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Introduction

When it comes to writing reports for marketing and sales the days of hard-sales and solely self-serving media are dead.

The good news is that it is still possible to establish yourself as the market leader, the guru and authority in your niche. You can take casual prospects and turn them into rabid fans and lifelong customers.

A great report still has the power to do all these things.

This article will cover the simple steps to creating excellent and effective business and marketing reports that your market consumes and loves even if you are a terrible writer. And as you make additional sales through these reports your customers will swear that they sought you out and demanded to buy from you - that is the opposite of hard selling.

Even with all the hype and hoopla surrounding video and audio few things have the power to drive your credibility higher while positioning you as an expert and pre-sell your products and services at the same time as a top notch report.

Millionaire marketing guru Rich Schefren said that if had to start from scratch and launch a multi-million dollar business today he would do so with a written report. And if writing reports is still the method a successful marketing genius would employ then it is probably a great idea for mere mortals like me to take note.

The Problem with Hard Selling

Hard selling does not work any more. Bad news for some and great news for you and me because the business community (and the Madison Avenue executives) are about as quick to turn their marketing around as a snail embarking on an around the world race.

The reason hard selling has lost its effectiveness is because we have moved from a world starved of entertainment into a busy bustling barely-time-to-think attention economy. Technology has evolved so quickly producing new media and forever changing the marketing landscape.

Once upon a time people would almost welcome the new and exciting offerings brought to your home by the travelling salesman. Men, women and children would crowd around the wireless radio and sing along to the soap company jingles as an integral part of their favourite radio show entertainment.

Those were golden years and the good times really continued for decades. Those with the money simply (and overtly) controlled all the media channels and could just pump out any advertising and people would buy. To a degree that is still the case, at least the big money controlling the traditional media avenues.

What has changed significantly is the amount of time and attention people are willing to give to marketing messages. An issue compounded by the massive increase in media and entertainment options, a huge upshift in the number of consumer options for everything from soda pop to cars to brands of underwear.

I do a lot of marketing consulting for businesses so I must admit that I do read, watch and listen to a fair amount of advertising material as part of my job. This time is spend analysing, critiquing or creating marketing pieces. But, I realised this the other day, in my day to day activities and downtime I had not watched a single TV ad in over six months. I watch TV shows when I want without ads, I only watch movies on demand, never listen to the radio anymore, generally avoid print magazines opting instead for content via Kindle or streamed media.

I’m now really only subjected to the occasional message on a bus, billboard or clumsy product placement in my favourite sitcom.

If I want to buy something I rarely look for vendor ads. I might browse an auction site for a deal but more likely I will go straight for some product reviews from experts, then flavour that with some real people perspectives from social media to arrive at a short list of options. Then I go with the retailer that has the best reputation (or one I am already familiar with).

In other words I am now in much more control of what marketing messages I am subjected to – in fact I pretty much choose intentionally which marketing to pay attention to. Then I have the power of choice when it comes to educating myself about the options, I use the “hive mind” of global social media to help back up decisions with real world cold facts about products and services.

I am not alone, in fact I know this is now the norm for the bulk of the buying population. Time and attention is scarce plus where it is directed is now much more heavily controlled by the consumer.

For consumers this change is great offering more choice, more information at their fingertips and now consumers are able to make more informed buying decisions on a wider range of product options.

Consumers have the ability to instantly research products and vendors to determine if they are worth paying attention to. What is even more problematic for advertisers is the fact that consumers trust peer based information and social media far more than any sales message. And with social media and connectivity on the rise businesses, in some ways, go back to the middle-ages way of building credibility where you must provide a good service and then rely on those you serve to build your credibility in the market place.

It is a three prong problem:

  1. Consumers are more connected and subjected to far more noise from every avenue including social and advertising. Consumer attention is far more limited now than 10 years ago.
  2. Consumers are able to educate themselves on products, services and their vendors faster and more thoroughly than ever before. This renders overt and common methods of influence and persuasion useless because, unless immediately and obviously backed up through research, any marketing message may be regarded as hyperbolic sales speak. Now this is both a blessing and a curse: it is more difficult for businesses to scam, lie and take advantage of people over the long term but even legitimate claims by legitimate businesses are easily dismissed as untruth. At any rate buyers prefer to discover revelation for themselves rather than have explanation provided to them by the vendor.
  3. Peers, even total strangers, have far more influence on buying decisions than traditional media and sales messages.

It’s a buyer’s market.

You are defenceless and disposable.

Why do I say that?

Well, hard-selling is the heavy blunt knife which they will simply dodge and then, thanks to social media like Facebook or video sites like YouTube, tell everyone to avoid.

Countless companies (including huge multi-nationals) have not only lost the sale but also continued to lose sales thanks to negative word-of-mouth spreading like a pandemic around the globe. And if that is not bad enough, whenever someone searches for your business that video message saying you are the ‘spawn of the devil’ is still – and always will be – there for everyone to see!

Putting it simply, if they don’t like you, you’re stuffed! …and that’s a decision they will make in a blink of an eye!

Is there a way to avoid hard-selling hell?

Let’s recap - if you go down the hard-selling route they will see you coming, avoid you like the plague, tell all their friends just how crap you are, and of course never consider your services ever again. That is certainly not good business.

So wouldn’t it be useful to have a sales approach which fits with current customer thinking?

Well, that solution is actually found in their actions, because the customer wants to know:

  • Your product or service is genuinely fit for purpose …rather than simply an overblown sales-pitch
  • You know what you are talking about …but without having to discover this by you ramming it down their throat
  • They can get access to the desired information quickly and easily …and likely without your involvement
  • They are in control and can make the decision in their OWN time

And the good news is these demands can ALL be met with a well-crafted report or article. Better still when you follow the ideas in this ‘report on reports’ - you will not only win countless customers but also do it continually, with less effort than any hard-sell approach, and in a manner where the customer swears they chose you rather than you chased them.

If that’s not enough, a great report can easily create a frenzy of activity and positive word-of-mouth, placing you at the eye of the storm as the ‘go to guy’ for your industry. So you’ll not just win a few new customers, you will actually have them rushing to your door, eager to buy!

How to begin the writing process so every word is destined to win you business

But where do you start?

This would seem to be the hardest question for many people considering writing a report, when in fact it’s the easiest. Like all effective sales and marketing this is NOT about you, it’s about your customer.

So where do you start?

Easy, you start where the customer is.

All great reports solve problems, so what is your customer’s pain? What is keeping them up at night, killing their business or simply annoying them?

Once you have some ideas of these potential problems then the next step is to check you can solve each problem. If you can then you have the basis of a report that prospective customers WILL be interested in reading. Simply choose the best idea/problem and get writing.

Here are some primers to get you started when considering hot problem areas:

  • Industry or market trends that affect the reader
  • “How to make your business an easy fit for the new regulations …quickly and easily and without cutting any dangerous corners”
  • Industry or market topics of controversy or interest
  • “The hidden truth about the economy and why traditional thinking could kill your business”
  • What key decisions do your customers have to make?
  • “How to make IT purchasing decisions as easy as 1, 2, 3”
  • What’s complicated, complex or technical about your industry that you can explain simply?
  • “The insider short-cuts to streamlining your systems - Discover the secrets the professionals charge you thousands to learn”

Great research makes great reports

All of the previous examples are potential ideas, but there is one sure fire-way of writing the right report for your customers/readers… Just ask them what they need a solution for!

A simple way to do this is to consider online survey services like Survey Monkey which is a free service or you could use your blog or Facebook account for an open chat with your followers/friends/contacts.

