Business Owner – How to Improve your Website

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Have you been thinking that it’s time to improve your website?

It’s been years since you did anything with your business website. The About information is out of date and the last blog post is dated 2018. Perhaps you have some products that you should add, but you never seem to have any time. The website needs a good makeover, or at least to take part in a TV show where you will get several areas made over in 60 minutes by Laurence Llewelyn Bowen.

Your website is an important tool that will help your business if you keep it updated. The first thing that you should do, is to put aside some time to work on it. There are several areas to look at which should help it improve:

Theme

Images

Feature Image

SEO

Navigation of the website

Information about your business

Blog Content

Links to social media – making content easy to share

Improve Your Website Theme

The theme is the first big decision. You may have had your theme for a very long time and it is starting to date. Keeping your theme up-to-date is important for security, If you use a WordPress blog, then changing your theme is easy. You can browse the themes and just pick one. Each theme has an option to preview. This means that you can see how your website would look before making the move.

You can also buy a custom theme from a developer for WordPress, although you may need some support to make the website work as you want. Most of the themes are able to use custom colours and you can add your own banners. Make sure that you have saved your website to back up before changing the theme.

Which Theme?

When looking for a new theme, I take into account the ratio of content to images, the blocks available to add badges or other things linked to my work. I also look for navigation of the website and how easy it is to locate the important pages and the ability to add social media. The theme should look clean and work well with any plugins. It should also support mobile devices.

The current trend is for image-heavy themes, but I prefer more space for content as I am a writer. My current theme is 2015 for WordPress. I have used it for over a year and I like how it looks and it is easy to set up to my specifications. I do keep an eye on new themes and I will change if I find I like a theme better, or if my theme stops being supported. So choose a theme that works for you and your business and helps to improve your brand.

Improve-your-website-choice-of-Wordpress-themes

Images

Using the right images help to improve your website. How you find your images depends on your budget. There are a number of free websites out there that will enable you to find topical images to suit your subject. If you are writing about a generic topic, then you will usually manage to find an image using a free website. Examples include Pixabay, Unsplash and Pexels. Many will allow you to donate the price of a cup of coffee in order to help support the website. You are also sometimes asked to attribute the image. Make sure you read the terms of use and follow them.

Some businesses take out a monthly subscription to one of the big image websites such as iStockPhoto. This can give you access to a huge amount of images, including graphics, on any subject you can imagine. I have previously used this method and it is important to choose your image carefully. Look for ones that seem natural rather than posed and make sure that the detail that you want is positioned correctly in the image. Some websites use small photos and you need to ensure that the image can be seen.

Feature Image

Do use the ‘Feature Image’ if available. This will put a thumbnail blog post image to represent the blog post. This is a feature of WordPress, which can be found on the right hand side page of the post in edit mode. The button tells you to “Set Feature Image” and gives you instructions to do so. I would always use the image that I have chosen to illustrate the blog post.

SEO

There are some great plug-ins to help you improve the search engine optimisation (SEO) of your website. I use Yoast. There is both a free and a premium version. Yoast combines the ability to adjust your SEO to help your website, with links to great information that explains why you are asked to take these steps. It gives you pointers on readability, passive voice and length of sentences. It also enables you to edit the snippet that can be seen if your blog post comes up in a search. It enables you to think about SEO while you are editing the post and this can help your website move higher in the search results. I can disagree with Yoast, but at least I know that if I am ignoring its advice, that I may be limiting my search engine ranking. The advice it gives is sound.

Yoast can cause a problem if you are running Google XML sitemaps. I found this blog by Winning WP which explains the problem clearly and what to do about it.

Easy Navigation to Improve Your Website

How the users navigate your website is key.

Can they find your ‘About’ page?

Can they find out how to contact you?

Do you need a landing page to sell a new product?

Or are you selling a service and you need to highlight the skills you offer?

Answer these questions and set up your website to highlight these services and your website will really be improved.

Readability on a Mobile Device

Can users navigate your website on a mobile device? It is good practice to check out how your website looks on a mobile device and how easy it is to navigate. You may change the navigation of your website according to offers you are promoting, or if you have a new product coming out that you wish to promote.

