Results

You’ve hired a writer.  Defining Your ProjectCongratulations! I’m thrilled. You’re excited because your work is done. But wait.  We have to talk about that.

As I view the content landscape, I am convinced that people hire content writers  expecting magic—as in seeing instant results and an immediate increase in business. It would be lovely, a writer’s wish, a company’s dream-come-true if it worked like that.

It doesn’t.

Ongoing Content

How often do you look at automobile advertisements or the independent reliability reports, or fuel efficiency readings? Only when you’re looking for a car. But the auto companies advertise and provide content all the time. The do not look for an immediate increase in sales after they have put up one ad, one blog, one Consumer Reports review. They are in it for the long haul.

Automobile marketers pay attention to the number of people that visit their website: they pay millions of dollars (I worked for such a company) to measure every click on every web page and every minute and second prospects spent on the smallest detail of the brand’s offerings. They analyze the metrics down to the threads on the tires’ lug nuts, so to speak. But they cannot directly correlate sales increases to online behavior. They get close, and they can sometimes indirectly estimate sales upticks based on the analytics.

What they can measure is interest and then try to correlate it to sales. SO CAN YOU!

How to Get Great Results:

Be sure to garner your clients’ and prospects’ interest in your content by:

  • Employing good writers
  • Providing the writer with YOUR company’s content bullets and voice/tone. Very important.
  • Getting your website person* to measure the reaction (analytics) to your content on your web page.
  • Asking your social media person* to analyze the reaction to your Social Media posts. Who responds? What day, time of day, topics, words or word phrases are best? What channel is best? LinkedIn? Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? YouTube? The analytics are offered by the sites themselves, but how you react to them makes a difference. For example, changing the messaging might be necessary if the response is low, but it will not change itself. Someone has to do it.

* If this person is you, make sure you have this on your weekly To Do list. Either that or be willing to pay the writer to do it. Why? Conscientious writers want our words to bring you buzz and business! If they don’t, we will fire ourselves if you don’t fire us first. And then you start all over with another writer. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Bottom Line

Hiring a writer is a great first step. It’s not the last step. It’s important to conduct sessions in which the content — web page, post, product description, etc.— is studied for their results. The goals must be clear: More clicks? New leads? Increased sharing? Closed sales, higher email captures? There’s no shortcut. Stay the course with your writer and make sure to measure our results.

Professional writers want their clients to succeed and grow so we can grow with you!

You Need a Break

Hire a professional. Perhaps a professional writer, even.

Maybe you have too many projects for the writers on your staff. Maybe you’re the writer and the staffTaking a Break from Writingand you’re doing it all. Sometimes it’s just plain hard to come up with a new angle. Your writers and you have been writing about the company for years. It’s difficult to create spanking new content every time.  

“What are we going to write about today?” they plead, their eyes crossed from the sheer weight of the challenge. Perhaps Sisyphus, the mythological Greek king (whose punishment in hell was to push a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down every time, again and again, and again) had it easier.

Take a break! Make it like the day a landscape architect comes to your home. Budget so you can afford it. The yard will look better, and fewer plants will die if the experts design, choose the correct plants, and set the automatic watering schedule for the best time of day and water requirements for healthy plants.

A “word architect” will likewise design a written project that will look better, will include the correct words for your audience and purpose, and will arrive with placement suggestions to deliver the (marketing) piece to the most effective promotional channels or media outlets.  Your feeling of relief is…priceless!

Find a way. Hire a professional. By hiring a landscape architect, or by indulging in, perhaps, an interior decorator or a writer, you will see that it’s good for the soul to take a break from the angst of Do-It-Yourself. It’s good for your head, too. It’s like taking a little vacation: you come back renewed and refreshed.

A freelance writer will let you take a break, and free your mind for other endeavors.

A Necessary Convenience

Q: What 20th century “convenience” is most taken for granted?


A: 69% voted for TOILET PAPER; 42% say the zipper; 38% say frozen foods

Q: If stranded on a desert island with only one “necessity,” what would you choose?


A: 49% of people surveyed chose toilet paper as their greatest island necessity ahead of food.

