Forget More Cowbell; Your Blog Content Should Have More Of This Instead

Thanks to the flawless comic delivery of Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, “More cowbell,” has become one of the most recognized modern one-liners.

 

While more cowbell might solve some problems, unfortunately, it won’t do much to help your marketing efforts succeed. You can bang out more cowbell until…ahem… the cows come home, but it won’t make your audience more impelled to read and engage with your content.

 

What does your content need?

 

Put down your bell and do more of these two things instead:

 

Let Your Personality Sing

Unless you’re writing a technical manual, an academic piece, or something that otherwise demands a heightened degree of stuffiness and formality, relax a little. Writing in a conversational tone helps readers stay tuned in and makes them better able to grasp your message. Write like you speak so your content sounds natural and genuine. In the process:

 

  • Include references to things readers can relate to (e.g., cowbell).
  • Share relevant personal experiences to help your audience connect with the topic and to you as the author.
  • Avoid too much jargon, and don’t use fancy-dancy words to demonstrate your intelligence.

 

Approaching your writing in a more casual, conversational way doesn’t mean you will forfeit professionalism. To the contrary, you’ll improve your professional image by putting out content that readers will want to consume and share.

 

The “You” Factor

“You” is one of the most powerful words you can use in your marketing content. It instantly makes your readers a part of the conversation rather than keeping them on the outside looking in.

 

Work more “you” into your writing rather than using third person references.

 

For example, if I had written the first two sentences under this bullet as shown below, it would lose its direct connection to the reader, “’You” is one of the most powerful words business marketers can use in their marketing content. It instantly makes their readers a part of the conversation rather than keeping them on the outside looking in.”

 

And “you” becomes especially important when you’re writing about your services and products. Rather than dominating your content with sentences that begin with “We can…” or “We will…” or similar “we” wording, shift the focus on the reader and the benefits they can expect. For example: “If you…” or “You will find…” or “You’ll discover…” bring your readers into what otherwise might sound self-centered and pushy.

 

Final Notes (“Notes,” Get it?)

While more cowbell won’t make your small business marketing efforts smash hits, paying attention to how you approach the voicecow with cowbell around neck of your content can help give you star quality. Infuse more of your unique self into your writing style and speak to (rather than at) your readers.

 

Your turn! What tips and tricks have helped you connect with your readers?

 

 

 

What To Do When You’re Not In The “Write” Mind

It’s not easy to admit, but I confess that I’ve been in a bit of a mental and motivational slump where my blog is concerned. Oh, Pen with question marks implying writer's blockI’ve been writing plenty. Just not here.

 

In the past month, my work for clients included…

 

  • 16 blog posts
  • Copy for an email campaign
  • Content for a print newsletter
  • Project managing and editing a magazine for a local medical society
  • Brainstorming and writing abstracts for 10 posts of a “disruptive” nature
  • Content for two websites
  • Two press releases
  • Two industry editorials
  • A corporate retirement announcement
  • Two case studies
  • And a few other odds and ends to boot.

 

I haven’t been sitting around twiddling my thumbs or spending hours meandering around town playing Pokémon Go. Still, I’ve beat myself up about not following through with tending to my responsibilities here.

 

This post isn’t intended to show you how busy I’ve been, but rather to demonstrate that sometimes something’s gotta give. Occasionally, you might find you’re not in the “write” mind or you have put forth so much effort elsewhere that you have nothing left to give to your blog. Feeling guilty or less of a professional because of it won’t change the situation.

 

The moral of the story: Not having the drive and determination to write for your blog doesn’t make you a slacker.

 

Fortunately, my business hasn’t seemed to suffer as a result of my silence in this space, but if you count on your company blog to draw in traffic and produce leads the same might not be true for you.

 

So, what can you do if you’re overwhelmed with your other business obligations and undermotivated to write for your blog?

 

A few ideas:

 

  • Schedule dedicated time for the task. Just knowing you’ve planned for it and aren’t cutting into the time you should be doing something else might help you put your mind to it.

 

  • Pick a topic you’re pumped up about. When you’re enthused about the subject matter, it’s far more enjoyable to write about it.

 

  • Break up the work. Instead of sitting down for hours to write a post, do it in three shorter sessions: One for research and jotting down rough ideas; a second for organizing those ideas and writing a draft; and a third for editing and fine tuning.

