How to Build Self-Confidence After a Bad Month: 8 Helpful Tips

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When you’ve had a really bad day, the last thing you want to do is spend the night figuring out how to rebuild for the next.

Now, imagine if it were an entire month. Your energy is sapped. You might even feel defeated. And the last thing you feel is confident. Getting up and trying again seems like an ordeal — one that requires a lot more effort than you feel like making. But you have to.

When we’ve experienced a prolonged period of negative events, one of the biggest challenges is regaining your personal morale to go back and give it another shot. That’s true of dating, and it’s true of negative fallbacks at work. We’re here to discuss the latter — and we’ve got some ideas for how you can get your professional groove back.

Download our complete productivity guide here for more tips on improving your productivity at work.

So if you’ve had a tough month and you’re not feeling so positive, chin up — we’ve got a whole collection of tips to get you back on your feet.

8 Tips for Rebuilding Self-Confidence After a Bad Month

1) Talk to your manager.

We are a society that’s afraid of looking weak, and it has a bad impact on our behavior. It makes 29% of us reluctant to ask for help at home, and 40% of us afraid to be nice at work — because we fear that people will take advantage of us.

It makes sense, then, that many of us are afraid to ask for help at work for fear of looking foolish or ill-informed. Not only can that lead to making mistakes in the first place, but it can also leave you without the necessary information to avoid them in the future.

Let your boss know that you recognize where things have fallen short, and ask for specific feedback. Chances are, your manager will appreciate your proactive attitude about mistakes.

2) Ask what “bad” means to you, compared to reality.

“I’m my own worst critic.” It’s something that many of us say, since we expect perfection from ourselves, which starts at an alarmingly young age. In one study of children in Singapore, researchers found that 60% scored remarkably high on “self-criticalness,” with 78% scoring high in “socially prescribed perfectionism.” And more than half — 59% — were reported to have both.

Yikes. With such a perfectionism epidemic, we wouldn’t be surprised if you’re perceiving your “bad” month to be worse than it actually was.

That’s another place where talking to someone else about it — like your manager — can help to put things into perspective. Personally, I have a tendency to assume the absolute worst about everything, especially when it comes to mistakes at work.

But as soon as I bring it up with a colleague or my boss, one of three things usually happen:

  1. It turns out to be a first-time mistake that everyone makes.
  2. It’s easy to fix.
  3. It’s really not that big of a deal.

When we’re so focused on being perfect, we tend to view mistakes as — at worse — fireable offenses. If that’s the assumption you make with every typo, missed deadline, or other mistake, your confidence is going to take a huge hit.

Instead, when a “crisis” occurs, try your best to step back and put it into perspective. How bad is it, really? Are you completely powerless to it, or is there something you can do to address it now? Once you’ve fully evaluated the problem — which should only require about five minutes of deep breath and de-escalation from your panic — gaining the confidence to tackle the issue might be easier than it first looked.

3) Don’t turn failure into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As we covered above, many of us allow our perfectionism to manifest as an overreaction to mistakes. If that’s how we constantly behave in the face of performance that doesn’t meet our own standards, could we start habitually expecting failure from ourselves?

Yes. That’s because 70% of us suffer from something called Imposter Syndrome — the sense that, no matter how much we’ve achieved, we don’t belong in a leadership position or deserve the success of having gotten there. And according to recent research, going through life feeling like an imposter can cause us to bring less confidence (and therefore, less quality) to our work, turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s easy to discount our success as undeserving, and to easily dismiss our hard work. But if we keep sending those messages to ourselves, we’ll start to accept them as truth and it’ll reflect in our work.

However, the opposite is also true — which psychologist Amy Cuddy touched on in her wildly popular TEDGlobal talk. Since then, she’s continued her research on the power of “faking it until you become it.” That’s when we send ourselves the opposite message of failure, instead reaffirming our power, success, and worth. That approach to work can achieve a reverse self-fulfilling process, in which we learn to believe in our success, instead of feeling like we’re imposters.

Check out this helpful visual guide that explains how body language can help beat Imposter Syndrome. Even by assuming a certain stance, we can instill confidence in ourselves.

4) Evaluate how engaged you are at work.

There’s a problem in the U.S. workplace. Many people don’t really want to be there, as evidenced by the fact that only 34.2% of people are actually engaged at work. In short, that means we just don’t care. And when we don’t care, our work suffers — how can we bring quality to something for which we have so little passion?

If you feel that disengaged at work, you have a few options. First, you can speak with your manager — again. Chances are, he or she has noticed your work is suffering, and if you’re able to honestly explain why, that might lead to a productive conversation about the direction of your career. From there, it all depends on how that discussion ends. If your manager isn’t receptive, then it might be time to consider a career change.

5) Formulate a plan for how you’ll avoid another bad month.

Sometimes, there are months in which you really did screw up. It’s okay — we’ve all been there, which we’ll get to later.

The important thing is that you recognize what went wrong, and that you know how you’re going to prevent it from happening again. When I worked in event planning, we did that for every engagement. We kicked off every project by outlining every possible problem that could arise, but unexpected issues still came up. When they did, we documented all of them and, after the event, formulated a plan to avoid them in the future.

That strategy isn’t limited to events, and most workplace mistakes can be treated the same way. As soon as they’ve been resolved, record them and consider sharing them with your team — that’s the best way to ensure that they don’t happen again.

6) Know that failure is not uncommon.

‘Tis a lesson you should heed:

Try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try again.”

William Edward Hickson

Not too long ago, two researchers in Texas performed a study on the failure rate of new businesses. Between 1990 and 2011, they found that 92% of the 2.4 million retail businesses that opened during that period also closed during the same span of time. Among the businesses that closed, 25% did so after one year, and 50% closed after two. Roughly 75% of them were owned by first-time entrepreneurs, and 71% percent of the failed business owners didn’t bother trying again.

That last figure is a shame, since the same study also found that the 29% of business owners who decided to try again were more likely to be successful on subsequent tries.

Two things about this study stand out to us:

  1. The commonality and high rate of failure.
  2. The success rate of people who try again.

To the first point, don’t feel isolated in your failure. And as long as you’re acknowledging that making mistakes — and maybe even failing — happen to almost everyone, don’t give up, either. As the numbers show, you likely have more to lose by not trying again.

