Getting It Done Vs. Embracing the Purpose & Process

Pit bull rescue Lulu (black white with black patch over eye)

My Dog, Our Walks, And The Difference the Right Mindset Makes

I walk my dog nearly every day of the year—unless the weather prevents it. We adopted Lulu, a 5-year-old pit bull mix, from a rescue when she was seven months old. She had a tumultuous start to her life and came to us with impulse control issues and anxiety. She needs a good dose of daily exercise and mental enrichment to combat those challenges. Therefore, our walks consist of more than just short strolls around the block. Generally, we set out at a blood-pumping pace for between a half-hour and an hour and a quarter. Some days, I look forward to our trek. But on other days, it’s a chore. 

During a recent excursion with Lulu, It occurred to me that whether or not I enjoy a walk depends on my mindset going into it. If I view it as merely another task that’s taking up my already limited time, I just want to “get it done.” 

However, when I embrace the purpose and perks of the process, I look forward to and get fulfillment from our walk. 

The Purpose

  • A physical outlet to productively vent Lulu’s energy
  • An opportunity to provide Lulu with mental stimulation 
  • An opportunity to exercise Lulu’s training skills (sit at all curbs, make eye contact with me to look for direction, wait for my OK to stand and go, etc.)

The Perks of the Process

  • Feeling the physical exertion melt tension away
  • Smelling the fresh air
  • Smiling and exchanging “good afternoons” with the people (and other dogs) whom we pass
  • Stepping away from technology
  • Clearing my mind 
  • Brainstorming new ideas
  • Noticing little details about my neighborhood that escaped my attention during my past thousands of walks 
  • Getting in some quality cardio work in addition to the treadmill

When I shift my mindset from viewing walks as something I need to get done to reflecting on their “why” and what I’m experiencing during them, they become an energy source rather than a drain.

This revelation applies to work, too.

How to Get Past a Get It Done Frame of Mind and Build the Right Mindset

How many times have you awoken, looked at your calendar or to-do list for the day, and felt apathy or even dread about one or more tasks or assignments on your agenda? Too many to count? I relate. I also encounter those feelings when I’m in a “just get it done” mindset. 

It can be tough to move out of that frame of mind. Not all projects, nor the tasks associated with them, are fun, exciting, or even pleasant. 

But I find if I am mindful of the purpose and process, there’s less indifference and more fulfillment—even when tackling mundane tasks. 

For example, say I allow myself to think, “I just want to get it done,” when working on content for a client’s blog article on a topic that I’m not overly familiar with or personally interested in. That mindset will set the stage for poor focus, frustration, and a less-than-stellar outcome.

However, when I instead shape my frame of mind by focusing on the purpose and what the process brings to the table, it creates a new view.

The Purpose

  • Helping a valued client achieve their marketing and SEO goals
  • An opportunity to expand my knowledge, thus increasing my value to the client
  • Revenue that will help me achieve my earnings goal

The Perks of the Process

  • Exercising the talent I’ve been blessed with 
  • Discovering new knowledge and broadening my horizons
  • Getting closer to accomplishing all that I’ve set out to achieve for the day/week
  • Generating income to go into our savings account so we can buy that Winnebago Minnie travel trailer we’ve had our eyes on

This sort of mindfulness helps me increase my mental engagement, work more enthusiastically, and create my best work for the client. It provides a sense of accomplishment and pride in my work because I did more than just get it done. 

What’s On Your Mind?

Building the right mindset requires making up your mind to shift your perspective.

How would you apply the purpose and process to a task or project you’re currently working on? Have you discovered other ways to shift your mindset from just “getting it done” to one that’s more productive and satisfying? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

11 Tips to Get Top-Notch Work from a Freelance Writer

A Guide to Getting Optimal Results When Outsourcing Your Blog Content

Are you amping up your online marketing efforts as the pandemic continues to limit in-person interactions with existing and prospective customers?

If “yes,” you might be face-to-face with the challenge of writing high-quality blog content consistently. You’re not alone in your struggle to create content in-house. According to research by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 50 percent of B2B organizations and 55 percent of B2C organizations outsource some of their content marketing activities. Moreover, 84 percent of those B2B companies and 80 percent of the B2C companies outsource content creation.1,2

If outsourcing blog writing is uncharted territory for you, you may have some doubts and apprehension. After all, how can a freelancer know enough about your industry, brand, and your customers to do the job well? How do you even begin to get them up to speed? Won’t a freelancer be less vested in your success than an in-house writer? What should you expect, and what are your responsibilities?

All are valid concerns. In this post, I’ll share some tips to help you develop a successful working relationship with your blog writer. 

11 Best Practices When Outsourcing Content to a Freelance Writer

1. Share information about your business, your products and services, your customers, and your competitors.

Your writer will need a solid understanding of your strengths and what differentiates you from your competition. Discuss your unique value proposition and share any marketing materials, website links, and other documentation to give her an accurate picture of what your company does and stands for. The more acquainted your writer becomes with your brand, the better able she will be to write content that addresses what’s most important to your readers, strikes the right tone, and aligns with your goals.

I’ve always found that a bit too much information is better than not enough. However, carefully choose what you share with your writer. Make sure the resources are relevant and, if you provide any lengthy documents or videos, direct her to the specific sections where she’ll find valuable insight. If your writer has to watch hour-long webinars or read through volumes of material to ferret out what’s important, it may cost you more. 

2. Discuss what you wish to accomplish.

Do you have specific SEO goals that have prompted you to bring a writer on board? Or are you predominantly looking to strengthen your bond with existing customers? Whether you’re looking to attract more website visitors or deepen your existing followers’ knowledge will affect how your writer approaches your blog content. 

Your goals will also help determine whether the writer is the right person to assist you. Some freelancers are adept at appealing to readers but not well-versed in the nuances that make content more SEO-friendly. Others may have proficiency in structuring posts with elements that Google smiles upon, but they lack the knack for writing conversationally to bond with readers. And some writers have mastered both aspects of crafting blog content that will perform well with the target audience and search engines.