(From Toiletpaperworld.com surveys.)

History and Invention

Most of us alive in the United States today think that toilet paper has been around forever. Not so. Toilet paper as we know it today was not invented until 1857, and at that time it sold for fifty cents for a package of 500 sheets. This is not to be confused with a product that was used as toilet paper somewhere between AD 857 and 1391 wherein Chinese Emperors commissioned a product that measured two feet wide by three feet long. Because of its size, it is not a bona fide precursor to the product we use today.

In 1857, then, an American Joseph Gayetty invented what we know today as toilet paper. Mr. Gayetty was so proud of his invention that he had his name printed on each sheet before packaging it. Either the product cost too much, or the public wasn’t ready for it. The invention failed. Walter Alcock (of Great Britain) later developed toilet paper on a roll instead of in flat sheets. His creation also failed.

scott-toilet-paperFinally in 1867, Thomas, Edward, and Clarence Scott (brothers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) successfully marketed toilet paper that consisted of a small roll of perforated paper, which they sold from a pushcart along the streets. The product had come into its time, the pushcart had a certain allure, and the commercial success attracted venture capital to give birth to the Scott Paper Company. By 1890, Scott Paper became the nation’s leading producer of bathroom tissue; but even with that realization, toilet paper rolls were not used widely until after the First World War around 1918. There was a taboo or an embarrassment about such things and thus it was that my grandmother, who was born in 1889, probably didn’t use toilet paper until after she was twenty-eight years old at the earliest!

It’s hard to imagine what people used before toilet paper, and what clearly some peoples of the world use to this day. According to history, my aforementioned grandmother growing up in California may have used one of the following: newsprint, Sears Roebuck catalogue pages, corn cobs, mussel shells, newspaper, leaves, or sand, although we never talked about. In the Middle Ages, they may have used hay balls, or a scraper thing-y called a gompf stick that was kept in a container by the privy. Other historical “T-Precursors” included discarded sheep’s wool in the Viking Age in England; a frayed end of an old anchor cable by sailing crews of Spain and Portugal; straw, hay, grass, and the pre-described gompf stick in Medieval Europe; and water and your left hand, in India.

British Lords used pages from a book; early Hawaiians used coconut shells; and French royalty employed lace and hemp, as did other upper class peoples of the world at the time. Sponges soaked in salt water on the end of a stick served the common folk in ancient Rome while the wealthy folks in that same city at the time used wool and rosewater. With this list of uncomfortable-sounding accouterments, it’s no wonder that toilet paper was such an important invention.

To put the invention of toilet paper in historical perspective, here are some other events and inventions around the same time:

Events & Inventions

1829 First Railroad built in the U.S.
1834 McCormick reaper invented
1844 Telegraph invented
1857 Toilet paper invented
1860 Lincoln elected president
1861-5 Civil War
1865 Lincoln assassinated
1867 Dynamite invented by Nobel
1876 Telephone invented
1903 First airplane flight

In the scheme of things, toilet paper rates as one of the major inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, it is hard to think that Abraham Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, did not use toilet paper. Nor did he have a telephone, not to mention a smart phone.

* * * *

Truths and Particulars about TP


How many sheets are on a roll?

Some rolls are two ply and have

500 sheets of the two-ply, others have 1000 sheets of one-ply—so, basically 1000 sheets, either way.

  • The people at Charmin say a roll of toilet tissue will last about five days in a family-of-four American household bathroom. They base these figures on surveys indicating users average 8.6 sheets per trip over a family total of 23 trips. That’s 200 sheets per day or that magical 1000 sheets (one roll) in five days (and I say it depends on how many women are in the house, and how many bathrooms.)
  • How much TP is sold in the U.S. annually. What’s the TP per capita? How does this usage relate to other countries? And finally:

Q: Do most people hang the toilet paper roll with the sheet over or under?

A: 68% like to hang toilet paper with the first sheet going over the top, as in hotel rooms.