7) Evaluate what you can control.

When things are going so well, it’s easy for us to stop taking care of ourselves. That could be why 39% of adults indulge in unhealthy food when they’re stressed.

While an occasional treat is fine, treating chronic stress with poor nutrition or a lack of exercise will only make matters worse. And here’s the thing — those are parts of your life that you can control. It’s easy to feel like stressful work situations spiral beyond a solution that you can reach on your own. But self-care? You’ve got this.

Much of the time, constant business travel is blamed for an unhealthy lifestyle, but we’ve got some tips to keep that in check, too — many of which can also be applied to a busy life at home. Plus, what you eat plays a vital role in your productivity. Check out my colleague Lindsay Kolowich’s guidelines for eating to get more done.

8) Take a break.

Here’s a thought. Could you be making more mistakes than usual because you’re burned out?

In Germany, for example, 24% of employees report feeling burned out. When we’re feeling such a high level of stress from overworking, it achieves the opposite of getting more done — it actually starts to negatively impact our cognitive function. We start to get forgetful, make mindless errors, and might even have stronger emotional responses to negative situations.

In other words, you need a break. Guilt can get in the way of that — after all, 55% of us feel bad about leaving our desks just for a breather, and 47% of us are ashamed of taking time off. But the longer we let that trend continue, the closer we get to complete burnout, and the more likely our work is to suffer as a result.

Seriously — take a break. And maybe even put that vacation time to use. When you come back, you’ll have a renewed perspective that can help you tackle your goals.

Starting to Rebuild

Feel better?

We certainly hope so. As you begin to regain your confidence after a bad month — or making the effort to do so — take your time. Evaluate your priorities, and see which of these tips best fits in with them. Don’t try to tackle them all at once, or else you might end up feeling overwhelmed, which would defeat the purpose.

Here’s to the new year ahead. Best of luck — we know you’ve got this.

What do you do to rebuild confidence after a bad month? Let us know in the comments.

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Forget Networking: Become a Connector

ThinkstockPhotos-532049662-483225-edited.jpgNo matter how far you advance your career, networking is likely never going to be something you enjoy. And for the introverted among us, it can feel like we’re being forced back into those endless icebreaker exercises we had to do at corporate retreats while we were coming up. So, let’s stop.

Wait, what?

You read that correctly. Let’s stop networking. Instead, let’s start connecting and helping. 

When you start looking at networking as a way to help people, it gets a lot easier. Remember what Jim Rohn once said: “If you help enough people get what they want, inevitably you get what you want.” Here’s how you do it.

Be Approachable

Networking and industry meet-and-greets are inherently uncomfortable, even for the extroverted out there. Thankfully, as someone who has already worked her way up the ladder, you are now the connection people hope to gain. This means that, while you are getting your bearings, you can let people come to you. This is far easier than trying to force yourself to start conversations before you’re ready to do so.

The Buddy System

You’re never too old or too high up the food chain to eschew the buddy system. In this instance, what you’re going to do is pair up with someone extroverted. The extroverts among us are fantastic at taking the leap to make introductions and striking up conversations in uncomfortable environments. As someone more introverted, your strength is keeping the conversation going by asking questions and paying close attention to how the person responds. It’s a symbiotic relationship and can help your extroverted “buddy” as much as it helps you.

Step it Up a Notch

By now you know that networking is about more than the initial meeting. It is about following up on that meeting. The simplest way to do this is to follow each other on social media. The casual nature of social media allows you to keep up with each other without a ton of effort. The connection can grow at its own pace. Reply to their posts. Promote their posts. Inevitably you’ll see one of your connections need something. This is when you make your move. Suggest a solution, offer to help, offer to connect that person with someone you know who can help them, etc.

Build Credibility

This works so well because you’ve already built up trust with your connection. You feel like you know each other already, so helping them solve a problem won’t feel strange or awkward. And it increases the likelihood that your offer will be seen and, more importantly, taken seriously.

Now what you must do is follow through on your offers. The hard part is not promising more than you know you can deliver. One of the best parts of making progress in your career is having the means to lend a hand to those who are still working their way up. Mentoring and helping others advance can become almost an addiction. Therefore, you need to be objective. Apply your business know-how to your urge to help and remember: it is better to promise small and deliver big than to promise big and deliver small.

Grow, Baby, Grow

The nice thing about this approach is that it takes the awkwardness of networking and turns it into an introvert-friendly and organic connection process. Best of all, your initial success will build upon itself naturally over time. It will be the best automated process you’ve ever developed.

People who actually enjoy networking are the unicorns of the business world. Most of the people you meet will be just like you: forcing themselves to do something incredibly awkward that they hate because they know it will help grow their companies. Your urge to avoid it is understandable. Still, try using the method we’ve outlined here. It’s awkwardness reduction properties will make networking much easier to endure.

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The Science Behind the Most Popular Infographics of 2016

Science of Infographics

What makes people want to share an infographic?

Is it a certain color scheme that catches the eye? Do certain formats work better than others? Or, in the end, is it all about the content? At Visme, we set out to answer these questions by performing a content analysis of the most shared infographics on social media.

Using BuzzSumo, we identified every infographic with more than 5,000 shares across some major social media platforms — Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ — and analyzed them for different characteristics. Those were things like word count, size, colors used, format, and topic. Save countless hours using these free, pre-made templates to design your infographics.

Here’s what we found after analyzing over 200 infographics — and takeaways on how you can apply these insights to your own infographics, making them more shareable.

10 Factors Behind the Most Popular Infographics of 2016

1) Most Popular Industries

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Infographics were once used to simplify complex topics with the sole purpose of educating the viewer. Now, they’re seen as a highly shareable content format, with the same viral potential as memes — after all, visual content is 40X more likely to get shared on social media.

That could explain why we found that most of the past year’s top-shared infographics were in categories like entertainment, sports, health, psychology, lifestyle, and food. And from the evolution of Justin Bieber’s music, to a visual of Kobe Bryant’s career highlights, the most shared infographics of 2016 also had celebrities as their central focus.

Many of the most popular infographics were also focused on topics personally relevant to readers’ lives, like health and lifestyle tips — which contrasts from content on politics, global causes, or news.

Takeaways for Marketers

Focus on creating infographics that directly appeal to readers’ personal needs and goals. Creating a buyer persona can help, as it helps you to understand what those goals are.

