I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy!Tash

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Digital financial communications

What do you do with the annual reports, product disclosure statements and other disclosure materials you’re sent by banks, super funds and similar organisations?

Hard copy rubbish

If you’re like many people, you put them in the recycling (or normal) bin – possibly without even reading it first.

This is annoying because

  1. it is a waste of paper and thus a burden on the environment
  2.  it is a waste of money to print and mail the documents – and guess who pays for that waste?

Going digital

communications_choicesA few years ago, legislation changed so that financial instructions can send some disclosure information electronically. That could be as an email attachment, an email linking to an online resource or even an SMS containing a link.

However, the super funds and banks could only do this if you consented to getting it electronically.

New digital rules

Under a new ASIC guidance, financial organisations in Australia can send disclosure materials to their customers/members by default.

That is, they will need to notify customers/members that “certain information will be provided by {explain electronic method} unless you opt out within 7 days of this notice.”

So once such organisations set up this notification and opt out system, we can all expect to receive such notices and then get fewer hard copy disclosure materials.

Going back to my first question – do you keep hard copies of such materials? If so, will you opt out of electronic communications now there is a clear choice?

If you were a financial organisation, would you swap to sending digital communications instead of hard copies?

Correct details in tests are critical

I came across another example of errors in details being an issue.

Our daughter’s school sent out an email including ‘(1 of 2)’ in the subject. The attached pdf explained they were testing the communications system for parents so we should expect two emails – if only one arrives, contact the school.

Testing communications seems like a good plan and the test seemed simple enough.

Then I got a second email which referred to being the first email of two and had the same attachment. Was it an error to get this email twice or did they accidentally send it twice? Should I reply to say I got it twice, possibly like hundreds of other parents, or give them a chance to explain the duplication first?

Flurry of envelopes flying into a laptop to represent incoming emails

Responding to a mistake can lead to a flurry of emails – avoiding that is one good reason to check details before hitting send!

Then, I got a third email asking me to log into the school’s site to read a letter. The letter was the same attachment as in the original email (which clearly states ‘this is the first email and please contact us if you don’t get a second one’).

Which detail is wrong – the letter stating a second letter was coming or the sending of the same letter twice?

Where does that put their test?

On one hand, I got both types of email so the systems are working and my contact details are correct.

Do they have my email address in the system twice so I will get two versions of every group email they send?

Was it human error to get the same attachment in the second email type or is that a failure of the system?

I can not reply as I got both emails or I can reply and explain I got three emails and the same attachment.

Which do you think will help their testing process more? What would you do?


Hiding email addresses leaves a sour taste

Do you think email addresses should be hidden or open to your clients or members?

email symbol shwoing call us, write to us, but don't email us!

A business making it hard for customers to email them just doesn’t make much business sense to me. Yet that’s exactly what one organisation is doing to their members…

Today, I received an email from an organisation I’m a member of. {Disclaimer – I am only a member there because I haven’t made the time to move elsewhere – that time is now a high priority.}

Replying to emails

I did not like today’s email – I mean it was laid out ok and was polite and appropriate as far as the wording went, but I am not happy with the content. Largely because it showed that organisation is using member money to fund something completely unrelated, public and providing no obvious benefit to members.

I hit reply to tell them what I think. I doubt my voice will make a huge difference but I would feel better to be honest about it.

However, the email comes from a no-reply address.

Instead, I went to their website to grab their email address to use instead, but they only have an online form. So I even went as far as checking some letters they’ve sent me in the past – also the contact form URL instead of an email address.

So I can’t reply to the email.

And I am left feeling they are hiding from members. Feeling they are hiding from complaints. Feeling a bit uncomfortable and like I’ve touched something dirty with the way they are keeping contact details secret.

Selective email address use

Spam is awful – I hate it. So like many others I avoid putting my email address online in a way that spam bots can find it.

Yet that doesn’t mean my email address is hidden completely.

It is on my business cards, letterhead and certainly is the ‘reply to’ address for my html newsletter.

Other organisations put their email address on their site as a graphic – bots being unable to read graphics (well, so far anyway!) – or in words (eg write AT wordconstructionsDOTcomDOTau is an acceptable way for me to share my email address online.)

And it’s not like I’m talking about a small organisation that can’t cope with emails – a sole trader or other SMB may need to manage contact options, but a big business has more staff and even dedicated staff for customer service.

Is limited promotion the same as hiding?

What do you think?

Are they protecting themselves from spam or from complaints? Are they hiding their email address, even from members, or is it a reasonable business decision?

And I’d love to hear what you have done to promote or hide your email address, too.

Is there business life beyond Facebook?

mix of activities that makes a makreting strategy

A strong marketing strategy encompasses more than one option

Like it or not, Facebook is a big site that attracts millions of people to it. Every day. Repeatedly.

