Why Content Writers Create Great Marketing Strategy

 

I was speaking recentlyMagnet with the owner of an agency who helps companies with the creation and implementation of corporate marketing plans. We were discussing the possibilities of using my services to manage some of his marketing projects. As we discussed ideas, he said something I had never heard verbalized before: “You know, content writers make the best program managers,” he said.

I knew exactly what he meant.  Yet I had never put it that way myself. Then after thinking about it, I decided to think it through and it makes perfect sense. Why?

Content writers are all about the message.  Let’s face it, if you are creating a marketing communications piece, you want to send the right marketing messaging to the right audience. You can put out all the blogs, videos, etc. you want but if they don’t speak to your audience, nothing will happen. Content writers understand this, and it is the bread and butter of what we do. We craft the messages that get your audience to do something…and now!

Content is at the root of many a marketing program. When I started my business four years ago, I strictly sought editorial, content writing, editing and proofreading jobs. Now, at the request of my clients, I manage marketing programs that feature content like blogs, Eblast campaigns, social media campaigns and more. Content is at the heart of these efforts so a content writer should be too! This is especially key when a client has a need to broadcast one message across multiple communication  channels, like website content, printed collateral pieces, video content and social media. I personally do this by partnering with exceptional professionals who share my passion for creative communication. Seems like program management is a natural extension of my skills!

Good content writers can also spin a message on a dime. If the first headline isn’t working, we’ve got more waiting in the wings. Again, who decides if you need a change in, say, the headline? Probably your success metrics, as analyzed by the program manager. And if your program manager is also your content writer, well…you eliminate the middle man. How’s that for efficiency? Good content writers are a fount of creativity, flexibility and versatility.

Content Writers think conceptually. We content writers do more than write. We consider the effect our words have on others. We explore options of communication to get our point across, like different media channels, graphic design or sensory experiences. All that big sky thinking is essential for the success of an integrated campaign. And we’ve got it down pat!

I agree that content writers make the best marketers. Maybe that’s why I’ve grown comfortable in my role as the content writer-program manager. If you’re looking for a content writer with a flair for marketing strategy, let’s talk. Contact me today!

Social Media Prime Time: When Your Business Should Post

Social media is an incredibly important aspect of today’s business practices, and knowing when the best time is to post or update social media can be key to exposing your content to a wider audience.

Recently, I attended a presentation on this very topic given by Maria Ramos, an award-winning blogger and social media consultant.  Her website, A Savings Wow, is an eclectic mix of coupons, savings tips, and deals and giveaways. As a social media consultant, Maria helps businesses get the most from their efforts, and her presentation gave some concrete information on the best and worst times to post on some of the most popular platforms. I’ve put together this chart as a handy guide for myself (and you!) to schedule accordingly.

Social media Best time to post Worst times to post
Facebook 1-2 times per day, 1pm to 4pm ET Weekends before 8am and after 8pm ET
Twitter About 3 times a day, Mondays through Thursdays from 1pm to 3pm ET Every day after 8pm and Friday after 3pm ET
Instagram Mondays from 3pm to 4pm ET
LinkedIn 2 to 4 times a week, Tuesdays through Thursdays at noon and between 5pm and 6pm ET Mondays and Fridays between 10pm and 6am ET

Also, if you have active social media, make sure your customers and prospects know you’re there! There are many unusual places to put your social media icons that you may not have considered.

Experts will tell you that even if you don’t follow the guidelines above, the important thing is to post, get the word out and make social media work for you!

At Big Ideas Writing, we help clients with their social media content and page management. If you need some help with yours, contact us today!

Five Hidden Values of a Marketing Consultant

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Marketing consultants are an amazing tool for small or medium sized businesses that need to expand their media exposure, reach a new audience, promote an award they have received, or accomplish other marketing goals. When companies have a need for marketing, they have two choices. They can use their internal marketing department (or even establish one) or they can hire an outside marketing expert. The decision usually depends on budget and resources, human and otherwise. Both internal and external marketing professionals can do a smashing job for a company. In general, however, marketing consultants, by virtue of their external perspective, can bring something even more valuable to the table, without charging an extra cent!

