In Defense of Using a Personal Facebook Profile for Business

Let me first get a couple of things out of the way:

1. This post is for people who own very small businesses. It is not about brands, corporations, or conglomerates.

2. If you have a Facebook profile (where you must send and accept friend requests) with a name like “Sister Sue’s Cafe” you are doing it wrong and you need to hire someone to help you build a Page for your business ASAP. Call me. I’ll refer you to someone good.

3. This is my opinion and reflects my experience. I have done no studies, have no scientific or statistical evidence to back anything I say, and am offering advice from my own perspective.

Whew. Now that’s all out there, we can get on with things. I have a page for Smiling Tree Writing on Facebook. I mostly publish links to posts from this the face of a true friend!

blog there, but sometimes offer writing tips or let loose with rants about poor grammar. I also have a personal Facebook profile, which is for family,  friends, spying on my kids, keeping up with people I barely remember from school, and even for playing Words with Friends now and then.

For a while, I worried every time someone I know through my work as a writer sent me a friend request on Facebook. I don’t have lists set up, so pretty much everything I post is visible to all of my connections. Sometimes, in status updates, I curse. Sometimes I post links to political articles. Sometimes I make jokes that only certain people get. I even torture my Facebook friends with poetry once in awhile. How would a prospective client feel about that stuff?

So, I tried to direct people to my business page rather than my personal profile. But it really didn’t work. Past clients sent me referrals – to my personal page. People I met at networking events sent me friend requests. Past colleagues did, too.

Finally, I came to a decision: Accept their requests, and let them see the “real” dava – honest opinions, bad photos, silly poems and all. I still suggest that people “like” my professional page, but I don’t turn them away from my personal profile.

I’m not great at “sales” in the sort of stereotypical sense of the word. I am good at building relationships, though, and that ability helps me find and keep clients. As it turns out, one of the most important parts of building relationships is allowing people to get to know you. Allowing clients, prospects, and others from my professional life see a bit of my personal life through Facebook is a pretty simple way to let them know me.

This probably goes against every bit of expert advice you have ever read or heard. You’re probably remembering how many times people you respect have exhorted you to use the privacy settings on Facebook, to use business pages for business and to keep personal stuff personal. There are a few reasons ignoring all of that has worked for me:

1. I own my own business. I do not have a boss who will read something on my Facebook profile and be offended. I cannot injure the reputation of any company except my own.

2. Similarly, I get to decide with whom I do business. If a client says ugly things about one of my poems, I can fire them. I probably wouldn’t, but the knowledge that Icould makes me feel better about the situation.

3. Part of the reason I love what I do is that I get to be me – fully and totally dava. I spent years trying to suppress parts of my personality, or trying to be more like others in order to fit into various work cultures, and it never worked for me.

4. While I post relatively frequently on Facebook, I dothink about each post. I have never (and hopefully will never) posted a personal tirade in the heat of the moment. I may have taken part in a few online debates, but you can be sure I considered every word carefully. While I am open about my opinions and thoughts and to some extent, my emotions, on Facebook, I am also a little cautious.

It works for me. I am Facebook friends with at least 5 or 6 clients. If any of them are offended by my opinions or they don’t like what they have learned about my personal life, it hasn’t stopped any of them from continuing to send me work.

Do you mix personal and professional on Facebook? Do you have barriers in place so that your professional contacts only see some things you post? Do you  have any Facebook/work horror stories?

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Why No One Reads Your Newsletter

A few months ago, I wrote a post offering a few suggestions for your newsletter template. Even if you are sure your template is awesome, you might have dismal open rates. People have different ideas about what a “good” open rate is. I had a client at one point who was perfectly satisfied with an open rate that was consistently around 15%. The average for my clients is around 30%. I’ve talked to business owners who have open rates above 90%.

Most people worry  more about how many addresses make up their lists than about how many people actually read their newsletters. It is better to have a list of 20 people with an 80% open rate than a list of 1000 people with a 10% open rate. You are far more likely to find that email marketing works for you if you begin with a smaller list of people who really want to hear from you, than you are if you begin with a list of hundreds who might have heard of you.

If you do it right, your list will grow. People will open, read, and, most importantly, respond to your newsletter. It’s the getting-it-right part that is hard. A few tips to help you keep your carefully-crafted newsletter out of the trash:


You use it like a sales circular. I subscribe to a newsletter from a local pet supply store. Every single week, they send out an email to advertise A BIG WEEKEND SALE!!! Things like 10% off all gerbil food do not excite me. After two or three weeks, I stopped opening it.

