The ABC’s of good content marketing with Sarah Von Bargen

We all know content marketing is a good idea. It’s the whole “making time for it” and “doing it right” that trips people up. But we’re lucky enough today to hear from  Sarah von Bargen – blogger/writer/internet awesome-i-fier – with whom I have the privilege of working with often.

Sarah has 15 years of writing experience, an MA in Applied Linguistics that she doesn’t use, and a blog read daily by 10,000+ people.  Also: she has a cat named after a Russian historical figure, which is cool. Sarah runs Yes and Yes and helps companies and individuals become (more) awesome on the internet. She personally, professionally, and literally believes that yes is more fun than no – and she helps clients get more of their audience to say “yes” which, hey, isn’t that what good branding is really all about?

Today, Sarah is sharing her tips on good content marketing, how to craft killer website copy that people will attract and the committment secret that she put into her now successful blog.

RS: Sarah, you’re a brilliant copywriter. When and how did you expand your offerings into content and blog strategy for clients?

SVB: Well, gosh!  Thank you so much!  I’ve actually been offering content and blog strategy all long – but that aspect of my business has just recently started to take off.  While a clever, well-written About Page is super important, it needs to be part of an active website with regularly updated, useful content.

You know, like a blog.

I think a lot of people are finally realizing that they need to be more actively engaged with their readers and community – and I help them do that.

RS: It is kind of a “renaissance of customer engagement” we’re in, isn’t it? What is the biggest mistake people make with their blogs that is easily corrected?

SVB: Just talking about themselves and their products!  That’s like a TV show with two minutes of sitcom and 28 minutes of ads.  Create content that’s helpful to your target audience and engages them.

RS: Can you share your top 3 tips for how to attract more readers to your blog? Any specific advice on tags, titles or hyperlinking?

SVB: 1.  Create good content
You’ve probably heard this before (uh, like in the above paragraph) but you need to write things that are helpful and informative.  No amount of tagging and social media-ry is going to help if you’re just posting photo after photo of your own products.

2. Cross pollinate with other bloggers in your niche
Guest post on other blogs, host guest posts on your blog, interview people who have interesting, useful things to say, promote other bloggers’ posts that would be helpful to your readers.  Other bloggers will return the favor.

3. Leave comments on other blogs
Helpful, real comments that contribute to the discussion – not just “Great post!  Come check out my blog at [insert shameless link here].”  People will follow your comments back and return the favor.  For the first 2.5 years that I had my blog, I spent every lunch hour reading blogs and leaving comments.  Five days a week, 45 minutes a day, 2.5 years.  For real.



Net-net: Building an engaged community takes time. But content marketing helps you get there. Deliver value, be generous, provide opportunities for people to connect – and you will reap the rewards when it comes to converting those adoring community members into paying customers!


Do you judge wines by their labels? An adventure task…

While we are all taught not to judge a book by its cover, let’s get real. I’ve bought books, magazines, scented lotions, household cleaners (how can you resist Method’s packaging?) and yes, wine based solely on how the label looks.

I’m a marketing groupie. I admit it. I’m a sucker for cute, clever or crisp packaging.

As a former wine writer and still-active wine lover, I know that some gems are hidden in the ugliest bottles and even price does not necessarily guarantee “bottled poetry” But I’ve fallen in love with cheeky, well-designed wine labels over the years which enticed me to buy and try the product.

Nothing conveys a brand personality – and hints at the quality and delight of the wine experience bottled inside – like a wine label. And there are many diverse ones out there, all trying to communicate why they are good, how they are different and to stand out from the hundreds of options out there.

Your business needs to ensure its “wine label” stands out from the crowd. Can prospects tell what kind of product, service, or quality you offer right off the bat? If you don’t think visual identity or your website quality and design matters (“I offer amazing products/services. That is enough to convey my brain.”)  – think again. One stat suggests that in less than 10 seconds, you have the opportunity to lose or gain a valuable customer – just based on your website’s layout and visual appearance.

Your Slice of Adventure, should you choose to accept it:

Peruse the racks at a local wine shop or the wine aisle of your favorite supermarket.  Pick three vastly different wines based on their labels – don’t look at the price!! Just from the label, colors, font, copy – even the shape and size of the bottle – ask yourself four questions:

1) For what occasion would this wine be a good fit?
2) How does the wine taste?
3) Who is the winery’s ideal customer? Age, personality, lifestyle?
4) How much does the wine cost?

You will soon see in action how our immediate responses to visual cues tell a whole story that words never could. This is how people are judging your business: by your website, storefront, signage, product design. This is a powerful lesson in making sure all of your communication channels convey the right clear, consistent message that you intend.

And enjoy your wine. You didn’t think I’d skip the actual taste/experience test, did you? That’s the fun part.