Think through where visitors land when they visit your website. Is it clear where they go for offers? For your blog, news or events? To learn more about your company? If it is not obvious where to go for this information, then change your website so that it is more user-friendly. Your theme should enable you to make this kind of change without too much technical knowledge.

Tip: Ask a friend to go on your website and see what they think about the navigation of it. A fresh pair of eyes can help you find where improvements to your website are needed.

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Information about your Business

Is your website getting your message across? Can visitors to your website understand what your business does? Does your website enable visitors to do what they want to do?

Customers want to know about the company they are dealing with. The information about your business should be up-to-date. It should be clear to website visitors what the business does. Include a short statement that explicitly explains what you do and what actions potential customers can take to contact you. Make it easy for them to contact you – include phone number and email if needed.

Blog Content

Writing a blog for your business is one of the best ways to improve your website. Regularly adding content can help your position in the search engines. Blog posts can be short and pithy or they can be long useful content. You can write a mix of evergreen content or content which does not date. You can also write news-type content where it is only relevant for a short space of time. Your blog should reflect your business and written for your audience. It is important that it contains subjects of interest and useful information. Blog posts can also contain a call to action that encourages the reader to respond in some way.

Thinking up subjects for blog posts can be hard at first, but the more you do it, the better you get. You can include interviews, news, events, how to posts and more. It is best to post a regular blog, but how regularly is up to you. You can also ask people to post guest blogs if they are of particular interest.

Check out this retro post from 2016 on 30 Ways to Find Blog Post Ideas

Links to Social Media

If you use social media to promote your business, then do include it on your website. Only include social media where your company is active. There’s nothing worse than a potential customer clicking on a link and the last post was 2017. If your company is active then retweeting blog post links can help bring potential customers to your website, increasing traffic.

Be careful and do have someone monitor your social media regularly. Often customers can use it as a place to get your attention and complain. If you get a complaint on social media, it is not necessarily a blot on your company. However you will want to pick up on it quickly and resolve it.

Have you improved your website recently? Which elements did you take note of? How important is it that your website gets your message across?

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Freelance Writing – How to Prepare to Meet with a Client

A client has made contact and they are looking for someone to do some freelance writing, freelance web design or some other kind of work. There’s just one catch: they want to meet in person. What should you do?

Preparing to meet with a client

Nine times out of ten, freelance work is contracted through online contact. Clients can find you through a website, through a professional association or just through sheer luck. They’ve made that contact and it’s looking good – but they want to meet up.

Some people prefer to meet in person if they are going to hire someone for a job. You would expect to go for an interview if you wanted a job – this is a similar situation. Here are some tips to help you get that job.

  1. Find somewhere that you can both get to easily, to meet. If you are reasonably close by, perhaps a nearby city might be a good idea. You should not have to spend a fortune to meet a client unless they are reimbursing you. Meet at the local coffee house, where it will be easy to find through a search.
  2. Leave in plenty of time and do your best to arrive on time. Swap mobile numbers just in case there is a problem and if you found that you couldn’t get there, give as much notice as possible.
  3. Dress appropriately. Ripped jeans and dirty trainers are not really an image that you want to project. You may be freelance, but a potential client is expecting someone who is able to project a professional image. Dress in a smart-casual way, not necessarily a full suit, but definitely smart trousers and a shirt, if male and looking as though you have made an effort if female. Aim to make a good first impression.
  4. Know how you’re going to recognise each other.
  5. Order a drink, sit down and get down to business. Get to know each other. Is this someone you can work with? What is the scope of the project? The pay? Freelance work should pay enough to cover your costs, but you can also take into account how long the job is likely to last. Sometimes it is worth finding out the budget before you meet up to avoid wasting someone’s time.
  6. Don’t let the meeting take too long. Say what needs to be said, find out what you need to know and then part amicably. You may walk away with the job or you may need to wait to find out, like an interview, but be polite and leave a good impression.
  7. If you are waiting for an answer, but haven’t heard, it is definitely worth following up in 48 hours.

