2017 Wrap-Up, Extreme Navel-Gazing Edition

*microphone feedback* Is this thing on?

Sorry, never done this wrap-up thing before.

I’d like to thank the Academy, my cat Space Ghost, and venlafaxine for getting me this far…

Nah, actually, I DO think it’s important for biz owners to acknowledge their efforts (and take stock of what’s working and what’s not) every once in a while. It’s just that I’ve never done it.

But this year, I started gaining real clarity and getting traction on the type of rewarding  nay, life-affirming  business I want to run.

So I’m writing it all down, just in case I wake up in Milwaukee in an amnesic fugue tomorrow morning.

terrence howard

Just call me “Confused Terrence Howard”.

Along with deciding in 2017 that I was going to focus on writing only emails, landing pages, and the occasional website, here’s everything I did this year and the effect it had on my business:

I spoke at things! And people listened!

This surprised no one more than me, believe me.

It was a huge honor this year to speak and/or teach for audiences at…

Lianna Patch Call to Action Conference

Look what a good time I can have with a Britney Spears microphone!
Photo of me at CTAConf by Ronnie Lee Hill Photography.

I’ve already got a couple of classes and conferences booked for 2018, and am so excited I could pee. I won’t, though. I promise.

If you want my brain, face, and body at your event in 2018, you can tell me more about it here.

I also did a fair few podcasts, which was super fun. Oh, you want me to get on the phone and dork out about comedy and copy? I’ll do that alllllll day.

These are definitely in the top 5:

I wrote a ton of articles for companies I adore

Because I generally prefer to slurp wine, watch The Crown, and avoid building my list at all costs*, I happily shared my marketing knowledge with some crazy-awesome companies this year instead of writing my own blogs.

Here are a few of my favorite guest posts:

* What can I say? Claire Foy gives a standout performance.

(OK, I did write some killers for the Punchline blog)

Not enough of them — but I see you, 2018, and I’m coming for you!

fist shaking

Here are my two best posts (*cough* only posts) from this year on my very own slice of the Internet:

And a very distant third.

I also ghostwrote a few pretty great pieces, but if I told you what they were, I’d have to kill you. And I’d rather not clean up a mess right now ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I traveled to 5 countries

First France, then Canada, then Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia! More importantly, my new passport photo is hella cute. Take that, passport control guy who told haggard, 16-year-old, just-off-a-24-hour-international-flight me that “I looked much better now” than my old passport photo. Which, I’ll be honest, was horrific.

I worked with some truly incredible clients

From shilling software to slangin’ ecommerce product descriptions, I got to work on some really big, awesome projects this year. And while that by itself isn’t 100% notable, here’s what was: I remembered why I started doing this in the first place.

To my clients: THANK YOU for trusting me with your voice and your customers! 

Thank you for letting me get weird. Thank you for being open to GIFs. Thank you for going out on a limb to make a real connection with your people!

And that’s not even to mention the clients my SNAP Copy business partner, James E. Turner and I, worked with through our joint on-demand copywriting agency. Thank y’all for trusting us with your messaging.

…and I met instant business BFFs

Fun fact: I’ve never been a girly girl. (Please try to contain your shock.)

With few exceptions, I’ve always been the person who said, “It’s just easier for me to make friends with guys. Nothing against girls, but…”

I didn’t realize that I was just waiting for 2017 to meet, like, ALL of the badass women in marketing at once. Holllaaaaaaaaaa.

Claire Suellentrop, Lianna Patch, and Jessica Best

Look, it’s me with the incredible Claire Suellentrop (#businessbae) and equally amazing Jessica Best!

2017, you were a pile of hot garbage in so many ways… but in other ways, you were just hot. Good on ya.

Cheers to 2018, y’all!

5 Things I’ve Learned Since Starting to Call Myself a Copywriter

Look, it’s the last Thursday in November in the United States!

Allow me to cram this post into a contrived Thanksgiving framework so it makes sense that I wrote and published it today:

What am I thankful for? The following 5 knowledge bombs, and the knowledge that more knowledge bombs will continue to drop as I turn into an old, wrinkly, cranky version of myself (and eventually go live on a mountaintop where people come to seek my wisdom. And bring me gifts. Preferably gifts made of simple carbohydrates.)

