What Brands Can Learn About Storytelling

What Brands Can Learn About Storytelling

Shane Snow

When Shane Snow finished Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2010, he had no interest in getting a job in a newsroom. “I became a freelancer by choice,” says Snow, 29. Having paid his way through college doing everything from designing infographics to building niche ecommerce sites, Snow had a good idea of what to expect as a free agent. Many of his peers, however, weren’t as comfortable tracking down assignments and managing payments. “I saw all the problems that unfold for this community,” says Snow, 29. Meanwhile, one of Snow’s friends, Joe Coleman, was looking for writers for his company and running into his own frustrations about finding qualified candidates. “We wanted to help these two groups meet each other,” says Snow, who in 2010 teamed up with Coleman and a third founder, Dave Goldberg to start Contently, an online marketplace for writers and publishers of any stripe.

Fast forward a few years later, and the New York-based firm has 27 employees, a network of 27,000 freelancers, and such Fortune 500 clients as American Express, Philips, and Proctor & Gamble.

Entrepreneur’s Sarah Max spoke with Snow about why brands are focusing more energy on storytelling and what it means for the future of media.

ENTREPRENEUR: Was starting a company part of your plan when you went to journalism school?
Snow
: Before I went to journalism school I decided I had three goals. One was to build a media business, two was to write books and three was to one day teach.

ENTREPRENEUR: We’ve seen an evolution of corporate content from unabashed marketing to legitimate storytelling that is “authentic.” What, in your opinion, qualifies as authentic content?
Snow
: It’s easier to talk about what it isn’t. Inauthentic is when you’re not writing with the end user in mind. If someone engages with you and at the end you feel tricked or betrayed, that’s not authentic. It used to be keyword stuffing. Now it’s tricking people to click on stuff and not providing value or delivering on the promise.

There are three ways we see brand publishers telling stories. One is telling stories about things they care about and being host brands. It’s sort of the baseball stadium equivalent of a JetBlue sponsorship; it’s thank you JetBlue but let’s watch the game. Second, there are brands telling their own story, which we see more and more. GE has a guy whose job is to mine the company for interesting stories. For example, they did a profile of the man who invented the jet engine and is still alive. The stories are about GE but are things that interest people. I don’t see that as inauthentic at all. The third is brands telling stories about their products. That’s more direct, but still works. Take organic food. Once you know about the farmer, you want to buy your veggies from him.

ENTREPRENEUR: Producing quality content isn’t cheap. At the end of the day is it worth it?
Snow:
 Red Bull putting an ad in the newspaper is going to give some return on investment, but Red Bull owning the brand will get a lot better return on investment. I think we’ll see brands start to compete with niche publications.

ENTREPRENEUR: The Contently site says “No longer are we bound by so-called rules of who can be a publisher and who can’t. The Internet changed that.” How do you reconcile this with some of the tenets of journalism that you learned in graduate school?
Snow
: You’re asking the question that keeps me up at night. There are a few ways I reconcile it, but a big one is social media. You have the opportunity to directly connect with these audiences instead of going through traditional media. But because of and this hyper-connectedness there’s a huge incentive for companies to behave well in that environment because people will call you out very quickly. The pitchforks come out when something smells bad. I think it scares brands enough to cause them to want to do things right. In the long run that system makes it impossible to be successful being a bad actor.

ENTREPRENEUR: If ad dollars are all going to branded content, where does that leave old-fashioned investigative journalism or stories that aren’t aligned with a deep-pocketed brand sponsor?
Snow:
Another model will have to exist. Some ad supported media companies will still remain but a lot of what we see in media and entertainment will be ad supported by a single advertiser instead of many advertisers.

ENTREPRENEUR: Many traditional media outlets frown upon or prohibit freelancers from writing for commercial clients. How do freelancers walk the line?
Snow:
Three years ago when we started it was a much bigger worry. We wrote our own code of ethics and talked to editors about when they wouldn’t hire writers who do corporate work. Largely it’s about the disclosure and the transparency. I think every journalist should have an ethics and disclosure statement. I was a Domino’s pizza delivery guy. If I get a gig at The New York Times to write an investigative story on Domino’s pizza I would disclose that. I think there’s a little bit of a double standard. Photographers can shoot for a commercial client and no one yells at them when they show up to shoot editorial.

ENTREPRENEUR: Does more branded content meant the demise of long-form journalism?
Snow
: People will keep reading feature stories. Paradoxically, I think tiny screens have opened the door back up for long-form journalism and feature stories. We have several clients now working on long-form stories that they’re taking a couple months on and paying reporters good money for. We’re seeing more of those assignments being put through the system. I think that’s a leading indicator brands are interested in this. From a company standpoint, someone who reads for 30 minutes is way more valuable. Long-form reading and television isn’t going away. I don’t think suddenly all of us who love novels will stop reading novels just because there’s BuzzFeed.

ENTREPRENEUR: Do you mean actual books or e-books?
Snow: Personally, I like paper books because I spend too much time in front of the screen. The books I want to skim I put on the iPad. The books I want to read under a tree I buy in print.
 

Sarah Max is a freelance writer in Bend, Ore. She has covered business and personal finance for more than a decade for such publications as BusinessWeek, CNNMoney.com, Money and The Wall Street Journal. In 2009 Sarah got a first-hand look at the ups and downs of entrepreneurship when she helped launch 1859 Oregon’s Magazine, a quarterly magazine and website for which she is executive editor.

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Why Stellar Customer Service Is Key to Building Your Online Brand

Why Stellar Customer Service Is Key to Building Your Online Brand

In his book Tweet Naked, online marketing expert Scott Levy provides the critical information entrepreneurs need to craft a social media strategy that will boost their brand and their business. In this edited excerpt, the author explains why the most important factor to succeeding on social media is exceptional customer service.

Above and beyond anything else, I want to emphasize the importance of providing amazing customer service. If you adhere to the age-old adage, “The customer is always right” (even when you know they’re wrong), you can build one hell of a successful brand, especially on social media. Huge brands have been built overnight because of incredible customer service.

Zappos, the online shoe seller, offers an amazing example of how great customer service can lead to tremendous results. Selling just shoes, something you could buy anywhere and everywhere, Zappos broke the mold. Founded in 1999, under the name Shoesite.com, the Henderson, Nevada, company became Zappos a year later and topped the $1 billion valuation in less than ten years.

Zappos executives recognized that the number-one stumbling block to buying shoes online was the possibility that the shoes would need to be returned and that would cost customers money. With that in mind, Zappos built its brand around extraordinary customer service, offering customers a 365-day, no-cost return policy. It also offered free shipping.

In addition, employees are trained to go the extra mile to help customers on an “unscripted” help line. Zappos employees are taught to do whatever they can to ensure a satisfied customer. It’s reported that one customer service professional actually spent eight hours on the phone helping a customer! Reports of Zappos’ amazing customer service spread like wildfire across social media, and word-of-mouth became the number-one manner of marketing for the shoe company, which grew by leaps and bounds.

If ever there was a company that knew the core value of customer service, Zappos is that company. Its slogan is “Powered by Service,” and Zappos’ top execs have been quoted as saying, “Everything we do is focused with our customer in mind. In fact, our call center has an entire team, called quality assurance, which focuses on making sure our customers’ experience is the best it can possibly be.”

What you can learn from the Zappos story is that if you want to build one hell of a brand, it should feature amazing customer service. Even though you know customers can be annoying, misuse products or abuse the return policy, you need to instill in your corporate culture that it’s important for everyone to take good care of each and every customer. This way they will become a fan of your business and help spread the word via social media. While you may have more returns and may even have to spend a little more money to hire and train employees on how to provide excellent customer service at all times, that investment will pay off one hundredfold when people are talking about how much they love your brand.

At the root of customer service is caring about people. That’s because social media has given customers a voice like they’ve never had before. The nameless, faceless company that didn’t really care what the consumer thought of it can’t avoid social media visibility today. A customer or potential customer could have 300,000 followers or know someone who does. Just as rave reviews about a company can travel quickly across social media, so can stories of rude service or a company being unresponsive to their customers.

Therefore, it’s your job on social media to care about people and make them your friends and your fans. You want them to love your brand, share your passion for your company, and spread their enthusiasm across their social media channels. That’s how brand champions are created and how you can enjoy an incredible amount of free marketing.

One of my favorite social media success stories is one that belongs to my friend, author, consultant and entrepreneur Peter Shankman. Peter was at an airport getting ready to board a plane. A huge fan of Morton’s Steakhouses, he was craving some steak and jokingly tweeted about it: “Hey @Mortons – can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)”  

He was joking. He boarded the plane, shut off his phone, and landed at Newark International Airport two and a half hours later. He looked for his driver, saw his name, and waved to him. As Peter greeted the driver, he in turn was greeted by a guy in a tux carrying a Morton’s bag.

Peter said, “Alex, from Morton’s Hackensack, walks up to me, introduces himself, and hands me a bag. He proceeds to tell me that he’d heard I was hungry, and inside is a 24-ounce Porterhouse steak, an order of colossal shrimp, a side of potatoes, one of Morton’s famous round things of bread, two napkins and silverware. He hands me the bag. I was floored.”

So Peter proceeds to tweet out this: “Oh. My. God. I don’t believe it. @mortons showed up at EWR WITH A PORTERHOUSE!”

Twitter and social platforms went crazy for the story. Peter was interviewed and told this story numerous times, on major news and TV networks, and at speaking engagements. Morton’s probably received more than $5 million worth of free PR from this incident.

The moral of the story is that going above and beyond sometimes can give you a hundredfold ROI. Don’t expect it to, but if it does, it could make for the greatest customer service story ever told.

Scott Levy is the founder and CEO of Fuel Online, an online marketing agency that focuses on social media and SEO. He has been specializing in online marketing for more than 15 years and is a respected speaker, writer and consultant. Scott is based in Nashville. Follow him on Twitter at @FuelOnline or on Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/FuelInternetMarketing

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Authority Intensive 2014 Discount Ends Today

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Just the facts:

What:

Authority Intensive: Copyblogger’s live training event that provides an integrated content marketing strategy combined with how best to implement it. Plus great parties and networking.

When:

May 7-9, 2014.

Who:

Seth Godin, Ann Handley, Darren Rowse, Lee Odden, Sonia Simone, Dennis Goedegebuure, Chris Garrett, Joanna Wiebe, Tom Martin, Brian Gardner, Selena Waite, Jason Miller, Beth Hayden, Jon Henshaw, Bill Erickson, Pamela Wilson, Jerod Morris, Arienne Holland, Dean Levitt, and Bryan Eisenberg (plus a few surprise guests).

Where:

The Curtis Hotel in downtown Denver, Colorado.

Why:

Our Super Early Bird pricing ends today at 5 pm Pacific. Why pay more?

How:

Click here for all the details and to register before the price goes up.

About the author

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on .

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The New Year’s Writing Resolution You Can Actually Keep

image of school desks

It’s that time of year again. Time for resolutions, and for all of the skeptics and killjoys who say that resolutions never work.

They certainly can work, but you need to approach them the right way.

Most people fail at resolutions (at any time of year) for two reasons. The first is that they focus on outcomes (“lose 50 pounds”) rather than behaviors. The second is that they try to put massive changes into place all at once. (“I will work out three hours a day,” even though today I work out 0 minutes a day.)

And if you want to become a better writer, so you can reap all those awesome benefits of being a strategic, authoritative content creator, you’re not going to get there by resolving to “be a better writer” this year. Or by promising yourself you’re going to write for six hours a day, every day.

Here’s a more realistic habit you can develop instead — one that will actually get you where you want to go.

Every day in January, write for 20 minutes.

By every day, I mean every day. Including weekends. Including the Martin Luther King holiday. Including the days that get crazy.

If you’re not in the hospital with two broken arms, write every day. For 20 minutes.

During your 20 minutes, turn off all distractions. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb, or shut off the ringer. Quit your email service. And for heaven’s sake, get rid of all social media. Use a service like Freedom or OmmWriter if you need to.

Some days you might write someplace weird, like in a notebook while you’re waiting for the bus. That’s fine.

Some days you will definitely write embarrassingly awful crap. That’s also fine.

Set a timer for 20 minutes. I like using a meditation timer on my phone (there’s a good free one here) — it’s much less jarring than the usual nasty buzz.

Don’t edit during your writing time. This is for first drafts only.

Only write. Every day. For 31 days in a row.

It doesn’t have to be relevant to your topic. It doesn’t have to be on your “big project,” whatever that may be. It certainly doesn’t have to be good. Just write something.

You might want to deploy the Seinfeld method and find yourself a big paper calendar. (You can download a calendar page from the web, if you like.)

Every day you write, mark a gigantic X on that day with the colored marker of your preference. Make it satisfying. Use a fat red sharpie or a glitter pen or rainbow colored pencils, whatever turns you on.

Or use whatever’s on your desk right this minute, because procrastinating until you find the perfect pen is against the rules.

What to do if you just aren’t doing it

Assuming you’ve tried the Seinfeld method and that isn’t doing it for you, cut the amount of time down to 15 minutes.

If that doesn’t work, make it 10 minutes. Or two minutes.

If you can’t write for two minutes a day, write one word a day. One word. Sit down and make it happen. Then after a few days of that, try writing one sentence.

Write your one sentence every day for 31 days in a row. If you don’t get started until January 17, that’s fine. Just start.

“But I can’t get my (book, report, manifesto) written in one sentence a day”

If you’re writing zero sentences a day, one sentence is a big improvement.

And daily habits are a funny thing. When you get into the habit of sitting at your writing technology of choice (laptop, iPad, Moleskine and fountain pen, etc.), and clearing away distractions, you’ll start writing.

Once you develop the habit of writing every day, you can bump the time up just a little bit — maybe two sessions of 20 minutes, with a 10-minute break in between. Then two sessions of 25 minutes.

You get the idea. Use your timer. Nudge yourself forward.

If the habit starts to slip, go back to what you can do reliably every single day.

If it is important, do it every day, if it isn’t, don’t do it at all. ~ Olympic wrestling gold medalist Dan Gable, and frequently quoted by master strength coach Dan John

To become a better writer (whether it’s for text, podcast scripts, video scripts, or anything else that needs words to be strung together effectively), you need to write.

And the best way to write more is to build the habit of writing every day.

Give it a try for 31 days, and let us know how it’s going! And if you’ve ever tried a daily writing practice, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.

About the author

Sonia Simone

Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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3 Things Beer Aficionados Can Look Forward to in 2014

3 Things Beer Aficionados Can Look Forward to in 2014

It appears that 2014 will be another great year for beer consumers. With more than 2,500 breweries in operation and another 1,500 in planning, there has never been a better time to be a beer drinker. While brewers continue to push the innovation envelope, here are three things beer drinkers can expect to see in 2014.

Lower alcohol in session

Look for more brewers to balance out their portfolios with more sessionable beer offerings in the year ahead.

Although India Pale Ale (IPA) has dominated the craft beer market in recent years and consumers have adjusted to the higher alcohol volume that comes with this style, this year you can expect the alcohol pendulum to swing back toward lower alcohol-by-volume (ABV) beers, nicknamed “session beers” by many in the industry due to their less-than-5 percent ABV.

Recent Articles From CNBC

Recent Articles From CNBC

As Dogfish Head Craft Brewery’s founder and president Sam Calagione recently wrote on the company’s blog: “From the day we opened in 1995, the average beer we’ve brewed has been 9 percent ABV. We love going big, but we also hear the calls for a more sessionable off-centered ale.” To that end, Dogfish will be moving its Namaste, a Belgian-style witbier with an ABV of 4.7 percent, from a seasonal release to a year-round offering. Similarly, New Belgium Brewing is releasing a new year-round offering: Snapshot, a 5 percent ABV unfiltered wheat beer. Michigan-based Founders Brewing scored a huge success in 2013 with the March release of its All Day IPA, which has a 4.7 percent ABV. Although it was introduced as a seasonal product, consumer demand pushed the brewery to make it a year-round offering. Founders expects All Day IPA to account for nearly 40 percent of all sales in 2014.

An increase in IPL offerings

India Pale Ale (IPA) is firmly entrenched as the dominant style of craft beer, and don’t look for that to change in 2014. But due to its popularity, brewers are looking to extend some of the IPA characteristics into other styles—namely, the India Pale Lager. The IPL is a hybrid: fermented cold, like a traditional lager, but aggressively hopped to impart a more floral and citrusy profile. Though not yet an official beer style by the Brewers Association, the IPL is gaining in popularity. Boston Beer Company’s Samuel Adams brand recently made its Double Agent IPL a year-round release. Several other brewers, including Massachusetts-based Jack’s Abby and California’s Ballast Point, have also found success with the style. You can expect to see an increase in IPL offerings in the year ahead. 

A beer cocktail boom

Studies have shown a better beer selection can help boost a restaurant’s bottom line. But as more restaurants increase their beer selection, it’s becoming less of a novelty and more of an expectation for consumers. Look for restaurants to find another way to offer beer drinkers a little something different by putting the beer selection to use in beer cocktails. Whether mixing individual beer styles and flavors or combining beer with alcohol and spirits, beer-inspired drink creations will increase as restaurants seek to further diversify their drinks menu.

Tom is a Sr. Editor and assignment desk manager for CNBC TV. He also writes about business of beer for CNBC.com. Prior to joining the CNBC News Desk, Tom was an Emmy winning producer covering a variety of topics, most recently sports business.

This story originally appeared on CNBCCNBC

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Facebook Is a Fundamentally Broken Product That Is Collapsing Under Its Own Weight

Mark Zuckerberg in 2012 with all the features Facebook has added.

In 2008, Mark Zuckerberg laid out his theory about people sharing content on Facebook.

“I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and [the] next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before,” he said. 

The New York Times called it “Zuckerberg’s Law,” a playful homage to Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who said, “The number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months.”

In 2011, Zuckerberg reiterated his theory on sharing, saying that it was still growing at an exponential rate. 

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Recent Articles From Business Insider

And Zuckerberg is right about that.

But the exponential growth of sharing may not, actually, be helping Facebook. And with the explosion of dedicated mobile sharing apps, the industry may be evolving in ways that Zuckerberg never foresaw.

Specifically, Facebook is now trying to cram so much “sharing” through a single service that it is overwhelming many of its core users. Meanwhile, companies like Snapchat, WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Twitter, and Instagram (which Facebook owns), are now cleaving off types of user-sharing that Facebook would like to have owned.

The amount of sharing that Facebook is trying to cram through its News Feed is now starting to turn into a problem for Facebook, argues freelance analyst Benedict Evans. We spoke with Evans last week about mobile messaging apps and Facebook, and he had a very pessimistic view of the latter.

In August, Facebook revealed that “every time someone visits News Feed there are on average 1,500 potential stories from friends, people they follow and Pages for them to see, and most people don’t have enough time to see them all. These stories include everything from wedding photos posted by a best friend, to an acquaintance checking in to a restaurant.”

Let’s say the average Facebook user is awake for 17 hours a day. To consume all that stuff, they would take in 88 new items per hour, or 1.5 things per minute. That’s just not possible. 

Facebook knows it has a problem. It planned a major redesign that gave users more control over the News Feed. But it was scrapped when the first batch of users showed low engagement with the new design. 

It’s also talking about trying to tweak what stories show up in your News Feed to cut back on what it considers to be low-quality content. 

To Evans, this is evidence that Facebook’s core product, News Feed, is “broken.”

“The problem they’ve run into, the problem of sharing, of Zuckerberg’s law,” says Evans, “is that the News Feed has turned into a black hole and collapsed under its own weight.”

Facebook started off as a place to keep track of what your friends are up to, but because there’s so much stuff flowing through the News Feed, you could easily miss what your friends are doing. He points out that today, you could post that you’re getting married, but only half of your friends might see that posting because of the News Feeds’ algorithms. 

“That’s a product problem,” says Evans. “There’s so much noise in the News Feed, they broke the product.” Facebook can come up with algorithms to surface the best material, but Evans says it’s just “a hack.” The deeper problem is that the “underlying product is broken.”

Evans presents an analogy to explain Facebook’s New Feed problem: “If you have 1,500 emails coming in every day, you wouldn’t say, ‘I need better algorithms.’”

But, Zuckerberg’s Law suggests we’re not getting rid of anything on Facebook. Instead, we’ll have more stuff. By this time next year we could have 3,000 posts, links, videos, status updates, etc., all flowing through the News Feed. It’s a struggle to sort through 1,500; how will Facebook deal with sorting through 3,000?

This News Feed issue becomes particularly problematic for Facebook in mobile. 

On the mobile phone, it’s easy to have an “unbundled” experience that could hurt Facebook, says Evans. 

On the desktop, Facebook is one big, monopolistic application. The inclination is to stay within Facebook for a lot of stuff.

On the phone, it’s easy to hit the home button, then open a new app, like WhatsApp, Snapchat, or Instagram. 

Because the News Feed is broken, argues Evans, these targeted applications pose a problem for Facebook.  

Want to just see photos from friends? Go to Instagram, or Snapchat. Want to just exchange messages with friends? WhatsApp, or Snapchat work. Want to play games? Candy Crush, Angry Birds, QuizUp, or whatever you want are available. 

Just a few years ago, photos, messaging, and gaming, all resided in Facebook.

Now it’s all on your phone, which has developed into the real social platform. Apps can tap into your phone’s photos and address book, and deliver push notifications. Those were things that Facebook controlled on the desktop. Now, on mobile, “All the friction that protects Facebook isn’t there,” says Evans. 

And, it all gets back to the News Feed. With so much stuff running through the News Feed, what should a mobile feed do? Should it be more about personal updates? Should it be a best of all those other apps? Facebook is still working through it. 

Facebook isn’t going anywhere. It’s going to remain a permanent force in our lives. And with mobile growing, Evans says Facebook will still be a winner. He just doesn’t think it will be the only winner in the social mobile world, unlike in the desktop where it has a monopoly in social. 

