Thursday, January 28, 2016

Great Content Builds Biz in "Grind It Out" Years

Let’s face it. 2016 hasn’t gotten off to a great start and it’s not likely to be a banner year. Between the global economy, the Fed, the markets, the overvalued dollar, the weather and North Korea acting up again, many are asking for a “re-do.” And it’s only January.

OK. It’s going to be one of those “grind it out” years. One thing that’s cheering us up is the number of you who are using thought leadership content to build your businesses and practices. We’re not talking about selfies, tweets and Vines. We’re talking about relevant, substantive and concise blog posts, mini-articles, videos and eBooks that showcase your expertise, but don’t put your audience to sleep or have them scrambling for the delete key.

How long is enough?

As you might imagine, we get lots of questions about how often to post and how long each post should be. There is no magic number or one-size-fits all solution for business and financial professionals. But the frequency of posting and average length of post may surprise you.

According to research from Orbit Media and Marketing Profs:

·         Three out of five business marketers (59%) consider blogs to be their most valuable channel.
·         Most business bloggers (85%) post at regular intervals—typically 1 to 6 times per week.
·         500 to 1,000 words is the most common length of post (57% agree).

We bet that’s more than you thought. Again, we’re talking about serious business professionals, not celebrity watchers, mass market retailers and cat video enthusiasts.

If you’re new to blogging, start with a once-per week “cadence.” Try to post on the same day each week and keep it to 500 words per post. Don’t worry about which platform or blogging tool to use. Start with the “Publish” tool in LinkedIn and just make sure you have something relevant to say. Always include a photo with your posts--it makes a big difference as an experiment with our longtime client Naylor LLC confirmed.

In these uncertain times, there are still plenty of opportunities, but it won’t be automatic. You’re going to have to earn the business (and keep earning it after you get it). Well-crafted thought leadership content—i.e. informative without being salesy--is one of the best ways to stay top of mind with clients and prospects without being pushy.


Even Bill Gates, a chief architect of the technology revolution, is a big advocate of reading and the written word. “[Reading] is one of the chief ways that I learn, and has been since I was a kid,” he mentioned in a recent NY Times interview.  “I visit interesting places, meet with scientists and watch a lot of lectures online. But reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.” Gates is also a prolific blogger. And what does he blog about in Gates Notes?

The books he’s reading.

Our blog and website has more about this and related topics.

TAGS: Bill Gates, blogging frequency and length of post, thought leadership content

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try Again (200 More Times)

We were going over our web analytics the other day and were surprised to discover that our recent post Your First Draft Sucks—So What was one of the most popular.

If ever there was a time to be making mistakes, procrastinating and not having your thoughts together it would be now. The Holidays are over. Work’s piling up. The weather is pretty crappy in most parts of North America. There’s not much to look forward to except tax season, paying off credit cards and fielding calls from nervous clients as the financial markets drop days after day without a plausible reason.

No one really likes to do tasks over and over again. But that’s how all the great athletes, artists, musicians, actors, and business minds do it. SO why can’t you? We rarely nail it on the first, second or even third try. But each time we rewrite, we’d like to think it’s better—at least less bad. Full Disclosure: This certainly wasn’t the first draft of today’s post.

Pros get it done on low-motivation days

You’re a professional. Your clients trust you to lead the way and be there for them 24/7/365 with words of wisdom, or at least a sympathetic ear. As we mentioned in
last week’s post, basketball great Julius Erving once said, “Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don't feel like doing them.”

In this
short video clip Nobel laureate in Economics, Eugene Fama, tells Dimensional Fund Advisors co-CEO, David Booth that it often takes him several hundred drafts to get a paper or presentation right, even when working with his longtime collaborator, Kenneth French.

Fama tells his students, “Don’t give something to me until it’s as good as you think it can be. And then I will try to improve it.” In order to know how people think about things you can’t just read it, argues Fama. Otherwise everyone could do that. “You really have to listen to them. There has to back and forth feedback.”


