My New Year’s Resolution: Take More.

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I figured, “Why not?” Focusing on making ourselves better and doing Write it on your heart quote showing woman looking out to seaour work more effectively doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. I certainly have room for improvement, so I think laying out some strategies to become the person and solopreneur I strive to be makes sense.

 

In thinking through what I’d like to achieve in 2017, I discovered a theme.

 

I realize I need to “take” more.

Take stock.

Why is it we tend to dwell on what’s not right or what’s lacking in our personal and professional lives? I intend to start and end each day on a note of gratitude, taking stock of all I have to be thankful for.

Take 5 more often.

I’ve learned that overextending myself and cramming too much into too little time doesn’t benefit anyone. Not me. Not my family. Not my clients. Not my friends. When I need breaks, I’m going to take them. None of us can sustain a schedule that doesn’t leave room for rest and recovery.

Take a deep breath.

It seems as though we’re always jumping. Jumping to conclusions, jumping to judgment, and jumping at chances. But leaping before looking can lead to poor decisions and destroyed relationships. I vow to allow myself the time to take a breath and listen and think before offering opinions and making choices. I don’t know anyone who has ever regretted or suffered as a result of carefully thinking before speaking or acting on something, do you?

Take care.

Rushing never yields quality results. By consciously and methodically taking care, I can better avoid making those stupid little mistakes that gnaw at the core of my being for hours on end. Doing it right the first time saves time and sustains self-confidence.

Take a chill pill.

I’m a worrier. Not so much about myself but about others who I care about and who are going through difficult times. That’s not productive. Worry helps no one. What does help is keeping a cool head, giving a shoulder to lean on, providing guidance, and offering a helping hand.

Take it with a grain of salt.

Constructive criticism from trusted advisors and other people who care about you can serve as valuable feedback to move you down a more successful path. But naysayers offering unsolicited advice or making disparaging remarks about you or how you do something typically don’t have your best interests at heart. I intend to take their words with a grain of salt and consider their motivation. If someone offers harsh words that aren’t in the spirit of helping you improve, then it’s likely they’re driven by jealousy, rivalry, or by an inherently mean disposition.

The Overarching Plan For The New Year

So, my plan to take control of 2017 is to take more. What have you placed on your list of resolutions? Could you benefit from taking more, too, in the New Year?

 

Six Ways Running A Small Business Is Like Raising A Rescue Pit Bull

I started my freelance writing business in 2010. My family and I adopted an adolescent pit bull mix from a rescue organizationYoung black and white pit bull with family on adoption day in late 2015.

 

Although the two endeavors may seem unrelated, I’ve discovered many parallels exist between being a “mom” to our pittie, Lulu, and running my business. Both have brought their fair share of challenges and triumphs. And in many ways, they’ve required a similar mindset and methodology to move things in a positive, productive direction.

 

What launching/running a small business and raising a rescue pit bull have in common:

 

  • You need patience.

Building a successful business doesn’t happen overnight, and there are often setbacks along the way. Similarly, gaining the trust and respect of a rescue pup may require an extended time frame. When I transitioned from a corporate job to starting my own business, it took a couple of years before I went from “feast or famine” mode to having a consistently full plate of work from clients. After adopting Lulu one year ago (she had two homes and was in residence at a rescue twice prior to coming to us), we’re still working on some trust and behavioral issues. Patience isn’t optional when raising a dog that has been through disruption and disappointment—nor is it optional when building a business.

 

  • You can’t get lazy.

Starting and running a business requires your energy and attention nearly all of the time. Likewise, pit bulls are of a breed that typically needs A LOT of exercise and mental stimulation. You need to stay motivated and put forth constant effort to make things work. Lulu needs miles of brisk walks each day, bouts of play when she can go “all out” to expend pent-up energy, and training exercises to stimulate her brain. Without those things, she becomes mischievous and less obedient, akin to a naughty toddler.

 

Similarly, your business will retaliate if you ignore its basic needs. Unless you tend to every aspect of running your company, you’ll eventually lose control.

 

  • Bad behavior, if not corrected, could come back to bite you.

I don’t mean that literally. Pit bulls get a bad rap even though they ranked 4th among 122 different canine breeds in temperament testing by the American Temperament Test Society, Inc. But I digress.

