The Homegrown Hosting Blog (A Small Orange)

7 Simple Changes You Can Make to Boost Blog Traffic & Build a Loyal Audience

  To build a successful blog that drives actual ROI for your business, you have to do more than just publish new articles each week. Writing fresh, original content week after week is just one piece of the overall strategy that you must implement if you ever want to drive more traffic to your website, build a loyal audience, and ultimately gain new customers. The problem is, driving blog traffic and building a loyal audience isn’t easy. In a lot of cases, it takes a lot of energy, a lot of testing, a lot of patience, and a lot of failures before you’re able to finally crack the code and start seeing actual results. But here’s the good news: You don’t need to make dramatic, sweeping changes to your blog or invest all of your marketing budget into expensive, experimental campaigns in order to move the needle. Oftentimes, you can start on a much smaller, simpler scale and end up getting big results. If you’re looking for a few simple changes you can make to drive more blog traffic and build an engaging, loyal blog audience, consider starting with these 7 suggestions:   1. Use Content Upgrade Offers   With the right content upgrade offer in place, you have the opportunity to capture and engage with what could become some of your most profitable customers and biggest brand advocates. So what is a content upgrade offer? Put plainly, a content upgrade offer is an extra resource you create and give to readers in exchange for their email address. Unlike the standard RSS sign up forms you typically see at the bottom of a blog post or within a sidebar, content upgrade offers live within the meat of a blog post. They’re recognizably different from RSS capture forms because, if done well, they are hyper-relevant to the blog post topic.   Source: How To Create A Social Media Strategy (With 3 Steps And A Template) from the CoSchedule blog   Examples of content upgrade offers can include: Ebooks White papers Worksheets Checklists Slide decks Audio files Industry reports Swipe files Interactive templates   Source: 8-Part Checklist For Creating a Winning Employee Information Form from the When I Work blog   The purpose of content upgrade offers isn’t to trick people into giving you their email address. The purpose is to provide them with free added value—value they can learn from, apply at their jobs or in their daily lives, and value they can forward on to someone else they know. Once you have a person’s email address, your goal should be to nurture them and attempt to move them down your sales funnel. To learn how to build content upgrade offers and incorporate them into your blog post, read this article on content upgrades by Brian Dean of Backlinko. In it, he provides more information to support the effectiveness and value of content upgrade offers, and outlines the step-by-step process for getting started.   2. Perform Keyword Research   Performing keyword research is an essential step in the blog ideation process. When done right, effective keyword research analysis can help you ensure that more people find your blog when searching for answers to their questions in search engines like Google or Bing. The process of performing keyword research is fairly simple: Step 1: Think about what questions, pain points, or topics your potential customers or blog readers are typing into Google (ex. how much does an in-ground pool cost?) Step 2: Make a list of all the topics, pain points, and questions you come up with. Step 3: Use Google Keyword Planner to search for keyword phrases found within your list. Step 4: Identify keyword opportunities that have a high search volume, but low to medium competition. Step 5: Make plans to write a blog post that relates to the keyword phrase you identified, but only write it if you’re confident you can produce a blog post that is more helpful, meatier, and timelier than any other piece of content that already exists online. Reference the keyword phrase organically throughout your blog post, but don’t go overboard.     If you’re unfamiliar with using keyword research to come up with better blog post ideas, there are a lot of resources worth digging into. Here are 3 you can start with today: How to do Keyword Research: A Guide from Moz Keyword Research: The Definitive Guide from Backlinko How to do Keyword Research for Content Marketing by Uberflip   3. Run Social Media Contests   Another great way to drive more traffic to your website and build an audience is by launching a social media contest that can be incorporated into and promoted on your blog. The easiest and most popular type of social media contest you can run on your blog is a giveaway. With this social media giveaways that live on your blog, your goal isn’t just to give a free prize away to a lucky winner—instead, your goal two-fold: To increase exposure and build buzz about your business and products on social media. To attract potential customers and capture their information by giving them the chance to win something they want.   An example of a campaign built through Gleam and hosted by Beardbrand   There are a lot of tools you can use to run giveaway contests on your blog. Here are a few worth checking out: Rafflecopter Gleam ViralSweep One last note worth mentioning: there are rules about how to manage a contest on your blog. Before launching a giveaway, make sure to do your research. To learn about some of the rules, read these posts, then consult a legal professional to make sure you’re covering all your bases: No Purchase Necessary & Giveaways: Everything You Need to Know Social Media Promotions and the Law: What You Need to Know   4. Promote Content Everywhere   It might not surprise you to read that in order to drive more traffic to your website, boost exposure, and build a following, you need to actually be intentional and strategic when it comes to promoting content. This means doing more than simply sharing your new blog posts on Facebook and Twitter. There’s a lot that goes into content promotion, and there are a lot more places and channels than Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn that you could be leveraging when it comes time to share your newest blog content. For example, you should be sharing links to new blog content: In your email signatures In help section articles or FAQ pages In your print marketing collateral On every page of your website using tools like io In forums, Facebook groups, Slack groups, Quora, and other community sites On other blogs as links in guest posts written by you To get serious about content promotion, explore these resources: 50 Promotion Tactics To Include In Your Content Marketing Strategy 17 Advanced Methods for Promoting Your New Piece of Content How Content Promotion Works for Blogs Big and Small When you take the time to intentionally promote every piece of content you create and publish in your blog, it creates for you more opportunities to reach new readers, build more relationships, and convert more people into customers.   5. Test Different Types of Content   In addition to testing different content promotion tactics, you should also be testing different types of content as a way to connect with new readers and build audience loyalty. The days of text-only blog posts are over. To capture the attention of blog readers, you need to present them with information in a variety of ways. Your audience will respond to types of content differently than other blog audiences. The only way to know which types of content perform best on your blog is to test them over time and gauge how your readers respond (do they comment more, do they share more, do they stay on the page longer, etc.). Here are a few ideas for different types of content you can create and incorporate into blog posts: 10X Content – these are epic, meaty blog posts that blow every other resource in existence on the same subject out of the water (see Rand’s post here). Infographics – information, statistics, graphics, and other visuals that all come together to form a compelling story (build them using tools recommended in this Buffer post). Videos – educational videos that summarize information in your blog post or provide additional information that readers can only access by clicking play. User-generated content – stories, photos, videos, and other content from your customers that help other readers understand why they chose to do business with you, and what they’re lives are like now that they’re working with you or using your products (see examples in this HubSpot blog post). Mini-graphics – visuals that summarize points throughout your blog post (quotes, bulleted lists, section headings, etc.). Slidedecks – PowerPoint or SlideShare presentations that readers can flip through to quickly learn more about the topic you’re writing about.   Example of a mini-graphic in a HubSpot blog post   To determine which type of content works best for your audience, make sure to monitor Google Analytics and evaluate the success of each blog post you create.   6. Make Your Blog Beautiful   If your blog is slow, ugly, or hard to read, you’re going to have a hard time getting people to come back more than once. As such, it’s important to take the time to make your blog user-friendly and beautiful. So what makes a blog beautiful? There are a few common characteristics your blog should have. Beautiful blogs use: Responsive design Lots of white space Large font (at least 20 px) Crystal clear graphics and photos Intentional color palette Organized and consistent blog structure (headings, subheadings, bullets, breakout quotes, etc. Tools and tactics that boost loading times and overall speed   An example of a beautifully-designed blog from HelpScout   7: When In Doubt, Focus on Being a Resource   At the end of the day, none of the tactics mentioned so far matter unless you can first focus your energy on making your blog a helpful resource for people to find and visit whenever they need help. Blogging is much different than what it was five and even ten years ago. People aren’t going to your blog to learn about your company and your products (at least not at first). Instead, they’re landing on your blog to find answers and solutions to their problems. They have questions, and it’s up to you to be the one who can answer them. If, every so often, you can just forget about everything else and just focus entirely on being a resource for others, the rest (traffic, exposure, loyalty, customers) is sure to come in time.   What else are you doing to boost blog traffic and build a loyal blog audience? Tell us in the comments below!  

25 Simple Ways to Promote Your Blog Content

Writing a blog post and hitting “Publish” can feel like a big accomplishment, but there’s more work to be done if you want to see a significant return on the content you create. 88% of B2B marketers currently use content marketing as part of their marketing strategy. That means a lot of competition for the attention of your audience, so you’ve got to do something different to get your content out in front. Here’s a look at the 25 most effective methods, both via app and open web, to promote your latest blog post.   1. Twitter Share your content out to Twitter, then schedule additional tweets to go out over the next week. Each one should be unique and provide a different spin on the title. This allows you to A/B test and see which wording works best with your audience. Try to incorporate images into your split testing, as well. “Start slow, collect some data about your audience, and then increase the frequency of your tweets with images over time if you find they’re successful with your followers,” says Brittany Leaning, content strategist for Hubspot.   2. Pinterest You don’t have to have a tangible product to take advantage of this magazine-style visual marketing tool for sharing your content. You just need an image that’s optimized for maximum pin-potential. Take the time to create images that clearly express the value behind your content instead of just pinning a featured image to Pinterest.   3. Facebook Make it a habit to push your content out through all the social channels, especially Facebook. Do a quick status update to your personal and professional networks, to start. If you’re an active member of relevant groups, then share the content link there as well. You can also use paid promotion tools to greatly improve the reach of each piece of content.   4. LinkedIn Share your blog posts to your LinkedIn profile, as well as to any of the groups that you manage or are active in – just remember, share it only where it’s relevant. Be courteous of group rules as well, as some groups have guidelines for content sharing and self-promotion.   5. YouTube & Video Sites Every blog post presents an opportunity to repurpose your content. If possible, turn it into a video. You can make it fast by pulling the most pertinent info, like a powerful tip, and turning it into a 15-30 second video that directs viewers to your site to digest the rest of the content.   6. Instagram Like Pinterest, Instagram doesn’t have to just be about images. You can use this app and clever hashtagging to promote your latest blog content. Post images with a compelling caption, share a snippet, ask a question, or simply direct them back to the newest piece of content. Instagram doesn’t let you insert a link directly into the caption, but you can put your main blog link or site link into your “About” segment.     7. Broad Emails Make use of your subscriber list, and put out a regular newsletter that catches people up on the latest posts from your blog. You can also email your list whenever you put up a new post – just be mindful of frequency so don’t annoy your subscribers.   8. Direct Emails If you mention someone in your blog post, especially an influencer, send them an email and let them know about it. It’s a great way to draw attention to the content, especially if they share it out to their network. “This sometimes works better than just tweeting it at them because it’s more personal and others can’t see that you’ve emailed them,”says Dan Norris, co-founder of WP Curve.   9. Notifier ContentMarketer.io has a tool called Notifier that scans your posts for Twitter users, then composes tweets to let them know they were mentioned in your content. This can encourage those being mentioned to share the content, but it also tags them so their followers can see when your tweet goes live.   10. Digg Digg is a news aggregator with a curated front page, aiming to select stories specifically for an Internet audience, such as science, trending political issues, and viral Internet issues – and it’s also a great place to promote blog content.   11. Reddit Reddit has subreddits in thousands of different niches, so you’re likely to find something relevant to your business or industry. It’s a great way to get targeted exposure – just be aware of link-dropping rules. A lot of communities want people to be active and involved before promoting content.   12. Flipboard Flipboard is a web-based platform with over 80 million users that allows you to turn your blog content into a magazine-style layout. Better yet, it does all the work for you. You can join the ranks of big-name blogs like CopyBlogger that are sharing the best of their content within their niche.     13. Niche Forums There’s always value in being an active member who provides useful content and insight within a niche forum. Once you build a rapport with a community or group, you can start sharing your content, or place a call-to-action within your forum signature to drive traffic to your most relevant posts.   14. Aggregation Sites Sites like AllTop.com and Technorati are content aggregation sites that can add your feed for effortless traffic. Just sign up, submit your link, and watch as organic referral traffic begins to grow.   15. Document Sites Package your blog posts into PDF files and share them on sites like Slideshare and Scribd. If optimized properly, you’ll get additional organic search visibility while also tapping into the huge internal audiences of these sites.   16. Infographics Whether it’s a string of tips or a data-heavy piece of content, turn it into an infographic. They’re easy to digest and just as easy to share. You can then post that content to sites like Visual.ly or Dailyinfographic.com while also pushing it out through your social channels. Neil Patel wrote a terrific post on how to promote Infographics to drive them to viral status.   17. Quuupromote.co Quuu makes it easy to share your articles and blogs to thousands of influencers across a variety of social platforms. It’s a great way to put your content in front of the people most likely to read and share it.   18. Tweet High and Low Retweet your content and mix in tags of lesser-known bloggers along with big names. This is a great way to get retweets from the lesser-known guys, since it’s a big ego boost for them to be mentioned by SMEs. They will want to make sure their audience sees it.   19. Blog Commenting Watch your network for relevant blogs from other influencers in your subject area. If you find an opportunity to leave a comment, then you can work in a link back to your post. Just don’t spam links. Make it a valuable reply.   20. Quora While the Quora user base is more business and academic oriented, this is still a great way to build brand authority by answering questions. When you find questions relevant to your recent blog post, you can reference that post as a means to provide a more detailed answer – and get more traffic back to your content. 21. Vine A Vine is just six seconds of video, but you can use that fraction of time to create a fun, engaging, or entertaining teaser for a blog post. Share that vine out once it’s live with a link back to the blog post. It’s a creative and unique way to stir attention that’s not widely used.   22. Generate Snippets Break your posts down into as many easy-to-digest snippets as possible, then use them to generate a series of social posts that individually link back to your blog content. These snippets can then be scheduled out using a tool like Hootsuite, and you can use custom URLs from a service like Bitly to track conversions.   23. Ask For The Share Search through social channels for people who have shared content similar to yours, and connect with them. Once you’ve introduced yourself, ask them to read and share your content if they enjoyed it.   24. Link From Within Review your analytics and find your most popular archived content that’s relevant to your new post. Add a link to the new content in the old post with a call-to-action to give it a read. Keep all that relevant traffic on your site as long as possible.   25. Submit to Content Communities There are a number of sites that allow you to submit your content to their audience. While the competition for visibility is strong, exceptional content will rise to the top. Check out sites like Triberr and Blog Engage.         What blog promotion methods or tools have brought you the most success? Share in the comments below:        

30 Web Design Inspiration Examples You Need to See Before Building Your Website

For many business owners, the idea of building a website can be an an exciting, yet incredibly daunting task. The overall look and feel of your website matters a great deal because, like a storefront, it’s often the first thing people will see when they come in contact with your business for the very first time. In fact, according to research, once someone lands on your homepage, you really only have 0-10 seconds to compel them to stay to learn more about who you are, what you do, and why they should buy. In order to make a good first impression and prevent visitors from leaving within the first few seconds of landing on your website, you need to ensure that you’re presenting every individual with a compelling experience. To do it, you have to focus on design. Here’s the problem: There are more than a billion websites in existence today with thousands more popping up each and every week, and design trends are constantly evolving. When you’re new to website design, It’s not always easy to know what to focus on or where to go for go for inspiration. To help you get on the right track, we’re sharing 30 web design examples worth exploring before you build a website for your business: Ecommerce Websites If you’re building an ecommerce store, building an effective website is particularly essential to the ultimate growth and success of your business. Without a physical storefront, your website will act as the only way for potential customers to learn about and buy your products. There are a few best practices worth following when designing an ecommerce website: Best Practice #1: Use high-quality visuals. Incorporate large, high-resolution images on your homepage and product pages. Your potential customers want to know with confidence that your products are well-built and align with the descriptions you include with them. Best Practice #2: Go minimal. Leave the bells and whistles out of your plans when designing your ecommerce website. Focus instead on a minimal design that focuses entirely on the product. Remember that more and more online shoppers are using mobile devices to buy products, so keep your website simple and make sure your site is responsive across all devices. Best Practice #3: Sell an experience. Help your website visitors understand how their lives could be different/easier/better if they used your products. Include photography that features your products in real-life situations. Here are 5 ecommerce websites that incorporate the best practices mentioned above: Twelve South – an ecommerce website that sells beautifully simple Apple accessories. Harry’s – an ecommerce website that sells shaving products and monthly grooming subscriptions. Lucy & Co – an ecommerce website that sells luxury dog clothes, collars, toys, and home accessories. Love Your Melon – an ecommerce website that sells U.S. made hats and other apparel. Everlane – an ecommerce website that sells high-end clothing for men and women. SaaS Websites If you’re building a front-facing website to support your software product, speed and usability is key when designing your website. If your SaaS product is brand new, your biggest challenge is going to be building trust and credibility for your brand and product. There are a few best practices worth following when designing a SaaS website: Best Practice #1: Show the product. Your potential customers care about features, but they care more about finding out what your product looks like and how it works. In order to build instant trust, incorporate real images of your product being used throughout your website. Don’t force people to sign up for your product to decide if it’s worth using. Best Practice #2: Make a promise. Incorporate copy into your web design that helps people understand what they’ll ultimately get out of using your product. Think about the biggest benefit your product can offer people, then feature that benefit prominently in your design. Best Practice #3: Let your branding shine. When it comes to designing SaaS websites, it’s easy to look like everyone else. Differentiate from competitors by incorporating key pieces of your brand throughout your website. Use colors, fonts, graphics, and images to help visitors recognize what makes you different from the other guys. Here are 5 SaaS websites that incorporate the best practices mentioned above: When I Work – this SaaS company offers employee scheduling and attendance products to businesses managing hourly employees. Intercom – this SaaS company offers powerful tools that make it easy for other businesses to communicate and develop nurturing relationships with customers. Slack – this SaaS company offers a messaging app that teams can use to communicate and collaborate with one another in real-time. Invision – this SaaS company provides a product that helps development teams and startups create and collaborate on prototypes, mockups, and workflows. Kin HR – this SaaS company provides an HR solution that businesses can use to manage employees and boost back-office productivity. Professional Services / On-Demand Startup Websites If you’re building a professional services business or an on-demand startup, simplicity is going to be your best friend when designing your website. Your ultimate goal is to make it as easy as possible for visitors to quickly understand what it is that you do, and how they can sign up or become a customer. There are a few best practices worth following when designing a professional services or on-demand startup website: Best Practice #1: Incorporate social proof. In order to successfully convert visitors into customers, you need to start building trust with them from the moment they land on your site. The best and easiest way to do it is to incorporate social proof statements or graphics into your design. Examples of social proof include customer testimonials, reviews, partner logos, customer logos, and videos. Best Practice #2: Show the after-effects. If you’re building this type of business, you’re likely solving a big problem for people. As such, it’s important that you use your website as an opportunity to show or tell visitors what their life will be like after they use your service. The easiest way to achieve this is through a combination of headline copy and photos. Best Practice #3: Make your call-to-action (CTA) incredibly clear. A lot of people are likely going to be accessing your website from their mobile devices, so make sure that your CTA buttons and messaging is extremely clear and prominent on your website. To make it stand out, a/b test variations in color, button size, and messaging.   Here are 5 professional service websites that incorporate the best practices mentioned above: TruGreen – this website connects visitors with professionals who can help them with all their lawn care needs. Upcounsel – this website connects visitors with experienced lawyers who can help them with their business needs on an on-demand basis. Zirtual – this website connects visitors with virtual assistants who can help them boost productivity and outsource tedious tasks. Cleanly – this website connects visitors with an on-demand laundry service. Handy – this website connect visitors with home cleaners and handymen whenever they need. Personal Brand Websites If you’re building a personal brand website for yourself, you can’t be shy about featuring yourself prominently throughout your website. It’s the only way you’ll ever be able to successfully differentiate from other influencers in your space or industry. When it comes to building an effective personal brand website, your number one goal should be to tell stories that help you connect with visitors. There are a few best practices worth following when designing a personal brand website: Best Practice #1: Use photography and videography. Feature photos and videos of yourself prominently on your homepage. Remember—you only have one chance to make a first impression. Don’t waste it. Hire a professional photographer or videographer who can help you produce crisp, high-quality photos and videos to incorporate into your design. Best Practice #2: Stand out. This is your opportunity to go all-in on your personal brand. Use photos, graphics, colors, and fonts to help people understand who you are and what you do. Need help? Check out our personal branding guide. Best Practice #3: Make your value instantly known. Don’t assume everyone knows who you are. Make it easy for new visitors to land on your page for the first time and recognize immediately who you are and what you do. The easiest way to achieve this is by including clear navigation, quotes, and headers on your homepage and throughout your website. Here are 5 personal branding websites that incorporate the best practices mentioned above: Gary Vaynerchuk – Gary Vaynerchuk is an entrepreneur, marketer, speaker, and author. Seth Godin – Seth Godin is a New York Times bestselling author and blogger. The Scott Brothers – the Scott Brothers are real estate influencers, authors, and TV personalities. Gordon Ramsay – Gordon Ramsay is a celebrity chef, entrepreneur, and cookbook author. Barbara Corcoran – Barbara Corcoran is a real estate mogul, entrepreneur, and celebrity investor. Nonprofit Websites If you’re building a nonprofit business, your website is essentially your best tool for educating the community, telling stories, and encouraging people to support your cause. Like other categories included in this post, one of your biggest challenges when launching is going to be building trust right away. With more and more news stories coming out about fraud and online giving, it’s imperative that you position yourself as a credible organization worth supporting. There are a few best practices worth following when designing a nonprofit organization website: Best Practice #1: Make a big statement. In order to grab the attention of visitors right when they land on your website, you need to make a big statement. This is most effective when done in the main headline on your homepage, or in supporting headlines throughout your homepage and the rest of your website. Help people understand the scope of the problem, what you’re doing about it, and how they can help. Best Practice #2: Make education and giving the focus. If people land on your website, chances are it’s because they either want to learn more about the cause you’re supporting, or because they’ve already decided that they want to donate money. Make it easy for them to do both by featuring educational content and donate CTAs throughout your website. Best Practice #3: Use real pictures. Avoid using stock photography at all costs. In order to build trust, you need to use real pictures—your visitors will be able to tell the difference. Real photography will help you tell a compelling story and convince visitors of the need that exists. Here are 5 nonprofit websites that incorporate the best practices mentioned above: World Wildlife Fund – this organization supports conservation initiatives around the world. Volunteers of America – this organization connects volunteers with vulnerable human beings in cities across the country. ONE – this organization aims to fight global poverty and other issues that contribute to or exist as a result of extreme poverty. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – this organization supports global health and global development initiatives. LIVESTRONG – this organization supports cancer research and healthcare initiatives. Information Product Websites If you’re building an informational product website, you’re ultimate goal should be to convince people to convert and buy your product. To be successful, you have to be incredibly strategic and intentional when it comes to positioning yourself as an expert, sharing your story, and incorporating clear CTA buttons and messaging throughout your website. There are a few best practices worth following when designing an informational product website: Best Practice #1: Keep it simple. Most informational product websites are one-page websites that can be quickly scanned by visitors. Don’t get too complicated with your design. If you can, keep your visitors on one page and move them down toward your CTAs. Best Practice #2: Use a lot of (strategic) copy. These websites tend to be pretty heavy on the copy, but recognize the difference between conversion-driven messaging and fluff. Remember: your goal is to sell people on the value you can provide to them. Be authentic and helpful in the copy you include in your website design. Give visitors a taste of what they can expect if they were to subscribe to what you’re offering. Best Practice #3: Help people understand what to do. Don’t be mysterious. Make it obvious who you are, what you do, what you’re selling, and the benefit of buying. Use testimonials, headings, bulleted lists, and breakout quotes to make it easy for visitors to quickly scan and understand what they should do after they land on your website. Here are 5 informational product websites that incorporate the best practices mentioned above: The 4-Hour Workweek – this website offers visitors content that can help them boost productivity, make more money, and spend less time working. Smart Passive Income – this website offers visitors content that can help them understand how to launch and grow a successful online business. Make Your First Dollar – this website offers visitors content that can help them understand how to make an extra $1,000 every month. Authority by Nathan Barry – this website provides visitors with content that can help them understand how to successfully write and launch a revenue-generating ebook. I Will Teach You To Be Rich – this website offers visitors content that can help them understand how to make more money and live happier, more fulfilling lives. Ready to build your website? Click here to get started.

