Helpful Hints

Freelance Writer Files: 8 Website Boo-Boos To Avoid

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing, writing well on May 30th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

Now that practically anyone can build a website, Website Boo-Boos are popping up all over cyberspace. They frustrate users and decrease the effectiveness of the site. Here are a few common ones to avoid:

Oops-544x410Boo-Boo #1
White type on a black or very dark background.
It’s 30% harder to read text on a computer screen than it is to read text in print. Why would you make it even harder with harsh contrast? Italics are bad, too. (Mea culpa: You’ll note my header is black with gray type, and some of the text is tiny. However, look at my pages, and the important info is in black on a white background.)

Boo-Boo #2
Mouse type.
If your user has to blow up the screen to 200% to read your text, need I mention it’s too danged small? Don’t expect users go to extra trouble to read your text. They won’t.

Boo-Boo #3
Huge graphics and tiny type.
Ahem, unless you’re an artist, your user probably isn’t visiting your site to admire your graphics. They’re looking for information. So feature the essential info upfront. Supplement it with reasonably demure graphics.

Boo-Boo #4
Flash graphics.
That’s so 2000s. I suppose you know by now that search engines can’t “see” flash graphics. That’s one count against them. Another one is that if you’re like me, you find ever-changing images at the top of the page distracting while you’re trying to read the text below. There’s no need for flash graphics today. There’s a Java app that makes moving graphics, if you really think you need them, and apparently, they’re visible to search engines (Check me on this, though).

Boo-Boo #5
Too much text.
Before we got so smart about Web usability, companies used to reproduce their long brochure copy on their websites and call it good. These days, we know that websites are a whole different animal from printed documents. And we have such short attention spans, if we see a lot of text on the screen (or in print, for that matter), we stop reading.

Boo-Boo #6
Text with no headlines or subheads.
Make sure your story can be told effectively by just the headlines and subheads. That may be all the user looks at. And use bullet points instead of long lines of text.

Boo-Boo #7
Here’s a Peek-A-Boo-Boo: Hiding contact information.
Some Web designers like to be cutesy and hide vital information behind quirky cickable icons or funny words. Don’t do it. It will drive users away. Make sure every page of your site features your company name, location (if that’s important), phone number and email address. Don’t count on people clicking the “Contact Us” link to figure it out.

Boo-Boo #8
Contact email forms.
If I do click “Contact Us,” I expect to see a phone number and/or an email address, so I can initiate the contact right then, when I’m feeling the need. If all you have is a form users have to fill out, and a message that “We’ll get back to you within 48 hours,” your drop-off rate will occur at two points: (1) When users balk at filling out your form; and (2) If they fill it out, and you contact them 48 hours later, when they’ve lost the desire to talk to you, maybe even forgotten what they wanted to talk to you about.

Boo-Boo-proof your website.

Ask if the laziest person in the world will take one look at your Web page and vamoose. Okay, maybe the world’s laziest person is not your prospect. But remember that most of us are the next-laziest person in the world when we’re cruising websites.

• Are you creating a smooth, easy road to your door, or are you making the road bumpy and hard, with unreadable, bloated text, graphic misdirection, or things that take too long to figure out?

• Do you have contact info on every page, so prospects can call or email you and get a response immediately? They don’t want to talk to you in two days, they want to do it NOW!

• Do you have a live human (not a recording) available by phone or email to help them right away?

Ask yourself these questions, and if you still have any of these 8 Boo-Boos on your site, fix them. Clear the path to your door. That’s a great way to get prospects to go where you want them to go and thereby boost your site’s effectiveness.

Freelance Writer Files: Use These Words Correctly and Look Good

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing, writing well on May 28th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment
Yeah, you're looking good.

Yeah, you’re looking good.

There are 30 good examples, so take a look.

Better still, if you’re not sure how to convey your advertising or marketing message properly, call on a professional writer to help you out. :-)

Freelance Writer Files: Does Color Matter?

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints on March 31st, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

When you’re designing an ad, brochure or collateral, color matters. A lot.

What’s the most eye-catching, exciting color? The same one you see in bullfight scenes: RED! Red is hot, like blood, and it gets your blood racing (at least a little) when you see it in a printed piece or on a billboard or TV screen.

RED!

RED!

Other colors are nice, but you’re not after NICE, you’re after getting attention. Remember AIDA? Attention, desire, interest, action? If you don’t get that first “A,” you’ve lost the game before you’ve even started.

