Content marketing doesn’t have to be hard, you can master it

Content Marketing is a big buzzword (buzz phrase), and has been for a while. In theory you can write great content for your site and “THEY WILL COME.” Of course if you’ve been at this for a while you realize that when you write stuff you think is awesome, “they” may not come, and even if they do, they don’t come in the droves you expect.

Writing your way to an audience seems easy but rarely is. Often you don’t really know where to start and what is truly effective. That’s where Master Content Marketing by Pamela Wilson comes in.

This book will show you how to write online and do it confidently and consistently. And it will serve as an ongoing companion and reference guide as you write to attract prospects and turn them into customers and advocates.

So if you read this book and put into practice the tips given by Wilson, you’re going to be able to write well and know what your readers want to read.

She even goes just a bit further with her claims of the benefits you’ll get from the book.

You’re about to master the easiest system I know for creating consistently readable, informative, and effective content. I’m going to show you how to write content that makes an impact every single time.

and…

Soon there will be no more staring at the blank page, cursing the cursor that’s blink-blink-blinking back at you. Those days are over.

While this may be true for some, I’m not convinced that everyone will be able to forever avoid the blank screen. Will they have a better process for their writing? Yes they will, but I find Wilson’s claims to be a bit over the top. I guess that’s what we buy though–over-the-top claims of the better life we’ll have once we read a book.

Structure

Wilson breaks Master Content Marketing up into four main sections. First off she’s going to show you how to set yourself up for content marketing success.

Section Two covers the ‘lazy’ approach to writing, which is really just her telling you how to generate ideas and what a great blog post looks like.

Section Three walks you through why more content is not better. You should be writing better content instead of dashing off a bunch of drivel. Wilson will give you a strategy to build great content every time.

Finally we reach the fourth section, the appendices. If you need the fastest summary of the book and its content, then head straight here. The first two appendices are going to summarize what good content looks like. The third one is all ‘inspiration’ from well-known bloggers. Read it if you need some inspiration; otherwise, move on. That’s all I’ll say about the appendices.

Now let’s dive a bit deeper into Sections One to Three of Master Content Marketing.

1. Setting Yourself Up for Content Marketing Success

Content marketing is advertising. You read my content and you find out I’m super smart (and good-looking and humble) so you hire me to help you run your business better. But unlike postcards, flyers, and so much other advertising, content marketing is valuable.

Yes, you read my article and figure out I’m handsome, but you also can learn how to be effective or how to vet your prospects.

Instead of pushing messages out at unsuspecting people, content marketing offers valuable information that people are actively searching for.

People come back to read your site with great content because it helps them live a better life and run a better business. All that junk mail ends up in the garbage.

A second benefit to content marketing is that it makes us ‘real’ to our readers. You read my jokes above about being handsome, and then it won’t surprise you when I make up some obviously outlandish reason I have a cut above my eye (I swear it was the fire-breathing moose).

Our content gives a face to our business and establishes a trustworthy relationship by serving as a helpful guide.

Wilson does call out the one big drawback to content marketing for some people…it takes time.

Content marketing works when you create useful, interesting, and engaging information consistently over time. It’s all about showing up reliably and being helpful every single time.

This is not an overnight get-clients-right-now thing. Content marketing can bring clients in in droves, but that takes a strong base of content that people want to read.

Recognize that it’s a journey, not a destination. The results from content marketing happen when you create compelling information consistently over time. When you set yourself up for success, you’ll look forward to this creative task.

If you’re looking for a quick fix for your lack of clients, don’t look to content marketing. In that case you need to get out and shake hands. Be ready to dive in for the long haul to really see the exponential rewards that can come with content marketing.

This book isn’t just about writing a single blog post. Wilson has plenty of advice for us to keep our site on target as well. No writing about fishing one day, then the next day showing off your fabulous glitter nails your kids did.

She recommends you brainstorm a bunch of categories, then pick 8-10 and stick to them. Even if you’re suddenly interested in something new, stick to the ones you picked at the beginning. Wilson contends that most of the time that new category is just a fad and will muddy your content message instead of helping you.

Secondly she recommends you come up with a single place to store your ideas.

Don’t stash ideas in several places. Experiment with various systems if needed, then pick one and stick to it.

But don’t get locked up looking for the best tool. Pick one–like Evernote or Trello, or simple plain text files–and stick to it. Scattering your ideas all over the place means you’ll lose track of them, and changing all the time means you’ll be always researching new tools, not writing more content.

With that introduction in place Wilson starts to really dig into what it means to have awesome content.

2. The “Lazy” (Efficient) Approach to Content Creation

The second section of the book is where Wilson starts to really dive into her 7 Essential Elements of Successful Content. If you’re looking to get the meat of the book and start creating better content today, then you should likely start here. It’s not that there is no good content in the first section, it’s that what will change how you write is coming now.

Her 7 Essential Elements of Successful Content are as follows.

1. The Compelling Headline

Your headline is where the relationship with your reader begins.

Headlines are the first thing people see. They see the headline go by on Twitter or Facebook and that single sentence alone gets them to decide if they’re going to read the content or not.

