Category “Business”

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. 

Brace Yourselves… CASL is Coming!

Wednesday, 22 March, 2017

Spam wallNoticed a lot of slightly desperate sounding emails popping up in your inbox recently asking if you still want to be friends a subscriber?  Well there’s a reason for that! On 1 July 2017,  Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) hits the deadline of its 3-year implementation plan that began in July 2014.

What is CASL? As the name suggests, it’s legislation put in place to reduce the amount of unwanted spam (wait, is any spam wanted?) we’re inundated with. Essentially it regulates commercial electronic messages (CEMs) sent to electronic addresses – including unsolicited emails, texts, and social media messages – and is an attempt to control the often hard-to-pin-down world of websites that capture and use your personal information.

It’s a blight on the scourge of unsolicited electronic messages. Yay!

CASL also, interestingly, prohibits and regulates the following:

  • the use of false or misleading representations online in the promotion of products or services (no false offers please!)
  • alteration of transmission data in an electronic message which results in the message being delivered to a different destination without express consent
  • installation of computer programs without the express consent of the owner of the computer system or its agent, such as an authorized employee
  • collection of personal information through accessing a computer system in violation of federal law
  • address harvesting, i.e. the collection of electronic addresses using computer programs or the use of these addresses without permission

Perhaps the complexity of all of this accounts for the 3-year roll out?

So, how does this affect you? 

Well, if you use electronic channels to promote or market your organisation, services, or products in, to, or from Canada, then you need to ensure that you’ve specifically asked for consent from those receiving your CEMs. Still not sure if this applies to you? The CASL website says it does if you answer “yes” to these three questions :

  1. Do you use email, SMS, social media or instant messaging to send commercial or promotional information about your organization to reach customers, prospects and other important audiences?
  2. Do you install software programs on people’s computers or mobile devices?
  3. Do you carry out these activities in or from Canada?

According to the Government of Canada, “Penalties for the most serious violations of the Act can go as high as $1 million for individuals and $10 million for businesses.” So basically, if you engage in the activities listed above and don’t comply with CASL, then you’re in a world of trouble.

If you receive CEMs, then this is your opportunity to unsubscribe from those millions of newsletters that clog your inbox and to show your loyalty to those you still want to receive.

What are the current CASL challenges?

“I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do the day after.” – Oscar Wilde

It seems like the slow roll out of this legislation (passed in Dec 2010, phase 1 July 2014, phase 2 Jan 2015, and now phase 3) has meant complacency on the part of a lot of companies and organisations, who are still lagging on getting consent to send CEMs. The fact that old email lists were grandfathered and that there has been a 3-year period to collect consent seems to have, according to Drive Digital, lead to laziness on the part of a lot of businesses to get up to CASL-speed.

Another challenge is that there are two types of consent outlined by CASL: express and implied. Implied consent (if I understand the legalese on the CRTC website correctly) relates to the period from July 2014 to the “expiry date” of 1 July 2017, i.e. you’ve had these 3 years to continue sending CEMs to those you’ve had an existing business or non-business relationship with. However, after 1 July 2017 (and this is why this upcoming deadline is so critical), you need to have express consent to continue to send CEMs to these same people. What does this mean? If someone has been on your mailing list since before July 2014, they have to have given their consent to receive your CEMs, otherwise you are in violation of CASL.

For example, if someone signed up for your e-newsletter in 2013, then that is express consent and you can keep mailing them after July 1 2017. If you added them to your mailing list in 2013 because, say, they were a client of yours, but they did not specifically give consent (but didn’t unsubscribe either), you cannot keep emailing them after July 1 2017 unless you’ve asked them for consent.

You can start to see why some businesses have procrastinated!

So what can/should you do to comply with CASL?

A big change a lot of companies and organizations will need to make is around the language they use around opting in and opting out of communications. It’s no longer acceptable for you to have an “opt out” option; instead, consent has to be given by the user by actively checking an “opt in” box. So, instead of the default being “I want to opt out”, it needs to be “I want to opt in”. It’s a subtle but potentially damaging (if you don’t comply) difference.

