5 content marketing myths debunked

content-icnI didn’t become a believer in content marketing overnight. I was dragged kicking and screaming—and many of my content marketing clients were too. Yet once we reached the “other side,” our attitudes quickly changed to “why didn’t we do this a long time ago?”

For those of you who may be grappling with similar doubts, here are five common myths that hold creatives back from using content marketing successfully, and how to get beyond them.

(Need a quick primer on content marketing? Check out the post: 5 things to know about content marketing.)

“Content marketing” is just a the same old marketing with a new name.

While some of the techniques used in content marketing may not be new, it’s a mistake to think of content marketing as a traditional sales pitch in disguise. Critically, a fair amount of the content marketing process shouldn’t try to close a sale, but to establish relationships by building your credibility, generating awareness, and creating goodwill.

If you’re doing it right it almost feels like you’re giving something away for free, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get value in return for your efforts. Think of the information you share as a “free sample” of the service you provide. If you’ve learned the needs of your audience well enough to make your content useful, they’ll be more likely to recognize your value—and to turn to you when they’re ready to buy.

Only big organizations get any benefit from content marketing.

One of the advantages of doing business in an Information Age is the power of the Internet, which allows even a one-person business to enjoy the king of global reach formerly available only to big firms with deep pockets. The key to success is creating content your audience is excited about and getting it in front of the right people.

Once your content machine is up and running, prospects can find you through Web search, subscribers will forward content they like to their colleagues and friends, and if you hit the jackpot the social media monsters will take your content viral. For even better results, find a way to get your content published by the sites and periodicals your best prospects read.

But even if none of these things happen, you can still get big paybacks just by showing up regularly in your subscribers’ inboxes. My “house” mailing list is pretty modest, but most of the people on it are high-quality prospects for my services. They run the gamut from close friends and relatives (hi, mom!), to past and current clients, to people I’ve met at industry and networking events. Some have become clients after receiving my newsletter for several years. Others have referred good clients my way because they’ve learned who I’m a good fit for by reading my stuff.

There’s so much noise out there already that it couldn’t possibly work for me.

Actually, the noise is your friend. With so many choices for information, your prospects may be confused about who to listen to.

Good content marketing overcomes information overload by providing useful insights to a highly-targeted audience. Demonstrate that you are the source who understands their needs best and your message will have greater weight with your audience. The resulting relationships establish you as a trusted curator, enabling you to shut out some of the “noise” of your competition.

I can send out content marketing whenever I feel like it.

Today’s technology makes it easy to send messages whenever you feel like it, but there are two compelling reasons not to do this.

First, if you only push content out when you feel like it, it becomes easy to let it slide whenever day-to-day stuff interferes. Pretty soon nothing’s getting done.

Second, a regular schedule makes you more credible to your readers, especially if you show up at the same time every month, every other week, or more often. At a bare minimum, you should try to touch your audience at least once a month, preferably on the same scheduled day (the second Tuesday of the month, for example). Committing to a schedule also helps you stay accountable to your marketing goals, and will encourage you to build your content plan into your schedule.

I don’t have the time to do content marketing.

Spending an hour or two a week on a content marketing plan is a small price to pay for the substantial benefits it returns over time. If even that sounds like too much, the good news is you don’t have to do everything yourself. Outside firms or talented freelancers can help you develop a content strategy and take the task of keeping it on schedule off your shoulders. Watch for more details on how to make this work in an upcoming post.

  5 things to know about content marketing

signup-iconEveryone seems to be talking about content marketing these days, yet a surprising number of creative professionals don’t actually know what it is. Is it a real marketing technique that drives new business or just the latest industry buzzword? Here’s a quick rundown of the basics.

What is content marketing, anyway?

Simply put, content marketing is the practice of providing something of value that reflects your expertise (that’s the “content” part) and making it available for free. The content can range from useful information (“Tom’s timely tips for more effective marketing”) to content that entertains, such as viral videos. It can take the form of e-mail newsletters, a postcard series, white papers, blogs, website content, conference and webinar presentations, social media interaction, or—most effectively—some combination of marketing channels.

What makes Content Marketing different from regular marketing?

