Why Perform a Content Audit

There are many reasons to perform a content audit, but my focus when I do them for clients is to evaluate content that has been created over the years and determine how it fits into the company’s content marketing plan. Trying to continually create content is difficult, especially for a small business that needs as much time as possible to service clients and produce products. Content creation is important, but often takes a back seat when we are busy running out businesses. Leveraging content that already exists can lighten this burden.

When evaluating a company’s content it usually fits into one of three actions: update for reuse, transform into something new, or create a new revenue stream. The first action is to update and reuse the content. You may have done a client presentation two years ago that is sitting on your computer just waiting to be updated and reused as a blog post, email newsletter, or social media post. It is very likely that there are multiple posts within just one presentation. It’s just a matter of identifying what works for your target audience and crafting the post or newsletter.

The second action is transforming the information into something new. I am working with a design firm and my client to change some of their presentation slides into infographics for their website and social media posts. You can give that information new life by transforming it into a new format or information. You can take a questionnaire you have used in the past and make it into quiz to place on your website. Other content can be created into a series of emails that you share to people who sign up for your newsletter. You are attracting new readers with content that is valuable to that audience.

The last action is when you Identify content that can be turned into a whole new revenue stream. Looking over all your content, there may be enough to form a basis of an e-book or book. Maybe you have done so much training over the years that you now have enough material to build an online course. This happened to me this summer. After auditing all my content, I found that I had the basis of several courses. This led me to rebuild Marketing Roadhouse and will be rolling out these courses throughout 2016.

Yes, there is still work involved in reusing and transforming this content, but it provides you a solid foundation of content. It makes the creation process much easier than starting from scratch. It also allows you to involve others on your team especially if they have graphic, video or audio skills and can transform that content for you. So take a look through your old files and see what treasures may be there. If you are interested in having me do a content audit for you, just let me know.

WordPress Security and Maintenance

I have been working with WordPress for over 8 years now and I still love it as a blog and content management system (CMS). When I started working with WordPress, I didn’t have to worry much about people trying to hack my site or find vulnerabilities. That was something that happened to the big guys, not us smaller sites. Well, no more. Now WordPress sites as well as other website platforms are under attack. How does WordPress get attacked? I’ll let Sucuri explain in this very thorough blog post they published a few months ago. Instead I thought I would share with you a few of my favorite tools for maintaining and securing WordPress.

Managed Hosting
This is a change I made recently when launching the new Marketing Roadhouse. My previous hosting company was great, but the onus of security was 100% on my shoulders with regards to WordPress installations. When I was looking for a platform that provided all the functionality I wanted for this site, it was an extra bonus that the hosting was managed meaning the company proactively monitors for malware and attacks. There are several companies out there that specialize in WordPress hosting and I suggest checking them out if you don’t want to manage your own WordPress.

If you have ever updated WordPress and/or a plugin and it caused an issue on your website, then you know how important it is to do back-ups. BackupBuddy is an easy to use plugin that allows you to perform database and full backups either manually or scheduled. You also have several options for storing that backup off-site of your website host which I strongly recommend. Do a backup before any upgrades, so that you can revert back to that backup if something goes wrong. BackupBuddy also helps you move your website from one hosting company to another.

iThemes Security Pro
Upon installing iThemes Security Pro, you do a scan of your site. The plugin will provide you a list of things you need to do in order to secure your site as well as the level of importance to perform each one. The plugin does malware scans and can lock users out that try to access files they shouldn’t. I will give credit to this tool for saving one of my sites by alerting me to a high number of people trying access files that didn’t exist. I was able to make some changes using iThemes Security Pro to tighten security even more and keep my site from being under attack.

While I don’t currently use this service, I have used it in the past for one of my clients and really liked it. This service is not only for WordPress and supports many other platforms. The system scans for Malware and will clean it up as well. They can also help with blacklist removal and repair. To me, the best part of the service is that they will help you remove the malware from your site, not just tell you it is there.

I am not being compensated by any of these companies mentioned. I use them now or in the past and have been happy with the results. I do install and configure BackupBuddy and iThemes Security Pro for clients, so if you do need any help just let me know. If you don’t have any security tools on your WordPress site, please add it to your to do list.

My 5 Tips to Email Marketing During the Holidays

As a consumer, I have a Love/Hate relationship with email marketing this time of year. I admit it, I love a good deal and many of my favorite retailers promote some pretty good offers. I also like hearing from smaller, independent retailers and makers that do the bulk of their business at the holidays.The amount of emails I receive does get a bit overwhelming, so I do take the opportunity to unsubscribe from a lot of companies I no longer care to hear from or send too many emails.

