Stop looking for silver bullets and start asking smart questions

Marketing and public relations problems are not monsters, but lots of people seem to think they are.

If I can just find that single right tactic – that silver bullet or wooden stake  then I can slay the demons of competition and win the business.

I’m not kidding. I’ve had clients basically say things like “All we want is a news release” or “We just need a really good-looking brochure” or “If I could just get my website to rank highly on Google …”

Even when an agency, marketing-communications manager or freelancer delivers on those goals, the client is still likely to be disappointed. (And you can guess who gets blamed then.)

Here’s the point: No single tactic or channel is going to solve all your marketing problems.

Whenever I hear clients start to say “We just need …” I start asking questions. Because I know if I don’t figure out what outcome they actually want to achieve, they probably won’t be happy and I may not be working with them for long.

Clients are smart. Sometimes they’ve worked through all the questions and they really are just looking for that one final tactical execution to get their marketing efforts across the finish line. And they want to get there as quickly and cheaply as possibly; fair enough. In those cases, you still need to ask questions.

Knowing the desired outcome is critical to executing a tactic effectively.

But usually when a client says “we just need …”, what they really need is to start asking a bunch of questions. “We just need” is often code for “We have a marketing problem, and this is what I think might be the quickest, easiest way to solve it, but we really don’t know for sure – we’re just guessing.”

Often, though, the marketing problem has multiple causes, and solving it will require addressing them all.

So, when you hear  or say to yourself  that you just need that one silver bullet in your marketing plan, STOP. Instead, ask yourself some questions. Here’s a good list to get started with, though it’s not exhaustive.

  • Have you precisely defined your target customers or clients? Given your sales and profit goals, are those the right customers?
  • What are you doing to make sure those customers want to buy from you? Do they even know about you?
  • What are you doing to stay in front of people who have bought from you in the past?
  • What are you doing to encourage referrals, word-of-mouth and advocacy?
  • What are you doing to stay in touch with people who expressed interest in buying in the past, but chose not to at that time?
  • Do you have a unique, compelling position in the market, or are you perceived as just another provider? Have you communicated that difference clearly, powerfully and consistently? Do you offer proof of that difference?
  • Are you making offers on a regular basis to your potential clients or customers?
  • Are you listening to your audience? Are you asking them what their needs and problems are, what they think of your industry and what they think of you? Have you asked people who don’t buy from you why?
  • Are you asking these questions consistently?

There are a bunch more questions you should have that are specific to your industry and business. But as you can see, asking them, answering them honestly and then acting on those answers can be a lot of work.

You might find your sales funnel is full of holes, or that there’s not that many leads coming in the top of the funnel to begin with. Those problems aren’t usually solved with just one tactic or channel.

Yes, this is a lot of work. And yes, it can seem a bit intimidating to take it on. But I guarantee you, it’s less scary then firing that single silver bullet and discovering the monster is going to keep coming.

How to write for the Internet

Professional writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant says that when writing for the Internet, you should consider the advice public speakers are often given: slow down.

In writing terms, this means focusing on being as easy to read as possible. This is because people read differently at their computers than they do when faced with any printed document.

You may not always be conscious of it but when we’re reading at our computers, a light is shining in our eyes… This is the backlighting from the screen and we usually don’t notice it  — except if we’re sitting on a beach in the sunshine and suddenly discover we can’t read at all.

But there are other challenges with computers. The typefaces we like on paper often don’t work on screen. Each letter is represented by square pixels on a grid rather than by lines of ink on paper. This makes them harder to read. As well, our computers have less control over spacing, hyphenation, justification and column width.

Furthermore, the width of a standard column on the Internet is often too wide for the human eye. (When I worked in the newspaper biz, I was always told that you should multiply the point size you used by two to determine what should be the maximum column width in picas. Thus, anything in 9 pt type should be no more than 18 picas wide, or about three inches.) Many Internet sites have columns far wider than three inches!

Bottom line? When you give your readers text on a screen, you’re asking them to work really hard. Thus, it’s more important to “speak slowly” so they understand what you’re trying to say.

She goes on to give a series of specific tips and tactics to make your writing easier to understand online. Many of these tips apply to email as well. Go read Daphne’s post at The Measurement Standard for more details.

(Want more about how to write well? Check out my blog posts about writing.)

