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10 lessons from 35 years of professional writing

10 lessons from 35 years of professional writing

I got my first writing job out of the University of Oregon in 1981. Since then, I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, a corporate communicator and, for the past 20 years, a freelance writer. I've completed one (unpublished) novel and am working on another. I’m still learning, but here are 10 things I figured out in that time.

10 tricks to release a stream of content from internal producers

10 tricks to release a stream of content from internal producers

If you’re like most marketing managers at small- to medium-sized B2B firms, you’re expected to deliver a constant stream of quality content on a shoestring budget.

That often means you must rely on internal subject matter experts to produce your content. Internal people whose top priorities don’t always match yours. Who are not writers. And who don’t always come through, despite their best intentions.

When I worked in corporate communications for an electric utility, I edited several publications. Even though I wrote a lot of the articles myself, I couldn’t do it all. I had to rely on staffers. In the process, I learned a few tricks to get people to contribute quality content on time.

Here are 10 ways to get internal content producers to deliver.

Our Story: Six strategies to make your Our Story page pull in readers

Our Story: Six strategies to make your Our Story page pull in readers

Does your website’s Our Story page (or sub-section of your About page) tell a story? Or does it act more like an About page, telling us what you do, what you make, who you serve and why that’s unique?

Not that there’s anything wrong with an About page. In fact, it’s really important to have one. Sometimes your prospects just want a stripped-down, plain-English description of who you are. They don’t want to wade through a bunch of hifalutin language to get there. So give them an About page.

But don’t get your About and Our Story pages mixed up. There’s a big difference.

Green marketing: Top 3 keyword search terms for SEO

Green marketing: Top 3 keyword search terms for SEO

It’s not easy being a green marketing manager. If you’re tasked with attracting potential customers to your socially and environmentally responsible company’s website, what do you call your product or service? Green? Sustainable? Eco-friendly?

More to the point, how do you grab the prospect’s attention and interest when putting together your organization’s search engine advertising, organic keyword strategy and content for inbound marketing?

Power Your Brand Story with Personal Myth

Power Your Brand Story with Personal Myth

Thinking about brand makes me think about surfing.

And that got me thinking about brand and story. Because, at the heart of a powerful brand is a powerful story. A real, flesh-and-blood story about a real person who wants something and is willing to suffer and strive to achieve it.

Content marketing: Rivet reader attention with tension

Content marketing: Rivet reader attention with tension

The headlamps from Jim’s old pickup flashed the glassy sheen of ice on the dark two-lane. Janice clamped down on his forearm as another contraction gripped her body.

“Faster,” she said. “This baby’s coming."

 

Memories of My Father

My father was in some ways a typical Irish-American New Yorker. The son of Irish immigrants, he was tough, black-Irish handsome and garrulous. Where he came from, then an Irish enclave on Amsterdam Avenue and West 101st Street in Manhattan, he joked that you had three career choices: cop, priest or con.

The Future of Story: Suicidal Moths and Virtual Reality

The Future of Story: Suicidal Moths and Virtual Reality

Stories are not just powerful – they’re what make us human. That’s the thesis of Jonathan Gottschall’s 2012 book, The Storytelling Animal

The final chapter of Gottschall’s book, though, isn’t so sanguine. Titled “The Future of Story,” it says the outlook for story is so bright, in fact, that it could prove deadly – in the way Coleman lanterns attract suicidal moths.

Six Story Types for Influence, Imagination and Innovation

Six Story Types for Influence, Imagination and Innovation

If you’re a “just the facts” kind of a presenter, you’re missing the chance to influence not just people’s minds but their hearts. And the heart is where change happens.

In Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, How to use your own stories to communicate with power and impact, Annette Simmons aims that message at leaders who have learned to mistrust emotions and cultivate a data-driven communication style.

“Facts matter,” she says, “but if you want to motivate people to change, feelings come first.”

