Category Archives: Uncategorized

Outsourcing Missed Opportunity

If you’re like most marketers, you probably sense there’s something else you could be doing or should be doing. This is an idea-generating business, after all, and who doesn’t have more ideas than you can handle?

On any given morning, you could step into your day with an array of inspiration to build your influence, promote your business or make an impact. Then you reach your desk and start checking items off your list.

The day closes in around you as requests pile up and pop-up fires start to flame. Sure, the productivity gives you a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of a job well done. Who doesn’t love that?

Still, the next day, those ideas greet you again. There’s this missing thing that could be done, but isn’t getting done. If only you had the time and space to develop the project.

Somewhere out there – there’s help for that. With more than 57 million freelancers in the workforce, there are plenty of willing hands to help you pursue your project. But how do you make a decision on an independent contractor when you consider the risk to your time, your budget and your reputation (at least with your boss)?

When marketers identify a possible vendor, they likely ask a series of questions: Is this someone I can trust to do a good job? Will this person meet my deadline, or am I going to be scrambling if this thing goes south? Will this person understand my company’s voice and mission? Will the fee be a good value? Is there any way this person will embarrass me in front of my boss, or waste my time or our money if I make this choice?

For independent workers, this is why word-of-mouth referrals are far more valuable that even the best SEO strategies and paid posts. Marketers want someone they can trust, and little bits of trust are transferred when they identify someone who knows someone who can help.

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and author of Story Shaping, a creative encouragement platform. 

What Is Your Job’s Purpose?

I remember many years ago hearing a speaker tell his audience to take a piece of paper and write down the purpose of their jobs.

Most people at this meeting were PR people. As we instinctively thought about the tasks we needed to accomplish, we began our scribbling in that direction. But the speaker threw us for a loop when he said, “If you put ‘write press releases’ on your list, you’re going to lose your job.”

This was an eye-opening statement, and we were all ears. He went on to list other tasks we had likely listed and said, “If you put that on your list, you’re going to lose your job.”
As we began to wonder why we were all about to be summarily dismissed, he explained that the purpose of our jobs was related to the mission we were trying to accomplish – not the tasks we were trying to take care of.

Therefore, if we think our purpose is taking care of tasks and not pursuing the mission itself, we’ll miss the mark. Furthermore, when the tasks no longer fit the mission, we can work ourselves right out of a job if we don’t adapt.

Two decades later, I do not remember who the speaker was. But the point has stuck with me lo these many years: Don’t focus so much on your job’s tasks that you forget your job’s purpose.

I’ve been an independent writer for a while now. Yet I still see this application in work I do for clients as well. I can feel it. If I’m performing tasks they need taken care of, I recognize that I will have a role for as long as they want to outsource those tasks. However, when my work aligns with their mission and I become part of a team, I will often be able to adapt as goals, structures and personnel undergo inevitable changes.

Remember, tasks are adaptable. Purpose is overriding. Focus on your job’s purpose, and use your adaptable tasks to pursue that purpose.

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and author of Story Shaping, a creative encouragement platform. 

Why Is Writing Important?

One time I man I know casually told me that his teenage daughter didn’t like writing. She didn’t see the need and didn’t want to become better. He asked me what would I say about the importance of being able to write.

Many already know that punctuation saves lives, as illustrated in the example: “Let’s eat Grandma” vs. “Let’s eat, Grandma.” But what would I tell a young person about why learning to write is important? These are my thoughts:

Writing is important for safety and protection. Writing is how rules are established.
I remember one time I was with a 7-year-old niece at a skating rink. Looking to the list of rules on the wall, she said, “There are a lot of no’s.” Indeed, every rule on the sign began with the word “No.” And it’s true: someone’s got to be able to write “No running.”

Writing is how we tell people what behavior we will accept. “No return after the sale.” “No food or drink in the store.” “No parking without a permit.”

“No” is one of the most important words in language – and one of the most freeing. “No” creates boundaries, where we can say, “I have a set of core values – my no means I won’t go past them.”

But sometimes the no is not based on a set of hard and fast rules, but more on what is going to work out best for the situation at hand.

At some point, you will be the one who has to say no, and you will want to do so with more caring than is demonstrated by the skating-rink list of rules. Perhaps you will have to say no to someone who wants a job that you have the power to offer or withhold – or who is seeking support for a cause, and you want to be respectful of the disappointment your no will bring. What comes after “It is with deep regret that I must…”?

While writing may be how you say no, it is also how you can seek a yes for yourself. Writing is how you can make a request. You may be seeking a job one day and want to make the case for why you should be hired. Beyond that, in almost any kind of work there is, you will be called on to seek a yes from someone else – a supervisor, client, vendor, volunteer, member, donor…

When something matters to you, you will want this thing to matter to others too. So you will want to write a letter asking for support. What words will get you the yes you want to receive?

