Confused About Social Selling? Here’s What You Need to Know

2019 saw the start of the “social selling” movement. It wasn’t new this year, but it did become mainstream. Now, we are in a time where businesses with social networking presence who have not changed their approach struggle. This is largely thanks to alterations to algorithms of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, attempting to balance the needs of businesses who advertise on their platforms against the desire of users who want to get back to the social element for which they were originally founded.

Continue reading “Confused About Social Selling? Here’s What You Need to Know”

My 2019 Maltese Adventure – Part 2

I wanted to break these posts down because the last two days of my holiday were arguably the busiest. Realising we were running out of time to see the things we wanted to see on the islands, we decided to make a plan. But the plan never went, um, according to plan.

Continue reading “My 2019 Maltese Adventure – Part 2”

My 2019 Maltese Adventure – Part 1

I promised I’d blog about my holiday to Malta and here I am, finally here with some images and a run through of our holiday. After a difficult year in many ways, Cat and I were looking forward to this much needed holiday to Malta, (Ancient Roman Melite, the honey island although by rights it ought to be called The Prickly Pear Island).

Continue reading “My 2019 Maltese Adventure – Part 1”

The Most Difficult Scenes A Novelist Will Ever Write

Or, a recipe for psychologically torturing your characters.

  • 250g of resenting dependency of others
  • 150g of feeling like a failure
  • 100ml of selflessness and being used by people
  • 100ml of social pressures
  • 3tbsp essence of personal injustice
  • 5 medium sized organic unrequited love pods
Continue reading “The Most Difficult Scenes A Novelist Will Ever Write”

Learning to Murder Your Darlings

Although most of my focus has been on releasing Salmonweird, (just two weeks away from release now!) I’ve made a lot of progress on Children of Phobetor this year. I’ve made more progress in one year than I ever thought I would for a book that’s 6 years in the making.

Now I’m staring at a possible 2019 finish in the face – again not expected. But plans can change and other projects could take my attention. Unlikely at this late stage though because I feel very much into Children of Phobetor as it stands.

So, working on the assumption that I will finish this year, I’m now facing some of the most difficult questions any writer will ever ask themselves.

Which Character(s) Should I Kill?

And when and why, how do I help the tragedy move the story along, and how will the team dynamic change following each death? That, of course, depends on who I kill and in what sequence (as well as how many).

I’ve killed characters before, of course I have. In most cases, those deaths were pre-planned so I didn’t get quite so emotionally attached to the characters or their situation. They were being set up to die and most of the time, their deaths served a narrative purpose. This is different though. I never planned to specifically kill any of them, but I knew at least one would have to die for the sake of the story.

I’ve spent nearly 7 years creating and cultivating these characters, carefully building up back stories, testing their fears and desires. More importantly, I’ve given each character a reason to survive, a reason to return home. Conceivably at this time, they could all survive and return to their lives or a better version of it, content that their personal reasons for going were vindicated, basking in the riches and prestige that Emperor Vespasian promised them.

Sadly, that is not real life though. People die with unfulfilled dreams. People go to their graves with convictions for crimes they did not commit. Young people on their way to a degree graduation are knocked over and killed by drunk drivers. A couple planning a wedding next year do not know when booking that one of them has a brain tumour and will be dead before they fly out.

As morbid as this all sounds, what I’m getting at is that because a character has a reason to survive, that isn’t a reason to let them survive and nor should it be.

Who To Kill and When?

Who deserves to live and who deserves to die? Should character death be purely for shock factor or for utility? Should I just kill a character for the hell of it to see what happens? This is all new territory to me. None of them deserves to die. Each of them deserves to make the life they desire and right the wrongs in their life.

There are married and single people, people with children and the childless/child free. Each has flaws and qualities and different motives for being there. Because I’ve spent so much effort building them up, they feel more real, more intricate, more complex, more human than any other characters I’ve created. I had/have no pre-planned destination for them unlike most other characters and that’s why I am finding this issue so difficult.

Perhaps I need a mind map to work it all out. 😀

Over to you, tell me about your tough “murder your darlings” decisions.

The Fake Work Holding Your Small Business Back

The human mind has an infinite capacity for distraction. Even the most committed freelancer / small business owner is less productive in a day than they might otherwise be if they could focus properly. That’s ok. Because after all, we’re human and not mindless drones.

Continue reading “The Fake Work Holding Your Small Business Back”

It May Seem Blogs Are Becoming Ghost Towns, But Readers Still Love Them

I’ve noticed a trend of late that new blog content from most of my subscribe-to list has slowed to a trickle. Some blogs I subscribed to in the past were writing 2-3 articles per week. Now, it seems they are barely scraping that per month, some even less frequently than that. Some haven’t posted for years. These were mostly hobbyists though who have probably moved onto other things. Some where small-business-as-second-job.