To make sure you’re CASL ready come July 1:

  • Make sure that you expressedly ask for consent (e.g. send out an email to all your e-newsletter contact lists asking if they want to keep receiving your newsletter)
  • Include an opt-in check box  that clearly and specifically asks if the person would like to receive information (e.g. promotions, newsletters, etc)
  • Ensure all pre-checked boxes are updated to be unchecked by default moving forward
  • Make that the name of your business/service/organisation is very clear on all correspondence (some organisations include their address, options for what types of messaging the user wants to receive, and as a best practice, a clear description of what form the correspondence will take)
  • Include a clear, obvious “unsubscribe” button

Basically, when in doubt, ask for consent, make it easy for people to unsubscribe, and ensure the option to say YES rather than NO is explicit.

And despite what Oscar Wilde said, don’t procrastinate; July 1 is just around the corner.

“So what do you actually do?”

Wednesday, 17 June, 2015

WriterIt’s funny (though sadly not surprising) how much we tend to define ourselves and be defined by our jobs and job titles. I find that to be true even more so in South Africa where I’m from, but also here in Canada. It’s often occurred to me that few people understand what I mean by copywriting, technical writing, or even business communication. In many ways this is a big plus. I can define my job without anyone make assumptions about what I can and can’t do. It does also mean, however, that I have to spend quite a bit of time clarifying what I can offer clients and justifying what I do with my day!

Friends and family often don’t ‘get it’ either, and although that can be annoying sometimes, it’s actually really useful too.  Having to explain what I do to others means I have to be very clear on what it all means to me. When I left full-time teaching to figure out what I wanted to do as my next career step, I had to think deeply about what my values and goals were and what’s important to me on the job, and so Meerkat Communications was born.

As I was muddling through the process of starting a business, I also knew I wanted some financial stability and more importantly, I didn’t want to stop teaching, so I had to figure out how to keep doing that at the same time.

So what do I actually do?

Writing

Because I love writing and had some experience  working as an online writer and editor, I decided to focus primarily on writing web content, as well as other forms of marketing writing. Although copywriting is traditionally a term for writing for advertising, as Wikipedia explains, it actually refers to any writing/content “conveyed through online media and print materials”. My focus is on writing the text you read on a website, a brochure, a rack card or any other marketing materials or content you might need. Because of my academic and research background, I’ve also worked on research reports and white papers, as well as other types of documents.

Whether it’s writing or editing, for me, the best part is about helping clients clarify their ideas, understand their audiences, and expand their businesses. It’s always super exciting to see a website or brochure or thesis take shape and to be able to reflect the client’s vision in the written form. As the Internet has changed and we’ve become so much more search engine focused, I’ve started to work more and more in Search Engine Optimization as well. After all, you can have amazing content, but if no one finds you, he or she can’t read it!

I’ve also been blogging for a looooong time, and as social media content has expanded, so has my work in that area. It’s an interesting challenge having to learn to express ideas in 140 characters without sacrificing quality, and I love setting up and managing social media campaigns too. To me, if you don’t have good content, then any social media strategy is a waste of time, so it’s about adding value for your followers through content marketing.

I mostly take on small to medium business clients, but have also worked for larger organisations and subcontract to other writers or graphic designers who want to offer a more full-service experience. I update websites, write newsletters, and am about to embark on hosting a podcast, too.

Teaching

Since I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher. I was privileged to start in grad school at the University of Cape Town, and I was able to take that experience and get my full-time-turned-part-time teaching gig at BCIT, albeit in a slightly different field. I had to switch from English Lit and academic writing to Business and Technical Communication. So what does that mean?

Business and Technical communication focus on the essential skills needed to communicate in any job: using clear, concise language; correct formatting, and a reader-focused structure and tone (in short). Some of the courses I teach include grammar and language support for non-English speakers, but overall the focus is on learning to write and present business and technical information to all audiences. Technical Writing  or Technical Communication (as it is now being called) focuses specifically on more technical communication and document design. At BCIT, I teach a course that instructs students on how to write for the web.

I’m currently only teaching regular courses online, which has its pros and cons, but overall, I love the experience of working with students to improve their skills and teaching them something I know they’ll actually use on the job.

Corporate Training

What’s great about running your own business is being able to define your focus. Through my business, but also through BCIT’s corporate training department, I’m able to deliver workshops and courses to people already on the job but who need to improve or upgrade their communication skills. I love being able to talk to people about the challenges they face at work,and help them overcome these through better business and technical communication. I do short sessions, all day workshops, and full courses – all of these are rewarding, tiring, and exciting!

 So am I my job?

