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Content Strategy

Most of my clients, who are solo and small business owners, have a deep appreciation for what works.

E-Letter AtelierThey don’t have time or spare creative energy for anything else.

They’re busy people, usually with partners and families and homes and pets and other big life interests they’re pursuing. Their  business is not everything to them, but it is a huge part of how they’re showing up in the world, one of the primary ways they’re contributing and making a difference. And — huge bonus for ME as their creative provider — they enjoy their work a whole lot.

When they come to The Voice Bureau for copywriting or content creation support, they’re not looking for short-term tactics or to get in on a hot marketing trend. They’re looking not only for a clear and discernible result but also a deep conviction that this is the best way to direct their business’s energy in this season. They’re looking to position their business in a certain way. And they’re looking for a path and an outcome that feels right through and through.

So when I encounter a new client who doesn’t have an e-newsletter, or who has one but doesn’t ever use it, the first thing I ask (gently and encouragingly) is why not???

I’d never give up my e-letter for anything.

Of all the things the different marketing activities I’ve done in my time as a solo business owners, writing and sending a consistently high quality e-newsletter is by far the one with the highest ROI (return on investment). Let me tell you why.

As a solo business owner, you deserve to know that –

1) Your Right People want to hear from you.

They really do. Nobody really wants more email, so consider this: if someone has willingly given their email address to you, it’s because they really, really WANT to stay connected. Somewhere in their mind, they have the intention to become your customer one day. They’re curious and intrigued by how you do what you do. They like watching you work. They’re attracted to your voice, and to the value you promise to share. Give the people what they want.

2) Good solid content trumps gorgeous design.

I know and preach the value of great design all day long, but when it comes to a business e-newsletter, simple old line of type can be just as effective as a chic, sleek HTML template. The nice thing is, email service providers like Aweber and MailChimp make it SO easy to get a great-looking e-letter these days. Yet four years in, my own e-letter is still nothing fancier than a logo header, Helvetica paragraph text (with short, web-friendly paragraphs), and font colors that reflect my brand’s color palette. Visual branding goes hand in hand with great content, but without great content, visual branding goes poof. So develop your sense of what great content is for YOUR people, and come out with that.

3) You don’t owe anyone total transparency about your decision-making process or your business strategy.

I often see solo business owners treating their e-newsletter like a page out of their business owner diary. And for some Voice Values — especially Transparency and Intimacy — this isn’t necessarily a bad choice.  But not every small business e-newsletter needs to be a reckoning of the creator’s personal travails, experiments, and innermost feelings about being an entrepreneur. If you want to be intensely personal in your e-newsletter and can see a way to tie this to your Right People’s needs and desires, then so be it. But know that there’s NO pressure on you to self-disclose anything you don’t see a use for just because people have given you their email address. Not every business e-letter needs to go behind the scenes of the business. I’ll repeat. Not every business e-letter needs to go behind the scenes of the business. Consider that based on what your business offers, your Right People may be even more interested in what they are hoping to GET from your brand than they are in your personal story. As human beings, we do care about others’ stories, but not more than we care about what’s in it for us.

To quote Marketing Profs’ Ann Handley, there’s a marked difference between personal and personable, and either approach is A-OK.

4) A small but engaged list is better than a bigger but zoned-out list.

Yes, there are mathematical realities about how many people you can “convert” from an offer made to a list of X number or Y number of people. If you want to sell more stuff, you do need to grow your list over time. But in the here and now, are you selling what you could be to the people you actually have? Aren’t some sales better than no sales? Some sales can teach you a lot about your subscribers’ desire, about effective (and less effective) copywriting, and about an effective rhythm for connection. No sales can teach you a lot, too.  But you can’t learn whether people will buy or not if you’re not making the offer.

Segue: The E-Letter Atelier is the seventh course I’ve launched under The Voice Bureau in the past couple of years. But in the first week of enrollment, sales were sluggish. I asked myself why and saw a number of possible factors: the price was significantly higher than the price of many of my previous courses; I (like usual, to be honest) did little to no lead-up before the launch [the advice to do a pre-launch, warm-up campaign is wonderful and I’m sure effective, but I very rarely do it]; and it seems like an unusually heavy “launch season” out there in the values-based B2B online realm. I knew that the problem was not my list size, but rather, with the sales page itself, since I wasn’t “converting” at my usual rate.

