Monday, April 30, 2012

The Reader In Your Head

When you start writing, are you writing for the reader of your target market, or the reader sitting inside your head?

Occasionally, these two readers turn out to be different people, when they should be the same. But, your words will reveal all ... if you're prepared to look at them objectively.

Let me give you an example. A student was targeting a weekly women's magazine. So, you'd be right in thinking that the core readership of this publication is female. But, the student wasn't thinking of a female readership as they wrote the following line:

It's at this point that your wife walks in.

Here, the words your wife suggests that whilst the writer was trying to write for a female readership, in their mind the reader they were trying to please was male. Generally speaking, only male readers will be able to identify with those moments when your wife walks in.

Of course, this situation is easily rectified, because you simply change the phrase to your husband or your partner.

Another example is this:

We all know what it's like taking our young children abroad on holiday.

That sentence suggests that the reader is talking to other parents with young children. And in a magazine read by parents with young children the reader will be able to identify with this - indeed, the reader will probably feel that this writer is 'one of them' and knows what she's talking about. However, the publication targeted was not one read predominantly by parents with young children, but older parents whose children have flown the nest.

The phrase, We all know clearly sets the writer as writing for people of her own age, when the readership of the target market was older than that.

That doesn't mean to say that this idea was inappropriate for this readership. It's quite possible that these readers may have young grandchildren now, and would be interested on some practical ideas about how to keep them entertained whilst on a two, or three, hour flight. Again, the solution is simple. A slight tweaking of the sentence will skew it in favour of the target readership.

We all know what it's like taking young grandchildren on holiday.

Now the reader will feel that the writer is talking to them.

In your first draft, points like this don't matter. It's important to get your piece written. But when it comes to editing, just remember who your target reader is, and ask yourself the question: Is it your target reader sitting in your head, or is it someone else? A few judicious tweaks of your text could make it much more appropriate for the readers of your target publication.

Good luck.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Help Desk Hangouts: Getting to know Chromebooks

Editor’s note: Each week on the Google+ Your Business page, we’re putting you in touch with Googlers and users who can help you as a business owner get the most out of our products and features.

In our latest Help Desk Hangout On Air, we introduced you to Chromebooks — a fast, secure, netbook (did we mention fast?). During the hour-long Hangout, Google product specialists Adam Naor and Will Paulus walk us through the basics, and Chromebook user Eric Hunter shares his firsthand experience using it at his business. Miss the event? You can watch the whole thing on the Google Business YouTube channel. And, if you’re interested in learning more about Chromebooks, fill out this form to stay up to date on all the latest news and product announcements.

Check out the video description on the YouTube page for a minute-by-minute breakdown.

Some of the questions we answered during the Hangout:

I'm a big Word/Office suite user. How do I make the switch to a Chromebook? Can a Chromebook work with these files? 
They can be viewed in Google Docs, or even converted to the Docs native format. Or, if you’d like to run Office on a Chromebook, you can do so through our Citrix Receiver App (and a Citrix server), or try on of the Chrome webstore Apps like InstallFree Nexus.

What's does Google’s support for Chromebooks look like? 
If you are a business user, you have access to 24/7 email and phone support. If you’re a consumer user, you can contact a Chromebook ninja M - F between 5:30am - 7pm PST. Here’s some additional information.

What happens with a Chromebook when internet access is limited, slow, or spotty?
The moments when you’re offline are increasingly rare. But with Chromebooks, we wanted to ensure that you're constantly connected with WiFi or 3G. Chrome also supports HTML5 offline functionality that allows applications or websites that support these features to run offline. Hundreds of apps in the Chrome Web Store today work offline like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, NY Times, Kindle, NPR, Angry Birds and more.

Where can I get a Chromebook?
If you represent a Business, School, or Non-profit organization, please fill out the form here, and a member of our team will get in contact shortly. If you are a consumer, you can obtain one here.

How does a Chromebook work with Google Drive?
Google Drive is going to be a core part of the Chromebook experience. We're building it to work seamlessly with your file manager and it will be coming very soon.

Would you recommend ChromeBooks as a software development platform?
Definitely as they have a terminal shell built in.

Be sure to join us for next week’s Hangout at 11 a.m. PDT Wednesday May 2, when we discuss AdWords. We’ll be collecting your AdWords questions early next week on the Google+ Your Business page.

Posted by Toby Stein, Google+ community manager

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Google Apps keeps music companies humming

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Enterprise blog.)

