If you’re anything like me, the first time you heard the term “sales funnels,” you envisioned a big Willy Wonka-esque contraption that takes random scrollers off the internet, works some magic as they move through the various whizzing parts of the machine, and churns out raving fans.
When you use sales funnels in your business, you’re sending your ideal audience on a journey through a series of carefully-curated pieces of content that eventually leads them to buy your product or service.
And since sales funnels are entirely dependent on content, you better believe you need to build a content plan with a solid framework if you want to see those dollars roll in.
Begin at the end and look at your goals
Like many things in life and business, starting at the end is the best way to plot out all the action steps you need to take to achieve your goal.
Here are a few questions to ask when beginning at the end as you build a content plan:
Am I selling a product or a service?
What is the price point of what I’m selling?
Is this something that will always be available for sale or will it be for a limited time only?
The answers to these questions will help you determine:
1. How many funnels you should create
If you answered the first question by listing multiple products or services that are not inextricably intertwined, you’ll need to create multiple funnels that lead your readers down the path to the offer that will be the best fit for them.
If you find that you have multiple funnels you need to create, start by focusing on one to test out what works and what you’ll need to change before creating all the content for your next funnel.
2. How much content you need
The higher the price point of your offer, the more content and lead time you’ll need in your funnel to communicate the value your offer holds in solving your audience’s problem or eliminating their frustrations. Being able to identify which stage of the buying cycle they’re at is helpful as you build a content plan — both in determining the volume of content as well as the type of content you need.
3. How much lead time you should allow for creating, scheduling, and publishing content
Having products or services that are only available for a limited time or have a specific number of spots available is a popular way to create scarcity around what you’re selling. However, the doesn’t mean every offer should be structured this way.
If you choose to create a funnel that supports a product or service that’s always for sale, you’ll be creating an always existing or “evergreen” funnel, which naturally triggers an automated system whenever your reader enters the funnel.
While a limited-time offer can also have automated elements, such as pre-scheduled emails and social media posts, it takes careful calendar plotting to make sure you’re giving your potential buyers enough time to learn about your offer, why they need it, and to make a decision before the doors close. Again, this factor will also depend on your price point.
Decide how you’re going to get people into your funnel
The initial goal for the first piece(s) of content your readers encounter in your funnel is to capture their email address. (Already have a list of subscribers you’re working with? You’re off to a great start!)
You’ve got your end goal in mind. You know your funnel’s “why.” You now know the time frame of your funnel and how in-depth it needs to go to adequately communicate your value to your ideal customer. Plus, you have some solid ideas for how to get the funnel party started, and all the tools ready to make it happen.
I’d say you’re ready to not only build a content plan, but to put your plan into motion and start selling. What do you say?
Content marketing isn’t easy. Even spending a lot of time and effort on something that you think will be compelling can fizzle out like a dud. Sometimes it’s best just to face the facts and say this one thing out loud — “my content sucks.”
It’s a hard thing to say, and it’s definitely a downer when you first admit it. However, it’s not a putdown or a sign that everything you’re doing is wrong.
Instead, admitting this little fact is the opportunity to take a step back and examine why your content is failing to resonate with an audience. This introspection will improve your future content greatly. At the very least, the content you’re producing will no longer suck.
Here are some reasons why your content isn’t hitting the mark and how to make the improvements needed to grow:
You’re going at content marketing without a game plan
Knowing the audience helps guide your content strategies, but you still need a good plan in order to consistently deliver relevant content. This plan needs to include everything from how to approach each social media service to planning out an editorial calendar.
Just winging your content strategy is no way to build an audience. One great blog post followed by a bunch of filler posts won’t bring readers back to your site. The perfect tweet doesn’t mean much if it’s followed by dull, promotional messages.
This planning strategy is the blueprint to your future success. On paper, it might not look like much, but it leads to great things if it’s well-conceived and then reliably followed.
How many great writers go completely unnoticed on the internet? Your guess is as good as mine, but odds are the number is remarkably high. (The very nature of the question makes it impossible to measure, really.)
Good writing is an incredible asset that will never go out of style. However, the web is a visual medium. Sharp writing is enhanced by compelling visuals.
