Working on your website? Here are 5 reasons why you should never leave your words to the last minute.

It happened again. Someone contacted me looking for copy for their new website. After a general discussion about the project- how many pages they needed, whether I would be starting from scratch or polishing existing content, and who the target audience would be – I asked a simple question:

“When do you hope to launch the site?”  Their answer: “By the end of the month.” Less than three weeks away.

words-1

Don’t leave your words to the last minute.

 

I get it. People spend a lot of time working on design – their logo, colour scheme, and a wire frame. They may arrange a photo shoot and even have a video produced. The words? Those can get dropped in at the end.

Here’s why that’s the wrong approach:

1.  A good looking website is important. It needs to be easy to navigate, and function properly. But even the most stunning photographs won’t sell your products and services if your words aren’t up to snuff.

If your message isn’t clear you’ll lose sales. Period. Getting to the heart of what you really want to say, who you are saying it to, and what you want those people to do, takes effort.

2.  After 15 years in the business, I’m pretty good at writing copy that is ‘on brand.’ But, I’m not a mind reader. My favourite clients are the ones who treat my first draft as just that – a FIRST draft. If something I’ve written doesn’t sit quite right, they let me know. And sometimes words read differently on the screen.

I’m always happy to take another run – or two – at your copy. A bit of back-and-forth can take some time, but the results are worth it.

3.  SEO. Your web designer should be ensuring your site is optimized ‘behind the scenes.’ But to help with organic search, your copy needs to be SEO-friendly too. Someone needs to research keywords and phrases. If you don’t’ have a list to send along, that someone will be me.

4.  I know a little about a lot of things, but I’m probably not an expert in your field. In an ideal world, I’ll spend a few hours checking out your competitors’ websites to get a feel for your industry.

5.  I’ve got regular copywriting clients, and I’m a contributor to a handful of magazines. I’m blessed to have ongoing work, but that means I’ll be writing your website copy while I’m juggling several other projects. I’m a queen of time management and I love what I do, but I also have a life.

Here’s one final copywriting misconception that I hear on a fairly regular basis:

“I only need a few sentences, so it shouldn’t take very long.”

In reality, it  can take more time to write 60 words than 600. Why? Because if space is limited, every word counts. Those short, snappy phrases have probably gone through dozens of rewrites.

scrabble

It can take time to write those short, snappy sentences.

My advice to anyone working on their website? Give you copy the attention it deserves. Start thinking about your words at the outset. And if you’ll be working with a professional copywriter, reach out right away.

As for the person who contacted me this week? I’m going to squeeze them in to my already-full calendar. Happy writing!

Nicole Laidler helps people grow their success one word at a time. To see what she’s been writing lately, visit her at Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing

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Freelance Writing: What’s love got to do with it?

It’s Valentine’s Day. If you’re paired up, congratulations! Hopefully you’re happy, and your Valentine will spoil you with a token of their appreciation – whether it’s a card, a box of chocolates, flowers, a fancy night out, or a fun night in.

I don’t have a Valentine, so I thought I’d mark the day by sharing a few thoughts about something I do love: words.

Love

After 15 years writing for a living, I still love words! 

2019 marks 15 years since I graduated from J-school and launched my career as a freelance journalist.

It’s hard to believe that in 2004 Facebook was in it’s infancy.  Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat had yet to be launched, and mobile phones were simply used to make calls. Today, we carry the world in our pocket and spend far too much time worrying about our virtual life.

The media landscape has also changed beyond recognition since 2004. In fact, my alma matter – Western University – no longer offers an MA in journalism. It’s been replaced by a Master of Media in Journalism & Communication , which is an interesting commentary on the blurring of the lines between actual journalism and PR.

Somehow I’ve manage to write continuously through all the upheaval.

Like any job, there are days that seem to drag on forever. But overall, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do what I do. So in honour of Saint Valentine, here are three reasons why I’m still in love with freelance writing:

The variety.
I’ve written about everything from cheese to concrete. I’ve interviewed farmers, CEOs, artists, researchers, and the odd politician. Some weeks I’ll be working on a magazine article (or two), website copy, and social media posts for several different clients. Every day is different.

