Does your business need a style guide? Here’s what you need to know.

Why your website isn't converting

Does your business need a style guide? Here’s what you need to know.  Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

Have you heard of a style guide before? Chances are, unless you’ve done a whole bunch of research on branding or you work in the editorial field, you haven’t.

And that’s the exciting news, my business-building friends, because this is your chance to get ahead of the game and really make a splash with your branding.

What is a style guide?

Editors use style guides to help them deal with things like the Oxford comma, capitalisation of headings and other details that might seem insignificant to non-writer types. It’s a comprehensive document that outlines exactly how things should be done for each project.

So what does that have to do with you and your business?

Well, the purpose of an editorial style guide is to ensure consistency in your eBook, your novel or your thesis. And consistency is what a style guide will bring to your business too.

What are the benefits of creating a business style guide?

The number one benefit, as I’ve already mentioned, is consistency. Consistency in branding screams professionalism; it helps you stick in people’s minds and makes you instantly recognisable. Mixed messages in your content and branding can make you seem unreliable and could seriously undermine your marketing efforts.

A style guide is even more vital if you have multiple people handling your marketing content, if, for example, you outsource blogging to a content writer or you employ a PR company to write your press releases.

Any graphic designers, copywriters or social media managers you use, all need to be on the same page when handling your brand and a business style guide will make sure everyone stays on message.

I’m a sole trader — do I still need a style guide?

Absolutely. Even if you aren’t yet at the stage where you can afford to outsource to other professionals, a style guide can save you loads of time when you’re creating your own content.

Once you’ve created the document, print it out and have it to hand every time you write any type of marketing content for your biz. Instead of having to go back over previous blog posts to look at your heading sizes or to double-check the specifics of your brand colours, you’ll have it right there beside you.

What should my business style guide include? (And what can I miss out?)

I know you’re probably pretty tight for time (boy can I relate to that!) so I’m going to outline the absolute essential things you need to add to your style guide to get you started — you can always add to it as you go.

Let’s start with the biggies. These are the things that you should have a quick look over before you write ANYTHING for your business.

Your brand message.

Anyone with shiny object syndrome will know that it’s easy to get distracted in your business — most entrepreneurs are teeming with ideas and it can be a struggle to stay on target sometimes. The first thing I want you to add to your new style guide is your brand message.

What are you all about? What is the key purpose of your business? This will save you from becoming side-tracked and help keep you on message.

Your brand values.

Are you uber-professional? Elegant and classy? Fun and dynamic?

Now, personally, I like to think of myself as all of these things (don’t laugh!); some days I find that my writing is more inclined to the super-serious, other times I want to let loose and really have fun with it. Both versions are authentically me but to have such a mix of styles on my blog or social media platforms wouldn’t work (consistency, remember?) so I’ve tried to find a balance between all of these elements.

When it comes to your style guide you should pick three or four words that sum up you and your business and use these to help you keep the tone and pitch of your content consistent across your marketing.

Your avatar.

Your avatar, also known as your target customer, is who you’re writing for. I’m going to delve further into this in a future post, but it’s so important to nail this early on in your branding journey. This is the person you’ll be writing for when you blog, when you update your FB page, when you write your web copy.

You need to have this person really clear in your mind and pitch your content to suit them — think about what kind of terminology they’ll relate to and what kind of language will put them off.

So those are the biggies. Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty, the finer details that will make your content look consistently professional.

Typography.

The fonts you use matter. If you don’t believe me, ask Fiona Robertson, my go-to graphic designer. She’d happily chew your ears off for hours on this! When she designed my logo for me, she sent me a whole package of stuff to help me keep my branding consistent, including fonts.

Now I use the same font whenever I send out a client proposal, a quote, an invoice or any other documentation. It just makes everything look a little more polished.

Brand colour.

Ditto brand colours. Colour is such a powerful way to help your brand creep into a person’s psyche. Just think of Coca Cola red or McDonalds golden arches. You want to use your brand colours across your marketing channels. Whenever anyone sees your signature rose gold, electric pink or cool grey, you want them to instantly think of you.

I actually went to a networking event in my signature blue the other day although I confess that I only realised after I got home that my frock matched my logo! Wearing nothing but your brand colours might be taking things a step too far…

Your language.

It’s worth having a think about the kind of you want to use — as well as the kind of language you might want to avoid — and your client avatar will play a huge part in that.

We’re well past the era when swearing in your marketing would be completely unacceptable and you’ll find plenty of credible, professional business owners throwing around all sorts of f-bombs. Whether or not profanity is acceptable in your business content comes down to your target audience. Would occasional swearing help them relate to you or would it make them block your twitter feed? Make sure you’ve figured this out and stick to whatever decision your research leads you to.

