how to

How to Write a Good “How To”

It was 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 1997. My Dad embarked on a solo mission to the garage to assemble a basketball hoop for my brother and I. Armed with a tool kit, a set of instructions, and the kind of confidence you get from a neighborhood Christmas Eve party, he was ready…or so he thought. Around 1:30 a.m., he had assembled the entire hoop. Backwards. Next steps were taking apart the hoop, waking up my mother, and reassembling. They finished in time (4 or 5 a.m.) to get about an hour of sleep before we woke up, and Santa got all the credit.

Have you ever been totally frustrated by a how-to, online or offline? There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to follow instructions or a tutorial that doesn’t do a great job of explaining how to do something. You may even end up abandoning the project, and worse, harbor a bit of resentment towards the people/company who made such terrible instructions in the first place.

To avoid being the target of someone’s wrath because you’ve written poor instructions, this post is here to guide you through creating a how-to that guides people from start to finish with minimal frustration. Remember, most people “read instructions when they are impatient, fatigued, or even terrified” (see above Christmas Eve anecdote).

Consider your audience. If you’re writing a how to for the general public vs. a specific task for an employee, your instructions will probably look a little different (assuming the employee has some industry/insider knowledge, compared to a random person on the street who probably has no idea what you do).

Introduce the objective/end goal. What is the end result a person should have at the end of these instructions? This can just be one or two sentences, nothing crazy.

List all materials. This is the place where it’s important to be thorough and organized. For instance, if your product is a model airplane, include a list of a) materials included and b) additional materials needed before starting the project. If there’s something that would make the project easier, but isn’t necessary, include it in a “recommended materials” list.

Write instructions as commands. I’m guilty of slipping into passive voice, but when it’s time to give instructions things like “and then you will want to…” or “it should look like…” don’t instill a lot of confidence. People are looking to you for direction, so don’t be afraid to sound bossy.

Don’t get jargon-y. You know what people hate, especially when they’re trying to figure out how to do something? Feeling dumb. If you’re writing instructions that include a lot of jargon or words that people who don’t work in your industry will understand, it’s probably going to be more frustrating than helpful. If you do need to use industry terms to explain something (or name a part, for instance), include a picture showing what it is exactly (you may be surprised how many people find this helpful).

Speaking of visuals, these can be a great thing to include in your how-to (especially since we’re assuming you aren’t using video here). Even in your list of materials, depending on what they are, could include a visual next to each item showing what it looks like. If it’s an assembly project, showing the progress after each completed step assures people as they’re moving through the instructions that they aren’t just blindly going about things and hoping it comes out the way it’s supposed to at the end.

Have someone else read through. Chances are, if you’re writing instructions about something, you are already fairly good at it. Having someone who’s less familiar with the process, or at least some degree of separation, could provide a bit of insight toward where your instructions are unclear. If you can’t get an extra set of eyes, wait a day or so and try to follow your own instructions from scratch, taking notes on areas that could use more clarification.

Although the Christmas Eve basketball hoop incident was mainly user error, it’s an experience we all want to avoid giving to customers if possible. Keep in mind the toughest audience is people who are going to have the hardest time generally: those who are “busy” and/or “grouchy.” This additional resource below can help you cater to that particular group:

 

Instructions: How to Write Guides for Busy, Grouchy People

 

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Distributing Your Instructional Videos

So you made an online course, congratulations!

Believe it or not, you did the hardest part already. Now it’s time to make a technical decision, which is what most people THINK is the hardest part. At this point, you’re probably asking yourself: Do I distribute/sell my course on my own website or on a third party website? Here’s how to answer that question:

Step 1: Compare fees vs. features vs. subjects of third party software.

Most third party software that allows you to sell courses is going to take a fee for making it easy for you. Also, you’ll notice some platforms attract certain types of courses. Sure, you can be the only cooking course on a mainly design/development tutorial website but why fight City Hall? Start with a list like this and narrow down to one or two options that seem to work best for you: http://www.learningrevolution.net/sell-online-courses/

Step 2: If you have a robust website, ask your website service person how much it would cost for you to add course registration software to your website.

In some cases, we can do this with a software license and a couple hours of integration. In other cases, your website may need to be rebuilt to handle it. Most web people can at least give you a ballpark range without doing a full quote. Never hurts to ask!

Step 3: Do the math for low enrollment and high enrollment scenarios for your two third party options and your own website.

