Smart Words by Sarah
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Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, James Brown, and…Content Marketing?

Here’s why your small business should be blogging and producing other content—and how to make sure your content is effective.

Speaking of noise on the internet, everywhere you turn someone has an opinion about how you should market your business. But all across the web, internet marketers agree:

Like Elvis, Michael Jackson, and James Brown, content is king.

There’s never been a better time for content. Blog posts, guest posts, online articles, white papers, and e-books are a crucial piece of the marketing puzzle. Here’s why content is so important:

  1. Google is constantly getting smarter. Every time you turn around they’ve got a new update. But that’s not a problem for savvy businesses that truly deliver value in their content. That’s because Google is getting better and better at finding the good stuff–the articles and posts people want to read. It’s also getting better at filtering out the bad stuff.
  2. Consumers are changing the way they interact with brands. No longer are they content to sit in front of a TV and be yelled at by a cartoon. Today’s consumers (and especially today’s parents) make decisions based on value, trust, and the connection they feel to a brand. Good content can meet all of these demands.
  3. Content marketing gives you a high return on investment. Unlike ads, you don’t have to pay every time someone reads your content. Evergreen articles (those you can use forever) that engage your customers, demonstrate your authority, and make a connection with your audience will pay for themselves several times over.

Successful internet marketing revolves around content.

Just for fun, here are a few more reasons why content is like Elvis, Michael Jackson, and James Brown:

  1. Content often takes the spotlight, but it can’t be successful on its own. The kings of rock and roll, pop, and soul all had powerful support networks. Content gets its support from brand voice, sales copy, and offers.
  2. Content can be kind of a diva. It doesn’t give you a list of demands before every concert, but if you want it to do its job, you have to treat it right
  3. The really, really good content plays to its audience and gets incredibly popular.

It’s only part of the big picture, and it may change over time, but it will always be king.

So how do you write content worthy of the crown?

Ok. Here it is. (Cue the fanfare.) Here’s what you need to know to create blog posts and other content that will bring customers to your business.

  1. Know who you’re talking to. Are they parents who are currently using your service? Former customers? People you’ve talked to before but who haven’t signed up? What you write will depend on how aware the audience is of their problem and how aware they are of your solution. The tone you write in will depend on what your audience wants to hear.
  2. Write a curiosity-evoking headline. Curiosity is so powerful. Put up a headline that is relevant to the topic and makes your readers want to read on.
  3. Tell a story. Weaving a story into your content will help it stick with the reader. Now, a story isn’t always a must, but it can be quite powerful. Thinking about a basic story framework (complete with a main character, a setting, a problem, a solution, and a change in the main character) will help you craft interesting, compelling content.
  4. Above all, deliver value. Does your audience want inspiration? Tips and tricks related to your service? The solution to a specific problem? Entertainment? The more value you can deliver, the better.
  5. Understand that putting up a few blog posts won’t bring you a slew of new customers. Sure, you may get some organic search traffic (that’s people who come across your content by using a search engine), but for the most part, your content will go unread without additional support. Still, content is king because it’s so important to the overall picture.

Creating content is worth it if you’re marketing online. This is true even if you’re a local, brick-and-mortar business. It can be the difference between “I think I saw an ad for them once” and “Oh, yeah, that place! They really know their stuff!”

P.S. If you’re ready to create content worthy of the crown, I’m here to help. You can see my full service menu, including specials, and email me at energylinguistic@gmail.com to reserve my time. Not sure where to start? Schedule a free 30-minute Discovery Call. We’ll see if your business and mine are a good fit for working together, and you’ll come away with a list of recommendations you can start implementing right away.

Is your “About Us” page helping or hurting you?

In another post, I told you about five simple things to check on your website to make sure people take the time to get to know you. Now that you’ve checked those things and fixed up your site, let’s look at some other ways to get your customers’ attention.

Today let’s look at your “about us” page.

I’ll call it a page to keep it simple, but keep in mind that you can have a separate “about us” page or a brief section on your home page.

Here’s what to check:

  • Does your “about us” page show your brand’s personality?
  • Is it written in your brand’s voice? (Do you have a brand voice?)
  • Does it have a real photo of you or your staff? (Remember that people buy from people.)
  • Does it tell a story? Your brand’s origin story could be the key to building a real relationship with your potential customers. If you don’t think your origin story is interesting, think again! You can tell it in a compelling way to show that you are passionate about your work and your customers.

