The Blog

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A Tail of Hacker Interference and a Suspended Website

One morning in mid-December I woke up to an email from my web hosting company. It was automated, had been sent in the early hours of the morning and said that my website had been temporarily disabled. In short, it didn’t sound good.

I contacted the web hosts for more details. They’d taken my site offline thanks to hacker interference. They have a great online chat feature and said they could talk me through the steps I needed to take to fix the damage and get back online. I waited until I had a spare couple of hours later that day then got back in touch…

Unfortunately in this particular case the steps I needed to take seemed pretty much never-ending. Each time I changed a certain password or deleted a specified list of files or added an additional security feature the web hosts came back with more password changes, more lists of files, more security features. One bit of bad luck with a (probably automated) hacking attack was leading to hours and hours of fiddly technical tasks.

When it still wasn’t sorted by the Christmas week, I decided to put it on the back burner. Who wants to spend hours scrolling through lists of possibly-compromised web files when there’s delicious festive food to eat?!

2016 began and I renewed my efforts to get my website back online. Again, each time I solved one issue another would replace it. I finally reached the point when my web hosts were happy to lift restrictions and get my website back online. Hurrah!

As it happens, my cheer was fairly short lived. Though the site was back online and all looked well from the outside… something was wrong with the WordPress back end and I couldn’t actually log into it. Ah. This was even more of a challenge as the problem was apparently to do with the coding of my website rather than the hosts and so my really-helpful-up-until-that-point hosting company weren’t able to offer any more advice.

If I’m honest, I ignored the problem for a few weeks. I had lots of client projects on the go and finding the time for frustrating tech tasks in between those important working hours, being a parent and occasionally getting something that passed for a full night’s sleep was not easy. And, well, I had a website that looked nice even if I couldn’t actually do anything with it.

Two months later the problem is finally fixed and I am able to bring my enforced blog break to a close. I’m not sure there’s a moral to this particular story… but it definitely feels good to be back.

Coming up; fun links, productivity chat and wordy musings. See you soon!

*Header photo source

 

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November 2015 Round Up

A few highlights from my month…

  • Teaching a successful writing masterclass at City University London
  • Reading Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast and Colm Toibin’s newest novel Nora Webster
  • Receiving high praise from returning clients (thank you!)
  • Starting to write festive content for clients – it’s got me in a Christmassy mood already!
  • Learning some new creative skills
  • Setting the date for a few new training courses in 2016
  • Listening to my daughter starting to talk!
  • Being so busy that I appear to have lost 6 entire weeks here on the blog…

A few highlights from around the web…

How has your month been?

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Why Stories Are Important

I’ve always been a storyteller. The part of my childhood that wasn’t spent writing or reading was spent playing games with endlessly complicated plots. My brother generally left it up to me to decide what we’d get up to… though he often got frustrated with the amount of backstory I liked to cover before we started!

Stories are important to me because I love them. But I’m not unusual in this. Stories are inherently human and they have a place in all our communications, from literature, media and play to business.

Yes, I did say business! Stories are an extremely valuable business tool. They can be used to entertain your audience, build trust, communicate value, create emotion and recruit brand advocates.

Why does this work?

There’s a very key reason behind this, and that’s because we react differently to stories than to any other kind of communication. There’s scientific research to suggest that our brains react rather wonderfully to stories. Instead of just using the parts of our brain that are needed to process facts, when we’re told a story we use the parts of our brain that would be used if we were experiencing the events in the story for ourselves.

Let me give you an example: if I tell you a story about eating an incredible piece of chocolate cake, you would not only use the parts of your brain used for listening and understanding, you’d also use the part usually reserved for taste.

This little scientific quirk makes stories hugely powerful. They can help you to provoke an emotional reaction in your audience. And once your audience is emotionally invested in what you’re offering… they’re much more likely to want to work with you.

Some businesses have obvious stories to work with. The example I always use here is of Toms, the shoe company. On their own, Toms shoes are fairly ordinary slip on trainers.

But then you add story…

The Toms company was born when the founder visited Argentina and befriended children who had no shoes. He wanted to do something to help and so he created a shoe company on the premise that for every pair of shoes bought they would donate a second pair to a child in need. Not only was this an admirable mission in terms of charitable work… it also captured the imagination of the shoe buying public and turned Toms into an internationally successful company.

Your business might not have such a clear story, but you’ll still have one. Once you’ve found it in can do wonders for your communications. Blog posts, social media updates, about pages, product descriptions and service outlines all work far better with added story.

Not sure where to start? Stories are my speciality and I love a challenge. Let’s chat.

 

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10 Ways to Be More Productive

1. Don’t multi-task. Seriously, don’t! It doesn’t work.

2. Work with your natural rhythm, not against it.

3. Take proper breaks instead of browsing the web at your desk.

4. Find a task management system that works for you. I’m currently using Todoist.

5. Get the most important work done first.

6. Change your mindset: work until you’ve completed all necessary tasks not until a certain time.

7.  Experiment with background noise. Classical music helps me focus on what I’m writing.

8. Time yourself to make sure you stay on track. I do this with Toggl, but a simple egg timer would work too.

9. Don’t overwhelm yourself with your to do list. Make sure it’s actually possible for you to do what needs to get done in the time you have.

10. Batch similar work together when possible.

*header image by David Joyce
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September 2015 Round Up

A few highlights from my month:

A few highlights from around the web:

I hope your September has been as fun and productive as mine!

