Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Five steps to getting started with social media marketing

I've been talking to clients a lot in the last week about social media training and marketing, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on how to make social media marketing work for your business.

Some businesses leap on to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Blogger (other blogging platforms are available) etc. without really knowing why, or what they expect to achieve. Without a clear plan, including outcomes that they want to achieve for the business, the most likely result is they'll get disheartened and decide that 'social media doesn't work for them'.

If your business hasn't taken the plunge yet, but is on the brink of diving into the social media sea for the first time, I'd suggest you work through these five steps:

1. Think about your ideal customers. Which social platforms will they be on? What do they want and need that you can supply? What type of content will appeal to them most?

2. Be realistic about how much time you can spend each week on your social media presence. Who will create the content and manage the updates? Are you going to outsource some or all of the work?

3. Research the social media platforms that you think are a good fit for your business. For example, if your business involves appealing images - food, fashion, pets, interior decor, crafts - you may want to explore what Pinterest could do for you. What are your competitors doing?  Spend time browsing social media. Look for the posts and pictures that are being shared and see if that inspires ideas for the type of content that you could create for your business.

4. Create a content plan that focuses on articles, posts, images and videos that your target audience will like, share, be inspired and entertained by and not just what you want to promote. Create detailed personas for your ideal customers, their age, gender, location, interests and always have them in mind when you post.

4. Create a social media marketing plan, which can be just a single page when you are starting out. Set down why you want to be on social media (your overarching objectives), which could be raising awareness of your business; establishing yourself as an expert in your field; generating new leads and sales; building customer loyalty. Decide what success would look like for you/your business and set some targets you can measure, such as new sign-ups to your newsletter,  direct sales (of course), enquiries, click-throughs to your website and perhaps downloads of a free factsheet you offer.

5. It's called SOCIAL media for a reason. When you are up and running keep watching, listening and responding. Congratulate others on their success, be generous with free advice and look to connect people that you know could do business together. The etiquette of social media marketing is a lot like face-to-face business networking. And finally, don't post or re-post anything that you wouldn't be happy to see on a giant billboard in your town or city.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Five ways to beat writer's block

Have you ever sat down to write content for your website, a post for your blog or copy for your latest newsletter to customers and felt paralysed by 'writer's block'?

You're not alone. It happens to us all. The good news is that there are ways to overcome it.

Here are my top five tips: 

1. Having a deadline focuses the mind. When you work as a staff reporter on a newspaper, and a print deadline looms, it's just NOT an option to have writer's block. Your story has to be written by a specific time, so it can be placed on a page, so that the newspaper can go to press and the van drivers can get it out to the shops.  When you're the boss it's as important to set yourself a firm deadline and tell yourself it HAS to be done by then.
2. Get organised. Before you start writing do your research and gather together all the information you need. Think about who your audience is and put yourself in their shoes. What are the questions they will want your piece of writing to answer? What are the problems that you can help them solve? When you've got everything together it's often easier to see how the piece of writing needs to be structured.
3. Think about how the story starts. Whether you are writing a press release, a blog post, a news item or website content - everything is a story. If you don't know where to start, imagine that you're telling that story to a friend. You will naturally start with the most interesting or important facts and the story will start to flow.
4. Have a change of scenery. If you are staring at the computer screen and the words won't come - have a change of scenery. Go and do something else, take a walk outside, or take your laptop to a local coffee shop. It's amazing how many times a new view makes all the difference. If you have time  to do something completely different for a while, tackle a crossword or read a magazine or a book for a bit. Your subconscious will still be working in the background and when you come back to your writing there'll be some new ideas there as if by magic.
5. Just write. Don't worry about the quality of what you are writing at the start. Just write ANYTHING. No-one has to see your first attempts. Start anywhere in your story. Once the words are down on paper - however rough and ready they look - it's easier to rearrange them in the right order. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

Seven top tips for writing a newsletter

As promised last week, here are my top seven tips for writing an effective newsletter. Newsletters can help promote customer loyalty as well as driving repeat sales and new business, but it's worth remembering that if you are involved with a club, charity or good cause a newsletter can be an effective promotional tool for you too.

Tip 1: Why do you want to write a newsletter in the first place?

Creating quality content for a target audience on a regular basis is going to take up some of your valuable time. Even if you outsource production of your newsletter you will still need to spend time planning and checking the content, creating any offers you may want to include in the newsletter and overseeing how it is marketed. Can you identify a clear audience for your newsletter - existing customers, members of your club or group, visitors to your website - and do you have things to say on a regular basis that they will WANT to read, and will this benefit your business in some way? If not, maybe you could spend your time more productively on another marketing activity.

