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. 

The Endangered Em Dash—And How You Can Help Save It.

I know it’s not nice to pick favorites, but I have. The em dash ( — ) is by far my all-time favorite piece of punctuation. It’sTwo palms of hand with the world painted on them; text at top "Save the Em Dash" versatile, adds more emphasis than parentheses and commas, and (when not overused) provides clarity and an unencumbered reading experience.

 

I revere the em dash.

 

But people are dissing it. I’m seeing more and more blog posts with two double dashes (–) as a substitute for the em dash.

 

Enough already. The em dash deserves better than that.

 

But I—sort of—understand why bloggers are doing it.

 

Adding an Em Dash Requires Effort—But So What?

 

My guess is the em dash-dissing writers are typing their posts in Google Docs or some other online word processing tool, maybe even directly in WordPress. To add a proper em dash, they would need to use the “insert symbol” function and select em dash from the available options. Unlike MS Word, those platforms don’t recognize double dashes following a letter plus a space as the signal to automatically add an em dash.

 

I understand that can be pain in the @$#. I create my drafts in Google Docs and find it annoying to have to go through the manual process of hand-picking the em dash from the special characters menu whenever I want to add one. But if that’s what it takes to add an em dash, I’m willing to do it.

 

However, not everyone shares my enthusiasm for the em dash. Fortunately for those folks, there’s an easier way.

 

The Less Cumbersome Way to Add an Em Dash in Google Docs

By going to the Tools menu and selecting Preferences, you can set up a “substitution” so that when you type a predefined letter or character combination, Google Docs will automatically substitute it with an em dash.

Drop down menu to find Preferences in Google Docs

In my Preferences, I’ve set up ++ to automatically change to an em dash. It’s less cumbersome than manually inserting the em dash symbol.

Preferences settings in Google Docs

 

It’s not without some inconvenience, though. Google Docs doesn’t recognize that it should substitute an em dash if there is a letter or character directly behind the ++. So, it requires going back to delete that unwanted space after the em dash (and to do that, you need to forward delete not backspace; otherwise, your em dash will revert to ++).  Still, I’ve found it an efficiency improvement.

You can do the same for en dashes, too. I’ve set up my preferences to make -+ become an en dash.

 

You might be thinking, “Why didn’t she use — or — as the en and em dash cues?” I admit, that does seem more logical. However, that works only if you have just an em dash preference set up. Unfortunately, things go awry when you set up both an en dash and em dash. Google Docs appears to get confused in that situation. The en dash will work just fine, but the em dash shows up as an en dash plus a single dash. Weird, I know. Anyways, because I want substitutions for both, I use -+ and ++ instead.

 

Long Live the Em Dash

Try this tip and spread the word to other bloggers who have been contributing to the demise of the em dash.

Your turn: What’s your favorite punctuation mark or punctuation pet peeve?

 





Quick Tip to Prevent Losing Content (and Your Valuable Time) if MS Word Behaves Badly

Microsoft Word – Good, But Not Perfectnaughty brown puppy chewing up white pillow

 

Microsoft Word documents are the go-to for many writers because most clients prefer to receive content in a .doc or .docx file. Unless clients request that I share content in some other mutually agreeable way, I submit my writing to them in Word docs via email. That seems to be the standard process for most of the writers I know.

 

Although a useful, universal program, MS Word has issues—and creates headaches—from time to time. Some are predicaments of our own making, like when we accidentally click “don’t save” when closing a document to which we just added multiple paragraphs. Oops!

 

But some problems are out of our control. For example, as I was wrapping up and spell-checking a 500- to 600-word draft last month, nearly every character in my text turned into gibberish symbols. WTH? I scoured the Internet, trying to find some solution to get my words back. But alas, nothing fixed the situation. And so, I had to recreate the entire post from scratch. The unforeseen circumstances derailed my day and hijacked more than 3 hours of my already filled-to-the-brim schedule.

 

I was not amused.

 

And I vowed that would never happen again.

 

How To Prevent Losing Content and Precious Hours

 

In the past, I used Google Docs sparingly. Occasionally, a client would request to share files that way, but otherwise, I didn’t pay much attention to the cloud-based word processor.

