The Latest

Forget the resolutions: 5 ways to get started on PR in 2017

happy-new-year-1915406_1920

2017 is here. As the New Year begins, resolutions are being made. That includes resolutions for your small business.

But, what if you don’t believe in making resolutions? And even if you do, for some of us, they simply don’t work.

That’s OK. How about we just focus on getting it done this year? If you’ve been thinking about doing some public relations for your small business or startup, there are some simple ways to get the ball rolling.

Here are five ways you can make it happen for your small business when it comes to PR:

Continue reading Forget the resolutions: 5 ways to get started on PR in 2017

The quality of writing is on the decline – 7 tips to make you a better writer

portrait-317041_1920

The quality of writing today is on the decline.

If you read any online publications or blogs, you’re probably noticing more and more errors (even in major ones). Why is this?

  • There’s more content—everyone is creating content. With the rise of content marketing, blogging, self-publishing and guest posting, the volume of content has increased dramatically. More than two million blog posts are published every day, while 72 percent of marketers are producing more content than they did the previous year[i].
  • There are fewer copy editors. There are about half as many copy editors today as 10 years ago. Copy editors have been sacrificed more than any other newsroom category[ii].
  • There’s a rush to get content out there. Some statistics claim that companies that don’t blog daily will be left behind. With that sort of a rush mentality, it’s no wonder there are more mistakes than ever in our writing today.

Whatever the reason for this decline in our writing, our standards are being lowered. This hurts our credibility as professionals. 81 percent of businesspeople in a recent survey agree that poorly written material wastes a lot of their time[iii]. It distracts the reader from the intended message. And, it just makes us look plain unprofessional.

Conversely, while the quality of writing may be decreasing, content marketing is seen as an increasingly vital part of a company’s marketing strategy. Content marketing costs 62 percent less than traditional marketing and generates about three times as many leads (Source: DemandMetric). It’s efficient, compelling and highly customizable, catering to virtually all businesses and industries[iv].

So, given all of this, what can we do to produce higher quality written content?

Here are seven tips to improve your writing:

1) The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect: Just get it down on paper…get the words out. You can go back to fine tune it later, but it’s important to get all the information out of your head and on the page first.

Some writers seem to be intimidated by the writing process. But truly, the first draft is just that—a draft. If you get the words down, you can always go back to edit them. Don’t be afraid to just start writing. Remember—you don’t have to show anyone your first draft—so who’s judging?

2) Write when the mood strikes you: I often see pieces advising writers to set aside a block of time each day to write. And yes, generally speaking, there are times of day that are better than others for most when it comes to writing in a focused manner.

But sometimes, an idea will just hit you—that’s the time to go with it. Run with that inspiration to achieve some of your best work. For example, I can tell you that writing a 500-word blog post is going to go a lot faster when you’re feeling inspired to write—versus when you’re forcing yourself to write.

3) Allow time for rewrites: I find that my best work is usually a product of having enough time. Sure, there are times when you just have to get it written and done. But, a much more effective process is allowing yourself a couple of days in which to write, walk away, and then come back to refine your work. You’ll be amazed at what you catch and can improve if you give it time to breathe.

4) Proofread your work: Of course, you need to proof your work. Many simple errors would be caught before publication if writers would simply review their work. A tip I use often—read your work aloud. This will help you catch errors you might otherwise glance over. (A side note: You may want to try this when no one else is listening…!)

5) Have someone else review your work: After you’ve proofed (and re-proofed!) your work, ask someone else to review it. A spellchecker is good, but it’s not the same as having another human review your work. This could be a colleague, or even a friend (or check a service like Fiverr to hire a copy editor at a reasonable rate). It’s just helpful to have another pair of eyes reviewing your work to catch the errors you (or spell check) may miss.

If you have no human to proof your work, you can try a tool like Hemingway App or Grammarly. There are even free versions of these tools, which help catch complex sentences and common errors.

6) Follow style guidelines when applicable: Not sure if a number should be spelled out? Ever wonder if a word should be capitalized? Style guides to the rescue! If you’re in the news or PR fields, AP Style is generally preferred. The Chicago Manual of Style is the guide for authors, editors and publishers of books, periodicals and journals. A full explanation of both is here.