I hope you’ll take a few moments today to make sure your “about us” page is on point. When a potential customer is exploring your site, your “about us” story can add to their trust in your business.

Your partner in growth,
Sarah

P.S. I offer discounted services to new clients with my new-client specials. Schedule a free Discovery Call at https://calendly.com/sjfoster and I’ll help you choose the best place to start.

Getting Yelp reviews (and responding to negative ones)

Here’s what small-business owners need to know about getting Yelp reviews and responding to negative Yelp reviews.

Hopefully you’ve already claimed your business account on Yelp. If not, go do it now. Please. I’ll wait.

Ready?

In 2018, you cannot ignore Yelp. Often, your prospects will check you out on Yelp and make their decision before they contact you. It’s absolutely critical to look your best on Yelp and other popular review platforms.

Getting reviews

First, you need to know that most review sites forbid the practice of asking for reviews. Yelp is serious about this. If you want to keep your position in Yelp’s search, you can’t ask your customers for reviews or incentivize reviews in any way.

If you’re currently giving anything away in exchange for reviews—or even directly asking people to post reviews on third-party websites—you may want to have a look at the fine print on Yelp and the other review sites you use.

Here are ways to encourage reviews without asking for them directly:

  1. Put the stickers review sites send you up in your window. (Request your Yelp sticker here.)
  2. Let people know you’re on Yelp, Google, and other review sites. You can tell them you’re there without asking for reviews.
  3. Put links to your review-site profiles on your homepage. Yelp has an embed feature, which makes it easy to share reviews to your website. (Details here.) Or you can use the site’s logos, but be sure to follow their branding rules. (You can get Yelp images and see their requirements here.)
  4. Respond to all genuine reviews, good and bad. Responding in a professional, friendly way to every (or almost every) review shows that you care about your customers’ experience, and your customers will be more likely to leave reviews when they others doing so.

Responding to negative Yelp reviews:

  1. In responding to negative Yelp reviews, stay cool. First, determine whether the review is in violation of Yelp’s content guidelines or review guidelines. If so, contact Yelp directly and ask them to remove the review. Let them know which guidelines the review violates.
  2. If you receive a genuine negative review, use Yelp’s direct messaging system or contact the reviewer personally to try to resolve the situation. Provide a tangible solution (like a free class so they can try your service again) and ask them to consider removing or updating their review if they think the solution is acceptable. Let them know that they’ll be unable to remove their review on the mobile app but will be able to do it from a computer by going to “about me” and then “reviews.”
  3. Consider a public reply in responding to negative Yelp reviews. Show sympathy, state the facts, and calmly explain the situation. Offer to work with the customer via email or phone to resolve their issue. If you do it right, a public reply to negative reviews can make you look good to potential customers.

Now that you’re set up on Yelp and armed with this knowledge, you can use it as a tool to gain the trust of your current and future customers.

Go forth and crush it.

Your Partner in Growth,

Sarah

P.S. Please do not pay someone to manage your Yelp profile! This is truly unnecessary. If you’re paying someone to do this, end your contract now. It’s really something you can do yourself, and it takes very little time.

P.P.S. Have you tried a new-client special? Choose from the list and email me at energylinguistic@gmail.com to get started. Don’t know where to begin? I’ll help you choose! Schedule a free 30-minute Discovery Call so we can chat about growing your business through content and copy.

New-client specials—Choose as many as you like for $97 each (normally $125). Limit one of each type per client.

  • $97 Website usability audit–I’ll look through your site and give you a full report on user experience, content, and copy. You’ll get at least five ways to improve your website.
  • $97 Email–This can be any email you like. I recommend something you’ll get a lot of mileage from, like a welcome email or a sales letter that you can send to your email list.
  • $97 Blog topic list–I’ll create a list of 20 blog posts that will be of interest to your audience, demonstrate your authority, and build trust. This includes attention-grabbing headlines.
  • Other new-client services are available. Email me at energylinguistic@gmail.com for details about a landing page, a survey, a Facebook ad, or a writing analysis.
Holiday marketing for local businesses

This parenting trend could help you sell your services ahead of the holidays.

