Friday, October 24, 2014

Content takes time - lots of time!

Nobody minding the store?
Raise your hand if your last blog post was more than a week ago. More than two weeks ago... more than a month ago?

Raise your hand if you've been looking into a company, interested enough to read the blog...only to lose confidence in said company when you see the last post was more than three months ago.

OK, now that EVERYONE has a hand or two up in the air, put 'em down.

Content creation takes time. Be realistic about managing your blog and 88 social media profiles. And if you think your time is better spent elsewhere - like running the company or managing the sales staff - you're probably right. So, hire a ghostwriter.

That is all. ;)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A guide to style guides

So now that everyone's in the content business, don't you think it's about time we all had a little style?

Let's Talk Style Guides

Whether your company has a website, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or "just" a print presence, you have a style. And you need a guide.* And then, for heaven's sake, you need to make sure all of your employees know it exists, and why, and that they are expected to follow it.

Many large corporations and publications of all sizes have their own style guides. Some of those organizations even update said guides every-so-often. (If you keep your style guide up to date, please, give yourself a pat on the back.)

While creating a style guide sounds like a lot of work without a measurable payoff, reconsider: If half of your sales literature states the company name in ALL CAPS and the other half uses title caps, the company looks a little sloppy. If your website varies noticeably from page to page; if your sales presentations don't reflect the same style as your sales literature and websites, prospective customers can lose confidence in the company. And if there are more significant inconsistencies, especially on contracts (did I just get your attention?) they could have legal ramifications.

So. Have a style guide. And use it.

The Most Common Style Guides 

Most custom style guides are actually just a few pages long, highlighting a few company- and industry-specific terms and how they should be used. And, on the first page or maybe at the end, there's a line that goes something like this: "For all other style questions, refer to the AP guide," or another standard reference. The most common style guides are -
AP  - From Associated Press, or as it humbly considers itself, the Journalist's Bible.
Chicago Manual
MLA - AKA Modern Language Association Style, while generally considered the style of academia and researchers, its more widely used than that - even if many users don't know it.
Now, if you prefer to wing it consider something like the useful guide Purdue University's Online Writing Lab put together. Or, if you're into creating a brand new style guide, from scratch, well, congratulations on your adventure! Reinventing the wheel completely could be fun.

Here are a few questions to get the gears turning:
What font (or fonts) will you use? You might choose two or even three to use for different sections, situations, or sales. That's OK - just be consistent in their use.
What about line spacing? Like your choice of fonts, how you use line spacing has a lot to do with how easy your copy is on the eyes.
And alignment? While left-justified, singled-spaced copy is the most commonly used, there's certainly room in the world for a little center- or even right-justification. Again, consistency is key. if you
Have you chosen your case? If you don't know your title case from your sentence case, learn before you create your style guide. (Please don't talk to me about camel case or bumpy case.) And when you decide on a case type, stick with it.
Bonus points:
You don't need to be a graphic designer, but it sure is nice if you can speak the language.

*I'll save my comments on how stylish a company's style might be for another day. Today I'm talking guides. No matter what your guide, here's the best advice you'll ever get: FOLLOW IT.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Writing Process: Q&A with Author Megan Cyrulewski

Megan Cyrulewski, who wrote about postpartum depression with sharp insight and no pretense in her memoir,  Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again, recently opened up a little more - this time, about her thoughts on writing and publishing.  
Megan Cyrulewski
I offer my thanks to Megan, for this post, for her honesty and dedication to the the process, and for being willing to share her experience to help others. Thanks, too, on behalf of other writers wrestling with some tough questions - inspiration is always welcome! 

This is your first book. Did you grow up thinking, maybe one day I'll write a book? Or was "author" a label you never expected to wear?   
MC: I actually wrote a fiction book when I was in college (I think I was 19.)  It was awful but I think that was the beginning of wanting to someday write a book.
How did you make time to write your memoir with a young child, and the rest of life, swirling around you?  
MC: Luckily, Madelyne was in daycare 3 days a week. So on days that she was at daycare, I was able to write.  
What surprised you about the publishing process?  
MC: The marketing aspect.  I love my publisher but as with many small publishing companies, the author has to do a lot of marketing him/herself.  I didn’t even know where to start!  
Who in your life has inspired you to write?  
MC: My daughter.  She inspires me every day. 
How do you feel your writing may inspire others?  
MC:  Whenever I get an e-mail or a contact from someone telling me that my book helped them, any doubts I had about opening myself up vanish.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“In order to write about life first you must live it.” 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Have your fears stopped you from writing about personal experiences?  

