He had to pay me to read it.
He had to pay me to read it.
When you’re living a focused life, it’s your personal vision and values that serve as the foundation for how you spend your time and energy.
Start with what’s important to you, and then use that to direct where you spend your time, energy, and attention. (Many people do it backwards, and they allow their time and energy to be spent on things that are important to other people.)
When you have core values as a business, they too can help drive the choices you make as you grow.
As you know, there are so many options for how you can grow your business or side-project…
Do you focus on awareness, traffic, conversions, subscribers, followers, opt-ins, downloads, customer lifetime value, customer satisfatcion, membership churn, new products, networking, hiring, or something else altogether?
And since there is no singular path to success, it’s not a cut and dry roadmap. Each business or side-project is unique in terms of why it exists and what stage of growth it’s in right now.
When you’re not sure what to do in a situation, your business’s core values can help.
Moreover, as your business grows, new opportunites will present themselves. Your core values can help you choose what to say yes to and what to decline so that your success doesn’t end up leading you to failure.
Until recently, we didn’t have Blanc Media’s core values written down or articulated. Now that we do, I wanted to share them with you.
We follow through on our commitments. We put our audience and customers first and condisder it our responsibility to take care of them on an ongoing basis.
We are honest. We teach what we know in order to help others who are on a similar path. We do not overhype or overexagerate our work, but neither do we downplay or undervalue it. By being transparent we hope to earn the trust of our audience and build customers for life.
In business we always seek to provide value first and foremost, without expectation of return. We also seek to increase charitable donations every year so our giving grows along with our business.
We create opportunities for people to connect in a vibrant community where they can connect with one another by sharing their challenges, opportunities, and successes; building a creative career is challenging, and a strong community can help mitigate the fears that go along with that. We are also building an internal team of employees and contributors who practice integrity and pursue generosity in order to create something greater than the sum of their individual abilities.
As a business, or as a “brand”, your biggest challenge is overcoming obscurity.
In his book, The 10x Rule, Grant Cardone writes that as he was trying to get his business off the ground, he was working extremely hard to gain initial traction. His problem, he writes, “wasn’t competition; it was obscurity”. No one even knew who he was.
“Since most people don’t know you or your product or service,” writes Cardone, “the only way to burst through obscurity is by taking massive action.”
Content is the price of admission for relevance.
If you want to burst through obscurity, you need to show your work.
As many of you know, it was in 2011 that I quit my job to begin writing my blog for a living. At the time my content strategy was simply this: “write stuff that didn’t suck.”
And my business goals were about the same: “be profitable.”
Which means my overall plan was to simply to write as well as I could and hope that it generated enough traffic to earn a living through sponsorships and memberships.
The “simplicity” of that whole setup is actually why I think things worked.
Long-time readers will remember that most of my writing centered around Apple, tech, and design. And while these topics are what first drew people in to my website, those who stuck around to become readers and members are those who also connected with me, Shawn, as the writer.
Don’t discount the importance of putting passion and personality into your work. Let who you are show through.
Back in 2011, in the first article I published as a “full-time blogger” I quoted Anatole France: “a tale without love is like beef without mustard: insipid.”
So too is a blog writing without personality.
If you happen to be good with words then congratulations. Dispassionate beautiful prose, however, is still dispassionate.
When you think about content strategy, think less about your skill and more about emotion, honesty, truth, and passion. These are the backbones of writing. And these are the very things that can be the hardest to put into our writing.
* * *
In today’s article I’ve got three things I want to cover:
First of all, I want to briefly unpack what it means to have a content strategy that serves your business goals (and why that is so important).
Secondly, I’m going to share a few unordered bulletpoints about my own experience with content strategy, writing, and business.
And finally, I’ve listed out some questions you can ask yourself that will help you figure this stuff out for yourself.
That’s a mouthful, so let’s break it down.
As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, “Content Strategy” is not a dirty term.
Content: What you create.
Strategy: Your plan of action.
In other words: how will you use your creative work (your content) to move you toward your goals?
Answer that question and boom, you’ve got yourself a content strategy.
You want your content strategy to serve your business goals because otherwise the work you’re putting out there is just a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with a creative hobby, but if you’re trying to earn an income from it then you need to start thinking differently. You need to become a bit more intentional.
