Archive for November, 2014

Success Story: Farmhouse Five

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Cowgirl_Boots_WSFarmhouse Five offers charming and affordable kids’ wall art, home accents, and nursery decor with original artwork. The owner, Therese, had been writing product descriptions and web copy since launching her home-based company 13 years ago, but she wanted more time to focus on her passions: drawing and painting.

Looking for a copywriter who could provide fun, unique descriptions of her custom products, Therese turned to Google and quickly found our Cincinnati copywriting service.

Whimsical copywriting to match adorable products

Therese was impressed by our copywriting samples, and contacted Melissa right away to hire her for web copy and product descriptions. She explained that she was looking for something descriptive and unique, with a fun flair, to help her website exude the same personality as her products for kids.

Therese was thrilled with the results. “Melissa is great at wording and putting together paragraphs that flow well,” she said. “She is also great with alliteration. . .my favorite [at] Farmhouse Five!”

Storytelling that sells

After redesigning with the new copy and a fresh layout, Farmhouse Five has a website that “finally flows with wording and photos.” The improved web content from Words By Melissa noticeably improved SEO and increased site traffic.

Farmhouse Five’s owner says that our copywriting service saves her valuable time. “[It’s] so nice not to think about this aspect of the website,” she said.

Differences Between Journalism and Business Writing

Friday, November 21st, 2014

journalism writingThere are many different kinds of writing, and sometimes it’s hard to draw the lines of distinction. Some writing disciplines overlap, requiring similar skills, methods, or mindsets. But it’s often important to know the difference, especially if you’re a copywriter with clients looking for certain types of content.

While there are some similarities between journalism and business writing, the requirements and approaches are different. Here’s what you should know about each of these writing areas.

Business writing: It’s mostly marketing

The business writing category covers most types of copywriting assignments. Web content, blog posts, brochures, case studies, email campaigns, press releases, product descriptions, and even some articles are all considered business writing.

The main characteristic of business writing is its intention to sell. The piece might be peddling a product or service, an idea, an opinion or viewpoint, or even entertainment—but it’s usually written to convince the reader of something. By definition, business writing is biased in favor of the business that’s using the content.

A piece of writing with intent to sell typically requires a different writing style. There’s always some degree of hype involved, with varying intensity—the hype might be subtle for press releases, and blatant for email campaigns. Business writing employs “salesy” copy, with strong descriptions, interesting turns of phrases, wordplay, and calls to action.

Journalism: It’s mostly facts

The journalism style of writing is for reporting the news. Journalistic pieces present the facts to readers, backed by research and fact-checking. But there’s more to this type of writing than dry, fact-filled paragraphs—journalists must also be able to grab attention and engage readers.

One of the biggest challenges in journalism is maintaining a neutral viewpoint. Every issue has at least two sides, but journalists aren’t supposed to pick one. Instead, journalistic pieces must be written in a way that informs without bias, and lets readers make up their own minds on the issue.

Instead of hype-driven wordplay and sales-tuned copy, journalism writing uses clear language, interesting turns of phrase, and judicious quotes from verified resources. One thing journalism and business writing have in common, though, is the need for catchy headlines.

Writing on both sides

As a full-service freelance copywriter in Cincinnati, I can provide pieces in a variety of styles, including journalism. One of my regular assignments is writing articles for Adweek, an online industry news website. A recent piece I wrote, “CVS Pulls the Plug on Apple Pay”, is a good example of a compelling headline followed by a balanced article that reports on the issue—including the pros and cons of Apple Pay for retailers, and the fact that CVS may reconsider if Apple’s mobile payment system sees more widespread adoption.

Had this been a piece of business writing, it might have focused on how great Apple Pay is, and why more retailers should adopt the payment system.

Do you take on business writing and journalism assignments? What’s your approach to journalistic writing?

Is Email Turning Everyone Into Bad Writers?

Monday, November 17th, 2014

02email7The widespread use of email has, for better or worse, transformed society. Now instead of making a phone call to a colleague, a business, or even a friend to find something out, we can just fire off an email. In fact, some people go to great lengths to replace all phone conversations with email. Even face-to-face conversations have decreased with the rise of electronic communication.

But is this reliance on email turning us into crappy writers?