So I sought feedback from a source I trust implicitly (The Voice Bureau’s very own Project Curator Katie Mehas) and radically reworked the sales page, including a swap-out of all photos on the page to evoke a different feel. And voilà!, sales picked up and have been steadier since. I’m so excited about the group of solo and small business owners coming together for this first-ever experience and I look forward to getting started in June.

5) You don’t NEED a free opt-in gift, but if you have one, make it worth their while.

Just like nobody really wants more email to process, nobody really wants another digital file sitting around on their hard drive. So if you go the route of creating a “free gift” for your e-newsletter subscribers, make sure it’s worth their while. Your e-letter opt-in gift should (1) loop your Right People into your brand conversation via a tiny slice of the whole thing, (2) help them solve a pressing problem or address a critical concern, and (3) be consumbable in about 10 minutes.

My own subscriber gift is my Discover Your Voice Values brand voice self-assessment. It meets the criteria for a viable opt-in gift because it (1) immediately loops my Right People in to my conversation about brand voice for small, values-based businesses, (2) offers them a way to gain quick self-understanding of a topic that can seem rather complicated, and (3) takes most people about 10 minutes to do.

Not a subscriber yet? Sign up below to discover your Top 3-5 Voice Values.

6) Top quality over laser consistency, every time.

This one turns the usual advice on its head. You know how “be consistent” is the battle cry of branding specialists and marketers everywhere? While I wholeheartedly believe there’s GREAT value (and rewards) to be found in showing up consistently, I also believe that some of the best marketing content we see out there today is a pattern interrupt. It snaps our brain out of its usual open-mouthed stare into the digital netherlands. It tell us, “Hey! Wake up! You don’t get an email from [insert your business name here] every day but today you ARE. And you enjoy getting his/her emails. So this must be significant .”

There’s all kinds of research out there about the best times to send email. For months (years), I held myself to an every-Tuesday-morning-at-3-AM-EST sending schedule, aiming to land in people’s inboxes first thing on the first day of the week that wasn’t Monday. But the more consistently I kept up this rhythm, the more my open rate declined, and then settled in at a consistent 50% lower than when I used to send sporadically! I’ve personally found that varying the days and times I send yields the best open rates. In short, my people are MORE apt to open my emails and click the links inside them when I’m less predictable. I’m still consistently, but now I’m sending consistently inconsistently. Open rates are up and more of my Right People are reading my e-letters more often.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Do you have an e-newsletter you consistently write and send? If so, what “best practices” have you discovered hold true for you? If you don’t yet have an e-newsletter, what holds you back?

Feeling like it’s time to get your e-newsletter to where you want it? The E-Letter Atelier can help. Join me and other values-based solo and small business owners this June and July 2014 for a personalized online workshop. You’ll approach (or re-approach) your own business’s e-newsletter from concept to content, with ongoing support from me and other Atelier members via our private Facebook community. CLICK HERE for all the details. Three payment options available, plus early bird pricing until Wednesday, June 4th. I would LOVE to work with you.
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Doesn’t it feel like there’s some kind of magic in a great e-letter*?

*Credit is due to Kate Swoboda of Your Courageous Life and The Coaching Blueprint, who is the first person I noticed online (some years back) referring to her e-newsletter as an ‘e-letter,’ which sounds much more elegant and approachable, doesn’t it?

Abby KerrThe truth is, I’ve started writing this particular article three different times from three totally different angles, with the intention to tell you more about The E-Letter Atelier, my latest online course. Each time I would begin, I’d try to write my way into why an e-newsletter is an important asset to your business.

But you know why it’s important. You’ve wandered around these online entrepreneurial parts a bit, you’ve gotten the lay of the land. You know that you “should” have an e-newsletter, an ever-growing list of people who have ‘opted-in’ [industry parlance] to hear from you in their inbox.

