online

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.

It’s Not About The Leggings: Strong Online Stances And You (Part Three)

This is the third and final installment in our series “It’s Not About the Leggings: Strong Online Stances and You.” If you missed the first two posts, make sure you check out Aggressive Marketing Tactics and Click Bait

Manners On The Move

Besides aggressive marketing tactics by businesses and more subtle ‘click bait’ approaches to get people to websites, the fast evolution of online manners is something that effects us all.

Social norms move quickly in this online world. Many people, including myself, are still figuring it out. Do I tag my boyfriend in a Facebook post without asking him? Do I post a picture of my friend? Do I invite that new woman in my running group to my online pajama sale this coming Saturday?

Gary Vaynerchuck says ‘content is king but context is God’ and he’s right. Context can briefly be broken down in three different questions, 1) Does it make sense in the context of the social media platform you’re using (i.e. is this an Instagram post or a Twitter post?), 2) Does it interrupt people in a bad way (think pop-up ads that are hard to click out of), and 3) Does this align with how I want to be seen as a person/brand/business? These are the big takeaways, but the article itself is worth a read: https://www.garyvaynerchuk.com/content-is-king-but-context-is-god/

However, if you aren’t a brand or a business, those questions may not translate to your personal social media usage. Instead, these questions can help you find your context. Some questions before taking an action:

  1. What things about social media am I comfortable with doing (posting photos, ‘liking’ political figures, etc.)?
  2. How often will I post? What is ‘too much’?
  3. If my information involves other people, do I get their consent? Do I get consent always or just for certain kinds of information? If so, how?
  4. What subjects am I comfortable talking about online? My religion? My struggle with depression? My children? Where I am drinking my beer right now?
  5. If I have a business, what tactics am I comfortable using to promote my business? Do these make other people comfortable?
  6. If someone isn’t comfortable, how will I address it? If people opt out, how will I deal with that?

An example in my own life, I don’t ‘check in’ to a location with someone without their consent. But if I have a really flattering picture of a good friend, I post it but don’t tag it (I let people tag themselves). These are some of my lines but yours will likely be different.

More resources:

https://www.facebook.com/digitalmanners

Manners in a Digital World

After this series, you can probably go back to the beginning offenses and realize that being outraged about someone who is overenthusiastic at Lularoe isn’t really isn’t about the leggings. A lot of the things we’ve brought up fall on individual people and companies to decide whether or not what they’re posting is “appropriate.” While you can’t control what other people choose to share online, perhaps you’ve thought of a few ways to be a bit more mindful of your own posting habits and what your online rules look like.

What we can control is how we react to this behavior. Kindness and a desire to understand go a long way, online and off. So when you feel yourself get irate at a friend’s Instagram post or deciding whether you should tackle a controversial topic in a blog post, keep these things in mind and proceed as best you can. Because that’s all any of us can do.

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.

How To Help People Buy From Your Business Online

You have a great product/service. You even have a website setup to sell said product/service.

Yet, you get the feeling that business could be better. Maybe your customer needs a hand to buy from you? Here are some ideas:

1. Make Yourself Easy To Find.

Follow SEO best practices. 

Search engines like three things (to overly simplify): words people are looking for, links coming into your website and frequently updated content. For more information on SEO best practices, check out some of our blog posts on the topic:

Playing well with search engines means that the people looking for you (or more accurately, your product or service) can find you.

Consider listing yourself on other websites or marketplaces. For example, if you sell Wordpress themes, maybe a marketplace like Themeforest or if you make handcrafted cribbage boards,  make a listing on Etsy.

Like anything, listing your goods on a different website has pros and cons. One pro is that you’ll be able to see a wider selection of the market. You’ll be in a position to increase awareness about your product, as well (out of the population of people who use Etsy, only a handful may already be aware of your business).

The con is that you don’t always have full control over order information. For instance, on your own website you may have an email newsletter signup as people check out. But at least consider making yourself easier to find by having a presence on websites where customers are looking for your product.

2. Make It Easy To Buy.

Accept multiple forms of payment (ex: credit cards and PayPal). What happens when people go to your online cart? What are you offering in terms of payment processing? Having more than one option, such as PayPal and a credit card processor (i.e. Stripe), could improve your checkout rate. 

If big product, consider payment plans. If you’re selling a big ticket item, consider breaking it down into payment plans (based on the actual price). This makes your product more attainable at no

Make sure payment/cart works on mobile. It’s expected that 50% of purchases online will be from a smartphone in 2017. If your website isn’t mobile friendly, or cannot handle purchases online, it’s worth taking the time to add this ability.

Watch ten potential customers navigate your website (and be quiet while they do it and take made notes). You’ve probably spent time working on the setup of your website, so the ins and outs of navigation probably make complete and total sense to you already. Watching someone else try to navigate your website from start to finish will give you a more accurate perception of a user’s experience on your website and where any shortcomings may exist.

3. Make It Advantageous To Buy.

While you don’t necessarily need to offer this for every product on your site, adding some form of incentive once in awhile can give sales a little boost.

