SCML 04: Melissa Eggleston of The Zombie Business Cure

In this freakin’ AWESOME episode of The Smarter Content Marketing Lab Podcast, Melissa Eggleston joins me in the lab. She’s the co-author of a new book called The Zombie Business Cure: How to Refocus Your Company’s Identity for More Authentic Communication.  (Cool name, huh?) Think of it as a self-help book for your business.

Cool Things You’ll Learn

In the episode, Melissa provides TONS of great–and actionable–info about content marketing and business identity. You’ll learn:

  • What website user experience (aka UX) is and why it’s important
  • Where the book title—The Zombie Business Cure—came from
  • The difference between a zombie-like business and one that’s truly human-centered
  • How to determine if YOU might have a “zombie” business
  • The difference between a business identity vs. a brand identity
  • Why you need a strong business identity in order to attract more of the right customers
  • Why the word “brand” can have a negative connotation among consumers
  • How business identity can impact content development for your business
  • The danger of jumping into tactics before understanding what your core business values are
  • How the relationship between consumers and businesses is a lot like dating
  • Why you shouldn’t be afraid of restricting your customer base by highlighting the uniqueness of your business
  • How a business can become much more human by embracing mistakes
  • How to build your own business identity

We cover a LOT of REALLY interesting topics that you don’t want to miss. So, go ahead and dive in!

Things, People and Places We Talk About (and that You Might Like!)

Some of the following links might be affiliate links. By using them, you don’t pay a penny extra. But I get a very small–yet HUGELY appreciated–payment that helps keep this podcast going!

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What Brené Brown Taught Me about Being a Fearlessly Authentic Entrepreneur

The "friendly driving wave." That was the focus of Brené Brown's very first Facebook Live post. And it was HILARIOUS! But, in only a few hours, it was gone.

If you're a fan of Brené's like I am, then you know that she's a research professor at The University of Houston and does a lot of fantastic work surrounding courage, shame, vulnerability and authenticity. I discovered her when I was looking for videos on TED.com that I could use as examples of presentations that really connected with audiences. And the one she gave at TEDxHouston about the power of vulnerability was PERFECT.

Brené is known for dealing with a lot of really serious stuff. I mean, there's nothing innately funny about vulnerabilty or shame. So, that's why I was so surprised and DELIGHTED to see her Facebook Live post about the importance of NOT driving in the passing lane if you're not passing AND the courtesy of the "friendly driving wave." As a southerner, I grew up watching my dad give that wave to people we'd meet on country roads as we were going to my grandparents' house or to church. For him, the "wave" was typically just a lift of a couple of fingers from the steering wheel with a quick flick to the right. It was a simple, yet important, acknowledgement that said to the other driver, "I see you. I know you. I like you."

As an adult, I carry on the tradition of the "friendly driving wave"--typically throwing up a hand when someone lets me pass or lets me merge into a crowded lane. It's a quick way of saying thanks. And THAT'S what Brené was talking about on Facebook Live as she was driving back from giving a talk in Baton Rouge. Now--let's be clear--she WASN'T videoing herself or being unsafe in any way, shape or form. Her passenger was doing the videoing as Brené gave a short--yet ALL TOO FUNNY--lesson about the rules of courteous driving. I loved it and thought how nice it was to see her in a more relaxed setting, enjoying her day and letting her personality really shine through. It made me even MORE of a fan because she allowed us to see her as a real person. Cool, right?

Later than evening, I saw a new post from Brené pop up on Facebook. In it, she explained that she had taken the "friendly driving wave" Facebook Live video down. I was like, "WTF, Brené??" Evidently, some who had seen the video had commented that it was an example of distracted driving. So, because of that, Brené took it down--acknowledging that she wouldn't want her kids to do something similar. However, she went on to say that some other folks had commented that they don't follow her "for silly Texas driving tips." Instead, they follow her for "posts on serious topics." SERIOUSLY??? It was this next part of her post that endeared me to Brené FOREVER and that taught me an important lesson about being a more fearless and authentic entrepreneur. Here it is in her own words:

I deleted the post because it's probably not a great idea [to video while driving.] NOT because people didn't like it or jumped on me about it. If I took down everything that pissed off readers, this would be a very quiet neck of the woods.

A couple of people also commented that they don't follow me for silly Texas driving tips--they follow me for posts on serious topics. I'm really inclined to say, "too bad." I am a serious person who talks about serious things. But that's just part of me. If the other part of me doesn't work for you--that's totally ok by me. Seriously .