Clients often ask us what the secret is to writing clear powerful copy under tight deadlines, or how we take mountains of data, notes and audio files and turn it into a short article or post that gets noticed. There is no secret. We just do it over and over and over again, perhaps a little faster and with more purpose than the average person. And when it’s not going well—everyone has days like that—we may know a little earlier in the process when to trash a draft, chuck a headline and start over without torturing ourselves for failing to produce a final draft or X-hundred words before lunchtime.

Celebrate what you accomplished at the end of the day—don’t dwell on what didn’t get done.

Our blog and website has more about this and related topics.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Is Free Time Overrated?

Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don't feel like doing them.

The Holidays are over. You’re swamped at work. Bills are piling up and it’s still getting dark by 5pm in most parts of North America. “If only I had a few more hours in the day,” you think to yourself, “I could catch up on everything that didn’t get done last month.”

Nice thought. But, unless you have a magic genie bottle or a highly sophisticated app that lets you manufacture time out of thin air, you’re out of luck and probably “pissing into the wind” as my college track coach used to say.

We’re not workaholics here, but we try to keep our clients out ahead of DOS (dangers, opportunities and threats). Hopefully you got an
early start on your New Year’s resolutions as we recommended last Thanksgiving. Even so, you’re probably feeling a lot like three steps backward for every one step forward. That’s to be expected. Now is the time to dig in not to procrastinate. As Hall of Fame basketball legend, Julius Erving once said,
“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don't feel like doing them.”

In a recent study and related article in the NY Times, Stanford University sociology professor, Christobal Young argues that that time is a “network good.” In other words, its value depends on the number of others who have the same schedule of time available. “It’s not just that we have a shortage of free time; it’s also that our free time, in order to be satisfying, often must align with that of our friends and loved ones.”

The week after I graduated from college, I headed West for some of the best skiing of my life—late May, deep powder, bright sun in Snowbird and Alta, Utah. I literally had the mountains—and Cottonwood Canyon--to myself.  No lift lines. Dirt cheap prices and great conditions. A skier’s paradise, right? Not exactly. Like I said, I literally had the place to myself, and since this was in the days before smartphones and selfies, I had nobody to share the experience with. Most of my friends spent a cold rainy drunken week at the Jersey shore—eight to a room—in a rundown motel, and probably had more fun.

As Young observed, “We face a problem, of coordination. Work-life balance is not something that you can solve on your own.” Same goes for telecommuting, flex-time, job-sharing, etc. We’re freer than ever to work where we want to work, how we want to work and when we want to work. But we’re also expected to be “on call” 24/7/365. There’s no question that workplace flexibility has many benefits. But Young research “suggests that a disadvantage of these efforts is that they may lead us even further from a weekend-like system of coordinated social time. They threaten, ultimately, to exacerbate the decline in civic engagement and social contact known as the ‘bowling alone’ problem.

Or skiing alone.


Work smarter, not harder. But make sure everyone else in your life is on the right page.

Our blog has more as well as the FREE Resources page of our website.

Tags: work life balance, free time over-rated, Julius Erving, Christobal Young


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Use Images to Sell Your content, but Be Smart About Visual Choices

Is a picture really worth 1,000 words? That’s debatable, but there’s no doubt that adding visuals to your blog posts, newsletters, case studies, research reports--and even your tweets--will substantially improve engagement. If you can include images of people, that will push the engagement needle even further than simply images of things and places. So forget about writing and just publish photos and video content right?

Not so fast.

Since 2010, we’ve been co-publishing a newsletter, website, magazine and annual research report for trade association execs with our client, Naylor, LLC. It’s all under the Association Adviser brand. Last month, in the Association Adviser eNewsletter, we decided to see for ourselves if images really made a different. As Naylor’s Brianna Lawson explained in The Power of Visual Content in Association Communications, we published two versions of the monthly newsletter--each version had identical content, but one version included images and the other did not. We ran an A/B test in which each email was first sent to a small number of subscribers. Then, our mailing system measured which version earned more engagement in terms of opens and clicks.
The result? The email with images garnered 33 percent more clicks to articles on our website.

