For businesses and individuals who need
top-notch copy and content marketing . . .
SANDY WALKER WRITES . . . a blog
top-notch copy and content marketing . . .
SANDY WALKER WRITES . . . a blog
Recently, several big-name magazines--including Money and Time--have moved from print to digital-only or reduced their number of annual issues. Some see those actions as a sure sign that "Print as mass media is dead." Others, like Walsworth, clearly disagree. "Print Magazines Aren't Dying and Here's Why," proclaims an article written late in 2021.
As a freelance writer and content marketer, I'm watching the print magazine industry carefully. Will readers who can't or won't read magazines online have access to print magazines in the next decade? Will magazines that switch to digital-only content thrive in the long term?
Who knows? Even the industry gurus disagree. However, one thing seems obvious: the relationship between freelancer writers, readers and print magazines is evolving. Content Challenge #11 takes a brief look at what that means now and may mean in the future.
What This Means for Freelance Writers
If you look only at the recent drop in print magazine titles, you might be a really gloomy freelance writer. Where will you pitch your next article? Who will you contact? HOW WILL YOU SURVIVE?
There is another side to the coin, especially since most of the magazines no longer in print are still available online. People are still writing words for other people to read. Online magazines regularly post articles and blog posts that appeal to their target market. The result is largely unaffected, even though the process is different. To thrive, freelance writers will need to "go where the jobs are" and fine-tune their skills to match a digital audience.
How Readers Are Affected
Your opinion of the changes in the print magazine industry depends upon whether you prefer to hold a paper copy in your hand as you read or scroll through the text on your phone or laptop.
Readers who prefer to read online generally find the switch to digital copy a bonanza. As more magazines move to online formats, readers appreciate:
Today's Call to Action
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
Which magazine format do you prefer, and why? Drop me a quick comment to let me know.
A quote from the Times Record News summarizes this book well: "The Wolves at the Door is for anyone who has ever been told, 'No. You can't.'"
A headline version of the book might read: "Baltimore socialite and amputee becomes America's greatest female spy."
Both summaries are accurate but understated.
Today's Content Marketing Challenge highlights the bravery and determination of Virginia Hall--America's greatest female spy--and the biography that shares her story--The Wolves at the Door.
Virginia Hall was an American who grew up in Baltimore. After traveling through Europe with her family as a child, Virginia left home in 1931 to live in France and pursue her dream of serving the United States as a Foreign Service Officer. Denied the opportunity to serve because of her gender and her handicap, Virginia moved to Britain to work for British Special Operations Executive (SOE). There she learned the trade of espionage and sabotage.
Throughout World War II, Virginia worked tirelessly to defeat Naziism. Operating inside occupied France–with the help of the French Underground–Virginia helped POWs and downed airmen escape to England, secured safe houses for agents, sabotaged transportation and communication hubs, operated a suitcase radio, and narrowly escaped capture numerous times.
Kudos go to the author, Judith L. Pearson. She handles suspenseful, dark, and dangerous content without sugar-coating it or magnifying it beyond reason. The account churns with turbulence but doesn't completely drown the reader.
Virginia Hall's life inspires us because she was a real heroine who:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
Recommend a book you've read recently.
1. What's the basic storyline or content area?
2. What's your field? Freelancing? Education? Business? Something else?
3. What makes your choice worth reading?
Our family is hooked on the popular board game, Ticket to Ride. We like the travel theme, the variety of maps, all those little trains and stations, and the nuances that make each board similar but different. We play often when we get the opportunity and have experimented with numerous strategies. The concentration is palpable, and the competition is intense.
I don't know if Alan Moon, the game's developer, had this as a goal, but he designed a game that also teaches valuable lessons about life. Content Challenge #8 explores how Ticket to Ride presents life lessons on a board.
Blocked Roots and Life Lessons
Is my imagination working overtime, or does life mirror what happens on a Ticket to Ride game board? What can we learn about life while playing a table game? Here are a few suggestions:
Plans don't always work out. Robert Burns was right. "The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry." If you've played the game even once, you know that your well-laid plans can go horribly wrong in a single round of play. And, the likelihood of disaster increases as the number of players increases. Don't these things happen regularly in real life?
