Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Blasting the blank page bogey out of your life

Sometimes we need to loosen up our writing by doing straightforward things. 

Complete the following sentence.  As I waited at the bus stop, standing next to me in the queue was...

Let your imagination go.  Or remember a time you stood in a bus queue. 

You don't have to show this to anybody  You can delete everything you write.  Or you can use the idea as a basis for a story.

This exercise is taken from my book The Writer's little book of Big Ideas.  To see more about the book go to the home page.

Inspiring quotes for writers

"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Happy birthday Michel de Montaigne

"Even on the most exalted throne in the world, we are only sitting on our own rear end."

I can't remember at this late stage what made me buy his Essays back in the 1960s but unlike other philosophers I bought then because I thought I should, his book still sits on my shelves.  Well thumbed. 

There have been several articles and this last few months even a radio play about him.  Maybe his time has come again.  All I know is that from the first he made me laugh and something in his down to earth words clicked with me.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Writing for your business; how to change your mindset about writing

Recently I was talking to a woman trying to set up a business from home. She was committed, passionate... overwhelmed.. Then she said, ‘And I’ve got to write for my website.’ I almost laughed because she sounded so tragic. But I didn’t because I knew for her it was a difficult task. So we sat down and I tried to find a way to help her write about something she loved doing.and wanted to share with others.

She mentioned three difficulties that were preventing her from writing.

1. I hated writing in school.

2. My mind goes a blank when I start to write.

3. Nobody will want to hear from me; what do I know?

Let's unpick what's happening with each of these mind blocks.

1. I hated writing in school.

Writing in school is specific to school work, passing exams and getting good grades.  Ticking the boxes often.  If you’re not naturally good at writing, it gets worse if you receive bad grades. Especially when teachers either don’t have the time or won’t show you an easier way to tackle the writing.

How do you blow this obstacle out of the water? By realising that you’re when you write about your business you're not writing an essay. That’s not what’s needed. You do have to follow some kind of order in your writing but that’s because you want people to understand you.

Think back to how you found out about what service or product you offer. What excited you about it? Was it because you had a problem and it provided the solution?

If so then write down what your problem was and how the product or service solved it. Create how you felt at the time with this problem and then how you felt when it was solved.  Use emotional words in your writing. That’s important because it’s the emotion around the problem and its solution that will create the connection with your reader..

2. My mind goes a blank when I start to write.

Accept that writing may not be your biggest talent at the moment. But you may be great at talking to people about your business. I’ve seen many women freeze when they start to write even though I know how responsive and articulate they are when speaking.

So make the most of the skill you have. Value it in a positive way and record what you want to say about your business. If you still feel self conscious about doing that, then ask a friend to interview you.

Choose some questions they can ask you and then record your conversation. In some ways this is better because they can prompt you as the conversation develops and remind you of things you may have overlooked.

Transcribe the conversation (TOP TIP for transcription – record in small sections.  You won’t have to go backwards and forwards on the tape then). What you’ll have in your transcription is a basic piece of writing about your business. Polish it over time but you’ll have done 80% of the work.

3. Nobody will want to hear from me – I’m not famous and I’m an every day kind of person.

Which would you prefer the gentle advice or the harsh?
Gentle is to say you have your own identity and unique take on what you’re doing.
Harsh is to say get over yourself.

Take your choice.

My Mum used to tell me off for being shy. She said it was selfish because I was making people work harder to get to know me. And I had a responsibility to make other people feel comfortable.

(Great technique for parties or networking by the way if you are shy; imagine you’re the hostess and it’s your job to make sure nobody feels lost or alone. It always gives me the courage to approach people on their own and start a conversation.)

If you’re running a business you’re doing it because you believe you can help other people. That means that you have a responsibility to share what you know. It’s not being selfish to want our point of view to be heard. I’ve been helping a coach writing a book with this same problem. Her version of this was, ‘there’s nothing left to say.’

