Steve Nichols' Improbable Truth Blog

My observations on marketing, business, and life for entrepreneurs

About Steve Nichols

Steve Nichols, MS

I’m Steve Nichols, the author of the Improbable Truth Blog and owner of Boswell Inc., a marketing communications consultancy for entrepreneurs.

I chose to start a business to be the master of my fate and to decide whom I work with and why. I have more than a decade of successful marketing communications experience for many happy clients and a master’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in integrated marketing communications. I’m also a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.

Some of the results I produced for clients include:

  • Increased the revenues of a small business by 25 percent year-over-year and increased another’s client acquisition rate by 81 percent in one year.
  • Helped a client win projects worth more than $10 million in less than one year.
  • Ghostwrote articles and pitched story ideas that appeared in Inc., Forbes, The Business Journals, Marketing Land, CIO, VentureBeat, Huffington Post, KillerStartups, and Medium as well as various industry and trade publications.
  • Positioned a small business to generate an estimated $8 million in two years.

This blog consists of my observations about marketing, business, and life for entrepreneurs. Some of the things I write about here may seem improbable, but just remember:

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – Sherlock Holmes

Kansas City is Tougher Than New York

I used to do cold calls for a living and yes, it sucked.

My job was to set sales appointments for a CPA firm. Imagine calling strangers who are business owners all day long and asking them to talk to you about their company’s financial situation. It was rough, especially because I had no background in accounting whatsoever.

I got yelled at, laughed at, and hung up on, sometimes all in the same day, sometimes all on the same call. In fact, the third person I ever cold called cussed me out, and I had to take the rest of the day off to ask myself whether this was something I really wanted to do.

However, I persevered and eventually set a few appointments that led to new business which generated significant revenue. I’d never do cold calling again, but overall it was a good experience because it helped me learn the basics of sales and it made me confront and overcome my fear of rejection.

The most dread-inspiring experience I had was when I needed to cold call business owners in New York City. I lived in Kansas City at the time, and all the calls I’d made until that point were to businesses in Kansas City. People who live in Kansas City have a reputation for being nice. New Yorkers, not so much.

I feared that the worst calls I’d experienced until then were going to pale in comparison to how New Yorkers would treat me. I prepared myself to be eviscerated.

What I discovered is that New Yorkers are some of the classiest, nicest, and most respectful people to solicit business from. Sure, there were a few jerks, but the vast majority of the people whom I cold called in New York were a pleasure to deal with. Most weren’t interested in an appointment, but even the way they rejected me was polite and considerate. One person even wished me luck and meant it.

I realized that I’d fallen prey to stereotypical thinking and that this had prejudiced my mind in a way that was totally untrue and unfair. The lesson was that you can’t let your preconceived notions about a person or people affect your outlook; you need to have real experience with someone before you can understand what they’re like.

Steve Nichols is the owner of Boswell Inc., a marketing communications consultancy for entrepreneurs.

The ComforTrust Marketing Method part 5

This step is where we use what we know about our clients and their problems to put together a list of content topics. The result will be a pool of content ideas from which we can draw without having to start all over each time we want to write something new. This will save us time and energy in the long run.

Each topic needs to be focused on a single problem and a solution related to your products and services to make it relevant to your clients and thus useful as a marketing tool. It’s also important to consider the emotional hook of the topic idea, which is why the reader will want to consume the content in the first place. Finally, each topic needs to be presented in a format that packages the information in a way that’s easy to consume.

Tie practical solutions to emotional needs

The first task when creating a topic pool is to tie the practical solutions you offer to the emotional needs they address. This will result in a list of topic ideas that resonate intellectually and emotionally with your clients. This is the most important part of planning topics for your content marketing strategy.

People have an emotional connection with every industry, service, and product found in the marketplace. Your clients buy your products and services to address their emotional needs so they can avoid pain and achieve gains to increase the quality of their lives. Therefore, your content should speak to the emotions of your audience.

Topics should be both practical and emotionally stimulating. This is important because human beings aren’t machines—we make decisions based on how we feel and what we think. Consequently, content must have an emotional appeal regardless of the subject matter—even the driest and most complicated topics can have emotional resonance. 

Determining content formats

Now you can determine how you’d like to present the information. The goal here is to communicate your content as clearly as possible in a way that’s relevant to the interests of your target audience. It’s also good to use a variety of formats to keep your content fresh so that people don’t tune out. Here’s a list of content format ideas you can use to get you started:

Lists: List articles, such as “5 Ways to Achieve X,” or “Top 10 Reasons You Should X,” are useful because they make it easy to convey practical information. They’re also easy for your target audiences to consume because the information is broken up into manageable chunks. Lists are a common staple of virtually any content marketing strategy.

How-to’s: These give practical advice on how your target audience can achieve a goal on their own. The purpose is to establish you as an expert by conveying your knowledge in a beneficial way and to empower the reader.

Educational: Content that educates the audience about a topic will leave them feeling informed and help them plan ways to approach a problem. You can present the facts objectively or take a side and defend it with your interpretation of the facts.

Case studies: These are descriptions of problems that your clients have encountered in the past and explanations of your contributions to their resolution. Case studies are extremely valuable because they show your audiences that you have experience dealing directly with the kinds of problems that they are likely to have. They also provide practical information regarding what your clients can do to help you help them. 

Press releases: A press release is special in that it is a content marketing tactic that has its own unique format. The press release includes an attention-grabbing title, a body that starts with the most important information at the top, and the 5 W’s: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. This format also includes the contact information of the person submitting it in case the journalist wants to follow up to obtain more information. Here’s a sample press release format:

(Sample press release format)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Contact:
Your name
Your title
Your company

Your phone number

Your email address

Attention-grabbing headline with a compelling hook

(City) – Short sentence containing the most important information in the press release. Paragraph that briefly elaborates on the 5 W’s of the story.

