03 June 2013

You May Have Heard

. . .that I’ve revised the way I deliver online meetings, workshops and the  other learning activities I provide through Research and Writing. We're still some weeks away from opening the new website, however. 

In the meantime, here’s some information about what's happening. 

Are you interested in an online meeting, a meeting series, a workshop, or similar program?  

Contact me to organize one at your convenience for your business group...your book club...your four best friends...your PTA.  Click here for a list of sessions I’ve offered in recent years. I have many more ideas about workshops, meetings and formal or informal courses, and I’d love to hear yours, too. 

What if you're only interested in those famous Research and Writing handouts?  

Do you really only want to see the worksheets, tip sheets and other support materials that are integral to every meeting? Once the new website is completed, you’ll be able to download all these tools. You'll be able to do this at no charge (but you will have to register). Until then, contact me and I’ll be pleased to send you copies. Click here for a list

You should note that I’ve converted all materials I make available to a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. This means 
  • you may share these products as long as you don’t charge for them and 
  • you clearly indicate Research and Writing as the source
Read the details at www.creativecommons.org
Bad things will happen if you don't abide by the guidelines.

So, you’re staring at a Research and Writing worksheet or tip sheet and you’d like some guidance?  

Or, you’d like to know a little more about how to use it? For a nominal fee, you’ll be able to access a walkthrough of each document. I’ll help you understand what you’re doing, why it’s important, and where to take the insight you’ve just developed.  Again, these are in development, but contact me and I may let you beta-test.

Blog notes below

11 January 2012

Mystery Diagram

I found this in a file. Clearly not the file in which it belonged. I think I designed it but I'm certain I did not invent it. Pointers to that person would be gratefully received.

I'm also trying to decide what "Social Media, Good & Bad" means, and what I think of it.I suspect I had points to make about the polarities of engaging in social media. It may have been a draft image for a long-ago workshop about the use of social media by independent practitioners. Knowing my own habits, it may have been an opening line in my explanation of why "if you build it they will come" is not a reasonable assumption.

Other meanings, maybe? 

I'm open to suggestions. 

21 December 2011

Describing Your Working Life

(originally posted 11 July 2011)
Consider this:

You work for yourself. You’re about to be introduced to someone who doesn’t know you and doesn’t know anything about you. It’s not a purely social situation, so you’d expect a mention of what you do. How do you want the person making the introduction to describe your relationship to your working life? Are you:

  • A freelancer?
  • The owner of a private (or professional) practice?
  • An entrepreneur?
  • An independent worker?
  • A moonlighter?
  • A self-employed businessperson?
  • Something else?

What do you call your working self? What does this suggest about the way you think about your work?

A few months of reading and informal questioning has not established a definitive answer. But here are a few things to think about:

Where does the work takes place?
A number of people suggested that freelancers go into a workplace for a short period of time to complete a specific task. In contrast, a private practitioner or professional practitioner has their own workspace.

This suggests that perhaps “freelancer” is similar to a “temporary worker,” perhaps with differences based in skill levels required, the freelancer’s level of initiative and, at least to some extent, custom. And then, if a doctor makes house calls is she a freelancer?

Who gives whom the contract?
This is a question that addresses some hierarchic subtilties of work relationships. It is surprising, then, that who is likely to initiate the contract (or approach a client for work) isn't a factor in the definitions. Certain private practitioners (e.g., medical professionals) always generate the document that lays out expectations and liabilities. Certain corporations—both for- and non-profit—may refuse to accept a contract that they don’t initiate.

How do people find you?
This is another "subtle hierarchy" aspect of a definition. Although private practitioners do market themselves (often aggressively) and do advertise, they are more likely than freelancers or entrepreneurs or self-employed businesspeople to emphasize that a high percentage of their work comes via word-of-mouth. In general they make a distinction between networking and word-of-mouth, with the latter implying a closer connection.

Where or how do you deliver the work?
A few people suggested that the dividing line is not where the work is done but the way it is delivered. A freelancer will bring the work to the client, whether or not it is completed on their premises. In contrast, the client comes to the professional practice, or arranges for pickup/delivery of the work product. But this, like the contract issue, may be one of control rather than definition. And there are many situations where this might not be the case. Details of the work and mutual convenience are more important in delivery.

What is the relationship between your work and your education (including ongoing education)?
Freelancer, entrepreneur, independent worker are skill-neutral terms. Maintaining a private practice (or a professional practice) may imply advanced degrees, certification and registration, or the need for ongoing refresher courses.

