Get curious and stay curious

How many times a day do you ask yourself or someone else a question about how something works? Or maybe it's a question about whether some idea you have exists.

Do you ever attempt to answer the question for yourself? Is your favourite search engine a regularly visited website?

I was reading a book about freelance writing several months ago and the author stated that writers often have broad knowledge bases because they have to do extensive research to authoritatively write about subjects that are outside their area of expertise.  (I wish I could cite the source - I've forgotten where I read it because I've read quite a few in that time!) 

Knowledge is power

I've always absorbed tidbits of information (not usually trivia-type info - you don't want me on your Trivial Pursuit team) easily. I am often stunned at the random recall I have at times when I need seemingly random information. I'm even accurate in my recollection often enough that I'm impressed with myself. Just don't ask me to remember the plot of a movie I've only seen once, or a TV show even two days later. Those details are probably gone.

I realized that I related strongly with that and, yes, I have this tendency to learn a little about a lot. When you look at my work experience, it jumps from law firms, to doctors offices, to government, to not-for-profits, to private industry, and that's just on the surface. I've studied music education, web design, computer programming, graphic design, marketing, and database design. It's been an asset to have a better than basic understanding of a wide variety of topics.

Curiosity is good

I was reading Brené Brown's Rising Strong (affiliate link) recently and had a little AHA moment when the book started talking extensively about being curious. I realized I am genuinely a curious person, regardless of what they say about it killing cats.

It's one of the things that has continually spurred me to write. I learn, I think, I write to share what I've learned and thought about. 

Want more content ideas?

I've always advised clients to write down the questions that customers and clients ask them and use their blog/vlog/social media channels to answer those questions. But you don't have to restrict that practice to the questions from others. Answer your own questions on your platform too! 

Make that search engine your best friend online. Get curious. Do research. Share your knowledge. 

You never know where it will lead you.

What question will you research today to learn more and stay curious?

Is writing a challenge for you? Try these tips!

The internet makes it so easy for just about anyone to become a content publisher, but writing doesn't come easily to everyone. It's a good thing that writing is a skill you can improve with practice - whether you consider yourself to be a writer or not!

I know lots of business owners that have heard about the benefits of blogging, but it's overwhelming to get started when you don't feel you're a writer to begin with. (Here's one of my dirty little secrets: I didn't call myself a writer when I started blogging!) Fortunately, you don't have to call yourself a "writer" to write well about your subject matter expertise.

What would you say to clients and prospects?

Do you struggle to answer questions or explain concepts within your expertise to people who make inquiries with you? I hope the answer is (mostly) no because half the battle in writing is knowing what to say. If you can do that verbally when someone asks you a question, you're half way there.

The next step is getting those words out onto a page - physical or virtual really doesn't matter. There are a few ways you can do that:

  1. Write questions/inquiries down to answer on your blog, then do it.
  2. Record conversations (with permission, of course) to review.

Writing down questions and inquiries you get on a consistent basis will give you a flow of content that speaks directly to what clients and prospects are asking. That means these are the things they're interested in learning more about. That is critical information for your business! Playing back a recording of your answers will help you to hear the responses you give without thinking. That can form the basis of good content for your business.

Write with active voice, not passive

I don't see passive voice a lot on the web, but it nearly always gives me a double take when I do. Here's an example of active vs. passive that I've borrowed from Grammar Girl, because it's very funny to me. Imagine each of these versions sung by Marvin Gaye as you read:

Active: "I Heard it Through the Grapevine"

Passive: "It was heard by me through the grapevine"

The difference from a technical perspective is that in active voice, the subject is taking action. Marvin Gaye is the subject, and the action is that he's hearing that you won't be his much longer. 

In passive voice, the subject becomes "it" - the news that not much longer would you be mine - and the song title becomes both silly, overly formal sounding, and challenging to fit to the rhythm and melodic sequence of the song. Not to mention that "it" - the news - is an incredibly awkward subject given that "it" isn't really doing anything other than being heard.

Active voice is stronger, simpler, and gives your writing greater clarity. Most of the time. If you read the full text of Grammar Girl's article on active vs. passive, she explains that it's not really wrong. Sometimes there's no real way to get around using passive voice. Active voice does, however, work better most of the time when creating web content.

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Proofread your writing

I often write posts a week or two before I actually publish them. Sometimes longer. This allows me to come back to them 2-3 times before I publish to review what I've written and correct errors. This also gives me the chance to solidify how I want to present my thoughts and ideas.

  1. Check for spelling. Actually re-read and try to catch any words that are the right word, wrong spelling (e.g., to, too, two). This applies to similar words also.
  2. Check for grammar. Please don't ask me to draw a sentence diagram. Ever. But I can still edit for grammar and you should be able to as well. 
  3. Check for punctuation. Commas are often overused and underused. I'm not sure which is worse. The same goes for apostrophes. Avoid punctuation abuse.

