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Advice From The Editors: Avoid These Writing Mistakes

If you've been wondering what makes for great business writing, you're in luck! Based on feedback from the Signifiers Facebook Group, we're focusing on writing tips all month long. But before we talk about how to write an enticing and effective blog post, website, or social media, let's first chat about common writing mistakes. 

I don't know about you, but I see errors on professional websites, blogs, social media, and even national commercials almost daily. And, as someone who can spot them, it makes the brand seem more amateur to me, especially when it's a large company. That's definitely not what I want for your organization. 

So, to kick things off, I asked a few of my favorite #girlboss editors to explain some common writing mistakes, which will allow you to spot any weaknesses you may have, and improve them. (Basically, here's how you can up your writing game in just a few minutes!) Any corrections you can catch now may cause you to retain customers and donors in the future.

 Advice From the Editors: Avoid These Common Business Writing Mistakes

Audience

Sara Shelton:

My biggest tip for any and all writers would be to remember your audience. If you don’t know who you’re writing to, don’t start writing until you figure that out! Identify your primary audience and then write with them in mind. Read everything back through the lens of that audience and ask yourself if it makes sense just for them. Did it communicate specifically to that audience?
As an editor, one the biggest content mistakes I find myself having to correct is a lack of focus on an audience. It’s much easier to make a clear point and deliver a direct message to one, specific audience. When a writer or brand doesn’t know who they’re trying to communicate to, clarity and messaging gets lost and mixed up pretty quickly!

 

Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling, and Related Nonsense

Afton Phillips:

The Oxford Comma Debate
To add the third comma, or not to add the third comma. That is the question. A REAL BIG pet peeve of mine when editing is inconsistent commas. The Oxford comma is the last comma in a list of three or more items just before the "and" or "or." For example, “Johnny, April, and Samantha drove to the store to get Tombstone frozen pizza, which as we all know, is the best kind of pizza.” The comma after "April" is the Oxford comma. 
The reason this matters is that sometimes the meaning of the sentence can be misconstrued without the comma. In the above example, it might otherwise seem like we’re telling Johnny that April and Samantha went to get delicious pizza without him, which is very rude. Without the Oxford comma, the last two subjects can sometimes be grouped together separately, leaving the first guy all alone, hungry, and wishing he had pizza. So, my humble opinion is to be kind and add the Oxford comma.
There are a lot of opinions on this topic, but no matter where you fall, my one piece of advice is be consistent. Whether you want to use it or not, whenever you have a list of three or more, make sure you either always or never use your Oxford comma. This will make your editor's life much easier, and it will clear up any misunderstandings in your text by your willy-nilly use of punctuation. 

 

Jill Turner:

The number one mistake I have corrected lately (and so many times) is no comma before "and" (or any other conjunction) when marrying two sentences that could stand on their own. For example: Kristi Porter is a friend of mine. She is a talented writer. If I put those two sentences together, I have to say, "Kristi Porter is a friend of mine, and she is a talented writer."  
A second thing that bothers me is the very popular use of "based off." A base is something you put something else ON. A base is a launching pad, a setting place. You can only base something ON something else. 

A resource Jill recommends:

 

I will also add two of my own here:

First, an ampersand, or the famous "&" character, should not be placed in the middle of a sentence. I think this probably became more popular when people started writing like they text (note: me shaking my head and sighing). Use it for titles, names, and things like that, but if you're using it in a sentence because typing two more characters for "and" is a bit much for you, rethink it. It just leaves me feeling that whatever is written is unprofessional or sloppy. And it drives me insane to see large businesses who can afford proofreaders make this mistake.
Second, and somewhat related, is the use of single and double quotes. I still hold true to what I was taught in school: use double quotes every dang time, unless you are quoting someone within a set of quotes. For example: "I turned to look at a bewildered Samantha who said, 'Oh, no, she didn't!' and then we both burst out laughing."
That latter mention is the only time I believe a single quote should be used. And I really enjoyed this funny, tirade on the subject. Again, I think this leads back to texting being the death of proper writing. (Call me old, I don't care!) Then again, sometime these mistakes keep me in business, so there's that...

Resources I recommend:

  • I admit to Googling these questions now and again, but I only get my answers from reputable sources like AP Stylebook, Grammarly, and Grammar Girl, which you'll also see noted below.
  • Make friends with editors, ha! I'll also admit to texting some of these ladies questions from time-to-time.
  • If you have the budget, hire a proofreader. It may not seem like it should be at the top of your list, but remember, everything you say (including how you say it) conveys something about your organization. If you're asking people to buy something from you, or donate to your organization, you'd better make sure that you look and sound professional. Personally, if I see a lot of errors in a website, email, blog, or social media, that's not where I'm going to send my money.