As a general rule, don’t use any colors you’re likely to find in a typical bathroom: muted pastels or beige. Unless it’s as a background color for your exciting headline.

So yes, color matters. So you use red for your headline. Is it large enough to be read easily? And most important of all, is it a “grabber?” Floating around in an ocean of other headlines, does it stand out to a member of your target audience? Does it present a clear benefit proposition? Or at least, does it grab attention, so someone will read the benefit proposition in your exciting subhead?

That pops!

That pops!

Now, if you’re looking for the ultimate in readability, use the combo that Western Union discovered tops them all: black letters on a yellow background. It may not be the ultimate in sophisticated design, but depending on the product or service you’re hawking, it might be just right. Like on a billboard, where drivers have very little time to absorb your message.

Ever drive past a billboard with type so tiny that you nearly run off the road trying to read it? This is the result of the graphic designer looking at his or her design only on a computer monitor. Gee, it looks readable there. But what about 50 feet in the air, hundreds of yards from the road? Designers should try reducing the design to a size the driver might see it.

Ignoring any of the proven rules for effectiveness will cause you to throw money on advertising or promotional materials that simply don’t work.

If you don’t feel confident that you can do all the right things on your own, by all means, hire a communications professional, as well as a good graphic designer, to create your advertising and promotional materials. It will be money well spent.

Freelance Writer Files: 7 Quick Tips for Brochures that Work

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints on March 21st, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

Here are a few simple things you can do with your next brochure that will make it stand out and get results.

business woman_z1. The cover should feature a picture of a person.
People are attracted to pictures of faces. The person could be a company president, a customer, or an expert of some kind. Someone whose comments are featured inside the brochure.

2. Include “knock-outs” on the cover.
Those are one- or two-line highlights of the content inside. You know how those “People” magazine knock-outs grab you. Use them on business brochures. Make them interesting!

3. On the front inside cover, summarize the key points in the brochure. That way, it’s quick and easy for the reader to go directly to the specific content he or she is interested in.

4. Include a call to action on every page: Call this toll-free number, learn more at this Web address, whatever you need the reader to do.

5. Use a Q&A format to engage the reader. It breaks up the content into manageable chunks and makes it easy to read.

6. On the back cover, make sure to have a contact name and return address displayed prominently.

7. Keep in mind always that you need to make people stop, be drawn to your brochure (especially if you’re at a trade show), and be encouraged to read what’s inside. Study magazines at the grocery store and see what colors, designs, type fonts and other devices they use to stand out and draw you in. Some are kind of gaudy, but you can borrow a few of their tricks without looking unprofessional.

7.a. Okay, I said 7 points, but this one is important. Make sure every aspect of your brochure is relevant. Don’t stick in a picture of your plant as seen from a helicopter (a popular one, for some reason). It has nothing to do with the product that’s made in that plant. So you have a big building. What does that mean to ME, your potential customer? Likewise, unless your audience is made up of gearheads, don’t stick in photos of machines you use to make things. It’s the things you’re selling, not the machines.

Whew. Well, those are my 7 (+1) tips for making effective brochures. If you have others, please let me know.

Freelance Writer Files: Do You Know the Three Essential Ingredients?

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, social media marketing on February 19th, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

A successful advertising or marketing campaign has three essential ingredients.

A successful advertising or marketing campaign has three essential ingredients.

Let’s say you’re a small business owner trying to squeeze the best return out of a small marketing and advertising budget. You need to know how to communicate with your target audience efficiently and efffectively. And if you know the Three Essential Ingredients of a successful marketing campaign, you can do it. Here they are:

Essential Ingredient 1: Excitement
Don’t be a me-too advertiser/marketer. Find a way to get your target audience members to notice your campaign and climb aboard. Your marketing/advertising must cause them to RESPOND by buying, calling, signing up, or whatever it is you need them to do. And that requires an offer of value to your target audience, not just a piece where you “we” on them (e.g., we have 12,000 sq. ft. of storage space, we have 76 trucks covering 24 states, etc. What about the people you’re talking to? What do THEY NEED that you can provide?).

Essential Ingredient 2: News
Ask yourself whether your ad/marketing campaign creates news. Does it get talked about on social media? Does it make the TV news? Not all campaigns will. Let’s face it. There are a lot of parity products and services out there. But if there is some way you can present your product or service in a quirky, newsworthy way (for instance, having your company president move his desk to a billboard beside a well-traveled urban highway), then do it. That’s assuming you have the budget and the confidence of your CFO (you) to do such a thing. But in any case, you can at least spring for good-looking, attention-getting direct mail pieces, brochures, collateral pieces and Web pages focused on the “news” that you provide exactly what the recipients are looking for.

