I do a fair bit of work for the NSW Department of State and Regional Development (DSRD) and I’m always amazed at the passion they have for helping people like me keep their businesses going. Last week I had the pleasure of running a web writing session for their annual Small Business Week about connecting to your online audience. Around 60 small biz folk rocked up to Dee Why RSL on a warm, sunny morning, and I must say they were so enthusiastic, funny and warm.

I heard so many great stories about really interesting small enterprises that people are running from their sunrooms all over town, which as always got me thinking about my own web projects and where I’d like to go to from here.

It’s always great to have a plan. Even if it’s not the one you end up using.

Here’s a snap of some happy networkers at the event. A huge thanks to Neil Davidson from Business Enterprise Centre Northside and Shannon Dearing and Maria Estrada from the DSRD for making it all come together on the day (the scones were great too).

Workshop participants working the room at DSRD's Small Business Week

Workshop participants working the room

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Spreading the love

September 24, 2008

I just read this little gem on a new blog I’ve subscribed to called OnlineMarketerBlog:

Built into all of the web 2.0 tools is an inherent good – that you help yourself by helping others. Don’t horde your expertise. Show off what you know by helping others and more business will come banging down your down.”

Oooooh, I love this! Maybe it’s the spring sunshine that’s beating into my little office, but it feels like there’s a new ground-swell afoot in the business world and it happens to be really positive!

I’m a huge fan of authentic writing that aims to create a meaningful connection, as I truly believe that the vast majority of us simply vague out when it comes to reading the stock-standard marketese that we’ve been fed for many years. (This thought is by no means new: George Orwell was writing about this very same thing way back in 1946 is his famous essay, Politics and the English Language. Don Watson also picked up the same theme in his popular book, Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language in 2003.)

So if we can combine this new authentic writing style, with a quiet confidence that sees us sharing our knowledge and helping others when we can, I reckon we’re onto a winner.

I think business language is about to change dramatically – and for the better. What do you think?

I’ve been yapping on about website usability for years and thanks to some recent research, I’m now also getting my head around some blog usability ideas. Naturally there are heaps of parallels and most of it is Web 101 stuff (less is best, headlines that act as signposts, clear contact us etc) but there are also a few differences that are worth thinking about. These include:

  • Putting your feed icon about the fold.
  • Making sure your images don’t run into text (which would never happen on a properly designed website).
  • Present your ideas visually

I’m the first to point out that this blog isn’t the most amazing looking and that’s because it’s a freebie. As part of my decision to add a company blog, I’m trialing this Word Press one before I get a proper one built into my site. It’s been a great exercise as I learned a lot, saving me having to end up doing an inevitable redesign… Sometimes it’s nice being a small business (actually, most of the time) but naturally if you’re a big company you’ll need to do it properly the very first time. Sorry.

Interested in more blog usability tips? Here’s a few links:

The Blog Usability Checklist

10 Weblog Mistakes

20 Usability Tips for your Blog

Thanks Gayle!

September 17, 2008

I recently did a content audit and rewrite on a small business website, www.topmargin.com and had the pleasure of working with the owner and master resume writer, Gayle Howard. Gayle was suffering from a common web syndrome: being too close to your words. As a writer she had naturally written the copy herself but recognised that it needed an outsider’s opinion.

Anyway, to cut a long story short I worked with Gayle to improve the copy and enhance the user’s experience by making sure her work process (she creates impressive resumes for professionals, and it’s all done online) was super clear.

And at the risk of blowing my own trumpet just a little too loudly, here’s what she said.  

“Writing is a really funny field. Although I’m a professional resume writer, I could never even begin to write a poem, lyrics to a song or the great Australian novel! Great writers discover a niche and hone their craft and get good at it. Some, like Libby even get great at it. Let me explain…I had been struggling with my website for some time. Loved the format but as it was self-written I was too close the content. I felt it was too flowery, too long-winded, and didn’t represent the bold, fresh nature of the design. Enter Libby Varcoe, website content guru, marketing whiz and glowing referral by a person who knew Libby’s reputation for excellence. Libby personifies professionalism, yet she also exudes warmth and a sense of fun into the process. Someone should simply bottle Libby’s enthusiasm! Libby just doesn’t start writing and playing with words; she delves deep. Libby worked hard to understand my industry, find out who I was pitching to, analyze the navigation of my site, and provide insight following research into search engine optimization tips for my industry. Libby is simply everyone’s dream when it comes to simple, smart, get-your-message-across web content that drives customers to the next logical point of the process. She’s a ‘find’ there’s no doubt!”

Nice! Thanks Gayle.

Social Media: Just for kids?

September 10, 2008

There’s something about Web 2 which, for content creators, is both exciting and unfulfilling… exciting because of the enormous possibilities and potential opportunities. And unfulfilling because of most of the new content opportunities are very focussed around Gen Y. I love learning from Gen Y, after all they’re the early technology adaptors that the rest of us scramble to follow, but in terms of watching cool stuff on the web such as web TV and video, I’m not overly interested in teen story lines and MySpace pages written in teen speak.

The good news according to MySpace Director of Sales, Andrew Cordwell, who spoke at last week’s AIMIA event on Social Media, is that their Gen X and baby boomer demographics are growing (though teens and 20 somethings still rule). Dominique Hind from Mark also had some good client examples that showed how ‘traditional’ businesses with mixed-age audiences have put their toes in the Web 2 pond and had some success.

So are over 30s capable of embracing Web 2 and making it their own? Many of us already are (just look at Facebook’s success and the very cool Linked In) but hopefully we’ll be soon doing it in a way that makes total sense to us and doesn’t overly waste our time.

What new Web 2 tools do you engage with – happily and readily… without a teen insight?