Brené Brown

This. Was. AWESOME!! I was like, "PREACH, Brené!" But, even more than being STOKED about her response, here's what it taught me:

  • Live Your Brand AUTHENTICALLY. Brené writes about and talks about and promotes the idea of being authentic. But that can be tough to do as an entrepreneur. There's a HUGE risk that comes with showing others who we really are. Will they like us? Will current customers stick with us? Will potential customers be turned away? If people don't like you or your business when they see who you really are, then--as Brené said-- "TOO BAD!" Not everyone is going to love you or even like you. What you're offering isn't going to be something everyone can benefit from. And that's perfectly okay. Because, in the end, the people you want to join you on your entrepreneurial journey are those who get you, who dig what you do, and who connect with you because of who you really are. Trying to be someone you're not in order to get and keep customers isn't only going to be exhausting--it's also going to be an exercise in futility. We are our brand--and we have to decide how we're going to live it.
  • If Something Doesn't Work, So What? This was Brené's first attempt at Facebook Live. And she ended up taking it down after some blow back. But she didn't just go away into a corner and tell herself "NEVER AGAIN!" Instead, she used it as an opportunity to connect with her audience by being completely transparent about what happened. And guess what? Her audience LOVED it. There were so many comments about how Brené was living her own life the same way she encourages others to live theirs--courageously. Being an entrepreneur is one of the scariest things in the world. But we have to face that fear every day and try new things. Some will work. Some won't. And if they don't--it's not the end of the world. Because it's ONLY through taking those risks--large or small--that we move toward the life we're meant to live.
  • Don't Forget the Friendly Driving Wave. A little sign of kindness and appreciation goes a long way. By letting others know we appreciate what they've done makes us all better human beings. Whether it's throwing up a quick wave to someone who's let us in a crowded lane on the highway or thanking our customers in small--yet unexpected--ways, it makes a difference. And isn't that why we're entrepreneurs in the first place?
  • So, speaking of showing appreciation, THANK YOU, BRENÉ BROWN!  I'm throwing up a metaphorical "friendly driving wave" to you. Your first foray into Facebook Live was more successful than you might have imagined. It's inspired me to be a more courageous and authentic entrepreneur--and it's also reminded me to NOT DRIVE IN THE PASSING LANE IF I'M NOT PASSING!

    If you enjoyed this post--AWESOME! I'd love to have you join me for more cool stuff over at The Smarter Writing Lab. And be sure to check out my FREE Copywriting Crash Course that'll teach you to how to develop content that will help you build your business by connecting more authentically with your audience. 

 

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5 Signs You Might be a Marketing Scaredy Cat

"You're going to have to do things differently."

Hearing this is enough to send cold chills up the spines of many business owners. They want more customers. They want to be noticed. They want to increase sales. They want to make a difference. But they want to do it by marketing their businesses in one or more of the following (and very PREDICTABLE) ways:

  1. By being cautious so that they don't risk any negative perception.
  2. By going broad in an attempt to appeal to EVERYONE.
  3. By talking about EVERY. SINGLE. FEATURE. their product or service offers.
  4. By talking about what THEY do, what's important to THEM, what THEIR focus is and freakin' awesome THEY are.
  5. By doing what their competitors are doing.

Any of these sound like you? (Don't worry. No one's looking--so you can nod sheepishly to yourself.) If they do, then you (da-da-dum) might just be a marketing scaredy cat. And THAT can hold your business back from reaching its full potential.

Truth be told, most of us have been marketing scaredy cats at one time or another. It's hard to do things differently--because with that comes risk. Risk of missing out on perceived opportunities. Risk of the unknown. Risk of failure. But here's the thing:

Marketing courageously--daring to do it in ways that are more thought-provoking, more awe-inspiring, more head-turning--is what will get your business noticed in our very busy and very noisy world. And that will put you on the path to the success you're seeking.

If you don't believe me, then maybe you'll believe master marketer Steve Jobs. Check out this 1997 commercial that featured one of his most famous quotes about the power of thinking differently:

Approaching marketing differently doesn't mean that you do it without thinking or by ignoring proven fundamentals. That's not being a fearless marketer. That's being a careless one. Instead, the businesses out there who are ROCKIN' it are differentiating themselves and winning against companies MUCH bigger than they are by doing doing really smart things like this: 

  • Knowing what they stand for and not being afraid to go with it. Think Quest Nutrition. The protein bar industry is HUGE and packed full of major players. But this company--one that wants to make "clean eating fun" and whose focus is on ending obesity--is doing protein bars differently. Customers responded (in DROVES!), sales increased and now Quest is expanding its offerings to other food choices.  Check out the Quest story:
  • Focusing on serving a specific audience EXTRAORDINARILY well, instead of underserving an audience that's much too broad. Think Blue Apron. So, do you have any idea what the significance of the name "Blue Apron" is? Well, according to the company's website, "chefs around the world wear blue aprons while learning to cook." And that's PERFECT for this company, considering that it's mission is to "make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone." It's not trying to put itself out there as the food home delivery company for everyone no matter how well you can cook. Instead, it's focusing on those who probably aren't going to be hosting their own show on The Food Network anytime soon. Check out what some of their raving fans are saying:
  • Refusing to be like everyone else--and having fun in the process. Think Ben & Jerry's. When I was growing up, the most "out there" ice cream flavor was Rocky Road. And when you bought ice cream, well--you were just buying ice cream. But Ben & Jerry's changed all of that back in 1978 when they opened up their first scoop shop. They made buying ice cream an experience. Personalities were defined by what flavor you liked. Cherry Garcia®? (YES, thank you!) Phish Phood®? Chocolate Therapy®? And Ben & Jerry's also became known as a company with a conscience.
  • Avoid "feature fatigue." (Seriously. It's a thing. Check it out here.) Think Uber. Here's what Forbes had to say about it: "When the service launched, would anyone had cared if they had a slightly better taxi experience, but could also make deliveries? No, that would have just been them trying to do too much and, most likely, doing it all poorly. Instead, people care about Uber because it is way, way better and way, way more convenient than riding a taxi. Uber focused on one thing—being a great transportation app—and devoted all its resources into doing that one thing really, really well." The lesson here? Find your one thing and do it better than anyone else.