Trends rise, have a golden age, subside, and then die. Forums are most likely dead while chatrooms still seem to do well in the age of Snapchat. I don’t think anyone has proclaimed with glee “the death of chatrooms” with quite the same gusto as those who do so about blogging. Ironically, they often use blogs to tell us this.

social media is not replacing blogging. Long live the blog

Maybe my previous blog buddies have grown bored with the process or seeing dwindling returns on their content. Maybe they’re more active on social media. Either way, blogging seems to be falling out of fashion as a promotional strategy.

I said seems because there are many ways in which that is strictly not true. If anything, blogging is very much alive and well although undoubtedly it has undergone many critical changes in the last few years, in how we as creators use it, and how content consumers engage with it.

Social Media Outreach

I know I’m no longer posting here as much as I once was. That is because I’m spending more time on building traffic elsewhere, for example my multiple social media accounts, many of which I did not have until a year ago. For photography, I’m spending time on Instagram and Pinterest. For connecting with writers and readers, I’m using Twitter. To connect with clients and other freelancers, I spend time on LinkedIn. Facebook… well, a bit of everything at the moment but I am reconsidering my options.

Each of these audiences and users have different needs and require reaching out in different ways. I have an upcoming article for this blog on social selling which will become relevant in a moment. It’s one of the big buzz phrases of 2019 and not without good reason.

If you want to follow me on other platforms, please feel free:

  • Instagram: mgmason_creative
  • Twitter: MGMasonCreative
  • Pinterest: mgmasoncreative
  • LinkedIn: mgmasoncreative
  • Facebook: MGMasonAuthor (building an audience is increasingly difficult, but I do still post to my page)

Throw into the mix my recently opened SmugMug site where you may buy photographic prints and the two photography archives (see all of these on my photography page), and I’m much less reliant on this blog than I used to be. I also recently opened a second WordPress site under this name to promote my Salmonweird books.

If you’re looking to build an audience, you too should consider multiple channels to reach out to your audience. Under no circumstances though, should you neglect or even close your blog.

You Shouldn’t Give Up on Your Business Blog Just Yet – Here’s Why

If you’re a freelancer, a blog is a great way to connect with an audience. It appears that audiences still crave written material although the types of article they want are different from what they were a couple of years ago. They are also far less likely to comment or share when they find a useful piece of content.

Back in the early part of this decade, most successful content was in the region of 500-600 words. It was easy to read and digest for most audiences. I became a freelancer content writer in 2013 and that was the standard length required of most clients. Now, 750-1000 is the standard length. In the last two years, I’ve received more demand for long-form content. I write in the B2B and business service niches and this seems to be the optimum length for professional content. For best results, you should aim for 1200+, ideally 2000+ (yes, this post is over 1200 words 😀 ).

However, bucking this trend, bite size blog posts are proving just as popular. 200-300 word pieces are doing very well too. Readable in a few minutes, they make great break time reading for professionals and for consumers wanting to read something light and easy in their downtime. Social media is likely responsible for this trend. It’s that bit in the middle that used to be reliable for blogs that is dead, not blogging as a whole.

Why Your Professional Blog Matters in 2019

A professional blog is good for three reasons that are hugely relevant in 2019.

blogging is not dead
  • The buzz phrase of 2019 is arguably “thought leadership” – knowledge dissemination. Few of the channels I have listed above are ideal platforms for thought leadership type articles, except for maybe LinkedIn. Even then, the content tends to be shortish and digestible, promoting discussion rather than knowledge
  • Want another buzz phrase? How about “cornerstone content”. These are the big pieces that set your site (or your business) apart from competitors. These are the best and most important articles that will receive the most attention and won’t tend to need updating all that often
  • Not convinced? Let’s have a third one and one I’ve already touched on. “Social selling” is the last of the triumvirate of business blogging in 2019. It’s about creating genuine engagements with your audience. Instead of traditional marketing, you go for the soft sell, maybe taking weeks or months to encourage your reader to see you as an authority and enquire about your services with zero pressure. Being helpful is the key to social selling.

Mic drop moment: Businesses with blogs get more leads than those that don’t.

This is you should continue with your professional blog and use it for large, structured, authoritative pieces. Just make sure you disseminate them across social media as part of your strategy and don’t hard sell.

If you’re a hobbyist, then by all means keep your blog for the sheer enjoyment. You have no pressure and if you have an audience who like, share, read and comment, you’ve no reason to stop.

