Archive for the ‘business trends’ Category

4 ways a white paper helps you sell

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

What’s a white paper–and why should you care? Good question. You’re out there trying to run your business, and in the current economic climate that may be a more-than-usually challenging job. So who has time to develop another marketing tool?

There are several reasons smart companies are making the time. But first, let’s define our terms.

What’s a white paper?
The term white paper means a 6 to 12-page (can be 50 pages or more) professional write-up that explains objectively a possible solution to one of an executive’s specific pressing business problems. It can also be called a special report or other name. Here’s how it might work:

  • If you’re a software company executive whose prospects need to track orders or coordinate resources, you could offer a white paper explaining how a new software solution has been proven to reduce lost orders and save money by optimizing trucks, pallets, drivers, and other resources.
  • If you’re a private equity investment executive, you might offer a white paper that details steps to help people understand how to tell a smart investment from a poor one.
  • If you’re a staffing company executive, you could educate your prospects about the complexities of making smart hires, explaining aspects of a familiar process that are not well understood by most people.

In other words, you don’t give your process or your tools away. Instead, you explain what the needs are, talk about where trends are heading, and hint at solutions (that you can, of course, provide).

Why should you care?
White papers offer a powerful but subtle way to position your company as the expert in a particular arena. A prospect who has engaged enough to ask for your information is a prospect who is genuinely concerned about the problem you’re addressing and who already feels a certain level of trust with you.

  1. White papers generate interest. They offer education and information that addresses a particularly challenging point in the reader’s business situation.
  2. White papers are no-pressure. The format says we’re-sharing-useful-material-here-not trying to sell you.
  3. White papers have credibility. Information is backed up by third-party, objective research. You’re not making claims in a vacuum. You offer proven sources as the basis of your assertions.
  4. White papers build relationships. They offer an invaluable opportunity to speak in your company’s True Voice and show customers you care about their problems.

But when do you sell?
Of course, you need to make sure you follow up with those who download or receive your white paper. That’s part of the marketing that helps make it effective. But if you turn the initial follow-up into a hard-sell situation, you risk turning the prospect off–and ensuring they will be unlikely to trust your future offers of information.

However, if the customer is ready to buy when you follow up, you’re in a strong position to make the sale right then. And if the customer is only in the early stages of research, you’ve initiated a relationship in which you’ll likely be welcome to stay in touch with occasional value-add offerings. That’s how you make sure yours is the company that comes to mind when the customer has more questions or is ready to move forward.

With your white paper you’re reinforcing your expertise and getting your company name and logo in front of the customer in a no-pressure, trusting, learning situation–a great place to be in today’s high-speed, short-attention-span, what’s-next? marketing environment.

Sincerely,
Barbara

P.S. If you’d like to learn how a white paper/special report might be a good tool for your company–and get a coupon for $50–call or email me. Chicago 773.292.3294. Cleveland 216.472.8502. barbara@reallygoodfreelancewriter.com.

* Good on your next project of $150 or more (more…)

7 more blog blurbs. And introducing…one-stop design/copywriting services

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Still got doubts about blogging for your business? Guys, it is not a fad. It’s an integral part of the new way of being in the global marketplace.Whatever terms you use, Web 2.0, social networking, new media, etc., the fact is a blog is part of the new approach to marketing. It gives you a new and powerful way to engage with your prospects and customers. An opportunity to build a personal–albeit virtual–relationship with them at a low cost. Even if you hire a professional blog writer–which you should definitely do if you can’t find time yourself and/or don’t have a staff member who has the skill and can devote the time–the cost, compared to advertising and other methods of reaching prospects is breathtakingly minimal.

Some statistics from a survey of over 2500 Internet users (in Germany, where the corporate blogging phenomenon is only just beginning):

  1. 1 out of every 10 Internet users reads blogs
  2. 91% of blog readers expect fast responses to questions and comments in enterprise blogs
  3. 90% feel blogs should clearly differentiate commercial from non-commercial content.
  4. 54% of blog readers form their opinions about products/companies on the basis of blogs.
  5. 51% of blog readers visit product and/or corporate sites as a result of reading blogs.
  6. 58% of blog readers read them to find news and information they can’t find otherwise.
  7. 57% of them are interested in the personal opinions of the authors.

