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Failing Forward: Why It’s Important to Fail Often

failing

Failing is a necessary part of life. I’ll refrain from inserting too many cheesy “fail” quotes because I’m sure you’ve seen most of them already, but they do carry truth. Instead, I will say that I fail often and in a variety of ways. Sometimes my failures are so silly they make me roll my eyes and giggle. Sometimes my failures are so frustrating that they bring me to tears. Both types are equally as important. Why? Because failing is a sure indication that some pretty cool things are happening in our lives.

To help you come to this same realization – that failing often is a good thing – I may need to paint a clearer picture. We should not label failing as “failure” so long as we learn to fail forward, to get stronger, smarter and more courageous as a result. Here are six reasons why, after allowing yourself a brief pity party, you should take a deep breath and embrace failing with gratitude.

  1. You are challenging yourself

We don’t often fail at things that are simple, easy or common. No, we fail at things that require taking a leap, stretching our limits and coming out of our comfort zone. These are all good things (regardless of the outcome)! If you’re not failing often, you’re not pushing yourself often. I’d much rather know that I’m pushing my own limits – and every so slowly moving them – than to never fail the rest of my life.

  1. You are learning how to deal (gracefully) with disappointment

Learning how to deal with disappointment is one of the most valuable lessons we can learn in life. We’re moving toward a society that is so politically correct and focused on being “fair” that we’re creating a world of wimps. I said it. It’s important that we learn early and often the burn of disappointment from failing. It hurts, it sucks and it sticks around for a while. I still feel the discomfort of failing, but it no longer brings me to my knees as it used to. By failing often I have learned, time and time again, how to quickly regain my composure, fight back my tears and look for the bright side of things.

  1. You are growing tougher skin

The more you fail, the more resilient you become at brushing off the feeling of failure. In looking back at my childhood, there were always one or two kids that just seemed to have terrible luck. They couldn’t catch a break in school, sports or social circles. But I remember these kids as being some of the most pleasant people, always smiling and even learning to laugh at themselves. They grew tougher skin early in life and I’m slowly catching up. Things I would once deem as “catastrophic failures” are now merely a bump or two in the road. I’m becoming more resilient as a result of failing often.

  1. You are identifying your weaknesses

If failing is good for nothing else, it exposes our weaknesses. This exposure can feel raw or we can choose to see it as an opportunity to work on these weaknesses so that they don’t continue to trip us up in the future. For people who never fail (and I don’t believe they exist), they live their life thinking they’re without flaws and then when something does go wrong it totally catches them off guard. Failing allows us to sharpen our swords each and every time, so we never fail in the same way twice.

  1. You are gaining experience

Whatever steps you took that led to failing were still steps of progress that helped you to gain experience. Maybe you didn’t win that race, but all those training miles that led you to that big moment are yours to keep. You’re stronger and better prepared to take on the challenge again in the future. The same applies for so many other aspects of life. While you didn’t win the “prize,” all the time and effort you put into getting to that point are pretty good consolations.

  1. You are avoiding something that simply wasn’t meant to be

For those who believe in fate (and I do), I appreciate the fact that failing means I’ve successfully avoided something that wasn’t meant to be. If we wished to never fail again, we would likely stumble into situations that prove to be more harm than good. In my career, failing by not winning a client or job has almost always been a blessing in disguise. Either they were a bad fit or another, bigger client came along shortly after that I would have had to turn down had I won that original client. We can apply this theory to relationships, travel, big purchases and more. Be happy that failing is life’s way of protecting you from a far worse fate.

How have you failed recently and how did you choose to make the best of situation? Share your personal experiences by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The Art of Storytelling: Why This Tactic is so Valuable for Your Business

storytelling

The influence of storytelling can be found in all aspects of our lives. First, think of how we are entertained. We watch television and movies, read books and surf social media. All of these components include storytelling in one way or another. Now think about how we mentally and emotionally connect with the world around us. We share our day’s events with our friends by recounting them through a story. We read news stories in print and on the web. And we reminisce about old memories through stories that evoke every emotion imaginable.

