Giving It All Away


Virtually everyone reading this blog will have heard the term ‘content marketing.’ Put simply, it’s attracting and retaining customers or clients by creating and/or curating valuable and useful content.

It’s giving your customers something of value – letting them know that you care and that you’re thinking of them. You can do this through your website, your blog and/or any amount of social media channels – from the sober and serious LinkedIn to 140 characters on Twitter.

Content marketing is the way the world is moving: it’s effective, it’s efficient and best of all, it’s very often free. Unless you take your time into account that is…

This blog is a form of content marketing – and yes, it’s time consuming. But I like to think that it’s useful and I am absolutely certain that over the nearly-four years I’ve been writing, the blog has both attracted new clients and developed and strengthened my relationship with existing ones.

As with any form of content marketing, the blog gives away a lot of information. I can’t think of a subject relevant to business that I haven’t covered in the four years and in total there are well over 100,000 words – plus all the insights and extra information from your comments…

All that has been for free. But this is Yorkshire. Should I have given away that much information? After all: if ivver tha does owt fer nowt, allus do it fer thissen.

Sadly, in the age of Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and Gmail the old Yorkshire adage no longer applies…

I am more convinced than ever that creating, curating and distributing free content is one of the fundamental building blocks of a business and of good relationships with your clients and potential clients. Here are just a few reasons:

  • Free content attracts your target audience. Anyone creating content should have a picture in their mind of the exact target audience they’re aiming for. I won’t embarrass them, but when I write this blog there are a dozen TAB members – and now one potential member – that I keep in mind.
  • Free content gets your ideas and views shared. That’s what you want. If people share your content, re-tweet it, send the link to their friends, that’s exactly what you want. The more people who see what you’ve written the better – and that will happen with good content. As I said last week, you never know who’s there, you never who’s listening – and you never know who’s reading either.
  • Free content establishes your authority. I’ve constantly been astonished by the number of people who’ve said, ‘Oh yes, I read your blog.’ This is one of those instances where you have to rely on the anecdotal evidence, not the analytical. You can’t measure authority, but you do know when you’ve established it.
  • Consistent content proves that you can deliver. For me, this is one of the huge advantages of blogging on a regular basis. If someone says, ‘I’ve read your blog every week for two years’ I don’t need to convince them that I’ll deliver consistently. They’ve already seen the proof.
  • They also know (hopefully!) that I’m a nice guy. That’s another advantage of content – you can use it to establish your personality. You can also use it to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

So back to the earlier question. Do I give away too much content? Is that something you should worry about if you’re currently creating content, or planning to start?

No, it isn’t.

People appreciate free content. But they will always pay for the content and information that is specific to them – that answers the questions they want answering. Free content will establish your authority, help you connect with an audience and prove you’d be a good person to deal with – but don’t worry, you’ll still get paid for the nitty-gritty.

To hark back to blog no. 99, Make Good Art – use free content to show people what it is that only you do best: and then they’ll pay you for doing it.

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Your Two Minutes of Fame


In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

We all know that quote from Andy Warhol. But sorry to disappoint you – you might not get 15 minutes. You might only get two. But it could be two minutes that makes a real difference to your business.

Like a lot of you, I use Dropbox. All my files, instantly accessible wherever I am. One of my friends introduced me to Dropbox and explained what it did and why it was a great idea. But you know how it is. I was driving the car: I was thinking about my next appointment. I didn’t really take it in.

That night I had a look at Dropbox – and I found an introductory video on the site. It was one of the first ones I’d seen, and – after a bit of hunting on the internet – here it is.

I thought the video was brilliant. It instantly explained the concept behind Dropbox. I got it. I signed up – and I’ve been using it ever since.

