Copying Jane Austen – how other writers help you find your brand voice

Copy of Pride and Prejudice with the opening lines copied into a notebook

Trying to sound like Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, when thinking and writing about novelist Jane Austen, this writer will inevitably adopt aspects of her tone of voice and writing style. What may not be quite so well known is that copying another writer’s words is an excellent way of adopting their tone of voice, that may, in turn, assist you in finding your own voice for your business brand.

In copying those famous opening words from Pride and Prejudice, I was actually demonstrating a top tip that has helped me and other copywriters adopt a new tone of voice for different business clients.

Find a piece of writing that’s a good example of the brand voice you want to adopt.

Copy it out word for word.

It will help you to write in a similar style.

It sounds rather simple doesn’t it? But honestly, it works. And it’s not just me that thinks so. I’ve seen this tip crop up in a number of copywriting resources, most recently in this podcast of 50 copywriting tips from Radix communications.

Why does it work?

I’d love someone to do some proper scientific research on this, but I like to imagine my brain firing off signals as I write. As I  copy a different style, it fires off those neurons in different patterns or intensities and in different directions, helping me to make new connections and discover ‘oh, I do it like this.’

As children we learn to talk through mimicry. Imitating the sounds we hear, we eventually learn to speak. So, it makes sense (to me anyway) that we can and do learn to write in a similar way. We start out copying letters, then words and sentences, and eventually develop the skills to make them say what we want them to.

Copying the words of another writer mimics how we first learned to write and understand language, through imitation. I like to think that it puts my brain into ‘learning’ mode.

How this helps you find a brand voice for a business

If you’re looking to express who you are and what you do in a new and distinctive way, then finding a style of writing that you think sounds right for you and copying it is a good place to start. It could be the style of a publication that you admire, a book, an advert, a letter from another company – but I encourage you to search out things you like to help you get started.

There is a leap from copying and imitating to making a voice your own. It involves more in-depth analysis of what the writing does, how it does it and why. But once you’ve found it, you should be able to work out the rules. If you’ve got the right voice, they’ll feel natural.

It’s also important to test your new style. Do your customers like it? Does it do what it needs to communicate what your business does?  Does it truly reflect your values and ethos? Are you confident you can apply it to all aspects of your verbal brand, from website to tweets, corporate report to customer email?

Why I’m thinking of Jane Austen

Rebecca Vaughan stars as 13 heroines from Jane Austen’s novels.

Rebecca Vaughan stars as 13 heroines from Jane Austen’s novels.

Jane Austen wrote mainly novels and letters, but with her precise turn of phrase, I like to think she’d have been a natural on Twitter.

She’s on my mind at the moment as this month marks 200 years since she died. To have created characters that are so familiar and stories that are still read, enjoyed and endlessly adapted so long after you have gone is a wonderful legacy for a writer.

On Sunday evening, I’m looking forward to seeing some of Jane Austen’s characters brought to life on stage at The Customs House as part of the Write Festival 2017 in South Tyneside.  The critically-acclaimed Austen’s Women sees writer and performer Rebecca Vaughan become Emma Woodhouse, Mrs Norris, Miss Bates and other characters from Austen’s novels.

I shall no doubt smile as I recognise their words, and if, on Monday morning, I’m sounding a bit Lizzie Bennet, I do hope that you’ll forgive me.

For fun, try this quiz:
Which Jane Austen heroine are you?

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Exercise your writing muscle – train to be a better writer

Use your writing muscle - writer wearing a hoodie, holding pen and note-book

Like physical training, your writing can benefit from exercise. Just like challenging your body, heart and lungs to take on new challenges, you can improve your writing by focusing on your writing practice and trying new things. Here’s how I exercise my writing muscle and keep myself in top writing shape.

Make time for writing

I swim, cycle and run so that I can take part in triathlons. I do weight training to keep me strong and in good shape for my sport too. Yes, it is sometimes hard to fit in physical training. But I know that if I don’t put the effort into consistent training, I’m unlikely to reach my potential, and I risk injury. Training challenges me, and I enjoy it. So I make time for it.

I make time for writing too. Not just as part of my daily routine, which involves creating content for my writing clients. I make time to explore writing outside of my work commitments too.

Time to try new writing challenges. Time to write with no expectations or judgement. Time to play around and enjoy it.

Time for writing can be a regular 20 minutes free-writing to warm up my writing muscles for the day. Or, it can be more intense and concentrated, in the form of a workshop or writing retreat with Dark Angels, or a training event from 26 Characters.