Tip 2: Set objectives for your newsletter and decide how you will measure success

Write down what you want your newsletter to achieve, which will depend on the type of business or organisation you run. Possible objectives could include: driving traffic to your business website; new sales; new leads; keeping your customers or members engaged and loyal; encouraging downloads of resources you've created; raising your profile. Is your newsletter going to be email and online only, or is there a valid business argument for sending out print copies as well, or instead?

Set some measurable targets so that you know whether you're getting a return on any time or money you are investing in your newsletter. Targets could include: number of newsletter subscribers; click-throughs to your website; number of downloads; direct sales; use of exclusive discount codes only published in your newsletter; reviews, testimonials and feedback received.

Tip 3: Plan your newsletter content in advance

Once you've followed tips 1 and 2 and you know WHO you want to talk to, and WHY, you should be in a good position to plan WHAT you are going to talk to them about. Your regular content could include compelling images, product discount codes, special offers, competitions, giveaways, information about forthcoming events, tips and hints, news about you and news about your customers. Keep focused on what your audience wants to RECEIVE more than what you want to PROMOTE. You have to work to earn the attention of your audience. They'll unsubscribe from your enewsletter, or leave it unopened and unread, unless you make their life easier or better in some way. Are you giving them something that they want?

Tip 4: Newsletter subject lines that make people want to open your email

Whatever you do please don't WRITE SUBJECT LINES IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND USE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!! It looks like shouting and some email clients may assume it's spam and put your enewsletter straight into a junk folder. If you choose a very safe subject line, such as "Newsletter 1", it is likely to be overlooked and not get anyone excited. Review the content and purpose of the newsletter and work on creating a subject line that will make your subscribers want to click and open your email.

Tip 5: Do your research on email newsletter providers

If you've harvested the email addresses of customers, contacts and people you've met at events it's NOT a good idea to copy them all into an email and send out a basic enewsletter that way. I would always recommend using a professional third party service that will ensure you are meeting all your legal obligations for sending out direct marketing emails and give you the best chance of getting delivered to people's inboxes and not identified as spam. Read up on marketing emails on Ofcom's website and there's some clear information on privacy and data protection on the Information Commissioner's Office website. Ask colleagues and contacts, whose opinion you trust, which providers they recommend. There are some excellent low and no cost options around. Personally, I'm a fan of MailChimp.

Tip 6: Manage the expectations of your newsletter subscribers

When people sign up to your newsletter - and I'm a big believer in marketing only to people who have given express permission - make it clear what they will be getting in your newsletters and how often you'll be sending out a newsletter. Set a frequency that's sustainable for you. For many clubs and businesses a monthly  or bi-monthly newsletter is ideal. Time flies and everyone leads busy lives. If you mail out too often you risk annoying people, and once they've unsubscribed you've lost that opportunity to engage with them. 

Tip 7: Check, check and then check your newsletter again 

You'll get a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you press 'send', or send your newsletter to print, and then spot a spelling mistake or a wrong date or name. Most third party email newsletter providers offer you the chance to preview your email newsletter and send out test versions. Make sure you send it to people you trust and get them to read it and check that any hyperlinks work. If you've written it yourself you can be convinced that it says what you intended it to say. Spelling mistakes and typos can escape the best of us. Print out a hard copy and, if you can, leave it for 24 hours and then read it again. Correct any mistakes and then check it all again. Look at the test preview of your enewsletter on a mobile phone as well as a PC or laptop. More and more people check their emails on the move so a newsletter that they can read easily on a small screen can be read and acted on sooner.

If you want to know more, I'll be delivering a newsletter-writing workshop for working women over a networking lunch in Stone, Staffordshire on Monday June 16, 2014, between 12 and 2pm. It's a new date organised by the Stone Women In Rural Enterprise (WiRE) networking group. It's being organised by Maggie Hollinshead, who runs Maggie's Studio and Gallery in Newport, Shropshire. Email her at maggie@pictureshopandgallery.co.uk to reserve a place. It will cost £10 for non-WiRE members and £8 if you belong to WiRE, which includes your lunch.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Saturday smile

As it's the end of Local Newspaper Week this weekend, I thought I'd share with you a couple of blogs that take a good-natured (most of the time) swipe at some of the stories and pictures that make it into print in local newspapers around the UK.