I also ‘signed up’ to the concept of the introductory video. That’s what I want to see when I go to a website I haven’t used before. Show me a short video; tell me how it works. Do it simply, concisely and with a sprinkling of humour – and do it in less than two minutes. And if you’d like another example, here’s the TAB one on YouTube. (Sorry about the bloke at the bottom of the page…)

Time was when you needed specialist help to produce an animated video: when you needed the services of young men surrounded by Macs, pizza boxes and Coke cans. Not any more. There are now a variety of sites that allow you to produce your own animated video, and very often to do it for free. Here you go:

http://www.powtoon.com/

http://goanimate.com/

http://wideo.co/

http://www.moovly.com/

I really recommend having a look at these sites. I know you’re busy: I know animation isn’t your strongest suit and I know you don’t have the time to write the script – but these days websites have to be more than just brochures. You really need to engage people – and animated video is increasingly becoming a very effective and engaging way to do precisely that.

Which brings me on to my next point…

Why stop at animation?

What better way to introduce your business and tell potential customers that you’re likable – that you’d be a good person to do business with – than a short video? Sit on the corner of your desk; look directly at the camera and chat about your business.

For something like this the average person will talk at around 140 words per minute, so you’ll need a script of roughly 280 words (to give you a comparison, this blog post is 620 words). You’ll also need someone competent behind the camera, and you’ll need to upload it onto your site – which shouldn’t take the average teenager more than two minutes.

Above all, learn your two minute speech – then you can deliver it naturally and confidently. It will bring your website alive, and it’s a great way of ‘meeting’ potential customers before you meet them – of establishing a connection.

Technology is giving us more and more ways to get our message across: increasingly it is costing very little to do it and ‘drag n’ drop’ gives us all the chance to appear competent at most things. So go ahead and give a two minute video a go: a) it’ll benefit your business and b) I’ve a bottle of red wine waiting for the best one I see.

Who knows? You might even impress your children. No, maybe not…

Six Reasons Why I Like You


I make no apology this week for returning to a subject that I’ve written about before – the reasons why I like you so much.

And no, I haven’t come over all sentimental in my old age. I still have my business head on, but in an age where we’re increasingly ‘meeting’ each other virtually before we meet in person, first impressions – for me – are coming to count more and more.

Whether it’s your website, your blog or some other form of social media that introduces us, the question I want answering is simple. Would I like you? Would doing business with you be a good experience?

So what creates a good first impression with me? There are six boxes you can tick – but first of all, two that you can’t. Number one, don’t tell me how qualified you are. People are increasingly taking qualifications for granted. If you’re the senior partner of KPMG I’ll take it on trust that once upon a time you passed an accountancy exam. And don’t tell me how good you are: let other people do that – then let me form my own opinion.

So what are the six boxes? Here goes…

Hey, that’s a nice photo I have a good friend and client with a simple philosophy. ‘If I look too nice in my photo people will think I’m a soft touch.’ You won’t be surprised to hear that I disagree. I’ve just had my own photos re-done (and I’ll stick with them for the next twenty years, thanks) as I wanted to look more friendly and more approachable. I think the day of the man-in-suit head and shoulders photo is over: let me see you smile. Or let me see you working with your clients.

Your football team makes you suffer What I really mean by this one is that I want to see you have a sense of humour. So ‘proud supporter of the mighty Manchester United’ doesn’t work for me. ‘Proud supporter of the mighty York City’ does work for me. (You all know who I support. ‘Pain’ is an understatement.) Of course, it doesn’t have to be football, but show me somewhere that you’ll be good fun to deal with; that you have a life outside the office.

You’re self-deprecating As I get older I find I like my heroes in books and films to have flaws. Give me a character like Wallander every time. So I’m not worried if I read ‘plays golf, mainly from the rough’ or ‘devoted father, currently struggling with Year 9 Maths.’ What I’m looking for here is insight and humility: there’s nothing quite as off-putting as perfection.

You love your children Or your wife. Or both. My family is hugely important to me: it’s the rock on which my whole life is based. Am I going to be put off if something on your ‘About’ page suggests that you might ask to re-arrange an appointment as it clashes with the nativity play? Exactly the reverse. You’ll have a thousand business meetings in your life and half a dozen nativity plays. I want to deal with someone who really knows the meaning of a priority.