Good luck! Meeting a client for the first time can be nerve-wracking, but some of the best working relationships can come from people who have actually met in person rather than just communicated through email. Be prepared to meet your clients and hopefully more work will follow.

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There’s no such thing as a free lunch – should you write for free?

Actually, there is such a thing as a free lunch! My church put on a free lunch on the first Saturday of every month. They offer soup, fresh crusty bread and cakes, and it is very popular. Some of the homeless people in the town are waiting eagerly outside, at 12 pm, ready to come and eat and stay until the end, at 2. I have known people who are struggling, who are down on their luck, or just not making ends meet that month, come and enjoy a free hot meal. Not even a collection is taken – it is completely free.

However, when you are setting out as a writer, where do you find opportunities to write, if not for free? There are job ads everywhere, offering internships, voluntary positions, or even, the old chestnut, more paid work will be along soon! How do you know whether this is a position that will give you good experience and bring along better things, or whether you are just being taken advantage of? Here are three opportunities, where you might consider offering your services for free, and three where you would be well-advised to stay clear.

Take it!

  1. A local charity is looking for someone to help with writing some articles for the magazine. It is a subject that you know something about, and you would like to write more about. Yes – especially if you are looking for some clips for a portfolio. This kind of thing is fine, especially for smaller, local charities. The only time I would be hesitant, would be if this were for a charity that could afford to pay. Also, make it clear that it would take second place to paid work, and limit how much you produce for them.
  2. A friend is starting up a business and wants to set up a website. They are looking for help to put content together. You agree to write some pages for them, if you can link to their website on your portfolio. Yes – but with provisos! Not everyone chooses to work with friends – it can be a fast way to lose a friendship! Decide on the scope of the work before you start – how many articles, and know how long it is going to take you. Again, free work should only be done after paid work is done.
  3. You decide to join an article-writing website. The article titles are chosen by you, so you can write about what you want, and the website puts advertising on your articles. You can collect the money for the advertising, once it reaches a certain amount. Your articles are passed by an editor before being published. Again – a qualified yes! This is something that I did, when just starting out. I liked the idea that the article had to be passed by an editor, so that meant it had to pass certain style guides. It taught me how to write a headline and how to write for the web. I made a little money out of it – but don’t expect to get seriously rich from this kind of set up! Also do some research before joining such a website – some are better regarded than others. It’s best to check out reviews first.

Don’t Touch it!

  1. A company posts on a job board, looking for writers. They suggest that the opportunity will be great exposure and experience for a writer – but they can’t afford to pay yet. They say that there may be payment somewhere down the line… no! The problem is, that you don’t know the person and you have no idea about their circumstances. They may be telling the truth, but they may not. Stay clear or be taken advantage of!
  2. You are emailed by a person you don’t know, out of the blue. They offer minimal compensation, but ask for a free trial of your writing to check whether you are up to the right standard. Not recommended! If they receive enough writers willing to do a free trial – will they need to pay at all? They may have emailed you, but you have no guarantee that this work is going to be worth your while. I have occasionally sent over a trial piece – but on the understanding that if they want to use it, I want to be paid for it!
  3. You offer an article to a publication that pay for print and online pieces. Their reply tells you that they won’t be paying you because your piece will published as a blog post. You are a new writer, looking for clips – what do you do? This happened to an experienced freelancer who pulled the piece rather than give this publication free work. They would not have offered the work if they had thought that they would not be paid. This feels like a scam – and you should value your work too much to be taken in by it. If something doesn’t feel right – then walk away. There will be other opportunities.
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Day 15: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Editing a Story – Characters

On days 11 and 12 I published two halves of a story. This story was written for the purpose of showing you what I do when I edit. I have deliberately published a first draft, with very little editing apart from immediately spotting spelling mistakes etc so that you can see how it will change from first draft to the finished story.

Grungy girl in photo booth by simpleinsomniaWhen we are children, we write a story and it is done, but as adults, there is always polishing that can be done. Sarah (Arrow) has said that your blog posts don’t have to be perfect – no, they don’t, it is good if they are as close as you can make it in the time that you have.

Today, I’m going to focus on characters. In this story, there are two main characters: Janice Jones and Joseph. I don’t usually make all my characters in a story begin with the same name, but today, I have!