2) Most Popular Industries by Social Network

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Certain topics perform better on different social networks. As the site with the most users, for example, Facebook seems to be the place to post content related to entertainment, sports, health, psychology, and education. Meanwhile, infographics with career-related content do best on LinkedIn, where you’re also most likely to find infographics on finance and business topics.

On Pinterest, content related to health, psychology, food and lifestyle perform best. Roughly 31% of online adults use this social network — compared to 72% for Facebook — with the majority of users being women.

Twitter, conversely, appears to be the place to post content related to jobs, entertainment, sports, and education. With 23% of online adults using it, it’s comparatively lagging among other social networks.

Takeaways for Marketers

When you’re developing your buyer personas, figure out where they “live” online. Combined with their interests and goals, that will help you determine where they’re most likely to discover your visual content.

3) Most Popular Infographics by Type

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Not all infographics are created equal. From timelines, to maps, to charts, to the occasional article that’s converted into an infographic — No one of these visuals is identical to another.

And while some might argue that the last format — the article-as-an-infographic — isn’t really an infographic since it contains no numbers, we found it to be the most popular one. They don’t actually include any statistics, charts, or visualizations. Rather, they contain existing informational content enhanced by colors, icons, and other illustrations.

The second-most popular type in this sample was the how-to infographic, which guides readers through steps to achieve a certain outcome. Within this category are “cheat sheets” — the infographics that compile all the information readers need to complete a particular task, within a single graphic. Think: keyboard shortcuts for Mac, or baking and cooking substitutions.

For the sake of comparison, here are some additional formats that were included in our sample:

  • Mixed charts: Uses a variety of charts and graphs
  • Single charts: Displays one chart or graph
  • Visualized numbers: Uses icons, colors, and other graphical elements to visualize stats and figures
  • Anatomical: Visualizes the parts of a whole
  • Timeline: Visualizes a chronological sequence of events
  • Location: Visualizes a geographical location through a map
  • Comparison: Compares more than one thing or idea, side-by-side
  • Process: Uses a flowchart or decision tree

Takeaways for Marketers

For the most part — and to our surprise — infographics with the least amount of statistics and numbers performed best on social media. The one exception to that rule is a visual cheat sheet, which serves as a quick and handy guide. So when you include data in your infographics, choose wisely and keep it limited.

4) Most Popular Types of Infographics by Social Network

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To further analyze the performance of different infographic formats, we also examined how each type of infographic performed best on different social networks.

We found that informational and single charts, for example, performed best across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Single charts were particularly popular on Twitter, as the nature of the platform favors micro-content.

Cheat sheets and how-to infographics, meanwhile, worked best on Pinterest, which aligned with the topics we found to be most popular on that particular network — the greatest number of visuals were related to food, cooking, lifestyle, and hobbies.

Takeaways for Marketers

When you create your visual content strategy, plan for a diverse portfolio of infographic formats. That way, you’ll have a broad selection of content that you can share across different social networks, depending on where it’s shown to perform best.

5) Median Word Count per Number of Shares

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A main purpose of infographics is to present complex information in a visual, easy-to-digest way. As expected, the most popular infographics also had some of the shortest word counts.

In order to account for one outlier in the sample — an infographic with a whopping 10,500 words — we calculated the median word count for each of five quintiles within the distribution of this sample, according to shares. Those were ranked from lowest to highest.

From there, we saw that the trend roughly followed this pattern: The more words an infographic contained, the less it was shared.

Takeaways for Marketers

Simply put, keep your infographics short and sweet. In general, they should contain no more than a page’s worth of written content, and even that’s a bit on the long side.

6) Median Word Count per Network

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We were also curious to find out if longer infographics performed better on certain social networks. After calculating the median word count of the top 50 most-shared infographics on each network, we found that the shortest infographics performed best on Facebook and Twitter. Conversely, the longest were shared most on Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Takeaways for Marketers

Here’s where your diverse portfolio of visual content again enters the picture. Aim for Facebook and Twitter with infographics that are mostly comprised of visuals and minimal text. With longer, more in-depth infographics, go for LinkedIn and Pinterest.

7) Colors Used in Popular Infographics

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Color palettes play a huge role in the way an infographic is perceived by viewers. Visuals with color increase a person’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%, but it has to be used correctly.

We found that blue is, by far, the most widely-used color among popular infographics, followed by red and green. Secondary and composite colors that appeared in the sample included brown, yellow, orange, purple, and pink.

But despite the popularity of monochromatic color schemes, there were relatively few infographics that applied variations of a single hue. Instead, most applied between three and four different colors, including such neutral colors as white, black, and grey.

Takeaways for Marketers

Be mindful of your palette when you’re creating content. Regardless of social network, it seems, primary colors like blue, red, and green are safe bets — and perform well across a variety of topics and industries.

8) Median Size of Popular Infographics

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Here’s another category where we had a bit of an outlier — one extremely long infographic that weighed in at 1,024 by 46,515 pixels. To keep it from skewing our results, we calculated the median size of the best performing infographics on social media.

We found that the median of this sample was 800 by 2619 pixels. That roughly translates to an infographic with a length that’s slightly more than three times its width.

Takeaways for Marketers

When it comes to infographics, keep things vertical. That said, keep a healthy perspective on the dimensions — The best-performing infographics are three-to-four times longer than they are wide.

9) Average Number of Shares by Alexa Rating

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Curious as to how site rankings compare to the number of shares received, we also sorted the sample according to ratings from Alexa — a site that measures traffic — for the sites on which they were originally published.

We started with the sites that had highest rankings — and, therefore, the greatest amount of traffic — and ordered them in descending order to those with the lowest rankings. We then divided the population into five quintiles, as we did in measuring the median word count per number of shares.

The results were a bit counterintuitive. We found that the sites at both the top 20% and bottom 20% of the Alexa rating distribution actually had the least amount of shares. Those that fell in the middle, however, received the greatest amount of shares.

While more data would be required to fully explain those results, it could have something to do with the fact that many mainstream media outlets — which are at the higher end of the traffic spectrum — tend not to publish infographics that are particularly shareable, according to the factors we considered in this study. Instead, they tend to publish visuals like single charts that are mostly educational in nature.

