Tapping your inner idea well

Idea bulbNothing stalls the writing process faster than not knowing what to write about. The next time you’re feeling stuck, try one of these strategies to help your reluctant muse get inspired. You can focus these exercises on a specific project you’re working on, or just use them as warm-ups to get your creative juices flowing.

Change one thing

Pick a common image, object, or idea and ask yourself what it would be like if one thing were different. This exercise can lead you to some interesting places:

  • What if cars ran on coffee instead of gasoline?
  • What if you could only use the Internet for 15 minutes a day?
  • What if politicians were elected for their ability to eat ice cream?

Combine two things

Take two things that don’t normally go together and see what happens when you create a mashup of the two.

“Your chocolate is in my peanut butter!”

“Your peanut butter is in my chocolate!”

You get the idea.

Get out of the office

Change your surroundings completely. Go to a coffeehouse. Go to a park. Go someplace you’ve never been before. Go someplace you wouldn’t ordinarily go. New ideas and perspectives pop up in the most unexpected places.

Get out of your head

Try to imagine how someone completely different than yourself would think about the project you’re working on. Writers call this exercise “writing the other.” For example, how would someone of another gender, ethnic background, nationality, or social class approach your creative challenge? What’s important to them? More importantly, what’s not important to them? What stuff do you obsess over that they would ignore or deemphasize?

Don’t imagine this “other” person is a straw man or a fool, especially if they’re likely to hold opinions different than your own. Think of them as a person you respect whose experience of life isn’t the same as yours.

Of course, one of the best “others” you can choose is your target audience.

Work in private

With all due respect to the advocates of brainstorming meetings, research suggests that humans do their best creative work alone. This is especially important if you’re an introvert, which is the case for many writers, designers, and other creative types. If you work in a “bullpen” environment or a home office with family or other distractions, find a place where you can be alone with your ideas — preferably a place with a door that closes.

Don’t be a hoarder

Don’t sit on ideas or keep them floating around in your head for fear that the well will run dry. Get them out and on paper (or pixels) even if you don’t intend to use them right away. Working through the stuff that’s kicking around in your brain frees you up to develop new ideas or build on the material you’ve already written.

  5 building blocks of great copy

blocksTalent, originality, and flair can play a role in the creation of awesome copy that gets results, but they aren’t the core of successful writing. Five basic elements drive the motivation of readers, and whether your copy succeeds or fails will largely depend on how well you address them.

1. A well-defined audience

Who are you writing to? Don’t touch a keyboard until you know who they are (and know them well). If you’re selling to an audience of white male doctors born during the baby boom, you won’t write the same way you would for female millennials fresh out of a California art school. Resist the temptation to write for “anyone who will pay money for this” and make your audience as specific and targeted as you can.

2. A problem

Most sales happen when your buyers have a need or desire they want to satisfy. These run the gamut from the necessary (“we need to produce this year’s annual report”) to the strategic (“we want to refresh our branding to attract more young professionals”) to the impulsive (“we could sell temporary tattoos on FamousSocialMediaSite.com!”).

If you’ve learned your audience well enough (see #1 above), you’ll probably have some good ideas already about the challenges they’re dealing with. This is one of the best ways to identify what your buyers have a legitimate need for, which is usually more effective than trying to create a “problem.” Another good approach is to use your outsider’s perspective to spot challenges your buyers may not yet be aware of. For instance, many small businesses fail to recognize how inconsistent branding hurts sales, especially against competitors with more design savvy.

The best problems are those that need to be dealt with right away. For example, if you have expertise in responsive design, your copy might highlight statistics about how much web surfing has shifted to mobile devices, and how that trend is expected to grow rapidly in the next year or so.

3. A solution that suggests your strengths

The art called “positioning” by marketing gurus basically boils down to this message: what you offer will satisfy your buyers’ needs, fulfill their desires, or solve their problems.

