“Blogging,” she told us, “is just critical. It’s the centre point of your online life.”
Our local editors group sponsored a workshop by social media guru Sofie Andreou www.sofieandreou.com recently, and yes, she DOES have the stripes to earn the title “guru.”
Sofie’s workshop was stuffed with goodies on the latest social media trends,
and probably gave me enough material for about five blogs.
Our seminar group that day was a mix of people ranging from some already using Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, to others leery about the entire social media “thing.” Some had blogs going and some gasped and rolled their eyes at the proposition of even making the attempt to start one.
Sofie, bright penny that she is, picked up on this reluctance. “Blogging,” she told us, “is just critical. It’s the centre point of your online life.”
And, she went, on, it helps you to create a community of followers.
“It’s not just about creating material and pushing it, pushing it, pushing it. It’s about supporting each other.”
What a novel concept! I have to admit I hadn’t actually thought of it that way, and was probably doing way too much pushing and not enough supporting. I knew I was waaay out of balance on this one.
How then, to support? Said Sofie: Visit a blogger you like – for our group, this will most likely be a writer or a clever editor, and comment on their blog. They’ll often go looking for you and write a comment back.
Their followers then come and have a look at what you’re doing, and presto! You’re sharing a community.
Sofie thought Victoria Shockley, a writer/editor with a strong blog post http://victoriashockleywrites.wordpress.com/
and robust Twitter following @victoria_writes, a good example of how to build community online. Victoria’s brand is her picture, and Sofie demonstrated how she kept that image and her pitch as a writer/editor, consistent on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
In fact, Sofie tweeted Victoria before the seminar to let her know she’d be held up as an example of online smarts. She used my Twitter handle @bestwritecoms, which helps me stand out from the thousand-odd other Jane Davidsons in the twitterverse.
“If you are linking to someone’s article, or event, you definitely mention them and use their handle.”
(When Sofie contacted Victoria, she used her own handle and mine and promised Victoria I’d write a blog about it, and this is it. Victoria then linked to me and to Sofie.)
If you go to Victoria’s blog, you’ll see that she‘s built her Twitter following to over 3300 people. She includes people’s twitter handles in her tweets, a form of online generosity and community building.
Sofie was quick to add here that you need to have a reason to mention people in your tweets – don’t just do it randomly. “If you’re writing something specific, tweet it, and then pop on over to LinkedIn and list it in your work samples.”
Newbies often fail to realize one key home truth and it’s this: social media use for sales and flagrant self promotion is crass and simply not done, darling.
Sofie’s rule: send out something that’s useful of helpful or funny five times, and ask for something once.
And on that note, I’ll close off for now and go Tweet this blog, making sure to mention Sofie, and Victoria.
I was so glad to see a recent blog on knowing when to shut up with clients, Never Outsmart Your Clients by Brigitte Kobi http://www.pilum.ch/
Ms. Kobi is in an entirely field than I am, but the message was moot nonetheless.
As a writer/editor, one of my business offerings is copy editing for self-publishing authors. By nature I love to show off what I know, and I thought I was doing fine until I took a workshop where the first topic on hand was...how to deal with authors.
What an eye-opener that was! I learned from the intrepid uber editor and seminar leader Greg Ioannou http://iguanabooks.com
that most authors want to know their work is good BEFORE they are able to hear any criticisms or allow alterations. How head-poundingly obvious, and yet, somehow, I'd missed it and always jumped right to the section I’d filed under "how to make it better" in my mind.
And thence offered criticisms with unbridled enthusiasm. This chunk is entirely in the wrong spot, I’d enthuse, and should be moved back to this chapter instead, and, your language is too passive. And by the way, you didn’t really MEAN to say that, did you? Of course you didn’t. And you simply must stop capitalizing all the civil and military titles when they are used alone....At this point I looked at my client’s blanching face and realized I was headed for the shoals at top speed.
This happened more than once as I prattled happily away about how much I could do for someone’s new book, which, I neglected to note, was held close to their egos like a precious new baby. I noticed the paling faces, the deepening frowns and shoulders inching up toward the ears. And the inevitable: "no, thanks, I think after all I'll just have a friend go over it.”
And I’d be left standing there, as my prospect turned away, thinking: “Gosh, that went well.”