If you’re writing articles or blog posts that aren’t taking off as expected, then consider rethinking your approach to visuals. Studies show information seen visually is remembered much better than hearing or reading the same info. Knowing that, you need to put as much importance into choosing the right visuals as you would into writing a sentence.
If you’re already using images, then seek out better ones. Boring stock photos stick out like a sore thumb. Go for something more memorable — and perhaps even less polished — to catch the eye of your audience.
All the content you produce needs to be done with the audience in mind. If you don’t have a great idea of what your audience is like, then your content won’t go anywhere. Abandon your preconceived notions of who you think your audience is. With your mind clear, you can get a good idea of who you’re trying to reach and what they’re interested in seeing.
Not only is it important to keep your audience in mind when creating your content; it’s important to know what stage of the buyer’s journey they’re at. A labor-intensive white paper might look spectacular but may not be relevant to the audience if they’re only at the awareness stage. Instead, a short but catchy blog post could work.
Alternatively, pithy social media posts might not resonate with a more serious audience in the research phase. To know what will work and what doesn’t, you need to learn the ins-and-outs of your audience through analytics, surveys or possibly some outside perspectives.
And please, no matter what you do, don’t post SpongeBob memes if you’re trying to reach a professional audience.
You’re lacking authenticity
Beware the buzzword — but don’t ignore it. Sometimes all your content needs is a personal touch. Many marketers overlook authenticity, yet audiences are craving something genuine after being bombarded by all kinds of impersonal media throughout the day.
It’s a bit of a cliché to say this, but be yourself. A unique and personal voice can help reach an audience in a way that polished, overproduced content could never do.
This doesn’t mean speaking with a faux-folksy tone or adding a conversational tone to where it doesn’t belong. Play it smart and see what works with some experimentation. (Here are a few places to start.)
Taking your content from good to great
Let’s put it bluntly: Everyone sucks from time to time. Even the most well-staffed and deep-pocketed companies consistently fail at what they do. The smart people, however, learn from their mistakes and improve upon what they do. Take that message to heart — and to your content — and you’ll see a marked improvement on your content marketing.
It happens to the best of us. We’re going through our day, when a great idea for a blog post pops into our head. And that’s when we tell ourselves the biggest fib of our blogging careers…“I’ll remember that later.”
Ladies, don’t do it.
Write down all of your magical ideas in a notebook as soon as you think of them, whether it’s a physical notebook, a bullet journal, or something digital like Evernote.
Even better than getting them in a notebook? Putting them down directly in your editorial calendar. When you assign a date for your idea (even if you change it later), it suddenly takes on a whole new level of importance. It becomes less of a scrawled thought, and more like you’re writing an article for your very own magazine.
But what to use for an editorial calendar? Like anything else in life, this is a super personal decision. Ask a dozen bloggers, and you could get a dozen answers…it’ll vary by personality, work style, and a million other variables. But just to kickstart your thoughts, I’ll go over some of the ones I’ve tried:
1. Simple notebook
I’ve done this by just assigning a notebook page for each month, and writing 1, 2, 3, 4…or however many posts I wanted to do that month. You can use fun notebooks from makers like Erin Condren and May Designs, or hit up the $1 section at your local office supply store to get a basic pad.
2. Post-It calendar
You can buy this from several places, but I picked mine up at Target. There are a few limitations: each page is only for a week, and there are less than 52 pages, but it’ll get you a decent way. And because each page is for a week, the squares are a great size for writing in. Plus, you can easily rearrange the Post-It notes.
3. Door full of Post-Its
Speaking of easy rearranging, in the early brainstorming phases, I have been known to paper the back of my door with all of my ideas on Post-Its. I’m a visual person, so it makes it easy to look at all of my ideas in just a few moments, and figure out which one is really grabbing me.
I know I’m on a Post-It kick, but really this works quite well with the smaller Post-Its. You can scribble down an idea, slap it on the calendar and rearrange it to suit your needs. It makes it easy to to figure out where your posts need to fit in coordination with holidays, launches, and other major events in your business.
5. WordPress plugin
Tada! This one has nothing to do with Post-Its at all. And, it’s digital! There’s a WordPress plugin that’s simply called “Editorial Calendar.” It lets you create draft posts and schedule them out, so you can see what you’ve got coming up that you’ve finished writing, or still need to work on. They even set it up to enable you to drag and drop the posts, so if you realize that something is trending, or you accept an interview, you can easily reschedule one of your upcoming posts by scooting it to a different date. Cool, huh?