Become a better writer by reading

Most writers start out mimicking their heroes. I did. Somewhere in a box in the attic, there’s an exercise book filled with a story about a girl who runs off on horseback in the dead of night, in the style of C.S Lewis. Reading was how I first learnt the elements of stories, about heroes and conflicts, about character, place and action.

It may seem like a long path to go from writing fantasy tales to writing marketing materials for businesses. But business writing has its heroes with their obstacles to overcome too. It’s just a matter of seeking them out. Call that my daily quest.

Writing stories of my own taught me about structure – about the importance of beginnings, middles and endings. These are important elements in business writing too.

You need a strong headline to catch attention. You need to draw people in, take them on a journey. And then at the end, you need to persuade them to take action.

Become a better writer by analysing technique

While studying English Literature and Language at Leeds University, one of my tutors used to set us the task of writing essays in the style of the writers we were studying – Philip Sidney, John Milton, Alexander Pope.

This was very different from modern writing, but in mimicking the rhetoric, structure, and language of different writers, I learned to appreciate the craft of their writing even more. That meant I could write about it from a position of understanding.

Using metaphor, drawing on all the senses, writing from another person’s point of view, choosing a potent word – these are all techniques I have learned through studying language and literature. And they serve me well as a writer for business today.

Become a better writer by finding your voice

As a writer, the ability to adapt my writing to different styles is a very useful skill. It helps me sound like the brand or company I’m writing for. And I can still do a decent impression of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, should you need that kind of thing.

But to be authentic, it’s not enough to mimic someone else’s style.  You have to develop your own.

While a brand and business may borrow and adopt words and language from its own industry and environment, as a tone of voice consultant, I advise them to look for the things that make them different.

Just as in speaking, we all have our own individual, distinct and recognisable voices, it’s important to find your own voice when you write – whether that’s writing for business or writing for yourself. It’s what makes you different, unique and memorable.

To exercise your writing muscle and improve your writing

  1. Make time for writing

  2. Make time for reading

  3. Try on different voices and see what fits

  4. Use what you’ve learned and make it your own

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How to write a blog post in one hour

Blog faster- how to write a blog post in an hour

I often hear people running their own businesses say that they’d like to write more blog posts, but they just don’t have the time. I don’t think it has to be that way. So I’ve set myself a challenge. Can I write this blog post in one hour and show you how to do it too?

The clock is ticking. Or rather, the timer on my phone is counting down, so let’s go.

Where to start? With a store of ideas

Where do ideas for blog posts come from? I read, listen and watch the news. I browse the web, read articles and blog posts. When I find something interesting I stick it into a swipe file or a notebook.

Stick your ideas into an online pot, like Evernote or OneNote  and they’re accessible any time anywhere. Or keep a notebook and jot them down at the back. Just make sure you always have it with you.

Ask your friends, family and community what they want to hear about. Even if you only have a small number of followers or subscribers to your mailing list or blog, a few ideas from them are better than none at all.

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. You may find you’re waiting a long time. The more you go looking for it, the more you’ll find.

10 mins gone and I’m well into creating content from one of my stored ideas.

What does a blog post need?

  • Title
  • Image
  • Lead para
  • Practical hints and tips
  • Question/conclusion/where to go for more

Applying a structure can help you focus on what you need to get the job done and stop you getting side tracked.

So what do I have?

  • Title  – well that’s the challenge of this blog and something I swiped from my ideas store
  • Image – I can go to my file of images on my laptop and use something like a picture of my desk. Or I can spend 5 mins looking for rights-free images on a site like pixabay or pexels.com. I’ll do that in a few minutes.
  • Content – well that’s what I’m doing now. Typing directly into WordPress, or a simple text editor such as One Note or Evernote.

I usually type in Word, but I don’t want to be distracted by too many formatting options and I know that when I copy and paste into WordPress, it does some wonky formatting that I’ll have to reset. So keep it simple and avoid having to spend time re-formatting.

Use a template or formula

You may think that writing posts to a formula or template will get dull and boring. But most well written stories on the web, including news stories, are written to some kind of template and chances are you’ve never really noticed.

A template, such as headline, lead paragraph, content, conclusion gives your writing a structure and direction. That keeps you focused as you’re writing it and helps make it easy for your audience to read too.

Applying a formula is one way to help you write blog posts quickly and consistently. Once you’re up and running, and have built your confidence, then by all means play around a play around a little and try a new one.

If something works well for a post – then repeat it.

30 minutes left

I’m not working through my list in the same order that I’ve written it. The first thing I’m working on is the content, what I’m writing or typing right now.

I’m not particularly crafting each line as I go, just getting my thoughts down in some kind of order. When I have my first draft complete, I’ll go back and tidy up any spacing, capitalisation, spelling and grammar problems.