Friday, October 3, 2014

Blog rules to know and break

The Steveology Blog is always a great resource; in the series of interviews with Lou Hoffman, doubly so. I liked part 3, about storytelling, best. It highlighted some of the rules of corporate blogging that I'd argue most organizations break or ignore.

And there I go again, breaking the rules. See what I did there? You know I know you're not supposed to put an outside link in the first line of your blog. *Sigh* Go ahead, click away laughing - if you've read beyond the outside link in the past, you'll know why I do this. I think writing should be more useful to readers than it is to the writer - in this case, me.

Which may explain why I don't blog for a living. But I digress.

Engagement isn't easy, nor is it overrated

Your corporate blog needs readers and you need patience and commitment to get them.

Just because monkeys can write blogs and many blogging tools are free doesn't mean it's a good idea for monkeys to have blogs. *Ahem* Sorry, my snarkiness is showing.

If you've been charged with writing a corporate blog or any kind, don't fall into the content trap and think your task is all about writing. Blogging is copywriting, and copywriting is marketing. Or that word no one likes to say out loud anymore: advertising.

Call me old school: I came to copywriting via some great advertising classes taught by an adjunct who knew it, because he was doing it.

Copywriting vs. Content 

Copywriting, of course, is not just writing, or even storytelling. It's advertising. Meaning, before you write, you have to know your product (or service), your target audience, and how to reach them quickly and effectively.

Sounds a lot like content management, doesn't it?

Coincidence? I don't think so. And what's this? Another external link just as you finish reading this post? Another rule broken! Coincidence? Or valuable content, offered in trust? It's your call.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Is it Time to Quit Your Job (and Freelance)?

"Most people don't quit; they wait to get fired," says Donna Nowak, a business consultant and interim executive who specializes in helping underperforming companies. Nowak has managed major organizational restructurings, many that included the loss of jobs. But leaving a job can be a win-win situation. The key is to be proactive.

5 Signs it's Time to Quit Your Job
Nowak encourages employees to take control of their careers, which sometimes means recognizing that it's time to quit.

1. The business is in (bad) trouble
If you suspect your employer is involved with any illegal or immoral activities, getting out can save you untold aggravation and potential legal liability. Is your employer out of compliance with OSHA regulations? Not honoring customer contracts?
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and there's always a chance that you could end up being a scapegoat. Leaving allows you to maintain your integrity," Nowak says.
When Nowak takes over as Interim CEO of a company, it's often because the business is on the verge of bankruptcy. In many cases, those companies have used financial challenges as an excuse to cut corners, legally and ethically - or maybe not so much.  When things are handled in a ... let's say less-than-honest manner, "It would have been better for employees to take a stand at the first sign of anything illegal," Nowak says.
2. Your job is a career killer, or is harming you professionally
If you are being mistreated on the job to the extent that it's harming you professionally, damaging your self-esteem, or both, it's time to quit and find an employer who will treat you with dignity and respect.
3. Your job is killing you
You don't have to enjoy every minute of your job, but since most people spend most of their waking hours at work, it greatly affects the quality of life. If your job is causing irreparable or unmanageable physical or mental harm, that's reason enough to quit.
4. You really suck at the job
Let's face it: it's possible there just isn't a good fit.
"Most employees know when they're not well-suited for a job or vice versa," says Nowak. When that's the case, the longer you stay, the more experience you'll have - doing a bad job. Get out before you make a colossal error or create a truly awful situation for your employer and/or coworkers. They may be so relieved that they'll graciously offer to assist you in finding a job that makes better use of your talents.
5. You're about to get fired
Clearly, the best time to quit a job is before you get fired. While some signs are obvious, others are subtle. Just don't overanalyze everything your boss or co-workers do or say; self-doubt makes it easy to misinterpret harmless comments.
That said, some things are meant to get your attention. Receiving multiple reprimands at work, either verbally or in writing, means your job is in jeopardy. Most corporate policy handbooks stipulate that employees will be terminated after a third written reprimand, Nowak says. 
Less obvious, but possibly just as telling: Posting something derogatory about your employer on Facebook (or LinkedIn, or Twitter, or social media tool of choice). Many employees don't recognize this as a symptom of it's-time-to-go-itis. 
"Badmouthing or disrespecting your boss, the company, or your co-workers," online or otherwise, is a clear indication that you should be planning an exit, Nowak says.
One sign that's often underestimated: Doing personal things on company time. Make no mistake, the company knows. Most employee handbooks contain policies prohibiting conducting personal business on the company dime. It also indicates that you're not fully engaged at work. Be honest about it, and find a job that really excites you.

