Category Archives: General business

Reflections on one year in business

© rockvillephoto - Fotolia.comA year ago today, I was in the process of setting up my social media accounts, ordering business cards and reaching out to nearly everyone I knew to announce the launch of my new business. I had wrapped up eight years as editor and content developer at my old job and, after 16 years of working for other companies, I was ready to branch out on my own.

Starting my own business took a lot of courage, and I had to summon all my inner strength to trust that the work would come.

I was fortunate to know several people who had launched freelance businesses before me. Each of them assured me that the market needed business writers and editors. They said I would be amazed at how doors would open up for me once I took the leap of quitting my job and announcing my new practice.

I am thrilled to say that they were right.

In the past year, I have had the great pleasure of working with clients in diverse industries. My clients have included businesses in commercial real estate, banking, hospitals and health care, nonprofits, law firms, a dental practice, engineering firms and restaurants. I have written website copy, blogs, brochures, social media posts, newsletters and feature articles. I have edited annual reports and a novel. It has been an amazing year full of interesting work.

As I look back on my first year in business, I am struck by a few key realizations:

  • I am doing work I love
    Starting a business can be daunting because you don’t know what you don’t know. From legal and tax business filings to marketing and self-promotion, I faced a lot of unfamiliar territory as a new business owner. However, I have confidence in my skill as a writer and editor. Not only that, but I love the work. Having the ability to do that work and to serve my clients well is at the core of my business, and it is what keeps me plugging away at the operational side.
  • Variety keeps me ticking
    I started out thinking I would target clients in a particular industry, but I decided early on not to hem myself into that narrow niche. I am so glad I didn’t. I have realized that I absolutely love researching and writing about real estate one moment and writing about a restaurant menu launch the next. Variety is what keeps my creative juices flowing, and I always look forward to the next client project as a result.
  • People are cool
    As an writer and editor, it is often necessary to close the door, put my head down and focus on the work at hand. I thrive in those focused moments. On the flip side, as a business owner, it is necessary to get out into the world and meet people. That has been one of my greatest joys from the past year: I have met such interesting people. I am glad that I get the opportunity to branch out into the community and connect.

So, as I step into year two in business, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment mixed with anticipation for what’s next. I am a little more confident and a lot more brave. I know what to expect, but I am ready for the unexpected.

Mostly, I am thankful for the people who have guided me along the way and the clients who have partnered with me this past year. I so look forward to the next year of interesting work.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

Blocking out noise to focus

Distractions can divert you from your core message and business purpose

Photo by: yellomello, fotolia.comNoise could be on my mind today because of the contractors who are tearing out a tile floor the level above my office. Or because of the gale-force winds that have been ripping through Denver and keeping us up at night.

Yet, I have found a way to sleep in spite of the howling, and I am now at my desk writing in spite of the loud bangs and crashes above my head. So, it got me thinking about the various forms of ‘noise’ that can happen in our daily business lives.

As communicators and news lovers, I think PR people and writers can be especially prone to allowing noise to seep in and distract us from our core work and purpose. We want to be in on all the conversations, we want to participate in the latest Twitter chat, and we don’t want to miss out on the next big trend. That desire to be in the know can lead us down any number of rabbit holes and, when we come back to our original task, we wonder “Ok, now, what was I doing?”

Right. What are you doing? What is the purpose behind your work today? If you can’t come up with an answer, then it’s time to start at the beginning: strategy.

You don’t need to spend days at a retreat to come up with this strategy, but you do need some time away from all the ‘noise’ that distracts you. Sit alone quietly or grab a few key team members and discuss some answers to the question: “What is the purpose of our work?”

(Check out these articles for some inspiration to help drive this conversation: “Purpose: The Secret Ingredient that Drives Business Success,” Forbes; “5 Tips for a Useful Mission Statement,” Inc.)

Once you have given words to your reason for existing – once you have named your purpose – you can put those words to use for you. Those words begin to have meaning and can give you focus as you put them into practice.

For example, if you own a cupcake shop and you have decided that your purpose is to “share the joy of crazy flavors and killer frosting with the best community in the world” (I may or may not be craving cupcakes right now), then those words should guide your decisions about where you spend your time and what information you share.

Your time and your messages will focus on interesting flavors and perhaps the sources of those flavors. You will focus messages on your local community, why you chose to live and work there, and how your business fits into that vibe. You will not waste time talking about the noise of celebrity gossip or the latest national political debate. Stay focused on your purpose and let it drive your communication decisions.

Of course, as your business grows and evolves, your purpose may change. Be sure to revisit it once in awhile to ensure that it both sums up and inspires your work.

Print vs. electronic communication

© bloomua - Fotolia.com

Having worked in this business for more than 15 years, I have seen communications vehicles, such as newsletters, swing from predominantly print pieces to electronic and back again. My previous employer had even been sending one of its newsletters by fax before I took the job (that was more than a decade ago).

I recently met with a law firm to discuss creating a newsletter that it plans to send to its clients and business contacts, and we decided together that print was the preferable medium for the firm’s needs.

