Writing

This one’s for Ray

If it weren’t for website copywriter Ray Litvak I might be out of business by now.

He phoned me

I first met Ray when he phoned me about a year-and-a-half ago and asked for some presentation training for a public speaking gig he was preparing. I’d been in business then for several years and, like so many other people, after all that time I was still barely keeping the lights on. I loved helping people to develop their public speaking skills but I was spending most – almost all – of my time and energy finding clients.

The grind was wearing

I’d done most of the usual things: networking, advertising, printing brochures, joining professional associations, developing and writing a website and blog, etc. but I was having difficulty justifying the time I was investing for the return it was bringing. And the grind of constant promotion was wearing me down. I wanted to help people with public speaking training, not search for them.

“Nobody knows you’re there”

As a website copywriter, Ray told me he was very impressed with my blogsite. In his words: “Google really likes you. You have a Ferrari blogsite but nobody knows you’re there because the site hasn’t been optimized for search engines. The content is great but the site is invisible.”

He worked on my site

He wanted to work on my site and I wanted to help him with his presentation skills and promote him as a website copywriter and search engine optimization (SEO) expert, so he went to work on my site last summer. Within a few weeks I received my first query and after that they began to arrive once or twice a week.

I’d tried to optimize

To put this in perspective, I’ve had a website for many years and up until Ray started working on it I think I’d had a total of about three inquiries, one of which turned into a paying client. It was literally costing me more to pay annual registration and hosting fees than I was making from my site. And I had tried, in my own amateurish way, to optimize my blog postings but it wasn’t helping.

Top five listings

So why the sudden change? Simple. Ray’s website copywriting skills took my ranking from somewhere deep in the bowels of Google to the top of Page One – usually to the top five listings for my key words. And the e-mails started arriving. And the phone started ringing. And the customers started engaging me.

Committed prospects

Ray was very specific about warning me that, as a website copywriter, he could drive traffic but once the call or e-mail arrived it would be up to me to close the sale. And I had no problem with that. Usually, by the time potential clients contacted me they were already committed prospects and all I had to do was assure them that I could deliver what I promised.

A new workshop

Because I’ve received so many inquiries from people who want public speaking training but can’t afford or cost justify one-on-one sessions, I’m developing a new half-day public speaking workshop. I already have contact information for more than 20 people who want this kind of training, so I’ve got a nucleus of interested people to start with.

Optimizing each page

I recently overhauled my blogsite because I could finally afford to do it and, as time allows, Ray and I are optimizing each page and blog post to increase my range of key words and my find-ability on Google and other search engines.

My business has a future

I’ve heard some of the horror stories about business people who invested in search engine optimization and were appalled with the results. I’ve had the exact opposite experience. My business now has a future because of my search engine rankings.

Long-term benefits

The other thing I hear about SEO is that it’s expensive. But if you hire a good online copywriter and you can justify the cost in any way, based on my experience, I’d say you will have an excellent chance of reaping significant long-term benefits.

Lots of books

For those who simply can’t justify the cost in any way, there are lots of books out there that will get you started and, if you’re diligent, you can reach the top of the search engines for your area of expertise. The downside is that it takes a ton of time and commitment. But if you can’t afford to hire a website copywriter who’s as skilled and honest as Ray, you’re probably better off relying on a book than a self-appointed expert who may take you half the distance.

Thanks, Ray

I didn’t mean to write this much. When I started I simply wanted to express my appreciation to someone that I respect a great deal and to say “Thanks, Ray” for what he’s doing for me and my business.

p.s. If you want to check out Ray’s services for yourself you can start with a visit to his website at www.writingwebwords.com.

Need a guest speaker?

If your group needs a skilled guest speaker or workshop leader, I’d like to help you. I provide a range of communications key note presentations and workshops. Please visit the presentations and workshops pages of this website and contact me to discuss how I can help you.

Need a presentation trainer?

Would you like help dealing with public speaking training and other communications issues?  I provide one-on-one presentation training and group public speaking training sessions that best provide tools to develop your public speaking skills. Contact me today. You’ll be glad you did!

About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and throughout Ontario, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. 

Careful what you say online

I recently read a blog post in which the blogger trashed a former employer, venting a personal perspective of the organization’s internal politics. I was surprised that someone would jeopardize himself that much for the sake of putting his opinions and resentment in print. Come to think about it, the comments weren’t in print; they were on the internet, which made them all the more risky. But people say things on the internet that they’d never say if they were public speaking or putting those words in print.

Words can haunt you

I’m always very careful of what I say on the internet because it can literally be circulated globally to millions of readers at the speed of light. I’ve only written – and sent – one e-mail in anger; it came back to haunt me. But that’s not the reason I refrain from making scurrilous comments about individuals – and especially about large corporations. It’s about a very small word that can have very big consequences. A little thing lawyers call “libel”. Public speakers and writers are constantly vigilant about protecting themselves from libel charges but the average person never thinks about it. And many think that when they’re online they’re anonymous and invincible.

