4 common business communication mistakes

Today, a friend of mind asked me to list some of the most common business communication mistakes. Here are the four that I see most often:

No structure/organization: You don’t have to get it exactly right on the first draft, but you should consider the overall purpose of the memo or communication (PPT/etc.) before you even start writing. If you need them to act, you have to tell them why or WIIFM (what’s in it for me) early in the communication. If you are giving them information, you have to put the most important material first. Regardless, you should have an outline before you get started!

“Buried” or “soft” call to action: People are busy, if you want them to act you have to lead with the call to action and make it very clear what you expect them to do. If needed, tell them twice!

Not writing for the audience: Understand who the audience is and what their interests are before you start writing. Sales people don’t need a 3-page memo on an operational process and how it makes the operation more efficient. They need to know how it will impact their sales, and more importantly, their customers.

Selling the features instead of the benefits: Don’t tell mortgage underwriting about how the new system can automatically populate fields on the screen by using a new software called fast pop. Tell them how it will cut the amount of time they spend on busy work and give them more time to make important underwriting decisions.

Bryn is co-founder of Hallett Peak Copywriting, a Central Illinois based freelance copywriting business. For more information on Hallett Peak Copywriting, visit hpcink.com. Follow Hallett Peak Copywriting on Twitter @HPC_Ink for updates on our business and our blog.

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Keywords – The foundation for your SEO strategy, part 2

In Part 1 we covered how to choose your keywords. Now that you’ve got your list, you’ll need to match them to your content.

Step 1: Match keywords to pages on your site

Matching keywords to a specific page on your site is the aspect of your SEO strategy that will connect your customers with the content they’re searching for.

When initially breaking up your content into pages, keep in mind that you’ll only be optimizing each page for a maximum of two words. This means you can include all your products and services on the same page, but it better be a high level overview page optimized for the high level categories. Each of your products or services will then have its own dedicated page, which will be optimized for its own two keywords.

Step 2: Include your keywords in your content

When writing the content for your pages, ignore any advice that tells you to include X number or X% of keywords per page. Write your content for your intended audience. Put keywords (and secondary keywords) where they make sense. That being said, if your keywords don’t make sense on the page, you may want to reconsider the keywords or to which page they are matched.

Make sure to include enough content. No need for a 2,000 word dissertation; copy between 100 and 500 words should be more than enough. Just make sure your page is a good match for the search words you’re targeting.

Step 3: Sprinkle keywords in page elements

To help search engines recognize your page as a good result for the keywords you have chosen, there are several additional places you can add your keywords:

  • Headers
  • Page titles
  • URL
  • Picture and file names

Headers are the in-content titles that help break your content into sections that users can scan. Most internet users don’t read online content, they scan it. Then, once they’ve found what they’re looking for, they’ll dig into the actual content. By including headers you not only make your page more search engine friendly, you also make it more user friendly.

Page titles are those titles and descriptors you find at the top of the browser window or page tab. If you use tabs in Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer we’re sure you’re familiar with these. The page title is what appears on the tab and tells you which-page-is-which when you switch back and forth. Search engines take these titles into consideration when rating your page, so use it to your advantage.

The URL is the web address for your site. For example, Hallett Peak Copywriting’s URL is www.hpcink.com. When deciding how we wanted to refer to our business in our marketing materials, we decided to use two versions: our full name, Hallett Peak Copywriting, and the shortened version, HPC. As such, HPC ended up in the URL. We also include one of our keywords in the URL for each page – like the sample pages. Each of the URLs for the sample pages includes a keyword describing the type of sample, like http://www.hpcink.com/portfolio/article_greeninitative.html.

Picture and file names include all documents, illustrations, and photos you include on your page. So instead of naming that picture “IMG_00921” give it an actual name like “hpc_tri-fold_brochure.” Renaming every file and picture on your site and updating the corresponding links may be rather tedious, but it will boost your SEO ranking.

The Results: Better SEO rankings

Following the advice in part 1 of this post will drive quality traffic to your site. Following the advice from part 2 will boost your SEO ranking and get you more of those quality leads.

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Keywords – The foundation for your SEO strategy, part 1

SEO can be intimidating. In addition to all of the interrelated, moving parts, everyone has an opinion on what works best. The key to success is taking it step-by-step, starting with keywords. Part 1 of this post covers choosing those words.

Keywords are the foundation for your SEO strategy. Without strong keywords, the most optimized page on the internet won’t capture a single customer.

Take a few minutes to follow the outline below, and before you know it you’ll be ranking competitively in your area. Is it easy? No. Have we taken the time to filter through all of the complex information to save you time and give you the information you need? Yes.

Step 1: Create a list of obvious keywords

When you make your keywords list, start with the generic and obvious ones first. Get them out of the way – you can decide if they’re worth anything later. Once those are out of the way, start drilling down to more industry- and company-specific words.

Feel free to include words or phrases from your other marketing campaigns. In fact, we recommend using the same words across all marketing platforms. Studies show that more and more consumers are using the internet to find out more about products they see in television commercials.

Step 2: Do some research

Ask customers: During the brainstorming phase we like to ask actual customers how they would find a product or service. This will produce a lot of keywords specific to one individual, but you may get a gem or it may spark ideas for keywords that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred to you.

Use tools: Now that you’ve got everything you can think of, and everything your customers have told you, you can add to your list by using tools like Google’s AdWords or Wordtracker’s Keyword Tool. These two tools will make recommendations for keywords related to those you already have.

The helpfulness of these suggestions is often limited. The most useful part these tools are the analysis capabilities.

Step 3: Choose the top performers

By now you should have a pretty extensive list of keyword options. Optimizing your site for every single word you produced in steps 1 and 2 would be a waste of your resources. So, instead of using them all, use those analysis tools mentioned earlier to narrow down your list to the top performers.

Google’s AdWords and Wordtracker’s Keyword Tool both show you results for how often your chosen terms are used. When choosing an analysis tool, you’re looking for the capability to compare keywords. You need to be able to see which keywords have the greatest number of searches, and the most productive results. These features should show you the terms customers are actually using to find what they actually want.

Warning: When narrowing down your list, keep in mind that just because a search term gets more traffic, doesn’t mean that it will get you better results. For example, if you sell ice cream and one of your terms is NFL, you may get a lot of people coming to your page, but you won’t get many customers that way.

The Results: A list of highly effective keywords

The keywords you are left with after your analysis will be the foundation for the rest of your SEO plan. In organizing these results, we recommend having a list of first choices and a list of second choices. If any of your first choice keywords turns out to be a dud, you can replace it with one of your already well-researched second choices.

There is also the possibility that the consumers will change their search terms and one of your second choices will become one of your top performers. By keeping a fleshed out list with multiple options, you won’t have to go through this time consuming process of generating a new list every time you need to update your keywords.

In part 2, we’ll cover how to integrate your chosen keywords into your website.

Julie is a co-founder of Hallett Peak Copywriting, a Central Illinois based freelance copywriting business. For more information on Hallett Peak Copywriting, visit hpcink.com. You can also follow Hallett Peak Copywriting on Twitter @HPC_Ink to get updates on our business and our blog.

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3 ways for small business owners to save time and be better

#1: Just do it

Nike has been using this motto for years to sell its products and appeal to athletes who know what it takes to be their best. We all want to be the best we can be, right? For business owners who are often too busy to take time to literally be their best, “just doing it” means crossing off the biggest items on your list first. Self-help gurus have been promoting this practice for years. Why? Because it works. Block off time early in the morning (or early in your day) and knock out your biggest assignment first. You’ll feel great … and you’ll be able to use that momentum to carry you through the rest of your day.

#2: Follow the leaders

There’s a pretty good chance that someone, somewhere has had success in your field. With social media and the continuous growth of the Internet, most successful people and businesses have created ways to tell their story. Use that to your advantage, and take time to learn from their success. Follow them on Twitter, visit their Facebook page … or if you’re really old fashioned: visit their website.

#3: Buy a tool … or two

I once tried to use a circular saw to cut the baseboard trim for two bathrooms. Hours and hours later, I had a substandard finished product and little left of my weekend. Shortly thereafter, I purchased a miter saw. What once took me hours, now takes minutes … and looks like I called in a professional. Case in point: sometimes you have to spend a little money to save yourself time and be better. There are hundreds of tools out there for business owners in every industry. I can’t tell you what will work for you, but if you follow my advice in number two, odds are the leaders will tell you to exactly what you need. Better yet: you may even be able to find a great tool for free (Hootsuite, anyone?). As for me, I just bought an iPad 2. Now, social media tools like Hootsuite, Twitter and Facebook, as well as hundreds of other resources, are only an arm’s length away. What are you waiting for? Just do it.

Bryn is co-founder of Hallett Peak Copywriting, a Central Illinois based freelance copywriting business. For more information on Hallett Peak Copywriting, visit hpcink.com. Follow Hallett Peak Copywriting on Twitter @HPC_Ink for updates on our business and our blog.

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Creating a direct mail piece? Remember these 3 things.

Julie and I recently created the first direct mail piece for Hallett Peak Copywriting. Although it wasn’t a walk in the park, it was less time consuming than creating our marketing mailing list. Our first direct mailer went through multiple edits, and was held up against a number of recommendations from professional writers and small business owners. Here are three of the most important things to keep in mind as you create your own direct mail:

Include only ONE call to action

Small business owners want to get as much bang for their buck as possible. Hallett Peak Copywriting is no different. That’s why we chose three important calls to action … and then we picked the most important ONE to include on the direct mailer.

Our initial list included a request to contact us for a free assessment, a plea to follow us through social media and an appeal to contact us for a quote. Knowing that having more than one call to action is like having NO CALL TO ACTION, we landed on: contact us for a risk-free quote. The entire piece is written around this one key concept, and the reader knows exactly what we want them to do.

Leave out the HYPE

Every direct mail piece needs snappy headlines and quick, easy flowing text. What it doesn’t need is unnecessary hype that over-promises and under-delivers. One simple test to make sure you aren’t breaking this rule is to mail yourself a sample of your direct mail piece (this also ensures your piece is the correct size and that the post office won’t leave a mail code mark on top of your logo). When you receive it in the mail, critique it as you would any other direct mail piece. Are the statements over the top? Do you believe everything you’ve read?

Make it about the READER

The most important word in email and direct mail marketing is you. One recent study indicated YOU was even more compelling than the word FREE. When creating a direct mail piece, make sure the content is about the reader and what you can do for THEM.

In this particular piece, our headlines are in the form of a question. The questions draw in the reader and immediately make the entire piece about what we can do for them. This won’t work in every instance, but for our first piece it helps overcome the obstacles and preconceived notions of our audience.

Want to see these concepts in action? Send an email to bryn@hpcink.com and we will add you to our mailing list.

Bryn is co-founder of Hallett Peak Copywriting, a Central Illinois based freelance copywriting business. For more information on Hallett Peak Copywriting, visit hpcink.com. Follow Hallett Peak Copywriting on Twitter @HPC_Ink for updates on our business and our blog.

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6 Tips to get the most from your review process

We all know from high school that giving and receiving critiques can be challenging. Here are some tips to make sure you get what you paid for and keep your freelancers happy too.

1. Be specific. Generic comments like “it’s not good enough” won’t get you the improvements you need. You need to know exactly what you want changed. If you feel the vocabulary is too sophisticated for your audience, say that and point out a few examples. If your industry has specific standards, list those out. A freelancer can work with specific requests to get you the best copy for your business.

2. Write it down. Writing out your comments forces you to fully consider the changes you’re requesting. You won’t have to worry about your freelancer missing anything while taking notes, because it’s all right there on paper. Writing out your comments will also help you with tip #1 – being specific.

3. Stick with your strengths. You hired a professional with a strong track record (or should have). Let him or her do the job. Use your strengths, like industry knowledge or insider perspective, to make the copy better. Leave the writing to the writer. If you have specific questions or concerns about your copy, ask. A professional will be happy to explain decisions, especially ones that seem counterintuitive.

4. Set concrete standards. Remember the red ink from your high school English teacher? Some of those critiques were personal opinion and you never used it again. Make sure you and your freelancer both know the goals of the piece and how it will be judged. Review the copy based on those standards and make sure your comments are objective and actionable.

5. Work as a team. Give the freelancer the background information needed to start the project, and keep your end of the bargain by providing timely revisions and approvals. Your project is a two-way street and needs both of you to succeed. Your freelancer wants your project to succeed as much as you do. When you’re satisfied, your freelancer will be too.

6. Be positive. Everyone does better with a little praise. Let your writer know what you like as well as what you want changed.

Julie is a co-founder of Hallett Peak Copywriting, a Central Illinois based freelance copywriting business. For more information on Hallett Peak Copywriting, visit hpcink.com. You can also follow Hallett Peak Copywriting on Twitter @HPC_Ink to get updates on our business and our blog.

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First things first: creating a social media strategy for your small business

Social media is becoming an increasingly important tool for small businesses. A recent survey showed a 52% increase in the number of small businesses that had Facebook accounts last year alone. That same survey also found that 41% of companies using social media had seen measurable success from their efforts.

As a new business, it was clear Hallett Peak Copywriting needed a strategy. And although our strategy is still a work in progress, here are a few quick tips to help get the ball rolling:

Get started right away
Don’t wait until you have your strategy finalized and a detailed plan outlined to get started. It is easy to get the ball rolling by creating your accounts and building your profiles. It also helps to divide and conquer. If you partner has expertise in Facebook and you prefer Twitter, divvy up the early tasks based on your preference. It is easy to change responsibilities when you have plans and processes in place later on. HPC had an almost immediate presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and WordPress. Ultimately, our social media strategy has benefited from our early adoption, as it has helped us determine exactly how we want to use each tool moving forward.

Define your business objectives within your strategy
After we played around with each tool and took a step back to see how some of the most accomplished folks in our industry used each resource, it became much easier to determine what business objectives we hoped to accomplish through our use of social media. We have also found that by clearly identifying five or six overall objectives for each tool, we made it much easier to brainstorm tactics and practices to incorporate across each venue.

Stay flexible
Although we are still in the early stages of not only creating a social media plan, but also working in these spaces, we have already found it is very important to stay flexible. Remaining willing to change your approach as well as the way you use certain tools is important in the sense that you have to be able to adapt to the changing ways your audience uses the tool as well as the way the 3rd party company that owns the site handles certain processes and guidelines. The one thing that should not change is your company’s personality. Be consistent and … most importantly … be yourself.

Bryn is a co-founder of Hallett Peak Copywriting – a Central Illinois based freelance copywriting business. For more information on Hallett Peak Copywriting, visit hpcink.com. You can also follow Hallett Peak Copywriting on Twitter @HPC_Ink to get updates on our business and our blog.

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