7) Look to the pros for more tips: Looking for more advice? I always recommend Ann Handley’s best-selling book, “Everybody Writes.” And, sites like MarketingProfs, Contently and Copyblogger are great sources to glean more writing tips and tricks.

Those are my best quick tips. What works for you when you write?

A closing thought: Did you know that 64% of B2B marketers outsource writing? (Source: TopRankBlog) So, if you need writing help, get in touch.

Looking for more writing and PR tips? Sign up for my free monthly newsletter by clicking here.

[i] http://neilpatel.com/2016/01/21/38-content-marketing-stats-that-every-marketer-needs-to-know/

[ii] http://www.poynter.org/2013/asne-survey-there-are-about-half-as-many-copy-editors-today-as-10-years-ago/203244/

[iii] https://hbr.org/2016/09/bad-writing-is-destroying-your-companys-productivity

The quality of writing is on the decline - but how can you improve your writing?

The quality of writing is on the decline – but how can you improve your writing?

[iv] http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2016/08/content-marketing-stats/

 

Start Before You’re Ready

“Successful people start before they feel ready 3

Spring is my favorite time of year—the trees and flowers are blooming, and we finally get some warmer weather here in the Midwest. Another reason I celebrate spring is because it’s the anniversary of my business. This year, I celebrate 17 years of Garrett Public Relations.

As my business turns 17, I’ve been reflecting on how I got started. It was a dream of mine to strike out on my own, but when I was a younger professional, I knew I didn’t have the real-world experience needed to make a business fly. I needed to wait for the “right” time—whatever that meant.

So, I sought out opportunities that would give me that experience. I worked at a public TV and radio station. I worked for a large university. I worked for an IT company. And finally, I worked at an agency to round out my experience and learn the ropes on how to handle clients. There, I worked with major enterprise companies and startups.

While I waited for the “right” time, I learned all I could about how to run a consulting business. I talked to other independents and attended a group for freelance communication pros. Then, when the time seemed “right,” I hung out my shingle. I wondered if I were truly ready. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” I thought.

Even though I launched my business with three clients, my biggest fear, of course, was not having enough work. I figured the worst thing that could happen was that my business would fail—then I’d have to go back to get a job working for someone else. But, it’s never happened. Have there been ups and downs? Absolutely. Would I trade the ride? Never.

I recently read a quote I love, “Successful people start before they feel ready[i].” I had laid the groundwork for success, but in my heart of my hearts, I was still a bit afraid of taking the leap. Had I waited until I felt truly “ready,” I might never have done it.

17 years and many clients later, I still enjoy the freedom and flexibility that consulting brings. There really is nothing like working for yourself. Being an entrepreneur was my calling.

Launching your own business can be a scary thing. But not pursuing your dreams can be even worse. If you want it, go after it. Don’t live wondering, “What if.” Make a plan, find those who can help advise and inspire you, and go for it. If you wait for the “right” time, it may never come.

 

[i] http://jamesclear.com/successful-people-start-before-they-feel-ready

 

In Honor of Father’s Day: How My Dad Inspired Me to be an Entrepreneur

dad june'15 4

Today’s post is in honor of Father’s Day.

Back before being an entrepreneur was in vogue, I grew up in a household where neither parent went to work at an office every day. Both my parents were entrepreneurs, launching their own businesses.

My father was well-known in our city for having his own produce business that he ran for 40+ years. He started out selling produce door to door and eventually opened his own very successful market. The whole family, including all four of us kids, worked there. That’s where my early lessons in customer service came from (as well as my ability to add without a calculator!). In addition to working during the day at the market stocking shelves and taking care of customers, I used to love to hang out with my parents in the evenings and help with the accounting side of things, counting money and adding up checks to be deposited.

This spirit of entrepreneurship was ingrained in me without me even realizing it. Even with all the headaches that come with being one’s own boss—the technology issues, the accounting challenges, the sales and marketing outreach, the stress of trying to take a vacation—there’s just something about hanging out your own shingle. The freedom that comes with that and the pride in knowing that you are controlling your own fate are priceless. I have to thank my dad (and mom!) for teaching me these lessons. The interesting part is that I didn’t even know I was learning anything….it was just part of life at our house.