 

Since my MS Word-gibberish debacle, that has changed.

 

I now create all my content in Google Docs. Doing so protects me from both of the issues I mentioned above.

 

Benefits of Creating Content in Google DocsGoogle Docs Screen Shot of Share Option

 

  1. Google Docs auto-save in real time.

 

So you never have to worry about closing your docs and losing your changes.

 

  1. Google Docs gives you a backup if a Word file fails.

 

After I finish content in Google Docs, I export it into a Word document, save it to my Mac, and then send it to my client. By keeping the Google Doc in my content repository in Google Drive, I have a backup if Word behaves badly—or if I accidentally delete or misplace the Word doc.

 

If you have clients who feel comfortable using Google Drive, you can eliminate the hassle of back-and-forth emails during the revision and approval process. You can give the people who need to weigh in on your content access to your Google Docs files (and entire Google Drive folders). Even better, you can give them editing privileges, and all of their suggested changes will be marked up within your Google Docs. This avoids the mayhem that ensues when multiple people email you their modifications via separate revised Word docs.

 

Not Just For Writers

Even if you’re not a content creator by trade, you likely have a lot of communicating to accomplish with employees, project partners, vendors, and customers. Whether you have meeting agendas, spreadsheets, to-do lists, or other information that needs the input of multiple people, Google Drive can serve as a viable collaboration tool and backup plan. It’s a rather intuitive program, but if you need assistance in learning to navigate it, Google has a helpful online guide available.

 





Four Must-Haves Solopreneurs Need But Don’t Know It

Now That Makes A Difference text on purple and white background

When you start out as a solopreneur, you know you need the usual business essentials to operate professionally: computer, phone, printer, Internet, paper, and so on and so forth. Now in my eighth year of self-employment, I’ve discovered other assets I originally didn’t realize could be so important. Slightly obscure, they might have fallen below your radar, too.

 

Four Business Essentials You Might Not Realize You Need

 

  • A really good umbrella

By all accounts, I’m blessed. Our family has the good fortune to be financially secure; we have what we need and can (within reason) get what we want. BUT we have the most pathetic umbrellas at our house. There’s only one that I’m not mortified to use in public. The others are obnoxious red and white umbrellas the telecom company I once worked for offered as promotional freebies for its now non-existent Internet service provider division. After a recent rainy spell here in eastern Pennsylvania (during which my 9th-grade daughter forgot our only respectable umbrella in her locker at school), I realized I should invest in several more decent umbrellas. It’s a matter of pride—and professional appearance. Own umbrellas that won’t make you look and feel like a panhandler.

 

  • Kick-@s$ closet hangers

Upon launching my freelance business in 2010, I quickly learned being organized personally helps keep all professional endeavors in order, too. What I didn’t realize, however, is how much of a difference a well-designed hanger can make. Fortunately, a colleague recently introduced me to Joy Mangano Huggable Hangers. No more jungle of jumbled wire and bulky plastic hangers that crowd our limited space and let my outfits slip to the floor. I’ve replaced all hangers in our bedroom walk-in closet and my daughter’s closet with these gems, and I’m in the process of swapping out every last hanger in our entire house with them.

 

I’m obsessed.

With more free space in my closet, I can find what I want to wear more easily, and my clothes don’t get wrinkly while hanging. These hangers have saved me time and made it much easier to get out the door on time for meetings. If you have a closet that needs a revamp, definitely check them out.

 

  • A spritz of confidence

Nobody wants to think about this, and I can hardly believe I’m writing about it, but here it “goes.” When you’re on the go and have to go, Poo-Pourri lets you do it in stealth mode. I bought a bottle and intended it as a gag gift for a family Christmas gift swap a few years ago. Intrigued by the concept, I tried it first. The s%@t works (pun intended). Why would anyone ever want to leave home without it? The company sells 2-ounce bottles that you can easily fit into laptop bags or handbags.

 

  • Wiggle room

Despite how well you plan your project schedule, some tasks will require more time than you anticipate they will, and unexpected phone calls, tech issues, etc. will occasionally happen. If you jam-pack your day down to the minute, you’ll never have a buffer zone to address those sorts of surprises. The solution, add some wiggle room (empty slots of time) into your calendar every day. It’s a sanity saver!