You know that ideally, you should be “sharing valuable content” with your “list” 80% of the time, and 20% of the time, you should be making them an offer: buy my e-book, sign up for my new coaching program, check out this affiliate offer.

You’re subscribed to several other business’s e-newsletters and you’ve seen other people do their newsletters both well and badly. You’ve unsubscribed from more lists than you are currently subscribed to. You’ve gotten more choosy about what you’ll allow into your inbox.

And yet, knowing all this, seeing all this, doesn’t necessarily make it easier for you to see the possibilities for your own e-letter.

At least not a possibility that feels wholly worth it — from a time investment standpoint and from the perspective of your Right People, the people you feel drawn to serve.

You may have started and stopped your e-letter at some point in the past, or perhaps you have one but only get to it intermittently.

And yet you still have a desire to have a really great e-letter, one that serves your business, inspires your Right People, and feels worth it to you. You want it to be a working asset or nothing at all. I get that. Because: me, too.

Here’s what I typically hear from The Voice Bureau’s clients when it comes to concepting and creating a great, ongoing e-newsletter:

  • “What I want to write is neither a diary entry not a straight sales pitch, but something in between. What does THAT look like?”
  • “I want to be consistent and I’d rather not send anything at all, ever, than be inconsistent.”
  • “What the hell do I write? Why is this so hard?”
  • “I love it when other business owners curate links from around the web for their e-letters, but I’m not sure if this is the right choice for my business. How do I know?”
  • “I’m so afraid of offending my readers by sending them more email that I just freeze and do nothing.”

And so back to my angle for this writing this article today.

I think what we REALLY want and need to talk about, when it comes to our e-letter, is how to make this little piece of email feel like an experience, not just a piece of digital detritus.

Delivering an experience to someone’s inbox doesn’t have to mean that it’s long. It doesn’t have to mean that it’s heavily designed. (Heck, my own Insider Stuff e-letters are just line of type with a logo header and a photo I took.) And it doesn’t have to mean that you open a vein and leave your blood on the screen. Nope. None of those.

Let’s have a conversation about approaching your e-letter with two goals in mind:

1) To make it feel worth it to you, as a creator and as a business owner, and

2) To make it a worthwhile, looked-forward-to read for your Right People.

I believe that the magic in a great e-letter is found at the intersection of these two possibilities. Let’s talk about it.

And let’s do it voice-to-voice, why don’t we?

Sign up BELOW to join in on a complimentary call, Writing an E-Letter Your Right People Want to Read, or to receive the recording. If you’re there live, you’re welcome to ask questions, or just to listen in quietly. There’s no special offer attached to this call, it’s just part of spreading the word about The E-Letter Atelier, and giving everyone (whether you become an Atelier member or not) something to think about and work toward in their business.

CALL DATE: Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

TIME: 8 AM PST/11 AM EST — here’s a world time zone converter so you can see what time it’ll be for you


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“My mother loves small things,” the customer said to me.

A photo of a Paris France cuff braceletShe was describing what she saw as a particular quirk of her mother’s, but the truth was that many people love small things — for very particular reasons. When I owned my retail shop, this seemingly idiosyncratic detail was one my shopgirls and I heard often.

On this day, I’d been working the sales floor, chatting with regulars, greeting first-time customers, and giving some of them a quick tour of new finds we’d just unpacked and displayed. This particular customer (we’ll call her Marta — she was a regular) was shopping for a Mother’s Day gift. She picked up a set of tiny, glazed ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the shape of bluebirds, painted in a soft wash of robin’s egg blue (natch).

“She’ll love these,” she said, walking them up to the counter where I ran her credit card, wrapped the bluebird shakers in our signature kraft-and-chocolate polka dotted tissue paper, and tucked them into a logo gift bag. Then she was on her way, to return again another day seeking a new find, hoping for an experience that felt very much like the one she’d had on this particular day. Particular. Personal. Curated.

People love small things — for very particular reasons.  

Most of the business owners we’re lucky to work with at The Voice Bureau have very small businesses. While their revenues might range anywhere from $20,000/year (in ‘just launched’ mode) to multiple six figures, they insist on designing and running a business that feels small. Particular. Personal. Curated.

