A Look Into the Life of Lisa

It’s been a very busy month for me. I’d like to share with you all of the projects I’ve worked on in the last few weeks!

Paris Associates – Across All Galaxies

Joy Works Marketing

Naturizzata Water Co.

Quench

  • Next feature article work (exciting stuff!)
  • Q School conversion to Atavist & strategy for upcoming issues
  • Review and proofing of next magazine issue

Opimian

Writing, editing, proofing, liaison work and so much more for the following projects:

  • Wine Review
  • Financial Statements
  • Opimian News
  • Cookbook

Care is There

Content creation and formatting for the following projects:

BizcardSearch

Website content – writing and editing (content isn’t posted yet though).

I feel like there was more.. but alas, that’s all I can recall at the moment. Take a look at the above projects – you might just find a new hobby somewhere in there.

 

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Tools for Staying Organized

Freelancing can be a chaotic career. At any given time in your week, you could have 1 project or 10 projects… and that can change at the ping of a new email. I am a fairly organized person when it comes to project management, at least that’s what my former coworkers told me! So today I am sharing a few of the methods I use to keep myself from pulling out all of my hair.

Day Planner

When I was working in an office, I had a day planner. I would write down the pertinent due dates, make note of any meetings or urgent tasks and give myself little “to-do” reminds (like “one week until Project A is due, get on that).

Now that I’m working from home, I find that a day planner just isn’t as convenient. Instead, I use a digital calendar (iCal on my Mac, synced with my Google Calendars). This way, when I’m not at home and I have to set an appointment, I can consult the exact same calendar I have at home, without having to carry an extra book around.

Suggested Tools:

Any day planner you can purchase at your local office supplier store
Digital Calendars: Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook Calendar
(In fact, most email providers – Gmail, Outlook, etc – provide online calendars)

Daily Project Lists

Here’s how it works:

  1. Beginning of every day, write down all of the tasks that need to be completed (I do mean all)
  2. Prioritize the tasks (I used to write numbers beside them, but you can highlight in a specific colour, underline or write them out in order of priority)
  3. Start with the highest priority and work your way down, marking each task complete as you, well, complete them.
  4. End of every day, review your list, pat yourself on the back for being so productive and save the incomplete tasks for tomorrow.

My daily project list is one of the other reasons I switched to a digital version of my day planner. I tried using my day planner to write down all of the tasks, but when I switched them over to the next day, everything became a chaotic mess. Trust me when I say that keeping your to-do lists looking organized is actually key to keeping yourself from panicking at the sight of them!

So, if you’re a pen and paper person, use the above strategy but keep a separate pad of paper for your to-do list (the colour/size/shape association will also serve to help keep you focused… something to do with the brain and memory).

However, if you’re a digital person, try this:

  1. Beginning of each day, create an “event” in your calendar for each task you need to do. Set the events to take 30 minutes.
  2. Organize the events (drag and drop is usually the best function available) in order of priority.
  3. Start at the top and, as you complete the task, add “DONE” to the event name.
  4. End of every day, change the incomplete project events to the next day.

Suggested Tools:

Lined post-it pad. (There’s a yellow model from “Basics” that is 6”x4” that I’ve found to be perfect.)
Digital Calendars: Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook Calendar
Online notebooks: Evernote, Remember the Milk

Folders & Cloud Sharing

Keeping your digital files organized is just as important as keeping your physical paper files organized. This may seem obvious to some people, but you’d be surprised how many people I’ve spoken to that don’t organize their digital folders.

The benefits to keeping those files and folders organized are many, but I’ll save “organizing your digital files” for another blog post. However, keeping your digital files organized will make it easier for you to use a cloud sharing site, which will in turn make working while travelling a breeze.

For example, I work from home, but sometimes I visit my parents or go into a client’s office, and I need my files. I place the clients’ folders in Dropbox, wait for it to sync, grab my laptop and go. Everything I would have on hand at home is waiting for me wherever I end up working.

The added benefit is that you don’t need to download anything – when Dropbox is loaded on a computer, you can open, change and save a file, and it will automatically update on Dropbox AND on your home computer.

Awesome.

Suggested Tools:

Folders – whether you’re on a Mac or a PC, use your folders and keep your life organized.
Dropbox – I love this program
Google Drive – great for sharing and collaborating on files (since two people can open, read and edit a file at the same time). Will go more into this in another blog as well!

Looking for more organizational tips! Leave a comment and I’ll answer in a new post.

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A Lesson in Writing Types

No Content - Chris Dlugosz

If you’ve ever sat down to read through every piece of literature that comes out of a single company, you’d notice that there are differences. While the general language and terminology stays the same – after all, that’s branding for you – the tone, content and appearance change. This is due to the fact that good content is geared to its purpose, and each piece of literature has a unique and specific purpose.

Marketing Writing (aka Copywriting)

This is the umbrella term for any form of content with a “marketing” bend. It includes Social Marketing, Content Marketing, Web Marketing and more.