 

Nothing fancy above—just practical items that I’ve found can make a difference professionally.

 

What underappreciated must-haves would you add to the list?

 





Four Common Email Shortcuts and Sidesteps That Could Cost You

When you have a crazy-busy schedule and not nearly enough hours in the day, it makes sense to look for ways to save time. As Email @ symbol and envelopeyou’re squeezing in everything you possibly can in the limited time you have, you might find yourself taking some shortcuts and sidesteps with mundane, everyday processes—like handling email.

 

While some of those shortcuts (such as setting up filters or a priority mailbox format) streamline and boost efficiency, others can potentially cause you to lose opportunities, put business relationships at risk, and…well…make you look like a fool.

 

Four Email Mistakes That Could Hurt Your Business

All of the below are oopses that I’ve made or that I’ve seen made first-hand. Are you guilty of any of them?

 

Never checking who has sent the emails that landed in your spam folder.

I’ve learned the hard way that emails from prospects and clients sometimes turn up in spam rather than my inbox. Don’t miss out on viable opportunities or important information by completely ignoring your spam folder or deleting emails in spam without checking who they’re from first.

Not double-checking (BEFORE you hit send) to make sure you’ve included only the intended recipients.

This can trip you up in many ways. You might send confidential information to someone you shouldn’t have disclosed it to. As a means of venting frustration, you might have written something not so favorable about someone and then inadvertently included that person in the distribution (This happened to one of my friends who is by all accounts an accomplished professional.)

Bcing (blind-copying) someone on an email.

This can set you up for another email faux pas. Under most circumstances, people Bc other people in emails when they secretly want to let those people know what they’ve sent to the “To” recipient(s). That’s fine and dandy until someone who has been Bced “replies all.” Yep. Awkward. It can destroy trust and create hard feelings. If you want to keep others in the loop, consider Ccing them so it’s all up-front or forward them the email you had sent to the recipient. The latter is more stealth than a Cc but less risky than rolling the dice with a Bc.

Thinking that you’ll remember to put a commitment on your calendar later.

Assume you won’t, and reserve the time as soon as you’ve responded to an email with agreement to a meeting, a task, or an event. If your brain is pulled in diverse directions at nearly all times, trust me on this—your memory isn’t as phenomenal as you think it is.

 

The Fix For These Email Faux Pas?

All it takes is a few extra seconds and some attention to make sure you don’t make any of the mistakes above. Your email communications have the potential to make or break your business relationships. Why risk missteps that could make you look unprofessional or alienate clients or project partners?

 

What other easily preventable email mistakes have you seen other professionals make? What’s the worst one you’ve ever made?





What To Expect When Going From Corporate Employee To Self-Employed Solopreneur

A friend recently asked me to meet up over lunch to talk about his thoughts of making a career change. Not happy with the degree of autonomy or flexibility he Question mark under corporate business suithas in his corporate management position, he said he thinks the route to go is self-employment. He wanted to know more about how and why I took that path. And he asked for any insight and advice I could offer to give him a better idea about what to expect from becoming a free agent.

An hour over lunch really doesn’t provide enough time to really get into the nitty gritty of going from corporate employee to self-employed professional. It’s a decision not to take lightly. And since talking with my friend, I’ve felt impelled to write about some of the considerations potential solopreneurs should keep in mind as they explore the feasibility of making that significant transformation.

In my situation, the regional company I worked for (for 17 years) was purchased by a national organization. My position and many others (about 60% of the total workforce in our area) were eliminated. Thankfully, the company gave us plenty of advance notice. I had nearly six months to explore my options and figure out what I wanted to do during the next phase of my career. Even though my hand was forced to make a transition, I was fortunate to have time to assess my situation and determine if self-employment was a good bet for my family.

If you’re gainfully employed and considering leaving your present job behind to pursue starting your own business, you’ve got the advantage of time, too. Don’t act in haste by jumping in before you’ve thought it through and considered how the change will affect you and your loved ones.

With the flexibility of becoming your own boss come challenges.

The things you need to prepare for when going from corporate to self-employed include:

Unpredictable Income

It takes time to build a network of connections and a client base. When you’re starting out, you’ll likely experience cycles of feast and famine revenue. That can make it difficult to keep up with expenses both professionally and personally. I know several small business owners who haven’t taken a paycheck for themselves after being in business for several years, BUT they have spouses who work and can cover their personal financial obligations. I was fortunate to be able to jump right into freelancing because my husband had a good job, and we knew we could make ends meet until things ramped up for me. Even then, it took some adapting. Having been the one who always brought home the larger paycheck, I felt guilty about not pulling my weight financially as much as before.

Moral of the story: Expect to make less than you did in your corporate position and assess your income needs before you decide to ditch the day job. Don’t make a hasty decision that lands you in the poor house.

Cutting Back On Life’s Luxuries

Get ready to make some personal sacrifices when you enter the realm of self-employment. If you’re accustomed to starting each day with a Starbucks caramel latte, going out for expensive dinners each week, and spending money with abandon on leisure and entertainment, prepare to alter your lifestyle a bit. As I mentioned earlier, your pay scale as a solopreneur probably won’t match what you earned before. That means you’ll need to get more selective about which “non-essentials” you’ll spend your hard-earned money on.

Adjusting To Working From Home

When you work from a home office, you face a whole new set of distractions that threaten your productivity. Some people are able to tune out all the personal to-dos (cleaning, laundry, home repairs, a drive to the grocery store to restock the fridge, TV, etc.) and others aren’t. It helps to have a dedicated office space within your home so personal obligations won’t be in your face and lure you from staying on task. I rarely work from anywhere other than the spare bedroom we’ve converted to my office.

Another thing to keep in mind: you’ll work alone a lot. Even if your new career path involves consulting or coaching, you’ll spend a lot of time by yourself. Lack of social interaction can leave solopreneurs feeling isolated. You can get past that by seeking networking and professional development opportunities that take you out of your home office. But be careful not to overbook your schedule with those types of engagements; you might find yourself without enough time to get your work done.

Developing A Heightened Level of Discipline and Determination

Working independently requires self-motivation and project management skills. Without someone to lay out your work for you, you are fully responsible for planning your efforts so you can meet deadlines. Your organizational skills—or lack thereof—will largely affect your ability to succeed as a self-employed professional.

Working hard. Really hard.

I can’t emphasize this enough. If you’re serious about making self-employment lucrative for you and your family, you will eat, drink, sleep, and breathe your business. Solopreneurs typically handle all aspects of their businesses—especially when they start out. You’ll be your all-in-one Sales, Marketing, Accounting, Operations, and Customer Service department. One of the biggest challenges will be “clocking out” as a solopreneur and giving yourself the much needed breaks you’ll need so you don’t suffer from burnout.

Health Insurance – What Now?

Health insurance is a biggie, especially if your spouse and children are covered under your policy at work. If you leave your job, you leave your medical insurance behind as well. Review your options before you cut the cord. If your spouse works, can you get coverage through his/her workplace? If not, can you afford the premiums and deductibles of policies from other insurers?

Life Insurance – Giving Up Peace of Mind?

If your life insurance coverage is through a group policy via your company, you’ll relinquish that peace of mind as well when stepping out on your own. Do your homework before leaving your job, and consider talking with a financial planner about your options.

Paying Your Taxes

Without your employer taking money out of your weekly or biweekly paychecks to cover your federal, state, and local taxes, you’ll need to estimate your revenue and expenses and make tax payments quarterly based on your estimated net income. And note that as an employee working for someone else, your employer pays half of your Social Security and Medicare tax. As a self-employed person, you’re obligated to pay the entire 15.3%. “Ick,” I know. I don’t know any solopreneurs who enjoy this part of self-employment, but it goes with the territory.

Putting Yourself Out There – Social Media Is A MUST

If you don’t actively use social media as a tool for building professional connections, you’ll put yourself at a severe disadvantage. You’ll still need to work on nurturing relationships face to face, but online networking platforms amplify and extend your ability to stay top of mind. Don’t wait until you’ve left your day job to start working on your online presence. Although you might not be in a position to promote yourself yet, you can start following leaders in your industry and connecting with people/businesses in your target market. You can also begin demonstrating your interest and expertise in your field by sharing relevant content and providing thoughtful commentary on it. Do it now rather than later.