 

With Lulu, I’ve learned that consistently reinforcing good behavior and discouraging what isn’t desirable has helped her gain more self-control and confidence in stressful or overstimulating situations. Mixed messages don’t work when training rescue dogs—and they don’t work in business either. If you pick up bad habits and don’t make the effort to follow through on what you begin, you’ll either miss—or screw up—opportunities. Exercising self-discipline and setting ground rules are the keys to accomplishing your goals.

 

  • You might bite off more than you can chew if you don’t do some research first.

Although I’ve always had dogs as part of my family, Lulu is my first pit bull. Because her breed is so widely misunderstood, adopting her brought with it a higher level of responsibility than if we had rescued a different type of dog. Thankfully, we took some time to educate ourselves about pit bulls before jumping in and bringing her home. Oh, we still met some surprises and challenges, but having a foundation of knowledge and understanding has definitely helped us.

Similarly, if you don’t prepare yourself with some self-education before starting and running a business, you could find yourself overwhelmed. With legal, accounting, marketing, sales, and every other responsibility to manage, you need take stock of what you know, what you don’t know, and what resources you’ll need to cover all the bases.

 

  • There’s no one-size-fits-all system for success.

Some training techniques that have worked for other pit bull owners have not worked for us. Some popular approaches to thwarting undesirable behavior either excite Lulu, putting her into crazy overstimulation mode, or they have no effect at all. We’ve had to go through a long process of trial and error.

 

Running a business successfully also requires experimentation. What has worked for other business owners won’t necessarily be the right M.O. for you. While it’s to your advantage to be open to advice from others, consider that your situation isn’t the same as theirs.

 

I’ve also discovered that to some degree I need to adjust my working style to accommodate individual clients’ needs and preferences. Although I have some standard rules of engagement that I’m not willing to comprise, I’ve found it’s extremely beneficial to exercise some flexibility. For example, with some clients I collaborate and exchange information predominantly via email, attaching content via Word documents. With others, I share content via Google Drive. And then others prefer using Trello. The point is, you’ll likely find your clients will have their own way of doing things, and you’ll add value and gain loyalty by accommodating them. Before you agree, however, make sure their approach will work efficiently for you and won’t add unreasonable amounts of time or cost.

 

  • It’s well worth the hard work.

There’s satisfaction in seeing positive results after you’ve put mind, body, and soul into an endeavor. This is true when your business is thriving and when raising a rescue dog who becomes well adjusted in your care.

 

When I think about how I went from “zero” customers and feeling as though I had to grab whatever work I could find to now having loyal, quality clients who often max-out project schedule, I’m thankful and fulfilled.

 

As for Lulu, I feel pride and a sense of great accomplishment at how far she has come in so many ways since we brought her home a little over a year ago.

 

Assuming the “Leader Of The Pack” Role

Whether you’re running a business or raising a pit bull, to make it work you must pledge your commitment to putting forth the effort and not shying away from the challenge. You’ll have good days when the world is all belly rubs and off-leash romps. You’ll have crappy days that feel like long, long walks on a short leash.

As the pack leader, it’s on you to make the most of opportunities and overcome obstacles.

 

Your turn: If you’re a entrepreneur and pit bull (or other breed) dog mom/dad, what parallels have you drawn between running your business and raising your rescue dog?

And for those of you just considering making a pet a part of your family, remember to “adopt don’t shop”!

Are You Squandering Your Time And Energy?

 

I can’t recall any event in my 52 years of existence that has distracted people more than this current presidential election.Alarm clock with blurry man's face behind it

 

Friends, family, acquaintances, and business contacts are on what appears to be a never-ending social media crusade to voice their disbelief, disappointment, dismay, and fury.

 

It’s their right.

 

We live in a country that allows and encourages free speech and free will. Amen.

 

However, I can’t help but wonder: How are they accomplishing anything at home or at work?

 

With vast amounts of energy spent:

 

  • Complaining;
  • Scouring the Internet for articles to support their viewpoints and confirm their suspicions; and
  • Arguing with others who don’t agree with them;

 

Are they able to capably focus on anything else?

 

None of us has limitless amounts of time or energy—especially freelance professionals and small business owners.

 

Every day, we have to choose on what tasks and which people we will spend our hours and effort.

 

If we don’t choose wisely, we don’t have anyone else to blame when we fall short on our goals.

 

I’m thankful for the freedom to spend my time and energy as I please. And I vow to exercise common sense in how I use those precious resources each and every day.