 

Style

Crystal Chiang:

When writing, nothing is more often overlooked or more impactful than tension. Tension helps the reader answer the question, “why do I care?”. It moves them to feel something, to engage.
The problem is that no one really likes tension, not even the author. We want it to be relieved. We want the reader to know that we know the answer to the questions we’re asking. We want to stop feeling the tension, so we resolve it to quickly. And in doing so, we unknowingly sabotage ourselves.
The truth is, there’s a lot of content out there and our time is limited. So helping a reader know why this topic matters to them is key if we want them to stick around. 

A resource Crystal recommends:

 

Leigh Harper:

Don't fall into the trap of foregoing correctness for the sake of being catchy or memorable. Trust me, you'll be remembered—but not for the reasons you'd like! Creativity is great, but keep it professional by using proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Playing off of words is welcomed (i.e. naming a boutique "Sew In Style"), but there's no need to get sloppy ("Sew 'N Style" or worse, "Sew-N-Style"). You'll be hurting yourself by appearing amateur. Plus, deviating from traditional spelling, punctuation, or grammar opens the door wide open for vendors, donors, and customers to misspell or confuse your brand. Naming an event, product, or campaign? You guessed it. Same rules apply in order to put your best foot forward.

Resources Leigh recommends:

 

A Little of This, A Little of That

Jennifer Bradley Franklin:

Effective writing is the foundation of successful messaging—in public relations and beyond. It can communicate the strengths of a brand to virtually any targeted audience, convert skeptics into evangelists, and it can make the journalist receiving it say, “Yes! I want to write a story about that!” Bad, boring, or unclear writing will make many people ignore the potentially terrific information you have to share. 
What Makes Bad Writing? 
  • Too much "puffery" such as: "It will be a fun-filled evening for the entire family, with each hilarious performance starting promptly at 8 p.m.”
  • Empty/meaningless language: there is, amazing, actually, basically, really, charming, fantastic, wonderful, etc. Use concrete adjectives that convey what you want to say. 
  • Cramming in too many big words, just for the sake of, well, using big words.
  • Being unclear. Don’t make assumptions about your reader’s knowledge of a subject.
What Makes Good Writing? 
  • Master the basics (grammar, structure, format) and then build in personality and “punch” from that strong foundation.
  • Write for clarity. Read your work with a critical eye, asking the question, “If I weren’t close to this project, would this paragraph make sense?” 
  • Be concise, but include interesting details that entice the recipient to read on. Think like a journalist.

Resources Jennifer recommends:

  • Grammarly
  • "In general, I think the best way to become a better writer is to be a voracious reader. Reading good writing hones those skills!"

 

Jennifer Wilder:

I have two pieces of advice. First, no matter how well you write, you can still make spelling errors on words like here and hear, or they're and their, or your and you're. Often, these spelling errors elude us even after reading it twice. That's why it's important to have a second set of eyes read your article. This person could be your spouse, your business partner, a professional editor, or a virtual assistant. The second person will often catch things that you didn't.
If you're unable to locate someone to read things twice, then read it yourself, out loud, a third time. Pretend that you are reading it to someone who is looking over your shoulder at the document. You'll likely find that spelling errors jump out at you when taking this perspective.
Second, write as if your article or communication was going to be read by a group of fifth-grade students. Are your ideas clearly thought out and linked together? Are your sentences less than 20 words? Check to make sure you limit the use of pronouns or referring words. Mix in the proper names of things among those referring pronouns to ensure that readers follow your thought process through complex ideas about multiple subject matters.

Resources Jen recommends:

 

Patti Townley-Covert:

  • If a nonprofit does not have an experienced communications department, I highly recommend they hire someone to come in and do a seminar about writing tips. (Or if you have someone experienced, it's worth making the time for that person to share writing info with whatever staff personnel might write for the organization. It's amazing how few editors/marketing people/human resources personnel and others have any kind of training in effective communications. The authors I worked with at a nonprofit hated the writing/editorial process until I did a two-hour seminar correcting some misperceptions that even those designated as editors had. Articles/books/brochures and donor letters became far more engaging as a result. It's well-worth the cost.
  • Ledes (leads) should hook the reader into the material. Using a story, an outrageous or little known fact, or other compelling approaches will help readers take time to read the rest. 
  • Writing is a team sport. It takes good communication and working together to get high-quality documents. Too many times authors and editors do not explain problems, they just try to fix them in isolation. That does not work well.
  • The worst problem I see, even with experienced writers, is passive or boring verbs—were, was, are, have, is. Verbs should be powerful, action words. That's fine for a first draft, but then substitute action words. 
  • Another problem is over-using the word "I" in your writing. The article/missive/web piece is not about "you." Keep it focused on the audience, even when describing how you feel about it.
  • That said, when you're writing—just write. Let the words flow. Then go back and edit. The two processes use opposite sides of the brain, and trying to edit as you go makes a writer miserable. That was the number one reason the authors I worked with hated the process. They were trying to be creative and analytical at the same time.