You care Not just about your family, but about the wider world as well. I find I’m increasingly giving a mental tick to companies where the website reflects a commitment to a charity. So out with ‘we’re committed to helping our community’ and in with ‘on July 6th and 7th three of our directors are cycling from coast to coast to raise funds for our local hospice.’

You talk like a human being In many ways this is a summary of the previous five points. I want to deal with someone I’ll like – so make sure your website/social media is well written and easy to read. According to my writer friends the best tip is to write it and then read it out loud. And if it doesn’t sound right then it isn’t right.

With that, have a great weekend and I’ll be back next week. And the best of luck to those of you that embraced Movember this morning. Put it on your website – another reason to like you…

Is this Blog Worth the Effort?


A quick quiz to start us off this week. What happened in the summer of 2010?

a) There was glorious, uninterrupted sunshine from May to September
b) England won the World Cup, crushing Germany 4-0 in the final
c) This blog started

Anyone answering (a) or (b) is probably best advised to check their medication but (c) is correct. The blog started and today we reach post number 150 – which begs another simple question. Has it been worthwhile? Have the time, effort and calluses on my typing fingers been justified?

For me there are two ways you can measure the success of a blog. The first one is in simple money terms – trying to estimate the return on investment on the blog. I know how long it takes to write each post (on average – clearly some weeks are easier than others) and I’ve a good idea of which Board members came to me as a direct result of the blog.

So the monetary question is an easy one to answer. And in pure ROI terms the blog is more than worthwhile: in fact it’s one of the best investments I’ve made.

Does that mean I recommend everyone rushes to their keyboard and starts writing a weekly blog? Not necessarily. It’s hard work; it takes real application and not for one minute will it instantly change your cash flow.

Writing a blog is a long term commitment and you need to view it that way: it’s very similar to a radio interview. If you’re on the radio once (I’m talking local radio here) then in business terms it isn’t going to make much difference. But if you were on the radio every Friday morning at 10:15 – over time, that would make a huge impact.

So writing a blog is tough – but if you can do it, then in my view it’s one of the very best forms of marketing there is. I now have a Board member who before joining rang me one day and simply said, “I’ve been reading your blog for the last two years. Every Friday morning without fail. I think it’s time we had a talk.”

And I know of a travel blogger who was sent on a 25 day round-the-world trip by Four Seasons – seriously – on the strength of her blog. But before they asked her to go Four Seasons had read every word she’d written for twelve months. If you’re going to blog successfully, long term consistency is crucial.

So what’s the second way of measuring the success of your blog? I’m sorry to frustrate those of you that like hard analysis and simple facts, but the second way is much more a mixture of analytics and – above all – anecdotal evidence. Yes, I know the TAB members who’ve joined as a direct result of the blog. What I’ll never be able to quantify are those members who’ve joined – and the business opportunities that have opened up to me – because of the way the blog has helped to build my reputation and authority.

It’s brought me publicity, speaking invitations and an identity. “Oh yes,” several people have said when we’ve been introduced, “You’re the guy who blogs…”

So 150 posts and nearly 100,000 words down the line, has the blog been worthwhile? Yes, very much so. Would I recommend blogging to other business owners? Absolutely. But:

• It’s a long term commitment
• It won’t immediately improve your cash flow
• It is hard, hard work
• You must be consistent, both with the delivery of the blog and the tone of your message
• And you must reply to comments that readers make – it’s become a slight cliché, but a blog is a conversation, not a megaphone

However, if you make that commitment, you’ll find that you’ll build a reputation and authority; you’ll find that Google will love you beyond reason – and one day you’ll take a phone call which begins, “I’ve been reading your blog…”

Is North Yorkshire Leading the UK Recovery?


In mid-February business confidence in this country fell to a new low. The Optimism Index, published by accountancy firm BDO, stood at 88.9 – well below the figure of 95 needed to indicate growth.

