Top tools and apps to make you a better writer

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a software program that took your writing and spat out new copy that was Pulitzer worthy? Sadly, such a program doesn’t exist. However, there are tools and apps out there that can make you a smarter writer – and possibly a better one. The emphasis is on smarter though, because you have to know what some of these programs are telling you in order to decide if their feedback and suggestions are worth the effort. As with all marketing efforts, it’s all about context and the message you’re trying to get across.

Happily, there are online apps and tools that are quite sophisticated, and can show you areas where you can improve your output. What apps and tools are these? Read on!

Grammarly

You might be scratching your head about why Grammarly is included in this list. Don’t we all have spelling and grammar checking in our writing software? Yes, but can your spellchecker distinguish between the use of “you” and “your” and suggest that you might need to use one of those pronouns instead of the other?

Grammarly catches the kinds of errors that regular spelling and grammar checkers miss. That’s crucial if you’re a professional who uses writing to reach clients. So what’s the downside? Grammarly is not compatible with Google Docs (which means you’ll have to cut and paste and dump your content into the app). However if you are an MS Word person, you can download Grammarly directly into Microsoft Word and use it as your new spell check program within the application.

Readable.io

If you’re writing to a general level audience, simplicity is crucial. That’s why it’s always good to run your words through a reading level comprehension program such as Readable.io. It’ll tell you what grade level your sentences and paragraphs are scoring at — anything between a Grade 6 and Grade 8 reading level is ideal for a general audience. This can help you prune down some of your longer sentences and choose words that are simpler to understand without dumbing down your work.

The drawback is that a lot of these online reading level calculators don’t know what to do with bulleted lists, so you may be forced to use a hack such as putting a period at the end of each bullet point manually to get an accurate score.

OneLook Reverse Dictionary

Are you struggling to come up with a word, knowing only what defines it? You could try OneLook Reverse Dictionary, a free tool that allows you to look up words based on their definitions. This tool really helps if you only “sort of” know the word you’re looking for. If you enter something vague such as “something you eat”, you’ll get all kinds of synonyms for eating that may or may not be helpful. Still, if you find yourself grasping at straws for coming up with the right word, this may be a useful tool.

Google Docs

This one is almost self-explanatory. If you do any writing online, chances are you need an editor. Google Docs allows you to collaborate with others on your Hemingway-esque pieces. It’s also constantly backs things up, so you don’t have to worry about hitting the “Save” button every minute or so.

WordPress

If you’re doing any business writing, you need a blog. WordPress is a good choice as it powers about 20 percent of the Internet. Having a blog is a good practice to have regardless, because it’ll give you the platform to keep writing. And the more you write, the better you’ll get. So a blog is a good tool to have in your arsenal.

Are there any other good (and preferably free) tools and apps out there that you use? What are they? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

finding your ideal client

“Everybody” is not an acceptable client profile

finding your ideal clientIf you’re an independent consultant, trainer or professional speaker, one of the hardest strategic decisions you need to make is identifying your ideal client profile.

When you first start it’s natural to cast a wide net to see where the interest in your particular services lie. But you will soon find out that when somebody asks you who your ideal client is, “anybody” or “everybody” is not a very helpful answer.

Whenever I speak to a prospective client, it’s one of the first questions I ask them. And if the answer is “everybody,” then I know that there is a fundamental flaw in their business strategy that needs to be addressed.

If asked about your ideal client, “anybody” or “everybody” is not a very helpful answer. Click To Tweet

Let’s get something straight – my 75 year old mother is probably not your ideal client. My 9 year son should also be off your prospecting list. But if you have knowledge and experience in a particular topic that is valuable to someone, it’s up to you to define who that person is.

To do that consider where you gained your expertise. If you spent 20 years in the hospitality industry and consider yourself to be an expert in customer service or leadership, your knowledge may be transferrable. But certainly it would be more valuable to the people within the industry where you learned your lessons.

It’s about defining a niche and then using your experience to own that space.

In my own case, I spent years working as the marketing director for a professional speaker and consultant before I hung out my own shingle. I quickly realized that while there are a million agencies that work as generalists there were none (at least when I started) that specifically worked with speakers.

Once I defined my ideal client profile as content-based speakers, trainers and independent consultants it became very easy to focus my marketing efforts.

I wasn’t going to waste my time chasing after small web projects for local businesses or trying to compete against giant agencies with far more resources than myself. Instead I do everything I can to keep my company visible to those most likely to require my all in one marketing services.

Having and ideal client profile will help you work smarter

Defining your ideal clients will help you in similar ways. Most importantly you won’t spend countless hours pursuing projects with generic service offerings or generalist approaches, when there is someone better suited to the gig because they have defined themselves in that space.

Instead you can craft a message or service that is specific to your experience and applicable to a client base that is receptive to your message and values your experience.

Defining your client base is the most important thing you can do if you want to grow your business. So when you finishing sharing this on Twitter and LinkedIn, think about who your ideal clients are and how you can get yourself in front of them.

6 Trends Happening in Content Marketing in 2017

content marketing trendsIt’s hard to believe that 2017 is almost halfway over. And if you’re a content marketer, you may have a sinking feeling that you’re already falling behind.

So what should you be paying attention to? This article will look at some of the things that have been dominating marketing headlines this year and will continue to do so.

Featured Snippets Are King

You’ve probably noticed that featured snippets are now taking up a great deal of real estate on the first page of search results. If your competitors are dominating this space, you need to take it back. Start writing content that’s based on how people speak. Of course you have to be ranked in the Top Five or 10 search results for a given keyword phrase to even have a shot at becoming a featured snippet.

Once you get a coveted featured snippet spot, don’t rest on your laurels — there’s no guarantee that featured snippets will last forever. Keep looking at your analytics and making tweaks based on what your competitors are doing.

Mobile Is Growing, Growing, Growing

It’s no secret that people are surfing the Web from their smartphones and tablets more than they from desktops and laptops. That means you have to absolutely make sure that your Web experience is tailored to mobile. Have a mobile responsive site and make sure downloadable items such as white papers can be easily read on a mobile device. Think about creating apps, if you haven’t already. Just do more in the mobile space.

Video Keeps Exploding

How big is video? The fact that there are now oodles of content platforms for video should tell you that it’s a big deal. From YouTube to Snapchat to Facebook Live to Twitter, video is all over the Web. Make sure that you have a marketing strategy to brand and tell stories using video. And Don’t depend on your videos going viral. Instead, focus on creating videos that have meaningful information behind them and pay for some promotion.

Pay to Play Is Now a Big Deal

You might be creating the world’s best content, but if you’re not promoting them on social media, chances are nobody will know about it. Promotion on social media is becoming more and more about advertising. If you’re not advertising on social media, you risk falling behind all of your competitors who are using platforms like Facebook and Twitter ads to find and grow audiences.

User-Generated Content Is On the Rise

User-generated content helps to build trust in your brand. In fact, 85 percent of people trust others’ content over brands’ content. So it’s more important than ever to get social shares, reviews, comments about your products and services.

OF course not every piece of user-generated content is guarenteed to help you. So be sure your customer service is exceptionally polished because every user is now a potential brand ambassador or brand killer. It doesn’t take much for a bad review to bring down your business these days. The good news is the inverse: it doesn’t take much for a good review to build trust in your brand.

Email Marketing Is Coming Back

You might have thought email marketing had it’s best days 10 years ago. But the truth is, people are turning to it more than ever in order to find more information about a particular subject. Social media is great for building awareness about your product initially, but email marketing gives you the real estate to build on that awareness. This means taking your newsletters above selling points and offering real, educational and informative content to your list. You can even now put video, quizzes, and puzzles to make the experience much more interactive!

What are the other trends that you’re noticing this year? Let us know in the comments, and help everyone stay on top of what’s new and novel especially for the year 2017!

get staff to create content

5 Tips to Help Staff Create Content

get staff to create contentEvery office has them. People who cannot, for the life of them, write — or write well. And if it’s your job to shepherd content out of them – God bless you. However, there are a few things you can do to actually get the content you need — and ensure that content is publishable in a way that won’t embarrass your brand.

Here we’d like to offer a few tips on how to get content that is well above marginal from staff who are not natural born scribblers.

