Content Marketing Files: What Cartman Gets Wrong About Authority

“You will respect my authority!” yells Eric Cartman in “South Park.”

Does it work? Not so much.

You can't demand authority. You must earn it.

You can’t demand authority. You must earn it.

What Cartman doesn’t get is that authority is earned, not demanded.

So how could Cartman do a better job of earning it? By considering these few points.

• Saying you’re an authority doesn’t make it so.
Cartman’s demand for authority? Pathetic. He has no evidence to back up his claim of being authoritative. In content writing, you have to demonstrate what you know. So if you’re knowlegeable about how to write blogs, you start writing blogs about how to write blogs. Copyblogger’s Brian Clark and Sonia Simone became authoritative through writing and sharing what they knew.

• You have to know what you’re talking about. At least a little.
Cartman is, to put it politely, full of it. So be sure if you want to write about something you know a little about, learn more about it. The Web is bursting with fascinating information. So use it.

It's not all about me.

It’s all about me.

• Don’t make it all about you.
Cartman is all about his own needs. Effective content marketing isn’t about what you need or propping up your own ego. But in content marketing, to coin a phrase, there is no “U.” It’s all about “them,” your audience, and their needs.

• Be helpful.
Can you remember Cartman ever helping out Kyle or Kenny, his South Park friends? Maybe, but only to con them into helping him. Give without expecting to receive. Do you know how to boost shoe sales? The best times to get discounts on European travel? How to cook the perfect omelet? If you know anything that could help other people learn something or do something better, write about that.

Share and share alike.

Share and share alike.

• Share generously.
One major reason Cartman would be an abysmal content marketer is that he doesn’t share. But as a content writer, you know that new information or a unique take on an old idea have no value to the world just sitting inside your own head. So share what you know or have learned, so others can benefit.

• Accept what others share, too.
Cartman has half of this right. He’s willing to take, only he doesn’t give back. “Share and share alike” is the way to build relationships and networks of people who know about lots of things. Tap into their knowledge, learn, and grow.

Honesty counts. A lot.

Honesty means never having to say, “Oops, I lied.”

• Be honest.
Cartman schemes and lies to get what he wants. There’s a script that says the South Park kids have to hang out with him. But in the real world, if you abuse people’s trust, they’ll run from you, never to return. Worse still, they’ll tell all their friends about your misdeeds, and all of them will run from you, too. So treasure people’s trust and hold it sacred.

• Be respectful.
Cartman, respectful? Nope. If you want to earn authority, treat others as you would want them to treat you. With respect, kindness, good vibes, and support. Respect their intelligence and humanity, and they’ll respect yours.

So in summary, it’s clear that Cartman is a total loss as a content marketer, and that his authority is worth exactly zilch. But yours will be priceless if you think of everything Cartman does—and do the exact opposite.

And one final point, perhaps the one point that floats above all of the others:

Be yourself.

Rock on!


Value who you are. And be your authentic self. Your best self. That’s the surest way to begin to earn authority. And if you’re not really sure who your self is, start writing. Sooner or later, your authentic voice will emerge. And you’ll be stronger for it.

What Can a Dog & a Cat Tell You About Content Marketing?

Alfie

Alfie

Think about your dog, Alfie. He’s all about pleasing you. You say, “Fetch,” and he jumps to it. Say “Sit” or “Stay,” and he obeys. When you want to play, wave a squeaky toy at him, and he’s all over it. And above all, Alfie is loyal to you. Even if you forget to feed him one morning, he’ll forgive you and love you. See, Alfie is other-directed, and you are the other.

Your content marketing target audience

Your content marketing target audience

Now think about your cat, Mittens. She’s all about pleasing herself. Oh, sure, she’ll rub up against you, but only to get you to pet her. Tell Mittens to “fetch,” and she’ll stare at you coolly and stalk away. And don’t even think about telling Mittens to sit or stay. She only does what she wants to, because she’s completely self-directed.

So your dog, Alfie, is the old model of the customer in traditional advertising. Tell him all the features and benefits of your product, tell him to buy it, and he’ll obey. That doesn’t work today as well as it did decades ago, when there were fewer products and brands to choose from.

Consumers face a dizzying array of brands & products.

Consumers face a dizzying array of brands & products.

These days, the Alfies of the world are few, and the variety of products and brands is overwhelming. The old advertising “tell it and sell it” model doesn’t work anymore, because consumers tune out when so many brands are talking at them.

