Relax. Developing a following takes time.

bonsai tree
“Patience is a virtue.”

That is one of my mom’s top three favorite sayings (along with “a place for everything and everything in its place” and “keep a smile on your face and a song in your heart”), and it popped into my head today in relation to my work.

As a new business owner, I am apt to grow impatient with my progress in making new connections, winning new clients, and attracting new followers and blog readers. I want it all, and I want it all now.

Sound familiar?

Well, patience is indeed a virtue (someone tell my mom she was right). In fact, impatience can be a major impediment to business development, because most good strategies take time. For any business, current technology and new marketing and communication trends can capture our attention in those impatient moments and zap our focus. We end up doing a little bit of this, a smattering of that – and then wonder why we’re not making progress.

My advice – to you and to myself – is to pick a few strong strategies and stick with them long enough to discover their true power and potential. If you create a Facebook page, a Twitter feed or a blog, invest the time to develop a brand personality on each channel. Engage your followers in conversation. Most of all, don’t post a few times and then disappear for weeks or months. Regular posting is key to staying on your followers’ radars.

Sure, you might start out with 10 followers, but those followers could become 10 deeply loyal fans. Patience, and regular posting, will eventually mean more followers and more fans.

Remember that your followers need time to get to know you. Your business needs to express a personality (your brand) and deliver consistently on it. Don’t try to be all things to all people – post and share content that is in keeping with your brand. People will continue to engage with you when they know what to expect.

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.

Writing quick tip 8/9/13

“Writing is writing.”

That tidbit of wisdom came from a meeting yesterday with a fellow freelance writer. She has been in the freelance business for nearly a decade and, like me, was trained as a journalist and later worked in corporate communications.

For writers, background expertise in a particular field is not necessarily required. What is required is curiosity and the ability to connect with the experts. The real skill comes in being able to identify the right sources and to ask the right questions. Then, of course, you must distill the information into something the audience wants to read.

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.

Two spaces. For Robert.

by Amy J.V. Atwell

This morning, I received the heartbreaking news that a former colleague and mentor has passed away.  He had been diagnosed with cancer less than two weeks ago, so this news came as a tremendous shock to everyone.  I write this blog today in his honor, with fresh tears in my eyes.

Robert was the COO at the Denver business organization where I worked prior to starting my own business.  He and I worked together for nearly seven years (I was the corporate editor), and we battled for all seven of those years over the question of adding one space or two after a period.  It’s one, but I added two spaces throughout this blog as a final nod to Robert.  I believe those extra spaces are appropriate places to pause and remember.

What I will remember most about Robert is his huge presence.  He was a big man – I remember talking with him once about his custom-made shirts because he needed 36” sleeves – but his presence was big because of his heart and his personality.  He didn’t do anything quietly, and everyone knew instantly what kind of mood he was in.  In happy and angry moments alike, it was clear that what drove Robert was a deep passion – he cared about the future of the organization and all the people in it.  The glimmer behind his eyes let you know when you had done good, so to speak, and he held his staff and colleagues in high regard.

He was a master contract negotiator.  He and I had to navigate several vendor contracts together, and I was always in awe of his deft skill at convincing people that his way was clearly the only way.  Another colleague always took Robert with her when she had to buy or lease a car.  With Robert nearby, there was no chance of being hoodwinked.

He knew who in the office kept stashes of chocolate and made a point to stop by several times a week.  His impromptu (and loud) announcements over the intercom meant it was time for one of his famous ice cream runs or drawings for baseball tickets.  He loved treating the staff.

So, today, I am left with the knowledge that Denver is now without one of its most memorable citizens.  He will be missed, and he will most definitely be remembered.

Robert approached life with gusto and a huge grin.  That is how I will remember him, and I hope that memory reminds me to treat both business and life with a generosity of spirit the way he did.

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.

Writing quick tip 07/19/13


“Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it’s just an illusion – that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.”
—David Sedaris

I stumbled upon this quote today, and it gave me pause. I have two initial reactions:

  • As a creative writer, you should write for yourself. Sedaris is right: You have no control over your readers and how they perceive and interpret your work. I believe poets and lyricists figured that out long ago, and they perhaps view the various interpretations as part of the beauty of the art form. If you have something to say, put it out there.
  • As a business writer, you must always consider your audience. Of course you can’t know each individual’s particular quirks or leanings, but it is imperative that you consider perspectives that might differ from your own. Do some research, ask for input from others, get a gut check.