 

  • Hire someone to write for you. If you know you absolutely won’t get to it or if you just plain aren’t “feeling it,” don’t force it. Your time will be better spent on other work that’s critical to your business success and you’ll have the posts you need to keep your marketing efforts on track.

 

The next time you find yourself in the midst of a blog writing slump, find some comfort knowing you’re not alone. It happens to all of us—and you have ways around it.

 

Your turn: What frustrates you most about writing slumps? How do you overcome them?

 

The Difference Between Writing, Editing, And Proofreading

Writing.Writing, Editing, Proofreading. Oh My!

Editing.

Proofreading.

 

No. They. Are. Not. The. Same.

 

Someone who is good (or even exceptional) at one doesn’t mean they’re decent at the others.

 

So, what’s the diff?

 

Writing

One of the definitions Merriam-Webster has for writing is, “the way that you use written words to express your ideas or opinions.”

 

The way I see it, in the simplest terms, writing is the process of stringing words together to communicate a message and make an impression on readers. In practice, it’s a far more complex activity than that because it requires the capacity to think through how to get from point A to point B, to choose effective words, and to structure thoughts in a way that strikes a chord with readers.

 

Writing requires creativity and the knack for connecting the dots to pull ideas and bits of information together and communicate them coherently.

 

A writer’s personal style, the type of assignment, and the audience the writer—or a writer’s client—wants to connect with will flavor the tone and formality of writing.

 

Editing

“Prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it” is how Oxford Dictionaries defines “edit.”

 

Most writers I know often edit their own writing to fine-tune how it flows, eliminate wordiness, and modify sentence structure and word choice. For me, it’s part of the process to ensure the end product I’m delivering to a client is as close as possible to what it needs to be. And of course, editing (typically in the form of minor tweaks) after getting feedback from clients comes with the territory, too.

 

Some editors are really good writers, but not all are and they don’t necessarily have to be. When editing, you don’t have to create the story and message; you’re improving upon the writing so it’s as effective as possible. Editors need to have proficiency in making changes that will ensure writing makes sense, uses proper grammar, has effective sentence structure, and uses the right words. They need an ability to both pay attention to details and look at a piece of writing from a birds-eye view to make sure all parts of it are effective parts of the whole.

 

The extent and degree of editing can depend on the type of writing, quality of writing, and length of a written piece. If you’re looking for editing assistance, you might see the various levels of editing referred to as:

 

  • Copy editing – Focuses on grammar, punctuation, and proper word usage.
  • Line editing – Focuses on the sentence or paragraph level rather than the broad scope of the piece.
  • Substantive or heavy editing – Goes beyond the two above and polishes sentences to improve clarity and flow. It will eliminate overuse of passive voice, repetition, awkward wording, and run-on sentences. This type of editing also involves checking facts and rearranging or reworking parts of the writing if necessary.

 

Some characteristics of editing (copy editing in particular) overlap with those of proofreading.

 

But they are not the same!

 

Proofreading

Proofreading comes after writing and editing.

 

Dictionaries.com defines it as: “to read (printers’ proofs, copy, etc.) in order to detect and mark errors to be corrected.”

 

It involves a final check of a piece of writing before it’s published to catch minor mistakes in spelling, spacing, punctuation, inconsistency in indentation of paragraphs, etc.

 

Contrary to what you might assume, not all writers and editors are capable proofreaders. Proofreading requires a skillset all its own, and it’s never ideal for people (writing and editing professionals included) to proofread writing assignments they’ve been working on. Sometimes (depending on how heavy my workload is), I’ll ask a proofreader to review what I’ve written and fix any errors I might have made.

 

When you write or edit something, you’re too close to it, and it’s far too easy for your brain to trick your eyes into seeing perfection where it doesn’t exist. For example, you might not catch an extra “the” where it doesn’t belong or an incorrect “they’re” where there should be a “their.” We’ve all seen published blog posts with those sort of oopses. They can happen to the very best writers—because writers aren’t proofreaders. Yes, writers will do their best to make sure what they write is as clean as possible (and often it will be error free after they’ve reread it a couple of times to catch sneaky mistakes), but a second set of eyes on a piece of writing (yours or a pro proofreader’s) can further ensure perfection.

 

Writing, Editing, Proofreading – Which Do You Need?

It depends.

 

If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might benefit from asking a writer to help you with your content.