There! Done. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

5 THINGS I'VE LEARNED SINCE I STARTED TO CALL MYSELF A COPYWRITER

5 things I’ve learned since starting to call myself a copywriter

1. Being a good writer does not make you a good businessperson

Here’s the thing about starting a business: the better you are, the more self-conscious you are about bragging on yourself. Can literally anyone hang their shingle and say, “I’m a copywriter”? Yes. Yes they sure can. Self-doubt is the name of the game when you are a baby writer looking for any and all jobs on Elance (and Craigslist–see below).

And oh boy, if you’re ever looking for evidence that running a business is about growth, check out the first few client emails you sent.

Mine were so stiff, and yet somehow defensive at the same time. It was as if I was saying, “I’m important! I’m good at stuff! But also I am scared to death and you better pay me, or else.”

I also used to offer copy editing services on Craigslist. I wish I could say that was a learning experience.

I also used to offer copy editing services on Craigslist. I wish I could say it was a learning experience.2. You can always be a better writer

Dear First Clients and Clients Shortly Thereafter,

Do I think you got a raw deal? No. I was undercharging like crazy and doing free work all the time, and I’m 100% certain that I improved your copy.

Do I think my understanding of copywriting and sales and pretty much everything about me has improved a millionfold since then? Yes. Yes I sure do.

3. Sometimes cutting extra words is not the answer

I offered editing services–both copy editing and more substantial content editing–for a long time. Cutting copy down to its bare necessities has always been one of my strengths. But no best practice is best 100% of the time. [Click to tweet]

Long-form sales pages have been shown time and time again to be effective in many cases. Turns out that when you need to persuade folks to do something, you gotta spend some time and effort. File under #commonsense and also #notaseasyasitsounds.

4. People are irrationally attached to the words they use to describe themselves

Copywriters reading this: Ever have a client who hired you to write something for them, then changed your final draft on their own? Without giving you a chance to explain why you chose the words you did?

Or a client who turned out to be completely intractable when it came to revamping a tagline or elevator pitch, because they’d been using the same one for so long it just felt wrong and weird to mix it up?

People can be stubborn and dumb and scared, so copywriting is sometimes less about the words you use in your work, and more about the words you use to persuade them that 1) this is forward progress and 2) forward progress is good.

5. Saying no is fucking great

Everybody and their mom talks about why it’s important to learn to say no. But this is my blog, so now you have to read what I think about it.

Recently, I’ve been turning down new client inquiries left and right because I am very popular and important, according to my mom.

I’m not turning down requests because I can’t handle the work (we’re all gluttons for punishment, after all)–but because I’ve learned to sniff out a “bad client” from miles away. This is the archetypal Disney villain-cum-bullheaded-moron who simultaneously undervalues you and needs your help all the time; whose invoices are late and whose revisions are premature.

The flip side of this is that when I spy a potential client who seems to really know why they’re looking for a copywriter and the actual dollar value (in ROI) of the services I provide, I will run to that client like Forrest Gump to Jenny.

TL;DR: Today, on Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for growth. And pie.

GET CREATIVES is coming to Propeller on July 13!

Hey, New Orleans business owners, marketers, and entrepreneurs! I’ve been working on this thing with my talented friends Julia Sevin and Frank Aymami, and we want to share it with you.

Get Creatives is a pithy 45-minute presentation that packs in a ton of information you need to know if you’re the one who markets your business. Register now on Eventbrite, or read on for a few more reasons to join us on July 13 at 6pm!

Communication design: What it is, and why it matters

getcreatives-squaregraphic-outline-1080x1080

You’ll learn how your investment in communication design (including copywriting, graphic design, and photography) actually increases your profits and positions your brand for bigger and better things.

You’ll get actionable tips on where to find “creatives”; how much to pay them; what to ask for; and what to look out for.

And you’ll learn how to scrimp smartly so you can save your marketing dollars without sacrificing the end quality of your product.

Register ahead of time >>>

Did you know…

  • 55% of your website visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on a given page
  • Your contract with an independent creative should always specify a kill fee
  • You might not own the rights to the photographs you commissioned

There’s a lot more where that came from.

We’re going through the entire process of working with a “creative”–everything from how and where to find quality writers, designers, and photographers, to contracts and taxes, to the best way to send feedback and get the results you want.