Do you now see why storytelling is such an essential – and powerful – means to communicating a message? It’s important to remember that storytelling is anything but new. Before civilization knew how to write, we told stories as our only way of learning and passing along knowledge to one another. In fact, a good story teller was among the most respected and revered people in a community!

Before I turn this into a history lesson, I’ll finish with one thought. While our label for the modern day “storyteller” has many names, the gifted storytellers among us still rise to the top as charismatic and effective communicators. They are deemed likeable, influential and wise. There are several things we can all learn from these storytellers and apply toward our own business communications. Here are 5 ways to incorporate storytelling into your public relations and marketing efforts:

  1. Give the sweet and condensed version

People don’t want to read the next great American novel when learning about your business. They would much prefer the Reader’s Digest version that highlights the most interesting, impressive and important details, while skimming over the things that are basic and obvious. Say what you need to say in the fewest words possible and carefully select those words to have the greatest impact. The “less is more” theory absolutely holds true to your marketing content. Rarely will people spend more than 7 seconds trying to understand your message if it is not clear. Keep it simple and keep their attention!

  1. Call upon personal experiences

Bring the characters of your story to life by sharing their personal experiences – both triumphs and failures. This adds that “human element” that allows your audience to connect with your story on a deeper level. Another strategy is to write the story in first person, allowing people to hear your voice and associate you as the storyteller – not some anonymous third party. Not only does this add credibility, but it shows you are involved with your business on a very personal level and your customers can expect this same level of personal attention.

  1. Focus on evoking one emotion

So often business owners want to describe their services with numbers, statistics and cold, hard facts. People don’t connect with – or remember – this approach. Instead, people remember only how you made them feel. Take control of the emotions you evoke with your storytelling by thinking strategically and planning your content appropriately. Most importantly, select just one emotion and focus the details of your story on this emotion. For some industries, humor is the most effective. For other industries it’s pity or fear. And the list goes on and on. Do your market research to see what your target audience receives well and use this as the theme that brings your entire story together.

  1. Don’t make yourself the hero

In many cases, you as the business owner will play a role in your story. You can certainly be a character, but avoid making yourself the hero. Instead, focus on the people or the lesson. Speak directly to your target audience with your story by making it conversational and asking rhetorical questions. Or focus on teaching them a valuable life lesson by sharing your struggles as well as your successes as inspiration for what they might achieve. While you might very well be the hero of your story, take a backstage role and let your audience bask in the lime light.

  1. Remember your audience

Finally and most importantly, remember to whom you are telling your story. Sure, you are speaking to people, but what kind of people? Get inside their minds and figure out what makes them tick. Maybe they are tech-minded, science geeks. Speak their language! Don’t try to appeal to them with romantic, flowery language. It won’t work. For any type of marketing, you need to understand your target audience. Apply this knowledge toward how you shape your story.

Now that you have 5 strategies to keep in mind when crafting your own business’s story – take it and run with it! Tell a story that sets you apart from your competition. Tell a story that makes you relatable and likeable. Tell a story that inspires people that they can also achieve success against all odds. Let’s continue this beautiful tradition of storytelling and respect it with stories that are worth remembering for a lifetime!

How have you benefitted from the art of storytelling in your own business or personal life? Share your experiences by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Life Lesson: 5 Ways to be Your Own Advocate

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Throughout my life, I’ve learned a time or two – the hard way – that no one else is going to seize opportunities for you or voice your opinion. You must be your own advocate.

My most vivid memory of this life lesson was on the campaign trail in my former career. Our candidate was elected and the celebrations were coming to a close. Yet, one big question remained. What do I do next? Do I have a job? We were promised that, yes, we would all be placed somewhere within the new administration; however, days then weeks passed without any senior staff members sitting down with me to discuss my future.

It wasn’t until I started asking some of my peers that I found out that job conversations WERE taking place – for those who were bold enough to wait outside the office door and track down senior staff to MAKE them have this conversation. The people that controlled my fate were beyond busy and weren’t going to make time for me unless I demanded it. I had to become my own advocate if I wanted that job I was promised.

