Shelley Widhalm

Archive for 2019|Yearly archive page

Fast and Fun Tips for Blogging

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Fast and Fun Tips, SEO on September 8, 2019 at 11:00 am

DucksSummer16e 08-2019

Establishing a regular blog is a great way to pick out the best of the best, just like ducklings like to do in their search for bugs.

A blog is like a wayfinding sign for a business that directs online traffic nearly to your front door.

Blogs get attention, create relationships and build brands—just as signs hanging outside a retail store or restaurant direct, guide and welcome visitors to stop in. The difference is that blogs consist of short paragraphs, headlines, subheads and visuals, while signage is about the quick and simple—the business name, logo and identity.

With more than 150 million blogs worldwide, how can businesses compete? With a few fast and fun tips of course.

Blogging Benefits

Blogs position the business owner as a leader and authority on the subject matter—whether it’s cookies, coffee or clothes. They educate and inform. They provide authentic storytelling. They bulk up a website with great content and bring in more traffic. And they create SEO value, especially with keywords helping with rankings.

Plus, blogs separate businesses from the competition and give them a mom-n-pop friendly invitation or welcome mat.

To be effective at blogging, here are a few fast tips and even more fun tips.

The Fast Tips      

  • Blog consistently—most sources say once a week is preferable, but less or more is acceptable, especially when it’s on an expected day or date.
  • Consider length and depth—short is 300 words, middle is 300 to 500 words, and long is 600-plus words. Blogs range from content-mill quality to something that is original, well-researched and handcrafted for the audience and customers.
  • Throw in some bullets—they help with quick absorption of copy and are easier to remember.

The Fun Tips

  • Think about your reasons for blogging and make a list.
  • Figure out where to find content for each blog post and make another list.
  • Come up with some catchy headlines.
  • Include a Call to Action to identify what viewers can do next.
  • Figure out where to share the post after hitting Publish? What are three things that can be done with the blog now or in the future?

Three Final Tips

Remember to show voice and personality, so that the blog stands out, and talk about what’s relevant and enjoyable.

Realize that building up traffic and an audience takes time.

And, lastly, set aside the time to blog, or hire someone to do it for you.

 

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Fast and Fun Tips for Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Tips on August 4, 2019 at 5:00 pm

DucksSummer14b 2019

A duckling snuggles against Mom in July at the Foote Lagoon in Loveland, Colo. Good writing helps keep the words tight and comfortable for the reader.

Writing is not easy, even for a writer, but there are some fast and fun tips for writing that you won’t learn in English class.

Forget the five paragraphs and the introductory and concluding sentences. Go for the essential details and tell your story clearly, concisely and simply. Get in the needed transitions, or those sentences that tie together two seemingly disparate ideas, and forget the tangents.

To avoid veering off subject, figure out what you want to say or write first and identify the message from your rough notes. Otherwise, you’ll lose the reader in your word clutter.

The Fast Tips

There are three things you should do in any piece of writing.

First, identify that main message. What is it exactly that you want readers to take away from your blog, article or social media content? What ideas, perspectives or emotions are you trying to convey?

Second, figure out your audience. Are your aiming to reach high-end coffee connoisseurs or do they prefer a casual outing? Write in that tone? Do you want some humor? Do you want to be casual? Or is being serious more fitting?

And lastly, peg your structure. Do you want to tell an anecdote up front and then tell a story? Do you see a beginning, middle and end to what you have to say? Do you want to segment the content into topics or create a list?

The Fun Tips

Here are some tips writers know but may not want to share (it’s what sets them apart and makes their writing great).

  • Be concise and say what you want to say in one sentence, not three. In other words, know how much information is enough and what’s relevant. Cut the rest.
  • Avoid writing in abstractions and using words that convey only the big ideas. Don’t generalize but be specific in what you want to say.
  • Avoid using jargon and unnecessary and fanciful words. Don’t embellish your language just to sound good.
  • Write in the active voice to keep the writing brief and in the present, so that it feels current and relevant.

Once you achieve quick and dirty writing and put in the time and energy to practice, you’ll be able to fit in writing between the busy hours of running a business. Or you can hire some to do it for you and know that they’ve got the clean writing that brings in customers and clients.

