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How Outlines Improve Your Content

Written by Taylor Hawes

Friday, March 14th, 2014

The Case For Outlines How It Makes Your Content Better

There are few among us that take delight in organization. The process of planning something instead of building it requires a great deal of patience. When it comes to content, however, everything from your process to your impact can benefit from an organizational outline. By enabling writing, reading, focus, and memory, outlines are a powerful tool for any business blog, improving perception and enabling your commercial goals.

 

They Facilitate the Writing Process

Writing is a unique skill set, endowed in only a few. Unfortunately for those of us without that gift, our companies need content, and that content must be of prime quality to build a readership.

Fortunately, outlines help ease the process of writing, imbuing the kind of quality required of published content for even those with meager writing skill. By creating a structure around which ideas are formed, the mind naturally constructs ideas in a coherent manner, allowing you to easily articulate one element of your piece after another, unburdened by concerns of flow and formation.

Furthermore, they help provide inspiration. When writing content paragraph by paragraph without understanding the “geography” of your work, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. By understanding your work from a top-down perspective, filling in the prompts with coherent paragraphs becomes a much less arduous task.

 

They Make Reading Easier

The writer isn’t the only party that benefits from outlines. The ever-important reader reaps the fruits of organizational effort as well.

Our minds are eased by structure. Traffic lights, lines at grocery stores, and chapters in books all help us understand the boundaries of our actions and attention, working to help guide our cognitive resources in one, simple direction. Outlines are much like the road signs that lead us to highways and points of interest, constructing a narrative and helping set expectations for what’s to come.

In addition, well-crafted headings help summon the resources needed to finish reading. If your reader is forced to determine whether they should continue with each passing paragraph, the cognitive burden involved is likely to lead to page abandonment. Attention grabbing headings help remedy this decision-making process by piquing their interests and guiding them forward.

 

They Provides Focus

If you’ve ever had a conversation with a pedantic acquaintance, then you know how difficult unfocused conversation can be. If your conversation partner is offering compelling information
or engaging you on an active basis, then your attention is held, identifying value in the
experience. In the case of the talkative friend, however, your mind wanders, wondering when
the toil will end, and when your next important task can begin.

Poorly structured pieces are like wordy cohorts: they amble, providing value, but only among meandering sentences. Outlines help remedy this situation by setting reader expectations and then delivering on them in an efficient manner. An article entitled “The Ultimate Guide to Product Pages” makes a lofty promise, but by breaking the writing process into manageable chunks, the reader develops an understanding of the aspects of product pages that a cursory discussion could not deliver, perceiving value and continuing through to the final paragraph.

 

They Make Your Message More Memorable

Your content delivers value, but that’s not its only purpose. In helping your customers, your ultimate goal is to strengthen your brand and facilitate sales conversion through an engaging
conversation. Without the mental association between your content and your company, these
efforts fall short.

Outlines, through their multiple benefits, help build this desired association. By allowing writers to write more effectively, easing the readers burden, and providing focused value, readers
inherently recognize the value of your efforts. The end result is an enhancement of brand image
that will have a synergistic effect on commercial success.

With content gaining importance in the marketplace, it’s tempting to prioritize pace over
organization, but savvy writers know that outlines facilitate both rate of production and ROI. By
unburdening your writing process, improving reader experience, adding focused value to your
content, and leaving an impression in the minds of customers, outlines represent one of the
most valuable tools in your blogging and marketing toolkit.

How To Develop A Clear Voice For Your Brand

Written by Taylor Hawes

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

How To Develop a Clear Voice For Your Brand

There are many elements of your business that contribute to its success, but perhaps the most important (and intangible) is your brand. From the visual design of your ads to the reputation of your customerservice team, your brand has a voice, and identifying it can improve many aspects of your operations. By understanding the importance of this voice, identifying the characteristics that articulate it, and honing in on your desired perception, you too can take advantage of this powerful tool.
 

Understanding Voice

First, it’s important to understand what “voice” is in a marketing sense. Simply put, it is how you say things and what language you utilize when talking about your products, services, and business.

Your voice creates a culture that your customers will recognize and relate to. If properly implemented everything your business produces (emails, website copy, social media messages, etc.) will all have this same tone. Well utilized, a clear voice will connect you to your customer through consistent rhythm, pacing, word choice, and aim.

 

Defining Your Identity

So how can you craft this elusive unique voice for your brand? The key lies in identifying the following three traits:

● What your brand is

● Who your target customer is

● What you sound like

Maintaining a voice that’s consistent with your current marketing efforts will help strengthen your reputation, identifying your target customer will help craft a voice that resonates with them, and determining what your voice will sound like will help craft the language you use.

