Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tips and advice about writing theatre reviews

Writing theatre reviews - Caittom Publishing
If you have a burning desire to write, and build up a portfolio to impress future employers or clients, have you considered writing theatre reviews?

There's nothing to stop you writing your own reviews and posting them to a blog you've created, but there are also lots of opportunities for budding writers with a love of theatre to write for a number of websites and publications.

The work is usually unpaid - but you can expect to get a free ticket and the opportunity to put your work in front of new readers.

When I was looking to move on from my first full-time job in journalism - which was with a weekly newspaper group in Leicestershire - I seized the chance to write theatre reviews for a free newspaper in Nottingham. It gave me the opportunity to find my writing style and see some great shows for free. The fact that I was so keen to write that I would take on unpaid work on my evenings off also impressed my next employer at interview and helped me land a great job.

If you want to submit theatre reviews to newspapers and websites, they will probably have their own style guidelines and they may ask you to write to word limit. Beyond that it's really up to you to talk about how the production made you feel, what worked for you and what didn't.

Reviews have been on my mind this week for two reasons. The first reason is that I am delighted to have joined the reviewing team of Downstage Centre - a new online network that promotes and supports local, regional and fringe theatre across the UK. The second reason is that in the course of researching another project, I've been lent some wonderful scrapbooks that were put together by the Principal of the former Burton School of Speech and Drama - and they contain a very mixed bag of memorable reviews (good and bad) from local newspapers in the 1950s.

We have probably all been entertained by 'bad' reviews of shows - and they can make productions unmissable. Lyn Gardner's review of White Christmas made it very clear what she thought, but at the same time fans of the show and its stars would not be deterred from buying tickets. Indeed, it's close to being sold out at the time of writing.

Critics, of course, often have a different view to the general public. When Les Miserables opened at the Barbican in 1985 it got a mixed reception. Some reviewers wrote it off as an unappealing misery-fest. It went on to become the world's longest-running musical and still plays to big audiences in the West End.

Here are my tips on theatre reviewing to help you get started:

  • A review is all about your personal opinions - but back them up with reasons. Don't just say something was brilliant, or awful, without explaining WHY you felt this way. 
  • Don't just re-hash the plot - and don't spoil the ending for people who've not yet seen it (although if you are reviewing Titanic or Jesus Christ Superstar it's a fair bet that people will know the outcome). 
  • Be honest. 
  • Have fun. If your review is entertaining, lively and opinionated there's every chance people will enjoy reading it.
If you are interested in becoming a reviewer for Downstage Centre, email pressoffice@downstagecentre.com for more information.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The countdown begins to the 2014 Small Business Saturday in the UK

I've been a big fan of Small Business Saturday since I heard Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna talk about it at the spring 2013 conference of the Federation of Small Businesses.

The first-ever UK Small Business Saturday happened in December last year and secured support from all political parties who recognised the massive contribution that small businesses make to our economy. Small Business Saturday has boosted income for independent traders in the USA for a number of years. The idea is that on a given day everyone is encouraged to spend money with small businesses rather than big chains. It is also a chance to celebrate the achievements of entrepreneurs and the diversity and innovation that small businesses bring to our high streets, our business hubs and the internet. Last year, in the UK, more than £460 million was spent with small businesses on the day.

Since setting up my own business in 2010 I've been so impressed by the hard work, ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit shown by other small businesses I have met. I am delighted to have teamed up with three other Burton-based companies to form the Burton Small Business project, which aims to support and promote other firms and sole traders in the run-up to Small Business Saturday 2014 - and all-year round.

We have put together a free guide that anyone can download from www.burtonsmallbusiness.co.uk/guide.html. It contains tips about growing your business through:
• Creating compelling and persuasive content for websites and print;
• Public relations activity to raise awareness of your business;
• Creating promotional videos and strong visual brands;
• Advice on personnel and employment law issues.

My partners in this enterprise are freelance PR company FCM Associates; film, animation and media company Red Door Studios and human resources services and support company HR Protected.

On Small Business Saturday - December 6, 2014 - we will be hosting an informal business surgery over coffee and mince pies. ANYONE running a small business, or thinking of starting one, is welcome to drop in and pick our brains between 11am until 1pm at the offices of HR Protected, 11a Faraday Court, First Avenue, Centrum 100, Burton on Trent DE14 2WX.

I am also delighted to say that the mince pies at our event will be supplied by local business Helen's Bakehouse and Tearoom - who I have been working with on content for her new website going live any day now. You can book a free place for our Small Business Saturday surgery here on Eventbrite.

I have also set up a Burton Small Business Pinterest account and would love to hear from local businesses working in Burton-on-Trent who have images they would like to contribute to raise their profile. You can also follow us on Twitter at @BurtonSmallBiz.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Five favourite LinkedIn tips from Women In Business

I recently presented on one of my favourite subjects, LinkedIn, to a Women In Business event in Burton-on-Trent.

Thanks to the Women In Business partners: Burton and District Chamber of CommerceSmith PartnershipFCM Associates and Hoar Cross Hall for the invitation to speak.

So, I thought  I'd share with you the tips that proved the most popular with the delegates at the Pirelli Stadium.

1. Customise your LinkedIn home page

You can choose what appears on your home page when you first log on to LinkedIn.

It can be a busy page when you are seeing notifications from all your connections and groups and the companies and influencers that you follow.

You can turn off some of that noise by selecting 'Customize' (US spelling!) from the dropdown under 'Updates' on your Home Page

2. How to remove a LinkedIn connection

If you want to remove a connection, go to their profile and click on the down arrow to the right of the 'Send a Message' button.

The dropdown gives you a number of options for actions including endorsing or recommending this person. If you have a good reason for not wanting to keep them as a LinkedIn connection you can choose the final options 'Remove connection'. They won't be notified that you have removed the connection.

This functionality is currently only available on the desktop version of LinkedIn. You can't remove a connection on the LinkedIn mobile app.