If you have a great product or service or cause to sell, don't shortchange it by being a marketing scaredy cat. Be brave. Be bold. And be willing to push beyond what feels comfortable. That's where you'll stand out from all of the noise--and that's where the world will be waiting for you.

START TELLING THE WORLD ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS MORE EFFECTIVELY TODAY--FOR FREE!

Take the guesswork (and PAIN) out of writing great copy that sells what you're offering! Get this easy, step-by-step FREE guide that teaches you a simple and proven formula for writing copy that sells whatever you're offering. All the cool kids (and REALLY successful businesses) are using it! So get it today!

What Can a PB&J Sandwich Teach You about Marketing?

The PB&J. It's a classic. And, with very few exceptions, one PB&J is pretty much like the other. So, with that said, let's do a little experiment.

I'm going to give you two descriptions of a PB&J as they might appear on a menu. Read both, and then choose the one that convinces you that you just HAVE to have that sandwich. (Share your answer in the comments!)

Option 1

PB & J Sandwich: Smooth or crunchy peanut butter and grape jelly on two slices of white or whole wheat bread. Served with chips. 

Option 2

The OMG!!! PB&J: Forget the traditional PB&J on white bread. BORING! We put the creamiest (or crunchiest--your decision) peanut butter and the most delectable Concord grape jelly between two light and fluffy buttermilk pancakes in just the right amounts. And THEN we sprinkle the top with a fine dusting of powdered sugar. From the very first bite you take, you'll experience layer after layer of pure deliciousness. And you'll notice how the flavors come together in a way that can only be described as "OMG!!!" (Seriously. We hear our customers saying this ALL. THE. TIME.) We'll give you extra napkins to wipe the jelly off as it runs down your chin and to dab the powdered sugar off your nose.

Okay. Which one would you order? For me--it's Option 2. Hands down. (If you want the recipe, here's where I found it. And thanks to The Huffington Post for turning me on to it!)

What Can This Teach Us About Marketing Our Products and Services?

If you have a product or a service that a lot of other people offer too, the classic PB&J is a great metaphor for you. So many businesses focus on the features of what they sell rather than how it will benefit the consumers or clients they serve. (See Option 1 above. Just the features, ma'am.) They also get a bit lazy when it comes to looking for ways to differentiate their service from competitors and how to communicate about it in a way that potential customers or clients will actually pay attention to.

What Option 2 represents is taking something that EVERYONE else offers and putting a spin on it that's uniquely your own. What something you can do--even it's a small thing--to differentiate the way you offer therapy services? Writing services? Legal services? Consulting services? SOMETHING so that you don't sound and look like everyone else in your field. 

Option 2 is also an example of how to communicate in a way that allows others to "see" how their lives can be improved by purchasing your product or service. It doesn't have to be a HUGE improvement. It can be as simple as giving them an unexpected twist on a PB&J. When you talk about your offering in the same way your competitors do, then you'll remain invisible. And that's no fun for anyone.

In a marketplace that's becoming noisier and noisier, you have to find a way to stand out. But you don't have to be a marketing expert to do that. You just have to understand what your potential customers are looking for and how you can connect with them in a way that gets you noticed. I'll be teaching students how to do that in my new course Connection Communication. And I'd LOVE to have you join us! Be sure to check out the details here.


ENROLLMENT IS OPEN NOW!

What Do Customers REALLY Want to Hear From You?

A couple of years ago, I was sitting out on the deck with some folks who had been invited over for dinner. I didn’t know them well at all. But—as we were waiting for the grill to heat up—everyone was chatting about this and that. One person sitting near me asked me what I did for a living.  I was about two sentences into my response when I realized that she seemed to be totally preoccupied with something else. So, guess what? I stopped talking. And as soon as I did, she jumped in and spent a good part of the night talking about herself.

For better or worse, right or wrong— I formed an opinion about her that evening: She wasn’t someone I wanted to invest time in. Why? Because the impression I came away with is that the thing that mattered most to her was—well—her. Again, maybe I was wrong about that. But that first impression was a lasting one. If I were to play amateur psychotherapist, my guess would be that she might have been a bit nervous that evening and felt a need to impress those of us who didn’t know her that well. And she tried to do that by talking about her job, her accolades, her qualifications.

Here’s my question to you: Is your business acting like the dinner guest that just can’t quit talking about himself or herself?

