Writers are nice people–really!

IMG_0646At least once a week someone will either message me or call me and I usually hear the same phrase–“I want to do what you do.” I guess I make this freelance writer’s life sound too exciting but let me dispel the myth right now–this life can be isolating, financially challenging and very frustrating some days. Don’t get me wrong. I am living my “dream.”  I do get out since I write about travel and sometimes I like to do magazine interviews in person. But I also live in reality. I am honest and helpful and others have been to me as well.

Here’s some quick advice for this week. I plan on doing a series of posts with more information. I am not charging money or signing you up for a list. You can subscribe to this blog and you will get updated when I post them.  Please remember my clients and their deadlines come first so be patient.

So here’s my advice:

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others.
  2. Don’t measure your success by the number of social media followers you have. You may have 15 social media followers but if they are engaged and helping you reach your goals, it’s a win.
  3. Do set goals. I fall short here, not on purpose, but because I am helping my clients and my own pages come last. But I don’t stop trying.
  4. Ask for advice but be mindful of the other person’s time. I have fallen behind on my own work giving out free advice. I want to help but I have work to do as well.
  5. Be supportive of others.

What topics would you like to know more about? Send me a message or comment here.

Instagram and those annoying hashtags

I was very late to the Instagram party. But after years of planning, I finally started my travel blog over the summer and I learned quickly that Instagram is the best place to share photos of my adventures. I was lucky that I had an expert who could help me. He just happens to be my teenage son and he has grown his Instagram followers by just sharing pictures and experiences. I asked him to write about Instagram and hashtags before the big announcement that the social media site is considering hiding hashtags. You can read more about that here. But until those changes are made, here’s some advice from my expert. 

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Photo by energepic.com on Pexels.com

Hashtags are annoying. There, I said it. They clutter up your captions and make you look like you are craving attention (which we sort of are). Unfortunately, they’re sometimes necessary to grow your account and expand your business options. Smaller influencers that rely on hashtags as a way of getting their posts to the people that are potentially interested in them have figured out some clever ways to use hashtags that will make them less obvious. Be warned, however, that Instagram’s regulations involving hashtags can be fickle, and your account can be shadowbanned if the algorithm thinks you’re abusing them. But let’s put that aside for a moment and start with the basics.

The Rules

You can use up to thirty hashtags on an Instagram post, but using that many hashtags too many times will get you in trouble. Aim for ten to twenty at most.

Target Your Hashtags

Find hashtags that not only fit your niche but also fit your engagement rates. If you have a couple thousand followers, your posts will be buried alive in a hashtag with millions of post. Comparing the average number of like you receive to the average number of like on posts in a hashtag is a good way to find ones to use. This will also make it more likely for your post to be placed in the coveted “Top Posts” section.

Hide Them Away

Post your hashtags in the comments of your photo instead of the caption.

Bullet Points

Use stacked bullet points to hide the hashtags even further.

Hashtags in Your Bio? Maybe Not.

Instagram now lets you include hashtags in your bio, but honestly, they look desperate sitting there, and very few people actually search for accounts based on hashtags. My advice is to exclude them.

Change Your Hashtags as Your Account Grows

Keep track of your average like and change your hashtags as they grow. The further up the line you get, the more competitive hashtags you can get away with using.

How to connect your church using social media–a review

How many times have you looked at your social media today? If you are like most of us, you are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or another site several times a day. You use social media to connect with friends and even with businesses and brands you like. And I have learned that social media is what you make it and it is not just a tool for political rantings and cat pictures. I have groups where prayer requests are made and I often use my personal site as a place where people can ask for prayer. But what about our churches? I don’t do a lot of reviews but my colleague Chris Craft has spurred my interest in social media and how churches use it with his eBook, The Connected Church.

In the past decade, more churches have begun to use this tool to reach their members. According to statistics from Buzzplant, about 51% of churches are using social media. Most of the churches use Facebook with a few using Twitter and Instagram.

