Where Does Change Begin?

Change is often proceeded by a lightbulb moment that offers a brilliant idea. “YES!” we exclaim. “THIS is the best idea E-V-E-R!” And the next thing we know, we’re implementing.

A few months later, we’re sometimes wondering what the hell we were thinking.

fountain1Creativity is the heart of any business. Soloprenuers, entrepreneurs, and executives at all levels are creative fountains that continually flow new ideas. Some will be fantastic – absolutely! But some might also be duds or at least less than wonderful.

How to discern the great ideas BEFORE we commit? Breathe.

A couple of years ago, I was doing some research on online marketing for a client and soon found myself deeply curious about the growing world of online media. Which channels had real marketing potential? How could they leverage relationships and ultimately sales? How does new media best support traditional marketing efforts?

My self-guided research eventually led me to take an online course, another course, then another, each helping me to connect some important dots with regard to online marketing and social media that had previously been floating around me in a swirl.

So, with dots connecting, my creativity jumped into high gear. “THIS is amazing!” I thought to myself. “These tools help to leverage better relationships that lead to more and better sales!”

As I met with current and prospective clients, however, and shared ideas for online media and it’s potential to help them, I realized they weren’t that interested. They didn’t see online as primary to their current marketing needs and were reluctant to digitally engage with their audience on a deeper level. In some cases, they even expressed concern that “all that online, social media stuff” was a “trend” and stated that they would leave it to their kids to figure out.

It was during these meetings that I heard Change knocking at my door.

So here I am, breathing deeply as I begin to explore new potentials for my business. Fortunately, I have experience guiding other businesses through this process so I know the best place to begin – looking under my own hood.

A “SWOT” exercise does just that – pops up the hood for a look at all that drives your business. It’s a simple yet powerful exercise that reviews internal elements – Strengths and Weaknesses – as well as external influences – Opportunities and Threats.

SWOTBecause I work alone, I made some tea one afternoon and sat down for a serious brainstorming session with myself, scribbling and sketching notes in each category then going back through these to create a clearer version of my thoughts. As you can see from my photos, a SWOT doesn’t need to be formal and I guarantee it will always be enlightening!

My SWOT was super helpful, giving me an opportunity to consider what I am good at as well as what is frustrating me about the structure of my current practice. I also acknowledged some of the options for growth that had been trying to get my attention for months.

In a nutshell, my SWOT confirmed what I love about my business – working independently and sharing my strategic marketing expertise. I also identified the limitations I feel – that the hours in a given day dictate the type and number of clients with whom I can work. I acknowledged my longing to reach more people, to leverage both new and traditional marketing techniques and to begin to lessen the location dependence of my business (afterall, in a couple of years I’ll be an “empty-nester.”)

I’m very excited to explore developing an online extension of my practice where I can help more people identify their deepest goals and best customers, then creating a strategic map to get them there. I’m envisioning programs – webinars, teleconferences and the like – that will be inspiring, accessible and, most importantly, successful for the participants. Before I launch into a new venture, however, I’m taking the next step in my brand rehab – “looking around the neighborhood” aka the Competitive Landscape Assessment (which will be my next blog post).

fountain image by drouu

Becoming a Change Maker

One day, Change knocked at my door. I was busy and didn’t answer. A couple of days later, I heard the knock again. Still busy, I kept working. I finished a few projects and still heard the knocking but now I was busy looking for the next project. I didn’t answer but Change kept knocking.

Recently, I invited Change in for tea. Much to my surprise and relief (truth be told, I was afraid of Change), I was excited about the potentials that Change offered and got comfortable with the idea of taking an adventure. Then, I thought, “Now what?”

Change can be daunting. In fact, it usually stirs things up pretty good, tipping the boat, throwing you off balance and blurring your site lines toward the comforting beacon on shore that you’ve been following for a long time.1250825_99632703

For this reason many consciously, or unconsciously, choose to stay the course and keep the boat pointed in the same direction because shifting things, well, that’s uncomfortable. The current course feels safe, even if the voyage hasn’t been exactly as we imagined, and secure, even if the destination we chose at the beginning of the adventure doesn’t hold the same zing of enticement it once did.

