Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Save Time Producing Your Communications: 5 Solutions to Common Roadblocks

In today's busy "I want it now!" environment, new demands are being placed on businesses, consultants, and entrepreneurs all the time, in order to keep pace with what customers and stakeholders want and need. In many ways, no matter what the tools, strategy, and execution are ultimately decided upon, it all comes down to content: having enough of it; having great quality; communicating it in a way your clients want to receive it (ie. newsletters, videos, podcasts, blog posts, etc.); and being timely. Not only is content king, but so are relevancy, delivery, accuracy, urgency, and "stickiness," -- the idea that people will bookmark it, share it, and come back to it a week, a month, or even a year later.

Over the last year or so, I've heard many common challenges and concerns about communications issues in particular. Following are 5 of the most common ones, and some quick "Do It Now" answers you can take with you right away:

In the category of I Don't Have Time To:

1. Engage in Social Networking:
Social Networking can be a huge time eater, and there's no direct correlation between time spent and ROI. That being said, there are real advantages to increasing your online visibility, developing communities to network and share ideas with,  and eventually sell to and buy from. If you're just getting started or have a very limited schedule, try just half an hour a day (15 minutes in the am, and 15 in the pm). Focus on 1-2 tools that you enjoy or that make sense to you, and don't try and be all over the map. Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In are of course some of the most common platforms,  but don't ignore other niche marketing sites that might be relevant for your business. If I'm short on time, I try daily to at least make one new connection, post or retweet a great resource to my community, and subscribe to a new blog, e-news, or course or webinar that look worthwhile.

2. Start a Blog:
This is a biggie. Many businesses realize the importance of blogging, but have little time to begin a blog, much less maintain one over time. Using a consultant to help set up a blog, establish strategies and goals, and even develop and outline content ideas for posts, can help launch your blog and see it through over the long haul. Consultants can even help market your posts to provide you with more visibility. To get started on your own, you might consider wordpress.com, which offers free blogging software and features about 10 template designs that also include navigation pages if you want to try this out as a website solution as well. Note that the free version is not as good as the paid, hosted version, wordpress.org, but it will get you going and you can transition into the paid themes later. Blogger, which I am using here, is also easy to get going and has many automated features for customizing your page, including widgets, links, Amazon affiliate pages, and others. Typepad, created by Seth Godin, and Moveable Type, are other blogging platforms you might try.

3. Launch an E-Newsletter:
Newsletters are great for keeping in touch with new people you meet at conferences, exhibit halls, networking events, or just everyday life. Plus, loyal subscribers are a great group to present special offers and coupons to, to survey, and to reward with free goodies. But finding a provider, planning and organizing relevant and dynamic content, and publishing on a regular schedule (at least monthly) can be daunting.
I researched newsletter delivery platforms for over a month when preparing to launch my newsletter, "The Butterfly," and settled on Constant Contact, as I found it the easiest and most efficient to use. There are many others out there to try, such as Aweber, Cooler E-Mail, and iContact, to name a few. Deciding on a program and what your typical content will be are the most time consuming aspects of your newsletter, but take advantage of trial offers to see which one you like best. Once you've chosen a program,  you can save time by writing stories in advance so they are ready to plug in when you need them. If you already have a blog, you can link to your best posts for your newsletter, and turn them into features. Try featuring guest writers, which will also encourage reciprocal links between their website and yours, and you can also try quick interviews as great ways of getting content. An e-mail interview, for example, can include 5-6 questions that your chosen candidate can answer at their own pace and you can plug it right into your newsletter. Include a head shot of your interviewee, and if they are an author, a link to their new book, or even a book review.
When starting out, don't try to publish weekly, but rather monthly, until you get used to creating content on a regular basis.

4. Create Videos:
This is a tricky area. Everyone knows that video marketing is hot right now, so they are rushing on the video bandwagon without necessarily knowing what they are doing. I've seen a lot of folks create videos that are not great quality, and this doesn't do much for their  brand or credibility.  I had always regarded videos as highly specialized, and probably would not have even begin making them if not for 2 crucial factors: 1. I started experimenting with iMovie and got addicted! 2. I won a Flip at YouTube at a developers conference they held last summer, and got equally enthusiastic. I found that, as a writer, launching a YouTube channel and finding new ways to tell stories was a great addition to skills in print journalism I already knew. And I had fun.
For those of you looking to save time in video creation, I suggest Animoto, which I also learned about at my day at YouTube. Animoto takes your photos and now video clips, and creates special effects that make them look like a polished video, plus you can easily add royalty free music.  An account is free for a 12 second movie, otherwise a $30 annual account gives you longer options. When I don't have time to use iMovie and create films, I use Animoto. Another great item is the Flip camera, which comes with movie making software which is fairly easy to use and works fine if your computer is new or purchased within the last 2 years or so. If you have a 4-year old computer, the files will take forever to load and you will encounter other problems, so don't try it. Also, many smart phones have video and direct to YouTube programs. I recently won a Palm Pre, and find the video capability and quality impressive. Plus, it only took a nano second to upload a video straight to YouTube.

5. E-books, Educational Courses, and Content Creation Overall:
Many marketers come out with new e-books, courses, webinars, and ezines all the time, and it can seem overwhelming to receive it all, much less produce it.  If you like what they are doing but just don't have the time yourself, consider becoming an affiliate. Typically, the only criteria are that you like the product, and that you take the steps to set up the affiliate code and links on your web site or blog. Look for affiliate links and instructions from the Publisher, and feel free to ask them questions about how their affiliate programs work. I am an affiliate with Amazon, which makes sense for me since I write about books and authors so much. I am also a Constant Contact Business Partner and affiliate. Remember that if you are advertising an affiliate product, you need to disclose that you are an affiliate and that you profit from readers clicking on the affiliate link. Another tip is once you've signed on, don't just embed affiliate code, but also an image of the item you are referring to. Research has shown that items with corresponding graphics and images have higher click-through rates.

A great example of deciding on an affiliate program and evaluating its content and merits, is Chris Brogan's blog post from today, where he discusses signing up for Chris Guillebeau's Empire Building Kit affiliate program, and I may do the same shortly. You might also be interested in Chris's latest book, The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World. (affiliate link.)

So there you have it, 5 time-saving solutions to common communications projects we all need and want for our businesses and projects.

Any time-saving solutions you'd like to share here? Feel free to post a comment, and good luck on your communications projects!



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