Monday, 13 May 2019

Working Women of Burton project

After I joined Stretton Parish Council in summer of 2018 I had the opportunity and pleasure to help fellow parish council member, local historian Malcolm Goode, with an event to mark the centenary of the end of World War One.

We helped to mobilise local crafters to create a display of more than 2,000 crocheted and knitted poppies beside the village war memorial.

Stretton Poppies November 2018. Pictures by Joanne Cooper 

Now, Malcolm, and a team of volunteers headed by the parish council, are embarking on another important project to research and record the progress of women entering the workforce of Burton between the years 1914 and 1946.

The project is being supported by Burton Library and the National Brewery Centre.

We need more volunteers to help us tell the stories of how the women on Burton Upon Trent and South Derbyshire played a vital role in helping our country win two world wars and also progressed into local businesses and industries.

A drop-in meeting is being held on Saturday, May 18, at Burton Library, between 10am and 2.30pm. If you would like to help the project in any way - researching, recording interviews with family members, creating videos and more - please call in to chat with Malcolm.

The final results of the project will be archived as a permanent record housed at both the library and the brewery centre for future generations. If you, or any of your friends or family, are interested in helping - perhaps the project would be a useful volunteer experience to add to a CV - you can also contact Malcolm on 01283 567903.

Malcolm also wants to hear from anyone who had female relatives working in Burton and South Derbyshire's breweries, factories or were part of the Women's Land Army or served in the forces.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

A taste of Spanish sunshine in Stretton

The WiRE (Women in Rural Enterprise) group that I co-lead in Burton-on-Trent is supporting the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity throughout 2019.

This vital charity saves lives by saving time. It funds and operates three air ambulances, serving six counties in the Midlands. They are effectively intensive care units in the air and since 1991 they have flown more than 52,200 missions - and that total rises every week.

A powerful video shared by MAAC volunteer Sally McMahon at our January meeting really brought it home to us the fact that any of us could need the air ambulance to save our loved ones. Members have organised events as diverse as product parties in their homes, adult cookery classes and donating a percentage of profits from sales.

I'm organising a Spanish night on Thursday, June 20 at one of my favourite local restaurants, Sloans Kitchen on Craythorne Road between the villages of Stretton and Rolleston-on-Dove in East Staffordshire.

Tickets will be £32 each with a donation from each sale going directly to the charity. We'll also be holding a raffle on the night with all the money going to the MAAC. Prizes donated so far include: Afternoon tea for two at Sloans Kitchen; a voucher for Silver Sentiments jewellery; a large hamper of toiletries and cosmetics; a small hamper of pampering goodies and wine.

Sloans Kitchen is in a beautiful rural setting, perfect for a summer night out. Places are strictly limited and need to be booked through me. Email me here.

To whet your appetite, here is the lovely menu.

Guests will arrive from 7pm with food served from 7.30pm. This is an opportunity to sip Sangria in the evening sunshine (hopefully) and raise money for a fantastic charity that receives no Government funding.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

How to create quality content and relationships on LinkedIn

Success on LinkedIn, in my experience, comes through behaving the way we would like others to behave when we network in the real world.

This means:

  • We don't SELL, SELL, SELL (not shouting by over-using capital letters is good too)
  • We do spend twice as long listening as we do talking
  • We build relationships and show support for our own suppliers and customers
  • We invest time and thought in creating useful and interesting content.
The difference between LinkedIn and your average business networking event in the real world is that LinkedIn is a global platform and gives you the opportunity to connect with people you may never meet face-to-face but who will follow and support you if you give them content they value. The result of this type of organic growth is that you gain visibility, credibility and ultimately grow your business.

After a year away from running workshops and courses, during which time I've been busy ghostwriting content including LinkedIn articles for busy business owners, I ran a half-day course in Staffordshire in February. Feedback from the delegates was so positive that I've been encouraged to re-run it at the same venue, Heath House Conference Centre, Uttoxeter, on Thursday morning, April 4, 2019.

Heath House Conference Centre, Uttoxeter

As a writer my focus is on the content you create and share on LinkedIn. So I will help people to understand WHO it is they want to 'talk' to through LinkedIn and WHAT this 'target audience' wants from them.

What your potential customers need to hear is not always the same as the message you may be in the habit of pushing out.

I'll spend some time during the morning of April 4 helping the delegates get up to speed on the features, functionality and privacy settings on LinkedIn so that we are all on a fairly level playing field when we move on to look at creating a bespoke marketing strategy and action plan for using LinkedIn. The joy is every strategy will be different, because every business is different and every business owner has a different journey, a different story, a different 'Why?'

