Unless you have an unusually large proboscis, there are only two ways you can see the nose in front of your face. One is through close examination (usually in a mirror). The other is through information provided by others, who actually can see your nose quite plainly.
The position of your business in the marketplace on any one day is a lot like your nose – it’s difficult for you to see how it looks unless you either take pains to examine it yourself or gather information provided by others.
On Close Examination
As a marketing consultant with 20+ years’ experience, I am usually called in when a business owner believes he or she could and should be doing better. This is the “looking in the mirror” phase where the business owner is thinking: I know I have a solid business, I’m working hard, and I should be making more money. In fact, I think I should be making – let me see – 20% more money!
Or maybe they are thinking they just need to get a better type of client. The type with – you guessed it – more money! If you think this only happens to solopreneurs, think again. It happens to anyone who relies on their ability to see their nose in a mirror (or their bottom line in a spreadsheet), without regard to other information.
When I first opened the doors of my business, like many new consultants, I was happy to answer questions on the phone and gave away enough free consulting to run Google. Fortunately, I learned that the kind of information people need to transform their businesses has great value, and I began requiring potential clients to put some skin in the game. If they really wanted to talk to me, I sent them a Marketing Analysis Questionnaire. Many of them were never heard from again. But if they took the time to think through the questions, that process was often an education in itself.
Among other questions, the Marketing Analysis asked if the business utilized a lead tracking system, however simple. A business owner who later became one of my favorite clients wanted to know if that was a trick question. It wasn’t.
Looking in the mirror to assess the state of a business allows the owner to see something, but they can’t see nearly enough.
Information Provided by Others
You might not always like what someone tells you about how your nose looks, but the information is useful if you want to remove an unsightly bump you hadn’t noticed.
Today, business owners have extraordinary tools to gather outside information about how well their business is positioned in the marketplace. From Google Analytics to online surveys to free CRM tools, there is no reason for any business owner to be in the dark about how his or her business is doing. Begin by asking the people who know your business best…
- Let Your Clients Tell You!
Talk to your clients directly or through surveys. You may already know the answers but ask the questions anyway and keep track of the answers. This information is pure gold:
- Why did they choose to work with you? (They knew you? Trusted you?)
- How did they find you? (Word of mouth? Search engine?)
- Do they remember the keywords they used to search for you?
- Have they recommended you to others? What did they say?
- Do they see their relationship with you as a partnership?
- If they had it to do over again, would they choose you again?
- If you feel comfortable talking about money / prices / fees, try to find out how they feel about your fees. A new client may appreciate being asked about their budget and what they are able to pay. If it is not a good fit, that’s the time to find out.
2. But Are Your Clients the “right” Clients?
You should have a list of your clients in a spreadsheet (or better yet, a CRM). Add another worksheet and create columns to help you assess each client in terms of their value to you.
• If you had it to do over again, would YOU choose that client again (Y/N) because they:
o Are profitable?
o Pay their bills on time?
o Are a pleasure to work with?
o Are a good fit for your product or service offering?
o Are ambassadors and bring you more business?
• Sort your spreadsheet, keeping the YES clients at the top. Those are clients you want to keep and would choose again. Use them to begin developing a persona. Sort by:
Gender | Marital status | Age group | Geographic location, if relevant | Income status | Interests / hobbies if you know them | Education | Favorite sports team | And anything else you can think of to differentiate the members of your audience.
• Identify a sample persona, such as a dog loving female, 30 or over, college graduate, with an income of $100,000 a year or more. Married or divorced, living on the West Coast. That information, if accurate, can drive advertising, mailings, keywords, and more because you know who you’re talking to!
o The use of LSI keywords (Latent Semantic Indexing) means that content is not the only king. Context may be equally important as Google attempts to gain insight into the context or intent behind a search query.
Begin Targeting and Tracking
One of the most controversial rules in football has to do with “targeting.” The term describes a play in which a defenseless opponent is hit above the shoulders. The penalties for targeting are severe.
Fortunately, your ability to identify and “target” the right kind of client for you does not come with a penalty. Instead, it is likely to help you gain the success you’ve been hoping for. Once you’ve identified the client that’s right for you, you can begin tracking some of the most important information for your business:
Are new leads coming in?
• From the web?
• From social media?
• From word of mouth?
• ARE YOU KEEPING TRACK?
How many of them are you converting to new clients?
• What’s your conversion rate for the web?
• For social media?
• Are you keeping track of how many and why you succeed with some and not others?
If you reduce all this to the most obvious level, anyone would know that you don’t run an ad for Elder Care or Depends in a teen magazine; however, that is exactly the game. Who needs the product or service? Where do you find them? Who can afford it? How can you reach them – or better still, how can they reach you?
In Marketing, there are no trick questions. And every answer matters.
Let’s talk about mirrors – and better ways to gather information!
Everywhere they turn, small business owners are told that “Content is King.” Many attempt to blog, Tweet, create web content, teach themselves to use Mailchimp, and even design clever ads for Facebook and Google, all in the name of reaching the customer or creating brand awareness.
Let me ask you this: Imagine that you spend almost an entire day writing your first Mailchimp newsletter. Bursting with pride, you send it to your customers, looking forward to positive responses to your exciting Call to Action!
And then you wait.
When you hear nothing for what feels like HOURS, you call your favorite customer and ask what he thought of your newsletter. Lucky for you, he tells you the truth. “My friend,” he says, “I’m afraid that your first Mailchimp newsletter looks and feels like it was written by a real chimp, but I’m sure you’ll do better next time!”
Ouch!! You didn’t think it was that bad. And after all, you can ALWAYS blame the technology! And many entrepreneurs do exactly that. (Bad chimp, bad chimp!!)