3. Agree on the scope of work and pricing.

This ties in with the above point, and it’s a step you’ll want to tackle before you start working with a writer.  Things to consider:

  • Will you or an SEO specialist provide topics and keyword direction to your writer? Or will your writer be responsible for brainstorming topics and proposing keyword focus?
  • What word count range do you prefer for your blog articles?
  • Will you provide key points and details that you want articles to include? Or will you expect your writer to figure out all of that via online research or interviews, etc.?
  • How many people within your organization will have to review and approve the content?
  • How do you want the writer to submit the content to you? (e.g., in Word documents via email, in a shared folder in Google Drive, or some other way?)
  • Do you want the writer to write your posts’ meta descriptions?

All of the above will affect how much time and work a writer must put into your assignments. Naturally, they will influence the writer’s rates to you and billing methodology (e.g., by the hour, per post), too. 

4. Describe your style and wording preferences.

Think about specific style preferences you want to be carried out consistently on your blog.

For example:

  • Use of the Oxford (serial) comma
  • Title and header capitalization
  • Industry acronyms and abbreviations 
  • Formatting of lists, quotes, sentence spacing, etc.
  • Compound words that might be written separately, hyphenated, or as a single word (e.g.,  health care, health-care, and healthcare)
  • Taboo words or phrases you want to avoid

5. Provide input.

Expect to be a part of the process. Your writer will be better able to produce content that showcases your authority in your field if you and other subject matter experts at your company share your expertise.

I find it extremely helpful when clients weigh in about topics—it facilitates the creation of content that genuinely reflects their value to their audience.   

6. Set reasonable deadlines.

Ideally, you and your writer will have a blog content calendar that confirms when topics will be assigned, when draft content is due, and when the final approved content will be ready to go live. If you don’t have a set schedule, make sure you give your writer ample lead time to reserve time for your assignments. Freelancers juggle work from multiple clients and must fulfill their commitments to all of them. They may not have the bandwidth in their project schedule to act on last-minute requests.  

 7. Have realistic expectations.

Writers are not miracle workers. If you’ve ignored your blog but now wish it to attract website visitors or generate a stronger following on social media, it will require time. And if you have SEO goals for your blog, many other factors besides your content will affect your results. Realize that even the most stellar blog articles cannot overcome challenges brought on by neglect, technical SEO issues, or a damaged brand reputation.   

8. Review drafts thoroughly.

While a capable writer may produce drafts that are spot on the first time, expect to ask her for some minor revisions—especially if the topic is complicated or highly specialized. Writing is a process. Give drafts your full attention when reviewing them, and let your writer know if you require any changes or additions. 

9. Provide feedback promptly.

Answer questions from your writer and provide feedback on drafts as soon as possible. Review and comment promptly (my idea of “ideal” is within one business day) to enable your writer to make necessary adjustments while the content is fresh in her mind. Swift feedback is especially critical when topics are time-sensitive. If you wait too long to give your writer your approval or change requests, the content may “expire” and no longer be relevant to your audience. 

10. Proofread before publishing.

Despite your writer’s very best efforts and your thorough review, some little “oopses” might slip by you. Whether a “to” where there should be a “too,” a missing comma, or a misspelling, errors happen occasionally. Realize that doesn’t mean you or your writer are lazy or careless. There’s a scientific reason why those little mistakes go undetected. Before publishing content, read it aloud and consider asking someone else to review it as extra quality assurance measures.

11. Be honest if it’s not the right fit.

If you’ve done all of the above, chances are you’ll have a mutually rewarding working relationship. However, sometimes things don’t pan out. If your writer is unable to grasp the subject matter or capture your brand’s tone of voice, or if they miss deadlines, make the same mistakes repeatedly, or otherwise are not delivering content that meets your expectations, let them know (respectfully). No writer is right for EVERY business, so avoid the two-sided torment of trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. If a writer is struggling and failing to meet your needs, it’s probably best for both of you to accept that and move on.

Ready to Hire a Freelance Blog Writer?

You have many resources available to help you find talented and reliable blog writers. Whether you search on Google, explore LinkedIn profiles, pursue options on freelancing platforms like Upwork, or ask your network for recommendations, keep your desired qualifications and goals in mind. If you fully understand your needs before looking for a writer, you will stand a better chance of engaging the right one from the start.

References:

1Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs. “B2B Content Marketing 2020 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends–North America.” contentmarketinginstitute.com, https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2020_B2B_Research_Final.pdf. Accessed 8 February 2021.

2Content Marketing Institute, MarketingProfs. “B2C Content Marketing 2020 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends.” contentmarketinginstitute.com, https://contentmarketinginstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/2020_B2C_Research_Final.pdf. Accessed 8 February 2021.

Cheers to 2021 Being a Better Year—More or Less

And just like that, the year we all couldn’t wait to end has passed.

2020 was indeed tough—for many people, it was far more so than for others. My family has felt the same effects of the restrictions on socializing and traveling that everyone has faced. Rather than spend time in person with our relatives and friends (aside from a few small, social-distanced outdoor outings and some meals at restaurants abiding by state and CDC guidelines this summer), we’ve kept to ourselves. We grappled with our daughter’s high school graduation being something much different and less momentous than what we envisioned. And her first year of college—which she welcomed with anticipation of more independence and new social connections—brought a much less satisfying reality (after two weeks, COVID-19 cases on campus were rising and she opted to move home and finish the semester online).  

Still, we’ve been extremely fortunate.

We’ve stayed healthy, and our friends who have fallen ill from the virus have recovered. Our daughter finished her first semester at college with a 3.8 GPA. My husband’s place of employment is in an industry well-insulated from the pandemic downturn, and my freelance content writing business has continued to thrive.

I don’t take these blessings for granted.