3. How to personalise an invitation to connect on LinkedIn

A few people have been caught out by a recent update that has rolled out on LinkedIn. Previously if you went on to someone's profile page and clicked the blue 'Connect' you would always be asked how you knew the person and then you would have the option to personalise the invitation to connect. Now pressing 'Connect' fires off the default message for most users.

I'm a big fan of personalising invitations so that you can explain to people why connecting would be mutually beneficial. It also shows that you've gone to the trouble of typing something specific and personal, indicating that it is a connection that you will value.

If you want to personalise your invitation on the desktop version, you need to click on the down arrow to the right of 'Connect' and 'Send InMail' and select the dropdown option to 'Personalize invitation'.

If you are using LinkedIn's mobile app, and you are on iPhone iOS6 and above, you  need to go to the person's profile page and click on the icon top right of the page that looks like a box and an arrow and then tap the option to 'Customize invitation'. 

4. Catching up on news, ideas and inspirational articles via Pulse.

Exploring the Pulse section - accessed underneath 'Interests' from the main horizontal navigation - is a great way to learn from influential companies and business people across the world.

Use the 'Discover' tab to choose the people, companies and topics you want to read about. They will then filter into 'Your News'. You can update them as often as you like. For a change, choose 'Top Reads' to see what is proving popular that day.

5. Make the news yourself

LinkedIn's publishing platform was made available to everyone this year and is an easy way to write your own article. Just click the pencil in the box where you would normally add a status update on your home page and you'll be taken to a page where you type your article, add a headline, and a picture - and away you go.

It's a great way to increase your visibility and draw in potential new connections. If you are short on inspiration see the sort of 'stories' that other people are telling to get their point across. There's also good tips and advice to get you started here on LinkedIn.

  • If you want to know more about the power of LinkedIn to grow your business, or you want some help in strengthening your personal profile on LinkedIn, please get in touch.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Four good reasons why your business could benefit from blogging

Do you need convincing that blogging is a way of helping your business to grow? Or have you heard about what blogging can do for your business, but you don't know where to start?

I'm delighted to have been invited to speak about the benefits of business blogging at the October 8th meeting of the Angels In Business business growth group in Sutton Coldfield.

My session will be focused on practical tips and inspiration to help you write like a 'pro' and promote your business through writing articles and blogs. The meeting will run from 9.30am to 11.30am at The Kings Arms, Coleshill Rd, Sutton Coldfield, B75 7AA, and the £25 meeting fee includes refreshments.You can book a place online or call Clare Whalley on 07739 196896.

As well as a different speaker each month, the Angels In Business meetings offer members and visitors a chance to network and give a 60-second presentation about their business or company. Genuine referrals and testimonials are shared and the group is ideal for businesses that are serious about growing and developing.

Meanwhile, here's four good reasons why you should seriously consider investing some of your valuable time in blogging for your business.

1. There are SEO benefits to writing regular blogs about your business. Google wants to drive more people to quality websites that are relevant to their searches - so by writing useful articles that help and interest your customers, and potential customers, you can improve your ranking on search engines.

2. Blogging is a way of showcasing your skills and knowledge, reassuring potential customers that you are worthy of their trust and their money. This also helps if you want to establish yourself as a 'go-to' expert who is quoted in print and online, or sits behind a radio microphone or on the sofa in a TV studio when there's a news story relevant to your expertise.

3. Blogs reinforce the calls to action that you have in place on your business website. Compelling, persuasive writing and 'storytelling' on your blog can encourage people to sign up for your newsletter, pick up the phone or send an email enquiry.

4. Good blogs are more than just a channel for broadcasting sales messages. They are also an opportunity to build a community and improve communication between a business and its customers. Take the opportunity to ask questions and listen to the answers. Learning more about your customers, their problems and priorities helps you to improve the service you offer and perhaps diversify into new areas.

At next week's workshop I'll also be talking about how to tap into a never-ending stream of ideas for topics for your business blog, how to develop your writing style and how to make your blogs interesting to people and search engines.

If you are interested in a workshop about blogging for your organisation, I'd love to hear from you. Contact me here.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

How business networking delivers inspiration and support

When you are running a company, or working hard in someone else's business, it can sometimes be tough to drag yourself back out in the evening for a networking event or meeting when you'd really rather crash in front of the television or spend some quality time with friends and family.

But more times than not it's worth the effort because of the lift it gives you - and the ideas and inspiration you gain.

Last month I shared the guest speaker slot at Burton-on-Trent's WiRE network with book keeper Alison Bradley. Alison and I are volunteer leaders of this not-for-profit women's networking and support group along with Forever Living distributor Lorraine Holden.

Burton WiRE women's business networking

We were thrilled to receive this lovely message afterwards from HR expert Karen Kirby, which she posted on the WiRE Facebook Page.

"Why I love WiRE, especially Burton WiRE (back-handed compliment coming)..... After a long day, out of town, poor traffic, I didn't fancy going out and had heard Elaine Pritchard & Alison Bradley speak a number of times. But SO pleased I did. However often you hear someone speak, you always learn or refocus on something and the energy in the room rubs off and I'm now home feeing invigorated. That's why I love WiRE. Thank you."
If you are a woman in business looking for new connections and fresh ideas, I can recommend our next WiRE meeting which is on Wednesday October 8, 7pm to 9pm at 107 Station Street.

Victoria Player
Our guest speaker is Victoria Player (pictured left), a certified coach, international speaker, author and online entrepreneur who is passionate about empowering women to live the life they want.

Victoria understands all about the challenges of running your own busy and balancing life-work priorities. She was once a struggling lone parent with a newborn, facing a life on benefits. Now she's a successful businesswoman generating regular five-figure income months.

Her talk will focus on how to attract new clients, increase cashflow and build more fun, flexibility and financial freedom into your business.

You can read more about Victoria at her website victoriaplayer.com.