Think too about jargon and industry buzz words. Will using them confuse your audience or will they lend you credibility? Again, make a decision about the kind of words that’ll be appropriate for your audience, and stick to it. If you find yourself drawn to jargon when you’re writing, it’s worth having a list of the words you’ve decided to avoid and a few alternative ways of saying the same thing that your readers will prefer.

Tone of voice.

This links back to your brand values. The words you’ve chosen as your essential brand values will direct you to the right tone of voice to use. Add a couple of lines to your style guide as a reminder of the overall tone you want to hit when writing your content.

Content layout.

Keep your content layout consistent by noting which heading sizes you use in blog posts, how you lay out your call-to-action and the different ways you break up the text in your posts.

Linguistic elements.

Okay, this is the part where you might start thinking I’m getting a little picky. You probably have a point but paying attention to these details can have a bigger impact than you’d think and they’re pretty easy to get right so trust me on this one!

Spelling and capitalisation.

Your customers may be global, but you want to keep your spelling local. It’s best to write in either UK English or US English — try not to mix the two. Favourite and favorite in the same piece of content is just confusing. Likewise using an ‘ise’ ending or an ‘ize’ ending: choose whichever one you prefer and stick to it!

It’s also worth noting whether you capitalise heading and post titles. Whether you capitalise full headings, significant words only, or the first letter matters less than whether you stick to one method. Again with the consistency; there’s definitely a theme here!

A couple of final tips.

Your style guide is something you’re going to want to refer to weekly, if not daily, so make sure it’s easy to use.

Remember that, even if you’re the only one using it for now, in the future you may want to outsource your content so make sure your guide is easy to read, easy to skim, and super-easy to follow.

Over to you now: are you using a style guide for your business? Will you be creating one after reading this? Is there anything I’ve missed that you’d add to my list of style guide essentials?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to survive when your business isn’t your job.

Are you crazy stressed trying to juggle a business and a day job? Here’s how to make is easier…

 

juggling a business and a day job

Calm down, Mrs, freaking out isn’t going to help.

 

Get ready for the “no s***, Sherlock statement” of the day: building a business takes time!

Sometimes way more time than you had hoped or anticipated. And what this likely means is that you’re going to be building your business around your day job — no easy feat.

When you’re just starting out, it isn’t too bad.

Excitement about your new venture has you so wired you feel as if you’ve been hooked up to a Red Bull IV. But this gets old, fast.

You wonder…

Are you ever going to be able to send off that resignation letter you drafted months ago? Can you cope with a 50+ hour week? Will the staff in your local even recognise you by the time you get the chance to have a pint with your mates?

How can you survive when your business isn’t the only job you have?

Check out the tactics that have helped me keep my sanity (well, mostly) while juggling a business and a day job.

Make time for self-care.

It’s so blinkin’ obvious but are you actually doing it? Honestly, how many times have you worked through your lunch break, skipped your workout, or reached the end of the day only to realise you haven’t even finished your first bottle of water?

I’ve done all of these, and occasionally still do when I’m swamped with work. And you know where it leaves me? With a thumping headache, zero creativity and an overwhelming desire to raid the kids’ stash of Christmas chocolates. I’m guessing you can relate?

So here’s the plan.

Breathe: it’s kind of important.

Let’s all promise ourselves that we will drink water throughout the day, we will get out for a walk in the fresh air as often as we can (hook yourself up to a podcast while you’re walking if that helps you feel less guilty), and we will cook real food, from scratch. It only takes 10 minutes to throw some soup or stew ingredients into your slow cooker in the morning before you head to work. You’re far less likely to bung a ready meal in the microwave when you get home, if you’re greeted by the smell of homemade soup, right?

Oh, and I know that evenings are probably your only chance to work on your business but I guarantee that even a 20 minute run or workout DVD will give you an extra hour’s worth of energy to get stuff done before you hit the hay.

Find ways to multi-task.

There are always ways to use your time more productively. Watch training videos or listen to podcasts while you’re cooking or ironing. Bring your laptop with you while your kids are in football training, or write notes for your next blog post and brainstorm marketing ideas while you’re on the train to work.

Okay, not what I meant when I said multitask…

Outsource what you can.

If you find that planning your editorial calendar or writing your blog content takes forever, then outsource it to someone like me. If you feel like you spend your whole life on social media, try hiring an SM expert or a VA to take care of your accounts for you. Or if it’s your finances that give you the biggest headache and take up all of your time, look into taking on a bookkeeper.

It’s might sound counter-intuitive to spend money on things you can do yourself — especially if you’re squirrelling away as much cash as possible in preparation for going full-time self-employed — but you need to consider if doing these tasks are really the best use of your time.

Getting on with your own client work might make you far more money than you would have made if you’d spent the time battling your admin.

Try working in batches.

I try not to jump from task to task. Even for a writer, I think sometimes it takes a wee while to get back into writing mode, so I try to work in batches — if I’m writing I’m writing, if I’m editing, I’m editing, if I’m translating, I’m translating.