Not Everyone Will Support Your Decision

Sadly, not all of your family and friends will understand or encourage you when you start your own business. You’ll meet skepticism and even animosity from some people. As a solopreneur, you’ll need a thick skin.

And Last, But Certainly Not Least, Expect To Doubt Yourself From Time To Time

Self-employment has its ups and its downs. You’ll have moments when you feel fully confident in your decision to go out on your own and others when you wonder, “What the #@*% was I thinking?”

That’s normal.

When you experience self-doubt, stay focused on moving forward by accomplishing something—no matter how small—to reinstate your momentum and self-confidence. The path to success as a solopreneur has some jagged twists and turns. Stay flexible and resilient as you make your journey.

My final words of advice for you—and anyone you know who is thinking about going from corporate employee to self-employed—is: Talk to others who have made the change! You can only benefit from hearing about their first-hand experience—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And consider using a resource like SCORE, where you can get free mentoring and guidance as you start and build your solo business.

Again, the move to self-employment should not be taken lightly. It’s a rewarding career path, but it’s not right for everyone. And even if it is right for you, it may not be the right time. Think about it carefully, assess your situation, and make an informed decision before you jump in.

If you’ve gone from corporate to solo pro, what would you add to my list? Know anyone who’s considering making the same change? Please share this post with them!

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

Image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net





Pay Attention. Did You Learn Something Lately?

As you’re keeping up with your social media presence and taking care of business, you really can’t help taking away some new knowledge, tips, and insightSolopreneur learning from the people and brands you follow and interact with.

It often comes in dribs and drabs rather than in big momentous sweeps. So if you’re like me, much of what you learn gets inadvertently lost in the shuffle. Useful, yet unacknowledged and unappreciated.

Sigh. Such a waste.

That’s why I’ve decided to start taking inventory of and sharing some of the bite-sized bits and pieces of wisdom I glean. Why not give those nuggets of practical know-how the cred they deserve?

My twofold purpose:

1. To give you a few useful takeaways. I figure there’s a chance what I share will be new to you, too.
2. To become more aware of what I learn in the course of doing business from day to day so I’m more apt to apply it.

Sounds like a good plan, right? Let’s give it a try.

Tidbits, Tips and Lessons Learned

There are G+ plugins for WordPress that add Google+ comments to your blog posts.

Thanks to Denise Wakeman for talking about these plugins in a recent post. As a big fan of Google+, I dig this. With such a plugin, when someone comments on your post, it posts to that person’s G+ profile and provides a link back to your blog post.

Denise shares that it has expanded her blog’s visibility and increased the comments and shares she gets. Sweet!

The term “Dark Social Media”

Brooke Ballard of B Squared Media sheds light on Dark Social Media in a recent article on her blog. Where have I been? I hadn’t heard that term before.

According to Buffer’s Kevan Lee in his article on the topic, “It’s a term that describes the sharing that happens outside the traditional bounds of social media. For instance, people may share via email or via IM, and these interactions are seldom included in traditional share numbers.”

Good news is more people than you think see your content. Bad news is you’ve got an invisible audience you don’t know anything about.

How do you tap into the untethered potential your invisible audience brings if you have no idea what makes them tick?

I sure don’t have the answer, but check out Brooke’s post for more insight.

Macbook Pro Keyboard Shortcuts to cut and add hyperlinks

I made the move from a P.C. laptop to a Macbook Pro in early August. I love my Mac, but that doesn’t mean it has been a seamless transition. Never much a fan of keyboard shortcuts with my P.C., I’ve found they’re a necessity with a Mac.

Here are two I couldn’t live without:

1. Command + x lets you cut (to paste, use Command + v).
2. Command + k opens the “insert hyperlink” box (first Command + c to copy the URL of the page you want linked, the highlight the text you want hyperlinked, then Command + k, then Command + v to paste the URL).

What Did You Learn Lately?

Here ends my short list, but I’ve got more waiting in the wings for another day.

