There is no path that I have gone on where I have gone to far to change my direction. That is a comforting thought.”

 

-A friend shared this on Facebook the other day, and I thought it was worth repeating

Have a thoughtful weekend!

Changing paths midway in your business, career, and life

When potential readers stumble upon your blog how does it draw them in?

Do your readers fall down a rabbit hole, getting pulled into a world where they delightedly spending hours wandering through your trail of content. Or are they greeted with a cacophony of messages each seeking a different goal?

Tough question?

I am mulling over starting a separate blog, for a project I am working on. Knowing, the second time around, how much commitment, discipline and dedication it takes to support a blog, I am spending a lot more time considering what value it can bring and how to create a space that draws readers in once they stumble across my blog.

So I started by looking around at what is already out there that I like and soon enough noticed a pattern. There are 3 traits that separate the blogs that draw me in and keep me coming back, from those that don’t. Looking at what I read from day-to-day, I believe It is the same for any industry whether your focus is on a product or service, or just building your personal brand.

After reading this list, look at some of your favorite blogs and see if they predominantly have any one of these traits.

1. The Escape

Your blog cab be a destination. A place where people go for renewal, inspiration or to see things in a different light. For example this can be fashion blogs showcasing fresh outfits, beautiful homes or breathtaking adventures.

Creating an escape allows your reader to see things in green colored shades as opposed to maybe their pink or purple colored ones.

It gives them courage to try something different in their own lives. People love to escape for entertainment as well (just look at how many hours not just on blogs but browsing Pinterest; watching TV shows, or movies; or engrossed in a good story) so being funny, eloquent and having an original point of view on things can create an escape from their minds which is valuable and memorable.

The allure of the escape is often seen in highly visual blogs. When I was considering starting a style blog one of the pieces of feedback I received was sometimes the respondent didn’t even like when the blogger wrote a post, “Just show me the pictures!” My guess is because without words, readers are free to make up their own narratives on what they see, making it a more personal escape.

If you are in a field that is traditionally seen as unexciting, find ways to share stories or images centered around your topic that get you fired up, that motivate and encourage you. For business-to-business blogs this can be in the form of case studies that allow other people to see how companies in their respective industry tackle a similar problem. I use case studies because it allows story telling as well, which s essential to creating an escape.

2. Sharing knowledge

If there is a topic there is an authority figure; someone who has done the research and the work, or is up to the minute on latest information around a topic.
Attracting readers to blog

Sharing knowledge is not just for showing people how to do X, it can also be through providing resources, sharing handy lists or providing analysis. Some part of your day is spent absorbing knowledge whether its learning what is going on in your locale or industry, tackling a problem, or learning a new skill.

Your readers are looking to for guidance, and an authority in the subject to tell them what to think.

3. Offering empathy

We are wired to connect. Places that give us comfort and make us feel like we are in good company with someone who we can trust will always stand out. Successful blogs focused around creating a community are written in a way that is direct and personal. After all you can’t create a connection with your reader if you are guarded and they do not know much about you. Being open is key. Sharing and trusting your readers creates a stronger connection than any free limited time offer ever could.

Think I’m missing something? Add to this conversation by sharing your thoughts or examples of blogs you think are remarkable.

Image credit Samantha Marx

How do you sell someone a contract-until-death?*

Let me rephrase that, how do you get people interested in a product that is tough to sell quickly, needs some thought process and a lot of trust?

According to Regis Hadiaris, a “Pursuer of WOW” and Director of Internet Marketing at Quicken Loans, one way is to learn what makes them tick, and specifically what makes them click.

In his talk on the 14 secrets to improve conversion rates presented to the Social Media Breakfast Twin Ports group last Friday. Hadiaris, delved into the science of how Quicken Loans converts its thousands of daily visitors into leads, and eventually customers.

Saying that the team of marketers at @QuickenLoans likes to experiment is an understatement. (Tweet this)

Learn faster than the competition

Similar to lean start-up principles, Hadiaris believes experimenting and learning faster than your competition can help you get ahead in your niche.

Closing the feedback loop is something that proponents of lean start-up methodology, like Steve Blak and Eric Ries, often talk about as a  vital part of success for start-ups.

Bloggers should embrace a spirit of experimentation

Now Regis Hadiaris has a whole team of people he works with to churn the rates of conversions at Quicken Loans, but even a single blogger doing things on the side can learn a few conversion tactics from their techniques. I was particularly fascinated by one of the secrets that Hadiaris shared with the group that focused on the form, a tool that is essentially the gatekeeper to conversions.

