I lost the bid on a job recently. A website redesign. I lost the job because I’m not familiar with the platform the site was built on.
Unfortunately, it didn't work out for either of us.
Not just because I didn’t get the job, but because the people who did get the job, while familiar with the platform, are not as familiar with best practices for web design or copywriting as they should be.
After looking at the new site, my disappointment at losing the job morphed into disappointment for my would-be client.
The copywriting on the new site is ineffective and the user experience is one of confusion and missed opportunity.
Here are two reminders and one takeaway from the experience.
Remember, it’s not all about you. At least not right away.
When a visitor comes to your website, they want to know if they are in the right place and they want to know if you can help them. As quickly as possible.
They're looking for the solution to a problem. They’re not interested in knowing how long you’ve been in business or how many awards you’ve won. That’s important information, but information you can share later on.
It’s like when you cut your finger. You’ll grab anything to stop the bleeding: a napkin, a paper towel, or a clean hanky if someone hands one to you. Only later will you think about a proper bandage or the best antiseptic cream.
You need to tell visitors how you can help them. And you need to tell them right away.
2) User Experience
Is your site easy to navigate, is it interesting?
When people search for what you offer and find you, tell them what they want to know.
Do you sell products? Services?
Is it easy to figure out what you offer? Is it easy to place an order? To get in touch with you? Want people to join your mailing list? Make sure there's an incentive for them to sign up.
Remember, people have lots of options. Do you have resources on your site that add to the user experience? That make you stand out?
Consider blog posts, articles, and white papers where you can share your expertise and bolster your credibility—without sounding like you're bragging.
Having a site that's easy to navigate and chock-full of helpful information is the best way to convince someone you know what you're doing.
Team up with someone who knows what you don’t.
I was disappointed when I lost the account. Partnering with someone familiar with the preferred platform would have been the thing to do.
Do you need more tips to build a better website? Read this:
Five lessons in project management.
Last Sunday I bundled up and went outside to clear the six inches of snow that fell overnight. Six inches is not a lot of snow, and with a temperature of only 12°F, it was light and fluffy. The problem was, and usually is, the end of the driveway. The snowplow snow.
It’s a messy mix of snow and ice left behind after the city plow comes through. It's heavy and chunky and challenging to move.
Because it was only six inches, and it was early (just seven o’clock in the morning), I decided to forgo the snowblower and shovel my way out.
Like most projects, there are things to consider when starting out, and I realized my plan for clearing the snow was really an exercise in project management.
Lesson #1: Assess the situation
Shoveling a path out was the first step. After the porch and stairs were clear, I needed to tackle the driveway surface, remove the snowplow snow from the end of the driveway, and clean off the car.
If it's time to renovate your website, assess what's working ... and what's not.
Lesson #2: Make sure you have the right tools for the job
Snow shovels come in as many varieties and flavors as ice cream. There’s the big scoop and the small scoop. Metal and plastic varieties. And varying weights. Some shovels are light and easy to handle, others are heavy.
After years of testing, my preference is a light-weight, flat scoop.
Do you maintain your website? Have someone do it for you? Is it easy to make changes? Would some professional advice make it better or easier? Review how you build, change, and maintain your site.
Lesson #3: Make a plan
Once the porch and stairs were clear, I decided to use an alternating pattern of removal. Because snowplow snow is so heavy, I devised a plan: shovel, brush, dig.
I shoveled a third of the driveway, moved on and brushed off half of the car, then dug a two-foot section of the snowplow snow. And switched again. More shoveling, brushing, and digging.
The plan allowed me minimize exertion (recommended), make slow and steady progress, and vary the tasks at hand to avoid frustration.
Do you want to be involved in maintaining and creating your site or do you want to hand it off to someone else? The best approach may be a little of both.
Lesson #4: Check your progress
When I started, it seemed it would take forever to get through the end of the driveway. But when I stopped to take a breath, I could see I was making progress. My plan was working.
Websites are like houses. They need upkeep and renovations. Sometimes it's as simple as mowing the lawn (or changing a headline). Other times new windows (blog posts or feature articles) are needed.
Lesson #5: Find pleasure in the doing
When I stopped to check my progress, I took a deep breath and looked up. I saw that the sky was robin’s egg blue. The sun was still rising and it put a glow on the horizon and tree tops ... and the underbelly of a seagull that flew overhead.
Reward for a job well done.
Your website is a must for your business, but it doesn't have to be a chore. Use your site to share what you know. A revived blog may rekindle your interest in sharing what you know. A podcast or video series could get your creative juices flowing.