Join us July 13 at 6pm at Propeller Incubator to find out more!

Your Pre-Event Social Media Checklist

Y’all, New Orleans Entrepreneur Week kicked off this weekend, and in between preparing for our presentation and building a new website to go along with it (yes, that’s right, I took that on for some reason), I’ve been thinking about writing this post.

There are lots of “social media checklists” out there–and some of them are super helpful. But there wasn’t one that focused specifically on what to take care of before you attend a conference, talk, or party. Until now.

May I present to you: 5 social media tasks to handle before you step inside the doors of your next event.

1. Update your headshot.

If the last time you got your professional photo taken was more than 5 years ago; or if you’ve changed your look significantly; or if you had a luscious head of hair back then, and now, schoolchildren regularly rub your chrome dome for good luck–it’s time for a new headshot.

Once you’ve got a new headshot, standardize it across your professional profile. You want to avoid having your LinkedIn photo, which says, “Yes, I am a consummate professional!” undercut by your Twitter photo, which says, “Yes, I sure do love to stuff my face with crawfish, yes I do.”

2. Make sure your last tweet showcases your business.

If you’re a prolific tweeter, this won’t be a problem for you. Chances are, you’re tweeting interesting industry tidbits at least a small percentage of the time. But if you only created a Twitter account last year because you read in Forbes that it’s important, and your last tweet dates from the Super Bowl and reads, “lol wats up with those sharks next to katy perry??? #confused”…just post another, more flattering tweet.

Or better yet, more than one.

Push that Katy Perry tweet as far down as you can, friend.

3. Check your privacy settings.

Don’t want 400 creepy friend requests from strangers or deposed Nigerian princes? Would prefer your intimate Disqus comments stay, well, intimate? Better tweak those privacy settings before you give out a million business cards.

4. Create a boosted post.

Targeted correctly, a boosted Facebook post can reach the people you’ll be meeting at your fancy upcoming event. That way, when you reach for their hand and introduce yourself, they might just be familiar with your brand already–and as we all know, familiarity breeds contempt loyalty.

5. Write a new blog.

You like how I’m taking care of item #5 with this very post? It’s so meta, either you or I will probably explode at the end of this sentence.

But seriously, update your blog if you have one. This item is especially important for those in a content field (which, ahem, is all of you. Even if you don’t think so). A new blog says, “I’m active and invested in my business!” An old blog is almost as bad as a Katy Perry shark tweet. These pop culture references will self-destruct in three…two…one…

 

One last thing: If you are not the schmooziest schmoozer in the book, a slug of bourbon and a big friendly smile never hurt anyone.

 

Sharpen Your Focus: 5 Ways to Kickstart Your Freelance Life

Remember this post? It was all about ways to treat yourself for less than $10 on Valentine’s Day, with or without a valentine.

10 Ways to Treat Yourself (For Less Than $10)

It’s not Valentine’s Day today, but I’m always looking for small (read: free) ways to appreciate what I have, and improve my quality of life. Aren’t you?

Today is Friday, though, so I’m thinking it’s an extra-appropriate time to go into the weekend mindfully and kindly–considering how you can get the most from your your body, your home, and your freelance life.

(Spoiler: You can be kind to yourself every day. But somehow, kindness doesn’t seem as accessible on a Monday morning.)

Give these ideas a try this weekend, and let me know how it goes. And don’t forget that sometimes, taking five deep breaths is the best gift you can give yourself.

1. Lay out your clothes every night

Let me tell you how often I don’t do this. But when I do, my day starts much more quickly and smoothly.

Especially when you work from home, it can be easy to sit down in your pajamas with a cup of coffee (or wine, depending on the time of day/level of alcoholism to which you adhere). Before you know it, it’s 11AM, and you feel, well, kind of gross.

Beat that feeling to the punch, and stop stumbling around in the morning, trying to find clean pants through all that crusty eye makeup.

PRICE: Free.

2. Walk around the block every morning

This is the natural next step after getting dressed in your laid-out clothes every morning. I read somewhere that somebody famous did it. You want to be famous, don’t you?

PRICE: Free.

3. Drink a glass of water before you eat

Are you hungry? Are you sure? How bout you drink some water first?

God, I love food. I try to remember to hydrate before I dig in, though. It’s a great tool to keep from overeating.