And I’ll  start formatting headers and sub headers in WordPress too, to make this easy to read.

Next up I’ll go and hunt out that image and place it in the post with a description and alt tag (because that’s good for SEO).

How to write a blog post quickly and consistently

We’re all busy. We all have lots of things to do. But the truth is that we all have the same number of hours in a day and days in a week. It’s what we choose to do with them that differs.

If writing a regular blog post for your business is important to you, then make time for it. Schedule time with yourself, just like you would for a meeting or a call with a customer.

Make an appointment

Commit to writing a blog post in a regular time slot and see how productive you can be. That means no phone calls, no sneaky peeks at social media, no email checking. Just focus on your appointment to get that blog post written.

Once you get in the flow, you may find that you can get more done more quickly. And get smart. If you do find you have a chunk of time, and you’re in the flow, why stop at one? Write two or three and get them scheduled ready to post.

If you don’t have a block of time all in one go, then break it up into chunks and do a bit at a time. Say you have ten minutes on Monday – use that to fill your inspiration file. Another ten minutes on Tuesday? Start sketching out the content for your blog post, do some more research or look for images you can use.

Okay. Content’s written. I’ve got an image. How am I doing for time?

10 minutes left

Time to review and check and see what this post looks like. I spotted a few errors and tidied up some bullet points and formatting.

I’ve also time to do a quick review of SEO, looking at keywords. I use the Yoast plugin to help me.

My one hour blog post plan

  • Pick an idea from my swipe file
  • Commit to a time to write and create the post
  • Draft rough copy in OneNote
  • Copy into WordPress (second draft) and write in complete sentences
  • Create a title
  • Insert an image – choose from my own library or search online
  • Format the post with headings, bullet points etc
  • Preview and amend
  • Check SEO
  • Publish or schedule

Okay, just a few minutes left now. Time to preview and check again and to write a quick line to introduce this on my social sharing platforms.

Now, time for the truth. Was this helpful to you? Did you find it useful? Let me know in the comments below.

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11

The network power of Forward Ladies

One of the best things about starting my own writing and training business has been building my network. It was always part of my plan to work with new and different clients, but I didn’t anticipate how quickly I would be welcomed as part of the small business network in the North East.

I’ve joined a couple of online networking groups, and attended a couple of face to face get togethers (for details see my blog post about networking as an introvert). And I’ve been impressed by the level of support and encouragement I’ve received from fellow business owners.

So, when three amazing business women in my new network mentioned Forward Ladies, the UK’s largest business support network for women in business, I took it as a sign that I should go and see what it was all about.

A new business network

Griselda Togobo and Antonia Brindle of Forward Ladies network

Griselda Togobo, Antonia Brindle, Forward Ladies network

I attended my first Newcastle Forward Ladies Power Breakfast last week. Sarah Gray of Grays Powers of Attorney even gave me a lift – how easy could it be!

My timing couldn’t have been better, as the guest speaker was the impressive owner, Griselda Togobo. She told us how she’s inspired to be in business every day by her mum, who grew up in Ghana, and didn’t go to school, but ignored all the people who told her she couldn’t, and set up her own construction business.

Griselda spoke passionately about not letting anything get in the way of being a woman in business. Making our own decisions, being the ones signing the cheques, Griselda maintains that there’s never been a better time to be a woman in business.

Amazing support

As it was my first event, I was given the opportunity to introduce myself and my writing and training business, Wordstruck. But more importantly, two of my new network friends, Jo Darby of Voice in the Room and Clare Talbot Jones of Talbot Jones Risk Solutions spoke unprompted, about how I’d helped them. I’ve only met these amazing women recently and have been inspired by their personal and professional approach, so their words really meant a lot to me.

That demonstrated better than anything the values of  Forward Ladies. It’s not a network that’s about selling, but one that focuses on supporting each other and helping businesses grow together. That’s a value that I feel is very important to me and the way I choose to do business.

New connections and opportunities

There’s often much said and written about the loneliness and isolation of running a small business or being a sole trader. But my experience so far has been quite the opposite. I’m delighted to have found amazing encouragement and positivity from my new network of independent business people.

I am excited to be part of another powerful and enthusiastic network in Forward Ladies. And I’m forward to learning from other businesses and using my skills and experience to help them too.

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Free writing – how to start writing anything

Just write.

It’s one piece of advice I always offer about writing of any kind. If the blank page fills you with fear, find a way to defeat it.

Free writing

person writing with a pen in a notebookJust write. Take your pen or pencil and move it on the paper. Write as quickly as you can, without thinking too much about what you want to write.

Don’t worry if it’s a scribbly mess. Pay no attention to grammar or spelling or any of the usual things that demand your attention when writing. Just take your mind for a walk and let the words follow as you write.