1. Creative Solutions Born of Experience. An external marketing consultant may have experience in yours and other industries that can come in handy in unconventional ways. They may have seen marketing strategies before that have helped other clients. They may have tried a strategy in another industry that may work in yours too. They may have experience with technology and tools that can bring results, like electronic press release distribution systems and SEO keyword planners. Let their experience enrich yours!

2. A New Perspective. Employees in an internal marketing department are employed by the company and often see everything from the company perspective. They may be there to grow their career and become a lifelong employee or just as likely be there for the paycheck and be biding their time for a better opportunity. An outside force like a marketing consultant sees things objectively, and from a different angle. In their position, they’ve had access to many different types of corporate cultures, leadership styles and marketing strategies. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be surprised if they propose something completely different to you that you’ve never considered before. It’s part of the hidden value of a consultant!

3. Resources. One reason you hire an outside marketing consultant is because you don’t have the time, experience, or manpower to handle the marketing for your company. Marketing experts have all three for your business, as well as access to marketing resources that you might not know about and knowledge of many different resources for promoting a business. There are always new ways that a business can use social media, networking, and promotional material that a business owner might need.  As a marketing consultant, I have connections with specialists who can produce e-blasts, search optimization, and other tools to help businesses reach a wider audience.

4. Publicity opportunities. Marketing consultants are always on the lookout for publicity opportunities. Everything promotional tool that crosses a good marketing consultant’s path is a possibility for their client. Awards programs, for example, are a great way to put your business in the spotlight while participating in the community. As a marketing consultant, I do a variety of work for clients, but I always keep an eye out for opportunities to do even more. Sometimes I am called in to proofread a website or write content for a whitepaper, but if I find other ways that a business can make itself more accessible, I’ll let my client know! A good marketing consultant knows that their client’s success equals their own.

5. Business Consulting. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. Sometimes the entrepreneur may feel like they are the only one in the business who truly cares about the company’s success. It’s helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of and talk to about other, non-marketing related issues. As a marketing consultant, clients often ask me about human resources, pricing, sourcing, etc. I always try to have the answer for them and hope that my advice has saved them hours of googling for information!

So when you need a helping hand with your marketing, remember that a good consultant brings more with them than just what it says on their business card. If you need an example of what that might be, feel free to contact me.

 

Comma Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon

Inspired by the old George Michael song, this week the Big Ideas Writing blog is taken over by our summer intern, Erica Dix, who educates us on …what else? Commas! 20140607_182708

Some of the most common grammatical errors are comma-related. Very few of us can name all of the comma rules with certainty. They are more than just a pause in the sentence, they actually serve a purpose! Here are the ten main uses of commas and how to use them well…with or without the chameleon.

  1. Commas are used with dependent clauses, when the sentence begins with a word such as although, when, because, or if. Like this:

Although chameleons like the sunlight, they are careful not to overheat.

However, they are not used if the dependent clause comes second.

Chameleons are careful not to overheat even though they like the sunlight.

 

  1. Commas are used before a conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

The chameleon was blue, but he soon changed back to green.

 

  1. Commas can be used to separate adjectives when an “and” can be used between them, for example:

He was a slow, steady chameleon who was skilled at climbing trees.

..which would be written without a comma as:

He was a slow and steady chameleon who was skilled at climbing trees.

 

  1. Commas can be used after introductory phrases, such as consequently, nonetheless, etc.

However, the chameleon wasn’t at the top of the tree yet.

 

  1. A comma is used after a direct address to someone.

Chameleon, where are you going?

 

  1. Commas are used to separate a phrase in quotations.

I’m going to find my friends,” the chameleon replied.

 

  1. Use a comma when referring to dates…

The chameleon’s birthday is June 21st, 2015.

and places…

Chameleon City, USA

 

  1. And when you are indicating an exact renaming…..

The chameleon, named Jeff, was very intelligent.

 

  1. Commas are used with clauses that contain unnecessary information (nonrestrictive), beginning with “which/who”.

The chameleon, who didn’t know how to read, continued to climb.

The information between the subject (chameleon) and the verb (continued) does not affect the meaning of the sentence and needs to be offset with a comma. However, if it is a clause which contains necessary information (restrictive clause) that begins with “that/who”, a comma is not necessary.