That said, Evans cautions, “There’s a bear case for Facebook: It turns into Yahoo. Billions of people use the product, but no one really thinks about it.” 

This story originally appeared on Business InsiderBusiness Insider

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6 Myths About Retirement We Need to Retire

Ever find yourself around the watercooler discussing with co-workers how your 401(k) is performing—likely leading to the increasingly popular “I’ll never be able to retire” discussion? It’s becoming a bit of a modern-day lament, begging the question: Why do Americans have this doom-and-gloom attitude about their golden years’ financial situation?

Academic, institutional and media reports tend to serve up workers with warnings—often wrapping up with a “save now and save more” silver lining. It doesn’t seem to be inspiring the masses. According to a Wells Fargo study, 37 percent of Americans expect to work until they are too sick to work or die. 

Given the current state of America’s retirement, it’s worth taking a look at how we have arrived at this point–and, in particular, the retirement myths that have persisted for decades but aren’t doing current savers as much good as they (and you) probably think. We asked retirement experts to weigh in.

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Recent Articles From CNBC

Let’s start with the biggest retirement myth of all….

Myth # 1: The 401(k) was created to boost your retirement dollars.

Not really. You might not have given it a second thought as to why you have a 401(k), the retirement savings standard, but the truth is, it happened by chance—not by some deliberate congressional plan.

It all started with the Revenue Act of 1978, spearheaded by Rep. Al Ullman, D-Ore., a staunch believer in tax cuts. In the 184-page bill was a rather simple and short provision called 401(k). It was essentially buried in the report and overlooked by nearly everyone. That is, until a Pennsylvania benefits consultant named Ted Benna noticed that the provision—established for such things as deferred-stock bonus plans—could be applied to joint tax-differed employee and company accounts. By 1982 companies such as Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, J.C. Penney and Hughes Aircraft Company were using 401(k) plans.

The kicker is that Benna has been critical of 401(k)s over the years, implying that he helped create a monster. He envisioned the plans to be simple plans on par with pensions, but more recently Benna has said he would “blow up the system” and start over again with something new.

Myth # 2: You need 80 percent of your current income level in retirement.

The idea that you need 80 percent of your current salary in retirement might be wildly exaggerated. This “rule of thumb” is taken to task in a new report by David Blanchett, Morningstar‘s head of retirement research: “When we modeled actual spending patterns over a couple’s life expectancy … the data shows that many retirees may need approximately 20 percent less in savings.”

The report concluded that while the 80 percent rule is a decent number, the actual replacement goal varies depending on pre- and post-retirement lifestyles. Which means you may have more money than you think to invest today in additional (and critical) elder needs, including … (cue the next retirement myth, please)

Myth # 3: You’re too young to start paying for long-term care.

Long-term care could be the next major retirement crisis in America. The Department of Health and Human Services expects that some 70 percent of Americans over the age of 65 will need it at some point. Currently, only about 8 million Americans have long-term care coverage.

The topic has been getting more attention over the last few years as rates have been skyrocketing. The reason is that insurers didn’t count on the fact that so few people would drop their coverage—about 1 percent—and that care costs would rise so much. It’s forced many insurers to get out of the game. For policyholders, rates are rapidly rising an average of 40 percent. 

The best move to make is to grab a long-term care policy while you are still working. “If you want long-term care insurance to pay some of the cost, you’ll need to health qualify, and that starts to get tricky after age 65,” said Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.

When is the best age to start putting your dollars in these policies? “The sweet spot is mid–50s to mid–60s,” Slome said.

Myth # 4: Don’t ever touch your principal.

The 4 percenters—those who tout the idea that you never withdraw more than that from your portfolio annually—might be too dogmatic in their belief. The rule is meant to establish a withdrawal rate that pulls out dollars earned from interest and investment gains, allowing your principal to remain intact. However, touching your principal is not out of the question.

“It really is okay to spend your capital. That’s what it is there for,” said Dr. Tony Webb, senior research economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. 

Not touching your capital really applies to wealthy individuals who generate high returns and want to pass their capital onto heirs. For those individuals with $150,000 to $1 million in retirement savings, Webb said they should consider using some of the principal to supplement their income.

The myth and mantra of “Never touch it” starts in a worker’s retirement-saving days. According to Webb, many individuals carry over that mentality into retirement and are afraid to touch their nest egg. “The idea is to spend down in retirement; that’s why you save. Saving is not a goal in itself.”

Myth # 5: You can bank on your annuity.

Annuities have always been considered an option for extra retirement savings after maxing out your 401(k), IRAs and making your pension contributions. There is a perception that annuities are a source of guaranteed income. Well, think again: They aren’t. According to Mercer Bullard, a law professor at the University of Mississippi and former assistant chief counsel in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Investment Management, an annuity “won’t be there if the insurance company fails and the resolution of that failure does not include full coverage of annuity payouts.”

Bullard said that as regulators continue to allow insurance companies to take on more risk, the risk of your annuity taking a bath is increasing. The International Monetary Fund warned in its Global Financial Stability report earlier this year that life insurers were amassing positions in risky investments that could threaten their solvency—risky bets they were taking to make up for a shortfall in future obligations. 

Myth # 6: Retirement shortfall warning bells are waking up Americans.

Studies and reports regarding doomsday scenarios for Americans in retirement abound, most warning that we are not saving enough and need to make up for lost time. According to the Plan Sponsor Council of America, the country as a whole saved more in their 401(k)s last year—6.8 percent of their salary vs. 6.4 percent in 2011. Yet according to Wells Fargo, only 52 percent of Americans are confident they will have enough saved to retire.

More and more workers are aware of the grim outlook when it comes to actually attaining the “American retirement dream” of golfing in Florida and finally taking those once-in-a-lifetime trips abroad. So how come more Americans are not stepping up their game?

For one, the country is still emerging from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But there is a psychological factor that plays a big part in retirement-saving complacency.

“The present feels much more real and important than projecting a potential problem in an uncertain future.” said Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center. The repeated phrase of “not saving enough” has little effect, because it does not translate into something that has been experienced, Rutledge said.

Take the antismoking campaign that began in the early ’80s. The ads and commercial spots had little effect. It wasn’t until smoking-related deaths became more prevalent that folks began to take action.

There is also a habit-changing component to saving. “Change is hard. Saving money, when you haven’t been saving means making a change,” Rutledge said. Saving more requires you to break a habit, which is an upset to your normal flow, and making even small changes — like upping your contributions by a small percentage — can be a challenge for some.

Yet it’s not a myth that if you make little changes, the rewards could end up being great. Changes often lead to positive results and reinforcement. “In behavior change, small changes create small victories that lead to larger and more frequent changes,” Rutledge said. 

Strategic Content & News Partnerships, Segment Producer

This story originally appeared on CNBCCNBC

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Travel Trends We Loved in 2013

If you can’t live without your turntable, the London’s Ace Hotel provides one in many of the room’s at its Shoreditch hotel.

Apart from the joys of downtime at the pool, business travel tends to be, like in-laws, a popular subject for complaints. But 2013 gave travelers plenty to cheer about. Airlines let us keep our e-readers on, most of the time. Hotels went on a health kick. And we stood in fewer lines for check-in. Here, the best developments of the old year.

Travel Trends We Loved in 2013

With Silvercar, travelers can simply scan a QR code on a car’s window to unlock their rental vehicle.

Image credit: Silvercar

Virtual check-in. From hotel rooms to rental cars, travelers are increasingly able to skirt the front desk by using wireless devices, thus streamlining check-in/check-out.

Aloft hotels began offering keyless check-in to members of Starwood’s Preferred Guest program in 2010 and the trend is growing. This year, Marriott Hotels launched Mobile Guest Services allowing travelers in North America to use its smart phone app to check-in as early as 4pm the day before, triggering a notification when the room is ready, and directing guests to pick up keys from a special mobile check-in desk.

With Silvercar, a luxury car rental company now operating at six airports nationwide, including Dallas and Los Angeles, renters reserve cars via the company app, and scan a QR code on the windshield to unlock the car.

Travel Trends We Loved in 2013

Atlanta is one of several cities to add streetcars to its city’s transit options, making things easier for travelers.

Ditch the car. That is if you end up renting a car at all. Transit initiatives such as rental bikes and street cars are making car-free travel a reality.

Major cities such as New York and Chicago, as well as popular resort towns including Aspen, hopped on the bike share bandwagon this year, posting fleets of bikes at rental kiosks in frequent locations, enabling riders to skip the taxi, and make quick dashes by bike.

The no-sweat option, streetcars, are swiftly filling transit voids. New Orleans and Portland both recently extended their streetcar lines, and new service is coming to Atlanta and Tucson next year.

Travel Trends We Loved in 2013

Image credit: Shutterstock

Electronics in the air. The Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to allow small electronic devices to stay on below 10,000 feet was the happiest development of the year for e-book readers and cell phone gamers.

The dust has yet to settle over which airplanes allow the use of portable electronic device during take-offs and landings. Delta Air Lines, for example, immediately cleared its 570 Delta-operated planes, not the 550 run by regional contractors. The same split goes for American and United Airlines and their affiliates. Carriers expect those smaller planes to clear inspection by year end.

Travel Trends We Loved in 2013

Rooms at London’s Ace Hotel were designed to feel like a friend’s apartment and include unique items like radios, quilts and custom C. F. Martin & Co. guitars.

Image credit: Andrew Meredith

Skinny bags. Now that checked bags cost money, and carry-ons are tightly restricted in terms of size and contents, an increasing number of hotels are filling gaps – small and large — in your bags.

In New York, Eventi, A Kimpton Hotel, launched its “business bar,” featuring loaner iPads, MacBooks, Kindles and accessories including headphones. The Mayflower Renaissance in Washington DC recently began providing toothpaste along with the standard soap, shampoo and lotion in the rooms. And at the new Ace Hotel London Shoreditch in London, you won’t have to miss guitar practice; many of the rooms stock an acoustic guitar.

Travel Trends We Loved in 2013

MGM’s StayWell rooms feature wellness amenities like dawn simulator clocks that wake you naturally and shower water infused with vitamin C, intended to neutralize chlorine and promote healthy hair and skin.

Image credit: MGM

Healthy hotels. For travelers prone to illness on the road due to stress, irregular hours, slack nutrition or lack of exercise, sympathetic hotels now offer a variety of health-supportive programs.

Trump Hotels in nine North American cities recently introduced a wellness program offering vegan, organic and gluten-free room service menus, healthy kids menus, and exercise gear such as yoga mats and weights in the rooms. The Nines hotel in Portland, Oregon introduced a workout closet with similar gear guests can borrow.

Ironically, the MGM Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, a city associated with hard partying, leads the good health charge with its StayWell rooms featuring filtered water, purified and humidified air, blue-light-emitting lamps said to combat jetlag, hypoallergenic cleaning protocols and more. From 42 introduced in October 2012, the inventory will quadruple to 171 by the end of this year, a significant move albeit just a fraction of the hotel’s 5,000-plus rooms.

Chicago-based Elaine Glusac covers travel and transit for The New York Times and National Geographic Traveler.

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Why Self-Discipline Will Make You Unstoppable

Why Self-Discipline Will Make You Unstoppable

In his book No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs, business coach and consultant Dan Kennedy reveals the steps behind making the most of your frantic, time-pressured days so you can turn time into money. In this edited excerpt, the author describes the importance of self-discipline to the achievement of success.

On the morning of my mother’s funeral, I wrote the following paragraph for the original, first edition of this book: 

My mother passed away a couple of days, actually nights ago, and the viewing was last night; the memorial service will be in about four hours from now, this morning. It is 6:00 A.M. And here I am, at the keyboard, in my home office, writing. That’s what I do almost every day, for at least the first early hour of the morning, no matter what. And that’s the answer to how I can have five books in bookstores, a sixth and seventh hitting early in 1996, be under contract for an eighth for 1997, write my monthly newsletters, and so on.

It’s not that I’m devoid of emotion, nor that I didn’t love my mother. However, I learned long ago the vital importance of regimen, ritual, commitment and discipline in relationship to successful achievement. So it takes a lot to derail me. Most people are much more easily distracted. Perhaps I’m extreme in my insistence on proceeding with my work plans no matter what, but most people are even more extreme in their willingness to set aside their work plans for just about anything.

Having and commanding the respect of others is a tremendous advantage in life. That edge comes from self-discipline. The highly disciplined individual does not have to point a gun at anyone to take what he wants; people “sense” his power and cheerfully give him everything they’ve got.

Take a look at how little self-discipline most people have. Ask an employer of any size, and you’ll hear how big the problems of tardiness and absenteeism are. People don’t even have enough self-discipline to get up in the morning! 

In my business dealings, I find more than half the people can’t seem to get to appointments and meetings on time or keep preset telephone appointments. Clients miss prescheduled appointments. Vendors miss deadlines as often as they make them.

In the entrepreneurial environment, there’s a lot to be said just for showing up on time, ready to work. The meeting of deadlines and commitments alone causes a person to stand out from the crowd like an alien space ship parked in an Iowa cornfield. The ability to get things done and done right the first time will magnetically attract incredible contacts, opportunities and resources to you. All of this is a matter of self-discipline.

And self-discipline aimed and applied at a particular thing is quite literally a magic power. When you focus your self-discipline on a single purpose, like sunlight through a magnifying glass on a single object, look out! The whole world will scramble to get out of your way, hold the doors open for you, and salute as you walk by.

Successful achievement of most worthwhile objectives — including being an infinitely more productive entrepreneur who makes the most of his time — is rarely easy, but is often simple. In fact, it can be boiled down to three steps. 

Awareness. If you become aware of the importance of time, you’ll have a different concept of time, valuing of time, and how you must exercise control over your use and others’ consumption of your time in order to have a reasonable chance of achieving your goals and tapping your full potential. You’ll have new awareness of how your time is used or abused, invested or squandered, organized and controlled or let flow about at random. As the first step to new achievement, there’s always awareness of problems and failings, and of opportunities and successes. 

Decision. All achievement follows deliberate decision, with extremely rare exceptions of accidental achievement, like tripping over an untied shoelace, falling face down on the pavement, and seeing a wrapped stack of lost $100 bills lying against the curb you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Absent that kind of freak accident, achievement can only follow decision. As a result of your thinking of the importance of time, you can develop certain decisions. 

Action. There are three kinds of action: starting things or implementation, follow-through, and completion. When you’ve made a decision, you have to start doing things about it. For some people, this is hard, but for many people in many situations, starting is relatively easy. The person who decides on a new diet may find it easy, even exhilarating to take a huge garbage bag and empty the refrigerator and pantry of all offending foods. It’s follow-through that is usually the hard part. That’s where the tough-minded boss-of-self comes to bear. Relying on sheer willpower is rarely successful. You have to create an environment in which high self-discipline is supported. But self-discipline is required. And rewarded.

Dan S. Kennedy is a strategic advisor, consultant, business coach, and author of the popular No B.S. book series. He directly influences more than one million business owners annually. 

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How to ‘Regift’ for the Holidays Without Embarrassing Yourself

How to 'Regift' for the Holidays Without Embarrassing Yourself

For entrepreneurs in the early stages of growing their business, every penny counts. With many business owners choosing to reinvest all their profits back into their companies, oftentimes they’re left with very little money to play with.

Regifting is the perfect solution if you’re short on cash. You’ll still be able to give friends and clients holiday presents and, if you’re strategic, the only thing you’ll pay for is shipping. The most important thing is to keep organized, as giving an obvious regift to someone can be humiliating.

Here are eight guidelines to follow to avoid any regifting repercussions.

Related: 7 Ways to Stay Out of Trouble During Your Holiday Office Party

1. Designate a space for potential regifts. Keep a stockpile of gifts you’ve received throughout the year that you don’t want or haven’t used. You’ll be able to pull from the pile when you find the perfect recipient or when someone surprises you with a gift. Keep items in plastic bags to avoid dust and fading from sun exposure.

2. Don’t include any gifts you’ve used or opened. The item you plan to pass along should be in good condition. Ideally you’ll want to give the gift in the original box with the seal intact. If you plan to give a perishable item, check the expiration date to make sure it is still fresh.

3. Ensure the item is worthy of regifting. Be sure the person will enjoy and appreciate the gift. Promotional items or free swag bags from someone else’s company should not be regifted to anyone unless you plan to participate in a gag gift exchange.

Related: Office Etiquette: The Rules of Saying Thank You

4. Remove any evidence that the gift was given to you. Remove the original card or receipt. I once received a candle from a friend only to find a card addressed to her when I opened the box. Any evidence that the present is a regift should be removed.

5. Rewrap the item. The gift should look brand new. Use fresh wrapping paper and include a personalized card. There’s no need to announce the item is a regift to the recipient.

6. Don’t regift in the same social circles. Make sure the person receiving the gift doesn’t know the person who originally gave you the gift. To prevent a mistake, jot down when you received it and who gave it to you.

7. Know when you can’t regift. Ensure the receiver of your present will enjoy the gift. If you have a pile of unwanted fruitcakes and tacky holiday sweaters, it’s probably time to dump them or donate them to your favorite charity.

8. Don’t feel guilty. If you’ve followed all the guidelines above, you’ll avoid wasting a gift while giving the recipient a present they’ll love — all while choosing the best financial path for your company.

Related: Master Your ‘Mingle-Ability’: 5 Creative Ways to Network

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette coach and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. She is also the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin’s Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin’s Press, 2005).

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Moving Forward After a Co-Founder Dies

It was July 2012 when I first heard the news I will never forget. It was from Ari Ramezani, my good friend and Phone Power business partner.

Ari, age 44, said he had just been diagnosed with stomach cancer.

With those simple, yet shocking words, my whole world quickly came crashing down.

We first met in 1987 as undergrads at California State University in Northridge. From the very first day, Ari impressed me as a bright man with a driving ambition, and a relentless focus on wanting to become an entrepreneur. We built our first business together in 1994 as the cell phone and pager boom began. Afterwards, we built a series of other successful companies. And finally, in 2006, we started Phone Power.

During those early years, we were an unstoppable force. Chemistry is sometimes underrated, but it can mean the difference between a startup with a multi-thousand percent growth rate and a startup that crashes before takeoff. In startup partners, we often look for tenacity, grit and vision. In this case, Ari had all three.

After processing the devastating news, Ari and I turned to our managers and told them about the situation. While we kept them up-to-date as details unfolded, we made a decision to not formally notify company employees during that stage.

Related: How to Keep Your Business Running When You Have a Serious Illness

We encouraged our managers to take on Ari’s responsibilities and learn from him. We didn’t know if his cancer was terminal yet, but we treated it that way. Even in sickness, Ari’s heart was still in the business and he wanted it to succeed. And he was more than willing to mentor his replacement, despite what that suggested about his own mortality.

At the time of Ari’s diagnosis, there was no buy-sell agreement in place. We’re relatively young and never expected something like this to happen.

While I can’t tell you whether you should or should not have a buy-sell agreement in place, I can strongly urge you to consider the following: What if my partner died tonight? What would happen to the business? What would happen to my family and my partner’s family? These may not be the most pleasant questions, but they are ones you cannot afford to ignore.

Thinking ahead and preparing for the unexpected is what makes a company successful. So it’s just as important to think about the options you or your partners may face if one of you should die.

When we realized Ari was terminally ill, the effect immediately rippled throughout our startup team, blurring the imaginary line we drew between work and life. A few months after his diagnosis, by the fall of 2012, Ari’s prognosis was looking bad.

We officially put a succession plan in place. With our board of directors, we decided that our chief operating officer would replace Ari. It was also in the fourth quarter that we announced to all 95 of our employees that Ari was terminally ill.

We gradually brought people into “the know” with a calculated approach, especially because these kinds of conversations are never easy. The sadness of death juxtaposed with the immediate concerns of business can stir up a range of emotions. Under such conditions, people often feel guilty for not believing in a business. Death makes it hard to see business as business.

Related: Six Tips to Keep Your Business Going After Losing Your Partner

Next, we notified our bankers and lenders of Ari’s diagnosis and impending change in leadership, as well as our plans to make sure that Phone Power continued on its strong growth trajectory. We knew what Phone Power meant to everyone involved, and we were determined to preserve it for them. Thankfully, our supporters expressed continued confidence in the business.

Towards the end, while Ari was stuck in the hospital, we learned as much as we could from him. We also purchased a “key man” insurance policy to ensure that our investors and lenders would be compensated should I die, too. We had to simultaneously be human and financially responsible.

Our desire to learn all that we could from Ari motivated us to really listen. And when you truly listen, you ask critical questions about everything. We were pushed to evaluate how we handled all aspects of the business and ask if there was a better way to do things, because once Ari passed, we wouldn’t be able to ask anymore.

Ari died in January 2013. For his family and friends, and for our entire company, this was an extremely difficult time. But like many tragedies, there was also a silver lining.

Ari’s death brought our entire team together on a whole new level. By sharing in this tragedy, our managers developed a stronger bond than what you might normally see at startups.

From this experience, I can attest that preparation for this type of event does not begin when a co-founder gets sick — it begins on the first day of a startup’s existence. However, the best succession and financial planning is nothing compared to the power of values and company culture.

Related: How to Lead With Grace Through Tragedy

As startup founders, we like to think of ourselves as vital to our own businesses. Yet, to build such a strong culture and management team that we become unnecessary is a far better testament to our leadership than building a company that falls apart without us.

While personal loss is something which cannot be replaced, there are in fact legal and financial measures that can be put in place to ensure that your business continues to succeed and that your partner — as in my case with Ari — is remembered via a successful and powerful business legacy.

You cannot prepare yourself for a tragedy that takes your co-founder, but you can strive to build a company and culture with the strength and balance to handle any crisis. You can, despite the sense of crisis, take measured steps to be accountable to your employees, investors and lenders.

Today, nearly a year after he has passed, Ari continues to be a rallying force for our company. He is not only a constant reminder of just how precious time is, but a real-world example that when tragedy strikes in an organization, it can either forever ruin a team — or dramatically transform it forever.
 