It’s okay to use your newsletter to let people know if you are offering a special or a discount, but don’t make that the only thing your newsletter does. It’s boring – especially when your “sales” are only going to appeal to a tiny segment of your subscriber list. Make sure that any offer you make will have broad appeal, and that there are, at least sometimes, other reasons to open your newsletters.


It’s all about YOU. One of the biggest reasons to use email marketing is that it builds your relationships with your customers. It gives them a small window into your company’s culture, or even a chance to know more about you personally. People are easily bored, though. Relationships require balance. When every issue is about you, but you never address your readers’ needs, values, or priorities, they are going to quit opening.

The key to avoiding this mistake is to make sure you are writing with your ideal customer in mind. Write as if you are having a conversation with that person. There’s nothing wrong with letting your customers get to know you – just make sure you are  keeping them in mind.


It’s the same thing, again and again. There have been so many times I’ve subscribed to newsletters and been delighted with the first 4 or 5 issues that hit my inbox. Then, after a couple of months, less delighted. Then, bored. If every issue is an interesting personal anecdote, followed by a customer testimonial, with a great coupon only for newsletter subscribers at the bottom, people are going to get bored.

When you find a combination that works, it’s tempting to stick with it. What you need, though, are four or five or six combinations that work. Keep surprising your subscribers and you will keep them interested. Send a link to a news article related to what you do, then a personal story, then a product offering, then a link to a video about your company. Try keeping a log of ideas, so that you always have something to turn to when it’s time to write the next issue, and so that you have a place to keep up with “extra” content for the future.


You need a proofreader. Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve re-read this post approximately 50 times and found a mistake every time. Feel free to point out those I miss in the comments – because I’m sure I will miss some. However, when your newsletter is so riddled with misspellings and poor grammar that it makes my head hurt and my pulse race, I’m going to stop torturing myself by reading it.

There are people, ahem, who will proofread your stuff for a small fee. If you lack confidence in your writing skills, paying someone to proofread or edit your newsletter is well worth the money. No matter how laid-back your customers are, you can bet there is at least one grammar nut on your subscriber list. You can sell her stuff, too, if she is not so annoyed with you she fails to see what you are selling.


You are overwhelming. Smarter people than I have done studies that show you can send email to your list daily and not suffer a significant drop in subscribers. If you send me stuff daily, or even every-other-daily, I’m going to unsubscribe. First I’m going to delete everything you send me without ever looking at it for a couple of weeks, then I’m going to unsubscribe.

There are a few types of newsletters that can get by with daily sends, but not many. You have to gauge the tolerance of your subscribers for yourself. Sometimes weekly works perfectly, sometimes bi-weekly, and for some businesses, sending randomly works best. You can do some testing, and you can even ask your subscribers their preference.


There’s nothing personal. I love Mini Coopers. I used to own one and hope to own another some day. When I learned that Mini had a newsletter, I was excited, but the excitement faded within a couple of issues. There was just nothing in them that I could relate to. Once, there was a link to a blog written by someone who was testing an electric mini, and that was interesting, but that was the only thing that got my attention in ONE YEAR of receiving the newsletter.

The scope was just too big. Mini has an international audience, and their newsletter attempts to appeal to lots of different kinds of people. It rarely has anything in it about the cars, or about the people who drive them. It is clearly written by a large marketing department for a large audience. Mini would be better served by email marketing by making their newsletters more relatable. If you are running a small business, embrace the fact that email marketing is personal.


There are plenty of other reasons newsletters fail. Do you have an email pet peeve? What is one of the worst mistakes you have encountered in your inbox?

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4 Reasons Your Email Newsletter Template Sucks

Your email newsletter design is similar to your business card design. You need it to grab attention, deliver information and make the person looking at it want to know more. While I am a writer, not a designer, I have looked at hundreds of email newsletter templates, and I’ve seen some really bad ones. Here are a few reasons your email newsletter template sucks:

1. It’s ginormous. If all I see on the screen when I open your newsletter is the name of your company in five-inch-tall bold lettering, I’m annoyed. I have no idea if I want to even make the effort to move my finger and scroll down. Usually, I just hit delete. Sorry.

If I do go to the trouble of scrolling, and your font is so big that I have to keep scrolling and keep scrolling to read your content, I’m going to be annoyed. Annoyed prospects are less likely to buy from you. I know how to adjust the size of the text on my screen, so you really don’t have to make the text of your newsletter huge.

2. The colors are painful. Just because you can make the background orange and the text blue, doesn’t mean you should. In fact, when you do those kinds of things, your newsletter appears unprofessional. Color is fun. Fonts are fun. But they are also dangerous.