An Opportunity for Reflection

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. After all, does the calendar page flipping over to expose January of the year ahead make us any more committed to achieving the goals that we’ve pushed to the wayside before? I think not. However, 2020 and the pandemic have allowed more time to pause and consider life, work, and everything that goes with them. That has prompted me to create a list of my intentions for improvements in the new year. Ultimately, I’ve realized that while some things are not in my control, many are. A lot has been going right, and to remain on a positive trajectory, I need to continue to do more of some things and do less of others.

My 30-Point “More and Less” Plan for a Bright, Shiny New Year

Rather than “resolutions,” the below list represents the promises I’ve made to myself for 2021.

  1. Be more present in the moment with my family and friends. (Whether that be via phone and video calls or (let’s hope!) in person.)
  2. Spend less time on Facebook. (Politics, disagreements over wearing  masks…need I say more.)
  3. Spend more time on Babbel. (Before my trip to Italy in late 2019, I used the platform to get some basic knowledge of the Italian language. I’ve recently signed up for an annual subscription to learn Spanish.)
  4. Do less scrolling on social media. (It’s far too easy to spiral out of control down that rabbit hole.)
  5. Do more muting and unfollowing consistently negative and combative people on social media. (Adios, amigos!)
  6. Continue to focus on eating whole foods and invest in quality vitamins and supplements to maximize health. ( I am a loyal fan of the Shaklee brand. I suggest contacting Jennie Weinhold if you want to learn more about them.)
  7. Limit alcoholic beverages to a maximum of two drinks on two days a week. (Or the equivalent of one glass of wine four days a week.)
  8. Drink lots of water. (I always feel and mentally and physically perform better when I drink at least 64 ounces per day.)
  9. Spend less time in the vicinity of my smartphone. (I’m more focused, productive, and content when it’s out of reach.)
  10. Consume more kombucha. (It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Ha, ha! See what I did there? But I enjoy this probiotic, fermented tea drink. Notably, Health-Ade Kombucha Pink Lady Apple, KeVita Master Brew Kombucha Blackberry Hops and Blueberry Basil, and Brew Dr. Kombucha Island Mango.)
  11. Don’t take things personally.
  12. Have more patience. (No easy task, right? But I’ve found that taking a deep breath and giving a moment to process the situation before responding helps diffuse an immediate emotional reaction and allow for a measured, intentional response.)
  13. Show and express more gratitude for and appreciation of the people in my life.
  14. Refrain from jumping to conclusions about people’s intentions. (Less judging, more accepting.)
  15. Make more sleep a priority. (There’s no glory in trying to thrive on minimal amounts. My ideal shut-eye range is between 8.5 and 9 hours. What’s yours?)
  16. Create less self-induced stress by worrying about things out of my control.
  17. Initiate more phone and video calls to check in with family and friends to fill the void of face-to-face interaction.
  18. Find more opportunities to show kindness and give hope to people who are feeling down or struggling.
  19. Watch news broadcasts less. (I’ve learned there’s a fine line between being informed and being indoctrinated.)
  20. Do more Schroth Method. (This specialized form of physical therapy for scoliosis has been a godsend for me since I began practicing it faithfully in May of 2018 with the guidance expertise of Andrea Yaktus at Empower Physical Therapy.)
  21. Suppress negative self-talk.
  22. Stay the course with my cardio and light weights regimen. (As a former amateur competitive bodybuilder, the mandate to stop certain weight-training exercises due to my scoliosis progression was a tough pill to swallow for me. But I’ve learned ways to adapt.)
  23. Avoid interrupting people while they’re talking. (I am guilty of this!)
  24. Continue to practice intermittent fasting and keto-friendly eating. (While many people have complained of putting on the dreaded “COVID 15,” I’ve lost 15 pounds by doing these things and staying true to my exercise regimen.) 
  25. Get annoyed less. (i.e., Don’t let little things derail my attitude. Most people are doing the best they can.)
  26. Don’t obsess about my weight. (Eating restrictions and exercise enthusiasm are a double-edged sword for me. I’m an anorexia survivor, so it’s a struggle to keep healthy intentions from transforming into a self-damaging obsession with exerting control.)
  27. Complain less. (Again, most people are doing the best they can.)
  28. Keep my mind more open to opportunities that may be outside of my comfort zone but ultimately worth taking a chance on.
  29. Explore more ways to provide value to my clients and expand my business’s revenue streams–without overextending myself.
  30. Stop neglecting my blog. (As my work for clients was at an all-time high in 2020, I ignored my own blogging efforts. One might argue that if business has been so good without it, why bother? Well, it’s a matter of committing myself to what I want my blogging clients to commit to. In 2021, I need to get over not always having the “perfect” idea for a captivating long-form article. Small observations and short nuggets of wisdom can be of value, too. With that epiphany, expect to see much more coming your way from dawnmentzer.com this year.)

Forging Ahead into 2021 with Intent

Nothing that I’ve mentioned above is unattainable or too much of a stretch. Still, it will require self-determination and the recognition that no desired results come without effort.

What have you set your sights on accomplishing in 2021? What will you do more or less of?

None of us are strangers to working through adversity after experiencing 2020. If we all apply our newfound resilience to following through on our self-development goals, the year ahead will undoubtedly bring a much-improved experience for all.

Happy New Year to you!

9 Writing Tips to Master During the COVID-19 Shutdown

If your company cannot carry out business as usual during the COVID-19 crisis, you’re likely watching every penny spent. Marketing is one of the areas where you—like many other business owners—may have cut back. For selfish reasons, I wish that weren’t so. Moreover, I fear that pulling back too much on your marketing efforts will hurt your business. Michelle Garrett of Garrett Public Relations reminds us, “This WILL be over – and when it is, you’ll want to be top of mind when things start to recover and the economy rebounds. We can’t lose sight of that.”

