All posts by Laura Townshend

Laura's a native Texan. Besides loving Texas and horses, she's a marketing consultant, writer, and blogger who lives in the western Hill Country of Central Texas. Reach her at laura@biggreyhorse.com. Keep up the the Horse! Follow us @BigGreyHorse on Twitter.

Content Mills Got You Down? Research, Query, Write!

With the recent changes made by Google hitting certain writing sites squarely over the head, I hear the drums beating and the people calling – how will I continue to make good money as a writer? While I’m not here to judge how you make money writing, I have a few tips that might help. I, too, have done articles for a few content houses. It’s never been a main source of my income, however, and I feel for those depending upon these avenues as their livelihood. If you’re freelancing, or want to hit bigger markets in print (or the web), consider how it works for me.

“Research, Query, Write!” first appeared as a response to Hope Clark’s newsletter. I wrote an op-ed piece and she loved it. Purchased and published the piece in FundsForWriters. I’ve tweaked the article a bit for today’s audience, but the wisdom holds true. Going back to 2009, when my business was taking off in a grand way, I vowed never to become dependent upon one client, and certainly not one publisher. It’s 2011, and I think you can pick up a few jewels as you mine through this piece. It works for nabbing clients, querying magazines and writing strong articles editors love.

When I scour the forums and work at home boards, I read countless posts about “Where can I write?” and “Who will hire me?” Say what?

Is the old fashioned way of writing dead? Or is the market wide open for those who would research, query and write?

Call me a mixture of modern and antiquated.

While I agree that writing for content houses can pay some bills, I am a firm believer in reaching as high as I can. Rather than sweat it out for a residual site or pump out thousands of words for lower pay, I prefer to take the road less traveled: research, query, write.

Thinking

Mornings and late evenings are my prime times for figuring it all out. I lay the plans for the following day before I close my eyes and in the morning, I take more time to digest where I’m headed. This quiet time is my magic, my source and the place I draw ideas from.

Researching

Once a story is conceived, I discover if it’s viable. I look for sources, gather background information, etc. From there, phone calls, email, and leg work. Less worthy stories die on the vine, while strong ones gather speed. When it feels juicy, I know it’s hot. By then, I’m mentally prepared to query.

Querying

This is the most frightening aspect of writing for newbies and clearly, the most often overlooked. Grab Writer’s Market at the local library (or better yet, subscribe and get your markets online) and make a list of publications you can write for. Google subjects you’re interested in. A strong query can open the door to writing for the publisher of your choice. Find local and regional publishers and query the editors. Next, put the query together. This is your time to shine, share and have fun! If you need help, enlist the aid of a seasoned writer. This process seems terrifying at the onset, but believe me, when an editor emails back, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear.

Writing

This is when I sit down. I know what’s expected, I’ve got the slant and the clock’s ticking. Sitting in the chair and writing, editing, fact checking, calling a source again, and editing, editing, editing can be mind-numbing! However, the end result is the crown jewel of what I do and most of all, I love weaving words. I’m extremely careful and my pieces take a lot of time to produce. If the writing’s not up to par, if it’s not what the editor wanted, if I missed something, I’m out of a check.

For those who long to be published, reach as high as you can. Dream big and do your homework. Continue honing your craft and never, ever give up.

These times seem uncertain, but the long and short of it is this: times change. That’s the nature of business. We’re all in it together — writers, clients and prospects. The written word isn’t going away, and with new technology, there are abundant opportunities for good writers. You may have to stretch a bit, but holding the bar higher is a great thing. Go for it, give it your best and let me know how it works for you!

Tips for Beginner Bloggers

Your blog is up and you’ve given it the kick start. Vroom! You’re off and running only to hit a screeching stop. Why?

Even the most eager beginner bloggers become overwhelmed at the enormous task of caring for their web real estate. Stalling out in the early stages happens (trust me, I know!).

But will your fledgling blog die on the vine or begin to bear fruit?

I’m not going to re-hash everything that’s out there. I will comment upon the plethora of information available and how easy it is to get lost, and forget where and how to begin again.