Of course these aren’t the only options, and some people use a combination of these and/or other methods. But with a plethora of easy options, there’s no excuse for not getting started.
Tell us: What’s your favorite way of organizing your editorial calendar?
You work hard at growing your email list. You created an irresistible lead magnet and optimized your website to capture leads. But when did you last take a close look at the emails that you’ve been sending out?
While growing your list is important, it’s equally important to take care of your existing subscribers and provide them with a wonderful brand experience. The last thing you want to do is push your subscribers to unsubscribe from your mailing list.
Now, getting unsubscribes is a natural and healthy aspect of email marketing, but not if you are unknowingly making mistakes that leave subscribers with no choice but to unsubscribe.
Here are six email marketing mistakes that you should nip in the bud to build trust and nurture a lasting relationship with subscribers:
#1 – You make them ask “Wait, who are you again?”
Your subscribers do not have the faintest clue as to who you are.
If you have not been consistent in emailing them and have been missing from their inbox lately, you need to re-establish your relationship with them.
Your subscribers’ inboxes are crowded. If they see a name that they are not familiar with, they aren’t going to think twice about deleting your email or unsubscribing from it.
Drop a line in your email introduction or email footer telling them where and what they signed up for. This jogs their memory about you and your brand. Start to plan and schedule your emails so that you get into a routine and your name stays fresh in your subscribers’ minds.
#2 – You ask for the sale (too quickly)
It’s not wrong to put yourself out there and ask for a sale. Don’t get me wrong. But you have to ask yourself if the subscriber is ready to act on that call to action.
Come across a compelling lead magnet or content upgrade and sign up
Start to get aware of your brand
Get value from you and your brand
They start to see you as an authority figure and trust what you have to say
You educate them on the problem they need to solve
You allay their fears by removing objections for using your product or service
You instill desire for your product or service and paint a vivid picture of how it could solve their problems
They purchase your product
They get results
They become fans and spread the word about your brand and products
The percentage of subscribers who are very engaged with you and your brand and may not require that many touch points before they are ready for a sale is small.
For the majority of subscribers, you need to gain their trust, educate them on the problem and remove any mental objections they have before you ask for a sale.
When you ask for repeated sales too early on in the process, your subscribers will lose trust in you quickly and even unsubscribe. Before you hit send on any email, ask if it is self serving or audience serving.
#3 – Your emails render weirdly on their devices
It’s becoming harder to determine exactly what devices your subscribers will use to access your emails. And when you use image-laden email templates, you cannot ensure that your emails will show up exactly as you would want them to on different devices.
Marketing Agency Brafton reported that “75% of Americans will simply delete an email before reading it if it is not optimized to be viewed on their screens.”
Plain text emails have the highest chances of rendering in the same way across different platforms. Strip your emails off unnecessary sidebars, and graphics. (Editor’s note: It’s one reason why ConvertKit emails have higher open rates than other providers’.)
Your subscribers will be more likely to perform that single call to action without all the unnecessary distractions. Your emails will also look a lot less commercial.
But when you over-sensationalize your subject lines and your email copy doesn’t live up to the buzz that your subject line has created (#clickbait), you are going to lose trust with your subscribers quickly. They are less likely to open up your future emails because of the previous letdown they had.
Here are some simple tips you can follow:
Use symbols: Symbols work because they jump out at you in the inbox. Start by including one at the start of the subject line to replace a word. Example: ⬆ your sales, with this one simple sales page hack
Add the recipient’s name in the subject line: Personalization in the subject line compels you to open up. Seeing your name in the subject line gives a sense of familiarity and makes you respond. Example: Have you written that ebook yet, Meera?
Show results: Add specific numbers and a promise to let the reader in on a strategy or tool or process. Example: The best $55.68 you will spend on your business
Remember to appeal to different sides of your subscribers rather than sticking to a single type of subject line just because it works.
#5 – You confuse them and provide little direction
Subscribers are not sure if you want them to comment on your post, click over to the sales page, share your post on social media or buy your ebook.
You pack several calls to action in your emails and give your subscribers too many decisions to choose from. And when you give people several choices, it overwhelms them and results in decision paralysis. They end up not acting on any of your suggested actions.