Mittens the cat is a better model for today’s target audiences. She’s all about self-interest, so how do you get her to do anything? By letting her do what she naturally wants to do. In a nutshell, that’s what content marketing is all about.

So the question is, “How can I make hanging out with me attractive to Mittens, so out of her self-interest, she’ll not only stay around but also decide to share my brand with her cat friends?”

By giving Mittens lots of petting and regular portions of the particular food she and her network of cat friends like. Translated to people, this means giving your audience a consistent stream of fascinating, useful information they will opt in and say they want from you.

For Alfie, traditional advertising still may work. But to keep Mittens by your side, you’ll need to earn her loyalty by giving her a steady stream of fresh content that she wants and chooses to share with her network of friends. That’s the way to keep your brand’s consumer relationships purring along.

Freelance Writer Files: Running like the Red Queen

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.

Freelance Writer Files: What price connectivity?

The "skritch" of a pen...

The “skritch” of a pen…

There are those of us who want to connect with lots of people, via any means possible. Or I should say, every means possible. Computer, iPhone or Android, tablet, bluetooth, Facebook, LinkedIn, you name it, they’re on it. Connecting with lots of people they don’t really know (like on LI or FB).

I admit I have a few connections. But enough, already. Complete strangers are asking me to Link In with them. On FB, people who may not even be people want to join groups I’m in. Sure these things are convenient, but how good are those connections? And what do you pay for the convenience?

For one thing, you lose your privacy. If you are tagged on a photo in someone’s FB page, did you know people can find out nearly everything about you, from your Social Security number to your favorite stores? Probably same with LinkedIn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m torn about remaining in FB. I have some great FB friends from my hometown I’d like to keep in touch with, and heck, I’m administrator of two FB groups. But it’s all so… public.

Remember when you didn’t know what everyone’s favorite music, movies and songs were? When you had no idea what their dog looked like, if they lived in a different town? When people used to phone each other to get caught up? Or, heaven forfend, handwrote letters and cards?

I was going through boxes and boxes of photos, clippings and letters from both sides of my family and came across some delightful notes from my grandfathers mostly expressing what a wonderful child I was. But what was so touching was that I could see their handwriting. My father’s father’s handwriting was large and bold, beautiful in its loopiness. My mother’s father’s handwriting was not so large, but also beautifully executed. And when they handwrote letters, they had to think about what they were writing, because it would years later be discovered in a big box of photos, letters and all. They had to think more about what they were writing than I do right now, because if I make an error, I only have to hit “delete” and correct it. They were committed to their words by a bond of ink.

Corona_Silent_1950s_MI vow today to start handwriting letters to my friends. I have one friend in Omaha who treasures them, whenever I get around to writing them. Sometimes she will send me a typed letter, which is nearly as good. They’re done on a manual typewriter. I want my dad’s old Smith-Corona portable back, so I can hear the “thwack” the keys made on the paper.

We’re so connected, but are we really connected to the right people, in the right way? I sometimes doubt it.

Freelance Writer Files: Are you developing your self?

A person who certainly was himself.

A person who certainly was himself.


“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for.”
-Oscar Wilde

To realize one’s nature perfectly. What does that mean, really?

If you are active in the business world, you may wonder at times (or many times) whether this is really “you,” or who you had hoped you would be, sitting in the meeting playing Boardroom Bingo to pass the time. Or hanging out with people you really don’t like very much.

What is self-development? Is it achieved by winning awards, climbing the ladder to higher echelons in your company? Coming in first in your Corporate Challenge event? Climbing Mount Everest? Getting a tummy-tuck? Knowing the right people? Driving the cool car?

In my opinion, none of those things is going to help you develop your true self. To me, finding one’s true nature is an inside job. How could it not be?

If you are focused outward, looking for symbols of success or things to make you happy in the world, it seems to me you never will be happy. Isn’t it true that once you get that shiny new thing you had been after, thinking it would make you happy, it quickly loses its luster, and you have to think of something else to go after?

I heard an author the other day say, “The more things you have, the more things you have to take care of, and the more tension it causes.” Having had a house full of stuff for 12 years, which I then pared down to move into an apartment, I can tell you it’s true. The stuff accumulates, and it becomes a burden. This author said, “The things you own, own you.” True, true.

But self-knowledge is something that never piles up and becomes a burden. Instead, it makes you feel lighter and lighter. Because you can let go of all the stuff that really doesn’t serve you and really doesn’t matter.

