Taking your ideas for a ride – or why I can’t write a book (Part 2)

On 20 September I blogged about my client and riding instructor, Debbie, who thought I was joking when I suggested that she write a book. (Click here to read Part 1.) I knew it would be a great way to promote her services and to share her knowledge with some of the thousands of horse owners in the country.

Well, after Debbie stopped laughing, she agreed to spend half a day with me and Sarah Williams, The Book Consultant. Sarah has published many books herself and now helps business owners to write and publish their own books. She’s working on a clever process that will allow even more people to get the ideas out of their head and onto paper. Unsurprisingly, she’s writing a book about it and when it’s out, I’ll let you know. Without giving away too much at this stage, Sarah is developing a specialised thinking and planning process. She avoids putting too much structure into ideas too early on, keeping the structure as loose and provisional as possible, for as long as possible. The way she did this with Debbie was to start by asking her what riding is all about. The negatives and positives all went onto a flip chart – all carefully colour coded. Then she asked Debbie about the process she goes through with new clients (riders) and again the answers went onto the flip chart. All this took a couple of hours and really gave us time to explore the ideas and issues in plenty of detail.

Then we took a break for lunch (and a glass of wine – very important for the creative process!) After lunch we went back to the flip charts and suddenly things started dropping into place. From all the ideas and the loose structure, we could see chapters and sections of the book start to emerge. At the start of the day, if we’d asked Debbie what she wanted to write about, I don’t think she’d have known. But when Sarah asked her now, she could see quite clearly the important aspects that she wanted to write about. Out of the colours and words on the flip charts – out of the provisional structure – came a plan and a process for the writing. How clever is that!

Many people who want to write a book just don’t know where to start. 95% of the people who think about writing a book don’t ever do it. If you really want to write a book – to promote what you do and build your reputation or just to share your ideas – then don’t be one of that number. Get in touch and Sarah and I will see what we can do to help you get the book written and then promoted to the world.


How not to do direct mail – part 2


About 18 months ago, we got in touch with a company that sells mailing lists, to see if they could provide us with useful contacts for one of our clients. At the time, we had a lady called Lisa working with us.

Recently we received a letter from the mailing list company, with words and phrases like ‘Targeted’, ‘Focused’ and ‘Up to Date’ printed all over the envelope. It was addressed to Lisa; she moved to a different job over a year ago!

If a huge mailing house, that specialises in selling business data, can’t get it right, who can?! How difficult is it to keep in touch with your clients and prospects, to check that their details are up to date? How much money could you save by updating information before putting large envelopes in the post?

Before the digital age, I was a big fan of direct mail. I used it a great deal during the first couple of years of my business, to find new clients. I looked up marketing and PR companies online and then called them, to ask for the name of the best person to send information to. I posted them a letter and a leaflet, none of which ever came back with ‘not known at this address’ on them. Then I made more phone calls to arrange appointments. On the limited budget of a start up business, it worked really well. I had the time to do the research and saved a lot of money by getting the correct details. Some people I spoke to didn’t need my help, which saved me from sending them anything in the first place.

Direct mail still works if you do it properly. Spend time doing some research before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard!) and you won’t fill up your letterbox (or inbox) with returns. Instead, you’ll get to speak to people who are interested and want to work with you.

How not to do direct mail


“Dear Sir or Madam” – if you really want to get my attention, make a phone call first to find out my name, instead of addressing me that way.

“We currently have available an exceptional new business person who is immediately available” –  but I’m not looking to recruit a ‘new business person’.

“In his previous role … he won business from companies like Budweiser, Oracle and Dell” – so where’s the proof that he can win business from SMEs?

“If you would like more information … do not hesitate to contact me” – if you’re that interested in working with me (or finding a job for this superstar) shouldn’t you be phoning me? Oh, I forgot, you can’t because you don’t know my name!!

If you’re going to write to companies to tell them about your services, do a little bit of research first and you can save yourself a great deal of time, money and effort.

Why boring adverts don’t work


Advertising is having a difficult time at the moment, as there is a ‘rumour’ going about that it doesn’t work. Well, that is true if your advert is rubbish, and believe me, there are plenty of rubbish adverts out there!

Chantal gave me one to comment on yesterday, which was particularly bad. For starters it was jam-packed full of words in a tiny font. Why do companies have the urge to stuff practically everything in to the ads that they think is important? After all, that’s what websites are for, and your advert should direct interested parties to a well-written landing page that is relevant to that particular advert.

Adverts should concentrate on a specific area of your business that you think your customers need or want the most. Do some research to find out what the biggest problem your clients have, and then tailor one of your solutions so it is ‘ad-worthy’, and base your ad-copy around that. The idea is to relate to your customers’ pain by empathising with them, provide a solution to attract their attention, and incentivise them take action to go to your landing webpage and make contact to find out more.

If you’re worried about not promoting the rest of the things your company does, that doesn’t matter. Once you’ve got the customer across your threshhold, both virtually or physically, then you can practice your sales patter to direct their attention to what else you have to offer.