 

Score your ideas to boost your content marketing

Right now I have at least 40 blog post ideas sitting in my queue. The potential topics include:

  • Is LinkedIn’s premium for-pay service worth the money?
  • How to market a blog post
  • How to make your public relations and marketing efforts useful
  • Better email subject lines
  • Basic online tasks all marketers and PR professionals should be able to do
  • And many more.

Given my non-blogging commitments and my focus on generating unique, high quality content, rather than just cranking out copy, there is no way I’m going to get all 40 written anytime soon. One of my biggest challenges is deciding which one to tackle next.

If you’ve ever finished up a brainstorming session with a whiteboard covered with ideas, you’ve probably faced this problem, too. Since coming up with ideas is pretty easy, this can be a huge obstacle to actually executing an effective content marketing campaign.

Photo of a whiteboard

Via lukethelibrarian on Flickr.

So what do you do?

Which ideas do you choose to execute on and which do you discard?

Are there some you should do sooner because they have higher value?

How do you resolve conflicts between internal decision makers about what content to focus on first?

Given the time and budget constraints we all face, answering these questions quickly and effectively is critical.

Fortunately, there’s a solution. Content marketers, bloggers and writers can take a tactic from sales professionals and “score” their ideas to figure out which ones are most valuable and worth focusing on. By scoring, I mean using a system to rate and quantify the value of these ideas, and then using the resulting score to prioritize your efforts.

Here’s how it works.

1. Establish a small number of key criteria that you can rate numerically from 1-5.

Your criteria could include things like:

  • Would your target audience find this useful?
  • Would your target audience email this to someone or share it on a social site?
  • Do you have the expertise (or can you get it) to create this content? If not, can you obtain that expertise in a reasonable time frame (research) or can someone else write this?
  • How unique is this topic? Is there a lot of similar competing content online, or can you offer something that helps you stand out?

Your criteria may be different. Depending on your marketing strategy, things like “likelihood to lead to conversion” and other factors may be important. If you’re not sure what your criteria should be, look at your marketing metrics or web analytics to figure it out. (Jay Baer has a great guide to content marketing analytics here, by the way.)

Note that if you are working for a large company or doing this for a client, it’s important to get buy-in on these criteria up front.

For me, spreading ideas and gaining audience are critical, so my criteria reflect that.

2. For each idea, rate these criteria on a 1-5 scale, from least likely to most likely.

  1.     Probably not
  2.     Possible, but not likely
  3.     Maybe
  4.     Probably so
  5.     Yes — absolutely.

If you find this rating process difficult because you’re having trouble getting inside the heads of your target audience, than you may need to do some work on brand personas.

3. Enter all this into a spreadsheet.

Put the ideas and scoring for each metric in columns — the idea, a rating for each of these metrics (or alternative metrics if something different works better for you).

Then add an additional column to take the median of these numbers (you can use the average or sum or something else if you like; you just need a way to translate this into a single number). This number is your score for that particular idea.

An example of a content-scoring spreadsheet
4. Once you’ve got the median, you can sort your spreadsheet from highest to lowest by that score.

(Not sure how to do that? Here’s instructions on how to sort in Excel.)

That sorted spreadsheet tells you which content is potentially the most valuable for you, and you can make decisions about how to allocate your time and resources based on that. Now you’ve taken a bunch of ideas and turned them into an action plan.

5. Bonus step once you’ve implemented this method.

Let’s say you’ve been using content scoring for a while to guide your efforts. Do you know how realistic your criteria were? For instance, if “shareability” was a criteria you ranked, did those pieces of content that you thought were going to have high shareability actually get shared a lot?

This is a great way to go back and check your own assumptions and methods. You may find that, in fact, despite brand personas and other insights, you still have some work to do to get your estimates to match up with your audience’s behavior.

Need help executing against a content plan? I provide freelance writing, public relations, social media and content marketing consulting services. Please contact me if you think I might be able to help.

Social media productivity: Have an impact online, while still having a life offline

Friday I presented at ConvergeSouth 2012 in Greensboro. I gave a talk about how to use social media productively, by which I mean getting results without having to spend 18 hours a day online. Below are my slides.

If you’re interested in having me speak to your group or conference on this topic or any of the other subjects I write about here, please get in touch.