Keep in mind that one thing people are endlessly fascinated by is other people. That’s why it’s so important to have a personal voice in the blog. And even if you’re reporting on something they could find elsewhere on the Internet–there is theoretically “nothing new under the sun”–your post becomes unique when you express your personal feeling about an event, a trend, a circumstance, or a story.

Don’t worry about how many numbers of readers you have. Don’t worry if you don’t get comments. Don’t ask for a financial ROI on your blog–it’s not a sales tool. It’s credibility. It’s a credential for your knowledge and your expertise. It’s the True Voice® of your company.

I’m delighted to say the chief new-media strategist at Edelman, the world’s largest PR agency, agrees with my #1 piece of advice about how to write a blog: “Be authentic.” That’s where the true power is.

Sincerely,
Barbara

P.S. I am thrilled to announce that I can now offer you the opportunity for one-stop shopping for powerful content and beautiful design. I have partnered with two top professional graphic design services companies, one in Chicago and one in Cleveland. As a team, we deliver the ultimate in printed materials to carry your True Voice into the marketplace–and attract and retain loyal, profitable customers. Call me for a complimentary consultation any time. 773.292.3294 or 216.472.8502.

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Typo fun and a holiday announcement: changing angles on this blog

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

Was looking for a song I sang one year with a church choir. Using Google, struggling to remember the line so I could look it up by lyrics… Stumbled on this amusing typo on a Christian music site:

CALL TO WORSHIP Lyrics – MERCY ME
Prince of Peach, almighty God Counselor, ….”

So proofread your work–even if you’re a great speller and an excellent typist. I am both of those things, and yet I am appalled to look back sometimes at one of my posts and realize it contains one and even sometimes two typos that my fingers just seemed to type without my knowledge. Isn’t that how all mistakes seems to be made—without our knowledge?

I’ve noticed recently that I’ve not been posting here very often. Let’s face it. I’ve been ranting about the value of blogs since I discovered the medium back in 2003.  And I haven’t changed my mind about that. But, although I’d be happy to do a presentation for you on why it’s a good idea to blog for your business, I’d much rather write in my own blog on a broader basis.

One of my chief pieces of advice to business blog writers is to write about what you enjoy. Even though it’s trendy now to blog (thank goodness it’s finally been recognized as the powerful medium it is), if you aren’t passionately involved in your business, don’t try to publish a blog about it! So I’m going back to my former polyglot approach to topics.

And the first topic is wish you a wonderful Christmas or Hannukah or whatever you celebrate at this beautiful end-of-year holiday time.

Ad revenues dropping like rocks for newspapers

Monday, September 10th, 2007

You knew that newspapers were losing a lot of traction because of the Internet, right? Well, the “news” is worse than expected, according to an article in AdWeek. And these changes to advertising revenue are expected to be permanent, not passing. A sample of recent dives:

  • Gannett Co. where USA Today ad pages fell 17 percent compared to last year, and real estate classifieds at its community papers plunged 20 percent.
  • Tribune Co., where help-wanted classified tumbled 19 percent, and real estate shrank by 24 percent. (Fitch has Tribune on a “Ratings Watch Negative,” anticipating a further downgrading of its credit.)
  • The McClatchy Co., where real estate collapsed by 26 percent, and automotive plunged 20 percent.
  • Dow Jones & Co., where ad volume fell 20 percent on a 75 percent tumble in technology-related ads.

This is one business trend you don’t want to ignore. Another is the business blog–it’s not a passing fancy, folks. Give me a call at 773.292.3294 if you have questions about how to get started.

Sort through the small-biz-info jungle

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

The Internet has facilitated the growth of small businesses, and the owners of those businesses have the Internet to thank for the incredible amount of information and the seemingly limitless amount of help they can find about running those businesses.

