Category “Blogging”

So you’re thinking of starting your own technical writing or content writing business?

Monday, 3 December, 2018

I recently had the opportunity to talk about my STEM career path in two different spheres – one was an article on the BCIT website and another was at a recent BC Tech and Discovery Foundation Aspire to Tech workshop. These opportunities really got me thinking about what a journey it’s been and how much I’ve learned along the way (through definite trial and many an error), and I realised that there are lot of things I can share now that I had no clue about when I was starting out, and that may help you if you’re  just getting started in a career as a technical writer or content developer. Read on…

Tip #1: Think About What Sets You Apart

We all have something that can shape what we offer to our clients and our audience. Think about your background, your studies, what you excel at. If you’re a career changer, how can what you did before this change work to your advantage? I often have students in my Writing for the Web class (part of BCIT’s Technical Writing program) who have degrees and experience in other fields, so I encourage them to look at what subject matter expertise and transferable skills they have, along with their writing skills. For example, you may have worked in the finance or medical fields, so these would be excellent areas to look for clients in, because you’ll bring not just the writing talent, but the industry knowledge with you.

Tip #2: See What’s Already Out There

If you’re not sure what kinds of contracts are out there, what client you might suit, or specifically what skills you might need to take on clients, then do your research! Google Technical Writing jobs or Content Writer jobs (+ your area). Look at job descriptions, the type of companies and industries hiring, and get an idea of salaries to figure out what you should charge as a contractor/freelancer (you can also use PayScale to help you with this). You can get a sense of whether you need to take a course, brush up on a skill, etc. Also take a look at your competition. What are they doing well? What can you do differently or better? And see Tip #1 🙂 

Tip #3: Build a Portfolio and Self-Market

You may be working in a technical (or other kind of) workplace currently that needs better writing – for their website, their general documentation, marketing, etc. Offer to do some of this (but try to get it to be within your job, not as unpaid extra work on top it) so that you can build up portfolio pieces. Look for websites that may be looking for articles (just be sure you aren’t under valuing yourself, but doing some articles for free at the beginning can be good for building your online presence). Set up a blog and write, write, write!

Use all the free online marketing tools you can – namely LinkedIn and Twitter. These have great search engine rankings, so they will help get your name out there. LinkedIn also has a publishing tool, so you can write and contribute articles there (also don’t be afraid to use the same content across these – use Twitter to promote your blog posts or online articles; post your blog posts or articles on LinkedIn as posts on your profile – saves you time and drives readers to your writing). LinkedIn Jobs is also very useful for looking for clients, as you can often find contract work this way. There are also other sites like Upwork that allow you to find freelance jobs. 

If you can’t afford to set up your own website yet, then at the very least, put together a PDF of your services, with your contact information. This was a highly valuable piece of advice that a career coach and friend gave me. That way, you can email your PDF to potential clients without feeling embarrassed that you don’t have a website**. I also found that when I sat down to do this, it actually motivated me to set up my website, so I ended up not having to use the PDF and instead got my website done. 

** That said, get a website ASAP 🙂 (see Tip #5).

Tip #4: Volunteer (and Network)

I know that everyone always says that you need to network when you’re looking for a job, but I believe there are more creative ways to do it than just attending networking events. Try volunteering. You don’t have to give all your time up for this, but this is an excellent way to build relationships and, in so doing, build your networks. Talk to people. Tell them what you do and what you’re looking for. Print up a cheap business card with your name, LinkedIn URL (if you don’t have your own website), and your email and phone number. Attend events that include people that aren’t just your competition. My volunteer efforts helped me meet people who became or referred me to my first clients. I didn’t have the budget to join a formal networking group, and when I was starting out, something like a BNI group didn’t make sense, because I didn’t have a network to refer others to, but do what feels right and what makes sense for you. 

Tip #5: Do Trades

When you’re starting out running your own business, see who you know that you can do trades with for services (often referred to as “contras”). Make sure that you know the value of what you offer, and draw up a proper letter of agreement (you can find templates online). For example, a friend of mine who is a talented graphic designer created my business cards for me, and in return, I rewrote and reworked her resume. Another friend of mine generously helped with set up my website and designed my logo (and didn’t even ask for anything in return!). Think about what you need and what you can do in exchange. 

Tip #5: Build Partnerships

Something that was invaluable for me what I was starting out was to build a relationship with a graphic designer who ran her own business. It was a completely logical fit, as she was able to advertise “full service” offerings to her clients, and then sub-contract the writing work to me. This way, I built my client list and portfolio, earned money, and built a great relationship with a talented designer. It was win-win! 

Tip #6: Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Do informational interviews. Get advice from experts like the fabulous folks at Small Business BC. Start following people who might be potential clients or partners on social media (but keep it professional). 

