Monday, December 10, 2012

15 writing prompts

Writers don't always grab their coffee, sit down at the computer, and start pounding out sentences. Sometimes we grab our coffee, sit at the computer, and stare blankly at the screen for what seems like eternity.

That's called writer's block--and it happens to even the best writers.

Writer's block is incredibly frustrating, and sometimes the only way to pull yourself out of a slump is to just...well, write. Writer's prompts terrific tools for helping the words move from your head to the page. Basically you're given a starting point, so there is no blank page, which is the proverbial wall (i.e., block) that holds us back.

For a few handfuls of writing prompts--15, to be exact--check out this piece on Brownstone Publication's blog.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

should you blog?

Instead of tracking the election today--there won't be any real news until this evening as the polls close, anyway--I've spent some time this afternoon catching up on reading favorite blogs.

Here's an article that's useful for anyone wondering whether they should start a blog, or considering why they should continue to post, even if they're not a "pro-blogger."  Great info here!


From Aliventures:
5 Great Alternative Reasons to Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

UBC final wrap up & final thoughts


Today is the 31st and final day of the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Posting each and every day has definitely been a challenge, but it's also been a good experience. To wrap things up, here are a few random thoughts about this month.

1. I am happy to say I completed the daily posting goal, but I wish I had been able to find time to read (and comment) on more blogs. I tried to read at least a couple every day, but there were some days I wasn't able to read any. There were a lot of great posts out there, and I'm sorry I couldn't get to all of them!

2. The UBC was a great opportunity to evaluate the direction that I want to take this blog. While I won't be posting every day from here on out, I will make an effort to post more frequently than I did before (prior to October).

3. This surprised me: writing posts got easier! And I became faster at writing them! Things seemed a bit more effortless! And that's a good thing. Hey, even writers suffer from writer's block sometimes, or take longer than they'd like to construct an article!

4. I need to find a few more free images sites. I think I've exhausted morguefile.com, and some of the other supposedly "free" sites I had bookmarked weren't free, really.

5. Thank you to those who took the time to read my posts, and thanks again if you commented and/or shared. I appreciate the support! I have started following a few other participants' blogs and will do my best to keep up with them in the future. There are many awesome blogs out there chock full of great information.

If you participated in the UBC, how did you do? Were you happy with your results? Do you feel you made some new connections? What will you do next?


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

why businesses need blogs

Stock Photography: Planet earth. Image: 198392
In an era where it couldn't be easier to share content, it's a wonder why every business doesn't have a blog.

You've got one, right?

No?! Well, don't worry. You aren't alone. Actually, there are still a lot of businesses (and organizations) that have yet to launch a blog.
  
© Photographer: Foto_jem | Agency: Dreamstime.com


They know it's a beneficial way to grow an audience, reach customers, and share information, but for one or more reasons, they've yet to get started.

If you haven't joined the blog bandwagon, consider doing so in 2013. You'll have a couple months to get a game plan together--consider topics, decide which platform to use, figure out who will write the posts--and you can hit the ground running at the start of the new year.

One of the first steps you might take, if you are considering blogging, is to read this article: 6 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Blog.

And hearing from those who already have a blog in place might help, too. So let me ask this: if you blog for your business, why do you do it? How have you benefited from having a blog? What tips can you offer to those new to blogging? And if you'd like to share a link to your blog, please do that as well!




Monday, October 29, 2012

infographic: a history of social media

I don't claim to be a social media expert by any means, but since it's a way of marketing a business (which is part of what I help my clients do) and since it also involves content development, I think this infographic will be perfectly at home here.

Plus, it's interesting as heck--at least it is if you use email, participate on Facebook, post on Twitter, look up stuff on Wikipedia, etc.

And sorry that this takes up a majority of the right-hand column...I'm not sure how to fix that yet!


A History of Social Media [Infographic] - Infographic

Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

  Source

Sunday, October 28, 2012

ubc favorites list (week 4)

There are only a few more days until the Ultimate Blog Challenge wraps up, so this will be the final list of top 5 weekly blogs. The theme this time is...drumroll, please...well, there is no theme! Just random topics, but all of them are interesting. Enjoy!

Sunday Shoutout: Brick Link
For Lego collectors and parents of Lego enthusiasts.

Headline Tips
Writing headlines/titles can be tricky, and these tips will help make that job a bit easier.

Child Prodigy...Or Not
This one had me laughing out loud for at least 20 minutes. Parents especially will appreciate this!

It's Spook-tober
Super cute idea for making a Halloween card, scrapbook style.

Being Frugal Can Be Fun!
Just because I'm a bit of a cheapskate doesn't mean I think everyone needs to be, but there really are some good ideas here that anyone can use.



infographic: how much should an article cost?

In writing circles, there's a lot of discussion about how much writing services should cost. The biggest frustration for us is when a post appears on Craigslist (or another online group) asking for a 1,000 word article with compensation around $5. Unfortunately, this isn't an occasional instance--it happens a lot.

I could go on about this, but here's an infographic that explains the situation perfectly. Check it out and ask yourself, which would you rather have represent your business: a $5 article that may be plagiarized plus contain errors, or one that costs a bit more but truly benefits your business, includes original content, and is grammatically correct, error-free, all while presenting quality information?

Copywriting Infographic - How Much Should an Online Article Cost?
Like this infographic? Get more online marketing tips from Expand2Web.

infographic: types of editing

In addition to writing content, I do quite a bit of editing (including proofreading for book projects for a small press). Although the following infographic targets book editing, the basic principles are the same for editing for business communications, too.

