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My big newsletter mistake’s lesson for you

When’s the best day and time to send your e-newsletters? My January mistake upset my beliefs about this topic.

My usual routine and its rationale

I usually send out my monthly newsletter around 8:15 a.m. on the first non-holiday Tuesday of the month. I send it early in the day because my Constant Contact statistics indicate that many people open it before 9 a.m. I figure they get to work early. I’m happy to make it easy for them to read before they’re distracted by work.

I picked Tuesday because I’ve read that people are distracted on Mondays and Fridays as they start and end their workweeks.

I publish on a consistent schedule because I’ve read that your audience values consistency. They want to rely on receiving your content regularly.

However, I skip holiday Tuesdays because I figure my audience reads me at work. I hope you’re not checking email on holidays.

My mistake: Sunday delivery

I made my mistake in haste after proofreading my letter the Sunday before my usual Tuesday in January 2013. I forgot to schedule my newsletter instead of letting it default to sending immediately.

Oh horror! I imagined my newsletter languishing unopened in hundreds of email inboxes. I was extra mad at myself because this newsletter was most of my subscribers’ last reminder about registering for my blogging class. I probably cursed out loud that afternoon.

The surprising results

But lo and behold! Over the following days, my newsletter hit its usual level of subscribers opening it. I didn’t suffer at all for sending it at the “wrong” time.

What a relief! I don’t need to freak out the next time my newsletter deviates from its usual schedule. However, I plan to return to my usual schedule because it’s good discipline for me.

What’s the point?

My experience convinced me that Scott Stratten, who tweets as @unmarketing, was right when he said in “The best time never to send email” that “The best time to never send email is when someone else told you to” because what matters is what recipients do when they receive your emails.

On the other hand, Michael Katz of Blue Penguin Development may be right that there are bad times, but no best times to send your emails, as he suggested in “Why Today is a Bad Day to Publish Your Newsletter.”

What works for you?

I’m curious about your results from sending e-newsletters at different times. Do some times work better than others for you?

Two ways to encourage comments with a no-comment financial blog

Compliance worries make many advisors shy away from allowing comments on their blogs. If you’re in this camp, you can still encourage reader interaction.

Two techniques stand out for me: 1) polls or surveys and 2) calls to action.

1. Polls or surveys

Polls and surveys encourage readers to share their opinions with you. However, they don’t carry the same compliance risks as blog comments because readers’ answers aren’t open to public scrutiny.

Readers enjoy answering questions that are meaningful to them, especially if you promise to share the overall results on your blog. They’re most likely to answer when you also make it quick and easy for them to participate online.

There are free and inexpensive ways to run online polls. I’ve used SurveyMonkey and PollDaddy.

2. Calls to action

The call to action, often abbreviated CTA by marketing geeks, is a classic technique for engaging your readers. You ask your readers to take an action—for example, an online click, social media share, email, or phone call—that brings them into a closer relationship with you.

For example, let’s assume you wrote a blog post about four problems faced by forty-something women who are caring for children and parents. Your call to action could be “Call me for a free consultation if you face one of these problems” or “To receive a special in-depth report on solutions, click here.”

Other techniques?

Please comment if you’ve found another way to create more interaction with a no-comment blog.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you want unexpected visitors to your blog?

The appearance of a raccoon on my squirrel feeder made me think. Just as a dried ear of corn on a nail drew an unintended masked guest, your financial blog may draw readers who don’t belong to your target audience. Is this good or bad?

Are you still serving your target audience?

If you’ve chosen your target audience well, your top priority should be serving them, NOT your unintended visitors. After all, you’re aiming at a narrowly defined group of potential clients, referral sources, or other folks who are in a position to help you meet your goals.

It’s bad if you attract unintended visitors because you routinely stray from topics that interest your target audience. Your ideal readers will abandon you if they can’t find enough good content on your blog.

On the other hand, if your blog meets your target readers’ needs, but still attracts broader interest, that’s good. You never know where your next referral will come from. Your ideal clients may be best friends with people who don’t share the characteristics on which you focus. Those oddballs can be powerful referral sources. Plus, social media’s unexpected dispersion of your content can eventually put your content in front of great prospects and referral sources.

