Website Wonderland

 

July 2016 monitor with truckDuring the 1980’s, I was always asked if I had a business card so that prospective clients could call me. In the 1990’s, the question became, “What’s your email address so I can write to you?” By 2000, both of these queries were replaced with, “Do you have a website?”

There’s no question that websites have evolved into a highly popular tool for showcasing products and services, providing customers with 24/7 access and attracting media pros seeking interesting stories to put in front of their readers and viewers. That websites are so commonly in vogue today prompted an associate of mine to recently remark that whenever she hears a business doesn’t have an online presence, she can’t help but wonder if (1) if it’s really a legitimate entity or (2) it’s just too lazy to embrace the technology.

Obviously neither assessment is a fair one to make if you don’t know anything about the company or its reputation. In the first place, the existence of a website isn’t an ironclad guarantee of authenticity, nor is there a correlation of authenticity based on how slick/polished/glam the screen looks or how many moving parts there are to seduce your senses. Many an aspiring model or screenwriter, for instance, has been taken in by bogus agencies and production companies that use eye-popping graphics, persuasive language and effusive testimonials that sometimes have no basis in truth. Secondly, the absence of a website could be either a planned decision on the part of management to focus on traditional advertising or a reflection of temporary confusion on how to build a website from scratch.

If you want to avoid the expense of hiring someone to build it for you (and if you don’t count yourself among the computer-savvy), the good news is that there are plenty of software programs, books and online resources to painlessly walk you through the process. The bad news, though, is that an amateur-looking website won’t do you or your company any favors; in fact, it could be worse than not having a website at all.

Once you have it up and running, the challenge is then to keep it interesting enough that visitors will keep returning to see what’s new. To accomplish that, you need to think of your website in terms of a car dealership. Let’s say, for example, that you drive past the same lot twice a day on your commute to work. If you always see exactly the same line-up of cars out front, there will quickly come a point that you no longer bother to even glance in their direction. Since the owner of the dealership can’t afford passersby to be indifferent to the inventory, s/he routinely rotates the vehicles. “Wow!” you exclaim one day. “Was that orange truck always there? I wonder why it never caught my eye before…”

The reality is that the orange truck was always there but just parked in a different place. Once you notice the orange truck, you’re going to start paying attention again and wondering what other kinds of vehicles are available for sale.

The same principle applies to websites. Even if you’re simply reshuffling the contents and changing the color scheme, you’re laying the groundwork to drive repeat visitors to your door.

Excerpted from MEDIA MAGNETISM: HOW TO ATTRACT THE FAVORABLE PUBLICITY YOU WANT AND DESERVE (Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle)

Help Wanted

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Back in the days when I worked in state government, I always viewed summer with a mixed sense of anticipation and dread. Summer was the season of interns, the season when the floodgates would open and spill forth dozens of cattle-call applicants in their late teens and early twenties. Although these positions were unpaid, it was management’s vision of a win/win scenario: the interns would get work experience to put on their resumes and the rest of us would get a cadre of malleable minions to do the filing, open mail, stock supplies, and run errands.

While now and again we’d delight in finding a true gem who had the skill sets, initiative, and leadership qualities that could one day translate to a full-time job with us, the majority of them were clearly not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Among them:

  • The one who threw out any mail that personally didn’t look interesting to her. (She asked me why we never got fashion magazines or People.)
  • The one who filed all the travel claims under “S” for “someone who took a trip.”
  • The one who took over an hour to deliver a file to an office located on the same floor. (If we had traced his footprints, they would have looked like Billy’s from a Family Circus)

As the saying goes, good help is hard to find. Bad help (which is worse than no help at all) can take years off your life, cause costly mistakes and jeopardize your reputation. While government agencies and nonprofits have no problem doing shout-outs for extra pairs of hands, a lot of sole proprietors I’ve known over the years are not as willing to admit they’re getting overwhelmed. A part of it, I think, is that they want to maintain the image they’re completely in control (albeit exhausted to the point of collapse). They’re also cognizant of the reality that in the length of time it takes to train a helper how to do something – or correct how the helper did it totally wrong – they could easily have just done it themselves.