So I asked her ‘has it been said from your point of view with your experience?’

And in terms of your customers, well they’re every day people like you with the same human problems and the same need for solutions. That’s your connection to them and you have no idea how much you can help them till you try.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

How to write for your business: making that real connection with your reader

I’ve talked in other articles about the passion that led you into your business and how you need to project that passion in your writing.

3 strategies to use to energise your writing:

1. Create a picture of your reader.

2. Hold in your mind what you can do for them.

3. Connect at a deep level with them.

It’s easy to lose sight of these elements when we’re in a hurry to write for our website, an article or brochure. Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines can cause us to skate over the surface of what we want to say.

Taking time to dig deeper can have positive results and unexpected benefits.

1. Create a picture of your reader

When I was learning to write for business I was taught to create a profile of my ideal reader for the product or service I was writing about. Everything down to what type of shoes they might wear and what they ate for breakfast. At the time it seemed overkill to me but try talking to your audience  individuals

After all, only one person at a time reads your words... even if someone is reading over a friend's shoulder, they're still reading in their own way at their own pace.  Each person interprets what they read based on their experience.  To prove that ask a few people you trust to read something of yours and watch as they each come up with a different reaction.

Listening to your customers, really listening, not merely trying to sell them, will lead to a deeper understanding of their needs. And that’s what we all want isn’t it? To be understood as individuals.

2. Hold in your mind what you can do for them

Whenever I write for a client, my focus is on what result they want.  Yes of course I want to write the best piece possible.  But it's not about my writing and how elegant or precise it might be.
I try to imagine the client they're aiming at.  What are their needs, their desires, their fears?

My goal is to help my client make the best connection possible with those individuals.  Holding that intention in your mind can cause you to write in a different way.

3. Connect at a deep level with them

What you write about your business has this possibility of changing someone’s life. In what I’ve helped clients to write I’ve seen the impact on individuals.

I’ve seen people who didn’t think they could write, create not only websites but books. I’ve seen people change their lives by means of coaching they’ve received from a generous spirit. And I’ve seen the business owner change as a result.

Let your writing express your emotions; create your individual position and trust that you’ll connect with those who need you.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Quotes for writers

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and your writing will be just as it should be."  Mark Twain

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

How to write articles for your business: common elements in all your writing

If you’ve ever admired someone who writes fast and without mistakes but worry that you’ll never be so proficient, here are some of their secrets to speed up your progress.

All professional writers have a system and you can develop your own method when writing anything for your business.  Of course experienced writers can write faster than you, after all it’s their job. And it may take you some time to get into your groove. But being in charge of the writing for your company is the most valuable marketing tool you can develop. Believe me the practice will pay off.

All methods will depend on the same key points.  Keep these key points in mind every time you write and you'll shorten the time it takes you.

1. Cut out unnecessary fluff.

Many of the new entrepreneurs I work with confused themselves by writing too much. They were so afraid of missing out anything important that they included everything. Rather like my history essays back in school.
That’s inevitable in the beginning because you may not have worked out exactly what is important in marketing terms. It isn’t a bad stage to go through because it does make sure you don’t forget anything.

One way of sorting out what’s fluff and what isn’t is to have someone else look at your writing. If you can’t afford a professional writer to work with, then find a friend who knows something about the market you’re aiming at.

What you need is an objective assessment of your strengths and weaknesses in relation to the market. That’s what a professional would provide because they’re looking for the most powerful strengths in your history, your product and service they can find to put across to the reader.

2. Cover essential elements

Every piece you write will be slightly different depending on who it’s aimed at, where you’re placing it and what result you want from it.

You still need to build it around the same basic, sound, structure no matter its destination. This will be part of the method that will help you write fast, with a purpose and to create a result

Many business writers use open questions to help them construct a piece of text and I urge you to try it out if you haven’t used it before.

Who, What, Why, When, How.  I've heard them described as the writer's best friends.