Some blocked plans can be salvaged by making a detour. For example, say that you're the green player in the picture. You kept the destination card going from Helena to Santa Fe. Your original plans to go straight through were thwarted immediately when the yellow player claimed the route from Denver to Santa Fe on his first play. Other players blocked the shorter detours. So, your route to Santa Fe from Helena will include a significant detour through Phoenix. It's not optimal, but still possible.
Has something similar ever happened to you? Of course, it has. You're chugging along smoothly toward your destination in a relationship, job, or course of training. Suddenly, you face an obstacle such as illness or financial setback and are forced to detour. Your way isn't completely blocked, but it's significantly altered.
Some blocked plans don't offer any detours that get you to your original goal. In the game of Ticket to Ride--and in life--plans sometimes have to be abandoned. The idea that held so much promise fizzled when the Great Recession hit. The venture with the strong financial projections in 2019 cost you most of your savings when COVID came and stayed. After trying your best, you fail to finish your education. In these cases, you're forced to focus on another route.
In the picture above, you see that all the routes into Munchen are claimed. When the yellow player--who was working her way from Cadiz on the southwest corner of the map up to Munchen--saw that, she knew that destination card was impossible to complete. Life is like that, too, sometimes.
Waiting for details to work out can be excruciating. You need only one more red card to complete a route and end the game. Victory is within reach--if you can just get a red card. Maybe you'll draw a red train card--or a wild card--just in time to win the game; maybe you won't. Either way, waiting is tough.
Learning to look at a problem from several perspectives can help you discover a solution. Suppose that you've drawn extra destination tickets. All of them look impossible. Then, you tilt your head in a different direction and notice a "backdoor" path that will allow you to complete a long route using only 4 trains. The solution was "hiding in plain sight." You just needed a different perspective to find it.
I see you nodding your heads as you recall times in real life when, after examining a problem for a long time, you suddenly "saw " a solution. Perspective can make all the difference.
The most difficult routes often reap big payoffs. My husband and I frequently play the Nordic Countries version of Ticket to Ride. It's designed for 2 or 3 players and features trains, tokens, and cards in unusual colors; you see them pictured below. The section from Lieksa to Murmansk is 9 trains long. You have to be brave to try it, but if you make it, you earn 27 points for your effort! Life's that way, too. Accomplishing a challenging task often yields huge rewards on several levels.
Here's today's call-to-action:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
I intentionally ignored one of the most obvious lessons about game-playing and life:
Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. It's trite but true. The important thing is that you keep chugging along. What's your strategy for winning or losing well? Could you verbalize it?
If you're a Ticket to Ride fan, you may have ideas about how Ticket to Ride presents life lessons on a board. I would love to hear them.
As I mentioned in an earlier Content Challenge post, my husband and I listed an efficiency apartment on Airbnb almost 6 years ago. As hosts, we’ve discovered both pros and cons of utilizing Airbnb or another vacation rental platform. Through our contact with hundreds of guests, we’ve also learned what Airbnb guests appreciate. Today's Content (Marketing) Challenge shares those discoveries.
What Do You Appreciate As a Guest?
In our experience, Airbnb guests, and travelers who use other sites, appreciate things that enhance their stay and meet their expectations. If you travel regularly, you’ll probably be able to mentally check off several items before you read my list.
All three of our units sit on the same property as our home. So, we usually get to chat with our guests. We place a guest book in each unit, and we carefully read all of the feedback our guests leave on the Airbnb site. After combining all that feedback, we’ve determined that these factors are what our Airbnb guests value the most:
A Clean Place
Guests expect vacation rentals to be clean. We do our own cleaning and follow a regimen. We wash all the linens, bed pillows, and throw pillows every time. We disinfect the furniture and wipe down cabinets. The bathroom gets a thorough scrubbing, too. We do our best to ensure each unit is thoroughly cleaned for every guest.