It’s best to keep to one call to action per email. But should the need rise for you to have a few, give clear instructions and the order of the actions you want them to take. Bold the most important action for emphasis. Number them or place them prominently in your emails.
#6 – You write mini-blog posts
Your emails are long with big paragraphs and rows and rows of text.
Keep in mind that more and more of your subscribers are accessing their emails from their mobile devices. According to a survey by Litmus, 33% of email opens occurred on an iPhone.
When readability becomes an issue, your subscribers aren’t going to scroll to the end of your email no matter how much value you provide.
Build a solid relationship through email marketing
The main purpose of email marketing is to build a relationship. While it takes time to experiment with and find out the types of emails your subscribers will engage with, you don’t want to sabotage your list building efforts by making any of these six email marketing mistakes.
I can’t wait to open your emails!
Your emails are my favorite ones to read…
Your emails make my inbox sing!
When the emails you write to your list are engaging, entertaining or instructional, it’s easy for the readers to love them.
When they ooze with personality and make a connection with your readers, they can’t help but reply to you.
But when the subject line or content encourages a whole world of snoozes, you get…crickets.
As a copywriter, the majority of my 1-1 client projects involve writing emails, whether it’s sales emails, autoresponder sequences, or email courses. Each one of these email types follows a formula that elicits a connection with the reader of the email.
In this post, I’ll talk through two key elements of writing emails that get opened, plus the formula I teach my clients to use. Let’s dig in.
Key element #1: Subject line
Your email subject line is typically the biggest influencer on whether your email is opened.
To up your odds, try writing subject lines that fall into one of two categories:
1. Subject lines that talk benefits
What’s in it for the reader? What result will they get from reading the email? How does it help them specifically?
If this article were to be sent in an email, the subject line could read:
How to increase your email open rate by 30%
It clearly explains the benefit to the audience if they want to increase their email open rate.
2. Subject lines that create curiosity
The brain is wired to close the loop on any story. We can’t help but want to know the answer.
It’s why movie trailers work to promote films, and sadly, why clickbait headlines (like: ‘Banker buys his mother a dog – you won’t believe what happened next!’) are so good at getting us to click.
We can’t help but want the answer to close the curiosity loop. (Why a banker? What kind of dog? What happened next?!)
Using words like secret, hidden, and little known in a subject line will create curiosity. Who doesn’t want to know a secret?
Again, if this post was sent via email, a curiosity-filled subject line might read:
The hidden strategy standing between your audience and your email being read
The same works if you ask a question. Our brains want to know the answer, pronto. For example:
What’s the one thing standing between your audience and your email being read?
Writing subject lines gets easier with practice, and it’s always helpful to write at least 10 different versions of the subject line to find the best one.
So, why not start practicing?
Here are some templates to get you started:
Template: At last, you will find out how to [goal] Example: At last, you will find out how to effortlessly create Facebook ads that convert
Template: Are you protecting yourself from [problem]? Example: Are you protecting yourself from your website being hacked?
Template: The [time] guide to [action] Example: The 10-minute guide to meditating every morning
Template: The only way to [thing they want to achieve] without [thing they don’t want to do] Example: The only way to find a boyfriend without dating online
Template: Never worry about [thing they want to avoid] with [what you’re offering] Example: Never worry about emails being opened again with these 15 subject line templates
The second key element of emails that get opened is stories. Just as curiosity creates action, stories create connection.
Think about a book you read that you didn’t want to end, or a movie you watched that made you cry. Why did this happen?
When we experience a story, we see a part of ourselves in it. It brings us closer to the characters in the story.
This is why stories in emails encourage positive responses from your readers – they connect with you because you’ve given an insight into your life, and they see parts of themselves in your story.
Using stories in your emails can be as simple as explaining how you started your business, a problem you overcame, or something you’ve experienced in your daily life that your audience will relate to.
What do you do when you don’t have any stories to tell? Or when you’re struggling to find a story that connects with the message of your email?
Give some of these a try:
A testimonial or case study from a client
Make references to movies, music or literature
Use a parable to explain your point
A story from a friend or relative (with their permission)
How to focus on your reader in storytelling
The first way to focus on your reader in storytelling is to change all the ‘I’ or ‘we’ statements into ‘you’ statements.