There is an insurance company in my town that sends an email at every holiday throughout the year. That is the only time I ever hear from them. Mind you, I am not their client, and I never signed up to receive emails from them. Why don’t I unsubscribe? Simply because I am a marketer and I want to see if they ever change their behavior. So far, they haven’t. Their emails have no call to action or any useful information. Just a simple Happy <insert holiday name here>. You could make an argument for branding, but I bet they have a fairly high unsubscribe rate with each email and probably have turned many people off due to adding people to their list with no permission.

Why bring this up? Because I want you to be smarter with your email marketing and I’m going to give you 5 tips as we head into prime email marketing time.

1. Remember that your email list subscribers are your most important group. Don’t overload or annoy them. Treat them special and give them something you don’t give to anyone else. This may be a special promotion, an exclusive offer or useful information that you don’t share any where else. Your readers have given you permission into their busy inbox. Respect that relationship and make it worth it for both parties.

2. Keep mobile in mind. People are on the go all the time and even more so during the holidays, so they are checking email from their tablets and phones. Keep this in mind when you are designing your email. Use a responsive design template which will make your email look good no matter what device it is read from. Limit the number of images you include in your email since some people will be using their data service which is often slower than WiFi. Some people prefer not to download images included in emails, so you want to make sure that your images complement your message and are not central to the message. This way you don’t require people to download the images to see the promotion or information.

3. Collect emails onsite. If you are a maker or artisan participating in shows or open houses this holiday season consider collecting emails at those events. I have done this in the past at shows and found it to be successful. I used the app MC Subscribe from Mail Chimp on my iPad to collect email addresses from people that purchased our soaps or stopped by our table. The beauty of the app is that you don’t have to worry about deciphering handwriting and saves you time of entering them in by hand. No problem if the location doesn’t have WiFi, the app will collect the addresses and synch with your MailChimp account once you are connected to WiFi.

4. Timing. If you are going to do a series of emails throughout the holidays, it is a good idea to get out your calendar. If you are a product company and have deadlines for shipping or delivery, you need to make sure your emails are communicating that and giving your readers enough time to act upon that information. Look at your calendar and write in your deadlines. Now back out the dates to give your readers time to act. This will also allow you to write those promotions ahead of time and schedule them with your email marketing tool. You are going to get busy, so the more you can plan ahead and schedule tasks, the better.

5. Reintroduce yourself. If you are a service company that has not been consistent with sending emails, now is the time to restart your email marketing effort. Take this time to reintroduce yourself and tell your subscribers what they can expect from you in the future. Give people permission to unsubscribe. I just did this and did have some unsubscribe. You know what. It didn’t bother me because I want people on my list that want to be there and interact with me.  Conversations and conversions mean much more to me that how big my list is.

My advice is to take 20 minutes this week and create a quick plan of how you want to either reintroduce yourself to your subscribers or how you are going to promote your product/service this holiday season including dates and content ideas. That 20 minutes will go a long way to making the most of your email marketing relationships.

Which Came First – the Goal or the Strategy?

The answer may seem clear, but many small businesses put the strategy before the goal. I know I have been guilty of this for my own marketing in the past. The shiny object syndrome of a fancy new tool or case study strategy leads us to jumping in and trying to figure out how to best leverage it without knowing what we want to get from it both in the short term and the long term. Let’s discuss a couple of reasons your goals need to come before your strategy.

Goals help define what your strategy should be in the first place. You can hire all the agencies and consultants in the world to come up with the most creative campaigns, but if you don’t know what you are trying to accomplish you are just wasting money. You need to have an understanding of who you are trying to reach and what action you want them to take. Once you know that, the tools and strategies to use fall into place much easier.

Goals let you know if your strategy is working. Again, you can put a ton of energy and money into a strategy and never know if it is working or not. Without goals, you may be wasting time and money on tools and strategies that will never bring you any business results. When you have goals, you can measure from time to time if your strategy is working. If not, you can make changes or abandon it and move onto something more effective.

If you are looking to get your goals AND strategies in line for 2015 be sure to sign up for my Marketing Plan Workshop on November 13. Get more information and apply to be part of the fun. Early bird pricing ends on October 31.

Know Your Target Audience

Marketing, especially content marketing, is hard enough, but it can be even more difficult if you don’t fully understand your target audience. Knowing their needs and wants is vital to converting them from prospect to customer. Some companies and agencies have a tendency to share and create content that is most interesting and meaningful to themselves rather than their target audience. It’s a lot easier to do this, but definitely not an effective long-term strategy.

