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10 Ways To Improve Your Writing Skills Today

One skill that most people need in business is writing. Entrepreneurs working on their own will find themselves writing emails, proposals, blog posts, social media posts, on a regular basis. This is why developing your writing skills as an entrepreneur is essential. In this post, I’ll share my top 10 ways to improve your writing skills.

Write Every Day

When it comes down to how to improve your writing skills it can be hard to know where to get started. The best way to refine any skill is to practice it. With writing, you should be practicing daily. Chances are, you already are as you are replying to emails and sharing social media updates. If not, then you need to start.

Your daily practice can include writing that is shared with others like blog posts, social media posts, and comments on articles. Or it can include writing that is for yourself only, like Morning Pages, a three-page handwritten stream of consciousness done every morning to reduce stress and anxiety.

If you can’t muster up the enthusiasm for writing about your business, that’s ok. Write about other things that you are passionate about (although hopefully, you are passionate about your business too). Write articles on a personal blog about your favorite hobby. Write social media posts in groups about a particular interest. Write comments on entertainment and technology blogs that you visit for fun.

As you write more, you will find one of two things. You will find that the more you write, the easier it gets or you will find that the more you write, the more you need to polish your writing skills. If the latter is the case, definitely try the following.

Write Something People Want or Need to Read

If your writing falls into the realms of something people want to read or something people need to read, then you will have a successful piece of writing. Better yet, you will be more motivated to write in the first place because you will know that someone out there will consume your writing.

Here’s a handy guide to determining if your writing is what people want or need to read.

For example, let’s say you’re working on a blog post. How do you figure out if it is something people will want or need to read? You can use tools like Impactana to help. Start by signing up for an account and searching for the topic of your blog post. Then click on the Impact rating next to blog posts similar to the ones you were thinking about writing.

The number of views will show you if people actually cared enough to view the content. This tool will also show you things like number of backlinks (for SEO value) and number of social shares so you can further determine the popularity of your topic.

Alternatively, you can just do a Google search for your topic, click on the top articles, and see what kind of engagement they get in the way of social shares (usually shown next to social buttons on a blog post) and comments they receive. You can also use Q&A networks like Quora and Yahoo Answers to see what people ask about often related to your topic.

Note that some topics might fall into the “need to read” category, but not necessarily be popular, or terribly interesting for that matter. Take insurance. No one gets excited about reading or sharing articles about insurance with their friends.

But if you’re thinking about buying your first house, you’ll want to do some research into different types of home insurance. If you have a friend who is buying their first house, you might share articles you find with them.

Keep it Simple

KISS stands for Keep It Simple Silly. When it comes to writing, the simpler you make it, the better. Make your point and move on. You shouldn’t be focused on word count as much as you are focused on whether your reader will be able to get what you are saying and take value from it.

Write First, Edit Later

There is nothing that can stall a good writing session like obsessing about spelling, grammar, order, outcome, and anything else besides the process of writing itself. Focus on getting your thoughts out on paper or in your document first. Edit once you are finished.

If you have trouble doing this, then try dictation software. Dragon software will allow you to say whatever is on your mind and write it out for you. You will have to do some editing work after, especially until you get used to verbally adding in punctuation and new paragraphs. But ultimately, it can help you write faster.

Once you are finished writing…

Use a Professional Online Editor

Most text editors and word processors like Microsoft Word or your browser have a built-in proofing tool that helps to correct basic spelling and grammar. But the problem with these built-in tools is that they miss a lot of mistakes and teach you little about the mistakes you are making.

Grammarly and Hemingway are the best alternatives to hiring a professional editor for your writing. They are online editors that can help you improve your writing by identifying specific writing errors, letting you know why they are errors, and helping you correct them.

Grammarly’s premium version allows you choose from a variety of settings based on the type of document you are writing.

Additional benefits of using Grammarly include the following.

  • You can save your documents in Grammarly as to refer to the fully edited versions later down the road.
  • You can install the browser extension and get Grammarly editing advice in different applications (like Gmail and Facebook).

While you can save documents in Grammarly, I’d suggest writing in a different word processor (like Microsoft Word or Google Docs) and copying / pasting your text to Grammarly and back to your word processor. That way, you always have your document, whether or not you choose to maintain your Grammarly account.

Hemingway, on the other hand, is a free tool that offers similar advice, but in a more simplistic manner.

You can’t save your documents in this editor or use it in other browser applications. But you can toggle between write and edit mode so you can focus on writing, then focus on editing.

Read What You Write Out Loud

Even after you have done a full online editing of your writing, you should give it a final test by actually reading your writing out loud. There are some things that might be grammatically correct, but unnatural otherwise. If any portion of your writing is difficult to say out loud, then it might need to be rewritten for better clarity.

Alternatively, you can have someone else read your writing out loud to you. Being the recipient of your own writing could help you further improve it.

Follow Those Who Write for Your Target Audience

To get the best writing examples to study, look for writing done by those who write for your target audience. Subscribe to your competitor’s blog posts and email newsletter. Read the sales letters and landing pages on their website. Follow their social media posts. See if they published their investment pitch deck on Slideshare.

When reviewing your competitor’s writing style, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Is the writing formal or casual?
  • Is the writing serious or funny?
  • Is the writing verbose or succinct?
  • Is the writing first, second, or third person oriented?
  • Is the writing text heavy or light?

Be sure to analyze the writing of multiple competitors or others with the same target audience. That way you don’t model yourself after the one misfit in your niche or industry.

Create Templates

Templates are the answer to writing efficiency in business. Whenever you find yourself writing a similar document repeatedly, creating a template for that document will save you time (and frustration if you are not particularly fond of writing).

Email templates are going to be a huge timesaver for most entrepreneurs. Each time you find yourself looking back through your email archives to copy an email you sent to one person and paste it to send to another, that email content should become a template.

When using templates, pay attention to personalization fields throughout the template so you don’t address someone by another name or reference something from a different intended recipient. While templates can be great productivity boosters, they can also lead to some embarrassing blunders as well. Use them carefully!

Do Some Testing

If you liked science in school, then you will love A/B testing. When it comes to writing, there are lots of different things you can test. Start by defining your goal for a particular piece of writing. Here are some common goals for common types of writing in business.

  • The goal of your proposal will likely be to get funding for your startup.
  • The goal of your outreach email will likely be to get a blogger to write about your startup.
  • The goal of your blog post will likely be to get lots of social shares.
  • The goal of your sales page will likely be to get more sales.

Once you have defined your goals, you can start doing some testing with your writing to see what versions of your writing produce the most conversions, or goal completions. Start by changing the areas that are going to make a first impression in your writing: headlines, subject lines, bolded headers, and calls to action.

Change one element at a time so you can compare the results. For example, you can send 50 emails with one subject line and 50 emails with another subject line to determine which email received the best response. Once you know which one works, you can move on to testing different portions of the email content itself. Eventually, you will have an email that is scientifically proven to get the most conversions.

For A/B testing in direct email correspondence, you will need CRM tools like Salesforce. For your website, Optimizely, VWO, and Nelio are a few tools that will measure the results of your A/B testing so that you can quickly identify the best writing on your landing pages to accomplish your goals.