Smart or Over-sensitive?
What if the boss stops saying 'hi' to you in the elevator? Don't freak out, but don't dismiss it. After a decision on termination is made, "quite often a boss will start feeling awkward," Nowak says. Sure, there could be many other reasons for such behavior. "But it would be something that I would look for," she says.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This article was published way back in 2012, when I was a contributor to the now-defunct Yahoo! Voices channel. Live and learn, eh?  If you're thinking about quitting and hope to freelance fulltime - or just to make ends meet for a time - get your plan in rock-solid shape before you jump ship. I don't have a magic wand, but with more than 20 years of freelancing in the bag, I can tell you it's really sweet to have a job. #Thinkitover

Friday, August 22, 2014

Take a Hike, Cleveland

Want to see Cleveland's tourist attractions by foot, take a walk on Cleveland's wild side, or just get some exercise? Hiking in Cleveland is easy and offers a lot of options in and around the city.

Sightseeing Hikes in Cleveland
Visitors can take in Cleveland's skyline and Lake Erie views from Edgewater Park, which has expanded into Whiskey Island, and several other lakefront parks. 
Many of Cleveland's sights can be seen by strolling from E. 9th and Ontario Streets, the site of the beautiful Cleveland Indians ballpark, north along E. 9th, where there are many popular eateries, to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum. Next door to the cool IM Pei-designed museum is the Great Lakes Science Center with its modern hydro-electric windmills in plain sight. Cleveland Browns stadium is next door. Turning to head south again, visitors should stop at the Justice Center to admire its architecture, and stop in at the Money Museum educational center located inside the Federal Reserve Bank building off Rockwell Avenue. (Admission is free!)
Among Cleveland's best neighborhood walks is Little Italy, where a favorite attraction is Lakeview Cemetery - also known as Cleveland's Outdoor Museum. Hikers are encouraged to explore the ornate grounds, designed to resemble the gorgeous garden cemeteries in Europe, and stop in to Wade Chapel to see the windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Hikers can fortify themselves with a real Italian meal in the hilly ethnic neighborhood that lies just beyond the cemetery's gates.

Self-guided downtown hikes and tours are safe, free, and fun - many neighborhood associations and local historical societies offer maps with points of interest.
Good Hikes for Kids in Cleveland
Cleveland Metroparks, also known as the 'Emerald Necklace,' offer plenty of kid-friendly hiking opportunities. Little hikers who like a ghost story with their outdoor activity love exploring Squires Castle, built for the wife of a Standard Oil executive. Reportedly, the missus had insomnia and often roamed the castle late at night. While stories vary about just how it happened, one night she met her end in the basement. It's said she still roams the castle, wailing.
Cleveland visitors can combine sight-seeing and exercise when they hoof it around the zoo. When you eschew the trams (which are free) and walk the perimeter of the zoo grounds, you'll get an approximately 3-mile hike - more if you also visit the Rainforest, which covers two acres. (The zoo is about a 10-15 mile drive from downtown Cleveland, and RTA buses run to the zoo, too.)
Get Away From It Cleveland!
Did you know Cleveland has a National Park? The old Erie Canal bisects the park, and 60 miles of the Towpath Trail have been restored and widened to accommodate visitors - which are said to number more than a million every year. The Towpath Trail extends from downtown Cleveland all the way to downtown Akron (and into New Philadelphia). And on either side of the Cuyahoga River, hiking trails abound - the park covers more than 30,000 acres. A favorite for many locals is the approximately 5-mile hike along the Carriage Trail to Brandywine Falls. The stunning 70-foot falls offer great scenery in every season. Trail maps for Cuyahoga Valley National Park can be found at the National Parks website.
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This article originally published on the travel pages of a now-defunct Yahoo! channel eons ago (in internet time). I visited most of the places mentioned here and updated links in 2014. Looking for still more Cleveland-area hikes? Have I got a book for you!! 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Seven Things You Should Know Before High School

