Helpful Hints

Freelance Writer Files: Ask these 4 key questions to ID your best customer

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints on March 20th, 2015 by liz – Be the first to comment

Let’s face it. Not everyone in the whole world is in the market for your product or service. There’s a select group of people or companies who are actually looking for what you have to offer. To save wasted effort and advertising money trying to convert non-prospects, try to narrow down who you’re talking to as precisely as possible. To help identify your best, most likely customer, the one who’s going to be most receptive to your message, what are the most important questions to ask? Start with these.

Who? What? Why?

So many questions…

• Where’s the pain?
What’s the problem you can solve? And who needs your solution? If you’re a home remodeler, can you take the guesswork and angst out of choosing design options by showing the customer before and after pictures? If you’re a specialty grocery store, do you stock items some people really need but have a hard time finding, like gluten-free foods? If you’re a fashion boutique, do you carry cool styles trendy young single women simply can’t find in department stores?
• Who are my ideal customers?
Who, what, where, why?

Who, what, why?


How old are they? What’s their income range? What are their interests and hobbies? Do they have kids? How far do they live from your location? What are their favorite websites? Advertising agencies work with lifestyle profiles of distinct sociographic groups, which include mindsets, goals, and economic and emotional indicators. Each sociographic group has distinct wants and needs. Creating profiles of your ideal customers can help you hone your message to speak to those wants and needs.
• Who’s buying from me already?
Take a look at your customer base and see who likes your product or service now. Create a lifestyle profile of those customers to get a good idea of who you need to target with your messages.
• Who are my competitors targeting?
Maybe your competitors know some good ways to appeal to your potential customers. Study their advertising or marketing messages. It’s okay to steal a marketing strategy from someone who’s using it successfully. Just don’t borrow their language or specific appeal. Let’s say your competitors are touting their commitment to superior customer service. Well, that’s hardly new. But is there a specific strong, unique service-related feature you can advertise? One-hour turnaround? Frequent buyer discounts? A personal consultant? Longer business hours? Any unique, substantial benefit can help pull them over to your business.
• And more…
There’s more to targeting your best customers than answering these few questions. But doing it will get you started. The fact is, you can maximize your advertising and marketing budget by minimizing unanswered questions about your customers. And there’s no question, that’s very smart.

Freelance Writer Files: Can a Cheap Website be Worse than None?

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing, Web development, writing well on February 26th, 2015 by liz – Be the first to comment

Here’s the short answer: Yes, it can. How come?

Check this scenario: You’re a small business looking to attract more business. Your product or service is not unique, and your competitors have been around for awhile and built a customer base. So you need to take business away from the existing companies. You’re brand-new, breaking into what is already a mature market. Your competitors look big and professional on the Web. How do you compete with them, when people have never met you or heard of you? These days, largely through your website. If it looks cheap and shabby online, you do your business more damage than good. Especially if your competitors have very attractive, effective websites.

Your website is not the place to pinch pennies. A poor website could drive prospective customers into the arms of your competitors. You will need a well-designed, professional-looking website, and the investment you make in creating it will pay off handsomely over time.

The first question is, how are you going to differentiate yourself in the marketplace?
And the answer is, by creating a strong, competitive presence online. When people visit your website, they’ll form an impression of your business, for good or ill, based largely on these few factors:

• Look
Graphic design plays a huge part in making your business look successful and professional. Dynamic use of colors, high-quality photos, and a well-designed overall appearance all go toward creating your image, just as your personal appearance does when you visit prospective customers. You wouldn’t visit a prospect wearing shabby clothes or a thrown-together outfit, so you shouldn’t show prospects a poorly designed website if you want to earn their business.

• Feel
This is a kind of mystical concept to more meat-and-potatoes people, but it’s very real. Does this website make me feel that I could trust the company with my business? Or does it feel like a fly-by-night affair? The content has to be solid, to informative and to the point. The navigation has to be reliable, intuitive and quick. And most of all, the site has to feel professional.

• Functionality
An effective website should offer intuitive navigation that gets them where they need to go quickly. Graphics that don’t get in the way of straight communication. Content that informs briefly and effectively, with links further into the site for extra explanation, if necessary, not crowding the home page or primary pages.

