Starting this business is a funny thing to write about

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About two years ago, I decided I would give newspapers a break. If you’ve never committed yourself to a career in journalism, understand that this was a big change of heart for me. I gave up higher-paying jobs to work at a newspaper. I let relationships suffer and I abused my own health to work at a newspaper. I had been dedicated to daily news for almost a decade, so giving it up wasn’t a decision I made lightly.

But if I’m being honest, leaving newspapers behind was pretty easy once I decided to do it.

Working at a newspaper, no matter how large or small, is simultaneously the most uplifting and most depressing job you can have. One day you’re hunting down the parents of a child killed in a hit-and-run, the next you’re interviewing a Rwandan refugee who found out that morning he will be going on to college after graduating high school in the spring. Then there are the internal ups and downs. The brotherhood of reporters and editors who laugh at the dark jokes you’d never dare utter to people outside the newsroom. The support we give each other, even though we’re digging our talons in as deep as we can to hang on to the job we’ve got. And I will never forget the hostility that can infect a newsroom after years of layoffs, pay cuts and poor management.

I wrote the following post as a basic how-to on starting a business in New Hampshire, but if you know the back story, it’s about much more. I’ve abandoned my career in newspapers — for the time being — to give mercenary writing a try. I really thought I would miss newspapers more, but I don’t.

Starting your own business: My story

About a month ago, a large envelope from the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office came to me in the mail. Inside was a letter and certificate notifying me that I now officially had my own business. As of Nov. 12, 2013, BLH Writing Solutions is free to perform “independent contracting services providing writing and web content” within the state of New Hampshire.

Does this piece of paper make a difference in any way except by adding a small ounce of legitimacy to my self-employed existence? Not really. But it certainly feels nice to know that when people ask me what I do for a living, I can tell them I run my own business.

My experience this year has been relatively crisis-free, but I know there can be lots of challenges to starting a company. As I prepared to launch my business idea, I found the stories from others who started their own business to be helpful. Although I’d like to avoid giving advice here, I’d like to share my story.

The Idea

After a few years in the newspaper business, I began to question the future of the industry. Seeing “journalist” at or near the bottom of those annual job security lists made me nervous and I worked with many talented people who were ahead of me if a promotion ever presented itself. When I gave birth to my daughter, instead of taking maternity leave I left my position, not really knowing what I’d do for work next, just that I wanted to work for myself.

A I considered my options, I kept thinking about a casual conversation I had with one of my regular sources. She told me that good writers were impossible to find and if I ever wanted to change careers, she could refer me to a few businesses looking for writers. This wasn’t the first person to tell me this. People in the business world have told me repeatedly that knowing how to write a letter or an announcement or instructions to staff on a new policy are skills in high demand.

So that’s where I started – writing for people who didn’t have the skills or the time to do it themselves.

The Plan

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on networking, which covers much of what I did during the first six months. I contacted people I had worked for in the past, and people I met through other jobs. I told them if they needed something written, I could do it. I got one client right away, who connected me to a marketing firm looking for a writer. I got a reference to write for a college publication from a friend’s mom, and a college friend, who now edits a trade magazine, gave me a few assignments. The work trickled in slowly at first, but as I met more people, more work came in.

This summer, I did some networking on Facebook and landed my biggest assignment yet.

The Details

As the end of the year approached, I realized I’d have to do my taxes. It was time to get my house in order. I filed my business name, BLH Writing Solutions, with the Secretary of State, which the law says is required to do business in N.H. Then I took a few hours to gather up my receipts, invoices, check stubs and any other materials I could think of and paid a visit to an accountant.

The visit was not uplifting, but it didn’t make me want to hang it all up either. I will have to pay a significant amount to the IRS next year because I didn’t submit quarterly filings. (I was supposed to file quarterly?) But because I did a good job of keeping records, I can deduct most of my expenses without fear. The accountants I spoke with also gave me a good plan moving forward so I don’t make the same mistake next year.

