What Content Do I Need to Create and How Can I Make a Plan?

6.9.15 ContentMarketingCommittment (blog)

You’re a one-person business owner and you need to be 500 places at once. You’re the accountant, the website admin, the account manager, the marketer, the janitor, IT, and – lest we forget – the person who actually has to do the work your business provides.

Given all of these demands on your time and budget, does the mere mention of “content marketing” make you want to curl up in a ball and sob?

Let’s take a deep breath and exhale together. I’m going to share my journey with you.

Even though I’m a writer and marketing addict, content marketing almost destroyed me.

“Whaaaaaat?! But Maria, you manage to blog almost every week! You, like, live on social media.”

Yes. And this is how my breakdown started. And why I’m making changes. And why I want to help you do the same.

I recently told my entire audience that I was retrenching to work on my content plan.

Creating content brings me joy so I’m going to stop treating it like a one-night stand and make it a long-term commitment. (Tweet This!)

So I took a step back and have been working away, my friend. Seeking counsel from others. Spending time in coffee shops thinking about you and what you need. Marrying that with topics I’m passionate about and thinking about how to structure things.

Not sure what content you need to create for your audience or how to create a solid plan? Here is an 11-step plan to determine your content strategy. You should know I am following each and every one of these steps myself right now so I feel you:

  1. Determine Your Goals: Before you create a stich of content, what is your goal with it? Are you trying to walk prospects down the sales funnel? If so, you might need to create 2 or 3 pieces of content to get them hooked. Do you simply want folks to sign up for your email list? Then you’ll need some sort of opt-in freebie or guide. Do you want a regular weekly audience on a global basis and to interview various experts? Perhaps podcasting is the way to go? What are your goals? There is no one right answer for WHAT to create, but the answer gets a lot clearer if you know WHY you need it.
  2. Revisit Your Ideal Customer/Client Profiles: Remember all those times I’ve told you how creating ideal customer profiles is the single most important part of your brand strategy? Here’s Reason #972 as to why. To create the right content, you need to know your audience. What do they need, want, desire, fear, worry about? What type of info do they like to consume? What are their lives like? So dust off those ideal client profiles and update them or flesh them out if need be.
  3. Start With Your Wheelhouse: Good, now you know who you’re talking to. Before we dive into the format of your content, let’s focus on the content topics. You want to cover topics around your area of expertise and what your business provides. Sounds simple, right? But you have to be organized about it. Write down every topic associated you do for people and all associated areas that it touches. Are you an accountant? Those topics would be money management, bookkeeping, tax tips, expense tracking, budgeting, record-keeping. Are you a life coach for women? That would be work/life balance, love, relationships, goal setting, stress management. You get the idea.
  4. Layer in Your Joy: Which topics do you enjoy talking or writing about? Download all the things you love. Now, compare your lists and see if there is any overlap. Can you talk about website design AND wine? Graphic design AND dogs? Career advice and Walking Dead? If you can find ways to weave these passions into your content, you will enjoy creating it more – and people will enjoy engaging with it more.
  5. Bucket Your Topics: I’m going through this exercise right now. Of your laundry list, are any of the topics related? Can they be grouped together or do they overlap? I have advised many clients on this approach but it wasn’t until I consulted with and took a course recently with social marketing expert Amy Schmittauer of Savvy Sexy Social that I finally did this exercise for myself. We are indeed our own worst clients, aren’t we? Create your “channels” or categories or magazine columns or whatever analogy resonates with you to organize this vast list.
  6. Ask Your Tribe: Yes, you will actually have to ask your target community what they would like to hear from you before you go out, guns blazing. Revolutionary, isn’t it? I recently sent a dedicated email to my list asking them to tell me their biggest challenges, obstacles or pain points and I have now turned those responses into a list of content ideas (of which, this post is one!) If you don’t have a huge list, ask former clients or customers or simply contacts that fit your ideal customer profile.
  7. Brainstorm Content Vehicles: Now that you have an idea of your topics and “buckets” you can spend a dreamy afternoon thinking about how to package these up. Do you like blogging? Maybe they are a year’s worth of blog posts. Do some topics lend themselves to demos or lengthy explanations? Make those videos. Are some topics so rich you could write a short eBook or create an ongoing podcast? Don’t think of vehicles that are absolutely painful for you to create – you will never do them. If quick visuals or tweets are your things, then maybe you just create Instagram-worthy images with captions around each topic or craft short tweets on each topic. At this point, you could also ask your audience again how they prefer to consume information, but I bet you’ll get a thousand different answers so may as well stick to what you enjoy creating!
  8. Create Your Calendar: This is the part I struggle with, to be honest with you. I try to make pretty little calendars only to go off-road as soon as my attention wanders. I’m like a dog that sees a squirrel. But it’s a place to start, right? Look out 6 months (or 3 if that’s less scary) and plot out what you can talk about when. This will save you time and energy when you’re not sure what to create or are staring at a blank page. Be ruthlessly realistic here. Don’t say you’ll blog or create a video every day if you won’t. What does a realistic schedule look like for your life and sanity?
  9. Make Space to Create: Of course you need to allot time to create all this great content so be realistic. That first video won’t go live tomorrow. So map the efforts into your personal calendar. And then schedule meeting on your calendar for when you will write/record/design – whatever. Not just 15 minutes but 2 to 3 hours worth of dedicated time each week if that’s what you need.
  10. Gather Your Resources + Outsource: I’m a good writer, but not a designer. If I want to create eBooks, I need to partner with a cool designer. So think ahead about who can help you create each of these content pieces. Do you have a VA who can upload and format your finished blog posts and find a good image to go with each of them? Can you pre-schedule Tweets or posts with Buffer? Do you know a good designer who can help you with all ten of the eBooks or free guides you want to create? Have you priced out a videographer for your video series (or are you simply planning to use your iPhone and send it to an editor – or DIY). Consider all of these once you determine your content plan, get everything lined up and then you can just press play and start cranking out content. Turn to resources like the ones I blogged about last week!
  11. CREATE! Start at the beginning and work your way down. Time to start doing. See your list from #10 above and start assigning out work – to yourself if appropriate or to one of the resources you’ve gathered. If you need to write raw content, can you hire a copywriter to polish your rough drafts? Can you get an intern to write the social media posts? Can someone else conduct the expert interviews for you?

