Monday, December 29, 2014

The Business Review

The January 2015 issue of Writing Magazine carries an article about planning your goals for next year, and re-assessing what you achieved this year.

I thought I'd post an abbreviated version of the article here, and if you're not already a subscriber to Writing Magazine you might want to consider making it one of your first 2015 New year Resolutions!

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As the new calendar year draws closer, many people make plans for 2015. Businesses make plans too, although they tend not to call them New Year resolutions. However, before making plans for 2015, the business-like writers start by looking back at what they have achieved in 2014.

Review The Past
How often do you watch a television news review of the last twelve months and find you’ve forgotten half of what has happened? It’s easy for us to forget what we’ve achieved in our own lives, so spending a few minutes looking back over last year’s efforts can be enlightening. While its easy to focus on the goals we failed to achieve, it’s vital we remind ourselves of our successes.

Children’s author Anita Loughrey (www.anitaloughrey.com) has the perfect excuse to look back over the last twelve months, because she has to to her tax return. ‘I like to look at what I’ve achieved by going through completed commissions and acceptances in magazines. The process usually begins with having to sort out my taxes to submit them online. I pile up all the invoices that have been paid to me and usually feel quite chuffed with myself!’

Taking that step back and looking at our writing achievements over the last year can help put our writing business into perspective. It reminds us of our achievements, but it also identifies those plans that didn’t go well. It’s worth analysing why those goals weren’t achieved.

‘If I’ve not achieved something that I had planned to achieve,” says Anita, “I look at the reasons why. I usually find I put off achieving my goal because I had important commissions with deadlines.’

Put missed goals into perspective. We can’t plan for is those curveballs that life throws at us when we not looking, but what we can do is to re-assess those writing goals. It’s easy to assume that a missed writing goal should be carried forward into next year’s business plan. But we should only set ourselves the goals we want to achieve (because we’re more likely to work harder to achieve those goals). If a writing project no longer interests us, and we have no need to pursue it (such as a contractual agreement) then striving to achieve it is a waste of time.

Planning Ahead
Once you’ve assessed your achievements over the last twelve months, ditched the writing goals that no longer interest you, and identified what your plans are for the coming twelve months, it is time to start putting it all together. Remain realistic. ‘My goals depend upon what else I have going on in my life and what other commitments I have,’ says Julie Phillips. ‘I make a list of everything I would like to achieve with my writing for the coming year and then I sort them into whether they are big, middling, or small projects and take it from there. I also prioritise them into what I will enjoy doing the most and what will potentially bring more money in.’

It’s vital we have a clear understanding of what our main goals over the coming twelve months are. From here, we can then break them down into monthly, weekly and even daily targets. Anita also finds that having this overall vision of what she wants to achieve during the year ahead helps her writing on a daily basis. ‘I set myself general goals for the year and then I make myself specific weekly lists. Then, every day, I prioritise this list.’  

Deadlines are immensely useful when planning our writing year. For writing projects that have no externally-set deadlines, create your own. ‘One way I have found works quite well in getting me to focus on the tasks that have not been commissioned,’ says Anita, ‘is to book myself on a course or a retreat that will make it the number one priority.’ Taking ourselves away from our normal writing place helps focus us in two ways; it enables us to work on that project without distractions, but it also means we have to be on target with our other writing projects so that we can go away in the first place.

Booking a course, or a retreat like this, also creates a deadline in itself. If any preparatory work is required we can plan when to do it in the months or weeks before hand. Use the course or retreat as a reward for having met previous targets. Staying motivated throughout the year helps us achieve our targets as the year progresses. 

Visualise Your Year
Use business wall planners to give your writing goals some visual impact every time you sit down to write. They can also be a great way to see how you’re progressing as the year passes. ‘I have a long, medium and short term plan that I display on the wall in my office,’ says Julie, ‘so I can see exactly what I’m aiming for.’

Having this annual overview is also useful for the planning process. Look for quieter weeks, or months, which may be better for tackling the larger, in-depth projects, whereas busier times of the year are more suited to working on smaller projects. Spotting quieter times of the year can help identify potential buffer zones. In fact, scheduling a couple of quieter moments, spread throughout the year, gives us time to draw upon, should we need it. These quiet slots can help keep life in perspective when things go wrong. 