For email newsletters, several email marketing services offer A/B testing options for headlines and other aspects of your email content. These include GetResponse, MailChimp, and ActiveCampaign.

Don’t let the cost of investing in tools stop you from testing your writing. You can always go with good old paper and pen analysis to get good results.

Study the Art of Writing

If you are truly interested in improving your writing skills, take some time to study the art of writing itself. You can focus on business writing or expand your mind into the creative side of things. You will find lots of great books on writing on Amazon. If you prefer to learn while you commute, you will also find some great books on writing on Audible. You can even take a free course on High-Impact Business Writing from the University of California via Coursera.

In Conclusion

When it comes to writing, there is always room for improvement. Even if all you do after reading this post is invest in the professional online editor, you will have made a great investment in the future of your business through better writing.

11 Ways To Improve Your Business and Personal Storytelling

When you want to learn how to describe yourself or your business, people look to storytelling as a way to improve their core message.

But what is storytelling? And how do you actually get better at it?

And what does it matter for businesses today?

“Story” — the word is vague and yet so appealing — so it can be difficult to know where to start, and how to use what you learn in your everyday practice.

If you’re not telling your story, who is telling it for you?

This essay will look at some of the core truths about stories and storytelling in Part I, and then I’ll share a few tools that are practical and easy to implement in Part II. Use these core principles across many communication needs, from a personal biography to the description of your company.

Storytelling is a fundamental human tool that we all do innately. The problem is that over time, we’ve been bombarded with terrible examples of bad messaging, and we don’t know what models to look to. Our brains are wired for storytelling, because stories help us learn, explore, and retain information through second- and third-hand experiences. We know when we’re in the presence of a good story, but do we actually know what’s happening inside of them?

We can recognize when we’re captivated by a great story. The problem is, can you dissect what’s happening into tools you can use to your advantage later?

Stories are innately human. Everyone is a born storyteller.

Case in point: when you recount events that you’ve done, even a simple sentence as you walk through the door, you’re setting up a basic story structure:

“You won’t believe what just happened — first I went to the grocery store, then…” — your ears prick up.

You’ve set up the most basic form of a story: do you know what it is?

Here’s another example —

“The beach was dark and quiet. It was eerie — the moon was dark and someone had turned off all the lights on the boardwalk. Alison felt uneasy as she stepped nervously out into the dark. Who had turned out all the lights?”

Both of these examples use a very specific form of storytelling that we’re all hardwired to understand. Do you know what it is?

I’ll explain it today as we deconstruct storytelling. But first, I want to debunk a few myths about storytelling. Somehow we think that only an elite few can be storytellers, and it’s a skill that we don’t have.

Part I: Common storytelling principles that apply to business and life.

1. Everyone is a storyteller.

Some people say that storytelling is limited to an elite few, or a professional clique. In reality, that’s not true. All humans are born storytellers, and we’re born to look for, hear, and describe our world in stories.

When someone comes back to us and says, “Avoid Atlantic avenue, it’s crazy full of traffic,” we select a different route because we got information — in the form of a story — about someone else’s experience.

2. We tell stories to connect, dream, and imagine.

We use storytelling to connect inwardly to ourselves, outwardly towards others, and to imagine futures. Humans spend up to four hours per day inside of imaginary landscapes — in daydreams, thoughts, visualizations, and places beyond the present. We live in a world of stories.

We use storytelling to connect inwardly to ourselves, outwardly towards others, and to imagine our futures.

Children are born telling stories — in fact, we play for exactly this reason. Play is our built-in mode of imagining the future and the past. In telling stories, and playing make-believe, we’re able to learn at a much faster pace than if we had to rely only on our own experience.

We are learning creatures. We learn by experience and through our imagination. When something good happens to us, that’s a reward. When something bad happens, there’s a punishment. These incentives teach us over time.

In stories, we get to pick up and enter into the landscape of someone else’s learning — and learn for ourselves, even though we may be sitting in one place, not moving.

3. Stories are how we are hardwired.

Prior to written language, we had to keep important information about the world around us, somehow. We’ve constructed melodies, songs, and other modes of storing information.

Is it any coincidence that “storing” and “storytelling” are related? We are hardwired to remember cause and effect relationships — “I saw a spider, that spider killed my friend, spiders are bad.” “REMEMBER THIS!” Shouts your brain.

Lisa Cron’s research on the brain science behind storytelling is what prompted her book, Wired For Story, if you’re curious about how it works.

In research in The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottfried, he talks about how we actually make up stories all the time, whenever we see two events happening.

If we see a group of women and they’re all wearing tiny shorts, we might tell as story to ourselves about how they are all going to the beach. In research on people with their two brain hemispheres segmented or separated, they discover that our brains actually wire stories into our minds when presented two pieces of information. (For more on this, here’s a list of great books on storytelling.)

4. A story is what you take with you.

In any situation or setting, a story is what you take with you.

When giving a presentation or sharing your brand or idea, what someone walks away with is the story. They’ve taken all the information they’ve been given and distilled it into the easiest parts to remember.

Listen to what people catch from your descriptions, and guide your story towards what people naturally keep bringing up!

A story is what you take with you. Listen to how people explain

It’s less about what you want to say, and what people do with what you say. Pay attention to what people respond to, and adjust accordingly.

5. We are surrounded by far too many examples of bad storytelling — powerpoints, inadequacy marketing, and droll presentations have numbed our innate ability to tell stories.

Unfortunately, we’re surrounded by terrible examples of storytelling. In The Story Wars by Jonah Sachs, he talks about all the sins of modern storytelling — from our need for vanity to posing as an authority, and more.

There are far too many bad examples out there — boring presentations, terrible pitches, inadequacy marketing — that we’ve forgotten what great storytelling looks like.

Basically, the last century of mass broadcasting let the leaders in charge of storytelling get lazy. There’s too much talking about yourself, not listening to the audience, and shouting lists. Technology (like powerpoint) even encourages bad storytelling by putting bullets and lists as the mode of operation.

The good news is that once we recognize the bad examples for what they are — boring presentations that put us to sleep — we can stop copying them and start engaging.

6. When you sell anything — yourself, a brand, a business — you tell a story.

When you sell things, you tell a story. It’s not about the thing at hand. And powerpoint lists are terrible ways of communicating.

When you sell things, you’re telling a story.

Think about a toothbrush. You’re not selling a plastic stick with a bunch of flexible bristles on it. Why describe it like that?

When you sell a toothbrush, you’re selling the idea of a cleaner mouth. Why is that clean mouth important?

Think about Listerine: you’re not selling a bottle of alcohol, you’re selling … a date.

The ability to be well-liked.

A possibility.

Advertisements are stories about who you are and who you should be, and great advertisements want to capitalize on something deeper than the physical thing that they are selling.

What do they believe about human nature? What story are they telling you, implied or otherwise?

7. We are naturally curious, and we all want to be smart.

Finding Nemo, the movie, is about a little guy who gets lost and needs to find his dad. Along the way, he goes on adventure after adventure in order to return home.

