Business


Five o’clock on Friday afternoon, it’s been a good day. Most of the items on your daily to-do list have been crossed out. However, you’re getting your usual late afternoon second (or third?) wind. Your brain is still clicking. You could put in a few more hours of work.

Then a thought rears up in your mind, or is it a little devil on the shoulder? Wouldn’t a glass of beer or wine taste good right about now? Yes, it would. It would be especially good with that pimento cheese in the refrigerator. What to do, what to do…

The beauty of a home office, the refrigerator is just steps away. But now you’re torn: stop working (it is the weekend after all) or relax with your favorite refreshing brew while getting a bit more done.

You can have it all. There are plenty of productive tasks you can do while enjoying a beverage. Or two.

Thank you cards. You send thank you cards, don’t you? No, it’s not passé. Take a sip and shop online for handmade cards. Etsy’s a good place to start.

Addresses. Save time later by hunting down the addresses you’ll need for those thank you cards. But don’t write the cards. No no no. No permanent writing is allowed right now.

Read. Expand your mind by reading blogs and websites outside your niche. If you’re a blogger, jot down post ideas. Take notes. Doodle. Get inspired. Make connections between random ideas.

Listen. Listen to podcasts. I like catching up on NPR shows I’ve missed, like Fresh Air or This American Life. What do you like?

Tidy up. While you’re listening to the podcast, clean and organize your desk. Clutter has such bad juju. Clean your dusty computer screen and crumby keyboard. But move your beer first. A tipped over beverage can lead to a short-circuited keyboard. It’s not important why I know this. While you’re at it, does the floor need a sweep?

Organize. Start your to-do list for next week. Jot down some of your big ideas for the future.

Tweet. Twitter’s great for conversation and random reading. Find an interesting hashtag to search and read. But please, no drunk tweeting. Stop after two beers. You’ll thank me later.

Emails. If you really want to be productive, draft emails you need to send, but don’t enter the email address into the To field and don’t even think about sending them.

Inbox. Power through your inbox. Delete the crap. Skim or read the newsletters. Mark things to read later.

Play. Exercise your creative muscle. Write in your journal. Make a visionboard (oops, I just lost half the crowd). Or do whatever creative hobby you practice.

Draft. Draft articles, reports, letters or blog posts about productive things you can do while having a beer with pimento cheese and crackers. Edit and publish later.

What productive work-related things do you do while you’re enjoying a beverage?

working work productivity drinking beer wine

photo by Karl Baron/Flickr

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When my boyfriend asked me out for the first time, I replied, “Dinner? Why not find a minister and get married instead?” But he explained that I should get to know him first, learn more about him and grow to trust him. He used that approach successfully in sales, he said, so we should give it a try.

No, I did not try to drag my boyfriend to a chapel on our first date, but there’s sound advice in that silly story. I’ve been thinking about how we grow to trust and invest in a person, for example, a presidential candidate, or a cause, organization or business.

In the next few months the presidential campaigns will take over our papers, computers and TV sets. We’ll soon learn more about each candidate’s stance on issues and plans to solve problems. We’ll find out about their experience and get a feel for their character. We’ll get to know them better. We’ll grow to trust some of them. And we may even take out our credit card and make a donation.

Why do presidential campaigns attract donations from people who never give money to any other political candidates or causes? It always confounded me that our PAC had such trouble raising money from most of our members. The members who were regularly involved in the association were staunch PAC supporters, but the average member usually wasn’t. Yet those average members often gave liberally to presidential candidates. What were Obama and Bush doing that the PAC wasn’t?

Two reasons jump out at me:

  • The candidates practice content marketing. They educate their market through constant exposure on the news, in publications, online and in person. We absorb their stories and messaging. We have time to get to know them — their personality, background, opinions, beliefs and plans. They establish credibility. We grow to trust them. When they ask for a donation, we’re ready to give.
  • They communicate effectively. If they’re not a good communicator, they will be gone by Super Tuesday. They hire professional writers to craft their speeches, website content and campaign materials. They provide enough data to appeal to the logical part of our brains, but they focus on appealing to our emotions. They empathize. They instill hope or fear. They promise solutions to our problems. They paint a picture of a better life. Sounds like a good copywriter, doesn’t it?

If a candidate, cause or business doesn’t give us the opportunity to get to know them and trust them, we won’t make that big donation or purchase.