I recommend ProBlogger as your daily blogging bible. Read it, digest it and go back for more!

Here are some easy, but important, tips for beginner bloggers.

Keep it simple. Make a plan before you start. This plan can be as detailed as you like, but if your blog seems low maintenance, you’re more likely to go back. Why make it hard? Figure out your blog’s main purpose and how you will reach this goal.

Word counts. You don’t have to write long posts. Simple posts, if written well, are just as effective. If you have a long post, you might consider breaking it up into a series. Word counts of 250-500 are pretty common.

Ask questions and be responsive. Interact! The dynamic nature of a blog begs for your participation. It’s not just about readership. Show up, be present and jump in. Your readers want to see you, hear you and be as close as possible.

Be authentic, use your voice. Do you agonize over your blog posts? Don’t! Worrying about what others may or may not think is counterproductive. As your blog grows, you will attract readers who admire you and your message. You can only get there by being who you are. Shine, shine, shine!

Follow your heart. Post subjects that hold meaning for you. Even with a business blog, you can reveal your passion. Your work is what you love, right? (I hope so!) Following your heart is married to being authentic.

Post as often as you can. Some bloggers post daily, others post three times weekly. Find your rhythm and stick with it. As long as you’re posting a minimum of three times weekly, you’ll do fine. If you can post more, go for it! The thing not to do is force yourself to write. If you have nothing to say or can only say it half-assed, keep quiet.

And you, dear reader? Are you a beginning blogger? How are you pressing forward and claiming your piece of the web? If you’re an experienced blogger, what worked for you when you started out? Share your experiences and help others!

Why Your Small Business Needs a Website

Ever considered why you should have a website for your small business? Maybe your customers ask for your URL or perhaps they’d like to place an order online. The truth is, it’s not hard to build a professional website and the costs are minimal. You’ll put some time in to get things started, but the return you receive is well worth it.

Build Your Brand

A small business website helps promote who and what you are. Whether you’re a one man show for your lawn maintenance business or the head of a 50-person plumbing company, a website matters. With 77% of Americans connected to the internet (and wireless users growing by the minute), it’s important to have an online presence.

Give Customers a Choice

By pointing potential and current customers to your small business website, it’s easier to grow your business. Let automated processes like an online store sell your products. Prospects can easily glean more information about your company with a few clicks. Current customers can join newsletters or email your support team. Remember that you’re solving problems and finding solutions for your customers. That’s what makes the sale!

Social Media is the Wave of the Future and It’s Happening Right Now

People want to connect and technology provides that option. Give your customers a sounding board through your website. When you establish a blog, offer product review/comment sections, or have a forum, your small business gets the edge over your competition. Remember that the majority of your customers are internet savvy. They want to interact with you! Give them transparency and you will earn their trust.

Websites are a Low-Cost, Easy Way to Market Your Business

Besides building your brand and on line reputation, a small business website is an almost free way to market your services or products. The cost of running print ads or direct mail marketing campaigns are costly. Setting up your website and marketing through it costs very little. A domain can be bought for around $12 annually and hosting runs anywhere from $3-8 per month, depending on your provider. (Hosting costs are much higher for websites with large amounts of traffic, but starting out, you won’t need it.)

Now that you’re armed with new information, what are you waiting for? Get your website set up and build your brand!

The updated version of this post can be found here.

5 Traits of a Good Copywriter

What makes a copywriter great? What should you look for when hiring a copywriter? When you’ve invested time, money and sweat equity into your business, it can be hard to turn over the writing to someone else. However, a professional copywriter makes your life easier by doing the research, writing and editing. The copywriter knows how to write strong copy that communicates your offers. While she’s writing, you’re free to do what you do best!

1 – Knows the difference between benefits and features.

Good copywriters put together copy that solves problems. Telling your customers how your business operates and what it’s about is fine, but this is a feature. Providing the answers to your customers’ needs and wants is the goal! These are the benefits that make the sales.

2 – Writes compelling copy that makes consumers take the next step.

Words are just that unless they entice readers and make them want more. Strong copy piques interest. Your consumers will want to call your business or click on a link or stop by your store. A good copywriter knows how to write words that generate action.