The first task in any batch is always the hardest, but once it’s out of the way, my brain seems to be in the right mode and I can usually zip through the rest of my workload with relative ease.

Could you adopt similar practices? If you do your own writing, can you dedicate a few hours one day to sort your content for the whole month? Or set aside a spare evening to work out your social media updates for the week?

You’ll find you get much more work done that way, leaving you with more time to play with and hopefully a bit more sleep!

Figure out when you’re most productive.

If your energy or creativity are at their peak first thing in the morning, it would be worth setting your alarm an hour or so earlier. You’ll be far more productive and after a hard shift at the day job, you’ll be able to justify chilling on the sofa for a bit, having made a dent in your to-do list before you’ve even left the house.

Or, if you prefer working in the evening, try to get as many of the household chores out of the way while you’re getting ready for work so you’re not loading the washing machine when you’re at the height of your productivity.

Sacrifices are inevitable so don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

If you’re missing your Saturday morning lie in (for those of you who don’t have kids!) or you’ve missed the last three episodes of ‘Strictly’, you might need a wee reality check. Yes, these things suck, but they’re the sacrifices you have to make if you want to build a successful business.

Keep reminding yourself that it WILL be worth it in the end.

You did it! Insert cheesy success photo here.

That said, don’t spend so much time focusing on the future, that you leave yourself feeling miserable now.

Ignore the guilt: have a drink with your pals, take your kids to a movie and switch off for a while. After all, when you do eventually hit the business big-time, you want to be sure you still have people around you to toast to your success!

 

Are you juggling a growing business and a day job? I’d love to hear you top tips for how you’re managing to keep all of the balls in the air without dropping your sanity! Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

 

 

 

 

How to stop Impostor Syndrome holding you back.

how to deal with impostor syndrome

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Is Impostor Syndrome holding you back?

How do you feel when you see those super-confident entrepreneurs at networking events? You know the ones who can just grab hold of the mic and tell the room how awesome they are. No apologies, no hesitation. They’re amazing and they know it — and I’ll bet their sales conversion rate isn’t too bad either.

I’ll bet they find it pretty easy to write their web content too.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks business owners come up against when writing their own web copy, is the inability to sell themselves. There are a few reasons that we might find this aspect of copywriting so difficult (I go into this in more detail here) but for some of you, I’m willing to bet that a sneaky little doze of Impostor syndrome might just be to blame.

Now, if there’s a way to banish that particular demon for good, please, please let me know (we’re rather good friends, Impostor Syndrome and I, although he comes to visit far less often than he used to, I’m happy to say). But, while we’re waiting for the answer, there are a few things you can do to make sure he doesn’t hang around for too long when he does pay a visit.

Make yourself a brag book.

Arrogance isn’t cool but damn, you’ve worked hard for the things you’ve achieved, so you’re allowed a few bragging rights. Think about everything you’ve accomplished in your career, the last year, the last week, whatever, and write it down. Add pictures if you have any. Any qualifications you’ve earned, courses you’ve completed, work you’re particularly proud of, relationships you’ve built, demons you’ve faced — write it all down and give yourself a shiny star sticker (okay, that’s the nursery teacher in me coming out now, but who doesn’t love stickers?).

Any time Impostor Syndrome comes knocking at your door, shove your brag book right in his horrible little face and send him packing.

Talk to your pals.

Or your Mum. But only if they’re the kind of people who’ll tell you the truth. This isn’t the time for those friends who tell you that you look good even when you know you’re looking like a troll. This is the time for the folk who call you out when you’re being a brat. When your tact-free friends tell you that you’re awesome at your job, you know you it’s the truth. Impostor syndrome won’t get a look in.

Keep your skills fresh.

There is only one occasion that you’re allowed to listen to Impostor Syndrome’s whispering. If he tells you that your skills are getting rusty and you’re not keeping up  with your industry, and you know he’s right, you need to take action.

I know running a business takes up a ridiculous amount of time (hey, I’m right there with you on that one!), but you HAVE to schedule time to work on your skills. You could set yourself a regular appointment to read key industry publications or dedicate some time to completing at least one new course each year.

By far my favourite way of upskilling, is content marketing. Every time I write a blog, whether for clients or for my own blog, I’m learning. All of the research that goes into every blog post is a fantastic way to consolidate existing knowledge and it’s a great incentive to keep abreast of industry developments. And the best thing is that I’m completing serious marketing goals while I’m keeping my skills fresh. Impostor Syndrome, be gone!

Acknowledge that we ALL suffer IMPOSTOR Syndrome.

Yeah, he pays every single one of us a visit at some time or another. Don’t for one minute think that the fact that he’s banging on your door means that you actually are an impostor. We all have those moments of shaky confidence and the suspicion that everyone in the world is doing life better than we are. They’re not.