Last week the UK lost its AAA rating from Moody’s. On Monday the pound fell to a two year low amid concerns that the country was still struggling to come out of the longest recession for 80 years and that the outlook for the economy was – at best – gloomy.

The same day I was having a coffee with the boss of a web design company. Her message was simple. “We’ve never been busier. Honestly, Ed, since the New Year we’ve never stopped with new enquiries. I’m interviewing tomorrow, and if it carries on like this I’ll be interviewing again in two months’ time.”

And she’s not alone. EROS (Ed Reid’s Optimism Scale) isn’t as scientifically measured as the BDO version, but I’d say it’s definitely starting to move into positive territory. As I travel round North Yorkshire business owners are far more upbeat and far more optimistic than they were this time last year.

The web design boss is a good example. The housing market has traditionally been viewed as the barometer of the UK economy, but if you want to know how optimistic business owners are then talking to a good web designer isn’t a bad place to start. After all, if you’re feeling gloomy and trying to cut back the last thing you’re going to do is spend money upgrading your website. ‘No thanks, the one we’ve got will do for now.’

I’d suggest a commitment to upgrading your website – and the attendant spending on content and social media that goes with it – indicates two things: a) you’re feeling optimistic about the immediate future and b) you’re feeling good about your company’s medium and long term prospects as well.

So is there any more than my general feelings and one conversation with a web designer to suggest that the outlook for UK plc – or at least the North Yorkshire division of the company – may be rather more rosy than the official figures suggest? I think there may be…

• Conversations around the table at TAB meetings are increasingly turning to the need to hire new people. That’s not a vague feeling that someone ‘might be needed,’ or a Board member relating anecdotal evidence from somewhere else, that’s someone saying, ‘If we’re to meet the demand – or if we’re to achieve what we’re capable of achieving – then we are very shortly going to need some additional staff.’

• Yesterday saw the annual Venturefest at York Racecourse. For the last two years the ‘buzz’ around the event has been remarkable: this year it was even more pronounced. New businesses, expanding businesses, potential investors, success stories… it is impossible to come away from the event without feeling that business in the region is on the up and up. And generally speaking, you’re hard pressed to come away without a potential new client or customer as well.

• Finally, the banks are currently very positive about the prospects for a well-run SME. I think there’s understandable reluctance among business owners who don’t want to put work into an application which they feel may be turned down – but the bank managers I know are looking to lend. Similarly corporate and commercial lawyers are reporting increased activity and potential investors (who have hovered on the sidelines until recently) now seem much more willing to take the plunge.

So all in all, I think the future looks bright. Of course the economy is still fragile – only a fool would think otherwise – but at least in North Yorkshire there are plenty of green shoots appearing. And I’m not just talking about the daffodils…

Farming, Facebook and Fundamentals


I was driving along in the car – yes, I know I start a lot of the blogs in this way but, like most people, driving gives me chance to think!

Someone on Radio 4 was reading an anecdote called ‘The Parable of the Ox.’ At home that night I Googled it to get the full story, and found a couple of fascinating articles, one in the Financial Times and one here from a writer called John Kay.

In the early years of the last century country fairs in the USA used to have a competition – guess the weight of the ox. Kay builds on this original story (I really do recommend it) and compares the country fairs to the modern stock market, with people speculating wildly on the weight of the ox. The smart operators realised what was important wasn’t the actual weight of the ox, but what people thought the weight of the ox was going to be. (Or, to extend the analogy, it isn’t the real value of a share that’s important, it’s what people think the value of the share will eventually be.)

John Kay’s article includes one truly excellent paragraph:

Some, such as old Farmer Buffet, claimed that the results of this process … were divorced from the realities of ox-rearing. He was ignored. True, Farmer Buffet’s beasts did appear healthy and his finances were ever more prosperous. But it was agreed, he was a simple countryman who did not really understand how markets worked.