15+ Fantastic Internet Business Ideas for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

  Everyone wants a satisfying career that affords them a high quality of life. That’s why online businesses are so attractive. You can work from anywhere, easily scale, and watch the money roll in. Yep, it’s easier than ever to make money on the internet. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to build a sustainable business. No matter what type of business you decide to start, you have to dive headfirst into the industry. Being an entrepreneur is a challenging rollercoaster ride. It’s not for the faint of heart. You won’t have the stability provided by a traditional 9-5, but you will gain a ton of freedom. If you’re set on building an internet business, you’re in luck. We’re sharing 15+ fantastic internet business ideas for inspiring entrepreneurs.   No matter the business, do it right   No matter what type of business you choose to start, make sure you dive in and do it right. There are no shortcuts on the way to online success! Make sure to: Connect with others who are running the same kind of business Choose a business because it jives with your skillset, not just because you think it’s exciting Understand that it can take a while for an internet business to get off the ground. Results won’t come overnight   1. Sell gorgeous goods on Etsy   Etsy’s marketplace connects artisans and shop owners with customers who care about quality products. Almost all of the merchandise on Etsy is vintage or handmade. The site is home to more than a million sellers from all over the world. In order to thrive as an internet entrepreneur on Etsy, you have to sell products that people actually want. If you’re artistic yourself, you can sell handmade jewelry or printed greeting cards. You can also partner with an artist or local shop and help them market their goods using the site. Costs associated On Etsy, you’ll have to pay a listing fee, a transaction fee, and a payment processing fee. It costs $0.20 to publish a listing to the marketplace, and when an item sells you’ll pay a 3.5% transaction fee. These fees are minimal compared to other sites, and you can think of them as part of your marketing budget. 2. Become a freelance writer   Look around the internet. There’s writing everywhere. Companies hire freelance writers for all kinds of tasks. If you’re a good writer with some industry expertise, you can make a career out of freelance writing. To start, you can use sites like Upwork, Skyword, and Contently. FreshBooks compiled a list of 71 great websites to find freelance writing jobs. Most freelance writing businesses are run through referrals from clients, so eventually you can build a business where clients are coming to you. Note that not everyone is equipped to start a freelance writing business. You have to be a very good writer, and be able to write relatively quickly, for business to take off. Costs associated Most freelance platforms, such as Upwork, charge processing fees, as do invoicing services like FreshBooks and Wave. Successful freelancers have their own websites, so they’ll have to pay costs associated with hosting. 3. Be a virtual assistant   Virtual assistants are just like regular assistants, only they help people out over a computer. Some VAs are generalists, while others specialize in a certain industry or field, such as event planning, scheduling, or travel booking. Many virtual assistant agencies are popping up, and are looking for people like you to staff them. Others, like Kiri Mohan, Founder of DependableVA.com are starting their own virtual assistant businesses. If you’re looking to become a virtual assistant, check out Zirtual and the virtual assistant listings on Upwork. The best virtual assistants are tech savvy and well-organized. Costs associated: Costs are minimal, but the platform you’re working for will take a cut. 4. Build an online store   You can sell wares using a site like Amazon, Etsy, or Ebay but if you use one of these third-party platforms, you won’t have nearly as much control. If the third-party site changes how they operate, your business could be in jeopardy. That’s why many online entrepreneurs are creating eCommerce shops of their own. They sell handmade goods, imported items, t-shirts, temporary tattoos, specialty office supplies, and virtually anything else you can think of. You don’t need to be a professional web developer to create an online store. Tools like Weebly make it easy to build an online store to showcase your goods. Costs associated: Weebly plans start at $11 per month. 5. Self-publish eBooks   Many writers are bypassing traditional publishers and self-publishing their own books. Many authors have become extremely famous and wealthy from their eBooks. For example, Andy Stein, author of the bestseller The Martian, which has seen been made into a film, self-published the book before it was picked up by Crown Publishing. Much like being a freelance writer, the eBook entrepreneurship strategy won’t work unless you’re a killer writer who can not only write a great story, but also market yourself. Costs associated: The biggest cost associated with writing eBooks is your own time. It can take a long time to write an eBook, and even when you’ve finished, that eBook might not generate much profit. 6. Create and sell an online course   Those wanting to incur passive income should consider creating and selling an online course. The key to success with this strategy is to create a course on something you’re an absolute expert in. The course does not have to be business-related– it can be about how to make earrings, how to get work as an American in France, or how to become an online entrepreneur. Teachable makes it easy to create and sell your own course. Using Teachable, you can build a beautiful course website and control your branding, student data, and pricing all from one place. Costs associated: You can build a course with Teachable for free, but will pay transaction fees for paid courses. Teachable has more robust plans starting at $39 per month. 7. Handle random tasks   Become a professional jack-of-all-trades, and handle whatever random tasks come your way. You can sign up for work on sites like Amazon Mechanical Turk, Fiverr, and Upwork to see what tasks are available. You could get hired to do data entry, research, or a number of other one-off tasks that people– and companies– need done. Being an online entrepreneur who handles random tasks isn’t particularly glamorous, but it can offer a flexible schedule, and a fair amount of control. Costs associated: It’s free to create profiles on these websites, and you won’t pay anything to apply for different jobs. You may pay transaction fees when it’s time to get paid. 8. Work as a freelance web designer   Freelance web developers and designers can make well into six figures, provided they’re good at what they do. Companies around the world need top notch designers to help with marketing assets, new websites, and a host of other design materials. If you’re good with computers, have an artistic bend, and have any experience in Adobe Photoshop, you might consider work as a freelance web designer. When it comes to web design, you need more than a good eye. You need to be able to code, and you also need experience. If you want to take this path, you should take a course in web design or development. Udemy offers a course called “Web Design From The Ground Up” which is highly reviewed by students who have participated. Costs associated: There aren’t many costs associated with web development, though it costs $50 for the Udemy course, and much more for other high quality courses. 9. Become a life coach People need help with various areas of their lives. The internet has made people feel disconnected, and many are seeking happiness and a new start. Life coaches help people through tough times. A life coach is sort of like a therapist without the formal training. Costs associated: Web hosting, and any training you seek on becoming a coach. 10. Become a business coach   A business coach is much like a life coach, except they specialize in business. Often business coaches lead online courses and workshops, but others go directly into companies in their area to offer guidance to executive teams. If you want to be an internet business coach, you should: Narrow down a niche based on your expertise (a general business coach isn’t particularly compelling) Decide what services you’re going to offer (online workshops, in-person coaching) Figure out who you’re going to market to (executives, entry-level employees) Costs associated: Web hosting, and any training you seek on becoming a coach. 11. Specialize in an area of online marketing If you want to be an internet entrepreneur, you might consider doing a deep dive into an area of online marketing. Businesses of all sizes hire people to manage Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns, paid advertising, social media, search marketing, and content marketing. You can become well-versed in one area, and market your specialty. In order to be successful, you should make sure that whatever you offer is something businesses need. It helps to get an in-house job in a certain area to train yourself. After working for a while, you can cut bait and freelance your way to the top. Costs associated: Any courses you take to learn about a given area of marketing 12. Check out affiliate marketing   In affiliate marketing, you own commission by promoting other people’s products. Essentially, you act as a salesperson. When someone buys something through you, you get a referral fee. You have to promote a number of companies to be successful with this type of business, and you must be an extremely talented salesperson and marketer yourself. Affiliate marketing works best if you’re able to build your own audience, let’s say through a blog, and then promote products to them. Costs associated: Web hosting 13. Start a podcast   Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular. People are listening to them on the way to work, while traveling, and before they go to bed every night. Podcasts are often sponsored by companies who want to advertise. If your podcast gains traction, you can start asking relevant companies to sponsor you. In this way, you can build a business around your podcast. Just like anything else, you have to create a podcast that people want to listen to. Not only will you need to invest in high quality equipment, but you’ll also need to think carefully about what stories you’re going to tell, and what topics you’re going to focus on. Costs associated: Equipment costs (see this blog by Pat Flynn to get started) 14. Write resumes and cover letters   If you have good communication and career skills, you may have a future as an internet entrepreneur who offers support writing resumes and cover letters. At one time or another, nearly everyone seeks to find a new job. But not everyone is particularly savvy when it comes to writing documents to help them get the job. Because of this, many people are willing to pay upwards of $100 for help with these tasks. Costs associated: Web hosting 15. Use existing talents to freelance   If you already have a degree, don’t throw it away to become an online entrepreneur. You can actually use whatever expertise and talent you already have, and sell them online. Many internet entrepreneurs are professionals who’ve gone freelance. These people specialize in: Medicine/healthcare Law Accounting Photography Writing Web design Costs associated: Web hosting 16. Work as a translator   Parlez-vous francais? If you speak another language, you may be able to find work as an online translator. Businesses around the world need translators, as do individuals. Certain languages are particularly attractive to American businesses, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. If you set up a website, and search sites like Upwork for client, you may be well on your way to becoming a career translator. Costs associated: Web hosting Ready to buy a domain and hosting for your website? Set everything up today using A Small Orange. Use promo code entrepreneur20 to redeem a special offer available only to readers of this blog post!