At the beginning of the movie, we, the audience, know the purpose of the whole movie within the first few minutes: this is a story about a father and son finding each other again.

The same is true in most situations. We interrupt because we want to get to the point faster. When presented with a puzzle, most people work furiously to get it right — first.

People like to be smart, and curious. Stories let us engage our curiosity.

We want to be smart. We like the puzzle of a story, and we want to guess how it will end. Stories entertain us because they keep us in suspense, and they tickle our brains to try to guess how something ends.

Part II: How to improve your business and personal storytelling today.

So how do you take all this and make it applicable to your stories and messages? Here are some concrete ways to improve your storytelling right now.

8. Your English teacher was right — it is about “showing” versus “telling.”

Too often we jump straight to the point. Think about each of these as lead sentences:

“It was the hardest day of my life.”

“The thing is, simplicity matters.”

“Never underestimate the power of a good friend.”

These are all true statements, but it’s not gripping or exciting. Whatever your core philosophical statement, think about leaving it unsaid.

Just like the toothbrush examples before, the point of your story isn’t to beat someone over the head with the idea, but rather to SHOW it through lots of vivid detail and an example that highlights your core philosophy.

We don’t need to be hit over the head with ideas. We want to learn through the experience.

For example —

[It was the hardest day of my life.] vs:

“I’d just finished a fourteen hour shift in the cement factory. I had no idea what my dad did, so that summer I signed up to join him at work. Three days in, and I could barely lift my hands. My forearms burned, and my calves were shot from jumping in and out of the trucks. I’d probably lifted more than a hundred sacks of cement mix in and out of the truck. When I got home that day, all I wanted was to lie down. Then I discovered…”

[Never underestimate the power of a good friend.] vs:

“I’d just found out that my grandmother had passed, and I couldn’t make it home in time. My job had closed the week before, our office putting up the ‘for sale’ sign after more than eight months in the red. On the bus ride home through the foggy drizzle of Portland’s grey fall days, I wondered how I could pay for groceries for the rest of the week.

As I got off the bus, I saw someone sitting on my stoop. “Probably another homeless person,” I muttered to myself, thinking I’d be one soon myself. As I got closer, I saw that it was actually Andy, holding two bags of Indian food takeout. He wrapped me in a big hug. “I thought that you could use this today,” he explained, pointing to the food.

“Let’s eat.”

Words are the only vehicle someone has to understand your vision.

9. Detail, detail, detail. The environment matters — because it lays the foundation for imagination.

Words are the only vehicle someone has to understand your vision. The more you set the stage for where you are, the easier it is for someone to buy in.

Great storytelling is about detail — but a specific kind of detail. How do you set the stage and the context for what’s happening? What does it feel like to be you?

Stories immerse us in an event far away from where we are, catapulting us into a new time and space. Key descriptions anchor us into this new space through the use of all of the senses — smell, sight, touch, taste, sound, texture, even kinesthetics.

Begin by describing the world around you, in vivid sensory detail. The English language has thousands of words to describe the subtle differences in texture and weight and material. Tell the story of what the world looks like. Great fiction books often begin with these details — take a look at 1984 or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for great opening scenes.

With written narrative, all we have are words. Contrast this to film, where we can show rich detail through visual imagery. In our hyper-visual culture, we sometimes replace describing feelings with posting a quick picture, because it’s easier.

But in writing, all we have are words. Choosing words and describing the scene, in detail, is what brings someone into your story.

10. Introduce conflict — by using the “bait” method.

Here’s a secret about the human brain: we all like to be smart.

We like to figure things out, and know the answers to things. Whenever we are presented with a puzzle, we like seeing if we can figure it out before someone else does.

In storytelling, a great way to engage your audience is to add a teaser at the beginning.

In storytelling, a great way to engage your audience is to add a teaser at the beginning. By using a little bit of bait, you stoke the curiosity in your listener’s mind. Ira Glass talks about this often, and if you introduce a story with an underlying question (like “the house was eerily dark,” or “it was a different night than any other,”) the listener begins to wonder why it was so dark, or why the night was different.

This “curiosity gap” between a piece of information that asks a question, and the story that resolves the question, helps the reader stay engaged and curious about the story. A little bit of conflict introduces a puzzle to be fixed!

11. Shorter is often better. Keep it simple!

At the end of the day, a story is what you take with you — and we don’t remember every detail of every story, but rather, the highlights real.

When you’re presenting your idea, biography, or product, start with something short and sweet.

The idea of an elevator pitch is right, but with a twist. It’s not how much you can cram into 1 or 2 minutes, but how easy you can make something that’s understandable and sticky.

At a conference, if you babble and ramble when introducing yourself to people, they’ll forget most of what you said. If you string it into a story, and you keep it simple, people will be able to take that with you.

You don’t need to get all the perfect information into one sentence; in fact, being imperfect can prompt likability and curiosity!

A quick and easy test for how good your story is is to listen in to what’s being said.

Introduce yourself to someone, and then listen to when they introduce you. I’ll often keep it simple — I focus on writing and swimming. I’ll say, “I work as a writer; I teach writing, and I’m also an open-water swimmer.”

Then, when I’m being introduced, Clay leans over and grabs his friend and says, “You gotta meet Sarah, she’s a swimmer!” — I listen to what people hang on to, and what captivates them.

I can’t possibly capture everything about myself (or my business) in a single sentence. But what I can do is find the most interesting part, and start there.

Conclusions and take-aways: journaling and practice.

What did you take away from this introduction to storytelling?

How can you change your story to make it sweeter, simpler, and easier to understand? Is there anything you’re still curious about? Leave a note in the comments, and I’ll be happy to chat with you.

Here are a few ways to take your work forward in your journal and practice:

  1. Practice: how can you write a one-sentence description of who you are that’s super simple? What three keywords or nouns would you use to describe you? Think of it as a gift to your audience — the less you say, the more they can remember.
  2. Writing exercise: describe your environment, in vivid detail. What is the shape of the space that you are in? What does it smell like, taste like, sound like?
  3. Bookmark 10 great “About” pages that you love and highlight what stands out to you. What techniques and styles are used that you particularly admire?
  4. Take a quick look at your email inbox (but don’t get lost in it!). Take a screen shot of your inbox and print it out. Highlight what’s already been read, and what you’ve skipped. Are there any themes? Look at what you click — which email titles are stories? Which ones are boring? What do you skip over? Your inbox is a great case-study for clues to how storytelling works in your everyday life.

Great storytelling, just like anything else, is a learning journey. The best stand-up comics practice their material dozens (if not hundreds) of times to learn what works best.

And remember: a story is what happens between two people. So get out there, practice your story, and use each experience to get a little bit better.

If you want to know more about marketing, content marketing, and storytelling, check out the free webinar recording we have, or the class I teach on Content Marketing.

What else would you add? What would you like to know more about? Leave a note in the comments and I’ll be happy to respond.

