What You Need to Know about Breaking the Rules of Grammar


Last month, I covered 10 grammar mistakes to avoid so that you make a good first impression on prospects and customers.

I also shared the post on LinkedIn and was surprised how many read it and gave positive feedback. Apparently, this is something people worry about and want to improve upon. And that’s GREAT. I’m thrilled that so many found it helpful.

At the same time, it made me uncomfortable.

Because here’s the thing: Rules — yes, even grammatical ones — are meant to be broken.

In The Elements of Style, the quintessential guide book to all things writing, the authors advise writers to “write in a way that comes naturally to you, using words and phrases that come readily to hand.”

In other words, if you don’t talk like Shakespeare, you don’t have to write like Shakespeare.

Actually, Shakespeare is a terrible example. He made up his own grammatical rules, along with entirely new words, all the time.

So on second thought, maybe you should write a little more like Shakespeare.

But before you grab your grammar hammer and start smashing rules willy nilly, you must have a firm grasp of what the rules are to begin with. Then, you should have a rock solid reason for breaking them.

For example, most of us, when speaking, end sentences with prepositions. So when you’re writing, it’s totally okay to end your sentence in a preposition if it makes the sentence easier to understand.

Being easy to understand is critical. If prospects can’t quickly grasp what you’re selling or why they need it, they won’t buy. Period.

So be clear. Be concise. And if that means breaking the rules sometimes, get out the grammar hammer and start smashing.

Your turn: What’s one grammar rule you frequently break and why do you do it? Tell me in the comments.

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Make a Good Impression by Avoiding These Common Grammar Mistakes

Photo credit: imnotrightinthehead.com

Photo credit: imnotrightinthehead.com

Ugh! Grammar Nazis. Don’t you just hate ‘em?

Oh, you used “your” instead of “you’re.”

Did you mean to put that apostrophe there?

How can you not know the difference between lie and lay?

Really, it’s just exhausting. And the quickest way to bring them out is to make a minor error on a blog post or a Facebook status. The Grammar Nazi Sharks really start circling then (now there’s an image for you).

As a copywriter, people just assume that I’m judging their character and worth based on their spelling, punctuation and grammar. Case in point: here’s a book my sister bought me as a gag gift for Christmas. Well, I think it was a gag gift anyway.


But this couldn’t be further from the truth…honest! Everyone – including me – makes mistakes now and then. It’s just going to happen. And, listen carefully now, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

However, the fact remains that first impressions are important. And in this day and age, when impressions are often made online rather than in person, it’s wise to pay extra attention to spelling, apostrophes and commas. Too many mistakes in your writing can lead people to believe that you are unprofessional or take a lackadaisical approach to your business.

To help you out, here are 10 of the most common grammar mistakes I see in writing. When proofing your work, check for these before you publish and you’ll be well on your way to making a great first impression!

Avoid these common business writing mistakes.

  1. Apostrophes (or not)
    With very few exceptions, apostrophes are only used in contractions (can’t, don’t) or to indicate possession (the cat’s collar). Never use an apostrophe in a plural (a collar for cats).
  2. A lot, not alot
    Alot is not a word. Confession time: this tripped me up for years. But then I read something that helped me get it straight. You wouldn’t write “abunch,” “alittle,” or “adog.” So don’t write “alot.”
  3.  Loose and lose
    “Lose” means that you can’t find something. “Loose” means something is not tight or is free from constraint. If your dog darts out the door, he’s gotten loose. If you don’t catch him right away, you might lose him.
  4. They’re, their and there
    “They’re” is the contraction of “they are.” “Their” is possessive (meaning it belongs to others). “There” means that something is elsewhere.
  5. Its and it’s
    This is another one that trips me up. “It’s” is always the contraction of it is. (It’s a nice day out.) “Its” is the possessive of “it.” (I love its color.) Which means that “its” is one of those exceptions when it comes to apostrophes indicating a possessive. SO confusing!
  6. Do’s and don’ts
    This is not a hard and fast rule. But according to AP Style (which many writers use), the correct use of the apostrophes in this case is as you see above. Another one of those exceptions to the apostrophe rule.
  7. Who and that
    “Who” refers to a person (the person who gave me your name) and “that” refers to a thing (the necklace that my mother gave me). Now, in the pet industry, I personally think there’s an exception to this rule. When referring to an animal, it should technically be “that.” But I almost always write and say, “who.” So sue me, Grammar Nazi Sharks.
  8. Quotation marks
    It may seem counterintuitive but periods and commas should go within the quotation marks at the end of a sentence, not outside of them. For example: I thought it was funny how she said the word, “olive.”
  9. Affect versus effect
    “Affect” means to influence and is usually used as a verb. (The trainer affected my dog’s behavior immediately.) “Effect” is typically used as a noun and refers to a result. (The effect on my dog’s behavior was immediate.)
  10. Irregardless
    This isn’t a word. Period. End of story. Please don’t use it ever. Use “regardless” instead.