Keep it safe

Sometimes I think I’m just being paranoid, but I stick to my policy of playing it safe. When I was a journalist I said whatever I could prove about whoever deserved it. And I didn’t worry about it because I didn’t have to. My employers had lawyers and they could fight it out if they wanted to.

Watch what you say

But if you’re just a blogger you probably can’t afford a lawyer, nor the time and energy a lawsuit can wrench out of you. It’s much easier and safer to watch what you say anywhere online. We tend to think that freedom of speech and the anonymity of the internet will protect us, no matter what we say. Not true. While it’s true that you can say what you like, it’s also true that people can protect themselves with lawsuits – even if what you’re saying is true. And as far as anonymity on the internet is concerned, it’s a myth. You can be tracked down very easily.

The issue is everywhere

When I started this post I intended to refer you to an item published last month in the Los Angeles Times to illustrate my point: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-blogger-suits-20100823,0,5604043.story. I thought it told the story well but I was concerned that people in the Toronto area, where I do most of my business, might think it was far away and somehow less relevant to them. But as I read my Toronto Globe and Mail last night I came across another article http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/sex-lies-and-videotape-shape-debate-on-online-defamation-law/article1712933 that brought the issue right home to Toronto.

Be very careful

The article makes the point that most people who have no experience with publishing are not aware of libel and defamation laws. But when writing is your job, you learn very quickly that people respond to what you say – and it isn’t always positive. And you learn to be very, very careful. If you’re new to publishing – and even a blog post that you think will only be viewed by friends and relatives – or even an Facebook comment – is publishing. Please be careful. What you say could cost you dearly.

Need a guest speaker?

If your group needs a skilled guest speaker or workshop leader, I’d like to help you. I provide a range of communications key note presentations and workshops. Please visit the presentations and workshops pages of this website and contact me to discuss how I can help you.

Need a presentation trainer?

Would you like help dealing with public speaking training and other communications issues? If so, please contact me to discuss my public speaking training programs. I provide one-on-one presentation training and group public speaking training sessions that provide tools to develop your public speaking skills. Contact me today!

About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.

Communicating with diverse cultures requires care

When I was writing copy for large public corporations I invested a lot of time and energy in making sure I what I was saying was understood; I invested just as much time and energy in making sure I avoided being misunderstood. It’s amazing what people can read into what you write or say that has no relation to your intent. It’s a challenge at the best of times. All we need to do is look at how easily life partners and families can misunderstand each other to see just how fragile simple communication can be.

We want to be understood

The challenge becomes larger when we’re dealing with people from other countries and cultures than our own. Something that’s okay in one culture can be an insult in another one. And in a culturally diverse region  such as Greater Toronto and many other areas as well, the potential for misunderstanding can be immense. So it’s important that when we speak and write to diverse cultures that we develop some understanding of their customs and be sensitive if we want to be understood clearly.

Some guidelines

I read an interesting tip sheet about this topic prepared by Randall Craig, who is president of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. Randall distributes his Make It Happen Tip Sheet weekly and I always take the time to read it because he often delivers a gem – and he does it in a very brief, succinct manner, ever mindful of busy people and overflowing e-mail boxes. I recommend him for thoughtful, useful insights. He makes some interesting points about communicating with diverse cultures in this week’s edition

Check them out

Check out his suggestions for improving cross-cultural understanding here: http://www.personalbalancesheet.com/news/archives/2010July20-Diverse-Points-Randall-Craig.html, then share your opinions in the Comments box below.

Need a guest speaker?

If your group needs a skilled guest speaker or workshop leader, I’d like to help you. I provide a range of communications key note presentations and workshops. Please visit the presentations and workshops pages of this website and contact me to discuss how I can help you.

Need a presentation trainer?

Would you like help dealing with public speaking training and other communications issues? If so, please contact me to discuss my public speaking training programs. I provide one-on-one presentation training and group public speaking training sessions that provide tools to develop your public speaking skills. Contact me today!

About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.

Do your media releases answer the editor’s Five W’s?

Most of us are familiar with The Five W’s: Who? What? Where? When? Why?  And those of us who prepare media releases try to answer these five questions in the first or second sentence.   But did you know that editors uses the Five W’s in a very different way to decide if your release is going to be published or spiked? Here’s how to use their thought processes to get better exposure for your releases:

What’s this all about?

The first thing an editor wants to know is why you prepared a media release.  Some companies send releases for no reason other than to hope against hope that they may get their names published.  The strategy can backfire when an editor deletes a legitimate release without a second glance because the sender has become a spammer.   You can stay off the spammer list by making sure you have something of value every time you contact an editor.

Who cares?

An editor must think like a reader and if you want to be successful, you have to think like an editor.  You need to know the publication’s demographic, what topics are of interest and the preferred writing style.  That information is readily available if you simply read a few copies of your target newspaper or magazine to make sure you have something of interest to its readers.  And if, in the end, your news story is only about how wonderful you are, you may want to find another topic that can stand the “Who cares?” test.

