Friday, December 14, 2007


This story was originally published as a Facebook note on the morning of December 13, 2007.

A little comedic piece I started at approximately 3am yesterday morning...

10 things to do when you’re awake for no good reason in the middle of the night.

1. Lie in your bed in the dark, worrying about absolutely everything – from the woeful state of your bank account to the war in Iraq. This is an especially cheerful old-school pastime that is bound to entertain you for several hours.

2. Watch YouTube. (I would tell you to watch TV, but I don’t own one myself, and I’m going for a vérité feel in this piece).

YouTube has the added “really wake you up” benefit of requiring user-generated search-parameter input (i.e. you have to type words into the search field) – guaranteed to keep enough of your neurons firing to preclude drowsiness until at least 6am.

Another value-added perk of YouTube-watching is the ability to find several inane videos that you can then forward to all your Facebook friends.* (Yay FunWall and SuperWall!)

(*Warning: excessive use of this entertaining Wall-posting feature will quickly result in the LOSS of all your Facebook friends.)

3. While we’re on the subject of Facebook: It just so happens that FB is probably THE supreme insomniac diversion.

Start by spending an hour or two manually searching for long-lost friends who fell through your “Friend Finder” cracks.

Then browse a few hundred groups looking for ones you might like to join. Try to figure out if Facebook has a limit to the number of groups you can join. (It does. And yes, you may consider that a dare.)

Troll your friends’ Fun- and SuperWalls for annoying chain letters, to forward to all the friends who haven’t already dropped you.

Play your next move in Scrabulous. Then start a bunch of new Scrabulous games when you realize that no one else is going to be playing their moves anytime soon. Try to figure out if there’s a limit to the number of Scrabulous games that you can have going at any given time...

5. Plow your driveway of newly fallen snow. I did not make that up. There is actually some f*cking idiot running a snowblower outside my window as I write this.

(Really. And it is 330am.)

This definitely falls under the “misery loves company” category of midnight diversions.

(I’m imagining a little “Misery” of my own right now – something along the lines of a Kathy Bates scene...)

6. Eat. Forget anything you’ve ever heard about how consuming food in the middle of the night really packs on the pounds. I’m here to reassure you that food eaten between the hours of 2 and 5am has absolutely no calories.

Resist the urge to try new flavour combinations, however. Dipping those Ruffles potato chips into that half-empty jar of crunchy peanut butter is a recipe for gastric disaster. You’re already going to feel crushingly sleep-deprived at work later this morning. No need to add indigestion to the list of complaints.

7. Wake and dial.

This is a cheerful variation of the classic “drink and dial” activity – with the added advantage of sobriety.

Better yet, why not begin a fruitful career as a prank caller? Dial some random numbers and ask for their favorite sleep tips. Just be sure to press *67 first.

(I am currently giggling uncontrollably at the thought of calling up some poor schmuck in the middle of the night. Maybe sleep deprivation is not unlike being drunk, after all.)

8. Clean your apartment.You know it never gets done during daylight hours – so why not take advantage of this “found time”? Running the vacuum is guaranteed to endear you to your roommates and/or adjacent neighbours. (See item 5 on plowing your driveway, above.)

9. Experiment with “white noise”.

This is an especially worthwhile endeavor if you share a bed with someone who is still asleep – and snoring. Turn on the TV to a holding pattern or an impossibly high channel. Set your clock radio between stations. Lug that floor fan up from the basement and play with the speed settings.

How much white noise does it take to truly drown out the sound of a person snoring? And what kind of funky distorted noises can a snoring person make when a floor fan is positioned six inches from their face? On "high"? Oops! Did your companion wake up? Guess they’re not snoring now…

10. Write a list of 10 things to do when you’re awake for no good reason in the middle of the night. (Skip number four, and when people ask, say: "Whadya expect? It was the middle of the night! I was sleep deprived, okay?")

It won’t help you get back to sleep, but it sure is entertaining. Just don’t let your boss see the list – he or she doesn’t need to know much creative energy you’re pouring into useless pursuits, rather than channeling it into your job.

(If you’re a freelance writer, on the other hand, you have just come up with a new article to sell – which could be an effective solution to the bank account situation mentioned in item 1.)

I’ll close with my grandmother’s favorite bedtime mantra: 'Night 'night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

(As a child I never knew what the hell a bedbug was. Apparently there is now a North-American resurgence of bedbug infestations, though. I just did a Google search on the subject of bedbugs. I do not recommend this as a pleasant insomnia-related activity.)

©2007 Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Thursday, October 25, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - networking

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?


I once had a blind date with a guy who sold financial products for a leading insurance company. During the course of our conversation he mentioned that one of his friends cynically believed that every social interaction - even with friends during leisure time - was simply another opportunity to network. At the time I found this attitude abhorrent, but since becoming an entrepreneur, I've come to realize the truth in this viewpoint.

Maybe it comes down to the observation that there are good ways and bad ways to network. Bad ways would include endless self-promotion and a "take, take, take" mentality; good ways would include nurturing others, and taking the time to listen and help others achieve their own goals.

There are a lot of networking resources out there. One of my favorites is Keith Ferrazzi, "super-connector" and author of Never Eat Alone. His website can be found here. Ferrazzi has a weekly e-newsletter and blog that present valuable networking tips to businesspeople from all walks of life. I like the sense of generosity and warmth that he brings to the topic of networking, which lifts it above the usual stereotype of banal schmoozing.

The opportunities for networking are truly limitless. Each person you meet - each encounter you have - is a chance for you to spread the good news about who you are and what you do. But more importantly, each moment offers the possibility of demonstrating to others how you can uniquely fulfill their genuine needs.

And those needs may not be for your products or services! They may be for something entirely unrelated to your business. But if you can provide the connections and resources that help others achieve their dreams, you will be remembered... and sometime further down the road, you will be rewarded.

Volunteer opportunities are great ways to connect with colleagues, referring professionals or potential clients. Get involved with your professional organization(s); share you skills with others who have need of them. I have been blessed to find work with colleagues that I've met through my board work with the Toronto chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada. Once people get to know you, they'll be more likely to refer your services.

There are, of course, formal networking groups which connect professionals from a variety of different businesses for the purpose of generating leads and referrals (as well as offering fellowship and support). A quick online search will likely find a number of them in your community. Most charge some kind of fee, or require that you bring a certain number of legitimate client leads to each meeting. If you've had success with networking groups, share you stories in the comments section, below.

ACTION ITEM: Today, resolve to treat every single encounter you have as an opportunity to network. Listen deeply to the people you meet, and try in some small way to help them with their needs or goals.

Suggested online search: "networking" "networking groups in [your area]"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - maximizing referrals

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?
Maximizing referrals

Many professional organizers will tell you that they get most of their new clients through referrals. Organizing is one of those services that require a high trust factor; clients want to know that someone they know has had success with you in the past.

This can make it challenging for new organizers or organizers expanding into new markets to get new clients. It pays to maximize any and all referral opportunities.

Start by ensuring that the products or services which you provide are absolutely exemplary. Do everything you can to make every client's experience with you positive and memorable. Go above and beyond the call of duty - always strive to exceed your clients' expectations. Happy clients are clients who will spread the word about your products or services - the best advertising you could get!

Do everything you can to encourage satisfied clients to refer you to their friends. If they mention that they know someone who could really use your services, ask them if they'd like a few of your business cards or brochures to distribute.

Include them on your e-mail or snail mail targeted mailing lists, so they can stay up-to-date on what's happening with you.

Send thank you cards when you finish a job, and special occasion cards if appropriate. Regularly incorporate into your services such value-added bonuses as tips newsletters or other freebies.

Pick up some insight into client retention and referrals from other professionals such as financial planners. My father has sold financial products for over twenty years, and in that time I've read a lot of his professional literature. Check out online articles such as this one on Client Retention Management by financial planner Ed Morrow.