Why should you devote yourself to doing the real work of self-development? Let me ask you this: Do you think you know yourself? Or are you too busy to notice who you are?

That seems like a strange question, I imagine. A lot of us are extremely busy because we have jobs, families, hobbies, friends, and whatever other things we’re required to spend time on. Who has time for self-development?? But even in an extremely harried life, I contend that if you can’t take five minutes to simply BE, you are short-changing yourself by neglecting to at least form a friendly acquaintance with yourself.

Peace

Peace

Years ago, I took the Silva Method of Meditation, which is a terrific course. In fact, I took it twice. Once you’ve taken it, as long as you keep your card proving you are a graduate, you can take it as many times as you like. The course teaches you how to enter the alpha state of awareness, then to go one rung deeper, to a place where you find the answers your inner self has to the questions you ask.

In the Silva course, our instructor (a Franciscan monk who was a hoot) reminded us to practice for at least a few minutes daily. “Five minutes is good; ten minutes is very good; fifteen minutes is excellent.” And then, “Once a day is good, twice a day is very good, and three times is excellent.”

I’m afraid I’ve let myself slip a bit since I first took the course. But when things get hairy, or when I’m experiencing negative emotions like worry, anger, or depression, nothing helps calm me like meditating the way I was taught.

You don’t have to take the Silva course to know how to meditate. There are a lot of books out there, and a lot of classes, on how to do it. But you don’t need any of those. All you need is five minutes and a quiet place with dim lighting. Get comfortable, preferably sitting (so you don’t doze off), keep your hands open and relaxed, close your eyes, and either focus on the breath coming in and exiting your nose or focus on a word, like “peace.” Just keep breathing in and out and try to maintain your focus. Your monkey-mind will be jumping all over the place, and when you notice you’re thinking about dinner or a book you’re reading, or an itch on your neck, you gently bring your mind back to your breathing or your word.

Five minutes at work is doable, isn’t it? At home, you may find more time. And for something that’s free and easy, it eventually yields great results: calmness, less being caught up in the crisis of the moment, more insight into who you truly are, and more compassion for others in your world. Honest!

I don’t know if Oscar Wilde meditated, but it’s clear he understood there is a real self we all have, and when we learn who we are and live as we truly are, instead of living up to someone else’s idea of who or what we should be, then we can be truly free.

Try five minutes of simple meditation, and even if it’s hard to keep focused at first, you’ll get better at it, and then you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll know who you are. And you’ll probably like you!

Freelance Writer Files: Take a Break!

When I’m stuck for hours at the computer, I set a timer for 30 minutes. When it dings, I get up and jog 500 or so steps around the apartment. I probably look crazy, bouncing around waving my arms and moving my head from side to side. But it’s vital to my mind and body that I take those breaks. Here’s another piece of “take a break” advice in infographic form:

Attribution: OnlineBusinessDegree.org
Take a Break!

Freelance Writer Files: Working on a Chain Gang

If you’re an independent creative working from home, do you ever feel like a latter-day Jacob Marley, your clanking chains making you the prisoner of your computer? Or like chain-gang member Woody Allen in “Take the Money and Run?” (If you like to laugh, please check it out.) Or have you broken your bonds, like escapee Paul Muni in “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang?”

I'm free!

The reason I feel compelled to sit at my desk all day is that most jobs come to me via email, and some must be done post-haste. So when I have to go to the grocery store or pharmacy, I feel as if I’m playing hooky, and I high-tail it back home as soon as I can to check my email.

To feel a captive in one’s own office is not good. There’s a whole wide world out there waiting to be explored! So how can I get out there more?

First idea was to get a smartphone, so I could tell when email came in, and whether I needed to tend to it right away. FAIL! Got a paygo plan that offered a free Samsung phone. Now I know why the phone was free! It stinks. Oh, yes, you can check email, but it takes flippin’ (as dear Sarah P. would say) forever. And the batteries hold power like a sieve holds water.

This phone stinks.

Okay, I know some people who have ditched their landlines and gotten iPhones or other smartphones that let them do everything but clip their toenails with them, but am I ready for that? I have both cell phone and landline, the equivalent of wearing suspenders with a belt. But someone pointed out to me that if you only have a cell phone, when the power to the cell tower goes out, you have no phone. HELP! No phone at all?