The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Personal Brand

Building a strong personal brand might be the most important thing you can do for your career. If you work for yourself, having the backing of a personal brand can help land you bigger clients, award you more choice and flexibility in your career, and allow you to demand more money for your time. If you’re employed, the benefits are similar – you’ll be able to ask for higher salaries and better contract terms and you’ll be able to take your pick of employers and roles. But perhaps more significant is this: You can’t really avoid having a brand. If you use the internet – if you have accounts on social media sites or industry forums – you already have a brand, whether or not you intentionally do anything with it. 60% of employers use social media to dig up the dirt on candidates. I don’t doubt most of them research people and companies ahead of forming business relationships, too. So could a poor personal brand be hurting you? Whatever the current state of your personal brand, taking control of it offers untold benefits. I daresay it could change your life. It’s certainly changed mine. Intrigued? Read on for the ultimate, eight-step guide to building your personal brand, in which we will cover: Designing a brand Understanding what a brand is Defining your values Establishing your USP Deciding what you want to achieve Pinpointing your brand’s key traits   The practical stuff Designing a website Setting up an email address Getting professional photos taken Setting up social profiles   Writing your brand story Brainstorming Writing your story Examples from other brands What to do with your story Developing your story   Blogging Setting up a blog What to write about Coming up with ideas Maximizing the ROI of your blog Promoting your content Repurposing your content Guest blogging   Social media The pros and cons of the most popular platforms   Building relationships Deciding who to build relationships with Ways and places to engage people   Leveraging relationships Ways to leverage relationships How to ask for help   Brand management Tracking mentions of your brand Distinguishing yourself from your namesakes Pushing the competition out of the search results How to handle bad press   But first, let’s look at how a personal brand can help supercharge your career with some examples of influencers who have been there, gotten the T-shirt, and reaped the rewards of an awesome personal brand. Serial entrepreneur Chris Ducker founded both Virtual Staff Finder and Youpreneur. He’s also a writer and keynote speaker who helps people work “the new way.” www.chrisducker.com Ex pro-footballer Lewis Howes built his career from nothing and now spends his time inspiring and coaching others to do the same. www.lewishowes.com Nathalie Lussier is a digital strategist who made her first website at age 12. As a graduate, she turned down a job offer from a Wall Street firm to become self-employed, and has since become an author, keynote speaker, and award-winning entrepreneur. www.nathalielussier.com Founder of the now-defunct Yoyodyne and Squidoo, Seth Godin is best known for his books (18 of them, to be precise) and his blog (reportedly one of the most popular in the world). In 2013, he was inducted into the Digital Marketing Hall of Fame. www.sethgodin.com Let’s mix this up with someone completely unrelated to my own field: TV chef Jamie Oliver. His personal brand, rather than his skill in the kitchen, is the reason behind his incredible success – his USP being the fact that he’s a family man who wants to change the way we eat for the better. www.jamieoliver.com Kristi Hines is a freelance writer specializing in marketing. She’s arguably the best-known freelancer in the industry and has built that reputation on her skills and qualifications, and most importantly – on knowing how to market herself. www.kristihines.com Callie Schweitzer is an award-winning journalist and Editorial Director for Time. She was featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Media in 2012 and 2013. Also in 2013, she was named one of the Most Important Women in Tech Under 30 by Business Insider. www.callieschweitzer.com Social media expert and influencer Laura Roeder is responsible for social tool Meet Edgar and also heads up her own social agency, LKR Social Media. Bangladeshi-born Rafi Chowdhury has founded multiple companies, including My Campus Hacks and Chowdhury’s Digital. His personal brand helps him to attract big clients, as he works to grow their businesses. www.rafichowdhury.com Through a series of online training programs, a digital TV show, and a book, Marie Forleo helps people “dream big and back it up with meaningful action to create results.” www.marieforleo.com Moz founder Rand Fishkin has to be the biggest name in SEO. That happened not because of his knowledge and skills (which are awesome, btw) but because of the brand he’s built around himself. www.moz.com/rand Feeling inspired? Great! Let’s get started. Step 1: Designing a Brand A brand isn’t a logo, color scheme, or a font. It isn’t your tone of voice or how you describe yourself. A brand is how others see you. It’s the emotional response people have upon coming into contact with your company – or in this case, you. What I’m getting at here is that you can’t control your brand, but everything you say, do, and create will influence it. This means the first step in building your personal brand is to create your vision for how you see yourself and your brand. Ask yourself: In an ideal world, how do I want others to see me? What are your values? Our values define who we are. They are rooted in the very core of our personalities. Great relationships are built not on shared circumstances, but on shared values. They come as naturally to us as breathing, but unfortunately, the innate nature of “values” means few of us really think about what ours are. Well, now it’s time to figure yours out. This is because values don’t just define people – they define brands, too. Your own values will define everything else you do to create and build your personal brand. It’s absolutely critical that you understand what yours are. What’s your USP? Many of the most successful brands are the ones that are a little bit different. They have something unique about them that makes them stand out from the competition. Take Apple. It wasn’t the first company to manufacturer MP3 Players or smartphones. Far from it. Released in 1999, the RCA Lyra RD2201A pictured above was a small, well-built device that could store 32MB of music. In 2000, Creative Labs launched the Nomad Jukebox (pictured below). It boasted an impressive storage capacity for the time (6GB) but was huge – the size of a portable CD player – and required 4 AA batteries to run. When the iPod came along, it entered a market saturated with competition, yet it very quickly dominated it. This was because the product boasted a number of game-changing USPs, not least of which was its sleek, attractive, and intuitive interface. Apple succeeded not because it brought a new product to market, but rather because it took a popular concept and redesigned it. The result was a product that stood out against the competition – in a very, very good way. Of course, you’re not expected to design revolutionary technology in order to give your personal brand a USP. The Apple example is simply to illustrate how important USPs are to a brand. Your USP will, most likely, be much more personal. My USP is my love of adrenalin sports, but more importantly it’s what that represents – my adventurous nature. I live for the moment and with no regrets (I proposed to my wife Amy less than two weeks after meeting her, and 11 years later, couldn’t be happier). This is what defines my personal brand. What do you want to achieve? Why do you want to build your personal brand? What do you want to achieve from it? It’s important to set clear goals for your brand. This will help determine the path you’re going to follow, the steps you take right now, and what you do in the future. I’ve mapped out specifically where I want to be in the next year, five years, and ten years. Whether I get to exactly where I want to be is irrelevant. The important thing is that deciding what I want from my life, career, and personal brand gives me direction. What I’ve done – and what I’d encourage you to do – is to print out your goals and stick them somewhere prominent. The more you’re reminded of what you’re striving to achieve, the greater the chances you will achieve it. What key traits do you want to define your brand? Think about a successful brand. You don’t have to be a customer of that brand or even like them – you just have to be familiar with them. Next, try to describe that brand in three words or phrases. For instance, I might describe McDonald’s as “quick,” “reliable,” and “affordable.” Apple could be “innovative,” “quality,” and “aspirational.” Innocent might be “cute,” “quirky,” and “nutritious.” Can you guess where I’m going with this? You’re going to do the same for your personal brand. I’d probably describe my brand as “adventurous,” “dedicated,” and “approachable.” I can’t guarantee that’s how others see me, but that’s how I aim to come across. If you’re struggling to describe yourself, ask people close to you to describe you in three words. Just remember that while your inherent traits should influence your personal brand, this is how you want to be seen – not necessarily how people currently see you. It’s okay to want to change yourself. Dream big. When you’re happy with the traits you want to define your brand, print them out (again) and stick them where you can’t escape them. These traits should influence everything you do from this point forward. More resources Define Your Personal Core Values in Five Easy Steps 5 Tips to Establishing Your USP How to Set Goals to Enhance Your Personal Brand Step 2: The Practical Stuff There’s a lot more to building a personal brand than defining yourself and setting goals and aspirations. A lot of practical work goes into the process, too. Let’s talk about that for a minute – specifically, building a website, claiming an email address, getting photos taken, and setting up your social profiles. Getting a website built If you want to build your personal brand you need a website. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the most important tool at your disposal. Think of it like a digital resume. You wouldn’t expect a potential employer to take you seriously without a list of your skills, qualifications, and experience, would you? Your website serves a similar purpose – you’re just putting it in front of a much bigger audience. The first step is to choose and secure your domain name. Since this is your personal brand, it makes sense for your domain name to be your name (although it doesn’t have to be). You can check the availability of your name using sites like GoDaddy or Instant Domain Search. If your name has already been registered by somebody else, you’ll be shown a list of alternatives (this is the time when those people who have been blessed with more “unusual” names can say thanks to Mom and Dad). As you can see in the image below, Instant Domain Search confirms sujanpatel.com is taken, but I could choose from a host of alternatives like sujanpatel.net or sujanpatel.org. I could also make an offer to the owner of sujanpatel.com, but since that’s me, I’ll pass. Once you find a domain you’re happy with, grab it quick (you never know who else might have their eye on it). If your preferred domain is already linked to somebody else, you might want to make them an offer – they may say no, or they might ask for more than you can afford, but it can’t hurt to ask. Next, it’s time to create a slick-looking website that showcases your skills and presents you as an authority in your industry (even if that’s not quite true – yet). Here’s some good news: building a website is easy. You don’t even need to know how to code. Sure, if we’re talking about a large-scale Ecommerce site, you should probably enlist the help of some pros. But this is a site for your personal brand. It’s going to be two or three pages when you launch. All you need are the right tools to get it off the ground. WordPress is the obvious choice here. It’s the most popular CMS in the world and is – pretty much – infinitely customizable. Begin by purchasing a hosting plan. You will need this to be able to install and use WordPress. Look for something affordable, reputable, and easy to use. You don’t need an all-singing, all-dancing super-high bandwidth plan. My top recommendation is A Small Orange. Their “startup” plans are $20 a month.They also offer shared hosting plans which are ideal for small websites and are just $5 a month. Once your signup is complete, you can install WordPress directly from your hosting account’s control panel. Picking a theme While WordPress users can choose from tons of free themes, paid themes tend be more unique, secure, and offer far better support for their users. Either hire a designer to create you a custom theme or buy a semi-customizable theme from a site like themeforest. Claiming an email address If you want to look professional (and you do), avoid using email addresses that end in @gmail.com and other third-party domains. There’s a level of trust and credibility that comes with having a professional, branded email, so it’s important to take the time to set one up. All domain registration services should give you this option during checkout. But, before you do this, find out who the email provider is. This might affect the cost, security, and service you can expect. Alternatively, you can create a professional email using Google Apps for Work. It’s worth noting that most email providers will allow you to access and manage your emails using Gmail – so long as they support POP3. You can read about how to set this up here. Getting professional photos taken It should go without saying that you can’t build a personal brand without photos. There are photos of me all over my website, and if you follow me on Facebook, tons more. Photos let us put a face to a name. They help bring your brand to life; to humanize it. Without them, how can you expect people to relate to you, to trust who you are, and what you say? The short answer is: you can’t. Without photos you could be anyone. So don’t be camera-shy. At the same time, don’t use any old photos. The photos you post online are going to affect how people see you. If you look tired and disheveled in them, you’re probably going to be perceived as lazy. If you look miserable, people will assume you’re always miserable. Think back to the three traits you want to define your brand. The photos you share online – whether on your website or on social media – should reflect these traits. In general, it’s a good idea to get a few professional shots taken, like these: You’ll see these in a few places on my website. I’m also currently using them as my profile pictures on LinkedIn, Twitter, and my company Facebook page. A good photographer should ask you what sort of image you want to portray and work with you to communicate that in your photos. Best of all, professional headshots should only cost around $100-200 dollars. Ask local connections for references or check Yelp to find a good photographer for a good price. If you can’t afford to hire a pro photographer, here are a few tips to help you take great professional-esque headshots. Setting up social profiles Social media is going to play a huge part in your brand-building efforts. We’ll talk more about that later, but for now we’re just going to cover some best practices for setting up your social profiles. Your name and username If your name is available, grab it. I was lucky – since I joined Twitter pretty early (2009), I was able to get @sujanpatel, which also becomes the URL for my profile. You might have noticed that the URL of my company Facebook feels a little out of place: facebook.com/sujan.uplift. That’s because when I first started out I planned to build my consulting business under the name “Uplift”, but it turned out there were too many companies using that name so I had to go in another direction. Unfortunately by then I was stuck with the URL. Lesson learned: be sure about the names you want associated with your brand before you go around creating digital footprints that you can’t change. You should also, as much as possible, aim for consistency. If you can’t claim your actual name on a social site, choose a unique alternative. Use that alternative anytime your real name has been snapped up by someone else. Your profile pic Similar rules apply here to what we’ve already discussed about getting professional shots taken. The photo you use in your social profiles should be professional, high-quality, and reflect how you want your brand to be seen. Ideally, choose a head or head and shoulders shot – your face should be crystal clear. This is not the place to use holiday photos or full body shots. And again, aim for consistency. You should be instantly recognizable across all your social profiles, so it’s important that all profiles feature the same shot, or at least shots from the same shoot (which is the approach I’ve taken). Your bio This is where it’s okay – advisable, in fact – to mix up the content that appears on your social profiles. In some cases, it’s unavoidable. Take Twitter, for example. You need to describe yourself in just 160 characters. That’s not easy (especially for a guy like me who generally has a lot to say!) The best advice I can give for writing a Twitter bio is to pick out your most important attributes and not worry about the rest. Alternatively, you could create a little mystery by saying almost nothing about yourself, aka Barry Schwartz “Search Geek.”   On Facebook, you’ll need to write a short description (155 characters) and a long bio (I can’t find the character limit for this – if anyone knows, let me know and I’ll update). LinkedIn asks for a “headline” (120 characters) and a “summary” (2000 characters). You’ve got more room to maneuver here, but that doesn’t mean you should keep talking just because you can. Think of your bios as elevator pitches. You want to tell people enough about yourself to spark intrigue and get them wanting more. You should also include a few keywords if possible, since they can help your bios be found both in on-site searches and search engines. Your background Not all sites will allow you to add custom backgrounds – such as LinkedIn, for instance – but when the option’s available, use it. This is your chance to be a little more creative with how you present your brand. Your profile pic should show a clear image of your face. You background (aka cover photo) doesn’t have to. On Twitter I’ve chosen to use one of my favorite shots of me – this one where I’m mid-skydive and half terrified, half utterly elated: I chose it because it shows that I don’t just talk about being adventurous – it helps illustrate that my whole life really is an adventure. It also helps humanize me and demonstrates that I have interests outside the internet. Best of all, it gets me a few compliments and is a great conversation starter. Utilize this space to show another side of you and your personal brand. Your privacy settings Last but not least, always check the privacy settings of any site you sign up on. It’s important that you make sure you’re only sharing the information you want to, with the people you want to see it. More resources WordPress How-To for Beginners 5 Reasons to Brand Your Email Tips From a Pro: Peter Hurley on High-End Headshot Photography How to Set up Facebook, Twitter, and Every Other Major Social Media Profile Step 3: Writing a Great Brand Story Everybody has a story. To build your personal brand, you just need to be able to tell yours. This is primarily because the modern consumer values authenticity. We’re choosing to shun the corporate giant in favor of independents we can relate to. We want to buy from brands that share our ethics and have a sense of social responsibility, but that also have real stories to tell – not tall tales dreamt up in boardrooms. A personal brand is no different. You need a mechanism that allows your audience to relate to you. That’s your story. So where do you start? Begin by brainstorming facts about yourself and your life – facts about both your personal life and your career. Think about things like: How you got to where you are today. Your greatest achievements. Your biggest failures (and how you got past them). What inspires you? What are your biggest passions in life? What do you hope the future will bring – what are your goals? What makes you different? When you’ve noted everything you can think of, it’s time to weave the best bits into a story. How easy you will find this depends on your natural abilities as a writer. Some people find it easier than others. But don’t let difficulties in this area hold you back. If you’re struggling, ask for help. There’s no shame in getting someone to craft your story for you (you don’t think celebrities write their own autobiographies, do you?) Alternatively, you might just want to hire a proofreader to check it over and iron out any rough edges. The important thing is that your story is engaging and that it lets your personality shine through. Not only do those things make a story far more entertaining to read, but they make it feel more authentic. Take the walmart.com story. The opening quote isn’t so bad, but the rest…. “We feature a great selection of high-quality merchandise.” “Our headquarters is on the San Francisco Peninsula near Silicon Valley.” “We think of ourselves, first and foremost, as a retailer.” That might all be true, but it’s generic and it’s boring. It doesn’t make me warm to Walmart and it certainly doesn’t make me want to know more. Of course, writing a story for one of the world’s largest brands is going to be pretty different than writing a personal brand story, but the same rules apply – and it’s not like massive brands haven’t pulled off the art of telling an amazing story. Take The Lego Movie, which is arguably the best example of brand storytelling of all time. Okay, so you might argue that storytelling comes easier to a toy manufacturer than a supermarket, and I’d say… you’re right. But what about “Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes”? The fact is, there’s a story in all of us. We just have to find it, extract it, and tell it in a manner that engages the reader. You also need to bear in mind who this story’s for, and who it’s about. Because it’s not about you. Sure, it’s your story. But you’re not telling it to yourself, or for yourself. Your story is for your readers. For your connections. For your customers and potential customers. To get an idea of what a great personal brand story entails, take a look at how your industry’s biggest influencers are telling theirs. To get you started, here are a few great stories from some big names in digital… Guy Kawasaki Missy Ward Rand Fishkin What to do with your story The most natural place for your story to be is – in most cases – on your “About” page. You can accompany it with testimonials or examples of your work, or these can sit on a separate page – that’s up to you. The important bit is that the story is positioned somewhere it can be found easily. Beyond that, you can – and should – use your story elsewhere in your online activities. Don’t republish it word-for-word – you don’t want to create duplicate content issues for yourself. Instead, use elements of your story (reworded, of course) to help you write social media profiles or bios for guest posts. Use it in videos or reference it in interviews. Think about it when you post social media updates. Leverage it when networking. Your story helps paint the picture your audience will have of you. It should play a part in pretty much everything you do. Developing your story Your story didn’t end when you hit publish. It really only just began. Think of your story as an open-ended book that you keep adding to. From time to time, you’re going to need to update the story that sits on your “About” page. Outside of that, you’re going to be developing your story all the time. “The great thing about a story is that it lives on. Real stories keep on telling, keep on going, and keep on connecting with people. Keep your story alive by continuing to impress your customers and give them the best experience possible.” – Neil Patel, for Kissmetrics Each time you tell a part of your story, that story might change a little bit. That’s fine. That’s good. Let your story grow with your brand. More resources 15 Storytelling Techniques for an Amazing Brand Story How to Create an Authentic Brand Story that Actually Improves Trust 24 Examples of Storytelling in Marketing Step 4: Blogging A blog plays an integral part in building a personal brand. It’s where you get to showcase your expertise and it provides material that can drive traffic to your site and be used to push yourself on social media. If you want to be respected within your industry – to be known as an authority or an influencer – then you need a platform that can showcase why you deserve to be known as those things. There’s no better platform for this than a blog. If you’re a regular to this site, you’ll know that I do a lot of it (blogging, that is), both on my own blog and in guest posts. I have no doubt it’s played a huge part in getting me to where I am today. And it’s not just me. Groove spends around $1,657.25 on each of its blog posts. That might sound like a lot, but it nets the company blog subscribers and trial users and has been integral to the growth of its brand on social media. CEO Alex Turnbull said, “The blog has helped us take advantage of numerous – and big – business opportunities, none of which would have been available to us otherwise.” If you’d rather talk cold, hard cash, The Sales Lion stated that its blog is responsible for 2 million dollars in sales. Yann Girard has landed speaking spots and events, connected with tons of awesome people, and has been inundated with job offers – all on account of his blog. Setting up a blog This is the easy part. Chances are you overcame this hurdle when you were setting up your site. If not, and you’re using WordPress, all you need to do to set up your blog is post something. To do that, just select “Posts” from your dashboard instead of “Pages.” As soon as you hit “Publish,” your blog will be launched. What to write about Naturally, the primary subject matter of your blog is going to be your area of expertise. More importantly, it should be about what interests your audience. Remember that while this brand is your personal brand, it’s not really about you. It’s about your audience. Focus on what they want to learn and read about. We’ll talk about how to find that out very shortly. Of course, since it’s a personal blog, you might want to interject every so often with a post that’s a little more about you than what you do. Take Rand’s blog. It’s as much about his thoughts, opinions, and personal escapades as it is about his professional life. It’s a fine balance, which works – for him. It’s worth remembering that Rand has the kind of celebrity profile that means people want to know about him on a personal level. If you do too much of that, too soon, you risk coming across as more “self-indulgent narcissist” than “industry-expert.” In short: tread carefully. You also need to watch what you say. Keep controversial opinions to yourself and avoid ranting and raving. When you’re beginning to build your personal brand, it’s critical that people respect you for what you know. In most cases, your knowledge should be at the forefront of what you write about. That said, posts that showcase your knowledge – that are designed to share information and educate – work better when backed up by personal experience. I do this a lot. You’ll probably have noticed it in this piece once or twice already. I make a point of writing educational posts that are driven by my own experiences, too – posts like “The Disneyland Effect” and “How I Generated 513 Leads to My Startup By Commenting On Blogs”. Want to know something really interesting? Posts that are based upon my personal experiences – such as the examples above – tend to drive the most interaction from my readers. But bear the subject of these posts in mind. My life and experiences form the basis of them, sure, but they’re not really about me – they’re about my readers, and how they can achieve success by taking similar steps. Creative brainfreeze If you’re struggling to come up with topic ideas, don’t panic – there are plenty of things you can do (trust me, I’ve been there). These tools will also help you identify what your audience is talking about and what they want to find out and learn. Long-tail keyword tools like Ubersuggest and Answer the Public show you what people are actually searching for, and the questions they are asking, based on the keywords you input. For example, let’s say I want to find out what people are asking about how to build a brand. I might go to Answer the Public and search for “building a brand.” The results bring up tons of potential topics – just be sure to check out both the “Questions”: …and “prepositions.” I might also then broaden my search by simply searching for “brand.” Buzzsumo lets you search for a topic and will show you the best-performing content around it. You can narrow your search to look at specific types of content, or certain time-frames. Buzzsumo is also an excellent tool for gauging how popular a topic is likely to be. For accurate results, search Google for your topic of choice and run the URLs of the top relevant results through Buzzsumo. Content that’s getting shared is a good indicator of that subject’s potential – however, bear the source of the article in mind. Big sites naturally get more shares – even when the subject matter or quality of the content could be better. There’s also plenty to be said for simply following blogs in your industry that you like and you know regularly publish good content – not to mention ensuring that you always have the means to jot down ideas as and when they come to you. To make following other blogs easier, I recommend getting yourself an RSS reader like Feedly. For making notes I use Evernote, but there are countless other apps and tools you can use (as well as a good-old-fashioned notepad). Maximizing the ROI of your blog We’ve already spoken about the benefits of interjecting some of your own experiences into your blog posts. I can’t emphasize enough how this can help build your personal brand. It shows that you’re not just recycling ideas others have had or blog posts they’ve written. You’re demonstrating that you have the authority to write about these subjects because you have first-hand experience with them. In addition, personalization will help humanize your brand and encourage people to warm to you. But there’s so much more you can do to ensure you’re maximizing how effective your blog is in driving the development of your personal brand. Add sharing buttons to your content This might sound obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of blogs overlook such a simple feature. In short: sharing buttons make it easier for people to share your content, and that means they’re more likely to share it. You’d be silly not to use them, frankly. Include sharing buttons for the sites your target audience uses most. Generally Facebook and Twitter are a given. If you’re operating in a B2B industry, add in LinkedIn. If you’re creating a lot of your own images, include Pinterest. If you share photos, add Instagram. It’s also a good idea to make the buttons as prominent as possible. I recommend getting “floating buttons.” This means they move as the user scrolls, so they’re always visible on the page. Look to the left of the screen and you’ll see what I mean. Feature other influencers Featuring other influencers helps to back up your arguments. It helps affirm the idea that you know what you’re talking about, because, hey, this person your audience already knows and respects is saying it, too. It also gives you an excuse for contacting those influencers. This helps you get on their radar and can often lead to them sharing your content. There are a number of strategies you might employ in order to weave influencers into your content. Quoting them is the obvious one. If you’re making a point, find someone with clout who has said something similar, and quote them in your own post. Alternatively, you can reach out to influencers while you’re writing your article, and ask them to provide a quote specifically for you. This works well because it gets the foundations of a relationship in place before your article is even live. Plus, since they’ve contributed to it personally, it means they’re pretty damn likely to share it. It also gives more weight to your content, and your own brand, because it looks like you have a relationship with these people (which you actually kind of will). Ask for questions and comments Something you might have noticed if you’ve read my posts before is that I always wrap up by asking readers to leave a comment. That’s because I want my readers to engage with me. I want to know who’s reading my content and what they think of it. I’ve built my personal brand on engaging with people. It’s at the core of everything I do. My blog posts are no different – I want the people who read my content to interact with me. It goes without saying that if you want comments, you should ask for them. Promoting your content You’re not going to see much ROI on your blog content unless you take the time to promote it. If you’re following the steps highlighted above (i.e. you’ve installed sharing buttons, you feature other influencers, and you ask for engagement), you’re part way there. But you can still do more. Sharing it socially is an obvious one. There’s no good reason why you shouldn’t be sharing every new blog post you write to each of your social channels. If you’re really strapped for time, you can automate it. However, if you can, it’s always advisable to craft each post by hand. Still, while sharing your content is a given, social platforms don’t make it easy for you to get traction off the back of it. Not anymore, anyway. Facebook pages with more than a million likes can expect to reach approximately 2.27% of their audience organically. The fewer likes you have, the higher percentage of your audience you will reach. That sounds good, but it’s not really – you’re still getting fewer eyes on your content overall. Faring slightly better, the average tweet reaches 3.61% of its following. LinkedIn is the winner here, with an average organic reach of up to 20%. Thankfully, if you want to reach more of your audience, you can. You just have to pay to do it. Most social sites now offer ways to pay to boost the visibility of your posts. It’s also pretty affordable – especially when compared to more traditional, offline forms of advertising: To increase the visibility of your Facebook posts, head over to Facebook for business. Click “Create an Ad,” and then choose an objective. If you want to get more eyes on your actual posts, choose “Boost your posts.” Alternatively, you might want to drive people directly to your content. You can do this by choosing “Send people to your website.” From there, you can choose from a huge range of targeting options including demographics, interests, and behaviors. You can also use Facebook’s Audience network to extend your campaign beyond Facebook and reach audiences on a variety of apps and mobile websites. Clicks on ads run through the network can cost you as little as 5 to 20 cents, and are configured using Facebook’s usual Ads Manager. To promote an ad to Facebook’s Audience network, create your ad as usual. Just be sure to check the “Audience Network” box is ticked in the placements section. If you want to create an ad on Twitter, you can do that here. You’ll be asked to choose from ad types similar to those offered by Facebook, albeit fewer of them. In this case, you’re probably going to want to choose either “Website clicks or conversions” or “Tweet engagements” (which essentially boosts the visibility of your tweets). Targeting options are again, like Facebook, detailed and varied. As well as being able to target according to interests, behaviors, and platforms used, you can target by keyword (keywords that are being searched for or keywords used in tweets), by followers, or by users who are similar to your followers, and by viewers of specific TV shows. You can also, on both Facebook and Twitter, exclude particular audiences. LinkedIn offers the least flexible advertising platform of the options listed here. It’s also the most expensive. That said, as a B2B platform, it can’t be beaten, so if your interests lie here it may well be worth your time (and a bit of your money). LinkedIn allows you to choose from two ad types: “Sponsored Updates” are akin to a boosted post on Facebook. They will appear in your target audience’s news feed. “Text Ads” appear above and to the right of your target audience’s news feed. Targeting options include “Job title and function,” “Industry,” “Company size,” and “Seniority.” Alternatively, you can use tools like Quuu.co which share your content with influencers on social media for a small fee ($25 will get you around 50 to 100 shares). Repurposing your content Repurposing content helps you leverage old content for new wins. It’s great, for example, in helping you reach new audiences (say, those that prefer to consume content in video or infographic form, rather than article form). It also means your old content never dies, and ensures you can maximize the ROI on the time you spent creating it. Here are a few ways you might repurpose an old blog post… Turn a stats-heavy blog post into an infographic. Use it as the basis of a video (this is something I’m doubling down on right now). Turn it into a podcast. Turn it into a series of slides. Republish it to sites like LinkedIn Pulse and Medium. Use quotes or stats as the basis of a social media post. Collate multiple posts into an ebook. Share snippets of your content on social platforms (I use Snapchat to share short, unfiltered versions of my articles). But before you get too excited about repurposing your content, it’s worth remembering one thing… Evergreen content lends itself better to repurposing than timely content. Evergreen content is content that’s designed to remain relevant forever. It’s information that won’t (or at least, shouldn’t) go out of date. Repurposing content takes time, so it makes sense that you should save your efforts for content that won’t age too quickly. Of course, that’s not to say timely content can’t be repurposed, but you’ll have to be super quick about it, and accept that your efforts probably won’t result in the same ongoing ROI that you’d see with evergreen content. Guest blogging Guest blogging takes up loads of my time. That’s in part because I enjoy it, but it’s also because it reaps big rewards. It helps me reach new audiences and is great for building my personal brand. It’s also an excellent source of traffic – so much so that it’s the main source of traffic to two of my tools: Quuu.co and Narrow.io. And it allows me to do things like this: Before I go any further, I just want to make it clear that you probably shouldn’t be aiming to get published on sites like Forbes and Inc. right away. These sites want to see evidence of your skills. They also prefer to work with publishers who have their own, existing audience that they can bring with them to the site. Start small and work your way up. I’m going to talk shortly about how building relationships can help land you guest posting spots. For now, let’s look at how to find these opportunities without harnessing pre-existing connections. Choosing sites To maximize the ROI of guest posts you write, you want to ensure that you’re writing for the right websites. If you have sites you visit and read personally, that’s a great place to start. If you give them a thumbs up, there’s a good chance other people in your industry do too. For sites that you’re not familiar with, you should be looking for three signals: Relevance – the subject matter of the site should relate to your own industry. Readership – the bigger the readership, the bigger the audience a guest post will put you in front of. Similarweb is a great tool for finding out readership numbers. Authority – domain authority indicates how much influence a site has and how well it’s likely to rank in the search engines. Sites with high DAs are more likely to drive you traffic consistently over time. To find out the DA of a site, you can use the Moz toolbar. In short, aim to go where your audience goes. Don’t discount smaller blogs if that’s where your target market is – these sorts of sites tend to drive most of my ROI. Contacting sites When you’ve selected a site you’re keen to write for, the next step is tracking down the best person on that site to contact. If you’re approaching a personal brand site, like your own site, or like this one, there’s probably only going to be one person you can contact – the site’s owner. On the other hand, big sites with different sections probably employ different editors. Pick the section that feels like the best fit for your content, and if you can find out who the editor is and their details, contact them. Tools like ContentMarketer.io can help make finding contact details easier. As a general rule of thumb, email is the best tool for contacting site owners, editors, or journalists. You can read about how to write great outreach emails in detail here, but in brief, your emails should be: Friendly Personalized Professional Show evidence of your credentials It’s also a good idea to approach sites with an article idea. This should be an idea that’s specific to them. You should be able to explain why it’s right for them. “Make them love your article, and explain why their readers will, too.” – Dana Sitar, for Be a Freelance Blogger Don’t approach multiple sites with the same idea – treat each site as an individual. If you get a ‘no,’ or worse, no reply at all, don’t be disheartened. If you don’t get a reply, it’s fine to follow up, but no more than twice. If you get a ‘no,’ don’t give up. The fact that you’ve gotten a reply is a great sign. Ask your contact (politely) for feedback. Maybe the subject matter wasn’t right or the timing was off. Find a way to turn that ‘no’ around. Social Blogging Platforms While I write articles for my own blog and contribute regularly to other sites, I also make a point of republishing some of my posts to a couple of social blogging platforms – specifically LinkedIn Pulse and Medium. I do this in part because it allows me to instantly reach new audiences with my content. The platforms are also configured in a manner that makes it really easy to build an audience on them – as long as you’re publishing quality content that people want to read, that is. It’s worth bearing in mind that there’s no link-building benefit to publishing on these platforms (all links are nofollowed) and they don’t tend to drive much traffic. What they do offer is a great ROI. You get to extend the reach of your content and in turn, build your brand, for very little additional time or effort on top of what it took to produce the original content. More resources How to Generate a Year’s Worth of Blog Post Ideas How to Amplify Your Content ROI How to Create Facebook Ads: A Step-by-Step Guide to Advertising on Facebook The Field Guide to Twitter Advertising: How to Create & Launch Campaigns How to Create LinkedIn Ads That Generate Results For Your Business 9 Tips to Perfectly Pitch Your Guest Blog Post Step 5: Social Media So we’ve touched on social media above – at least, in terms of using it to promote content. It’s also infinitely useful in helping to build your brand itself, namely because it enables you to connect with people via a casual, informal platform. It’s very different than sending an email, for instance. Which platforms to use This will be dependent on your industry and the platforms your audience and peers use. In B2B, there’s a good chance you’ll find them hiding out on Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook is an obvious choice, regardless of industry. Over a billion people use it, after all. YouTube is a great platform, too – both in B2B and B2C industries. If you’re happy in front of the camera, I’d really encourage you to use it. To describe it bluntly, it’s like blogging on steroids – especially when it comes to building a personal brand. What’s more, YouTube boasts more than a billion users, too. To help you decide where to best spend your time, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each of the aforementioned platforms. Twitter According to the Statista numbers above, Twitter has 320 million (active) users worldwide. It’s also popular with businesses and influencers and, according to Twitter at least, great for sales. On the downside, the number of impressions you can expect your tweets to receive is very low. While Twitter displays tweets in the order in which they were posted (for the time being, at least) your followers have to be on Twitter around the time of your tweet in order for them to see it. What’s more, the more people your followers follow, the lower the chances are that they’ll see your posts. As an example, Danny Sullivan estimated the impression rate of one of his tweets to be just 1.85%. That means 7,195 of his 390,000-strong following saw the tweet. In addition, while many people love the short-and-sweet 140 character format of a Twitter update, others find it irritating and limiting. Facebook Facebook boasts 1590 million active users. That’s huge. It also offers an excellent, affordable advertising platform; a platform that you will pretty much have to use if you want your posts to get any real visibility (Facebook’s algorithm means that the majority of posts get seen by very few users). Unfortunately, the conversion rate on said ads has been shown to be incredibly low: 1.1 percent on desktop ads and a pitiful 0.3% on ads displayed on mobile. Poor conversion rates and visibility aside, Facebook is a great platform for building a personal brand on account of its “follow” feature, which allows people to “follow” your personal profile, rather than befriend you. So long as you’re careful about what appears on said profile – or at least, what information you make public – this option means that Facebook is a seriously awesome tool for showcasing yourself at your most natural and human. YouTube YouTube rivals Facebook for user numbers. If you want to reach people with video, it’s pretty much a given. You can also embed your videos into your site, which means you don’t need to put too much time and effort into using YouTube specifically – if you’re creating videos anyway, it’s a channel you can use to leverage them further. You can even monetize it. The only real downside I can see to YouTube is the very obvious fact that you need to make videos to use it. In other words, it’s a bigger timesuck than the sites mentioned above. Still, since video’s so effective at humanizing your personal brand, I wholeheartedly encourage you to give it a try. LinkedIn The obvious pro (and con, depending on how you look at it) to LinkedIn is that it’s a B2B-only platform. That makes it ideal for promoting your personal brand to users who are in a business-specific mindset. It also means it’s completely useless to anyone targeting a consumer audience. Still, the site’s USP means it blows both Twitter and Facebook out the water when it comes to lead generation. This is despite the fact that brand posts on LinkedIn see less interaction than similar posts on Facebook and Twitter. That said, if you’re using LinkedIn to build your personal brand, you’re probably going to use it as a person, not a brand. That might mean the engagement your posts drive could be much higher than the numbers cited above (that’s certainly my experience, at least). Unfortunately, LinkedIn has one glaring black mark against it – average time on site. The average Pinterest user spends 1 hour, 38 minutes a month on the site. The average Twitter user spends 36 minutes (though apparently that figure doesn’t include app use). Facebook users spend a massive 6 hours, 33 minutes a month on the site. And LinkedIn….? Just 17 minutes. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to using social media for building a personal brand. It largely comes down to the industry you operate in and the sites your target audience uses. More resources How to Choose the Right Social Network for Your Business Step 6: Building Relationships Relationships are integral to every part of our lives – they help make us happier, more productive, and more successful. Building a personal brand is no exception. There’s no way I would be where I am today if I hadn’t spent the last few years focusing a good chunk of my energy on networking. While I don’t wholeheartedly agree with “It’s who you know, not what you know,” I do agree that “Who you know” is damn important. The fact is you need both. You need knowledge and skills, and you need relationships that are going to help carry you forward. Getting organized While I’d encourage you to take every opportunity that comes your way to forge connections, you’ll get the most out of your time if you strategize. To do this, build a target list of people you want to get to know. Okay, so it’s not the most traditional or romantic way to make friends, but it will help you optimize your time. Begin with just five to ten people. You can increase this number later, but you might find that once you’ve formed a couple of solid connections, others start to happen naturally. You’re going to want to think carefully about who you put on this list. Aim too high, and you will struggle to get noticed. Big influencers have a lot of people competing for their time. Aim too low, and any resulting relationships might not benefit you in the way you hoped. What you want is a safe middle ground – people who have enough influence that their friendship will benefit you, but not so much influence that any efforts to reach them will get lost in the noise. Keep an eye out for these red flags: A near-equal number of Twitter “followers” to “following.” This suggests the person built their “audience” by following other people, rather than through any real influence. Alternatively, it might simply mean that they follow back everyone that follows them. This is still a red flag. The more accounts they follow, the harder it will be to get heard. A huge following accompanied by low engagement on their posts. This suggests the followers have been bought, not earned. You’ll also want look at how active a potential connection is online. Don’t assume that regular posts to Twitter signal life online. They could be a religious post-scheduler, yet never have an actual conversation with anyone. They might not even be scheduling the posts themselves. Look for people who are having real conversations online. Locality’s worth considering, too. Pick people you might be able to meet in real life (more on this shortly). Last but not least, choose people who appeal to you on a personal level – people you think you will genuinely get along with. Look for signs that you share the same interests (outside of your work) and sense of humor. Get that bit right, and the rest of your job will be easy. How to engage people Social media Social networks are an obvious platform for connecting with people online – and even more so for influencers. Unless someone puts their accounts into lockdown (in which case they’re probably not on your radar anyway), social media is, more or less, a free-for-all. You can join in conversations and share or “like” posts other people have created – all without appearing antisocial. Make the most of these features, but don’t outstay your welcome. If you appear out of nowhere and start liking, sharing, or commenting on every post someone creates, they’re going to get suspicious. They’re probably going to be a little creeped out, too – wouldn’t you be? You don’t make friends in real life by following them around and hanging on their every word. You won’t make friends online that way, either. Forums Forums are another excellent, public platform for getting to know people – if you can find out where the people you want to get to know hang out. If you’re following them on social media, other sites they use might pop up in conversation. If that doesn’t happen, you might have to employ a few investigative skills. Searching Google for their name, email address, and any usernames you know they use is a logical place to start. Next, you might want to try performing a reverse image search on Google for their profile picture (or pictures). This will bring up other places on the web that their pic is being used. You can also use sites like Spokeo to track down sites associated with an email address. If you do get lucky in your search, the same rules apply that we’ve mentioned above. Don’t go overboard. Act natural. You want these people to like you, not run scared from you. Email Email is much more formal than the platforms above – especially when you don’t know the recipient that well. That means you’re also going to need a specific reason to email someone. Save random “I’m just emailing to say hi” messages for close friends and family. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to fabricate a reason for emailing someone out the blue – asking a question about something they mentioned in a blog post (and that genuinely interested you) is a good one. In person (or on the phone) This is by far my preferred way of getting to know people. It’s just so effective. Think about it – when do people have the greatest impact on you? Chances are, it’s almost always when you’ve had a real, live conversation with them, when you’ve not had screens to hide behind. So how do you get to speak to people in person? This is where locality comes in. If you’re trying to connect with people who live locally, you’ll have made this bit much, much easier. (If your potential connections are in far-flung quarters of the world, that’s okay. You’ll just have to pick up the phone, instead). Conferences Conferences are a good place to meet people (note that I said good, not great). Unfortunately, they attract so many people that getting a few minutes alone with one person in particular tends to be easier said than done. It’s also harder to stand out and be remembered, since anyone you speak to has probably spoken to lots of other people that day, too. To get the most out of networking at a conference, contact the person or people you want to speak to ahead of time. Arrange a specific time and place to meet them and let them know why you want to chat with them (something general like you want to “pick their brain” can work well). Small events The smaller the gathering, the better your odds of having a meaningful conversation with someone. I used to host dinner parties to do just that. I’d invite a handful of smart, interesting people from the local area to eat, drink, chat, and just have a good time. It helped that I moved around a lot. That meant I got to meet a lot of different people from different places. However, even if you don’t have the same flexibility, this is an excellent way to create lasting, meaningful relationships. I met some awesome people this way, most of whom I’m still regularly in touch with today. Alternatively, attending a local industry meetup can be a good way of meeting people. If the people you want to meet are going to one, heading along yourself is a no-brainer. If they’re not down as attending, ask them to go along. Again, the line “you want to pick their brain” can work well. It can help to flatter their ego a little, too. If there aren’t any industry meetups in your area, the solution’s simple – start one yourself. One-on-one It should go without saying that the best way to forge a meaningful connection with someone is with a one-on-one meeting, ideally in person – but a phone call works well, too. I have these types of phone conversations most days. Many of these phone calls result from inquiries on my website. Will every one of these calls benefit me? Of course not, but that’s okay. For every person I never hear from again, another person hires me or helps me out another way. If you can make time for people, and get out of the mindset that certain people can’t or won’t help you, you should go far. To reiterate what I said above – build a list of people you want to get to know specifically, but don’t discriminate. Approach every conversation with the mindset that every person is going to become your new best friend or the one who makes your career. In total, I probably spend 6-8 hours a week talking one-on-one with my industry contacts. Most of them have become really good friends – we talk more about our lives than our businesses. More resources The Definitive Guide to Influencer Targeting How To Become An Expert Networker (Even If You’re Shy) The Jimmy Fallon Effect: 10 Qualities Of Great Networkers Step 7: Leveraging Relationships While it’s great to make friends, you’re not building these relationships just for fun. The truth is, you want something out of them. And that’s fine. I mean, don’t we want something out of every relationship we have? In this case, you want to build relationships that are mutually beneficial and that help further your personal brand. This might mean… Guest posting for their site. Contributing to their content (with a quote, for example). Interviewing them (could be for an article, a podcast, or in a video). Getting introduced to other influencers. Landing speaking engagements. So how do you get these opportunities? You ask for them. If you’ve taken the time to build real relationships with people, this bit should be easy. They should be happy you want to help, and happy to let you. How to ask to help The best approach is often an open one. That means asking how you can help. You don’t say how you want to help. It doesn’t hurt to get the ball rolling by making suggestions as to what you could do. You’ll just make yourself more useful if you leave the choice of how you might help up to the recipient. Just make sure to be crystal clear with your question. Don’t beat around the bush. Be completely open about your situation and what you hope to achieve. If they come back with nothing, don’t be disheartened. Now might be the time to state specifically what you’re looking for, say, asking if you could write a guest post for them. If the answer’s still ‘no,’ you could ask them to introduce you to someone they think might be looking for an extra pair of hands. Just remember, these relationships should be mutually beneficial. If someone does you a favor, do your best to return it. More resources How to Leverage Influencers to Build Your Brand The Shockingly Easy Way to Get People to do What You Want Step 8: Brand Management So you’ve built a pretty successful personal brand. You have lots of followers on social media, and you’re landing business deals based on people knowing who you are and liking what you do. That’s awesome, but you’re not done yet. Most of the steps outlined above are ongoing. It’s important to keep blogging, for starters, and just because you’ve made some solid connections doesn’t mean you can’t make more. I like to think I’ve done a pretty good job of building my personal brand so far, but am I done? Hell no. To be honest, I can’t imagine a day when I’ll sit down and say “That’s it. I’ve built my brand. Now I can relax.” Unless I decide I want to completely change career paths (not going to happen) or I retire (will happen one day), I’m going to keep working on my personal brand. But there’s another part of building a personal brand that I’ve not yet touched on. Maintaining it. The fact is, the bigger your brand gets, the more maintenance it’s going to require. It just comes with the territory. The more people who know who you are, the more people are going to be talking about you. That’s good, right? Well, I hope so. But unfortunately, not everything people say about you is necessarily going to be nice. The more people you have talking about you, the higher the odds are that someone will say something nasty. Let’s look at what you can do. Tracking brand mentions This is something every brand should be doing. All you need is a tool like Mention (from $29 a month) or Brand24 ($49). Set them up to track your name, and you’ll get notifications whenever it’s mentioned online. You vs. your namesakes Having a common name can make building and maintaining your personal brand substantially more difficult, and even more so if you share a namesake with someone in your industry. Your problems only get bigger if you share a name with someone who’s the subject of bad press, or a criminal. So what can you do (short of changing your name)? If your namesake (or namesakes) work in different industries than you, have yourself a little celebration. Distinguishing yourself shouldn’t be too hard – you just need to make yourself known as “Your name, your industry/speciality.” I’m lucky in that, while I have namesakes, none of them seem to operate in the same industry as me, nor are they very active online. That said, I make a point of pushing myself as “Sujan Patel: Growth Marketer & Entrepreneur.” Alternatively, you might want to distinguish yourself by using your middle name. This is a good option if you share a namesake with others in your industry. But there is one more thing you can do… Push the competition out of the search results Do this if you’re having trouble distinguishing yourself from your namesakes. Also do it if you’ve been the victim of some bad press. In essence, it’s simply a form of brand management, except this time, it’s targeted specifically at managing the search results. Blog regularly so your site is always populated with new content, but more importantly, blog for other sites. Each post you write for a different, high-authority site is a post that can help to push negative content about you or your namesakes further down in the search results. Search for my name to see what I mean. I’m not covering anything up, but you should see more than 20 results that are about me, before anything about my namesake crops up. This is simply because I’ve contributed to so many different sites over the course of my career. Don’t forget to distribute authority between guest posts and posts on your own site by linking between them, too (but only when it’s absolutely natural to do so). Last but not least, utilize social media sites. Make sure to keep complete profiles on the sites you use and update them with content regularly. Sign up to, and fill out your profile on some additional sites, as well. Even if you don’t plan to use them, it can’t hurt to secure your name on them. More importantly, each profile is a page that can rank and force negative press out of the way. How to handle bad publicity When someone says horrible things about you, it hurts. It’s easy to take it personally – it’s your personal brand, i.e. you, that’s being attacked, after all. This roller coaster of emotions can mean anger is your default response. If you ever feel this way, sit down, relax, and wait until you’re completely calm before you do anything. Humans make bad decisions in the heat of the moment, so always, always let the heat die down before reacting. If you let your emotions get the better of you, you risk doing yourself, and your brand, even more harm, like this angry hotel owner: So what should you do? If the bad press is someone attacking you for no real reason – say, they’ve left a ranty comment on a blog post you’ve written – the best strategy is often to ignore it. You’re going to encounter trolls at some point. What they want is a reaction. Don’t give them that satisfaction.   If someone has a genuine complaint, respond quickly, politely, and work with them to find a solution. Treat the complaint as a way to get feedback and a chance to turn the person around. If you’re the victim of patently false and potentially harmful press, first contact the person or publication behind it. If this doesn’t work, or simply isn’t possible, you may want to issue a public response. Only do this when you feel completely calm and can see the bigger picture. Make sure to stick to the facts. And always, always get someone else to look it over before you make the response public. Ideally, this someone should be a lawyer.     More resources 5 Ways to Turn Your Unhappy Customer Into a Valuable Resource The 9 Golden Rules for Dealing with Bad Publicity How to Stop Bad Press from Ruining Your Online Reputation Tools to Help You Before I wrap up, I just wanted to point you in the direction of a few tools that can help make building your personal brand that much easier. As a quick refresher, I’ll include the tools I’ve mentioned in this guide, as well as a few more. WordPress.org and Themeforest – create a professional-looking website, no coding knowledge required. Google Apps for Business – set up a professional, youdomain.com email address. A Small Orange – premium hosting services for your site and blog. Ubersuggest and Answer the Public – long-tail keyword research tools (great for blog topic inspiration. LinkedIn Pulse – reach new audiences by republishing your content on social blogging platforms. Buzzsumo – find the most shared content according to topic. Feedly – read all your favorite blogs in one location. Evernote – take notes on your phone and easily access them on other devices. Quuu – let someone else populate your social profiles for you. Narrow – automate building a real Twitter following. SimilarWeb – get traffic estimates for websites and apps. Moz Toolbar – view a website’s domain authority and other key data. ContentMarketer – easily find contacts and streamline and manage your outreach efforts. Spokeo – find sites associated with email addresses (as well as names, phone numbers, and addresses). Meetup – organize or attend industry networking events with people in your area. Mention and Talkwalker – track mentions of your name online. Canva – easily create imagery for your site or social profiles. Hootsuite – manage all your social profiles from one platform. Rapportive – monitor what your email contacts are up to elsewhere on the web. Yesware – track emails so you know who’s opening them, and who isn’t. A Final Checklist Step 1: Designing your Brand Define your values – what do you care about most? What’s your USP? What makes you different from everyone else? What do you want to achieve? Set targets for the next year, five years, and ten years. What key traits do you want to define your brand? Sum up how you want people to see your brand in three words or phrases. Step 2: The Practical Stuff Choose a domain name. Generally this will be your actual name. Purchase your domain. You can do this with sites like GoDaddy. Design your website using org. Get a bespoke theme built or buy a premium theme through themeforest. Claim a professional, yourdomain.com email address. If you didn’t do this when you were buying your domain, try buying it through Google Apps for Work. Get professional photos taken. Set up your social profiles. Step 3: Writing a Brand Story Brainstorm key points of your story. Ask yourself: How you got to where you are today. Your greatest achievements. Your biggest failures (and how you got past them). What inspires you? What are your biggest passions in life? What you hope the future will bring – what are your goals? What makes you different? Choose the best bits and craft them into a story. Publish your story on your site, on an “About” page. Keep developing and updating your story. Step 4: Blogging Activate or set up your blog. Sign up for a hosting service. Start writing – use your personal experiences to humanize your brand and add weight to your posts. Add sharing buttons to your content. Feature other influencers. Encourage engagement by asking for questions or comments. Leverage content further by repurposing it into other formats. Reach new audiences by guest posting for other sites and republishing content to LinkedIn Pulse and/or Medium. Although there are no hard-and-fast rules about how much you should be blogging, if you’re determined to build your personal brand, I’d encourage you to write (and publish) at least once a week. If you can manage more, great; however, aim to post weekly at a minimum. Whether you do this on your own site or someone else’s, you should make sure to… Update your social profiles with your content. Notify your email list (or add details to your next email). Reach out to any influencers featured in the content. Check back on your content and reply to any comments. Start planning next week’s content. Step 5: Social Media Look at where your audience is and identify which platforms serve your brand best. Set up profiles on any relevant sites you’re not already using. Step 6: Building Relationships Create a list of five to ten influential people that you would like to get to know. Start engaging with them on social media by interacting with their posts. Find what forums they use (if any) and try to engage with them there, too. Email them with specific questions. Try to take the conversation off public platforms. Where possible, create or exploit situations where you can meet people in person or talk to them on the phone. Step 7: Leveraging Relationships Contact your connections about ways you can help them, and they in turn, can help you. This might mean: Guest posting for their site. Contributing to their content (with a quote, for example). Interviewing them (could be for an article, a podcast, or in a video). Getting introduced to other influencers. Landing speaking engagements. Step 8: Brand Management Start tracking mentions of your name using tools like Mention or Brand24. Distinguish yourself from your namesakes (if necessary) by referring to yourself online as “Your name, your industry,” or using your middle name. Push namesakes or poor press out of the search results by keeping your site updated, contributing to other sites, and creating additional social profiles. Learn how to handle bad publicity. Ignore the trolls, take steps to turn genuine complainers around, and deal with false bad press by talking to the person behind it, or if that doesn’t work, issuing a public response. As always, I’m keen to hear your thoughts. What tips do you have for building your personal brand? Share your tips using the comments below.   Sujan Patel is a growth marketer and entrepreneur who gets as much enjoyment out of helping others grow their businesses as he does out of growing his own. Sujan is also an avid blogger, dedicated husband, and in his spare time, a serial thrill-seeker.   Images from: Amazon, Caroline Brealey, Jay Baer, Content Marketing Institute, PR Moment, Statista, Jar of Quotes, LinkedIn, ReviewTrackers

