Does Creativity Occur in Silence?

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Do you need to have the television on or the radio playing to get your creative juices flowing – or do you need silence?  For some people it is a combination or it depends on their mood or their projects for the day.

I have often wondered whether or not I was at my creative best in silence or with the company of the radio or television.  The fact that great ideas for client projects seem to come to me in the shower or while I am eating or driving made me think that I was not giving myself enough quiet time to be my best.

Over the last couple of months I have been paying attention to my work patterns and decided to conduct an experiment for myself.  For those of you who are entrepreneurs and work from home you can probably relate to this scenario.

You wake up in the morning and your office is calling to you – no matter what time it is.  But getting up and going straight in to the computer can feel isolated so you turn on the television with the thought that you will “get tuned into what’s going on in the world” while you check emails.  The morning show gives you quick teasers about the upcoming stories and before you know it an hour has gone by and they are still telling you what will be “coming up next.”  (I swear they spend more time telling you about an upcoming story then actually delivering it to you.)

Although you think you are multi-tasking you are really distracted-tasking.  Your focus may be on the email or the blog but part of you is still listening to the television or the radio.  At least that is how I have been feeling lately.  So I decided to make a change.

Starting a couple of weeks ago I did not turn on any distractions first thing in the morning.  I committed to begin my work whenever I got up and keep going as the flow dictated.  What a difference it has made in just a short time.  I have always found that first thing in the morning is my best writing time and I was jeopardizing that by my need not to feel isolated.  In addition, when I turned on the television for company my real starting time was delayed by at least an hour or two.

I realize not every week (or day) will be as creative and productive for me as these last few have been.  I will have times when my brain does not want to create and I have to be willing to change my pattern.  This week I am getting up to speed with a new client, which means reading her latest book.  This allows me to substitute an hour or two of just reading if I cannot make the keyboard sing when I had planned to write.

If you are a morning person and you do your best work first thing before client issues come up, take full advantage of that time.  If you are accustomed to starting your day with the company of your favorite morning show – try to resist turning it on.  Record it and watch it during lunch or later in the day.  You will probably find that the “breaking story” of the day is really not that big of a deal and you could spend two minutes reading about it or watching the video online instead of waiting an hour to see the 5-minute segment live.

Consider it this way – if you start your day creative and productive, you won’t feel guilty about taking a break in the afternoon (after a full eight hours of work).  You can always jump back in and check emails and work on projects after you have given your brain time to percolate in a relaxed state.  Who knows what might come to your mind when you are taking a walk outside for a half hour or even doing the dishes?

What do you do to be your most creative?  Do you need silence?  Do you work better with the occasional distraction? I would love to learn new ways of being creative – and productive.  Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

How to Maximize Bit.Ly for More than Shortened URLs

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Are you getting the most out of your shortened url service?  This is not a sales pitch and I am not an affiliate of Bit.Ly.  I have been using bit.ly for shortening my own links and those of my blogging clients for quite some time and I find it a valuable resource beyond its initial benefit.

The Basics: Bit.ly is a free personalized account so that you can create shortened urls to fit within the character limitations on Twitter and Facebook.

Monitoring Traffic: Provides you with detailed statistics on who, when and how many people clicked on your link and went to your website. The number of clicks is called a click through rate (CTR). Below indicates there were 48 clicks using your specific url and 49 total clicks on the blog (people who tweeted or shared on Facebook directly from Huffington Post)

clicks

With one quick glance you can see how many people Shared the link on Facebook (Shares 7) registered a Like on Facebook (Likes 7), Commented on Facebook (Comments 4) and Commented on the actual blog page (Comments on Page 3)

You can also see what type of traffic you are getting by the hour, day and week.  This helps to see what people are responding to – both by the time of day and the type of tweet and/or Facebook post you are crafting.  Also, if you have not posted during a time when there is strong traffic, it will give you a good indication of the power of the people who are retweeting you.