Why is Toilet Paper important? Because life without toilet paper would be certainly less pleasant, and one only has to remember the great TP shortage precipitated by Johnny Carson in 1973. The slightest mention of a possible shortage left shelves empty, the pipeline gutted, and people fighting in the stores. What a waste of time! Keep the cupboards full of TP, and try to imagine another invention that helped our civilization flourish by reducing discomfort and preventing the spread of disease all at the same time.

 

Basket Envy

Have you seen it at Costco? It’s almost a sport. People peek over the top of others’ overstuffed shopping carts… on the way IN and on the way OUT! On the way IN they’re saying, “What do I need to look for once I get in?” On the way OUT, they say (I’ve actually heard it), “Oh Honey, look what we missed!” It’s a metaphor for life these days. “Hey, fella, what do you have in your basket that I might want? What am I missing?” Both feed Social Media. What if you miss out today?

What if you do? So what?

Indeed SO WHAT? Don’t succumb to basket envy. You can catch it later.

What Would I Tell a 22-Year-Old Today?

Fail fast and often.

IMG_0044Everyone your age gets lots of advice. And you’re not even asking for it, are you? Well, here’s the deal: when you ask for advice, you’re pretty much tapping into the stuff you already know, deep down inside at the gut level. You know it. Yes. You know it.

Here are five things I’d like to tell you. It’s a short list—so I hope you’ll read it.

  1. Be kind.
  2. Fail fast and often (like Michael Jordan!).
  3. Read (or listen) voraciously.
  4. Smile widely.
  5. Don’t forget to have fun.

We could go on for paragraphs. Write books (there are lots). And make long speeches. But those are the five that matter today. If you want my advice, see what books, speeches, podcasts, and  TED talks exist to expand on each of these ideas. Or not. Just having these five to think about should do it.

P.S. If you’re not 22, it’s okay. You might also consider the five suggestions above.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” ~ Michael Jordan

Seeing With Fresh Eyes

Everyone from marketers to writers to web designers needs Fresh Eyes. Find out why and how.

Seeing with Fresh Eyes

I don’t like to edit. Well, I like to edit other people’s stuff, but not my own. I like what I write. Or I wouldn’t be a writer. That said, everyone needs someone to edit their work.

 

EVERYONE. (Including moi).

Fresh Eyes are other people’s eyes. Or they’re your own eyes after a good night’s sleep.

Fresh Eyes are your eyes after 24 hours away from the project. Maybe 8 hours. Or 2. For longer works, Fresh Eyes, if they’re your own, require time and a blink-worthy dusting (think powdered sugar here) of amnesia.

Stephen King says Fresh Eyes are needed between book drafts. In his writing craft memoir On Writing he says, “How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks.”

Fresh Eyes could be called “vu-jà dé” … (I stole this from Adam Grant’s TED Talk at minute:second 10:57 into the talk. Thanks Adam! J). It’s like the opposite of déjà vu, where instead of already having seen it before, you’re seeing it for the first time.

Fresh Eyes bring someone else’s perspective into your life, onto the project.

Fresh Eyes sing new tunes and bring new rhythms.

Fresh Eyes understand there are more ways to approach the problem, write the story, paint the picture, take the photo.

Fresh Eyes are untainted by prejudice. Fresh Eyes are unclogged by confirmation bias.

Fresh Eyes are often “focused” by listening ears and open hearts and reading out loud.

Fresh Eyes are gifted by a willingness to admit you’re wrong. A possibility that you made a mistake. The welcoming of another opinion, instead of an anxiety about being criticized.

Fresh Eyes are not fearful, nor are Fresh Eyes to be feared. They are your friends.

For your writing project, your film, your new product, your idea, your company, or your invention or daring marketing scheme, take a moment and a deep breath. Take two steps back, or take a walk around the block. A trip around the world. A night away. Take in a movie or a play. Read a book.

Then return with Fresh Eyes. And when “Did I really say that?” escapes your lips, you can thank us. Or thank Stephen King. He’ll be glad he could help. I’m sure.