Usually, their “team” is just them, or them and a VA. Or them, a VA, and a few other collaborators or team members.

It’s fun for my team and me to work with these types of values-based microbusinesses because that’s the type of business The Voice Bureau is. We get why small and particular appeals to you.

In these online entrepreneurial realms, we hear so much about the importance of scaling a business so that more parts of it can be ‘hands-off,’ leaving the business owner with more time and energy for a life outside her business. While I totally agree with the second half of that equation, I don’t think that scaling for volume is the only way to go about having a business that feels good and is profitable. I think it’s time we talked about scaling for a tiny little jewel box of a brand.

Scaling for small

In my own business, I am scaling to be a tiny little jewel box of a brand. That’s how I think of The Voice Bureau.

Right now, and for the past couple years, I’ve been working at scaling my business for four things:

  • IMPACT – which, to me, means seeing my message and my work reach as many Right People as far as it can go
  • GROWTH IN REVENUES – which, to me, means having operating leverage, being able to bring in as much income as possible while being as modest and sustainable as possible in growth efforts
  • PLEASURE – which, to me, means getting to do mostly the stuff I truly love doing that’s within my zone of genius, and building the business in a way that’s beautiful, and not doing the things that don’t actually bring me pleasure or an internalized sense of adding value (like hustling for speaking gifts, going after PR opportunities, etc.)
  • PARTICULARITY — which, to me, means serving the exact Right People in the exact right ways in the exact particular tone and style that works for them and for me

I want to be known for really specific ideas, concepts, and approaches. I want to feel particular, selective, curated, and well-appointed.

I want my business to be well-honed, lithe, and supple where it counts (which is always around the needs of The Voice Bureau‘s Right People). I want flexible architecture. And I want to give my clients an experience that feels small, regardless of the revenues I’m bringing in. Because ‘scaling for small’ does NOT have to equate small profits.

Think about it.

Maybe in your business, the dream is to work with three carefully vetted clients each quarter, and that’s it. You’ll make fully a quarter of your yearly income each quarter from your engagements with these clients. You’ll maintain the emotional and psychological bandwidth to deliver a truly great experience for them. And you’ll have a tiny, quiet team behind the scenes engaged in building the infrastructure to support the clients’ experience and your experience. To keep focused, you’ll lean on your high Love, Security, and Excellence Voice Values.

Maybe in your business, you plan on building a suite of courses around the topics you teach and model. Your goal is to eventually license your own material so that other practitioners can teach using your work as a guide. Someday you’ll create a high level private mentorship for people who really want to go deep. You’ll lean on your high Community, Depth, and Helpfulness Voice Values to get this done.

Or maybe you’re a visual artist who works on commission, always in a very particular style and medium. You have no desire to ‘scale’ in terms of client volume, but you are interested in opening an online boutique where people can peruse and purchase non-commission works. You plan to hire a terrific Virtual Assistant (VA) to help you carry this out. You’ll lean on your high Intimacy, Accuracy, and Enthusiasm Voice Values to make this work for you.

There are many different ways to scale for small, and not all of them require you to be “hands off,” to enroll huge numbers of buyers or clients, or to hike your prices sky high so that only the heavily invested can work with you.

Toward a tiny little jewel box brand

I’m kind of in love with this ‘tiny little jewel box’ of a brand idea. It’s what I’m going for these days, and it’s what we help our clients move toward and into in their own work.


Only what fits.

Only what’s precious.

A few heritage pieces.

A few current favorites.

Lots of eminently wearable standbys.

And lots and LOTS of value.

If you’re intent on building your own business brand as a tiny little jewel box, I invite you to join me. There’s lots coming up — in terms of more articles, a new complimentary gift (later this week!), to help you scale your business and brand for small, curated, and particular, using your Voice Values as a guide.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

What does ‘scaling for small’ look like in your business? What would you LIKE it to look like?

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“Whoa,” I wrote to my friends inside a private Facebook group.

“Back from hiatus and TOTALLY BLOCKED when it comes to blogging. WTF to write about?”

Photo of a cafe patio“Your hiatus, natch,” replied Angela.

