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Do testimonials influence readers?

I heard an interesting conversation today. Someone mentioned he found testimonials distasteful and did not pay any attention to those offered to promote products or services. Rather, this person felt that the company’s reputation, brand name and price were the only important factors. Do you think he is right?

We’ve all seen ads making magnanimous claims like the ones about losing 30 pounds in a ridiculously short stretch of time. Seriously, we know it can’t be for real. But here’s the real question. Do we throw the baby out with the bath water? In other words, are all testimonials fraudulent?

Actually, we’re bombarded by testimonials and are influenced by them all the time. Yes, we’re talking those promoting products or services that we might buy, and we think nothing of it. Have you ever gone to a new restaurant based on a recommendation of a friend of a friend. You know, “My friend, Sam, said it was really a great place to go and the meal was …” Well, you get the idea. What about the TV commercials featuring prominent athletes endorsing a certain athletic shoe or cereal? If Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies) likes it, you want it too. Speaking of likes, what about Facebook? If Aunt Sally from Seattle likes Walmart, you might too, especially if she’s your favorite relative. And what about product ratings based on reviewers we’ve never met? Don’t we appreciate knowing the number of stars a product has garnered especially when shopping online?

Marketers understand that an endorsement from a reliable source may bring a buyer to the tipping point. It may be a way of answering those frequently asked questions without the pain of wading through a lengthy list. There’s no doubt about it, stories sell. Just look at the evening news along with their commercials. The issue likely has less to do with marketers using testimonials, and if we’re honest, more to do with our not wanting to take the time to do our due diligence and evaluate the facts on our own. Isn’t that why we continually buy our favorite brands? We’ve tried them and like them, so now we don’t have to think when we go to the store to restock.

We are influenced everyday by what others recommend. Testimonials do add value, so don’t be turned off. Instead read and evaluate the message. Then come to your own conclusion.

Creative types: Take heed

Do numbers scare you? Do they threaten to rob you of the joy you experience from the creative process? If you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer or involved in a home-based business, take heed.

One of the most important things you can do is accurately record your time and expenses on a regular basis. I know, I know. The creative juices need to have free reign so that ides will flow for your writing project and your eyes and ears need to be every ready when that perfect photo or paint-worthy subject comes into view. And of course you need to be unencumbered when the inspiration for a new musical score comes to mind. Believe me, I get that, but keep in mind, starving artists of any genre profit no one.

Consider these next few words of caution as a new opportunity for your innovative world. Taking the time to develop a workable plan to record your material, time and travel expenses can help put food on the table and provide the means for you to continue your work. I can’t say that I’ve arrived at the perfect method, yet I am well on my way to a system that works for me. You need to find one that will serve your needs and lends itself to your personality and field of artistic expression. Regardless of your creative outlet, you’ll have three key elements to consider, and they’re as easy as ABC.

A = Awareness

Look around you to see how you are spending your time and money. Are you traveling to the store to pick up supplies? If so, capture your mileage and time spent as well as the material expense on your phone, iPad, journal or some other recordable option. The key factor is to realize how you are expending your resources so that you can leverage them for your economic advantage at tax time. As I mentioned in a previous post, Ron Mueller’s book, Home Business Tax Savings Made Easy, is an excellent resource to open your eyes to the right items to track.

B = Buddy

I hate filing, but I understand and appreciate the value of keeping receipts, etc. and having them readily accessible should I need them to track a purchase, locate a vendor, or prepare my taxes. One of my buddies is my husband. We call him Mr. Clean because he is a master at keeping tings orderly. (I drive him crazy.) Nevertheless, I give him the important paperwork, and he files them away using an envelope system until he needs them. The envelopes, a Franklin Planner or other method can also be your buddy. The key is to find what’s right for you.

C = Consistency 

In order for your creativity to flourish, you need to be able to support your efforts as effortlessly as possible. Just as slow and steady won the race for the tortoise, so consistent tracking will provide what you need when you need it without stress and without monetary loss.

As you begin with these simple steps, you’ll see ways to tweak it to your needs and specific projects. The goal is to be proactive and eliminate the starving artist syndrome.

Take another view

My daughter-in-law and her closest friend are stepping out in faith to open a new boutique in a small town in the Adirondacks. They are working hard to open this Saturday, and I have no doubt they’ll be successful, but this is not an unpaid advertisement for Pretty & Chic. Rather it is an observation that may be of help to any who are moving from enjoying a hobby to developing a business.

My daughter-in-law excelled at sewing and began crafting aprons as gifts for family and friends. As the recipient of one of the finished products, I can testify to both their beauty and quality. Because of the encouraging response she received, she wanted to offer them in her new store, but this meant having a supply of them on hand on opening day and required a brand new perspective. Instead of making one at a time and finishing it completely, she had to change up her process otherwise it would not be cost effective. Beginning slowly she discovered ways to streamline the way she cut out the pattern and assemble the pieces. Concentrating on the more difficult aspects first actually made the whole job easier.