Since some people have a very acute sense of smell, we ensure each unit smells clean, too. My favorite cleanser is my favorite because it cleans well and smells good.
We’re not perfect. A few times, we’ve missed the mark. When that happened, we apologized sincerely and improved the next time.
Comments about how clean our places are top the list of what our guests appreciate.
Remarks about how friendly my husband and I are weigh in as a close second. We don’t consider ourselves particularly outgoing or gregarious, but guests seem to. They appreciate being welcomed and like the fact that we are accessible if something goes wrong, but give them their space otherwise.
Surprisingly, some people who we didn’t meet face-to-face commented that we were friendly. They based their opinions solely on our text communications with them.
A Spot That Matches the Pictures and Description
Our first venture into online vacation rentals occurred several years ago when we booked a “secluded” cabin via VRBO for two nights. The listing was new to VRBO, and so were we, so we asked a couple of questions. Was the bathroom furnished with toilet paper? Was there reliable Wi-Fi? We were assured that both were available.
When we arrived at the “secluded” cabin, we discovered that it was 20 yards from the owner’s home and shared the same driveway. The scenic woodland pictures in the listing were obviously taken from the only side of the house adjacent to a clump of trees. There was no toilet paper in the bathroom, and the Wi-Fi didn’t work at all.
We were frustrated but gracious. We swept up sawdust we found in the corners and left things neater than we found them. Our reward? The owner kept our security deposit claiming that we had arrived with a dog. (Any dog he saw was a figment of his imagination.)
We determined not to surprise our guests like we were surprised. We update pictures if we change furnishings and change our listing descriptions when they need to be updated. Our guests appreciate the fact that our listings match their expectations.
Our guests occasionally comment on some of the little amenities they find. They appreciate the shampoo, conditioner, and disposable razors we provide. The hand-made coasters, classic books, well-stocked cupboards, and the bowl filled with snacks all receive kudos. The pitcher of filtered water pleases folks with an eye to sustainability.
We grow a small “Simon and Garfunkle herb garden” with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, in addition to mint and lavender. We keep a flock of hens in the backyard. The yard is also home to several fruit trees. Year-round I have something growing in a small greenhouse out back. Most of the time, we have at least one working beehive.
Additionally, when we installed solar panels, we added an EV charger for any guests driving an electric car. To date, we haven’t hosted any guests who needed one, but hope springs eternal.
Many of our guests comment about one or more of these features, especially folks who value the sustainability aspects of raising chickens, keeping bees, and gardening. We regularly have guests who visit our chickens, snip a slip of rosemary or mint, ask to peek into the greenhouse, or admire the beehive activity from a distance. Guests like these features that set our location apart from other suburban settings.
In a nutshell, here’s what guests appreciate:
Today's YACHT Call-to-Action
Here's today's content marketing, no-strings-attached CTA:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
If you host travelers on Airbnb or a similar site, does your experience agree with ours? Would you add any items to the list?
If you don’t host travelers, How do you serve the public or other clients? Could you list the features that matter to the people you serve? Would your list be based on information they provided or on your best guesses?
Happy Monday! I welcome your feedback.
The original freelancers were mercenary soldiers hired for their "free lances." At first glance, they don't bear much resemblance to today's freelancers hired on a contract basis and working from home. However, they share one noticeable trait. Both freelancers and "free lances" belonged to a veritable army.
According to the Freelancers Union, there were 57 million freelancers in the United States in 2019. Website Builder says that, as a group, freelancers spent more than a billion hours each week freelancing and contributed $1 trillion to the economy.
If your interests lie specifically in freelance writing, how can you set yourself apart from the freelancing hoards? Content Challenge #4 examines 10 signs that indicate you might thrive as a freelance writer.
What Makes a Great Freelance Writer?
There is no magic formula for success as a freelance writer, but having certain traits and honing specific skills can help you jumpstart your career and keep accelerating.