Everything You Need to Know About Startup Marketing (Mini-Guide)

As an entrepreneur, the biggest mistake you can make when launching your startup is failing to develop or implement a clear marketing strategy. As you probably already know, you can’t build a profitable business by simply conceptualizing, creating, and launching a great product. It takes much more than that to succeed. In order to gain traction, boost growth, and build a sustainable business that stands the test of time, you have to do more than have a great product. You have to connect with your audience, tell your story, build trust, nurture leads, and ultimately convince people that your product or service can help make their lives better or their jobs easier. To do it, you have to invest serious time, energy, and money into developing effective marketing strategies. The problem is, for many new or inexperienced entrepreneurs and business owners, the idea of spending any amount of time or money on marketing campaigns can be intimidating. When it comes to marketing your startup, there are a lot of tools you can use, channels you can participate in, articles you can read, and areas you can focus on. In this post, we’re going to help you cut through the noise and overcome any fears you might have by providing you with the most essential information, best practices, and tools you need to build a winning marketing engine for your startup. Before investing any of your resources into marketing efforts that can help grow your company, it’s important to first become aware of the primary focus areas that can be incorporated into your overall strategy. Today, most startups are investing resources in the following areas: Content Marketing & SEO – Creating and publishing valuable content on your blog is one of the easiest ways to boost exposure for your new business, build a reputation for your brand, increase traffic to your website, capture and nurture leads, educate people about your products and services, and land your very first customers. For help building out an effective, ROI-driven content strategy for your startup, read through our recently-published guide here. Social Media Marketing – As a new business, participating in social media is a must. It’s the best way to engage in authentic conversations with your current and future customers. The important thing to remember, however, is that you don’t need to create a presence and participate on every single social media site that exists. You just need to go where your customers and ideal customers are. For some businesses, that might mean focusing primarily on Facebook. For others, it might mean putting more time and energy into developing an active following on Instagram. To determine which social media site you should be investing in for your startup, read through this detailed report on the demographics of the most popular social media sites and messaging apps from the Pew Research Center. Email Marketing – Despite the increasing popularity of social media sites and messaging apps as outlined above, email still remains one of the most direct and effective tools that you can leverage to communicate with current and prospective customers. In fact, according to a report by McKinsey, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter. To get started with email marketing, read through this guide from Copyblogger. In it, author Henneke Duistermaat offers 37 tips for writing emails that get opened, read, and clicked. We also recommend checking out this post from Brian Dean at Backlinko – it offers a ton of great and actionable tips for building your email list. PPC & Social Advertising – PPC or pay-per-click advertising can also help drive more visitors to your website. With PPC and paid search, you’re creating online advertising campaigns in Google and paying for results (clicks). It’s different than content marketing where your goal is to increase organic traffic to your website. With PPC, your goal is to use a daily budget to increase visibility in search results. To get started building PPC campaigns for your startup, read this introductory blog post from WordStream. In addition to launching PPC campaigns, most startups also create and manage ads on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Again, the goal is to increase visibility and connect with ideal customers using demographic targeting. To learn more about advertising on Facebook, click here. To learn more about advertising on Twitter, click here. Growth Hacking, Analytics, & CRO – Growth hacking has become almost synonymous with marketing over the past few years, but the two are not the same. Marketing is the umbrella terms that all focus areas being described in this section fall under. Growth hacking is a focus area that involves creating and launching rapid and lean tests aimed at moving the needle. Growth hacking is primarily conversion-focused, and it requires a good amount of data analysis. To understand growth hacking, the best place to start is with this beginner’s guide from marketing guru Neil Patel. To learn more about the type of CRO tactics other startups are incorporating into their marketing strategies, read this post from Brian Dean at Backlinko. Traditional Marketing & PR – Despite what some might tell you, traditional marketing and PR should still be included in your overall marketing strategy. As a startup founder, part of your job is to build relationships with writers and reporters who can help you spread the word about your product. If you’re like most startup founders, you’ll also be tasked with writing and launching press releases from time to time that fill people in on important and exciting announcements about your company. That’s where traditional marketing and PR both come into play. To start learning how to incorporate traditional marketing and PR into your overall marketing strategy, read this post from KISSmetrics. To build an effective marketing engine at your startup, you should consider building a team that looks something like this: Head of Marketing – a well-rounded and experienced marketer to develop the strategy, coordinate the execution, keep track of goals, and manage the team. Developer / Designer – a creative professional with a marketing focus who can help you design and develop both digital and print marketing collateral (tradeshow brochures, sales sheets, case studies, Facebook ads, your website, landing pages, ebooks, brand graphics etc). Copywriter – a versatile writer who can help you shape your brand story and develop copy for both print and digital marketing collateral. Content Marketer – an experienced content marketing expert who can help you build editorial calendars, develop new blog ideas, manage freelance writers, and promote content. Social Media Manager – a skilled writer and communicator who can curate content for your social media pages and authentically engage with your followers. Paid Advertising Specialist – a marketer with experience creating and launching PPC ads, retargeting ads, and social media ads. Should also be comfortable managing budgets and bidding on ads. Public Relations Director – a seasoned PR professional who was an established network of journalists and writers they can reach out to when you have new press to share. Growth Hacker / CRO Expert – a savvy, data-driven marketer who can help you launch lean tests and identify which efforts to double-down on in order to drive growth. SEO Specialist – an SEO expert who can consult with your content marketer and paid advertising specialist to ensure that you’re able to take advantage of all existing SEO opportunities. Project Manager – a detail-oriented person who can manage all ongoing projects for the team. If you’re like most startup founders, you’re not going to be able to build this ideal team right away, and that’s OK. Building a winning marketing team doesn’t happen overnight. It happens one person at a time. To get started, think about your budget, your goals, and where you need the most help—then start filling roles from there. Best Practices When it comes to marketing your startup, there are a few general best practices you can follow to boost success and ROI: Best Practice #1: Set goals that are hard to achieve. Easily achievable goals are great morale boosters for your team, but they won’t help you scale your startup. Best Practice #2: Know and listen to your audience. Let your customers guide your marketing strategy. Know what matters to them, where they spend their time online, what problems they need help with, what they think about your company and the product and services you provide, etc. Best Practice #3: Don’t do what everyone else does, do what works. It’s tempting to go where every other startup is going and implement the same strategies as everyone else, but don’t do it. Instead, implement strategies that work. If Facebook isn’t right for your business, don’t sweat it. Invest your resources where they’ll make the most impact. Best Practice #4: Hire people who are smarter than you. It’s the best way to build an amazing team of marketers. As a founder, you can’t do it on your own. Go out of your comfort zone and learn to trust people who know more than you do. Best Practice #5: When you see an opportunity, don’t miss your chance to double-down. You might be presented with an opportunity to spend $10K on a marketing campaign, and that can be scary. But if you have the budget and you think you’ll get the return you’re looking for, do it. Don’t hesitate—when it comes to growth hacking, content marketing, paid advertising, and PR, opportunities can often disappear as fast as they arrive. Best Practice #6: Alway go lean first, then spend time and money refining. When it comes to marketing a startup, the key is to spend as little resources as possible when testing tactics. This allows you and your team to launch more tests in less time in order to land on opportunities that can move the needle and spark growth. Once you have proven a tactic or idea to be successful, you can then invest more resources and time into refining and doubling down on your efforts. Best Practice #7: Don’t be afraid to fail. Marketing moves fast. Each day there are new ideas and strategies being introduced and written about by companies everywhere. As a startup founder, it’s important to understand that testing a lot means failing a lot—and that’s OK. The key is to walk away from every test—successful or not—with learning that you can apply to your overall strategy going forward. Best Practice #8: Be authentic and show people that you actually care. You can launch all the marketing strategies and tactics you want, but at the end of the day, if people don’t trust you or think you’re being genuine, you’re never going to get anywhere. Become a master marketer, but never forget the golden rule. When you’re ready to start scaling your startup marketing engine, consider investing in these core tools to boost productivity and success: Optimizely – You can use Optimizely to build A/B tests on your website or within your mobile apps. Google Analytics – You can use Google Analytics to track website and blog engagement and traffic, and to set and track conversion goals. Buzzsumo – You can use Buzzsumo to find content to share on your social media sites, or to come up with new blog ideas. Mention – You can use Mention to keep track of each time another website mentions or links to your startup. Haro – You can use HARO to find free press opportunities for your startup. Facebook Advertising – You can use Facebook Ads to target ideal customers and drive them to your website. Adroll – You can use Adroll to create and launch retargeting advertising campaigns that follow your website visitors around the web in order to drive more conversions. Asana – You can use Asana to collaborate with your team members and manage projects. Growth Hacker Projects – You can use Projects by Growth Hackers to manage growth-driven campaigns and tests. Buffer – You can use Buffer to schedule your social media updates and engage with your followers. CoSchedule – You can use CoSchedule to create and manage your blog editorial calendar. Campaign Monitor – You can use Campaign Monitor to create and send email marketing campaigns to your subscribers. SumoMe – You can use SumoMe to capture email addresses on your website and build your list. Moz – You can use Moz to perform keyword research and identify new SEO opportunities. Zemanta – You can use Zemanta to distribute your blog content across other popular websites across the internet.   What else are you doing to market your startup? What tips do you have for new entrepreneurs? Leave us a comment below.

