Author Archives: Briar
Author Archives: Briar
Let's talk about sales funnels.
Specifically, the customers' journey through a sales funnel. Because, at the end of the day, that is who it's all for, right? The customer?
(Yeah, I know. I'm skeptical too.)
Google says it's the "buying process that companies lead customers through when purchasing products."
Which...sounds simple enough.
I have a thing, and I want you to buy it. In order to get you to buy the thing then, there's a process and steps and stuff.
At its most basic, a funnel has three parts:
You bring them in by empathizing with a problem they have, get them to Know, Like, Trust you, and then you close.
The ways in which you do this are infinite, but the reality of it is that if you try to skip any of these steps, your business won't be sustainable long-term.
The whole point of a sales funnel is that it allows you to create duplicable processes for lead generation, client or customer nurturing, and conversion.
It's not always that simple, but for the most part, building a funnel allows me to figure out what works and what doesn't when it comes to all of the operational parts of your business. Lead magnet, email list, social media, products or services, etc.
Which means that guiding a prospect through your funnel is going to be the easiest way to scale your business model (note that it's not the only way—just the easiest).
So the very first thing I have to do is...
"No Briar, I didn't sign up for this."
"That's gross, and I'm not here for that."
And if you think that's bad, just wait until we start talking about pain points!!!
Here's the deal.
We buy things because they solve problems. Or are pretty. Or are useful. Or make something work better.
But at the end of the day, almost all of those reasons come back to solving a specific problem. (Possibly except beauty, but most humans consider a lack of aesthetics a problem, so even pretty things have a function.)
What that means is that in order to sell your product, the very first thing you must do is identify the problem that it solves, and then, talk about that problem.
In as many different ways as possible.
So that I can...
Once you're aware that the problem exists, then we have to talk about the solution.
So, if you're a productivity coach, you talk about specific ways to take back your time, knowing that your clients will need your help to implement those systems.
If you're a jewelry designer, you talk about all the places to wear your pretty baubles, so that your clients will buy those pretty baubles, possibly commissioning custom baubles or wholesale bauble orders.
If you're an author, you talk about how your books build worlds that people want to get lost in, so that they buy more books.
I build sales funnels. So here I am, talking about funnels. Don't make it hard.
But!!! We're not pitching yet! Because as a buyer, we're still exploring potential solutions.
We're feeling our way into it, with all those adjectives we like to mock Gwyneth Paltrow for on social media. Organically. Collectively. Holistically. (She can keep conscious uncoupling, tho.)
There's a really fine line here, between talking about solutions, and selling used cars.
It's like those direct sales pitches you get in your inbox—the entrepreneurial equivalent of the unsolicited dick pic. Most of them are incredibly cringe-worthy and generally unsuccessful. Because I don't know you. I don't know your product or service. So your solution is worthless.
These days, I want you to buy me dinner first before you slide up into my DMs.
The truth is, we buy very differently than we used to. We value relationships and recommendations.
This isn't to say that you can't cold pitch. I love a good cold pitch. But it HAS to be incredibly targeted to be effective. Several of my current clients are people that I originally approached with a cold offer.
I planted seeds, and waited. And waited some more.
What we're actually doing is building sustainable relationships.
And the absolute best way to do that is for me to hold your hand, and...
Notice I didn't say browbeat.
We're solving a problem here, not creating shame.
Aaaaannd this is where we really get into the meat of it.
Because for decades, most product advertisements crammed all three of these steps into one advertorial. Problem, solution, AND product, in one fell swoop.
That's a lot of information to digest at once, so the best way to force it down your throat is to play to your emotions.
It's the very definition of clickbait, only in visual form, and we've been doing it for DECADES.
And we're all sick and fucking tired of it.
Which effectively means that if I don't know you, I ain't buying your shit.
Let's look at some numbers here.
These are sales conversion rates for B2B and B2C businesses in 2016, in a survey conducted by Amplifinity.
Not only is your list not dead, neither is your referral program. (Also not included here are speaking engagements, in-person events, conferences, trade shows, etc. The conversion rate on live events is VERY high.)
And this is amazing news for you!
This effectively means that we now buy based on social proof, and NOT pushing pain points. We aren't okay with buying out of guilt. We no longer want to feel obligated to purchase. And we resent the hell out of forced reciprocity.
There are no official numbers on this that I can find, but I've compared notes with a few other respected funnel designers. And the average course return rate is as high as 20%.
That's ONE IN FIVE, my friends. That's insanity. Average membership retention rate? Less than 60%. These are terrible numbers.
What that means then, is that the traditional high pressure sales funnels may drive sales, but they don't drive customer satisfaction. They don't drive referrals, and they don't drive retention.
That's a real problem, because we haven't even gotten to the important bit yet.
The part where I...
This too sounds a little too much like a used car salesman, yeah?
"Briar, I don't want to have to convince you. I want you to think my product is so amazing that you're throwing money at me."
But the truth is, no one will ever be as happy to buy your product as you are to sell it.
So if you feel any shame around selling, that's probably gonna present some problems for you.
Because I NEED you to be excited about your product.
I need to know why it's amazing.
Mostly, I need to know how your product is going to solve my problem, AND how it does that better than all the other products that do the exact same thing.
Functionally, what's the difference between a Coke and a Pepsi?
Not a goddamn thing.
And yet, most people have a preference. A strong preference.
Now, my reasons for buying one over the other are varied.
Generally, it's taste.
But maybe there's a sale.
Maybe I like the version made with real sugar.
Maybe I just want to clean my toilet.
Whatever my reasons are, that is what I want to be sold on.
Okay, now you know the basics of how a funnel works.
You know the steps you have to walk through to get to a sale.
So then how do you figure out the customer's journey through your funnel? How do you figure out what is most meaningful to your customers or clients?
Well, this might sound a little bitchy, but...have you asked lately?
I'm not talking about your net promoter score, or your last survey. When was the last time you interviewed a client and asked how your product made them feel?
Here's the thing about NPS and other point based questionnaires.
They can't capture the feeling.
You've probably seen some version of this formula before (h/t to Joel Klettke for this one):
"[Solution] provides [Feature] so that you can get/do/achieve [Benefit]."
The features are the tangibles. What, where, when, how, all that stuff.