So, in honor of my dad, my first entrepreneurial inspiration, Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there. May you inspire your kids the way my dad inspired me.

Michelle and her dad, her first entrepreneurial role model.

Michelle and her dad, her first entrepreneurial role model.

Happy anniversary to me! Top 10 lessons I’ve learned in 16 years

Happy anniversary to me!

Happy anniversary to me! This April, I’m celebrating 16 years of having my own small business.

Hopefully, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years of having my own business. Today, I share the top 10 lessons I’ve learned—some silly, some serious:

10) Don’t neglect your marketing: Yes, I’m in PR/marketing, but many times, I tend to put my own marketing last. So, the last couple of years, I’ve made a concentrated effort to do a better job. Last year, my anniversary gift to myself was a new logo. This year, it’s a newly designed web site.

9) You truly can work in your PJs when you work for yourself!: Just be careful when that Skype call comes in that you’ve at least brushed your hair.

8) You can never be too connected: Make sure to build that network before you need it, so it will be there for you at all times. Because, as a self-employed person, you never know what you might need to call on your network for–help, referrals, troubleshooting, brainstorming–you learn to have your go-to resources for each of these.

7)  You wear all the hats, so be sure you’re ready for that: If you’re not a self-starter, it may not go so well. Of course, you can always hire pros to tackle the tasks you’re not so fond of. I wouldn’t trade my accountant, for example.

Creative problem solving is a must. Because you’re not surrounded by an office full of co-workers, you’ll need to be able to find solutions to a lot of your own problems—or have folks you can call on. You learn quickly how to resolve printer issues, the best way to send a package and how to cater a meeting. Believe me, it’s worth it.

6) You supply your own coffee: So buy a Keurig! (-: And join Costco/Sam’s Club to save on K-cups.

5) Be ready for the peaks—and the valleys: You can prepare for the peaks by having a list of sub-contractors at-the-ready when you need some help to handle all your client projects. You can prepare for the valleys by making sure to save some cash and not getting too sure of yourself, in that your business will definitely go through highs and lows.

4) You make your own schedule—which can be a blessing and a curse: Sure, you can take the afternoon off and have lunch with your sister or go to the school play—just make sure you plan to catch up on whatever you’ve missed by working later in the evening or on Sat. morning, for example. Don’t get so lulled into that sense of freedom to the point where you’re scrambling to meet your deadlines.

3) Clients may assume you work all hours of the day and night: Yes, this can be a hazard of working for yourself, but honestly, I’ve never found it to be a problem. And really, it’s a small price to pay for the perks of being your own boss.

More often than not, clients are respectful of your schedule. And, I truly don’t mind answering email on the weekends…I’m sort of addicted to email anyway! Just make sure to communicate when you’ll be out of the office for more than a day….most of us check messages frequently but there may be days when you really don’t want to be “on call.” If so, just let them know that. Give them a way to reach you if there’s truly an emergency, and enjoy your time off.

2) Experience matters: This is probably even more the case when you’re working on your own. When you work for yourself, you need to call on that experience often, so make sure you’ve built a solid base of work experience before flying solo.

For example, I’m steeped in a background including full-time experience at corporations, nonprofits and agencies. I’ve worked on both sides of the fence, as a reporter and as a PR practitioner. I also gained experience working at a public TV and radio station before setting sail on my own. All of this has come in handy, as I work with clients from different backgrounds and industries. It doesn’t hurt your network-building, either—you can call on your former colleagues when you need to.

1) And the number one thing I’ve learned from having my own business (drumroll, please!)….I’m so glad I made the leap because I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There’s nothing better than loving what you do and having the opportunity to do it on your own terms.

Do I have to answer to clients? Yes. Am I slave to the media? Sure, sometimes. But, at the end of the day, I decide who to work with and have the ability to approach my work according to my philosophy. And that’s pretty priceless.

bday candles

Soloists on the Rise: 6 Qualities of the Successful Solopreneur

This excellent piece by Minda Zetlin of Inc. resonated with me (9 Reasons There’s Never Been a Better Time for Solopreneurs). I’m a big fan of Zetlin’s columns and this one really struck a chord. It talks about the solopreneur (aka freelance) lifestyle and how our nation is moving in that direction.