Music is a huge part of our culture at Google, and I’m really excited that the music festival season is just getting started. If you were at Coachella (which we livestreamed on YouTube this year) or have plans to go to go to another festival, you're probably just as excited.

Musicians, record labels, and music companies are using technology to do some amazing things, like producing on-stage holograms or experimenting with new online distribution models. It’s common for artists to launch their careers on YouTube, broadcast a performance on Google+ Hangouts, or connect with their fans using social media. But beyond the tech-coolness we hear a lot about, the music community is also taking advantage of technology behind the scenes - or rather, in the cloud - to develop their businesses.

I’m proud to say that some of today’s musical entrepreneurs are using Google Apps for Business. Whether it’s having the freedom to run a new indie record label, the flexibility to manage up-and-coming music artists on tour, or the ability to collaborate across the globe, Google Apps helps these teams focus on what they love the most - the music. We want to share three stories about awesome music companies using Google Apps to grow and evolve:

Music Clout is a startup formed by a group of guys with a die-hard passion for music. The idea is simple: create an online community that connects independent artists with music industry contacts and opportunities. They launched their company with Google Apps to make it easier to work together internally and with their team of contractors. Since their web development team works from Turkey, the combination of chat in Gmail and Hangouts allows them to instantly discuss website programming and other technicalities, while saving the team from high phone bills.

GHouse, a Boston-based record label, works with musicians from various genres, including electronic, reggae, rock, and country. Beginning as a side project by a college music student, it’s evolved into a full-time business. Initially, the team relied on a remote server and legacy software that were always stalling or crashing on them. They switched to Google Apps so that they could easily work together anytime, anywhere online, and on any device with Internet connectivity. With Google Docs, the team can easily share music tour dates and track all of their profits from the shows.

Founded in 2007, Fly South Music Group is an artist management firm out of Orlando, FL with satellite offices in Nashville and Los Angeles. The company set up Google Apps because it wanted a common platform for company email, calendars and documents that could be shared between all their clients, families, labels, tour managers and promotion coordinators. Today, it’s become essential to their workflow from scheduling to budget management with access to information from anywhere. This accessibility provides a whole new layer of transparency that keeps everyone in sync, especially while traveling around the world.

Google Apps has given these companies the built-in collaboration they need to communicate better, work smarter, and stay focused on bringing new talent and fresh ideas to the music industry.

Posted by Barbara Yang, Google Apps Team

Monday, April 23, 2012

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and...Re-think

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Enterprise blog.)

There are about 9,000 community curbside recycling programs and 3,000 community composting programs in the United States. I’ve been recycling since I moved to California in the 90's, and in the U.S. we’re lucky that many communities have recycling and composting services. But there’s still more to be done – we only recycle or compost 33% of the 243 million tons of trash generated each year.

I’m encouraged to hear about some of the cool ways that people and organizations are coming together to re-think how we can recycle, reduce, and reuse. In honor of Earth Day, we’d like to share the stories of three organizations that take recycling to the next level, using Google products to help.

Andrew Sell started out as a personal hunter/gatherer of “upcycled” products. There are a lot of companies that manufacture recycled products by recovering difficult-to-recycle materials from landfills and turning them into useful items, and the market continues to grow. Recognizing a need to connect the growing number of manufacturers with consumers, Andrew created an e-commerce website, HipCycle, almost a year ago in Ocean Township, New Jersey with the budget of a typical startup. 

Andrew, or Chief Hipcycler, chose to manage his new company with Google Apps due to low costs, ease of set up, and the ability to provide custom email addresses @hipcycle.comto employees, contractors and bloggers. HipCycle also uses Google Docs to track order statistics and share them with manufacturers, Google Calendar to keep the social media team aligned on topics and timing, and Google+ Hangouts to communicate directly with customers. Google Analytics provides data on site traffic and activity.

Not far away in Brooklyn, New York, Eva Radke identified another opportunity to eliminate needless waste. Having spent 15 years working in film, Eva saw two trends: a growing amount of waste and a general desire for environmental responsibility in the industry. After film shoots, large, awkward items like furniture are brought to landfills and Eva became passionate about finding a better way to use the waste.

In 2008 Eva’s passion became a full-time non-profit organization that collects waste from the film industry and sells or donates the goods to students and partner charities. For example, a women’s shelter receives bedsheets and towels from Film Biz, allowing them to free up their non-profit dollars to spend on education and therapy for its residents. Eva says she doesn’t know where she’d be without Google Apps. Since day one, she’s been using Gmail to stay up-to-date while traveling and Calendar to schedule everything from set clean-outs to school trips to donation drop-offs. Google Docs allows her team to edit documents together and they rarely need to use paper, which helps them stay even more green.