Unlike advertising and other common forms of promotion, content marketing isn’t a sales pitch. It’s not even meant to close a sale. It’s a “soft” marketing technique that targets a specific audience you’d like to build a relationship with, attracting their interest by satisfying some need they have.

How will I know what to write about?

Listen to your target audience. Get to know them intimately enough that you understand their interests, challenges, needs, wants, fears, and aspirations. Read what they read, attend the events they attend, and do anything else you can to learn how they think. Look for overlaps between what they need and what you can provide, and topics for content marketing will begin to appear.

Will Content Marketing get me quick business?

Nope. Content Marketing is S-L-O-W. It works a lot like erosion—a slow, steady drip that wears away the rock of prospect resistance. Be prepared to do it for six months, a year, or even longer before you see any results that you can trace directly to your content marketing plan. That may sound like a waste of time, but it isn’t. Think of it as making an investment in the workflow that you’ll need 6–12 months from now.

Content Marketing sounds like a lot of work. Why should I bother with it?

When done right, content marketing creates a kind of “client magnet” that attracts ideal business to you with a lot less effort. Over time it helps you to stand out from competitors, builds your credibility with the prospects you want most, creates new opportunities with people your readers forward your content to, and actually reduces the amount of work you have to do to promote your business. It’s also the single best form of insurance against the dreaded “feast-or-famine” cycle. For a real-world example of why I’m a true believer, check out my earlier blog post: “I feel like I already know you.”

  Writing insights from a puppy

puppyOn Valentine’s Day weekend, my wife Toni and I drove to nearby Columbus to meet four delightful Shetland Sheepdog puppies (responsibly bred…not from a puppy mill).

Toni had been craving another canine companion in the house for some time, but didn’t think that I would approve. After all, I work from home, am closely attached to the pooch we already have, and she didn’t think I’d want to mess with training a newcomer all day. Much to her surprise, I had already made up my mind before we left home that she’d be getting something more than a box of chocolate and the new Austenland DVD this year.

That evening we drove home with a new family member, who we’ve dubbed “Tilney,” the sweetest little 3.4 pound ball of fur you’ve ever seen. (Okay, maybe I’m slightly biased.) He was just seven weeks old the next day, so everything about his world was fresh and new.

I don’t remember much of anything from the time I was seven weeks old, so I can only imagine what it must be like for Tilney to be seeing the world for the first time. Some things make him anxious, like the vacuum cleaner, while others—notably Bingley, our adult pooch—excite his eager curiosity. But in either case he’s jumping into our lives with only seven weeks of experience to use as a frame of reference. What must the world look like through his eyes?

Tilney’s arrival also means I can’t take anything for granted for a while. I’m used to sharing my office with Bingley, a dog who already knows how to sit, stay, and let me know when he needs to go outside. Adorable as he is, Tilney still has most of that learning curve ahead of him—a fact I need to remember even as his training begins.

So what does all this have to do with writing (apart from blatant nods to characters from Jane Austen novels)?

When you reach out to new prospects—whether you’re promoting your business, introducing a new product, or expanding your audience—it’s a lot like trying to communicate with a newborn puppy. Some will know you by reputation, but many more will know nothing about you. The messaging you use to introduce yourself can excite their interest, turn them away, or (less common in puppies) leave them feeling uncertain about whether or not you’re right for them.

Your approach can be different when you’re dealing with people who already know you—your existing clients, prospects you’ve already had some contact with, or even people who are likely to know about you from high-profile projects. These readers already have a frame of reference that you can draw upon to build a more sophisticated message.

When it comes to totally new readers, though, you need to think like a puppy. You can’t assume that they’ll know the jargon you’ve lived with throughout your career, be familiar with the technology you use, or understand the significance of current events on your business. This doesn’t mean you should talk down to your prospects. Simply think of them as intelligent people who don’t have as much information as you do.

Prospects who are unfamiliar with you also won’t care about behind-the-scenes pressures that affect you, especially deadlines for other clients or your pet peeves about minutiae in your field. (Hint: Many of your long-established clients don’t care about these things either.) Save that stuff for conversations with your industry peers or close friends.