Whatever method you choose, the idea is simple: Ask your customers and prospects what is bothering them most when considering your industry, types of product/service or market.

…Of course, it makes great sense to then give every survey contributor a complimentary copy of your report to thank them for their help!

‘’’EARLY WARNING: The major mistake’’’

The primary focus of this article is that of carefully crafted free reports, so before we continue, it’s important I highlight a major potential pitfall which so many fall into before they’ve even started writing. In fact, make this mistake and your report will be worthless …and you will have wasted all that valuable time and effort writing.

So what’s the major mistake? …Writing about your own products or services.

Now I know what I am saying here may seem counter-intuitive as surely the whole point of the report is to sell what you have to offer. And that is true …but remember we are talking soft-sell not hard-sell.

If you want to write a report about your product as the perfect solution then instead of writing a report write a product brochure or web page. In the meantime, let’s stick to reports…

FACT: Writing about your product, service or company, just isn’t that interesting! …and will likely kill any report or article in seconds!

So instead solve the problems of your readers, give maximum value, and leave them breathless, demanding to know what else you have to offer. Your sales will still follow but this time the customer will feel THEY found you, rather than the other way round.

Establish your purpose (your hidden motive)

Given what I have just said you may still be wondering about your own motives for writing a report. Yes, it is ‘nice to be nice’ and solve customer’s problems, and yes your customers will feel good about you doing this.

But that may not be enough for you… (If it is, great But nonetheless still consider what follows)

Basically, what I am suggesting is there will be a higher purpose to your report. Perhaps it is something like:

  • Establish your authority as an expert
  • Position your company as a certain type or style of provider
  • Give your readers a sense of the way you do business
  • Hint at the range of solutions you offer
  • Specifically - but subtly (remember ‘Early warning’ message) - direct your reader/customer toward a specific product or service
  • Remove the main objections to using your products or services

…or all of the above.

Whatever the case it makes sense to have this awareness of your purpose prior to writing the report. This will help direct your words and styling, and therefore make your desired outcome more likely. But still the key, when writing free reports, is to be subtle with this hidden motive, so don’t shout too loudly!

Of course, if you are creating eBooks or reports that you sell then you can be a lot less subtle…

But – and it’s a BIG HAIRY BUTT! – do not reduce your report to a glorified sales pitch with zero content. If your customers have paid for the report and then you go all out “Mr Sales” then they will likely hunt you down and demand retribution!

As always, balance is the key.

The stroke of genius

So far so good, so now let’s rock the boat a little…

What is the BEST advice or information you have available which you could give away for free instead of selling?

Yes, I am suggesting you create reports from some of your greatest material. The psychological effect is simple yet powerful: “Wow, if this is what they give away for free, then their product/service must be amazing!”

If your report is basic or standard information regarding your industry then it is boring, and the report will be pointless. Whereas, something which astonishes the reader with its insight, practicality and depth of information will create great ‘followers’, not just readers.

Better still, this level of quality will also lead to your report becoming ‘viral’ – in other words, these followers will naturally pass the report to others. Which means, as long as your report includes relevant contact details and ‘calls to action’ (see later), you could be collecting customers with little effort.

So just remember…you sell feelings!

Reach out and squeeze …why their pain is your gain!

‘’’The five steps for emotional connection’’’

Okay, so you have your purpose and identified a problem area for your reader, now we need to apply the pressure.

The steps described below are how to emotionally attach the reader to the problem, its consequences and more particularly the solution that you suggest - in other words, this emotional attachment is ultimately with you and/or your company.

Quick aside – You may be wondering “Why are we talking about this emotional stuff…?”

Well, that’s because emotion is what sales and marketing is REALLY about. If I was to ask you ‘what do you sell?’ then you may give an answer which is your product or service, or maybe a feature of it…

…and such an answer would be wrong.

Instead, an interesting and more valuable way to think about sales and marketing is to realise that…you sell feelings.

For example – If you have a system which fixes XYZ problem, you’re not selling the product you’re selling the confidence and calm which comes from knowing the XYZ problem is fixed.

An intruder alarm is not about selling a bunch of electronics, it’s about the peace of mind which comes when you know your home is safe and secure.

And as a final quick example, the bunch of flowers the guy buys for his wife has nothing to do with the petals or colours of the flowers, but has everything to do with the loving smile (or special ‘early night’) he receives as a consequence of the flowers!

You are selling that smile, not the flowers, you are selling the feeling. So, back to the basic structure…

A great report is one that typically deals with the resolution of fear and anxiety rather than smiles and happiness. We’re talking about pain, and you’re about to crank it up and make the reader REALLY feel it!

Here are the steps to an awesome report:

  • Step 1 – Grab them where it hurts: ‘Here’s the problem’ …in simple and direct terms
  • Step 2 – Squeeze it harder: ‘It’s worse than you think’
  • Step 3 – Rescue: ‘Here’s the solution’ …with specific details as to how and why
  • Step 4 – Reassure: ‘Here’s the proof’ …with examples
  • Step 5 – Direct their next step: ‘Here’s what to do next’

Step 1 – Grab them where it hurts

In simple terms without waffle or jargon you go straight to the point and detail the problem and how it directly relates to the reader’s situation. Taking a leaf from my work in psychology and persuasion, and specifically the idea of hypnotic communication, this is all about ‘pacing and leading’ their behaviour and interest.

As way of a quick example, a hypnotist may wish to relax someone and therefore wants to give the command ‘Relax now’. But - If the hypnotist was to simply say the words ‘relax now’ he/she would miss an opportunity to greatly increase the likelihood of follow-through by the person being hypnotised. So instead, the hypnotist would say something along the lines of…

“You are sitting in the chair and you can begin to relax now”

The subtle suggestion being that sitting in the chair causes the person to relax. This statement is a classic example of ‘pacing and leading’, as the ‘pacing’ chair phrase is a statement about what the person is currently experiencing and the ‘leading’ relax phrase is where the hypnotist wishes to direct that person. Put the two together and you have just become hypnotic!

…or in our case, influential.

This idea is incredibly powerful when considering persuasive communication – however, for the purposes of writing reports we are predominately interested in the basic idea of ‘pace and lead’ when considering an overall communication, rather than simply a phrase.

It’s about understanding and highlighting the current reality for your customer/reader – in other words, what is true for them at that exact moment?

…because when you create a statement about that reality your reader cannot help but agree with you …which in turn means they are far more likely to agree with the suggestion you give immediately after. In summary: Pace and lead.

So, where are your readers? …where’s their mind at? …what’s currently happening in their experience?

…because that’s where you start!

Pace their current situation and relate it directly to the problem you are about to solve, and in doing so, draw them deeper into what your report offers. In this way you will immediately grab the attention of the reader, and then you will increase that attention ten-fold…

Step 2 – Squeeze it harder

While maintaining credibility, increase dramatically the emotion by squeezing hard and making the reader feel every sinew-snapping stab of pain caused by the problem. You want them to be aching for the solution.

A great way to do this is to reverse the usual family of great benefits or what I call the seller’s creed of “Quicker, simpler, cheaper, healthier, happier”. When used in its normal form the seller’s creed suggests people can save or gain money, save or gain time, enjoy less pain and revel in more pleasure.

So the reverse of the creed would suggest the reader is about to lose money, lose time, suffer exceptional anguish and become exhausted in all senses of the word.

If only there was a solution… ;-)

Step 3 – Rescue

Clearly and precisely lay out the steps for the resolution of the problem (the ‘how’). With each step highlight the reasoning (the ‘why’) and underline the direct benefit gained from the solution.

In other words, this time you employ the seller’s creed directly. Think benefits, emotion, benefits, emotion…and then logic or fact to underline your reasoning …and then add some more emotion to finish off!

