Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Resource for Small Businesses

Just a quick post announcing there’s a short presentation* available now for any small or micro business owners/executives asking:

  1. Why should my company be concerned with process?
  2. How should we develop processes for our business?


*A version of this can also be presented to your organization’s leadership upon request.

Comments, questions, and feedback welcomed here!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why I Write Boring Stuff

To some, it might be utterly shameful to have someone call your writing boring.  It happened to me twice in the last six months.  Am I completely ashamed to admit it? Not really.  (Warning: I can be feisty as evidenced by #tracysfeistytweets and this previous post.  Not scared? Read on about why I wrote boring content.)

Scenario #1: “I want to do an e-newsletter article on X,” says the Entrepreneur.

Even the best writers have been there. Whether an independent contractor for an agency, a solo practitioner, or a freelance writer, the client (in this case an entrepreneur) uses the two dreaded words, emphatically, “I want.”  The decision has been made.  The idea has been handed to you to make real. There’s little you—as the grunt writer—can do to influence the topic decision.  You are not paid or contracted to advise, guide, educate, or instruct. Maybe you tried before and it fell on deaf ears. Maybe you have not been brought on as a trusted advisor.  Someone else in the organization might be expressing concern about the topic as dangerously close to becoming a technical dissertation.  (But isn’t heard.) In this scenario, you are paid to put words together that make sense under the buyer’s (Mr. Entrepreneur’s) direction.

[So I mumble to myself, and blog about it later] Against my better judgment to ask your readers (aka target market) what interests them, I will write your topic.  While normally I would advise that we at least brainstorm to develop content topics according to your audience (based on where they fall on the continuum Unaware>Aware>Understand>Believe>Act), I will write your topic.  Although I think your staff has valid concerns, I will ignore them and write your topic.

The Comment: “It’s not very exciting (translation: it’s boring) and it’s not going to win any Pulitzers.”

The Downfall:  It’s an educational e-newsletter article based on a particular topic that the audience probably does not care about in the first place.  Sure, it positions the company as an expert on technical execution concerning X.  But there is little marketing value in that if prospects don’t value having an understanding of X.  In fact, they may opt-out and therefore cease to be part of your reachable target market.

The Saving Grace:  Some readers might find it endearing that YOU are interested in and passionate enough about your field’s technical details enough to want to share them.  You probably won’t lose a sale for lack of passion for what you do.  Even if they opt out, they may remember your name because of your expertise. 

The Take-Away: Approach your writing project (whether marketing or any kind of communications) as a means to deliver value and quality as defined by your market, not you, based on research and input.

Scenario #2:  Web Page Content for a Small Business

I’m working with the ideal small business client.  She has the basics—a logo, a sparse but professionally built website, business cards, and a brochure. She also has a combination of factors I admire—past technical expertise in her field, curiosity, a willingness to understand marketing options, open to a variety of solutions, good decision-making skills, and an appreciation for the value of marketing and her hired marketing professional, whom she treats as a trusted advisor.

We agreed developing web page content for a specific service she’d like to promote was a top priority for the first phase of our work.  Three things are in short supply, however: time, money, and general awareness about the importance of the service.  Whereas PR and other efforts might help with the latter, more well-rounded communications efforts are hindered by the former.  The result was a more educational web page vs. a sales-y web page.  A call to action and rationale for choosing her small business as the service provider were included, of course, but much of the content was value justification.

The Comment: “It might be just me, but is it, er, kinda boring?”

The Downfall: It’s true that with a small budget and a lot of ground to cover, our communications sometimes have to do “double-duty”—informative and persuasive—at first. 

The Saving Grace:  Once we have a better sense of  key metrics (e.g., impressions, bounce rates, referring sites, keywords used, SERPs, etc.) and we expand content development across media and touchpoints (e.g., published  online articles, stories produced and covered by appropriate media, press releases, etc.), we can refine the content for a sales focus and off-load the “educational” stuff to more suitable venues.  In the meantime, the page serves as an awareness-generator about the problem you solve—which is not a bad thing!

The Take-Away: Having the means to produce and distribute multiple content types is ideal.  Get together with your marketing person to plan a communications strategy with the right messaging, collateral, and media and put a good budget behind it.  Reserve some investment for public relations, especially if awareness-building and community involvement are needed.