Whether you’re looking to go the intern route for short-term projects or planning to one day expand your small business and put out the call for prospective employees, it’s critical to have a clear sense of what you want, how much supervision you want/need to provide, and what the participants can potentially gain from the experience of working with you. The more “ownership” they feel they have in the process and the outcome, the more pride they’ll take in paying attention and doing their assignments well.

These same elements apply to situations where you’re subcontracting with local vendors to provide services (i.e., catering) or outsourcing product-oriented tasks (i.e., assembling goods) to an off-site team an ocean away and with whom you have no physical interaction or quality control mechanism. While you may have the highest trust that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to, the bride whose flowers aren’t delivered on time or the client who receives 500 logo key chains with the company name misspelled isn’t going to mad at your helpers; they’re going to be mad at you for allowing that mistake to happen in the first place.

*****

Here’s the lineup of my guest contributors this month:

Take the Sting Out of Stress When Moving Offices – by Zachary Rook

And, Or, But – How to Handle Objections – by Julie Garland McLellan

How To Design a Marketable Signature System – by Ling Wong

Using Lists to Draw Web Traffic and Media Attention – by Mickie Kennedy

The Business of Being Creative

Painter

Several years ago at a party someone asked me what type of business I was in. “I’m a writer,” I replied. “No, I meant for a real job,” she said. Despite the fact I’ve been a full-time wordsmith for some time and earn a good income from it, her response wasn’t an uncommon one. When you have a career that pays you to have fun, it somehow flies in the face of conventional wisdom – and parental nay saying- that you’re just not treating the concept of “work” seriously enough.

Unfortunately, I’ve encountered a number of aspiring writers, artists and musicians that are apologists for their own talent, boxing themselves into the category of hobbyists on the argument that they haven’t been discovered yet. To support themselves until that day arrives, the salary they draw from being employed by someone else often becomes the excuse to avoid thinking about how they’re going to be their own boss.

This is a self-defeating mindset on several levels, the most important being that if you’re not treating your creative endeavors as both a brand and a business right now and spending the time and money to be successful, no one else will invest in your dream, either.

Even if your passion is currently in the part-time/evening/weekend stage:

  • Do you have a well defined marketing plan?
  • Do you have a presence on social media?
  • Do you hold regular staff meetings with yourself?
  • Do you set weekly goals?
  • Are you willing to cut poorly performing divisions (i.e., low-paying markets)
  • Do you research what your competition is doing?
  • Do you really know who your audience is?
  • Are you staying abreast of current trends and technology?
  • Do you constantly look for ways to repurpose/reinvent/recycle past projects into exciting new ones?
  • Do you reward yourself when your one-person team does well?

Creative types are also the least likely to pay attention to what they have to pay in taxes or what types of business expenses are allowable as deductions.

Herein are six tips to lessen the pain of tax season (and possibly avoid an audit):

  1. Even if you haven’t made the transition to a full-time creative (and your relatives still refer to this quest as your “little hobby”), it’s critical to treat your craft like the professional enterprise it is. If you don’t have one already, there should be a designated “home office” space in which you can perform, uninterrupted, the principal tasks relevant to your biz. If this space is used exclusively and regularly for that purpose, you may be able to claim a tax deduction for costs associated with its maintenance (including utilities and repairs). Note: If your art/music/writing really is a hobby, the deductions you claim can’t exceed the total amount you have earned.
  2. When you work for someone else, a lot of deductions come out of your paycheck before you ever see it – the largest of these typically being state and federal income tax. If you’re a freelancer, the responsibility to estimate these amounts is up to you. For every check you receive, set aside approximately 25 percent of it so you won’t be caught short when annual taxes are due. If you’re bringing in large sums of freelance money on a regular basis – as opposed to occasional dribs and drabs – you’ll need to make estimated tax payments every quarter.
  3. Familiarize yourself with what’s a legitimate business expense and what’s not. If, for instance, you’re writing a biography about Beethoven, you’re likely to show up on a tax auditor’s radar if you went out and bought yourself a grand piano for $100,000 to just sit in your living room and inspire you. On the other hand, a $2 pair of earplugs so you can immerse yourself in Ludwig’s world of silence would qualify as a research tool. Other deductible expenses include resource materials (books, periodicals, tapes), office equipment and supplies, business insurance and licenses, membership fees, conferences and subscriptions, telecommunications, photocopying and postage, and marketing. Travel, meals and entertainment may also be deductible if there’s a verifiable correlation to your business.
  4. Keep detailed records and receipts for everything you plan to claim as a business-related expense. And no, we don’t recommend throwing everything into a shoebox. Set up an Excel file or purchase an accounting software program to judiciously log every money transaction that comes in or goes out. Create a back-up file and store it somewhere other than where you keep the original.
  5. Don’t toss your rejection letters. Yes, yes, we know they’re painful reminders that someone didn’t like your work and you’d just as soon rid yourself of the evidence. When you’re just starting out, however, this paper (or email) trail of correspondence serves as proof that you have actually been trying to hone your craft. Otherwise, that pricey new computer you’re claiming as a business expense could raise suspicions that you’re only using it for games and watching cat videos on YouTube. Keep in mind that you have to be earning something from this creative endeavor and that it has to be more than what you’re trying to claim on deductions.
  6. Hire a professional who is well versed in the tax laws and filing requirements specific to freelancers home-based small businesses. Even if you’re as savvy with numbers as you are with words, tax preparation can be stressful. (And really now, shouldn’t you be putting your brain to better use thinking of a plot for your next book or the subject of your next painting?) If you do try to go it alone, second-guessing what’s allowable, what isn’t and which form to fill out could get you in trouble. FAQs can be found on your country’s tax authority website along with a help line to speak with an expert.