 

Great information, right? These are smart, successful women who know their stuff. Take my advice: take their advice! These writing mistakes may be common, but they're easy to fix. Make these changes, and pretty soon, you'll be a more powerful writer who can help others rally around your cause.

And let us know in the comments which tips were most helpful for you!

 

Read the other posts in this series:



    PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

     These common writing mistakes could be costing your nonprofit or social enterprise customers and donors! Listen to what our favorite editors had to say.

     Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

    I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


    How to Make the Media Come to You

    Yes, it's true. There is a very simple way to make the media come to you, and all it requires is your email address. Too good to be true? Not at all!

    I've been using this method for well over a decade, way back when I was a young pup at a boutique PR firm that focused on restaurants and hospitality clients. (We ate really well.)

    What is this magic you ask? It's called HelpAReporterOut.com, or known to us in the public relations biz as HARO. And it's just about the easiest way to get press for yourself or your organization.

     How to Make the Media Come to You

    Why HARO?

    HARO is a way for journalists and bloggers to find sources for their articles. Literally three times per day Monday through Friday, you can receive emails that state the journalist's name, media outlet, and what information they need from a potential source.

    Seriously, could it get any better? Oh, wait—did I mention that it's FREE?

    I used this service for clients when I was in public relations, and then later when I was running the communications department at an eco-organization, and also at my last job as an event marketing director. 

    So, when I started Signify, it was a no-brainer to use HARO to initially help get my name out. This is a large reason why you'll see media logos on my About page. I launched my website last February, and within a couple of months, I had half a dozen media mentions.

    Why Do You Need Publicity?

    Well, no one needs publicity for their nonprofit or social enterprise, but it sure is nice!

    Being mentioned by the media can:

    • Give you credibility or "social proof," showing that others are endorsing you or your work.
    • Look impressive to potential partners, donors, customers, and sponsors.
    • Get links back to your website which increases your SEO.
    • Attract more fans and followers to your social media.
    • Help get your name out if your organization is small, in a growth phase, or just getting started.

     

    Responding to HARO Inquiries

    These are the most important tips to keep in mind when you respond to a HARO inquiry:

    • First of all, notice the deadline. Let me repeat that: note the deadline! Many of them only give you a day or two notice, and some may even only give you a few hours if they're on a tight deadline. (FYI, if you respond past the listed date and time, it's likely the email address will be dead anyway because they look more like Craigslist's generate emails than name@company.com.)
    • Make sure you're a good fit for the article. Do not waste a journalist's time, or yours.
    • Be short and to the point. Answer their questions or query well, but don't be too wordy. You'll often see them note the word or sentence count that they're looking for in responses. Stick to that, or you're likely to just get deleted.
    • Read all their requirements. Be sure to hit every point in your response. And, for example, if they say to include your name, email, and website link, I like to list those in a list or with bullets rather than in a sentence. 
    • Be as helpful as possible. You can include links if that further supports your response, but they do not like attachments. For this reason, if they ask for a head shot, it's best to have yours stored on Dropbox or Google Drive and just include the link.
    • I also like to use humor when possible to stand out, or try to come at the article with a different perspective or angle than I think they'll receive from everyone else.

     

    About Pitching

     

    There are a lot of formulas for pitching, and a quick Google search will give you thousands of results. But since you guys aren't publicists or freelance writers, let's just keep it simple, shall we?

    Here are the basic components, but depending on what's asked for, this could shift a little:

    • Greeting
    • I start most every pitch with what I do in a nutshell. This is only one sentence, and you'll find it below.
    • Get to answering their query as quickly and simply as possible. Try for just a few sentences, unless they say it can be several paragraphs.
    • Include any other info they've asked for like a headshot or website link.
    • Depending on the request, you may want to include availability for when you can chat if they said they'll follow up with the right people by phone. Again, read the listing carefully, and if they need to talk by phone, don't forget your time zone! 
    • I always end with something about hoping they have a good day, or get the responses they need, etc. It's just a well wish for them, and recognizing there is a person on the other end.