Traffic

Learning from Hashtags: By seeing other people’s tweets you can quickly see what different hashtags (#) people are using.  This gives you an idea for new hashtag groups to follow – to learn more about a subject matter, to use the hashtags in your own tweets and for following relevant people who use the same hashtag.  For instance look at this tweet that appeared on Bit.ly – there are three hashtags that you may not have thought of to use or follow (#blogchat, #bloggers, #blogging)

Hashtags

Making New Connections: By scanning the other tweets, you can use bit.ly as a reminder to acknowledge and thank people for sharing your link.  On Twitter you can only see the people who retweet you or mention you in their tweets.  Bit.ly allows you to see who tweeted or shared on Facebook directly from your website (or Huffington post) and even the ones who did not use your specific url to do so.  Reach out – follow them, thank them for sharing and start a connection you otherwise might never have made (or known about).

connections

Creating New Ideas: By seeing other tweets on one page, you can also get good ideas of what phrases or concepts “spoke” to your reader.  For instance they may tweet a specific phrase from your blog or write a clever tweet that was retweeted by others.  There is a lot you can learn by seeing other people’s perspective of your work – from what topic might make a great follow-up blog to how to be more creative with your tweets and Facebook posts to get the most attention.

Researching  Others’ Links:  If you see a shortened url link posted by someone else and you want to know all of the above information on it before you access it, simply copy the shortened url, paste it into your internet browser, and add a plus (+) sign at the end and click Enter (bit.ly/dcmFHU+).  You will be able to see the number of clicks and who tweeted it or shared it on Facebook.

Using Bit.ly Preview Plug In: Firefox has an add-on you can download for free that allows you to preview any bit.ly url before opening the link (if you use Firefox as your browser).  It allows you to hover over a bit.ly URL on any web page and see the Page Title, Long URL, and any Click Data. This helps you decide in advance if you the link is worth accessing.  You can also click on the More Information link next to the number of clicks and see the full page of tweets and Facebook posts associated with the link.

Preview

*NOTE:  I have since removed the Firefox Preview Plug-In from both of my computers because it was interfering with my ability to access some of my client’s websites and blogs.  I wish I could provide more information about why this was happening – but needless to say when my computer tech removed the plug in, the problems I was having disappeared.

Take advantage of all the benefits your shortened URL service is providing you.  Be creative with the information to engage with others and to improve your own click through rates.  Have fun with it!

How a Motorcade Reaffirmed My Mission to My Clients

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This morning I took a walk down the street to watch the motorcade honoring a fallen San Diego police officer killed in the line of duty.  My motivation was to capture the moment and to spend some time remembering a friend of mine, Detective Larry Steward, who died not quite two years ago.  Larry had been killed by an “alleged reckless driver” and because he was off-duty at the time of his death he did not have a motorcade of this magnitude.

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After watching the beginning of the procession I started back up the road and took the turn to go up the hill to my street.  Because the main road was dedicated to the motorcade, the side street leading up the hill was backed up with cars for what looked like half a mile. The morning news had indicated the ceremony involved more than 500 official cars and it would last approximately one hour on its way through town to the memorial service.

As I walked passed the stopped cars I noticed some drivers on their phones looking angry, others were trying to find a way out and most of them were in a state of frustration.  They apparently did not know why they were stopped and when they would be free to go on their way.  I decided to walk in the middle of the two lanes and start informing the drivers what was happening and how long it would last.  I encouraged them to take advantage of the freeway onramp that was next to them and find an alternate route.

Within seconds of finding out what the cause of delay was, their state and physiology changed.  It was hard to be mad at the circumstances.  In addition, they were now informed, they understood and they could take control of their situation. Many thanked me, smiled and found their freedom with an alternate road.  As the initial cars started to move out of their lanes, each car behind them rolled down their window and waited for me to answer their questions.  It did not take long for many of the cars to follow suit and without even speaking to them, I received waves and thank you’s as I made eye contact and motioned for them to use the onramp.

As more cars, city buses, and postal trucks came down the hill and began to stack up, I started the routine all over again.  I knew I would not be getting back to work when I had planned.  This was going to take a while.  When the road was finally opened up to traffic I headed back up the hill.

As I made my ascent I felt great.  I had taken the time to change frustration into gratitude.  I had been able to help people move along with their plans and get unstuck.  I had done what I would want someone to do for me. I realized that a simple gesture and a few extra minutes meant a great deal to others.

It was then that I thought about my clients.  Sometimes they come to me frustrated and feeling stuck because they don’t have the knowledge or enough information to find the solution on their own.  As consultants we often spend extra time providing explanations and education beyond our traditional services.  It does not fall under “billable” hours or within the scope of work detailed on our contracts, but it is necessary to be a part of the solution and change frustration into gratitude.

