Why You Should Question The Experts

 

Do you engage in a content marketing strategy because your favorite guru wrote about it in a blog post?

It’s time to stop.

Let’s face it — we all do this from time to time. We have our content marketing expert favorites. We read their success stories, case studies, and in-depth blog posts. We feel like we’re part of their tribe.

But are they really giving us the advice we need?

I thought about this as I was reading an article in Marketing Prof (this article requires a PRO membership to read the whole thing.) One of the writing tips that struck me was “Stick to 1,500-3,000 words; you’ll balance effort with traffic, and you’ll be golden.”

I understand the writer’s point. He backs up his “longer posts are better” statement with stats from BuzzSumo, CrazyEgg and Marketing Experiments. The research is sound.

However, I’d have a hard time believing that this “rule of thumb” metric is true for every business across every vertical. Some audiences may prefer and share shorter posts. Maybe even your industry. In this case, writing a 2,000-word post may be counterproductive. After all, why bother putting all that work into a post if your audience won’t read it?

Instead of thinking of your marketing guru’s opinion as fact, stay open and be curious instead. Maybe their suggestion would work on your site. Maybe something else is a better approach.

You won’t know until you try and measure the results.

Testing assumptions is also for combatting the “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome. If you feel like you’re not making the marketing gains you want, reviewing your assumptions is a very smart move.

Think about all the assumptions you can test. Here’s just a small collection I’ve collected from industry gurus:

  • Your business must blog every week for maximum impact.
  • You must blog multiple times every week.
  • You must provide a value-added giveaway to increase your newsletter subscribers.
  • Pop-ups are bad, and you should never include them.
  • You must create an online course to capture leads.
  • You must run free webinars.
  • Your business must start a podcast.
  • You must create a Title tag using X format.

I’m sure you can name some assumptions too.

Be aware that some colleagues may find “testing assumptions” extremely threatening. Although you may be pumped to throw pop-ups on your site, someone else may hate the idea. They may resist it. They may tell you no.

That’s OK. Instead of an all-or-nothing scenario, offer to run a small test and report on the results. The more you can confirm your assumptions (or blow them out of the water,) the more on-target your marketing.

Why did the MarketingProf’s article hit home for me? It’s because I’ve been questioning my assumptions and looking closely at my own gurus’ advice. I’ve been in business a long time, and it’s easy to fall into the “this is just the way I do it” trap. Sometimes, it’s easier to listen to others rather than being 100% sure a strategy works.

However, just because I’ve been doing it a long time doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. It just means I have a process.

I’ll be making some small tweaks here and there (some you’ll notice, and some will be behind the scenes.) When I discover a tasty morsel of marketing knowledge, I’ll share it here. Not because it’s something you should do too. But because it will give you something to think about – and an assumption to test.

What about you? Did you follow a guru’s advice only to have the situation end badly? What “we’ve always done it this way” processes do you want to test? Leave your comments below.

Photo thanks to © Iqoncept | Dreamstime.com – Question Everyting Message Board Don\’t Trust Rules Authority Photo

 

 

7 Tough Love Tips to Boost Your Freelance Income

You'll want to pay attention to these tough-love freelance business building tips.

You’ll want to pay attention to these tough-love freelance copywriting  tips.

Freelance writers receive a lot of happy-crappy “how to increase your income” advice. There are thousands of  blog posts online outlining tips like:

“Charge more money.”

“Find your niche.”

“Package your services.”

It’s not that the advice is wrong (heck, I’ve discussed those tips, too.) It’s that the advice only goes so far.

“Charging more money” doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know your numbers. And there are a lot of writers out there making six figures without a niche.

So, how do freelance copywriters boost their income?

Over the past 20+ years, I’ve learned a lot of hard business lessons the hard way. Sometimes, I was warned about a course of action, and I stupidly did it anyway. Why? Because I’m stubborn. Did it work out? No.

So please consider this my tough love writing advice to you. If you want to increase your income, you have to get your business process tight and wired.

Here’s what to do.

Fire the clients who no longer serve you.

It may be the client who pays you late every single month. Or the client who sends you work Friday at 4:30 and expects it to be finished by Monday. Or the client that likes to call and “check in.” A lot.

Or, sadly, this can be your very first client. You outgrew them years ago, and they pay you far below your normal rate – but you have a hard time letting them go.

Let them go. It’s time.

Your clients may not bring you joy every single day, but you should at least enjoy working with them and feel respected. If you keep clients on who drive you nuts and suck up your available bandwidth, you won’t have time to help future clients you’ll love.

Here’s some more information on how to fire a writing client.

Ruthlessly budget the time you’ll spend on a project.

How many times have you calculated your hourly wage after completing a project and realized you could have made more working at McDonalds?