Consider using formal or informal affiliations with other professionals to increase your referrals. This may not be your cup of tea - I know it's not mine - but many professions regularly charge and pay out referral fees for legitimate referrals or client leads. If you're a member of POC, there was a discussion about referral fees on the Member Forum earlier this year, here. (You'll need to log onto the member area of the POC website to read the thread.)

Networking is also a great way to increase referrals, and I'll talk about it separately in my next post.

If you have any success stories about how you've maximized your referrals, feel free to share them in the comments section, below.

ACTION ITEM: Come up with at least two strategies for maximizing client referrals, and implement them within the next 30 days
Suggested online searches: "maximizing referrals" "client retention management"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - targeted mailings

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Targeted mailings and e-mailings

Large, unsolicited mailings (such as direct mail advertising) can be very expensive, and don't always lead to a significant return on your investment (ROI) if you are a small business owner. Instead, try sending out targeted mailings to prospective clients, repeat clients or others who may be able to refer your services. You'll keep your printing and postage expenses down, and if you focus on people whom you suspect already have an interest in your product or services, you'll maximize your ROI.

You can buy targeted mailing lists from a number of companies, but again, these can be expensive. Why not try compiling your own mailing list? You might start with a mailing to friends and family; they may not require your services, but could send referrals your way.

When I began my eco-friendly cleaning business nine years ago, the only advertising I ever paid for was a targeted mailing to my friends and acquaintances. I composed a letter that briefly outlined my services, and asked that if they knew of anyone who was looking for a home cleaner, they pass along my name.

From this one mailing - to approximately 50 people - came every single referral and lead I ever got for my business. In total, the mailing cost less than $50.

How about creating a mailing list of professionals who might be interested in referring your services? If you are a home stager, for example, you could mail a flyer or other advertisement to real estate professionals who may have clients needing your expertise. Be sure to emphasize your credentials, and include a few quotes from former clients, praising your work. You could even offer promotional discounts or suggest possible referral alliances to sweeten the deal.

E-mail campaigns are another very inexpensive way to advertise your business. Create your own e-mail list and compose an engaging and informative message describing your business and how it can help people. To keep your e-mails from veering into spam territory, be selective about where and how often you send them out. Include value-added material such as tips or links to useful sites to inspire readers not to hit the delete button right away.

Be sure to keep records of contact information - including e-mail addresses, if you can get them! - from all your previous clients. Send out seasonal newsletters or promotional specials that will keep you in their minds long after you've finished their project.

If you've had success with e-mail or snail mail campaigns, feel free to share your comments below!

ACTION ITEM: Go through your address book, social networking contact list, or e-mail contacts and create a customized mailing list for a targeted mailing. Alternatively, research and create a mailing list of professionals who may be able to refer you to their clients.

Suggested online search: "create your own mailing list"

Monday, October 22, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - promotional discounts and specials

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Promotional discounts and specials

This topic is vast, and can include free giveaway items (material goods advertising your business) which can be quite expensive for the small business owner. Instead I'd like to focus on promotional discounts and specials involving services and value-added gifts of time or advice.

I've already talked about print advertising (business cards, brochures, paid ads in print media) and posters. An extension of this kind of advertising can involve promotional specials - especially seasonal promotions.

How can you make your business seem more attractive to potential clients? What about offering time-limited discounts on your services?

This can take many forms; some methods I've tried have included offering a certain percentage off my regular fee for a limited period of time, or offering one hour of free service when clients pre-book a certain number of hours. To encourage ongoing clients, you could offer an incentive like "buy ten hours of organizing, get one hour free."

I've had a lot of success with a flyer I distributed, that offered potential clients their second hour of organizing for free. The only catch was that they had to book a three-hour work session (in essence getting three hours for the price of two), and they could only take advantage of this offer once.

How about - as a thank you for their business - giving clients a coupon worth one free hour of organizing, to pass along to their friends? This could be a great way to maximize your referrals.

You can also tie promotional specials to seasonal events such as holidays, spring and fall cleaning, or the back-to-school season. Sit down with a calendar and think of the times of the year when your target market will have special need of your services.

Let's say I want to focus on families with school-aged children. I know that once school is out in June, some families may be interested in tackling large projects like re-organizing their storage solutions, basements or garages. And likewise in the late summer they may be interested in gearing up for the school year, and would be excited to hear about time-management strategies.

Incorporating some of those ideas into my advertising and promotions could maximize those types of seasonal jobs for me.

Providing value-added services is another way of promoting your business. I see my organizing blog - with its tips and advice - as a big promotional service for potential and established clients. You could also send out e-newsletters with valuable tips and advice to existing clients, or send e-mail summaries of your client work sessions, with advice for the next steps to be taken.

I'm continually looking for ways to add value to my clients' organizing experiences, in the sincere hope that they will find my work so beneficial that they will happily recommend me to their families and friends.

ACTION ITEM: Decide on a promotional special that you feel comfortable advertising on a limited-time basis, and create advertising materials to broadcast your message.

ACTION ITEM: Sit down with a calendar and map out special seasonal promotions that you can implement.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - posters

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?


Posters are a superb form of Guerilla Marketing. If you create and photocopy the posters yourself, they can be remarkably inexpensive. Not sure if you have the skills to put together a great poster? Check out some online resources such as's desktop publishing blog. Or check out the advice in this video from an entrepreneur in Australia.

Some tips to remember: Keep your message simple. Make it legible (a large, clean font is good). Bright colours (in graphics or paper) will get you noticed. Removable phone numbers at the bottom of the page increase the chances that you will, indeed, be called by potential clients.

Let's say you've got your posters ready. What do you do with them?

Go back to the description you've already created of your target market. Where do your potential clients live? Where do they work? Where do they go during an average day/week? Focus on some or all of those locations and post your advertising materials where your potential clients will see them.

Let's say I've decided to focus on stay-at-home moms. I know they visit playgroups and other community groups - and these groups often have community bulletin boards where I can easily display my posters. I may also decide to target neighbourhoods where moms may walk with their strollers, and put up posters on hydro poles or light standards - especially near playgrounds or parks.*

A year ago I actually did a poster blitz of my neighbourhood, advertising my services as an eco-friendly home cleaner right before the holidays. I got many calls and several jobs from this effort - enough to fill in some pre-Christmas dead time in my organizing schedule.

Talk to businesses that your potential clients might frequent, such as retail stores, health care providers, or health and wellness studios. Seek out ones that already have bulletin boards (or offer to sponsor a business' community bulletin board!). Ask if you can post your materials - even on a temporary basis. Many businesses are happy to create alliances with professionals offering services which their clientele would be interested in.

ACTION ITEM: Come up with a simple message to advertise on a poster. Buy some bright, coloured paper and make some copies. Post them in areas where your target audience will see them.

Do you have a poster success story? Share it in the comments section, below.

*In the interests of good public relations, be sure not to violate any anti-postering bylaws in your community. And do monitor your posters - keep track of where you've posted them, whether they've been removed or defaced, and take them down yourself before they get outdated or too weathered.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - lawn signs

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Lawn signs

Lawn signs offer many of the same benefits as a car sign, only they are visible to fewer potential clients. And the embarrassment factor is potentially huge for the clients on whose lawns the signs are posted.

It can't hurt to ask, though. And you can sweeten the deal by offering a discount (say 5% of your bill) if they keep your sign on the lawn for a week or two.

If anyone out there has had success with lawn signs or other signage, I would love to hear about it. Leave me a comment, below!

Friday, October 19, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - car signs

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Car signs

I first heard about professional organizer Karen Shinn (THE Downsizing Diva)'s success with her car sign last spring when we were working together on a volunteer project. Karen drives a silver VW bug, and has had a beautiful advertising decal put on her back window. Her logo graphic is amazing, as you can see if you check out her website.