How to Develop A Daily Writing Habit

One of my health habits is a daily writing habit. Last year, one of my goals for 2014 was to write daily. I’m happy to report that I only missed a total of three days in 2014. I’m currently on a 350-day writing streak, and it’s become kind of addictive.

Here’s some of what I learned about cultivating a writing habit.

Why write daily?

The idea came from a book called The Artist’s Way (which admittedly I haven’t read — but I’ve heard it’s good). They call it morning pages, which consist of three pages of writing done every day. It can be about anything that pops into your head — and it’s important that you get it all out of your head without editing or censoring in any way.

A daily writing habit helps clear your mind and gets ideas flowing for the rest of the day.

I initially started writing every day because I eventually want to write a book, but it’s become so much more than that. I use my daily writing as a way to think out loud, and troubleshoot problems, thoughts, and anxieties I have. It gives me something to look forward to in the morning and actually puts me in a really good mood.

As my friend Dev says, “Developing a daily writing practice is about deepening a conversation with oneself.”

“Developing a daily writing practice is about deepening a conversation with oneself.”

A really tangible benefit is that I’ve written way more blog posts since I’ve started writing every day.

Before, writing was something that I often needed to do — whether it was writing an email, a blog post, or a letter I’d been meaning to write — but never really found the time for.

Figure out why you personally want to write more often.

Is it to start a blog, to build a following, to become known as a thought leader, to connect with your inner voice, to develop a creative outlet, or to write a book? These are ALL good reasons, but it’s good to know which ones are most important to you and which ones aren’t. These will be your guiding forces that propel you forward when things are tough.

Pick some accountability metrics

It’s easy to say “I want to start writing more” and then fudge it at the end of the year. It’s tempting to come up with a loose goal — one that isn’t tied to a specific number or action — because it doesn’t require much thought and is almost impossible to fail. (Because what does “write more” even mean? Does sitting down to write once or twice count?)

But goals like that are almost meaningless and unlikely to help you create meaningful change in your life.

Instead, come up with one or two trackable goals. My trackable goal this year was to write 750 words every day. Seven hundred and fifty words is about three pages handwritten (or one page typed single space). But there’s another reason I picked that number which will become more obvious in a second.

Specificity matters. If you want to change your behavior, you have to know how to measure it.

Make it a regular practice

This is the really hard part, but in order to hit a big goal you have to develop regular habits in your life. When a friend introduced me to 750words.com, I was blown away. It’s a simple site where you go to do your daily writing. 750words isn’t a publishing platform, it’s a personal tracking tool. It keeps track of your writing streak and gives you some really cool daily stats on your writing as well as badges for your accomplishments that keep things fun.

Keeping track of streaks is a very powerful tactic for developing any new habit. There’s a story about Jerry Seinfeld that says he used to keep a big calendar by his desk and mark an X for every day that he sat down and worked on his routine. Eventually his streak became so long that he kept going just because he didn’t want to break it.

Althought this is a misattribution — Seinfeld said in a Reddibt conversation “This is hilarious to me, that somehow I am getting credit for making an X on a calendar with the Seinfeld productivity program. It’s the dumbest non-idea that was not mine, but somehow I’m getting credit for it.” — the idea is still powerful.

Like I mentioned before, I’m currently on a 300-day writing streak and the thought of breaking it pains me.

At first I started by writing whenever I had time during the day. Sometimes it was in the morning, sometimes it was at night, journal-style, just before going to bed. The problem with this haphazard approach was that a whole day would pass by without me finding any time to write. Indeed, those three days of writing that I missed, I didn’t even realized I missed them. I thought I had written on those days.

Eventually I settled on writing my 750 words first thing in the morning every morning.

Do you feel like you don’t have time to accomplish your goals every day? Make time.

Lao Tzu says, “Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have have time,’ is like saying ‘I don’t want to.’”

The best thing I ever did for writing and habit development in general was start waking up earlier. Recently there has been some research saying that seven hours of sleep per night might be better than eight. So now I try to be in bed by 11:30pm and wake up at around 6:30am every morning.

Find ways to make it fun and easy

On top of the badges and stats that 750words.com gives me, I’ve had to find other ways to make it fun and kill the tediousness I sometimes feel.

Some of the badges I’ve collected on 750words.com

Initially I started by writing in different styles every day. One day would be murder mystery, then science fiction, then romance. Sometimes I write letters to my parents or my friends. They really appreciate those.

It might sound weird to write in a different genre or style than you’re used to, but three pages goes by pretty quickly, and then you get to never look at it again if you don’t like it.

Find a friend to keep you accountable and make it more fun.

For a while, my friend Mathias and I sent each other prompts to kick start our daily writing. One person would send the other a single sentence of a story to use as the first sentence and also a style to write the story in (to push us out of our comfort zone). Then the other person had to finish it in that style. Here’s an example:

Pippa eyed the watermelon two over from the end on the left because it reminded her of her ex-boyfriend. “This one will be perfect,” she thought.

Style: Realism

Though most of the time I just write in free-form every morning. I’ve been able to get the total time it takes to write 750 words down to about 10–15 minutes.

Keep a notebook of prompts for later days.

I’ve started keeping a notebook of writing prompts in Evernote in case I’ve run out of ideas or I want to finish a blog post (this is actually one of them). During the day, I come up with ideas, add them to Evernote, and then I write about those in the morning.

Right now, the list includes “What I’ve learned so far in 2014,” “There’s no expectation of privacy on the Internet,” “On people holding subway doors,” and other random thoughts I have on the subway.

One Month is sending out a daily writing prompt for 30 days to help encourage a daily writing habit. If you want to join in, click here to sign up to get an email reminder every day for 30 days.

Don’t worry about editing

It will take you forever (about an hour) to write 750 words if you worry about format and editing while doing the creative stuff too. Most people recommend separating the two actions.

Ernest Hemingway said, “Write drunk; edit sober”

Get comfortable with having tons of typos and your writing being mostly nonsense. If you want, you can edit it later.

This can be hard so a trick I’ve learned to accomplish this is to turn the brightness down on your computer screen so that you can’t read what you’re writing.

A lot of times, I’ll pick an idea from my Evernote notebook of blog post ideas and write about it for 750 words. Then I’ll take that writing and upload it to Medium for editing. I usually do one round of personal editing and then send it around to a few friends (using the “share draft” feature) before publishing.

Some of my most successful blog posts have been developed in this way (including How to get a busy person to respond to your email and How to never forget anything ever again).

Want to write more? Here at One Month, we’re all trying to write (and blog) more. Join us in Sarah’s Content Marketing course to get creative ideas for content, learn more about marketing, and become a better writer.

Do you have any other tips for developing a daily writing practice?

Have you read anything about techniques famous authors used to write every day? Post a comment! I’m going to compile a list of best practices.

10 Fast Ways to Become a Better Writer

“Writing doesn’t just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you’re bad at writing and don’t like to do it, you’ll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated.”

— Paul Graham

The sun’s been down for hours and you are alone with a warm drink next to your laptop. You’re burning the midnight oil again in the back room, building your online business, and you know you need to put another post up on your blog, but you’re just not sure what, exactly, to write about.