    More Best Practices

    Keep in mind that these people are from all kinds of media outlets and are writing all kinds of stories. So, you'll have to wade through 99% of them to find stories that you might be a good fit for. And that means 99% of ALL emails you get from them, not each email. Most of the time, unless you have a really broad topic or just want practice replying, it will be irrelevant to you. But there are opportunities that are certainly worth the wait!

    And until you get used to the frequency, it can get overwhelming on busy days when you receive three emails per day from them. If you let HARO emails pile up, which I've done many times, just delete them and start over because most of the deadlines have already passed anyway.

    If you're really active on social media, you might also consider following HARO there. This is one of the best ways to find last-minute stories. And if those are a good fit, you're more likely to make the cut due to the quick deadline and other people just not seeing it.

    Oh, and if you do get chosen, be kind and promote the blog or article. For one thing, it's just polite, and you'd want the same courtesy. Additionally, it again looks good for your audience to see that you've received some publicity. And finally, it can lead to repeat opportunities with that media outlet, journalist, or blogger.

     

    Final Tips

    First of all, you won't get picked every time you respond to a query. Yep, it's just like fifth grade kickball. Each listing receive get dozens or even hundreds of responses, so sometimes it just comes down to if the journalist or blogger thinks that you're the right fit. The other half of the equation is, of course, making sure your pitch is carefully thought out and well-executed. Do your part!

    Additionally, don't disregard media outlets that you've never heard of or those listed as "anonymous." You must have a fairly good-sized web presence to even create a HARO listing. So, people are still going to see your name out there online, and you just never know what that might do. It could be as small as new social media followers, or as large as you can imagine.

    And when you're getting started, I recommend answering every inquiry you can. Of course, you must be a good fit! Again, you don't want to waste the journalist's time. However, just the practice of responding and honing your pitch will be terrific practice for when you see opportunities that you really want.

    It was through this process that I refined my elevator pitch for Signify. (In case you're wondering, it's "I'm a copywriter and consultant who helps nonprofits and social enterprises get noticed and grow through effective marketing and communications." <-- That went through a lot of drafts before it ended up here, and HARO really helped me.)

    One final note: hopefully, you'll hear back from the journalist or blogger if they use your information, but that's not always the case. That's why it's important to set up alerts for when your name, nonprofit, or social enterprise is mentioned online. Google Alerts has become really unreliable over the past few years, so I've turned to TalkWalker. I know this doesn't catch all media mentions either, but it is free, and I'm not ready to pay for a service yet. :)

    And if using HARO works for you, I'd love to hear about it! See you out there!

     

    By the way, this is the second week of our March PR series. Be sure to sign up to receive blog posts so you don't miss parts three and four! Catch up on using public relations in social media right here.

    Read all posts in this PR series:



    PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

     Yes, it's true. There is a very simple way to make the media come to you, and all it requires is your email address. Too good to be true? Not at all! I've been using this method for well over a decade.

     Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

    I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


    Taking Your Business in a New Direction

    Today's guest post is by Ashley Jones, founder of Love Not Lost. LNL is an incredible organization that provides free photography sessions to those facing terminal illness, along with grief resources for the people supporting them.

    Ashley has made two shifts in her business model over the past few of years, and has done so by listening to her heart and her community. I think she has some valuable lessons to teach us all about change, and how to evaluate our organization's long-term success. Both nonprofits and social enterprises will relate to her inspiring story.

    And as you begin the New Year, take her desire for feedback and education to heart and see how you can apply it to your own organization. 

     Taking Your Nonprofit or Social Enterprise in a New Direction

    The New Year mindset can be full of vision, dreaming, and wonder. There is a whole new year ahead to grow, hustle, and reach your dreams. But what if your year doesn't go as planned? What if there is a new direction you need to take? 

    As a business owner, your business is your ship and you are responsible for steering it and taking it on the journey you desire. At times, certainly in the startup phase, it can feel overwhelming. Waters are rough, and the path to success may not be as visible as it once was, but you're not alone. You have feedback from your customers or donors, mentors/advisors, and your relationships within your network to help guide you. Have you been cultivating these relationships? Are you asking for advice? Are you listening to what they say? 

    Launching a Business

    After losing my daughter to a terminal diagnosis in 2011, I started my own photography business to help get me out of bed every morning. I knew just enough to get me out into open waters, but quickly realized I was in trouble. I spent way too much money and effort on marketing, and I didn't have a good pricing structure. I knew I needed help. At that time, I didn't have any mentors or advisors and felt like I was alone. But I dove into business resources like GrowthLab and CreativeLive, and read books like Good to Great by Jim Collins and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. 