 

  • Do I have trouble formulating topics and ideas that will captivate my target audience?

 

  • Do I struggle writing thoughts, information and ideas in a way that makes sense to others?

 

  • When I write, does it sound stilted and unnatural rather than genuine?

 

  • Do I have trouble getting to the point when I write?

 

  • Would I rather have a root canal than write a blog post?

 

If you’re considering working with a freelance writer, keep in mind that rarely are writers skilled at all types of writing projects or a good fit for all industries.

If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might need an editing professional’s touch.

 

  • Am I good at formulating topics and ideas and writing them in an understandable way, but do I have trouble varying the structure of sentences so they sound less boring?

 

  • Does my writing sound monotonous and lack variety in word choice?

 

  • Do I creatively convey my message when I write but struggle with organizing the content so it flows logically for readers?

 

  • Do I find that I repeat myself or become long-winded when I write?

 

  • Do I enjoy the creative process of writing but not going back to fine-tune what I’ve written?

 

If you answer yes to any of the below questions, you might need a proofreader’s help.

 

  • Am I good at writing clearly and coherently, but I make a lot of silly mistakes in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc.?

 

  • Do I have time to review what I’ve written with a fine-toothed comb to make sure it’s error free?

 

  • Do I loathe attention to detail?

 

Writing, editing, proofreading…they’re different yet all extremely important when creating and publishing content of any type. If you don’t have all three skillsets in-house, consider getting the help of professionals who can make sure your content consistently puts your business’s best foot forward.

Common Sense Tips For Using Humor In Your Blog Posts

We all love to laugh. But our individual tastes in humor vary—often considerably.Man laughing hard

Think about it. You’ve probably encountered moments when…

  • you laughed hysterically at a punch line on a sitcom, while your significant other managed a quiet and solitary, “Ha.”
  • you and a friend compared notes on the latest big screen comedy, and your reviews weren’t exactly in sync.
  • you cracked a one-liner that had you doubled over and in tears while those around you remained unamused.

As awkward as a mismatched sense of humor can be on a personal level, it can create reader perception problems for your business if you’re not careful when attempting to infuse laughs into your blog content.

How Can You Keep Your Attempts At Humor In Your Blog From Falling Flat?

My latest guest post on the TDS Biz Blog shares why humor is a slippery slope and how you can maintain your footing when incorporating it into your posts.


By Dawn Mentzer (a.k.a. The Insatiable Solopreneur™)

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hyphen or No Hyphen: That is the Question?

To hyphenate or not hyphenate compound words? I find myself grappling with that question from time to time as I’m writing. I’ll bet you do, too.Question mark

So what are the rules? What’s right? What’s wrong? That’s tough to decipher because, as you’ve surely observed online, most of us take a lot of liberties with the English language.

Rules about hyphenation

The Chicago Manual of Style provides a nifty table identifying how you should treat compounds.

In your spare time, you might want to dig into it. In the meantime, here are some quick tips related to some common scenarios:

 

Ages

  • If used as an adjective before a noun or as a noun, hyphenate.

Examples:

My thirteen-year-old daughter

A thirteen-year-old

  • If used as an adjective after a noun, don’t hyphenate.
    Example:
                She turns thirteen years old today.

Fractions – Hyphenate.

Examples:

one-quarter

one-half

I’m two-thirds done with that project.

Percentages – Don’t hyphenate.

Examples:

12 percent

An 80 percent increase
Self compounds – Hyphenate.

Examples:

Self-employment

 Self-employed

Self-sufficient
Adverbs ending with -ly + an adjective – Don’t hyphenate.

Examples:

That was dangerously close

 A highly paid actor
Adverbs not ending with -ly + an adjective

  • If used before a noun, hyphenate.

Example:

The well-attended conference

  • If used after a noun, don’t hyphenate.Example:
    The conference was well attended

Noun + gerund (a noun that’s formed by taking a verb and adding “ing”)

  • If used as an adjective before another noun, hyphenate.

Example:
Policy-making procedures

  • Otherwise, don’t hyphenate.Example:
    She’s skilled at policy making

Phrases used as adjectives

  • If used before a noun, hyphenate.

Example:

A state-of-the-art solution

  • If not used before a noun, don’t hyphenate.