10 reasons to attend ConvergeSouth 2012

ConvergeSouth 2012 logoIn less than two weeks, ConvergeSouth 2012 will take place in downtown Greensboro, N.C. at the Elon Law School.

The conference covers creativity, business and community online. Which means, in practical terms, loads of information on everything from web development to pay-per-click advertising to making a living from your blog.

I’ve attended ConvergeSouth several times, and this year’s conference will be the third year in a row (at least) for me. I always learn something, always meet new and interesting people, and always leave with new ideas. If that wasn’t enough, here are 10 more reasons you should go:

  1. If you work for or with nonprofits, there’s a whole track of sessions devoted specifically to nonprofits.
  2. If you’re a total beginner when it comes to these things, there’s a whole track of “101” sessions just for you.
  3. If you’re a developer who eats, breaths and sleeps in code, check out the advanced (“301″) sessions.
  4. If you’ve been hearing a lot about content marketing, there are several people who will cover that subject.
  5. If you know you need to do a better job with search engine optimization, whether you’re just dipping your toe into this or need some advanced tips, there are speakers who will cover that.
  6. If you want to boost your web presence with video, you can learn from people who know how to do that.
  7. If you want to know what to do when everything goes wrong — when everybody’s attacking you — there’s a speaker who will cover that.
  8. If you want to know how to get the media to pay attention to your business, your cause or your idea, a newspaper editor will provide insights.
  9. If you want to brush up on using WordPress, Facebook or LinkedIn for your business or nonprofit, there are sessions for you.
  10. You can get a 25% discount with the discount code “CS2012-MARK.”

Unlike other social media/tech conferences, ConvergeSouth is a grassroots, all-volunteer nonprofit effort. That means we’re focused on delivering great content, not maximizing profit. As a result, this is about the best deal around for this kind of conference — just $99, before the above-mentioned discount code.

In full disclosure, I’m on ConvergeSouth’s all-volunteer board, so I might be a bit biased about this. But trust me, I wouldn’t be spending my time on this (or writing this post) if I didn’t think it was worth it.
I hope to see you there.

Once again, here’s the registration link; to get an extra 25% off use the discount code “CS2012-MARK” (without the quote marks, naturally).

P.S. There’s a limited number of discounts available under my code; once they’re gone, they’re gone. Register now.

Nine tips for better interviews

With the rise of content marketing, communications professionals will increasingly need to create original content. That can include written Q&As, podcasts, videos and more. And the key to getting interesting, compelling content out of those is being able to ask great questions during interviews with subject matter experts.

Photo of OJ Mayo being interviewed.

OJ Mayo being interviewed. Photo via the Memphis CVB

I spent more than 10 years as a professional journalist. During that time, I interviewed thousands of people for all sorts of stories on all sorts of topics. Here are nine tips guaranteed to help you get more out of your interviews.

1. Prepare questions ahead of time, keeping in mind what’s most important to your audience. Does your audience want step-by-step how-to information? Do they want easy-to-digest tips? Or maybe they’re interested in your interview subject’s perspective on a particular issue.

2. Do as much background research as you can. Read up on the person and subject you’re covering and don’t waste precious interview time getting basic, factual information that’s easily available from other sources. The best answers to interview questions are those that provide new insights, information and perspective that isn’t already widely available.

3. Provide questions to the interviewee ahead of time, or plan for follow-up. You want quality information, not mindless responses that are the result of your interview subject not having enough time to think about them. For most marketing and public relations projects, it’s also a matter of politeness and professionalism.

4. Be polite, professional and friendly. You almost never need a confrontational interview. This is not the time to pretend you’re a 60 Minutes reporter. The subject should come away feeling the conversation was enjoyable and interesting.

5. Double-check key facts: spellings of names, titles, numbers, dates and so forth. Email is a great for this after an interview, because you get it in writing, where it’s often clearer.

6. Take notes with pen and paper, or via keyboard, even if you’re recording the interview. Transcribing an interview is time-consuming; notes taken as you talk to someone force you to focus on the most important pieces of information. Notes are also a good back-up for failure-prone recording equipment. Even if you do want to transcribe parts of what you’ve recorded, notes will help you pinpoint the most important parts of the interview. If you’re recording because you’re going to use actual audio or video in your content, notes will still be helpful in highlighting places where you may want to make edits.