Freelance writers who thrive are:
1. Compelled to write. Regardless of how busy they are, people who make great freelance writers find time to write. I don't mean that they're writing a novel destined for the bestseller's list. I mean that they routinely write something, whether that's a card, note, newsletter, article, or poem. If you rarely write, you aren't a good candidate for freelance writing.
2. Adaptable. Writing is a process. It's also fluid. Each iteration includes changes. Sometimes the project is so fluid that the actual result looks vastly different from the first draft. A successful freelance writer expects to make changes, makes them graciously, and learns to factor in the time and expense that making them requires.
3. Trustworthy. I have never met any of my clients face-to-face before being hired. Only a handful have interviewed me via Zoom before contracting with me. A few called to speak with me. Essentially, these companies hired a stranger after reading my profile or proposal on Upwork and reviewing some work samples.
By contracting with me, they trust that my work quality will meet their expectations, that I will bill them only for the work I've done, and that I'll meet their requirements and deadlines. Great content marketers guard the trust their clients place in them.
4. Inquisitive. Creating content means learning new things. If you like the adventure of discovery, content writing may suit you to the proverbial T.
5. Meticulous about their craft. Excellent freelance writers set high standards for themselves and their writing. They balance the reality that language is constantly changing with the fact that the goal of writing is effective communication.
6. Knowledgeable. As I mentioned earlier, freelance writing is huge and growing each day, thanks to technological advances and a pandemic. Successful freelancers understand the market as a whole and have identified their place in it. They also understand the nuances of difference between writing for the web and writing for print.
7. Self-disciplined. Whether they are copywriters, content marketers, journalists, ghostwriters, or some other type of writer, great freelancers work diligently on every project for each client. They know how to slot time for each project, limit interruptions, and get mentally focused.
8. Willing to take the time to research. No freelancer understands every topic. Research is a given. Terrific freelance writers thrive on careful research done efficiently.
9. Careful to meet deadlines. Meeting deadlines gets tricky if your clients live halfway around the world. Nevertheless, clients expect you to adjust your schedule to meet their deadlines on time, even if that means submitting work no later than 2:00 a.m. A successful freelance writer accepts this as part of the job.
10. Careful to follow directions. Content writers who thrive assume that their clients mean what they say. So, they faithfully follow the guidelines for word length, style, and format.
Today's YACHT CTA
Does the list describe you? While you consider that, also consider today's content marketing, no-strings-attached CTA:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too!
If you've thought about freelance writing and believe you might thrive as a freelance writer, take the first steps to enter the field by learning more. The Freelancers Union site contains a wealth of information. If you're interested in content marketing or copywriting, Copyblogger is an excellent resource, as is the Content Marketing Institute.
Go ahead, take the first step.
In addition to an old dog, we keep a small flock of backyard chickens. Actually, we keep only hens. Roosters are too noisy for our 3/4-acre lot with homes around it; most real roosters aren't like Foghorn Leghorn. They don't wait patiently until dawn to crow. Instead, they are apt to sound off before dawn, after dawn, and several times throughout the day. That's hard on neighbors.
Our little flock of backyard chickens is the focus for Content Challenge #3 Since this is a content challenge--and content marketing stresses creating and sharing valuable information--this content challenge shares 3 advantages of raising chickens. As usual, I'll close with a YACHT--a CTA designed to help us all.
Advantages of Raising Backyard Chickens
Before I list the advantages of raising chickens in your backyard, let me admit something obvious--not everyone will be able to do so. City and county zoning ordinances, HOA bylaws, and other government edicts often forbid the raising of any domestic livestock. Our county used to. Additionally, even if you could do so legally, you may not have the space for even the smallest coop. If you're in that category, please read on anyway. Much of the content will apply to you even if you don't have your own flock.
With that caveat out of the way, let's talk chicken.
Delicious Fresh Eggs
Fresh eggs taste better.
Remember last summer when you sliced a homegrown tomato and added a piece to your sandwich? If it was fresh-picked, you probably noted how much better it tasted than the one you purchased in the grocery store. The contrast between a fresh egg and a store-bought egg isn't as stark, but it's there. Fresh eggs taste better.
