Writing as a Designer

desk-and-penIt is ironic that a time when we have so much content in various formats and on different forums, there remains a vacuum in information.  It would appear that instead of sharing knowledge, there is a lot of noise generation.

The herd mentality has taken over the content creation arena.

People seem to think that throwing around popular (often misunderstood) terms such as “personae”, “editorial calendar”, and “reciprocity”, they can magically transform poorly researched article into insight.  Not so.  The truth is that no matter how many catch phrases they mimic, the underlying shallow creative process shows through.  This begs the question:  why do content marketers bother investing time and financial resources in a strategy that will not deliver on business integrity and growth?

As business writers and content creators, we need to drop the charade.  We need to invest in more credible motivation.  If we can’t find it within ourselves, we can borrow from other practitioners.  I have looked around and I’m happy to say there is an abundance of good practices business writers can adopt to nurture our skill.

My latest source of inspiration is the design field.  Somehow we all know when things are “designed right” – they give us a glimpse of what makes good design.  It turns out that it is no accident; there are fundamentals of good design.  I imagine all good designers know them and consistently deploy them in their craft.

I think good business writers need to define and commit to some fundamentals.

Before we begin stringing together our words, we need to start with basics like questions.  What is the problem? Why is it important? Why is it important that we understand it correctly?  What are the consequences of addressing the wrong issue or providing the wrong answer?  Is this a ground-breaking topic?  Is there a current consensus on solutions?  The more questions we raise, the more open we are to critical thinking.

Questions help us clarify.  Questions help us uncover what we might otherwise miss.  They help focus on the essentials.  They help us define the parameters of best solutions and write convincingly about them.

My search has shown me that good designers are skilled at asking questions.  For them, no question is silly if it helps the design process.  I am honing my question-asking skill and learning some of the basics of design, which might help me do a better job as a business writer.

Here are 3 things I have learned so far:

  1. Design is truly a process; not a task.  Process denotes a method, intent, a procedure, a course of action while a task often denotes a chore or an assignment.  The way I see it, adopting a process approach is more likely to expand expertise and efficiency.  It is more likely to diminish reliance on rote mentality inherent in a task approach.
  2. Even if the project is not an original idea (it may have been done a million times before), it is important to find a way to instill some creativity.  I agree that it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel.  However, it is important not to simply echo others.  Good designers replicate purposefully.  The challenge is to make each final product memorable.
  3. You are on the right track if your process includes these 3 fundamentals:
  • Looking        →  see/prioritize/understand
  • Thinking      →  research/sort/organize
  • Doing            →  informed action/draft/edit/finalize/share

It is fairly obvious that skipping any of these basics undermines the design process.  In terms of good business writing, failure to pay proper attention to the LOOK, THINK, DO aspects weakens the impact of the content we create.

My challenge to my fellow business writers is to toss that template that promises to help you generate a-hundred-and-one unique articles and white papers effortlessly.  Sounds great, but (always) true.  Let’s spend a little more time (I know, who has more time?) on the fundamentals.  It may mean that we write less volume, but it could mean that what we do write will be a cut above the rest – and memorable.

 

 

©Rachel Agheyisi, Report Content Writer, Report Content Writer’s Blog

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Upcoming Business Blogging Workshop

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Tips for No-Pressure Content Writing

Sidebar:  I read the following article, titled “An Easy, No Pressure Way to Make Your Copy Sell More”, written by Roy Furr, a contributor at the AWAI.  He makes some solid points about the value of intelligent content marketing.  When we give our audience beneficial information, we create opportunities for mutually rewarding interactions.  So, let your readers know you took the time to research their needs and designed your piece just for them.  Read Roy’s helpful suggestions, and go try them!

Education is a powerful form of salesmanship!

Okay, okay … I’m going to have to explain a couple of things here. Because I’m not saying you could take any good high school teacher and put them out on the street and they’d be a star salesperson automatically. It takes a bit more than that.

But there is a way to sell more by taking an educational approach – if you have the right steps to follow.

And I’d like to give those to you today.

Probably a lot like you, I never really wanted to “sell hard.” And because I didn’t, I unintentionally shifted my approach to finding out what a prospect would want to know about my product and offer, and then simply shared that information with them.