• News value
Keywords and tags used to be important to search rankings. No more. These days, a relevant, well-written, frequently changing blog that provides valuable information is the best way to earn a high ranking. But before you sit down to write blog posts, realize that it takes time, which as a small business owner you probably don’t have. You probably will have to pay someone to write your blog posts a couple of times a week. I know you want to save money on this, since it’s an ongoing cost, but be careful.

Overseas companies, for instance, may seem like a good deal because they offer hundreds of blog posts at astoundingly low prices. A client of mine tried one, and what he got back was word salad, not usable content. So hire a decent writer with a solid grasp of English and your business to write your blog posts. It will pay off in a a good search ranking and repeat visits to your website, which translates to more business.

• Sales capability
If you intend to sell online, you’ll need to make your Web ordering mechanism pretty slick. Otherwise, potential customers will get frustrated and go to your competitor’s site with their orders. Hire a Web person who knows how to make these things work without a hitch.

This is just a bare overview of things to consider when building your website. Experienced professionals will charge you more initially, but you’ll more than recoup your cost in a smoother development process, fewer glitches, and better efficiency and effectiveness. And, what’s most important, you’ll draw more business by showing a professional online face to your prospects.

Finally, here’s an article from a Law Review website that you might enjoy reading, about how a cheap website could actually cost you business.

Freelance Writer Files: #WhyIHateYourWebsite

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing, writing well on February 4th, 2015 by liz – Be the first to comment

You’re killing me here. When I visited your site today, it was more painful than when I had my wisdom teeth pulled. At least the oral surgeon gave me IV Valium. Listen, no offense, but here are a few reasons why I hate your website:

• You really used white text on a black background?
Ow, my eyes! Do you realize it’s 30% harder to read text on the Web than it is in print? Especially reversed-out type.

• And you made the text 8-pt. type?

8-pt. type?

8-pt. type?


On some planet, everybody has magnifying vision. But not on this one.

• Are you thinking you can write?
Your text is so ungrammatical and poorly spelled and punctuated … wait, are you from a foreign country?

• Are the colors meant to “sizzle?”
In your graphics, the old blue and red side-by-side thing creates movement, but not in a good way.

• And those Flash graphics. Cool, but what do they MEAN?
Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should.

• Why can’t I change the size of the page?
Maybe because you didn’t think it was worth paying to have someone make it customizable to the user’s screen size? Trust me, it is.

• And how about those dead links?
Not that I was dying to see your mission statement, but it would have been nice if I could. Dead links give the impression you’re either out of business or inattentive to detail, neither of which speaks well of your business.

Fortunately, the above infractions are all easy to fix, if you work with a good Web writer and a website designer. I have cool graphic designer friends, and I can help you with the writing. We won’t charge you any arms or legs, either.

Your site is like your public face, so you’d better make it clean and easy to read and use. If it’s not, you may be torturing users who might otherwise be customers. Having a good-looking website that communicates that your business is up-to-date, accessible and easy to work with is not a luxury. Competition being what it is these days, it’s a downright necessity.

So call me. No charge for a chat.

KC Freelance Writer Files: Listen up, Mr. President!

Posted in Helpful Hints, writing well on November 8th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

Throughout the long campaign season, Mr. President, I heard you say “pundints” several times. Aargh. I thought you were a Harvard grad. This error is all too common and should be strangled in its sleep. But don’t feel bad. Kansas City’s own Steve Kraske, radio host and political commentator, and a “pundit” in his own right, has blown it, too.

Did you say what I thought you said??

Did you say what I thought you said??

• Pundit
Mr. President, and Mr. Kraske, will you please note that “pundits” has only one “n?” I don’t know what “pundints” are. Perhaps a dent someone puts in your head after you deliver one too many puns?

Another one I hear now and then:

• Restaurateur
OK, I know you are thinking of “restaurant,” and the person who owns one is logically called a “restauranteur.” But it ain’t so. Don’t be so literal. “Restaurateur” is derived from the French language, the same one that gave us “auteur” and “poseur” (Two words that sometimes apply to the same person). So get with the program, and ditch that “n.”

And here’s one I hear entirely too often:

• Mischievous
I keep harping on this because it jangles my nerves. Every time I hear “mis-CHEE-vee-ous,” I think how my dear departed mother, also a word freak, would have reacted. She would have corrected it kindly. I wish I had her gift for diplomacy. Anyhow, if you have erred on this one, just look carefully at the word. The root word is “mischief.” Think of “mischievous” as being pronounced like “mischiefous.” Practice it: “MIS-chuv-uss.” There you go.