I asked Karen to get up and tell the other organizers at this week's Toronto Professional Organizers in Canada meeting about her experiences with her sign. She pointed out the importance of advertising her website (THE Downsizing on her car: People who see her sign while driving don't have to write down a phone number, they only have to remember a catchy business name, and can later go to her website for more information about her services.

Karen has been connected with several new clients because of her sign, and has also had an offer to write a book about downsizing! She considers her decal one of the best (and least expensive) marketing moves she's ever made.

Perhaps the biggest drawback* of car signs - at least for professional organizers - is the possibility that they may embarrass clients when we are parked in their driveways. But if you have a fantastic logo and own a domain name, this strategy may still be a winner for you.

*Addendum (October 20, 2007): Karen says to add that "[t]here is another downside of having a car sign - you have to be on your best behaviour all the time. No cutting people off or driving carelessly - with a car sign, you're no longer an anonymous driver!"

Thursday, October 18, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - part six

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

6) Alternative marketing techniques

What do we mean when we talk about alternative marketing techniques? Let's take a look at the definition of Guerilla Marketing, a concept originated by author and marketing coach Jay Conrad Levinson.

Guerilla Marketing "is an unconventional way of performing promotional activities on a very low budget." (Wikipedia) Levinson identifies the following principles as some of the foundations of guerrilla marketing:

-Guerrilla Marketing is specifically geared for the small business.
-It should be based on human psychology instead of experience, judgment, and guesswork.
-Instead of money, the primary investments of marketing should be time, energy, and imagination.
-The primary statistic to measure your business is the amount of profits, not sales.
-The marketer should also concentrate on how many new relationships are made each month.

To read five other foundations of Guerilla Marketing, check out the entire Wikipedia article, here.

There are many low-cost techniques that you can use to market your business - and you can find a number of examples if you do a few online searches.

Suggested online search: How should I spend my marketing budget?

A few results from the above question will lead you to blog entries like the following, which answer the question, How would you spend a $1000 marketing budget?:

Firstly, $1000 isn’t a lot of money. Just like a prudent investor, you should never invest your marketing budget in only one or two untested areas.

For example - direct mail. Let’s say you rent a list for $300 and mail 1000 letters. Turns out the list was as old as the hills and you get minimal response (I’ve seen this happen several times, even with good copy).

Now you’ve blown your marketing budget!

With a budget of this size, I would suggest spending no more than $200 on any one marketing activity, and also parlaying the resources of others to stretch your budget further.

Read the rest of this blog post, here.

Here are some other suggestions from the same post:

I’m coming into this topic late as I’ve just discovered your blog, but wanted to add my comments as well. I am a home-based service business and my market is primarily local rather than online. Here’s what is on my list:

$150 - car/window decal done by a professional sign making company. I drive a lot and this exposure has proven to work in other businesses like mine.

$0 - this only requires my time (a few hours at the library or on the computer) to build my own mailing list using addresses in specific neighborhoods, demographic sects and targeted areas locally. This is a better option for me than buying a mailing list because my personal touch allows me to know exactly who I’m sending which materials to.

$400 - printing of targeted brochures, postcards, marketing materials or supplies for handmade promotional items for the mailing list I just created above. I have several different types of brochures based on the nature of each audience. (wedding, baby, travel, military, etc.)

$200 - postage to mail those materials above (this will reach about 500 people - but I would rarely do a mailing this large all at once. My typical mailing is about 75 per week so these expenses are spread out over time.)

Read the rest of this business owner's suggestions, here.

My next several posts will cover a variety of marketing techniques that you may wish to try, such as car signs, lawn signs, poster blitzes, promotions, targeted mailings, referral strategies, networking, public speaking, media attention, the Internet (including blogging), as well as positive thinking and visualization.

If you are interested in learning more about Guerilla Marketing, you can sign up for free newsletters and articles at Levinson's website,

List the alternative marketing methods that intrigue or interest you.

ACTION ITEM: Choose one marketing method and follow through on researching and implementing it in your marketing strategy within the next 30 days.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - part five

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

5) Traditional marketing techniques: Print and media advertising

When most of us start a business, these are the obvious techniques many of us gravitate towards. Everyone needs business cards, right? And brochures or flyers. Maybe some direct mailing. A yellow pages ad. Paid adverts in print and (if we can afford it) other media like radio and TV. Oh, and a website. Everyone needs a website now, right?

One thing most of these techniques have in common is that they can quickly become very expensive. There may be a place for these techniques in your marketing strategy, but if you're trying to keep costs low, you really need to pick and choose the most effective techniques for your particular business.

If you've been in business for a while, what has worked well for you in the past? Each type of business has its own special needs, something I didn't anticipate when I began marketing my professional organizing business.

As a consumer, I rely on the Yellow Pages when researching unfamiliar businesses. I assumed my potential organizing clients would feel the same way. I bought listings in three of Toronto's five Yellow Pages books (at a cost of over $350), and in the four months since the books have been published, I've had only one client-related call. (Which didn't even lead to new business for me.)

Most professional organizers will tell you that they get most of their new business from referrals. Our potential clients have many fears about bringing strangers into their homes and personal lives, and need to feel a high degree of trust - something they can get from a friend or neighbour (or trusted professional) who has past experience with us.

Where does that leave new organizers?

The good news is that potential clients depend on their instincts, and can often tell within minutes of meeting an organizer whether or not they feel safe with this professional, and want to hire them.

(The bad news is that potential clients depend on their instincts, and can often tell within minutes of meeting an organizer whether or not they feel safe with this professional, and want to hire...)

Most professional organizers I've spoken with have not had success with media advertising (in newspapers, for example). In fact, one organizer I know has said that the only calls she got from her newspaper ads were newspapers wanting her to buy more ads.

Business cards are the number one traditional investment that most organizers have found worthwhile. As part of a networking strategy, they are gold. I've even had clients ask for stacks of my cards to pass out to their friends.

Are websites important for professional organizers?

If your prospective clients are Internet users, maybe. If your other advertising is tied to your website (and I'll mention a case regarding car signs in a later post where this is key), then your website can be a great place for people to find out more about your business.

Your website doesn't have to be flashy and expensive - in fact, the simpler it is (considering that we're professional organizers, after all), the better. Just make sure the overall look and feel of your site is in line with the image you've chosen for yourself as an organizer. If you can't afford a web designer, explore cost-saving measures such as blogging (which will be covered in a future post) and bartering services, rather than settling for a cheap, amateur-looking site.

Think of the head shot issue mentioned in a previous post. Do you play true to type? The more that every aspect of your marketing - including your website - corresponds to who you are and what you do, the better your chances of conveying integrity to your prospective clients - and the better chance you have of them trusting you.

(Oh, and please have someone proofread your website! Spelling and grammatical errors are very off-putting to well-educated potential clients! Your website copy is so easy to change, it's a crying shame to see many professionals with error-riddled websites. How do I know? I read the sites when I'm prospecting for my editing business...)

Direct mail is very expensive, and for many businesses it doesn't give a good return on investment (ROI). As an organizer in a new city, however, I found that personally distributing flyers door-to-door in neighbourhoods I had earmarked as good markets for my services was a great way of getting my name known, and generating profitable leads for new business.

I have a background in visual art, so I created a simple flyer for myself on my computer, and had it inexpensively photocopied onto colourful paper at a local copy shop. I like to go for daily walks anyhow, so I figured if I just took a handful of flyers on my walk every day - driving to the neighbourhoods I wanted to explore and distributing as many flyers as I could within an hour - I'd kill two birds with one stone.

90% of my clients in my first year of business came from leads generated by the flyers.

List the traditional advertising methods that have worked for you in the past. Incorporate the lessons you have learned from these strategies into your future marketing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - part four

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

4) Information-gathering and inexpensive marketing research

If you don't have a lot of money to spend, there are a number of ways to do inexpensive marketing research.

