Unpopular Opinion: Why I Don’t Have an Email List

Why I Don't Have an Email ListIf you spend any time at all doing, researching, or thinking about content marketing you hear people talk about the importance of the list. Almost of all of the best marketing blogs sing the praises of the email list as a crucial component of building a successful business.

Copyblogger says: “Every successful online marketer we’ve talked with agrees — email readers are more responsive, they have a tighter connection with you, and they buy more stuff. ”

In an ebook thoroughly devoted to the subject, Hubspot says: “The size of your email list is a demonstration of your reach and thought leadership.”

Danny Iny from Firepole Marketing says: “Sure, Twitter, Facebook and RSS can be nice, but there’s just no comparing them to the raw power that comes with invited access to your prospect’s inbox.”

Joe Pulizzi, the very man who coined the term “content marketing” says: “There’s no Holy Grail to content marketing, but if there was one, it would be the email subscriber.”

If you google the term “the money’s in the list” you get page after page of articles from expert marketers insisting on the importance of building an email list.

As a content marketing copywriter, I know all the “rules” – the widely regarded best practices we’re all supposed to be following. Yet you’ve almost certainly noticed by now that there’s no email sign-up box in the sidebar. This is one of the golden rules of content marketing and yet I don’t personally follow it.

So….Why?

I don’t believe any of those quotes I cited up above are wrong. Those are some of the best minds in the biz and I’d be quick to share similar advice with many clients.

The reason I don’t follow this advice myself isn’t because I think it’s bad advice, it’s because it’s just not right for my business.

We’re All Different

Every business has distinct goals and priorities when it comes to content marketing. And every business must make choices when it comes time to decide where to spend time and money.

Like every other marketer and business owner in the world I have a loooooong mental list of different techniques and tactics I’d love to try for my business if only there were endless hours in each day. Like everyone else, I know I can’t accomplish them all and have to prioritize.

How I Prioritize

I’m just one person and my goals for the future of my business don’t include growing it beyond one person. That puts some serious limitations on the time I can spend on marketing, so I have to stick with the most efficient tactics for my purposes. These include (but aren’t necessarily limited to):

  • Networking. Both locally, at conferences, and online.
  • Guest posting to raise my online profile and demonstrate my abilities to a new audience.
  • Participating in social media with the goal of making new connections there.
  • Writing posts (like this one!) on my own blog to share my knowledge with readers and demonstrate my abilities to anyone who visits my site.

It’s a short list but, combined with my responsibilities to clients, it sure keeps me busy.

At the end of the day, all content marketing tactics come back around to the goal of making connections. The way you do it matters less than the results. For me, the activities I listed above work for what I want and need (and can accomplish) in my business.

The best strategy for your business will necessarily be different.

How to Make Your Procrastination Productive

Productive procrastination might sound like an oxymoron, but with the right approach you can make those unfocused hours work for you.

We all have off days. There are times when our minds are intent on focusing on just about anything that’s not the main item on our to do list. If you’re stuck in one of those periods where your brain just will not listen to reason and face the task you need to tackle, think strategically about how you can still get something accomplished during your distracted state.

1. Switch to one of the lower energy items on your to do list.

It’s rare that everything you need to get done requires the same amount of mental energy. Maybe you have some accounting you’ve been neglecting, or a spreadsheet of contacts you’ve been working on filling in. If there’s something you can work on that requires less active thought than the main work you have to do that day, focus on it first. Once you’ve actually gotten something else done, you might find that your mind is more prepared for the larger tasks you weren’t previously up for.

2. Spend that time on research and social networking.

You can always be learning more, regardless of what kind of work you do. If you spend a little time on your favorite business blogs, or interacting with professional contacts on your social networks, you can do something useful that actually feels a little like procrastination. Just don’t let yourself get stuck on Twitter or Facebook focusing on things that don’t relate to your work. Set a timer to let you know when it’s time to switch back over to other forms of work.

3. Find a way to get started on that intimidating, looming task without diving right in.

Maybe you’re trying to write an article and instead are stuck staring at a blank page. Stop unsuccessfully trying to get that intro paragraph down and focus instead on working up an outline, or just writing down some sloppy, brainstormed ideas to get the juices flowing. Often the biggest barrier to getting started is the sense of just how much you have to do. If you can find a way to ease into starting, you can overcome the main psychological barrier keeping that page blank.

4. Plan your days to get the most out of your active hours.

Sometimes we have off days, but most people also have certain times in each day that they’re less mentally alert. For me, it’s usually the hour or so after I eat lunch. Maybe for you, it’s the beginning of the day when you’re still waking up, or late afternoon when you’re just itching to be done. Pay attention to your work habits and, once you’ve identified your weak period, leave some of those lower-energy work items to focus on at that time.