Above all, what I love about my job (jobs?) is the diversity. My days are never the same. There’s no 9-to-5 schedule, there’s no set tasks, and I have pretty flexible holidays too. It takes discipline and sometimes setting boundaries (when you work from home, you have to ensure the rest of the household understands you aren’t just farting around on the computer, but actually working!).

And yes, I would say that I do define myself as a teacher and writer, but above all, I believe in living a good, balanced life, doing what you love and encouraging others to do the same!

Geraldine

“What Happens in an Internet Minute?”

Sunday, 3 November, 2013

I often think about the sheer volume of the Internet. I remember clearly the first time I saw “the Internet” (yes, I remember life before it…) and the person who showed me asked me for something to search for and we decided on “macaroni cheese recipes”. I wish I could remember the amount of hits, but must have been in the hundreds or possibly low thousands, which at the time seemed staggering. Now, that’s a drop in the ocean of data.

With the steady increase in mobiles and the ability to access the web on the go, the amount of money exchanged, videos downloaded, photos uploaded, interactions, emails, etc. is astounding. At the Plain Language Conference 2013 that I attended a few weeks ago, I was interested but not surprised to see the stats on mobile web usage growth between this year and last, as presented by Dr. Neil James of the Plain Language Foundation (see infographic below).

Global Web Usage on Mobile Phones

I also recently came across a fascinating article on the Intel website that ties into this. The article (by Krystal Temple) discusses what happens in just 60 seconds on the Internet. Besides the really useful and somewhat frightening infographic below, one quote leaped out at me: “By 2015, the number of networked devices is expected to be double the world’s population. And by the time we reach 2015, it would take five years to view all the video content crossing IP networks each second.” (Temple).

What Happens in an Internet Minute infographicSo on we hurtle. And if today, there are roughly 8,850,000 Google results for “macaroni cheese recipes”, what will that number be in just a few years time?

Geraldine

How Long Should Your Resume Be?

Monday, 12 August, 2013

Cartoon about resumesSomewhere along the line, we were convinced that there is a set length to a resume.  I remember how adamant a student of mine was once about keeping her 1-page resume format, despite it looking cramped and sounding incomplete. Others have shuddered at the thought of condensing their 3-page resume. Some recruiters insist two is the magic number. So what’s the ideal length? I would say it depends, much like the resume as a whole, on your preferences and what you’re applying for.

Length ∝ Job

One of the biggest mistakes people make with resumes is not to customize to the job, and length is part of this. I would argue that the length of your resume can be directly proportional (∝) to the job you’re applying for. If you’re fresh out of college and applying for an entry level position, then 1-page works well. If you have more experience, and it’s all relevant, then make it 1 1/2 or 2. If it’s executive level, then 3 could work.

However, I would also argue that it depends on the industry and the company. Perhaps, even for a high level position, a 1-pager would make more impact – it states the highlight of your career  and it guarantees the reader will absorb more information more quickly. After all, with a wealth of experience, what could you give other than core benefits your skills would bring to the employer? I think that if you’re applying for an unsolicited job (i.e. there is no ad, but you’re submitting your resume to a company you really want to work at), then perhaps a 1-pager also makes the most impact;  a teaser that says “call me if you want to know more”. 

Philip Berne, in his blog post titled The Zero Page Resume, discusses how we may be heading towards online resumes – no pages at all, but formats like LinkedIn to replace the traditional version. If you’re running a smart self-marketing campaign through social media, then much of your resume should be online already (think LinkedIn). Personally, I feel like a combination is ideal. Again, you have to look at the industry expectations, the information preferences of the reader, and what type of job you are applying for.

You vs. “They”

Regardless of what “they” say (including me 🙂 ), I think you have to decide what best represents you and what you think your readers will expect and need to see. And above all, follow the job ad guidelines to the letter – they’re telling you what they want, so give it to them. Don’t include every single job you’ve had; include the most relevant and get around the date gaps by using “Related Word Experience” or “Relevant Work Experience” as your work section heading. Tailor to the ad, the company, the industry. Highlight measurables. And edit, edit, edit.

Remember that these days recruiters scan through resumes very quickly (and they may be scanned by machine beforehand or after to look for keywords), so don’t overwhelm the reader with reams of information. Choose your highlights. And go with the length that works for you.

Geraldine

Meerkat Communications Turns 5!

Friday, 26 April, 2013

Picture of MeerkatsIt’s Meerkat Communications’ 5th year – hard to believe that time has gone by so quickly!