A) Libraries

Libraries not only have books and periodicals which you can read (for free!), but they also typically have reference sections devoted to small business, as well as free access to computers and the Internet. Librarians themselves can be a great resource if you are seeking specific information and don't know where to start looking. Libraries may also offer programs or lectures at little or no cost.

B) Book stores

I just love book stores like Chapters (here in Canada) where you can pull a book off the shelves, plop down in a comfy chair for an hour or so, and read to your heart's content WITHOUT HAVING TO BUY THE BOOK FIRST. Not sure which marketing books will help you? Browse through their tables of contents, and read a chapter or two before committing to a purchase. You can sample business magazines this way as well.

C) Magazines and newspapers

There is a free magazine for small businesses called Canada's SOHO Business offered at most Staples stores in Canada. Each issue is full of articles that relate directly to the needs of small business owners.

You can also find marketing ideas in non-business-related magazines and newspapers. Pay attention to the ads that catch your eye. Notice what's hot and interesting (and effective!) in the world of advertising. Research the needs and desires of your target market. Take note of demographic trends (like aging baby boomers) that may affect your business and your potential clients.

D) The Internet

The Internet is a huge resource for business-related information. It may be time-consuming to wade through page after page of web material, but the wonderful thing about the Internet is that there is so much first-hand information to be found - much of it on business-related blogs, where individuals can leave their own comments and contribute to the sharing of information.

There are also numerous sites dedicated to business specialists, many of whom have published best-selling books on their areas of expertise. If you find some favorite books after your library or book store expeditions, it's more than likely that these authors will have their own websites, often listed right in their books.

Many business websites also send out regular e-newsletters which are full of pertinent information - delivered easily and effortlessly into your inbox every week. Sign up for the ones that intrigue you - you can always unsubscribe at a later date if they turn out not to be worthwhile.

E) Networking

I'll discuss Networking again in another post, but here I'm interested in networking as a way of gathering marketing information. Ask others what they're doing to market their businesses, and what has worked for them in the past. Be prepared to share some of your own information; many people are generous with their knowledge, but don't like to feel used.

If during your daily travels you spot an advertisement that really catches your attention and inspires you to do something similar, why not contact the business owner and ask about their experience with this marketing technique? At the very least they'll probably be happy to refer you to the professionals who did the work for them.

F) Poll prospective customers

Talk to people. This can be as informal or as formal as you like - but get comfortable asking people what they're looking for in the service or product you provide, and seek out feedback on their past experiences and preferences regarding marketing.

Talk to friends, relatives, strangers in the grocery check-out - anyone who will give you the time of day. If you make it low-key and focus on their stories, letting them share their own needs and experiences, you may be surprised how people will open up and divulge very worthwhile information.

G) Observation

This is related to item C) above, but in truth encompasses not just print media, but everything you see around you. There are marketing messages everywhere. What do you notice? What attracts your attention? What is effective? More importantly, what sticks out as unique and innovative?

This doesn't have to be tedious or feel like work. But you should definitely get in the habit of trying to relate things back to your own information-gathering process. Continually ask yourself at various times throughout the day, in various situations, "What might this have to do with me and my business?"

Some other inexpensive information-gathering or research suggestions offered by the attendees at my talk:

*Seek out local organizations that support small business start-ups. They often offer inexpensive or free programming on marketing topics.

*Join professional associations (like Professional Organizers in Canada, if you're an organizer) and network with your colleagues.

ACTION ITEM: Book time in your weekly schedule to actively do marketing research. Spend at least some of this time in creative daydreaming or brainstorming.

Suggested online search: "marketing"

Monday, October 15, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - part three

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

3) How much should I spend on marketing?

We all realize that we need to spend money on our marketing efforts, but for those who are starting their businesses, or who go through regular periods of "feast and famine," parting with precious funds can be challenging.

There is no magic number for how much you should spend to market your business, but if your business is new (one to two years old), it would not be unreasonable to spend an amount that is equal to 20-30% of your net income. A mature business might be able to get away with spending only 10% on marketing.

If money is tight, keep in mind that there is generally an inverse relationship between the amount of money you spend on marketing and the amount of time you need to spend on marketing. That is, if you won't or can't spend money, you will probably need to spend a lot of your own time and effort marketing your business. The most inexpensive marketing techniques often require the most amount of time.

A) How much income do you make (or would you like to make) in a year?

B) What is 25% of the above?

C) How many person-hours is that, based on you current hourly fee?

Suggested online search: "how much should I spend on marketing?"

Read two online articles on this subject here and here.

ACTION ITEM: Commit to spending 25% of your income - either in the form of dollars or person-hours - on marketing. Book the person-hours into your schedule regularly.

If you find that you really can't afford some of the marketing services (such as graphic design or web design) that you feel you need to grow your business right now, consider the possibility of bartering your services for those of another professional who provides those services.

You can set up these relationships yourself, or use a website such as to connect with the services you need. (Thanks for that tip, Jeannette!)

ACTION ITEM: Approach at least one professional about the possibility of bartering for marketing services.

low-cost marketing techniques - part two

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

2) Who is my client?

A) Choose a potential client segment, and describe them. Who are these people? Where do they live? Where do they work? What do they do all day? What do they do in their spare time? What do they do for fun? What other businesses do they already frequent? How much money do they make? Can they afford your products or services? Why would they want your products or services? What do they value?

B) Next, create a list of new strategies which you can use to reach these potential clients.

Let's say I've decided that I want to focus my marketing efforts on families with young children. They are overworked and stressed to the limit, and would really benefit from the help of a professional organizer who could give them strategies for time management and task flow within their homes.

Professional organizing is a fairly expensive service, so I want to focus my efforts on reaching families with enough disposable income to afford me. These families live in upper-middleclass neighbourhoods. They often make enough money that one partner - usually the wife - can stay home with the children when they are young. These mothers go for walks during the day, and visit playgroups and other parenting or early childhood learning groups.

Young families often have dogs, and spend time walking the streets in their neighbourhood. They may walk their children to school. They transport their children to a variety of extracurricular activities. They value their time and raising healthy, happy children. They may have a personal interest in self-development or self-care.

They frequent doctors' and dentists' offices, pet stores, toy stores, grocery stores, clothing stores, and perhaps seek out alternative health or spa treatments.

ACTION ITEM: Create a written description on your potential client. Use this description as a jumping-off point for directing your marketing efforts. Commit to pursuing at least one new client market in the next 30 days.

Suggest online search: "inexpensive market research"

low-cost marketing techniques - part one

I'm giving a talk on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques this evening to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada. The following posts are an outline of the topics I will be covering, as well as related resources and links.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Before you begin marketing, it's a good idea to know - inside and out, right-side-up, forwards, backwards and upside-down - the product or service that you are selling.

1) Who am I?

A) As an exercise, make a list of the former jobs or businesses you've had, as well as your education, interests, hobbies and activities. Don't hold back - list it all.

When you've finished your list, take a look at these characteristics from a marketing standpoint. What do you have to offer potential clients? What are your unique skills and areas of expertise? What sets you apart from the hundreds or thousands of other people selling the same product or service that you are selling?

B) Based on this new appraisal of yourself, can you come up with ideas for new markets or specialty niches? Create a list of markets you would like to explore.

For example, my own list of characteristics would include the fact that I'm a classically-trained singer. I've studied voice for many years, and have spent a lot of time performing, both as a soloist and a choral singer. Because of my voice training and experience, I am comfortable getting up in front of large groups of people and being the centre of attention. It occurs to me that I could translate this performance experience into a sideline as a public speaker.

I've also suffered loss in my life, struggling with depression after the death of my brother by suicide over ten years ago. Through my own healing process I learned many helpful techniques and strategies for dealing with loss and emotional pain. As a professional organizer I could translate this personal experience into a specialty helping bereaved families clean out the homes of their deceased loved ones.

C) What is my type?