Beginner’s Guide to Blogging: Part 2

Hi again, readers of A Small Orange (or just “Hi” if you missed Part One). This is the second (and final) part of my “Beginner’s Guide to Blogging.” If you haven’t read Part One or you just need a refresher, you can access it here. It’s well worth going through before you start on Part Two – especially if you’re not already blogging. It’ll give you a framework for setting up your blog and will get you ready to write your first post. This includes: Choosing a CMS and a theme for your blog – your CMS should be easy to use, and your theme should be simple, look good, and boast an intuitive navigation. Naming your blog – you want something that’s memorable and impactful. Picking a niche – you should aim to cover a subject that’s popular but not saturated. Setting goals and devising a strategy – this will help focus your efforts and boost your ROI. Outsourcing content creation – this is important if you ever find yourself too busy to stick to your schedule. Part One will also show you why you should be blogging -– whether you blog as a business or as yourself. In short, it’s about building brand awareness and authority, boosting traffic to your site, and increasing leads. It can also provide an extra, sometimes very lucrative, source of income. Of course, setting up a blog and writing your first post is only the start of the battle. If you want people to visit your blog and pay attention to what you’re posting, and you want it to drive a return on investment, you need to optimize it, you need to promote it, and you need to monetize it. So that’s what we’re going to talk about in Part Two. Optimizing Your Blog (for search engines) The key components of a properly-optimized blog post are: The URL The H1 Title tags Meta descriptions Alt tags The URL Best practice in blog post URLs is to include either the title of your post or its primary keywords. What you do is entirely up to you. You’ll notice that the URLs on A Small Orange’s blog posts include the full title of the post. URLs on my own blog include primary keywords only. The H1 Every page on your site – blog post or otherwise – should feature a single H1 tag (<h1>). Generally this will be the title of the blog post, which, if you’ve based the post around keyword research (see “Part One,” “Generating Ideas”), should naturally be optimized. You can read more about correct use of H1 – H6 elements here. Title Tags Title tags are widely accepted as one of the most important elements of on-page SEO. Standard practice when writing a title tag (<title>) for a blog post is to include the title of the post followed by the blog’s name. Your title tag will appear in the search results alongside the post’s URL and your meta description (which we will talk about next). It’s important to remember that title tags top out at 512 pixels (about 70 characters). If you exceed this, they will be truncated, which will render them looking something like this: You can test your title tags and read more about their proper use here. Meta Descriptions Meta descriptions don’t play a part in Google’s algorithm, but they’re still crazy important. This is because they appear in the search results underneath your title tag and URL, and can play a crucial part in getting searchers to click through to your site. Think of the meta description as being an ad for your blog post. It should describe the content of the page in a way that persuades the searcher to want to know more, like in this example from Entrepreneur: Meta descriptions are limited to approximately 155 characters. You can read more about writing effective ones here. Alt Tags Alt tags are used to explain the contents of an image to Google. They’re also used by screen reader software to describe images to the visually-impaired. Images can rank in Google’s Image Search and can be a really effective way of driving traffic to your site. This makes it worth getting the Alt tag right. That said, try not to overthink them. If you can include a keyword in your Alt tags, great, but the best way to think about writing them is to imagine how you would describe the image’s content to someone who couldn’t see it. You can read more about Alt tags and other ways to optimize images for SEO here. Promoting Your Blog Once you’ve written an article, published it, and have optimized the post for search, the next step is to promote it. Email Marketing Your email list is an obvious place to promote blog content. It’s highly targeted, since we can safely assume that everyone on your email list chose to opt-in and receive communications from you. It’s also been repeatedly proven to be really effective. If you’re already running an email marketing campaign, this one’s easy. Just start incorporating mentions of your content into your usual email shot. If you’re new to email marketing, you have two distinct tasks on your hands: Setting up a campaign Building an email list To set up a campaign, you’re going to need to choose an email marketing platform. There’s no shortage of choices, but the most popular by far is Mailchimp. A good email marketing platform should guide you through the setup process and make it really easy to send your first email. What even the best email marketing platforms can’t do is design your email for you. If you have a design team in-house, talk to them. If not, outsourcing’s a good option. You can find a big list of freelancer services over here. Alternatively, you could use a tool like Canva. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a no-experience-necessary design tool that will have you creating beautiful images in no time. Of course, being able to design and send an email is only half the battle. You also need some people to send it to. Building an email list There are tons of ways to build an email list. The most obvious one is to include an email signup form on your site and blog. The best email signup forms are persuasive (i.e., they give visitors a great reason to sign up) and short (which means they feature as few fields as possible). For example, this is a great signup form: And this is not: If you want to supercharge your email signups, I recommend taking a look at Brian Dean’s “content upgrade” method. Other strategies for building an email list include running a competition, creating free content (like an ebook) that you offer in exchange for an email address, and utilizing paid promotional tools (more on these shortly) to boost awareness of your freebie. For more ways to build your email list, take a look at this post by HubSpot’s Andy Pitre. Guest Blogging I love guest blogging and I do a lot of it, primarily as a personal brand-building tool. I do, however, use it as a way to promote my blog and other content I’ve written, too. I do this primarily in two ways: I link to my site from within a byline at the end of an article. I include in-content links to other articles I’ve written, if and when it’s appropriate. This strategy can, has, and does drive significant traffic to my site – around a quarter of my blog’s total traffic, to be precise. This amounts to around 12-15,000 visits a month. But it’s the quality of the traffic guest blogging drives that really speaks volumes. It drives about 25% of my blog’s traffic, but it’s responsible for about 85% of my leads and ebook downloads. Of course, there’s a knack to this guest blogging thing. I don’t just write posts for anyone. I want to contribute to sites I like and respect, that have an audience which aligns with mine, and that I can expect to drive referrals to my own content. Let’s talk about how to find these sites. The first step is to identify quality sites in your niche. You’ll probably already know of a few. Put them at the top of your list – chances are they’re a safe bet. Next stop – Google. Begin by searching for your industry or the subject you want to write about. You might also want to look for lists of top industry blogs. You can use advanced search operators to narrow your results down to sites that willingly accept guest posts. For instance, “growth hacking inurl:write for us.” This will help you identify sites with writer’s pages. “Growth hacking inurl:guest post” will help you find sites that have published other guest posts. You can also use tools like Buzzsumo to identify influencers in your niche. It’s worth noting however, that the best sites rarely shout about accepting guest posts. That’s because they’re picky. Most sites will accept a guest post, if it’s the right topic written by the right person. They just won’t advertise it. Identifying quality sites If you’re not familiar with a site, there are a number of tricks you can use that will help you ascertain whether or not it’s worth your time. DA This stands for Domain Authority. It’s a metric from Moz that’s designed to indicate the overall authority of every site on the web. Sites are scored from 0 to 100, with 100 being the top possible score. The quickest way to find out a site’s DA is to install the free Moz SEO toolbar. Don’t let DA influence you too much. There are more important metrics – especially when your goal is promoting your own blog. However, if a site scores, say, 50 or above, you can generally put it in the “safe bet” pile without doing too much other research. Sites that score less might require a little further digging before you decide whether or not they’re right for you. Social reach The first metric you’re interested in is number of followers. The second (and arguably more important) is how engaged those followers are. The fact is that anyone can buy followers. That part’s easy to fake. The real test is in whether their following actually converses with them. If they’re getting lots of engagement on their social posts, pop them onto your shortlist. Alternatively, you can use tools like Twitter Audit and InstaCheck to find out what percentage of a user’s followers are fake. Blog Commenting Treat this tactic with respect, and it can drive heaps of targeted traffic to your blog. I personally used it to drive leads for my tool Content Marketer (513 of them) but there’s no reason you can’t comment your way to blog visitors and subscribers. The trick is to find relevant posts on quality sites that are seeing lots of activity in the comments section. You then need to comment in a way that adds genuine value. This means saying much more than “Great post” or “Great post, you might like this one too (links to own post).” You have to join in the conversation. You need to add your own views to the dialogue – whether you agree or disagree with what else is being said. This should be easy if you’re commenting on the right posts. You should be looking for posts that cover topics that are similar to topics you’ve covered in posts of your own. Get that part right, and not only will you be able to lift ideas from your own content to include in your comment, but it will come naturally for you to link back to your post, too. RSS Feeds An RSS feed allows readers to subscribe to your blog and read your content in places other than your site – usually in a feed reader, like Feedly. It’s important that you offer readers this option, even if you’re only just starting to blog. It means that if someone lands on your blog, likes what they see, and wants to see more, they can add your blog to a single location that holds all of their online reading material. You might wonder why someone who wants to read more couldn’t just sign up to your mailing list. Well, an email can easily get lost in a busy inbox. Not to mention there’s a really good chance it will reach your readers at the wrong time. Readers that are subscribed to your RSS feed, however, have it made. They can dip in and out of your content as and when it suits them. It’s by far the most convenient way of keeping up-to-date with content online. Content Sharing Networks A content sharing network is essentially a community of people who join together to share each other’s content. Probably the best known example is Viral Content Buzz. The site’s premise is pretty simple: when you share someone else’s content, you gain points. Those points are then redeemed in exchange for shares of your content. It’s a good concept, but despite the fact that the site vets the social profiles of all new members, not everyone who shares your content will be particularly “influential.” Still, for a free service that only asks you to get involved in the community, it’s well worth trying out – especially in the early days of building an audience for your blog. I’m also a big fan of Quuu.co. Quuu is a service that curates and shares content to your social profiles, on your behalf. It’s a huge timesaver and can lift a big weight off the shoulders of anyone who regularly finds themselves too busy to keep their social profiles up-to-date. Since Quuu is in the business of posting content to people’s social profiles, it can also promote your content for you. Unlike Viral Content Buzz, this service comes at a cost – but it’s minimal. Depending on the niche your content fits into, you’ll pay between $5 and $25 a month for one month’s exposure for a single piece of content. Paid Promotion Paid promotional tools are a great way to supplement your organic blog promotion. As a general rule, they’re affordable and effective. You also have more choice of platforms today than ever before. I’m going to talk about four of the most popular platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Outbrain. Before I go on, you might want to take a look at this data gathered by Bryan Eisenberg. It’s from 2014, so the landscape might have changed, but it should give you a pretty solid idea of the costs and expected ROI for each of the following sites. Facebook Despite being a social media platform, Facebook is a hugely versatile advertising tool. As well as being able to promote your Facebook page or boost the visibility of a Facebook post, Facebook Ads let you drive visitors directly to your website, increase installs of your app, promote an event, and much more. The type of ad you choose to run will be dictated by your goals. Since you’re trying to promote your blog, you’ll probably want to choose “Send people to your website.” Alternatively, you could post an update to Facebook about your latest blog post and promote it using “Boost your posts.” Facebook Ads are also really affordable – you can run ads for as little as $1 a day. To get the most out of the platform, you should familiarize yourself with the available targeting options. You can narrow your target audience according to age, location, and gender, in addition to a multitude of more detailed targeting options including various demographics, interests, and behaviors. You can also exclude people based on this same criteria. Twitter Twitter’s advertising platform has slowly but surely taken on a form that’s quite uncannily like Facebook’s. That’s not to say it’s a problem. It’s great for advertisers who can benefit from Facebook-esque ad types which span beyond promoting a tweet or growing a following. You can also use the platform to promote videos, collect emails, drive app installs, and send people to your website (or blog). Twitter Ads also offer a seriously low minimum bid price (literally $0.01 – but don’t ask me how much visibility that will get you!) and plenty of targeting options – including a few really interesting ones. Reach users with similar interests to followers of a particular account or accounts: Target users based on keywords contained in their tweets: And, target viewers of particular TV shows – at any time, or specifically while the show is being aired: LinkedIn Needless to say, LinkedIn’s advertising platform should only be used by B2B bloggers. While it’s ideal for promoting B2B blog content, the platform has more limitations than the options above. You can target people according to job title and function, industry, company size, and seniority, and the minimum budget needed to run an ad is $10 a day. You also have two primary options in terms of ad types: ads that run in LinkedIn’s newsfeed (known as Sponsored Updates) and “Text Ads” that appear on the right hand side of the page. Outbrain The platforms we’ve discussed so far are all contained within social media sites. This means the audiences you can reach by using them are limited to users of those sites. Outbrain is a little different. Instead of promoting your content to a subset of a social site’s users, Outbrain promotes it across a huge network of some of the web’s biggest sites including CNN, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post. In short, Outbrain is one of the sites responsible for those “You may also like” sections of websites. The other main site that does this is Taboola. Outbrain (and Taboola) offer effective ways of driving traffic to a blog. For starters, you’re targeting users that are in a “content consumption” mindset. Conversely, users on social media sites might not be so welcoming of native advertising. One point for Outbrain. It’s also – according to Outbrain –more effective at driving multiple page views than its competitors. On the downside, the platform has the same minimum budget as LinkedIn ($10 daily) and limited targeting options (understandably, since Outbrain can’t collect information on users in the way a social network can). Before we continue, it’s worth noting that you will get far more out of all the above tools if you split test the layout, wording, and imagery used in your ads. Blogger Outreach Outreach entails contacting other publishers about your content in the hopes that they will share it, and, if you’re really lucky, link to it. The most common means of performing outreach is via email. It’s not uncommon to reach out to other publishers via social media, however. This can work well, especially if you’re simply hoping for a retweet, for example, rather than a link. As a general rule, I will reserve a full-on outreach strategy for especially link-worthy content. By that I mean things like ebooks, whitepapers, and infographics. By “full-on outreach strategy,” I mean emailing a big list of potential contacts who I think might have an interest in said content. The reason for this is that it’s tough to get publishers excited about a regular article. You should save that level of effort for content that’s really special. What I will do for every piece of content I create is to mention, quote, and link to a number of influencers within it. I then contact each and every one of them to let them know I featured them. This tactic massively ups the odds of getting positive results. Not only do you have a very good reason for contacting these people, but you’ve stroked their ego a bit by including them in your post. In general, you’ll find they will be happy to share your content. Monetizing Your Blog I want to introduce this section with a word of caution. There are a lot of bloggers out there who will make grand claims about the amount of money they – and in turn, you – can make from blogging. Now, I’m not saying they’re lying. I know very well that there are bloggers making huge sums of money through ads and affiliate marketing. Six figure sums. And I don’t doubt some are making much more. The problem is that very few bloggers are entirely upfront about the work involved in getting to that stage. “If you’re new to the blogging and social media scene, I’d say give yourself at least 3-6 months before you start pulling in an income. And even then, it’ll most likely be coffee money. The idea that you can start a blog today and make a full-time income within a few months is, for most of us, simply not realistic.” – Amy Lynn Andrews, for her blog Very few of us will ever “make it big” with blogging – that’s the reality. Work hard enough, and you might be able to make blogging your full-time job, but understand that getting to that point won’t be easy. The majority of bloggers actually make very modest incomes. Which means that, for most of us, the lifestyle promised by images like these… …is just a dream. That said, while working on a beach with the sun’s glare on your laptop is definitely just a dream (at least for now), monetizing your blog most certainly isn’t. AdSense AdSense is Google’s ad network. Advertisers can use the service to get their ads displayed on contextually-relevant websites, while site owners (known as Publishers) get paid to display them. The amount of money you can expect to earn from AdSense is dictated by many factors – not least of which is how much traffic your blog gets. However, earnings are paid only when a visitor clicks on an ad. No clicks, no cash. What’s more, the price of an AdSense ad is set via auction. This means that everything from your niche, to your location, to simply how “good” your site is, will impact your earnings from the platform. That said, reports from Publishers state that earnings per 1000 visitors tend to fall between $1 and $10. Interested? Getting started with AdSense is free, and pretty easy. Selling Ads AdSense isn’t the only way to sell ad space on a blog – it’s just the best-known. There are tons of ad networks to choose from (and many pay more than AdSense). You can read about 15 of them here. Alternatively, you could bring the whole operation in-house by selling and managing ads yourself. You’ll need a decent following for this one to work – direct advertisers are generally pickier about who they team up with than ad networks. It can be well worth it if you can pull it off, though. You’ll cut out the middle man, which means full editorial control over the ads that appear on your site and more cash in your pocket. To sell your own ads, you’ll need to create an advertiser’s page and potentially, a “media kit” – something like this. Affiliate Marketing For most bloggers, AdSense and other ad networks offer hassle-free ways to generate some pocket money. That’s a pretty sweet deal. But few of us are going to be able to retire on AdSense income. I’m guessing if you’re still with me, it’s because you’re dreaming of the “big bucks.” You want to quit your day job and work when you want, where you want (and ideally, not that much). As I’ve already discussed, that sort of lifestyle doesn’t come easy. You have to work for it. And you have to work hard. At affiliate marketing. Yep, most bloggers that boast envy-inducing lifestyles are funding them using affiliate marketing. For those of you that don’t know, affiliate marketing involves promoting specific products or services on your website. You do this by including special tagged links from your site to the product or service you’re promoting. If someone follows that link and subsequently makes a purchase, you earn commission. Depending on the amount of the sale and the percentage of commission you earn, you could net yourself a healthy little profit. Here’s a screenshot of Stealth Secret’s Frank’s earnings for one month from a single affiliate network. Not bad, right? Of course, it takes work – a lot of work – to make that sort of money: You have to keep building your blog You need to keep creating quality content that’s optimized for search and entices visitors to buy You need to be consistently aware of product developments and trends in the niches you’re promoting And you need to keep building your traffic Neil Patel set himself a challenge of taking a site from nothing to making $100,000 a month. He did it, but even he felt the rewards weren’t worth the work: “The $100,000 challenge was fun, but I wouldn’t do it again. It’s just too much work with everything I have going on. One thing I realized is how much harder it is to rank on Google today compared to 5 years ago.” So sure, if you can build a really successful blog, it will start generating money on its own. At that point, you can strive to earn more money, or you can sit back and just maintain your site (bearing in mind that if you do nothing, your traffic, and earnings, are slowly going to go down). But getting there won’t be easy. “Will you get rich with affiliate marketing? Let’s rephrase: Will your new business be successful? That sounds much better. Don’t get caught up in the hype, hard work pays off, and there is no substitute. Affiliate marketing is just like any business. You will get out what you put in!” – Ryan Gray, NameHero For a detailed guide on making money with affiliate marketing, head over here. Sponsored Posts and Advertorials A sponsored post is simply a guest post, except the guest poster pays for the piece to be published. An advertorial is an advert that’s disguised as a piece of editorial content. It differs from a guest post primarily in the fact that its purpose is to sell. They’re not a new concept – they’ve always been a big feature of hard copy magazines. Both types of content can be great money-spinners for bloggers. Unfortunately, this is dependent on the authority of your blog and the size of your audience. It makes sense that marketers are only going to pay for exposure on your blog if you have the authority and audience to make it worth their while. It also makes sense that the more authority you have, and the bigger your audience, the more money you can command for space on your blog. For that reason, it probably makes sense to leave this strategy until your blog is somewhat established. If, or when, you choose to monetize your blog in this way, it’s good practice to create a page that details your rates and what marketers can expect in return for working with you. It’s also a wise idea to include a disclaimer and add the “nofollow” attribute to any links to your advertiser’s site. Calculating Your ROI Maintaining a blog isn’t free. Even if you don’t dip directly into your pockets, you still need to take into account the cost of your own, or your staff’s, time. Do this, and you’ll gain a better understanding of how blogging affects (or doesn’t affect) your bottom line, and you’ll be in a better position to allocate resources effectively. When calculating your ROI, you’ll want to find out: How many hours of your own or your staff’s time it takes to manage every aspect of the blog, and what this costs in salary. The total cost of any work you outsource. What you spend on design, development, hosting, and any other technology fees. Anything you spend on promoting your blog (Facebook Ads, etc.). How much revenue the blog generates. This might include exact figures – advertising revenue for instance, or customers who have found you via the blog and gone on to make a purchase. It might also include goal completions or leads. In this case, you will have to assign a value to each of those actions. You then simply subtract your investment from your revenue and divide the resulting sum by your investment. For example, if your monthly investment is $3000 and the revenue generated is $5000, your profit is $2000 and your ROI is 66%. So now that you know how to optimize your posts, how to promote them, and how to monetize your blog, all that’s left is to actually go and do it! I always love to hear how people do, so come back here and let me know – comments are below. Better yet, drop me a message through my site.     Images from: econsultancy, tfm Insights, Elements of Design,MailerLite, Lifehacker, Expert Vagabond, Social Media Examiner, StackCommerce  

The Entrepreneurs Guide to Branding

Behind every brand exists a business, but not every business has a brand. To create a business, you need ideas, financial resources, paperwork, and eventually, products and services you can sell. Creating a brand is much different. It’s not about having products or services to sell, building a website, setting up social media profiles, making business cards, or doing anything else that makes you look like a legitimate business. Instead, it’s about telling a compelling story and sharing a captivating vision and purpose that people can rally behind. It’s about putting genuine time and effort into connecting with, serving, and creating memorable experiences for your customers. It’s about using words, visuals, and actions to set yourself apart from competitors and convince people that you actually care about them, that you want to help make their lives better, and that you’re not just in it for the money. As a new entrepreneur, the idea of building a brand that people ultimately recognize and choose to support might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. In this blog post, we’re sharing a number of resources you can leverage, best practices you can implement, tools you can use, and actionable steps you can take to build a successful brand for your new business. Branding Resources When it comes to building a memorable brand for your business, taking the time to educate yourself on the topic is the best way to put yourself on a track toward success. Here are a few recommended resources you can start exploring when you’re ready to build a brand for your new business: Books: Sticky Branding: 12.5 Principles to Stand Out, Attract Customers, and Grow an Incredible Brand by Jeremy Miller In Sticky Branding, author Jeremy Miller highlights 12.5 principles that help provide readers with an actionable blueprint for developing a winning brand—no matter how big or small your business is. The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design by Marty Neumeier In the Brand Gap, author Marty Neumeier introduces 5 specific disciplines as a framework for helping readers understand how to create a brand that customers feel is essential to their lives. Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman In Brand Thinking, author Debbie Millman shares interviews between herself and other branding experts in the industry to help readers better understand the current state of branding as it exists in the modern world today. Articles: Where Marketing Ends, Branding Begins by Clayton Wood In this Kissmetrics blog post, author Clayton Wood highlights common misconceptions about branding and helps readers understand how to create a brand the right way. Why You Should Get Excited About Emotional Branding By Rick Sloboda In this Smashing Magazine blog post, author Rick Sloboda introduces the concept of emotional branding and explains how the roles of brands are changing. This Startup Cracked a $2.4 Billion Market with Branding — Here’s Their Formula by First Round In this First Round Review blog post, the author presents a case study on branding from Harry’s—a startup taking the men’s shaving industry by storm and giving powerhouse brands like Gillette a run for their money. Miscellaneous: 30 Must See Infographics That Will Help Build a Winning Brand Strategy by Kylie Garner In this blog post, author Kylie Garner presents readers with a handful of infographics that can be referenced and used when building a brand. Topics covered range from storytelling and design to customer service and brand identity. Definition of a Brand by Seth Godin In this quick blog post, author Seth Godin shares his definition of a brand. Here’s an excerpt from the post: A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer… [read on] Brand Over Brain from TED Radio Hour This podcast from NPR features highlights from a collection of TED talks on the topic of branding. Branding Best Practices There’s no surefire equation that can be used to build a lasting and memorable brand for your business, but there are a number of best practices you can follow that can increase your likelihood of success: Best Practice #1: Tell your story. To create a great brand, you have to be able to tell a great story. These days, competition for the attention of consumers online is fierce—there are more entrepreneurs launching businesses in more industries than ever before. It’s no longer about making the best products or providing the best services (although those things still matter). In order to effectively differentiate from competitors and create long-lasting relationships with potential customers, you have to become a skilled storyteller. To shape your brand story, think about why your company exists, the problems you’re trying to help people solve, why people would want to work with your business rather than one of your competitors, how your company or products came to be, and who the team is that makes up your company. The more genuine of a story you can tell, the better chance you’ll have in attracting and connecting with potential customers. Best Practice #2: Serve customers first. Today, the best and most memorable brands are the ones who put the customer first above everything else. In an age where everything is out in the open and every individual conversation you have with customers has the potential to be shared with the entire world, it’s more important than ever to make exceptional customer service and delight a defining characteristic of your brand. To make customer service a priority when shaping your brand, go above and beyond to be proactive when it comes to communicating with customers, and use all interactions as opportunities to strengthen the reputation of your brand. For example, if a customer has an issue with your product or service and communicates with you on Facebook or Twitter, don’t delete the post or respond privately. Take the opportunity to respond and alleviate the problem in real-time and for the entire public (and future customers) to see. The positive actions you take when it comes to interacting with and serving your customers can help you build loyalty, maintain a positive reputation, and boost brand exposure through word-of-mouth. Best Practice #3: Focus on emotion. Humans feed off of emotion. When developing and evolving your brand, pull on the heartstrings whenever you can. As a business, it can be easy to be over-professional, but that’s not what your customers want—they want to know that they’re doing business with actual human beings who understand them and can relate to them on an emotional level. To see an example of a brand that focuses on emotion, Best Practice #4: Be consistent and original. Originality and consistency are both key when developing a strong brand. No one likes copycats. As such, you should take the time to hire a designer who can help you shape the visual identity of your brand (logo, imagery, graphics, colors, font, personality, etc). You should strive to make your brand as original as possible, and once you have a brand identity that you like, you should incorporate it into everything you do and create. To get a better grasp of this concept, think about what you see and feel when you walk into an Apple store or land anywhere on their website. What you get is consistency. What you feel is familiarity. Those two things make for an incredibly powerful brand. Best Practice #5: Keep your brand alive and let it evolve. Don’t be afraid to let you brand breathe and evolve over time. Even the best and most popular brands in the world have seen their identity change through the years. Accept the fact that your brand will likely change at one point or another during its existence. As long as you can stay true to your vision, purpose, and story, you have nothing to worry about. Best Practice #6: Communicate your brand over and over again. Once you settle on a brand, incorporate it everywhere you can—in copy, in visuals, in marketing collateral, on your website, in conversations with employees and customers, and anywhere else you can think of. The more you reference it, the more real your brand becomes to you and everyone else. Brand Planning Tools When you’re ready to start developing your brand, there are an endless amount of tools you can use to keep your thoughts and work organized. Here are a few worth checking out: XMind – a mind mapping tool that makes it easy to organize your thoughts as you work to define the meaning and purpose behind your brand. Trello – a visual-driven organization tool that can help you track progress and accomplish various tasks along the way as you work to develop and formalize your brand. Evernote – a note-taking app you can use to collect your thoughts and feedback from other people (employees, early customers, friends) during the brand creation process. Pinterest – a social media platform you can use to easily create branding mood boards and store examples of other brands and visuals you like as you work to develop the visual identity of your brand. Google Forms – a simple survey tool you can use when you want to collect feedback from others about the potential direction of your brand. First Steps After you’ve spent time diving into branding resources, familiarizing yourself with best practices, and trying tools, you can finally start taking the first steps toward developing a living brand for your business. Here are the first 6 steps you should take: Step 1: Define your vision purpose. Think about why you’re in business and what you’re trying to accomplish. The answers you come up with should act as the cornerstone of your brand story and identity. Brainstorm using one of the tools mentioned above and come up with concise statements (2-3 sentences each) that you can reference throughout the brand development process. Step 2: Define your customers. Think about who your customers are, how you can relate to them, how you can help them, where they spend their time, and why they should care about your business. Organize your thoughts and reference them when it comes time to think about how to create a brand that will allow you to connect with them on an emotional level. Step 3: Define what makes you different than everyone else. Remember: be original. Figure out what makes your business different than everyone else, then embrace it fully as you work to create your brand. Step 4: Define your story. Incorporate everything (what you know about customers, what makes you different, why you’re here) into a compelling brand story that you can use to attract new customers, establish trust, build loyalty, and stand out from other competitors in your industry. Step 5: Define your visual identity. Once you have defined your story in words, think about the visuals and imagery you’d like to use to help people understand who you are and what you represent. For help with this step, read through this helpful guide from Smashing Magazine. Step 6: Make your game plan. Make a master plan for developing and promoting your new brand. For example, you may want to add pieces of your new brand story to various pages on your website and include statements in marketing and advertising collateral. Or maybe you want to include brand-specific graphics and messages and visuals throughout your office, in employee handbooks, training materials, and manifestos, in your product packaging, in your emails to prospective clients, and so on. Remember: the best thing you can do once your brand is formalized is to start communicating it whenever and wherever you can. Final Thoughts Branding can seem like an intimidating task, but if it helps, remember this: every famous brand throughout history and in the present day started exactly where you are now. You have the tools and resources needed to create a brand for your business—it’s up to you to take the first steps.   What is your brand story? Share it with us in the comments section below!  