Let’s make 2018 the year we get rid of Impostor Syndrome once and for all. Whether you’re drafting a social media post, taking centre stage at a networking event, or tackling the dreaded ‘about me’ page copy, I want you to remember that you rock. You’ve got this!

What the latest Facebook changes mean for your small business.

what do the latest facebook changes mean for your small business

Photo by Sticker Mule on Unsplash

I know from talking to clients and other business owners that there’s a real temptation to build your business on Facebook, especially while you’re still in the start-up phase. Facebook is where many of you grow your communities, promote your events, and sell your products. It’s where you do most of your marketing. I’ve been saying for a while now that this is a dangerous strategy.

It’s YOUR business — why would you want to build it on someone else’s land?

So if you’ve nodded along with me, saying ‘sure, Clare, I get your point, I’ll totally get on that soon’, listen up. ‘Soon’ needs to be now!

Mark Zuckerberg has just announced big changes that have everyone in a flap. Facebook is going back to its roots — Zuckerberg wants us to remember the social aspect of social media. So you’re going to start seeing more posts from your pals and fewer posts from businesses and publications.

Great news if you’re fed up of the current ad bombardment, bad news if you’re a business relying solely on Facebook to grow your business. Your reach IS going to take a hit, there’s no doubt about it.

So what can you do about it?

Get yourself a website — pronto.

If you’ve been using your Facebook business page as a substitute for a website, I get it. A website can be a huge investment. But it doesn’t have to be. To get you started you just need a presence; it doesn’t have to be all bells, whistles, and sparkles.

There are loads of DIY options that you can look into but my preferred site builder is WordPress. Building the site takes a little bit of time but it’s not too tricky to get it set up and once you’ve got it in place it’s really easy to navigate and update. (If you’re a bit of a technophobe, check out this free course to help you get started with WordPress)

If you’re not sure what you’re doing in terms of content, check out a few of my previous posts that will give you some useful pointers.

Why your web copy isn’t converting…and what to do about it.

Do you have the confidence to blow your own trumpet?

Three things to include in your ‘about me’ page, and one you should definitely avoid.

Build your list.

We’ve got to talk about your email list. If your community only exists on Facebook, you’re taking a huge risk. What will happen if you inadvertently break FB rules and find yourself locked out of your page? Do you know who your followers are? Would you be able to contact each one if you didn’t have access to FB?

Conversely, if you focus on building your email list, you will always be able to contact your supporters, whenever you need to. Your list belongs to you. Your Facebook fans belong to Zuckerberg.

I’m going to dedicate a future post to the topic of building an email list (it’s something I’m going to focus on this year myself – keep an eye out for a free email course coming soon!) but the gist of it is that you need to make sure you have something of value to offer visitors to your site. It might be great blog content, it might be a free course or checklist but you need to offer readers something that will encourage them to hand over their email addresses.

Explore other platforms.

If you’ve been ignoring all other social media platforms, now is the time to explore the options. It’s generally advisable not to try to be everywhere on social media — you’ll run out of time to do your actual work — but it’s a good idea to choose two or three different platforms to help you build your business community and reputation. I’ve been guilty of over-relying on Facebook myself and these changes have given me the push I needed to get back to Twitter and to try to make more of LinkedIn too.

Focus on quality over quantity.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for a minute saying that Facebook for business is over. We just have to adapt to the changes. And, focusing on the quality of your posts is going to be key. We’re all going to have to consider engagement whenever we post content to Facebook (more than we do already, that is). What kind of content is going to get people talking and sharing? (Hint: those of us who have so far resisted the lure of video content are going to have to bite the bullet this year!)

Social media platforms do like to mix things up now and again, sometimes SMEs will welcome the changes snd sometimes the changes will send us into a blind panic. It’s vital that we don’t give these platforms so much power over our businesses: it’s time you start building your business on your own land.

 

 

 

 

 

Business book round-up 2017.

business book round-up 2017

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Never stop learning. I think I’m going to turn that into my motto for 2018.

I remember thinking, back in my student days, that there was an end point. I’d graduate and suddenly I’d be able to say, ‘job done, I’m now fluent in Italian’. Let’s just chalk that one up to the foolishness of youth!

The truth is, we’re never done. If you want to be the best (and we all want to be the best, right?), we have to keep studying, learning, and improving. And you’ll know you’re in the right business if you don’t want to stop learning.

Investing in education is one of the best things you can do for your growing business but there’s no such thing as a quick browse through Amazon’s stock of business-related books. You could get lost in there for days, reading reviews and trying to figure out the best way to spend your cash.

So, I’m going to save you some time and give you the top 4 business books I enjoyed in 2017. I thoroughly recommend getting your hands on a copy of each one of these.

Read my post on other top ways to invest in your growing business here.

