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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Monthly Assessment

What's on the iPod: Bleeding Out by The Lone Bellow

writing, freelance, marketing
Windy! Jeez Louise it's windy out. Remember Hurricane Sandy? More than that. See, in Sandy, it went over us. Here, we have the cold air hitting the warm air. It was 66 degrees yesterday. Today it's going to 28 with snow. No wonder I can't get over this sinus infection.

Good day yesterday with work. I have a short deadline on a new article project -- two weeks -- and I was able to line up three interview subjects, two of whom I'll be talking with today. Love when things line up when they need to!

So, happy January 31st. It's now the end of the month you started with resolutions and promises to yourself about doing better at your career. Okay, so January may not be the month to increase income necessarily, but if you've worked toward the goal, good for you. If not, start now.

Me, I'm chugging along under my evaluate-every-month plan. I knew this month would be short on projects (and cash), so no surprises on this side. However, some of these on-hold projects that I was presented with at the start of January better start coming to fruition in February if I'm to meet that monthly goal. I'm not waiting, mind you. That's foolish to wait for promised work unless there's a set start date. Without it, get in line.

So, let's see how this month measured up:

I sent a few to some existing clients, which resulted in "on hold" projects. However, I sent one query with three article ideas to a favorite editor, and he said yes to two of them.

'Tis the season. My conference is the end of April, so now is the time to get meetings lined up and work started for those interested. I sent out somewhere around 20 LOIs, then got stalled working on other projects. Back to it today.

Existing clients:
Here's the bulk of my work this month. One retainer client and two editors gave me the work I needed to pay the bills plus change, and a blog client is a steady source. And the existing clients have given me the "holding pattern" I'm in presently. I'm not a fan of holding patterns, let me just say.

New clients:
There have been discussions with a few prospective clients, and one will be getting an informal proposal today. He came to me via LinkedIn, so I continue to be impressed with how well it works to interact with people on social media.

I'm off the mark this month, as expected. Had the projects all come in, I'd have been rolling in it. As it is, I'm more or less stepping in it (pun intended). I'm about 30 percent off my goal. Not great, but definitely expected. Where I didn't sit idle at all in December, I had some slow days this month.

Bottom line:
I have more marketing to get done on top of the marketing for the conference. Last year I put conference marketing as a priority, which eventually netted me (doubled my income), but it left me wanting for a month or so at the beginning of the year. This year I intend to balance the marketing a little more so that I'm working as I'm lining up things for the conference.

I did expect things to be lighter financially this month, but I'm not thrilled about it. I could have marketed harder this month and December, but since December is when everyone (and their budgets) disappear, I was hard-pressed to find anything new beyond what is coming. And December was when one set of projects ended (as did the gorgeous monthly check). Now it's up to the clients to get back to me on the next set of projects. I don't wait, though. Relying on anything in our business is bad for business. So I'm pressing on with marketing.

How has January treated you?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What's Your Social Media Goal?

What's on the iPod: Portland by Middle Brother

writing, freelance, client
Note: Sorry about the word verification glitch. I hate having that thing anyway, so I've removed it for the time being. If the spam returns, I'll have to put it back up, but for now, let's hope for the best.

It was nice to have a day yesterday where nothing was pressing. I was able to kick back a little and get some personal projects front-and-center. I have some poetry that's been burning to get out, and I devoted a few hours to that.

In working out a social media strategy, I was tasked with defining the goal of the strategy. Do you consider that when you log on to Twitter or head over to Facebook? Probably not. In fact, most of us don't. We're there to communicate and have fun, or market and bother the hell out of people with a proliferation of links. Hopefully you fit into the former group and not the latter.

"Big Data and Survey Data Revolutionizing Business Decision Making" (link removed)

You've probably seen tweets just like this one, which was repeated ad nauseam in the person's Twitter history. In fact, when I follow someone, I first check out their post history. If I see repetition (blatant), I delete their request. So if you're using the same type of tweeting process, how exactly are you appealing to the masses?

Oh wait. You're not.

An easy mistake. We think "networking" and confuse it with "marketing" and we further confuse "marketing" with "bugging the sh*t out of people."

So how can you send out better tweets and stop bugging people?

With goals, of course.

What are some good goals to have?

Quality volume. Sure, you want people to follow you and on Twitter you can get 1,000 followers just by showing up. But what you want is to be followed by people who are in a position to need your services. So as much as you love being followed by sex therapists and dog trainers, unless they're your main client, you'll be, er, barking up the wrong tree.