This is free writing and it’s a great technique to help you get over the hurdle of starting to write anything.

Writing as part of a creative routine

For creative writers, it’s a technique popularised by Julia Cameron in her book The Artists’ Way. She calls this practice ‘Morning Pages’ and encourages writers to start each day with 3 sides of long hand writing.

Much of what you write may be nonsense, or fairly dull practical stuff about what you need to do that day, but given time and focus, other elements start to appear if you can just let go and write.

I don’t stick strictly to the ‘Morning Pages’ routine, but do use variations of free writing in my own writing practice, whether I’m writing for business or just for my own amusement. I always start with something handwritten as I find thoughts flow more readily from brain to pen than they do from brain to keyboard.

Finding creative gifts

Use free writing to spark creative ideasFree writing is useful for any kind of writing, not just for self discovery. It gets you started and gives a structure.

I recommend setting a timer and writing for between 10 to 20 minutes. And importantly, doing nothing else in the meantime. Just focusing on writing, but trying not to think too much about what you’re writing.

Writing in this way allows you to tap into your subconscious, which is a great source of creative ideas. Once you get your conscious mind out of the way, you may find that your subconscious throws in something completely unexpected. That’s an absolute gift for generating original and creative ideas.

I remember using free writing to start a piece of fantasy writing about a monster. After a while, letting my thoughts flow, out of nowhere came an image of a reality TV show contestant singing into a microphone. The clash of the two images gave my creative piece an unexpected twist and the final story was shortlisted for a writing award.

Free writing for business

Girl breathing Free writing also helps me reflect. I turn off the screen, eliminate any distractions and just spend time with my pen and notebook. My handwriting becomes very untidy and often I don’t write in full sentences. But as I do it, I can feel a sense of calm, like I’m taking deeper breaths, or spending some time meditating.

For business focused writing I adapt the exercise by giving myself a starting point or a topic at the top of the page. For example, this blog post began as a free writing exercise around the theme of writing workshops.

Discover your writing inspiration

I’m putting together materials and exercises for a creative writing workshop next month and free writing is very likely to be one of the exercises I will use. I may start people off with a sentence or a phrase that they continue such as: “I’d write more if…”

If you’re interested in starting to write and developing your writing creatively for business, blogging or just for your own enjoyment, check out details of my Get Writing, Keep Writing workshop.

For more business writing tips, sign up to my mailing list.

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The benefits of collaboration for your business

“Working for yourself can feel a bit lonely at times” – that’s something I hear from lots of sole traders, entrepreneurs and self employed business owners. Writing is often perceived as an individual activity, but in writing for business, I’ve found that’s far from the truth. I often work in collaboration with other businesses and benefit from people who offer a range of different skills and experience.

So what benefits does collaboration offer to your business? And where do you find the people to work with?

Collaborate for creative inspiration

I’ve been privileged to work with some amazing designers, animators, photographers and filmmakers throughout my career. Drawing inspiration from people with different backgrounds and experiences really helps spark new and original ideas.

Glass jar etched with the words 'Creative juices'As part of an agency, I got used to working with a tight-knit team creating concepts and visions for creative campaigns. We quickly moved from ‘That’s my idea, that’s your idea…’ to ‘That’s a great idea – how do we build on that?’ We trusted each other to work towards a shared goal of creating something that was bigger and better than the sum of our individual inputs.

Although I may not sit next to a creative team every day, I still find opportunities for creative collaboration. For example, I first worked with Ashleigh when I asked her to come up with a visual brand for Wordstruck I’d seen her work on twitter and really admired her style.

What you don’t see now are all the other ideas we discussed and debated, all the roads we didn’t go down. Ashleigh shared ideas and we discussed, developed and refined them to get to the finished versions. I learned a lot from being on the client side of the relationship and absolutely love my visual brand.

It felt like a very creative and supportive relationship, so now that Ashleigh is set to launch stop. an exciting new brand agency, I was delighted that she asked me to work with her on copy to launch and promote it. I can’t wait to show you the results of that collaboration.

Collaborate to benefit from expert help

I have been making my living from writing in one form or another for more than 20 years, so I am confident that I can deliver a great service as a writer for businesses. But I don’t have so much experience of running my own business, and I know that’s something that I have to continue to learn and work on.

people rafting on a riverI’ve benefited from lots of great free advice. But I’m a firm believer that it’s worth while paying an expert to help in areas where I lack the skills, knowledge  or time to do something properly.

That’s why, I’ll be working with an accountant to help me manage my first self-assessment return. With several different sources of income since last April, I appreciate the reassurance of getting it done correctly and know that it will take them a lot less time than it will take me.