Whether this message is handled in a “hard” or “soft” manner depends on where and how you’re communicating. A traditional space ad in a magazine typically takes a direct approach: “XYZ Webcraft is the best solution for mobile-friendly websites!” In a white paper or social media post, however, you’ll want to pitch a more suggestive message: “The challenges of mobile devices are best met by a designer with expertise in responsive design, user experience, and web analytics.” (Well golly, the author of this article clearly has those qualities and knows what she’s talking about — maybe I should call her.)

4. A single message

Great writing doesn’t try to multitask. Your readers already have many other distractions competing for their attention — which you aren’t likely to have for long — so trying to squeeze two or more pitches into a piece will only make both of them less effective.

But what if you have more one than message or audience? The answer is simple: create a unique piece for each one. I recently did an assignment for an organization that has five different types of prospects. They wisely chose to create five variations of the campaign, each targeted to the specific needs and desires of the segments they had carefully researched ahead of time. They could have spent a lot less up front trying to create a one-size-fits-all promotion, but they knew that approach would ultimately cost them a lot more because it wouldn’t be successful.

5. A call to action

Every great piece of copy wraps up with a clear statement of what you want the reader to do next. In many cases, the call to action is also mentioned early and repeated throughout the piece.

Just because the call to action is the last item in this list and the final part of your message doesn’t mean it’s the last thing you should think about. Knowing exactly what you want your readers to do before you start writing allows you to focus your entire message toward your desired outcome.

For best results, make your call to action as specific as possible, whether it’s calling to schedule a free consultation, downloading a free report, signing up for a newsletter, or clicking here to buy now.

  5 ways WordPress is changing my business

dashboard-menuEarlier this year, I mentioned WordPress as one of three major software tools every writer should know how to use. I don’t often encourage writers to delve too deeply into this sort of thing, but the more you learn about WordPress, the more you can benefit from advantages like these:

1. Simultaneous workflow

Knowing your way around WordPress makes it a lot easier for the writer and the design team to do their jobs at the same time. The whole “chicken and egg” debate is less of an issue, because the writer can respond in real-time to what the design team is doing and vice versa.

2. Improved accuracy

When I first started writing Web copy, I would send the design team a Word file, which they would then have to load into the site. Most of the time this wasn’t a problem, but I always had to check the results to make sure that formatting like subheads, bold type, or italics didn’t accidentally get lost in the translation. Sometimes entire paragraphs would disappear.

Posting your copy directly into WordPress eliminates one of the steps where ordinary human errors can occur. It’s especially helpful to the design team — and to you — if everyone agrees ahead of time about how style sheets and other structural elements should be handled.

3. Faster editing

This is an extension of the first two benefits that happens after the initial draft is submitted. If you can make editing changes yourself, you don’t have to wait for someone on the design team to do it, and you don’t have to worry about any of your changes being accidentally skipped or misinterpreted. This faster integration helps jobs get done sooner, which means everyone gets paid faster.

4. Happy design partners

Notice a recurring theme in these benefits? Everything we’ve mentioned so far makes things easier for the design team — which makes them very, very happy. This frequently leads to…

5. More Web copy gigs

Once you’ve earned the trust of a design team by demonstrating your WordPress prowess, you’ll find that they’re eager to keep you involved with regular updates to the projects you’ve collaborated on. And by enabling them to spend more of their time focused on the design work they love while you handle that pesky copy, you’ll also be more likely to get the call when new gigs come up.

  The Voice of a Brand

smile-150Part of a graphic designer’s job is to establish a consistent “look” for a brand — everything from the logo and typefaces to an approved book of colors and styles. When done right, a brand can be recognized wherever any one of its visual elements appears.

A good copywriter complements the look of a brand with a distinctive style of writing, known as the “voice.” You’ll frequently see guidelines for the voice defined in the same branding guide the design team uses.

Getting the voice right is a key part of the branding process, because it works hand-in-hand with your design. A good voice will:

  • Convey the tone and spirit of the brand,
  • Use language that appeals to your buyers,
  • Encourage connection between what you offer and what your buyers need or want, and
  • Distinguish your product or service from competitors.