In other words, I figured out what they’d want to know before they made the purchase, and then I told it to them.

And surprise! Prospects actually liked the approach – and would buy as a result!

Because I had thoroughly researched the answers to their buying questions and was upfront in presenting to them without any hard sell, they were happy to have a conversation with me that frequently resulted in a sale.

There was no pressure. No hype. I wasn’t seen as a huckster. Or a used car salesman.

I was just a guy who had some valuable information for my prospects … And a good offer to boot. I was happy to explain it all. And inevitably, I’d give them a chance to buy.

Now I apply the same approach in my sales copy, and it’s leading me to writing promotions that break clients’ sales records and earn me great royalties, too.

5 Places to Use Education in Copy to Boost Sales

So you get it. You can sell more, without hype or pressure, by adopting a more educational approach to selling. That’s good news. Now let me show you how to put that lesson into practice.

There are actually five places in your copy where you want to use education to increase sales. And here they are with a “how to” description for each:

1.   Educate about the problem.

Your prospect has problems. Tons of them! (Don’t we all?) And it’s your job to help them find the solution. (Wait! Before anybody throws a fit: I’m classifying unfulfilled needs, wants, and desires under “problem” here. So if your product fulfills a desire, it’s solving the “problem” of an unfulfilled desire.)

Your first educational goal in making the sale is to make clear what the problem is – and why it’s such a big problem.

So, for example, I used to sell newspapers. One problem that can be solved, or eased, by a newspaper subscription is the high cost of groceries. You could lead off in selling a newspaper by saying, “Did you know you’re paying too much for groceries? That’s right. In fact, the average resident of Lincoln, Nebraska, could save at least 10% off their weekly grocery bill while eating the same foods.”

Well now, that’s a problem that wasn’t at the front of my mind, but now that I’ve been educated that it’s a real and solvable problem, I’m sure interested!

2.   Educate about the solution.

Now it’s your job to educate the prospect that a solution exists and specifically what the solution is. Continuing with the newspaper example, you could reveal that using grocery coupons and specials could save the average local resident 10% or more off their grocery bill every week.

So you’d say … “That’s right. You could be paying 10% less every week for your groceries, and it’s easy, too. A recent Wednesday issue of the Lincoln Journal Star ran ads from five different local grocery store chains with an average total of $543.73 savings PER AD.

“Now sure, you’re not going to get every deal or use every coupon. But the average savings per item was actually 11%! So by simply reading the ads, using the coupons, and buying what you were going to buy anyway when and where it’s on sale, you can save more than 10% – $15-$20 or more per week – off your weekly grocery bill.”

(Note, I’m making up these figures, but I’m sure the average town newspaper has similar figures. Sure makes a $3.00/week newspaper subscription seem cheap, doesn’t it?!)

3.   Educate about your company and methods.

So you’ve presented the problem and the solution – educating the prospect about the benefits they’ll receive by following along with your solution. Now it’s time to demonstrate your credibility in providing the solution by educating about your company, methods, and anything else that proves you are best equipped to solve their problem.

Continuing the newspaper example, using stats from Wikipedia … “The Journal Star is uniquely equipped to bring you Lincoln’s best grocery deals, along with everything else you care about that’s going on around the capital city. Serving over 80,000 households every week, we’re the leading newspaper in the city and have relationships with the community going back decades. Whether it’s grocery deals or local news, you can count on us to bring it to you in the comfort of your home.”

4.   Educate about your product.

The more complex your product, the more valuable it is to educate your prospect about it. I recently watched a 90-minute DVD before I bought a home beer brewing setup. I was happy to sit down and be educated as part of the sales process.

While a newspaper may be fairly straightforward and well understood, it may be worth educating about what sections it contains (besides the ads in this example), who it features, and especially about delivery services offered.

5.   Educate about your offer.

After you have gotten your prospect excited about your product, it’s your responsibility to educate them as to how they can get it. This is where you have to put on your salesperson’s cap, but don’t worry because you don’t have to sell hard. Simply describe the terms of your offer in a clear, direct, and easy-to-understand way that makes it hard to say no. And don’t forget to include a guarantee or risk-free trial period.