The Beginner’s Guide to Blogging: Part 1

Whether you run a business or not, there are countless benefits to blogging. It can build your brand, build you up as an authority, and of course (the really exciting stuff) it can make you money. Let’s begin by looking at the benefits of blogging in more detail. Why Blog? Blogging as a business A well-run blog should play a key part in your marketing strategy (not to mention the fact that if you want to invest in content marketing, it’s pretty much a prerequisite). Benefits to blogging as a business include (but aren’t limited to): Increased brand awareness Increased organic search traffic More brand authority More leads More conversions Links Let’s break this down. Increased brand awareness – Great blog content will get shared around and increase the number of consumers who are exposed to your brand. Increased organic search traffic – Well-written and useful content can rank in the search results and drive organic (i.e. free) traffic to your site. More brand authority – Write in a manner that showcases your knowledge, and consumers will come to know you (and your brand) as an authority in your industry. More leads – Blog content that targets consumers towards the beginning and the middle of the sales funnel can bring targeted traffic to your site and turn them into leads. More conversions – In a similar manner, you can also craft content that will help turn those leads into sales. Links – Links are the beating heart of the web and are one of the biggest factors Google uses to determine how visible a site is in its search results. You’ll need them if you want to rank organically. Best of all, these benefits will generally stick with you for the long haul. Content that performs well initially tends to continue to perform well over time. Content that doesn’t perform well right away can often gain traction down the line. Take Hubspot, for instance. The site sees a significantly higher number of leads generated via its old blog posts than its new ones. “Let’s say you sit down for an hour and write and publish a blog post today. Let’s say that blog post gets you 100 views and 10 leads. You get another 50 views and 5 leads tomorrow as a few more people find it on social media and some of your subscribers get caught up on their email and RSS. But after a couple days, most of the fanfare from that post dies down and you’ve netted 150 views and 15 leads. It’s not done. That blog post is now ranking in search engines. That means for days, weeks, months, and years to come, you can continue to get traffic and leads from that blog post. So while it may feel like day one or bust, in reality, blogging acts more like this: So while you’re hitting your snooze alarm, surfing in Hawaii, and pumping iron, you’re also driving traffic and leads. The effort you put in yesterday can turn into hundreds of thousands of views and leads in the future.”  – Corey Eridon for HubSpot Blogging as yourself There are many reasons you might want to run a “personal” blog. It might be that you want to build your personal brand, perhaps to make a move to freelancing or to make yourself more attractive to prospective employers. It could be that you have a passion you want to share. Maybe you want to go one step further and use a blog to build yourself up as an authority on that passion, so you can monetize your expertise by working as an influencer. “Having a high Klout score or a big following does not make you an influencer.  Popularity is NOT influence. It takes a lot more work to become a true influencer. True influencers would never call themselves  “influencers” because they are too busy adding value to others’ lives. They use their powers for good, not personal gain. These are the only ‘influencers’ we need to know.” – Cammi Pham, for her blog Maybe you want to make money as an affiliate marketer. Perhaps you want to go back to basics and use a blog to share stories with your friends and family. Maybe you just want to use your blog as a 21st-century diary (it’s easy to make them private, if that’s what you’re after). My own blog, sujanpatel.com, is part personal, part business. It exists to build my personal brand, but my personal brand is my business (or one of them, at least). The blog has been instrumental to the growth of the “Sujan brand.” One of the key goals of sujanpatel.com is to drive consultancy leads. I have a page dedicated to that purpose. However, the benefits go much further than that. My blog has been responsible for book sales, helped to grow my email list, and led to a number of speaking gigs. Literally, money just lands in my lap if I make sure to blog regularly and answer my email. The way I see it, if you run a business today, or simply want to make money online, you can’t afford not to be blogging. Setting Up Your Blog My experience has shown me that setting up a blog is where many of us fall down. If you know nothing about web design or development, it’s easy to be intimidated or feel overwhelmed by what’s involved. Thankfully, setting up a blog is easier now than it’s ever been. Many platforms pretty much build your blog for you. The main thing you have to do is pick which platform you want to use. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular. WordPress As you can see above, WordPress holds the lion’s share of the market – by a lot. Although initially launched as a blogging-only platform, it can now be used to build and manage entire websites. Not only is WordPress really easy to use, the number of plugins and themes available for the platform means it is by far the most customizable CMS on the market. Getting started with WordPress is free, although you may want to fork out for a premium plan, and depending on the traffic your blog and site receives, you may want to pay for hosting. You can do this for as little as $5 a month with a shared hosting plan from A Small Orange. Drupal Drupal is really a fully-blown CMS that can be used exclusively as a blogging platform. It’s especially popular with people who are at least moderately tech-savvy. Drupal’s main selling points are its versatility and the ease with which it can grow with your business. Joomla! Joomla! is another option that would suit those with at least a little bit of skill and experience in web development. Benefits include the ease with which sites can be developed in multiple languages, front-end editing abilities (meaning you don’t need to log into the back end of the site to make changes) and access to more than 8,000 extensions. Since WordPress is the most widely-used and user-friendly of the above options, for the rest of this section I’m going to reference it exclusively. Picking a theme WordPress boasts an ever-expanding and seemingly limitless selection of themes for webmasters to sift through and choose from. This is thanks to its open-source platform that allows anyone to design themes. If you can’t find a theme that tickles your fancy on WordPress itself, you might have more luck with a third-party developer, like: Themeforest Themify United Themes Elegant Themes Of course, like anything in life, you shouldn’t base your decision on looks alone… Free or premium? Free WordPress themes are great because they’re, well, free. Premium themes, however, often boast more features and better support. They also tend to be more (or entirely) unique. This is important if you want to stand out. If limiting your spending is really important to you, there’s nothing inherently wrong with picking a free WordPress theme. Most of them still look good and will serve their purpose. However, if you can afford it, it may be worth forking out for something a little more unique and customizable. Simplicity is key Your blog theme should look good, of course. But it should also be easy to use and not risk distracting the reader with unnecessary bells and whistles. Pick a design that has clear and intuitive navigation. Pick a responsive design There’s no getting around it: websites today need to be mobile-friendly. Thankfully the solution to this is very simple – pick a responsive design (meaning that the design automatically reconfigures itself to fit any size and shape of screen). Load speed Load speed plays a huge part in page abandonment. Users just don’t want to wait – and why would they, when the next site along might load faster and offer similar content? You can use Pingdom’s website speed test to find out how long a theme takes to load – just enter the URL of the theme’s demo. Naming your blog What’s in a name? A lot. It plays a huge part in first impressions. In fact, you could say it’s more important than your blog’s theme. Your name will appear in the search results, while your theme won’t, after all. It’s also going to stick around (you ideally don’t want to risk changing it after you’ve built a successful blog under it). Your theme is much easier to update if you change your mind later. When picking a name, you should be asking yourself questions like… What’s the blog about? (See next section below, “Choosing a niche”) Who’s your target audience? What tone of voice will you be using? Is the blog serious, or will you be keeping it light-hearted and fun? What’s the purpose of your blog? If it’s to build your personal brand, for example, you’ll probably just want to name the blog after yourself. Is it unique? Will it help your blog stand out? What imagery does it evoke? Is it easy to remember? Is the domain name available? Do other people like it? It’s well worth looking at the names of other blogs in your industry – in part, to see what sort of names work among your competitors, but also to help you come up with something that’s going to make you stand out. Publishing your first post The best thing about WordPress is how easy and intuitive it is to use. However, just to be sure, I’m going to run through a few basic steps involved in getting your first post published. You’ll be managing your site (or blog) using the “My Site” menu on the left of the screen. If there’s nothing there, click the “My Site” button in the far left corner. The full menu should drop down. From here, click the “Add” button that appears next to “Blog Posts.” You can then choose to write your blog post directly into the text box, or copy and paste it in from an external document. To make formatting your post easier, you may want to switch to HTML mode.   When you’re finished, you will probably want to preview your post. You can find that button in the “My Site” control panel. If you’re happy with how your post looks, you can publish it right away by clicking “Publish.” Alternatively, you can schedule it out for a later date using the button located directly to the right of “Publish.” Choosing a Niche Before you can actually write your first blog post – perhaps, even, before you name your blog and get it designed – you should pick the niche you want your blog to cover. This step is important because it gives your blog more direction and focus. It’s much easier to become “the best” – to become a thought leader – in one very specific area, than to become a master of many areas. Sure, there are plenty of publications that cover all areas within a particular subject matter (think about pretty much any big-name tech blog, for instance). There are also lots of sites that cover many different, entirely unrelated topics. The difference is that these sorts of sites generally employ a huge range of writers, each with their own specialist area. If your blog lies in your own hands, or the hands of a small team, it makes sense to pick one very specific niche that you can really sink your teeth into. So how do you choose the niche that’s right for you? Knowledge and passion First and foremost, the “right” niche is one that you are passionate and knowledgeable about. Do you need to know everything about that niche? Of course not. You can, and will, learn as your blog grows. However, you should have a decent base of knowledge in your chosen niche, and enough passion for that niche to keep wanting to learn more. Fit If you’re running a business blog, your choices are limited: the right niche is one that fits your business. Does your company offer marketing services? Then write about marketing. However, you might want to consider the advice above and choose one specific aspect of marketing to focus on, or assign a specific area to different staff members in accordance with their individual expertise. Reach vs. competition This is where your job gets difficult. So we know that the “right” niche is one that you’re knowledgeable in and are passionate about. It’s also one that is popular enough to ensure the potential audience is there, but not so popular that you’re going to suffocate under the competition. The fact is, if you can think of something you want to focus on, someone has probably already created a blog about it. Your challenge is to find that “niche within a niche.” To do this: Target your blog at a particular level of knowledge – beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Create a blog that covers a particular niche in a unique way (Listverse doesn’t focus on a single niche, but the “lists” angle gives it a unique edge). Look at a niche from a different point of view. In summary, choosing a successful blog niche comes down to two things: Having a unique enough angle to stand out from more than 200 million other blogs. Actually giving a damn about the subject you’re covering. Writing for the Web Before you begin to blog, there’s one thing you really ought to learn… How to write for the web. This is because writing for a digital audience calls for a very different style and skillset than the type of writing most of us were taught in school. Writing a blog post is nothing like writing an academic essay. Big words and long sentences are out; simple terminology and short, easy-to-read sentences are in. Of course, it takes time to really master the craft of writing for the web. You’ll need to practice if you want to achieve perfection. In the meantime, let’s get you up to speed on the basics. Great web content: consists of short sentences – try to stick to 20 words or less. avoids short paragraphs – four or five sentences at the most. avoids using jargon (use language everyone can understand). avoids repeating words in quick succession. avoids repetition of ideas. uses an active, not a passive, voice. avoids using unnecessary words. For example, the sentence “George’s wife is a woman who is unhappy because of the fact that George ignores her.” could be cut to just 8 words: “George’s wife is unhappy because George ignores her.” To help you nail your web-writing technique, I can’t recommend the Hemingway App enough. You remember Ernest Hemingway, right? He wrote books like The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms… …but today he is arguably best known for pioneering a short and succinct style of writing – the style of writing we associate with writing for the web, and that the Hemingway App helps us to achieve. Specifically, the app identifies sentences that are hard or very hard to read, phrases with simpler alternatives, and unnecessary uses of adverbs and passive voice. Of course, one of the best ways to learn is to learn from the best. In other words, start reading content by great digital writers. One of my favorites has to be Backlinko’s Brian Dean. He absolutely kills it when it comes to short paragraphs and sentences. Kristi Hines is arguably marketing’s biggest and best-known freelance writer, copywriter, and ghostwriter, and for good reason – she has an incredible way with words. Unfortunately, her own blog contains just three examples of her writing. To see more, I recommend checking out her profiles on other sites like Social Media Examiner and Crazy Egg. Check out Blogger Sidekick’s Will Blunt to find out specifically how to write blog content “like a boss.” And for something a little different I can’t recommend Everywhereist enough. It’s a beautifully and uniquely-written travel blog penned by Geraldine, the wife of one of SEO’s biggest names, Rand Fishkin. She has an incredible knack for pulling you into a story and making you stay for more wonderful, off-the-wall adventures with Rand and Geraldine. Formatting Blog Posts What looks better… This? Or this? It should go without saying that wall-to-wall text doesn’t render right on screen. Sure, some sites, like Wikipedia, might be able to get away with it. Most of us, however, need to put a little more effort into formatting and presentation if we want to create content that people are actually going to bother to read. Subheadings Barring novel writing, subheadings are fundamental to a good, readable piece of writing. Below is a chunk of text taken from Wikipedia’s page on Doctor Who. On the left is the text as it appears on Wikipedia. On the right it has been reformatted by Adam Thompson of 10x Digital to include subheadings. Which version would you rather read? Boost the readability of your content by using subheadings to separate sections of content, and in some cases, themes and ideas, too. Images Imagery helps to draw the reader’s eye towards certain sections on the page, illustrate points being made, and maximize readability by breaking up text. Of course, not just any image will do. You’ll want to make sure you have the rights to use an image (unless you’ve taken or created it yourself, of course). Using images that are owned and protected by someone else can land you in a pretty sticky spot. You can read more about copyright and the law here. Stay safe by… Using images that are licensed under Creative Commons (and if necessary, attributing them correctly). Buying stock images from a reputable site. Using images from free sites like Pixabay, Unsplash, and Gratisography. Taking your own photos or creating your own images. Once you have an image, modifying it can give you more edge (just check to be sure you’re allowed to modify any images you choose to use, first!) Head over here for an excellent article on how to turn an image like this: Into this: Bonus tip: embedding gifs and videos into your posts can have a similar effect. Lists Use numbered and bullet point lists to organize sequences of points. It makes them: 1. Easier to read 2. Easier to digest, and 3. Easier to remember Quotes When presented correctly, quotes can add visual appeal to your content. They also lend credibility to the points you make. The simplest way to present a quote is by indenting it, like so… “Few things will improve your post like well-positioned quotes. Many authors are not only more brilliant than we are, but they’re also superior writers. By taking their brilliance and inserting it in your posts, you’re boosting your argument’s credibility and making your articles more interesting to read.” – Mary Jaksch, Write to Done Alternatively, you could up their visual appeal by adding a colored background: Or embedding it in an image: Generating Ideas Once you know what niche you want to focus on and you have the basics of writing for the web down, with at least the bare bones of your blog in place, it’s time for one of the hardest mountains you’re going to have to climb… Coming up with ideas. For those of you who are new to blogging, you might not realize how hard this part is. What’s more, it only tends to get harder. The more you write, the more your pool of ideas generally shrinks. You can minimize this effect somewhat by choosing a fast-moving niche. SEO is a good example. There are so many changes happening so often in the industry that you’d have to create a lot of content to run out of fresh ideas. But, regardless of the niche your blog operates in, you’re probably going to need a few tools to help you come up with ideas. A great place to start is to find out what other people are asking about your niche. For this, I tend to turn to Quora and Reddit. They’re really easy to use. Just enter a subject of interest in the search box and read through the results to see what questions people are asking around that topic. Your task is to create content that answers those questions. Long-tail keyword research tools can be infinitely valuable when it comes to topic inspiration, too. Just to clarify, I’m not talking about Google’s Keyword Planner here. It’s useful, sure. But it focuses on head, buying terms – terms that have a high search volume. Keyword Planner rarely shows you what people are actually asking. For this purpose, tools like these are going to serve you much better: Ubersuggest Answer the Public HitTail Of course, there’s a lot to be said for the oldest, most tried-and-tested method of idea generation in the book…. Brainstorming. At some point, you will probably revert to basics and get your team together for a good, old-fashioned session of brainstorming. But how can you ensure you maximize the time you spend on it? Sure, you could just sit around a table and wait for someone to come up with a winning idea… …or you could find a way to use this time more efficiently: Use the “note and vote” method. Everyone gets a few minutes to think up as many ideas as they can. They then share their top ideas, the ideas are discussed, and the best ones voted on. Try Brainwriting 6-3-5: six people and three ideas in five minutes. After five minutes, you pass your ideas to the person on your left, the timer is reset, and you come up with three more ideas. After just half an hour you will have 108 ideas. Use a tool like tecmark 635 to take your brainwriting online (and negate the need for all participants to be in the same room, office, or even the same country). Have a drink (or two). Seriously. Alcohol has been proven to enhance creativity. One other tool I find really useful for idea generation is my own blog comments. Okay, so this one doesn’t always pay off, but sometimes readers will ask questions or make suggestions that make me think: “Hey, why didn’t I think of that one already? I could probably turn that into a blog post, too.” Here’s the trick, though – I make sure to write down that idea immediately. If I don’t, I’ll forget it – guaranteed. For that, I use Evernote, but you can use whatever works best for you. The important thing is that you always have something on hand that will let you jot down ideas as and when they come to you. Setting Goals The most successful blogs tend to result from the author (or authors) working towards a very specific set of goals. When setting goals, try to adhere to the SMART principle. This stands for: Specific Measurable Attainable Relevant Time-bound A specific goal would be something like “get 5000 unique monthly visitors.” It would not be “increase visitors to our blog.” A measurable goal is one that you, by whatever means, are able to accurately measure whether or not you meet it. The example above is a measurable goal since “unique monthly visitors” is a metric you can view in Google Analytics. An attainable goal is one you can realistically achieve. You should be ambitious with your goals, sure. But you shouldn’t set goals that are so ambitious you have no hope of actually accomplishing them. That would suck. A relevant goal is one that actually relates to your business and what you want to achieve. If you’re not bothered about growing an audience on Pinterest, for instance, you shouldn’t set a goal of “get an image pinned 100 times.” It doesn’t matter to you, so it’s irrelevant whether or not you accomplish it. Time-bound goals entail adding a time limit for achieving that goal. For instance, “get 5000 unique monthly visitors” might become “get 5000 unique monthly visitors by month six.” If you follow the above strategy, you should be able to create goals that provide direction and focus for your blogging efforts, and that will help you achieve more in less time. When you first begin, six months is a good time limit to set for achieving your first group of goals. However, remember that when that time limit is reached, your goals should be analyzed, assessed, and reset accordingly – whether or not you managed to meet them. Creating a Strategy Once you’ve determined what you want your blog to achieve and by when, it’s time to weave these goals into a strategy. At a minimum, your strategy should dictate: How often you will post. When you will post. What you should do before, during, and after you post. It’s critical that you post regularly, even if you can’t post as often as you’d like. There are two key reasons for this: It’s easier to promote content when it’s created at even intervals. It’s easier to build an audience when you’re creating content on a consistent If you want to take this a step further, your strategy could also include guidelines for: How your posts should be formatted. What should be included in each post: i.e., I try to include at least three quotes from other people in my industry in each blog post I write. Keyword use. The style of writing you should use, and so on. However… The most important part of a blogging strategy, as I see it, is “what you should do after you post.” Along with the quality of the content itself, this is the part that determines the success of what you write and create. It’s how you get people to actually visit your site, read your work, and ideally, go on to share it. This part of your strategy might include tasks like: Including your blog post in your next email blast. Posting to relevant social channels. Notifying people linked to, mentioned, or quoted in the article. Using paid channels x, y, and z and assigning x budget to each channel. We’ll look at how you can effectively promote your content in more detail in Part Two of this guide. For now, just remember to use those goals that you set to guide your strategy. Be realistic about what you can achieve – if you can only blog twice a month, is it fair to set a goal of securing 250 blog subscribers within six months? Outsourcing Writing Work Most of us, at one point or another, will struggle to keep up with our blog schedule. Especially if things elsewhere in our lives or our business are going well. Other priorities get in the way, and when you’ve got new business coming through the door, it’s easy for blogging to fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, while maintaining your blog might seem insignificant at the time, in the long term it’s probably going to hurt you. You really shouldn’t let this aspect of your business slide, however busy you might be. Thankfully there’s a workaround. Outsourcing. According to Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2015 survey, 13% of companies use freelancers to create content, and 10% work with agencies. It’s safe to say that if you choose to outsource content creation, you’ll be in good company. But how do you actually find freelancers who can create content for you? In an ideal world, you would want to have a team of outsourcers on hand that you work with directly. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find suitable talent – especially if you need work completed quickly. In the meantime, it makes sense to use a third-party service that can match you with a suitable freelancer. This option also offers protection should the resulting work not be up to scratch. There are heaps of platforms promising to match companies with freelancers. Some, however, are better than others. As a general rule, you get what you pay for. If the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I’ll have to admit, I don’t have first-hand experience with any of these sites, but I have heard good things about: Speedlancer – $59 for a 600-word blog post. They promise to get your post to you in just four hours. Konsus – A service that matches your task with the best available freelancer to complete it. You pay by the hour, and the more work you order, the less you pay (rates begin at $19 an hour). Localancers – Matches you with freelancers that operate within a particular location or timezone – the idea being that collaboration becomes easier when a freelancer is working when you are. The cost is determined by you and the freelancer. So now you know… Why you should blog How to set up your blog How to write for the web How to format a blog post for the internet How to choose a relevant yet profitable niche Different ways of generating ideas What type of goals you should set (and why it’s important to set them) How to devise a blogging strategy, and What to do if you’re too busy to blog But there’s so much more to learn! I’ll be back soon with Part Two, in which I’ll be looking at… How to optimize your blog posts How to promote your blog posts, and How to monetize your blog But for now, if you have any tips, thoughts, or ideas to add – please leave a note in the comments below:       Image source: Hubspot   Image source: Datadial   Image source: Hobo Web   Image source: Vulture    