Don’t Push People Into Writing

This may seem counterintuitive, considering how I just introduced things, but the best way to get good content to get content from people who absolutely, positively want to create it. Some people hate writing and find it a chore. You’re likely to get lackluster content from these folks all the time, so don’t bother with them. Find and identify potential contributors who at least want to give content creation a shot. By not forcing the issue on people who have zero interest, you’ll save yourself hours of editing crap and have more time to help those want to contribute.

Make Content Production a Game

What might work, especially in a competitive corporate culture, is turning writing into a bit of a game. Identify what you want to accomplish, set some rules and then offer a reward to the first person who successfully does what you want them to do. Having an incentive is key, but sometimes a bit of personal recognition from the boss is all someone really craves.

Don’t Forget That There Are Different Kinds of Content

Content is not just writing. It can be slideshows or podcasts or infographics or a host of other things. Find out who the experts are in these various things around your office, and let them go at it. This is simply an honest admission that you won’t be able to convert everyone on your staff into a blog writer. But you can use different skill sets that people have to create various kinds of content to compliment the written work.

Don’t Ask for Complete Work

When it comes to writing, if you really need content from someone who is not a natural writer, don’t ask them to hand in a complete assignment that is barely passable. Instead, ask them to turn in a few bullet points or notes that a real writer can then flesh out. Send the completed version of the article or blog post back to the subject matter expert and ask them to review the work and approve it. This might be a good way to get more content on a regular basis, and it shouldn’t affect the end result of the work.

Provide Opportunities for Training and Feedback

Sometimes, all a person needs is a little bit of coaching in content creation. If you can provide this, you may find that people are more enthusiastic about contributing content and you won’t have to edit material as much. Also provide a chance to give transparent feedback — especially when it comes to what you’re looking for in terms of metrics and web analytics. Being transparent may encourage some competition, and this may provide an opportunity for colleagues to really kick things up a notch and turn in their best work.

Do you have any other tactics or strategies for working with difficult colleagues who may not be great writers and content creators? Share them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear them.

content marketing strategies

How to Make Time for Content Marketing

Time is a precious commodity – especially if you’re an independent consultant. When you bill by the hour or the day, there is a tendency to quantify the cost of every part of your life. If you bill at $300 an hour, it can be hard to see the value in spending 2 or 3 hours creating a newsletter or even writing an article. But content marketing requires that you make, well, content. So how do you find more hours, minutes and seconds when you’re already crunched with more pressing, and often more profitable, demands?

While adding time to the day is physically impossible, there are a few things you can do to squeeze more writing into whatever time you do have. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you a few good ideas about how to tackle your next writing assignment when time is at a premium.

Plan Your Content Marketing Stratgies

Before you set out to write anything, you should have a plan. Think about what you’re trying to do with your content marketing. See what your competitors are already doing and come up with a different slant. Then develop an editorial calendar to keep track of things. Start planning it at least one month in advance. If you can’t come up with any reasons for creating a piece, then you shouldn’t create it at all.

Set Goals

You can get a fair bit of writing done if you have content marketing goals AND you stick with them. You can do start by setting goals over yearly, quarterly, monthly and weekly periods of time. To figure out what goals you need to set weekly, think about what you need to be doing each day — and move up from there. You can also try being slightly overambitious to help you work harder, so long as you don’t set goals that are completely outside the realm of possibility.

Additionally, try to set goals that measurable. Don’t just say, “I’ll write content.” Say, instead, “Today, I’m going to write 500 words.” You can then track your progress against those goals.

Write About What Excites You First

The idea behind this tactic is that you’ll write a whole lot faster when you actually really, really want to write about something, thus saving you time. That will free up more time to write about the content that doesn’t quite catch your fancy — or is giving you grief in terms of turning those pesky ideas into words. If you’ve got a boatload of fun content to keep your funnel full then you have time to sit back and think about the tough stuff.

Divide Up Your Writing Time

Think about dividing up your content marketing tasks over the course of a week to get your pieces ready. For instance, use an hour on Monday to research and list topics for your articles and blog posts. Tuesdays can be spent on the rough draft. Wednesday is for polishing of your piece, while Thursday and Friday are for adding pictures, video, and actually publishing. You can successfully use this strategy for anything from blogging and website articles to newsletters.