So your newspaper sales pitch may conclude with, “You can take 21 days to try our home delivery service at no risk. Just say ‘Yes’ today and we’ll start your delivery 7 days a week. We’ll also send you a bill due 21 days after your subscription starts. If you’re not completely satisfied – and haven’t saved at least double your subscription price off your weekly grocery bill – you can simply write CANCEL across your bill and send it back. Otherwise, send in your payment and you can enjoy our daily delivery service for just $3.00 per week for the next 13 weeks. We make it risk free to try so it’s easy for you to say ‘Yes’ today.”

Try this on the next piece of sales copy you write. Instead of upping the over-the-top promises and using far too much hyperbole, up the education factor. Make sure you take your reader through the natural educational points outlined above. And see what kind of sales results it generates.

  

Endnote:  This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI) The Golden Thread, a free newsletter that delivers original, no-nonsense advice on the best wealth careers, lifestyle careers and work-at-home careers available. For a complimentary subscription, visit http://www.awaionline.com/signup/.

 

  

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2011.

 

Perfecting Your Digital Handshake

Get your "Mo"Side bar:  I just read the following article by Heather Robson, Managing Editor, Wealthy Web Writer.  She makes some helpful suggestions on how to make a good first impression and enhance your professional profile.  See if you can use some or all of them.  Don’t forget to share what works!

 

The Basics of a Good Digital Handshake

 

When it comes to making a good online impression, there are a few things you want to keep in mind:

 

Be a real person: No matter where you are online, you want to be a real person. That means you shouldn’t hide behind a company persona or take all the personality out of your communication. You can be personable and still be professional … mostly by being yourself while avoiding inappropriate topics. For example, let’s say you’re on an industry forum, and you’re responding to a post about social media marketing. It relates to something you’ve tried and you’re excited to share the results. It’s okay to let your excitement come through in what you say. However, if your experience relates to a bad incident with a client, you want to avoid naming names or getting into too many details.

 

Have a sense of place: There are lots of different places you might use your digital handshake, and how you execute it might vary from place to place. When you’re shaking hands on your website, visitors have come to the site because they’re interested in something you have to say. So, you want to make sure you let them know right away how you can help them. On the other hand, if you’re commenting on a blog post, you want to stay on topic and be generous with your knowledge. You don’t want to come across like you’re trying to sell something.

 

Perfect your USP: When it comes to a solid online handshake, it’s important that you can convey your value and do it quickly. You do that through your Unique Sales Proposition, which helps to set you apart from the competition. So, for example, using a USP on your website like, “I bring you more sales through better web writing” might accurately convey the biggest benefit you bring to your clients but it doesn’t necessarily convey it in a memorable way. “I bring you more sales by making your clients fall in love with you,” might stand out a little more.

 

Be generous: Wherever you are on the Web, you can make a stronger first impression by being generous. Share your knowledge. If someone solicits advice, do your best to give it. If someone asks you to contribute to his site, see if you can find a way to make that work. If someone wants to do an interview with you, say yes if possible.

 

 

A Different Handshake for Different Modes of Contact

 

Once you’ve nailed down the basics, it’s time to think about how you want to present yourself when you’re working in different channels. The first impression you make on your website might be different from the first impression you want to make through your email newsletter. This goes back to understanding where you are.

 

When you’re making a first impression through your website or an online event, you’re often connecting with people who are completely unfamiliar with you. You want to anticipate their questions and make sure you give them the information they’re looking for. Now is not the time to be cute or clever. Now is the time to be straightforward and to present your knowledge clearly and concisely.

 

When you’re making an impression through an industry forum or in response to an industry blog, the people you’re “shaking hands with” have even less context about who you are than those who arrive at your website or attend an event where you’re presenting. Be polite. Stay on topic. And, try to share something new and useful. Let your personality come through, but follow the basic rules of Internet etiquette.

 

Your handshake on your blog or through social media will be slightly different from on your website or in response to a forum post. Chances are, you’ve already made a first impression and you’re on to the relationship-building phase. Your handshake on your blog or in social media will be a little more familiar. Be friendly. Let your personality shine through. And, work to provide fresh information to your following. If you can’t help being cute, clever, or funny, this is the space to do it in.