Right now isn’t the best time to think about going out on the town, or in the town, actually. I’m preparing to move a certain amount of my stuff from my 4-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment nearby. Right-sizing my lifestyle. Problem is, I’ve inherited a lot of stuff (beautiful dishes, linens, etc.) from two generations before me, that I never use. Like my mother before me, I have kept them in storage in the basement because they’re “too nice to use.” Now, there’s a silly idea. As long as I keep them, I’m chained to this stuff, too.

I’ve got some lovely pieces of Royal Ruby glassware on Craigslist, and today I’m listing my mother’s milk glass. All of that stuff is beautiful, but I have to think of the 3′ X 4″ storage cage at my new apartment, and exactly how much will go into it. Not much, that’s how much. And my son in Shanghai doesn’t give a chopstick for any of it. Not to mention, it would cost more than the national debt to send it to him.

All this Royal Ruby glass for sale!

In an attempt to downsize, I took five U-matic cassettes containing all of the TV commercials I’ve ever written and produced to a fellow nearby who is transferring them to DVD, so I won’t have to lug these obsolete plastic boxes of tape around forever. I also gave a 16mm film my dad had made back in the 50s for Purina to a friend in communication studies, and someday, he says he’ll transfer that to DVD. So I’m at least shrinking my media load.

Remember George Carlin’s terrific riff on “stuff?” It’s all true. And moving stuff is very trying. Moving while trying to get some work done is doubly trying. Oh, AND trying to organize a big garage sale (though you get more for your stuff at an “estate sale,” I’ve heard). Never have I done a garage sale, and this will be a pretty big one. Anybody have folding tables I could borrow?

Anyhow, when I am finally ensconced in the new apartment, I dearly hope I will not feel chained to my desk and stuff. As I recall from living in an apartment before, I tended to go out more. Say, tree leaves are still green, aren’t they?

Freelance Writer Files: What to do when there’s nothing to do.

Got that done.

Biz sure has been slow this week. Everybody slacking in anticipation of the Memorial Day weekend. So what am I doing? Nothing, income-wise. Ho hum. But there is still plenty to do, even if there’s nothing that makes me money. There’s stuff that always needs to be done, but you’re glad you’re too busy to do it. So do it now, when you’re not busy. C’mon, try it. You’ll like it! I suggest you try the following:

1. Improve your chi.

Boost your chi!

Some spell it “qi,” which probably is more authentic, but however you spell it, it means “energy.”

OMG. Where to start?

Closets, bureau drawers, file cabinets and basements are full of stuff you don’t use, don’t need, maybe don’t even like. Like that godawful avocado-colored lazy susan your aunt Marie gave you for your first marriage. Get rid of it. Or those clothes from a former life that don’t fit (and even if they did, they’d only be in fashion if the 80s came back). Or all those old files in your home office. And books you’ve either already read or never will read (Those you can sell on Amazon.com. It’s easy!).

Excess clutter blocks chi, which means energy in the form of income, opportunities, friendships, and lots more. Think how much more energetic your office and your mind would be without clutter.

Wherever you start, sort your excess stuff into three piles: Keep, Toss, Donate. When you’ve done a box or two, take a good hard look at everything in your Keep pile, and ask yourself, “Is this thing either beautiful or useful?” If the answer is “No,” then move it to the Toss or Donate pile. Be ruthless.

2. Spiff up the yard.

If you own a yard, it probably has weeds. Weeds are symbolic of distractions in your mind, by the way. I’ve always found pulling weeds to be a calming, meditative, useful activity. Gets me out in my little patch of nature, improves the look of my yard, and kills my back when I forget to use a stool instead of stooping over from the waist. That last is not a benefit, by the way. It’s what I call a “stoopid.”

Trimming shrubberies is fun, too. Gives me a chance to express my inner sculptor. It requires just enough mental energy to distract me from whatever big, heavy issues have been worrying or distressing me. For a time, I’m Chauncey Gardener (From “Being There.”) Mindless, happy, content.

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Mowing the lawn can be rewarding. It’s a good workout, and I kind of enjoy it. It’s sweaty, honest work. It’s the ritual of getting out the mower, filling the tank, priming it and taking off that satisfies. Then, the hard work begins. There is some mental, as well as physical, effort. I’ve been experimenting for years with various ways to mow around the giant oak tree in the front yard: in circles, in vertical lines around the perimeter, mowing around it a row at a time, then tackling what’s left. It’s these little problems that make life interesting.

3. Write a blog post.

Well, you see I’m taking my own advice.

Happy chi day!

Freelance Writer Files: To contract or not to contract.