One of the great ways to do this is to take the basic statement of fact regarding an aspect of the solution and then emphasize its meaning. In effect you complete the statement “and what this means to you is…” - for example:

“This bit of code stops the system crashing”

And what that means to you is…

“Reduces time lost to crashes and the effort expended in getting things back to normal”

Or as a proper statement for the report…

“By adding this code you finally bring an end to those system crashes and more importantly say goodbye to those endless nights of suffering as you try to recover your lost data. In fact, you’re going to be wondering what to do with all the spare time you’ll soon be enjoying!”

As a quick aside, and when considering your sales and marketing, this approach is also a killer way to turn any feature into a benefit. The feature is the physical fact, the benefit is the meaning.

So…

Taking into account this and the previous two steps - As you can see, the reader’s appreciation of your proposed solution is dramatically increased by deliberately increasing their perception of the problem and the associated pain. Ideally, your goal is to get the customer/reader thinking something along the lines of:

“Wow, I’m so glad I read this report, <company name> saved me!”

…and of course you are that company!

Which naturally means the reader now has positive feelings toward you and what you offer. So thinking from a traditional sales and marketing point of view, you have ‘warmed up’ the reader (prospective customer)…

…and it goes without saying that it is a lot easier to sell to a warm prospect than a cold one!

Also, when describing your solution, make it as easy as possible for the reader…

  • If you have several steps which must be followed then lay out your report with each step clearly labelled. Be direct and avoid whimsical, vague statements – your reader wants to read what works, not what ‘might’ or ‘should’ work!
  • If your report suggests calculations, provide a step-by-step table or if you are feeling technical (or have access to a techie) offer an online calculator or downloadable spreadsheet
  • If your reports suggests an exercise with some form of note taking or idea writing, provide a separ ate document or appendix with clearly notated boxes for each note/idea

Step 4 – Reassure

Rather than this being a distinct step which comes after Step 3, you can integrate the idea of reassurance into your overall description of the solution. Essentially what you are doing is adding weight to any argument you make by including direct references to real-world examples.

Similarly you are giving authority to the idea that you are the ‘go to guy’ for that kind of solution.

You can offer anecdotes, one-line examples, or better still, direct customer references in the form of case studies. Each one will underline the strength of your solution turning it into a reality the reader can believe in, and so your report gains value with every example.

And yes, you can talk about your exploits and achievements, but…

Remember - just because they are reading your report does not mean you have won over the prospective customer. Make sure you deliver value first, then and only then start talking about yourself.

You have to earn their respect and interest!

So demonstrate authority with stories rather than outright boasting “I have an MBA” …who cares! It is far better to have statements along the lines of…

“Working with one of my clients this idea netted him $100,000 in additional turnover in the first year, it was simply a case of…”

…which you follow with the specific solution.

In other words, you give the reader the exact same solution you gave your client. Now you have real authority!

These kinds of stories or anecdotes also give you the opportunity to include direct testimony from your customers. Better still the story will be in the words of the customer - not yours - and that is far more persuasive.

Of course, it goes without saying that this adds to your credibility as well, as you are subtly highlighting the fact you have customers who appreciate what you offer.

Here are some simple tips to remember when including customer references:

  • Always refer to the customer by their full name – this avoids the customer having a touch of cynicism by thinking the testimonial/story is fictitious
  • Give the customer their title – If they are a Director or CEO, then say that. This adds authority to their words and therefore increases the influence of their/your story
  • Give accolade to customer or company – If they are number one in their industry, then say that!

Again, adds authority

  • Coach your customer to give words that sing and not bore – The customer simply saying “It’s great” is neither interesting nor effective. Instead get the customer to say directly what worked and why. The sequence will be something along the lines of:
  • “This was my problem…” – clear statement of situation
  • “<Your company> showed me this great solution where we…” – includes steps of solution
  • “The result was…” – include references in terms of clear business benefit (e.g. “a profit increase of 23%”)
  • “What this means to me is…” – close with a glowing statement of success (e.g. “this was a game-changer for us, we have never looked back”)
  • Include a web link to the customer’s company – This is optional however if it is possible/appropriate then including a link within the testimonial provides clear proof that the testimonial is genuine. (Obviously it would be nice to think you will always be believed when presenting comments from you customers, however there are many less reputable companies who offer fake testimonials …and so some prospective buyers have in turn become wary of any testimonial)
  • Edit the completed story/testimonial – Yes, edit it! If the customer has waffled, help them revise their words (i.e. with their consent) so the story is long enough to deliver value but short enough to maintain interest

Bringing this altogether you can arrive at something like the following:

“The results I have seen thanks to Max’s report writing method are jaw-dropping. Before I read the report I was a typical businessman who thought that knowing my subject matter was enough. But I soon realised anything I wrote for my company was boring, worse still no -one told me! I must have been continually switching off clients!

Well, things are VERY different now.

By simply following the five steps suggested by Max, in particular the ‘hard squeeze’ I have not only revolutionised my reports (which now have many, many readers), I have also seen a 36% increase in sales relating to those reports. This is a must have guide for any business” Greg Watts, Management Consultant to the top 5 UK finance houses

Or for another example, taken from the promotion of a business growth training:

“Our accountant is amazed at the increase in our profitability, we have more money and LESS customers!” Kathy Gartner, Managing Director of award-winning recruitment company.

Now admittedly this is very short and without specifics, however it acted as part of a story where I was able to describe how Kathy had recently sold 80% of her company for a very large sum of cash. Also, the ‘more money, less customers’ comment acted as a great hook in its own right despite the testimonial being minimal in detail.

Step 5 – Direct their next step

There are three words which best sum up this step and they are ‘Call to action’.

Like any sales and marketing initiative, it is essential your report has some form of follow-on step which either directly or indirectly leads to a sale. Without this then you are leaving the reader to simply think ‘nice report’ and that’s it.

You could do any or all of the following:

  • Include “For more details” references throughout report – If you have a direct link between what you mention in your report and further information, whether additional content or a product, then include a reference to it. A simple example would be something like “This idea comes from our XYZ approach (for more details of XYZ, visit our website www.xyz.com)”
  • Add a conclusion ‘pitch’ – Though this has to be measured in its selling, the conclusion of your report is a great opportunity to do the ultimate ‘for more details’. Alternatively you could have an ‘epilogue’ to the report which comes after the conclusion but nonetheless delivers the call to action. It is your choice whether you go for a sales pitch or subtle suggestion; just make sure you don’t blow the report through hard-selling…
  • A subtle example: “As you can tell from this report, this subject is vast and we have only touched the tip of the iceberg. If you are interested I have prepared a series of similar guides as part of the package of our XYZ product. Again, my aim is to get you up and running as quick as possible, getting the results you desire. To discover how these additional reports will help you and your business, call…”
  • A direct-pitch example: “If you liked this then you are going to love our XYZ. Just imagine getting the results I’ve described here… but on autopilot! Better still, as a reader of this report you have the opportunity for a special one-time-only discount, just go to www.xyz.com now and place your order today”
  • Use the document footer – Most word processor software allows you to create a footer for your document. This is normally used for copyright information and contact details – however why leave it there? This is prime document ‘real-estate’ for a call to action. Whether subtle or direct, simply add a message to the footer of the page and now you have a call to action on every page!

How to ‘package’ your report so the reader can’t stop reading …and at the end, still wants more!

‘’’The right format’’’

Now you understand the basic five steps, you can now consider the actual format of your report.

Reports can follow many different formats, the question is which is best for what you want to discuss. In fact, your choice of format may even offer inspiration as to the overall idea behind the report.