PS, I’m also in love with unique wine/winery names, especially saucy ones. Here are some for your amusement:

Bonking Frog
Fat Bastard Wine
Spoiled Dog Winery
Kung Fu Girl, Boom Boom and The Velvet Devil from Charles Smith Wines

Please report back your findings below in the Comments – and of course tell us if you recommend the wine! Any faves you already have that you can share? Please do…

How to (really) rock your brand with social media

Social media is now a core part of most any business marketing strategy. But it can get overwhelming. Red Slice partner Joy Moxley of YoDog Media helps clients incorporate social media and design into their business marketing strategy. She’s here to give you some tips and ideas about how to use social media most effectively– and she gives us her take on Pinterest for business brands. Her company’s mission is to “enhance and inject creativity, static and socially, into your business and life.”

Yeah, I want me some of that.

RS: Howdy, Joy! What do social media rockstars do that mere mortals do not?

JM: Here are some powerful tips if you want to rock:

  • Always try to one-up yourself! Stay active in the regular platforms but push your way into the new social “rooms” so you are always in the know.
  • Staying active within your social community, on and off the computer.
  • KISS it hello! “Keep It Simple Stupid” and use a third party social media publisher such as Hootsuite, Buffer, Seesmic, etc…to publish and analyze your content.
  • Have confidence and humility. It’s a great mix that will get you far. People love real people. Machines rust, but real people shine all the time. Tweet this!

RS: Sounds like if I could manage all of that, I’d be rocking, too! Now let’s get down and dirty. What 3 social media mistakes should business owners avoid?

JM: Don’t just make a page in Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest or Twitter, thinking people are going to just find you. You have to find and establish your customers first and then let the word of mouth flow in along with your marketing strategy. Tell people where to find you online and make sure to engage.

Secondly, avoid getting angry with unpleasant followers. There might be a good reason they aren’t satisfied and they might just like to pick fights. But whatever the reason, keep your cool and comment back to them in a professional manner. If that doesn’t work, take it off line.

Third, don’t skip good design for your online image. Again, social media is an important tool in your marketing toolbox. Consistency is key and you want your brand to look as fresh online as it does on your printed business collateral. Hire a pro.

And here’s a bonus one for you guys: Make sure to keep up to date with your page statistics and geotrack your followers. You need to understand who is viewing your page. (Tweet this!) Tools such as Facebook Insights will help guide you down that path. Our company helps clients with this all the time.

RS: Wise words. What are some ways people should integrate Twitter and Facebook for their social media campaigns?

JM Most if not all social media platforms are free. Use them to post about sales, contests / sweepstakes (make sure you know the difference) and get-togethers you might be having. More people will see these opportunities than if you were to just take out an ad in the newspaper.

Get “your people” involved. Ask your community to share photos or video of how they use your product, or simply how they are enjoying their day. Everyone loves to share and your business page can provide them with another outlet to show off their fun photos.

Use Twitter to start a scavenger hunt. Twitter is a fast paced medium and people want instant gratification. What better way than to send them off on a little scavenger hunt with new clues every 5 minutes or so?

Facebook is a great way to have company coupons listed for your new and current customers. It’s also a great way to keep them coming back to your page to see what’s new and grab that monthly coupon. Less than 1% of people, after liking a page, revisit. Keep them coming back with engaging dialogue and…freebies.

And don’t forget bragging rights! Let people know why you are the best and that you LOVE your customers. The stated love for “your people” will travel far. Especially if they aren’t at your place of business every day, they will see your online presence and be reminded of how awesome you are.

RS:  What are your thoughts on Pinterest for business brands?

JM: Pinterest has become the place to go to “Pin” your projects, favorite fashion statements, photos, recipes and more. It’s a platform for regular people and companies to show off their lifestyles and spark ideas and creativity in those viewing your pins.

Business brands can use this to their advantage by having a board for their new or featured products, but also what they love at the moment and even what organizations they support. This is a great way to show that you are a real company run by real people with personality. (Tweet this!) Post what people are eating during lunch,  favorite places employees have traveled or funky organization ideas your employees or you, the owner, have come up with in your down time outside of the office.

As with any new social media site, there will be ups and downs with how the site is run and how people use it to their advantage. I think it will get people excited about other photo sharing sites like Flickr and Instagram and allow people to choose to see all of your creativity and ambition in one area rather than flooding their Facebook timelines with photos.

Follow Joy @yodogmedia or Like YoDogMedia on Facebook.

What is one specific idea or success story you’ve had with social media promotion for your business? Are you using Pinterest? Please share in the Comments!

The Five Must-Have Website Elements, No Matter What You’re Offering

Guest post by Seth Leonard who trains and mentors people who want to build dynamic, successful websites. Right now on his blog he is offering the free guide, Seven Hidden Laws to Building a Dynamic Website.

There are very few universals in the world of websites. In fact, I often preach the value of finding strategies and solutions that fit your specific website purpose, rather than using cookie-cutter formulas that are often irrelevant to what you’re trying to accomplish.