Is it rude to ask a client to sign a contract and pay you some money before you do any work for him or her?
Hmm. Some freelancers seem to think so. They rush headlong into client relationships without even the promise of a kiss, then sometimes end up being jilted and cheated of what we all work for: money.

To those timid freelance graphic designers or writers, I ask, is it rude for Time Warner Cable to ask you to sign a contract? Or a remodeling contractor to have you sign off on an estimate before he gets to work? Of course not! That’s bidness, y’all.

signing a contract

"A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on."—Yogi Berra

If you’re a freelancer who is scared stupid to ask a client to sign on the line with you for fear you’ll lose him or her, I have three words of advice: Get Over It. Someone who won’t agree to sign onto normal terms of payment is someone who doesn’t see paying you as an absolute necessity. You don’t want a shaky or shady client anyhow, do you?

We freelancers constantly have to remind ourselves that we are a business. And any business requires a contract that cements a legal bond between them and their clients. It should help both parties feel safe, because you’ve agreed on the rules in writing. And freelancers should feel particularly safe, because in most jurisdictions, a written contract is considered binding, even if it isn’t too fancy.

In 10 years of freelancing, I never had a contract. Or let’s say, I never had one I could get clients to sign. I think there are two reasons why.

1. I didn’t project confidence in asking them to sign it.
I felt embarrassed to ask for them to agree to pay me money, a common freelancer disorder. The vaccine against it is a hard look at your income and outgo every month. If the first is smaller than the second, then screw your courage to the sticking point and ask for the signature and some upfront money. Because your time and effort are worthy of recompense.

2. They were not financially stable, so they weren’t sure they could honor it.
They were the wrong clients. You have to kiss some froggy, financially strapped clients before you find the princes and princesses… but heck, you don’t have to go steady with them. Why waste time you could be spending on clients who will sign a contract with you?

Now I have an Engagement Agreement, a one-page document that sets out my terms. It deals with how I will bill the client, how much per hour, what constitutes billable activity, what happens if they don’t pay within 30 days (a 1.5% daily add-on or being strapped down and forced to listen to indie hip-hop 24/7 until they pay–just kidding!), and so on. My last two new clients have signed it and paid me the deposit I requested, too. Will wonders never cease.

indie hip-hop album cover

Please, no more! I'll pay you double!

If you decide to work a tightrope without a net, okay and good luck. It worked for me nearly all the time (except for the solid year I dunned a client for a measly $400). But there will be times when you’ll wish you’d had one.

And if you’re a client who’s on the up-and-up, you absolutely should expect to sign a contract with your freelancer. It prevents misunderstandings that can ruin a nice relationship.

To contract or not to contract? I say, “Contract.”

Freelance Copywriter in Kansas City: Retainers

The first time a new client offered me a couple hundred bucks upfront, I was surprised. Of course, I accepted the money (My motto: Never say “no” to money a client offers you, unless it’s to carry out a Mob hit.).

Mafia hit-woman

My fee does not cover whack jobs.

But I still wasn’t convinced it was necessary. After all, if you and the client hit it off, a long-term relationship seems probable, and they seem solid enough to pay you for work done, why bother?

Well, here’s why: It’s a gesture of good faith. It’s also a token of their esteem for you. And, like an engagement ring, it’s a symbol of engagement. You’re together, and you expect to stay together—at least until your fees for work done have exhausted the upfront retainer.

Don't work for free under the guise of good exposure.

My business manager won't let me.

So there’s another question: Is the upfront retainer to be taken in addition to hourly fees or not? I favor the idea that it’s a down payment on work to be done, not a signing bonus. My Midwestern work ethic just won’t let me take money for not doing anything. But it also balks at doing anything for no money.

If a client wants to solidify his/her relationship with me, sure, I’ll take a small retainer upfront. If not, that’s okay, too. I’m easy to work with.

One thing I have been doing, though, is asking a new client to sign an “Engagement Agreement” setting out certain understandings about my fees and what types of activities they cover, billing procedures, payment, late payment fees, and so on. It gets everything on the table, so there are no surprises later.

Getting a written agreement from a client is a good idea (and less heavy than the Contract I tried that caused new clients to have instant panic attacks). But my business manager is telling me I still need to:

(a) ask for retainers upfront without blinking;
(b) turn down “spec” jobs, unless they’re for causes I support; and
(b) raise my fees to their pre-recession levels.

But my business manager is me, and I tend to ignore me. So if you’re thinking of hiring a Kansas City freelance writer, better do it now, while my business manager is in sleep mode.