Yeah. We’ve all been there.

Yes, it’s OK to spend a little extra time polishing a project. But if you find yourself spending hours more than you originally budgeted, you have one of two problems:

– Your client is demanding additional work than what was originally contracted for (and you’re not kicking back as you should.)

– You need to stop being a perfectionist and get work out the door faster.

Remember, you cost yourself money every time you spend too much time on a project. It could be a few dollars. Or a few hundred. Either way, this is something you’re doing to yourself.

If your client wants something that’s out of scope, tell them that it’s an additional charge and ask if they still want to proceed. Easy. Here’s the difference between “out of scope” and a revision.

If you’re taking too long to write something, it’s time to tighten down your process. Remember, your copy is never going to be perfect. No matter how many times you tweak it. Really.

Know your numbers and stick to them.

Quick: How much money do you need to make to cover your monthly bills, including your insurance costs, vacation time and taxes? How many pages do you need to write every month to make that happen?

If you can’t immediately answer that question, that’s a huge red flag.

A huge mistake freelancers make is pulling pricing numbers out of the air without thinking about their hard monetary needs. Sure, you can charge $15 a blog post. But if your monthly expenses are $1,000, you’ll have to write an average of 17 articles a week just to break even.

The purpose of owning a business is to make money. If you’re constantly stressed about cash flow, your life will be a very unhappy place.

Remember, as a freelancer, you are responsible for everything – your own retirement, your own vacation, your own salary and your own health care. If you set your hourly rate at what you used to earn as a full-time employee, you’ll come up short every month. Carol Tice outlined the expenses you’ll need to cover in her pricing-savvy blog post.

Also, here’s a calculator that helps you set your hourly freelance rate.

Think out of the box

You don’t have to offer the same services as every other writer. One competitive intelligence secret top writers use is to talk to people in their target market (yes, on the phone) and ask them what their main challenges are. A quick 15-minute conversation can provide you a wealth of insider information you can use to craft future service offerings.

Need other ideas? Here are four ways you can increase your freelance income – fast.

Focus on your business first.

How many hours a week do you spend on your business? Not just administrative stuff like paying bills – but profit-driving things like setting up your marketing plan, connecting with influencers, planning new services and making your website shine.

For many writers, the answer is, “I don’t market my business.”

And that’s a huge mistake.

Your most important client is you. Period. That means you need to set aside time every week to strategize and plan (you know, just like you do for your clients.) You can set aside a half day to make it happen (Fridays tend to be good days.) Or, you can spend 30 minutes a day on business planning.

Do this. Do this now. Even if you think”you don’t have the time.” If you go out of business because you didn’t plan correctly, you’ll have plenty of time on your hands. But that’s not really what you want, is it?

Are you so overwhelmed with must-do tasks that you can’t figure out how you’d even find 30 minutes a day for marketing? The next tip is for you…

Let go of your need to control.

As freelance writers, it’s easy to believe that we have to do it all. We write the content. We research the keyphrases. We handle the back end of our businesses, like marketing, bill paying and invoice-wrangling.

Is it any wonder that balls get dropped?

Give yourself permission to think about tasks you could delegate to someone else. For instance:

  • You can bring on another writer and supervise their work. This strategy works to your advantage. You can make more money for much less work.
  • You can outsource tasks you don’t enjoy (like bookkeeping or keyphrase research) to someone else.
  • You can hire someone to post on social media for you (and yes, you can approve the posts first, you control freak you!)
  • Do you hate sales? Consider bringing on a commissioned sales person.
  • Is client communication driving you nuts and eating into your time? Bring on a part-time project manager.
  • Is your day taken up by administrative tasks? Hire a VA for a few hours a week.

The most successful freelancers I know work with a team of smart, talented people. Bringing on team members is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s the complete opposite – you are so laser-focused on your strengths, you recognize there are things you shouldn’t handle yourself. Yes, this is money that’s out the door. But you will make more money – and have more free time – if you bring on the right people to help. Trust me.

Think bigger

When I first started my SEO copywriting career, I’d look at the SEO cool kids like Danny Sullivan, Disa Johnson and Shari Thurow and want to be just like them. They were speaking at conferences. They were working with major clients. They had some major SEO street cred.

My goal back then was to push myself out of my comfort level and speak on the national circuit. And yes, I made it happen!

Am I happy where I am today? Yes. Do I think I can do even more? You bet. I just set a big business goal for myself today – one that, yet again, pushes me squarely out of my comfort zone. I’m not sure how I’ll make it happen yet. And I have a feeling I’ll need to find help. But hey, that’s part of the fun!