Is it time to renovate your website? Click on the button below to get started.
The winner is .... Cover #1
Most of you thought it best reflected the subject of the book, cursive writing.
Thank you for voting and sharing your thoughts.
I need your help.
I'm in the final stages of designing my book, Cursive Writing Practice by the Letter and I need your help.
There are three cover designs to choose from, and I'd like to know which one you like best.
(voting has ended)
Cursive Writing Practice by the Letter is a workbook. It includes instruction for writing each letter of the alphabet and introduces a more creative, engaging way to practice and improve your writing skill: writing and mailing letters to your friends and family.
Inside there are tips for who to write to and what to write about along with detailed instructions for how to address an envelope ... and where to put the stamp(!).
It also includes writing samples from over 20 people (so students can learn to read, as well as write, cursive), and a selection of writing prompts from the popular "I Write Letters to Say" series.
(voting has ended)
So which cover do you like best?
To make your selection, just click on the cover you like, and it will generate an email that will come directly to me ... just type Cover #1, Cover #2, or Cover # 3 in the subject line and your vote will be counted. You can also add any comments or suggestions.
Next week I'll reveal which cover got the most votes and share more details about how you can order your copy of Cursive Writing Practice by the Letter.
(voting has ended)
Thanks for reading along (and choosing the cover you like), I really appreciate it.
P.S. If you know someone who would enjoy this email, you can forward it to them.
P.P.S. If you're writing a book, get in touch if you need help with developmental editing, design, or project management.
I put it off as long as I could.
It was a side project I was working on and I was having trouble settling on a theme. A theme and an illustration. I'd done a lot of thinking, but had done nothing concrete to move things forward.
So I sat at my desk and started mapping out ideas. A list of words. A list of images. And (no surprise, really), it worked. Ideas started to materialize.
I settled on a theme.
A snowy night. A night when snowbanks shimmer like sparkle snow in a storefront window.
And with a theme, things shifted.
The ideas started to flow.
The snowy night led to the idea of adding animals. But what kind?
Animals that turn white in winter (there are fewer than I expected). The Peary caribou is one and it would be the first of four I would include in the drawing.
Things were finally coming together. I had the shape of the caribou defined and most of the night sky around it was filled in.
But something was wrong.
The nose. With a pointed eraser, I rubbed it out. And something happened. The area I erased looked like the breath of the caribou. I was so surprised at the sight of it. Serendipity had stepped in and transformed the drawing.
The relief I felt was audible. This was going to work.
The drawing came together, I met my deadline, and felt good about what I had created.
And (fingers crossed), I learned something.
Start before you're ready.
Procrastination is hard to eliminate entirely, but sometimes a deep breath, a pencil (and an eraser), and a list will get things going.
On the final panel, I added a line from a cut-up poetry exercise. The original pencil drawing along with the hand lettering was scanned. Color was applied in InDesign.
Click on the drawing to enlarge.
If I can help you move forward with your project, let's do it.
Call 207-252-9757 or email me to get started.
At Composition 1206 we make you look good. Online and in print.
websites • books
I'm writing a book.
Here's the working title:
The Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice
I'm fairly sure the title isn't catchy enough, but it tells it like it is. Maybe that's good? I'm working on it.
It's an instruction book for writing in cursive and using letter writing as a way to practice.
But why write a book about two outmoded topics?
I believe they still matter.
My deadline for the first draft is the end of this month.
After that? I've got a few letters to write.
P.S. Are you writing a book? Or thinking about writing a book?
I can help you with organization, structure and flow, copy editing, and design. Call (207) 252-9757 or email me today to talk about your book project.
P.P.S. Need some letter writing ideas or encouragement? Take a peek at my letter writing site: Postmark1206.
* Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-term Comprehension
**Why Don't the Common-Core Standards Include Cursive Writing?
What would it be like if we couldn't vote?
That's what I think about on election day. I think about it because voter turnout can be dismal.
I think about it because there are four amendments to the Constitution related to voting rights. Amendments that give people who were denied the right to vote their voting rights. People like Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton had had enough.
It was unacceptable that as a woman, she was not allowed to vote. For more than 50 years, she fought for the right to cast a ballot. And she died nearly two decades before the 19th Amendment would pass. That's 70 years.
It took far too long.
Today I will vote. I will vote for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and all the women who fought alongside her. And I will vote for those who fought for the 15th Amendment, the 24th Amendment, and the Voting Rights Act.
I will vote because I can.
One person, one vote. It matters, and it counts.
I created this infographic to inspire more people to vote on election day.
If you have information you'd like to share in an infographic, write today to talk about how we can work together.