Like me, Chris has dedicated his career to helping businesses with their marketing using his writing talents. And he has a heart for helping churches use social media to connect with their members. In his eBook, Chris points out that social media is not a tool for increasing attendance but rather a way for the members to keep up with church activities and events. Many of the people who run church social media sites are just volunteers and have no formal training in marketing.  Chris’s easy-to-read book is full of ideas that include:

  • How to create visual content for your social media sites.
  • How to break down your weekly sermon into social media posts.
  • How to create a blog.
  • How to manage your content in a timely way.

The Connected Church is packed full of information that can help churches use social media in a more impactful way.  I recommend it to any church that is looking to use social media to connect with its members. You can learn more here.

 

 

Do you want to eat carrots ALL of your life? Diversify your marketing plan.

Marketing is challenging and sometimes what works for one client won’t work for others. But there are some truths. I know that unless you plan and set goals, you are like an exercise bike—you are pedaling hard but getting nowhere. And I know that a marketing or publicity campaign is not ‘one size fits all.’ It’s especially true for social media. The public may grow tired of one social media platform and all of the dollars a company has invested in that platform may be useless after a while. Facebook’s announcement that it was changing what we see in our news feeds is one example. Companies who placed an emphasis on Facebook are now worried their ads will not be seen.

Full disclosure—I have run campaigns that were only on Facebook or a couple of social media platforms that were pretty successful at the time. But those decisions were largely based on the client’s preference and not my recommendations. My recommendation is to always have a healthy menu that has a variety of “dishes.” Carrots are great and very healthy, but is that the only thing you want to eat for a long period of time? Don’t you want a little steak?

How do you start? First, make sure you know your customers and know where they are consuming their information. For some of them, social media is the “meat and potatoes” of their existence. Depending on your demographics, you may have some “old school” customers who still get their information mainly from newspapers. Determining where your customers get their information may take trial and error but it is an important part of your plan.

Once you know where you want to spend your dollars, determine your budget. It’s okay to spend 2/3 of your marketing budget in one place if you can reach most of your customers there. But never spend 100% on any one platform. I plan a marketing budget similar to the plate method dieticians use when helping you develop a healthy diet. One half should be your protein—the marketing tool that works best for you. It can be social media ads or a billboard. The other half of your plate should be split between two other nutritional items or platforms that have some return. These platforms may only give you a few responses but those responses turn into customers. Or it could be platforms with a high response rate but a low ROI. Again, you determine what works for you.

If you want, you can leave room for dessert. This could be a platform you like but doesn’t give you any results. A good example is an advertisement you take out in your local newspaper only because your cousin is the salesperson. You may not get any response but you like your cousin.

I also make sure I have enough set aside for “snacks.” From a marketing standpoint, these are platforms I may want to sample every once in a while. Even though many people think print media is dead, I am seeing several new glossy publications in the area where I live. I would not recommend purchasing a long-term contract, but at least give it three months. You need to give people an opportunity to see the ad several times. “Snacks” are also opportunities for you to try some new ‘foods.” Maybe you have seen ad on your local cable station and you have been considering it. Go ahead! Give it a try.

So why should you try different marketing methods? First, as I mentioned, you need to find out what works best to maximize your ROI. And in some cases, you want to keep goodwill with your resources, like a local magazine or TV station.

I have only mentioned a few marketing opportunities here but you have hundreds you can try. So sit down at the table and create your marketing plan.

 

 

 

 

 

How mindfulness can sharpen creativity

mindfullnewssThis post was written by Lee Webb.  

According to The Merriam-Webster dictionary, mindfulness is “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis…” The way I view it, mindfulness can be as simple as paying more attention. It’s this idea that taking time to better sense the world leads to a better appreciation for it and a more positive outlook on life. The concept of mindfulness also proves extremely useful for creatives. Whether you write words, mix sounds, capture photos, or do anything that involves making something new, allowing yourself to be more mindful has the same benefits. Taking the extra moments to process affords you a deeper understanding of the object of your art.