    In the first year, I learned a lot of hard lessons and grew into a better person while navigating grief. Brene Brown, Ramit Sethi, and photography experts like Lindsay Adler and Jerry Ghionis became my online mentors. And I asked my clients what I could do better, and truly listened to their complaints. It was really hard, but I was better for it. I also looked to my network to build relationships where we could help each other succeed. Each connection and relationship propelled me forward.  

    Over the next several years, I would continue to grow as a person and a business woman, which included donating sessions to people facing a terminal diagnosis as a way to love it forward. Although I was doing wedding and portrait photography, and was successful with it, my heart ached for more. I knew that the sessions I gave away to suffering families filled my soul in a way nothing else could. I new I needed to change direction. 

    It's not always easy to change direction with business. It's very likely people will challenge you, they might even get upset, and it will take some time to establish the change as your new normal. 

    Keep moving forward.

    A New Direction for My Business

    I had a vision for a nonprofit that would photograph people facing a terminal diagnosis to preserve memories and support people in grief. I knew this would be an amazing gift for so many people in the world. Some of my clients were upset that I was no longer going to be able to photograph their family. Some photographers told me my idea would never work. Some really successful people told me it wasn't a smart business move and that I should just keep doing what I was doing or do something else altogether. 

    There will always be people telling you why things won't work or how dumb something is, but it's up to you to prove them wrong. I started Love Not Lost anyway, and launched in the spring of 2016. With the help of some friends in the event industry, we pulled together a launch party and were able to raise $20,000 to get started. 

    We've only been gaining momentum since then. The first year, I traveled all over the nation to photograph people to prove this was a valid concept and show the need for it. In 2017, we worked on building a scalable model that we have implemented in Atlanta. Our focus is on building a network of photographer volunteers, partnering with hospices and hospitals in the greater Atlanta area, and adding a Director of Operations to our team to manage the photographer program. As we've been doing this and serving applicants, we've been listening to our feedback. 

     

    Expanding Our Focus

    Everyone loves the photo sessions and books, but people we photograph tell us their friends and family often have a hard time supporting them, and they're left feeling alone and abandoned. We've heard our supporters and donors tell us they want to help, but they don't know how. We have seen and experienced this huge gap in grief support and we want to make it better. 

    In 2018, in addition to continuing our photographer program growth in Atlanta, we will be adding grief resources and tools to help individuals show up for the people in their lives who are hurting. We'll have empathy cards, photo gift sessions, and a few other things offered on our website. This wasn't a part of our original plan, but it's a new shift in the direction because we listened to the people we were serving and the people in our community. It's a need that is not being met that we can meet. 

    As you go forward, no matter what it is you are doing in the world to bring value, I challenge you to listen to the pain. Listen with empathy, not judgement or defensiveness. Where are people hurting or suffering? Where are there problems within your business and industry? What can you do to make them better? Where are you uniquely gifted to meet the needs that aren't being met by anyone else? 

    And remember, growth is usually never easy. As a business owner, it's hard not to take negative feedback personally. Expect the growing pains and know it's making you bigger, better, and stronger for the future. I wish you all the best in the New Year! 


     Ashley Jones, founder of Love Not Lost

    After losing her daughter to Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Ashley started two companies, Shutter Sweet Photography and Skylight Creative Group, to keep her going. She's always had a heart for serving others, so donating portrait sessions to people facing a terminal diagnosis just made sense after what she had been through. When donated sessions became a regular occurrence, Ashley realized the need was great and Love Not Lost was born. You can find LNL on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.



    PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

      Ashley Jones of Love Not Lost has made two shifts in her business model over the past few of years, and has done so by listening to her heart and her community. I think she has some valuable lessons to teach us all about change, and how to evaluate our organization's long-term success. Both nonprofits and social enterprises will relate to her inspiring story.

     Kristi Porter, founder at Signify

    I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


    Top 5 Blog Posts of 2017

    Since I pump out new blog content every week, it stands to reason that you may have missed a post or two in the hubbub of your workdays. But my goal is to continually provide marketing and communication information, resources, tools, and tips for nonprofits and social enterprises—and the people who lead and run them. I do this because I want to see you get noticed and grow.

    However, if you're short on time and playing catch-up, I've done the hard work and narrowed it down to this year's top five posts. So, grab some coffee, a snack, and start reading . . . 