Business Book Round-up 2017

Given that I’m a copywriter and content creator, it’s no surprise that most of my recommendations are marketing and content related but, unless you outsource every aspect of your business marketing, you’ll find loads of little wisdom nuggets in each one of them, whatever business you’re in.

‘They Ask, You Answer: A Revolutionary Approach to Inbound Sales, Content Marketing, and Today’s Digital Consumer’ by Marcus Sheridan.

They Ask, You Answer

‘They Ask, You Answer’ by Marcus Sheridan

Marcus Sheridan was running a pool installation company when the housing crisis hit and brought him to the brink of bankruptcy. In his book he outlines the principles he used to completely transform his company. He discusses how to deal with customer objections and turn them to your advantage, whether you should put pricing on your website, and he offers loads of ideas on how to come up with the type of content that your customers actually want to read. It’s always nice to see how theories work in practice and Sheridan has included several case studies that show how different businesses have employed these tactics, with great results.

I’m the first to admit that my own blog is sometimes the last thing on my mind (I’m too busy writing posts for other people; a lame excuse but true nonetheless) but, while reading ‘They Ask, You Answer’, I had to keep reaching for my notebook to write down blog post ideas, inspired by Sheridan’s theories. This one is definitely my top pick for anyone struggling with content creation.

‘KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age’ by Mark Schaefer.

Known by Mark Schaefer

‘Known’ by Mark Schaefer

Hands up if you’re sick of scrabbling around trying to find potential clients and convince them of your brilliance? You’re not alone! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people came looking for you? That’s the premise of ‘KNOWN’. If you are known in your field, people will seek you out. Before they even meet you, customers will have faith in your ability to get the job done.

Schaefer knows that finding your passion isn’t enough — you also need a plan. The book looks at how to identify your niche, find your audience and connect with them, and identifies the strategies you need to help you stand out from the crowd. I’m as happy as the next entrepreneur to visualise my success and define my passion, but I like a good, solid plan, so this book was right up my street.

I’m also terminally impatient: I want success and I want it now. Schaefer is a realist. He knows that establishing expertise, developing authority, and becoming ‘known’ all take time. If you’re like me and struggle with the notion that patience and perseverance are the keys to long-term business success, ‘KNOWN’ is the dose of common sense that you’ve been looking for.

‘The Hippo Campus: A step by step guide to get your business noticed, remembered and talked about with Stand Out Marketing’ by Andrew and Pete.

The Hippo Campus by Andrew and Pete

‘The Hippo Campus’ by Andrew and Pete

If you spend any time on Twitter, in the marketing sphere, you’ll have come across these guys. They pride themselves on being different, being memorable, and they like a good laugh. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them seriously though.

Their book offers a fresh take on traditional marketing and along the way there are several easy assignments that will help you define your brand values and unleash your inner creativity. The book is backed up by a website, which includes video content and templates for the assignments in the book.

If you think that we’re all taking ourselves far too seriously, and we need to liven things up, you’ll like the boys’ writing style and you’ll love their advice.

‘She Means Business: Turn Your Ideas into Reality and Become a Wildly Successful Entrepreneur’  by Carrie Green.

She Means Business by Carrie Green

‘She Means Business’ by Carrie Green

I’m always heartened to learn how many women are starting their own businesses and a little sad when I realise that so many of us are battling the same issues: impostor syndrome, comparisonitis, and overwhelm.

These are the kinds of issues that Carrie tackles in ‘She Means Business’. I confess that I’m not one for manifesting, vision boards, and talking to the universe but my level-headed, business-minded sister recommended this book so I thought I’d give it a go. I laid my scepticism to one side, put my feet up and spent an entire evening with this book.

And, damn, I was a wee dynamo by the end of it!

I think I must have slept a total of two hours a night for a week afterwards, I was so full of ambition, enthusiasm, and a burning need to get things started. Within a month, I’d written myself a business plan, built a new website and reached out to all of my old contacts. There was no stopping me. Obviously, that’s not a sustainable way to run a business and I’ve gone back to the slow and steady approach now, but I guarantee that any time I feel my motivation waning, rereading ‘She Means Business’ will be number one on my to-do list.

So that’s 2017 out of the way, now it’s time to get 2018’s reading list sorted. If you have any recommendations for me, leave a comment. I’d love to know what your favourite business books are!

 

 

Top tips for how to invest in your startup.

Top tips for how to invest in your startup.

Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

 

Start a six-figure business with just $100!

Top 10 side hustles you can start today, with no capital!

Step by step guide to building a free online business!

Are you rolling your eyes yet? I am. Sure there are a whole host of online businesses you can start with very little capital, especially if, like me, you’re a sole trader working from home.

What these clickbait headlines fail to mention, though, is that to actually GROW your online business, you’re going to have to put your hand in your pocket and invest in your startup.

Building a business on a budget.