It  is just £7.50 to attend the meeting - or £5 if you are a member of WiRE - including refreshments. Payment is taken on the night. All working women are welcome to attend. If possible, please book a place in advance through the WiRE website at - http://www.wireuk.org/burton-on-trent.

Everyone who attends is invited to give a 30-second introduction to their business and bring along business cards to share. There will also be time for informal networking. Hope to see you there. 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Seven top tips about words and images for your website

Projecting the right image through your business website is crucial to success.

Finding the words that describe what you do can feel like a time-consuming chore - but it's worth persevering. Getting it right will help you to turn casual website browsers into prospective customers, and convert leads into paying clients.

When it comes to creating or improving your website you need to think about the design, the technology and the images as well as the words.

Here are my top tips for choosing the right words and images for your website.

1. Everyone has a story to tell - and your website needs to tell YOUR story in a way that strikes a chord with the people that you want to buy your products or services.

2. Think about how you want people to 'feel' when they look at your website. Do the words and the pictures match your business brand? What emotions do you want to trigger in people's minds? Do you want to be seen as fun, professional, nostalgic, honest or authoritative? Make sure you are projecting the image that is right for you and your business.

3. Be sparing in your use of stock pictures (or even better, avoid them all together) and commission unique pictures relevant to your business. Stock pictures may seem like a quick and cost-effective option - but consumers are getting more savvy about spotting stock pictures and it can make them feel a little uneasy. Why would you not want to show the real people, products and services in your business? A good photographer can produce a set of pictures that can provide long term value as you can use them on your website, social media, business cards, press releases, flyers, exhibition stands and banners.

4. If your business sells services rather than products, don't assume you have to settle for stock pictures. With a bit of imagination there will be many images you can take - or hire a photographer to take for you. For instance, all the images in this blog post were taken for me by Joanne Cooper Photography. I love the way she's captured a feel for what I do and the tools of my trade.

5. The days of stuffing your website full of keywords and phrases to try and cheat your way up the search engine results are long gone (thank goodness). Search engines want people to find relevant, useful, quality websites quickly so you need to write with your target audience in the front of your mind. You must, of course, include the words that you want to be found for - but in a natural, authentic way. Think about what content is relevant and useful to the people who are looking for the products and services you sell - and give it to them.

6. All the words and images on your website should be yours to publish. Never copy and paste someone else's work. Don't think they will never find out. There is every chance they will. You could find yourself in a time-consuming - and potentially costly - dispute and you'll have caused someone else unnecessary hassle too.

7.  Search engines do like websites that are updated regularly and provide a good quantity of relevant content. Think about useful, helpful articles you could add to your website, or perhaps a blog or latest news section.

If you would like some help with creating compelling content for your website, I'd be happy to have a free, no obligation chat. Contact me here.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Spreading the love for LinkedIn

When someone mentions LinkedIn to you, do any of the following thoughts run through your mind?

  • "It's just putting your CV online."
  • "It's only for people who are job hunting."
  • "I don't see how it can help me with the type of business that I run."
  • "I've never created an account and I have no idea how to do it."
  • "I've created an account - but what do I do now?"
  • "Won't people just steal all my best contacts?"

I'm planning to answer all those concerns (and more) when I present at the next Women In Business event being run by the Burton & District Chamber of Commerce on Thursday October 23, 2014, at the Burton Albion Football Club.

LinkedIn has helped me to grow my business over the last four years and I'm looking forward to sharing all its exciting possibilities with other women in business.

Find out more details and book your place here

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Social media and bookkeeping tips to help women in business succeed

I am looking forward to passing on some practical tips on how to get the best out of social media for your business at the September meeting of Burton's WiRE - Women In Rural Enterprise - networking group.

I'm sharing the guest speaker slot with co-leader and bookkeeper Alison Bradley who will be offering advice on how to make financial matters less taxing.

WiRE meetings are held monthly from 7-9pm in Burton-on-Trent and are an affordable way for working women to network and benefit from the support and advice of other local business owners. You DON'T have to be a member of WiRE to attend the meetings in Burton and the word 'rural' has evolved to simply indicate that we're not based in major cities.

For more details - and to book a place - go to wireuk.org/burton-on-trent.html, scroll down to Events and click the green 'Book a Place' button underneath the meeting that you want to attend.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

What a wordle can say about you and your website

The other day I was playing about with some websites that let you create 'wordles' - images built from words on a specific theme, or created from the frequency of their use on a named website.

As a bit of an experiment I popped my Caittom Publishing website address into one site, and the wordle above was automatically generated. As you would expect, it picks up all the services that I provide and write about, and I love the emphasis on certain words and the phrases you can put together from them.

Leaping off the page to me, for instance, is "Social media for business is about people".

How true.

Businesses can achieve great results if they harness the enthusiasm of their own employees, and the customers who love them, to share their stories on social media and talk about what makes them different from their rivals.

Social media for business is also about listening to people and engaging with them about the issues that matter to them. It's a missed opportunity if you use social media purely as a broadcast channel to talk about your own business.

What would a wordle say about your website content? Are you saying the right things to the right people?

Friday, 8 August 2014

There's no substitute for good communication

We're back from a relaxing holiday in deepest, sunniest Norfolk.

Yes, it WAS very lovely, thank you.

It was a thorough 'digital detox' with no access to emails or social media - and not even a phone signal where we were based.

Once a day we did walk out of the village to a bus shelter where we discovered we could get two bars of signal (most of the time) so that we could receive a daily text update from our 15-year-old son who was in Germany performing at the World Festival of Children's Theatre.

We were always keen to hear that our son was still having a great time - and sometimes he was having such a good time that the expected daily text wasn't there when we arrived at the bus shelter.

It set me thinking about how technology changes - but not people, relationships or the principles of communication. Before mobile phones and the internet came along - you just had to use other methods to stay in touch.