Don’t be afraid to write a headline that “sells” your content. That’s the #1 job of any headline. If your headline fails, so will the rest of your content.

While she does recommend you create a headline ‘scratch’ file (headlines you love that you’ve collected), she does provide a bunch of headlines that ‘work’ as examples. However, she does leave out one big tool I use to help my headlines be more awesome.

The headline analyzer from CoSchedule. If you’re looking to improve your headlines, start using it.

Keep her headlines that work around, but make sure to use the tool above and write at least 10 options for a headline before you center on the one you’re going to use.

2. The First Sentence

The job of your first sentence is to help the reader make the transition from your headline into your introduction – and to keep them reading.

Wilson feels she’s breaking new ground by devoting an entire chapter to the first sentence, since she hasn’t seen many people write about it and thinks it’s really important. She thinks it’s so important that she provides you first-sentence formulas as well, much like the headline formulas.

My biggest beef with this section is that personally, I would roll my eyes and click away from almost every sentence she provides as examples. Maybe I’m weird (okay, I know I’m an odd duck), but I wouldn’t want to read anything with the first sentence formulas suggested.

They may work, but you’re not going to see them on my site. At least not on purpose.

3. The Intro Section

The job of your introduction is to motivate them to continue reading and dig into the heart of your post.

You’ve hooked readers with the first sentence, now it’s time to bring them in with your introduction. According to Wilson (and this is a number I’ve seen lots) your introduction should not comprise more than 20% of the total word count of your piece.

Any more than that and you’re just rambling. I love these rules of thumb because having them around as reminders at least has me read my introductions again and tighten them up when I’m rambling.

Again, Wilson provides lots of examples here but they mostly seem like stuff I wouldn’t read at all–because of the inflated click-bait claims made by the introduction. They may work, they likely do work, but I’d never read the content.

4. The subheads

Unfortunately this is where Wilson started to wear on me. She claims that subheads are one of the most important things–the same claim made in every chapter so far in Section Two. Not everything can be the most important thing.

She makes many of the same suggestions for subheads as we saw in the heading chapter, again yielding much I would never want to read. She also strongly talks about skimmers and how most people simply skim your content, so use the headlines and they can get something out of it.

The way we write and format our pages can help readers to consume the information we’re sharing. That’s where subheads come in. The job of your subheads is to give skimmers and readers alike a set of highly visible “signposts” they can follow to make their way through your content.

and…

Rather than fight the idea that people skim when reading on a screen, embrace it. Make it easier for skimmers to understand the gist of your content so they can make a decision about whether to spend the time reading it from top to bottom.

In my mind this comes down to a question of your readership. Do your skimmers actually make a purchase from you? Do they share your content and increase your worthwhile readership, or do they skim and move on to the next piece of fluffy content that zips by on their social media?

Now that’s not to say I dislike headlines. In fact we have a very similar process when it comes to adding headlines as an outline.

Thinking through the order and content of your subheads forces you to create a general outline for your article — a backbone for your information

With subheads out of the way, Master Content Marketing moves on to the bulk of your content, the actual article.

5. The Main Copy

Your goal at this stage is to simply get the words down, as quickly as possible.
That means you’ll focus on writing your first draft fast. You won’t worry about editing. You won’t go back to polish what you’ve written.

The biggest thing that hinders most writers is that they sit and stare and want to craft the ‘perfect’ sentence every time. When you’re writing the main part of any project, that is not the goal. Start by writing a poor first draft, and then edit.

I have a client and her wonderful husband booked a weekend writing getaway for her. She went off to organize her new book and ended up making a change to her website. Then she let herself get pulled into the easy work of answering the emails generated from the change to her site.

She did the opposite of getting words down on the page. She unintentionally (or intentionally) created an environment where she could do the easy work and not the hard work of simply putting words down.

Apart from not procrastinating you need to remember to tell stories in your writing. Think about all the books that are considered ‘classics’. There are few business books or self-help books among those classics. They’re almost all stories, because we’re drawn to stories.

One of the reasons commercials and advertising use stories so often is that when a story begins, people tend to let their guard down and tune in.

Finally, there are some great rules of thumb you can apply to your own writing. Like this tidbit about the word ‘and’…

…if your sentence has an “and” in the middle of it, you can probably chop it into two separate sentences.

Once you’ve read this chapter you’ll have a number of great rules you can run your writing through to help ensure you write well.

6. The Summary

The summary is simply a transition between the most important information you’ve communicated (your main copy), and the call to action at the end.

The end of any good writing should summarize the points made. In a blog post, as the quote says, your summary ties the reader to the call to action at the bottom.

7. The Call to Action

Should most of your content have a call to action? Yes it should, according to Wilson.

The call to action is the part of your content where you’re going to ask the reader to do something. The action might be to sign up for your free course; buy a product; call for an appointment; register to vote; take a short quiz; download a white paper; or make a small purchase.

We quite often feel like we’re selling when we put a call to action in a piece of content, but the truth is, most people don’t actually know everything you do and need a prompt to use your services.