In our example, we will pretend you’ve made a course and you want to charge $24.99 for it and your low enrollment goal is 100 and your high enrollment goal is 500 people. You are using a typical online payment processor like Stripe to take credit card payments (2.9% + $.30/transaction).

Let’s say your developer will charge you $500 to add course registration to your website and you are also looking at Udemy as your other option.

Scenario #1: Your Own Website

Low Enrollment Costs: $500 + 2.9% of $24.99*100 people + $.30/transaction*100 people = $500 + $72.47 + $30 = $602.47
Low Enrollment Income: $24.99*100 people= $2,499
Net: $1,896.53

High Enrollment Costs: $500 + 2.9% of $24.99*500 people + $.30/transaction*500 people = $500 + $362.36 + $150 = $1,012.36
High Enrollment Income: $24.99*500 people= $12,495
Net: $11,482.64

Scenario #2: Udemy
Since these guys have a different fee structure depending on whether you or they make the sale, we’re going to assume you sell half and Udemy sells the other half in our calculations.

Low Enrollment Costs: 3% of $24.99*50 people + 50% of $24.99 *50 people = $37.49 +$624.75 = $662.24
Low Enrollment Income: $24.99*100 people= $2,499
Net: $1,836.76

High Enrollment Costs: 3% of $24.99* 250 people + 50% of $24.99 * 250 people = $187.43 + $3,123.75= $3,311.18
High Enrollment Income: $24.99*500 people= $12,495
Net: $9,183.82

As you see, in the low enrollment scenario, the costs are comparable. But if you have your own platform and feel like you can market your course as well as an online learning platform (or nearly as well), you can make more money. More heavy lifting, more ‘risk’, more money. Makes sense.

Unless we know exactly how your course is going to do enrollment-wise, there is literally no right answer to your software question.

So don’t let this choice paralyze you. Pick something and go with it for your first online course. In using it, you’ll learn its quirks and what you like or dislike about it, so if you decide to do another online course in the future you’ll have a better idea of what changes to implement.

Step 4: No matter what, make sure your new course is easy to get to from your website, social media, and email newsletter.

Make giant ‘Captain Obvious’ buttons. Make a giant photo for your scrolling slideshow. Put a link in your email signature. You want to avoid ever hearing the phrase “Oh I didn’t know you had an online course” ever come from the lips of a customer, potential customer, or anyone you know (unless it is a person who doesn’t go on the internet at all).

Technology is your friend with online courses and there are lots of powerful third party options to get your course started. So put it out there and see who can learn from you (and what you can learn from this process). 

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Creating & Editing Instructional Videos

Video has become a popular way to share information and instructions online. Whether it’s a YouTube tutorial, Instagram or Facebook video, Snapchat stories, an online course system like Udemy, or a video you’ve uploaded to website, there’s a lot of options for sharing (which we’ll discuss in detail in a later post). For now, let’s focus on the behind the scenes work that people who watch your video won’t get to see.

Creating an Outline/Storyboard

Planning is an important part of the video process, whether you’re going to broadcast (or rebroadcast) a live video or you plan on editing after the fact. Even if you’re great on the fly, it helps to go in knowing what the general structure of the video will be so that you have a flow that makes sense to the people who will be watching.

What sort of things need to go in the outline?

  • Objective of the video: what do you want people to take away from your video? Narrow it down to one or two sentences if you can.
  • Setting: where will you be filming? Is there a specific date/time of day that it needs to happen? For example, if you are using natural lighting, there may be certain times of the day you want to use of avoid.
  • Script/Talking Points: ideally a conversational tone, including any physical cues or props, lighting changes, etc. that need to happen. (You may think “ah, I know what to say!” but this can be helpful if you have more than one person involved in filming or plan to add things like title slides for different content sections)
  • Length: think about what your audience will want in terms of length. Is it 2-5 minutes, 10-20 minutes, or longer? Note: You can always film in one long take and then edit; it’s better to have too much to work with than too little!
  • Rehearsal: Again, this depends on the level of production and number of people involved, but a run through can help you feel more prepared for the main event.
  • Editing notes: If at some point during the video you want there to be a cutaway to a product or screenshot, it can help to add this in the outline (especially if you aren’t the one who will be editing). Any title slides, credits, subtitles, etc should also be included here.