Ready to plan for and create all that killer content without losing your mind? Make sure you’re on the Red Slice email list down below to find out the next time I’m offering  Bring Sexy Back to Your Blog, In this on-day virtual course, we talk about how to bring sexy back to all your content, not just blogging and you’ll leave with an actual plan and sample content piece, plus tons of feedback from me and others.

Image Credit: Matt Biddulph via Flickr

9 Hot Women Your Business + Brand Need Right Now

6.2.15HotList (Blog)

I’m going to be straight with you: stop trying to do everything yourself.

You know who you are: In an effort to “save money,” you sign up for every DIY course under the sun, thinking you’re going to have time to: perfect your writing, code your website, design your flyers, and everything else you need to do to run your business or promote your message. In addition to, you know, doing your actual work.

There’s definitely a time and a place to go it alone. Heck, I offer a self-study digital program that enables you to put together a clear, crisp brand strategy on your own – and folks love it. But savvy business people also know that no one can be an expert in everything. Why should you be, when there are fabulous resources out there? Not to mention that there are just certain things you may enjoy, like writing your blog or designing your materials, and some things that make you want to poke your eye out because it will take you three times as long to be half as good. Time better spent on the real, revenue-generating value you offer, whether that’s making your custom jewelry designs, working with paying clients or writing your next novel.

Folks often ask me for referrals, which I love to provide. This is not a zero-sum game. If someone helps me be successful, my responsibility is to mentor and share to help you, too.

If we can’t share our resources to lift everyone up, why are we even doing this “entrepreneurship” thing? (Tweet this!)

Enjoy my Hot List of 9 ridiculously talented people that will help your biz + brand shine bright. And yes, they are all women (#girlpower). You’re welcome.

Norma Maxwell of Connect Interactive. My website shaman. She has designed and built outrageously on-brand websites for me as well as many of my clients. She’s the genius behind my recent website facelift! Norma gets that your website is not just about good looks, but that it should speak to your target audience and represent your brand well – plus ensure a great user experience to achieve your goals.

Sarah Von Bargen: Sarah and I are long-time partners for many of my clients. She is the writing genius behind my SLICE Sessions. She loves to ghostwrite blog posts or eBooks – and she’s amazing at articulating your unique brand in a way that gets people excited and engaged. She has written a lot of great stuff for me over the years.

Tammy Martin of Martin Marketing: Tammy is a Facebook marketing expert for savvy soulful entrepreneurs. And not just about Facebook ads per se but how to use them to build a true sales funnel and lead your prospects down the path to purchase. She’ll help you build your following, your email list and generate crucial traffic back to your site – all while setting up both your ads and your unique landing pages, dealing with all the technology behind-the-scenes, installing all tracking pixels to make sure it’s working, and tweaking as needed. We had great results working together and I’m eager to work with her on more!

