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Today I’m guest posting at the Toronto IABC blog I helped found. See the 10 questions you need to ask to evaluate writing competence. Then you can figure out how to improve it. Read it here.
I could blame the new Canadian law that doesn’t count verbal permissions to subscribe, which I did to kickstart my subscriber list when I started Stickemail about five years ago. It would be a big hassle to get everyone to resubscribe, bigger to comb my lists for people I don’t have the required records for and the biggest to analyse my lists to find out why some people never appear to open or otherwise interact.
I probably don’t need to worry about getting caught in the enforcement net when it’s lowered into the email sea three years from now. But like most obstacles, big or small, the Canadian Anti-Spam Law has caused me to take a second look at what I’m doing. I could take the time to fix it, or get away with it, but do I want to?
I keep reading that e-newsletters have the best ROI or conversion rates, as the digital marketing crowd calls return on investment or getting people to do what you want. If that means open rates, click throughs, emails, phone calls and just plain staying in front of people, I’m a success. If that means millions of books and online courses flying off the shelves, I’m a failure. ROI and conversion rates can mean so many different things.
The other reason I am killing my newsletter is that the business it was designed to support has changed. I’ve shifted from corporate writing and communication management to teaching about business writing, which has grown in importance while changing in shape and style. That’s why I call my new business writing workshops, the new ABCs of corporate communication.
Because the live workshops are offered only on in the Greater Toronto Area, my subscribers in Finland and Fresno no longer figure into my marketing plans. Still, I hope they’ll switch from newsletter to blog.
I’m also teaching English as a second language to international business students. The training and experience have taught me so much about teaching that I have transformed my workshops.
Maybe I should launch a local-focus newsletter for my workshops. I’ll decide as I sit drinking ice tea in my garden, the third reason why I’m not publishing a newsletter this summer. To give me some time between corporate and ESL teaching, I need to cut down on nonessential business activities.
My change in direction started after the recession. I’d had a smooth ride with steady clients for many years. I didn’t have the enthusiasm to fatten shrinking business from cost-cutting clients. I wanted something new. But what?
When my daughter returned from Ecuador a year ago, she raved about this woman who had been teaching in South America for years. Just in case I missed this cue, the universe also sent a couple friends travelling a similar path.
I’m dreaming of South America, rather than the Middle East or Asian countries more popular with ESL teachers, because I want to learn another language, an earlier goal I got sidetracked from. I also regret giving up on the piano.
Until my elderly dad and dog don’t need me, I’ll stay here in Toronto, teaching both ESL and business writing.
My workshops will help corporate communication leaders who are trying to squeeze more out of staff or encourage the team to climb higher so their content marketing strategies can fly.
I’m also going to take another teaching course. Can’t believe how much I enjoy being back at school, as both teacher and student. Maybe piano lessons are next.
You’re a good guy. You build relationships through quality content and trust. You never spam. You’ve worked hard to build your permission-based email list. You respect your subscribers’ time. You don’t need a law to tell you the right way to treat people.
You’re not one of the bad guys, who buy lists, spam strangers, assault inboxes or entrap with manipulative sales tactics.
But you’re concerned about the Canada Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) that goes into effect July 1.
You don’t want to be the dolphin that gets caught in the fisherman’s net.
Maybe, like me, you’ve been publishing for years and have not kept records of people subscribing. Sometimes they’ve given you their business card and told you to sign them up, so there’s no record of them subscribing with your email provider.
I’m such a good guy that I actually titled a newsletter “Please unsubscribe from my newsletter,” and encouraged people who never seem to open it to remove themselves from the list. Only one person did.
I don’t take unsubscribes personally. Often I subscribe to newsletters when I’m hot on a topic, then cool down later. Like everybody, I’m always trying to tame the email beast. I understand.
I know there’s a complicated way to clean my list. But I’m too busy.
I know I could also ask everyone to re-subscribe. But they’re busy too.
The government won’t start imposing penalties for three years. If I’ve done something wrong, I don’t have to worry. I may be cavorting in Bora Bora. As a small fish, I’m not juicy target. Or maybe not. You never know if the government could go for a cash grab.
Will it deter the bad guys?
On the other hand, I’m concerned about how CASL will keep the bad guys out of my inbox. I don’t think the Nigerians are sweating, unless it’s from the African heat.
