Words that Rhyme with Orange, Purple, Silver, and Month

It’s a common misconception that there are certain simple English words that don’t have a rhyme. Orange is the most commonly cited one, although purple is a close second.

In fact, the list I hear the most is orange, purple, silver, and month. That list was even a clue in a recent Ellery Queen pastiche, which I heard on their podcast.

However, being the obsessed word nerd that I am, I like to know uncommon and esoteric words. Which means I know the words that rhyme with orange and a few others.

I even like to throw this out as a little fun fact, especially at conferences.

I spoke at the National Association of Government Communicators Communication School today and yesterday (June 19 & 20), and I promised to reveal those rhymes to the attendees. Which I forgot to do.

So if you’re interested, here are the actual rhymes to those four words:

Sporange is a word that rhymes with orange.

  • Orange: The sporange is a very rare alternative form of sporangium, which is the botanical term for a part of a fern or similar plant. It’s the case or sac where the spores — the equivalent of seeds in a flowering plant — are stored. It’s more frequently called the sporangium, but it exists, so count it! I had a debate over this one in the latest editions of Branding Yourself with @HaggardHawks, the British obscure word finder.
  • Purple: Two words: to hirple is the Scottish word for hobble or walk with a limp, and curple, which is the curved part of the hindquarters of a horse or donkey. Nurple is a slang word, as in “purple nurple” and it does not count.
  • Silver: A chilver is a female lamb.
  • Month: This one is a toughie. The word is the mathematical term, oneth, as in N+1th, such as “hundred-and-oneth” or even in fractions, as in 16/31, or “sixteen-thirty-oneth.”

There are other words that have esoteric rhymes, and I’ll start sharing those as I find some interesting ones. Or get invited back to speak at the NAGC!

A chilver is a female lamb

A chilver is a female lamb. It’s the word that rhymes with silver.

Photo credit: Le Monde végétal, Ernest Flammarion, 1907 (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain in France and the US)
jLasWilson (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Ten Social Media Promotion Tips for Audio Drama Creators

I belong to an Audio Drama group over on Facebook, and the question came up about “how do we promote ourselves?” As a long-time audio drama writer and fan, this is something I’ve talked to other theater troupes about, as well as authors, musicians, and visual artists.

Since most (i.e. none) audio theater groups have a budget to do a lot of advertising, doing a little DIY personal branding is going to make a big splash. It will help you find an audience, grow your network of listeners, and by cooperating with other groups, help you cast a wider net to find audience members who are already interested in audio theater as an art form.

Here are ten things you can start doing to grow your audience.

Decoder Ring Theatre cast - Audio Drama creators from Toronto, Canada

Cast of Decoder Ring Theatre, an audio theatre company in Toronto. They produced a few of my radio plays several years ago.