Today, I give my clients a long list of what I *like* about their work and ask THEM what they'd like to see changed, before I utter a single suggestion.
And I note a decided softening, a pleased countenance, a shift of the shoulders towards me – in short, the wall goes down, the ears open and willingness descends upon the scene. We become partners, working together to put out the best possible product.
I never liked the role of school-marm, anyway.
I'm a trusting soul, mostly. If a new client approaches me looking for a press release, a business plan or a grant proposal, I usually accept what they tell me about themselves in good faith.I do all the "right things" including draft up a letter of agreement, which generally outlines what I will do for them, how much it will cost, revisions (if any) - that type of thing. Pretty normal stuff. It also outlines what they will do for me so that I can actually complete the job: specifically, provide info as requested, names and phone numbers of contacts, and make payments in regular increments. Here's where I recently made the error that cost me in a moral sense: I forgot to question a client about their financial status in enough detail. Now you might say, this is none of my business, and in a sense, you'd be right. In most cases. For example, I'd never dream of asking this question for a straightforward press release: in fact I take care of it by asking to be paid up front.And it wasn't about ability-to-pay anyway. I should be clear about that.I simply don't like to see my clients fall on their faces. I want them to succeed. When I write or edit for a client, I tend to get passionate about their bright new business idea. I enthuse, I encourage, and I cheer-lead. And, as I recently I found out, I also make dopey assumptions about their finances. By the time I learned that a recent business plan client had no job, no pension, no assets and no collateral, I was well in to the plan. I'd done lots of research on a particular industry, market prospects, competitors, global outlook - in fact I'd learned a great deal about this particular market sector. I thought the concept was loaded with promise. I'd beavered away faithfully envisioning the start-up of a booming enterprise.I'm not a complete moron, I should hasten to add: my client said he was retired, and I assumed, quite naturally, that he had a pension. But I failed to actually ask.
Another assumption I'd made: I thought the client had some idea about what lending institutions require before they'd give out a thin dime: some indication of how they'd repay, and something like a house or other assets to guarantee the loan.Otherwise, you may have the most brilliant idea in the world and you may even a supplier all lined up with goods to put into your hoped-for warehouse, but if you haven't got some financial platform, income, pension or form of security, you've got nuthin'. Gosh, I sound like Kevin O'Leary.The naked truth is this: the most beautifully-written and researched business plan (and mine tend to flow quite nicely, thank you very much) won't amount to a hill of beans once you hand it to the lending officer. I can just imagine a banker glancing quickly through all the lovely verbiage about future market trends and product warranties, only to come up empty at the bit where it says how you intend to repay the bloody loan.So, I have learned these things:
Knowing what I know now, I would have kindly and politely turned down the job. I don't like finding myself in a crisis of conscience.A business savvy friend said recently: "Jane, they asked for a plan, so give them a plan. It's not your responsibility if you now see they don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting their money."Except that if you're me, it is.
- ask how they make a living
- If they say they are retired, ask about their pension
- ask if they own any property, or already have investments
- ask if they've been turned down before, and if so, why
If you are a small business owner or retailer, you've likely had your email in basket plugged up with seminar offers to get you going on the internet.
You may have decided to take the plunge, convinced by the pundits with social media newest and latest trend info, that this is the Way of the Future.
Get on board or get left behind. If you're not tweeting, blogging, uploading photos of your product, store, business, tweeting specials, running contests on line, do you actually....even ....exist?
The pressure to sign up is intense.
So you sit in a seminar, learn how to sign on, get your password, tweet, get people to like your Facebook page, set up an email newsletter, and get yourself a YouTube account.
Social media based marketing gurus will tell you that this is the way to get more customers, attention, profile. You'll need to blog, tweet, put out email newsletters, give advice by audiofile and stick it onto your spanking new drop-dead fabulous interactive website.
Well, no, actually. Or, let's say...partly. In the bottomless maw that is new social media platforms and services, there's a marked absence of the wisdom behind some basic realities like...geography, for one. And local culture, for another. And time, for yet another. And relevance, come to think of it.
Let's face it, if you aren't on Facebook or LinkedIn, the thinking goes, you aren't with it. Except for the exceptions, and there are many.