But suppose you read it again. This time you notice that it’s a little long, perhaps. And maybe you forgot to run the spell checker, but jeez. Do your customers expect you to be running a small business and writing New York Times newsletters?
The answer, I’m afraid, is yes. The Internet is more and more forgiving of grammatical errors and even spelling errors. But individual readers rarely forgive content that is too long, poorly organized, and not a good fit for their interests.
Sometimes You Just Need to Call a Professional
As a writer and marketing consultant, I am distressed to see just how bad some of the writing is on the web. Actually, distressed is the wrong word. It makes me crazy.
I have been helping small and large organizations to articulate their identity and tell their unique story for over 25 years, and I continue to do that work through my company. But recently I decided to try to reduce the craziness on the web by creating a writing course for small business owners.
What a great idea, I thought, until I saw that there are about a bazillion courses out there already. But – and it’s an important but – if those courses were working successfully, I would be seeing more good writing and fewer embarrassments, so I stopped worrying about the competition. Started working on a course and began significantly rebuilding my web site to put greater focus on writing.
So Where’s the Course?
I began developing the course by asking small business owners if they enjoy business writing. Some freely admitted that they’d rather be dragged over hot coals than write a business letter, let alone a newsletter or a blog post. Many tell me that it’s one of the most stressful things they do. They are perfectly comfortable with running their business – but when it comes to telling their company story, it can be downright miserable.
In despair, some turn to an inexpensive online service for help and get “word salad” from writers who are not native speakers of English. The result is often worse than their own efforts. And they still have to pay for it.
I can’t identify with that frustration because I’ve been writing – and getting paid for it – for so many years. And there’s a well-kept secret about writing.
Art + Skill + Practice
Business writing is one part art, 90 parts skill, and 9 parts practice. And the good news is that skill can be taught. That doesn’t mean every small business owner can become a New York Times bestselling author, but they can achieve the writing skills that are needed for their business goals.
I wish I could tell you that I’m here to sell you a course on Writing Your Way Out of the Bag for Small Business Owners, but the course isn’t finished yet, and I’m still gathering input from people who know the reality of the “hot coals” experience. But if you’d like to tell me how writing affects your small business, I’d love to add your thoughts and experiences.
I know that some people have a problem organizing their thoughts into a beginning, middle and end. Others begin all of their sentences with the word “I.” Ouch! Do you think about the people (your audience, your customers) who will read what you write before you put finger to keyboard? So many things to think about. But all of the so-called “problems” are solvable.
What problem can I help you solve? You can send me an email about your writing challenges while I’m working on the course (it could take a while!) or let me know if you need help with actual business writing ASAP.
My kids say I edited the notes they left on the refrigerator years ago because I was picky about the power of language. Today I like to help small business owners use the power of language to tell their story, build enthusiasm – and generate leads. AND have more fun and fewer hot coals!
Let’s talk soon!
Nowadays you can’t swing a cat without running into the words web content, social media content, email content, blog content, content is king, content marketing, and on and on. As a language nut, I have become increasingly curious about when and how the word “content” came to mean what it means today.
It took a very deep dive into an Oxford English dictionary to find a definition that fit today’s usage: “information made available by a website or other electronic medium.” Yep. That’s it.
But what about all the definitions that came before it?
Ah, The Content’ We Never Knew!
The first definitions came from the Old French for the adjective, con-tent’ – as in “I am content’ with that decision.” In other words, I am satisfied.
Much later we see the evolution of the Late Middle English noun con’tents – which originally meant “things contained.” For example, “The murderer poisoned the contents of the flask.” Ouch. OR contents could be used for a “Table of Contents,” meaning “All the stuff that’s in this book.”
It is only when we get to “things contained” that it becomes possible to segue to the “information made available…” definition.
Why Does Any of This Old Stuff Matter?
When I look at articles that are frantically concerned about consistent messaging and messaging silos and chatbots, I wonder if it would help to know that the word “content” once meant satisfying? What if we were in the business of providing content that is satisfying to the reader. Not necessarily a “Call to Action” for us – but satisfying to the reader. However counterintuitive that may seem, satisfaction is built into the word. And maybe we can have both.
Organizations that know their audience will be able to create content that is truly of interest to them – and satisfying; on the other hand, “buckshot content marketing” is unlikely to be satisfying to the writer or the reader.
There are some simple ways to make even complex writing more satisfying and easier on the reader. For example:
Chunking information into manageable bites. There’s a big difference between satisfaction and indigestion.
Readability is part of reader satisfaction. That can include anything from the use of shorter sentences to avoiding jargon, acronyms, and “insider” language. Make complex points clear and simple wherever possible.
Be a GPS. Leading the way is part of reader satisfaction. If you stay focused and “on message,” use transition words to connect ideas, use images to illustrate whenever you can, you’ll be a reader’s GPS, helping them get where they’re going – and where you want them to go.
Know Your Audience and write accordingly. The tone you strike should be appropriate for the audience. You don’t have to be stuffy, but “Hey Dude” rarely strikes the right note (though I have rewritten articles for people who did exactly that, so you know I am not kidding).
Use humor if appropriate. This also depends on your audience, but sometimes humor, especially self-deprecating humor, is rather – well – satisfying. I am laughing at myself for being a grammar nut, word nut, dictionary nut, and language nut, so it’s ok to laugh. I’m used to it!!
Satisfy Your Audience!
Next time you sit down to write content, I hope you will take a moment to remember where that word came from. You may be satisfying a reader’s desire for information or for opportunity or for new connections. But whatever it is, satisfy your audience and you’ll knock their socks off! If you’d like some help, let me know! I love writing content that satisfies.