The characters are rather sketchily drawn – only small details about their appearance are mentioned in the story.

Janice:

  • smart and professional
  • has bright blue eyes

Her personality has a few more hints:

  • an estate agent – immediately conjures up a picture of suit and briefcase/laptop bag
  • has noted that the client is a cash buyer
  • purses her lips when annoyed but does not show anger
  • thinks of the money
  • finds Joseph a glass of water
  • Feet hurt – does this indicate high heels?
  • Needs a cup of coffee – addicted to caffeine?
  • mutters under her breath

Joseph

  • elderly gentleman

I am amazed that this is the only description of the appearance of Joseph, so I think I would add a few more details, but would try to make sure that they add to the story rather than just inform the reader.

His personality is:

  • a little impatient with Janice
  • Attuned to the house – he feels warm
  • has a funny turn where he seems to hear voices – twice
  • used to have family in the area
  • looking to buy in the area
  • cash buyer – so has some money
  • has memories of the house in happier times but also in sad
  • has lost his wife

So, there is more about Joseph’s personality than his appearance. This perhaps makes him a little mysterious which was probably my intention in the first place.

The final character in the story is Peggy. Her story is told in flashback and through a photograph that Joseph finds. She is a young girl who knew Joseph as a young boy. We know that she died young and that her death affected Joseph. The story ends with Joseph saying goodbye. Was he saying goodbye to the house, Peggy or both? The story leaves it to the reader to decide.

So to sum up, I need to edit:

– the characters need small details about their appearance adding

  • the details given need to add to the story
  • the details should be ‘shown’ rather than ‘told’
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Day 13: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – 10 Ideas for Writer’s Inspiration

My story was written by using a picture as a prompt. I keep a folder called ‘Writer’s Inspiration’ on my Pinterest account. Any picture that looks like it could come in handy as part of a story some day is saved there. Using picture prompts is a great way to inspire a story.

143:365 Come sail away with me by martina15 on Flickr CCHere are ten other ways to find your muse:

  1. News headlines. LM Montgomery wrote Anne of Green Gables when she saw a headline in a local newspaper that told the story of a couple being sent a girl orphan instead of a boy to help on their farm. News headlines can offer all kinds of interesting possibilities for stories, so it’s worth checking them out.
  2. A song title or listening to music. Some song titles tell great stories. Why not take a song title and use it to inspire a story? Listening to music can put you in the mood for creativity.
  3. Take a walk. Exercise can help to inspire you too. If you have come to a sticky point in your story, then go for a walk to wrestle with it and sort it out.
  4. What about using unusual place names as either somewhere to set your story, or as the name of one of your characters. Develop the story around it.
  5. Fan fiction is very popular these days. Take your favourite TV show or book and develop the story of a minor character or just write them another adventure.
  6. Agatha Christie suggested washing the dishes helped her to sort out her plot points.
  7. People-watch. When you sit in a cafe, ride on a bus or train, even walk through town – watch the people around you. When you find an interesting character, think about their story and their character and use it to tell an interesting story.
  8. Overheard conversations can often bring an interesting idea for a story – just don’t get caught doing it!
  9. Dreams can sometimes provide imaginative if slightly surreal ideas for a story.
  10. Stories involving your family’s past or memories can be really interesting – just change the names and some of the details if it’s a fictional story.

As you can see, inspiration can be found anywhere if you are looking for it. How do you get your inspiration for either a story or a blog post? Let me know in the comments below.

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Four More Qualities of Successful Freelance Writers

Some people just find writing hard work. The physical effort of putting pen to paper or fingers to keypad just does not do it for them. They are unsure that what they are doing is correct and they find the very act of writing a chore. Other writers love it. They enjoy the physical act of writing, whether it’s on a computer or with a favourite pen and paper. They love the feeling of the words flowing out from the brain and onto the page.

