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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Why mistakes in writing matter

In this blog, I’ve often gone on about how to write well.

This month, I wanted to revisit why avoiding mistakes in your writing is so important.

Let’s leave to one side, for now, any thoughts about what we mean by good writing, or discussions about style. I’m focussing on just getting all the basics right – and avoiding errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation.

Does it really matter? Yes, for two reasons.

Firstly, it’s about credibility. Whatever you do in business, you need other people to have some level of confidence in you. But if you can’t be bothered to check your writing for errors, why should they trust you to do anything else properly?

Then, poor writing is distracting. Your reader is just getting interested in what you have to say, when the spell is broken by a clanger. You’ve lost them, and they may not come back.

Get the basics right first, then check and check again to make sure there are no howlers. Get someone else to read your work before posting or sending it, if at all possible.

You’ve got interesting things to say. But if your writing is full of errors, no one will listen.

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Always learning

How do you keep interested in your job, year after year?

For me, one of the most important motivators that gets me out of bed is knowing that I will learn something new, every day.

Being a freelance technology writer is an excellent way of making sure you never really get a chance to get stuck in your comfort zone, let alone bored.

But it’s not just the technology, and in fact the continuous quest for faster, newer iterations of the same kind of gadgets can become monotonous in its own way. To me, it’s the fact that every project is slightly different, and each one will inevitably throw up issues or questions that I’ve never handled before.

My point? I guess to remind you that if you’re constantly having to solve new problems, make sure you remember it’s a blessing, not a curse – even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

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Think about your online presence – all of it

Recently, I was researching a company I’d not previously heard of, so I started by just typing its name into Google.

Interestingly, one of the first results was its profile on, which primarily consists of anonymous reviews written by employees. This company’s profile was, shall we say, less than glowing, and the negative comments from its staff created a very different picture from that given by the firm’s own website.

There’s two things to learn from this.

Firstly, it’s a basic SEO principle: make sure you’re active online so your content can achieve good search results for your company name, and anything negative is balanced. Write things, get them posted on your own website and others, make noise on social media.

Secondly, remember that you can’t control everything that’s said about you online – and in particular on social media. If your customer service sucks, or you’re a horrible employer, the people you’ve annoyed will inevitably say so, publicly.

It comes back to authenticity: you can tell people what you’re like as a company or brand, but nowadays the truth (or at least some version of it) will out. And people finding the negative comments online have no way of verifying their accuracy, so may well just take them on face value and assume they’re true, even if they’re not.

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