Some projects may be less exciting than others, but the brain-numbing ones won’t last forever and a great story may be just around the corner.

The flexibility.
I started a full-time communications job the day after I graduated from J-school. I was also a regular contributor to several different local publications – which have all since folded or eliminated their freelance budgets.

Once my son was born I made the decision to leave the 9-to-5. At the time, it didn’t make sense to return to work just to pay for day care.

I’ve been extremely fortunate that my freelance income never had to pay the bills. But it always provided me with my own money and a connection to the outside world.

I’ve worked early in the morning and late at night. I’ve brought my laptop to the hockey rink and to the beach. I’ve done interviews from my car (parked, of course!) Last summer was the first time I closed my office for an official vacation. No one fired me – and I’m doing it again this year.

The ability to set my own hours and control my work load is one of the big advantages of working freelance. I wouldn’t trade this flexibility for the world.

The opportunity to learn.
Writing a wide variety of copy for so many different clients means that I now know a little about a lot of different things. This career path definitely takes an open mind and a willingness to learn!

I’ve also learned a lot about the art of writing over the past 15 years.

When I went to school, I studied journalism. It was a great foundation. I was taught how to research, interview, fact-check, and tell stories. But it quickly became clear that freelance journalism was not where the better-paying jobs were at.

So, I learned about PR, corporate communications and copywriting. I read books, attended seminars, and took online courses. And guess what? I discovered that I enjoy this type of writing too. And people seemed to enjoy working with me.

Today, I’m still learning. I’m currently enrolled in two online courses and I’m sure I’ll take many more. As the world of corporate communications and journalism evolves, I want my skills to keep up. And besides, it’s fun.

So  from this grateful freelance writer to you – Happy Valentine’s Day! What do you love about your job?

Nicole Laidler is the owner of Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. She’s passionate about helping people tell their stories, build their brands, and grow their success one word at a time. Visit her website to see what she’s been writing lately! 

 

My top 3 stories of 2017

The last 12 months have been a whirlwind. I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed a steady stream of work, which has given me the opportunity to write about everything from the Canadian fin tech sector to dairy farming in Oxford County.

Along the way, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some amazing individuals doing some amazing things. That’s made it difficult to pick my favourite stories of 2017 – but after much consideration, here are the three that made a lasting impression:

Roads to reconciliation
(United Church Observer magazine, November 2017)

I don’t remember when I first learned about Canada’s residential school system, but I know it wasn’t at school. And I’ve written stories on First Nations issues in the past where my sources were wary about sharing their stories with a reporter.

geraldine robertson - photo Dwayne Cloes

Geraldine Robertson shares her experiences as a survivor of Canada’s residential school system. Photo: Dwayne Cloes

Geraldine Robertson had no such hesitation. A survivor of the residential school system, she has worked tirelessly to educate her own community and Canadians in general about the abuses suffered by generations of First Nations children.

(In case you think she must live ‘way up North’ – Geraldine is a member of Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia. That’s less than an hour from my front door.)

This year, Robertson and two fellow survivors shared their residential school experiences in a documentary film called “We Are Still Here,” which led to my assignment for The United Church Observer magazine.

It can be difficult to interview people about traumatic events, but Geraldine answered my questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. She also posed a few questions of her own, which made me see the legacy of the residential school system in a new light.

You can read my story here  and view the documentary ‘We Are Still Here.’   It should be screened in every Canadian school.

The Peacemaker
(Ivey In Touch, September 2017)

I was excited – and a bit nervous – when Ivey Business School asked me to write a profile of Frank Pearl for their alumni magazine.

Frank Pearl

Frank Pearl studied at Ivey Business School before returning to Colombia. (Photo: Facebook)

After all, it’s not every day that I get to interview a peace negotiator.  And like most Canadians, I have a limited understanding of Colombia’s long-standing civil war.