My husband admitted to me that when he was a teenager on his first solo holiday - a Scout camp in his case - his mum packed him off with a couple of stamped addressed postcards that he could pop into a postbox to let them know he'd arrived safely and give them an update during the week.

Guess what? The postcards were still in his rucksack, unused, when he came home.

In 2014, businesses can benefit from time-saving technology and reach their own staff and their customers online in a heartbeat. But the companies that see the best results are the ones that understand the importance of honest, timely communication that is created with the needs and concerns of the intended audience front of mind. That's something that has not changed down the years, and I don't expect it ever will.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Hi diddle dee dee - a freelance life for me

I've been enjoying the Jelly events being held monthly in Burton-on-Trent - I blogged about the launch event here - and I'm hoping to get across to the Stafford Jelly when work allows. 

Jelly is an opportunity for small business owners, freelancers and entrepreneurs to come together and work alongside each other. It's a chance for people who often work in isolation to bounce ideas off others and seek a bit of advice and support if needed. For more about Jelly - and why it's called Jelly, see here.

Pic by David Finch Photography, at LoveBurton Jelly
When I have a freelance assignment to do - perhaps researching and writing content, blog posts or newsletters for businesses and organisations - I can pick up my laptop and work from anywhere with wi-fi. I enjoy a change of scenery from time to time because I find it really sparks off new, creative ideas. I've always been fascinated by the origins of words - and freelance is a particularly interesting word.

Did you know that the term was first used to describe medieval mercenary warriors who wielded lances as weapons? The term 'free lances', or 'free-lances', did not mean that they worked free of charge - but indicated that they were not committed to the service of just one master. Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe novel contains one of the earliest surviving references to 'free lances'. 

For me, being freelance has brought me great freedom to do the work I love best. I enjoy working with companies and organisations where I can make a real difference. It also gives them freedom to use my services, skills and ability when they need me - rather than having me on their payroll as a full time member of staff.I love the fact that every day of my working life is different - and I am delighted that events such as Jelly have helped me meet other freelancers and business owners who offer services that I can recommend to my clients who need photography, graphic design, media liaison and other assistance that I don't provide.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Choosing the right social media tools for the job

"We've got an event coming up this Friday. We're going to set up a Twitter account to promote it."

"We want to gather feedback from a small group of our employees - so we're going to set up a Facebook Page."

Over recent years social media platforms have evolved, and some of those changes have been driven by the way people have used them, but there are things that Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and the rest are designed to do - and then there are things that they are definitely NOT designed to do.

I'm all in favour of being inventive and creative when it comes to using social media to engage, promote and help others, but you wouldn't use a chainsaw to take the lid off a tub of ice cream (unless it had been a REALLY bad day) and equally you should choose the right platform for the audience you want to reach and the time you have available to get your message across.

If you want a chat about using social media more effectively, do get in touch (ice cream optional).

Monday, 30 June 2014

Publishing to LinkedIn - and why it's good to take a holiday

A lie-in, a walk in the sunshine, a day off or a proper holiday - when did you last take a break from your business?

Perhaps it was the fact that a week in Norfolk is beckoning that made me consider that taking time off is a skill that some of us need to learn.

I used this idea as the theme for my first post on the new LinkedIn publishing platform.

LinkedIn has made several changes in recent months - and probably the biggest is the fact that you can now write your own posts and articles directly on to the world's biggest B2B social network - not just add links to ones you've written elsewhere.

If you can see a little pen (or is it a pencil?) in the space where you share an update on LinkedIn, you too can write an article. Just click on the pen and off you go.

Your existing connections will see your post, and be able to share it, and the articles you publish will appear on your profile so that when anyone new searches for you on LinkedIn they see them too.

LinkedIn has provided some great tips to help you write good content.

Are you thinking this offers you a great opportunity to get your ideas across to the influencers and leaders of the business world, or are you shaking your head and thinking - 'Not ANOTHER platform to update with content?' Maybe you need a holiday? If so, perhaps you'd like to read this post I wrote about the subject on LinkedIn - When did you last take a break from your business?

Monday, 23 June 2014

10 reasons why I love Twitter

When people say they don't like Twitter, or they don't get it, I am reminded of my Dad's baffled and frustrated face many years ago as he tried to show me where I was going wrong with my maths homework.

"But WHY don't you get it, Elaine? How can you say you don't understand it? It's so easy!"

But then, he was a maths teacher.

I respect anyone's right not to like Twitter - really I do - and unlike my Dad I hope I hide any frustration well. He had to accept that I was never going to fall in love with algebra and quadratic equations. I hope I am as understanding if people shrug and walk away after I've sung the praises of the little bird. If you are still sitting on the fence, let me tell you why I think Twitter's wonderful.
  1. It's quick. No-one's asking you to write an essay. It's 140 characters. How long can that take? I can log in from my phone, laptop, desktop PC - anywhere, in seconds.
  2. It's easy. You create a free account. You follow people and read their tweets. You also see the tweets they retweet from people they follow. People who follow you can see what you tweet. That's about it.
  3. All human life is there. I was a journalist for donkey's years - and maybe that's because I'm naturally nosey. Twitter gives me some insight into the lives of people I know, celebrities, politicians and random strangers. Yes, some of it's rubbish and some of it's made up - but when you've been a journalist for as long as me that doesn't shock you.
  4. You can make connections that make your dreams come true. Last year, a random tweet sent to
    Marie Osmond led to me and my daughter meeting her and her brother Donny (my biggest childhood crush) backstage. If my 10-year-old self could have known that was going to happen one day I'd have worried a lot less about that maths homework. That power to connect people is what can make Twitter a fantastic tool for businesses. 
  5. You can make random human connections that just enrich your life. I regularly get tweets that make me laugh, smile and think from people across the world who I would never have reached by any other method - it goes back to the instant nature of Twitter, the speed and the simplicity.
  6. It restores your faith in human nature. Yes there are idiots who post mindless drivel and use Twitter to say things that are unfair and uncalled for - but that's life. You can block them. If they're really nasty you can report them - but there's a lot less of that than you might think. For every twit there are hundreds more people who rush to the support of strangers, who donate to charities and good causes, offer words of comfort and give their expertise freely.
  7. The people, and businesses, that get the most out of Twitter are the ones who understand that there's a 'social' in social media for a reason. They are the ones who understand it's about engagement,  building relationships and loyalty - that it's not just about broadcasting.
  8. If you have a gripe with a big brand you can usually get it sorted a LOT quicker by tweeting them than if you email, write or sit in a phone queue.
  9. It can be very, very funny. I've loved @Queen_UK since 2010 and @TheVintageYear and @stephenfry make me think as well as laugh with their distinctive voices. As a fan of The Archers omnibus on a Sunday morning, it's entertaining to follow the 'tweetalong' as people comment live using #thearchers.
  10. It's a valuable source of breaking news. Twitter has alerted me to more major news stories in recent years than any other form of media.
By the way, this blog post started off as 'Five reasons....', then went to 'Seven reasons...', but when I get started it seems that I just can't stop singing the praises of Twitter.