The struggle of building your business and hustling on the side is that you don’t always have the time and luxury to write whenever you want, and while the idea of editors, proofreading, and revising your essays sounds great-you need to write something and write it now.

For people working a full-time job during the day, juggling families, and responding to other demands, having ample time to fill notebooks, draft, and re-write sounds like a pipe dream.

How can you quickly improve your writing?

What tools are there beyond grammar and spellchecker to make sure you’re doing your best work? In the world of online and email communication, writing powerful copy makes all the difference.

Sometimes we need tactical, specific, and immediately useful tips to make our writing better. Most writing tips, for me, always seem to feel good — and then I struggle with the actual writing and re-writing. How do you transform the writing tips of Stephen King, Stephen Pressfield, Seth Godin, and Ray Bradbury (amazing storytellers, all) into actionable outcomes?

Here are 10 of my favorite strategies that help when you’re self-editing, scrambling to make ends meet, and holding both a beer and a coffee in your hands while trying to write-and want to do your best work.

1. Start with a story.

Begin your piece with a fable that illustrates your point and shows the reader what it is that you’re talking about. Develop a scene and a scenario where people can nod their heads and say, yes, I see, that happens to me. I can picture myself doing that.

Despite how useful facts and lists are, stories are what resonate. We’re pulled into the grip of a helicopter crash, and most of us can’t look away when we see bright lights or hear loud noises. It’s the pull of the story and the unknown that captures our attention. Stories are memorable, and we can tell and re-tell them; they are, in fact, how we wire information into our brains.

Great writers on the web today hook readers in with stories, creating fictional (or narrative non-fictional) scenes with detail, specificity, and color.

Here are two great examples:

DANIELLE LAPORTE, ON MANAGING & LOVING MONEY:

“No one ever taught me how to manage money. My folks were young and working, Catholic High School didn’t give me any tips, and I skipped college. So that left me and my Visa card, which mysteriously showed up in the mail on my nineteenth birthday. I promptly went shopping that weekend. And the next weekend.”

If you look closely, the post is actually about a book launch, but the first paragraph isn’t about the book, the author, or the call-to-action at the end of the post. It’s a relatable, tangible story that outlines the problem all to common to many people: the problem of managing money, and the story of what happened when she got her first free credit card.

And a second example:

Caleb Wojcik, on The Metrics You Should Measure:

“You know the rush. A guest post you’ve written goes live on a huge site, you finally launch the product you’ve been working on for months, or an older article of yours gets Gizmodo’d. You watch your traffic spike and you can’t peel yourself away from the analytics for the whole day.

‘Look at all those visitors!’ you yell to your significant other as they feign interest.”

This post is about what you measure when you’re evaluating your blog, website, traffic, or product. The introductory story, however, is about that feeling you get when you see a post of yours go live, hit the charts, or make the rounds in Twitter-and the way your significant other may or may not be involved in your online business.

You can also use this strategically in personal emails. For example, rather than jumping to the question you’re dying to ask, you can start out with a quick story (or set the scene for where you are). This situates the reader (on the other end, perhaps in some place far different than where you are) within the framework of your life. Like Instagram but with words, you can give a little snippet of your life through language:

For example, change typical emails that begin:

“Hey Ryan, how are you? Hope you’re well.”

To a quick setting of the scene-showing where you are and what’s in your life:

“Hey Ryan,The other day, I was walking through the streets of San Francisco and grumbling about the never-ending fog. I realized that the city was like a refrigerator. Now that I’m in New York, I miss the air-conditioning and I also miss many of my friends like you dearly. It reminded me to email you and say hello. I hope you’re well.”

In both blog posts and in emails, using stories helps you illustrate your point and takes general advice and makes it something the reader can see and feel.

2. Start with a question.

Much of life, and blog posts, are paradoxes, not answers. Starting with the answer first can be terrifying (and worse, inaccurate or incomplete).

We revisit the same ideas over and over again not because we’ve conclusively decided, but because each topic is worth thousands of conversations. We need the reminders, we meditate on the ideas, and we each have our own flavor and take on the issue. In a recent New York Times Opinion piece about the suffering in Syria, the author opens the essay with a question that haunts human philosophy:

Does the torrent of suffering ever abate — and can one possibly find any point in suffering?”

You don’t need to answer the question to write a great story or essay. Begin with a question, and add your thoughts.

3. Play with the use of first, second, and third person narrative.

First person is filled with “I” statements — great when you know the author, or you have a relationship with the person doing the writing. Second person uses “you” all the time — and can be a wonderful tool for creating empathy and describing a scene that you want the reader to inhabit — but can become bossy quickly with excessive use. Third person focuses on the scene or the action from an anonymous observer within the room.

Most of the time, we don’t actually care about the writer. Your reader wants to know exactly how the writing affects him or her-and whether or not the reading is going to matter to them specifically Right from the start, you should paint a picture of the person or scene and show the action happening.

While first-person can be a tremendous tool as a writer, many bloggers (myself included) are often far too liberal in writing our experiences. Luckily, there’s a quick way to fix this: write the post you would normally write, and then edit selectively to remove the “I” from a couple of paragraphs.

Take a paragraph that looks like this, for example:

“I was tired and hungry from a long day and the rain was beating down on my bike helmet. I didn’t want to work anymore-I was completely exhausted and ready to hit the hay. But I knew how important it was to continue to get this project out the door-it was my first real project as an entrepreneur, and delivering it mattered.”

And turn it into this (reducing the use of I statements-but still narrative):

“The rain beat down on my bike helmet. It was a long and tiring day. Sometimes it feels better to hit the bed instead of continuing to work-but I wanted to impress my newest client. Getting projects out the door on time is critical for first-time entrepreneurs. It was important to deliver, and deliver well.”

You’ll know when removing the first person is great when the paragraph stands on its own without the use of the first person narrative.

Take this post by Chase Reeves on “How Much You Should Be In Your Business?” — the opening sentence is focused on the reader (the second person). For the sake of contrast, I’ll rewrite the opener in two different ways as a point of comparison.

Original (Second Person): “You’re here because you want to create a business that supports you. You want to build something that earns and affords you the life you aim for.”

First Person: “The more important thing to my business is creating something that supports me-something that affords me the life I want and creates earnings I can live off of.”

Third Person: “It’s clear why building a business is critical — it’s a form of support. It’s a source of earnings and creates a desirable lifestyle.”

To me, the original (second person) option is the most powerful-it connects with the reader, has them nodding yes, that’s my vision, and sets the parameters for the post. The first person version makes me wonder why I care about their business, and the third person feels dry and impersonal.

If you’ve written something and you know the content is good-but it’s not resonating in the way that you want-try re-writing it from a different point of view. That might be the trick to creating the snappy writing you want.

4. Talk it through.

Start with the communication vehicle you’re most comfortable with. Most people get stuck writing because they haven’t done it enough. They haven’t sat at the computer and made writing a habit, and each time they do eventually get to the screen, they agonize over each word choice and sentence until they’ve beaten the poor essay to death, 500 words and 2 bottles of wine later, declaring, “I’ll never write again, no, not me!”

