Why Journalists Should Have a Blog

starting a blog

starting a blogAs journalists, we create content for our clients daily, writing for an audience (and often, multiple audiences) that are not our own. When a contract runs dry, or you find the time to take on another gig, journalists gather clips and links to past articles and blog posts to be presented in a somewhat chaotic manner. Your portfolio–if you compile one–often lacks the full range and potential of your writing style, as editors and clients revise your original ideas.

Establishing a blog is essential in working with today’s new media, especially if you want to stand out as an expert in a specific niche. Here are several reasons to start blogging.

  • Demonstrate Expertise: Blogging under your own name, on your own personal platform is a great way to establish expertise about a particular topic that you want to focus on (even if you’re currently writing about multiple topics.) If your passion is about gardening yet your current clients are focused on social media or parenting, establishing a blog is a great way to demonstrate you’re an excellent writer about other topics and can help you build this portfolio to land a gig and get paid to write about what you really love. It can also boost your current efforts, especially if you are limited in your abilities with your current clients. If you’re not able to delve into the detail you feel is necessary in the articles you currently get paid to write, or an editor outright rejects an idea, a personal blog can be a great opportunity to really strut your stuff.
  • Express Yourself: Often, writing for other audiences limits our own voices, forcing us to adopt the voice of the brand or individual paying us. If your portfolio is full of work written in a style not necessarily your own, a personal blog is crucial to demonstrate your own voice and true range of ability. For journalists who find that their paid work is heavily edited or under strict guidelines, this is especially important when thinking about exploring other opportunities so you can easily demonstrate your full potential. This is also a great opportunity to share what it’s like “behind the scenes” of the industry, such as a funny quote from an interview or photos that didn’t make it into a blog post. Expressing a unique, interesting personality is often just as important as showcasing a well-developed portfolio when looking for work, whether it’s freelance or full-time.
  • Create A Professional Hub: You may have seen personal “splash” pages like About.me, which allow people to create a single web page destination for prospective business partners and clients to access their bio, resume and social media profiles. These are useful, but a blog can also harbor all of these necessary components to which you can direct future clients or employers. Consider using your blog to not only write, but also link to your previous work by creating a portfolio (which can be a separate page), and your other social media profiles, including your LinkedIn profile. This will make it incredibly easy for a future publication to evaluate you, your portfolio and your skills when deciding whether to hire you.
  • Brand Yourself: The term “personal branding” is now as cliche as the term “social media” itself, but the theory behind it is incredibly important for journalists to consider as new media grows. Creating a brand around your own name can help carry you through your career, especially if you write for several publications or have very short contracts. A strong reputation behind your name can lead you to future opportunities that are often not presented to others who do not put forth the effort to build relationships with others, whether traditionally or via social media. This doesn’t mean you need to build a following of 10,000 on Twitter overnight; however, communicating consistently with key influencers in the journalism industry (and specifically, in your niche) can help propel you to more and often better journalistic opportunities more quickly than by simply responding to ads on job boards. Your blog will be your “home base” for your brand; creating a domain name for your blog using your full, real name and avoiding cute or kitschy titles for the blog and your blog posts can help you quickly establish your own brand.

If these reasons to have your own blog have motivated you enough to start blogging, setting up a blog is easy. You can choose from a free WordPress.com blog, or host your own WordPress blog on your own server using a host like GoDaddy. Other platforms include Tumblr, TypePad, and Movable Type. Some other journalists choose social networks such as Google+ and even Facebook to blog, but these sites don’t allow you to “own” your content, so approach these options with caution. Starting a blog, wherever you choose, is a relatively simple and usually very fun process – and having your own blog is something that every journalist should consider.

Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Writer’s Guide to Pinterest

books on pinterest445

Lately we’ve heard a ton of buzz about online pinboard Pinterest: how it recently hit 10 million U.S. monthly uniques and how savvy brands and publishers are using the site for content marketing. And yes, there’s been some backlash over how the site is monetized and whether pinning an image might violate copyright law. (Websites can now add some code to make their images unpinnable, but of course they’d also miss out on potential traffic from the site.)

That doesn’t seem to be slowing down millions of devoted Pinterest users, many of whom blog about weddings, fashion, or DIY. It’s quickly spreading to other niches as well. Ebyline talked to several freelance writers and bloggers about how they’re using the platform to inspire and promote their writing.