  1. Appear as guests on other podcasts. We are in the golden age of podcasting. The people who are going to listen to your podcasts are the people who already listen to podcasts. So find a way to get interview spots on other people’s podcasts to talk about your work. Check out iTunes and Stitcher for writing podcasts, theater podcasts, horror fiction and comic book nerd podcasts, etc. Reach out to those people and ask them if you can be a guest on their podcast. For example, I’ve been on Park Howell’s Business of Story podcast twice to talk about writing and storytelling. Who better to talk about how storytelling and podcasting than a bunch of audio drama actors? (Tell him I sent you.)
  2. Advertise on Facebook. Set up a Facebook advertising account and create ads to appear only to specific people who fall within a certain age range, gender, family status, work status, and so on. Figure out who your Typical Listener is (soccer moms in their 30s, college students, etc.), and start targeting people who fit that persona. Write some ads, set a daily budget of a couple bucks, and then post the ads. Be willing to spend $40 – $50 per month for 3 months as a test.
  3. Set up a co-operative catalog company. Not actually a company, but just a clearinghouse website that contains all the different audio dramas out there. Everyone who’s involved chips in a few bucks, and that’s how you pay for the Facebook advertising. Advertise that company, rather than individual productions, and you can advertise longer, reach more people with diverse interests, and increase each other’s audiences. Plus, a website this big (possibly with a blog) is going to start winning Google searches for keywords like radio theater, audio theater, and so on.
  4. Create an email newsletter. You can either create your own email newsletter, or create one for this co-op website. Feature one or two audio dramas per issue. Everyone who’s a fan of ANY of the dramas can subscribe, and then you’re reaching a combined audience of everyone’s listeners. (I recommend MailChimp, because they have a free option.) If you start your own newsletter, it’s still a good idea to feature other favorite audio dramas in addition to your own work. Do that for each other, and introduce new artists to your audience.
  5. Do giveaways for fans, and ask them to share your work. Hold random drawings for sharers, and give away small prizes. Ask them to share your new episodes and other content with their own social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook. Give prizes for the most creative, the biggest reach, and so on.
  6. Advertise each other’s work on your own podcasts. At the end or in the middle of an episode, during a “commercial break,” play a preview of someone else’s show. Sort of like Amazon’s, “People who like this also bought X” feature. People listening to your podcast may also like this other podcast. Again, do this on a cooperative sharing model, where you create a “ring” of advertisers. A shares on B, B shares on C, C shares on A, etc.
  7. Build a Twitter following. Do a basic Twitter search, and find your Typical Listeners. They’re the ones talking about horror movies or superhero adventures, or whatever you’re producing. They talk about it in their bios, or they talk about it in their tweets. Follow those people, and then put them in a Private Twitter list that you watch daily. Talk to those people, respond to their tweets, answer their questions. Build relationships with them. They’ll want to support you because you’re Twitter buddies.
  8. Follow certain #hashtag topics on Twitter. Is there something happening in the news that ties into your audio drama? Set up a column for that particular term and see if there are any tweets you can respond to. (Use Tweetdeck to easily see and respond to your lists.) Then, when it seems appropriate and not creepy, respond to a tweet with your own. Don’t be ham-handed and say, “Oh, we wrote an audio drama about that. Here it is!” Rather, just participate in the conversation naturally. If people are interested in you and want to know why you’re interested in the subject, they’ll check out your Twitter page. Hopefully you’ve got your audio drama and the website in your Twitter bio.
  9. Don’t forget the visual element. Audio drama may be for the ears only, but if you can add a visual element to your work, do it. If you do live recordings, create a video of those, and post them to YouTube. If you ever perform live in public, share it on Periscope or Facebook Live video. Take photos of people creating the audio drama, and post those to your Instagram account and Facebook, and turn those into stories. And if you’re a fan of the old radio technology, take photos or find others, and post those to Pinterest. Your content may not be for the ear, but there’s still a visual element worth sharing.
  10. Write audio drama reviews. Whether you post it on your own blog, or even if you started the co-op company in #3 and blog for it, review other audio dramas. These don’t have to be critiques and criticism, as if you’re a movie critic. Rather, write a review, where you discuss things that happened, what you enjoyed, etc. (Remember, you all know each other, so don’t be an a-hole!) Publish those reviews as guest articles in as many places as you can too, where others can read them.

The Branding Yourself cover. Cover design is just one important facet of writing books.If you focus on just two or three of these items, you can expand your audience of listeners and fans. Then, just be sure to use Google Analytics to measure traffic to your website, Twitter analytics to see how your audience is growing and how they’re engaging with your tweets, and then your podcast analytics to see if any growth there coincides with your new social media efforts.

Want to know about artist branding and social media promotion? Check out my book,Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself. The book is now in its third edition, and is published by Que Biz-Tech, an imprint of Pearson Publishing.

Four Ways to Protect Yourself Online

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Florida Writer, a magazine by the Florida Writers Association. They hold their conference in Orlando every October, and Erik will be giving talks on blogging for writers and humor writing.

Twitter was down for a lot of the Northeast during the Florida Writing Conference this past October (2016). In fact, a lot of streaming and Internet sites were down, including Spotify, Netflix, and even The New York Times.

That’s because a major Internet hub was hit with a DDOS attack — a dedicated denial of service, pronounced DEE-doss — which tied up a major portion of the Internet on the East Coast. In short, some “bad actors” (what Internet security people call the bad guys) were sending massive amounts of data to that one particular hub. Imagine the Three Stooges all trying to go through a door at the same time.

It coincided with a question I got during my personal branding talk at the 2016 Florida Writers Association Conference.

Cybersecurity image of a padlock over a screen of jumbled text. TaskRabbit was hacked by cybercriminals, so we thought this was an appropriate image for an article about how to protect yourself online.“How do you protect yourself online?” a woman asked. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to discuss it — I could have spent an entire hour on that subject — so I thought it was worth an article here instead. Here are four ways you can protect your blog, your social media accounts, and even your personal safety online.