Creative firms frequently use words like these to describe their voice:

  • Creative
  • Friendly
  • Artistic
  • “Fun, but professional”
  •  Hip / on trend
  • Conversational
  • Jargon-free
  • Bold
  • Environmentally responsible
  • Service-oriented

Your brand’s voice might also include guidelines on grammar. For creative people, this usually means which rules of formal English the writer is encouraged to break. It’s not uncommon for designers to use contractions, to start sentences with “but” or “and”, or to use other casual forms of language better suited for the local coffeehouse than a high school English essay. This approach might not work for a doctor’s office or a law firm, but hey, you’re an artist, right?

Five tips for creating an authentic voice

  1. Know what you want. Figure out who you really want to work for and define your ideal client as specifically as possible. Make sure the profile you develop is someone you like, whether it’s based on a real person or a fictional composite of traits you’re looking for. Your voice should “speak” to this person the way you would speak to a friend.
  2. Know your prospects cold. Learn the lingo of your best buyers so you can write in a way they respect and understand. Not sure how technical to get? Err on the side of everyday speech.
  3. Let your true personality show. Don’t try to fake a tone or style that comes unnaturally to you. Even if you manage to pull it off, the people who respond probably won’t be the best fit for your business. Being yourself will help you attract clients you’ll enjoy working for.
  4. Be professional. Being authentic doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk. So while you’re being yourself, strive to be the best possible version of yourself. You can suffer for your art, but your clients won’t.
  5. Be consistent. Once you find your unique style, use it everywhere you promote your business. Give your voice the same fidelity you would give your logo or other visual elements.You can be a bit more casual on some social networking sites to help followers feel closer to your inner circle, but don’t go wild with it.

Ultimately, your goal is to present a consistent voice and message no matter where your buyers see you. If your voice speaks to what they really need wherever they find you, you’ll be the first person they call when they’re ready to hire.

  5 Ways to Reuse, Reproduce, and Repurpose Content

recycled_copyMany of today’s most effective marketing strategies are driven heavily by content — the more useful and relevant to your audience, the better. That content requires time and effort to create, so it makes good sense to get the most from your investment. And since it’s unlikely most people are hanging on your every WordPress post, most of your readers won’t notice if you take full advantage of these “sustainable content” strategies:

Feed your blog or newsletter

Blogs and newsletters are notoriously hungry for content, and for falling behind schedule when the topic well runs dry. If you’ve taken the time to create a longer copy project like a white paper or ebook, look for excerpts that could stand alone in these shorter formats.

Feed the social media monster

Social media calls for smaller bits of eloquence, both because of character limits and shorter attention spans. Adapting longer copy for these formats requires a bit more editing than for a blog or newsletter, but it’s almost as easy. If your content is compelling enough, social media can simply be an entry point, teasing the reader with a headline that encourages them to click through to something you’ve posted outside the walled garden of FamousSocialMediaSite.com.

Create a book, eBook, or free download

The same tricks described above also work in reverse: a series of blogs or newsletters that share a common theme can be packaged together to create something bigger you can sell or give away. That’s exactly how I created my eBook The Writer/Designer Dream Team. There’s even a WordPress plug-in called Anthologize specifically designed to capture online content and publish it in print or common eBook formats.

Create a resource library

Even if it’s not the shiniest new thing on your website or blog, content you’ve created remains a valuable asset as long as it’s still beneficial to your clients and prospects. Once it’s had its time in the spotlight, keep it available in an easily-accessible archive. Your website is the best place to keep it around, because the combination of useful information and regular updates is one of the best ways to attract the Internet gremlins that determine search engine rankings.

It’s worthwhile to check in on your archive from time to time. Content that’s technical or tied to current events can become out of date, at which point it may be worthwhile to refresh it (generating new content for your pipeline) or remove it.

Publish on other platforms

A pre-existing “content mine” makes it easy for you to contribute to other websites and publications your buyers read. Some publishers are fine with re-using content in its original form, expanding your audience with a simple cut and paste. Others may ask you to expand or rework your content, either to create something unique or to make it more specific to their readers.

For example, I once wrote a blog for a publisher’s website, something I do at least once a month to build credibility and reach a wider audience. The post caught the attention of a magazine owned by the same company, which paid me to expand it into a longer print article. About six months later I received another check when the article was re-published in two of the company’s anthologies.