Example:

That solution is state of the art

 

Compound words that stand as one – Some compounds don’t need a hyphen or spaces between them regardless of how they’re used. Some examples…

Examples:

online
website
takeaway
heartbreaking
biweekly
mindset
overachieve

 

Ultimately, using a hyphen when you technically shouldn’t or not using one when you should will go either unnoticed or ignored. Online, it’s sort of like the wild, wild west. Traditional writing rules seem meant to be broken. I think, in part, that’s what makes many folks’ writing so engaging, conversational, and easy to relate to.

So why even mention the rules? Whether we follow them to a T or not, our awareness of them makes us stronger, more educated writers.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

 

Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

5 Simple Tips to Improve Your Writing Right Now

As a freelance writer, I’ve talked with a lot of business owners and professionals who have shared that writing isn’t Tips to improve your writing now.among their core competencies. But communicating effectively via email, blogs, and social media channels requires a degree of writing aptitude.

Writing well in business will help you:

  • Express your ideas more clearly.
  • Define your expectations.
  • Gain approval and acceptance.
  • Project your intentions.
  • Move prospects, clients, colleagues, employees, and vendors to action.

While bringing in the help of a professional writer/editor can can benefit you immensely if writing isn’t among your entrepreneurial strong points, there are a few things you can do on your own to improve your writing immediately.

Quick Writing Fixes to Make You a Better Communicator

    • Get to the point.
      Don’t overcomplicate your message by going off on tangents or trying to cram too many main points into a single communication. Avoid confusion by making your focus clear to your readers. You’ll find them more likely to stay tuned in if they know what to expect.

 

    • Use bullet points.
      When you’ve got several key points to address, separate and emphasize them by putting them in a bulleted list. It will help keep your writing more organized, and readers will find it easier to digest that information.

 

    • Give it some space.
      Large chunks of text are a turn off to readers. Infuse your writing with “eye rests” (a.k.a. paragraph breaks and white space between them) so your audience can consume your content without feeling overwhelmed by the weight of too much text in a tight space.

 

    • Spell check – and then double check.
      I know. Spell Check has its flaws, but it does pick up on blatant fat-finger errors. Always, always, always run Spell Check on your writing. And when you’re finished, look it over again yourself (or better yet, ask someone else to proofread it) to pick up on any sneaky oopses that might have slipped by. Even though most readers are tolerant of a small mistake (We’re all human after all.), it looks unprofessional and sloppy if you’ve got multiple errors in a single piece of writing.

 

  • Read it aloud.
    I think this is the very best way to ensure you’re on target with your writing. Whenever you write, whatever you write, read it out loud before sharing it with anyone else. Not only will you find this effective for catching mistakes, you’ll also be able to assess the appropriateness of your tone. Does it sound like you? Is it implying sarcasm you hadn’t intended? Does it seem too long?

Incorporating the above won’t turn you into a stellar writer overnight, but it will improve your readers’ experience immediately. And it will make them more likely to tune in rather than tune out.

 

By Dawn Mentzer

4 Things to Think About Before You Write Content for Your New Website

Writing your own content for your website – it’s pretty much on par with cleaning the cat’s litter Schoolboy writingbox or getting a root canal. But there’s no escaping it as a small business owner, unless you decide to hire someone to do it for you. And even then, you need to be closely involved in the process.

Your website can rise or fall depending on the quality of your content. That’s why it’s so important to invest yourself in the process of creating well-thought and well-written content for your site.  It’s hard work. Trust me, I know. I recently relaunched my website and found it extremely daunting to write my own content. Go figure! Writing for clients’ websites generally goes quite smoothly, but writing about what I know best (i.e. ME!) gave me a run for my money.

 

Need to write content for your website? Prepare for the work ahead by realizing you’ll need to do…

 

Dedicate time to creating, reviewing, and revamping content.

Expect to spend hours and hours and more hours on your website content.  It takes time to figure out what key points and details you want to communicate on each page – and even more time to sit down and write about them. Then there’s the likelihood you’ll find yourself not 100% pleased with your first draft – or maybe even your second or third. Because you’ll want your content to be nearly perfect when your website launches, anticipate you’ll be doing a fair share of rewriting your own content, too.

 

Put yourself in the prospective client’s shoes.

You know your services and products inside out. You know they’re really good. You know they can help your audience. Now you need to inform, convince, and convert your site visitors. That means your content has to give readers the details they need about what you offer, tell them what’s in it for them, and give them reason and motivation for calling, emailing, or completing your online contact form.