You want the work you do align with the big goals and values you have as a business. But also, each piece of content you put out there should help move people along in their customer journey (which is why email can be so powerful, by the way).
In order for that to happen, it kinda helps to know what your business goals are, what your business values are, and what your customer journey looks like.
At the end of this article I’ve listed a few simple questions that can help you consider your business goals.
As you know, I’ve been writing full-time since early 2011. Here are a few few things that have proven to be immensly valuable to me as a writer who is also trying to grow his business.
In addition to knowing who our ideal customer is, it helps to know what their journey is. What are the things they need to know, the mindsets they need to understand, and the actions they need to take?
Don’t give in to scarcity mindset. Don’t fear that one person having success means you now have to see failure. It’s not a zero-sum game in the market, nor is it a zero-sum game with your own work.
What’s awesome about growing a business with content marketing is that, over time, you can build the business you want to exist. You can attract the audience, customer base, and even employees who by conveying your values and goals through the content you create. How you share ideas, the way you promote products, your attitude toward your customers, etc.
Watch out for the spiderweb mess of “Content Strategy Tactical Overload”. Off the top of your head I bet you could easily list a few dozen things people say you absolutely MUST DO if you want to WIN BIG in content marketing. Ugh. I’ve been in that spot, where I try to implement multiple things all simultaneously, and it’s exhausting. There’s just no way I can focus on more than just one thing at a time. It is far more efficient and effective to do just one thing and to do it well before moving on to the next.
When people sign up for my email list, one of the first emails they get is me asking them about what’s challenging them right now. For example, when I was working on The Focus Course, as people signed up to get on the waiting list, I’d reply back and ask them about what their biggest challenge is related to focus. And I got tons and tons of replies. Those replies helped direct the content I created for the course itself. My point being: if you can pay attention to what resonates with your readership and also pay attention to what they are saying, then you can be all the more helpful and relevant to them.
For even more, see this list of 50 things I’ve learned about publishing a weblog.
What is your current business model? (Who do you sell to, how do you make money?)
What is your ideal business model? (Who do you want to sell to? How do you want to make money?)
In an ideal scenario, what does your business look like in 12 months from now? In 5 years?
If all other things were to remain the same, what one thing, if changed, would have the most significant impact on your business?
What are your business goals?
What values is your business based on?
Do you want to develop long-term or short-term customer relationships?
Do you have a customer journey? (Where should someone start? What are the best next steps for them to take to get from where they are now to where they want to be?)
* * *
There is quite a lot to digest here. The reason I moved through it all so quickly is because I wanted to give you the high-level view and something to think about for the next few days.
However, I want your key takeaway to be this:
Focus on consistency and honesty.
The internet thrives on patterns and regularity; showing up every day lets people know they can rely on you to be there.
Secondly, consistently showing up to do the work will help you grow in your skills. As your talent improves, so too will your ability to turn your work from a hobby into something more.
And honesty, as I shared about at the very beginning, is the most important element for building an audience that trusts you. Being honest and sticking to your guns is how you earn the respect and long-term attention of your readership.
Let’s say you’ve created an incredible method for potty training dogs.
You know there are folks out there with dogs that are not potty trained.
And you’re trying to share your ideas and approach to doggy potty training. Because you genuinely care about animals just as much as their owners. You know that doggy potty training is one of the most frustrating aspects of new pet ownership and your methods are so great you’re hungry to share them with others.
Imagine two scenarios for telling someone about your doggy potty training ideas…
In the second scenario, you’re at home and you get a call from a someone. They’re a friend of a friend, and they just bought dog. They would love to meet with you and learn what you know about doggy potty training.
Which of those two scenarios are you most likely to have an impact?
The second one, of course. There are a few reasons as to why:
First off, the person reached out to you and initiated the relationship. Which means they are the ones interested in the topic and they are asking you for help.
Secondly, you have their full attention because it’s a one-on-one conversation.
If you remember from last week, the whole aim of your content strategy should be to (a) provide value at all times; (b) be relevant to your reader; and (c) support your business goals.
You are far more likely to provide value and be relevant if the person you are communicating with is paying attention.
What we love about the first scenario is that it inflates the numbers. We can say things like “3,000 heard me talking about doggy potty training today.”
Which sounds so much cooler than “I met with one person and spoke to them about doggy potty training.”