 

How you present yourself to your email audience (whether through your email newsletter or through an initial email to a potential prospect) will be different again. In the case of email, you want to be aware that you’re entering your reader’s email inbox, which is like entering their home, so behave accordingly. Get right to the point, and let your host know why you’re there. Make your contact useful. And, always be polite.

 

No matter where you’re connecting online, you want to cultivate a voice that conveys your personality and credibility. You want to be professional, approachable, and consistent. Any time you make a first impression online (or a second impression or third), it’s the same as shaking somebody’s hand. Keep that in mind and approach every situation with confidence (even if you have to fake it), an eye for the opportunity to share your knowledge, and the willingness to let your personality and voice shine through. Work on your digital handshake, and you’ll find you’re more successful at developing relationships that eventually convert to clients.

 

 

 

End Note:  This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI) Wealthy Web Writer, a free newsletter for learning how to effectively write online copy and market products on the Web.  For a complimentary subscription, visit http://www.awaionline.com/signup/wealthy-web-writer.

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2011

 

Curiosity Feeds The Freelancer

You’ve probably heard the saying “curiosity kills the cat …” You probably know the etymology of that saying.  I know parts of it – but that’s for another article.  For now, I thought I’d put a positive twist on the old adage.  Curiosity does not kill; it feeds!

Take the National Geographic (Nat Geo) network.  If any organization knows about the positive side of curiosity, it is Nat Geo, which makes it apt that their slogan is LIVE CURIOUS.  Those wacky Nat Geo explorers sure know how to do it well.  They know how to transport you to exotic places and surround you with fantastic information about our wonderful universe.  Looking at the hardships they often endure in the process, it might appear that curiosity indeed kills.  But what stories and adventures these explorers unfold, and with what flare!

Through indulging their curiosity, Nat Geo explorers let us into the mysteries of the deepest oceans, share panoramic views from the highest peaks, unearth wonders from ancient places and newest finds.  We get to marvel at the grandeur and depravity of humanity, and the miracles embodied in all things great and small.  In short, these curious explorers stretch our view and expand our knowledge of the world, one adventure at a time.

And so it could be for us freelancers.  We could do well to adopt the LIVE CURIOUS motto and see what unfolds.  It might not transform us into wacky Nat Geo explorers, but I think indulging your curiosity could spice your work and business in three fundamental ways.

  1. Boost your competency:  Indulging your curiosity means working outside your typical comfort zone.  It means doing that extra bit of research — more than the project scope calls for.  Yes, you may be pressed for time.  Yes, the client may have given you “all” the material you need for the piece you’re working on.  But by doing a little more research, you stretch your thinking on the subject-matter.  More likely than not, that extra knowledge will show through in the quality of your writing and presentation.  That extra oomph is your competence fueled by well-channeled curiosity.  Before you know it, each project is no longer just about work scope and fees; it is becomes a true learning experience.
  2. Reinforce your status as a resource person.  Personally, I think it’s a mistake for a freelancer to see herself simply as a “hired hand”.  That type of thinking is demeaning and limiting.  I like to see myself as a valuable resource to my clients.  I market my services as such.  With every project, I help them meet a need that is vital to their business success – and ultimately mine.  However, to be a resource person, you have to live curious.  You have to build your knowledge base consistently within, around, and beyond your niche.  In short, you have to become a perpetual student.  The great thing about learning is that it can be fun.  It can make your work that much more enjoyable and your skill much more versatile.  It is essential for establishing yourself as the go-to person for your clients, which is a great way to grow your business.
  3. Open up new opportunities.  Many of us freelancers chose the solo path because we wanted more freedom – flexibility in our work life and more control over our personal time.  It means freedom to explore new options.  For the lucky few, opportunities seem to come to them effortlessly.  For the rest of us, doors open when we go looking and knocking.  The great thing about being a freelancer is there is no need for committee or employer approval before you go exploring.  You just need to be curious, think curious, and go for it.

There’s more that can be said about curiosity, but I hope the foregoing makes the point.  A curious freelancer stands to enhance her competency, secure a strategic position as a resource person, and uncover new opportunities to grow her business by.  Curiosity may kill the cat.  But properly channeled, curiosity can feed the freelancer.  So, I’d say THINK CURIOUS; BE CURIOUS.

