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8 Tips for Ghostwriting Blogs and Articles

Finding subject matter experts (SMEs) who have the time to contribute to content creation is often a huge challenge for content marketers. SMEs, especially executives, often have a lot more ideas than time. A good ghostwriter can help.
The key to ghost writing for a SME is to create a piece that sounds like their voice and is one they are proud to call their own. They need to feel like they would have written than piece if only they had the time. Here are a few tips I've discovered in my work:
#1 Use their words. Everyone has a different set of commonly used words. I use some words in daily speech that others might not, e.g., egregious. (I just like the way it sounds.) Some of the clients I write for might use that word; many would not. On the other hand, they favor terms that I don’t normally use. For example, where I might say “comprehensive,” they might use “holistic.” 
#2 Imitate their humor (or not). If you’re going to use humor in the piece, it’s important to understand what they think is funny. Snarky doesn’t work for everyone. I favor irony, but not everyone is attuned to it. I also adore puns, but I usually leave those out of my professional work. There are some executives—and some corporate cultures—who believe humor isn’t appropriate in professional writing. When it comes to humor, you need to go with what fits their style.
#3 Use their spelling when appropriate. If you’re writing a bylined piece for a SME from another country, you’ll need to decide whether to use their spelling or the native spelling of the target audience. Sometimes, the client’s corporate guidelines will cover this, but just as often, it is an overlooked detail. Pieces that aren’t bylined, e.g., white papers, usually call for the spelling of the parent company or target audience. However, if it’s a blog post, I recommend using the native spelling of the author. It gives the piece a more personal feel. Same goes for bylined articles, but that’s more of a grey area that may be dictated by the publication’s guidelines.
#4 Know their style. As marketers, we know stories sell. However, not all SMEs are story tellers. If you’re going to write a bylined piece for a SME who is not a story-teller, it’s often better to stay away from drawn out stories.
#5 Know their background. I have another client that loves analogies. They are a joy to write for as I love them as well. Since I write for multiple executives at this firm, I study their personal backgrounds. LinkedIn can be very helpful for this, but if they haven’t posted any hobbies or interests, just ask. For some, I use sports analogies. Thankfully, I can find just about everything I need to know about a sport on the Internet. For another executive, I use a lot of cooking analogies. This client even lets me leverage my background as a history buff in their analogies.
 #6 Study past efforts. If you’re lucky, your SME will have already written a few articles or blog posts. These can help you understand your SME’s style and what they think is important. They are also a good source of additional topics. I might review something the SME wrote and then send them a “what if we looked at it from this angle?” idea.  
#7 Use their cadence. People speak with a distinct cadence, e.g., fast, haltingly, slow and steady, emphasizing certain words, etc. People write with a distinct cadence as well. For example, I have one SME that loves to use series in his writing. In fact, he often uses two series in a sentence. A, B, and C = D, E, and F. Thankfully, he’s worked with me long enough to trust me to simplify his somewhat complex style. I still use the series approach, but I use it sparingly and keep him away from multiple series in a sentence.
#8 Remember, it’s not about you. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer. You need to be confident in your writing; confident enough that you can also let go. Admittedly, this can be difficult as writers can be a bit nerdy when it comes to word usage, grammar, and punctuation. For example, “on-premises*” and “on-premise” mean two entirely different things, but one of my high-tech clients insists on using on-premise when he means on-premises. At the end of the day, if he wants to use on-premise, it’s his call. Most of his audience will never notice, and given how often the words are used interchangeably, it probably won’t be too long before we see a new synonym for on-premises in Merriam-Webster.
*For my fellow punctuation nerds, I know I’m using a hyphen when I shouldn’t, but what fun is life if you don’t break a few punctuation rules every now and then?
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Should You Hire a Marketing Agency or Use Freelance Marketing Specialists?


As you think about outsourcing your marketing, one of the first questions you'll need to answer is...

Should I hire a marketing agency to handle everything for me, or would I be better off hiring freelance writers, web designers, graphic artists, etc.?

The answer is - it depends. (Isn't it always!) You'll need to take a look at the pros and cons of each to decide what's right for your business. Let me give you some general guidelines and an assessment of the pros and cons of each approach. I'll also share a few tips for working with these different groups.