1. Use a Password Vault to Generate Random Passwords

A lot of people use simple, easy-to-remember passwords, which can be broken by a hacker’s software in a few hundredths of a second. That means you need complex passwords that are difficult to figure out, but those are hard to remember, especially if you use a different password for each account (which you absolutely should do).

That’s why there are apps that will not only store your passwords, they’ll automatically log you into your accounts. That means you can use complex, nearly-impossible-to-crack passwords without ever having to remember them.

I use 1Password, although LastPass and KeePass are also options. I like 1Password because it operates on Mac and Windows, and works on multiple devices, including my laptop, mobile phone, and tablet, and on every web browser. And I can generate 20-character passwords that use lowercase and capital letters, numbers, and special characters, which look like *8)R83CRD[$3cuZGq.

I can also use it to string together four random words instead, which is easier to retype, should the need arise. I generated manpower-lite-feather-pacific for this example, and checked it on a password strength calculator.

According to GRC.com, manpower-lite-feather-pacific would take “7.32 hundred trillion trillion trillion centuries,” at 1,000 guesses per second, to crack (most hackers can only guess a few hundred times per second). And *8)R83CRD[$3cuZGq would take “1.34 billion trillion centuries.” (Check out www.grc.com/haystack.htm if you’d like to test your own passwords.)

2. Turn on Two-Factor Authentication Everywhere

You can also ask for additional protection on certain websites, in case someone ever actually does hack into them. That additional protection is a 6-digit numeric code that is texted to you when you log in to that website. It’s a random number, and is only used once for that particular login. It will even expire after a few minutes.

Services like Gmail, LinkedIn, Twitter, Evernote, Apple’s iCloud, iTunes, and even GoDaddy all use two-factor authentication.

When I log in to my Gmail, I’m immediately presented with a dialog box that asks for my 6-digit code. I grab my mobile phone, and within seconds, the 6-digit code has been sent. I enter it into the dialog box, and I’m finally allowed in to my Gmail. That means if someone ever does guess my password, they can’t get past the second factor. This is important, because if someone were to control my Gmail, they could use the “Forgot My Password” feature on every service I belong to, and dismantle my entire life.

3. Never Share Deeply Personal Information

We all like to tell our friends when we’re having fun, so we can rub their noses in it. We share photos of us on vacation, at dinner, at the beach. But you may want to consider who else can see your updates, photos, and personal information.

Just by looking at your social profile and your various photos, people can tell when you’re away on vacation, as well as where you live, while other people are just concerned for their personal safety and people finding out their whereabouts.

To that end, I always recommend the following:

  1. Never share photos while you’re on vacation, only afterward. Don’t tell people when you’re not at home for an extended period of time.
  2. If you live in a smaller city, and don’t want people to know where you live, list a bigger nearby city as your hometown in social bios. For example, if you live in a Louisville suburb, just put down that you live in Louisville.
  3. Don’t share photos of fancy or expensive gifts you received. You don’t want to give thieves a shopping list.

4. Keep Your WordPress Blog Secure

If you host your own WordPress blog on a third-party server, pay careful attention to your security. Your host will manage their server’s security, but you’re responsible for your own blog. (If you use WordPress.com, they’ll manage all security for you. Just make sure you have a solid password!)

There are hundreds of security plugins to keep your WordPress blog secure. I prefer Limit Login Attempts, which will block IP addresses that try unsuccessfully to log into my account eight times, and they’ll email me about the attempted break ins.

Next, I’ll copy that IP address, and then add it to the list of blocked IP addresses in WP-Ban. This permanently bans future login attempts from that IP address, which shuts out any “zombie attacks” — infected computers that are programmed to attack other computers.

Finally, delete the Admin account on your WordPress blog. When you first create a WordPress blog, the default account is called Admin, and it’s usually the account hackers try to break into.

When you first set up your WordPress blog on your server, create a new administrator account with your name. Then, go back and delete the Admin account. That way, hackers can try and try for “7.32 hundred trillion trillion trillion centuries,” but they’ll be knocking on a door that doesn’t even exist.

It’s easy to protect yourself online, thanks to the available tools and best practices the experts have created. The hard part is remembering to stick to them and make them a habit. But if you can follow these steps, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones from an otherwise-unsecure Internet.