You (and your talents) have the unique ability to provide your clients with peace of mind.  You can go the extra mile and have an affect on their state and physiology – or you can walk passsed the line of frustrated drivers and not make eye contact.  It is your choice.

How to Survive a 2-Day Book Marketing Event

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Have you ever come back from a conference and your head is spinning with ideas?  Have you not been able to sleep because all of the great content is keeping your brain moving at warp speed?

When you go to a value-packed conference like the 21st Century Book Marketing Event put on by Arielle Ford and Mike Koenigs be prepared to be swept away.  I went to the first conference last year and I knew what I was in for – fabulous ideas by phenomenal experts.

As the conference began, Arielle asked, “how many of you attending the conference last year?”  Quite a few of the 360 attendees raised their hands, including myself.  A woman behind me said to her friend, “Once wasn’t enough?”   with a tone that implied, why would you have to attend twice?  I smiled and thought, “Strap yourself in, Honey, this is going to be a wild ride.”  What a wonderful example of foreshadowing.  Thirty-six hours later this same woman was up on stage at the end of the event going through a relaxation exercise because she was so overwhelmed.  Yes, I smiled at the irony.

This year I had a plan for maximizing the content and minimizing my sense of overwhelm.  I am confident you will find it useful and adaptable to your own style.

Conference Survival Plan:

1.  Magical Margins: In the left margin of your notebook use shorthand to plan out how you will use ideas and quotes when you get back to work.  This significantly cuts down on the time it takes to go through your 20+ pages of notes and pick out the gems.  You can certainly adapt this idea to your laptop or iPad.  If after the first day you realize you did not keep up with your plan, make adjustments so it works for you.

  • TW/FB – quotes or ideas you want to repeat and share on Twitter or Facebook.  In some cases I put the initials of my clients next to them knowing I would post the comments to their accounts on their behalf.  I could do the same for my own account and/or retweet theirs to expand their brand.  By using socialoomph.com I can easily commit to one hour and schedule posts to several sites that would be published over the next couple of days.
  • AI – Action Item to execute for your clients or your business
  • R – Research, a website you want to check out or a concept you need to look into
  • CC – Colleague Collaboration, a concept you want to execute but are not entirely sure you know how.   Plan to reach out to a colleague for help.   Just writing these two letters next to an idea significantly reduces your stress.  You don’t have to worry about how you will figure something out, set the intention that you have resources available to you and acknowledge you are not alone in the process.
  • FU – (not what you are thinking) – a Follow Up item you need to handle on behalf of a client that was sparked by an idea or concept
  • D – Delegate item to support staff

2. Sort and Schedule: Commit 30-minutes at the end of each day of the event to sort out your tasks and set the priority.  This process can have a tremendous calming effect on you because it can take what seems like a large pile of overwhelm and break it into small pieces of a beautifully executed strategy.  Besides, it is not as if you can go right to sleep anyway…

  • 24 hours – those things that MUST be started or completed the first day back to the office
  • 48 hours – pretty self-explanatory
  • Week – by the end of the week, these items will have been initiated or completed.

3. Rolodex Roundup: As you meet people and exchange business cards,  make a quick note on each one as a reminder of your conversation to ensure a personalized follow up correspondence.  When you get back to your office at the end of the conference, write an abbreviation on each one and/or use your contact system to keep track of the following actions:

  • W – Reviewed their website.  Having reviewed their website will help you in crafting a personalized message when you follow up.
  • B – Do they have a blog?  What is their passion? Could you add value?
  • TW/FB – Connect with them on Twitter and Facebook
  • TY – Send a hand-written thank you card if you can find a mailing address (within 24 hours).
  • EM – Send an email if there is no mailing address (within 24 hours)

Adjust these ideas into a system that you know you can stick to.  You will be amazed at how much better you feel knowing you have a system in place before the event starts.  You will also find it easier to sleep each night because your mind has processed the day’s information and you have sorted it into an easily-digestible action list for a productive week ahead.

Did you attend the event?  If so, I would love to hear about your experience and your take-aways.  If there is something you need, perhaps I know of a resource that can help you.