The newsletter with images was also more likely to be forwarded and more likely to be shared via social media. Naylor repeated the exercise with some of its own clients and found similar results.

According to HubSpot, twice as many people prefer emails with images than prefer text only emails (65% vs. 35%). Tweets with images receive 18 percent more clicks, 89 percent more favorites, and 150 percent more retweets than text-only tweets. And according to Social Bakers, which looks at the top 10 percent of posts made by more than 30,000 brand pages. Facebook posts with photos saw the most engagement – accounting for 87 percent of total interactions.


People like to look at people and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, according to Market Domination Media. But don’t go overboard. As we’ll discuss in next week’s post, new research from Carnegie Mellon University, the brain makes mistakes because it applies incorrect inner beliefs, or internal models, about how the world works. So, take the time to find the right images to complement all the hard work you put into your writing and presentations. Just as a stunning photo, can keep people interested in a poorly written article or post, a dull or poor choice of images will kill potential interest in a brilliantly crafted post.

Have a happy Holiday and think before you post.

Best, HB

Our blog has more as well as the FREE Resources page of our website.

Tags: adding images to email, Hubspot, Carnegie Mellon University, Social Bakers, Market Domination Media


Monday, December 14, 2015

Can’t Focus These Days? Put Your Device Down and Go Read a Book

Since our last post Start Your New Year’s Resolutions Right Now! generated a fair amount of feedback, we thought we’d follow up with more about the benefits of getting an early start on your New Year’s resolutions. If you accomplish nothing else in 2016, try taking a break from your mobile devices from time to time and test-drive your planned resolutions for a few weeks, before fully committing to them.

If you suspect that you might be having more trouble than ever pulling yourself away from your pocket-sized digital alter ego, you’re not alone.
“The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention,” according to Nicholas Carr author of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” According to Carr, “We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.” What’s more, a recent  Adobe survey, found the average white-collar worker spends about six hours a day (30+ hours a week) on email. In fact, more than half of millennials check email from the bathroom!

In our tireless efforts to stay up to speed with all of the digital communities to which we belong, we’re actually doing nothing really well. About two weeks ago, Tony Schwartz had a great piece in the New York Times
Addicted to Distraction and we suggest you give it a skim. According to Schwartz, our endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. “When we reach cognitive overload, our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts to spill out.”

C’mon. You don’t think that’s a problem!

Borrow a page from Carr and take on more fully absorbing activities as part of your day. You could even read a book. Carr said he not only reads books because he loves them, but they’re also a “continuing attention-building practice.”

Since he started his digital fasting, he’s retained his longtime ritual of deciding the night before on the most important thing he can accomplish the next morning--that’s his first work activity most days, for 60 to 90 minutes without interruption. Afterward, he takes a 10- to 15-minute break to quiet his mind and renew his energy.
If he has other work during the day that requires sustained focus, he goes completely offline for designated periods, repeating his morning ritual. In the evening, when he goes up to his bedroom, he nearly always leaves the digital devices downstairs.


New Year’s resolutions and other forms of behavior modification are not easy to stick to, but testing them out before you commit is a great way to set reasonable, attainable goals for yourself and your team. Have fun and enjoy the Holidays this year, but don’t wait until after January 1st to hit the ground running.

Our blog has more as well as the FREE Resources page of our website.

Tags: Tony Schwartz, Nicholas Carr, The Internet Is Destroying Our Brains, Lack of Focus

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Start Your New Year’s Resolutions Right Now!

Use this month to work out the bugs in your big audacious goals for 2016—it’s not just about willpower, it’s about the stamina needed to stick with it throughout the year and beyond.

It’s getting colder and darker in many parts of the country. Your inbox is constantly bombarded with last minute Holiday offers. The parties are starting. The late-season football games are on almost every night—and inevitably they’re going into overtime and keeping you up past your bedtime. Fruitcakes, cookies and chocolates are piling up in the office kitchen faster than the incomplete budget forecasts and year-end statements on your desk. Your nieces, nephews and grandchildren are texting you constant revisions to their Holiday gift lists.