Jim Murphy is the CEO and co-founder of Phone Power, a voice over IP (VoIP) company that provides services to residential and small-business customers in the U.S. and Canada.

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Think You Need to Hire? Think Again.

Think You Need to Hire? Think Again.

As your company gains momentum, an extra pair of hands can seem vital. And it might be. But if you still don’t have full funding or are relying on clients to keep your cash flowing at the right clip, moving too quickly on a hire can mean weighting yourself down unnecessarily.

The truth is, even when you’re sure you need a new project manager, you may really not. It’s at times like this when it’s important to step back and examine your plan in cold light. Before you add to your staff, ask yourself these three questions.

1. How will you pay for the new hire? If you can’t draw a straight line between the hire and an increase in your margin, don’t do it. Too often, entrepreneurs justify new staff by pointing to their financial pipeline — the sales they’re about to close or the investment round that’s soon to come through. To be sure, it’s a hopeful time when you’re preparing to sign a deal. But hope isn’t a reason to add expense.

2. Are you hiring for the right role? Say you’ve been hunting for a project manager but haven’t found anyone who fits the bill. Then you meet a developer who’s got a stellar resume along with experience as a team lead. She’s looking to make a change and thinks working for you would be a gas. A better-than-hoped for solution? No.There are specific holes in your operation that need to be plugged, but this person’s skills lie in other areas. This hire doesn’t address your core needs which will remain unaddressed after the hire.

3. How does your team feel about it? In some cases, team members may be clamoring for a new hire to help them keep things going and retain their sanity. If that’s the case, your job is to ask them about how a new person will streamline their work, help them accomplish more and strengthen the business’s finances. In other cases, you may have decided on your own that the team needs help which it might not. Talk to staffers about what they need since their problems could be solved a number of ways that don’t involve new staff, including by adding technology or even getting other departments to pitch in during rare busy times. By surveying your staff, you’ll get a fuller picture of your team’s needs.

And don’t forget hiring’s personal dimension. Bringing in a developer may get your existing developer’s nose out of joint if he believes he’s got everything under control. While his feelings may or may not change your mind, consulting with all involved will help you identify any challenges you’ll have to address to keep everyone happy and productive.
 

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Mark Feffer is the Managing Editor of Dice News, which provides news and advice for job seekers on the technology career site Dice.com. As a journalist he has written for Dow Jones and Bloomberg, and ran his own startup, Tramp Steamer Media, which provided editorial services to small business and corporate clients including AT&T, Marsh & McLennan, KPMG and Thomas Edison State College. The views he expresses here are his own. 

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2014: The Year of the Rainmaker

A year ago almost to the day, I wrote 2013: The Year of the Online Writer. The basic premise was that we had reached a tipping point. Companies of all sizes that wanted to succeed now knew that:

  • Content is what people want.
  • Content is what people share.
  • Content is what makes buying decisions happen.

Those realizations, in turn, require great content creators. Notably, great writers.

This coming year will continue the trend, with an added twist.

Great content is, well … great. But what is that content accomplishing in terms of business objectives?

Before we get into that, let’s look at those three powerful forces I talked about late last year, and see how they affected online writers in 2013.

1. Online Marketing is Driven by Content

Last year I maintained without reservation that content marketing wasn’t a buzz phrase or fad. 2013 showed this to be true. Content remains the driving force behind any effective online marketing.

As Rebecca Lieb of Altimeter Group eloquently says:

Content is the atomic particle of all digital marketing.

If anything, the content marketing industry has matured remarkably this year. In addition to the continuing big consumer brand shift toward a media company model,

This audience-centered movement is easy to explain: Content marketing is more effective than traditional methods while costing 62% less.

Apart from those businesses that truly enjoy spending more to achieve less, the shift to content will continue next year, the year after, and beyond.

This is serious business, folks — a multi-billion-dollar industry that grew in part out of our grass roots business blogging space. And it’s still wide open for most companies and entrepreneurs.

2. Google Elevates the Online Writer

Heading into this year, Google was clearly one of the primary drivers of quality content as an absolute requirement. The Panda update demanded quality content, and Penguin did quite a good job at making naturally-attracted links (from great content, naturally) the only ones worth having.

Google Authorship ties quality content to its individual creator, and paves the way for author identity to become a ranking factor in the algorithm. In 2013, more businesses and startups caught the clue that who creates the content is now important — and highly compensating those people becomes a strategic advantage.

The biggest Google news this year was Hummingbird, a complete overhaul of their algorithm that incorporates Panda, Penguin, and other past updates while strengthening semantic and conversational language capabilities.

(Meaning: Google is now much better at understanding how real people talk.)

Hummingbird signals a continued progression away from awkward keyword phrases toward audience-focused language patterns, which only helps artful writers.

Perhaps the most satisfying news for the online writer was the fall of Demand Media — the publicly-traded company that exploited Google with content farming on the backs of severely underpaid writers. No company is “too big to fail” in the new online environment, and the collapse of Demand’s model is more than just a symbolic victory.

3. The Writer as Entreproducer

2013 was packed with stories of entrepreneurial success stories stemming from online content production. From the content marketing strategy that propelled the startup Buffer to millions in revenue, to the podcasting prowess of Srinivas Rao, building an audience first builds a successful business.

And don’t forget the entrepreneurial authors. Hugh Howey’s bestselling Silo saga made him this year’s self-publishing poster boy. Non-fiction author James Altucher embraced a more professional level of self-publishing and successfully swore off the traditional route. And Joanna Weibe and Lance Jones created a thriving startup by teaching other startups about copywriting and conversion with ebooks.

The content creators who are most in demand are the ones who don’t need to take clients or jobs. They’re able to start their own companies, make money on their own terms, and live the lives they want to live.

So why would they work for someone else? I suppose because someone would make it so worth their while that they can’t say no.

What’s Next? The New (Media) Rainmaker

It’s somewhat unbelievable that it took this long to get to the point that great content is (almost) the norm. You’d think that quality media production would be the original baseline.

Now that we’re essentially here, don’t expect a nice cozy period of creative content production without accountability. Creative content production that crushes business objectives is more like it.

It’s time for everyone’s game to elevate.

Can you create content, whether yourself or by directing others, that educates, engages, and entertains all the way to the bank?

If so, then you’ll be one of the big winners of 2014. Because the one who makes it rain makes the rules.

But that’s next year.

For now, I’d like to wish you happy holidays and a joyous new year. The blog will be taking the rest of Christmas week off, but we’ll be back again with a full calendar starting Monday the 30th.

And thank you, once again, for your support. As always, none of this happens without you.

About the author

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on .

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Is This the Worst Twitter Pitch for Obamacare Ever?

Editor’s note: Meet Ray, see him moderate PR panel at Entrepreneur’s annual Growth Conference on Jan. 22, 2014, in New Orleans. Attendance is free, but register now to save your spot. You’ll learn success secrets from Ray and other thought leaders in nearly a dozen hands-on seminars. 

To work, everyone knows the Affordable Care Act needs young people to sign up, and the White House has been spending heavily to target millenials and others to at least start a conversation about enrolling in Obamacare.

But its latest attempt seems to be falling on deaf ears.

Here was this morning’s tweet, from the official account of the president.

How do you plan to spend the cold days of December? http://t.co/Rwf5AYc3bG #GetTalking pic.twitter.com/PBQ397yLf4

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 17, 2013

What follows is a parade of snark, most from the very target audience the president is trying to reach…

#gettalking about where he got that onesie. MT @BarackObama: How do you plan to spend the days of Dec? #GetTalking pic.twitter.com/GsuZiFnw1e

— kelly cohen (@politiCOHEN_) December 17, 2013

@BarackObama Words are simply inadequate to describe the spiral galaxy sized suck of that tweet. Yet I will persevere.

— Hugo Hackenbush (@MangyLover) December 17, 2013

I’ll spend them standing up when I pee. RT @BarackObama: How do you plan to spend the cold days of December? pic.twitter.com/QwO2PjyWcX

— Patrick Kernan Quinn (@PatKernanQuinn) December 18, 2013

I can’t afford Hot Chocolate. My insurance is too expensive. @PatKernanQuinn @BarackObama @RBPundit

— William L (@WDLKD) December 18, 2013

@BarackObama …and the winner for most hilarious Tweet of the week.

— Tim Morris (@TimMorrisUSA) December 17, 2013

So, marketers and branding experts, weigh in: Helpful or not?

Related: Still Sorting Through Your Company’s Health-Care Options? We Can Help

Ray Hennessey is Editorial Director of Entrepreneur.com.

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To Boost Innovation, Reboot Your Conversations

You might not realize it, but a simple question such as, “How could you say that?” or “What were you thinking?” can stop creativity in its tracks. Such phrases activate people’s fear networks. Blood rushes to their primitive brain, designed for protection, and cortisol (a fear hormone) spreads, activating their ability to protect themselves from harm. Suddenly, and without realizing it, colleagues switch their innovation lights to “off.”

Thanks to advances in neuroscience and fMRI technology, we know that every conversation has a physiological impact. As we converse, neurochemicals are released in our brains almost instantly making us feel either good or bad. Feel-good conversations keep the blood flowing, the energy pumping, and light up our ability to see the world in new ways.

As the New Year approaches, you’ll want to ensure that your team is has the flexibility to gain access to new patterns of thinking. To grow and develop, you’ll require a culture of trust and positivity. To get you there, we’ve outlined three of the main ingredients you’ll need to create quality conversations in any environment.

Step 1: Encourage candor and trust.
Why it’s important: When we enable straight talk, candor and open conversations (without repercussions and fear of punishment), these norms create a mind shift that activates the mental fireworks for innovation. Employees need to trust that their ideas will be heard—and that they will get support, attention and proper vetting once the ideas are put on the table.
Your action plan: Find ways for staffers to talk more and with more people. Maybe it’s a regular lunch or a multi-purpose space where staffers can get coffee or meet. Bumping into one another to chat can help build engagement and understanding that underpins efficient communication and understanding.

Step 2: Eliminate politics
Why it’s important: Unwritten codes that signal, “you can’t say this,” or “you can’t do that” tell people not to change the status quo. Conversations cover the lowest common denominator and people stop innovating.
Your action plan: Reboot your office culture. Only daily practice can reaffirm concepts like “every idea counts” or healthy challenges to ideas. Make time to take input from outside your usual circle and remove the word “can’t” from your own vocabulary as an example to your team. When people know the canvas is blank and politics are not in play, they’ll be more open to take risks and to test out novel thinking.

Step 3: Promote recognition
Why it’s important: Too often employees have great ideas and no one listens. Ideas are expressed, but no one validates them or acknowledges them. There is an instinctive fear that voices will not be heard, and ideas will be pushed under the rug or their importance minimized.
Your action plan: First off, you can stop your own hour-long monologues during meetings and give staffers a chance to join a dialogue. You can then start forming small teams to challenge staffers to generate and implement new ideas, possibly for new projects or even ways to improve workflow or efficiency. Lastly, you should identify the staffers with whom you interact the least. Simple hallway hellos in the morning can make them feel comfortable speaking up and increase your circle of influence.

How Becoming an Authority Can Even Save Your Life

Image of The Copyblogger Essay Contest Winners Poster

Editor’s note: This essay is the Grand Prize winner of the first-ever Copyblogger Media Essay contest, for which writers had 250 words to discuss “why it’s essential to be an online authority.”

Imagine you’re 30,000 feet in the air.

You and the Copyblogger team are flying to SXSW, listening to Brian Clark talk about the upcoming presentations and everybody’s pumped up.

But before you land at AUS, the plane crashes and everyone’s stranded in the middle of nowhere.

As the CEO and content marketing expert, everyone looks to Brian for direction.

Unfortunately, marketing knowledge isn’t going to be much help here.

Do you have what it takes to survive?

When the shit hits the fan, titles don’t matter.

People listen to the person that can help them. The expert on the subject.

So, when the plane goes down, if someone else on the Copyblogger team is a survival expert, to heck with Brian, you’re going to listen to them.

Why? They’re the authority.

Many marketing folks want you to think the tactics they promote will make people pay attention to you. The truth is, in today’s marketing environment, the tool doesn’t matter as much as the trust.

It’s essential to be an authority because …

You need people to know, like, and trust you to be successful online.

The best way to do that is to be seen as a trusted resource. An expert on the topic. Someone who answers people’s questions and helps solve their problems.

Survival is only possible with one weapon … authority.


As the grand prize winner, Anthony received a lifetime membership to Authority as well as a ticket to Authority Intensive, the content marketing experience we are hosting in May.

Later today at 12:00 CT, join Jerod and Demian for the Copyblogger Essay Contest Wrap-Up. They will discuss why this essay was chosen as the winner plus other observations after reading the 270+ essays that were submitted.

About the Author: Anthony Sills specializes in writing about the SMB sector, marketing, and HR/employment trends. His work can be found in blogs such as TribeHR, Infusionsoft’s Big Ideas, as well as American Express OPEN Forum. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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A College ‘Trep’s Plans for 2014

A College 'Trep's Plans for 2014

Bryan Silverman

Image credit: amazonaws.com

Two years ago, Star Toilet Paper rolled out a unique business model when it began putting ads on toilet paper that businesses can get for free for their bathroom stalls. Company co-founders and brothers Bryan and Jordan Silverman are now trying to live by their own motto—”Changing the Way People Do Their Business.”

Over the past year, the Silverman brothers focused on more thoughtfully evolving their three-person, New York-based startup and better understanding what types of toilet-paper advertising catches consumers’ attention, and what kinds they flush away.

We recently caught up with Bryan Silverman, named Entrepreneur’s College Entrepreneur of 2012, about what lessons have led to his company’s success and his plans and goals for the coming year.

Lessons from the past year? As the company tries to attract new advertisers and venues, the Silvermans have learned the importance of trial and error and reflecting on past experiences. “We’re still trying to figure out where to focus our time and effort,” says Silverman, a junior at Duke University. Star Toilet Paper made its first appearance in Ann Arbor, Mich., in spring 2012. But it took the company several months to get rolling and line up venues and local advertisers in that market. Feedback has been good, Silverman says, but the company needs to do more to refine its processes to make sure it can continue to grow and expand into new markets. “We’re now at a stage where we’re trying to make that process faster and more efficient,” Silverman adds.

For example, the company has found that it’s had the best luck getting bars and restaurants to sign up as venues. So when it enters future markets, it plans to approach those types of establishments first. “One thing we might do is partner up with bars and clubs that can help us get into other types of venues,” Silverman adds.

The company plans to do more extensive testing of its ads in 2014 by surveying its advertisers (including animal-rights group PETA), the venues that offer the toilet paper and the customers who use it. The company wants to know, Do QR codes on toilet paper ads work, or do they just take up space that could be better utilized with coupons or other types of ads? They also plan to conduct A/B testing to see whether it’s more effective to, say, put the advertisers’ names at the top of ads or whether it’s better to lead with a call to action or discount or promotion.

“The lesson for me has been the importance of reflecting internally and not thinking that just because we’re doing well now that we’re the best we can be,” Silverman adds. “We need to continually improve our product.”

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Bryan Silverman on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Starting Up in College

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Business goals for 2014? The company hopes to attract larger advertisers and venues, rather than focusing so much on local and independent businesses and buyers—which have been Star Toilet Paper’s main squeeze so far. Specifically, Silverman says, it hopes to break into colleges and athletic stadiums. These are natural outlets for the company, he says, because many of its dozens of advertisers are eager to reach a college-aged crowd. They also have far more traffic than your average restaurant or bar. The Silverman brothers already have numerous connections to college officials through friends, alumni groups and former and current classmates, meaning the company can use warm leads rather than having to rely on cold-calling in new markets. “It’s a way to get our foot in the door,” he adds.

Another goal? One challenge for the Silvermans has been communication, given that they are located hundreds of miles apart: Bryan is based in Durham, N.C. while Jordan and the company’s chief marketing officer are in New York. When the company began introducing Star Toilet Paper in Durham earlier this year, Bryan said small issues sprang up that made the roll-out more time-consuming. For instance, knowing the best times to deliver toilet paper rolls to businesses and figuring out the types of dispensers each business needed was difficult when his business partner was located in another state. In the coming year, Silverman says he and his brother strive to have better and “more open” conversations—which will mean having more frequent team meetings to discuss plans. As they roll out new markets, they also plan to brainstorm “what could go wrong,” so they can troubleshoot before problems occur.

Personal goal for 2014. Even at the unripe age of 20, Silverman has that he needs to make sure to exercise regularly and maximize his time in college. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in schoolwork and the business that he sometimes forgets to fully take advantage of being a college student. “There are so many things to do and so many resources and so many people as a result of being in college,” he says. Although he’s a neuroscience major—a subject in which he’s personally fascinated—Silverman says he plans to pursue Star Toilet Paper and hopefully move to New York City after he graduates in 2015 to work on expanding the company with his brother. But for the time being, he wants to make sure he’s taking advantage of the entrepreneurship resources and networking opportunities on campus.

He recently became co-president of the Duke Start-Up Challenge, a year-long entrepreneurship contest among Duke students. “You don’t have to start your own company to be an entrepreneur,” he says. “If somebody wants to do something, especially on a college campus, they can. I want to be part of that.”
 

Kelly K. Spors is a freelance writer in St. Louis Park, Minn.

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Richard Branson on Finding Talented People Who Can Grow Your Business

Richard Branson on Finding Talented People Who Can Grow Your Business

Editor’s Note: Entrepreneur Richard Branson regularly shares his business experience and advice with readers. Ask him a question and your query might be the inspiration for a future column.

Q: It’s obvious that you are great at choosing partners to execute your ideas. How do you verify whether a person has enough passion and determination to grow a business? Maciej Miko, Poland

It takes many different types of CEOs and top managers to lead Virgin’s 50,000 employees and keep our businesses fun, purposeful and profitable. We find great leaders everywhere: working hard inside our company, executing entrepreneurial changes in large corporations, and even selling auto supplies from the backs of their cars. The exciting part is letting them shine in leadership roles.

The long process of building up your company’s bench strength starts with the daily practice of letting employees take on challenging responsibilities beyond their current roles. All you have to do is listen to their ideas and give them the power to make the best ones a reality. Building their skills is essential to your company’s long-term success.

Following on this principle, we promote from within as much as possible — there’s no better way to learn whether someone has passion and determination than by working with him or her every day. Jayne-Anne Gadhia’s career with us is a great example of how this can work. In 1995, she was a crucial member of the team that launched Virgin Direct, and then she helped with the launch of an all-in-one banking product, the Virgin One account. Virgin One was so successful that three years later, the Royal Bank of Scotland bought the remaining 50 percent of the business that it didn’t already own, for 100 million pounds.

When we started looking for someone to take Virgin Money’s top job in 2007, we already knew Jayne-Anne well — her toughness, creativity and leadership skills — and so she was one of the first people who came to mind. She went on to lead our purchase of the failed bank Northern Rock in 2011, where she introduced community-friendly approaches that have gained the public’s trust: Virgin Money is now Britain’s third-largest net lender, responsible for more than 3 million customers.

In contrast to Jayne-Anne’s deep background in her field, some startup founders have joined the Virgin Group with little more than their energy, passion and single-minded focus — all essential for growing an idea into a company and for attracting and retaining partners and employees.

When we met Billy Levy and Zack Zeldin, we learned that they’d been friends in college, at the University of Florida, and had started their first business together, selling Freon to auto shops. Their true passion was playing video games, and as gamers, they knew that people were eager to compete for cash and prizes against others with similar skills. They started up WorldGaming.com, which we bought in 2010.

Virgin Gaming has since partnered with major interactive entertainment companies to integrate our technology into popular games available on the Playstation and Xbox. So far, our gamers have won more than $45 million.

What made Billy and Zack, now respectively the vice president and president of Virgin Gaming, stand out? Their pitch was inspiring, and as we discussed the idea with them, it became clear that they would able to generate excitement among employees on a daily basis. They had something that worked in the past for Virgin: youthful inexperience, offset by a relentless focus on success.

Some of our other CEOs used to work for larger competitors. When making such hires, what we look for above all is whether a person listens to employees. You can tell that a leader is open to change when their employees feel empowered to make decisions that can become the norm.

David Cush was an executive at American Airlines for more than 22 years before joining Virgin America, and he really took to heart the opportunity to work in a smaller company, where every voice can be heard. His annual training program, which is attended by all employees, emphasizes communication, recognition and teamwork. Recently David joined an open session where teammates brainstormed improvements to the staff travel policy. He then made sure that the group’s best suggestion was implemented, delighting all who’d contributed. David’s leadership has turned the first U.S. domestic airline to start up after 9/11 into an award-winning, profitable business.

To answer your question, Maciej, we look for passion, determination and quite a bit more – it all depends on what the business requires. The leaders we find all share the same entrepreneurial spirit and focus on customer service that are part of Virgin’s DNA.

What core values does your brand represent, and does it look for them in its leaders?

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Questions from readers will be answered by Richard Branson in future columns. Please include your name and country when you send your question to BransonQuestions@Entrepreneur.com.

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How to Succeed Online (Even if You Aren’t a Rock Star)

image of dog in sunglasses
Yesterday on Google+, Charlotte Pierce made a very sensible remark.

By the way, does everyone have to be a hotshot, guru, or a rock star? How about just quietly excellent?

I’m with Charlotte. In fact, I’ve just about lost my patience with the parade of internet-famous quasi-celebrities.

Maybe being a rock star isn’t so awesome

Now I’m not putting down marketers with big audiences. That would just be stupid.

Lots of people with big audiences are doing very cool things. Like we’ve said 385,291 times, you want to attract that audience — the audience is where all the good things come from.

But some of the most visible “rock stars” out there are bitter, burned out, or broke.

Too often, being a “rock star” means you don’t get to evolve. You don’t get to grow. You don’t get to get smarter.