Final thoughts

The primary goal of publishing regular content is to increase your visibility, so your options for when and where you reuse it are pretty flexible. Some publishers prefer to let a little time go by before re-publishing content somewhere else, others like to post segments of the same content in multiple channels simultaneously to attract a wider audience. Either strategy is enhanced by an archive that automatically collects older content when it’s replaced by something new.

While all of these strategies offer effective ways to attract new buyers, relevance is still the king. If your content addresses the wants and needs of your readers, any combination of these strategies can be successful. If it doesn’t, none of them will work.

  The language of green

blusunThis Wednesday, April 22, marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. It’s a special day for me since I spend a lot of my time writing about alternative energy and other so-called “green” topics.

The term “green marketing” has achieved buzzword status in recent years, but for many people its meaning isn’t clear. Many folks have a vague impression of something clean and organic-looking, featuring stock photos of the earth from space, a child’s hands planting a sapling, possibly with a drop of water or a solar panel thrown in for good measure. (The typeface? Papyrus of course.)

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find the green market isn’t just one demographic. People who value sustainability run the gamut from post-hippie entrepreneurs to the United States Military. You’ll find them in national parks, evangelical churches, architectural firms, coffee houses, government agencies, construction sites, and a growing number of mega-corporation boardrooms.

As a result, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to writing Green copy. Some of your customers may want a Greener world for the same reasons you do, but these kindred spirits may not be enough to keep you in business. Is their core motivation a love for the environment, self-reliance, healthy living, breaking free from foreign oil (or as some Middle Eastern countries are starting to consider, from an economy dominated by domestic oil)? Are your readers willing to pay more for a “Green” product? Research suggests about 4 out of 5 of them won’t be.

The days when a green focus made a company different are long gone. Today, everyone from small startups to major corporations is trying to talk the talk whether or not they’re sustainably sincere. That means you’ll need to do the same legwork every other smart company does to learn who your best customers really are. Where do they get their news? What causes do they support? What do they do in their spare time? And most importantly, what does Green mean to them?

  How to keep a content plan on schedule

final_deadlineOne morning last fall I woke to the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt in my life. I had never had a kidney stone before and hope never to have another. Suffice to say I was incapacitated for several days.

Yet while I was out of commission, my blog posted right on schedule. The following week my email newsletter went out on time, even as I was scrambling to catch up on client work. I won’t say I wasn’t stressed, but I wasn’t worried about letting my content slide because I had “more important” things to do. I didn’t have to think about it at all because my marketing machine can run without me for a while if it needs to.

A consistent schedule is critical to any content marketing plan, whether you send just one newsletter a month to a small email list or blitz the world with a multi-channel campaign. And since your content plan works its most powerful magic over time, it needs to keep running even when you go on vacation, get the flu, or land that huge project from DreamClient, Inc.

That may sound like a tall order, but it’s not. With a little effort, you can set up a content plan that runs like clockwork even if you get sidetracked. Here are five tips to help you make it happen:

Release perfection

The biggest obstacle to regular self-promotion that afflicts creative professionals — and many other business owners — is the feeling that every newsletter, blog, or post on FamousSocialMediaSite.com must exemplify the pinnacle of their creative brilliance every time. This mindset invariably stalls the plan every time.

So take a page from the Frozen playbook and “let it go.” Pursue excellence by trying to make each piece you create a little better than the last within the time you allot for marketing, but leave it at that. You’ll publish a brilliant thing that grabs attention once in a while — usually when you’re not trying to — and that’s enough. Potential clients will be far more impressed when they see that you can stick to your timetable reliably month after month.

Create a content schedule

The question “what should I write about this time?” is a lot easier to answer if you’ve created a plan in advance. One of your first content development tasks should be simply to brainstorm the topics you want to cover for a certain period — about 2-3 months’ worth seems to work best for me. This saves you a lot of time because you always know the next thing you need to write about. When the topic list starts to run low, do another brainstorming session. It’s also a good idea to jot down topics whenever they occur to you. I use Evernote to capture ideas.