    You're way past primary colors and fat pencils, but admit it: the start of a new school year is something of a curve ball. That goes double for starting a new school - HIGH SCHOOL, yet. Don't freak - here are seven survival tips you'll be glad to know.

  • 1. Don't buy clothes until after school starts.
It never fails; somebody decides THURSDAY IS EVERYTHING PURPLE DAY or YOU HAVE TO HAVE YELLOW HIGH TOPS (or gray flats, or cut the sleeves off your shirt, or whatever) and unless you do the deciding at your school, you won't get the memo until after the first week of class. Plus, you'll probably just wear shorts the first week anyway, and everything goes on sale after Labor Day. Shopping can wait.
  • 2. Take gym in summer school if you can.
Here's one of those completely-unfair-totally-true things that nobody tells you (until now): gym is the only summer school class that's really a blast. Gym during the school year means, first of all, it's in a gym - which is where dodge ball and lame free-throw shooting drills happen. (Borrrrring!) The summer version of gym, however, might mean tennis, bowling, golfing, kayaking, and other things that are infinitely more fun than calisthenics or anything you can do in a gym. Plus, if you don't have to take gym during the school year, you'll never have to figure out what to do if somebody takes your underwear and flushes it in the toilet while you're in the shower. Just sayin.'
  • 3. The bigger the backpack, the better.
More room is more room. Period.
  • 4. Your phone will fall into enemy hands.
So ask your cell phone service provider to make a back-up of your contacts if possible, and get in the habit of erasing texts you've sent if you don't want everyone to read them. Obviously, the same goes for pictures.
  • 5. College applications are important now. Seriously. Yes, NOW.
It's not fair, but it's true. Everything about your academic performance matters in high school. College apps don't just make students crazy, they put parents in a panic too. Breathe deeply and do your best. In every class, in every subject, every day. Sorry. This is why they call it your high school CAREER - because it matters. If you can't be serious about your high school performance, start practicing how to say, "do you want fries with that?" in a sincere and helpful tone of voice. Because the competition for fast-food jobs is almost as crazy as the race to get into the "best" school.
  • 6. Coaches don't really hate you. Much.
But their jobs depend on having players who are absolutely, positively, prepared for anything. Whether your sport is soccer or skydiving, basketball or basket-weaving, you will be expected to work hard in the weight room, run a mile (or a marathon) and drop and give 'em twenty anytime you get caught smirking during practice. Get used to it; it's part of the fun. Or at least, it will seem that way by your 10-year reunion.
  • 7. Get over-involved.
Here's the worst advice you'll ever get about high school: "If you're too busy, you won't have time to goof off and enjoy yourself." Fact: there's no such thing as too busy. Write for the school paper, get a job, try out for the play, if you don't make it join stage crew, volunteer at the food bank, get another job, run for class officer, get (or be) a peer tutor, and attend every game, dance, walk-a-thon, and sort-of-lame-sounding event that's going on. See, most of those things are just a more interesting way of goofing off and enjoying yourself. Bonus: when you're involved in almost everything, not only will you know almost everything about your high school, almost everyone will know you - in a good way! So get over-involved; it will almost guarantee that you'll have fun.
And now that you know some of really important things about high school survival, relax. A little bit. Or - perhaps this is the best advice of all -  learn to enjoy the stress. After all, high school will be over before you know it. Have fun with it!
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Diane Stresing is a freelance writer focused on the business and people of northeast Ohio, who brings 20+ years in marketing, communications, and operational management experience to each assignment. She is the author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Cleveland, and her byline appears in a variety of regional and national publications. Diane also provides photos with assignments for clients who request them.
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This article was originally published in Yahoo! Voices, a now-defunct channel of the family of websites and other experiments. Surprisingly, my byline hasn't changed a lot since it first appeared. (I'm sure I haven't either.)