Friday, 24 January 2014

New Topics to Blog About - at the Click of a Mouse

Now I'm not the most frequent of bloggers - as any readers of this blog will know.  I write when I've got something to write about.  But other people, I know, like to write regularly, producing a post once a week or more.

And while that may be easy if you're working in the thick of an industry where things are constantly happening and changing, it may be difficult if you're working on your own or in a field where changes occur less frequently.  Finding new topics to write about is not always easy.

But now help is at hand with Hubspot's new Blog Topic Generator.  You put in up to three words, click the button and it instantly comes up with five suggestions.  Obviously, it's been produced with social media and internet marketing blogs in mind, so I thought I'd try it out with something a bit different.  I put in the word 'antiques' and got:

  1. 15 best blogs to follow about antiques
  2. 10 Signs You Should Invest in antiques
  3. Why We Love antiques (And You Should, Too!)
  4. 10 Things Your Competitors Can Teach You About antiques
  5. What Will antiques Be Like in 100 Years?
I was surprised to find that, of the five, only one (the fourth) was inappropriate, being too biased towards marketing.  But the first three would be perfectly useable and the last one could result in an interesting essay about which of today's artefacts are likely to have survived and to still be valued in a hundred years' time.

Encouraged by this, I put in something a little more arcane - the word 'tarot'.  And I was given:
  1. The history of tarot
  2. 20 Myths About tarot
  3. 14 Common Misconceptions About tarot
  4. 5 Tools Everyone in the tarot Industry Should Be Using
  5. 10 Signs You Should Invest in tarot
Even here there were some useable titles.  The first three could yield interesting articles.  The fourth, of course, is not appropriate.  But the last one, even though it's finance and marketing based could be tweaked to produce something useful, since many tarot decks that have gone out of print in recent years have appreciated enormously in value and have proved a good investment for those collectors who bought them at the time.

Underneath the list of five suggestions (where you could miss it if you didn't know it was there) is a form you can fill in to receive a year's worth of ideas on your topic.  Of course, they're not all going to be appropriate to your field, but it's free - and it certainly beats sitting in front of a blank computer screen wondering what on earth to write about.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

How to Publish a Successful Book - Learning From the Experts

A little over a month ago I explained why I had decided to go to the Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors (How To Write a Successful Book - Learning From the Experts ).  For three days I listened to people talking about writing and publishing and self-promotion.  Some of the speakers were excellent, among them Rick McMunn, Armand Morin, Christine Clayfield and Simon Coulson.  A couple were not good, but out of a line-up of some 13 speakers, that's not bad going.  I particularly liked the way that each speaker approached the subject from his or her own angle, so each had something unique to offer.

Many of the speakers shared useful strategies with us, showing what had helped them to become successful.  And there were lots of little nuggets of information and advice, such as:
  • Authors never get rich (unless they're very lucky) - it's the publishers who make the money - Armand Morin
  • Money shouldn't be your sole motivation.  You need to have something valuable to share and to want to make a significant difference.  Think big, have courage, goals and audacious dreams - Marsha Wright
  • Top authors don’t rest on their laurels; they're very disciplined; they set targets and bounce back from setbacks; they have humility & are always ready to learn - Stephanie Hale
  •  Books are the fastest selling products online.  People are too busy to find all the information they need on the web - they want it packaged up and presented to them - Christine Clayfield
  •  People no longer look for specific authors - they look for specific content - Christine Clayfield
  •  It’s not about the book, it’s about the marketing.  The internet is not the marketing, its just the route - Mark Donnan
  •  We have to learn how to become rich: rich in relationships (including with ourselves), income we deserve, confidence, health & happiness - Janet Jones
  •  If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion because it will lead directly to your purpose - Janet Jones
  •  74% of the decision to buy a book is based on the cover and title.  The title is vital to online sales because the cover will tend to be seen as a thumbnail - Stephanie Hale
  •  Find out which are the markets where people are ready to spend money, then write a book or information product about it - Simon Coulson
 Of course, all of the speakers were promoting their own courses or mentoring, ranging in cost from around £1500 to around £6000.  And there were takers for each one. Before the three days were up, I had signed up for a course on self-publishing from Christine Clayfield, and the friend who went to the Bootcamp with me had signed up to work with Marie-Claire Carlyle, an author who mentors writers who want to publish with Hay House.

I think, in the long term, I may find that I'm more comfortable in the world of writing and publishing than I am in the world of internet marketing and affiliate marketing - simply because it's something I've been involved in for a long time and the learning curve is not as steep.  But I have no doubt that the internet marketing knowledge that I've gleaned over the past few years will be extremely valuable.  So, although I'm going into this publishing venture with slight trepidation, I'm also excited about it.  I'll let you know how I get on!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Is This Freebie a Step Too Far?

