This playing field ain’t level

What kind of business is professional sport? A restrictive rule-bound type of business.

Sport has on-field referees or umpires. There’s little leeway for innovation. It’s played on a level field where everybody reads from the same book and winners are those who can achieve a skill edge.

Some businesses are like that, but successful new ones aren’t. They’re on a different plane from their competitors. They usually have no competitors.

This is why business is fun. You make up the game. You go for a blue sky advantage. Apart from the government regulator, there’s no-one to say what you can and can’t do.

Yes, some customers may fail to recognise your product, especially if they’ve never seen that type of play before.

Isn’t that better than being the latest occupant of a timeworn slot – knowing that in a few years’ time, you’ll be dumped? That’s sport.

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Make your dirt wait

I love the industrial concept called batching. It’s a simple idea that means you don’t tackle a particular job until lots of parts are waiting for your attention. Then you fix them all at once.

Batching is efficient. You’re not being distracted from other tasks in order to clear a small backlog. Checking emails once or twice a day is a form of batching.

Bosses or clients will try to stop you from batching. They prefer Just in Time, because it means they never have to wait for delivery.

Within reason, their demands should be resisted, in the interests of mutual efficiency. 

Batching works wonders at home. Don’t think about cleaning your house until the soiling is actually visible. Yes, you can batch your dirt.

For people who hate housework, batching is a perfect concept, because it legitimises procrastination. It doesn’t just excuse the delay, but gives it academic respectability.

I’m going to save up that thought for later.

Look, two hands!

Hand gestures are a hot thing among television reporters, especially when presenting straight to the camera. Speech alone doesn’t seem to be adequate – they’ve got to emphasise their points.

Trouble is, gestures are a language and an art form in themselves. This fact is second nature to ethnic groups who use gestures a lot, such as people of the southern Mediterranean.

Don’t know hand language? This doesn’t faze many TV presenters. They improvise, opening their palms and slicing the air over and over, framing every point with a two-handed chop.

Boring and meaningless.

Good presenters have a dozen or more meaningful gestures at their disposal. They use each one appropriately, without overdoing the movements. The effect is subtle, almost subliminal. It works.

People who haven’t yet developed this skill should ease back and practice in private. And save us from all the air karate.

They’re coming anyway

Facebook and Google are being pilloried for misusing the details of our private lives, but the silver lining is advertising that at last is something we can relate to.

Information in line with our interests – what an awesome notion!

This is after a lifetime of television viewing where the advertisers clearly don’t have a clue.

NOT MILES AWAY

Sure, online ads are sometimes out of date. We’ve already bought the goods or taken the holiday. Still, they’re not a million miles off. We appreciate the thought.

We’re also forewarned with cautionary pop-ups about intrusions on our privacy. Well and good, for we need to be reminded.

Who can object to cookies when they dish up ads that are startlingly knowing? The things are going to arrive anyway, so they might as well be apt.

Maybe it’s overdoing things to talk about advertising we can love. But accepting – that’s not too much.

The invisible mouse mat

Pens, diaries, key rings, coffee mugs, juggling balls.

We’ve all been showered with these promo giveaways that are emblazoned with the name of the supplier. The brand is in your face each and every day, so the advertising must be effective.

Or maybe not.

Back in the era of the mouse-mat, there was one on this desk promoting something or other. No idea what. After just a few days, the unchanging copy became unseen wallpaper.

Some giveaways such as t-shirts, baseball caps and pedestrian backpacks are undoubtedly effective. The brand names walk the streets and get in front of fresh sets of eyes every day.

They’re like newspaper billboards and headlines. Do we glance at them as we walk past? Of course.

FRESH WISDOM

A pawnbroker near this office has a whiteboard on which is scrawled some cock-eyed piece of wisdom that he refreshes every morning. Clever.

This leads to the question of how often we should change our marketing messages. Maybe a further question is needed, which is how often do your customers see them.

Daily exposure creates the need for frequent change. Which is something you can’t do with a coffee mug.

Axe that bidding battle

If you advertise using Google AdWords (and many of us do), avoid getting into a bidding war. Google loves these auctions, but you’re just handing them your money.

A fight for keywords means that there’s also disheartening competition for markets. Who needs that?

Instead, advertise in a niche where you’re the dominant player. Not sure how to do this? Keep on narrowing the scope of your market description until you’re in a position where you’ve shed most of your rivals.

You’ll have the relevant keywords to yourself, which means they won’t cost heaps. You may even be able to dominate the sector with natural, unpaid search.

Google won’t be impressed with your parsimony, but your pocket will like the result.

Nine secrets of expert content writers

1. They start the story with a hook and end with a punch. If these two parts of the content are sound, the rest of the material will sit easily in between.

2. They treat words like goldleaf. Each one has its own glint. They don’t need to elaborate with adjectives or adverbs, or say the same thing in three different ways. People will get it the first time.

3. They know that writer’s block is a form of stagefright. Practice of your craft will give you the confidence to write under the toughest conditions.

4. They understand that writers also get stuck when they don’t have a clear picture in their mind of whom they’re addressing. Clarify that and the writing will flow.

5. They’re happy for their first draft to be rough. And the next two rewrites. After that, they’re getting close to the finished piece.

6. They find that reciting a story aloud is an excellent way of checking its flow. (That doesn’t apply if you’re writing for The Guardian, where tortuous prose may be a sign of cleverness. For every other media brand, it’s good advice.)

7. They never write on a per-word basis of payment, which is a blueprint for poverty. They charge per article or by the hour.

8. They understand that while everyone can write, few people can do it really really well. Most of us are able to cook a meal, but that doesn’t make us Gordon Ramsay.

9. They’ve found that working to a word limit is a tough but good discipline. Most online articles are fewer than 400 words. Any clown can add more. The hard part is leaving stuff out.