Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Webinar Experience Gone Wrong: How to Blow Up Your Sales Funnel With One Word

Webinar Etiquette 101...and It Doesn't Involve Cuss Words

It's been awhile since I participated in a webinar and thought I'd get back into the saddle and sign up for a digital trends webinar. I won't disclose the company's name because I don't want to give them any publicity whatsoever. The data they were presenting sounded interesting and I'm always doing market research. As a copywriter and content strategist for a boutique marketing agency, I'm always looking to hone my skills and knowledge and stay on top of digital and tech trends.

I received a few reminder emails in my in-box yesterday morning so I thought the webinar was starting right then and there! I hurried to log into the webinar and the "started" button was lit up for the webinar. I assumed that the webinar had already started. As soon as I logged into the webinar, the first thing I heard out of the presenter's mouth was the F bomb. Now this isn't a fly-by-night training company either. They have international offices and their clients include Google and big-name PR agencies. I actually know people who work for these agencies and for Google.

I was completely turned off and disgusted that a professional would use such language in a webinar. I immediately contacted the webinar coordinator via email and told him I was appalled and not to send me any more information about their webinars. I explained that as soon as I logged into the webinar, the only thing I heard was F bombs being dropped. Beyond tacky and completely unprofessional. IF I had a presenter who swore like a truck driver on MY webinar, they would never be asked back.

So the story gets even more interesting...I logged in while they were having a meeting and he was getting his presentation ready. He said it wasn't defensible but he forgot to turn his mic off. Rule #1 when conducting a webinar: turn OFF your mic if you don't want people to hear you OR don't make the webinar go live until the scheduled time!!

I will give the company credit for promptly replying to my email about what happened. The company rep apologized and said they were "mortified." No doubt, they should be mortified...and doing everything they can to repair the damage. They encouraged me to listen to the webinar and assured me that the presenter was professional. I'm not a complete ogre and I know things happen in the heat of the moment so I gave the webinar presenter another chance. I actually was impressed with the webinar and the data presented and even asked a question. Ironically, I was the only one who showed up online for the webinar. I don't know if other people listened in via the phone.

Even though I was annoyed after what transpired, I pride myself on being a consummate professional and I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. I appreciated the fact that the account manager did his best to smooth things over with me. I was exactly the demographic they needed to target, and I could have been a potential client. "Could" being the key word. I'm not interested in their services anymore!

But here's the kicker of this webinar gone wrong...

This morning I received a recording and slides of the presentation which the VP was nice enough to send me. I couldn't believe he had the gall to PITCH me their training services in that email. Really, you're going to try and peddle your services to me after what happened? What part of "your fellow employee dropped the F bomb and totally offended me" did this company NOT understand?

I thought to myself: this company really can't be THIS disconnected, can they? Obviously, they missed the communication memo with me somewhere. Yes, I gave them positive feedback about the webinar and liked the data but I never said, hey, please send me more information about your services!

After that happened, there is no way on this planet I would ever hire this company to train ME on how to better engage with MY clients via digital and social media strategies. They can't even engage properly with me in a positive way. I feel like I should be training THEM on how NOT to write down-your-throat sales pitches after you piss off a webinar participant. They threw me a bone with a freebie but I don't even care at this point.

This was my first experience with their brand/company and despite their apologies, that lame attempt at a a sales pitch slammed down my throat was the kicker and turned me off completely. I will say it again, and cannot stress this enough when it comes to reputation management and brand marketing. First impressions make a lasting impression and this company made a lasting impression on me...a negative, offensive one that can't be repaired. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why the Hard Sales Pitch Doesn't Always Work in Email Campaigns

I have recently opted out of many email lists as a result of spamming and hard sales pitches 24, 7. There is one reason I stay connected and subscribe to lists - for helpful information that's going to make MY life better. I'm not saying you can't throw in a sales pitch once in awhile or share a discount or deal, but I'm over the "in-your-face-buy-my-crap" emails. I also see this approach on social media as well, which has really turned me off to LinkedIn recently.

I know, I know. You've been told by an email marketing/lead generation "expert" that you need to reel prospects into your sales funnel by getting them to sign up for your emails. Yes, you want qualified subscribers but the fastest way for them to unsubscribe is to blast them with a hard sales pitch email. I recently signed up for an email list and then automatically unsubscribed when the first email I received was a blatant sales pitch for their product. They didn't even have the decency to send m an introductory email thanking me for signing up to their list. Thanks but NO thanks!

