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Geeky and Not So Geeky Tasks to Start Now
by Beth Fowler

You're the creative type. All that technical stuff is, well, too technical. Even so, some of your capacity to earn money depends on your computer. You have a bunch of software programs, Internet access, email and a Web site. If something goes haywire with any of those, running your writing business would be like plowing a field without a mule. Slow going.

Earning income from writing entails handling technology-related tasks. Most of these tasks can be accomplished by the least geek-like among us.

1. Track Web site visitor behavior

In the 1990s, tracking "hits" was cutting-edge data, but the information was incomplete and misleading. An author's site might rack up hundreds of hits a month, but very few of the virtual visitors converted into actual buyers.

Nowadays, Web analytics, or the study of site visitors' behavior, provides a mother lode of statistics to mine to help guide business decisions. Among other intelligence, you want to know where your Web visitors come from and how they engage your site. Web analytics software can determine if hits represent first-time or return visitors, which pages they respond to and which pages they hit and bounce right out of.

With this data, writers can fine tune marketing campaigns and hone Web site content. To find out about tracking systems, type "Web analytics" in your search engine.

2. Create and use a PM plan

According to Charles Kozierok, preventative maintenance (PM) saves time, saves money, safeguards data and improves system performance. With a little technical know-how – that means the ability to click purposefully and regularly – you can keep your hardworking beast the computer running smoothly and prevent major glitches.

Install and then update antivirus, anti-spyware and anti-spam software. Clean temporary files out of the hard disk and check it for errors weekly. Run the defrag program monthly.

Find PM instructions at Kozierok's site (www.pcguide.com) and read "Put Your PC Maintenance Routine on Autopilot" at www.microsoft.com. PM includes…

3. Back up!

Several years ago my computer was stolen, so I now back up, back up, back up! No matter what the cause of data loss — virus, power surge, theft — business shuts down when email addresses, manuscripts and every other document and photo stored since you launched this writing gig are gone. Recreating files from scratch robs time from handling current projects and searching for new markets.

Copy or "burn" files onto CDs, DVDs or ZIP disks or copy files onto USB flash drives. These external backup methods are fine if the amount of data isn't huge. Store backup files away from the computer and safe from hazards. (I keep backups at mom and dad's.)

Backing up files over the Internet is an option that can hold larger amounts of data. Read about the pros and cons of backup storage systems at www.microsoft.com.

4. Pop up on searches

In the old days, a "black hat" copywriter typed popular (but irrelevant) search terms in the Web content hoping the site would pop up near the top of results lists when unsuspecting surfers had searched for grammar rules or whatever.

Proprietary algorithms, spiders and robots have stymied the effect of sprinkling Web sites with irrelevant keywords.

Search engine optimization (SEO) boosts the odds of a Web site appearing high in Yahoo! AOL Search, Google, MSN and other results lists. Appropriate keywords are important as is submitting your site to search engines and online directories. Some search engine operators offer a paid submission service. Wikipedia provides a summary of SEOs.

5. Un-hype the copywriting

Internet users want what they want ASAP, minus the hype. "Don't make your Web site look like an ad," says Marie Veloso, director of Web Copywriting University.

Delete many first person pronouns from Web wordage. Address visitors directly as "you." Write titles and descriptions that are clear, factual and free of superlatives.

For instance, "I guarantee my writing workshop is the best ever!" turns Web visitors off. "Are you tired of sitting in boring writing workshops?" is customer-focused and recognizes that people go online to find what they need, not what someone wants to sell.

6. Be precise, be concise

Delete annoying flashing, blinking images. Delete audio messages that blast surfers when they open the site. Shorten sentences and paragraphs. Use lists in lieu of dense paragraphs. Invite visitors to click for in depth information rather than scroll through fluff. Visitors should be able to find what they want in no more than three intuitive clicks. Include basic info — phone number, email address, publishing credits. Don't rely on spell check to catch all misspellings.

7. Call a consultant

Hiring a pro to solve technical problems or maximize your computer's performance makes sense. Write a list of your problems and requirements then search for a consultant who understands your needs and can explain things without jargon so you can understand what's she's recommending and can perform tasks yourself, within reason. Ask writers to recommend someone or search for consultants at www.icaa.org, the Independent Computer Consultants Association's Web site.

8. Network the old fashioned way

"All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust," Bob Burg wrote in "Endless Referrals." People feel they know a writer better after they've met in person or even over the telephone.

Without both parties being present, nuances of body language and voice can make the phrase, "Good luck with that!" sound sarcastic or supportive. Brainstorming a seminar, negotiating terms and prospecting for new customers are activities best done in person.

Geeky or not, writers need to turn off the computer and meet current and potential customers in the flesh and blood. After successful treks into the real world writers have an even greater need for computer systems that're up and running like a trusty ol' mule.

© Copyright 2008, Beth Fowler

Find more interesting articles at authorsden.com/bethfowler

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