If you can promote via social media, stick to the newsworthy aspects of your offering and devote time and effort to keeping up your efforts on Facebook, Twitter, and other Web platforms.

Essential Ingredient 3: Call to action
A piece I wrote recently for a building maintenance company focused on building managers’ shrinking cleaning budgets, and how my client could get them more cleaning for less. The client has a unique estimating device that can do as many “what if” scenarios as a building manager needs to explore, and fit the cleaning plan to a set budget. So the call to action is “Call XYZ Company now. We’re the only one with an electronic estimating system to help you get the most cleaning for your budget. And you’ll get our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. That means you must be satisfied with the job we do, or you don’t pay.” And that’s good news!

Do you think there are more essential ingredients to a successful ad/marketing campaign? Add a comment.

Freelance Writer Files: Running like the Red Queen

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints, Motivation on February 6th, 2014 by liz – 1 Comment

You have to run as fast as you can to stay in one place.

You have to run as fast as you can to stay in one place.

In Rosser Reeves’ book, “Reality in Advertising,” he likens the advertiser to the Red Queen of “Alice in Wonderland,” running as fast as s/he can just to stay in one place. It’s an apt, if depressing, analogy.

If you’re running advertising today, good! Tomorrow? That’s good, too! But what are you doing next week, or next month, or next year? Are you keeping up the effort or letting it (and business) slide?

See, advertising isn’t like laundry detergent, where you pour it in, close the lid, and it just keeps on cleaning. It’s more like a snow blower (a propos today’s view out my window): As long as there’s snow to feed it, the blower will continue to blast out snow. When the snow’s gone, it’s all over.

So you can’t run an ad or do a blog post one time and expect much business from it. That’s because of something called “room in the box,” the box being the space between your prospect’s ears. It always contains somebody’s advertising message, and if you don’t keep feeding yours in, somebody else will feed in theirs. Then there is a point where there’s “no more room in the box,” and no more messages can fit inside. brain-in-shipping-box

You want your message to fill up that box, effectively preventing competitors’ messages from getting in. How do you do that?

• By being clear about the unique selling proposition you’re offering.
• By delivering your message to the right target audience.
• By choosing the right voice and language to convey it to the target audience.
• By selecting the right media to deliver it in.
• By allocating enough budget that you can afford a continuing campaign.
• And by keeping on keeping on.

A continuing campaign doesn’t mean you’re blasting out messages every day or every minute. But it does mean you’ve planned your advertising and marketing for at least one year, set your budget, and each quarter you plan on paying for some advertising or promotional activity.

If your product or service has a unique benefit that is more relevant at one time of the year than another, you heavy up then. For instance, if you’re selling SPF 50 suntan lotion, you’ll start a heavy awareness and promotional period around April and run it until September (In the Northern Hemisphere. If you also sell in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ve got a year-round market). The other six months of the year, you can analyze how your program did, then plan what adjustments you need to make and what you’re going to do the following year.

Make a schedule and stick to it.

Make a schedule and stick to it.

A client of mine follows a schedule that includes sending each prospect a series of three direct mail letters spaced six weeks apart, followed by a phone call. Then, three months later, he sends them a direct mail piece, also followed up by a phone call. He is out there in the trenches, calling on people face-to-face, so he really knows what their concerns are. I know how to put his message in a compelling form, whether in a letter or a brochure, or on his website. Together, we’ve honed his message to the point that it’s really working.

Developing a message and a plan that work like a charm doesn’t happen overnight. There probably will be some trial and error. You may have to do some formal or informal focus group testing, or let results tell you what’s right or wrong. But in the end, it’s worth it. One new client or customer can pay for most of a year’s advertising and marketing, if you’re playing your cards right.

So don’t think of running like the Red Queen as an expensive, unproductive grind. Think of it as a wellness program that’s making your advertising and marketing efforts healthier and stronger day by day, month by month, and year by year. Which, in turn, brings you more clients and boosts your profits.

Freelance Writer Files: Don’t Overstuff that Ad

Posted in Advertising Related, Helpful Hints on January 31st, 2014 by liz – Be the first to comment

Too-many-choicesOnce I worked at an agency that had a shoe manufacturer for a client. The advertising manager wanted to get his money’s worth (he thought) out of his :30 TV commercials by squeezing three shoe styles and prices in between the open and close.