Fresh eggs are much . . . fresher. Duh, but hear me out. By law, farmers have up to 30 days to get an egg from the hen that laid it to the egg carton. Once in the carton, the egg can be sold for up to 30 days. So, if you pick up a dozen eggs with a "Use By" date just a few days away, you could be buying eggs that are almost 2 months old! That's part of the reason that fresh eggs taste better.
Laying hens are treated better in backyard flocks. I'm not trying to bash commercial egg producers. However, the industry has a reputation for keeping hens in tiny, barren cages that barely allow them to stretch their legs or wings. Most backyard flocks have at least a sizeable coop in which the birds can move around. Many--including ours--also have fenced areas outside. As a result, backyard hens live better lives.
Sustainability is a buzzword that's applied to situations both globally and individually. What's the word mean on both levels? How does keeping a small flock of hens in your backyard help you live more sustainably?
According to a United Nations committee report, global sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Global sustainability focuses on how nations enact laws that protect or destroy Earth's resources and how responsibly they use those resources.
In contrast, individual sustainability has a down-home flavor focused on what on individuals or families can do to minimize their effect on the environment. Raising chickens is one aspect of down-home sustainability. Other popular activities include gardening, composting and beekeeping.
Here are specific ways in which raising backyard chickens helps families live more sustainably:
Raising chickens teaches children--and adults--valuable life lessons. Here are a few of them:
If you'd like to learn more about chickens and backyard flocks, I recommend you go to the website for the Murray McMurray Hatchery and request a free catalog. (The link is at the top right of their homepage.) The catalog contains a wealth of details about chickens and backyard flocks. It is well-written and full of fun photos, too. I read ours from cover to cover every year.
Today's YACHT CTA
Here's today's content marketing, no-strings-attached CTA geared to benefit every reader:
You Accept the CHallenge, Too! If you could start your own little flock, I encourage you to at least consider doing so. Read the sources I've linked. Talk to someone who raises chickens.
If that's not a possibility, consider buying fresh eggs from a local market or someone you know. You'll pay a little more, but you'll be eating fresh eggs that taste better and are laid by a hen that isn't confined to a cage.
Watch for tomorrow's Content Challenge. Drop me a comment if you have questions.
Our dog Pepper is old--closing in on 14. She's the topic of the 2nd Content Challenge post and the inspiration for today's YACHT call-to-action (CTA). Click here to see Content Challenge post #1.
Born in a litter of seven, Pepper was rescued by our neighbor who saw free "German shepherd/lab" puppies advertised. When he went to pick one out, he was surprised to learn that they were skinny and living under a shed. He brought one home and discovered that it was quite sick. A trip to the vet revealed that the puppy was "riddled with parasites and might not survive." A dog lover, our neighbor went back and rescued the whole litter. We helped pay for the vet fees and claimed Pepper and another female.
If you look closely at the picture, you'll see Pepper's beautiful blue eyes and light tan eye patches. Her sister, who we named Cally, had distinctive tan eye patches and a very broad chest. So, we're convinced that our "shepherd/lab" pups' heritage also included Rottweiler, possibly with some Siberian Husky mixed in for good measure.
A Small Repertoire of Tricks
We taught Pepper and Cally the basic commands--sit, stay, come, and heel--but it took lots of persistence. Eventually, after several years of taking daily walks, Pepper could respond correctly when I told her to turn left or right. That was about the extent of their "trick" stash. Rolling over, playing dead, and catching a ball or Frisbee were not in their wheelhouse.
Pepper is rather timid, afraid of thunder and fireworks, and hates to be scolded. One of her most endearing traits has always been her desire to stay out of trouble. She generally heeds commands quickly.
Without our teaching her, Pepper learned to "direct" us to Cally--who figured forgiveness was easier than permission--when she decided to wander into a neighbor's yard. If I asked Pepper, "Where did Cally go?" she'd look guilty and sad, as though she didn't want to be a snitch, and then turn her head in the direction Cally went.
