From Prison to the Boardroom

I like to write about entrepreneurial motivations, partly because of my experiences, and partly because of the entrepreneurs I have been able to meet. So when I received a text message about Defy Ventures, Inc., it definitely piqued my interest.

What is Defy Ventures? Well, simply put, they are a group of motivated Americans trying to help those with criminal backgrounds become entrepreneurs.

Wait, what- you don’t want hustlers trying to scam you out of your money?

Well, before you judge, consider this fact.

5% of Americans have a criminal background, and the majority of those people return to prison. Even if you don’t know someone who has been to prison (with those odds you probably do), if you are American, you are paying for their crimes.

How? It costs money to prosecute crimes, run prisons, and rehabilitate a large amount of people – money America does not have. As a result, we have under-paid, over-worked police officers, for-profit prisons, and rehabilitation programs that are destined to fail. It’s a cycle that feeds off the most disadvantaged communities in America- the poor.

Defy Ventures attempts to break this cycle by reducing the likelihood of returning to prison. By giving those with criminal backgrounds business skills and corporate connections, they hope to empower these people with the tools needed to keep them out of a life of crime.

Will it work?

Well, it’s not exactly a new concept. Immigrant communities, often arriving in America with little to no money, have always embraced an entrepreneurial mindset. They understood the need to build their own futures, rather than be defined by what was expected of them. Perhaps it was because they knew the odds were against them and they wanted to put up a good fight.

Now, a new class of American outsiders –those with criminal backgrounds- are preparing to use entrepreneurship as their stepping stone toward success.

Hey, it beats stealing cars and selling crack.

The hope is that with proper education, these ‘criminals’ can come up with a ‘hustle’ that adds to society; not take from it. They could learn how to start their own businesses, small and large and stay out of prison. Their children would learn the benefits of self-employment and stay out of prison as well. In other words, entrepreneurship could reduce our growing prison economy.

Is small business a cure for our society? Defy Ventures seems to thinks so.

Learn more about Defy Ventures on their website.

On Writing Online for a Living

Yesterday I received congratulations on LinkedIn from a classmate from middle school.

“Happy 6 year work anniversary!”

What? Has it seriously been 6 years? In Internet years, that’s almost a lifetime.

I thought about my work anniversary the entire day. I was surprised to discover that freelance writing had been my longest running gig, beating out promotional modeling by one year. It happened so quickly- one day I was working for pennies writing articles about everything under the sun, and now I was running an agency of online writers looking to build their own careers.

It’s hard to imagine how I was able to maintain and grow through years of self-doubt, other careers, and ignorance, but what small business owner doesn’t have those moments?

I still remember when a colleague (during my modeling years) laughed at my idea and said there was no money in writing online. I am so happy to have proven her wrong.

For me, writing has always been my preferred means of communication, and at first, the Internet thrived on written content. When I discovered the Internet, it was like showing up in a candy store- there I was in a world full of people looking to read what I had to say.

In the past 20 years, the number of people coming to my ‘candy store’ grew, and I found it harder to reach the gummy bears. But, I stuck around, convinced that this is where I belonged, continuing to find job after job from the Internet until I could eventually make it my home.

I’m telling you, there’s some durn good candy here.

So my six year anniversary is less of an indicator of how long I’ve been online, and more about how long I’ve had a business online.

When I think about my online business ventures, which currently include a freelance online staffing agency and writing and marketing, I feel like they don’t even fully explain what I do.

I feel like I am an Internet Ambassador. I mean, I’ve been here long enough, haven’t I? Is there a special group for people who’ve added content to the World Wide Web prior to 2000?

Can I get a badge that says: “Netspeak Early Adopter?”

Anything to give me some clout in this crazy world that is growing online. ….

In the meanwhile, if you are looking for an online guide for your business contact me; I know my way around these parts.

Grammarly: It’s Like Writing with a Coach

Even the greatest players have coaches –  but for some reason, people believe having a writing coach is against the rules. I simply do not get it – wouldn’t you want someone to tell you when you are messing up? That’s why I was willing to give Grammarly a shot. Yes, they had a free trial, so that definitely was part of it… But I knew that my content and my client’s content, deserved the best possible writing I could produce. Grammarly helps me produce it.