Here’s how to boost sales ahead of the holidays.

In early September (or even sooner) businesses everywhere start thinking about their holiday promotions.

For some businesses that serve kids, the holidays can be a slow time. People put holds on their memberships or drop out of activities like martial arts, dance, gymnastics, and tutoring.

Does your business suffer from the holiday blues?

It may help to look at where parents are putting their money in November and December.

Trends in parenting can inform your marketing.

There’s been an increased interest in minimalism and decluttering lately, and that’s good for businesses that provide educational and recreational activities. Parents are discovering that they’d rather give their kids experiences than “stuff,” and they’re buying gifts like museum passes, dance classes, and monthly subscription crates that promote STEM learning.

Of course, when Grandma or Uncle Joe asks what the kids want for Christmas, Mom and Dad pass their own wishes for their kids on. “The kids really have enough in the way of toys. What they really need is a karate class or music lessons.”

The parents that take this approach to holiday gifts can boost your business in the coming months. All you have to do is get their attention.

How?

In September:
• Start now by planning your sales and special events. Consider Black Friday and Small-Business Saturday specials. You might also want to do a Cyber Monday offer available only via e-mail, social media, or your website. You’ll need a big offer for the late-November sales and a good offer for December as well.
• Also consider separate deals for new customers and for current customers.
• Have a gift-card or gift-certificate system in place.
• Lay out an editorial calendar that will guide your blog posts, ads, e-mails, and social media posts for October, November, and December. The idea is to gently progress from introducing the idea of giving your service as a gift to really selling it.
• Find local sponsorship and partnership opportunities. Will the pumpkin patch let you host a costume contest and hand out coupons to participants? Will a turkey trot 5K let you add coupons to their swag bags? Does the city Christmas parade need sponsors? Remember that to be effective, your messaging in these venues should include an offer to get people in your door.

In October:
• Early October is the time to start running your holiday-related posts, ads, and e-mails.
• Also in early October, post fliers at your location about your upcoming holiday specials. Headlines like “Tired of the junk that comes with the holidays?” and “This year, give your kids a gift that means something more” will grab the reader’s attention.

In November:
• Starting early November, let your customers know you have deals coming for Black Friday and Small-Business Saturday.
• Keep running those posts, ads, and e-mails. Build up to your big offers.
• Run your big offers. Remember to include scarcity. That means running these offers for a limited time, usually just on Black Friday, Small-Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.
• Run retargeting campaigns to people who have shown an interest but haven’t made a purchase.
• Send out an “in case you missed it” message with a consolation offer for those who didn’t take advantage. (Make sure it’s good, but not quite as good as your big offers—you want your customers to believe you when you say things like “limited time.” It’s always best to do what you say you’re going to do.

In December:
• Continue to advertise your December specials and frame them as amazing holiday gifts.
• Put together some gift baskets featuring a gift certificate for your services and some related items. Put these on display in your location to attract the attention of the kids you serve and their parents.

I hope this helps as you plan your holiday sales, events, and advertising.

Your Partner in Growth,
Sarah

P.S. If you need help with this, one of my new-client specials is a great way to get started. I’m offering your choice for $97:

1. A list of 20 blog post ideas to help establish you as an expert in your field, build rapport with your readers, and increase your visibility online.

2. A Facebook ad to attract new customers to your business.

3. A sales e-mail to send to your existing list. This can be about your holiday specials or anything you like.

4. A website usability and copy audit. I’ll give you at least five specific ways to improve your site so visitors will stick around and accept your call to action. I’ll also tell you whether your copy is on point and how you can make it better.

Not sure which to choose? I’d love to help you decide. Schedule your Free Discovery Call now: https://calendly.com/sjfoster

E-mail is not dead.

Are you missing out on this audience?

One of the best ways to get attention is through an e-mail list. Yes, in 2018, your list is still incredibly valuable—even if you’re a local, brick-and-mortar business.

Once you have a list of prospects who might be interested in your business, you can build relationships and advertise your services to people who actually want to hear from you.

So, are you collecting e-mail addresses? There are several ways local businesses can do this.

Sponsor a table at a local event. You can give parents an incentive to sign up for your list, like a coupon or an entry into a drawing for a restaurant gift card. Events like school fairs, city carnivals, community garage sales, and family-friendly 5K races are great for this.