 But it can feel pretty overwhelming at times. Too much. Where do you turn? How do you sort through it all? Fortunately, just as the newspapers became the editors of our information a couple of centuries ago–and some would argue began to abuse the privilege–now the Internet is home to some very bright people whose whole business is sifting through the wheat and chaff and providing you with solid, up-to-the-minute information on everything about your business.

One such source, always reliable and timely, is Small Business Trends Radio. It’s run by a woman who’s a lawyer and a former CEO of a small Internet division of Bell & Howell. Her radio show and her website are loaded with the best available help for your small business. And now they’ve introduced a compilation area.

Anita Campbell knows how to interview so you get each person’s best knowledge on a topic.  Take a walk through this wonderland of expert advice – the Small Biz Podcast 100.  Oh, yeah, and check out our podcast with Anita on the site, too – Blogs – Cutting through the Hype with Barbara Payne.

Blogging about personal technology?

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Blogging on your business blog about your personal technology? Perfectly legitimate. People who care about your company will be fascinated to hear how its leaders use technology in their personal lives. Here’s a bit about the portable office…

Have you ever considered the possibilities of being able to operate your email, your documents and your computer from wherever you are, at any time of day or night, without being at your desk, or even at a public computer? This has been a goal of mine–mostly an elusive dream, though–for three years now.

  • Imagine being on a bus or in your car on a trip without having to lug your laptop.
  • Imagine being able to type memos (instead of scratching them on bits of paper) and email them to yourself (or at least have them already typed when you get back to your office).
  • Imagine not having to poke with your fingernails at some tiny keys to input your email messages, your ideas, or your meeting agendas or notes.
  • Imagine being able to get your social networking done wherever and whenever.

Happily, the dream may be getting closer to reality for me since I recently traded in my old 650 for the Treo 700p (with the Palm operating system). I am now renewing my efforts to use the Palm Universal Wireless Keyboard with my smart cell phone.

Taking a functioning portable keyboard with you can transform your work life. I tried for over 2 years to get the earlier version to function reliably and encountered continuing episodes of frustration as the keyboard would work for a while and then unaccountably stop. In addition, the companion program on the cell phone, Documents to Go, was completely unreliable. It, too, would work for a while and then just begin crashing the entire phone whenever I opened a document. After a lot of frustration and wasted time, I finally gave up.

The trend in business today–for both corporate executives and small business owners–is toward ever-more-portable workspaces. I’m banking that this new phone-and-keyboard combination will begin shining a light brightly–and most importantly, consistently–on my ability to work in any environment. Time will tell.

Can a manufacturer publish a blog? Would Sears?

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

After my initial report on the Sears saga (see post Sears customer service), I got busy and couldn’t write for a while (among other things, just became a new grandma). But okay, the refrigerator arrived (dented for sure) and was installed by a third party company. I noticed that every time I closed the bottom door, the freezer door would pop open. Spent a good time trying to get the service dept.–was told to put vaseline around the edge. I said, excuse me? This is a brand new refrigerator. Are you kidding? Had to ask for a supervisor, who told me in a slightly less offensive way that I should try vaseline–it works great for 8 year old units. ????

Then, after a day or so, suddenly the main door wouldn’t close. Literally stayed stuck open by about 2 inches. It was a good game trying to get hold of the right people, but finally a Sears repair department agreed to send someone out–5 days later.

So finally the repair guy shows up (during which time I had to haul the door up and push hard to get it closed) and found there were some washers missing when the door was installed.  The thing works now but I’m just holding my breath…

Well, manufacturers can blog, too. A couple of years ago I did a presentation on blogging for a group of highly skeptical computer-geek-entrepreneurial types recently. Questions came fast and furious. One was particularly interesting: what would a manufacturing company blog about?

I remember the stories I wrote for one of the annual Akron Business Conferences. One of my favorites was the one I wrote about how a small manufacturing division of a larger company did a complete revisioning of itself–and became a model for others who face the grinding realities of globalization on their ability to be competitive and thus, on their bottom lines.

Here’s the story of Neighborhood Manufacturing, a division of Superior Tool. Read that if you have a minute, then check out their website. There’s a place that’s learned to speak in its true voice.