Over the last two or three years I have, on several occasions, heard Armand Morin speak about internet marketing.  One thing that he always stresses is the importance of giving value for money.  In fact, not just value but more than value.

Recently I attended his webcamp on residual income.  At one point he was talking about membership sites and he said that if you're charging $97 a month for membership, then that membership should have a perceived worth (by the customer) of two to three times that amount. 

And Armand practises what he preaches.  For 18 hours of teaching, the price of the residual income webcamp was only $27.  I have in the past paid far more to hear other internet 'gurus' - and have got far less from their teaching.  As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a great fan of Armand Morin!

But now I wonder if he's gone a step too far?  He's just announced that future webcamps (three days of live streaming online) are going to be free!  The only charge will be if you want to buy the recordings.  There will, of course, be some people who will want to do this - those who don't like writing notes or those who can't attend the whole event.  But, since the webcamps will be transmitted from North Carolina, they'll be available if not during daylight hours at least during waking hours to a large part of the English-speaking world.  So I imagine a lot of people will be happy to watch the live event and forgo the recordings. 

Which brings me to the question I started with - is this a step too far?   Is it clever from the marketing point of view?  Has Armand finally overstepped the line in his quest to give good value?  Well, no, I don't think so.  I think it's a win-win situation.

What Armand will get out of it is that a lot of people who have never attended his events before will sign up and thus make their way onto his mailing list.  And at some time in the future they may buy one of his courses or a piece of software.  And, of course, some people will buy the webcamp recordings.  But I also suspect that there is another advantage as far as Armand is concerned.  He loves teaching and it was mentioned at the last webcamp that he gets really excited by the numbers of people who come to listen to him and the feedback he gets from them.  It's a reminder that, if we love what we do, we can get far more from it than just an income.

What the attendees will get out of it is 18 hours of intensive, practical training from an extremely engaging and entertaining speaker who (having made millions on the internet) teaches from his own experience and freely shares his knowledge. At the next webcamp (which runs from December 6th-9th) he's going to be speaking on the subject that everyone wants to know more about - how to drive traffic to your website.  Even if it wasn't free to attend, this would be worth going to.  You can find more details here.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Why Does Twitter Think My Account Has Been Hacked?

I got a nasty shock the other day.  I logged into Hootsuite and, instead of the normal streams of tweets and messages, I saw a pink message saying "The supplied Twitter network credentials are not valid. If you have changed your Twitter password recently, you may need to update it in HootSuite."  What was really worrying was that it appeared on three of my four accounts.

Last time I saw a pink message on Twitter it was because my account had been suspended, so I immediately assumed that this was what had happened.  I clicked on the 'update' link in the pink message and was taken to Twitter where I requested a password update.  I was told that an email was being sent to the gmail account I use for Twitter information.

When I logged into gmail, I found three emails from Twitter, sent the previous day, each relating to one of my accounts and saying "Twitter believes that your account may have been compromised by a website or service not associated with Twitter. We've reset your password to prevent others from accessing your account. You'll need to create a new password for your Twitter account"

OK, panic over.  I hadn't done anything wrong.  I reset the passwords for the three accounts, making sure that I used lower and upper case letters, plus numbers and permitted symbols.  Twitter told me that all three passwords were very strong.

And that should have been that.  But it wasn't.  The original notifications (and resetting) had happened on October 8th.  On the 9th, one of the passwords was reset again.  A second was reset again on the 11th.  And the third was reset again on the 12th. 

According to Twitter's help page, signs of an account having been hacked are:
  • unexpected Tweets by your account
  • unintended direct messages (DMs) sent from your account
  • other account behaviors you didn't make or approve (like following, unfollowing, or blocking)
  • Receiving a notification from us stating that "You recently changed the email address associated with your Twitter account." (even though you haven't changed your email address)
None of these had happened on any of these accounts.  So what on earth was going on?  I tried to find some information on  the help pages, but when I entered "account reset", I got nothing relevant.  So yesterday I sent this tweet: "@Support You keep resetting my password but I'm using very strong passwords & there's no sign of my account being hacked. What's going on?"

As yet, I've not had a reply.  I'm hoping that's because they're investigating it and that I will receive an answer in due course.  Have you had something like this happen to your Twitter account?  And were you able to resolve it?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

How To Write a Successful Book - Learning From the Experts

Over the years, I've met an awful lot of people who have had thoughts about writing a book.  For most of them, it's just an idea rather than something they will ever do.  And this is sad in one respect because it's possible that one or two of them would produce something that's really worth reading.