As a business, it is important to understand how Facebook could be part of your marketing plan – note I don’t say you have to be ON Facebook but I do think it is a good idea to actively know about it and consciously decide whether or nor to use it for marketing.

Facebook is changing

If you’ve been on Facebook or read many marketing/SEO blogs, you’ll know that Facebook has changed things a number of times.

Recent changes, however, have made businesses wonder if Facebook will be a viable marketing option soon. Updates on business pages do not go into your fans’ news feed by default any more – some do, but fans have to show an interest first and it’s still no guarantee.

Facebook is moving towards charging businesses to be in front of fans.

As a business, it’s understandable that they want to make money. For SMBs, there is a real and justifiable fear that they won’t be able to compete in the advertising stakes against the big guys. A problem social media supposedly overcame for many SMBs.Select to get Word Constructions notifcations in Facebook

At least they have now added notifications so fans can choose to be notified of updates on a page.

What other options are there?

I don’t see this as a small answer. I never thought of Facebook as that important my business relies on it so I already use a number of other avenues.

But some businesses have put a lot into their Facebook page and could be challenged by looking elsewhere.

The appeal of Facebook is that so many people use it. But how many of those people are really your target market anyway? A targetted option may have fewer users but more of them will be interested so it could offer much more value anyway.

To me, the risk of Facebook (and similar sites) is lack of ownership. You don’t ‘own’ your Facebook profile in the same way you own your website. Facebook can change the rules or  disappear, leaving you without all you built up.

One way to keep using Facebook but have less reliance on it is to add ‘like’ buttons to your site.

That means people can still refer to you and your site to their Facebook friends but traffic comes to your site, not your Facebook profile.

Chris Syme offers a number of good ideas in a recent blog post and I’d add a few more:

  •  get involved on some popular blogs – leave comments and interact with the blogger and other readers
  • do some guest blogging
  • find some forums that suit your niche and become active there – it’s a smaller audience but targetted
  • if using any social media, keep a focus on your website so you don’t lose everything if the platform collapses or becomes unusable
  • develop and maintain an email list
  • promote yourself offline as well – ads in local newsletters, sponsor local events and hand out business cards appropriately

What would happen to your business tomorrow if Facebook suddenly wanted to charge too much for your page?

Do you have other viable options already in place?

Tash & Word Constructions on Twitter          Word Constructions on LinkedIn         Tash & Word Constructions on Facebook

Help others help you

I do a bit of guest blogging, and I believe it is a mutually rewarding experience if done well. I certainly don’t think the host blogger is doing it all for the sake of guest bloggers as they also benefit from the arrangement.

Maybe the host blogger likes updating the blog without writing much themselves, maybe they like the traffic guest bloggers can bring or maybe they are basing their blog on a team effort to give a broader picture. Whatever the motivation, the host blogger benefits.

Accept posts graciously

Email arriving from a laptopI think it is plain good manners and a strategic decision to be nice to people who offer posts upon request.

Recently, I saw a blog request blog posts through BloggerLinkUp. I looked at the site and the topics covered, decided it was a good fit for me and emailed the blog with a post idea.

The response received left a sour taste in my mouth and I didn’t bother writing a blog post for him. The issues with the email:

  1. he didn’t bother using my name or a greeting of any description
  2. he told me to read his ‘write for us’ page to see the requirements – he didn’t link to it or tell me how to find that page. At a quick look in his site menu and footer, I can’t see any related links so I left the site. It would had been easy to give me a link. It would have been easier to include such a link and requirement in the original request for blog posts
  3. he didn’t use his name to finish the email – it made it all very impersonal and showed no attempt on his part to build a relationship. I no longer felt comfortable with him or his site, and certainly didn’t feel it was somewhere I wanted to regularly contribute posts to
  4. this one is perhaps more personal, but I didn’t like his comment “I would publish your post if it meets the standard of this blog”. I felt he assumed I wasn’t up to the standard rather than assuming I am (sort of ‘capable until proven incapable’ is my usual approach). He didn’t acknowledge the topic I had suggested – who knows if that even met his unstated standards?

So if you want people to provide guest posts for your blog, or articles for your website or newsletter, try to build a relationship with those who offer you their writing – or at least send them a nice email response.

What sort of responses have you received from sending out or offering to write guest blog posts?

Getting responses

If you take the time to write some content, I assume it is to get a response. So isn’t it worth taking a bit longer and making a response more likely?

This week I have received two messages that may have generated a nice response from me except for what I see laziness on the part of the writer.Messages transferred between computers

First was an unsolicited email from someone wanting some proofreading work from me. He used the contact form on my website but addressed it to “To whom it may concern”.