Artwork by Katie Phillips

 

Voice, Tone, Style and Brand

I hear you! You’re saying…voice, tone and style are writing terms. What are they doing in a business blog? Lots. Voice has to do with who you are. It’s your identity. Your music. It’s your immutable, unalterable you that shows up in your speech, but also in your writing…in your emails, your message to the shareholders, or the correspondence to the members in youNew Voice and Styler club and on your website for gosh sakes! Voice is the name on your door. You are your voice. Your voice is you. The rhythm of your words, the cadence of the sentences, the word choices—they are all you. Using contractions like aren’t and haven’t will send one message. Or having no contractions in your messaging makes quite another statement. They all contribute to voice. Your “voice” defines your brand.

Ever heard of a writer with a strong voice? That’s someone with an identity that you can recognize… almost like recognizing a cartoon character by the human’s voice: Woody in Toy Story is Tom Hanks. You recognize his voice. Dory in Finding Nemo is Ellen DeGeneres. In the book Seriously…I’m Kidding written by Ellen DeGeneres, you hear her voice, not because you hear it, really, but the word choices sound just like her! Ellen DeGeneres is a human brand.

Tone defines your writing, your communication, your delivery. “Don’t take that tone with me, young man.” Oh how tone matters! Is your writing tone breezy? Erudite? Cozy? Funny? The tone of your life affects the tone of your writing, your website and um, your brand! Upbeat? Happy? Silly? Serious? Academic? Professional? Sad? Writing tone can send a company’s brand down the tubes or up to the clouds. Continue reading “Voice, Tone, Style and Brand”

Taking a Break

“Give me a break.” In the vernacular, ‘give me a break’ means “Oh, come on.” On the other hand, taking a break has no second meaning. Does that mean it’s more serious? Taking a break is so important that it is mandated by law to protect employees from being forced to work without eating or taking restroom stops.

Taking a Break from WritingTaking breaks makes us more productive. Coffee/tea breaks make life livable. Meditation breaks fill the screen of your mind with a pleasant je ne sais quoi. However it is positioned, taking a break helps balance body, mind and spirit.

One way of taking a break is to have someone do your work for you. Wow, wouldn’t that be cool? This strategy is usually a win-win. Why? The person doing your work often does it better because they don’t consider it work. They like it! And they’re often paid for it, which is good for the economy.

When we’re super busy, we like to convince ourselves that breaks are unnecessary. Been there, done that. However in my saner moments, I figure that if we weren’t supposed to take breaks, we wouldn’t have been designed to eat or to sleep.

“I think I can, I think I can,” says the little train filled with good intentions as it chugs up the steep hill. Of course we all think we can. We’re good. We’re professionals. We’re adults. Mostly, though, we’re invincible. But we’re not. Scientists know. The bad guys are certain: Starve people and keep them from sleeping, and they’ll crack.

Trend Alert: Taking breaks must be important: Google returned 729,000,000 results on the keyword string “taking a break.” This post will make at least 729,000,001! If those were seconds, the time to open up (without even reading) each of the separate results would require 12,150,000 minutes. Gee.  That’s 202,500 hours or 8,437 days. That comes out to 23 years. Taking a break is a very significant concept, evidently. We all need breaks, and more than one every twenty-three years.

Taking a break is essential. Standing up, taking a walk, stretching, reading a book for five or ten minutes. Meditating. Seeing a movie. Going out for a meal. Vacationing.

Breaks refresh, renew, revive, reinvigorate, restore, recharge, revitalize. We all know this. We just need to make time for it, schedule it on our calendars, find a break partner, and make taking a break a habit.

Or we’ll break.

Defining Your Project

There are projects and there are PROJECTS.

Let’s start with the basic definition of the word project: The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says, “A project is a planned piece of work that has a specific purpose (such as to find information or to make something new), and that usually requires a lot of time.”

Defining Your Project
Image by Katie Phillips

Business projects are a subset of the project umbrella. The business dictionary defines a (business) project as follows: … “a planned set of interrelated tasks to be executed over a fixed period and within certain cost and other limitations.”

 

Trends in Projects Today

We can describe most projects today as follows: Complex. Overlapping. Time sensitive. Expensive. Multi-disciplinary. Difficult. Challenging. Misinterpreted. Misrepresented. Missing pieces. Simple projects are hard to find in business and in life. Properly managed, projects get things done.