The case for bad writing: Email is rushed and sloppy

Some people believe the medium of email promotes bad writing. It’s often informal and hurried, a quick note dashed off without any proofreading or even a simple scan. Many an awkward, hastily written email is tone deaf: riddled with poor word choices, spelling and grammar mistakes, and far too many exclamation points.

What’s more, people receiving email seem to have little or no expectations for writing standards. There may be some risk of professional consequences, such as not getting promoted because your grammar is terrible and management feels you’re not an effective communicator. But there are no email police to impose penalties for misplaced commas, all-caps subject lines, or barely coherent sentence fragments that are missing important elements—like verbs.

The case against bad writing: Volume improves quality

On the opposite side, some people view this explosion of email as beneficial. Relying on email as a primary method of communication forces you to write more—and theoretically, the more you write, the better you’ll be at it.

Email has brought regular writing into the lives of many people who would otherwise never write a thing if they could help it. Those who avoided essays and reports like the plague during their educational years are now pounding out paragraphs with ease, on a daily basis. Managers and executives who might have dictated their correspondence to secretaries are now writing out their thoughts directly (and secretaries are now administrative assistants, with considerable writing chops of their own).

The verdict: Email isn’t all bad

Atrocious spelling, grammar, and sentence construction continues to plague short-form written communication—just read the comments section on any YouTube video for proof. But as a whole, email may have actually improved the average writing skills of America, comma splices and all. And there are some pretty cool things you can do with email that can’t necessarily be accomplished with a pen and notepad.

Your inner grammarian may cringe at the homophone confusion or the shotgun approach to punctuation you see frequently in your inbox—but hey, at least they’re writing.

Robot Writers: Can They Replace Human Creativity?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

robot-penHave you read anything on Wikipedia lately? If you’ve come across entries on the world’s largest online encyclopedia that seem a bit stilted, like they could have been written by a robot—there’s a chance they actually might have been.

A bot program called Lsjbot, written by Swedish university administrator Sverker Johansson, is able to write up to 10,000 Wikipedia entries a day. Many of the bot’s entries are about either animal species or small towns in the Philippines, but Lsjbot has been incredibly prolific so far with more than 2.7 million articles posted on the site—or about 8.5 percent of total entries.

Lsjbot isn’t the only robot that’s written Wikipedia articles. The rambot, a U.S. based bot program written by Wiki user Ram-Man, began “writing” entries about U.S. county and cities in 2002. Rambot’s first entry was Autaugaville, Alabama. And rambot is just one of the 1,647 Wikipedia bots currently listed as contributors, both active and inactive.

Is this the beginning of the end for human writers?

Robots and writing sophistication

As technology has advanced, software programs have been developed that allow for vast amounts of data to be gathered, filtered, matched, and placed together in particular ways. This includes the English language. In fact, bots are used to generate a significant volume of news reports, including by the Associated Press—they can quickly turn a set of facts into a readable news story, and are available to “write” at a moment’s notice.

However, most experts don’t see robots as replacements for human writers. Instead, these writing bots can be relied on as efficiency tools, generating routine content such as financial reports or breaking news summaries. This frees up human writers to focus on more in-depth, emotionally charged content.

Kris Hammond is the founder of Narrative Science, a service that uses the Quill writing bot platform to provide narrative reports for businesses. Hammond recently claimed that by 2025, 90 percent of the news the general public reads will be generated by robots. However, he explained, “That doesn’t mean that robots will be replacing 90% of all journalists, simply that the volume of published material will massively increase.”

Can robots beat the real thing?

Writing robots are increasingly sophisticated, and some are able to produce copy that’s practically indistinguishable from human writing. And of course, they’re faster and more efficient. But are they better?

Human readers can breathe a sigh of relief, because while robots may become copy workhorses, there are many aspects of writing that a robot author simply can’t accomplish. Robots can’t get creative—they can only work with the resources they’re given. Robots can’t draw emotional connections or infer meaning. Robots can’t be subtle, or funny, or conversational.

So as long as people demand entertaining, interesting, and emotionally meaningful content, human writers will get to keep their jobs safe from the robot revolution.

Success Story: Point Click Productions

Friday, November 7th, 2014

pointclicklogo

Copywriting Solutions to Streamline Work Flow

As a full-service web design and search marketing agency, Point Click Productions provides clients with custom solutions for e-commerce and online marketing. As part of their comprehensive design service, they position copy on the websites they design—but obtaining that copy was proving to be a challenge.