Raccoon-squirrel analogy

If I’d attracted a raccoon because I’d put out a form of corn that’s loved by raccoons, but spurned by squirrels, that would have been a failure. Since the dried corn also pleased the gray squirrels that abound in my yard, I was okay.

Still, if I start to see more raccoons than squirrels at my feeder, I should rethink my feeding strategy. You should do the same with your blog.

Rethinking the traditional content process

John Refford’s tweets and posts about marketing technology caught my eye before I ever met him. I’m glad that Twitter connected us for some interesting conversations about the intersection between marketing, technology, and investments. At our last meeting, I thought, “I must ask John to guest-blog for me!” This post about content creation is the result.

Rethinking the Traditional Content Process
By John Refford

Just a few years ago the traditional content development process was really a “print” process, although it wasn’t called a “content development process,” but more likely “getting something up on the web.” Content producers slightly adapted their styles and processes and turned brochures into PDF documents placed on websites. These methods still exist today for some organizations (especially those not focused on e-commerce), but are in steep decline. However, a better process is emerging, as I’ll explain.

What’s Wrong With the Traditional Process?

The traditional content process, as shown in my diagram of “Content Creation – Old Way,” fails to deliver on several important measures. Let’s review four of them.

  1. It takes too long. Content is locked away inside your organization undergoing multiple revisions. And the longer it stays inside your organization, the more revisions are needed because the information has become stale.
  2. The information never gets customer-tested. Long content development cycles mean a lot of resources are sunk into one project. If you misread your target audience and the information does not resonate well with customers – that’s a large waste of resources.
  3. It tends to focus on one deliverable, such as a whitepaper, therefore missing numerous other communication vehicles such as video.
  4. Studies show fewer users are visiting corporate websites. If you’re not posting information in social media outlets, you’re not getting in front of your customers.

content creation - old way

QUIZ: Is My Organization’s Content Process Out Of Date?

Here’s a quiz that will help you to assess whether your content development process is keeping up with the times. Answer this question: How many of the statements below hold true for your organization?

  1. PDFs hold a large portion of content on my website
  2. Our social tactics include sharing links to PDFs and press releases
  3. The organization does not take advantage of social media outlets

If you answered “yes,” to one of these questions, then your process needs some work.

A Better Way to Create Content

Things have changed with the rise of the social technologies. Platforms originally used by individuals—such as YouTube, blogs, Twitter and Facebook—are now used by brands as part of their broader communication strategy. The range of options, strategies and tactics have made online brand marketing much more complex.

With the rise of social media marketing, traditional content development processes go from old-fashioned to antiquated. Let’s look at a more contemporary content development process.

content creation - new way

Given the wide array of options available, your content development process will undoubtedly be different than the image above. However, if you’re still developing content the old way, it’s time to rethink how you are creating content to support your brand objectives. The process in my diagram, “Content Creation – Better Way,” has four steps.

  1. Start with an idea. No change there from the old-fashioned approach.
  2. Validate the concepts of your ideas publicly. The value of sharing ideas early is that it gives organizations a chance to test them in the market before further developing them internally. Some vehicles for testing ideas include blog posts and discussion threads on social media sites like LinkedIn. This step provides feedback useful for fine-tuning a concept.
  3. Create multiple pieces of content that illustrate the concepts. Rather than a single deliverable, such as a whitepaper, create a series of pieces. This allows individuals to process the material several times in different formats. We know people learn differently; they learn by reading, seeing, hearing and doing. By providing different content formats you increase your audience’s ability to consume the information.
  4. Share the content socially. Sure you can share links to the content but you can also use the content to drive conversations. You might be in a position to allow your employees to share the content with their networks as well.

The Next Content Development Process?

Indeed, what does the future hold for content development? It remains to be seen but it will be shaped by today’s forces. Data will play a big part in content’s future. Consumers throw off tons of data from their online activities and as more devices come online (cars, appliances, offices, etc.), expect the amount of data collected to grow. This data will be analyzed in real-time and consumers will receive content that is highly contextual, personalized and provided just when they need it.

And what will become of traditional processes? In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Dana Rousmaniere predicts advertising will be replaced by new content processes by 2020 – that’s in less than seven years. You’d better start now.

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John Refford writes about marketing technology on his blog, you can also follow him on twitter at @iamreff.