It’s easy to resist change.

However, if you’re like me and you hear the distant call of a new shore…or the trade winds you’ve been following suddenly reverse…or a persistent whisper tickles your ear eliciting that devilish, knowing smile you can’t resist, then change has you – hook, line and sinker.

So, surrender already. I did and, honestly, I’m excited! Let’s face it, we only get one ride in this rodeo and those irresistible ideas, the ones that are unflagging and make our heart flutter, we need to embrace them, to give them a ride around the ring and at least see if there’s anything substantive to the hankering.

To respond to the urge – and quell the anxiety and fear that comes along with it – you simply need a plan. After all, you have a 548713_99359025business and the boat is already moving! Who wants (or can afford!) to dry dock for a few months while you retool, redecorate and relaunch? Nope, most of us want (and need) to continue to offer our services while we plan our evolution.

And that, friends, is exactly what I am doing. To my clients – or those of you who are thinking about calling me – I’m all in, continuing to offer strategic marketing consulting and copywriting services. Business as usual.

The whispers I hear are about expanding my offerings to reach and help more people, more businesses who are overwhelmed by marketing’s shifting landscape or underwhelmed by their businesses growth. Over the coming weeks, I’ll lean in to the call I hear, assessing my current business and exploring some of the potentials I’m imagining.

So, what’s the plan? It’s actually quite simple to become a Change Maker.

1) Have a look under the hood – assess the internal workings of my current offerings.
2) Take a drive around the neighborhood – who is a leader in my desired marketplace? What are their strengths and how will I differentiate myself in this landscape?
3) Test drive the options – Seek feedback from clients and other invested supporters.

If you’re interested in a change of your own, be sure sign up below to follow my process. Soon, I’ll be offering the first of my FREE downloads in the Change Maker series that will give you the specific questions to ask yourself as you consider a change in your business.

Sign up below – and share with a friend – to become a Change Maker. Soon, you’ll be taking your first step toward a reinvigorated brand!

Next up, step one: I’ll have a look under the hood of my current business to asses Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. That’s right, the proverbial SWOT exercise lives and I’ve put together a great little worksheet for you to DIY this important process (and it’s FREE!)

Until then,


lighthouse: Katrin Blumenschein; boat: Neil Gould


Turning to Goo: The Alchemy of Change

3f2d78e916d7ed4e38531d8cf6520fc2Caterpillars are adorable, fuzzy little worm-like creatures. They inch along stems and leaves, munching to their hearts content until, one day, they stop munching and start spinning. Twisting and turning, they wrap themselves over and over again into a snuggly of protection, then dangle in a hammock of their own creation. Science tells us that within this cocoon, a miraculous transformation begins, the fuzzy caterpillar literally breaking itself down into an oozy mass of goo to recreate itself into something utterly new. The butterfly.

What a wild ride! I am awestruck by the faith this little bugger demonstrates. I mean, self-melting into goo, letting go of everything you know to be “real,” that takes some guts! And does the caterpillar KNOW that they will transform into something stunningly beautiful? My guess is no, they don’t. All they know is that change is calling to them and change they must.

Well, insert me into the role of our heroic caterpillar. Our friend, Change, has been knocking on my door for a while now and, thus far, I’ve managed to politely dodge his advances. I was either too busy for Change, working hard with clients to transform their marketing, or I wasn’t busy enough for Change, tending and tilling my network to unearth the next project and keep my financial boat alfoat. Such is the feast/famine life of a consultant.    6580c2390d61dbe8926ce35806d7815f

Even while all of this busy-ness or not-so-busy-ness was going on, Change was at my door, knocking. And though I didn’t answer, I knew he was there. Sometimes, I’d peek out the side window just to see and, every time, like a loyal friend, there he was.

But why? I kept asking myself. Why was Change interested in me, in my work? I’m happy, I enjoy my clients and the projects upon which I’ve been fortunate to work. Success has been consistent, if not my income. I’m doing well, sometimes really well. So, why Change?