If you had to guess, what do you think the people at Neighborhood Manufacturing could write in their corporate blog about–that their customers and prospects would love to hear–and that would make their employees even more proud to work there?

Recognizing employee contributions? Positive changes they’re making to the neighborhood they’re located in? How they overcome the challenges of meeting certain orders? Relationships with customers? And how much danger do you think they have of losing business to competitors from talking about those things?

Neighborhood Manufacturing is presenting itself as a company people will want to do business with, but not because they’re cheaper. Naturally, first is that they get the job done right, but my guess is their customers will stay with them because they obviously care–about their employees, about their neighborhood, about being good corporate citizens and–the implication is–they’ll care about their customers, too.

Couldn’t think of better topics for blogging. I wrote about this company originally in 2003 when blogging was just a trend for business… Notice how relevant it is today!

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Sears started blogging? I’m guessing they wouldn’t dare.

Secrets to making your customers happy – prioritize and outsource, including your blog

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Stephen Covey said it to great applause. That you’re most effective when you properly prioritize your time. And the way I remember it, his proposition seemed intellectual and complex…that big box divided into four sections with so much explanation for each! But the gist was, do important and urgent things first.

He’s right, of course. And all good things flow therefrom–including excellence in customer service. You’ll find several intriguing formulas in this new book for maximizing high personal effectiveness (note: not high efficiency, which just means doing more stuff), The 4-hour Work Week. Timothy Ferriss suggests if you truly want to become more effective, ONLY do the quadrant I stuff. And that means learning to delegate…and outsource.

Among other things, Ferriss says you must write your employees an email saying, “Keep the customers happy. If it is a problem that takes less than $100 [you pick the amount based on what your time is worth] to fix, use your judgment and fix it yourself.” Do you recall the times when a service person said something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir/madam, let me fix that for you right now”? Of course you do. Those are the golden customer service moments of our lives. You tell all our friends. You might even blog about it…

Assuming of course you’ve hired the right people–supervisors and employees with brains who care about the company and the customers–this alone should gain you a significant amount of time…time that you would have spent answering questions and giving permission. I love this quote, “It’s amazing how someone’s IQ seems to double when you give them responsibility and indicate that you trust them.” If it doesn’t work that way with somebody, hire someone with whom it does.

Great advice: Set yourself up as information-free as possible–a huge challenge in today’s multimedia-ed assaultive world. Do you read newspapers and/or watch television news? My long-time personal favorite–stop. You’ll gain that time every day. And you’ll discover that if there’s anything you should know, you’ll find it out anyway. Set up specific times when you’ll read your email and check your voice mail–let people know what those times are, and then stick to them.

He also suggests outsourcing parts of your life–and mentions a Smart Money article that talks about using an overseas resource for outsourced virtual assistance–Brickwork, based in Bangalore, India. I haven’t tried it yet, but this book gives a great case study.

The point is that your customers get better service when you’re not the bottleneck. And you can apply this principle to your blog authorship–hire an expert–if you follow certain mandates:

1. Make sure the person knows how to listen carefully to you–as much as possible it should be your voice out there.

2. Do a bit of painless market research. Ask your customers, vendors, colleagues, what they would like to hear/read in your blog. 

3. Develop an A-list of sources for your writer–sources you personally read and those your colleagues, vendors and customers read.

4. If yours is a complex industry or there are areas that require extreme care and/or privacy, work out a general list of topics and cautions so that the writer can research and create without consulting you every time.

5. Email your own thoughts for the blog as they occur to you. You’ll never remember to tell your writer unless you pass it on as soon as you think of it. 

There’s no more powerful online public relations tool than a blog that reflects your voice and gives readers valuable information. Since the presence of a business blog has also now become an accepted part of a solid search engine marketing strategy, there’s no reason not to get started. Questions? Want to start one now? Email me here.

What the heck is Web 2.0 and why should you care?

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Every other headline these days features “Web 2.0″ and many of us just let our eyes glaze over.  Here’s another software thing I’m supposed to “get” (we might think) but I don’t have time!