I also greatly appreciate the help and advice I’ve received about risk and insurance from Talbot Jones Risk Solutions. Talking to Richard and Clare about my business absolutely put my mind at rest about possible risks and filled me in on much that I didn’t know. At no time did I feel under any obligation to put business their way, but I was pleased to be able to do so.

And that’s where they really excelled, by providing the kind of personal patience and service that I think you only really get from independent businesses. I got a real sense that they were as invested in my business success as I am and really did their utmost to find me the right product at the right price.

Collaborate to develop skills

I love working with my writing clients, finding out about their business, discovering what makes them tick and how I can help them tell their story.

street performers doing each others make upHowever well I prepare for a meeting or a call with a potential new client, there’s always the element of the unexpected.

I have to admit that I was a bit cautious about working with one of my clients at first, as I didn’t know much about them and it took some time to understand what they were looking for.

When I mentioned I was going off to do some voiceover work that afternoon, our conversation took a different turn, and I’m now using my journalism skills to help them develop original content for a brand new website launching soon.

Finding new people to work with is helping me develop greater confidence in talking about my business and listening for the opportunities to help others.

Collaborate to amplify your voice and support each other

In today’s world of social media, it can sometimes feel like you’re a lone voice shouting into the void, and that no-one out there is listening. My answer to that is to find your tribe – people who do similar things and understand what you’re taking on.

hawaiian hula dancersI found a great tribe of slightly mad people to support my running and triathlon adventures in the online community of Fetch Everyone. My writing tribe are members of 26 Characters and graduates of the Dark Angels courses.

In business, I have found support from other local entrepreneurs through online social networks including Do Digital, the Inspire Network and North East Bloggers and PRs.

Everyone on these forums is running their own business. We support each other by sharing recommendations for services and advice. We read and comment on each others blog posts, share and celebrate each others success and hang out in a space where it’s okay to ask questions.

Do you collaborate with other businesses? What are your challenges and successes? I’d love to hear about them.

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Dove Cottage – creative writing inspired by place and objects

Did you know that writer William Wordsworth born on this day in 1770? It’s a date that’s lodged in my mind as it links to a creative project that I was part of, linked to the poet and his Lake District home of Dove Cottage.

I was one of 26 writers who took part in in a creative writing project inspired by postcodes. The letter and number combinations identified a place that we used as inspiration to write a piece of 62 words exactly – a form known as a sestude.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Dove cottage

My postcode was for Dove Cottage in Grasmere – home to the famous poet William Wordsworth and his family from 1799 to 1808.

I immediately felt lucky to have such a place rich in writing history from which to draw inspiration, but also a little daunted. Although I knew of Wordworth’s work, and had studied some of his poetry, he wasn’t one of my favourites. I dismissed him as a bit safe and chocolate boxy.

But I was very wrong, as I learned when I visited the house and the exhibition space that now sits alongside it. Wordsworth was a great walker and adventurer. He visited France during the Revolution and had a relationship and a daughter there. His poetry reflects changing social and political landscapes, and together with his sister Dorothy and his family, they were a real part of the small community they lived in.

Taking inspiration from objects

I visited Dove Cottage on a bright, sunny day, perfect for the tourists that now flock there. In the museum and the house, I was fascinated by the objects that would have been familiar to Wordsworth and his family.

The page of Dorothy’s diary, open at the day they saw the daffodils, that inspired his most often quoted poem, shows how important her records are in shaping Wordsworth’s work.

Pens, a writing desk, a small suitcase – these told the story of a man who once travelled, but came to settle and write in this place.

And, displayed in a glass case, was the rich velvet coat he wore when he was presented to Queen Victoria as poet laureate. In all likelihood, the most expensive piece of clothing he ever wore. I imagined him feeling rather uncomfortable in it, being more at home in the tough boots that carried him miles in walks over the hills.

From scribbled words to published piece

I drank in so much information among the exhibits, and then went and sat, in the garden behind the house and wrote a  few words in my notebook.

Notebook and 26 Postcodes pamphletAfter many further scribblings and through many more pages of words,  I eventually condensed my thoughts down to the 62 that make up my sestude. It was  was published online and in a beautiful little pamplet along with other pieces that reflect places as diverse as Seamus Heaney’s football club to the Heinz factory.

Looking back, I can trace every thought and idea in those 62 words to my time at Dove Cottage.

“To introduce Wordsworth into one’s library is like letting a bear into a tulip garden,” said Thomas de Quincey. The quote illustrated on one of the displays made me smile, and painted a picture of a robust, and vigorous man, with a passion for books. It also gave me that key word ‘library’ – a good one to use in relation to a writer.