I got up from my computer and left the room, huffing. Nobody wants to read about the same old things, I thought. I don’t want to add another “I Took a Social Media Hiatus & Here’s What I Learned” post to the internet pile. After all, I’d already written that post here.

The truth is, I took my (short lived) social media hiatus last week because blah-blah-blah-struggling-with-comparison-yadda-yadda-yadda-clearing-mental-space-blah-blah-blah-entering-a-season-of-heightened-creative-production. All true. All great reasons to go off of social media for an undetermined length of time. But blog post-worthy? Mmmmm. Maybe not. Maybe I’m not the only person who’s tired of my SAME OLD THEMES.

And then lightning struck.

(Thank you, Angela.)

THE SAME OLD THEMES. We’ve all got them.

You know them when you see them. The latest post from your favorite blogger lands in your inbox and before you’ve even read through the first paragraph, you know where this is going.

Be a rebel. Call bull*it on what irks you. F*ck the status quo. [High Audacity value talking.]

Become real. Let the true you shine through. Show up as you. [High Transparency value talking.]

Overcome obstacles. Push through. Champion yourself. [High Power value talking.]

Now, granted, these sentiments don’t have to be rendered in cliches for them to feel familiar. (In fact, they shouldn’t be.)

“Voice is the embodiment in language of the contents of your unconscious.” — Robert Olen Butler

We use language unconsciously, we reach for metaphors unthinkingly, and the ones we choose reflect what we believe to be important about the world. (This is why my Voice Values paradigm for branding and copywriting is mapped not only to personality types but to the Enneagram, to astrology, and to buyer types. And, to your personal choice about how to steer your brand in any given moment.)

As writer Pamela Druckerman puts it, “More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief.”

Those same old themes you’re tired of hearing yourself wax on about are the very themes your Right People yearn to hear from you.

When I want to feel wrapped in beauty and in touch with what’s realest about myself and my point of view and creatively stimulated, I look to Susannah Conway.

When I want to feel challenged and (righteously) disillusioned and cheered on in getting back to the basics in a creative process, I read Paul Jarvis.

When I want to feel resourceful and delighted and visually gratified, I read Design Sponge.

When I’m craving depth and intellectual rigor and cultural analysis, I look to Justine Musk.

Your same old themes are wanted, anticipated, and hugely helpful to your Right People. And there are a million ways you can repackage and repurpose your best-beloved ideas to fit new modes.

So this is in favor of revisiting your same old themes, as often as you need to. Your people don’t get tired of them — they depend on them.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

What are YOUR same old themes? What topics and issues do you keep returning to again and again?

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This is the Introduction to The Voice Bureau’s blog post series on Writing Your Smart, Empathetic Website. This series is written with active and aspiring brand creators in mind — those of you who know that your website should be your business’s hardest working “salesperson” — and want to make that more of a reality. As brand voice specialists, we know you need doable, clear cut strategies for planning and writing web copy that will help you achieve your goals. We also know you value head (intelligence) and heart (empathy) in equal measures; that point of view is part of what makes your approach to business so well rounded. This is OUR approach to business copywriting for the web: smart and empathetic. This series teaches you to write your website in a way that will inspire your Right People to visit often, to share your work with others like them, and ultimately, to do business with your brand.

Let’s set the scene:

Writing a smart, empathetic website is a lot like carefully constructing a physical structure for people to hang out in.I live near the campus of an ivy-covered, red brick college. A campus with a creek running through it. Although this particular highly-ranked liberal arts college isn’t known for wildly raucous college house parties, living just off-campus often brings to mind my own college days. We all can conjure up the image in our mind of just that kind of wildly raucous college house party. (I should know. I graduated from a large, state university known for such things, besides being known for its stellar academic programs – ahem.)

In case you’ve never had the experience of attending a wildly raucous college house party, allow me to paint the picture: sensory overload. Loud music. Damp, humid air with suddenly drafty corners where someone has broken out a window. Bad lighting. Sticky floors and kitchen countertops. Upholstered furniture nobody (sober) really wants to sit on.