To walk you through how it might work for your business I’ve chosen the example of a coach providing career change services from a home office.

What type of coaching do you offer?
Can I see you face to face or have consultations by telephone?
Why would I choose your service rather than another coach?
What results might I see and how long would it take to see those results?
How can I pay for your services?
When can I access your service?

These and many other questions will come up about any type of business.  Having the answers at the heart of what you write helps.  Which leads us to:
3. Make it easy for your reader.

I'm busy, I'm in a hurry and I want to know NOW, please.
The questions I’ve outlined above offer you a way in to cover the essential and often repeated requests for information.  Whatever our business, these days in a global market very few of us can claim a monopoly of service. That means we have to have something that draws people to us. More often than not, it proves to be us as business people. It’s the relationships we build that create the business.

That’s why creating easy to read text is vital in connecting with your reader. Develop your personal writing style centred and grounded in your passion for your business and belief that you can help people with your product or service.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

How to write for your business: becoming the expert

When you start in business for yourself you may not feel very confident about your skills at running a business. But what you’ll feel confident about is how well you know your area of expertise or products.

That's important because it  means you can create your expert status easily.

Here are some ideas on how to use your expert knowledge to promote your business.
1. Offer your knowledge whenever you network

If you attend many networking events you know that you’re likely to go home with a pocket full of business cards. (Tip for networking: Wear a jacket with two pockets. Keep your cards in one and use the other for the cards you receive.)

Which cards stick out in your mind?  The ones where you make a real connection, or the ones which are different?  How about choosing something that will be so different and useful to those who receive it that they’ll remember you?

Write a short article – under 250 words – with tips as an introduction to what you do. You have three choices then:

1. Take the articles ready photocopied and hand them out at the event.

2. Give out a card with a web page where they can download your article.

3. Offer to email them the article.

This strategy sends out 3 messaages. First that you’re comfortable writing. Second that you know what you’re talking about. Third that you’re generous with passing on information.

2. Make connections that will have people coming to you for information

Have some pieces written on different aspects of your business that you can offer to people in the media immediately. Perhaps to your local paper, trade journal or community news.

As soon as people in the media know you can write something interesting and can supply it at a moments notice, they’re more likely to use you.   Looking forward you can suggest a column of advice on your topic that will be of genuine interest to your readers.

3. Be prepared to be generous with what you know

It’s very tempting when you’re new in business to hold to your chest your particular skills – in case someone steals your ideas or products.  But offering something free before people ask for anything is a way to stimulate the practice of Reciprocity. (for a more in-depth look at Reciprocity I recommend Robert Cialdini’s book on Influence.).

You may think this is a risky strategy and of course you have to use some judgement about what you can share or not. But I’m a believer in sharing and I know from my own experience that you receive back more than you give out. It may not come back in the same way but come back it will.

Remember that many who might be able to benefit from your advice and knowledge may not be in the position to pay for high value items like consulting. Give them a way in to you that will build a long term relationship.  They could end up becoming a new, very profitable client when they grow their business.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Happy National Libraries Day 2012

I went to my local library this morning to borrow a DVD and wish the staff a Happy National Libraries Day.  They were aiming across all the Derbyshire libraries to issue 10,000 books today so I added in my contribution to help.  Of course I was tempted to do so by the chance of winning some book tokens!

Walking back I began to think about the contribution libraries have made to my life and how much poorer I'd have been without them.  So this is my love letter to libraries today and all who work in them.

For a start I'd have missed out on twenty years of a fascinating career.  And that's my first confession.  It's thirty years since I stopped being a librarian but it's still in my blood.  That professional instinctive look round when I walk in any library.  How do they do things, what's on offer and what are the staff like?