5. Take a break to let yourself think.

If I’m overwhelmed by a project, facing it directly doesn’t necessarily work. To think more clearly about it and how to best approach it, I need to walk away for a little while. Whether that’s a literal walk, a long bath, or spending a little time cooking or cleaning, I’ll often find that by spending my time doing something that leaves room to think, I’ll come back to work with a better plan for accomplishing what I need to.

The Case for Telecommuting

Generally speaking, the business world is moving toward offering workers greater flexibility and embracing remote work. There are a number of reasons why.

The ban on allowing Yahoo employees to work from home has garnered a lot of attention, most of it negative. For many individuals who have had the experience of working from home, and for many businesses that have made more flexible options available to workers, the move looks like a big step back. When a large-scale tech company in an industry that values being on the cutting edge moves in the opposite direction of progress, people will definitely have loud opinions on the subject.

Marissa Mayer isn’t the only person who associates working from home with lower productivity, but for many it’s a snap judgement based on bias rather than evidence.

Telecommuting has a wide variety of benefits that make it a good tool for attracting talent, keeping workers happy, and, often, getting better work out of people. Here’s why:

1. It shows you trust the people working for you.

When you send the signal in a workplace environment that you don’t feel the people working for you can be trusted to do their jobs without supervision and micromanagement, you’re insulting them. In many cases, people will behave the way they’re expected to. If a business doesn’t show respect and trust to its workers, there’s a good chance they’ll care less about the work they do.

2. It’s good for the environment.

This pretty well speaks for itself. The less people driving long distances or sitting in traffic every day, the better for all of us.

3. Time saved increases productivity.

Someone who saves, say, half an hour each day or more by skipping the commute is able to choose a more productive way to spend that time. Whether that means getting started on work earlier, or doing some exercise (which will help improve energy levels), the result is likely to be an improvement for both the business and the individual.

4. It’s just as easy to procrastinate in an office as it is at home.

The distractions may differ, but they’re still there. Whether it’s chatting with co-workers, attending to the needs of family, or browsing the web, there will always be something to distract from a full 8-hour day of work. The fact is, where you’re located has little to do with how likely you are to procrastinate.

5. Spending more hours “working” in an office isn’t necessarily more productive.

There’s clear evidence that longer workweeks don’t mean more work gets done – they just leave people more tired. If part of the concern about allowing people to work from home is that they’ll spend less time doing work, who cares? If an individual’s productivity drops, talk to that individual to figure out the cause. It’s lazy to blame it on a system that works well for many.

6. You can choose the best talent.

If you’re open to hiring people regardless of where they live, you can pick the best of the best. If you’re only open to working with people within driving distance of your offices, or willing to move for the position, you lose out on a lot of good potential candidates.

7. It’s easier to take less sick and vacation days.

It’s a lot easier to get a little work in when you’re not feeling well, in between naps and bowls of soup, if you’re able to sit a computer on your lap in bed. It’s also easier to make trips to spend needed time with out-of-town friends and family without leaving all of your work behind. The lines between work time and personal time blur a bit when you have more choice in which is which. For some, that wouldn’t be seen as a benefit, but it makes it easier to work during the times you know you’re most productive, and take off the times you’re not, which equals greater efficiency overall.

8. The technology’s available to make communication as easy as it needs to be.

Skype is free. Google + Hangouts are free. It’s easy to check email and take phone calls anywhere you need to. A lack of communication is no longer the excuse it once was, there are businesses that are 100% virtual with no problem.

9. When you treat people like responsible adults, they tend to act like it.

If you give people reasons to care about their job, they’ll be inclined to do it well. Somebody who works best from home and appreciates the added benefits it affords has a good incentive to do good work in order to keep up the lifestyle they enjoy. Someone who’s unhappy in their job, or stressed out by a lack of work-life balance, isn’t likely to put in the same level of effort.

Working from home isn’t for everybody, but allowing it as an option for those it does work well for can benefit all involved.

6 Awesome Free Tools for Freelancers and Small Businesses

The old aphorism that “you get what you pay for” may serve well in some situations, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how many incredibly useful free tools I’ve encountered that have become invaluable to me in working as a freelancer.

Many of these will be very familiar to most freelancers and small businesses, but others are a little less known and might help you accomplish some of your business needs more easily and affordably.