I’ve written before about my admiration for Warren Buffet – in particular I compared the sale of Instagram (a company which at that time had never made a cent in profits) for $1bn in the same week as Warren Buffet spent $2bn on a power plant that would supply power to homes in California for the foreseeable future. What can you say? Buffet is just a simple countryman, who doesn’t really understand how technology is changing the whole business paradigm.

After all, here are some ‘metrics’ that modern wisdom dictates you absolutely have to know.

How many ‘likes’ do you have on Facebook?
How many Twitter followers do you have?
How many people visited your website yesterday?
Where were they from?
And how long did they spend on the site?
How many Google+ circles are you in?

And the list goes on…

I’m not saying that these new measurements aren’t important. Far from it – I think social media has an increasing part to play in your marketing mix and you ignore it at your peril. But some of the gurus and commentators might just be suffering from ENCS – Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome.

After all, just pop down to Tesco to your local independent butcher and try spending Facebook likes, Twitter followers and website visitors. I suspect the man in the stripy apron will be unimpressed.

Net profit is a different matter.

I know this is dreadfully old fashioned but whatever business you’re in you need a steady stream of new clients/customers and you need to sell a product or service profitably to those customers.

I was chatting to one of my Board members the other day: he’s in the financial services industry. You may be aware that they’ve just gone through (yet another) upheaval with the Retail Distribution Review. “RDR doesn’t really change anything, Ed,” he said. “We still need a regular flow of new clients; we still need to give them first class service and providing that service has to be profitable.”

Spot on. So I’ll make no apology for constantly reminding Board members of the importance of their basic KPIs. As Farmer Buffet might have put it, my job is to help you raise a fine, healthy ox – which you can sell for more than the cost of raising it. Not to worry about how many ‘likes’ your ox has on Facebook…

I wrote this on Thursday lunchtime. Later the same day it was announced that Warren Buffet’s company Berkshire Hathaway (along with private equity firm 3G) was paying $28bn to acquire Heinz. Baked beans and tomato ketchup – it doesn’t come much more fundamental than that.

2013 – The Year you Become a Media Company


Let’s start with a simple question. What do Red Bull do? They make an energy drink. We all know that. ‘Red Bull Gives You Wings!’ as we’ve seen so often on their deceptively simple ads.

So why, if you go to the front page of the Red Bull website, is there no mention of an energy drink? Sebastian Vettel, Novak Djokovic, skateboarding, gaming, surfing… Not one mention of an energy drink.

And that’s before we talk about Felix Baumgartner and Red Bull Stratos – as I wrote a few weeks ago, probably the most effective piece of sponsorship in the history of marketing.

What Red Bull are doing here is creating a lifestyle around their product, and they’re creating content to tell their story. What’s more, they’re doing it so well that many people who don’t ever drink Red Bull (that would be me) will quite happily read what they’ve written and watch the videos. In short, they’re doing media better than some of the media companies and – as one article I read put it – connecting with their customers’ “passion points.”

Another company travelling down the same road are Coca-Cola. They’ve recently launched The Coca Cola Journey. Go and have a look: it’s a million miles from the traditional site you’d expect to find – and the comparisons with Red Bull are obvious. They’re both moving towards being media companies.

But, you’ll argue, Red Bull and Coke have nothing to do with me. They’re global players. I’m running a 5 man SME in North Yorkshire and I’ve no plans to move beyond North Yorkshire. The last thing I need to worry about is “media” – whatever “media” means these days…

Wrong.

I assume that most of you use the brilliantly simple Dropbox. Whether you do or you don’t, go to their website and take a look. You’ll find a short (less than two minutes) video telling you exactly what they do. I find I’m increasingly looking for a video like this when I go to a website. Tell me what you do, show me how it works – and do it in two minutes or less.

Recently I wanted a simple, initially free, app that would analyse some social media stats for me. There were about four or five possibilities: the one I opted for was the one that had the two minute introductory video.

I know that’s a million miles away from Red Bull and Coke – but it’s a small step on the same road. And I think 2013 is going to be the year when a lot of us find ourselves taking that first small step. It’s the year to be in front of a camera or a tape recorder, making a short video for your website or recording a podcast.

