Archive | September 2015

20 misused English words that make smart people look silly

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We’re all tempted to use words that we’re not too familiar with. If this were the only problem, I wouldn’t have much to write about. That’s because we’re cautious with words we’re unsure of and, thus, they don’t create much of an issue for us. It’s the words that we think we’re using correctly that wreak the most havoc. We throw them around in meetings, e-mails and important documents (such as resumes and client reports), and they land, like fingernails across a chalkboard, on everyone who has to hear or read them. We’re all guilty of this from time to time, myself included.

When I write, I hire an editor who is an expert in grammar to review my articles before I post them online. It’s bad enough to have a roomful of people witness your blunder—it’s something else entirely to stumble in front of 100,000! The point is, we can all benefit from opportunities to sharpen the saw and minimize our mistakes. Often, it’s the words we perceive as being more correct or sophisticated that don’t really mean what we think they do. There are 20 such words that have a tendency to make even really smart people stumble.

Have a look to see which of these commonly confused words throw you off.

Accept vs. Except

These two words sound similar but have very different meanings. Acceptmeans to receive something willingly: “His mom accepted his explanation” or “She accepted the gift graciously.” Except signifies exclusion: “I can attend every meeting except the one next week.” To help you remember, note that both except and exclusion begin with ex.

Affect vs. Effect

To make these words even more confusing than they already are, both can be used as either a noun or a verb. Let’s start with the verbs. Affectmeans to influence something or someone; effect means to accomplish something. “Your job was affected by the organizational restructuring” but “These changes will be effected on Monday.” As a noun, an effect is the result of something: “The sunny weather had a huge effect on sales.” It’s almost always the right choice because the noun affect refers to an emotional state and is rarely used outside of psychological circles: “The patient’s affect was flat.”

Lie vs. Lay

We’re all pretty clear on the lie that means an untruth. It’s the other usage that trips us up. Lie also means to recline: “Why don’t you liedown and rest?” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.” Lieis something you can do by yourself, but you need an object to lay. It’s more confusing in the past tense. The past tense of lie is—you guessed it—lay: “I lay down for an hour last night.” And the past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.”

Bring vs. Take

Bring and take both describe transporting something or someone from one place to another, but the correct usage depends on the speaker’s point of view. Somebody brings something to you, but you take it to somewhere else: “Bring me the mail, then take your shoes to your room.” Just remember, if the movement is toward you, use bring; if the movement is away from you, use take.

Ironic vs. Coincidental

A lot of people get this wrong. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s not ironic—it’s coincidental (and bad luck). Ironic has several meanings, all of which include some type of reversal of what was expected. Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means another. Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected. O. Henry was a master of situational irony. In his famous short story The Gift of the Magi, Jim sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and she sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Each character sold something precious to buy a gift for the other, but those gifts were intended for what the other person sold. That is true irony. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s coincidental.If you drive up to the mountains to ski, and there was more snow back at your house, that’s ironic.

Imply vs. Infer

To imply means to suggest something without saying it outright. Toinfer means to draw a conclusion from what someone else implies. As a general rule, the speaker/writer implies, and the listener/reader infers.

Nauseous vs. Nauseated

Nauseous has been misused so often that the incorrect usage is accepted in some circles. Still, it’s important to note the difference. Nauseousmeans causing nausea; nauseated means experiencing nausea. So, ifyour circle includes ultra-particular grammar sticklers, never say “I’mnauseous” unless you want them to be snickering behind your back.

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Comprise vs. Compose

These are two of the most commonly misused words in the English language.Comprise means to include; compose means to make up. It all comes down to parts versus the whole. When you use comprise, you put the whole first: “A soccer game comprises (includes) two halves.” When you use compose, you put the pieces first: “Fifty states compose (make up) the United States of America.”

Farther vs. Further

Farther refers to physical distance, while further describes the degree or extent of an action or situation. “I can’t run any farther,” but “I have nothing further to say.” If you can substitute “more” or “additional,” usefurther.