Possible examples include:

  • ‘X ways to do ABC’ – This format can be quick and punchy, and of course the x-number of ways could offer an opportunity for an open-loop (see next section) as you mention there are, say, “5 ways taken from my 10 Golden Rules”. Hold on, so what’s the other five? …instant intrigue!
  • ‘The revealing truth about…’ or ‘The facts about…’ – This kind of revelation offers another angle on a good report, and that is controversy. Don’t be afraid to buck-the-trend and get people thinking differently. An interesting way to write in this format is to discuss both sides of the argument while putting forward what you believe is correct. Do this right and you will be remembered …for good reasons
  • ‘How to…’ or ‘Quick start…’ guides – This is the most common format and for one very good reason… this format works REALLY well. Thanks to the title, the reader knows instantly what he/she is going to get. This format also lends itself to simple, straight-to-the-point reports. You simply say it like it is, no waffle, no padding, no great writing skills required

Interestingly, and as you can see, the format of your report has a close relationship with the headline - As you will discover in the next section, this can make the world of difference to the success of your report.

Also, you may want to consider what you call the actual document …

Is it a ‘report’ or something else?

For example, consider how each of these examples suggests different ideas:

  • Bulletin
  • Whitepaper
  • Guide
  • Study
  • Review
  • Mission statement
  • Dispatch
  • Exposé
  • Special report

The style and flow of the report

So what do I mean by style and flow?

Basically we are talking about ensuring your report is interesting and keeps the attention of the reader. There are many ways to do this but for the purposes of this article I am going to suggest three of the best ways to grab and maintain the reader’s interest…

  1. Attention-grabbing kick-ass headline(s)
  2. The phenomenon of the open-loop
  3. Enticing eye candy

Before we get to the real nuts and bolts of each, there are three important rules to remember when writing your report…

  1. Do not waffle, get into the meat of your report as soon as possible.
  2. Avoid philosophy, think practical.
  3. Jargon bust whenever possible.

In other words, the ideas that follow should never overtake the main aim of your report, this being to provide valuable and immediately usable information to the reader.

Similarly you don’t want to bamboozle your reader with techno-jargon …even if it is ‘industry-standard’ lingo.

Be the writer who ‘jargon busts’ and avoids the confusing nonsense of gobbledegook.

Attention-grabbing kick-ass headline(s)

As I was once told by an old business guru who I had the pleasure of studying with…

“Whatever you are doing, you are always selling”

In other words, you don’t have to have the traditional ‘exchange of money for goods’ in order for selling to be taking place…

If you want someone to agree with you then you are selling…

If you want someone to like your idea then you are selling…

If you are laying out your plan of action for others to follow, you are selling…

…If you are writing a report, you are selling!

Now this does not contradict what I said earlier about soft-selling and the need for subtlety. Instead this is about making your words reach out from the page and grab the attention of the reader.

The best way to add this kind of sizzle to your report is to have an awe-inspiring headline. A classic example of this is found in the book world with Dale Cargnegie’s multi-million-selling “How to win friends and influence people”.

As world-class copywriter David Garfinkle says…

“…if Dale had titled it ‘How to Remember People’s Names and Curb Your Incessant Urge to Argue’, do you think it would have sold as well?” David Garfinkle – Copywriter

Coming up are a couple of extracts all about how to supercharge your title, headings and sub-headings too.

Yes, those sub-headings are an opportunity for you to not just add sizzle but also provide continuity to your report for those readers who only skim the page. Because as with any ad or sales copy, the wonderful thing about well-crafted headlines and sub-headings is that they can tell the story of your report in quick snapshots…

What’s the customer’s voice and vocabulary?

“I've already said it many times: I'm a manager and have a factory manager's vocabulary” Leonid Kuchma, 2nd President of Ukraine

When training businesspeople in the art of persuasion and influence I often recall a story that demonstrates the power of knowing someone’s language…

So there I was in Turkish Kebab House in ordering my kebab (I have to admit to being a lover of kebabs …and I do not need to be drunk …as is the association for many men!) - Having been on holiday the previous year in Turkey I had made a point of learning some of their language, after all if someone is going to take great care of us then the least I can do is say a few pleasantries in their language.

So like I said…

There I was in the Turkish Kebab House awaiting my kebab having paid my money. Once it was nicely cooked and wrapped, it was handed to me.

Naturally I said thanks, but this time I said in Turkish ‘Thank you very much’ (“çok tesekkür ederim”) and ‘Good night’ (“iyi geceler”)…

Immediately upon hearing the words the eyes of the owner of the Kebab House lit up, he smiled broadly and said “You speak Turkish!” …as he reached into his fridge and pulled out a drink, “Here’s a coke to have with your Kebab! - Thank you!”

I’m the customer and he’s now thanking me! …and he gave me a free drink!

Now, okay, in the big scheme of things a coke is hardly the greatest of gifts but nonetheless it was very much appreciated – and more importantly this story demonstrates an important aspect of communication:

When you speak the same language as another person then they will naturally be more open and attentive to you and your needs

And just to end the kebab story…

His goodwill towards me continued from thereon in. No matter what the timeframe between visits (and we’re talking months!) he still remembered me and would often give me something extra whether extra meat in the kebab or more free drinks.

Naturally I always responded “çok tesekkür ederim”…

So what has this got to do with business and the written word, well, consider the following points:

  • Learn the language – Most marketplaces have a lingo which is specific to those in those that market. It is used by companies and customers alike – and if you don’t know it then you are missing the opportunity to be ‘part of the gang’. Obviously, you don’t want to get too ridden with gobbledegook though, but your ability to call upon specific terms can so easily endear you to your prospective customers
  • Avoid the taboo terms – Just as there are words which fit with a marketplace, there are also words which definitely do not! So avoid the words they would never say. For example, it is not uncommon for a son or daughter to avoid cursing/swearing in front of their parents because that’s not the ‘language of the family’. However outside the family, those same taboo words may be used regularly
  • Keep it natural – Consider the difference between ‘thank you very much’ and ‘thanks a lot’, they mean the same thing though one is more relaxed than the other. So given your marketplace is there a tone to communication whether polite, relaxed, jovial, serious, …?

The competition for attention is not just with your competitors

“The only factor becoming scarce in a world of abundance is human attention” Kevin Kelly, author

FACT: You are not in competition with just your competitors …when thinking from the customer’s point of view you are in competition with EVERYTHING that is important to them.

Every day they are bombarded from all sides with different messages demanding their focus and attention…and somehow, through all that chaos, you have to get noticed!

Your fleeting chance of grabbing that attention comes from your headline and so it has got to satisfy a number of key criteria.

(Now before I list a few essentials, it is worth noting that you could probably write an entire book on the art of great headlines! …so what follows are, for me, some of the more important pointers)

In no particular order…

It must relate to the customer

This is one of the more obvious essential elements to a headline but is so often missed.

Think about it this way, if you were wishing to hook my attention with something about “the beauty of Japanese Bonsai trees”, but I am not interested in Bonsais, then it’s not going to matter one jot how carefully crafted your headline is!

Okay, that example is very obvious, but let’s also consider something slightly more subtle but still about relating to the customer…

Let’s say you are promoting the merits of the latest Blackberry or iPhone and you lead with something like “killer sound system with gut-wrenching bass that will have you rocking out”…

Sounds good?

Well, no, not if my interest in that kind of phone is for business and not music!

Similarly, if I was interested in the sound systems of those phones but I was a classical music fan then I am not going to be attracted by phraseology like “gut-wrenching bass that will have you rocking out”!!!