Luckily, it took a few weeks to arrange the interview so I had plenty of time to research and prepare my questions – which I hoped would provide readers with some insight into Pearl as a person, Ivey grad, and peace broker.

Often people who are in high profile positions have received tons of media training, which doesn’t always make for the most interesting quotes. So when I finally reached Pearl at his home I was relieved and delighted that he spoke with such candor about both his role in the Colombian peace process and his time in Canada.

I even had to ask my editor if she could stretch the original word-count. (Which she did!)

You can read my story here.

The Art in a Deal
(London Inc., June 2017)

I first met Marla Marnoch at an event at The ARTS Project in downtown London sometime during the summer of 2016. I think we may have been the only people in the room without visible tattoos, so of course we got to talking.

Marla mentioned her concept of marrying social enterprise, real estate transactions and community building – and I immediately thought “That’s something I need to keep an eye on.”

Almost 12 months later, Marla launched earmark.ca, I pitched and wrote a story, and as an added bonus I made a new friend!

Marla Marnoch earmark

Marla Marnoch (far right) building our community through her social enterprise real estate initiative, earmark.ca (Photo: Facebook)

Marla’s enthusiasm for London and her ability to bring her vision to life make this story one of my top 3 picks of the year.

You can read my story here.

So, what’s up for 2018?

I’ve already got a few new assignments lined up for January, as well as a small speaking engagement – so I’m looking forward to the year ahead. I’ll also be starting work on a book that I’ve been thinking about for several years now…stay tuned!

If you’d like to keep up with what I’m writing, follow my Facebook page or visit my website.  And if you’ve got a story idea, or need a freelance writer – please drop me a line!

In the meantime, thanks for reading my blog – and Best Wishes for 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

The six numbers you need to know about social media

One of the things I love most about being a copywriter and content consultant is getting to work with fantastic people – like the team at Elm Hurst Inn & Spa and Idlewyld Inn & Spa.

We’ve worked hard over the years to boost the Inns’ social media profiles, with active accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, in addition to a monthly blog.

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So much social media…so little time!

But I confess – it’s been a bit of a learn-as-you-go process! I’m not a big believer in growing an on-line audience through boosted posts, paid advertising, or ‘like and share’ contests. My philosophy has always been that it’s better to speak to a smaller group who are actually interested in what you have to say than to shout to a crowd who couldn’t care less.

So, I was delighted to hear London Social Media Coach Geoff Evans say practically the same thing at a recent seminar I attended with Elm Hurst front desk manager (and fellow social media administrator) Michael Willemsen.

I’m not going to share Geoff’s insights and tips to get your social media rocking, because that’s his job…but I will reveal six numbers he shared that you must know if you’re running a business with a social media profile.

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Knowing these numbers will help you stay on target with your social media.

15
When it comes to social media, Facebook still rules the roost. Canadian users spend an average of 15 hours a month reading, posting, and sharing their stories.

That compares to the 15 minutes a month most people spend on LinkedIn.

51 
If your business is in London Ontario, there are 51 million Facebook users within driving distance of your front door.

30
Facebook is getting middle-aged spread, with most users now aged between 30 and 49. If you’re going after the kids, you’ll find them on Instagram or Snapchat – until the next big thing launches.

65
Facebook is also going gray. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is people aged 65 or older. Think retirees with lots of spare time, and grandparents wanting to stay in touch with family and friends.

20
Congratulations! You’ve got a lot of fans! But if you think they’re all tuned in to every post, think again. Thanks to the Facebook news feed algorithm, only 20% will actually see what you’ve got to share. (So don’t worry too much about repeating yourself.)

50
Most people on Facebook follow 50 pages. That’s a lot of posts, which is why Facebook does its best to edit your news feed based on previous interactions. Hence the rise of click-bait. But that’s a blog for another day.

What is your biggest social media challenge? 

Nicole Laidler is a story-based copywriter, marketing & website copywriter, content consultant and blogger based in London, Ontario. See what she’s been up to at Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. 

