July 2015

Welcome Mid-July!

With warm weather upon us and with gratitude that we are not living near the province’s forest fires, I am publishing early, before taking a brief vacation. The sun has been streaming broadly through my office window, as I close the blinds–and the office–for a few days of respite.

I’ll return soon to write another month of your marketing and communications materials.

Last month’s issue plumbed some of the depth of Shawn Achor’s Book, The Happiness Advantage (2010) and Victoria Maxwell’s performance and speaking on living with mental illness. Thanks to those of you who wrote in to say you found those articles helpful.

This month, I return to some tips on restoring oneself from burnout (timely, as we enter vacation season), by Nicole Dieker of “The Freelancer by Contently.” I turn to the perennial problem of misplaced modifiers in “Word Nerd’s Corner. And, as usual, I’ll also update you on sundries in the usual “Shop News.”

On the horizon is a new format of this overly dense e-newsletter. With the services of iContact, I’ll introduce a new look in another month’s time. My aim is to intersperse  copy with more images, so as to make the articles easier to read and enjoy.

Meantime, enjoy this issue and the beauty of our (too brief) Saskatchewan summer!



Principal, Elizabeth Shih Communications



Avoiding Burnout: 5 Tips for Freelancers (From Nicole Dieker and Me) . . .

Summer has begun and with it, thoughts of holidays after another year of work. This column is dedicated more to freelancers than to our clients, but understanding each others’ “pain points” is important!

In “The Freelancer by Contently” on May 15th, freelance writer Nicole Dieker discusses the perennial freelancer’s problem of burnout. To her “Ask a Freelancer” column, an anonymous writer sends this query: “Lately I’ve had trouble staying motivated and engaged with my work. Any advice for what [to] do to capture that interest I had when I was just starting out?”

There are inevitable disruptions to one’s work, when one’s a freelancer. Dieker cites a plumbing emergency in her apartment that cost her hours as she had it resolved. She comments that “freelancing can often lead to an overwhelming amount of work, and it’s even worse when you’re facing an overwhelming amount of work you don’t want to do.”

If you’re a client, consider how these realities can affect the freelancers whom you hire and the value of keeping them well paid and notified of upcoming work.

Here are five (5) tips from Dieker to freelancers in every field:

(1)   Remember that you’re being well paid, since getting paid is good for one’s self-esteem. And this tip requires you to negotiate for fair pay for each of your projects, including those that you’re less keen to do! Most freelancers know that if they don’t do their contracted work, they’ll lose money, reputation and the respect of their clients.

Dieker goes so far as to remind freelancers that taking the “easy way out” by cancelling a project will create more work ahead, as you face having to find new clients and developing new relationships.

She cites Hugh McLeod who writes that “The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the . . . creative [exciting] kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the assignment covers both bases, but not often . . . . As soon as you accept this, .  . . your career starts moving ahead faster” (in Dieker, 1).

So you’ll need coping strategies to get through that tedious contract, such as remembering that it won’t last for weeks or months. Remind yourself (with notes on your desk, even) not to take on a “bad” client for more than one assignment.

(2)   Take care of yourself. Dieker recommends planning to take a holiday ”for sometime in the next six months,” even if it’s only a “long weekend.” And meantime, try to schedule time for a massage or haircut or other self-pampering activity, so that you don’t dread the monotony of your working schedule.

“If you don’t take care of yourself, you are going to burn out,” she says. But it’s also normal, with self-care in place, for you to “still feel overwhelmed with work from time to time.” But with scheduled break time, “you’ll probably be less likely to feel run down.”

Dieker notes that if you’re caring for others (children, partners, parents, etc.), it may be tough to organize holidays, but they are even more essential. Try to have a trusted friend to whom you can refer last minute requests for projects, when you are taking time off.