Whether it’s sewing, writing, art, music, woodworking, tinkering with a new invention or some other favorite pastime, the point to all of this is that when you move to the professional category, you must experience a change in the way you think and the way you do things. You do not need to sacrifice the quality of your product, but you will need to reinvent the process so that you can make an income from your endeavor.

This may stretch your creative mind in new and different ways and be totally different from the way you started. Keep in mind the first time through may not be the best. Just persevere and try again. You may need to stand back and think it through several times before you realize the results you hoped for.  Yet once you achieve them, you’ll be glad you took another view.

Winning combinations for freelancers

What’s the best thing about taking vacation? You might say it’s getting away from work, but if you have a home-based or freelancing business, you might find it advantageous to combine some work with your pleasure.

Last week we headed to the Adirondacks for a family graduation. Not only did we enjoy celebrating the occasion with family and friends we had not seen in quite awhile, but by spending a few extra days, we were able to spend quality time with some of our Takes3 Marketing clients as well as advance my sewing business. Besides both of these add-ons, I also obtained some fantastic ideas for my new e-zine (coming soon).  You can find ideas anywhere.

A summer visit to Speculator, NY provides a plethora of material for writers, artists and photographers. Besides the ambient splendor of the lakes and the mountains, you could explore the trails and mountain peaks, local eateries or merchant shops. Taking time to investigate the town might result in some interesting historical fact or personage. Ever hear of French Louie? He’s buried there. You could compare living in a tourist town to other places you have been or search out jewelry or other crafts prepared by local artisans. Getting to know their stories could provide even more leads for future stories. This summer there are a couple of new businesses to attract you. Pretty & Chic, a boutique featuring jewelry, handmade items as well as other items, is one that will be opening this weekend.

If you have a home-based business, you’ll want to make this extra effort to help your work because you may be able to make it pay at tax time too. Check out Ron Mueller’s book Home Business Tax Savings Made Easy.  If you keep good records and follow the rules, you may be very pleased.

Vacations are wonderful times to get away, and sometimes that extra rest or change of pace will trigger some fantastic benefits for your writing or other business. Vacation and work can be a winning combination for freelancers.

You can quote me

To quote or not to quote. That is the question.

In past blogs, we’ve talked about some uses of quotations to enhance your personal development, writing and/or presentations, but you may be asking if there are any legal limitations pertaining to quotes?

If you want to use someone else’s words for your own personal development to inspire or motivate you, you will not likely experience any resistance. You will, however, want to exercise caution especially when you are writing for publication. It is important that you not only credit the person’s words but also cite your source.

Generally speaking, if the person is someone like Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who lived and died thousands of years ago, there’s no problem. The issue arises when you desire to quote someone who is living or use a quote that has not yet been published. In these cases, you’ll need to get permission to use it. If it’s already in print or online, you can credit the site as much as the person.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the quote, it may or may not be a legal concern, but you definitely want to be sure in order to avoid a law suit. Even online legal sites like www.avvo.com suggest that you contact an attorney. If you have any doubt, don’t use the quote.

Quotes offer a fantastic opportunity to align your work with that of a more renowned person, but you want to make sure that you do it properly to avoid time in jail for plagiarism.

A quotation for writer’s block

Do you ever draw a complete blank when preparing a speech or working on a writing project? Are you ever at a loss for words or just don’t know what to write about? If so, try this exercise that will not only provide you with wisdom (hopefully) but also get you moving past writer’s block as well.

Start off by Googling quotes and chose a quotation that you like or one that aligns with your assigned topic. Then jot down as many ideas as you can about relative topics you could get from using this quote. Don’t filter the ideas with thoughts of, “This won’t work.” Go for quantity not quality.

For example, I found the following quotation from Bil Keane. He was an American cartoonist whose comic, The Family Circus, became syndicated in many newspapers beginning in 1960. You’ll get a kick out of his play on words.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” ~ Bil Keane 

You could expound or philosophize on:

  • Yesterdays in your life
  • Events from history
  • History and what we learn from it
  • Your favorite time in history
  • Your hopes and dreams for tomorrow
  • The illusiveness of tomorrow
  • No guarantees for tomorrow
  • Today and living for the here and now
  • Gifts in general
  • God’s gift
  • God – an infinitely broad topic
  • Why today might be God’s gift
  • Present (here and now)
  • Presents you’ve received …

Keep the list going at least long enough to get your thoughts going in an appropriate direction or until you go crazy. At any rate, the exercise should get your juices flowing in a direction that will move you off of dead center and having you wave farewell to writer’s block.

Get a quote

How do you improve your writing, presentation or conversation to prove a point or engage your audience? One way is to add a quotation.

Using a quotation from a renowned and reputable source to introduce your topic can enhance and strengthen your message whether presented verbally or in written format. When you use this technique, it brings the credibility of the  author of the quote to your words almost as if that person were standing beside you resting his/her hand on your shoulder in support.