Alison Monday of Tiny Blue Orange: Alison is my website wizard and guardian. She is a designer and developer and ensures your site looks good and stays safe (she’s a techie at heart and is all about security, uptime, and performance). She helps me create pages, improve layout and has designed promotional JPG’s for me. She has also helped some of my clients build wonderful websites that required sophisticated back-end complexity and unique imagery.

Sandy Jones-Kaminski of Bella Domain Media: Sandy is a networking maven and LinkedIn ninja. She combines her expertise in how to network online or offline with her vast knowledge of how to use LinkedIn to generate leads, find connections, and get found by the folks who matter most. She has all kinds of social selling and networking tips and tricks that will change your business.

Anne Watson Barber of Almond Tree Social: Anne specializes in helping her clients boost the ROI of their websites via SEO, paid marketing campaigns, Infusionsoft eMarketing and other tools. As a Search Engine Marketing manager, she focuses on boosting conversions and traffic for large, complex websites. Fun fact: She was a News Editor for Wall Street Journal online before going freelance.

Social Media Gurus: These talented experts have been behind the scenes of some killer brands ranging from authors to consultants to restaurants and can help you develop a practical and powerful social media plan – and even ghostwrite and manage pages for you.

Karen Rosenzweig of One Smart Cookie Marketing

Tracey Warren of Ready, Set, Grow Marketing

Katie Kay of Virtually Savvy

And if you need a dynamic speaker to motivate your marketing team, liven up your next business event or inspire conference attendees into action, you can always enjoy my unique blend of branding and inspirational wit and wisdom but please check out these other fabulous folks as they are gifted presenters on their specific topics. Bookmark this post for when you need to find an amazing speaker for your next event.

Image Credit: Tomi Tapio K via Flickr

7 Simple and Stunning Blog Post Ideas to Keep Your Ideas Flowing

5.5.15 7EasyBlogPostIdeas (blog)
You’re staring at the cursor and it’s blinking at you, taunting you. You sigh.

When you were out driving earlier today, you had a ton of clever blog post ideas that just came to you with no effort. But you couldn’t write them down. And now – poof – they are gone with the wind.

This happens to me all the time. I seriously wish I could record the thoughts I have right before falling asleep. I’ve written 5 novels in my head this way. But I can’t remember a damn thing once I wake up. So I was inspired by a hilarious video from my buddy Amy Schmittauer of Savvy Sexy Social to share my own take on 7 simple and stunning blog post ideas – these will help so much when you can’t think of anything to write about.

And BONUS TIME: Any of these can easily be turned into a free email opt-in download, a lead magnet for your next course, an eBook, a podcast, a video…..you get the idea. Recycle, people.

Oh, and the numbers below are arbitrary. It’s up to you to pick how many you can create – but play around with being short and sweet (3 quick tips…) versus providing a more exhaustive resource (64 ways to….). See what resonates with your audience the most.