7. Only put into quotes what the person actually said, not what you think he or she meant to say. In some marketing and PR functions, it might be acceptable to draft a better quote after the fact; but even then, the person being quoted should agree to “own” the remark. If your subject says something in a way that doesn’t make sense or isn’t clear, you can also simply repeat your question in a slightly different way and get a new answer.

8. Make your last question “Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn’t?” This gives your interview subject a chance to tell you things that you hadn’t thought of asking about. It often yields good insights.

9. Don’t be afraid of deviating from your planned questions. During an interview you will often learn things you didn’t know and weren’t expecting, which may push the conversation in a different direction. Don’t be afraid to follow that direction; it will often yield better content.

Have other interviewing tips? Please leave them in the comments below.

7 habits of careful writers

Writers who consistent produce strong, polished content have some common habits. Here are seven:

1. Double-checking the spelling of proper nouns. This includes the names of people, companies and places. Is it Linkedin or LinkedIn? (Hint  — it’s the second.)

2. Using a consistent style. Whether you write in AP style (my default), Chicago or something else, careful writers are consistent. Find out more about writing with style here.

Writer working

Photo courtesy of Renaud Camus.

3. Taking advantage of the spell-checker. It’s not perfect, but it’s another set of digital eyes on your work and it can catch dumb mistakes. Honestly, with 20-plus years of paid writing and editing experience under my belt, you probably can’t do this too many times. Just don’t let the spell-checker lull you into a false sense of security.

4. Slaying all your grammar goblins. Grammar goblins are those little grammatical mistakes you, uniquely, know that you tend to make. It might be confusing ‘which’ and ‘that’ in clauses, mixing up singular/plural in subject/verb agreement or confusing lay and lie. You know it’s one of your grammar goblins when you find yourself having to look it up to make sure you’ve got it correct.

5. Formatting your copy appropriately. An email is  different from a blog post which is different from a news release which is different from a brochure which is … you get the idea. Think about what’s appropriate for the piece you’re writing. One hint: Online, shorter paragraphs and more variations in type style (bolding, italics, etc.) are appropriate. Here’s a good set of tips for blog posts, but they also apply to other online copywriting projects.

6. Fact-checking your work. Even if you think you remember the date, the dollar amount or some other key fact, it doesn’t hurt to check a reliable source one more time. At a bare minimum you ought to at least double-check your own notes on this. If there are other sources for the information (documents, authoritative websites, etc.) it doesn’t hurt to check those, either. You will be surprised how often your memory plays tricks on you and inserts errors.

7. Eliminating needless words. Tight writing is strong writing. One of the key features of modern prose style is the focus on using only the words you need. Good writers go over their copy (more than once) to cut unnecessary words.

These seven are not an exhaustive list. Have more habits to add? Please leave them in the comments below.

Add polish and professionalism to your content by writing with style

When I say write with style, I’m not talking about dressing up like a Fashion Week model.

Fashion Week model

Photo via Two for Fashion on Flickr (CC license)

Nor am I talking about whether you write like Hemingway or Faulkner (or someone else), either.

I’m not even talking about whether you should dress like Hemingway or Faulkner when you’re at the keyboard. (Could be interesting, but not necessary.)

No, I’m talking about what rules of style you follow. By the rules of style, I mean things such as:

  • Do you spell out numbers (“one”) or use numerals (“1”)?
  • Do you add academic credentials after someone’s name (Joe Smith, Ph.D.)?
  • Do you capitalize the first letter of each word in your headlines?

Style rules are separate from grammar, spelling and usage questions, which are usually covered in grammar manuals and dictionaries. However, style manuals may note a preference when there is more than one way to spell a word, for example, or when there’s a preferred option for a controversial grammar matter.

Following a consistent set of style rules — on your website or across your company’s publications, for example — makes your communications more polished and professional. Clear-cut style rules can also end at least some of the nit-picking edits about capitalization, titles and other issues from reviewers who should focus on more substantive issues.

Many professionals in other fields — finance, law, etc. — learned a particular style in school or became accustomed to a certain style. They may believe that’s THE rule. But in most style matters, there isn’t a single authoritative rule that everyone follows. Rather, there are different sets of commonly accepted rules. Professionals (and organizations that want to convey professionalism) pick a set and stick to them.