The operative word here is renowned. If you plan to use a quote, make sure the person’s name is almost a household word. Jesus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Walt Disney can serve as prime examples of names most everyone will recognize. Other people who may have held prominent positions in business, government or religion may not be as readily recognized. In this case you may need to qualify their name by using a title as in Calvin Coolidge, 30th President. The title of President should resonate with your audience, and his words will then substantiate your own.

One word of caution, which is a fundamental step in preparing any material: consider your audience. In today’s global market place, you may be writing primarily for those within the United States, and in this case, the title President is sufficient. If, however, you are using the quote for something like web content, you will want to provide the name of the country to help your readers understand without further research. You do not want them scratching their heads wondering, “President of what?”

This brings a third group to the forefront. These are subject matter experts with proven track records but with a lesser-known name. (Your mother might fall into this category.) In this case, you may need to supplement the title with a few details to demonstrate their expertise. Online, you can also link the name to an appropriate site containing biographical or pertinent information.

Using quotations can be an effective means to establish credibility to support your ideas and engage your audience quickly. Although you may not choose to introduce every written piece or presentation with a quote, it is a valuable and timeless tool. There are online resources, but you might want to begin your own file of worthy statements so you can easily get a quote to fill your need.

Changing your current direction

Have you ever hit one of life’s plateaus? You know, those times when you want to move forward but seem to lack motivation.

My first recommendation would be to direct you to the Lord and the Bible. The Scriptures will provide what you need. Sometimes, however, you may desire to look at the life of someone who applied what he or she learned from the Word to see just how that worked for them. One of these people is Jim Rohn. As you look at his life, you may discover a quotation – he has many – to get or keep you on track as well as provide support for your ideas and projects in concise and direct terms.

During his life, Jim Rohn mentored thousands in the realm of business performance and personal development through individual contact, seminars, workshops, books and recorded presentations. His unique style coupled with his ability to apply wisdom to principles and events made him renowned as America’s foremost business philosopher. His common-sense approach and proven methods provided both personal success and wealth as well as for those who adopted his methods.

Jim tackled tough topics like leadership management, work ethics, change, motivation, learning, goals, success, relationships, results and more. Though he has recently passed on, his words continue to ring true and bear continual review and repetition.

You can Google Jim Rohn to find many outstanding quotes that you can use in your writing, presentations, or for personal development, and when applied, they may open the door to further opportunities. I’ll leave you with just one.

It is our philosophical set of the sail that determines the course of our lives. To change our current direction, we have to change our philosophy not our circumstances.”

 ~ Jim Rohn

Read The Hunger Games?

If you have read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, you are likely wondering why it took the rest of us so long to get a copy and sit down to read it. Sure there was a lot of hype about the story and comments about the movie version recently released, but it’s one of those books that you have to experience for yourself – even if it is not your typical genre of literature.

This past weekend, my English-teacher son lent me a copy to read. His wife and sons kept telling me what a fantastic book it was, so on all of their recommendations, I began reading the first page. I was hooked and could not wait for the 6 hour drive home to finish it. This is not the type of book I would normally choose because I generally don’t enjoy science fiction adventure stories, but Collins held my attention from the beginning, and I’m ready for Book 2. I just need to make sure that I can dedicate the time to read because you can’t put these down.

Story line aside, there’s more to it than the main plot that keeps you riveted to the page. As a writer I’d like to know her secret. Is it the first-person point of view? Does she show rather than tell what her characters are doing? Does she include a lot of action? Does she use colorful language to create vivid pictures? Collins does all of these things, yet she does it in such a way that you are compelled to read. You are engaged and readily identify with the main character even if you’re not (or never were or will be) a teenage girl.

Those of you who’ve read this YA novel, let me know why you think it was a success? Other writers would love to know how she did it. There’s no doubt Collins has hit a home run with this trilogy.

Pun fun

My husband is a nuts and bolts kind of guy. He can fix anything or come up with an innovative solution to make the work easier or the process more efficient. He’s passionate about his tools and has a roll-away full (and neatly arranged) so that he can find and use the right tool for the job.

In a similar way, writers are passionate about words. We lexophiles (lovers of words) relish the nuances of meaning and employ various literary devices and figures of speech to achieve our purposes. One of my favorite figures of speech is the pun or paronomasia. This play on words uses deliberate confusion of similar words or phrases to create either a humorous or serious metaphorical effect. Puns rely on the apparent similarity of words (homonymy) or various tones one word might convey (polysemy).  Though serious authors like Shakespeare often used puns in their works, most today enjoy the more humorous uses of this device.

In this example, “A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion,” the play on words comes from using poultry instead of poetry. I must admit, I like reading puns but lack the talent to develop my own. Like anything else, it requires practice, and hmmm, trying my hand at it might even be a cure for writer’s block.

A friend of mine sent me an email this week with Punographics in the subject line and when I opened it, I laughed out loud at the clever examples he’d enclosed. Some of them are included with these puns. I hope they’ll kick start your weekend with a smile.