Takeaways for Marketers

Evaluate your priorities. Do you care more about shareability, or traffic? Infographics appearing on sites with low Alexa ratings still managed to garner over 20,000 shares. We’re big advocates for focusing on creating good content — if it’s shareable, it will attract views. From there, you don’t have as much control over where it’s shared, regardless of traffic, but no one can accuse you of creating sub-par content.

10) Average Number of Shares by Social Network

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Last, but certainly not least, we found that Facebook and Pinterest were overall the best places to share infographics. The remaining social media platforms exhibited significantly smaller averages of total shares.

Takeaways for Marketers

If virality is your primary goal, look to Facebook and Pinterest first. After you see success there, you can experiment with posting your infographic on LinkedIn and Twitter, and evaluate how it performs there.

Make It Visual

When it comes to the importance of visuals in marketing, the numbers speak for themselves — 71% of online marketers use them in their social media strategies. But with so much visual content out there, especially infographics, it’s important to stand out.

As you begin to plan your content for the coming year, keep these tips in mind. Carving out a name for yourself in the world of viral infographics is a good thing — but maintain the momentum with a diverse portfolio of images.

What factors have made your infographics shareable? Let us know in the comments.

15 free infographic templates in powerpoint

15 free infographic templates in powerpoint

10 Marketing Insights for 2017 From Gary Vaynerchuk, Ann Handley & More [Infographic]

Marketing-Insights-for-2017

Looking for a marketing strategy that’ll give you that extra leg up in 2017?

While it’s always helpful and entertaining to spend hours absorbed in the blog posts, webinars, and podcasts from your favorite marketing influencers, there’s not always time for that. And with January 1 just a few short days away, you need to finalize your plans — fast.

So in addition to all that content, why not look at what your favorite influencers are actually doing themselves?

When I went to HubSpot’s INBOUND event last month, that was my goal. Before I even got to Boston, my coworkers and I started planning who we wanted to learn from. We made a list, we checked it twice, and we set out to learn from the best.

Guess what? It paid off. While there, we spoke to some of the smartest people in inbound marketing and found out what marketing strategies they’re excited to use more in 2017. That’s not to mention what we learned in their talks and sessions.

Check out the infographic below for some of the most helpful highlights from folks like Gary Vaynerchuk, Peg Fitzpatrick, Larry Kim, and more.

Influencers of Inbound Infographic


2017 Marketing Strategy

Scope Creep Is Killing Your Bottom Line: Here’s How to Prevent It

Picture this all-too-common scenario: You’re 12 revisions into a client project, when you promised only four. You’ve now spent almost triple the time you intended on the project, which gives you less time (and energy) to devote to other clients.

It’s a frustrating situation, for sure, but the damage goes beyond that — it’s also hurting your bottom line.

Scope creep is the ever-lurking monster under the bed for marketing agencies. A recent Deltek study on agency workflows, for instance, found that nearly 40 percent of agencies exceed their budgets because of scope creep.

It whittles away at your profitability, and when you’re constantly handing out a dozen or more revisions, it also sets unrealistic expectations for your clients. If left unchecked, it can mean less time for your agency to grow its business.

Of course, there’s a fine line between providing good service to your clients — which sometimes does require going above and beyond — and flat-out giving away your services for free.

I’m not suggesting you nickel-and-dime clients to death, but it is essential to set strict limitations on what you will (and won’t) do and stick to them. Otherwise, your profits will continue to seep out of the hole you’ve failed to block up at the bottom of your boat.

Scope Creep Starts with Vague Proposal Documents

It’s easy to blame clients for scope creep, but truthfully the blame sits right at your feet. At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to serve as the gatekeeper of your agency’s services. Scope creep is entirely yours — not your client’s — to control.

Vague proposal documents are the number one culprit when it comes to this problem. They lead to over-servicing your clients, which in turn leads to lower profits.

The key: Set limits, set boundaries, and be very specific. Good scope documents include assumptions about both the project and the processes. Clearly outline the ripple effect that will happen if one piece of the project is delayed or altered, and detail how changes should be addressed, should the need arise.

Your clients need to know explicitly what they can and cannot expect from your team. If you specifically outline the deliverables you will provide each quarter, with little room for interpretation, then you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

It’s a Numbers Game: Know the Math, Increase Profits

OK, so you know you need to tighten up your language on your proposal documents, but where do you start?

Before you add in any additional fees for excessive revisions or change orders, you must intimately know the math and exactly how your agency makes money.

You may find that you are literally paying for the privilege of working with certain clients. If you run profitability reports for your clients (and you should), you might see that certain clients — those who consistently exceed scope with “small projects” and “just one more revision” — are actually costing you money.

But it’s not just agency leaders who need to be financially savvy. Your account team also should have a clear understanding of how the business works. After all, they are the ones in charge of communicating with the client and monitoring the budget.

If they don’t understand agency math — or how you spend your AGI — then how are they supposed to know when to say “yes” or “no” to a client request?

3 Strategies for Stopping Scope Creep in Its Tracks

Scope creep is an issue all agencies face, but it’s not impossible to stamp out of your business practices. Here are three strategies to ensure you’re both maximizing profitability and providing clients with top-shelf service.

1) Teach Your Employees the Rules of the Game

Every single day, your agency is either making money or losing money.

If your team members don’t understand the dollars-and-cents of the business, they will continue to believe their greatest priority is keeping clients happy. The easiest way to do this, of course, is to over-service clients — not a great tactic for maximizing profits.

if you educate all employees on the costs of your goods and services, they’ll be better able to balance keeping clients happy and servicing your firm.

2) Leave No Room for Misinterpretation in Your Scope Documents

At the very least, your scope documents should define your deliverables, the number of revisions you’re willing to do, and each project’s timetable.

Use language that leaves no room for interpretation, such as “With this estimate, you are going to be granted four revisions. Any revision after the fourth will result in a $250 fee.”

The number of revisions and the fee amount should be tailored to your agency, but the important thing is that your client knows from the very beginning of your contracted relationship exactly what they’re agreeing to. Once the client signs the document, there doesn’t have to be a big discussion every time the fifth revision rolls around.

3) Don’t Be Afraid to Issue Change Orders

Change orders give your scope documents some teeth. How you treat changes in scope helps train your clients with how much you’re willing to bend. So try not to bend.