How much of your income comes from this work?

The percentage of total income derived from independent work doesn’t appear to be a factor in how people describe themselves.

The self-description "moonlighter" has fallen out of fashion. No one I spoke with considered her or himself one, even when they occasionally worked as an independent contractor as a supplement to full-time work for someone else—a classic description of moonlighting. It may be that this term has fallen out of use. Or this could indicate that many independent workers view moonlighting as an entry-level position (so to speak) for further independent work.

Conclusions: There is no consistent method to the way independent workers describe the generalities of the work they do. Nor is there any consensus about what these descriptions should be. Nevertheless, any independent worker gives clients and potential clients significant clues to their attitude about work in the way they choose to describe what they do.

And… one final thought question. Do your business cards say you are . . ., or you do . . .?

Learn more in the 3-week online workshop, "Your LIfe as an Independent [Whatever]" starting 20 July 2011. Note: in 2012 we'll offer this starting 5 March and 4 June. More information here.

The Caveat
: I mean this advice to be thought provoking but general. Unless you subscribe to our management advisory, Research and Writing cannot provide specific advice about how best to manage your practice.

17 December 2011

How to write great posts for your business blog -- Part II

(originally published 13 July 2011)
Some Explanations

©Research and Writing, 2011 Mitts off without permission!
In my last post, I offered advice about writing a blog for your business. It was nothing new, you can read much the same on any number of other blogs.

But what does it mean?

If you're as smart as I know you are ;^) then you're already aware there's more to writing great posts for a business blog. Yes, a formula exists. It assumes you
  • have a catchy and informative title
  • present a limited number of ideas in several ways
  • avoid big words and long sentences
  • use the blog as a way to identify potential clients or solidify an existing client base

Following the formula helps readers quickly locate the information you want to communicate through your post. Readers can learn or confirm and move on. According to Nielsen Ratings, the average time spent on any website is 58 seconds. You have to be quick.

Optimizing information in this way makes it easy for readers to get your point. It may also improve your position in search engines. A higher position in search engines means your post is more likely to be noticed by people beyond your network. Good search engine optimization requires more than keyword-rich copy, but it is worth it to keep this connection in mind.

And finally, your blog posts should indicate your mastery of a topic. A well-written post will make clear that you know more than you're presenting in its few words. You need to give interested readers a way to learn more.*

Whether you use blog posts to develop your network or your income (or both), you need to separate potential customers from the casual viewers. One way to do this is to offer access to more free or discounted products or services--a more in-depth seminar, or a newsletter, for example--for those who sign up. You then begin to compile a list of people who know who you are and might welcome hearing from you.

If you've read this far
In my next post, I'll discuss the variable meaning of "58 seconds," what it means to drink the Kool-Aid, and more. If you believe you must do something (see above) now, contact me directly and I'll send you a discount coupon for my editorial services. 

*Some people describe this as a call to action. Others refer to it as the "drink the Kool-Aid" moment. To solidify your new relationship, the reader needs to do something: sign a petition, take a vow to reform, agree to learn more.

6 Tips: How to write great posts for a business blog

(originally published on 8 July 2011)
6 tips--and then some.

1. Choose the market you want to reach
  • Nervous newbies?
  • Latecomers to the blogosphere looking to gain an edge?
  • Peers and colleagues?
  • Aggregators?
  • Some other group?

2. Choose an issue to discuss

It never hurts to revisit the favorites. For example:
  • How to network
  • Where to find clients
  • Why you should be self employed
  • How to write a blog article
©Research and Writing 2011, Mitts off!

3. Write your headline

Something like "# Tips to Better XXXXX" will help with SEO expectations.
         ("#" should be replaced with a number and "XXXXX" with the topic.)

4. Do your research!

Look online for blogs and other articles that talk about the topic you chose. Identify the common elements,especially the tips and tricks. Remember: facts (e.g., The Statue of Liberty is in New York Harbor) cannot be copyrighted, and if more than three sites give the same opinion without a citation then it may be in the public domain. But it may not.

Your research sources could also support your article as links.

5. Write your article

Choose your tips and write each one in a heading-comment format. This makes it easy for people to "get" your article.

Use your choice of market (see 1, above) to focus what you write. You should make at least one reference to the target group in the body of the article.

Add some commentary--an anecdote about your experience, or why you think this or that point is significant. Personalization is important to make the topic your own.

Close with a call to action: ask the reader to do something.