Working with a Marketing Agency
When I talk about marketing agencies, I'm referring to an organization that purports to be an expert in "all things marketing." Many of them have a specialty like web design, but that doesn't mean they can't offer a plethora of other services.

Pros: The primary advantage of using an agency is that many of them can handle everything for you: web design, SEO, collateral, social media, etc. They can also help you prioritize so you get the biggest bang out of your marketing budget.

Cons: The disadvantage is that this expertise comes at a cost. Many of these agencies use freelancers, so they need to cover those costs as well as the cost of the project manager assigned to your account, internal marketing talent and the usual sort of miscellaneous overhead that comes with running a business.

Tips: Be wary of the "all things marketing" firm that really specializes in one or two things. For example, if an organization's forte is SEO, and that's how they approach every project, you can end up with website content that ranks well (for awhile) but fails to resonate with your buyer.

Working with Freelancers
Freelancers are by nature specialists. They are often sole proprietors, but most of the freelancers I know - myself included - maintain a network of other freelancers that round out the solutions we can offer. For example, my focus is copy. You wouldn't want me designing your website - just takea look at mine and you'll see why! However, I work with a number of designers (and agencies) who do a fabulous job designing client websites, brochures, white papers, etc. They help me see the vision, and then I create copy that fits and gets the message across - with the appropriate attention paid to SEO, of course.

Pros: If you have a specific project like a white paper you want written, working with a freelancer can be much less expensive. The freelancer's expertise also tends to be deep because they are so focused. And, without a middleman (external project manager), projects can often get completed faster.

Cons: Freelancers can get a bit myopic. As the saying goes, "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Plus, if you have a lot of multifaceted projects, you may need to do more project management ensuring the project flows smoothly from one phase to the next. When you work with an agency, your account manager normally takes care of this task.

Tips: To avoid the hammer/nail paradigm, look for freelancers with a broad marketing background. Also, make sure you have someone internal with a strong marketing background in charge of your project. Generally, you don't want to put your fresh-out-of-school new-hire in charge of a project that involves a lot of moving parts and people.

I would love to hear what you think. Do you outsource at least a portion of your marketing? If so, do you favor freelancers or agencies?

Have a specific question? Reach out to me on LinkedIn.

View Melissa Paulik's profile on LinkedIn



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Website or Product Brochures - Which Comes First?


I am sure many of you will recognize this all-too-common scenario...

I am working with an old friend who owns a small technology company. Like a lot of small business owners, he has a laundry list of things he'd like to get done, but budget dollars are scarce. The two most vital projects - a website overhaul and new product brochures - will take more dollars than he has available.

Option A - Spend a little here, a little there.
One way to address this is to try to fit both into the budget by doing it himself or hiring lower quality freelancers. While that's an option, I'd argue it's probably what got him to where he is in the first place. Replacing his current website with one that doesn't improve the user experience or brochures that are poorly written or designed, will just be throwing good money after bad. 

Nor will trying to do it himself result in a better quality product. He heads a team of technologists not marketers, and there are significant opportunity costs involved.

Option 2 - Prioritize
In truth, he has enough funds to do either the website or the brochures well. We're not talking "Cadillac" versions of either, but he doesn't need that. He needs something that allows his team to put their best foot forward. Ultimately, he needs to prioritize and pick one over the other.

The big question is, where does he start? I have the luxury of being somewhat of an unbiased source. That is, I don't necessarily make my living from website redesigns nor sales collateral creation. I supply copy for both as well as a number of other types of materials such as blog posts and white papers. Where he ultimately chooses to start makes no difference to me. That said, while I have no horse in this race, after spending three decades in sales and marketing, you can be sure I have an opinion.

Let the Sales Funnel Decide
customer's journey, sales cycleMy friend needs to look at his sales funnel and determine where his biggest challenges lie. Let's take a closer look.