 

Squandering is not an option.

 

 

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?

 

 

 

Where Has The “Friend” In “Facebook Friend” Gone?

Social media has been an ugly place lately.Sad-faced emoji

 

Spewing of vicious insults.

 

Pointing of fingers.

 

Drawing microscopic attention to every flaw and foible.

 

Dragging of friends and family into the fray.

 

What’s that? You thought I was talking about Hillary and Donald?

 

Sadly, no. I’m seeing all of those things happening in my Facebook news feed and on the timelimes of friends, business colleagues, and casual acquaintances.

 

I’m seriously astounded—and sorely disappointed—by the show of intolerance of others’ rights to their own opinions on social media. Disagreement over who should be elected President should neither be a relationship deal breaker nor a free pass to trash others. The POTUS will be in office for four (or maybe eight) years. Disowning relatives and removing friends from your holiday party guest list in the heat of the moment could become lifelong regrets.

 

We all have to do a better job at accepting that people will disagree with us. And we have to do much better at realizing we can’t accurately make assumptions about someone’s personal nature when they see things differently than we do.

 

On social media, it’s not so much whether we support Trump or Clinton that shines a light on our true character; it’s how we treat and react to others—even those who have decided to vote for the candidate not of our choosing.

 

Are you fed up with the less than friendly way your Facebook friends are conducting themselves on social media? Have you had fallings-out with friends and family because of disagreements over the upcoming election? Please feel free to share (or vent) here—respectfully, of course!

Crappy Day? Consider These 18 Ideas To Make It Less Crappy.

These past several weeks have been tough. My freshman daughter took a hit to her self-confidence after making it to call backs for young-african-american-girl-with-thumbs-upthe high school fall play but not getting chosen for the cast. We rescued a sweet Staffordshire terrier/Pitbull mix (Loki) and discovered that the fit won’t be a good one with our resident female pitty mix. And my last remaining grandparent was diagnosed with esophageal cancer; it could be just days or weeks before she departs this earth.

Unable to make it all better for my daughter, grappling with the feeling of failing Loki even as we have found a new loving home for him, and losing my 91-year-old grandma—all at once—has tested my strength and coping abilities. Very little of what has come our way has been in my control. I struggle with that.

Feeling sorry for myself and unempowered isn’t an option. And while I realize I can’t change the present circumstances, I know there’s always a way to make any situation better by doing something that you feel really good about. So after experiencing the mental after effect of giving a homeless man a $5 bill in downtown Lancaster last week, I felt inspired to tweet this the other day…

Tweet by Dawn Mentzer

Staying aware of moments when you can do something nice, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, really can help restore some hope, happiness, and control when you’re at a low point.

And there are plenty of opportunities to make someone else’s day a little brighter or easier; we just have to listen beyond the noise and look beyond the dark veil of our own misfortunes to hear and see them.

Whether with friends, family, clients, colleagues, or complete strangers, you can help turn days around—for them and for you—with…

Simple and immediately uplifting random acts of kindness.

1. Buy them a cup of coffee.
2. If they’re sitting alone, ask them to join you.
3. If they drop something, pick it up for them.
4. Open the door for them.
5. Give them a sincere compliment.
6. Offer to push their grocery cart back to the cart return area.
7. Tell them you appreciate them.
8. Tell them you’re proud of them.
9. Help them with a chore or task.
10. Ask if they need someone to talk to.
11. Tell them they’re good enough.
12. Forgive them.
13. Listen with your full attention.
14. Tell them you understand.
15. Tell them they’re not alone.
16. Send a funny e-card.
17. Call them to just say, “Hi.”
18. Smile at them.

According to an article in Tech Times, research indicates people who perform acts of kindness may help reduce their stress level and improve their outlook.

Put simply, doing a random act of kindness can turn your crappy day around. And that’s a win both personally and professionally—for relationships, productivity, and ability to deal with whatever comes your way.

I’d say that’s a worthy investment of just seconds or minutes each day, how about you?

Your turn! What random acts of kindness have you done lately?

Image of young girl with thumbs up is courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Get Over It: Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Using A Ghostwriter

It’s an ethical dilemma for some clients. Is it right to claim authorship for a piece of writing that you’ve hired someone else toGet Over It - Text write?

 

As a freelancer who ghostwrites blog posts and articles for clients, I find that’s prospects’ biggest hesitation about using a ghostwriter. They feel guilty about posting something as their own if they haven’t personally written it.