All you really need to create an outline for your post is some paper and a pen/pencil, but depending on how professional you need it to look (i.e. if you have to submit it for approval before filming or share with others) it may be a good idea to invest some time in an online template. A few free resources for doing this include:

As long as you have the basic information necessary (objective, script, editing notes, etc), there’s no reason why you can’t design your own template that suits your needs, even using something like Google Docs or Powerpoint.

Editing Software

Once you’ve finished filming (unless you’ve done a live video), odds are you want to do some editing. Most people don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on programs like Final Cut Pro or Sony Vegas, but the good news is that there are plenty of editing programs that are far cheaper, and will do everything you need. A few examples include:

If you’re new at the whole editing video thing, don’t worry- it gets better as you practice more. Some general things to look out for are consistent volume (especially if you include audio tracks from other sources- you may end up with a video with deafening intro music but the rest be barely audible), lighting (is someone getting washed out?), cropping (the sign over to the right of the presenter is distracting). Another note for audio if you’re adding outside sources (and using one audio track, as you may in iMovie)- make sure it doesn’t bump the rest of the audio tracks out of alignment with their video counterpart.

iMovie lets you create title slides within the program, but perhaps you want to customize any text you have, or edit product stills. You can also use other photo editing software like PicMonkey (which we use), Canva, or Pixlr (all web based)- this is by no means an exhaustive list but will give you a jump start.

When you are all finished and have exported your video file, make sure you watch it to make sure nothing weird happened in the exporting process-or have someone else look if you need another set of eyes on it. Also ask yourself or another if it hits the objective and sends the message you intended.

Additional Materials

Will you have written resources (i.e. PDF handouts) to go along with your video? If so, you may need to upload them somewhere to link to them in your video description.

Does it need a written transcript/annotations/subtitles? Note: adding subtitles makes your video way more accessible. Online transcription has gotten much more affordable at around $1-2/minute or you can DIY if you want to save money.

Should it also have social sharing or email forwarding options, or is it exclusive content? (Exclusive content could mean an online course which people register/pay for, which we’ll be discussing in a post later this month). In any case, having some action step at the end, whether it’s to sign up for an email newsletter or simply watch another video you’ve made, is a great way to reward audiences who get to the end.

Our theme this month is Getting Instructions Online, so stay tuned for more ideas on creating instructional content for your customers and followers!

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Online Tutorials You Never Knew You Needed

If you’ve ever needed to find out how to do something, there’s a 95% chance you’ve referred to Google, YouTube, or somewhere on the internet to find out (note: that statistic is completely my own and based solely on observation). These searches may include how to do a side braid, deep water aqua-jogging instructions, how bad is it really if I eat bacon while pregnant, or how to change the serpentine belt in a 2011 Hyundai Accent, to name a few. In addition to these completely necessary inquiries, you may not be aware that there are questions you haven’t even thought to ask.

Besides using a search engine like Google, there are specific websites where people ask questions, get answers, and participate in a larger community of others who do the same. And while you can learn basic life lessons from these sites, there are other how-to tutorials that can make you wonder if they are legit.

For instance, did you know you can become telekinetic with the help of WikiHow? Admittedly this is a ‘results may vary’ situation as it takes years to hone this skill… or may not actually exist, depending on your belief structure.

Remember, it’s all a mental game.

Maybe you want to learn more about being random, and need some clear, not-so-random advice on how to get there.  After reading this article, hopefully you won’t need to refer to the internet for a randomness tutorial.

If you suspect you’ve been cursed, fortunately there is an article on removing black magic spells that you can refer to.

Perhaps you want to jump on a YA trend from 10 years ago. If so, “How to Write a Novel About Vampires” might be for you (and remember, “Names like Dracula sound cool but are unrealistic”). Who knows, your books could turn into a trilogy/four movies!

For general pet-lovers, there’s a lot of helpful information on animal care, including “How to Help Pets Cope with the Back-to-School Transition” (hey, it’s tough for everyone).

One of my favorites is “How to Be the Angel Child in Your Family” (I mean, I could have written this one when I was younger).

Tragically, the following articles are no longer in existence: “How to Trick People Into Thinking Your an Alien,” “How to Give Someone a Passive-Aggressive Christmas Gift,” and “How to Catch Santa Claus on Videotape” (I was actually pretty upset about the alien one).

Now there are a few websites that can help you get to even the most obscure information. Let’s get oriented.