Even if you struggle with proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation, spending time to proof your work before it's published will help you put your best work out into the world for your audience. 

Write like you're talking to someone 

That's what people mean when they say to write conversationally. I actually read parts of my posts out loud if I start to worry that my words are sounding too formal. When I hear the actual words coming out of my mouth, it's easier to decide whether that's how I would verbalize them to someone. The flip side is that you can record the words you want to say and then transcribe them or use dictation software to get them on the page.

Don't worry too much about the rules of writing

The rules matter, but you can break them if you want. Also, mistakes happen. You're human and fallible. Don't be too worried about errors, because no one's perfect. I love when people give me a heads up about problems they spot in my writing. It helps me fix them and (hopefully) do better the next time. 

Everyone gets stuck

After writing for a while, you may find yourself stuck and unsure what to write. There are many ways to combat the affliction of writer's block. Try out anything and everything to find what works best for you.

Bonus tip: You can outsource, too!

You don't have to do it alone. There are many writers out there (like me!) who offer blogging services - from editing to writing whole posts. If you are stuck for time, ideas, or need help with the actual words, you can get the help you need.

Grow your audience with guest blogging

If you want to grow your audience and you aren't guest blogging, you're missing out on an important opportunity!

What is guest blogging?

Guest blogging is preparing content that is posted on the blog of a website other than your own. I submit at least one "guest" blog post a month at a minimum as President of the Women's Business Network, because I write the President's Pen which is published at the beginning of each month. I link back to my own site each time, which brings me to the benefits of guest blogging. I occasionally manage to sneak in posts on other sites as well - this is something I want to do more often.

Accumulate backlinks

Your website is your home online. The goal with any content marketing is to lead followers back to your website. Backlinks are links from other sites that lead back to your website. When a site that is linking to yours has greater authority, it gives your site a little boost. Backlinks aren't a one and done activity.

It's important to keep working to get mentions by other sites or use opportunities to be a guest blogger as part of an overall linkbuilding strategy (simply put, linkbuilding is a proactive effort to accumulate backlinks). The better the quality of your backlinks (i.e., links from more popular sites), the more it helps you. Since they have a cumulative effect over time, it's an ongoing process.

New audience

I have a decent sized audience in my own right. It's not huge, but any chance I have to reach out to a new audience is an opportunity to grab the attention of someone I can connect with. It isn't always about getting business. As we all know, the ability to get quality referrals by clearly communicating what you do and who you do it for is every bit as important. Ten quality referrals of clients within my target market are far better than 1,000 cold leads that will go nowhere. 

That's why it's so critical to deliver stellar value when you create guest blog content. There's a delicate balance that you have to achieve between offering valuable information and trying to make a sale. The easiest way to avoid the appearance of trying to sell is not to try to sell. 

Showcase expertise

My dad drilled it into my head growing up. Don't lend money with the expectation of being repaid. Sometimes the loanee just can't seem to get ahead of their financial obligations to be able to repay the loan. Sometimes they just forget, especially if it's a small amount. The point is that if you lend without the expectation of repayment, you will never be disappointed. 

The same goes for guest blogging (and a lot of other content marketing activities, too). Give freely. Give openly. Give without expectation. It's okay if you don't give every last detail of how you do your business - I would never suggest that. But you can give a lot of valuable information away without affecting your bottom line. If you aren't trying to make a sale, the content will resonate more completely with the people you're reaching. 

Guest blogging challenge

I challenge you to write and submit a guest post for another site by the end of April. Will you do it? Don't worry - your post doesn't need to be published by the end of April. Just submitted to the site. This is an honour system challenge. :) 

Try it once. See how it goes and come back and tell me! 

The allure of a blank page

Recently, someone in a writing group I’m in posted this:

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If you've ever stared at a blank page in a planner, notebook, calendar, or journal with a feeling of anticipation but not knowing where to start, then you get it too. 

With the start of a New Year, the potential that exists stretching out in the days ahead feels so great. There's a feeling of anticipation and motivation when you flip the calendar over to January 1 each year. 

I don't think I've had a year yet where the blank page won. I'm not really sure how to live in such a way that I don't make a notable mark in life, even if it's merely an indention on the paper.  

This year I feel greater anticipation than ever. 2015 was a transformative year for me (I've co-opted that word from several friends who have indicated similar feelings). How do you go through a year of transformation and not feel great anticipation in the future?

I'm excited. Really good things are happening and I hope your year is going just as well for you. If you aren't quite there yet, maybe it will help to reflect on 2015 and plan for 2016. I bet you have a lot more going for you than you realize. Sometimes we just need a little more time and a nudge to see it.