Anyone and anything goes at a party like this. The “guest list” is suspect, people are sneaking in their (often underage) friends, and you never know what those two hooligans standing near the porch are planning to get up to. Social norms are ambiguous, and the insider parlance is always in flux, and never entirely straightforward. It’s a strange milieu, one very few people actually feel comfortable in, if they’re in their right mind.

And what are most people there to do at a college house party?

Hook up. Numb out. Blow off stream.

Time to hop out of this metaphor.

Your website — and the community you welcome there — should NOT a college house party resemble.

Is that really what you want your website visitors doing on your site on a metaphorical level?

Hooking up? Okay, maybe yes to that, depending on what kind of a business you are.

Numbing out? Not unless you’re a social media interface designed to foster addictive use in exchange for an influx of advertising dollars. [AhemFacebookahem.]

Blowing off steam? That sounds potentially . . . fraught.

Blueprints for business owners

At The Voice Bureau, we have a strong point of view on what sort of place a business website should be.

We think your website should be a thoughtful, gorgeously appointed structure built to appeal to your exact Right People readers and potential buyers.

There’s a fundamental structure to every solid small business website, one without a lot of bells and whistles.

Once you learn this structure, you are free to adapt and iterate it to suit your brand conversation, your business goals and objectives.

There’s a framework for understanding how certain pages connect to certain next pages (in a progression of emotional logic), and why a certain type of Call To Action works better on one particular page than on another.

Once you learn this framework, you can strategically intuit what will work best for your Right People.

Smart and empathetic?

In this blog post series, we’ll teach you how to write (or rewrite) a smart, empathetic website for your business brand — one that feels like just the kind of place in the world you’d like to invite your Right People to come hang out.

When we say “smart,” we mean, let’s assume that both you, as brand creator, and your Right Person site visitor, are equally intelligent. No talking down to them. No flicking at their pain points. No irresponsible, puffy-sticker promises of something you can’t actually guarantee (because no human being could). No histrionic adjective-spangled prose that no sane person can actually live up to in delivery.

When we say “empathetic,” we mean, you, as brand creator, make the choice to step out of your own well-worn shoes and into the shoes of another — namely, of the person most likely to engage with your brand (read: read, share, or buy).

Only you can decide exactly what kind of place you want your website to be. But we can give you a framework to help you do that. Throughout this series, we’ll share loads of cues, clues, and insights with you based on our own Voice Values methodology, which draws on well-documented marketing frameworks, the universal empathetic approach to stepping into the shoes of another person (seeing the value of what you do through someone else’s eyes), and the world’s most renowned personality typing systems.

Your website might end up feeling like a luxe lounge, or a boho treehouse. It might feel like a minimalist meditation space, or like a vintage-industrial warehouse workshop. It might feel like a grand, welcoming, well-appointed manor, or like a slick penthouse office overlooking an impressive view.

The vibe is yours to create.

Here’s the rundown of what we’ll be sharing in this series over the next couple months.

(As we publish each post, we’ll update this list with links.)

To accompany this blog post series, we’re offering a limited time opportunity to get in on our copywriting services at a lower-than-usual rate.

→Our Limited-Time Offer

Your Smart, Empathetic 4-Pack

Save 20% off our standard copywriting rates when you book a 4-pack of key website pages/pieces by the end of October 2013.

Choose ANY FOUR pages/pieces from this list to make your Smart, Empathetic 4-Pack:

  • Home Page
  • About Page
  • Work With Me/Services/Products Landing Page
  • Presentation-Style Sales Page
  • Conversational-Style Sales Page
  • Is This You/Ideal Client Page
  • Subscriber Opt-In Page
  • Manifesto/Statement of Belief
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Page
  • Contact Page
  • E-Newsletter Opt-In Email Course (5-piece)

Click here to view our descriptions of each of these types of pages/pieces, plus our standard rates — on which you’ll save 20% when you book your 4-Pack by the end of October 2013. Be sure to mention the 4-Pack Priority Rate when you contact us through the above-linked page. 

In the comments, we’d love to hear:

Do you ever visualize your website looking like a physical place? If so, what does it look like? Paint the picture for us. And — where could you use help translating that vision into your website and content plan?

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