Several months ago I came across a website offering advice to actors, and I was intrigued by a post on getting good head shots. Actors and other performers need "head shots," or photographs of their faces, when going out on auditions or for publicity purposes. Having a good head shot is often key to being hired for the right role, and a bad head shot - one that doesn't accurately categorize you into a "type" that casting directors readily understand - can keep you from being hired at all.

Read the article here, scrolling down to the entry from Mark Atteberry. Then, as an exercise, try to figure out what "type" you (and through association, your products or services) are.

Are you trying to market yourself against type? Do your potential customers recognize your type immediately - and are you the type that they are looking for?

ACTION ITEM: Create a written description of who you are and what you do professionally. Commit to exploring at least one new specialty market from item B) in the next 30 days.

Resource: Hypnotic Writing by Joe Vitale

Suggested online search: "persuasive copywriting"

Friday, October 12, 2007

how not to write a blog

I'm doing research right now for a talk I'm giving next Monday for the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada. I'll be discussing inexpensive marketing techniques, including blogging.

I was just browsing for blogs on that topic when I came across a user who has 43 (yes, that's forty-three!) blogs registered under his name. You can check out his profile and his list of blogs here:

Now, what really bugs me about this guy is that he's obviously just used these blogs as a marketing ploy to generate web traffic. He has created as many blog titles as he could think of that relate to his business (advertising wraps on trucks - those huge print ads you see applied to buses and transport trucks). Then on each blog he's simply posted the exact same information - basically an advertisement of his business.

Why did he do this? Well, offers their blog URLS for free. To do something similar by registering regular .com domain names would have cost a chunk of change.

But this is not blogging. He's not creating regular posts for any of these blogs. And I think his approach may turn off potential customers, once they realize what he's done...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

sample edit for a training firm

I just found a business website that describes a company's trademarked training program for business writing.

The training program looks innovative and compelling. The site is visually appealing, and the copy is reasonably clean - but there are occasional errors that detract from the site's overall professionalism.

Here's one example:

Developed at Harvard and Columbia Universities in the late 1960's, the unique, research-based methodology, [name withheld] has become a world leading best-practice for creating high-quality, structured content that is easy to use, reuse, and maintain. These easy-to-learn, field-proven solutions have helped leading commercial and government organizations worldwide improve performance, solve information-intensive business challenges, and achieve long-term, measurable results.

There are two long, information-heavy sentences in the above paragraph, and the meaning of the first sentence becomes unclear due to a misplaced comma.

In addition, the use of hyphens in copy throughout the site is uneven, as in illustrated in one instance above. (Hint: compound modifiers should be hyphenated to improve clarity. Don't unnecessarily hyphenate the noun that is modified.)

An optional correction would be to remove the apostrophe in "1960's," as recommended in most contemporary style guides.

Here's the corrected copy:

Developed at Harvard and Columbia Universities in the late 1960s, the unique, research-based methodology known as [name withheld] has become a world-leading best practice for creating high-quality, structured content that is easy to use, reuse and maintain. These easy-to-learn, field-proven solutions have helped leading commercial and government organizations worldwide improve performance, solve information-intensive business challenges, and achieve long-term, measurable results.

If this is your company's website, you should be commended on its clean, simple design. The writing is very good - no doubt a testament to your valuable training method. But you should have someone proofread the site and correct the occasional style errors.

sample copy editing for a training consultant

I just found this training consultant's website. He has fantastic energy and ideas, but his site isn't easy to read - which is interesting, because he also offers seminars on business writing skills!

The ideas are definitely great. Here's an example:

Make it short. Make it count. Business writing is a specialized skill. You can master it. Spend one day with [name withheld] at his Business Writing Skills Workshop. You'll learn how to make your writing come alive. How to grab and hold your reader's attention.

Further down the same page, however, the reader gets bogged down:

You will learn how to get to the point... Quickly
Spot and correct basic writing faults
Choose words that command atttention and hold interest
Organize your writing to invite readers
Make better use of computers... Word processors and e-mail

Those are all great points. But this writer has a strange quirk - he writes like Capt. James T. Kirk talks... with... unnecessary ellipses and... Unnecessary random... Capitalizations. (There's also a typo in the third line.)

A better way to present the above guidelines might be:

You will learn how to get to the point - quickly.
Spot and correct basic writing faults.
Choose words that command attention and hold interest.
Organize your writing to invite readers in.
Make better use of computers, word processors and e-mail.

(Notice how the periods at the end of each line anchor the ideas, and help the reading flow.)

There are more examples of random ellipses further down the same page. Here's a collection of the offenders:

Five guidelines for Clear... Fast reading
Use Simple... Familiar words
Avoid affectation... It's weak

Talk to your reader with - You... We... I
Use message / comment format to organize your thinking

The above should be changed to the following for greater clarity:

Five guidelines for clear, fast reading.
Use simple, familiar words.
Avoid affectation - it's weak.
Talk to your reader with words like: You... We... I...
Use a message/comment format to organize your thinking.

All-in-all, it's not a horrible site. The layout is simple, and the text is informative, large and easy to read. The colour scheme looks amateurish, but again - it's simple. Once this fellow gets rid of his offending ellipses and Capitalizations, he'll be well on his way to having a site that reflects the professionalism he wishes to project.

I would recommend that this consultant hire a good copywriter to tidy up his website's copy, and also hire a web designer to create a more sophisticated appearance for the site.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

sample copy editing for a marketing company

The copy discussed below is taken from a direct marketing company's website. It's a great example of jargon-filled persuasive copywriting.

It was also written by someone with poor storytelling skills. As a result, the copy doesn't grab the readers' attention and pull us into the narrative. (Pretty poor advertising for a marketing company, wouldn't you say?)

If this is your company, you have a great-looking site. The visuals are lush and compelling, and the site navigation is relatively straightforward.

(You might want to get rid of the links to images without text, though. They're confusing, and ultimately frustrate anyone trying to discover more about your company.)

Here's a sample of the copy from the homepage:

[Company name withheld] is a leading marketing firm with expertise, knowledge and experience in the fields of advertising, marketing and communications. Our versatility has allowed us to grow successfully, developing close working partnerships with our clients in the process. The skills and expertise of our team mean that we can, and do, deliver effective and strategic solutions on time and within budget; but, perhaps the greatest benefit to our clients is the innovation and resources that we can access to ensure that each project is tailored to the specific needs of individual clients.

[Company name withheld]'s clients can be any one. No client is too small if you are a growing company. Our clients can be a wide cross-section of markets including agriculture, construction, engineering, local authorities, manufacturing, professional service providers, property, recruitment and retail.

The diversity of these clients is equally matched by the diversity of services that they require. As a true "communications" agency, [company name withheld] has both the capacity and capabilities to meet these requirements, in both above and below the line marketing services.

There's a minefield of mediocre writing here. No spelling errors, but several awkward sentences, as well as the above-mentioned overdose of sales jargon, and some poor punctuation. To top it all off, the copy looks sloppy because there's an extra space between "close" and "working" in the first paragraph, and the copywriter has chosen to double-space after each period, which is no longer standard style for most print media.

The first sentence is an overdose of description. Words have more impact when there are fewer of them. If a reader has to wade through several, repetitive, long-winded, unnecessary words that trip, stall, bog down and bemuse the reader, the reader will start to forget your initial, strong, well-intentioned and important meaning, intent and point.

I wish more business writers would strive for clarity and simplicity. Here's what I hope they meant to say:

[Company name withheld] is a marketing firm that leads through versatility. With knowledge and experience in the fields of advertising, marketing and communications, we have grown into a company which can deliver specially-tailored strategic solutions to meet the needs of our most important partners - our clients.

No client is too small. Our clients come from a wide cross-section of markets, including agriculture, construction, engineering, local authorities, manufacturing, professional service providers, real estate, recruitment and retail. [Company name withheld] will work closely with you to ensure that your project is delivered on time, and on budget. Our innovation and resources create success.