When’s the last time you answered a cold call from a roofer and said, “Yes, come on over, I’ll have a check waiting for you.” We don’t buy from cold calls. We research first to determine if we can trust the roofer. We ask around. We check out his website to get a feel for the company. What can we learn there? What messages do we get from the site’s content?

The next time you want to ask someone for a donation or a sale, imagine you’re dating them. How well do they really know you? What kind of life stories have you told? Have you been listening to them? Do you understand where they’re coming from? How will you improve their life? Can they trust you?

If you’re not ready to pop the question, think about ways your prospects can get to know you better. Take a hard look at your website’s content and your marketing collateral. Make your website more robust and Google-friendly by adding a regularly updated blog where you share content that helps you establish credibility, authority and trust with your market. Make it easy for your prospect to say, “I do.”

raleigh freelance writer content marketing

photo by Phil Hawksworth

What’s the old saying? For every three people who praise your business, ten others complain about you? That may be hogwash, but I know from experience that the last thing a business owner wants is someone running their mouth off about a bad customer service experience, especially if we were never given the chance to make it right.

Social media gives us a platform to bitch about the ways we’ve been done wrong, and that negative buzz spreads quickly. The good news is we also use social media to rave about our good experiences. If businesses are smart, they’re listening and will turn a negative into a positive by responding, taking action and learning.

But I’m not here to talk about the bad guys. I’m focusing on businesses (and non-profits) whose customer service or marketing has impressed me lately. I’ll shine a monthly spotlight on a few smarties whose actions, large or small, made me smile.

Small gestures start relationships.

I never expect to get anything for free. If I do, I’m instinctually suspicious. What’s their angle? Sometimes, however, generous gestures are made with good intentions.

Days before vacation, my reading glasses fell apart. With a pile of new books to read, ack, what a disaster! I searched for a local eyeglasses store with hopes they’d fix my glasses for a decent price without trying to hard-sell me into buying a new pair.

If you’ve worn glasses a long time, you might think this experience isn’t so unusual. But I really didn’t expect Oasis Eye Care to repair my glasses for free — in less than five minutes and with a friendly helpful attitude. I would have paid, what do I know? When I’m ready to buy a new pair of glasses, guess where I’m going?

Lesson: Small gestures that don’t cost much and don’t take much effort mean more to your prospects and customers than you realize. We’re grateful and we remember. We also remember when you nickel-and-dime us. And we talk.

The next examples are inspired by a conference I didn’t attend because I was at the beach reading books with my repaired glasses. However, I read enough recap blog posts and tweets to form an impression about these three organizations. Social media is some powerful stuff, huh?

Give back, get buzz, have fun.

DelCor Technology Solutions, a member and exhibitor at the recent American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) conference, found a way to donate money to a charity while creating buzz and attracting attendees to their exhibit booth for a bit of fun.

Their blog and tweets invited attendees to visit their booth and have their photos taken with a life-size cardboard cutout of one of their advertising characters. If the visitor tweeted her photo, she was eligible to win a $500 donation for her favorite charity. I have no idea how successful this was, but I love the spirit (and savvy) behind it, so that’s enough to get them into the Smart Set this month.

Lesson: While the competition tries to create awareness and traffic by doing the same old things (visit our booth for a chance to win an iPad!), offer a different experience, one that makes everyone feel good – good about themselves and good about you. Appeal to our hearts and tickle-bones, our mind will follow.

smart marketing

DelCor's booth at #ASAE11

Listen, learn and improve.

The blogosphere’s reaction to last year’s ASAE conference was mixed. Many people, including myself, were hesitant about attending another unless changes were made to improve the learning experience. After hearing reports about this year’s conference, I’ve moved back into the positive camp.

ASAE obviously listened to complaints about last year’s conference and took them very seriously. Several blog posts, for example, here, here and here, praise ASAE for the improved attendee experience.

Lesson: Never get complacent. Don’t live in a bubble. Keep your eyes and ears open to new ideas. Listen to your gadflies. What’s the worst thing that can happen if you try a few new things? Let your competition sit on their butts, you’ve got new trails to climb. Think how good it will feel once you’re on the summit.

Make a lasting impression.