Marketing writing has a single purpose – to get the reader to take action. It doesn’t matter if it’s to go out and buy a product, or to click a link for more information. That being said, Marketing Writing can include informational, promotional, statistical and even technical writing. The different between it and the following types of writing is it’s purpose – action is required.

Content Writing

This type of writing includes any content that is not meant to market a product: web sites specifically for informational purposes, brochures or articles intended to inform, not promote. Information without the desire to persuade or influence someone is covered in this category. The writing style tries to remain neutral and strictly informational (think Wikipedia), but can be creative and fun.

Technical Writing

The name kind of speaks for itself – most of this writing is technical. We’re talking product descriptions, instruction manuals, warning tags and care manuals. Need a guide on how to use your product? You’re looking for a technical writer.

Also informative, technical writing and content writing sometimes overlap. The difference is in entertainment – technical writing is almost never entertaining, while content writing can be, providing it’s done well.

Public Relations Writing

This includes press releases, backgrounders, position papers, content for print and broadcasting, media kits, media pitches, speeches, presentations and more. The purpose of public relations writing is to tailor a message for a particular media and for the public; to inform the masses with information, research, trend analysis, predictions and more in order to counsel them into implementing a planned program or action that will serve their interest. Pretty dry sounding, right? It’s not, though. It is a useful tool that helps many businesses.

Business Writing

This is the term for the memos, reports, emails and communications that happen within a company. Internal business communications have many authors and thus many different tones. The trick to business writing is to keep everything concise and organized, so that the reader (especially if it’s your CEO or President) won’t have to spend too much time reading it. Use headings, bullets and paragraph separators, as they pull the eye and make life easier.

If you have any questions or need help with one of these styles of writing, feel free to contact me. I am more than happy to help.

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Working with a Freelancer

I have worked with several different clients, all of which have been fantastic (I think I’m just lucky). Every one of them have had different approaches to working with me and, I’m assuming, the other freelancers they’ve hired. Likewise, I work in communication and special projects during the day, which requires me to liaison with several different freelancers, from translators to designers. I’ve picked up a few little tricks along the way that have ensured – both in my freelance work and in my 9-5 – that projects are completed on time and without too many of the inevitable set backs.

Without further ado, here are some tips for working with Freelancers, no matter what industry.

Schedules

Before you start a project, set up an internal schedule for yourself for each of the tasks that need to be accomplish. This will help you plan out what type of freelancer you need (writer, translator, graphic designer, web designer) and will give you the frame work for a projected completion date – something that gives you a goal to work towards.

Once you know who you need and the projected completion date, you will be prepared to contact freelancers.

Deadlines

Regardless of whether or not you have firm deadlines for your project, it’s always helpful to give one to your freelancer, especially someone with whom you’ve just started working. This is two-fold:

  1. Deadlines are a great way to gauge a freelancer’s reliability. The most obvious question you will answer is if they can meet deadlines. The second is whether or not they give themselves and you enough time to work out any kinks or answer any questions. Everyone has their own style and their own system set up, so don’t be alarmed if they ask all of their questions at the beginning, throughout the project or at the end – it may just be their way of getting the project done. However, if their way of meeting a deadline doesn’t work with your project management style, you find out right away, rather than in a few months when you have an urgent project due.
  2. Deadlines help keep projects moving. I personally split projects up into “first draft submission” and “edits”. When a client gives me a due by date, I try to make sure that I submit a first draft before the due by date to ensure that, if edits are required, they can be done before the deadline.

Tip: Set a soft and a hard date – the soft date being one that you can afford to miss, just in case there are unforeseen problems with the project, more edits than expected and so on. Give the soft date to the freelancer and keep the hard date for your reference.

Another Tip: When working with a relatively new freelancer, always try to give at least a week for any project. Once you’ve built a relationship, you will be able to determine what works for both parties.

Style Guides

I’m often surprised at how few companies have a style guide. So much so that I wrote a Short Look at Style Guides a while back.  I hope to write another one in the near future, to expand on this very valuable and yet often unused piece of literature. Style guides will tell a freelancer the specifics you usually forget are necessary – which type of English you work with (Canadian, British, Australia, American); what colours are used in your logo (if you have one) or on your website; how you like to apply italics or hyphens. All of these things are style choices. In the case of website and graphic design, it is always helpful to have a mock up of a standard page with the heading types and colours listed for each heading and subheading.

Consistency is professionalism.

Tone, Audience & Purpose

Though this should also be part of your style guide, the tone, audience and purpose will vary slightly from project to project. When you are first considering the project, jot down at least one adjective for each heading. For example:

Tone: Friendly, colloquial

Audience: people with aging parents

Purpose: to inform  

When you give the project to your freelancer, these three factors will give them a direction, which will help them to craft the project the way you want.