(3)   Breaking up your projects into small chunks makes them feel more manageable. Looking only at the project name and due date can frighten and overwhelm anyone. Psychologists have long talked about breaking large projects into manageable tasks and setting internal deadlines for each task (calling this approach, “chunking”): For “whatever psychological reason, being able to see all of the individual steps involved in completing a project makes the project feel less overwhelming,” Dieker writes. (Recall Anne Lamott’s advice on writing, in the title of her memoir: Bird by Bird. I reviewed the memoir in last April’s issue, now archived on my website.)

(4)   Learn to say “no” more often: If you’re offered assignments that clients want you to complete by a certain date that is already booked up, learn to say “no.” It’s hard to give up a client, but if you take it on, you’ll end up “overworked and burned out – and, as a result, the quality of your work will probably suffer, too” (Dieker, 1). You can mention that diplomatically to the prospect, to encourage them to send you work in the future.

(5)   Make a major change: Altering your schedule, if you’re feeling burned out, can be helpful. Dieker suggests going for 30 minutes of exercise before reading your email, each morning. Or give yourself 60 days to replace your lowest paying client with a better one, “thus reducing the  number of assignments you need to earn the same amount of money” (1).

Some other changes could be to take an hour at lunch to relax or do some yoga. Or take a fun dance class one evening per week that forces you to put a “hard stop” to your workday (Dieker 1).

The changes should make everyday life feel interesting again and that will get your “freelance career back on track,” she says. A local editor whom I know staves off bad health by walking an hour every day, even in -45 C weather.

I’d add that it’s crucial to talk every few weeks to a mentor who is positive about the kind of work you’re doing and can see where you need to go in your business in the future.

Try not to give into “work creep,” that prevents you from having at least one day off a week and most weekday evenings, too, if possible. And don’t underestimate the importance of taking a vacation, as Dieker indicates (in number two, above).

Harness these tips from Dieker and me and you’ll be well on your way of recovering from overwork and fending off future burnout.

Are there specific strategies other than these that you use, to keep your mind calm and motivated to work? Please share them on the “contact” page of my website: I’d be delighted to hear from you!


Nerd Alert! Word Nerd’s Corner (Misplaced Modifiers with Bryan Garner) . . .

Some of my editing clients have had trouble lately with misplaced modifiers. So, for that reason, I will suspend last month’s discussion of metaphor and explain this other grammatical bugbear.

When one separates modifying words from the words they modify, readers don’t know which meaning is intended: readers may “attach the modifying language . . . to a nearby [nearest] word or phrase” (Garner, June 5, 2015).

Bryan Garner provides several examples, two of which (along with one of my own) I’ll cite here:

(1)   First, my own example: “Skating up the right wing, the puck was shot by Gretzky.” (The placement of “skating up the right wing” closer to “the puck” than to “Gretzky” makes the reader think that it was the “puck” that was skating and shooting. [Should read: “Skating up the right wing, Gretzky shot the puck.”]

(2)   “The 39-year-old San Francisco artist has beaten the odds against him by living – no, thriving—with the virus that causes AIDS for 14 years” (Christine Gorman, Time, 22 March, 1993, p 49, cited in Garner, 1). Here the modifier, “for 14 years” seems to modify “the virus,” so that it sounds like the virus cases AIDS for 14 years, instead of the artist living or thriving for 14 years. [Should read: “The 39-year-old San Francisco artist has beaten the odds against him by living—no, thriving – for 14 years with the virus that causes AIDS.”]

(3)   “Both died in an apartment Dr. Kevorkian was leasing after inhaling carbon monoxide” (NY Times , 28 January, 1994, A9, cited in Garner, 1). This word order has Dr. Kevorkian inhaling carbon monoxide before leasing an apartment, rather than explaining how two people died from inhaling the poisonous gas. [Should read: “After inhaling carbon monoxide, both died in an apartment Dr. Kevorkian was leasing.”] Leave it to Garner to find a vivid example from the Press!

Do misplaced modifiers or other grammatical bugbears vex you? Please send them to me through the contact page of my website: www.elizabethshih.com, for inclusion in a future issue. I’d love to hear from you!