What’s more, I’m miffed about the exemptions. For example, if your email address is on your web site (social media too?), the law considers you’re giving permission. If you have ever done business or have any other relationship, however tenuous, with the sender, you have given permission.
In most cases, the requirement for a quick unsubscribe will get you off the hook. Mind you, with really cheesy spam, I don’t click on the unsubscribe link, because it confirms that the spammer has reached an actual email address.
I am sending in some advance questions that he has promised to answer.
What do I have to do to verify that I have permission to send my newsletter to specific subscribers?
If I don’t do this perfectly over the next three years, will I be liable for penalties when they go into effect? Will they track me down in Bora Bora?
How will this keep the sleaziest spammers out of my inbox?
Should I remove my email address from my social media profiles?
Why pick on me? I’m a good guy.
Send your questions too.
Remember how you first learned to talk?
Back when you were a toddler, your parents probably pointed to your teddy bear – or a picture of one in a book or on a screen – and repeated the word “bear.”
After you’d heard it enough times, you could say it on your own.
They might augment the pointing with actions and sounds, for example, miming putting your head on the pillow and snoring, then saying “bed time.”
If you mispronounced the word, your parents might say it again, stressing the sound you needed to fix.
When you cried or kicked instead of talking, they probably said something like: “Use your words.”
Soon you discovered that words helped you get what you want. They also helped you play with other people.
When your parents talked or read to you, they not only pointed to pictures that represented new words, but also used sentences that demonstrated how the words fit together.
This sentence structure was trickier than repeating individual words. Your first sentence may have been, “Me no want dat.”
To help you master this higher linguistic level, your parents would reply, “You mean ‘I don’t want the carrots.’” If you repeated the sentence correctly, they may have rewarded you by removing the carrots from your plate.
Because your parents continued to point out the correct way, you built your ability to express yourself. If your parents did not correct your mistakes, as some blindly doting parents prefer, your progress was slower. Same if they finished your sentences for you or did not listen and respond.
If your parents spoke well, you probably learned to speak well too. If they used bad grammar or nasty words, you said them too.
Fortunately for everyone, book and television characters, babysitters and other teachers were also role models.
So what can business people who want to communicate more effectively learn from toddlers and their teachers?
As learners, toddlers can show you how to:
- Have fun.
- Appreciate what effective communication will enable you to do.
- Practice without worrying about making mistakes.
- Imitate others.
- Listen and learn.
As teachers, parents and other role models demonstrate why you need to:
- Match pictures, actions and sounds with words.
- Repeat, but not too much.
- Correct instead of criticizing.
- Mix in love and fun.
- Be aware of how you are modelling effective communication to other people.
Of course today you are far more eloquent and your audience more sophisticated than when you were learning to talk.
But by revisiting the wonder and thrill of your early efforts, as I’m doing with step-grandson Max who is pictured above, you can uncover the lively basics that may have been buried by time and education.
Think back to how you learned or how you taught your children and you can revitalize your talking and writing.
Now where did we put the fuzzy rabbit book?
According to Pew Research, nine out of 10 American adults own a cellphone. That probably applies to Canada too.
This infographic, provided by 1800numbernow.com, should confirm why you must go beyond simple internet marketing techniques. What worked for a user base connected via computers may soon go the way of dial-up connections, tape decks and dinosaurs.
I spend way too much time reading on the Internet. Yesterday alone, I learned about body language, native advertising, mid-life crises, gardening, seat belts, anti-busyness, blue auras, dog tumors, television spoilers and more. Offline, I read a newspaper too.
But the trouble with this information onslaught is my tendency to forget. The next time I go to shake a hand, I’ll won’t recall which side I’m supposed to be on. I’ll get mixed up and plant the seeds in old coffee filters instead of toilet paper rolls. I will mumble when I want to name the new president of Ukraine.
So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut (or is that John Updike, David Foster Wallace or some other white male American writer?) would say.
When I was taking a course on teaching adults recently, this theory resurfaced from the dusty, deep caverns of my consciousness. Only now it makes sense.
When I only consume information, I forget a lot. When I apply knowledge, I remember more. When I teach , it goes into the memory vault.
When you teach adults, you’re supposed to encourage them to practice immediately, first in a controlled setting where they’re either right or wrong, then giving them enough latitude to perform the task imperfectly and learn from their mistakes. Next you let them interpret what they’ve learned by applying it to something a little different.