Engagement goals. It's not enough to say you want people to interact. You have to know to what end you'd like that to happen. For example, Company A might want people to follow their Twitter profile and tweets because they want customers to try out and buy their online banking software. In order to build a good strategy, they have to know that specific goal so that the tweets can have that message in them on occasion.

Brand recognition. There are a handful of great people on Twitter with whom you'd love to be acquainted. I remember asking someone why I suddenly had so many great people wanting to follow me. He said "Because you were liked (and mentioned) by the highly popular [name omitted]." I didn't realize I was talking to a guru. I was just having a nice conversation with someone who engaged me. She did it right -- she reached out and built a bridge without any thought to how I might serve her purpose someday. That strengthened her brand. Hell, it created her brand. I hadn't heard of her until Twitter, and because she was an early, smart adopter, she became quite popular. Use her example. Be known for being in the conversation.

Image. Sure, you can be like @PauloCoehlo who puts lovely philosophical quotes out there (in both English and Portuguese) and who puts out quotes like this: "Sometimes I adore Sao Paulo so much I want to make love to the paving stones...." However, unless you're an international best-selling author too, you might have to put a little more work into your image. A good goal should include the image you want to portray and how you'd like to achieve that goal.

What is your intent when you tweet or use other forms of social media?

What goals can you set for yourself right now?
How can those goals improve your marketing?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Your Own Drum

What I'm reading: Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
What's on the iPod: The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth

writing, client, freelance
Yesterday was a bit of a blur, though a relatively nice one. For a day that wasn't littered with projects, I felt like I'd done quite a bit of work. I had lunch with a friend, got some birthday gifts bought on the way out of the cafe, and headed home to get a project Anne and I are hammering out revised a bit. I'm still feeling kind of lousy, but I'm medicating for the infection. I hope it takes just one round of antibiotics. Sinus infections can be stubborn.

As we talked yesterday, Anne and I came to the topic of sales pages. She and I have been looking at various website sales pages, and there seems to be two camps on how sales pages are better written. One camp believes long, detailed and rich in personality. The other camp believes short, to the point, and with an eye to the brand.

Depending on whatever guru you happen to listen to, you're going to hear their own version of what's the "right" way of doing things. Honestly, I know what I like personally and what I will never, ever click on. I know what it takes to get someone like me to part with cash. That's how I write my sales pitches-- from that perspective. Mine is a bullshit-free zone.

But which do I like?

Doesn't matter what I like. It's what you like that matters, especially if I'm selling to you. So if I want to sell to you, whose advice should I listen to?

Yours, of course.

That's where I part ways with many of the self-proclaimed experts on sales methods. If I follow their tried-and-true method, I'm sure to sell to you. Why? Because they say so? And how would they know what you, my customer, wants?

They don't.

So if you're trying to sell to your client base, here are some things to keep in mind:

Be a learner, not a lemming. It's okay to mirror someone else's methods and try on different ways to sell. It's not okay to do it exactly like so-and-so because so-and-so says to. That's not reason enough to ignore your audience. Learn the basics, but don't forget to grow beyond them.

Put your clients' needs first. Always. I send out letters of introduction and queries my way, and while you can mimic that to get started, know that those letters are also sent out the way my client needs to see them. That means I tweak them to fit each client personally. So if I'm sending a letter to an insurance client, your letter to a consumer-facing retail client is probably not going to read the same.

Be yourself, not myself. For the very reason my LOIs and queries work for me they may not work for you. That's because they're not your personality. I may take more liberties (or fewer, depending) than you would, or I may wear my confidence closer to the vest (or all out) than you're comfortable doing. When you're writing any sales material at all, put it in your own voice and within your own boundaries.

Stand out from the rest. That goes along with not being a lemming. Suppose I learn how to write a brochure that gets attention. Great! Oh wait, not great. That same place I learned how to write that brochure has taught about 3,000 other people how to write it exactly the same way. So how is my brochure going to be different? If I don't go beyond the template approach taught to me, it won't be. Never be afraid to put your own spin on things or draw outside the lines.

Change when the clients demand it. That fantastic brochure you paid six consultants to teach you to make  got you some great response rates. Then it started dropping off. Here you sit a year later and what? No one answers you? Your potential clients are sending you a clear message -- they want information in a different way. So why not listen?

How do you follow the beat of your own drum?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


What's on the iPod: Wilderness by Middle Brother

freelance, writing, client
Sinus infection. That's the word from the doctor, who seems to think I did not have the flu but had this sinus infection the entire time. Truth? I think he's full of it. I've had enough sinus infections to know what they feel like, what symptoms to expect, and what doesn't happen.