As discussed before, you need to know the language of your customers and make sure you are 100% fluent!

Benefits, benefits, benefits!

Following nicely on from the point about relating to the customer… At some level your headline needs to include some form of specific benefit to the customer. So whether you use the seller’s creed of “Quicker, simpler, cheaper, healthier, happier”, the reverse creed of “Slower, harder, costly, painful, depressed” or some other benefit angle, your headline must hit the benefit hot button.

Better still, you could employ the “pain and gain” format of both towards and away from motivation. For example:

“How to massively speed up your tax return submissions…without the misery of a bank-crushing accountant’s bill” Which is about:

  • Speed = Motivation towards and fits within the seller’s creed
  • Misery = Motivation away-from and fits within the reverse creed

But what do they really want?

There’s an intriguing phenomenon where if you ask someone “What do you want?” they will give you one answer, but if you then say “Okay, that’s what you want, but what do you REALLY want?” they will give you a different answer!

The word “really” is wonderful at extracting the truth. And so it is with headlines…

When you think you have the makings of a killer headline, just ask yourself:

“So that’s my headline, but what does the customer REALLY want?”

…and then change your title to reflect just that!

Grab ‘em by the balls!

There’s a memorable - and eye-watering! - picture from the 1990’s of two British footballers, Vinnie Jones (later of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” fame) and Paul Gascoigne (aka “Gazza”) where Vinnie (midway through the game) has a fiendish grip of Gazza’s testicles, Vinnie’s face is one of sheer menace and Gazza’s is one of pure pain!

Sometimes a picture is better than a thousand words …but it is also true that the right words can paint an amazing picture.

So how about having a headline that reaches out and grabs your customer by the balls …and squeezes!

Of course to some degree this will depend on the language of the client, but don’t be afraid to push the boat out and experiment with more aggressive headlines.

Interestingly, “aggression” can be the key word when considering effective headlines, where violent references to death, destruction and mayhem have the greatest impact.

“10 killer ways to…”, “Crush the competition…”, “Decimate the market…”, “slow-lingering death of…” …you get the idea!

So what devastating killer blow can your - perhaps blood-splattered - headline deliver?

The phenomenon of the open-loop

Comedian Billy Connolly is renowned for his ability to captivate an audience for hours, holding 100% of their attention throughout. Part of Connolly’s secret is the way in which he tells stories.

Traditionally we think of stories as having a beginning, middle and end, and of course that one naturally follows the other in quick succession.

However…

Connolly mixes this up by embedding stories within stories… in fact he does this many times over. So just as you get into the middle of a story he begins another, and just as you get into the middle of that one, he begins another…

…and so it continues, creating one ‘open-loop’ after another.

He then closes each story (loop) in reverse order.

The effect is to keep the audience hanging on his every word as deep within their minds they know they haven’t heard the full story yet…

…and that urge to complete the loop holds their attention.

So what’s this got to do with reports?

Well, you could of course consider writing your reports in a similar way; however that is not the only way I suggest you use the phenomenon of the open-loop. Instead let’s take a quick look at television and how they use the same idea, the classic ‘cliff-hanger’…

All action hero Jack Bauer from 24 is fighting with the bad guy, he’s just about to deliver the killer blow when he is surrounded by a gang of terrorists and a gun is held to Jack’s head… BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! - The clock ticks down the final seconds of the episode and the TV credits roll.

Will Jack survive?

This is also an open-loop, keeping the audience’s attention until the following week’s episode. It is another example of an incomplete story.

In your reports you can do the same thing …but you do not resolve the story/loop in the report!

Again, it’s like a TV show with two characters who are clearly attracted to each other, each week the story keeps hinting toward the idea they will finally get together, but will they? So you keep watching to see if they do, episode after episode, series after series…

Admittedly some shows string out these ideas a little too much, so we’re not talking about keeping the reader/customer eternally hanging on a thread so they lose interest! – or ‘get Lost’ as some might say ;-) - The key is to still offer resolution, just not straight away.

You can create this effect in your reports with phrases such as:

  • “There are five ways to do this, and the first three are…” – hold on, what about the other two?
  • “There’s a lot more to this, but for the moment let’s focus on one of the key strategies…” – there’s ‘a lot more’ and I’ve only heard one of the key strategies!
  • “As I mention in the ‘Insider secrets of XYZ’, you really want to…” – I want to know ALL of the secrets, not just this one!

The customer/reader then needs to come back to you to discover the rest of the story and so complete the loop. Of course, your products and services or the information provided with them completes the loop.

WARNING! – This is a powerful technique, but don’t overdo it, otherwise your report will lose value for the reader. Always deliver what you promised in the title… if you said you would give them a ‘great solution for XYZ’ then make sure you deliver just that. The open-loop(s) are to be added as openers for other things. There is nothing more annoying than reading a report and discovering the author held back what you most wanted to hear.

Of course, open-loops can still include references to your products and services so only further reading about those products and services would fulfil the need to ‘complete the loop’.

Open-loop revelation …they’ll hunt me down for this one!

Before we close this section on open-loops let me share with you one of the BIG secrets from the big-name multi-million dollar seminar industry. Now… the word ‘secret’ is often over-used in marketing, however on this occasion it’s the perfect word – and I’m probably painting a target on the back of my head by telling you!

…But hey ho!

It’s simple but incredibly effective and huge mega-buck businesses have been created on the back of this one idea …oh and just to be safe, the names have been withheld to protect the innocent guilty!

Remember the open loop discussion from earlier…you know Connolly…

Each loop holds the attention of the reader until that loop closed. So by having several ‘nested loops’ you can easily create a large format which has the reader hanging on every word.

But that’s not where it ends…

Remembering we’re talking about seminars at the moment… How about extending that format so you can chain a series of events so the customer always feels the urge to keep coming back?

Simply open an entirely new loop BEFORE you close the last one then ONLY resolve that loop at the next event/seminar.

Whether using this simple format or something more complex, do this with every seminar and you can chain them together ad infinitum…

Or as some ‘guilty’ parties are known to do, create seminar or training which would have been, say, 3 days l but instead extend it to 4 days with “open looped” content from the next seminar/training in the series. The effect will be that a sizeable portion of the attendees will strangely feel the deep urge to attend the next seminar/training …without giving it a second thought.

Of course, the next seminar/training will be the same format, and so the chain progresses…

So what’s that got to do with writing reports? …well, I guess that’s up to you!

But as a quick ‘ethics-reset’, this method is not that much different to spell-binding authors like Harry Potter’s J.K. Rowling (‘scuse the ‘spell’ pun!) – Her books use similar ‘creative devices’ as they progress from one book to the next; each book is a complete story in itself however each also contains something of the greater story which only concludes in the final book. Naturally, the reader feels the urge to keep reading until the full plot is ultimately resolved…

Anyway, enough of such skulduggery, let’s crack on…

Enticing eye candy

What I’m talking about is the need for presentation. Don’t just throw your words on the page and think that will do. There are several basic rules to consider, here’s three of them (oops, was that an open-loop!?)…

The creative use of whitespace

This is a phrase often used by graphic designers when deciding what NOT to put on a page. Too many writers cram their words into a small space and immediately devalue their report. Without needing to read the words, I have a business-friend who wrote very useful and quick insider-guides for taxation, however his reports were not being read. Now admittedly the subject matter is not the sexiest, and for some, taxation can even be considered cumbersome and complicated. But the real problem was how he made these perceptions even worse by trying to fit everything into one page!

…in fact, he would reduce font size, take margins to the edge of the page and have no line -breaks between paragraphs!