The chameleon that was in a hurry continued to climb.

The information in the clause “that was in a hurry” describes (and often identifies) the subject and affects the meaning of the sentence. It does not need to be offset with commas.

 

  1. The Oxford (Serial) Comma

Yes, we would be amiss if we didn’t mention the dreaded Oxford Comma. The Oxford comma is used at the ends of lists before the word “and”. Many writers and publications deliberately eliminate it but here in the United States, the Oxford Comma is widely acknowledged as grammatically correct.

With Oxford Comma: The chameleon eats lettuce, carrots, and spinach.

Without Oxford Comma: The chameleon eats lettuce, carrots and spinach.

I hope this answered some of your comma questions, and got you thinking about how you use this important piece of punctuation. Leave a comment if you have any of your own tips and tricks about commas. And if you are ever in need of a look at your comma use in something you’ve written, contact us at Big Ideas Writing!

Ten Ways to Promote Your Business After You’ve Won an Award

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So you’ve won a business award. Congratulations!

After you’re done with the awards ceremony, the handshakes, the acceptance speech, the photo op and the positioning of the trophy on the front desk of your office, remember, the power of that award is yet to be unleashed. Don’t leave the story to be told only to those who enter your office. It’s time to tell the world!

Chances are the organization, non-profit or publication that gave you the award will have some public relations efforts in place. They will probably have a press release prepared and distributed with the names of the winners on it. If you are a sole winner, this may or may not be the case. If you are a winner in a multi-category or multi-tiered competition, the press release will include names of all winners. Whether you are a sole winner or one among many, it is always a good idea to make the investment to do the most important thing you can do…

  1. Issue your own personalized press release. Why should you do this, you ask, if the organization is doing their own press release? For several reasons. First, your own press release allows you to describe your business and include a quote from your president or CEO which helps increase your brand awareness and the award’s significance to your company. Second, you can customize the distribution to the right trade and local publications, which may lead to a feature story or other opportunities. You may or may not be privy to the media list from the awarding organization and many of the outlets may have no meaning for your customers and potential customers. Finally, in some markets, your release may provide a secondary touchpoint for the news. You can never get your name into the press too often!
  1. Announce the award on social media. If you have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even just Linkedin, make the announcement with nice images of the actual award or the company representative receiving the award. As you know, the beauty of social media is its shareability. That’s why social media is a great way to get the word out to the world as quickly as possible.
  1. Announce the Award Internally. It’s important for morale that your employees know they have won an award so they too can spread the news. It’s even a greater morale booster to have a small in-house celebration, which can be as inexpensive as allowing a casual dress day or bringing in donuts or a celebratory cake. The announcement can be made orally or in writing, with a description of the ways the award will be publicized, and of course an invitation for them to share the company social media posts about the accolade.
  1. Add “award winning” to all company descriptions. After they win an award, I tell my clients from that day on, they now have the right to call themselves an “award winning” company. It’s not bragging—it’s a fact, and one that can be used in many occasions to add authority and relevance to the company.
  1. Add to company collateral (stickers). It’s often Murphy’s Law that the day the new brochure rolls off the press, the company wins an award which of course is then not mentioned in the brochure. I often recommend a company produce inexpensive, but tasteful looking stickers that can be affixed to marketing materials like a seal, stating the name of the award.
  1. Add to your email signature. Your email signature is seen daily by scores of people who may not know about your award. Just add a statement that says “winner of the (year) (award name). Be inconspicuous, yet bold.
  1. Consider an advertisement. It’s common for companies to take out an advertisement after they’ve won an award to call attention to their achievement, or to possibly congratulate fellow winners.
  1. Tell clients individually or in company newsletter. Winning an award is a great time to touch base with clients and thank them for their patronage. Some companies even go as far as to make a special direct mail piece card that is an announcement and “out of the blue” show of appreciation for their clients. Announcing it on the company newsletter is another good place, or any other marketing materials that typically hit your clients.
  1. Signage. Right near my home is a car wash that was honored as a “best of” from a local magazine as voted on by the readers. It is a banner that hangs outside, just above the front door. My first thought? Smart. More companies should do that!20150710_134719
  1. Website home page. Finally, an often overlooked but very important place to put your award is on your website home page. A mention, a graphic element, a slider image or banner are all ways to represent the award on your website.

