I loved college. I was learning new things everyday, both inside and outside the classroom. I took everything from astronomy to modern dance. I got my first apartment and had to learn how to cook for myself and support myself. I took the opportunity to study abroad - in Zimbabwe! I joined groups and had different jobs. I tried everything that even remotely appealed to me, mostly to figure out what I really like. And, let's face it, who I really am. It was a chaotic time, but that was okay because there was nothing holding me down and the only person I really had to answer to was myself.

Oh how times have changed! Now I have a husband and family, a mortgage, a business, a retirement account. Sound familiar? Somehow, these things take over our lives. Or rather they become our lives. What's the difference, really?

For many of us, this is the life we wanted. This is the life we have built through sweat and tears. So what's the problem with it?

The problem is that if you are living a relatively static life, it is difficult to see beyond your own circumstances. It can be hard to harness your creativity and passion. It's hard to come up with new content when you are always doing the same old thing.

My first career was in the field of experiential education. It sounds pretty academic, I know, but stick with me. I managed study abroad programs in Africa, India, and Chicago for college students. I loved these programs because they highlighted the fact that learning and growth happens just as much outside the classroom as it does inside the classroom, if not more! 

To continue our own personal growth throughout our lives, all we need are new experiences that expand our knowledge of the world around us and challenge us to figure out how we fit into it. New experiences take us out of our comfort zone, challenge our assumptions, change our perspective. 

When was the last time you tried something new? Really engaged with the culture of a place you visited? Did something challenging that made someone else say "Wow!"

I spent a year in Switzerland with my family recently, which was like a built-in experiential education program.  Skiing and hiking in the Swiss Alps, weekend trips to European cities, and learning a new language were just the icing on the cake. For me, the daily challenge of making sense of another culture, relearning how to do everyday things a different way, and helping my kids to negotiate life reminded me of my strength and gave me a new perspective.

During such an experience, I always had new ideas for things I wanted to write about and share with others who weren't able to experience it. It is great for opening up your mind and igniting a new voice with which to share your message and expertise.

You don't have to leave the country to create new, meaningful experiences. There are a multitude of opportunities just waiting for you if you are ready to find them.
 
 
Why are so many people afraid of their own picture? I’ve been to a few events recently, and I always have my camera with me. As a content marketer, I constantly need pictures of myself and of the organizations I work with for newsletters and posts. But so many people, women in particular, balk when I ask to take their picture. A few of them have literally jumped out of the shot.

Naturally, if these people are not willing to be in group pictures, they are also unlikely to have individual portraits of themselves on their materials. And when it comes to video - no way! What they don't realize is that they are hurting their own business by doing this. 

Putting pictures of yourself on your marketing materials is a powerful tool for building relationships with people and gaining their trust. People are wired to relate to each other face-to-face. We like to "put a face with a name." We automatically make judgements about a person within seconds of seeing them.

That last part is what scares some people. But the truth is that people do this all the time, and it is part of the relationship-building process. You've all experienced a face-to-face meeting with someone who didn't end up being a good match for you. If the goal of content marketing is to make the relationship-building process more efficient, wouldn't you rather they figure that out before you take the time to meet them face-to-face?

You want your prospects to get to know you, and like you, and trust you through your marketing materials, and using pictures of yourself will help them do that more effectively.

Now, many people get a professional portrait taken of them, pick their favorite, and think, "Okay, that's done." Then they use that same picture on everything for as long as 5 years (or more!). While that's better than having nothing, it doesn't really give people a chance to see you change, or move, or do anything. You aren't really a human being, you are more like a statue.

Of course, it it always important to stay in alignment with your business brand. If you are a divorce lawyer, you probably don't want pictures of you laughing. But if you are a personal trainer, you don't want a business portrait of you in a suit. Keeping that in mind, consider some of these ways to use more pictures of yourself in your business and marketing:

#1 - Get your portrait taken as often as you can. I recommend at least once a year. The trick is to make sure that they look different. Use a different photographer each time, change the background, change your expression. Try not to make it look like a mug shot! A good photographer can make you look your best and share your personality through a picture.