Another reason I think he's full of it -- he had his face so buried in his laptop, he didn't even hear when I said I'd had a fever and serious body aches on Wednesday and by Friday I felt better, but it had seemed to move into my sinuses. His response was "Well the flu won't last four days."

Really? Is that what I said? Don't think so. Last I checked, Wednesday to Friday isn't four days.

In fact, the doctor's behavior, and that of one of the nurses, punctuates the point I'm about to make about image.

I've been going to this office for 12 years and in general I think they do a great job. However, they've recently moved all their files online and equipped their staff with netbooks in this paperless attempt at organization. For the most part, it works. When my doctor usually comes in to see me, she's been attentive and uses the computer briefly to make notes, order prescriptions, and log the right code for the invoice.

However, she wasn't in yesterday. So I was greeted by a nurse I'd not seen before. She took me to a room where she promptly turned her back to me and concentrated all her efforts on that 13-inch screen. I'd even asked her how her day was going. Nothing. No acknowledgement whatsoever. In fact, she spent five minutes (I kept an eye on my watch) futzing with her computer software and talking to herself about what she was/wasn't seeing. Clearly, this was a change she wasn't up for. I'd asked her two questions, neither of which were answered because she was so busy trying to understand how to log in my information.

Then she moved me from room one to room two. Only she had her face buried in that laptop as we walked and she didn't realize I'd walked into room three when she'd stopped in front of it and acknowledged a coworker who had impeded her forward progress. For my part, since she'd said "We'll just put you in here" to the computer screen, I assumed it was that room. I heard her whispering in the hall that she couldn't find Lori Widmer, then her coworker said "In there." To which more whispering about it being the wrong room, at which point I heard him say "It doesn't really matter."

Then the doc came in -- I've seen him before, but he's not my regular doc. He too was toting a laptop. And when he asked my symptoms, his face was turned toward the screen, which to his credit he'd placed so he could still glance my way on occasion. Not that he did, but he could have.

It was at that point he examined me, which meant the laptop had to be put aside. It was -- on the table with me. Fine, but his attention went from me immediately to the screen again. That's when I was explaining the duration of my illness, the change in symptoms, and when he made a judgment that didn't come close to responding to what I'd told him.

What does this have to do with image and the freelancer? It serves as an example of how customer service or even attention to your surroundings can play a huge part in how you're perceived by those around you. Here's how I see some of us getting it wrong:

No interaction. I've seen blogs rise to the top of the heap but then lose members through lack of interaction. One in particular would ignore questions posed directly, but wouldn't have any trouble schmoozing with those commenting who might have some clout somewhere. I stopped following, as did a few other writers, and she never noticed. When I pointed it out to her at a later date, she was surprised. Again, she'd never noticed. I notice when someone hasn't shown up in a while and I do stress about it. There are people whose interaction here I used to love, but for one reason or another they're not around. I don't ask because I think it's up to them to say if there was a problem, but if you're reading, know that I miss your presence.

No personalization. I love informative blogs and brochures and sales items, but I want to know who you are and how I fit into the equation. If you're so intent on telling me how fantastic you are or how your information is the best there is, you're not telling me why I should care. Make a personal connection in your content and your online presence.

No conversation. One or two blogs I've stopped following were either comment-disabled or run by absentee owners. You don't have to talk to everyone at the second they post, but show up once or twice a day (or a week if your posts are less frequent) to at least respond. No one wants to present an opinion or share an experience if it's going to hang out there unnoticed.

No originality. I've mentioned before having my work "rewritten" and in some cases repeated in other blogs. In one case, the dude fought vehemently with me over his "right" to repost my stuff, citing the Fair Use section of the copyright law, which he claimed to "teach" to other designers. Maybe you teach it, but that doesn't mean you understand it or use it legally, for lifting my entire blog, wrapping your site URL around it, and making people go through four screens to get to my site is not proper attribution. It's theft of my traffic, my ad revenue, and my readers. The same goes for the blogger who comes up with "original" ideas that are basically rewrites of my and other bloggers' posts. If you use someone else's ideas, give them credit.

All bullshit. We've talked a lot about long-winded sales pages, but it can't be said enough. If your message is strong, you can convey it concisely and not affect your sales. In fact, I saw a sales page yesterday that went on and on. And on. I realized this woman's message ended at her bio, which was about 1/4 the way down her page. But somewhere she got the notion that every damned detail of her offer needed to be on display, so it went on... What ever happened to tantalizing content drawing you in? This was for an audience of writers, too. Wow. Her product may have been great, but the more she went on about it, the less convinced I was.