Benefits then, are intangibles. How the product makes us feel.
Remember how I said that we're all tired of purchasing out of shame? Turns out, there's a lot of that going around.
But we still buy to feel things. These days, our primary motivator is safety. How will this product make my life safer? It may not be guilt, but it's still a close cousin to fear, and it still can feel a little icky to work with.
If your product doesn't solve an actual safety need (like carseats, bike helmets, etc.), then you should probably stay away from this one.
Other feelings include adventure, significance, relationships, wellness, success, growth.
If you're paying attention, you'll note that those things correspond pretty neatly with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which was never a damn pyramid, but instead was meant to inform us of the ways in which our needs and feelings exist in the reality of our lives.
Also known as the intangible benefits of life.
So for decades, marketing has played to those emotions. We've pushed your pain points. Hard.
We've manipulated you to feel a certain way, in order to get you to buy a product.
But there's been a sea change.
More and more, I'm seeing businesses look for a different approach.
It's no longer enough to sell some shitty Chinese knock-off and make a million dollars.
The returns on $20k coaching packages sold out of FB groups are no longer a beacon in the dark (if they ever really were).
And have you looked at all those guys from the good old days of internet millions lately? A large number of them have visibly aged, and not in pleasant ways.
What this says is that your customers aren't stupid, and they won't stick around if you don't make it worth their while.
So how do you determine the value of your product?
First, this one also requires a definition, because value is an important word.
So, this isn't just about pricing, although that's certainly a factor.
And it's clear that our values are as intrinsic as emotion, because they exist for their own sake.
Most of the time when we talk about value in business circles, we're talking about the monetary exchange, rather than a person's standards or priorities. I'd argue that there is no discernible difference.
It's just that we don't want to talk about the fact that wealth, and the creation of it, is an acceptable value to have. It's not for everyone and doesn't have to be, but it isn't inherently evil. (Especially if you're pursuing generational or community wealth.)
So once you get over that, you can dive deep and take a closer look. What do your customers value? What are they passionate about? What lights them up?
How can you incorporate those values into your marketing?
How will you show those values corresponding to the problem you solve?
Finally, how do those values correspond to your products, now and in the future?
Figure that out, and you'll create customer loyalty that's almost impossible to fuck up.
When your customers like what you stand for, they'll buy your shitty burnt coffee in airports and grocery stores, or your chicken sandwiches six days a week. Not on Sundays though. We're closed.
This does mean that you won't be for everyone, but I firmly believe that the more your audience can self-select out, the more they'll self-select in, too.
Because if we like what you stand for, we'll come back, over and over.
We'll tell our friends.
We'll listen to your podcast. (Because you like kid's movies and foul language.)
And we'll buy everything you ever make.
This is important, as it's about three times easier to convert an existing customer than it is to create a new one.
And at the end of the day, this approach benefits those customers the most. Because if you can create things that you know your existing customer base will love, and that will add measurable value to their lives, then you will have actually done what you set out to do when you started your business in the first place.
And THAT'S what you build the fucking funnel for.
What do you know about course creation? It seems like a big mystery, but the fact is, almost anyone can create one. I’ve designed and consumed a lot of them, and they all follow some pretty basic rules. You just need to understand the structure, and most importantly, the place a course has in bringing you more business. Let’s dive in.
The question I am most frequently asked about courses is, “why would anyone even pay for a course? Isn’t all of this information freely available online?”
Obviously, the answer is yes. More or less. All the information is out there, a Google search away. I’ve talked before about the algorithmic trend of voice search. When you search for something, you’re asking a question. How do I? What is? Where and why and when and who.
Some of these questions are easier to answer than others. Where is a map search away. How is accessible in more formats than you will ever be able to consume. Videos, blog posts, Instructables. It’s endless. And there are whole websites that devote themselves to answering the question why. Message boards, Quora, even Reddit in a way.
But who and what and when are harder questions to answer. They are usually very person specific. My when is not your when. My what is generally situational. My who will never be your who.
A good course will supply at least one of those answers. We’ll get to the specifics in a bit, but this is the first step in understanding the value of a course.
Before we continue, it is important to note the difference between a course and a group coaching program. A course provides instruction, but not much in the way of practical application. It probably has some video modules, a workbook, maybe a Facebook group. Group coaching is much more interactive. There are webinars, care packages, emails, maybe even some one-on-one time. These types of programs will cost more simply because you’re paying for personalized time with your instructor.
But a course itself is usually just the materials. And I have to be honest with you. People are just not inclined to drop 1 or 2k anymore on a program that they may or may not ever finish. There aren’t comprehensive numbers, but what there is doesn’t look good. And I can tell you that in our secret copywriter back rooms, we’re talking about the low conversion rates. Practically no one is making the money they want off of one of these behemoths.
Well, we’re not building one of those. For one thing, you probably don’t have the audience.
So, let’s play a little game instead. Let’s say you wanted to learn how to do something specific, like make homebrew. So you go to Google, and you say, “how do I brew my own beer?” (I’m more of a Riesling fan, and know almost nothing about beer, which makes it perfect for this game.) 44 million results later, and what I’ve got are some ads for equipment, some YouTube videos, and a bunch of articles.
Now, let’s say that you’re at work, or in class, or putting the baby to bed, or any place where watching a YouTube video isn’t going to work for you. Maybe you just hate video. Either way, you start clicking through some of those how-to articles.
As it turns out, brewing your own beer is, like, complicated and stuff. There’s all this equipment to buy, and different supplies, and it seems like maybe there’s a couple of ways to cheat by using canned malt extract (and don’t EVEN read the comments, because that’s contentious as hell), and by the time I’m five clicks in, I’m back to Riesling.
But I’ll tell you what. If one of those sites had offered me a complete homebrew homestudy, I’d probably have dropped fifty to a hundred bucks on it, just to figure this whole thing out. Out of curiosity.
And that is about what the market will bear right now. Right around a hundred bucks. Maybe even less--another course designer friend says that courses should be the same price as books.
As usual, this is actually good news for you, our intrepid content creator. Because you probably have the bones of a cheap course in your head right now.
If you’re a service provider, your course is the thing that you do over and over for clients or customers. It’s the thing you’ve got a system for. Maybe you already have an actual checklist, or a clear templated process. Maybe you have employees who do the thing. Whatever it is, you’ve been doing this for long enough to be able to teach it clearly to others.
