Newsletters, the Jewel in the Crown of Content Marketing

Email marketing remains a highly effective way to engage and connect with clients, prospects and referral sources.  Email marketing can take several forms and according to marketing experts, newsletters are the most effective format.  There are few content marketing tactics that do a better job of attracting, retaining and even winning back lapsed clients than a newsletter that contains well-presented, relevant information that arrives on a regular basis.

Whether readers discover your newsletter while browsing your website or it’s delivered to inboxes by an email marketing service, a newsletter (or blog) will build and enhance your brand, keep your business at top-of-mind, drive traffic to your website and encourage prospective clients and referral sources to learn more about your products and services.  Listed here are building blocks that will help you create a newsletter that will reflect well on your expertise, your business and your brand.

  1. Goals   The newsletter will be one component of your overall marketing /content marketing strategy.  Acknowledging that your newsletter is the cornerstone of your content marketing strategy and that your content marketing strategy plays a leading role in your overall marketing strategy will help you to identify appropriate goals and metrics that will monitor the success rate of your marketing activities. Consider how launching a newsletter will support your organization’s marketing goals.  Are you looking to generate leads and sales? Or are you attempting to establish yourself as a thought-leader and expert as a way to build trust and attract more prestigious clients, expand referrals, get a teaching appointment, or speaking engagements?
  2. Frequency   Decide what your schedule will allow you to do in terms of researching sources and publishing original content.  Be realistic about your time, because sticking to a predictable publishing rhythm will be important to your readers.  Choose as your publishing schedule a date (like the 1st, 15th, or 30th of the month) or a day (the 3rd Tuesday, for example).  A monthly newsletter will help you to build readership most efficiently, but a bi-monthly schedule might be OK.
  3. Template   Reinforce your visual brand and use the colors and graphic style elements used in your business cards and website also in your newsletter design.  An online search will bring you to numerous free newsletter templates and email marketing services will have templates as well.  Choose a template that you like and that will be easy to read.  Readers should be able to quickly scan topic headlines.  Make sure that your template will allow you to upload images as desired. Hubspot, the Cambridge, MA content marketing firm, in a recent survey found that 65% of email marketing readers prefer images to text when reading newsletters.  It’s also important to choose a template that will give sufficient “above the fold” space for you to create headlines that encourage readers to dive in. “Above the fold” is a newspaper industry term that describes the area above the fold in the newspaper.  In a digital newsletter, above the fold refers to what readers can see without scrolling.  Place your best headlines above the fold to reel in readers.
  4. Mobile friendly   A 2018 study by Adestra, a U.K.-based email marketing service, found that 59% of emails are first opened on mobile devices but according to Marketing Land, a digital publication whose target readers are marketing professionals, only 17% of marketers regularly send responsive emails.  Take the steps to format your newsletter in responsive design, so that it will be easy to read on a smart phone or tablet.
  5. Newsletter content   Create a newsletter that consistently delivers to readers  information that they are likely to find interesting and useful.  There are those whose idea of a newsletter consists of links to articles that have appeared in industry journals, sometimes accompanied by a personally written prelude.  That’s probably OK to do two or three times a year, but I highly recommend that you research a topic or two and write 800 – 1500 words of original content.  Your newsletter does not have to exceed two pages, including photos or short videos.
  6. Subscriber base   Your mission will be to capture as many email addresses as ethical behavior allows (no spamming please!).  Take a passive approach and make it possible for readers to subscribe on your website.  Take an active approach and initiate a business card exchange as you meet people in your travels.  Mention that you have a newsletter that covers a particular topic and ask if they’d like to receive it.  If the answer is yes, then you’ll add a new name to your list.  Include an unsubscribe feature in your newsletter template.  Check the statistics of your newsletter, in particular the bounce rate and open rate.  Correct or remove bad email addresses, to keep the list clean and your statistics accurate.  According to Mailchimp, the average newsletter open rate is 20%.  However, when you publish a newsletter that consists of original content that readers value, the open rate can be much higher.  From 2012 – 2016, I was the principal author of a women’s club newsletter (I am still a member) and the open rate approached 70%.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Bob Bernstein (l) and Carl Woodward at The Washington Post in May 1973. The two won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973 for their reporting on the Watergate story.  ©Associated Press

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Content Marketing Survey Findings

In 2016 the PA based marketing services company Clutch surveyed 300+ producers of online B2B content to obtain insight into how readers find, engage with and act on digital business-themed content.