How are we getting it wrong when it comes to image?

Monday, January 21, 2013

4 Ways to Suck at Online Sales

What's on the iPod: Live and Die by The Avett Brothers
writing, freelance, marketing

How was the weekend? I'm not yet feeling over my flu/cold/whatever. Still stuffy and a little achy, but it felt good to finally sleep without waking up to cough incessantly.

I spent some time on Friday looking for some sales page strategies. Anne and I are launching a number of new things via the 5 Buck Forum, and I wanted to make sure our sales pages weren't detracting from our message. What I found was kind of disturbing.

Even the so-called experts write long, boring sales pages.

I will not claim to be the purveyor of all things salesy, but I know what I like to see when considering buying something. I like simple. I like straightforward information that compels me to act.

Yet what's out there right now....oy.

Here are surefire ways of driving traffic away from your sales pitch:

Long-assed sales pages. Good lord, one ran nearly 3,000 words. I skimmed it because the thought of reading a sizable article bored me at the outset. That's when I realized the problem with this particular "expert's" content -- nothing, and I mean nothing, jumped out as something I had to buy. This from someone whom other people have said "You have to follow this person's advice!" Uh, no. Even the subheads were mediocre. I don't follow -- least of all parrot -- mediocrity.

Buildups to....nothing. If there are more than two exclamation points, I'm outta there. Why? Because someone is trying to force an emotional response. If your offer is solid, you need only to present it well. The same goes for fonts that change color and size. It looks ridiculous and detracts from your message. And unless your message sucks, that's not good.

Not enough information. That's exactly how a message can suck. Sales pages should tell buyers 1) what they're buying, 2) how much it costs, and 3) what they get for their money. There should be enough information about what you're selling to be clear. What should be left off -- anything not directly related to the offer. That includes pages of prose trying to convince your buyers that you're special. Your offer (and the strength of it) should convey that instead.

Be trendy. These long-assed, pointless sales pages came into vogue because someone way up the food chain decided it was a perfect idea. Sadly, even experts can make mistakes, and rather than say these pages are mistakes (they are to me, but you may love them), I'd prefer to say they're trends. Trends go out of vogue just as quickly. Instead of following someone else's lead, prove you're a creative person -- create your own sales page that rocks. If you follow everyone else, you're sure not to stand out.

What about online sales tactics or these sales pages doesn't work for you?

Friday, January 18, 2013

A List of Favorites

What's on the iPod: Imagine by Jack Johnson

Today is fun day here on the blog. It's not a day to worry the details (though I'll probably do that with client projects). Instead, I'd love to share some of my favorites of 2012. Let's start with music.

Every post has a song I'm currently listening to (or last listened to before I got out of the car). Here are ones I can't get enough of -- via YouTube video.

I'm Shakin' by Jack White
He resembles Edward Scissorhands, but sings like nobody's business. I was not a fan when he was part of White Stripes, but Jack White has grown on me.

Live and Die by The Avett Brothers
Banjos can be cool. The Avett (AY vet) Brothers have this sound that can be addictive in an unexpected way.

Hardliners by Holcolmbe Waller
My vote for most gorgeous song from someone I've never heard of. He delivers a haunting, captivating sound that I can't stop listening to.

Nearly anything by Frightened Rabbit (in this case, State Hospital)
Sometimes you just find that one band with the sound you're drawn to like an addict. For me, these guys have it all, starting with those irresistible Scottish accents.

Favorite books:

I'd say this is a list of my top books of 2012, but since I read classics more than anything else, that wouldn't really represent 2012, would it? Here are some that I loved reading last year:

A mercy by Toni Morrison. She's a fantastic writer who crafts stories you don't want to end. One of the few writers whose sentences are so rich they're palpable. Told from different perspectives, this story shows a snippet in the life of one girl upon whom life seems to have dealt some punishing blows.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I'm not the whole way through it, but I love this story about a gamer who's locked in a global virtual battle to win a huge fortune. The premise is brilliant, and you don't have to be a gamer to love the old-school game references.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. If you've limited yourself to Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men, you're missing Steinbeck's humorous brilliance. Cannery Row follows the lives of the residents of the village, a mishmash of misfits, oddballs, and wonderful spirits.

Selected Stories of William Faulkner. The master in short, palpable form. Starting with the story Barn Burning, which is so rich with detail you marvel at his descriptive capabilities, this is a collection that shows Faulkner's testing of literary boundaries.