As well as the tiny boring text within this advert, there were these unpromising aspects:

  • a particularly uninspiring headline – why not pose a question or statement that is attractive to a potential customers based around their problem?
  • unrelenting large blocks of writing – alleviate this by breaking the text up with bullet points for more emphasis; it can also aid those that quickly scan adverts as it highlights the most important elements.
  • don’t conform with a picture of a smiling lady, that is so passé it almost has the opposite effect it is intended for; that concept went out with the last century – good layout is better than inappropriate imagery.
  • stuffing a tiny unnoticeable version of your logo at the bottom – the position good, but make it larger and combine it with an equally large URL of your landing page with the incentivised call to action; giving your customers something to do as well as read all your advert will ensure a much larger response rate.

The 2010 Christmas card awards


I’ve already awarded the prize for the 2010 worst Christmas card – click here to read that blog post if you missed it.

There are a few more awards to present. The award for the Pointless Waste of Time and Money card goes to a printing company not far from my office. The image on the front of the card is made up of photos of people – I assume they’re the people who work there but I don’t know because I’ve never met any of them. Inside the card, there’s no name, so we have to assume that the card is for everyone in our office. The ‘signature’ has been pre-printed into the card and says “from everyone at XYZ Printing” There’s no name, so I still don’t know who works there or who I should contact if I want a print quote. OK so they’ve shown me part of their printing expertise, but is that enough? Their card doesn’t tell me that they treat their customers as individuals.

On a much more positive note, the Clever Use of a Christmas Card award goes to Viney Associates. Being a graphic designer, Anthony has created a clever and amusing design for the card. Rachel has applied her marketing brain to creating some clever copy and to using the reverse card to tell me when their office will be closed for Christmas.

And the award for my Favourite Christmas Card goes to my friend Sue from Springboard Consultancy. A handmade card, decorated with a simple felt pen drawing and stuck on sparkly bits. Inside is a personalised, hand written message. She’s even written her new address by hand and a fun copyright message on the back.  She told me that she spent a whole day making cards for her friends and colleagues and I can see how much care and attention she put into my card.

Now I’m not suggesting you start thinking about this year’s Christmas cards just yet, but when the time comes, think carefully about what you send, how much time and effort you’re going to commit and what impression you’re going to create. And if you can’t wait until Christmas, think about other times when you could send a card (birthday, thank you for a referral or a cleint’s support) and the effect you want it to have.

What’s the best marketing you’ve done this year?


What marketing have you done that has really worked? What have you done that hasn’t been a great success? What was your best effort and what will you be doing more of less of next year?

2010 has been a busy year for Appletree so we’ve taken a look at the different marketing we’ve done, with different levels of success. Hopefully it will give you some ideas for different marketing to try out next year.

Have a party. In August 2010 Appletree turned 10. We celebrated by inviting our clients, friends and suppliers to a Birthday Party in September. We put a marquee on the lawn outside the office and arranged for some delicious food to be served. We caught up with people we’d not seen for ages and introduced people to potential clients. What can you celebrate next year?

Do something for someone else. Each year, everyone in our business can spend a week of their paid time with a project for a local community. Dianne helped organise a volunteers’ day in Newbury, persuading many local shops to take part – taking to strangers is not something she used to enjoy doing. I will be visiting a prison, to spend time with people who might not have anyone to listen to them, without passing judgement. Alice will be listening to people at the local elderly care centre and writing down some of their stories.

We’re doing this Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to improve our skills and to give something back to local community. Being able to tell people about the work we’ve been doing is an added bonus for our marketing. For your own CSR Review and Report, click here.

Do more networking. We bought another business this year – a networking company called Ladies That Lunch (and men too). Networking is one of the best ways to promote businesses and running the meetings allows us to share out networking experience, while bringing people together. We have big plans for next year, with new groups opening up. Take a look at http://www.ladiesthatlunch.co.uk/ to see when and where you can network with us.

Write a book. I’ve been wanting to write a book for a long time and this year, with the 10th birthday of the business, I got the idea to write a book about how to survive 10 years in business. Each chapter is divided into a number of sections and each one will be available to buy separately next year as a workbook and video.

Beginning to blog. In February we launched our blog. Clients had been asking about blogging – should they be doing it? What’s the best system to use? How does it work? So we started testing it. We now post three times a week, sharing advice and ideas with the world. We linked our blog to our Twitter account followers hear about new posts. Now we can set up blogs for clients and give them advice on how best to use a blog to market their business. Click here to find out how we do it.

So what has been our best marketing this year? We’ve done a lot of different things and there’s been no one thing that has brought the best results. What has worked best has been the integration of is all. Our CSR has been talked about in our blog; we talk about the book at networking meetings; we share marketing and networking tips on Twitter. Our marketing pulls in the same direction so in 2011, whatever marketing we decide to do, we’ll be making sure it’s all integrated and working together.