Advice on Writing Articles & Blogs

By Jeff Beals

Professionals who appreciate the value of personal branding make concentrated efforts to be quoted in periodicals, radio talk shows and television news. Such exposure is valuable and helps propel careers.

However, it’s awfully difficult to earn media quotes. That’s why more and more professionals are blogging and submitting articles to publications. There’s great opportunity here. Every major city has numerous publications, and many of these depend on outside writers to supply the content.

The writer Robert Benchley once said, “The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece, per word or perhaps.” In other words, you don’t do it for the money. Instead of thinking of writing as a profit center, consider it as a form of marketing, a personal calling card. If you write enough articles, and spread them around the Internet, people will start to notice you and eventually respect you as an accomplished, well-known expert.

To help you get started as a published article writer or successful blogger, here are some tips:

Thou shalt be interesting

Entertaining the reader is just as important as educating the reader. Pick a topic that relates to what you do professionally but is fascinating to others.

Identify sources

If research is necessary, find the best possible sources. Those sources might be interviews you set up with experts. Convincing prospective sources to do interviews can be challenging, because many of these people have been burned before by journalists. Let them know that your motives are positive. Be transparent and explain exactly what you are doing with the article or blog.

Interviews

Take copious notes during interviews. If you quote someone, you have an ethical obligation to make sure you write their words verbatim.

Write like a pro

Purchase a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook. You can find it at most bookstores and on line. The vast majority of publications follow AP style. If you follow it, your writing will appear to be much more legitimate. By the way, there are a number of little quirks to AP style. For example, AP uses the term “adviser” instead of “advisor.” Large cities like Chicago, Atlanta and Boston “stand alone,” meaning you don’t write the state name following them. Speaking of state names, AP doesn’t use the U.S. Post Office abbreviations. For instance, Nebraska is “Neb.,” not “NE.” California is “Calif.,” not “CA.”

Upside-down pyramid

When composing your article, use the “inverted pyramid” method of writing. The fat base of the upside-down pyramid is at the top of the article, and it represents the biggest, most significant, most newsworthy part of the story. The small, narrow tip of the pyramid at the bottom represents the least meaningful part of the story. Place great emphasis on the article’s first sentence also known as “the lead.”

Active is better than passive

Most of your writing should be in the active voice instead of passive voice. In other words, “The president vetoed the bill” is better than, “The bill was vetoed by the president.”

Remember 8th grade English class

Use proper grammar, punctuation and spelling. Proofread carefully. Tenses should be consistent. Subjects and verbs ought to agree.

Brevity is beautiful

Short articles are more readable than long ones.

Use real words

Don’t try to be too cute with your writing by filling it with clichés or politically correct double speak. Make your message as clear as possible; avoid balderdash, poppycock and gobbledygook.

Don’t get defensive

Unless you are writing in your own blog or for a publication you personally created, you give up some control once you submit the article. An editor will probably review your work and make at least a few changes. For the most part, having an editor is a blessing as it reduces the likelihood of errors.

Be a team player

There has to be a “balance” between your editor and you. Don’t allow the editor to walk all over you and change too much, but be understanding and remember the editor has a job to do. The relationship between editor and writer should be like a good marriage: Both have to give a little.

Not all ghosts are scary

Even if you’re terribly busy and not very gifted as a writer, I recommend you write your own stuff. Writing is best when the writer really writes it. You can always have someone edit it. However, if you have no confidence in your writing or are too busy, there are professional ghost writers, who will do the dirty work for you in exchange for a reasonable fee. In fact, I have done some ghost writing for clients.

Any professional can enjoy increased name recognition and ultimately more business through writing. The trick is to do it properly and compel people to read your material. After all, the best-written article in the world is useless if people don’t read it.

As you write, put yourself in the reader’s shoes. You must make sure that someone who knows little about your subject, who quickly browses it, can understand and appreciate the message you are trying to convey.

Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide.  To discuss booking  a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or call (402) 637-9300.

You are welcome to forward this article (with author citation) to anyone who might benefit from it.

Guilty of Customer Service Hypocrisy

By Jeff Beals

When working out of town and eating meals by myself, I feel like I need to bring along a newspaper or magazine when I sit down at a restaurant. Not sure why, but if I’m having lunch by myself, it feels more comfortable to have something to read.