Sherry Boyce-Found, manager of the Kawartha Lakes Chamber of Commerce, www.kawarthachamber.ca puts it like this:
"Is your city surrounded by farms, like mine is? Is the city still essentially run by a hub of volunteers, many of whom have been around a while and are doing a great job of it without social media?" Her membership is a mix of rural (farmers) retail (shops) services (visiting nurses) and some industry.
"The storekeepers and farmers mostly don't' have the time, staff and margins to tweet, " she notes. From what I can see, they still prefer their downtime spent in Rotary meetings and at Tim Hortons morning flockfests, over a tiny rectangular thing that takes them away from genuine face-time with their peers.
It's a time thing, and a generational thing. Let's face it, slightly arthritic fingers (I have a thumb that falls into this category and thumbs are critical for texting) and pressing business needs from behind the cash register counter do not a social media plan make.
The local papers survive because people still advertise using...newspapers. And radio. And television. And in this area, rural Ontario with a small city in the middle of it, people still read the ads.
In fact we have an interesting blend. Or maybe it's two solitudes living beside one another in relative harmony and pretty much total ignorance of how the other side gets it info. Younger folk are busy with their devices, and can be seen walking all over town staring into tiny white little screens, thumbs moving furiously, as though their lives depended on it. Not for them a Rotary meeting! In fact I keep waiting, avowedly with a bit of perverse expectation to see if any of them walk into a telephone pole, so blinded are they by their iphones and what they encounter there.
But I digress, which is not unusual. I doubt the texters and tweeters are looking for the latest specials at the local Mom and Pop hardware store, or butcher shop.
They'll have to pick up a newspaper to find out about that. Mom and Pop have hung up the apron, done the day's tally. turned off the lights, locked the door and are off home to dinner, followed by Rotary, choir practice, curling, or coffee at Timmie's.
It was going to be great last week of the month. Four articles and one press release plus story placement in the hopper. Things were looking good, and I was mentally counting the dollars.
But something happened on the way to the CYMBYHI (that's count your money before you actually have it) Bank.
Specifically, a client had booked me for a good news release. The client has an exciting product in the development stages. An excellent business plan, industry partners, expert board of directors, local investors - all the good things you like to see in a client who is taking good care of a business start-up.
We went over all the new developments as I attempted to cherry pick something that the media could sink their news teeth into.
"Well," my client said, "We could talk about the deal we're about to sign for a manufacturing site."
"Photo opp?" I asked.
"Yes, but we couldn't actually do it on the site - we could do it outside."
Er, no. Since "outside" meant having my client standing in front of a different business, I explained that such a photo would only serve to confuse the reader.
After a bit of chat back and forth, we decided, together, that the plans for that particular development weren't sufficiently ripe for a release, anyway. Begged more questions than they answered, and nothing frustrates the media more. Make them go digging and they might just leave you at the post for a story that's got more substance. Or worse, they'll get it wrong and leave you backing and filling and explaining yourself to death.
Definitely not good media relations practice. And it won't help your client's investment prospects any, either.
Moving on to another significant development, I learned that a deal was "almost" signed - Big deal, a Meaty deal, a deal with nice implications for investment and jobs.
The client is excited and rightly so.
"We wouldn't have to name them," he suggested.
"We could just say a company of such and such a size, based in Saskatchewan. A major mid-sized company in the fertilizer industry."
I began to see my monthly income needle edging back the wrong way.
"And when the media call, can we give them any details, yet?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"No? ...Can we tell them anything yet? "
The answer was: not much. Not yet.
Two things wrong with this scenario, I explained. A whiff of publicity around an unsigned business investment deal or partnership is the kiss of death. The party being courted may go off in a huff, knowing quite a lot about your client's great idea.
And this leaves the client, exactly, where??? No new money, lots of hours wasted in talks and visits, lots of confidential projected revenues in the prospect hands, and lots of classified info about the product there too.
There was a long silence. "I'd love the work," I admitted. "It would be great to do a release for you and tweet the living daylights out of it for traction." (I love doing this, it's fun, and I'm not too bad at it.)
"But," I went on, "You aren't far enough along with the story to put it out there yet. It's just plain too soon."