And finally…

Trust that you can do this! Keep learning, keep writing, and know that although it will take time to build up a client list (I didn’t want to believe it but it’s true what they say about it being about 5 years to build up a business), you will. Running your own technical writing business or content writing company can be incredibly rewarding – terrifying at times – but I can safely say that I love what I do. 

Confession: I am a writer

Friday, 8 August, 2014

Here’s my big, dark secret: I am a writer. There. I confessed.

Writing and ReadingIt’s funny how often I don’t tell people this when they ask what I do. I say things like “Oh, I teach business communication and technical writing, and I run a copywriting and editing business.” And yes, it’s not like I’m claiming I’m an astronaut or elephant wrangler… or an axe murderer. It’s  pretty much the same thing, but I never straight up say I WRITE. I am a writer. I hide behind “instructor” or “entrepreneur”. I never make the shameful, out-loud proclamation that I am actually a writer of (fledgling) novels and poetry (published), along with websites and brochures and pretty much anything you need words for. It’s like I’m ashamed to say it out loud because isn’t everyone writing  a novel? Don’t only angsty 16 year olds and angsty 16th century people write poetry?

In my heart and soul, I am writer and a teacher. It doesn’t matter what I teach or what I write, this is who I am and what I am. I love words. I love their music. I love their ability to sting (not when aimed at me though, of course). I love that they can make one smile, laugh, cry, fume… Words! Black scrawls on a white page. Sticks tracing in the dirt. Finger paint on a cave wall. WORDS. I don’t know what drives me to write. I don’t write enough. I sometimes write too much. Often I write crap. But when I look at when I’m really, truly happy, writing is a big part of that.

I recently wrote about the anxiety of writing and did in a less direct way confess that I’m writing stories, but I’ve realised I need to be far bolder. I changed my LinkedIn profile description to Writer.  I’ve done the same on Twitter. I’ve also started talking about my writing plans more. And I’ve actually started doing more writing. I am currently working on three things: a manual for my web writing class (this is more academic but no less interesting; just a little easier in a lot of ways because it’s not quite the same as creative writing), a children’s story, and a full novel. I don’t want to share the plots of the latter two, mainly because I’m not entirely sure where they’re heading, and I’m still shy about it, but I AM at least telling people more. I’ve also started making time for these projects (not as much as I’d like, but still, it’s better than nothing) and have deliberately lightened my teaching and project load to do so. Writing a novel

I’ve realised that a lot of it boils down to anxiety. What does it mean if I really put myself out there and do something I feel I was born to do? And then – GASP – I fail? or (even worse?) succeed? The horror! But if not now, then when? My soul needs the nourishment. Creativity is just a part of who I am, and I’m starting to be okay with that…

Speaking of creativity, something else I’m really enjoying that is helping my creative juices is a drawing class. It’s been a wonderful way to do more drawing, but I find it also sparks my imagination and is helping me think more about my writing work. Of course I’m also working on client projects and trying to blog more (failing miserably but hey, this is better than nothing)… so it’s words, words, words but also shapes and light and shadow – helping me think more about my ideas, looking at the world in different ways, as well as working on positive habit building.

So, yes, I am a writer. And I’m okay with that.

The Anxiety of Writing

Tuesday, 20 May, 2014

“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite: 

“Fool!” said my muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write.”

 – Philip Sidney, Astrophel and Stella

It’s a strange thing that to writers, writing can be utterly terrifying. One would assume that given this is the person’s chosen profession, he or she would be happy to write! begging to write! willing, able, and eager to write!  but sometimes that really isn’t the case. In fact. sometimes it feels like utter madness choosing to do this for a career. In any creative profession, it’s very hard to go “Okay, 1-2-3, create!” but at the same time, there is no right time to create – one has to be diligent and disciplined and actually create a writing habit.

There are books, courses, quotes, blog posts, dedicated to creating a writing habit. And yet it is all still easier said than done. I have been trying to make time for my own writing, something I’ve promised myself I will concentrate more on this summer in particular as I have a lighter teaching load near the end of the term and yet the thought of it (doing something I love and that brings me immense satisfaction) completely paralyses me.

Isn’t it funny? Writing is what I feel compelled to do with my life (in fact, I started Meerkat in order to be able to do it as part of my career). Writing is what I dream about. Perhaps it’s that I fear really, really putting it all out there and confessing that I’m working on a novel. Then  a) I’ll actually have to do it b) people will want to know what it’s about and actually want to read it (gasp!) and c) I’ll actually have to do it!