 

Watch your tone.

As you’re writing your content, you’ll need to keep your brand’s personality in mind. Your content needs to sound like your company in tone and formality. Does it make sense to push the envelope with a degree of edginess or is your brand more conservative? For nearly every type of business, I think a conversational style is effective, but to what extent varies.

 

Comply with space constraints within the design.

Certain design frameworks and templates have elements like text blocks, sliders, etc.  Where they occur on your website, your writing will need to be brief and to the point because there’s not enough space to fit long chunks of text. Easy enough, right? Believe it or not, writing less can often prove more difficult than writing more. You’ll need to choose your words more carefully because there will be fewer of them to get the message across.

 

A few tips to help you when you’re writing your own website content:

  • Schedule time on your calendar for working on your content. If you don’t have it baked into your calendar, you’ll be tempted to push it off to another day, week, month…and that could delay your website’s debut – not to mention, it could strain your relations with your web designer who is waiting on you to fulfill your end of the bargain.

 

  • Ask your customers what they find most valuable about working with you? Review past testimonials to see if there are common themes. If certain qualities about your customer service or approach to delivering services stands out in the minds of your clients, it will probably stand out to prospects as well.

 

  • Read aloud everything you write and ask yourself, “Does it sound like us?” If it doesn’t, back to the drawing board!

 

  • If you’re struggling with your content, consider asking a professional writer/editor for assistance. If  pondering what to write and revising your content over and over again are pulling you away from revenue-producing activities, your cost to hire a freelancer could pay for itself. Yes, you’ll still need to get involved via providing information and feedback, but you’ll lighten your load by outsourcing the heavy lifting.

Your turn! If you’ve written your own website content, what challenges and frustrations have you experienced? If you’ve outsourced your website writing, did you find it worth the dollars spent?

By Dawn Mentzer

(This has been another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post)

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

What To Do When You’re Wishy-Washy About Writing About Yourself

Even writers who seem adept at writing about any topic can find themselves at a loss for words when it’s time to write aboutDoubt themselves. So, if you get stumped when faced with crafting a bio for a guest post, or creating a Linkedin profile, or writing content for your website, know that you’re not alone!

So solopreneurs, why is it so doggone difficult to write about ourselves and our accomplishments?

It makes us feel uncomfortable.
Bye, bye, comfort zone! A lot of people don’t enjoy shining the spotlight on themselves. While you don’t have to happily bask in the glow of drawing attention to yourself, as a small business owner you occasionally need to put yourself center stage. Sorry. It comes with the territory if you want to succeed.

We don’t want to sound like we’re bragging.
Humility can be an admirable trait, but not if it prevents you from rightfully highlighting your capabilities, skills and accomplishments.  If you’re honest and not obnoxious when sharing what you can do and what you’ve done, it’s not bragging. With the right tone, language and approach, you can communicate your best self without sounding self-centered.

We don’t know where to begin – or end.
So how much is too much to share with readers? Think about relevance to your audience and about how much content is appropriate for the forum in which it’s being shared. While you’re writing about  yourself, put yourself in your readers’ shoes and think about what they will find interesting and intriguing about you. You want them to respect you – and relate to you. Regarding how much content you should include, check out what’s the norm for the particular type of piece you’re writing. You can get away with sharing more on the About page of your website than you can in the bio that’s included at the end of a guest blog post.

We don’t think we’re worth writing about.
If this is at the root of your writer’s block, it’s time to get a reality check. Ask clients and colleagues what makes you someone they enjoy doing business with.  What is it about you and your services that brings value to them? And if you’re too shy to ask them directly, refer to the testimonials you’ve collected or ask them to write recommendations of you on Linkedin. You’re worth it – and if you won’t take your own word for it, take someone else’s.

Still not feeling warm and fuzzy about writing about yourself?  Then you might consider contracting a freelance writer to help you or enlist the assistance of a friend who is a good communicator. Getting a third party involved who can objectively sort through all the great things you have going for you and project them effectively in a compelling (but not self-absorbed) way can take the pressure off of you. Plus, it might give you a fresh perspective about you as a professional and bring you awareness of strengths and competitive advantages you might be overlooking.

What about you? What types of self-featuring writing has been most difficult for you?

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net