 

How to Keep Up With Summer Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on July 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

BuschGardensShorebirds1 06-2018

During my 2018 summer trip to Florida, I photographed shorebirds at Busch Gardens chasing another bird holding a bun, making it so the bird with the prize couldn’t stop to have a snack. I turned my observation into a poem, taking advantage of summer fun to get in some writing time.

With summer a few weeks in, how do you keep up the writing pace when fun beckons?

Writing and blogging seem to be the kind of practices that if set aside lose momentum. Coming back to the project or a regular posting schedule takes review and discipline, just like setting aside a book and forgetting some of the intricacies of the plot and character.

For writers, bloggers and those who need to post a weekly or monthly blog or article, can the serious work of writing be included in busy summer plans?

Try small chunks so that it doesn’t feel like work. Plan a regular time for writing, a little at a time, or write ahead and schedule the blog online, or turn in the article early before deadline. And then don’t open the laptop or notebook unless there is free time or you feel inspired or motivated to write, so that it is not an obligation.

Think of it as quick and dirty writing: get in, do the work of fast content and return to the fun. The result is a mini-moment of work with a reward of having achieved something.

Methods for Quick Writing

Here are a few tips for quick and dirty, but effective writing.

First off, commit to writing while waiting or between the moments of work, errands and summer plans.

And then:

  • Schedule an hour or two for writing every other day or every three days. Even 15 minutes will suffice. It will add up over time, but if you don’t write, then there will be nothing but the desire to do so.
  • Do the writing in the morning by getting up extra early (or just before going to bed) and treat yourself to the rest of the fun summer schedule.
  • Acknowledge the accomplishment, such as by tracking it on a spreadsheet or a check-off list.
  • Break up writing into smaller tasks. Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel like less work. Come back to it later.

What I Do for Quick Writing

For me, writing after engaging in professional writing and editing during the workday requires discipline, so I set up a schedule in my planner and mark on my spreadsheet the number of hours I achieve writing. I have a project deadline and a weekly goal of a certain word count or page count, depending on if I’m in the writing or the editing stage of my project.

And then I sit down and write, aiming for an hour but if it’s less or more, I’m fine with it. The important thing is that I write.

Fitting in Writing Time and Space

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing and Mindset, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on June 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm

ZoeyLaptop2

Zoey the Cute Dachshund is a key motivator for finding time and space for writing.

A fellow writer said five minutes is enough time to write and a car is a good enough space to pull out a notebook—the key is acknowledging the writing no matter when, where and how.

Writing doesn’t have to have the optimal conditions but can be slipped in, because waiting for the right place and right time can end up being limiting. The ideas or what could have happened get lost in the takeover of seemingly more important things.

I find that I can write for 15 minutes (five doesn’t work for me) and get a poem in, but for stories I do need a half-hour. If I wait for an hour or more, I skip it and do other tasks on my to-do list.

The lesson: just make do so you can write.

Carry a notebook wherever you go, or even different notebooks for different places—I have a mini one in my purse, a small one in my workbag and a few in my house. Inspiration can hit at unplanned or inconvenient moments, but take the five minutes, or even two, to jot down a reminder of what you want to say when you do have the time.

Finding a Writing Spot

For those mini writing moments, establish a writing spot that becomes your writing get-away. To do this, ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Do you need quiet or background noise from conversations and music?
  • Do you want an area that’s open or a small space, such as a closet converted into an office? Do you like working outside if it’s nice out?
  • Do you want to write alone or be around other people? Do you need to write with a writing partner or a write-in group?
  • Do you want to go somewhere away from home and the excuses of chores and whatever else can distract you?
  • Do you have a time of day when you do your best writing? Do you need a routine, or a schedule?

Other Ideas for Writing Spots

Here are a few places you can try: a desk in the bedroom or living room, the library, coffee shops, restaurants, bars or a porch, deck or patio during nice weather.

Once you find a spot you consider comfortable and also inspiring, make that your go-to place for writing. And then cherish it and the work that you do there.