Many clients were intimidated by the idea of writing their own copy for the marketing materials provided by Point Click, including websites, brochures, and email campaigns. Others were significantly delayed in providing web copy, which resulted in project setbacks and pushed-back launches.

Words By Melissa delivered a copywriting solution that allowed Point Click to expand their client services, reduce project delays, and save a lot of valuable time.

The Hunt for a Reliable Copywriter

In attempting to provide copywriting services for clients’ projects, Point Click worked with a number of copywriters over the years. The company used various services to find freelance writers, including Textbroker, LinkedIn, Elance, WriterAccess, and other “boutique” services.

But there were continual problems with the writers: poor quality work with obvious spelling and grammar errors, missed deadlines, and even failure to complete assignments.

Our Work With Point Click

Point Click’s hiring process has always involved taking copywriters for a “test drive.” The company hired Words By Melissa years ago for a small project and was very impressed with the work, particularly the quality and the fast turnaround time. Though they worked with other, cheaper writers, they always returned to us.

With our copywriting services, Point Click is able to obtain copy for their web design and marketing projects with better quality than the clients themselves are able to provide—always on time and within budget. In fact, Words By Melissa is now listed on the Point Click About Us page as an official member of the team.

Words By Melissa is thrilled to help Point Click Productions streamline their workflow process, provide improved services for their clients, and save time on project after project.

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Writer

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

multi-task-mom-stress-400x400Ever wonder what it’s like to be a freelance writer? Naturally, most of it involves lounging by the pool with a cool, refreshing drink in one hand and a laptop by the other, idly typing away on assignments you’re really excited about while the money just pours into your bank account—or maybe not.

Here’s a look at a real day in the life of one freelance writer who doesn’t currently own a pool and hasn’t started drinking by breakfast (yet). Working from anywhere has its perks, but it’s not always as glamorous as it sounds…

5:30 a.m. Before I’m truly awake, I lace up and head out for a quick five-mile run. My body must move first before my mind will follow suit.

6:00 a.m. Mornings start the same way as any other family—get everybody up, fed, dressed, and ready for their respective days. Kids to school, adults to work. The big difference for me: “going to work” does not involve any driving. I can just walk across the hall into my office. Hooray!

8:00 a.m. Consider a shower, but that’s preempted by some early work. First order of business is to check my — oh, wait, the school’s calling. Someone’s forgotten a lunch, and someone else may or may not have lice. Good thing the school’s only five minutes away. BRB

8:36 a.m. The workday begins (seriously this time). First order of business is to check my email. I’ve set a rule in the interests of productivity: email is checked only three times a day. Morning, lunch, end of day. I respond to everything and feel very productive. No more email until noon—on to checking today’s calendar and getting things done.

9:00 a.m. Finish up an article I started yesterday that’s due today, and send it off to the client. Now everything I have is new work, so I pick the most complex one and start researching. It’s easier to write about a topic if I’ve read up and let it simmer in my brain awhile before I get started. Get a little sidetracked and lose 15 minutes following random links, but I’m back on track soon.

10:00 a.m. Thinking about that shower again… it’s okay, it’s not like there’s anyone around to smell me. Still plenty of time to shower before school’s out.

10:27 a.m. Broke my email checking rule (it was an accident) and found an emergency request from a long-term client, sent three minutes after I signed out earlier. They really need this press release to jump on an opportunity due to breaking news, and could I possibly have something for them by 2 p.m.? Fire off a reply—of course I can, I’m super freelance writer!—and start on the press release.

12:00 noon: Supposed to break for lunch right now but I’m almost done with this press release. I’ll grab a sandwich and eat at my desk. Take a break later.

1:47 p.m. Press release done, three assignments researched, one article outlined, one intro written. I could really use a nap right now. But the bus is going to be here soon, and that shower is still calling me… maybe I’ll just grab a Diet Coke and see if there are any Kit-Kats left in the kids’ Halloween baskets…

2:45 p.m. Heard all about the kids’ days at school, reviewed homework, got everyone a snack, and now they’re watching a movie while I get back to work. Must finish at least one of these assignments today. Background noise and the afternoon blahs break up the concentration a little, but I’m still making progress.