Newsletters: Can you offer too much good stuff?

A newsletter can work with as little as one good article. While more articles may boost the number of clicks, my experience suggests that most people only sample longer newsletters. The bottom line? Don’t feel you need to push out a multi-article newsletter.

Highest ROI for one-article newsletters

You get the biggest bang for your buck by simply sending some sort of newsletter, even something with just a few lines of text. Why? Because the mere act of appearing in your subscribers’ inboxes is a powerful reminder of your existence.

The longer your newsletter, the more readership drops toward the bottom of the page

I find that the first article in my monthly newsletter typically gets the most clicks. Clicks drop dramatically as readers scan down the page. Still, overall, my newsletter has received way more clicks than average, even after I introduced a streamlined format in May.

What’s YOUR newsletter strategy?

I’m curious to learn about what number of newsletter articles works best for you. Please comment.

Is Google+ worth the effort?

I didn’t understand the appeal of Google+, which is why I decided to read Guy Kawasaki’s What the Plus! Google+ for the Rest of Us.

In his chapter on “Why I love Google+,” Kawasaki says, “Google+ has powerful and sophisticated features that the competition doesn’t, and Google+ does things in ways that make more sense to me.”

Here’s my take on the case for Google+ based on Kawasaki’s chart comparing features of Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Google+

That’s not enough to get me excited about Google+. I have an account so I can keep learning. After all, I hated Twitter the first few weeks I used it. Now I’d hate to live without it.

If you’d like to learn about using Google+ effectively, the rest of Kawasaki’s book offers tips that would probably help if I took the time to apply them.

More reasons to consider Google+

I’ve started to like Google+ a bit better since I originally drafted this blog post in November 2012.  Three things stand out for me.

  1. Google+ Communities make it easier for me to engage with others.
  2. Google Authorship can help me rank better in online searches. Michael Kitces convinced me of this with his communications, including “Why Every Financial Planner With A Blog Needs a Google+ Page, Now.”
  3. Google+ has yielded more helpful comments than other social media on some questions I’ve posted.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from McGraw-Hill in return for agreeing to write about it.

The Six Keys to Confident Presenting

Beverly Flaxington knows the investment and financial advice industry and she knows how clients and prospects think. I still remember how her explanation of personality types riveted the audience at a Boston Security Analysts Society presentation that I organized. I’m delighted to feature her advice below.

The Six Keys to Confident Presenting

By Beverly D. Flaxington

 

There are many very smart people in the investment business. It takes a lot of dedication, intelligence and discipline to obtain a CFA, or CFP or other investment industry
designation. Unfortunately when it comes to delivering the knowledge to others, many very smart people are sorely lacking in their ability to communicate effectively.

As a college professor I watch students struggle with this, and as a consultant and coach to the investment industry I watch advisors and portfolio managers, among others, struggle with this daily. It’s important to know how to communicate, and how to present because excellent information can get lost on the audience.

There are six keys to confident presenting to think about before the next presentation of any type, to one person or to many, you need to make:

(1)    Know why. Think about what you want as an outcome. Why are you delivering this material? Don’t just focus on content, think about purpose.

(2)    Know who. What is the make-up of your audience? What do they already know about what you are presenting? If you can research before the presentation, it’s great but even during the presentation ask for a show of hands of how many people know certain information. Or go around the room and ask what people know, and what they want to learn.

(3)    Create flow. This means chunking the information down. Have sections, or groups of material. Too many times a presentation is a mish-mash of all kinds of data, charts and background information. Look at your information for themes and categories.

(4)    Provide context. Adult-learning principles tell us that adults learn best when they can interpret information through a lens that they understand and recognize. Show the audience why they should care and the “so what?” about the material Don’t ask them to figure it out, make the link for them.

(5)    Understand your style of communication and that of your audience. Talk fast but your audience is more slow and thoughtful? Modify, and match to your audience.

(6)    Provide closure. What do you want the audience to do as a result of your presentation? What’s next from the meeting? What is the follow-up? State it. Get commitments.

Review your next communication in light of the six steps and see if there is anywhere you can improve for greater success.