7 Simple and Stunning Blog Post Ideas – When You Can’t Think of What to Write About (Tweet This!)

  1. 3 Crucial Tips for… (YOUR SUBJECT AREA HERE). …Building a Website, …Finding Inner Peace, …Choosing a Killer Date Outfit, …Buying the Right Engagement Ring. Whatever your business does, surely there are 3 basic tips that you always seem to share with prospects or customers. This worked well for me when sharing 4 Clever Ways to Make it Easy For Others to Promote You and 3 Tips for Smarter Small Business Marketing. Don’t fall into the trap (as I once did before a wise woman slapped me upside the head – with love) of assuming “everyone know this.” They don’t. It’s why you have a job.
  2. 6 Questions to Ask When… (YOUR SUBJECT AREA): People love to read articles that guide them when making a decision. And, heck, no one says you can’t choose questions that would immediately point them to your products or services if it’s a good fit – just make sure you’re being unbiased, as people may feel like you’re being slimy instead of helpful. So how about: …Choosing the Right Accounting Software, …Picking the Perfect Executive Coach, …Creating Your Social Media Strategy.
  3. 5 Powerful (YOUR FIELD) Lessons from (POPULAR NEWS TOPIC/CULTURAL REFERENCE): This one is super fun, because it allows you to be timely (and show up in what people are searching on right now) and showcase your cleverness in relating your expertise to something that culturally binds us. One of my most popular blog posts was 4 Powerful Business Lessons from James Bond and Skyfall. The other form this can take is “What (POPULAR TOPIC) Can Teach You About (YOUR FIELD).” Relate key lessons or tips you always talk about to something timely and hot and give it a fun spin (if the topic allows for it) or simply analyze a current news story through the lens of your expertise, as I did in popular posts about Lance Armstrong’s and Susan G. Komen’s epic brand fails.
  4. 7 Lessons Learned When (YOUR FIELD OR INTEREST): You have wisdom to share based on your experience (See #1 above) and your audience is thirsting for it. What can you share about mistakes you’ve made, unique things you’ve done, or clients you’ve worked with? What can they learn from your story? Remember, share your lessons but ensure you make it about how it applies to the reader. I loved sharing 7 Lessons I learned While Writing A Book…And What They Can Teach You as well as, yes, the 7 lessons that a brain injury can teach you about your brand.
  5. Pose a question related to your subject area: Think about the most popular questions you get asked about your business, brand or profession and turn that into a single-threaded blog post. How Do I Write Good Sales Copy? How Do I Work with a Stylist? How Long Does A Website Take to Build? What is a Brand Strategy? This helps you showcase your expertise, offer great advice and even make it easy for new people to join your tribe and not feel like they don’t know some inside joke. Remember, your audience may be at different phases of the buying cycle and are only just now getting to know you and your brand.
  6. Interview another rockstar expert: Are there folks related to your field from whom your audience would loooooove to get the inside scoop? You don’t have to be the expert in everything. But you can be the go-to resource for curating that info and brining those guests to your community. Are you a health and wellness coach? Interview a stylist to help your clients showcase their brand new health bods. Are you an Etsy store selling handmade jewelry? Interview a party planner on how to throw the perfect jewelry party for your friends. Do you sell customer management software to small businesses? Interview a branding expert to give them tips on how to build their brand online and create compelling content. These can be super easy to create. In my Slice of Brilliance column, I interview experts in related fields that are of interest to you and send them a 3-question form to fill out. You get a great blog post, your audience gets great content, and you get the added bonus of that rockstar also promoting your post! #Winning
  7. Make one observation on your industry and present your point of view: These are the thought leader posts, the ones that inspire, delight, provoke thought – and get shared. There must be something you love or hate about your industry that you have a view point on: your disgust with smarmy sales pitches (if you’re a sales consultant), your crush on brands that give back to the community (if you run an advertising agency), your confusion over why contracts can’t be written in plain English (if you’re a lawyer), your deep hatred of hyperbolic software sales claims (if you run a software company). How can you make this personal commentary interesting and relevant to your audience? Ensure there’s a strong takeaway that they can ponder or act upon – otherwise it’s just a rant. I tried to do this with my observations about how perfection holds many people back from birthing their great ideas into the world or why you are called to create something that matters, rather than spew more noise into the world.

P.S. Need help coming up with more compelling content? Want to learn the secrets to writing copy that seduces your audience? Want more content creation tips? Get it here.

Image credit: qnuckx via Flickr

What Are Your Competitors Success Secrets? Here’s How to Find Out

04.14.15 secrets BLOG

Is it possible to check out your competitors without falling into a deep, dark pool of insecurity and self-doubt?

Yes. Here’s how.

Paramount to this process is the act of objectively, strategically seeing what your competitors are doing. There’s little benefit to weeping with envy over your competitor’s perfect prose but it is helpful to notice how many service offerings they have or how often they post on Facebook.

There’s a  fine line between diligently staying your course and sticking your head in the sand. It’s just ego to think you never need to change and adapt. You must know what is going on in the marketplace and more importantly, what your prospective customers are seeing and experiencing if you want to stay relevant and compelling. Great businesses understand the fine art of this balance between nimbly reacting to competitor moves and staying true to their own vision.

With that in mind, I created a handy, dandy worksheet for you. This worksheet will help you gather tons of helpful information and remove a lot of those self-esteem ruining moments.

Share this worksheet and help others learn about their competitors the objective way. (Tweet this!)


How many products or services do they offer?

Do they post their prices? If so, how much do they charge? If they have similar offerings to what you have, are there features they include in the price or do they charge extra?

Are their offerings one-on-one and customized? Do they offer packaged info products? Group offerings? A mixture of both?

Are their offerings evergreen and always available? Or do they open and close periodically?

Does it seem like they’re a one-person operation? Or do they have a large team?

Do they have testimonials? How many? Are their testimonials on a separate page or on specific service pages – or both?


Does their site look professionally designed? Is it easy to navigate?

What is the vibe and the main messages or benefits they tout?

How do they present their offerings: by industry, by audience, by type?

Do they have a newsletter? How do they entice people into signing up for their newsletter?

How many places do they link to or promote their newsletter and other offerings throughout the site (cross-linking)?