You can follow me at @EllaJP and I'd love to hear from you about why you love, or loathe, Twitter.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Social media - friend or foe to your small business?

Social media has put massive marketing opportunities within the reach of small businesses, sole traders, little charities and good causes.

With creative content and a real understanding of their target audience they can make things happen in a way that was once only possible for brands with BIG budgets.

There is, of course, an investment in time - sometimes a BIG investment in time - but platforms and tools such as Twitter, YouTube, MailChimp and others can give everyone the potential to make a noise about what they do, mobilise their fans and supporters and reach the influencers who can take their message to the masses.

However, the fact that words, images and videos can go viral in hours does carry risks for the unwary. Stories of poor customer service and ill-judged or inappropriate comments can spread like wildfire.

You don't have to have a massive following on social media to end up in trouble. Journalists now use social media - especially Twitter - as a key source of news. That can work for you and against you. Don't think you can post the odd unprofessional comment, dodgy joke or aside about a business rival, family member or colleague and only a few friends will see it. If enough people Tweet about something, or RT and share it, it can leap on to the news agenda - and quickly.

So identify your audience and your objectives, find your authentic voice and create stories that will strike the emotional response in others that you want to achieve to help you reach your goals.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Newsletter writing with Stafford LiveWiREs

Speaking at Stafford LiveWiREs June meeting
Following on from my blog post Seven Top Tips For Writing A Newsletter, I was delighted to be invited to speak to a women's business networking group this week about writing newsletters.

The meeting of Stafford LiveWiREs was in the beautiful setting of The Moat House Hotel at Acton Trussell.

The room was full of women who have started their own businesses and after my presentation they worked in small groups to plan how to apply my advice and tips into their online marketing strategies.

There was a lot of discussion about the best ways to create newsletters that work well on mobile phones. A number of the businesswomen were rightly concerned that using big images to show off their products and services could be an issue for people accessing their emails on a phone.

One of the regular e-newsletters I create for a customer is also converted into a print version that goes to a smaller number of subscribers via good old-fashioned 'snail mail'. It is worth remembering that sending content by post can still be an effective way of promoting your business. In 2014 we receive far less junk mail through our letterboxes, so newsletters, leaflets and other high quality material that is personally addressed, professionally designed and printed can impress and influence people.

Whether you are sending newsletters or marketing mailshots by email, or through the post, the key is to keep the content relevant to your target audience; think what they want to receive from you and how you can deliver that and meet your business objectives.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Raising a glass to the Pride of Burton

The first Pride of Burton Awards proved to be an emotional night when the achievements of many unsung heroes from East Staffordshire and South Derbyshire were celebrated.

The glittering awards event was held at Branston Golf & Country Club by commercial radio station TouchFM and supported by organisations including the Federation of Small Businesses, Burton and South Derbyshire College, the Octagon Shopping Centre and Punch Taverns. It also raised cash on the night for the Liberty Rose Trust - a Swadlincote-based charity that raises funds for research into children's brain tumours.

I'd enjoyed writing a few nominations for colleagues and contacts and was delighted that three of them resulted in awards on the night.

Much to my surprise I'd also been nominated and was chosen as one of three finalists for the Business Person of the Year - and was in some illustrious company. The award went to Tim McNeilly and Chris Emmerson who took the helm at I C Electrical after the original business was destroyed in an arson attack 14 years ago. They have battled against great adversity and survived the recession without shedding any jobs and now I C Electrical is a multi-million pound company.

Ben Day and George Finch
A standing ovation greeted the announcement of a Special Award  to George Finch (pictured left with Ben Day of TouchFM), a Queen's Hospital volunteer who completed an amazing 31 years' service before retiring on his 90th birthday in February. Another hospital volunteer, Tom Walker, was named as Citizen of the Year while Shirley Dowler - who has completed 47 years' nursing patients at Burton hospitals - received the Carer of the Year Award.

Another Special Award went to Katherine Sinfield, who has thrown herself into raising awareness of the need for more bone marrow donors and vital funds for research and care. Katherine was diagnosed with leukaemia in April 2013 and has written an online blog charting her treatment and her eventual bone marrow transplant in October 2013. Her efforts have led to a 15% increase in potential bone marrow donors in Burton. She was also the driving force behind the first BONE-shaker MARROW-thon in March 2014 which saw more than 100 motorcyclists ride from Birmingham to Burton which, along with a family fun day, raised more than £2,000 for Cure Leukaemia, Anthony Nolan and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.

Other awards on the night went to:

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists - and to Touch FM for organising a great night that shone the spotlight on such a diverse range of achievers from business and community.

Pictures courtesy of the TouchFM Facebook Page

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Five steps to getting started with social media marketing

I've been talking to clients a lot in the last week about social media training and marketing, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on how to make social media marketing work for your business.