The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu. What an unexpected pleasure! I picked up an uncorrected proof for a song, and loved every syllable. A great fairy tale for adults (and kids, I suppose).

What notables captivated you this past year? Leave your list in the comments.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Virtual Networker

What's on the iPod: Ooh La La by Counting Crows

writing, freelance, client
I'm currently operating in a fog of Alka Seltzer Plus and Mucinex -- welcome to cold season. Luckily the workload is relatively light this week. And luckily for you germs aren't transmitted over the Internet (not human germs, anyway).

So what makes marketing different from networking? Often I see the words used interchangeably. That's not always incorrect. Marketing is selling a product or service in such a way as to make it desirable to the buyer. Networking is selling oneself in such a way as to make oneself desirable to "buyers." Buyers can be employers, collaborators, friends, colleagues... you get the idea.

Close in definition. Still, very different depending on the circumstance.

Marketing is more of a push to promote one's products or services. Networking is more of a construction project. You're building relationships and maintaining the ones you already have. But there will be times (probably more often than you think) where marketing and networking will show up at the same time.

Take your letter of introduction, or even your query letter. They're both there. You're telling someone about yourself and trying to sell them on the notion of hiring you for an article, a project, etc.

It's a simplified comparison of some complex ideas, so forgive any generalizations. The point is in order to market, sometimes you need a network of connections. It's at that first meeting that you'll make your best impression, even the virtual meeting on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Here are ways I use to make a good impression out of the gate:

Be real. I get so tired of meeting someone who's sole intent is to sell something to me. So would you, and so will any prospective customers if you were to take that same approach. Instead, be yourself.

Engage. It's more how you engage that makes the difference, in my opinion. Get to know that person in front of you even if you think there's little chance you'll ever have a buy/sell relationship. Instead, make a friend and be a friend.

Be a great resource. If I can help one person I meet each day resolve a problem, find an expert, or get a question answered, I've networked correctly. I've been known to connect two different entities both looking for each other, which I think is neat. It also shows them I'm connected and they may mention that to someone.

Interact. Like I mentioned earlier this week, to me social media is for socializing. I've been known to say hello to people randomly just to see how they are, to communicate with them, and hey, if something comes of it, great! If not, I've had a nice conversation with someone who may think I'm a decent person.

Follow up. So your new Twitter follower has a great business in your specialty area. You've said hello. Get in touch again! This time, try sending them a link that relates to their business, or an article you've written on the subject. Just be sure to keep the conversation going. When your gut tells you it's appropriate, take it to email. I do that whenever I have a link I think would be helpful.

What do you do to make a good impression in your networking interactions?

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Point of Social Media

What's on the iPod: Chloe by Grouplove

freelance, writing, client
Photo: The Next Web
Quick note -- you'll notice the word verification is back for comments. Had to do it. I was inundated with spam comments in the past two weeks (over 5,000 of them), and I'm thinking it's time to get the spammers off my scent for a while. Hopefully it won't be necessary forever.

How was the weekend? I've not mentioned it, but I was two weeks without a husband. He went off to Arizona to see his mom, which I couldn't do because I need to get more work in. He came home Saturday night, so the weekend was about getting reacquainted. Finally, I slept. I don't sleep when he's not here.

I spent Friday doing a bit of marketing for the upcoming conference. I hit Twitter and LinkedIn and reconnected with some colleagues in hopes of being top-of-mind when they go looking for a writer. I sent out a bunch of LOIs, too. One may have scored something -- too early to tell.

I had a chance to read a few articles and blog posts regarding social media use. There were a few that were disturbing. It seems for as many people as there are taking part in the #FollowFriday tagging of good follows and friends, there are a growing number of people who loathe the practice. I saw one tweet that complained about these lists of follows clogging up the Twitter feeds.


I see the point. When someone (me) sends out four or so tweets in a row wishing "Happy #FF" to friends and colleagues, it can become a pain to sift through, I suppose. That's why on Fridays, I don't read Twitter feeds much. Actually, it's because I'm busy saying hello to everyone, but that's another issue.

But to say someone shouldn't alert others to people we enjoy communicating with just because the feeds get clogged one day out of seven seems to miss the larger point. It's social media. Even if you hate it, the #FF senders are doing exactly what the media intended -- being sociable.

I actually saw one blog telling you the proper way to do it. The ironic part -- the blogger was basically putting a fresh skin on the same practice. The message was (and I paraphrase) "Tell us why we should follow this person and stop saying hello to people you're trying to schmooze."