There are definitely a couple exceptions to this rule. You very well may be exactly like your target audience and therefore your strategy is 100% effective. In addition if your peers are your target audience than the strategy of sharing content that is interesting to you and your organization is spot on. If either of these is your situation, feel free to skip this post and come back next week.

By creating and sharing content that is not interesting or even relevant to your target audience, you are wasting resources and risking alienating your target audience. If you are not relating to your target audience with your content, you are wasting time and money because it will not lead to the conversion to customer. We all know the constant creation and curation of content requires a lot of time, energy and money. If you are misusing these three very important resources, you are not going to achieve your overall goals. While wasting resources is bad, alienating your target audience can be worse. This can hurt your reputation and drive this audience right into the arms of your competitors. Readers will see through your efforts and react unfavorably if they feel you don’t “get them”.

How can you avoid this situation? Put yourself in your target audience’s shoes by understanding their concerns, likes, dislikes, wants and needs. The more you understand about them the better. Read other publications, both online and off, that share a target audience with you including those in a different industry. Read things written by those in your target market. Are you matching the vocabulary they use? Consider talking to your existing customers to get better insight into what helped convert them into a customer. How well do you know your target audience?

Take Care of Home Base

In February I spoke at the Frederick Chamber’s New Media and Technology Conference on the topic Digital Detox. I discussed this from both a business and personal point of view. I wasn’t and still am not promoting getting rid of technology, but I am promoting using it to help you and your business, while not being a distraction from your goals. I will cover some of the other topics I discussed during this presentation in the future, but for now I want to talk about taking care of your home base.

Social Networks, especially Facebook, are constantly changing algorithms making it harder to get your message in front of your community. Add in the increase of companies using social media and it becomes even more difficult to break through the noise. If you aren’t spending advertising dollars with these services you are at their mercy as to whether people that want to get your message will actually receive it. For this reason, I believe this is a good time to spend some time focusing on your home base, namely your website and email marketing.

When social media started to become mainstream, many pundits suggested that companies no longer needed a website because Facebook would make websites obsolete. I didn’t buy that advice then and I sure don’t now. Websites, email marketing and social media all work together to create your Internet marketing mix. If you have allowed your website to become a little outdated due to focusing on other platforms, you aren’t alone. However, now is the time to get back to basics and do a little Spring Cleaning. Make sure your website is up-to-date with your latest information and messaging. If you are in the market for a redesign, consider making your website more mobile friendly.

If you have neglected your email marketing, it is now time to jumpstart that effort as well. Promote your sign-up form on your social networks to get more subscribers. These are relationships that you have more control over since you have been invited to send messages directly to the subscribers inbox without an algorithm deciding what will be delivered. Let these users know what they can expect from your email newsletters and promotions. If you haven’t sent an email for awhile, send one to reintroduce your messaging so old subscribers are reminded they signed up and don’t mark future messages as spam.

Now that Spring is upon us and we are all doing a little Spring Cleaning, add some time to your calendar to evaluate your current website and email marketing to see how you can get your home base back into shape.

Confession: This Stuff is Hard

This past Sunday I had a to-do list the length of my arm. Over at SoapPrizes, we are gearing up for our holiday season by rolling out new soaps, prepping for upcoming shows, and announcing a new line of home fragrances. I know I am not unlike a lot of small business owners this time of year. It is actually that thought of solidarity that kept me motivated throughout the day. Well that, a lot of coffee and some of my daughter’s Halloween candy.

All this activity meant creating a ton of content including:

  • Product descriptions for the website
  • Photos of all the new products for the website, newsletter and social media
  • A video by my daughter introducing our new soaps
  • Blog posts introducing our new line
  • Email newsletter to provide an update to our mailing list

When you are a one- or few-person-show, all this content creation can be totally overwhelming to tackle on top of the production of your product or service, and the general operations needed to keep the business running. It is hard and takes a lot of time, but it is very important for the promotion your great products.

Here are a few tips that I put into use over the weekend:

1. Create content that can be reused across your different tools. Product descriptions can be used as a script for a video. Blog posts can be reused in an email newsletter by providing a exert in the newsletter and link to the post.

2. Plan your photo shoot. Setting up my make-shift photo studio to take product pictures takes a bit of time, so I don’t like to set it up very often. For this reason, I try to think of all the scenarios I may need images for and write them down. This allows me to take and edit all my pictures at one time. This saves me down the road because I now have my own library of product shots to use on the website, social media, wholesale catalog, etc.