Recently, I made a cup of tea, took a deep breath and opened the door. I invited Change in to figure out what the knocking was all about.

Much to my surprise (and relief), Change wasn’t about failure or not-enoughness (my deep-down, secret fear). In fact, Change brought new ideas, exciting potentials and thoughts worth hearing. I was smitten.

Well, the first change has taken place – I took down my website. All that remains is this blog, my voice to the world. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be immersed in the change process, a process also known as re-branding, brand refinement or re-invention. Yup, that’s right, the guidance I’ve been sharing with clients these past four years will be focused on me and my business. So, why am I so scared?

66760cfc9df47abba3042170abfc952cIt’s frightening to change. The process is revealing and it makes us feel vulnerable – talking about strengths and opportunities is simple enough, but acknowledging weaknesses and threats isn’t so easy. In fact, my first thought was to go through the process on my own, behind closed doors, then emerging to the world and relaunching my business as the perfected, beautiful butterfly. Nice image, but not real and, more importantly, not what I’m about. I love this process, I’m a guide for others through the process, so it felt more than a bit ingenuous to keep my reinvention under wraps.

So, I’ve decided to open up my re-branding process, to show and tell every step. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing my thoughts and findings and I’d love it if you’d join me! Many of you know that I’m a collaborator at heart and your thoughts, input and encouragement are not only welcome, they’re needed!

On some level, we’re all changing! Change happens every day in our businesses, sometimes in small ways – like adding social media link to your email signature block – and other times in significant ways such as initiating a blog, revamping your website or creating an entirely new program or offer.

Change is here, it is now! Come along with me and I’ll share every step of my change process (along with some free tips and worksheets too!) and what it takes to evolve your brand into something that fits you like a well-tailered suit, not you’re Aunt’s old mu mu. Sign up in the box below to be sure that you receive my Change-elution updates as well as some FREE tips and worksheets I’ll only provide to the Change-Agents who join me!


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The Problem with Blue

You provide best in class service

You are committed to quality and innovation.

Your process is client-centered and responsive. 

Really??? Oh, and let me guess, your corporate color is a deep, reliable shade of BLUE.

What’s the problem with blue…and the copy above? Nothing except that it’s generic. It’s predictable. It’s vague and unquantifiable.

In a word, it’s meaningless.

The greatest differentiator in marketing is not your logo color. Purple, green, orange, red or a neon rainbow – any color (yes, even blue) has the potential to effectively and passionately represent your brand.

The greatest differentiator in marketing is courage. It takes courage to say who you really are, to
offer what you do BEST and to actively reach out to those ideal clients that you dream about…and ignore everyone else.

Lion1Bravery is sexy. Pluck is captivating. It’s an attitude that exudes an enthralling confidence, a quality of poise and aplomb that enchants and attracts. Think bees and the allure of nectar – the response is intuitive, an enchantment, a no-brainer. This is how your best prospects will respond to you, if you have the courage to define yourself.

Bring courage to your marketing effort and watch the buzz you create.

I worked with a firm a couple of years ago to retool their marketing materials which were emblazoned with a very reliable blue logo and plenty of vapid statements about quality and performance. Ho hum doesn’t begin to cover it.

After identifying their goals and real-life differentiators, we spiced things up by removing vagaries about exceptional service and instead bulleting impressive percentages of repeat business and professional referrals, as well as evidence client satisfaction. Selected case studies were developed to punctuate and highlight distinct qualities and demonstrate meaningful results.

MOVE AWAY FROM BANAL CORPORATE-SPEAK.  Get courageous and allow your creativity to get in the driver’s seat. Play with new adjectives to describe your work, what you do for clients and how you build solid relationships. Forget about comparing yourself to your competition (at least for a moment) and bring voice to the vision, to the reality, of who you are now.

Go ahead. Be courageous. (Grrrrrrrr!)


