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What’s a Hook and How to Find It

Posted by on Apr 5, 2013 | 0 comments

I write so much better and faster when I can identify the hook of the article or story early. When I mentioned this on a webinar recently, someone asked, “But what is a hook and how do you know it when you see it?

Good question!

Think of the hook as, well, the thing you hook your thinking on as you write the article. Or the thing that will hook your reader into going past the first sentence or two. It’s like the organizing principle that you write around. Or the most important point. Or the one-liner that you think everyone will want to tweet. It’s what snags both you and the readers into the piece.

You may know that you have to write about a certain topic, but until you find your hook, you’ll just be rambling.

Here are some common hooks . . .

A good question. Questions that many people have are great hooks. It’s the hook I used to draft this blog post!

A dramatic situation. If you are telling a story that grabs your reader, they’ll want to hang on to see how it is resolved.

An interesting character. If a person in the story is interesting, because the reader can relate to him or her or because the person is very different from the reader, that can work as a hook.

A quote that says it all. Sometimes a direct quote from someone you interviewed really gets to the crux or heart of the matter and you can use that as your hook.

The format itself. People love Top Ten Lists, how-to articles, and Q & A interviews. These formats themselves are good hooks because of their popularity.

A surprising stat. A startling statistic can work as a hook too.

A funny situation. Humor is a great hook, especially if people can relate to it in their own lives.

What hooks do you use in your writing?

 This post first appeared on my Nonprofit Communications Blog.

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How I Write Awesome Content

Posted by on Jan 25, 2013 | 0 comments

Let me start by saying that I am fully aware that not ALL of my content is awesome. Far, far from it.

But, I do know that I do write awesome stuff on a regular basis, because you tell me I do (and you are the judge).  I often get emails or tweets that say things like, “I was struggling with this exact problem today! How did you know that?” or “I agree with you 100% but could never say that in my office. Now we can talk about it, because you wrote about it.”

So I am doing something right, at least part of the time, for some of the people. And honestly, that’s the best you can hope for, since awesome is always in the eye of the awesome-gauge holder. What you think is great flew right by a whole bunch of other people who couldn’t care less. Maybe next time you’ll impress them.

Here are my not-so-secret tips on creating awesome content.

1. Listen.

I am a sponge for needs, concerns, wants, angst, and excitement of nonprofit marketers. I am constantly listening (which is often actually reading) all the time to pick up what’s going on in our professional world. I do it by paying attention to questions and reactions on webinars and in workshops, by reading comments on my blogs and others’ blogs, by following nonprofits in social media, and more. Creating awesome content is much easier when you know what your readers are thinking about.

2. Find Your Way to Add Value.

But listening is really just the first step. To create awesome content, you have to go beyond just aggregating a bunch of ideas or topics, and to figure out a way to add value. I’m pretty good at seeing patterns, connecting dots, and boiling a whole bunch of stuff down to its essence. That’s how I can add value. You need to figure out what your brain is good at, and then apply that to what you are hearing to create value of your own, which you then share in your own awesome content.

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How To Curate Content from Others

Posted by on Jan 25, 2013 | 0 comments

We do a fair amount of content curation at Nonprofit Marketing Guide, so I thought I’d give you a back-stage glimpse at how we curate content. It’s not all that glamorous or sophisticated, but it works for us. The core of the strategy consists of three parts: following, tagging, and intent.


At the core of my strategy is following smart people, and letting them do the first cut. Curating is all about sifting or filtering, and there’s no reason you can’t use other smart people to help you do it! I follow people with a variety of different specialties that all circle back around to nonprofit marketing somehow. They sift through all the stuff they see on their issues, and share the best via their own blogs, social media, e-newsletters, etc. Then I watch what they say, do my own cut on that information, and decide what to share out through my own communications channels.

I follow those smart people in a few key ways:

I use a personal Alltop page to follow bloggers. You’ll find people who specialize in nonprofit communications, fundraising, technology, social media, corporate marketing, creativity, and a few more random topics on my custom page. It’s public, so you can use mine, or better yet, create your own. I love how Alltop gives me the five most recent blog titles from all of these sources, all on one page. It’s easy to see not only what particular individuals are writing about, but also the at-a-glance trends in what this broader community that I follow is writing about. I also love that I can mouse over a headline and get the first paragraph or so of the post, so I can see if it’s worth clicking to read the whole thing. I do wish there was a way to import other RSS feeds into Alltop as there are some bloggers who I want to follow who aren’t in the Alltop database. So I make sure I follow them in other ways, like on Twitter.

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The Right Mix of Income Is Your Safety Net

Posted by on Jan 25, 2013 | 0 comments

Financial safety nets are even more important for self-employed professionals than for others. Having a few months worth of income in a savings account or other liquid asset, as well as disability insurance, is a good goal.

But I think diversifying your income streams is even more critical. At a few different times in my self-employed career, I realized that more than 2/3rds of my income was coming from a single source — typically a major client.  While it can be nice to have  big retainer contract especially when you really enjoy the client, that kind of dependence can leave you vulnerable.

Back in 2006, when I was still primary working as a freelance writer and marketing consultant, I diversified my income streams like this:

  • Steady Clients — I had two clients that I worked for nearly every month.
  • Intermittent Clients — I had several clients who gave me a few projects per year.
  • Magazine Articles — I wrote articles for trade magazines.
  • Online Courses — I taught several online courses through my websites (business writing and writing nonprofit annual reports, at the time).
  • Tip Sheets — I sold tip sheets on various writing topics through my websites.
  • In-person Workshops — I taught workshops through the Duke University Certificate Program in Nonprofit Management.
  • Advertising Revenue — I ran Google AdSense ads on most of my websites.
  • Affiliate/Reseller Revenue — I ran ads for affiliate program products on most of my websites.

Today, in 2013, as my business has evolved, so has the income mix. Here’s what’s included now:

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It’s Not Who You Know, But Who Knows You

Posted by on Sep 15, 2010 | 0 comments

When I look back at where I’ve made the most money in my freelance writing career, without a doubt it is from clients who came to me via word-of-mouth referrals from my friends or family, colleagues from past jobs, other communications professionals, or other clients. I’ve had multi-year contracts with clients who found me through my husband, through volunteer work, and through other writers I befriended through the blogosphere. I’m pressed to come up with even one really well-paid gig that I might have landed from a job board.

So how do you make word-of-mouth referrals work for you?

Do great work. Give people more than they expect. They’ll be so thrilled they will naturally tell others about you.

Be clear about what you do. Don’t describe yourself as a freelance writer. Instead, say you write websites or newsletters or fundraising materials, or whatever it is you want to be hired to produce.

Let people know you are available. Without appearing desperate, casually mention to friends and other clients that you have a little time in your schedule for new projects if they know anyone who needs some help with (fill in the blank with what you produce).

Network with other writers and creative types. If you give good referrals, you’ll get good referrals. It’s one of those ying-yang things. I have friends in the freelance communications and marketing worlds who don’t know anything about nonprofits and when they are offered those jobs, they send them my way.  I often refer work to other writers and graphic designers when the potential job just isn’t right for me.

Tell some good stories. When you are in social situations, have some good work-related stories to tell about challenges that a client faced and that you helped solve. It’s a great way to educate people about what you do without sounding like a walking brochure.

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