Talking with Abby Kerr

Episode #177

Today I talk with Abby Kerr from

She has lots of great advice to tune up your website and start the fall off right.

Also, I have some books, apps, and tools to share, plus the latest news from the studio.

Transcription of Interview with Abby Kerr

Alison Lee: Well, I'm back again this week. I'm very excited to talk to someone. She has the information that so many of you ask about and today I'm talking with Abby Kerr from Abby Kerr Ink. She is a brand editor and digital copywriter for indie creative entrepreneurs who want to own their voices in the marketplace. Welcome, Abby. Thanks for coming on and chatting with me.

Abby Kerr: Alison, thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Alison: So, first off, how do you get to that? What's the background here that you get to that point that you can get that statement?

Abby: Well, I started off with a really conventional college education background in English with a focus in creative writing. So, I've always been really immersed in words and creating worlds through words. And then from there, I worked in a licensed professional clinical counselors office for about a year. Not doing counseling myself but kind of managing the office. I was trying to figure out what do I want to do with my English degree exactly? So, I think that helped to you know just get a sense of maybe reading people, reading situations from the outside because I wasn’t in the office with the counselor but just kind of seeing the stories that came through my office and it was interesting. And from there went back and got a master's in teaching focusing in English and I taught high school English for four years. I taught in a traditional environment, a traditional classroom as well as at a humanities program. It was a magnet school for intellectually curious high school juniors and seniors. And it was an integrated curriculum, textbook free, classroom free mobile campus. So really grew as a teacher across those four years. Felt the entrepreneurial spirit in me move and knew that it was the right timing in my life to act upon that and start my own business. So, I uprooted my life, moved two hours back to my hometown, quit my comfortable teaching job, and opened a retail store all in the span of about five weeks. I know. It was one of those big intuitive lunges as [inaudible] would say.

Alison: That's a good word. I like that. Intuitive lunges. Ok. Good.

Abby: Yes. So had the retail store and got into indie brick and mortar retail at a time when retail was just waking up to the possibilities of what could be done online with the brand. So, Blogger was the preeminent content manager system at that point for people who wanted to blog. I got on Blogger and the store's reputation seemed to grow nationally and internationally even faster than it grew locally. So locally we had a great brick and mortar presence, gorgeous store, loyal customer base. But really, I feel like a lot of our brand's juice if you will really came from blog readers who live far away.

Alison: Now why do you think that? Why do you think that looking back now? Why do you think that happened?

Abby: Honestly, I think it was a matter of timing. I think that people were just starting to discover, this was back in 2005 early 2006. People were just realizing that they could bring passion online and begin to translate it in a way that felt really alive and vital and viable to people who lived hundreds or thousands of miles away. And I was one of the first brick and mortar retailers, independent store owners really doing that consistently and well. So, I managed to make a name for myself that way. We sold internationally through our website as well as locally. Through having the store, I discovered boy I love marketing. I love branding. I don’t actually like retail.

Alison: Which part of that? Which part of that exactly? Because that’s a common thing to hear but what part of the retail where you like ugh?

Abby: I didn’t like the hours and I didn’t like having to stand in one space for five to seven days a week, most days of the year, and be in front of people all of the time. I'm an introvert, I actually love people. I love making conversation, but it got to be, it felt kind of draining.

Alison: Now tell everyone what your store was and the feeling you created for people shopping there.

Abby: Yes. It was called The Blissful and the tagline was "French-inspired finds and furnishings". And it was kind of a funky French farmhouse-inspired store. Very playful, not serious French like no Jacquard tablecloths, no sunflowers, no French poodles wearing berets. It wasn’t the cliche sort of French that we see interpreted so often in American art. Kind of earthy, it was pretty cool.

Alison: French shabby chic sort of?

Abby: Kind of. Yes. Kind of anthropology esque.

Alison: Love that.

Abby: Yes. So, from there, decided to close the shop after four years because I wanted a different lifestyle. I still wanted to be a business owner. On the side because of my blog, I have been doing consulting, business marketing, and consulting for other indie retailers from around the country and also started to write copy for them. They saw my writing skills through my blog and my own website. So, when I decided to close my store it was the perfect Segway into what I had been doing part-time with indie retailers. I was able to parlay into a full-time business. So, I became a branding, marketing, and copywriting specialist first for retailers and creative businesses and now it’s been over two years since I made that switch. Now my client base is retailers but also life coaches, yoga teachers, dog trainers all that good stuff.