There’s a process to follow when choosing lunchtime reading material when I’m on the road. I stop by one of those banks of newspaper machines, the big, long row of them that you see on downtown street corners. I randomly pick up a couple local periodicals – generally the free ones – and read them to get a sense of the city’s flavor, the community’s character.

That’s exactly what I did on a recent trip to Boston.

While sitting in a restaurant and thumbing through The Improper Bostonian, a letter-to-the-editor jumped out:

“To my least-favorite bookstore: Instead of having a greeter stand at the door with a goofy smile, perhaps he could assist by directing me through this labyrinth of horse calendars to find the book I’m looking for when it’s not alphabetized by author name. The search kiosk offers no more help than a ‘most likely in-store’ response. Bigfoot or Amelia Earhart could ‘likely’ be in-store! Fitting that the franchise is on the verge of bankruptcy. The closest it is to finding a book is Chapter 11.” The letter was signed by “Novel Idea.”

Ha! That’s stickin’ it to ’em.

As an author, I must confess to a little guilty satisfaction in reading this. After all, the big bookstore chains don’t treat authors and publishers very nicely. They’re slow in paying bills and return books damaged without any financial penalty on their part whatsoever.

After smugly chuckling at the letter, I got to thinking about those large bookstore chains and wondered why a couple of them are struggling so much. Conventional wisdom blames changing reading habits – many people now read on line or use electronic reading devices instead of curling up with a good book on the sofa.

You could also blame Amazon.com and Wal-Mart for the bookstores’ troubles. Certainly those two businesses sell in such volume that they can beat the traditional bookstores on price, but the question remains. Why are they struggling so much?

Despite competition from other businesses, big bookstores have advantages. They are comfortable, inviting and appealing places to shop. They usually occupy prominent real estate with great demographics, visibility and traffic flow. They have in-house coffee shops, which provide additional income.

Then there’s the BIG benefit: bookstore chains don’t pay for their inventory. Yes, you read that right. They don’t have to pay for the books. Those thousands of books sitting on the shelves are there on consignment. If they don’t sell, the bookstore simply returns them to the publisher. Even if books are damaged, no matter how badly, the bookstore simply returns them to the publisher, no questions asked. In fact, my publishing company received one of my books back with a chocolate bar mashed between two pages.

Despite all these advantages, bookstores are struggling. Is customer service – or a lack thereof – part of the problem? Could be. I’ve heard other complaints similar to the one voiced in the Boston magazine.

In an increasingly complex economy in which bookstores and darned near every other type of business compete in hyper-competitive environments, customer service ought to be a no-brainer. But it’s not. It seems like everyone can tell stories of times they have encountered legendarily bad customer service.

Usually those stories come from the stereotypical “customer-service” businesses like stores, restaurants and hotels. We can all relate to bad customer service in a retail environment, because we interact with these types of businesses several times a day.

But most readers of this article don’t work in retail environments. Most of you work in offices, providing or supporting high-end services that cost clients a lot of money. Given that, take a moment to ask yourself, are you providing as high a level of customer service to your clients as you demand from your neighborhood store or your favorite restaurant? Are you doing it consistently? Most of us are guilty when it comes to the “consistency” question. Sometimes I am guilty.

I once observed a successful real estate broker deliver a blistering tongue-lashing to the manager of an upscale restaurant that had wronged him. He wondered loudly and forcefully, “Why the hell can’t that waitress just do her damned job.”

It’s kind of ironic that the same broker once blew off a prospective client, because the guy had a thick foreign accent and didn’t appear to have deep pockets. The big-shot broker was frustrated when he learned that a competing broker took time for that same client, built rapport with him and eventually cashed a $250,000 commission check. Ouch.

Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide.  To discuss booking  a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or call (402) 637-9300.

You are welcome to forward this article (with author citation) to anyone else who might benefit from it.

It’s Better to Be Different than It Is to Be Better

By Jeff Beals

From an outsider’s perspective, she was leading the ideal life.

She made the Dean’s List in law school and was in her tenth year practicing at a respected firm in the middle of Toronto’s bustling financial district. If that wasn’t enough, she had four beautiful daughters, a rich personality and an impossible-to-forget name: “Tsufit,” a Hebrew word for “humming bird.”