Journalists have always enjoyed laughing at mistakes, odd stories and images in other newspapers - which is why when I was co-editor of HoldTheFrontPage we always knew we'd get great traffic levels and engagement online when we ran headline howlers. (They still do, go and have a look)

Now, I have to stress that I am well aware that local newspaper journalists and photographers are under IMMENSE pressure these days because staffing levels have been slashed and they are having to work fast and furiously to fill their pages. Of course mistakes do creep in, they're only human, and some (apparently) bizarre judgements can be made about what is 'news'. So, I hope no-one takes offence, and enjoys these two blogs in the spirit in which I am sure they were intended.

Angry People In Local Newspapers

Dull News In Local Newspapers

Friday, 16 May 2014

WiRE networking: helping women to grow their businesses

Burton-on-Trent WiRE monthly meeting

I really enjoy being part of the national Women In Rural Enterprise organisation - and especially running its Burton network group with Alison Bradley and Lorraine Holden.

Working together we organise 10 network meetings and two social events a year in Burton-on-Trent - always on the second Wednesday of the month, from 7-9pm.

It's a great way for women who are new to running their own business to start networking as the meetings are very friendly, affordable and informal.

You don't have to be a member of WiRE to come along to the meetings - but you do have to be a woman.

We welcome women who are just thinking of starting a full time or part time business as well as those who are employed, self-employed or who do volunteer work.

WiRE is a national not-for-profit organisation run from the Harper Adams Agricultural University in Shropshire - but it's not only for rural businesses such as farmhouse B&Bs. We have a wonderful mix of new businesses, established businesses and professional women attending our meetings each month including solicitors, accountants, HR professionals, photographers, therapists, beauticians, crafters, business coaches, authors and travel agents.

Images by Joanne Cooper Photography
Guest speaker at our May meeting this week was the West Midlands MEP Nikki Sinclaire - who prompted one of the liveliest and most enjoyable question and answer session we've ever had. Thanks to Joanne Cooper Photography who captured some great images for us on the night.

As a WiRE member you do get the chance to visit other network groups around the UK and you sometimes get invited to speak at their meetings. On Monday (May 19), I have been invited to speak at the WiRE network group that meets in Stone, Staffordshire, about creating newsletters that get results for your business. We'll be working through some exercises that will help people set clear objectives for their newsletter, create the content that will help them achieve those goals and market their newsletter effectively. I'll share some of my tips about newsletter-writing in a future blog post.

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about Burton-on-Trent's WiRE network and its future meetings, you can visit our page on the national WiRE website here, or follow us on Facebook

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Local newspapers can still make a difference

It's quite fitting that I started this blog during Local Newspaper Week (May 12-18, 2014), because I had so many great years working at newspapers around the UK.

I had the chance to meet and interview politicians, stage and screen actors, singers and musicians. I worked on major crime stories, business exclusives and was part of the teams covering major events such as the miners' strike, the Kegworth air crash, the Greenham Common peace protests and the Hillsborough disaster. There were also opportunities to try out, and write about, activities such as hot air ballooning, fencing and Jeep racing.

Now, although there's a risk this will sound a bit like the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch, I want to tell you about the first local newspaper office that I worked in. It was a single room without its own loo (we used the hairdresser's upstairs except on Monday when she was closed and we went to the pub, or home). It had one cold water tap sticking out of the wall with a bucket under it (no sink). The two of us who worked there did have a kettle though, and an electric socket, so we could make tea and coffee, wash the mugs in the bucket afterwards and then nip out the front door to pour the used sudsy water down the drain.

There was glamour and excitement too. I travelled to countries including Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Greece through my job, but there were also lengthy council meetings - often running well into the evening after a hard day's work - and days of listening to magistrates ruling on minor offences. But I was always intrigued by studying people, their actions, their lives and their stories and there was plenty of opportunity to get out of the office and unearth fascinating human interest stories. I believe there's no bigger buzz than realising you have found an exclusive - and sitting down to write it for others to share.

Today's local newspapers sell a fraction of the copies they sold 35 years ago because our lifestyles have changed and the way we consume news has been transformed by the internet and social media. The Newspaper Society reminds us this week that there are still 1,100 local newspapers and 1,700 associated websites in the UK.

The number of journalists and photographers employed by local newspapers has shrunk in the last couple of decades, meaning that many of today's reporters spend a lot of time office-bound gathering news via email and phone.