What Your Writer Won’t Tell You (until you go to a conference)

In NCW Writers Conference, Northern Colorado Writers, Writers Conferences, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on May 12, 2019 at 11:00 am

0513 NCWConference

Amy Rivers, director of Northern Colorado Writers, right, welcomes writers to the 14th Annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference during the banquet dinner May 3 in Fort Collins, Colo. April Moore, left, dresses in sailor gear in line with the conference theme, “The Muse Cruise: Let Your Writing Set Sail!”

Going to a writing conference is a way to learn trade secrets about writing, editing and publishing without having to spend years on experience and time and energy on classes.

A few such secrets could be found at the 14th Annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference, “The Muse Cruise: Let Your Writing Set Sail!” May 3 to 4 in Fort Collins, Colo.

The secrets came about during workshops, panel discussions and editor-agent consultations. Literary agents, editors, authors, freelance writers and industry professionals taught one-hour workshops on a variety of topics, including writing at the sentence level, plotting the scenes of a novel, building a platform and applying film techniques to novel writing.

Writing Secrets

Here is a sampling of a few of the writing secrets (followed by the workshop name and presenter):

  • Find the Intention: If you want to freelance or hire a writer, figure out your intentions. Money? Fame? To keep busy? To promote yourself and what you do? To sharpen your writing skills? That’s the why. The what is your subject matter expertise, such as about current trends or untapped topics. The where is the places where your writing will appear. The how? How much do you want to get paid or are willing to pay to achieve quality? (The Business of Art: How to Make Freelance Writing Work for You, Kristin Owens, freelance writer)
  • Stick with It: Don’t give up if you believe in your writing, and be sure to schedule it in, even in small chunks. Realize that writing is a process. You can’t edit a blank page, but you can edit bad writing. The biggest mistake in writing is to turn it into early before it has been edited or revised. Lastly, remember “Writing is hard, not easy. Only stick with it if you can’t imagine not doing it.” (A Writer at Any Age, Cynthia Swanson, bestselling author of “The Bookseller,” keynote speaker)
  • Come Full Circle: The opening pages of a long project should have a hook to draw in the reader and also mirror the closing pages. Start in the right place where the action is, not with a lot of backstory that slowly leads up to the storytelling. Don’t perfect the beginning over and over again, but consider the middle and the ending as equally important. (Opening Pages That Lead to Yes, Angie Hodapp, literary agent)

Writing Passion

The conference concluded with a discussion and poetry presentation by Jovan Mays, former poet laureate of Aurora, a TED speaker and a National Poetry Slam Champion.

“Honor your passion, your love for words,” Mays said. “Keep your options open about who you are in this life. … It’s not about the about, it’s about the journey.”

Write Fluff-Free (and get Clicks and Stays)

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing Tips on April 21, 2019 at 11:00 am

AtTheYard2 06-2018

Get rid of the extras to get readers to click and read, just like trying to focus on a tree in a busy Florida landscape.

Writing can get a message across, but there can be a lot of fluff, or something to skip over and move on.

The idea is to get attention—with the first sentence of a story, the headline to a blog or article, or the top item of a list. Don’t let them scroll or scan on to the next paragraph or item, but keep them locked within the body or the story. Get them to click and stay.

Want Action?

But don’t stop there. Get them to take action—either by getting lost in the storytelling and not leaving the book or wanting what you have to sell, offer, promote or persuade. What you’re doing is engaging them in the moment and leaving an impression. They remember what they read instead of letting it sift out like all the clutter in a house or office.

Cutting out writing clutter results in a clear, concise and compelling style that has spark. But how do you add spark to your writing?

You can practice and put in the time, so that writing moves from desire to habit. It’s not a one-day thing to achieving that place of great, high-quality writing. It’s a matter of discipline, motivation and inspiration.

Or, you can find someone who loves writing to do the work for you. Make sure they know the key aspects of your message, or what you want to say and hope your readers will learn, get inspired by or do.

Want Spark?