Do they have a blog? If so, how often do they post?

Are their blog posts related to their offerings?

How long is their About page? Are there outgoing links on their About page? If so, where are those links going?

Do they use a pop up to capture emails?

Social media

Which social media platforms are they on? Where are they most active?

How often do they post on those channels? What type of content do they post?

How many followers/fans do they have on each channel and more importantly, how ENGAGED are those fans? (RTs, Shares, Likes, Comments).Which posts get the most comments, shares or likes? Are there common threads you can see in their topics, format or which posts are most popular?

Do they @mention people or use specific hashtags?

Do they use images?

What “voice” do they use in social media? Is it consistent with their brand? 

What link do they use on their social media profiles? Does it go to their home page? A landing page?

Print this out, pour yourself a glass of wine (I may be drinking a nice shiraz) and see what insights you can gather from your competitors.

And then use that information to tweak your online space accordingly.

Have you ever researched your competitors online? Share your best tips in the comments!

P.S. If you find that most of your competitors are using Twitter more effectively than you are, this will help. If you need help with Facebook, read this.

photo by Grey World // cc

3 Things You Must Do For Your Brand Story to Bloom

03.31.15 ArticulateMessage(blog)

It’s all well and good for us to talk about having a strong brand story. But that’s only part of the “story” (pardon the pun).

Whether you are a one-person consulting business or a 1000 employee technology player, there are 3 phases to brand “storyhood” that must all be addressed in order to have real market impact – from hiring the right people to attracting the right customers or clients:

Define: Sure, everyone who works here “knows” your quirky brand personality or strong values, right? Wrong. If your brand story is simply a wispy tale that only old-timers will understand – or worse, simply lives in the minds of the founders – you are lost before you even begin. How can you expect the market to know your story if YOU don’t even know your story? What is it? Have you defined your brand strategy? Have you nailed down the most important points, stories and practices that make up your business’ DNA? If you talk to different people across the organization, will you get a different answer? And don’t forget the one answer that makes cringe: “Well, I don’t know…it’s kind of hard to explain. You just know it when you see it.”

If you can’t define your story, how can you expect your customers or clients to do so? You know your business best. Define your brand position internally: What are we about, what makes us tick? What is our vibe? Who are we talking to? Where do we fit in the competitive landscape? Button this down for yourself or your internal team before moving on to Step 2…

Articulate: Now that you’ve hashed it all out, pulled it apart, examined it from all angles, gathered the stories, emotions and benefits that make you special, you have to WRITE IT DOWN. Articulating the brand story is where most businesses fall down. It’s not enough for you to know your own story if you can’t give the market words to describe it. What is the mission and vision? What are you value statements? What is the tone of your copy? Which benefits will we tout over and over that we want to own in the marketplace? Bring in a talented copywriter if words are not your thing because you must choose your words wisely. Words matter. What is the script you want others to say? Wal-Mart is about low prices. Nordstrom is about exquisite customer service. Virgin America is just wonderful, hip, cool and cheeky. ASPCA is a voice for abused and neglected animals. Tom’s Shoes gives a pair of shoes to kids in need when you buy a pair.

Share: Now that you’ve defined who you are and articulated the story, are you just going to pat yourselves on the back and adjourn the meeting? Heck no. It’s time to share the story – internally first. Are you sharing this story with every single functional area such as HR, Finance, Customer Support so they can apply the story to their own everyday actions? Does HR know the brand story so they can hire the right people who will support it? Does everyone in marketing know the story so they can make smart campaign decisions? Does sales know the story so they can pitch to the right prospects about the right value? Build your brand equity from the inside out. Once everyone inside understands the brand story, then you can better share it with the outside world to generate leads, serve customers and differentiate from the competition.

Define, Articulate, Share: You must go through these 3 steps to make your brand bloom (Tweet this!)

Image credit: GotoVan via Flickr

Heed the mouse: Who do you serve and what do they need?

02.17.15 Brands for all markets (blog)

A trip to Disneyland and my husband’s profound comment recently put me in my place. Here’s the tale:

In my own book, Branding Basics for Small Business (2nd Edition), there’s a passage titled: All Markets Have a Brand Need. In it, I seek to clarify that “brand” is not just about high-end “luxury brands” but about being clear and consistent in the audience you reach and the market need you fill. From page 49:

Sometimes people think brand means expensive, as in “brand name.” High cost and exquisite quality are indeed brand attributes, but you could choose to sell a generic T-shirt or dinnerware that’s cheap and disposable, since certain audience segments have a real need for those items. As long as you clearly convey this message in everything you do, you can become known as the place to buy inexpensive white T-shirts or the most stylish, cheap, disposable dinnerware. Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with that.

