If you love the English language, as I do, Merriam-Webster videos are pure delight.
This one will make you very happy that English is your native language (if it is) and you will forever feel sorry (and, I hope, forgiving) for those who have to learn it.
Here’s a good, brief article I came across today on Open Forum. I’m pasting in part of it AND giving you the link. Not trying to fool you into thinking I wrote it. Just wanted you to have the info. Here goes:
Affect vs. effect. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two is that “affect” means “to influence.” So if you’re going to influence something, you will affect it. If it’s the result of something, it’s an effect.
Impact. Impact is a noun, not a verb. A plane can crash on impact. You can have an impact on something. But you cannot impact something. (When you are tempted to use “impact” as a verb, use “affect” instead; see #1
Their, they’re and there. You’d think everyone would have learned this rule in fourth grade, but it’s a very common mistake. Use “there” when referring to a location, “their” to indicate possession, and “they’re” when you mean to say “they are.”
Care less. The dismissive “I could care less” is incorrect. If you could care less about it, then you’re saying you could care less about the topic, and you’ve lost the impact you meant to have. To use this phrase correctly, insert the word “not” after the word “could,” as in, “I could not care less.”
Irregardless. This word doesn’t exist. The word you should use is “regardless.”
Your and you’re. Another mistake you’ll often see in people’s social media profiles or other content they create is the incorrect us of “your” and “you’re.” If you mean to say “you are,” the correct word is “you’re.” Use “your” when referring to something that belongs to “you,” as in “your business.”
Fewer vs. less. Another common mistake, “less” refers to quantity and “fewer” to a number. For instance, Facebook has fewer than 5,000 employees, but I got less sleep than you last night.
Quotation marks. Among the great debates, people ask all the time whether or not punctuation belongs inside or outside of quotation marks. Let’s set the record straight. The period and the comma always go inside quotation marks. The dash, the semicolon, the exclamation mark and the question mark go inside when they apply to the quoted matter (if it’s not the entire sentence) but outside when they apply to the whole sentence.
People make so many grammar mistakes today that The Elements of Style is on its fourth edition. If you keep a copy of it on your desk and practice your craft, you’ll never have to worry about the grammar police paying you a visit.
Direct mail can be a bother to the recipient, destined for a quick trip to the recycle bin. Or it can be a welcome message from a potential friend: read, understood, targeted to the recipient’s needs, and acted upon. The difference? You. So how do you stand out? By getting personal in your letters and other communications.
What I mean is revealing some things about yourself, the business owner. How did you get your start in the business? What were your dreams and aspirations when you started your business? What have you done to realize those dreams and aspirations? What have you learned along the way? And most important of all, what have you done to create a better experience and a better value for your customers?
There’s an adage in business that before you work with a person or company, you must “know, like, and trust” them. You can’t shake hands with a person via direct mail, but you can share insights into who you are, how you run your business, and what you’ve done to make doing business with you a better experience than s/he would have with another company.
If all you focus on in your direct mail letter is features and benefits, without a hint of personality or personal values, you sound like all your competitors, unless you are in a completely unique line of work. Few companies are.
Knowing you is good. How do you get to “like and trust?” Liking a person has to do with knowing something of his or her character, sense of humor, and values, doesn’t it? So in your direct mail and phone follow-ups, be sure to offer a peek into those aspects of you. And if you have other people calling prospects for you, be sure they “know, like and trust” you, too. So they can fill the prospects in on what type of person you are, and how that can help you serve their needs better than a personality-challenged, faceless company can.
In your direct mail letters, your personality should shine through. Write your letters as if you’re writing to one person, not a whole universe. Back in the old radio days, Arthur Godfrey made a name for himself, and transformed radio, by talking as if to “just you” at home. Until then, announcers had spoken as if from a mountaintop, to the world at large. How impersonal! You’re not the world, you’re you, with special tastes, issues and needs. Direct mail should speak to “you.”