You just get to keep playing the same greatest hits that got you all that attention in the first place.

Which is okay if you’re the Rolling Stones. But kind of a bummer if you were only ever this guy.

You should be what you want to be

I totally get why people envy the “rock stars,” the ones with millions of Twitter followers or big book deals. The ones who look so shiny and unapproachable.

But I think you should worry less about them and think more about how to celebrate what you’re doing.

One thing I like a lot about my company is that I get to do the things I’m good at. The things that give me G.A.S. (that’s a good thing).

In your company — whether it’s just you or you’re on a team — you need to find that. You need a role where you can play to your strengths. That’s where the energy comes from for the long haul … and it’s always a long haul.

Celebrate

As I said to Charlotte, you can be a secret agent or a ninja librarian or an emperor penguin. Maybe you’re a goonie. (You can even be a rock star, but only if it makes you happy.)

But be what you’re incredibly good at. Make yourself useful to an audience you care about. And celebrate the hell out of that.

A big chunk of being successful is recognizing all the great stuff you’re already doing. The shiniest rock star is a failure if she keeps chasing meaningless goals that are always just over the horizon.

Every day I’m blown away by the talent and tenacity and vibrance of you. The person reading this. Right now.

As the end of the year is coming up, remember to celebrate all the amazing things you’ve done. Your audience, your content, your skill set, your passions, your partnerships, all of it. Take a look back at where you were at the beginning of the year, and notice all of the cool stuff you did over the past 12 months.

And celebrate that. Even if you’re not a rock star.

Because I think you’re pretty damn cool.

Flickr Creative Commons image by alan-light

About the author

Sonia Simone

Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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6 New Rules for Becoming a Google+ Hangouts Hotshot in 2014

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Gary Vaynerchuk has achieved notable success through content marketing, and he sometimes says the unbelievable.

His crime this time? In his new book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook he argues that Google+ is worthless.

In Gary’s defense, I think he simply has not given Google+ a fair shake.

In an interview with Marie Forleo, he shares a list of specific things to post — and how to post them — on specific social networks. He names all the usual suspects: Instagram, Medium, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr.

But no Google+.

That’s a shame. And strange.

Gary, the man behind Wine Library TV, would surely rock Google+ — especially Hangouts — and have a lot to say about it.

Because Google has a lot to offer the modern-day content marketer.

The growing benefits of Google+

Google+ is one of the largest social networks on the planet.

It’s easier and faster to build an audience there than on any other social network. There are clear-cut SEO benefits. And Google baked perhaps the best video platform on the web right into it.

I’ve heard it said that communities thrive around relationships and activities. And the ability to build a thriving community couldn’t be more accessible than it is on Google+.

Fame has followed those who’ve worked Hangouts smartly.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is a content marketing rock star. Italian Pio del Cin’s prolific interviews with the hottest people on Google+ is arguably one of the best things on Google+. And Chef Dennis Littley‘s stature as reigning food expert is a product of his cooking shows.

And don’t forget that it costs next to nothing to run Hangouts.

Fortunately, you don’t have to look far to find advice on hosting successful Hangouts. The conventional wisdom usually runs:

  • Keep the show interesting
  • Talk to the camera (not the panel strip at the bottom of your screen)
  • Be interested in the person speaking
  • Make sure folks are well-lit and that there is no back lighting nor too much headroom

For those of us who have been around the block, we know that advice inside and out. How do we graduate to the next level?

Who wants to run a show that makes people take notice? And what’s the best way to accomplish that?

Lucky for you I have an answer. Six, in fact.

1. Choose the panel carefully

One way to take a load off the responsibility and fear that come with doing Hangouts (especially if you do them on a weekly basis) is to line up a panel of regular contributors who will show up each week ready to engage the speaker.

Because let’s admit it: It can be overwhelming, and you may be insecure about doing Hangouts.

For instance, you are doomed to run into technical roadblocks (your camera insists you remain upside down) or personnel hardships (guests don’t show up who say they will). Giving up is a constant temptation.

This is why David Oldenburg says, “I see more people fail in business, in blogging, and in social media because they simply want things to happen too fast.” He’d want everyone to know that they should never give up — in spite of the hardships.

That’s where a proper panel serves as a committee that encourages you when you might think things are not going well. Max Minzer uses this feature to full effect.

Each week Max interviews different people from the online marketing world — people like Eric Enge, Bill Slawski, Rae Hoffman, and Amber Osborne — but he’s built a reliable circle of people who show up each week to support him.

These are like-minded people who take the pressure off being a full-time host by encouraging Max (usually just by faithfully showing up every week). But they provide another service as well.

Max’s panel asks questions and interacts with the speaker, grabbing onto trains of thought that might otherwise go unnoticed or jumping in with questions and comments to elaborate on an issue.

2. Introduce a devil’s advocate

Because we don’t like conflict, we so often conform to the party line and don’t rock the boat. But if you don’t have at least a little conflict, you probably won’t have a very good show.

So, how can you guarantee conflict? Invite someone with opinions different from yours.

In other words: the devil’s advocate.

This person could be a onetime guest or a regular member on your panel. For example, you could get a promise days before the event from someone on your panel who will promise to play the devil’s advocate. Then you can count on differing opinions to be introduced.

This devil’s advocate, however, needs to be prepared. Make sure he or she knows the guest and the guest’s positions well, to be able to bring up some meaningful differences.

And please, avoid ridiculing or embarrassing the guest.

3. Build your presence where it makes the most sense

While we wholeheartedly recommend Google+ as the dream social media space for a content marketer, we get it if you have a bigger fan base somewhere else, say on Facebook or Pinterest.

Minzer says:

Treat Google+ Hangouts on Air like a 3rd-party video interaction tool and not necessarily a part of Google+/YouTube. Build presence where it makes the most sense for you and your audience — Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Google+, or elsewhere — and think about Hangouts on Air as just a tool to help you reach the right people.

This is good news for people who worry that their fans won’t follow them over to Google+.

If you have a huge following on Twitter and not Google+, allow people to ask you questions on Twitter. Don’t force them to use your Hangout Events page to comment and ask questions.

The same goes for Facebook. Minzer recommends to “create an event page or group on Facebook and have interaction there.”

4. Get training so the tools disappear

Speaking of tools, there is nothing more annoying than having a host who doesn’t know how to run a Hangout.

Such a host becomes a distraction when he or she can’t figure out how to screenshare during a Hangout, the audio drops, or the live broadcast is not properly shut down after the show is over.

This is why Google+ Hangouts trainer Ronnie Bincer encourages everyone to get trained.

5. Invite the audience to participate

Sarah Hill is probably the most famous and visible Hangouts person around.

She’s been a trailblazer since her days at Columbia KOMU, doing live Hangouts on Air with experts covering hot topics. (KOMU was the first to put a Hangout on TV, shortly after Google+ launched.)

She’s since taken that pioneer spirit to Veterans United, where she has run daily Front Porch Hangouts, inviting anyone and everyone to come talk to her about all things military.

What has her years of experience taught her?

Sarah says you should integrate “viewers outside the Hangout into the broadcast by mentioning their +1s, Retweets, Likes, and other social media comments or questions.” This is a practice Bincer advocates too.

The goal is to make those who are watching feel like they are intimate with the broadcast. The effect is a seamless conversation with the host, the panel, and the audience. This is truly nurturing the community, which Google+ is so good at.

There are apps available to make this process easy: Q & A or Comment Tracker.

One warning should be obvious, however: don’t do this at the expense of your guest.

Christine DeGraff, in the context of emphasizing that it’s essential you be interested in the person speaking, says this:

It is very easy to get distracted, to be checking the comment tracker, etc. I have done it myself and that is when I caught myself and realized that the person speaking deserves full attention from everyone on the panel. Put your cell phone down. Keep your hands off the keyboard. Listen carefully and give the person speaking the same attention as you would if they were in the same room with you.

Sound advice, Christine.

6. Push Google+ to the limits

As Hangouts grow in popularity, so will the thirst for new experiences. So the template for what you can do with Hangouts needs to grow and change.

Otherwise, you’ll create just another interview or talk show … which isn’t going to cut it.

One way Sarah Hill is doing this with Veterans United is allowing people to go places they wouldn’t normally go, in this case immobile World War II veterans who’ve never been able to visit the war memorials. It’s truly inspirational.

It’s your time

Let me close with some inspirational words from David Oldenburg:

Everyone told me I would fail … I mean almost everyone. Listen and believe in yourself and you will succeed. It is amazing what we can accomplish when we stay the course and believe we can do it. When people give you negativity or cut you down in comments, simply thank them for their opinion, move on, and do not let it derail you.

Stated another way: grit trumps talent.

Do the right things long enough and success will follow. So here’s to your successful Hangouts show in 2014!

And by the way, Copyblogger is going to launch our own regular Hangouts show next year. Look for Jerod, me, and Brian Clark, plus a slew of guests, delivering Hangouts covering content marketing and copywriting in the most creative ways possible.

See you there …

About the author

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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5 Ways to Stay on Top of Holiday Orders

5 Ways to Stay on Top of Holiday Orders

The holiday shopping season is a crucial time for any retailer, much less a small one. Major players like Amazon and Toys “R” Us hire seasonal armies of up to 70,000 temporary workers to handle their pre- and post-holiday shipping needs but small businesses just don’t have those kinds of resources to deal with an influx of orders.

This year poses even more challenges than usual because there are six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“Six less sales days is kind of scary for some retailers,” acknowledges Robert Gilbreath, vice president of marketing at ShipStation.com in Austin, Texas. “We have to do the same amount of business in a shorter time.” Adding to the shopping crunch, Thanksgiving coincided with the start of Hanukah this year, he notes.

Adding to the challenges, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day “has become a season in itself” when people redeem gift cards received as presents, points out Curt Barry, chief executive officer and founder of operations and fulfillment consultant F. Curtis Barry & Co. in Richmond, Va.

In short, the holiday shopping season has become a marathon, not a sprint, for retailers. For small retailers, any strategies that help them keep up with holiday orders while staying within modest shipping budgets is a gift.

Here are five tips to help small businesses boost order fulfillment efficiency and save money so they can survive and thrive through the end of the year and beyond:

1. Conduct fulfillment process “fire drills.” Gilbreath recommends getting out a stopwatch to see how long it takes to complete various tasks, such as packing a box. Timing the fulfillment process also helps identify areas that aren’t running smoothly, he notes. In addition, be sure the processes are thoroughly and accurately documented in the event workers need to be shifted around or new people are brought in to help, says Gilbreath.

2. Assess the physical fulfillment space. Take a look at the layout of the space being used to fill orders and pack for shipping, says Barry. Can products be stored differently or equipment used more efficiently? Barry advises making sure the most popular products are close by and in ready supply to reduce lost time. Take packers’ needs into consideration by making sure they have enough space to work on and don’t have to walk too far to get products or packing supplies, he says. Also, assess how packing and shipping can be made more comfortable for workers, with adjustable-height tables and support mats for workers to stand on, says Barry.

3. Consider software to coordinate the processes. Shipping software programs, such as ProShip , based in Brookfield, Wis., and Endicia, in Palo Alto, Calif. can be tailored to meet individual small businesses needs and make shipping functions more efficient. ShipStation’s web-based programs, for example, lets small businesses manage shipments using multiple carriers from one interface and generates labels and packing slips. ShipStation allows for month-to-month subscriptions so small business clients pay for extra support only when they need it, says Gilbreath. ShipStation’s pricing ranges from $25 for 500 shipments per month from one online marketplace platform to $145 for unlimited shipping per month from multiple platforms. The monthly price includes the printing of labels and packing slips, as well as administrative functions such as order status and tracking.

4. Talk to your carrier. Don’t assume you already know everything your carriers can do, advises Gilbreath. If you ask, your carrier may have some flexibility around pick-up times, which can be a boon during high-volume periods such as the holidays, he says. Big shippers such as UPS and Federal Express provide resources specifically designed to help small businesses. In some cases, carriers can connect businesses with logistics experts or offer tools to make packing and shipping more efficient. 

5. Get creative to stay competitive. Test new, developing services that might allow you to offer same-day, on-demand shipping in certain markets. Crowdshipping, for instance, is a web-based method of delivery that connects packages needing transport with local lay and professional couriers locally, regionally, and even nationally. Some examples include Deliv, based in Palo Alto, Calif. and Zipments based in New York.

Crowdshipping is an emerging method and not every new service is currently available in every market. However, where services are available, crowdshipping can allow small businesses like yours to offer demand shipping at an affordable price, giving you a competitive advantage, says Kevin Mehrabi, the chief executive officer and founder of Runner, a crowdshipping service in Los Angeles. This method can make sense for perishable items that need to be delivered the same day, large or awkward-sized items that would be costly to pack and ship, and even less expensive items that wouldn’t be worth shipping via a standard carrier, he says.
 

Samantha Drake is a freelance writer and editor in the Philadelphia area who specializes in business, legal, environmental, and general interest issues.

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We Test It: Evernote Smart Notebooks by Moleskine

Each month, Field Test columnist and contributing editor Jenna Schnuer tries out gadgets and services designed to simplify life on the road.

There are only a few apps to which I’m absolutely devoted and atop that list sits Evernote. It’s my go-to for everything from taking (and storing) notes for articles and books, to jotting down gift ideas for my nieces. I keep my to-do lists for personal and work on Evernote and the app is front and center on both of my computers, my phone and my iPad. I’m more than just a little attached.

On the paper side of life, I have a similar love for Moleskine notebooks. (Yes, I’m a bit of a writer cliché on that front but so are most of my friends.) They’re so pretty. The notebooks. Not my friends. Some of my friends. Anyway, whatever.

So how to make the two work together? The two companies teamed up last year to introduce an Evernote-specific line of notebooks. Well, I started eyeballing them—but just eyeballing them. Regular Moleskine notebooks are already a pricey $18.95 and even devotees like myself search them out on sale. Was the bump up to $29.95 for the Evernote Smart Notebook worth it? Would that really make the paper-to-digital flow that much better?

The product’s promise: The notebook pages feature special dotted lines (choice of ruled or grid) that, when photographed using the camera in the Evernote smartphone app, optimize the image and increase the quality of search on your handwritten notes. “Cleaner page captures mean it can be easier for us to do the handwriting recognition on the backend,” says a spokeswoman. Also, the notebooks come with “smart stickers” that, during the photo-to-Evernote process, automatically tell Evernote where it should file the notes. You can assign each of the six category stickers to a specific notebook. Each notebook comes with two or three months of premium Evernote membership, a $5 per month value. Already a premium subscriber? You’ll receive points good for extending your subscription or other services.

Our reality: I’m going back to regular Moleskines. Before the launch of the Evernote Smart Notebook, I’d snapped photos of regular Moleskine notebook pages for use with Evernote (either by scanning or by taking a smartphone photo). The handwriting recognition already worked well enough. Not perfect. But well enough. No big complaints. When using the Smart Notebooks, I didn’t see much of a difference in the quality of the results on searching my handwritten notes photographed from a regular Moleskine notebook page (or, even, any old blank page) than using the Evernote version.

And the stickers? I have loads more notebooks than there are available Smart Stickers. I’ll never just have an “ideas” notebook; I have a “culture ideas,” “Alaska ideas,” “book ideas,” and on and on. Unfortunately, there’s no plan to add more sticker types, according to a spokeswoman.

It’s not a bad product, it’s just … fine. That said, the Evernote version doesn’t offer enough of a bump up in utility in order to justify the price. In the meantime, I can cobble together fine all on my own. Evernote and Moleskine are still my magic brands, however, and I’m still hopeful that Evernote’s new alliance with Post-it® Notes is going to change my life. Hey, it could happen…
 

Jenna Schnuer writes (mostly) about business and travel and is a contributing editor for Entrepreneur.

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I Hated This Headline … So Why Did it Work?

Image of a 'Headlines That Work' logo

This Copyblogger post missed the boat. (I thought.)

The bitter wording of its headline blemished the Copyblogger brand and should have been replaced. Chances are you wouldn’t have run it. Brian Clark did.

There are four people at Copyblogger whose job it is to inspect headlines at each stage of editing. (One Copyblogger post is published daily; there are more inspectors than posts.)

Headlines have been rejected for miscalculations of word choice barely visible to the eye.

We pluck the lemons, you get the plums …

Which means that I apparently need more practice plucking, because Ramsay Taplin’s headline professing hate for the very site it was published on turned out to be a plum.

But how?

For the answer, let’s turn back the hands of time and study one of the greatest contradictory headlines of all time.

Lemon.

On page 73 of his book Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy (the man once called the “most sought-after wizard” in advertising) discusses short versus long headlines, citing research he commissioned:

Starch reports that headlines with more than ten words get less readership than short headlines. On the other hand, a study of retail advertisements found that headlines of ten words sell more merchandise than short headlines. Conclusion: if you need a long headline, go ahead and write one; and if you want a short headline, that’s all right too.

Remember that. We’ll come back to it later.

In the next sentence, Ogilvy goes on to cite one of the most famous and successful short headlines in history: Volkswagen’s Lemon ad, which “contributed a lot to the success of Volkswagen in the United States.”

Let’s take a look at that ad and see what it can teach us about why the headline “Why I Hate Copyblogger” works on Copyblogger.

(Click the image to enlarge it in a new window.)

volkswagen_lemon

The Lemon ad works for two simple reasons, neither of which has anything to do with the length of its headline.

First, upon initial glance at the ad, it appears to be conveying a negative message. What could be a worse word to juxtapose with an image of a car than “lemon”?

The mind races with possibilities.

  • Is this an attack ad from a Volkswagen competitor? (Everybody likes a fight, so that would be intriguing.)
  • Is it some kind of egregious copywriting error or joke-gone-wrong by Volskwagen? (Everybody likes seeing supposed smarty-pantses mess up, so that too would be intriguing.)
  • Is it — could it really be? — Volkswagen purposefully calling their own car a lemon? (Everybody likes to make sense of what at first seems to be completely contradictory, so that would also be intriguing.)

Bottom line: the headline is intriguing, no matter how you read it initially. It makes you want to know more.

And the #1 goal of a headline is to get the first sentence of your copy read. So … Lemon wins.

The second reason the headline works is because the copy is brilliant. (It’s so brilliant that, you may have noticed, I made my intro to this post a blatant homage to it.)

Read the copy of the ad and you realize that, yes, the headline is referring to a Volkswagen, but it’s referring to a Volkswagen that will never, ever see the light of a showroom, let alone your garage.

Volkswagen’s quality control is that good. Which is the point: They are committed to outstanding quality control, and they are more than competent at it.

They pluck the lemons; you get the plums.

Misdirection for the win

Let’s summarize here, because it’s essential to where we go next:

By offsetting your expectations with a negative and self-referential headline, Lemon gets you to the read the ad. Then your expectations are flipped again when the brilliant copy serves to espouse a great virtue of Volkswagen.

Interestingly, the copy does not directly contradict the headline. Volkswagen does produce lemons. They admit it. They just won’t let the lemon ever get to you, the consumer. (That’s the benefit. Their quality control is the feature.)

What the copy does is provide context for the headline that you never imagined when all those initial possibilities were racing through your mind after reading it. And that is why you keep reading.

The result is that you come away impressed.

And it all started with a simple, short, strange headline.

Just like Ramsay Taplin’s “hateful” post from a month ago.

So … why does Ramsay’s headline work?

Ramsay’s headline works by following the formula of Lemon.

The headline is negative and self-referential, and it uses that misdirection to create the intrigue necessary to get the first line of copy read. Mission accomplished.

Yet failure is still possible, because the copy has to be good. If it’s not, people look back to the headline, feel duped or unfulfilled, and Ramsay looks like a fool. (And so do we, for running it.)

But Ramsay delivers.

He provides context for the headline and makes useful, relevant points. He fulfills his promise and delivers value.

Plus, it’s short

Ramsay smartly chose a short headline with punch as opposed to a long one.

This is the right choice because — remember the Ogilvy quote from above? — Ramsay is not trying to sell anything with his post other than his ideas. He wants attention, not sales.

Short headlines draw attention; long headlines sell.

This is why Lemon works as well.

Yes, there is a product being advertised, but there is no call to action to buy. The immediate goal is to sell an idea, not a car. It’s a brand-builder. So short works.

But one thing still scares me …

Ramsay’s post has over 100 comments. It has also been shared an amount commensurate to other posts published on Copyblogger on the same day of the week.

So the data backs up that the headline works.

Many of the comments laud the headline specifically, like this one from Amandah:

I saw your Copyblogger post sitting in my inbox; I did a double take when I read the headline. You better believe I had to click on the post. I think your headline is one of the best I’ve read. Simple, yet effective. Thanks for a great headline writing lesson.

But another comment from the post, by Jackson Anderson, hints at an initial misgiving I had about the headline that has not completely gone away.

Firstly the headline grabbed from a retweet so I actually had no idea where this has been published and all I could think is “but it’s such a good site with amazing content, have I missed something to hate?” haha

So … what if Jackson had not clicked over? Might a seed have been planted in his head that he should hate Copyblogger too — without understanding Ramsay’s context?

The post was tweeted multiple times to Brian Clark’s 155,000+ followers, shared nearly 1,000 times over all social channels, as was sent out via email to our 190,000 subscribers. There are plenty of other people out there who saw the headline but, unlike Jackson, never clicked back over. Some of those people know the post ran on Copyblogger (thus lessening the potential for a negative impact), but many others did not.

Is this an issue?

We can’t ever really know for certain as such a sentiment would not show up in the comment section, and there is no way to measure it. But it remains a potential unintended consequence of the headline, something to consider.

I’m curious what you think. So leave a comment below.

But first, get free headline help

Make sure you download our free ebook How to Write Magnetic Headlines.

I never write a headline without consulting the tips and templates in this ebook first (seriously, every … single … time), and you too can have that same headline-writing knowledge available anytime you need it.

Thanks for your attention. I’ll see you soon with another edition of Headlines That Work.