I remain convinced that local newspapers have a unique ability to make a real difference to people's lives. They can achieve great things through campaigning and supporting fundraising for good causes, But at the end of the day they are - and always have been - commercial businesses that need to make a profit - and that always has to motivate their direction and their news agenda decisions too.

But meanwhile, back to those four Yorkshiremen.....

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Five tips on getting good press for your business

The first-ever Love Burton Jelly day - held at the Holiday Inn Express in Burton-on-Trent last week - was a resounding success.

Also known as co-working days, Jelly events see small businesses and freelancers come together with their laptops and work alongside each other. It's also a chance to network over coffee, meet new people and develop ideas for collaborative projects.

Burton businesses at first Jelly event
First Love Burton Jelly day - May 9, 2014
All in all, I think it's a great idea (well, I did suggest it to Ian and Jaz, the founders of #LoveBurton hour on Twitter, so I would, wouldn't I?)

A number of local business owners were invited to run free taster workshops during the day and I led a session about getting good press for your business. So I thought I'd give a flavour of that workshop in this blog post and share five of my favourite tips on the subject.

  • Research the publications you want to target.
  • Whether you are aiming to get coverage in your local newspaper, in a niche magazine or in the trade press, make sure that you read a number of editions to absorb and understand the stories they cover and the way their reporters write. Research the deadlines - magazines may be edited well before they appear in print. Look at their online versions too; it's helpful to know if all the stories that appear in print are used on the web as well.

  • Build a rapport with a named journalist.
  • By reading the publications you want to target you will start to see the bylines of named reporters who may cover stories similar to the one you have to offer; give one of those reporters a call. It won't hurt to tell them you enjoyed a recent article they wrote and ask if you can send them news releases about your business. If you can provide news story ideas to a journalist, in a way that makes their working day just a little bit easier, you are on the way to building a productive business relationship that works for you both.

  • Contact them when you have something worth saying.
  • Don't try the patience of your new friend the journalist by sending them stories that are just free advertising. There needs to be a news angle such as: your business is expanding; you are working with a local school; you are sponsoring a community event; you've developed a new process or product or you've been shortlisted for an award. Every story doesn't have to be a major 400-word news announcement. Publications need smaller news items to fill their pages as well as the big lead stories. Look out for topical stories that you can piggy-back on to create a news story. For example, if you run a dog training business and a new law or by-law is implemented affecting dog owners, your view may make an angle for a news story. Establish yourself as the 'go-to' expert for your industry and sector.

  • Keep it concise.
  • Avoid the temptation to submit masses of information charting every detail of your story and your company history. Some businesses think that they increase the chances of achieving more coverage by submitting a lengthy press release. I believe you'll build a better relationship with your target publication if you keep it concise. Always include all your contact details, company website and any social media channels at the bottom of the press release so they can get hold of you easily if they have a query. Do your research and see the amount of detail they run on similar stories. Most press releases can be adequately covered on one page of a Word document. Most writers will prefer to receive stories and images by email - but ask their preference when you initially make contact.

  • A picture can be worth 1,000 words.
  • Humans are visual creatures and we all know that when we flick through newspapers and magazines our eyes are drawn to images. If you submit a powerful image, and it is used with your story, it will grab more attention than words alone. Studying your target publications will show you the type of images for which they have a preference. If you are holding a conference, or a major event, it may well be worth investing in a professional photographer who can create something more inventive and attractive than a simple line of people.

    Read more here about the Love Burton Jelly launch.

    Monday, 12 May 2014

    Escaping the hard work of writing that awards entry

    When I'm talking to businesses about positive promotion, I often mention that entering awards is a great way to raise your profile.

    The challenge for busy businesses is finding the time to write awards entries. Depending on the format it can mean researching and finding supporting evidence, completing a questionnaire or writing a chunky recommendation. Although I'm often asked to write entries for private and public sector clients, I've not entered any for my own business since setting up Caittom Publishing in 2010.

    Last week I was shocked and delighted to find out that someone had done the hard work for me. I received a call saying I was a finalist for the Touch FM 2014 Pride of Burton Awards in the category of Business Person of the Year.

    I must say that it's flattering to be secretly nominated for an award - and it also means I escaped the graft of carefully choosing the words.

    I'm now looking forward to a great night out at the awards ceremony at Branston Golf and Country Club on Friday June 6 - chiefly because I'll be able to cheer on a host of other local people, businesses, good causes and schools who have contributed to our home town.