     Signify's Top 5 Blog Posts of 2017

    1. A COMPARISON OF 13 POPULAR SOCIAL MEDIA SCHEDULING TOOLS

    Even as a marketer, I know that I should be marketing my blog posts much more than I am actually writing them, but they both have to get done, so my time is always split. It's a common frustration many of us share, right?

    There are, of course, a lot of ways to get traffic to your site, but for most of us, the day in and day out formula revolves around social media. And if you spend several hours writing a blog post, but only promote it on social media a couple of times, it could easily go to the internet graveyard. #RIP

    So, what's the solution? I think it might be a social media scheduling tool, especially if you do not have someone who is solely dedicated to your social media strategy. There are a lot of popular options out there, and I took the time to review 13 of them. None were perfect (though some come close!), and several were quite similar, but I think you'll find some great choices for your nonprofit or social enterprise.

    Read the full post . . . 

     

    2. 8 WAYS YOU'RE SABOTAGING YOUR LAUNCHES (AND HOW TO FIX THEM!)

    Every launch is a big deal. It takes your valuable time and resources, not to mention oodles of effort. So, whether it's the launch of a new website, a book, a campaign, an event, or a product, it needs to get the job done. After all, you don't have time to waste. I know this because I know many others like you, and you've got too much on your plate for missed opportunities.

    But what happens when a launch is just okay? Or maybe it's good, but it wasn't as good as you'd hoped. Or, sadly, what if it flops? (FYI, even successful launches have room for improvement.)

    No matter which of these situations you find yourself in, I've observed a number reasons throughout my career in marketing, PR, and events (among other things) that may be causing you to unconsciously sabotage your launches. I'll touch on eight of them here. But don't worry, there is hope! I'll also show you how to fix them so that your next launch is your best yet.

    Read the full post . . .

     

    3. WHAT YOU NEED TO CONVINCE POTENTIAL SPONSORS AND PARTNERS

    Whether you're a nonprofit or for-profit social enterprise, chances are that you're on the hunt for a corporate sponsor or partner. It could be for a long-term initiative, upcoming event, or special campaign. 

    And why wouldn't you be? Corporate sponsors and partners bring in new revenue, as well as a new audience that is potentially untapped by your organization or cause. The benefits to you are crystal clear.

    However, have you stopped to think about what you bring to the table? There's plenty in it for the companies you're asking as well. Never sell yourself short.

    These kinds of collaborations are called "cause marketing," and friends, I have really good news. There is no better time for it, and I'm about to tell you why. The bad news is that you may have the wrong approach.

    Read the full post . . . 

     

    4. 10 TOOLS TO MAKE YOUR SMALL BUSINESS LOOK MORE PROFESSIONAL (MOST ARE FREE!)

    I'm not sure running a small business will ever get easier, because I don't really know anyone, anywhere, at any size company who wishes they had more to do. But when you have a larger team, you at least have more of a division of responsibility. So, it can be challenging to look like a larger organization when it's just you at a desk in your guest bedroom, or just you and a few friends who decided to jump in and solve one of the world's problems over coffee one afternoon. However, looking more professional, like a large business would, can often mean more sales or donations, more support, sponsors, and more attention. 

    So, how do you make that happen? I still have a lot to learn myself, but here are just a few of the tools that help my one-woman show look a wee bit bigger and more professional.

    Read the full post . . .

     

    5. HOW TO EASILY INVEST IN YOURSELF AND YOUR ORGANIZATION

    First of all, I'm not just talking about throwing money at the latest software, or buying fancy computers, or getting team t-shirts, though that would be snazzy. I'm talking about the "deeper" investments for personal and professional growth, which leads to added value and growth for your organization.

    When you invest in yourself personally, you knowingly—and unknowingly—apply that new knowledge and experience everywhere around you. So, even then, you're benefitting your organization. And when you invest in yourself for your job, or on behalf of your organization, your directly applying that new knowledge to your role and your cause. Intentionally investing in yourself also often provides renewed energy, focus, determination, know-how, and purpose. So, why not get on board?

    Read the full post . . .

     

    And those are this year's top five posts! What did you enjoy? Did you have a different favorite?

    PSST: Don't forget that you only have a couple more days to try and win a Communications Strategy Session, valued at over $500! Details here. Resolve to make your marketing better in 2018.



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     my goal is to continually provide marketing and communication information, resources, tools, and tips for nonprofits and social enterprises—and the people who lead and run them.

     Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

    I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.


