Happy Independents’ Day! 6 tools for FREE Expression

An Independent Review of 6 Essential, and Essentially Free, Apps for Writers

Oftentimes a free application can do 90%-100% of what you need to do for business. And many of these programs are simpler to use than AdobeⓇ or MicrosoftⓇ Office programs. Thanks to entrepreneurial software developers, we now have a host of cheap or free software alternatives to the leading graphics and content development applications. As a copywriter, graphic designer, and painter,  I really appreciate these cost-effective tools – most of them browser-accessible as Chrome extensions.  All of these programs are cross-platform and many don’t require you to sign up on their platform to access them. So support independence and take a free preview. (PS: this is an independent review…no kickbacks!)
A rough concept for Big Data Analytics captured from Conceptboard.
Illustration: Vectr does a lot of what Adobe Illustrator does with vector illustration capabilities. You can upload jpegs into the design. It lets you measure as px, pt,decimals, inches, etcetera. Better yet, it only took me about 10 minutes to figure out how to use Vectr, but the menus are a bit confusing and I couldn’t find my files until I back-arrowed to the beginning.
Image Editing: Paint.net, despite the primitive look of its website, Paintnet makes photo editing super easy. It is professional grade, but lacks the heavy-weight abilities of Adobe Photoshop or Gimp. Gimp is also free but I wouldn’t recommend it to the casual photo retoucher who doesn’t want to lose their hair.
Sweet Office Suites:  When my Microsoft Office Suite programs wouldn’t recognize my printer, I simply switched to LibreOffice or OpenOffice, both totally FREE open source software. The word processing functionality and GUI are very similar to Microsoft Word. You can save files back and forth with the .docx extension, and differences in format translations are minor. LibreOffice embeds fonts, too. These sweet suites all provide presentation, drawing, calculation, database and spread sheet programs, too. I’ve been happy with the seamlessness of the spreadsheet and drawing program formats, but less so with the presentation software. Here’s a 5-point comparison between LibreOffice and OpenOffice from Cindy Grigg, who writes about productivity software.
Take note of note-taking apps:  I use both the Evernote chrome extension and Microsoft’s OneNote for gathering references, clips,  and making notes. I like Evernote’s upfront choices of what format you want to clip; a bookmark, a URL or summary or complete article. However, I have used OneNote on my desktop for several years, and have about 6 “notebooks”. PC Mag gives a good overview of Evernote and similar note-taking apps.
UX/UI design: Traditionally (if such a thing exists in web design), the creative part of the process includes a wireframe (e.g., an image or set of images which displays the functional elements of a website or page, typically used for planning a site’s structure and functionaliy)  then a separate visual mockup with copy greeked in. However, clients inevitably want to see copy in the layout, and many don’t even read the manuscript. JustinMind, MockPlus, the recent addition of Adobe XD , and several others reviewed recently at the Prototypr blog offer free trial subscriptions. JustinMind (free trial, $29 a month subscription) is the only one I’ve tried. It was easy to share with the other stakeholders, who were able to insert comments. Yet it was a bit buggy and difficult to fix for someone who doesn’t understand math functions or slept through Algebra. However, my client could now see the page and linking dynamics–and provide more meaningful feedback–before it went to programming for their AEM content management system.
Organized Brainstorming: Conceptboard is an online collaboration tool I’ve used for sharing concepts and collaborating with clients. The idea is similar to a whiteboard, and who doesn’t love a whiteboard for team concepting! Everyone’s comments are available for viewing and sharing through a handy comment tool that resembles stickies. It’s easy to memorialize changes and look back and scroll through comments for earlier iterations in the development of the project. You get a generous 50 Mbs per upload for free (forever, they say). Anyone you collaborate with has to accept your invitation and create their own account, or you can purchase a team account which includes bigger file uploads, video conferencing, and project management features.

Celebrate the Longest Days with 6 Examples of the Longest Marketing Tactics

A whole six more months till winter!


Summer Solstice is my favorite day of the year, especially when it’s a beautiful June day like today in Philadelphia. I hope you get outside to enjoy some of it. Good writing advice is to keep your writing concise, avoid jargon and typically, keep it short. However, there are times when a long piece works better than a short post. Here’s a list of just six “longest” factoids that a poet of commerce (marketing communications professional, word nerd, or other creative type) might enjoy. The only scientific, not potentially fake, fact is that the longest day for most locations north of the equator is on or near Thursday, June 21, 2018, which began at 6:07 am in New York. Sunrise to sunset is 5 hours, 50 minutes–almost another 6 hours –longer than on December Solstice. If you miss today, the latest sunset is on June 27.