One of my clients divides the customer's journey into three phases - awareness, buying, and implementation and usage. Naturally, you are going to have more opportunities - and I'm using that term somewhat loosely - at the top of the funnel in the awareness phase. At this stage, your prospects are starting to frame their challenges and research potential solutions. The key is to capture their attention and help them see your solution as at least one potential option so they can progress to the buying stage.

During the buying stage, the prospect is digging deeper into their potential options. At first they may have general questions - the kind that can be answered via sales collateral. Later in this stage, their questions will go deeper and need to be supported by more specific resources such as white papers, case studies, ROI tools and subject matter experts.

For now, I'm going to skip the implementation stage. If my friend's team can close the business, implementing and creating long-term relationships is not an issue.

To make a wise choice, he needs to look at his funnel and determine where his biggest challenges lie. Is he having a problem attracting new opportunities? If so, his website is the most important focal point, especially since he sells B2B products across a wide geography. His website is the first introduction most people have to what his business can do.

On the other hand, if finding new opportunities isn't an issue, but keeping them engaged is, he will want to focus on the collateral needed to keep the opportunity flowing through the funnel. He believes product brochures are necessary, but other organizations may choose to start with supporting collateral like case studies if they are more instrumental in keeping prospects engaged.

If the answer is "all of the above" as I suspect it might be, he needs to start at the top of the funnel. After all, he can't close opportunities that he doesn't have to begin with.


Want to ask a direct question? Reach out to me on LinkedIn.
View Melissa Paulik's profile on LinkedIn



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3 Steps to Getting Blog Content from SMEs


I don't post as often as I should.

Truth is, a lot of would-be bloggers are like me. I know, because I make a living blogging (and writing in general) for people who have a lot to say but not enough time in the day to write it all down.

My first contact with clients is usually the frustrated content marketing manager. They have executives, product managers, support specialists, etc., who would make great subject matter experts (SMEs), but they just can't get them to write anything. It's not that these experts are unwilling. Most of them are pretty excited about seeing their name online. They just can't find the time.

For a time, marketing managers may try to do the writing in house, but it's not like their plates are any emptier than the SMEs'. The key to gaining SME buy-in to your content program - and actually contributing - is to make it as easy as possible for them. I've separated this into three steps.

#1 Gain initial buy-in. As I mentioned, most experts love to see their name in print. Just telling them that you're starting a new program or ramping up an existing one is enough to get their attention. But regardless of initial interest, everything will fall apart of you don't take the next two steps.

#2 Minimize the time they need to spend. The first question they are likely to ask is: What will you need from me? Yes, full-blown, well-written posts would be nice, but don't hold your breath. If you really want to get your program off to a good start, you will need to outsource the writing to either an internal or external ghostwriter.

Every ghostwriter's process differs, but I usually offer SME's three different options:

  1. Write a full post and let me polish it for them. Sometimes they come to me well-polished, but usually there's a fair amount of work to be done to clean the post up and turn it into something blog worthy. Sometimes, their style isn't my style, and I just need to accept that. At the end of the day, the post needs to be something they - and their organization - are comfortable owning.
  2. Send me a few hastily scribbled thoughts and let me flesh it out into a post. This is really popular when I write for sales leaders. They are always on the go, but constantly coming up with new ideas.
  3. Let me create a post from scratch and see if they agree with it.

The last option is the least time-consuming, and as you might imagine, the most popular. It takes a bit more research on my end, but the SME may spend as little as 10-20 minutes on any given post.

#3 Always make sure the SMEs are satisfied. The SMEs are your customers as much as they are mine. No content program can succeed if they aren't happy to have their name associated with the final product. When they start tweeting their posts, that's a great sign!

Would love to hear about your content marketing program. Have you had a challenge getting SMEs to commit? If so, how have you overcome it?

If you would like to ask a direct question, reach out to me on LinkedIn.

View Melissa Paulik's profile on LinkedIn











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Channel Professionals: Can You Break the 80/20 Rule?

I posted this question recently on the Partner Manager Alliance Program (PMAP) group on LinkedIn:

As I think back over my career and all the channels I've been involved with, the one constant is the 80/20 rule - 20% of the partners contributed 80% of the revenue. (Actually, there might have been one situation where it was 90/10) In these organizations, a lot of time was spent discussing how to get the 80% contributing more. 