It was Monica Edwards, librarian who tempted me into my career.  One of a series of career novels when I was growing up and haunting our local library, over the canal bridge and on the first floor of the local council offices.  Followed by Monica Edwards, mobile librarian; both of which I became.  A love born of three strands; the books, of course, the borrowers, and the organisation.  All those trays with readers tickets and book cards.  Bless the Brown issuing system.

When I joined Lancashire County Library straight from school I felt like I'd died and gone to heaven to be surrounded by thousands of books.  Despite spending much of a year in the subterraneun regions of the circulating department  our reach stretched over the whole county as we sorted, allocated and despatched books every week.  And I did get to see parts of the county on two mobile routes across some of the most beautiful hill country outside Preston.

Libraries now are so different from when I began.  Computers were starting to be used when I left my final posting in academic libraries and very few could have quite predicted then the technology now available in all libraries. 

It's my belief libraries will survive; despite our staid image, librarians have always been ready to meet changing conditions and times.  Surviving the current loss of funding will be challenging but I'm heartened by the commitment in Derbyshire to keep the service going. 

Very few people I guess look up as they walk in my local library and study the inscription about it being a Carnegie library.  A man with a vision to allow those less fortunate to have access to a place of learning and of safety.  A place where if you wanted you could meet like minded people. 

Even in these days of Google and Amazon, I pray that such places still will exist, where all are welcomed, their horizons extended and doors are opened.  It happened for me and changed my life.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

How to create a book - fast

Writing articles is a great way to offer short, targeted information to your readers.  Having exerted yourself to produce the article why not make more use of it?

Turn your articles into a book.

What me an author you cry?  Of course you an author.  And to your cry of why me, my answer is, Why Not?

Today’s internet technology with self publishing companies takes the hard work out of it.  No longer do you have to worry about the technical aspects of publishing.  They guide you every step of the way.

And what better calling card can you have than a book?  Proves you know what you're talking about.

Gone are the days when you're at the mercy of publishing houses.  One of my clients chose to self publish.  Why?  Because she then was in control of the time the book emerged and how it was marketed.

If you have any kind of social media presence, you can strengthen your position... ahead of time by dropping hints about what you're doing.
If you still need convincing, here are three reasons for writing to help you decide on the type of articles you can write that will form the core of the book.

Make sure your writing is market driven
Listen to the feedback you receive from your customers.

When you analyse your Google stats and customer testimonials they tell you what your customers and prospects are interested in.

Run an online survey.  Link it from a newsletter where you talk about a problem in your market.  Ask them what their priorities are.
When you collate this information, certain topics will rise to the surface every time. That's what you need to focus on..

Even if you only have 50 pages of information., it doesn't matter.  As long as that information is valuable to your reader, people will pay you for it.

Use all your offline networking skills

Talk to people.  Everywhere.  Depends of course what your products or services cover.  Go where your customers meet.  School gates, golf clubs, dancing studios.  Doesn't matter where as long as you can get some face to face feedback about what's needed.

Or how about taking someone out to lunch.  Listen, listen and listen some more.  If they have no objection, record it then transcribe the information. 
Even if you hate the thought of it, giving talks is a great way of connecting.  Go in with an open mind, and some specific information you know will be helpful.  It may take a few talks before you feel comfortable; it did for me.  But doing it offers you ideas and possibilities you might not see otherwise.

Be social media savvy
Haven’t time to spend on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter? Think of it as market research again rather than being a waste of time. One of my clients is using discussion forums to start conversations as a way of refining the topics she’s chosen for her book.

What’s surprised her, because she normally works in a local area is that the commenting is global.  It changed her perspective on her book from - oh little unknown me, to I have the chance to influence people globally.

It’s opened up her thinking about how to present the information and the topics to focus on. From being a rather reluctant writer, she’s become much more involved in the process of creating what people need.

I hope I've started you thinking about a book, even if it still scares you. Having done it, I can tell you it frightened me. But take it in easy stages and you can do.

Any book you write will find an audience, if you make sure that you’re addressing the problems that people suffer and need solving.