3. Create a promotional or editorial calendar to help you plan out your content over time. This will allow you to set some time aside to create the content needed rather than going into panic mode because you forgot to get an email out about an upcoming promotion. Not that I have ever done this 😉

So yes, creating all this content can be hard and overwhelming, but with some planning you can do it effectively. It is my goal to share with you the strategies and tools that I find effective for myself and my clients. I have some pretty big plans for 2014 to accomplish this goal, so I hope you stick around.

Book Review – Instagram Power

InstagramI’m not going to lie, when I received my review copy of Instagram Power by Jason G. Miles in the mail I thought to myself how in the world is there an entire book about Instagram. I’ve read many books about different social media tools and most of them focus on the features of the tool and glaze over the strategy part. Not this book.

Jason is the cofounder and marketer for Liberty Jane Clothing where they make clothing and patterns for American Girl-style Dolls. He writes about the strategies and tactics he uses to make Instagram a successful marketing tool for the company. While he covers every feature of Instagram there is, the real beauty of this book comes from the marketing and advertising strategies he shares.

Since Instagram is a visual social network, he spends ample time discussing the best types of photos to use to foster responses from your following. He covers methods of branding, selling using display ads, using “free” to your advantage and even goes into detail on multistep campaigns. This made my old school marketing heart very happy. In addition, he shared a lot of tools that can help you use Instagram more effectively.

I would recommend this book for anyone interested in using Instagram effectively as a marketing tool. Since he doesn’t work for a Fortune 500 company with a huge budget, he provides very actionable information for other small businesses. Using his strategies and tactics, he has built a tremendous following and has effectively converted his Instagram activity into sales. Isn’t that the Holy Grail of social media for all us? Who is using Instagram? Share your account in the comments.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for agreeing to review the book, but with no restrictions on what I say.

What is Your Blue Chair?

BlueChairKenny Chesney has a song called Old Blue Chair where he describes a beach chair that he has spent a lot of time in thinking, writing songs, reading and even sleeping. This got me to thinking that as business owners we often have a place that helps us to refocus, recharge and brainstorm. While we all wish our blue chair was on a beach in some beautiful location like Kenny’s, it is probably some place much closer to home.

Some people go running to gain that moment of clarity. Others find inspiration in the shower. The great outdoors has always helped me. In college it was the overlook at Coopers Rock State Forest. There was something about that view that made me realize how small my problems truly were and allowed me to regain a positive attitude. The amazing scenery also was very conducive to creative thinking.

When I worked at Netscape in California, I would get away to Monterey and spend some time looking at the ocean. Water has always had a calming effect on me. I would top off the trip with a hot fudge sundae at Ghirardelli. The combination of the drive and destination would help me clear my mind and feel re-energized.

Now that I live in Maryland (not near the coast) it isn’t so much a destination as much as it is getting away from all technology. Nine times out of 10 this means taking a drive through country roads playing my favorite music and singing along. This past summer I purchased a Jeep Wrangler, so getting out on the road with the top down has become even more therapeutic for me.

I strongly believe that you have to get away from everything from time to time in order to clear your mind, think more creatively and relax. We are hit with so many stimuli on a daily basis, that in order to really be creative and grow your business, you need to unplug once and awhile. Your turn. I would love to hear what is your “blue chair”.

Passion – The 5th P of Marketing

Repost. This post originally appeared on the VillageWorks site.

The 4 Ps of Marketing (product, price, place and promotion) have been the basis for all work I have done since graduating with my marketing degree many moons ago. Sure the details of each of these Ps has evolved over time especially with the widespread use of social media. The Internet and social media has made our world smaller and your competition could be on another continent rather than just down the street. This can make it more difficult to differentiate your product in the marketplace. For this reason, I want to introduce you to a concept that I have been using with clients for awhile – Passion, the 5th P of Marketing.

Almost every small business owner, especially those that make artisan and handcrafted products, started his or her business out of a passion for the product or service. They love producing this product or service and want to share that passion with the world. This passion is what makes a company different and therefore differentiates it from the competition. It provides you a story and marketing message to share. Suddenly your product, even if considered a commodity, takes on a life of its own.

In addition to sharing your passion, you want your audience to connect with your passion. If they have that connection, they will go out there and share it with their networks. It is this combination of producing something that creates a shared passion between you and your audience that creates marketing magic. You create loyal customers that will go out of their way to acquire your offerings and become brand ambassadors sharing your story with the world.

This does not require you to write a large marketing plan. Grab the closest piece of paper, even if it is a napkin, and sketch out why you started your business in the first place. If you have been in business for awhile try to remember why you started. I recently did this and the changes you see at VillageWorks are the result of reminding myself why I started this business and what I am passionate about – helping small businesses share their passion and products with the world. What is your passion?