Redesigning your website? Here are 5 lessons I learned doing mine

Redesigning your website? Here are 5 lessons I learned doing mine

Designing a new website or redesigning an old one ranks as one of the most important marketing strategies you can execute for your business. I recently took myself through the entire process, and in the course I got an education. Here are five lessons learned that really paid off in a website that I love and for which I continue to receive compliments (and, most importantly, inbound leads.)

1. Do your research. Educate yourself on the latest trends in web design. When I was planning my website, I immersed myself in web research. Since I planned to have my site built on a WordPress platform, I looked at perhaps more than 100 themes and examples of sites that used them.

Get to the point where you can identify several websites you love so much you’d like to emulate them. Look both inside and outside your industry or niche. For example, I looked at dozens of writers’ websites. But I found most of them to be atrocious. Instead, I loved the sites of graphic designers. For each website you like, make a list of why you like it, as well as how you’d improve it. Website designers tend to be visual thinkers, and so they’ll really appreciate this work. And you’ll have a much better idea of what you want.

2. Write a plan. By spelling out your goals clearly, you’ll not only know what you want, but you’ll be able to evaluate your results in the end. Set aside time to think about your objectives. Schedule several sessions for this task, because you’ll want to refine your plans over time as you clarify your goals.

I was amazed at how many designers thanked me for putting my thoughts into a plan. Most of them said that prospective clients often had only a fuzzy idea about what they wanted in their website, which in turn made it harder for them to create an accurate proposal.

The elements of my plan included:

  • Audience: Who are you aiming your site at, what do they care about, and how can your site provide them with something of value?
  • Site objectives: What do you want the site to do for you? What actions do you want visitors to take?
  • Functionality: What do you want to be able to do on the site? Add updated content? Display your products or creative work? Interact securely and privately with clients? Keep in mind that most users will visit your site using a mobile device; so make sure it uses a mobile-responsive design.
  • Look and feel: If you already have a brand identity, the site will probably serve as your flagship branded communication. If you don’t, your website will define it. Make sure the designer understands your brand personality and can translate it into the look and feel of your website.
  • Problems: Think of all the problems and issues with your current site that you want this new site to solve. I wanted a much better method for keeping my portfolio updated. So I needed a new system to capture samples and display them consistently, easily and elegantly.
  • E-commerce: Do you plan to sell products, classes or events on your site? Do you need special forms other than a standard contact form?
  • Video: Do you want to post videos or external news feeds?
  • Designer/Developer: What do you want the designer/developer to do? Some tasks you may want to delegate include helping you choose a theme, making recommendations on a platform (e.g., WordPress, SquareSpace, etc.), doing the backend development and coding, setting up a blog, optimizing your site for search, searching for and selecting photography, uploading the new site to the host, training on how to use the site, providing a usage manual (very helpful later when you’re adding content and images), and future maintenance and upkeep.

3. Establish a budget and timeline. You can spend anywhere from a few hundred bucks to tens of thousands of dollars for a site. But you get what you pay for. If you set a range for your budget, you can narrow your search to those designers working in your price spectrum and not waste your time (or their time) with designers or agencies you can’t afford. Build in more time than you think you need.

4. Create a shortlist. Once you’ve written a plan and established a budget, start looking for designers. Get referrals from friends and colleagues. If you belong to a professional or trade association, ask members for referrals. Do you admire the websites of some local firms? Call and ask who did their site and whether they’d recommend them. Cull your list to about three designers.

5. Choose carefully. Send your plan to each of the candidates and ask for a proposal. Then you’ll be able to compare their proposals equitably. Schedule a meeting with each, if not face to face, at least on the phone. Don’t discount your gut feelings about intangibles like personality match. After all, you’re entrusting your primary marketing portal to them, one you’ll be living with for next three to five years. Ask to see their portfolio and look at their work carefully. Ask for and check references.

Following these five steps should help you find a great designer. While that is just the beginning of the design process, it should put you on the right track for eventual success.