Sunday, 27 January 2013

5 signs that you need a professional content writer

Many small businesses think that hiring a professional content writer for their website, blog or newsletter is an expense they can afford to avoid. With everyone tightening their belts these days, it’s not surprising plenty of businesses and start-ups are deciding to take care of their content production requirements in house, but is that really the best strategy?

If you’re involved in a content writing project for your business, watch out for these 5 tell-tale signs that you might be better off investing in professional help:
  1. It’s taking you forever – A professional content writer is able to think on their feet, and probably have a typing speed to rival Usain Bolt’s lightening reflexes. If you find turning out 500 words for your website page is more of a marathon than a quick sprint, it might be worth getting a quote from a pro. 
  2.  It’s impacting on your business – You already know where your skills lie, that’s why you started your business. If writing isn’t your forte, then every hour you spend struggling to produce content is an hour you won’t have spent developing your business or serving your customers.
  3. It’s not getting results – Good content writers have the knowledge and skills to make your articles and pages interesting to the search engines as well as the human readers. Unless you have a keen interest in this area of internet jiggery pokery, chances are you’ll be missing a trick and not getting the search engine rankings you deserve.
  4. You’ve run out of ideas – Good ideas are hard to come by, and if you don’t have the most creative brain on the planet then you’ll spend as much time staring at a blank word document, waiting for inspiration to hit you, as you will so being productive.
  5. You permanently have a spacebar shaped indentation on your forehead – If you just plain HATE writing, why do it? A professional content writer is probably not as expensive as you think, and could save your laptop from bearing the brunt of your frustration. 
For professional content writing that won’t cost the earth,  BrilliantConsulting can help.  

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Top tips for small businesses using social media

We’re all on Facebook these days, and probably Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and others too! I probably generate as much business now via social networking as I do through submitting proposals, and I have a number of good friends who also operate small businesses very successfully via social networks. However, breaking into the social networking world can be a little daunting at first.

Getting into the networking flow is about more than just setting up a jazzy page and waiting for the ‘likes’ to arrive. It’s more about getting into a ‘like ladder’ or some other way of boosting your page’s like count. What you need is real, honest ‘likers’, followers or connections who are interested in you and what you do. Here are a few things I have learnt over time about social networking that might just help you if you want to take advantage of social media for your small businesses.

Have high quality content

Whether it’s a sentence on Twitter, an article on Google+ or a shared news story on Facebook, you need to keep working hard at putting high quality content on your social media channels. If you are writing something, make sure your words are well formed, grammatically correct and spell checked, and if you aren’t too hot on the written word, get a good content writer to produce some social media pieces for you.

Different words for different audiences

Most social media channels can be linked together so that whatever you write on one gets copied across all networks. In some cases this can be a great time saving exercise , but you also need to make sure you are producing different content for different audiences. Your tone, length of pieces and focus should alter slightly depending on where you are posting:

  •           Facebook: A ‘fun’ social media site, where content should be kept short, informal and is ideally accompanied by pictures.
  •           Google+: Because you can create ‘circles’ of contacts, you will be able to target your posts specifically at potential customers, previous customers, peers or friends, so you can pick your content based upon who will see it.
  •           LinkedIn: A professional network where longer posts and a more formal tone works better.
  • Twitter: A great place to make industry contacts and to promote sales, promotions, new blog posts or special offers. Posts are only a sentence long, so practice keeping it short and getting everything you need to say into a few words. 

Schedule posts for maximum impact 

You might find you are most available to write posts or blog entries in the evening, but if none of your target audience are on line to see your update, you could be wasting your time. Facebook has a simple scheduling function built in for fan pages, or you can use apps like HootSuite to schedule updates and posts for many days into the future and at times that you know the most people will be online.

Be prepared!

Once you have got your all singing, all dancing social networking pages set up, you need to be prepared to manage these accounts effectively. There is nothing worse than commenting on someone’s post, asking a question on their wall or directly messaging them, only to get no response for several hours, days or possibly even not at all.

If you don’t have the time yourself to manage these accounts and posts, then employ a content writer or social media manager to do this for you.