If you sell a physical product, your course is probably related. Three of my homebrew links were for supply companies. They can (and should) supply that information for free. That’s the very definition of good content marketing.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for a more advanced instructional component. And as a storefront, you score a second win by offering a physical copy of your course. Not everyone will order the DVDs. But some people will. (The proof of this is in the number of print books that Amazon continues to sell. Hard copies of things aren’t going away anytime soon.)
Once you have a topic in mind, we can move on to the structural components.
Your Minimum Viable Product for a course is basically the least amount of work that you can do that people will pay money for. So, knowing what you now know about people’s unwillingness to buy a course in the first place, what makes one desirable?
In our homebrew example, the point at which I became overwhelmed was figuring out a recipe. I hadn’t even looked at supplies, or the actual process, or the time involved. No, I froze up right around the place where I couldn’t just wander over to my local brewing supply company and say, “gimme this.”
And that’s the place you want to start from. Where does the information get hard? Where do most people get into technical explanations that a newbie just does not understand?
The whole point of a course is understanding that we all start out with the same level of knowledge. Which is to say, none at all. It’s easy to evangelize for something that you know because it means something to you. It’s much harder to explain that thing in terms that a complete layperson can easily understand.
But your knowledge is valuable, and that thing you do is worth sharing. You just have to make it accessible.
In terms of actual information sharing, you want to keep things as simple as possible. My general recommendation is no more than five modules, but it’s really about how the information sorts itself out.
To figure out how to do this yourself, go find a comparable course or two that’s already in your niche. You’re not looking to duplicate them, you’re looking to see how they’re structured. Look at CreativeLive, Masterclass, Coursera, Skillshare. The thing you do probably already has a course out there. You don’t need to buy it, you just need to read the sales page.
Some of you might be discouraged by this, but I would suggest you view this as proof of concept instead. If someone else is already making money off of this thing, then you probably can too.
Once you see how others are doing it, your job is to do it better. Your impulse will be to add things, but the true magic here is in the subtraction. What can you throw out that is unnecessary fluff? What information complicates the issue?
Remember, you’re trying to distill your thing to make it easier to learn and understand. In the age of information, THIS is what people will pay for. Your buyers aren’t stupid. They just haven’t learned the thing yet. Make it easy to learn, and they will thank you for it.
(On the other hand, if you are too basic, they will curse your name forever to all of their friends. How will you know? Offer a money back guarantee. You’ll know.)
Do the best you can with your video. For a hundred bucks, no one is going to expect perfection. They are going to expect it to be better than an Instagram story, but beyond that, you have a lot of options. You can do PowerPoint presentations, instructional videos, lectures even. How would you have wanted to learn this thing when you were just starting out?
You should ask the same question about your physical materials. What kind of resource would have been valuable to you when first learning the thing? Is that a checklist? Printable worksheet?
It’s important to note that fewer people will print the thing than you think. Providing alternate resources like a spreadsheet or doc template are helpful. Fillable PDFs are also an option, but they are a surprising amount of hassle, so that’s advanced stuff.
At this point, you may be sold on the idea of a course, but not sure of the practical benefits. A course in the $10-100 range works much differently if you’re a service provider or product vendor, so we’ll look at both.
If you sell a physical product, a course demonstrates your expertise. You sell tea? A Tea 101 course is an obvious choice, but then you can talk about how to blend your own teas, herbal tisanes, additions that you can make at home. Maybe you sell yarn. How-to knit and crochet courses definitely, but also more technical things like dye matching or weaving. The goal here isn’t necessarily going to be to sell a lot of courses. For you, simply having them says that you know your shit, which results in more product sales and referrals over time.
If you provide a service, a course can do more for you. If you’re a photographer, you can teach photography skills, yes, but you can also teach a DIY wedding planning course, or a client acquisition course, etc (I worship at the altar of Jenna Kutcher, and I am the world’s worst photographer).
If you’re a coach, then you should have a course (probably more than one). In this case, you use courses to move people further down your pipeline. An email subscriber buys a $47 journaling course, and then a $297 three month productivity group coaching program, and then subscribes to your monthly membership program, and then buys a several thousand dollar coaching package. Once you have all of those, it’s time to look at a certification course or a mastermind program.
Either way, a course allows people to work with you on their terms. They are looking for ways to get to know you. A course is a low stakes way to do that.
Ah, the million dollar question. How do you sell the damn thing?
That also depends on what else you sell. So, if you’re in the physical realm, then you probably wanna go after the SEO. Remember my homebrew example? If any one of those links had offered me the homebrew homestudy, I’d have at least clicked on it. SEO is a fantastic way to sell any physical product, and the more targeted you are, the better.
If you are a service provider of most varietals, then a low dollar course is how your customers get to know your work, but they have already gotten to know you long before they plunk down the cash.
If you work locally, that means things like bus benches and flyers and speaking engagements. Really. People need to get to know you, and they can’t do that if you aren’t accessible.
If you work primarily online, you are looking for the same kind of visibility, just in different ways. That means you probably need to have a newsletter, and an opt-in at a minimum. But you can also use things like FB groups, a podcast, guest posting, speaking gigs, etc. As a service provider or consultant, your top of funnel activities are going to be significantly different.
(I’m launching the beta version of Curb Appeal, how to invite them in and keep them stepping down your funnel, in August. It explains the differences in the stages of customer awareness, and what SPECIFIC marketing activities you should be doing at each stage. If you want more details about the program, sign up for my newsletter.)
The obvious answer, of social media advertising? I’m honestly not a huge fan for this purpose.
When it comes to social media, especially if you are an ad, you are playing a losing game. Unless you have a healthy following already, trying to build one AND using it to sell something is not likely to yield great results, unless you have scads of money to throw at the thing.
I mean, be honest--how many courses have you purchased because you saw a Facebook or Instagram ad? Shoes, sure. But a course? It absolutely has its place, but it’s much better to use social media advertising to drive traffic to your website and then target your visitors appropriately from there.
When we talk about a course, we’re talking about an instructional method. And because information is now so easily obtainable, the value is in the distillation of the information to its most necessary ideas.