Some businesses leap on to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Blogger (other blogging platforms are available) etc. without really knowing why, or what they expect to achieve. Without a clear plan, including outcomes that they want to achieve for the business, the most likely result is they'll get disheartened and decide that 'social media doesn't work for them'.

If your business hasn't taken the plunge yet, but is on the brink of diving into the social media sea for the first time, I'd suggest you work through these five steps:

1. Think about your ideal customers. Which social platforms will they be on? What do they want and need that you can supply? What type of content will appeal to them most?

2. Be realistic about how much time you can spend each week on your social media presence. Who will create the content and manage the updates? Are you going to outsource some or all of the work?

3. Research the social media platforms that you think are a good fit for your business. For example, if your business involves appealing images - food, fashion, pets, interior decor, crafts - you may want to explore what Pinterest could do for you. What are your competitors doing?  Spend time browsing social media. Look for the posts and pictures that are being shared and see if that inspires ideas for the type of content that you could create for your business.

4. Create a content plan that focuses on articles, posts, images and videos that your target audience will like, share, be inspired and entertained by and not just what you want to promote. Create detailed personas for your ideal customers, their age, gender, location, interests and always have them in mind when you post.

4. Create a social media marketing plan, which can be just a single page when you are starting out. Set down why you want to be on social media (your overarching objectives), which could be raising awareness of your business; establishing yourself as an expert in your field; generating new leads and sales; building customer loyalty. Decide what success would look like for you/your business and set some targets you can measure, such as new sign-ups to your newsletter,  direct sales (of course), enquiries, click-throughs to your website and perhaps downloads of a free factsheet you offer.

5. It's called SOCIAL media for a reason. When you are up and running keep watching, listening and responding. Congratulate others on their success, be generous with free advice and look to connect people that you know could do business together. The etiquette of social media marketing is a lot like face-to-face business networking. And finally, don't post or re-post anything that you wouldn't be happy to see on a giant billboard in your town or city.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Five ways to beat writer's block

Have you ever sat down to write content for your website, a post for your blog or copy for your latest newsletter to customers and felt paralysed by 'writer's block'?

You're not alone. It happens to us all. The good news is that there are ways to overcome it.

Here are my top five tips: 

1. Having a deadline focuses the mind. When you work as a staff reporter on a newspaper, and a print deadline looms, it's just NOT an option to have writer's block. Your story has to be written by a specific time, so it can be placed on a page, so that the newspaper can go to press and the van drivers can get it out to the shops.  When you're the boss it's as important to set yourself a firm deadline and tell yourself it HAS to be done by then.
2. Get organised. Before you start writing do your research and gather together all the information you need. Think about who your audience is and put yourself in their shoes. What are the questions they will want your piece of writing to answer? What are the problems that you can help them solve? When you've got everything together it's often easier to see how the piece of writing needs to be structured.
3. Think about how the story starts. Whether you are writing a press release, a blog post, a news item or website content - everything is a story. If you don't know where to start, imagine that you're telling that story to a friend. You will naturally start with the most interesting or important facts and the story will start to flow.
4. Have a change of scenery. If you are staring at the computer screen and the words won't come - have a change of scenery. Go and do something else, take a walk outside, or take your laptop to a local coffee shop. It's amazing how many times a new view makes all the difference. If you have time  to do something completely different for a while, tackle a crossword or read a magazine or a book for a bit. Your subconscious will still be working in the background and when you come back to your writing there'll be some new ideas there as if by magic.
5. Just write. Don't worry about the quality of what you are writing at the start. Just write ANYTHING. No-one has to see your first attempts. Start anywhere in your story. Once the words are down on paper - however rough and ready they look - it's easier to rearrange them in the right order. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

Seven top tips for writing a newsletter

As promised last week, here are my top seven tips for writing an effective newsletter. Newsletters can help promote customer loyalty as well as driving repeat sales and new business, but it's worth remembering that if you are involved with a club, charity or good cause a newsletter can be an effective promotional tool for you too.

Tip 1: Why do you want to write a newsletter in the first place?

Creating quality content for a target audience on a regular basis is going to take up some of your valuable time. Even if you outsource production of your newsletter you will still need to spend time planning and checking the content, creating any offers you may want to include in the newsletter and overseeing how it is marketed. Can you identify a clear audience for your newsletter - existing customers, members of your club or group, visitors to your website - and do you have things to say on a regular basis that they will WANT to read, and will this benefit your business in some way? If not, maybe you could spend your time more productively on another marketing activity.

Tip 2: Set objectives for your newsletter and decide how you will measure success

Write down what you want your newsletter to achieve, which will depend on the type of business or organisation you run. Possible objectives could include: driving traffic to your business website; new sales; new leads; keeping your customers or members engaged and loyal; encouraging downloads of resources you've created; raising your profile. Is your newsletter going to be email and online only, or is there a valid business argument for sending out print copies as well, or instead?

Set some measurable targets so that you know whether you're getting a return on any time or money you are investing in your newsletter. Targets could include: number of newsletter subscribers; click-throughs to your website; number of downloads; direct sales; use of exclusive discount codes only published in your newsletter; reviews, testimonials and feedback received.

Tip 3: Plan your newsletter content in advance

Once you've followed tips 1 and 2 and you know WHO you want to talk to, and WHY, you should be in a good position to plan WHAT you are going to talk to them about. Your regular content could include compelling images, product discount codes, special offers, competitions, giveaways, information about forthcoming events, tips and hints, news about you and news about your customers. Keep focused on what your audience wants to RECEIVE more than what you want to PROMOTE. You have to work to earn the attention of your audience. They'll unsubscribe from your enewsletter, or leave it unopened and unread, unless you make their life easier or better in some way. Are you giving them something that they want?