I’m writing this in December and, despite my desire to down tools and launch myself into a vat of mulled wine, my mind keeps wandering into the New Year and my plans for 2018. My business has enjoyed fantastic growth this year and I know that if I want this trend to continue, I will need to keep investing. But, like you, I’m working with a budget. Not a penny will be spent without some serious thought and consideration of the potential for a decent ROI.

If you’ve decided to invest in yourself and your business this year, here are my top tips for the most effective way to spend your hard-earned pennies.

Networking.

Without a doubt, the most important thing I’ve invested in this year has been networking. Coming back to my business, after a year spent taking care of my family, I didn’t have a huge budget to work with so I concentrated on free, local networking events. The result of my year of networking was a lot of new contacts, a handful of new clients and even a few new friends — well worth the cost of a couple of new ‘work’ outfits and a few bus fares.

I’ve had such success with networking that I’ve decided it’s worth spending a bit more on it in 2018. I’ve recently joined Scottish Women in Business and I can’t wait to get along to my first event.

If you’re in the Glasgow area, it’s also worth checking out The Wonder Women Club (See the Facebook page for event dates). Events cost very little and the group is so friendly and supportive it’s well worth the small investment. There is no better way of growing your business than just getting out there and meeting people.

Design.

Another of my top investments this year was a professional logo. If you’ve ever been to a networking event, you’ll appreciate the power of a strong logo and a well-designed business card. And a logo is something that you’ll use constantly; your website, your contracts, invoices, your social media profile will all look a million times more impressive if you have a professional brand design to show off.

My logo was designed by Fiona at Fiona Robertson Graphics and I’ll definitely call on her again in 2018 to help me with newsletter templates and a few other bits and bobs. Fiona’s prices are very reasonable and worth every penny but if professional design isn’t in your budget right now, and you’re designing your own logo, I’d recommend you invest in her Pick My Brain service. For a small fee you can book a Skype call with Fiona and she’ll give you solid advice on how to improve your design for maximum impact.

Membership of professional bodies.

For me, this includes the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Membership isn’t cheap but nor is it extortionate and I believe it has been worth every penny. I reckon that investing in professional membership lends your business credibility — we all expect the freelancers we use to adhere to professional standards, right? And, while my membership hasn’t yet led to any new clients, I have enjoyed getting to know other society members and I’ve profited from money off the society’s training courses.

It’s well worth checking out your own industry’s professional body and looking into the benefits they offer. Remember that a great return on investment doesn’t always translate to financial profit! Access to training, fellow professionals, and insider industry info can be worth its weight in gold.

Education.

And talking of training, education is another area in which I strongly recommend you invest a little money. If you’re really struggling financially, you can pick up a few bargains on Amazon, particularly if you don’t mind buying used books. I’ve found a few gems this year and, while investing in my professional development doesn’t directly bring in the cash, I know my obsessive reading has massively improved the quality of my work, which all goes towards gaining more word-of-mouth referrals. Definitely worth the investment.

(This year, I’ve particularly enjoyed Mark Schaefer’s Known and recommend it to anyone interested in content marketing and building a brand.)

If you have a little more to spend, attending a business training day or signing up for an online course can work wonders.  For example, if you’re in the early stages of business, a business growth workshop could be a great investment. *Shameless plug alert!* If you’re in Glasgow or Edinburgh, have a wee look at this business boot camp I’ll be presenting in February. Along with three other experts, I’ll be sharing all sorts of start-up secrets that will help your business explode in 2018. Between us we’ll cover the ins and outs of social media and blogging, how to write amazing website copy, the secrets of sales funnels, and developing a business growth mindset. Obviously I’m biased, but I reckon it’ll be well worth the investment and I’m looking forward to meeting loads of fabulous business owners.

Copywriting? Well…

This would be an appropriate place for a second shameless plug; however, it’s possible that you can get through the first year without investing in professional copywriting. There’s no denying that great copywriting is invaluable and, at some point, it’s definitely worthwhile investing in a professional writer (well, I would say that). However, if you’re stony broke, it might just not be feasible. And that’s okay! There are loads of great online resources that can help you improve your own copywriting efforts. One thing that is worth investing in, though, is a professional editing or proofreading service. There’s nothing worse than reading through a business website only to find typos, stray apostrophes and dodgy grammar. It screams unprofessional and could alienate a large part of your target audience. Editing services cost less than writing from scratch so it can be a great compromise when you’re trying to stick to your startup budget.

Comfort.

Okay, ignore everything I’ve just said — I’ve been sat here writing for about 3 hours now and I’ve just realised that the best investment I’ve made this year has been my super-duper comfy spinning chair. When you spend as much time at a desk as I do, you need to be comfortable so buying equipment that will help you avoid RSI or back pain is sooooo important. So whether it’s a standing desk, a fabulous chair, or an ergonomic keyboard; treat yourself. You’re worth the investment!