The biggest reason change orders aren’t issued is that agency leaders and employees think they don’t have enough time or it’s not worth the headache. Here’s how the thinking usually goes: “By the time I calculate the change order cost, write up a document, and get it signed by the client, I could have just made the change.”

The reality, though, is that you can’t afford to not issue change orders. By doing this, you’ll prevent the client from future abuse of scope. You want to make the client happy, but you are also running a business. And businesses run on profitability.

There will be times when the client or the circumstance justifies waiving that change order fee. But by having the fees in place, those free revisions become a gift you are giving clients, not a right. Giving one revision out gratis sure beats handing out 10 for free — which is what you may be doing now.

Being specific and firm with your scope won’t damage your client relationships. Rather, being firm will train them to get their ducks in a row before they request changes or revisions.

It’s tough love, sure, but you’ll be surprised how receptive your clients will be to having firm parameters to operate within. Most importantly, you’ll no longer have to watch project scope continually creep and profitability shrink.

client-agency-checklist

Why Your Company Might Need a Content Audit

ThinkstockPhotos-506147556-568616-edited.jpgContent is used as a valuable marketing tool across all industries. From social media content to long-form evergreen content, marketers constantly write to build awareness and nurture  relationships. While the goal of content marketing is clear, many companies forget to track what type of content is actually working.

Even powerhouse Microsoft fell into that habit. At one point the Microsoft.com website had 10 million pages of content but 3 million of them had never been visited. By removing unnecessary and irrelevant content, Microsoft made its customers much happier and learned what type of content works in attracting consumers. And all of that happened by conducting a content audit.

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5 Reasons for a Content Audit

There are a variety of reasons that a company might need a content audit. Here are some of the problems that plague companies because of the lack of a content audit.

Lots of Traffic Coming in But Not Many Qualified Leads

Here’s a scary stat: one-third of B2B marketers don’t track where their leads come from. This clearly needs to be corrected in order to figure out what marketing channels work and which should be eliminated. Once your company takes a look at lead generation, you may find that while more and more traffic comes in, none if it is really relevant to your brand.

This is oftentimes a content problem. The content could be attracting the wrong target and therefore no one converts. 56% of survey respondents said they were doing content marketing without a plan. When qualified leads are not coming in, maybe the content was not written with a clear buyer persona; therefore, the content does not address a specific need or pain point of that audience.

Unclear Value Proposition = Unclear Content

Only 7% of leadership teams can explain a clear, common value proposition, but 85% of CEOs say their employees can state the company’s value proposition. This dichotomy leads to very unclear content. If writers do not have a clear picture of the company’s value, then the content will reflect this and appear confusing to the reader. A value proposition helps build relevance for target buyer personas, helping to improve engagement, shares, conversions, and trust.  

Blog Doesn’t Play a Role in Sales

B2B marketers that use blogs receive 67% more leads than those who do not. Many companies, however, do not use the blog as part of the sales process, which means no leads or opportunities come through because of the blog. 

This can be because the sales and content marketing teams are not aligned. The blog should help push leads down the sales funnel, helping to produce qualified leads. A company’s blog can also help provide sales teams useful nurturing content as they help prospects navigate the awareness, consideration, and decision stages of the buying process.

Leads or Sales Goals Aren’t Met

If leads or sales metrics are falling behind, surprisingly this could be because the content strategy is not tied to the sales strategy. Before revising the sales process, performing a content audit could uncover why certain goals aren’t met. Content must aid the sales process, as 41% of businesses say curated content increased the number and/or quality of sales-ready leads.

Blog Subscribers Don’t Read Your Content

If people that actively subscribed to your blog content are not reading it, then a content audit is desperately needed. By finding out why these people subscribed, you can start to get your content back on track. Perhaps with different team members writing, blog content began to drift from its original purpose, making it no longer useful for the audience.

What To Do Next

Before launching into a full scale content audit, take a step back and ask some key questions about the content being created.

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  • Is the Content Value-Driven? Does the content align with the company’s value proposition? What are the key value points that relate to your customer and does the content reflect this?
  • Is the Content Persona-Driven? Does your content align to the needs, interests, and opportunities associated with target buyer personas or an ideal buyer profile?
  • Is the Content Results-Driven? Does your content assist in the conversion of leads and sales opportunities? Does the marketing team align efforts with results? Which content assists in conversions of leads and which content does not? Using Hubspot, identify which content directly influencers sales qualified leads.
  • Have You Invested in a Content Strategy? Have time and resources been fully invested to craft the best content strategy? Has this content team continually updated and improve and build upon top-performing content?
  • Are the Sales and Marketing Teams Aligned? Content can play a huge role in sales, so identify the weak points in the sales process and align marketing strategies along those points. Have you found opportunities to support, educate, inspire, and guide buyers through the sales funnel? Content can help with each step, so marketing and sales teams should meet on a consistent basis.

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You Probably Need a Content Audit

If you answered no to any of these questions, then it is time for a content audit. A content audit can help improve sales, make your customers happier, and get rid of unnecessary pages that can be bogging down your website, so if you have fallen into any of the traps listed above, it’s time to audit the content on your website.

View more content marketing stats and trends.  

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Why You Should Start With Copy Instead of Design: A Data-Backed Lesson

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Most conversion rate optimization experts you’ll meet would agree: Copywriting first. Design second.

The idea is that copy (and the message you’re trying to convey through that copy) should dictate design – not the other way around. Now, this is in no way meant to underestimate the importance of design. Design can breathe life into the story the copy is telling, and done properly, great copy plus great design will always outperform great copy alone.

The point is, it’s not hard to find examples of “ugly” pages outperforming beautifully designed pages – and in those cases, it usually boils down to the copy.

Copy first. Design second.

We’ve been chatting about this a lot lately on HubSpot’s marketing optimization team. In the past, our marketing team has typically followed a design first, copy second order of operations when designing web pages. And it’s hard to blame us. We try to move fast and ship projects quickly, and the design before copy approach is definitely the quicker of the two, since copy can be written in tandem with the development of the design.

But when copywriting comes first, design can’t even begin until copy is complete. And because development can’t happen until design is done, this definitely extends the timeline of project execution. The problem is, this means you’re crafting copy under the limitations of a fully baked design, handicapping your ability to tell the story in the best way possible. 