However, there are a few things, no matter what, that your website absolutely must have. I’ve put together the following list of five key elements you should be sure to include with your site:

#1: A Place To Start

This is usually your homepage, but it’s so much more than the first page that someone lands on when they come to your site. Your place to start needs to let people know, quickly and easily, what your site is about.

What are you offering and why should they stay?

Far too often, especially with blog sites, the dominant element of the homepage is the most recent blog post. Well, what if your most recent blog post was slightly off-topic (perhaps a rant about spending Thanksgiving with your family)?

While I encourage you to stay on topic with everything you write, it’s impossible that every post you produce is going to sum up the mission of your website.

Providing this information doesn’t need to be over the top and take up half your homepage. Sometimes it’s a well written tag line that appears at the top of your website. Sometimes it’s a couple sentences that say who you are and what you do.

It can even be a pitch for something you’re selling or something that you want your visitors to do when they’re at your site. For example: “Learn how to write the book hidden inside of you. Click here.” That call to action also lets your audience know what they can expect throughout your website.

Just make it obvious.

Let them know what to expect. And get them excited about it.

If you don’t want to devote a lot of space to it on your homepage, then include a “Start Here” link in a prominent position. Then put your basic introduction on that page.

#2: An About Page

People love about pages. Right after they get the gist of your website (see above), they want to know what you’re about. Whether you’re an individual blogger, a large organization, a startup, or a dude selling plumbing parts out of your house, people always click on your About page.

They want to know what makes you tick.

So tell them. And don’t be boring. Unless you have an amazing resume that reads like a Dos Equis commercial, you should add some personality.

Your audience wants to know what sets you apart from everyone else. They want to know what motivates you. They want to know how you got to where you are.

It’s great to offer testimonials, accomplishments, or career highlights. But don’t leave it at just that. Offer a little bit of your story. You’ll be surprised at how much fun it is, as well as how much more interest you’ll receive from your audience.

Creating my about page was one of my favorite things I’ve done for my website.

#3: Content

This should be obvious, but I can’t leave it off the list. You need to have something for your audience to consume. It can be one thing, or it can be many things. It can be a photo, a daily poem, or a series of essays.

It can be something you’re selling, or even a question you’re asking. It can be whatever you want.

And while it’s obvious that your website needs this, it’s often something we overlook as we focus on marketing, selling, building our audience, etc. Don’t take your content for granted. Put your heart into it and create something amazing.

Create something that has your audience waiting for you to do it again.

#4: An Opportunity To Take Action

I love great content. But great content inspires action. You need to give your audience the opportunity to take action.

Here is something I recommend you do often: think about your ideal visitor coming to your website for the first time. They see your ‘place to start’ and are intrigued, so they continue. Then they explore your about page, or your most recent content, and they’re hooked.

They love what you do and how you present yourself.

Now what?

Give them something to do. Let them take the next step. Give them the opportunity to further their investment in you by signing up for something, buying something, downloading a resource, joining your email list, etc. Bring them into your club.

Even if it’s just encouraging them to share something with their friends, give them a method to act on their excitement, to do more than just consume content.

Let them act.

#5: The Ability To Contact You

It doesn’t matter how you offer it, but you need to let people contact you. You can post your email address, or if you’re worried about privacy and spam, you can create a contact form. Or you can direct people to Facebook or Twitter and have them contact you there.

There are two reasons you need this. The first is that people like to know you’re accessible. If you offer no method to contact you, you create a wall between you and your audience. It’s harder for them to connect with you and trust you.

Even if they never reach out to you, it sends a strong message that you are willing to let people contact you.

The second reason you need this is that you never know who is going to contact you. You might get a lot of people asking you questions, but you might also get someone offering you the opportunity of a lifetime. Leave that door open, even if it’s just for the odd chance at receiving something amazing.

That’s it. Five elements your website absolutely must have. You can (and should) put your own spin on all of these, but they’re essential to building a website that connects you with your audience in an authentic way.

How do you plan to implement these on your website? Let me know in the comments.

Is your brand carrying excess baggage?

Guest post by Betsy Talbot, author of Strip Off Your Fear: Slip Into Something More Confident. She and her husband Warren write about the 5 Tenets to Live the Good Life at Married with Luggage. They are currently traveling in Asia.

Isn’t it just a little bit funny that the owner of a site called Married with Luggage is here to talk to you about your personal and business baggage? I thought so, too.

You see, I just accidentally published a book on branding. While my intention was to write a book on personal self-confidence and speaking up, it appears that all those lessons are exactly the same as building a confident brand.

It wasn’t until we reached out to Red Slice for help on solidifying our message and working out our brand schizophrenia that we connected the dots between the book project and the brand. In fact, it wasn’t until we told Maria about the book and what we were doing that we realized we had a problem with brand schizophrenia.

Let’s see if you have the same kind of ‘a-ha!’ moment we did:

  • Can your friends explain in one sentence what your business does?
  • Does your website accurately reflect your message in an instant, or are you expecting people to draw their own conclusions?
    Can a new visitor to your site tell from the home page whether you can help them or not?