The diversity of our clients is matched by the diversity of the services they require. As a true "communications" agency, [company name withheld] can meet those requirements, in both above- and below-the-line marketing services.

Of course, the deeper problem with the above copy is that it still leaves the reader wondering exactly what this company does. I had to look up the term "below-the-line marketing," and I'm still not sure what it means.

Why is it important to create clear and simple copy on your website? Your site may be the first point of contact with potential clients. And if your website copy is sloppy and incomprehensible, it could leave a very unfavorable impression.

I would recommend that this marketing firm hire a good copywriter to proofread and edit their existing website copy. If I were the copywriter, I would sit down with the management and spend some time discussing this company's own mission, vision, branding and strategy.

sample copy editing for a moving company

The copy discussed below is from a moving and storage company's website. The site is nicely designed, clean, and very easy to navigate.

If this is your company, you should be commended on the great information you've included on your site, including packing tips and pointers for clients anticipating a move.

The copy on your site could be improved by putting spaces (or breaks) between all paragraphs, and shortening some of your longer paragraphs so that the copy is easier for a potential client to read. (Long, dense paragraphs should be avoided.)

I found several spelling errors throughout the site, including at least one on the home page ("About Us"). The word "employee's" should not have an apostrophe. The correct plural is "employees."

I also found several awkward sentences or paragraphs throughout the site, including the following:

Every year [company name withheld] moves thousands of families into new homes and hundreds of corporations into new office space. [Company name withheld] has a reputation for excellence, a reputation built on three basic principles: We provide friendly and reliable service by carefully screening all of our employees we ensure that you get the most dedicated, responsible and service oriented professional in the business.

We are a quality driven, full service organization dedicated to provide our customers with the attention that they demand and deserve.

Our experienced sales team takes the time to listen, which enables them to work with you and to provide the most competitive package that's right for your needs and the moving plan that best suits your budget

In the first sentence, a comma is needed for clarity, and the word "space" should be plural. In the second sentence, the comma is not strong enough - a dash would be preferable. And the list of company principles which follows should be numbered. Without numbers, the valuable points get lost.

As well, the wording of the first point is awkward. Hyphens are needed for the all compound modifiers, and the word "professional" should be pluralized. There's a verb agreement error in the second point. The last sentence should be rewritten, and there's a period missing at the end.

The improved copy would look like this:

Every year [company name withheld] moves thousands of families into new homes, and hundreds of corporations into new office spaces. [Company name withheld] has a reputation for excellence - a reputation built on three basic principles:

1) We provide friendly and reliable service by carefully screening all of our employees to ensure that you get the most dedicated, responsible and service-oriented professionals in the business.

2) We are a quality-driven, full-service organization dedicated to providing our customers with the attention they demand and deserve.

3) Our experienced sales team takes the time to listen, which enables them to work with you to provide the most competitive package that's right for your needs, and the moving plan which best suits your budget.

Why is it important to make corrections like these on your site? Your website may be the first point of contact with potential clients. You obviously value and promote high standards in your business. You have created a beautiful website. But your website copy is sloppy and full of errors, which could leave a very unfavorable impression on potential clients.

I would recommend that you hire a copywriter to proofread and edit your existing copy.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

new site feature

I frequently send out proposals to small businesses, hoping to interest them in my website editing and proofreading services. I've often wished I had a quick and easy way to show them online just how much better their copy could look.

I was editing a client's website recently, flipping back and forth between the back pages of the site and the site itself, when it suddenly hit me - I could post short proposals on this blog, and then send prospective clients the link! Not only would they get to see their improved copy online, but other readers could also benefit from the corrections I suggested.

Look for this new feature soon!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

dangling modifiers

Also known as dangling participles, these are parts of a sentence that get orphaned from the subject they are meant to modify. Here's a great example sent to me by my friend Laurie (she found it on a charitable organization's website):

Provide a gift of hope with this basket of rabbits and chickens. The eggs from the chickens will provide protein for the hungry children and the rabbits a new source of economic independence.

Adds Laurie: "Unless I'm mistaken, the way this is written has the chickens helping the rabbits. I love it: little bunnies running coops, and selling free-range eggs..."

A better way to write the sentence would be the following:

Provide a gift of hope with this basket of rabbits and chickens. The eggs from the chickens will provide protein for hungry children, and the rabbits will give a family a new source of economic independence.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

what i do

Whenever I introduce myself as a freelance writer and editor these days, people always ask me what kinds of things I write.

When I began my freelancing career, I wrote for local newspapers and arts & entertainment magazines. My initial stories were about classical music concerts, although my published subjects eventually grew to encompass most of the arts - including dance, visual arts and film. I have two university degrees, and studied a total of three majors at university: Home Economics (clothing, textiles and design), Visual Arts, and Film Studies.

I'm also a classically-trained singer and former diehard balletomane (ballet fan). I tired of being a culture vulture a long time ago, but I can still hang with that crowd, and converse intelligently about most things cultural.

My friends call me a walking encyclopedia. They howl with laughter when I tell them that I actually (really!) used to read encyclopedias for fun as a child. (Yes, I'm a freak.) For years I was also a magazine fiend, and I still have a huge collection of back issues of many periodicals, including four decades of National Geographics. I seem to know a little bit about almost everything.

Early on, I became interested in copywriting for musicians. I represented and/or managed two classical performers in London, Ontario for several years, and loved creating their promotional bios, media kits, and other publicity materials. I felt really gratified when one of my very first media releases garnered an in-depth interview in the local newspaper for the pianist I represented. The feedback from the reporter who received my media release was, "She got my attention."

I still enjoy freelance writing for periodicals, and these days I'm most interested in eco-friendly and professional organizing topics. My five blogs are a wonderful creative outlet for me. I've even done some manuscript editing. But my passion continues to be promotional copywriting. I love helping people - generally small businesses - present their best faces to the world. I want others to shine.

I have a knack for spotting copy errors and "massaging" existing copy so that it looks clean and sounds more professional than the original. It's what I do well.

I also love interviewing people. I've found that when I can get someone talking about his or her passions, I am invariably moved and inspired by the stories I hear. (When I first began freelancing, I told a friend that if I could just spend my life interviewing people without having to write the stories afterwards, I would have my dream job.)

But I CAN write, and I do. And I'm thankful for the opportunity.

Monday, July 16, 2007

introduction to blogging

I created my first blog in the fall of 2006, after attending a break-out session at the Professional Organizers in Canada annual conference in Toronto, Ontario. The subject of the session - led by podcasting expert Leesa Barnes - was how to use social media to inexpensively advertise your business.

(Read my very first blog entry (written the same day as the break-out session) here.)

I like inexpensive. When I started my first blog, I already had registered a domain name for my organizing business, but I couldn't afford to pay someone to build a website for me. After creating a blog and writing a few posts, I realized my dilemma was solved.

What's so great about using blogs to advertise your business? A blog is easy to set up (even if you're a total technophobe). I think my first blog took about ten minutes to create at

Some blog platforms and hosting are free. (Like Blogger and LiveJournal. You can also download free software from WordPress to use with an existing website.) Those that charge money for their services are relatively inexpensive. (Look at Typepad.)

You can pick and choose from existing templates to create your blog, and if you're handy with HTML (the computer language used to create websites), you can individualize your look.

A blog is easy and cheap. But why bother creating one in the first place?

The thing I love about blogging is that I can add new, informative content to my sites as often as I choose. It's almost as easy as writing an e-mail. And when I give potential clients the web address, they can quickly:

1) Learn about me, my background, my personality, my products or services, and my business style.
2) Pick up valuable, frequently-updated tips relating to my businesses.

Many clients have found me through my blogs, and have told me that the content on my blogs was the deciding factor in choosing me (rather than someone else) for the job.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

violets and fireflies

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Funny - even though I'm a visual artist, sometimes I'd rather write.

