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Constant Commentary


Labor Day may be this weekend, and the temperatures outside may make you want to spend a day at the beach, but if you’re not planning for the end-of-the-year holidays yet, then there's no time like the present to change that.


The end of the year is a busy one for everyone, whether you're selling, fundraising, or buying. And despite everyone's best efforts, January comes much sooner than we ever want it to. That’s why, if you have any intentions of hosting an event that will get your customers and supporters together, now is the time to start planning.


An event gives your business or organization an opportunity to create intimacy and make a more personal connection with those you come in contact with. When you invite customers and members to a special event, you're building relationships the old-fashioned way — with personal, face-to-face contact.


Here are some events that businesses and organizations can put together to bring in customers, clients, members, donors, prospects, and others.


No matter how knowledgeable you are about business, it’s impossible to know everything about building a successful company. Because of that, I encourage business owners to always seek professional advice and guidance. However, there is one caveat of which you should be aware: Blindly following that advice without listening to your own instincts can get you into trouble.


During these difficult times, it might be tempting to let someone else tell you what you need to do. Sort of takes the pressure off. But before you make that mistake, consider this. Most cars today have GPS systems. My smartphone has one. The taxis in many cities have them. And if you don’t have one you can access when you’re on the go, then you can get directions from online mapping sites. They’re simple to use: Just type in where you want to go and follow the directions to your desired destination. It’s great. So why can’t you get directions for business success and follow them?



You read about them all the time: High-powered businesses forming partnerships with other corporate entities. But you don't have to be a multi-national corporation to pair up with a partner. In fact, small businesses and organizations have the most to gain by teaming with other groups or solution providers — especially in a tough economy.

Partnering with other businesses whose interests intersect with yours is one of the best ways to find new customers, members, clients, and donors. They're also a great way to broaden your skill set because you can learn from someone else who's more of a subject matter expert than you are. But that doesn't mean you should approach your competitors. Instead, think about businesses and organizations that don't provide the same services or sell the same products that you do — ones that might benefit from a little cross promotion.

Great partnerships can start with as little as posting a sign for a neighboring store or as much as co-sponsoring a community event. The key is that each partner has something to offer the other, and does so willingly in the name of bettering both themselves and each other.


To find the perfect partner for your organization, try these four tips.



To most people, LinkedIn is simply “Facebook for Professionals.” That’s not entirely wrong; many professionals do use the site to connect and interact with each other, without the games and distractions of other networks. Businesses and organizations of all types and sizes are on it, and many even use LinkedIn for recruiting and hiring.


With more than 100 million members, LinkedIn is a site that’s particularly useful for those who focus on business-to-business or nonprofit work, who can — and should — leverage relationships with colleagues, customers, members, and influential donors to find new connections. The more people who are in your network, the easier it is to discover people you may know at companies you’re trying to sell to or to donors you’re trying to solicit. Think of LinkedIn as a modern day Rolodex that grows itself organically.


But LinkedIn’s power goes beyond simple connections.


We all scream for ice cream at Constant Contact. And yesterday, our hungry team received a nice surprise: The Ben & Jerry’s truck stopped by our Waltham office to serve us some free ice cream. For the second year in a row, the company has been traveling around giving out tasty treats (other lucky cities this summer have included San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York). Some locations on the truck’s tour are pre-set, but for a good number of them, Ben & Jerry’s is asking its fans to tweet their hearts out to get the truck to swing by their offices. That’s exactly what many at Constant Contact did. And it worked; we all enjoyed some delicious Americone Dream and other flavors.


The Ben & Jerry’s campaign revolved around a simple concept: It got people talking about the brand. And the more people talked up the brand, the more likely it was that they’d get something in return. Yes, there was an incentive involved, but Ben & Jerry’s generated plenty of “free” publicity just by asking people to mention it, and to do so in a light-hearted context (using the hashtag #OMGFreeBenJerrys made it even more fun). Can you imagine how much goodwill and exposure the campaign generated in total, and how many people saw the Ben & Jerry’s name in their friends’ Twitter feeds?



You’ve heard it time and again: Email marketing and social media are not mutually exclusive. Each tool lets you engage with your audience wherever those people are. In addition, they each serve a different purpose: Email allows you to deepen your connection with customers, clients, constituents, and others, and social media allows you to broaden your reach to new audiences. Email is a one-way communication channel, and social media is a two-way dialogue. This much is not up for debate.


That’s why, for a while now, we’ve been advising you to share your emails on social media sites, using tools like our own Simple Share. But have you ever taken a step back to ask yourself why you’re doing it? Is it just because we (and others) are telling you to do so? If that's the case, then allow me to say I think you need to find a better reason. Sharing for sharing's sake doesn't cut it.



Use of smartphones and mobile devices has grown at a rapid pace over the past couple years. Just look around the next time you go to a mall, coffee shop, airport, or when you're just walking down the street: Everyone, it seems, is looking down at an iPhone, Android, or another mobile device.


Recently, the Pew Internet Project found that 83% of American adults own a cell phone, and 42% of those people own a Blackberry, iPhone, or similar smartphone. The study also found that 87% of smartphone users access the internet or email on their device, including two-thirds who do it daily.