Having a strong brand doesn’t mean you have to charge the highest prices or offer the highest quality. It’s a nice side effect that often brand loyalty means customers are not buying based on price alone. But if your brand represents low prices (Wal-Mart) you can’t just all of the sudden start charging a boatload.

Brand is about setting expectations – and delivering on them. (Tweet this!)

Witness my recent trip to the Disneyland Resort to deliver a conference keynote. I texted a good friend that the Disney experience was so perplexing. High-touch customer service, calling you by name, a VIP Concierge at my beck and call (well, as the speaker, I guess!), and all staff (cast members) catering to your every whim. Such white-glove service – juxtaposed with people walking into a high-end steakhouse with flip-flops, mouse ears, and football jerseys.

And then I got snarky. As I’m prone to do.

“But such class and yet so much trashiness in one place is very confusing.”

OK, so I’m not proud of the “trashy’ comment. People are on vacation. Sometimes a vacation for which they’ve saved up for years. It was incredibly snobby even though I was just trying to be funny.  (Sorry, I’m human)

When I tempered this remark to my husband later on the phone, explaining how perplexed I was by the contradicting Disney brand experience, this clever man said,

“That’s what Disney is all about, though: that everyone deserves special VIP treatment, especially when they are on vacation. Doesn’t matter who you are: Disney treats you like royalty. That is their brand.”

And it hit me like a ton of bricks. There was no duality in the Disney brand. It was perfectly consistent with that brand strategy, as my husband described it. There are markets for everything and Disney’s market is making everyday people feel like royalty. So you see a wide array of demographics when you visit. Because it’s not about incomes, or tastes, or whether you like the opera or NASCAR. It’s about serving people of all ages who want to experience magic. Who want to be treated like VIP’s. Who want to be awed, delighted and spoiled rotten for a brief period of time.

There are all kinds of markets. And there are indeed all kinds of brands to serve those markets. Disney is not confused. It knows exactly who it serves and why.

The question is: Do you know who you serve? And can those people quickly tell from everything you say, do and offer that you will serve them exactly what they want and need?

Heed the Mouse. He’s a pretty smart little guy, isn’t he? (And so is my husband)

Your turn: Can you describe your target audience’s main desire that you serve? Or do you feel like you sometimes serve multiple audiences and have challenges creating a consistent brand as a result? Fire away in the Comments below!

Image Credit: Sean MacEntee via Flickr

The problem with perfection

02.10.15 seek substance before perfection (blog)

I have seen too many smart, savvy, brilliant people let their ideas die on the vine because they want to do something that many of us think is admirable. And it should make all of us angry and sad:

They want to be perfect.

All the stories that people need to hear. All the talent that could make the world a better place. All the benefits customers and clients are aching to achieve. None of it seeing the light of day because:

“I can’t start my business until I have the perfect website worthy of Vogue or Fast Company” (Right, because everyone expects a Phase 1 website to look as slick as an Apple ad)

“I can’t write my book because I don’t know enough about publishing or story structure so I need to attend more conferences and get more credentials.” (Right, because there is a “right” way to publish a good story and, besides, there’s no one who can help you along the way)

“I can’t send that email or post that blog post until I have an editor thoroughly check it for grammatical mistakes or typos.” (Right, because good ideas that have impacted everything from society at large down to one individual life were mocked because someone wrote “there” instead of “their.”)

Please make no mistake: This is not a defense of shoddy quality or mediocrity. I’m not even advocating poor design. You’re talking to the woman who cries when she realizes there’s a typo in my writing.

But you also know, if you’ve been with me a while, that – news flash – I’m human and I make mistakes. We ALL do. But it doesn’t stop me from continuing to serve you and deliver value. Waiting until something is 100% perfect before you share it with the world is just crazy – and impossible. You will always want to tweak something later. Always. It’s called “learning and evolving.” Besides, 80% of great is better than 100% of nothing, any day.

Think first about why you are chasing perfection? Is it fear holding you back? Tara Mohr, in her recent book Playing Big, purports that many talented women use this as an excuse to mask their fear and hide their light. But I’ve seen many men do this, too. “Perfection-seeking as delay tactic” crosses gender lines. I know, because I’ve been there myself and fight this everyday.

Seek to create substance, value, and inspiration first rather than perfection. (Tweet this!)

Don’t lose momentum. Get your message out in to the world. Shape it as you go. Learn from the feedback you get and improve things further. It’s why innovative companies launch beta projects: to gauge reaction and work out the kinks, fast.