And while we can and should charge for the expertise required to parse the information into digestible chunks, we shouldn’t have any illusions that that information is unique, or deserves a premium price.
Instead, what you should focus on is a product that creates value and demonstrates your skill. If you are a good teacher, then your customers will value the benefits of your expertise and interactions with them.
Increasingly, that is what we are willing to pay high dollar for. We see the value in actual service. Coaching, consulting, physical products, service providers, all of those things are materially worth paying for.
And a great course will help you get them there.
Today, I wanted to talk about content marketing (as in, any article or blog post that is hosted on your website or other content creation sites).
In the early days of the internet, great content was pretty easy to find, and the creators of it were rewarded. As with all things, the market was eventually flooded by every bad writer and their dog who wanted a piece of the pie. Actually, the dog is likely doing it better.
Regardless, content marketing is always going to be a primary method of creating or driving traffic.
Because of those bad writers, high-quality content is becoming more difficult to find. It’s still out there, but it has a harder time gaining traction in a market dominated by dubious SEO practices. Basically, the internet sucks at discernment.
To combat the problems of keyword stuffing and link farming, the trend is increasingly longform--we’re talking 2,000-4,000 words or more. With a million screenshots or pictures thrown in, because the longer you’re on a page, the higher it ranks. We call these skyscrapers. Because they’re tall, obviously. (Final count of this post is 3600 words.)
What this means is that the winners of the content wars right now don’t necessarily have to be good. They just have to be long.
But!!! This is great news for you, a respectable business owner/entrepreneur. Because almost anyone can write high-quality longform content that ranks well, without being an SEO expert. You just have to be willing to put in the time.
So, let me show you around deliberately crafted longform content. I want you to see what it looks like when it’s done well, and the steps you can take to do it all by yourself. This isn’t rocket surgery; you just have to understand what works and what doesn’t.
What kind of system you have matters not at all, but your writing and organization will be greatly improved if you can access everything you need all at once.
If you’re totally new to content creation, I highly recommend you check out Airstory or Notion. Both are rich text editors that allow you to save external clippings and notes. If Google Docs and Evernote had a baby, it’d be Airstory, but it’s web-based, not an app, so you can’t use it offline. Notion adds Sheets and is far more feature rich, but will cost you a few bucks if you’re using it to write. Both use blocks, which allow you to edit much more easily than a traditional text editor.
Feel free to use whatever janky system you’ve already cobbled together, but keep your research accessible, because you will use it a lot for this type of content.
When you’re crafting deliberate content, you want to look at it from the reader’s perspective. Don’t half-ass this. The longer you spend asking yourself what your reader wants, the more it’s going to feel like you reached into their head, scooped out their brains, and perused them at leisure. You want them to feel like you know them personally. Will you connect with everyone who reads your thing? No. But that’s not the goal. The goal is your ideal reader--so the more you know about them, the more you’re going to be able to answer their actual questions.
For example, if you’re still reading this, it’s likely because you want to write better content, and you want it to rank better in search. You’re frustrated by the sheer amount of bullshit that gets shared on the internet these days, especially when you know that you have actual solutions to actual problems. And if you could just get your stuff in front of people, you know that you could help them. You have a genuine desire to serve your customers or clients, and also, you’d like to be able to pay the bills while doing it.
I’m not a mind reader. But I have done the work.
Now, my absolute favorite tool for a copywriting outline comes from the geniuses over at Fizzle. (I am not affiliated with them, although I do worship from afar.) The 80/20 Copywriting sheet is hands down one of the best tools in my arsenal. Go download it, read the instructions, and use it for everything you write. You won’t regret it.
You should go into this worksheet with a general concept about what you want to write, but it doesn’t have to be super specific yet. Pay special attention to the box on the bottom right, common words and phrases. Because that’s what you’ll be doing next.
Currently, search algorithms are leaning pretty heavily to questions, because people are using voice interface. Think of how you’d talk to Alexa or Siri. You’re asking a specific question. “How do I do this thing?” “What’s the name of the guy on Brooklyn Nine-Nine who says cool a lot?” “I need a recipe for a no-bake dessert.” “What's the best software to solve my specific problem?” You know, that sort of thing.
What you want to do is reverse engineer your content into these kinds of questions. Just pretend you’re Alex Trebek. If the answer is your content, what’s the question you’d ask to get there?
Next, you want to go plug it all into Google and see what comes up. There are a number of tools that you can use for this. Ahrefs, Moz, SEMrush, Serpstat, Google Correlate (those last three are free for basic use). But if you’re not already using one of them, you don’t have to panic and start now. Google is more than enough to get you started.
SEO is based on keywords, which is why keyword stuffing is still a thing. But if you can put those keywords into the form of a question, you’ll have a little more leeway with the answers. So, if you ask, “What is the scientific name of a rose?” that exact phrase doesn’t have to be your post title, or even a part of your content at all. Just the keywords, plus the answer. In this case, that’s “scientific name,” “rose,” and “rosa.” If your content has all three of those things, then you’re well on your way to a good SEO ranking.
Before you move on, take a look at the competition. Click on every link on the first page (second and third pages too, if you’re really being diligent) and see what’s there. You’ll use this to form the basis of your outline, while also filing away quality outbound links to be used later. More on this in a minute.
So, now that you know what questions you’re asking, and what the competition is doing, you should be able to start turning this information into your own very long content. The value of an outline cannot be overstated. Taking ten minutes now will save you a ton of time later, and the more details you have, the easier it’ll be to do the actual writing. Use a bulleted list (or numbering if your topic is technical or especially complex) and come up with basic headings and subheadings.
This allows you to do a number of things. First, you’ll know what additional research you need to gather. The more quality links your content has, the higher it will rank.
Next, you’ll be able to design the flow of your content, especially if your goal is to get the reader to take action on something. Maybe you want them to subscribe to your list. Good content will guide them from the top of the page all the way down to your optin, where they will immediately subscribe because of all the amazing information you just gave them.
Finally, a good outline will help you figure out roughly how long your content is going to be. If you have ten headings and you average 200 words a section, that’s 2,000 words.