Hold a local event of your own. This could be a one-time thing (such as a self-defense clinic) or something more frequent (like a weekly summer reading club). With this method, you can collect e-mail addresses as part of the registration or use an extra incentive to get them at the event itself.

Put together a lead magnet. This is a free, digital resource that customers will receive when they sign up for your list. It shows that you’re an expert in your field and gives your potential customers a free resource they really want. For example, a tutoring center might distribute an e-book about teaching preschoolers to read. A martial arts school could give away a short workbook that helps parents talk to their kids about bullying.

Instead of an info product, try using a coupon as a lead magnet. This works well for people who have already visited your site or looked at your ads. It’s best for people who have seen your business and are already considering trying it. A dance studio might offer a free week of classes for those who sign up to the school’s e-mail list. A preschool could offer a free enrichment class.

There’s a lot you can do with your list once you get it. We’ll touch on that later. But for now, know that e-mail marketing is very much alive, and even businesses that rely on local traffic can leverage it to bring in new customers. And, of course, the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards.

Your Partner in Growth,
Sarah

P.S. If you’re interested in a lead magnet but don’t know where to start, I can help! I create lead magnets starting at $197 and write ad copy that “sells” your lead magnet for $97 an ad. Email me at energylinguistic@gmail.com or schedule a free Discovery Call to get started building your e-mail list.

5 ways to get your site visitors’ attention

I’m fairly certain I was one of the first people to order pizza online. Sadly, I didn’t get my pizza.

Here’s how it went down:

It was late 1999 or early 2000, and I was living in an apartment just off my university’s campus. I’d gone over to my boyfriend’s place. He had just gotten a DSL line to share with his three roommates, and we were marveling at the speed (and the fact that you could use the phone and the internet at the same time—mindblowing).

I’d read somewhere that one could visit food.com and order pizza online. So we tried it.

Two hours later, our stomachs were growling and we were getting grouchy. We called the pizza restaurant and found out that they had received the wrong address and the wrong phone number from food.com.
Internet fail.

(If you’re curious, you can see what food.com looked like in 1999 here.)

Fast forward to 2018. My boyfriend is now my husband, and we use the internet a gazillion times a day to look for whatever we need. Sometimes we even order food and receive it like it’s no big thing.

Usually, we get the information we need within seconds. That’s the standard today. It’s what everyone is used to.

It’s what your potential customers demand.

So, when parents visit your website, can they get what they need within seconds? Or are they bouncing off your page like basketballs on a backboard?

Here are five ways to make sure your visitors don’t bounce away:
Do you have a picture of real people? This could be an image of you, your staff, or your customers in action. People buy from people, and the more real the image the better. Don’t worry if you’re not a super model. Very few of us are. Including an image of you or a real-life shot of your business in action will help to build trust.

Do you have a clear call to action? If parents don’t know what you want them to do, you may lose them. Try to make your visitors’ next steps as easy and as obvious as possible, and place your call to action above the fold (that means putting it in a place they can see without scrolling down).

Do you have social proof? Today’s parents love reviews and peer recommendations. Include a few quotes from happy customers.

Can your customers find what they’re looking for? Chances are your site visitors want your location, phone number, e-mail address, and hours. Are they easy to see on your home page?

Can visitors tell what you are selling within a few seconds? They should be able to tell immediately whether your business is what they’re looking for. If they can’t tell right away, they probably won’t spend time and effort to figure it out.

Go ahead and check these five things on your home page. Making a few adjustments could keep your visitors on your site long enough for them to see who you are, what you do, and why you’re the best choice for them. Having a well-functioning site will also show them that you’re a true professional.
When you’re done, you might want to celebrate by ordering a pizza. Just don’t use the 1999 version of food.com.

Your partner in growth,
Sarah

P.S. If you want more help fixing up your website, I offer a website usability and copy audit for $97. Just e-mail me at energylinguistic@gmail.com and let me know you’d like me to take a look at your site this week. I’ll give you at least five specific ways to improve your site so visitors will stick around and accept your call to action. I’ll also tell you whether your copy is on point and how you can make it better.

What a kids’ hairstylist can teach us about business.

Recently I took my son to get his hair cut at a place we hadn’t visited before. His usual place wasn’t open, and he needed a haircut ASAP.   