So where’s the rule book?

There are several professional style manuals that are widely accepted. Some are more common in certain professions or industries, but any of them make a good starting point. Just make sure that what you pick is appropriate for your writing project.

Here are three common style manuals to get you started:

Associated Press Stylebook. This is the manual for Associated Press journalists. It’s also used by most American newspapers and is widely consulted in journalistic and PR writing generally. It’s the style I most often use. The AP Stylebook is shorter than some of the more academic-oriented alternatives, and so easier to learn. It also has the advantage of being the style that readers, whether they realize it or not, see most often.

Chicago Manual of Style. This is widely used for academic and book publishing. It is highly respected, but also quite a bit thicker than the AP Stylebook. That’s good when you need a ruling on an obscure issue, bad when you’re trying to figure out the rule for using numerals vs. writing out numbers. The Chicago Style rule on how to write numbers, for example, is a good bit more complex than AP’s.

Yahoo! Style Guide. Yahoo! publishes a style guide for writing online. Unlike its traditional paper-based competitors, this one is available for free on the web. It’s also more focused on some of the unique needs of digital writing.

How do I learn all this stuff?

Even professional editors keep copies of the appropriate manual at hand. No one remembers every rule.

However, to make use of these style guides, you’ve got to know what they cover and what they don’t. I don’t know any shortcuts for that process other than to get the books (or visit the website) and read them.

In college, when I was learning AP style in a copyediting class, I recall the professor having us review a couple of chapters a week. That’s probably a pretty good method to learn, over time, what’s in the style guide so you know when it’s time to look it up.

Lots of professional writers and editors also reread style manuals periodically to remind themselves of the rules and lessons they contain.

But my style questions are unique!

Of course, lots of companies will have style issues that are unique to a particular industry, profession or brand. And sometimes there is no style manual ruling for an organization- or subject-specific question.

So, in addition to formal style guides, many organizations develop in-house style guides. These are typically created by staff writers and editors. They’re often as simple as a Word document or PDF that’s shared on a file server or printed out for the communication team’s desks.

How do you go about developing an effective house style manual? It doesn’t have to be hard.

As you go through the writing and editing process, note style issues that come up. For example “Do we use middle initials on first reference for senior executive in company news releases and web copy?”

Make a decision on that issue — maybe you can make it yourself, maybe you need your boss’ OK, or maybe there’s a committee or formal process. Whatever the case, once a decision is made (we use middle initials, we don’t use middle initials, we follow the individual executive’s personal preference), record that in your style manual.

Most style manuals are organized alphabetically, so the middle initial question might go under “M” for “middle initial,” or maybe under “I” for initial. You might choose to put it under “I” as that’s a more general category (and perhaps more intuitive for someone looking for the answer to this question). But you also might put a note under “Middle Initial” in the “M” section noting that the reader should check the “Initials” entry.

Have style manuals you love to refer to? Tricks for keeping your style consistent? Let us know what you think in the comments.

How I use Evernote to be more productive

How I use Evernote to be productive

For the last few months I’ve been using Evernote as my primary tool for keeping projects and tasks organized. If you’re still searching for an effective, easy way to stay organized and productive, you might want to try this.

Why EvernoteEvernote logo

My criteria for a to-do list and personal project management system are straightforward:

  1. If it’s electronic (which I prefer) it has to be available on all my devices (Macbook, iPad and iPhone) with automatic syncing. A web version (also synced) is a plus.
  2. It must have a way to organize tasks into projects.
  3. It must allow me to ‘tag’ tasks to group them.
  4. It has to have the capability to store notes and details about a particular task (ex. phone numbers and notes to myself about why I need to call someone).
  5. It has to be easy to use, and must NOT be time consuming.

Evernote meets all these requirements. I’ve experimented with other apps (Remember the Milk and Todoist are pretty good), but Evernote’s robust desktop app beat out the more web-centric applications for my purposes. In addition, Evernote is free. There is a premium paid version, but so far I haven’t needed it. If I did, though, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay for it.

How I use Evernote

There are lots of ways to use Evernote for productivity. The Secret Weapon lays out an extensive system that applies GTD to Evernote. I used that method a while, but found it more complex than necessary. So I created my own Evernote-based system (The Secret Weapon was an inspiration, though).

