customer service retail
tomatillo blossoms

Ooooh … shiny

Distractions can be a good thing.

When I’m stuck on a thought, it’s good to play a little with my mind. Take a break. Do something else.

Trouble is, the distractions have been getting out of hand and I’ve been losing my focus.

Remember when “games” on Facebook amounted to Farmville and a few other (mostly unappealing) interactive pastimes?

It’s exploded.

They’re everywhere.

And players need friends “help” to acquire more lives, get to the next level or add tools and weapons to their arsenals.

Bubble Witch Saga … Bubble Safari … Buggle … Candy Crush Saga …

I got my first invitation to Bubble Witch Saga shortly after I got laid off from Shaw. I figured it would help pass the time in between writing cover letters and tweaking resumes.

It ballooned on me. (Bubbled up?)

I added the others as emails for job postings went unanswered and second interviews went by without offers.

I spiraled into a vortex of self-doubt.

And I let the games steal my focus.

My mind became paralyzed by fear and rejection. My creativity was gone.

I couldn’t write.

I posted a plea for help on my Facebook page. My childhood friend Laura referred me to The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battle.

“I loved this book – profoundly,” she said. “Written mostly for writers, the points made in this book stung like mad after I was laid off at the height of the recession-with no jobs in Interior design anywhere out west. It also made me realize the chaos that was in my head and how powerful it can be if you allow it.”

I bought the ebook for my Kindle app the next morning and started to push my way through it.

Like Laura, I found the words ringing true almost immediately.

Resistance, writes Steven Pressfield, is about self-doubt, fear and passion.

“(It) enlists criticism to reinforce the fifth column of fear already at work inside the artist’s head, seeking to break her will and crack her dedication,” he says.

As creatives, we commit ourselves to a life of criticism … from editors, peers and readers. It’s torturous at times because we invest a small part of ourselves in every piece of work we produce.

We give that small part to you — just like this blog post — to read, feast upon and review with a critic’s eye.

That’s just the first chapter. Pressfield describes how a professional creative must act to achieve goals and produce the words that sing.

And that’s when I decided to start taking more control.

I deleted all the game apps from my Facebook account. (OK, OK, not all of them. I kept SongPop.)

I steeled myself away from looking at Twitter.

I sat down at my laptop and I forced myself to write.

I also forced myself to leave my laptop periodically and do something to refresh my mind: walk the dog, ride my bike, hit my TRX or read.

It worked.

This past weekend, I finished six pieces for three projects.

There wasn’t even a need to think about deadlines. The product was sitting in the Inboxes of my contacts long before they walked into the office this morning after a relaxing long weekend.

I’m back, baby.

Now give me something to write.

Oooh … cover letters …

Let me write for you

The internet is a wasteland.

No, it’s an abyss.

And it isn’t just the porn, uninformed opinion, whining, and cute baby and dog pictures.

It’s the endless stream of social media accounts, started with all the best intentions but left to rot away.

Especially blogs.

Technorati, in its State of the Blogosphere 2011 report, estimates that three million blogs are added to the abyss every month.

Three million.

It’s a staggering number. And it’s hard to tell how many of those will be lying fallow in the future. After all, those are the kind of people who typically don’t respond to surveys about how often they blog.

Maybe someone will start a blog and never get around to post to it. Maybe she’ll fire off a few posts and then lose interest, as we are wont to do in this ‘ooh look, something else shiny’ era.

Like this one blog I stumbled onto last month. I was researching blogosphere contacts for the most recent employer to decide it could no longer afford to keep me. The media list I was defining was realty based.

And if you’re on Twitter, you know how many realtors are out there, right?

This one fellow triumphantly mounted a blog onto his website and started a Twitter account so he could spread the good word. He titled his first blog post ‘My social media strategy’ and went into not-so-great detail about how he didn’t know what he was doing and he would post whenever he felt like it.

That was in February 2009.

He never posted again.

Now, I’m sure he’s a busy fella. The Calgary realty market, I can only assume by the numbers, keeps a guy on his toes.

Trouble is, he could be even busier if he maintained that blog and Twitter account. In its 2011 State of Inbound Marketing report, Hubspot learned businesses that post to their blogs daily generate four times more leads than those that post weekly or less.

Why? Because you grow traffic to your website, generate click-thrus to the business end of your site and establish yourself as a reliable source of information, services and product.

So how do you get around the busy factor? The lack of interest in writing about what you have to offer … because it doesn’t just exist for everyone. You already know that, especially if you have a dormant blog.

You could get an intern to do it, source out guest bloggers or — as I saw one local realty blog do — ‘lift’ content from newspapers and other bloggers.

(And I use ‘lift’ as a nice euphemism for republishing without attribution to the content owner. Please don’t do this.)