It is tempting to spend all our energy on reaching the most amount of people. To focus on mass, shotgun-style messaging. Rather than to focus on individualized, personalized, relevant messaging.
(Side note, you can read more in my article on relevancy over recency.)
But here’s what’s awesome about using email to communicate your message:
With email, you can be relevant and personalized at scale.
What does that mean? Let me explain how how I do it using an email welcome series…
The “Email Welcome Series” has become one of my favorite ways to communicate with people.
When someone signs up for your email list, or when they buy something from you, or when they register for something, that is the moment they are most paying attention…
Therefore, this is when they are the most likely to read any email(s) you send them because they are paying attention. They are interested right now.
Here is how I used to do my email welcome series:
After someone would subscribe to my newsletter list or purchases my book, I would send them a “welcome” email or a “thank you” email and that was it.
At least I was sending them something, which is a step above sending nothing at all. But there is a massive opportunity to do better.
What if your email welcome series contained 5 or 10 messages (or more) that were sent out in a series, instead of just a single, standard-issue auto-responder?
What if those 5 – 10 emails contained your most important ideas, your favorite resources, some personal stories, some “quick wins”, and more?
What an incredible opportunity you would have to help people make progress. To be extremely relevant and to have impact.
Like we talked about earlier: when someone asks you for help and is giving you their full attention, that is when you have the greatest opportunity to provide value. This is exactly what the “email welcome series” is — it’s like having a one-on-one conversation at scale.
Here is a little bit of context:
The current industry average open rate for an email newsletter is around 25%. Personally, I think that is terrible. If you’ve got an email newsletter with a 25% open rate, you may be right in line with the industry average, but it also means 3 out of 4 people aren’t interested in what you’re sending. Ouch.
(For the 3 email newsletters I run, our open rates average 55%.)
For most “confirmation” emails (the first email someone gets after they’ve signed up for a list or purchased something), the open rate is more like 75%.
That first email is the one that will be read more than any other email you send.
With that in mind, I recommend you take the chance to send an awesome email (more on that in a minute).
Secondly, did you know that you can keep up that momentum?
Yep. Instead of a single welcome email, you can have a series of welcome emails and carry the momentum through.
You do this through storytelling, quick wins, and unbridled generosity. Here’s a look at the welcome series we send folks after they buy the Time Management class:
That 8-part email series has an average open rate of 74%. (Which is 1.5x better than our standard weekly email newsletter.)
Here’s a different (4-part) email series I sent to folks after they had signed up for an email list expressing interest in a new class I had been working on last fall.
That 4-part series had an average open rate of 75%. And do you see how the open rate starts going back up after the first email? How many email sequences do you know of where the open rate goes UP as the series progresses?
* * *
Here are a few reasons why your email welcome series is so powerful…
If you’re passionate about what it is you have to say, you have an obligation to communicate it.
And the best time to communicate it is during the moment when they are the most engaged — when you have their attention.
How many ebooks have you downloaded only for them to sit in a “to-read” folder within your computer? A lot, right? I have an ebook I give away to folks right here. And after you sign up to get the book, I have a series of emails I send over the next few days that are short and to the point. I know chances are good that whomever signed up for my book hasn’t read it yet, but that they are reading their email.
I do something similar with my class on Time Management. After people sign up for the class, they get a “bonus” series of emails. I give book recommendations, tell stories, and offer quick wins related to Time Management.
Suppose you have two products you sell: one is a book of recipes for healthier cooking at home and the other is book teaching the practicals of meal prep and being organized in the kitchen.
After someone buys your recipe book, you could send them a handful of emails that highlight a few of your favorite recipes in the book, plus perhaps a few new ones that aren’t yet in the book. Then, a week later, you could begin to change topics from the what of cooking over to the how of cooking.
Begin sharing some tips and stories and suggestions about being organized in the kitchen, and then take the opportunity to sell your second book.
Because your email welcome series is fully automated, you can have all of this happening on in the background. Which means that the right person is getting the right email at the right time. This is known as putting relevancy over recency (which I’ll get to in just a minute).
This is the whole point right here. Use your emails to tell stories, be personal, and have fun. Because you’re playing the long game with your business, the best thing you can do is build customers for life. And one of the best ways to do that is to give, give, give, and give some more. (See this article and scroll down to the bullet point about understanding the rule of reciprocity.)