I was looking through my photos for something to put in the top right corner of this blog, and came across a shot of violets in a wooded area near the Thames River in London, Ontario. (I once had an English friend who howled with laughter every time I reminded him that the Canadian London had its own Thames. I guess he found that charmingly colonial.)

The photograph is nothing special, but the violets are - to me, anyhow. They're part of a magical story that suddenly seems worth spending a thousand words on...

I recently had an absolutely beautiful (and all-too-brief) e-mail relationship with a new friend. In his very first letter to me, he described seeing a valley full of fireflies near his home a few nights earlier. His story brought back a forgotten memory (of mine) from several years ago.

I was working as a live-in domestic near the university in London, Ontario. There's an area of paths along the river that had become my respite at the end of each workday. I loved being surrounded by green - wildflowers and grasses up to my knees, low-hanging branches brushing my head, and the gothic canopy high above. This was home. Sanctuary.

One evening I found myself cycling rapidly along the paths - not to enjoy the trees, but to get home after an evening at a friend's - in the shortest possible time before complete darkness fell. I'd forgotten my bicycle light (or maybe I just wasn't expecting to be out so late), and didn't want to get caught on the roads without one.

My head was bent low as I pedalled furiously, and I hardly noticed the scenery as I sped by. I didn't have time for pleasure that night.

It was getting so dark under the trees that I could hardly see, and I thought my mind was playing tricks on me when flashing lights appeared in corners of my eyes. I looked up, and nearly fell off my bike in amazement. The flashes were fireflies - hundreds and hundreds of them - dancing around a small clearing.

I stopped in shock. And awe. Something in my chest loosened, and I started to laugh with delight. In that moment I understood where the legends of fairies had come from.

For I was in a fairyland. My path cut straight through the middle of the clearing, and I was surrounded by lights that blinked on and off, continually moving all around me. I didn't want to leave - couldn't tear myself away. Fuck the bike light - I'd walk the rest of the way home if I had to.

(How often do we get to be part of a miracle?)


The following spring I was walking along a parallel path - this one unpaved and on the far edge of the clearing, closer to the river. Again my head was bent low, watching my feet avoid tree roots. For weeks I had seen green things sprouting from dead brown earth. Day after day the sprouts grew taller and taller, and thickened with leaves.

One day I was surprised by purple.

Violets! A sea of them! (I hadn't known the green sprouts were violets!)

The previous summer when I'd first seen the clearing there had been no violets (or so I thought) - just phlox, and other tall wildflowers, and masses of wild grapevines that crawled over everything. But during the winter those had all disappeared, and now the first spring green was - violets.

I knelt down to examine their delicate beauty. I knew an Italian aria about violets - the blossoms were supposed to smell lovely. I leaned over and sniffed - nothing. But their hundreds of cheerful faces smiling at sun made me laugh. Spring was here. The ground was warming. The earth was coming back to life.

And in a flash my mind made one of those poetic connections that induces shivers.

The violets would give birth to the fireflies.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

how not to create a powerpoint presentation

I don't own PowerPoint and I've never had to create a PowerPoint presentation, but I recently found this absolutely hilarious comedy routine by Don McMillan on YouTube that touches on a lot of common errors that many presenters and writers make in their copy.

I don't want to spoil the video, so I'll let you watch it and come to your own conclusions. But do take this guy's cautions to heart!

Monday, June 11, 2007

a letter of reference from an editing client

June 1, 2007

To whom it may concern,

This letter is to recommend Michelle Lynne Goodfellow as a competent copy-editor. A few weeks ago, as I was trying to muster the energy to read through the final proof of my upcoming book, I came across Michelle’s blog “tell it well”. I immediately contacted Michelle and told her about my situation and about my specific requirements. Michelle agreed to help. Since I wanted the work done very quickly, we agreed to work on my manuscript simultaneously, she starting from the beginning and I from the end. Michelle’s willingness to help made the looming task seem a lot less insurmountable to me and, together, we finished the project within a few days.

Because of the tight deadline and the late stage in the publication process, I asked Michelle to concentrate mainly on the consistency with which dates were given and commas were used. For example, I wanted month-year combinations to be given without a comma (“June 2007” rather than “June, 2007”) and I wanted serial commas to be dropped (“pigeons, robins, song sparrows and blue jays” rather than “pigeons, robins, song sparrows, and blue jays”). Not only did Michelle catch many offending commas, but she also drew my attention to a number of compound modifiers in need of hyphens, to the inconsistent appearance of a certain abbreviation I used and to one particularly awkward sentence. I believe Michelle’s work was both efficient and thorough and I would gladly turn to her again in the future for related assistance.


Elizabeth Sander

(Author of Social Dancing in Peter the Great's Russia: Observations by Holstein Nobleman Friedrich Wilhelm von Bergholz, 1721 to 1725, published by Olms in 2007)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

can u spell gud?

I found this online spelling test while doing some research. It's from a site created by a former copy editor - she's come up with a list of 50 commonly misspelled words based on her eleven years' experience.

Take the test here.

Don't be embarrassed if you don't do well. These are tricky words. I'd hate to admit my first score. Needless to say, I've since learned by heart the words I originally spelled incorrectly.

How can you reduce spelling mistakes in your own writing? Use a dictionary to look up every word you're not sure of. The second time I took the above test, I used a dictionary. When we pour passion and intention into our learning, it sticks in the brain longer.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

have someone proofread your copy

No-one is immune from mistakes.

(Even me.)*

If your copy matters, have someone read it - preferably someone with knowledge of grammar and style. If they're not an English professor, at least they can still catch typos and point out confusing sentences.

If you can afford to hire someone to proofread for you, even better. A good pro can catch subtle errors like the one two sentences ago. (And if you have no idea what that error might be, you definitely need to hire someone!)

I was looking through some online employment wanted ads for freelance copywriters and editors on craigslist recently. I couldn't believe the number of typos I spotted - even when the writing was otherwise good.

I repeat: If your copy matters, have someone read it.

*A few of my friends who are writers or editors have pointed out errors in my blog copy. I am thankful to them!

Monday, March 05, 2007

why hire a professional writer?

Everyone can write, right? Wrong. I know several people who teach at the post-secondary level, and they all bemoan the decline in the quality of student writing. We aren't being taught how to write well anymore, and it's reflected in the poor writing found in business materials, including business websites.

Hire a writer if you want it written right.

A good professional writer knows how to make words sparkle, and a good editor can catch embarrassing, unprofessional errors before they leave an unfavorable impression on your business's clients or customers.

Is there a right way to write? Yes and no. English rules for spelling, grammar, and style are flexible, and always evolving. But it's important to be aware of - and follow! - some long-standing fundamentals in spelling, grammar, and form.

A good writer or editor with a working knowledge of reputable style guides can choose a clean, consistent style of writing for your business, based on the type of image you wish to present - be it traditional, casual, scientific, cutting-edge, approachable, or irreverent.

The truth is, if your business depends on written material to attract or keep clients, you can't afford not to hire a professional writer.

copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Thursday, February 22, 2007

an article about a Remembrance Day concert

What are you doing this Remembrance Day? Does it matter? These may seem like silly questions, but I grew up long after both world wars had ended, and I was just a baby during the Vietnam War. "Remembering" is a futile exercise for me. I don't "remember" anything.

I have experienced loss and suffering, however. I have become aware of the deep human need to deal with the confusing, chaotic and destructive elements of our lives by containing them within the relatively safe boundaries of ceremony and ritual. Meditation and reflection are valuable tools that can heal our souls, even if we have no direct experience of terrible events such as war. Enter London Pro Musica's Remembrance Day concert, A War Memorial.

The choir, along with Orchestra London, will be presenting Mozart's Requiem, and two movements from Ralph Vaughn William's Dona Nobis Pacem. Choral arrangements of the poems In Flanders Fields and Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep will also be performed.