Photo credit: TypographyImages (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Erik’s Rules for Writing Short Books

A few days ago, I had to confront my elitist attitude toward books and whether or not I think a book can be anything less than 50 pages that gets spit out over a weekend.

It’s not.

But I also had to rethink my attitude toward any book that was not traditionally published, shorter than 200 pages, and didn’t take several months to produce.

I realized, thanks to my friend, Jim, that these short books — they’re called “novellas” in the fiction world — can actually serve a very useful purpose in helping someone develop their personal brand.

And that helped me to realize that I just need to get over myself and my attitude and learn to accept the newer definition of what a book is supposed to be.

BUT if you want to write a book, even if it’s a short book, there are a few things you need to do to make your book good, no matter how long it is. Otherwise, you’re just creating junk and you’re watering down what it means to write a book and to be an author.

1. A book does not take a weekend to write.
One does not simply "slap a book together." This is especially true if you're writing short books/You might be able to write the first draft in 48 hours, but it’s nowhere near ready. Don’t even think about publishing it. You’ll hear people brag about how they wrote a book in just a weekend or just a couple of days. Good books don’t take this long, so don’t ever be satisfied with the work you produce in a day or two.

This is supposed to be your major marketing tool, your calling card, your social proof that you’re an expert at what you do. You can’t produce that in just one weekend, and whatever it is you produce in that time won’t be good enough to serve that purpose.

2. Make it longer than 50 pages, please.
Expertise is deep and involved, and it has a lot to say. So your book, no matter the topic, should be more than 50 pages long. In fact, the deeper you dive into your topic, the longer it’s going to be. The broader and more general your topic is, the less there is to say about it. The more focused it is, the deeper you can dive.

For example, I could write a book about Marketing in general, and I would run out of things to say in about 30 pages. But I could write a book that focuses on content marketing for enterprise-level companies and come up with volumes of information — wait, I totally did that, and it was 236 pages long.

Dive into a niche, explore every important fact that you can, and add that to your manuscript. If your book is becoming huge and unwieldy, break it up into manageable sections, and flesh out each one thoroughly. Turn them into separate books and sell them as smaller volumes. Your book doesn’t have to be 300 pages, but it should never be shorter than 75. Otherwise that’s just a pamphlet.

3. Revise, revise, revise.
Honest to God, if you publish your first draft, you deserve any and all ridicule and shame because it’s just going to be bad. Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.”And I’ll bet that’s what your first draft is. Listen, I’ve been writing for 30 years, and I still write shitty first drafts. So don’t fool yourself into thinking that yours is fine.

Revise your manuscript, then revise it a second time, and then you’re ready to start thinking about final edits and publication. You’re not there yet, but you’re ready to start thinking about it.

4. Take time between edits.
You need to wait several days between revisions. Reread your manuscript and make sure you’ve covered all the pertinent information and fixed all the errors you can find. That takes time. We all get used to seeing what we’ve created, especially if we try to revise right after we’ve written it, and so we gloss over actual errors. Our mind just fills in what we expect to see, not what’s actually there. But you’ll catch your errors if you can separate yourself from your work for several days.

Your book should get at least two revisions with at least three days between each one. A week would be better, if you can manage it.

5. Get beta readers.
Send out PDF copies to friends and ask them to read it. Ask them to find holes, typos, unanswered questions, and missing information. I know a guy who wrote a short book about college financial planning. After he ordered his first 30 copies from CreateSpace, someone asked whether it included information about 529 Savings Plans.

It did not. So he burned his first 30 copies, made the additions that ended up being another major section of his book, and ordered 30 more copies.

This guy had basically produced his book in a weekend, done some editing, and then uploaded it for printing. No beta readers, no expert input, no major time between revisions, and so he missed a very important part of college financial planning. This is why you need extra eyes on your work. Sure it’s going to add time, but your book will be better for it.

6. Hire a professional editor.
If you’re going to use this as a business card or a brochure, then it had better be great. You can’t have typos, you can’t have mistakes, you can’t have anything that makes it look half-assed and flawed.

There are people who say “perfect is the enemy of good,” but those are people willing to settle for “good enough.” And good enough is terrible. So do everything you can to make your book great.

That means don’t do the editing yourself. No one is good at editing their own work, even copy editors. Hire someone. For a 75 – 100 page book, you can find a decent copyeditor for a couple hundred bucks. Or you can find a great copyeditor for several hundred dollars. Even a recently-graduated creative writing or English major would be delighted to edit your work for $200, and they’ll do a fantastic job of it.