If you want orange in your newsletter, try using it in a border. If you want to use a “fun” font, use it in a title. Otherwise, you risk making your message harder to read, and people are busy. They are not going to put in any extra effort to read something that makes their heads hurt.

There are people who will help you design a template for future use, and their services are often reasonably priced. Get in touch. I’ll be happy to help you come up with something functional that won’t cause your prospects pain.

3. Your images are weird. If you don’t know how to manipulate images so that they don’t appear flattened or stretched when you put them in your newsletter, you might want to consider leaving them out. The best thing to do is invest a little time in learning how to make them work. Most email distribution services have great tutorials and help sections on their sites, and quite a few have really good customer services reps who will help you by phone.

4. Columns. Or lack of columns. Personally, I like two columns, but personal preference varies. Some folks don’t like columns at all, and that is fine, though a table of contents or a “what’s in this issue” section is nice. However you decide to go, make sure it’s easy to navigate your newsletter and that it’s easy to see whatever you want recipients to see.

Do you want people to click through to your site? Then make sure the link is obvious. Want people to “like” your page on Facebook? Then don’t bury a link to your page at the bottom of your newsletter. When you have too much “filler,” you end up with clutter, and then people don’t even see your wonderful offer or your excellent article.

There are lots of reasons to market by email. There are not many excuses for sending out horrible newsletters. Before you even begin putting together a template, you should think about your reasons for sending a newsletter at all. What do you want to accomplish? How can your template help you achieve that goal?

Of course, all of this ranting could just be evidence of my steadily increasing crotchetiness. Do you find horrible email design an assault to your inbox? Maybe other people love seeing all the bright colors and nifty fonts. Please, chime in. I’m curious if this bugs other people, too.

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There Is No Autopilot

Everyone dreams of being able to build up an audience, create some products, set up some affiliate marketing deals and then make money while reclining on the beach.


It is a false dream. Even if you get all those things in place, you cannot just kick back and watch your bank account get fatter. There will always be more work to do.


I have never had a big following on this blog, for lots of reasons, the main one being that gathering a large audience was not/is not my main goal here. The folks who read Smiling Tree Writes may not be many, but they are mostly people I think of as friends and that I would like to know better. This is the place where I write in my own voice, where clients can read samples of my writing, where I can ask other professionals open questions, and where I share thoughts about life and owning a business.


Even with a very small following, traffic on this site suffered in a big way during the last 2-3 weeks. My father in law became gravely ill in mid August, and passed away on August 27. During those few weeks, we were traveling and staying in Eastern KY, where internet service is spotty at best, and besides, my mind was occupied with family concerns far more than with business worries.


It was interesting to take a look back at the traffic here, though. There were several things in place that probably helped keep a few visitors dropping in, but for the most part there was very little activity  around here. A grand total of two comments were left in my absence, and the number of visitors over two weeks was about the same as I would usually see in one normal day.


Here are some prematurely drawn conclusions based on my statistics from the last few weeks:

Social media matters. Under normal circumstances, I spend a fair amount of time each day participating in conversations on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and a few other networks. In fact, most of the traffic here comes from those social networks. There is a direct correlation between blog traffic and social media participation.


Commenting makes a difference. In late June/early July, I set a schedule for leaving comments on other blogs. My plan was to leave a minimum of 20 comments on other blogs each week to try and find out if that would increase traffic here. Turns out, that is harder to do than it seems. I had trouble finding enough blogs to read, and then, some didn’t leave room for comments, I couldn’t think of anything relevant to say, or other people had already said it all. However, I was beginning to see a slight increase in traffic here that was probably attributable to all that commenting.


Even tiny gardens need water. This is a tiny blog, but if I don’t respond to comments and post new content with rigid regularity, the itty bitty following it has taken a couple of years to build disappears. Quickly.


There are millions of blogs, and only a fraction of a percent of them are well-known. You can bet that the owners of those few big names don’t spend the majority of their days taking it easy while the money rolls in. Blogs require work, and when you stop working, people stop visiting.


What’s the longest period of time you left your blog on autopilot? Did you see a major difference in traffic? Have you found anything specific (social media, commenting on other blogs, etc.) that impacts your statistics more or less than you expected it to? 

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No, Really, Size Isn’t Important…

Does the number of connections your company has on Facebook make a difference to your bottom line? Do more followers on Twitter translate to more money in your bank account?

To some degree the answer is, of course it matters. If people don’t know about you, they can’t buy from you or spread the word about how fabulous you are. When I attended a live interview with Guy Kawasaki via Skype, he said, “There are two kinds of people on Twitter. The ones who say they want more followers and liars.” My clients ask me all the time “How can I get more Facebook fans?” In some ways, yes, size matters.

