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Running a Business on a Shoestring

Shoe Laces...

Shoe Laces… (Photo credit: Heartlover1717)

 

I run my business on a shoestring. Actually, it’s more like half of a shoestring that’s missing an aglet. That is to say, my business budget is very, very small. When it comes to getting the things I need to run my business, I have to get creative. Some of my creative money saving attempts have been successful, and some have bombed horribly. But with the costs of running a business on the rise, I have to keep trying. None of my ideas are what you would call earth shattering, but they may be something you haven’t thought of or they may spark an idea of your own. So, here are some of the things I’ve tried.  Read More…

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Issues of Style

3rd shelf, left bookcase, writing resources

3rd shelf, left bookcase, writing resources (Photo credit: Yvesanemone)

Grammar and punctuation rules aren’t the only things to consider when writing or editing copy. Style issues also play a major role. Unfortunately, many business and organizations don’t take the time to determine what their editing style will be for their written materials. This can lead to inconsistencies in published works (both print and electronic) that can give readers an impression of unprofessionalism. When creating written materials consistency in style not only gives continuity to products, it shows an attention to detail and gives an overall professional look.

While most my clients adhere to one of the style guides listed below, they usually deviate from these written guides in one area or another. For example, some religious organizations I work with follow the Chicago Style Manual on most issues, but follow their own guidelines when it comes to capitalizations of certain terms and the use of numerals in text. This type of deviation is perfectly acceptable and expected.

You may also choose to create your own “style” for your written communications. Just remember, the key to maintaining an editorial style is consistency. Keep track of the rules that differ from your chosen style guide so that writers and editors know what they are.

Here are just a few of the styles guides available: Read More…

Readabilty in Communication

"Writing", 22 November 2008

“Writing”, 22 November 2008 (Photo credit: dr_ed_needs_a_bicycle)

Writing effective copy is an important part of most business, organization, or personal endeavors. But, copy is only as effective as it is readable. The question is: Are you optimizing your copy readability?

Readability refers to the ease in which text can be read and understood. It’s an important aspect of communication that directly impacts the effectiveness of any written work—be it a blog, brochure, training manual, or whatever. If the reader finds your information difficult to read or understand, you’ve failed as a copywriter.

When writing any piece of information, readability should be considered. Studies on readability have been conducted publicly since the mid 1930s. Over the years it has been shown that readability is most affected by four factors: content, style, design, and organization. Let’s take a look at these.

  1. Content: What you write must be important to your readers, if you expect them to read what you’ve written. You can’t appeal to all readers, but you can write for a target audience. Do your homework and write about what your readers want to know. Also important is the length of the piece. In a study published by Wilbur Schramm in 1947, it was discover that a newspaper story nine paragraphs long would lose three out of ten readers by the fifth paragraph. A shorter story would lose only two. This is probably true now more than ever with today’s busy readers.
  2. Style: According to William Dubay‘s e-book, Smart Language, most adults read at an eighth grade reading level. This means if you want to reach the masses, you must keep your writing style simple and easy to understand. You can do this by keeping sentences short, words familiar, and concepts relatively simple. There are several readability formulas that have been developed to help writers and educators write copy to fit a specific reading level.
    Many of these are available in software that allows you to copy and paste text to be evaluated and scored. Even Microsoft Word comes with a form of readability assessment. You can access it by clicking on Tools, choosing Spelling and Grammar, then clicking on the Options button. Check the Show Readability Statistics and Word will report on the readability of each document you spell check. You probably won’t use any of these programs unless you are writing educational materials or training resources, but it’s nice to know they are there.
  3. Format: Use subheads, bold-face paragraphs, and bullets to break up a story sparingly. Too much can cause a reader to lose interest or to skip over vital information. However, used appropriately these elements can aid readers in accessing and digesting the information. Most readers read articles, stories, and webpages in stages. First, they skim the content to see if it interests them, then they may read over the information again to pick out what they want to know. If the content is good, they may return to read the piece again, this time all the way through. This entire process can take just a few minutes, but understanding that it happens can help you hook a reader by formatting the information in a pleasing way.
  4. Organization: People read faster and retain more when text is organized into topics. A visible plan for presenting content shows how the parts of the text are related and helps readers assess the text and blend new information with what they know already. The text should flow easily and build on itself. Internet readers are especially drawn to short snippets of information that are easy to skim and digest.