Source: Original infographic from WinePress of Words.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

overused words, part deux

Maybe you read the post on buzzwords I wrote last week. I found an article today that discussed other overused words. Well, actually it only discussed one: icon (variation, iconic)--but the author went in depth about his distaste for the words.

Probably my favorite part of this post is the discussion that follows by readers who share their own pet peeves when it comes to words or expressions that are overused or used incorrectly.

Check it out here!

Do you agree with any of the comments? Are there certain phrases or words that really bug you, too?






Wednesday, October 24, 2012

5 ways to heat up your blog content

We're nearing the end of October, but today felt a bit like summer at 80ish degrees. (?!) Did I mention that it's October?

I live in the Midwest, so this shouldn't be surprising. They say around these parts if you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes and it'll change. (It's practically true...this weekend it's supposed to be in the 40s!)

So anyway, thoughts of warmth have been running through my head all day, and of course I try to relate it to workstuff. Today's (semi) related thought can be applied to blogs, specifically: how might you turn up the heat on your copy and really get folks talking?

Discuss a controversial issue.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and when you publish your own stuff you've got a platform to easily share your views. So go ahead and stir up a little commotion. If the comments you receive disagree with your point of view, that's ok. Just remember that when people comment on your blog, it's proof that your words are being read! Respond to in a respectful, polite manner and you may even make some friends along the way (even if your viewpoints differ).

Solicit responses.
Asking readers to share their opinions and experiences is a great way to initiate discussion on your blog. You can ask questions throughout the text, but it's best if your question comes at the end of the post. If it's the last thing your readers see, they're more likely to respond (and less likely to forget that you asked them a question in the first place). 

Use humor. 
Who doesn't like to laugh? Even folks seeking professional, insightful advice appreciate funny stuff here and there. A clever anecdote may also help keep your readers' interest. Here's a post I read today that had me laughing...I enjoyed it so much I'd like to share it here. 

Write a great title. 
 Do you write posts with ease, but get stuck on the title? A great title (or headline when talking about articles published in other formats) is key to drawing in readers. Check out these tips for creating great titles/headlines.

Add a super image.
All that text--no matter how well it's written--is not the first thing people see when they come to your blog. Images are a powerful way to introduce your story, so take time to find a great one each time you post! Images don't have to cost an arm and a leg, either. In fact, you can obtain many for free, or very cheaply. Here's a piece that expands on this topic, plus includes links to some images sites.

So tell us...how do you keep your blog hot, hot, hot?


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

3 ways to fix mistakes in your (oops--published!) content


Today I noticed on my Facebook business page that a typo appeared in the “About” section. And it showed up right after I mentioned my editing services. Doh!

That’s not a very good testament for my work. However, I’m human, and humans make mistakes. Still, I know I should have been more careful. I’m kind of embarrassed about this, and I really hope nobody noticed (but I’ll bet somebody, somewhere did).

So what do you do when you find an error in your content after it’s been published? The good news is that it’s not the end of the world, and a few options for damage control are available.

Fix it (asap!) and ignore it.
Sometimes there really isn’t any point in drawing attention to the mistake, especially if it’s a minor one. If you notice a typo or misspelling in one of your blog posts or on your landing page, just get in there as soon as you can and fix it. Then shush—nobody really needs to know.

Making a change is harder if an error occurs in printed materials. Then you can either live with it or order a reprint. First, consider the type of error. If it’s a minor typo that won’t mislead your audience, you may choose to live with it until the piece needs to be updated. If it’s a major goof, however, like a misprint in price, address, or phone number, you may want to go ahead and order a corrected version. 

Admit the mistake and provide a correction.
I’ve seen folks do this often—mostly if a link is broken or information is inaccurate. It happens a lot in ezines, and is usually followed up right away by an email that provides the correct information.

When do you call attention to a mistake? I recommend doing this only if the meaning of the text might be misinterpreted, or as noted above, if a link is broken or a source’s name is misspelled. Admitting an error doesn’t make you look weak or unprofessional. Rather, it shows you’ve taken steps to correct the problem, and that you care enough to do so!

Use your story to help others.
That’s kinda what I’m doing now. I guess the general moral is one I already preach (um, again, please remember that human element!): having another set of eyes read over your words—before hitting “publish”—is the absolute best way to prevent costly mistakes!

Now, where’s my husband? I need him to review this blog post….


Monday, October 22, 2012

write faster, right now!


We've all complained about not having enough hours in a day to accomplish important tasks, right? Well, adding a few hours to each day isn't going to happen, and giving up sleep entirely won't work. Caffeine can help but, well, it'll only take you so far.

The only remaining option is to work more efficiently. This can be hard, but it's often doable.  Here's an article about how to speed up your writing. (Ideal for blog posts!)

How to Write an Article in 20 Minutes



Sunday, October 21, 2012

ubc favorites list (week 3)

Whew. Three weeks down, 10 days to go for the UBC!

Here is my list of favorite articles from this week. Again, I wish I could read everyone's posts, but that's pretty much impossible.

Here are my picks for week 3. I guess there's a theme--I was drawn to blogging posts (since I've been doing so much of it, I guess) this week. Maybe next week I'll take a different turn and read completely random topics. Here we go!


5 Ingredients for a Great Blog Post

Why We Need Obstacles

Repurpose Your Content

5 Tips for Developing Fresh Content on Your Blog

Attention All Writers: What to Do When Your Mind Goes Blank

infographic: how to repurpose your content

A few people shared this infographic last week, and I believe it's too good to let lie low just yet. I'd like to share it as well. Anyone who creates content will benefit from reading this. Thanks, Ellen Britt, for creating such a useful, practical, informative infographic!



View full image Content Repurposing Strategies

Friday, October 19, 2012

are you charging what you're worth?