    For example, I was driving by a KFC yesterday, which featured this billboard and the tagline “I ate the bones!” I thought, “Wow, KFC must think its customers are really stupid.” I know the marketers were going for clever, but the message was off-putting to me anyway (although I concede that I am probably not KFC’s core target market in the first place).

Assume intelligence among your readers. Let them interpret your creative work as they will, but be savvy about your business messages.

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.

Writing quick tip 7/12/13

This week’s quick tip is simple:

1) Stand up. Walk away from your desk.

2) Connect. Find something that inspires you or re-energizes you – music, art, nature, exercise, pets, people – and devote some quality time to that thing/activity/person.

I realized this week, after a happy hour with some amazing former colleagues and a separate coffee meeting with a former boss, that being around other people and sharing conversation is a great source of inspiration for me. It gets my brain working in a different way, and it helps re-route my train of thought.

If I have been sitting at my desk for too long, my thinking and creativity become stifled. Breaking the routine and reconnecting help me reclaim the mental energy I need to write.

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.

Powerful storytelling for business

by Amy J.V. Atwell

StorytellingI attended the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability conference (LOHAS 2013) in Boulder, Colorado a few weeks ago. As a first-time attendee, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, other than a focus on conservation, wellness and sustainability. I was pleasantly surprised at the diverse topics covered and, as a purveyor of words, the sessions titled “The Power of Story Telling” and “The Wisdom and Power of Words” caught my eye.

Rob Holmes, founder and chief storyteller (why didn’t I think of that title?) of GLP Films, presented the former session. A great story, he said, must be “powerful, engaging, educational and perpetual” and it must “take a risk.” To illustrate his point, he shared short clips of a few of his films.

I admit to being easily moved to tears, and the snippet of GLP’s “Okapi Conservation Project” certainly did the trick. The clip opened at about minute 4:31 and, after an intro of context-setting images accompanied by intense music, these words appeared on the screen: “In the early morning of June 24, 2012, a group of Mai Mai Simba rebels attacked Epulu Station, headquarters of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.” Pause. Next image: “They killed six people.”

Powerful and engaging? Check and check. Perpetual? You can bet that short film clip will stay with me for some time. My limited experience of okapis include brief sightings at the local zoo and crossword puzzle clues, but this film instantly pulled me into their story – and it left me wanting to know more about the people working so hard to protect them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As a writer, I don’t often have the benefit of music or powerful images to help tell my stories. I most often rely on words and the occasional still photo. As a business writer in particular, most stories don’t carry the impact and weight of a tragedy like the one at this African wildlife center. Still, I think Holmes’ lessons on how to tell a great story apply.

Below are a few of my key takeaways from his presentation and how I apply them to business writing:

Feature strong characters
Businesses are made up of interesting people. Your business is not your building or your logo. It is not even your product or service – it is you, your colleagues and your customers. A fact sheet on the features and benefits of your product is fine, but an account of the human experience goes so much further. A human face – a human story – allows your readers to connect with your business on a more personal level.

A recent food tour in San Francisco led my husband and me to Hog & Rocks, a ham and oyster bar. I think its staff page is a great example of how to highlight the faces – not just the food ­– of the business. After reading the page, you want to sit down to share a cocktail and watch a game with all of these guys.

Engage the audience
Again, fact sheets are fine, but your story needs to go deeper than that. Think about your story from the readers’ point of view: Why did they seek out your website/Twitter feed/newsletter in the first place? How can you meet that need and reel them in enough with your content to ensure that they stick around for awhile? Facts and figures might help them make a final buying decision, but your story is what will help make them a truly engaged fan.

One brand with some of the most passionately engaged fans is Apple (well, duh), and I love its web page targeted at creative types. It is a clear example of engaging a specific audience through the use of storytelling.

Take a risk
You don’t have to present your business or your product exactly the way the other guys do. In fact, I would argue that you can be a lot more successful by doing the unexpected. Be quirky, or shocking, or silly. As long as it fits your overall brand and strategy, taking a risk can make your business more memorable.

I met a local franchisee of this moving and junk removal company at a chamber of commerce event a few years ago. Just the name of the business is risky, but it’s memorable. I purposely didn’t cite the name because I want you to click the link to this company’s blog, which features a unique approach to public relations that helps it stand apart from other moving businesses.

I’d love to hear some other examples of great storytelling that you have encountered.

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.