Second paragraph that supports the information in the first paragraph.

Third paragraph that provides any additional information and directs the reader where to go for more information.

###

News alerts: Different from a press release, a news alert takes a story that’s developing in the news and analyzes it from your business. For example, a CPA could create content about ways for small business owners to protect themselves against embezzlement by referencing a major news story involving an employee stealing from their employer. This is also called “newsjacking.”

Interviews: Leveraging your relationships to obtain an interview with an influential thought leader in your industry can help you reveal valuable insights to your target audiences. It also “co-brands” you so that you benefit from the thought leader’s authority, which serves as an informal recommendation.

Get creative: There are many content formats you can use to communicate the benefits of your products and services by solving your clients’ problems. You can also make up your own formats or combine existing ones to create new formats. No matter what format you use, your content should always be focused on helping your target audiences.

Create a topic pool

Once you have your list of topic ideas, as well as the list of formats that you want to use, you can start combining them to create your topic pool.

It’s important to keep your target audiences in mind so that your topics speak directly to them. It’s easy to get sidetracked when it comes to whom you’re writing for, so it’s a best practice to indicate the intended target audience for each topic on your list.

Your topic pool should always be growing and evolving. As time goes on and you implement your content marketing strategy, you’ll achieve insights into what topics resonate the most with your target audiences and which ones don’t.

You’ll also find that once you begin thinking about content topics, ideas will come to you that you’ll want to save for later. Here’s a sample topic pool with some complete topic ideas to serve as examples from several different industries:

Sample Topic Pool

5 Ways to Make Your House More Attractive to Potential Buyers
Industry: Real Estate
Format: List
Target audience: Home Sellers

Protecting Yourself from the Legal Pitfalls of Starting a Small Business
Industry: Legal Services
Format: Educational
Target audience: Small Business Owners

How We Used the Design-Build Process to Save Money for a Project Owner Industry: Architecture/Engineering/Construction
Format: Case study
Target audience: Construction Project Owners

An Interview with Fitness Expert Jane Doe on How to Feel Great by Cultivating Healthy Eating Habits
Industry: Healthcare/Counseling
Format: Interview
Target audience: People Interested in Weight Loss and Physical Fitness

Custom App Helps Local Business Save Millions with Increased Operational Efficiency
Industry: IT/Technology
Format: Press release
Target audience: C-suite of large businesses

How to Manage Your Financial Strategy to Help You Retire Comfortably Industry: Accounting/Finance
Format: How-to
Target audience: Soon-to-Be Retirees

Insurance Law Change Affects How Small Businesses Offer Benefits to Employees Industry: Insurance
Format: News alert
Target audience: Small Business Owners, Human Resources Professionals, and Benefits Administrators

10 Ways to Leverage Social Media Marketing to Build Relationships with Clients Industry: Marketing/Branding
Format: List
Target audience: Small Business Owners, Marketers, and Salespeople

Everything You Need to Know About the Home-Selling Process
Industry: Real Estate
Format: Educational
Target audience: Home Sellers

Examples of Frivolous Lawsuits and How to Protect Against Them
Industry: Legal Services
Format: Case study
Target audience: Small Business Owners

How to Position Your Business to Take Advantage of Future Technologies Industry: IT/TechnologyFormat: How-to
Target audience: CEOs, Chief Technology Officers

How to Plan and Implement a Social Media Strategy for Your Business
Industry: Marketing/Branding
Format: How-to
Target audience: Small Business Owners, Marketers, and Salespeople

Steve Nichols is the owner of Boswell Inc., a marketing communications consultancy for entrepreneurs.

Bring Out the Best in People to Succeed

Leadership isn’t a prize nor is it a privilege. It’s a responsibility to the people whom your decisions affect.

The choices you make as a leader stem from the reasons why you chose to become a leader in the first place, and they’ll ultimately determine your team’s capability for success.

Why do you want to be a leader?

It’s a simple question, but the answer can have a profound impact because leadership is extremely difficult. It’s lonely, stressful, and complicated in many ways. In addition, you’re guaranteed to face criticism no matter what your philosophy, goals, or ideology.

Some of those who aspire to leadership are motivated by the perceived prestige of the position. Their egos tell them that they should be leaders because they believe this status indicates that they’re the best and brightest out of all their peers; the alphas of the pack.

However, the people who feel this way shouldn’t be leaders at all because wanting to believe you’re an exceptional person isn’t a good reason to be a leader. There are plenty of ways to make yourself feel exceptional that don’t entail telling people what to do or making decisions that affect other people’s lives.

Leaders who are motivated by this sense of pride will shirk their responsibility as soon as the task of leadership becomes difficult. They’ll also do anything to maintain control and blame their subordinates when things don’t work out. These are the kind of leaders who’ll engage in intimidation, manipulation, and degradation to turn people into followers. However, the reality is that people will cease to give their best effort or any effort at all when you convince them that they’re worthless. Failure follows soon thereafter.

Leaders who try to maintain control by acting negatively are putting themselves into a self-made catch-22: You can’t succeed as a leader unless your team performs to the best of its abilities, and you can’t have a team that performs its best when you treat people like crap. It doesn’t work.

I’d suggest that these types of leaders aren’t really leaders at all; they’re bullies. A bully is someone who thinks they’re a leader when they’re not, and they’re willing to hurt people to convince themselves otherwise. Bullies are sometimes able to motivate people a little bit, but any success they experience is short-lived and it never reaches its full potential.