*****

Here’s the line-up of this month’s guest bloggers:

Can Introverts Excel at Publicity? – by Marcia Yudkin

Level the Playing Field Using Sponsored Content – by Roger Wu

The Anatomy of a Killer Facebook Ad – by Jasmine Batra

 

 

 

One Size Does Not Fit All

 

One Size

In my line of work, I often hear from authors who have written a novel, memoir or theatrical production and want my advice on how to adapt it to a different medium, typically a screenplay. The rationale behind this isn’t just that movies represent the gold standard of fame and fortune; it’s the perception that if an idea is really spiffy, it should be able to shine in multiple venues.

Hollywood, of course, is replete with examples of why this isn’t true. How many times, for instance, have TV shows that were popular in their heyday been expensively repackaged for the silver screen, only to flop miserably? Likewise, how many adaptations of your favorite books have turned out to be a disappointment because the director’s vision wasn’t the same plot that played in your head while you were reading? And who among us doesn’t have a friend or family member who pens hilarious emails but would be a total deer in the headlights if s/he were encouraged to pursue a career in stand-up comedy?

How can these variations fail, people wonder, when the source material had so much going for it?

Individuals and organizations tend to view media outlets in a similar, one-size fits-all context. Because these entities are all in the business of promoting products, services and events, it’s not uncommon to assume that their procedures, timeframes, expectations and rules of etiquette are interchangeable. The small business owner who is accustomed to submitting newsy notes to a weekly newspaper on Monday morning for publication in that Thursday’s edition is, thus, thrown for a loop to discover that magazines and trade journals have lead-times of several months. The bloggers whose comfort zone has always been a casual chat with virtual fans may be daunted by the inherent structure of doing a live show, despite their familiarity with the topic. Even something as commonplace as email – a ritual that most of us take for granted – is foreign turf to those who have never learned how to type nor mastered the skills to type particularly well.

The fact that today’s media opportunities can arrive in any size, shape or format makes it incumbent upon you to stop clinging to yesterday’s outdated practices. When the chance to tell the world who you are comes knocking on your door, your ability to respond with confidence, flexibility and professionalism will dictate how smoothly the experience flows and whether you’ll be contacted again in the future.

Suffice it to say, the latter scenario is often based on the spin-off value of what you represent as an entertaining, informative and reliable commodity. It’s not so much how many names and phone numbers of media personnel you have in your office Rolodex but how many of them have your contact information on file. On many occasions, for instance, I get calls from newsletter and magazine editors who suddenly have a spot to fill as the result of another writer missing a deadline or delivering a story that just doesn’t click. Having already demonstrated my ability to write material that resonates with their readership, I’m among the first people they think of to come to the rescue or to liven up a slow news day.