Where’s the hook?

Readers need to be hooked to stay with an article.  And that hook must be strong enough to compete with stories in other publications, on radio, TV, the internet and more.  There’s a lot of competition for a reader’s attention, so the sooner your hook appears, the more easily the reader – and the editor – will grab it.  And if there is no hook?  Well, you may have to take another look to make sure you really have a story.

When will you get to the point?

One of the most irritating editorial tasks is reading an item that seems to be structurally sound but meanders all over the place before it delivers its central point. Editors are an impatient lot because they know they have about three seconds to grab the reader’s attention before that person flips to another page or closes the publication.  And that means the main point must be close to the top of the item.  A lot of writers struggle with this because they’re familiar with short story or essay-style writing, where the main point is often saved for the ending.  Commercial publications can’t afford that luxury.  If your main point isn’t in the first or second paragraph, chances are you’ll lose the reader and your place in the publication.

Why should I run this?

As the merits of hundreds or even thousands of media releases that may be eligible for publication are evaluated, there may be a host of reasons for selecting one story over another.  It may simply be that one release is so powerful that it must be used.  But there can be several other factors as well.  It may be as simple as the length of the piece or that the subject matter is particularly timely.  Or perhaps it fits a current theme better than a competitor.  To give your item an edge, read your target publications and do a little research to find out what particular themes may be coming up in future editions that suit your subject matter.
Editing a publication is an enormous task that’s as much art as science.  Editors want strong, topical articles that catch and hold readers.  And, like anyone else, they’ll put out the welcome mat to anyone who can meet their needs and make their lives and jobs a little easier.

Need a guest speaker?

If your group needs a skilled guest speaker or workshop leader, I’d like to help you. I provide a range of communications key note presentations and workshops. Please visit the presentations and workshops pages of this website and contact me to discuss how I can help you.

Need a presentation trainer?

Would you like help dealing with public speaking training and other communications issues? If so, please contact me to discuss my public speaking training programs. I provide one-on-one presentation training and group public speaking training sessions that provide tools to develop your public speaking skills. Contact me today!

About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.

Sub-heads are essential

This posting is a reply to a Linked In discussion that applies to all bloggers and anyone who writes.  The short message is simply this:  Use sub-heads.

“I’m not reading all that!”

Let me explain: I read a posting on Linked In asking why people don’t respond to blog postings.  The post was well written and made some interesting points about readers’ reluctance to leave comments on blog postings.  I was interested in the topic but,   like many other attention-deficit internet browsers, I cast one eye over the copy and said, “Augh!! I’m not reading all that!”  And I didn’t – at first.  Instead, I browsed a few of the comments and realized that I could make my response into a blog post that would benefit a number of people.

I couldn’t face it

When it came time to actually read the main posting, I read a few lines then scooped it up, dropped it into Word, where I could enlarge the type and did a leisurely read.  I simply couldn’t face reading 750 words of relatively small type in block paragraphs without a break.

Browsers are lazy

Internet browsers are lazy readers.  They don’t want to wade through blocks of 10 point type to find out what you have to say.  They want their information in short bursts that allow them to skim.  And if they’re committed enough to read every word they may be committed enough to leave a comment.  But if the physical appearance of the copy turns them off, you lose them before you have time to interest them.

Break up that copy

The solution?  Sub-heads.  Bless those sweet little sub-heads that make copy more interesting by breaking up that wall of copy, increasing curiousity and urging reader to stay with you just a little longer until . . . voila! . . . they can’t believe they’ve read the whole thing!!

Make it easy

I’ve been using sub-heads forever, first as a reporter and later as a corporate editor.  I knew my readers – particularly in the  unionized corporate environment I served – were marginally interested in what I had to say in the first place and if I didn’t make really easy for them I wouldn’t reach anyone.  Sub-heads became second nature.

Pick short phrases

And by the way, there’s no need to drive yourself crazy trying to come up with something brilliant to head every paragraph or two.  Simply read what you’ve written and pick a short phrase that lead the reader forward.

Another suggestion

Oh, one more thing.  Keep your paragraphs and your sentences relatively short.  Most of the sentences in this post, for example,  are 30 words or less (although one rambles on for 50 words).

No guarantees, but . . .

I can’t guarantee that sub-heads, short sentences and paragraphs will increase the comments left on your blog but I can assure you that they will make your postings a lot easier to read.

Need a guest speaker?

If your group needs a skilled guest speaker or workshop leader, I’d like to help you. I provide a range of communications key note presentations and workshops. Please visit the presentations and workshops pages of this website and contact me to discuss how I can help you.

Need a presentation trainer?

Would you like help dealing with public speaking training and other communications issues? If so, please contact me to discuss my public speaking training programs. I provide one-on-one presentation training and group public speaking training sessions that provide tools to develop your public speaking skills. Contact me today!

About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.