PRICE: Free, unless you live in California or sub-Saharan Africa, in which case: Damn, sorry.

4. Change your pillowcases

Studies show you’ll sleep better when the fabric next to your head doesn’t smell like morning breath and face dirt.

Okay, no one’s done a study on that, but you’ll have fewer breakouts if you change your pillowcases at least once a week. Plus, it’s my personal opinion that the smell of laundry detergent helps you fall asleep.

PRICE: Depends on how often you do your laundry. Basically, free.

5. Write down what you’re grateful for

Do this either at night before you go to sleep, or take a few minutes before you start work every day. By noticing the little things, you’ll start to build a naturally grateful outlook–which benefits you, your work, and everyone you know.

PRICE: Priceless.

 

Anything to add? Leave it in the comments!

Fashion Friday SPECIAL EDITION: Interview with Amanda deLeon!

Today’s post is extra-special! Written by Megan Hargroder of Conversations LLC, this week’s Fashion Friday features fashion designer Amanda deLeon. Amanda is known for her pieces’ structural focus, immaculate craftsmanship, and bold lines.

Megan asked Amanda how to wear capes–because honestly, none of us are doing that right (if we’re doing it at all).

Fashion Friday #fashionfriday

INTERVIEW WITH AMANDA DELEON

By Megan Hargroder

Amanda deLeon has captivated Southern fashion lovers with her clever, innovative, and yet wearable pieces since the very first New Orleans Fashion Week.

But it’s not just New Orleans giving her high praise! Amanda stole the scene as an emerging designer at last year’s New York Fashion Week.

Lucky fashionistas have been able to nab her pieces on her web store, as well as on Etsy, but we wouldn’t hold out too long to get your own Amanda deLeon original–this lady’s star is rising fast.

I sat down with Amanda this week (okay, it was an email interview) to find out more about her current Etsy collection of colorful capes and how we could go about rocking those IRL.

 

MEGAN HARGRODER: You’ve got 3 lovely capes on your Etsy store right now, and I’d love to tell people how to wear them! How would you, as the designer, pair each of these capes?

Orange Edwardian Cape by Amanda deLeon
Are you thinking of pumpkins yet?

AMANDA DELEON: I would wear that with a simple A-line dress that needs to be amped up, and a pair of modern sandals (for the summer). For a cooler climate, I would pair it with a women’s suit and some amazingly wicked shoes.

Mint Green Summer Cape by Amanda deLeon
Provides a gentle whisper of “I am way cooler than you, but you can talk to me anyway.”

AMANDA: I think this piece would be great with a classic pair of cigarette pants, patent leather pumps, and a pair of leather driving gloves.

Sheer Fuchsia Cape by Amanda deLeon
Everything’s coming up rosettes.

AMANDA: This, I see with a black satin fitted ball skirt with a mermaid flair, and a decorative bustier top…and a killer beehive.

 

MEGAN: What was your inspiration for creating this line of capes?

AMANDA: This Etsy shop is to sell my one-offs, runway samples, and random pieces created from collected fabrics. The capes were created due to what would work best with those beautiful fabrics. Also, capes need to make a serious comeback. They have an equal amount of power and femininity…dark and demure.

 MEGAN: What are you working on now? Could we get a sneak peek? (Even the tiniest little peek of a peek?)

AMANDA: My brand collection/work can be found at amandadeleon.com. As of this moment, I am finishing up a leather chest piece that is to be shipped to a customer in Germany.

This is the same chest piece that was sought out by Kat Von D. My crew and I are submitting the fashion film “Réunion de la Mélancolie” to several short film outlets, as well as the behind-the-scenes video of my show at New York Fashion Week Fall 2014, presented at the historic Algonquin Hotel.

Also, I am working on a few extra things that will be popping up into my online shop in the near future.

Rockstar status: Achieved.

Readers–have you ever rocked a cape? Pics or it didn’t happen.

 

Hey, Look, It’s a New Site!

www.theenglishmaven.com
OMG, so exciting.

Hello, friends! You might have noticed that TheEnglishMaven.com is looking a little different. Dare I say: a lot different.

That’s because I took matters into my own hands and switched the site to WordPress! Also, I couldn’t resist the allure of this theme’s pop-up pictures.