That same strategy is essential in fostering mutual trust with your own media contacts. Be the person they know they can rely on to consistently give them what they want, including fresh ideas for what they may not even have thought they want yet. In the words of Mickey Spillane, “The first page sells your book. The last page sells your next book.”

Never give them a reason to stop reading…and anticipating.

*****

Here’s the line-up of this month’s guest bloggers:

Why Old-Fashioned Media Still Rocks – by Dr. Neryl East

Event Safety and Risk Assessment – by Mike James

Calming the Crisis, or Fueling One? – by Philip Owens

Releasing Your Project at the Perfect Time – by Alijah Villian

Un-Googling the Art of Online Ads – by Ben Bradshaw

You Like Me, You Really Like Me! (Wait a Minute – Was That a Trick Question?)

 

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No matter how accomplished someone is at designing landscapes, selling cupcakes or writing novels, common sense has an unfortunate way of flying out the window whenever the press comes calling with a request for an interview. For those unaccustomed to being in the media spotlight, there’s a tendency to embrace a predisposed view that every reporter will be (1) their new best friend or (2) their worst enemy.

To err in either extreme not only impacts the comfort level of both parties but also colors the quality – and quantity – of content imparted. In my years as a freelance journalist, I’ve had no shortage of interviewees who giddily hug me upon first introduction, blather on about their last vacation, or tearfully confide they had terrible childhoods that no amount of therapy can remedy. I was even asked once if I could pick up a latte for a female bank executive on my way to our meeting because she hadn’t had time for breakfast. (Apparently she had already decided that such are the favors one asks of potential BFFs.) On the flip side, I’ve had just as many interviewees who – when asked why they went into the cupcake business – folded their arms, squirmed in their chairs, squinted their eyes and responded defensively, “Why do you want to know?”

The fact of the matter is that unless you’ve pilfered squillions from the company coffers or bulldozed the habitat of endangered muskrats to expand your parking lot, the media only wants one thing in a feature profile or advertorial: to get great stories from individuals who have not only positioned themselves as experts in topical, consumer-interest subjects but who can also provide entertaining, well-focused, informative, inspirational and/or memorable segments with a strong takeaway value for the media outlet’s core audience.

If you adhere to that approach in your professional relationships with the press, you’ll soon become the media darling who gets invited back time and again…and at absolutely no advertising cost to your business.

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Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

Conquering Sales the Entrepreneurial Way – by Mandy Wildman

Next Stop, Success: A How-To Guide For Interns – by Olivia Meena

Ask the Content Marketing Guru: 6 FAQs on Low Cost Lead Driving – by Taylor Calhoun

Is an SEO Specialist Really Necessary for Your Business? – by Clare Evans

Podcasting: Separating Yourself From The Pack – by Craig Price

 

 

 

Making Every (Sales) Day a Reason to Celebrate

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Kick off those stockings, wiggle your toes and let your footsies breathe free from dawn til dusk. As if you really needed any excuse for barefoot fun, May 8th is No Socks Day, a copyrighted invention from the folks at Wellcat.com. No, your boss won’t give you a day off from work, there’s not going to be a Main Street parade, and it’s also pretty likely you won’t find a greeting card in the Hallmark racks to commemorate this obscure occasion. Still, there’s something special about giving pause – and having cause – to indulge in your favorite things whether it’s an “official” holiday or not.

At http://www.holidayinsights.com/moreholidays, you’ll find a full spectrum of monthly, weekly and daily incentives for unabashed mirth that color outside the lines of traditional calendar listings. As an author, business owner, or nonprofit, access to this list can give you a creative edge over your competition when organizing a fundraiser, introducing a new product, or planning a storewide sale. While everyone else is scrambling in February, for instance, to hype Valentine’s Day, you’ll be the one telling customers that it’s Canned Food Month, Kite Flying Day (February 8), Make a Friend Day (February 11) or Get a Different Name Day (February 13) – any one of which can be the centerpiece of your marketing campaign and extend to discounts and giveaways. (It’s also a fact of life that the media loves anything that offers a fresh, interactive and unexpected twist.)