Your schedule doesn’t need to be anything fancy. I use a spreadsheet with four columns: publication date, format (newsletter, blog, etc.), topic, and deadline. If more than one person is working on your plan, add columns to indicate who’s responsible and the current status of each piece.

Work ahead

An incredible sense of peace and calm descends upon you when your content plan is scheduled well in advance. Try to have at least one month’s worth of material scheduled and ready to go at any time. When I help clients start a new content plan, I actually encourage them to launch with three months of material scheduled. The same strategy helped me keep my cool during the aforementioned kidney stone incident.

Having a stockpile of content doesn’t prevent you from responding quickly to current events. You can always drop a time-sensitive piece into the mix and re-schedule “evergreen” items you’ve already written for a later date.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Content generation consumes time and resources, so don’t use it only in one place. Last year I created my eBook The Writer-Designer Dream Team largely by collating a series of blog posts and adding a bit of new material. For several months, in fact, my content schedule bore a striking resemblance to the eBook outline, since I knew ahead of time that I would be using the material for both projects.

Get help

Still feeling overwhelmed? There’s no shame in bringing someone else in to help you out. A good designer can create the right look and feel for your marketing. A good writer can help you craft the right voice or run with a topic list. If you’re short on cash, you might even be able to work out a barter deal. Last year a designer friend and I swapped copywriting for web design, and both of us walked away happy.

  User manual for technical copy

greengearsMany people I work with have a regular need for technical copy. The industries are as varied as alternative energy, medicine, green construction and IT, but the basic need is always the same: helping bright, inventive people tell their stories without making the reader’s eyes glaze over.

The genie’s out of the bottle, but who’s rubbing the lamp?
Promoting innovative new technologies can be a challenging balancing act, but it basically boils down to two things:

  1. Knowing what your whiz-bang wonder is good for. (Note that this is different from knowing what it does or how it works.)
  2. Knowing your audience.

I like to identify the audience first, but this doesn’t always work with tech because innovation doesn’t like to travel in straight lines. The history of science is filled with stories of clever people who accidentally created a breakthrough product while they were working on something else. Penicillin, Post-it notes, Viagra, Silly Putty, Coca-Cola, chocolate chip cookies, and even the color mauve all share the legacy of being discovered or invented “by mistake.” When this happens, your audience might not be who you originally expected it to be.

New isn’t enough
While there are always early adopters who crave the latest gizmo, there are many more who view new technology with skepticism and dread. Even those who are interested can feel a conflicting pull between the desire to be up to date and the fear of riding the wrong wave of the future.

The key to overcoming these concerns is to be a problem solver. Identify the challenges your technology will ease or eliminate. Will it save time or costs? Reduce the risk of injury? Improve quality? Ensure compliance with regulations?

“Why now” beats “how it works” every time
A critical part of your discovery process will be comparing the costs of using the new technology versus continuing with the status quo. How quickly will users to recoup their costs? If it’s going to take a while, you may need to consider other incentives to encourage buyers to act now. For example, many residential solar companies use a lease-financing payment plan to give their customers immediate cost savings compared to their current electric rates.

The many-headed hydra
If you’re only selling to one group, consider yourself lucky. Tech marketing often creates the need to communicate with people who have different levels of expertise. For example, the engineers who actually use a new software system will want more technical details than the CEO who makes the buying decision. You may also have to consider the needs of journalists and potential investors. When possible, try to direct different marketing efforts with appropriate “geek levels” toward each segment of your audience.

Remember: readers aren’t robots
In the discovery phase, it often takes fifteen minutes or more for brilliant technomancers to explain the significance of their creations. The inevitable PowerPoint accompaniment sometimes helps. Sometimes. (To be fair, this usually isn’t PowerPoint’s fault. For tips on how to cheat “Death by PowerPoint,” check out my colleague Laura Foley.)

Drawn-out explanations like this won’t work outside the lab, so distill the message as much as you can. If you can describe what it does and what it’s good for in ten words or less, you’ll have a major competitive advantage.