Over to you…

Are you planning to invest in your business in 2018? What are your top tips for the purchases that will help your business grow?

 

 

 

 

How to survive a freelance dry spell in 7 easy steps.

surviving a freelance dry spell

How to survive a freelance dry spell. (Photo by Brad Helmink on Unsplash)

 

The perks of working freelance are well-documented: working in your jammies, setting your own hours (to an extent), no more standing for hours on the train as you make your way in to the office for 9.00am.

Of course, this comes at a price. The obvious trade off is the complete lack of stability. One month you’re rolling around on a bed covered in £50 notes (okay, not quite!), the next you’re watching tumbleweed blow through your inbox and you’re asking your husband to call your mobile to check it’s still working.

I know we’re not really supposed to admit when we’re struggling but I’m not one for playing coy. I’ll happily admit that just a couple of months ago I fell victim to the dreaded ‘freelance freak-out’. I had had my busiest quarter ever and instead of enjoying the unexpected quiet spell and taking a few days to catch my breath, I started to panic. In my wee head, the busy spell was the anomaly and the quiet patch was the new ‘normal’. I started perusing job ads…

Can you relate?

If you’re currently in the midst of a quiet spell and feeling the onset of your own ‘freelance freak-out’, I want you to stop and take a breath. Assuming you still love your freelance work, this is the time to have faith and just power on through the rough patch.

Some folk turn to praying, others like manifesting and trusting in the universe. Whatever floats your boat. Me, I like action. I’ve put together 7 things you can do today to get that inbox pinging again.

1.Hit up your old clients.

Don’t forget to keep in touch with old clients. If you’ve updated your services, let them know; maybe they’ve been meaning to get in touch for another project and they just need a nudge in the right direction. Perhaps they’ve been meaning to pass your name along to someone who needs your skills but they assumed you’d be too busy to take on additional work. Maybe they’d be happy to provide you with a new testimonial that will help you close a new client you’ve been courting.

If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

2.Send out a newsletter.

People are busy and it’s so easy to fall off their radar. Sending out a newsletter packed with useful content is a great way to remind people that you’re there! Let your list know that you’re currently available and see if anyone bites.

surviving a freelance dry spell

I’m available!

3.Advertise your availability on your social media platforms.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with letting your audience know that you have immediate availability. If you’re usually booked up months in advance, there may be the odd client or two who jumps at the chance to get a project started without having to wait around for you to have a spare week in your diary.

4.Consider launching a new service or event.

Have you had the seed of an idea germinating at the back of your mind for a while? Now is the time to do something about it.

During my last quiet spell, that’s exactly what I did. Based on the conversations I’d been having at networking events, I could see that there are loads of entrepreneurs who have hit stumbling blocks with their content marketing and blogging. I realised that there was a very real need for a consultation service that helps beginner bloggers overcome these blocks. Sure enough, when I offered the service up to beta testers, I had several clients (some old, some new) jump at the chance. Quiet spell over.

Could you apply this to your own business? Could you introduce a new service or hold an event that would help out your target market? Not only will it get some pennies rolling in now, but it could be a great marketing opportunity that will pay dividends in the future too.

5.Get your butt out there.

There’s no point sitting at your desk, crying into your coffee. The best way out of a quiet spell is to get yourself out there — if clients aren’t coming to you, you’ll need to go out and find them.

Book yourself onto a networking event, sign up for a craft fair, go out and meet potential clients.

6.Cold emailing.

If you’re determined to sit at your desk, crying into your coffee, at least be productive about it. Make a list of clients you’d love to work with and send out some emails. Find out more about cold emailing here.

7.Use your contacts.

Do you know anyone in your industry who is swamped with work right now? Let them know that you’re having a tumbleweed moment (they’ll get it, they’ve been there too!) and that you’re willing and able to help them out with any overspill. It’s so important to foster these relationships; after all, there will be months when you’re the one who’s overrun with work and you’ll be able to return the favour.

surviving a freelance dry spell

Get your address book out. Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

8.Hire a sandwich board and parade the streets.

But only if you’ve tried the first 7 tips and haven’t had any luck.

Need some more tips for getting your business out there? Check out this post: http://www.clarecrossan.co.uk/low-cost-marketing-tips/

 

 

Do you have the confidence to blow your own trumpet?

 

Blowing your own trumpet in business

Photo by PICSELI on Unsplash

 

A recent networking event, which focused on the topic of ‘Confidence in Business’ has got me thinking. We all know that confidence in business is vital. After all, if you don’t believe in your skills, talent and business prowess then how do you expect to convince your clients that you are worthy of their hard-earned cash?

How confident are you in business matters? Are you the best in your field? More importantly, do you tell your customers how much you rock?