While I think that these messages are lost in reality (meaning the bloggers/writers are just as guilty as those who were being chastised), I get that too much of a good thing can become someone's pet peeve really quickly. So maybe the point of social media is what's missing. Here's my take on what it may mean. Feel free to add your own opinion:

To be sociable. Not everyone is using Twitter or Facebook to build a client base or sell products. In fact, my Facebook page is strictly for personal use -- just for connecting with friends. You have to allow that people get to know each other and want to show appreciation in a public forum. So be it. If you don't enjoy it, maybe don't read that day? I don't know.

To build a network. One article writer complained that Twitter's #FF was being used to sidle up to people you want to be in your network. And that's a problem because.... yeah, I don't get why that's a problem. That's the point of social media -- to connect to people you've been trying to build a relationship with, right?

To create awareness. Now that I'm aware of the people who openly hate #FF shout-outs, I'm going to temper my own behavior. If some users hate it, there's a pretty good chance those I'm trying to build relationships with do, too. However, awareness is also related to brand. I want potential clients to see me using these tools (wisely, of course), and I want to draw these people into conversation even if it means giving them a "Happy #FF" message once in a while. I'll just stop adding seven or eight people to the list.

There are plenty of bad habits coming out of Twitter and LinkedIn -- constant self-promotion being primary, but also not interacting or responding to followers, hijacking groups in order to sell yourself or your products,   sending out strings of identical messages in an attempt to drive traffic to your site, you name it. To me, the least likely to bother me is the #FollowFriday lists of people to follow. I'd much rather see someone saying hello even in a list like that than sending me one more shortened URL pointing to that same damned sales page again.

But I get it. Too much of anything isn't good. So maybe there's something to tempering the #FollowFriday behavior, but at what point do we tie our own hands with social media? If it's not there to get to know other people and reach out, why bother?

What's your take on it?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Death to Buzz Words

What's on the iPod: Still and Always Will by Vintage Trouble

writing, freelance, marketing
So far, so great this week. A massive, typically unwieldy project has been delivered to the client and the invoice is being processed. Also, I'm on top of an article assignment. All interviews are done and I've written the opening paragraphs. The rest is gravy. So I turned yesterday afternoon to my marketing drive for the upcoming conference.

It's when I realized just how easily people can fall afoul with clients on their messaging. While I want to tell them I'm worth their money, I have to show that instead. And it's when blog posts like Cathy Miller's come in handy. Cathy takes on these throw-away words, but in a great, creative twist, turns them into assets.

However, most of us should just stay the hell away from them. Misuse is too rampant to unleash these words on the masses. And unless you're willing to commit Cathy's excellent advice to memory, don't use them.

Think buzz words aren't a problem? Try reading this:

Super-special Writing Services is a robust, full-service writing firm dedicated to bring you out-of-the-box ideas and cutting-edge creativity. Our writers are detail-oriented problem solvers and team players who create a proactive synergy that can deliver a paradigm shift within your organization.

My question -- do I want my paradigm to be shifted? I'm never sure.

So how do you promote yourself in your tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn updates, or in emails without going there? Let's start with that same message, rewritten:

At Super-special Writing Services, we are in love with ideas. We get our kicks by creating the most impactful, customized message that reflects who you are as a business and how you benefit your customers. We change perspectives with words and help you get noticed.

What's changed? The "fluff" words are gone. Nothing in the message confuses, and none of the words are extraneous. None are what my husband and his colleagues call "bullshit" words -- words that add nothing to the message other than muddying it.

So when crafting your next social media message or your latest email sales blast, keep these things in mind:

Keep it short. If it's a letter of introduction (LOI), give enough information to state why you're writing, give a little background, and show that you know their business. Otherwise, sales messages shouldn't go over say 350 words. Remember, just enough info to get them interested. Think that's too little? This blog post, to this point, is 420 words. Too much for an email, for sure.

Check each word. Your editing skills are essential here. Look at each sentence and each word. Is that the best way you can say it? No? Then fix it. Remember to pass it by your own bullshit meter -- if someone sent you this message, would you believe it?

Lose all buzz words. I know a handful of large companies who are "getting real" with their messaging -- cutting out buzz words, corporate speak, etc. Why? Because they see their customers wanting a stronger connection. Still, maybe paradigm shifting is what you do best. Guess what? If you say it, you won't be doing it for this potential client. Just say "radically change" or any other more basic meaning of the same phrase. Show how you're shifting paradigms without using those words. Please. I beg you.