Speaking as a writer….

Whether I’m writing freelance articles or crafting copy for a website, I essentially spend my professional life telling other people’s story.  Never my own. And that suits me just fine.

So you’d be forgiven for wondering why I spent one Friday this February at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day – which promises participants that they’ll “come away with a more powerful story and new tools to help you accelerate your success and performance in a multitude of ways…whether your focus is motivational speaking, keynoting, speak-to-sell, informational speaking and training – or changing the world.”

That's the back of my head at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day, listening to presenter Paula Morand,

That’s the back of my head at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day, listening to presenter Paula Morand.

While the event may not seem like an obvious fit for a non-fiction writer, I promised myself to make more time for professional development this year. I also recognize that as a solopreneur I am required to ‘tell and sell’ my own story each time I meet a prospective client – and that I sometimes sell myself short.

So off I went, intrigued to learn more about a speakers’ approach to storytelling and hoping to pick up a few new skills in the public speaking department.

Here’s what I learned.

According to momondays founder Michel Neray (who interestingly comes from an advertising copywriting background), any spoken presentation should contain at least one ‘signature story’ – something personal that will stick with your audience.

moMondays founder Michel Neray says every story should have three things.

momondays founder Michel Neray says every story should have three things.

He says an effective signature story must have:

Intention – Why are you telling this particular story? How does it link to your primary topic?
Structure – A cohesive beginning, middle and end that will take your audience on a journey and drive home your message.
Authentic Delivery – Do you have stage presence? Are your voice and movements natural and aligned with what you are saying? Can you ‘go with the flow’ and respond to audience reactions?

Intention. Structure. Delivery. Sounds like the ingredients to any well-written copy!

Then Neray asked everyone to complete a ‘Truth Map’ to identify the challenges we help clients solve.

My 'Truth Map' - a work in progress.

My ‘Truth Map’ – a work in progress.

We brainstormed outward – taking problems like “losing clients due to unprofessional or non-existent web presence” to their most far-reaching conclusion (possible bankruptcy, family upheaval, depression)…..wow…I never realised my words could make such a difference!

This was followed by Paula Morand’s presentation on story structure and timeless plots. You can read more about the seven basic plots here.

Regardless of the underlying structure, Morand said storytellers should ask themselves: What is the moral of this story? What issue is being solved? What is in it for my listener – and how can I make my story engaging?

All good points to keep in mind for a writer.

The day ended with a session on Stage Presence – and this is where I squirmed in my seat.

As an interviewer, I’m used to being (more or less) in control of the conversation, asking the questions, and doing the observing.

I’m not used to having other people scrutinize my body language, facial expressions, and verbal cues.  But I took a deep breath, participated in the group exercises, and came away with a new appreciation of how how I say what I say can affect how my message is received.

Something to keep in mind for my next client meeting!

So what’s the moral of this story?

Acknowledge your weaknesses and look for opportunities to improve.  Don’t be afraid to try something different. Change is uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to move forward.

stock-footage-closing-red-curtain-with-title-the-endWhat have you learned so far this year?

Three that made a splash in 2014

I’m the first to admit that my 2014 freelance portfolio is thin compared to previous years. That’s because I was busy with corporate work – in particular a lengthy freelance contract with London Life, one of Canada’s largest financial institutions.

This year, I spent three days each week in the cubicle jungle.

This year, I spent three days each week in the cubicle jungle.

Spending three days each week in a cubicle was a bit of a culture shock, but I appreciated the regular pay check, dressing up to go to work, and the daily chit-chat with colleagues.

I learned that I can happily work in a corporate environment, and that I enjoy the challenge of writing engaging copy on complicated subjects for a mass audience with a short attention span.

I also learned that I love the variety of the freelance life!

So without further ado, here are my three most-memorable projects of 2014:

Idlewyld Inn & Spa 
This venerable old Inn underwent a major renovation and relaunch last year, and needed a new website to match.

London's Idlewyld Inn & Spa deserved a great new website!