Back from Vacation

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Let me start by saying I have missed sharing marketing tips, client success stories and all-things related to writing on my blog.

If you took a vacation this past summer and looked forward to it, prepared for it and begrudgingly went back to work after it, even though you love what you do – I am right there with you!

I took a late-season vacation and had family visiting this past week and I am looking forward to sharing lessons learned  soon.  Until then, keep writing and expanding your brand online.  I will be sharing more next week.

Are We Losing Our Ability to Write Well?

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In the last couple of weeks the concept of good grammar has been showing up all around me.  The first incident came in the form of a colleague wanting to use more active verbs in one of his articles.  When I read the example he sent of a passive and active verb, it didn’t look right to me.  To verify my suspicions I went to my references and yes, indeed, his example of an active verb was incorrect.  It was as much a lesson for me as it was for him.

The second occasion was when I attended a tele-class entitled “Tightening Your Text Like a Pro” with Arielle Ford and Linda Sivertsen (it was fabulous).   What a great reminder of how many filler words we use (really, actually, that, etc.)  I took a look at some of my recent writing and realized I had fallen off the concise-writing wagon.  I went back to my exercise of cutting my word count in half whenever possible.

Then I read this article, “Many English Speakers Cannot Understand Basic Grammar”. Yikes.  Here was another reminder that we have not mastered the basic elements of English grammar.

All this was a wake-up call for me to revisit some of my trusted resources.  A thorough reference guide with easily skim-able content is Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words by Bruce Ross-Larson.  If you don’t have a copy, check it out!

For instance, when was the last time you looked at your writing and thought, “Do I have any overweight prepositions?” Or have you wondered, “Do I use premature pronouns?”

Overweight Prepositions:

…with reference to                         Substitute: of, on, for, about

…in relation to                                   Substitute: on, about

Premature Pronouns:

If he scores a goal, Mario will be named MVP     Change to: If Mario scores a goal, he will be named MVP

Digest a few sections of this book at a time otherwise you will question your choice to be a writer at all!  My advice is to always look at your word count and find areas to delete.  Set a goal of cutting at least 30% on your first edit.  You will be surprised at how many extra words you have that take away from the potency of your text.

Never Underestimate Your Value to Clients

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Have you ever assumed people already know how to do something that comes easily to you? For instance, just because someone is a published author, do you assume they love to write? Or that an accomplished speaker will automatically be a great interview on television without media training?

These assumptions have not always been correct. The same is true when I, like many people, believe that just because our clients are highly successful in the areas of their passion, that they know everything there is about the subject, or care to be an expert in all the details. Not true.

I couple of months ago I was given the opportunity to work with a highly-accomplished internet marketer. She did not choose my collaborative blogging program that includes my administration of publishing the blogs and the Twitter and Facebook posts because she wanted to stay engaged on those platforms for herself. That made complete sense.

After reviewing some of the blogs on her site and noticing the number of social networking posts she was using I saw an opportunity for optimizing her efforts. There were small changes she could be making to the blog site as well as her engagement to drive more traffic. I held off bringing this to her attention for a couple of reasons. First, she was a new client and I was not sure how she would receive my constructive feedback. Second, she was an accomplished internet marketer and who did I think I was telling her how to improve. Seriously!

I believe she has such great content and I know she could be increasing her visibility and helping more people with just a couple of tweaks. So I went for it. I not only explained what I thought she needed to do, but offered to do it for her on a temporary basis. This would be a win for her as it would save her time and effort, and teach her how to maximize the blogs. And it was a win for me. I was able to add more value and see the tangible results of my work.

I quickly received an enthusiastic email that could not have been more gracious. She felt clueless about these little details that came easily to me and was not afraid to admit it. I felt great that my message and offer was well received and I can’t wait to jump in and help her.

The lesson here is to remember that all of your knowledge is not common sense to everyone. What you know and how you use it has value. Take a few minutes and review what each of your clients is doing (or needs) and find small ways to solve a problem, increase visibility and create credibility. Your willingness to pay it forward can lead to great things.

Note: This blog post was reviewed and approved by my client prior to posting!

Getting Started with Blogging & Social Networking

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How often should I be blogging?

djcodrin/FreeDigitalPhotos

djcodrin/FreeDigitalPhotos

How do I efficiently drive traffic to my blogs?