40 Productivity Tools For Your Growing Startup Team

In entrepreneurship, the key to building a successful business all comes down to your ability to enable and empower your team members to do their best work. If you’re like other early-stage entrepreneurs and first-time startup founders, you’re faced with the unique challenge that comes with needing to build a profitable, sustainable business while also having to invest time and resources into growing and nurturing your very own team from the ground up for the very first time. To beat the odds and survive your first two, five, and even 10 years as a new business, you can’t just focus on one area and not the other. In other words, you could put all the time and energy you have into building fantastic products and services that help you attract and retain customers, but without the support of a solid team to help you scale your efforts and build a sustainable business, you’ll never make it in the long run. In this blog post, we’re going to save the topic of building great products and services for another time and focus instead on providing you with a list of productivity tools that you can use to empower and nurture your growing startup team. Here are 40 productivity tools worth investing in as your team and business both continue to grow: Tools for Your Sales Team 1.  Yesware This tool allows your sales team to track who opens and clicks on your emails, whether they opened on desktop or mobile, and keep track of the status of the messages they send to prospects. Yesware also provides the functionality to schedule emails to send at a later time, to receive reminders to follow up on important emails and hot leads, and the ability to use mail merge to send personalized messages to a large list of emails at once. Pricing starts at $12 PER USER/MONTH 2.  LeadChat This tool allows your sales team to insert conversion-driven live chat directly onto your site with minimal help from your development team. With Leadchat installed on your site, you never have to worry about missing out on interested prospects. The tool connects you with a team of conversion experts who stand ready to engage with your website visitors whenever they need help or have a question about your services or products. You work directly with an account representative who makes it their mission to learn everything they can about your business, the common objections your prospects have, and how to overcome them in the quickest and most efficient way possible. Pricing starts at $99 PER MONTH 3.  Outreach This tool makes it easy for your sales team to keep track of communication across multiple channels. Outreach can also help your sales team build personalized drip sequences, send replies at the perfect time, and monitor engagement in order to take advantage of leads when they’re most valuable. The tool automatically ranks leads in order of importance based on who is most engaged, who is available to talk, and where they are in the sales funnel. Pricing: DEMO REQUIRED 4.  App Data Room This tool allows you to quickly and easily create customized mobile sales apps for your sales team. App Data Room gives you the option of building the app yourself by uploading your logo and adding content, or working with their team of developers to develop the right app for your business. Once your app is set up, your sales team members can quickly access it for sales presentations, information sheets, case studies, customer testimonials, and any other relevant information that they might want to use to close deals. Pricing starts at $25 PER USER/MONTH 5.  Slybroadcast With its patented voice mail delivery technology, this tool allows your sales team to send pre-recorded voicemails directly to the voicemail boxes of prospects. With Slybroadcast, you don’t have to worry about catching prospects at the wrong time or talking to them in real-time. Instead, you can craft the right message for your audience, skip the live phone call, and have your message show up right in the voicemail inbox of anyone on your list. You also get powerful analytics about how many voicemails were successfully delivered and how many people listened to your message. Pricing starts at 100 deliveries for $10 Tools for Your Marketing Team 6.  Asana This tool can save your marketing team time and boost efficiency by allowing team members to manage projects from one place. Asana is a project management tool that your marketing team can use to track project progress, set deadlines and to-do lists, have conversations with one another, and integrate with a handful of other marketing tools for even more productivity. Pricing starts at free! 7.  Canva Canva saves your marketing team time by allowing them to quickly and easily create powerfully compelling visuals for blog posts, social media updates, slide decks, and other marketing collateral. This tool includes a handful of templates, backgrounds, images, and icons that you can customize and edit in order to match the look and feel of your own brand. Images can be conveniently exported directly to your desktop and used in a matter of seconds. Pricing starts at $9.95 PER MONTH (for Canva For Work) 8.  CoSchedule This tool allows your marketing team to build and manage editorial blogging calendars right from within WordPress. With CoSchedule, the person managing your blogging efforts can plan, write, schedule, publish, and share content all from one place. It eliminates the need to go back and forth between multiple Word docs, emails, Google calendars, and other tools that you might be used to using when it comes to managing blog post publishing for your startup.   Pricing starts at $60 PER MONTH 9.  Buffer This tool saves your social media marketing manager time by allowing them to easily schedule social media updates for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest. Buffer also just launched a tool called Respond that allows you to keep track of and engage with any messages you get from prospects, clients, and followers on Twitter. Pricing starts at free! 10.  AdRoll This tool helps boost productivity when it comes to creating and launching effective advertising campaigns aimed at attracting and converting new customers online. AdRoll is a powerful advertising tool that you can use to create retargeting ads for the web, mobile, and on social media sites. The platform offers access to over 500 ad exchanges, including native inventory like Apple iAd, Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Pricing: DEMO REQUIRED Tools for Your Product/Development Team 11.  Jira This is a project management tool specifically built and geared toward agile development teams. Jira allows your development team to boost productivity by making it easy for them to build and customize scrum boards, Kanban boards, integrate with other development tools, and keep track of projects as they progress from idea to completion. Pricing starting at $10 PER MONTH 12.  Github This tool allows your team to collaborate, have conversations about, and make changes to code. Github can also be used to protect projects, host and secure code, manage permission levels for various team members, share work, integrate with others tools, and get access to important data and insights related to ongoing projects. Pricing starts at $9 PER USER/MONTH 13.  Slack This is a powerful messaging app used by thousands of businesses and companies of all sizes all around the world. It’s a great platform to leverage when you need to communicate and collaborate with remote employees. Your development team can boost productivity by using Slack along with the other tools they use to push updates and new projects to production. Slack also makes it possible for your development team to add bots to group chats, which can also boost productivity among team members. Finally, development teams can create custom integrations through the open API. Pricing starts at free! 14.  RescueTime RescueTime is a simple app that can help your developers understand how their using their time during the day, what their biggest online distractions are, and how to boost productivity. The app tracks time spent on websites and apps, sends automatic notifications so you know how much time you’ve spent on a particular activity, and even allows users to block distracting websites for periods of time during the workday. Pricing starts at free! 15.  Trello This is a great tool for your developers to leverage in order to track their own individual progress on certain projects. It can also be used as a project management tool for your team if you decide to not use a tool like Jira. Trello leverages the Kanban system to create a simplified way to view and manage ongoing projects from start to finish. Developers can use Trello to set deadlines, communicate with others if needed, create to-do lists, attach and store files, and connect with other apps. Pricing: Starts at free! Tools for Your Support Team 16.  Intercom This tool simplifies the communication your support and success teams ultimately have with your customers. Intercom boosts productivity by allowing your support team to chat live with customers and interested prospects through live chat on your website, in email, and in your app (if applicable). Intercom is also used to onboard new customers and re-capture customers who have churned or gone dark recently. As a manager, you can see conversations in real-time, access conversation archives, and collaborate behind the scenes when your employees need an extra hand. Pricing starting at $49 PER MONTH 17.  Elevio This tool acts as a 24/7 support concierge for your website. Elevio pulls in data from a number of other sources—your help desk, your blog, your release notes, and more in order to provide visitors with the relevant information they’re looking for at the exact moment when they need it. The tool also makes it easy for visitors to engage with your support team through forms, live chat, and support ticket requests. To learn more about how you can leverage it for your startup, click here.   Pricing starting at $41 PER MONTH 18.  Ilos Video This tool helps your support team boost productivity by allowing them to easily record, share, and store videos on the cloud. It allows your support team to quickly develop helpful, personalized videos that directly address the problems or questions your customers need help with. Pricing: DEMO REQUIRED 19.  RingCentral This tool allows you to create phone system for your business in the cloud. With RingCentral, you can assign phone numbers to each of your employees and allow them to answer and respond to calls from the convenience of their own computers. This can be especially beneficial for startups looking to save costs on phone equipment, or for startups with widely dispersed remote teams. The platform is fairly robust, so spend some time reviewing features to decide if it’s the right tool for your team. Pricing starting at $24 PER USER/MONTH 20.  X.ai This tool helps your support team spend less time scheduling demo calls or product/service-related calls with customers who need help. X.ai is an artifical intelligence assistant that collaborates directly with you and the person requesting a meeting with you. Click here to see how it works. Pricing starts at free! Tools for Your Executive Team 21.  Lattice As an executive, it’s important to stay productive and efficient when it comes to setting and tracking company-wide and team-specific goals. Lattice is a tool that streamlines the entire process by allowing you to set personal, team, and company goals. The app makes it easy for you as a manager or executive to see the bigger picture and get updates on goals in a matter of a few seconds. Pricing starting at $10 PER MONTH 22.  TinyPulse This is another tool that allows you as the manager or head of the company to get an accurate pulse from your employees. TinyPulse is a tool that you can use to anonymously survey the employees at your company in order to identify successes, opportunities, and problem areas. Surveys are sent via email, questions can be customized week-to-week, and employees have the opportunity to provide you with essential feedback without having to fear any sort of repercussions. Pricing starting at $5 PER USER/MONTH 23.  Promoter.io Promoter.io is similar to TinyPulse, but it helps you keep a pulse on customers instead. This tool allows you to save time collecting essential feedback from customers by inviting them to fill out an NPS or Net Promoter Score survey about your business. An NPS survey essentially asks customers how likely they would be to recommend your business to a friend. The tool allows you to send surveys to different lists, reminders to people who don’t respond right away, and makes it easy for you to set recurring surveys at various time intervals throughout the year. Responses are compiled and calculated in order to give you a quick snapshot at the reputation of your business and happiness of your customers. Pricing starting at $50 PER MONTH 24.  Do This tool helps you as the executive run more effective meeting with your team members. Do makes it easy for users to set meeting agendas, share them with coworkers, upload files, and take private notes. You also get powerful insights that paint a picture of how productive or costly your meetings are throughout the year and give you actionable recommendations on how to boost productivity at your company. Pricing starting at $10 PER USER/MONTH 25.  Zirtual Zirtual can provide you with a virtual assistant to help you complete the tasks that you don’t have time for or shouldn’t be spending time on. Your Zirtual assistant can help you with business tasks such as writing copy, scheduling meetings, responding to emails, and booking flights, and they can also help you with personal tasks like sending gifts, managing expense reports, and making purchases on your behalf. Pricing starting at $398 PER MONTH Tools for Your Office / Administrative Team 26.  Zenefits Zenefits is an all-in-one HR platform that can help streamline the tedious back-office tasks your office/admin team has to deal with each month. Zenefits offers tools for payroll, benefits, tracking time, recruiting and onboarding employees (employee talent management), compliance, and management. All employee information is stored within one easy-to-access dashboard. Pricing is free! 27.  Google Apps for Work Google apps is another suite of tools that can be leveraged by office and administrative teams to boost productivity and streamline tedious tasks. Within the Google Apps for Work suite exists tools for email, video conferencing, calendar, document sharing and collaboration, spreadsheet management and creation, slide deck creation, and other admin/management functions. Pricing starting at $5 PER USER/MONTH 28.  Dropbox Dropbox is the go-to tool that most businesses big and small are using to store and share files across teams, clients, and other relevant parties. The tool offers secure file sharing, varying permission level management options for users, and all the space you need as you work to scale your business. Pricing starting at $15 PER USER/MONTH 29.  Hivy Hivy boosts office management productivity by allowing employees and office managers to interact about office requests from the convenience of one system. It eliminates the need for office admins to search through emails and chat logs in order to find requests that were made from employees about restocking supplies, food, and other needs for the office. To learn more about how this tool works, click here. Pricing starting at $26 PER MONTH 30.  SnackNation SnackNation can boost productivity by automating the task of shopping for snacks for the office. Snack boxes are expertly curated to meet the needs of your team and delivered directly to your office as often as you need. Pricing varies Tools for Your Accounting/IT/Finance/Data Team 31.  Chartio This tool allows data teams to compile essential business intelligence and reporting data into visually-compelling dashboards that are updated in real-time. Chartio helps you start tracking and visualizing data in no time so you can collaborate with others and identify and react to important business opportunities in less time. This tool is fairly robust and worth exploring in more detail. To do so, click here for a full product tour. Pricing: DEMO REQUIRED 32.  Google Analytics Google Analytics is another must-have tool that can help boost productivity and success as your company scales. Google Analytics can give your data team powerful insights into website engagement metrics, conversion metrics, and essential data relating to your audience. Data team members can use Google Analytics to build custom reports and set up event tracking to save time compiling data and searching for the right opportunities. Pricing starts at free! 33.  inDinero This tool makes it easy for your accounting team to boost back-office productivity by allowing users to access and manage important financial information from the convenience of one cloud-based platform. inDinero connects accounting professionals at your startup with the people and tools they need to help you keep the doors open, the people happy, and the company growing. In addition to providing access to a community of accounting experts, inDinero gives users access to powerful accounting software that features a custom reporting dashboard, real-time bank account syncs, department impact reporting, revenue stream summaries, and much more. Pricing: DEMO REQUIRED 34.  CrashPlan This tool allows IT managers at your startup to save time backing up systems and securing copies of sensitive information in case of an accident or breach. CrashPlan works to continuously back up data at your startup so you never have to worry about losing important information. This is another robust platform worth diving deeper into. To explore all the features offered, click here. Pricing starting at $6 PER USER/MONTH 35.  Slidebean Slidebean is a simple slide deck creation tool that can boost productivity for your finance team when it comes time to prepare pitch decks and investor update presentations. With Slidebean, you can make your presentation in minutes by choosing a template, adding your content, and customizing to fit with your brand voice and style. Pricing starting at $26 PER MONTH Tools for Everyone 36.  Evernote Evernote can be a great tool to leverage for boosting individual productivity. Evernote makes it easy for anyone to take notes, create to-do lists, and collaborate with others about ideas and ongoing projects. It’s a cloud-based system, which means you can update and access your data from anywhere.   Pricing starts at free! 37.  Voxer This tool helps you collaborate and communicate with other team members in real-time through audio, chat messaging, and other rich media. Voxer is a walkie talkie app that promotes real-time communication without having to dial numbers or wait for team members to answer the phone. Messages can be left and responded to whenever it’s most convenient for team members to do so. Pricing starts at free! 38.  Zapier Zapier is a powerful way to connect all the different apps you use on a daily basis. The platform leverages zaps, which help you connect any two Zapier-supported apps to each other in order to boost productivity and save time. To learn more about how Zapier works, watch this video. Pricing starts at free! 39.  Jarvis Jarvis is a personal assistant bot that you can use within Facebook Messenger. It reminds you to do things. To see it in action and give it a try, click here. Pricing is free! 40.  Spotify Finally, Spotify is a streaming music tool that you can use throughout the day to eliminate distractions, focus on work, and get more done. It works on web, mobile, and desktop. The premium version will allow you to listen with no ads, download music and listen offline, get better sound quality, and play any track you want to hear. Pricing starts at free! What other tools are you using to boost productivity at your startup? Tell us in the comments below.

7 Essential Logo Design Tips For Aspiring Entrepreneurs

In entrepreneurship, you can have a great idea, a fantastic prototype, and a sound business plan, but unless you’re able to create a brand identity that people can easily fall in love with, none of it matters. In today’s fast-paced, unforgiving world of internet consumerism, first impressions are everything. As an aspiring entrepreneur, the only way you’re going to be able to successfully launch a business, connect with prospects, gain traction, differentiate from competitors, and build a sustainable, profitable business with a solid reputation is by developing an unforgettable brand. There’s a lot that goes into developing a strong brand and brand identity—it doesn’t all happen at once. It’s a layered process that occurs over a number of months and years as your business grows and evolves over time. There is, however, a starting point that kicks the process into motion for every new business: It all starts with the design of a logo. In business, your logo is the cornerstone of your brand identity. It shapes your brand story, it differentiates you from competitors, and it affects every single visual branding decision you make as your business grows. As an aspiring entrepreneur, you can’t afford to create and use a bad logo. So the question is: where do you start? Here are 7 essential logo design tips that you can use to create a winning brand identity of your new business: Tip #1: Educate yourself before you dive in Before you get too far into the process of designing a logo for your business, it’s important to take some time to educate yourself on topics like design theory, branding, logo design, and brand storytelling. Doing so can help you make better decisions about the overall direction of your brand and the message you want to present through your logo and other visuals that shape your identity as a business. To get started, take a look at these 5 helpful resources: The Effective Logo Design Series from Smashing Magazine (Part I, Part II, Part III) Why The Shape Of A Company’s Logo Matters by Annie Sneed at Fast Company Here’s What the Most Popular Brands’ Logos Have in Common by Katie Richards at AdWeek Sticky Branding: 12.5 Principles to Stand Out, Attract Customers, and Grow an Incredible Brand by Jeremy Miller Designing Brand Identity: An Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team by Alina Wheeler In order to design a compelling, memorable logo for your business, you have to understand what makes a logo great. The resources above will help put you on the right track. Tip #2: Think about the bigger picture In order to design a logo that can successfully grow and evolve with your business, you have to think about the bigger picture. To develop something great, you shouldn’t think of the creation of your logo as a single, necessary to-do item that has to be completed before you launch your business. Rather, you should treat the action as the first step toward creating a compelling brand identity for your business, products, employees, and customers. As mentioned above, your logo will act as the foundation of all future visualization and brand styling for your business—so it’s important that you develop a logo that not only looks good, but also accurately represents your business and the message you’re trying to present to your target audience. To think about the bigger picture, consider these questions when designing your logo: Will this logo still be relevant in 10 years? Is this logo be flexible enough to easily use in a variety of different places (print, digital, swag, letter heads, etc)? Is this logo presenting the right message to my audience? What do I want people to feel when they see this logo? How does this logo fit into the story I’m trying to tell? Does it relate in some way to my products, the solution I’m providing, or the pain points my customers experience? Answering questions like these when designing your logo reduces the likelihood that you’ll have to invest in a logo redesign or complete overhaul at some point down the road as you work to scale your business. Tip #3: Understand color psychology Believe it or not, the color(s) you use in your logo can have a big impact on how your brand is ultimately received by prospective customers. As such, it’s important to understand how different colors make people feel when selecting the right colors for your logo. There are a ton of in-depth resources out there that you can read to better understand color psychology (like this blog post from CoSchedule, or this chapter from a QuickSprout guide on consumer psychology), but if you’d rather just get a quick snapshot of the meaning behind different colors, take a look at this visual that marketing expert Brian Honigman shares in a Huffington Post article on the impact of color in logo design: Use this graphic and the information in the articles shared above to pick a color for your logo that helps you present the right message and drive the right emotional response when people interact with your business for the first time. Tip #4: Put a development plan in place When you’re finally ready to move forward with creating a logo for your business, one of the last and most important steps you need to take before you begin is to put a development plan in place to guide you or whoever you hire to help you design your logo and build your brand identity. Ideally, your development plan should begin at the research phase and end with a packaged brand identity document that includes brand assets, messaging, and other standards and guidelines to refer back to as you build and grow your business. What you end up doing in between the moments you begin researching about logos and branding and the point at which you finalize your logo and brand identity is entirely up to you.   If you’re looking for an established process to follow though, there are a lot of great frameworks shared by other companies and branding agencies online that you can pull and repurpose to establish your own logo design process. All you have to do to find examples is put the phrase “brand identity process” into Google and search through the image results that appear. Here’s an example that comes from author Alina Wheeler, an author who we mentioned above: As you can see in the example above, the process outlined is focused on brand identity as a whole, as opposed to being focused on simply designing a logo. This again illustrates the importance and value of thinking about the bigger picture when developing the visual components of your brand (refer back to tip #2 above). Tip #5: Hire the right person and use the right tools When you get to the point where you’re ready to kickoff the actual design phase for your logo, you have a few options. First, you could utilize your internal designer if you have one on your team already. Second, you could attempt to design the logo yourself. If you decide you want to try to go with this option to save money, there are a number of tools you can use, such as: LogoGarden Adobe Creative Suite DesignMantic LogoMaker Third, you could hire a freelance designer to help you create your logo. If you want to go with this route, you can find freelance designers on the following sites: Dribble Fiverr 99Designs Folyo Behance The option you decide to go with will ultimately depend on your abilities, your personal tastes, and your budget. Tip #6: Focus on versatility As you design your logo or collaborate with your designer, it’s essential that you put an emphasis on versatility and flexibility. Your logo is (hopefully) going to be attached to your business for many years, so it needs to be able to remain usable as your business grows. It’s also important that you design a logo that can be easily transferred and incorporated into letter heads, t-shirts, print ads, digital spaces like your website and social media channels, on product packaging, in email signatures, and in a multitude of other locations and formats. To ensure that your logo is flexible and versatile enough to remain attached to your business as it grows, take the following recommendations into consideration during the design phase: Keep the design simple. Use one or two colors max, leverage white space, and use a font that can be easily read and printed on different types of marketing collateral. Keep it timeless. Don’t make your logo too trendy or include any types of pop culture references or plays on words. Stick to the basics and focus on creating something iconic. Incorporate iconography into your logo. Icons are typically the easiest way to represent your brand on social media sites where profile photo areas are square in size (see the icon used in Pepsi’s Twitter profile). If you’d rather not force an icon into your design, just make sure your logo can be easily packaged into different shapes and sizes in order to account and prepare for all the different formats you’ll need in the future. Again, as mentioned earlier – focusing on flexibility and versatility will prevent you from having to be forced to redesign or overhaul your branding in the future. Tip #7: Try the swag test When you finally have a working first version of your logo developed and finalized, it can sometimes be helpful to take your new logo for a test drive in order to decide if it’s really the visual you want to use as the foundation of your brand identity going forward. One great way to do this is by printing a small batch of t-shirts, stickers, or some other type of inexpensive swag item that prominently features your logo. If you can walk around with a branded t-shirt or traveling coffee mug that includes your logo and not get sick of it or question why it was designed the way it was after a few times of seeing it, it’s probably a good sign that you made the right choices along the way and can move forward with your new logo. There are a handful of websites you can use to develop small batches of swag, such as: CustomInk for t-shirts, mugs, and other items StickerMule for stickers, labels, and magnets Startup Threads for custom swag packs Producing a small batch of swag can also be a great way to test your name and logo in front of your friends, your family members, and strangers you meet while walking down the street. What other tips would you recommend to new entrepreneurs getting ready to design their first logo? Leave a comment for us below!

14 Steps for Getting More ROI From Content Marketing

Content marketing has changed. In the past, you might have been able to get away with publishing lazily written articles on your blog week after week—but things are different now. Now, your readers expect you to be better. Now, your website visitors don’t want to read blog posts about your products—they want you to help them solve their biggest and most painful problems. Now, if you want to get any sort of ROI from content marketing, you have to do more than just consistently publish and share blog posts week after week. You have to understand what your goals are and develop clear plans for reaching those goals. You have to use the right tools and hire the right people to help you scale your efforts. You have to forget about the old strategies and the old tactics and start trying the new ones. You have to build and nurture relationships, provide more value to others, and leverage yourself and your company as a trusted resource in your industry. So the question is, where do you start? Here is a 14-step process you can implement at your business in order to start seeing more ROI from content marketing this quarter: Step 1: Learn from the best If you want to build a more effective content marketing machine at your business, you have to be willing to take time to learn from the experts. Content marketing is changing minute-by-minute. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow, and what works for many might not work for you. To stay ahead of the game, you have to be proactive when it comes to educating yourself on new strategies, new tactics, and new processes. Thankfully, there are a lot of content marketing influencers and blogs you can turn to for help. Here are five blogs worth following: The CopyHackers blog managed by Joanna Wiebe The Grow and Convert blog managed by Benji Hyam and Devesh Khanal The ContentMarketer.io blog managed by Sujan Patel The Moz blog managed by Rand Fishkin The HubSpot blog managed by a handful of experts To get started with this step, try dedicating 20 minutes every day to reading a new blog post from one of the blogs listed above. Step 2: Build out your team When it comes to content marketing, you’ll never be able boost ROI unless you have the resources and people in place to help you scale your efforts. You might have been able to manage things like content creation and social media publishing for your business on your own up to this point, but the fact is, it’s just not sustainable. To boost content marketing ROI and success, you need more people to help you manage processes, implement strategies, and become experts in areas that you don’t have the time to excel in. Ideally, your content marketing team should consist of the following six people: A content marketing manager to orchestrate strategy and keep the wheels turning A freelance or full-time writer to create blog post content A designer to produce blog graphics, advertising graphics, and other visuals A promoter to reach out to influencers, manage paid promotion and advertising, and get your content in front of new audiences A social media manager to engage with your communities on Facebook, Twitter, and your other social properties A developer to create landing pages and help you produce 10X content presentations To get started with this step, decide which area you need the most help with now. If you’re doing all the writing yourself, for example, your first hire should probably be a writer who can help free up some of your time and take work off of your plate. For more help, read this blog post from CoSchedule on how to assemble your content marketing team. Step 3: Invest in the right tools On the same note, boosting content marketing ROI will require you to invest in tools that can help you automate processes, free up your time, and boost productivity for your entire team. There are hundreds of tools out there to choose from—the best thing to do is identify your need, pick a tool, give it a try, and see if it works for you. Here are seven great tools to look into first: Trello – For managing writers and content production Buzzsumo – for coming up with ideas, curating content, and finding influencers ConvertKit – for building content-focused email drip campaigns CoSchedule – for building and maintaining editorial content calendars Zemanta – for promoting and syndicating your content Google Analytics – for tracking metrics, setting goals, and measuring success Grammarly – for editing and proofreading blog posts Tools help you become more organized and when you’re more organized, you have more time to think about the effectiveness of your content strategy. Step 4: Set clear goals and track progress You can’t track what you don’t measure. As mentioned earlier, there’s more to content marketing than publishing blog posts week after week. If you want to see more ROI from your efforts, it’s essential that you set clear goals and track your progress over time. If you don’t have any clear goals set yet, start by thinking about what you want to achieve. For example, your goals could be related to boosting website traffic, increasing brand exposure, driving more email leads, sparking more engagement and comments, or making more sales. The way you track progress will differ depending on the goals you set. For more help on this step, take a look at this great blog post by Brian Honigman on the topic of measuring the impact of your content marketing. Step 5: Make a plan and stick to it One of the biggest mistakes most people make when it comes to content marketing is not sticking to the plan or giving up too soon. In order to see success and real ROI from your content marketing efforts, you have to give your strategies time. Don’t expect overnight success, don’t be discouraged by failure, and don’t give up. Learn from mistakes, double-down on successes, and update your content marketing strategy accordingly. For more on this subject, read this Forbes blog post from John Hall. In it, he explains the value of patience when executing content marketing strategies. Step 6: Forget what you know about ideation and headlines The days of link-baity headlines are over. In order to gain traction on your blog, you can’t sell people on your headline alone. That’s not to say you can’t use a compelling, attention-grabbing headline—you can. But if you go that route, you better feel confident about the quality of the content that you’re presenting people with once they land on your site. In other words, you shouldn’t come up with attention-grabbing headlines first and write your post later. Instead, you should think about the value you want to provide to your readers. Then you should write your blog post. When you’re finally happy with the content, take time to come up with not one, not two, but 25 different headlines for your blog post. Doing this exercise will help you zero in on the true value of the content you’re trying to give to people. Step 7: Focus on quality Content marketing used to be a numbers game—how many blog posts can you publish in a month, how consistent can you be week to week—but that’s not what matters to readers anymore and it’s not what you should be focusing on. Instead of worrying about things like word count and post frequency, you should be focusing on the overall quality of the content you’re sharing on your blog post. That’s what your readers care about. They want to land on your blog post, read through it, and leave with more value and knowledge than they had before landing on your website. If you need help in this area, here are a few recommended resources worth checking out: Why Good Unique Content Needs to Die by Rand Fishkin A Guide to 10X Content: The New Successful Content for 2015 and Beyond by Julia McCoy The 12 Essential Elements Of High-Quality Content by Jayson DeMers When you focus on quality first, everything else—goals, more ROI, more exposure—naturally follows. Step 8: Become friends with influencers Developing and nurturing relationships with influencers can go a long way when it comes to growing and scaling your content marketing machine. Influencers can be powerful promotion partners that you can leverage to boost content marketing ROI. The idea of reaching out to a famous or well-known person in your industry in an effort to establish an ongoing, mutually-beneficial content relationship might seem intimidating or silly at first, but you’d be surprised to learn how many ‘famous’ influencers are actually open and even actively interested in connecting with companies and people like you. There’s an easy way to go about establishing a friendship with an influencer. The best way to do it is to ask a well-known personality, blogger, or celebrity in your industry if they’d be willing to be interviewed by you for an upcoming blog post. If you get a response and they agree to do an interview for you, the hard part is over—you’ve successfully made a connection. The time you ultimately spend nurturing the relationship going forward is entirely up to you. For more on this topic, read this post on the SumoMe blog by Jason Quey. In it, he provides more tips and tactics for successfully reaching out to influencers. Step 9: Build your army of promoters In addition to connecting with influencers in order to boost content marketing ROI, it’s also essential that you take time to build up your own personal army of content promoters. Content promoters are people who love you, love your employees, love your business, or love your products or services. These are your raving fans, and they’re the people most willing and able to spread your content to new audiences. Your army can be made up of: Customers Email subscribers Social media followers Employees Friends and family members Business partners or colleagues Other companies and people in your industry Leveraging your army is simple: all you have to do is ask for help. The next time you write and publish a blog post you’re really proud of or that you think people will love, send it to everyone you know and ask them to share it with their friends. You can even make it easy for them by creating pre-written social media updates using tools like ClicktoTweet. Step 10: Master content promotion and outreach To see more success from your content marketing efforts, you have to be willing and able to develop a clear promotion plan for every piece of content you produce. You should never create a piece of content that you can’t promote. Mastering the art of content promotion and outreach means going beyond simply sharing a new blog  post on Facebook and Twitter, including it in your email signature, or getting your employees to share it on their social profiles. You have to do more. To help you get started, here are three blog posts worth reading: How To Promote Your Blog With 105 Content Promotion Tactics from CoSchedule How Content Promotion Works for Blogs Big and Small from Buffer How to Promote Your Content Using Paid, Earned & Owned Media from HubSpot Step 11: Repurpose your best content Content repurposing is another great way to get more ROI and value out of your content. The best blog posts are the ones you can easily reuse and repackage into other formats. To implement this step, simply take one of your best or most recent blog posts and reformat it into one of the following: A slidedeck that you can upload and share on Slideshare A video that you can upload and share on YouTube An infographic that you can share on social media or in a new blog post A series of graphics that you can share as Twitter or Facebook updates An ebook you can add as a content upgrade offer somewhere else on your blog For even more ideas, read through this blog post. The purpose of repurposing content is to share existing content with other audiences on other sites. In all forms of content repurposing, you should always link back to the original blog post—that’s where you’ll get the added ROI you’re looking for. Step 12: Add more value with content upgrades Mentioned briefly in the step just above, you can also get more ROI from content marketing by incorporating content upgrade offers throughout your blog. A content upgrade offer is a way to add additional value to a blog post by offering a downloadable “extra” resource in exchange for an email address. Common examples include worksheets, ebooks, checklists, whitepapers, and other resources that can be easily created (repurposed) from your existing content. If you want to learn more about content upgrade offers, read this post by Brian Dean. It’s a fantastic case study that will illustrate the true power and value of including content upgrade offers on your blog in order to drive more leads and conversions. Step 13: Build your email list (and actually use it) Email is one of the most underutilized tools used by content marketers, which is unfortunate because it can be an incredibly effective way to communicate and connect 1:1 with your blog audience and customers. If you want to see more ROI from your content marketing efforts, start building your email list. You can easily do this by adding a tool like the Welcome Mat by SumoMe to your website. It’s an easy and fast way to start collecting email addresses from people who land on your website and blog. Before you start building your subscriber list, decide what it is that you want to do with the emails you collect and make a plan—there’s nothing worse than sitting on a growing email list with no plan to reach out. Step 14: Test, test, test The final step that you must take in order to get more ROI from your content marketing efforts is to constantly be testing. If you’re not testing, you’re not learning, and if you’re not learning, you’re not improving. You can test everything from blog post headlines, types of content to publish on your blog, word count, publishing frequency and best time of day to publish, places to repurpose content, types of upgrade offers, placement of opt-in forms, the list goes on and on. A simple way to try this step is to test your blog post headlines using a tool like KingSumo Headlines. It’s a good way to dip your toes into the world of A/B testing for content marketing. What other steps are you taking to get more ROI from your content marketing efforts? Leave your ideas in the comments section below!