“The self-employed will become a force to be reckoned with over the next few years, with our ranks swelling to 60 million by 2020 if Intuit’s famous prediction from 2010 holds true,” Zetlin says. Her article cites a book by Jacob Morgan, The Future of Work, which talks about how technology, marketplaces and economic trends are aligning to support the self-employed movement.

Here’s my question: Why wouldn’t EVERYONE want to be a solopreneur?

But, let’s back up. I’ve been on my own for more than 16 years now, so I may carry a bias. I wasn’t always self-employed. I held multiple “permanent” full-time jobs before I finally decided to make the leap. Some were OK, some were miserable. I knew there had to be something better.

I’d planned my escape from the corporate world in my head for years…just waiting for the right time. While I waited, I joined a group of freelancers who met monthly to discuss topics pertaining to running your own business. I talked to other soloists to find out how they handled finding clients, setting up accounting systems and organizing a home office. Most were encouraging and supportive.

When I actually launched my consulting business, I already had three clients in place, which helped immensely. From there, I never looked back. My business took off. I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe I was doing what I’d always dreamed of—working with great clients on my terms.

Of course, for all solopreneurs, there are ups and downs, leaner times and busier periods. But, as Zetlin points out, there are no sure things anymore. Even for those with “permanent” positions, there’s no job security. Companies downsize and they’re out.

Even so, going it alone isn’t for everyone. So what does it take to make it as a solopreneuer? Is there a “magic” formula? What qualities do you need to succeed in the freelance lifestyle?

Here are some attributes vital to success:

1) Ability to focus: You have to be able to avoid outside distractions—or at least overlook them—to focus on client work. This can be particularly tough if you work at home. But, it can be done. I’ve worked from a home office for the entire length of my consulting career. Are there distractions? Sure. But, look at it this way: If you’re in the office, people drop by your desk to chat. Or you get pulled into meetings. Or there’s a birthday party or a baby shower or you name it…. So, I’d argue that the distractions are at least equal, if not greater, working in an office.

2) Self-motivation: If you’re not a self-motivated person, you may struggle with freelancing. You have to be able to get up in the morning and have a plan of what you’re going to accomplish that day. You have to be motivated by creating success for your business. I happen to find the idea of avoiding going back to a corporate job VERY motivating! But beyond that, I’m proud of my business and the fact that I’ve been doing it as long as I have. Are there times when soloists think about going back to the corporate world? Is it tempting when someone calls you about a full-time gig? Yes–for about an hour! Then, if you’re like me, you gut will say, “Don’t do it!” You’ll think about how much you don’t miss the commute, the meetings, the politics…. That makes it’s easy to come back to how motivating working for yourself is.

3) Ability to wear all the hats: When you’re a solopreneur, YOU do it all—you land the clients, you do the work, you bill for the work, you promote your business—you wear ALL the hats. Of course, you can hire help for some of these tasks, which I recommend, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. If you’re not OK with that, flying solo may not be a fit.

4) A strong network: When I started out, nearly all my clients came from personal referrals. That’s shifted over the years to be more of a mix of those who’ve found me online (for example, through LinkedIn or a Google search). Even so, building a strong network before you strike out on your own is incredibly important. Not only will you look to your connections for referrals, but there are times when you’ll need to refer work to others, i.e. when it falls outside your area of expertise or when you’re just too busy.

5) Appreciation for the benefits of working on your own: I’m grateful every day that I get to work on my own, and I appreciate that I set my schedule. Not having to report in to 10 bosses when you have a personal appointment is a definite upside. And, what if there’s an event at your child’s school? Well, you can just add that to your calendar. As a colleague and fellow consultant told me early on in my consulting life, “Clients don’t have to know you’re at the school play. You’re simply ‘in a meeting.’”

6) Ability to remain calm: Freelancing requires a sense of calm, even if you hit a rough patch. Don’t panic. The wise solopreneur knows there will be ups and downs…and plans for those times by socking away some reserves when the work is flowing. If you run into a snag, you can’t just walk away. Stay calm, go to your network to remind them you’re on the lookout for projects, and soon, the work will come. You have to believe in yourself and your ability to ride out the rocky times.