Is it possible? I know everyone on this list can share probably share channel enablement strategies designed to achieve the goal - but have you ever seen it happen?


Unfortunately, that group seems to have a lot of lurkers and not much discussion - yet.

Still, I'd love to hear what those of you who are channel managers or channel strategists think about the 80/20 rule. Can it be broken?

Feel free to share your thoughts here, or visit the group on LinkedIn.


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Where Should I Start?


I get a lot of questions like this from prospective clients:

I don’t have a lot of money, but my marketing is pretty ineffective. What should I do to get things moving?

The problem with marketers is that we usually give an answer related to our area of expertise. Web designers will suggest a better web design. The SEO specialist will suggest optimizing your web site. Campaign managers will suggest new campaigns. Content developers like me will suggest…you guessed it…content!

Actually, none of these are bad places to invest. If, for example, your website looks like it was designed by your nephew as a high school project (or, if indeed, it was) that’s as good a place as any to start.

But if you don’t have any glaring issues, such as a klunky website, let me give my plug for starting with content. Not just any type of content. A blog.

(Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know blogging is dead, but the people who tell you usually have something new to sell you.)

The reason I suggest starting a blog as opposed to other types of content like white papers or case studies is because they are easy to do. You can set it up in an afternoon. You don’t have to be a professional writer to create a post. Like the “family project” that brings everybody closer together, almost anyone in the organization can submit a post.

Quick tip: I recommend that one individual be responsible for review and approval! I’m all for keeping it real, but you want to put your best foot forward. A rambling, poorly written post by one of your experts, probably isn’t the best first impression.

But the best thing about a blog is that touches on all those areas of improvement mentioned above and then some:

Website/SEO – A blog is a great way to add SEO optimized pages quickly.

Campaigns – Blog content makes for great nurture campaigns. If you’re really on a shoestring budget, these campaigns can be as simple as emails from your sales team pointing them to the latest opinion piece on your blog.

Social media – It’s easy to repurpose blogs on whatever social media platform you’re using. Post them in facebook and Google+.  Start a discussion around the post on LinkedIn. Tweet them (several times) on Twitter.  A few months past since you wrote the post? Tweet it again.

List building – People don’t subscribe to receive emails, but they will subscribe to receive blog content.

Credibility – Well-written posts by a number of people within the organization do more to establish an organization’s credibility than any number of white papers created by some industry guru.

That said, I do have one word of caution. Blogs are not a quick fix to all your marketing problems. You have to execute – frequent posts, well-written and educational content, etc. In addition, it may take some time to build a following, but it sure beats the half of a percent return rate (if that) most companies are seeing on their non-subscriber email campaigns.

Questions about blogging? Add your comments below or reach out to me at paulik.melissa@gmail.com.

Melissa


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I Blog Therefore I Am

Reading the tweet stream of a new follower, I ran across an interesting article from @goforbiz101 entitled Blogging is Dead – But Long Live the Blogosphere.

They make some valid points. Here’s my favorite quote:

Heck, most people blogging today are consultants being told by consultants to blog (and even those consultants learned that from other consultants).

That might be true. Most of the people I follow use Twitter as not much more than a syndication service for their blogs. (BTW, it works really well for that!)

Valid points aside, there are a number of reasons I still blog. One of my motivators is that there is another Melissa Paulik.

Yes, it’s true. In fact, there may be even more than one more out there. One in particular lives in the general vicinity of where I grew up.  We even look similar – blonde hair, blue eyes, that sort of thing.

I’ve never met her. I’m sure she’s a nice person – at least she hasn’t done anything online to tarnish our name. But she’s not me.

Blogging ensures that MY persona is online so that when a potential client Googles me, enough of me will show up to counter balance her persona. Hopefully, they can tell the difference.

At the end of the day, we’re all a dime a dozen whether we share our name with someone else or a hundred someone elses. (I always felt bad for the Jim Smiths of the world.) Blogging is one more way to say. “Hey, I’m here!”

For those of you who blog, what’s your primary motivation*?

Melissa


*My doppelganger isn’t my primary motivation. Just one of many.
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