Real leaders do what’s right, not what makes them feel powerful or popular

In my mind, a leader of any merit is someone who makes their team’s success their top priority. This kind of leader builds people up with support and encouragement, and drives people to succeed for themselves and each other. A leader should expect the best while also being patient; they should be demanding yet considerate. They should also be willing to do what it takes to get the job done and clean up any mess left behind without complaint.

This kind of leader doesn’t take on the role for the perks or prestige. Instead, they’re driven by their belief in their vision and their desire to make their team successful. Leadership isn’t easy, but when it works, it’s worth it. And it only works when you bring out the best in people.

Steve Nichols is the owner of Boswell Inc., a marketing communications consultancy for entrepreneurs.

Please Stop Spamming Me Because I’m Not Interested

Door-to-door salespeople used to be how you discovered and bought new products way back in the day before the internet, social media, or television advertising. They were appreciated back then because of all the cool stuff they could show you that you could buy.

Nowadays, the modern reality is that customers are totally in control of the buying process and they can find the best options to fit their needs on their own. They don’t need a door-to-door salesperson to come sell them something, and they don’t want that, either. Yet, this is what spam is: a door-to-door salesperson amplified by technology who won’t leave you alone despite the fact that you’re not interested and never will be.

This means that the best way for us as entrepreneurs to win business is to help our clients make the best decisions they can by being the best choice available while showing them we care about their happiness.

For lack of a better term, we need to show our clients that we love them. Not in the romantic way reserved for our significant others, of course, but in the human way that people genuinely care about each other and want them to be happy. The best way for us to attain success as entrepreneurs is to care about our customers and show it by giving them the best service with integrity.

This doesn’t include spamming people because people hate to be spammed. Spam doesn’t show love, it shows hate, or worse, indifference. A person who spams doesn’t care how many people they upset or offend as long as they get the sales numbers they want. That’s not the way to build a brand. That’s the way to destroy it.

Steve Nichols is the owner of Boswell Inc., a marketing communications consultancy for entrepreneurs.

The ComforTrust Marketing Method part 4

Determine tactics and strategies

The purpose of this step is to help you plan the method by which your content will be delivered to your clients. It’s perhaps the most essential part of the ComforTrust Marketing Method because it maps out all the ways that your target audiences will consume and engage with your content.

As defined by the ComforTrust Marketing Method, tactics are the form that the content takes, while the strategy is how you’ll distribute the content so that it’s seen by your target audiences. The tactics and strategies you should use depend on the unique marketing needs of your business, how your clients want to receive and consume content, and your budget. Here is a description of some key content marketing tactics and strategies:

Blogging

Your blog is the central hub of all of your content marketing tactics. If nothing else, your content marketing plan should include a regularly updated blog. Every piece of content you create will be tied in with your blog in some way. Your blog allows you to be in complete control of how you communicate to the world.

The first major advantage of having a blog is that you can use it to regularly create and share valuable content about the benefits you provide and the problems you solve. The second advantage is that it’s easy to share blog content online – you can link back to your blog through email, social media, and even other websites and blogs. The third advantage is that it makes your website more likely to be found by search engines.

Your blog can be a part of your company website or it can be a separate website that links back to your company site, depending on your preference. Generally, the best practice is to integrate your blog into your company website because this will produce better results in terms of generating traffic, maintaining a consistent brand, and making your company easy to find using search engines.

The only reasons to maintain a blog separately from your main company website are if it covers a specific theme or topic beyond the purview of your site’s main branding, or if it would be too cost-restrictive to integrate a blog into your main site. Either way, your blog is an integral part of your content marketing strategy whether it forms a part of your main business website or not.

Blog posts should generally be between 300 and 500 words. This is the optimal range because it’s about the length of a single page of writing and thus allows you to convey a substantial amount of valuable information quickly without overwhelming the reader. It’s a best practice to also include compelling and relevant images to illustrate the concepts described in the blog post. Pictures will make your content more interesting and easier to find through search engines because they tend to rank content that includes images.higher.in search results. This is a part of search engine optimization (SEO) which we’ll discuss later on when we examine content creation in more detail.

Strategy:

One of the best ways to use content is to share it through your social media to drive traffic back to your website. You can include links to your blog in all of your other content marketing tactics, such as articles, white papers, eBooks, email signup forms, and your social media pages, and also include links to them in your blog itself.

This strategy creates an interconnected web of content centered on your blog which optimizes its ability to communicate the value of your services to your target audiences and solve their problems. The purpose is to make your content easily found and shared in order to maximize its marketing value for your business.

Website copy

The content of your website primarily needs to convey the benefits of your products and services. It also needs to demonstrate your company’s trustworthiness and show how it’s different from the competition. Every company website will be different, but here are a few guidelines to follow to ensure that your website content achieves these marketing fundamentals: 

Your homepage should quickly establish what you do, for whom you do it, and what benefits people receive when they buy from you. You can then elaborate on the specific features of your products and services as well as what makes your company different from its competitors. The purpose of the homepage is to capture the visitor’s attention so they know they’ve come to the right place to find the solutions to their problems.

Your “About” page should tell the story of your business in terms of why it exists and what its values are. This is important because clients want to do business with people whose values align with theirs. Explaining the company’s vision will help clients feel comfortable hiring you and buying your products.

Your “Testimonials” or “Experience” page should discuss specific ways that your products and services have benefited real people. It should include their words as much as possible, as well as any numbers or statistics that objectively demonstrate a benefit, such as “increased efficiency by 50 percent,” or “saved $10,000 per year.”