There’s no feeling of freedom or fulfillment like freelancing. Professionally, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Yes, you need all those work experiences that may have come before to prepare for being on your own and to help you appreciate the solopreneur lifestyle. But once you get a taste of freedom, trust me—you’ll never turn back.

freedom

Resolved: We Should Focus More on Connection and Collaboration in 2015

As I reflected on this past year, I’ve been thinking about competitors…those who do what we do.

I’m not big on quotes, but this happens to be one of my favorites: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

Along these lines, let me tell you a story.

When I first moved back to central Ohio from the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the first things I wanted to do to get my business established here was to network with others who either did what I do or did complementary work (graphic designers, web site developers, marketing agencies and so forth).

When I asked around to get some names of others I should connect with, I came up with a list and began reaching out, asking if they’d be willing to meet for coffee to connect and learn more about each other’s businesses. Many of them were very willing to do so. They took time to sit down with me, generously sharing their knowledge and advice. But, one in particular was not so willing. In fact, when I contacted her, she replied, “You’re a competitor—why would I want to meet with you?”

This simply floored me.

I had come from a world where it was common to network with others who do the same work as you. In the Bay Area, I had a strong network of other consultants and small firms who provided pretty much the same services I did. In fact, some of my favorite colleagues competed directly with me—the difference was, we never saw it that way. Our belief was that there’s enough work to go around for all of us and that not everyone specializes in everything….so it makes sense to have a robust network of other pros ready to refer work to, which we often did. My number one source of new business was referrals. I’m fairly certain that was partly because I was so open to creating connections with others.

When I moved back to central Ohio, however, I found that some had a different mentality. It was more of a territorial type of mindset. This was difficult for me to adjust to. Being an open and genuine person by nature, I didn’t know how to react to the concept that someone wouldn’t welcome me with open arms. Instead, they’d actually be rude and dismissive—not even taking the time to find a polite way to say “no, thank you” to a meeting with me.

Then, I’ve run into others who have had the attitude of not needing to build a connection with those who do anything similar to what they do. Or, they just plain have an attitude. Again, the question is why?

It’s always been my belief that people want to work with those who are genuine–and who genuinely believe in helping others. To me, connecting with others who do what I do or with those who do complementary work is a rush because I know that at some point, we may be able to work together. Or, I may be able to connect them with a client that might be a perfect fit. This, for me, is one of the joys of being independent. I can leverage my network to help my clients and colleagues. The more professionals I know, the more I can bring to the table to help others.

Regarding competition, I rarely feel as though I’m truly “competing” with others as much as I am with myself. I hold high standards and try to focus more on that than on worrying about what others are doing. In fact, it can really get you off your game if you become so focused on the competition that you’re not paying enough attention to knocking it out of the park with your own clients.

So, in the new year, I resolve to try harder than ever to make connections with others—and never to make anyone feel the way that “competitor” made me feel. For me, it’s more about collaboration than it is about competition.people-will-never-forget-how-you-made-them-feel-116

Celebrating My Independence…Five Ways Starting My Own Business Changed My Life

independence day art

independence day artHappy Independence Day!

To me, this holiday has a dual meaning. Yes, like many other Americans, I celebrate our country by attending a parade, having a picnic with my family and enjoying fireworks. But, this holiday is also a time to celebrate my independence as a businessperson.

More than 15 years ago, I “liberated” myself from the day-to-day grind of working for someone else…and started doing it MY way. When I launched my consulting practice, I believed I could:
• Find companies who needed my help
• Provide excellent counsel and execute to bring results
• Offer them services at a reasonable price
• And do it all on MY terms

What has this meant for me? Well, it’s changed my life in a number of ways:

• I now work on a schedule that fits not only my clients’ needs, but MY needs. Sometimes, that means getting up early, staying up late or working weekends. But it’s done on MY terms. I was doing this when I worked for someone else, but it no longer feels like a sacrifice, because it stems from my passion and commitment to my clients, to what I do and to making my business successful. It’s a completely different feeling when you’re so closely invested in the success (or failure) of not only your client’s businesses, but of your business.