As the name would indicate, Cell Again buys and sells used mobile phones. With the rapid proliferation of mobile devices - and trend of consumers purchasing new phones every couple of years - there’s a seemingly endless quantity of second-hand cell phones. Tucker Nielson wanted to keep these phones out of landfills so he started CellAgain with just a few employees in Salt Lake City. The company has been so successful that there are now eight stores and 87 employees, which he expects to double this year.

With rapid company expansion plus growing franchise and wholesale operations, Tucker says that Google Apps has been his savior in terms of staying organized. Tucker set up Google Apps for on his own and uses Gmail to stay connected to his management team from his own cell phone. He also hosts nearly everything in Google Docs, including company manuals, shift schedules, timesheets, job descriptions and more. And Google AdWords helps CellAgain make sure that consumers looking for a refurbished cell phone can find their local franchise or kiosk.

Each of these companies help keep environmental impact low and Google is working to do its part as well. We’re a carbon neutral company, and Google Apps (and all the products in our cloud) have a "net zero" impact on the environment.

Happy Earth Day.

Posted by: Chris Farinacci, Senior Director, Google Enterprise

Helping your business play big on YouTube

With a global audience of 800 million monthly visitors to YouTube, every day can feel like you’re advertising in the Super Bowl, and one video can launch a business. To celebrate a growing number of businesses that have grown with YouTube, we are introducing our first-ever class of YouTube Marketing Ambassadors and making Google AdWords for video available to all.  

Our Ambassadors represent a group of 9 entrepreneurs who have used YouTube to “play big” alongside major brand advertisers. By creating videos that demonstrate their products, share what their customers say about them, or simply showcase how their business works, they’ve been able to drive sales and connect with new customers.   

Take Rokenbok Toy Company, for example. When owner Paul Eichen noticed that specialty toy shops were shuttering their doors, he started looking for a new way to introduce customers to his construction toy sets. Paul filmed and uploaded his first video to YouTube, and now it’s become his most effective form of advertising with 50 percent of all customers introduced to his products through YouTube.

To help even more businesses play big with video, today we’re introducing a number of new products, resources, and tools:

Google AdWords for video now available to all. Similar to search advertising - where you pay for clicks and set budgets with bids - we created a new model for video advertising. With Google AdWords for video, you only pay when someone chooses to watch your ad and you can create and manage video campaigns from the same platform as your search and display ads. You can create an account and start promoting your first video in less than 5 minutes. With AdWords for video you can:

  • Find the right audience: AdWords for video provides a range of options to reach the right audience. For example, you can promote your video by keyword to appear in YouTube search results, or you can choose to show your ad against content your customers are most interested in - such as sports or music. Connect with your audience on YouTube and the Google Display Network, which includes millions of websites. AdWords for video links to your YouTube account so you can easily start a video campaign with your existing videos.

  • Measure the effectiveness of your spend: On average, we’ve found that YouTube video ads drive a 20 percent increase in traffic to your website and a 5 percent increase in searches for your business (Google Campaign Insights, 2011). With AdWords for video you can find out how viewers are engaging with your brand during and after they watch your ad. You can see how many viewers watched your entire video, visited your website, stayed on your channel to watch another video, or subscribed to your channel, after viewing your ad.

  • Only pay for engaged views: With TrueView video ads you only pay when viewers choose to watch your ad so you aren’t charged when viewers skip your ad if they aren’t interested or have already seen your video. This means your ad budget is focused on viewers interested in your video. By displaying a call-to-action overlay on your video you can talk about a sale or specific offer to your viewers, share more information about your business, or drive traffic to your website.

$50 million in free advertising. We’re giving away $50 million in free Google AdWords advertising to help more than 500,000 businesses get into video. If you are new to AdWords, you can receive a $75 credit when you sign up. To put that into context, with $75 your video campaign can reach more than 1,500 of your most valuable customers on YouTube for one month. Request your free credit here.

Advertiser Playbook and support. To share best practices and tips on how video can be a core part of your business toolkit, we created a YouTube Advertiser Playbook. The Playbook covers everything from creating interesting content to promoting your video with ads. If you need help making a video, our My Business Story is a free tool you can use to create your first video. AdWords advertisers can also call our free phone support line, 866-2-GOOGLE, to get started with AdWords for video.

YouTube Ambassador program. To learn more about the YouTube Ambassador program please visit us on the Official Google Blog.