He had this limiting belief that ‘one page was better than two’, rather than actually considering whether anyone would want to read such a cluttered mess. This belief quickly changed when on my advice he changed the format… and his readership increased by more than 400%! And more importantly, he enjoyed a massive upturn in his core business as a result of those reports being read.

To achieve the creative use of whitespace consider something like this:

  • A body font-size of 10pt, main headings 18pt, sub-headings 14pt
  • Line spacing of 1.5 lines rather than the usual single line space
  • Line breaks between paragraphs, bullets and single lines
  • Double line breaks between end of paragraph and headings
  • Indentation for bullets, quotes and graphics

Of course, as with all ideas, you don’t have to strictly follow what I suggest, instead just understand the rationale behind the suggestions.

Graphics

This is the ultimate eye candy!

Words by themselves can be boring… if you don’t believe me, just consider a newspaper and notice how they use text and pictures to deliver an overall message. Your report can be the same. If your report is being presented as a completed document, whether printed or electronic, then you have the opportunity to add graphics.

Obviously it’s all about balance, as the main thrust of your report will likely always be held in the text…however you may have opportunities for:

  • Graphs or charts to demonstrate trends
  • Flow diagrams to show step-wise approaches
  • Photographs of people, products, services
  • Cartoons for a more light-hearted view

Now let’s talk about first impressions…

Think of what you know about the first impression of meeting a person – whether deliberately or not you take into account how they look, the clothes they wear, their overall tidiness, their hair, skin, …

Well, when it comes to a document your readers don’t have that opportunity, so does that mean we just put aside the power of the first impression?

…Absolutely not!

For me one of the most important pieces of eye candy is the front page as first impressions really count… and that goes for documents just as much as people.

Get the front page right and you can convey professionalism and authority…

…without a single word having been read.

What a great start! - Particularly as this perception of professionalism and authority has been proven to increase your ability to influence others.

Whether in printed media or electronic (such as a PDF file), the front page is the first thing your reader will see when reading your report. In fact, if you are mentioning it in some other media such as a website you can go one step further by giving a sneak -peak of the cover …and again, gain authority and influence before they even read the report.

As mentioned earlier, the cover of the report I used for my work with the Polar Explorer, simple as it is, was part of the attraction for would-be readers.

There are many tools available to do this, just Google ‘ebook cover software’ for a host of examples. With a few clicks you can take your cover design from graphic to something like the above image.

What I’m saying is simple…

If it looks good then people are more likely to think it is good

Also, consider taking the look-and-feel even further by having a page design which is in keeping with the imagery of the cover design.

Who said reports are supposed to be always ‘black and white’?

…BORING!?!

Font

This is more about readability than simply eye candy, though you can be a little different to the norm if you wish.

I usually write with the font ‘Calibri’ which is our company font for all written text, specifically chosen as many of our customers said they found it distinct and easy to read. Interestingly, by using this font we are breaking one of the traditional rules of the written word…

It is said that serif fonts are more readable in print than sans-serif.

So what does that mean? …well, does your font have curly bits!? - If it does, then it’s serif, if it doesn’t then it is sans-serif (‘sans’ from the French for ‘without’).

But first you need to consider how your report is going to be read… because, despite what the ‘golden rule of serif’ implies, many people might read your report on their computer and not as a printed document.

The general consensus for readability now suggests the following:

  • Printed media: Serif font for body text and sans-serif for headings
  • Digital/electronic media: Sans serif for body text and headings

This of course leaves an obvious question - So why has my company opted for Calibri for everything?

Simple – Ten years ago when the company was founded we knew we would have customers who would read our documents both in-print and on-screen. We also wanted one distinctive font for everything in order to maintain our corporate image - so we had to find a compromise. Having tested the readability with a range of clients we arrived at Century Gothic as a good solution. A little later, following a company rebrand, we reviewed this decision and chose another font, but for the exact same reasons, and that font was Calibri.

I tell you this little story for two simple reasons…

1. Rules are not always right, so test what works best for you, and…

2. Always review as you go along

A good report is just like a good sandwich …a great filling still needs some bread on either side!

All great stories have a beginning, middle and an end. Your report is no different.

Once you have the main body of your report, bring everything to a conclusion, underlining the key points of your report. An interesting way to sum-up your report is with a checklist or action plan, clearly detailing what the reader now needs to do to get the results/solution.

And of course, as discussed earlier, remember to include your ‘call to action’!

But let’s not forget the beginning either… There are two ways to do this, and it’s what you know about your audience that will decide which is best:

  • Basic introduction – Whether written as a note from the author or simply ‘here’s what you’re about to enjoy’, such an opener will be more casual in style than an…
  • Abstract – If you are writing a report whose audience is expecting something business-like, professional or technical then you may wish to consider an ‘abstract’ instead. This is a formal explanation of what is to follow.

Whether an abstract or something more casual, the introduction is your opportunity to quickly explain the ‘what, how and why’ of your report.

So, as the old presentation rule goes:

  • Beginning (introduction) – Tell them what you are going to tell them
  • Middle (main body of report) – Tell them
  • End (conclusion) – Tell them what you have told them

Now that’s a great sandwich!

Get writing!

The big chunk first draft

You now have the basics of your report; you know what it is going to be about, the styling, the flow, and what you want out of it …So get writing!

A simple way to do this is to sketch out the main big chunks of the report without, at this time, adding the detail which will be in the final version. In other words, you don’t have to get it right or complete it in one go!

Just follow the basic structure suggested previously and write the key sentences/phrases for each section. You might even have a few ideas for headings and sub-headings of those sections.

Another way to draft your report is to use something like Mind Mapping where you symbolically sketch out the flow and sections. A great free tool for this is ‘Bubbl’ ( …yep, there’s no ‘e’) or Mind Meister – you can map out all of your ideas and then refer to your mind-map as you sketch out your first draft.

As you write, and when reviewing, make sure every word counts; each and every word needs to meet the ‘So what!?’ litmus test. If a reader can look at any aspect of your report and say (either disinterestedly or cynically)

‘So what!?’ then you have failed to make every word count. That’s the litmus test.

Get it reviewed

When you have a rough draft which can be followed from start to finish, I always find it useful to check you are heading in the right direction. For that reason I have a small pool of customers and business contacts whose judgement and opinions I trust. You only need 3 to 5 people to make this worthwhile, so gather your own review team, offer them a copy of your draft and get their views.

Remember this is a rough draft, so make sure they understand that!

Once you are happy that what you have to offer is of value to your potential readers, crack on with further drafts… yes, that’s drafts plural!

Take your initial rough draft and flesh it out so it becomes a completed report and then revisit it several times considering flow, style and headings and sub-headings (see next sections).

Once you have your ‘final’ version I suggest you still think of this as a final DRAFT… so once again revisit your group of friendly reviewers, get their opinion and also ask them to proof-read for typo’s and spelling mistakes (for the avoidance of doubt, you do not need to do this review with every draft …just the first and last one).

Now you have your final copy and are ready to publish your report …and as an added ‘bonus’ your reviewers are in the perfect position to offer comments and testimonials to help you promote the report!

Transform your report from must-have guide to customer magnet …that just keeps selling

‘’’Get the word out!’’’

Obviously - Your report only realises its values when its read! …so you need to get readers.

So thinking about the idea of giving away free reports…

There are a number of ways to do this and it all depends on your wider aims. Whatever those aims are and despite the fact you’ll be giving it away, it is always a good idea to write a summary of your article that ‘sells it’. This could simply be a more sales-like version of your introduction.

So, let’s consider the different possibilities – and as I want to make sure you get the most value out of this ‘report on reports’ I have also suggested a number of tools that I personally use. Some are free, others are low-cost, but all are very powerful when wishing to promote your report.