A few ideas for making your product advantageous for customers include:

  • Coupon codes
  • Affiliate programs
  • Early Registration Discount (or other time sensitive promotions)

Someone will always think they can buy it later. By incentivizing action, you can turn ‘later’ into ‘now’.

4. Make It Easy To Share.

We’ve talked about making products easy to share, perhaps by adding social share options for coupons or on the product itself. Zulily combines these tactics in the following product post:

A few things you may notice at the bottom of the image:

  • Incentive to share the product for a discount
  • Three options for sharing- Email, Facebook, and Pinterest (Email is a great sharing option for customers without social media, or those who want to share with a person who doesn’t have social media).

Sharing is only a click away, and if you’re saving $15, why wouldn’t you want to “share”?

5. Make It Easy To Stay In Touch.

In some cases, creating an easy way for customers to stay in touch or communicate with you/among themselves will encourage them to follow through with a purchase. Some examples where this would be helpful include online fitness programs (i.e. month long challenge groups where people can interact with one another), any sort of online class, or any event where it’s helpful to have a ‘community.’

Another fairly simple way to stay in touch with people is to add an email signup somewhere in the checkout process. This gives them a way to stay in touch with you after a purchase, perhaps so you can ask for feedback or send information about future offerings. The idea is to check in at a regular increment, maybe weekly-monthly, not to be the email equivalent of a “Hey what’s up” text that you didn’t sign up for but for some reason keep getting every 12 hours anyway. Communication should be helpful, not annoying or unnecessary.

By making it easy for your customers and potential customers to buy from you online, they’ll be able to show more love to your business. Let them love you, but be easy to love too.

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.

Hosting A Webinar: The What

So we’ve talked about the mechanics of hosting a webinar but there is an even bigger question: What will your webinar be about?

Webinars I have seen go by:

As you can see, they range from general to specific, from regular on-demand offerings (ex: every Thursday) to one-time events.

But they all have some things in common: Most webinars are free, interactive, and offer participants a way to learn about something they care about. 

Most people have initial questions about the technology of webinars, which can feel intimidating. But once they realize the setup is doable, most people suffer another round of paralysis.

“What am I going to talk about for 30 to 90 minutes?”

We wanted to give you a couple places to start and a sample outline to frame your thinking.

Answer a question people ask you ALL the time

An example for us may be, “How do I get more people to like my Facebook business page?”

Maybe as I brainstorm, I can think of ten helpful ideas, each with a real life example illustrating the point. Add an introduction and a call to action at the end and that is easily 30 minutes of content!

Feel free to give a disclaimer. For example, you are a lawyer giving an informational session about business structures but can’t advise any individuals in the webinar with what they should do, but you still know enough to be valuable in a general sense.

Bonus is when you have a prospective customer or friend ask you this question in the future, you have a response ready to send them.

Information they can’t get anywhere else

Let’s pretend you’re getting married on an island in Maine. Can you rent portapotties there? Can the church hold 100 people? What is parking like? These questions will involve at least half a day of phone calls… unless you are an area wedding planner or caterer.

If you have informal but useful knowledge, introducing it to people in a webinar is a great ‘social proof’ that can give people the confidence to book your planning service.

Worried about giving away the milk for free? Think of narrowing this down: “Choosing Your Wedding Venue On Mount Desert Island” could not only be well attended virtually but valuable to those attending in and of itself, leaving you plenty of room to still get hired and help them with other things.

A group consulting session

If you feel brave, holding a live Q and A (maybe a brief presentation at the beginning to make sure everyone is starting with the same basic understanding of what you are talking about) can be a great format. You can have people submit questions while registering to get a little prepared but being off the cuff knowledgeable can help your webinar participants with their specific questions while showing you are intimate with your subject matter.

Note: Most people in webinars lurk rather than participate so you’ll really need to encourage people and groom them to send questions in many cases.

Much like structuring a blog post, you want your webinar subject to be specific enough to attract customers but give you enough breathing room to benefit a large group of people. 

If you have a couple ideas, take a quick Facebook or email poll of your customers about which they’d prefer to learn about. Or ask us, we are always happy to give an opinion!

In short, you know something that’s webinar worthy. Now go figure out what it is!

 

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.

Tech Thursday: Masterminds, Forums, and One-Man Wolfpacks

Where do you go to find support online? We’ll look at a few online communities and how they’re structured to support those who use them (this video expands on Kassie’s blog post from a couple weeks ago on the topic).

Thanks for bearing with Kassie’s singing (it’s a reflex whenever there’s a Disney reference). If you have any ideas for future Tech Thursdays, you know what to do!

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.

Tech Thursday: Online Ordering

This week, we’re looking at some different things (whether goods or services) that you can order online!

  • Local Restaurants: can place orders with substitutions and pay online, for delivery or pickup.
  • Online-Only Sale Offers (that expire in mere minutes!)
  • People to assemble Ikea furniture or pick up your groceries (via TaskRabbit or Amazon Services)
  • And more!

What is it about online ordering that’s so appealing? You’ll have to watch the video to find out!

Give us your ideas for our next Tech Thursday in the comments or shoot us an email!

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.
1 2 3