Think of your business as but one in a crowd of other businesses. Look at the crowd the way your prospect does. Remember how when you go to a party, you look around to see if there’s someone you already know? It’s the same with businesses. The party is the whole crowd of businesses you’re competing with. If a prospect sees you and feels s/he knows you already, you’re one step ahead.
Here’s a cautionary tale for other freelancers, from my own bitter experience. It begins with a phone call from a prospective client looking, he said, for a long-term relationship with a freelance writer/marketing person to help him as his company grew.
“The answer to my prayers,” I thought, as I drove to his plant office to meet him. “A steady gig!”
We met for a few minutes, chatting pleasantly, then we were joined by first, his two graphic designers, and later, by several people from his sales department. Eventually, there were about eight people around the table. They all seemed delighted that I was there to help them with their marketing materials.
The company owner took a good hour explaining his business and his challenges to me. He had a number of lines of products, and the first thing he needed was a brochure. At that first meeting, I spent nearly three hours hearing from the boss and the sales people and brainstorming with the graphic designers.
I offered some solid ideas that were greeted by hurrahs and huzzahs and left feeling wonderful about this budding ongoing income source. There was a lot to do, especially for the sales department. Dollar signs were dancing in my head.
A week or so later, I met with the boss and the graphic designers about that brochure. Since the first meeting, I had studied their product line and had noticed that there were a number of different products, under different labels, that actually did the same thing. So I suggested that the company consider paring down the list of products, then rebranding the remaining products and giving them a uniform look. Also, to make the brochure and the product line easy to navigate, I suggested breaking the products into categories, according to function.
I went even further, suggesting each section of the brochure be matched to the product category by color within the layout. “Great idea!” they all said, and the boss gave his stamp of approval.
Now, the ideas I suggested may seem like Marketing 101, but had they been developed by an ad agency, it would have taken weeks of cient meetings, meeting reports, flow charts, creative meetings, mock executions, presentations, maybe focus groups, and so on, to get to the same point. The cost would have run into the tens of thousands. But I was able to condense that process into two meetings, because I (a) had worked for agencies for decades; and (b) had spent four years working on new product development and advertising for major U.S. corporations.
Wow! I did a great job for that client! In such a short time, too! Yahoo! Guess what? I screwed myself… by giving too much away.
I gave that business owner so much that he didn’t need me any more. All the talk about having a “lasting relationship” was just dating talk. But I can’t say he cheated me. I willingly gave him advice informed by years of working on new product development, marketing and advertising.
OK, so the boss was busy with all the great ideas I’d given him. But I thought perhaps I could be of help to the sales department. I had spent time listening to their problems with distributors, and I had suggested a distributor training program in PowerPoint or video, which I would be happy to write and produce for them. They were so thrilled, their toes practically curled!
When the phone didn’t ring for a couple of weeks, I realized I was waiting for a call that would never come.
In retrospect, I realized I had noticed the boss’s lack of interest in the sales department’s problems, but I was too busy to stop and ask him what he thought. Now I understood the desperate look in the sales peoples’ eyes. They were getting no support from the boss, and he wasn’t about to pay me to help them.
I had not paid proper attention to the only person in the room whose opinion mattered. My bad.
Anyhow, for a career’s worth of advice on sales and marketing, I probably billed about 20 hours. I cheated myself by giving too much away, too soon, before I really knew the lay of the land. Curses! I foiled me again!
So to sum up, I’m not saying to keep your mouth clamped shut when a new client asks for your thoughts. But beware when they say they’re looking for a long-term relationship, especially when they want you to brainstorm with them right away. They will suck all the ideas out of your brain, take them and run with them, and leave you with nothing but a puny invoice to send out.
As a freelance creative, you have paid dearly for your knowledge in terms of education and work experience. So don’t give it away, as I did. Following are eight simple steps you can take to avoid getting screwed:
1. Take notes during initial meetings. Listen 90%, talk 10%.
2. When the client has stopped talking, repeat the basics of what s/he has said, to make sure you heard it all correctly.