#2 - Carry a camera around and capture candid pictures of yourself. Of course, you can't actually take pictures of yourself. You'll have to enlist some help. But, be sure to get a picture when you are at a business event, working with a client, doing something philanthropic, and even doing something outside of work, like a trip or a favorite hobby. These kinds of candid pictures really show a human side, share your personality, and draw people deeper into a relationship with you.

#3 - Use them! So often, pictures get stuck on a camera, which doesn't do you any good. Get the pictures off of the camera or the computer, and put them on your materials. Your portrait should be on your business card, on your website, and on your social media profiles. Candid shots are great for blog posts, newsletters, and social media posts.

To really increase the effectiveness of your content marketing, stop being camera shy, and put your picture out there!
 
 
Building relationships with individuals is something we do all the time. We may all do it a little differently, but it comes fairly naturally. When you are talking with someone face-to-face, or having a phone conversation, the process is familiar. There is a dialogue between people. You can ask questions, respond to their reactions, and communicate through a back-and-forth conversation.

Most of us don't need help or strategies to build relationships with one person at a time. However, to build a business faster, you have to build relationships with many more people. And at a certain point, it becomes impossible to have individual conversations with every single one of them. There just isn't enough time in the day!

But, building relationships with large numbers of people who may be interested in your business isn't like having a conversation. There are different strategies that you must use to communicate with groups of people, and cause them to feel connected to you, to trust you, and to engage with you and your business.

When I started listing out all the strategies for large group communication, I realized that they really fall into two broad categories: writing and speaking. These skills are critical for any entrepreneur or business owner who wants to expand their pool of prospects and get more customers and clients. 

Let's take a look at these two skills and how you can use them.

Writing for groups
Writing for groups can take many forms. You could be writing a blog article, an e-mail newsletter, a letter that goes out in the mail in large numbers, an article for publication, etc. The point is that you are writing, not to one individual, but to a broader audience.

In this area, it is important to know, at least in general, who you are writing to. Who is your target audience? What kind of reader will be interested in what you have to say? It is impossible to write to "everyone" and be successful at building relationships. 

When you know your reader, you can write in a similar way that you would talk to an individual. You can anticipate their questions and reactions, and address them in your writing. Then they feel as though you know them, and they are drawn in and begin to feel connected to you as well.

Of course, the quality of writing is also important. Writing for groups means composing something like you learned in school. It needs to have a beginning, middle and end. It has to have a point and not bore the reader.

Writing is a skill that improves with practice. My own writing abilities changed dramatically when my family spent a year in Switzerland. I started a blog to let our friends and family know what we were experiencing. And in the process of writing 1-3 times per week, I honed the skills that it takes to write consistently.

My recommendation is that you set aside at least 1 hour per week to write something. I don't mean e-mails to individuals, which you do all day! I mean a piece of content (around 500 words) that can be posted, or sent or shared with a group of people. (You don't have to share it right away. But you must write in order to improve your skills.)

Speaking for groups
The other way to communicate with large groups of people is through speaking. Speaking could mean giving a talk or presentation to a room full of people, speaking at a large event, or speaking to a video camera or audio recorder that can be posted online or broadcast to large numbers of people.

Just as with writing, speaking to a group is different than talking to an individual. But, by using the same strategy as above, you can connect to your audience by knowing something about them, and sharing something about yourself.

Aside from the content, public speaking has it's own set of skills. How to hold your body, how to speak clearly, even how to just be comfortable standing in front of a group or a camera. And, just like with writing, these skills only improve with practice.

Use of technology
I want to mention a third skill that is necessary to build relationships with large groups. It is the ability to use technology to post, publish, and send your content out to the right groups of people. By itself, the technology doesn't do you any good. But, once you have written something or recorded yourself speaking, the technology is critical in getting it seen or heard.

This is really the crux of content marketing. Putting out content is how you build relationships, and it requires the skills of writing and speaking. So, start honing your skills today.
 
 
The whole point of writing a blog, or sending an e-newsletter, or any form of content marketing is to build a relationship with the people who are reading it. In order to build a relationship, you have to share something about yourself. 