Hear more from Rokenbok Toys, one of our YouTube Marketing Ambassadors
If you have a video you want to promote, get started with AdWords for video. And, join our YouTube for Marketers page on Google+ to stay up-to-date on our latest video marketing innovations. Posted by Baljeet Singh, Group Product Manager, YouTube

Something A Little Different - I've been Tagged

This week's blog posting is a little different, because some time ago I was 'tagged' by Diane Fordham ( This is where you paste a piece of your current WIP (work in progress), but just so that you don't paste the best bit, there are a couple of rules that state you should draw upon the 7 lines of text from the seventh line on the seventh page.

Actually, the piece I'm working on at the moment is a short story, so there are not seven pages, so here are the seven lines that follow on from the seventh line of the first page:

If you don't want your petunias dead-headed early, put fifty pounds in used notes inside a brown envelope and leave it in the ladies loos, off Ribble Street, at 4 o'clock, today. Place the envelope behind the cistern of the second cubicle, then leave. Return at 5pm and, if everything is order, your petunias will be waiting for you. Don't call the Police.

"Ribble Street ladies loose again," Rose moaned. "That means you need me to do the drop-off and collection again."

"You'd know I'd go," said Geoffrey, "but a man walking into the ladies loos might draw someone's attention. And the last thing I want is for some nosey witness to call the Police. I need those petunias back for Saturday's village show. I'm convinced they'll win. Stan's petunias are only half the size of mine."

So there you go. Now you know how my fiction mind works! There's still a bit of work to do on the whole text, but I'm hoping to send it off soon.

All that leaves me to do is to tag seven other bloggers to see if they want to have a go at sharing seven lines from the seventh line on the seventh page of their current work in progress, so here goes:

Julie's Quest:

Penny Legg

I Should Be Writing

Rob In Espana

Working to Write

Blog About Writing

Yvonne Sarah Lewis

There's no compulsion for any of my seven nominees to do this, but I hope I've suggested a variety of writing styles here!

Good luck!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Help Desk Hangouts: Engaging with your customers using social media

Editor’s note: Each week on the Google+ Your Business page, we’re putting you in touch with Googlers and users who can help you as a business owner get the most out of our products and features.

In our latest Help Desk Hangout On Air, we discussed how your business can benefit from engaging with customers via social media. A few of Google’s community management superstars — Jacky Hayward, Sarah Price and Brian Rose —  shared best practices for building great content, collecting feedback and communicating with frustrated customers. Miss it? No to worry: You can watch the full hour-long Hangout on the Google Business YouTube channel:

Check out the video description on the YouTube page for a minute-by-minute breakdown.

Some of the questions we answered during the Hangout:

Why spend time using social media?

First, think about your goals. Sarah, who works on the Gmail team, says she doesn’t see social media as “an end in and of itself,” but rather as a tool to help her reach her goal of connecting with users: “I want to help users learn more about Gmail, [so] I use social media as a tool to share information. I have a goal that I want to have relationships with the users, that they have a relationship with the company and each other, so I use social media as a tool to facilitate those relationships.”

How do you attract new followers to your social media content?

There’s no trick or gimmick. Post interesting, useful content. Be real, honest, genuine, open — and the followers will come!

What kinds of content work?

Don’t underestimate fun. Eye-catching rich media (photos, videos) are always engaging. Be mindful of time zones and when you’re sharing (do you usually get more engagement in the morning, at night?). Also, people love having a connection with you and your brand, which you can do with something as simple as highlighting or resharing content by a customer.

Why is identifying influencers important?

Whatever your area of expertise, research who's producing great content and starting conversations among that field’s community. Find out what your customers are interested in and get involved in those conversations. Figure out who the people are that drive those conversations and build relationships with them. Connect your customers to other customers when you can — engaging them with each other will help them learn more and engage more with your product and brand.

Any time management tips?

The stream of social media content being produced every minute is infinite, so again, be sure to focus on your goals. Ask yourself what is most important for you to do first and start there, rather than trying to do everything at once.

Be sure to join us for next week’s Hangout at 11 a.m. PDT Wednesday April 25, when we discuss how to get started with Chromebooks. We’ll be collecting your Chromebook questions early next week on the Google+ Your Business page.

Posted by Vanessa Schneider, Google Places community manager

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Pitch, Post or Email?

Whilst running a series of workshops for Relax and Write last weekend, in Derbyshire, one area of questioning that cropped up was: How do you submit your work? Do you pitch the idea first? Do you write your article on spec and submit by email, or do you write it on spec and send by post?