WikiHow
Most famous for: the most ridiculous and illustrated step by step instructions ever.

WikiHow is the source of a fairly comprehensive articles on just about every topic you can imagine. They don’t say things like “Turn on your computer” when you’re reading an article about how to post to Facebook but it’s pretty darn close for that. What I do like about the site though is that it’s not ‘for dummies’ in that it doesn’t imply or even assume the person reading it is dumb, just that they don’t know something.

What I like about WikiHow is they also aren’t too precious about what they will give a tutorial for and it seems like the people writing some of them are having a genuinely fun time.

Quora
Most famous for: Questions you’re too embarrassed to ask on LinkedIn.

Quora is where you ask  business or skills questions more than “how do you change a tire” type questions. That said, it is not free from snark.

This is from Quora, which I personally appreciated as a person who knows a little code (I came into the world of websites at a time when Wordpress, Joomla, and WYSIWYG editing was in full force, so I can do a few things with code but it’s not part of daily work). Even with minimal knowledge about coding, I do appreciate the absurdity of learning any skill overnight, which is why this post has some comedic value:

 

Yahoo Answers
Most famous for: Asking your personal/life questions… sometimes into a void.

Like Quora, Yahoo Answers has a lot of “Umm…what?” questions, but there are some genuine inquiries with helpful answers that prove it isn’t all bad or weird.

It also appears to be a fairly popular place for getting help with math/science homework. Then, there’s questions like this:

Yahoo is famous though for having lots of posted questions with no answers to them or disappearing user names, making it hard to see who even asked the question in the first place.

As silly as these all these articles and questions may seem, I like to think that the majority add value to someone’s life, somehow. Like it’s easy to dismiss the laptop question but when someone mentions the weight of electrons, it can make you think of the question a different way.

Overall, it can be nice to remember just how simple the internet can be at times: people connecting with other people and sharing information, even with strangers.

With these sites, it seems nothing is off limits in terms of questions or answers (as with most forum type websites, depending on the level of monitoring). My advice, when you post a question, be prepared for all kinds of answers and potentially some trolls. But if you can tolerate some sass or an insincere answer, you may find something you didn’t even know you were looking for… in the best way.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Where To Find Hashtags

Something about seeing the pound sign in front of a word can make the smartest of us feel a little stupid. Is this something I should know? Is this another language?

Hashtags help us organize information. Nothing more and nothing less.

Let’s say you posted a picture of kittens on Facebook you want to help find homes for. Now in the caption you could say “These Maine coon cat kittens were born in January. They have arrived at the Hancock County SPCA animal shelter very recently. If you know of someone looking for a kitten, send them over!”

While this is a fine caption (and you probably tagged the animal shelter’s Facebook page so people could easily get in touch), how will this picture be found on Facebook by potential adopters? Also some people may be saying ‘maine coon cat’, ‘maine coon’, ‘coon cat’ or some variation.

Searching for ‘maine coon cat’ will bring up any post with those words in it. It will not necessarily bring up pictures of coon cats looking for homes. By putting #mainecoon and #adoptme into the search, I am suddenly getting much more relevant results.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 12.50.01 PM

So hashtags aren’t meant to be confusing or exclusive but the opposite of that. In particular, hashtags help with organizing groups of information in what is often limited space.

The pet thing is one application of hashtags but no doubt in your industry or interests, you can think of ways a hashtag would help you either get your information in front of the right set of eyeballs or curate useful information.

Alright, so I’ve convinced you to use a hashtag (or several). How do you know which ones to use? You have some options.

Option 1: Make Up Your Own

We’ve heard about this going badly but don’t let this stop you from starting your own hashtags! Just 1) do your research to make sure your hashtag doesn’t have a previous history and 2) make sure you communicate this new hashtag to the people you want to use it.

The way I’ve seen this be really successful is at conferences. Joomla Day UK is coming up soon and people are already tweeting about it:

joomladayukhashtag

Once the conference is in full swing, attendees and interested people will be able to follow what’s going on in an organized way.

Option 2: Ride The Trends

Most social networks that support hashtags will have a list of what’s trending on that network. Here’s an example from Twitter (well, the day I took this screenshot anyway):

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.18.51 PM

Now if you don’t necessarily want to talk about something trending but want to talk about a popular hashtag in your niche, you can use a resource like Hastagify.me to look up the popularness of certain hashtags:

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.14.51 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.14.28 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.15.16 PM

As you see, #mainecoon is the most popular hashtag so if we were limited on space, we’d want to pick that one and ride that popularity trend.