No, Video is Not Where We Are All Going

Seen all those blog posts declaring the death of blogging and advising everyone to make videos instead? Yes, so have I. Not everyone has a face or a voice for videos and some of the content I’ve seen is shoddy, full of “um” and “ah” with the vlogger delivering their content with no charisma and people skills. Some look like a startled rabbit in the headlights and they’ve been doing it for years. They don’t seem to enjoy it and only continue because they are being told that everyone is doing it.

Yes, video is exploding. It’s on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and many other major platforms. I’m not saying nobody should do it, I’m saying it’s ill-advised to say everyone should do it. Video is a visual medium and as such, should be reserved for content relevant for a visual presentation. Even professional video producers think that video is not the marketing be all and end all.

The main advantage of a bad blog post is that it can be improved, re-purposed, restructured, and distributed to another channel. A cheaply produced shaky cam video filmed in your car on a four year old smartphone with poor quality sound and image recording is simply a waste of your time. Nobody will want to watch it.

Equally, claims that blogging is dead is unfounded as evidence suggests otherwise. Blogging has evolved. Your comment section may be a ghost town, but your blog is anything but.

The Images and Copyright Minefield and Where to Get Free Stock Photos

How do you get people to come to your blog without promising free cake and then disappointing them a la Portal? You need a good headline for starters or people are not going to be enticed to read it.Continue reading “The Images and Copyright Minefield and Where to Get Free Stock Photos”

Essential Free Software For Every Home-Based Small Business

Money is always tight for a startup business, especially when working as a sole trader / freelancer. Even if you have loan you are confident that you can pay back in time, you will come to rely on free software to maximise your slender profit margin, if you have one at all. Setting up your home office need not be prohibitively expensive especially now that most are moving towards a subscription model. Here, I present a comprehensive list of software you can download free of charge to use in running your business.

Office Packages

Office packages include word processors, spreadsheets, databases, desktop publishing and presentation packages. Some fantastic alternatives exist to help you carry out some of your most important day-to-day tasks.

Apache Open Office: Now in its 20th year, this is arguably the most famous of all free office packages. It has an incredible history and many people use it every day in preference to the Microsoft packages. Since the 2007 update, it has offered full compatibility with MS Office file types while still retaining its core ODT files. Apache OpenOffice has a powerful word processor, a great spreadsheet, a database package, and some multimedia and graphics programmes. You can use it for virtually anything you may want to use MS Office for.

free office packages for my computer

Neo Office (for Mac): I’m an equal opportunities thought leader here. Neo Office is the same package as Open Office, run by the same team. While Open Office is for PC users, Neo Office is for Mac dedicatees. If you prefer Apple desktops and laptops, then Neo Office is the best free package for you.

WPS Office (best for entrepreneurs on the go): Once known as Kingsoft Office, it dominated the mobile market for office functionality in a time when mobile users wanted a lite package that could execute most of the important functions of MS Office. Although it is now available for your desktop/laptop, its heart is still firmly in the mobile device market, and what a great package it is. The latest update in 2016 provided some profound changes that it is now a great contender to OpenOffice crown. The free version comes with adds but you may pay to get rid of these for $30 per year (about £21). Unlike other free packages, this is the only one that offers Cloud storage, an incredible 1TB to be exact. If mobility is at the heart of what you do, then WPS is likely the better option.

Open365 (best fully cloud based package): If WPS isn’t mobile enough for you and you want something that works on and through the cloud accessed directly through a web browser rather than just using it to synch files between devices with the apps installed on each device, then Open365 may be the package you need. It’s a free alternative modelled directly on Office365 as an open source alternative, hence the name.

Cloud Storage

Cloud is the invisible network through which you can share files between devices quickly, just by synching those devices. It is recommended that new small business owners store most or all of their work on the Cloud. It not only makes it easier to get to through other devices, if your main device has a meltdown, all your files are saved. No Cloud storage package is completely free as all offer a paid service with much higher storage capacities.

Dropbox: Dropbox is the web’s largest and best known cloud storage software package. Simply install it on all your devices and share files between them. Every time you save something to Dropbox, the icon synchs. It’s discrete too, sitting as another folder on your laptop/desktop device accessible through the usual means. Free users are limited to three devices and a capacity of 2GB. That’s not the highest, but most people go with Dropbox because of its reputation. If you’re only working with word processor documents, that will be more than enough.