And then those annoyingly happy family Holiday cards start rolling in. Perfect lighting. Perfect smiles. Perfect teeth. Now you’re spouse wants to book last-minute flights to New Zealand just so you can re-take your own “perfect family” photo at a deserted white sand beach at sunset. Can’t let anyone “out-cute” and out-smile your kids.

Ah, the Holidays! Just get me through the next month, you say to yourself, and you’ll start hitting the gym again, lose 10 pounds, get your desk and hard-drive cleaned up and back on track for 2016.


You have to start NOW on those New Year’s resolutions—Yes, during the very first days of December--and find a way to stick to them. Not only that, WRITE THEM DOWN and display them publicly….at least in your home, if not your place of work….to ensure extra accountability.

Not to be a Debbie Downer in December, but now’s the best time to test out your resolutions and work the bugs out so you can hit the ground running in January. You need to be brutally honest with yourself about your willpower, your stamina and how reasonable your goals are. The key is to own your resolutions; don’t let them own you.

Realistic goals

If you’re a couch potato, which resolution are you more likely to stick to—running a marathon in six months or walking/jogging for 20 minutes three times per week? If your goal is to be a published author in 2016, which plan are you more likely to stick to—having the first 6 chapters of your new book done by July 4, or starting a weekly blog that goes out each and every Thursday, even when you’re traveling? If can’t put off building a social media presence any longer, which resolution are you more likely to stick to—gaining 10,000 new followers in 2016, or making 1-2 really meaningful new contacts each and every month?

Trust us, the phased-in, consistent approach to behavior modification (aka personal resolutions) works. You’ll feel better about yourself and probably look better, too the next time we see you. And there’s nothing worse than seeing a new company blog with four to six posts in January, two in February, one in March and then not another one until June. Oops!

Why resolutions don’t stick

Harvard Business School professor, Amy Cuddy told Huffington Post that resolutions don’t stick because we’re setting ourselves up for failure. “We tend to set unreasonable aims for ourselves and then experience negative emotions and a lack of motivation when we don’t reach them,” she observed. “Failing to meet the unreasonable goals we set for ourselves can in turn take a negative toll on our self-worth.” 

We also have way too many options for what Ken Tencer, CEO of Spyder Works, Inc. calls self-innovation. “I don’t know many people who are completely content with themselves,” said Tencer. “Most of us have one or two things we’d like to improve, enlarge, reduce or re-invent. Either directly or through online course providers, we can now take thousands of university courses from esteemed institutions. Or we can find websites that teach us how to change the oil in our car, enhance our yoga skills or learn a new language. Being innovative with our own lives is an excellent complement to being innovative in our businesses.

Sound familiar?

According to researcher Richard Wiseman, half of all Americans set themselves a New Year’s resolution, but most who do (88%) fail. He agrees with Cuddy that we set goals that are too high or too audacious and that we also tend to be impatient, sprinting out of the gate in search of immediate “returns” rather than taking “baby steps” that will take some time before they move the needle.

Beating the odds

Trying to get your clients to modify their financial behavior in the new year can be quite challenging, too. But it can be highly rewarding if true changes result, said Dr. Glenn Freed of Los Angeles based Vericimetry Advisors LLC, who we’ve been working with for several years. “And you’ll further cement your status as a client’s most trusted advisor,” said Freed.
“Framing a legal, charitable or financial planning discussion around New Year’s resolutions can be quite effective for communicating with clients,” added Freed. “You can have discussions in person or through a client newsletter. The key is to use these resolutions as a way to check in with clients throughout the year.


Advisors help their clients follow up on resolutions not only in December, but throughout the year. Framing the financial planning discussion in this way at the start of the year and then following up consistently can be an effective way to help clients stay on the path to financial resolution success. Make 2016 a great year no matter what the markets, the economy and geopolitical factors throw at us.