Proviso!

Of course, I am NOT an internet marketing guru or specialist who claims to get your product to the top of Google! Similarly, I can only guess as to your (the reader’s) level of technical knowledge, so keep that in mind when reading these suggestions.

…If you’re an SEO-legend then the previous chapters of this report will hold more value to you! If you’re wondering ‘what the heck is SEO!?’ then do some research and either learn the best of online know-how …or hire someone to do it for you!

Alternatively, if you have some knowledge of SEO but have not really been that successful then DEFINITELY check out the Wizard of Oz and his SEO reports …I’ll be chatting about his fantastic report style a bit later.

Oh and one other thing…

As a quick aside, I suggest you track links in your own reports by using something like Google Analytics or if using Wordpress as your platform, the PrettyLinkPro plugin. The data you will receive is invaluable when used correctly. So here’s two of those ‘recommended’ links for you straight away so you too can track your report links:

And one final thing on the links…

You may be wondering why not just ‘embed’ the links with a “Click HERE” type message…

Well, here’s another tip for you (which is kind of obvious when you think about it!)… Some readers of your report will PRINT the report and then read it …never to return to the electronic copy. And funnily enough, no matter how hard they ‘click’ their pieces of printed paper they are never going to get to the websites you suggest! – So always give the link in ‘long hand’ so your readers can, if they need to, simply type it into their browser for themselves.

Now with all those provisos, heads-up and comments covered, let’s crack on!

Just send it to customers?

If you already have a mailing list then you could just send it out. But this won’t create much buzz as your report has been inadvertently reduced to just ‘take it or leave it’.

Needless to say I do NOT recommend this! - Instead…

‘’’Launch your report’’’

Yes, it’s still a free report but that does not mean you don’t have to market it.

Tease your customers with emails or mailers saying you are about to release a great report which you know they are going to love. Get them to sign-up for their copy, either by mailer or website submission via a ‘squeeze page’.

Suggested tool

Wordpress: This is probably the best and most widely used blog software, but it is also GREAT at creating ‘normal’ none-blog sites if you wish. It is very flexible and offers masses of support from other users. Thanks to a multitude of templates you can have a great looking website in minutes …and it’s 100% FREE!

Launch themes for Wordpress: Convert your Wordpress site into a turbo-charged launch machine that even an internet marketing ‘guru’ would be proud of! …and that’s exactly what a well designed ‘launch theme’ can do for you. There are several on the market and it all depends on what you are looking for: If you want to learn the inner workings of great launches then the “Always be launching” theme from Tanner Larsson has not only the required theme but also an awesome eBook with everything you need to know to get the biggest -bang-for- your-buck.

Alternatively, if you want just the launch functionality then look at OptimizePress.

For more details go to:

Aweber: A great way to collect email addresses as part of a sign-up process is by using an email autoresponder like Aweber. It’s easy to use, has great tutorials and requires minimal technical assistance. All of the above launch engines work with Aweber. For more details go to: www.aweber.com

Blog it!

The explosion of marketing via the web has created some great opportunities that simply were not there before. As you are more than likely aware, one of the most interesting innovations is the ‘blog’ where you have a website which offers a more casual view of what you offer.

The best part of a blog is ‘reader comments’, as this gives you the opportunity to have conversations with your readers. This means when you release your report through a blog you can quickly…

  • Create a buzz as readers discuss your idea
  • Learn more about your prospects/customers
  • Change the report if isn’t working
  • See where your readers want to go next
  • Collect positive feedback and use it for the promotion of the report to new readers

For example, imagine this was a blog comment on your report:

“Hi Fred, Wow! Great report! Loved the bit about giving customer bonuses…what do you think is the best way to present this information?”…thanks to this comment you know there’s more to be discussed. So you could answer as part of the blog conversation, change the report to include this, or add this information as part of your product/service ‘BONUS REPORT: Quick start guide on how to present bonus information’.

This blog approach can be linked to the launch idea above and is also a great way to launch something bigger, like a product or service, by using your report as the teaser/intro for the product/service…

By writing your report in a certain way you may even be able to filter your prospects to only those who will definitely be interested in your product/service. This idea is invaluable as you will be able to save huge amounts of time normally wasted on sifting through the natural mishmash of prospects.

Another useful idea when using a blog or website to promote your report is that of ‘tell-a-friend’. When you provide a way for your readers to suggest the report to others you will often increase your readership in a big way as the message becomes ‘viral’ (i.e. everyone starts to refer …and readership expands exponentially).

A great ‘viral’ way to do this is to reward the reader for their referral; I like to offer bo nus chapters which can only be acquired via such a referral. There are a number of tools you can use to do this, including a ‘plug -in’ for your blog software (see tool suggestions).

However, there is one very important consideration when thinking about ‘tell-a-friend’ promotions, and that is spam or junk mail. Think of it like this, when you send an email to a friend via a web-based tell-a-friend form then you are effectively sending an unrequested email (spam) …as your friend never opted-in to receive that information.

But… there are new tools on the market which allow you to use social media sites like Facebook or Twitter instead. Now, when your reader sends a message as an update for, say, Facebook or Twitter then he/she is by definition sending a message to people who HAVE opted-in to hear from them …as that is how Social Media works.

It is up to you to decide whether the ‘spam question’ is an important one.

Suggested tools

Wordpress: As mentioned before, this is probably the best and most widely used blog software. It is very flexible and offers masses of support from other users. You can have a website in minutes …and it’s 100% FREE!

Social media ‘tell-a-friend’ software: As social media is getting better and better every day, here at. Here’s two of favourites and again both are FREE:

  • Social Twist – This is a great tool that can be added to any website (so you don’t have to go down the Wordpress route if you don’t want to) and simply offers a button for your web users to click and then connect with whatever social media channel they wish from Facebook to Twitter to Bebo. For your FREE Social Twist ‘Tell a friend’ button just go to: www.socialtwist.com- They also offer reward-based variants of the button, just check their site for full details.
  • The Viral Script – This is an easy to use script tool and again, no Wordpress is required. For me the two main advantages of “The Viral Script” is the ability for the visitor to your website to simply copy and paste a tracking code into ANY form of communication and have a continuous report on successful referrals …and again this tool is FREE! - For details visit: www.viralscript.com

As with all of the ‘tell-a-friend’ recommendations, the key is to have an attractive reward which inspires the visitor to your site to tell their friends and contacts. Offer a “missing chapter” to the report you’ve written or an MP3 of the report being narrated …whatever you choose just make sure your readers feel the need to have it and so will be eager to get you referrals!

Article submission

If you are wishing to increase your readership and/or notoriety for a given industry, then a great way to do this is via article submission to article sites like EzineArticles. These kind of sites provide a resource for anyone wishing to discover ‘how to’-type information for a huge selection of topics and industries. In other words, your would-be readers can be found at such sites.

The key is to optimise your article to specific phrases, these being the keywords as used by these would -be readers to search for information. To optimise simply include those phrases in your heading, sub -heading and body text (at a minimum first and last paragraph). You will then make your article the hot source for that type of information.

(Not sure what phrases to use? Check out the suggested tools, KeywordElite2.0 and Market Samurai)

There is also an added benefit to using article submission sites, this being ‘backlinks’ to your website. When you submit your article and as part of the submission process you will include your website address. This means your article is now associated with your web address - so not only will readers be able to follow the link to find you and your company, but also search engines like Google will rank you higher for given search terms (again, this is keywords).

Write more articles/reports, and submit to more sites …and watch your readership explode!