7. Get a professional cover.
CreateSpace has covers available, but you’ll be much better off if you can hire someone to do your cover design for you. If you’re not a graphic designer, this is not the time for you to take a stab at it.

Get someone with some decent design skills to put one together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or be a $5,000 masterpiece.. If you want some ideas, go to the bookstore and study the book covers in your particular field. Note the design trends, font choices, whether they used photos or illustrations and what kind. Get an idea of what you want your book cover to look like, and then ask your designer to create it for you.

8. Do not, do not, DO NOT screw around with font size and margins in order to boost your page count.
This isn’t high school. Those tricks you did when you had to write your papers to meet word and page count — lots of adverbs, squeeze the margins in to 1.5″, line-and-a-half spacing, 14 pt. type — only make your book look like a complete scam and like you’re deliberately trying to be tricky.

Real books are single spaced, 12 pt. type or smaller, and have 1″ margins or less. A few years ago, I met a guy who bragged about turning a 20 page manuscript into a 30 page collection of words — I won’t call it a “book” — and he advocated screwing with the fonts and margins to make the book thicker.

If you have to do that, just delete your work. Delete it and go back to the drawing board or the classroom, because you clearly don’t have what it takes to write a book in the first place. Because that’s not writing, and it doesn’t demonstrate expertise. That’s dishonest garbage. If you have to lie about how long the book is, I won’t trust a single word in it.

I’m learning to change my way of thinking and my elitist attitude about being a book author. But you have to meet me halfway. Anything that’s less than 30 pages, is poorly written, unedited, and is a stinking word turd is not a book.

Slapping a collection of pages between two pieces of card stock doesn’t make it a book anymore than me wearing bread earmuffs makes my head a sandwich.

So do the work, take the time to make it good, produce something of value, and make sure there’s enough in it to actually be proud of. When you look at it five years later, you don’t want to be embarrassed by a comedy of errors and bad writing that you could have easily prevented with just a little more time..

Writing Books for Personal Branding

I have a confession to make.

I’m a snob when it comes to being a book author. To me, a book has gravitas. It’s more than 200 pages, it’s been properly edited and revised numerous times, and it takes several weeks and even months to create. And, if I’m being honest, it exists in a printed form, having been printed by a traditional publisher.

This puts me at odds with a lot of people, because the modern definition and process of creating a book has changed, thanks to new technology.

  • Word processors let us write and revise manuscripts instead of rewriting them. Forty years ago, you typed a manuscript, made edits, and then retyped it.
  • Ebooks has changed book lengths. Now, we can churn out short stories and novellas, and publish them online and sell them for as little as $1.
  • Short-run self-publishing lets us print a few books. Rather than buying 2,000 copies from a vanity publisher, and having 1,990 copies sit in our garage for years, we can print out a few books at a time.

All of this has democratized the book industry.

The last time we had technology this disruptive was when the printing press was invented. Instead of waiting for a monk to copy a book by hand, you could gather a small group of investors, buy a printing press, and go into publishing yourself, and print whatever the hell you wanted.

That world grew and grew to the point where publishing was huge and unwieldy, and only very special writers could get books published. And then, like most everything else, the Internet broke that system.

Now, not only do the very special writers get books published, so can everyone else.

On most days, I embrace democratization of any elitist system. I’m all for tearing down walls and letting everyone be awesome and cool.

The Branding Yourself cover. Cover design is just one important facet of writing books.Want to write your own book? Awesome! Cool! There are ways you can get that published and you don’t have to be a part of that stuffy old elitist system! Power to the people!

Except I finally got to be special this time. I co-authored three books that were published by Real Publishers, and I won’t lie. That feels pretty good. (I co-authored a fourth book that was self-published, but I feel a little self-conscious about it.)

So I roll my eyes whenever someone holds up a 50 page stack of papers and says “I wrote a book!”

Because that’s not a book, that’s a pamphlet.

“I wrote it over a weekend,” they boast.

I want to shout. “That should be a warning, not a brag!”

“And you can too!”

“Like bloody hell you can,” I want to say, but I never do.

And so my protective instincts kick in and I want to stop people watering down what it means to be an author, or promoting this crazy notion that you can just spit out a book over a weekend.

Except I’m rethinking my whole attitude.

