Archive for the ‘Business & Marketing’ Category

How to Find a Mentor

Friday, September 18th, 2015

ApprenticeshipEstablishing a relationship with a mentor is a valuable milestone for any young professional. Not only can it provide meaningful insight and industry knowledge, but it can also help you hone your skills and become more desirable in the job market. Whether you’re a freelance writer building a portfolio or a recent marketing graduate, a mentorship can help you develop into a more well-rounded, well-informed person.

While the need for a mentor is common business knowledge, many professionals find themselves stumped when it comes to getting started. Here are five tips to help you find the right advisor and continue full steam ahead along the path to success.

1. Set goals.

Before answering the question of who your mentor is, you should think about why you want one. Are there any particular abilities or skills that you would like to improve? In which areas of your career do you need feedback? By setting goals for what you would like to accomplish with a mentorship, you’ll increase your chances of finding the right person to help you achieve them.

2. Know what to look for.

You should have at least a rough idea of your dream mentor. Ideally, it should be someone who’s very much like yourself, and who has a career trajectory similar to the one you’d like to take. If your mentor shares many of your traits, you’ll find it much easier to communicate and glean valuable wisdom from their experiences.

3. Start slow. 

During this process, you may find a few potential mentors on the horizon. Rather than simply asking one of them to guide you, take the time to get to know them and gauge whether they’ll be a good fit. This is where the Internet is invaluable. Do plenty of research on potential mentors, whether that’s by reading their blogs or researching their work history on sites like LinkedIn.

4. Get to know them.

Once you’ve done your due diligence, invite each candidate out for coffee or lunch, without expressly stating that you’re feeling them out for a mentorship. This will give you the opportunity to learn who they are as a person and test your professional chemistry. While it’s wise to have a few questions in mind, don’t conduct the meeting like an interview. Keep it informal and friendly, but pay close attention to the vibes you’re getting from this person. Do you think you can learn from them? Would you enjoy spending time with them?

5. Let it develop naturally.

Once you’ve narrowed down the options and made your choice, don’t force anything. After your initial meeting, email or call to say you’d like to meet again and make plans for a future date. The relationship should develop organically, but if you find yourself stuck at any point, you can always simply ask if they’d be open to a mentorship.

Finding a mentor can be tricky. But by taking things slow, keeping an open mind, and carefully considering your options, you’ll be poised to establish a dynamic, reciprocal relationship that will inspire and motivate you for years to come.

Content Marketing vs. Copywriting: What’s the Difference?

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

content marketingIt’s happening more and more often lately: a client will contact me with what’s purportedly just a simple writing project… but then as the specs and goals unravel, it becomes clear that she’s looking for more than just a copywriter: she needs a content marketer.

But wait — aren’t they the same thing? Not exactly. Some copywriters stick strictly to wordsmithing (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), while other writers are more marketing-minded and enjoy incorporating their writing into the overall package. Many writers are somewhere in the middle.

And, of course, not all content marketers are copywriters.

Definitions of Content Marketing & Copywriting

If you think of content marketing as a house, copywriting is like one of the support beams. Could the house stand without the beam? Most likely, but it wouldn’t be nearly as strong or sturdy.

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience.” Whatever technique is used — from email campaigns to text messaging to online display ads — the objective is to get customers and prospects to click, convert, share, or do SOMETHING that contributes to a healthier bottom line.

According to Wikipedia, copywriting is “written content conveyed through online media and print materials, primarily used for the purpose of advertising or marketing, often used to persuade a person or group as well as raise brand awareness.”

What Does Content Marketing Look Like?

There are countless types of content marketing pieces. Below are just a few:

  • Infographics: As the name implies, these are attention-grabbing graphics that present any kind of information, usually statistics or compelling facts, all presented in a highly visual — and usually very colorful – way. Here’s a link to some of the most popular infographics of 2014.
  • Podcasts: Anyone selling a product or service can use podcasts to distribute value-adding audio content to their audience. Podcasts can include entertainment, guidance, information, interviews, or anything that supports the publisher’s goal. Here are a few examples of high-impact podcasts.
  • Whitepapers: Wikipedia defines a whitepaper as “an authoritative report or guide informing in a concise manner about a complex issue and presenting the issuing body’s philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.” Not necessarily sexy or entertaining, but definitely value-adding when presented to the right audience.
  • eBooks: Electronic books can be written about any topic, product, service, or industry. For instance, a personal trainer might hire a freelance copywriter to write an eBook with fitness and nutrition tips, and then incorporate a “soft sell” driving readers to his website to learn more (and to ultimately book training sessions or purchase his other products or services). Check out some examples of effective content marketing eBooks.
  • Videos: Justin Bieber isn’t the only one who got rich through YouTube. Modern companies recognize the power of online video content. And it’s easier (and more affordable) than you might think. You don’t necessarily have to hire an expensive production company to create a compelling, useful video that highlights your product or service.

There are plenty more examples, from case studies and product guides to interviews and how-tos. Anything that can be distributed to a target audience — with the goal of persuading them to act — is a form of content marketing. Some types, like business books and whitepapers, obviously require copywriting. But for other types, businesses may attempt to forgo hiring a writer and produce the media in-house.

So, you may be able to produce content marketing pieces without copywriting — but they won’t be nearly as effective. After all, given the choice, you’d never leave out that support beam when building a house… so don’t skimp on well-crafted words when investing your time, money, and energy in a content piece.

“Who Will Be Writing My Content?”

Friday, April 10th, 2015

ghostwriter1I get this question a lot from prospective clients. They visit my website, see “Words by Melissa & Associates,” and wonder “Who are these mysterious ‘Associates’?

I don’t blame them. After all, they have a right to verify that their content will come from a professional, trusted source.

When I started my Cincinnati freelance writing business back in 2007, I was a one-woman show. From technology case studies to articles about potty training to descriptions of Santa figurines, I wrote every word. Over the next couple of years — as my client roster, workload, and family all continued to grow — I realized I was approaching a line. And once I crossed it, I simply wouldn’t be able to keep juggling without dropping something important and breakable.

That’s when I began experimenting with hiring backup writers to handle some of the overflow work. I had mixed feelings about it at first. After all, the quality of my content was a source of pride to me, and the foundation of my business. It was a little scary to give up some control and put my trust in third parties. But every reward starts with some element of risk. This strategy seemed to be a viable way to cultivate as many client relationships as possible, while boosting productivity.

Over the years, I’ve worked with a handful of writers. I carefully hand-pick them to ensure optimal quality and precision of the finished product. I still do a large bulk of the client work myself, but during those periods when projects are coming in fast and furious — and the line between “writer” and “mommy” becomes blurred beyond recognition — I may leverage one or more writers to assist with initial drafts and research. All content is funneled through me for final review, editing, and any necessary rewriting before I submit it to the client for review.

For the projects where I’ve outsourced at least some of the content, the clients have reported that quality was not compromised. To the contrary, it’s often improved by the benefit of having multiple people’s eyes on the content. Plus, if a project calls for a specific type of knowledge or experience, I can tap a writer with that particular specialty. And if any revisions are required (which is rare), I personally handle them.

I’ve also found that working with other writers has made ME a better writer. I’ve honed my editing chops, learned to effective manage people and projects, and become a stronger communicator — all important traits for any successful freelance writer.

Ultimately, my freelance writing business is only as successful as my clients’ satisfaction levels. If they are receiving engaging, well-written, and fully researched content — along with my stamp of approval and quality guarantee — then I’ve done my job well. Just as a surgeon needs help prepping her patients before the main event, I believe there’s no shame in a busy copywriter enlisting some help in crafting an early draft.

Nothing trumps quality — regardless of who’s holding the pen.

How to Sell Without Selling

Sunday, December 14th, 2014


It’s right there in the name: The purpose of SALES copy is to sell something to the reader. But, as you may have heard, today’s potential customers don’t want to be sold to. So how are you supposed to write sales copy that doesn’t sell…but still sells?

Fortunately, it’s not as confusing as it sounds. Here are some tips to help your copy stop selling to your customers, and start making sales.

Don’t be “salesy”…

Shouting from the rooftops about how amazingly mind-blowing your product or service is, and why people need to buy it right this second, simply doesn’t work. An overly salesy approach makes grand promises (you’ll make a million dollars overnight!), pushes a lot of hype (this product will literally change your life!), and stresses urgency and fast action (act now, or gremlins will eat your grandmother!).

