Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Networking Pointers for Writers

As I’ve said on many previous occasions, networking can be a really effective way to establish and strengthen in-person relationships with prospective clients and referral partners. I’ve done a lot of networking over the years, and I’m planning on doing even more in the future. But this type of self-promotion doesn’t always come naturally or easily to writers, many of whom would prefer to hide behind their keyboards rather than initiate conversations with a bunch of strangers. But the return on the investment can be substantial -- if you’re doing it right. Here are some networking pointers aimed at you writers in the crowd, although they'll also work for just about anyone else.

1. Paint a Clear Picture

As a writer, you already know the importance of painting a vivid picture in the mind's eye. Say “I’m a writer” to someone, and you could set off all sorts of speculations about what might mean -- none of them specific enough to evoke a sharp image of what you actually do. This will cause you to get either no referrals at all or referrals you can’t use. If you focus on a specific type of writing, describe it as clearly and succinctly as possible: “I write Web and print marketing content for businesses” will ensure that you don’t receive technical writing referrals, for example. If there’s a particular industry or business size you concentrate on, clarify that as well. Even if you don't limit yourself to one kind of writing or client, choose some memorable, easy-to-understand specifics for the purposes of this particular event. You want those you meet to be able to tell others precisely what you provide, and for whom.

2. Describe Your Ideal Client or Partner

Once again, specifics matter, and that's where your skill at employing just the right words at the right time comes into play. Whether you’re offering your writing services directly to the person in front of you or asking that person for referrals to great networking partners, use your gift with words as precisely as possible. “I’m looking for introductions to marketing coordinators at small technology companies” is a much more helpful statement than “I want to talk to anybody who needs marketing content.” If you really want to narrow it down, ask if your conversation partner has a direct or indirect connection to a specific individual at a company you’re trying to crack. Don't be afraid of pigeonholing yourself too much -- you may get fewer referrals, but they'll be better ones.

3. Follow Up

I’m convinced that one of the reasons writers don’t find networking effective for them is because they go home from the event, put their accumulated business cards in a drawer, get back to their writing -- and forget all about what just transpired. You can’t wait for the people you conversed with to take the initiative and follow up with you; you absolutely must contact them shortly after the event, provide them with additional information about your services, schedule a second meeting, and do everything you can to send qualified referrals in their direction. Focus on cultivating relationships instead of making sales (farming versus hunting). Only then will the long-term benefits of networking pay off for your writing business. So good luck -- and happy networking!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Who Loves You, Baby? How (and How Not) to Use Positive Feedback

It's happened to all of us: You're browsing the "Now Playing" movie ads and see a brief quote from a rave review that flies in the face of everything else you've heard critics and friends. Then you notice that the quote is attributed to some local radio DJ you never heard of. In the space of a few seconds, your feelings about that movie go from indifference to excitement to skepticism. But that's the problem with testimonials and other types of positive feedback -- they can't always be taken at face value.

What about the testimonials you've posted on your organization's website? First of all, yes, you should have some. Legitimate testimonials from satisfied customers are easy enough to obtain -- all you have to do is ask for a few choice words, over the phone or on paper. What you don't want to do is make up bogus quotes. Sooner or later, some way or other, you'll be found out, and then you'll have some big explaining to do. And viewers can generally tell bogus quotes a mile away. They're always a little too perfectly expressed, they all tend to be the same length, and they often use initials instead of names -- not to protect anyone's anonymity, but to keep you from inquiring further. A testimonial that sounds like a real person wrote it, and has a full name attached to it, is always more credible. So keep it real when you're gilding your web pages with thanks and compliments.

Phony positive feedback isn't just a website thing; it's caused its share of problems on social media channels as well. Yelp is a prime example. It's always had a problem filtering out the fake reviews from the real ones, and I can't tell you how many times I've heard business owners say, "Hey, please go to our Yelp page and write a great review for us," regardless of whether I'd ever actually used their products or services. If your company depends on Yelp for a percentage of its business, you may not be able to control who says what (including the inevitable negative review from time to time), but you can at least keep your nose clean by not blatantly soliciting rave write-ups. Even that marketing monolith, Facebook, felt compelled to remove "like-gating" (the practice of forcing viewers to like a page in exchange for special incentives) as a possible option for business owners. That's bad news for those who love to game the system, but ultimately it adds credibility to the likes a business does receive, making your Facebook popularity that much more meaningful.

All this boils down to the need to go for the purest, most genuine testimonials you can get. If they're over-long or clumsily written, ask for permission to clean them up. A skilled copywriter can do a little cosmetic work that makes a big difference without distorting the meaning behind the quote. I've performed this service for many clients and never had any complaints. It makes the website read more smoothly, and it makes the contributor of the quote sound more eloquent. The right words can really help you boost your business -- as long as you use them properly!