Check your verys at the door. Very is an overused, under-performing word. It's a place filler. It says nothing. Moreover, it shouts "I'm not creative enough to find a better word." The same goes for "that", which is also overused. It creates too many pauses in your message. Example:  "It's the brand that Brad Pitt uses." Just sounds better to say "It's the brand Brad Pitt uses."

Don't forget the value. Seriously, if you're sending a message that doesn't tell your audience what the value is to them, skip it. You're wasting your time. They want to hear the benefit to them, not a laundry list of how wonderful you are.

Look at your last email message to a potential client. What words can you cut out? What about that message works? Are there particular buzz words you're attached to? Why?

Monday, January 07, 2013

3 No-nos of Networking

What's on the iPod: Love Interruption by Jack White

writing, freelance, networking
Hockey is back!

Even if it's an interrupted season, I'll take it. I love hockey as much as (if not more than) football. Amen for the end of the lockout! I won't wax on about what I think about the entire mess because it's boring for those of you who don't follow the sport. And it's in the past. Amen.

I was exhausted last night thanks to a weekend with the family in western PA and the five-hour drive each direction. Plus with eleven people sleeping in various beds and on nearly all floor surfaces in the small house my parents live in, it wasn't easy to sleep. I nearly opted for a hotel on night two, but I was too tired to drive to one. The closest one is about 20 miles away anyway.

Nevertheless, I was up at 2 am this morning and could not get back to sleep. So I did what I normally do -- I try to meditate while still in bed, which usually clears the mind and puts me right back out. This time, however, it allowed a blog post idea to formulate.

Because I'm gearing up for what I hope is the next trade show (on the fence about going because of the work I have already), I was thinking about the networking events and how so many people do it wrong. If you've ever introduced yourself to someone and have then been held captive by the one-sided conversation/sales pitch or worse, not been engaged in conversation when they realize you're probably not a customer, you know what I'm talking about.

I've come up with my own list of no-nos that should be eliminated from any networking encounter:

No monologues. Just because someone shows an interest in what you do does not give you license to fill every inch of dead air with the sound of how fabulous your business is or how badly they need your services.  By doing that, you not only turn off the person held captive listening to you, but you miss out on learning just exactly who this person is and how you can best help them with your services.

No sales. Don't use the first meeting to say "Great to meet you! Let me tell you why you need to hire me" or any other sales pitch. An immediate sales pitch lacks sensitivity and feels a lot like someone throwing darts at a map to figure out where to live. It's too random, and it lacks any personality or relationship-building traits. It's like trying to make small talk with a car salesperson who hasn't made quota this month -- it feels like hard selling because it is. Relax. Get to know the person you're looking at.

No shunning. So you sell writing services and you've just found the person in front of you never hires writers. That's no excuse for turning your back or excusing yourself and finding someone more interesting to talk to. Big mistake, in fact, for that person may someday hire a writer, and you can damn well bet he or she knows someone else who does hire writers. Don't shun -- engage in conversation. Who is this person? What business are they in? How are they liking the networking event? What events have they been to that they think are worth attending? There's always information to be had from nearly anyone you meet.

What are your networking no-nos?

Friday, January 04, 2013

Your Online Marketing Kit

What's on the iPod: The Last Time by Taylor Swift
marketing, freelance, writing

Well, 2013 is starting slow, but I see looming a ton of potential projects that, if they all are assigned, could have me scrambling for extra hours in the day. Right now, I'm working on one article and a few small PR projects, which is a good way to ease back into the working world after the holiday hiatus.

New month, new theme. This month we'll be looking at online marketing and networking. If you're overlooking this type of marketing, you're missing out big time. Clients -- even the less tech-savvy of them -- want instant information on who they work with. Not only that, there's a big advantage to being in front of a potential client when she decides it's time to hire a freelancer. You get that by being connected and engaged. (For this post, I'm going to refrain from talking about email marketing, which deserves its own post.)

Before you launch an all-out blitz of social media, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, online marketing via social media isn't about how many times a day you can advertise your name or your business. In fact, that's the fastest way to lose the largest number of potential clients. What works in the real-time media world doesn't translate well online. Sure, you can advertise, but the goal is different.

The goal is to engage the client and build a relationship long before they hire you.

Second, it's also important whom it is you're reaching. I could tweet all day about how great my writing services are, but if my followers are other writers or single dads/moms, what do they care? One group will get sick of hearing how special I think I am (and that will kill my reputation as a colleague) and the other will ignore me.