How you interact with people matters more, because if your interactions are in line with your goals and strategy, your numbers will grow – or not, depending on what you are trying to do.

On July 26, on there was an article titled “Five Lies About Social Media Marketing,” which has 136 comments as of now. The debate in those comments is lively, and a few days later, July 29, a rebuttal appeared, titled “Five Truths About Social Media Marketing.” The same five points are covered in both articles.

The point that both articles seem to miss is that everything depends on a multitude of factors, with the biggest one being what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish by making social media a part of your marketing plan in the first place.

What is it that you want from people when they connect with you? Do you want them to buy something? Do you want them to tell their friends about you? Are you simply trying to Gain more followers or retain their loyalty? What is your goal?

These are critical questions that you should answer before you ever try to increase your numbers of friends, connections or followers, and the answers to them will inform your marketing strategy. If you sell luxury items, scarcity may well be part of you marketing strategy. Exclusivity can be a powerful selling tool. However, if you sell $3 widgets and make a $1 profit on each one, you probably want to reach as many people as possible.

For just about any approach you can think of there is somebody out there using it successfully. Pretty much everything you read about social media talks about engagement. Then there are people like Seth Godin who, famously, does not engage. He does not allow comments on his blog, does not respond to comments on his Facebook page and doesn’t do much of anything at all with Twitter. Yet his books are best sellers.

Regardless of the approach that works best, one thing remains important: content. The information you provide, the tone of your communication, the status updates are all the ways your customers gauge whether or not they want to do business with you. For help with your social media content, you could consider contacting a pr company such as NGPIMC, for example. By creating appealing content, pr brands can help to enhance your business awareness. The content you put out on your business social media platforms tells your story so make sure it fits into your strategy.

Have you found that increasing the number of social media connections you have makes a difference? Do you have a strategy for using any of the marketing tools you use? Do you find the tone of your content matters?

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How Do You Decide Where To Be?

The list of social sites that I use is getting long:







This Blog




Believe it or not, each of those sites offers individual benefits, and I use them to meet different needs. If you were so fanatically impressed with my amazing writing skills that you wanted to connect with me in all of these different places, you would rarely, if ever, see the same content duplicated. I do provide links to my blog from several other sites, in the hopes more people will come here, but that’s about it.


You may be thinking, “That’s a LOT of content.” You’re right, it is, and sometimes I struggle with what to post where. Would this link work better on Twitter or Facebook? How many more people are likely to respond to this question on Google+ than on LinkedIn? Where should I share this in order to provide maximum exposure?


The thing is, I’m not really normal – in the way that I use social media. It is part of my job to offer my clients insight and advice regarding these various platforms. If that weren’t the case, I’m not sure I’d be active in quite so many places. Also, if I had a job that didn’t involve marketing or social media at all – if I were still a teacher, for instance – I would certainly be slower to get involved.


This run down of my own social media habits has a point: Any normal person would be overwhelmed.


That overwhelm usually leads to a handful of reactions. People link their feeds together so that the same status update or link or whatever appears everywhere at once. Sometimes, business owners simply ignore the latest and greatest and stubbornly stick to whatever has been working for them (know anyone still relying on the Yellow Pages?). Other folks just hire it all out to an agency.


Linking your profiles and pages together is a bad idea, for several reasons. One is that you miss out on the particular benefits each platform offers. The reason all these sites can coexist is that they don’t do the same things. The jokes and chatter that work perfectly on Twitter fall flat on LinkedIn.  I’m certainly not the first person to offer this advice, but I do think the temptation to link accounts will grow along with the number of platforms that could be linked.


Not taking the time to even learn how the next big thing works is a mistake, too. You need to at least have some idea of what each of these sites can do before you can decide where your business should be. Twitter might not be right for your business, but if you never check it out you will never know. Lots of businesses have found new customers through Twitter that never expected to be able to. Lots of others have tried and flopped – either because the people they were looking for weren’t there, they lacked an understanding of how that community works, or they were inconsistent or impatient.


Hiring an agency might seem like a good idea, especially if you listen to a well written and delivered pitch. But, unless you or someone who is extremely knowledgeable about your company works closely with the agency, it could be a disaster. In order for marketing through social platforms to work, you have to be personable and responsive to what your customers want. A representative from an agency cannot do that nearly as well as someone who lives and breaths your business. I’m not saying that an agency is NEVER the right idea, but you (or someone you trust) will have to spend time making sure the agency knows your company well enough to represent it.


I’m curious as to how the people who read this blog handle the overload. Do you wait to see how everyone else is going to use the latest new thing, or do you jump right in? Do you link your profiles together? Do you use different platforms to share different sorts of information or is one place as good as another?

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