How about you? What tips and tricks have you learned lately? Comment here to tell us all about them.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

 

 





Watch Out For Foul Balls

You never know when the unexpected will happen. This past weekend, my husband and I joined a client and his staff at a nearby baseball stadium to see a Baseball gamelocal Atlantic League team play. Getting out to enjoy the all-American pastime and spend some leisure time with my client created an ideal start to the Labor Day weekend. Hot dogs, screaming “Charge” at the top of our lungs, and the mascot’s antics. All fun stuff. Then…

In the fourth inning, a player hit a foul ball (a line drive) straight into a woman’s head just one row behind and seven seats to the right of where we were seated.

It came fast. It came without time to react or shout a warning. It was one of those freak accidents that happens only when you’re in the right place at the wrong time.

We were all shaken up. We feared for her well-being. We realized that could have been one of us.

Risk is present every day.

In everything we do, everywhere we go, some element of risk goes with us. I don’t say that to cause panic or paranoia. Generally, the odds are in our favor. But as my experience at the ball field illustrates, s*%t happens.

Running your own business brings risks, too.

A few risks all solopreneurs face include:

  • The feast or famine cycle (periods of too much work all at once and periods of not nearly enough work).
  • Losing clients to competitors with broader capabilities.
  • Miscommunication with a client over a project’s scope of work or the amount of time spent on a project.
  • Technical difficulties with the tools you use to produce work for your clients.
  • Technical difficulties with the tools you use to promote your business.
  • Computer viruses that render your laptop or desktop useless for days at a time.
  • Getting stiffed by a client.
  • Unjustified or unscrupulous negative online reviews.
  • Missing out on a prospective client because his email landed, without you realizing it, in your spam folder.
  • Missing out on an opportunity because your email landed in a prospective client’s spam folder.

Fortunately, most of the risks above can be minimized to some degree by planning ahead and doing things like…

  • Getting signed agreements from clients.
  • Having a savings account to carry you through lean times.
  • Backing up your data.
  • Communicating clearly and often with clients during projects.
  • Monitoring your online reputation.
  • Developing working relationships with other solopreneurs who offer complementary services.

You never know when life—or business—will throw you a curve. Your best defense? Stay alert, aware, and prepared.

 

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post

 

 

 

 

 





Sanity Saving Pre-Vacation Checklist for Solopreneurs

Ahhh. Vacation! Time to unwind, feel the sand between your toes, read a good book, escape your cares, and leave theSouth Padre Island, TX Beach pressures of work behind.

Those are the rewards that await you IF you survive the insanely stressful, tense days before you finally whisk yourself and your loved ones away.

When I started my own freelancing business five years ago, I suffered a number of pre-vacation symptoms – including short temper and scattered brain – prior to departing for our family get-aways. While those things afflicted me when I was on a corporate career path, they intensified after I became a solopreneur. The pressures of wrapping things up are a wee bit more demanding than when I had colleagues within a department to cover for me while I was gone.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With some thought and planning, you can make preparing to go away a less harrowing experience.

Solopreneurs’ Pre-vacation Survival Guide

Here are my ready-set-don’t-fret tips for getting your act together before you leave your office.

    • Let clients know you’ll be going out of town.
      Don’t only inform them about when you’ll be gone; also let them know on what date you’ll no longer be working on assignments. For example, if your plane leaves for Florida on Tuesday, August 5, you might decide you won’t work on client projects after Friday, August 1.I typically give myself at least one business day off before I leave because I always discover there are eleventh hour errands to run and personal tasks to tend to. You might also want to include the day after you return as an off-limits day so you can catch up on things at home or administrative tasks. Email the dates of your unavailability to your clients at least one month in advance. If you tell them by phone, email them a reminder.  They’re human after all, and they’re likely to forget exactly when you said you’ll be leaving and when you’ll be back.
    • Reschedule assignments that would be due during the week(s) you’re on vacation.
      You’ve got the responsibility to come through for your clients. Plan to get their work done before you leave for vacation. About one month before you depart, schedule assignments on your calendar throughout the week or two before you leave so you’ve reserved ample time to complete them. Your clients will appreciate your reliability – and you won’t have to play catch up when you return home.
    • Resist taking on new assignments the week before you leave.
      Yes, the money will look awfully attractive because you know you’ll probably be spending lots of it during your vacation. But if a prospect or client brings a new project your way just before you leave, ask if you can begin to work on it after you return. Remember, in adherence to the last bullet point, you’ve already scheduled client work for that week before vacation. And then there’s always the unexpected that can – and likely will – pop up just as you’re starting to have visions of palm trees and margaritas dancing in your head. Don’t load up your pre-vacation week too heavily, or you could find yourself scrambling.
      • Schedule your blog posts and social media updates.
        Just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean your marketing efforts have to go on a hiatus, too. You can still keep your blog and social media accounts afloat by writing your posts and updates ahead of time and scheduling them to publish while you’re gone. If you have a WordPress blog, you can future-date posts. Tools like Hootsuite and Buffer make it easy to schedule social media updates, plus Facebook has built-in scheduling capabilities.