On the other hand, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a book published, particularly novels.  Mainstream publishers want novels that will fit into their genres, so anything that's a bit unusual and doesn't fit neatly is likely to be rejected, no matter how well written.  And, even if you're lucky enough to find a publisher, the chances are that a failure to promote the book once it's in print will result in very low sales.

I read yesterday that the average book sells under 250 copies per year, and less than 3000 over its lifetime.  That's certainly what happened to two of my books, which were published by Penguin.  Despite glowing reviews, the book was neither well distributed nor promoted.  I live on the outskirts of a town with a population of a quarter of a million people.  At the time my second book was published there were four or five large bookshops in the town.  I went round all of them - and found two copies in one shop and none in any of the others.  When it came to the third book, there wasn't a single copy in any of the shops.  Friends living in other parts of the country, who had read reviews and had tried to get a copy of the book, had also been unable to find it.  Looking at the list of all the books that Penguin published that month, I found that it was huge, which might have explained it.  But I was never able to figure out why a publisher would invest in a book and then fail to promote it.

With Is Acupuncture Right For You?  (originally entitled Acupuncture for Everyone), I was more fortunate.  Published first by Penguin, it sold very few copies (for the same reason as the other two) but it was then taken up by an American publisher and in the last 13 years has sold over 13,000 copies.  However, in case you're thinking that's made me rich, think again.  The standard royalty on a copy is six per cent on the selling price.  My literary agent then takes her commission.  My total income from the book, over thirteen years, is about £5000.

Fed up with the whole thing, I published my most recent book Say Goodbye to Sleepless Nights as a Kindle.  It's sold a few hundred copies but at least I get to keep most of the proceeds.  But how do some people manage to write books that become best-sellers?  I read quite a few novels and, to be honest, some of them are really badly written and have fairly awful plots (but I have fun writing criticisms in the margins!).  Certainly, a good percentage of these fall into popular genres (such as Da Vinci Code clones) but, even taken with a large dollop of good luck, that can't be the whole story.

Overall, I was becoming pretty disillusioned with the world of publishing and, although I've got a number of ideas for new books, had got to the stage of thinking that it really wasn't worth investing the time necessary to write them.  Until yesterday.  That was when someone told me about the Millionaire Bootcamp for Authors.

Organised by Stephanie Hale - former Assistant Director of creative writing at Oxford University, former adviser to The Arts Council of England, and founder of Oxford Literary Consultancy - she's been through the writing mill herself.  After publishing two books that earned her peanuts, her third sold out within eight weeks and earned her over £1 million.  And now she's passionate about helping other writers.  Because, as she says, "I can't bear to see the waste of talent and effort."

Over the course of three days, twelve best-selling authors are going to be talking about what has helped them to be successful, sharing tips and techniques and 'know-how' - stuff that 97% of authors don't know about.  I read the details of the bootcamp with increasing enthusiasm and, when I got to the bottom was astounded to discover that, for a limited time, the ticket price has been reduced from £297 to just £37.  No wonder they're expecting to sell out quickly.

If you're in the UK and you're thinking of writing a book - or you've written one that you can't get published - I strongly recommend that you have a look at what this three day course is offering.  I've booked my ticket already!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Importance of Good Customer Service

There's been a lot written about customer service recently (and, in particular, about those companies that have dealt badly with customers via Twitter).  And this led me to think about my own experience of customer service in the past two weeks, with two separate companies.

 The first is a clothes manufacturer - Viyella.  I have been wearing Viyella clothes since my early twenties.  I have bought numerous skirts, blouses, suits and jumpers with the Viyella label and I've loved them all - until recently when I bought a skirt from their website.  Now, my experience of Viyella has always been that the clothes fit well, look good and are hard-wearing.  Not so this new one! 

I discovered that not only did the skirt crease very easily but it was well-nigh impossible to get those creases out on the iron setting suggested.  What's more, the skirt marked at the slightest thing.  With other skirts, a splash of something or other can usually be wiped off or sponged out easily.  This skirt had to be put in the washing machine.  On one occasion I hand washed it and, since there was a mark on it, I gave it a gentle rub.  Once it was dry, I was horrified to see that the section I'd rubbed had lost some of its surface and looked different from the surrounding area.

I emailed the Viyella helpdesk, saying how disappointed I was with the skirt.  The reply was somewhat perfunctory and said "I am sorry to hear of your disappointment with your Tencel Skirt.  Thank you for notifying us of this issue.  I would recommend taking the Skirt into your local Viyella Store along with any purchase information you can supply so they can advise you further."  (Tencel is the name of the fabric, but what 'skirt' had done to merit a capital letter I have no idea!)

I was less than pleased with this.  The reason I buy online is because I don't have a local Viyella store.  I therefore had to make a special journey to the nearest store, which is some twenty miles away.  I was interested, however, in what sort of 'advice' they might give me.  Throw it in the bin, perhaps?