More than a spell-checker

My husband laughed at me when I told him about my new proofing tool. “Why would you bother with that when Word has that built-in?” Well for one reason, Grammarly does so much more that Word could ever do. I mean, I remember back in 1995 when I could depend on the built-in grammar checker- but those days are long gone. Writing and the different forms of writing have become more pronounced; not every type of writing fits into red and green squiggles.

Take these screenshots, for example:

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Grammarly found 8 mistakes, and 2 possible cases of plagiarism, while MS Word  corrected the word Grammarly.

Writing for the Web; Writing a Sales Letter

All writing is not the same – a good copywriter knows that- but do you? It’s okay, you don’t need to because Grammarly has got you covered. When proofreading your work, simply choose the style of writing you’d like to check it against. Grammarly has six different categories to check against- from medical to casual and everything in between- it knows the rules for MLA, AP, APA and blog style and checks your work against them. No more stiff-sounding blogs or over-casual business letters… just your writing with the right style, punctuation, and grammar.

Because Auto-Correct Sucks. …

I call Grammarly a coach – and not a cheat – because you must approve or fix every suggested change yourself. Sometimes even, the tool tells you what you’ve done wrong, but doesn’t tell you how to fix it. This happens especially with style issues because they typically require rewording or a different choice of words. If you have a fairly good command of grammar, Grammarly will serve as a powerful safety net that keeps you from making the mistakes you probably don’t normally make. If your writing skills are basic, it can help you learn from your mistakes, making you a stronger writer with each use. With Grammarly, you must approve or deny every suggested change – and most times you are given the corresponding rule the suggestion is based on. It’s like having a dictionary, thesaurus, middle school English teacher, style book and a Google plagiarism search all in one. They may remind you of the rules, but it’s up to you to do the work.

Who Should Use Grammarly?

Anyone who writes. I can’t begin to express how useful this tool is. It is available as a MS Word plug-in as well as an online tool. It corrects in American English, with the exception of a few Canadian spellings of certain words.

Ready to try it out?

It’s free to give it a shot!

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Test your writing for free and see just how much Grammarly could help you. The free version is limited, but it gives you a good idea about how it works. Don’t worry, if there are too many corrections needed, I’ll be glad to fix it for you.

Does Your Online Content Reflect You?

I had a discussion with my husband the other day about what my work entails. Strangely enough, although I work from home, my family believes I type away at my keyboard and read Twitter all day. If that’s all I did, that would sure be an awesome way to pay the bills- but I digress…

My husband – like many traditionally business minded people- believed that my job entailed making people look better. I explained that it was a little bit different; that I give people a voice.

My writing business is formed around a marketing principle that I passionately believe in. It’s called authenticity, or as I frequently call it, ‘keeping it real.’ Authenticity builds trust, it forms connections, and ultimately, it closes deals.

As a salesperson and promotional marketer it was easy to use authenticity. I simply remained very honest with people, giving them the good and the bad, and letting them make their own decisions. See, I was confident in what I was selling, so much that I didn’t need to hype it up to get the job done. I simply needed to know what I was talking about and smile pretty.

Yes, appearance matters… unfortunately, for some.

But in writing, this process is not as straightforward –                                         and it takes a talented writer to do it well

How does a company remain authentic when marketing on a platform that is mostly text based?

How do you stand out from every other business in your industry? You could create videos, display professionally designed info graphs, or record informative podcasts; but what are you going to write in the description?

My point is, building authenticity online is about maintaining your business’s voice. It’s not about using industry buzzwords or copy-writing formulas for putting together a website. It’s about taking your business, and everything that it is – the good, the bad, the unique – and accurately depicting that online in an attractive way.

For the small business, the Internet is not about looking better than you actually are; it is about extending who you are to a different market.

You made the business, let me help you share it with the world.

Check out my newly launched website, Jenn Marie Marketing & Writing for a list of all the services that I provide for small businesses, individuals and anyone seeking an authentic voice online.