I don't believe that the effective use of LinkedIn is about building a huge database of tens of thousands of connections and firing out sales messages and hoping that a few of them stick. Most SMEs I have worked with over the past nine years have had better results through building a quality network that wants to hear from them. The opportunity to create articles on LinkedIn allows you to become a thought leader and is a powerful way of building the credibility that I mentioned earlier.

There are only seven places available on the April 4 course and you can find out more and book by contacting me.

Thanks to Richard Scott of Invictus IFA for the testimonial he gave me after attending the course in February. He said: "The training was so different to what I had experienced before. Elaine got us to focus on our own needs and objectives and understand the mechanics behind the scenes, including how it could work for us and how we could add value to the relationships we build on the platform. 

"What we were trying to achieve as a business was much more important than it being 'just a numbers game', Putting together quality content and building a strong online presence were key parts of the training event that I took away and have decided to work on to improve my own experience long term. Training is always great when you drive away knowing that it was time well spent."

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Taking the terror out of your 60 seconds at networking meetings

If you go to business networking events, you have probably had the experience of being invited to speak for 60 seconds - an 'elevator pitch' about what you do and how you can help.

Is it something you relish or does it feel like a cruel form of torture designed to make you miserable?

So, WHY do so many networking groups think it's an important part of the meeting format?

A 60-second introduction is an opportunity to educate people in the room about what you do, how you help others and how THEY can help YOU. But you should bear in mind that you are not just targeting the people in that room on that day; you also want to reach the people and businesses they know. That means you are going to have to put some thought into making every word count so that your message is memorable, relevant and useful.

If you are new to this, I promise you that the more '60 seconds' you do the easier it gets – honestly.

There are two aspects to a 60-second introduction: one is what you say and the second is the way you say it.

Studies have shown that body language and tone of voice add up to a whopping 93% of the impact you have on your audience while the actual words you are saying is only 7%.

Now, in my personal opinion, when you have just 60 seconds to speak at a busy networking meeting, the impact of body language is probably going to be less than that percentage indicates. I often find that when I look round the room as I deliver a 60-second pitch, many people have their heads down writing and aren't looking at me. Hopefully, they are noting down something I am saying. If they are slow writers they might still be writing down what the person before me said and if I’m not holding their attention enough they may just be writing out a shopping list!

What I would say about body language is that you need to stand tall, avoid fidgeting and look confident. Fake that confidence, if necessary, until you make it. Be proud of your business and be proud of yourself. It’s OK to be nervous. It’s most important to be ‘you’. Networking is about developing relationships, so smile, be honest and be friendly.

My next tip is, relax. When you stand up to speak take a breath in and let your shoulders fall. If your head and neck are tense it will affect your voice and your delivery.

Varying the pitch and pace at which you speak can hold people's attention. Brace yourself and record your 60 seconds on your phone. Be honest with yourself; do you have a monotone voice? Can you inject more energy and animation into your pitch? Try a few different styles and record them and find something that sounds engaging but is still ‘you’. 

I think it’s absolutely fine to read your 60 seconds. As you grow in confidence – and when you have time to practice more – you can commit more of your words to memory and look around the room to make eye contact with people who ARE looking at you.

So, what about tips for writing out those words that you are going to speak?

You are trying to make people want to buy what you sell or introduce you to someone else who will, so you need to cover:
  •         What you do
  •         What makes you different
  •         Who you want to work with and how they will benefit from working with you.
A traditional structure would be:
  • Your name, company name, who you work with and what they buy from you.
  • Next comes the section that will hopefully make people sit up and take notice: It could be a quick story of how you helped a customer and the results for them or something topical in the news that relates to your business or some news about your business.
  • Tell people how they can help you. This is the call-to-action for people in the room. Is there someone that you would love to meet to offer them your help? Maybe someone in the room knows them.
  • Remind people of your name again and sign off with a tagline or slogan if you have one.
Write it down. Time it. Practice it. I have found that I need to write 150-160 words for a well-paced 60 seconds. If you try to cram in more than that you will probably end up gabbling, which makes it harder for your audience to follow what you are saying.

Don’t beat yourself up if something goes wrong or you trip over your tongue. We all do it. The great thing is that practice really does get us closer to, if not perfection then at least a more relaxed and effective 60 seconds.

If you attend the same networking meeting regularly, then it’s good to vary what you say to stop people being bored or feeling that they don’t need to listen because they know you’ll always say roughly the same thing.

My final tip is, why not ask for feedback from some of the people at your networking meeting? Ask them if they are 100% clear on what you do and how you can help and if they have any suggestions on how you could improve or stories you could tell in future 60 seconds.

Monday, 29 October 2018

How to leverage the power of good content to boost your business

Canny businesses know that there is mileage in using good content to drive customer loyalty – that’s what content marketing is all about.

So let me ask you a quick question: What comes to your mind when I say ‘Michelin’?