(c) “Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day” (June 5, 2015)


Ask an Expert: Michael Katz on Consistency in Marketing . . . .

In his monthly e-newsletter,  “The Likeable Expert Gazette” issue 363 (May 29, 2015), marketing expert Michael Katz addresses “Word of Mouth Marketing.”

He says that marketing and communications work these days is all about storytelling. Our prospects are implicitly asking, “How do we naturally tell others about us?”

As an e-newsletter expert (he has written the definitive book on the topic), Katz shares three (3) major ways to undertake effective “word of mouth” marketing:

Whether one’s speaking as a freelancer to a prospect or in another scenario, here are his tips:

(1)   Keep the description of your work simple: share one thing about it. Don’t try to list all of the projects you’ve ever done.

(2)   Keep your message narrow—specify your niche and don’t use a wide category (i.e. marketing and communications for non-profits) to describe your services.

(3)   Keep all of your marketing consistent, so all of your messages say the same thing, for which you are becoming known. If necessary, modify your message when things change, but then modify all of your marketing materials to match, so that they all say the same thing about you.

You should aim to provide an elegant solution to a given problem that works easily, consistently and does not need further explanation (e.g. “I help small- and medium-sized businesses boost their profits.”)

Katz reminds us that “if you change your description because of whom you’re talking to, what you’re working on, or because you haven’t given it enough thought, then you’ll never be known for anything.”

Strong words from a powerhouse marketer. More from Katz in issues to come. And more on storytelling in the August issue.

Is your marketing and communications copy consistent in content and tone, as Katz recommends? Or does it drift from one context to another?

Please share your thoughts with me, through “contact” page of my website.


Shop News . . .

In the past few weeks, I have prepared to work on curriculum development (writing and editing) for mentor Monica Kreuger (Founder/CEO of Praxis School of Entrepreneurship) and I have contributed copy for October’s “Getting to Great” 2020 Health Vision Health Conference, co-chaired by Sanj Singh, Dave Dutchak and Corey Miller (Saskatoon).

On this project, I have had the privilege of working with marketing strategist, Silvia Martini. And just this week, those of us on the above conference team are offering condolences to Silvia and her family, on the passing of her youngest daughter. My thoughts and prayers are with Silvia and her family.

I’ve also continued work on my e-book project on the lives of local creatives who are “Over 40” (and some over 60) in age, and who have overcome various forms of adversity. I look forward to sharing the layout of the project with local artist, Kat Bens. When ready, it will appear as a promotion on my website. Thank you to Bob Pitzel and Maureen Doezel, for opening their home to me to interview Bob for this project. And similar thanks to Ernie Quintal (chauffeur extraordinaire) and Gin Fisher, another creative who has shared her life boldly for this project.

Also this month, I participated in the closing seminar for the spring term of the Raj Manek Mentorship Program, where Marie Savostianik (Exec Dir., SK Capital Network) and Clay Sparks (Chief Office, Advance-Tek Consulting Inc) discussed venture capital  and innovation funding. Both speakers were knowledgeable and concise in their recommendations for how to fund new businesses on the Prairies.

In August and September issues of this enewsletter, I hope to introduce some changes in layout that will make each issue of “Communications Digest” easier on the eyes and more pleasurable to read. Please stay tuned!

Not forgetting to donate time, surplus belongings and lodging  to neighbours uprooted by forest fires, we also need to be “in the moment” ourselves, to recognize the blessings that come with our too fleeting summer.


About Us . . .

Since 2011, Elizabeth Shih Communications has provided B2B marketing and communications services on the Prairies and across Canada.

Do you need help writing your “marcom” materials? Please contact me through my website, via the CASL-compliant email form, on the right-hand side of each page (www.elizabethshih.com).

After I have received your permission, I’ll be pleased to discuss projects with you!

I help small- and medium-sized businesses create e-newsletters, blog postings, promotional emails, press releases, and related documents that secure good clients. Please visit my website for more information (www.elizabethshih.com).