Here are some tips that Hadiaris shared that I think bloggers and business can use to increase their form submission rates.

Increase form conversion on blog

  • Quicken loans submission formHeadlines grab attention, so put something more up there than “Please fill in this form”. From changing their headlines, the team at Quicken where able to close more visitors into leads.
  • Color and for that matter images matter, in running tests at Quicken Loans, they learned that their conversions changed when they changed the color of the form from tan to blue, and adding images affected their forms negatively. While this is not going to be the same for every industry it it still worth experimenting with different colors and images to see how it affects your numbers.
  • The order of the questions in a form go from general questions to very specific personal identifier type questions, this has also changed their conversions. If you have a form with several fields don’t start by asking for e-mail information right away.
  • Click-through rates increased by more than half when the team changed text in the submit button from “Get rates” to “Submit”
  • Although recently featured logos did not impact the amount of leads that submitted the form, it did affect the lead to close ratio because it made the company seem more credible.

Start testing your form fields

The main theme that was woven through the presentation was to test, test, and test again. All the concepts Hadiaris covered were learned from getting out and testing theories, seeing which ones worked, which ones did not and moving on.

If you put up a call-to-action that does not convert your visitors then you need to go back and revisit why it’s not working and try and change one thing about the item (also known as multivariate testing).

The faster you learn the sooner you can get ahead of the pack.

*The word “mortgage” is derived from a french term meaning “death pledge”, i.e. the pledge ends (dies) when either the obligation is fulfilled or the property is taken through foreclosure.

Starting and managing a blog can feel a lot like scaling a mountain.
Climbing a mountain - Blogging Calendar

Starting or running a blog can be fun, in a scaling Mount Everest kind of way. It start off lovely, and fun, but about half way you are probably exhausted, short on oxygen, and wondering whatever made you think you could handle this.

Before you know it every idea, conversation or e-mail can be blogging fodder, and other teams in your organization think it would be great if you wrote a piece that supported say a customer service initiative, or a community building initiative, or if your blog was the mouthpiece for the company, or a sales tool or could be used to showcase past projects and so forth.

Your blogging calendar is like your rope (keeping you on track)

In a well-rounded content strategy, the essential pieces include your blog posts, e-books and guides, perhaps some webinars or product demonstration, maybe whitepapers if your industry permits, e-mail drip campaigns and e-mail newsletters. There’s a lot to keep track of and using the right rope can help keep you on track.

An editorial calendar helps you map out all these pieces and how they all work together cohesively. But sadly, if not well-planned out, the editorial calendar can be a vulnerable document. The rope you are using will depend on how much content you juggle, the scale of mountain (or noise in your industry) and the goals of your blog. After a week or two of planning it all out, you can find it useless or irrelevant in the company’s marketing plan. Here are a few ideas to give it some armor to stand a fighting chance.

1.Do not plan your editorial calendar in a silo

Your blog does not operate in isolation; it’s a component of sales, marketing, customer service. Your content calendar should not operate in isolation neither. Include key events that you’re taking part in:

  • Is there an upcoming conference your team will be attending or presenting at?
  • What is the typical sales cycle that you may need to pay attention to?
  • Are there any changes to the product?

Incorporate these pieces when planning because it will save you the confusion of putting together last minute pieces for blogging or e-mailing, and then coming back to the drawing board to find out how they all fit.

2. Flesh out all aspects of your buyer persona

Nothing sucks more than not attracting the right traffic, perhaps maybe no traffic. It is hard to watch all those hours of content being put in to attracting prospects in the wrong industry or who are not sales qualified leads. This will lead to –you guessed it, yet another overhaul of the editorial calendar because probably the content or the keywords you are using don’t quite fit.

The customer persona should dictate all content marketing efforts, from creating offers that resonate, to using the right language to attract and pull in leads. If it is incomplete or targets a non-descript persona, you’ll find yourself coming back to the same problem again.

Download this free guide to creating laser-sharp buyer personas.

3. Plan a promotion strategy

The absolute worst thing for a writer is writing to a silent room. Without a promotion strategy, you can bet that more times than not it will happen. Tweeting is not enough, sharing it on your LinkedIn profile might also fall short of attracting enough traffic. Think about sharing it in places where it will be most relevant, such as in the context of a reply to a question on LinkedIn groups, as part of a guest post that ties in relevant content form your blog.

