If you’re like a lot of other business owners, you know that blogging can be good for business, but you hate trying to come up with topics. Trust me, I know the feeling. Sometimes, it feels like there’s nothing else to talk about. After all, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” right?
But there are some tried and true ways to get inspiration and come up with topics when you feel like the well has dried up. Here are some of my personal favorites:
#1 Listen to your customers.
One of the very best ways to come up with blog post topics is to listen to your customers. What are they saying? What do they ask about, again and again? What issues are they dealing with?
Here at Spark Marketer, we have a weekly chat where we share what our clients have been asking about or talking about, as well as any issues that have come up throughout the week.
Every topic and issue gets added to a spreadsheet that we can all access, add to, and pull from, which is great because it reveals themes and provides insight to those of us who don’t get to have regular conversations with clients.
Knowing what our clients are dealing with, asking about, and talking about, enables me to write (hopefully) helpful content that’s relevant to what they’re going through. So, yes, it’s altruistic. But, the bonus is, it provides me with a wealth of blog post ideas. It’s how I came up with this one!
Don’t ignore the wealth of ideas in the conversations you have with your customers. After all, they’re the very people you should be writing for!
#2 Use Google autofill & “people also ask.”
Google makes it kind of easy for you to “listen in” using autofill and “people also ask” in search results. All you have to do is start typing in a word or sentence, say, “Why is my fireplace,” for example, and see what autofill comes up with. There, you’ll find out how people are finishing that sentence and just what people are asking.
When you type a question into Google and press enter, you’ll also notice that Google shows a few related questions in the search results, under the title “People also ask.” This is great for finding related topics to write about or other questions to answer within that same blog post. It’s like a free look inside the minds of those searching for topics, services, and products you deal with. Creepy, but helpful.
#3 Check out Answer the Public.
Answer the Public is a pretty great tool that allows you to type a keyword or topic into a search bar and come out on the other side with a whole host of related questions people are asking on the web. It’s a great way of expanding your ideas when all you have in mind is a general topic or keyword. Plus, the guy on the home page is pretty entertaining, in a judgmental kind of way.
Here’s an example of how the questions are organized. The results below are for the keyword “fireplace.” Check it out.
#4 Spy on Quora.
If you can get past the fact that people ask some of the dumbest questions possible on Quora, you’ll find that it’s sometimes a good way to see what good questions are being asked about a particular topic. It’s also a great way to see what kinds of answers people are getting, so you know what misinformation and misconceptions to address in your blog posts. You can choose topics that interest you and Quora will send you emails when related questions are asked, or you can just go to Quora and start looking around. But brace yourself. Like I said, some of the questions are ludicrous, and you’ll spend a few minutes just wondering how these people have made it this far in life.
#5 Keep your eyes and ears open.
A lot of times, topics will come to mind and inspiration will strike in the strangest of places, so keep your eyes and ears open. If you’re a local service business, as painful as it can be sometimes, watch the local news. Are there reports of consumer fraud in your industry? Maybe you need to do a post on what to look for when hiring a company that provides the services you offer. Are there certain products you use to do your job that provide a better value for the homeowner? Maybe it’s time to showcase those in a blog post. Maintain a curious mind, keep your eyes and ears open, and you’ll come up with ideas. The more accustomed you get to thinking outside the box, the easier it will be to find inspiration.
Well, I hope you find these helpful. Now that I’ve shared some of my favorites, I’d love to know how you come up with blog post ideas. Let me know in the comments!
5 Tips For Coming Up With Blog Post Topics When You’re All Out Of Ideas was last modified: February 19th, 2019 by Jessica Shepard
In my time here at Spark Marketer, I’ve written website content for over 100 chimney sweeps. In other words, if there were an award for “most chimney-related websites written,” I’d quietly (okay, okay, and proudly) accept it.
You may think that writing a website for the same type of company only gets easier with time and experience, and while that is true to some extent, it also gets harder.
Me, only prettier and with messier hair.
Why is that?
Well, I’m always trying to find new ways to write about the very same things: chimneys and all the maintenance, repair, and restoration services that go along with them. And the truth is — I’m usually working with the same exact information, nothing more.
But who cares? If you know the topic, writing the site should be easy, right? Yes, and no.
I’ve sat in on CSIA certification trainings and classes. I’ve spent so much time on chimney product websites that ads for chimney caps show up on every one of my personal devices. I’ve spent more time secretly judging people who fire up their fireplaces without scheduling an annual inspection than I’d like to admit. But none of that knowledge helps me when it comes to making your business stand out. To do that, I need information that only you can provide.
Trust me, I have more dictionaries, thesauruses, and creativity fostering books in my office than I have fingers. But fancier adjectives don’t make for higher on-site conversions: interesting stories and customized information do. And in order to communicate your interesting and unique story and really show your customers who you are as a company, I need your help.