So, off you go, and reach out to the world on social media for yourself! It takes a little practice and tenacity to get your accounts the exposure you desire, but it is, without doubt, the cheapest and most effective way to market your products and services to a huge online audience. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

5 Key Ingredients for Website Success

It seems these days that everyone has a website. The corner shop has a website; the school has a website; hell, even my mother has a website. With so many places to find information out there, how can you ever be sure anyone is going to find your site?

Here’s the good news.

You don’t need a) a degree in IT, b) to spend thousands on SEO or c) a magic wand to create your own perfect website that will reach the people you want it to in just the right way. Poorly thought out websites with a disastrous user interface will only be damaging for your brand, your reputation and the sanity of your users, so here are my five key ingredients for creating a successful site.

1.      It’s all about the content

“Oh she would say that – she’s a content writer”

True, I am, and also true, I would. But, even if it is in my blood to harp on about the importance of credible content, it has never been more important than it is right now to populate your site with USEFUL and UNIQUE content. Many business owners prefer to spend hours poring over pantones and templates to make their site look pretty, but then seem to sling on some half-hearted content as a bit of an afterthought.

Getting some well thought out, well written content onto your site is an essential component of any web development plan, and without this key ingredient your wonderful website is doomed to failure. If you can’t do it yourself, put your money where your mouth is and get a decent content writer to help you.

2.      Say ‘yes’ to SEO

Don’t shy away from SEO just because it seems to be incredibly complex. It’s not. Trust me, I’ve met a number of SEO managers, and not one of them would survive a round on the Weakest Link.

SEO (or Search Engine Optimisation) is the process by which we get Google and Co. to notice our websites exist. Not only that, but by thinking a little about the content we put on our sites, we allow Google to correctly index our sites, which in turn determines the position at which our site appears on search results for particular search terms.

You could spend thousands on SEO, getting one of these high powered agencies to submit 10,000 article directory entries for backlinks and sending out daily press releases about your business. But to be honest, unless you are trying to compete with PepsiCo for the top spot, there really is no need. Smaller businesses and start-up companies can fare very well with some basic DIY SEO, a great deal of which really comes naturally.

Think about the words people will type if they are searching for your type of business. If I was starting up a floristry business in Bath, I would hope people would search for ‘Bath florist’, ‘flower delivery Bath’ and ‘flowers in Bath’. By identifying these key search terms (known as ‘keywords’) I could then make sure these are included here and there on each page, just where they most naturally fit. You only need to mention each keyword two or three times per 500 words for Google to notice, so concentrate on building top quality text and just let the keywords form naturally within the content.

Aside of keywords, other good practices include the use of H1 and H2 tags to draw attention to certain words or phrases, making sure all the pages of the site can be reached within 2 clicks of the homepage and developing meta tags for each page to help the indexing process. Most importantly, do not copy and paste any content from other sites, or even from other places on your own site. Every word of your content must be ORIGINAL and UNIQUE, otherwise Google will slap you down and you’ll suddenly find you are on page 386. If you don’t have time to generate your own high quality content, get yourself an SEO content writer to help.

3.      Think about the user experience

Take some time to view your site from the user’s point of view. How does it look? How easy is it to navigate? What can you tell about the business from the first page or two?

Sometimes, when you are deeply involved in a project, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. In this case consider getting a fresh pair of eyes to help, or maybe even 30 pairs. There are lots of online focus groups available to test your site, some of which cost as little as a few pence per tester, and these can provide lots of worthwhile feedback in terms of the user experience often picking up on things you would never have noticed yourself.

4.      Make some noise!

So, now you have your wonderful website, classy content, sizzling SEO and useable user interface, you’re all ready to go.

But still you have no traffic.

So… make some noise! Tweet it, Facebook it and LinkedIn about it all over the place. Get that address book out and email all your old contacts, schoolmates and relatives. Don’t stop there either; ask these people to share / retweet / forward on the news that your NEW website is live, and you’ll soon start to see the hits you want.

Consider joining some industry specific forums, or reading industry related blogs. Here you can leave (subtle) comments and links to your site, which will not only help to drive highly relevant traffic to your pages, but will also help with some powerful SEO juice from the backlinks.

