Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Why it's OK to get someone else to write your blog for you

You know what's good for you...

Everyone needs a blog - modern business life in our online world insists on it. It's become a little bit like the entrepreneurial equivalent to eating your greens and going to the gym.
It's not surprising then that to some it feels just as much of a chore as stuffing down five a day or working up a sweat. If writing doesn't come easily or you simply have too much else going on with your core activities, it might be even worse.
However, unlike a healthy lifestyle there is a painless way of blogging... Get someone else to do it for you.
You wouldn't think twice about hiring an accountant, a graphic designer or a car mechanic - they are experts after all.
A professional blogger is an expert too. They know how to create bright, tempting content and where to put the posts when they are attractively completed.
They are also brimming with ideas for topics to cover, ways to illustrate your points and an instinct for knowing a tasty offering when they see it.
And an excellent ghost blogger 'gets' you in an instant. They have a sense of you, your business and what you want to communicate. It'll be easier than you ever hoped.
Obviously I would say all of that, wouldn't I? But if the thought of blogging for your business makes your heart sink, then drop me a line.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Things every good blog should have

A way to get in touch
You know how a house isn't a home without heat, light, telly and something to snack on? Well there are some things a blog needs before it can really consider itself to be a blog.

Relevant content - D'oh. Obviously. But it's the relevant bit that matters here. What goes in the blog must be of interest to the kind of people you want to talk to. So, if you're in the business of promoting your business - and let's face it, who isn't? - then tell potential customers something they want to know.

Regular content - You don't need to post every day. But you must put something up there frequently. There's something particularly depressing about a blog started with gusto then abandoned. And you don't want anything depressing associated with your business, do you? Decide how frequently you're going to post - and stick to it. 

Comment - Put somewhere on your blog for people to respond to what you say. They might not, but give them the option anyway. A blog differs from other more traditional business communications because it's part of a conversation. Then attend to your comments the same way you attend to any other important thing. 

Sharing buttons - Imagine the situation where someone finds your blog and considers what you've said to be interesting enough to want to pass on - either to one person or to the whole wide world. For goodness sake, make it easy for them to do so. Provide buttons to let them tweet, facebook, email or whatever. 

Ways to follow - If everything else is right, people will be so interested in what you're blogging about that they will want to find ways of knowing every time you do it. So make sure you have an RSS feed and somewhere to sign up to email updates. 

Images - Words alone are very boring - add pretty pictures to break things up and keep your readers interested. Relevant and informative photos would be best, but anything is better than none. 

A human face - Your blog might be all corporate and professional, that's fine. However, readers still need to know who's doing the writing and why. What have you got to do with the subject? And, always, have a photo and a way for readers to get in touch. 

Friday, 19 April 2013

Your children and the internet: how scared should you be?

by neoneddy on flickr
If you've got children over the age of about four, the internet will feature in their lives somehow. When they start it's quite easy to keep tabs on them and monitor their use of the cBeebies site. 

However, quickly they move on from that and things become altogether darker. 

On the one hand (if the speakers were to be believed) the web is a scary place where danger lurks at every click. Yet on the other, it's without doubt where the futures lies. Broadband is becoming a human right rather than a bit of high tech magic. Plus I like it online, it's my kind of place.

But what are we gonna do then to keep our little - and not so little - chicks safe from the bullies and bogiemen? 

OK, first round up all the things they can get the internet on - phones, Wii, Xbox, laptop, ipad, ipod and tablets - and fix the settings. Parental control and privacy settings - do it for Facebook, Google and Youtube. And make your kid's Twitter account protected. Download free security softwear and switch it on. 

Now forget all about that and drill into them - nothing is private on the net. Again NOTHING IS PRIVATE ON THE NET and furthermore EVERYONE CAN SEE EVERYTHING. OK maybe it seems that they can't but clever sneaky ones will be able to and it's a good rule to follow anyway. 

Tell them to visualise granny seeing what you've just put on Facebook, imagine teachers looking at your blog posts and how about everyone in class watching you writing nasty things about someone. 

Then remember that the internet is full of people - most of whom are perfectly lovely most of the time - just like real life. So there will be pervs and thieves, bullies and bitches just like in the playground, pub and park. 

The best analogy of the night was that if the internet is a place, which it surely is, then treat it as you would any other place. So your child is off to the pool, shopping centre, street corner, friend's house, or anywhere else, chances are there will be negotiations. Where are you going? Why? What are you going to do there? Who else is going? When will you be back? Same deal when they go online - ask them and don't stop until you are satisfied by the answers. 

Apply common sense. 