It’s your award so make it count! Can you think of any other ways to publicize your awards? Leave me a comment and let me know!

An American Speller in Great Britain

london guardAs some of you know, I recently returned from a vacation “across the pond”, with London being my first stop. As someone who has never really been out of the country, I soaked up the atmosphere and culture as much as I could in my four days there. As a writer, I found myself paying great attention to signs and advertisements. After hearing and seeing certain “British” words on TV and in movies, it was fun to see the word “lift” over the elevator, and even consult Google when we couldn’t decipher the sign “no busking” which was posted in an underpass. (It means no street performing!)

Back home, I have often found myself reading blogs on content marketing originating from the UK but only realized it when I hit one of their famous telltale spellings—for example, authorise, instead of authorize or flavour instead of flavor. In honor of my visit, I decided to look into the origin of this difference between American and British spellings.  Here’s what I found.

Basically, spelling was never standardized across all the various English-speaking countries! In the 19th century, two distinct versions of English spelling appeared: British English and American English, and which is correct will depend on where you are.

Today, British English is used in part of Great Britain, as well as in most Commonwealth countries such as Canada. Each nation has a few variations within the language, with a few American spellings incorporated into the standard of the country.

The real difference, though, lies in the origins of the words. British English tends to keep the spelling from the language that the root word is borrowed from (such as Old French or Latin), while American English spells words more phonetically. Just like us Americans to make things easier, right?

Here’s how “we” remix the British version of our words:

  • Words ending in -re became -er: Centre is closer to the original Old French, or Latin word, centrum. We Americans prefer center.
  • Words ending in -our became -or: Words like colour or favourite are also derived from the Old French word of the same spelling. Again, we prefer color.
  • Words ending in -ence became -ense (defence versus defense).  Words like defence are derived from Middle English and Latin.
  • Words ending in –ise became –ize: Words like apologise are also derived from Latin and Greek.

Part of the joy of travel is experiencing the differences between your home and the place you are and for me, that included a study of words I saw. Go ahead and confess…do you have a fondness for any British-spelled words? Do you think we Americans should revert to any British spellings? Leave me a comment and let me know!

So You Want to Be A Content Writer?

WVHS Career Day (2)

This week, I had the opportunity to appear at my children’s high school on career day and present what I do as part of a panel of marketing experts. As I looked out on the audience of young, fresh faces, I thought back to my own high school days, when I had very little guidance on what I wanted to do in life, and actually started heading in the wrong direction.

Back then, I had no idea how to parlay my love of writing into any sort of job. When I graduated high school, “content writing” was not yet a career.  Nobody did what I do now.  When it came time to choose a college major, I was headed towards the health care field, and the only writing career major available was journalism. Through a twist of fate, I ended up taking journalism classes for my minor of public relations while I pursued a speech communication degree. However, I did not know where I was going.

When you’re a teen, figuring out what you want to do for the rest of your life is a daunting, yet necessary step before graduation.  Most undecided teens take a cue from their family history and follow in the footsteps of mom or dad.  However, I believe it’s very important to gain exposure to career options beyond the scope of your family’s history, because your talents and skills may be extremely different.  Nobody in my family had ever made a living writing, so I was breaking new ground.  How unfortunate it would have been to ignore my interest in writing and force myself to do something unsuitable to my skills.

Instead, I truly love what I’m doing and my days are filled with variety and new challenges, just how I like them!

present 2As I spoke to the students, I wanted them to recognize any of the qualities that would make them successful in the world of marketing and/or content writing.  What are these qualities?

A love of writing. Duh. Don’t be a writer if you don’t like to write but don’t be afraid to choose it as a career either.  Sure, you may never make Donald Trump’s salary, but in my experience it is more important to be happy with what you’re doing than rich and miserable with your life’s work. Ideally, both your talents and your paycheck will align spectacularly.

Interviewing Skills. I spend a lot of time gathering information to write pieces, and 80% of the time it involves talking to people. To me, the term “interviewing skills” means listening as well as talking. Some people don’t need questions..they just ramble. I can glean so much from them by listening to the words they use to describe their business and the way they organize their thoughts. Putting together a list of questions is important but there are so many more tips to become a skillful interviewer. Watch for an upcoming blog devoted specifically to this subject!