What do you think?

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2010.

To Niche Or Not To Niche

It’s a safe bet to say every freelancer has heard of and pondered the issue of “a niche”.  Colleagues swear by it.  Business coaches recommend it as fundamental to success and revenue growth.

So, what is a niche?  Perhaps a better starting point is what a niche is not.  Here are a few…

  • It is not sameness of daily activity (aka boring or tedium).
  • It does not mean being boxed in a corner (aka feeling trapped).
  • It does not spell inflexibility (no wiggle room).
  • It does not necessarily involve prolonged re-training (if done correctly).
  • It does not necessarily have to be novel (no need to re-invent the wheel).

 

If a niche is none of those things, what then is it?

According to the Encarta dictionary, a niche is a position or activity that particularly suits somebody’s talents and personality or that somebody can make his or her own.

Put in those words, a niche certainly has a strong appeal.  It conveys the desirable feeling of being in the right or suitable place for somebody.  I am yet to meet a freelancer who doesn’t want to be in a suitable place.  For many of us, that’s precisely why we went solo!

In business terms, a niche denotes specialization.  A freelancer with a niche is a specialist.  On the other hand, a freelancer without a niche tends to be a generalist.

I have a niche.

I am a business writer who writes white papers, case studies, and marketing content used by IT companies.  I think of myself as a specialist and act as such in the various ways I market my business.

I’ve read and heard of freelancers who routinely agonize over practically every decision: what to charge, who to market to, who’s “the competition”?  The underlying reason always seems to be the fact that these freelancers (typically generalists) offer such a wide array of services it’s hard for them to develop meaningful hard sticks.

I like the clarity that the choice of a niche brings to the decisions I must make as I build my practice.  You probably know freelancers or solo practitioners like me.

Each specialist has at least one fundamental reason for the decision to specialize.  In what follows, I share three of my reasons for choosing “to niche”.

  1. Positioning:  Prior to putting up my “Open for Business” sign, I decided that I didn’t want to get lost in the crowd of freelance writers.  Along with that decision, I also knew I had to consciously set aside the “team skill pool” marketing approach I’d used in corporate consulting.  As any specialist will tell you, it is vital to create and effectively implement an individualized marketing platform to gain acceptance as a subject-matter expert (SME).  Nothing boosts a solo practitioner’s credibility as being widely recognized as a SME.  Working in a niche facilitates positioning, so you’re not just open for business, people know that you’re open for a specific business.
  2. Productivity:  Economists and strategic management gurus have written extensively on the efficiencies associated with specialization.  Mastery in one business segment translates into timesavings and productivity gains, which in turn fuel profitability.  What freelancer couldn’t use a little more profit?  Specialization allows you to hone your research and writing skills in your field, which in turn helps you to be more productive and profitable.
  3. Practical:  Unlike some freelancers, I’ve never been comfortable with marketing my services.  Sure, the fear of rejection is a factor, but the greater issue initially was not knowing exactly what to say about my services.  However, once I selected my niche and created a simple value proposition, marketing became less formidable — much less of a chore.  Of course, it’s never really “all done”, but the clearer you are about your business, the quicker you get to doing it.  Incidentally, this is true of practically all aspects of running the business, including prospecting, networking, pricing, and planning for growth.  A focus is practical.

 

So, for me the decision “to niche” included those three elements,  among others.

It’s understandable to be afraid of choosing the “wrong” niche.  I can recall my many fears, bouts of disabling doubts, and constantly shifting assumptions.  On hindsight, I can say these are all rational – an integral part of the process that ultimately produces a clear path.  The truth is some of my earlier fears and doubts linger, but they are not nearly as intimidating.

For most people, there is no shortcut to knowing what is a suitable place or a good fit.  It typically takes time and research to define and embrace the rationality of one’s choice of a niche.  I’d say, the due diligence is worth undertaking as the outcome will set the tone for the business.  The more time and honesty you devote to the process, the better the outcome.