The Next Step

While this first year in business has been a great education for me, it has also made me realize there is so much more to learn. Next year I hope to form a relationship with theNew Hampshire Small Business Center to make sure I continue in the right direction. I am also interested in learning more about information offered by SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which offers business seminars throughout the state, and the Center for Women’s Business Advancement in Manchester. Stay Work Play also hasresources for starting a business in NH on their website.

As far as first years in business go, I am happy with the way mine has gone. I have no regrets about working on my own, but there is one thing I miss about the old days — paid holidays.

Stay Work Play: Advice on Networking?

As a regular blogger for Stay Work Play, I am given lots of liberty as far as what I can post. Went to a winery over the weekend. Yup, that counts. Saw a comedian at the Portsmouth Music Hall. That’s one of the next posts on my list. While these out-and-about posts are perfectly fine, we are also encouraged to write about  more professional concepts, like things that can help you land a job or improve your skills.

So I dug deep into my career history and came up with this blog post I thought might help young college grads and 20-somethings ease into the working world a little more smoothly. Is this advice valuable? Who knows? I offer what I learned along the way, for what that’s worth.

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The (relatively) pain-free guide to networking

Let’s face it. Networking is not easy. It requires putting yourself out there, meeting new people, and facing some rejection. But it’s also one of the best ways to land a new job.

There are lots of websites and career advice manuals that can help you get started, but knowing how hard networking has been for me and considering how many times I’ve turned to networking after a layoff or career change, I wanted to offer my (relatively) pain free guide.

Writing about the home office in the home office

As I noted in my Stay Work Play post, I’ve been working from home off and on for many years now, but my current job is the first where I actually have a home office. My first “home office” was my kitchen table, followed by a cheap desk in the corner of our living room. Today, my home office occupies half of my finished attic. Although it’s way too hot in the summer and a little too frigid in the winter, the privacy it affords is invaluable.

Below is a sample from my most recent SWP post, in which I cover the perks of being employed from home. Might I also add, it’s nice for a quick swim break, too?

5 Best Things About Working From Home

I have worked from home off and on for a variety of employers since 2007. My first assignment was running a political website for a Washington D.C.-based company during the New Hampshire primary season, then I started “stringing” for news organizations like the Associated Press and the Portsmouth Herald. In 2009, I had had enough of the freelance life and took an office position in Manchester. There I stayed until about a year ago, when I had my first child and decided working from home was where I wanted to be.

Working from home is something many New Hampshire companies embrace, whether it’s full-time, one day a week or just once in a while. I’ve found that some companies prefer to have me work independently from home, especially after I prove I can meet their deadline, or at the very least are willing to discuss how working from home can be incorporated into my office job role.

If working from home is something you want to ask your boss about, I say go for it. Just remember, it is not for everyone, especially those who need to feel the boss is watching to get stuff done. But if you are deadline driven and organized, working from home has major advantages. Here are a few:

BLH Writing Solutions blogs for The Quechee Club

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As Editor-in-Chief of BLH Writing Solutions, I’d like to announce I will be working with Means-of-Production marketing services to launch a new blog for The Quechee Club in Vermont.

Like it’s name suggests, The Quechee Club is located in Quechee, VT., a quick drive from the Dartmouth-Hanover area and about an hour north Concord. Part of my task is to highlight not only The Quechee Club community and wealth of amenities, such as golf, skiing, tennis, private lake, athletic club and pool, but to also shine a light on all there is to do in the Quechee area.

Unfamiliar with this part of Vermont, I took a trip up the other day and was surprised to learn how much there is to do in the area. There’s a Simon Pearce gallery and restaurant, the Montshire Science Museum and the headquarters of King Authur Flour nearby (which may not sound like a big deal, but kinda is). There’s also the vast hiking and kayaking opportunities and of course the famous Quechee Gorge.

There is certainly no lack of material to cover. As I get started on the project this week, I’m looking forward to working with all the great people at Quechee and becoming an expert on the area.

Jargon — the enemy of an effective press release

Tips for a great press release from someone who’s gotten plenty.

