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Hallowe’en: what’s your story?

Hallowe'en skull, book and bottle.

I know that there are lot of different views out there about Hallowe’en. Lots of you love it, others think it’s over commercialised rubbish. Take to Twitter and you’ll find a growing movement of evangelists who see it as Satan worshipping. They clearly haven’t done their research. Hallowe’en grew out of Samhain, the old Celtic New Year celebrated by Pagans. The last time I checked, Pagans didn’t actually believe in the devil.

Of course, it’s easy to suggest that views on Hallowe’en are all black and white. Really, it’s far more complicated than that. That’s why I decided to give you my perspective on Hallowe’en.

The fun bits

As regular readers will know, I have two young children. They’ve been excited about Hallowe’en since the end of September and are both incredibly disappointed that their school won’t let them wear costumes instead of uniform.

As I write this, debate in our house is still raging about whether we’re going out trick or treating or just getting a big tub of sweets to hand out to anyone who calls. Trick or treating is mostly fairly good natured near us so I suspect the final decision will be made by the weather. I know that a lot of people regard it as an American tradition that we’ve had foisted onto us. Personally, I enjoy it. It makes me feel part of a community and its fun trying to guess whether a child we know is hiding behind that mask.

Hallowe’en horror

Of course, I know that Hallowe’en in general, and trick or treating in particular, isn’t fun for everyone. We’ve always observed the rule that you only knock at doors that have a pumpkin on display. Last year a house near us put sweets by the front door with a note asking that we didn’t ring the bell as they were trying to get their baby to sleep. If that had been me, any interruptions would have ended in a real horror story!

Unfortunately not everyone behaves well. Every year we hear stories about people being terrorised or having their property vandalised because they didn’t answer the door. The playground heard tales of little kids in tears because someone had smashed their pumpkin for fun or chased them down the road with an axe. Those stories make me wonder what goes on in people’s heads (and have inspired a few ideas for crime stories – watch this space).

The memorial

For me, Hallowe’en isn’t just about pumpkins and scary stories. It’s a memorial too. There’s a Pagan concept which says that the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest on Hallowe’en. That’s why it’s become associated with ghosts and spirits, as it was thought to offer the best chance of communicating with your departed loved ones.

It’s a different kind of remembrance for me. We always celebrated Hallowe’en when I was growing, with a carved pumpkin and lots of sweets. Oh, and a birthday cake. I know that’s not traditional, but my Dad was born on Hallowe’en. That was the main reason for the party.  He died a few years ago so the meaning of Hallowe’en has changed for me. It’s a tough day because I miss him, but it also gives me the chance to look back and be grateful for his life.

Why am I telling you all this? The truth is, our stories are important. They help us to find our people, in business and life in general. That’s why we should never be afraid to share. Thanks for reading.

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Microblogging: why you need to start small

Microblogging - small is beautiful.

The idea of writing a blog can seem a bit daunting. Maybe writing doesn’t come naturally to you or you’re just out of practice. Sitting in front of a blank screen trying to come up with something good to blog about could be your worst nightmare. Either that or you try it and end up spending a whole day getting it to sound right (or giving up because it doesn’t). If that sounds familiar, microblogging could be your new best friend. Read on to find out what it’s all about…

What is microblogging?

Microblogging is basically a mini blog (sorry for stating the bleeding obvious). If you’ve never heard the term before, you actually see microblogs all the time. Tweets, Facebook updates and Instagram posts are all microblogs. The essence of microblogging is about sharing a quick snippet of information. It could be anything from a link, to a photo, some text or a video.

The key thing to remember about microblogging is that it’s relatively short and to the point. A standard blog post could be anything from 350 words up – generally a microblog should be shorter than that. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules. If you’ve got something to say and you want to put it on Instagram, knock yourself out. You’ve got over 2,000 characters to play with so you can say quite a lot. As always, the key is to think about what you have the time and skill to produce and what will be helpful to your audience.

How you can use microblogging

Microblogging is a brilliant way to get used to writing because you can be brief while still saying more than you usually would. I know that sounds as if I’m completely contradicting myself, but bear with me. If your standard Facebook post only runs to a couple of sentences, is it because the things you talk about don’t need more than that or because you feel you have to keep posts really short? If it’s either of those, think about what that’s telling your customers. As small businesses we need to build trust with our audience. That only happens when you offer useful information or let people get to know you.

The next time you go to a business event, try posting more than ‘here I am at X for networking’. Relax and talk about what you get out of the event as if you were telling a friend. You don’t have to write loads but it gives people a bit of insight. Also, because it’s social media you get immediate feedback.

The downsides

Of course, there can be downsides to microblogging. One of the main potential pitfalls is if you don’t establish clear boundaries when you start. I’ve talked about maintaining your privacy when you blog before but it bears repeating. Letting your audience get to know you is great, but not if you let it intrude too far into your life. For example, would you want some random person to see your Facebook posts and be able to work out where you live or where your kids go to school? There has even been debate about whether the availability of information on Twitter made super injunctions pointless.

From a practical point of view, microblogging on social media has one major drawback. It doesn’t help your search engine rankings. A website based blog, updated regularly, helps you to get found on Google whereas social media just builds your profile. That’s why I’d suggest building your confidence with microblogging then moving on to a blog. Then you get the best of both worlds.

Further reading

You can choose subjects for microblogs in the same way as you would for a traditional blog. Here’s how to get started.