If you’re stuck on writing, chat with a friend and use voice recorder, or stomp around your office or hallway and talk things out. Much of great conversation and thinking is done while moving-why should we sit and expect the great ideas to pour out of us once we’ve relegated our bodies to stillness? Start talking, start recording, and go for a walk. Many a mile I’ve walked with an earphone in my ear and a voice recorder on, pretending to talk to someone else while I’m actually just talking to myself.

5. Write the outcome you want first-by beginning with the ending.

Start with the ending, and the desired action. Sometimes the posts I write are creative, lyrical, poetic, and exploratory-that’s fine. Other times, I want something, and I want something specific. Perhaps it’s a donation to charity water, or a sign-up to my latest writing workshop. Each time, I think carefully and specifically about the person who will be reading the essay, and the end of the piece, and what action I want them to take.

Step one: write the desired outcome. Before writing your post, write the action or outcome that you want people to do. How do you want them to take action?

For example, a desired outcome might be getting people to sign up and enroll for One Month’s Content Marketing class. So, I begin by writing this outcome down:

Ryan goes to the website, reads my post, and nods. Yes, he’s working through all these problems I’m articulating. He really wants something to help him with building his audience and online business. Why does he click on the opt-in at the end? Something is really compelling — he clicks because he feels like the author completely understands the frustrations he’s having. He feels like his issue has been heard. So, here’s what I’ll write at the end: Want to get better at building your audience and writing content that actually gets shared? Sign up for One Month Content Marketing.

Step two: Outline the puzzle pieces (usually I use post it notes across my desk) that create a story framework that will lead to this desired outcome:

  • Start with a story-introduction that elucidates the situation or pain point;
  • Add in background information and expert details;
  • Create the framework for a solution to the problem with suggested steps;
  • End with a call to action and final solution (your recommended solution).

6. Write about things you know.

Write about things that seem incredibly obvious to you (and that you’re perhaps overlooking). Describe how you do things, and how you sort your day. Pay attention to the questions people ask you at conferences, in email, and during dinner conversations for clues to what people want to know. Surprisingly, people are incredibly different and what you do may be novel to someone else.

7. Be incredibly specific.

Clichés and abstract thinking are painful to read and prevalent across every type of writing. The solution to clichés is to get incredibly specific-start detailing the scene and describe who is doing what, where you are, and what is happening. Examples are more powerful than anecdotes.

For example:

“It was grueling, and I was exhausted. I’d never worked so hard in my life.”

Can be turned into something much more specific, with details about who, what, where, when, and why:

“My arms were quivering and shaking; in retrospect, doing a 26-mile run the day before writing my launch essay was probably not the best strategy. I could barely keep my fingers above my keyboard.”

8. After you’ve written your essay, go back and delete the first and the last paragraph.

After you’ve written your post or essay, go back and delete the first and last paragraph. The body usually contains the most of the “meat” of the post, and many writers amble on too long in the introductions and conclusions. Try deleting it and shortening it to make it sweet and punchy.

9. Mimic great writers you like.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If you’re stuck, use Evernote to copy and trace patterns that you like. I like to save out great essays and drafts from my favorite writers, print them, and then highlight them to study how people write effectively. Behind the words that you enjoy the most are patterns and clues to great writing.

For example:

  • Email headings: Pay attention to what you click on in emails-what were the five emails you opened first today? What did the headlines say? Jot those down. Circle words that felt great. Were they long or short? What made you want to click? Take one you like and flip it around to become something that works for your business, idea, or model.
  • Start with a bang. Use powerful ledes. Not sure what a lede is? (It’s the bullet or grab at the beginning of a story, made clear in the first paragraph) — skim 5 opening paragraphs of the New York Times with a highlighter and see what you like about each one. Convert it to your own style.
  • End with a boom. Wrap up the writing with a punchy statement, a leading question, or a call to action. If you’ve deleted your first and last paragraphs, perhaps there was one sticky statement you wanted to keep-perhaps distilling that into one sentence will do the trick.

10. Write less and link more.

Find examples and point to them. It’s perfectly okay to not reinvent the wheel — it can be equally valuable to curate great content or showcase your process of discovery if it’s lead you to a great outcome or conclusion.

Here are three relevant articles on how to be a better writer:

In todays’ world of digital and fractured communication, writing is more essential than almost any other skill-when you get better at writing, you get better at everything.

Writing isn’t just a tool for communication — it’s a tool for creative generation and unlocking what’s within your mind. It’s a tool for discovery, search, synthesis and re-wiring. Writing regularly is not just a means to create content, but is itself a tool to generate ideas and crystalize ideas. Whenever you can, use a notebook, use Evernote, google docs, or another system to capture your ideas and practice collecting (and imagining) ideas.

The more you write, the easier it gets, just like any other habit.

When I first began writing, it could take me 6 to 8 hours to write a short post. Today, I can start and finish a post in under an hour if I’ve been thinking about it during the week. Writing has gotten easier to do because I keep it up as a habit. I use writing and sketching regularly as a means to generate ideas. My notes become stories, my stories become paragraphs, my thinking wanders over the page, and then I pour content into the computer.

But when you’re pressed for time-or you’re stuck in the here and now of needing to write a post, having someone to tell you that “practice” and “consistency” are the best tools to get better at writing doesn’t help you with the post that you’ve got to find a way to write — right now.

9 Mistakes You’re Probably Making When Sending Email

How many hours a day do you spend writing emails?

We love it, we hate it — we can’t stop using it. Many of us spend a quarter of our working days in email, writing to each other, moving projects forward, connecting to new people.

Email is a form of everyday writing — and if you’re writing poorly, in a rush, or you don’t know how to compose your message for maximum impact, you can end up losing business, friends, or missing out on opportunities.

For all the hacks there are in email efficiency, sometimes we forget to hack ourselves — and use our words more cleverly to get what we want.

Here are 9 mistakes you might be making in email — and how to fix them.

1. Sending emails only when you need something.

The best time to build any relationship is before you need something, not waiting until the moment you need something. A friend of mine gets into the habit of sending five thoughtful emails each Sunday night to check in with people who he likes, admires, or thinks of. An email might look like a quick note of congratulations or a touch point to say hi:

“Hey, saw some great news about you — just wanted to say congratulations! I love watching what you’re up to through my various news feeds, and I wanted to send a note to say how much I hope you’re doing well.”

It’s a great way to remember to reach out to folks you want to be in touch with, and an actionable way of practicing gratitude.

2. Forgetting that there’s a person on the other side of your email.

Just as you wouldn’t walk into a friend’s house for dinner and bark out a command, often those little niceties in the intro and end of a message can go a long way. Social cues aren’t dated constructs; they’re valuable warm-up phrases in communication. Start by saying hi, comment on someone’s latest achievements, and wish the other person well.

“Hey stranger! It’s been a long time. If Facebook’s telling me the scoop, it looks like you had an eventful Spring…congrats on all of your successes!”