It’s been a privilege to work with a great group of clients in a range of industries and to help them express their ideas in various formats, whether in a brochure, sales sheets, or their company website. I love being able to help transform concepts into concrete copy and to help clients see the power of words in reaching  target markets.

Here’s to many more years of successful collaboration,welcoming of new clients, and of making words work for you.

Geraldine

Don’t Hide Behind Email: Tips for Better Verbal Communication

Tuesday, 22 January, 2013

Image of  a telephoneYou know how it goes… you have to have a really important but potentially very difficult business-related conversation. You know that calling the person would be the best approach to get a direct response, but you don’t want the stress. What if you stumble over your words? What if the person doesn’t listen properly? Misunderstands? Gets really angry? So you do one of two things… you dial when you know the person is likely to be busy and pray for voicemail and then mumble awkwardly if they happen to answer, or you chicken out and send an email instead.

While written records can be essential in certain business situations (whether positive or negative), sometimes conversations have a time limit – you need immediate feedback and you need to be able to ask/answer questions right away, so a phone call is really the best means of communication to achieve your purpose.

Tips for Improving Your Verbal Communication

It can be really hard to ensure a conversation goes smoothly and that you get results, so here are seven tips for improving your chances of success:

1. Analyze your audience. Consider your audience’s reaction/response. Would they react better to a more direct approach to the issue? Or should you consider “sandwiching” the bad news in between any possible good/positive information?

2. Decide on your main point. Work out exactly what the outcome that you need is and clarify your exact purpose for contacting your listener. Gather any resources you may need (copies of previous correspondence, resources, legal notification, etc.)

3. Write yourself a script. You shouldn’t read this off word for word, but brainstorm your main ideas and put together your supporting evidence. Organize this into a logical order (direct or indirect) of information. Maybe write down a few really important points that you can recite exactly, to help ensure the main message is understood.

4. Keep your tone and language neutral. As tempted as you may be to get angry, all this does is distance you from your audience and often it escalates the problem, because the audience gets defensive and stops listening properly.

5. Make the audience’s next step clear. What do you need your audience to do? Is it clear for them? Have you ensured they have all the information they need to resolve the issue (including relevant contact info)? Make this very easy to follow to ensure you get what you want.

6. Know when to end the conversation. Conflict can drag on or escalate. Make sure you’ve written down a ‘conclusion’ to the conversation. Make it clear to the audience that your time is up and you have to end the call. Try to close off with a positive thought and a reminder of the main idea.

7. Follow up in writing. If there are specific steps the audience needs to take, ensure that you follow up your conversation with an email that briefly summarizes the conversation and that lays out the next steps (including a deadline, if appropriate/relevant) in an organized list. This ensures you still have a written record and that you’ve doubled the chances that the audience will understand the message.

This doesn’t have to take you a long time, but organizing your information, being clear on your audience and purpose, and writing a script will make you feel more confident and in control of the conversation.

So don’t hide behind email when a phone call is more appropriate. Make your own life easier and ensure you get the job done, with a well thought out, well planned, old fashioned phone call 🙂

Geraldine

A Fascinating Infographic on Canadian Internet Usage

Saturday, 24 November, 2012

One of my favourite digital marketing companies in Vancouver is 6S Marketing. Beyond the services they offer, they share a lot of really interesting, applicable information with their network. Their’s is one of the few company newsletters I receive that I actually take the time to read through in its entirety. Their most recent letter had this fascinating infographic about Canadian Internet usage.

I already knew that a huge percentage of the population is online and that a vast majority use the Internet for product research etc, but some of these stats astounded me! It’s well worth noting the importance and impact that mobile devices and smartphones are having on business. Our clients are moving, and we need to follow.

Take a look.

Canadian Internet Usage Statistics

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

 

 

 

#Twitlympics? Social Media #Fail & London 2012

Wednesday, 1 August, 2012

The Twitter Fail WhaleThe London 2012 Olympics are being hailed as the first “social media Olympics” and it seems like this is only because social media happen to be the current, mainstream arena of choice, not because of any particularly successful social media strategy on the part of the IOC, sponsors, or broadcasting networks.

I just read a very interesting piece on the failure of Twitter itself, as well as social media gaffes by NBC in particular, around the London 2012 Games, that really highlight the necessity of having a solid social media strategy in place and of knowing your audience and purpose.

#Olympicsizedfail? You tell me.