In our case, we were holding on to some old baggage with our business. While the evolution of our message and offerings was crystal-clear in our minds, it was a fuzzy picture for a visitor to the site. Even Maria, who
actually named our business four years ago, couldn’t tell exactly what we were doing.

Let me tell you, when your brand strategist cannot figure out your brand, you’re not being clear enough for everyone else.

Accumulating excess baggage

Perhaps your business evolution mirrors ours in some way. We started out in 2008 sharing our goal of long-term travel beginning at 40, and it resonated with overworked and under-lived people our age also wanting to break free from the rat race. As we went through the saving and downsizing process for two years, we attracted an audience of minimalists, savers, and those wanting to downsize. When we started our journey in 2010, travel lovers and early retirees started following our adventures.

We wrote about all of these topics, making one segment of our audience happy at a time.

The longer we traveled, the more we learned about ourselves and human nature, and our business evolved to address those interests with articles, books, and a newsletter. Plenty of personal growth seekers joined our tribe. We were starting to hit our stride in messaging, but we still hadn’t connected it together in a meaningful way for our audience.

It was all in our heads, and we needed to find a way to voice it.

Streamlining your message

We finally asked ourselves what all those people really wanted overall, and the answer was personal growth and meaningful life experiences. All of our topics fell under this goal, but we were doing a poor job of showing how they worked to achieve it. We realized we had to speak to the need of personal growth and achieving meaningful life experiences and not just the various expressions of those needs.

Is this true in your business (or your personal life)? Are you showcasing an overall strategy to resolve an overall need or are you displaying a disjointed collection of “fixes” for your audience? Is your image an accurate portrayal of your current brand promise or an earlier evolution that has long since passed?

As we started working with Maria on our brand evolution and messaging, I saw the distinct parallels between personal confidence and a strong brand:

  • Accepting who you are now and building on your strengths
  • Saying what you want in a clear voice
  • Attracting the right kind of people into your life

While I didn’t start out writing a book about branding, it seems as if the rules of personal confidence and speaking up are good for business, too.

  • Discover exactly what you offer to the kind of people you want to help
  • Clearly state how you can help your target market and what result they can expect
  • Focus only on the people with whom you want to work

There is no confusing it now, and our business revenue and website traffic reflects our renewed focus on our brand and message.

It is true in your personal life and it is true in your business. As I said in my book:

“Speak up. Be proud of who you are, what you know, and what you do. Help other women do the same. When you change your world for the better, you make it better for the rest of us.” 

Now start unpacking those bags. 

Has your brand undergone an evolution and how did you address it in your visual, verbal or experiential branding? What worked and what didn’t? What do you think about brands that evolve? Please share in the Comments.


4 things that selling tea in Chinatown can teach you about a successful website

Guest post by Seth Leonard who trains and mentors people who want to build dynamic, successful websites. 

I recently started exploring the diverse and tasty world of tea.

Luckily, I live in Berkeley, right across the water from San Francisco’s Chinatown, filled with tea shops.

So when I visited this amazing neighborhood in search of tea, I visited most of the shops. But I only chose to buy from one of them. Why? Because this shop did things differently. And you can employ the exact same tactics they used in their store with your website, turning your visitors into loyal fans and customers.

Starting with…

Provide An Entry Point

The shop I bought from, Vital Tea Leaf, offered free tea tastings. Now, this was important not because it got me to enter the store, which I was going to do anyway, but because it gave me an entry point for my experience within the store.

With each of the other shops I visited, all I could really do was smell the various jars of tea. Being a complete newbie, I didn’t know what I was smelling, or even what questions I should be asking the staff. I was intimidated and unsure where to start. So I left.

The free tastings at Vital, however, gave me somewhere to start. I didn’t need to come up with the right question, or demonstrate any knowledge. All I had to do was sit down and drink some tea. At the very least, I could talk about what I tasted.

You should be doing the same thing with your website: providing an entry point. Visitors are going to come to your site, unsure of what you offer, and unsure of where to start. Figure out how to demonstrate the value you provide in an easy, accessible way.

Then give them a reason to interact with you. Give them something to consume, to comment on, or ask you about. (Tweet this!) Figure out a way that makes it easy for them to enter into a conversation with you. 


Once I was seated at the tea tasting table, Royal (his real name), my host, worked to engage with me. He didn’t ask me what my favorite tea was, or even tell me what his favorite tea was. He asked about where I was from and we talked about Chinatown.

Royal was friendly and excited to talk to me, as well as the other people doing tastings. He would serve various teas and look on with curiosity as to how we would react. He wanted to hear our opinions. He gave us tips on brewing tea that later made me feel more knowledgeable and comfortable in making a purchasing decision.

Your website is about more than selling (when I say selling, it could be a product, service, or content you want people to see). Your website is about engaging with your audience, and giving them a reason to be there other than to buy. (Tweet this!) It’s about empowering them with the knowledge to make a decision about their next step.