  • Crowdsourcing ideas. Freelance writer Terri Huggins joined Pinterest in search of inspiration images for her new home, but she also discovered that pins could inspire ideas for articles. “I look for pins that are out of the norm or non-traditional that could possibly make a great angle for a story,” she says. “For example, I found an interesting pin of bridesmaids holding gorgeous, huge paper flowers as opposed to a real bouquet of flowers. It caught my attention because in the wedding world it’s taboo and frowned upon to not have real flowers at a wedding, but yet I found a unique alternative that completely went against tradition. I found a way to craft that into an interesting pitch.” While on the site, Huggins also looks for motivational quotes about writing and life to keep her going on tough days.
  • Organizing ideas. Tara Bellucci, who writes about quirky interior decorating ideas for the Apartment Therapy blog, used to look for ideas and products via Google, but she’s since switched to Pinterest. “I love that Pinterest links automatically to the origin of the pin, where even if it’s not the content creator, it’s a good lead,” she says. As Bellucci searches for products that might work well together for a “mood board post,” she organizes them into pinboards, where she can “easily collect web clips and see what works and what doesn’t.” For instance, she used this board on Pinterest to create this resulting post.
  • Thinking visually. Leah Ingram, a freelance writer and the blogger behind Suddenly Frugal, discovered Pinterest when several readers repinned a photo from one of her posts, generating traffic to her blog. That piqued Ingram’s curiosity about Pinterest, so she clicked over to the site to check it out. Now that getting “pinned” can mean a boost in traffic, bloggers like Ingram give more thought to the images they use. “Whatever ideas I have, I try to think of how I might photograph them and how I can include those photos in my blog post so someone will pin it,” she says. The post that originally sparked her interest in Pinterest instructions for DIY laundry detergent and continues attracting pins. Ingram says she’s seeing more and more traffic via Pinterest.
  • Building your platform. Bethanne Patrick, Executive Editor of Book Riot and author of two nonfiction books, sees huge promotional potential for authors, but more in a creative than an overtly self-promotional sense. “One novelist I know, Randy Susan Meyers, has created boards characters in her novel: hair color, the way she dresses, places she would live,” says Patrick. “Her novel came out two years ago, so it was postspiration if you will, but now I’m seeing people put together inspiration boards for books that they are working on.” Authors or publicists could also create boards of favorite books, places they’ve visited during a book tour, or even artwork created out of books, giving readers a glimpse of the images that inspire them. “It puts a lot of control back in the artists’ hands,” she adds.

5 Tips for Social Media Ghosts

social media

social mediaRecently, I received a link to a local organization’s new website and sent them an email complimenting their new look. “You should have a blog too,” I commented.

“Can you come in and give us a proposal?”

“Huh?”

But before I knew it I had talked myself into a regular blogging job for an organization that didn’t have the manpower or skill to maintain a blog. Could there be other clients that want to jump into the social media pool but need a swimming buddy? Yes! I have five tips if you want to begin a career as a ghost on social media.

  1. Research Clients: Find local organizations and companies that would be naturals for social media. For instance, I’ve been able to pick up the slack for clients who enthusiastically started a blog but then let it languish. I’ve also found that companies that participate in just one of the three biggies (Facebook, Twitter, blog) might be open to expanding. Also look for industries where most companies participate in social media. Find the company that doesn’t and ask, “Why not?”
  2. Research Social Media: Have success stories – both national and local companies – ready to show potential clients. Be able to explain the social media concept in jargon-free language. Why would social media improve their bottom line? Who pays attention? How do they get followers? What can they do: contests, special rebates, info, and news related to their industry, company, and employees.
  3. Create a Plan: Let a business know exactly what you’re promising: three blog posts a week? fourteen tweets? How involved will they have to be? Will there be a weekly or monthly planning meeting? Fit each proposal to the individual client and his or her needs. There is no on-size-fits-all social media plan. And be flexible but realistic. If they propose a blog post every day but you don’t think their business can sustain that be honest.
  4. Meet Your Clients: Yes, you can target individual businesses and groups but you can also spread news of your social media services by speaking at a local organization such as your Chamber of Commerce or offering to teach a workshop. Focus on the possibilities social media can offer a business and hand out your business cards!
  5. Build Your Portfolio: Just like editors want to see clips, business owners want to see social media work. You can show them your own online presence but it’s also helpful to focus on what you’re proposing: businesses using social media. Offer to create a social media package for a business either for free or in trade for a service from their company just so you have something to show prospective clients.