I have a sneaky suspicion that we Brits do not lack confidence, but rather suffer from an ingrained reluctance to blow our own trumpets. In this country, self confidence and blatant self-promotion are often mistaken for arrogance.  While we supposedly live in an increasingly classless society, we do love to hate anyone who we perceive as having ‘ideas above their station’ — Tall Poppy Syndrome in all its glory. How often have you thought that you’d like to bring the insufferably smug Simon Cowell down a peg or two?  I wonder if Mr Cowell is received somewhat more warmly across the pond where, in my experience at least, success is cheered and encouraged.

Don't let Tall Poppy Syndrome cut down your business

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

There is of course a fine line between confidence and arrogance and you do need the talent to back it up. Unfortunately I have met a good many talented people who hesitate in talking themselves up precisely to avoid seeming arrogant.

One of my clients is a perfect example. Articulate, intelligent and remarkably talented in her field, she is extremely confident in her business abilities. Yet, when it came to writing her website, she choked. She just couldn’t sell herself. She admitted that it felt completely unnatural to be so blatant in shouting about how fantastic she is.

This is often when people turn to copywriters. It’s not so much that you can’t write, it’s that you can’t write well about YOU! This particular client told me about her business, her skills and her qualifications and I did the hard bit. Since she couldn’t blow her own trumpet, I did it for her and she was thrilled with the results.

How’s that for a bit of shameless self-promotion?  I hope you don’t think I’m being arrogant…

 

So if you find it hard to sell yourself, drop me a line and I’ll help you out: office@clarecrossan.co.uk

You may also be interested in:

How to use social proof to boost your small business.

How to market your business when you’re broke.

 

The little-known tool that will help you improve your writing, today.

The Flesch-Kincaid scale. Hands up, my writerly friends, if you’ve never heard of it. And don’t sweat it if you haven’t; I hadn’t either until a few months ago when it was discussed in one of the many copywriting groups I stalk on Facebook.

I’ve since spoken to a couple of fellow content creators who hadn’t heard of it either so, generous soul that I am, I’m going to give you a quick overview so you can start using it to improve your writing, today.

So, what is the Flesch-Kincaid scale?

It’s essentially a readability calculator, based on some complicated mathematical shenanigans that go way over my head. All I need to know, and all you need to know, is that it can grade your writing, letting you know whether you’ve hit the right level of readability for your intended audience.

Where do I find the F-K scale?

If you’re creating a word document, it’s easy to set up the F-K grading. Open your Spelling and Grammar checker, click on ‘options’ and enable the ‘show readability statistics’ option. Now, after you’ve worked your way through your spelling and grammar check, you’ll be presented with your document’s readability stats. At the top, you’ll see your word count and the number of paragraphs and sentences in your document. Right at the bottom of the box, you’ll find your Flesch-Kincaid grade level.

How does it grade your writing?

As I say, there are all sorts of equations going on in the background as your grading level is calculated, but here are some of the main things to think about:

The number of sentences in your paragraphs.

For an improved readability score you want to avoid filling your writing with excessively long paragraphs. Never-ending chunks of text are hard to read and do tend to put people off. Generally speaking, it’s best to stick to two or three sentences per paragraph.

The number of words in your sentences.

Rambling sentences can work but more often than not, the longer the sentence, the higher the risk that you’ll lose clarity. For a clearer message, try to keep your sentences a bit shorter — around 20 words per sentence tends to be about right. That said, if you don’t want your readers to fall asleep halfway through your post, it’s a good idea to vary the lengths of your sentences.

The number of passive sentences.

I’m going to save a big discussion of passive and active voices for another day but here’s a quick example:

“I read the book” is the active voice.

“The book was read by me” is the passive voice.

There are times when the passive voice is the right way to go but generally, you want to avoid having too many passive sentences in your writing.

(As ever, Grammar Girl is the go-to site for these linguistic debates and here’s her take on the passive voice: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/active-voice-versus-passive-voice)

What grade should you aim for?

If I had a pound for every time I answered a content-related question with this response…

It depends on your audience.

I primarily write for Joe Average — my clients employ me to write clear, concise content, which will appeal to a wide range of people with different backgrounds and education. Even those who read at a high level prefer an easier read when they’re consuming blog posts in their lunch hour or surfing websites to find a new accountant or designer.

With that in mind, I aim for a grading level of anywhere between 7.0 and 8.5. Anything lower is too minimal and could sound patronising or over-simplified. Anything above an 8.5 is straying into the territory of academic, medical or legal writing, which, most of the time, simply wouldn’t suit my intended audience.

There you have it, a quick rundown of the Flesch-Kincaid grading scale. Fellow writers, I’d love to know whether you’re already using this tool or whether you think you’ll try it after reading this. Leave me a comment to let me know how you get on.

(In case anyone is wondering, I scored a 7.7 for this post!)

Read some more super simple tips for improving your content here