Of course you can know your child's passwords and check their browsing history (if they haven't cottoned on to deleting it), you can be their friends and stalk them through cyberspace, but the aren't going to like it one bit. And less so as they get older. You wouldn't dream of denying them privacy IRL, so don't expect access all areas online either. 

Apply more common sense.

By all means tell them about the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) reporting button, show them websites full of advice, but in the end you must talk to them about the internet, let them get on with it, and trust them.

Twitter dos and don'ts

  • Do – be genuine. Try to talk in as human a way as possible. Remember it’s a wee tweet in a flowing river, don’t get knotted up about it.
  • Do – be legal, decent, honest and truthful. It’s useful to apply the ‘would I say this to the person’s face?’ test. If you aren’t sure – don’t do it.
  • Don’t – tweet while angry or drunk.
  • Do tweet regularly, but not too frequently – you’ll find your pace. If you’re not sure aim for two or three tweets a day. If you’re too busy to do this, you can use a programme like tweet you later to schedule your tweets.
  • Do – check regularly for responses, people taking to or about you and respond.
  • Do - follow people back. Generally it’s a good idea.
  • Don’t - link your tweets to your Facebook or linked in profile. They are different things should be used differently. Be careful if your twitter feed appears on your website too.
  • Do - use hashtags. A hashtag is a way of catching all the tweets and twitter conversations on a certain subject. It’s an easy way of fishing the tweets you want to follow from the twitter stream. For example an event like this might use #business&bagel, during a game of sport or tv show, you’ll find tweets on a subject by searching the hashtag #oldfirm or #xfactor, say. It means you can see what people you don’t directly follow are saying.
  • Do - use lists. Once again it helps you find what or who you want quickly. You can create lists of people under a certain topic. For example you could create a bagels and business list. You can also follow other people’s lists – does a competitor have a list of industry people they are interested in? Then you can follow that list too.
  • Do - listen as much as you talk. More than even. Reply to other people – answer their questions.
  • Do - be generous. Share things you like, recommendations and kind words. It goes a long way.
  • Do - be nosey. Use twitter to see what people you’re interested in are saying, what they are posting. Talk to them if you want to get to know them.
  • Don’t - be a stalker. Don’t bombard one person.
  • Do - delegate if you’re too busy. But make it clear which human being is talking, better still start twitter accounts for each person in your organisation.
  • Do - talk privately. Use the Direct message – DM - facility to talk privately when you need to.
  • Do - let people know what’s new – have you written a new blog post or offered a new service for example.
  • Don’t - hesitate to block and report people. Spammers and idiots are a pain for everyone, just get rid of them.
  • Don’t - be miffed if no one replies to you. There are a lot of tweets out there. Have another couple of goes and if it doesn’t work maybe you’re not saying something that‘s engaging people.

The last one – above all 
  • Do relax and have fun – once you get the hang of it, it’ll be the easiest kind of networking you’ve ever done.

Twitter for Business

Why tweet?

  • Twitter can be the easiest kind of networking you’ll ever do.
  • Twitter can be the quickest source of information.
  • Twitter helps you with market research.
  • Twitter is human.

But first things first. How do you get started?

Go to and sign in. Create a profile and have a look around. 

If you’re familiar with Facebook, forget all you know – Twitter is nothing like Facebook. 

Twitter is like a flowing river of chat – you don’t have to read everything. In fact, you’d quickly go mad if you tried to. And, to a certain extent, you can be fairly relaxed about what you say and do as it’ll have flowed away before too long.

Obviously – follow the rules of real life online too – tell the truth and play nice.

Take time to have a look around – follow some people (Everyone follows king of tweeters Stephen Fry) –  but what you do is not binding, you can unfollow people whenever you like.

Experiment. Try searching for some things you’re interested in. Look for your friends and say hello. If someone follows you – if you like the look of them, follow back.

Have a look at people like you and people you like. What are they doing? How do they look?

About now, you’ll decide that you probably need to do something about your Twitter profile. Please upload a photo of yourself that looks like you.  For two reasons - Twitter is the interaction of people therefore knowing what the person looks like helps. And if you do meet them in real life, they’ll know who you are and vice versa. I very much dislike talking to people on twitter if they only have a logo – or worse still, the generic twitter bird logo.

Then fill in a few words of profile. It takes a few goes to get this right. Explain what you do but – above all – be a real person.

So once you’ve got a profile and a few people to follow. What next?

Search for yourself and your business. You might be surprised – hopefully you’ll find positive feedback, but if you don’t you have the chance to talk directly to someone doing the complaining.

Search for your competitors. What are they doing? Can you do it better?