The key to mastering “puppy’s mind” is to ask yourself what’s in it for the puppy. Your message should have a single goal…to encourage the reader to take the next step in your action chain. That can be clicking through to your website, placing an order, or giving you a call. Cut everything else. Focus on what will encourage your prospects to take action, and they’ll be far more likely to join the big dogs on your client list.

  What Tom’s silly icons mean

Creative people love icons. So as a writer who loves working with creative professionals, I decided I needed to have a few. I’m using them to indicate different types of content, both in the home page carousel and throughout the site. Here’s a quick guide to what they stand for:

carousel_lrg_blogThe “Wave” Bullet: This friendly little guy is the WordStreamCopy ambassador, featuring the much-misunderstood squiggly grapheme known as a “tilde” (~). It’s the “wave in the WordStream” if you will. It appears in green and white to identify blog posts and other stuff on the site that’s specifically about me. The green and gold version is a new badge for WordStreamCopy in general, and he occasionally contemplates moonlighting as an avatar.


The “Sampler” Bullet: Want a preview of coming attractions before you commit? Look for the “Sampler” icon, which identifies some of the great projects I’ve done for others in the past. (Apologies to aficionados of counted cross stitch.) See the whole collection here.

carousel_lrg_cameoThe Spotlight: As much as I appreciate anyone who visits my site to read my stuff, the pieces I write for better-known channels like Marketing Mentor, the Creative Freelancer Blog, and Agency Access attract much larger audiences. This icon identifies my guest appearances on other sites, known here as “Cameos.”

carousel_lrg_testimonialThe Strangely Familiar Organic Pizza with a Slice Missing: Not completely convinced by the sampler? This chatty icon points to testimonials from happy people.

  Self-promoting? Opt for opt-in.


We’ve all met “business card collectors” at networking events. They were a mild annoyance before the Internet came along, but now that content marketing is all the rage some of them—the ones that aggressively add the people they meet to their email lists—are becoming a serious nuisance.

Self-promotion is critical to any creative business, and you do need to find ways to build and grow a good mailing list. But you don’t want to be “that guy” (or gal) who signs up everyone they meet before you can even get home from your latest encounter with corporate luminaries over rubber chicken. So how do you attract new readers without coming across as a desperate huckster? The secret is that “opt-in” equals “win-win.”

A good place to start for the answers to what an email marketer can and can’t do is the compliance website for the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act. You’ll note that the act explicitly requires all email marketers to clearly state how to opt out, and to honor opt-out responses promptly (items 5 and 6), with penalties of up to $16,000 for each separate email in violation. This applies to all commercial messages—not just bulk email. These are regulations you need to pay attention to, but don’t let them discourage you from starting that email newsletter. Luckily, most good email services will assist you with compliance by automatically generating all the fine print the government requires.

Now I’m not a lawyer, but I can tell you that most reputable bulk email services—if not all of them—have it somewhere in the fine print that everyone who is added to a mailing list must either “opt in” or give explicit permission to be added to the list. Many require a “double” opt-in, which sends the subscriber to a confirmation link in an email that must be clicked before they’re officially added.

This process can often be bypassed by the list owner, but that doesn’t mean you get to bypass responsibility as well. MailChimp, the service I use most, also requires users to check a box for every subscriber they add manually, stating that the list owner has the subscriber’s permission. Any list service that’s still in business probably has similar safeguards to protect themselves from lawsuits.

More to the point, whether or not it’s technically legal to sign someone up with no more pretext than a business card exchange, it’s a bad practice that ultimately hurts the list owner more than the accidental “subscribers.”

First, it feels like an invasion of privacy (which it is), causing instant damage to the sender’s reputation. More insidiously, it weakens the mailing list. The false assumption that borderline spammers work under is that building a successful list is nothing more than a numbers game. They think the more subscribers they sign up, the more opportunities they’ll have to generate business (from people they’ve annoyed by invading their privacy…how’s that again?).

The truth is that successful content marketing is highly targeted to quality prospects with a sincere interest in what the list owner provides. I’ll take a list of 100 well-qualified prospects over one with thousands of random people who’ve been “bumped” at a local chamber meeting every time.