 

    • Pay your bills in advance.
      If you’re not set up for automatic payments, schedule time in advance to take care of any bills that will be due while you’re gone. This year, my Verizon Wireless and Visa payments will be due during my vacation, so I’ve created an appointment on my Google Calendar to remit them the week before I leave. That helps me in two ways: 1. They won’t slip my mind. 2. I won’t lose sleep over worrying about them slipping my mind.
    • Set up your automated email vacation response.
      Don’t haggle with this at the last minute. Do it at least a week or two in advance so you’re done with it. Set it so people know when you’ll be unavailable, which would include the time before and directly after vacation when you’ll be preparing to leave or catching up after you return.
      • Change your voice mail greeting on your office phone and mobile phone.
        Obviously, you wouldn’t want to do this too far in advance of your vacation, but take care of it the day before you’ll no longer be available to field client calls.

 

    • Create an instructions sheet for the person(s) who will be looking after your home while you’re gone.
      If you’ve got a house/pet sitter who takes care of your home and furry family members when you’re on vacation, you can avoid the worry of “Did I tell them everything they need to know?” by creating an instructions sheet. We’ve used one for the past several years, and we update it each time we go away if anything has changed. We include: our dog’s feeding and medication schedule, our plants’ watering schedule (I’ve got 40 outdoor potted plants in a variety of places, so yes, this is a necessity!), the combination for opening our garage door with the outdoor keypad, swimming pool care instructions, our mobile phone numbers, our home’s landline voice mail password, location of our vacuum cleaner, local emergency contacts, and most important – our Wi-Fi password!

I know. It sounds like a lot of work. But when you’ve got everything in order ahead of time, you can spare yourself the debilitating rush of cortisol that comes from frantically taking care of loose ends at the last minute.

Try it, and I think you’ll agree; you’ll relax more easily and enjoy that first vacation cocktail so much more by planning for your departure in advance.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ Post

[Image is from one of our past vacations at South Padre Island TX]
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The Takeaway for Every Small Biz Owner from the Donald Sterling Fiasco

Most of us don’t have the mass media exposure (or capital at stake) like L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, but his recent private racist rant that turned public holds a lesson for all of us as business owners.

No matter what we say or do and no matter to whom we say or do it, it can affect us professionally. blurred lines

Like it or not, we too, are public figures to some degree. We’re the face of our businesses and our words and actions – even those used in our personal lives – can either draw people to or push them away from our brands.

While the mass media won’t be focused on what we do, social media can just as effectively spread the word about anything we’ve done to offend, degrade, or otherwise infuriate people.

Some might argue we should be able to speak our minds and do what we want – free country, right?

True…However, if you want your business to thrive, the reality is you need to be careful and cognizant of the risks.

In this world where anything we say and do can be held against our businesses instantly, we need to:

  • Control our tempers.
  • Think before we speak or write.
  • Be in tune with the feelings of others.
  • Act respectfully even when we don’t agree with others.

For some that comes naturally. For others, it’s a struggle.

The lines between what’s personal and professional are increasingly blurred. We can do what we want and say what we want, but we need to realize what we say and do personally could affect our businesses.

Your turn – What are your thoughts about the blurred lines between what’s “personal” and what’s “business”?

 

By Dawn Mentzer