I hope this helped! If you have questions about any of the above – or if I left out any of your particular pet peeves – please share with me in the comments below.

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3 Big Things I’ve Learned About Marketing from Michael Port

michael port mentoring program

At the live event! (Can you find me?) // Photo credit: Ana Melikian

When it comes to marketing, do you sometimes feel like you’re shouting into the wind? You know you have a great product or service but you’re having a tough time being heard?

I did, too.

Then six months ago, I joined a group mentoring program led by Michael Port of Book Yourself Solid fame.

If you haven’t read the book, I can’t recommend it enough. We all know the pet industry is highly competitive and the thoughts, ideas and system he suggests can help give you the edge, whether you’re a solo entrepreneur or a large corporation.

I first picked up the book a couple of years ago. Then in January of this year, I took a four-week intensive on the Book Yourself Solid system. A couple of months after that, I decided the next best step was to join his mentoring program.

It was absolutely, 100 percent, no-doubt-about-it the best thing I’ve done for my business up to this point. I find myself living my dream of working with smart, successful, amazing clients with good hearts who respect my abilities and what I have to bring to the table. It’s both exhilarating and a little surreal.

One key aspect of the mentoring program is the opportunity to attend three live events a year. I just returned from my third one where, for three glorious days, I had the opportunity to work with Michael, his coaches and the other entrepreneurs who are part of the program.

You might notice that there were a lot of threes in that above paragraph. So continuing with that theme, here are my three biggest takeaways on how to create a life/job/business you love.

1. Have a plan

The entire first day of every live event is spent working on a 90-day plan. The focus is on four main areas: financial, marketing, systems and projects.

Like many people, I’ve always had goals. Mainly vague ones like “get clients” or “make money.” Good goals, yes. But getting specific about what your goals are and then having a plan in place to reach them? Well, that’s where the magic happens.

The shorter time frame of 90 days (versus, say, a year) makes the goals seem achievable and doable. It also identifies the areas in which I might try to do too much. That 90-day window (which is really more like 60 when you take out weekends) forces me to get very clear on the most important things I need to do to move my business forward. All the other things get cut or go on the back burner for now.

Think about your own goals with your business or career. Are they specific and actionable? Do you have a plan with projects and processes that will help you achieve them? If so, great! If not, make the time to put something down on paper in the four areas I mentioned above.

And then remember that just because you have a plan doesn’t mean you should stop planning. As Josh Patrick, one of the expert presenters, put it, “The process of planning is what is important. Are you going in the right direction? Are you testing various scenarios?” While Josh’s area of expertise is in financial planning, the statement holds true for marketing and business plans as well. Planning is active. A plan is passive. The key to making the plan work is to work the plan.

2. Be open and ask for help.

You know the best thing about Michael Port? He surrounds himself with great people. He doesn’t pretend to be an expert at everything. That’s why much of the live event is led by his elite level coaches and other experts. They were all incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, and the information they provided was invaluable.

Even more valuable to me, however, is the support from the other mentorees. The group ranges from those just starting out with only an idea to wildly successful business owners with years of experience. Their professions range from deejays to wealth managers to life coaches. And every single one of them was eager to help, to offer advice, to lend an ear, to give a pep talk.

In both our personal lives and our careers, it can be tempting to try to figure it out all by ourselves. But — breaking news! — we don’t have to! Apparently, there’s an insane number of people out there who want to help you and support you, and who will celebrate your successes with you. All you really have to do is ask. And of course, don’t forget to return the favor whenever possible.

3. Serve who you’re meant to serve.

One of the reasons I was so attracted to Book Yourself Solid is that the system isn’t “salesy.” Michael’s emphasis is on creating connection and serving who you’re meant to serve. When you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, when you’re being helpful to others, when you’re serving who you’re meant to serve, everything else falls into place.

When I started my business, I knew in my heart that I was meant to serve people in the pet industry. But going through this program has shown me why it’s important to serve who you’re meant to serve. It’s the why that gets me up every day. It’s the why that makes me work incredibly hard for my clients. It’s the why that makes every bump and challenge along the road worth it.

So what’s my why? Why the pet industry? Because almost to a person, folks in the pet industry have remarkably good hearts and they truly want to make a difference for pets and their people. They get into this industry because they understand the important role animals play in our health and happiness. And above all, they’re determined to make their little corner of the world better.

I honestly believe I work with the best people in the best industry in the world, and I feel so blessed and privileged to be part of it.

Your turn: Why do you do what you do? Who are the people you’re meant to serve? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How Crazy Pet Ladies Are Changing the World, One Donut at a Time

WIPIN BannerI just returned from three days at the Women in the Pet Industry conference in Portland, Oregon, where I communed with other crazy pet ladies.