Okay, we said. We made a couple of price-and-item-packed :30 animatics. We played them for the ad manager. Afterward, we said, “What do you think?” “I like them,” he said.

“That’s good. Now, can you tell me what items were featured in those spots?”

Silence.

There were so many things stuffed into that :30 spot that even the ad manager couldn’t recall what they were.

So the moral is:

Thou shalt not overstuff your ad/brochure/whatever with more than one main idea.

Because your viewer/reader is not paying as close attention as the creators of that piece of advertising are, and therefore, they’re even less likely to recall a whole bunch of products or ideas from one ad or spot.

Rosser Reeves, the original Mad Man, wrote in his book, “Reality in Advertising”:

“The consumer tends to remember just one thing from an advertisement—one strong claim, or one strong concept.”

Amen, Mr. Reeves.

So if you’re a tire store, are you going to feature ten different tires and prices in your :30 TV spot? No. (Though you might in a newspaper insert, which potential customers have time to peruse.) You’d be more effective featuring one tire as an exemplar of the unique benefits your brand of tires offers. If you’ve discovered “safety” is the top-of-mind decider on which tire to buy, use it. These radial tires I sell are safe, because of the unique strength of their steel belts.

You might phrase it in a clever way, but still, stick to the one strong idea that will resonate with your target audience. If you’ve discovered “safety” is the keyword in tire buyers’ minds, then use that.

But if you’re a tire store, it’s likely you sell the same kinds of tires many other stores do. So how do you differentiate yourself with one clear concept? Service beyond the call of duty? Could you feature a testimonial or recreation of a time when you got a customer out of a jam after hours? Something you and only you could brag about? And isn’t that just an extension of the idea of “safety?”

If you have a flat tire, and you call the tire store, and the owner makes sure you get back on the road in time to make it to your business appointment, doesn’t that make you feel it’s safer to develop a relationship with this tire store owner? And that he cares about your safety? You bet!

So resist the temptation to say six things, because only one is going to stick and get you customers or clients.

Freelance Writer Files: What price connectivity?

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints, Motivation, Other Stuff, writing well on May 21st, 2013 by liz – 2 Comments

The "skritch" of a pen...

The “skritch” of a pen…

There are those of us who want to connect with lots of people, via any means possible. Or I should say, every means possible. Computer, iPhone or Android, tablet, bluetooth, Facebook, LinkedIn, you name it, they’re on it. Connecting with lots of people they don’t really know (like on LI or FB).

I admit I have a few connections. But enough, already. Complete strangers are asking me to Link In with them. On FB, people who may not even be people want to join groups I’m in. Sure these things are convenient, but how good are those connections? And what do you pay for the convenience?

For one thing, you lose your privacy. If you are tagged on a photo in someone’s FB page, did you know people can find out nearly everything about you, from your Social Security number to your favorite stores? Probably same with LinkedIn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m torn about remaining in FB. I have some great FB friends from my hometown I’d like to keep in touch with, and heck, I’m administrator of two FB groups. But it’s all so… public.

Remember when you didn’t know what everyone’s favorite music, movies and songs were? When you had no idea what their dog looked like, if they lived in a different town? When people used to phone each other to get caught up? Or, heaven forfend, handwrote letters and cards?

I was going through boxes and boxes of photos, clippings and letters from both sides of my family and came across some delightful notes from my grandfathers mostly expressing what a wonderful child I was. But what was so touching was that I could see their handwriting. My father’s father’s handwriting was large and bold, beautiful in its loopiness. My mother’s father’s handwriting was not so large, but also beautifully executed. And when they handwrote letters, they had to think about what they were writing, because it would years later be discovered in a big box of photos, letters and all. They had to think more about what they were writing than I do right now, because if I make an error, I only have to hit “delete” and correct it. They were committed to their words by a bond of ink.

Corona_Silent_1950s_MI vow today to start handwriting letters to my friends. I have one friend in Omaha who treasures them, whenever I get around to writing them. Sometimes she will send me a typed letter, which is nearly as good. They’re done on a manual typewriter. I want my dad’s old Smith-Corona portable back, so I can hear the “thwack” the keys made on the paper.

We’re so connected, but are we really connected to the right people, in the right way? I sometimes doubt it.

Freelance Writer Files: Are you developing your self?

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints, Job Search, Motivation, Other Stuff on May 6th, 2013 by liz – Be the first to comment

A person who certainly was himself.

A person who certainly was himself.