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Two Upcoming Courses on Writing and the Web

I’m going to be running two courses over the next couple of months, one in York and one in London. I’ve blogged before about how much I enjoy training, so I’m very much looking forward to them.

Writing for the web can be very different from writing for other mediums. On both upcoming courses you’ll learn how to create written content that will engage your online audience and promote your organisation.

I’ll be showing you how to find the story in your communications, how to attract and keep the attention of your audience, how to present written content effectively, and how to find the right voice and tone to ensure your communications are always ‘on brand’.

Each course will also cover practical skills such as editing, proof-reading, keyword SEO and an introduction to content marketing.

If you’d like to find out more about the two courses, you’ll find the details below.

Writing for the Web

With: The Training Gateway

Location: York

Date: 25/09/2015

Full details available here

Writing for Digital Media

With: City University London

Location: London

Date: 14/11/2015

Full details available here

If you know anyone who may like to hear about these courses, it would be much appreciated if you passed this on!

 

 

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August 2015 Round Up

A few highlights from my month:

A few highlights from around the web:

How’s your August been?

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How to Come Up With Ideas for Your Blog

One of the most difficult things about blogging is the requirement to come up with new ideas week after week, month after month. New bloggers are often full of ideas for the first six months or so, but maintaining that momentum over time can be hard.

Developing editorial content ideas for my clients is part of my job. I’m an ideas person, and so this is something I really enjoy. Though that’s not to say that it’s always easy! I often get asked how I come up with so many ideas. I’d like to claim it all works as if by magic(!), but in reality there are a few tricks I use to keep the inspiration flowing.

I wanted to share some of those tricks with you.

Introduce recurring post types

Here’s a bit of good news: you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to plan your blog content for the month. If you can introduce regular types of post, a good few calendar spots will already be filled and all you’ll need to do is write new content to fit in each format. For example, at the end of each month I share a ‘Round Up‘ post with highlights from my month and favourite links from the web. Other examples of recurring posts could include reviews, how to guides, photo diaries, interviews and inspiration pieces.

Look at your FAQs

Are there certain questions that your customers or blog readers ask over and over again? Here’s a clue: those are the things they really want to know about! Often the things that seem too obvious to mention to you will actually be of real interest to people who don’t have your expertise.

Keep track of seasonal events

Seasonal events can provide all sorts of blog content opportunities. Some of these are obvious: Christmas and the summer holidays tend to provide all sorts of inspiration. But you may also find that local or industry events can be just as fruitful. Keep track of relevant world awareness days, celebrations, exhibitions and festivals for plenty of new things to blog about.

Make yourself a resource

If you’re only blogging about things that happen in your home, shop, office or studio you’re going to run short on ideas pretty quickly! Instead, consider opening out your remit to cover your industry/main area of interest. If you can open up the focus of your blog to cover news and advice related to this, you’ll have a lot more to say (and it’ll all be much more valuable to your readers, too!).

Speak to your customers

Here’s another obvious suggestion that a lot of us forget about… why not ask your customers or readers want they want to know? This is particularly helpful when it comes to advice based posts. You could do this in face-to-face conversation, perhaps just by asking people what they think is most interesting/mind-boggling about what you do. Alternatively, you could ask blog readers to email you with ideas or even send out a simple questionnaire to your mailing list.

Share guest posts and interviews

You don’t have to write all of your blog content yourself! Guest posts and interviews can be a great way to provide valuable content while giving yourself a bit of time off from idea generation. There’ll still be plenty of work to do: you’ll need to approach relevant people, chase them up, then edit posts as necessary. But this can be a great way to bring fresh perspective to your blog.

Add related topics

It can be difficult to maintain an interesting and varied blog when you’re strictly blogging about only your main area of interest. You may want to open things up a bit by adding a few related topics. Here’s an example: I’m a writer, but I don’t just blog about writing. I also share posts about books, productivity and freelancing. These related topics help to bring in different types of readers, ensure that things don’t get repetitive around here, and keep me entertained and inspired.

Any questions? Feel free to share them in the comments below or to drop me an email.

*Header photo by Andres Nieto Porras
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20 Things to Do Instead Of Picking Up Your Phone

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how much I use my phone. Over the last few years I (like many of us!) have got into the habit of scrolling mindlessly though apps on my phone whenever I’m tired/bored/at a loose end.

This isn’t a habit I’m particularly proud of. I’m also very aware that my one-year-old daughter is watching everything I do very carefully, so I’ve been making a conscious effort not to do it in front of her. This post on the behavioural analysis of a phone zombie written by a friend of mine has made me extra determined to work on setting a better example!

A lot of the time I pick up my phone because I have a spare five minutes that I don’t know what to do with. To avoid this, I’ve created a list of 20 things that, for me, feel like a better use of that time.

Here goes…

1. Read a chapter of a book

2. People watch

3. Do a yoga stretch

4. Jot down some blog post ideas

5. Get some fresh air

6. Write a few paragraphs of fiction

7. Do some meditative breathing

8. Make a cup of tea

9. Have a proper conversation

10. Enjoy the view

11. Listen to some music

12. Eat a healthy snack

13. Do a quick tidying session

14. Daydream

15. Flick through a recipe book

16. Do a ‘life admin’ task

17. Make a plan to do something fun

18. Review my work tasks for the day

19. Look at a photo album

20. Note down something my daughter has done that I want to remember

Any more suggestions? I’d love to hear them.

*Header photo by R. Nial Bradshaw
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July 2015 Round Up

A few highlights from my month:

A few highlights from around the web:

How has your July been?

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