One of the stylists, Jessica, led us to her chair and got him set up. That’s when I took my position. My boy is five, which means he doesn’t sit still. Ever. So every time, I go prepared to hold him down. He doesn’t mind; he just needs help sitting still so he doesn’t get his ear cut off. So I hovered nearby, ready to jump in. 

But this time was different. Jessica got to work, talking to him the whole time. It turned out she didn’t need me to hold him still. The lady knew what she was doing, and she could do it despite all his little-kid wiggles and wriggles. The whole time, she was talking to him and to me. She didn’t just pick one. And she could handle it all at the same time: chatting with me about my son, chatting with my son about giraffes, and giving him a perfect haircut—without my having to hold him down. 

We will be back, and we will ask for Jessica. 

Friends, this talented lady is a prime example of how to do everything right with both kids and parents. 

So I wondered why the place was empty. Why wasn’t every kid in town on Jessica’s waiting list?

Probably because nobody knows she’s so good with kids. All I got from the salon’s website was their location, hours, and some generic photos of people with amazing hair. Good info, but not enough to build trust. 

A few simple ways this local business could get more families through their doors:

1. Ask for referrals (and provide a referral bonus). I’d love to tell my neighbors with kids about our experience. A small discount for me and the people I refer would sweeten the deal. 

2. Engage with local parents online (and include a healthy dose of personality). Some videos or anecdotes from their kid-friendly stylists would go a long way in building the brand’s story and encouraging parents to drop in. Customer stories would increase the appeal. 

Being in the business you’re in, you’re probably a relationship-building service master like Jessica. You may have employees who are masters, too. If so, your business should be booked solid. With a waiting list. 

But if you don’t have enough new customers coming in, it may be because people don’t know about you (or don’t know enough about you to call). They need to see your personality and expertise. They need you to show them that you’re relationship material. 

I can help you take the first steps. If you’re ready to get started reaching new customers through blogging or e-mails, all you have to do is book a free 30-minute Discovery Call.  I’ll listen to your needs, and we’ll see if we can work together to bring you more customers.

Relationships and humanity (Oh, the feels)

In business, as in life, relationships are everything.

This weekend my daughter’s Girl Scout troop held their annual back-to-school swim party. They hadn’t seen each other all summer, but when they got back together it was as if they’d never parted. It made my heart happy to see them come back together, the best of friends.

As I watched them cheer each other on at the diving board, I realized that all the knot-tying and camping skills in the world would be worth nothing without this bond they have. Their success as growing young women must come from both skills and human connection.

I’m sure it’s the same for the children and families that you serve. You probably teach an important set of skills, but what use will those skills be to them without genuine relationships?  I’ll bet you’re good at nurturing growth in both areas.

So my challenge for you today is to think about human relationships. Do you nurture genuine relationships with your potential customers? How about with your existing clients? With both the kids you serve and their parents?

This week we’ll talk about some simple ways that you can show your humanity in your messaging. Your program is so much more than its features, and showing it will help you stand out.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Do you think you could use a shot of humanity in your messaging? Got any tips for building relationships with parents? Please get in touch by emailing me at energylinguistic@gmail.com or sharing your ideas with other business owners in our shiny new Facebook group. I can’t wait to learn more about you and your business.

Are you making these mistakes when writing for your business? Check your words to impress clients.

Don't lose potential customers by publishing embarrassing errors.

To succeed in any business, you have to advertise. These days, most online advertising comes in the form of sales copy (think sales letters, e-mails, and ads) and content (think blog posts, white papers, and e-books).

Whether you’re producing copy or content, whatever your purpose, editing is absolutely necessary.

This is especially true for academic-oriented businesses. Any parent who knows a little about writing will turn and run from an academic service that has mistakes in their materials.

“There’s no way I’m sending little Timmy to a tutoring service that uses your when they mean you’re,” Mom says. “I can’t trust them to teach my son how to write.” It may be an honest typo, but Mom doesn’t know that. She thinks she can’t trust you.

First off, my number-one piece of advice for editing: If you can hire a pro, do. Even if you’re an amazing, experienced writer, it’s critical to have that second set of eyes. Even the best writers can’t see all their own mistakes. A lot can slip by when you’re editing your own work:

  • Typos (You see what you think you wrote—it happens to every writer.)
  • Wrong words (“What? You mean it’s ‘kit and caboodle’ and not ‘kitten caboodle’?”)
  • Weird sentence structures
  • Ambiguity

Here’s the thing: You can’t always see your own errors. You’re too familiar with the message—too invested in the words.