What is the most appropriate way to remember the dead? I have always been vaguely dissatisfied with the traditional minute of silence and the sound of a bugle playing Taps and Reveille. I understand the significance of this military music, but I have never felt that the ceremony was enough.

I'm intrigued by Pro Musica's program. Listening to Mozart's Requiem - a mass for the dead - is a fitting choice on a day set aside for the remembrance of fallen soldiers. It is a very moving piece of music that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the film Amadeus.

And Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church is a marvelous setting. Doug Leighton, a member of Pro Musica and a rector at the church, tells me that Bishop Cronyn used to be the garrison church for the military barracks here in London. There are several military displays and memorials from World Wars I and II throughout the sanctuary.

In a touching war story connected with the church, a young World War I artilleryman from Bishop Cronyn, Woodman Leonard, brought back a small statuette of a madonna and child from a demolished church in Europe during one of his leaves.

Leonard was later killed in action at Vimy Ridge, and as he lay dying he turned to his second-in-command and said, "I'm finished. Take over and carry on." A plaque near the front of the sanctuary at Bishop Cronyn is inscribed with those words in memory of Leonard, and the statuette is still housed within the church.

Death and dying, war and destruction - these are never pleasant things to contemplate. If it's a truly meaningful service of remembrance that we are seeking, then an evening spent listening to some of the world's most moving music seems an ideal choice.

November 5, 1998

copyright 1998, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

peaches - a poem

Imagine a puddle of peaches on a countertop. The blushing warmth of skin. Their roundness. A heat that is the colour of my heart, and a vision that makes my heart ache...

Pick one up. The weight and heft registering against palm. The gentleness of fingers not wishing to bruise. The stroke of a thumb against velveteen...

Lift to your nose and close your eyes. A fragrance of lightness that vanishes if inhaled too deeply. A vision of tiny white flowers that evaporate in a rainbow’s end whenever you get too close...

A sudden bite, and an explosion of sweetness. The ache of blushing colour now turned juicy. Inner flesh that melts under the tongue. The swallow...

The end is dripping stickiness, and a ragged pip that’s hard as rock...

(plant it, and another tree will grow...)

Friday, September 3, 1999

copyright 1999, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

solstice blues - a poem

on a shiny sunny
second day of summer

i pull the covers over
my head in the middle of the afternoon

and hide from a life
without your kiss

it's not even
july yet but

the days are getting shorter now
won't be long until

november crashes round
my head in groans

Sunday, June 22, 2003

copyright 2003, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

practising your practice

Last night when I was editing my most recent post I remembered something I really hate about Spell Check.

It doesn't recognize "practise" as a correct spelling.

You may remember from your elementary school days: practice with a C is a noun, and practise with an S is a verb.

So how come Spell Check can't figure out the difference between the two?

Anyhow, if you are writing something in Word and you use the word "practise," make sure that Spell Check doesn't automatically change the word to "practice" if it's not a noun.


I need to start practising my singing every day. (verb)

My singing practice has been a little lax, lately. (noun)

copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

an article about Brassroots

There are times when I wish I could transcribe an entire conversation word-for-word into this column. I have a limited amount of space to fill each issue, and this time it feels woefully inadequate.

The reason? I recently interviewed veteran percussionist Robert (Bob) Hughes about his upcoming performance with Brassroots, a local brass group. Expecting a pleasant but brief exchange, I was instead treated to an hour-long discourse on Hughes' multi-faceted career, the roots of African music, and speculation as to why percussion is so compelling to audiences.

For the record, Hughes was educated at the University of Toronto, and taught high school music before coming to London to teach percussion at the University of Western Ontario for the better part of three decades.

He officially retired in 1995. Along the way he's also carved out a performance career for himself in an incredibly broad range of styles, from big band, jazz, and orchestral music through to world music and fusion.

When asked why he loves percussion, Hughes said that one of the reasons is the sheer variety of performance styles available to a percussionist. The other reason? The never-ending challenge of "being able to play steadily."

Those rare moments when everything clicks and the musician finds his or her groove are like nirvana for Hughes.

The idea for Saturday night's concert - African Safari - was conceived a year ago when Brassroots conductor Bram Gregson decided to feature more of the fantastic talent available in this city.

Hughes, a specialist in African music who studied in Ghana in 1989 and 1993, and is currently writing some world music teaching materials for high school musicians, was approached by Gregson to program a concert of African music.

After realizing that it might be too difficult to acquire enough scores or arrangements to fill an entire evening, the decision was made to include New World music with African roots - effectively tracing the journey of African music through to the Americas.

The program features a North African sword dance, "talking drum" music, African bell music, West African funeral dances, and High Life (the pop music of Ghana), as well as New World examples of dances such as the cha cha, tango and samba, with a little bit of Duke Ellington and improvisation mixed in at the end.

Hughes is also bringing along several other guest musicians: percussionists Alfredo Caxaj, Rob Inch, Rob Larose and Greg Mainprize, guitarists Steve Litman and Oliver Whitehead and pianist Steve Holowitz.

All are keenly interested in world, jazz, and Latin music, and several are members of Caxaj's salsa band Herentia Latina. Caxaj himself is the director of Sunfest 99, a co-sponsor of this concert.

Many of the arrangements have been written by local composer Jeff Christmas, and Brassroots trumpeter Paul Stephenson will be a featured soloist.

I was most fascinated by Hughes' descriptions of the African music, and Saturday night's audience will get a taste of his passion for teaching. Hughes plans to do a little bit of show-and-tell during the first half of the program, describing how the percussion instruments are constructed, and pointing out what to listen for in the African music.

April 8, 1999
copyright 1999, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Thursday, February 15, 2007

an article about the films of Joyce Wieland

As I talk to University of Western Ontario film professor Michael Zryd over the phone in preparation for this article, I find myself remembering my own days as a film student a decade ago.

And as Zyrd and I talk about Canadian artist Joyce Wieland's film retrospective - which kicks off its cross-Canada tour at the London Regional Art and Historical Museums this month - I find myself wishing that I'd been able to see these films as a student.

When I was in school there was a lot of lip-service paid to feminist theory, especially to the idea that women have a unique and valuable story to tell about the realm of the "personal" - the intimate day-to-day domestic activities that, in the past, have tended to make up much of women's lives.

As Zryd speaks, I begin to visualize Wieland's films in my mind, and all of a sudden I realize that Wieland's work may be the perfect example of one of feminist theory's pet subjects: the intersection of the "personal" and the "political."

Wieland was a prolific artist in a variety of media, creating paintings, drawings, mixed-media constructions, and quilts as well as films, over the course of her career.

Before her death last year at the age of 66, she had left a permanent mark on the Canadian and feminist art worlds. She was noted for being the first living female Canadian artist to receive solo exhibitions at both the National Gallery and the Art Gallery of Ontario, and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1983.

She began making short films in the early 1960s while living with then-husband Michael Snow in New York City.

Zyrd, who contributed an article to the book The Films of Joyce Wieland, which is accompanying the retrospective, emphasizes that most of Wieland's films - which can best be described as experimental - are quite intentionally humorous. They also exhibit incredible variety in their subject matter, encompassing comedy, personal meditations, formal/structuralist studies, and documentaries, as well as one narrative film.

Most of the works being shown at the LRAHM on three consecutive Thursdays beginning October 7 are quite short - eleven minutes or less in length - and all are being shown in the format intended by the artist, i.e. on filmstrip, not video.

Examples of Wieland's other artwork from the LRAHM's permanent collection will also be on display.

Personal and political (even patriotic) combine most poetically in 1968-69's Reason Over Passion, a combination "landscape film" (shot from Wieland's own cross-Canada journey by car and train) and documentary of Pierre Elliot Trudeau at a Liberal convention. The result is an unforgettably complex nationalistic statement that will leave the viewers pondering their own relationship to Canada.

October 7, 1999
copyright 1999, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow