What EVER should I write about?  –  Start a swipe file

Writing is a mindset; you need momentum to hunt for ideas so get hungry for articles and material that will get a reaction. Remember, boring doesn’t stick. There’s plenty of tiring drivel around already; you only have to look at local newspaper headlines:

“Fallen tree causes traffic chaos”  “Rebuilding of Fire Station on course”  and that is why local and national paper circulations are dropping fast.

R.S.Thomas, in “Poetry for Supper” said that two old poets argued. One said that content just arrived like the ‘sunlight through a window’. The other said, “Man, you must sweat and rhyme your guts taut if you’d build your verse a ladder.”  So, yes, it needs to be worked on!

Do you ever wake up in the night with an idea in your head, then, next morning you’ve forgotten it? Consigned to the whatever-was-that-idea bin? Try and keep a notepad next to your bed. You’ll sleep easier after you’ve noted it.

After your subject headers, (next week’s subject) you need a purpose to the piece whether it’s website, direct mail, email, blog or other. Decide what it must DO and your audience. We’ll look at language and tone later.

Start with your subject headers then prioritise your headlines in order of their punch and topicality. Roll out your thoughts about that headline.  You don’t have to finish a piece in one bite; park half-finished articles for later.

Voice Recorders – Why is a voice recorder a great idea? Because if you write as you speak, it’s you talking, naturally! It sounds like a real person. It is also spontaneous. Evernote used to be just a note-taker for desktop or smartphone. In its basic form, it includes a voice recorder and it gives you the chance to store and search all your jottings, photos; to share them by email, Twitter, Facebook, link clips and quotes and half-finished pieces in one place. The labelling system is down to you – for creating your own separate notebooks, tags for recognition and, of course, it’s all storable in the cloud. The free version is upgradeable @ £4 month or £30 a year for more storage, to sync with all devices, etc.

When you’re taking the dog for a walk, (if not, borrow a dog!) get into the mood of the piece and relay your thoughts into the voice recorder. Don’t worry if people think you’re barking mad. Stay on subject then add all the random ideas you can think of. Your rules, so nothing is offside. Record all theories and deductions from as many dimensions as possible, no matter how ridiculous.

Then add the facts from authoritative sources. Arrangement into a logical sequence comes later.

Start a “swipe file”. Cut and paste clips from sources all around your subject and drop them into Windows Notepad. That will render the copy flat text and take out all strange formatting. Label the subjects so you can retrace your steps. Ask Google anything, in plain English.

Swipe from media sources and look at StumbleUpon and Netvibes. These are free online tools known as Aggregators. Choose the subjects you want prompted.

List the subjects around your product or service and edit them as you wish: by preferred region – UK, European countries, USA, etc then by appropriate categories in your subject. Click the Stumble box every time you update, drop a category or open a new one. Remind yourself to log in each day.  http://www.stumbleupon.com

Netvibes – same idea but different perspectives. You start a Netvibes Dashboard of all the things that interest you from your world of business or interests. Refresh means the latest news is loaded and from a range of sources. It’s a ‘What’s the latest?’ tool.  http://www.netvibes.com/en

Twitter, too, is a great information tool, but we’ll cover it later. So, start building the stories you need to enlighten, entertain or amuse your clients and prospects. Call us if you’re having difficulty in getting going.

Content – Technique

There are so many who think they don’t have a story in them or that they cannot make it interesting. Let’s work on that because you can with the right techniques. If you’re not writing readable material consistently to your clients and prospects, then you’re missing a chance to talk to them and to keep their interest. There are several areas to consider to make this process work.

What am I up against? 

“Between the beginning of recorded history and the year 2003, there were five exabytes (equal to one quintillion) bytes of information recorded. To put this in perceptive, there were five exabytes recorded only yesterday.” (WikiBrands – Moffiit and Dover).

It’s a crowded world so your content has to punch through it.

Scope everything in your business AROUND the subject. Writing too close to your product or service subject will sound like a sale. Instead, create content campaigns that cut and invade, entertain, enlighten, challenge and amuse.

Story-gathering. Start with writing as many headlines as you can. More of this when we talk about email campaigns. But just key in as many headlines as you can possibly think of. Try and connect as many as possible. Just keep going until you’re exhausted! Then decide on which are the most topical or hard-hitting. I find subjects from Google, Twitter and other online sources, articles, newspapers, magazines and TV News. Don’t ignore the marketplace.

As you write, set out your stall – that you want your readers to participate, to respond to you and to become involved. As we said two weeks ago, ‘take them into your confidence’. Your ‘call to action’ does not have to be a sales message; the best ones aren’t.