In writing for your business, there are some important things to consider. If you're editing your own work (or having someone else edit yours), here are some steps you can take to make sure your work is polished.

First, a read-through.

  1. Read it out loud.
  2. Have someone else read it out loud to you. (Bonus points if you get a kid to do it—that will give you some idea of whether it’s simple enough for an internet audience.)
  3. Read it out loud again.

Next, a reading-level check.

Remember: your audience may be educated, but it’s always better to bring the reading level down as far as possible while treating them with respect. Make your writing accessible. Big words don’t always impress readers, and you run the risk of alienating your customers. Academic Snob is not a good look in business.

For a reading-level check, try readable.io.

Finally, a DIY proofread.

You’ll need to go through your text a few times if you want it to be perfect. Here are a few things to look out for. This isn’t a complete checklist; it just scratches the surface of some of the most glaring errors that could get you into trouble with your audience.

Comma check!

Avoid comma splices, especially, but check out all these comma errors, too. There are a lot of them, but they’re important if you’re proofreading your own work or having a friend do it for you.

Apostrophe check!

  • Apostrophes appear in possessive nouns and contractions.

RIGHT: That’s Tonya’s horse.

RIGHT: It’s my horse.

  • Apostrophes are not for plural nouns

WRONG: These gift’s are for the kid’s.

Semicolon check!

  • Semicolons are for linking two independent clauses.

RIGHT: What comes before the semicolon should be a complete sentence by itself; the same is true for what comes after.

  • You can also use them like commas when your list items have commas in them.

RIGHT: Your child should bring the following things to school: A backpack; a lunchbox with an entrée, a drink, and a napkin; a blue, green, or yellow folder; and a water bottle.

Capital letter check!

Capital letters are for proper nouns (names), beginning sentences, acronyms, and not much else. Many people use them for any important word. Please do not do this. Check your capital letters and, if you need to, ask Google.

Sentence structure check!

  • Most of your sentences should be complete with a subject and a verb, just like in English class. But this is the internet, and sometimes you can get away with shortening things. Sometimes. But not always. At least make sure it makes sense and is reader-friendly, and if you’re in the business of academics, it’s best to stick to complete, traditionally structured sentences unless you absolutely know what you’re doing.
  • Avoid misplaced modifiers (the results can be hilarious but can make you look bad.)
  • Make sure your sentence parts are structured in a parallel way.

WRONG: Our instruction and hard work of your child are the building blocks of success. (Eek. This almost sounds like the teachers are harsh taskmasters, standing by while the child works in some kind of academic coal mine.)

RIGHT: Our instruction and your child's hard work are the building blocks of success. (This one makes the teachers and the child partners in academic success. Whew.)

A word of caution about automated tools: Don’t do everything your spelling checker, your grammar checker, and Grammarly say to do. They’re great tools, but sometimes they make some really nutty recommendations. (Please say I’m not the only one who has been told to change “Joe and Sue are friends” to “Joe and Sue is friends.”) If something seems off to you, investigate further.

There are, of course, many, many, MANY more rules, but these basics will help you polish your work before sending it out into the world.

Remember, it’s A-OK to break some of the rules you learned in English class.

But do follow most of them for the sake of your message and your reputation.

Some rules to break:

  1. Start sentences with and. And start other sentences with but. Maybe even start some with or. It’s fine. I swear. Your readers will like it.
  2. Write one-sentence paragraphs. Your English teacher would cringe, but if you have a point to make, this is a good way to make it stand out.
  3. Make use of white space, bold text, highlighting, drop caps, and other flourishes as appropriate. Your English teacher would be furious if you turned in an essay with any of these, but this is not an essay. This is marketing. Aesthetics can help you capture attention and get your point across; you just have to do it with class.

A final plea

If your budget allows, please hire a pro editor to do your editing and proofreading; you'll have peace of mind that your message represents you well. If not, you can do it yourself, but please take your time and do it carefully. Use the above as a starting place to check and double check your writing. Good usage is still important, especially if you want to impress!