While these items can be challenging to nail down, the following steps will help you identify the points that separate you from competitor and help you craft a clear voice that communicates efficiently and personally with your customers:

1. Identify your company’s values- Why was your company started? What is the driving force as to why you are in business? It should be clear from your mission statement, catch phrase or tagline.

2. Pinpoint any basic human values your company embodies- Perhaps your company is more spiritual focused or abstract. Identify what these are.

3. Note what it is about the way your company works that is different- What makes you stand out from your competition? Noting this difference will help show you your priorities and values.
 

Constructing Your Message

Once you have distinguished yourself and know clearly who you are it is time to select language. There are several linguistic considerations to weigh.

The first is formal vs informal language. This will largely be denoted by your audience. Ask your team which will appeal more to your customers: “Here is an opportunity we would like to bring to your attention” or “Hey there is going to be a great sale coming up!”?

The next is technical vs. simplified language. Depending on what kind of business you are and the education level of your base audience your vocabulary will need to accommodate their reading level. In addition, B2B and industrial organizations will need to deliver language that meets the technical knowledge of their target audience.

Among the more subtle aspects of your voice is colloquial language. If you can make pop culture references and the vast majority of your audience will understand them, inserting some slang into your voice is an option. However if you have an older or more traditional audience you might want to stray away from these. This can be largely dependent on the geographic location of your audience.

The final and most niche consideration is swearing. Rarely there are companies who can get away with swearing as part of their brand voice. Less extreme swear words such as “hell” or “damn” might seem insignificant to you but can still have an impact with your audience. If it is a significant part of your voice proceed with caution.

 

Once you have developed a clear banding strategy craft your brand voice is an essential next step. A clear brand voice is a simple tool to help your consumers relate and better identify with you, improving your customer service, recognition, messaging, and revenue.

The Spark: A Startup Is Born

Written by Cy Khormaee

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Editors Note – Cy is a friend of HostGator, currently pursuing entrepreneurial dreams in Silicon Valley. We have asked him to share his adventures.

***

Every once in a while, that elusive flash of inspiration delivers the seed of an idea.  It seems innocuous at first, but it lives and grows in the back of your mind; you can’t shake it.  It make take years to come to the fore, but it never fades.  For me, that is exactly how Contastic became a company.  What follows is our story.

From the moment I walked in the door to my first sales job at Microsoft, I knew that sales is a winner-take-all business.  The top performers close ten times more deals than the average rep.   After spending a bunch of time with the top performers, I still couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly how they were accomplishing such remarkable numbers.  Their close rates and techniques seemed just about the same as everyone else; why were their results so spectacular?

 

The Epiphany

My epiphany came when I saw their prospect lists.   The best sales people had massive funnels 10+ times larger than those of everyone else.  They would progressively farm this list to surface deals – ensuring they stayed in touch with as much of their network as possible.

 

contastic Contastic’s dashboard, showing your engagement with your contacts.

 

I use the word “surface” because that truly is the key to great sales.  It’s all about discovery – not conversion.  It’s really hard to talk someone into buying anything they don’t already want.  Instead, it’s more efficient to simply discover who is already looking to buy – and then be in the right place at the right time to sell to them.

My observations are further backed by research (don’t take my word for it!).  The first wake up call comes from Gleanster Research, which published that 50% of leads are qualified but not yet ready to buy.  This points directly to a need for lead nurturing to stay top of mind with those leads until they’re ready.  And Forrester drove it home by showing that companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost.  The numbers don’t lie!

 

Staying in touch: The Hard Way

This transformed the way I thought about sales, from being an act of persuasion to a feat of engineering.  It was about designing a process that would efficiently surface and qualify leads through prospecting.  I built a massive thousand-row Excel sheet of every person and every customer I had ever met.  I’d record interactions and, on a quarterly basis, I’d try and reconnect with everyone on the list.  By the end of my three years I became a top rep.

This was, however, a painful and awkward process.  I’d have to search for each person’s email to figure out when we last spoke and on what topic.  Crafting a personalized email then required several more minutes, and often times I’d simply be sending a no-value-add checking email (“Hey X, how are things with you?”).  For high value contacts, I’d take 20-30 minutes to find an interesting piece of news or research to send them – as a way to (I hoped) at least contribute some value to their life.