As a copywriter, I write a lot email campaign copy. While there is a sales and marketing "edge" to email copy, my campaigns don't bombard subscribers with useless information or sales pitches 24,7. While you don't want to give away freebies all the time, you need to find a balance in your emails between a "soft" sale approach while providing and sharing helpful information.

Here are some of the biggest mistakes people make when developing email campaigns:

1. "Blah" email capture forms with no calls to action - Your capture forms need to "wow" prospects so steer clear of generic template forms. If you don't ask people to directly sign up/subscribe (your call to action), forget about people signing up for your emails.

2. Don't lie or make false claims in your email campaigns. That seems like a no-brainer but even a slight exaggeration can turn people off and your subscribers aren't stupid. How many times have you received "scam" sounding emails? They read something like this: Are you a stay-at-home mom? YOU can make THOUSANDS of dollars each month by working from the comfort of your own home! Don't make promises you can't keep.

3. Don't harass people EVERY day with emails. This is another given but you'd be surprised how many people get overzealous with information overload. Ask your subscribers how many times they want to receive emails and honor that request. Also, subscribers can report you as a spammer if you send out too many emails at one time.

4. Be transparent and tell them who you are! People don't trust unknown email senders. It's important to identify your company name in the "from" email section when you blast out emails to lists. Also, personalize your email greetings as much as you can. If you come across sounding generic and canned, people will unsubscribe and possibly block and report your email as spam.

Before you send emails to your lists, think strategically and remember that the hard sales approach might be the very reason why you are losing customers!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Five Helpful Tax Tips for Newbie Freelancers & Contractors

It's that time of year again! Taxes -- that dreaded T word that's due on April 15 - 13 days and counting! As a self-employed contractor or freelancer, this is the time of year when we hunt for receipts and pray to the IRS gods that we have all our ducks in a row (or maybe that's just me!) 

I'm not a tax expert by any means. However, as a freelance copywriter and consultant, I've learned a few tricks over the years when filing my taxes. Some freelancers (especially writers) think that because they don't make a lot of money, they don't have to pay taxes. Even if you freelance on the side and have a 9-5 day job, you still have to claim income earned. Here are a few step-by-step tips for newbies.

#1 Fill out the Schedule C - Form 1040, Profit or Loss from Business (Sole Proprietorship).  If you contracted with a company this year and they paid you $600/yearly, the company (by law) has to send you a 1099-MISC form. If you did not receive a 1099, remember to claim all income earned on your Schedule C. You can also use the Schedule C-EZ form but specific criteria applies (i.e. if you don't have employees, expenses are under $5000, no home office deduction, etc.) You can find out everything you need to know about business taxes on the IRS website.

#2 If you can help it, don't fill out forms by hand. It really, really helps (and saves you a LOT of time) to use an online tax preparation program or a tax software program such as Turbo Tax. My taxes are fairly straightforward so I use an easy online prep program called Free Tax USA. There is a small fee to electronically file state taxes but electronic federal filing is free. You can also set up auto deposit. This makes it really easy to get your tax return deposited into your bank account and/or if you have to pay taxes. 

#3 Don't forgot to claim ALL expenses. Business expenses include: travel mileage, food/business lunches, coffee meetings, business trainings and seminars (both offline and online), equipment (i.e. that new iPhone you bought this year for business), etc. Claim as many expenses and deductions as you can. If you aren't sure what you can or cannot claim, ask a CPA. Hopefully, you saved all receipts. Keep your receipts organized, especially if you have to work with a CPA. You will need to save your receipts as proof of your business expenses. 

#4 Carefully review your taxes before you submit them. The IRS will kick back your forms if there is an error which delays the filing process. Even if you file for an extension, you still need to pay your estimated taxes by the April 15 deadline. If you don't file by that date, you will be penalized. The great thing about online tax prep programs is that they catch the errors for you so you can go back and correct them before filing. After you file, make sure to keep hard copies (or PDFs on your computer) of your returns. You must keep these copies for your records. According to the IRS: Keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.You file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction; keep records for 7 years.

#5 Hire a licensed CPA to assist you - especially if you don't have time or your taxes are complicated. Also, the IRS has a lot of helpful tips and information on their site for contractors and self-employed business owners. 

If you file electronically, make sure to sign your state tax form and keep ALL hard copies in a file folder/cabinet in a safe location. Some business professionals put their tax information in a fire-proof safe which is a smart idea. 

May the force be with you and many happy Tax Returns! :) 

For California residents, check out:

More helpful tax prep links:

Therese Pope, Copywriter/Content Developer & Digital Buzz-icist

Content Writing & Marketing Tips ** Online Buzz Branding

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