Aside from the wording, another popular “salesy” technique is to use big, bold font, colored type, capitalized words or phrases, and far too many exclamation points. This simply makes you look like you’re on the other side of the screen, jumping up and down and shouting at your potential customers like a stereotypical used car salesman.

…but don’t leave out selling entirely

Under-selling can be just as damaging to your marketing efforts as over-selling. It’s a tough balance to strike, but don’t tone down your sales copy so much that you forget to actually sell.

For example, let’s say that it’s National Hand Washing Awareness Week (which is a real thing—it’s the first week of December), and your company sells handmade soap. So you decide to write a sales email for your mailing list. You spend a lot of time putting together an informative piece with current hand washing statistics and interesting information, you send it off to your list—but no one orders any soap, because you didn’t mention selling it.

Even when you’re avoiding the selling tactics that turn customers off, you need to include a call to action. It can be something as simple (and non-salesy) as a sentence at the end of your email: “In celebration of National Hand Washing Awareness Week, we’re offering 50% off our most popular handmade soap bundle. Click here to get your discount and enjoy clean, fresh-smelling hands.”

Focus on their needs—not yours

You need to sell a lot of homemade soap. But your customers aren’t interested in helping to increase your profit margins—they just want clean hands. The best non-selling approach to sales is to identify what your customers want or need, and appeal to those desires in your copy.

One great way to do this is to identify your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)—the aspect of your products or services that set you apart, the benefit you can deliver to your customers that no other company can. This USP should be tailored to your target audience. For example:

  • If you have frugal customers, point out that your handmade soap is the most affordable on the market and offer to beat any competitor’s price
  • If you have customers looking for luxury buys, emphasize the heavenly scents of your soap and the all-natural ingredients that leave skin softer
  • If you have hard-working customers, explain how the scientifically proven formula of your soap removes the toughest grime

Find out what your customers want, and use your sales copy to meet those desires in a logical way that’s easy to envision. They won’t feel sold to—they’ll simply want what you have, and be willing to pay for it.

Reasons to Write Your Business Book Now

Friday, October 31st, 2014

2401674702_8d2928ec1cMany professionals have enough expertise to write a book, and most are planning to do it…someday, when they have time. But why wait, when there are so many benefits of writing and publishing a business book?

If you’ve been looking for a reason to get started on your business book, here are ten of them:

1. Get quality leads without trying

A book is a powerful sales tool for your business. When you have a book published, you’re differentiated from the competition—and big name clients can find you. People who read your book are pre-sold on your business, making them more likely to hire you based on the reading.

2. Become a thought leader

When you have a business book out, you’re viewed as an industry expert or guru. In addition to your personal status boost, your entire company can be seen as a thought leader in your industry.

3. Have instant credentials

In any business, the experts bring in the best clients. When you’re the author of a business book, you have demonstrable expertise and extensive evidence to back up your claims—within your field, you “wrote the book.”

4. Generate unsolicited business

Having a book out can bring unexpected and positive results—such as when business leaders read your book, and then call you up to say how much they enjoyed it, and ask how much you charge. Suddenly, picking up clients becomes a lot easier.

5. Open more doors

Whoever you may be interested in talking to, whether it’s a fantastic prospective client, a powerful investor, or an industry expert who could help you further your business, the ability to send them a copy of your book can substantially increase your chances of arranging a meeting.

6. Close more deals

Service industries, consultancies, and other client-oriented business owners can take advantage of having authored a book during client negotiations. Your prospective clients are likely to ask why they should work with you—and you can answer by explaining that you wrote the book on your field of expertise. It gives you immediate credibility and helps close the sale.

7. Amplify your sales force

Although you will benefit directly from writing a business book, others in your company can also use your book as leverage. This is especially true for your sales team, who can hand out copies of the book to top clients and leads—which lets executives and VIPs view them as problem-solvers instead of money-grabbers.

8. Boost your client caliber

A business book can position you as an industry leader. When you’re viewed as the expert or the guru, you’ll find larger and more high profile businesses willing to work with you and benefit from your proven expertise.

