Happy Valentine’s Day!

I love words. I love being able to spend my time using them to help businesses, like yours, achieve their goals. But my first love is writing stories, to help people escape, unwind, and feel things. I always share something romantic on my author blog on this day. This year, I’m sharing a romantic comedy. If the idea of a story involving laxatives, lizards, and desperate mothers floats your boat, you can find it here.

PS: I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write more in the blogging basics series lately. We all had Aussie ‘flu and it’s thrown the start of the year into disarray. Normal service will resume, just as soon as we are sure what is normal anyway.

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You talking to me?

As promised back in my Blogging Basics post on Communication, today I want to talk about who you’re addressing your blog posts to. Knowing your audience is fundamental to knowing what you want to say, and how you should say it.

Take this post for example; as I write it I am imagining it being read by small business owners looking for help in creating better blog content for themselves. The language I choose to express myself will be different with that audience in mind than it would be if I was addressing other writers; and different again if I was talking about this to schoolkids as part of my work as a children’s author.

So, how do you know who you’re talking to? If you’ve been running your blog or business for a while, then the chances are that you already know who your readers and customers are. If you’re starting a new venture, then you’ve probably thought about the people who you’d like to do business with.

If you haven’t? Then your first step should be to get clear about that. Read a book, or talk to a business consultant or a marketing expert. The only way that you can make someone feel like you’re really trying to communicate with them is if you tailor what you want to say to that audience.

For example, I write blog posts for a number of different clients. One is aimed at IT professionals – when I’m writing for them I know it’s OK to make Star Wars references. I’d leave those out if I were writing an article for the blog targetted at women who work in financial services. When I’m writing about coffee? I’m communing with hipsters. Cat Care? That’s Millenials with fur-babies.

If I cracked Star Wars jokes to high-level female professionals (and trust me, Sci-Fi references leak out of me at the most inopportune moments), there’s every chance I’d alienate the reader. Of course, that’s a generalisation, but as you can’t write a blog post that’s tailored to each reader, that’s the best we can do.

So, knowing your audience means keeping them in mind when you express yourself. If your audience is highly educated, you can pull out the 50p words. For young professionals in a hurry, keep it brief and to the point. You get the drift.

But perhaps more important than knowing how to address your audience is knowing what you want to say. That takes some thought for two reasons:

1 – The chances are you’re passionate about what you do, and that you geek out on the details of it. But if I spent a post patting myself on the back of my clever use of alliteration, subjugated clauses, and fresh similes…well, most of you have fallen asleep already, right? That’s why sales and marketing types will tell you to talk about benefits, not features. If I tell people my blog posts are created to be easy to understand, engaging and to lead the reader on a journey to discover the product or service? That’s a lot more relevant.

2 – You may have become nonchalant about what you do. You do it every day, so it doesn’t seem so special. You forget to tell people these things because you’ve come to take them for granted. I was talking to a client about working for them. I loved what they did. I told them that and explained that they were changing the world. The client looked surprised, blinked a few times and smiled, ‘Yes, I suppose we are. I hadn’t thought of it like that!’

Customer Engagement Venn Diagram

So, the ideal content lies in the overlap between what you want to say and what your audience needs to hear. How do you identify that?

What are the questions that people most often ask about your business? When you’re talking to customers, what things do they need to know? Make a list, of these questions – are they big enough questions for a blog post by themselves? Or are there recurring themes that could be clustered together into a post.

You can also take inspiration from other blogs. Look at what’s being written about in your industry, and in others. That might feel a bit like cheating, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you copy content, or even ideas. But seeing what other people talk about will give you a steer towards what you want to say yourself.

You can also gain inspiration from industry news. Set up a few google alerts for keywords that are important to you. You’ll then get daily emails telling you what’s new and what the wider conversation is in your subject area.

And I’ll end with an example of how to get more idea of what people want to hear and ask a question: What would you like the next blogging basics post to be about? Creating great titles? Opening lines? Something else entirely?

In all seriousness, do let me know what you think of this article in the comments below. I’d love to hear from readers, and see any examples of you putting these techniques into practice!

 

2018

I don’t usually put much store by the changing of the calendar year. For me, years pass by in seasons. I love watching the seasons slowly merge from one to another. I’m looking forward to the bite of winter leaving the air and welcoming the first fresh green of Spring.Months? They’re for invoicing purposes only.

But this year is a little different. I started 2017 anticipating the publication of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter and a year spent working as an author. Then life did what it does, and threw me a curveball.

2017 was one of those transformative years. You know the ones, where you feel like you’ve been back into the forge and come out stronger. January the 1st 2018, felt like the day that I could emerge, phoenix-like, and begin to soar.

But January the 1st isn’t really the best day for that. With two kids at home for the Christmas holidays, and being a bank holiday, I had to wait until today to actually get some work done. I hit my first deadline of 2018 I had a great time writing the article. Quite simply, I love what I do.