1. Longest Running Ad Campaign
“Depends” on who you ask. My particular vote is for a Pampers Ad which has run on Zynga games sites for at least 3 weeks, showing up repeatedly after every play. Who knew post-menopausal women were a target for Pampers? Other contenders for longest running ad campaign in the U.S. include:
a) The Absolut campaign featuring bottles “in the wild” comprised over 1,500 separate ads and ran 25 years, according to Hubspot
b) The Jack Daniels ‘Postcards from Lynchburg’ campaign is thought to be the longest running advertising campaign in history, having first appeared in an October 1954 edition of Time magazine. Source:
c) Smokey the Bear. This iconic bear has been preventing forest fires for more than 50 years.

2. Longest advertisement
An Arby’s commercial ran for 52 straight hours in Duluth, MN. Apparently someone in Arby’s marketing department thought running a shot of a hamburger for more than two days straight would provide a good ROI.

3. Longest word in an English dictionary
If you’re a pharmaceutical copywriter, then you’ll appreciate the difficulty and length of some disease and drug names, which it is occassionally our jobs to shorten. I’m not surprised then, that the longest word in the english dictionary is Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Also known as the lung disease, Silicosis.

4. Longest PowerPoint Slide presentation

“Lessons from my 20’s” by a startup CEO offers 1,284 Slides for your viewing pleasure. Who ever said millenials don’t have long attention spans was clearly wrong. Inordinately successful 20-somethings have always had an overblown sense of their self-worth, which if not stopped can continue well into their 70’s.

5. Longest URL
Hotels.com has come up with a URL that is 2,083 Characters long, which includes yurts and cabanas, too, to highlight its breadth of accommodations. You can see the entire story on Ad Age, Adweek, Branding in Asia, or the Little Black Book:


6. Longest Blog Post
A preliminary Google search returned many self-titled “longest blog post in the world” entries. Yes, most of these were way too long to read through, and could have been aptly titled “I don’t care. Do you?” like Melania’s coat. But a very lengthy how-to on redesigning the chrome desktop is truly a masterpiece of helpful information, and gets my vote for best in the “longest blog post” category.

Time for a Branding Excercise? Oh No!


Why so many clients stay in the dark about their brand

Punxsutawny Phil recently decided it’s not going to be spring for a while. He woke up, took a peak at the world, and ran back home. At least that explains the 6 more weeks of winter thing, which seems counter-intuitive to me. I mean, if its sunny outside, we humans tend to think spring is on its way.

If a ground hog appears and no one is there to see it, is there even a shadow? Sometimes we are afraid of our own shadows, and we run and hide. My cat sometimes chases its own shadow. A better move, I think, than running from our shadows. But we humans, unlike Phil, take facts and twist them around. We compare ourselves to others all the time — and that is important in a business environment.  The dark side of this, however, is that we make up nonsense interpreting our environment. We even distort facts (all facts are subject to interpretation). Take it from me, I’m a copywriter so I’m in the business of making meaning.

Overcome your Branding Fear

Here’s my point: Many of us are afraid to be creative with our brand and business story, because we don’t really understand how our customers see us.  What do you do better than your competitors? If your business is fortunate to be so unique as to not have competition (yet), what is it that draws customers to you?  What problem do you solve, or unique benefit do you provide, from your customers point of view?  If you have a car wash, for example, do your customers come because your superior service in making their car sparkling clean…or because you’re dirt cheap?

Once you’ve written out a brief sketch of who you’re talking to, and what and who your business does best (your brand “promise”), brainstorm with coworkers or friends to find some metaphors and similes. For example, if you pride yourself on quick service, terms such as “lightning fast”, “cheetah”, and “fast cars” might come to mind. If the qualities of your business are more abstract,  simply jot down the words that describe those qualities — for example, “organized”, “responsive” and “dedicated”.