MEGA: If it’s generous basic storage you need, then at present (June 2019) no other cloud storage offers quite as much as MEGA. The basic package provides an amazing 50GB of storage. If privacy is your primary concern, for example you run a B2C business that needs to adhere strictly to GDPR or other data protection standards, then you likely won’t find better than this. Files are encrypted before upload meaning that files are protected on the Cloud service even in the result of an unlikely data breach.

free cloud storage for my computer

Evernote: One of the oldest cloud based technologies, Evernote is and has always been about far more than mere file storage. It’s a true multimedia experience. I started using it in 2009, just one year after its release, and used it to collect information to help me with academic work. In many ways, Evernote was ahead of its time which makes it a strong player today in this image-heavy web experience. Essentially, it’s a cloud-based complete project management solution. Take photos and embed them in your work projects, take grabs of content from web pages, create lists, organise your notebooks, and collaborate with anyone, anywhere. Recent changes has added note taking functions and real time chat with team members. If you have a phablet, it’s an ideal app.

iDrive: The free plan offers just 5GB of space for storage which is ideal for small files such as Word documents and small images when putting together presentations. The main advantage that people choose iDrive over something like Dropbox is that files are not automatically deleted from the Cloud when deleted from the device. This removes the nightmare of accidental deletions. Plus, you can go back 30 iterations to recover files deleted days ago.

Productivity

Freedcamp: A long-term client required that I sign up for this service so a colleague could delegate me work on a regular basis. When that task finished, I promptly forgot about it until earlier this year when I found myself in need of a management tool. I initially tried Trello (see below) but it wasn’t sufficient for my needs. Freedcamp with it’s long and flexible task list to add a description and comments and marking tasks, scheduling and organising was perfect. I now use it every day to monitor work.

office productivity software for my small business

Trello: This is a simple workflow organiser if that is all you require. I wanted to like it and I’ll be for many freelancers it’ll work perfectly. Simply organise tasks into boards and break down into lists (to do, to be reviewed, to be invoiced etc) and virtual flashcards. The only drawback is that you can’t add detail to lists which is why I work with Freedcamp. Nevertheless, this is a great work organiser for people who concentrate on a number of larger projects that they break down into smaller tasks.

Toggl: Do you bill for time rather than tasks? Proofreading tends to work better this way, but how do you effectively track time? There is always trust, but when you’re billing at a high rate, if only for the evidence and integrity, you want a time tracker. Toggl is the web’s best-known free time tracker for all your timing needs. It’s also useful for collaboration when billing for multiple employees / contractors.

Communication Tools

There was a time that you used Skype or you didn’t communicate much beyond email. Now, everyone is in on the act and we are spoilt for choice.

Skype: Video conferencing is now a major part of your work from home life. Remote workers still require a degree of direct human interaction including video chat. That was the main reason Skype was ever set up in the first place and it’s still the most respected and valued IM chat interface on the web with both audio and video options.

Slack: Skype may be the market leader in one-to-one chatting, it offers the ability to group chat that many people don’t particularly like. For online collaboration involving multiple people, Slack is usually the preferred tool. The great thing about Slack is that it it allows many people to take part in a chat at once while still permitting direct one-to-one communication. For business users, it integrates with your common business tools – some of which are listed here such as Dropbox. Video chatting and screen sharing is smooth and easy.

free communication and collaboration tools for my computer

WeChat: Developed in China as a complete communication solution, with IM, voice and video, file attachment and collaboration. It’s China’s biggest ever app as a great alternative in the Far East to similar chat apps. Freelancers in China prefer WeChat because of the instant payment functions. Sadly, this is not yet available to those outside of China but that could change in the coming years.

Zoom: Skype appeals to personal as well as business use. That left a development niche that Zoom is quite happy to fill. It’s a conferencing and collaboration service that facilitates chatting in a meeting type model. You are sent a unique link to click ahead of the alloted time rather than being able to connect with anybody at any time. It’s also a superb tools for delivering webinars with a limit of around 100,000 people.

Image Editing / Multimedia

Do you want the functionality of Photoshop without paying for it? Like to create web banners or instagram posts? No problem, download one of these apps or use web based tools to help you create striking imagery.

Paint.Net: One of two regularly recommended free photo editors, it’s a quick and simple photo editor that allows you to carry out most of the basic photo editing functions that most people require. But as its name suggests “Paint” makes it a useful as an advanced painting programme too. Arguably, if you prefer illustration and art design, it’s the preferable package compared to the next one.

GIMP: Or to give it the full title, GNU Image Manipulation Programme. For a package that closely emulates Adobe Photoshop that won’t cost you a penny, GIMP is it. It still lacks some of the more advanced features of Photoshop, but for the most part, the basics are there. It’s much easier to use than Paint.Net for the intermediate features too. GIMP has many functions useful for the small commercial user. For most people wanting to do a little bit of photo editing, it is more than sufficient.