‘What do most people think is the best way to grow an email list?’‘What do you think is the best way to grow an email list?’
Or ‘Here’s how I used Facebook ads to get my first 100 subscribers’ becomes ‘Here’s how you can use Facebook ads to get your first 100 subscribers’
The second way is to actively encourage the reader to see themselves in your stories or statements.
For example, drop in phrase and questions that encourage a pause:
Can you relate?
Tell me if you see yourself in this …
Are you nodding your head while reading this?
How to structure emails that get opened
Most successful emails follow a simple structure that’s easy to replicate.
(Keep in mind that “successful” is relative. It could mean the email gets opened, sells a product or service, garners comments on a blog post, elicits responses to a survey or encourages replies, or more.)
Here’s the structure to apply to emails that leads your reader down the page and onto the call to action (the instruction that tells them what to do next):
Subject line: A compelling subject line that encourages the reader to open the email
Intro: The opening sentence that sets the scene. This could be a question, statement, reminder, or quote — anything that peaks the interest of the reader
Context: More detail on what’s to come next. Here, you can appeal to the hopes, fears, or dreams of the reader (choose one, not all three)
Story: A story that’s related to the context will help make your concept a
reality in the mind of the reader
Close: A friendly close that includes your name
Call to action: An ask for the reader to take the next best step. The CTA
must be related to the context and story
Finally, let’s see an example of this in action.
The following screen shots were taken from an email from Adam Gilbert from MyBodyTutor.com. His audience includes people that want to lose weight and are tired of fad diets. Let’s see how Adam applied this formula:
Over to you: What will be the subject of your next email that gets opened?
As a writer, I prefer the word text to content when I talk about my work. Content makes me think of filler, something more like Hamburger Helper than grade-A beef. But there’s a good reason people don’t call blogging a form of “text marketing.” Content actually includes nearly anything you publish — read, heard, or seen — for your audience’s education or pleasure.
Why content marketing?
The philosophy behind content marketing is that when you offer people free published material they care about, they will be drawn to your business. You essentially become a personalized media outlet just for your target market.
Though it’s relatively “new” in business, content marketing is not a new idea. The earliest known example is John Deere’s magazine, which was so successful it is still in circulation today.
Done right, content marketing will naturally integrate with your other marketing tactics, helping you engage the right audiences at the right time. Some of your content will draw in people who’ve never heard of you; some will help them understand what you offer; and some will keep you on the minds of your past customers. It spans both B2C and B2B markets in effectiveness.
The limits of content
Content marketing sounds amazing, doesn’t it? But it’s not magic. Here’s why:
As you now know, content marketing isn’t just blogging. Whether you’re a graphophobe (someone who fears writing) or blogger who wants to try new things, check out these alternative types of content. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Which of them might appeal to your target market?
Text/graphic design formats
Case study: Essentially the story of a problem one of your customers faced and how you solved it for them. (In psychology and business analysis, case studies are much more scientific and in-depth.)
Infographic: The hipster cousin of charts and diagrams. Infographics are a perfect way to condense a lot of data into an engaging, easy-to-read format.
White paper: Concise reports on a complex topic, explaining a problem and proposing a solution in simple terms. The idea of white papers came from government but are now common among businesses trying to build thought leadership.
Ebook: Digital books you can read on a phone, tablet, or computer. Compared to physical books, e-books are incredibly easy to create and self-publish. Unlike most forms of content marketing, you can sell ebooks from your website or a platform like Amazon.
Note: If content is anything you publish for your market, do video advertisements, Facebook posts, or your website count? Logic and instinct tell me yes, yet the conventions of content marketing — its aim to educate and/or entertain, rather than sell — tell me no. I’ll leave that up to your discretion.
Webinar: A seminar or presentation done on the web, using platforms like Crowdcast, WebinarJam, and Google Hangouts. As in a seminar, the presenter usually uses a slideshow and the participants can ask questions.
Video: Audio-visual content used for a huge variety of purposes. You can use video to tell your brand’s story, explain your product or service, highlight key points of a white paper, or give a case study, among other things. Get creative!
Podcast: Netflix for radio. Technically: A digital audio recording, usually part of a themed series that listeners can subscribe to. Some podcasts are only a few minutes and aim to entertain, while others are over an hour long and offer more in-depth content. (OWS tells you everything you need to know to start one!)