 

Staying In Touch: The Right Way

I thought – why can’t I give this VIP level of service to all of my contacts?  Why can’t the lead nurturing process be automated to provide personalized service to every customer and prospect? This idea sat in the back of my head as I was swept into my first startup (cimls.com) where I saw realtors struggle with this exact same problem – staying in touch with current prospects and past clients.  I witnessed this every single day in business school as well, students networking with each other and talking with different companies to find jobs. Lost connections and lost opportunities, simply because it was too hard to stay in touch.

When I graduated in 2013, I knew I had to build this tool to help people stay in touch.  I moved out to Menlo Park, CA – with nothing more than 5 boxes of my belongings via UPS to pursue my dream of building Contastic –a platform to help professionals stay in touch.  How can one recent grad convince others to join him, build a product, find customers and realize his dream?

 

Stay tuned for the next post: Perilous Pivots – When A Dream Meets Reality

***

 

About Cy

I’m an engineer who loves to sell.   My career started out in big data engineering for Microsoft evolved into a sales role that landed me as the founder of Contastic.  I bring the hard data-driven approach of an engineer to the softer science of sales.  It’s always a pleasure for me to meet new people and help them evolve their sales practices.  You can find me online at cykho.com.

So You Want To Start A Business? Start Here

Written by Taylor Hawes

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

So You Want To Start A Business Start Here
Ambitious minds take ambitious action, and few actions are more ambitious than starting a business. If you find yourself in possession of a killer idea, or wish to grow a fledgling enterprise, it’s important to know what you’re in for. Here’s how to build your idea from the ground up, and turn your ideas and resources into something rewarding.
 

Start with Your Motivations

To begin with, ask yourself why you would want to start a business. The success of many businesses has a lot to do with our motivations for starting it in the first place. A business can become your annual salary, while also fulfilling your desire to do work that’s more meaningful. Having your own business means finally getting to be the boss, and constructing a schedule that is optimal to your lifestyle.

Perhaps you’ve finally realized that what you’re best at can provide immense value to others and would constitute a firm foundation for entrepreneurship. Many are simply exhausted from sitting behind a desk and would love to monetize the thing they’re passionate about. Whatever your motivations may be, identify them, and use them as fuel going forward.
 

Turn Your General Idea Into Something Specific

Next, it’s important to identify what your product will be. Let’s say you want to help the earth by selling items that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the possibilities, spend some time researching what’s already out there, and begin to hone in on a niche that means the most to you. The easiest way to become successful is by doing something better than what already exists, or by doing it differently.

Ask yourself these questions:

• Who is going to buy my product or service?

• How will you be getting paid?

• Is my service going to be sustainable over the next decade?

The best businesses aim to solve a problem, and will survive by making a difference. Don’t be afraid to start small and simple, there will always be room for growth.
 

Take Out A Loan, Or Start Saving Money

It’d be unfair to tell you the average cost of starting a business when it is entirely dependent on what product or service you intend to offer. However, whether you’ll need $100 or $30,000, you’re going to have to develop a business plan. A major component to that plan will be the cost of starting up, as well as money necessary to keep you going until your first sales start rolling in. To estimate your costs of starting up, make two lists: one for your assets and the other for startup expenses.

Assets- Also known as capital expenditures, these will be the one-time costs. Think of property, equipment, and certain inventory as things you’ll only buy at the beginning, or again down the road.

Expenses- These are the recurring costs that will be a part of the startup costs and continue throughout the life of the business. Things like rent, supplies, marketing materials, gas, and how much you will pay potential employees.

Once you have a firm business model, it may be a good time to consider taking out the loan. If loans aren’t your style, by all means proceed with the planning and set a goal for how much to save.
 

Make It Official

If you’ve made it this far, then you should be proud. Making your business official means you have
a direction, are likely ready to invest in its growth. To prepare for this, here a few legal and financial steps to consider.

1. Determine the Legal Structure

• What form of ownership is best for you? This will determine which income tax form you will file.

2. Register Your Business Name

• This will be registered with your State Government if you do business as anything but your legal name.

3. Set Up a Tax I.D.

• This will be used to identify your business as an entity.

4. Register For State And Local Taxes

• In addition to taxes required by the federal government you will have to pay some state and local taxes.

5. Acquire Licenses and Permits

• To run your business legally there are certain federal and state licenses you need to obtain.
 

Breathe

It may seem overwhelming, but the more you educate yourself the easier it will become. An important thing to remember is if you’ve chosen to go into business for the right reasons, eventually you’re going to make it happen. Foreknowledge, structure, and a calm mind will do a great deal when building a sound financial future through entrepreneurship.

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