Do you flinch when you hear words mangled? If so, please share. Misery loves company, you know.

Freelance Writer Files: 8 Website Boo-Boos To Avoid

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing, writing well on May 30th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

Now that practically anyone can build a website, Website Boo-Boos are popping up all over cyberspace. They frustrate users and decrease the effectiveness of the site. Here are a few common ones to avoid:

Oops-544x410Boo-Boo #1
White type on a black or very dark background.
It’s 30% harder to read text on a computer screen than it is to read text in print. Why would you make it even harder with harsh contrast? Italics are bad, too. (Mea culpa: You’ll note my header is black with gray type, and some of the text is tiny. However, look at my pages, and the important info is in black on a white background.)

Boo-Boo #2
Mouse type.
If your user has to blow up the screen to 200% to read your text, need I mention it’s too danged small? Don’t expect users go to extra trouble to read your text. They won’t.

Boo-Boo #3
Huge graphics and tiny type.
Ahem, unless you’re an artist, your user probably isn’t visiting your site to admire your graphics. They’re looking for information. So feature the essential info upfront. Supplement it with reasonably demure graphics.

Boo-Boo #4
Flash graphics.
That’s so 2000s. I suppose you know by now that search engines can’t “see” flash graphics. That’s one count against them. Another one is that if you’re like me, you find ever-changing images at the top of the page distracting while you’re trying to read the text below. There’s no need for flash graphics today. There’s a Java app that makes moving graphics, if you really think you need them, and apparently, they’re visible to search engines (Check me on this, though).

Boo-Boo #5
Too much text.
Before we got so smart about Web usability, companies used to reproduce their long brochure copy on their websites and call it good. These days, we know that websites are a whole different animal from printed documents. And we have such short attention spans, if we see a lot of text on the screen (or in print, for that matter), we stop reading.

Boo-Boo #6
Text with no headlines or subheads.
Make sure your story can be told effectively by just the headlines and subheads. That may be all the user looks at. And use bullet points instead of long lines of text.

Boo-Boo #7
Here’s a Peek-A-Boo-Boo: Hiding contact information.
Some Web designers like to be cutesy and hide vital information behind quirky cickable icons or funny words. Don’t do it. It will drive users away. Make sure every page of your site features your company name, location (if that’s important), phone number and email address. Don’t count on people clicking the “Contact Us” link to figure it out.

Boo-Boo #8
Contact email forms.
If I do click “Contact Us,” I expect to see a phone number and/or an email address, so I can initiate the contact right then, when I’m feeling the need. If all you have is a form users have to fill out, and a message that “We’ll get back to you within 48 hours,” your drop-off rate will occur at two points: (1) When users balk at filling out your form; and (2) If they fill it out, and you contact them 48 hours later, when they’ve lost the desire to talk to you, maybe even forgotten what they wanted to talk to you about.

Boo-Boo-proof your website.

Ask if the laziest person in the world will take one look at your Web page and vamoose. Okay, maybe the world’s laziest person is not your prospect. But remember that most of us are the next-laziest person in the world when we’re cruising websites.

• Are you creating a smooth, easy road to your door, or are you making the road bumpy and hard, with unreadable, bloated text, graphic misdirection, or things that take too long to figure out?

• Do you have contact info on every page, so prospects can call or email you and get a response immediately? They don’t want to talk to you in two days, they want to do it NOW!

• Do you have a live human (not a recording) available by phone or email to help them right away?

Ask yourself these questions, and if you still have any of these 8 Boo-Boos on your site, fix them. Clear the path to your door. That’s a great way to get prospects to go where you want them to go and thereby boost your site’s effectiveness.

Freelance Writer Files: Use These Words Correctly and Look Good

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing, writing well on May 28th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment
Yeah, you're looking good.

Yeah, you’re looking good.

There are 30 good examples, so take a look.

Better still, if you’re not sure how to convey your advertising or marketing message properly, call on a professional writer to help you out. :-)

Freelance Writer Files: Does Color Matter?

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints on March 31st, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

When you’re designing an ad, brochure or collateral, color matters. A lot.

What’s the most eye-catching, exciting color? The same one you see in bullfight scenes: RED! Red is hot, like blood, and it gets your blood racing (at least a little) when you see it in a printed piece or on a billboard or TV screen.

RED!

RED!