By David Turnbull on Flickr CC
By David Turnbull on Flickr CC

Does that mean it’s always easy? No. Writers’ block is very real and it can sometimes be difficult to find just the right word for the sentence, or to work out exactly what it is that you want to say next, but the enjoyment of the physical act of writing just doesn’t go away, no matter how many words you write. If this is you, then you have the potential to be a freelance writer. Here are some more qualities that you will need:

  1. You enjoy learning about new and different things

If you want to write for a living and get paid for it, then you learn to write about many different things. Sometimes Writing Gurus suggest that the best way to get paid is to find a niche and become an expert writer in that niche. If in a previous life, you were an accountant or an insurance agent, then you might well have a niche if you can blog about your knowledge in an accessible way. Most of us do not have that background, however, so we need to discover what we enjoy writing about, and most importantly, what we can write well about. The ability to discover new, reliable sources as knowledge for what you have been asked to write is a very important part of being freelance writers. A future niche may grow out of that work, if you are engaged to write a lot of material in that area.

  1. You have confidence in Your Writing

Writing confidently is part of writing well. Knowing what you want to say and making sure that it reads well is important to a freelance writer. Offering your work through an editor can help you gain confidence in your writing. It is important that you let others read your work, as they can spot errors that you might not.

  1. You can Proofread Your Writing

On the subject of errors, it is important that you can spot simple grammatical and spelling errors. Spellcheck is a great tool and even those freelance writers who are confident in their writing, use it, but sometimes it will miss a homophone, or a word that sounds the same, but is spelled differently and has a different meaning.

  1. You can Take Criticism

Most freelance writers who have had any clients have not always produced every piece of work perfectly. Quite often a piece of work will be returned with requests for revisions. It’s how you take it which is important. Your client knows what they want, and if you are lucky, they will ask for it. It’s your job to write what they want so no matter whether you disagree with them or not, you should write to their specifications. Always be professional and polite because these clients are paying you to do a job. Always turn in the best work that you can do.

 

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Time to Change…

It’s time to change. This blog has been getting a bit stale recently and I have decided that 2015 is the year that things are going to be different. Here are some of the brilliant things that will be happening around here this year.

  1. There are going to be interviews with authors, freelance writers, copywriters, entrepreneurs and small business owners. I am looking for good advice, interesting facts and great responses and in return you can showcase your latest product. Email me at sarahthecreativewriter[at]gmail.com to take part.
  2. I will be recommending some of the blogs that I follow. Do hop on over and check them out.
  3. I will be reviewing books that you may find useful for your business. If you have a book that you would like reviewed, then email me at the address above.
  4. There will be other articles of interest to freelancers, writers, authors and small business owners.

I have a very busy year planned for 2015 and I look forward to taking my blog to the next level. I hope you will come along for the ride.

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Are You Using More Freelancers?

One of the websites that I consider well worth bookmarking is Freelance Switch. I’m a big fan of the cartoon ‘Freelance Freedom’ by NG Winters which comes out every Tuesday. I

ff51_photoshopmagic
ff51_photoshopmagic (Photo credit: Stefson)

try to catch it every week.

This week there was an article on there that suggested that the global recession has been good for freelancers It was entitled ‘Online Jobs are on the Rise by Melanie Brooks. It did spark a discussion on the nature of poor payment rates for freelancers, but I believe that you don’t have to accept those rates. Better paying jobs are out there. The article made the point that we as freelancers are finding it easier to find work as we no longer have to look in just our backyard. The Internet enables us to search on a global scale for work.

From my own experience, I would say definitely that things are on the up. The UK as a whole is apparently stagnant at the moment, growth is slow and seems almost to be getting slower. However there are signs that things are changing. I have had more offers of work this year already than in the whole of last year, when it felt like I was constantly trying to market myself. Good content writers are in demand and they don’t have to settle for rubbish rates.

The article suggests that freelancers are best placed to take advantage of the market conditions. We don’t carry big overheads we can negotiate quickly and often network with other freelancers so that we can offer extra skills to our customers. We are attractive in that we pay our own taxes and in the UK at least our own National Insurance too.

Let me know in the Comments: do you use freelancers? Do you find them easy to work with? What advantages can we offer to you as a business?

  • What Does Your Freelance Office Look Like?(freelanceswitch.com)

  • Why We Keep on Freelancing Despite All Warnings(freelancefolder.com)

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