To sum up: If you’re still undecided about a niche, or you’re just starting out as a freelancer, I’d suggest that you give some thought to whether “to niche” or “not to niche”.  Consider the potential benefits of specialization for your positioning, productivity and prospecting.  You owe it to yourself to invest your talents and personality into something you can make your own – your niche.

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2010.

The Secret to Success for Every Freelance Online Copywriter is to Stay Focused

Sidebar:  We all want to experience measurable progress with our freelance business.  Few things provide momentum as progress.  The problem is we might not be consistent in applying best success practices to our personal and business lives.  Well, the following article is just the reminder we need.

Nick Usborne, has been a copywriter for 30 years now, eleven of which he’s dedicated solely to online copy.  He is the author of many business books, including Copywriting 2.0: Your Complete Guide to Writing Web Copy that Converts.  I can personally attest to the fact that Nick is also an excellent business coach.  I hope his insight gets you back on track and fires up your dedication to grow your business.

Here’s Nick —-

Freelancers are notoriously vulnerable to distraction.

Instead of remaining focused on a single goal, with a clear plan, we leave ourselves open to anything that suggests the grass might be greener elsewhere.

Does this apply to you?

Before you say no, answer these questions …

During the course of the last week, have you …

 

  • Had a day when you were furiously busy, but at the end of the day had achieved very little?
  • Clicked a link in an email just to check out some other course, program, or copywriting “system”?
  • Thought about trying some other copywriting niche that is not directly related to the one you are working in now?
  • Accepted, or thought about accepting, a freelance project that really doesn’t align with your niche or your goals?
  • Worked 40 hours but were able to bill for only about 20?

If you answered “no” to all of those questions, good for you.  That means you have a clear goal and plan for your freelance copywriting business, and you stick with it.

If you answered “yes”, or even acknowledged that maybe you do get distracted from time to time, you need to pause and think.

Remember, as a freelancer you are alone.  It matters how you spend your time each day.  And every hour you spend on a distraction is an hour you can’t bill for.

And that, perhaps, is the clearest distinction between freelancers who are driving in a straight line towards achieving a clear goal, and freelancers who are weaving around without any clear idea of where they are going.

The freelancer with a clear goal gets to invoice a lot more hours.

He or she doesn’t waste any time wondering if the grass might be greener elsewhere.  She doesn’t get distracted.  She knows where she is going, and has figured out how to get there.

If you want to be focused, and bill for more of the hours you work, follow these steps:

1. Decide on your niche.

Decide on what you want to do.  Become a B2B online copywriter.  Or a specialist in writing e-newsletters.  Or a page optimization expert.  Or a landing page expert.  Just pick a specialization.

Do not just hang up a shingle and announce something like, “I am a freelance online copywriter and accept all work”.

It’s tough to market yourself as a Jack-of-all-trades.  Besides which, companies don’t want to hire a Jack-of-all-trades.  They outsource work because they need a specialist.  They can probably find a Jack-of-all-trades in-house.

Be that specialist.

2. Establish a clear goal.

Decide on where you want your business to be three years from now.  Visualize it.  Imagine the kind of work you will be doing, the clients you will have, the income you will make.

You need a goal.  If you don’t have one, you’ll be weaving around in a constant state of distraction.

3. Stick with the plan.

Everything you do, each day, should be aligned with achieving your goal.

If the time you spend on the phone isn’t aligned with your goal, put down the phone.  If the time you spend on Twitter or Facebook isn’t aligned with your goal, log off.  If the new course you are thinking about taking isn’t aligned with your goal, don’t buy it.

4. Keep learning, but keep it focused.

Self-education is essential for freelancers.  You have to keep learning, so you can offer greater value to your clients.  BUT, make sure that everything you do to upgrade your knowledge and skills is precisely aligned with your specialty and your goals.

If a learning opportunity is not aligned with your goals, it is simply a distraction and a time-sink.

 

To summarize …

Think about the most successful freelancers you know.  The big names.  The big earners.

They all have one thing in common.

They are focused.

They know where they are going, and they know they can’t afford to waste time on distractions.

Follow their lead.

End Note:  This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI) Wealthy Web Writer, a free newsletter for learning how to effectively write online copy and market products on the Web.  For a complimentary subscription, visit http://www.awaionline.com/signup/wealthy-web-writer.

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2010.