Take a look–click around–and let me know what you think!

Also, did you know you can sign up for Maven Mail? (Like your period, or a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it comes just once a month.)

How Copy Editing Makes the World Better

Terror-Eyes
Terror-Eyes seek out and destroys your typos!

Sometimes I feel like Atlas, using both hands to keep the world from getting stupider.

Just kidding, y’all. I have long been a natural copy editor–constantly pointing out typos, missing words, and incorrect punctuation wherever I see it (and I see it everywhere).

To a lot of people, copy editing seems like nitpicking. LET ME TELL YOU WHY IT’S NOT.

Copy editing pays (my) bills.

Aaaand on to the next one.

Copy editing improves reading comprehension.

People understanding what they read is pretty much super-pivotal. How many times have you tried to read the impossible “English” on product packaging and been completely enraged by its obscurity?

Or have you ordered breakfast from a badly written menu, and received something other than what you were expecting?

Oxford orange
Haaaaaaa, get it?

Copy editing makes text as perfect as it can be.

For anyone who appreciates the sheer beauty of words, this is a crucial consideration. There’s nothing like getting into the flow of a piece of writing, and having a typo or missing word straight-up donkey-kick you out of your Reading Rainbow reverie.

Beauty is important. Copy editing, in its small way, helps preserve beauty. [Click to tweet]Tweet: Beauty is important. Copy editing, in its small way, helps preserve beauty. - @theenglishmaven http://ctt.ec/M47X7+

Copy editing preserves the English language.

Ding ding ding! Ladies and gentlemen, in all of its truthiness, here is the crux of the issue. English is a living language, yes. But like all living things, it can only take so many unceremonious gut-punches before it shudders and dies.

Please stop misspelling “night” as “nite”. Please stop thinking “you’re” and “your” are synonymous. Please stop eliminating commas, one by one, from every sentence (though if it’s a stylistic choice, I’m down for that. But you have to be doing it on purpose; most people are not).

And please understand that these things matter, for the reasons listed above.

I’m not casting myself as the last, valiant defender of a dying art–but I am saying that if you speak to me in “abbrevs” one more time, I will break your laptop.

The “shameless plug” section

Did I mention I’m a copy editor, and that I offer Editor On Retainer packages so you never have to worry about provoking the anal-retentive rage of people like me? Get at me here.

Dear Creative: Know How to Answer These 3 Questions

Sunken City

This post is shared from my friends at Sunken City. Share it yourself, and show them some love!

Today we got to pitch Sunken City to a small group headed by Robbie Vitrano and Tim Williamson, founders of Idea Village.  The event, BarPreneurs, gives a handful of entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their idea/company for one minute.  From this, three semi-finalists are selected for a question-and-answer period, and one finalist gets to stay and have lunch with the big wigs. Sunken didn’t make it past the first round, but on a whim, we stayed to see what we could learn from the Q&A.  There, we picked up three seemingly simple questions that, as artists, we don’t think about nearly enough:

1.) What is your business (in one sentence)? 

2.) How will this make money? 

3.) What do you need to make this happen?

Personally, we spend most of our time thinking about the vision of Sunken (“Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a TV comedy about NOLA made by artists who live here?”) and not enough time thinking about the business angle of what makes our show profitable and attractive to investors. Among artists, there is often a natural aversion to “money talk”; it feels nobler to imagine that we can continue making art simply in the name of love, truth, and expression.

However, the truth is that whatever you are making–a web series, a fashion line, a giant man of straw–you need money to make it. And someday, you will find yourself face-to-face with someone who possesses the very resources and connections you need. It may be in an elevator, a restroom, or crowded somewhat awkwardly around a bar in the French Quarter. Wherever it is, be prepared to describe why your idea is awesomehow it will make money, and what EXACTLY you need RIGHT NOW to level-up.

The best way to get there: practice. Pitch as often as you can. There are no shortage of pitch events and networking meet-ups in this city. Go make yourself uncomfortable. And when you aren’t selected to move on to the “next round” at one of these events, don’t leave.  Instead, nurse the one free cocktail you got, stick around as long as is socially acceptable, and see what you can learn from those who are selected.

Also: check out FitLot. We think they’re gonna be big.

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Follow Sunken City on Twitter @oursunkencity to learn how you can support the show!