I have seen the light!

I was at a networking lunch recently where someone was talking about how “easy” it is to write your own book. It happened a day after I heard a podcast interview about the very same thing.

“Just take a talk you like to give, and record yourself talking about it. Or come up with 10 – 12 questions and record yourself answering them. Get that audio transcribed, edit it into something readable and coherent, and upload it to CreateSpace. Bada-bing, bada-boom, you’ve got a book!”

Look, a good book is not that easy. And something that easy will not be good.

All of my books have taken two people four or five months to write. The last edition of Branding Yourself took four months, and I worked on it for 10 – 15 hours a week. I was supposed to cut it down to 300 pages, and instead, it weighs in at 380 pages. But it’s good, and I’m very proud of it.

Because writing a book is hard work, it takes time, and you have to know your subject and you have to be able to write about it well.

And it has to be thick, right? Right?

Maybe not.

“These short books are a good personal branding tool, aren’t they?” asked my friend, Jim. We were sitting together at the networking lunch. “They show that you have some expertise about that topic and they give you some credibility.”

I stared at Jim, stopped in my tracks, mouth open a little. “Well. . . maybe,” I said begrudgingly

“They don’t all have to be big thick tomes, right? I mean, this is the kind of information you’d share with someone in an hour-long conversation over coffee.”

I stared a little more. “I guess,” I pouted.

I hate Jim.

It was in that moment, mouth open and staring, that Jim’s question was my epiphany. Books aren’t just meant to be read. They don’t exist independently of the author. They reinforce the author’s expertise and make them look like geniuses about their particular field. They support the writer’s personal brand better than a business card or even their social media accounts.

That’s when I realized books don’t have to be 380 page bludgeoning weapons. They really can be smaller, shorter, and less in-depth than my “proper” book that I toiled over for nearly half a year.

I really hate Jim.

One guy who spoke at the networking event had just published his own book. In fact, it was his third attempt, because his very first attempt was over 200 pages. Then he revised it and cut it down to 100. And then he dumped that version and wrote it in 75 pages.

Because — and this is important — his subject matter didn’t need 200 pages.

Pat used to own a high-end AV company that helped event, conference, and meeting planners put on big stage shows. And he knew how to grow other AV companies to become successful.

That kind of knowledge is really only useful to other AV company owners, and most of them already have a lot of the knowledge that Pat has. Which means he doesn’t have to explain the basics, and he can get right to the point without any fluff and extraneous bullshit.

And that only takes 75 pages.

It didn’t need to be any longer. Anything more would have just been wasted space and wasted effort and it wouldn’t have added anything of value.

Which means I have to rethink my attitudes about books and what a “real book” can and should be.

Stupid Jim!

But that doesn’t mean you can slack off! There are still certain rules and expectations we all have.

I mean, we’re not graphic designers, for God’s sake!

I actually came up with 8 Rules for Writing a (Short) Book. But this post ran on too long, so I decided to cut it here, and I’ll run those 8 rules in a day or two.

Encourage Your Employees to Become Rock Stars

Over the last 20 years, I have worked for (and known people who worked for) bosses who did not want their employees to become prominent names in their industry. Whether they felt threatened, thought it distracted them from their “real” work, or thought it was a waste of time and resources, these managers didn’t like employees who had name recognition

Lindsay Manfredi plays bass. She's one of the true rock stars in music AND personal branding.

Lindsay Manfredi. My good friend and bassist for the band Cold. She really IS a rock star, both in music and personal branding.

One friend — let’s call him Burt O’Higgins — went to work for a software company after spending years developing his own personal brand, becoming one of his industry’s top thought leaders. The company considered it a real coup to get my friend to work there. “But,” they said, “you can’t speak at any more conference events as yourself. You can’t be “Burt O’Higgins from Big Software,” you have to be “I’m from Big Software, my name is Burt.”

They couldn’t give any logical reason why they didn’t like it, but the message was clear: you’re more popular than us and we don’t like it.

So Burt left, started his own company, and worked for Big Software as a freelance contractor, charging more than his old salary and working fewer hours. And he got to speak at as many conferences as he wanted, which boosted his own popularity and increased his client base.

Big Software might have benefited more if they had just let Burt be Burt, do his thing under his own name, and still attract plenty of attention for his employer.