Alison: And what do you think? Well, I have a feeling you already know the answer to this question but is branding more important than ever?

Abby: Branding is more important than ever. Yes.

Alison: And why do you say that? I agree with you but I'm wondering your thoughts on that.

Abby: Well, we hear so much about the ease, like the low barrier to entry when it comes to bringing a business idea online or a creative passion online. And the web is saturated with people who are offering wares of offering coaching of some type or another. And if you just, let’s say you take the words from someone's website, you type them out on white paper in black font and you read them, offers may sound remarkably similar if you just look at the bare bones of what is being offered. So, what makes the difference between just having a viable offer which is the first step to having a really compelling presence that draws people in and creates desire, stirs up the desire that is already latent in them to work with you, is totally about branding. Visual brand identity as well as brand voice and the relationship that you want to have with your people that comes through all of those signals.

Alison: It is very exciting. I love that part too. So, I totally get where you are coming from. It’s just a fun interesting challenge.

Abby: It is, and a challenge is a good word for it because you never start iterating, ever.

Alison: Right. Exactly. Now, what do you think people get stuck in trying to? I hear it very often; I’m trying to find my own voice along those terms. Where do you think people mostly get stuck.?

Abby: I think people, there's two places. Number one they get stuck looking at their competitors’ inspirations and peers and figuring that hey if it's working for this person, I can use this exact phrase, or this exact word and I will create the same loyalty in my audience or the same conversion on my coaching program or whatever. I don’t think it’s an intentional copycat thing for most people. I think it’s more like we move through this space and we just absorb what we see around us and what we like, and it comes out through what we are trying to create. And I think that's part of the process of learning who you are as a creative entrepreneur. I think too much absorption and mimicking of other voices and I also think people get stuck on getting too self-conscious about what they sound like to others. And I think when you are trying to figure out what is my voice? What is my more powerful, free sustainable voice that works for me? I think it’s a matter of what it feels like and when it feels right in your body and in your mouth as you're feeling the words kind of build as you are typing, you know you are on the right track.

Alison: Yes. That's a good point. You know as you were just saying that I thought of a funny story when I was working in my other career life as a creative consultant and I worked for two different clients. And one client wanted to copy, not knowing that I had worked for the other client, wanted to copy something that that client had done thinking well they are doing it, it great, successful. I had worked for that other client and knew it wasn’t a success at all. But because someone had thought it's out there, it must be successful and was going to jump on that bandwagon. And I thought hmm, that's not how it always works.

Abby: No. I mean I think that's there's like the little unknown secret of the online entrepreneurial world is just because it attracts a lot of attention and a lot of goodwill and social media shares do not mean it’s converting well and does not mean that you have a profitable business.

Alison: Excellent point. And I do think especially when this all started out, I think we all got hung up in that because. Well, I know when I started PayPal didn’t even exist. You couldn’t even make money yet. So, it was all geared by how many people were following you, how many people were clicking through to your website.

Abby: Yes. You do not need; you know even a thousand Twitter followers or a thousand people on an email list to have a profitable full calendar in your business. You just don't. Because I think it’s more about getting the right people to your site who are sending a well-edited suite of signals through all of your branding and your copywriting.

Alison: [Makes Sound], that’s a good word. Suite signals. I love that Abby. That's really good.

Abby: Oh thanks.

Alison: Oh, that’s very good. Well now, what's your approach to social media or your advice to others for social media? And I'm saying this with that, I hear a lot of people who will say oh it takes so much time. What it's supposed to do for me? What's your response to that type of thing?