“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for.”
-Oscar Wilde

To realize one’s nature perfectly. What does that mean, really?

If you are active in the business world, you may wonder at times (or many times) whether this is really “you,” or who you had hoped you would be, sitting in the meeting playing Boardroom Bingo to pass the time. Or hanging out with people you really don’t like very much.

What is self-development? Is it achieved by winning awards, climbing the ladder to higher echelons in your company? Coming in first in your Corporate Challenge event? Climbing Mount Everest? Getting a tummy-tuck? Knowing the right people? Driving the cool car?

In my opinion, none of those things is going to help you develop your true self. To me, finding one’s true nature is an inside job. How could it not be?

If you are focused outward, looking for symbols of success or things to make you happy in the world, it seems to me you never will be happy. Isn’t it true that once you get that shiny new thing you had been after, thinking it would make you happy, it quickly loses its luster, and you have to think of something else to go after?

I heard an author the other day say, “The more things you have, the more things you have to take care of, and the more tension it causes.” Having had a house full of stuff for 12 years, which I then pared down to move into an apartment, I can tell you it’s true. The stuff accumulates, and it becomes a burden. This author said, “The things you own, own you.” True, true.

But self-knowledge is something that never piles up and becomes a burden. Instead, it makes you feel lighter and lighter. Because you can let go of all the stuff that really doesn’t serve you and really doesn’t matter.

Why should you devote yourself to doing the real work of self-development? Let me ask you this: Do you think you know yourself? Or are you too busy to notice who you are?

That seems like a strange question, I imagine. A lot of us are extremely busy because we have jobs, families, hobbies, friends, and whatever other things we’re required to spend time on. Who has time for self-development?? But even in an extremely harried life, I contend that if you can’t take five minutes to simply BE, you are short-changing yourself by neglecting to at least form a friendly acquaintance with yourself.

Peace

Peace

Years ago, I took the Silva Method of Meditation, which is a terrific course. In fact, I took it twice. Once you’ve taken it, as long as you keep your card proving you are a graduate, you can take it as many times as you like. The course teaches you how to enter the alpha state of awareness, then to go one rung deeper, to a place where you find the answers your inner self has to the questions you ask.

In the Silva course, our instructor (a Franciscan monk who was a hoot) reminded us to practice for at least a few minutes daily. “Five minutes is good; ten minutes is very good; fifteen minutes is excellent.” And then, “Once a day is good, twice a day is very good, and three times is excellent.”

I’m afraid I’ve let myself slip a bit since I first took the course. But when things get hairy, or when I’m experiencing negative emotions like worry, anger, or depression, nothing helps calm me like meditating the way I was taught.

You don’t have to take the Silva course to know how to meditate. There are a lot of books out there, and a lot of classes, on how to do it. But you don’t need any of those. All you need is five minutes and a quiet place with dim lighting. Get comfortable, preferably sitting (so you don’t doze off), keep your hands open and relaxed, close your eyes, and either focus on the breath coming in and exiting your nose or focus on a word, like “peace.” Just keep breathing in and out and try to maintain your focus. Your monkey-mind will be jumping all over the place, and when you notice you’re thinking about dinner or a book you’re reading, or an itch on your neck, you gently bring your mind back to your breathing or your word.

Five minutes at work is doable, isn’t it? At home, you may find more time. And for something that’s free and easy, it eventually yields great results: calmness, less being caught up in the crisis of the moment, more insight into who you truly are, and more compassion for others in your world. Honest!

I don’t know if Oscar Wilde meditated, but it’s clear he understood there is a real self we all have, and when we learn who we are and live as we truly are, instead of living up to someone else’s idea of who or what we should be, then we can be truly free.

Try five minutes of simple meditation, and even if it’s hard to keep focused at first, you’ll get better at it, and then you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll know who you are. And you’ll probably like you!

Freelance Writer Files: Is Grammar Outdated?

Posted in Advertising Related, freelance business, Helpful Hints, writing well on March 31st, 2013 by liz – Be the first to comment

Here I am, a proofreader and editor, as well as a writer, apparently misled by those nice lady English teachers all these years about what proper grammar is. It’s okay to boldly split infinitives? It’s okay to ask where this shipment is to go to? Good grief!

The ground beneath my feet isn’t exactly shifting, but some parts of my brain are; the parts that absorbed what apparently is false information about proper English grammar. Just take a look at this brief article. The Smithsonian is always right, so it must be so!

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Most-of-What-You-Think-You-Know-About-Grammar-is-Wrong-187940351.html