9. Strengthen existing relationships

You can also use a business book to impress (and cross-sell to) your existing clients. There are many ways to do this, from offering a copy of the book as a bonus with the purchase of services, to sending out copies as gifts, to simply offering books for sale at client functions.

10. Make more money

Everyone wants to earn more and work less, and that’s what a business book helps you do. By positioning yourself as an in-demand expert with your business book, your clients will be willing to pay more—since they can clearly see the types of results you can achieve, spelled out in your book.

Business books are powerful tools for professionals in any industry. Have you started writing yours yet?

Have You Fallen For These Sales Email Myths?

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

email-iconEmail marketing is one of the oldest tools still used by online sales pros—and it remains one of the most effective. You can find plenty of advice out there about writing a great sales email, from broad how-to suggestions right down to the optimal number of characters in the subject line and the best times of day to send a campaign … but not all of that advice holds true.

Here are three myths about marketing emails that you can feel free to purge from your sales writing rules to engage your email subscribers.

Myth #1: The subject line must state your deal

The point of a sales email is to sell, so many marketing pros believe that the subject line should always be what you’re offering—a discount, a freebie, a great deal on whatever. But while this approach can work, it’s not always the best approach.

The only cardinal rule for a sales email is to engage your audience. This means your subject line—as well as the contents of your sales email—should appeal to what your audience wants. If you’re operating a list that subscribers joined specifically to get discounts and freebies, it makes sense to advertise the deal in the subject line.

But if you’re selling to people who are already familiar with your products or services, a better approach is to address a pain point in the subject line, and then answer it within the body of the email. The opening tease, such as “Want to…?” or “Wish you could…?”, can increase click-through rates more than percentages or prices.

Myth #2: Your call-to-action must link to your sales page

The call-to-action is the golden rule of email marketing. If your subscribers don’t know what they’re supposed to do, they won’t do it. Therefore, it’s widely repeated that you should link your call-to-action directly to your sales page—so all a reader has to do is click through and make a purchase.

But the truth is that most of your audience is tech-savvy, and customers no longer need (or want) to be led by the nose to a checkout page. They want to learn more about you’re offering, whether it’s through reading your sales email or clicking a link to an informational page on your website. Informational links give subscribers the option to either read your sales pitch or click straight through to learn more—which they’ll do if they’re interested and likely to buy.

Myth #3: Scannable means using bold text and bullet points

“Scannability” is an important concept to email marketers. After all, no one’s going to read the entire email—so you need to make your main points stand out with bolded phrases and exclamatory bullet points. They won’t pay attention to the rest of the text…or will they?

It’s true that the most effective sales emails are scannable, and that bold subheadings and bullet points are valuable. But there are a few other areas of your message that deserve some extra attention:

  • Your opening: The first sentence, and even the first word, of your sales email should instantly engage your audience. Start with the strongest possible verb—for example, instead of leading with “Have you ever wanted to…?”, cut straight to the chase: “Want to…?”.
  • Your left margin: When reading in English, the eye is drawn to the left. Scannability is about short paragraphs and bullet points, but the important point is to begin each line with an attention-grabber, not simply to break up the text. Start each of those short paragraphs with a strong phrase, and you’ll see better results.
  • Beginnings and endings: People who are reading fast tend to skip the middle. This makes the end of your paragraphs and bullet points just as important as the beginning, so close out your statements with strong wording choices.

What sales email myths can you remove from your email marketing strategies?

4 Ways to Engage Your Email Marketing Subscribers

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

It’s great to have a substantial subscriber base for your email marketing campaigns, but how many of those people are actually reading and responding to your messages? List building is important, but it’s even more vital to engage your subscribers.

If your email marketing ROI isn’t meeting expectations, here are some ideas for getting more of your subscribers to bypass the delete button and connect with your messaging.

Deliver great content

While this seems like a given, there are many reasons your email marketing might not contain the best possible content. You may be focusing on quantity over quality to meet a schedule, or perhaps you’re pressed for time and rushing to put an email together.

To make the most of your marketing lists, you need to put out great content, every time. Your entire message, from the subject line to the closing statement, should be carefully considered for maximum impact.