An Old Dog Can Learn New Tricks
Cally died just over two years ago. We knew that dogs often grieve when another dog dies. So, we wondered how Pepper would fare. Her naturally "sad" look became a little sadder, and she lost a bit of weight, but otherwise seemed fine then, and she does now.
Actually, the old girl has surprised us by rallying, even adding a couple of "tricks" to her repertoire in her senior years. Now, instead of waiting for us to let her back in from outside, she stands on the front porch, faces the door, and barks. If it takes us more than a few seconds to let her in, she barks again--louder this time.
We always gave both dogs treats at night when they came in from outside, as long as they came right away. After Cally died, we enhanced the treat giving for Pepper. She usually gets a treat whenever she comes back inside. Lately, she's discovered that if you can convince someone that you really need to go out every few minutes, you get lots of treats throughout the day. That's good thinking, especially for an elderly dog.
Let's Follow Pepper's Lead
What's the link between an old dog learning new tricks, me enhancing my freelance content marketing, and you?
Just this: good, old, sad-eyed Pepper demonstrates that you're never beyond learning something new. If a geriatric dog with arthritic joints and bad breath can keep learning, so can we, regardless of our profession, age or personal situation.
Today's YACHT CTA
You Accept the CHallenge, Too, by learning something new today. It could be something as simple as using a search engine to answer a question you don't know how to answer. If you're a student studying for an exam or any professional researching a topic in your field, you already have this challenge covered.
Watch for another edition of the content marketing challenge tomorrow.
Today is February 1. According to an article in the New York Post in 2020, most Americans abandon their New Year's resolutions by February 1. The Post article goes on to say that 68% of those polled admitted to quitting well before February 1st, and 1 in 7 admit that they "never actually believe they'll see their resolution through in the first place."
I wish I could say that I don't understand someone whose resolutions vanish into thin air by February 1, but I do. My single, long-term resolution for 2022 isn't dead and buried, but it's inching closer to the grave day by day. I empathize.
New Year's Resolutions and Content Marketing?
How does this relate to content marketing and a content challenge?
I didn't start the year with an official resolve to improve my content writing skills. I should have. As a freelance content marketer and copywriter, I need to improve my skills consistently. I realized my error while taking my morning walk two days ago and decided it was time to remedy that mistake.
I knew I needed a specific content marketing goal. However, in light of my shaky start with my only New Year's resolution, I hesitated. When I thought of Julie Powell, of Julie and Julia fame, I began brainstorming about year-long writing projects. Then reason kicked in, and I remembered responsibilities with clients, Airbnb guests, and our real estate company. I couldn't realistically expect to tackle anything nearly as ambitious as cooking my way through the 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days and writing daily blog posts about the experience. I needed to start with baby steps.
That's where this post comes in. Starting today, I am committing to writing and posting meaningful content each day through March 2. That's 30 posts in 30 days. For me, that's a lofty goal. Throughout the 30 days, I intend to improve my skills, increase my fluency, and cultivate a sense of appreciation. Post topics will vary significantly and may address professional development, personal enrichment, family fun, or community involvement.
Posts will not include:
To complete this task, I'll need accountability. That's where you come in, dear reader. You'll help me complete this "Content Challenge" if you 1) follow the CTA at the end of each post, 2) let me know you've done so, and 3) explain what happened when you did.
That's the gist of the Content Challenge.
A CTA with an Unusual Name
Here is today's Call-to-Action, which I'm calling a YACHT: "You Accept the CHallenge, Too."
YACHT # 1: Find your 30-day challenge to tackle.
I'll see you tomorrow. I welcome your comments.
I'm Sandy . . .
I write crisp, accurate, engaging copy and content marketing for B2B and B2C clients. Calling on degrees in marketing and accounting combined with over 20 years of teaching experience, I write for clients that represent industries as diverse as SaaS, woodcarving tools, private education, life transitions, accounting advisory services, and residential and commercial real estate.