4:08 p.m. Wrapped up a blog post and made headway on a case study. Had to stop when one of the cats chased a squirrel up a tree and got stuck 10,000 feet in the air, promptly sending the kids into panic mode. After an hour of balancing precariously on a 12-foot ladder and plying Skippy with treats, he rolled his eyes and calmly climbed back down all on his own. Back to work.

5:00 p.m. The workday is over! Now to close the office door and spend quality time with the family, and relax for the rest of the night… just kidding! It sounded good, anyway.

6:00 p.m. Making lunches for tomorrow, battling homework wars, signing tests and permission slips, letting the husband vent about his hectic day in the corporate grind, cleaning the kitchen, navigating the rough terrain of prepubescent girl drama…

6:30 p.m. Dinner? A simple phone call puts an end to that dilemma.

9:00 p.m. Now that the kids are fed, (somewhat) clean, and in bed, it’s time to wrap up that case study I almost finished earlier, write the intro for the assignment that’s due first thing tomorrow, set up the next day’s calendar, update the website, check messages, reply to a few clients, and get that query out I meant to send three days ago. Oh, and maybe I’ll manage to scrape up half an hour to work on that novel that’s been mocking me from the taskbar for weeks…

10:45 p.m. Just remembered that shower… oh well, too late now. There’s always tomorrow.

11:48 p.m. Finally going to bed. Tomorrow I’m going to have everything done by 5, I swear. Okay, I’m at least going to finish everything by 5 on Friday and take the weekend off. All right, maybe just Sunday…

Freelance Writers: Should You Generalize or Specialize?

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

topic

In many respects, freelance writing is a unique industry with abundant career options. But on a basic level, there are two paths your freelance writing career can take: jack of all trades, or niche expert.

Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages. Which path is right for you? The answer depends on your goals, your interests and abilities, and the amount of effort you’re willing or able to expend.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of freelance writing on general topics versus a niche focus, and tips on deciding which path you should take in your freelance career.

General freelance writing: More work, less pay

The generalist path means you’ll take freelance writing assignments on just about any topic. You may find yourself writing blog articles about tax and finance one day, and website content for a business consultant the next. You could write about pet care, fashion, tech products, family issues, jewelry, web design, politics, and home improvement, all in the space of a week—and then work on completely different topics the next week.

As a general freelance writer, you’ll typically find that there’s plenty of work available. The down side is that generalists don’t earn big money. In order to make a decent living while writing on general topics, you have to produce at a higher volume.

General freelance writing can be challenging and rewarding, but there are tradeoffs. Aside from the lower pay, much of your work (or all of it) will be written on behalf of your clients—and they’ll be credited as the author, not you. This makes it difficult to develop a portfolio, especially considering some clients may not allow you to publicize the work you developed for them.

The key to success as a general freelance writer is to have a well-designed business website with a writing portfolio that showcases your versatile abilities, and to build a reputation as a reliable writer who completes quality assignments on time. Proving your worth can also help you get more work in the form of referrals from existing clients.

If you’re a fast writer who enjoys working with many different topics, this may be the career path for you.

Niche freelance writing: More pay, more risk

First, the good news: Freelance writers with specialties can typically command higher rates — sometimes much higher, depending on your niche. As a specialty freelance writer, your goal is to be considered an expert in your field, and therefore worth paying more. When you take assignments, you’re usually credited as the author.

The drawbacks? It takes time to build a reputation, there will be less work available (and more competition), and you could become “typecast” as a certain breed of writer.

There are many ways to establish yourself as an expert, but all of them take time. You can build a reputation through writing just in your niche—though you may have to start out with lower-paying jobs until you’re established. A professional blog on your topic can help to solidify your expert status. You can also network on social media and make connections in your chosen industry.

For niche freelance writers, available work is limited. You’ll also be in competition with other niche writers in your topic, and especially in the beginning, you may end up fighting for every job. As your reputation builds, landing assignments will become easier.

Finally, when you decide on a niche, it’s difficult to change topics. For example, you won’t be able to command the same high rate for tech articles if you specialize in women’s health. If you get burned out on your topic—or if the available work dries up—you’ll have to forge an expert reputation in a new topic.

Still, niche freelance writers can enjoy better pay for less work. If you’re willing to establish a reputation, you can make a great living writing on niche topics.