Flipping the switch was flipping me out. Last week's storm left us without power.
It was Thursday morning and I was up early. Not because the alarm went off. No, it was the rain lashing against the bedroom window that woke me.
Fifteen minutes later the power went out.
It was a blackout: no power, no lights, no heat, no opening the refrigerator, and no computer.
A day and a half later (37 hours, but really, who's counting) we still didn't have power.
But I was still flipping switches.
It wasn't that I was hoping the power was back, it was utterly clear that it wasn't. It was habit. An especially bad habit in light of things. At least a dozen times I flipped a wall switch.
And each time it was the same thing. Nothing.
It was worse than nothing. I was ready to scream. Well, I did scream. It was so frustrating.
Flipping the switch was flipping me out.
So I put my headlamp on.
The headlamp gave me what I needed: a beam of light.
I stopped flipping switches.
The point is to see it fresh.
Sometimes a fresh approach to a nagging problem can help you move forward. If you've been struggling with your marketing, a book, or your website, maybe I can help:
• blog posts
• email marketing
Call 207-252-9757 or write today for a free consultation and a fresh start.
It was the third round of editing on a piece I was writing about the autumn harvest. It was all about kale, collards, squash, and Brussels sprouts. The problem was, I had it all wrong.
Instead of Brussels sprouts, I was writing brussel sprouts. No capital B at the beginning, no s on the end of Brussels.
I'd cooked and eaten lots of Brussels sprouts, but clearly I'd never written about them.
Lesson #1: Proper names have proper spellings.
When a red line appeared below the misspelled "brussel," I was surprised. So I checked the dictionary.
I found the correct spelling: A capital B? A bit more digging revealed the name comes from the city of Brussels, in Belgium.
Unless you're certain about the correct spelling of a product, a city, a town, someone's name, title, or product, look it up.
That was last year. This year, I have another editing tip courtesy of the Brussels sprout.
Last week I was watching a cooking show when the chef introduced a new segment by saying, "Today we're making Brussels sprouts."
Lesson #2: Ask yourself, "Is that what's really going on?"
Of course the chef wouldn't be "making" Brussels sprouts, as in constructing or creating them. He would be cooking them. Or, maybe he'd be roasting them.
In the context of the show, it didn't matter much. It was a live taping and viewers could watch and listen.
But his word choice caught my ear. I've been writing a lot and that means I'm rewriting and editing a lot.
I wanted to edit the script, to rewind the tape and have the chef say, "Today we're roasting Brussels sprouts."
Roasting is a more descriptive word. Making is vague and in this example, inaccurate.
Every word has a purpose.
Lesson #3: Just because you're familiar with something doesn't mean you know all you need to know.
It turns out eating Brussels sprouts didn't make me an expert. From misspellings to context and relevance, it's important to know what you're writing about. Do some research. Dig around. What you find may not only surprise you, it could add a new dimension to your project.
Get Your Cabbage On
Are you a fan? Brussels sprouts with a capital B offer a boost of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. And they're good for gut health, too.
The only question is, how will you cook them?
Feeling the heat?
If you don't like to write, are feeling overwhelmed, or just need a fresh set of eyes to read through what you written, let me know. I can help with:
Notes on illustrations:
The title illustration with the Brussels sprouts images was created for this post. The letter is hand-drawn using Ledge, a lettering style I developed for my Riddle Me Mail project. If you're interested, here's a how-to lettering guide for Ledge.
The autumn collage was also created for Riddle Me Mail. You can learn more about my collage process here.
Call 207-252-9757 or write today for a free consultation.
Love It or Hate It
Whether or not you like to write, it seems most of us have to do some sort of writing at some point.
Email is ever-present, websites are all about content, content, content, and blogs can challenge the best of us.
When I'm struggling to begin a new writing project, big or small, I remind myself that getting something down on paper is a good first step. It can be an outline, a summary, or a list. Something, anything to get me started.
When Things Get Fuzzy
After two, three, or four rounds of writing, editing, and rewriting, things can get fuzzy. Overwhelm sets in and I'm burdened by the order of things. I worry about what it is I'm trying say, how much to say, and how to say it.
That's when I revisit one of these books:
• Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
• Writing Well, William Zinsser
• Words Fail Me, Patricia T. O'Conner
Revisiting them reminds me what it takes to write well.
• In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, reminds me that I just need to start. Forget about word choice and form. Just write.
• On Writing Well by William Zinsser reminds me that good writing is all about rewriting and clearing the clutter.