Strategy:
You can think of your website as your online office where clients visit you to learn more about how you can help them. Your website’s content should quickly and clearly outline what you do, whom you do it for, and why it matters. It should also direct visitors to sign up for your newsletter, view your blog, follow your social media, download your white papers and eBooks, and reach out to you for more information.

Thought leadership

Articles you’ve written that appear online and in print publications position you as an expert or “thought leader” in your field. This is significant because it provides third-party verification of your trustworthiness and advertises your services to the readers of the publication for free. Some publications will even pay you for articles or compensate you with other free promotional opportunities. Another benefit that’s specific to online thought leadership is that your articles can link back to your website or blog which can help drive more traffic to them. This is also known as “backlinking.”

The first step to publishing your articles is to identify which publications have a readership that includes members of your target audiences. Then, you must determine whether they accept article submissions. Many, but not all, publications accept submissions, and some even have their editorial guidelines posted on their websites.

Once you know which publications you want to write for, you can then familiarize yourself with them so that you know what subject matter to pursue. For example, a magazine focused on small business with a readership consisting of small business owners would be interested in topics that help their readers achieve their business goals.

Typically, the publishing process begins by pitching an article idea to the editor of a relevant publication; the pitch should generally be no longer than a paragraph. If the editor is interested, they’ll contact you and ask for the complete article to be submitted by a particular deadline. They may also ask you for a head shot and an author bio where you can briefly include information about your business and a link to your website or blog.

Strategy:

Once an article has been published, you can share a link to it on your blog, social media, and email newsletter to amplify its visibility beyond the readership of the publication itself. If the publication has a social media presence, you can follow it to see when it shares your article and then you can share the link with your audiences as well.

Public relations

Working with journalists to help them create stories related to your business is another way to earn third-party validation and free promotion similar to thought leadership. However, the difference is that the stories you submit to journalists need to meet their definition of “newsworthiness.” Newsworthiness is the degree to which the journalist feels the story is genuinely news and is of actual interest to their readers. The more newsworthy the journalist perceives the story to be, the more likely they are to write a story about it.

What constitutes a newsworthy story can vary according to different journalists. They typically cover a specific area, such as business news, politics, features, etc., and are only interested in stories that focus on these topics. Generally speaking, a newsworthy story is something socially or culturally significant that’s currently happening or about to happen soon and is relevant to a large number of the journalist’s readers. Anything that’s blatantly promotional won’t interest them and could even make them ignore you completely.

It’s important to note that journalists are inundated with press releases, so yours needs to be truly relevant and newsworthy to capture their attention. For this reason, it’s a best practice to review stories that the journalist has written in the past and then come up with press release ideas using these stories as a guideline. Here are some additional thoughts to help you develop a story idea that a journalist will want to write about:

Sales numbers, especially big ones, can get a journalist’s attention quickly. For instance, if your business sells $1 million  worth of new products, then that will be much more newsworthy than just a story about the product itself.

Relevance to a trending cultural phenomenon will make your story attractive to journalists because of its implications for a large number of people. For example, if your company successfully protected its intellectual property in a lawsuit and a journalist has noticed a trend of similar lawsuits throughout the country and they want to write about it, they might want to include your company’s experience as well.

Innovating by coming up with a new way to solve an old problem could also capture a journalist’s attention. For example, if your company invents a new type of engine that generates 100 times the power of what’s currently on the market, then that could have far-reaching implications for many different industries and large numbers of people; thus, this would be a newsworthy story for a journalist.

Guidelines for writing a successful press release:
The key to getting a story about your business to appear in a newspaper or online journal is to create a press release that journalists find compelling. Therefore, it’s important to have an understanding of what journalists look for in press releases. Even a truly newsworthy story might go unnoticed if it’s hidden in a press release that doesn’t resonate with journalists.

In 2015, marketing research company Greentarget completed a survey of 100 journalists and interviewed dozens of reporters and editors to learn about what they want from press releases. The results were published in a report entitled Disrupting the Press Release. It revealed that journalists want the news and other vital information communicated as quickly as possible without fluff.

Many cited police department press releases as a good example because they tend to focus solely on the facts without providing any extraneous information. In addition, according to the report’s findings:

  • One-third said they use press releases for story ideas directly and 88 percent said they find press releases valuable.
  • Nearly half reported receiving at least 50 press releases a week and 24 percent said they receive more than 100, meaning journalists are generally inundated with press releases.
  • Sixty-eight percent are only interested in the facts in the press release, and fifty-three percent said it would be helpful if the facts were presented in a bullet point format.
  • A majority of respondents said they were interested in thought leadership, such as survey results, reports, or graphs.

Regarding the least important information in press releases:

  • Thirty-five percent said it was boilerplate information.
  • Twenty-six percent said quotes; only twenty-eight percent said they used quotes regularly.

Once you’ve written your press release, the next step is to disseminate it to journalists in the medium they prefer:

  • Eighty percent said email is their preferred way to receive press releases, and seventy-nine percent said compelling subject lines make them more likely to open emails, especially when they contain a piece of the news itself.
  • Eleven percent said they prefer newswire releases.
  • None said they want to receive phone calls.

Finally, it’s a best practice to research which journalists and publications would be the most interested in the press release, then send them a brief overview of the story that they can read quickly. This is called a “pitch letter” and it should have a strong headline as well as the Who, What, Where, When, and Why of the story without any additional information. If they’re interested in the story and want the full press release, they’ll let you know. If they’re not, they won’t.

Using this information proactively can help you achieve success in the form of enhanced media coverage and better relationships with journalists to benefit your content marketing strategy. This will then result in increased awareness about the benefits offered by your products and services amongst your target audiences.