The problem with answering these questions is that there is not a one-size-fits-all kind of answer. It depends. So, I thought I'd explain how I usually operate.

I pitch the vast majority of my article ideas. That means I contact the editor and try to sell my idea before I've written the article. When an editor replies with a 'yes', then I write my article. Sometimes an editor will clarify how they prefer to receive submissions - usually by email - sometimes as an attachments, or pasted into the main body of the email message.

If I've been commissioned to write a feature, I always try to maximise the number of angles I can get from that research, and often pitch to other magazines different ideas for their readerships on the same topic.

I'm always on the look-out for any potential market, so no magazine gets past me without a quick analysis. This means that when I'm scrutinising an idea for all possible angles, I often think of a particular slot in a publication that I could produce some material for.

If the word count for that slot is low, then I sometimes consider producing the text on spec. For example, there are slots, or columns, within magazines with a maximum word count of 500 words. If I've spent most of the day typing up a 1500-word feature that I've been commissioned to write, then producing a shorter 500-word piece on the same topic is relatively straight forward for me, especially whilst I have all the research in my head, or close to hand. And if the slot I'm targeting is generally aimed at reader-contributions, then I wouldn't bother pitching the idea to the editor. I'd simply submit it on spec. Amateur Photographer magazine's BackChat column, is one such example.

Another example is the newsletter of an photographic association I'm a member of. They have a regular slot for photographs that members have taken, which have sold well. For this slot they want to see a copy of the image and then 300 words on why the photo has sold. They don't want pitches for this slot - they want to see the images, and learn the story behind their success. So, I have always written these on spec. Payment is £40, but it is something I can do in about 15 - 30 minutes.

I always follow the guidelines. I prefer to submit by email, because it's cheaper, and the magazine has the option of cutting and pasting text. But there are some magazines who ask for postal submissions. One magazine I write for prefers to scan the printed document, rather than dealing with email attachments. It seems a little strange these days, but that's what the editor wants ... so that's what the editor gets!

The submission process also depends upon the type of material you are writing. When I submit short stories, there are some markets who only accept email submissions, whilst others only accept postal submissions. And with short stories, pitching is not an option - the editor wants to see the finished piece.

So how and when I approach a market often depends upon the length of the potential piece and the size of the market and whether the editor expects to receive pitches from professional writers for the slot I'm targeting.

Good luck.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Protect your business by understanding common phishing techniques

Last week we introduced you to the concept of Social Engineering - manipulating people’s trust to gain confidential information. Phishing is a type of social engineering that can also be targeted towards businesses. We recommend you educate yourself and your employees to safeguard against this threat.

Recognize the signs
Phishing is a technique used to obtain personal information. The most common way a phisher obtains this information is through a spam email which appears to come from a legitimate source (e.g. a bank, a credit card company) requesting certain action to be taken. The email will usually have a link which will lead to a fraudulent web page and may have a form requesting you to enter personal information.

What many small businesses don’t realise is that phishing can happen over the phone, too (called ‘vishing’). In this type of scam the ‘phisher’ will try and get the information they want over the phone by making some kind of false claim (e.g. your IT department has requested you update your security software). Once the caller has gained the consumer's trust, they may ask the person on the phone to log onto a website to download a file to help solve the problem. The file may be infected with a virus which would give the Phisher access to your personal information.

Once scammers have 'phished' out your information (or potentially even customer information), they could use it in a number of ways. Credit cards could be used for unauthorized purchases, or information might be gathered for an identity theft scam.

Keep your Google account secure
As a Google product user, remember Google does not send emails asking you to update your personal information. We also never call customers asking for their passwords or requesting they download any programs. If you think you've received a phishing email that's trying to trick you into thinking it is from Google, don't reply to the email itself. Instead, report the phishing email to us.

To add an extra layer of security to your Google account, you can enable 2-step verification (and see video below). You will enter a code from your phone, as well as your username and password - when you sign in. If someone steals login information through phishing or social engineering, the potential hijacker still won’t have access to your phone.

For even more tips on keeping your business safe online, check out our Good to Know website.

Posted by Katrina Blake, Risk Analyst

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Taxman Cometh ...

Here in the UK, we entered the 2012-2013 tax year on Good Friday, April 6th. So this weekend I've started sorting out my paperwork for the last financial year and setting up my spreadsheets for the new tax year. (Oh the joys of being a writer!)