Be methodical, break things down into small, achievable chunks, and this time next year you could find yourself looking back over what you’ve achieved in 2015, and making even bigger plans for 2016. That’s the beauty of business planning our writing.


I hope 2015 is creatively prosperous for all of you! Good luck! And Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Well, if you’re not sorted for Christmas yet then you’d better stop writing and start shopping. There’s not long now!

Actually, I quite like writing at this time of year. Now we’re into the final few days in the run up to the festive day, and then the New Year celebrations, there’s little point in approaching editors. Many won’t be back in the office until after New Year, so any ideas pitched or submissions made won’t be looked at until the first few days of 2015 at the earliest. So instead, I turn my thoughts to developing some of my speculative projects, such as writing some short stories. (Incidentally, I found out last week that one of my stories has made the final shortlist in a competition!)

It’s that old adage: a change is as good as a rest - and by focusing on different projects at this time of year, I feel the benefits of the change, yet I’m still writing. For this two-week period I give myself the permission to write what I really want to write, rather than what I should be writing to earn some money. Try it. Experiment. See where your writing takes you. Just write what comes. Make the effort to write something completely different to what you normally write throughout the rest of the year. You never know what might arise from it.

You might find this freedom puts you in a better frame of mind, giving you the psychological strength to cope with the pressures this time of year has a habit of putting on us when family relations descend upon us for a few days!

So thank you for reading my posts over the last twelve months. I wish everyone seasons greetings. And here’s to a creatively prosperous 2015.


Good luck!

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's A Cracker!

I wish I were a Christmas Cracker joke writer, for they must be paid thousands in royalties - after all, it seems to be the same old jokes trotted out each year. Saturday was my writers’ circle’s Christmas lunch and there wasn’t one Christmas cracker joke I hadn’t heard before.

It reminded me that that’s what readers feel when a writer uses a cliché. There’s disappointment because the reader has read it before. Then again, it could be argued that there’s comfort in familiarity. As we chatter during our turkey and tinsel lunch, it seems publishers often want more of the same from their authors. In their eyes, readers know what to expect from Joanna Trollope when they pick up a Joanna Trollope novel, in the same way that Dan Brown readers know what to expect when they pick up a Dan Brown novel. 

It can be immensely challenging trying to be original and satisfyingly familiar. Yet this is where we should delve into our own emotions and experiences more. We’re all unique. Our interpretation and understanding of something is different from that of others. It’s our own outlook on matters that can help us find our originality. When you’re looking for an original way of saying something, draw upon your own experience and interpretation. What is it that makes you, you? That’s the way of making our work original.

Which response would you like your reader to make: one of surprise and delight, or one of groaning with despair? (How do you respond when you hear a Christmas cracker joke?) 

So next time you sit down and write something, ask yourself: is it original? Is it a cracker, or is it a Christmas cracker joke?

Good luck.

Question: What time do ducks get up?

Answer: At the quack of dawn.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

3 simple steps to get your business mobile-ready


Is your business mobile-ready? It should be. With 1.75 billion smartphone users worldwide1, you could be missing out on a lot of potential customers.

Here are 3 steps you can take to maximize the potential of mobile for your business.

Step 1. Optimize your website for mobile
Have you checked out your website on a smartphone recently? For the 65% of users who start their search on their smartphones2, that may be their first and only exposure to your business. Make that a good one.

First, find out if your website is mobile-friendly. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test can help you do that. You should also load your website on a smartphone and pay attention to these 3 things: How quickly does your page load? Does your page fit on a small screen? Is key information visible without scrolling?

There are many ways you can set up your website for mobile optimization. Google generally recommends responsive web design, where code is used to adjust the same page to different screen sizes. You can try to set up the code yourself, or you can use templates from sites like Strikingly or Wix.

Depending on your needs, you might want to consider creating a separate mobile site. Tools such as Mobify and DudaMobile can help you set that up easily. PageSpeed Insights is another useful tool that can suggest ways to improve the loading speed of your website for both mobile and desktop.

Listing on Google My Business might also be a good place to start. One of the great things about Google My Business is that all its listings are already optimized for different devices. It will also list your business info on Google Maps. Even if you already have a website, it is an easy way to start expanding your mobile presence.