But you’ve got to start NOW—not after the Holidays.

Our blog has more as well as the FREE Resources page of our website.

Tags: New Year’s Resolutions early, Dr. Glenn Freed, Vericimetry Advisors LLC, financial planning resolutions, Amy Cuddy, Richard Wiseman, Ken Tencer

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Does Technology Make Us Happier, Smarter, More Productive?

Most of us can’t seem to go a day without our precious digital devices by our side. But is modern technology really making us happier and more efficient? Results of a recent Harris Poll, suggest that many adults are divided on the pros and cons of modern technology. Try raising this question over Thanksgiving dinner with your relatives and you’ll see what we mean.

On the plus side, seven out of ten adults (71%) believe technology has improved the overall quality of their lives and more than two-thirds (68%) say it encourages people to be more creative. On the flip side, nearly three fourths of respondents (73%) believe technology is creating a lazy society, while almost that many (69%) say it’s too distracting. What’s more, nearly three in five respondents (59%) say technology is having a negative impact on literacy. How do these results stack up to your straw poll of family members?

Sure, two-thirds of Americans (63%) told pollsters that technology helps them learn new skills, but the majority of respondents said technology has a negative effect on:

  • Their relationships with friends (54%)
  • Their ability to live life the way they want (55%)
  • Their happiness (57%)
  • Their social life (58%)

Think about those stats before you bend over backwards trying to look cool and master every shiny new tech toy that comes down the pike.

Generational differences

As expected, Millennials are more likely than older generations to say technology has had a positive effect on key areas of their lives and researchers found that men of all ages are somewhat more likely than women to be technology zealots. So if your clients are primarily young adult males (i.e. tech entrepreneurs) then definitely hit the social, mobile, IoT pedal hard. But one size won’t fit all when it comes to your thought leadership marketing and client engagement. You’ll need to customize for each cohort.

Generational Effects of Technology
Gen Xers
Baby Boomers
Ability to learn new skills
Relationships with friends
Ability to live life the way they want
Social life
Relationships with family
Source: Harris Poll report, November 2015

As the chart above shows, we were especially struck by the generational differences about technology’s perceived impact on relationships with friends, social life and family. Why do you care? Well where do you think most of your “word of mouth” referrals come from?

While Millennials may be the most likely group to say technology positively affects their relationships, and the ones most likely to say it enhances their social life, their family and friends feel differently. Also, Millennials are more likely than any other generation to say their friends/family think they use technology too much.

Gender differences regarding technology

Men and women of all ages tend to differ when it comes to technology’s effect on their lives:

  • Women are more likely than men to say technology has become too distracting (76% vs. 70% of men) and that it gets upgraded/updated too quickly (67% vs. 57%).
  • They’re also more likely to believe it has a negative effect on their productivity at home (30% vs. 17%) and safety and security (18% vs. 13%).
  • That said, women are more likely than men to say technology can be used as an escape from their busy lives (50% vs. 43%).
A majority of men are more likely than women to believe technology has a positive impact on several functional aspects of their lives:
  • This includes their ability to learn new skills (67% vs. 60% of women)
  • To live life the way they want (50% vs. 40%)
  • Their work productivity (43% vs. 29%)
If you don’t think gender differences matter, then consider how you approach couples who come in to see you during discovery meetings and regular client updates. Are you really connecting with both spouses? But regardless of gender, technological devices have surpassed even TV as staples of daily life they CANNOT live without:
  • Without Internet access (67%)
  • A computer/laptop (60%)
  • Mobile phone (59%)
  • Television (55%)

That’s right. American can now go longer without television than they can go without their mobile phones, computers and Internet access. So when you sit down with friends and family this Thanksgiving, put down your devices, have a real-life conversation or two with the important people in your lives and give thanks for all of our modern conveniences. You don’t need to use them 24/7 in order to appreciate them.

Our blog has more about this and related topics.


Technology distraction, addicted to tech, Thanksgiving