Derek Sivers, from his book, Anything You Want:
Never forget that everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision — even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone — according to what’s best for your customers. […]
It’s counterintuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.
When someone buys something from you, or signs up for your list, you have a massive opportunity to surprise and delight that new customer or subscriber.
* * *
By valuing relevancy over recency, you can:
Last week I said you shouldn’t be focusing on your metrics too much. But that they were still important. Here’s why…
If your open rates, conversion rates, and sales are all doing well it means you’re actually providing value. It means you are effectively communicating with people. It means you have earned their attention and trust.
In the next article I’ll share about how this all fits into your business goals.
It was 2:00 o’clock in the morning, and I was sitting up in bed, barely awake enough to keep refreshing the Apple Store app.
While I was somewhat concerned that the iPhone 7 might actually sell out in the middle of the night, in truth I was mostly awake at that hour because it’s tradition.
It wouldn’t be New iPhone Season without having to wait in a line of some sort, even if it’s a virtual one in the middle of the night.
One week later, my matte black iPhone 7 arrived. It sat at my house for a couple of days because my wife and I were in the hospital that weekend having our third son.
This is my 9th iPhone.
(I skipped the 3G because it was far uglier than the original and so I didn’t upgrade until the 3GS came out. And I have bought the newest iPhone every year since.)
Like many of you have probably done, I used to sell my previous model iPhones for more than it cost me to upgrade to the new one (thanks to my partial subsidies on my AT&T contract). Thus, I’d actually make a little bit of money each year — enough to “upgrade for free”, basically…
Then my wife got her first iPhone, and we started upgrading on a tick-tock schedule with AT&T. In even number years it was my contract’s turn to upgrade through subsidized pricing, and in odd number years it was her contract’s turn.
Whoever’s contract was due for the subsidized pricing would use that line to buy the newest iPhone. Then, I’d give her my “old” iPhone and I’d get the new one.
But that whole upgrade process changed last year with the advent of Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, et al.
AT&T (and Verizon, too, I think), are working hard to move away from subsidized upgrades and instead offering their “lease to own” options. AT&T calls theirs “AT&T Next”; Verizon calls it their Annual Upgrade Program.
With all of these programs you are effectively getting an interest-free loan to buy your iPhone over the course of 24 months. And then, if you want to upgrade every year the new iPhone comes out, you just trade in your current phone for the new one.
It’s the access over ownership model. And I think it makes sense for folks who simply want the latest iPhone each year. So I finally signed up, and for first time ever, my wife and I both upgraded. (Rose Gold 7 for her, matte black 7 for me.)
First, let’s address the former elephant in the room: My former iPhone 6s Plus.
Last year I bought the gargantuan. The Hercules. The Titanic. The giant. The iPhone 6s Plus.
It took some time to get used to the massive device, but I did eventually acclimate. By far and away, what I loved most about the Plus was its larger screen and the better battery life.
Once it became natural for me to use both hands when dealing with the Plus, it stopped being quite so awkward a device and the advantages of the larger screen were pretty great.
However, as awesome as it was to have the larger screen, the better battery life, and the nicer camera… it just wasn’t worth the tradeoff for the unwieldy size. More often than not I found myself frustrated by my inability to wrangle the phone with one hand and just how clumsy I felt when trying to use it.
After a good year-long run with the iPhone 6s Plus, I’ve returned to the regular size iPhone. And I have no regrets.
There are, I believe, a few reasons it wasn’t too terrible of a “downgrade” to move from the 6s Plus to the “regular” 7.
Basically, the battery life of the iPhone 7 is improved enough that for my own day-to-day usage it’s just as good as it was on my iPhone 6s Plus.
Secondly, my iPhone 7 now has in-body image stabilization just like my iPhone 6s Plus had. And since the camera optics in the iPhone 7 are improved over last year as well, I actually have a better camera.
So, in the end, the only thing I “gave up” was screen size. And that is exactly what I wanted to give up.
Needless to say, I’m glad I went back to the regular sized iPhone.
There is also this issue where you can’t press the button with gloves on…
But, at the same time, if you had gloves on you couldn’t operate the home screen anyway. So what do gloves do other than turn on the screen? Well, with raise to wake and the side buttons — is there truly a loss of usability? There’s a loss of functionality, yes. But is there a loss of usability?
The advantage of keeping the bump is that it gives the iPhone engineers so much more space to work with for improving camera optics and lenses. And, well, if the iPhone is anything it’s a camera.