I really wanted to share this really cool infographic I saw the other day in this post, but I'm going to hold off until next time. Instead, I want to share this article. It's directed toward freelancers...particularly women business owners. Guys, you should read it too, and I'd love to hear what everyone thinks about the points here. I'm sure author Dianna Huff would appreciate your comments as well (and you can do so at the end of her piece).


Thanks to Ed Gandia from the International Freelance Writers Academy for sharing.

And now, here we go:

Why Low Self-Worth Drives Lower Wages for Women Freelancers--And What You Can Do About It.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

so you want to hire a freelance writer...


Have you ever considered hiring someone to help write content for your marketing or informational materials? Maybe you need fresh copy or a new angle for your website or blog—or maybe you simply don’t have enough time to get it all done yourself. You decide to call in a freelance writer, tell her what you need, and ask for an estimate. She gives you one, and suddenly you feel a little short of breath.

But I don’t even want that much text on my landing page, you think. How can it possibly cost that much?

So you call in a second freelancer, tell him what you want, and ask for an estimate. He gives you one, and now you’re confused.

This actually seems really low, you muse. Does this guy know what he’s doing? Why does he work for so little money?

Welcome to working with freelancers! There is no standard fee, which can be confusing for someone new to this situation. Prices may be all over the map, depending on where you live, the type of project, and how much experience the freelancer has.

You know how much money you have to work with, so of course you need to select someone who fits your budget. But if you find a freelancer you believe is a good fit for the company and the project at hand—and if you feel the price is too high—consider what goes into the content creation process before dismissing him entirely.

Few writers attend a meeting and spout out copy that’s perfect. There’s much more to it than that! Let’s take a quick look at the steps a writer takes to craft copy that gets results:

Researching
Before a professional writer meets with you, she most likely has already done some research. She’ll visit your website and learn about your company and its services or products. She’ll get a feel for how the content is currently presented and ask if you’re happy with the style, flow, and tone.

After she gets the gig, she’ll research your competitors. She’ll see what they’re talking about and how they’re saying it. She’ll learn more about the topic she’s going to be writing about by asking questions and reading existing literature. She’ll make sure she’s got the names of products and employees accurate and she’ll interview your employees, and maybe even a few satisfied customers.

Note the actual writing process hasn’t even begun yet!

Drafting
Now’s the time to start crafting words. She’s got to get her thoughts organized by creating an outline of sorts to follow. And she’s got to look over notes and quotes to make sure she’s telling the story accurately, then turn bits and pieces of this puzzle into something readable. Drafting is actually probably the easiest part of this job! But wait, there's more....

Follow-up
Hmm…the information she needs to obtain from Department Manager XX didn’t come through. He was supposed to return her email yesterday but she hasn’t heard from him, so she has to send a follow-up email or make a phone call. This goes on for a few days until finally they manage to connect. She takes notes on their conversation and adds the new information to the draft.

Editing
Now it’s time to clean up that draft so that there are no typos or misspellings. Everything needs to flow smoothly and make sense to the target audience. Only after editing her work thoroughly should she send it your way for review.

Revising
Few writers hit the nail on the head with their first draft—we expect to make revisions after our clients look everything over and give input. So we review your comments, ask additional questions, and re-word, re-phrase, or add or delete a section here or there. Then we edit again and send it back to you for final approval.

That’s pretty much the process, and it may be repeated once more to get a final draft that everyone is happy with. So as you can see, writing quality content is much more than just writing.

For those of you who have worked with freelancers before (and it doesn’t have to be a freelance writer—designers and photographers are also hired by companies on a regular basis), what did you like about having someone separate from your company or organization handle outsourcing? What didn’t you like? What do you want freelancers to know about working with you?


 image from stockvault.net


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

do what you say you'll do


My mom’s birthday is on Saturday, and as I think about where to find the gift I’d like to give her, I’m reminded of last year’s unfortunate shopping experience—and I’m hoping to avoid similar frustration this time around.

Last year I wanted to give my mom, a voracious reader, a book I thought she would enjoy. The local Barnes and Noble didn’t have it in stock (and as a last-minute shopper I didn’t have time to wait for shipping), so I hopped online to check out the list of in-stock books at a certain large-scale, well-known retailer.

Booyah! I thought as I saw the title I was looking for. The website said the book was at the store’s closest location, so I headed over to the store. I trekked to the (tiny) book isle and searched and searched, but I couldn’t find it. So I flagged down an employee and asked if he could help me.

“Ummm,” he said after glancing at the shelves. “Well. I don’t think we have that book.”

“But your website said it was in stock at this location,” I said, not too happily (yet still politely).

“Yeah. Um. Well, our website is managed by a third-party. They don’t really know what we have in stock at this store.”

Really? Really? So they’re paying some company to maintain their website, which supposedly lists available products, except those products may not really be available like the website says. Like it, in effect, promises.

This makes no sense.

I left pretty upset—and for the record, this wasn’t the first time I had become aggravated with this particular store.

Since this is a humungous, super duper retailer, no matter what the website says they’re going to stay in business. All because they have locations in just about every town, and because a majority of people shop there because of low prices. So as much as the situation stinks, this company can—and clearly does—get away with being dishonest.

What if a small, local business tried this sort of thing? It would lose customers quickly. And those unhappy customers would tell their friends and even more business might be lost. The company would most likely fold if it messed up repeatedly.

But not all is lost. I took with me a business lesson, which is handy as a business owner: do what you say you’ll do. Follow up if you say you will, keep items in stock if you say you have them, honor guarantees if you offer them, etc. It’s simple, really. Providing good, honest, quality customer service is key to running a successful business. Especially if it’s a small-scale business. 