Electronic newsletters and e-mail marketing pieces still have their place, of course, but it’s helpful to consider the benefits of each medium before proceeding:

Benefits of print communication:

Visibility and readership
I checked my own e-mail inbox and counted no fewer than two dozen different senders of e-newsletters and e-mail blasts. I requested each of these subscriptions, and they all contain material I want to read. In reality, though, I read maybe three or four of those communications each week – and only on weeks when I am not crazy busy. In fact, this week’s headline on one of those issues is “9 Ways to Get Your E-mail Opened” (and I do intend to read that one).

The print magazines and newsletters I receive, however? I read every issue.

Reader-friendly layout
No scrolling. No browser-specific layout glitches. No words smashed up against photos. All the information is laid out in easy-to-digest sections.

Professional feel
Paper quality, high-resolution photos, layout and color schemes help create a professional feel. In addition, print often allows for more in-depth coverage of issues. For some industries, such as the law firm I mentioned earlier, those professional touches go a long way.

The coffee-break test
Unless I am meeting with a friend or client, I rarely take a lunch or coffee break without reading material. Sometimes that material is on my smartphone or Kindle, but more often than not, it’s when I take the time to read my magazines and professional newsletters.

Benefits of electronic communication:

Timeline
Without print deadlines to consider, e-mail communications can be sent almost immediately, especially if minimal graphic design is required. E-mail marketing systems make it easy to lay out and send a marketing piece or newsletter immediately and often.

Cost
Depending on the size of your business and e-mail list, using an e-mail marketing system can be quite cost effective. Graphic design services and flipbook software for sending high-quality, larger pieces like e-magazines, can get more pricey.

Links
If one of your primary objectives is to drive traffic to your website, an e-newsletter can be a simple way to link your readers to more content there.

Ability to track readership
E-mail marketing systems allow you to pull reports on number of e-mails opened, links clicked, content shared and more. That information can be invaluable for future marketing and communication efforts.

For most businesses, a mix of both print and electronic pieces makes sense. Which one do you tend to use more and why?

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

The human element in business storytelling

Woman holding a touchpad pc, reading a newspaperby Amy J.V. Atwell

Interviewing interesting people is by far the best part of my job. Over the years, I have had the chance to talk with CEOs of Colorado companies, engineers, community leaders, scientists, analysts and experts in a variety of fields – among so many others.

These interviews are the heart of the storytelling I do. Research, reviewing articles and websites, and gathering data is important, of course, but the human element is what makes any story interesting.

I interviewed a source last night for a human-interest article that will be featured in a corporate newsletter. The conversation started off a bit stilted, as is often the case, and the source seemed a little nervous and self-conscious. As our chat went on, though, she relaxed and her passion for her work began to shine through. That moment is the sweet spot of any interview – the moment when I get true insight into what drives a person and what, in turn, drives the person’s work.

I have seen a similar sweet spot when sitting in on photo shoots. The subject often starts off shy or tense, but a good photographer just keeps talking, asking questions and helping the subject feel at ease. As the person’s shoulders relax and the spark returns to his eyes, that’s the moment when a winning shot happens. That kind of image radiates warmth from the page and draws a reader into the story.

The art of storytelling ­– whether through the written word or visual images – takes a reader beyond the brass-tacks facts about a business’ widget. A compelling story gives a reader a reason to care; a reason to relate. The next time you share a story about your business, think about how you can tie in a bit of that human element.

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.

Notes

by Amy J.V. Atwell

writer's notebooksAs a writer, I feel somewhat helpless and vulnerable without a notebook and a pen.

If I am having a meeting of any kind, I always arrive with a notebook. At events and conferences, I might alternate between taking notes and tweeting. Actually, more often than not, I take notes and then tweet using my notebook as a reference.

Clients and colleagues might be surprised to learn how often I write what they say as direct quotes. Journalism training dies hard, I guess.

I left a meeting yesterday feeling perturbed because I hadn’t brought the right kind of pen. Oh, I had a pen. I always have at least two pens in my purse – a blue one and a red one. Always. However, the blue pen I had yesterday was a ballpoint. Ugh. No brilliant note-taking can happen with a standard-issue ballpoint pen. No, only a fine point rollerball or a superfine felt-tip sharpie will do. In blue. Or red.

I know what you’re thinking: “This chick is cuckoo.” Yet, all the writers among you are nodding your heads in agreement. Am I right?

Oh, sure, in this age of technology, I could use Evernote or some other app to help me take notes. I do have a note-taking app on my phone, and it is incredibly useful for capturing those brilliant (I hope) brainstorms that happen in the grocery store or when I am out to dinner. (Don’t worry, I sneak off to the ladies room to type my notes in the latter case, dinner companions none the wiser.) Yes, I use and embrace technology, but there is something about the act of writing in my own messy hand – with a good pen. It helps me remember the conversation. Re-reading those notes later can take me back to the time and place where that discussion occurred.

This blog’s photo depicts my professional notebooks from the past three or four years. I could open a page in any of them and tell you which project and which colleagues were associated with it.

That’s why Ben Casnocha’s blog, posted on LinkedIn earlier this month, hit home for me. That note-taking is attached to learning is a given for me. I was flabbergasted to read that only two people in the audience at an event were taking notes. I suppose I am too busy taking notes at these things to notice that others aren’t.

What are your personal note-taking and note-keeping quirks?

Amy J.V. Atwell is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She works with businesses to grow their brands through high-quality copy and content. Read more at www.heirloomcommunications.com.