Things worked out. I was finally given the attention I demanded and got the job (I thought) I wanted. While I didn’t stay in this role long, it was a necessary turning point in my career and in my life. I was slapped in the face with the reality that if I didn’t muster up the courage to seize my own opportunities, they were surely going to pass me by.

I want to now share with you some of my hard-learned lessons on ways you can become your own advocate and seize life’s many opportunities – before someone else does.

  1. Build your personal brand

If you’re committed to becoming your own advocate, you must work to build your personal brand just as a publicist does for celebrities. This doesn’t mean securing guest appearances on the Today Show, but it does mean creating a valuable set of skills and qualities that can be marketed to potential clients or employers. Here is a great starter guide to help point you in the right direction. A strong personal brand is a valuable asset and wise investment of your time because it follows you wherever life may lead.

  1. Network internally and externally

For some reason we think of networking as only taking place at socials and mixers where everyone is wearing a stick-on name tag and shoving business cards down each other’s throats. This isn’t reality – and hardly even “networking” in its truest sense. Be aware of opportunities to network internally as well as externally.

No matter your current job, there is a valuable opportunity to build relationships with (and impress) your peers and higher-ups. This is an obvious opportunity if you want to move up within your own company, but it’s also valuable if you want to move on. You never know who other people know and the more people that can recommend your work, the more opportunities you will have at your finger tips.

  1. Actively seek opportunities

Life will rarely ever spoon feed you your next big break. You need to be out in the field – everyday – hunting down opportunities. The people I know who are their own best advocates are the people who get aggressive about knowing all the opportunities that are available to them at any time. They may not be in search of a new job, but they still keep their ear to the ground for anything interesting going on. By the time you realize you’re ready for a career change, you’re already behind the curve. Stay connected on social media, inquire within companies that interest you and keep an open conversation with your peers – who should also be on the hunt!

  1. Stay educated

I can’t stress enough the importance of becoming a lifelong learner. This makes you well-rounded, knowledgeable and interesting. It also keeps your eyes and ears wide open to an array of opportunities that people who are less informed would overlook. Staying well educated is like staying in shape. If you should be presented with the opportunity to run a 5k – or interview for a job – you are fit to jump right in with far less preparation and training than those who do not “stay in shape.”

  1. The right time is always now

Finally, develop a sense of urgency in your life. As your own advocate you cannot become complacent. This is one instance in life where patience will not serve you well. You cannot afford to wait around for the next opportunity to present itself; otherwise you will risk falling into the trap of waiting around forever. Opportunities are always around us. While not every opportunity is a large stepping stone to our dream career, those tiny pebbles do stack up. Get excited, get motivated and become urgent about your need to advocate for your best interests.

What are some ways in which you could benefit from being your own advocate? Share your experiences by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Business & Success, Life

 

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The Most Effective Way to Follow-Up

listen to me

There’s one exclamation that I’m sure to say at least once a week (often with my hands on my head for emphasis). “I spend WAY too much time following-up with people!” How many of you share my grief?

I can’t stand the blazing bold font of an email message that’s not yet been answered. If I’m anywhere near my phone or computer during normal business hours (and who isn’t these days?), you can expect a response within the hour. Even if I don’t have the full answer, I’ll at least send an acknowledgement so you know the task is on my list. This makes it even more frustrating for me to spend so much of my time chasing down answers from other people.

Following-up has become one of the finest arts of communication. It’s a delicate balance of friendliness and force. You can’t be so abrupt that you get tuned out completely, but if you aren’t direct you’ll never get a response. So what is the secret to crafting an effective follow-up message? Here are six rules of engagement that will help get your questions answered!

Be polite

Always, always, always be polite. It doesn’t matter if this is your fifth follow-up message, you have to maintain your composure and professionalism if you ever want a shot at receiving a response. Time is valuable for everyone, so while it’s taking some (more) or your time to follow-up, you’re also asking for someone else’s time to provide you with an answer. Don’t act annoyed or be passive aggressive with your message. Reference your original conversation, reiterate your request and genuinely thank them for their time.