On a related note, I read another blog today that shared a story about customer service—but this story painted a much rosier picture. For a more uplifting story about providing quality service, check out Snootyvixen’s It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

buzzwords: bad for business



Have you ever been to a meeting where the key presenter uses a bunch of business-speak? Soon these buzzwords begin to lose their meaning—many of which have vague meaning in the first place—as they are repeated. Slowly, your eyes began to glaze over as you hear, for the zillionth time, words like “leverage” and “value-added”… yaaaaawn….

After hearing them so frequently, buzzwords become boring, and their exact definitions aren’t always clear. So here’s a question: if buzzwords really are used often, why are they still confusing?

Many times buzzwords are tossed around so often within certain circles that those who use them forget that the general public—i.e., customers and clients—may never have even heard of them.

So why use them all?

Simple answer: don’t. At least don’t use them in your marketing materials. If this business-speak from your boss or a co-worker bores you (or confuses you), think about how your customers feel when they come across these terms!

If you’re writing content that’s designed to inform or educate your audience about a product or service, it’s best to stick to the basics and make sure your communication materials are easy to comprehend. Remember, people won’t buy from you if they don’t understand what you’re selling.

Think about these points as you write your next draft:

Consider your audience. 
It’s ok to use buzzwords (in moderation) in an article that will appear in a trade magazine within your field, but it’s not a good idea to use them when writing content for potential customers to review. Think about how your ideal buyer talks and thinks. You don’t have to talk down to anyone, but you should provide information they can comprehend, in a way that catches their interest.

Be clear and concise.
Useful information that readers can understand not only helps them make an informed decision; it also helps earn your trust. Penning a tips piece for your blog? Be sure to give clear directions. Writing brochure content for a new product? Don’t focus on the specs—talk about how the product will benefit the buyer.

Test the message.
Ask someone without ties to your field or office to read your copy. Do they understand what you’re saying? If so, great! If not, it’s time to revise. 

Use words as they are meant to be used. (I.e., nouns as nouns—not verbs)
We’re all guilty of this. How many topics did you Google today? Did you Facebook your aunt to tell her happy birthday? While it’s fine to swap parts of speech in casual conversation (as long as the other person knows what you’re talking about), doing so in writing risks losing your reader.

Avoid acronyms.
Abbreviations and acronyms are often industry-specific. Use them only within circles of others in your profession.

What’s your take on buzzwords? Any particular pet peeves? Anyone care to defend a favorite buzzword?


Monday, October 15, 2012

don't make these mistakes...

I receive a local publication that's typically packed with good, solid information for business owners. While some of the articles focus on issues specific to the community, many others are useful for any business-type person, regardless of their location.

The October issue of Interbusiness Issues featured an article, The Top 3 Business Writing Mistakes You're Probably Making Right Now, which I think is a very insightful read. If you handle writing duties for your business in any capacity, check out this piece. It's a short read but it's oh-so-practical.

Happy writing!



Sunday, October 14, 2012

UBC favorites list (week 2)

Wow! Two weeks down for the UBC already! That means it's time to post some of my favorite links from this week by other blog authors.

This week features posts on a variety of topics. Enjoy!

Kitchen Garden Recipe Book: Garlic
Do you garden? Do you eat what you grow? Do you like garlic? Check this out!

But I'm a Doctor...
This is no, "Dammit, Jim! I'm a doctor!" line. I wish it were that funny. This is a blog about domestic violence, and since October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it's good to help spread the word.

The Amazing Power of Joint Ventures
The title says it all. This post is right on--just check out the comment section!

Don't Be Silly
I was attracted to this post initially because it featured a cute kid-ism (and who can resist those?) but quickly caught the deeper meaning: makes sure that whatever message you send--personally or professionally, in speech or in writing--it's important to make sure you communicate clearly so that others understand what you're saying.

Why You Must Have Information Filters
This one just came out a little while ago, but it's so practical and useful (for everyone who does ANYTHING online) that I had to include it now. This post will help increase your productivity if you take it seriously.

I'm looking forward to reading more great posts next week!



time out: why it's ok to take a break

As I mentioned in my previous post, I took off Friday afternoon to enjoy a walk in the woods (not quite as exciting as Bill Bryson's, but a lot more relaxing--no bears!) at a local State Park. Packed the kids, myself, and my husband in the car and enjoyed a perfect fall day: turning leaves, cool temps, sunny skies, migrating pelicans (really!), and lots of wildlife. Oh, and ice cream. (That was our reward for finishing the trail.)

Did I have work I could have done that afternoon? Yup. Should I have stayed home and been "responsible" instead? Nope. 'Cuz I know you've heard this before: sometimes you just gotta take care of you.

But I wasn't only taking care of me--it was an opportunity for our family to spend some quality time together, too. We listened to music on the mp3 player on the drive and take turns calling out requests (my 3-year-old is getting hip to 80s tunes), collected leaves and nuts with plans to make a fall wreath, got some great exercise, and breathed fresh, clean air for a few hours.

After this relaxing kind of afternoon, I'm ready to take on the challenges of a new week. There's a new project to start, one or two waiting in the wings, and of course the continuation of blogging every day for the Ultimate Blog Challenge.

Do you make time for a break every now and then? I know it can be difficult, especially when you've got a lot going on: new clients, old clients, deadlines, meetings, presentations...sometimes it seems like the to-do list never ends. But it really does pay to take a moment or a day, or even half a day--whatever you can manage--to do something completely unrelated to your work.

When was the last time you really took a break? Where did you go? What did you do? How did you feel afterwards?



