traceysinclairconsulting

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Tag Archives: blogging

Networking in a digital world

One of the most important – but often most difficult – things to do when you’re a freelancer is to network. Not only because this maximises your chance of getting more work, but because if you work for yourself, especially if you work from home, it’s all too easy to become isolated.

I recognise that, like many freelancers, this is something I’m not great at and I need to improve – it can feel calculating, or even dishonest: am I just being nice to this person to get something from them? But I’ve found that the best way to get around that is to think about networking simply as broadening my circle, not necessarily with any endgame in sight, rather than spending my time worrying about whether I’m making the ‘right’ connections, or whether they will result in any more work/sales for me.

With this in mind, I’ve been seeking out more writing communities to get involved with. I mentioned in my last post that I have joined the writers collective Strictly Writing – my first post goes live next week – and this week I started contributing to Byte The Book. Byte The Book is a relatively new site, set up as a community of writers, illustrators and digital publishing professionals: it recognises that the publishing industry is changing, and is helping people at the forefront (or sometimes just the sharp end) of those changes connect. Importantly, founder Justine Solomons sees the importance of human connection in an online world, and so organises regular ‘literary soirees’ so that the site’s contributors and other interested parties can meet face-to-face. My first post went live today: a short story in the Writing Showcase and a Book Review, and I’m looking forward to my first meeting next week. If you’re interested in any aspect of digital publishing, it really is worth checking out the site.

Strictly Writing – joining the team.

Just a short post this week, as I am assuming – hoping – everyone will be having too much fun over the long bank holiday to be online. Though, the weather being what it is, inside and online might turn out to be the best place to be!

So I shall just use this post to highlight that I am now a featured member of the writing collective Strictly Writing, a blog aimed at giving writing advice, support as well as insight from a group of writers who are at varying stages in their career, from the not-yet-published to the award-winning. If you’re interested in fiction writing, do pop over and check out the blog. My first piece is on the decision to self-publish, so might be useful if that’s something you’re keen to explore.

Blogging for business – what to write about

Choose the right format – is blogging right for you? There are many reasons why blogging can be great for your business. It can attract traffic to your website (Google loves regularly updated content); it can help establish you as a thought leader in your field; it can help build relationships with your customers or clients. But it isn’t right for everyone. There are a lot of social media platforms out there, and before you start it’s worth taking some time to gauge which is the right one for you.  If you’re a law firm keen to promote your expertise, blogging is ideal – but if you’re a restaurant trying to build a community, or a crafter trying to sell your products, you may be better off just creating a Facebook page, or setting up a Pinterest account. * Consider your ideal market (and where you’re likely to find them), your content, and the amount of resource you have available, and decide accordingly.

Identify a problem, offer a solution: many people think that a blog should just be a sales pitch – but that’s not what will bring people to your site. The best blogs offer their readers something, and this is often in terms of solving their problems. This can range from the significant to the trivial: a legal blog, for instance, will be focused on issues that can have major repercussions – what does this law mean for me? How do I comply with it, and what happens if I don’t? But not all ‘problems’ are life changing – that doesn’t mean we don’t want an answer. For instance, if you run a furniture business, you might be answering questions such as: what’s the most environmentally friendly material I can use in my house? How do I make more storage in a small space? What are the most hardwearing products for a child’s room? Think about what your potential customers and clients might ask, and set about answering it.

Adding personality: the amount of personal information you include in a blog will, of course, depend entirely on the type of product or service you are offering, and the ‘brand’ you are creating. But in general, readers won’t care about you or your company, so it’s best to limit this kind of information. Some personal content can help humanise your brand, though – so the occasional post about, say, a charity event, can be interesting and add colour. Personal content can also help certain types of business connect with their peers – for example, if you run a small, local business, a blog about your experiences networking and tips about local groups could be interesting and useful. You don’t want to be giving away trade secrets, but don’t be stingy with your knowledge – sharing information can be a great way of building a profile.

Visuals: some blogs can be text focused (eg law blogs) but most will require images of some sort. While you don’t have to use a professional photographer, remember the quality of images will reflect on you, so you can’t just stick up blurry photos taken with your phone! Also, be wary of using images taken from the internet – some may be usable through a creative commons licence (but must be properly credited), but you must be careful not to use anything subject to copyright.

Keep at it! Few things look worse than starting a blog, doing a couple of posts and then neglecting it – what kind of message does that send to potential clients and customers? So only start a blog if you really think you can keep it going, or if you can afford to pay someone to blog for you. (Many writers, me included, offer this service: you can check sites such as freelancer.com for writers with web experience, or do a search under ‘blogging’ on networking sites like LinkedIn).