Strategy:

As with a thought leadership article, once a news story about your business has been published, you can share a link on your blog, social media, and email newsletter to amplify its visibility beyond just the readership of the publication itself. If the publication has a social media presence, you can monitor it to see when it shares your article and then you can share it with your audiences as well.

White papers

These are essentially long-form articles that thoroughly cover a topic. They work to educate target audiences by giving them well-reasoned and well-researched information that they can use to increase their understanding of a subject related to your services. They have significant strategic value from a marketing perspective because of their length, density of facts, and their practical applicability to your target audiences’ wants and needs. White papers are generally around 10 pages long, although they can be longer.

The distinguishing characteristic of white papers is that they provide an abundance of third-party research to support what they say. In this sense, they are similar to academic journal articles. The main benefit is that they make you appear to be an expert because of the breadth of knowledge on the topic that they express.

To start writing a white paper, you can select a topic using the method described in the following chapter on creating a topic pool. You can also choose any other topic that you know will be of interest to your target audiences, is relevant to your products and services, and that you can provide a lot of valuable information about.

Once you’ve selected your topic, you can outline all of the information you want to cover and put it in a logical order. By definition, white papers are longer than articles or blog posts, so you can take a broad focus or you can drill down deeply into a narrow topic.

Finally, white papers need to have a lot of supporting evidence so the reader knows that what they say is true and valuable. You can reference trade industry publications, newspaper articles, survey reports, and many other sources to find statistics, quotes, and other data to support your white paper. 

Strategy:

There are a lot of things you can do with white papers to produce a marketing benefit. Here are some of the possibilities:

Break it up – You can break up the white paper into a series of shorter articles to post on your blog or to publish as thought leadership.

Gate it – You can offer your white paper in exchange for signups to your email marketing list. This is a great way to build a permission-based email list.

Distribute it – You can share links to download your white paper on your blog, social media, and email. You can also print copies to give away at events or as part of a direct mail campaign.

Create content around it – You can create blog posts that briefly focus on one of the elements discussed in the white paper and then direct the reader to the white paper for more information. 

eBooks

Self-publishing electronic books has never been simpler or easier. They are the apex of written content marketing because they can contain a huge amount of useful and relevant information and because they can be used to gain a strategic marketing benefit in many different ways. You can even sell them as products through companies like Amazon.com and many other eBook publishers.

An eBook is essentially any lengthy piece of written content in an electronic format. Creating one could be as simple as putting a bunch of your blog posts together into a single PDF, or as complex as outlining and writing a series of chapters that build upon one another to form a cohesive narrative. Either way, eBooks fit into your content marketing strategy because they provide solutions to problems like any other piece of content. They also give you the room to fully explore a topic.

To write an eBook, the first thing to do is to choose the topic. You can select a topic using the process described in the next chapter about creating a topic pool or you can choose a special topic that only works in the long format of an eBook. Either way, the topic needs to be something you can elaborate on a great deal and that’s valuable enough for your reader to invest a significant amount of time reading.

Once you have selected your topic, you can write an outline that includes the title, an introduction, a list of chapters and the themes presented in each, and a conclusion. This is the “skeleton” of your eBook.

It’s extremely important to have an outline that presents your eBook’s themes in a way that flows and is cohesive and logical. Otherwise, you might get stuck in the middle of writing the eBook and have to start over with a new outline. If writing an eBook is like building a house, then the outline is the foundation—therefore, having a strong outline is crucial.

Social media

Social media create opportunities to connect with your target audiences directly through content that solves their problems and communicates the benefits of your services. Many people use social media to find and consume content that’s relevant to their interests as well as to build and maintain their social networks. There’s simply no reason not to share your marketing content on social media.

There are many social media platforms out there, each with their own unique characteristics. As the owner or marketer of a relationship-based business, your best place to start is LinkedIn because it’s designed specifically for use by professionals in industries that are fundamentally based on relationships. As your content marketing strategy evolves, you can then start looking at other social media to use as well.

Social media play an integral role in the ComforTrust Marketing Method because they allow you to amplify your message exponentially and reach many people in a short amount of time. Sharing content on social media makes your brand easier to find online and makes your website more likely to rank higher in search results.

The best way think about social media is that it’s the same old “grapevine” that we’re all familiar with, but amplified by the internet. Using social media is also free. Each platform has premium business features you can pay for, but none are necessary to achieve marketing success.

You might think that if your target audiences don’t use social media then you can’t reach them using social media platforms. This is false. The truth is that even if your target audiences aren’t using social media, they’re undoubtedly influenced by someone who does and who’s motivated to share interesting and relevant content with them. For example, a person who notices content on social media that their boss, business partner, or one of their clients would be interested in will likely share it with them such as by emailing them links to a website; physically showing it to them on their computer or device; printing it out, or simply describing it to them.

Building a following by curating content:
The more followers you have who are members of your target audiences, the more valuable your social media are to your content marketing strategy. The best way to build a large following on any social media channel is by sharing valuable and relevant content. However, you might find that even if you’re creating and sharing valuable content regularly, you’re not attracting a large following of target audience members. This is normal—building a large following of target audience members takes time.

One way you can speed things up is by sharing third-party content or “curating” content that comes from other sources, besides your competitors, that’s also relevant and valuable to your target audiences. This can include news articles, reports, thought leadership, and any other content that your target audiences care about that also relates to your services. This way, you can attract a following that will be there when you share your own content.