January has some great opportunities for me. I’ll be starting work for a new client, writing bids. I’ve got meetings with some others. And of course, I’ll still be writing for all my current clients. Expect more blog posts soon, and hopefully some updates on grant applications for some of the wonderful projects I worked on in 2017.

Fiction hasn’t stopped, either. I’m still working on my MA, which includes my first ever ‘grown-up’ book (I say grown-up because adult novels are something else entirely!) And I’m working on getting Alfie Slider and the Frozen Prince published.

How do I feel about 2018, on the whole? Well, enthusiastic, of course 🙂

Happy New Year!

Blogging Basics: Communication

I’m a big advocate for blogging the way you speak. I think that’s the easiest way for anyone to start writing is to just…start writing. Use pen & paper or keys on a keyboard to start a one-sided conversation with your target audience.

If you’re going to be blogging more seriously, though, it’s worth thinking about some of the theory of communication. We’ve all had those experiences, where we think we’ve made ourselves heard but either the message has gone astray, or the person receiving it heard something completely different to what we think we said. Miscommunication happens, but it’s something you want to avoid when you’re talking to your audience.

I first studied communication back when I did my BSc (Health & Social Care) and came across the Shannon & Weaver Linear Model of Communication. There are other models, but I come back to this one because it formed the way I think about writing. Here’s a dandy infographic to liven up the post a bit!

My Morning Timeline (1)

I think it’s helpful to try and keep some of this in mind when you write. For example, I live in York. If I were describing to another local how to get to my house, I would use the word snicket. But what we call a snicket in York, is a ginnel in Leeds and an alleyway in other parts of the country. I need to keep the experience of my reader in mind when I’m writing.

And the noise? Actually getting heard (read) is an art form in itself, and something better left to marketing and promotion experts. There is a lot of content out there, competing for attention. I think the best tactic is to say something useful, in an interesting way. I’ll be giving more tips on how you can do that in the coming weeks.

Ultimately, though, effective communication isn’t so much about what you want to say, as what you want the audience to hear. To do that, you have to know who you’re talking to. No prizes for guessing the subject of next week’s post!

Blogging Basics: Finding Your Voice

One of the things that really makes writing come alive, is finding your ‘author’s voice’. When a writer knows their voice, reading their content feels like a conversation; there’s a connection. The writing is consistent, competent and compelling.

And all those C’s are exactly what you want in your blog posts. You’re blogging because you have something to say, and you want other people to read it. Whether you’re trying to explain the benefits of a product or service, persuade people to your point of view or share information, you need people to want to read it. To subscribe. To come back for more.

But how do you find that? If you haven’t written much before, getting started can be daunting. I’m willing to bet, though, that if you and I sat down for a coffee and I asked you to tell me about your chosen subject, you’d have no problems.

Start there. Talk to yourself. Rehearse what you want to say in your head, or out loud if you don’t have a shared office. Make notes of the key points and any phrases that you really like.

Then, sit down at your keyboard and write rather than speaking. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation. Just use your fingers to make conversation rather than your mouth.

Yes, there are all sorts of writerly tips you can employ to make your blog posts more effective. I’ll be sharing some of those in the coming weeks. In the beginning, though? Just say what you want to say, as best as you can say it. Your readers will ‘hear’ you authenticity and respond to it.

Have you found your voice yet? If so, how? Let me know in the comments below!

Why

If you’ve been visiting this blog for a while, you’ll remember that I was shortlisted for a York Women Mean Business award.

ywmbshortlistAt the time, the categories were related to what you did, and I’d been put in the ‘Business Support’ category. I was flattered, and immediately wrote off any idea of winning because the other women in the category were all so incredible.

Friday the 10th of November rolled around, and I had the privilege of being in a room with hundreds of female entrepreneurs. We had a wonderful evening of fun, dancing and celebrating each other.

When it came to time to announce the winners, the fabulous event organiser Tracy Burleigh, Business Consultant (and if you need someone to help you find your path or your buzz for your business then she’s the lass for you) said the panel of judges had decided to change the categories.

Faced with all the incredible talent in the YWMB group, they’d felt inadequate to judge on quality. So, Tracy did what she does, which is to find a way that works better. The panel agreed to new categories.

I ended up in ‘The why’. That was a group of entrepreneurs who had blown the judging panel away with their motivation for their work. My full answer to the ‘why’ question is long but it can be summarised in this extract:

I have found that what I love is writing, plain and simple. Truth, fiction, it really doesn’t matter. I love seeking out the stories and telling them for people.

When I was called up to stand beside the other ‘Why’ ladies, I knew I wasn’t going to win. There were amazing people like Andrea Morrison in the line-up and one of my favourite people, Emi Ralph.

girls-compete-women-empowerEmi was the first friend I made after moving to York. She’s a remarkable person, full of passion and creativity. She has her own business, Mama Pixie, where she makes gorgeous things out of fabric. She’s also a doula, supporting women with their birth choices. She’s fabulous at both.