Just think of it this way: when you see Web 2.0 they’re talking about helping your prospects and customers interact with you online. Which means blogs, wikis and stuff like that. Everyone reading this knows what a blog is. Many people read blogs but choose not to leave comments (interact)–professional/corporate blogs are generally more about giving information in a personal way. You’ll find that most blogs that get a lot of comments are one of two kinds: 1) a personal blog that plays on controversy to get comments from people who like to argue, or b) the blog of a very high-profile person where commenters can touch the fame and glory of that person by appearing on their blog.

If you are an executive with a famous company, your blog may get lots of comments. That’s great. But don’t be worried if your blog doesn’t get comments. As long as you are providing value to your readers–information, entertainment, encouragement, or whatever–your blog is being read and is building credibility and trust in your company. You can be sure of that.

Wikis are another form of interactivity. In this case, users are the co-creators of documents that all hold to be of interest. Say, for example, you want to invite your customers to help you shape the next product you will invest in producing. How valuable do you think it is to get direct input from them on exactly the features they like and the things they don’t like? Talk about cheap and on-target research!

But Web 2.0 is also about giving you better access to information/data/reports. When you collect subscribers to your blog, you’re building a database of names of people who REALLY CARE about what you do and what you say. That’s the kind of market research businesses have traditionally paid huge sums for. And you’re collecting it simply and painlessly over time. There is no more valuable marketing resource in the world than a database of people who have volunteered to hear more about your products and services.

So if you’re still on the fence about blogging for your business, get off. It’s a trend of the future for direct marketing.–both for large and small businesses. Questions? Call me. 773.292.3294 or 216.472.8502.

Small business: make room for the boom in entrepreneurs

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Some people get paid to look into the crystal ball for business. At Intuit, the Quicken/Quickbooks accounting software people, they decided recently to collaborate with the nonprofit Institute for the Future by sponsoring a study on small business trends. Smart business! If you know where your customers are headed, you can be like the wolf in the Red Riding Hood story–get there early and be ready for them.

Predictions at the Institute this year focus on the changing face of small business. More young people, more baby boomers, women, women-as-moms, and emigrant and minority entrepreneurs are going to mean more large companies can outsource–increasingly to people working from home or small offices rather than to other countries.

Multicultural marketing must reflect the growing diversity of both business owners and customers–and that doesn’t mean just language, according to Steven Aldrich, vice president, Strategy & Innovation, Small Business Division at Intuit. It also means identifying “the right media, influencers and distribution channels. One size does not fit all. Businesses will need their marketing to reflect the unique cultures and needs of their audiences. …small business[es that] may have been…serving a local audience…are now thinking globally in terms of marketing outreach, such as broader exposure on the Web and multi-lingual marketing campaigns…may discover new multi-cultural markets they hadn’t thought of before.”

More entrepreneurs can mean good news on the “green” front.
 
“As more and more entrepreneurs begin businesses in their homes,” says Aldrich, “the commute to work is reduced to a quick walk across the hall to the home office. These types of shifts can positively impact the environment by reducing traffic congestion.” As more talented people begin working on their own, fresh, creative ideas on all fronts–including the environment–are likely to come from these sources. An example, says Aldrich, is the small business Act Now Productions now working with Wal-Mart to help them become a sustainable enterprise.

Any way you cut it, if you’re an entrepreneur–whether self-selected or reluctant–you’re the future of small business. Corporate America is willing to do business with you, so get your ducks in order. Now we need to marshall more resources to help entrepeneurs find the funding and the support they need to meet the ongoing challenges of growing into their futures.

Write in your corporate blog about how you will reach out to small businesess. If you’re a small business, write in your business blog about how you’re preparing to help solve some of corporate America’s thorny issues. I think what this comes down to is two main differences in how we operate: 1) we’re becoming more personal (small business owners are personally engaged in delivering customer service), and 2) we’re going back to the frontier mentality…not finding jobs, as such, but exercising more passion and creativity in finding ways to discover our strengths and use them to earn a living.

Here’s the INTUIT-sponsored report on the Future of Small Business.