Everyone and everything is a brand. It’s everything your readers, clients, and prospects associate with you, your values and what you stand for. Everything you write has to be like a stick of rock: your brand and persona needs to work through one end to the other, consistently telling topical and challenging stories throughout.

Content is not a platform where you let off steam. It is the opportunity to be seen as a thought-leader, a challenging writer who makes me think and definitely one that I want to hear from again.

Think differently. Research potential stories. Consider, “Can I get an article out of that comment?  What are my views? How do I think people will react? Do people feel strongly about that subject?”  Take an almost journalistic view and interest – start listening to all those around your business – trade bodies, authorities, government and experts. Opt for the well-known: Farage, Johnson, comedians, Sturgeon. Or quote people well known in your industry, locally or nationally. Then nest the subjects until you can weave your own story. (More later).

The Balanced Scorecard. Be as apolitical as you can. Ranting about a fad you feel strongly about may win you a few favours from like-minded souls but may antagonise others. Those who demonstrate one view and then demonstrate an understanding of the other opinions will win the day. Look out for the articles that are fresh, that may be controversial and then use your sense of fair play to create a balance, the detail that may even be a consolidation of others’ ideas, then add your perspective.

We’re looking into all aspects of Content as without it, you don’t have a story. We’ll keep you posted.

Content – oi, mind your language

Last week, we asked how your audience would react if you spoke to them in a foreign or weird language. The less bright Brits aboard just shout louder when they’re not understood, we’re told. But if your clients aren’t listening to you, there are reasons, and yelling louder won’t be the answer.

MY PRODUCT IS GREAT: BUY IT!  – Marks out of 10, what do you think?


Here are 19 (other) ideas for your choice of language:

  1. Most people loathe inflated language so why use it?
  2. Use ‘you’ and ‘your’ a lot. Talk about them four times more than you talk about ‘I’ or ‘we’.
  3. Plain English doesn’t mean Janet and John English.
  4. The main advantages of plain English are: it is faster to write; it is faster to read and you get your message across more often, more easily and in a friendlier way.
  5. People like lists, don’t be afraid to use them. If you say, ‘here are ten reasons’ – it’s measurable and people know how they will be stretched.
  6. If you use pronouns like him rather than her, remember there are 1 million more women in the UK than men. So balance their use.
  7. Write as you talk – don’t take on a different persona when you write. If you do, you’ll drive people away. (i.e. They’ll just stop reading and consign you to the junk mail box).
  8. Talk as if the reader is opposite you.
  9. Don’t use words that the reader is unlikely to understand, just for effect. Your reader is unlikely to (want to) go to a dictionary, online or other, to check a word. For example, I had a letter of apology from a computer company saying ‘Please forgive our dilatoriness in this matter’. Dilatoriness? Give me a break!
  10. Don’t use acronyms or jargon.
  11. You don’t have to sound lofty to be an authority in your subject.
  12. Always quote others, especially if you’re being a bit controversial
  13. Always quote from authoritative sources – preferably well-known individuals / in your industry: Trade Associations, educated thought leaders, worthy newspapers. (Quote column and date.)
  14. Wherever possible, attribute quotes by name and date. Then you don’t have to ask permission to use the quotes.
  15. Facts are good, providing they add to your argument and they’re not just used for effect.
  16. Run a grammar check and a spell-check. (To be discussed in a future blog).
  17. Make it flow easily. Read it out loud. If you trip over it, so will they.
  18. Use punctuation well. Learn how to use apostrophes. It does still matter. We’ll revise later!
  19. Try to keep sentences to 4 – 15 words max. Using three-four-word sentence can be effective.

We’ll discuss effective layout later.

We all think we can write until it comes to the time. So, it’s worth investing in this content series.

Who is my audience? – and why is that a vital first question?

In the second of our articles on content, here’s a piece that will save you wasted time and effort.

It’s desperately important that you plan your writing around your readers’ ‘pull’ and not your own ‘push’. What’s happening in your world and theirs; what’s topical and how can you frame your story?

Later, we’re going to look at language and tone – the areas that everyone writing their own content struggles with at first. We address that as presumably, you don’t want to be talking Greek to an all-English audience.

You need to consider that writing content is exactly the same as performing on a stage. Your words need to be delivered to a receptive audience that wants to hear them and in a manner that they can understand. If you burble and you’re not understood on stage, your audience will walk out and you’ll never see them again, you may agree. It’s the same thing with text: learning, planning and rehearsing and the best way to deliver it.

To extend that simile, yes, you do need to ‘rehearse’ your writing. You would not go on stage and make it all up as you go along. The best actors, heroes or villains, build relationships with their audience and take them into their confidence.