So, what types of things should you share with me or whoever will be writing your website? Great question! Here are a few things that should get you started:
The Basics. Let’s start with the basics. Let the writer working on your website know when your business was founded, how long you’ve been in the industry, what certifications your team has, what groups and associations you’re a member of, what products you use, and what services you provide. These are all things that matter to and build authority with your customers, and they’re all things that should be on your website.
The Bios. Without bios, you’re just another faceless company in a sea of chimney sweeps. So please, send me some bios! Not just the bio of the business owner, but the bios of your employees as well. After all, these are the people who will be serving your customers, and they’re the people your customers care most about. They want to know who will be coming into their homes, what kind of people they are, if they have families, etc. Share qualifications, yes, but also share things that aren’t related to work; things that show the humanity of your team and make you relatable and likable to customers and potential customers. People do business with people they like, so give them a reason to like and trust you by properly introducing yourself.
FAQs. A lot of companies simply copy the FAQ pages of other companies, and while looking at others in your industry can provide a good guide, go further than that. Talk with your techs and customer service representatives to find out what questions your customers frequently ask. Then share that information with me. This will allow me to think of ways to provide value on your website and address the hesitations, concerns, and obstacles of your customers before they even call you. If your website is a helpful resource for those searching for the services you offer, you’ll have their trust, and they’ll be more likely to call you when they’re ready to schedule an appointment.
The Details. Let’s say you offer the same 15 services as your top competitors. When a potential customer sees those 15 services on your website and on your biggest competitors’ sites, how will they determine who is the best choice? The best way to win here is to differentiate yourself on your service pages, not just on your About page — and in order to do that, I need to know how you’re different and what’s important to you. By providing me with the details, you’ll equip me to answer the questions your customers may have about how those services are performed or why/when they’re needed. I’ll be better able to address the things that matter to your customers, like cleanliness, punctuality, etc., and communicate that you care about the same things they care about. Tip: If you’re not sure what they care about, check your reviews and the reviews of your competitors. You’ll definitely find some hidden gems there. You can also ask your customers!
Together, We Can Make You Stand Out
Chances are, your competitors have websites, and the more competitive your market, the more crowded the search results will be for someone looking for the services you provide. Make yourself and your website stand out by partnering with your marketing company and providing them with the info they need to really differentiate you and tell your story.
And quick note: just because I’m using our chimney clients as an example, don’t think this information doesn’t apply to you because you’re in the HVAC/plumbing industry, decorative concrete industry, wildlife control industry, or some other industry! No matter what type of industry you’re in, if you take a little time to give the writer of your website a little extra information, you’ll get a lot more out of your website.
In the words of Jerry Maguire, “Help me, help you.” Not just because you’re paying me to, but because I really want to! I love my job and I love the clients we work with — but knowing and being able to tell your story makes my days a lot more fun, and a lot more meaningful. So, do it for the both of us!
Psst! One last thing, on behalf of designers (my creative siblings) everywhere: Please provide photos of your team, service trucks, work you’ve done, and anything else you can that will make your company stand out. Do you need to hire a professional photographer? Not always. Sometimes all you need is a steady hand, some good lighting, and that camera you keep in your pocket, a.k.a. your smartphone.
The Secret To A Better Website was last modified: April 1st, 2019 by Jessica Shepard
If you’ve watched any of our Power Business Minute videos or read any of our articles in the past, you know that we strongly believe that your employees make or break your company. They’re the face of your company, an extension of you, and if they’re overworked, under-appreciated, and unhappy in their work, that will come across in their interactions with your clients.
Not only that, but the research shows that the number one reason most American workers leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. Finding good employees is hard enough — wouldn’t you rather keep them once you find them? We thought so. And that starts with appreciation.
March 1st is Employee Appreciation Day, which means now is a good time to sit back, reflect, and assess if and how you make your employees feel appreciated. What can you be doing to make your employees feel appreciated March 1st, and every day of the year?
#1 Buy the team lunch.
The saying is, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” But as a foodie myself, I can confidently say that saying doesn’t just apply to men. After all, who doesn’t like being treated to a delicious and free meal? By treating the team to lunch, you’re saving your employees money, making them feel cared for, filling their bellies, and encouraging fellowship. It’s a win across the board. In fact, the only way this can backfire on you is if some of your employees have special dietary restrictions and you don’t take that into consideration.
For example, if you’re ordering BBQ for the office, you need to make sure you have something tasty for the vegetarians, pescatarians, or vegans in your office (if you have any). Are a lot of your employees riding the Keto wave? Don’t bring in a carb fest as your “reward.” In other words, be thoughtful. It doesn’t have to get complicated, especially not if you know your employees, which brings us to our next tip.
#2 Get to know your employees and take interest in their lives.
One thing that will make your employees feel especially appreciated is if you take interest in them and their lives outside of work. Ask about their family, their pets, their hobbies. Yes, it requires some extra effort on your part, but it communicates something to them: that you care about who they are and how they’re doing.
A lot of bosses think of their employees as cogs in a machine, and they make it abundantly clear. They have no interest in getting to know the people doing the work, they just want the work done. How loyal do you think an employee will be to a boss like that? How satisfied do you think they’ll be with their job when they’re viewed as a cog in a machine?
This type of mindset may have worked for managers past, but that’s not the way to build a loyal, happy, and productive team in this day and age. Millennials and Gen Zers won’t put up with it. So if you want to have a business when the older generations age out of the workplace, you need to take interest in the people working for you.
#3 Recognize good work regularly & publicly.
Hard work has its own rewards, but one thing that can make your employees feel appreciated all year long is being recognized for the hard work they do for your company. Some studies report that nearly 70% of employees would work harder if their efforts were better appreciated.
“Global research conducted by the Cicero Group shows that employees receiving strong performance recognition are much more likely to be highly engaged at their job, and as a result, likely to perform at their maximum output and develop innovative ways to improve their company.” Cicero specifically found that “well-recognized employees have more drive and determination, better work relationships, improved personal standing, and stronger connections to their company.” In other words, by recognizing good work regularly and publicly, you can boost the morale, productivity, culture, and loyalty of your team.
Here at Spark Marketer, one way we show appreciation and recognize people for their hard work is through Slack, which we use for internal communication. We have a channel called“#FTW,” which stands for “For The Win.” In this channel, anyone can publicly recognize a “win” or a job well done at any time. There’s no need to wait around for a specific meeting — recognition is given immediately, publicly, and regularly. The recognition in the FTW channel can come from peers and leaders in the company, which trains us all to be more appreciative of each other and to recognize quality work when we see it.
It’s really a win for everyone.
#4 Give gifts and awards for a job well done.
Here at Spark Marketer, we also have monthly meetings, during which we give out awards: the “Do Epic Sh*t” award and the “Not Today, Satan” award. The employee receiving the award is recognized for the work they’ve done, and given a trophy to keep on their desk for the entire month. This award acts as a public symbol and reminder that their work does not go unappreciated or unseen. It’s motivation to continue doing good work, day in and day out.
Trophies aren’t the only options for showing appreciation. You can also give out small gifts, like lottery tickets, gift cards, and of course, time off. Get to know your employees, figure out what would have the most meaning to them, and budget it in. Don’t think of it as “just another expense” that you’d rather not have; keeping your employees happy will have serious ROI, so make it a priority.
#5 Ask for their input.
We’ve all had that one friend who seems to love talking about their problems, but never wants or heeds any advice. Sometimes being in those kinds of friendships can feel like being asked to step into a boat that’s full of holes, without being given the option to first plug the holes. Maybe this allegory is a stretch (my mom says mine usually are), but your employees might be feeling like they’re in a boat filled with holes they know how to plug — if only someone would ask them.
The truth is, when we’re asked for our opinions, it makes us feel valued and, you guessed it, appreciated. How often do you ask for your employees’ opinions and feedback? When they provide it, do you really listen? Consider adding a company-wide suggestion box or having 1-1s or lunch meetings with each of your employees. Hear them out, ask them what they would change or do differently, and find out how they see the company growing.
It may not make sense to implement every suggestion they share with you, but just being asked, being heard, and being considered a valuable member of the team with valuable contributions to make will go a long way towards making your employees feel appreciated and invested in the company. Whether you’re looking to improve every day operations, make big changes, or plan the year ahead, take the time to involve your team.
#6 Get together for company-wide events and celebrations.
Just because we work together, doesn’t mean we necessarily get to spend much quality time with our coworkers. So how can you foster a sense of community and celebrate your employees at the same time? By organizing company-wide events and get-togethers.
Here at Spark Marketer, we fly our remote employees in at Christmas time for a company holiday party. We just hang out, play some games, do some sort of gift-exchange, share food and drinks, and have a grand, ol’ time. There may not be a clear-cut ROI in terms of profit for the company, but it’s worth every penny.
The sense of community, appreciation, and purpose that these types of events foster is one of the biggest drivers for Millennials and Gen Zers, and it reminds them that they’re a part of something bigger than just the tasks they perform from 9-5. It reminds them that they’re part of a team, working towards the same goals, and that together, we can all do some pretty epic sh*t.
6 Easy & Effective Ways To Show Your Employees Appreciation was last modified: February 28th, 2019 by Jessica Shepard
Video is definitely a favored form of content, no matter which platform you’re on. But there are some general rules and tips to follow when you’re planning where and how to utilize video for your business. Amber’s got the tips you need for better results on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.
Quick Tips On Using Video On Your Social Media Channels was last modified: October 16th, 2018 by Jessica Shepard
Do you feel like you and your team know the value of reviews, but have some discomfort around asking for reviews? Our very own Chris Pitts has some helpful tips to make getting reviews easier and less stressful.
Quick Tips On Getting Reviews For Your Business was last modified: October 16th, 2018 by Jessica Shepard