To get that spark in writing and storytelling:

  • Lead in with something new, interesting, different or compelling.
  • Keep to the topic on hand without veering off into tangents.
  • Add enough detail and description but don’t overdo it. Keep adverbs, those words ending in –ly, to a minimum.
  • Describe things using two or more senses, like sight, sound and taste.
  • Establish all of the elements of telling a story, such as setting, character, plot and dialog. This works even when talking about your business—where and when were you founded, who are the staff, what stories do they and you as the owner have to tell, and what are your favorite quotes about what you have to offer?

For action-taking, once readers and customers know you, they will be intrigued. Once they realize you can help them with their pain points, or what takes away from their own time, energy and resources, they’ll look to you as problem-solver. They’ll see you as story crafter creating The End, or I’m Sold!

Poems Can Be About Anything (a workshop with poet Pattiann Rogers)

In National Poetry Month, Poetry, Poetry Advice, Poetry Readings, Writing, Writing Poetry on April 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

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The Regional Poets present Castle Rock poet Pattiann Rogers in a special reading and workshop April 5-6 at the Loveland Museum, “The Poetry of Earth is Ceasing Never/Wild Has Its Skills.” Rogers gives local poets advice to help them improve their craft.

A poem can be about anything, from something mundane like soda crackers to something a bit bigger like the stars.

“That’s what’s fun about it. Nobody can say, ‘That’s not right,’” said Castle Rock, Colo., poet Pattiann Rogers, author of 14 poetry books, including her latest, “Quickening Fields.”

Rogers presented a 2 ½-hour workshop April 6 about poetry techniques and ways of entering the poem as part of the Regional Poets’ effort to bring state and national poets to Loveland, Colo. The four poets, including Veronica Patterson, Lynn Kincanon, Lorrie Wolfe and Caroline Orman, organize biannual readings, followed by a workshop the next day, in April and August.

National Poetry Month

The April reading and workshop coincide with National Poetry Month, a celebration of poetry organized by the Academy of American Poets with daily suggestions for reading, writing and engaging with poetry. The idea is to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry.

“Part of what she brings in is the stir, chaos and grandeur of what’s going on around us,” said Patterson, Loveland’s poet laureate, about Rogers, a nature and environmental poet. “The clarification and magnification of being is what Pattiann Rogers does with all of her work.”

Rogers’ reading and workshop, “National Poetry Month Brings Pattiann Rogers to Loveland: The Poetry of Earth is Ceasing Never/Wild Has Its Skills,” made engaging with poetry fun, interesting and accessible.

“You have that freedom. That’s what drew me to poetry,” Rogers said, adding that even with fixed forms, there is freedom as long as you entice and engage with the readers. “Poetry is communication. You have to give your readers something to call them back to the poem, to engage with it.”

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Poetry Discipline

The freedom, however, requires discipline, Rogers said

“Because of the freedom, you have to discipline yourself in different ways, so you have a piece of music,” Rogers said. “When you are writing without a fixed form, you have to pay attention to accented or unaccented syllables and will it be one with your subject? You have to make the judgment yourself if you’re not writing with a fixed form to guide you.”

Rogers presented four poetry prompts for the 35 poets attending the workshop and gave them a handout with advice on titling a poem and figuring out where and how to make line and stanza breaks. She said she taught workshops for years and found students had trouble with the title.

“It can totally make a poem,” Rogers said, explaining that readers will read the title, the poem and the title again. “It can tell something important that you can’t work into the poem.”

Titles and Breaks

Rogers suggested the title shouldn’t just announce the subject but add something to the poem, indicate another level of meaning and stimulate the reader’s curiosity.

“You have to offer your readers something to pay them back for their attention and time,” Rogers said.

As for line breaks, Rogers suggested ending on a strong word in sound and meaning and in a way that enhances the poem’s tone.

“What’s it going to look like on the page? You have to have a reason for breaking the line. Where is it that you want a pause or a word to be emphasized?” Rogers said.

Stanza breaks establish “a space of silence within a poem” and can be used to set the poem’s pace, Rogers said.

“You never quit learning about craft,” Rogers said. “You make your own decisions. That’s part of the freedom.”

Spring into Poetry during National Poetry Month

In National Poetry Month, Poem-A-Day, Poem-A-Day Challenge, Poetry, Poetry Advice, Poetry Tips, Reading Poems, Writing Poetry on April 7, 2019 at 11:00 am

GeeseSummer6 2016

Ducklings huddle with their mother at the edge of a lagoon in Loveland, Colo, last year during spring.