Allow a reasonable amount of time to pass

You or I may hold ourselves to the standard of answering an email within one business day, but realize that not everyone shares that same practice. For some people, a week might be a reasonable amount of time to get you a response – especially if it’s not urgent. My rule of thumb is to wait at least one week before sending the first follow-up message. I’m often pleasantly surprised by the number of responses that come in on their own right about this time. And I’m always glad I didn’t annoy them with a reminder when they were, in fact, on top of things.

Once you send the first follow-up message one week later, continue to wait a week in between each email. You can use alternative methods of communication in between that time (such as phone, text or Linkedin message). Some people are just terrible at checking email, but will respond promptly when you contact them through an alternative source. It will also increase your chances of getting your message heard. If there’s a significant deadline approaching, you can use this as a reason to follow-up more frequently than the one-week rule. Play this card selectively or risk becoming one of the 11 most annoying email personalities.

Give the benefit of the doubt

Don’t be so quick to assume that the only reason some has not responded to you is because they’re rude or incompetent. In between work, life happens and sometimes takes precedence over your requests. Have patience when waiting a reasonable amount of time before following-up with someone. They might have just had a death or illness in the family. Or maybe they have just returned from some time off and are still catching up on emails. I remember when I first had my son; I was a little slow at responding to messages but greatly appreciated those who afforded me patience and understanding during this time.

Don’t be repetitive

If your follow-up strategy requires several messages, avoid the temptation to simply copy and paste your request from week to week. This repetition is annoying and can seem condescending to your contact, like you’re assuming they won’t know the difference. For each follow-up message, include a new message at the beginning that updates your contact with where things currently stand (don’t make them read down through your whole conversation to figure this out). And for bonus points, add in something timely or relevant that will show you put thought into this follow-up. For example, maybe you saw that they published a new blog this week. Reference something you like about that blog and they’ll know you’re really paying attention and are invested in this relationship.

Make answering easy

Especially if you have multiple questions awaiting answers, the best way to increase your chances of getting a response is to make it as easy as possible. Once tactic I use is to break down each question into its own bullet point so that my contact can simply respond in-line. Other times I will bold or underline the question so that within the context of my message people know exacting what needs a response.

If I have a laundry list of questions or items that warrant more of a discussion, a phone call is the way to go. Emails should be short, sweet and to the point. The question should appear in the very beginning and again at the end. Repetition is a courtesy because it allows your contact to easily skim the message, identify what you’re asking for and quickly respond.

Give an easy “opt-out”

This is most applicable to a message in which you’re asking for someone to meet with you or buy your services. For reasons unknown, some people just hate saying no. Instead, they’ll avoid answering altogether so that they don’t feel like they’re letting you down. In the long run this is a disservice to you both. If you’ve followed-up multiple times, it may be time to offer your final message where you directly ask if you should stop contacting them. Be polite and friendly. Even if they take you up on the offer, this professional courtesy will end things on a positive note and reflect well on you and your business.

What tips or tricks do you have for crafting an effective follow-up message? Share your advice by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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8 Time Saving Hacks I Use Every Day

time saving hacks

Living life as a young entrepreneur, I’ve tried to maintain the mindset that it’s not about building a business, it’s about building a life. How we spend our time determines the life we lead. While I love my work, I also love time spent with my family, outside, exercising and relaxing. And for me, these are all rewards of being efficient with my time.

Over the years I’ve gotten very good at efficiency, so much so that it’s a running joke between people who know me well. No, I don’t have any more hours in a day than anyone else, but I have learned some extremely helpful time saving hacks that may make it seem that way to the outside world. They’re not magical or revolutionary, they simply use common sense that we often stray away from throughout life.

1. Start your day one hour earlier than everyone else

Rise and shine sounds a heck of a lot easier than actually doing it, but getting up early and getting a head start on work is one time saving hack that has made a huge difference in my day. I catch up on all my emails, knock off the easy or reoccurring tasks on my to-do list and prioritize the remaining tasks so I have a game plan of the rest of the day.