*It’s worth noting that, while it is a phenomenally popular platform, there is some controversy over the terms and conditions of Pinterest. Do make sure it’s right for you before you sign up.

Blogging and writing for the web made easy

With the vast increase of online content, it’s never been more important to be able to write clear, concise and compelling copy. Here are some tips for writing blog posts or web content – aimed particularly at those more used to writing legal documents!

‘Front-load’ your article: you should be spelling out at the start what the article is about, and why your audience should read it. Make the title clear, and the first paragraph should outline what the article is about – or people may not read any further. Remember that on many sites, only the title and first 1-3 lines will be visible on the landing (main) page, so you need to encourage people to click through to the full article. (This will also give your article more weight in a Google search).

Make it easy to ‘skim’: many readers online will only briefly scan text, so it’s important to make your text easy to read on screen so that they can pick up the important points easily and quickly. Use short paragraphs, subheadings and bullet points to break text up – few things are more daunting to read on screen than reams of unbroken text. If appropriate, use images to break up the writing and add visual appeal.

Keep it simple and jargon-free: it can be difficult for lawyers and other professionals to put themselves in the mindset of non-expert readers, but unless you’re actually writing a legal/technical document, you should avoid, as far as possible, jargon and unexplained technical terms. This isn’t ‘dumbing down’, it’s being reader friendly. Blogging especially is about communicating with your audience, not intimidating them with your intelligence.

Write to match the way people read: again, this can be a challenge for lawyers or technical professionals, who are used to drafting documents in such a way that the most devious of souls can’t find a loophole in them. But this isn’t how normal people read. So while it’s fine to write in a legal document, “The contractor in place (“the Contractor”) sued the Baxter and Sons Delivery Company (“Baxter”)”, in more informal reading, this sounds over-mannered and stilted. If you refer to a contractor in the first sentence, a reader will naturally assume any future reference to the contractor is to the same one unless you introduce a new one; you don’t need to spell it out.

Use hyperlinks (though not too many): readers online now expect to be able to move easily from one article to another, so if you refer to a blog post or article – your own or someone else’s – link back to the original so that the reader can visit it; you shouldn’t make your reader head off to Google to find out what you are talking about. Links should be added to the body of the text (this is easy to do in most blogging or content systems), but using too many hyperlinks can be messy and distracting, as you risk sending your reader off in so many directions they don’t come back to you. If a lot of links are necessary, consider adding a ‘for further reading’ at the end. (Handy tip: you may prefer set your hyperlinks to open in a new screen, so that you’re not sending people away from your site as they may not come back). DON’T underline words for emphasis when writing online content – readers will assume they are broken links.

BUT be careful with links! Remember the links you use reflect back on you – so you might happily link to the FSA, BBC news or HMRC, but you probably don’t want to link to www.stupidstoriesforcrazypeople.com. Also remember that directing readers to a site with a pay wall can annoy them, so it’s usually best to link to free access sites. Use specific URLs (web addresses) so that you direct people to the actual story, not to a general site – for example, if you are linking to a story on the Roll on Friday site, you need to link to the actual story (the long URL at the top of the screen when you click on the title of the story), not just the news page, as that will be updated regularly, so by the time your reader visits it, the story you were talking about has moved off the main page.

Use tags: tags are extremely useful on blogs, helping readers easily find articles on the subjects they are interested in. These may appear in a list on the front page, or a ‘tag cloud’ which shows the most popular topics. If you are starting a blog, it’s worth creating a list of common tag words in advance, so as to be consistent: if you are contributing to an existing blog, be sure you use the same tag words the site already uses. (So, for instance, you don’t want to be tagging an article ‘Bribery Act’, if all of the other authors on the site simply use ‘Bribery’, or vice versa.) Tags are also a useful way of adding weight to your pages for a Google search.

Key words and phrases: ‘Search Engine Optimization’ (SEO) can be a tricky business (and there are whole industries out there aimed at helping people maximize traffic to their blogs and websites, so I won’t pretend to be any great expert) but as a general rule, make sure you help Google and other search engines identify your article or blog correctly by using the appropriate key words, especially in your title, first paragraph, tags and labelling of links (and, if you’re feeling particularly techie, in the ‘metadata’ sections of your blog or site – which again can sound scary, but is generally very easy to do). You don’t need to go crazy – it will look weird if you do – but it really doesn’t hurt to spell out what you are writing about. It can be tempting to write a cleverly oblique title, but bear in mind that people will search Google using clear, direct terms – so they may not see your article unless you title it in the same way!

If you have any questions about how blogging can help your business, feel free to contact me at traceysinclair23@gmail.com

A version of this article first appeared on www.deferolaw.com