Smart email prospectors go for the opt-in two ways: by being so awesome that people want to read their every word (which can work, though it’s rare if you’re not already a rock star in your niche), or by dangling some kind of carrot in exchange for the opt-in. These are known in the trade as “bait pieces.” Done right, they open the door to future business. Even though your readers know perfectly well that you’re giving something away in order to earn the right to send them email marketing, they’ll sign up if the bait piece is compelling enough. The difference between this and the card collector scheme is that subscribers go in with their eyes open, trusting that they can opt out whenever they like.



P.S. Like this post? Click here to opt-in to my list!

  Employee to Freelancer: 6 ways to plan for the jump

leap-of-faithContemplating the plunge into freelancing? So were several of the attendees at a Strategies for Creative Freelancers session I attended in January. Many of the questions they asked were familiar because I had asked them myself — or should have — when I was starting my career in 2002.

As I surfed the discussion boards, many lessons from those early years came flooding back. A few were things I did right the first time, but many more had to be learned from repeated trial and error.

Here then, in no particular order, are the things I wish someone had told me before I took the freelancer’s leap of faith.

1. Save your pennies

I highly recommend starting your freelance career with a savings cushion. If you can launch your business with enough saved up to cover six months of expenses or more, you’ll have a lot more peace of mind going in. (I had four when I launched my business.)

2. Know thy customer

Know who your target market is going to be and get to know them well before you start. Learn what they need and what challenges you are best suited to solve for them. Beware the temptation to market yourself as someone who can do any type of work for anyone. Even if that’s a business reality for you at first, your self-promotion will be far more effective if you nail down some specifics about what it is you do.

3. Crank up the marketing machine

Freelance work can be sporadic, especially when you’re getting started. Regular self-promotion will be critical to your survival. Many new freelancers fear and loathe this task, but here’s a message from the other side: there is no better way to protect yourself from the dreaded “feast or famine” cycle. Conquer your fear by mastering the skill.

Some of the best resources out there are the marketing plans from Marketing Mentor. They’re among the few resources that will tell you exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to make sure that it doesn’t take a lot of time. Your “marketing machine” will take some time to get up to speed, but you’ll be very glad to have it once it’s humming along.

Two final points about self-promotion:

  1. The most important time to do self-promotion is when you have plenty of business coming in. Think of your marketing machine as the tool that generates the work you’ll do six months to a year from now.
  2. You don’t have to do it alone. One of the best deals I’ve ever made was a trade with a graphic designer — I ended up with an awesome redesign of my website in exchange for helping him launch an awesome newsletter campaign. Which leads us to…

4. Build a partner network

Make connections with other freelancers whose skills complement your own. Freelancer networks offer multiple benefits: you can team up on jobs, refer one another to clients, hold each another accountable for business tasks, trade ideas, and more. One of the best places I forge connections is the annual HOW Design Live conference. Closer to home I’m also a fan of Creative Mornings events, which feel like local gatherings of my tribe. Look for similar events where you can find people who match your own needs or fill gaps in your skill set.

5. Consider a specialization

Specialization is great because it makes it easier for buyers to understand what you do. It also enables you to justify higher rates in your specialty field.

You can define a specialization “vertically” (i.e. by industry, such as healthcare, finance, nonprofits, etc.) or “horizontally” (categories of work every business needs, like annual reports, websites, packaging, and so on).

You can start with a type of work you have deep experience with, choose a field that gives you a lot of satisfaction, or pursue a niche where you’re already well-connected with potential clients. I became a specialist in financial copy practically by accident. I just happened to land a lot of that type of work early in my career.

Specializations don’t have to limit the type of work you accept, especially if you need cash flow to pay the rent early on. And remember that specialization doesn’t mean forever. You can add additional specializations or let them lapse as your business grows and changes.

6. Pay yourself a living wage…or better

When setting your rates, remember you’re paying for all of your business expenses, from equipment to taxes to insurance, etc. In his book Secrets of a Freelance Copywriter, Bob Bly offers the rough calculation that freelancers should charge about 2.5 times what they would make working as someone else’s employee to make a comparable wage as a freelancer.