Picture Prompts Help

Use the terms you come up with to do image searches. Since one image is worth a thousand words, you’ll save yourself both time and money by finding the image that best resonates with your brand. Lots of services offer stock photography at very reasonable prices – think  Pixabay, Dreamstime, Flickr. If you need free images, Wiki Media Commons is a great place to start.

Looking through images this way can help you with your branding exercise, which leads to better branding images — whether your doing business cards, ads, banners or what have you.


When death comes to your office door


How do you handle a personal tragedy in a professional setting?  Death is an uncomfortable subject and most of us are unprepared to discuss it. Indeed, death is a subject most people barely speak about even in our personal lives. Pretty much it’s the domain of life insurance salespeople and H.R. But what if you’re not one of those people?

When I learned that my son had died a few months ago, I didn’t know what to do or say to my client. The timing couldn’t be worse, as I was preparing a website preview for a presentation by the marketing director. Talk about inconvenient deadlines.  I had to leave the next morning for Asheville. What should I tell my client about my son’s death? On the one hand, I couldn’t leave my client in the lurch with an impending deadline for no good reason. On the other hand, I to make them feel uncomfortable.

Do You Get Bereavement Leave?
If you work for the private sector, check your company’s policy or ask human resources. Most companies provide some leave for the loss of a child or spouse. However, don’t be surprised if when you return from the funeral, your boss or H.R. asks for proof of death: Either a death certificate or obituary or both.  It’s no surprise that government employees get better benefits than private sector employees. A federal employee is entitled to use a total of up to 104 hours (13 days) of sick leave each leave year for family care and bereavement, which include making arrangements required by the death of a family member and attending the funeral of a family member.  The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) does not require the private sector to provide either paid or unpaid bereavement leave. Eleven of the states has its own version of this law, but only Oregon specifically requires private sector bereavement leave.

A 2016 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management reports that over 80 percent of companies have bereavement policies, with an average of 4 days off for the death of a spouse or a child. An average of 3 days leave is given for partners, parents, grandparents and grandchildren, foster children, and siblings. Two days paid leave is typical for a miscarriage, the death of a relative of your spouse or same-sex partner’s relative.  One day is standard paid leave for an extended family member’s death or the loss of a relative of your same sex partner.



Bereavement for a temporary employee, a contractor or freelancer.
If you work through a temp agency, you may want to check if they have paid time off benefits and how many hours you need to work to accrue them. If you’re an independent contractor or 1099 freelancer, it’s best to build bereavement pay into the rates you charge, and budget for time off…including time for grieving. Personally, I was able to jump into meeting three days after the funeral and fully focus on the actual work about a week after that. However, I was working from home most of the time. Working on site is difficult I’ve heard. A friend of mine, an executive at a major corporation, said she felt “raw” when returning to work after her son’s death and retired soon after. Now she has thrown herself into a entrepreneurial leadership position. Although I’m a writer, I find painting a source of comfort. So what did I actually say to my client? My executive friend advised me to tell the client my son had died. I opted to be more vague, emailing them early in the morning that I’d experienced a personal tragedy that would require 3 days off.



  1. U.S. Department of Labor. Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Family and Medical Leave Act. https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/index.htm
  2. E
    mployment Law Handbook. The Hunt Group. https://www.employmentlawhandbook.com/leave-laws/bereavement-leave-laws/
  3. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Fact Sheet: Leave for Funerals and Bereavement https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/leave-administration/fact-sheets/leave-for-funerals-and-bereavement
  4. Society of Human Resources. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents/2016-Paid-Leave-in-the-Workplace.pdf
  5. Payscale. Temporary Employment Law. https://www.payscale.com/compensation-today/2009/11/temporary-employee-laws


Infographics – A visual ‘tweet’

When I first started seeing infographics I thought “brilliant”!  However, I didn’t get around to actually doing them until recently, working on the introductions for my client’s huge inventory of infographics. I won’t say that a lot of the info on the infographics was out-of-date, which is another story. The assignment is interesting and it spurred me to go make my own. In my search, I found a free infographic maker, Canva. It doesn’t replace a professional designer, but Canva provides a variety of layouts and graphics and typefaces and takes moments to learn. You can even upload and store your logo, photos, etc. So, I tried it and here’s what I came up with for a self-promotion. Granted I didn’t spend hours on trying to be clever. I just found a layout I thought would work, and this concept took shape. So what do you think?