I’m trying to combine some ideas from Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Gilbert (check out some of her thoughts on writing)- though I have a suspicion I’m stalling on Idea 1 to avoid Idea 2. Rubin suggests de-cluttering to aid in happiness and productivity, and my office is a total disaster. It doesn’t help that it’s also our music room (this includes an antique organ, guitars, and amps) or that as the term goes on, I end up with piles of extra handouts, papers, etc. from teaching, or that I really need a new desk… At the same time, it’s not as if I have to write in my office or that I have to have a pristine space in which to write (though it certainly helps, I do often do my best work while at a coffee shop/some public sphere – I’m writing this as my students write their midterm). Gilbert suggests setting a timer and writing for 30 minutes; making manageable blocks of time and getting things done. Whenever, wherever. Again, this would mean I actually have to do it!

Baby steps, baby steps. At least I’ve taken some time to update my blogs. Next step, more tidying, but also MORE DISCIPLINE, LESS FEAR!

“Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.”  – Lilia St. Crow

Finding Inspiration When Blogging

Tuesday, 17 September, 2013

It’s often really hard to just launch into writing a blog. Beyond the possible technical challenges, there’s also the inevitable questions like “what do I write about?”, “what should I sound like?”, “will anyone even read this junk?”…. I find one of the best ways to get inspiration, ideas, and hopefully peace of mind, is to start by reading other blogs. Don’t copy them, but pick out what you like and don’t like about them. What works? What doesn’t work? What makes you want to keep reading?

Once you have built up some ideas, then start writing. Ensure you use your own voice in your blog and focus on writing something that you could imagine yourself reading. Start a list of topics so you don’t run out of steam and keep practicing.

For some ideas, you can take a look at this list of blogs that a colleague at BCIT and I developed for a recent Tech Writing Alumni Lunch:

For Business/Writing:

For Pleasure:

Whether you learn from good blogs or bad, don’t let anything stop you from just going for it!

Geraldine

 

Tips for Blogging Inspiration

Monday, 22 July, 2013

It’s often really hard to just launch into writing a blog. Beyond the possible technical challenges, there’s also the inevitable questions like “what do I write about?”, “what should I sound like?”, and “will anyone even read this junk?”…. I find one of the best ways to get inspiration, ideas, and hopefully peace of mind, is to read other blogs. Don’t copy them, but pick out what you like and don’t like about them. What works? What doesn’t work? But ensure you use your own voice in your blog.

Look at how the bloggers connect with their readers (or don’t), how they use language, but also how the posts themselves are set up in terms of how they look. Are the titles effective? Are they tagged and categorized clearly? Is the message engaging?

For some ideas, you can take a look at this list that a colleague at BCIT and I developed for their Technical Writing Program’s annual  Alumni Lunch:

For Business/Writing:

For Pleasure:

Whether you learn from good blogs or bad, don’t let anything stop you from just going for it!

Geraldine

What are Tags and Categories in Blogging?

Tuesday, 11 June, 2013

Let’s face it, the odds of becoming a famous blogger are not really in our favour, but ultimately with any social media and online interactions, it’s about the quality of your communication, not the quantity. However, if you are trying to get your blog  read and attract followers, then you need to do what you can to help potential readers find your posts. Enter tags and categories*.

What are Categories?

Adding Tags and Categories on WordPressWhen you write a blog post, categorizing it allows you to connect it to a list of topics/subjects/categories – rather like an index in the back of a book.  Think of it as you “filing” your posts under key words that readers might search for (e.g. Blogging Tips); essentially you are optimizing your posts for search engines. If someone is searching for a particular, broader topic, and if you’ve categorized your posts effectively, then they are more likely to find your blog/posts. Personally, I also like to categorize my posts under my full name, the blog’s name, and my company name. If any one searches for me or my company, then they are more likely to also get the option to view my blog.

Remember that the default is “uncategorized,” so make sure you start adding categories that are relevant to your posts and the blog’s focus to avoid everything falling under this. In WordPress, simply use the “Add New Category” option on the right hand side of your posts (as shown in the image left). You can also choose to use “parent categories” – so I could have “Communication” as a parent category, and “Communication Problems” as my sub-category. These are like sub-folders in your filing system. I tend not to use them as I find it adds too many layers and too much work!

What are Tags?

In comparison to categories, tags are more specific keyword phrases (and usually a little longer). They serve the same function as categories, but for more detailed search terms (e.g. How to Add Tags to Blog Posts). These you add simply by separating the tags with commas to create a list. WordPress also allows you to choose from your most used tags (see image), so if you’re writing about the same/related topics, you can simply use these. Once you publish the post, WordPress now provides you with a list of other keywords it pulls from your post and you can simply click on these to add them to your tags list.

Final Tips:

  • Include verbs (action focused words) but also nouns (usually people, places, things) because although readers prefer verbs, search engines like nouns
  • Think  about what relevant key words readers (or you) would search for related to the post topic and use these for your tags and categories
  • Avoid too many tags and categories; you want to sign post your blog entries, not create an overwhelming list that becomes visually distracting
  • Use the analytics tool on WordPress to see what tags and categories of yours are being clicked on the most (this gives you a good idea of which posts are most popular, and can therefore guide your topics for future blog posts)
  • Play around, experiment, and try different tags and categories – you can always uncheck them on your posts or delete the tags.