About the author

Jerod Morris

Jerod Morris is the Director of Content for Copyblogger Media and a founding member of the Synthesis Managed WordPress Hosting team. Get more from Jerod on Twitter and .

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How the Grinch Stole Your Authority

Every Who
Down in Who-ville
Craved authority a lot …

But the Grinch,
Who lived just North of Who-ville,
Did NOT!

Now, Authority Intensive is not until May,
But your wallet may suffer if the Grinch has his way.

This particular Grinch is procrastination, you see.
Those who register by year’s end are pleased as can be.

But those who wait longer might not be happy at all.
Left out with their marketing brains two sizes too small.

Join us for smart speakers, plus parties and mingling.
You’ll leave with a roadmap and a mind that’s a-tingling.

So register now, without further delay …
Ensuring your brain grows three sizes in May!

And if this post has you contemplating a noose,
You’ll have to forgive me — I’m no Dr. Seuss.

Join us May 7-9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado

Save $500 when you register for Authority Intensive before December 31, 2013 at 6 pm Pacific time. And enjoy your Grinch-free Holiday Season!

About the author

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on .

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Entrepreneur’s Top 10 Technology Articles in 2013

Technology. It’s always changing. It’s always accelerating and being innovated. This year was no different. Entrepreneur.com chronicled all the action and it was a ton of fun.

From Google unveiling computerized glasses, to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop to the mobile battle between Apple and Samsung, 2013 was all about bold ideas and fierce competition. Here’s a countdown of Entrepreneur.com’s most-viewed tech stories of the year:

10. 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Mobile App Developer
Everything you need to know when searching for the right person to design your company’s first mobile app.

9. Why the Samsung Galaxy S4 May Be Better for Business Than Apple’s iPhone 5
Ah, the contentious battle between Apple and Samsung. Here, we looked at some of the most important features and how Samsung’s new smartphone stacked up.

8. Why California Can’t Be Home to the Hyperloop
In theory, Elon Musk’s Hyperloop may be able to get people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes. In reality, the layover the project will take in Sacramento could delay that trip for decades.

7. 3 Apps to Help You Write a Business Plan
We found a trio of helpful apps that guide you from brilliant business idea to an actionable plan.

6. HTC One vs. Samsung Galaxy S4: Which is Better For Business?
Two Android smartphones pushed the bar higher than ever. A head-to-head look at which one is best for power business users.

5. Once Sold for $850 Million, Bebo Founders Buy the Company Back for $1 Million
It’s been a long and winding road for Bebo, the social network that was launched in San Francisco in 2005. After being sold for hundreds of millions of dollars and later being bounced from owner to owner, the site returned to the hands of its original founders, Michael and Xochi Birch.

4. 10 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Webmaster
Another one from our “10 Questions” series: Webmasters for small businesses often do it all, from designing the website to search engine optimization (SEO) to daily maintenance. Here’s what you need to know when looking for the right person to design and maintain your website.

3. 3 Mobile Apps for Converting Voice to Text
If you don’t like typing on a smartphone or simply think better out loud, you’ll never miss another brilliant thought with these dictation apps.

2. This Is the 23-Year-Old Entrepreneur Who Just Turned Down $3 Billion From Facebook
We may never know why Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel really turned down the mega-offer, but here’s a look at what we do know about him.

1. My First 48 Hours Wearing Google Glass
Tech writer Taylor Hatmaker was one of the lucky individuals who were invited to pre-order Google Glass. Here, she offers some initial impressions of Google’s much-anticipated computerized glasses.
 

Jason Fell is the managing editor of Entrepreneur.com.

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Arby’s Expensive Revamp: Two Logos in Two Years

Arby's Expensive Revamp: Two Logos in Two Years

Arby’s has a new logo—again.

The new logo, which replaces the logo that was created just a year ago, was introduced at Arby’s National Franchise Conference in October. In November, it popped up in a commercial for Arby’s French Dip and Swiss. Now, the new logo has subtly replaced the old one on Arby’s social media sites.

With bold red lettering reminiscent of the chain’s original lettering and hat, the new logo “will start appearing in our print advertising/coupons, point-of-purchase (POP) collateral and merchandising materials in January,” says Arby’s communications manager Jason Rollins. “Restaurant signs will update on a rolling schedule as needed, beginning early next year.”

Related: A Racist Sign at Sonic and 5 Other Franchise PR Disasters

Amazingly, the “old” Arby’s logo was only a year old. In October 2012, Arby’s rolled out a brand relaunch with a “modernized” logo, new tagline of “Slicing Up Freshness” and a website refresh. The revamp was the work of Adrienne Weiss Corporation and Alcone Marketing with Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

Reactions were almost immediately negative. Critics called the logo a “travesty,” “forced,” and “half-baked.” Brand New’s poll of 3,600 individuals found that 93 percent disliked the update. The attempt to refresh the brand had fallen flat.

Arby's Expensive Revamp: Two Logos in Two Years

In 2013, Arby’s hired a new CEO and CMO. In October, AdWeek reported that Arby’s was searching for a new creative agency, turning away from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the agency responsible for the rebranding. Arby’s hopes to have a final decision on the replacement agency by early 2014

Arby’s annual media spending approaches $125 million each year. However, the real money from a logo revamp is not necessarily in advertising, but instead in replacing the countless items on which the logo appears. Point-of-purchase collateral and merchandising materials can encapsulate everything from stationery and business cards to brochures and napkins. Two redesigns in two years is a costly expense, no matter what you pay your ad agency.

Ultimately, Arby’s new logo is a return to a refreshed version of an old favorite. With no big announcement to highlight the change, reactions have been quieter, but much more positive than in 2012. In the words of one Facebook commenter: “I’m glad they went to one that’s more like the original! Stay true to your roots Arby’s!”

What do you think of Arby’s redesign—an expensive change or a necessary correction?

Related: Goodbye Bacon, Hello Health Food: 6 Restaurant Trends for 2014 

Kate Taylor is a staff writer for Entrepreneur.com.

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Coinbase Nets $25 Million in Largest Ever Bitcoin Fundraise

Coinbase Nets $25 Million in Largest Ever Bitcoin Fundraise

Image credit: Duncan Elms/Vimeo

Wall Street may be gearing up to enter the Bitcoin market in a big way, but Silicon Valley is already there.

Bitcoin exchange and wallet service Coinbase announced today that it has raised $25 million in a Series B round led by Andreessen Horowitz, the largest fundraise ever by a Bitcoin company.

San Francisco-based Coinbase is perhaps the most prominent Bitcoin operations in the United States, allowing individuals to buy and sell Bitcoin with a U.S. bank account and allowing merchants to accept the digital currency as payment. Online-dating service OKCupid is among the 16,000 merchants using Coinbase. Previously the eight-employee startup, which launched in June 2012, had raised about $6 million of investment capital.

“We think Coinbase can significantly accelerate Bitcoin’s proliferation, and as that happens the Internet will enter a new phase of invention and opportunity,” said Andreessen Horowitz’s Chris Dixon, who will join Coinbase’s board of directors on the heels of this latest funding round. “Bitcoin is the first plausible proposal for an economic protocol for the Internet.”

The Series B money will allow Coinbase to grow its staff and scale its business. As it stands, its recent growth is impressive: The company says its user base has tripled since Aug. 1, from 200,000 to more than 600,000 user accounts.

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, which participated in the funding round along with Ribbit Capital, will also join the Coinbase board.

Coinbase also announced today that Gavin Andresen, the head developer of the open-source software underlying Bitcoin, is joining the company as an advisor.

Related: SecondMarket CEO: Wall Street Will Put ‘Hundreds of Millions’ Into Bitcoin

Brian Patrick Eha is an assistant editor at Entrepreneur.com.

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Dealing With That Unhappy Customer

Dealing With That Unhappy Customer

Things are not going well with my customer Fred. Here, let me let him explain:

“I am more than willing to pay for your services — I just didn’t get what I paid for.”
“If I was advised upfront of the charges I wouldn’t have agreed.”
“It still is not working. Would you be okay for a service that you didn’t get?“
“That is not how I understood it. I am frustrated with your company.”

What can I do here? Fred is obviously not happy with me. He hired my company to help him install a software application on his computer and is dissatisfied with the services. What would you do if Fred was your customer?

Wait. Before answering that, you’ll need a little more background. Fred runs a very small company made up of…well…just Fred (he’s an independent insurance agent). Before embarking on our little project, Fred had a hundred questions. Once started, Fred continued his barrage of questions, both by email and phone. His budget, as you can guess, was miniscule. Fred unfortunately suffers from selective memory as well — he doesn’t seem to remember the issues, challenges and costs that my staff explained to him before getting started. He heard only what he chose to hear and now wants the job done based on his perception of what the costs would be.

Related: What Not to Do When Taking Clients Out to Lunch

We will never be right. We will never win. Even pointing him to the contract that he signed which explained the costs is fruitless. Fred, like most of our small business customers, signed it, but never read it — of course. Why do I even send these contracts anyway? And what are we going to do…sue him? Frankly, the more time we argue with Fred the more money we lose on this little customer. This nuisance customer. C’mon…you have them too. What do you do with guys like Fred? Here’s what I’ve learned:

Look at the long term. As much as I’d like to please Fred, I’ve got a business to run. This little project was only a few hundred bucks. And considering the amount of angst Fred caused my staff, there was little profit. But could Fred potentially be a big client? Might he be interested in spending a lot more money in the future with us? Does he have relationships or connections with others that could turn into big dollars? If so, then it’s worth sucking up the losses. But not in this case. I doubt he’d ever spend another penny with my company, happy or not. And though I can never be certain, I don’t see any of his friends knocking on my door with that next million dollar deal. Keeping him as a customer offered little future economic benefit.

Never fire your customer. Even though I see no future with Fred, I’m not going to fire him. Why? Because I admit that I’m a prostitute. I’ll do business with Satan himself if I can legally make a few bucks. So I stood firm. I politely (see below) told him that I’m happy to help him and this is what our charges would be. I’m not in the business of giving stuff away, particularly when we really did nothing wrong (at least this time). I leave the decision up to Fred. If he wants to work with us, great. If not, that’s completely up to him. I’m prepared to lose him because the long term doesn’t look very profitable (see above) so I’ll let him decide. I may decide to double my hourly fees, but I’ll never fire him.

Related: 3 Simple Ways to Keep Your Customers Happy

Always, always, always be polite and professional. The worst thing you can do with an unhappy customer is to fight with him. No, that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is to fight with him over email! We’ve all done this. And then we cringe when we look back at the conversations a few weeks later. Even if the customer is calling your mother a hook-nosed, wart-faced witch you should never respond in kind. Keep it polite and professional. Take the high road. You can have fun with this too, just watch how exasperated the angry customer gets as you reply back to him with cheer. More importantly you’ll never be ashamed of your behavior months later. And who knows who will read these emails then? 

Never blame your employees. Even though Fred was an impossible customer, some mistakes were made by my employees. Even so, you must never blame them in front of the customer. Talk to them offline if necessary. Keep a unified face. Stand behind your people. In the long run, knowing that you have their back will keep them loyal. Valuable employees are as important as valuable customers. You’re the boss. It’s your business. You failed to adequately supervise the job, train your people or handle the situation. Step up and take responsibility.

Always remember…no one bats a thousand. My company has 600 active clients. We sell mostly to small- and medium-sized businesses. I can’t possibly please everyone. In fact, I’m happy if two-thirds of my clients are happy. There will always be a group of people that have an issue at any given part of the day. Don’t let it bother you. Accept that as fate.

“I will take my business elsewhere,” Fred said to me. I had offered to keep working with him, as long as he paid. He didn’t like that option. It’s a free country. He’s free to be a nuisance and not pay someone else. And I’m free to find better, more profitable customers. I don’t like unhappy customers, but I’ve learned not to get too upset about them.

Related: Why It Pays to Be a Jerk Like Jeff Bezos

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Gene Marks is president of The Marks Group, a ten-person Philadelphia-based consulting firm specializing in sales and marketing technologies. Gene is the author of six books, most recently, The Manufacturer’s Book Of List (CreateSpace – October, 2013).

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Last Day to Buy Premise for WordPress … Ever

This is a quick reminder that our Premise landing page and membership site solution for WordPress is going off the market today at 5 p.m. PST. We’re not “killing” the product, we’re just ending standalone sales and shifting business models.

In short, if you have a self-hosted WordPress site, this is your last chance to buy Premise as a standalone product. We’ll be incorporating the technology in a hosted platform early next year, which will have a recurring fee.

So, you’ll want to buy today if you haven’t yet — and you’ll save $70 in the “going out of business” sale. And no worries about owning Premise from a support, maintenance, and improvement standpoint:

  • We will continue to fully support all Premise owners.
  • We will continue to keep the software compatible with all WordPress updates.
  • We will continue to improve functionality and upgrade owners at no charge.

If you’re looking for a detailed review of one of the many ways you can use Premise for WordPress, take a look at this case study MarketingSherpa did on MyCopyblogger (built completely with Premise). The boost this approach can give your email list makes the discounted price for Premise a steal.

Get your copy of Premise today before it’s too late. Sales end promptly at 5 p.m. PST / 8 p.m. EST.

About the author

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on .

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These 5 Writers Won the First Copyblogger Essay Contest …

Image of The Copyblogger Essay Contest Winners Poster

250 words is not a lot of words.

It barely fits on a single sheet of paper.

So when you answer the question “Why is online authority essential?” you must be lean and creative.

Who among you did it best?

Picking the winners

Jerod and I worked our way through all 272 entries. If every submission was 250 words, that’s 68,000 words in fewer than four days … the equivalent of reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

But that hard work paid off because we discovered some outstanding answers for why online authority is essential.

The winning essays did it by answering the question with a crisp, meaningful story introduced by a compelling headline.

You’ll get to read each of the winners here on Copyblogger. We’ll publish the grand prizewinning essay on Friday December 20th, followed by the four remaining essays each Friday after that.

And speaking of winners, drumroll please …

Second Prize …

Nick Evans, Joe Pawlikowski, and Mark Wayland!

Each of these fine gentlemen will get a one-year membership to Authority and have their essays published on Copyblogger.

First Prize …

Abbey Dieteman!

Abbey wins a lifetime membership to Authority and will have her essay published on Copyblogger.

And the Grand Prize goes to …

Anthony Sills!

Anthony wins a ticket to our Authority Intensive conference, a lifetime membership to Authority, and will have his essay published on Copyblogger. Congratulations Anthony!

*Thank you to everyone who entered, for your time, your talent, and your hard-fought answers. This contest was a success because of you. When you get a chance, congratulate the winners in the comments below. And start sharpening your writing chops for next time!

About the author

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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A Racist Sign at Sonic and 5 Other Franchise PR Disasters

A Racist Sign at Sonic and 5 Other Franchise PR Disasters

In the world of social media, the whole world finds out about your mistakes—fast.

Few understand the danger of this more than franchises. With thousands of stores open internationally, franchises are forced to realize that the racist, embarrassing and downright disgusting actions of a few employees or franchisees can damage the entire franchise’s brand with a single Facebook upload or tweet.

Sonic Drive-In is scrambling to do damage control after a franchisee recently allowed an employee to use racist language to promote the Kansas City Chiefs football team on an outdoor sign. A photo was uploaded to Twitter and quickly went viral.

But Sonic is hardly the first franchise to deal with PR nightmares in the age of social media. Check out these six franchises’ PR disasters, from incriminating Instagram photos to hashtags gone wrong.

Related: Chick-fil-A Removes Corn Syrup From Products After Blogger Takedown

Click here to see

Or view as a single page View As Slideshow

Racist Sonic Drive-In Signage

Image Credit: cbssports.com

Ten years ago, Sonic’s incredibly racist sign outside a Belton, Mo., restaurant would have garnered complaints likely limited to the Kansas City area. However, last weekend, when a passerby tweeted the sign, the internet erupted in protest. The sign read “’KC CHIEFS’ WILL SCALP THE READ SKINS FEED THEM WHISKEY SEND – 2 – RESERVATION.”

Sonic issued an official apology: “In a misguided effort to support his football team an independent franchise owner allowed passion to override good judgment.” Sonic has additionally taken to Twitter to assure customers that the owner is “coaching” employees on better practices.
 

Subway's Instagram Gross-Out

Image Credit: tipster

Two Columbus, Ohio, subway employees were fired in July for posting seriously disgusting Instagram photos. One photo shows a former employee with his genitals on an unbaked loaf of Subway’s footlong, with the caption, “My name is @ianjett and I will be your sandwich artist today.” The other incriminating photo shows what is described in the caption as frozen urine, supposedly taken at Subway.

Subway responded with a statement stating that the “incident is not representative of SUBWAY Sandwich Artists. These actions are not tolerated and the franchisee took immediate action to terminate the two employees involved.”

Hobby Lobby's Anti-Hanukkah Hubbub

Image Credit: anthonypeoples.wordpress.com

This September, a Hobby Lobby customer in Marlboro, N.J., was reportedly told “We don’t cater to you people,” when she asked a sales associate if the store would be stocking any Hanukkah merchandise. A different customer followed up with Hobby Lobby’s corporate headquarters, and was told the chain would not carry Hanukkah items due to founder David Green’s Christian faith. The Oklahoma-based company states on its website that the company is committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.”

The store quickly backtracked as the controversy gain steam online. Ultimately, Hobby Lobby reevaluated its holiday assortment and began stocking Hanukkah items in areas where there was customer demand.

Related: Hobby Lobby Backtracks After Reportedly Refusing to Stock Jewish Holiday Goods
 

Taco Bell's Shell Licking Incident

Image Credit: Jj O’Brien Nolan

A photo of a Taco Bell employee licking a stack of taco shells surfaced on Facebook last June, to the immediate uproar of the internet. Apparently, two employees took a picture of themselves with the shells on the way to the trash, meaning no customers were served the licked tacos. Nonetheless, the franchisee fired one employee, while the other one was no longer working at Taco Bell when the incident blew up online.
 

McDonald's Hashtag Horror Stories

Image Credit: says-it.com

McDonald’s hoped that the #McDstories hashtag would bring personal tales of fun and tasty McDonald’s moments to Twitter. Instead, customers started tweeting much more mixed reviews. The hashtag highlighted everything from allegedly crunching on fingernail clippings in Big Macs to getting food poisoning. The fast food chain yanked the campaign only two hours after launching it, but the damage was done. 

Related: McDonald’s U.S. November Sales Unexpectedly Fall

Domino's YouTube Disaster

Image Credit: Conover, N.C., Police Department

In April 2009, two Domino’s employees decided to post a video of one of them putting cheese up his nose and then putting it on a customer’s sandwich, among other stomach-turning acts. “In about five minutes it’ll be sent out on delivery where somebody will be eating these, yes, eating them, and little did they know that cheese was in his nose and that there was some lethal gas that ended up on their salami,” said the other employee in the video. “Now that’s how we roll at Domino’s.”

The video went viral, reaching more than a million disgusted viewers. Domino’s fired the employees, who then faced felony charges for delivering prohibited foods. The franchisee, advised by the local health department, discarded all open containers of food, costing hundreds of dollars. Domino’s even created a Twitter account to address the controversy and try to regain control of the social media nightmare.

Related: 6 Shocking Realizations About the Food at Your Favorite Chain Restaurants

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As ‘Government Motors’ Era Ends, a Female CEO Takes the Wheel

Motor City is getting its first female chief executive.

Mary Barra, the head of product development, purchasing and supply chain management for General Motors, will succeed the automaker’s current CEO, Dan Akerson, in the top spot. The board selected Barra as CEO over several other candidates, including chief financial officer Dan Amman, according to Bloomberg News.

Barra joined GM as an intern more than three decades ago, at the age of 18, and has advanced through positions in manufacturing, engineering, human resources and other divisions. Her slow-and-steady rise should instill faith in GM investors who want an experienced CEO at the helm. “One leader can make tens of billions of difference. We’ve seen that [in the auto industry],” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas told Bloomberg earlier this year.

“With an amazing portfolio of cars and trucks and the strongest financial performance in our recent history, this is an exciting time at today’s GM,” Barra said in a company statement. “I’m honored to lead the best team in the business and to keep our momentum at full speed.”

When Akerson steps down on January 15, Barra will become the only female CEO in the automotive industry worldwide.

Related: 3 Critical Steps to Reinvent Yourself or Your Business

Recently, GM has also led the U.S. auto industry on a couple of key quality indicators. The 2014 Chevrolet Impala was chosen by Consumer Reports as the best in its class, the first U.S. sedan to earn that label in more than 20 years. And the Cadillac CTS, a luxury sports car, was Motor Trend’s car of the year pick for 2014. Barra was GM’s head of vehicle development — a position she has held for nearly two years — when these cars debuted.

“U.S. automakers are clearly in the midst of a bona fide renaissance,” Consumers Reports’ review of the Impala said. “But the most dramatic turnaround yet is the phoenix-like rise of the revamped Chevrolet Impala.”

Better still, the U.S. government sold its remaining shares of GM stock yesterday. In the midst of the recession in 2008, the government threw GM a lifeline totaling $49.5 billion. Although the government took a loss of $10.5 billion in selling off its stake, industry watchers are hopeful that the end of the “Government Motors” era signals a return to excellence for the automaker.

Major investors, including Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, are reportedly poised to sink new money into GM. GM’s stock closed at a record high of $40.90 a share yesterday, before the announcement that Barra would take over as CEO. The stock is still trading above $40.60.

Along with Barra’s appointment, GM’s board of directors named Amman president. He currently leads the automaker’s global finance operations, and in his new position GM Financial will report to him, a company statement said.

The U.S. government rescued General Motors, and all it cost U.S. taxpayers was $10.5 billion. Was it worth it? Why or why not? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

Related: Why You Might (Still) Want to Consider Launching in Detroit

Brian Patrick Eha is an assistant editor at Entrepreneur.com.