The manager of the store looked at the skirt and listened to my complaint.  Well, she said, Tencel does crease - it's similar to viscose.  Now, viscose is a favourite fabric of mine and, yes, it does crease - but it's also very easy to get those creases out with light ironing.  So I wasn't impressed by that.  Then she told me that the skirt could be sent off for examination but that would take about a month after which I might receive a refund - or I might just be told that I'd washed it on the wrong setting (which I hadn't) or done something else wrong.  The alternative was to take the value of the skirt in gift tokens which I could spend on something else.  This seemed to be the lesser of two evils and I agreed to it.  

So I now have Viyella gift tokens which I discovered later I can't spend online, meaning that I have to wait until I'm in the vicinity of a Viyella store with the time to browse.  And I'm left feeling rather jaded.  Because I've bought Viyella for so many years, it will not stop me buying Viyella in the future, but I think I'll be rather more careful and perhaps will not buy as much.  If I'd been a new customer, I think this experience would have put me off buying Viyella entirely.

Compare this experience with what happened when I returned an Avon product.  I buy Avon from time to time from a local representative and, some months ago, had bought some skin cream which, I discovered, made my eyes sting when I used it.  I mentioned this to the Avon rep and, immediately, she arranged to send it back and get me a refund.  It didn't matter that I'd had it for a couple of months and there was no suggestion that I might not be using it 'properly'.  Avon wanted me to be happy . . . and I was.  This month I've ordered quite a lot from the catalogue, secure in the knowledge that if anything's not right, I can return it.

So, from clothes and makeup to internet marketing.  Whatever product we're selling, I believe it's vital to ensure that the customer is happy.  Because a happy customer will return and buy again.  And that's why I like the 'no quibble guarantee' that a lot of people offer.  It results in my buying (and keeping) a lot more than I might otherwise do.  I never buy anything without a guarantee, following an experience a couple of years ago when I spent £60 on an ebook that purported to contain a successful marketing system that 'you have never come across before'.  It turned out to be no such thing and was simply an introduction to joint ventures.  I emailed to complain and ask for a refund but didn't even receive a reply.

Of course, there will always be people who will buy our products, read them or watch them, and then ask for a refund.  Some of them will be genuine - the product truly doesn't meet their needs - and some won't.  But if we offer a no-quibble guarantee, the chances are that the first group will buy from us again - and no one will be left with a feeling of dissatisfaction.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

How to Get More People to Read Your Emails

I don't know about you, but I have an aversion to books with small print.  I read a lot - and I buy a lot of books.  But, not infrequently, I'll open a book to have a look through and put it back on the shelf because its format is so unappealing.

The same, it seems, is true of emails.  People who read their emails on mobile devices like the type to be clear and readable.  They don't want to have to be scrolling all over the place to get an idea of what the email is about.  If the email looks as though it's going to be hard to read, 70% of recipients will click 'delete'.

So, in the same way that I must have missed out on reading some very interesting books because they were printed in such dense type, there are many people who may be missing out on interesting emails because of the format in which they've been sent. 

 Nowadays our emails not only have to read well, in terms of content, but they have to look good too.  And, with over half the adult population using smartphones - and well over 80% of these using  their smartphones to read and send emails - it's essential that our emails show up well on all mobile devices.  Responsive website design has been around for a while.  Now it's the turn of responsive email design to be in the limelight.

There is some confusion, however, between the terms 'responsive' and 'mobile ready'.  From the names, one would suppose that they were one and the same thing.  But they're not.  If you have constructed an email which looks like this:

'mobile ready' will simply deliver the identical format - but smaller to fit the screen size.  This, of course, may mean that the typeface is now too small to read without a magnifying glass, so the recipient is likely to click 'delete' straight away.

A responsive design, however, will change the format to:

Now the typeface remains clear and all the recipient has to do to read the entire email is to scroll down.

A few days ago, the autoresponder service GetResponse announced that all the emails sent via its service will, from now on, be in responsive format.  Apparently it's the first service to offer this, although I daresay that the others (such as Aweber) will not be far behind.

I've been using GetResponse for a couple of years and, although it has a few quirks that annoy me, on the whole it has proved to be very satisfactory.  I chose it in the first place because, of the well known autoresponder services, it was the cheapest.  It took a little time to fathom out how to use all its bells and whistles but, having done so, I'm pleased with the design of my weekly newsletter and of all the emails I send to my list.  In addition, it provides some useful and insightful analytics on all the emails I send.  I know, for example, that the great majority of the people who open my newsletter do so on a pc.  It's possible that GetResponse's new format will mean that people who have been receiving it on mobile devices will find it easier to read so that the overall number of people reading my newsletter - and my emails - will increase.