People want an experience. They want to feel a part of something. Open your website up to your visitor. Be curious about them and hear what they have to say.

Give them a seat at the table, something to discuss, and then listen. Give them an experience. Engage.

Offer Social Proof

The free tastings at Vital meant that there were always people in the shop. Watching us laugh and nod our heads at the tasting counter only encouraged more people to join us. Just as it
was reassuring for me to see others interact with Royal before I sat down, my presence helped other people to join the group.

Sometimes it helps to think of your website as a party. You want to arrive when there are already guests there. And you want to see that those people are having a good time. It lets you know that you’re not making a mistake by being there.

One of the values of engaging with your website audience is that it shows others that there is a buzz going on. Visitors become more likely to add a comment after they see that a discussion has already started. They’re more likely to explore your site, knowing others have already found value in it.

So whether it’s displaying your comment count, Twitter follower numbers, or testimonials from past clients, find a way to offer some social proof that you’ve got something valuable to offer. (Tweet this!)

Don’t Be Pushy With Sales

Royal never once asked me if I’d like to buy any tea, even the ones I obviously liked. He probably could have at the end, and I wouldn’t have minded. And perhaps he lost some sales to others who started by looking for free tea, but who would have bought if he had asked.

What Royal did, however, was give me confidence in what I was buying. The more I knew, the more I tasted, and the more I trusted the source, the more likely I was to buy.

I walked in to Chinatown looking to buy. I just needed to find the right experience that would make me comfortable in doing so.

Your website audience is the same. They are looking for a solution. They wouldn’t be at your website if they weren’t. They want to invest in something. You just need to give them the confidence to do so. (Tweet this!)

Empower them. Give them an entry point. Engage with them. Offer some value, offer some social proof. And don’t be overly pushy.

After that, they’ll be more than happy to give you their attention, and maybe even their money.

Thanks Seth! Do you have any real world purchasing experiences that have led you to think differently about your website?  Tweet me @redslice or share with us on Facebook.

Words that work: How to sell without sounding like a sleaze

Too often, business owners believe that just because they know how to write, that their words will persuade people to pay attention, buy their products or provide word of mouth. But effective copywriting to compel an action or convey a brand takes a special skill. Today, Jared Matthew Kessler, Chief Copy Officer (CCO) at The Kick Ass Copywriter will share some insight as to how to sell by solving problems, not just tooting your horn. He’ll also dish on his process for crafting irresistible website copy, how to pitch without sounding schlocky and the biggest mistakes business owners can avoid if they want a compelling message.

Jared’s mission is to transform key ideas into words that sell and help companies stand out from the noise (not just add to it).

RS: Welcome Jared! How do you balance effective selling “techniques” for your clients without sounding overly cheesy?

JK: You know, we’re all a lot smarter these days. We know when we’re being sold and when we’re being helped. However, there’s this fine line between offering a product or service that you know will help people and slapping someone over the head with it.

When I take on a project, I ask numerous questions up front. In fact I gather as many marketing materials as I can and, if I need to, I send them a 7-page questionnaire that really helps me understand their brand – and whether or not there’s what I call a “B.S. factor.” So when I come up with a few concepts and start writing and developing them, I come from a conversational standpoint. Meaning, I literally have a conversation in my head between the prospect and the company owner. At any point, if I feel the “B.S. factor” is coming on too strong, I try and verbally pace the situation. Meaning, if it’s too good to be true you can say, “Listen… I know that sounds too good to be true. And honestly a lot of times it is. But…”

In addition to that, once I sense they are “pitching” someone, I just remove what was written and start again.

It should be about stepping inside the mind of your prospect, and getting people excited, without giving something away. So the product or service would be set up as the solution to your prospect’s problem (if that makes sense). That’s where you have to understand every single aspect of your audience before writing any copy.

I often say, “If you talk to everyone, you’re talking to no one.” It’s a conversation. Not a
sales pitch.

RS: So true. It’s about them, not about you! What big mistakes do you see when business owners write their own marketing or sales copy?

JK: There are four mistakes I see over and over:

1. Telling everyone about how great you are. How qualified you are to help someone. And how “life changing” your product or service is, giving everyone the overblown sales pitch of how much you can help someone. You can’t sell anything without rapport. Without trust. So make it about your prospect first. Then you, last.

2. Underestimating the power of your words. I mean this is similar to #1 in that a lot of people misunderstand what “copywriting” means. They think it’s all about making something sound good. And I think, huh? There’s so much work that goes into not just what I do, but what any true Copywriter does. And the reason I say, “true” is that I’ve seen a lot of “writers” tout themselves as Copywriters because of how much money they can make. And that makes me sad.

The main difference is that when you write copy you don’t just make something sound good. It has to be relevant to your audience. Sell a product or service without the greasy sales pitch. Increase your sales. Build your brand. And work.