Fewer vs. Less

Use fewer when you’re referring to separate items that can be counted; use less when referring to a whole: “You have fewer dollars, but lessmoney.”

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Bringing it all together

English grammar can be tricky, and, a lot of times, the words that sound right are actually wrong. With words such as those listed above, you just have to memorize the rules so that when you are about to use them, you’ll catch yourself in the act and know for certain that you’ve written or said the right one.

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Quote of the Day

“For an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope.”

– Albert Einstein

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8 Ordinary People Who Performed Superhero Acts

Some superheroes devote their lives to helping others, whether that’s by starting a non-profit or rushing into burning buildings. Others lead ordinary lives that are punctuated by extraordinary acts of bravery and kindness. Here are 8 stories of ordinary people who became superheroes.

1. A Hooters waitress donated a kidney to customer.

Mariana Villareal had only known Donald Thomas for 3 months because she served him at Hooters. But that didn’t stop her from donating her kidney to him when she learned he was suffering from kidney failure. Mariana’s grandmother had recently undergone a similar issue, and Mariana decided to help Donald because she couldn’t help her grandmother.

2. A cop bought a young mom a car seat.

When officer Ben Hall pulled a young mom over, he noticed a child without a car seat. The cop could have given her a ticket – but when he learned that the mother couldn’t afford a car seat, he walked into Walmart and bought her one instead.

3. A nurse’s simple act of kindness sparked 46 more.

Think ‘pay it forward’ is a myth? Think again. Surgical nurse Kathleen Connors won some money in a bingo game, and used her extra cash to pay for the meals of a father and son at L&M Diner in Barre, Vermont. Kathleen wanted to keep her deed a secret – but when the waitress explained to the family what Kathleen had done, they decided to ‘pay it forward.’ In just 6 hours, 45 tables paid for each others’ meals.

4. An equities trader saved 12 people from the World Trade Center.

Welles Crowther was an equities trader who worked at the World Trade Center – but he hated desk work and wanted to join the FDNY. On 9/11/2001, Welles saved 12 lives by leading survivors down the only working staircases to firefighters. Instead of escaping, Welles then returned upstairs where he put out fires and set up a triage unit. 6 months after the attack, Welles’ body was found surrounded by other firefighters. In 2006, Welles was posthumously named an honorary NYC firefighter.

5. A 17-year-old helped save his school from a shooting.

On September 11, 1991, 17-year-old Ryan Harris walked into his South Dakota high school with a gun. He kicked the teachers out and held 22 students hostage for hours, shooting at objects and making it clear he would leave no survivors. But then Ryan put his gun down just for a second – and senior Chris Ericks lunged at it. Ryan did too, and the 2 boys struggled for a moment, but Chris won the gun with the help of another boy, Joe Keough. It was a momentary act of courage that saved 22 lives and stopped what would have been the first Columbine.

6. Three men sacrificed their lives to save hundreds from a suicide bomber.

Last month, Wichita State University student Abduljaleel Alarbash returned home to Saudi Arabia to get married. When a ISIS bomber blew himself up in the parking lot of the Al-Anoud Mosque, Abduljaleel, his brother Mohammed and their cousin went after the bomber and prevented him from entering the mosque. The trio saved hundreds of people who were inside the mosque and died for their heroism.

7. Two teenagers saved a 5-year-old girl from a kidnapper.

When 5-year-old Jocelyn Rojas was kidnapped from Temar Boggs’ neighborhood, the 15-year-old decided to find her. Temar borrowed a friend’s bike, and he and 13-year-old Chris Garcia sped around the neighborhood on BMXs until they found a suspicious-looking Chevy and Temar saw that Jocelyn was inside it. The duo trailed the car for 15 minutes until they scared the abductor enough so that he let Jocelyn out. The little girl was safely returned to her mother.