If you think you’ll lose business if you don’t charge rock-bottom prices, you’re right. You won’t get business from cheapskates who want to take advantage of the lowest bidder. The clients you want to work for understand they get what they pay for. There are plenty of them out there. Do yourself and the rest of the freelance community a big favor by charging what you’re worth.

Above all, do your best-quality work for everyone, and remember that what you do has a value many businesses and organizations are desperately looking for. You’ll need that for the days you feel like a fraud for having one of the best jobs in the world.

Good luck!

  Creative Fire

hibachiIf you create content regularly, it can be tempting to sit on good ideas. You might worry that you won’t have any cool stuff left if you act on all your great ideas now.

Resist the urge.

Some ideas need time to percolate, but many become stale over time if you don’t write them down. Unused ideas that have value also have a tendency to get “stuck,” blocking fresh inspiration.

If you’re hoarding your visions because you fear scarcity, it’s time to cut loose and let go. Creativity behaves much like fire. The more ideas you set going, the faster new inspiration comes.

Even if you’re not ready to share your latest bit of wisdom with the world, get it down—on paper or pixels—and out of your head. If nothing else, you can write your next newsletter well ahead of the deadline and schedule it to drop while you move on.



  Copy tips designers love

Antique-penOr, how a good writer can save time for the design team

A good copywriter is the lyricist to the designer’s visual “music,” but things can quickly get out of tune when writers commit common mistakes—most of which are easily avoided. This is a secret of the writer’s art that most designers understand better than many writers.

Things were less of an issue before computers came along. So long as the writer had legible handwriting or was competent with a typewriter, the opportunities to create mayhem for the design team were fairly limited. As progress marched on, however, both arts became dominated by software, where what’s below the surface can easily interfere with what you ultimately want to see on the printed page or the screen.

The difference between a writer who plays well with designers and one who does not largely depends on how well the former understands the latter’s workflow. So here, in no particular order, is a quick list of stuff any wordsmith can do to save his design counterparts a great deal of time and frustration:

  • Talk to the design team as early as possible. This is especially important if you’re working on a tight deadline, which is much of the time. It’s critical if the timing is so short that the design team is building the visual pieces at the same time the writer is creating the copy. If the writer is doing footnotes and sidebars for a page that’s intended to be viewed on smartphones, you’ll probably have some editing to do. Will the designers want text that will appear in pull quotes? Frequent headlines? Images or infographics with captions? Share as much information as possible up front.
  • Who’s on first? Does the copy need to fit an existing design or template, or will the design be shaped by the copy? How much wiggle room does the workflow permit if someone has an out-of-the-box idea? Your mileage may vary, but I find that the most effective process is for the design team to start with a wireframe, grayscreen prototype, or other mockup which gives the writer guidance on how the copy will be experienced visually. This allows the writer to craft copy that fits the concept before the design team does their heavy lifting, which in turn can be shaped by the style and tone of the copy. Sometimes the design team looks to the writer to suggest a direction in the initial draft or two, which is also fine as long as you don’t have a specific outcome in mind right away.
  • Use style sheets. Designers love writers who understand style sheets and loathe those who do not. Whether the end product will appear in print, on the web, or both, using style sheets correctly will give the design team the freedom to try out options and make changes very quickly. Your copy doesn’t need to be in the same typefaces that the designers will use—in fact it doesn’t have to look anything like the finished product. As long as you use them consistently, your designers can map your styles to theirs. Better yet, if you learn how your team likes to use styles and create copy files that follow the same practices, you’ll unleash them to focus on the more creative side of their work. Design teams who know how to play well with writers often provide Microsoft Word or other word-processor templates with the styles they want writers to use pre-created. It may take a little effort to build the template and train your writers, but it pays everyone back very quickly.
  • Agree on as much other formatting as possible before writing starts. Does the writer need to use Chicago style, AP style, Grammar Girl style, or the CEO’s style? Will typesetter’s quotes be converted automatically or should the writer make sure they appear in the source file? Which side of the great comma-series debate do you fall on? (It’s a brutal battle that rages on, even today.) Are there certain words that must never, ever, EVER, be used to describe the product? If you’ll be doing a lot of work together, consider creating a style guide.
  • Don’t create stuff the designer will have to un-create. The two most classic examples of this behavior are typing a zillion periods to create dotted lines for a table of contents, or a zillion spaces to create manual columns. Both are guaranteed to make designers roll their eyes at best, and incite them to violence at worst. There are many more sins like this, too numerous to name here, but any time you think you’re making your document “press ready” by doing a bunch of keyboard gymnastics, check with the design team first to find out if they’d prefer it done differently. Just trust me on this one.
  • One space after sentences. Once upon a time, there was a marvelous new invention called a typewriter. Everyone who worked on a typewriter learned to put two spaces between sentences. That’s because typewriters used characters that were all the same width, and the extra space made it easier to read typewritten text. Technology has moved on. Now designers use software that not only allows letterforms of different widths, but automatically calculates the correct amount of kerning (designer-speak for the optimum space between any given character pair) and sentence spacing, adjusting it to the nth degree. When you type the old-fashioned way, you throw a wrench into all this high-tech assistance, making the copy look strange in a way that disturbs readers, even though they may not know why. Designers will curse your name as they hunt down all these extra spaces with the Find-and-Replace command, which can be especially vexing if they do so before they notice all those columns you shouldn’t have created with manual spaces.
  • Extra returns between paragraphs? Paragraph breaks are often easier on the eyes if there’s some space in between blocks of text, but don’t assume that the design team wants you to create that space by hitting the Return key twice after every paragraph. A single return gives the designer more control over the exact amount of space, which may need to be less than a full line break. Ask ahead of time which format your designer prefers.
  • Know your team’s policy on soft returns too. “Soft” returns are forced line breaks created with the key combination Shift + Return. Web designers also call them “breaks.” Typically, they force the copy to start on a new line after the soft return, but without kicking in any options that occur at the end of a paragraph. Designers often use them to control undesirable copy breaks, but it’s hazardous for writers to do so because they can create hidden land mines for the layout artist. Depending on the type of project you’re working on, the designers may want soft returns in certain places—to keep long URLs on a single line or to prevent a product name from being hyphenated, for example. A good best practice for writers, however, is to treat these like prescription medication: “use only as directed.”
  • Edit as much as possible before you submit to the design team. No matter how good you are at prepping files for designers, there may be parts of your copy they have to do some work with to get the look the client wants. Once the layout process is underway in earnest, it can be a big hassle to receive a new manuscript file with the instructions to “just replace all the old copy with the new file.” Get it as polished as you can before they go to work. That way your changes are more likely to be minor, which leads us to…
  • Learn the PDF commenting tools. Once a file is in layout form, you’ll probably see the proof in PDF format. Knowing how to mark up a PDF with any editing changes you need will make the designer’s life much easier in several ways. First, it keeps the changes in a digital format that’s easy to send electronically and protect with passwords. Second, the designer can cut and paste changes directly from many types of comments, and can track all of the changes with a checklist view. Both of these tools reduce the chances of mistakes or missed corrections.

Designers: Don’t see your favorite copy peeve here? Tell your writer.

Of course, if you’d like me to be your writer, feel free to tell me all about it.



  Is great content enough?

symbols_splayedLast month’s newsletter, “What makes perfect customers call,” caused quite a stir among my readers.

Within minutes, several people had sent me some variation of the same question: “Is it enough to publish content each month, or is there more you have to do to get calls like this?”

The not-so-simple answer is “it depends.”

While regular content marketing will rarely be the only factor involved when you make a new client conversion, it reinforces everything else you do to promote your business. A good marketing machine has many components, including face-to-face networking, referrals from existing clients, public speaking gigs, and other channels depending on who you’re trying to connect with.

Sometimes your machine will bring you a pre-sold prospect like the one who called me last month. More often, new contacts aren’t ready to act the first time you meet them. This is where your content strategy comes into play. Stay in touch with these folks regularly through your mailing list and you’ll benefit in several ways:

  1. People you’ve met will receive a regular reminder that you’re out there, which encourages them to act sooner or to prefer you to another provider when they’re ready to buy.
  2. Like the prospect in last month’s story, some of your readers will already feel a sense of connection with you when you’re first introduced. At a recent conference for example, many of the people I met were more relaxed and friendly because they had read my articles.
  3. Prospects who are turned off by your style won’t call you, saving both of you a lot of hassle.