It’s what they read and how they hear your words that matters. They will make some very snap decisions about you. Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’ says that their impression of you within the first two minutes will not change much after 30 minutes. You’ll either make an impression or not.

People have a worldview that they will defend, argue over and even row about! It’s what’s nested in their minds. If a piece of text that challenges their fundamental beliefs is deliberately argumentative for effect, they will defend their worldview and form an opinion of you that conflicts with theirs. At that point, you’ve lost them.

You may decide to challenge people’s belief systems. We’ve all been dismayed and even angry with things like bankers’ bonuses, MPs’ expenses, so-called ‘icons’ like Jimmy Saville, the News of the World. Then, lately, with lies around Brexit and then Sam Allardyce. Your readers are tougher and more resilient than ever before. Like us, they hate spin and BS.

THAT is what you’re up against every time you mail or write to someone or write your own website, you tweet or load pictures to Instagram. They used to say, ‘The camera never lies.’ With Adobe and Illustrator, that’s exactly what they can do now. And that is why text is should be powerful.

Seth Godin makes the point about belief systems in his book “Tribes”.

People don’t believe what you tell them

They rarely believe what you show them.

They often believe what their friends tell them.

They always believe what they tell themselves

What leaders do: they give people stories they can tell themselves.

Stories about the future and about change.    

So, having seen what you’re up against, let’s get to work.

We may not have all the answers, but please challenge any of these arguments. We’re here to help. Call us.

Next week we’ll talk about language (part one).





Content with your content?

Throughout our sales and marketing blog, we have established that the links and relationships with your clients and prospects are the most important things in your armoury. After that, in terms of your marketing, it’s all about content, content and content. Nothing else matters.

So how do you go about it?

Over the next weeks, we’re diving into this area, which, after cold selling, is the area that most fear: building relationships and content in its many forms.

We want to help you decide on the best way of talking to the right people, your audience. Talking to them in a language they understand, that they appreciate and to which they’ll respond.

Why talk at all if no one’s listening? If you’re not talking sense, you’re not selling.

Why use social media tools like Google+ or Pinterest if your readers don’t use them? Aspirational fads are not wise if your clients aren’t on the same page … no matter who tells you otherwise. Some types of businesses do not need to use social media. Because it’s generally free it doesn’t mean it’s a cure-all. (It’s not really free, but we’ll look into that). But those who use social media wisely certainly benefit.

One way or another you need to gain rapport with your clients and prospects. Traction. Get them to understand your message and what you’re all about and to look forward to hearing what you have to say. Would you agree?

In this project, we won’t try and sell you any fads, or clever little ‘gismos’ that are the national panacea. There isn’t such a thing – there isn’t one single, easy route to market. If there were, everyone would be on to it.

But, aha, you can help your clients by demonstrating a consistent theme of intrigue, help and support gained from reading and observing the Market – your Market – your specialism. Then commenting with a balanced view, wrapping, and interpreting and anticipating next steps, what may happen in the future, with a message – ‘watch this space’. With that kind of consistent advice, why would they not listen to you?

The message must answer their implicit questions about you: ‘Does this company make me think? Do they smack of honesty? Are they preferably local, reliable, and does everyone speak well of them?’

Check-a-Trade is pricey to belong to, but some trades swear buy it. Unless I were particularly recommended a tradesman and saw the end result, then Check-a-Trade is my next best source of advice. Companies who are not able to use this medium have to prove themselves through either mass advertising – that doesn’t work anymore – or their content.

Ask Google ANYTHING (legal) and you are 99% sure of finding the answer. University students don’t buy and pour over many books anymore. One or two open questions to the internet and they’ve fast-tracked it.

That’s what your prospects want, too. A guarantee that you won’t waste their time; people are determined not to have to read unwanted bumpf. They want stimulation and instant response, the answer to their questions, quickly. Some stimulus that they can believe.

That’s why your website, your collateral – your email, your direct mail, lumpy mail, calling strategy all have to WORK.

The process we work through may hurt a bit. It will certainly challenge your cherished beliefs and your world view.

We’ll guide you wherever we can. If you’re still not sure, call us. Let’s work through it…but there are no quick-win solutions.

Are you up for it?

Networking – Be good on your feet

I’ve heard some hopeless excuses.  “I haven’t got time for networking; I’m too busy.”  Too busy to make new local contacts? Really? “But I’m not good at mornings” – Get good! Get up and go for a run, then you’ll be ready. “I don’t like cold, wet, winter mornings.”  Brave the winter then look forward to the summer!

You must commit to be involved in networking. Mix it, take an interest in everyone over time and, if they’ve demonstrated that they’re good, look out for opportunities for them and they’ll do the same for you.