Even though it’s only an hour of work, I find that my clear and focused mental state in the morning, combined with the silence of everyone else sleeping, allows me to work with incredible efficiency. I turn that single hour into half a day’s work sometimes. And for someone who works from home as both an entrepreneur and a mom, knowing I have that uninterrupted hour is a Godsend.

2. Simplify your morning routine

Take a critical look at your morning routine and really think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. The first time I did this, I was shocked at how many minutes I was wasting by not structuring my routine properly and by doing things that simply didn’t have any added benefit to the rest of my day.

From little things, like narrowing down the number of health and beauty products I use to the big things, like eliminating my morning commute by working from home, I have become an efficiency machine. If any part of your routine doesn’t help you look better, feel better or keep your household and business running, rethink why you feel the need to make it a part of your day. Habit alone is not an acceptable answer.

3. Block-schedule meetings and errands

Because I do double duty as a mom and a business owner, strategic scheduling is a must. Finding a block of time for a meeting (that doesn’t include my son as a tagalong) can be harder than snagging a dinner reservation at one of the swankiest restaurants in L.A.

One day a week, my husband will work from home and free me up to see clients, attend networking meetings and have some uninterrupted work time. So, I try and fit as much in as I can into these days. What I’ve found is that even without my “mommy duties” as the catalyst for this type of scheduling, planning my meetings and errands in blocks of time is incredibly efficient. When possible, I’ll schedule meetings back to back in the same coffee shop where clients can come to me and I always incorporate stops at the bank or post office while I’m already out.

4. Complete reoccurring tasks in batches

Whether they’re part of running a business or running a household, we always have those reoccurring tasks that need done daily, weekly or monthly. For me, some of these tasks happen to be writing for my blog, paying bills and making baby food. While these are quite a random assortment of tasks, I’ve found they have at least one thing on common – they can be done in batches.

Unless something is especially timely, I write and schedule my blog posts weeks in advance. I often write several posts in a day when I’m feeling particularly creative. For bills that are the same every month, I use the online bill payment feature through my bank to have these checks go out automatically. And for baby food, I have one full-blown cooking and freezing day a month that allows me to mess up and clean up the kitchen just once while enjoying extremely convenient (and cheap!) mealtimes the rest of the month. Identify your own reoccurring tasks and tackle them in quantity. This will save you so much more time than completing them one by one day after day.

5. Set time limits

This time saving technique is pretty straightforward. For those tasks that chronically take up more time than you anticipate, set a reasonable time limit and stick to it. At first, you’ll likely exceed your limit and have to stop for the day, but over time I’ve found that I’ve gotten more efficient because I really want to beat that timer! It also forces me to dive right into a project rather than wasting a half hour or more getting into the “right” mindset.

6. Unsubscribe from emails you don’t want to receive

This is something I started doing a couple of years ago and it’s completely changed the dynamics of my inbox. Any time we purchase anything online, attend an event or hand over our email address in exchange for more information, we can expect to be automatically added to a list serv. Maybe it’s minutes or maybe it’s weeks later, but we can also expect to begin receiving marketing emails.

Unless this is something you are interested in receiving, take the time to unsubscribe! Sure, this requires a few more clicks and maybe even some typing which takes longer than simply hitting delete, but in the long run it will absolutely save you time and preserve the space in your inbox for important messages.

7. Push people to communicate by email

For the majority of scenarios, email communication is a much more concise way to communicate. A phone call, for example, first requires both parties to be available at the same to connect. In today’s fast paced society that is becoming less and less likely. Next, there are the obligatory “How are you’s?” followed by some chit chat. Then, if you’re lucky, you’ll get straight to the root of the conversation. If the information is complicated or hard to remember, often one person will say “Can you email it to me?” And if you don’t connect on the first try, you might end up playing phone tag and spending even more time dialing in and checking your voicemail.