    4 Marketing Mistakes I Made in My First 18 Months

    The close of 2017 means that I've been in business for 18 months now. Whew—what a ride! Some days it feels like an eternity, and other days it feels like I just opened my shop. And I still get asked a lot what it's like to be an entrepreneur, or generally, "How's business?" My answer is always that it depends on the date and time that you ask me because it's an emotional rollercoaster! There are moments when I think I'm killing it, and moments when I wonder what the heck I'm doing. And I've been told by others that those feelings just sort of stick with you. Great . . . 

    But as I'm reaching the end of my first full year with Signify, I wanted to share some of the marketing mistakes I've made and lessons I've learned so that, no matter what stage your nonprofit or social enterprise is in, you can learn from them.

    The vast majority of my clients have very little training in marketing, so these are the things I'd want to share with them if we were sitting down over coffee. 

    My guess is that none of them will truly surprise you. They wouldn't have surprised me. And, in fact, I already knew to avoid them, and maybe you do too. But sometimes we just need to hear them at the right time. I hope this is your right time.

     4 Marketing Mistakes I Made in My First 18 Months of Business

    Marketing Mistake #1: Not starting my email list soon enough 

    I'd been warned. I'd been warned multiple times in multiple places and from multiple people, and I waited anyway.

    Something you should know about me: I'm a perfectionist. I'm also a cultivator, which is a pretty word for the fact that I become obsessive about research so I can learn #allthethings before making a decision. I'm not prone to inaction, but I wanted to figure out all the ways something can be done, and then take bits and pieces to form my own process. I actually like that I behave this way, but as you can guess, it's time-consuming.

    I didn't launch my online presence for Signify until seven months after I started my business. I wasn't in a hurry, and I had projects to work on in those early months, so it wasn't a big deal. However, I should have started my email list well before I had a website to show off.

    I've been freelancing since 2003 without a website. I've always relied on relationships and word-of-mouth referrals, and most of the time, I had a full-time job anyway, so it was just extra money. I've also had different types of jobs, and even volunteered in different places, too. So, I had contacts from lots of different industries and organizations.

    And what I should have done is begin emailing all of those people individually and consistently along the way telling them what was coming, and asking if they'd like to be on my email list.

    But I didn't.

    I was busy with other things, and thought I'd make time for it later. However, I was so overwhelmed by all of the launch work for my website and social profiles that I took shortcuts when it was "time" to build my email list. I just didn't want to ask people to be on a list for something they couldn't actually see online. #fail 

    I'm sure what I'm saying makes sense to you on both sides of the coin. But the result of waiting was that my list growth has been slow, and I'm still waiting to do some of those individualized and customized things I put off for later. Ugh. Can't I buy more time on Amazon yet???

    So, the advice I'd give you is to always be focused on building your email list. Social media algorithms change, but landing directly in someone's inbox is prime real estate. When you have something to say, this helps ensure it's heard. 

    (Of course, I shouldn't have to tell you, but I will: you also have to talk to your list. Find a consistency that works for you and reach out. Those people have agreed to be on your list, so don't squander that opportunity. There's always something to say.)

    Marketing Mistake #2: Too many social profiles too soon

    I'd never call myself a social media expert, but I have a pretty darn good handle on it. I know the what, when, why, and how of social media. But it sure eats up a lot of time!

    I knew I should be on Facebook because that's where my audience is primarily. And I wanted to be on Twitter (because I like it). I also knew I wanted a Facebook Group to share resources more frequently, and help connect people to each other. So, those three profiles.

    Plus, I use my own Instagram account. And I thought I should revive my LinkedIn now that I'm a business owner.

    Then, in the spring, people kept telling me how great Pinterest was for business, so I bought a course, and hopped on there too.

    Are you following all of this?

    Some days I have trouble following it myself. Six accounts. And you can name a few others that I have chosen not to be on.

    All-in-all, updating these guys takes a couple of hours minimum per week. Scheduling doesn't take that long since I know what I'm doing, but it's social media, and you should also be, well, social. A couple of hours may not sound like a lot until you find yourself needing more hours to get things done (like pretty much all of us).

    Let's also state that I'm a solopreneur in a new business. Those are two other kinks to work out.

    What I should've done is start with Facebook, and maybe add in a new profile every couple of months when I've found my rhythm and best practices. (PS: You don't have to add new profiles.)

    But what I have done is get some help so I can focus more on tasks that can only be done by me, and/or that are more revenue-focused. The first way I did this was to invest in a social media scheduling tool, so that I'm posting multiple times per day on auto-pilot. Then I can jump in personally as I'm able to add more value and personality.