There’s nothing wrong with letting your employees be industry rock stars, becoming one of the popular thought leaders that others look to for new ways of thinking. In fact, there are a few benefits your company will see by helping your employees become those leaders.

1) It makes them effective communicators

Every job description I see requires “effective oral and written communication skills.” Speaking at 4 – 6 conferences a year is going to build up effective oral communication skills. Writing articles for trade journals and blogs is going to develop effective written communication skills.

And if your people don’t have those skills, send them to Toastmasters. Pay for books and training courses. Send them on seminars where they can hone those skills. Pay for memberships in professional associations. And give them an outlet to express all this newfound knowledge.

Then unleash them on industry and allied conferences. Encourage them to write articles for trade journals or the company blog. Ask them to speak at conferences. Make sure people see your rock stars at different industry happenings, so they know your company is serious about thought leadership in that field.

But best of all, think about how much better your rock stars will be at communicating fpr your company as well. Not only will they be better at communicating internally, but they’ll be doing some great marketing and brand awareness building for your company too.

2) Your company looks like a great company for hiring them

One thing GE was known for during the Jack Welch years was for turning out great CEOs for other corporations. Partly because Jack wasn’t going to leave short of a military coup, but also because when GE executives reached the VP level, they were so good at their jobs that other corporations wanted them to run their own companies.

The same thing happened to the Oakland A’s in the early 2000s. (Read Moneyball by Michael Lewis. It’s not just a baseball book, it’s a primer on unorthodox-but-effective corporate management.) The A’s scooped up baseball players who didn’t fit the traditional baseball mode, helped them develop their best skills, and turned them into the kinds of ballplayers that other teams wanted badly. And the Oakland A’s became a stellar baseball team to boot, because they built the team around their players’ strengths.

So how cool will your company look when you start churning out superstar after superstar? How many CMOs can you create? Or HR directors? Or CFOs? Or national sales managers? Your company can be seen as an incubator for some of your industry’s leading talent if you just help them develop.

3) It’s free marketing

My friend Burt would go to 6 –10 conferences every year and share his knowledge. He used his clients as case studies, but he never made sales pitches. Instead, he just shared stories and ideas with a rapt audience for an hour — an audience filled with people who hired experts like him.

Now, imagine your sales and marketing people speaking at conferences, demonstrating their knowledge and skills about the problems your company solves. Imagine a water filter company educating coffee shop managers and brewers about pure water at a national coffee or craft brewery conference. You can educate people about the importance of pure water without ever talking about your product, but when people read the name in the bio, they can put two and two together.

When I speak at conferences, I talk about how to improve your writing, or the future of content marketing, or how to use novel writing techniques in business writing. I never do a sales pitch, but my expertise clearly speaks for itself. And I’ve gotten clients just by speaking at industry conferences.

So what happens if your marketing director speaks at an industry conference, or your HR director, or your operations manager, or even your CEO? You can have a big influence on hundreds of people without once mentioning your product or company just by sharing your knowledge. Now, what if you could unleash 10 rock stars on the different conferences of the industries you serve.

4) You’re creating rock stars for your company

“But people will improve their skills and they’ll want to leave our company,” is a common refrain among managers.

Seriously? You don’t want people to improve their skills? You’d be happy that average people with average skills are staying at your company for ten or fifteen years? That’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.

Let’s face two facts. First, people are going to leave your company. No one stays at a company very long anymore. That’s how employment works these days. So train them, help them develop, and wish them well when they leave, knowing you taught them enough that someone else wants them. And you’ll get their best work out of them while they’re there.

Second, the people who leave will become decision makers and influencers in other companies. What if your marketing manager leaves to become a VP of Marketing at one of your clients? What do you think she’ll tell her new colleagues if she leaves with bad feelings? Conversely, what will she tell her new colleagues if she leaves with your full support and gratitude?

(This is also why it’s not a bad idea to hire people in their 50s and 60s. Rather than turning them down because “they’re only going to be here for a few years,” recognize that no one says in their same position for 30 years anymore. Hire older workers and get some of the very best, most experienced people you’ll ever find. But that’s for another article.)

Developing rock stars for your company has many upsides and very few downsides. You’ll create top talent for your company, which means they’ll do their best work for you. They’ll be out promoting themselves (and thus, your company) with their speaking and writing. And they’ll moving up to positions of influence and decision making, which means you’ll have allies in other companies.