Friday, October 12, 2012

infographic: write faster blog posts

It's Friday and I'm taking the afternoon off to enjoy a hiking trip--and hopefully lots of fall colors--with my family. So I'll leave you with this infographic which provides useful (and pretty!) tips for anyone looking to speed up their blogging turnaround time. (I'm taking notes, too, by the way!)

Have a great weekend, all!

8 secrets to writing faster blog posts
by j6design. Learn about infographics software.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

inspirational tips for writers

A lot of blogs, articles, and novels begin with a quote of sorts: a funny line, an inspirational note, or a thought-provoking line.

A great quote can serve as an inspirational springboard when you aren't quite sure what to write about. Even though I've got a short list of ideas for future posts, some days I'm just not sure I'm ready to write on the topic I had planned...so I turn to a quote to get motivated.

Don't we all get stuck sometimes when we're trying to write? It's not just about getting started, either. Sometimes we begin with gusto but lose steam later. Or maybe we hit a snag as we research, or as we try to create a title, or as we begin to question whether we're making any sense at all.


Today I found a list, 105 Writing Tips from Professional Writers, while searching for quotes and inspiration for today's post. And I found both in this compilation of wise words from respectable persons, from Aristotle to Agatha Christie to Bill Cosby. Their advice includes one or two-liners about writers block, fiction writing, living and learning, and general writing advice.

I'm copying and pasting my favorites now. You might want to take a look and do the same. I guarantee there's something here for every writer, no matter what type of writing you're doing. 

Let's close with these words from Dr. Seuss--this really resonated with me today:

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

How about you? Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?

Image from openphoto.net




do you know which words to capitalize in a title?


Great, you may be thinking. Another article about rules! When does it end?

I have to say, though, that these posts are wonderful to share, because you know what they say about rules: eventually they’re meant to be broken. (Or at least challenged.) And who doesn’t love breaking the rules every now and then?

So today’s topic is about which words should be capitalized in a title. First, let’s look briefly at the “traditional” rules. In general, the following should be capitalized in titles:

First words
Last words
Nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, pronouns

These types of words usually remain in lower case:

Prepositions (of, by, for)
Articles (a, an) - unless it’s the first word in the title
Conjunctions (but, and)

A fairly universal exception would be if any of these words mentioned above appear first in the title (or last, although that’s not too common).

E.g., A Guide to Getting Ahead in the Workplace

So what other exceptions might arise? First, discrepancies between style guides (Associated Press vs. Chicago Manual of Style) sometimes occur. Or a company may implement its own style guide to dictate how words should be treated within a title. So how important is it to follow the rules? And how do you know which rules to follow?

Consider how your writing will be published. If you’re writing as a journalist or penning news pieces, Associated Press (AP) is the way to go. Chicago Manual of Style is the standard for publishing (fiction, non-fiction), Modern Language Association (MLA) is for academics, and the American Psychological Association (APA) is honored by social science networks (psychology, education, politics).

What about if you’re writing for your company or organization and there is no style guide? And what if you are an entrepreneur, composing posts for your own blog?

Then you’ve got quite a bit of freedom! If there are no rules set in stone, the main thing to remember is to keep things consistent. For example, you might capitalize only the first word in every title. That’s ok—but remember to do this every time so your titles are uniform. (And yes, I realize I haven’t capitalized any words in my blog titles. I kinda like it that way—like I’m breaking all the rules!)

How about you? What rules do you follow when writing titles? Why?


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

7 ways to show your customers you appreciate them


My girls recently added some new fish to their fish tank. Over time we’ve lost these little guys one by one, and we were down to a single, lonely tetra. He was doing ok, but we knew he’d be happier with a couple of buddies.

It’s really not too interesting to watch a solitary fish dart around the tank—but it’s very cool to see them swim together as a unit. So as much as I wanted to add to the population earlier in the game, I reminded myself that these were my girls’ fish. And since they really wanted to enhance the tank, too, I thought about how we could turn the situation into a learning opportunity.

A positive reinforcement tactic came to mind. The girls had been having trouble settling down at bedtime (they share a room), so we created a sticker chart. For every night I didn’t have to come in and tell them to be quiet, stop bouncing on their beds, or what-have-you, they earned a sticker. When they filled up a week’s worth of stickers, they would get a few new fish.

The chart worked like a charm. Within a week they earned their fish, and the lone tetra now has friends. Everyone wins!

This situation made me think a bit on a professional level, too. I showed my daughters that I appreciated their efforts by rewarding their behavior, but had I been showing my clients how much I appreciated them as well?

Without clients or customers, we wouldn’t have any work; we couldn’t sell our products or services. So it only makes sense to let them know that they are key in our business, and that we appreciate their choice to work with us.

How can we thank the folks who bring their business to us? There are lots of ways! Here are a few ideas:

1. Give them kudos on your (and their) social media pages.

2. Send a thank you note after finishing a project.  
Be sure to hand-write it—handwritten notes are rare these days, so stand out by doing something different.

3. Take notes on their personal interests.  
What sports teams to they follow? How old are their kids? When is their birthday?

4. Send holiday cards. 
Consider acknowledging odd holidays, too, like: Happy Columbus Day! I’m glad we discovered each other!

5. If you have an office, provide coffee or tea in the waiting area. 
 If not, consider sending a package of chocolates, popcorn, or other treats to enjoy to their home or office.

6. Share resources. 
 If you come a cross an article or other information online or in a print publication that you think would benefit/interest your client, send it their way. This lets them know you are thinking about them even if you aren’t doing business with them at that moment.

7. Continue offering quality, personal service.

There are many other ways to honor the folks who give you their business. Go ahead and get creative! Have fun with the process! They’ll certainly remember you for your efforts.