Case in point: In a recent email exchange with a friend I said I was doing coaching. I’ve been doing business coaching for over a year. I can see from my email analytics that they open most of my emails. I can see from some of my site tracking that they read my posts.

I’m sure I’ve said I do coaching a number of times and yet this person that interacts with my content regularly wasn’t aware that I can help you get more clients and vet your prospects and write better proposals.

Clearly I’m not telling you what I do enough. So I CAN HELP YOU RUN A BETTER BUSINESS.

Some rules of thumb for writing a great call to action:

  • It doesn’t have to be to make a purchase–it can be getting them to share the content, make a comment, read something else interesting
  • Focus on the benefits to the user, like I said above about helping you get better clients
  • Almost every post you write should have a call to action in it

With that Wilson wraps up the section on her 7 Essential Elements of Successful Content and we’re ready to move on and learn how to be the next viral hit writer.

3. Taking Your Content to the Next Level

In this chapter, I’m going to make the case for creating less content, but better content.

Have you heard of Hardcore History? It’s a podcast, and a long one. It only comes out like once a quarter and each episode is 2-5 hours. Dan Carlin is strongly focusing on quality not quantity.

While you should likely write more than once a quarter, you should be taking a queue from Dan and other amazing creators. Focus on Quality not Quantity.

Quality content will continue to bring in traffic long after 20 quick articles have been wallowing deep inside the dustbin of your site.

In this section Wilson contends that great content will always rise to the top.

Great content — well-planned, masterfully written, easy-to-read content — always rises to the top.

I take exception with this though. Great content that is marketed well is what will rise to the top. You could write the best article on any topic and if you don’t tell people about it, no one will see it.

Even when you do tell people about your content, you’re likely to be surprised what sticks and what doesn’t. I have a old post about Nozbe vs Todoist that is consistently in the top of my daily page views. In my opinion this is one of the least useful articles to help you run a better business.

If I simply followed my analytics I’d write more comparisons of software tools and while I may get more traffic I’d be much less useful to you, dear reader, as you tried to run an amazing business.

I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t strive to write awesome content. Just don’t bank on her assertion that if you write amazing content, they will come.

Finally, Wilson offers you a scheduling template to create content. She breaks each piece up into days.

Day 1: Build your article backbone (titles headlines, points)

Here you get that outline done for your article.

Day 2: Fill in the details (write it)

Done is more important than perfect at this stage. Remember: no one is going to see this except you.

Hammer out that bad first draft.

Day 3: Polish and Prepare to Publish (edit and put in CMS)

Start with a quick read-through to see how your content looks today.

Edit your first draft into something that people will read.

Day 4: Publish, Promote, and Propagate (market it)

Your content marketing job doesn’t end on the day your article goes live. In many ways, it’s just the beginning of your efforts to make sure your information gets in front of as many people as possible.

Finally, set up a system to tell people about it.

I like this clear system given to readers. It’s not the one I use, but any system/routine is going to get you further ahead than simply writing as you feel inspired.

My system is to write one article, edit one article, and outline one article 4-5 days a week. That means I get 4-5 pieces of content done most days of the week.

If you want to start writing more, then choose a system and use it. Doesn’t matter which one. Either one will help you get more good writing done.

Wilson wraps up the third section of Master Content Marketing with a solid reminder that the content marketing game is a long term one.

The content you create is like a brick building — your first content forms the foundation. The longer you add content, the larger and more impressive you make your web presence.

Recommendation

As always the final question of any look at a book (ha, I’m a poet!) is “Was the book worth reading?” and “Should you read it too?”. In this case I’m going to say it depends. While there are lots of great tidbits to pull out, I’m not keen on some of the suggestions, as I’ve already said.

What we don’t need is more clicky content that gets us to click and kill time. We do need more content that has depth and helps us live a better life. If you can keep that in mind as you write, then grab this book and take its suggestions to heart as you build your content empire.

If you’re just going to go in for all the clicky headline and subheadline and introduction crap, please don’t read this because I won’t read you.

Get Master Content Marketing on Amazon

photo credit: songzhen cc

Finding a niche is hard — here are 5 questions to help

I’m sure when I tell you that you need to focus your business on a niche, this is not the first time you’ve heard that. It’s likely not even the third, or the fifth time you’ve heard it. If you’ve been at the business game for more than a few weeks you’ve heard it possibly hundreds of times.

The thing that’s often missing is…how on earth do you even get to finding that niche everyone says is the magical secret to making more money?

I’m convinced that simply picking a niche at random from NAICS will help you make more money – Philip Morgan

Today we’re going to walk through 5 questions to help you find your niche.

1. What type of projects have you liked in the past?

You’ve got a few projects under your belt so it’s time to sit back and look at which ones you really loved. Which ones were just plain fun?

Think back to projects where talks with the client(s) were effortless and you enjoyed the tasks in the project.

Write down 5 projects you really enjoyed.

2. What are you good at?

Is there part of your work that feels effortless? Something that when you start to do it time flies? You look up and it’s been hours and you’ve been productive. Facebook and Instagram don’t count.