Many people fear paperwork, yet it needn't be complicated, and if you're writing with a view to selling your work and being paid for it, then you must keep records to satisfy the taxman.

Even if you work during the day and write in the evenings, it is possible to be employed and self-employed at the same time. In fact, until I became a full-time writer in 2004 (on 16th January at about 8.30am) I was both employed and self-employed. Before 2004, I worked for a local authority, but I was also writing and selling work, so the taxman taxed me as an employed person through the Pay As You Earn system at work, and then he taxed me on my self-employed writing earnings, when I told him what they were at the end of each tax year. At that time (figures have probably changed now, so do check them out at ), self-employed earnings of less than £15,000 could be declared on a simple form, which summarised your total income and total expenditure. The taxman deducted the expenditure figure from the total income figure, and then taxed me on the balance - my profits.

So, if I'd earned £1,000 and spent £200 on legitimate business expenses, I would be taxed on the difference, £800, not the £1,000 of earnings.

What with several books and income from many different sources, I now have an accountant do this for me, however, I still use simple systems to keep my paperwork in check. My accountant loves me, and hates me for this. He loves me because my paperwork is easy to process and he hates me because my paperwork is easy to process ... so he doesn't spend too long doing it and therefore can't charge me for spending days sorting it out!

As I hinted above, if you're writing with a view to earning money, then you're writing as a business. The tax man is interested in your profits - the surplus cash you make from selling your words after taking into account any expenditure you incur.

Almost any legitimate (that's the keyword - legitimate!) business expense can be offset against your income to reduce your tax liability, but the common ones I claim against are:

  • Stationery (paper, pens, envelopes)
  • Postage
  • Magazine subscriptions (Writing Magazine, The New Writer, Writers' Forum)
  • Professional subscriptions (The Society of Authors, Bureau of Freelance Photography)
  • Computer consumables (toner and ink jet cartridges).

Whenever I incur a legitimate business expenditure, I write a unique reference number on the receipt. The reference number begins with the tax year and then uses a sequential number. So, the first receipt for this financial year (2012-2013) will be labelled 12-13-01, the second one will be labelled as 12-13-02, and so on.

Then I have a simple spreadsheet, listing the date, the reference number, the type of expenditure (stationery, postage, etc) and the amount. When the expenditure has been logged, it gets dropped into a folder. That way, if ever there is any query, the spreadsheet quickly tells me the reference number and I can quickly locate the specific receipt.

The same goes for income. Most magazines and publishers send me a remittance form if they pay funds straight into my bank account. If they send a cheque, then these usually have a detachable docket attached to it too - so I simply add a unique reference number to each income remittance too. Then, I file those in a separate folder. Essentially, you only need two folders - one for income and one for expenditure and that's the paperwork sorted!

The spreadsheets enable me to quickly tot up total expenditure and total income, as well as enabling me to break down the information a bit more to see what I'm spending on stationery, or postage etc, but that's more for my own information, rather than the taxman's.

So, if you're writing and selling your work, don't forget that you can claim legitimate business expenses against any income you earn, so you only have to pay tax on the profit you make. And if ever you hit the big time and earn so much that you have to register for VAT, well, you're earning enough to pay someone to sort that one out for you, aren't you?

Good luck.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Writers Bureau Servers Down

Just a quick post to advise students that the Writers Bureau servers have been down for the past few days, and tutors have not been able to log in to check emails, nor mark any email-submitted assignments.

We've been advised that the boffins are working hard to solve the problem (all I could suggest was switching it off and then switching it back on again, but I think they tried that one last Tuesday).

So, if you've sent me an email, or an assignment, to my Writers Bureau email address, and not had a response it's because I haven't been able to get into it yet! I hope this will be rectified next week, but please bear in mind that I may have several assignments to mark, so it may take a few more days to get back to you.

Sorry for any inconvenience.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Help Desk Hangouts: Get found on Google with Places for business

Editor’s note: Each week on the Google+ Your Business page, we’re putting you in touch with Googlers and users who can help you as a business owner get the most out of our products and features.

In our latest Help Desk Hangout On Air, we introduced you to Google Places for business, a tool to help you manage your local business information on Google. Joel Headley, one of our in-house Places gurus, showed us how to get started, shared some best practices and answered your questions. If you missed it, you’re in luck: You can watch the full hour-long Hangout on the Google Business YouTube channel:

Some of the questions we answered during the Hangout:

When a business simply relocates, what is the best way to set up the new address in Places?