6. Review, spell-check, upload to your blog

Don't forget to tell people (not just your mother) that you've added this new content.

And. . . a little more advice.

Don't give away the farm

You want people to talk about you (at least) or to contact you (best). If you tell all why should they do either?

Use your blog content to get permission to contact people

A sign-up/sign-in feature will help you identify people who want to hear what you have to say. Voila! A self-identified target audience for your newsletter!

Social media is driven by the idea of something for nothing

If you don't want to give away the farm (see above) offer a discount on other goods or services, available by sign-up. You might offer a discount coupon, participation in an exclusive teleconfererence, or access to a white paper.

If you've read this far:

Yes, this post is tongue-in-cheek My next post will explain further. If you have to do something (see above) you can leave a comment.

Just Ask

 (originally posted 24 April 2010)
This is more than the men-and-directions conundrum.

Everyone faces situations in which they find it difficult to ask someone for something. Gender doesn’t matter. Age doesn’t matter. Nor, surprisingly, does it matter if a person considers her or himself shy or introverted.

Some people find it difficult to raise questions about the big issues: money, love, the future, borrowing Dad’s car. For others, the anxiety of asking occurs with more mundane issues: Could you move your car forward so that mine will fit into the space behind you? How do I find the Post Office?

Some people can ask for anything on behalf of a favorite person or charity, but can’t imagine making the same request on their own behalf.

Experts have suggested that fear of rejection underlies the reluctance to ask. When you ask for something, you put your desires on the line: You are asking a favor. Actually, in asking for something you are asking for not one but several favors: not only an answer but one that is truthful and timely.

By asking a question—asking for permission or for information—you give the person you ask a certain temporary power over you. What if the answer isn’t the one you wanted? What if the answer is no answer at all?

Compensating for the embarrassment of asking.

In situations involving diplomacy (and related issues of protocol or social standing), it is typical to rely on an intermediary: You might not have direct access to the person who must reply. This is a strategy that some people adopt to ask certain kinds of questions.

Other strategies involve depersonalizing the petitioner’s relationship to the question. For fact-based questions, internet search engines are the ultimate answer source for anxious questioners. The internet site makes it possible to ask (and ask again) in an anonymous relationship to the reply. The potential for rejection is minimized—who takes seriously the internet reply that begins “What a stupid question!”? Establishing the truthfulness of the respondent is more difficult, however, and the answer or answers may be posted too late to be useful. (As someone will no doubt point out, anonymity on the Internet is somewhat illusion.)

Poor presentation is another way compensate for the embarrassment of asking a question. You might look away as you speak—although this can indicate a cultural norm and not personal reluctance. You might mumble. You might phrase the question as “You wouldn’t want to [do this], would you?” Such techniques seem to protect the person asking the question, but they also make it easier to reply in the negative.

Still another technique is to phrase the question as a statement of fact. Or to simply not ask at all: assuming that everything that isn’t expressly forbidden is allowed. In each case, instead of asking for the favor, the should-be petitioner assumes the answer will be in her or his favor.

Making the ask less fraught

Most people are flattered to be asked to do a favor, whether it’s a task, advice or an opinion. Still, if you don’t like to ask questions of people, no amount of practice will make it easy for you. Here are some tips that might make such situations more comfortable.

Do your research. Prove to yourself that what you plan to ask is not unreasonable.

It’s flattering to be asked for advice, but it’s not flattering to be treated like an
encyclopedia. Or the bank. Take advantage of your library or online resources to see if there is an authoritative answer at your fingertips.

Build a case for why you need whatever you're requesting.
Standing on a street corner with an open map and a quizzical expression builds a case for your being lost so quickly it’s often not necessary to ask directions. (At least if you live in tourist-friendly cities.) In other cases, it is helpful to be able to say “Most people at my job level receive a 25% salary increase after 8 months: I’ve been here for 3 years and have only been raised 4%.”

Show respect for the institution or person you’re approaching. He, she or it is not the enemy.

And now, we have something to ask you. Our Proposal Writing Workshop begins on 3 May. In this 3-week session, you will learn how to “ask.” The focus will be on writing a proposal--essentially long question--but the techniques apply to other situations, too.

Your question might be

  • Will you fund my project?
  • Will you publish my book?
  • Will you hire me to work for you?
  • Will you sell me something?
  • Will you let me sell you something?
  • Will you increase my salary?
Or any other writing task that requires asking rather than telling. More information below.