Consider, for example:

  • January 3 – Fruitcake Toss Day: They may as well be put to some good use. Hold an outdoor competition to see who can throw a fruitcake the farthest.
  • April 8 – Draw a Picture of a Bird Day: It’s not just kid stuff. Display the entries and invite customers to vote on their favorites. The winning picture receives a bird-themed prize.
  • June 6 – National Yo-Yo Day: Dispense free yo-yo’s to everyone who comes in. If they actually know how to perform nifty tricks with one, they get discount coupons.
  • August 18 – Bad Poetry Day: Invite your clientele to submit their worst poems. Stage an evening onsite event with refreshments and recruit local actors to read the entries aloud.
  • September 19 – Talk Like a Pirate Day: Anyone who says “Arghgh” at the point of sale gets a foil-wrapped chocolate doubloon and a discount coupon toward their next purchase.

What’s your best idea for a fictitious holiday to promote your product or services? Send it to me at authorhamlett@cs.com by June 1st and it will be featured – along with your bio and business link – in an upcoming issue of the Media Magnetism newsletter.

In the meantime, here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

Is Grant Writing An Option For You – by La Quetta M. Shamblee, M.B.A.

Common Marketing Terms Defined – by Lillian Brummet

Put Your Company In the News with Free PR Strategies – by Rosalinda Sedacca, CCT

5 Simple Ways to Use Google+ To Your SEO Benefit – by Yasir Khan

 

Springing Into Media Readiness

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Ah – Spring! That time of year when we roll up our sleeves, take stock of our accumulated clutter, and commit to the task of getting better organized. Obviously this would be a less daunting exercise if we simply kept our house in order all the time and ready to entertain guests at a moment’s notice.

Could your in-house PR plan pass the same test of readiness?

Whether you’re an author, entrepreneur or nonprofit, getting – and staying – prepared for a call from the media is job #1.

This blog comes on the heels of a perplexing – and poorly conceived – response to an offer I’d recently made to a small business owner who also happened to be a personal friend. In these tough economic times, I knew that she and her staff were struggling to stay afloat and, further, she couldn’t afford the expertise of a PR firm to help with shout-outs about the products and services she provided. “Tell you what,” I said, “if you can provide me with the answers to a few interview questions along with a great photograph to accompany the article, I can get the story out there within two weeks.”

She was appreciative and effusive in her enthusiasm and promised that she’d put all of her energy into the questionnaire on her upcoming days off. Time passed. When I followed up to see what was accounting for the delay, she replied, “You know, I’m way too tired on my days off to spend them doing any work but maybe I can throw something together for you by the end of next month.”

Throw something together?

In my mind, this prompts three disturbing questions. The first is whether she felt it wasn’t necessary to treat the offer that seriously because it was coming from someone she knew, someone who could say, “Oh, there, there. Really, it’s all right. Take your time. And when you get back to me, I’ll just drop everything else I’m doing.” Secondly, was there some naiveté in play which led her to think that media opportunities come along like busses every ten minutes? If so, why are they not regularly making stops outside her front door? Thirdly – and perhaps the most alarming – how can anyone who has run their own business for more than 24 hours not have a press kit available in case someone requests it? There should be no mad scramble to assemble clips, get testimonials, compose snappy quotes, or grab a digital camera.

Sadly, though, this slapdash mindset isn’t uncommon, particularly with small business owners who either never expect to garner media attention or fail to understand that press deadlines aren’t fluid.

For future reference, they’d be wise to take a page from HR specialists who recommend keeping your resume up-to-date. Even if you’re happy as a clam in your current job and have no plans to leave, a dream opportunity with a short window could suddenly present itself. Such was my own experience many years ago when I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. She was lunching with a colleague who let it drop she had a position to fill and was dreading the upcoming process of advertising it, then interviewing candidates. By the time she returned to her office, there was a fax waiting for her: my resume. Not only did I get the job but I also met my first husband, started an acting company, and was able to return to college.

If being prepared can produce that magnitude of life-changing fortune, imagine what could happen to your business if you’re prepared when media opportunities knock?

Here’s the lineup of this month’s blogs by my guest contributors:

Spring Cleaning Your Email Inbox – by Erika Taylor Montgomery

Adapting Entertainment Publicity Techniques to Your Situation – by Steve Thompson

7 Reasons Why Businesses Hold Their Event in Las Vegas – by Melissa Page

Brand-Building Basics – by R. Travis Shortt

Using a P.R. Strategy to Gain Great Inbound Links – by Thomas Farley