Now I’ll admit: All this “copy before design” business always sounded great to me in theory, but conversion rate optimization experts also warn against the dangers of “best practices,” so it was really enlightening to find an example of this theory proven out on one of our very own web pages. 

The Experiment

In addition to our main free trial landing page, we also have a bunch of targeted, tool-specific free trial landing pages that the marketing team uses for more segmented campaigns. Below you’ll find an example of one (image B), which is targeted to specifically promote HubSpot’s Blogging tool. And here are the two compared to each other …

A. Main Free Trial Landing Page (Above the Fold)

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B. Tool-Specific Free Trial Landing Page (Above the Fold)

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As you can see, these tool-specific landing pages were built using an older template, and when we redesigned our main free trial landing page to look the way it currently does, its tool-specific counterparts remained in the former design. Seeing this as low-hanging fruit from a conversion perspective, I converted three of our most trafficked tool-specific free trial landing pages into the newer template. To be sure the newer design was still in fact the better converting design, I A/B tested each page against its pre-existing design. 

The Initial Results 

When I first analyzed the results of these three tests, the variation (i.e., the design using the newer template) only won for two of the three pages. Naturally, I tried to understand why. When I took a closer look at the third one (the free trial landing page for our Keywords tool), I noticed a difference. Can you spot it?

Older Template (Control)

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Newer Template (Variant)

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Okay … obviously there are a few differences here, considering the design is completely different. But the one that stuck out to me immediately was that the positioning of the header/subheader copy in the control was very different than that of the variant. 

Control Header + Subheader Copy:

Find Out Which Keywords You (And Your Competitors) Rank For

Instantly access SEO data with HubSpot’s Keywords tool by starting a 30-day free trial.

Variant Header + Subheader Copy:

Try HubSpot’s Keywords Tool Free for 30 Days

Get found in search for the keywords that matter.

The positioning in the control was primarily focused on the value of the Keywords tool, specifically emphasizing the competitive intelligence the tool provides, whereas the positioning in the variant was focused on clarifying what the offer was itself (i.e., a free, 30-day trial). And while I had made sure the variant still mentioned the competitive intelligence value of the Keywords tool, I had buried it lower down on the page … below the fold. 

Isolating Variables

The problem with this test was that I wasn’t isolating the variable I was trying to prove. In this case, I wanted to prove that the new design for the page performed better than the existing design, yet I was manipulating more than one variable: design and copy. So after I had my “duh” moment, I decided to tweak the positioning in the header copy of the variant to match the control, and let the test run for a few more weeks. This way I’d be doing a better job of isolating design as the variable I was testing.

Here’s what the header and subheader copy in the control and variant looked like after I tweaked the variant. Note that I made no changes to the copy in the control …

Control Header + Subheader Copy:

Find Out Which Keywords You (And Your Competitors) Rank For

Instantly access SEO data with HubSpot’s Keywords tool by starting a 30-day free trial.

Variant Header + Subheader Copy:

Find Out Which Keywords You & Your Competitors Rank For

Get SEO data instantly with a free trial of HubSpot’s Keywords tool.

And here’s how it looked in each template variation … 

Older Template

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Newer Template

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Final Results 

A few weeks after making those tweaks, I re-evaluated my test. Bingo! 

The variant was the new winner with 99.07% confidence and a 20% increase in conversion over the control.

Aside from the fact that this was (ultimately) a successful test, what I love is that it proves how influential copy can be. The only reason the control originally outperformed the variation was because people preferred the copy in the control — even though the design of the variant ultimately performed better. 

So there you have it: Don’t underestimate copywriting in favor of design. In fact, copywriting can be even more influential than design when it comes to conversion rate optimization.

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How to Launch & Manage a Successful Blog in 2017 [Free Planner]

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There’s no denying it: Blogging for your business works. According to our 2016 State of Inbound report, B2B marketers who blog receive 67% more leads than those who don’t, and marketers who have prioritized blogging are 13X more likely to enjoy positive ROI.

Blogging is a crucial part of inbound marketing because it allows you to quickly disseminate helpful information to your followers and new site visitors, which, in turn, helps build credibility, SEO juice, and helps you become more of a thought leader in your industry. Best of all, blogging is super cost-effective, because the only thing you need to spend is time.

But despite all of the advantages that focused blogging can net businesses, some marketers balk at the time commitment required. They’re not wrong — launching and maintaining a blog isn’t a one-day task. In fact, you’ll need plenty of planning, resources, and good old-fashioned effort to gain adequate ROI.

That’s why HubSpot and General Assembly have teamed up to create the new 10-week planner, How to Start a Successful Blog in 2017. It’s got tips on:

  • How to identify your target persona and anticipate what they want to read about
  • Building a bank of evergreen content ideas to keep your audience engaged year-round
  • How to design your blog to delight and engage your visitors
  • Using SEO and promotion to attract and scale traffic
  • Which metrics to analyze to measure the success of your launch
  • And more!

Click here to download How to Start a Successful Blog in 2017

learn how to start a successful blog

How Psychological Safety Creates the Best Teams

When it comes to devising solutions to challenging problems, a room full of bright minds working towards a common goal is almost always more effective than working alone.

Under the belief that the composition of a group influences the quality of its work, Google has spent years hunting for the key to what makes teams truly great. The tech giant is known for tapping its prodigious brainpower to solve complex problems with creative solutions.

Whether it’s revolutionizing search, email, or exploring the possibilities of driverless cars, Google provides a welcome example of a company focused on maximizing the potential of collaboration.

Project Aristotle

Over the past five years, Google has been engaged in an extensive undertaking to engineer the most productive groups possible. This endeavor, referred to as Project Aristotle, involved years of extensive observations of how employees at Google collaborate in group settings, according to The New York Times.

Project Aristotle’s findings suggest that many of the factors we’d expect to influence the outcome of a project actually didn’t actually have a significant impact on whether or not the group was successful.

Having a shared versus designated leadership structure, including employees from diverse employment backgrounds, and whether or not group members socialized outside of work did not necessarily determine a group’s chances of success.

Overall, there was one central trend which appeared in almost every successful group: feelings of psychological safety.

Psychological safety, according to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, is the “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking,” and “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”

In the majority of successful groups Google studied, participants identified feeling comfortable sharing ideas and asking questions. These feelings of psychological safety were not unique to any type of group or leadership dynamic. As Charles Duhigg wrote in the New York Times, the most productive teams listened to — and were respectful of — the ideas, feelings, beliefs and suggestions of their peers.