I mentioned that using quality links will improve your ranking. Here’s how that works. It used to be that any backlinks from any site increased your traffic, and volume was a factor. The more links, the better. This led to a lot of link farming and other dubious SEO strategies, and it brought down the overall quality of searchable content. To combat this problem, search engines started prioritizing higher quality links. The better the site overall, the better the ranking from that site’s links, both inbound and outbound.
What that means, then, is that links in your content that lead to other high-quality content make you look good by virtue of association. If your outbound links are high quality, then your content probably is too, at least as far as the algorithm is concerned.
If you’re using affiliate links (and there’s no reason why you can’t--just make sure you disclose them), this is the time to gather them and any product screenshots. Longform content is often a great place to use affiliate marketing, because the length demonstrates to the reader that some actual effort went into selecting the products. It’s not just a generic listicle or gift guide, it’s a thoughtfully curated addition to your content. Your readers CAN tell the difference.
Now you’re finally ready to write. The good news is, you aren’t starting with a blank page, so you can’t successfully claim writer’s block. You’re just going to plug in a few paragraphs per section to get things going. Remember, this is a rough draft, and you have lots of time to polish this thing up.
Unless you’re writing for an academic crowd, you’re aiming for an 8th grade reading level. The fact is that we love to share longform content because it makes us look smart. But we don’t actually read it. It’s just more noise (and a lot of it) in an already noisy world. So, the easier it is to read, the more likely it is to actually be...read. That’s a painful truth when you’re pouring hours of your time into something, but it’s reality.
On the other hand, that takes some pressure off of you. You don’t have to be a Pulitzer Prize winner here. Just easy to read.
I never write my introduction first. I might scratch out a few sentences to get the ball rolling, but it’s nearly always crap, and I nearly always change it. It’s much easier to write a compelling introduction and conclusion once you know the actual contents of your piece.
The same goes for subheadings really--you can write a much snappier section title if you know what’s in there. Your headings matter. Keywords in header tags rank slightly higher than text, so if you can naturally incorporate your keywords here, you should. But ONLY if it’s natural.
Now for the fun stuff. It’s time to come up with a title. Let’s be crystal clear on this: your title is everything. You want to strike a balance between creative and SEO friendly, which takes some time. Start with keywords and include as many of them as you naturally can. Then, go snag yourself a copy of this printable from CoSchedule, and see if any of these power words will work for you. Make a list of AT LEAST ten possible titles. For extra credit, use this headline analyzer tool. If you can score a 70 or better, you’re in great shape (final score for this headline was a 77). Then sit on it for a day or two.
If there’s no obvious winner when you come back, pick the one that you yourself would be most likely to click on. Your writing is a direct conduit from you to your customers. It’s a safe bet that if they are buying something from you, it’s because they like you. Which means that if YOU like a title, there’s a reasonable chance that your readers will like it too. Don’t overthink it. Just consider if you yourself would click, and pick your favorite.
Next, it’s time for the sweeps. If you’re interested in the technical aspect of copywriting and how to make it better, Jo Wiebe of Copyhackers has a bunch of tutorials about sweeps, and how to use them. There are seven sweeps in all, and if you learn to apply them, it will automatically make you a better writer.
But, if that freaks you out, then print out a physical copy of what you’ve written and read it aloud several times. That will allow you to trim out most of the bad writing and inconsistencies, because the more conversational your writing, the easier it is to read.
Proofreading should make you feel good about what you’ve written. The more you read it, the more you should like it. Most writers spend a lot of time rereading their work and telling themselves how clever and amazing they are, and it’s an important part of the process. Don’t sell yourself short--you’re writing good stuff here.
Once your text is all nailed down, go back and add images. The more you have, the better you’ll rank. That’s why recipes have step by step photos and completely inane stories to go with them. All that fluff makes the recipe itself rank higher in search. It adds theoretical value to the content and increases SEO.
Tutorials of any kind should be well documented, with photos for each part of the process. If it’s something that’s not as easily documented, then use photos that are in some way related to the text. Obviously, memes, gifs, and cat pictures work too, or you wouldn’t still be here.
Because I am writing this for Reddit, you’re missing out on the experience of photos as visual breaks. What I’ve tried to demonstrate here is how often photos should appear in between blocks of text. This isn’t an exact science, but try not to stack photos. Break them up with some kind of text in between.
Also make sure you use image tags, and add descriptions if you’re feeling fruity. Descriptions are great for clever asides, but if you go that route, make sure your tags are complete for accessibility purposes.
Next you want to add your links. There's two types of outbound links. Nofollow and dofollow. Don't overcomplicate this. Dofollow links to sites you know, like, and trust (this is just a normal standard link). Nofollow the ones you don't (this requires an HTML tag, but it’s not hard).
Don't get cute. Links should say what they are, or they should just say here.
Before you publish, make sure you take a look at your content on mobile. Your content management system probably has a way to do this, but if nothing else, read it through on your own phone. You want easy navigation and lots of white space. Mobile users scroll through the text faster, so make sure that it’s easy to do.
Check that pictures resize automatically, that headers and subheaders don’t break off in unfortunate places, and that everything is visually appealing. In 2015, approximately 70% of users browsed Facebook via a mobile device. In 2018, that number was 95%. You likely know your own numbers, so make sure you look good for the audience and inbound traffic sources that you already have.
Okay. It’s pretty, polished, and as close to perfect as you can get it. Plug it in your CMS, check formatting one last time, add your keywords to Yoast if you use it, and you are ready to go.
In veeeery general terms, the best day of the week to publish content is Tuesday. There’s an insane number of factors that go into that calculation though, so really, do what you want. SEO is a long game. You’re looking to score traffic over time, not create viral content (although if you do, that’s certainly a bonus). Virality is hard to predict though, and carefully optimized content will nearly always do well in the long run.
With content marketing, actually writing the thing is only half the battle, and that’s probably being generous. You have to get eyes on your stuff. Obviously, the first step is to promote it on all of your own social media channels.
If you have an email newsletter, promote it there. With these folks, you can go a step farther and ask them to share it for you, because they already like you. Give them the opportunity to share your message, and you’ll create a fan base that feels like they’re a part of what you’re creating.
Once you’ve done that, head over to your social scheduler and plug it in to be promoted later in the week, later in the month, and then every three to six months, depending on how much content you already have. The more content you create, the easier this becomes, and you’ll get new traffic every time you share, because there will ALWAYS be people who missed it the first time around.