Do I make a convincing case yet? Whenever possible, I ask people to email me. I’ve also started removing my phone number from business cards so that if people feel the need to call, they can start by first emailing me for my number and I can assess whether it’s truly necessary. This isn’t to overlook the times when phone calls and face-to-face meetings are the better option, but for a hybrid mom, I love that emails can be answered on my time and don’t convey the screeching child that is likely in the background.

8. Learn to say no

People and things will always be vying for pieces of your day; you must become a conscientious keeper of your time. First, get your priorities straight. For me, this is running a business, being with my family, staying connected with friends, exercising and relaxing. For obligations that fall outside of these categories, I carefully consider whether or not they’re worth my time.

Just because someone asks you for a favor or wants to meet to sell you something you don’t need, doesn’t mean you have to say yes. Learn to say no (nicely) and you’ll be amazed with the amount of free time you’ll earn back.

What are some of your own time saving hacks? Share in the comments below and help us all to find a little more free time in our day!

 

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The Number One Thing You Must Do Before You Begin Writing

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There’s a widespread misconception about writing that needs to be cleared up. We read a captivating blog, spot a witty billboard or receive a thought provoking direct mail piece and assume that some very talented writer sat down, opened their mind and let the words flow onto the paper. Done! The perfect content was crafted in a moment of sheer inspiration. Unfortunately this writing fantasy rarely exists in the real world. Instead, inspiration must be paired with strategy and a great deal of pre-planning before fingers ever hit the keyboard.

Oh it’s tempting to dive right in. Feeling a rush of creativity, you figure the smartest thing you can do is to get it all out while you have it. I’ve tried this myself. Still, all I’m really left with is a disorganized doodle of words and phrases that, while they sound great independently, require as much time and editing to string together as if I were to just write a new article from scratch.

I’ve since realized there’s one thing I must always do before I begin writing. I don’t write the introduction, craft a title or pick out a piece of accompanying clip art before I’ve answered just one question…

What effect do I want to produce on my readers?

This is more specific than how it reads, so let me explain a bit further. Every great piece of writing evokes some type of emotion – hope, joy, fear, excitement, doubt, anger, trust, curiosity and the list goes on and on. After pondering this, I promise you that you will analyze what you read the rest of today more critically. And you’ll find that it’s true. Effective content centers on emotion. What you must determine before you begin writing is exactly what emotion from your readers will be of most value to you and the purpose of your writing.

One of the forefathers of professional copywriting, Robert Collier, says it like this. “Before you put pen to paper, before you ring for your stenographer, decide in your own mind what effect you want to produce on your reader — what feeling you must arouse in him.”

Create a Magnetic Headline

Once you’ve selected your desired emotion, every other component of your writing will work to emphasize it. A big one is your title. This should be carefully crafted to be emotionally charged. Aim to create a magnetic headline that readers can’t pass up. Check out the one I chose here, “The Number One Thing You Must Do Before You Begin Writing.” As the reader, this plays to my insecurity of always striving to be a better writer. I wouldn’t dare miss out on learning the one thing I “must” do before I write. It evokes an emotion that is strong enough to drive me to read on. This leads to another important point…

Select the Strongest Emotion

You want to choose the strongest (relevant) emotion that will make your readers act. My example of insecurity is a powerful emotion that identifies a reader’s weakness and leads them to seek a solution – which your writing should provide. Less influential emotions like empathy or contentment won’t create the same urgency for action. If using a negative emotion, you must make your readers feel uncomfortable enough to want to change something. If using a positive emotion, you must tempt readers with a benefit so life-changing that they can’t pass it up.

Avoid Scare Tactics

Emotions lead us to act, but if too strong, can also turn us off. What may appear to be just words on paper actually hold the power to draw us in to a new reality (talk to any Harry Potter fan), so use with care. When selecting a strong emotion, don’t overly dramatize your writing. Scare tactics and overwhelming sadness can make readers uncomfortable enough not that they’ll act to resolve the emotion, but that they’ll shut down and tune out. One classic example of this in video form is the ASPCA’s “Arms of the Angel” commercial. It’s been spoofed many times over because I don’t think anyone can watch the whole thing without turning it off or crying so hard you can’t see the phone number to call to make a donation. While it certainly evokes a strong emotion, it’s overpowering to the point of becoming less effective than some of their newer, toned-down commercials you’ll see on TV now.