Other colors are nice, but you’re not after NICE, you’re after getting attention. Remember AIDA? Attention, desire, interest, action? If you don’t get that first “A,” you’ve lost the game before you’ve even started.

As a general rule, don’t use any colors you’re likely to find in a typical bathroom: muted pastels or beige. Unless it’s as a background color for your exciting headline.

So yes, color matters. So you use red for your headline. Is it large enough to be read easily? And most important of all, is it a “grabber?” Floating around in an ocean of other headlines, does it stand out to a member of your target audience? Does it present a clear benefit proposition? Or at least, does it grab attention, so someone will read the benefit proposition in your exciting subhead?

That pops!

That pops!

Now, if you’re looking for the ultimate in readability, use the combo that Western Union discovered tops them all: black letters on a yellow background. It may not be the ultimate in sophisticated design, but depending on the product or service you’re hawking, it might be just right. Like on a billboard, where drivers have very little time to absorb your message.

Ever drive past a billboard with type so tiny that you nearly run off the road trying to read it? This is the result of the graphic designer looking at his or her design only on a computer monitor. Gee, it looks readable there. But what about 50 feet in the air, hundreds of yards from the road? Designers should try reducing the design to a size the driver might see it.

Ignoring any of the proven rules for effectiveness will cause you to throw money on advertising or promotional materials that simply don’t work.

If you don’t feel confident that you can do all the right things on your own, by all means, hire a communications professional, as well as a good graphic designer, to create your advertising and promotional materials. It will be money well spent.

Freelance Writer Files: 7 Quick Tips for Brochures that Work

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints on March 21st, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

Here are a few simple things you can do with your next brochure that will make it stand out and get results.

business woman_z1. The cover should feature a picture of a person.
People are attracted to pictures of faces. The person could be a company president, a customer, or an expert of some kind. Someone whose comments are featured inside the brochure.

2. Include “knock-outs” on the cover.
Those are one- or two-line highlights of the content inside. You know how those “People” magazine knock-outs grab you. Use them on business brochures. Make them interesting!

3. On the front inside cover, summarize the key points in the brochure. That way, it’s quick and easy for the reader to go directly to the specific content he or she is interested in.

4. Include a call to action on every page: Call this toll-free number, learn more at this Web address, whatever you need the reader to do.

5. Use a Q&A format to engage the reader. It breaks up the content into manageable chunks and makes it easy to read.

6. On the back cover, make sure to have a contact name and return address displayed prominently.

7. Keep in mind always that you need to make people stop, be drawn to your brochure (especially if you’re at a trade show), and be encouraged to read what’s inside. Study magazines at the grocery store and see what colors, designs, type fonts and other devices they use to stand out and draw you in. Some are kind of gaudy, but you can borrow a few of their tricks without looking unprofessional.

7.a. Okay, I said 7 points, but this one is important. Make sure every aspect of your brochure is relevant. Don’t stick in a picture of your plant as seen from a helicopter (a popular one, for some reason). It has nothing to do with the product that’s made in that plant. So you have a big building. What does that mean to ME, your potential customer? Likewise, unless your audience is made up of gearheads, don’t stick in photos of machines you use to make things. It’s the things you’re selling, not the machines.

Whew. Well, those are my 7 (+1) tips for making effective brochures. If you have others, please let me know.

Freelance Writer Files: Do You Know the Three Essential Ingredients?

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing on February 19th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

A successful advertising or marketing campaign has three essential ingredients.

A successful advertising or marketing campaign has three essential ingredients.

Let’s say you’re a small business owner trying to squeeze the best return out of a small marketing and advertising budget. You need to know how to communicate with your target audience efficiently and efffectively. And if you know the Three Essential Ingredients of a successful marketing campaign, you can do it. Here they are:

Essential Ingredient 1: Excitement
Don’t be a me-too advertiser/marketer. Find a way to get your target audience members to notice your campaign and climb aboard. Your marketing/advertising must cause them to RESPOND by buying, calling, signing up, or whatever it is you need them to do. And that requires an offer of value to your target audience, not just a piece where you “we” on them (e.g., we have 12,000 sq. ft. of storage space, we have 76 trucks covering 24 states, etc. What about the people you’re talking to? What do THEY NEED that you can provide?).