Now, about that scheduler…. You have a LOT of options here, and they run the gamut from free to definitely not free. Hootsuite is a great way to get started, and isn’t so complicated that you’ll be overwhelmed. If you want more features to play with, then Coschedule and Meet Edgar are probably my favorites.
Finally, find yourself some content ambassadors. These are people in your niche or in an adjacent niche who will share your content for you (this is how you get your backlinks, and you’ll have to work for them). Reach out to your network. Ask friends on social media. Mention an influencer by name in your content, and then @ them on social. Guest posts, Slack channels, message boards, relevant subreddits. There’s a ton of ways to get links to your content.
And remember--this is a long game. You don’t have to do it all at once. You can spread this out over several weeks, even months. Mention it organically in conversation. Reach out via email. Make it a part of your regular routine to ask people to share your content--”hey I wrote a thing your people might like, would you please share it?” If you’re not an asshole, you’ve got a good chance.
Once you have created a library of content (around 30 pieces), you can and should take every opportunity to link to it. The goal here is to keep your visitor on your site for as long as possible. If you can get them to click around to your other content, and read everything you’ve ever written, your bounce rate will drop, and you’ll rank higher in search.
It also helps you build your authority and reputation. There's a difference between a skilled professional and a bad guru. We can smell it, instinctively. A guru wants to sell you something at all costs. They don't care about you, they care about your money.
But you can make money while genuinely being of service. Your free content is what helps you demonstrate that. A library of free content says that your actual product or service is worth my time.
We’ve done it! I think. 15 very long steps later, we've reached the end.
A good conclusion should sum up your main thesis without being overly repetitive. You always want to assume the intelligence of your reader, so be clear and concise. If they’ve actually read the entirety of the content and not just skimmed it, they’ve been here for a while.
Finally, this is where you make your ask. For example, you should PM me for quotes on amazing longform content that’s done for you, just like this. That’s it.
Look, you did not do all this work to beat around the bush. Tell people what you want them to do. Just make sure you’re only asking for ONE thing. “Share this and subscribe to my newsletter and leave a comment,” is going to get you exactly none of those things. Be explicit, be nice, and if you’ve done everything right, you’ll get them to do what you’ve asked.
Content marketing is a skill, but it’s one you can learn. And while it’s a time-consuming process, it’s a pretty amazing feeling knowing that you’ve created something that’s both valuable to you as marketing, and to your customers as a resource. Good luck, and happy writing!
Greetings astrology enthusiasts! 2019 is upon us!
I’m issuing my usual disclaimers that I don’t quite get how astrology works (I don’t know that anyone really does), and while I have done a fair amount of research, I don’t buy into all of astrology’s…theories. What that means is that I find some of it relevant, and some of it straight up bullshit. (Stay tuned, because I’m going to be talking about the North Node later, and this falls firmly in the latter category.)
I’ve linked specific resources below, but I got a LOT of my material from better astrologers than me. Naomi Dunford’s 2019 Business Astrology Guide, Your Personal Astrologer 2019 by Joseph Polansky, and Cafe Astrology’s Astrological Calendars, specifically.
So let’s start with the good news–2019 looks to be a much better year.
It kicks off the night before, on New Year’s Eve, when Mars enters Aries. Remember how you wanted to take a nap all summer? That’s because Mars was retrograde. Not only do we not have to deal with that this year (for Mars or Venus), but we get to start with some action for once. Aries is a decider. It may take a while, but once the decision is made, there’s no going back. Don’t waste any of your time on indecision this year.
That means that you should already have a plan by January 1st. Stay home on New Year’s Eve. Go to bed early. Then wake up and kick 2019’s ass. This is a good year for strategic goal setting and implementation. Do the dreaming and planning now, because the first quarter should be all action.
Jupiter is currently transiting Sagittarius, which means an adventure. Jupiter rules Sagittarius, which makes this a kind of “home base” sort of state, I guess. Any time a planet spends in the sign it rules kind of magnifies the effects of that planet.
On January 6th, Uranus turns direct in Aries, which is great. I don’t know why, but it’s great. (Retrogrades of the outer planets are not something I worry about a whole lot. Their relative distance from Earth means that they can spend half the year or more in Retrograde. I don’t find these transits to be personally significant.) Enjoy the next few months of peace from this planet, until Uranus re-enters Taurus in March. My understanding is that this is going to be a rough transition, but on a global scale, not an individual one.
Saturn is in Capricorn, here and here. This is good because Saturn governs Capricorn, but Capricorn is also a pretty stable sign. It’s pretty much the definition of “slow and steady win the race,” and I have to admit, after the last couple of years, I will take some of that energy in my life.
Pluto is also in Capricorn, and you can tell someone’s into astrology (or from New Mexico) by how quick they are to defend Pluto’s existence as a planet. It’s…it’s far away, man. (On a pseudo-scientific level, I am skeptical about a planet so far away having any real impact. I suspect Jupiter’s and Saturn’s moons are of greater significance.) So I tend to care more about the inner planets, and the bigger planets. Sorry, Pluto.
But since I’m giving you the full update, Neptune is in Pisces right now, which also means stuff.
Now, back to the planets we care about! On January 7th, Venus enters Sagittarius, and everyone’s long-term relationships breathe a sigh of relief. At the very least, you’ll be less likely to kill each other. Remember what I said earlier about Sagittarius being adventurous? Wear condoms, is all I’m saying.
If you are the kind of person who sets monthly intentions, then the New Moon on January 5th is the perfect beginning. The moon is in Capricorn, which will appear a lot this year.
A total lunar eclipse on the 21st of January will be visible in North and South America, as well as some parts of Europe. It’s a supermoon too, so if you can catch it, you should. And the moon in Leo means…I don’t know. That you should bask in your awesomeness that day, maybe.
There are a few other eclipses this year, a total solar eclipse on July 2nd visible in parts of South America. A partial solar eclipse on January 6th. And a partial lunar eclipse July 17th. These eclipses are on the Cancer/Capricorn axis, which is apparently significant because…we’re cleaning houses?
Mercury retrogrades this year are March 5-28, July 7-31, and October 31-November 20. Get those on your calendar. Obey standard Mercury retrograde protocol at these times. Don’t buy a car. Don’t sign a contract. Think before you speak, ESPECIALLY online.