How you craft your content also plays a big part in your success. It’s not enough to post 2,000 words on the Internet each month if you’re simply writing fluff. Here are four extra tips to add to last month’s list to help you get the most from your content:

  1. Your content must be relevant. If what you write has value to your readers, they’ll keep reading. It’s that simple.
  2. Post your content where it will be seen. In addition to this newsletter, I write for several sites that regularly attract the interest of my ideal clients. Much as I love the folks on my house list, the reality is that my business is still getting known. As a result, the majority of my new business currently comes from other sites with more-established reputations. In addition to attracting more eyeballs, you can build credibility by writing for sites or publications that appeal to your best prospects.
  3. Make it easy for prospects to sign up. Whenever you meet someone you want to stay in touch with, ask them if they’d like to be added to your newsletter list. Make it as easy as possible by offering to sign them up yourself, and do it promptly. This small effort on your part will increase your signup rate, and it’s worth doing to get new prospects into your system so that you can stay connected automatically in the future.
  4. Offer an incentive. One way to beat the “good grief, not another newsletter!” response is to give your subscribers something of value right away. Whether it’s a digital download, a free 30-minute consultation, or some other offer, make sure there’s some obvious benefit for your subscribers so that it’s not just about you.

Thanks for reading Currents in 2013—watch for some exciting new changes in 2014! In the meantime, here’s wishing each and every one of you a truly meaningful holiday, no matter what you celebrate.



  “I feel like I already know you.”

phone_cordThe voice on the phone gave me all the proof I’ll ever need that content marketing really works:

“I know we’ve never met,” she said, “but I’ve been reading your online articles for a while and I feel like I already know you.”

What followed was easily one of the most relaxed and effortless conversations I’ve ever had with a new client. Before we hung up she said “send me a contract.”

In short, a perfect client had practically fallen into my lap merely because I made a commitment a while back to write a free article once a month. No cold calling. No elevator speech. No sales pitch. And I didn’t spend anything but a bit of time writing.

Ultimately, all I had to do was close the sale…because 95 percent of my marketing work had been done for me. She was already familiar with my samples, my writing style, and my offbeat sense of humor. A colleague she trusted had recommended me. And she matched one of my “preferred client” profiles so closely that I could have written it simply by using the cut-and-paste command to copy her life story.

The call validated five key truths that apply to any content marketing strategy:

  1. Content marketing takes time to get results. Don’t start a newsletter, blog, or podcast and expect the phone to start ringing overnight. Soft-selling vehicles like these build trust slowly, wearing away resistance like water eroding stone. Think of the content you publish today as opening the door to the work you’ll do in six months to a year.
  2. Be yourself. If the personality you put out there isn’t authentic, the people who eventually respond will be attracted to a “you” that isn’t you. This is especially true for freelancers who try to play the “pseudofirm” game or any organization trying to sell an image it doesn’t really embrace.
  3. Write for your ideal customer. My mother reads this newsletter faithfully (love ya mom!), but I don’t write it for her. I have three carefully-researched customer profiles that I’ve developed by interviewing my best clients and other people I’d like to work for. The topics I cover in my free columns are selected to address their needs and interests. Some of my readers don’t match these profiles, but they have friends and colleagues who do and I’ve received some valuable referrals as a result. (Want to develop customer profiles for your own business? One of the best resources out there is Mark O’Brien’s book A Website That Works. While you’re at it, read the whole book.)
  4. Publish on schedule. No matter how great your material is, you’ll be forgotten if you disappear before your perfect buyer is ready. Show up in their inbox at least once a month, preferably at about the same time.
  5. It’s totally worth the effort. You may have to stand firm against the impatience of your boss, your colleagues, your spouse, and even yourself. But if you’re doing it right, all of these objections will be silenced when true believers who’ve already done your selling for you start calling.