If you always seem to run out of time to work on your content, consider scheduling a dedicated block each month to put together all of your email marketing materials, or hiring a freelance copywriter to write the content, so you can just plug it in and send it out.

Segment your list

There are quite a few benefits to segmenting your email lists. In addition to lower unsubscribe rates, you’ll usually see higher open and click-through rates, and more conversions, when you target your subscribers more precisely.

To segment your list, you can use existing customer data that you’ve already collected, or simply ask subscribers to provide demographic data at various points, such as during the subscription process or by sending a special “get to know you” mailing.

Make an offer they can’t refuse

This doesn’t mean you should threaten your subscribers. However, exclusive offers can generate a lot of interest—and dramatic exclusive offers will get your subscribers to sit up and take notice.

If your list response has been lagging, consider shaking things up by sending out an offer for subscribers only that beats out any discounts or deals you’ve offered previously. Make your 10 percent discount a one-time 50 percent discount. Give a great free gift with purchases, like an Amazon gift certificate or dinner-and-a-movie gift card. Surprise your subscribers by proving that their business is important to you.

Get interactive

Most people are happy to talk about themselves. Use that idea with your email marketing list—invite your subscribers to share personal stories, and create a way to showcase them for the rest of your list.

For example, a company in the pet industry might ask email subscribers to send in photos of their pets, and then post them on a dedicated website or social media page. If you ask for personal stories related to your business, you can start sharing one or two stories in each future mailing. There are endless interactive possibilities.

How will you engage your email subscribers?

How to Make the Most of a Small Business Conference

Saturday, July 6th, 2013


In a recent post, I talked about attending conferences as a way to keep your business moving forward during the summer slowdown. If you’re planning on hitting the conference circuit in the coming months, here are a few tips to help you maximize the experience and enjoy high returns on your conference investment.

Plan ahead

If you’re attending a conference, you’re going to be away from your business for a few days. This can be a scary prospect for many small business owners—so lay the groundwork you need to leave the office with confidence. Make sure your schedule is cleared, and if someone’s in charge while you’re away, give them a way to contact you in case of emergencies.

You should also do some prep work for the conference itself. Most small business and industry conferences offer multiple sessions that may have overlapping times. Get a copy of the conference schedule, and decide which sessions are must-attend and which ones you can miss. Conferences can get busy and hectic, so be sure to allot some downtime for relaxing.

Prepare for the dreaded question

“So, what do you do?” That’s the million-dollar question at every conference, the one just about everyone will ask the first time you meet. Make sure you’re ready to answer it without stammering and floundering by preparing an elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a brief, exciting summary of your business that can be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator. It may sound easy, but it takes some groundwork to come up with a sentence or two that encapsulates what you do in an intriguing way. You should also practice giving your elevator pitch with a friend or co-worker before the conference, so your answer will come smoothly.

Don’t forget your cards

Everybody’s mobile these days, and most business information is exchanged with smartphones or laptops. However, actual printed business cards still have value—especially at a conference.

Just about everybody will accept a business card if you hand them one. They might tuck it in a pocket or stash it in their wallet, but at least they’ll have a physical reminder of you and your business that they can come across later.

Seek out hidden treasure

A lot of conference-goers make the mistake of focusing on connecting with speakers and VIPs, ignoring the potential of networking with other attendees. When you’re at a conference, you should talk to as many people as possible. You never know who will turn out to be a great contact for your business.

Do your post-conference homework

To get maximum benefits from a conference, don’t put the experience behind you when you get home. Following up with the contacts you made is essential, because that’s when the real connections begin.

Take a few minutes to identify the most important contacts you interacted with at the conference, and schedule some time for personal follow-ups—if possible, within a week. That way, the meeting will still be fresh in everyone’s minds, and you’ll be able to make things happen.

Small Business Tips for the Summer Slowdown

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Iced tea at Georgia's

With summer in full swing and everyone heading out to enjoy the season, a lot of small businesses are seeing fewer customers, lighter orders, and a general slowdown across the board. It may be part of the natural life cycle for a business, but sluggish summers can be frustrating—and disconcerting.

Here are a few ideas for freelance writers and other small business owners to pick thing up during the dog days of summer.