LinkedIn strategy:

Virtually every relationship-based business owner or marketer can benefit from using LinkedIn because it presents many opportunities to share content and connect with clients, referral sources, and partners. It also makes it easy to stay in touch with your professional contacts. Here are some statistics regarding the demographics of people who use LinkedIn:

  • High net worth individuals and business executivesForty-four percent of LinkedIn users make more than $75,000 a year, according to the Pew Research Center, and this is the largest user group in terms of income. Forbes reports that 22 percent of CEOs who use social media indicate LinkedIn is their top choice among social media platforms. It must be noted that 28 percent of CEOs reported using social media.
  • People who are highly educated According to Business Insider, 38 percent of LinkedIn usershave a bachelor’s degree or higher, which represents the largest user group in terms of education level.
  • People between the ages of 30 and 65 Sixty-one percent of LinkedIn usersare in this age demographic, according to the Pew Research Center, with 31 percent between the ages of 30-49 and 30 percent between the ages of 50-65.

Posting on LinkedIn:
You can share links to your online content by posting to your LinkedIn profile. These posts will then be seen in the newsfeeds of the people to whom you’re connected. They can click on your posts to view them and share them with their networks, thus increasing their visibility exponentially. The best time to post on LinkedIn is generally early in the work week because people mainly use LinkedIn while they’re working.

LinkedIn profile:
Your LinkedIn profile is similar to a resume but different as well. It’s similar in that it allows you to post your employment history, responsibilities, and accomplishments. It’s different in that it also allows you to share much more information to tell the story of your brand. It also allows you to link your profile to other places online, such as your website and blog, and thus increases your online footprint and makes you easier to find and more likely to appear in search engine results.

There are many different sections on your LinkedIn profile, and each gives you an opportunity to portray a facet of your brand’s story. Here’s a rundown of all the most important sections and how to use them effectively:

  • Summary – This section should sum up whom you serve, why, and how they benefit. It’s important to use brevity and your own unique voice – you don’t want to use corporate-speak or jargon because people want to connect with who you are as a person.
  • Experience – Like a resume, this section is where you list all of the positions you’ve held at different companies and your responsibilities at each. As with a resume, it’s best to list your accomplishments at each position as well. Recommendations you’ve received at each position will also show up here.
  • Projects – You can use this section to illustrate specific projects you’ve worked on to demonstrate your expertise. Any work-related project that’s relevant to the interests of the audiences you serve would be appropriate here.
  • Skills & Endorsements – You can choose from a huge list of skills to add here and then your connections will have the option to “endorse” you or vouch for your skills. This is extremely valuable because it provides you with an opportunity to receive third-party validation of your abilities from people in your network. 
  • Publications – This is where you can list any articles you’ve published with links to the content if they have been published online. This is the perfect place to showcase your thought leadership.
  • Education – This is where you list any degrees you’ve received and your extracurricular involvement. You can also have recommendations from professors or fellow students appear here to support your overall credibility.
  • Honors & Awards – Listing the awards that you or your business has received will boost your credibility and communicate to your target audiences that your accomplishments are recognized by the community. 
  • Organizations – Professional and trade organizations to which you belong go here. This allows people viewing your profile to learn more about your professional interests. It can also help form connections by communicating to other members about your mutual association in those organizations. 
  • Recommendations – This is one of the most important sections of your LinkedIn profile because it’s where your connections can attest to your skills, abilities, and trustworthiness in their own words. The more recommendations you have, the more credibility you demonstrate. 

LinkedIn Pulse:

This feature allows you to self-publish articles and have them appear on your profile. They also show up in the newsfeeds of the people to whom you’re connected so they can see what you’ve written. Those people can then share the content with their networks by “liking,” “sharing,” or “commenting” on your articles, thus increasing the visibility of both the articles and your profile. LinkedIn will curate these articles in the Pulse section of its site, and it will also push popular or “trending” articles to people based on their interests in their newsfeeds. Finally, these articles can also appear in search engines, thus making you easier to find online.

LinkedIn Groups:

These are places on LinkedIn that are essentially discussion groups devoted to specific topics. The intent is for you to be able to engage in conversations centered on those topics with people who meet the group’s criteria, such as business owners, marketers, etc. The result can be the formation of new connections, increased visibility for you and your company’s brand, and perhaps new business.

Once you’re a member of a group, you’ll receive email digests of discussions that were recently started so you can keep an eye on group activity and jump into conversations when you have something to contribute. The discussions you start have the potential to be seen by many of the group’s members through these email digests, thus increasing your visibility.

LinkedIn Company Page:

You can create a separate page on LinkedIn just for your business and then share content on it. People can choose to “follow” your page and they’ll then receive these posts in their newsfeed as they would with anyone to whom they’re connected. Sharing content on LinkedIn company pages also helps you to be found via search engines.

One of LinkedIn’s additional features tells you how many people have seen your company page’s posts, indicated as “views,” as well as how they’ve engaged with them, such as with “clicks,” “likes,” and “shares.” This can be valuable information to indicate what content your target audiences prefer and to help you plan your content marketing strategy on an ongoing basis.

Connections:

There are many different strategies one can employ when connecting with people on LinkedIn. A best practice is to make your LinkedIn network mirror your real network and to connect with people who can help you and your business in some way. It’s also important to never connect with people who are strangers unless you plan to develop a real professional relationship with them.

Permission-based email

Email is an effective way to stay in front of target audiences with your content. There are many email marketing platforms out there, such as MailChimp, that allow you to build email templates and easily edit email content. MailChimp also makes it easy to create forms for people to use to sign up for your email marketing list.

Email marketing works best when the people on your email marketing list have given you their permission to contact them. If they haven’t, and you email them anyway, then you’re spamming them.

Once you have a permission-based email list, you can use it to stay in touch with your contacts by sending email newsletter content that provides them with valuable information. This can be a digest of your blog content, exclusive newsletter-only content, or a mixture of both. You can also include promotional information about your products and services since you have permission to reach out to the people on the list.