But I get that money is an issue. I, too, have been feeling the financial sting of coronavirus as several clients have decided to scale down my workload temporarily.

Rachel Strella (owner of #Strella Social Media), for whom I fine-tune blog content written by members of her team, is facing the same struggles as many other entrepreneurs. She asked me if I could provide writing tips to help her team members improve their content before sending it to me. I consider the idea a win-win-win.

  • Rachel will be able to keep costs in check because I won’t have to spend as much billable time revising content.
  • Her team members will hone their professional writing skills.
  • I will maintain a valued client relationship. Also, because her team will be writing more efficiently, I will potentially have more time available to take on other #Strella assignments in the future.

While preparing my coaching notes for each individual (based on the corrections and changes I repeatedly make when reviewing their content), I’ve discovered some common threads. If you or your team members are doing more of your own marketing these days, I hope the following writing tips will help you strengthen your content, too.

A 9-point Writing Tips Checklist for Fine-tuning Your Blog Content

1. Break down long sentences into multiple sentences when possible.

Long and run-on sentences make it difficult for readers to follow what you want to communicate.

As a general rule, if a sentence extends onto three lines in a Word document, it can usually be split into two or three separate sentences. Similarly, run-on sentences (even if they’re relatively short) that do not have adequate punctuation can become confusing.

Here are examples of each:

Long sentence:

My daughter, who is a senior in high school, doesn’t know whether her class will have a traditional graduation ceremony in June because of the coronavirus, and she also has no idea if she will be able to move into her dorm at college when the fall semester begins.

Solution:

My daughter, who is a senior in high school, doesn’t know whether her class will have a traditional graduation ceremony in June because of the coronavirus. Also, she has no idea if she will be able to move into her dorm when the fall semester begins at college.

Run-on sentence:

My dog has severe anxiety and she goes crazy when delivery workers come to our front door and ring the bell as they drop off packages.

Solution:

My dog has severe anxiety; she goes crazy when delivery workers come to our front door, ring the bell, and drop off packages.

2. Shorten long paragraphs.

If your content has any long paragraphs and big chunks of text, look for opportunities to split the content into shorter paragraphs. Readers will be more apt to stick with your posts if you present text in bite-sized portions that allow them to pause to absorb information before continuing to your next thought.

Also, recognize places where you can use bulleted or numbered lists to share information. Let’s say I want to describe the things I miss most during the stay-at-home coronavirus order. I could share them in a sentence using commas to separate each item…

During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, I miss visiting my parents, dining out on Thursday nights with my friend Jennifer, finding ample supplies of paper products on grocery store shelves, sneezing without people looking at me as though I have the plague, seeing my daughter enjoy time with her friends, shopping without wearing a mask, not living in fear.

However, a list would be much easier for readers to follow:

During the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, I miss:

  • Visiting my parents
  • Dining out on Thursday nights with my friend Jennifer
  • Finding ample supplies of paper products on grocery store shelves
  • Sneezing without people looking at me as though I have the plague
  • Seeing my daughter enjoy time with her friends
  • Shopping without wearing a mask
  • Not living in fear

3. Add headings to break content into easy-to-follow sections.

Identify where your content covers different main points and add headings to differentiate them. Use an appropriate heading hierarchy (i.e., H2, H3, etc. to identify main points and distinguish them from the sub-points that relate to them).

Also, review your headings to assess if they will give the reader a sense of what they can expect to find in the content that follows. Readers skim and scan content online, so well-crafted headings can help keep their interest as they’re working their way through your posts.

Bonus: Appropriate use of headings is good for SEO, too.

4. Avoid lengthy titles.

Shorter headlines capture readers’ attention, and, generally, they are more SEO-friendly. Google will often truncate titles (cut off the words at the end) that expand beyond 60 characters.

For example, my working title for this post was “9 Online Writing Tips to Improve Your Business Blogging During COVID-19,” which clocked in at 71 characters. After some additional thought, I tightened it up to the present title of 53 characters. 

5. Eliminate unnecessary words and phrases.

Usually, it’s better to get your point across in as few words as possible.

Words and phrases like the examples below often do not add anything purposeful to content. They’re fillers that add extra words without enhancing meaning. Strive to either omit them or replace them with more descriptive words.

  • really (“I’m really excited to go to the party.” vs. “I’m excited to go to the party.”)
  • so (“She was so angry about the way you handled that.” vs. “She was furious about the way you handled that.”)
  • personally (“Personally, I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.” vs. “I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.” – Note: by using “I,” readers already know that you, personally, understand.)
  • actually (“I actually have never gone to that restaurant.” vs. “I have never gone to that restaurant.” – Note: Readers will assume that you actually did or didn’t do something without adding “actually.”)
  • pretty (“I felt pretty tired after that six-mile walk into town.” vs. “I felt exhausted after that six-mile walk into town.”)
  • very (“She seemed very, very happy about the gift.” vs. “She seemed elated about the gift.”)
  • in my opinion (“In my opinion, we can all learn an important lesson from that book.” vs. “I believe we can all learn an important lesson from that book.”)
  • totally (“I was totally ready to begin the new project.” vs. “I was ready to begin the new project.”)

Use words like these occasionally to give your writing a conversational tone, but don’t overdo it.

6. Exercise caution when using quotation marks for emphasis.

Not only are quotation marks used to identify dialogue, but also many people use them to stress certain words and phrases. This can work well for emphasizing wording that reflects how others or the population at large refers to something.

For example:

We will finally find more toilet paper and paper towels on the grocery store shelves when the “covidiots” in town stop hoarding it.

However, improper use of quotation marks can give the impression that you mean the opposite of or don’t agree with something.

I worked with a client several years ago that used quotation marks excessively for emphasis in his content.

Here are two examples:

  • This product is formulated (in “convenient to use” bottles) to effectively remove excess organic and inorganic nutrients.
  • We have formulated three “state of the art” fertilizer formulas.

