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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 Fur-Bearing Trout, and the power of patience

This summer, I got to add the words ‘contributing author’ to my resume.

My story, The Secret That Won The War, was selected for inclusion in The Fur-Bearing Trout…and Other True Tales of Canadian Life.

The book is a collection of non-fiction pieces by 16 local writers, and was published by the London & Southwestern Ontario chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada to mark the Canada 150 celebrations.

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I am grateful to be a contributing author….

This was a thrill for me for two reasons: I can now say that I’ve been published in a book, and more importantly – I had been sitting on this story for 13 years.

The Secret That Won The War was written in 2004 when I was still in journalism school at The University of Western Ontario.

As a student, my goal was to publish every assignment I wrote for J-school.  I did – with the exception of this one.

Perhaps it was the subject matter, telling the story of Canada’s top-secret radar program through the eyes of Word War II radar veteran Fred Bates. A storekeeper from Wingham, Ontario, Bates had been trained at RAF Station Clinton – located 85 km north of London – before serving on Canada’s West Coast and in Europe.

Perhaps it was the length.  Bates’ personal recollection was interspersed with plenty of historical and technical information – necessary, I felt – to properly tell the tale. But at more than 4,000 words, the draft I handed in was certainly far too long for most traditional publications.

Perhaps my student writing skills just weren’t strong enough to pull off such an ambitious project. I received a mediocre grade and some unenthusiastic feedback.

But Fred Bates had passed away less than two weeks after our interview, and I felt that I couldn’t simply throw away his words.

The story was filed away on my computer. And then on another computer. And another.

Filed away, but not quite forgotten.

When the call for submissions for non-fiction stories about any facet of Canadian life dropped into my in-box last November, I knew that The Secret That Won The War had finally found a home.

It’s now 2,500 words shorter than the original, with a new beginning and ending, but each one of Bates’ words remain.

As for the fur-bearing trout, that’s another slice of Canadian history worth reading about.

The Fur-Bearing Trout…and Other True Tales of Canadian Life was launched at Anderson Craft Ales on June 25. Copies are available at Attic Books and Chapters / Indigo in London, Ontario and it will soon be available on Amazon.

Learn more about Canada’s secret WWII radar program. 

As a story-based copywriter, marketing & website copywriter, content consultant, and blogger, I am passionate about helping people grow their success by sharing their stories with the world. Read what I’ve been up to at Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing.

Shine the Light – A Sister’s Story

November is Shine the Light on Woman Abuse month in my home town of London, Ontario. I was recently asked to write a story about this year’s campaign – which put me in touch with Lynn Blackburn.

Lynn’s sister, Paula Gallant, was murdered by her husband in 2005, shortly before their daughter’s first birthday.

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Paula Gallant is being honoured as part of this month’s Shine the Light on Woman Abuse Campaign.

Many people think it must be difficult to interview people who have lost a family member or friend. But I have found the opposite is usually true. Most people are eager to speak about a loved one – to share stories and let others know how that person made a lasting impact on the world they left behind.

Lynn was no different. Unfortunately, I couldn’t include most of what she told me in my newspaper article. So she gave me permission to share our interview through my blog – in honour of her sister, Paula – and all women who experience women abuse.

What would you like Londoners to know about your sister, Paula Gallant?

Paula was a woman who loved every aspect of her life and lived each and every day to the fullest. She had an incredible smile, kind heart, generous spirit and a wonderful sense of humor.  She had a presence when she walked into a room and people just naturally gravitated towards her positive and energized personality.

Her sweet baby was the brightest joy in her life and her love and commitment to her family and friends was evident in all she did.

Paula was a born educator and her passion for culture and adventure was always incorporated in her daily teachings, both in and out of the classroom. In life she touched the hearts of many and in death, her legacy has left meaning and purpose.

Why did your family decide to honour her memory by taking part in this year’s Shine the Light campaign?

It is so important for people to realize Paula could have been their daughter, sister, friend, their children’s soccer coach or the lady at the grocery store. Men’s violence against women does not discriminate and no one is immune.

We need to help people understand this is a real issue in our communities and our family could never have imagined it happening to us, to our sister, but it can and it did.

It is also important to understand there are cases where physical abuse does not exist, such as Paula’s case.  They were no warning signs, no known triggers, no ability for her to understand or predict the risks.

Although Paula’s voice was physically silenced through murder, our participation in events like this give Paula a voice, in the hopes that we can help drive change and perhaps save a woman’s life.

What would you like Canadians, both women and men, to know about women abuse?

The statics pertaining to intimate partner violence and physical and sexual abuse in Canada are staggering.

Prior to Paula’s murder, we had no understanding of how prevalent men’s violence against women was nor would we have known there were so many agencies, organization, professional and volunteers working tirelessly to try and end violence.

Unfortunately, it took a personal experience for me to fully understand the scope of this issue and that we all have a role to play in working as a society to end this.

All women deserve to live freely and peacefully without abuse. I would challenge both men and women to ask themselves, if this was their daughter, their sister, what would they do different than they are today? My hope is that if we can create a zero-tolerant society against drinking and driving, then I have to believe that one day women will live peacefully and freely without men’s violence and abuse.

You can read my story on the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) 2016 Shine the Light on Woman Abuse Campaign here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the LAWC website.

 

How to generate more news coverage for your upcoming arts event

As some of you may know, I have covered the London and area classical music scene for more than a decade, writing regular music columns for several different publications over the years: Scene, ArtScape, The Beat, and most recently Eat Drink.