8. A dry cleaner helps the unemployed find jobs.

Oregon-based Plaza Cleaners has a sign out front. It says, “If you are unemployed and need an outfit clean for an interview, we will clean it for free.” Many people have taken owner Steve Young up on the offer, sometimes coming back to thank him because they got the job. But manager Kathey Butters insists they’re thanking the wrong people, telling The Huffington Post, “If we didn’t have our regular customers, we couldn’t clean at no charge. That’s who deserve thanks.”

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Quote of the Day

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

– Anais Nin

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New Tips on Plastic Storage

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How to establish and maintain awesome client relationships

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Although I’ve worked with freelance clients for years, when I left Buffer early in 2014 it was the first time I’d relied on that kind of unstable income for my entire livelihood.

It was a big shift.

But in the last few years I’ve learned so much about developing and maintaining client relationships.

Freelancing for a living means I spend more of my time looking for work than I’d expected. One minute I’m beating away potential clients with a bat, and the next I’m wondering where next month’s rent is coming from.

Since I spend a good chunk of time courting and vetting potential clients I’ve developed a process that has led me to build some great relationships with companies I respect like Crew and Zapier. When Idon’t follow the process (as I’ll explain throughout this post) I only confirm why I created it in the first place.

Having clear rules in place makes it easy to spot red flags early on and get out of situations I’m not comfortable with. I highly recommend it.

After years of experimenting, here’s what my process looks like now, and why I find each of these steps so useful.

Be clear with expectations before you even start working

If I could break this article down into one key piece of advice for all freelancers it would be to never, ever assume.

I’ve gotten myself into trouble many times by assuming I’m on the same page as my client, or that they understand how I work without me spelling it out. Expectations can often be rectified once you realize there’s a misunderstanding, but occasionally this is how I find out (too late) that a new client relationship won’t work out.

Here are some key expectations you need to set up with every client:

Payment process and fees

Be clear about what you charge, what’s included in that fee, how you invoice, and even what currency you charge in (I’m from Australia but work with many US-based clients who assume I’ll charge in USD).

rates

You should also ask clients what their payment processes are like: Do they pay once the piece is submitted, published, or regularly with the rest of their contractors?

Deliverables

Once you start discussing the work itself, set clear expectations of theformat of any deliverables (For me, this means discussing whether I’ll be sending the client a Markdown document or if they’ll create a WordPress login for me to create new posts on their blog directly?) and the timeline involved.

deliverables

Your process

Although this can seem like overkill, I like to explain to new clients howI work so there are no surprises once I get started. This includes the average time it takes me to create a new piece, my research process, and how I go about including images, approaching SEO for my content, and working with word counts.

What happens when you don’t set clear expectations

Assuming you and your client are both on the same page can lead to some serious issues down the road. For example, I worked with one client where I made the mistake of assuming my content would be published with my name in the byline (I’ve always adamantly refused to do ghost writing, so I wrongly assumed this would never be an issue). Making this assumption put me in an awkward position when the client published my work with major edits under their own name.

This was a big red flag for me. I believe my name, or ‘personal brand’, is part of what my clients pay for and part of why they choose to hire me. I work hard on building my audience and my expertise in content marketing so I can rely on my name as part of why I’m worth hiring.

I’ve since added this to my list of “Things to make clear before working with a new client”, which continues to grow with each misunderstanding I encounter.

Always start new client relationships with a trial period

Just like starting any new kind of relationship, you need to take your time getting to know a new client. I’ve learned from experience that starting with a trial period is imperative.

Although I’m flexible, I usually suggest a trial of two pieces of content for a new client which are paid as one-offs.

trial period

A trial period is the prefect opportunity to look for red flags such as:

How quickly does the client respond to your questions?

Are they clear about what they expect?

Do you understand and agree with their strategy and priorities?

How quickly does a piece move from idea to finished product?

The trial period also offers a chance for the client to get a solid idea of how I work, what I consider to be good content, and what my priorities are when creating new content for their audience.