How do I know if anyone is reading them?

Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, shortened urls, click through rates, etc. It can all sound very confusing when you are just getting started. Here are some basics to demystify the social networking world so that you can see the big picture.

Blogging

Regardless of your reason for having a blog, here are some key points to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t start a blog unless you can commit to it – regularly. Creating a blog and then letting it accumulate cobwebs (old posts) looks worse than not having a blog at all.
  2. Begin with at least one blog post per week and work up from there. If you are in the technology or social networking your visitors will expect more frequent blogs because of the ever-changing nature of your field.
  3. Blogs should be professional, yet casual. Depending on your reason for creating a blog, remember that you are leaving an internet footprint and establishing your brand (and reputation) online.
  4. Check out my previous post, 12 Elements of a Great Blog for specific details about writing a blog.

Facebook and Twitter

Use these micro-blogging sites to begin conversations and engage a community with similar professional and personal interests by creating status updates (or tweets).

  1. Facebook is much easier to connect with people through wall posts and comments. You can also follow conversations on a single page rather than multiple posts.
  2. You can build a following much faster on Twitter which gives you the opportunity for more visibility.
  3. Like blogging, stay focused with your posts on both social networking sites. Publishing random comments will take away from your online identity and your followers will lose interest.
  4. Create posts about your blogs and include links to drive traffic to your site
  5. To maximize your efforts, check out this blog post How to Get the Most Bang for Your Book on Twitter about the prime days and times to tweet to get the most visibility.

Bit.ly

http://bit.ly/ allows you to create a free personalized account so that you can create shortened urls. The advantages of this service are:

  1. Allows you to create shorter links to fit within the character limitations on Twitter and Facebook
  2. Provides you with detailed statistics on who, when and how many people clicked on your link and went to your website. The number of clicks is called a click through rate (CTR). Check out the blog previously mentioned “How to Get the Most Bang…” for how to increase your CTR.

SocialOomph

This personalized account allows you to pre-schedule your posts to your social networking sites. It is free to connect to your Twitter account however they offer fee-based premium accounts to connect additional social networking sites such as Facebook. This account will help you:

  1. Be efficient with your social networking efforts. Rather than remembering to write posts throughout the day or getting caught up spending hours on the sites, you can schedule multiple posts for the entire day, week or month.
  2. Optimize the key CTR without interrupting your work flow. Set each post up so that it is published at prime times.

If you are interested in learning more about blogging and how to use social networking to drive traffic to your website, check out our Strategic Blogging Plan.

12 Elements of a Great Blog

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Hmm…there is so much that makes a blog great that I am challenged to fit it all into 700 words or less.  That is not to say you have to incorporate a lot of elements to create a great blog but there are so many easy, intuitive things you can do that I want to share them all with you.  So no more preamble, let’s get to it.

    Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  1. Be consistent with personality and voice. What do you feel passionate and knowledgeable about that you wish to share?  How conversational do you want to be while still remaining professional?  Your visitors should get a very good sense of your personality while they spend time with you online.
  2. Stay focused. The reader should be able to get a quick sense of what to expect from your blogs.  If your posts are about random topics and rants, you will not keep a steady readership.  Topics among blogs should vary to keep your reader interested but your overall blog site should have a clear theme.
  3. Identify your target audience. Who is your reader? Who is your ideal client?  Write about topics that are important to them.
  4. Provide original content. Make sure you don’t just rehash what is already online in order to create a blog, speak from your own wisdom and experience.  You can always add an additional tip or two from what you have read, but use it to enhance your content.
  5. Address your audience. Write for your reader, not at them.  Use “you” more often than “I”.  Blogging should not be a lecture, a keynote, or a monologue.
  6. Create scan-able formatting. Long paragraphs and big blocks of text turn visitors off.  Instead work towards short introductory paragraphs, lists of tips, bullet points, action items, etc. and then finish with a quick round-up.  If a particular blog does not lend itself well to lists, find a way to highlight key points or elements within the paragraphs that break up the text so that the reader can find the gems easily.  Incorporate subheadings or separate the blog up into a series of posts rather than try to fit it all in one long blog.
  7. Invite a discussion. Your topic does not need to be controversial to create a buzz.  Elicit comments and ask for feedback.  Readers like to share their views but sometimes unless you create a clear call to action they may just read, enjoy and move on.  Clearly ask for comments or opinions.  Go back to your post and respond to their comments.  Answer questions and thank people for engaging with you.
  8. Support others. Linking to other sites and blogs is a great search engine strategy but it can also be a wonderful way of adding even more value to your reader and supporting the efforts of your colleagues.  For instance, Arielle Ford makes some great points about why (and how) authors should champion their competitors in a recent blog on The Huffington Post. Check it out.
  9. Limit Self-Promotion. It is certainly understandable if you want to share valuable content and then do a soft sales pitch for your services or products, but this should not be a regular occurrence.
  10. Edit…Edit…Edit. Reread your blog draft and cut unnecessary and irrelevant pieces.  If your initial word count is 850, challenge yourself to get it down to 600.  Your writing will improve and your readers will thank you for it.
  11. Write a great title. Make the title of your blog interesting, descriptive and accurate. It is fun to come up with clever headlines but if you are interested in the general public finding you sometimes you have to be simple and clear. Think in terms of the keywords someone might use in a search engine.
  12. Integrate pictures. Your blog will be more visually appealing and give a relevant clue to your readers about its content if you add photos.  Look at Flickr for available photos and just make sure you link back to the original.