Thus ends your tour of the solar system for the first part of the year. Next up: we go for a swim in some questionable waters.
Astrology has a lot of math in it. Specifically, geometry. These days it’s all done by computer programs, which is why it’s become a thing again. No one has to crank out the charts and tables by hand. That is an ungodly amount of work, lemme tell you.
So, when planets are in certain alignments with each other, this is a BIG DEAL. This one is a little…out there, but give it a minute. Here’s how it works (in theory). Each planet has an energetic influence. So when those energetic influences come into contact with each other, they create a new energetic alignment. Which doesn’t seem totally crazypants. Get some magnetic balls, play with them on a table. How they interact with each other is how the planets interact, on a much larger scale. Sometimes they attract, sometimes they repel.
Astrology believes that those planetary magnetic fields have a similar effect. On us, but also on our planet. These alignments happen often, because the planets are moving, but there are a couple of big ones this year.
First, Jupiter will square Neptune, which I’m told brings truth, resonance, and authenticity. And possibly the downfall of famous and corrupt people, so watch for that. This lasts from January to September.
Then Saturn will sextile Neptune, bringing material gain from your highest and loftiest pursuits. I mean, that sounds pretty sweet. This runs from February to November.
There are specific days when the actual intersections happen, and if you like fortune-telling, then this is something you should explore further–astrology has a ton of it. For the rest of us, it’s enough to say that in order for these specific planetary hookups to happen, they have to stay within the same relative range for a while.
And finally, we reach astrology’s sub-basement. The floor is slick down here, so tread carefully!
This year, we have a North Node in Cancer. This is significant because….okay. Check this shit out, guys. The lunar nodes are a period of approximately 18 months. They’re not actual planets, they’re mathematically derived points on the natal chart. It has something to do with where the moon is in your chart, but I don’t see how or when or why.
This means that you’re reincarnated in groups of people who are here to learn the same lessons as you. That’s your node. And so a node in Cancer means that you’ll grow claws and do the Zoidberg or some shit, I don’t know, because when we get to this kind of religious quackery, I throw my hands up in disgust, and announce, “and this is why people think astrology is crazy.”
But, like all magical or metaphysical systems, I firmly believe in taking what works for me, and then ignoring the rest.
This year should be one of action and adventure. You should put your mind toward developing those areas of your life. Then focus on making things happen and creating amazing experiences.
Move your work life forward. Maybe there’s a professional conference you want to attend this year. Maybe it’s time to attend some networking events. Maybe it’s time to get a new job.
Travel. See new things, even if they’re close to home. Schedule a trip to a local museum or gallery or tourist trap, and learn about the place you live. Try new restaurants, find tiny little bakeries, explore and engage.
Meet new people. Make new friends. Expand your real-life network. Making friends as an adult is hard. Be deliberate about this commitment, or you’ll decide not to do it.
Spend significantly less time on social media. Monitor it, make rules about how you use it, turn off notifications. It’s about taking control of your time.
Be mindful of what you’re consuming this year. Uranus in Taurus means that we’re spending time examining our resources and how we use them. Going vegan isn’t practical for everyone, but less meat consumption overall is always better for the planet. Buy used or sustainable products. Have as many No Spend days as is feasible.
Finally, it looks to be a better year for your relationships overall. Plan FUN into your life. Dates with your partner. Field trips for your kids. Board game nights. Like everything else on this list, be deliberate about getting it on the calendar.
I make note of this kind of stuff when I’m doing my monthly review, and then slot it in where there’s time. The key to making this stuff happen is to make it realistic. So, plan one field trip. One food excursion. One date. One networking event. One movie night. Keep your list to four or five things–that’s one a week.
Then when it’s time to actually do the thing, you won’t bail on yourself. Don’t look at this stuff as “have tos,” look at it as “want tos.” Events to be planned, anticipated, and savored. Research indicates that more than half of our enjoyment of something is in the anticipation. So get good at creating that for yourself. Find things, large and small, to look forward to.
Make 2019 something to look forward to.
It’s going to be one of those days. I woke up with a to-do list a mile long, and every intention of doing ALL the things.
But we’re stuck in the middle of a high-pressure system, it’s cold and windy, humidity is high, and the pollen count is off the charts. Consequently, even after a massage yesterday, my joints are screaming, my head feels like it’s filled with molten lead, and I’m still not out of bed, at two o’clock in the afternoon.
Just another day in the life of a spoonie.
The question becomes then, what the hell do I do with my to-do list?
I think one of the most common complaints I hear from people who struggle with chronic illness, whether physical or mental, is that they suffer from a lack of motivation. But for us, that’s a lie.
I am incredibly fortunate to be able to structure my life and my career in a way that I can accommodate most of the obstacles I encounter daily with my body, and I recognize not everyone has that privilege. But there are a number of things that you can do to minimize challenges and maximize what you are actually capable of right now.
Cultivate your support system. Not gonna lie, I am profoundly grateful to have married a fellow spoonie. His chronic illness is different than mine, but when I tell him, “I don’t have the spoons for that,” he never questions me. Our support for each other in this regard is unwavering, and the end result is that I am much more confident in what I AM capable of.
Everyone needs a cheerleader. If your current situation doesn’t offer you one, then start seeking them out. I’ve found tremendous value in online support groups, and they’re relatively accessible. In person is always better, though, so find ways to add value to your social relationships. Churches, volunteering opportunities, and community support programs are out there for you.
And yeah, these are long-term solutions, but I promise you, the rewards are worth it. The spoons it takes to get there are worth the tangible benefits of having someone who believes that you absolutely can do the thing.
Implement systems. My days, (even the ones spent in bed), have a general itinerary because I’ve spent years figuring out exactly what I can do on those days. Even mental health days, those days where my anxiety or depression get the better of me, have a plan. It absolutely doesn’t matter that the plan is an entire season of The West Wing, a new coloring page, and takeout for dinner. That’s the plan, and when I accomplish it, I can feel okay about my day.
And just in case you’re wondering, you better believe there are days when I actually write that stuff down and check it off, too. I’m a big believer in pen and paper, but you don’t have to keep a physical to-do list. There’s any number of digital alternatives out there for you.