Nothing – and nobody – tells your story like you do. Nothing gives potential customers the chance to know, like and trust you better than your own words. I appreciate that for many people it will be a serious step outside their comfort zone – but it’s the direction the world is moving in. At TAB we’re already starting to use video testimonials on YouTube and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

If your website runs on WordPress or a similar content management system it’s very easy to upload a short video. Go ahead and have a go. And think outside the box a little bit. It doesn’t have to be shot in your office. We live in an incredibly beautiful part of the world, so think about the Moors, the Wolds or the coast as a backdrop.

I’m absolutely convinced this is a great way to tell your story and introduce yourself to potential new customers and clients. You can say an awful lot in two minutes, and in one of next year’s early posts I’ll take a look at the content you should include. In the meantime I’ll leave you to reflect on your customers’ “passion points.” That should drive away the first chills of winter…

It’s Not About You…


– I’ve got an awesome record collection and I’m captain of the football team and I swim I work out every day I really do yeah I know a lot about films and I’m really sensitive gosh you have lovely eyes don’t worry if a fat man puts you in a bag in December I told Santa I wanted you for Christmas ha ha ha that was just a joke no seriously my parents are out right now if you know what I mean…

– No thank you. I’d rather take up stamp collecting.

A scene repeated wherever there are teenagers. And yes, if you want to know, a sixth-form pal of mine suggested that a stunningly attractive young lady might like to run her fingers through his vinyl. She replied with ‘stamp collecting.’ Possibly the most devastating put-down in the history of the world and twenty years on he still hasn’t recovered…

But what’s that got to do with you? And specifically, what has it got to do with your website?

Simply this.

Most company websites have an ‘About’ page – the page where visitors can – surprise, surprise – learn all about you. If they don’t call it an ‘About’ page then it might called ‘our people’ or ‘meet the team.’

I think this is one of the most important pages on a website. Very often, it’s the second page I visit after the home page: maybe the third if they have a blog. But 99% of the time I leave the About page wondering why I bothered.

Here’s a wholly fictitious example of what I mean. Let’s imagine I’m looking for a large firm of accountants to handle my hugely successful manufacturing business. The guy I’ve been with for ten years can’t cope any more: it’s time to move to a big company in somewhere like Leeds or Manchester. I find a firm and click on the senior partner’s profile:

After graduating from Leicester University in 1984 with a degree in accountancy, X joined Price Waterhouse as a trainee. He passed his accountancy exams in 1986 (finishing 7th out of more than 2,000 entrants). Initially specialising in insolvency work X quickly developed a reputation for…

And so and so on, possibly for another 400 words.

How much wiser am I at the end? None. Senior partner X has used his profile to tell me how competent he is. But I already knew that. He wouldn’t be the senior partner with a large firm of accountants if he wasn’t competent.

He’s written what he wanted to write. Not what I wanted to read. In exactly the same way as my pal blurted out what he wanted to say, not what she wanted to hear.

I wanted to know if I liked my potential accountant: if we had any interests in common, if having a long term business relationship with him would be a good experience. All the senior partners in Leeds or Manchester are going to be competent: I’m looking for the one that I’ll like.

I’m looking for an About page – not a CV page.

This is a fundamental truth and yet it is ignored by 99% of corporate websites. As Jane Austen might have said, ‘It is a truth that should be universally acknowledged that a corporate website must be in want of a good ‘About’ page.’

I know that it can be difficult for some people to open up – and I know that writing an About page is seriously difficult. But it’s worth making the effort – it marks you out as different and it can be the start of a profitable, long term relationship with a client.

So let’s all help each other. Send me examples of what you think are really good ‘About’ pages (not your own!) That way we can all see examples of best practice – and improve what really is a crucial part of our website.

Anyway, enough from me for this week. The boys are out: I’m alone with my wife and a bottle of red wine. Maybe she’d like to leaf through my collection of football programmes…