My client, no slouch himself, had already figured this out. We need to wait a bit, he agreed. He'd be saying way too much of this:"I can't release those details yet," and "Can't name the company, except to say..." The latter, of course, dropping him right into the danger zone.
The lesson? It's great to be excited, pleased and happy about those deals that are "almost" signed.
Just don't put out a release about them.
All freelance writers are grateful for fresh assignments. We like to write and most importantly, we like to eat.
And as always when one particular writing assignment comes in, as it does three or four times a year, I'm pleased as punch to get the work.
It goes to the top of my assignment pile. I put other clients on hold. The editor is a gem to work with. The publication has stature, importance, and show-off-ability pour moi. I'm not naming it here because I'm supposed to be working on the assignment right now...and the editor follows my Facebook page.
Just one little thing: the word count for each article is short. What do I define as short? Well, 250 words (think half a page) sums it up. This is fine, the editor has decreed that this will be the length, and that's that. It sounds so easy, doesn't it?
Except when this happens: the subject is a source of serious passion for the spokesperson I'm interviewing. I could be writing about and doing interviews on investment trends, organic farming, university programs, oil and gas exploration or the latest in retirement living. And have done.
Inevitably, the spokesperson loves what they do, and is thrilled to be interviewed. Inevitably, I warn them right off the top that I only have so many words, and that the interview must, therefore, be short. Inevitably, they agree. And inevitably, unless the subject is a real snorefest, we're still talking half an hour later.
I can't help it, and neither can they. I get fascinated by their passion for, say, genuine organic farming. Question follows question and I wind up with reams of information that I can't possibly squeeze in to my allotted word count.
I used to lash myself for my lack of discipline. Now, I've decided to look at things differently. In the remote off-chance that my fave editor decides to increase the word count, I'm ready. I've given myself lots of choice tidbits for my lede. (That's off-fashioned journo spelling for lead sentence, in case you were wondering). I won't be caught short-handed. I've explored the subject thoroughly. Given it a good going-over. I know lots of stuff now that I didn't know before.
The trick, aside from developing a bit more self-discipline, is to set the material aside, put it out of my mind and let the Magic Process take over. The Process happens when you're thinking about something else. That's when the most riveting point from the interview jumps into my head and announces, "here I am, here's your lede."
At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
I'm writing about this because although I fancy myself as an editor, among other things, I tried to edit my way through my first full book copyediting assignment, Alan Wilson's Policing Ireland's Twisted History,
without a key tool.A style sheet.
With my extensive background in writing and PR, I had always edited intuitively.In my own humble opinion, I'd done okay. I'd also taken Editors Association of Canada courses in Toronto on copyediting
from Kathryn Dean, who edited Pierre Trudeau's work and Peter Newman. (I'm unabashedly name-dropping here. In all honesty, I was but one of 30 or so and I doubt she'd remember me.)
Anyway, I assumed that equipped with those courses, taught by such an august editor, along with a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style
at my right hand, I'd ace it.
Wrong. During each run-through of the manuscript, I found fresh inconsistencies in punctuation, or spelling, or word usage. I'd missed stuff and would have to flip back through the text to find the last reference and check to see if I had stayed on track or had veered off into the weeds. Every time. Shortly after this, during a chat with uber-editor Helen Mason www.dameditors.ca she said,"Jane, why didn't you refer to your style sheet? Preparing a style sheet is the first thing I do when I take on a new assignment."
There was an awkward silence. Style sheet? Oops. I was too embarrassed to admit I didn't prepare one. And I was even more embarrassed to admit that I didn't really know what a style sheet was
Here's Adrienne Montgomerie, science editor at www.catchthesun.ca, with a definition: "A style sheet is a record of style choices made as the editor works on a document. They are usually specific to a project or client."
Luckily, just recently the www.editors.ca chatboard had a conversation thread running on style sheets. Always a helpful and generous group, several experienced EAC editors jumped in, offering advice, guidance and even examples of their own style sheets to the rest of us.
Dimitra Chronopoulos, Editor and Program Chair, EAC, Toronto branch, referred me to page 47 of The Copyeditor's Handbook
by Amy Einsohn, which carries samples of style sheets. I haven't looked there yet because right on the heels of Dimitra's helpful input, along came Laura Edlund. (I told you they were a great bunch!)