Beverly is co-founder of The Collaborative and Advisors Trusted Advisor, consulting businesses devoted to the financial services industry. She is a human behavior expert, a college professor, an award winning and bestselling author and investment industry expert.

 

Outlook Social Connector: A cool email helper

Outlook Social Connector

You can see multiple categories of information using Outlook Social Connector

Better email communication results from a better understanding of the person with whom you’re exchanging messages. It’s hard to keep all of the relevant information in your head, or even to collect it in one place. This is why I like Outlook Social Connector, which I learned about in consultant Bill Winterberg’s presentation on “Transformative Technology You Can Implement Today” at FPA Experience 2012. While Winterberg highlighted the tool as an aggregator of social media activity, I especially like its email function.

Email history display

When I write anything more than a simple email, it helps to see an overview of my recent emails with the recipient. Sure, I can get that by doing a search, but Outlook Social Connector automatically presents that information to me.

Eyeballing this history may remind me of something that will strengthen my email. Another tab shows me attachments we’ve traded recently, which is handy if I want to confirm that I’ve sent the latest draft or invoice.

Social media information

I’ve connected Social Media Connector to my LinkedIn account. When I click on an email, I see my contact’s LinkedIn

  • Photo
  • Recent activity (New connections)
  • Status updates

This helps me to personalize emails to the recipient. For example, I may comment on a blog post link posted by the recipient.

Facebook is also an option

Outlook Social Connector connects to more than just LinkedIn. The most noteworthy other option is Facebook. I wish they’d add Twitter. However, LinkedIn, in my opinion, is the most helpful option for business.

If you’re using Outlook Social Connector, I’d love to hear how it has helped your emails, client relationships, or marketing.

POLL: What are your blog’s goals?

Why do you blog? I’d like to get a better sense of why my readers blog and the obstacles they face. That’s the focus of this month’s two-question survey.

Talking with students in my blogging class for financial advisors, I often hear that they’d like to attract more clients. In fact, some of them take the class because they’ve seen a drop in new business when they’ve stopped blogging regularly. Those folks seek a way to rediscover their energy for blogging.

Educating people also typically ranks high. Advisors would like to prevent their readers from making mistakes and put them on a path toward better financial futures.

When I recently asked on Facebook and Twitter about goals, some additional goals surfaced. I’ve included these as options in Question 1. Please check all the goals that apply for you.



 

I will report on the results of this survey in a future issue of my e-newsletter.

By the way, I’d like to thank blogger Chuck Rylant for inspiring this poll with a series of exchanges on the Investment Writing Facebook page.

 

Why I’m lucky clients didn’t flock to me

I reluctantly launched my career as a freelancer after getting laid off from a wonderful investment communications job at an investment management firm. After I decided to freelance, my phone didn’t ring with eager prospects. On the other hand, as an introvert, I didn’t do much to market myself. Cold calls? Heaven forbid.

Blessing in disguise

So, how was this a blessing in disguise? Because I developed a style of communicating that fits social media.

I wish I could say I foresaw social media. It might be nice to be a guru. But, I simply acted like myself.

I started an email list to stay in touch with the nice people at my old company. Rather than make my emails all about myself, I started writing up the presentations I attended at the Boston Security Analysts Society, where I networked regularly. I wrote about the bits that interested me, similar to the way I wrote up “How Merrill Lynch and US Trust stay relevant to clients, according to Justine Metz.”

When former colleague Tom Manning emailed me that he looked forward to my emails, I’d realized I’d stumbled onto something good. I turned my emails into a monthly e-newsletter, and I invited my networking contacts to subscribe. Those newsletter articles evolved into blog posts.

Back then, I looked jealously at writers who immediately landed steady work with earlier employers or their vast pool of contacts. But, if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have developed my newsletter, which has become the foundation of my success.

Lessons

I learned a style of marketing that works for an introvert like me, especially in the age of social media. Its components include the following:

  1. Give away useful content.
  2. Send mass emails only to people who agree to receive them.
  3. Keep your name in front of prospects on a regular basis. You can’t sell them until they’re ready to buy.

A veteran of the cold calling, hard sell school of marketing once told me, “You’re lucky you know how to write without always asking for the sale.”

I think I’m lucky the world has swung my way. I’m also grateful for the wonderful readers who have supported my e-newsletter and blog.