3 – Evolves with your business.

A good copywriter knows the sales letters written during the summer will need tweaking for Fall and the holiday season. She’s there to assist year round and wants to build a long-term relationship. She’s in it for the long haul and is dedicated your business’ growth.

4 – Knows how to deliver USP.

What makes your business stand out? A good copywriter wants to see your company’s history through press releases, newspaper articles, sales letters, marketing collateral and more. In addition to an interview, she wants to know how you’ve marketed in the past, what’s worked, and what hasn’t. In order to deliver your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) effectively, she must possess a firm grip on what you do and what makes your business unique. This is how she writes copy to meet your business goals.

5 – Knows what a good website consists of.

Your website’s main focus is twofold: 1) what prospective customers need to know in order to buy from you and 2) convincing evidence to make the sale. Strong copywriters cut through the fluff and fill white space with words that count. Web readers have short attention spans. Your business copy must look professional and be compelling enough to earn your readers’ trust.

As a business owner, what have you encountered when working with copywriters? I’d love to hear how an effective copywriter helped your business grow!

What NaNoWriMo Did for My Copywriting Business

I fell short . Way, way short. National Novel Writing Month’s (NaNoWriMo) finish line ended at 50,000 words in 30 days. I wrote a paltry 3,000 words in a week.

I signed up with good intentions, mind you. Feel free to chuckle at my feeble and most embarrassing attempt to write a novel. I’m giggling, too.

It’s not a bust, however. Written words, no matter the length, are better on the page than off. If I choose to go back and work with my characters, they’re waiting for me.

In the meantime. I got busy building a web presence. NaNoWriMo fell by the wayside but my brand grew.

I met my goal. That’s what counts. In November, I got Big Grey Horse Media and another blog, Elizabeth’s Legacy, running. There’s much work to do on both but now I’m writing for my clients and for me. I’ve joined the social media revolution with tweets, blogs and soon-to-come Facebook pages. I’m proud of that!

Keep after your dreams. It’s worth it to start something, even if you don’t finish.

Cyber Monday: Did Your Message Make It?

My inbox is swarming with email from retailers I do business with. Cyber Monday’s in full swing – did your copy make it out the door?

People are willing to open their wallets, so sweeten the deal to close the sale. After all, what have you got to lose?

Absolutely nothing.

Smart companies take advantage of holidays (national or otherwise) to put their products and services in front of customers. Cyber Monday is a great way to offer additional discounts and bonuses. Using your online store, offer checkout codes, discounts on a minimum purchase, and promote sale items. Don’t forget to include free or reduced shipping – it’s an extra incentive.

Two of the Cyber Monday emails I received demand my attention. (And that’s a good thing, marketing-wise.) For me, it’s a question of:

  • Do I need to purchase supplements for my horse? If I do, SmartPak offers free shipping and up to 20% off a purchase. I have to make it to the check out desk to find out my “surprise” savings. (Clever!)
  • Do I need Texas Pepper Jelly as a holiday treat? Proprietor Craig Sharry promises a 15% savings if I make a purchase before midnight.

These are only two examples, and both are compelling. (I dig Texas Pepper Jelly and SmartPak is a mainstay for my horse.) What floors me is that more companies aren’t taking advantage of Cyber Monday.

Black Friday and Thanksgiving deals are yesterday’s news. Christmas deals are for tomorrow. Are you willing to let Cyber Monday roll by without jumping in? Your online presence is established. Take advantage of good copy and promote yourself! Keep your message in front of consumers. If you don’t close the sale the first time, try again.

Email is a low cost way to encourage sales. The trick is ensuring the copy speaks to your readers. It’s the difference between junk mail in the trash and hearing cha-ching!

The Wall Street Journal reports retailers are pushing sales through Cyber Monday promotions. Sales are predicted to fall in the $900 million and $1 billion range. You read it correctly – that’s ONE day of sales.

If you didn’t get your message out (yet), it’s not too late. Cyber Monday isn’t over.

Put your best copy out there!

Thanksgiving: What Are You Grateful For?