The Clutch Content Marketing Survey 2016 interviewed 300+ expert content marketing writers from across the U.S. to determine how those who produce B2B content can most effectively create, publish and promote content for their organizations.  Key findings were:

  • 88% of online B2B content consumers read business content at least once a week
  • 45% of online B2B content consumers read content to stay current with trends in their respective industries
  • 20% of online B2B content readers use content to help make decisions about whether to purchase products or services
  • 45% of online B2B content consumers read about technology, 24% read about small
    business and 21% read about workplace/ HR topics
  • 87% of online B2B content readers visit search engines to look for business content
  • 85% of online B2B content readers commonly find business content on social media

Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer at the Content Marketing Institute in New York City, emphasizes that “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable information to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” In other words, the goal of your content marketing posts, videos, podcasts and images should be to develop a relationship with your customers, using relevant content to win them over.

main goals for content marketing

Furthermore, the expert content marketers surveyed advised that target audience personas are the most important attributes to consider when developing your content marketing strategy. “Most businesses have an idea about their audience and how it is segmented but, when it comes to taking those audiences into a content marketing strategy, they often flounder,” said Quinn Whissen, Marketing Director at Vertical Measures, a content marketing agency in Phoenix, AZ.

types of content enterprise companies create most frequently

Although challenging, clearly identifying and defining target audience personas is the foundation of an effective content strategy.  Understanding who will read the content determines the information to include and the best platforms for presentation.

content that performs best

Content marketing can be an effective tool for creating brand awareness and generating leads that convert to sales or billable hours, but realize also that it can generate benefits that go beyond a page one article ranking in Google or driving traffic to your website. Consider how content might help your organization to meet key business objectives.  How can your content increase sales?”

HubSpot, a marketing services firm based near Boston, MA, found that the more marketing content a potential customer reads on the company website, the more likely s/he is to buy their software.  Jeffrey Vocell, Senior Manager of Product Marketing, reports that HubSpot follows up with a customized email after a user reads three or four articles.

Metrics matter

  • Expert content marketing writers prioritize their brand story, mission statement and content types when creating their content strategy
  • 49% say that brand awareness is their main goal for content marketing
  • Research/original data, infographics, product reviews and blog posts are the most effective types of content
  • Metrics that reflect sales (32%), content readership (29%) and lead generation (29%) are more important than content sharing metrics (10%)
  • Paid advertisements outperform organic efforts when promoting and distributing content

content marketing metrics

Survey findings yield three core recommendations for content marketing:

  1. Tailor all marketing content to specific audiences.  First identify the different reader personas, then create content that matches their needs, interests, aspirations and behaviors.
  2. Identify the business goals you aim to achieve and consider how your content can enable that. For example, if you want to obtain more links back to your website, be sure to generate research/original data, infographics, product reviews, videos, blog posts and case studies.
  3. Spend less money on content creation and more on distribution.  Creating high-quality content is useless if you don’t dedicate enough effort or resources to getting it in front of your target audience.  If you can’t afford paid advertising, focus on media outreach, such as traditional journalists and influencers.

tactics used to distribute content

Regarding the most effective content distribution methods, the survey found that expert content marketers most often use paid advertisements  including pay-per-click (71%), organic social media (70%) and traditional marketing channels (69%), i.e. print media, TV, radio and direct mail.

Distribution and promotion of the content must be customized to the target audience.  For example, “If content distribution and promotion is done for recent college graduates, it has completely different channels and focuses, compared to content aimed at executives,” explains Andrea Fryrear, Chief Content Officer at Fox Content of Boulder, CO.

Finally, remember that content marketing can deliver benefits to your company that go beyond achieving a page one Google listing for an article you’ve posted or driving traffic to your website. “We don’t simply want to have an impact on marketing, but rather on the entire business unit within that organization,” said Chad Pollitt, Vice President of Audience at Relevance, an online content marketing publication based in MD.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Vaudeville and film star W.C. Fields as a carnival sideshow barker in Two Flaming Youths (Paramount Pictures, 1927)

Machine Learning: Coming To A Freelancer Near You

Machine learning is a ground breaking technology that uses Artificial Intelligence to allow computer systems to automatically “learn” from the patterns of the user’s online browsing choices, without the need to program the system to do so.  Many of us became familiar with AI and machine learning through movie choices offered to us on Netflix or music on iHeartRadio.  Think also of the Digital Personal Assistants Siri and Amazon Alexa, other applications of AI and machine learning that many have embraced.  Machine learning focuses on developing computer programs that can access data, analyze that data (to find patterns) and then use that information to “learn.”