April is the best month for three reasons: baby animals start coming out, it’s my birthday and … it’s National Poetry Month.

Each day of the month, the Academy of American Poets suggests ways to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry. Today’s suggestion is to buy a book of poetry from a local bookstore.

Poetry Suggestions

Other suggestions include reading a poem at an open mic, starting a poetry reading group (I also think a poetry writing group is a great idea), reading about different poetic forms (or try writing them), signing up for a poetry class or workshop, attending a poetry reading or chalking poems on sidewalks.

April 18 is a special day, Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day, encouraging the selection of a poem you love (including ones you’ve written) and carrying it with you to share with coworkers, family and friends.

“I like the fact that for one month, people are more sensitized and aware of poetry,” said Windsor, Colo., poet Lorrie Wolfe, president of the Northern Colorado Chapter of the Columbine Poets of Colorado. “There’s lots of ways to incorporate poetry into your life, and having a month that celebrates that is fun.”

For Poem in Your Pocket Day, Wolfe hands out copies of a poem to the people she encounters that day, including her neighbors and her local barista, and puts them with any bills or mail she sends out.

“That’s a fun one,” Wolfe said.

Poem-A-Day Challenge

Loveland poet Lynn Kincanon, a member of the Metaphors, a Loveland-based poetry group, celebrated the month last year by writing a poem a day in a different form, selecting from the 500 that are available, she said. She’s doing the same thing this year.

“It lets me learn so many different forms of poetry. I’ve never heard of half of the ones I’m writing,” Kincanon said.

Kincanon, along with several other poets in Loveland, writes a poem a day as part of the national Poem-A-Day Challenge. They attended a local workshop Aug. 5, 2017, presented by Placerville, Colo., poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “Rigorous Willingness: Writing from the Unconstricted Throat” at the Loveland Public Library. Wahtola Trommer suggested poets write and share a poem a day, and I, too, joined in the challenge. Those of us who have kept with it have written about 600 poems so far.

I like the result—not only more poems in my pocket and on my laptop, but I have a closer eye. Being attuned to poetry puts me on the hunt for things to write about each day, though I do find I repeat subjects—such as the ducks and geese at the lagoon I run past on my way to the gym, my days at work and my inner landscape. I also find that my output has increased from zero or a half-dozen a month to 28 to 31.

Keeping up with Poetry

A few times along my poetry path, I, however, wanted to give up, because my daily challenge would become a week of catch-up. I would do some poetry dumping and short haikus, filling in the poem blanks. I told other poets about my poem guilt and learned that I can look at it as practice and commend myself for showing up.

At times, I have to wade through some sloppy bad poems to get to a few good ones. I find a line or two that seem like a treasure to take out and use elsewhere. I also have tried new forms and deepened my understanding of poetry’s conciseness, rhythm and ways of expression.

Lastly, my daily life from the challenge has become more about observing the little details, remembering them and crafting a poem out of my sense impressions. I’m more observant and aware. I’m searching as I live instead of just letting my environment lie still. I see, feel, hear and sense more of my world, and I’m more alive because of poetry.

As Loveland poet Maria Maldonado-Dunn, also a member of the Metaphors, said, “I think it’s so awesome we have an entire month focused on one of my passions. … It’s the best month in the whole calendar year. Poetry is not dead.”

I wrote about “Loveland poets take up Poem-A-Day Challenge,” for the Loveland Reporter-Herald. Check it out!

http://www.reporterherald.com/lifestyles/neighbors/ci_32545827/loveland-poets-take-up-poem-day-challenge

Blogs Key to Telling a Writer’s Story

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on March 31, 2019 at 11:00 am

Flowers-CoffeeShop 03-2018

A flower assortment from a downtown Loveland, Colo., flower shop decorates the counter of a local coffee shop, demonstrating that a touch of color makes customers want to stay longer. The same thing happens with readers and good writing.

Blogging is a great way to tell your story, but how to get that message across takes some knowledge about your readers.