• Words Fail Me is funny. Patricia T. O'Conner reminds me that each sentence has a job to do, that clarity is paramount, and it's OK to lighten up a bit.
I've read each one of these books cover to cover, many times. But it's hard to remember it all. When my writing gets the best of me, I grab one, read a chapter or two, take a deep breath, and get back to writing.
Writing Is Hard
If you don't like to write, are feeling overwhelmed, or just need a fresh set of eyes to read through what you've written, I can help:
• content development
If I can help, call 207-252-9757 or write today for a free consultation.
And stay tuned. I've got a new book in the works. Here's a hint:
I don't know about you, but I always thought The Dog Days of Summer were those days when it's so hot, all the dogs are panting.
Well, the heat does make them, and most of us, pant. But that's not where the name comes from.
No, the term comes from ancient forecasters and astrologers who noticed the seasonal alignment of the Sun and Sirius (the Dog Star constellation). They believed the combination generated more heat and called the stretch between July 3 and August 11, The Dog Days of Summer.
My curiosity about The Dog Days of Summer started with the August edition of my Riddle Me Mail project. I was searching for a theme and decided to go with what I thought I knew about The Dog Days of Summer.
Connecting the Dots
So why do The Dog Days of Summer matter? They're a good example of how often we think we know something, but don't know the whole story.
How one thought leads to another, and how unexpected connections can generate new interest in a familiar topic.
Share What You Know
When it came time to design the stationery for Riddle Me Mail, I settled on postcards and decided to share what I'd learned, adding information about Canis Major, the constellation that features the Dog Star, Sirius.
I also learned that Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, not the North Star. Did you know that?
What About Your Business?
What information could you share or clarify? Is there a backstory about your business or products people would find interesting?
Are there ways you might simplify your message?
Could you present it in a new format or context that would generate new interest?
If I can help, let me know.
We design and edit websites, books, and presentations.
There’s a reason you see so many lists online.
They’re easy to share and easy to skim, and that makes great content for your website or blog.
The KEY to a good list though, is making it interesting and helpful. It doesn’t do any good if your list repeats common knowledge, or leaves people wondering how to do what you suggest.
With our 3-Course Cook-Off And Other Things to Do On A Rainy Day, we illustrate just how you can build an interesting and helpful list. Click here or on the image above read the three things to do on a rainy day.
At Composition 1206, we are information architects. If you have information to share and want to be sure it reads well and makes you proud we can help. Let’s talk!
We design and edit:
websites • books • presentations
Five Ways to Build a Better Website
You've got a website and it's been up for a while, but is it as good as it could be?
1. A fresh approach
If your website is more than a couple of years old, it may be time for an update.
Take a critical look at your site. Does it inspire confidence? Is your information up to date? Is your logo big enough? Too big? Do the fonts and colors on your site reflect your logo and branding?
Do you have large blocks of text that read more like a novel than a website?
Writing for the web is different than other forms of writing. Keep your audience engaged with:
This article is a good example. People like to skim headlines, subheads, and lists and then go deeper. Make it easy for them to skim.
Does your site feature a dark background? Though it can be striking to have a dark background, it makes reading difficult. And that means people will stop reading before they finish learning more about how you can help them.
2. Is it all about you? It shouldn't be
Do you welcome visitors with a line that's all about them ... or is it all about you?
Sure, your website is about you, but when people visit they're thinking about themselves and how you can help them. Your landing page should start with sentences like:
We help YOU make better decisions when you have to _________ , or
Become the best ________, or even,
Discover how to ________.
Open with sentences that make people feel welcome and let them know right away what you can do for them.
Sentences like, "WE have 25 years of experience ...," or "WE'RE members of ..." belong on your about page.
Who you are, your background, your years of service, it's all important information. But it's information people want only after they know how you can help them.
3. Share your expertise
When someone comes to your site they’re looking for information, hoping to be inspired. Make it interesting. Aside from the usual menu items (home/about/contact), what else can you offer? Maybe you could consider a blog or special features:
Blogs are great if you commit to posting regularly, but clearly not for everyone or every business. If you have a blog and the last post is from over a year ago (or, gasp, three or four years ago), you might consider taking it down or breathing new life into it.
Special Features. Consider features like how-to articles, a behind-the-scenes segment, staff profiles, infographics, and updated photographs.
Regular updates can also help with search engine results. Turns out a stale website is, well, stale. New information garners attention and boosts your ranking.
4. Offer downloads and products
If you have how-to information, a special edition poster, infographic, a report, an ebook or print edition, promote it on your website.
You can also consider sharing what you know for a fee or by subscription. You have information people want and need. Position yourself as an expert and distribute and sell what you know.