The #1 Question Marketers DON’T Answer

In reviewing the client projects I worked on 2012, one question seemed to stump all of my clients in some way regardless of the project type. In each instance, the inability to answer this question halted creativity, put a stop to development and stalled everyone’s energy.

So what is this linchpin question?

“Who is the target audience?”

I know, I know! This question is so simple, so easy to answer…right? Well, yes, it can be, but all too often the response is far (as in WAY) too vague at least initially. I heard responses like “our clients” or “companies that need our products” or, my favorite, “We’ll get specific later; let’s get this campaign going!” 

One client gave me momentary hope stating, “We’re targeting marketing coordinators in each of company X’s national offices…and companies with vehicle fleets of any size…and really anyone interested in this information including trade organizations and non-profits.” They begin with some specificity then mutate into a foggy mass.

HOW do you target a foggy mass?

Identifying your target audience for any marketing effort is absolutely integral to success because it allows you to create targeted content. In fact, the more specifically targeted the audience and the content, the more relevant, influential and effective your outcomes.

The importance targeting your audience has increased as the world has become more diverse and more digital. In the pre-digital days, mass exposure was the goal, getting as many eyeballs as possible on your product or service offering (think full-page ads). Today’s hyper cross media culture breeds editorializing, conscious and unconscious choices that keep us from being utterly overwhelmed.

We are constantly refining the information to which we are exposed to based on our selections – the websites and blogs to which we subscribe, as well as our clicks, “likes” and “shares,”  define and continually adapt incoming information to our preferences.

We all recognize that the internet has forever changed the communication game and, luckily, everyone has new tools. Just as audiences can edit and refine the content that reaches them, businesses can define and target their message to specific audience segments with relative ease.

The biggest challenge to audience targeting is (surprise!) FEAR. 

We all fear that, by targeting, we’ll miss out on a potential relationship. In fact, sending a general message to lots of people may spark some interest, but sending a very pointed message to an audience invested in the topic creates much greater potential for the type of authentic engagement that can lead to a real relationship.

Consider these tips to begin tailoring your marketing efforts to a target audience:

1. Divide your client list

While sending a monthly newsletter to all clients is great, consciously sending a personalized e-note to top-tier clients featuring a thought-provoking article initiates a dialogue and builds rapport. Maybe the note only goes to five or ten people but these are your best customers who rely on you (and upon whom you rely) the most and, well, they’re worth it.

2. Test your next campaign

Before you spend time and money developing a massive multi-channel marketing campaign, consider A/B testing. A/B, or split testing, sends one version of the campaign to a small sample group (A) and another version to another group (B). The results (opens or clicks or another metric) are measured and a winning version is selected and sent out to remaining targets. While adding this step lengthens your implementation schedule, it will also increase the ROI of this and future campaigns.

3. Segment Opt-ins

If you are building a subscriber list via your website, segmenting lists based on what triggered the opt-in action provides an important foundation for building a relationship with the prospect. Someone who opts-in via general box on your homepage may be interested in your company and what you’re up to generally (a competitor or potential employee perhaps?), while someone who opts-in to receive a free white paper is demonstrating a specific interest in your thought-leadership on a particular topic. The latter is refining their interests for you, letting you know that this topic is important to them and suggesting their interest in additional, related data, outreach and events.

Identifying and communicating directly with specific audiences is a proven path to successful relationship building and, following that, sales. In the comments section below, please share one way you have leveraged list segmentation to improve your your marketing efforts.  Happy targeting!

Thanks to Justine Ickes for her support with this post.

photo by amypalm.

Are You User-Friendly?

Like many businesses, chances are your firm is designing a new website or implementing significant updates. Before you get too busy selecting photos or writing copy, take some time to think about the user and their goals when visiting your site.

Recently, a client invited me to attend a presentation by a user experience (UX) consultant they had hired to review their existing website. Centralis is not so much a web design firm; they specialize in “interface design” – the true backbone of any website.

So, what is interface design and why is the user experience so important? Here’s what Steve Krug has to say about it:

“Navigation [interface design] isn’t just a feature of a web site, it is the web site, in the same way that the building, the shelves, and the cash registers are Sears. Without it, there’s no there there.”