What is it that they want to see in your blog? It’s like a storefront but instead of opening the door, it takes a click.

They want to discover the latest news about your writing career. They want to know about your projects and get behind-the-scene peeks into your working processes and inspirations and motivations. They want to learn how you find and tell a story. And they want to know what’s up next, a short story or a full novel, and if they can support you in any way.

Blog ROI

Blogs are pervasive, but they also can have a ROI by helping writers look personal and inviting. Writers demonstrate that they want more than sales but connections. Likewise, blogs demonstrate expertise but in quick, direct messages.

Blog posts don’t need to be long with 500 to 700 words optimal. A blog that is 300 to 400 words is considered short, while a blog 1,000 or more words is long and article length.

Blogs crafted with a focus on the audience and what they care about will get more attention than SEO-centered blogs written solely to build a platform. They are not about clicks and quits—the audience sees the content is valueless and moves on. The audience stays for the quality, just like they do when they find a writer they love and can’t get enough of, visiting their websites, signing up for their newsletters and rushing to Amazon or the bookstore for a new release.

Click and Stay

To get a click and stay, here are some things to consider.

  • Identify your target readers, or who you want to write to, avoiding writing to everybody, therefore to nobody.
  • Figure out what your readers want to learn about your writing career and projects and then create the content, instead of writing whatever comes to mind.
  • Demonstrate your expertise on a subject related to writing or your projects.
  • Regularly talk about your main subject, but add some variety to keep up the interest.
  • Be specific, give examples and avoid going off topic into tangents.
  • Tell your story with details and descriptions, so that the audience can picture what you have to say.

Schedule It In

Make your blog routine, so your readers know what to expect and can mark it on their calendars. Make sure to post according to a schedule, such as once a week or even monthly, and on the same day. Sporadic blogging, especially every few months, shows a lack of commitment to the blog—plus, it’s unpredictable for the audience.

On a personal note, I aim for once a week, but when I get busy, I find that I end up skipping. But I always come back to it, not wanting to give up something I started in 2011.

 

Why Businesses, Writers Need a Regular Blog

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on March 24, 2019 at 11:00 am

GeeseSummer9 2016

Blogging is a way to separate you from the crowd, just like the ducklings huddled together eventually will go out on their own.

Everyone seems to have a blog from writers to business owners, but are they a necessity?

With more than 150 million blogs in existence, it seems like a key way to promote what you have to offer to your readers, customers and clients. Google certainly likes blogs and other written content for Search Engine Optimization and higher online rankings.

Beyond SEO

But blogging goes beyond simple SEO. A blog is part of branding, an aspect of creating a platform and a form of marketing.

Consistent, quality blogging creates an image and demonstrates expertise and authority in a niche. It gets readers to turn to you, because, over time, they begin to value your knowledge and how you relay that knowledge, plus your values and what you see as most important. It’s a way to connect in the fast-pace world of social media that feels a little more personal.

Blogs should educate, inform and entertain and not be solely written for SEO purposes. Content-mill produced blogs are written to get clicks—what’s created is SEO-stuffed with little meaning and value. They only are about quantity, not quality.

Quality Blogs

Alternatively, writing regular quality blogs create relationships, build audiences and convert readers to fans, clients and customers. They result in engagement and a following.

Research shows that blogs should be posted once a week on the same day of the week, and not randomly, especially with big gaps of time and a lack of focus in topic. To create quality blogs, think about your target market. Who are you writing to? What voice do you want to use to reach them? What is it you want to say?

Blogs are a way to talk about your business, your newest product or service, your latest book or your artwork. It’s a way to show your process of creation. It’s a way to show what attracts fans to your business or what you have to offer and why you are the best pick.

Blogging Advantages

Here are some advantages of blogging. Blogs can:

  • Put you in front of your customers, serving a similar purpose as an ad or marketing materials.
  • Bring traffic to your website.
  • Nurture and build a relationship with your audience through regular connection.
  • Separate you from your competition.

Blogs also can be used to tell your story and to make your business, platform or website look personal and inviting. The good news is they don’t have to be written by you—you can hire a ghostwriter to get great quality and a consistent approach that brings readers back wanting more.