, said her copyrighted template for a basic style sheet includes headings (which you can read below) plus some examples of what would fit.
"It tends to be longer for a series and shorter for a one-of-a-kind book. And it varies for fiction to non-fiction, etc.," Laura said.
"And if I find I keep stumbling over something, I note it so that I streamline the edit. And if something comes up when the assigning editor is not handy to query but I know that I need to check it, I note it with a question mark in front of it so flag it for consideration soon.
"Last of all, if the client already has a style sheet, I use that religiously and piggy-back on it -- make any additions to it using the client's organization."
Laura graciously allowed me to reproduce that sheet right here: references:
[e.g., Can Ox 2e, Chicago 16e, but with exceptions noted below] words
[an alphabetical list of words that need their spelling, hyphenations of compounds, or special treatment to be noted especially, that differ from general references above, etc.]
[Here are some examples:
association -- refer to full name for first use in each chapter, but the association for each use thereafter
earth [soil], the Earth [planet]
etc. -- use rather than and so on
summary -- use rather than in sum
Tucker - use one name only in this case, not full name, as with other full names
* words as words -- italics for the first use
* foreign words -- italics only if not in Can OX 2e punctuation
[e.g., series comma] numbers
[spell out one to nine, use numerals for 10 and over in running text, on graphs, use numerals only] headers, footers
unit number and name -- verso -- u. & l.c.
chapter number and name -- recto - u. &l.c.
re. figures, lists, maps, photos, captions, etc.
italics for water body labels
roman for land labels
scale on all maps
compass rose on all maps]
re. documentation, quotations, notes, bibliography other
[e.g., how to make internal references within parts of the book OR a setting list, a character list, etc. OR something re. terms for clarity with the audience or to avoid bias OR about formatting for regular narrative vs. flashback OR reminder about a shift in point of view, etc.]
So now you know what a style sheet is, and you got it from the best!
I thought I'd write about this because I'm in a learning curve, and I wanted to share the benefit of my experience so far. I admit I thought I knew all there was to know about creating business plans. Recently, I got a wake-up call.
Don't get me wrong: I do know a lot. But I learned that what I knew didn't cover some critically important details. I'd like you to benefit from what I didn't think to ask, and should have. I had help with this from merchandizing expert Donna Geary, www.impactvisual.com,
who zeroed in on my client's situation and unearthed some key challenges that I'd overlooked.
To help you avoid finding yourself in the position of dealing with last minute surprises, as I did, here's our list of what you might not learn
from your start-up client.
- Their supply agreement. If they tell you they have one with a supplier, make sure you look at the darned thing closely. Read it through carefully. What have they committed to? Are there any escape clauses? Do they have the money to pay for it? What happens if the supplier goes belly-up and they are left with a boat-load of stock? These questions then lead me to...
- Does your client have a knowledgeable business lawyer? My client chose to not spend any more money on their lawyer. Probably a mistake (advise clients to continue with the lawyer, btw, and avoid heartaches down the road), She *did* advise the client to get a tape recording of the supplier ensuring that they had exclusive rights to the product. When I found this out, really quite late in the process, the warning flags began to make their way up the pole.
- Here's the cute part: check to see that both parties have signed it. An agreement isn't worth the powder to blow it to hell if this hasn't happened, and most bankers would toss it back across the table at you. That conversation would be over before it began.
- Delve in to the client's steps taken up until now. What have they done so far? Who has already said yes to them, who has said no, and why. Don't settle for a quick and light answer, because you may find that if you allow your client to skate over this part, it will come back to bite you. (My client didn't realize how important these details were to their business plan, and indeed, to their chances of getting a start-up loan.)
- What bank are they dealing with? A rural branch or a more central office where loan officers are accustomed to working with all sorts of business loans?
- What sorts of promises does the client think they have heard from the bank? My client found out that their branch had no previous experience with the type of loan they wanted. When they got down to brass tacks, the loan they *thought* they were applying for was not, well, the loan they were actually applying for. Implications? They'd lose control of the business and work their tails off for peanuts. Horrified, they withdrew their application.
