Can I Use a Photo I Found Online?

When in doubt, no.

You wouldn’t pull a photo off National Geographic’s Website to promote your own businessBut what about an image you find on Flickr, Instagram or Pinterest? The answer is still no…with some exceptions. And yet it’s easy to assume that freely shared images online are yours for the taking.

If you are using images pulled from the Internet without attribution or permission, there are two good reasons to stop the practice.

  • Violating a creator’s rights, no matter who they are, is bad business. Flipping that around, providing an attribution and possibly a link (source, creator’s name, image title) demonstrates your generosity and respect for a creator’s work. And you’ll help educate others on proper image use.
  • You don’t want to damage your reputation if the author of the image stumbles upon your Instagram feed. They might simply ask you to remove the image, or worse.

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Defaulting to Facebook for Your Brand?

Have you let your website languish, turning to Facebook instead as your de facto website? As an art and craft supporter and practicing artist myself, I often seek out artists and makers of all kinds. Perhaps I stumbled onto an image on Pinterest. I want to learn more about the artist, see what events they participate in and view new work.

More often than not, I find a website that hasn’t been updated in ages making me believe the artist is no longer active until I discover a Facebook page with recent updates. Very often, there’s no website, only a Facebook page.

It’s easy to understand why people default to Facebook for their content. It’s easy to use, especially if you couple that with a website that is sorely out of date and/or difficult to update. I still come across people who have to pay someone to make updates, and often wait a long time to do so. That is a thing of the past. No one, least of all a small business, can afford to be hamstrung like that. The world moves too fast. (See this earlier post on developing a new website with today’s tools.)
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The Third-Person Bio Problem

About pages are the most frequently visited page of a website. A good bio or about page can humanize you and your product or service. It’s where you can forge connections by blending your story, values and interests into a compelling narrative.

Why then do so many one-person businesses talk about themselves in the third person? A related issue, not covered here, for many freelancers is whether to refer to oneself as an “I” or a “we.”

No matter how well written, a third-person bio can come off as pretentious, especially if it’s clear you are the one running the show and making coffee. This can create a credibility problem that you’re trying to avoid by writing in the third-person to begin with. Most of us don’t refer to ourselves in the third person at a cocktail party so there’s no reason to do it on a website. Third person can also come off as cold and detached if you’re not careful.

More and more, people buy from businesses whose stories and values they can relate to. In the quest for authenticity, maybe it’s time to embrace your “I” and just do a great job of it.

Before I tackle ways to do that, here’s why writing in third person is preferred:
  • It makes us appear more important.
  • It’s easier to include content that would otherwise sound awkward wedging it into a first-person narrative.
  • It’s difficult to write a compelling first-person bio without using the word “I” too often, which can make it read like a what-I-did-at-camp story.
What to do instead?
  • Write down all the points you think you want to hit: backstory, your path or trajectory, who you serve, stumbles or changes along the way, ah-ha moments, what people get from working with you, etc. Take each part and write it several ways till it sounds right.
  • To reduce how many times you use “I,” reconstruct every other sentence’s word order.
  • Instead of “I believe…” or “I think…,” link to a separate list/page of values or beliefs that serve as your business’ manifesto. Heck, make into a poster.
  • Instead of “I do…” or “I make…,” link to a separate list/ page of services or offerings.
  • Always keep your audience in mind. Yes, it’s your about page but people what to know what’s in it for them, even in your bio. “I serve x type of people with x problem who want x benefit,” is a good framework to use.
  • Replace phrases that sound too self-congratulatory with testimonials instead. Include them on the bio/about page or link to another page. It’s easier to let other people speak to your achievements and excellence.
  • Reduce unnecessary text by leaving out descriptions of your work that are self-evident elsewhere on your site.
  • For artists or others who commonly include degrees, education and awards, move all that to the bottom or in a separate list. Those credentials might impress someone but the point of a good about page is to connect and be relatable.

There is a place for your third-person bio in any venue outside your own website or LinkedIn profile, and it’s good to have that handy.

Here are a few examples of good first-person bios that hit all the right notes.

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Have a new bio you’d like to share with me? Good luck!

Should You/Can You Create Your Own Website?

It used to be that the only way to get a decent website was to hire a web design and development team. But times have changed and there are many more options for companies or individuals needing a website.

Occasionally someone asks me to create a simple website for free or low budget, which I can’t afford to do. Website builders such as Weebly and SquareSpace can meet not only their needs but even those of larger companies. Because these sites offer many pre-designed templates, the bulk of the production work is uploading the content, which is best left to the website owner who will most likely be maintaining the website as well.

Example of SquareSpace templates

Not everyone has the budget to hire a professional. These website builders are perfect if you don’t need custom solutions, such as special interactive features, custom databases or unique visual solutions, not to mention marketing strategy, search engine optimization expertise or professional written content. They are subscription based and hosted on the company’s server, not your computer.

A few benefits and features include: Read more

Blogging Your Brand

It’s widely regarded that blogging for your brand, while not a guarantee of success, is essential for reaching your crowd on a different level and in a different space. Think of a blog like a Victorian courtship versus the one-night stand of direct mail. Results might be slow in coming, but when they do, they’ll have substance and be longer lasting.

Blogging requires some discipline. And if you want a blog to be more than a dog-and-pony show, you have to be able to communicate what you’re an expert at, and understand what makes your audience tick. With that squared away, blogging can be a great vehicle for sharing your magic.

Despite how ubiquitous blogs are, many people are still vexed about their use and intimidated at the idea of blogging. Below are some tips on getting ideas, how to think of a blog and some best practices. Read more

The Pure Delight of Opening Moo Cards

The new Moo cards are here! The new Moo cards are here! I’m somebody! (Thanks to those who get the reference.)

I really shouldn’t post this and ruin it for you should you ever order your own Moo cards. But I can’t resist.

I designed and ordered cards for a forthcoming jewelry collection before going out of town for 10 days. The timing was deliberate. The box would be awaiting me when I arrived home, and I could indulge in the singular pleasure of undressing, er, opening the package after a long day’s drive. It’s not unlike the pleasure of opening Apple products. But Moo is more fun, less austere. Read more