The coat appears, as does Dorothy’s diary, and the garden path that I took at the back of the house. And seeing the house in its context, I wanted to reflect a sense of the landscape that inspired the writer and me, with its distinctive fells and lakes. That gave me a structure for my poem.

I still have the notebook. The first words I wrote were: hill, lake, hearth, home. They remain in my finished sestude, as a tribute to the power of place to inspire. Here it is:

Your library, these rising hills

Your reflections, these sun-dappled lakes

Your muse, these dancing golden flowers

Your wistful words, whispers of valley voices

Your fine court coat, the mossy earth

Your eyes and ears, a sister’s diary

Your heart, the swaying sycamore green

Your wanderings stilled by slate paths

Your poetry etched by nature.

 

Hill, lake, earth, stone

Pen, ink, hearth, home.

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How to find your business blogging confidence

There’s been a lot of chat about business blogging in my online networks this week, with several people expressing a lack of confidence about doing it.

I’m a writer. I blog and I have done for years. I’m not saying I always do it as well or as consistently as I could do, but I’m not afraid of writing blog posts for my own and other businesses. By addressing some of your worries and sharing what works for me, I’d like to help give you more confidence to blog for your business.

Why blog for your business?

There’s lots of advice about this, so I’ll give you the short version. Blogging is a relatively easy way to generate new content for your website. Search engines like new content, so your site appears higher in their rankings than static sites, and more customers find you.

Blogging is also a great way to establish your knowledge and expertise, to give your customers a chance to get to know more about you and your business and to build up a relationship with them.

I don’t like writing and I’m no good at it

photographerWho says you have to write a blog? Why not use video or photographs?

You don’t need fancy equipment and editing software for video or vlogs – a smartphone or the video mode on a digital camera will do. Film them selfie style, or fix your camera onto something. I’ve balanced mine on a pile of books before now.

Pictures also make great blog posts. A series of photos of an event, product or experience are an excellent way to show what your business does. You can add captions or let them tell their own story.

I am not great at using pictures in my blogs. I prefer to use my own to avoid rights issues. But I have found pixabay and Unsplash useful for sourcing rights free images and have created some of my own using Adobe Spark and Canva.

Or, best of all, hire a professional photographer to get some great pictures of you and your business that you can use time and time again. That’s on my to-do list in the next six months.

As for being confident or ‘good’ at writing blogs, all I can say is that if you don’t try, it won’t get any easier. Let your audience or customers decide how good you are. And if you need some help, then ask your friendly local writer for help with subjects, structure or writing style.

I don’t have any ideas for blog posts

This is quite difficult for me to understand, because I have ideas all the time. I watch the news, sign up for alerts to subjects I’m interested in, go for a walk, talk to people, look through photos on my phone. I read, I dream, I cook, I run – I mash things up from one area of my life and another. I have more ideas than I will ever get to write about.

Working in creative industries means I’ve always had to think of ideas. As a BBC Radio journalist I had to source at least two news stories a day, which meant generating a lot more than two ideas and working on them until I ‘found’ a story.

Wordstruck notebooksAs a creative copywriter, I had to generate lots of ideas for marketing campaigns. Here, working with other creative people really helped me to bounce ideas around, and spark new ones from others’ input. The trick was not to dismiss any idea straight away, to keep on generating them and only then start to apply filters about what would work well.

I take the same approach to blogging now. If I’m asked to write about a particular theme or subject, I’ll do a bit of research and then jot down as many ideas as I can.  I’ll leave them for a while before coming back to them to decide which ones to present to a client.

I write ideas down in OneNote, and in my notebooks. Nowadays, I normally have a phone or notebook with me, but I have scribbled things on the back of bus tickets in my time. Most of my ideas are a sentence, phrase or question that acts as a prompt, but sometimes they can be a quote or an observation.

I don’t think my ideas are any good

If you want to be strategic and smart about blogging for your business, then think about your audience or your customers and what they would be interested in. Here are a few themes to get you started:

  • What advice can you pass on?
  • Share  your view of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ – what goes into your product or service?
  • Review an activity, event, place, product or service
  • What do you wish you’d known when you started in business?
  • Think about questions that your customers always ask you – can you answer some of these in a blog post?
  • How can you help your customers do business with you or a closely related business? For example this guest post for Whiteacres Design offers great tips for choosing a commercial photographer

If those aren’t enough then here are 50 ideas for your business blog.

And if you’re still struggling, then drop me a note in the comments below or contact me through the Wordstruck facebook page.