My words in this space may come sporadically for the first few months, though I'm going to try to maintain a weekly schedule. With my schedule already full for the first three months, it may not happen every week. But I hope you'll hang around with me even during the times of silence.

Because the page isn't winning - I'm just working in a different book for a moment.

The vulnerability of getting on stage

Last week, I wrote a post describing my personal feelings about performance. The experience of being on stage, feeding off the energy of your audience, the relief of completing the show (with or without hitches), and the celebratory aftermath is exhilarating. 

That post, and this one, are both inspired by a short conversation I had at a networking event. A fellow WBN member, who also happens to be a singer, shared her fears of blogging with me. 

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The fear of blogging is common. There is a widespread belief about social media that success and best practice lie in the sharing of intimate personal details. There are some very successful bloggers who have grown large audiences by opening up their minds and hearts to bear their souls in HTML. Sharing private stories can be provocative, leading to increased attention. 

It's not hard to see how this belief persists.

I think it's okay to have a little fear. When it's in check, the fear of doing something new can help you identify exactly what concerns you have and decide how to proceed in a way that eases your fear. 

When it comes to social media, that fear is motivation to set boundaries that establish our comfort zone. This becomes your personal playbook that you should never deviate from. Then your content becomes personable instead of being personal. There's nothing wrong with personal content as long as it doesn't take you so far outside your comfort zone that you begin to regret the choice.

In speaking to my friend, I had an AHA moment that clarified a bit part of what I get from blogging. 

Blogging is like performing

1) Practice makes perfect (or, at the very least, good and ready).

As I write this post, it's practice. I'm practicing the craft of the written word. I'm practicing how I want to present ideas. I'm practicing giving my audience something for their valuable time and attention.

Even if I'm writing outside of this blog and no one sees it, that every day practice will help me get better in this space.

2) Publishing is nerve-wracking.

The more time, energy, and self you invest in something, the more you hope for a positive reception of your work. The prospect of a response, whether it's the response you want or not, can be nerve-wracking if you aren't used to it. 

Hitting publish on a blog post is very much like those steps a performer takes onto a stage. There is anticipation, nervousness, and hopefulness all rolled into an adrenaline rush that propel a performer to great heights if they're ready. Fortunately, it gets easier over time - at least that's been my experience.

3) You feed off of your audience.

I have written pieces that take a huge time investment a number of times, and it's usually because I'm doing heavy research or navigating a potentially controversial topic.

It can be deflating and discouraging to hear crickets from your audience after a mammoth effort. On the other hand, I've written short, poignant or funny pieces that took 20 minutes and received lots of feedback.

Performers put energy out into the audience with their facial expressions and body language and overall commitment to the performance. A responsive audience laughs, cries, sits with rapt attention, which all gives back some of that energy to the performer. A blogger does the same with their words, hoping for a response. It's a happy day when comment notifications roll in.

4) You want to hit the right note with your audience.

When you take voice lessons, teachers will sometimes use visualizations of physical acts to help the student use better technique. As a soprano I was often singing songs that required me to stretch into the higher notes of my vocal range. My coach used one visualization that was quite effective. 

Imagine yourself putting something on a high shelf. Instead of stretching to reach and barely getting it on the shelf, get a stepladder so that you can gently and safely place it on the shelf. 

The visualization translates well to the act of singing.

Getting the stepladder is the act of breathing properly, using the diaphragm to support the voice.  Reaching up and over the shelf describes using that support to it the high note with accuracy instead of falling flat.

The quality of writing is almost as important as what is being said. Well framed points with support for your views will hit a note. Whether it's the right note or not will become clear from the audience response. 

5) Know yourself. Know your audience.

Knowing yourself is about acknowledging the passions that drive you, staying aware of non-negotiable boundaries, and preparing for all possible reactions to your work.

Knowing your audience takes time. First you have to build a loyal audience that relates to your work. Sometimes you'll hit the right note. Others you'll completely miss the mark. Thank goodness practice can help you improve. Find opportunities in those missed marks. 

Do it anyway

Putting yourself out there can make you feel a spectrum of emotions: fear, anxiety, excitement, melancholy, and more. This is vulnerability. Being vulnerable isn't weak; it shows your inner strength. Once you acknowledge the things that give you fear and anxiety, figure out how you can manage those feelings. 

Barbara Streisand is famous for her intense stage fright, but she goes out there anyway - on her terms. I know great speakers who get extremely nervous to the point of having physiological reactions that only make it worse, but they keep on seeking opportunities to walk on stage. 

If there's something you truly want to do, don't let fear stop you from doing it.