Kindly request forgiveness from your audience. But don’t let the pursuit of perfection stop your message from reaching the people who need it most.

This is not permission to let quality slip. It’s a rallying cry to get your ideas out into the world and shape them as you go.

Do you agree? Where has this shown up in your own work? What ideas have you sat on for fear of them not being perfect? Please share in the Comments below!

Image Credit: finchlake2000 via Flickr

All you really have is your story

1.13.15 tell your story well (blog)

Most of us have not invented anything new.

We are not doing something customers or clients can’t get elsewhere. We are not discovering a new element or identifying a new species or creating a way for humans to live on Mars. (Some of you may be working on this, but most of us are not).

But what you do and how you do it is utterly unique. Because you are the one doing it.

We know this to be true of art. But even in that case, chances are you’re not creating a medium that has never been used before, right? If you paint, there are other paintings. If you take photos, there are other photographers. It’s all about the artist’s perspective and what they create that makes us choose one over the other.

This is true in your business, too. You are an artist.

You put your own spin, motivations and values on the work. Working with you is unlike working with any other human being. The experience can never, ever be replicated, even if two people work from the exact same playbook.

All you have in this noisy world to stand out and attract the right people is your story. What is the meaning and mission behind your work? What is the main benefit your clients or customers will achieve? How will they feel when it’s over? How will it impact them days, months and years down the road?

That is your story and that is what you need to talk about. That is what people sign up for. It is what makes them choose you over the hundreds of other doing or selling exactly what you sell.

All you have is your story. Know what it is. Tell it well. (Tweet this!)


Why you are called to create something that matters

Do you want to create something that matters? A business that makes a difference? If you want to change the world with your work, click through for advice from someone who has!

Do you want to create something that matters?

That sort of seems like a trick question, right? Who says “I’d like to create work that’s superficial, boring, and disposable?”

Nobody, right?

But sometimes we’re reminded about the importance of putting good things into the world by … magazines in the grocery store checkout line.

There I was, three months after giving birth to my son and buying a few groceries in a rare respite outside of the house. As I waited in line, my eyes scanned across the magazine headlines screaming at me from the checkout stand:

“Hate Your Butt? 5 Secrets to A Body You’ll Love!”
“Miracle Cream Erases Wrinkles Forever!”
“How to Be Rich and Powerful…And Work Less Than Three Days A Week!”
“(CELEB) Tells All About Her Life, Loves and Drug Use in Hot New Autobiography Buy it Today!”

A wave of panic flooded over me as tears sprang to my eyes. Frustrated tears. Angry tears.

Was this the world my darling little boy has just entered? This is what he has to look forward to once he learns how to read? Yikes.

Maybe it was post-partum hormones but, really…no. Anyone who knows me knows I have hated hyperbolic marketing and trashy reality TV (worse, people who are famous just for acting like infants) for a while.

And the digital marketing world is no different: people promising riches, 6-figure incomes, and pretty much everything but an evil lair in your own mountain hideaway (although it’s probably out there).

Despairing, I surfed social media when I got home and just felt sicker. All the noise, empty claims, the “Buy This!” and “You Need That!” It seemed everyone was promising people – entrepreneurs and women especially – a pot of gold at the end of their own personal rainbow.

I’m all for optimism. But I’m also for truth and value. For putting in the hard work required to build something wonderful. And many people I know offer such value to their clients and customers every day. You just can’t always hear them above the din.

Then, I finally got it. It’s not about silencing the crazies. They will always be there, promising people the sun, moon and stars, and yes, they will find an audience to believe.

But the more of us who pledge to put something good out into the world, something decent, and thoughtful and true – the more the tide will rise and lift us all up. It’s not about stopping them. It’s about stepping up ourselves and ensuring the stories we tell are honest, the work we deliver is quality and, most importantly, the marketing we create has value and meaning.

We see examples everywhere, if we look hard enough. People like Marie Forleo, Alexandra Franzen, and Jay Baer market themselves and what they offer with integrity, hope, and meaning. These are the ones we should emulate. These are the people we should strive to become.

Make meaning. You owe it to this noisy world to create something amazing and market it truthfully. (Tweet this!)

What great stand-up acts have to do with long-form sales letters

Today’s guest post comes from Fel Spahr, a snappy, savvy, sales-focused copywriter who works with entrepreneurs and small businesses. She crossed my orbit a little over a year ago and I adore her. Today she shares how long-form sales letters are like great comedy acts – in your usual brash and brilliant style. Learn more about her at the end and enjoy.