Maybe you think of a tyre company, or perhaps you think of an award-winning restaurant.

Not everyone realises that the famous tyre company shares its name with the sought-after star rating of the world’s best restaurants because almost 120 years ago Michelin saw the potential of using useful, interesting content to grow its business.

Back in 1900 Michelin was known for bicycle tyres, but company founders and brothers Édouard and André Michelin saw an opportunity to grow their fledgling car tyre business by encouraging more people to drive cars and to venture further afield more often, wearing down their tyres in the process.

The first Michelin guide was produced that year in France. At the time there were only 3,000 cars in the whole of France. In an impressive and ambitious leap of faith, Michelin printed 35,000 copies of its guide and gave them away free. The guide included maps, advice for repairing and replacing damaged tyres, details of lovely restaurants you could visit and where to buy petrol.

New, updated guides were produced each year and over time versions were published for countries including Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Italy and many more. Adverts selling products to motorists were also included.

In 1920 it is said that André Michelin visited a garage where he saw a pile of the free Michelin guides propping up a workbench. This may have played a part in the decision to start charging for the guide. Other changes included removing adverts.

The brothers saw there was growing interest in the restaurant listings, so they began to enhance them by organising them into categories and then recruiting a team of inspectors to visit and review restaurants anonymously.

In 1926, the guide began to award a star for what it considered to be the best restaurants. Later the rating system expanded to offer one, two or three stars. Each restaurant’s star rating was reviewed every year and could be either upgraded or downgraded depending on what the inspector found. Today the top three-star Michelin rating is still a HUGE deal to restaurants.

Down the decades the guide has moved with the times and now appears online as well as in print and there is an app as well.

So what can we, as business owners in 2018, take away from the content marketing success story of the Michelin guides?

  1. Keep an eye on online analytics measuring the reach and engagement for content you create and share. Seek out and listen to feedback from customers and react and adapt your approach accordingly. Do more of what’s popular and less of what’s not. When the Michelins realised that the restaurant listings were particularly popular they came up with ideas to make this section even bigger and better to draw in more readers. 
  2. ‘No-one likes to be sold to’ - how often have you heard that? Well, it’s true. The Michelins focused on providing valuable information to readers. The guides gave the company huge visibility, brand awareness and established them as experts in their field. They did it by being useful and relevant, not by broadcasting a ‘Buy, buy, buy’ message. 
  3. The Michelin guides were popular and well-read because the content was relevant and interesting to a clearly defined target audience. The content was accurate and kept up-to-date. The writers and editors were thorough and painstaking in their work. If you are producing content for your business, make sure you take the same trouble to think through what your customers (and potential customers) will find useful and interesting and invest in the best content you can provide. 
  4. There have been many other travel guides down the years; some have thrived and some have died. I think one reason for the Michelin success story was that the guides never compromised quality by rushing to do too much, too soon. Similarly, you should have a clear strategy for the content you create and share and make sure that quality always outranks quantity.
Images by Quentin Kemmel on Unsplash and Jay Wennington on Unsplash 

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Reasons why a storytelling strategy can be good for business

One of the things that makes us human is the way that our brains are hardwired to react to stories.

Maybe it evolved as a way of keeping us safe? If you paid attention to the tribe elders around the camp fire, as they told you terrible stories about the dangerous sabre-toothed tigers, you might stay alive a bit longer.

We respond to stories that tap into our own hopes and fears. Some of us love to be scared by ghost stories and horror tales while others want to escape into romantic fantasy and stirring adventures.

We can also be moved to action by powerful stories told in documentaries and on TV charity telethons such as Children In Need and Stand Up To Cancer. Often it's because we can imagine how we would feel if we were in the shoes of those featured and we want to help them succeed in their journeys.

Good stories, told well, make us stop in our tracks and they demand our attention. They might strike a chord with our own aspirations and personal memories. They stir up our emotions and inspire us; they can excite us and keep us entertained.

What are the essential components of a good story?

Any good story needs a hero, a villain, a journey and a transformation or resolution – told with passion.

In business storytelling, that passion comes from the things you know your customers will care about, and your own enthusiasm for what you do and how you make a difference. 

The hero of your story could be a customer, a partner you work with or an employee.

The villain could be the problem that your business solves. What do you do that makes life better or easier for your customers?

Twists and turns in a story can keep us hooked so when you are telling a story remember to add the details that your audience might not be expecting. The surprise element can make your story stand out in the memory of your audience.

Your story could end with a transformation or a resolution. How is life different now for your hero because of your business?

One of my favourite examples of a brand using storytelling is the Dove Real Women campaign, launched in the UK in 2004. 

It was probably the first time that a major cosmetics or toiletries advertising campaign had featured women of all shapes, sizes and skin tones together. These were women that consumers could identify with instead of the traditional professional models who perpetuate air-brushed images of unattainable physical perfection.

