kaboom. It requires things like:
Same target market: you may think you have the same target market – but do you? It’s best to double check than make assumptions.

  • Goals: are you heading in the same direction, or do your goals converge?
  • Rapport: feeling comfortable with the choice of partner is vital.
  • Trust: developing trust takes time.
  • Win-win: both parties have to gain something from the relationship, and both parties have to be prepared to put some time and effort into making it work.
  • Communication: keeping in tough regularly is vital to the longevity of the partnership.

Not all companies you identify as possible partnerships work out; that’s just the nature of the game. And sometimes those strategic alliances fade in and out. The important thing is that you persevere and are consistent (and persistent) in your approach. Do it well, and in time you should uncover a goldmine of qualified referrals to your business.

 

How to get your website visitors to stay for longer

Have you ever looked at your website statistics to find out how long visitors spend on your site? This information is very important for two reasons.

Firstly, if readers are spending a good amount of time on your site, it’s because they’re finding your content useful and engaging – which should hopefully translate into sales for you.

Secondly, the time visitors spend on a site affects your Google rankings. Google is in the business of giving its users links to quality content; the time that people spend on a site is one of the measures of quality.

How long should visitors be spending on your site?

There’s no hard and fast rule as to how long visitors should be spending on your website. That will vary, for example an e-commerce website is likely to have visitors staying for longer than a brochure website, simply because of the whole shopping and checkout process.

Instead of aiming for a set time, a good way to approach this is to have a goal of increasing the average time visitors spend on your site.

How can you get visitors to spend more time on your site?

There are various ways that you can get visitors to spend more time on your site, and they all boil down to good quality content. Here are some ideas for you to consider:

  • Articles and resources: Having good quality reference information is a great way of engaging visitors and getting them to spend more time on your site. Just make sure the information is on your website, and not a link to someone else’s website! Also, make sure that it’s unique information, rather than something you’ve copied from elsewhere.
  • Blog posts: If your blog is part of your website (rather than a standalone blog site) that too is a great way of keeping your visitors engaged. Be sure to update your blog frequently, so there’s plenty of fresh and interesting content for your visitors to read.
  • Videos: Websites don’t have to be about written content: having some good quality, engaging and informative videos are another way to keep people on your site for longer.
  • Fun stuff: This is material which isn’t related to your business, but things that you’re interested in, and that your readers will find interesting too. It could be things like recipes, cartoons, photographs, games, humour… whatever you feel comfortable with.

Summary

Getting people to spend more time on your website isn’t just good for Google rankings. It’ll mean that you’re engaging readers more, so they’re more likely to remember your business – and therefore more likely to buy from you, or recommend your company to their friends and colleagues.