5.      Keep it fresh

The hardest thing about creating a successful website it definitely the effort it takes to keep it there. Unfortunately, building a great website is not like making a cake - you can’t just dish it up and walk away. Websites need to be constantly refreshed, updated, tweaked and twiddled with to keep them at the top of their game. If Google thinks your site hasn’t been updated for a few weeks, you will plummet hundreds of ranks overnight, with the more recently updated sites overtaking you.

One of the easiest ways to keep things fresh and delicious is to start your own blog or news page. Make it a regular part of your working week to update this part of your site, ideally daily but as a minimum around 3 – 4 times per week. Use links in your blogposts or news pieces to other areas of your site, or other places in the blog, and make sure you shout it out every time you put something new on there to stimulate more traffic and hopefully a bit of social media sharing too.

If this all sounds a bit too much like hard work, get a content writer to manage your news feed and / or blog. Contact me to find out more about choosing a good content writer, and let me know your own key ingredients for creating a successful website.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Stranger danger

Today my blog post will have a more serious and sombre air to it. Four days ago a little girl from a neighbouring community was let out to play with some older children at 7pm while her Mum cooked tea. They had both just got home from a parents evening at school. A vehicle approached the playing children and the driver’s side door opened. Someone called the little girl over, and according to her friend, she willingly got into the vehicle through the driver’s side door. She has not been seen since.

The little girl’s name is April Jones. Now the whole world knows her name.

Far be it from me to see any sort of silver lining in a big black cloud like this, but for me personally this has certainly given me a wakeup call. Since Monday I have talked about stranger danger with my children more than I ever have before. I think sometimes, especially for those of us living in rural communities, we take our children’s safety for granted, and have become a little complacent about the warnings we issue to them. With this in mind, I wanted to share my thoughts on teaching our children about stranger danger.

What is a stranger?

This came out in a conversation with my 6 year old last night. He knows for sure he shouldn’t go with a stranger, but did he know what a stranger actually was?

The short answer is no.

He was of the impression that a stranger would be someone he didn’t know (correct) who looked evil (erm) and who definitely wasn’t a woman (wrong) who probably drove a van (probably a nod to the situation with April). I realised at this point that the definition should be made clearer. Here’s my take on who a stranger is:
  • Someone they don’t know
  • Someone they don’t know VERY WELL
  • Someone they know but who doesn’t have permission to talk to them
  • They can be smart, scruffy, male, female
  • They can have a van, a sports car, a motorbike, or be on foot
  • They might have sweets, puppies, video games, anything

I think some of these points should be emphasised to our children, particularly point 3 – ‘Someone they know but who doesn’t have permission to talk to them’. It seems like April may have known the person who picked her up, so sometimes we need to warn our kids against people they think they know. My son said to me “but I could get in a car with so and so’s Dad?” and I had to say, “No, not unless I have told you already they are picking you up.”

At the end of the day, we don’t always know the parents of our kid’s friends particularly well, and in a child’s eyes it could be that someone who has been hanging around the school gates chatting and showing them cool stuff on their phone is no longer a ‘stranger’. As parents we need to drill into our kids that unless we have specifically made arrangements for them to be picked up by someone else, then EVERYONE is a stranger.

Stranger danger rules

This is what I’ve told my kids:
  • Never accept a present, toy or sweets from a stranger
  • Never accept a lift from a stranger
  • Never go anywhere with a stranger
  • Never go anywhere on your own without telling me or a teacher
  • Never go close to a car if someone is asking directions
  • Tell me, or a teacher, if someone has spoken to you who you didn’t know
  • Stay with your friends if you are out playing
  • Never play in dark places
  • If someone is following you, knock on a door or go into a shop for help
  • If you think you are in danger, run towards shops, pubs or places where there are lots of people


We had some great fun last night practicing our yells! How loud can you scream?
These are the golden rules for stranger danger. I would rather have my children yelling and running away from a new teaching assistant or one of my friends they don’t recognise than the alternative.