1. Skype

Skype is probably one of the most commonly used and valuable resources available to web-based contractors and small businesses. The free account offers:
1) A real time chat function that allows for easy drag and drop file transfers between users
2) Both one on one and multi-person online phone calls
3) One on one video calls
4) Easy screen sharing between users

You may have to buy a microphone or webcamera to use the phone and video call features, if your computer doesn’t come already equipped with them (Macs usually do). For a relatively minimal costs, you can also choose to establish a skype phone number, enable calls to phone numbers (domestic and international) and upgrade to group video calls.

For small businesses with remote employees, skype is an extremely effective tool for helping bridge some of the difficulties that come with not being in a shared office environment. It makes communication between workers, customers, consultants and anyone else a company needs to be in touch with simple, without increasing costs.

For a freelancer, it allows you to work from anywhere with internet without losing the ability to be in touch with clients and partners.

2. WordPress

I’ve already written a bit about how valuable blogging can be to a small business, and the same applies to any freelancer. WordPress is one of the most user friendly platforms for beginning a blog. Starting an account is simple and getting a blog into place requires no prior knowledge of html or web design. There are a wide variety of templates and different applications available to help make your blog look how you’d like it to and include the features you’re interested in. WordPress also has a powerful statistics module that helps track the number of visits made to your blog and where they come from in an intuitive fashion

3. Freshbooks

Accounting is one of the more intimidating and painful aspects of running a business. Freshbooks is a free software that allows for the creation of customized invoices and easier tracking of business payments and expenses. It also offers a useful feature for tracking your hours by project and task.

4. LazyMeter

Lazymeter is a simple tool for creating and tracking your to do list. You can add items to be completed right away or on future dates and check them off as they’re done. It’s a good way of tracking your progress and productivity and keeping items from falling off your radar during busier times.

5. Google Analytics

Every business with a website should have a Google Analytics account. As with everything else on this list, it’s free and fairly simple to use. You can keep up with the number of visits to your website, what search terms and engines people are using to get to it, and what other sites and social media sources are referring hits to you. The data collected can then be used to improve your website copy and SEO strategy to help ensure you’re attracting the right audience for your products and services.

6. Wave Accounting

There’s a bit of overlap in the features offered by Wave Accounting and Freshbooks, Wave also allows you to create invoices and track business expenses and payments made. In my experience, they’re a bit more feature rich and useful for the latter tasks. You can easily track payments received from sources other than the invoices issued through Wave Accounting (not an option I’ve seen in Freshbooks) and the dashboard provides a handy visual representation of your account’s financial snapshot. Sure, you could use Excel to keep track of your income and expenses, but keeping up with spreadsheets can be a pain and Wave Accounting is much more visually intuitive. It also allows for integration with Freshbooks, so you can set it up to keep track of the invoices you create and send through Freshbooks without extra effort.

Content Overload: Making the Excess of Available Knowledge Work for You

We live in an age of content overload. There’s so much to do. Keeping up with ever changing industries and technological tools is a continual challenge; not to mention all the resources for entertainment and learning outside of your professional field.

Currently, I have:

  • Close to 50 blogs bookmarked
  • Hundreds of movies in my Netflix queue
  • A long list of books in my Amazon wish list (as well as those on my bookshelf I haven’t gotten to yet)
  • A sizeable list of tv shows I hope to view in their entirety in the near future
  • Hundreds of podcasts downloaded I haven’t yet listened to
    …and, of course,
  • A to do list of a variety professional intentions that’s always growing even as I work my way through it
  • I bet you could create a similar list to this.I’m fully cognizant of the privileged position I’m in historically to be able to complain of having just too much quality content at my fingertips. Even so, it does feel like a problem at times. There are so many distractions and technology is developing creative new ways to distract us further all the time.

 

On the other hand, technology is also creating tools to help us organize and prioritize our various lists and tasks. I wrote recently about my feelings on movie queues and wish lists, but there are also tools readily available for managing a to do list; RSS feeds to help us scan blog headlines and thus prioritize which to read fully; and, personalized ratings systems to help us weed out entertainment that’s likely not worth our time.

There’s also the wisdom of just accepting that we’re simply not going to get to all of it. That nagging to do list is going to continue to keep me from many of those movies, books and tv shows and that’s ok. I don’t seek out great stories so I can check them off a list when I complete them, I do it so I can enjoy them in the moment. My life really won’t be the poorer if I forgo that blog post about a stranger’s trip to Argentina in order to read one that teaches me something new about link building.

We’re all lucky because we get to be choosy. The content overload that occasionally feels like a curse, always reminding us of what we haven’t done yet, is really one of the great privileges of our age. Enjoy it.