- Does the client have a mentor or friend who has started a business and can do some coaching and hand-holding? Advise them to get one. This is not the job of the business plan writer. Acknowledge this, frequently, if necessary.
Your brain is cooking with your new business idea. Positively boiling over, in fact.
Your bright idea has passed the "friend" test, the "neighbour" test, the "Mom" test and most importantly, the "loans officer" test.
However, writing a good business plan is a bit like a trip to the dentist for a major filling. You have to do it, and it does hurt a little. Lots of drilling. Or you can hire someone else, like me, to do it for you.
Either way, you'll still have to do a lot of homework..
Beyond name, address, contact info, your background, and what business you want to develop, here's a sample of what you MUST put in there, or be sent to stand in the corner until you are ready to do it properly.
- Economic, social and cultural factors - say why, in today's high-tech, super-fast, shop from your phone world, is your product or service going to have a home in the mad marketplace? Rummage around on the Statistics Canada website http://www.statcan.gc.ca to find some trends to support your observations.
- If you get lost on the Stats Can website, call one of their friendly info officers. I've had terrific luck with them. They'll move heaven and earth to help you find what you need, walking you through the process as you work through the Stats Can maze.
- Google for studies and trends. Oh, and be sure to say where you found the stuff - funders like to know your research is sound and that you didn't just pull it out of a hat.
- Make sure it's clear you know who your client is, and why they'll want what you offer. Put this logic into your plan.
- Government regulations. If you haven't thought of this one,do it now. If you want to import a product from China, find out about the red tape, and write it all down.Then say what you plan to do about it.
- Pricing. Know your price point. Where will the profits come from?
- Competitors - list them all. Say what they do well and what they do poorly. Say why what you do is better and what you plan to do so that your market will recognize this and come to you.
- If this seems overwhelming and writing is not your strongest skill, hire a business plan writer. I give my clients homework, and do the writing for them. It saves wear and tear on your nerves and frees up your time to make sure you have everything you need in the plan.
You've got your brilliant idea all set in your mind. You've done some preliminary research. Talked to a few friends. Other business owners. Mom, who thinks everything you do is brilliant. Visited the local Chamber of Commerce, business development office, the government small business loan bank, perhaps even have a source of merchandize and office space.
And now you are ready for your plan.
You're visualizing success - You just KNOW your enterprise will be up, running and dripping in profits within the first year.
In your mind, you're good to go.
Or are you?
A business plan is your platform. Launch pad. Foundation. Pick an image - you get the idea. As long as it's something solid. When you get to the stage of writing your plan - which should be sooner, rather than later - you will need to slow down and become exceptionally anal with the details.
Yup, anal. Bordering on the obsessive. Because you can bet your boots that whoever you approach for startup funding (banks, for example) are going to be putting your plan under a high-powered microscope. They have to be accountable to their masters, shareholders, or, in the case of the government...to the government. They want happy statistics. Successes.
If you fail, they're left with egg on their corporate faces. This is a highly undesirable position for them and they'll do just about anything to avoid it.
People often reflect that the "banks don't want to lend any money."
Actually, that's not it, and a trip to any Canadian bank's website will show you a list of business plan downloads and loads of advice about doing it right. Look here for just two:
And be sure to contact the Canada Business Network http://www.canadabusiness.ca,
Doing it right means ferreting down into details that may not have occurred to you. Yet.
The thing is this: start thinking deeply. Keep a pen on your right hand or pop open your laptop and make a list before you begin. Cover your bases and cover your ass.
The local business development bank officer in our town has a book-size list of hopefuls who have walked through the door for help armed with a bright idea and a one-paragraph plan, no money, and lots of enthusiasm.
"When I told them about the legwork involved to move the idea to a tangible plan, they turn white, and then many of them disappeared," she notes.
It needn't be. Granted, a business plan is a lot of work. The exercise of going through one will force you to think, plan, check out your competition, and prepare contingencies when the inevitable surprises pop up. Cock-eyed optimism won't cut it, but solid detail will.
You need to demonstrate you've walked all the way around your idea, kicked the tires, and put it through every imaginable test before you drive it in to your lender of choice.
In my next blog, I'll itemize some of the "must-haves" for a good business plan that will help you get taken seriously and get your funding.