Machine learning and AI are slowly filtering down the food chain from global and national corporations to regional operations.  Start-up entrepreneurs are launching enterprises that employ machine learning and early adopter Freelance consultants will soon be able to incorporate machine learning beyond what we may already be doing with Siri and Netflix.  In particular, marketing is poised to become a primary utilization of the technology, in businesses of every size.

About a year or two ago, you noticed that when you visited a particular website and then returned to Facebook, LinkedIn, or your chosen online homepage, an ad from the site you visited would soon pop up and tempt you with an offer.  The phenomenon is called “real-time” by marketing specialists and it’s driven by the data that your browsing history generates via machine learning and AI.  It’s a manifestation of being responsive to a potential customers’ interests as a way to fill the sales funnel and facilitate a sale.

To take AI and machine learning a few steps closer to ordinary mortals on planet Earth, these tools are uniquely suited to B2B marketing, because they limit the (costly) trial-and-error activities that haunt every online or off-line marketing campaign.  Now, your marketing activities, whether presented in an online display ad, social media posts, or content marketing outreach, will be seen by those whose online searches indicate that they are likely to be interested in exploring your products and services.

Machine learning, augmented by AI, will allow marketing specialists to greatly reduce the wasteful expenditures inherent in every marketing budget and direct those valuable dollars toward self-qualified leads who have a much greater potential to become paying customers.  Your marketing campaigns cannot help but become more cost-effective whether online or offline, print ads in traditional publications, banner ads on individually targeted websites, social media posts, or email marketing.

Speaking of social media posts, machine learning allows marketing specialists to monitor trending topics on various platforms, i.e., topics that currently resonate with particular market segments.  Certain of those memes can become the basis of content for blogs, newsletters, email marketing and other promotional activities.

Finally, let’s circle back to what machine learning has been doing for Netflix and iHeartRadio, which in marketing speak is called demand forecasting.  When movie and music choices are offered to you, the goal is to give you what you want before you know you want it.  Current algorithms are doing a pretty good job of doing that now, but more sophisticated algorithms are in development, with predicting accuracy refined by machine learning and AI.  What is offered will still be a guess and just a suggestion, but for many of us, at least once in a while, we’ll receive an offer that we cannot refuse.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

display.png   Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photograph: Jean Jennings (l) and Frances Bilas programming ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first large-scale computer to run at electronic speed   Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania (1946)

Make Your Marketing Content Pop

Long time readers of Freelance: the Consultant’s Diary  noticed that a few months ago, I was inspired to regularly add artwork to the posts, something that in the 9 years I’ve been writing for you had been done only four times (including one movie trailer video).  Regularly including artwork with the posts occurred to me after I went to see the Tall Ships Parade at Boston Harbor one Saturday afternoon in mid-June.  I used my iPhone to take photos of those amazing ships and decided to post one on my LinkedIn site and another on a blog post.  I loved the look of the photo with the post, even if it in no way referred to what was written.  I was just giddy over the fact that I took a group of nice-looking photos, something that is not guaranteed with me! I was off to the races.

But where could I obtain interesting, free and legal images on a regular basis? In the U.S., intellectual property laws are  enforced and using the work of a photographer or painter without permission or (sometimes) payment could result in a lawsuit.

Some of you will recall that a few months ago I served as an (uncredited) editor and photo editor for a short women’s history book.  My job was to source mostly historic (and preferably free) photographs.  I visited the Boston Public Library website, which has links to Flickr and  Digital Commonwealth collections that were very helpful.  You’ll find thousands of historic and other photos on the site and nearly all have no copyright restrictions and are free to use.  BPL appreciates a line of attribution, “Photograph (or image) courtesy of Boston Public Library.”

The New York Public Library is another excellent source of (mostly) free historic photographs  Wallach Collection of Prints and Photographs . NYPL would also appreciate a credit for images used in your published content.  Be sure to confirm who has rights to the image and follow the directions for inclusion in your content.

Not every photo is free to use.  From the British Museum in London’s site (where there are hundreds of thousands of images of paintings, photographs and fine art objects), there are guidelines to keep marketers and researchers on the right side of the law  copyright and permissions . I’ve requested and received permission for three or four photographs.  Lucky me, I obtained those permissions within 24 hours, but if a photographer or other artist is deceased and the work is now controlled by a foundation, it could take a month or more for the board to review your request and make a decision. BTW, copyright and IP laws are applied more loosely for a blog or newsletter that features no advertising and more strictly for a book.