St. Louis hosted the ASAE Annual Meeting and went all out for the “association for associations.” #ASAE11 was their audition for the executives who choose cities for future conferences and trade shows. They knew it and they didn’t miss a beat. Their well-coordinated efforts to welcome and help attendees were a topic of discussion on Twitter and in session rooms. Even the mayor sent out an alert to city businesses.

st louis marketing

And he kept on tweeting throughout the conference, replying to attendees and retweeting tourist tips.

marketing smart set

The locals tweeted back, making suggestions for restaurants, bars and other places to visit. They helped to sell another one of the city’s charms — helpful friendly residents. I’d be willing to bet that the St. Louis CVB will receive a lot of calls from meeting planners in the near future.

Lesson: Know when to make a big impression for the long-term. Your job is to not only serve that customer tonight but to get him raving about you to his friends and colleagues and get him back in the door for another visit.

That’s the Smart Set for this month. If you’ve been impressed by the marketing or service of a smart company or organization lately, let me know in the comments. They might be candidates for next month’s Smart Set.

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Just one more thing: Someone asked me about the phrase “Color Me Impressed.” It’s the title of a Replacements song from 1983. Were any of you at their 1989 show at the Warner Theater in DC?

I don’t go through business cards as quickly as I used to. I don’t collect as many either. I think I know why. Does this scenario sound familiar to you? You’re chatting at a networking event with a new acquaintance and remark on each other’s Twitter handle on their badge. You both pull up your mobile Twitter application, go to the other’s profile, follow them and add them to a list. Done. You’re connected. You could do the same by using your mobile LinkedIn application or bumping Pokens or iPhones. How many times have you done that and walked away without even thinking about exchanging cards?

But we still need cards. Not everyone is active on social networks. Sometimes cards are just easier. Plus how else can we win a free lunch from the card bowl at our favorite restaurant? Andy Sernovitz featured a smart business card in a recent post on Damn! I Wish I’d Thought of That. His uncle has magnetic cards showing the Packers schedule. Andy points out that his uncle’s card, unlike many, will be displayed on people’s refrigerators for all to see throughout the football season – more marketing punch for his money.

If you’re not a sports fan, what other handy info could you include?

  • Cooking equivalents, for example, 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
  • Metric conversions
  • Fahrenheit/Celsius conversions
  • Local school year calendar with important dates marked

Cards like this also make good trade show swag – they’re both useful and easy to tote home.

Andy’s post was timely for me since I’m thinking about my next order of business cards. Since I’m focusing more and more on freelance writing and blogging, my cards need to reflect that. I’m even thinking about different cards for different audiences: perhaps one for my primary audience, the association industry, who needs help with blog strategy, content and marketing; and another for a broader audience who needs website and marketing copy.

Before I print my new cards, I’ll work with a designer to create an overall look for my Reid All About It brand. The cards will reflect that style. Cards are often the first impression someone gets of your business. You could go for quirky, like this Mad Libs style card. That’s fun, but it’s not me. Make sure your card design is appropriate for your brand.

effective business cards

Know your market. Guitar shop "cards." Flickr photo by MikeBlogs.

Going to a conference or trade show soon? Print cards specifically for the conference that remind the person where they met you. If you’re exhibiting at the show, include the booth number and tell them why they’d want to visit – what’s in it for them? Include the conference Twitter hashtag and a link to a special landing page for conference attendees on your website.

QR (Quick Response) codes are the latest trend for business cards. These codes are scanned by smartphone cameras to automatically pull up website URLs or contact info.

Here are more tips for business cards:

Make it very clear on the card how you can help a person or company. Don’t assume that your title makes it clear; be more descriptive than that by using a tagline.

You have limited real estate and attention span. Make every word count, even in your contact info.

Use both sides of the card. One side can focus on how they can connect with you, and the other side can focus on how you can help them.

Make your cards user-friendly.

  • Leave some white (or light) space so people can jot down notes about you.
  • Use the largest size font for your name. Don’t make middle-aged people squint.
  • Glossy finishes are difficult to write on. Consider other finishes.

In addition to your website URL and email address, add your Twitter username to your card. Don’t load up your cards with all your social profiles; just add the ones that can assist your marketing.

Remember, your card is part of your professional brand. As Tim Gunn would say, make it work.

One last thing, and judging by all the rants I’ve seen on Twitter about this, I’m not alone in feeling this way: You don’t have permission to add me to your newsletter list just because I gave you my business card. If you’d like to tell me about your newsletter, do so in an email first. Give me the option to opt-in; don’t force me to opt-out.

What other business card tips do you have to share?