How and Why to Use a Swipe File

Woman working online on a laptop computer at homeIf imitation is a form a flattery then there are plenty of people I’ve flattered since I started blogging more than five years ago. Like most people, I created my first website and launched a blog with no real training or experience. I was already a professional writer so I figured I’d learn the rest on the job. And part of the learning process for me is studying what works well for others. That’s where my swipe files comes in handy.

A swipe file is a tool I learned about in my early career in public relations and marketing communications. I collected articles, headlines, direct mail postcards, advertisements, proposals and other materials for inspiration. It was kinda like Pinterest for writers. Only when I first started using a swipe file it was a paper accordion style folder with actual printed samples torn from newspapers and magazines.

I’d save anything I found interesting or compelling – even if it had nothing to do with my industry or current projects. Then, when it came time to work on a new piece, I’d flip through my swipe files for ideas. I’d find formulas for great headlines, templates for sales letters and even some clever photo captions that would trigger an idea.

I eventually went digital with my swipe file and now I use it to kick start my creativity on all sorts of new projects. Even if you’re not a writer, chances are you do a fair amount of writing for your business or ministry. So why not make your job a little bit easier and start a swipe file of your own? Collect anything you find interesting or effective so you can refer to it later. Start with a simple file folder on your desktop or try using Evernote to store your swipe file items. Evernote lets you bookmark webpages, add images or screenshots and tag your notes for easy sorting and retrieval. You can even share your swipe file with someone on Evernote.

Not sure what to collect? Here are a few ideas to get you started!

Seven Things to Add to Your Swipe File

1. Sales pages. Have you ever made a spontaneous online purchase? You may have stumbled across a compelling sales page and found yourself hitting the “buy now” button without even thinking about it. When that happens, take a screenshot of the sales page and file it for future reference. There is probably some language in there that will come in handy!

2. Facebook ads. If you’re on Facebook you’ve probably clicked on an ad in your newsfeed at some point. There are definitely tricks and tips to Facebook advertising, so capture screen shots of your favorite ads and study them to see what works well for others. When it comes time to do your own Facebook advertising, you’ll have a head start.

3. Bios. I always get a kick out of short, clever bios I read online. Not the ones that are stuffed full of credentials and accomplishments. But the ones that reveal addictions to Sharpie markers or a lifelong struggle to successfully grow a tomato plant. I’ve been swiping memorable bios for years and vowing to make my own humdrum narrative a little more intriguing. One. Of. These. Days. [Read more…]

Six Old-School Ways to Grow Your Business

Old School WaysWhen I started my own business more than 20 years ago (I know, that makes me sound old!), most of the tools I use today didn’t even exist. I remember being so excited that I figured out how to sign up for AOL – and then being immediately discouraged because nobody I knew was using email at home. Very few of my friends had computers outside of work. Social media hadn’t been invented – in fact, Mark Zuckerberg was in elementary school. We had yet to discover the vast capabilities of the World Wide Web.

But there I was…a new bride in a strange city, with no contacts, no history and no job. Yet, remarkably, I managed to grow a successful freelance writing business from my apartment with nothing more than a computer, an old fashioned portfolio of my work, handmade business cards and a whole lot of determination.

Of course, I’m grateful for the evolution of technology and the ease with which I am able to do business today. I don’t know what I would do without smart phones and virtual assistants…without Quickbooks and online bill pay…without CRM databases and shared calendars…without web conferencing and screen sharing. But I think we’ve forgotten some of the basics. I think there are a few tricks from the “old days” that we need to incorporate into our digital lives.

Six Old-School Ways to Grow Your Business

1. Pick up the phone. Not the one you use for texting – but the one you use for speaking to other human beings. You would be amazed at how effective a 20-minute phone conversation can be in qualifying leads and working with clients and business partners. Now I’m not suggesting you chat the day away. But I do want to encourage you to take conversations offline every once in a while. After all, business is really about relationships and you’ve got to nurture those relationships if you want them to grow.

If there is a prospect, or a client or a potential business partner connecting with you via social media, email or texting, then consider scheduling an appointment to talk on the phone. (If it’s appropriate, then take it a step further and meet in person – in real life!)

2. Create a list of prospects. There are all sorts of fancy database programs (called CRM for Customer Relationship Management) that will help you keep track of information and conversations with customers and prospects. Those tools are helpful for automation and organization but for most of us, they fall short when it comes to mining the field for customers. That’s because those programs are often too robust for what we need – which is a simple list of prospects.

You can use a Word document or Excel spreadsheet or even a legal pad to keep track of leads. Just add a name and email address to the list each time someone expresses an interest in your product or service. Then, make it a priority to reach out to those folks on a regular basis. Keep the list updated by making notes about your conversations and removing or adding people frequently. If you make it a simple process, you might actually use it!

3. Give yourself quotas and deadlines. These strategies are alive and well in many successful organizations – they just seem to get lost when you are self employed or running a small business or ministry. It’s so easy to ignore the numbers and let things slip another day…or another week…another month…another year. We’re too busy putting out fires and managing the daily operations that we don’t accomplish the bigger goals. But if we’re racing the clock, trying to meet a quota or a deadline, we tend to perform better. So instead of saying you want to “get more clients” and “make more money,” go ahead and quantify your goal and give it a deadline. Then write it down and post it on the wall where you can see it every day.

4. Ask for the referral. If you are not comfortable with sales then you probably find it difficult to ask for business. And unless you come from a sales background or the direct sales industry, you’ve probably never been trained in the art of sales. But you have to start somewhere. [Read more…]

Five Free Tools I Love So Much I Would Pay For (But I’m Glad I Don’t Have To!)

Five Free Tools I Love So Much I Would-2I have yet to discover the secret to success, but I do know that being organized helps. And when you’re a full time mom running a full time (or part time) business, you have to be productive during your limited window of opportunity to work. That’s easier said than done when you have a thousand ideas running through your head, a million things on your to-do list and a love-hate relationship with technology.

I’m not exactly an early adopter when it comes to tools and technology. It takes me a while to try something new. And even then, I spend too much time testing and playing with tools I end up abandoning. But there are several tools that have stood the test of time for me and I’d like to share them with you.

Here are five of my favorite tools that I use every single day. I love them so much that I would pay for them. But I don‘t have too, because they’re free (yeah!). Your business is probably very different from mine, but I suspect you’ll fall in love with at least one of these tools!

1. Dropbox: This is the best tool I’ve found for sharing files with clients, team members and colleagues. When I send files back and forth via email, I can never find the most recent version. And I can’t seem to keep them organized. But Dropbox allows you to created shared folders so you can collaborate virtually with anyone you choose. The “drop and drag” functionality makes it easy to use and the folders help you organize files that you share with others – just as you would on your own computer.

2. Evernote: This tool is my go-to resource for capturing all my tasks, lists, random thoughts and fabulous ideas (and the crazy ones, too). Evernote allows you to create lists and notes and put them in folders to organize all the brilliance that comes out of your mind so you don’t lose it. Unlike sticky notes and “to-do” lists, Evernote is a searchable database of all your thoughts – and it syncs between your computer and phone. So you can easily find a note months or years after you create it simply by searching a keyword. Once you get started with Evernote, you’ll quickly discover you can do so much more than capture notes – you’ll learn to forward emails, attach screenshots, scan documents, share notes, import your Kindle highlights and bookmark websites…but start with the basics and see how it works for you. [Read more…]