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business out of hiding!

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Blogging vs YouTube: which side are you on?

YouTube icon

Ladies and gentlemen, let us consider the contenders in tonight’s match. In the red corner – blogging, communicating with your customers using the written word on your website (or a few other places – but that’s for another blog post). In the blue corner – YouTube, letting you talk to your customers face to face. Which will win? Or, more to the point, which should you choose? Because when it comes to blogging vs YouTube, the thing that really matters is knowing what will work for your audience.

Who are you talking to?

As with everything else in marketing, the first question you need to ask is – who am I talking to? It’s all very well saying that you only want to blog because you hate being on video, but what if your customers love YouTube? I confess that my YouTube viewing is fairly limited because my kids love it. If I try and watch anything while they’re still awake I end up with demands for videos about Lego and slime. Reading a blog is far easier.

Even if you’re able to choose, some of your customers might just prefer reading. Deciding what content to create ultimately comes down to what your ideal customer wants to see. (For more on that, read this.)

What do you want to say?

Sometimes the message you want to send is short and snappy – a quick tip or reminder that your event bookings are closing, for example. You might just want to ask a question for your audience to ponder. These are perfect for short social media posts or videos. Video is also amazing if you’re interviewing someone or having a discussion as it makes the audience feel part of the conversation.

On the other hand, maybe you want to offer something a bit more in depth. If you’re writing a step by step guide or a range of questions to ask, it’s far easier for your audience to follow if everything’s written down. For me, reading a blog often feels more like a one to one chat too.

Do you need to be on YouTube?

Have a gold star if you’ve already asked the obvious question. You can post video almost anywhere you like, why would you need YouTube? Good point. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter all allow you to upload video (obviously it’s not just them either – I’m ignoring the others for now). I’m glad you asked.

Firstly, Google owns YouTube. That means that having a YouTube channel could boost your search engine ranking. You can also embed YouTube videos on your website. There’s also less competition from other businesses giving you the chance to find your niche audience.

Of course, if your audience never use YouTube (or only watch it for cat videos), it could be a pointless exercise. It all comes back to knowing your audience.

Blogging vs YouTube: which will win?

Honest answer? They both will if you use them properly. Even though Google owns YouTube, when it comes to your website, words still win. Regularly updated and useful content will push you up the search engine rankings and help your customers find you in a way that video won’t.

Video is still a massive growth area and a great way to attract attention on social media. Plus, if you’ve gone to the effort of creating a video, why not share it wherever you can? You can even cover the same topics across your blog and videos as the audience is unlikely to be the same. Just don’t read your blog out on video. That would be like watching paint dry.

Further reading

For more on repurposing your blog, read this.

Ready to get started on YouTube? Here’s an in depth guide from Hubspot.

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Does your blog suit the season?

Change of season - autumn leaves blog header

Marketing success isn’t just about how good your message is. It’s about catching your audience at the right time and in the right mood. If you think about what season it is and what’s happening in their lives you can include references to the things you can help with at the right time. Here’s my handy guide to help you write your blog to suit the season (and bring the rest of your content in line too).

Your customers

When you’re planning your marketing, think about your customers first. If you want your message to resonate it needs to be targeted (for more on that, read this. When you know who you’re talking to you can identify the things they’ll be thinking about at any given time of year. If your customer is a mum with her own business she’ll be thinking about Christmas in terms of the family logistics, present buying and school activities. She’ll also be wondering how she’s going to market her business in the run up, particularly if Christmas is peak sales time. Other times of year will bring different concerns and understanding that helps you to talk to your customer in a way that makes sense.

Blog topics

I use blogs as the central point in my marketing. You can choose a suitable theme that relates to your business and the time of year. I talk about blogging and writing all year round, but I sometimes have topics that I can tailor to suit the season and you will too. For example, a travel agent could talk about their top 5 family summer breaks then top 5 skiing holidays later in the year. Winter skincare is going to be different from summer so you can write different blogs for each.

Of course, not every blog has to be seasonal. Even if a blog isn’t talking about a specific occasion you can schedule it to suit what’s going on with your customers. For example, I might write a piece on learning to blog to go out in September when the kids are back at school and there’s time to focus on the business.

Planning ahead

I plan my overall marketing a few months in advance, then work out the details a month or two before I send it out. It’s also worth thinking about when your customers will need your help. I started talking about Christmas marketing in July. I know, ridiculously early, but if my customers want my help with their Christmas campaign that’s the ideal time to start. I can still help further down the line but it makes things a bit more stressful. If your customers won’t want to hear about Christmas until December, you can adjust the timetable.

I use my blog posts to inspire as many of my other social media posts as possible. (Read this blog to find out why.) Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t do posts about specific services, I just make sure that they fit with what I’ve been talking about for the rest of the month. Doing it this way means that I can schedule as much as possible in advance so I’m not panicking about what I’m posting.

So, if you want to try working seasonally, here’s how to do it:

  1. Work out what your customers will be thinking
    about at different times of year.
  2. Plan your blog topics a few months in advance to
    talk about those topics.
  3. Plan the rest of your marketing posts around
    your blogs.

If you haven’t thought about your Christmas marketing yet, there’s still time. Sign up to my mailing list and receive your free copy of ‘Your complete guide to Christmas content’. I won’t spam your inbox or share your information with anyone else.