And as my deadline approached this month, I once again found myself wanting to bang my head on my computer screen. Why? Because several sources were simply not responding to interview requests.

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I currently write The Classical Beat column for Eat Drink magazine.

As a freelance classical musician turned freelance writer, I’ve been on both sides of the divide. I know that artists live busy lives and often juggle multiple jobs just to make ends meet. I know that most arts organizations can’t afford to splash out on expensive advertising campaigns. And I’ve heard the complaints about the lack of news coverage given to local arts events.

I don’t want to paint everyone with the same brush. Some arts organizations are fantastic to work with. Others, not so much. This blog is directed towards those in the second category, as well as anyone looking to see your name – and news – in print.

Have a website, and keep it up to date
In 2016, there’s really no excuse not to have a decent website. Whether you’re an individual performer or a larger ensemble, it’s simply an investment that you can’t afford not to make.

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People won’t find you if you don’t have a website….

It’s equally important to keep the information current, and to ensure that it’s accurate. Don’t forget to include contact information. (And if your website uses a contact form, make sure it actually reaches an inbox that someone checks!)

Friendly tip: Websites like Eventbrite now make it easy for anybody to sell tickets online. If you’ve got an upcoming concert, why not set up an account and link it to your own site?

Make a media list, and keep it up to date
Pay attention to who is covering the arts in your area, and make a media list. Don’t rely on generic info@ email addresses – who knows where they go? Try to find contact information for the individual reporters.

Friendly tip: Most newspaper websites list individual contact information…you just have to find it. Try scrolling to the very, very, very bottom of the Home Page. That’s where they like to hide the link to the Contact Us page. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to ask for a reporter’s contact information.

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Do some detective work to track down the emails of individual reporters.

Then, when you’ve got an upcoming event, let the media know. A formal news release is great, but a friendly email with some key information can also do the trick.

Give enough lead time and understand the news cycle
It’s the first week of October, and I just filed my November / December Classical Beat column. I’ll soon start working on a story that won’t be published until Spring 2017. That’s why it’s so important to get your information up on your website as soon as possible. I can’t cover your upcoming concert if my story was filed last week.

Having said that, most newspapers will only cover your event the day of, or if you’re lucky, the day before. Same goes for radio and television.

Respond to interview requests
There’s nothing worse than sending out interview requests and leaving phone messages that are never returned. (Other than finally hearing back two weeks after the story has been submitted.)

We’re all busy…but please respond quickly so we can find a mutually-convenient time to chat. If an email interview works better, just let me know and I’ll send my questions along. Please don’t make me chase you, or have to stalk you on Facebook….

Be prepared
Have the list of repertoire ready, as well as the names of any special guests. If you’ve got bios, send them along. High resolution photographs? Even better!

Take some time to think about what you’d like the public to know about your event. If you think you’ll be nervous during the interview, jot down some notes. If the reporter doesn’t ask about something important, just go ahead and tell them. And if you go blank and forget a crucial detail, send a follow-up email.

If you’re an artist, or part of an arts organization, what challenges do you face getting the word out? 

Nicole Laidler is a London, Ontario based freelance writer and copywriter and the owner of Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. 

Following their passion….while paying the bills

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: Do what you love and the money will follow.

If it were only so simple, we’d all be millionaires!

Unfortunately, real life isn’t so straight forward. You can’t pay your bills with enthusiasm, or fill your plate with passion. But recently, I met two individuals who are pursuing their business dreams without giving up their day jobs.

As the owners of Harris Flower Farm & Pastured Pork, Janis and Mark Harris are literally watching their business grow one flower and heritage piglet at a time.

Janis with the first bunch of tulips

Janis with the first tulips of 2016.

I drove out to meet Janis on a miserable snowy morning in April. Janis greeted me with a warm smile. She had recently picked her first spring tulips, grown in a hoop-house greenhouse on her family farm.

Janis explained that her parents still run one of the first organic farms in our area and that she inherited her love of flowers from her grandmother.

But instead of following her parents into farming full-time, Janis trained as an optometrist. She still works in the profession – when she isn’t looking after her three small children or tending the thousands of flowers she now sells every season.

Last year Janis hired part-time help to get her through wedding season; this summer her sister is moving back to the area to lend a hand.

Mark also works “off the farm” but finds time to help out with the flower crop and to look after a small group of pigs who feast on organic leftovers before being turned into tasty sausages and bacon available at local markets and directly from the farm.

You can read my story about Janis and Mark here.

Emilio Barbero is another entrepreneur who is dreaming big in his spare time.

Emilio

Emilio has a passion for geometric design.

By day, Barbero works as the creative director at a London interior design firm. In his off hours, he is the founder of Marbleknot Design Studio, where he lets his imagination run wild as a surface pattern designer.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the field, Barbero recently made his second trip to Surtex – North America’s largest art licensing show. If Barbero’s dreams come true, you’ll soon see his bold, geometric patterns on everything from gift wrap to coffee mugs. In the meantime, he’s producing a small range of consumer goods – including colourful hand made bow ties – all available from his online store.

You can read my story about Emilio here.

So what’s the moral of this blog?

You don’t have to give up your dreams when adult responsibilities hit. You just have to have enough drive to pursue them in your off-hours. And maybe one day you’ll be able to turn your passion into your full-time career.

What passions are you pursuing?