3. Using the first person too much

Many emails — and essays — are written exclusively in first person. Shift the focus to the recipient and consider what they want, need, or would like to hear. After writing an email, scan it quickly for how many times you use the word “I.” See if you can edit some of them out.

For example: “I’m teaching a new writer’s workshop this Spring, and I want help sharing the program. I think you’d be interested in it” (all “I” statements) can be turned into:

“Hey, Leslie. A while back we chatted about ways to improve your writing skills — and it seems you might like this writing workshop for creatives that just launched. Enjoy taking a look and let me know if this is what you were looking for.”

4. Sending the email at the wrong time

Just because you’ve written it now doesn’t mean it needs to be sent at this exact moment. Delaying the send is one of the most powerful and underutilized tools of emailing.

Evaluate whether or not the message is urgent and needs to be replied to immediately. If you’re cleaning up your inbox during your scheduled time, fire off the messages that are urgent and consider sending messages in the morning.

Scheduling emails to be sent in 24 or 48 hours gives you (and your clients) space to breathe between nonurgent projects, and it also sets up a rhythm of communication whereby your client no longer expects you to reply instantaneously. The more structure and parameter you give to the form of your messaging, the easier it is for the client to learn what to expect. You can either train someone to expect instantaneous answers at all times, or to learn the rhythm that’s best for you and your business.

Then, in the case of an emergency, if the client emails and you need to solve the problem straight away, you can send a quick message late in the evening or on a weekend. In this scenario, you become the hero to your client.

5. Sending to too many people

More recipients in the “To” field does not mean that you’ll necessarily get more answers. In the age of digital marketing, people who blast messages in broadcast form without understanding who is in the “to” line can erode their chances of a message being opened.

A perfect email is one that’s sent to exactly who it needs to go to, with a specified desired outcome.

The more specific you can be about who you ask, the better. Asking everyone in your network is bound to get you a bunch of silence in our over-connected world, or unsubscribes and un-follows across your various platforms. It’s better to ask three people who are very well equipped to answer your query than 15 people who aren’t interested at all.

The more specific you can get about who should be receiving the message, the better. One direct ask that results in a yes is better than asking 50 people who don’t respond (and spamming their inboxes).

6. Knowing nothing about the person receiving your email

Do your homework on the recipient. One great tool to glean fast information about who you’re talking to is Rapportive, a sidebar that lets you see the latest public posts (and a picture) of the person you’re communicating to.

7. Forgetting to send updates or interim messages

If you’re waiting for an important message from someone, the time spent waiting for a delivery can seem interminable. If there’s a long delay in sending an item that’s highly anticipated or expected, or you’ve experienced a few hiccups — send a one-liner email to update your receiver on the status of the project. You’ll know that you need to send a quick note when you start to get anxious about not delivering or they seem to be a bit flippant.

Here’s some sample copy for you to use:

“Hey, friend. Just wanted to send a quick update about the delivery of our proposal. We’re set to get you something by next Friday, but we might be a few days early. Talk to you next week! Let me know if you have any questions in the meantime.”

“Hey, friend. I know we touched base last month and I’ve been far too slow in getting back to you. I’m still working through the pile on my plate, but I should have something in the next 2–3 weeks. Didn’t want to keep you guessing! Talk soon.”

8. Making messages too long

Depending on the nature of the message, emails can vary from a few words to thousands of words. The longer the email, the less likely that someone will read the entire thing. Long emails generally mean that a larger strategy, framework, or document might be in order.

Some companies shift to using four-sentence emails and linking to longer pieces of work through Google Documents, Asana, or Basecamp (or other project management software). Here at One Month, we use Asana for project management and Slack for internal messaging, so email is never a nuisance in getting internal messages relayed.

9. Using email exclusively

Efficiency does not necessarily mean one single system. Often, redundancy in communication can be extremely helpful, as each tool (video, chat, email, Skype) adds a layer of human nuance back into the correspondence that’s happening.

Laura Roeder’s digital marketing team is distributed across multiple countries, and in order to stay in touch (and in concert with each other), they focus on “over-communication,” through the use of multiple tools at once.

Now, let’s talk about four ways to focus on writing better emails:

Tell sticky stories

Everything makes more sense with an illustration. Highlight and example, illustrate an ideal customer avatar, or tell a specific instance of a problem you had. Setting the context and the stage (that seems obvious to you, the writer), makes it easier for people to understand the pain point, the context, and the reason why you’re writing. When people can see your story — who you are, where you come from, why you’re doing what you’re doing — it’s easier for them to become a part of it.

Use the four-sentence, one-link rule

Keep your email to under four sentences (or five!). Focus on the pain point or problem you’re solving. Limit yourself to only one link. If you have to, make that link a document.

Be responsive and reflective

Observe how others communicate and adapt your style to meet them midway. Customize your communication by mirroring the style of a received message. Does someone send short messages with formal addresses? Respond in style.

Bookmark emails that you love with Evernote

Use the vast number of emails in front of you (and in your inbox) as clues to great messaging. Watch what emails you open first and are most excited about. Create a few folders in your mailbox system for great introductions, sample short messages, and thank-you notes that you like. Keep these for future use if you’re ever in a bind. In any art, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel — and paying attention to great writers (and what we personally enjoy) is a great way to get started.

Email is our number one form of communication, which means that everyone is a writer.The most powerful thing you can do in both your personal and business life is learn how to write well and tell great stories. Messages that persuade, content that converts, and language that inspires action are critical for getting what you want.

When you improve the way you write and learn how to design better messages, you will resonate with the reader, improve share-ability, and increase the bottom line.

Next week our Content Marketing class launches — are you on the list to find out when it opens?

What about you? What email mistakes do you see people making all the time that you wish they would fix? What’s the greatest email you’ve ever received?

5 Of The Best Blogging Platforms

Are you ready to kickoff your content marketing strategy, but confused about which platform to choose to start your blog? If so, then you’re in luck. In this post, we’re going to look at the pros and cons of each option so that you can get a clear idea of the best blogging platform for you. A strong blogging strategy can help elevate your personal brand or business as an authority within your space.

WordPress

WordPress, a popular CMS (content management system), is the most widely-used on the internet today and one of the best blogging platforms available. Technology profiler BuiltWith has identified that 15.8 million websites currently use it, compared to the next most popular CMS system Joomla, used by under 2.7 million websites. Web Technology Surveys found that of websites using content management systems, 58.7% are using WordPress.

There are two versions of WordPress. There is the hosted version, WordPress.com, which allows you to create a blog without the need for a domain, web hosting, or technical hassle. While this is the easiest and least expensive of options, it’s not as flexible as using the WordPress software on your own hosted domain.

Using the WordPress software on your own hosted domain allows you to have full control of the design, functionality, and content on your website. Thanks to its popularity, you can find thousands of themes (templates / designs) to get just the look you want for your website. You can also find thousands of designers who can create something custom or customize a theme that you like into something unique.

You can also find thousands of plugins to enhance the functionality of your website. This means that you can do pretty much anything on your WordPress website, from customizing the search engine optimization settings to adding contact or email opt-in forms to your blog sidebar. You could even start your website as a blog and expand it to include anything you want, including an ecommerce website, forum, membership site, or social network.