People your children know

It’s sad but true that children are more at risk from people they know than they are from complete strangers. 66% of paedophiles are known to their victims, compared to the 34% who are genuine strangers. So how do we protect children from people they already think they know? Here are some ideas:
  • Password? – Have a code word or password so anyone collecting your kids from school or a club must tell them the password before they get into the car.
  • Trust and tell – Encourage your child to talk about adults they know. If they seem uncomfortable in discussing someone in particular, or become distressed around them, then trust your own instincts and keep them away.
  • Setting boundaries – Talk to your children about what is and is not acceptable in terms of physical contact. Kissing relatives and friends may be OK, but is it OK to kiss a friends Mum or Dad? What about cuddles?
  • No secrets – Instil in your children that no grown up should ever ask them to keep a secret from you. It may start quite innocently (“here, have some pocket money, but don’t tell your Mum”) but that can evolve into keeping things like cuddles, kisses, inappropriate touching and worse a secret. Because the child has already built a circle of trust with the adult, they will feel more and more distanced from you and less able to open up. 

I’d love to hear how your children understand ‘stranger danger’ and what things you tell them. After all, we want our children to grow up confident and comfortable, but it is also our job to protect them.
Finally, let’s all hope they find April safe and well today and that she is reunited with her family as soon as possible. Keep your kids safe people.

Monday, 1 October 2012

5 things a freelance writer should not do

OK, so I’ve been in this game for almost 4 years now, and have learned a thing or two about the industry. I’ve found plenty of lists of things a freelance writer should do, but not so much advice on the things to avoid. Here is my own take on how to survive in the freelance writing world, whilst still retaining a modicum of sanity.

1.      Don’t take it personally

If you’re a new freelance writer or copywriter, chances are you’ll get knocked down more times than Chumbawumba. Take it with a pinch of salt when someone tells you that you’re not good enough, or when you have to write 50 bids just to get one fairly uninspiring job offer. Things will come right, and you’ll find your own niche eventually.

2.      Don’t lose self respect

If you’re serious about being a freelance writer, you need to have some respect for the skills that you have. When you see a job advert asking for 50 articles for $50, just say no. Don’t be drawn into proposals for articles that the client will pay ‘between £5 - £20 per topic, depending on the quality’, as they will invariably find a reason to pay you the bottom end of that scale. Agree a price and make sure they stick to it.

3.      Don’t lean on addictive substances

What’s your poison? Coffee? Cigarettes? Mines coke… the sort that comes in a 2l plastic bottle, not the class A substance. Take care of yourself and try to avoid getting hooked on anything as a habit. We writers spend long enough sitting on our backsides without pumping ourselves full of rubbish too.

4.      Don’t work for idiots

Easy enough to say when you have a full book anyway, but even if you’re struggling for work, don’t demean yourself by sticking with a client who makes your life hell. Demand a fair price for the work you put in, and if they are too inept to give you a decent project proposal that you can understand, demand that they pay you for your time rewriting or reviewing an incorrect piece.

5.      Don’t become a hermit

Pressing deadlines, money worries and a downward spiral of loss of self-esteem can all add up to freelance writers spending rather too much time at the computer and very little in the outside world. I’ve learnt the hard way that the best and most efficient work is done after a bit of fresh air, exercise and (dare I say it) human company.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

5 Good Reasons to Indulge in SEO article writing

Whether you have a website for your business, for advice or just for fun, getting it high on the search engine rankings for relevant keyword searches is critical if you want to attract new readers and customers. Writing SEO articles is one way in which you can boost your ranking exponentially in a relatively short space of time. Article writing that is high quality and which will be of value to both your human reader and the search engines will bump up your sites usefulness and credibility as well as where your site appears on the search results. However, good SEO articles have have even further reaching benefits than that.

1.      Brand recognition

Fresh, unique content for your site gives you the opportunity to attract fresh, new visitors to the site. Raising awareness of your products or skills will bring you a greater level of brand awareness in a much more valuable and cost effective way than advertising.

2.      Authority and reputation

By creating well written, useful content that your readers will value highly, you will be carving a niche of authority in your industry. After all, you are an expert at what you do, and by demonstrating this through clear, well thought out articles, you’ll be able to cement this in the minds of your customers, putting your business ahead of the competition.
As well as this, if your SEO articles are on the super side of usefulness, you can be sure some of your readers will link to and share your page socially, bringing you even more traffic and increasing your organic SEO with ease.