A best practice is to ensure that your email newsletters are consistently sent at regularly recurring intervals. Ideally, recipients will anticipate the newsletter’s arrival in their inboxes because it always comes at the same time on the same day. No matter whether it’s a weekly, biweekly, or monthly newsletter, it needs to be sent as consistently as possible. Otherwise, it’s more likely that recipients will ignore the email or even opt-out.

There are many ways to build permission-based email lists, and anything that creatively motivates people to give you permission to email them can be helpful. Here are two of the most common ways:

Sign-up forms: Adding a sign-up form to your website where people can opt-in to receiving your email newsletter is a simple, yet effective, way to build a permission-based list. If you’re consistently driving traffic to your site by regularly sharing relevant and useful content online, then you’ll find that a significant number of people will want to sign up.

Gated content: You can create a highly valuable piece of content, such as a white paper or eBook, and give it away to people for free in exchange for their permission to email them. This is a great way to not only build a permission-based email list, but also to distribute your marketing content to people who’ve expressed a clear interest in it.

This list of content marketing tactics is by no means comprehensive. It’s only meant to give you an idea of what the possibilities are when you use the ComforTrust Marketing Method to build and develop relationships with clients by sharing useful and relevant content. You can experiment with different combinations of tactics to determine what works best for you and your business.

Steve Nichols is the owner of Boswell Inc., a marketing communications consultancy for entrepreneurs.

Customer Service is What Matters Most for Business Success

No matter what industry you’re in, customer service will determine your company’s success or failure more than any other factor. Things like innovation, convenience, and price points are all important, but a focus on providing exceptional customer service will always give you an advantage. Bad customer service will always hurt you as well. As one of my mentors once told me, “Doing something new and exciting in your business is fine, but nothing beats providing the best service possible.”

Early in my consulting career, one of my clients asked me if I knew how to build a website and I replied that I didn’t. He looked at me and said, “Well, figure it out.” Because of this, I researched what options were available and learned how to use WordPress to design websites.

As a result, I was able to make him happy and solidify one of the most valuable client relationships I had at a crucial moment in the existence of my fledgling consultancy. In addition, I developed a new skill that I still use for clients and my own business to this day. The point is that there are tremendous and long-lasting benefits to providing excellent customer service.

The best customer service experience I ever had was from a food server at a nice restaurant while I was out on a date with my girlfriend. He had an incredible knowledge of wines and offered us several free samples to try with our meal before we selected a bottle. In addition, he came across as a very likable and conscientious person in general.

You could tell that he had an entrepreneurial mindset because he wasn’t obligated to provide this level of service and he didn’t know if it would lead to a good tip or not. He did it because he was driven by his concern for giving his customers a wonderful experience as well as his deep interest in wines. I left him a fantastic tip and called his manager later to compliment him.

Conversely, the worst customer service I ever had came at the hands of a person who repeatedly harassed me passive-aggressively over a simple misunderstanding despite the fact that I was paying for their time. Unfortunately, this led to some drama that was very unpleasant for everyone involved and was totally unnecessary. I’ll obviously never use their services again, nor will I recommend them to anyone else. What a waste.

Customer service defines how your customers perceive your brand and how they communicate about it with their networks. No matter how cool, ingenious, or valuable your products and services are, it’s crucial for you to create an excellent experience for your customers. The human aspect of any business is the “X Factor” that determines success, and it all revolves around customer service.

Steve Nichols is the owner of Boswell Inc., a marketing communications consultancy for entrepreneurs.

The ComforTrust Marketing Method part 3

target market
Identify your clientele

The purpose of this step is to help you focus on the wants and needs of your clients so you can create content that’s directly relevant to them. People constantly have wants and needs, and this creates tensions that either decrease a person’s quality of life or prevent it from being as great as it could be. The desire to relieve this stress by finding solutions to their problems is why people buy products and services. This means that every business is in the business of solving problems.

Therefore, the ComforTrust Marketing Method centers on creating and sharing content that addresses the problems your clients have, showing how your products and services solve them, and, most importantly, recognizing how those solutions can make your clients feel. People tend to make purchasing decisions based on emotion and then justify their actions using logic. They will rationalize their preferred choice even if it isn’t objectively the best course of action. That’s just human nature and we all do the same on occasion.

As a result, the solution that people believe offers them the most relief from their pain or that offers them the greatest gain will be the one they choose. Thus, we can use content as a tool to make our clients feel better and to promote our businesses at the same time.

In other words, content is a valuable product itself – a product that provides solutions as it simultaneously markets our businesses. Creating and sharing useful and relevant content doesn’t just market your products and services to people, it provides value in and of itself by solving their problems.

Who are your target audiences?

The entire process begins with a holistic understanding of your target audiences, the problems they have, and how your products and services can help them. You’re the expert and you know your target audiences best, though you may want to consider more in-depth client research as well.

These are the people you serve, the people you help, and the people who depend on you to increase the quality of their lives and to decrease the pain they feel. They’re the ones who determine your success or failure. No business stays in business without people to serve.

Your target audiences consist of anyone who benefits from your products and services either directly or indirectly, along with anyone who has a stake in the business itself. Of course, this mainly consists of your clientele, but don’t forget about referral partners and people who influence the decision-making process as well. These people can be hugely significant to your client’s decision as to whether to buy from you or not.

For example, if you’re an estate planning attorney, then there’s a good chance that you team up with financial advisors and CPAs. Creating content that doesn’t just help your clients but helps theirs as well is a great incentive for them to share it with their audiences. This helps everyone involved and promotes your business at the same time.

target audiences

What are the problems that clients have and you can solve?