As far as content goes, you have the ability to backup your content on a daily basis through the use of plugins, services, and hosting companies. Unlike people who only post to their Facebook page or other social profiles, you never have to worry about waking up one day to having lost your entire profile and thus, all of your content.

In short, there is very little you can’t do with WordPress software on your own hosted domain. This makes it the most scalable platform for your personal brand or business. You won’t have to worry about hitting a limitation that would lead you to having to move all of your content to another platform.

For those who do not like the idea of dealing with the technology-aspect of WordPress, there are plenty of options. You can choose WordPress-specific hosting companies like WP Engine or Synthesis, both of which cater only to WordPress websites and include security, backups, and superior WordPress software support.

This means that you can have the full benefits and features of WordPress with little technology hassle. You can learn more about using the WordPress software on your own domain at WordPress.org, as well as see a showcase of some of the top sites using WordPress.

WordPress.com

While we mentioned that WordPress.com is not going to be as flexible as using the WordPress software on your own hosted website, it is the next best bet if WordPress sounds good to you, but you are just not ready to deal with web hosting and seeking out themes and plugins for your website. And it’s a good one for people who want to have the option of easily moving their content from a hosted platform to the WordPress software down the road.

Here’s what you need to know about using WordPress.com:

  • There are 374 themes to choose from, 194 of which are free.
  • Certain features, such as using your own domain name (you.com versus you.wordpress.com) or having an ad-free website, will require you to upgrade to paid plans starting at $99 per year.
  • You can’t install plugins designed for websites using the WordPress software on WordPress.com websites, which will limit your options for things like custom opt-in forms, custom search optimization, and more.

One of the biggest challenges for those who intend to eventually move from WordPress.com to the WordPress software on their own domain are the links. WordPress.com uses a specific link structure (you.wordpress.com/date/post-name/ or you.com/date/post-name/). If you can’t use the same URLs when you move from WordPress.com to your own domain, you will lose the links you have received to your content and the social sharing counts (social proof) for your content.

In short, if your goal is to simply get your content going on a platform that would be easy to transfer to WordPress software down the road, WordPress.com is your second best bet to just using the WordPress software from the start.

WordPress.com does offer an export of your content, should there be any need to do so. With any hosted platform, it’s best to get a backup of your content regularly, in case you should lose your account or the platform should go out of service.

Medium

Medium is a hosted platform that has taken off in the last year and quickly become a top blogging platform. It’s beautiful and minimalistic design allows you to focus on what matters most in your content marketing strategy: your content. There are no themes to pick, plugins to install, or features to toggle. You simply write your content.

Signing up for Medium is easy to — you can use your Twitter or Facebook account and get the added bonus of automatically building an audience based on the people you are connected with on those accounts. As new people join, if they are connected with you on Twitter or Facebook, they will also be connected with you on Medium.

Depending on their settings, anyone connected to you on Medium will be alerted to new posts you write and posts you recommend on Medium. This means that if someone recommends your post, their audience will be notified about it. Hence, you’re getting built-in content promotion.

With that said, there are no customization options for your Medium blog. You can’t add opt-in forms to a sidebar that doesn’t exist. You can’t add your own social sharing buttons. You can’t customize the SEO fields. It’s simply a place to create and consume content.

While that’s not a bad thing, especially for those who are looking to simply build exposure for their personal brand, it may not be the best thing for businesses. Especially those looking to convert readers into customers, as the best you can do is link back to your main website.

Medium does offer an export of your content, should there be any need to do so. With any hosted platform, it’s best to get a backup of your content regularly, in case you should lose your account or the platform should go out of service.

LinkedIn Publisher

LinkedIn has been allowing industry experts to blog on their network for a while, and recently, the option has been expanded to most LinkedIn members. To use LinkedIn’s blogging feature, you will just need to find the Publish a post button on your personal profile news feed. It will be right next to the buttons to share an update or photo on LinkedIn.

This brings to light the first major limitation of LinkedIn Publisher — you can’t use it with company pages. With Medium, you can simply sign up using your company’s Twitter profile. But on LinkedIn, you have to use your personal profile.

While that limits you from creating a blog for your business using LinkedIn, it does allow you to tap into your personal profile connections in a unique way. LinkedIn sends a notification to all of your first-degree connections (people you have connected with on LinkedIn) when you publish a post on your personal profile.

Your connections don’t have to opt-in to this, and the only way to opt-out is to unsubscribe from the notifications dropdown itself. This makes your first post on LinkedIn special in the sense that everyone will get notified about your first publication. After that, it will depend on whether you have left enough of an impression for your connections to stay subscribed to your notifications.

So be sure to make your first post on LinkedIn count so that people will want to hear about your next one.

Similar to Medium, you have no real customization options for your LinkedIn blog. You can add images and text to each piece of content, but there are no themes to choose from or sidebars to build. Again, the only call to action you would be able to include would be a link back to your website.

Another downside to using the LinkedIn platform is the fact that you have no real control over your content. If LinkedIn decided to kill off their blogging platform, downloading your content and importing it to another platform would not be very seamless.

Facebook Notes

Facebook offers a feature called Notes for profiles and pages to use to share long-form content. The key difference at the moment is that Notes for profiles has been upgraded to a Medium-like format. Notes for pages is still using the format that existed years ago, which is clunky at best.

This means that you can blog using Notes on your personal profile or business page. While notes tend to get a little better visibility in the Facebook news feed, it isn’t much and your connections are not notified of a new note publication unless they have explicitly signed up for notifications from you.

For those looking to build up their reputation specifically on Facebook, Notes are a good way to go. You even get a little content promotion from the Notes page, where people can see notes published by their connections.

Similarly to Medium and LinkedIn, there are no customization options for your Facebook Notes, other than adding images and text to each of your posts. Calls to action can only be made with a link back to your website.

Also, exporting your content must be done through a full export of your entire account history. If Facebook decides to kill off Notes, you will have to export all of your notes and re-enter them on a new platform.

Using All of the Platforms for Distribution

There is an alternative to choosing one platform over the other, and that is to choose them all. While it might sound a little overwhelming at first, the goal isn’t to create unique content for each of these platforms. Instead, you will create one unique piece of content on your main platform and distributing that content on the other platforms mentioned above (Medium, LinkedIn Publisher, and Facebook).

Here’s why you would want to do this. You are going to have fans that prefer discovering content on Medium. You are going to have people who are connected to you on LinkedIn, but not anywhere else. You are going to have people who scroll down your Facebook profile page looking for more info about you.

Distributing content from your main blogging platform to other platforms allow you to get more reach for your content. All you have to do is find a way to summarize the main post and link back to it in posts on the other platforms.

You can expand this strategy to include some of the other best blog platforms too including Tumblr, Blogspot, Quora, and pretty much any other platform that allows you to share long-form content. In addition to reaching your audiences on those networks, you will be building links that Google search can follow back to your main piece of content to index it.

So instead of considering an all or nothing strategy, consider an all strategy instead. The more you distribute and promote, the better your overall content marketing results will be.