Say a small town journalist named Pam has been assigned an article on local luxury home. Pam can interview top designers and high-class residents. She can photograph and examine the diverse angular features and stylistic preferences of many. But, Pam has a deeper technique in mind for producing this article. She takes time to stop and pay attention to what she feels when she steps into a room. She notices the way the light seeps in and how the smells seem to transport her to another time. She takes the time to search her emotions and notice how the various environments affect her thoughts. This is mindfulness at its finest.

All this uniquely personal information transforms Pam’s somewhat basic assignment into something much more connected and real. It makes her work something special that stands apart from the cold, only-technical work of her peers. She has created something that her readers will not only be informed by but feel connected to on a deeper level. Years down the road, Pam may be an award-winning writer for the New York Times with an enormous, loyal following.

Mindfulness can seem like some sort of hipster joo-joo at first, but it’s actually so simple and easy that it seems foolish to ignore the benefits. Being sharply aware of the world around you has a way of deepening the already infinite creative well inside, allowing us to transform simple things into art that is layered, unique, and unforgettable.

The post I didn’t think I would write

I am not a New Year’s resolution kind of person. I start every day, every week and every month fresh. Sometimes I even start over in the middle of a day. I always hated writing those year-end and looking ahead stories when I was in print media.

And I can’t believe I am writing this now.

But 2017 was another year of change and to some degree loss. After losing my parents, mother-in-law and some dear friends in 2016, I was hopeful for a better year. I was sputtering along the first three months knowing I was not happy and questioning  my career goals. I was talking to my husband one day and I told him I was willing to go wherever God led me. I just wanted an answer.

The very next day I was laid off from my job.  I began planning my future on the drive home. In the weeks that followed, I looked for full-time jobs but I knew that wasn’t what I was supposed to do. I wanted to freelance, do exciting projects and work with clients from all over the world. The past nine months have been some of the happiest for me. I have had my ups and downs. But it’s been a blessing and so rewarding.

I love unlimited in my work.  To Al Gore or whoever created this Internet thing, thank you.  I have worked with clients from all over the United States and in several countries. I have written about everything from state lemon laws, self-driving cars, the telecom industry, SaaS, balsamic vinegar, apple growing and a lot of things I am sure I am forgetting. I thought I wanted to do some event planning but after about 42 of them, I hung that up. I learned what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is, what the Dodd-Frank Act is, and what a fintech is. Every day is fun and exciting and I don’t have to shower, do my hair or even change out of my pajamas. (I do shower daily but sometimes I just put on another pair of pjs if I am busy.) I have met so many great people virtually and a few of them in person. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this crazy ride this year.

I am so excited for next year as I already have some fun new projects for January as I continue some current ones. I believe it’s all because of the prayer I said in March. I don’t mean to get mushy but it helps to have support in life and I have the best in my husband, Steve, and son, Lee who are there for me daily. And thanks to anyone reading this, especially if you got this far and for supporting me.

Here’s to a great 2018 for all of us!

 

 

 

 

This school of life

I loved school. All of it. Even the draining term papers on some random moment in history and the calculus I don’t really understand even now. My recent work has been a re-education of sorts for me. I am lucky to have worked on a variety of projects and realize that I need to read more! Understand, I am not stupid. I just spent many years in the daily news grind. Once you write the arrest report, cover a county commission meeting and write a story about the latest charity event, the last thing you want to do when you get home is think. Here a few of my recent subjects.

  • My first big challenge was an assignment that included a referent to IoT. I had to look it up and I learned the Internet of Things applies to every industry differently.  I haven’t found a way to drop it into a conversation yet, but I will.
  • I have written for the financial sector before but now I am deep into it daily. I apparently missed the news stories about the Dood-Frank Act but I am on top of the Financial Choice Act. What is happening in Congress is very interesting right now.
  • Did you know that gun holsters can save an officer’s life? Safety companies can rate a holster’s “retention,” or the amount of time it takes for an officer to get the gun out of the holster. Those few seconds can save an officers life.
  • Some of the permafrost in Siberia is beginning to thaw. This can be big trouble for a country that’s infrastructure is built on the frozen tundra.