In fact, managing projects can be learned: the Project Management Institute has designed coursework toward a PMP (Project Management Professional) designation to indicate your ability to manage a project in today’s demanding business arena. It’s a difficult certificate to achieve, but a worthy objective.

Projects come in all shapes and sizes, and with varying degrees of complications and costs. I don’t care how big the project is… Knowing the audience and purpose are absolutely the most important aspect of your project. In the early phases of a software development project, for example, the team engages in an activity called “gathering requirements.” At this time, the client (be it internal or external) defines what they want the software to do once it is built. What are the outcomes they want? What should the client be able to do that they couldn’t do before? Who are they doing it for and what are their needs? The more questions you ask and answer, the closer you will come to defining your project.

There’s one more question that must be asked whether gathering requirements or simply setting goals for any project of any size. That question is: “Why?”

5-Why Analysis

Frequently used to discover ways to solve a problem, the 5-Why analysis also clarifies the project you’re creating. Why are we doing this project? Why ARE we doing this project? Why are WE doing this? Why are we doing THIS project? Stop and answer each one. And then ask one last question: Why are you here?

Once your project has been defined, you can start working. Once you know why you’re here, you can start living.

TEENY WEENYCheck out my book here:

IKEA Virgin

Have you been to an IKEA store recently?

Back in 2006, we opened season on sending our last son to college. We went to IKEA. I had heard stories, the sagas of the seasons passing during an IKEA visit, but I thought these people must have been exaggerating. They were not. IKEA makes Costco look like a backyard excursion in comparison to the global circumnavigation posed by an IKEA store visit.

 We were in the store for 5 ½ hours.

It was an experience I did not soon reprise: I haven’t been back in nine years. The store was well organized, well lit, fairly well staffed, and clean. It is also cheap and, the 5½ hours notwithstanding, it saves time, which is a particularly important commodity in a working person’s life. For instance, my husband is a lot of things, but he is not a shopper. IKEA is a store for the shoppers of us, but in reality, it’s a store for non-shoppers as well. Why? Because it gets the entire shopping thing done in one, long, grueling, gut-wrenching, foot-searing, back-aching, self-helping, mind-numbing session. In short, you’re your own decorator, designer, shopper, warehouseman, and delivery boy. DON’T FORGET: Bring room dimensions, or you’ll probably end up back there again!

Also, come to your visit with an empty, large vehicle, room on your credit card, and a couple of able bodied, but skinny people that can heft the furniture pieces, but also squeeze into the leftover crevices in your “personal moving van” to get the stuff home.

It’s 2015 today and as I said, I haven’t been back there. I do remember being impressed by the organization and the high-tech environment nine years ago. Everything had a place. Touch screens dotted the pickup area to help you find your items in their vast find-it-yourself warehouse. Thank goodness for numbers! (Who invented those anyway?) Bin numbers, SKUs and part numbers managed the inventory; employees in yellow shirts managed the flow of parts and people.

The food offering (IKEA knew that they should feed customers who would be spending the better part of 24 hours in their clutches) counter-balanced the vastness of the store’s inventory by its marked sparseness: they were out of three food items. There were, however, piles of suspicious looking signature Swedish meatballs, which they promoted with massive colorful signage, take-home offers, and daily specials. I wonder if they’re always on special just to get rid of them.

The store we visited was 28,500 square meters, or about 306,711 square feet. A typical American football field is 57,600 square feet, so we’re talking about five football fields here. We slogged through the stupid thing at least twice, going back to look at different things so our son could mix and match and create his very own college room décor. I found myself biting my lip at some of his choices, but he was spreading his wings and I was grinning maniacally as the grateful almost empty nester.

So while I used to be an IKEA virgin, I am now knowledgeable in the ways of what was then a brave new retail world wonder. As with that other rite of passage, I feel somewhat sullied, but no longer afraid of the unknown. In this case I have sore feet to prove my passage…

Meanwhile, we did right by our college-bound child. He needed stuff, and stuff they had. Lots. Everywhere.