3.      Keywords

Many people think that article writing is all about packing in as many high profile keywords as they can into their 500 word allocation. In reality, if this spoils the flow of the text and damages the integrity of your article, you are only going to be damaging the reputation of your brand through this tactic. Since the Panda update, Google is far more interested in well written articles that people love to read than they are in keywords. Write your articles as you wish and, with any luck, the keywords will appear naturally within the text once or twice without being forced into place.

4.      Internal link building

When you are article writing, keep in mind the benefit of linking through to other places on your website. Even though these links are internal, they are still backlinks to your site for your chosen phrases or words, and will increase your websites overall standing as an authority site as a result.

5.      External link building

In addition to article writing for your own blog or website, you can submit your articles to online directories, of which you will find hundreds. Good article directories carry some serious SEO clout, so get a few well written articles onto these with a few well-placed backlinks to your own site, and enjoy the increase in traffic as a result.

If you are serious about building an online business, article writing needs to become a part of your day to day routine. You don’t need to write every day, but should aim to place new content on your site every 2 – 3 days or so. If you really don’t have the time or the skills to do this for yourself, there are plenty of good SEO article writing services out there who will be happy to take responsibility for your content. If you fancy having a go DIY, watch this space for my next handy guide on how to write articles for SEO. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Choosing a content writer for your project

So you need a writer?

If you haven’t got the skills, time or motivation to write your own content for your website, blog or other media, you might be thinking of turning to a professional content writer to produce some top quality content for your project. However, unless you already know someone that you trust, finding a good content writer can be a little like the needle in the haystack scenario.

Just a quick Google search will throw up hundreds, if not thousands, of results of companies, individuals and consultants claiming to have the edge when it comes to putting together top content. With a great deal of pressure on the UK economy and a growing number of people determined to work for themselves, many people have taken up content writing as a ‘hobby’, second income or even as their main business – but does this mean they are any good?

Unfortunately the short answer is ‘no’. Recent personal experience on a popular freelancing site has shown me that actually the majority of ‘writers’ are actually rather mediocre, or in some cases downright BAD. Your job as a business owner is to locate and extract those little gems of talent from the great pool of half-baked wordsmiths so you too can enjoy the benefits that a great content writer can bring to your project. Here are some top tips to get you started:

1.  Pay peanuts… get a hairy, banana eating content writer

Before you start anything, set your budget for the job. Consider how long it would take you to produce 500 or 1000 words of well researched, well thought out content, and how much this time is worth to you in terms of your own business. Set your budget fairly, as truly talented content writers will be experienced, educated and should be justly rewarded for their skills.

A brief web search will reveal the range of pricing structures in the world of content writing. Some agencies charge £50 or more for one short article, whereas others will offer a set of 10 for the same price. Think about hourly rate, and what you would want to be paid if you were doing this as a profession. Don’t be tempted by offers of articles for pennies, as many content companies will use spinning software or writers with a very poor level of English, and what you will be left with will be at best uninspiring and bland, or at worst completely incomprehensible drivel.

2. Use your networks

You use Facebook. You use LinkedIn. No doubt you have friends and associates who have websites of their own. Make the most of these valuable connections and find out how they produced the content for their sites and blogs. Nothing in the world of business is as powerful as the recommendations of a colleague or friend, and if they are willing to give you a name or a web address, you at least have some reassurance that the person is up to the job.

You’ll find the vast majority of truly talented content writers survive in the most part on personal recommendations alone, preferring to spend their time pouring their energy into projects for their clients rather than developing snazzy websites and captivating blogs of their own (that’s my excuse anyway!).

3. Get samples, ask for test pieces and remember – not all content writers are the same

On your journey to finding the perfect content writer for your needs, you will come to realise that not all writers are the same. Some are great at the punchy, sales copy that you need for your flyers and mailshots, whereas others write in a more conversational, friendly tone, which is perfect for blogs and newsletters. The content writer who is the perfect match for your project will depend very much on your own preferences and requirements.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a test piece to be written, rather than just basing your decision on their previously produced work. Give them a title and ask for 300 or 400 words on the subject, to give you an idea not only of their style and tone but also to give you an insight into their punctuality and organisational skills. And don’t forget to pay them for their time, even if, at the end of the process, they aren’t the one for you.