Quality Content, Not Quantity

Reduce your content publishing frequency and go for more in-depth and long-form articles. The downside is that these pieces take longer to write, but they offer more value for the reader and they’ll help make you an authority on your subject material. You can break up the content with other content formats, such as:

  • Slide decks.
  • Infographics.
  • Social media images with tips.

Learn How to Say “No” and Get Rid of Distractions

Finding more time to write is all about making time to write. If you find that you’re hammered with distractions, like an avalanche of e-mails, then it’s time to put the distractions away. Close down your e-mail client while you write.

Granted, there are things you might not be able to say “no” to, such as e-mails from a top tier consulting client. But if you can figure out the other sources of distraction you can minimize or remove them altogether.

Are there any other ideas you have for how to make more time to write? Leave a comment below, and let us know!

Why should consultants blog

3 Questions About Blogging Answered

Why should consultants blog“You need to blog.”

How many times have you heard that line? It’s something I tell clients all the time. And WordPress has certainly democratized the process. Let’s face it, anyone who wants to blog already does it. So my job is to convince people who should be blogging to actually start. Here are the three questions I get most often along with some answers.

Why do I need to blog?

This is the big one. And I’ll keep it simple. Blogging helps you in search results because Google loves fresh content. When you blog you add valuable content to your site that can show up in search results – months and years after you’ve created it.

Secondly it gives you a lot of added credibility to potential clients as it clearly demonstrates that you know what you’re talking about.

What should I blog about?

Develop a strategy based around the audience you need to reach. It’s that simple. Start by creating a couple of personas. In case you didn’t know, personas are profiles of your ideal clients. This exercise will help you identify their interests. The trick is to then connect those interests to what it is you want to communicate.

If you want to reach managers and executives, and you happen to be a sales speaker, trainer or consultant then you have to create blog content that your ideal client will want to read. More importantly how will it move them to connect with you as a potential business partner?

How often should I blog?

Ideally you should try and blog something out every day. But let’s face it, you’re busy. And coming up with something new and interesting to write about is hard. Some professional speakers fall into a trap whereby they start putting out all sorts of crap just so they can say they are blogging 3 times a week.

It’s better to create a single amazing piece of content each week that will get shared to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, than three space fillers that your ideal clients don’t care about. They aren’t going to sort through a lot of bland posts just to find the rare nugget of gold.

building a successful consulting business

Don’t envy your competitors – learn from them!

No matter the industry or field, there is one thing all consultants have in common: competition. And regardless of the level of success your consulting business has already achieved, competitors are something that will either propel you forward or swallow you whole.

There is a famous quote by American poet Washington Allston that claims “the only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself”. While that is a nice sentiment, the wisest men and women in business know that studying their competition is a great strategy to finding their own success and building their growth.

While it can be easy to feel jealous of or envious our successful competitors — and, on the other hand, ignore the less successful competitors — there are a few simple strategies you can implement to ensure you continue to learn from their successes on a regular basis.

4 WAYS TO SIZE UP YOUR COMPETITION

Schedule the time: Getting in the habit of visiting your competitors’ websites and social media channels can be tricky, especially when you are busy focusing on your own business. Scheduling 10 to 15 minutes in your calendar at the beginning of each week will help you hold yourself accountable until it becomes part of your regular routine.

Sign up for their content:You’ve hit a gold mine if your competition offers free newsletters, blog posts and webinars. Sign up for this content immediately so you can stay up-to-date on what they are offering to their customers and clients.

Drop by at conferences: Do you attend conferences and workshops in your industry? Then chances are your competitors do as well. When you have time to spare, drop by their booths in-person to see if you can find out details about their business that can’t be found online.

Set up Google Alerts: Signing up for specific Google Alerts allows you to track keywords and phrases easily so you can stay up-to-date on specific conversations. If you haven’t already, set up Google Alerts for your own business and then for your competitors as well — it will help you keep tabs on who is mentioning their products, services or websites and what is being said.=

4 WAYS TO LEARN FROM WHAT YOU’VE DISCOVERED

Find the gaps:Now that you have checked out your competitors’ social media channels, blogs, newsletters and webinars, focus in on what is missing. Are there gaps in their content that you could fill? What aren’t they talking about or offering? If you can’t beat the competition’s’ strengths, targeting what they are neglecting to focus on is a great way to propel your business forward.