So let's build an online marketing kit.

Know what social media you'll use. You don't have to hit all social media. There's just too much of it to do that effectively. Instead, concentrate on two or three social media sites and learn what works best in each medium.

Research the message. It's okay to put yourself out there as you are, but why not frame your tweets, Google+ posts, or Facebook pages to conform a bit to what's already getting noticed? That's not to say you can't be creative and design your own way of attracting clients. Just do it smartly. For example, if links to other sites in Twitter get more traffic than those without, try framing your message with a link to your website. Or if the opposite is true, try amending your message so that you're not driving away potential business.

Listen to your client base. They're telling you every day what they want, what they don't want, what they love, what they hate, etc. Those messages on social media are gold. Mine it for the best way to impress those clients and deliver messages to them that they'd respond to.

Choose carefully your clients. At first, you want to follow everyone in your chosen industry or anyone who needs a ghostwriter, content writer, etc. Don't. Look at the messages they've put out --are they engaging or simply reporting how special they are? Are they interacting? Are they truly potential clients? I can't tell you how many Google+ or Twitter users I see who claim to be "insurance" people when in fact they're content mills, scams, keyword vampires (my term, I hope), or someone looking to drive traffic or plant a virus. Make sure you're connecting with a person, and look for signs that the person is building or growing a business or has a legitimate need for your services.

Plan your posts. While I think most of your tweets should be conversations and not sales pitches (likewise any other social media platform), those times when you do want to put out a sales message should be carefully planned and implemented. For instance, I'd say 2 out of every 20 messages on Twitter should be advertisements. The rest should be conversation starters. What better way to engage new/existing clients than to create discussions via your posts? It starts with knowing your potential client, and then creating weekly topics that get them interacting with you. That serves you two ways -- it gets you name recognition, and it shows you're intimately involved and interested in their industry.

Follow up. Here's where you can capture more business. Know how and when you'll follow up with any potential leads. If you've been talking with them via a LinkedIn group, go ahead and send them LinkedIn mail as a continuation of any discussion you were directly engaged in together. If you were discussing a business proposition, maybe arrange a phone call or ask to send a work proposal. Use your instincts. If the lead is lukewarm, wait. If you feel genuine interest from the potential client, that's your cue to reach out more personally.

There are plenty of ways to reach out to new clients and build your reputation as not just a savvy social media user, but also a writing professional who goes a little further in learning a client's business needs before getting the job. Whatever approach you take, make sure you plan it to coincide with your clients' potential needs.

What goes into your online marketing kit?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Monthly Assessment: December 2012

What's on the iPod: Too Close by Alex Clare

writing, freelance, marketing
Happy 2013! I'm writing this ahead as I'm trying not to spend two days in a row in front of the computer (no vacation if I'm constantly connected), so I hope we avoided a fiscal cliff, I hope the ball dropped without the Mayans's oversight causing mass destruction, and I hope you're all safe and sound and looking forward to a great new year.

Alas, I must look back one more time. December was a slow-as-molasses month, but thankfully good planning and serendipity resulted in a good earnings month. Here's the short version of how it played out:

I sent none, though I did get work from two editors who send me assignments quite frequently. One job came from a query sent months ago.

Because the world goes on a psychological vacation from December 1st through January 1st, I didn't bother. In the past, LOIs and queries have been ignored until January anyway, if answered at all. There's something about the calendar page turning and the new budgets appearing in January that create this vacuous effect on projects in December.

Existing clients:
I didn't necessarily need to find any new business this month as I had plenty of existing client work to keep me occupied. While even these projects were thin on the ground, monthly retainers and ongoing small projects were enough to keep the checks coming. These were the entirety of my earnings this month.

New clients:
I didn't look for reasons listed above. I did, however, hear from a newer client who hired me for one project. The work, if my estimate is accepted, starts this month. See? New year, new budgets, new energy.

None this month.

Despite this being the slowest month of the year, I was able to surpass the monthly goal again. The retainer helped immensely, as did a magazine assignment and those smaller projects for a marketing client.

Bottom line:
January's earnings are already pretty good as another magazine project will bill this month and a retainer from another client will kick in. I have four, possibly five large projects about to start and retainers will be part of three of them. If I get just two I'll be in great shape. Still, I have to start marketing hard this month as I don't count on a single thing until the contract is signed. Marketing was definitely put on the back burner in December, with much of it being just via social media connections. This month, LOIs and queries are going out in full force. There's a trade show in April and I want to justify the trip to LA.

How was December for you? What's happening for you in January?
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