Interested in Research. When I have an assignment, any information I cannot get from my interview subject I must defer to Google.  If you enjoy researching on different topics, content writing may be for you.

Proofing Skills. If you think English teachers are mean about misspellings, extra spaces and “minor” writing infractions, just wait till you are a professional, writing for clients!  As a writer, you have to be perfect in this respect.  Be prepared to be concerned about such things if you write for a living.

Editing Chops.  Remember in school when you had to write a two-page paper and didn’t have anything to say and used tricks like extra spacing, wider fonts, etc. to make the paper longer? It’s the opposite when you begin writing professionally. Words cost money to publish. Say what needs to be said, and nothing more. Editing is an essential skill, and it’s important to be able to edit your own work. I tell clients I am a heartless editor, to my own work as well as to others. Even when work seems “finished”, editing is usually possible. Usually when you write content you also have a word count limit. This makes editing an even more important skill to have.

Natural Curiosity. Every day I am writing about something different and at any time I am serving companies from vastly different industries simultaneously. For example, right now I am writing for an ice cream shop, a railcar leasing company, a private aviation company, a commercial fire protection service, a world-class optometrist, a group of Latina business women, a law firm and more. Who knows what I’ll be writing about tomorrow?  My own curiosity carries me through my discussions and interviews with people in all these industries and helps me formulate questions and explore ideas with them.

I wish all high school students good luck when planning their future, but also the professionals out there who may feel like they need a change.  If you look at this list and feel it speaks to your personal qualifications, maybe you’d make a good content writer. If you need any help or want to learn more,  contact me.

 

SANTA BABY…from Big Ideas Writing!

Holiday-BlogSo it’s Christmas time, and if you’ve ever read my blog at the end of December, you may have noticed that I usually try to get funny, or rather “punny” with my post. Who can forget “A Social Media Night Before Christmas” or last year’s “12 days of Content“? Well, this year is no exception. With apologies to the composers, I’m letting loose with a parody of “Santa Baby” in the only way you will ever hear it from me…words without music!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Santa baby, just slip a iphone under the tree, for me;
Tech’s an awful good choice, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa baby, a spell checker that actually thinks, not stinks;
Perfect docs are a must, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Think of all the good I’ve done;
Servicing the clients each and every one.
Next year I could be twice as good… if you check off my Christmas list.

Santa baby, I don’t enjoy accounting so look, my books,
You can do them all year, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa honey, one little thing that would be sublime….
More time…to get the deadlines all met, Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa cutie, and fill my stocking with all I need, like leads,
Never can have enough, Santa cutie,
and hurry down the chimney tonight.

Come and trim my Christmas tree with testimonials from ones I’ve made happy;
I rock my clients’ brands all year, 
Making them smile from ear to ear.

Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing…to bring.
Another year like this one Santa baby,
So hurry down the chimney tonight!

Hurry down the chimney tonight
Hurry, tonight!

Your Stance on the Oxford Comma: In or Out?

content-writing-oxford-comma

Do you embrace the Oxford comma in your writing or banish it? As a freelance content writer, I want to know.

The Oxford comma gained fame and recognition for its common usage at the Oxford University Press. For those of you who don’t know, the Oxford comma is the comma preceding the word “and” at the end of a list.

It looks like this:

                                                                         We brought hamburgers, hot dogs, and pickles.

Now let’s take it out:

                                                                         We brought hamburgers, hot dogs and pickles.

No harm done there. But if you take away the Oxford comma, we can have some pretty hilarious results, as shown by this clever cartoon from a  humorous grammar blog.

oxford-comma

Another famous argument for the Oxford comma is the following example:

“I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

In the olden days when I was learning to write, I was taught to disregard the Oxford comma. My children in high school today tell me they are taught it is optional.  So do most people use it? Actually, a recent survey of more than 1,000 Americans showed that the results were close, with  57 percent of the vote loving that comma and the other 43 percent regularly hitting the delete key.