Early Education as a Model

The corporate model of psychological safety is not all that different than the one you had in grade school. When students are comfortable enough to share their ideas freely and don’t feel afraid of being rejected, they are able to learn better and take interpersonal risks.

While businesses and elementary schools are certainly not universally comparable environments, the importance of ideological and interpersonal safety is universally paramount.

To make a space safe for intellectual exploration, agencies must make concerted efforts to foster an open atmosphere of acceptance. As discussed in a 2014 TED Talk by Harvard Business School professor and author Dr. Amy C. Edmondson, individuals are often very worried about appearing incompetent or ignorant, and thus are more likely to keep their questions and ideas to themselves.

This not only stifles an individual’s creative potential, it also limits the potential for innovation in collaborative group settings. Imagine trying to learn new skills or ways of working in an environment where it’s intimidating to admit what you don’t know, much less share ideas that challenge established norms.

In competitive agency environments built on creative critique, often only a few leaders make decisions on ideas, clearly limiting the potential voice and contribution of team members.

With participation from more team members comes more ideas — and quite possibly a better product. Expanding critique and other opportunities requires that employees feel safe to speak up and participate within groups.

Applying Psychological Safety at Agencies

Maintaining an open and safe dialogue often goes against the grain of both corporate culture and human nature, but the companies that will thrive in the coming years will do so through their collective creativity and ability to innovate, rather than relying on the opinions of a few individuals.

Almost paradoxically, to survive in the ever-increasing competitive environment of today’s digital economy, agencies need to create intellectual safe havens that are more akin to your third grade classroom than any scene in AMC’s Mad Men.

Sweeping organizational culture shifts will not occur overnight, but change can start tomorrow. Here are five steps to start fostering a safe, productive workplace:

1) Stop the unhealthy practice of responding to new ideas with unproductive negativity.

You do not have to love every idea your peers put forward, but demeaning the idea and its creator is unnecessary, counterproductive and sometimes downright hurtful.

Research and personal experience tell us that sometimes we don’t voice our opinions because we fear embarrassment, looking dumb or feeling intellectually inadequate.

2) Always celebrate good ideas.

This is the counter approach to the previously mentioned unproductive behavior. The merit of this step applies for both teams and individuals. But seriously, who doesn’t appreciate being complimented for their hard work?

3) Acknowledge that the entire team effort goes into good work.

Great ideas, regardless of size, often come about because of the genius and hard work of at least a handful of people. So, when celebrating new ideas and innovative work, recognize the whole team, not just the manager or creative with the highest title.

4) Get those in power on board with psychological safety.

While change does not always have to come from the top, the behavior that managers, directors and executives model directly impacts and influences the actions of those below them. Therefore, change is only sustainable with a commitment from those in power.

5) Break down organizational silos to promote collaboration, communication and progress.

This is not to say everyone must work equally on all projects, but rather that teams should consider themselves multidisciplinary so employees of varying titles feel comfortable contributing. Organizations with healthy interpersonal relationships are more likely to have uninhibited idea sharing, increased collaboration and a better end result.

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Using Content Marketing in the Professional Services Industry

ThinkstockPhotos-179768055-848177-edited.jpgYour content marketing strategy should be approached a little differently if your business offers professional services, like practicing law, medicine, or performing some form of consulting work.

This is because you’re largely capitalizing on expertise to serve your clients, not just pushing product benefits. Demonstrating that expertise is going to be crucial to building trust with your audience, which in turn leads to inbound inquiries.

That being said, let’s nail down who your audiences are, since there are actually TWO primary groups you’ll want to target. From there, we’ll look at some tactical strategies you can employ to start using content marketing for professional services on different media channels.

First Up: Who Are You Attracting?

“Clients” is the obvious answer here. You’re definitely going to need messages going straight to the people who are going to be writing checks for you. It’s the other, not-so-obvious target that may actually bring the most value to your business development, however: referral partners. This group is going to be made up of professionals just like you. They won’t be in the same industry (those are competitors), but tangential ones. Here are a couple of examples of these symbiotic, “you help me, I help you” relationships:

  1. Estate Attorney + Financial Planner
  2. Cardiac Surgeon + Family Practice Physician
  3. Business Consultant + Enterprise Software Salesperson

You can see a trend in these relationships, where one professional is usually a specialist and the other provides more general services. In the case of the first example, a single financial planner may have a variety of go-to attorneys in different practice areas so they can best serve their client when the need for legal assistance arises. Alternatively, the estate attorney probably has relationships with a number of financial planners in the same role, so that he or she is maximizing the probability of a referral coming through. Think about which role you can play for your network – the generalist or specialist.

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Don’t think you’re fooling anyone, fish. We all know you swim better than you climb. Stick with what you’re good at!

In both cases of communication (client or referral partner), the main goal is to advocate that you have the audience’s best interests at heart. For clients, that means solving their problems thoroughly and quickly. Referral partners are going to need assurance that you know what you’re doing, and, when they hand off their client, that you’re going to reflect positively on them… by solving the client’s problems thoroughly and quickly.

Now, you and I know that you’re wholly capable of meeting those needs without a problem. The issue is that they don’t know. In content marketing for professional services, your main goal for messaging is to demonstrate that you’re the expert. Another name for this type of communication is authority positioning.

How to Show that You’re Top Dog

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Fact: When you’re on top, you tend to smile more.

There are three primary messages that fall under the umbrella of authority positioning. The overarching intent of getting your messages out there is to draw attention to your business, but each message actually has its own sub-objective for showing that you’re the market expert. Let’s look at these types, then expand on the best ways to deliver each to your audience.

Authority Message #1: Tips & Advice

This first one is a no-brainer. How can you best show that you know the solution to a problem? By sharing that solution! You have the perfect sample to draw from when identifying these problems, too: real-life, existing clients.

Every now and then you’ll work with a completely unique and challenging case, but for the most part, a lot of people (read: more than you’re currently working with) are asking the same core questions. Offering answers to common client questions helps you capitalize on where they’re already looking. As for those unique curveballs, share the occasional example to show that you can overcome any problem. They’ll also help differentiate you and keep your content interesting.