Indeed, she had it all, but something just wasn’t right.

Tsufit was restless. One day she thought to herself, “there’s got to me more to life than this,” so she made the monumental decision to leave law and follow her dream of being a singer, comedian and television actress.

It was certainly a radical change.

As it turned out, it was also a profitable change for Tsufit (yes, she goes by a one-word name just like Cher or Madonna). She did well as a performer, taking advantage of her natural penchant to entertain others. She was energetic, colorful and damned funny on stage, on camera and in one-on-one conversations.

But she was more than just an entertainer. She brought a business-like approach to her new profession, and more importantly, she was a savvy marketer. Tsufit had a knack for getting exposure in newspapers and in other media.

Eventually, entrepreneurs and other professionals started asking her how she earned so much publicity especially from major media outlets. In answering such questions, she found an even better career.

Today Tsufit is an internationally renowned marketing consultant who coaches clients how to be stars in their professions. She’s the award-winning author of Step Into the Spotlight: A Guide to Getting Noticed, as well as a popular radio talk-show guest, keynote speaker and seminar leader both in Canada and the United States. Her coaching fee is now substantially higher than the legal fees she earned years ago. Her clients, who come to her from around the world, are entrepreneurs, executives, authors, professional speakers, independent professionals, fellow coaches – anyone who is the “directing mind” of a business.

Tsufit coaches the type of people who want to be experts or stars in any business. Suffice it to say, she is an expert when it comes to building one’s personal brand and marketing it in today’s precarious economy.

Her clients learn how to brand themselves and become well known. That leads to so many professional benefits for them.

“You get to charge more,” Tsufit says, “I help them raise their rates. Part of that whole process is getting them well known among the people who pay their rates. My coaching rates are now five times what they were eight years ago. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t become so well known.”

Tsufit argues that well known people are more credible. “It’s bizarre, really, but because they’ve heard of you in the marketplace, they trust you more. They’re much more willing to give you large amounts of money. They trust that well known people deliver on what they promise.”

While there are so many theories of personal branding and so many ways to brand oneself, Tsufit believes you must start with your own uniqueness.

“It’s better to be different than it is to be better,” she says, “If you focus on creating differences and distinctions between you and everyone else, you don’t have to focus on boasting or showing that you’re better.”

To build your brand, drop the excessive professionalism and simply be yourself, Tsufit advises. But as you do that, “be the best version of yourself.” People who come across as too perfect or too smooth turn others off. That’s why you should show your vulnerabilities, or as author Harry Beckwith once said, “show your warts.” Research shows that if you show some vulnerability, you’re actually more credible.

As you brand yourself, you want to do it the right way. Tsufit believes the biggest personal branding mistake is not standing for anything, not having a slice of the market that is yours and yours alone.

“If you say you’re for anybody, you’re really for nobody,” she says, “because there’s no way to find you among the sea of other people, who do what you do.”

On occasion, a professional may desire to change his or her personal brand. That’s okay if the change is made for the right reasons.

“I wouldn’t change every five minutes,” Tsufit warns. “Some people have a totally new thing every month or two or every year. After too many changes, people write you off as a flake. Your new brand should grow out of something you’ve done before.”

If you want to change how you appear in public, start by appearing in front of a different public. To borrow from the world of theatre, try it out off-Broadway first. When Tsufit was a singer, she would test new songs at a small coffee house before debuting in front of large audiences. Similarly, professionals, should test market their new brands, making sure the brand fits, is comfortable and not fake.

Many people will admit that personal branding is an effective way to bolster a career, but they’re simply not comfortable doing it. Specifically, many people worry about going too far. So, if you’re worried about crossing the line from “healthy personal branding” to “egotistical boasting,” you’re not alone.

“For me, it’s humor,” Tsufit claims. “I could never get away with half of what I say without humor. Otherwise, I’d come across as arrogant or conceited. The other thing is confidence. Know that you can demonstrate that you really do what you say you do.

By the way, if you would like to learn more about the marketing expert featured in this article, go to StepIntoTheSpotlight.com.

Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide.  To discuss booking  a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or call Jennifer at (402) 637-9300.

You are welcome to forward this article (with author citation) to anyone who might benefit from it.