 

Does that sound like you?

 

Get over it.

 

There’s no shame in hiring a professional who can do the job better than you can. Many people simply don’t have the time or writing skills to craft a compelling, well-written blog post or article. And rushing to get to the finish line or forcing a skill that doesn’t come naturally can cost you in several ways.

 

  • Whether you’re submitting an article to a high-profile industry publication or posting on your own blog, creating a piece of writing that’s sub-standard can cause embarrassment and hurt your professional reputation. At best, prospects and customers will think you had a bad day. At worst, they’ll think you’re careless and incompetent.

 

  • Without the natural ability and skills, you might find yourself spending a half-day or more on a 500-word post. So much for productivity and effective use of your time! Yes, hiring a ghostwriter will cost you some money, but what’s your time worth?

 

  • You might miss out on valuable readership if your writing doesn’t have an attention-grabbing headline or doesn’t incorporate the information and keywords to help it become found by search engines.

 

Still not feeling comfortable about the idea of hiring a ghostwriter?

 

If completely turning over your writing to someone behind the scenes unnerves you, know that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can still have a hand in the process when you hire a ghostwriter by doing one or more of the following:

 

  • Take an active role in brainstorming topics.
  • Contribute your expertise and experience by giving your ghostwriter specific key details you want to communicate.
  • Craft a very rough draft and let your ghostwriter flesh it out and refine it.

 

No matter what your involvement, make sure your ghostwriter understands your “voice.” The tone, wording, and style should sound like you, not the ghostwriter. Always review and read aloud what your ghostwriter has written and ask for a revision if the piece seems out of character. Even though you haven’t written it, the writing needs to genuinely reflect you.

 

So, don’t feel guilty about hiring a ghostwriter. It’s a wonderful way to eliminate the stress, preserve your valuable time, and ensure you’re presenting your very best professional image online.

 

Your turn! What has stopped you from using a ghostwriter for your blog or other writing? If you use a ghostwriter, what benefits have you gleaned from it?

 

 

 

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?

 

Three Sure-Fire Cost-Cutting Moves For Solopreneurs And Small Business Owners

Ever since I started my own solo business, something a SCORE mentor said during a startup workshop six years ago has stuck Dollar bills graphicwith me:

 

“Money is the language of business. For your business to thrive, you need to learn to speak the language.”

 

He didn’t mean that all that matters in business is the money, but rather that your business financials tell how effectively you’re running your business. You need to have some understanding of profit and loss and other accounting basics.

 

No business is too small to care about profitability. Even for a very small business like mine, a healthy profit matters.

 

But what if, like me, you only have so many viable options for increasing your revenue without adding headcount or complexity to your operations? How do you boost your profitability then?

 

I think you already know the answer: Cut costs.

 

Three Ways Your Small Business Can Cut Costs

 

Think Before You Spend

Is it a “must have” or a “nice to have”? Obviously, the “must haves”—the things you need to do your job and keep your business running—shouldn’t be ignored. But the “nice to haves” can usually wait.

 

Before you buy, ask yourself…

 

  • Do I need this to effectively create or deliver my products and services to my clients?
  • Will my brand be at a competitive disadvantage if I don’t buy this?
  • Can I make more money if I buy this?
  • Will I use this?

 

This applies to anything and everything—from business software to networking group memberships.

 

Use Tools That Free Up Your Time

When you’re running a very small business, especially one that’s service-based, your time IS money. The more time you spend on the administrative and marketing aspects of your business, the less time you have to spend on revenue-producing work. Over the past several years, I’ve been using—and have seen others use—a number of online platforms and mobile apps that make various tasks far less cumbersome and time consuming.

 

A few you might want to check out include:

 

Quote Roller powered by PandaDoc – Online software for generating proposals and securing contracts

 

With Quote Roller becoming PandaDoc in 2015, the software also provides sales document management capabilities. I’ve been using Quote Roller for the past two years to send proposals to clients, which then become executed agreements when they sign off with their electronic signatures. With the ability to save pre-written text blocks to a library for future use, the platform makes it far quicker and easier to “roll out” proposals than crafting all pieces from scratch.

 

Trello – For coordinating efforts and managing projects

 

I’ve used several other project management tools when clients have insisted, and I have yet to experience one that is more streamlined and straightforward than Trello. The drag-and-drop interface and simple collaborative features have helped me keep projects with multiple moving parts and players well organized and on track.