When revising his initial drafts, I explained that he could be hurting his brand by using quotation marks in that way.

7. Don’t assume your readers are up on all the current lingo.

You may know what you’re talking about, but your readers might not be familiar with every industry acronym or software reference that you make in your content. When you first use an acronym or potentially unfamiliar term in a blog post, spell it out, describe it, or link to a source with more information about it so that you don’t confuse or frustrate any audience members.

8. Read your draft out loud. 

This is an excellent habit to adopt for everything that you write. It allows you to assess if your content flows smoothly and logically for readers. Vocalizing and hearing what you wrote will also help you detect spelling and grammatical errors.

If parts of your post sound wordy or otherwise out of sorts when reading it aloud, make tweaks.

Bonus tip: Consider using the app Grammarly for proofing your content. There’s a free version that will help you, and I find the Premium subscription worth every penny.

9. Ask a professional for help.

Everything you publish affects your brand image. When you recognize that something isn’t working well but are unsure of how to improve it, consider asking a professional writer or editor to review and fine-tune your content. If you’ve paid attention to my first eight writing tips, your draft should be in relatively good order and won’t require too much time for a pro to polish it.

Need help putting the finishing touches on your content? I can help! Contact me to see some “before” and “after” samples. Or, if you want me to take a look at a piece of your content and give you some high-level pointers on how to improve it, email at dawn@dawnmentzer.com. I’ll be happy to schedule a complimentary 15-minute coaching session. 

10 Years a Freelance Writer

In January 2010, I walked out of my office at the Windstream Communications’ Brownstown PA building for the last time. The other approximately 15 employees and I in the marketing department knew that day was coming for months in advance. When Windstream, a national corporation, acquired the regional company once called D&E Communications, HR reps met with us to tell us our positions were going away. After a transitional period, we would no longer be needed because folks with similar positions in the Arkansas corporate office would be taking on our responsibilities.

As we left the building on our last day, some of my co-workers shed tears as they carried their boxes of personal belongings from the premises. I, on the other hand, had a difficult time holding back smiles and skipping through the hallway.

It’s not that I disliked my job at D&E Communications/Windstream. As a marketing product manager, I was well suited for the position, and it was well suited to me. But after spending a total of 17 years at the company and in the telecommunications industry, I looked forward to a change. 

I had a plan.

In April of 2010, I officially launched my freelance writing business. Ten years later, I’m still at it, working full-time as a freelance writer. I’m blessed, for sure. However, I don’t believe that the grace of God or of some other universal energy has alone made that possible.

Reality Check

A combination of factors have played a role in my ability to launch and sustain a freelance career path:

  • My husband and I weren’t living paycheck to paycheck.
  • I had a generous severance package from my previous employer.
  • My husband was gainfully employed with a salary that could cover a majority of our expenses as I ramped up my revenue in the first two years.
  • We had good health care insurance through my husband’s employer.
  • I had a room in our house that I could immediately use as a dedicated office space.
  • My husband was fully on board with my decision to freelance. 
  • We aren’t suckers for extravagance, and we’ve never made a habit of living beyond our means.
  • Having been in the marketing department in my previous career, I had professional connections that provided me with some freelance opportunities out of the gate.
  • Writing comes naturally to me.
  • Project management comes naturally to me. 
  • I enjoy working independently and can tune out distractions.

Had a few of these things been missing from the equation, I might have ventured down a different professional route. Hanging my shingle as a freelance writer was exciting but also scary. My salary in my previous job was bringing in 60 percent of our family income. Even with a savings account and severance, I would have had to explore other options after year two if my business income didn’t grow and come reasonably close to my past pay.

A Checklist of Factors That Can Make or Break a Freelance Career

To succeed as a full-time freelance writer, you need some writing chops (stating the obvious). But that alone won’t allow you to stay in business. Many other aspects of your personal situation, background, and personality will affect your freelance success potential, too.

  • Current financial situation
  • Living situation
  • Educational and professional background 
  • Professional connections 
  • Work ethic
  • Tolerance for working alone
  • Business sense
  • Common sense
  • Organizational skills
  • Will to learn and adapt
  • Tolerance for constructive (and sometimes non-constructive) criticism

Not all aspiring freelance writers think about whether their current life scenario, personality traits, and mindset are a good fit. If those things aren’t conducive to working as a freelance writer, it will be especially challenging to make a go of it. 

A 10-Question Self-Assessment for Aspiring Freelance Writers

It’s important to carefully assess your circumstances before deciding to rely on freelancing as your one and only income source. Consider your current life situation and personal characteristics. Are you in a position that will allow you to navigate the possible financial and emotional ups and downs while building your business?

Ask yourself:

1. Do I understand how much it will cost me to operate my freelance business?

2. Do I have enough money saved or another source of funds to fall back on if I’m not making enough to cover my personal and business bills?

3. Am I self-motivated enough to meet project deadlines?

4. Am I organized?

5. Do I have professional connections that I can leverage to find new clients?

6. Do I manage my money well?

7. Do I understand what I have to do to run my freelance business legally? 

8. Can I deal with rejection?

9. Do I have an environment where I can work uninterrupted?

10. Am I focused, or will I let trivial personal tasks distract me from my business responsibilities?

If an honest assessment leads to the conclusion that you’re not financially or otherwise in a place that’s suitable for going freelance full time, you may want to dip your toe in the water on a part-time basis. Or you might consider working as a writer for a marketing agency or other company.  I know several writers who transitioned from freelancing to working as content writers for businesses and marketing firms. They’re successful and very, very happy…and they still do some freelance gigs on the side when time allows. 

After 10 years a freelancer, I find it difficult to imagine myself doing anything else. If some aspects of my personal situation were to change, I believe my business is established enough that I could continue. However, I realize there are no guarantees in life or business. 

Your Turn!

What circumstances made it possible for you—or prevented you—to freelance full-time? I’d love to hear about your journey!

Is Your To-Do List Killing You?

toddler holding head in frustration

I’m a bit of a to-do list junkie. However, those lists can derail rather than boost productivity if you don’t create and manage them effectively. Check out executive business coach Chris Belfi’s expert advice in his article below. He suggests one simple change that will transform your ordinary to-do list into a take-action-and-get-it-done list.


One tip to make your to-do list work for you — not against you

What do you see when you look at your to-do list?

Highly specific action steps — or vague ideas that make you want to bang your head on your desk instead of getting to work?

What does a vague to-do list look like?

This is a common mistake I see advisors make all the time. And the worst part is, their lack of to-do list progress gets self-labeled as laziness and procrastination. So, if you have ever looked at your to-do list in frustration and blamed yourself for not building momentum, perhaps you are not the problem. Maybe your to-do list is sabotaging your efforts. 

Let’s pull up your to-do list right now. Maybe you use a notepad, a checklist on your phone, or a Google Doc. Open it up — and look for offenders that look like this. 

  • Parents’ anniversary
  • Dermatologist
  • Car
  • Roof
  • Paraplanner

Can you notice a pattern between these to-do items?

That’s right. None of these are actions. Items like this are a symptom that you haven’t actually decided what it is you need to do. Let me throw out a prediction: it’s probably not going to get done.

Ready to fix your to-do list?

Great! Let’s look at each of these items and figure out exactly what it is that you need to do. A new list might look something like this. 

  • Login to 1-800-Flowers.com and order flowers for parents
  • E-mail Christine to ask for contact info on her dermatologist
  • Call Mike to schedule tire rotation and oil change for the car
  • Login to Angie’s list to look up 3 local roofing contractors to request repair quotes
  • Review 10 resumes in my files to identify 3 candidates to interview for paraplanner position

When your to-do list is filled with specific, concrete, physical actions, you have set yourself up for success.

I know what you’re thinking.

“But Chris, that’s too much work to boil down every item on my to-do list to a specific, concrete, physical action.”

You’re right. It is hard work. It’s also hard and frustrating to be overwhelmed by vague items on your to-do list. 

And here’s the truth. If you want to make progress on your list, you will have to define those specific actions at some point. By deciding now, you make it much easier to get it done later. It’s in your own best interest to invest energy in defining and clarifying next actions before they get a chance to slow you down.

Too often, you miss opportunities to get something done (and create more time for yourself and your family) because you don’t have enough mental energy to decide exactly what needs to be done.  Don’t make this mistake. Banish vague items from your to-do list — and watch your productivity soar!

This article was originally published on ModelFA.com

Author Bio:

CHRIS BELFI

Chris Belfi is the founder and CEO of MaxPotential Coaching.

His company works with executive-level leaders and business owners and who are drowning in their own success and feel underwater in a sea of things they are supposed to get done. Through proven techniques, MaxPotential Coaching allows executives to take control of their endless to-do list and the other details of their lives and work, go home on time, and create the space to do what matters most to them.

Influencer Marketing: Bigger May Not Be Better

Although “go big or go home” may be a sound strategy for some business activities, it may not move the needle as an influencer marketing strategy.

Consumers are Wary

According to a study by media agency UM, only four percent of internet users globally trust information shared by traditional influencers. Moreover, unless your brand can afford to pay mega-bucks to celebrities or other public figures to endorse your products or services, you may have a difficult time getting on those influencers’ radar screens.

SmallBizGenious created an infographic with over 80 statistics about influencer marketing. One stat that stood out for me is:

“Micro-influencers, having between 2,000 to 50,000 followers, deliver 60% higher engagement rates, and those campaigns are 67% more efficient than those with influencers who have larger followings.”

It makes sense. Micro-influencers are:

  • More accessible.
  • Generally, more interactive with followers.
  • Perceived as more trustworthy than influencers with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers.

Get Real About Influencer Marketing

Brands are also discovering the influential value of their average Jane and Joe customers. Satisfied consumers that post organically about their brand experiences generate authentic (and free) advertising for companies. A recent Social Media Today post cited a Stackla study that found after people see a peer’s post about a brand, they are almost 10 times more likely to buy than if they see a traditional social media influencer’s post.

With a Twitter following around 4,000, I’m in the “micro” and “average customer” categories. I am enjoying the shift in influencer marketing. A couple of my favorite brands (Chewy.com and CVS) have acknowledged and rewarded my loyalty. I’ve never expected anything in return for my social media accolades to them. I genuinely value their products and customer service and wanted to share that. Still, it is nice that they’ve noticed and have shown their appreciation. I’m more loyal to them than ever, and I’ll be tweeting and posting their praises again.

Keep that in mind if you’re looking to gain traction with influencer marketing. Show the real people who are already engaged with your brand that you value them. That’s the path to generating the kind of online word of mouth and authentic endorsements that potential customers will trust. Building those bonds is far more attainable than cutting through the noise to reach high-profile influencers. And the stats show that it’s a far more effective strategy, too.

The Bare Minimum for Maximal Impact

gray background with plant in minimalist pot accents the "less is more" text

While visiting my friend Tammy in Phoenix for a few days, I was fortunate to also connect in-person with radio personality and master podcast instructor and creator Shannon Hernandez. I met Shannon online (Google+) about eight years ago. It was wonderful to finally have an opportunity to hang out face-to-face for a brief while. As we caught up on what’s happening in our lives and professional ventures, I found myself using the phrase “bare minimum” when referring to my work M.O.

I know “bare minimum” has negative connotations:

  • Just O.K.
  • The lazy way out
  • Born from a lack of motivation
  • Nothing special

But it doesn’t have to—and shouldn’t—mean any of those things.

Adopting a bare minimum mindset involves getting maximal impact without becoming overstressed and overwhelmed. It’s about finding the right combination of clients, types of assignments, and volume of work so that you do your very best without sacrificing your well-being.

Considerations for Achieving a Lucrative Bare Minimum Work Approach

Striving for the bare minimum is a win-win for all when driven by the right intentions.

Consider these things:

  • Do you see a pattern in the types of clients (size, industry, etc.) you like to work with the most or least?
  • What tasks are you doing for clients that could be done better or more efficiently by another resource?
  • Which types of assignments energize you? Which types leave you feeling drained or distracted?
  • What do you do exceptionally well that offers the most value to your clients?
  • Have you priced your services too low? That can cause prospects to underestimate your skills and knowledge. It can also push you into a “make it up in volume” situation, where you’re forced to overload your schedule.
  • Are there viable and relevant passive income opportunities you’ve overlooked? (This one continues to elude me!)
  • What could you change now that would allow you to do more of the types of assignments you love for the types of clients you enjoy working with most?

In Other Words

Another way to convey “bare minimum” is “path of least resistance.” Why work harder not smarter (cliché alert) by doing what you dislike or aren’t particularly good at doing? Especially when that effort will detract from (rather than enhance) your quality of life and the caliber of service you deliver to your clients?

Your turn! What would you add to the list of considerations for creating a professional scenario that provides more satisfaction and less stress?

To Emoji or Not Emoji: Using Emojis in Business Communications

thinking-emoji

“Smiley face,” “heart,” “kissy face,” “wink, wink,” “okay gesture,” “sad face,” “look of surprise”…emojis are everywhere. We find these visual representations of emotions and thought processes on social media, in text messages, and even in email–in both personal and business communications. Perhaps our increasing usage of emojis demonstrates that we are becoming more open and transparent, but is it appropriate professionally?

Marketing consultant Dennis Shiao has written about emoji use–once in 2017 and again in 2018. His most recent article explores how some of his Twitter followers feel about seeing emojis in blog titles. In that article, I weighed in with my response.

Screenshot-tweet-elf-noooo

Although I’m obviously not in favor of emojis in article titles, I do think they have value in business communications. Of course, there are downsides, too. Let’s take a look…

Pros of Using Emojis in Business Communications

Overall, I’m an emoji advocate. I find they often help to clarify my tone and add a layer of emotion that can sometimes get lost when communicating via words alone.

  • Emojis emphasize how much we care about an idea or people.
  • Emojis help us applaud others’ achievements.
  • Emojis soften the blow when we need to decline an invitation to an event or otherwise deliver less-than-ideal news.
  • Emojis lighten the mood and demonstrate our quick wit by giving us a visual way to provide humorous commentary.
  • Emojis show appreciation of others’ sense of humor when people aren’t in earshot of our laughter.

With over 3,000 emojis available in 2019, there’s one for virtually every situation imaginable.

Cons of Using Emojis in Business Communications

But using emojis in business communications isn’t all thumbs up. There are some potential drawbacks, too.

  • Some clients or business partners may consider them unprofessional.
  • If overused, emojis can lose their impact.
  • An emoji that’s funny to one person might be offensive to another.
  • Relying on emojis to communicate our thoughts means less practice expressing ourselves with words. Without flexing our wordsmithing muscles, we risk that they’ll atrophy.
  • Some people may view emojis as insincere, especially if they’re used to convey empathy in unfortunate circumstances.

“The better part of valour is discretion…” ~ William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part One

Emojis can add emphasis and provide visual variety in professional conversations. However, know your audience before using them. Consider the preferences and sensitivities of the person on the receiving end. If you’re unsure of how warmly a prospect or new client will receive emojis, you may want to withhold them until you’ve had more time to assess the person’s communication style and formality expectations.

Your turn! Do you think emojis have a place in business communications? Why or why not?

54 Years of Successes, Failures, and Recollections

54 years ago on January 26, my 5-pound 12-ounce self entered this world. My life hasn’t been one of those remarkable ones that you read about in magazines or that warrants an interview with Oprah. I’ve not achieved celebrity status or invented something innovative or embarked on any grand mission to change the world. But during my years here, while I haven’t done any one thing that’s extraordinary, I have done a lot of things (after all, 54 years is quite a long time).

I thought it would be fun to take a look back. So, I decided to put some concentrated brain power toward remembering some of the successes, failures, and random memories of my experience on this earth thus far. Working through this exercise, I found the flood of recollections therapeutic. My life has been a pretty damn good one. Maybe not the stuff of a compelling biography, but it’s mine and it’s special to me. I expect that anyone else who has also led an “ordinary” life and takes time to reflect on their journey will discover their experiences collectively paint a colorful and unique painting.  

54 Random Reflections From My 54 Years (in no particular order)

  1. At around age 5, I took ballet, tap, and gymnastics lessons at a local dance studio. The day of the recital, I was so nervous I pretended to be sick so that I didn’t have to perform.
  2. In 4th grade, I was the fastest kid in our class (girls and boys, included).
  3. When I was about 12, I visited a farm and the owner gave me a fresh egg from the chicken coop. I set up a box with a night light over it in my bedroom and rotated the egg under the light several times a day for 20 or so days in hopes that it would hatch. It did and my pet “Ricky Chick” was born.
  4. My family took a two-week vacation cross country to Wyoming when I was in middle school. We borrowed my aunt and uncle’s custom van. The places we visited during the road trip included the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, and a former neighbor’s ranch in Lander, Wyoming.
  5. I took baton twirling lessons for approximately 7 years and was a feature twirler in the Oley Valley High School Marching Band in my junior and senior years.
  6. I auditioned for the Millersville University Marching Band my sophomore year and didn’t make the cut.
  7. I performed in plays and musicals throughout high school, college, and in community theater. Shows and roles include: No, No Nanette (dancer); South Pacific (nurse); Oliver (Widow Corney); Night of January 16th (Nancy Lee Faulkner); Chamber Music (Amelia Earhart); TV (various roles); Spoon River Anthology (various roles); Angel Street (Bella); How the Other Half Loves (Fiona); The Insect Comedy (Chrysalis, and I directed one of the acts); Lil Abner (Dogpatch wife); Busybody (Marian); A Murder is Announced (Phillipa); Nuts (Attorney MacMillan); Steel Magnolias (M’Lynn)
  8. I studied Kung Fu for 4 years.
  9. In college, I was anorexic. What unexpectedly helped me overcome it was joining a weight training class during my senior year in which the coach encouraged me to consider bodybuilding. Thanks to him, my struggle for control shifted from starving myself to becoming more powerful. I regret never reaching out to him years later to tell him that he saved my life. About 10 years ago, I learned that he had passed away.
  10. From 1993 to 1997, I competed in a total of seven amateur bodybuilding competitions. In 2001 and 2002, I coached a team of first-time bodybuilders. Several continued to compete up until just a few years ago.
  11. I married one of the funniest people I have ever met.
  12. I gave birth to my daughter on September 11, 2001. While in labor, I was watching the Today Show and saw the plane hit the second tower, live.
  13. I graduated cum laude from Millersville University with a B.S. degree in Communications and a concentration in Journalism.
  14. I worked for a non-profit regional theatre as a marketing and public relations assistant for two years. One of my biggest regrets was quitting that job. It didn’t pay squat, but I believe many possible paths would have opened to me had I stuck it out.
  15. I bartended for four years.
  16. I worked for a regional, family-owned telecommunications company for 17 years. I thought I would retire there. When a national company bought that company, my entire department was eliminated.  
  17. I started a freelance writing business in 2010 with virtually no current portfolio or business startup knowledge.
  18. My first freelance customer stiffed me. He owed me a whopping $60.
  19. Only one other customer stiffed me in the past 9 years.
  20. I landed a paid (barely) acting gig portraying a gypsy/ fire eater’s sidekick at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire during the summer of ‘85.
  21. I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 21. It has progressed since. About 20 years ago, a surgeon told me I will likely need spinal fusion surgery at about age 55 to prevent the condition from compromising my heart and lungs. I think I can tough it out longer.
  22. I don’t do competitive bodybuilding anymore (my scoliosis has ruined all chances for that), but I still lift religiously.
  23. I can comfortably push 370 pounds (weight of the plates) for 5 reps on the leg press machine. Almost where I was at over 20 years ago. My bench press sucks, though.
  24. I ran the Merrill Down ‘N Dirty Mud Run in 2011 and placed 9th out of the 104 participants in my age group.
  25. I was inducted into the National Honor Society in high school.
  26. I failed my DMV road test. Twice.
  27. I was a Camp Fire Girl. Our troop met weekly at the Oley Valley Youth Building.
  28. I was a Brownie Girl Scout leader for 3 years.
  29. I was runner up to homecoming queen at the first homecoming our high school ever had.
  30. I was one of the candidates in the running to represent our school at the county Junior Miss pageant, but I wasn’t selected.
  31. I led an eating disorders support group for a year.
  32. In 2016, I wanted to add a second dog to our pack. We took in a sweet rescue pit bull (Sydney, who we renamed “Loki). Unfortunately, we soon realized we had a lot more work to do with our incumbent pitty mix, Lulu. I was heartbroken. Rather than send him back to rescue, we kept him as a foster dog and assisted in finding him a new home. Fortunately, some family friends met him, fell in love with him, and made him a part of their family. I visit him from time to time.
  33. One year, when chaperoning a church youth beach trip, I temporarily lost my wedding ring in the sand. A nice lady with a metal detector found it for me.
  34. I played fast-pitch softball (third base and pitcher) in a summer youth league back in the day.
  35. I volunteered as a SCORE mentor with the Lancaster-Lebanon chapter for three years. I served on their Executive Board as their V.P. of Marketing for one of those years.
  36. I was the jello wrestling champion at an “Almost Anything Goes” competition during high school. I represented the National Honor Society team. In the final match, I faced off with a very statuesque, muscular woman from Kutztown University. I pinned her in 3 seconds flat.
  37. I had a pet snake (a rainbow boa constrictor) named Flakey from when I was in third grade until two years out of college.
  38. I’ve kept a potentially life-ruining secret for a friend for over 25 years.
  39. I’ve visited and partially hiked the Grand Canyon.
  40. I traveled to Hawaii (Oahu and the Big Island) in 2017.
  41. I got dumped by my date at prom my junior year of high school.
  42. I was asked to write the foreword to my friend’s book about her brother, “I Am Not My Body. A Tribute to Jim MacLaren.”
  43. I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 30 years old—but after about 10 years, it disappeared.
  44. I had a leopard gecko named Lilo. At the age of 7, she died. On my birthday. 🙁
  45. Upon graduating from Millersville University, I was presented the Edward J. Laucks Memorial Sertoma Award for Excellence in Communications.
  46. I scored miserably on my SATs.
  47. I wrote a health and fitness column called “Body Business” in the Millersville University student newspaper.
  48. I was voted “Best Legs” and “Best Personality” in my class in high school.
  49. I once tried out for the high school basketball team but quit before cuts were made. I have no doubt that I would have been among them.
  50. During the summer after I graduated from college in 1987, I held three jobs at once.
  51. One year, when attending the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire with my family, I was randomly chosen to be an audience participant in a knife juggling/throwing act.  Another year, I was pulled on stage to be a part of a wench auction.
  52. I grew up with a regulation-size pool table in our family basement. I’m out of practice, but I’m a decent shot.
  53. I originally planned to major in social work.
  54. Twice, I tried to get through Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” I failed both times.

And there you have it—some highs, lows, and in-betweens of my life experience. Perhaps some of it explains a lot. And some of it surely explains nothing.

Your turn! I challenge you to think back on your achievements and let-downs throughout your life journey. What 54 (or 32 or 75 or 43 or 21) memories made your list? I’m looking forward to reading about them.