An interesting spin on this is to create a mini version of your report and only submit that. This means article site readers of this mini-version will then have to come back to your website for the full report. Of course, when they arrive at your site they will need to give you their contact information (e.g. email address via squeeze page) to receive the full report… which means you now have another reader and their contact details for promotion purposes.

Better still, and if you have really juicy content, your mini version of your report can act as a pre-sell for a report that you sell instead of give away.

Naturally all ideas given here apply whether writing free or paid for reports.

N.B. Whenever doing any form of SEO, do yourself a favour and make sure you know the REAL facts and not the latest hunch or whizz-bang tactic from a supposed guru!

Personally, I am a huge fan of the underground SEO “anti-guru”, the Wizard of Oz, and his incredibly informative, effective and entertaining reports (a style we’ll talk about later on).

Check out his very revealing FREE report where he puts SEO and its many myths on trial - “SEOnTrial”: http://highsearchenginerankings.org/seontrialgift.html

Syndicate/license your report

There are services which offer ‘article networks’ where your article can be shared with thousands of sites creating mass coverage for you and backlinks too. As I don’t use these particular services I won’t be discussing them in here however let’s talk about the fundamental idea behind such networks …this being ‘syndicating’ your content. Of course there’s a lot more to syndication than just what ‘article network’ tools offer…

Incredibly, syndication and licensing are often overlooked, and that is despite the inherent marketing power offered by each. Put it this way - You only need to consider the simple fact that your would-be customers (i.e. report readers) are, more than likely, customers of other suppliers to then realise there are many opportunities to capitalise upon.

Now we’re not talking direct competition (as that will not work for what I am about to suggest), instead we’re talking about complimentary businesses to your own whose choice of customers is similar to yours.

For example – If you provided carpet and upholstery cleaning services then a complimentary business would be one that sold carpets or curtains. If you sold web-design services, then a complimentary business would be a computer or IT systems company.

The idea of syndication is simple – you create an informal ‘licence’ for your report whereby the complimentary business gives away your report for free to their customers.

So taking the first example above…

You would create a value-packed report on “The 10 fastest and most effective ways to avoid stains…” which includes a call to action with, say, a discount coupon for carpet and upholstery cleaning. Then give this report to XYZ Carpets so they can give it away with every carpet purchase or enquiry, or if XYZ has a mailing list, they could even mail it to their entire customer database.

Depending on what arrangement you make with the other company you could even offer them a commission on all sales resulting from their distribution of the report.

Follow-up

Statistics have shown that a sales and marketing strategy which holds five or six steps is 80% more likely to achieve success than one which does not.

For instance, do you realise that a direct mail campaign is likely to achieve a less than 1% success rate if left without follow-up? Adding just one more follow-up step could increase your results by four or more times!

So the idea is a simple one: instead of presenting your information as one great epic, you offer your prospective customer a mini-series of sales and marketing episodes that gradually build your overall message.

So why do I highlight this?

Well, your report is one of those steps, so the question for you is ‘What comes next?’ …what do you want your customer to do after he or she has read your report? Similarly, and remembering what we discussed earlier about launches, you may want to also consider what comes before your report too.

Being aware of this during the writing process (and so letting it inform your writing) is obviously important, but it is also essential that you do indeed follow-up.

If, as I suggested earlier, you are using an email autoresponder like Aweber, then it is easy to add a few extra steps and create a sales process.

For example…

  • Step 1 – Customer ‘signs up’ for report via squeeze page on website
  • Step 2 – Initial email with report download details (same day)
  • Step 3 – Email inviting the customer to get involved in the ‘conversation’ by pointing them to the blog and suggesting reader comments (2 days later)
  • Step 4 – Email with unexpected bonus information - something like a ‘hidden chapter’ is always a customer-winner as you are over-delivering (2 days later)
  • Step 5 – Email about more bonus information, perhaps in another medium such as video or audio. Again it also makes sense to keep the customer/reader up-to-date on the conversation at the blog and again invite them to join in (2 days)
  • Step 6 – Email customer with ‘special offer for readers’ with some form of discount or special bonus. One-time-only offers work really well, in other words they must act quickly to get the ‘deal’ (2 days)
  • Step 7 – Customer buys product/service

Again, you can get details of the autoresponder service offered by Aweber by going to www.aweber.com

If you are not going to use an autoresponder you can still have a similar process by using more traditional means such as letters, postcards and phone calls. The key is to make sure everything is automated…

…and that’s where autoresponders are invaluable.

The conclusion that is just the beginning

As you have now discovered, reports are the stealth entry to greater sales, creating a whirlwind of activity as more and more customers are drawn to your business.

So, in summary to create your own amazing report:

  • Follow the five steps of…
    • Step 1 – Grab them where it hurts: ‘Here’s the problem’ …in simple and direct terms
    • Step 2 – Squeeze it harder: ‘It’s worse than you think’
    • Step 3 – Rescue: ‘Here’s the solution’ …with specific details as to how and why
    • Step 4 – Reassure: ‘Here’s the proof’ …with examples
    • Step 5 – Direct their next step: ‘Here’s what to do next’
  • Use a format which delivers great content quickly
  • Command attention with kick-ass titles and headings
  • Draw the reader deeper into the whirlwind with open-loops
  • Catch the eye of the would-be reader with a jaw-dropping cover design
  • Increase the enjoyment of the reading experience with graphics, photos and diagrams
  • Sandwich your content with a tantalising opener and solid conclusion
  • Test, test, test your report with your review team before you publish
  • Make the launch of the report an event with blog and autoresponder
  • Grow the whirlwind by incentivising your readers to tell their friends
  • Create the perfect storm of interest by submitting your report to hundreds of article sites and syndicating your report
  • Follow-up your report so every avid reader becomes an enthusiastic buyer

Let me close with one final thought…

Be yourself!

As a final note I want to underline the importance of having your own style and voice when writing…

When reading something like this article with its suggestions and direction it is very easy to become ‘robotic’ in your interpretation of the methods suggested. However that would be a mistake. Just like the authors of any book or written work you’ll have a ‘style’, something which makes it your own…

…so make sure you let loose with your own brand of writing!

In recent times a body of work has quickly risen to be my favourite example of this idea of ‘having your own voice’. Admittedly the subject matter in this example would tend to suggest dry and boring – and in other less accomplished hands it would indeed be a snooze-fest! …However with invented authors (of a different sex than the writer), pretend trial-and-jury inquisitions, and ongoing off-page comments from imaginary readers, the ‘Wizard of Oz’ (just plain ol’ “Oz” to his mates) has managed to transform the topic of ‘search engine optimisation’ - Yaaaaaaaaaawn! - into something truly engrossing!

Yeah, I know I’ve referenced him earlier when chatting about getting your reports out there, but whether SEO is your interest or not, you REALLY want to read his free report SEOnTrial to get a feel for how to be anarchic, funny and STILL informative in a report.

Some wars are won by shock-and-awe devastation whereas others are brought to swift success by a well- formed and undeniable idea that grips the consciousness of an entire nation…

…get it right and your report can be a bit of both!

Face it, “the pen is mightier than the sword” - so that can only mean you are on the brink of triumph as you command and conquer your marketplace with the written-word.

Your articles and reports will place you at the centre of your industry, drawing in customers daily as you become a published authority stirring fear in your competitors …because your ‘go to guy’ status will build enormous confidence in those customers, as they flock to buy from a real expert who demonstrates time and time again he/she knows exactly what the customer wants and needs.

…and as added twist your customers will swear they ‘found you’ rather than ‘you sold to them’!

So what are you still reading this for? …START WRITING NOW!

Business | Writing | Marketing


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