London’s Idlewyld Inn & Spa deserved a great new website!

This project gave me a chance to put everything I’ve learned about SEO copywriting into practice – keep it short, sweet, and choose the right words. Think about how the content connects. Use great photos and keep the layout clean.

With the help of graphic designer Johnny Delguercio of Degee, and programmer Jack Ivansevic of Think Forward Technologies, I think the Inn now has an online presence it can be proud of.

Build Strong Cities
I can’t remember the first time I met Kadie Ward, but she is one lady who makes a lasting impression!

Kadie Ward makes a lasting impression.

Kadie Ward makes a lasting impression.

Ward truly loves the challenge of building a better city, so when I learned that the London Economic Development Corporation marketing wiz had struck out on her own and was now sharing her passion internationally, I decided it was time to pitch a story to her Alma Mater. You can read the story here.

Ward’s first major contract was with Ukraine’s Municipal Local Economic Development agency, and she put me in touch with MLED’s project director, Alexander Kucherenko, in Kiev. We spoke over Skype as history was unfolding in the streets outside his office.

While my story wasn’t about the ongoing political developments in Eastern Europe, I still think about Kucherenko when I hear news from Ukraine, and hope his optimism about his country’s future will come to pass.

Oxford County Cheese Trail
I have rarely met a piece of cheese I didn’t like, so when Oxford County developed a self-guided Cheese Trail to promote the local artisan cheese industry I knew this was a story I needed to write.

Oxford County is home to lots of artisan cheese makers.

Oxford County is home to lots of artisan cheese makers.

Luckily, London is home to a fantastic publication for foodies, EatDrink magazine.

That’s how I found myself hitting the back roads in pursuit of a slice of some of Oxford County’s best cheese. You can read the story here.

It’s always fun to interview people who love what they do, and Shep Ysselstein of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese and  Adam and Hannie Van Bergeijk of Mountainoak Cheese Ltd. didn’t disappoint.

In addition to learning about traditional cheese-making practices, I got an earful about government regulations and the pros and cons of going organic.

I also got to sample some delicious cheese, and take in some beautiful countryside. This is a day trip I will definitely do again with out-of-town guests.

So, what’s in store for 2015? 

What's in store for 2015?

What’s in store for 2015?

I’ve got a handful of freelance ideas to pitch in early January, and a few copywriting projects in the works.

I’m also helping to organize a southwestern Ontario freelance writer’s conference, scheduled for April 25, 2015. But that’s a topic for another blog….

What were your favourite writing moments of 2014? And what do you hope to accomplish in the coming year? 

Happy Holidays and a prosperous 2015 from spilledink.ca 

Pushing through my annus horribillus

How embarrassing! It’s been almost a year since my last blog. And what a year it’s been.

Without sharing the gory details over the internet, let’s just say that I’ve been to more funerals in the past 11 months than in the previous 44 years.  Cancer, suicide, and plain bad luck have all taken their toll on friends and family members.

Sometimes it's felt like Death has been trying to have the last laugh....

Sometimes it’s felt like Death has been trying to have the last laugh….

I guess it’s all part of growing up and growing old. Or at least middle-aged.

My plan to become a certified SEO Copywriter was (temporarily) shelved as I juggled a large corporate contract with hospital visits and my son’s competitive hockey schedule.

Exploratory coffee meetings were postponed while I managed the rebranding of Idlewyld Inn & Spa, including the launch of their new website.

Freelance ideas remained unpitched as a challenging project become even more of a burden when two partners dropped out leaving me to shoulder most of the grunt work.

But if I’m blogging today, it’s because that is all in the past – and life is starting to return to a (new) normal on both the personal and professional fronts.

I am looking forward to the possibilities of 2015!

I am looking forward to the possibilities of 2015!

I will not be sad to see the end of 2014. To quote Queen Elizabeth II, it was an ‘annus horribillus.’ But I am looking forward to getting back into the groove during 2015.

Top of my ‘to do’ list?

Updating  my website…starting with this blog!