Any issues that come up while working on the first piece can be addressed in the second. If red flags persist, or one of us is unwilling to compromise, we can end the relationship easily at that point. If I’m unsure about the relationship after working on two pieces but my client is happy, it’s usually no problem to extend the trial period while I continue assessing whether it’s a good long-term fit.

Each client has their own content strategy, goals, and audience to adjust for and sometimes those adjustments are just too far removed from my own for me to be comfortable with. A trial period lets me assess how well my style fits the client’s needs and what they expect from me.

Be open and upfront about any issues

Sometimes red flags can be resolved.

It’s always a relief when I bring up a concern and find the client is more than willing to discuss changes to their approach or our process of working together.

Confusion and frustration often come from simple misunderstandings. Being open and upfront about my concerns or why I think an alternative option would work better can lead to an enlightening discussion for both of us, and potentially help resolve the issue so we can continue to work together.

For instance, when a client insisted on inserting keywords for SEO into my work that weren’t related to what I’d written about, I was extremely uncomfortable with the end result. Through discussion we were able to find a compromise for that trial piece of content where we both felt our needs were being met.

seo email

Had I been clear about my feelings on keywords and how they fit into my content initially, I might have avoided that situation—probably by not working with the client at all, since we had very different priorities—but rather than walking away at the first sign of trouble I was grateful that we could agree on an approach that fit us both.

Take an interest in each other’s success

Relationships are two-way streets, and the best client relationships I have are the ones where we both want to see each other succeed.

This is by far the least tangible aspect of my process, but one that I try to pay attention to when I first start working with a new client. I usually find this interest in mutual success manifests itself in two main ways:

Sharing your resources

When I publish work I’m proud of for a client, I include it in my weekly newsletter and share it with my audience on Twitter. I’ve been building my own audience for a few years now and when I work with a client, my audience is one of the things they get on top of the actual time I spend working for them.

I’ll also send out requests for syndication, or introduce my clients to editors at other publications that might syndicate their content in the future (if its a good fit). When I’m creating interesting content for clients who have a great strategy and care about their audience I want to help them build that audience and get more people to benefit from that content.

In return, I’ve had editors give me references and introduce me to connections they have when I need help. Sometimes this is an introduction to a new client, or sometimes one of my clients will have a friend who can help me in some way with my own business. Knowing that my clients want me to succeed makes me more comfortable in asking for help.

Sharing what we’ve learned

Rather than just being a gun for hire, when I work with a client I offer up my cumulative experience in content marketing so far: different approaches I’ve tried, how I’ve grown my own audience, and so on. On the other hand, the best clients I work with are the ones who share their analytics so I can get a better idea of what content works best for their audience, how my content is performing, and how to create new content that will help them move closer to their goals.

This part of the process relies more on gut feeling than the others. I’ve never worked with a client who made it clear they didn’t want me to succeed. But I can definitely tell when a client does want me to succeed. It’s always a great sign when I get constructive feedback that’s focused on helping me to improve my content overall rather than just making a particular piece of content drive more traffic.

Any time clients share positive feedback about the results of my work and what’s working best I can take that feedback and use it on all of my work, for all of my clients, and even my own business.


I’m lucky enough to have the flexibility to choose who I work with at the moment, so I’d rather choose clients who are creating content and products I believe in, and who reach an audience I identify with and to whom I believe I can bring value. This process isn’t about comparing clients or branding them as “good” or “bad”. It’s about finding the clients who fit my values and my process, and steering clear of the ones who don’t.

My process is a work-in-progress and I’m continually redefining my limits. If you’re a freelancer, or thinking of becoming one, I encourage you to start working on your process as soon as possible. It will change over time, but as soon as you start building a solid checklist for yourself, you can lean on it to help you make solid decisions about who to work with.

Image credit: David Marcu

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Quote of the Day

“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

– Thomas Jefferson

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