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3 Ways the Magic of Dr. Seuss Can Help You Create Unforgettable Copy

Theodor Seuss Geisel sitting at his desk

Great copywriters hook readers in word by word, line by line.

Like renowned fiction writers, even children’s book writers, great copywriters know how to make content so addictive, it’s nearly impossible to put down.

They know how to write the kind of copy that can stay with their audience for years.

Let’s add a little bit of this kind of power into your own writing, right now …

Follow these three scientific (and magical) techniques used by the king of addictive prose: Dr. Seuss.

But first, you must know Broca …

It all starts with getting your reader’s attention.

And if you want to use copywriting to do this, you really need to know about Paul Broca, who was so smart that they named a whole area of your brain after him.

Broca’s area is the region in the frontal lobe that deals with language comprehension, but what’s really interesting is the way that it works when people read content.

Basically, as we become more familiar with language, our Broca area skips over what feels predictable. So if we see the same words, phrases, and clichés, they simply don’t have the same impact as when we read them the first time around.

In his book The Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads, Roy H. Williams states that for adverts to cut through the noise they need to be different enough to wake up the Broca area … but not so different that the audience discards the idea outright.

In other words, your audience has to feel your content is new, but also credible.

One way to achieve this is to follow the tried and tested rules of copywriting, while shaking things up a little bit on the language side.

Enter: Dr. Seuss and his three unforgettable techniques.

1. Pudding before sprouts

Winning the voluntary attention of young children is not an easy task. Oh, and you’re trying to teach them something at the same time? Good luck with that.

Lots of Dr. Seuss stories had morals in them. But he understood that for his readers to take them on board, he couldn’t simply outline the meaning at the beginning of the story.

As he explained: “Kids can see a moral coming a mile off and they gag at it.”

Not unlike sprouts.

So how did he get kids to eat their greens?

By appealing to them through creativity first and then moving slowly to logic throughout the story. Seuss’ books would begin in a vivid, whimsical, and fantastical manner to grab attention before attempting the delivery of morals.

Pudding first … then sprouts.

One way to improve his chances of capturing attention was to start with active language using more verbs than adjectives.

Instead of starting the story with the facts, he encouraged the reader to visualize a dynamic experience.

The same applies to your copywriting.

You can’t just tell a reader what it is they need, or what it is you have, until you’ve introduced a vivid picture … such as outlining your customer’s pain and then agitating it.

In his recent post on writing a damn good sentence, watch how Demian Farnworth uses verbs and illustrative examples to introduce the Authority membership:

  • You write something clever, but everyone ignores it.
  • You hear about a new opportunity, but don’t pursue it because you don’t have the skills or confidence to attempt it.
  • You get overlooked by everybody — including your boss — because the guy in the next cubicle seems to know everything about SEO, email marketing, or copywriting.
  • You hear about all the new clients your peers are picking up … but none are showing up at your door.

Demian doesn’t start by saying that the reader should get an Authority membership so they can get “instant access to over 40 hours of high-impact education — plus many additional hours of advanced training every month.” That comes a little later.

The facts are still important. It’s just they we’re serving up the tasty stuff first.

So say it with me: pudding before sprouts.

Very good. Now that you’ve gotten your audience’s attention, let’s look at two more ways you can make your words unforgettable.

2. Birds of a feather flock conjointly … wait, what?!

Not the most catchy of subheads right?

Birds of a feather flock together. Now isn’t that a lot easier on the tongue?

One of the most addictive (and signature) elements of Seuss’ writing is the hypnotic rhythm and rhyme. The main lines of his first ever book are:

And that is a story that no one can beat, and to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street.

As Williams recounts in The Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads, Seuss came upon these lines almost by accident, while below deck on a luxury liner in a storm. Battling sea sickness Seuss kept himself distracted by writing poetry in a rhythm that mimicked the ship’s engines. This whimsical, lazy river style was perfect for building momentum and making it easier for the reader to flow through the content.

That is not to say that you have to write your copy in verse, but don’t overlook this technique. Rhyming and rhythmic language do not just make content easier to read, they actually make it more persuasive.

In 2000, the American Psychological Society published a study by Matthew McGlone and Jessica Tofighbakhsh. Matthew and Jessica sought to determine whether people felt sayings were more truthful and accurate when they rhymed, as opposed to not rhyming.

Participants were given phrases such as “caution and measure will win you treasure” and “sobriety conceals what alcohol reveals” as well as other ones that did not rhyme such as “caution and measure will win you riches” and “sobriety conceals what alcohol unmasks.”

Despite participants saying that rhyming was not indicative of accuracy, just about every case voted for the rhyming aphorism when asked which was a more accurate representation of the world.

Not only can rhyming copy make your words more memorable (think about how many songs or playground chants you can recite from years ago), but it is more likely to influence your reader into believing the content.

So don’t rule out using a catchy rhyming phrase to sell the benefits of your product or service. It might just be in the minds of your readers for years to come.

3. Don’t be afraid of nizzards and glikkers

Another technique Dr. Seuss would use to wake the sleeping Broca area was to create his own words. Cleverly, Seuss’ words were different enough to stand out, but not so different that they were hard to understand.

  • A sneetch is a bird-like creature who lives on beach
  • A Floob-boober-bab-boober-bub is a creature recognized by its bulbous body as it floats through water
  • A Zizzer-zazzer-zuzz is the anthropomorphic representation of the letter Z

But hold up there before you start getting this creative with your copywriting.

Copying this style directly is tricky when selling a product or service that is not for children, but proprietary language and words can still be very powerful. Rather than making up completely new words, try and find alternate names to describe what you have to offer.

For years direct marketing copywriters have developed (and trademarked) inside language and terms to make them stand out. You have likely seen this used in copywriting for products and services.

For example, many online marketing courses are not described as “courses” but as “systems,” “blueprints,” “methods,” and so on. In a world swimming with “courses,” these alternate terms are used to help them stand out.

But beware: if other people in your industry have started to use similar terms, the more predictable they will be to your customer’s Broca region, which means audiences may ignore them.

The really smart marketers have their own unique course names. These names don’t simply give you the facts of what the course is. Like Seuss’ words, these unique course names also build a vivid image of what the course can do for you:

And okay, so you may never invent a new word that is then included in the dictionary (apparently we can thank Dr. Seuss for the word “nerd”), but giving your services unique titles makes it much easier for people to recognize you and know what you offer.

Create unforgettable copy

So, can you be like Dr. Seuss and find altogether unique ways to describe your products or services?

Can you create a new name that vividly describe the benefits of what you have to offer?

Give it your Seussiest shot and let me know your names in the comments below!

Image credit: New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About the Author: In addition to writing, Amy Harrison likes to rip copywriting techniques apart to see how they work. She then shares her findings through tips, templates, and free resources on her site Harrisonamy Copywriting.

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Here’s How Elizabeth Gilbert (Bestselling Author of Eat, Pray, Love) Writes

Image of The Writer Files Logo

Very few writers, regardless of their specialty, can claim the honors of a National Book Award nomination, a hat-trick of National Magazine Award nods, and a #1 New York Times Bestseller, all to their credit.

Elizabeth Gilbert can.

Throw in her radiant new novel, The Signature of All Things, that TIME recently named one of the “10 best books of 2013,” and you have a true marvel.

From her early days in the cutthroat journalism trade, writing copy for the likes of GQ and the New York Times Magazine, to her wildly successful memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Ms. Gilbert has punched her way to becoming a heavyweight wordsmith.

And if her intimidating record in the ring isn’t enough, set aside 19 minutes of your life to absorb the TED talk she did on finding your “creative genius.”

Let’s face it, few bestselling authors can also say they’ve been portrayed in a Hollywood film by an Academy Award winner (it was Julia Roberts if you were sleeping that year).

Thankfully, Ms. Gilbert took a breather from her latest book tour to stop by The Writer Files and share her secret to “getting it done,” explain why perfect is the enemy of good, and drop her unique definition of creativity on us.

It’s inspiring, to say the least.

Join me as we examine the file of Elizabeth Gilbert, writer …

About the writer …

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m a writer and I write.
 
What is your area of expertise as a writer or online publisher?

Not really sure how to answer that one. After “Eat, Pray, Love” I became best known as a memoirist, but I also write fiction and biography and short stories, and for years I worked as a journalist. I guess my area of expertise is getting it done, whatever needs writing. I used to have a business card that said, “Words-R-Us.”
 
Where can we find your writing?

In bookstores. And on bed stands, beach chairs, and train seats all over the world, I dearly hope.

The writer’s productivity …

How much time, per day, do you spend reading or doing research?

It depends. I don’t write by the day; I write by the season. Months and years can pass between bouts of writing —- time that is spent researching, or promoting an earlier book. But when it comes time to write, I keep farmer’s hours. Up before dawn, and I work until about 11:00 or noon every day.

By the end of a project, when I have barn fever, it may become six or even eight hours a day … but that’s only at the end, when I feel like I’m riding a bicycle fast down a hill, with no hands. Such episodes are real.
 
Before you begin to write, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?

Spend several years in research and preparation. Then, when it comes time to work, clean everything in the house. (Alternatively, move to a new house that is already clean.) Inform everyone that they may not be hearing from me for a while. (Apologize in advance for that.)

Clear off my schedule until I have a nice long block of empty time. Bow down. Ask for grace. Commit to the idea of collaborating with the book, not going to war against it. Cross fingers. Make a cup of tea. Begin.
 
Do you prefer any particular music (or silence) while you write?

Complete and total silence.
 
How many hours a day do you spend writing (excluding email, social media, etc.)?

Everything that needs to be done in my life has to be done before 11:00 am, or it won’t be done well, or may not even be done at all. I love the early hours because the world hasn’t tracked me down yet. My best mind is my mind at dawn, after a good night of sleep.

I usually wake up with the solution on the tip of my brain to the creative problem of yesterday, and then I go running to my desk to try to catch my intelligence before it drains out of my ears. By 2pm, I am useless for anything except simple manual labor.
 
Do you write every day or adhere to any particular system?

At the beginning of a book, I establish a rule that I must not stand up for two hours. Two hours every morning, committed to just sitting there, whether the words are coming or not. Two hours is a long time, by the way, when you aren’t yet in the swing of it.

Toward the end of project, I discipline myself in the opposite direction: I make myself stop, call it a day. There comes a point of diminishing returns, after too many hours of writing, when it’s no longer helping you to keep writing. You get squishy-headed and full of bad ideas. You’ll have to delete it all the next day. Better to walk away, go to sleep, come back fresh.
 
Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how do you avoid it?

I believe that it happens (and I have experienced it) but I don’t believe that it is a stand-alone psychological disorder. I believe that Writer’s Block is a symptom, usually, of some other actual psychological disorder (depression, anxiety, narcissism, alcoholism, extreme competitiveness, fear, etc).

I combat it through gentleness toward the self. Anything you fight, after all, fights you back. So I don’t fight Writer’s Block. I just try to coerce, persuade, encourage, bribe, and trick myself into returning to work.

And I diminish the stakes by reminding myself that none of this is actually that big a deal. Writers are some of the most dramatic people who ever lived, but in fact, what is at stake in the work of writing is kind of … nothing.

Nobody’s child ever died because someone got a bad review in The New York Times. It’s just art. And as beautiful as art is, and as much as we love it, there is no such thing as an actual real-life Arts Emergency.

Tom Waits told me once that all he does, as a songwriter, is make ‘jewelry for the inside of people’s minds.’ I find that incredibly calming as an idea.

So that’s all we do, those of us in creative fields: mental jewelry-making. You aren’t a heart surgeon. You aren’t in charge of the lives of twenty men on an oil rig.  You aren’t performing roadside amputations in a war zone. You aren’t even driving a school bus. You’re just making art.

Nothing real is at stake here. So just go make a pretty thing. Or make a clunky thing, or a tiny thing, or a big thing, or an ugly thing, or an experimental and wild thing. Doesn’t matter. Enjoy the making. Let it go. It’s merely art. This line of thinking brings me great peace. Gets me out of my own way.

The writer’s creativity …

Define creativity.

The strange partnership between a human being’s labor and the mystery of inspiration.

Who are your favorite authors, online or off?

Dickens, James, Eliot, Trollope, Amis, Munro, Saunders, Whitman, Mantel.

Can you share a best-loved quote?

By the poet Jack Gilbert (no relation):

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, 
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have 
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless 
furnace of this world.

 
How would you like to grow creatively as a writer?

Bigger, faster, stronger.
 
Who or what is your Muse at the moment (i.e. specific creative inspirations)?

Women. Specifically, their amazing powers of resilience.
 
What makes a writer great?

Big brain, bigger heart.

The writer’s workflow …

What hardware or typewriter model do you presently use?


I work on a MacBook Pro.
 
What software do you use most for writing and general workflow?

I use index cards (handwritten) for keeping my notes and research in order, and crummy old Microsoft Word for actual composition.

Do you have any tricks for beating procrastination? Do you adhere to deadlines?

I abide by Goethe’s rule: “Never hurry, never rest.” I never go into crazy fugue states, but I don’t ever stop, either. I’m a plow mule.  I’m very disciplined, and I have a great regard for deadlines — usually my own.  

I was lucky enough to have had discipline instilled in me by my very organized and Calvinist mother, who taught us to work first and play later (and maybe not even play so much, actually).

She also taught us not to become perfectionists, which is where a lot of procrastination and time-wasting occurs. Nothing is less efficient than perfectionism. Her great adage, which I still adhere to, was:

Done is better than good.

I can tell you all kinds of specific things that are wrong with each of my books, but I’m not going to try fixing them, because then you fall down the wormhole, and the books are good enough already, and I want to move on to other things.

90% is truly good enough. There is not enough time in life to quest for perfection. Better to move forward. All this I learned from my mom. I was a lazy kid by nature, but my mother refused to allow me to become a lazy adult.

I was REALLY difficult to train out of my laziness, by the way. (My nickname in middle school sports was “Little Miss Half-Ass.”) It would’ve been so much easier for my mother to quit nagging me and just let me grow into a sloppy layabout, but she simply wasn’t having it.

It was as if she’d been handed a little coach potato at birth, but then took it upon herself to form me into a Navy SEAL. As a result of all that training, I am not afraid of work. I have even come to love work.

I think that loving one’s work is a marvelous trick for enjoying life. When people ask me if writing is hard or easy for me, I don’t even know how to answer that. Hard and easy don’t matter.

I don’t need writing to be easy; I just need it to be interesting.

 
How do you stay organized (methods, systems, or “mad science”)?

Index cards, index cards, index cards.

By the time I was ready to write The Signature of All Things I had five shoe boxes of index cards — ordered by subject, character, chapter and theme — at the ready. After that much preparation, it kind of becomes a paint-by-numbers operation.
 
How do you relax at the end of a hard day?

I sit in the kitchen and watch my husband cook dinner, and we talk about dumb little things.

A few questions just for the fun of it …

Who (or what) has been your greatest teacher?

My mother, first of all. My own legions of terrible mistakes, secondly.
 
What do you see as your greatest success in life?

Learning more and more, every year, how to stay out of my own way and other people’s ways. In other words, learning more and more how not to be a professional pain in the ass.
 
What’s your biggest aggravation at the moment (writing related or otherwise)?

Those moments of tough emotional conflict or tension with other people, when I simply cannot figure out how to put compassion into play.
 
Choose one author, living or dead, that you would like to have dinner with.
 
Ben Franklin. He would be a blast. And he would be so into modernity. He’d have a million questions. (Also, he was a terrific author.)

If you could take a vacation tomorrow to anywhere in the world, where would you go (cost or responsibilities are no object)?

Greece.

Can you offer any advice to fellow writers that you might offer yourself, if you could go back in time and “do it all over?”

If I had it to do over again, I would’ve stayed away from romantic entanglements and focused more on my work. And mastered a second language when I was young enough that it would still have been easy. (Or, rather, easier.)
 
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Tell them to be nice to each other. None of the rest of it really matters.

Please tell our readers where they can connect with you online.

♡LG

And finally, the writer’s desk …

Every serious writer builds a shrine of some sort, whether it be picking the perfect table at a coffee shop, or carving out a quiet nook in your home, with which you hope to entertain the Muse.

Rumor has it, Ms. Gilbert had a specially designed library built in her attic that she calls her “Sky-brary,” where she wrote the entirety of The Signature of All Things.

Right there in the center, anchoring the space quite adequately for her prose, sits a 15-foot plank of polished Acacia wood.

Thank you for sharing a snapshot of your amazing writer’s lair, Liz!

Elizabeth's Gilbert's "Skybrary"

Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s “Sky-brary”

And thank you for sharing The Writer Files …

More Q&As are on the calendar from writers who inspire us, and if you care to flip through the archives, you can find more accumulated wisdom here.

If you’ve already subscribed to Copyblogger via email or RSS, the next installment will be delivered to you just like the rest of our daily content.

If not, go ahead and subscribe right now so you don’t miss a thing.

Now stop being so dramatic and get back to work! See you out there.

Bonus Question: Where (or what) is your writer’s shrine? Drop them into the comments and we’ll compare.

About the author

Kelton Reid

Kelton Reid is Director of Multimedia Production for Copyblogger Media, and an independent screenwriter and novelist. Get more from Kelton on Twitter and .

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How This Blogger Turned Her Hobby Into a Full-Time Job and Scored Millions of Fans

When Emily Shulman, the blogger behind popular lifestyle website Cupcakes and Cashmere, hit a million page views in a month, she knew it was time to quit her 9-to-5 job, and devote all her time to the blog. It turned out to be a good decision because with hundreds of thousands fans online and a bestselling book, she has turned Cupcakes and Cashmere — a site started as a hobby — into a full-fledged lifestyle brand.

But how was Shulman able to stand out in a sea full of bloggers? Hard work. While everyone with internet access can technically start a blog, it takes a lot more than just posting pretty pictures to get a substantial following. As with any business, to create something lasting, you need a smart strategy and impeccable branding.

I caught up with Shulman and asked her what tips she had for people looking to take their blog to the next level.

Don’t be fake. When you are the brand, it is important to create an authentic public persona. This is often easier said than done. Often bloggers lose momentum, because they can’t live up to the personality they have created. When you photograph every aspect of your life, it can be hard to set boundaries. While she admits the lines between work and her personal life are blurred, Shulman does maintain some privacy.

“What I portray online is a curated snapshot of who I am as a person,” she says. “I try to keep the mundane aspects of my day-to-day outside of my content, so the Cupcakes and Cashmere brand always has an ‘elevated’ perspective.”

It should be all about the readers. If you want to make blogging your full-time gig, the relationship you have with your readers should be your number-one priority. 

For Cupcakes and Cashmere, the sole purpose was never to just generate revenue. Instead, Shulman focuses on sharing products, recipes and fashions that she actually really likes. Her readers know that she won’t post anything she hasn’t tried herself, which helps foster trust. 

Post, post and post some more. If you want a successful blog, you can’t post every two weeks, as readers will stop visiting your page. You need content on a regular basis to keep readers intrigued. 

Can’t think of any ideas? Look no further than yourself. When you use situations in your own life as topics, it becomes easy to create content regularly. For Shulman, she turns to movies, other blogs, magazines and restaurants for inspiration.
Say yes only to the right business opportunities. 

Work with companies that make sense for you and your readers. Shulman is very selective when it comes to the brands she will work with on Cupcakes and Cashmere. If you sell out to every opportunity that comes your way, readers will no longer trust your opinion, which will impact your influence.

“Essentially, if the brand is not something I’d consider purchasing or using personally, I’m hesitant to integrate them into the content,” says Shulman.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Rebekah Epstein is the founder of fifteen media, an agency that works exclusively with PR firms to streamline media relations in a digital era. She specializes in business, lifestyle, fashion and beauty.

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10 Body Language Tips Every Speaker Must Know (Infographic)

We all know that when we give a presentation or speak in front of a group, not only are our words important, but the body language that accompanies them.

Your words may give the audience one message while your body sends quite another.

As if getting the words out wasn’t hard enough, right?

An infographic from SOAP Presentations lists 10 body language tips to employ during your next presentation. These tips range from how to get the audience to like you, to how to make sure the audience remembers your key points.

Recent Articles From PR Daily

Recent Articles From PR Daily

For example:

1. To get the audience to like you, make eye contact. People tend to pay more attention to and like those who look them in the eye.

2. To boost your confidence, open your chest and arms, and keep your back straight.

3. To demonstrate authority, be calm and use small, stiff gestures.

4. To draw the audience’s attention to something, point directly at it and look at it yourself. The audience will follow your lead.

5. To convince the audience of something, use positive gestures — smiling, nodding, open movements, etc. — throughout the presentation.

Check out the full graphic for more:

Click to Enlarge+

10 Body Language Tips Every Speaker Must Know (Infographic)

This story originally appeared on PR DailyPR Daily

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Premise for WordPress is Going Away: Grab a Copy and Save Before it’s too Late

Yes, it’s true. Our Premise landing page and membership site solution for WordPress is gone at the end of this week. And that means exactly what it sounds like … we’re discontinuing sales of the product.

Yes, this is the same software that we use at StudioPress to perform hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of digital transactions each month, and securely deliver the purchased products.

Yes, this is the very technology that powers MyCopyblogger, the free content library that has boosted our email subscriptions by 400% since its introduction in May. It’s also the same software that houses and manages our paid Authority training program of over 5,000 online publishers.

And yes, this is the same product that more than 11,300 webmasters rely on for advanced lead generation, digital sales, and membership site functionality for their WordPress sites.

So now you may be thinking …

Huh?

Premise has done its duty

In many ways, we built Premise for ourselves, as demonstrated by all the heavy lifting it does at StudioPress, MyCopyblogger, Authority and many of our other sites. But even building it for our own use had a larger purpose.

You see, we incorporated Premise into our own platforms to test, refine, and improve it so we could do something much grander. And we also put it through the wringer with over 11,000 other discriminating online publishers and marketers to make sure we got it right.