That means when people come to your events, chances are good that they’ll have a smartphone or other mobile device with them. Do you have a plan in place to make your events more mobile? Here are four ways to add mobile to your event strategy...



The Houston Press reported on its website earlier this week about a restaurant in Houston that decided to eject a customer for posting a negative tweet while she was still in the establishment. Apparently, a manager was checking out Twitter from his home Sunday night when he saw the tweet, since deleted, which called the restaurant’s bartender a "twerp." (The tweet also included an inappropriate hashtag.) The manager called the restaurant to speak to the customer and told her to leave.


Responding to negative feedback on social media is always a delicate situation, especially when the feedback is not just negative but insulting, as this was. You can take the aggressive approach of this business owner, or you can handle it in a more professional manner. If you’d rather take the latter path, here are four ways to deal with negative comments ...


In last week’s issue of Hints & Tips, we told you the story of Monogram Lane, an online retail business that specializes in personalized items like jewelry, car accessories, cell phone cases, and more. Barbara Watkins and Cheryl Headley explained that one of the secrets to their success was effective use of email marketing, and subject lines that grab subscribers’ attention and compel them to open the message.


“We use catchy subject lines, but do not tell people in the subject line what is in the email. If they already know, then they won’t need to open it,” Barbara explained. “We once used the subject line ‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!’ for our new technology Monogram Decals, and in the email we showed a picture of an antique typewriter and then a laptop and cell phone with the product we were selling.”


Barbara knows an important truth about email marketing: Many people decide whether or not to open an email based purely on the subject line. Yes, it’s true: You could have the most engaging content ever, a special offer for readers that will blow their minds, or the secret to world peace, but if your subject line isn’t a compelling one, then chances are good your subscribers will choose to ignore your message.


(Of course, it’s also true that a recognizable From line is equally important. If your subscribers don’t know who an email is from, they are more likely to hit Delete and never see what you’ve sent.)


So here are four tips for writing better subject lines that will capture your subscribers’ attention and get your emails opened ...



Last week, I was on many of the major television networks talking about the state of the economy — particularly jobs. The July unemployment reporthad just been released, and it showed a slight decline in jobless claims, which signaled that some companies are hiring again. However, according to many experts, the actual unemployment rate is much higher than what’s reported because a significant number of Americans have simply given up looking for a job.


What are these people who aren’t showing up in the unemployment statistics doing? Some are under-employed; that means they have taken lower paying part-time jobs to make ends meet. But a lot of others, in my opinion, are joining the millions of Americans who are self-employed. They are starting their own small businesses. But as we all know, starting and growing a small business isn’t easy, particularly in today’s volatile economy.


So what does it take to build a successful business? Here’s my best piece of advice ...



Yesterday I took part in a roundtable discussion on about small business email marketing. (Thanks to Andrew Kordek, from Trendline Interactive, who moderated the chat and invited me to participate.) One of the questions that came up was, if email marketing is meant to sell product, then how does a small business differentiate itself from competitors? How do you speak to subscribers so they feel more compelled to buy from you?


On the roundtable, I explained that people don't buy from businesses, they buy from people. And it's the role of your email marketing — and your social media posts too — to humanize your business, and to earn the trust of customers. You want to use your communications to build a relationship, not just to sell a product. After all, anyone can offer a sale, coupon, or special offer. Your content is what helps cut through the noise (especially at holiday time) and set you apart.


So what kind of content can you provide that will humanize your business and help differentiate you from your competitors? Here are 4 suggestions



With the fall event season upon us, it’s time to start thinking about what you can do to take your events to the next level. The result of a great event is never coincidental; it’s based on creating and executing a sound strategy. To help gather your thoughts, maximize the potential of your upcoming event(s), and set the stage for a great experience, be sure you consider "The Five Ws."


Earlier this week, a new research report came out that discussed how small businesses are (or are not) using social media marketing to drive their business. I love this kind of stuff (10 years in the market research industry will do that.) But I also find it interesting that the article on eMarketer about the research asked aloud if small businesses were apathetic about social media simply because 47% of those surveyed said they did not use social media for business purposes and only 4% cited it as the marketing channel they could least do without.


I’d respond with this: It’s pretty awesome that 53% of small businesses are using social media marketing. And unless you're a brand new business, I wouldn’t expect it to be the one channel you couldn’t live without.


Having a hard time thinking of good content to include in your email newsletter? Nonprofits typically have plenty of content to include in their newsletters, but the challenge is having good content that will truly engage your supporters.


Here are a few ideas for gathering a pool of good topics for your upcoming newsletters. (You can find these tips and much more in our upcoming free, live webinar, Nonprofit Newsletters That Engage.)


It’s a simple fact: The people you hire can make or break your business. When it comes to making people choices, I’ve made both good calls and bad. In most cases, the bad calls were no big deal, but a few of the bad choices left me feeling angry and betrayed. There’s an old saying: Business is business and friendship is friendship, but when it’s your business, it’s always personal.


When you reach that pivotal moment in your business growth when it’s time to hire your first employee, it’s vitally important you make a smart choice. Sadly, many business owners wind up with the most talented job seeker instead of the best candidate for the job. Choosing the wrong applicant can be a costly mistake. While there is no method of hiring that guarantees you’ll get it right every time, there are things you can do to minimize mistakes. Here are five.