I don’t have time to blog

As a business writer, one of the services I offer is to write blogs for your business. So, it may seem a bit odd that I’m writing this blog post, as I could be doing myself out of business. But I recognise that not everyone has the budget or inclination to hire a writer. And I love writing so much that I want to share that with you.

Here are some of the things that helped me:

Set a time and place for blogging

Wordstruck writing deskMy brilliant writing mentor John Simmons has written a weekly blog post for years. He sets aside a specific day and time to write.

I wrote a weekly blog on a writing theme for over a year, following the same discipline and setting aside an hour a week to do it.

I didn’t always complete my blog post in that hour, but I made a start. Sometimes I could extend that time, sometimes I had to find it somewhere else. But I made it a goal to get it written and published.

Make yourself accountable

I set myself a weekly blogging goal because I wanted to generate content, and because I wanted to test my ability to come up with new ideas on a consistent basis. This was actually the start of convincing myself that I had the right attitude to set up in business for myself.

If it helps, tell someone what your business blogging goal is, or at least write it down e.g. I will post a blog about my business once a week for 6 weeks. I announced mine on my twitter profile.

Take on a bet, or promise yourself a reward for sticking to your blogging goals. Buddy up with your social or business network and challenge and support each other.

Just do it

Blogging is a great way to develop your confidence in writing and talking about your business. Remember, you’re in charge of what you publish and when. And, you can go back and edit things (even delete them) if you want to.

So, try not to get too hung up on writing the perfect blog post . Just write it and publish it. After you’ve taken a deep breath and calmed down, go back and look at the responses, comments, views and analytics and use them to help you decide what to post next.

Special business blogging offer

Writing this blog post has made me realise there’s a lot more I could say about business blogging. So I’d like to hear from you. What challenges and concerns do you have about blogging for your business? What more would you like to know?

Please add your comments below or get in touch with me via the Wordstruck facebook page. I promise to respond to every comment.

4

Networking as an introvert

As part of developing my writing and training business with Wordstruck, I’ve been networking. But here’s the thing. I’m an introvert. I’ve done umpteen of those personality tests during my time working in corporate environments, and I’m always firmly in the introvert camp. And networking doesn’t come easy to an introvert.

It sometimes surprises people that I’m an introvert. As a journalist, I presented news stories live on radio and television. I’ve fronted pitches for creative campaigns. And, as my friends know, I’m not averse to a bit of showing off.

picture of a crowd at a gigBut being an introvert doesn’t mean disliking people and wanting to retreat from the world completely. It just means that situations like crowds, with lots of people, noise and other distractions really drain my energy.

Basically, I love a great gig, but going onto the after show party might be a step too far. I’d rather find a quiet corner to write down how amazing it was, or tell you all about it one to one.

Networking can be a scary prospect for introverts. The thought of a room full of extroverts who are loud, full of energy and sell, sell, sell. Why would you want to be part of that?

But this blog post by Denise of Digital Life Unlimited is a useful reminder of why it’s important to get out there and network person to person face to face. So, I thought I’d share how I’ve approached networking as an introvert.

Pick your event

I’ve been to two network breakfasts run by the Mussel Club at Motel One in Newcastle. These are great events for me, because they’re early (when I’m feeling my sharpest) and they’re specifically designed for businesses who want to network.

I was a bit daunted by going along to my first one, but I zipped up my courage, broke out my best smile on and trotted off with a pile of business cards.

Get there early

I hate being late for things anyway. But being early is a good tactic for introverts because it means the networking event isn’t noisy and crowded from the start. If the thought of ploughing into a room full of people all engaged in a conversation gives you the heebie-jeebies, plan to arrive a few minutes early.

I was greeted by Matthew from the Mussel Club, who immediately put me at ease, showing me where I could leave my coat and get a drink and a pastry at the bar. He also started to ask questions, ‘What brought me there?’ ‘Had I been to one of these events before’. And before I knew it, I was networking.

Questions to ask

Networking events are designed for networking. It’s okay to go over to a stranger and say hello and ask what they do, or why they’re there. Everyone is there for the same purpose.

I quickly learned a few easy questions that I could use to open up a conversation with someone new:

  • “What do you do?” (Pretend you’re a member of the Royal family)
  • “Have you been to one of these things before?” (Hello, I’m new, be nice to me)
  • “What brought you along today?” (I’m here for the same thing  – coffee and croissants are always a bonus)

What to say about your business

Wordstruck business cardsWhen someone approaches you and asks one of those questions, it’s an invitation to say something about your business . If you’re particularly nervous about doing this, then have something in mind and practise it a few times. I’d just written my website, so was fairly confident about being able to talk about my writing and training services.