If you’re not sure, take a look at your marketing materials—your website, brochures, email campaigns, sales sheets, videos—and see if they do these things:

  • Focus primarily on the features of your product or service. (Things like “Our lawn mower has 5 cutting levels.” “Our law office gives you personalized attention.” “You’ll learn better time management in this seminar.”)
  • Loudly tout awards you’ve received or credentials you’ve earned.  (“I graduated summa cum laude from ABC University.” “We’re the #1 choice!!”)
  • Use words like “we”, “us”, “me”, “I”, “our” more than the word “you.”

If you’re doing any of these things, odds are you’re making a bad first impression on potential customers or clients who don’t know you or your business yet. And—just like I did with the dinner guest mentioned earlier—they very well may decide they don’t want to spend any more time trying to get to know you. But don’t worry. All isn’t lost. There are a couple of quick and easy things you can do to help you communicate about your business in a way that will entice potential customers to hang around and learn more about what you’re offering. And here they are:

  1. Focus on BENEFITS instead of features. People don’t buy toothpaste because it has whitening ingredients. That’s a feature. They buy that toothpaste because they want to feel more confident about their smile. They want to be more attractive. In other words, they’re buying the benefits of the whitening agents in the toothpaste. And that’s what needs to be communicated. You need to clearly explain how your product or service is going to benefit your customers. How is going to make their lives easier or better or more meaningful? If you’re only focusing on features, you’re losing sales.
  2. Show empathy and understanding by putting the customer at the center of all of your communications. If all you’re saying on your website or in your brochures or any other marketing materials are things like “we can” or “we are” or “I know” or “our solution”–you’re a bad dinner guest AND a bad communicator. People don’t care about you. They care about what you can do for them. So, how do you fix it? Here’s a quick example:

BAD: I’m an attorney with 15 years of experience in handling divorces. So I know exactly what it takes to help you with matters including property distribution, custody and spousal support.

GOOD: Going through a divorce is one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. You have so many questions. How are you going to pay your bills? What will happen to your house? How are your children going to react? And you’re trying to figure all of this out while your entire world seems to be crumbling around you. This is where I come in. Together, we’ll find the solutions you’re looking for.

If you’re someone who’s looking for a divorce attorney and the only way you have to evaluate which attorney to use is by looking at law firm websites, which one would you choose?

In the end, it’s not so much about what customers want to hear. It’s about what human beings want to hear. If you want people to listen to you—to connect with you and buy from you—you have to connect with them. Pure and simple. And to do that, you have to show that you care about them, that you understand and empathize with their problem or challenge, and that you are listening to them. This alone will set you apart from many of your competitors. And it’s SO easy to do if you just think about it. When you keep your customers at the center of your communications, you’ll be the dinner party guest everyone wants to sit next to.

 

 

 

 

 

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Are You a Wallflower at Your Own Party?

WallflowerIf you ever went to a middle school or high school dance, you saw them. Or maybe you were one of them. The wallflowers. They literally seemed to melt into their surroundings. Maybe it was because they were afraid of being noticed. Or maybe they wanted to be noticed, but didn’t know how to get anyone’s attention. Or maybe they didn’t want to be there in the first place–but their parents made them “participate.” Whatever the reason, wallflowers were a mainstay of those dances–sitting or standing there in silence, watching everyone else having fun.

Here’s my question to you: What do you remember about the wallflowers at your school dances? Unless you made an effort to speak to them or to get to know them, my guess is that you probably don’t remember much–if anything–about them. In fact, I’m also guessing that you didn’t even see them. You were too busy having fun, talking with friends, meeting new people who brought something new to the party, and doing whatever kids did at that age during that time. Right?

So, as grown-ups who are entrepreneurs offering a service of any kind, what can we learn from thinking about the wallflowers of those school dances?

If you don’t differentiate your service offering in a clear, compelling way and if you just aren’t interesting, put your party dress away. Because NO ONE WILL NOTICE YOU!

If you offer a service–whether it’s writing or legal services or psychotherapy or plumbing or anything else–you’re selling something that’s completely invisible. People can’t see it. They can’t hold it. They can’t take a picture of it and post it on Pinterest or Facebook for all their friends to see. And that puts you and your business at a distinct disadvantage. But there’s a solution! It’s something I like to call Connection Communication.

A Mini-Case Study: My First Traffic Ticket

I can remember the very first traffic ticket I ever got. It was a cold, windy winter evening and I was on my way to a friend’s house for dinner. I had stopped at a red light and then turned right. Right on red. Right? Wrong. As soon as I did, I saw the blue lights behind me. I pulled over and the officer came to my window. He informed me that I had made an illegal turn at an intersection where right on red wasn’t allowed. I explained that I hadn’t seen the sign–probably because the wind was blowing everything around, including THAT SIGN. While I thought that was a good enough excuse to get out of a ticket, the officer didn’t. So, that was that. My parting gift was a pink sheet of paper with my name listed as “defendant” and the date and time I was scheduled to appear in traffic court. Totally sucked–particularly since I had always been a strict rule follower. In my mind, I imagined that the entire world would forever look at me as an outlaw. That was heavy stuff for a girl who wouldn’t even taste the grapes in the grocery store before buying them because she felt like that was stealing. (And–no–I still don’t taste the grapes.)

Within a couple of days after getting that ticket, I started receiving letter after letter from attorneys in the area who wanted to represent me in court. They all said the same things:

1. They knew I had gotten a ticket.

2. If I did nothing about the ticket and simply paid the fine, it could hurt my driver’s license and result in higher insurance premiums.

3. I could avoid this pain by simply hiring them to represent me in court.

4. All I had to do was call them to talk about my ticket over the phone.

I didn’t know who any of these attorneys were. I didn’t know nearly enough at that time to differentiate any of them from the others. None–that I can remember–acknowledged how I might feel about getting the ticket. None said anything that made me feel like they might be the right choice for me. And they all were going to cost me money.

So, what did I do? I did a little research about what I should do and went to court for myself. It all ended well–although I had to spend a good part of my morning waiting in a courtroom with about 150 fellow law breakers. I would have gladly paid to miss out on that–but I simply didn’t know who to trust.

 

The Lesson–and the Solution

Although I used the story of my traffic ticket to make a point, I’m not picking on attorneys. ( I am one, after all.) ANY service provider is at risk of blending in with all of his or her competitors. You become a wallflower in your own industry. That’s not good for you OR for your business. So, what can you do? Here are a few key things that make a huge difference when done correctly:

1. Know who your ideal customer is and what they need from you. If you don’t know what they need, ASK THEM! And then create solutions that will fulfill that need.

2. Know who your competition is and how they’re communicating to potential customers about their service offerings. You DON’T want to do it the same way they are. (Remember–NO WALLFLOWERS!!)

3. In all of your marketing communications–including sales letters, your website, emails, etc.–talk to your customers like human beings. And that means being conversational. Talk to them in a way that helps them see that you’re a human being, too–not just a business. Remember–people do business with people. In my traffic ticket example, all an attorney would have had to do to stand out from the crowd was to open his or her letter to me by saying something as simple as this: 

Dear Ms. Lashley, 

Getting a traffic ticket can certainly ruin your day (or your night). Believe me. I know. My name is Joe Attorney and I’d be honored if you’d allow me to take away the worry of dealing with your ticket and the court system. This is something I do every day for many other Anywhere County citizens and I’d also like to do it for you.

4. The About page on any website is typically the page that receives the most traffic. However, that’s the page that is so often the WORST page on businesses websites. People go there to find out who you are and what you can do for them. They don’t want to hear how AWESOME you are. They want hear how you can make their lives better.

5. Be clear about what you’re offering and explain it in a way that people will understand and that exudes empathy for the challenge they’re looking to you to resolve.

I’ll be talking about each of these in more depth during a series of blog posts that will be running in January. It’s not only important stuff–it’s absolutely necessary if you’re going to run a successful service-based business. And, if you’re a licensed or certified professional (like a psychotherapist, attorney, plumber, electrician, designer, trainer, etc.) interested in getting hands-on practice, direction and feedback regarding how to do all of this for your business, I’m going to be opening a pilot version of my new course, Connection Communication: Using the Power of Story to Attract (and Keep) Your Ideal Customers, within the next few weeks. You can get on the mailing list here to receive notification about when it opens. For the 5-week pilot course, I’ll be offering it at a WAY reduced rate (because you’ll be helping make this course FREAKIN’ AMAZING as we work through it) and I’ll only be taking 10 students for this first round. Why? Because we’ll be working together a LOT and I want to make sure I have enough time to spend with each person in the class to get their business “storified” for success!!

 

A Funny Thing Happened (in my head) on the Way to a (non-existent) Speaking Gig

Public Speaker A businesswoman giving a speech to a crowd of people. The businesswoman & podium, crowd, and background are on separately labeled layers.

As I was checking my email on the way into a meeting last week, I saw a message from a former colleague of mine. It started by explaining how she had been in a brainstorming session at the (MEGA) large company where she works and they were trying to identify potential speakers for an upcoming event. So, she was reaching out to me. That’s as far as I got before the meeting started.

In my head during almost the entire meeting, this is what I heard:

OMG! OMG! I’ve finally made it BIG!! They want me to come speak about something really cool–like branding and storytelling and–well–something cool!! This is AWESOME!! I’m AWESOME!! I need to update my bio, put together a list of topics they can choose from and GET A NEW OUTFIT!!! Yay!!!!!! This is so AWESOME!!!

Okay–besides the fact that I use the word “awesome” far too much in my daily conversations–I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong all of that stuff going on in my head was. Bottom line: I wasn’t being asked to speak. Once I got out of my meeting and had a chance to read the entire email, I saw that what I was actually being asked to do was to provide some names of potential speakers who I thought would be a good fit. (Cue the screeching brakes sound effect.)

Yep. No glory. No recognition of awesomeness–real or otherwise. No new outfit. BUT–it was an opportunity to reconnect with a former colleague and provide value where it was needed.

So, What’s The Lesson Here?

Well, besides the need to read ALL of an email before jumping to conclusions, this experience also serves as a reminder of this critical lesson:

NEVER ASSUME YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS WANT!

Yes–I know the person contacting me wasn’t a customer. BUT–she was someone who was looking to me to provide a specific thing of value: my opinion and suggestions. And by delivering on that, it provided an opportunity to build a more authentic and meaningful relationship. And that’s exactly what we need to do when it comes to our customers.

When we assume we know what our customers want, we’re typically wrong. And you know what the result is? Lost sales, lost opportunity, lost interest, lost trust. We’re not mind readers–and we should NEVER fool ourselves into thinking we are.

Do you want customers who love you and what you do? Who will tell all of their family, friends and colleagues how AWESOME you are? (See–there’s that word again.) Who will look to you for solutions to the challenges they face? Then, here’s how you do it:

LISTEN TO THEM, HEAR WHAT THEY’RE STRUGGLING WITH AND DELIVER THE SOLUTION.

How do you do this? Here are a few ways:

  1. Monitor them on social media. What are they talking about on Twitter, in Facebook groups, on LinkedIn?
  1. Conduct a survey. You can send it out to your email list or post in on a social media platform. It’s easy to do with services like SurveyMonkey.
  1. Read reviews on platforms like Amazon. The negative ones can actually be really helpful because they’ll often include information about what a customer needs–but isn’t getting–from a competitor.
  1. Talk to them! Identify people in your target audience who would be willing to talk to you for 15 or 20 minutes on the phone or who will meet you for a quick cup of coffee. This can lead to a goldmine of information and insight.

Now, about that new outfit.

So, I don’t have a speaking gig to use an excuse to get a new outfit. But, why should that stop me. Right? I’m thinking that it might be just the thing I need to put all of the little, tiny pieces of my shattered  pride back together again. Good thing no one knows that I actually thought I was going to be a rock star keynote speaker. Whew!

 

Some Other AWESOME Stuff

ARE YOU A LICENSED OR CERTIFIED PROFESSIONAL (LAWYER, THERAPIST, PHYSICIAN, COACH, ETC.) WHO WANTS TO COMMUNICATE IN A WAY THAT WILL BRING IN MORE CLIENTS? I totally get it. As a licensed attorney, I know the unique challenges you face when it comes to marketing. And I can help. The first step? A no-obligation free 30-minute consultation. Email me at michele@smarterwritinglab.com to schedule a session.

HEY, WRITERS! INTERESTED IN ONE-ON-ONE COACHING THAT WILL GET YOU MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION WITH YOUR WRITING FAST? Let’s chat! I develop customized programs for each of my students. So email me at michele@smarterwritinglab.com to set up a free 30-minute consultation. (No strings. PROMISE!!)

 

Did you like this? Did you REALLY like it? Then please shout it from the top of your social media rooftops! (In other words, do a little SHARING!)

 

The “Screw It. Let’s Do It!” Challenge for Writers Who Want More

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I’m the Queen of What If. Nobody does it any better than me.

“WHAT IF I make a mistake?”

“WHAT IF this doesn’t work?”

“WHAT IF I’m following the wrong path?”

“WHAT IF I’ve forgotten to problem solve for a key ‘what if’?”

Fun fact: I’m completely OCD. No joke. And it’s held me back in so many ways throughout my life. (Seriously. You have NO idea.) But through a lot of experiences (both good and bad), I’ve learned to use the stumbling blocks of OCD as starting blocks for bigger and better things in my life–both personally and professionally. For me to take even small steps forward, I’ve had to learn how to summon up a mindset of “Screw it. Let’s do it!”. Otherwise, I’d stay stuck in places that I really don’t like very much.

Getting to the “Screw it. Let’s do it!” mindset is truly mind over matter for me. It doesn’t come naturally. I’m not a “throw care to the wind” kind of gal. Quite the opposite, in fact. But every time I make the conscious decision to live by this mantra—I’ve found that I come out on the other end a much better, stronger and smarter person. And that’s the case regardless of whether I’ve succeeded or failed when taking that leap.

So, what does all of this mean for you as a writer? My guess is that if you’ve read this far, you probably have those whispers of “what if” running through your head from time to time, too. You might not be OCD. But you’re creative. And because of that, you have to deal with the evil villain called RESISTANCE. In The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win You Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield explains the danger Resistance wreaks in the lives of writers:

There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.

How true, huh? Whether it’s sitting down to write website copy for a client or to start a new novel or to develop a new online course or to draft an outline for that fantastic “how-to” book you want to self-publish, Resistance can be a killer. And it’s not going away on its own–so don’t even think about not addressing it. We’ve basically got two options: We can give into it and remain stuck. Or we can confront it and fight our way past it, allowing us to realize the awesome potential each of us has within. It’s up to us to make the choice.

Now, back to the “what if” syndrome. What if…we turned those doubts into positive challenges that pushed us past the long and powerful reach of Resistance?

“WHAT IF I stopped putting off contacting potential new clients for my freelance writing?”

“WHAT IF I figured out a way to build a writing business that allows me to quit the job I hate and provide a great lifestyle for my family?

“WHAT IF I developed an online course that really helps people AND creates a significant passive income for me?”

“WHAT IF I contacted a few of the popular blogs I’ve been following and write a guest post for them that gets me a lot of new subscribers to my own blog?”

The positive “what ifs” are endless. And they’re certainly life changing. So, here’s my challenge to you:

Instead of wishing you made a better living as a writer or hoping a new client will call or dreaming about the life of being a published author or thinking how cool it would be to create and launch an online course—SCREW IT. LET’S DO IT!

I’m not just issuing the challenge. I’m taking it. Although I make a very good living as a freelance copywriter, I want to push myself further with my writing skills. I want to use them to build my business, to create new revenue streams, to help others, and to inspire myself in ways I never imagined. The list is long and I’ll be sharing my goals, my successes and—yes—even my failures with you along the way.

Let me know in the comments if you’re taking up the SCREW IT. LET’S DO IT! challenge and what that’s going to look like for you. We can all learn from each other—and it surely makes it a lot more fun when we know we’re sharing the journey with a lot of other kindred spirits!

To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less that we are and were born to be.– Steven Pressfield

Get your FREE copy of The Prosperous Copywriter’s Toolbox — a comprehensive resource of the tools I’ve used to build a successful freelance copywriting business! Click here. 

9 Lessons a “Play-It-Safe” Gal Has Learned (So Far) By Risking It All to be an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur taking riskFor most of my life, I’ve chosen to live within a nice, predictable box. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. It’s a relatively fear-free zone for me. So why in the HELL am I risking pretty much everything to start a new business?? Something that pushes me so far out of my cozy little box that I literally can’t breathe? Believe me—this question keeps me up night after night. But six months in to this crazy roller coaster of an entrepreneurial adventure, I wanted to take a break in the action to fill you in on some of the lessons I’m learning. They’re helping me become a better businessperson—and just a better person. Hopefully you’ll find them helpful, too:

1. Want to make a difference? Know your “why” and your “who.”

It’s not enough to know what you’re going to offer your customers or clients. You need to know why you’re in business. Using Apple as an example, Simon Sinek does a great job of explaining this in his book Start with Why (affiliate) and in his incredibly popular TED Talk:

“Here’s how Apple actually communicates. “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”–Simon Sinek

Apple’s “why” isn’t about making great computers. It’s about challenging the way things have always been and facilitating our ability to “Think Different.”

You also need to know exactly who you’re targeting with your product or service. It needs to be more than just something like “women 50+.” Instead, your “avatar” should be as specific as this:

“My avatar’s name is Beth. She’s 53 years old and is just now taking the leap to start her own business. Her kids are in high school, so she still has daily ‘mom’ duties. But she really wants to flex her entrepreneurial muscles. The problem, though, is that she’s overwhelmed by all of the information there is about how to launch a business. And, because of that, she just can’t seem to get moving. She needs help getting focused and she needs to find the confidence to take that first step toward building the business—and the life—she’s always dreamed of.”

Now that you know this person so well, you can create products and services that answer “her” specific pain points. In other words, you can provide real value that will result in you having a community of raving fans who look to you for solutions—and who will be willing to pay you a fair fee for them. If you don’t know who your avatar is, you’ll waste a lot of time trying to find ways to connect to your audience. And you can pretty much forget being able to deliver anything of tangible value to them.

2. Be clear about what makes you different and figure out how to communicate it.

Marketing today—whether online or offline—can feel a bit like yelling into the wind on an empty beach. Nobody hears you. More than likely, there’s someone else doing or offering exactly what you’re doing or offering. So you have to find a way to differentiate yourself in order to avoid being completely ignored.

Remember–what makes you different is YOU. No one else talks like you, has the same perspective as you or can establish the same connection as you. So, when you write a blog post, create a video, give a talk, host a webinar or communicate in any way, shape or form about your business, be yourself. We want to hear you. We want to feel like we know you. And we want to believe that you know and care about us.  Also, regarding the product or service you’re offering, make it BETTER than what everyone else is offering.

3. Don’t say, “I think I can.” Say, “I will.”

It’s a scary thing to commit to something. There’s always a chance of being disappointed. What if it doesn’t work out? What if it’s too hard? What if it’s not as great as you thought it would be? But I’m telling you–if you don’t commit 100% to your new venture, there’s little to no chance it’ll ever gain any significant traction or grow in any significant way. Jump in with both feet. Believe in yourself and in your dream. Yes—there will be obstacles all along the way. And some days you’re going to want to shift directions instead of figuring out a way to overcome those obstacles. Maybe you’ll even want to quit out of frustration. But, don’t. Keep going. That’s what successful people do.