How do you show your clients that you appreciate them?


Monday, October 08, 2012

3 tips for editing your own writing


Most of us know that the best way to make sure your writing is error-free is to have another person read it over. However, there will be times when you don’t have the time—or resources—to enlist another set of eyes. So what do you do then?

It’s not an ideal situation, but you can take steps to ensure your words are edited thoroughly when you’re on your own. Try these tricks:

Enlarge the font
Try bumping up the font a few sizes. You’ll see fewer words on the screen, which eliminates visual clutter. And the type will obviously be larger, which is good for noticing things like extra spaces, duplicated words, and other minor errors.

Read it backward
Ton ekil siht! Boy, that would be tough! But you can start reading the last paragraph, then the next-to-last paragraph, and so on through the document. Working out of order gives your brain a chance to re-focus and catch mistakes that your eyes might otherwise gloss over.

Print it out
Reading on-screen is hard on the eyes, so utilize your printer and read your copy directly from a printed page. This is probably the best way to look for mistakes—aside from having another person help out.
 
What tricks do you use to look for errors and typos in your writing?

Sunday, October 07, 2012

UBC favorites list (week 1)


I admit it: I goofed. I was planning to use Sundays to list a few of my favorite reads the past week by participants in the Ultimate BlogChallenge. To make things simple, I thought I was bookmarking blogs along the way, and that I’d review them later and pare down the list by the weekend—but apparently I didn’t do this. My bookmarks remain the same as they were a week ago.

Oops.

So…today I’m going to go back through the past couple of days and re-select some titles/subject matter that catch my interest. I know this won’t represent the entire pool of posts everyone has worked hard to publish, and I’m sorry about that.

I’ll do better next week!

Today’s picks are articles I think will most interest those trying to run a business or head an organization. Topics are content creation, social media, productivity, and reading.

Ideal infographic for writers of all types, from professional writers to anyone maintaining a blog!

Great post for anyone looking to build their social media community!

Make sure everyone knows about your blog!

The post title got me to read it, and the useful information kept me reading!

This is targeted toward helping kids read better, but since just about everyone reads, I think everyone will find the content interesting. Plus, I’m a huge advocate of reading so I had to feature this!

Oh, and a side note: I feel this list would be fairer if I could actually read ALL the posts that have been shared on the UBC each week—but unfortunately, my reading time is limited. As much as I’d love to read everyone’s content, there’s often a three-year-old calling for me, or I have to run my older daughter to gymnastics or girl scouts, or I’m on deadline for a paying project.

Keep up the great work, everyone!


want to a peek at a freelancers brain?


Have you ever wondered why freelancers choose to work for themselves rather than be employed by another company? I mean, the feast or famine cycle isn’t fun. We have to buy our own health insurance (E.X.P.E.N.S.I.V.E.). And if we don’t motivate ourselves to find work, we don’t make any money. So what’s the appeal?

Well, flexibility is key for one thing. For instance, this Wednesday is my husband’s birthday. He doesn’t go into work until the afternoon and I don’t have any immediate deadlines, so we’re going to hang out in the morning for a bit. Maybe get some coffee and doughnuts and take a walk if it’s nice out. Could I do that if I had to report to work at 8 a.m. sharp? Not unless I wanted to call in sick to make it happen. I see a trip to Dunkin Donuts in my future—and time with my husband—and that makes me happy.

Of course there are lots of pros and cons when it comes to freelancing. Want to know what they are? Check out this amazing infographic from dailyinfographic.com—it highlights what goes through a freelancers mind, plus it includes data to show what types of people are freelancing and what keeps us up at night. This chart is a great source of information for everyone: folks contemplating freelancing, freelancers who want to compare their situation to those on the chart, or those businesses that use freelancers (maybe it will help us understand each other a bit better). 

Here's the link!

Friday, October 05, 2012

when (and how) to use spell check


Have you ever dashed off a document—a blog post, a request for proposal, an email—and neglected to review your words due to lack of time? Have you relied instead on the spell check feature to make sure your work is“error-free?”

I think we’ve all done that at some point. I mean, we’re busy, right?

But…oops. Using spell check to proofread a document--at least, without also incorporating a human eye--isn’t really a good idea.

Spell check can certainly be a useful tool, but using it as a deciding factor as to whether words are ready for the world to read—well, that’s a big mistake.

The thing is, spell check only reads words; it doesn’t consider context. Sure, we can blame occasional verbal misuse on the many idiosyncrasies of the English language. (After all, how many tongues have three or more spellings for words with identical pronunciations—e.g., two, to, too?) We are, however, still expected to use our language correctly when expressing ourselves via writing. And seemingly small mistakes can stand out in big ways—especially when they show up in professional writing.

Here are a few examples of mistakes spell check will overlook:

Homophones
Homophones are pronounced identically but spelled differently, and the words have different meanings. For example:

The sun shone brightly through the window.
Have you shown your students how to effectively study for the test?

Other examples of homophones include:

Except, accept
Meet, meat
Night, knight
Precede, proceed
Sum, some
Rain, reign, rein
There, their, they’re

Typos and reversed words or letters
We all fumble at the keyboard every now and then. But be careful not leave portions of words out of your final draft, or accidentally reverse letters so that an entirely new—and unintended—word appears.

My son’s basketball team made it to the champion last year.
I just want some peace and quite.

Since champion is a real word and spell check knows that, it doesn’t flag the term—which should read championship—as incorrect. Clearly the sentence doesn't quite work with champion. And as for wanting peace and quite, well, that sentence doesn’t make much sense to us humans, but to spell check it’s perfectly all right. I'm guessing, though, that many of us would absolutely love some peace and quiet at times!