Even if it’s something you’ve only done a few times, try and recall those few times you did the work you loved every second of it.

Write down 5 tasks you really enjoyed. 

3. Have any projects scared you?

Sometimes there is a part of a project that feels downright scary. You go in with sweaty palms wondering how it’s going to go. Far too often we underestimate what we’re capable of, so what scared you in a project? What turned out okay after you dug in and started the work?

Write down 5 things that scared you but turned out okay.

4. Who are your top 10 clients?

There are clients we love to work with and those…we love less. Despite having a great client vetting process some clients turn into duds. They smelled like a decent fit and looked like a decent fit, but they weren’t.

Having clients you love means you look forward to your check-in phone calls. You laugh with them about life and the project. When tough times come up in the middle of a project you both come together and find a solution that leaves everyone happy.

Write down 10 clients you loved.

5. Out of the things you can do and loved what will people pay for?

Now that we’ve got a large list of things you love and clients you enjoyed it’s time to ask the question: what will people actually pay well for? Not just pay okay for, but what do they view as high value in their business and thus will pay appropriately?

One bonus question you need to ask yourself is where you want to be in five years in your 4 Quadrants. Asking yourself this helps ensure the niche you’re starting to focus on today is in line with your long-term dreams.

Just because a niche doesn’t align with those 4 Quadrants doesn’t mean you bypass it immediately. But by being conscious that it doesn’t quite fit, you ensure that every time you narrow down your niche you’re working to build a life that’s closer to the ideal life you want to live.

Now that you’ve got these 5 (6) questions answered you should start to have a good idea of what niche you can start to focus your marketing on. This doesn’t have to be a forever choice though. You should revisit these questions every year and refine your niche or take it in a different direction.

This was based off my upcoming book Finding and Marketing to your Niche. Get on the email list to hear about it first.

photo credit: mattridings cc

Why the best consultants are comfortable with silence

In an interview on The Good Life Project, Sherry Turkle talks about the ‘boring’ parts of conversation. When talking to students she’s found that they want to pull out their phones whenever there is a lull in the conversation. Some of them didn’t even know what a ‘lull’ was, and when it was explained to them, they named it the ‘boring’ parts of a conversation.

While we can easily lament the always-on connected nature of technology here, and the ‘younger’ generation in needing this connection, the truth is that this is simply enhancing an existing condition we all deal with.

We hate silence.

Silence is what makes conversations feel awkward. We have some idealized view from movies or books where the conversation flows interestingly from one topic to another with no pause for reflection. No one has to think for a minute before they respond. The dialogue keeps moving because the script calls for that effortless banter where every sentence is witty.

This harms your business

Bite your tongue, and don’t fill the silence. I know it will be uncomfortable, and I know it creates space for learning and insight. – The Coaching Habit

When a prospect looks at your estimate and says “That’s expensive”, how do you feel? If you’re like most people your instant reaction is to justify the price by talking about the time it’s going to take to do the work. Maybe you’re worse off and start to talk about lowering the price when a prospect comments about the price of your services, or you offer add-on services at no extra charge.

While the last two options are worst, all of the options are bad ways to respond to a prospect. They all decrease the chance you’re going to win the work and will cost you money.

Lowering price

The worst option is to start off by lowering the price. If you can instantly lower the price a bit to try and sweeten the deal then you clearly can’t be trusted. You lied about the price in the first place. In doing so, you’ve admitted the thing you’re offering doesn’t cost that much — you just hoped to be able to convince a gullible prospect to pay the initial rate on the proposal.

This also shows that you don’t value yourself. If you’re not worth what you’re asking for, why would the client choose you? You lack the confidence to be worth the price you originally asked for.

Why on earth in the face of that would the client value you? They’re going to figure that if they keep letting you talk they’re going to get an even better deal with more things thrown in for less money.

Justifying the price

While this option is slightly better than lowering the price it’s still a bad option. In the face of prospect push-back, it’s tempting to justify your price by going into detail about how long the prospect’s job is going to take. The big thing is, clients don’t care how long it’s going to take you!

The only thing that clients care about is the value the work will bring to their organization. They care about the extra money they’re going to make by working with you or the extra savings they’re going to realize because they use your services.

If the two top natural reactions are terrible ideas, what do you do?

It wasn’t a question

The big thing we’ve missed so far is that the statement “That’s expensive” isn’t a question. They didn’t ask for a discount or ask you to sell them on the price, they made a statement about the price of the work. Since they didn’t ask a question, you should say…nothing. It’s in this nothing where you need to be comfortable with silence.

People hate silence. They want to fill it with words or with a break to look at their phone or…something…as long as it’s not silence. This is one of the big reasons you jump in with your price-lowering or justification. You’re trying to fill the silence at the same time as you work to land the prospect. When you’re comfortable with silence a magical thing will happen– your prospect will fill it. Almost every time they’ll fill it with one of two things.

More often than not they’ll say “That’s expensive” and then into the silence they’ll say that they’re signing the contract right now. They’ll do this because you vetted them and spent time convincing them to NOT use you.

Some of the time they’ll talk a bit more and they’ll be talking about the value the project already brings and that you agreed upon together. Then after a minute or two they’ll sign the contract.

What if they make it a question?

In a few, very few, circumstances they’ll look to you and ask some variation of “Did you hear me?” They’re so used to people jumping on that statement that they’ll be expecting you to as well. The only thing you need to say in return is:

“You said, ‘That’s expensive’ which isn’t a question.” You can say that because it wasn’t a question, it was a statement.

Most of the time your prospect will now chuckle, smile, and choose one of the two options above. They’ll sign or talk themselves into signing. Very rarely they’ll turn it into a question asking about why it’s the price it is, and now is the time you can speak again.

Remind your client of the value you both worked out the project would bring, which should be at least 3X the price you’re charging, better yet 10X. I’ll say something like:

We agreed that we should be able to make at least $30k on this right? (wait for their agreement). So at $10k you triple your investment.

Then you sit in silence again. You don’t keep diving and justifying, trying to cajole the yes out of your prospect. You sit in that comfortable silence you know so well. If you’ve managed the sales process so far well then they’ll see that they’re tripling their money (or 10x their money) and they’ll sign on the dotted line.

The thing with silence is that it conveys confidence. You’re not cajoling to convince that you’re worth the fees. You’re quietly confident that you’re worth what you’re charging. That shows your prospect that you’re worth it and increases their confidence in your services.

Get comfortable with silence and let it do the final bit of your sales work for you.

photo credit: pahudson cc

4 Mistakes You Make in Positioning Your Brand

According to Storybrand there are 7 things that make up an effective story. To be clear, story is any marketing message your business sends. The 7 things are:

  1. The character
  2. The problem
  3. The guide
  4. The plan to solve the problem
  5. Call to action
  6. Results
  7. Success or failure

For more details on those 7 things then you should watch the great 20 minute video they have describing the entire Storybrand framework. We’re not going to cover their whole framework. We are going to take a look at the top 4 issues with getting your story — or your WHY, depending on how you think about it — across to your customers. After you read this, take a look at the WHY we developed earlier in the month and evaluate your marketing against your WHY, with these 4 problems in mind.

1. You as the hero

The first and biggest problem is that you make yourself into the hero of the story. You’re going to sweep in and solve all the problems with your service. While that may sound okay, the truth is that your customers want to be the hero. You should be the guide. Think of yourself as the Yoda of the story, providing pivotal training and information at the right time so your client can win. Your client takes that information and wins the day.

2. Unclear problem

The second big mistake with your marketing message is that you don’t have a clear problem you can solve. You’ve only got 5 seconds when someone comes to your site to convince them that you can solve a problem they have. In that 5 seconds your prospects are expected to read many huge blocks of text, which they don’t really care about.

Have one clear issue you can solve for them, stated in 5, maybe 10, words and a call to action. That’s it. Drop all the other amazing things about your business.

3. No plan or unclear plan

When prospects come to you, they want a plan to follow. Unfortunately for most service providers there are about 20 different options on their site. I’ve written a whole series about finding a niche and marketing to it, so start there.

I’m also writing a book called Finding and Marketing to your Niche. Get on my email list to find out about it first.

Read that series above. Find your niche and then put together a clear short plan that your prospects can understand. Let them know what the plan is and then keep all the other crap you can do out of the way.

4. Never asking for the sale

This is the final issue, and if you’re doing everything else right, you can still have a terrible business if you don’t do this last thing.

You need to ask the prospect for a sale!!!

If you can’t ask for the sale, you’re clearly not comfortable with the services you provide. If you’re not confident enough in your services to ask for a sale, then why on earth would a client purchase from you?

They won’t, and they aren’t. If you want to have a successful business you need to learn to ask for the sale. This even starts with your website. Right on the homepage have a big obvious button where people can book a consult, or book an onsite visit or…whatever suits your business.

If you can take some time this week and address these 4 issues with your marketing, you’re going to start attracting better clients and start making more sales.

If you want to take the guess work out of marketing get my book Finding and Marketing to Your Niche for my 3 step marketing plan.

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Should you sell site maintenance to your clients?

My friend Brad wrote a great post about selling maintenance services with your work. He contends that you are leaving lots of money on the table if you don’t sell these services with your contracts.

Yes, if you sell maintenance you have recurring revenue which is, of course, money you don’t have to earn again every month. Recurring revenue is the holy grail for most small businesses. Instead of starting every month at $0 and needing to bring in clients you have money guaranteed.

I get why this is so appealing, but for most web businesses, selling maintenance services is a terrible idea.

Should you start offering maintenance?

Before you take on any business idea you need to remember that just because it worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. Because some guru says you should be running every client through some huge gauntlet for the privilege of working with you doesn’t mean you should do it now, or ever.

Any business idea needs to be run through your 4 Quadrants. If you don’t want to be on call for clients on weekends then a maintenance service is likely not for you. Even with firm boundaries — that clients agree to respect — if an outage happens on the weekend it’s likely they’ll still expect you to be around to fix it.

This is the exact reason I don’t offer site maintenance. I don’t want calls on weekends or evenings. I don’t even have my work computer at home most of the time.

Secondly, offering site maintenance pulls you away from your core business as a web developer or designer. Instead of building awesome things for clients or designing usable sites, you’re updating plugins and fixing bugs. All the ‘exciting’ projects you’re working on are now getting interrupted by things that need to be fixed. Your large blocks of deep work are drowning under a sea of interruptions.

If you do it

If you’re going to offer site maintenance then there are a number of things to be aware of. First off is this quote from Ryan Sullivan on the post in question.

Sorry, I can’t help but chime in any time I see maintenance services being promoted cause this work is HARD 🙂 – Ryan Sullivan Owner of WP Site Care

Offering site maintenance services is not some magic bullet to a successful business. Just because Ryan has done it, doesn’t mean you will.

To make it less hard you should:

1. Normalize your hosting environments.

That means everyone is on the same host. Then you can build in processes and get familiar with the control panels for the sites. This is going to cut out a bunch of random issues clients may have in the wild west of hosting that is out there.

2. Only maintain sites you build.

Don’t take on a client who maybe might have possible future work. Prospects dangle this carrot in front of small businesses all the time to get something they want. Maybe it’s a discount and the promise of a big project to come, or maybe that big project is dangled against the small thing now that’s below your project minimum.

If you stick with sites you’ve built then you are already familiar with the underpinnings of the site. You don’t have to get up to speed on a new setup in the midst of a crisis.

Other recurring revenue models

The big awesome thing in Brad’s post is recurring revenue. Most of you have to start from scratch every month to meet your bills. If you have $1000 recurring every month, that’s $1000 less you need to earn from scratch.

Maintenance services are not the only way that you can achieve some recurring revenue. Just a few weeks ago I talked to my friend Jason about moving to recurring revenue. He works with clients for a set fee to help them with their conversion rates. I have one client I work with monthly for a percentage of sales. Yes, I put time into the project every month, but I get paid well for that time.

My friend works on the contact forms for real estate agents and gets a commission on each lead he’s able to bring in. While there is a bunch of work at the beginning to get a form converting well, once it’s ready to go he’s putting in very little effort for a great commission from his client.

Don’t let the siren song of recurring revenue call you into a business that doesn’t fit with your goals. Make sure that any idea is run through the 4 Quadrants of your ideal life.

I’m not going to lie — having recurring revenue in my business has freed me up so much to work on the projects I love with the clients I love to work with. I just didn’t jump on the first idea that came my way.

photo credit: ox4photos cc

From single projects to recurring work

Finding and acquiring new clients is a lot of work. You’ve got to spend time marketing so prospects know, like, and trust you. Then you’ve got to spend time vetting them as a prospect so you can make sure they’re a good fit for your services.

Next you need to write a great proposal that wins the work.

What if you could skip over much of that process and instead turn an existing client into a repeat client? Then you could continue to work with someone you love without starting from scratch selling new people on your services.

Today we’re going to talk about taking clients from single projects to recurring projects. If this interests you lots, then stay tuned for the podcast on Friday where we’ll talk to Jason Resnick about how he turned his business from a single project business into a fully recurring project business.

Types of recurring work

There are two main types of recurring payments/work you can have with clients. First is a monthly fee for access to your services. This is what coaches do. They sell ongoing meetings or coaching sessions to their clients for a set fee.

The second main type is some sort of commission work. I have one client who I provide support and new work for who pays me based on the sales they make in a month. That means as I help them get more successful, I get paid more without having to do more hours of work in a given week.

You’ll see this second type of work used often with conversion specialists. They agree to work on a client site for six months and they get paid a percentage of the increase in sales that occur during their work. Usually, they still get paid for six months after the work as well because the client gets to keep the benefit of the increased sales.

That means for six months you work hard on a site and then for six months you get paid commission, while you’re working on the next site. That means if you’re on vacation, you still get paid commission on your work.

If that sounds like the type of business you want, make sure to tune in on Friday as Jason and I talk about how to turn your business into a recurring machine.

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4 ways you sabotage your sales process

Sales is a crucial part of running any business. Let’s revise that — sales is a crucial part of any successful business. If you don’t want to run a successful business then by all means forget about marketing and sales. You don’t need to do them if your goal is failure (or at best, mediocrity).

Since that’s not your goal, here are 4 ways many business owners sabotage their sales. Avoid these and you’ll increase your chances of success.

1. Let the prospect lead the process.

The first and biggest mistake many business owners make when they get a sales lead is to let the client lead the process. This is most apparent in an RFP process where you get a 20-page document with all the requirements and based off that writing you need to send in a proposal to do the work.

The first step in fixing this issue is don’t do RFPs. I send any RFP an email that says I don’t do RFPs because there’s clearly already a preferred provider and it’s not me so I’m not wasting my time.

If it’s not an RFP, then it’s still up to you to drive the process. You should be asking the client a set of questions via email based on their contact. Once those are answered it’s time to get on the phone with them and talk about why they are doing the project. Talk about the benefit to their business. What are they going to miss if they don’t do it? What roadblocks may come up during the project?

The point is that you should have a process and spend the time to investigate the needs of your client. You’re the expert in your field and should know what questions to ask, so do it.

2. Rush to send the proposal.

A second big mistake is that many business owners rush to send that proposal. This is out of some fear that if they don’t send it on the first day they hear from the prospect they’ll never see another prospect again and end up living in a fridge box.

The solution is similar to the solution to the first problem — slow down and have a process. Stick to your process and if a prospect has some rushed work you can’t investigate properly, pass on it. There will be another project coming along.

A proposal should be a summary of all the things you’ve agreed on as you’ve built a relationship. The only thing it adds is a price and timeline to the goals you’ve worked out with the prospect. To get that agreement you need time.

Build a sales process and stick to it.

3. Don’t listen to the prospect.

The whole point of your process is to hear what the pain of your prospect is and solve that pain for them. Unfortunately far too many business owners hear the pain, but don’t hear it at all. The only part they really hear is that the prospect has money and their business has some solution that is mostly related.

This is a trap of wanting money, which I get because my bank account isn’t full either.

Just like the two problems above, the solution is to have a process and to be willing to say no to a prospect. You need to tell a prospect if you think there is a better solution to their problem than you can provide. You can only do that if you’ve really listened to them and have put yourself in their shoes. Your job is to help them make the best decision for their business, not decide to put money in your pocket.

4. Go in to technical details.

Guess what? Your prospect doesn’t care about some new technology you are totally fascinated with. What they want is to solve a problem in their business and make more money, or save more money. Either way, they want their profit to go up and you’re the tool they’re leveraging for that.

Skip the technical details as much as possible in the sales process. If the client keeps digging into them, figure out what their fear is. Maybe the last person they worked with left them high and dry with a solution not compatible with anything, so they’re trying to figure out if you’re going to do the same thing.

You should only give them enough technical detail to calm their fears. Anything more and you’re sabotaging the sale. Focus on what the benefit is for their business and how you’re going to get it to the next level.

If you can focus on not making these 4 mistakes in your sales process you’re going to land more clients. That means you’ll have a better business where you can get to the work you love and not chase prospects all day.

photo credit: jonas_wide cc

A 3-step marketing plan for your business

Don’t buy into the Hollywood fantasy that if you build it, they will come.

I know it’s easy to get stars in your eyes when you see the “internet stars” who appear to have achieved stardom overnight. But if you dig deeper, you might learn that 99% of them worked for 10-20 years without anyone noticing their work. One day they caught a break, and in a few weeks they were suddenly the big name you know today.

Now good things seem to happen to them all the time. They get all the opportunities with little work, and they just keep rocking it.

The reality for average people like you and me is, just because we build it, they may not come. But, you can increase your chances of getting that big break by being strategic in building your business. That strategy starts with two things.

First, have a plan. You can’t expect that throwing things around haphazardly is going to yield the results you want.

The second thing you need is a routine so that you can actually get things done. That routine of writing 1,000 words a day is going to position you above your peers because they can’t do it.

Once you can commit to those two things, you can move on to three specific activities that will help you market your business.

1. Blog

The primary thing you need to do is blog. Write for your own site at least weekly. You write because when people have issues, what do they do? An internet search. And search engines index your writing. People will land on your site and start to get to know you. Getting to know you is the start of the sales process.

If you’re good writing on your site weekly, then add some guest posts on other sites. Posting for others lets you leverage their audience. The biggest mistake people make is to only look for the benefit they can get. When you go to a site and try to guest post, make sure you bring huge value for the audience. The benefit to you should be a side thing — focus on serving them first.

As you look at guest posting, don’t just fire off a blanket list of possible posts to everyone. Choose a few sites you’d like to write for and spend some time reading through their content. Do a bit of work to figure out what their audience wants and then write a custom post for them that addresses the needs of their audience. Then send them the content along with a nice email about how you love their content, and highlight one article in particular.

2. Podcast

Some of you aren’t writers, but maybe you’re a podcaster. I think podcasting is a higher trust activity than writing because people hear your voice and start to feel like they’ve met you in person. They feel like they’re your friend.

Just like with blogging, start by doing one show a week. It doesn’t need to be fancy. I purchased a Blue Snowball years ago and a Logitech HD webcam. I use Screenflow to record The Smart Business Show, and don’t do any editing outside of trimming the beginning and the end.

One great thing you can do is interview people in your potential client pool. This usually gets them sharing the links to your show, and will bring other potential clients to your show.

Once you can handle the once a week format, start looking for opportunities to become a guest on other shows. Much like guest posting, make sure that you have value to provide for their audience. Having some free giveaway, like a PDF of your 8 best tips, will help bring that value and possibly collect you some email addresses, depending on how you set up the giveaway.

Also just like guest posting, make sure you do some research. Listen to a number of the shows and when you reach out, make reference to them. Tell the podcaster what you liked about past guests. Then tell them what you think you bring to their audience. Almost every time I reach out to a podcast and offer to speak about a certain topic I get thanks for actually having a topic because most guests just offer to be a guest and have no talking points.

3. Meet people

Yes, we live in a digital age which means I can sit in a fairly small town in British Columbia and reach people all over the world. This is amazing, yet also a downfall for so many people. Far too often, online businesses rely only on digital communication and leave off the in-person aspect they can leverage. The highest trust you can build fast is to meet someone in person and have a great chat with them about what interests them.

You can find local people in your field by attending meet-ups, and local business groups. Both of these groups are looking for local speakers as well, so offer to speak for them.

After that, look at conferences. First, they are great education for you and second, you get to meet a bunch of people in your field that can be a source of referrals. As with everything, make sure you show up to bring benefit to others. Don’t walk into a group and pepper people with your business cards. Walk in and have a great conversation about the topics that interest them. You’re going to be one of the only people that does this and thus you’re going to be memorable.

Marketing your business is hard work but if you put these three things into action and keep it at for the long haul, you’re going to build a business with lots of referrals and marketing that works while you sleep.

Sounds like a business I’d like to run. How about you?

Check out my book Finding and Marketing to Your Niche for even more ways to make marketing your business easy.

photo credit: edwicks_toybox cc

There is a right way to end your projects

We’ve already talked about ending a tough project, but we may have jumped the gun a bit since we didn’t establish how to tie up a project properly if everything went well.

Most business owners send an invoice to the client — and then maybe a thank you email — and walk away. They don’t do anything else, which means they miss an opportunity to stand head and shoulders above any creative the client has ever worked with before. This opportunity costs almost nothing and takes only a bit of time, yet many business owners ignore it completely.

Let’s look at how you can rise above the average business owner crowd.

1. Use the mail.

Email is great. It’s fast and we can do it from anywhere. With services like Right Inbox, we can even time delay our responses. That doesn’t mean that email is all you should use, though.

If you want to stand out, then get a pack of note cards and at the end (and at the beginning) of projects send your clients a card. Tell them you were happy to work with them and they were awesome.

No other online creative workers are doing that and if you do, you’ll stand out far above anyone else in your field. Better yet, if you can send a small gift, do it. As you can see, my site is Lego-themed, so I’ll send my best clients a little Lego figure of me which costs me little and makes me stand out even more.

If you can’t get to the mail regularly, you could also delegate this to your assistant. The point is to send something in the mail that will make you even more amazing in the eyes of your client than you already are.

2. Give them everything.

When I do development projects clearly I must put all the client’s code on a server so they have all the code. The few times I do minor design work, I go a step further. At the end of the project I get all the assets I produced during the project and archive them into a single Zip file and send that to the client.

This means they have control of everything and don’t need to come back to me to request some extra asset. Do they still ask me for things I’ve sent? Yes they do, but far less once I started to include everything I produced while building the site.

3. Follow up.

When you complete a single project, you’re really just starting your relationship with the client. Now is the time to follow up with them and make sure they’re happy with the project. I set up a two-week follow up reminder and a two-month follow up reminder in Contactually.

When I touch base with them I make sure they’re not having any issues with the site or they don’t have any other needs for their business now. It’s not uncommon for my two-month follow up to result in more work as they want to expand on the work I did originally.

When I added that two-month follow up I increased my sales and decreased the number of new clients I needed to find.

After that two-month follow up all the clients I’d like to work with again get on my quarterly follow up schedule in Contactually. Almost no freelancer or business owner follows up with their clients long term. They usually check out their work in 18 months and realize that the client did a whole new project with someone else and they never even got a chance to bid on it.

If you can implement these thrree things in your client care, you’re going to set yourself far above your peers. That’s going to mean more sales, more referrals, and more repeat work.

That’s a business that’s easier to run.

photo credit: nanagyei cc

It’s not all about email — get on the phone

There are many benefits to email, one of them being that it’s asynchronous communication. You can send an email now and get your response when it’s most convenient for the receiver. You can batch process them and use email templates to make answering them faster.

The problem is, a good business needs to have direct contact with its prospects. Winning work that’s of high value means you need to create trust with your prospects. One of the best ways to create that trust is to let them see you.

Every project gets a call

As I said last week when I talked about writing great estimates, every project you start should include a phone call to discuss the project. Even clients you’ve worked with before need that call.

Stopping at the initial call is a bad idea though — you need to keep getting on the phone with prospects during the project. No, your project management system won’t do. No, email won’t do. Neither of those options will do, especially if there is any trouble in the project.

Are you behind a few days? Get on the phone.

Is there some challenge you didn’t expect? Get on the phone.

Have you sent more than two emails about an issue? Get on the phone.

Weekly catch-up

For every project you run keep that trust high by having a weekly project meeting. Check in with the client and address any issues that have come up. Give them a verbal recap of where things are and of any concerns you may have.

Even if you sent them a Monday and Friday update email like I recommend, get on the phone in the middle of the week to touch base and make sure everything is okay.

If you want to run that awesome, successful business, you need to do things that your competitors aren’t. You need to build trust with your prospects and clients.

Don’t stick to digital communication. Get on the phone with your clients regularly and keep things running smoothly.

photo credit: mwscheung cc