Everyone was talking about the Dove campaign and it led to a 700% rise in sales of Dove in the first half of that year.

But there was also a perception that this was more than a gimmick - there was an authentic and genuine desire for change behind the campaign. This was emphasised when Dove launched a self-esteem project aimed at helping under-17s to feel happy and confident about the way they look.

But storytelling is not just a strategy for major consumer-facing companies with huge advertising and marketing budgets; it can work just as well for small businesses too.

How can we tell stories that make us memorable in business?

The starting point of creating a memorable story for your business is to think about your audience. Who are you trying to reach and influence? Understanding your audience is essential if you are going to tell the stories that they want to hear. The stories you want to tell as a business are not always the same as the ones your audience wants to hear.

Time spent getting to know your audience - their hopes, their fears their dreams, their interests - is never wasted. This is why many businesses now value social media. When you stop using it as a broadcasting medium and use it to really LISTEN to your customers and potential customers you gain valuable insights and build relationships.

Secondly, what do you want your audience to do after the story ends? What action do you want them to take? How do you want them to feel? If you are in tune with your audience, and you have told them a story they wanted to hear in a compelling way, they are more likely to pick up the phone, send an email, make a purchase and ultimately become a loyal customer and a valuable ambassador for your business. Happy customers talk to other people about how great you are.

Rather than talking about you, your business or your brand all the time, most of your stories should be about your customers, partners or employees. You want your audience to see themselves in the shoes of the hero in your stories, as women did with the Dove campaign, and relate to them and understand their journey.

If you want to tell customer stories you could make a start by seeking out the customers that you already have a good relationship with because they have left glowing reviews online or sent in thank you letters. Interview them to capture stories you can tell. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Procrastinators Anonymous

This week I was invited to speak to a business group where we discussed procrastination, analysis paralysis, lack of skills and confidence – all things that stop people getting on with tasks that could drive their business forward.

I focused on tips and advice to help people who were putting off writing content about their business but we also looked at productivity generally. So here are my top six tips to be more productive and then another six to help you get over writer's block.

Six tips to help you be more productive

1. It's not all about the famous 'to do' list. I love a good list. In fact, I've been known to add things I've just done to a list so I can immediately cross them off. Sometimes you need a 'don't do' list when you are getting sidetracked by distractions that aren't helping you, such as that video of dogs being baffled by the owners disappearing behind blankets and curtains.
2. Keep an eye on how accurate you are at estimating how long tasks will take when you plan out a day of work. If your diary includes a meeting out of the office remember to allow time to travel, park and walk to the venue. 
3. Try working in 45-minute blocks of time with your phone on silent and turned face down. When you've done your 45 minutes you can stretch your legs, check social media (BRIEFLY!) and make a cuppa. 
4. Multitasking is not a badge of honour. Practice the discipline of working on one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. Close your emails on your laptop, PC or device so that you don't flit off and deal with a 'quick' reply. It will take longer to get back into what you were doing before.
5. Keep your work area tidy and well-organised. You may try and convince yourself that 'filing' papers and pages in piles on the floor works well for you, but you will feel much better if you find them a proper home (or shred them if you don't need them any more).
6. No-one can be great at everything. Why waste time doing stuff you hate and that you aren't very good at when you could delegate it to someone who wants to do that work and is far better at it than you will ever be?

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

Six tips to beat writer's block

1. Just write. Don't over-think it.  Just start writing and accept that you can improve it later on. No-one needs to see your first draft so lose your inhibitions and don't be self-conscious.
2. Forget the introduction, or opening sentence, if that's what's holding you up. You could write the ending or your call-to-action first and then work backwards. 
3. (This is one of my favourites and it's the best way of achieving tips 1. and 2.) Write as fast as you can for 10 minutes without stopping!! You could be surprised at how much useful and good stuff you'll have written that you can then edit and re-organise.
4. Tell the critical voice in your head to 'Shut up!' (You have one too, don't you? It's not just me, is it?)
5. If you're feeling stuck, try a change of scenery; move to a different place to write, perhaps a different room in your house, office or studio or head outside. Many people recommend movement to overcome writer's block. Go for a walk or a jog. Hop on a bus or a train if you have time. Fresh air and the beauty of nature can be a real inspiration.
6. Rehearse the story you want to tell by imagining yourself saying it out loud..... or better still DO say it out loud. If you have a pet they can make a receptive audience. In my experience dogs show marginally more interest in your stories than cats, but it's a close thing.

So, do you know someone who should be a member of Procrastinators Anonymous (if they could ever get round to organising a meeting)? Have you seen a website where the most recent news item or blog post is dated 2017 or earlier? Perhaps you can share this blog post with them and help them transform into a productivity ninja?