Tackle neglected projects

Chances are, you’ve got a bunch of ideas and initiatives you’ve keep meaning to tackle, but there’s never enough time. Summer is perfect for working on the back end of your business. Consider any (or all) of the following:

  • Spruce up your website: Does your company website look the same as it did two years ago? Or even five years? Refresh your content, reorganize and simplify, do some SEO work or mobile optimization, or get a complete overhaul and a whole new online presence.
  • Grow your network: It’s always a good idea for small business owners to get out there and forge new professional contacts. Summer is conference season, so look around for affordable industry conferences or networking events in your area. Sign up early to guarantee your spot!
  • Reassess your goals: Is your business on track to meet annual goals? The midway point of summer is a great time to go over your long-range plans and make the necessary adjustments to hit your targets.

Revive your staff

Without so many customer demands in the summer, you’ll have more time to focus on your employees. Consider introducing some motivational or inspirational programs that will refresh and revitalize your staff, so they’re functioning at 100 percent when business picks up again.

Summer is the perfect time to bring everyone together so you can discuss the company as a whole. Plan a company picnic, field trip, or luncheon, and combine your strategy sessions with fun for maximum impact.

Give yourself a break

Most small business owners don’t take nearly enough personal time to recharge. If you don’t already have a summer vacation planned, make sure that happens. Even just a few days away from the office will help you regroup and recharge, so you can put your restored energy back into your business when you return.

Direct Mail: It’s All About Your List

Friday, June 28th, 2013

What your direct mail marketing says is important, but your mailing list can make or break your entire marketing campaign.

According to the Database Marketing Institute, not surprisingly, the recipients of your marketing materials play a huge role in the success or failure of your campaigns. Experts agree that 40% of your mailing’s success is determined by who the recipients are, 40% comes from the value of your offer, and 20% results from the design or copywriting your piece contains, according to

Building Your Own List

Mailing lists typically contain both internal and external names. Internal names are people you currently do business with, or have done business with in the past. According to, your best chance for new sales lies with your existing customers, who are familiar with your products and services. External names are prospects that may or may not be aware of your brand that you would like to do business with.

You can use documents generated by your business to assemble an internal list. Some of the internal documents that are helpful for list-building include customer records, correspondence from customers (even complaints!), warranty documents, sales and service records, lists of former customers, and any market research surveys your company may have done.

Your list can also be further segmented into specific categories, such as purchasing history, gender, demographics, industry, frequency of ordering, etc. Essential information that you should gather for your list includes names, job titles, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses.

You can also collect list information from external sources, including customer websites, Internet databases, industry trade publications, membership directories for associations in your business niche, telephone directories, surveys, business reports published in newspapers, and government or industry statistics, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Purchased Lists

Once you’ve compiled your customer list, it can serve as a tool to help you develop a customer profile and target audience for use in purchased lists. You can rent or buy a list from thousands of different sources, including list brokers, online services, Microsoft Office Publisher, or various other mailing list organizations. It is even possible to have a list created based on your specific requirements.

According to, there are two sources of purchased lists: self-service providers and full-service providers. When using a self-service provider, the user sets an ID and password with an online company and chooses the relevant criteria that will help create his list. Once the list is compiled, it is available for purchase and download almost immediately.

Full-service providers are good options for those ordering a mailing list for the first time, or those who do so only occasionally. Full-service companies allow free counts to be requested via an online form, or by phone or email. Although the list isn’t usually available right away, full-service providers typically offer suggestions and allow the requestor to ask questions and get more involved in the process, which may lead to a better quality list.

Are Purchased Lists Worth the Money?

There are pros and cons to buying or renting a mailing list. Pros: A purchased mailing list will provide a business with an immediate list of potential customers and significantly reduce the time a company must spend finding their own leads. Cons: Purchased mailing lists can be costly and may not always be current, and may not always contain new leads that will be interested in the products or services offered by a particular company.

When ordering a mailing list, it is important to realize that a big list is not necessarily a better list. The goal of any marketing campaign is to generate the largest possible number of leads with the smallest possible investment. When it comes to lists, it’s definitely quality over quantity.

This guest post is from Jan Hill, a freelance journalist who covers direct marketing tips and trends for, a leading source for custom postcards and other marketing materials for small businesses across the globe.