Or — and knowing I’m currently unemployed, you probably already realize where I’m going with this — you could hire someone.

Not just anyone.

Me.

Because branded storytelling is where we’re going. Your clients and customers want to learn about the stories behind the cash register. They want to learn more about you and how you can help them solve their problems.

My good friend Ernest Barbaric wrote in January that he believes branded storytelling is the next wave of content marketing.

The idea is to create a story, a narrative where your brand plays a role OR acts as a hub for story telling. For example, this could look something like Travelocity’s gnome – where users would take photos of the handsome fella on their vacations and then sharing that on the brand’s blog, Facebook or other network with all the other travellers.

So what’s the solution?

You hire someone who knows how to weave words and wax poetic … OK, OK, that might be blowing a little too much smoke up your butt.

But I do love to learn what makes you and your business tick. And I do know how to tell a fine story.

You wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t think I could.

Contact me.

Back here again

I’ve been a bad writer. I know.

I’ve been mentally flogging myself these last few weeks, knowing I hadn’t put fingertips to keyboard on these pages in a good long while.

In the internet world, a few days gone by is enough to make people forget about you.

On the other hand, though, it’s also a lot of time for me to build up a list of things to write about. Trouble is, I leave them all up in my head … swimming around, getting confused with each other and sometimes being forgotten,

And so it was that last week, I sat down and wrote those ideas down. On paper. It’s weird but it feels more permanent that way to me.

I pledged to be a better writer. To tackle each one of those ideas. To keep you entertained, engaged and maybe — if I’m lucky — a little bit enlightened.

The next day, right before I sat down to tell you the thoughts that preceded this sentence, I was called into my new boss’s office.

Back taxes, Revenue Canada, cutbacks … sigh, oh this again.

Thus, I find myself out of work again, having to freshen up my cover letter, resume and portfolio for the second time in less than a year. Having to market myself, prove my value to another company, praying for a bidder to take a chance on me.

It looks tougher out there now, tougher than it was three months ago when I was still doing this after my layoff from Shaw. The job postings on my RSS feed aren’t coming through as frequently as they did in January.

It’s scary, especially when there’s no severance pay to float me through this time. Just a little nest egg built up from my freelancing business. A little cash that was meant to pay for plane tickets to Nova Scotia this summer, when I would finally bring a boyfriend home to introduce to my family.

At times, I feel broken and defeated, in a state of disbelief that I have to go through this all over again.

Come hell or high water, this obstacle, too, shall be overcome.

The search begins anew, I prefer contract stay-t-home work but I will entertain any offer. Post links in the comments, connect me to your network, send me emails … of postings and encouragement.

If you have work that needs to be done, read my home page for the services I might be able to provide you, telling your brand’s story. Peruse some of my clips to see how good I can be.

In the meantime, I have time to write.

Just don’t forget me when I’m gone. Even if it’s only for a day or two.

Missing the obvious

OK, you’re a writer.

You love words.

You know the difference between a colon, an em dash, a comma and a semicolon.

You can craft headlines and emails and missives and tweets and blog posts and press releases, meshing words together so mellifluously they drip like honey off a reader’s brain.

Or so power-packed, they stir someone to make that impulse purchase.

“I really liked your cover letter.”

Oh shucks, thanks! Twice now on my job hunt I’ve heard I have a well-written cover letter to introduce myself to a prospective employer.

Twice now it has left me surprised when prospective employers tell me that I would, in fact, be surprised by the number of poorly written cover letters they received.

Wait … what?

For the other positions you have open, right? For, say, a web designer or an admin assistant or someone who doesn’t actually make a living writing.

Nope. These are from people applying for writer’s positions.

Aye criminy, kids!

A cover letter is an employer’s first gaze at your writing, the reason you want to be hired by this company. It serves to highlight your accomplishments and the talents that will make you an asset to that company.

And to showcase your writing skills.

It isn’t just your resume and portfolio that do the talking.

Find a good ‘lede,’ the punch that will grab someone’s attention. (Don’t you dare start it off with ‘I am applying for the copywriter’s posizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.’ Anyone reading that will look at the wall and wonder how long it’s going to take for the paint to start peeling.)

Use the style and words you’ve used so many times already to sell products or services.

Because that’s what you’re doing. Selling.

But this time the product or service is you.

Of course, if you’re feeling a little lazy and you want to pay someone to do it for you, go here.

After all, I write a good cover letter.

I’m a writer.

Wrong answer

Dammit!

I had a job interview yesterday.

I think it went well.

I dare not speak the name of the company in fear of the black cloud of jinx, as if I put my left skate on first.

[shudder]

It was for a social media position and it would combine three of my great loves.