You should report the listing with the old address as closed via the Report a problem link on the listing itself (under the “more” dropdown). Our team receives that report and puts a “This place is permanently closed” label on the listing, so that customers who know your business to be located at that old address will know not to go there. And then, create and verify a brand new listing for the business’s new location.

What are the gray labels on the map itself, and how do I get one for my business?

The little icons (fork and knife, etc.) on the map are called Place labels, and because those are generated algorithmically, there’s no way for you to manually add one for your business.

How do I get my Places listing to appear for certain keyword searches?

We don’t offer advice on how to do this, but here’s a great video about how we approach local search ranking.

What should I put in the description field of my page?

Think of the description as your elevator pitch. Keep it short and sweet, and valuable to customers looking to learn more about your business. Don’t stuff it with a bunch of keywords — it won’t help you and it definitely won’t help potential customers.

When are Google Places accounts going to be connected to Google+ pages?

A popular question! We’ve heard your feedback, and we’re continuing to evaluate how these tools might work together in the future.

I went through the owner verification process, but for some reason user-generated content still appears on my page. Why?

Think of a business listing as a search result, featuring information pulled together from sources around the web (third party data providers, end-users, and, of course, business owners). When you owner verify your listing, this just means you now have access to other features complementary to the listing — like analytics or offers — and editing abilities via the Places dashboard. We allow the most recently verified edit to display on a listing — whether it’s from a user via the “Report a problem” feature or a third-party provider — in an effort to maintain an accurate and up to date map.

What are “at a glance” terms, and why are they appearing on my owner-verified page?
These descriptive terms are meant to give users a quick snapshot of what a particular business is known for. We generate these terms algorithmically, from various sources around the Web. There’s no way to add or edit these terms in your Places dashboard. See our article on reporting inappropriate terms.

I don’t have a storefront and serve customers at their location. Can I list my business on Google Maps?

Absolutely. These types of businesses are what we call service area businesses, and we have a whole Help guide on how to create a service area listing. Note that if you don't conduct face-to-face business at your location, you must hide your address per the Google Places quality guidelines. In your Places dashboard, while editing a listing, look for the “Do not show my business address” checkbox under the section “Service Areas and Location Settings.”

I’m having an issue with my listing, how do I contact support?

We have a support team that works with users to correct bad listing data and verification issues. Visit the “Contact Us” section on the Help Center homepage and you’ll see two options: Listing issues and Verification issues. Click the link that applies, answer the questions, fill out the short form, and hit Submit. Give a member of the support team a few days to investigate your issue and get back to you via e-mail.

To learn more about how to get started with Google Places for business, visit our Help Center or check out the Google and Your Business forum. And join us for next week’s Hangout at 11 a.m. PDT Wednesday April 11, when we discuss how to get started blogging using on Blogger. We’ll be collecting your Blogger questions early next week on the Google+ Your Business page.

Posted by Vanessa Schneider, Google Places community manager

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Protect your business by understanding common social engineering techniques

Social engineering is the manipulation of the natural human tendency to trust. A social engineer’s main goal is gaining unauthorized access to systems or information in order to commit fraud. In most cases the social engineer never comes face to face with the victim. Social Engineering is steadily increasing as cyber criminals exploit people in tough economic times. Anyone can be a target for social engineers, including small businesses.

Educate yourself and your employees
As a small business, you may always update your anti-virus software, but what other actions do you take to keep your business secure? For example, have you educated your employees recently on what information is safe to divulge and to whom they can divulge it? Understanding social engineering techniques can help you develop a plan for how to protect your business from them.

Before you give any information away, think about the following:
  1. Why are you you being asked for this information? Is it usual to be asked for this sort of information in this format?
  2. Is the request coming from a known source?
  3. What consequences might come from misuse of the information you've been asked to provide or the action you have to take?
  4. Is there pressure to take action now?
Using this list can help you think carefully before providing a response and make you more confident in your decision before divulging sensitive information.

Recognize the signs
The list below describes some of the more common social engineering techniques:
  1. Impersonation: They may pose as a repairman, helpdesk tech or trusted third party.
  2. Name Dropping: They may use names of people from your company/family to make you believe they know you and gain your trust.
  3. Aggression: They also may try to intimidate you by threatening to escalate to a manager / executive if you do not provide the information/access they have requested.
  4. Conformity: They may tell you that everyone else has provided the information so it’s fine for you to provide the same.
  5. Friendliness: Over time, they may contact you with an aim of building up a rapport with you. Eventually the social engineer will ask for sensitive information when he/she feels the trust has been built up.
Stay tuned for future posts on keeping your business secure, and check out online safety tips anytime on our Good to Know website.