Geraldine

*Tags and categories are used in WordPress; Blogger calls them “labels,” which limits you to a combination of the two.

What Is Writing?

Monday, 21 January, 2013

Typewriter - copyright Geraldine EliotSomething I struggle with a lot is creating the time to spend on my own writing; on the creative writing that fuels me or on the journalling that keeps me sane. I find myself making excuses for not setting a per diem writing word count or for not just sitting down and doing it. And I beat myself up if I’m not blogging regularly, and yet I always  say to myself “I’m a writer”.

That got me thinking.

What does that mean? Yes, it’s what I do for a living (both teaching web/business writing and my Meerkat copywriting), but what does that really mean? Sometimes I feel that it’s not an accurate reflection of me, because I’m not really doing enough writing other than for clients (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE doing that), but does that make me a writer? What is writing? What is writing to me?

For some, writing is a confessional. For some, writing is a secret hobby (teenage diaries being scrawled in the half dark; bad angsty poetry written by moonlight). For some, writing is what keeps them feeling alive – it is meditation, inspiration, and income. Or it is simply a mundane task that has to be completed every day at work.

And for me, I think it’s all of the above sometimes – or has been in different stages of my life. But one thing that will never change is my love of words. And how good I feel when I am writing – whether for myself or a client.

So I guess I can call myself a writer and I just have to not doubt that that is what I am. Who I am.

Geraldine

Writer’s Block… Blame the Pencil

Wednesday, 17 October, 2012

I came across this great Savage Chickens cartoon that made me giggle. I was feeling especially glum because I had finally done some new creative writing and then ended up losing it all on my silly computer, so this majorly cheered me up.

Now it’s the blank screen and the keyboard that do us in….

Cartoon about Writer's Block by Doug Savage

Why should your business have a blog?

Tuesday, 25 September, 2012

Tips for Business BloggingBlogs can sometimes seem like something only narcissistic weirdos with too much time on their hands  are interested in producing. However, blogs can function as highly effective business tools. Web 2.0 and social media give us a way to connect with our clients and potential customers directly, encourage feedback from them, and find out how they think we’re doing, almost instantly. Done right, blogs can be used by businesses to promote their products and services, cement their brand, share news, and create brand evangelists – a community of dedicated followers and supporters. Blogs can also be used very successfully as an internal means of communication to engage with employees and receive valuable feedback from your own immediate community.

What are some of the main functions of a business blog?

You can choose to use your blog to communicate within your business or to reach out to your clients and customers (existing and potential). Your blog can function to

  • market your company through free media
  • raise your social media/online presence but also add depth to it
  • communicate new products and services
  • recruit new employees, clients, customers, investors, etc.
  • communicate bad news to clients (but also do damage control at the same time)
  • get instant feedback on new ideas/products/services
  • gather information about potential target markets
  • offer customer service and/or technical support
  • and give your company a voice.

Of course you need to blog effectively to ensure the blog fulfills its potential functions.

What are some tips for better blogging?

In order to create a successful blog, you need to first of all identify who your intended audience is, whether internal or external. Next, you need to profile that audience to determine their particular needs and expectations. What sort of tone will they prefer? What types of information will they need and not need? What is their level of knowledge on the topic? Will they understand industry jargon or do they need layperson’s terms? Then you need to determine your blog’s ‘personality’ and the range of topics you are going to cover.

Remember that you are creating a whole channel of communication, not just a single message, so it takes careful preparation  and follow-up to blog effectively.

Here are some of my other tried and tested tips for blogging:

  • Use and develop a readable, comfortable, conversational style of writing (you have permission to be less formal but should still care about grammar, style, spelling etc. as this can affect your credibility)
  • Keep the information valuable, interesting, and to the point
  • Supply readers with links, extra resources, images, infographics, etc. (remember that both internal linking and external linking help with your search engine rankings)
  • Proofread the message and evaluate the content (edit, edit, edit!)
  • Keep your posts short (probably around the 180- 200 word mark)
  • Create a list of topics for you and your team to write about so you don’t run out of steam
  • Use engaging, eye-catching headings for your posts and use sub-headings for longer posts
  • Tag your posts with appropriate tags and categories
  • Ensure all information is legal, ethical, accurate, and not taken from any other source without permission or credit.

Finally, remember that you are trying to reach and build a community of readers who can potentially become clients or customers, so you need to allow for comments and feedback and be a responsive blogger. Reply to comments, consider following your own followers back , and encourage interaction.

Blogging is a great tool if used correctly, and remember that it’s perfectly appropriate for business, not just those navel-gazing weirdos…

Geraldine