Tip 4: Newsletter subject lines that make people want to open your email

Whatever you do please don't WRITE SUBJECT LINES IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND USE EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!! It looks like shouting and some email clients may assume it's spam and put your enewsletter straight into a junk folder. If you choose a very safe subject line, such as "Newsletter 1", it is likely to be overlooked and not get anyone excited. Review the content and purpose of the newsletter and work on creating a subject line that will make your subscribers want to click and open your email.

Tip 5: Do your research on email newsletter providers

If you've harvested the email addresses of customers, contacts and people you've met at events it's NOT a good idea to copy them all into an email and send out a basic enewsletter that way. I would always recommend using a professional third party service that will ensure you are meeting all your legal obligations for sending out direct marketing emails and give you the best chance of getting delivered to people's inboxes and not identified as spam. Read up on marketing emails on Ofcom's website and there's some clear information on privacy and data protection on the Information Commissioner's Office website. Ask colleagues and contacts, whose opinion you trust, which providers they recommend. There are some excellent low and no cost options around. Personally, I'm a fan of MailChimp.

Tip 6: Manage the expectations of your newsletter subscribers

When people sign up to your newsletter - and I'm a big believer in marketing only to people who have given express permission - make it clear what they will be getting in your newsletters and how often you'll be sending out a newsletter. Set a frequency that's sustainable for you. For many clubs and businesses a monthly  or bi-monthly newsletter is ideal. Time flies and everyone leads busy lives. If you mail out too often you risk annoying people, and once they've unsubscribed you've lost that opportunity to engage with them. 

Tip 7: Check, check and then check your newsletter again 

You'll get a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you press 'send', or send your newsletter to print, and then spot a spelling mistake or a wrong date or name. Most third party email newsletter providers offer you the chance to preview your email newsletter and send out test versions. Make sure you send it to people you trust and get them to read it and check that any hyperlinks work. If you've written it yourself you can be convinced that it says what you intended it to say. Spelling mistakes and typos can escape the best of us. Print out a hard copy and, if you can, leave it for 24 hours and then read it again. Correct any mistakes and then check it all again. Look at the test preview of your enewsletter on a mobile phone as well as a PC or laptop. More and more people check their emails on the move so a newsletter that they can read easily on a small screen can be read and acted on sooner.

If you want to know more, I'll be delivering a newsletter-writing workshop for working women over a networking lunch in Stone, Staffordshire on Monday June 16, 2014, between 12 and 2pm. It's a new date organised by the Stone Women In Rural Enterprise (WiRE) networking group. It's being organised by Maggie Hollinshead, who runs Maggie's Studio and Gallery in Newport, Shropshire. Email her at maggie@pictureshopandgallery.co.uk to reserve a place. It will cost £10 for non-WiRE members and £8 if you belong to WiRE, which includes your lunch.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Saturday smile

As it's the end of Local Newspaper Week this weekend, I thought I'd share with you a couple of blogs that take a good-natured (most of the time) swipe at some of the stories and pictures that make it into print in local newspapers around the UK.

Journalists have always enjoyed laughing at mistakes, odd stories and images in other newspapers - which is why when I was co-editor of HoldTheFrontPage we always knew we'd get great traffic levels and engagement online when we ran headline howlers. (They still do, go and have a look)

Now, I have to stress that I am well aware that local newspaper journalists and photographers are under IMMENSE pressure these days because staffing levels have been slashed and they are having to work fast and furiously to fill their pages. Of course mistakes do creep in, they're only human, and some (apparently) bizarre judgements can be made about what is 'news'. So, I hope no-one takes offence, and enjoys these two blogs in the spirit in which I am sure they were intended.

Angry People In Local Newspapers

Dull News In Local Newspapers

Friday, 16 May 2014

WiRE networking: helping women to grow their businesses

Burton-on-Trent WiRE monthly meeting

I really enjoy being part of the national Women In Rural Enterprise organisation - and especially running its Burton network group with Alison Bradley and Lorraine Holden.

Working together we organise 10 network meetings and two social events a year in Burton-on-Trent - always on the second Wednesday of the month, from 7-9pm.

It's a great way for women who are new to running their own business to start networking as the meetings are very friendly, affordable and informal.

You don't have to be a member of WiRE to come along to the meetings - but you do have to be a woman.

We welcome women who are just thinking of starting a full time or part time business as well as those who are employed, self-employed or who do volunteer work.

WiRE is a national not-for-profit organisation run from the Harper Adams Agricultural University in Shropshire - but it's not only for rural businesses such as farmhouse B&Bs. We have a wonderful mix of new businesses, established businesses and professional women attending our meetings each month including solicitors, accountants, HR professionals, photographers, therapists, beauticians, crafters, business coaches, authors and travel agents.

Images by Joanne Cooper Photography
Guest speaker at our May meeting this week was the West Midlands MEP Nikki Sinclaire - who prompted one of the liveliest and most enjoyable question and answer session we've ever had. Thanks to Joanne Cooper Photography who captured some great images for us on the night.

As a WiRE member you do get the chance to visit other network groups around the UK and you sometimes get invited to speak at their meetings. On Monday (May 19), I have been invited to speak at the WiRE network group that meets in Stone, Staffordshire, about creating newsletters that get results for your business. We'll be working through some exercises that will help people set clear objectives for their newsletter, create the content that will help them achieve those goals and market their newsletter effectively. I'll share some of my tips about newsletter-writing in a future blog post.

Meanwhile, if you want to know more about Burton-on-Trent's WiRE network and its future meetings, you can visit our page on the national WiRE website here, or follow us on Facebook

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Local newspapers can still make a difference

It's quite fitting that I started this blog during Local Newspaper Week (May 12-18, 2014), because I had so many great years working at newspapers around the UK.

I had the chance to meet and interview politicians, stage and screen actors, singers and musicians. I worked on major crime stories, business exclusives and was part of the teams covering major events such as the miners' strike, the Kegworth air crash, the Greenham Common peace protests and the Hillsborough disaster. There were also opportunities to try out, and write about, activities such as hot air ballooning, fencing and Jeep racing.