You know what problems your clients face and how your products and services solve them. Providing solutions to problems will form the basis of your content marketing strategy and will guide the development of your content topics.

If you get stuck, you can ask yourself the following questions to shed light on your clients’ problems:

  • What questions do your clients typically ask you about your products and services?
  • What concerns are your clients trying to address by using your products and services?
  • What are some short-term problems that your clients face relative to your products and services? What about in the long term?
  • What are the barriers that currently prevent your clients from already using your products and services?
  • What are some of the alternatives to your products and services and what are their drawbacks?
  • What are some of the negative experiences that your clients may have had that would lead them to consider buying your products or services?
  • How do your products and services differ from what your competitors offer in the marketplace?
How do the solutions you provide make your clients feel?

How your products and services affect your clients’ feelings is one of the most important factors in their decision to buy. With this in mind, it’s best to think about what emotions your products and services evoke in the minds of your clients and then emphasize them in the content you create to solve their problems.

Perhaps you offer relief, peace of mind, or happiness? Maybe your services create a sense of safety and security, or fun and excitement? No matter what, the way your services make your clients feel is the ultimate benefit that they receive and is the major motivation behind their purchases.

If you combine the answers to these three main questions, then you’ll have the foundation necessary to consistently create content that resonates with your clients on an intellectual and emotional level: “Who are your target audiences? What are the problems that clients have and you can solve? How do the solutions you provide make your clients feel?”

Describing how your products and services create positive experiences for your clients will help them understand why you’re the best choice and increase the chances that they’ll buy from you.

Steve Nichols is the owner of Boswell Inc., a marketing communications consultancy for entrepreneurs.

4 Ways to Stand Out from Your Competition

This post originally appeared as a guest article on Chad Wagner Design’s blog.

Your marketing communications will be most effective when you highlight what makes your brand different from its competition in a way that’s relevant to your customers’ interests. This will make your brand stand out in their minds, thus making them more likely to buy from you. Here are some ways you can achieve this:

  1. Show why your company exists and why it matters
    Telling stories that focus on how and why your brand helps its customers will make it connect with them emotionally and intellectually. As a result, they’ll be more likely to purchase your products and services because people want to buy from brands that align with their interests and values.
  2. Keep it simple
    Everyone is constantly inundated with information, so people will most likely ignore your message and move on if it’s hard to understand. That’s why it’s best to avoid using complicated language or jargon in your marketing communications. Simple verbiage that quickly conveys your brand’s message is ideal.
  3. Focus on your customers
    Your brand’s storytelling should focus on the main protagonists: your customers. This means that your message should always be about how your brand addresses your customers’ needs and solves their problems.
  4. Communicate a consistent message
    One of the main reasons why people buy from your brand is because they trust it, and trust needs consistent reinforcement. This means that your brand’s message should remain the same at every point that your customers interact with it. Otherwise, they might lose faith in your brand and look elsewhere for solutions to their problems.

Showing how your brand is different in a way that’s relevant to your customers’ interests will make it stand out from its competition. As a result, they’ll be more likely to buy from you when they have a problem you can solve. Thus, communicating your brand’s difference is crucial to your success.

Steve Nichols is the owner of Boswell Inc., a marketing communications consultancy for entrepreneurs.

Integrity Should Be the Expectation, Not the Exception

Compass Integrity

Integrity should be expected from all companies large and small. To paraphrase Chris Rock, “that’s what you’re supposed to do.” Without integrity, how can a business expect its customers to trust it and believe in its brand?

I remember a couple years ago I heard about a guy who’d created a hugely successful small business from nothing in the city where I lived. He was touted as a prime example of small business success. Then, it turned out that he’d been stealing from his employees by not paying them money they’d rightfully earned. He stole $100,000 from his employees, and it resulted in him losing his business, his reputation, and nearly his freedom. Why would anybody take that risk? He was already successful and he didn’t need to steal from anyone. He simply chose to do it because he didn’t have integrity.

Before that, when I was in college, I met the owner of the restaurant where I worked and he seemed like a perfectly affable guy; I liked him. Then, a few years later, he ended up being convicted of insurance fraud for conspiring with gangsters to burn down one of his restaurants. It turned out that his business interests weren’t doing well and he needed extra cash just to maintain his lifestyle. As a result, he lost everything. Now he’s inmate #129482 or some such number at a federal institution. Good grief.

Being in business should only be about exchanging value. As they teach us from a young age, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. A business shouldn’t get a prize for not lying or being manipulative. Being honest, acting in the best interests of its stakeholders, and doing the right thing should be a matter of course for any business.

Yet sometimes it seems that you can’t read the news without seeing a story about a company engaging in illegal business practices, taking advantage of its customers, or its employees for that matter, and just generally doing wrong in the name of power and profit. Is that what being in business is all about? I don’t think so.

From now on, let’s all assume that integrity is an implied part of any brand. No matter what industry a business is in, if it doesn’t have integrity, then it doesn’t have a real brand. Period. Without integrity, everything else about a brand is meaningless.

Furthermore, let’s decide that integrity is not exceptional; it’s expected. Because without integrity, the only thing that a company’s brand stands for is making money. In other words, any company that doesn’t have integrity only exists for one reason: making money. Who wants to do business with a company that only cares about making money? I don’t. Do you?

After all, as Warren Buffet says, “You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person. Intelligence, Energy, and Integrity. If they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.”

The same could be said for any business out there. Don’t you think?

Steve Nichols is the owner of Boswell Inc., a marketing communications consultancy for entrepreneurs.

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