A Small Orange Partners with Trees For the Future to help plant 4 million trees

Earth Day is Friday, April 22, and at A Small Orange, we’re taking part by donating 10,000 trees, plus 10 trees for each new hosting plan purchased with our Promo Code: EARTHDAY and one tree for every “like” we receive on a Facebook post throughout our Earth Day promotion, starting 4/20 through 4/22. Donations are being made through our partnership with Trees for the Future.   Trees for the Future is improving the livelihoods of impoverished farmers by revitalizing degraded lands.  Since 1989, with their experience in planting over 127 million trees all over the world, they have demonstrated the transformative power of trees by helping people break out of the poverty trap while also addressing the global environment. Today, their work in East and West Africa is helping to build a world where people can leave a legacy of opportunity through sustainable practices and productive lands for future generations. Their current goal is to plant 4 million trees for Earth Day 2016. Our team at A Small Orange volunteered at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in honor of Earth Day. For 34 years, the organization has worked to conserve, restore and create healthy landscapes. Activities are set to include weeding, watering, mulching, raking, and plant propagation. By volunteering at the gardens, we had the opportunity to learn about native Texas plants while supporting environmental protection.      A Small Orange’s Earth Day promotion will run from 4/20 through 4/22. You can build your website while doing your part to save the planet by making your purchase with our Promo Code: EARTHDAY.

  Catch up on Captain Planet   It may

  Catch up on Captain Planet   It may be a kids’ cartoon from the early ‘90s, but those Planeteers weren’t messing around when it comes to major global issues like overconsumption, poor sanitation, and pollution.   Make an Eco-Friendly Meal   Gather guests for an earth-friendly feast of fresh-grown fruits and vegetables, local meats and cheeses, and none of that paper plate business. You’re gonna’ need your good dishes for this!     Or Bake This Earth Cake   Some Betty Crocker pound cake mix, frosting, food coloring, chocolate rocks and a big ol’ bag of patience are all you need to make this totally awesome earth cake.     Carpool to Work   Not only does catching a ride with coworkers help reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, it saves money on gas and it gives you a chance to make new friends!     Sport Green Ink   These fun Earth Day tattoos may be temporary, but your love for saving the planet will last forever.   Get in Touch with Mother Nature   Swap your smartphone for a pair of sneakers and head out into the wilderness. Bonus points if you pack water in a reusable container.     Strut in Style   Spread the word that reusing, recycling, restoring and replenishing is the cool thing to do when you’re wearing one of these fashionable Earth Day t-shirts!     Make Friends with Furry Animals   Volunteer your time at a local wildlife refuge or animal shelter. If you don’t have a local wildlife refuge or animal shelter, maybe you can just take your dog for a nice walk.     Grow Your Own Spices   You’ll never run out of thyme… or basil, or mint or parsley when you buy this unique GrowBottle, made from a repurposed wine bottle. How resourceful!     Buy a Hosting Plan from A Small Orange   Throughout our Earth Day promotion, we will be giving 50% off of hosting plans and donating 10 trees for every plan purchased just use the code: EARTHDAY. You can have a sweet website and help save the planet! Find the hosting plan that’s right for you!  

Tomboy Can Organize Your Life

  Sometimes you don’t need fancy organizational tools. Sometimes customization is just an extra step you don’t feel like taking. Sometimes you just want a program that’s extraordinarily simple and doesn’t require a complicated setup or include a long list of preferences. You just want something that works. Something you can start using right away.   If these statements are ringing true, Tomboy can be a fantastic addition to your work computer, your home computer, or both.   What Is Tomboy?   Tomboy is a free, open-source, note-taking program with a linking system. It’s a light-weight software that’s easy enough for anyone to use yet strong enough to keep your lists, dates, ideas, and important information well organized and easily accessible: sort of like an amped-up version of Notepad or Stickies, but not nearly as complicated as many of the other popular note-taking programs available today, like Evernote, OneNote, Wunderlist, or Quip.   Tomboy was initially developed by Alex Gravely. Its latest version was released in 2013. Tomboy is compatible with Linux, Unix, Windows and OS X.   What Does Tomboy Do?   Tomboy allows you to intuitively create documents or “notes” which are then organized into notebooks by the date they were last modified. But there are a number of features that set this program apart from similar software.   Spellcheck: Seems silly, right? Wouldn’t all note-taking programs include a spellcheck? The answer is surprisingly no. Many of them don’t. So for people who still want their quick jots on digital paper to look right, Tomboy can be a relief.   Font Sizing & Formatting: There are a few ways to customize your text using Tomboy. You have just enough options to differentiate the sections of your note when needed, but not so many options that you can’t made a decision. Sizes are small, normal, large and huge. You can write in bold, italics, or strikeout.   Lists: Tomboy allows you to make structured lists, but keeping up with the software’s no-nonsense tone, there aren’t any frills here. It’s a quick, bulleted list.   Indentation:  Another appreciated feature by the right type of person, Tomboy lets you create paragraphs – again, something that a lot of other simplistic note-taking applications don’t have.   Highlight: If you want to draw attention to important information in your note, Tomboy includes a yellow highlight feature. Linking to the Web: With Tomboy, typing a website or email address will automatically turn the text into a link to access the web; however, you can choose to link any text to a website the same way you would add a link in a Word document.   Linking to Itself: Probably the most unique of Tomboy’s features, Tomboy works sort of like a wiki. If you mention a subject in your note that has already been mentioned in a prior note, Tomboy will access that prior note and allow you to link to it.   No Broken Links: If you decide to change the title of your note, Tomboy will also make adjustments to your links.   Search: Another extremely valuable tool that not enough other note-taking programs have. Tomboy allows you to very easily search for topics within your notes.   Auto-save: Who doesn’t like having a program that takes away the task of having to remember to save your work?   Pros to Using Tomboy   User-friendliness: One of the biggest benefits to using Tomboy is its user-friendliness. It’s a very intuitive software anyone can pick up. Unlike so many other open-source programs, you don’t need to study a manual, read through a help forum, or watch a dozen tutorials to figure out how to use it.   Familiarity: It’s always a nice feeling when a software actually feels like it belongs on your operating system. Whether you download it for Linux, Unix, Windows or OS X, it has a look and feel that matches your operating system and includes some miner operating-system specific features.   Add-Ons: Lots of cool add-ons for Tomboy: Evolution Mail Integration, Insert Timestamp, Printing Support, and Underline, just to name a few. There are also third party add-ons like Blogposter, which allows users to post their notes to WordPress; Reminder, which allows you to choose a date and time for the note to be opened; Tomboy-Wordcount, which counts the lines, words and characters in your note; and Note Preview, which displays a preview of the linked note when you hover your curser over it.   Cons to Using Tomboy   Not For Everyone: Tomboy appeals to a very specific audience and not everyone is going to be this type of person. If you’re someone who enjoys color-coding, choosing different fonts, creating webs, or using pictures or self-drawn sketches to better understand an idea, then Tomboy isn’t going to leave you feeling fulfilled.   No Mobile Option: Tomboy is a desktop-only application. This can be a major downer as the world is moving more towards mobile solutions. Users that do regularly use a desktop computer won’t necessary be in front of it when they have a thought or idea they need to write down. As a result, users may have to jot down their ideas on paper or type it into their mobile device before transferring it to Tomboy. With that being said, notes can be synched between desktop computers.   Two-Step Installation: Lastly, while using Tomboy is super easy, downloading the program may be a little more complex depending on your operating systems. Windows and Mac users will have to first download GTK# for .NET in order to run the program; however, doing so is a step included in the Tomboy download process.   What Users Are Saying               Tomboy has generally favorable reviews (3 to 5 stars) from both industry bloggers and program users. It’s praised for its speed, user-friendliness and unique linking feature that works exactly as expected. It’s critiqued most often for its incompatibility with images (you have to link to images as opposed to including them directly in your note) and the few occasional bugs.      

How to Pick a Great Domain Name for Your Site

Before starting your new website or blog, it’s important for you to choose a domain name that is going to stand the test of time. Once you register a domain name for your site and start uploading content, it’s not only very tough to change the domain and redirect all of your content, it’s also a branding disaster in itself. For this reason and many more, it’s extremely important for you to take some time to think about the perfect name for your site before registering a domain name at random to simply get your site live. In this article we are going to be covering everything you need to know about choosing the right domain name for your site. The most important thing to remember is that you are probably going to have your domain name for the life of your site, so make sure it’s a good one! The Basics of Choosing a Great Domain for Your Site The good news is that your domain name can be anything you want it to be. The bad news is that millions of domain names are already registered and once they’re grabbed, they’re extremely hard or nearly impossible to get afterwards. In most cases, nearly every generic word or common personal name is already taken. If you are lucky you might be able to secure a .net or .org version of common words or names, but the .com’s are the most sought after and hardest to get. With all of that in mind, let’s first ask some important questions about your site and how it will help you choose a great domain name. Why are you starting a site and what type of content are you creating? What is the niche topic for your site and who is your exact audience? Research the focus keywords for your site niche and also find alternatives. Map out the longterm goals, monetization and marketing structure for your site. Perform a domain name search and see if your name or other variations are available. While it may seem silly to answer these questions now, it will save you from massive headaches and frustration further down the road. Remember, once you register a domain and create a site with it, there really is no going back. At the same time, I also want to stress the important of not needing to get a generic domain name or one with multiple target keywords in the domain. For example, look at some of the most popular sites in the world today. BuzzFeed, YouTube, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat — what do they all have in common? Simple… none of their names made any sense until the sites and services were created! Before registering a new domain name or trying to come up with something creative, be sure to follow these quick guidelines: Stick with a .com, .net or .org TLD Make sure your domain name is easy to remember and spell Don’t use numbers in your domain name Stay away from using brand names and copyrights A great way to decide if you have a good domain name for your site, is to tell it to someone and see if they remember it and know how to spell it. The last thing you want to do is register a domain name that you need to spell or explain every time you tell someone about it. Registering Your Name as a Domain One of the best things you can do, no matter what type of site you are creating, is to register your personal name as a domain. If someone already owns your name as a domain, try to get the .net or .org version. With over 7 billion people on the planet today, it’s very likely a lot of other people share the same name as you. Even if your name as a domain isn’t registered right now, it will be soon — and once it is, it’s usually gone forever! Owning your name as a domain is a great way to protect your online reputation, rank higher in the search results when someone searches for your name and also a great way for you to start branding yourself as an expert or even building up your own resume online. Worst case scenario, you start a site and write about your hobbies or family. The important thing is that you own your name as a domain so no one else can. How can you find out if your name is currently available? Simple, just head over to A Small Orange’s domain checker and plugin your name. If it’s available you will be able to register it. If not, you will get a few other recommendations for other TLDs (top level domains) available or different variations of your name. While there are many different TLDs available, I would recommend sticking with the .com, .net and .org versions only, as they are most commonly used. What if someone owns all variations of your personal name as a domain? You have a few options. Worst case scenario, there are still a few options available if you can’t register your personal name as a .com, or if you simply must have a domain name that is already registered. Follow these steps to put the process into motion. Run a whois search to see who owns the domain name (individual or company) Send an email to the owner of the domain and see if they are interested in selling (Use a different email and name than your real info, this way they won’t offer a high price since your name matches their domain name for sale) Research different domain name marketplaces and domain expiration services to pick up the domain if it expires If all else fails, contact a domain name broker who has experience in acquiring domain names  Even though millions of domains are registered daily, just as many are up for renewal or getting released into the domain name aftermarket as well. Should these domains not be renewed by their current owner, there is a chance you could register them through any domain registration site, or potentially pick them up through an expired domains marketplace. How to Get Your Hands on a One-Word Domain Name The most sought after domain names in the world are the generic one-word .com names. As mentioned earlier, these domains have all been scooped up years ago, and if you were lucky enough to grab one of them, you may be sitting on a few million dollars in value! However, if you are looking to spend some money to get your hands on a highly sought after single-word domain name, you also have a few options here as well. Before jumping into your options, let’s first take a look at some of the highest selling single-world .com domain names in history. As you can see, they all went for several millions of dollars. Sex.com – $12 million Porn.com – $9.5 million Business.com – $7.5 million Diamond.com – $7.5 million Beer.com – $7 million The more exact a domain name, the more it is worth. Just because these domains sold for millions, it doesn’t mean you will need to spend millions to can’t get your hands on a nice generic one-word domain. If you can satisfy your needs with a .net or a .org domain name, you could be looking at prices in the single thousands range. You can see a running list of the biggest domain name sales for 2016 here. There are many ways to secure a single word domain name, but it will cost you. If the site is already established and is attached to a well-known brand, you might as well move onto the next best thing. If you visit the domain name and there is nothing there but ads or a place holder, there is a good chance the domain name is up for sale. If there isn’t any contact information on the site, perform a whois search and see who current owns the domain name and see if they are interested in selling. Another option for securing high-level domain names is to search through domain name marketplaces like Sedo, GreatDomains or even Flippa. Do I need a great domain to have a successful site? Surprisingly, the answer is “no”. You could theroectically start a site with a random domain name like sdfhdlksdf.com and if you have great content, great backlinks and a great service, it could be a huge success. However, if you want to create a solid website with a great foundation while trying to build a trusted brand, you should really invest the time and effort into securing a domain name that represents your site content and also one that you want to use for many years to come. You don’t need to invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars in a domain name, you just need one that you are happy with. The majority of time, work and effort that goes into your site is going to be focused on the content creation and promotion side, which we will cover in another article. My best advice for you is to reflect back on the questions posed at the beginning of this article, and then following the simple three step pre-launch formula below and create something amazing today! Know your niche and target audience Decide how and why you are providing value to them Pick a domain name and launch your site   This article was written by Zac Johnson who is the founder of Blogging.org and currently blogs at http://zacjohnson.com.

Using SlideShare to Market Your Business Or Blog

  Getting your blog or business website in front of the right audience can be time consuming and expensive, so when there’s a free advertising opportunity, it only makes sense to take it. While many businesses today have a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube account, not many people know about or understand the marketing potential of LinkedIn’s SlideShare.   What is SlideShare?   You mean besides consistently being ranked one of the top 200 most visited websites in the world? Besides receiving more traffic from business owners than the most popular social media sites? Besides being considered the largest professional content sharing community in a time where quality content is king?   Technically, SlideShare is a slide sharing service where users can upload, view and discuss PowerPoints, infographics, and other presentations. Big picture, it’s where people from all over the world come to learn about any subject from the industry experts. The site is jam-packed with interesting, up-to-date, and professionally-made content on topics like business, law, marketing, leadership, social media, software, art and design. Because slide presentations tend to be quick and to-the-point, SlideShare is where entrepreneurs specifically, turn to obtain a lot of information in a short period of time.   Reasons to Use SlideShare   Popularity: One of the most obvious reasons to create content for SlideShare is because it has 70 million users worldwide who are accessing the site on both desktop computers as well as mobile devices. SlideShare also receives a lot of unique visitors. About 80% of the site’s traffic comes from a Google search, which means that if you use your titles and tags the right way, even people who aren’t familiar with SlideShare can still find your content.   Professional Demographic: Advertising on Facebook and Twitter is great if you have an online store or services that everyone needs, but when your target market is specifically other business owners, finding that audience can sometimes prove difficult. SlideShare has a different demographic than the typical social media site in that many users are business professionals or business owners. So if that’s who you’re looking to attract, SlideShare is a major market to tap.   Written, Audio & Visual Components: Not everyone likes viewing information the same way. That’s why a good marketing campaign often combines a mixture of mediums: articles, ebooks, podcasts, videos, images, and infographics. By sharing slide shows, you can easily combine all of these elements into a single presentation, satisfying multiple audiences with one piece of content.   Less Competition:  SlideShare is definitely big, with about 400,000 new presentations being uploaded to the site each month, but it’s not YouTube big, which has hundreds of hours of video being uploaded every minute. Companies that have a hard time gaining an audience through their YouTube channel might have better luck creating a subscriber list on SlideShare.   Easy to Use: If you can create a PowerPoint, you can make content for SlideShare, and if you’re already designing presentations for meetings, conferences, and other events, then you already have content to upload. By linking your SlideShare account with your LinkedIn or Facebook account, you don’t even have to spend much time filling out your profile.   Creating Content for SlideShare   Developing a click-worthy presentation for SlideShare is in many ways no different than developing any other type of content for marketing; you want to provide answers to questions people have in the hopes of generating awareness of your company for some viewers, and in interest in your company for others, eventually leading to a sale.   If you already have a blog, an ebook or a video series, your SlideShare presentations can be nothing more than the outline of this information expressed in a PDF, infographic or slideshow.   If you don’t already have these marketing channels in place, start thinking about the questions your customers or clients ask. You can also gain a lead by looking at the types of topics your competitors are talking about.   A Few Quick Tips   When it comes to creating the presentation itself, there are a few guidelines you’ll want to consider so that SlideShare does most of your marketing work for you:   Quality: One thing you’ll want to be sure is that you’re only uploading your best work. With millions of presentations already on SlideShare, it’s likely that the subjects you address are subjects that have already been covered. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t upload your presentation anyway – it always helps to have new information and different viewpoints on the same topic – but if your presentation isn’t on the same level or better than the others of its kind, it’s likely to be skipped over in favor of those that are well-made. Quality presentations are also more likely to make it to SlideShare’s homepage, which can be fantastic exposure for your blog or business.   Value: While you may be covering information in your presentation that people have heard before, it shouldn’t be so basic that the viewer hasn’t learned anything new at the end of it. Think about who your audience is and how much knowledge they’re already bringing to the table on a particular subject. If you’re converting old blog articles into slideshows, consider the relevance, accuracy, and the audience’s current awareness of the information. What was valuable in 2011 may not be so valuable now.   Brevity: There’s a reason why SlideShare users are looking for infographics and PowerPoints on a certain topic – they don’t have time to read a whole book. Therefore, it’s important that you don’t make your presentation too long or too wordy. Most of the presentations on SlideShare are between 10 and 30 slides, with only about 20 words or so on each page.   Originality:  You can make your presentation really stand out by doing away with the templates, fonts and images you know many other people in your industry have used before. Be creative with your design (without distracting viewers from the presentation’s information), and look for less common stock images. If you have the means, original graphics and photography are even better.  

Top 10 Internet Facts So Weird, You’d Think We Made Them Up

  Tomorrow may be April Fools’ Day, but we promise we’re not fooling anyone with these weird internet facts:   1 . Thanks to a private telecommunications company called Ncell, you can now access high speed internet while climbing Mount Everest.   2. Inspiration for the first webcam came from the University of Cambridge. The grainy, black and white live stream was designed to prevent people from making pointless trips to the coffee pot.   3. Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece and Spain all have “right to internet access” laws that require the internet to be made reasonably available to its residents.   4. And Romania, Latvia, Hong Kong and South Korea all have faster internet speeds than the United States.   5. A 2013 study found that humans only account for about 40% of website traffic. The remaining 60% come from internet bots.   6. The first video ever uploaded to YouTube, “Me at the Zoo,” was by co-founder Jawed Karim. The 18-second clip features him standing in front of the elephant exhibit, saying, “The cool thing about these guys is that they have really, really, really long trunks…and that’s cool.”   7. The term “Wi-Fi” doesn’t stand for anything. The industry just needed a trendy name for marketing purposes.   8. Facebook was originally called “The Facebook” and its homepage featured an image of Al Pacino blurred with ones and zeroes.   9. The first known use of an emoticon was by a computer scientist in 1982 named Scott Fahlman. He proposed users on a message board begin using : – ) and : – ( to help distinguish between “jokes” and “not jokes.”     10. But some believe the first use of an emoticon was actually by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, though many historians believe the winky-face was nothing more than a typo.        

6 Ways You Can Improve Your Website’s Conversion Rate

 Just about every website will struggle with their conversion rate at some point in time. There are plenty of people visiting your site, but for whatever reason, they’re not clicking, they’re not signing up, and they’re not purchasing. For a business owner, this is frustrating at best and detrimental at worst.   Thankfully, there are lots of different things you can do to improve your website conversion rate, and unlike the changes you make to better your SEO that can take weeks or months to show its magic, changes to boost your conversation rate can have an effect overnight. Here are a few suggestions:   Test Your Titles & Headlines   If you didn’t give your titles or headlines a lot of thought when building your website, or if you haven’t changed them since 2008, now’s the time to give them a second look. Your headlines should be around 5-10 words. They should use strong, powerful language. Even the smallest changes in a headline (we’re talking swapping out a single word for another) can make a surprisingly substantial difference in your site’s conversion rate.   How do you know what needs to change and what should stay the same? A/B testing (also known as split testing) can provide you with quick, accurate results. With A/B testing, you can have two versions of your website up and running, each with a different headline, to determine which one is more effective. Continuous testing can weed out the so-so headlines and leave you with the strongest, most profitable ones.   Have A Clear Call To Action   A highly visible, well-placed, and direct call to action is probably more important than you think. But won’t they know I want them to call me for a quote? The short answer is, no. Your website viewers need you to tell them what to do. They need you to persuade them. Besides, without having a clear call to action, against what can you measure your success?   You should give some thought on how you plan to funnel your website viewers from awareness, to interest, to sale, to loyal customer, as well as which stage your viewers are going to be on each page of your site. This will affect the types of calls to action you use and where. You want to pair your calls to action with your viewers’ mindset while gently leading them closer to your shopping cart or contact page.   Nudge with Reviews, Case Studies & Testimonials   How many times have you found yourself shopping online, and then just before you pull out your credit card, you think to yourself, what if this doesn’t actually work? What if this isn’t really what I want? What if I can find this cheaper somewhere else? You exit the site and continue with your day. The website was not able to make the conversion from website viewer to customer.   Adding things like reviews, case studies and testimonials to your site can help reduce the number of instances where this happens. By having other clients or customers provide positive feedback, or by showing proof that what you’re offering really works, you can give your viewers some assurance. They feel more confident moving forward with the transaction knowing that you come recommended.   Give Some Suggestions   In addition to getting cold feet, your potential customers may also back out when they’re given too many options. If you’re a company that offers a lot of similar products or a lot of bundled packages at different price points, they may struggle with identifying what’s going to be the right choice for them, and in turn, choose nothing.   You can prevent your website viewers from getting overwhelmed by making a few suggestions for them. Label the item that’s most popular, the item that provides the highest value, the item that’s best for individuals, or the item that’s best for businesses. By “doing the math” for them, they don’t have to do it themselves. You’re doing all the tough stuff. They just have to know what they value when purchasing a product and then click “add to cart.”   Make What’s Mandatory, Optional   We went over how your website viewers can be skeptical of your services. We also went over how they can be overwhelmed and indecisive when given too many options. On top of these characteristics, your website viewers can also be in a hurry or just a little bit lazy. You want my name, address, phone number, email, favorite color, SAT score, and dog’s name? Forget it. Of course it would be helpful to have all that information about your customers, but do you really need it? Is having that data worth losing potential sales?  I have to set up an account before I can make a purchase? Thanks, but no thanks.   The more steps you require before a transaction is made, the less likely you are to make the transaction. You should make purchasing your products and services the easiest thing to do in the world. Make things like account registration optional. Don’t let pop-up ads, surveys, or a bonus call to action get in the way of you sealing the deal.   Revise Your PPC Strategy   Have you noticed a large number of viewers leave your website as soon as they arrive? In some cases, conversion rates suffer because the people who stumble onto your site aren’t your target market to begin with. They have no interest in your products and services so there’s little chance of you keeping them on your site let alone converting them into a sale. This sometimes happens when there’s an issue with PPC advertising.   Check that you’re pinpointing the right demographic, that you’re using the right keywords, and that you’re not somehow falsely portraying the products and services your company provides. Never purposefully try to lead viewers to your site under false pretenses – you’ll drain your marketing budget without having anything to show for it.  

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