Of course, the bulk of your content should showcase your expertise and your value. But, for small businesses and service providers, it is important to build a personal relationship as well. Remember, people buy from businesses they know, like and trust. 

Getting to know and like you means finding out more about you as a person. But how do you do that? And what kind of information should you share? (And what stuff to keep to yourself!)

It doesn't take much to sprinkle personal information into your content marketing. It could be a story that you tell about yourself in an article that relates to the topic. Perhaps just a paragraph or a couple of sentences. In an e-newsletter, it can go at the top in the form of a brief personal note. Another great strategy is to include candid pictures of yourself with a simple caption so people can see you in your own environment. Of course, video is a natural way to show your personality through your voice, clothing choices, facial expressions, etc.

Every blog that I follow, column that I read, and newsletter that I actually look forward to getting, shares some personal information. I feel like I am really getting to know them. Building the relationship is critical. Otherwise, regardless of the other content, readers will lose interest and leave. 

But, exactly what kind of information is okay to share? Well, it's personal. 

It depends on your own personality, as well as they type of business you run and the kind of clients you are talking to. Some situations lend themselves to more sharing, while others require more restraint. But here are some examples of personal topics you can mention:
  • favorite hobbies (anything from gardening, music, sports, etc.)
  • personal events (birthdays, trips, etc.)
  • philanthropic activities
  • pets
  • places you like to go


There are some things that fall more into a grey area. If you are a more open person and it makes sense to share these things, then go for it. I've seen it done well. But if you aren't sure, then it's probably better to be safe. Some grey areas are:
  • family members
  • spiritual beliefs


And then there are just a couple of things that are no-nos, no matter how open you are. Except in very rare or extreme circumstances, I recommend keeping these things to yourself:
  • political views
  • personal drama (anything you'd talk to your therapist about!)
  • legal issues


I came up against my own grey area this week. I wanted to include something in my e-newsletter about the big Oktoberfest party that my husband and I throw every year. I took some pictures during the party, but when I saw them, I decided that a picture of me in a dirndl was crossing the line. TMI! 

There are as many personal tidbits as there are people. So identify some things that you can start to share in your own content pieces.

All the best!
-Sarah
 
 
Content marketing is hard for a lot of small businesses. There are many reasons people give for not putting out content broadly or consistently. It takes too much time. I’m not a good writer. I don’t know how.

But any time I hear someone explaining why they can’t (or won’t) do something that would clearly benefit them and their business, I know that there is something else at play… fear.

Yes, a lot of people are afraid of marketing. Perhaps they don’t see it that way. But excuses are always a shield to protect us from fear.

And it’s okay. I’ll admit it. Marketing is scary.

There is good reason for the fears that many people feel around marketing. For small business owners, content marketing means putting yourself out there. It means putting your thoughts into writing and publishing it on the internet. It means getting in front of a camera or video camera to put your image and voice on your website and marketing materials. It means creating something from your heart to give away to thousands of people.

Exposing your thoughts and your image and your heart to the world triggers fears for everyone. The fear of criticism. The fear of failure. The fear of rejection. The fear of the unknown. Maybe even the fear of success or too much attention.

Fear would have us make excuses. Or shrink our content to the size of a tweet and call it a day. Or opt for a clever ad and pay top dollar to have it buried in in the middle of a newspaper or magazine.

Fear is normal. But that doesn’t mean it’s right. In fact, it’s NOT! 

The truth is that putting out good content consistently is the best way for small businesses to attract more clients and build their exposure. And the more content you put out, the more effective it will be.

So, how do you overcome the fear? With courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to act in spite of the fear. If you wait for the fear to go away, you will never take action. The trick is to feel the fear, and do it anyway.

We all have the capacity for courage. In fact, courage is critical for entrepreneurs. It takes courage to start a business. It takes courage to work with your first client. And, yes, it takes courage to write a blog, send an e-newsletter, or create an opt-in gift.

So if you find yourself making excuses around why you haven’t done content marketing consistently, just know that marketing requires courage. And then do it.

-Sarah