Social media ghosts are new kinds of website copywriting services that many businesses don’t fully appreciate, nor will they ever unless you convey value. But social media is a cost-efficient way to get maximum exposure to their target audience and develop customer loyalty. It is an ideal option for those who have a writing “specialty.” For instance, if you’re known for your health articles you’re the ideal person to create social media for a gym or health food company. As long as you’re careful about avoiding conflicts of interest, you could boost your income and diversify your portfolio by working as a social media ghost. Spread the word!

Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jane Boursaw on Building a Successful Niche Blog

Jane Boursaw headshot

Jane Boursaw headshotTV and movie critic Jane Boursaw has written for an impressive array of publications including Parade, USA Weekend, and The New York Times, and has recently shifted her focus to syndicating her Reel Life With Jane column (which is now read by more than 20 million readers monthly) and building the Reel Life with Jane blog. Here she shares her tips on successful syndication, blogging, and more.

Why focus on building the Reel Life with Jane brand instead of writing for other websites or blogs?
Great question! Over the past decade, I’ve written for many Web sites and blogs, and after a while, I started to see a pattern. I’d pour my heart and soul into a site, and then it would end for assorted reasons. The site would go under. A new editorial regimen would come in and clean house. Or, as in the case with AOL, where I was an editor at TV Squad and a writer at Moviefone and PopEater, it would merge with another site (Huffington Post) and become a completely different site.

The bottom line is, I didn’t want to keep jumping from one site to another. Every time that happens, your world gets thrown into the air willy-nilly and you have to piece it back together as it floats down around you. I wanted to build my own brand and empire, something I could nurture and grow for a long time. Something that’s truly mine where I don’t have to compromise my ethics and can surround myself with positive, inspiring people.

I miss the camaraderie of working with a group of article writers on a big site, but there are ways around that. I belong to several writers groups, including an entertainment writers group that I created. I’m also building my own little group of writers at Reel Life With Jane. There’s always a way to build the career you desire.

Writing about movies and TV shows seems like it would be fun, but I bet it’s hard work, too. What’s the most challenging part and how have you overcome it? Any recent successes to share?
I really love what I do. I love the whole creative process of watching a movie or TV show, forming ideas and opinions in my head, then writing up a review. One challenge is that I get dozens of screeners every week, and I don’t have time to watch them all, but that’s a high- class problem. Probably the most challenging parts of my business are the non-writing aspects – bookkeeping, marketing, publicity, and sales.

I’ve been working with a great business coach, Robin Blakely (who’s now my publicist), who’s helping me to develop those skills and take my business to the next level, including writing promotional materials, creating a press room, overhauling my invoicing system, and streamlining my real-life office space to reduce clutter and make it more functional.

We’re also packaging the Reel Life With Jane brand in a way that’s authentic and highlights my unique attributes. I don’t live in Los Angeles or New York. I’m a family entertainment writer, syndicated columnist, and mom of two teenagers who writes from a log home in northern Michigan. All of that is not only ok, it’s an asset that sets me apart from the pack.

You teach blogging and writing, so what are some of the most common mistakes you see students making?
Writing and blogging are just one aspect of running a successful business. You have to be a good marketer, publicist, customer service rep, bookkeeper, social media manager, and sales manager. And you have to be a good CEO. Don’t be afraid to truly own your unique brand and believe in your abilities to nurture it into a full-fledged success.

It’s also important to surround yourself with supportive, like-minded people who will help promote your work and have your back 24/7. If you can’t find a group like that, create one.

Do you have any advice for other writers who’d like to try syndication?
Make sure you’re writing about something you love. If you do that, you’ll wake up every day excited to go to work and not only grab every opportunity that comes your way, but go out and seek new opportunities. I see dozens of movies every month, and yet, I would happily see dozens more. The film industry has been in my soul since I was a youngster, and it always will be.

Also, think carefully about how you want to present yourself to editors and publishers, and get your tools and systems in place before you start pitching to publications. It’s much easier to have your press kit, invoicing system and everything else ready to go, rather than trying to make it up as you go along.

If Reel Life With Jane were turned into a sitcom or a movie, who would play you?
Oh, gosh. How about Julianne Moore? She’s got that girl-next-door quality and quirky sense of humor. And she wouldn’t have to change her hair color.