Little known fact about Fel…

I LOVE comedy.

Not in that “Oh, yeah, comedians are funny way.”

But in that “I’ve memorized Louis C.K’s and Family Guy’s best bits and I’m going to recite them to you now” kinda way.

“But who CARES, Fel! What about that enticing headline you wrote, about what comedy has to do with long-form salesletters?”

Glad you asked! Let’s get into it.

First of all, if you should know anything about me, it’s this: I am on the long-form copy team. (Tweet!)

The second thing is, I get excited like a hyper Pomeranian when I find connections between things.

For example:

How similar the principles are between effective public speaking and sales copywriting…

How PR is directly related to how good you are at making friends…

And how juicing a sweet potato is equivalent to that time I told myself I was going to learn how to cook and I was going to do it right, damnit! The first thing I ever made was a batch of pumpkin banana muffins…which almost killed my friend.

But that’s a story for another day.

What I want to tell you I discovered is this:

As I’ve taught sales copywriting around the Bay area, I was always thinking of a different way to teach it to make it fun. Not everyone gets as turned on as sales as I do, so you gotta bring a little entertainment into it, you know?

My first revelation was that a great salesletter has a VERY similar structure to a great song. Back in the day when I was teaching myself how to play guitar, I would study songwriting structure and write my own songs.

6 years later: Lightbulb goes off! Now my students are having fun and they really get the idea of what a ‘hook’ is.

So my next revelation was THIS…

COMEDY ACTS ARE PRACTICALLY EQUIVALENT TO LONG-FORM SALESLETTERS (except the whole buying process is reversed) (Tweet this out!)

Here’s how I came to this conclusion and why it could be crucial to know for your business:

I was watching this video of my favorite comedians sitting in a room together shooting the shit. Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Ricky Gervais are talking about their careers in comedy.

And something Chris Rock said struck me…

He was talking about how newbies in the comedy game go for the quick laugh, and they wonder why their jokes aren’t ‘working’.

And Rock says that it’s because they haven’t set it up right.

There isn’t the right premise.

The joke doesn’t have longevity.

And the lightbulb went off for me.


Throw the structure out the window for a second.

The fact of the matter is that if you cannot explain to your client and help them understand what it is you’re offering…


And it’s the newbies in the copywriting space that get it all wrong, too. They just think you can whip something up willy nilly and have it be like, a paragraph, and that it’s going to sell.

That’s why things ‘aren’t working’. And you know what? I used to be just like that, too. I simply didn’t know enough.

But now that I do, it’s my mission to present fun analogies that make all of this interesting to you.

So back to the comedic geniuses I was referring to…

They work on their acts…sometimes for 10+ YEARS.

They test every single part of their bits. They cut what doesn’t hit. They come up with new stuff, and test that, too.

Salesletters are the same.

It doesn’t mean that they have to be perfect, but you gotta work on your ‘bits’. You gotta test it out. You gotta make sure that the premise is set just right, so your salesletter can live on for years…

…Not just on launch day.

“So Fel, who gives a hoot about these long-form salesletters anyway?”

Well, if you’re an entrepreneur or a business that is selling anything…these concepts are probably of interest to you.

So I have something to tell you about today.

It’s this:


All you need to have is 2 things:

1) A sincere and REAL desire to truly understand people on a very deep level

2) And know exactly what to say…and WHO to say it to…at exactly the right time

That simple. Though easier said than done.

“But Fel! I’ve read every copywriting book under the SUN. Don’t I get better at copywriting by writing out other salesletters by hand?”

No. Here’s why: Do you think Hemingway became a great writer because he copied OTHER great writer’s stories? No. He READ other people’s work, maybe copied a few techniques, and through a lot of practice, developed his own style. (It’s called strategic imitation)

It would be like me telling you: “Hey. You wanna be a screenwriter? Why don’t you go copy out by hand the script of The Shining, and then write me an Oscar-winning screenplay?”

There’s no logic. You need the set-up, the strategy, and the psychology much more than you need to copy someone else’s salesletter.

“But Fel! I actually don’t do any sales writing. But I’m curious. Thoughts?”

If you have a business, you should start. (But if you don’t do sales writing, do you have a business?)

If you don’t have a business, go outside and get a tan. Why not? Don’t write salesletters if you don’t have to.

Closing thought:

If you don’t want to write a salesletter today, at least watch a great hour of stand-up! Just as good as an education in there as there is in this post, or any copywriting book you’ll read.

2017 update: Unfortunately, Felicia is no longer doing sales copywriting but this advice is still golden! If you want to find out what she’s up to, you can visit her site right here.