Abby: Well, I think that it’s such an individual strategy. It depends on who you are serving or who you want to serve. For instance, some of my clients it doesn’t even make sense for them to be on Twitter or Instagram, or Facebook because their right people, their ideal clients or customer are not there. So, don't waste time on a social media platform trying to see to your people if your people aren’t there. So, know what is your best bet platform to use. Pick one or two. Start there and see how that goes. I think the most important way for a brand or a business to show up than on their chosen platforms is to have what they share there be an extension of what they are trying to teach or model or share through their brand. So many times, I see entrepreneurs, it’s almost like they forget that they are still representing their business when they are on Twitter or Facebook. Yeah, and it’s not that they are even posting about quote-unquote inappropriate things, it’s just that they are posting about things that people just don’t really need to see it. Sort of like making noise but it’s not really helping people move forward toward their dreams and goals which I think is, yes. So, don’t be a noisemaker but make sure that when you do share, it's interesting lifestyle content that supports the dreams and goals that your target audience has that connects with the solutions that you provide. And thirdly I think social media is one of those things, you know it’s a recent invention. [Inaudible] ago we weren’t checking our phones constantly checking Hootsuite. So, we've evolved in this direction to have the capacity to have all these conversations at once, but it still doesn’t always feel natural or feel good. So, I advocate for online entrepreneurs figuring out the sanest way for them to use social media and be engaged in the conversation in the most minimal way too. You don't have to tweet 50 times a day to make an impact, maybe three. So yes, figure out your social media sanity savers and make yourself stick to them.

Alison: I love that. Yes, it’s true. It's sanity savers at this point because there is a lot of pressure when your business is online, there is a lot of pressure to be like wait I have to say something.

Abby: Exactly. Oh my god. If I don't tweet, they are going to forget I exist.

Alison: Right. Right. There is a lot of pressure that way. Now, do you have? I know I have tons of these starting way back when all this began, a road that you went down that was definitely that wrong road. Like what was a life learning lesson in something you did in all of this?

Abby: Oh, that is such a good question. No one has ever asked me that.

Alison: Well because there's usually a great lesson in there like oh my god I can't believe I did that.

Abby: Yes. OK. So here are my two if I may.

Alison: Yes, please.

Abby: OK. One is more practical than the other. The first one is the practical lesson. Do not go into great amounts of debt to fund a business.

Alison: Excellent.

Abby: I opened my retail store, and I don’t really know and brick and mortar retailers who are able to open a store without debt. Especially the bigger the store, the more inventory you need. So, you know even though my business was profitable on paper, I'm still working to pay down a loan that I took out seven years ago to start the store. And the store has been closed now for four years, I think. Three years. So that's no fun, you know. But the store its part of me. Its why I'm able to do what I do now. But for instance, my current business I have taken no debt, zero debt. I don’t even have a business credit card because I refuse to take on debt to build this business. So that's my biggest piece of advice practically. And then a little bit less practical, more intangible. There was a time in my business where I put a lot of trust and faith into a business coach that I worked with very closely over a couple of years and it turned out that this person didn’t really have the integrity that I, you know. There was a lack of integrity there and eventually, I parted ways. But you just have to learn to trust your gut. When you are getting advice and perspective from anyone, make sure your vet your mentors very carefully. Never buy in wholesale to someone else's blueprint for your business. You are your own best business advisor, no matter what. Trust yourself.

Alison: Yes. No that’s very good advice. I also think if someone is selling you in a way that this is the only way that's sort of scary too. Because there are a lot of paths.

Abby: Oh yes.

Alison: And a lot of different ways that you can go so. You know the other thing I was thinking about, how do you feel about it? I know this has happened to me, I used to be an avid reader. I just to read for escape, I used to read fiction and now today and even writing has never been my thing. I've always been the visual but what I noticed today is I don’t think anyone can handle long bits of writing. It has to be, is life all about bullet points at this point now for us?

Abby: That's a good question too. Well, I think what we are talking about is finding the sweet spot between best practices for the web and how people naturally read and then who you right people actually are.

Alison: That's a good point. That's a very good point.

Abby: Yes. And it’s going to look different for every brand. So, in general, best practices for web usability say that you do want to use short sentences, short paragraphs of one to three sentences, words that are a bit more basic. They say you want to aim your copy at a ninth-grade level. I somewhat agree with that and I somewhat don’t. Again, depending on the audience, they say, Google and search engines love bullet lists, numbered lists, bolded words, bigger headlines than body copy. And yes, all of that is true. I do that with my brand when it makes sense because I want my content to be as appealing to search engines as possible. However, there are different types of audiences, there are some audiences who are really thinker methodical people, and they like a lot of detail and a lot of information. They can definitely handle a 2,000-word blog post once a week. That's the sort of reading they are looking to do on the web because they miss that really deep dive. And then they are other right people profiles that really don't read on the web at all, they skim. So, video might be a better option for them. It’s knowing best practices and abiding by them when it makes the most sense and then also being hyper-aware of your audience and what their needs are as consumers of content.