Not coincidentally and perhaps most importantly, writing is also how you can say yes. “Yes, I accept your offer.” “Yes, I look forward to attending.” “Yes, I will support your cause.” How will you say, without hesitation or equivocation, “I’m in. I’m on board. You can count on me.”

So there you have it – the three main things I know about why writing is important: It’s how you can say no. It’s how you can make a request. And it’s how you can say yes.

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and author of Story Shaping, a creative encouragement platform.

What Is Your Favorite Word?

I remind myself that “modern” is an outdated term. I assume it lost favor to “current” at some point, and now is more likely to be “relevant.”

Words will say things you don’t realize, unless you keep up. When you’re writing copy, you don’t want to sound old-fashioned using words like modern. Old-fashioned may have fallen out of favor as well. Is “outdated” better? It actually is hard to keep up.

You can say different words that sound better. For example, take this sentence: “That big old building is falling in on itself.” Change it to: “The remarkable edifice recalls days gone by.” Or “a boring event” becomes “a memorable experience.” Or “old stuff” becomes “pre-loved.”

Just think of these edits as word sweeteners. Whether it’s actually sugar-coating or artificial sweetener, someone else can decide.

Words matter. And the ones we prefer, the ones that draw our attention, tell us something about ourselves.

In my copy, I use the word “consider” far too often. It’s my go-to transition. If I’ve got to write a sentence of introduction, then get to the bullet points I want to convey, the word “consider” is a bridge. For example, “If you want to [blah, blah, blah], consider the following tips.”

Why would I like the word “consider” so much? It’s how I live my life. Definitions include “think carefully about something” or “look attentively at” or “take into account when making an assessment.” I consider all the time. No wonder it’s my go-to for transition.

Yet I recognize I overuse that word, and also that concept. So, I make an effort to put another word in its place, and also to put action items on my plate. Sometimes moving forward requires acting counter to your instincts. For me, that equals less consideration, more action.

What are your favorite words? In Michael Tate’s book The White Shirt, he talks about how our ears are a guide to our interests. As we hear the languages of our career calling, we perk up. When the languages (terms, concepts, ideas) aren’t interesting, we shut down.

That’s a helpful recognition – to know why I skip over industry concepts that I don’t relate to, but I’ll hit replay on things that draw me in. What languages (industry terms) do you like to be around? What does that tell you about your own career interests?

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and author of Story Shaping, a creative encouragement platform.

It’s about Serving Others

I had an unexpected request from someone I don’t know but who had heard my name at the church we both attend. Her 13-year-old daughter is pursuing a Girl Scout badge and needed to talk to a writer about his/her career. All she needed to do was take a few moments to ask me a few questions.

Happy to oblige. We arranged a time between church activities.

I explained that being a copywriter is the business side of my writing life – how I earn income. I write for businesses who need to promote their messages. These days that looks a lot like web content, email and newsletters. When I started in this field, it looked like television commercials, radio spots, billboards, brochures and print ads.

She doesn’t watch TV or read newspapers. I felt we might have a generational issue as I described my starting point, though I gave it my best shot. I did say, “Things are different now.”

She was only required to ask me two questions; because she’s an overachiever, she asked four – one being, “How did you know this is what you wanted to do? I’ve never heard of it.”

Back to that generational issue. How do you explain the source of your dreams to someone who never saw a Bewitched rerun, doesn’t know Alka-Seltzer goes “plop plop, fizz fizz,” and didn’t get misty-eyed when Coca-Cola wanted to teach the world to sing?

I said, “If you could advance my dreams from back then to today, it’d be like wanting to create a viral video and watch those view numbers go up and up.”

I hope she gets her badge.

That’s my takeaway, by the way. If I had it to do over again, I would have told her that being a copywriter is always about helping someone else get their badge.

Maybe this is the CMO under pressure to keep the content pipeline filled, or the development director who needs to communicate with donors, or the ad agency outsourcing a special project. My name is hardly ever associated with the work I do. Instead, it’s about saving someone time or taking off the pressure or completing the project that has been languishing.

The Girl Scout asked one more question: “What is something you like to do?”

I told her, “I like to take photos and videos of my cat and share them on social media.” She smiled. That part she understood.

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and developer of Story Shaping, a creative encouragement platform.

What Is Your Project?

Being a solopreneur can be a dance where you seek that which you do well and quickly while steering away from that which slows you down. This process can be confusing, though, because when you want business, any shiny client object can look like your next chance for income.