    The other thing I did was ask my friend Jen, who is a social media manager, to do some freelance work for me. She is actually the one who got me set up with SmarterQueue, and has also been helping me determine a better strategy as well as dealing with some of the other little tasks I haven't had time for right now.

    Unfortunately, I can't hire a social media manager permanently at this time. Maybe some day. But in this busy season, it has been a dream to have the extra help, and well worth the money. And now I know better what to do when she's not around. Even on a tighter budget, consider getting some help in busy seasons so you can focus on more important tasks, projects, and initiatives. (These are some of the same reasons that people hire me, so it makes perfect sense!)

    Marketing Mistake #3: Postponing Content Creation for My Launch

    I love launches. That's one reason they are my signature service. They're fun and exciting, and there's so much to show off. They're like the first flurries of winter.

    So, like anyone would be, I was excited about my own online launch. But, they're also a lot of work, aren't they? I had to write emails, blog posts, social media posts, website content, and on and on and on.

    And just like building my email list, I waited until my launch was right around the corner to really start doing anything about it. Why? I had other projects to work on. From the moment I said I was ready to take on clients, I had clients. So, I started prioritizing paying work over something that was months away. And after all, I wasn't paying myself to create content for Signify. 

    So, it just kept getting bumped back. I started working with my website and branding designers in November, so that got things moving a little. But the launch was February 1, so January was when everything went into overdrive. And I was exhausted by the time I launched! Plus, now I had to learn to create content for Signify while working with paying clients. That's definitely something I should've eased into.

    The moral of the story? Start working on your plan and productivity. Use a planner or free software like Asana (I love it!) to set deadlines and keep you on track so that when you do find 15 spare minutes, you can check something else off your list. 

    There are so many facets to content creation, and you can use little bits of time here and there to move projects along. Small momentum is still momentum. Plus, you might actually get a good night's sleep during the launch.

    Marketing Mistake #4: Not enough focus

    While I do manage to get a decent amount of things done, I'm no where as productive as I'd like to be. I definitely have days where I look back and wonder what I've accomplished, or have spent a full day watching TEDTalks or webinars, or sorting through email. It happens to the best of us, and I'll probably never shake it completely.

    But one of my main goals for 2018 is to figure out a better way to focus, and figure out what I need to be focusing on at any one time. Let me explain.

    There are two things any business owner will tell you to do: make money and expand your reach. So, I have clients to pay my bills, but because I work mostly on projects, I have to continually acquire new project work. Well, I also need to expand my reach to find new clients so that I can continue to make money. Kind of a chicken and egg scenario.

    There are also a million strategies to take on either route. So, when I have consistent income coming in, I'll work on expanding my reach. But then the pendulum swings, and I need to shift efforts. So, it's constantly going from one to another, and then trying one of the millions of strategies as well. 

    This example may look similar for you, or not. But if not, you can probably fill in the blanks pretty easily. The point is that I'm guessing you, like me, switch up your efforts a lot. And I don't think is helping either of us.

    I jump into everything with two feet, but I constantly act like I have 40 pairs of feet to jump in a bunch of different strategies with. This isn't good, and honestly, this is what I've been struggling with the most as this year comes to a close. 

    But what I'll tell you, and what I'm telling myself, is that the only way to make significant, lasting progress is through focus. This may come as the result of a change in strategy, or getting help, or cutting things out of your schedule or life. For me, it's meant a combination, and I still have a lot of work to do.

    However, I do recognize the problem. And I am making the effort to fix it. I know it will be a process, but I'm on the path.

    So, as we come to the end of December, and start peaking into January, what does regaining focus look like for you? Where can you change your strategy, get help, or cut back? These are the things that will lead to growth. 

    It may seem counter-intuitive, but the easiest thing to do (and the thing most of us do), is to add. If we can see that something isn't working, or not working fast enough, we try something else. But we don't stop Strategy A, we just try sticking Strategy B on top of it. This won't work. We know instinctively, and through trail-and-error, that it won't work. It's time to do something different. I am, and I hope you will too.

    One final note: Besides the lessons themselves, the other big takeaway is that even marketers make plenty of marketing mistakes. This should cheer you up! We're all just out here learning, and trying to share what we know. Take heart. Learn from my mistakes. And I hope and pray that next year is your best yet.



    PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

     As I'm reaching the end of my first full year with Signify, I wanted to share some of the  marketing  mistakes I've made and  lessons  I've learned so that, no matter what stage your nonprofit or social enterprise is in, you can learn from them.  The vast majority of my clients have very little training in marketing, so these are the things I'd want to share with them if we were sitting down over coffee.&nbsp;

     Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

    I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.