3. Say in general terms how you imagine you and the client should move forward (GENERAL being the operative word).
4. Stand up and thank the client for spending this time with you.
5. Say you’d like to mull over what you’ve heard and gather your thoughts, then suggest another meeting the following week at a mutually convenient time and set the meeting.
6. Shake hands and say bye-bye.
7. Send client an e-mail with bullet points of what you discussed and confirm the next meeting day and time.
8. Invoice the client in a timely manner. (You’ve discussed terms long before this, of course, and probably had him or her sign a contract or agreement setting them out. Which is a topic for another post.)
8a. At the next meeting, don’t get hooked into brainstorming again. Repeat steps 1 through 8. Then you’ll be prepared with a few cogent ideas at each meeting — not too much, and not too little.
And if, despite this sad story and sage advice, you decide to blab everything you know in one or two client meetings, don’t blame me. You’ve been warned!
You probably do speak “animal,” only you’re not aware of it. As a freelance copywriter, I’m always on the lookout for different ways to say things. The other day, I said someone was “happy as a clam.” That led me to wondering, “Are clams really happy?” Only a clam knows, and he’s not telling. But it spurred me to think of all the ways we incorporate animals into our language. How many of these animal-related expressions do you use? Can you think of other, newer ones?
• Sick as a dog
• Barking orders (as a Sergeant in the Army)
• Crowing (about accomplishments)
• Old bat
• Old goat
• Raven hair
• Mousy brown
• Chicken (scared)
• Flown the coop
• Strong as a bull
• Sly as a fox
• Hungry enough to eat a horse
• Gentle as a lamb
• Fat as a pig
• Proud as a peacock
• Hungry as a bear
• Catty (Meow!)
• Crooked as a dog’s hind leg (my grandfather’s expression)
• Low as a snake
• Dogging it
• Wolf (skirt-chaser)
• Wolf down
• Slug (couch potato)
• Slow as a snail/snail’s pace
• Tortoise and hare
• The ants and the grasshopper (familiar fable)
• Rat (one who betrays someone else)
• Ratty (messy)
• Cat’s paw (operative)
• Ass/jackass (fool)
• Stubborn as a mule
• Sing like a bird (either a good singer or a stool pigeon — hey, there’s another one!)
• Chirp (happy way to speak)
• Drink like a fish
• Something’s fishy
• Big as a whale
• Memory of an elephant
• Slippery as an eel
• Graceful as a gazelle
• Monkeying around
• As much fun as a barrel full of monkeys (Not sure that would be fun)
• Gorilla (Big, mean guy)
• Sting like a bee (Part of Ali’s chant)
• Busy as a bee
• Social butterfly
Got any more?
You say things haven’t been going so well in your business? You say your kid got a D in all of his classes and may not graduate? You say you got a flat tire on the way here? And your bunion is killing you?
Guess what? Nobody wants to hear about it. Especially strangers you just met at a networking event or party. I know, it’s sad to think people don’t care about your problems. They’re more likely to back away from you slowly, as if from a hissing cobra, than try to help (as if they could in any of those situations).
Let’s say you just heard some bad news before your entrance to a party. Do you appear at the door looking like someone just licked all the red off your lollypop? No. You shake it off and smile! You put your problems on the back burner for awhile and express an interest in other people.Once you’re in, don’t take the first opportunity to steer the conversation toward your latest catastrophe. Ask someone about what they’ve been doing that’s fun lately. Their enthusiasm in describing their hiking vacation or backyard barbecue with the family or trip to Disney World will bring your spirits right up.
Know what? Even if you’re not going to a networking event or party, nine times out of ten, you can’t do anything about whatever you’re whining about. If you could, you’d stop whining and do it, wouldn’t you?