Posted by Katrina Blake, Risk Analyst

A fast, accurate, and affordable way to do online market research

From international brands to local food trucks, every business wants to make important decisions with their customers’ feedback in mind. Which version of your new logo will people like better? How much interest do dog owners have in organic dog food? Is your brand awareness growing over time?

We now have a new option for companies looking to answer these types of questions and more: Google Consumer Surveys. Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or a local bike shop, Consumer Surveys makes market research fast, accurate, and affordable.

You can create an online survey in minutes, have responses within hours and fully analyzed results in days. We do all the heavy lifting for you, finding interesting nuggets of information (or “insights”) and providing you with tools for digging deeper.

Here’s how it works: people browsing the web come across your questions when they try to access high quality content like news articles or videos. Answering the question gives them near instant access to the page they want. All responses are anonymous; they aren’t tied to users’ identity or later used to target ads. This provides an alternative to the traditional paywall model: site visitors don’t have to pull out a wallet or sign in, publishers get paid as their site visitors respond, and you gain insight into what people think -- for just $0.10 per response for the general US population or $0.50 per response for custom audiences.

We’ve already been working with a number of companies researching everything from online shopping behavior (Lucky Brand Jeans) to gluten-free baking mixes (King Arthur Flour), and using Consumer Surveys to track brand awareness (Timbuk2) and inform product development (479 Popcorn). Check out to learn more.

Posted by Brett Slatkin, Software Engineer

Monday, April 2, 2012

Get closer to your customers with Google+

(Cross-posted from the Inside AdWords blog.)

When we launched Google+ Pages last November, we aimed to provide you with a way to post updates and news about your business, have engaging conversations with customers, and send tailored messages to specific groups of people.

We’re now excited to share that Google Ads will be joining Google+ Pages to provide you, our advertising partners, with the latest Google advertising product news, training, tips and Hangouts that can help make the web work for you. We hope it will become a useful resource for growing your business, reaching customers in the moments that matter, and making smarter decisions.

Here’s a quick peek at what you can expect from the Google Ads page on Google+:
  • Stay ahead of the curve with the latest launches and updates for Google's advertising solutions, including search, display, mobile, social, YouTube and Google Analytics
  • Receive how-to information, best practices, and recommendations
  • Learn about upcoming trainings and events
  • Attend Hangouts with product experts
Add Google Ads to your circles here. We look forward to connecting with you on Google+.

Posted by Christina Park and Katie Miller, Ads Product Marketing

Royal Mail Fail?

So, if you haven't heard by now, let me be the one to give you the bad news that, in the UK, postage stamps are on the rise again, with effect from 30th April 2012.

First Class (letter format) is rising from 46p to 60p and Second Class (letter format) rises from 36p to 50p. First Class (Large Letter) is increasing from 75p to 90p.

I, like many others, think this will force many people to start using email more, and for many of my submissions email is the delivery method I choose, if it is available.

However, for some writers snail mail is still important. If you're entering competitions, many organisers still prefer snail mail submissions, although a few are beginning to accept email entries (such as Wrekin Writers' Doris Gooderson Short Story competition). If you're a novelist pitching to agents, many still want snail mail submissions, not email. (From my own personal experience, it feels the balance is currently 50/50 at present, with half accepting email submissions, the other half accepting postal submissions only.)

And there are still a couple of magazines where I have to submit my photos on a CD Rom and post them, purely because the editor's inbox can't cope with emails with over 2GB worth of attachments!

Even though there is still a month to go until the price hike kicks in, remember the following:

  • If you're posting anything by snail mail, and you are enclosing a stamped addressed envelope (so your work can be returned by an agent, or your competition entry can be returned if it is unsuccessful, or if you want a list of competition winners) make sure you include sufficient postage on your envelope for its return after 30th April. 
  • buy some stamps now, before the price rise, but make sure you buy the stamps that are labelled as 1st or 2nd and do not have a price on them. These will be valid after the price rise at the new rate. (If you can, put stamps labelled 1st or 2nd on your SAEs now, to ensure your envelopes are correctly stamped after 30th April.)
And, of course, to cut down on your postage costs in the future, investigate any way of submitting text by email in the future. Some magazine editors will accept unsolicited email submissions, whilst others will only accept solicited email submissions. A few short story magazines (The Weekly News, for example) only accept submissions by email now, but a couple still insist on snail mail.

For further details of all of Royal Mail's new prices from 30th April 2012, click here.
Good luck.