 

QuickBooks Online* – For invoicing clients, recording all business financial transactions, and keeping tax information in one central place

 

I’ve used this for the past three years and I enjoy the intuitive interface in addition to the peace of mind that all of my financial data is automatically backed up.

 

Invoice2go – Mobile app providing the ability to invoice clients immediately onsite with a debit or credit card

 

Invoice2go can save entrepreneurs time and help them get paid faster by giving them a convenient, on-the-spot way to take care of business. I haven’t used this app because it’s rare that I would need to invoice clients at their locations, but I can see how it would save other small businesses a lot of time and headaches.

 

Hootsuite – Social media management tool for posting to and monitoring activity on social media platforms

 

I primarily use Hootsuite for keeping up with the fast pace of Twitter. It has saved me gobs of time, enabling me to see activity of users on my various Twitter lists through a single dashboard. And I don’t know what I’d do without the Hootlet browser extension. With it, I can compose and schedule tweets to share content directly from the web pages I’m visiting.

 

Shop Around For The Best Deal

I feel almost silly including this tip, but I know people who buy from the first place they find an item if the price sounds reasonable enough. As you’re equipping your office, whether it’s at home or at another site, look for sales and special deals in print and online. It just seems wrong to buy anything (especially big ticket items like copiers/printers, computers, etc.) at full retail price when there are ALWAYS deals somewhere at all times. Yes, it may take a little research and time, but what you save will likely make it well worth your while.

 

Frugality Pays Off  

Don’t confuse frugality with being cheap. There’s a difference.

 

If you’re frugal, you’re economically savvy and conscious of getting the best products and services at the best possible price.

 

Cheap means wanting whatever costs the very least regardless of quality.

 

Frugality will give you the wherewithal to cut costs without compromising your business integrity and reputation.

Is Your Blog Violating Other Websites’ Terms of Use?

With plenty written about the perils of accidentally infringing on the copyright of images we find online, most of us are well awareProceed with caution symbol: yellow triangle with white exclamation point in middle we should never use a photo unless the right to use and attribution requirements are crystal clear. And we all know it’s illegal to copy someone else’s content verbatim and present it as our own. But did you know that some companies have language within their websites’ “Terms of Use” that call for anyone citing or quoting any of their content to have explicit permission from them to do so first? Some terms of use even state that links to any other page other than their Home page are a no-no.

 

Of course, if you read the terms of use of every website you visit, you already know this.

 

Uh yeah…who does that? And websites don’t typically make it apparent that they even have terms of use (typically the links to them are discreetly positioned in small type at the bottom of websites), let alone language within them that restricts how you reference or link to their content.

 

As I was digging into this topic, I found very little about it from internet marketing experts or anyone else. Which leads me to believe a lot of people may not realize that mentioning statistics from certain companies or linking to a business’s blog post or extracting a quote from an article—even with attribution—could land you in some trouble.

 

So, I’ve asked Matthew Landis, attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, PA to share his expertise and thoughts on what we should watch out for and what the risks are if we violate—even if unintentionally—a websites’s terms of use.

 

Q1. How can companies be legally allowed to restrict people from mentioning their content or linking to the pages of their websites that they’ve made publicly available?

 

A1. The legal basis for these restrictions is twofold.

 

First, intellectual property rights such as copyright and trademark grant certain exclusive rights to the intellectual property owner.

 

Copyright protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Some examples of works covered by copyright are literary or written works, photographs, and graphic works. Copyright is automatically created when the work is fixed—i.e., when the words are saved or when the photograph is taken.

 

Copyright protection extends to the content on a website—specifically, the combination of words and structure that expresses the information, but not the factual information itself. Someone infringes on another’s copyright when they violate one of the copyright holder’s exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, or create derivative works. The fair use doctrine provides an exception, which allows others to use copyrighted works for certain, limited purposes.

 

Trademark law serves to protect against consumer confusion with a brand name or slogan and gives businesses the right to protect their commercial identity.