However, the extra grip you get on the glossy finish of the Jet Black is appealing. And while the matte black iPhone is a bit less slippery than 6 and 6s were, it’s still slippery-ish. Oh well.
* * *
Year over year, the iPhone continues to be my favorite gadget of all time.
The best reasons to upgrade (in the author’s order of preference) are:
Speaking of Jeff Sheldon, here’s another fantastic post he wrote just recently.
Jeff has become a good friend, and it has been exhilarating watching him push the Ugmonk brand to the next level the past couple of years. Not only has his skill for product design improved, but the way in which he presents and sells his work has simplified. That alone is a magnificent feat!
As I find myself in a similar situation with The Focus Course brand — seeking to improve how we present and sell our products — keeping things simple and avoiding complexity has proven to be a huge challenge and an uphill battle. Things just naturally want to become more complex than they need to be.
Posts like this one from Jeff that share some of the behind-the-scenes lessons and mindsets related to business development are so helpful and encouraging.
For me: (a) I keep a Spark List in Simplenote that serves as a running list of random ideas, and (b) I mostly jot stuff down in my Baron Fig notebook (which has become the driving engine behind my day-to-day productivity).
The takeaway however, is not what you do to capture your ideas…
Here’s what you need to know about ideation:
Anyway. So long as we’re on the subject of ideas, I wrote more about ideation last summer in what has turned out to be one of my favorite articles.
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* * *
My thanks to Pagico for sponsoring the site this week. Sponsorship by The Syndicate.
First things first…
“Content Strategy” is not a dirty term.
Sure, it carries with it some corporatespeak baggage, but let’s look past that. Let’s look at what the term actually means and why it’s so important for you to have some thoughts of your own on this issue.
Content: What you create.
Strategy: Your plan of action.
In other words, how will you use your creative work (your content) to move you toward your goals? Answer that question and boom, you’ve got yourself a content strategy.
Now, for many folks, they don’t want or need a content strategy. For them, there is no goal beyond just doing the work. The art in and of itself is the goal. And that’s great! I love it. That’s how I am with my photography — it’s a creative outlet and that’s the extent of it. Thus, there is no content strategy with my photography.
But with my writing, it’s different…
I write for a living.
Thus, my writing serves a goal beyond the art of prose and beyond the joy of doing the work.
I write to teach and to sell. These are my two goals.
And in order to do that, there needs to be a strategy for my content; a goal for my writing.
When thinking about your content strategy, it can be easy to get caught up in the metrics of sales, conversions, etc. Now, yes, those things matter, and I’ll explain why in a bit. But I hope they aren’t your driving force behind your creative work.
First and foremost: your content strategy should be focused on serving your audience.
Does your content strategy have only the best in mind for your audience?
Consider if your content strategy does the following…?
Your content strategy can’t serve your business goals if you don’t know what those goals are. What type of business are you trying to build? What level of income do you need to sustain your creative pursuits? Where do you want to be in 5 years time? How is your content strategy moving you in that direction?
As you build a better content marketing strategy, it’s important to balance what works and what feels right for your brand and your voice.
For me, my goal is to build a creative business based on long-term relationship equity. So while there are many email tactics out there that may work, not all of them are things I personally want to do. I want to incorporate what feels right for my brand and my voice.
In order to do build a creative business based on long-term relational equity, it requires trust.
Trust that is built on feedback loops, delivering on my promises, serving others, pursuing generosity, and more. (See my notes here about taking your personal project full-time.)
I avoid selfishness and tricks. I don’t try to squeeze out short-term profits that end up hurting the long-term quality of my brand and voice.
Now, this doesn’t mean selling is bad. The problems only arise when we become indifferent toward our readership, stop caring about providing value, and instead just become greedy for the sale.
* * *
Simply put, if you’re struggling to provide value at every single interaction, then (a) you’re not trying hard enough or (b) you’re over thinking it.
It’s more simple to provide value than you may think.
A valuable interaction can be a helpful tip, an interesting or entertaining story, a tutorial, an educational case study, a behind-the-scenes look at something cool, and more.
Focus on providing value at all times. If that is your goal, then you’ll come out ahead.
In the next article, I dive into the second aspect, which is being relevant to the readers. Click here to read about how I now do this using email automation in my article.