I think too many people fall in love with an idea, instead of falling in love with a result. Recently, I had a client’s web site I rewrote the copy for and within hours she had people wanting to work with her. I love that! However, there was a TON of work and research behind that. I sent out surveys to send to her clients that really love her. I’ve written pages and pages of copy for each individual web page. Wrote a new tag line that served her brand much better than her web designer tried to pull off. Developed multiple concepts and… more importantly she didn’t change any of my work – which is the main reason I love her so much. 🙂

3. Building a website instead of a brand. I love a great ad campaign! One that’s smart. Effective. And solves their prospects problem in as a few words as possible (that’s 100% original). The best ones are when all the ads align with each other. For instance, take that David Beckham Superbowl ad (I’m sure you remember it ladies). Now it’s nothing to write home about in terms of incredibly original. But my point is, if you looked at the colors in the commercial. The style. The simplicity. It’s exactly the same look and feel as if you went into the store.

What I see of a lot of smaller businesses is that they just have a certain look and feel to their website. A certain look and feel to their business card. A certain look and feel to their actual business. And their brand is just inconsistent across all platforms. From their marketing collateral to their website, it really needs to be cohesive. It has to all click – not just one piece of it.

4. Have you or your web designer write the “copy” yourself, just to try and save a few bucks. What’s unfortunate is that people mistake a great looking website for an effective one. And that’s really two different things. It’s like me saying, “Well I can design your website for you.” I mean, I’ve never done that, nor would I ever! In fact I’m the first one to recommend a professional web designer to someone, because the design should support the copy (or vice versa).

In addition to that, I unfortunately tend to see certain business owners lose more money in lost sales, than trying to hire someone like me to begin with. What’s worse, is that if you’re a new brand, you have to build trust in the beginning. So if you’re looking to hire a Copywriter to “save the day” for your failing business months/years later, it’s unfortunately not going to do much good unless you rebrand yourself. Because once you lose someone’s trust, it’s really, really hard to earn that back. Even then so, it’ll take a lot more time and more money, than hiring a professional Copywriter from the start.

I mean, look at the rebrand JC Penney’s is going through. And how many millions of dollars in advertising are they spending to get you to revisit them after you already experienced them years ago?

It’s the same thing with trying to save any flailing business. Do it right from the beginning, or even if you’re doing it right, keep it consistent and hire a professional. In the short term, it might be more money than you thought. But in the long run, at least you’ll stay in business.

RS: Awesome points. You’ll end us spending more money (and losting more sales) if you don’t get it it right from the start. And it’s an investment in your business, not something you should skimp on.  One reason people cite is that “Another writer won’t sound like me if they write my copy.” How do you approach writing projects when you have your own writing style but need to reflect a client’s brand or voice?

JK: This is a great question! People get caught up in this a lot. They think that since you haven’t written copy for cell phone companies, or for medical sales or _______ that
you’re somehow unqualified – or the owner can do a better job than a professional Copywriter.

For me specifically, it’s similar to how actors research a role. I recently saw an interview with Brad Pitt on taking the role he did for Moneyball. In the interview, he mentioned how few people research roles nowadays. He mentioned how he could pick up certain character traits from spending months with the actual character he portrays. And how important the research process is for any project he takes on.

I mean, when you spend that much time researching your client, reading their marketing materials, talking with them over the phone, reviewing their answers to your questions… it’s only natural to pick up someone else’s style. Not only that, a lot of times you even help them discover their own voice, their own brand they didn’t even think they had. What’s more exciting than that?!

 What copywriting or messaging techniques have you found worked (or didn’t work) in your business? Please share your story in the Comments.

Website audit: Putting myself under the microscope for you

Today, I’ve got a special treat for you.

As I always say, getting an expert to give an unvarnished, unbiased view of your brand is always a good thing. You might know in your own pretty little head what you intend to communicate but you may be too close to your business to see that something’s getting lost in translation.

Well, today, I’m drinking my own Kool-Aid. Seth Leonard, web guru extraordinaire, and I recorded this lovely video for your benefit. In it, he audits my own Red Slice website to see what works and what doesn’t and offers you valuable tips you can apply to your own online efforts.

Highlights include:

  • Where to place a newsletter sign up option for maximum response
  • Why every single page needs a call to action or goal for the viewer
  • When to use “we” vs. “me” language (listen up, Solopreneurs)
  • What you don’t know about the order of your navigation bar options that could be impacting your click through rates

And other goodies that are easy to do and can help better engage your audience. So take a peek at this killer video. And PS, I have not made these changes yet so you can see what he’s talking about, but plan to very soon.

What one takeaway will you implement on your website today? Please add a Comment and let me know!

How to build an effective website and look like a million bucks: A chat with Nancy Owyang

How can small business owners with shoestring budgets and even less time create a powerful and professional looking visual web presence for their brand? While your website is only one brand facet, it’s an important one. I work with clients on their brand story and messaging but how can they communicate that brand online? Nancy Owyang, Creative Director and Owner of Eye 2 Eye Graphics, is a cherished partner of mine and produces amazing, simple and elegant work. She works with small business owners to make their business memorable through meaningful, strategic, and professional graphic design.