Extra words and neglected letters
This type error usually occurs after changes have been made to the first draft of a document:

I went to the store to buy purchase milk.

As long as both words are spelled correctly and the sentence doesn’t break any grammatical rules, spell check will not flag word.

John drank six glass of lemonade at the picnic.  

Whoops! Forgot to add an s to make this noun plural...the writer knows this isn't right, but spell check doesn't!

Outsmarting spell check is simple: read over your text carefully first (or better yet, have someone else review it), make corrections, read it again, and then go ahead and run spell check.


Image above from freedigitalphotos.net

Thursday, October 04, 2012

stop, drop, and listen


It’s probably a bad idea to write while watching the presidential debates, but since I can’t seem to turn off the TV—and since I really need to write this piece (post #4 of the UBC—I’m determined to stay on track!) I’m going to attempt it, anyway.

I won’t air any political views here. But I will note a couple observations about the debates: moderator Jim Lehrer doesn’t seem to have much control over the two candidates. The author of this article I came across describes how he expects Lehrer will control the audience, but he didn’t say anything about keeping the candidates on track.

Lehrer is trying to get the candidates to stick to the time limit—but he’s not having much luck. In fact, after Lehrer gave President Obama a 30-second warning, Obama took additional time to inform Lehrer that he had just used up 5 seconds of the allotted response time, complete a grin and a wink to show his tossback was all in good humor. They didn’t pan to Lehrer at that point, but I’m guessing he wasn’t smiling back.

A second observation is that neither candidate seems to really listen to one another. Well, they sort of listen (there’s a lot of head shaking and semi-nodding indicating their disagreement or agreement to their opponent’s comments), but I don’t think they’re truly listening. Much of the time, they seem so closed off to what the other is saying that they aren’t even really hearing what’s being said.

So these observations have me thinking: would you treat your clients this way?

Of course not! At least, not if you expect to continue to do business with them.

As a freelancer—that is, a contract employee—I’m all too aware that one inconsiderate move could mean the end of my relationship with any of my clients. They are under no obligation to keep me on board for future projects, so I do my best to work with them as amicably as possible during the process. I look at it this way: my job is to make their job easier. So I certainly don't try to control them--and I make a point to listen to what they're telling me. 

I ask a lot of questions when I’m trying to learn about my clients. I want to know all about their business, their focus, and the details of the work they expect me to do for them. Who are they? How did they get to where they are today? Why did they start their business? Who is exactly their audience? How old is this audience? Are they mostly male or female? What will make them buy into the product or service? The list goes on, and on, and on…

If I didn’t listen to what my clients told me, I’d fail to land subsequent projects. And word-of-mouth travels quickly (especially when someone has something negative to say), so I clean out my ears, have some caffeine (to help me focus, of course!), and listen to what they tell me. And together we tell their story. 
 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

how to write a press release



I’ve been creating a lot of press releases lately, so it seems fitting to use this topic as a springboard for post #3 of the UBC

One of the most inexpensive ways to publicize an event, achievement, or other important news is to distribute a press release—a.k.a. news release—to the media. Newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations are always on the lookout for information about community events, professional achievements, and business developments.

If your release receives attention, you’ll enjoy a huge benefit: free promotion. And as you already know, it doesn’t get any better than free! To get that much-desired coverage, however, you need a basic understanding about how press releases work.

What’s a press release?
A press release is really just a short article. Essentially, you are telling a story—and like any article, you’ll need to conduct some research before pounding out your prose. If you want to spread the news about a grand opening event, make sure to provide specifics: When will the opening occur? Where will it take place? What kinds of activities—giveaways, games, networking opportunities—will available?

How can I make my release stand out?
Adding quotes from a reliable source is a great way to add interest to your story. Even just a sentence or two from the event organizer, notable sponsor, or CEO about the event (Why is it important? Who should attend?) is helpful.

Also, try to write an interesting headline. The editors who read your release may never get past the headline if it’s boring, so spend some time creating a great preface to your story. (Get specific tips for writing great headlines here.

How will my release be used?
Your release may appear in print exactly as you wrote it or in bits and pieces, or a journalist may use it as a springboard for an interview. If you are contacted for more information, be as friendly and helpful as possible. If you notice your release ran in the paper shortly after you submitted it, drop a short note to the editor and thank him for his attention to your release. Ditto if your event received coverage on television or radio.

Where should I send it?
You don’t have to limit your announcement to local media outlets. Does your profession have a trade publication? If you’ve opened a new guitar store, let the music industry magazines know about it. Is your company planning to sponsor an event? Let relevant trade journals know about that, too. 

It doesn’t cost anything to request media attention, so look at it this way: you can’t afford not to.
 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

comma chameleon


I really, really apologize for the post title. I grew up in the 80s, which explains why—as I was brainstorming titles—this popped into my head. And like the song, I just couldn’t shoo it away. So while it may not be the most descriptive or creative title, I believe it was meant to be—so here it stays. 

Now, on to the useful stuff!

I’ve edited a particular newsletter for several years. As I pull the entire thing together each month, I am reminded that one of the regular submitters is great in just about every respect. He turns in his pieces in on time. His writing is to the point and interesting, and he’ll insert bits of humor here and there. And he’s well informed on the subject matter.

Sounds great, right? Sure it is—almost. But there’s one thing I don’t love about going over his pieces each month: the random assortment of commas sprinkled throughout each manuscript. This fellow clearly has an affinity for commas, because they are everywhere in his writing. 

You’ve probably noticed that, when commas are inserted frequently, they can, in fact, make reading a sentence difficult. And when they are also, inserted improperly, it results in, really difficult reading.

