Saturday, 29 January 2011

Is Cold Calling Making a Comeback?

I know this is a bit off-topic for me but I can’t hold myself back.  I have to rant just a little bit.  So, when did cold calling become popular again?  Maybe this is just a Dubai phenomenon but I’d love to hear if other people are seeing an upsurge in annoying, non-invited calls on their mobile phones.  I get it that marketers are pulling out all the stops and it’s really difficult to rise above the cacophony of messages flying around the real and virtual worlds but please, target your markets more carefully.

Cold calling clients…it’s never been a good idea in my books but when you do it you better know your stuff…especially who you’re calling.  I got a call the other day from a hotel conference manager saying he wanted to share with me the great deals they had on meeting room bookings… “for all the big conferences hitting this region.”  Well, I might be inclined to book a small boardroom for my writing workshops but I certainly wouldn’t need a conference hall that can accommodate 1,000 people.  Then, I had a call from a restaurant manager at a very upscale hotel inviting me to be their guest for dinner so they could share with me the details of their VIP membership program.  O.K. buddy.  I might accept your invitation for the free dinner but I’m a freelance writer.  There’s no way I have the budget to buy a membership at your swanky club.  It was the same type of approach a time-share company would use.  Very tacky and not the way to find and attract the sophisticated clientele that could afford the price of admission.  When I declined his invitation he was dumbfounded but then proceeded to ask me if I could give him names of some of my colleagues who might be interested.  I think not!  The list does go on but I won’t bore you with the details of the influx of other calls I’ve received.

Marketing your business is a skill that requires careful research and strategic planning.  I could go on and on about "qualified leads" and "identifying motivators" but that would be another post. I know calling prospects is a big part of growing a business but all I'm saying is that you should know who you're calling...if not personally or through a referral at least through a very targeted list.  If I am included amongst large corporations and high level executives I can only conclude that there’s a flaw in the strategy…or, the universe is sending me a message…”You will be rich and famous some day.”  Yes, that’s got to be it!

Saturday, 22 January 2011

What exactly are you trying to optimize? Think Before you Link

Yesterday I received an email from someone telling me that they had included my URL on their website and requested a reciprocal link.  Now, I do understand the whole idea behind the link building part of search engine optimization (SEO) and include links on my website to my clients and to resources that relate to the business I am in and I am listed in a multitude of professional directories and on appropriate websites.  But I believe that there are two foundational principles when building links on your website:
  1. The link should be mutually beneficial.
  2. The link should make logical sense
These days, amidst the “optimization craze” that just seems way too much to ask for.  You see, the website that was linking back to mine was a directory of hotels in Paris.  If logic were to prevail, you would think that my site would have some sort of focus on travel and hospitality, wouldn’t you?  It doesn’t.  I am a writer.  My services include writing and training (in the areas of business writing and corporate communications).  There is nowhere on my website that my visitors would possibly be looking for a hotel in Paris.  I have done some travel writing but never to Paris and it’s not the main focus of my services.  So, why in the world would I have a link to a directory of Paris hotels on my website?  I did think about it for a minute though.  I stretched my imagination…maybe on my writing tips page I could include a suggestion that to overcome procrastination (which is one of my workshop topics) you should consider taking a break and going on vacation to, let me see…maybe Paris!  Oh, and by the way, here’s a link to a handy list of Paris hotels.  It just seemed like too much of a stretch to me. 

This whole SEO, link-building, list-building and gathering followers on FaceBook and Twitter is simply getting out of hand.  The word “optimize” means to make something as effective as possible.  Cramming hundreds of links or key words in the copy of your website will actually drive you back down to the bottom of search engine lists as search engines are programmed to watch for these types of spammy efforts.  Some websites actually have pages that don’t appear on their main navigation bar but just include long lists of website links that may or may not have any relevance whatsoever to the host site.  They’re just adding nonsensical links to bump up the numbers.  Eventually the law of diminishing returns will kick in.  There’s a point at which the numbers game can turn on you.    If I get hundreds of people blindly clicking through to my site from the Paris Hotel directory, what’s going to happen when they land on my site?  They’ll realize I’m not offering any deals on accommodation and they’ll leave disappointed.  The hits on my page might go up but it won’t convert into new clients (so my conversion rate ends up going down).  Maybe one in a trillion might think, “How opportune!  I’m actually looking for a freelance writer!”