In retrospect I would advocate planning a promotion strategy before you write content by figuring out who you are trying to reach and how you will get to them.

4. Creating a different piece of content each time

Don’t get me wrong, I love content creation, but if you want to get more wear from your efforts I advocate re-purposing content either for different content efforts. For example: pulling chapters from your e-book to give your blog readers a sneak peek, or re-purposing some blog content into your drip campaign.

5. Not allowing room for flexibility

Is your blogging calendar good at bending to suit demand? I would advocate not planning too far ahead but instead having some drafts of evergreen posts just in case, and a tab on your blogging calendar for future ideas that need to marinate.

Scaling a mountain ain’t easy, but the view is sure to be phenomenal

Mount Rinjani -Blog Editorial Calendar

These are the lessons I have learned from creating and managing an editorial calendar. If you have any tips on creating super strong editorial calendars please share.

Image credits: Gregory Bryson and Trakking Rinjani

Talking about shame, has never felt this empoweringThe Power of Vulnerability -Lessons in Personal Branding.

I am on an audiobook kick. I have been listening to the Power of Vulnerabilty by Brené Brown and wishing I had a longer commute (isn’t that something?). I have even played it on one of my infrequent runs, because it is that good.

One of the most powerful lessons I find myself walking away from this audiobook and learning is what inner gremlins I tell myself that hold me back and how they might be holding you back too.

What are shame gremlins? What does that have to do with personal branding?

In simple terms these are the voices that come out when we want to do something that is outside our comfort zone or we feel we are not very good at. So another term for it might be self-doubt embarrassment or second-guessing yourself.

For some it might be writing, for me it’s been speaking up online.

I read a lot. I have always loved reading and one of the fun aspects of my job is reading new things everyday. But you would never know it because I rarely raise my voice and say something about it anywhere. I think I have what one might call social media shyness.

The irony is my job calls for a lot of social media participation. As you can guess, I have not been very good at beyond blogging, quite honestly I’d rather write and then hide behind the confines of my writing and wait for the content to spread itself. Which goes against what I know works, which goes against what I would recommend others to do.

This bugs me, it has always bugged me and I have tried to ignore it, until I came across Brené Brown.

Embracing vulnerability is the key to doing your best work

After listening to about an hour of her book, I came to realize some hard truths. Shame is a powerful trigger for not allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. It comes across in different ways, but when it ties to doing my best work the fear of looking like a fool has held me back. Not good.

I sat down and decided to write honestly what my shame gremlins are. The thoughts that come across my mind when I am about to submit a comment on a blog, or LinkedIn group as it relates to my work. To be honest sometimes it’s harder than it should be because I feel I do no know all there is to know about internet marketing. Another gremlin was that I may not be accepted.

Brown covers this in her work by talking about how focusing on acceptance and acknowledgement can actually be a source of anxiety which holds us back, she shares, “Courage stats with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

Focusing on showing up and being seen takes care of the anxiety of not being accepted, and how others might perceive you, which is a powerful gremlin without acknowledgement.

There is a comment that my boss Patrick shared with me when he was first hiring me as a freelancer. Everyone is an expert in something.

Although I am not an expert Twitterer or Google+er, I am really good at writing. I can write everything from blog posts to e-mails to e-books. I can think of ideas, do the research and find a way to present it all in a neatly understandable chunks in a friendly manner. That’s my thing. I ought to celebrate, embrace, and share it.

That’s just me.

What being vulnerable has to do with personal branding.

Personal branding requires a bit of sticking your neck out there. That can be intimidating. It’s easy to forget that all these masterminds had to start somewhere and they had to overcome their own internal gremlins and speak up or stand out. Each person had to go out on a limb and really believe in themselves. And they had to be able to do it in a way that left them open to attack from Internet trolls.

We forget that they make it looks easy but it’s was not always so.

Everyone had to speak up or stand out at some point. And that made all the difference.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” ― Brené Brown

So in my quest to conquer my shame gremlins I have made a small vow to myself to speak up more. Even if I feel like an amateur, to focus on what I’m really good at, and to be seen daily. Whether that is leaving a comment whenever I read a post, or participating in a discussion.

What personal branding goal would you like to make? Speak up, I’d love to hear your voice on conquering your own gremlins.

“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” ― Brené Brown