Photo by Scarlett Piedmonte

James Chartrand on Creating Killer Content

Headshot of James Chartrand

Headshot of James ChartrandJames Chartrand made headlines in 2009 when she outed herself as a woman writing under a pen name. News about the thirty-something copywriter from Canada appeared in Newsweek, Huffingpost Post, and numerous other media outlets. Of course, she’s also known as the owner of Men with Pens, a wildly successful web design and copy agency that publishes a blog by the same name.

Chartrand shared her insights on starting a successful blog, teaching entrepreneurs to write, and earning a living as a creative freelance writer.

Men with Pens was successful even before the big reveal. What do you think is the secret sauce that’s made the blog and the Men with Pens brand so darn popular?

Luck and timing was a good part of it, to be honest. (Yes, I realize I’m supposed to say something smart about how it was all excellent content people were looking for at the time, but hey – like I said, let’s be honest.) The blog began before everyone and their uncle started blogging, so it built up a very strong following in a short period of time.

And also, being named a Top Ten Blog for Writers several years in a row certainly helped!

But all that said, popularity comes from having something special, something different that others don’t have, and I think Men with Pens fits the bill well. I write posts that are bold and strong, that tell it like it is… even when the subject I’m discussing flies in the face of current beliefs.

I think people like that honesty and truth. It’s refreshing to hear someone take a stand or put forth a new opinion. Zig when everyone else zags, as Brian Clark would say.

Certainly, the advice, expertise, counsel and general good stuff on Men with Pens is… well, good! Everything I write and discuss is geared to help others get ahead and do well in business. You can’t go wrong with that.

Your class, Damn Fine Words, teaches entrepreneurs how to get results from their own copy. Are you afraid you might be teaching yourself out of a job?

Nope. I’m confident of my skills, abilities and expertise. And quite frankly, if someone does apply everything I teach and ends up a successful writer because of it, fantastic! Competition is a good thing, because it continually keeps you on your toes, working towards improving what you offer.

Plus, it’s a pretty awesome situation when a successful person can say, “I owe it all to Damn Fine Words.”

Keep in mind too that while my job is writing, it’s also now teaching – I can’t teach myself out of that job, because I’ll always continue to gain experience and skills that I can transfer to others through Damn Fine Words.

And should I ever find myself with less writing work? Fantastic! That just gives me more time to teach and make Damn Fine Words a powerful language university… which is a good thing. People need this.

When should someone use DIY copy and when should they hire a professional writer like you?

When someone knows the skills and techniques that go into creating professional-level web copy. And sadly… most don’t have the skills or knowledge to write their own copy.

I find this a serious problem. Business owners have a huge need for great copy and content, whether in an online context or an offline one. And when they try to skimp and write their own without having the necessary skills… well. Their businesses struggle. Or even fail.

And these are good businesses! Businesses with dedicated owners and brilliant products and services! But if they can’t communicate properly, in a way that gets their message out there, then it’s game over.

That’s why I feel Damn Fine Words is so important – it gives business owners the tools and skills they need to reach better success. And what it teaches them stays with them for life.

Aside from dealing with gender bias (which, as we know, you overcame by using a male pseudonym), what other freelance or self-employment challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

Here’s a huge challenge for almost all freelancers and small business owners: the famous feast or famine cash flow cycle. I’ve been very fortunate (and made sure I never got caught on that roller coaster ride!) but I hear people complain about it all the time: When things are good, they’re very, very good.

When things are bad, they’re horrid.

I avoided the feast/famine cycle by learning how to properly manage my business cash flow into a smooth, steady stream of income. I marketed when times were slow – and when business was booming. I learned relevant skills and branched out my services. I put together a solid team and increased productivity and efficiency.

And I learned about money – how to manage it, save it, and use it effectively to grow my business.

What mistakes or faux pas do you notice most often in online content?

Where should I begin?

Look, anyone can write. We’re all taught the basics in school. But writing for your business in an online environment means you need to know more than the basics. You need to be more than a good writer.

You need to know about sales. And marketing. And consumer psychology. And behavioral psychology (for those times when you just can’t write). And all sorts of other fields of expertise that people constantly think have nothing at all to do with writing.

They do. They have a lot to do with writing.

So most of the writing I see online just… isn’t very good. It’s nice to read or tells a good story, but it doesn’t drive business or encourage readers or create action or build success. It’s just… there. A nice read.

That’s just not effective for business results. Which is why I created Damn Fine Words.

Image courtesy of James Chartrand / Men with Pens

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