Mission accomplished. So now it’s time for Premise to go away, and the grander vision to come out to play.

Just to be clear, taking Premise off the market won’t affect those who own it. What I mean by that is:

  • We will continue to fully support all Premise owners.
  • We will continue to keep the software compatible with all WordPress updates.
  • We will continue to improve functionality and upgrade owners at no charge.

What we won’t do is sell it as-is anymore, at least after this Friday, December 13th. That’s right … we’re killing Premise on Friday the 13th after slashing the price (pay no attention to the gentleman in the hockey mask).

Last chance to buy Premise (and save, too)

Like any good “going out of business” sale, everything must go. And in this case, we’re saving you $70 off the regular price of Premise to make sure the place is fully cleaned out.

Head over to the site and check out everything Premise can do. We’ve already lowered the price from $165 to $95 at the site, so no coupon code or special link is necessary to lock in your savings.

Just keep in mind that when 5 pm Pacific time on Friday, December 13, 2013 rolls around, it’s curtains for Premise. Our money back guarantee, however, will naturally be honored for a full 30 days after your purchase, so no worries there.

Grab Premise today before it’s gone.

About the author

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on .

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Follow @copyblogger on Twitter!

Since way back in 2006, I used @copyblogger as my personal Twitter handle. Recently, we thought it was a good idea to separate the man from the brand, so I’m now @brianclark.

That means @copyblogger has a new life, and an important function of its own. So why would you want to follow this account on Twitter?

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • Fresh Copyblogger content
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  • Curated online marketing advice
  • Special Twitter-only deals on our products
  • Exclusive content event announcements

Sound good? Click to get on board!

About the author

Brian Clark

Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and CEO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Brian on .

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Fido Takes a Business Trip

Melanie Brandman, who runs a New York public relations agency, travels often with her English bulldog Adelaide.

When he recently decided to open a west coast branch of his digital marketing agency SEER Interactive, Philadelphia-based owner Wil Reynolds knew the three-month stay in San Diego meant temporarily relocating his family, including his six-year-old lab-pit-bull mix Coltrane. Rather than flying the dog in cargo, Reynolds did the drive cross-country, using GPS to locate a baseball field every four to five hours where the dog could chase fly balls.

“It’s important to me culturally to feel close to my team,” he said. “We’re planning to do this again next year. We’ll probably do this every year.”

Reynolds is among the doting working doggie dads taking their pets on the road for business. While an exact number of pets on business trips isn’t tracked, the American Pet Products Association says that almost a quarter of pet owners take their dog along when traveling for two nights or more. (Dogs are the most well-traveled species; only two percent of cat owners took Fluffy along).

These bonds are big business with more than $53 million in pet expenditures according to the APPA. The travel industry has taken notice, making things easier for ‘treps to take their pets on the road. In 2012, the American Hotel & Lodging Association found that 61 percent of properties permitted pets, up from 52 percent in 2010. Airports from Boston to Burbank offer pet relief areas and some, including Dallas Fort Worth and Washington Dulles, host pet hotels.

Though pet travel has gained traction in the past decade, it can still be a challenge. Melissa Halliburton ran a Boston-based coupon company in 2002 when she encountered a lack of resources for finding hotels that would take her and Rocco, her Chihuahua-Jack Russell mix. That frustration begat BringFido.com, a web site she launched in 2005 to identify and book dog-friendly hotels. It initially listed 10,000 US hotels; now that figure has nearly doubled to 19,000 domestically, for a total of 50,000 globally, but still a fraction of available hotels. Today, about 20 percent of the web site’s users are business travelers.

Fido Takes a Business Trip

Business travel with pets means being prepared for the unexpected, as Teddy, a Yorkshire Terrier, has taught his owner Terri Slater.

Image credit: Terri Slater

Having a furry travel companion can even make financial sense, depending on the trip. A one-way plane ticket might start at $125 with many major carriers, but boarding can range from $30-$50 nightly, a fee that adds up for long jaunts. “Economically, it’s usually cheaper than boarding,” said Halliburton.

Of course, traveling with animals means planning for the unexpected. Independent Florida-based publicist Terri Slater and her husband realized their Yorkshire terrier Teddy needed to go outside just before boarding a flight at New York’s Kennedy airport. “I’m standing already through security and waiting with a panicked look on my face,” said Slater, who eventually made the flight and continues to travel with Teddy monthly for work.

In the same way that parents tolerate the trouble of taking the kids on a business trip, pet parents seem willing to cope with the challenges of calming pets spooked by strange environments, packing a pet carrier and organizing pet care if meetings prohibit bringing an animal. Most say the rewards outweigh the challenges, which include planning around “comfort stops.” Pets who travel for work develop their own relationships with clients. In New York, Melanie Brandman runs a public relations agency and frequently takes her bulldog Adelaide on regional road trips to the Hamptons and coastal Maryland. “I do have clients who say, ‘Where’s your dog?’” she said. “She has a huge fan base with clients.”

For others, a dog is both a companion and divining rod. LA-based founder of YogaFit, a yoga training school, Beth Shaw travels with her malti-poo rescue dog once a month on business. “For me, there’s something really comforting about traveling with a dog,” she said. “Most people are dog-friendly. I’m always concerned about those who aren’t.”

And bringing your best friend can make life on the road a little less lonely – in more ways than one. Adds Halliburton, “If you’re single, it’s a lot easier to meet people. It’s a real ice breaker. If you’re sitting alone at a restaurant, every single person who passes will want to pet your dog.”

Chicago-based Elaine Glusac covers travel and transit for The New York Times and National Geographic Traveler.

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How to Take Control of the Information Avalanche

How to Take Control of the Information Avalanche

Image credit: Simon le nippon/Flickr

In his book No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs, business coach and consultant Dan Kennedy reveals the steps behind making the most of your frantic, time-pressured days so you can turn time into money. In this edited excerpt, the author offers seven quick ways you can dig through the avalanche of information that crosses your path every day.

Supposedly, we are in the Paperless Age. But according to University Microfilms, we’re now creating one billion pages of information each and every day in the United States alone. That doesn’t even include the avalanche moving to you online. There’s nothing different about it, except its immediacy and more aggressive intrusiveness.

It’s up to you to route all your incoming and in-bound information through a screening process and method of organization. Let me offer you some “shovels” to help you dig your way out of the avalanche:

1. Improve your reading skills. Many people are poor readers and insist they don’t “like” to read. Sadly, our U.S. universities and high schools alike are churning out massive numbers of young people who don’t read, get all their news from TV, radio or quick, abbreviated online reports, and, in a shocking number of cases, are borderline illiterate. Take or get a good home-study speed reading course. Although I’m self-taught, when people ask me to recommend courses, I refer them to Howard Berg. He holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of World’s Fastest Reader. You can get information about Howard’s courses on speed reading, accelerated learning, and memory at www.howardbergspeedreading.com. Speed reading (and speed comprehension) is real.

2. At least be sure you get the information you really want and need. If you’re really busy and time is much more of an issue than money, you can pay others to read for you. There are “clipping services,” including one run by The Wall Street Journal, that will ferret through hundreds of daily newspapers, trade magazines and other media for the topics you’ve requested and send you just the articles about your topic. You may have a staff person read and clip for you. A good project for son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter is a regular pile of reading, like trade journals, to clip, highlight, even summarize for you. One of my clients pays his high-school-age son $75 a week to read 14 different trade journals and newsletters and record summaries and excerpts on a weekly CD that he can listen to while he drives to work.

3. Set aside any “bulk” material that’s not time sensitive to review at your leisure. Catalogs, interesting-looking junk mail and popular magazines fall into this category. You must be very selective about what warrants your attention now, what later, what never.

4. Consider condensation. You can subscribe to Executive Book Summaries, for example, and get brief summaries of a dozen, new, “hot” business books every month. This is sort of a Cliff Notes for adults. There’s a similar service, Newstrack, for news buffs.

Online, there are services like Google Alerts, to notify you of information that’s relevant to you. You can also go to most news sites, trade journal sites and information sites and access articles by topic search.

One small caution: Don’t completely close off spontaneous discovery and eclectic interests. You may want to raid The New York Times website daily just for any news specifically relevant to your business, but it’s still good now and then to read the Sunday New York Times cover to cover. You’ll find useful things you never knew existed.

5. Use your DVR, TiVo, on-demand services, etc. No one is really bound anymore by the TV schedule. You need not be home at 9:00 p.m. to watch the documentary on CNBC about a company of interest to you that’s airing at 9:00 p.m. In defense of TV, often slammed as the crap box, there happens to be a lot of useful, instructive and provocative programming for entrepreneurs. Of the general crop airing as I write this, I like and recommend the ABC show Shark Tank. But the financial cable channels are full of worthwhile programming. There may also be a reality show in your business niche.

6. Use your drive time or travel time as learning time. Here are the average to-and-from-the-office commute times for major cities: New York, 1 hour, 5 minutes; Washington, DC, 1 hour; Houston, 1 hour; Los Angeles, l hour, 30 minutes; Dallas, 48 minutes; Phoenix, 46 minutes. That can be classroom time. All my best teaching is available on audio CD, and most sales, marketing, and business experts offer their training on CDs as well. Many new business books are also released on CD. Your 40 minutes in the car per day x 250 business days a year + well-selected audio programs = 167 classroom hours available to you.

7. Resist the siren song of distraction. A lot of people let “noninformation” consume a lot of their time. Today’s news is tomorrow’s fish-wrap, yet we have just about become consumed with useless news. Twenty-four-hour-a-day news stations. News-talk radio. News and opinion websites. Yes, you want to be informed. But do you need to be informed about the latest celebrity sex or shoplifting scandal, the latest athlete going to jail, the weather in Bulgaria? 

Dan S. Kennedy is a strategic advisor, consultant, business coach, and author of the popular No B.S. book series. He directly influences more than one million business owners annually. 

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7 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer

Remember Ted Williams? The homeless man with the golden voice? Smooth, deep, controlled.

Who wouldn’t want to sit at that man’s feet and listen to him talk all day?

And that’s sort of the same effect Sonia Simone and Robert Bruce will have on you when you join them on their next Authority Master Class this Thursday, December 12th at high noon (Eastern U.S. time).

And their topic is an important one: “7 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer.”

In this 60(ish) minute webinar, you’ll discover:

  • The “pro tips” that make the difference between ordinary writing and terrific writing.
  • The serious mistake people make when they hear the advice to “write every day.”
  • How Robert turned advice about studying philosophy into a killer writing secret.
  • Sonia’s and Robert’s tricks to getting inside the heads of their readers.
  • When you’re feeling stuck and uninspired, a simple 3-step process to decide what to write about.
  • And the surprising way a vice like stubbornness can make you a better writer.

This is an hour designed to take your writing skills to the next level, with two of the best voices in the business. And it’s free for Authority members — just register for the session as you normally do early next week.

For everyone else … well, you’ll need to join us inside Authority if you want in. Learn how to do that here.

About the author

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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100% of Independent Publishers Who Do This Will Sell More of Their Work

Closeup image of a book

Most independent authors and content creators aren’t thinking in terms of building product funnels when they write their books and stories.

That is a mistake.

Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, smart writers who know how to build their catalog around funnels will always make more money directly with their words than writers who publish their work using the old “hope and pray” business plan.

Here’s how you do it.

Be a smarter publisher

We wrote for our own sites and blogs like Copyblogger for years — about business, entrepreneurship, marketing, you name it. But we both made a major shift during 2012 and 2013, and we spent the last year writing and publishing 1.5 million words of fiction through our company Realm & Sands.

In the two years since Copyblogger ran this post about serialized fiction, Sean has also published another two million words at his other company, Collective Inkwell, with David Wright.

But none of those millions of words were left to sell based on chance.

We wanted to make our full-time livings as authors — and since have — so we opted for something more certain.

Our words are our art, yes. But once those words are scrubbed in the editing process, they became products for sale. And what do smart marketers do with products? Well, if they want to sell any of those products, they arrange them into funnels.

Each week, we host the Self Publishing Podcast. In a year and a half of our show, the most frequently visited topic is how to build funnels.

Why?

Because applying proven marketing principles to independent authorship is how successful indie publishers turn a “luck of the draw” marketplace into a sound enterprise with a stable income source.

In our opinion, putting your work into product funnels is the very best (and most important) thing an author can do to increase sales … assuming you’ve created an excellent and professional-looking family of products.

Ready to sell some books? Well then, let’s take a look at “Funnels 101,” starting with exactly what they are and why you should care.

What is a funnel and why does it matter?

Simply put, a product funnel is a way of organizing your works so that one product leads logically into another.

You do this by setting up a series of pointers (in the backs of books, in product descriptions) in order to steer readers to the places you want them to go, and to give them compelling reasons to do so.

Understand: A good funnel isn’t a straight chain, where Product A simply leads to Product B.

It’s a funnel — which, like a kitchen funnel, is wider at the top and narrower at the bottom.

You want to scoop as many people into the top of your funnel as possible, then understand that they will sift apart — some sticking with you and others deciding your stuff isn’t their cup of tea — as they move downward.

To put some labels on this, think about three products you have for sale: Products A, B, and C. These products can be books, novellas, short stories, short story collections, or other written works. If you write nonfiction and sell consulting or are available for speaking gigs, those products can also be courses, speaking, and consulting.

Now, think about something for a second: If you ultimately want to sell a big book bundle for $9.99 or consulting for $499, does it make sense for the very first thing a potential customer sees from you to be that big-ticket item?

Absolutely not.

Ten bucks is a lot to pay for an ebook by an unknown author, and $500 is a lot to pay for anything. If you want to sell those later items, you’ll need to sell them last — which, to bring this metaphor full circle, is what happens at the very bottom of your funnel. This is where a few die-hard devotees (or true fans) remain out of that huge group who entered the funnel at the top.

Let’s call your big-ticket item Product C, at the bottom of the funnel. You can’t usually sell that one right off the bat. You must prove yourself to the customer with Products A and B, which they’ve already passed by on their way down the funnel, before you can hope to earn that sale.

Remember: Products at the top of the funnel must be easy to consume.

Product A, which casts your widest net and scoops in as many prospective readers as possible, should ideally be free so that there is no barrier to entry for anyone even remotely interested in what you eventually want to sell.

Product B can be a bit more expensive. You’ll work your way down further and further until, for a certain focused segment of customers, they are invested and confident enough to pick up your Product C … or D, or F, or however deep your funnel goes.

So that’s what a funnel is. Now, here is why having one (or more than one; we have around 15 between us) is so important if you want to sell books.

It’s easier to keep a customer than to gain a new one

What do you think loyalty cards are for? What do you think “returning customer discounts” are for?

The merchants you shop with, if they’re smart, know that on average it will cost them five times as much to get a new customer as it will to keep an old one. That’s why intelligent merchants constantly bend over backward for their existing customers.

For you, with your funnel, this means it is easier to sell a customer on Product C if they have already bought and enjoyed Product B. And they’ll be much more likely to buy Product B if they have already found Product A worthy of their time and attention.

The best way to sell any product in your catalog is to sell it to someone who is already a customer. You can do that by hooking them in with the products at the top of your funnel, which are easier for them to consume because they are cheap or free.

Each time someone says “Yes,” the next “Yes” becomes more likely

Old-school vacuum cleaner salesmen asked prospects a lot of questions.

If they were classically trained and good at their craft, they would only ask questions that they knew in advance would be answered with an easy, straightforward “Yes.”

The questions didn’t even have to have anything to do with what they were selling: “Isn’t this a beautiful day?” “Don’t you love it when your house is clean?” Etc. Those questions were easy for people to answer yes to, so they tended to do so.

When the salesman finally got down to a much harder question to answer in the affirmative (“Would you like to buy this vacuum cleaner?”), the prospect’s mind would already be used to saying yes, and their likelihood of buying would be higher.

Your product funnel asks those questions for you.

Product A, which should be free, is very easy to say yes to. Product B might be a $3-$5 book. That’s a harder yes, but they already gave an affirmative to A and liked it, so they’re an easier sell.

After that yes — again, for a smaller but more ideal segment of the buying population — you’ll have an easier time getting buyers for the big bundle.

You might be thinking this sounds complicated. It isn’t.

In fact …

You already understand funnels

We both have wives who really like the sitcom Friends, so we both own the full DVD set, containing all 10 seasons’ worth of episodes.

But the process that led us to buy all those DVDs — not a cheap purchase — was a funnel.

If you were getting confused in the previous section, allow yourself to forget about it. Instead think of us with our DVDs.

At first, the networks gave that show to us for free. Sure, the show was getting paid, but we didn’t pay that price. We just sat back, with our over-the-air-with-no-digital-converter TVs, and absorbed all of that entertainment for free.

We said yes to that show over and over because there was no barrier to entry. And then in the end, we bought in — ultimately buying the DVD set — because we’d been given a taste and knew we liked it.

Want another example?

Johnny heard about the Angry Birds app and decided to see what the fuss was about. The app was free for the iPad and iPhone. He downloaded it and found it amusing.

More importantly, Johnny’s son thought it was amusing and played until he had 3-starred every level. He played Angry Birds Seasons ($0.99) to death next, then got so obsessed that they ended up buying all sorts of Angry Birds plushies.

They bought an Angry Birds birthday cake. They bought Angry Birds Space, Angry Birds Star Wars, you name it.

That is a funnel.

They paid nothing, then $0.99, then more and more for merchandise.

If the first game hadn’t been free, Johnny never would have tried it. Even $0.99 cents would have been too much.

Keep that in mind.

You may reason that a few dollars (or $0.99 cents) is such a small price that no one will think twice about paying it, but that’s only partially true. It is equally true that the most casual of visitors will turn away from $0.99 cents because they are curious … but not curious enough.

Funnels require multiple products

We’ve just implied that you might consider making your book free, like the original Angry Birds game. You might think that’s a hideous idea.

Well, right. If you only have one book, that’s true.

But if you have several, it matters a lot less.

Let’s say you have two related books, and each sells one copy per day. Wouldn’t you make the first one free if, by doing so, you thought you could sell three copies a day of the other?

The more books, stories, reports, tutorials, novellas that you have, the more options you’ll have at your disposal for ways to promote and funnel.

You must be able to send readers from one book to another to another — and, if you want a really good funnel, to a bundle of many books — and that only happens after you’ve ushered plenty of products to market.

Different kinds of funnels require different structures

The more expensive the “deepest” product in your funnel, the more items you’ll need upstream.

If you’re a consultant who also writes nonfiction books and your prime consulting package costs $1,000, you’ll need a lot of stuff in the funnel ahead of that package.

The part of the funnel that the book covers will be at the very top, because books don’t generally sell for $20, and self-publishers (at least with Amazon’s current commission structure) generally want to stop at $9.99 because that’s where the 70 percent cutoff is.

But if all you have is a book and a short story, you can generally make a simple two-step funnel: an entry product (the short story) that’s free and a book for $5 or so. You could also make the short story $0.99, but that will mean a lot fewer people in your funnel.

As long as it goes from a low-barrier entry point designed to catch as many prospects as possible to a high-barrier product that will appeal to fewer people, it’s a funnel. The rest will depend on your specific situation.

Funnel sequences must be logical

Johnny has one book with no funnel: his first novel, The Bialy Pimps. Not coincidentally, it almost never sells.

The reason there is no funnel with that book is because it’s related to nothing.

Johnny says he’ll one day get to a short story featuring one of the characters from The Bialy Pimps and use that as his entry point, but he’s been working on all the successful funnels that were built smartly from the start.

He really wishes he knew then what he does now.

An average writer with a tight funnel will always beat a brilliant writer with a poor funnel.

Or no funnel whatsoever, which is the case for most indie writers.

Artist types hate to hear this, but it’s true: You can be an excellent writer who creates brilliant art, but unless you know some serious heavy hitters who can tell the world that your book is awesome, your brilliance will never be seen without a solid marketing strategy.

To be appreciated, brilliance must be seen. Have you ever heard that koan about how if a tree falls and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Yeah. That.

Our best example

In July of this year, Realm & Sands published a stark sci-fi (we’re calling it “future history”) serial called The Beam. It was a hard project and took twice the time we would normally spend writing westerns with unicorns.

It was important to get our funnel right.

We wanted to charge $9.99 for the finished project — a price that the indie community loudly stated was too high for indies (to which we stated, “It sounds like you need a better funnel”). So our way of leading prospective readers into it had to be perfect.

We talk a lot about The Beam on our podcast because of its scope, and our listeners are probably more curious about The Beam than any other title.

Fortunately for us and them, the story costs nothing to try. The first book in the six-book season is free. Each book (around 25,000 words) is $2.99 after that. All six are $9.99, which is a relative bargain.

Your work must be good. If it isn’t, you won’t have buyers moving from three to 10 dollars —- it’s definitely a jump.

But if it is good, and if you have funnels gracefully leading readers from one spot to the next, then it’s entirely possible that your “free” title might make you more money than anything else you write.

About the Author: Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt published 1.5 million words and built full-time self-publishing careers from scratch in 2013. In their comprehensive self-publishing guide Write. Publish. Repeat. they tell you everything you need to know about how to do the same. The book is half price for launch (and comes with a bonus book) through Friday, December 6, 2014.

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Google Gets Serious About Robots

Google Gets Serious About Robots

In the same week that Amazon revealed plans for delivery-drone domination, it has emerged that Google is getting serious about revolutionizing the robotics industry.

Over the past six months, Google has acquired seven tech companies as it aims to develop the next generation of robots. Spearheading the effort is Andy Rubin, the engineer responsible for developing Google’s Android mobile phone software.

Google won’t divulge the specifics, but The New York Times reports the effort is geared toward creating robotics for the manufacturing sector, not the everyday consumer. Experts say the technology could be used to automate parts of existing supply chains such as electronics assembly or factory floor operations. Some speculate that the technology could eventually be deployed to automate part of its home delivery service. According to Rubin, there are abundant opportunities to further automate the manufacturing and logistics sectors.