I wake up excited every day about what I will learn next. For me, this is the life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a site for that

I was living part-time with my parents a few years ago and doing a lot for freelance writing. I am not sure when it started but my once in a while my dad would come into my room and ask me what I was writing about that day. Back in those days, I was doing a lot of work for an agency that handled copy for real estate agents. I wrote community descriptions of places I’ve never been from Florida to Oregon. One day my answer was chickens because I was writing two profiles for a poultry magazine. I also wrote for a magazine about floor coverings–not too surprising since I live just half an hour from the Carpet Capital of the World. These stories were not as exciting as the hundred of crime and legal stories I wrote as a reporter and those are usually the ones I get asked about most often.

Until I started freelancing a dozen years ago I had no idea about the number of trade magazines. Even before the Internet made content king you could find magazines focusing on pizza restaurants, carpet, Christmas tree farms and tree trimming to name a few. Every once in a while one of these magazines contacts me to do an article. I also hear from businesses who want me to write up their announcements or press releases to submit to their trade publications.

This is what I love about my career. I can be writing about anything and interviewing anyone on any given day. And no day is ever the same. This week is a good example as I will be interviewing two attorneys, a chiropractor and a city councilman. You may think your business is too mundane. But trust me, somewhere there is a place for your story.

 

 

 

50 ways to…(well almost)

I was in elementary school when Paul Simon came out with “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” I haven’t counted the number of ways in the song but I don’t think it was 50.

Today, business owners have almost as many ways to tell their story than Paul Simon had to leave his lover (not sure if he left her since they were sleeping on it in the last verse). Let’s just talk about 10.

  1. Your website. This is often the first impression you make on a customer. You can include many story-telling techniques on your site but make sure to include these pages–about, contact, homepage, landing page, etc… and make sure the pages are error free and well written.
  2. Blog. A blog is an easy way to share your uncensored thoughts about your company and industry (hint, you are reading one right now). The blog can help your search engine rankings. If you don’t have one, you can create one right here in WordPress and link it to your website. And if you don’t have a website, you can create one of those right here in WordPress, too.
  3. Press release. Newspapers are not dead and not everything is “fake news.” Your local media is a great partner in telling your story. Some newspapers, like the Kansas City Star, have a separate website for posting press releases. You can also use online distribution sites to reach a wider audience. Some of these do require a fee but some of them are free.
  4. Business announcement. I consider these different from press releases because you are targeting just the business section of a newspaper or magazine. These are sections that are like “Who’s Who in Business.” Do you have a new employee? Have you promoted an employee? Send in an announcement to a magazine or newspaper’s business section. It’s good for employee morale and for public relations.
  5. Case study. How has your company helped one of your customers? Case studies tell the story of how you met a challenge with a winning solution. A case study more than a testimonial–it’s a complete story. Companies post these on their websites and add them to their media kits.
  6. White papers. While case studies focus on a customer/client experience, white papers focus on the benefits of a product for customers. These are longer and are usually just used business to business. White papers require extensive research.
  7. Photographs. You don’t just have to tell your story with words. Instagram, Pinterest and other social media sites allow you to tell your story with pictures and captions.
  8. Videos. Once very expensive to make, prices have decreased for professional videos. If the video is going to be used for a recruitment or sales too, hire someone to produce it.
  9. Infographics. Sites like Canva have made it easy for marketers to produce graphics that are eye-catching. Make sure the infographic tells a story about your business.
  10. Podcasts allow you to listen anywhere–in your car, while working out, etc… If you don’t like your own voice, hire a voice-over professional.

You know you want to tell your story using one or more of these methods but you have no idea where to begin or what may work for you. That’s where I can help. If you have read this far, I will offer a 25 percent discount on my services if you sign before June 15. Click here to set up a free consultation.

Sometimes stories write themselves

This started out as a fun conversation with a client then I posted it on Facebook.

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As you can see one of my friends has the gift for writing humor.

I am not sure if I would have used a funny headline while the search for the man continued. But I certainly would have used the play on words in follow-stories. This stuff just writes itself.