Remember, when it comes to incorporating emotions in your writing, a little goes a long way. First select the strongest, most relevant emotion that will compliment and promote your message. Then, center all other aspects of your writing, like creating a magnetic headline, on this emotion. The end result will be content that is organized, creative and effective – from start to finish!

How do you determine the effect you want to produce on your reader before you begin writing? Share your thoughts and ideas by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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Dealing with the Pain Points: The right way to identify your customers’ needs

pain pointsIn my line of work, I’m often brought on board to deal with pain. Let me clarify this a bit further. I help my clients identify the pain points of their business as it pertains to communication. I also help them identify the pain points of their target audience so we know how to better connect with them. And even with years of experience now under my belt, this task has become no easier than the very first time I learned about the abstract concept of pain points – mostly due to the fact that every client is different, and so is their pain.

Uncovering a client or customer’s pain points shouldn’t inflict them with more pain. Which is why we can’t overlook the fact there are right ways – and some very wrong ways – to go about this process. I’m willing to bet many of you have been subjected to the wrong way at least once, even if you didn’t realize it at the time. This is the salesperson who tells YOU what your pain is, before really getting to know you or your needs. This is the business advisor who offers no insight and simply asks you to tell him what your biggest pain points are as he jots them down with a nod and smile.

So what’s the right way to identify your customers’ needs? Here are four snippets of wisdom I’ve compiled after talking with fellow communications professionals and business owners. Across the board, these are the key concepts you need to keep in mind whether you’re identifying your own pain points or the pain points of your target audience.

Make it a discussion

Clients and customers just want to be heard, especially when it comes to understanding their greatest pains. Don’t walk into a meeting with a list of predetermined pain points to sell them. Instead, start a conversation. Get to know more about them, their business and their needs. As the conversation progresses, you’ll gain a better understanding of the pain points they share with fellow businesses in the industry as well as pain points that are completely unique to them.

In an effort to start a discussion, don’t go to the other extreme of making them do all the talking either. Sure, ask questions, but don’t drop a bomb like “What are all your biggest pain points right now?” First, you can’t assume your client even really knows what a pain point is. Second, you’re likely to turn a nice conversation into an interrogation with a loaded question like that. Let them talk and then offer insight. You know, like a dialogue?

Share your experience

Once you’ve started a pleasant discussion and gained a foundation for understanding their needs, it’s time to offer some valuable input. Given things have progressed in the direction you anticipated, you can refer to some information you’ve prepared in advance. For example, this could be a slide or printout of what you have found to be common pain points within their industry – shared by other professionals with whom you’ve worked. Guide them with your experience, but acknowledge and respect the fact that every business is unique and so are their pains.

Peel back the onion

What many perceive to be their pain points is only the first layer. This is where your expertise becomes so valuable! Don’t take what your clients or customers identify as their pain points to be the final answer. Ask more questions to gain a deeper understanding and even challenge some of the points, if you feel necessary. Your goal should be to expand your clients’ understanding of their business’s needs or customers’ pains. You need to be the mirror that allows them to see their blind spots – this is where you add value to the process.

Keep it reasonable

Some strategies aim to amplify pain points and blow them out of proportion. I find that this comes across both dramatic and cheesy – and at the end of the day, makes YOU look less professional. Make your pain points both real and relatable. For example, if you choose to incorporate your pain points on your website, you want them to ask rhetorical questions that almost everyone in your target audience can answer with a resounding “Yes!” They should be general enough to relate to the vast majority of people you’re trying to reach, yet specific enough to still be meaningful. You want your pain points to really strike a chord with your audience, and after they answer these rhetorical questions, make them want to do business with you!

What strategies have you used to identify your own pain points or the pain points of your customers? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Business & Success

 

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