Search key words and terms. Is someone talking about your specialism? Do they want something you can help with? Are they talking about something you need to know?

Search other relevant things.

What are you going to tweet about?

By all means tell Twitter what your business offers – but not all that often. People will very quickly get fed up with it.

Tweet about new things in your business. ‘I’ve just created a new rhubarb and custard inspired wedding cake’. You can tweet pictures – ‘Look at this wonderful cake I’ve created’.

Tweet about your industry – “What do you think of government measures to increase the tax on marzipan?”

Offer your special knowledge generously and for free – what goes around comes around. For example – does anyone want our fool-proof Christmas cake recipe?

You don’t need to limit yourself to business related tweets either. “Did anyone see X Factor last night?” “It’s pouring down here, when’s it going to stop?” Think about that extra room full of people you’d like to talk to. What might you say to them?

Brand journalism: how to write interesting copy for your business

Sometimes it's called advertorial, sometimes it's known as blurb, you might find it on websites or blogs and occasionally it appears on fliers. It pops up on annual reports, brochures and in press releases.

I'm talking about business stories - the good news stuff that you want to use to send people flocking to your stall/shop/office/website. Only, quite often it doesn't, does it?

Mostly it doesn't because it's boring and predictable. Of course you want to tell everyone how marvellous you are, but the end result is exactly the same as the person at a party who wants to go on, and on, and on about their new car, ski holiday or DIY project. Dull as a dull thing in a dull-coloured coat. 

What you need is brand journalism. This means to bring the sensibilities of journalism to your business. 

A journalist saunters around magpie-like pecking at interesting things, turning them over and peering into them for the nuggets and shiny flecks of fascination. They want the story - the news. They are expert in finding things other people want to hear about. 

All you need to do is apply that idea to your business so you can winkle out something instructive, memorable or, even, amusing and offer it to the waiting public. Simple, no?

Ok, let's go back to the party, ignoring the tedious chap with the new car. Go and introduce yourself to a stranger and strike up a conversation. "What do you do? Why's that? How does it work? What's it like?" Before you know it she's telling you all about what really makes her tick, her dreams and her passions. Maybe you've never met someone with her hobby or expertise, so you want to know all about it. You ask for insider tips and advice. 

You might say that you don't want to give away your trade secrets, but it doesn't work that way. Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver make a fortune flogging books full of recipes yet people still queue up to eat in their restaurants. 

Oh and while we're at it, take a long hard look at the words you've written and ask yourself if you are stating the obvious anywhere. Please don't patronise your readers by telling them that the telephone is a good means of communication, that it's cold in winter or that visitors arrive through the door (all things I've seen in the past week). 

Put simply, brand journalism will make your communication more effective because people will read what you write. And if you can't manage it, hire someone else to do it for you. 

How do you find your blogging voice?

The easy, but probably not terribly helpful, answer is just to say “relax, be yourself and your voice will come”.

Eventually, it will, but meantime, a new blogger can easily be discouraged by the supreme effort that all this “relaxing” can take. And how on earth can you be yourself in a whole new world you’re very uncertain of?

In truth, we have a great many voices. Just as we talk to our children, customers, bosses, spouses and dogs each in a slightly different way so we write differently depending on what we are doing and where we are doing it.

I didn’t think I had any difficulty in finding my voice, although when I look back at the early posts it’s clear I took quite some time to virtually clear my throat.

I wasn’t confident that what made me laugh would translate for others and I still hadn’t escaped from the rigid formulas of journalistic or corporate writing.

At first, it’s a bit difficult to hear your own voice amid the yelling of the more strident and the booming of the confident.

Equally, ‘voice’ is something that you can’t strive for or pick off the self. Not an authentic voice any way. You’d only end up with something that wasn’t comfortable in the long run and didn’t sound like you.

So until the day that you suddenly realise you know exactly what you sound like the best thing to do is to follow some basic writing guidelines and, yes, to relax. It will come.

George Orwell, who I’m certain would be a blogger if he were alive, wrote an essay in 1946 called Politics and the English Language.

In it, he listed the following rules: 
  • Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

And, of course, his sixth rule. 
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
These alone will lift your writing out from the crowd and give you the space to recognise what your individual style is.

Writing, like anything other skill, takes practice. The notion that there’s a creative genius curled up snoozing inside us all is a bit misleading. I’m sure there is, but, certainly in my case, it’s a very flabby and weedy one.

Therefore, don’t fret too much about the quality of your writing or reach too far to be clever, just do it.

Write your own thoughts in the manner that comes easily – even say the words out loud if it helps.

Only write and keep writing and, sure enough, you – and everyone else – will know your voice.