I’m so grateful this year.

Course, I’m grateful every day of my life. I’m a happy girl. Life is good. My family is healthy, I have a new grandson and my business is thriving. The world continues to spin and each day is an opportunity to reach out and assist others.

It’s good to be thankful, no matter the day. We typically look to Thanksgiving as a day of thanks, however, so tell me what you are grateful for!

I want to thank my clients for giving me work. Without you, there is no Big Grey Horse Media. Some of you have been with me for years, while others are coming up on the first year mark.

In spite of a recession and hard times, my business remains strong. I’m grateful for that!

My family is the absolute best. It’s groovy to have people you love…and who love you back. Tell your loved ones how special they are. Reach out and give someone a hug today!

I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. For those who don’t celebrate, have a great week!

What Writing and Riding Have in Common

The other day I received a tweet from Lynn Reardon (LopeTX). She had ridden three horses that day. It was one of the breezy, mild, autumn days we’ve had recently in Central Texas. Absolutely perfect for riding. Awesome for her…but I was totally jealous. In the past several months, I’ve struggled to ride my horse on regular basis.

It made me consider, however, how much writing and riding are alike. Luckily, I do both. (For the record, Lynn does, too.)

No matter your equestrian discipline, riding takes skill. It takes a lot of courage. Learning to ride and continuing to do so is a process, not an event. I’ve ridden all my life and I don’t think I will ever stop learning. You can master a particular riding discipline, level or horse. But it’s not the end. There are always new techniques, higher fences and a different horse to ride.

Horses require total focus. They are sensitive creatures that demand we leave our personal issues on the ground. Once you’re mounted, it’s about the partnership. If you’re tense, nervous, or in a tizzy, your horse will pick up on the negative vibes. It serves no one (and you won’t get a good ride) under these conditions.

So relaxation and allowing yourself to think while feeling is productive. Riding engages all the senses. It’s a beautiful sport and a wonderful activity. I’ve yet to find a similar pleasure.

However, it’s also hard work. Even if you’re a pleasure rider, you know the dedication and time it takes to prepare for and make the ride happen. It’s not just show ring riders and horses that undergo intense training. Horses respond to repetition and consistency. Often the best riders are not the “born horsemen and women” or the even most talented riders. The best riders are the ones who choose to ride no matter what. They hone their craft by riding even when they don’t want to, when they feel afraid or when the ride has gone poorly. They do it again and again until they get it right. These riders exercise patience with their horses as much as they do with themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses.

Writing, like riding, takes a lot of focus. Writing well means repeating the task in a variety of genres. It means stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new things. It also means putting yourself out there — taking the time to actually scribe what’s in your head. That can be extremely scary — just like mounting a 1,200 pound horse.

It’s common knowledge that like the great riders, great writers are often made, not born. Published writers will tell you they kept going even after multiple rejections. They were willing to listen to critiques, they were willing to hear “no, thanks,” and they certainly did not give up.

They kept writing.

Good writers want to improve. They know writing is a journey without an end. It’s a fantastic experience to see your words in print. It’s even better to know you’ve touched someone else’s heart, mind and soul with your words.

So keep writing!

What can you do to make your writing better?

Take the time to write. Even if you’re published, especially if you’re not a newbie. The more words you put on paper, the better you’ll be at wordsmithing. Plus, it’s fun to form sentences, tear them apart, and restructure. Once you’ve got groovy sentences that flow, do the same exercise with your paragraphs, and then with the entire page.

Study art. It’s important for writers to read about current events, history and important literature…but it’s also imperative that we experience life. Studying visual art is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. As you interpret the piece, your mind develops a story. As a little girl, a babysitter taught me to look at paintings and develop stories. It’s an excellent exercise that can take you in whatever direction you’re willing to go.

Observe everything. Getting back to nature is also a super way to recharge and refuel. If your nature is the city park, simply being a voyeur can also stimulate the brain. Watch the pigeons on your stoop, see the people walking on the street…clear your mind and open your eyes. Your mind will be flooded with words.