  7 questions creatives should ask before investing in SEO

Yellow-pages-SEOA generation or so ago, a certain type of business owner made it a priority to choose a name that started with the letter “A” (or preferably multiple “As”) so that they would be listed first in the Yellow Pages. Thus were born a host of companies with names like “A All-Valley Plumbing” (yes, that’s a real business in my home town), “AA Financial Enterprises” (ditto), and one of the best-known examples: “AAA” (the American Automobile Association). How much this strategy contributed to their success is open to debate. Some of these companies have survived for decades, others haven’t. Meanwhile, many businesses that don’t start with “A”, “B”, or even “K” are thriving, including alphabetically-challenged firms like Wal-Mart, Verizon and Zappos.com (though to be fair, Zappos succeeded well enough to be purchased by A-list giant Amazon.com).

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the modern equivalent of this marketing ploy, albeit a far more complicated and expensive one. The moving target of SEO is to “own” certain search terms so effectively that you show up first — or at least on the first page — when a user types in the magic keywords.

There are compelling arguments for certain brands to invest heavily in SEO, but is it worthwhile for a solo creative professional or small design firm? Here are seven things to consider before you dive down the SEO rabbit hole:

Is quantity or quality your goal?

Fans of SEO are quick to point out that it generates more web traffic. But is it the right kind of traffic? A “successful” SEO strategy can end up wasting a lot of your time if it simply spawns a lot of low-quality leads. People who search for creative services using nothing more than a Google search are often looking for the lowest price or the quickest fix, and frequently fail to recognize the value of a professional’s talents, experience, unique perspective or specializations.

Can you compete against companies with deep pockets?

If a solo creative’s SEO efforts can be compared to a fishing rod, the corporate equivalent is a fleet of trawlers operating further offshore. Stated more simply, if the search terms you’re angling for are also coveted by a big-budget brand, you may not be able to afford the SEO game. Big companies have big bucks to invest in paid search ads and can afford to hire dedicated SEO teams. You might be able to beat the big guys by selecting your keywords carefully. Maybe. Even words like “freelance”, “designer”, “copywriter” and “independent” are being played by web services that want to be the middleman between companies and solos, so you may need to start your keyword search somewhere else.

Are you faster than Google?

Google’s search algorithm changes 500-600 times a year — sometimes as often as 2-3 times a day — to keep their search results as relevant as possible and foil those who try to game the system. This makes many SEO strategies vulnerable to change at any time. What gets you on page one today may not work tomorrow, or even later today.

Can you entice search engines without discouraging buyers?

Remember those radio ads that mentioned the product name five times in 60 seconds? I don’t either, because this kind of “numbers game” mentality handicaps even the best copywriters. SEO methodologies can create similar risks by shifting your writer’s emphasis from persuading a potential buyer to persuading a search engine. This can be particularly damaging if the result is unreadable by the people you want to reach most, because even if they find you they’ll move on just as quickly. Never forget that you’re writing for humans.

Are you willing to do the follow-up work?

Counting hits, opens, likes or whatever isn’t enough. You’ll need to track the quality of your SEO results. Is your SEO campaign attracting the right customers? Are they just clicking, or are they actually reading, sharing, using and best of all buying as a result of your efforts? If you don’t have a way to follow this data or the time to commit to tracking it, you’re leaving most of the value of SEO on the table.

Are you willing to keep up with technology?

As the web becomes increasingly mobile and app-driven, consumers are loosing patience with the need to tap text into phones and tablets. That’s already driving big innovations in voice recognition, photo search, and anticipatory computing systems like Siri and Google Now. Facebook recently acquired voice-recognition start-up Wit.ai for the same reason, anticipating more voice recognition demand not only in phones and tablets, but in vehicles, appliances, and smart homes. These trends are likely to spell changes for the SEO game in the near future.

Are there better investments for your time and money?

Whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to manage it for you, SEO is probably going to cost you time, money or both. The cost may be worth it, but consider the value of other options before you commit. Is SEO likely to be a better value than targeted or localized content marketing? What about networking at events that attract high-potential prospects? Consider too, the very best SEO strategy, recommended by Google itself: posting useful, highly-relevant content on a regular basis.