Don’t copy: Even though it can be tempting at times, copying what your competitors are doing is never a good strategy. This is because if you are always copying what others are doing, you will always remain one step behind them. A better strategy is to analyze their moves and decisions and then improve on them. For example, you can borrow the idea of offering free webinars, but do not repeat your competitors’ topics — offer something even better.

Listen to the reviews: If customers and clients have written reviews about your competitors, chances are these reviews will include both praise and complaints. Figure out how you can learn from this feedback as if it were your very own, because your audiences are likely very similar if not the exact same. For example, if you read that your competition is not offering a service in a specific area and this is something that their consumer wants, see if there is a way you can offer it first.

Don’t ignore the new guys: It can be tempting to solely focus on your top competitors, but it is just as important to focus on the newcomers who may not have found great success yet. These are the competitors you can often find the most innovative ideas from.

business-blogging-for-consultants

3 Reasons Why Consultants Must Have a Blog

business-blogging-for-consultantsIf you’re a consultant or entrepreneur, you’ve probably given some thought to starting blog. If you’re already blogging, great — this article isn’t for you. But if you’re still you’re still on the fence, it’t time to take that leap. If you’re running your own business, I’ll assume you’re some sort of an expert. And that’s what the blogging world needs: more experts to share knowledge with a rapidly expanding audience that is looking for real information on the web. And if you can connect with these people who have an interest in your knowledge, that is the first step to turning them into paying clients.

Even if you currently think writing a blog is a frivolous use of your time. here are three concrete reasons you should start.

You Have to Think About What Your Competition Is Doing

Your competition is either blogging or not blogging. If they’re blogging, they’re taking valuable eyeballs and potential customers away from you. Even if they are not as good a you, they are getting in front of more prospects than you. And they increases the odds of their phone ringing. Quite simply blogging is a real way for people to find out about you and your business.

If your competition isn’t blogging, then that’s even better. This gives you a chance to get in front of more clients than you can possibly service! And while they’re not blogging, you’ll create a build a competitive advantage based on your expertise.

Either way, you need to be blogging to get those visitors who may be tempted to go to another business just like yours.

Google Loves Fresh Content

When was the last time you opened a phone book to find a service? Most people use the web to find suppliers, products and services. So you need to be found on the web if you want to be found at all. That means you have to rank highly in search engines in your area of business if you want to get in front of the clients who are willing to pay you money.

One of the ways in which you can increase your chances of being successfully found is by having content that is updated frequently on your website. A blog is a perfect vehicle to do this. You can update it as frequently as you want, but the more you do, the more likely that search engines such as Google are going to amble along and pay your site a visit, which will help you rank higher. On top of that, you’ll have an audience going to the content regularly, and possibly even linking to it, which will do a lot for your Google rankings. Plus, the more pages you have, the more opportunities you’ll have to rank for multiple phrases on search engines, too.

People Will Get to Know You, And You’ll Establish Your Authority

Blogging is essentially a branding exercise. It allows potential customers to get to know your style before they actually commit to buying anything. This is important, because we all buy stuff from companies that we know. Think of running shoes. Would you rather have a pair of Nikes or similar shoe from a company you’ve never heard of? Chances are, you’re probably going to buy the Nikes because you’ve heard of them and people talk about them as a good quality shoe. You know them, so you buy from them.

What’s more, you also get the opportunity to demonstrate your brilliance to the world and become a recognized authority in your industry. This helps to move your audience beyond knowing and liking you, to actually trusting you — which is where the magic really begins to happen. So be sure to give blogging your all and pull no punches. Become a valuable resource to your readers and they, in turn, will probably respond in kind by buying from you. If you establish your authority online, good things are bound to happen.

Are there any other reasons why you think you or small business owners should start a blog? That’s what the comments section is for, so have your say.

Marketing consulting business with infographics

Six Tips for Making (and Promoting) a Great Infographic

Many people are visual learners. They are more apt to remember something they see instead of something they read. So a great way to communicate with your users (and prospective buyers) is to use an infographic to convey information. Social Media Today says, “Businesses who market with infographics actually gain on average 12 percent more traffic than those who don’t.”

That said, infographics are not easy to make. It takes someone with a little bit of technical writing know-how and graphic design knowledge to make a good one. Or it could take someone with the graphic design knowledge and someone else with writing experience working together. Unless you have people who know precisely what they are doing, outsource this to a professional. It is too important to mess up.

There are a few things to keep in mind when creating an infographic. You want to, after all, make sure that it is on-point and actually useful. (After all, you should not use an infographic just for the sake of using an infographic, just like anything else.)

Think About Your Target Audience

Remember: you are not just trying to look cool, but you’re trying to say something to someone. If you make an infographic that’s meant for the whole wide world, chances are it is going to get ignored. As the adage goes, you cannot please everyone.

The Kiss Metrics blog points out, “The infographics with the most traction, most attention, and most virality, are ones that meet your target audience right where they want it most.”

So how do you meet your target audience? Well, you should craft a persona for an infographic. You want to know what story you are going to tell, and who you are going to tell it to. An infographic, in that regard, is no different than a complex web design project.

It Has to Look Smashing

Everyone and their dog are doing infographics these days. So, if your infographic does not blow people away with its design, you will have just wasted web space. Again, this is where you want a really smoking hot graphic designer working on your infographic. You want someone who is up-to-date on the latest trends and design software. In other words, you want someone who knows how to make things look pretty. And knows how to properly size things.

If you are looking for some recent good examples of snazzy design, you might draw inspiration from this. Not all of the examples are perfect — some have crowded text and many go on for far too long. However, for current look and feel, these are good examples.

Keep Things to the Point

Do not try to cram in a whole bunch of ideas into one infographic. If you think you have an infographic that is going to be very complex, break it up into multiple infographics. You want people to look at your infographic and have an “a-ha!” moment. If you put too much information in, you will create a sensory overload. Those infographics are usually ignored.

Here is the perfect example of something that keeps things to the point (and goes back to something we already mentioned).

Use Data That Calls People to Action

You need to use statistics in your infographic that back up why people need your product or service. Use reputable information. Use recent information. Track down the original source of your data. Credit that source or sources. Always.

This post shows good and bad examples of credited infographic sources, and provides more detailed information.

Have Sparkling Copy

What you say in your infographic is just as important as how it looks. Know what you are going to say and say it well. That said, infographics should not be dense with copy. Use writing sparingly. Use lots of white space. This is easier on the eye.

A great way to attract attention through your copy is by asking a question as your headline. Offering a “how to” tip works as well.

Promote the Heck Out of Your Infographic

Sadly, just because you have an awesome infographic does not mean it will automatically be shared by millions. You have to do the same work you would put into sharing a blog post. You have to put it up on social media. You need to get influencers to share your infographic. You should also use social plugins to make it shareable. However, if you have a good infographic, you have just won half the battle.

Do you have any other tips or ideas to share? Let us know in the comments section.

Do-it-yourself-marketing-for-consultants

[Video] DIY Marketing for Speakers, Trainers and Consultants

The best advice I can give clients that will help them break free from bad marketing habits and get them noticed by decision-makers is this:

BEING AN EXPERT IS NOT ENOUGH TO GET YOU HIRED.

Too many professional service providers believe that just because they are brilliant, the phone should be ringing off the hook. If only it were that easy.

If this is your strategy then what's likely to happen is you'll be waiting a long time for calls that will never come. The truth is potential clients don't care how smart you are. They care about the value you bring to the table.

Clients don't care how smart you are. They care about the value you bring to the table. #speaking Click To Tweet

This is the starting point for a webinar I presented to the National Speakers Association's Connecticut Chapter.

It's an "all killa, no filla" presentation on marketing. There are no special offers or product discounts to wait for. Just 100% pure content. I've even put together a page with links to everything I talk about.

 

 

If you make it all the way through and go to the resource page (hint: you can just click here) you'll find a PayPal button to buy me a coffee or a beer. If you do, I'll tweet you a picture of me drinking the beverage within the next couple of weeks.

Enjoy!