Posts made in March, 2010


Selling Value

Selling Value


Posted By on Mar 15, 2010

Some clients have never thought about unique value proposition (UVP, or unique sales proposition, USP), the thing that differentiates them from their competitors. Some business owners just don’t think in those terms. They think, “I sell widgets.” They don’t stop to analyze the fact that blue widgets are the thing they do better than any other widgetator. That makes my job more interesting because I have to play detective before I can play writer or editor. The Grand Canyon is a brand and has a unique value proposition. The brand is embodied in the landscape, which has become the symbol for the place. The UVP is that there is no other place like it and what you experience there, you cannot get anywhere else on the planet. “The Grand Canyon — 17 million years to create a vacation you’ll never forget” I just made that up. I think the National Park Service should buy that from me. If the client doesn’t know the answers to my discovery questions, I may need to talk to their customers to help pinpoint what makes the client unique. However we do it, we copywriters have to understand and succinctly state our client’s message in a way that gets customers to take action (call, e-mail, buy), or else the action they take will be to go to another Web site or peruse someone else’s ad. Of course, my guilty admission is that I’m struggling with my own UVP. I’m good at detectiving UVPs (and making up words like “detectiving”) and taglines for other people’s businesses (see Grand Canyon above) but I hurt my neurons to articulate my UVP. It’s a really good exercise that every business person should hurt themselves with. I continue to ask myself late into the night all of the questions I ask clients. Based on the feedback (testimonials) from previous clients, my UVP has something to do with the fact that clients think I’m a wonderful human being, that I write copy that works, they’re confident that I’m hyper-reliable (ask my friends), I hit my schedule dates, and get to the finish line on budget. So I guess my UVP is that I’m a super hero. But I think “man of steel” is already in use. I’ll keep working at...

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I Love Editors


Posted By on Mar 10, 2010

I really lucked out when I started writing professionally. I was thrown into a situation with some of the best editors I’ve worked with anywhere. I’ve learned more about writing from editors than from any other resource other than writing itself. The writer-editor relationship is one of the most important a professional writer will ever have and when it’s good, it’s an extremely satisfying give and take that results in work that you’re proud of. A good editor is not an inflexible guardian of perfect grammar, spelling, and syntax. A good editor is a kind of psychologist. Grammar, spelling, and syntax are only the technical aspects of writing; a part of the craft. Knowing how to work well with writers is a bit of an art and requires understanding what potentially stands in the way of the writer’s ability to produce excellent content. This may be a question of tools, time, or interpersonal conflicts. It’s part of the editors job to figure this out and help the writer to the other side. This doesn’t mean the editor needs to baby her writers (although sometimes…). It means her eyes are always on what makes the content sing. It might surprise most people to know that writers and editors at Microsoft (where I worked for 14+ years) are by and large consummate professionals. They produce enormous quantities of all kinds of print and electronic content under occasionally crushing deadlines. They’re often less-than-satisfied with the product they produce because ship-dates can’t be moved for content improvements. But most of my colleagues there were passionate about language and writing. Some had come from long careers in publishing, television, or other media. It was a great training ground and in many ways, a fabulous place to work. Now that I’m on my own, I’m happy to know that that kind of collaboration is still part of the work I...

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Navel Gazing


Posted By on Mar 9, 2010

An interesting fact of writing a Web site for my freelance writing and editing business is that I have to apply the same methodology to myself that I apply to working with any client…I’ve become my own client. All of the questions that I ask a client, I’m asking myself. Who is my audience? How can I best understand their needs and desires? Who is my competition? How can I differentiate my business? One way that I differentiate my business is in the sensibility I bring to the discovery process. I’m genuinely interested in how businesses and non-profits reach their audiences through the Web and print and how I can best help them discover and communicate their core message. It’s a fascinating process, despite being quite challenging. But I can bring to bear my experience in project management at Microsoft, my degree in psychology, my years of writing, and my insatiable curiosity. Plus I really want my clients to feel that working with me made their lives easier. If you can’t bring a real desire to provide benefits to clients by your work, why bother doing...

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Customizing WP Themes


Posted By on Mar 5, 2010

I’d like to be able to say that it’s amazing what you can do with WordPress themes these days. They are indeed a boon because non-techies can use a WP theme to create a blog or Web site that looks better and is more functional than if they hacked something together on their own. They can do this for almost no money at all compared to a custom Web site from a design shop. Since I’m somewhere between a complete technical idiot and a total geek, however, it can be frustrating to customize a theme beyond clicking boxes in the Thesis pages. Of course, spending hours on forums and Googling “pretty permalinks on Windows servers” has the added benefit of keeping me from writing, which is harder than moving angle brackets around. Bloggers and geeks are gushing all over the Web about Thesis, the WP theme upon which this Web site is based. This makes for very damp pages but they have some good points. Thesis is easy to use in many ways. But so far, I find very, very few Thesis-based sites that look very good, including mine. I’m not a designer so I prefer to be able to steal anything that looks pretty. I can’t find anything so far to steal for Thesis. My favorite Thesis sites are A Life in Translation and More is Better. Jamie and Nicole have been very creative with the theme and their sites don’t look like EVERY OTHER THESIS THEME ON THE PLANET. Most Thesis sites looks dreadfully similar, including mine. I just found Traci Feit Love‘s site. She’s done a really nice job with the basic Thesis layout. Plus her content is first-rate. Sugarrae has a basic Thesis layout but has done nice things with the header and menu. Same with Maria Forleo. Double Mule is a site I like for all of their cleverly delivered tips on using Thesis. We’re unlikely to see Thesis customized to the level to compete with sites by companies like Gravitate Design. In my defense, I’ve only been playing with Thesis for a week and haven’t yet discovered all of its startling, life-changing abilities. I really want to discover ways of differentiating the look without spending the next month hacking every file in the folder structure. And I want pretty permalinks, which you cannot achieve from within the theme when you’re hosted on a Windows server. Anyone who can solve that one for me will be...

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Threshold

Threshold


Posted By on Mar 4, 2010

This isn’t the first day of working on brianvhunt.com but it’s early in the process of building a new business. Oddly, it’s not all that scary (starting a business, not building a web site, which is not scary but taxing). I’m very excited to get a chance to use skills that I’ve honed for more than a decade working for Microsoft and for a non-profit as a  volunteer to start my own business. I’ve still got content and glitches to work into and out of this site. One of them is figuring out how to make pretty permalinks work on a Windows server. I’ve investigated this some already with the hosting service and on forums. The forums generally say switch to a Linux server. But I may want to rebuild the site using .asp sometime. Watch this...

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