For example, my copywriting services could be summed up in this way: “Tell me what you want, and I will do it. But I’m not the one to ask, ‘What do I want?’” I have a project-based set up. Clients have a need, they tell me what that need is, and I do the work that fills the need.

If a client doesn’t know what he or she needs, in theory, I could help with that. I have experience. I have ideas. I could draw from that experience and those ideas to help someone create a marketing plan. But that’s a different process from what I ordinarily do, and I would be departing from my mission in a way that is frustrating to me and ineffective for the client.

I recall early in my freelance career, I intended to work with a new client. I thought he would need my services; he thought he would need my services. But we had a different idea of what those services could be. I listened to and was sympathetic to his concerns. But when I walked away, I was confused. I asked myself, “What is my project? What am I supposed to do?”

He may have needed a writer at some point, but what he needed at that moment was a marketing consultant. At the time, I didn’t have enough steady work to want anyone to slip through my fingers, no matter how ill-fitting the client could be, and I kept trying to figure out my project.

Age and experience teach another lesson. When the signs show that something isn’t going to work out, it’s OK to say, “This isn’t my area.” You are, after all, not letting go of opportunity; you’re letting go of something that isn’t going to work out.

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and author of Story Shaping, a creative encouragement platform.

How to Network in Your Community

I was at a luncheon meeting not long ago. Everyone was asked to stand up, introduce ourselves and say one thing about our work. I gave my elevator pitch and sat back down.
When the meeting was over, two people asked me for my business cards. I actually had forgotten this was a networking luncheon. I thought it was just a luncheon. I scurried to find business cards in my purse, lamenting how I had a thousand at my desk.

I almost offered one inquirer my dental appointment reminder and the other my nail salon punch card, but I came up with the needed items.

The point is: don’t be like me. At least in that moment. Be ready.

Networking is not just an event. It’s an availability. A connection. A conversation.

Early in my self-employed life, I ran into a colleague at a community gathering that involved free beer tasting (a detail central to my claim). He was the editor of a magazine. We discussed an article. When it came out, someone asked, “How’d you get that assignment?”

“I ran into the editor one night when he was drinking beer,” I explained.

One time I did something I really, really did not want to do – I became chair of an alumni committee for my alma mater. I didn’t want to go to the meetings or be in charge. I kept asking myself, “Why did I say yes?” Yet that experience led to an article assignment and a speaking opportunity that led to years of weekly editing assignments and another client referral. I was very soon asking, “What if I’d said no?”

My favorite networking story is about a visit to Target. My 2-year-old niece needed new Play Doh. I said I’d get it. I discovered that six containers totaled about two dollars – not too shabby for a favor. I pulled them off the shelves and headed to the checkout line, where I saw a PR colleague checking out ahead of me.

I can trace that two-dollar investment and brief, unplanned conversation to a newsletter series, four work-for-hire book projects, and several magazine assignments.

That’s how to network within your communities. Make connections. Enter conversations. Keep business cards handy. Say yes to growth opportunities. And always volunteer to buy the Play Doh.

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and author of Story Shaping, a creative encouragement platform.

How to Recognize when Something Isn’t a Problem

I’d gotten a new laptop not long ago. I’d cross-checked my specific needs with price ranges and computer-selling sources and came to a final purchase decision. Then I packed up my digital files and moved them to their new home, hopeful that things would work smoothly – and faster.

I was glad to get this done. Everything seemed to be working fine, except I discovered one big problem when a project came in that I needed to proofread. When I made a comment in the PDF file to correct a typo, I discovered that my name in the comment box was spelled “Minni.” This was the start of a 48-hour journey to figure out what was wrong and how to get it right. Because it was far too disorienting for me to tolerate making proofreading comments with my name misspelled.

It turns out, as I set up my laptop, Microsoft created a user folder with the first five letters of my email address. This is what they do, and changing the name of that folder, looks like, is a huge ordeal. So, here’s how I started looking at things:

“This is a problem for everyone.” If Microsoft has created defaults where people can’t control how their names appear, this would be a problem for millions of people. If this is a problem for millions of people, Microsoft (or a bunch of tech people) would have instructions on how to correct this issue that is bothering me so much, and I would be able to find these instructions in Google.

The most I could find, however, were a few very complicated instructions dating back more than a year. That is the evidence, to me, that this is not a problem for everyone.