“On May 23rd, 2013 at approximately 10:30pm, Portsmouth Police Emergency Dispatch Center received a call about suspicious activity occurring in the parking lot of the Beechstone Apartments off of Route 1. Portsmouth Police Officers arrived on scene and encountered 4 males hiding in between parked vehicles in the parking lot. 1 adult male attempted to flee on foot but was quickly apprehended. 2 other males (1 adult and 1 juvenile) were taken into custody and a 4th male (a juvenile) was able to get away but has subsequently been identified. The individuals arrested had multiple personal items in their possession that belonged in the vehicles that were parked in the parking lot.”

This is a sample press release from the Portsmouth Police Department. Something about police culture dictates that when talking to the public, they must use super-official sounding language. Sometimes reporters indulge them, but often they just rewrite the release using regular language. Here’s an example:

“When the police got to Beechstone Apartments, they found four men hiding between parked cars. One man tried to run away but was quickly caught. Two other men, one of whom was under 18, were arrested and the fourth man, also under 18, was able to get away. He has since been found.”

Police are by no means the only ones to cling to jargon. Teachers and government workers use a lot of acronyms. Doctors love their scientific terminology and lawyers even have their own term for their jargon: legalese. When writing a press release, remember that most people do not work at your company or even in your industry. Write using words that an 8th grader can understand. If you must use insider terms, make sure to explain what they mean somewhere in the release.

Here’s an example of why you don’t use jargon. Remember, your duty is to communicate. Making sure people understand what you’re writing is your first responsibility.

Best, Hottest, Quickest Way to Land Your Release in the Trash

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I know you are psyched about your product and want us all to feel the same, but using too many adjectives, or tired adjectives, will have the opposite effect you intended. Instead of boosting the stature of your product or service, too many adjectives are a good way to sap the credibility from your company.

In a recent analysis of 3,000 press releases by PRFilter, words like leading, best, top and innovative appeared hundreds of times. Innovative, I’ll admit, is a good word but it tends to be overused. When reporters see a word over and over, they can become desensitized to its meaning and the message you are trying to convey is lost.

Same goes for superlatives, such as best, most effective and top. Is your product really the best way to lose weight? Is your computer service really most effective at repairing crashed laptops? I was taught long ago not to put anything into a press release that isn’t true. While these statements aren’t all-out lies, the exaggerations don’t do your company any favors.

Before you trash that press release draft you worked on all morning, chin up. It could never be as bad as this testament to the pitfalls of hyperbole.

When to use a number and when to spell a number

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The rules on when to use an actual number and when to spell a number in professional writing can be a little confusing. To me, they can also seem a bit arbitrary. Each company, media outlet and organization tend to have rules for writing numbers when sending out official information, but I often encounter mistakes in instances such as when to write “5” or “five.” Here are a few simple rules.

  • If the number is less than 10, spell it out. If greater than 10, use the number. For example, one hundred would be 100 and five would be five in whatever you are writing. Read on for the exceptions.
  • When the number is at the beginning of a sentence, always spell it out.
  • When mixing large and small numbers in one sentence, use the number. For example, there are 5 horses and 10 chicken on the farm.
  • When referring to age, percentages or other specific numbers, always use the number. For example, 5 years old, 2 percent page 7.
  • When talking about very large numbers, use this number and word combination: 2 million, 16 trillion, etc.
  • Always use a number when talking about a specific date and time. For example, 2 o’clock, 6:30 p.m., Oct. 7
  • When referring to ordinal numbers, such as first second third, follow the same general rule as regular numbers. For example, first, fourth, ninth, 10th, 15th.

Here’s a basic, but easy to read reference beyond the one provided above, but if you want more a more in-depth look at how to use numbers in your writing, this article gives good advice. Of course if you do not want to follow the APA or AP Stylebook rules regarding numbers, there is always the finicky Chicago Manual of Style, which is explained well here.

Remember When in Times Square

I was recently asked to write a blog post about Times Square, how it’s changed over the years and American’s perception of the place. In my research, I was given a link to this video in hopes of offering me some glimpse of the rough-around-the-edges days of pre-Guiliani, pre-Disney Times Square. Although half of the short documentary looks like a film student’s attempt to turn a subway ride into a psychedelic adventure, the first half has some great images.