Regularly evaluate where you’re at. Part of my morning routine, before I even get out of bed in the morning, is to assess my pain and energy levels. Based on those numbers, I give myself a spoon count for the day, which is literally the number of tasks I think I’ll be able to accomplish that day. This is a vital part of my process; because it helps me go about my day without guilt. If I have three spoons, that’s it. I can do three things today. Everything else gets delegated or deferred (both of which I’ll get into in a moment).
Figure out your absolute minimums. There’s a difference between thriving and survival. I’m still technically in bed, but I’m dressed, and it’s made. It took real effort on my part AND one of today’s spoons to make those things happen, but I NEED them. Because instead of wasting the day on Facebook, I’ve spent it writing. I know what my absolute minimums are for all my different days, which means that I actually can go about my life accordingly, to the best of my ability.
Your absolute minimum to thrive will be different, but you know instinctively what makes you feel good. Make those things a priority in your daily routine, and it will give the rest of your day more purpose.
Plan ahead. One of the biggest struggles for me on days when I can’t get out of bed is making sure that everyone eats well. And by everyone, I mostly mean me. Takeout is also not always an option. I now meal plan meticulously, and batch cook when I’m feeling up to it, so there are ready-made meals available when I most need them. I also have quite a repertoire of pantry staple type meals, so that I can throw a few things in a pot and eat thirty minutes later. Most importantly, there are healthy breakfast and snack options regularly prepared, so that I can just grab something and eat.
Your struggles will be uniquely yours, but chances are good you can figure out a way to accommodate some things ahead of time. So that when these days inevitably happen, you’re already ahead of the curve. Not only is it helpful, it’s also tremendously empowering to know that you’re taking care of yourself.
Learn to delegate. This is what you had kids for, right? Yeah, I’m only kind of joking. There’s a lot of household chores on my list today that will be given to my children to do instead. Will it be done to my exacting standards, with my general attention to detail? Not a snowball’s chance in hell. Will I have to sit and supervise? Yep. Will I get frustrated and have to repeat myself eleventy million times? Quite probably.
But the actual cost of doing those things is still less than doing the task by myself, so that’s what we’re doing. Delegating to competent adult-type people is even better. We regularly evaluate household chores based on life and job circumstances around here. Folding laundry is a physically backbreaking task for me, so my husband does it. When it’s financially feasible for us to do so, we outsource that one entirely.
There are a significant number of other work related tasks that I pay someone else to do or barter services for. As much as I can, as often as I am able, I try and get help where I need it. This is not a weakness.
Keep things simple. I hate clothes. Loathe them. I hate shopping for clothes, I hate trying clothes on, I especially hate spending money on new clothes. But you would never know it from looking at my wardrobe. Because I outsource it to my husband and my mother-in-law. They both have impeccable taste in clothing, and more importantly, an understanding of what looks good on me personally. They know my palette, favorite fabrics, and that it had better be comfy.
But having my own personal shopper is only half the equation. I also regularly solicit my husband’s help (and trust me, he has much better fashion sense than I do), to cull my wardrobe into a manageable size. I utilize a capsule system, with seasonal and nursing and maternity capsules, since I still hope to do that stuff again. I get easily overwhelmed by my clothing options, so everything works well together, and I can put together an outfit on a whim—what I’m wearing is dictated by any number of factors, so when I get dressed in the morning, it has to be easy.
I guarantee you there are areas of your life that you can decide are no longer worth your time and energy. HOW you simplify is a matter of discretion; I could have just as easily decided on a uniform of scrubs in a million different colors (and to be honest, I did, which is how I came by my current arrangement, as I was the only one happy with that idea). But it still works. I don’t have to think about my clothes, and they definitely look better than scrubs would have.
Learn to be flexible with deadlines. I’m not talking about the hard and fast deadlines that are impossible to get out of. I’m talking about everything else. Because trust me, almost everything falls into this category.
This isn’t some platitude about how laundry and dishes can wait, because babies or chronic illness won’t. But it is important to come to an understanding of what must be done today, and what can wait until tomorrow.
How many of your deadlines are self-imposed? How many of those self-imposed deadlines are attached to things that you want or need to do? How many of those things are really actually things you need to do, not things society has told you to do? I can’t answer these questions for you, but I can practically guarantee that if you really answer them honestly, you’ll find that you don’t have as many deadlines as you thought you did.
Which means there’s always tomorrow. It’s now well after midnight. My list has grown substantially since I first started writing about it this afternoon. In fact, I added more than I got done. My work day isn’t quite done yet, but when it’s all said and done, I’m deferring a lot of tasks to tomorrow.
I’ve learned to be okay with this. This isn’t procrastination. It’s not laziness, either. It’s the fundamental realization that over the course of my lifetime, I will be more than what I did this day.
A change in perspective is required. Look, you know what you’re capable of. You know the same as I do that your illness isn’t an excuse, it’s your reality. But the only way it stops you is if you let it. I’m not physically able to do any strenuous hiking now, much less the rock climbing that I once loved. But it doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the outdoors. It’s just experienced in smaller doses, or with a really great air mattress.
Your reality may have changed, but your dreams don’t necessarily have to. You always have a choice in the shape of your dreams. And if it’s really important to you, you will figure out a way to make it happen.
A few final thoughts.
You already know this one, but keep some extra spoons in reserve. I probably would have neglected to mention this, except that life intruded while I was finishing editing this piece, in the form of vomiting from the five-year-old. The husband was still at work, and the teenager is completely unhelpful in these situations, so I was on my own. That meant I had to strip down his bed, plus go through several wipe downs and clothes changes. Not to mention the carnage that was the bathroom. This was physically backbreaking and draining work, but it was unavoidable.
And I am wiped out. I have nothing left to give, but I’m still not quite yet done for the day. Which means I have to generate an extra spoon or two.
Figure out how to create emergency spoons. In the long run, these will cost you. I tend to sacrifice sleep to make these things happen, which is often counterproductive. But when you gotta, you gotta. Tonight, that means a hot bath and really good sex. Between the two, I’ll be able to do the final few things on my list that can’t be put off until tomorrow.
At the end of the day, it won’t have been the day I planned. Not by a long shot. But I’m definitely counting it as a win.