What have I missed?  Please share your wisdom!

How to Keep Your Blogging Mojo

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Has it been a while?  Are you plumb out of ideas?  Can’t find the time?  Don’t feel like making the time?

As I step into the confessional I bow my head and say, “Forgive me visitors, for I have sinned, it has been one month since my last blog post.”  Now I could use the logical explanation (excuse) that as a collaborative writer I create dozens of blog posts for my clients every month and yet I can not keep up with my own.  (i.e. The cobbler’s children have no shoes.)  But when it really comes down to it, I struggle just like you do in thinking, What new content can I share?  What questions can I answer?  What can I teach?  How can I best serve? Even with good ideas I still struggle sometimes in finding the time to create and publish the blog, and then drive traffic to it via social networking outlets.

So let’s look at ways to keep our mojo.

Need Topic Ideas?

  • In the past week, what questions have you answered for your clients?  Why not share your answers with the rest of the online world?
  • Have you seen an article in a trade magazine or online that you think needs some clarification or you want to show your clients how they can adapt it for their business?
  • If you were asked to write a How to… article as an expert for an industry publication, what would you write?  Now think in terms of breaking up that content and perhaps elaborating on each subject for a blog series.
  • Use your Facebook profile or Fan page to pose a question and ask for advice, comments or ideas.  Write your next blog on their contribution and your observations.
  • Think about the last speaker presentation you went to.  Are there any thought-provoking gems you want to highlight and relate to your visitors. (Remember to always give credit where credit is due and link back for proper etiquette.)
  • What interesting time saving or business-building concept did you just discover?  By all means, share your excitement and your findings.
  • What are people talking about on the social networking sites?  How might that apply to your audience and your brand?

Need Time Blocking?

  • Knowing that the high click through rates and prime retweeting times are Thursday and Friday afternoons (EST), you should plan to publish at least one post on Wednesday or Thursday morning and schedule your status updates and tweets accordingly to get the most impact.
  • With this deadline, commit to writing a blog draft at least two times a week at the same time each week.  Set that routine and block out that time.  Schedule it like a meeting or conference call and stop making up excuses. (That last part was more of an internal dialogue!)
  • When your creative juices are flowing, don’t step away from the keyboard until you have two blog drafts written.  You know the way you feel when you have written great content?  Keep that adrenaline going by pounding out another one.  (The Real Housewives of Fakeville and their constant bickering will just have to wait!) Can you feel the sense of accomplishment already?

Need Motivation?

  • Because we want to learn what comes so naturally to you.
  • Give us even just a glimpse of your talent so that we too can grow our businesses, our lives and our loves.
  • Share it all! Enough said.

If you still need a nudge, a push, a kick…..a collaborator, I would welcome the opportunity to help you grow your brand.  Creating content and writing comes naturally to me and I want to share it all!  For specifics about my programs, check out:

www.YourVoiceInc.com/BloggingYourBrand and

www.YourVoiceInc.com/StrategicBloggingPlan