One thing I did was to introduce myself as a writer, or to say something like: “When a business needs a website, or a brochure, or a blog post, or anything that tells their customers about what they do, I write the words for it.” Although my official job title used to be copywriter, it’s not a term that everyone recognises outside the world of marketing, so saying what I actually do is more helpful.

It’s not about an elevator pitch or selling anything. It’s just telling people what you do. Don’t forget to ask them what they do too. You might find something in common.

Listen

Introverts are generally good at listening. Unless we go into panic mode and blurt out our entire life history. At a networking event, you don’t have to be the one doing the talking. Smile, listen and chip in with a question or response.

Does the person you’re talking to have something in common with someone else you’ve spoken to? Can you make an introduction, or ask them to introduce you to someone else? This can be as simple as asking ‘Do you know anyone else here today?’

Give yourself some time

Meeting lots of new people can be a bit overwhelming for introverts, so take your time, and step back from conversations as they move on. You don’t want to be the wallflower, standing on the edges, not engaging with anyone; but finding an opportunity to have a drink, use the facilities or just take a breath or two can give you the confidence to keep on networking.

Also watch out for anyone else who may be looking a little lost or unsure. Say hello and ask one of your conversation opening questions. Chances are, you’ll have found a fellow introvert and they’ll appreciate the gesture.

Take some business cards

It’s not a great idea to thrust a card in everyone’s hand and head for the door. Networking is about having conversations.

At The Mussel Club events I’ve been to, I didn’t swap business cards with everyone I met, but if I felt we’d had a useful conversation, and if they offered theirs, I always asked and offered my details.

Follow up

The events I’ve been to combined well-seasoned networkers as well as newbies like me. As soon as I got home, I started to get emails and connections to my social media profiles from some of the people I’d talked to.

It’s a good idea to follow up after a networking event, even if it’s just to say ‘nice to meet you’. It helps remind people who you are and where you’ve met, potentially keeping you front of mind for recommendations or opportunities.

Give it a try

It only takes one connection to put you on track for a new customer or future client. And even if the networking event doesn’t immediately bring in business, it can be a good way of building confidence. I’ve found it good practice to talk about my business to lots of other business people.

I’ve met some friendly and professional business people at networking events, including the very lovely Clare of Talbot Jones Risk Solutions. Clare does a great job of writing content for their website, and articles for relevant publications, so they have no need of my writing skills. But we found something in common in our interest in charities and I’m benefitting from their advice on protecting my own business interests.

If you’re going to a networking event in the North East, let me know in the comments. If I can, I’ll do my best to say hello.

5

Hedda Gabler, National Theatre Live review

dying roses

Critics are already calling Ruth Wilson’s portrayal of Hedda Gabler “one of the performances of the year.” And as the catalyst and the centre of the maelstrom of this National Theatre production she is utterly mesmerising.

At times sulky, spoilt and petulant and then in another twist dominant, demanding and daunting, she holds everyone around her in contempt, even, at times, herself.

Her frustration is demonstrated, not only in the rage with which she smashes floral offerings, but in quieter moments too, opening and closing the window blinds that cast light and shade as though through prison bars.

Hedda wanders through the sparse set that could be a modern loft apartment, barefoot in a negligee and dressing gown. The setting is both intimate and empty.

I read Hedda Gabler at University, as a kind of ‘female Hamlet’, but this is the first time I’ve seen a complete production. It always struck me as a particularly modern play, so Patrick Marber’s update of the script did not jar with me. Nor did the portrayal of Kyle Soller as Hedda’s husband Tesman as a contemporary, rather than an ancient academic.

Just as there are many interpretations of Hamlet, there is space for many different shades of Hedda Gabler. And by bringing this version into the modern day, we are offered a new and intruiging interpretation.

Here the ensemble cast work together brilliantly to create a particular sense of tension, as both foils and fuel to Hedda’s temper, tantrums and inner despair.

She plays games with Thea Elvsted (Sinéad Matthews), harking back to school days to win her sympathy, while remaining jealous of her relationship with Eilert Lovborg (Chukwudi Iwuji), her husband’s academic competitor.

And here it is Rafe Spall as Judge Brack, who is the utterly toxic, sinister and abusive force that drives Hedda to her tragic conclusion. In this subtly physical and muscular production, his final scenes with her are terrifying and brutal. At the end I felt exhausted, as though I’d been holding my breath for the entire last act.

And still, it is Ruth Wilson as Hedda, who begins front and centre stage at her piano, with her back to the audience, and who remains on stage throughout, who hypnotised my attention.

I saw this production at the Tyneside Cinema as part of the National Theatre Live series, but it will be touring the UK and returning to the Theatre Royal next February. Casting will be announced soon.

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