The only downside is that you may have people who are more well-known than you. But you can turn that around and become known as the company (or manager) who produces rock star after rock star. So start writing and speaking about how to create rock stars within your company, and guess what you can become. . .

Do You Even Need a Style Guide? Not Necessarily

What’s the proper way to make an apple pie? Are they shredded, diced, or sliced apples? Do you make your own crust or buy pre-made crusts? Do you have a fancy lattice top or the Dutch apple crumble top?

And whose recipe do you follow? Is it the first one you Googled, or is it Memaw’s secret family recipe handed down from generation to generation?

Ask this question on Facebook, and you’ll have plenty of strong opinions from plenty of people, and about 12 back-and-forth arguments before someone is calling someone else a Nazi.

Style Guides Are Like Apple Pies

This is how people, especially writers, feel about their style guides.

Different style guide examples. It's hard to choose the right one.To them, their style guide is the One True Guide, their Bible about how issues and misunderstandings about language, punctuation, and even grammar are to be handled.

There are a few dozen style guides, including ones from the Associated Press, Chicago Manual of Style, American Psychological Association, Modern Language Association, Turabian, Council of Science Editors, and even The Elements of Style.

And you’ll find outspoken proponents of every one of them.

Each person will insist that their style guide is the right one and will argue with those heathens who don’t agree to worship The One True Guide.

Except there’s no One True Guide.

No one is able to lay claim that their guide is the definitive way to punctuate sentences, abbreviate states, or denote time (a.m./p.m. versus AM/PM).

(But you can have my Oxford comma when you pry it from my cold, stiff, and dead fingers, Associated Press!)

Each guide is assembled by learned editors who have heated discussions about each new entry and change in their guide.

They’ve discussed and debated new issues as they come up, they look at how language is being used and written in society, and they update the guides to reflect those changes when necessary.

In May 2012, the Associated Press said they would no longer object to using the word ‘hopefully’ at the beginning of a sentence, rather than making people say ‘I am hopeful’ or ‘It is hoped that.’

People went nuts. They howled in protest, they screamed and tore their garments, and the Internet burned for three days. People said they were going to die on this hill and they weren’t going to let any stupid Associated Press tell them how to use English when Mrs. Kugelschreiber had drummed this rule into them so many years ago. They were going to stick with the “right” way to do it, despite what these so-called experts said.

Ahh, innocent times.

Of course, the angry mob missed two important points:

  1. It was a made-up rule to begin, having been created in the 1960s. Before then, it was acceptable to start sentences with “hopefully.” Besides, there’s no rule about starting sentences with other floating sentence adverbs like “sadly,” “unfortunately,” and “surprisingly,” so this one was just something people latched onto without understanding why.
  2. The rule only applied to writers and editors who worked for the Associated Press. It had nothing to do with general language usage. People were free to start or not start sentences with “hopefully” to their heart’s content.

This is the important thing to remember about style guides: While these are prescriptive guides, they are by no means the official rules for The Way English Is Done. These guides are only for a particular job, field, or organization.

The Associated Press Stylebook tells writers about the rules they must follow when writing for the Associated Press, although many non-AP journalists use it. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage is only meant for writers and editors at the New York Times. The APA Publication Manual from the American Psychological Association is written for academics in social sciences, like psychology, speech communication, linguistics, and sociology.

And if you’re not part of those organizations, you are not bound by those rules.

Which Style Guide Should I Use?

Bloggers and content marketers can argue about which style guide is the best, but there’s no right answer. I always recommend bloggers use the AP Stylebook, because it’s small, inexpensive, and addresses 95% of our issues.

I also like the AP Stylebook because many bloggers act as citizen journalists, which means we should follow the guide that most other journalists use.

However, there’s no real guide for bloggers to use. We’re free to pick and choose, but we do so voluntarily, not because there’s an official Way English Is Done.

Bottom line: As long as you spell words right and put them in the right order, the rest is up to you. The benefit of a style guide is that it helps you be consistent throughout your writing. It means you always know where to put punctuation, whether you’re going to follow the postal abbreviations for U.S. states, and how to capitalize headlines.

And whether you should use the Oxford Comma or if you’re a filthy, godless monster.

This means you can pick one you like the best and are most familiar with, or you can even create your own style guide. Just make sure you follow it consistently and apply it to all of your business writing — blog articles, web copy, brochures, emails, letters, and even internal communications.

Photo credit: FixedAndFrailing (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)