Repetition. The grind can be a drag, I admit. Sometimes we don’t want to write or create. Sometimes I don’t want to ride in a lesson. It’s hard work! However, I know that by showing up and doing what’s in front of me, I grow. More so, as I write and get into my pieces, something flips and suddenly I am pleased with the flow.

Riding and writing, for me, is like the chicken and the egg. I don’t know which came first because I love both so much. I do know that my horsemanship bleeds into what I call my regular life. Owning horses pertains to everything I do.

And it certainly has made me a better writer.

Take a Peek at My Writing Books

Take a peek at my writing books!

Writers are readers — it’s the nature of what we do. While I won’t go into the hundreds of books I read for fun, I’m happy to share what floats my boat and gets my creative juices going as a writer.

I personally recommend and fully endorse each of these books. I’ve owned my copies for years and each book on this list has helped me grow as a person, a writer, and a small business owner.

Six Figure Freelancing by Kelly James-Enger. This writing book is my favorite. James-Enger says pretty much what others say, but the way she says it is what holds my attention. I dig hearing how the switch from attorney to writer took place. She gives herself credit where it’s due while retaining her humility. She is one of my writing heroes.

The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly. Bly knows his stuff. Been there, done that. What I like the most about this book is the ease of use. His writing style is professional but engaging. The book could be a dry read, given the subject. However, Bly makes it easy to use The Copywriter’s Handbook as a writing bible. (As I know many do.)

The Wealthy Writer by Michael Meanwell. I bought this book recently, so I’m still digesting and reading through it. However, The Wealthy Writer certainly grabbed my attention. (The title is fab – who doesn’t want to be a wealthy writer?) Another easy read that includes case studies, the various types of copywriters and fantastic marketing ideas. It seems that everyone has great advice for breaking writer’s block; I dig what Meanwell has to say. His ability to write for writers is clear cut and well-presented.

The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. I think many writers became inspired by Bowerman’s book. I had been writing for some time before purchasing a copy. What helped me was the change in mindset from querying magazines and other print pubs. Why not commercial copywriting? After all, that’s what I had done for years when I worked as an employee.

The Well-Fed Writer Back for Seconds by Peter Bowerman. I couldn’t help myself. I have a big appetite!

Writer’s Market. I confess — my hardback copy is from 1997. Now I maintain an online membership. I still refer to this book, however. It’s a great reference and I dig the stories.

Lives & Moments An Introduction to Short Fiction complied by Hans Ostrom. It’s from my college lit class and I still find it to be handy dandy when I need inspiration. I loved it then and I love it now. Favorite short story? “Aura” by Carlos Fuentes. Few writers can get away with writing in second person.

Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer by Jenna Glatzer. This book is fun because of the exercises. I bought it after I’d been freelancing for several years, but it remains relevant. Like James-Enger, Glatzer has a down-to-earth writing style that pertains to both new and seasoned writers. (I also love Absolute Write, though I’m only a lurker.)

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. No, it’s not a writer’s manual. Cameron has packed this book full of instructions to free the artist inside. I’ve owned this book since 2000 and it applies to both my work and my spirituality.

The Creativity Book by Eric Maisel. This book was required for an online writing course I took many moons ago. While I’ve never worked it from front to back, I love returning to specific exercises. It’s also a great book in which to find the “daily page” from which to draw inspiration.

Enjoy these books, and if you have questions, contact me. I’m happy to discuss these books with you. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

 

Welcome to Big Grey Horse Media

Lake LBJ View from Lookout Mountain - Kingsland, Texas
Lake LBJ View from Lookout Mountain – Kingsland, Texas

Welcome to Big Grey Horse Media! Get comfortable, grab your favorite drink, and stay awhile. We love Texas! Share our unique experiences by visiting our blog.

You can also follow @BigGreyHorse on Twitter. We follow back!

 

We’ve got great stories to tell, images to share, and we meet the most amazing people on the planet. Visit Texas with us – one story at a time.

Sunrise Over Lake LBJ - Sunrise Beach, Texas
Sunrise Over Lake LBJ – Sunrise Beach, Texas

If you have questions or need more information, email laura@biggreyhorse.com or use the Contact Form.

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