Option 3: Go Tried And True

hashtags-of-central-maineThis is the internet equivalent of buying a classic pair of dark jeans or a crisp white shirt.

Hashtags for days of the week (ex #WCW for ‘woman crush Wednesday’)
Hashtags for (some) industries (you can look yours up on the Google)
Hashtags by geographic area (You can see, stage right, some popular hashtags in my corner of the world when I took this screenshot.)

If you want to completely overwhelm yourself or really geek out researching popular hashtags, this post is for you: https://www.marketingtechblog.com/hashtag-research-tools/

Is it important to get hashtags exactly right? Probably not. But as you start using them and getting more confident, you’ll see which ones work well over time. #seeyouonline #social #marketing #goyou

(Pro Tip from my Instagram enthusiast husband: Have a note on your phone with all the hashtags you use in it… then you can copy and paste the whole thing into Instagram and just delete the ones you don’t need.)

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Periscope After: How Your Videos Live On

periscope-iconNot sure how many of you are into Periscope but I kind of love it. To those who haven’t used it, Periscope is a live video app/social network that is tied to your Twitter account (though since launching you can now use the app without Twitter). You film live video and people can leave comments, send you ‘hearts’ (if they like it) and more.

Some of the things I have watched on Periscope:

  • Quebec preteen answering questions about her life en francais
  • Skateboarders in Iran
  • Part of someone’s birthday party in France

Of course, beyond the day to day stuff, people are also using Periscope to build their brand, holding live Q and As or sessions about certain topics of interest. Honestly, if you are comfortable on live video, it’s a pretty cool way to connect with people.

Like any live event, though, there are only a certain amount of people who can be there as it happens. Some people want to watch it afterwards, or rewatch it. Here’s an example from my life.

I am on a local committee related to economic development in my town. They had someone come and present about tax increment financing (TIFs) from southern Maine, a good three hour drive away. The scheduled the presentation to start at 4 pm. Several of my friends couldn’t make it but wanted to see it and I immediately thought of using Periscope to capture the event.

I could almost feel the room collectively eye roll as I took out my phone and began filming. I saw people began watching. There were 25 people in the room that day but 52 people watched live. The reason I did it though was for the people like my friends who wanted to watch it after.

Periscope has recognized that both live and recent videos are valuable, which is why on both the ‘Home’ screen and the ‘Map’ screen, you can easily watch live videos (the red dots) or recent videos (in blue):

periscope-map-view

You may ask yourself, besides going on the Periscope app, how can people see my Periscope videos after the fact?

Make sure your Periscope settings for your account are set to ‘Autosave Broadcasts’. Otherwise they go poof.

If you need some help with this, click here. Anything you’ve recorded before turning on this autosave won’t be on Periscope anymore. Trust me, learned that one the hard way!

Decide if you want them on your device or online somewhere instantly.

So there are pros and cons to each of these. If you just have your broadcasts downloaded to your phone, you can put them in some video editing software and spiff them up before, say, uploading them to Youtube or your website where they will live.

I am more relaxed (or we can say lazy) and want this to happen automatically, which is where Katch comes in:

katch-screen

Katch is a service you can use that takes your video and allows it to go live somewhere besides Periscope automatically. As you can see, once on Katch, we get options about it. Here is the link to where this video lives online: https://katch.me/breakingeven/v/19807ccd-9fdc-3165-b923-c0c6b7bf8f80 (PS Periscope people get really annoyed when you don’t film vertically, regular video watchers get really annoyed when you don’t film horizontally. I switched to horizontal about 2 minutes into this broadcast. Sometimes you just have to pick your battles!)

You can sign up for Katch with a Twitter account and get this set up.

If you want about a bajillion other ways to save your Periscope video, this Quora post has them. 

I think it’s best to think of your Periscope video as having two audiences:

  1. The live audience that will ask you questions and give you feedback to roll with while you broadcast. For those people, be interesting and responsive.
  2. The replay audience who is watching it after the fact for information. For these people, wherever your video lives, give them a context and a reason to watch (what are the main points? who was your audience? etc.)

Thinking of both these audiences will give you the most bang for your buck. The revolution may be televised but a lot of people are still going to watch it after the fact.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8