This practice is also forcing real SEO experts to defend their strategies.  Actually, the good ones will be able to outline their plan for you and show you how the results are tracked so, ask.  And, if you are working on optimizing your efforts always remember to “Think before you Link!”

By the way, this blog is not hosted on my website (as you can tell).  If you’re interested in seeing what I do professionally have a look at my website at If you're reading this and you're an SEO expert, feel free to leave your comments and a link to your site too.

P.S.  I am writing this a week after the original post to add a great resource.  I just sat through a webinar presented by WordTracker on link building.  The presenter, Ken McGaffin, was fantastic.  He covers the subject thoroughly and the hour flew by.  He is, of course, demonstrating their Link Builder software, but the information is valuable whether you use their software or not.  I intend to take it for a trial run!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Book Review: The Woman who Fell From the Sky - An American Journalist in Yemen

“Travel is always like this, I remind myself.  Uneven, with stretches of loneliness and anxiety followed by unparalleled moments of bliss and discovery.  In the droughts, I have to learn to trust that the joy will come.”

This is one of my favorite quotes (and there are many) from The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen, by Jennifer Steil, this month’s book review.  It’s a true story about a journalist from New York who is looking for a change and takes a short assignment to teach the basics of news reporting to a rag tag group of reporters and editors at the Yemen Observer in Sana’a, which is said to be the oldest city on earth.  As a young, career-minded, very liberal woman, it seems like folly at first that she could even remotely feel that she could make a difference in this male-dominated, Muslim, Middle Eastern country.  We forget momentarily that she was actually invited to conduct the training so there’s got to be some interest from the publisher to create a newspaper with Western values.

Does she appear idealistic at the beginning?  Maybe.  But, she makes such an impression during the three week training program that she is offered a job as editor-in-chief on a one-year contract.  Her charges are a mix of both male and female writers who possess various skill levels but all very rudimentary.  None have even the most basic understanding of how a news story is investigated and written, preferring to write their own opinions as fact. 

Her year in Yemen is full of adventure starting with the challenge of simply settling into expat life.  One day very soon after her arrival it dawns on her that even as a well-traveled, thick-skinned New Yorker, this was a land more foreign than she’d ever been in.  “I had no idea how to find my way around this medieval city.  It was getting dark. I was tired.  I didn’t speak Arabic.  I was a little frightened.”  Determined, she shakes it off and passionately embraces her new position, protecting and defending the women on her staff (who are fighting the cultural norms of the region by pursuing careers) and patiently cajoling the men to do their jobs in order to make deadline often coxing them in from the courtyard where they take long breaks to chew qat.

Steil faces the expected daily battles of producing a newspaper but also a constant power struggle with her male boss and co-editor (as a woman and an expat she can’t officially be the editor) and the cultural limitations of being a woman in Yemen doing what’s perceived to be a man’s job.  Her female reporters must be home before dark and aren’t allowed to travel alone making it difficult for her to send them out on assignment. 

Kidnappings, stampedes and suicide bombings are part of the daily grind but things get even more tense when her co- editor is put on trial and the government threatens to shut down the Observer for good when the paper re-prints a controversial editorial cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. 

The Woman who Fell from the Sky is a beautifully written, riveting read.  It’s very timely for this memoir to come out while the role of the media in the Middle East is being hotly debated.  The character development is brilliant and I found myself really cheering her on and feeling her pain as she took two steps forward and one step back.  I too have delivered communication and media training programs in this part of the world and I could really relate to what she was experiencing.  What we take for granted in the West is not so clearly defined in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).  Their realities are very different and there are adjustments that Steil must make as she absorbs the unfamiliar realities of Yemen.  I will close by sharing with you that there is a story book ending that would rival any romance novel but that comes at the very end and I’m not going to give it away.  You’ll just have to read it!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year - I think 2011 will be a Doozy!

I just want to do a brief posting here today to wish everyone a very Happy New Year!  I believe 2011 is going to be a wild ride and I'm looking forward to every peak and valley, every twist and turn.  I also look forward to sharing some of the highlights with you here.  I have promised a monthly book review and my plan was to post them on the 1st of each month.  You know what they say about the best laid plans, the road to hell, etc., etc.  To be honest, I am traveling and left the book I wanted to review and my notes behind in Dubai.  I thought it was only fair to the author and to you to postpone it and do it properly when I can re-read my notes and properly share some of my favorite excerpts.

Stay tuned next week for my review on The Woman Who Fell from the Sky - it's a page turner!

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky: An American Journalist in Yemen