  3 software tools every writer should know

dashboard-menuOne of the perks of being a writer is that you don’t need a huge suite of software to break into the business. The days when a pencil and a notepad were enough are long gone, but these days you can get by with a cheap laptop or tablet, a word processor, and an Internet connection.

That being said, knowing a few of the most common software tools used by editors and designers can make you more versatile — and more marketable. It’s worth investing a little time to get to know them.

Reviewing tools of Microsoft Word

Have you ever looked at an edited document and wondered what’s changed? There’s no mystery with Word’s reviewing tools. From the moment you or a collaborator clicks the “Track Changes” button, Word highlights everything — and I do mean everything — that changes in a document.

You’ll know at a glance where a word was changed, where a serial comma was added, what was added or deleted, who did it, and when. A black line in the left-hand margin indicates where changes have been made. New text is highlighted in a color that’s unique to the user who made the change, and deleted text appears in a bubble in the right-hand margin with the same color code. Users can also add comments that don’t modify or become part of the body copy.

Buttons in the review bar allow users to click through each individual change, reducing the chance that you’ll miss something. As the editing process proceeds, reviewers can accept or reject changes, making them disappear.

The highlights are fairly intuitive and designed to keep the document readable. Be aware, however, that colors for each user are assigned locally on each individual’s machine — your editor’s comments might show up in red on your screen but in green on someone else’s.

Adobe Acrobat

If Word is the standard for text editing and proofing, Acrobat is the complement for graphic designers. In addition to text reviewing features, Acrobat adds annotation and markup tools that allow you to scribble, post sticky notes, attach files, apply pre-designed “stamps” and sign off with digital signatures. If you regularly work with designers or need to review text in draft layouts, Acrobat gives everyone on the team an easy way to interact.

Acrobat’s tools are a bit more free-form than Word’s, but you can still access everything in a Comments List to make sure you don’t miss anything. Better still, each item has a checkbox so you can easily keep track of what you’ve already dealt with.

If you’re working with a savvy designer who knows how to activate commenting for collaborators, you can access many of these features using the free Adobe Reader. If you do a lot of this sort of thing, consider purchasing the full version of Acrobat — that way your designer won’t have to jump through any hoops to make editing features accessible to you.

WordPress

A growing number of websites are being built in WordPress, partly because it’s easy for non-programmers to use, and partly because the explosion of content marketing has created demand for regular content updates.

A writer who knows WordPress has a competitive edge when working with clients like this, because he or she can load copy directly onto the site, freeing up the in-house team for other tasks. An editor or content manager still needs to review the work before it goes live, but can preview it exactly as it will appear. It’s also a godsend for the client when a blazing-hot deadline is looming.

Trust is essential in this type of workflow, so you may not want to dive in until you have a good feel for the working relationship you have with your writer. It’s also best for the writer and design team to agree ahead of time on key design conventions, such as how style sheets should be used.

Bonus tools (nice, but not essential)

Adobe Creative Suite

Writers who work regularly with designers don’t really need the Adobe Creative Suite, but having access to it and knowing how it works can give you a valuable window into the mind of your artsy colleagues. Designers who spend most of their time in Illustrator or Photoshop, for example, think about copy differently from those who build their masterpieces in InDesign. If you’re so inclined, you might also use the suite to offer additional services like indexing or variable data.

HTML

If you regularly work with web copy, whether in WordPress or some other tool, it doesn’t hurt to know a few basics of HTML, the code structure that runs the Internet. Knowing what’s going on “under the hood” allows you to peek backstage.

Monkeying with code can quickly lead you down time-sinking rabbit holes, so you’ll want to carefully balance how much of this sort of thing you do against the time you spend writing copy. Knowing just enough can save a web designer time by enabling you to write code-friendly prose and do a little basic troubleshooting on your own. I also like to keep tabs on how hyperlinks in my web copy work, for example, by making sure that they open in new windows when clicked — something text editors sometimes overlook.