Being kind

Whatever your personal views, I think you’d agree that politics in the UK (and the USA) is going through a tricky phase. There is a higher degree of confrontation, argument and abuse than I remember ever seeing.

As a result, there are various leading political figures calling for calm, and for a more respectful, kinder approach.

I think it’s important we remember these same values in our day-to-day business dealings. In the 25+ years I’ve been working in writing and marketing, I’ve been lucky – I’ve very rarely faced outright hostility from other people. I’ve been shouted and sworn at a few times, but to be honest they were probably deserved.

My concern is that the confrontational climate of today’s politics will spill over into other areas of our lives. Instead, we all have a responsibility to be polite and respectful, to argue our points forcefully but based on evidence not prejudice, and to give other people the benefit of the doubt without judging.

In short, to be kind whenever we can.

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Working to music

I spend much of my time working from home, and one of the big benefits is that I can listen to music of my choice, all day long. And since Spotify has come on the scene, this means I’ve got access to an incredible library of recordings, that can keep me going when my energy levels sag.

If you’re like me, you’ll have ‘go to’ albums, songs or playlists, that you know will give you the kick to get something started. In contrast, there’s music that’s calming and helps with concentration – for me, instrumental film soundtracks often fill this niche.

I’m intrigued as to whether what I actually write depends on the music I was listening to at the time. I’ve not done any scientific research into this, but I suspect that the choice of vocabulary must be influenced by the songs I had playing, at least to a small extent.

And by the way, this blog was written to the accompaniment of Thomas Dolby, The Golden Age of Wireless. Could you tell?

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Structured procrastination

Today, I stumbled across a fantastic concept that’s new to me, although has been around since the 90s: ‘structured procrastination’. Invented by John Perry, a professor of philosophy at Stanford, it is based on the idea that procrastinators aren’t actually doing nothing while they avoid their urgent or important work. Instead, they’re filling the time with other tasks – and often can be hugely productive.

To me, this is both an appealing theory, and one that seems to be true. If this is indeed the case, I don’t need to feel bad when I tidy my office rather than work on that rather dull press release, or indeed write this blog instead of finishing off a client project. It’s a win-win.

Clearly other people feel the same – in 2011, Perry won a well-deserved IgNobel Prize for this theory.


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Getting things done

I realise I’ve been blogging here now for more than seven years, and somehow, I’ve omitted to mention the self-help or business book which has had the biggest impact on me.

It’s an obvious choice, but ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen is a classic.

The author has developed it into a whole industry nowadays, with training, stationery, and an online version. But the original book stands up well, and is well worth reading. It’s genuinely improved my productivity and reduced my workplace stress, and I use its methods every day.

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Research or procrastination?

When you’re writing, how much time do you spend actually writing?

I’ve been writing a series of blogs for a client recently. These are all on technology areas with which I’m familiar, but I need to do a fair bit of research to get my facts straight.

My inclination is to consider this research as something to get out of the way fairly quickly, so I can get on with the ‘real work’ of writing. But I’ve realised that spending more time on the research is time invested wisely.

If I really read around a subject, and understand a lot of context, I find the blog or article almost writes itself. When I actually start typing, I’ll have a clear idea of what I’m going to say, and can sometimes more or less write the whole piece without consulting my notes.

Lesson learned: spending more time on research isn’t necessarily procrastination.

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SEO: URLs really work

This blog has included several posts about the Qwerkywriter, a retro Bluetooth keyboard. In particular, I compared it to another keyboard, the Penna, last year.

Well, guess what? Doing a bit more Googling today, my little blog post comes out as the top search result for the two names, Penna and Qwerkywriter. How bizarre is that?

Much though I would like to say that’s all down to my brilliant writing, I can only think this result is because my blog page’s URL includes the words ‘penna’ and ‘qwerkywriter’.

Lesson learned: choosing the right URL really matters.

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Pricing your copywriting services

I read a really informative post recently by a copywriter called Megan Rose, all about how to price your services as a freelance copywriter. It’s well worth a read, and has a long list of useful links at the end.

It’s a tricky subject, and I think many of us writers are a little embarrassed to bring it up with clients, but getting your price right is essential.

Going back to marketing theory, you can price your work based on its perceived value to the client, or based on your ‘costs’ (which means time for freelance writers), or you can benchmark against others (comparison pricing). There’s also pricing by the word.

The consensus of other contributors to Megan’s blog seems to be: don’t under-value yourself, be flexible, and do your research to find out what the going rates are, when possible. Then get the price (and any other conditions) in writing, either a signed contract or failing that at least an email.

For me, I find quoting a fixed price for each job gives the best results both for the client and for myself – they can see what they’re going to have to pay up-front, and I can quote a fair price (which is usually based on my estimate of how long the job will take – or might be on a per-word basis). If we can’t agree on a price, we know before any work is done or time wasted.

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Investing in technology as a writer

I last wrote about the technology I use as a writer about four years ago, and the basics still apply. Really, any modern laptop does the job nowadays, with a decent external keyboard and screen.

But I’m increasingly realising I need a new monitor. Being able to have multiple screens open side-by-side is essential as a copywriter – at the very least, I’m writing up one source of information, so need that open next to my Word document. Increasingly, I’ve got multiple web pages and source documents open, so it’s time to invest in something to replace my ageing 22-inch Samsung.

Will it pay for itself in the time I save? Possibly… over multiple years. But it will at least make the writing experience more enjoyable. Just as importantly, it’ll stop me thinking about the monitor and moving windows around – so I can just concentrate on the writing.

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What’s the most important writing rule?

I’ve started doing some teaching recently, and this week ran a seminar on how to write better. When I was preparing my slides, naturally I wrote down all the good writing tips I wanted to get across. After the seminar, it struck me that there was a lot of different pieces of advice – so how would I prioritise and decide what is the most important?

On reflection, I think I’d settle on ‘be clear’. If your reader can’t understand what you’re trying to tell them, nothing else really matters. And if it’s too difficult for them to work out your point, they’ll probably give up.

A close second is ‘use fewer words’. Which, of course, generally helps you to be clear.

And in  third place I’d go for one of Orwell’s six rules of good writing, ‘Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous’. Can’t go wrong with that.

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B2B marketing statistics

I don’t usually just post a link to another person’s blog post, but I found a really interesting piece today that seems too good to not share.

This post on B2B marketing statistics is from Blue Corona, a web marketing company in the USA. Hats off to them, there’s some serious research gone into compiling all these statistics in one place. It’s refreshing to read a post that’s 100% focussed on B2B, and has lots of real, useful numbers.

Inevitably there’s a few claims and statistics that seem less grounded in reality, but there’s some great nuggets of information.

For example, by next year, the percentage of B2B search queries on smartphones is expected to grow to 70%.

Really? Well, Google has been telling us something similar for years, and now prioritizes mobile site results, so there’s probably something in it. And I guess if you include travel-related items like hotels and train tickets, the number probably makes more sense.

Anyway, it’s a thought-provoking post that’s well worth reading - and may challenge some of your ideas about B2B marketing.

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