Now, although there's a risk this will sound a bit like the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch, I want to tell you about the first local newspaper office that I worked in. It was a single room without its own loo (we used the hairdresser's upstairs except on Monday when she was closed and we went to the pub, or home). It had one cold water tap sticking out of the wall with a bucket under it (no sink). The two of us who worked there did have a kettle though, and an electric socket, so we could make tea and coffee, wash the mugs in the bucket afterwards and then nip out the front door to pour the used sudsy water down the drain.

There was glamour and excitement too. I travelled to countries including Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Greece through my job, but there were also lengthy council meetings - often running well into the evening after a hard day's work - and days of listening to magistrates ruling on minor offences. But I was always intrigued by studying people, their actions, their lives and their stories and there was plenty of opportunity to get out of the office and unearth fascinating human interest stories. I believe there's no bigger buzz than realising you have found an exclusive - and sitting down to write it for others to share.

Today's local newspapers sell a fraction of the copies they sold 35 years ago because our lifestyles have changed and the way we consume news has been transformed by the internet and social media. The Newspaper Society reminds us this week that there are still 1,100 local newspapers and 1,700 associated websites in the UK.

The number of journalists and photographers employed by local newspapers has shrunk in the last couple of decades, meaning that many of today's reporters spend a lot of time office-bound gathering news via email and phone.

I remain convinced that local newspapers have a unique ability to make a real difference to people's lives. They can achieve great things through campaigning and supporting fundraising for good causes, But at the end of the day they are - and always have been - commercial businesses that need to make a profit - and that always has to motivate their direction and their news agenda decisions too.

But meanwhile, back to those four Yorkshiremen.....

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Five tips on getting good press for your business

The first-ever Love Burton Jelly day - held at the Holiday Inn Express in Burton-on-Trent last week - was a resounding success.

Also known as co-working days, Jelly events see small businesses and freelancers come together with their laptops and work alongside each other. It's also a chance to network over coffee, meet new people and develop ideas for collaborative projects.

Burton businesses at first Jelly event
First Love Burton Jelly day - May 9, 2014
All in all, I think it's a great idea (well, I did suggest it to Ian and Jaz, the founders of #LoveBurton hour on Twitter, so I would, wouldn't I?)

A number of local business owners were invited to run free taster workshops during the day and I led a session about getting good press for your business. So I thought I'd give a flavour of that workshop in this blog post and share five of my favourite tips on the subject.

  • Research the publications you want to target.
  • Whether you are aiming to get coverage in your local newspaper, in a niche magazine or in the trade press, make sure that you read a number of editions to absorb and understand the stories they cover and the way their reporters write. Research the deadlines - magazines may be edited well before they appear in print. Look at their online versions too; it's helpful to know if all the stories that appear in print are used on the web as well.

  • Build a rapport with a named journalist.
  • By reading the publications you want to target you will start to see the bylines of named reporters who may cover stories similar to the one you have to offer; give one of those reporters a call. It won't hurt to tell them you enjoyed a recent article they wrote and ask if you can send them news releases about your business. If you can provide news story ideas to a journalist, in a way that makes their working day just a little bit easier, you are on the way to building a productive business relationship that works for you both.

  • Contact them when you have something worth saying.
  • Don't try the patience of your new friend the journalist by sending them stories that are just free advertising. There needs to be a news angle such as: your business is expanding; you are working with a local school; you are sponsoring a community event; you've developed a new process or product or you've been shortlisted for an award. Every story doesn't have to be a major 400-word news announcement. Publications need smaller news items to fill their pages as well as the big lead stories. Look out for topical stories that you can piggy-back on to create a news story. For example, if you run a dog training business and a new law or by-law is implemented affecting dog owners, your view may make an angle for a news story. Establish yourself as the 'go-to' expert for your industry and sector.

  • Keep it concise.
  • Avoid the temptation to submit masses of information charting every detail of your story and your company history. Some businesses think that they increase the chances of achieving more coverage by submitting a lengthy press release. I believe you'll build a better relationship with your target publication if you keep it concise. Always include all your contact details, company website and any social media channels at the bottom of the press release so they can get hold of you easily if they have a query. Do your research and see the amount of detail they run on similar stories. Most press releases can be adequately covered on one page of a Word document. Most writers will prefer to receive stories and images by email - but ask their preference when you initially make contact.

  • A picture can be worth 1,000 words.
  • Humans are visual creatures and we all know that when we flick through newspapers and magazines our eyes are drawn to images. If you submit a powerful image, and it is used with your story, it will grab more attention than words alone. Studying your target publications will show you the type of images for which they have a preference. If you are holding a conference, or a major event, it may well be worth investing in a professional photographer who can create something more inventive and attractive than a simple line of people.

    Read more here about the Love Burton Jelly launch.

    Monday, 12 May 2014

    Escaping the hard work of writing that awards entry

    When I'm talking to businesses about positive promotion, I often mention that entering awards is a great way to raise your profile.

    The challenge for busy businesses is finding the time to write awards entries. Depending on the format it can mean researching and finding supporting evidence, completing a questionnaire or writing a chunky recommendation. Although I'm often asked to write entries for private and public sector clients, I've not entered any for my own business since setting up Caittom Publishing in 2010.

    Last week I was shocked and delighted to find out that someone had done the hard work for me. I received a call saying I was a finalist for the Touch FM 2014 Pride of Burton Awards in the category of Business Person of the Year.

    I must say that it's flattering to be secretly nominated for an award - and it also means I escaped the graft of carefully choosing the words.

    I'm now looking forward to a great night out at the awards ceremony at Branston Golf and Country Club on Friday June 6 - chiefly because I'll be able to cheer on a host of other local people, businesses, good causes and schools who have contributed to our home town.