Well, here’s a proactive approach to something you might be able to do something about: If you have a car problem, go to someone who knows what might be ailing your car, and then, go ahead and get it fixed. Charge it if you must, but at least you’ll quit whining about your car-tastrophe and switch to an exciting new whine: your credit card bill!
I probably was too hasty in saying absolutely nobody wants to hear you whining. There are people who are professionally trained to listen to whining and help the whiners get past the problems. They are called counselors, social workers, psychologists, and psychotherapists. In their absence, or if you can’t afford one of them, a very good friend who really knows you and isn’t afraid to kick you in your rear might be the best substitute.This friend can remind you of when you went through something similar before, and how you were able to handle it successfully. Or remind you how smart you are, and express faith that you’ll figure it out. Or even suggest some solutions you hadn’t thought of.
Anyway, next time you hear yourself whining, think of how John Wayne would have sounded whining. You’re at least as strong as the Duke. And the very idea of it should get you laughing. Which is the first step out of your whiny mood.
Moral: If you want to be happier, more popular and more successful, decline to whine!
What do you do with brochures that come in the mail? Toss them into File 13, or “the circular file?” Yep. That’s what most people do. So they’re in the trash before they’re read.
If your business creates brochures, you know they cost a pretty penny to produce. There’s the fee for the writer, fee for the designer, printing, the mail list, postage, personnel to handle getting them ready to mail, and so on. That’s a lot of cost for what then amounts to recyclable material.
But there are secrets to how you can grab your potential customers’ attention long enough to get your brochure read – and acted on. Here are a few:
• Know thy customer.
It seems obvious, but don’t ever buy a mail list without sizing up your current customers and looking for other potential customers like them. Know their characteristics, what businesses they’re in, what size they are, and finally, what problem you help those customers solve. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not ready to do any type of advertising, including brochures.
• Make your brochure action-oriented.
To save your brochure from the recycle bin, first grab the recipient’s attention with a cover design and headline that he or she can relate to; something his or her business needs. Once you’ve twanged their “need” string, they’ll probably read the copy inside, understand you’ve got what they need, and take the action you ask them to take to get on-board with you. Maybe that’s calling a toll-free number, returning a card for more information, or going to a certain page on your website or a splash page with information about your service that they need.
See, it’s not enough to get them to read your brochure or save it for later. You want them to take action right now! It’s now or never with direct mail.
• Focus on “you,” not “we.”
Don’t “we” on your prospective customers. In other words, they don’t care about your statement that “we” have 234 trucks and a 34,000-foot warehouse. They care about themselves, and how you can help their business. Bragging about yourself in a brochure is a big no-no. You’re asking the reader to connect the dots between what you have to what he or she needs. Too much work. Do the work for them. Tell them how you can help their business right now! And make sure to tell them how to reach you right now.
• Talk about benefits, not features.
Your company may have a lot of admirable features, like warehouse floors so clean you could eat off them, or a cadre of sales people ready to help you 24/7. But how do you translate those into benefits for the customer? If a customer is looking for a completely rat-free warehouse, maybe the clean floors are appealing. And having sales people available 24/7 is okay, but what if you positioned it as a team of problem-solvers who can respond to any emergency situation you have, any time of night or day? For instance, if you have a building maintenance company, and a water heater blows at 2:00 in the morning, isn’t it great to know your customer can call your company for emergency service? That’s a benefit.
• Create a compelling brochure cover.
Did you know you only have about five seconds to save your brochure from the recycle bin? Yup. We’re all busy, and we get a lot of mail. Make sure that headline goes right to the heart of a big concern your reader has and offers a solution to it.
By the way, please don’t write or design any of your sales materials, including your website, yourself (or let your computer-savvy teenager do it) to save money. Hire a professional writer and designer. When your materials look professional, so does your company.
• Let subheads tell the story in brief.
Most people scan headlines and subheads before deciding whether they want to read the text in between. Short, pithy subheads that tell enough of the story to draw the reader in are good. So are bullet points. Keep body text to a minimum. You don’t want to tell them absolutely everything you do in this brochure. That’s a sales person’s job. You only want them to know you can solve a specific problem they have, and then make it easy for them to call, visit your website, or send in a postcard for more information.