If you’ve not used Evernote before and want to try it, I recommend the Getting Started Guide for a quick overview.

1. Setting up Evernote for easy productivity

Screenshot of basic Evernote set-up

In Evernote, I set up several basic notebooks and one notebook stack. I named them as follows:

@Inbox

@Read/Review

@Projects (the notebook stack)

@Reference

@Someday/Maybe

@Projects is actually what Evernote calls a “stack” of notebooks. It functions like a folder, with multiple notebooks inside. The rest of them are notebooks. In each notebook are ‘notes,’ which you can think of as the Evernote equivalent of a file. A note has a title/name, and you can put text, various attachments (PDFs, Word documents, image files, etc.) into it. You can also ‘tag’ notes, which gives you another way to organize notes into groups across multiple notebooks.

I use the @ symbol to ensure these notebooks and stacks are always at the top of my Evernote notebook list (sorted alphabetically). That means I can still have other notebooks in Evernote without my productivity system getting lost among them.

2. The Daily Work Flow

Once all those notebooks are set-up, it’s time to start populating them with tasks. I use a GTD-like process for this.

New items go into @Inbox. I can also send emails to Evernote, and it’s configured to dump those emails into @Inbox by default. It’s easy to forward, say, a request from someone to Evernote, or to send a quick email from my phone when I’m on the run to make sure I remember a task.

I go through @Inbox and process each note, moving it to the appropriate notebook and adding any other necessary information.

@Projects is where all of my individual projects, goals and priority areas go. For me this includes some catch-all notebooks (Personal, Family, Work) to hold tasks that don’t fit into discreet projects (filling out an expense report or getting a haircut, for example). I have notebooks for key clients at work, freelance clients, personal projects (like this blog), volunteer work and so forth.

Fitting everything into individual project notebooks is the key to my system. I can review a particular project notebook and see whether I’ve stalled on that project or priority. There may be tasks I haven’t done or it could be I’ve failed to identify next actions for a project. Project notebooks give me an overview of my commitments across all parts of my life.

I also have a notebook within @Projects called @Recurring where I put regular daily or weekly tasks (such as updating my voicemail message, finalizing weekly client status reports or shopping for groceries).

@Read/Review is where I put content — email newsletters, blog posts, videos and so forth — that I want to look at later. I try to clean this out once a week so stuff doesn’t pile up in there. I recommend you put time on your calendar to go through this folder, otherwise it’s easy to forget.

@Reference is where I put information I want to save for later use. This is good for all those bits and pieces of information that I know I need to keep, but which aren’t actionable now. Gift ideas for loved ones, for example, which I might not use for months, go in here.

@Someday/Maybe is where I put all those things that I think I might like to buy/do/visit at some point in my life, but which are not priorities right now. I go through this periodically and clean it out, but the act of writing ideas down and storing them clear my mind.

3. Tags and note titles

The third part of my system is use tags and note titles to further optimize the system.

First tags.

Each morning I review all of my notes (tasks) on a project-by-project basis. I decide which I want or need to do that day, and I tag them with “Today.” That allows me to do a search for all notes within @Projects tagged with “Today” and get an at-a-glance view of my daily to-do list. I use a “saved search” so I can just click to get this list whenever I want it (here’s how to set that up on a Mac or a Windows machine).

The second thing I do is modify my note titles with keywords to help remind me when, where or how I should do something.

I typically use a word such as “CALL” (for phone calls) or “ERRAND” (for something I need to do while out), in all caps before the note title itself. I’ll also use “WAITING” in front of notes to indicate actions that I’m waiting on someone else for (a phone call to be returned or some work task that I’ve delegated, for example).

Since I can sort my “Today” note list alphabetically by title, I can then get all of my daily action items clustered into appropriate groups — all the errands or phone calls, for example, grouped together.

Other keywords I regularly use include “HOME” (for things I need to do at home), “WRITE” (for writing tasks, so I can carve out dedicated time to them), “EMAIL,” etc. I also use dates (ex. “SEPT 29”) as keywords for tasks that need to be done on a certain date.

For @Recurring tasks, I usually have a key word such as “WEEKLY,” “DAILY,” or “MONDAY” (or other day of the week) to remind myself when to do them.

You could use additional tags instead of my keyword system, but I find the keyword system is faster and simpler. It also allows me to see all my daily tasks or all of the tasks in a project while still providing information about context, status, due date, etc.

4. Updating Tasks

One of the things I like about this system is how simple it is to update a particular task with further information. Here’s an example.

Let’s say I meet someone at a conference. We have a discussion and the person asks me to follow-up with them via phone call. I send an email to Evernote with the subject line “Call Joe Smith at (XXX) 555-1212 next week.” That email lands in @Inbox.

When I review my @Inbox notes (usually the next morning, but it could be sooner), I’ll add a few further comments to the note “Joe and I talked about the possibility of partnering on ABC project and he’d like to hear more about what I have in mind. I need to give him more details about Phase 1 and 2 of the project, as well as our ultimate goals and vision.” 

I could also put those notes in my original email, if I was worried about forgetting them and wanted to take an extra couple of minutes to do it right then.

Then I’ll add the appropriate keywords to the note title and move it to the right notebook in @Projects.

If I call Joe the next week and get his voicemail, I leave him a quick message. “Hi Joe, this is Mark. As we discussed last week at the conference, I’m calling to discuss Project ABC with you. Please call me back at (XXX) 555-1212 at your earliest convenience.”

Then I add another bullet point to the top of my note that I called Joe on that date and left a voice mail asking him to call me back. I’ll add the keyword WAITING to my note title and remove it from my daily to-do list by removing the “Today” tag.

In the next few days either Joe will call me back, or I’ll see that phone call each day as I go through my commitments. If it’s appropriate, I can follow-up with him again if he doesn’t call me.

What Do You Think?

If the lengthy description above sounds complicated, it’s not. Once you install Evernote, set up the system and start using it, it’s simple, quick and remarkably flexible.

I’d love to hear what you think about how I use Evernote for personal productivity. If you have questions or suggestions, please leave them in the comments below.

Tap into the power of LinkedIn in 12 minutes a day

LinkedIn is one of the biggest social media sites on the Internet. It’s usually in the top five, depending on how you measure size. But in terms of B2B activity, sales, professional networking and careers, it’s arguably No. 1. That’s because LinkedIn was built from the ground-up as a social media site for work, not play.

Many LinkedIn users are very active – posting updates, participating in groups and building their networks. But many aren’t. Too many users treat LinkedIn simply as a place to keep their résumé and virtual Rolodex.

LinkedIn logo

But an active LinkedIn presence can do so much more: It can lead to career opportunities, help build your professional network and even tech you new things about your field. But only if you use it.

Here’s how you can boost your LinkedIn presence and get much more value out of it in just a few minutes a day.

1. Grow your network. When you meet people send them LinkedIn invitations, and spend time every few weeks going through LinkedIn’s suggested “People you may know.” Over time you’ll connect (and reconnect) with people you might have otherwise lost touch with. When reaching out to link in with someone, don’t use the generic message. Personalize it a bit to let the person know why you want to connect.

Time needed: One minute per person that you add.

2. Update your LinkedIn status once a day. You can do this more often, but once a day is a good place to start. This is good way to share interesting articles about your field or, if you’re generating content on a blog or have a company website with periodic announcements, post that. Don’t be too pushy here, but share information in the spirit of helping other people.

Time needed: Three minutes.

3. “Like” or comment on one or two status updates from other people in your LinkedIn network. The idea here is to acknowledge their activity and touch base so they remember you the next time they have a problem you might be able to help them with.

Time needed: Two minutes.

4. Choose one group (just one, to start) to participate in regularly. Choose a group that’s active and relevant to your goals on the site. You can take part in conversations, start new threads and connect with people in those groups. This is networking, not sales, so the goal here is to be helpful. You don’t need to sink a huge amount of time into this, just pop into the group, review the discussions and see where you can quickly add a comment of value.

Time needed: Five minutes.

5. Respond to people who reach out to connect with you, comment on your status updates or otherwise seek to interact. This doesn’t need to take a lot of time, but it demonstrates that you are friendly and responsive, which can open the door to future interactions.

Time needed: One minute.

This is a small investment of time – 12 minutes a day, five days a week. Over time, this can lead to new professional relationships, career opportunities and business deals.

What else could you do on LinkedIn in 12 minutes a day? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.