Communication

This is essential. This is also many-parted:

  1. Availability: If you’re planning to go away on vacation or will be M.I.A. for longer than 24 hours, let your freelancers know. This way, if they have questions, they’ll know to save them for later or will know that a response will take longer than usual. Likewise, they will repay the favour so that if you want to send them a project that requires a quick turn-around, you won’t be left with no one to send it to. 
  2. Content & Questions: Keep the lines of communication open. Most good freelancers will ask you any questions they might have. You should do the same.
  3. Confirmation: When you receive something from one of your freelancers, but don’t have time to review it right away, send a quick email to that effect and give an eta for when you will review it. Email isn’t always reliable – sometimes messages get lost in the void that is the internet… and sometimes they get filed without us knowing it. This confirmation will assure the freelancer that their work has been received.
  4. Problems & Concerns: If something isn’t working out or you feel that there is an issue with your freelancer, tell them. Be honest, open, respectful and polite about it, but still, tell them. It may be that they are not aware of the issue.

Feedback

Feel free to say how you feel about the work that’s been submitted, especially if it’s the first project. However, be specific. General statements like “I don’t like it” or “it doesn’t work for our company” leave the freelancer wonder just what exactly she could have done differently. Most people are happy to do revisions, even start from scratch if necessary, providing they have the appropriate direction. When you receive something that you just don’t like but can’t figure out why, try answering these questions:

  • What about the text doesn’t work?
  • Is it the content itself?
  • Is it the word choice and if so, which words?
  • Is it the tone of the text?
  • Is it the length?
  • Is it the use of “is it” too many times?

The more specific your feedback, the better the second draft will be. 

Deadlines

(did I mention those already?)

If your Freelancer consistently (and by this I mean, 5 or 6 times with no advance explanation) misses deadlines, you might want to talk to them about their work load and availability. There are four reasons why a good freelancer will miss a deadline:

  1. The project was bigger than they expected
  2. They are overloaded with work
  3. Family or personal crisis
  4. The deadline was unreasonable (though most will tell you that in advance)

If you have a good relationship with your freelance writer, keep it by being open about your expectations and your disappointments. Most writers have developed a thick, scaly skin over their years of writing, though admittedly it is still possible to hurt their feelings. There will be well written projects and some that miss the mark entirely, but if you follow these tips, you will create a positive work environment for yourself and the people you hire.

Was this helpful? Do you have any additional tips? Share them in the comments.

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Toning down your tone for Wikipedia

A few years ago, I added an article to Wikipedia about the Opimian Society. Not a big deal, some might say, anyone can add an article. True, but not every article is accepted. Some articles are removed or rejected due to language that is too promotional or articles that do not provide enough sources. As the largest online (and free) encyclopedia that is managed by volunteers around the world, it can seem easy to sneak in some free promotional material in the form of an article – it’s not.

Opimian had attempted to post an article on Wikipedia prior to my involvement. As Canada’s largest wine club, Opimian has made a mark on the Canadian wine industry that means they deserve at least a small mention on Wikipedia. The problem? Not enough sources to back up their claims and really, the fact that they were making claims at all. An encyclopedic article isn’t for claiming or making a point, it’s simply about laying out the facts in a clear, concise manner.

Sourcing your facts & providing Verifiability

One of the challenges for this article was finding sources. Wikipedia requires that all facts in an article be verifiable, which means that other editors and readers have to be able to go to an outside source and find the information you present. For this particular article, it took several hours of research to put together enough sources to prove each statement that needed to be made – ie. all of the facts.

Those four years of English Literature have finally paid off!

Once all of the sources were laid out, each fact attached to a source and the text approved by the heads of Opimian, I posted the article. This is where the project turned from writing to programming.

Coding & Layout

Wikipedia plays by their own coding rules, at least that’s what my “tutor” told me in the Wikipedia chat. The most programming I’ve done is to use the software that does all of the coding for you (ie. Wordpress for my website and blog, Joomla for Opimian’s website, Oempro for Opimian’s mass email communications). I’ve looked into html and understand the basic coding (for example, <i>italicized</i> – I did that without using the “i” button!) so understanding the explainations on Wikipedia wasn’t hard, just time consuming. But worth it. My article went from showing all of the links in each reference entry to having each link as the title of the article being referenced. I also figured out how to make headings, put the menu at the top and use the chat function to get help.

If there is one thing I enjoy doing (after editing and writing of course) it’s learning new things.

So if you have an idea for a Wikipedia article but haven’t been able to portray it in the language appropriate for an encyclopedia or haven’t been able to find enough sources, let me know. I can help and will enjoy doing so!

Or, check out these handy links for tips and advice from Wikipedia:

About Wikipedia – this is the full low-down on Wikipedia, complete with links to pages that will answer the majority of your questions.

What Wikipedia is NOT – sometimes understanding the essence of something comes from a list of what something is not.

Neutral Point of View – a great guide by Wikipedia to the neutral POV complete with tips and guidelines.

Verifiability – Wikipedia runs on verifiability, not truth… and this explains what that means.

Wikipedia’s Style Guide – because every big organization with more than one editor (even with one editor) should have a style guide!

Cleanup Taskforce – just a warning for those who have prepared and posted articles promotional in nature, watch out for these guys (and girls)!

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