Are we clear? Well, let’s make it even more simple; for the purposes of this post, we will define user experience (UX) as just that – the experience a user has when visiting a website or blog (note: user experience design is also applied to mobile applications and software).

There are a number of facets to UX, neatly encapsulated by designer Peter Moreville in this hexogan visual. As you can see, UX moves beyond simple navigation to encompass a spectrum of qualities including value, usefulness, credibility and even “findability” (I love adding new words to my vocabulary!). Moreville touches on each of these qualities in his article User Experience Design.

So, what did my client learn about their website? So much! Really too many things to list here. The following are a few tips that exemplify the “interface” mindset.

Know your audience is the first step in UX design and, frankly, in any marketing effort. Who is the customer? What are their needs? Why do they visit your site and what are they looking for? Before a page can be created or a word of copy written, it’s important to understand who your website is targeting and what they need to accomplish.

Identify your goals and keep them handy as you develop your website. Building a website is a huge project that can take you in many directions and diminish the focus. It’s a challenge to concentrate on a finite set of goals, but oh-so-necessary in providing a user-friendly experience. .

What is your market position? What differentiates you from your competitors? How can the website highlight these and support your business goals? What do you specifically want a visitor to learn from the website about you and your products/services? Ultimately, what do you want a visitor to do when visiting your website: Sign up for your blog? Email or call you to discuss a project? Whatever it is that you want them to do, make sure to offer ample opportunity (a button on every page, for example) and clear direction on how to accomplish it.

Focus your homepage so that it states clearly and simply who you are and what you do. Before the redesign, my client had two dense paragraphs of copy on their homepage talking about the firm history and service offerings, accompanied by some images and a slideshow feature. Most of the copy was the same color, size and font, offering little help to a visitor scanning for something specific. A messaging hierarchy, visual and word-based, is critical. Consider a bold header and tag line to position your site immediately as the right place for the visitor to be. An example:

MailChimp: Easy Email Newsletters   

Then, each core product or service you offer should also be found on the homepage in words (or images) to help a visitor find what they are looking for. This is NOT about clutter, but clarity, so you may need to group products under headings, tabs or buttons that allow the visitor to scan your homepage and understand where they need to go to find what they need. Again, our friends at MailChimp have done a great job developing a user-friendly homepage.

Lose industry terminology. Engaging a professional consultant to conduct a user study is the best way to get objective feedback. However, you could also do-it-yourself by forming a mini-focus group (preferably composed of people outside your firm! In fact, clients are best) to review your website noting terms that they find confusing. You could also select specific terms used in the website and ask the focus group for their definitions, how they interpret the words or phrases with regard to your service offering.

This was an eye-opening exercise for my client, a large printing company. The user study demonstrated that what the client perceived as relatively common terms such as “digital printing” and “wide format printing” were confusing to the study participants, all of whom are existing clients. Terms need to reflect visitor needs using words (or images or icons) they recognize. For the printing company, improved examples might include “low cost full-color postcards and bound books” and “posters and banners for your big event.”

Call the visitor to action on every page of your website. Never leave the visitor questioning, “so…now what?” Five seconds of this frustration and you’ve lost them (I really need to look at this one on my website!). To self-assess, open each page of your website and ask yourself, “Where do I go from here?” If there isn’t clear direction telling a visitor how to move forward in the process of learning more about you, contacting you or placing an order, then you need to make some revisions. Buttons that say “Contact us” or “See Case Studies” offer next-step options to the visitor. Likewise, strategically placed live links within the text can effectively direct traffic to other aspects of your web site. Keep visitors interested and moving within your site.

Applying the faceted, UX lens to your web page or blog can prove both shocking and empowering. It can be painful to acknowledge that your favorite image, copy block or page layout, while super cool, confuses your visitor and actually encourages them to leave your website. The flip side is that re-tooling your site to enhance your credibility, as well as the sites usability, desirability and accessibility, will encourage visitors toward the action that makes all the wheels turn…contacting you.