Emi won the award, and I completely agree with that decision. Had I won, I would have had the worst case of imposter syndrome! I was absolutely delighted to win a prize in the raffle though, a fabulous selection of re-usable kit from I am Reusable.

Friday was a great day for me. I signed a contract for a new associate role, which is going to open up some amazing opportunities to do what I love. I got to spend a wonderful evening in the company of like-minded women and I danced past midnight like no one was watching.

I certainly feel like a winner.

I Mean Business

Well, would you look at that! I’ve only gone and got myself shortlisted for a York Women Mean Business award! The results are announced at a celebration meal in November, so until then, I’ll bask in the bliss of the possibility of grabbing a trophy.

ywmbshortlist

This was a self-nominated award; anyone who is a member of the York Women Mean Business! Facebook group could submit an application. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high hopes when I filled it in because I was in the ‘Business Support’ category and I know there are some incredibly talented and successful women who would have come in alongside. I suppose that something I said must have resonated with the judges, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

Since going Freelance after many years of stable employment, it’s been a roller coaster. It’s a bit step to put all your faith in yourself and your abilities, and go out into the world with hope and expectation. I have to say, though, that I’ve been blown away by the support and encouragement I’ve received from friends, family, other freelancers, and clients.

I don’t expect to come home with that award, but oh my! It is nice to have been seriously considered.

Lightning

“If complete and utter chaos was lightning, then he’d be the sort to stand on a hilltop in a thunderstorm wearing wet copper armour and shouting ‘All gods are bastards!” – Terry Pratchett, The Colour of Magic.

I’ve often been told that I’m lucky. People marvel at how positive experiences apparently fall into my lap. How do great opportunities just seem to show up at the right time? Why are people so willing to work with me, to help me out? Just lucky, right?

Wrong.

If you wanted to get hit by lightning (I don’t recommend it) the odds of it happening to you are about 1 in 30,000 if you just go about your daily business. If you run outside every time there’s a storm, and go stand under a tree? You’re maneuvering yourself into a position where lightning is more likely to strike.

Want to win big on the lottery? The chances of winning are 1 in 14 million (less, if you don’t buy a ticket) but there are still things you can do to increase your chances.

That’s what I do. I’m proactive. I buy a ticket. I run into the storm. I look for opportunities that will help me do the things I want to do or at least get me that bit closer.

I’m also relentlessly positive. There are moments when I feel defeated, or that the odds are overwhelming, but then I pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.

I give. I don’t just sit and hope to receive. I throw good things out into the world, just because, and you know what? They come back, in spades. I get involved. I help. I add value.

So, when you hire me to write for you, you’re not hiring my luck. You’re hiring a hard-working, determined and savvy person who will use the full benefit of her skills and experience for you.

Who’s lucky now? Not you. Because you made a great choice 🙂

Instant Experts

Some clients want me to ‘spin’ one or two articles into new content for them.

Some clients want to give me the research and have me craft a narrative.

Some clients want to give me the title, and have me fill in the details.

Some clients want me to do it all.

This means that sometimes I have a very short deadline to become an authority on a subject. Which is usually fine; a spot of reading around the subject, or looking on YouTube will bring up enough information to blag your way on most topics.

Doing research usually brings up other ideas for articles. As you’re reading you think, ‘I’d really like a few thousand words more to talk about this,’ or ‘But if that’s true then what about….’ That’s why it’s great when you have an ongoing relationship with a client and produce regular content. I like to be able to watch the news and see something and think, ‘Perfect! I can write about that for my client this week.’ It means that I can gain a deeper understanding of the subject area, so I’m not blagging. I’m genuinely adding to the conversation and creating great quality content.

Don’t get me wrong, if you want a one-off blog post? I’m happy to do that but really, I prefer to become a real expert, not an instant one.

Method Writing

As a copywriter, you get asked to write about all sorts of things. In any one day I have covered topics as diverse as recruiting SaaS sales-people, the benefits of genuine ink cartridges and how to achieve Scandinavian style on a budget. Some of these things I can get genuinely passionate about (who doesn’t love Hygge?) but others? Not so much.

I always think of ccopywriting as finding a way to get across the importance of something, but if a subject doesn’t excite you, then how can you do that? That’s when I do the thing I call ‘method writing’.

It’s probably a combination of my am-dram background and being a fiction writer. If I don’t have a use for this product or service, can I imagine someone who does? Can I slip into their head for a little while and imagine what it might be like to worry about my ex-pat pension, or how to remove pet stains from my hardwood floor? Usually, the answer is yes.

Does it help if there’s a natural conection between me and the subject matter? Definitely. It means that I’ll be able to make a quicker start at an article, and the ideas will flow more easily. Does that mean I can only write about the things I know or care about? No.

It’s a bit of convoluted mental process to go from thinking like me, to developing a character who has an interest and then viewing the product or service from their point of view, but it works. As Dennis Hopper says, you have to keep yourself open.