If you want a job, you need to impress your perspective employer – show some initiative and attention to detail, and tailor your approach to the employer. It is not hard to find my name on my site but he didn’t even bother. He also didn’t mention my business in any way, just what he wanted, and used a Gmail account instead of an email from his domain.

Second was a comment in my blog {names changed to protect the guilty or maybe just me!}:

I am Fred Nerk from XYZ Pty Ltd and I would like the contact details of your marketing manager to tell him about our forum next November Regards.

I know this was spam and he obviously hadn’t even read the post he was commenting on. But the same lesson applies – take the time to find someone’s name and understand their business before contacting them.

Even if you can’t be bothered doing your research, assuming all marketing managers are male is not a good option either.

I’m not employing someone (or buying someone’s product or service) who can’t be bothered finding my name on my site.

Would you?

Formatting email text

Did you know that our eyes  focus on the left margin so this is the best place to start writing?

This applies to letters and other written materials (only very old fashioned styles would have indented paragraphs for letters) but even more so to electronic materials such as emails.

Of course, the other advantage of starting paragraphs on the left margin is that it is easier to type – no formatting pages or repeatedly using the tab button! And for email systems that indent previous email messages when forwarding (a very annoying system in my opinion but that’s off the point!), having indented paragraphs would look absolutely horrible and potentially end up far to the right.

So the simple answer to how to format emails is – don’t! That is, don’t format the main text – you do need to consider a space after the greeting and between paragraphs.

Let your words be the focus of your emails, and use your words wisely!

Getting marketing emails read

While there are a number of factors involved in a successful email campaign, I think there are two important points to remember in every marketing email you send out.

1. keep it short – no one is going to read an email that is full of text for pages. Keep sentences and paragraphs short and as few of them as possible, then use white space and images to make it look appealing and quick to read.

2. focus on getting them to do something – usually the call to action is to phone you or visit your website as that is where you can then provide a lot more information

Be professional with the little things…

It amazes me sometimes how people ignore some of the little details that are so easy to deal with.

I read recently that someone would never take advice from a financial planner who can’t afford a quality tie (bad taste is a different issue, of course!) My equivalent statement is that I would never hire someone for SEO help/advice or other digital services (social media marketing, web design, ecommerce, etc) if they can’t be bothered setting up a non-hotmail, non-yahoo email address – Gmail and IP provider emails are not really any better.Receiving professional emails on your laptop

The blog I looked at yesterday came to my attention by the owner asking for guest blog posts. He provided a domain name and his Hotmail details. Why on earth doesn’t he have an email based at that domain name? Especially for someone claiming to know about SEO?

This is a pet peeve, but there are some valid reasons to use a domain-related email address:

  • it builds trust to use your domain name – you have taken the time to get a domain name and matching emails so expect to be in business for more than five minutes
  • it looks professional
  • Hotmail does not build credibility – many people use Hotmail as untraceable email addresses so it is not always seen as reputable. Have you noticed a number of places won’t accept a Hotmail address when you register?
  • every time someone receives your email, you can promote Hotmail/Gmail/your ip provider or you can use your domain name and promote your business. No brainer to me
  • it shows you pay attention to the little details in your business so probably care about your products/services
  • it gives consistency, especially when you list your contact details in one place like on a business card or the end of an email
  • you don’t have to change your email address if you change ip providers or the email service stops (or changes rules in a way you don’t like)

Images in email marketing

A picture says a thousand words.

It’s true that a picture can convey a message very quickly and sometimes better than words, and can make any document more appealing. However, you need to be careful relying on images in your marketing.

Before making an image the central part of any email message, remember the following:

  • many people (I’d guess the majority, in fact) have images turned off so they won’t see the image by default. If your email relies on that image, your email is not going to work very well.
    Yes, sometimes people will accept images and then be able to see your message but I rarely do that if the image is pretty much the entire message as I want to know what it’s about before lowering my security – and I guess I’m not alone in that.
  • including a number of images, even if they aren’t the key message, can lead to a poor presentation of your email if images are turned off – not only are there lots of red crosses on view, but it may distort the layout of text, too
  • people have different perceptions and ideas, and some see a half empty glass so think carefully about about how your image may be seen. It’s not so bad if a supporting picture is misinterpreted as if it is a key part of your message
  • including many and/or large graphics makes your email much larger which may mean higher costs for you and again may limit it’s acceptance by all email servers
  • text in graphics and images themselves won’t help your search engine efforts (for emails online as well as sent out) although it does hide words from spam filters. Technology may be changing this but for now it still matters!

So what do you think when you receive an email that is based entirely or predominantly on graphics? Are they as effective in getting your interest as text based emails?

And don’t forget to support your email marketing, too.