4. Beware of shiny objects. They’re closer (and so much more distracting)  than they appear.

I don’t know about you, but my inbox is absolutely overflowing every day with offers to help me earn more, do more, BE more. And everybody has THE solution that you just have to implement (i.e., purchase) or else. Two words of advice for you: Don’t engage. Unsubscribe from every single newsletter or email list of people you don’t have a deep amount of respect for and a great deal of faith in. I can count on one hand the number of “experts” in my industry that I listen to. The rest? They’re just annoying chatter that takes up too much space. So, I’m getting rid of them. At least from my inbox.

One concept that’s really helped me narrow down who and what I listen to is this:

F.O.C.U.S.—Follow one course until success. This simple—yet powerful—idea keeps me productive instead of just busy.

5. Get a coach and/or join a mastermind group. (Maybe even get a great therapist!)

Two things I’ve done this year that are making a HUGE difference in the growth of my business are getting a coach and joining a mastermind group. Yes—they are financial investments. But when you find the right coach who can help you avoid pitfalls and seize opportunities—it’s totally worth it. Also, the mastermind group has been fantastic because it’s helped me realize that I’m not alone in this entrepreneurial world. There seems to be an unwritten code among entrepreneurs that we’re all in this together and we’re here to help each other out. LOVE that!

On a more personal note, I have to say that I’m not a huge believer in therapy. BUT—I found an amazing therapist a few months ago who really gets what I’m trying to do with my life and has proven to be a fantastic source of support during what can be a very trying time during the start-up phase of business. Like my business coach, she’s part of my “team.” She’s helping me move forward toward my goals. But, UNLIKE my business coach, she’s helping me understand the personal changes that I’m experiencing as I grow into my new role. How is it impacting my parenting? What’s the best way to manage my fear and anxiety? How is my perception of myself changing? And let me just say—having her guidance is a significant factor in my ability to take very scary steps forward each day.

6. Stop gathering. Start doing. Now.

My name is Michele and I’m an information addict. There. I admitted it. Maybe you are, too. How can you tell? If you keep collecting information—whether it’s in the form of blog posts, newsletters, courses, books, videos, you name it—but you rarely (if ever) DO anything with it. You don’t implement the tips  you’re given. You keep doubting your readiness to take the first step toward what you say you want. Sound familiar?

One of the major changes I’ve made in how I’m living my life is that I’m becoming a doer rather than merely a thinker or dreamer. Thinking and dreaming are great—and necessary. But they don’t do anything on their own. You have to take action. You’re going to mess up and make mistakes. I certainly have. But I can say that in every single case, I’ve learned something that’s made me better at what I do. And I’ve certainly learned FAR more by doing than I ever have by just gathering.

7. Have a daily plan of attack to kick the can down the road.

Before you turn the lights out each night, write down a list of action items to accomplish the next day. And be specific. Don’t just say something like, “Work on my website.” Instead, narrow it down to something like, “Complete a draft of the copy for my About page.” And if you can’t hold yourself accountable for progress—find an accountability partner who will hold your feet to the proverbial fire.

One thing I’ve seen is that some days I feel like I’m doing a lot of little actions with no results. But, in reality, these “little” actions add up to big results over time. For me, the goal has become to do something specific—no matter how big or how small— every single day to move my business forward. And I do this even when I don’t feel up to it. Because I have seen that this consistent action really DOES make a difference. You sometimes have to be a little more patient than you want to be in order to see the impact.

8. It’s okay to be scared.

One of the toughest things I ever posted in my mastermind group was a declaration of how scared I was that things weren’t going to work out. I did it really late one evening, in a moment of complete despair. And I couldn’t be more glad. The responses I got were so supportive, so helpful and so empathetic. I realized that the way I was feeling wasn’t just something that I alone was experiencing. And that changed everything.

It’s okay to be scared as an entrepreneur. It’s not weak. It’s not cowardly. It’s normal. If you’re not scared—then you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. And you’re not going to make any significant change in your life. I never thought I’d say this, but fear is a good thing. It means you’re doing something very, very right.

9. You’re an entrepreneur, dammit! And that in and of itself makes you AWESOME!

A lot of people talk about starting a business. But very few ever take the leap to do it. (Sort of like all of those people out there who say they want to write a novel—but never put down the first word.) Yes, it’s scary. Friends and family might even think that you’ve completely lost it or that you’re being careless or selfish or unrealistic or any number of other unflattering adjectives. But, DO IT ANYWAY! This is your life—so LIVE IT!

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, champagne in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO what a ride!”— Unknown

One thing I’m learning as an entrepreneur is that there’s really no better way to get to know who you are as a person than by taking this leap into the unknown. It tests you in ways you never thought possible. But it also rewards you in ways you never dreamed of. So—onward we push despite the obstacles and the naysayers and the voices of doubt in our minds. There are so many lessons to be learned, so many new friends to be made and so many adventures to be lived. Let’s go!

Get your FREE copy of “The Prosperous Copywriter’s Toolbox”—as well as ongoing stories and lessons from the entrepreneurial trail— right here!

Learning some lessons of your own as you move forward along the entrepreneurial path? Share them in the comments so we can ALL learn from them!