‘Give first’ is the best motto. As you’re better known in the group, when you’re having coffee, call across the room, “Hi, John, I may have a lead for you.” That will help you.

Don’t measure – if you count who owes you what favour, you’re on the wrong plain. Just get to know and help quality people. The rest will take care of itself.

Be prepared. As we said last week, take 30 business cards. It’s pretty feeble to run out at a networking event, isn’t it? Take an appointment book, too. Arranging to meet someone later is the main reason you are there.

Decide why you are going. Don’t just turn up. What is your message? What will interest others? How can you make a difference to others in the room? Take an unusual object, if you can, that arouses curiosity. If it explains your product or shows what you do, great.

Sales IS public speaking. Get good at it. Shyness in business does not win the day!

If you’re new and you don’t know anyone, remember that people want you to succeed, they really do. You often hear, “I’m really not good at public speaking.”  Once you’re there, remember that Networking is not the time to be sheepish.

  • You don’t have to be RADA trained. Just speak clearly, be heard and know your subject backwards.
  • When someone asks you an insightful question, roll with it and tell them it’s a good question. Then offer an objective answer.
  • Be yourself. Pretentious, loud people who ‘over laugh’ are annoying at best!

The meeting will probably start with 60 seconds introductions. If you start with, “I’m Joanne and I’m a IFA,” you’ll lose them right from the start.

The purpose is rather obviously to explain what you do. But, you may have only 40 or 60 seconds to say your pitch. So it needs to work. Remember the song, “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it – and that’s what gets results!”

Think about something catchy so start with something that involves them, like “You’re probably thinking…” or “Have you ever stopped to think about ….”

There’s no time to be seen as a sheepish, so, don’t bowl in unprepared. Think it through and plan it.

People understand in different ways… so, if you can, show something. A product or metaphor. One woman recently offered sales training and took a baseball bat with her as a metaphor for what to do if your sales team are not performing.

Finally, plan your own body language.

Call us to talk through how you’re networking- we do want to help your business to be a success. Also, check out previous blog on Sales.



Networking – You’re looking for leads

You often hear people saying, ‘I wish I could get more leads at networking events.’ So here are a few tips that will help you to succeed.

Bear in mind that networking does not ‘buy you the right to business.’ At BNI, a national networking group, some say that because there is a ‘Referral System’, you feel obliged (and actually, you’re compelled) to recommend others even though you don’t have the faintest idea if they are good at their job, or even reliable. For that reason, BNI may not be right for you. Recommending others when you don’t know them may lose you friends and clients, after all.

When you arrive, and at the end of the event, stand by the entrance – near to the registration – admin desk.  Someone will be checking-in visitors and taking payments for the meal. Disappear to a corner and you’ll find it’s a lonely place.

Spend 75% of your time with people you don’t know.  The rest of the time, follow-up contacts you’ve made before. If you’ve send them mail, samples or ideas in the interim, ask them what they thought. If they are now customers, always make sure that they know they are valued. Never avoid the chance to talk with a customer in the room. First, it’s a basic courtesy, second, they may be your best salesman that day.

With everyone you meet, try and build some rapport, some common ground. That’s what starts the networking process of ‘working with people you know, like and trust’ – the 4Networking maxim. People admire honesty and enthusiasm and someone who really knows their subject.

Even if there is no one in the room who you think is your ‘type’, your model client, remember that everyone knows 200 – 500 people. So, touch the right nerve and even if your product isn’t right for the person you’re talking with, ask them to listen out for you. “Do you know anyone who….?” is a better question than “Is my business right for you?”

When you exchange cards, try and make it purposeful. For example, try and send them a sample of your product or your work.

Keep aware of time. It’s so easy to get tied-up and realise that you’ve been talking to the same person for thirty minutes; ten is enough, then move on.  The purpose is not to close a sale but to arrange further meetings. So many people attend networking events expecting to sell product or service on the day. It rarely works.

Other benefits with networking are to find out how others go to market and to learn from them and to perhaps offer them help and advice. Not a free consultation but a bit of help that will demonstrate what you do with an idea that will help them. But watch out for those who sap your ideas and maybe try and use you. One great (marketing) idea could be the making of them.

An IT specialist may give someone a shortcut that saves them hours of pain fathoming it out themselves, or paying for someone to cure the problem. I heard a web designer helping someone and immediately thought, ‘Wow, that advice has real value.’

You may decide to give away all the free advice you can. If they have picked your brains, and they’re not buying, you are more than justified to ask them if they know of anyone who could do with sensible advice on your subject.

Call us to talk through any reservations you may have about networking. We’ll be talking about how each of the National groups work in a future blog.