Step 2. Engage your mobile users with social media
Social media is a big part of the mobile experience, and a great way to engage your customers. In the US, 42% of smartphone users visit social network sites at least weekly on their devices. This number is even higher in Asia, so if you’re based in Asia or thinking of reaching customers there, you should start thinking about social media3.

You can do this by sharing interesting content about your business, such as stories, photos and videos on sites like Google+ and YouTube. Have a new shipment of 60s dresses for your vintage clothing store? Share some photos. New fall dish on your restaurant’s menu? Let customers know. They might even share your content with friends, and help you find new customers that way.

Set yourself a schedule so that you get into the rhythm of updating regularly. It doesn’t have to be daily, just something that you think is manageable for you. You can also use your social pages as a way to share updates like extended opening hours or holiday sales. Planning on selling everything at 50% off for Christmas? Share it.

You can also respond to customers’ ratings and reviews using Google My Business. This is a great way to have a conversation, get feedback and really give a human voice to your business.

Step 3. Advertise to mobile users on search
Search is the activity that smartphone users engage in most frequently, even more so than social media4. Maybe you own a ramen store in Tokyo that is open late into the night. Chances are, someone searching for “dinner in Tokyo” at 1am is a potential customer you’ll want to reach.

Advertising on Google can help you reach the kind of customers who are already looking for what you offer. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, AdWords’ location extensions feature can direct people to visit you in person. You can even design your ad campaigns so they only appear to people already near your store. Someone searching for “flower shop” on their phone, 500m from your store, is someone you could reach with a Search ad. Did you set up a Google+ page in Step 2? You can show off your excellent ratings on your ads as well.

Mobile opens up many new ways to grow your business and connect with your customers. Get your business mobile-ready so you can take advantage!

1. Forecasted, eMarketer (2014)
2. In the US, Think with Google
3. Consumer Barometer (2014)
4. Consumer Barometer (2014)

Monday, December 8, 2014

This Is The BBC ...

There are many useful online resources available to writers and one that I frequently browse is the BBC Academy, which can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism

There are lots of useful articles, and videos, containing useful tips for all writers, nit just journalists. For example, Allan Little’s video about the principles of good writing (http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/skills/writing/article/art20130702112133594) is relevant to every writer, no matter what their genre. (He makes a strong argument as to why journalists should read poetry, for example.)

Anyone looking to brush up on their English Grammar should check out the following link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/article/art20130702112133612 and for some guidance on spelling and punctuation, check out http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/news-style-guide/article/art20130702112133530

What you might find interesting in the BBC’s Style Guide (http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/journalism/news-style-guide), which gives you the lowdown on when they prefer to use digits for numbers and when they’s rather spell them in full.

Of course, it’s worth remembering that the BBC Style Guide applies only to BBC journalists. If you’re writing an article for another publication they may prefer a different style guide. But it makes interesting reading, because it’s a useful indication as to the sorts of things we need to be thinking about when writing.

As writers we’re always learning, and this is one resource that has many answers.


Good luck.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Penguin Guide to Punctuation

A writer can never have too many word guides, and I have just finished reading the Penguin Guide to Punctuation (ISBN: 9780140513660). I can recommend it for a couple of reasons:

- It is £7.99 (although it can be bought for less than this), so it is a good stocking filler gift for any friends and family who don’t know what to buy you this Christmas.

- It is 162 pages, so it’s a thin volume, which means it’s not a daunting book. Some word guides go into so much detail that they frighten you from using them. This is not one of those books.

- It is easy to read. The author, R.L. Tracks, discusses punctuation in a light-hearted and concise way. It’s highly readable (so much so, I devoured it in two short sittings).

What I particularly liked about this is that it gives plenty of examples of correct usage, as well as several examples of incorrect usage (and then explains why these examples are incorrect). It’s extremely good at differentiating between British and American conventions. (For example, in Britain we would write 7.00 a.m, whereas in America they would write 7.00 AM.)

RL Trask explains everything clearly and with humour. (“An exception: the names of holy books are usually not written in italics. Thus, we write about the Bible and the Koran, with not italics. Don’t ask me why.”)

So, if you’re looking for an easy-to-use, clear, concise guide to punctuation that you can read from cover to cover, or dip in and out of as you like, then this would make an ideal addition to your bookshelf.


Good luck.

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