Becoming a content marketer
As business owners, content marketing is a crucial part of the job. Your content can strengthen and enhance your presence online and in person. Overwhelmed? Don’t be.
The key to creating effective content of any type is to think like your customers. What content do they need? If the answer is a blog, keep blogging! But if they would love an infographic or video (and love you because of it), branching out might be well worth the investment.
Blogging can be the bane of a solopreneur’s workday. You know it’s important to share valuable content with your readers, but it kills you to think of spending the majority of your day writing one. single. post.
Luckily, there’s a way to streamline your blogging process, and it all starts with batching. You’ve probably heard of batching: The productivity hack that tells you to spend focused chunks of time on similar tasks instead of cutting up your day with a series of unrelated projects.
You can batch many of your solopreneur tasks, but my favorite is blogging. By nature, blogging requires you to focus on several unrelated tasks: brainstorming, planning, writing, design, formatting, and proofreading. Batching allows you to streamline your blogging process in a way that isn’t possible if you try to take a post from “brainstormed” to “scheduled” all in one day.
It takes time for your brain to move from writing mode to design mode to proofreading mode, but if you batch pieces of your blogging process, you can take advantage of focusing on a single task and shorten the overall time you spend creating content.
All it takes is a little planning ahead and a few smart systems to streamline. I rely on these four systems to shave hours off my blogging process!
1. Capturing and organizing ideas
Ever sit down to write a post and waste an hour on social media because you can’t figure out what to write about? Having a system to capture your blog ideas when they come to you will save tons of time and help you be prepared to write as soon as it’s time to crank out a post.
There are plenty of apps to help you store and organize your blog ideas, including Trello, Asana, and Evernote. Whatever option you choose, be sure your system includes writing down each of these elements when an idea strikes:
A launch, promotion, affiliate offer, or series the post fits into (if applicable)
Possible call to action
Just imagine pulling up a note with your latest blog post idea and having all this information already at your fingertips. You’ve practically got a post outline with all the relevant information ready to go!
Thanks to the extra details you wrote down when you first had your post idea, you’ve already got the bare bones of your content ready to go. Now you can speed up the writing process by having a blog post template to plug your ideas into.
Most of your posts probably follow a similar pattern, right? It only makes sense to write that pattern out as a copy/paste template for speedy blog writing. You could even streamline further by creating a template for each different type of post you write, such as tutorials, income reports, and lists.
I like to create my templates in Google Docs with full formatting using their built-in headers and subheads. Here’s an example of what a post template might look like for you:
[Insert blog image]
Main Point 1
Main Point 2
Call to action
3. Blog graphic template
Having a template for your blog images makes it simple to switch out colors or photos, add in your new headline, and have an on-brand graphic ready to go in just a few minutes. Instead of starting from scratch every time, you’ll be able to create consistent, branded images in a snap.
You probably already have a preferred program for creating blog graphics. If not, I’d recommend one that lets you save a template to work from, such as Canva, Pages, or InDesign. Your template will look different depending on which program you use and what your brand looks like. Most brands use a formula to create consistent blog images, such as
One of the most time-consuming parts of blogging happens after a post is published! Unfortunately, it’s not a “write-it-and-they-will-come” scenario, in most cases. Promoting your work on social media is a necessity if you want people to actually read your content, and it doesn’t have to be a huge time-suck.
Creating a system for your social media promotion not only lets you batch-schedule posts in advance, it keeps you from getting lost in your Twitter feed when you should be focused on client work.
Use different scheduling tools for social, to plan out your posts in advance. Here are a few examples:
Twitter/Facebook: CoSchedule, Buffer, and Edgar make it easy to schedule posts in advance to several different platforms.
Later is the perfect way to plan your Instagram posts.
(Bonus tip: Many of these apps work with Zapier and IFTTT to send out automated social media updates each time you publish a new post — you won’t even have to lift a finger!)
Every solopreneur has preferred tools that work the best for them. Spend some time experimenting until you find your favorites, then set aside one block of time to batch-schedule your social media promotion for the upcoming week. Having a system for this step alone has saved me hours per post!
Ready to streamline your blogging process?
A few smart systems and the magic of batching are all it takes to shave hours off the time you spend blogging each week!
What are your favorite tools and systems for keeping blogging time to a minimum?