Today my freelance content writing and business writing is reviewed by many, many people before it’s posted or printed. …people from all different backgrounds and writing sensibilities.  Some bat for Team Oxford, others blackball that pesky comma.

In most cases, whether or not I use the comma comes down to the style I am writing in, and in many cases, the specific preferences of my clients, who may or may not be bound to the Microsoft Word grammar checker as their “punctuational mentor”.

Curiously, while the Oxford comma may seem trivial compared to other important world matters,  if you’ve ever created a business or internal publication with an eclectic team, you will find out quickly where people stand on its usage. If you are an Oxford-hater and omit it throughout the first draft of the company plan, then Tom goes comma crazy, putting in Oxfords everywhere he can on the Google doc, you find out quickly that Tom is an Oxford-lover.  And he obviously didn’t go to my grade school. .

If Tom is on your team, and your Microsoft Word isn’t catching places where you’ve overlooked the Oxford, remember that the setting can be easily changed.

Access  File>Options>Proofing, then selecting “grammar and style”.

oxford-comma-setting

Then select “always” to make sure Word always checks for the comma.  The default is “don’t check”.

Grammatical-writer

So, when a style is not specified, and someone else reviews your work and messes with your commas, you have the choice of fight or flight. So tell me, do you fight for the Oxford comma?  Is it worth fighting for? Is it better to go with majority rule, or is it purely a matter of circumstance?

Do you have a strong preference?   Leave me a comment and let me know. And be sure to give me a call if I can help you with writing something for your business…with or without the Oxfords!

WEB FRIGHTS: Four Things That Will Scare Away Your Visitors

web-frightIt’s Halloween, the time of year when we are surrounded by scary costumes, makeup, life-size sound or motion-activated spooks and unfortunately, bad web design.

It’s true that a bad web design can bounce your visitors away faster than a fake mummy hand reaching out to grab their bag of candy. As a freelance content writer, I work on a lot of websites and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly as far as design goes. Here are four elements that you should avoid unless you want to send your site visitors fleeing for the nearest competitor.

We’ll start with one of the most common ones…read on…if you dare…

FRIGHT #1:  TOO MUCH CONTENT

bad-website

Never mind that it’s in Norwegian…they will translate for you. But quick…what do they sell? How can you find what you want? If you can’t answer either of these questions in the first four seconds, you have a bad web design. And yes, this is a home page. I told you not to read on.

Still don’t want to turn back? Ok, feast your eyes on our next scare..

 

FRIGHT #2: TOO MUCH COLOR

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Whoa! This kind of thing should be kept in the sky on an infrequent basis after a rain shower. The designer attempted to use color to separate the testimonials but in doing so, he/she shattered all unity between them. I think the thought was to continue the rainbow from the header into the copy, but learn from this mistake. Too much color qualifies this as a scary web design.  Still not shaking in your shoes?  Step into this lair….

FRIGHT #3: IRRELEVANT OR UNATTRACTIVE IMAGES

web-site-fright

Ok, I never could track down what this website is about, but it really doesn’t matter. Unless the Creator in heaven has purchased a url (and really looks like this!) I don’t see how this could possibly be relevant to any business. If they were going for the “out of this world” look, I think they nailed it. However, if you don’t want to scare away customers, use attractive, relevant images that relate to your products and services.

 FRIGHT #4: BAD SEO

Scary websites hide in the shadows. Their bad search engine optimization (SEO) scares away Google’s little automated crawlers that index web content. So, their url, content and images can’t be found, or even indexed. People who search the web for their site may never find it.

The scary thing about these websites is not their appearance at all. On the outside, they look just like everyone else, with attractive graphics and content. But underneath their pretty mask, their search engine optimization is frightening. Their content contains no keywords and neither does their coding. Their title tags say things like “home” and their images are labeled with numbers rather than keywords. In some ways, websites with bad SEO are worse than the scary websites that you can find.  The scary websites lure people to their door, but the people flee when they see what answers. The ones with bad SEO don’t even get the visitors to their door because you don’t know where they live!

This Halloween, check your website for these four frights. They can cost you your business reputation, your potential customers or even your self-respect. If you need some help organizing your content, or just want a check that your website is not so frightful, feel free to call me to discuss at 630.778.6182.