Easil: Finding Canva a bit finnicky? Don’t really want a photo editor because it’s too powerful for what you need? This is a great alternative for basic graphic design for use promoting your products and services on Instagram and other visual media platforms. It’s not as well known but it prides itself on ease of use. Not only can you create some fantastic designs in minutes with drag and drop features, you can also create re-usable templates for other team members who also use the platform. If you don’t a good eye for design, don’t worry – the site has thousands you could use.

System Tools

AVG Antivirus: Security should always be one of your top priorities. It will protect you against rogue sites, hackers trying to steal your client data, and of course your own bank details, passwords and so on. Most people buy a subscription from McAfee, Norton and various other well-known paid subscription packages. As far as freebies go, there are few better than AVG. You can upgrade to a paid package, but the free one is more than suitable in the beginning.

free system tools for my computer

SpyBot: Anti-virus packages aren’t always great for detecting downloadable spyware. This type of software isn’t always malevolent, but it does collect data you might not want to send to a business. Thankfully, GDPR is cracking down on this but the fact remains most people voluntarily download this stuff without realising the implications of doing so. Spyware transmits confidential information to a third party. Sometimes its for marketing purposes to send intrusive adverts on pages, but some capture your personal data. SpyBot is arguably the web’s best app for tackling this problem.

System Mechanic: Computer slow? Taking too long to start up? Before you decide to wipe it or uninstall a load of stuff (that might not actually achieve much) there are a couple of things you can do. Disk clean up, for example, and clearing your web cache. Then making sure you haven’t got everything running in the background on startup. If that still doesn’t work, then try iolo System Check. It’ll free up all that other space slowing you down. As a heavy laptop user, I use it about once a week on top of those other steps. It makes my battery last and as my laptop ages, it’s still running smoothly. There is a paid upgrade version which comes with more bells and whistles.

That’s my list so far. I’ve pinned it as the top post and use it as a permanent work in progress. But please see this as your space too. What fantastic tools and platforms have helped you work as a freelancer or small business owner?

The Soft Skills Freelancers Bring to Your Business

Clients who work with or looking to outsource work to freelancers typically think of the hard skills. In my case, that’s writing and proofreading. This is understandable. After all, you need to know that your freelancer has the necessary background, skills, and training so successfully complete the tasks you need of them.

Yet we also bring the added bonus of soft skills to the table. I write about recruitment and education for several clients. Soft skills are a hot topic right now because businesses feel that the employees they hire or look to hire simply don’t possess them. Qualifications are giving way to experience in some areas and employers are crying out for transferable skills.

Flexibility

Are you fed up with hearing “I don’t get paid enough to do that”, “I can’t do that, I’m going home in five minutes” and “I don’t know how and I don’t want really to learn”? You might be surprised at how flexible your freelancer can be. You might pay them to write about social media marketing but that’s not to say they don’t know how to create simple graphics, or about business tools. We are accountant, marketing executive, public face, admin assistant and tea maker all in one although you probably won’t want us to make tea for you.

A Network of Contacts

When you hire a freelancer, you’re not just hiring him or her and their skills. You potentially have access to their communication skills and their network of contacts. If there is something way outside of my remit it doesn’t mean I won’t know anybody who could help you. Pick up the phone or send me an email, I could help you out here. Even if I don’t know somebody who does, they might know somebody who can help. This saves you advertising for freelancers and wasting precious time.

Communication

Communication is about professionalism. It’s about how things are said as much as it is about what is said. Each audience will require a different style and tone. Each audience will require difference approaches to language use. Good communication is at the heart of getting work. Where is this heading? Well, just because a freelance writer produces content about pet care, it doesn’t mean they can’t adapt to sales emails or other forms of communication.

Resilience

We don’t expect endless streams of adoration and threaten to leave at the slightest criticism. No, not all employees are like this, but we’ve all worked with somebody with such an attitude. It’s frustrating and counterproductive to your business. We make mistakes and our professionalism means we strive to put things right. That takes patience, self-reflection, and honesty about our limits. Resilience is one of main soft skills that businesses say they lack. Employees seem to struggle to cope when curveballs head their way.

Creative Thinking

Due to the skills listed above, we need creativity in many areas, not least of all in how we market ourselves to clients just like you. We adapt to new social media, new ways of doing things, and we try our best to stay ahead of trends on the web. We even teach ourselves new skills such as graphic design during quiet times to help our business grow. While we won’t necessarily have to design web banners, it helps to be able to put something like that together.