5. Stay In Touch
Email remains one of the best ways to connect with customers and associates. Consider a monthly newsletter delivered by email.
You can build your email list by offering something in exchange for contact information. Something like an ebook, a top five list of something relevant, or a discount for services or products.
As you build your email list, you can help others by sharing what you know. And it will help establish you as an expert in your field.
Is it time to refresh your website?
Call or write today to learn more about making your website the best it can be.
book editing and design + website upgrades
Write today to start looking like the professional you are.
Look like the professional you are
The demand for online content continues to grow. Done right, it can elevate a business and bolster credibility.
Done poorly, it does the opposite.
Make it easy for people
When people visit your website or read an email or book you've produced, they want to know if the information you're giving them is the information they need.
They want to know they're in the right place.
Good design provides a positive user experience where visitors find what they need and are encouraged to take the next step ... to download your book or get in touch with you.
Bad design is distracting and confusing, and it can hurt your business. If visitors to your site can't find the information they need, you'll lose them. If what you present is hard to navigate or poorly written, they'll wonder how good you are at what you do.
It's all about them
When a customer or client visits your website or reads your book, they're looking for information that can help them.
They don't need to know how long you've been in business, or how good you are at what you do. At least not right away. It's important information and they'll want to know all of that, but first they need to know they're in the right place to get the help they need.
The opening line on your website or the title of your book should make it clear.
Let's give them what they need
It can be a challenge to figure out what to say and how to organize it in an easy-to-navigate format.
Need help? We've got the ideas and experience to make it happen.
Call or write today and we'll help you look good ... online and on paper.
When you post or distribute new information, you're competing with a slew others doing the same.
How can you stand out?
With good writing and well-designed materials that demand attention.
Below is a side by side case study using information about the crocus. There are, of course, lots of ways it could be done. This is one way.
People Need More Than Just the Facts
Good design, like a road map, helps your audience navigate the information you present, drawing their attention to what you want them to see, read, and understand about you, your business, and your product.
My job is help you look good in print ... online and on paper.
Call today: 207-252-9757 or write today to talk about your latest project.
Websites • Books • Reports • Catalogs • and More!
I'm the first to admit to a little DIY plumbing. I've changed a washer on the bathroom faucet and replaced the hoses on the washing machine. But, when it comes to replacing the seal on the toilet or installing a new garbage disposal, I call the professionals.
DIY publishing and graphic design is easier than ever, and chances are, you publish a lot of your own content.
A critical element in content design, and one that's often misunderstood, is font choice. There are so many to choose from and it's tempting to use too many, or the wrong ones.
Here are some tips to choosing the right fonts that will help you attract and keep your reader's attention:
Display fonts are the fancy, decorative styles, and they should be used sparingly. Just a few words. Really. Maybe a headline. Well, maybe not. Definitely not for sentences or paragraphs. They are just too hard to read. Go easy on these. Too much of a good thing is, well, too much. I used a display font above ... for one number and two words. Just two. And it works. Any more than that and it becomes difficult to read.
These are the fonts that have little bits at the ends and tips of the letters; fonts like Times, Goudy, and Garamond. These are great for long passages of text, for books, and reports. They also add a warmer feel to your text. If you're writing a book, be sure to set the text in a serif font. It's easier to read and will look more professional. Not sure about that? Grab a few books from the bookshelf and see what style fonts are used.
These are straight-up fonts, no embellishment, no little bits at the ends or tips of the letters. Helvetica and Arial are common san serif fonts. You’ll see a lot of san serif fonts on the web. They can be easier to read online for blog posts and on your about page, but again, if you have a lot of text or long passages, consider a serif font. Something like Georgia is great for online reading.
Two things to remember.
1) Make it Easy to Read
Your text needs to be easy to read. If it’s not, people will abandon what you've written and your message will be lost.
- Use display fonts sparingly.
- Choose serif fonts for longer passages and a softer, more welcoming feel.
- Use sans serif fonts for shorter entries, technical writing, instructions, and headlines.
2) Use The Two Font Rule
What is the two font rule? Use only one or two fonts on any document, report, or page. Sure, you can use the italic and bold features within the same font and you can combine it with a display font, but that’s it. Any more than that and you risk losing your reader. Too many fonts distract the eye and make it difficult to follow.
I'm here to help. If you're too busy to worry about font choice, content design and editing, send an email, or give me a call. I'd love to help out.
Making you look good in print, online and on paper.
Legacy Books • Presentations
Infographics • Magazines
Annual Reports • Invitations