• Build in a ticking clock.
Why should your prospect call or send in that card or go to that website right NOW? Because the longer they wait, the smaller the chance they’ll respond to you. Emphasize they need to act NOW. Offer a time-limited discount on a service, a free demonstration of your service in the next week, a free gift to the first 25 people who call to meet with a sales person, a notice that prior to raising your fees next week, you’re letting them in on your old prices this week.
• Make contact information impossible to miss.
Your phone number, website address, and physical address (if relevant) should be easy to find, rendered in large type, in a different color, or done in any way that will allow people to find it easily. In the Western world, we read from left to right and top to bottom. So the lower right-hand corner is a fine place to put this information. But ask the designer for a couple of different versions, and see which seems to pop best.
• Include a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
If your prospect has any qualms about hiring you because she or he doesn’t know you, put them at ease by saying, “Look, try us out, and if you’re not completely satisfied, we will return 100% of your money.” Then there’s no harm in trying you, is there? When you visit with them, have with you a contract that says you also will pay for any damages to their facility, lost work time, or whatever is appropriate for your business.
• Keep up the good work.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Once it was said that a person had to see an ad in the newspaper 10 times before he or she actually read it. I’d say that was a poor ad, since it obviously didn’t address the reader’s (or non-reader’s, in this case) urgent problems.
But even if your brochure is a strong piece, you don’t just mail it and sit by the phone, waiting for the calls to come flooding in. You continue to send your carefully selected prospects different, on-strategy brochures or post cards on a regular basis, maybe once every four to six weeks. Then, after a few have been mailed, you follow up with phone calls. You’ll find out if the brochure hit the mark with potential customers or not. If so, you may have some new customers. If not, you may either want to delete some customers from your mail list or hone your message to make a greater impact.
• Don’t be discouraged.
They say a 2% response to a direct mail campaign is good. I think you can up the odds by being relevant, using creative design and cogent headlines and subheads, and repeating mailings at regular intervals, then following up with phone calls. After all, these customers will need to give their business to someone, so why not you?
No need for potential customers to ignore you just because they don’t see you on local search. Now, you can be up to five times more visible than your competitors on local search, at a very reasonable, one-time cost.
If think you could benefit from being more visible in local search, all it takes is a one-time payment of only $500. We do all the work. Here’s a contrast between a business location that did it and one that didn’t:
1. Yogurtini in DuPont, WA Completed (except for Google) 3 months ago, Store opened in January 2013
2. Yogurtini in Williamsburg, VA Never done, Store opened in January 2013
Page through the first half dozen pages of Google Search Results for each location and you’ll see the DuPont store on every page in various directory listings while you’ll find only two listings on page 2 for Williamsburg. One listing is from a press release from when the store opened and one is from the Yogurtini website, and that’s it.
Impressive difference, yes?
So, for a one-time investment in your business, you can get a pretty good footprint in the local market leveraging the power of aggregating all the local directories by claiming and loading them with similar content.
The more visibility on local search, the more potential customers/clients call or come in. And that translates to more business. Call me for more information. Get visible! Get business!
I just found this on my computer, a piece written by an alter ego of mine named Stoney Broke. It’s a little late, but maybe not too late.
Reflections on Memorial Day
by Stoney Broke
Stoney Broke, yer cowboy journalist, out here at the best dude ranch on the Kansas prairie. Felt moved to say a few words here on Memorial Day, a day for reflection if there ever was one.
This day, I’ve been thinking about a boy who sat at the back of my English class in high school. His name was Robert. The boy was so shy he never raised his hand. Sometimes, the teacher would ask him a question, and he would lower his head and endure the 15 or so seconds of charged silence, his face the shade of a radish, before the teacher finally called on someone else. I never saw him talk to anybody, or anybody except the teacher talk to him. He moved in a bubble of silence around the hallways, neither knowing or being known by anybody.