Essential Ingredient 2: News
Ask yourself whether your ad/marketing campaign creates news. Does it get talked about on social media? Does it make the TV news? Not all campaigns will. Let’s face it. There are a lot of parity products and services out there. But if there is some way you can present your product or service in a quirky, newsworthy way (for instance, having your company president move his desk to a billboard beside a well-traveled urban highway), then do it. That’s assuming you have the budget and the confidence of your CFO (you) to do such a thing. But in any case, you can at least spring for good-looking, attention-getting direct mail pieces, brochures, collateral pieces and Web pages focused on the “news” that you provide exactly what the recipients are looking for.

If you can promote via social media, stick to the newsworthy aspects of your offering and devote time and effort to keeping up your efforts on Facebook, Twitter, and other Web platforms.

Essential Ingredient 3: Call to action
A piece I wrote recently for a building maintenance company focused on building managers’ shrinking cleaning budgets, and how my client could get them more cleaning for less. The client has a unique estimating device that can do as many “what if” scenarios as a building manager needs to explore, and fit the cleaning plan to a set budget. So the call to action is “Call XYZ Company now. We’re the only one with an electronic estimating system to help you get the most cleaning for your budget. And you’ll get our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. That means you must be satisfied with the job we do, or you don’t pay.” And that’s good news!

Do you think there are more essential ingredients to a successful ad/marketing campaign? Add a comment.

Freelance Writer Files: Running like the Red Queen

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, Motivation on February 6th, 2014 by liz – 1 Comment

You have to run as fast as you can to stay in one place.

You have to run as fast as you can to stay in one place.

In Rosser Reeves’ book, “Reality in Advertising,” he likens the advertiser to the Red Queen of “Alice in Wonderland,” running as fast as s/he can just to stay in one place. It’s an apt, if depressing, analogy.

If you’re running advertising today, good! Tomorrow? That’s good, too! But what are you doing next week, or next month, or next year? Are you keeping up the effort or letting it (and business) slide?

See, advertising isn’t like laundry detergent, where you pour it in, close the lid, and it just keeps on cleaning. It’s more like a snow blower (a propos today’s view out my window): As long as there’s snow to feed it, the blower will continue to blast out snow. When the snow’s gone, it’s all over.

So you can’t run an ad or do a blog post one time and expect much business from it. That’s because of something called “room in the box,” the box being the space between your prospect’s ears. It always contains somebody’s advertising message, and if you don’t keep feeding yours in, somebody else will feed in theirs. Then there is a point where there’s “no more room in the box,” and no more messages can fit inside. brain-in-shipping-box

You want your message to fill up that box, effectively preventing competitors’ messages from getting in. How do you do that?

• By being clear about the unique selling proposition you’re offering.
• By delivering your message to the right target audience.
• By choosing the right voice and language to convey it to the target audience.
• By selecting the right media to deliver it in.
• By allocating enough budget that you can afford a continuing campaign.
• And by keeping on keeping on.

A continuing campaign doesn’t mean you’re blasting out messages every day or every minute. But it does mean you’ve planned your advertising and marketing for at least one year, set your budget, and each quarter you plan on paying for some advertising or promotional activity.

If your product or service has a unique benefit that is more relevant at one time of the year than another, you heavy up then. For instance, if you’re selling SPF 50 suntan lotion, you’ll start a heavy awareness and promotional period around April and run it until September (In the Northern Hemisphere. If you also sell in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ve got a year-round market). The other six months of the year, you can analyze how your program did, then plan what adjustments you need to make and what you’re going to do the following year.

Make a schedule and stick to it.

Make a schedule and stick to it.

A client of mine follows a schedule that includes sending each prospect a series of three direct mail letters spaced six weeks apart, followed by a phone call. Then, three months later, he sends them a direct mail piece, also followed up by a phone call. He is out there in the trenches, calling on people face-to-face, so he really knows what their concerns are. I know how to put his message in a compelling form, whether in a letter or a brochure, or on his website. Together, we’ve honed his message to the point that it’s really working.

Developing a message and a plan that work like a charm doesn’t happen overnight. There probably will be some trial and error. You may have to do some formal or informal focus group testing, or let results tell you what’s right or wrong. But in the end, it’s worth it. One new client or customer can pay for most of a year’s advertising and marketing, if you’re playing your cards right.

So don’t think of running like the Red Queen as an expensive, unproductive grind. Think of it as a wellness program that’s making your advertising and marketing efforts healthier and stronger day by day, month by month, and year by year. Which, in turn, brings you more clients and boosts your profits.