Her mission? To provide small business owners high quality, professional brand identity design that will make them stand out in a crowd and allow them play with the big kids… all at a price they can work into their budget.

I sat down to talk to her about what people are doing wrong with their websites and how small businesses can create big brands.

RS: Nancy, what are three helpful hints you have for folks building a business website from scratch? Or put another way, what are some of the biggest mistakes that make you cringe?

NO: Hmmmm… good question, so besides my obvious 3 hints of:

  • Don’t do it yourself
  • Don’t have your neighbor’s 16 year old nephew do it, and
  • Do find a designer and programmer who work and collaborate together—it’s rare that both a programmer’s mind and a designer’s mind can live in the same body

I’ll dig a little deeper and give you maybe some less obvious hints.

Have a plan. This can be something that a client brings to the project, or we can create it together, but having a plan is important for any project, especially a web site. Web sites have a tendency to grow and evolve, which is one of the beautiful things about them, but this makes having a plan even more important. This is the foundation that will guide us to make decisions about the site to make sure we stay on track and true to the business goals—in essence just because you can do it on the web doesn’t mean you should. A few things to think about for the plan:

  • How the site will be used by current clients and potential clients?
  • Is it a place that users come back to over and over? Or is it mostly just visited when they are considering hiring you?
  • What is the experience that you want to create?
  • Does the client need to be able to easily make updates to the site?

Think ahead. You’d think that this might fall into the obvious hint category, but it’s a
good one to point out. Things to think ahead about include:

  • Timeline. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your web site. Good site design  and development takes time. For a smaller site, expect and plan for at
    least 3 months from idea to launch.
  • How do you plan to edit the site in the future? Many small business owners want to be able to edit their site themselves: this will require the back-end of the site to be built in such a way that you can do this without learning to be a programmer in your spare time. If you’re a larger business, this may be a piece that you hire out, so the site could be built using a different back-end framework.
  • As your business grows, how will your web site change? Will you need a shopping cart? Do you want a built-in blog? Will you want to add a calendar of events? These things and more are things to think about when setting up the site initially.

Work with professionals for all parts of the site. An effective web site is an investment in your business and if planned appropriately will last you for several years with just minor updates to keep it fresh. So with that in mind, not only do you need a great designer and programmer pair, but you will also need a great copywriter to execute the voice of the site. This is important not only because this is your chance to communicate with your clients, and introduce yourself to potential clients, but this is what the search engines see too! Working in your search engine optimized keywords into the copy of the site so it doesn’t seem awkward and contrived can take some finesse. If you want to write the copy yourself, at the very least I recommend having it reviewed and edited by a professional copywriter who has experience writing for the web.

RS: What key factors do you consider when you design and develop a client website?

NO: The main thing that comes to mind is how important it is to put yourself in the seat of your website user. Who are they? Are they potential clients checking you out? Are they current clients? Are they just passing through doing research or gathering ideas? Do they come back over and over again? How do they interact with the site?

Once you know this information it will help you decide what needs to be included in the site, this will also determine how the site is updated, and how often. A site that serves more as a “brochure” site where potential clients come to check you out doesn’t need to be updated as often as a site that has an ongoing interactive relationship with the users. So it’s good to know upfront what site experience you want to build.

RS: In what ways do you see web presence as “the great equalizer” in helping small companies to compete with big brands?

NO: The amazing thing about the web is that every business no matter the size or location is available to people around the globe 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If your site is set up properly with professional design, well-written content, and search optimized
programming, your site can pop right up at the top of the search with the “big
kids on the block”.
The potential client never has to know that you are a solo-entrepreneur working in your PJs out of a home office, while you have 2 kids under the age of 5 running around. You decide how big you want to be on the web and make it happen.

This comes with a warning… since the options are potentially never ending it is important to have a plan and a target, and stick to it. Think of it this way—aim for the bull’s eye, but if you get hits on the other part of the board you still get the points!

Just because the web gives us the platform to compete with the big brands, you need to be honest and ask yourself, is that what you want? Once you have your answer, position your site accordingly using the visuals, the voice, and all the search engine optimization goodies. Your website is your virtual brick and mortar. How big do you want it to appear to the site visitors?

About Nancy:

As the owner of Eye 2 Eye Graphics, LLC, Nancy Owyang is an award-winning designer with strong branding experience. She has aided a variety of clients in rebranding their businesses, including Women Business Owners, SLN Stage + Design, Delane Engineering and many more. Clients praise Nancy’s design sensibilities and her ability to first understand an owner’s mission, and then to translate that complex identity into a graphic representation. Her branding and design solutions are practical and unique, detail-oriented, on time, and on budget. To view a sampling of Nancy’s work please visit her online portfolio.

What your website says about your brand (and how to make sure it’s telling the right story)

Guest post by Seth Leonard who trains and mentors people who want to build dynamic, successful websites. 