When looking for free contemporary stock photos, you’ll find 200,000 mostly in color on Unsplash .  The photographers would appreciate a credit line and a thank you sent.  Morguefile  is another site that I’ve successfully used, with its 350,000 mostly color photographs to comb through.  Be aware, however, that stock photos often do not resonate with viewers, even if what you find illustrates the story you are telling.  That is why most of my blog photos are fine art paintings or photographs.

The images that you include in your newsletter, website, blog, ads, or social media should reflect your brand and reinforce the story you tell.  Searching for appropriate images is time-consuming, but I consider it time well spent.  You, gentle reader, are well worth the investment.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving,

Kim

Image: Freedom from Want (The Thanksgiving Picture)  Norman Rockwell, 1942   Courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA

 

Survey Discussion: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Today we have recommendations on how Freelance consultants and small business owners can implement as needed the results of a survey of 1,700 of our peers that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners http://FreshBooks.com .

Given the limited time that Freelancers and small business owners have available to devote to new client acquisition and once we’ve accepted the fact that the pool of new clients must be constantly replenished, it is essential that what we do has a very good chance of delivering the necessary results.

The survey indicates that devoting one’s marketing activities to tactics that are ranked as highly effective across all three age cohorts and then diversifying the tactics utilized, has the potential to reap tangible benefits for all age cohorts, despite the fact that each has a clear preference for certain activities and an ROI track record to defend those practices.

Exceeding client expectations of the work you are hired to do is the recipe for obtaining referrals from satisfied clients. Building relationships with peers that you meet at the chamber of commerce, on volunteer boards, at the gym, or at your religious institution, for example, is often a highly successful marketing and business development tactic for Baby Boomers, with 67% relying on referrals to find new clients. The ability to obtain referrals from business and personal relationships will become more accessible to Generation X and Millennials over time, as their personal and client relationships expand.  There is no more effective advertising than word of mouth.

Millennials have made hay with content marketing tactics and 42% of the age cohort use that marketing tactic. I will guess that a certain percentage of what is called email marketing, which has an adoption rate of 24% across the three age groups, overlaps with content marketing because email is how newsletters are sent. Generation X and especially Baby Boomers are advised to step up the use of content marketing if for no other reason than several surveys have demonstrated its satisfactory ROI.

Content marketing is poised to surpass the use of paid advertising because it seems that B2B prospects find advertisements insufficiently credible or engaging and they have gravitated to the brand story approach that is content marketing. Commissioning a marketing case study to put on one’s website and can be used in other marketing activities, is another highly effective method of content marketing (but it is not inexpensive).

Public speaking in the form of teaching, speaking, training (and I will stretch to say it also includes podcasts, webinars and appearing on a panel as speaker or moderator) is acknowledged by 39% of  survey participants across all three cohorts as being a highly effective marketing tactic and I respectfully suggest that you adopt the practice if you have not already done so.

It may be a little intimidating for Millennials to assume the role of expert, but appearing as a guest on a webinar or podcast seems less of a stretch than teaching business courses or speaking at professional association meetings. Your diarist is in the Baby Boom generation and I’ve done a fair amount of teaching and speaking over the years, but I’ve never directly received either a client or referral from any engagement. Rather, prospective clients are always seem impressed when I mention those activities, so be advised that you may see your teaching and speaking ROI indirectly.

Finally, since the survey explored financial management, we might pause and consider that topic as well. While only 20% of survey responders financed their businesses with bank loans, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need help managing the business finances (and their personal finances).  One third of the responders has a relationship with a bank and yet 52% report that they feel big banks are not a good fit for small business owners and Freelance consultants.

Survey findings indicate that Freelancers and small business owners with the greatest financial acumen operate the most successful ventures and enjoyed self-employment the most.  That description applied to 25% of responders.  Overall, responders are wary and uninformed about new financial software that might help them better understand and optimize their financial record-keeping data and learn how to use either what they already own, or software they could buy, and learn to understand and manage the financial aspects of their businesses.