Personally, I would add a fifth element to this list: Design. The way text is presented visually plays a particularly important role in its readability. The color of the copy and the color of the background are important choices. Red copy on a black background makes reading copy difficult and frustrating. As boring as it may seem, dark lettering (black most commonly) on a light background (or white) is the easiest to read. Font size and style are also significant contributors. Keep text size large enough to be seen easily and font styles simple and distinct.

Another thing writer tend to ignore is the effective use of white space and size of column width. Avoid columns that span the width of the page or website. This helps readers keep their place in their reading. Also leaving white space gives the reader’s eyes a place to rest. Too much solid copy can be daunting to some readers. Keep this in mind as you design your written pieces.

You don’t need a degree in education to write copy that is easy and enjoyable to read. But with a little effort and practice you can make your copy more readable and reach your target audience in a more effective way.

References:

Dubay, W. H. 2007. Smart Language: Readers, Readability, and the Grading of Text. Costa Mesa, CA: Impact Information. p. 4.

Schramm, W. 1947. “Measuring another dimension of newspaper readership.” Journalism quarterly 24:293–306.

When Good Jobs Go Bad

Original caption: I decided to see if I could ...

Original caption: I decided to see if I could catch the motion of Dominos falling. It took me ages to get the timing right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Running a home based business is not always easy. It’s been two weeks since my last post on time management. I’ve implemented my plan with mixed success. I’ve scheduled more times to work and have been quite productive, but unexpected problems always seem to pop up. It’s as if everything that could go wrong has gone wrong creating a domino effect. One late job affects the next job. One missed deadline leads to another, and I hate missing deadlines.

Luckily all my clients are very understanding. I’ve worked with most of them for years and have built a good working relationship with them. That makes me want to meet my deadlines even more.

Read More…

To Blog or Not to Blog

When college student Justin Hall created the very first blog in January 1994, he was making history. In eighteen years blogs have become an online staple. Some blogs are personal diaries or links to websites about similar topics much like the first blogs were, but others have adapted to become much, much more.

Many people viewed blogs as a fad when they started, but blogs have evolved into a growing industry. Today blogs are used by everyone from people who want to document their lives and share their thoughts with the world to Fortune 500 companies who use blogs to tell people of their company, products, and build a community of consumers.

A good business blog can add value to your business, boost customer loyalty, establish you as an expert in your field, and attract potential clients. On the other hand, a bad business blog can negatively impact your business and your reputation. So, the question is: Is a business blog right for you?

When deciding to start a blog for your business, there are a few things to consider. What do you hope to accomplish with your blog? How much time do you have to commit to a business blog? What kind of legal liabilities might arise? Luckily there are thousands upon thousands of resources on and off the Internet.

I’ve been researching this topic for an article I’m writing, and it amazes me the impact a blog can have on a company or individual. Some companies have used blogs to greatly increase their customer base and improve their standing with the masses. Others have crashed and burned. What’s the main difference? The blogs that have been successful offer quality content, are genuine in nature (i.e., not just a glorified commercial), and listen to their readers, responding accordingly.

While having the opportunity to blog, doesn’t necessarily mean a person has to blog. But those of you who are trying to decide whether to start a business blog, do your homework first. Read everything you can before starting, then dive right in. If you are sincere, offer value, and give a place for people to discuss your topic, people will forgive any mistakes you make. It’s an evolving field. Who knows, maybe you’ll start something new in the blogosphere.

According to the article,  “Blogs Will Change Your Business,” by Stephen Baker and Heather Green in BusinessWeek OnlineBlogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone, or delegate…blogs are not a business elective. They’re a prerequisite.” Blogs give business more marketing bang for the buck. So why not give it a try?

I’d like to hear from anyone who blogs for their business. What tips or advice can you give to those of us who are new to the business blog community?

Blog Tips

I’m still researching business blogging for an article I’m writing. As you can imagine, there are thousands upon thousands of resources out there on this subject. Here are a few websites/blogs I’ve found to be helpful or at the very least interesting: Read More…

Connecting with Other Bloggers

Admittedly, I’m not a very outgoing person. Writing is a pretty solitary profession. You sit in front of a computer for hours typing things that come into your head. I liken it to playing God, because you are able to create a world in which you are omniscient and all-powerful. (Although many novelists will tell you that their characters take on a life of their own, but that only furthers the metaphor.)

My point is, you typically don’t become a writer for social reasons. However, I’m learning in my research about blogging, that becoming active in the blogging community (or blogosphere) is key to having a “successful” blog (i.e., one that people actually read.)  Read More…