Consider how you can take your business one step beyond. Maybe you want to make 50% more this year. Maybe you want to double your newsletter subscribers. Or maybe, you want to work your tail off ten months out of the year so you can vacation for the other two. Don’t let yourself think, “This sounds fun…but…” No excuses. Your mind (and your intentions) are much more powerful than you think.

Now get out there and start making some of that Internet money (thank you, South Park!).

Photo thanks to © Astrid228 | Dreamstime.com – Big Cats Eyes Photo

Are you writing dead end conversion pages?

Does your content send your readers on the road to nowhere?

I wrote this post in 2011 and realized it needed updating. I hope you enjoy the revised version! – Heather To paraphrase the Talking Heads – is your content sending your readers on the road to nowhere? You see this issue frequently pop up in blog posts. Although the site navigation is there, the body copy is link-free – and there’s nothing that encourages readers to go deeper into the site. There’s no link to a related web page. There are no sales page links. From a conversion perspective, the content is a dead-end. Granted, some pages (like squeeze pages) are built like this on purpose. Their purpose is to force the reader to take a particular action. However, what I’m talking about is regular site content – for instance, FAQ content, blog posts and articles. Here’s what I mean.

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Does Your Writing Make Your Clients Money? With Brian Massey

Rock conversions with A/B split testing!

Rock conversions with A/B split testing!

Brian Massey is known as “The Conversion Scientist” for good reason, beyond the trademark and his signature lab coat. He has immersed himself in the science of conversions-driving online content for over 20 years, founded on hard data gleaned from analytics and testing.

We caught up with Brian to ask him about A/B conversion testing, as well as how and why writers should add this skill set to their offerings. His responses are candid and rich with details – you’ll want to savor and bookmark this one!

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Want to Create Irresistible Content? Be Sure to Do This First!

Make your SEO content positively irresistible with this technique!

Make your SEO content positively irresistible with this technique!

Let’s say you’re about to start a new SEO copywriting project, and as always, your mission is to write appealing sales copy that turns site visitors into customers.

Sure, you’ve worked on a creative brief with your client (or in-house team). Plus you’ve poured over company brochures, existing content, trade show materials and other helpful information. And yes, you’ve had meetings with the marketing manager, creative director or web team. That’s all great for getting ready to write excellent SEO content.

But it’s not quite enough.

To write authentic, powerful content that truly resonates with prospects and converts them into customers — you need to go beyond “arm’s length” research.

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Should You Change Your Copy? These 3 Tools Will Help You Decide

There are some times when we’re a little too in love with our own copy.

As a consultant, I’ve had to gently tell clients why their baby (their site copy) is ugly. Some nod and tell me that they already know. Others are amazed I’d feel that way. Their website could have the most boring B2B content in the world and I’d still hear, “It can’t be that bad. Can’t you just fix it up?”

No. No I can’t.

Whether you work in-house or freelance, you’ve probably faced the same situation. The challenge is, sometimes clients don’t listen to your recommendations. They need proof that their content may not be the best.

These three tools will help provide the proof you need.

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Are You A Content Strategist or an SEO Copywriter?

Hmm, maybe I’m an SEO content strategist after all!

Are you undervaluing your work — and selling yourself short?

I’ve talked to many freelance and in-house copywriters who claim that they’re “just” a writer. Sure, most of their time is spent writing copy. But they’re also setting the editorial calendar, using tools like BuzzSumo to find new topic ideas and even explaining Google’s latest updates to their clients or team members.

To me, it sounds like these writers made the leap from “writer” to “SEO content consultant.” They just may not know it yet.

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The C-Word And Why Content Isn’t King

You know what I’m tired of hearing?

The oft-repeated mantra “content is king.”

“But wait Heather,” you may say. “You train people how to write content. You consult on SEO content development. Heck, your entire career was built on content.”

True. But I think the mantra “content is king” has done more harm than good.

Why?

Even in today’s brave new Google world, some people still believe that it’s the quantity of the content – not the quality – that’s important. The primary goal of content is to help a site be seen in the SERPs.

But being seen only works when there’s something else in play.

That “something else” is the C-word.

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Talking International SEO with Gabriella Sannino

For international SEO, think globally but write locally!

 

If you’re at all familiar with international SEO, then you’re most likely familiar with Gabriella Sannino.

Gabriella is the owner of Level 343, an international marketing and SEO agency based in San Francisco. She has worked in marketing and multi media for over 20 years, starting out as a Web developer in 1994 when she founded Level 343.

In the ensuing years Gabriella donned many hats, including research and development specialist, brand strategist, and creative director before deciding to specialize in international marketing and SEO in 2005.

We were fortunate to grab some time with Gabriella to ask her about her experience with international SEO, and to share her insights into this somewhat rarified field.

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