The FreshBooks people recommend that Freelancers and small business owners invest in financial management training.  Courses are either regularly or sporadically available at adult learning centers, libraries, business networking groups, professional associations and the Small Business Administration.  https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/manage/manage-your-finances-business-credit

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Falmouth (MA) Road Race August 21, 2016 courtesy of Joseph Cavanaugh

 

 

 

Survey Results: How Freelancers Market Our Services (2016 – 2017)

Hello everyone and welcome to post-summertime reality.  We’re heading into the fourth quarter and whether or not you’re on track to meet your 2017 earnings goal, the time for a big push to help you end the year strong has arrived.  Marketing will play a big role in your revenue-generating strategy, but as was discussed in my August 15 post, do what you can to create a marketing budget so that your clever strategies and tactics will make it off the drawing board Your Marketing Plan Is Meaningless Until You Assign A Budget

In this post, I’ll share the results of what appears to be a credible survey of 1,700 Freelancers and small business owners that was conducted in December 2016 by FreshBooks, a Toronto company that sells cloud-based accounting solutions designed for Freelance professionals and small business owners  http://freshbooks.com.  Let’s look at what the folks at FreshBooks have to tell us about the practices, priorities and challenges of Freelance consultants and small business owners:

Who were the survey participants?

  • 65% male and 35% female
  • 51% Baby Boomers (age 50 + years);  34% Generation X (age 35 – 49 years);           15% Millennials (age < 35 years)
  • 65% have earned at least a Bachelor’s degree
  • 55% operate as Sole Proprietors, with no formal legal business structure
  • < 10 employees in the business
  • 15% in business < 2 years
  • 42% have no retirement account (median survey age was 50 years)
  • 23% earned < $20K in 2016
  • 23% earned $21K – $50K in 2016
  • 29% earned $51K – $100K in 2016
  • 24% earned $101K + in 2016

What kinds of marketing tactics are most often used?

Tactics considered most effective:

  • 67% ask for referrals, from clients or personal relationships
  • 47% have referral partners (e.g., at business association networking groups)
  • 39% speak and/or teach
  • 23 % use content marketing (especially blogs and newsletters)

Tactics considered somewhat effective:

  • 51% attend industry/ professional association events
  • 48% join business networking associations (e.g., chambers of commerce)
  • 44% entertain prospects (anything from coffee to drinks and dinner)
  • 44% use social media marketing
  • 24% use email marketing

Tactics considered least effective:

  • 32% purchase ads in print or online publications
  • 19% post on industry online forums (e.g., LinkedIn groups)

Age has a statistically significant impact on the types of marketing tactics employed and on the success rate of those tactics.  Baby Boomers have a much better success rate obtaining referrals, probably because they’ve lived long enough to develop those types of relationships.  Millennials have great success with content marketing and social media, no doubt because they grew up with the internet and they’re comfortable and adept with online communications.

Millennial Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 42% Content marketing
  • 30% Social media
  • 30% Referrals

Baby Boom Generation preferred marketing tactics:

  • 47% Referrals
  • 26% Content marketing
  • 22% Social media

Finally, marketing and sales are the mechanisms that promote market share and revenue growth and put the venture on the road to earning the desired profit margins that will secure its financial standing.  Yet, small business owners and Freelance consultants devote little time to business development (i.e., prospecting for new client acquisitions). which is supported by the right marketing strategies and tactics.  Most feel that signing new clients and retaining them is difficult:

  • 65% feel they need to find new clients
  • 85% consider business development a challenge
  • 75% devote less than one-quarter of their time to business development
  • 51% feel that they’re too busy with client work to prospect or sell
  • 40% devote one-tenth or less of their time to prospecting
  • 37% are uncomfortable selling
  • 25% feel they’ve found the right balance between making sales calls and performing client work

In order to build and sustain the business, it is necessary to attract and retain clients that you can reliably bill at a certain minimum amount; figure out how to describe and sell a value proposition that makes your services appear desirable to a critical mass of clients; performing client projects that you can price to ensure the desired profit margin; and effectively managing the business’ financial strategies.  As was discussed in my August 22 post, Only Those Who Have Money Can Borrow Money , the survey also examined the access to capital that Freelance consultants and small business owners have, or don’t have:

  • 20% used bank financing to launch their ventures
  • 25% were turned down for business
  • 52% feel that big banks are not designed to serve the needs of Freelancers or small business owners

Next week we’ll weave together the threads laid out here,  examine and analyze the picture that emerges and use some small data to help our respective business ventures get big ROI as we enter the fourth quarter.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Japanese surfer works his plan to win gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics   Photograph: Kyodo News (2017)