Robert drew a low number in the draft lottery and was shipped off to Vietnam. Within two weeks, we heard he’d been killed. A kid like that, well, he never shoulda been sent. You don’t take a scared kid like that, put a gun in his hand, send him to a foreign land and tell him to kill. For all the fight there was in him, they’d just as well taken him out back and shot him to save him the agony of training. Poor Robert. Rest in peace.
My business partner here at the dude ranch, Carl, he went off to the Vietnam War, too. There was talk around of guys skedaddlin’ off north of the border or enrollin’ in college before they could be called up. But Carl just wasn’t made that way. He said America’d done plenty for him and his family, and he was gonna try and repay it by volunteerin’ for the Army. His fiancee, Lorene, cried and bawled somethin’ terrible as she waved goodbye to him at the Kansas City airport.
Carl wasn’t much for writin’ letters, so we didn’t hear all the details of his Vietnam duty. He did write that every guy in his hooch except him was doin’ heroin. Their entertainment of an evening was to fill the hooch with marijuana smoke and watch the giant roaches get stoned and skitter up and down the walls and across the floor like maniacs. He’d write something funny or curious to Lorene once in awhile, but nothing disturbing. He didn’t want to worry her or his mom, dad and sisters.
Me, I didn’t go to Vietnam. When the Army docs saw I had two steel rods in my spine from breakin’ it during my brief teenaged rodeo career, they said, “Go on home.” I said, “I’ll do that, thank ya.” But I watched the news footage on TV and heard the stories from guys comin’ home, and I thought, “Who woulda thought hell was an Asian jungle?”
Carl got banged up a tad and picked up a nasty parasite, but he came home after his year basically in one piece. Protesters at the San Francisco Airport gave Carl and the other returning soldiers a cruel welcome. They screamed, “Murderer! Baby-killer!” Carl looked straight ahead as he fought his way through the crowds to Lorene. The way he hugged her, he’d like to squeezed all the air out of her.
He and Lorene had a weddin’, and before long, they had a baby on the way. Then Carl’s dad died when a son-of-a-bitch stallion he was tryin’ to break kicked his skull in. So the ranch went to Carl to take care of. He was doin’ a very efficient job of it, too, until the baby came. When Carl held the baby and looked into his eyes for the first time, Lorene said the blood drained out of Carl’s face, and he handed the baby back to her quick, but careful, like it was a bomb.
Lorene found him awhile later out by the corral, both hands grippin’ the top rail, just starin’ into space. When she asked him what was wrong, he never even looked at her. Just kept starin’ and said, “He knows. He knows what I done over there.”
Back then, nobody knew much about post-traumatic stress syndrome. In WWI, it was called “shell shock.” In later wars, I don’t know if it was called anything. After the Vietnam War, the vets were said to have the “thousand-yard stare,” like Carl had that night. Lorene persuaded Carl to talk things over with his pastor and go to the VA to see a shrink. Gradually, over the years, he seemed to come to himself again. He no longer saw judgment in his son’s eyes, but innocence and joy. He loved that boy, Carl, Jr., fiercely. It was like the little boy showed him there was life, and it was good. Lorene was the soul of patience with him. And he healed, mostly, though the scars still showed from time to time.
Robert sacrificed his life. Carl sacrificed his peace of mind. Their families sacrificed the happiness of being with their loved ones, whole and healthy. Every person who has served in every war has sacrificed because his or her country required it, for good cause or questionable cause. No matter. Every veteran who has served in wartime deserves our thanks, our respect, and our honor this day. Let’s honor them by doing all we can to make peace, not war. If you’ve a mind to pray for peace, do that. If you’ve a mind to march for it, then do that. At the very least, remember peace. Remember what it felt like. So you can recognize the feeling when it comes again, someday. Let’s hope. Yes, let’s hope.