 

Second, the terms of use may be considered a binding contract enforceable against the user. A valid contract may be created by a user assenting to the terms by clicking “I agree” when creating an account for a website or by checking a box indicating that they have accepted the terms and conditions. Courts generally have accepted these methods of creating “clickwrap” agreements, which is a reference to the shrink wrap agreements that were made effective by a user indicating their assent to the terms printed on the label by breaking the wrapping of boxed software. A “browsewrap” agreement is typically posted on a website and does not contain an express manifestation of assent such as by clicking “I agree.” Courts are generally skeptical of “browsewrap” agreements, but the facts of each case will dictate whether an enforceable agreement has been created.

 

Q2. Are there any particular types of companies that are more likely than others to have policies restricting use of, referencing, or linking to their content?

 

A2. It generally depends on the business and its goals. Businesses that conduct research, sell information products, and creatives such as photographers and graphic designers often have some sort of policy in their terms of use that restrict a user’s right to use content hosted on their website.

 

Q3. Where can you find a company’s policy? Is it always under “terms of use” or could it be elsewhere on their website?

 

A3. Typically a link will be located in the footer of the site under “Terms,” “Terms of use,” “Terms and Conditions,” “Legal,” “Policies” or a similar link. I’ve also seen shorter statements relating to use of intellectual property (such as a Creative Commons license) or citation guidelines included in a site’s sidebar or included at the bottom of individual blog posts.

 

Q4. What do companies that restrict use of and linking to their content typically forbid or require?

 

A4. There are many ways to restrict use of content. First, as mentioned above, copyright automatically protects many types of content and there doesn’t have to be a policy or statement about it in order for the work to be protected. Often times a citation policy will include the exact way to reference the corporate entity that is the owner of the work in accordance with their branding standards. Some entities also refuse the right to use the work unless permission is requested and granted prior to the use.

 

Q5. Why would companies want to prevent others from referencing their content in their blogs? After all it’s free publicity, right?

 

A5. Content creators typically want to retain a certain amount of control over their work such as how and where it is used, and in addition often want to ensure that they are fairly compensated for their work.

 

Alternatively, if use of the work is being given for free, they want to ensure that they are quoted or referenced in a particular way so that users know the source of the information. It also helps the user identify the source of the work so if they wish to utilize the work, they can contact the owner and make appropriate arrangements to use the work.

Q6. What could happen if you mentioned a company’s content or linked to a company’s website without realizing they have a policy in place that forbids it or that requires you have permission first?

 

A6. It depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to whether any copyright or other intellectual property right has been violated by the use of the content, whether the terms of use constitute a binding contract, and the terms of use that you are subject to.

 

The first step is often a request to take down the material and a threat of legal action, however depending on the egregiousness of the violation or a company’s tolerance for impermissible use of their content, they may skip this step and demand financial damages or file a lawsuit for an injunction and damages.

 

The terms of use themselves may also state the remedies that are available to the company. The company often reserves the right to restrict or eliminate access to their services in the case of a violation of the terms.

 

If the content is being hosted by another service, such as a website provider or social media site, those terms of service will also apply to you as well. Use of these types of sites always includes a provision that you have the legal right to use all of the content that you post on the site, and in order to insulate themselves from liability, the provider of the service has a legal duty to take steps to remove content that is infringing or otherwise in violation of another’s rights.

 

For example, if you produce a video that is hosted on YouTube and use a popular song as the background music, YouTube may take action against you in accordance with the Terms of Service that you agreed to when you created your account. These remedies include termination of your account and indemnification of YouTube for any claims that arise out of your use of their service.

Q7. Any other thoughts on what blog writers should watch out for and how they should protect themselves when using information they’ve found on other websites?

 

A7. Familiarize yourself with the basics of copyright and fair use for the purposes of protecting your own content and respecting the rights of others. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has some great free resources called the Legal Guide for Bloggers that contains an overview of the basics.

 

As a general rule, if you are not the creator of the content, then you don’t have the right to use it unless that right is specifically granted in a license or the use constitutes fair use. If you are using another’s content, familiarize yourself with their terms of service and take the appropriate steps to make sure that you are able to use the content in accordance with their terms and policies.

 

Final Thoughts

As with any issue of a legal nature, consider talking with an attorney to discuss your concerns about your terms of use or the terms of use of websites that you’re visiting. This blog post is for informational purposes only; it is not a substitute for legal advice specific to your situation.

 

Attorney Matt LandisMatt Landis is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is a creative and strategic thinker that works with business owners, entrepreneurs and individuals to prevent and resolve legal problems. Matt regularly writes about legal issues at the Lancaster Law Blog.