Archive for September, 2009

Take the Time to Write Well!

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Today I came across an article in Search Engine Land’s Strictly Business column that annoyed the hell out of me.  Not because I disagree with the point the author was trying to make. If I understand her correctly, I whole heartedly agree! I’m annoyed because the article was so poorly written the very important point she was trying to make got lost in bad writing! (you can read the article here. )

I believe that the overall point of the article is “When there is a mis-match between the key words you are targeting on a web page and the overall tone of the page copy, that web page won’t yield the results you expect. Here’s what you can do to fix it.”  I can only assume this was the point the author meant to make because at no point does the author tell the reader what point she is trying to make.

The Major Mistakes Made
1. The author breaks the Golden Rule of Copywriting which is “Tell the reader what you are going to tell them.  Tell them.  Then tell the reader what you told them.”

2. The other major mistake the author makes is that she doesn’t write like she would speak.  See the example below. Would you speak like this?

Bad Writing:
Considering that, it is important to first gain clarity about the issues affecting performance before prematurely changing your keywords. Otherwise, you might find yourself “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” when you toss keywords that seem to be underperforming.

Moreover, be mindful that changing keywords can greatly affect your visibility in the search results. Given that it takes a great deal of time and effort to achieve visibility on certain keywords, you need to consider whether or not any keywords changes are worthwhile

Plain English:
Changing keywords can have a big impact on your rankings and traffic.  You need to know what issues affect performance before you change the keywords you target.  Otherwise you run the risk of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

I could go through the article and give you more examples but I’m willing to bet at least 95% of the people reading this article bailed out before the author got around to explaining how to solve the problem.

Who’s to Blame?
I know how much guts it takes to put your work out there on the web. I don’t blame the author for this poor writing. I’m all for giving people the benefit of the doubt and I’m willing to bet that if the author set this article aside for a few days then ran it through the crucible one more time she’d be able to boil it down to the good stuff.

Who do I blame?  I blame the editors at Search Engine Land who should have read this with both eyes instead of just looking for an article to publish in this week’s column.

This could have been a really good column that generated links. Instead the author and the editors punted and missed a good opportunity. No wonder why people think social media doens’t work.

Posted in Writing | 5 Comments »

Hiring Subcontractors: How to Keep Costs Low and Quality High

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

I was recently asked by a journalist for my advice about how to hire a virtual assistant (VA). I started my business as a virtual assistant over 8 years ago and as an internet marketing consultant I’ve hired all kinds of subcontractors for a wide variety of tasks. Since I’ve been on both sides of the equation I hoped my answer makes life easier for both parties.

It sucks to overspend on a project and not get what you expected. It also sucks to have unhappy clients due to miscommunication. That’s why the #1 most important piece of advice I would give any one looking to hire a virtual assistant is to write down in as much detail as possible what you need them to do. You might think “Oh I just need them to do data entry” or “I just need them to update my website.” But once you starting writing down what you mean by data entry or website updates, you will be surprised at the variety of tasks involved.

Before you start looking for and interviewing possible candidates, you need to answer the following questions in as much detail as possible:

1. What exactly do you need this person to do?
The more detail the better. I explain why below.
2. How often will they do it?
Is this daily, weekly, monthly or as needed. You don’t want them assuming it’s a fulltime job if it’s not.
3. What skills are necessary to get the task done?
Don’t forget the soft skills like excellent communication or attention to detail.
4. What software programs are necessary to get the task done?
5. What is the pay range for these tasks?
What would you pay someone you have to teach versus expecting they can run with the task?
Do you want to start them at an intro rate with the ability to make more once they prove themselves?
6. Are you paying by the piece or by the hour?
I try to pay on a project basis as much as possible. That way I know what I’m spending and they know what they’re making. When project based pay is not possible, I give the person a range of how long I expect it will take with an understanding to check in at about the 30% point so we cal see how it’s going and re-evaluate the agreement.

Getting Clear on What You Need a Subcontractor to Do
A request I often hear from people is “I need someone to update my website.” That may sound clear but it actually covers a lot of ground. To decide who to hire, you need to have a clear picture of their skill level. You need to answer questions like:
 What pages will they update? Are they just copy pasting text or do they need to know HTML well enough to add images and format the page?
 Will they be adding products to a shopping cart?
 Will they adding blog posts? If so what systems do the need to know? WordPress or Blogger?
 Do they need to know how to use a online content management system or do they need to have Dreamweaver? (An expensive but often necessary program for updating websites.)

The answers to these questions will determine if you can hire someone at $20 an hour or you need someone who will likely charge you $60 an hour.

The Key To Keeping Costs Low and Quality High
Another important reason for answering these questions is that if you need a variety of tasks done, you might need more than one person. For example, if you need data entry, travel arrangements, copy editing and website updates, you probably need to hire three different people. Other wise you wind up paying too much for data entry or get poorly done copy editing and website updates.

Far too often business people try to hire one person to do it all. They interview a virtual assistant who assures them they can do it all while they’re thinking to themselves “I’ll figure it out.” You don’t want someone “figuring it out” on your dime (unless that’s part of the agreement). In the long run understanding what are logical skill sets and hiring accordingly will help you keep costs low and quality high.

If you’ve spent some time thinking about your answers to the questions above writing a job description doesn’t have to take more than about 20 minutes. If you’re looking for someone online, you’re going to need this info any way so just take the time and write it down!

Writing Job Descriptions:

Posted in Business Admin | 3 Comments »

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