While they are learning and doing, group work encourages the more advanced students to teach the ones who are struggling.
When I first went to university, the professors stood at the front of the class and lectured. From talking to my daughter and her friends, I know a lot still do. Good marks still often depend more on short-term memory tricks than long-term knowledge storage.
On the positive side, more educators engage their classes by giving them assignments to breathe life into their new knowledge before it can plummet down the rabbit hole of memory. There’s more group work too.
Similarly, top physicians often work at teaching hospitals so they can share their experience with students. Sales people sell more when they have a new guy under their wing.
Teaching is learning. We can all be teachers.
So how will teach-do-learn help you become a better content creator?
The next time you offer advice, include ways your readers can immediately apply it. Encourage them to start applying it in a controlled way, building to interpretation and critical thinking. Let them teach each other through comments and conversations.
Appreciate that your posts and other content marketing are forms of teaching. Just as writing this post is reinforcing for me what I learned in the course, this kind of teaching will benefit you as well as your readers.
Look for other opportunities to share your knowledge. I don’t mean the easy sharing of links on social media. I mean helping others understand, apply, interpret and challenge your expertise. For example, you can explain Russian history to the guy in the next cubicle who comments on the news, show a boomer how to better use their phone or model desirable behavior for your children.
In a world where people often feel overwhelmed by information and change, teaching opportunities abound. If their eyes don’t shift to the nearest screen or glaze over, your expertise is probably welcome.
Very few people can remember all the information they ingest every day. Much of what’s not immediately relevant slides down the hole, never to be seen again. If that didn’t happen, information overload would probably short-circuit our brains.
But some sticks. Like learn, do, teach.
Oh, the mysteries of mind and memory.
Clear, concise and compelling writing is the key to building relationships, demonstrating your expertise, looking professional, inspiring and collaborating online.
Up your game, by listening or reading for about 10 minutes a week then practicing with your work. Keep score. Within six weeks, you and your colleagues will be impressed with your progress. Or your money back.
To celebrate the snow melting in my backyard, I’m offering Sticky readers and friends a special deal. With coupon code, snowmelts, you can buy the six-part series for only $40. That’s $60 off. The deal stands even if the snow returns.
The coupon will expire when the heats up.
Many people have trouble coming up with ideas for their blog, newsletter or other content vehicle. But all they have to do is respond to customers’ questions, think about how their business relates to what’s happening in slice of the world they share with prospects and come up with helpful ways to repackage their expertise. Learn more on my guest post at Chamberofcommerce.com.
Last year I lost 25 pounds. Unlike the people in ads who did this in eight weeks, I took 50. Slow, steady, but sustainable.
I’ve known too many people to lose lots on those fad diets only to put it all back on again. Often more. Three months later, through my continuing healthy habits, I’m maintaining just fine. I don’t feel deprived.
Over the years, I’ve seen too many people enthusiastically launch blogs, newsletters and other content channels only to run out of steam because they’re not getting the results they’ve been promised. But, like weight loss, content is a long-term investment.
The second way content channels are like Weight Watchers is their insistence on the right kind of fuel. Many of the fad diets I had tried left me ravenous, dizzy and cranky. I could not feel full on mostly grapefruit, cabbage or other fruits and vegetables.
With blogs and other content channels, my fuel is “deep and extremely up-to-date information,” as Bill Gates advised in his 1996 essay Content is King.
Feed your content flow with questions and feedback from your customers, news on the interests you share and your expertise repackaged through how-to articles, advice, news, insight and stories.
The third similarity between weight loss and content growth is the need to be flexible. Sometimes you’re going to be just too busy with work or have a personal crisis or holiday. Probably nobody will notice that you failed to stick rigidly to your schedule.
Like Weight Watchers, you should be encouraged to occasionally take off a day, or month. If you know you have a food fest coming up, you can cut down on what you eat before the fun. Similarly, content publishers can balance their routine by producing more when they have a product launch, inspiration or spare time.
But after your quick break, get back to your healthy habits as soon as you can. No excuses.
To sum up, here are my three content sustainability tips that parallel my weight loss experience.
- Go for slow, steady, sustainable results.
- Fuel with high-quality content.
- Be flexible.
You could also apply this advice to investing, working out or many other activities. Try it and see.
Here are the slides from my Constant Contact presentation on sustaining content.