Alison: Do you survey your audience to see?

Abby: I do from time to time. I have a good feeling of who's out there and what they are wanting. But I'm one of those people who believe in actually profile your right people from your imagination, defining who it is you want to work with, trusting that that person is out there, designing your brand for her or for him, and then once you've launched something or once you've put something out there, then looking at the real-world feedback to help you kind of like iterate and adjust and see if your assumptions are true.

Alison: So, who is your perfect client right now?

Abby: My perfect client is someone who has had a business online for probably two to five years. So, she has an active established business. She is very much a thinker, methodical person. She likes to see big picture strategy as well as all of the details. She's somebody who needs to feel a lot of integrity coming through her business and needs to know she's not being kept waiting in the wings. She kind of wants to see it all on the table and know where the people she's doing business with are coming from. She loves strategy, she loves systems. She is interested in implementing more of those in her business. She is just a very thoughtful person who is interested in the why and how behind everything.

Alison: Well, I think I love this person.

Abby: Yes. She is fun for me to work with. I call her Nina.

Alison: Nina. Oh, I love it. Well now tell people because now I know everyone that's listening is going ok that’s me, that’s me, that’s me! What does Abby do for me? So, tell people what you offer and different ways that you work with possibilities.

Abby: Oh, thank you so much. So, I write copy for entrepreneur’s websites. So, let’s say you are a life coach, let’s say you are a marketing consultant. Let's say you sell soy candles, and you need the words for your home page, your about page, your work with me page, your sales pages, I write that. I work with you on a really deep level to help figure out what does your most powerful brand voice sounds like. And it better be a voice that you can sustain when you are writing your own blog posts or when you are on social media. So, we develop that together and then I write the copy and I make sure it’s going to look relevant to search engines as well. And I can help you with content strategy, meaning what do you blog about on an ongoing basis that isn’t a waste of your time every week but that it actually plays into helping your people make decisions in the context of your brand. Talk about voice on social media and you know I'm not exactly sure when this interview will go live Alison, but I've already shared with you my business and brand is in a big transition. I'm moving out of a freelancer model and into more of an agency model. I'm going to be partnering more intensively with other writers, having a team of writers so I'm not the only one writing for clients. I have a collaborative business partner and we've been working behind the scenes on a really cool service that helps people deeply profile their right person and then figure out a content strategy and a conversion path for that person that speaks to them right where they're at and I offer voice profile. So, I will look at your brand, read your content on your site, and then give you a very nuanced translation of how you are showing up. How you sound stylistically, what will never see you doing, things to continue to do to maintain this voice in its strongest light. So yes, everything having to do with voice, content copy, all the good stuff.

Alison: Great. I love it. Great. Very exciting. Now, who are you reading right now? Like who in the business domain in all of this, is there an author that you love to read or a book that you would recommend?

Abby: What am I reading right now? You know what? I have not been reading business books lately. I have kind of taken this summer to read more fiction but as far as reading on the web I have been reading Mark Silver from Heart of Business quite a bit.

Alison: Alright. I'm going to put that up there for everyone. Mark Silver, you think he's good huh?

Abby: I do. Yes. He's just got such a tender human approach to marketing. It's very soft, some might even say [makes sounds] but I just think its kind, human, respectful, deeply respectful to his audience.

Alison: Don't you think that's what everyone wants though? I mean here we are doing something online to millions and yet what we are searching for is a one-on-one relationship.

Abby: Absolutely.

Alison: So, it has to go down the path of that. I always think that the biggest goal to accomplish to get to in your website is everything you said but how you make the interface disappear, so people feel a relationship with you.

Abby: Oh, that’s a really good way of thinking of it.

Alison: I think that's the goal at the end of all of that

Abby: [Makes sounds]. Yes, you feel like you didn’t just spend time on a website, you spent time with the person.

Alison: Right. Right.

Abby: I like that.

Alison: Yes, me too. Well, I knew I'd like talking to you.

Abby: It’s been a joy to talk to you.

Alison: So many fun things we've all learned so thank you very much for that and I just want to say to everyone again, Abby Kerr. Check out her site AbbyKerrInk. I N K. Come over to the site and you can get the links for the things we talked about and all kinds of stuff like that. So, Miss Abby Kerr thank you so much for coming on and chatting.

Abby: Thank you Alison. It was a joy.

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