See what I mean?

That’s not the only comma issue I’ve encountered when doing editorial-type jobs. Another common mishap is when these little guys are completely left out of sentences, which can result in misconstrued meanings. Here’s one of my favorite examples:

Let’s eat Grandma! (Yum?)

Let’s eat, Grandma! (Much better.)

Note how the meaning of this sentence is completely changed by the appearance (and lack thereof) of a comma!

The rules of comma use can be tricky, and of course there are many of these rules—too many to be addressed in a single blog post. So today let’s stick with two short n’ sweet additional tips for using commas.

Separate main clauses with coordinating conjunctions.
A little rusty on English terms? That’s ok. Just remember (1) a clause can stand alone (as its own sentence) and (2) coordinating conjunctions (e.g., if, and, but, or) connect words, phrases, and clauses. Check it out:

I wanted to turn on the light, but my roommate said it would make her migraine worse.

You could make two separate sentences here: I wanted to turn on the light and My roommate said it would make her migraine worse. To bring these clauses together in one sentence, you need a coordinating conjunction (but)—and you also need to add the comma before it appears.

Decide when to use serial commas
A serial comma (also called the Oxford comma) precedes the conjunction before the last item in a list of three or more items:

I need to buy milk, bread, and eggs

Truthfully, it really doesn’t matter whether you use a serial comma or not, as long as its use is consistent. Serial commas should be used, however, to help avoid confusion in some sentences:

I want to make these cookies for the bake sale: snicker doodle, chocolate chip, oatmeal, and macadamia.

Without a serial comma the sentence would read:

I want to make these cookies for the bake sale: snicker doodle, chocolate chip, oatmeal and macadamia.

Is the person making four different types cookies or three?


 I think we’ve talked enough about commas for one day. And by the way, thank you, Boy George. 

Monday, October 01, 2012

why blog?

So...today is it: October 1st. A brilliant, fresh new month perfect for setting new goals.

What sort of goals have you set for the month?

In my last post I mentioned that I'm taking on the Ultimate Blog Challenge. This is where participants post 31 times in 31 days...preferably once each day, but it's been noted that if we fall behind it's ok to toss a couple of posts out on a "late" day to catch up. (Whew!)


Anyway, I figure this is a great way to invigorate this blog, and I'm really looking forward to the challenge.

How about you? Are you up for a challenge, too? You can blog about anything you want: family, work, gardening, social media, golf, furbabies, politics...the topics are endless! Why not join in the fun?

If you're already a blogger, that's awesome! But if you haven't yet tested the blogging waters, now's a great time to start. First, however, ask yourself why you want to have a blog. That's sort of an important question, especially if you are writing for a business.

Are you looking to get noticed?

Want to extend your web presence beyond your website?

Do you have valuable information to share?

Want to boost your credibility? (Via that valuable info mentioned above.)

These are all great reasons to jump on board the blogging train. But before you start spewing information, keep a few things in mind:

1. Don't just type your post and hit publish.
After writing, leave your post for at least a day in a draft folder, then come back and re-read. You may decide your point wasn't as clear as you thought, or you may discover typos. You want your message (and your grammar!) to be as perfect as possible if you want your readers to take you seriously.
 
2. Provide great content.
Always make sure the information you are providing is useful for your target audience. (I.e., the readers you hope to attract--and keep!) There are so many ways to keep your content fresh--and don't feel like you have to stick to the same format all the time, either. Consider posting interviews, case studies, how-to lists, instructional information, etc. As long as you offer valuable information, you are providing a service to your readers. They'll appreciate that.

3. Create clever titles.
Maybe I should have said "don't forget to title your posts." (Because sometimes I get so excited to have worked a post up to meet my publishable criteria that I hit "publish" and forget to add a title. Am I the only one who does this?!) But really, a stellar title will help your post get noticed. Here are some tips on how to do that.

Whether you're on board with the Ultimate Blog Challenge or not, best of luck to you as you begin--or continue--your blogging efforts!


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

the ultimate blog challenge

You'd think that--as a writer, and one who focuses on promoting businesses and organizations to boot--I'd be a blogging ninja. My own blog would offer updated content throughout the week and it would all be stuff you'd want to share with your friends, associates, and clients. Wouldn't that be smart?

I can do all that, and I have done all that--for my clients. But like many business owners, I tend to let promoting my own business slide a bit. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • I've got three projects due the same day and I'm working (bleary-eyed, on little sleep) to deliver to my clients on time (or better yet, a bit ahead of time!). 
  • The kids have a crazy amount of activities this particular week and since my laptop battery is on the fritz (not to mention the gymnastics place doesn't have wi-fi) I can't bring it with me (no outlets in the waiting room...what's up with that?) hence no work.
  • I'm in Hawaii on vacation and don't WANT to work. (Yeah, right!)

I realize these are all excuses. They may be justifiable (to an extent) but when it comes down to it, ALL they are is excuses. And that's lame.

So I'm upping the ante. I just signed up for The Ultimate Blog Challenge. It starts in October and is hosted by this notable duo: Michele Scism and Michelle Schaeffer. 

I've followed Michelle Schaeffer's blog for a while now, and she's always got thought-provoking ideas and awesome tips for business owners. M. Scism is new to me, but I like her tips in the free guide I received when I signed up for the Challenge, so I'm sure I'll be following her, too.

Want to invigorate your blog, too? Sign up for the challenge as well and we'll go at this together. Let me know how you're doing and I'll let you know how things are on my end. After all, we're supposed to post every day in October, so there'll be lots of opportunities for updates.

Let's do this thing!