Sub-Objective: Show that you’re ready and willing to be helpful.

Authority Message #2: Case Studies

When you share advice, some content will click for your audience and be useful just based on context. The majority of clients and referral partners are going to need some more convincing, however.

Case studies act as a vehicle for you to deliver concrete evidence that your services have helped others. In a more subtle way, they also serve as a testament to your process and show that you’re results-driven. If you’re keeping track of your clients’ success, it means you care about the actual outcomes – not just about signing agreements.

Sub-Objective: Show that you care about the end result – and that you can achieve it.

Authority Message #3: Analysis of Relevant Current Events

Considering the events of 2016, the world is crazy and literally anything can happen. That has an effect on your clients. Take a fixed event, like, I don’t know, the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Without even taking a political stance, it’s easy to see that a central event like that sends out ripples in every direction, holding implications for economics and lifestyle changes for pretty much everyone.

If you can think critically about what that event can mean for your clients, you can deliver some professional insights on the subject. That way, you’re capitalizing on a hot conversational topic and demonstrating your problem-solving skills.

Sub-Objective: Show that you’re in touch with what’s impacting clients’ lives, and that you’re prepared serve in any situation.

Now even if you build these types of messages, you have to make sure your audience is going to see them. Starting an advice column in your local paper may be an option, but unless you’re specifically aiming to serve just local folks, you’re going to want to try some different channels.

How to Spread the Word

While the messaging may be unique when you’re looking at content marketing for professional services vs. something like e-commerce, you’re going to use similar platforms.

Remember, you want to put your message in a spot where the right people are already looking. That means capitalizing on SEO via website content, weighing in on social media, and promoting your business at events that are concentrated hubs for building your referral network.

Blogging

Writing blog articles with specific content in response to a highly-trafficked keyword is still going to be your best bet for getting seen organically. We haven’t incorporated Google into our lexicon as a verb for no reason, people.

The best way that you can explain what your business does and how you can serve clients is by directing them to your website. Write up blogs that fit into the messaging types described above, and then include links in them that lead to the next useful piece of information.

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Just like the Arc de Triomphe, all roads should lead to one place: the sale.

Depending on the topic you’ve written about, you can send visitors to another useful blog topic and continue to build trust, or get them to a conversion point, if they’re ready. Putting your case studies into a downloadable PDF format and gating them behind a form is a good way to do that if they’re still not ready to schedule a consultation.

If you don’t currently have a blog set up on your website, the LinkedIn Publishing tool is a good workaround, though you’re going to be limiting your audience to only people active on LinkedIn. Even if you do have a blog, it’s a good idea to use LinkedIn for any topics that are focused on attracting referral partners.

Social Media Posting

Speaking of LinkedIn’s usefulness for network building, LinkedIn Groups are also a powerful medium for reaching specific professional groups. You can find a Group in your own market and use it as a collaboration platform to overcome tricky client problems, but consider moving to ones outside your industry.

Remember from the first section, professionals in tangential fields are going to be good candidates for referral sources. Head into one of those threads and share your own (relevant!!!) posts to generate traffic, or comment on others’ posts to build familiarity until you can start a conversation with them one-on-one.

To speak directly to your clients, sharing your advice articles will be great on Facebook or Twitter, but that’s the same old stuff you already know. If you want to go the extra mile, consider shooting some videos where you talk through specific client problems and post them to YouTube.

Video continues to rise in popularity as a content medium, and it helps clients get a better feel for who you really are than any article can. The best part is that, while you want to be wary of things like good lighting and sound quality, you don’t need studio access to make a decent clip – just grab a colleague and use your smartphone’s camera. Make sure they shoot horizontally, though!

Events & Webinars

We’ve all been attending grand events like HubSpot’s INBOUND conference for years, hoping to come away with some nuggets of knowledge that can enhance our businesses. Attendees all view the speakers at those events as thought leaders and pioneers in their space. So if that’s your own goal, how about you host one of those talks?

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Pay no attention to the haters, people. You can do it. Source: SomeEECards (someeecards.com)

Granted, there’s always an application process, and speaking in front of a ballroom of people is intimidating. It’s not for everyone. Webinars, however, are a lot easier to manage and execute, and they make gathering registrants’ information very simple.

The important part that’s often forgotten, however, is that you want to stick to your authority message. Do not pitch your services, except maybe right near the end. Webinars and speaking events are the perfect platforms to actually do some educating and establish yourself as a leader.

Finally, if speaking isn’t really your gig, simply attend some webinars or events where you already have some knowledge on the subject. From there, you can use a webinar chat tool or just do some live Tweeting to add commentary to the subjects presented. Show that you understand the presenter, and share takeaways with the group.

This way, you’re participating in the conversation, assisting members of your network who aren’t attending, and catching the attention of people seeking answers who you have yet to connect with. This works best if the event has an associated hashtag for attendees to join the conversation, since you know you’ll catch someone’s eye in that shared space.

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Jimmy knows how to live tweet. Source: Giphy (giphy.com)

Follow the Expert’s Lead

I searched pretty heartily for examples of businesses who are executing these techniques really well, and found a great model in Practice Alchemy. Practice Alchemy is a niche marketing firm run by legal experts, and they apply their industry knowledge to help law firms to build a marketing strategy. It’s apparent that they practice what they preach. At the head of Practice Alchemy is Raj Jha, a former Silicon Valley attorney and clear thought leader in his space.

That’s right, clear thought leader. You know it from the second you land on the website because of all the information sharing Practice Alchemy has done. They have an extensive resource library that lawyers can look to for actionable information, including a Complete Guide to Building a Marketing Strategy at Your Law Firm. They have a blog full of more than 150 articles, all of which are clearly made for their appropriate audience (lawyers at small law firms). Raj has even hosted a number of videos online to position Practice Alchemy as an authority – and even has one that explains exactly how to do that.

Seriously, though, if there are any lawyers reading this, you’re going to want to download that Complete Guide: 

The Bottom Line?

The biggest takeaway that you can draw from this article and from Practice Alchemy’s example is that content marketing for professional services is not about pitching and closing (still important, but that’s sales). Instead, it’s about sharing expertise and just showing that you give a damn about whether the client – or referral partner – is successful. If you centralize your marketing communications around that goal, you’re almost guaranteed to find success yourself. 

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