• I also enjoy the collaboration with other independents. I love meeting and connecting with other consultants and then being able to offer my clients resources for the kinds of projects I don’t do (and no, I don’t try to do it all…there’s plenty of work to go around for all of us!).

• And, I believe I’m more productive on my own. Without the meetings, the commute and the office politics, I can actually get more done. I believe that doing the actual work to get results is more enjoyable—and really what serving clients is all about. I can work anytime, anywhere productively. The whole telecommuting movement is something I tried to get my bosses to agree to years ago…without much success. For some reason, they just didn’t believe that employees could work productively outside the office. After 15 years of working on my own from wherever I want, I beg to differ.

• Not to mention the wonderful clients I get to work with. I think I’m extremely lucky to get to work with smart, talented (did I mention very nice?!) people. It’s a pleasure to work with my clients because they truly trust me and are a joy to serve.

• Then, of course, there’s the personal pride I feel in helping my clients succeed. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting a media “hit” for a client or knowing they have new prospects or sales because of PR initiatives they undertook. It’s a true “high” that I still get whenever this happens.

So this 4th of July, I celebrate my freedom and the ability to do the work I love for clients I’m committed to serving. Happy Independence Day to all!

What Matters Most In a PR Practitioner?

got-passion3-300x127Today, I was thinking about what matters most when it comes to PR. If you’re considering PR for your company, product or service, what should you look for in a PR practitioner? Of course, there’s always a great deal of debate about what qualities and credentials are most important. Here’s what I think matters most: passion.

Is your PR practitioner passionate about:

  • Your business?
  • Getting you coverage?
  • Helping you understand the process?
  • Keeping up with current trends and tools in the PR industry?

There are a lot of choices when it comes to PR, as with anything else you might hire an expert to help with. Credentials and experience matter. But if the passion is lacking, it’s going to be tough to get where you want to go.

For those of us who are truly passionate about PR, we eat, sleep and breathe it. We can’t even turn it off when we’re at a restaurant, because we notice typos in the menu! When we watch TV, we have to comment on the ads–are they effective? When we read a magazine or newspaper, we wonder if the headline could’ve been worded differently to attract more readers or if our client might be a fit for this reporter’s beat. When we see a posting about an event, we notice the date is missing. We can’t help it. It’s just part of our DNA.

Ideas strike us at all hours of the day–and sometimes, even the night. I’ve had dreams about how to help clients that have led to a new story idea to pitch. I’ve taken a walk that spurred an idea for a publication we could try pitching. I’ve been reading the Sunday paper and noticed an article that led to a great idea for a blog post for a client. Many times, when I’m least expecting it is when an idea will come to me for new ways to help my clients.

So you may be thinking, “This all sounds great, but how can I tell if this person is truly passionate about PR?” To help you evaluate your choices, here are real-world examples of this passion in action:

  • Your PR pro should have a passion for spreading the PR “gospel”: Do they frequently speak on PR, helping others learn about its power and how to put it to work for them?
  • Your PR pro should have a passion for helping small businesses get on the map: If they own their own small business, as do I, they understand the challenges and rewards involved. A practical, no-nonsense approach is what works best, because as all small business owners know, we don’t have time for the extras.
  • Your PR pro shouldn’t always be focused on the clients who can pay the most: Does your PR pro love PR so much that they charge reasonable rates? And do they often help out non-profits on a pro bono or in-kind basis? I usually have at least a couple of organizations I’m working with on a pro bono basis at any given. I truly enjoy working people who have a passion for what they do AND express their appreciation my help, so those are the folks I tend to gravitate toward on these projects.
  • Your PR pro should have a passion for specialization—but also see the bigger picture: There are many firms who claim to offer it all, from marketing to advertising to events to PR, but do you want to skim the surface? Or do you want to work with someone with specializes in getting your name out there? While it’s a good thing to work with a PR pro who has some experience or background in more general marketing, you may want to stay away from those who claim to do it all—because they may not do it all well.

Let’s face it, there are plenty of folks just phoning it in these days in professions across the board, but those with passion stand out. So, evaluate your options carefully and look for the passion–if it’s missing, it might be wise to look elsewhere.