Related: 3 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Google Adwords

After leaving the top spot in the Android smartphone division in March, Rubin persuaded Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page to invest in his new project. Neither Google nor Rubin would specify the size of the investment.

Rubin told the Times that technological breakthroughs still needed to occur in order to make his project viable but compared it to Google’s self-driving car.

“The automated car project was science fiction when it started,” Rubin says. “Now it is coming within reach.”

Rubin has already acquired several companies in Japan and the U.S. that are developing humanoid robots, computer vision systems and automated mobility systems.

For now, Google’s robotics division will be based in Palo Alto, Calif., with an additional office in Japan. 

Related: Thanks to This Gadget, Your Message Alerts Can Smell Like Coffee

Benjamin Kabin is a Brooklyn-based technology journalist who specializes in security, startups, venture capital and social media.

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Chick-fil-A Removes Corn Syrup From Products After Blogger Takedown

Chick-fil-A Removes Corn Syrup From Products After Blogger Takedown

Chick-fil-A is rarely cited as a particularly healthy chain. But bowing to pressure from health-conscious consumers and one particularly determined food blogger, the chicken chain is removing some unhealthy and artificial ingredients from its products.

Chick-fil-A has cut yellow dye from its chicken soup recipe, and is currently in the test phase of removing high fructose corn syrup from all dressings and sauces. The company is also working to eliminate artificial ingredients from buns and the preservative TBHQ from its peanut oil.

“We are constantly evaluating and refining our menu to be increasingly healthy, natural and sustainable while keeping the same great taste,” said Chick-fil-A in a statement.

The healthy push seems to have been put on the fast track as a result of the work of one inquisitive food blogger. In July 2011, Vani Hari wrote on her website Foodbabe.com, “There are close to 100 ingredients in a typical Chick-fil-A [sandwich], the majority of them with serious health consequences.” In the following months, Hari continued to cover the artificial and unhealthy ingredients in Chick-fil-A products. As the site’s page counts grew, Chick-fil-A began to take note.

Related: FDA Ban Is the Final Nail in Trans Fat’s Coffin

Last October, Chick-fil-A invited Hari to visit company headquarters to talk about new product creation, high fructose corn syrup, sodium, artificial coloring and more. Since the meeting, Chick-fil-A reports that the company has kept in touch with Hari, providing updates on menu changes and recipe adjustments.

“The food industry is not going to change overnight, but we are making some major headway,” wrote Hari, yesterday when news of Chick-fil-A’s recipe revamp broke. 

Facing pressure from increasingly health-conscious consumers, restaurants of all kinds have been forced to reexamine their offerings. It’s easier than ever for customers to find out what exactly goes in their food with tools such as New York City’s Department of Health’s MenuStat, which allows users to compare nutritional data for 66 chain restaurants.

Even more importantly for companies, it’s easier for customers to get the word out about unhealthy offerings, through blogs such as FoodBabe, online petitions and social media. Add government involvement, like the recent FDA trans fat ban, and restaurants have no choice but to pay closer attention to their nutritional information.

Related: 6 Shocking Realizations About the Food at Your Favorite Chain Restaurants

Kate Taylor is a staff writer for Entrepreneur.com.

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5 Dazzling Design Examples of What’s Possible with the Genesis Framework for WordPress

411 screenshot

I am so sick of this doggone website.

It had been a good 18 months since I’d updated the design. It didn’t use HTML5. It wasn’t mobile responsive. And the form and function of the site no longer fit the content as well as it could.

Worst of all, it just looked … old. It felt tired. I needed a change, but I’m no coder. Nor did I want to pay for a custom design.

Ever had a similar string of thoughts yourself about your own site?

Here’s how to remedy that …

It’s time to get re-energized

The dissatisfaction I was feeling with my site was quickly alleviated when I installed one of our new Genesis Pro themes — Agency Pro. (Working for Copyblogger does have its perks.)

Just a couple fun hours of tinkering and customizing later, I had a brand-new, cutting-edge design that would have been impossible for me to do by myself and would have cost me thousands of dollars to hire someone to do for me.

I felt great about my site again and energized to create new content for it.

Want to get re-energized about your own site?

Here are five other sites that serve as pristine examples of how you can have a modern, mobile-ready website darn near right out of the box … all for less than $100.

Be bold, be Beautiful

These first two websites employ our new Beautiful Pro Theme.

This first site, AllisonVesterfelt.com, shows you how naturally alluring the design for Beautiful is with only basic customizations being made.

Allison Vesterfelt screenshot

Compare it to the demo and you will see that it didn’t take much for the Vesterfelts to take Beautiful and make it completely their own.

Taking Beautiful even further is WhitneyCapps.com

This site, designed by Erin Ulrich, adds a textured background and substitutes a stylish text logo for the horizontal header image.

Whitney Capps screenshot

These two sites put the simplicity and versatility of Genesis on full display.

You can get a gorgeous new design right out of the box, or you can take it to the next level by employing one of the Genesis community’s many talented developers to add even more of your own unique flair.

See the Beautiful Pro Theme demo here, or purchase Beautiful for immediate use on your site here.

Beyond design with Sixteen Nine

Sixteen Nine, the recently released child theme that all Synthesis customers receive upon signing up, keeps the nav bar and widgets simple so that the audience’s full attention is on the content.

You can see this in action at PlacesBeyond.com, a site chronicling a motorcycle journey from California to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.

Places Beyond screenshot

Check out the Sixteen Nine demo here, and you’ll see how closely Places Beyond sticks with the basic format of the child theme while still carving out a unique feel thanks to the design acumen of Megan Gray.

If you are not a Synthesis customer, you can get Sixteen Nine for your site here.

Innovating with eleven40

The eleven40 theme has long been one of StudioPress’ best sellers. With the additions made to the Pro version — HTML5 markup, mobile responsiveness, a layout that incorporates modern design trends — eleven40 will surely remain at or near the top of the most popular list.

TodaysInnovativeWoman.com is an impressive example of what is possible when a solid theme is infused with the creativity of a great designer like Jennifer Bourn.

Todays Innovative Woman screenshot

You can compare Jennifer’s work to the eleven40 demo here, or you can dive right in and add eleven40 to your site here.

Write away with Wintersong

This final example is another that shows the out-of-the-box power of Genesis, specifically the Wintersong Pro theme.

Wintersong is one of many StudioPress themes that began as the design of StudioPress founder Brian Gardner’s personal website. (You can see the latest such design, The 411, right here and in the image at the top of this post.)

The site pictured below, Just-Thauna.com, takes the base Wintersong design and adds nothing more than a custom header image (which can be uploaded and formatted in less than a minute from the dashboard) and a new color scheme to create an ideal look for Thauna’s personal blog.

Just Thauna screenshot

Thauna is a designer herself, specializing in Genesis designs. So she knows how to add flair to a Genesis site, even if she didn’t do too much to Wintersong for her own site — she didn’t need to.

Check out the demo for Wintersong here, or go ahead and grab a copy for yourself here.

101,000+ people take WordPress further with StudioPress

Image of Genesis 2.0 Logo

Our Genesis Framework for WordPress empowers you to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress.

With search-optimized code and functions, 55 turn-key designs, state-of-the-art security, and unlimited support, updates, and websites you can build, Mashable calls Genesis the “best of the best” among premium WordPress themes.

Serious online publishers trust Genesis to provide a solid foundation for their sites. By serious, I mean people planning to get somewhere with this Internet thing.

Whether you’re a novice, or an advanced developer, Genesis provides you with the rock-solid infrastructure to take WordPress places you never thought it could go.

Pick up Genesis (and a child theme) today!

Need a little help?

If you have questions about Genesis that you’d like to get answered before purchasing, please contact our Support Division directly.

If you are an existing StudioPress customer, please log in to MyStudioPress for all support questions.

For non-support related discussions about WordPress, CSS, design, and site feedback, please jump into the StudioPress Community Forums anytime.

Thanks!

About the author

Jerod Morris

Jerod Morris is the Director of Content for Copyblogger Media and a founding member of the Synthesis Managed WordPress Hosting team. Get more from Jerod on Twitter and .

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Cyber Monday Grows As More Shoppers Turn to Mobile

Cyber Monday Grows As More Shoppers Turn to Mobile

Image credit: LAURA A ODA / MCT

In a holiday shopping season synonymous with crowds, deep discounts and deal-crazed shoppers trampling each other, Cyber Monday stands out as a day when consumers are encouraged to stay home — while still opening up their wallets, of course. And with Thanksgiving weekend sales lower this year than in 2012, and experts forecasting modest holiday season sales growth, Cyber Monday may be retailers’ best hope for meeting sales goals.

A National Retail Federation weekend survey found that 131 million people are planning to shop online today, up from 129 million last year. Shop.org, a division of the National Retail Federation, predicts that online sales will grow between 13 and 15 percent this holiday season, totaling as much as $82 billion in the months of November and December.

More of this activity will happen on mobile devices than ever before. Nearly one in five Cyber Monday consumers, or about 25 million people, said they plan to use their mobile device this year, a 22 percent increase from last year’s 20 million mobile shoppers.

Shop.org, invented Cyber Monday in 2005 as an extension of the Thanksgiving weekend shopping holiday, promoting it as a day for online sales. By 2010, it had become the biggest day of the year for e-commerce, and this year more than eight in 10 retailers plan to offer Cyber Monday promotions.

They could use the extra business. Total sales on Thanksgiving weekend fell 3 percent this year to $57.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Although 141 million people shopped from Thursday through Sunday, up from 139 million last year, their spending averaged only $407.02, down from $423.55 during the same weekend of 2012.

Even as overall sales numbers decline, however, online shopping continues to grow. Rather than waiting for Cyber Monday, 42 percent of Thanksgiving weekend shoppers, or about 59 million people, made purchases online, the trade association said.

Related: Giving Ecommerce Customers What They Want (Infographic)

Brian Patrick Eha is an assistant editor at Entrepreneur.com.

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The Best (And Only) Tips You Need for the Office Holiday Party

The Best (And Only) Tips You Need for the Office Holiday Party

Image credit: Shutterstock

If you think the holiday office party is your opportunity to shine, here’s a news flash: unless you’re in the marketing department, it’s not. Those marketing folks, now they know how to party. You, not so much.

The best result you can hope for is to get through it without doing too much damage to your reputation. As for your dignity, forget it.

After your third drink in 30 minutes – just to calm your nerves, we know – you’ll be on the dance floor or the karaoke machine making a complete idiot of yourself. Your dignity has no hope of surviving the night.

The good news is you’re in good company. Everyone’s got to go and everyone’s terrified they’re going to say or do the wrong thing. The only thing you’ve really got to worry about is waking up with an enormous hangover and a video of you twerking like Miley Cyrus – snake tongue and all – in everyone’s inbox … and on YouTube.

With the holidays fast approaching and all the Evites on their way, here’s how to survive a wild night of partying with your fellow cubicle dwellers:

1. Whatever you do, be sure to corner the boss, slap him on the back like he’s your old college buddy, and give him some free advice on how you would run the department. Nah, it’ll go over great.

Related: 7 Things Great Entrepreneurs Don’t Do

2. You’re counting drinks. Great. But when you count to 10, better grab your glass slippers and hop in the carriage before it turns into a pumpkin.

3. If you hear the words, “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this” come out of your mouth, you’re right, you probably shouldn’t.

4. I know you’re just dying to try out some James Bond spy moves and find out if your nemesis makes more money than you do. Let me save you the trouble. He does. A lot more. See, you didn’t really want to know, did you?

5. No, this isn’t the time to show off your new tattoo – the one nobody can see.

6. If anyone suggests strip darts, strip poker, strip ping pong – strip anything, for that matter – slip on over to the bar, get yourself a drink, and watch from a distance. And trust me: nobody wants to see you strip.

7. Muster up all your liquid courage and tell that girl from accounting you’ve had a crush on her for the past three years. Go ahead. Don’t worry; she won’t be creeped out or give you that “you’ve got to be kidding look” and run off to tell everyone how pathetic you are.

Related: 5 Stubbornly Persistent Business Myths

8. Learn what barely concealed horror and forced laughter look and sound like. Don’t ask why; you’ll get it later.

9. Just because it’s karaoke night, doesn’t mean you and your buddy should get up there and, arm in arm, sing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” I don’t care if the sales guys went wild when you did it at 2 a.m. in a seedy bar last year. Wait, that was me. Never mind.

10. If you insist on putting your husband through a pre-party Q&A, everyone says you know just what to say, and you can get the beancounters in finance to salsa dance, you’ve missed your calling. Put in a transfer to the PR department. You’ll be great.

11. You probably shouldn’t gossip about office affairs – and you definitely shouldn’t take this opportunity to start one. You still have to work with these people, you know.

12. You had a good plan: put in an appearance, have a quick drink and some hors d’oeuvres and head for the door. Now it’s 3 a.m. and the cleaning crew is getting pretty annoyed with your slurred pleas of “Come on, just one more round of shots!” Better call it a night.

13. Don’t even try to compliment anyone. It’ll just come out sounding like a veiled insult.

14. If all you can think to say are dopey clichés like “champagne always goes to my head” and “I wonder what’s in the stuffed mushrooms,” you’re no Kim Kardashian. Stick to your day job.

15. So you’ve been good all night, just minding your own business and laying low at the punch bowl. Good for you. Pat yourself on the back, cowboy – if you can still find your back … and your hand.

16. If you wake up in the back of a taxi and the last thing you remember is climbing up on top of the DJ table and trying to figure out how to unbutton your top, don’t bother showing up for work on Monday.

Related: Why You’re Employees Think You’re a Creep
 

Steve Tobak is managing partner of Invisor Consulting — a Silicon Valley-based management and strategy consulting firm — and a former senior executive of the technology industry

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Are You a Copywriting Hotshot? Test Your Skills in an Email Marketing Duel

Picture this. Sonia Simone and me in an advertising agency conference room.

She pitches her headline to the account executive.

I pitch mine …

… and promptly get blown out of the water. It doesn’t matter which headline is better. Sonia is a legend. So the account executive goes with the better copywriter, not the better headline, 10 times out of 10.

So let’s try scenario B …

This time, we don’t ask the account exec’s opinion on which headline is better. (Steaks-and-strategy sessions with the client aside, he doesn’t know anyway.)

This time, after Sonia presents her headline, I whip off one of the dainty white gloves I’m prone to wear, slap her across the face, and say, “Madame, I demand satisfaction! I challenge you to a duel!”

When you don’t know the answer, let the customer decide

I wouldn’t let Sonia choose pistols at dawn. Instead, our weapon would be a split test.

Half of prospective customers would be exposed to Sonia’s headline and half to mine. And then we’d see, under real-world conditions where customers don’t even know they’re making a choice, which headline was really more effective.

On the surface of it, testing your copy seems like a great way to improve conversion and learn more about your customers. And it is. As Brian Clark says, “Conversion optimization is the coolest thing.”

But beyond the customer, think how A/B testing can help you

As a writer, I pride myself on my pitching ability.

But … I still hate pitching. At heart, I’m a writer, not a salesman.

So, imagine, if instead of having to pitch and convince the account executive or the client why your headline is better than the jargon-filled, scalable-automated-solution they normally prefer … you could just show them.

Let us show you how it’s done …

Give us your best subject line for a chance to win a ticket to Email Summit 2014 (plus hotel)

To give you a real example of A/B testing you can participate in, and test your copywriting mettle, I’m not going to challenge Sonia to a duel.

I’m challenging you.

To be more specific, Copyblogger and MarketingExperiments are pitting our audiences against each other for an A/B testing duel.

If you scroll down, you’ll see the exact copy of an email we are going to send promoting MarketingSherpa Email Summit in Las Vegas.

We’re asking you to write the best subject line you can think of, and leave it as a comment for this blog post.

Then Sonia and the Copyblogger team will read each and every comment and hand-pick the five subject lines they think will perform best. We’ll pick five subject lines from the MarketingExperiments blog as well (you can see the blog post announcing this contest to our audience here).

We’ll then run all 10 of those subject lines in a split test.

The writer of the subject line that generates the largest number of unique clickthroughs will receive a complimentary ticket to Email Summit 2014. We’ll even put you up in the host hotel, the Aria resort, for two nights.

The writer of the subject line that gets the highest open rate (clickthrough rate is our primary KPI, or key performance indicator, but opens will be a secondary KPI), will receive complimentary access to the MECLABS Email Messaging Online Course.

Rule Number 1, no touching of the hair or face.

As for the rest of the rules, they’re right here. Deadline is December 10, 2013.

Make sense? Great, let’s see what you’ve got. Below is the email we will be sending. Write your best subject line, and leave it as a comment to this blog post. Easy peasy.

[Send Dates: December 16-20, 2013]
[Sender: Pamela Markey]
[Audiences: MarketingSherpa + MarketingExperiments lists]
[Subject Line:] TBD

Hello [xxxx],

The last day to take advantage of the Early Bird Discount ($300 off) for Email Summit 2014 tickets is January 9, 2014. If you plan to be out of the office for the holidays, be sure to book your ticket before your vacation so you don’t miss out on this special rate.

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2014 promises to provide you with a great experience and an opportunity to learn what is and isn’t working in email marketing today. All case study presentations focus on real results with practical concepts you can use to do your job better. Come learn from your peers at companies like 3M, Dell, Porsche and Whirlpool.

If you want to learn how to grow your list, boost your performance and increase email ROI, join us at the Aria Resort & Casino Las Vegas on Feb. 17-20, 2014 for Email Summit 2014. Order your tickets today so you don’t miss out on the Early Bird price before it expires January 9, 2014.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me anytime at p.markey@meclabs.com.

I hope to see you there!

Sincerely,
Pamela Markey
Senior Director, Marketing
MarketingSherpa

Recap:

  • To enter the contest, write the strongest email subject line for the above message that you can.
  • Leave your entry as a comment in this blog post.
  • The best five entries from Copyblogger will be tested, along with the best five entries from the MarketingExperiments blog.
  • The writer of the subject line that generates the largest number of unique clickthroughs will receive a complimentary ticket to Email Summit 2014, and we’ll put you up in the host hotel, the Aria resort, for two nights.
  • The writer of the subject line that gets the highest open rate will receive complimentary access to the MECLABS Email Messaging Online Course.
  • The deadline is December 10, 2013.

Fire up your creative engines, and may the best writer win!

About the Author: Daniel Burstein has 13 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement, and field marketing communications. He oversees all editorial content coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands, while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS. Daniel is also a frequent speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars.

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Could Reading Children’s Books Help You Become a Better Business Writer?

I don’t care how old you are — 17 or 70 — as a writer you can benefit from reading children’s stories.

Stories like Madeline, Interrupting Chicken, Henry’s Freedom Box, The Giving Tree, and I Took the Moon for a Walk.

Keep in mind, the reason these are considered “children’s” books is not because of the material.

Behind each of these simple, clear, easy-to-read books is a complex story:

  • A scary trip to the hospital
  • A slave who mails himself to freedom
  • A boy who ravages a generous and selfless tree

These are “children’s” stories because in each book the writer crystallizes a story into one clear, concise, and compelling message in about 40 pages, with just 50 (or fewer) words per page.

Out with the four-pound novel, in with the seven-ounce anecdote.

Perfect for the 4-to-7 age range … and perfect for telling your business story.

Let me explain.

Why should you read children’s books?

To become better storytellers, our mentors and teachers tell us to read — and read widely. We are wise to follow their advice.

Why? Stories are important to business and marketing.

Our own beloved Sonia Simone put it nicely:

Here on Copyblogger, you’ve seen us talk many times about how to tell a terrific marketing story.

Why? Because stories are fundamental to how we communicate as human beings. Tell the right story and you can capture attention, entertain, enlighten, and persuade … all in the course of just a few minutes.

Stories are memorable and shareable — and those are two of the most important aspects of the very best content.

It is by reading that we learn how to tell those stories.

Rarely, however, is there mention of reading children’s books when it comes to reading advice.

That’s just so below us, right? I mean, we’re not out to write a children’s book, so why care?

Well, if you read more children’s books, you’ll learn what is essential to telling a great story … even better than if you read Wool or The Stand.

How can I say something so clearly heretical? Well …

Think of Howey and King as masters of the long form. Bemelmans and Silverstein, on the other hand, are masters of the short form — the crystallized form perfect for opening a blog post or telling your own marketing story.

Here’s how that works …

How to read a story with purpose

This is easy if you have small children.

The bedding ritual is chock full of reading opportunities. Let them pick out two or three of their favorite books, then start reading.

As you read:

  • Look at the emotions. What core emotion is behind each story? Is it fear? Joy? Sadness? Anger?
  • Look at the characters. Who is the main character? Is he or she likeable? Who are the supporting characters? Who is the enemy of the main character?
  • Look at the conflict. What does the main character want? What obstacle is stopping the main character from getting what he wants? How does the story end?
  • Look at the language. The short words. The short sentences. The short paragraphs. The repetition and alliteration.

Read and re-read each story (even after your children fall asleep) with these questions in mind.

The beautiful thing about these books is you can read one, on average, in fewer than five minutes. That means in 30 minutes you can read six books (or the same book six times — one sure method for absorbing a book).

But what if you don’t have small children? Easy. Take a trip to your local book store, hunt down the books for ages 4-7, and read two dozen books in two hours.

Later, with your head dizzy with ideas, sit down and write your own story.

Why you should not be embarrassed

Listen. Don’t be ashamed of reading children’s books.

And certainly don’t be ashamed of writing like a child.

Simplicity is preferred over complication when it comes to writing (and God knows we bring a lot of adult baggage to the table).

Besides, Pablo Picasso once said, “I’ve spent my whole life learning how to draw like a child.”

If learning to draw like a child was a serious and significant pursuit for one of the most famous painters of the 20th century, then spending the rest of our lives learning how to write like a child shouldn’t be beneath us either.

About the author

Demian Farnworth

Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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