Therefore…

“This is a problem only for me.” If this is a problem only for me, what that means in technical terms is: I am the source of the problem. Whenever I seek technical help that is not answered in the FAQs, it often ends as a local issue – a user error. Or, as I discovered, I have some kind of needless expectation, which led me to the possibility that…

“This is not a problem.” That was the most interesting idea of all, and the one I finally explored. Clearly, I don’t want my name misspelled in my documents, but what if the folder name is not a problem at all? That has to be the answer, and it was… because I realized inside Adobe Acrobat Reader, I could change the spelling of my name. I didn’t have to stick with the default.

So much about creative pursuits is about solving problems. how do I present this idea, what materials do I use, how do I keep costs down, how do I fine-tune, etc., etc., etc. The best way to solve a problem, however, is to recognize that it isn’t actually a problem.

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and shares creative encouragement through her Story Shaping platform. 

Two P’s You Don’t Want in Your Pod

Accuracy is a big deal, especially when you’re about to press send, print or publish on a marketing piece. But perfectionism? That’s another matter.

In my early freelance writing days, I kept working on a particular article assignment within my slim workload. All day long, I fiddled with it. I was not finishing it. The information and the organization were already there. I was trying to make it “just right.”

Here’s what I finally realized. I was to be paid a set fee for the article. Whether I spent three hours on it or eight hours on it, I was going to be paid the same amount. That meant, the longer I worked on the article, the less I got paid.

This experience helped me see the cost of perfectionism. Also, trying to get things “just right” can sometimes be the same as the fear of letting go.

Procrastination is another costly quality. For me, that appears as a dragging feeling – a lack of energy created by my very inactivity. But when I get whatever it is done, a weight lifts, and my action restores my energy.

Some days I have to do what I call “the hard things.” Writing is easy. The hard things are checking on an invoice payment, contacting a prospect or following up on some other thing I’d rather avoid. The hard things are hard. But they get easier after you do them.
Even when it’s an easy thing, however, you can face resistance getting started. A good trick for overcoming that resistance is to take a very small step.

Last year, I read One Small Step Can Change Your Life, a well-known book by Dr. Robert Maurer based on principles of Kaizen, a philosophy used by Japanese businesses to make improvements. The Kaizen method involves taking a small step – often the smallest possible – which reroutes the circuits in your brain that make you feel overwhelmed.

Solopreneurs can use this process too. For example, one day when I didn’t want to write an article, I decided to take a very small step: I opened a new Word document. That was my step. I could do that and walk away, having accomplished what I set out to do. However, I started typing some words and got my project going.

If there’s something you would like to do, have been meaning to do or fear you can’t do, what’s one small step you can take today? Is there an unfinished work you would like to begin, move forward or complete? Don’t worry about how far you’ve got to go, or how far behind you’ve fallen, just take a small step today.

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and developer of Story Shaping, a creative encouragement platform. 

How to Write for Hire

There are several qualities that are needed in order to write for others, especially if you’re writing pieces as if they had written them themselves.

The first step is to remove yourself. This is not your work, not your goal, not your project. You are helping others achieve their goals through their projects and their work. Therefore, it’s important to embrace what they are doing and see the value in their work – and think less about your own preferences.

Second, listen to what they’re telling you. Listen to what’s important, what their mindset is. As you do, the same words will come up over and over, whatever they are. If I hear a phrase more than once, I write it down, because that’s what the person is thinking; that’s what the person is telling me. I find a way to use those words in the piece I’m writing. Then, when the process works, the client says, “Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I wanted to say.”

Third, accept edits and revisions as a valuable part of the process. I welcome edits and changes that get the piece closer to what the client wants. And I respect someone who will make changes in a particular area. For one thing, it means that the piece has been read.
If there aren’t any changes, and if there are never any changes, that’s not a bad thing; but, it’s not the best way to establish a long-term relationship.

As a copywriter who wants future work, I want to know that my words are being read and are serving the purpose they are intended to serve. A specific change says, “I read and considered what you wrote.”

On the other hand, if there are too many changes too often, that’s a different issue. Most clients know what they want to say; but if you find someone who doesn’t know what he wants to say, it’s hard to be the one to say it for him.

The fourth necessary quality is to respect the authority of others. You might think that being connected to the president and CEO is the most important thing in establishing a relationship with a company. It’s good, but it’s not necessarily the quality that brings business. As a business grows, other levels of authority come in, and they’re the ones pushing the projects through – projects like Web-site redesign, article assignments, newsletter content and so forth.

That’s my team. I need good relationships with the ones who are under pressure to get that sort of work done because then they’ll think of me.

Do you know who else is important? Accounts payable. It’s nice to have good relationships with accounts payable – because if you have those relationships, that can make a world of difference. It is not unusual for me to remember all the people in accounts payable in my morning prayers in hopes that they might feel like being overachievers during the day.

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and developer of Story Shaping, a creative encouragement platform.