No, not me, my dog and My American, sillies.

The other ones.

Writing, photography (kind of) and connecting with people online (yes, that’s you).

One of the four-member panel looked up from my resume and said, ‘have you ever curated a blog?’

No, I said and went on to talk some more about this site, a topic that had already arose.

But there I was, just a few scant minutes ago, standing in the shower and thinking, ‘dammit, you idiot.’

Curating a blog?

Hell’s bells.

Curating a blog, according to Right Mix Marketing is merely ‘the collection and sharing of content such as articles, videos, pictures, tweets, songs or other pieces of digital content.’

That sounds an awful lot like watching the news and photo wires, figuring out what a newspaper reader will find interesting over his morning cup of joe, and slotting it into the right hole on a page.

Which I did. For a long time.

And it sounds an awful lot like what I’ve been doing on my Twitter feed for the last three years.

And you find me entertaining and interesting, right?

[crickets]

Damn you.

In any case, the most important thing I’ve been learning through this job interview process is what I do know.

Trouble is, most of the time I’m figuring that out long after I’ve answered the question.

Doh.

Still hunting

“Holy cow, did you see this resume? To hell with everyone else, we have to have her!”

This is the reaction I hope someone has every time I hit ‘send’ on an email or ‘submit’ on an online job board.

Chances, my words get dropped into a folder labelled ‘Candidates’ with 100 applications or maybe even the trash bin.

I’ll be out of work for six weeks when tomorrow rolls around. And with every day of silence from the hiring world, my confidence takes another hit.

This is no easy task.

In fact, the job hunt is the toughest job I’ve had in years.

I’ve had a few hits, each one followed by direct hits to the soft spots.

I drove all the way across town one morning to be told the company tendered an offer to another candidate and she accepted. The night before. The recruiting agency bothered to email me a half hour before the interview was scheduled to begin (thank you, Distracted Driving Law of Alberta!).

I got all the way to final review with the vice-president of marketing at a national financial services firm.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “This is not an interview. It’s just a formality.”

And I was told by the marketing manager to expect a phone call with a formal offer by day’s end. I was shown where my office would be, told my salary … the whole nine yards.

That call never came. Instead, overnight, the vice-president decided he wanted to ‘take another direction.’

I’ve had a couple initial interviews with HR departments. Nothing else comes of it but a nicely worded PFO letter or phone call.

I have another interview scheduled this week and I’ve sent my resume to another three companies/organizations this morning. I’ve enrolled with several recruiting agencies, figuring it might not be a bad idea to ask for help.

I’m a writer, a communicator, an online strategist. If you know of anyone who needs one of those, hit me up or send him a link to my LinkedIn profile.

I’m not giving up. I can’t give up.

I love to work. It’s driving me kind of nuts not to be working, not to be contributing somewhere, somehow.

Although I might consider a change of heart when it comes to buying lottery tickets.

Maybe that bolt of lightning could strike once. Just once.

 

One week

It’s been one week since you looked me, dropped your arms to the side and said you’re sorry.

That really did happen.

It’s been one week since my boss looked at me, dropped his shoulders and said ‘this is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.’

And then he axed me.

Gave me my walking papers.

Showed me the door.

Said ‘hasta la vista, baby.’

So I sit here unemployed, a victim of cutbacks and duplication of services.

OK, you know me better than that … ‘here’ is Spokane. I packed up and drove south for my little patch of heaven in Eastern Washington State.

And I gave me a short mourning period in which I was permitted to feel sorry for myself.

That’s over.

Effective today, I’m in aggressive job hunting mode. I’m looking for anything writing, anything communications, anything social media.

Of course, my ideal position would have a strong telecommuting component but it isn’t a dealbreaker. In fact, while I know I’m good — damn good — at what I do, I’m not about to become one of those entitled fops making excessive demands when I may not deserve them.

I’ll be grateful and loyal to my next organization, just as I was to my last while I served the great telecommunications overlord of Western Canada.

It’s my second layoff in five years, proving lightning does strike twice.

I’m not scared as I was in 2006 when the Calgary Sun let me go. I was a sports writer and didn’t believe I had any marketable skills for the real world.

Times change, though. I can communicate and protect a brand’s message effectively, using various Web 2.0 tools, and I can write for a variety of media in any requested tone and voice.

I’m a little more business savvy and a lot more professional in my approach.

I’m a good hire, I work hard, I’m not afraid of long days and my journalism days taught me how to eat on the fly.

And I’m willing to relocate. OK, OK, there I might get picky. I’m not going back to Newfoundland.

So if you know of anything out there, whether it’s Calgary, Vancouver or Seattle, you just let me know. Leave me a note here in the comments, email me or drop me a line on the ol’ Twitter.