Human beings spend their days sizing things up. Think of the last time you looked for a place to eat along a street lined with restaurants.Whether it was the well-positioned outdoor seating of a cafe or the use of neon by a deli, you probably formed almost immediate opinions about where you might want to eat based on these quick observations.

With all of the information surrounding us, we rely on these fast judgments in order to get through the day. Otherwise, we’d be drowning in a sea of data.

There is no vaster sea of data than the internet. So the snap decisions that people make about your website and what you have to offer come fast, and are most likely final.

Today we’re going to look at the key elements of your website that determine what people think of you and your brand, as well as how you can make sure these elements convey exactly what you want.

Let’s dig in. One of the first things someone looks for when they come to your website is…

A Deliberate Design
Just as you judge a book by its cover or a clothing store by what’s featured in the window, your website design is the first thing a visitor sees. It is, therefore, the first thing visitors use to assess your site.

A deliberate design indicates a brand that knows what it’s about.

And a deliberate design does not necessarily mean what some might call a “professional” design. Instead, visitors want to see a look that is in line with your brand and demonstrates that you made a choice in how to present yourself.

Take a look at I’ve never seen a more simple website design. Yet, for a blog that discusses minimalism, focus, and a lack of clutter, it’s a perfect representation of its brand.

Visitors want to know you made an effort, even if it’s an effort to simplify. They infer that if you put effort into your design, you put similar effort into creating something worth their time.

Tip: Find websites that you like and notice how their design reflects their brand. Whether it’s the straight lines and rounded edges of (that look exactly like their products) or the vibrant colors here at Red Slice, take note of the choices being made.

Make deliberate choices about your own design.

Evidence of Legitimacy
Have you ever been the first to arrive at a party and wonder if perhaps you should have done something else with your evening? Have you ever been the only one sitting in a restaurant and feared your food would explain why no one else was eating there? That’s because we look for others to validate and legitimize our choices. This helps us make sure we’re not alone in thinking something is a good idea.

Visitors look for evidence of legitimacy from your website, as well. Whether that’s the number of comments your blog posts are getting or glowing testimonials from past clients, they want to make sure they’re not alone. They don’t want to be the only person at the party.

A lonely website implies an unsuccessful brand.

Tip: Demonstrate evidence of your legitimacy. If you’re getting a good number of comments, make sure visitors can see that. If you have a lot of Twitter followers, make sure your “Follow Me” button includes that count.

If you’ve written guest blogs for others, include an “as seen on” section to your sidebar and display the logos of sites you’ve contributed to. If you have testimonials, get those up. If you don’t have testimonials, ask people you’ve worked with if they will write one for you.

Make sure your visitor knows that they’re not the only one at the party.

There are a lot of websites on the internet. Odds are, a number of people are doing something similar to you. And more than likely, someone coming to your site has seen someone else attempt the same thing you’re doing.

We get bored when we see the same thing over and over again. I’m sure there are differences between a Honda and a Toyota, but as soon as I see a commercial for a sedan driving along the coast, I either flip the channel or head to the kitchen for a snack. I’ve already seen what they’re going to tell me.

Visitors value uniqueness, something new. They want to know that they’ve found something different, something ground-breaking.

Uniqueness is the hallmark of a ground-breaking brand.

Tip: Exhibit something unique about yourself, your style, or your offering. On every page. Whether it’s an attention-grabbing tagline or framing your work in a way that no one else does, make sure you have something that stands out from the crowd. Imagine your visitor is going to tell their friends about your brand. What unique element of the work you do can they share after just ten seconds on your website?

Promise of Value
To overuse my party analogy: when attending one, people want to know that they’re going to gain something out of the evening’s festivities. If you walk into a friend’s house with lovely decorations and a great stereo, but are not convinced that you’re going to walk away having had some good conversation or good food, you’re going to looking for an exit.

Even if you design an attractive website with evidence of legitimacy, you need to exhibit the value you can provide. People appreciate what they might call a “good” website, but they stay for what they know is a valuable one.

A strong brand is synonymous with what it actually delivers.

Tip: This one is easy. Promote your value, not yourself.

Make sure the brand you develop speaks to the value you provide, not just how cool you are. Make it obvious what your visitors are going to walk away with.

Putting it All Together
Your unique brand will determine how to best put all of these pieces together. But it is critical that you think about all of them as you develop your website. Step into your visitor’s shoes and try to look at your website from their perspective. What do you see? What are your first

If you have a hard time doing this, ask others for help. Ask your friends what they see when they look at your website. (Editor caveat: Always wise to get an objective opinion, but take with a grain of salt if they are not your target market!)

And remember that not everyone comes to your website through the homepage. Make sure that the branding efforts you make are apparent on every page of your site. A visitor finding you through a single blog post should pick up on the same strengths of your brand as those that come in the front door.

I almost turned that into another party analogy, but I didn’t.

What do you want your website brand to be? What changes can you make to ensure that it’s obvious to your visitors? Let me know in the Comments.