Now, please understand that I use the word “crazy” in the most affectionate and loving sense. Crazy in this context means crazy passionate, crazy energetic, crazy inspiring. They are a force of nature, these women. Entrepreneurs. Executives. Writers.  Speakers. All driven by the common goal of improving the lives of animals around the world.

I’m still absorbing everything I learned and experienced over the last few days. But here are a few of the most valuable things I took away with me:

1. Bitchy Resting Face Syndrome (BRFS)

Popularized by this fake PSA, BRFS makes certain people look hostile or unhappy when their face is at rest, giving the impression that they’re uninterested in or ticked off at you. One attendee had the great fortune of explaining BRFS via microphone to a room full of conference attendees, some of whom had never heard of the concept.

It immediately became a running joke over the next few days, but it occurred to me that there’s actually a valuable lesson here. We never really know what’s going on with someone else beneath the surface and we shouldn’t be quick to make assumptions. And we should definitely not assume that their mood (or the appearance thereof) has anything to do with us personally. Maybe their cat just peed on their bed. Maybe they have gas. Or maybe they just have bitchy resting face.

2. Women Are Better Than Their Stereotypes

We’ve all heard about (and may have personally experienced) women who undercut other women. Shows like Real Housewives of Podunk Holler (or something) and The Bachelor gleefully reinforce this stereotype. As women, we almost come to expect that sometime, somewhere, another female will stab us in the back.

But what I saw at the WIPIN conference was the best of who we are as women: supportive, giving, encouraging, nurturing. Ideas flowed freely, collaborations were formed, connections were made. As Michelle Maskaly noted in her Pet Age article about the conference, “I have never been to a conference where so many people, whether it be men or women, were willing to share their business and life experiences — and not in a bragging way, but instead to help others. It was truly impressive, surprising and, quite frankly, refreshing.” 

3. The Best Connections Are Made Over Donuts

For lunch Friday afternoon, the WIPIN conference organizers brought in the Voodoo Donuts food truck. (No, they didn’t just feed us donuts but I’m pretty sure that’s all any of us remembers.) Apparently, Voodoo Donuts are kind of a big deal, but not living in the Pacific Northwest, I had no idea how big of a deal until the truck arrived. One of the ladies at our table volunteered to go out and bring us back a selection. When she returned, I was somewhat speechless at the sight and half wondered if they came with a side of insulin.

Voodoo Donuts

We cut the donuts into smaller pieces so we could all sample the different flavors. Between “yums” and exclamations over the sheer ridiculousness of these sugar bombs, we told our stories, bragged on our pets, exchanged ideas and marveled at one another’s accomplishments. As an introvert who works from home, I tend to freak out a little (okay, a lot) at the thought of “networking.” But chatting with these women over a Cap’n Crunchberry-topped pastry, it hit me that networking is just a bloated word for connecting, and being present and open in the moment is really all it takes.

4. Giving IS Better Than Getting

When Shawn Schuh, WIPIN’s President and Queen of Fabulosity (just gave her that title, by the way), called to invite me to speak at the conference, I was thrilled. Thrilled and somewhat terrified. Although I have a theater background and am typically comfortable performing in front of crowds, it’s shockingly different when speaking your own words. Not only that, but I felt an enormous responsibility to present my topic (copywriting, obviously) in a way that A) didn’t result in attendees falling asleep and B) gave them useful information they could act on.

As it turned out, that presentation was one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve ever done. Since I started this freelance journey o’ mine, I have been helped time and time again by others who have unselfishly shared their knowledge, wisdom and advice. It was such a privilege to have the chance to finally give a little back.

5. Gratitude Is Everything

Over and over and over again throughout the conference, I heard the words, “Thank you.” I deeply believe that being genuinely, sincerely thankful to those who lift you up is the best thing you can do for both yourself and others, and I was reminded of that yet again last week. And so I say to everyone who was involved in this conference — organizers, attendees, speakers — thank you. You make me proud to be a crazy pet lady.

With author and inspiration, Teresa Rhyne

With author, inspiration and fellow crazy pet lady, Teresa Rhyne

Your turn: What is the best conference you’ve ever attended? Tell me in the comments!

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Embracing Your Inner Hot Mess

perfectionist-catYou should know right up front that this post has nothing to do with the act of copywriting. 

So if you were waiting for the next gripping installment of “Grammar Nazis Are Your Friends,” you’re probably going to be disappointed.

But if you’re the least bit interested in finding out what I recently learned about my copywriting business (and myself), read on.

At the beginning of this year, I joined a mentorship program led by Michael Port, author of Book Yourself Solid (not an affiliate link…you should just check it out if you haven’t already).

As part of the program, he hosts three live events/workshops throughout the year. During these sessions, participants get clear on their goals for the next 90 days, make a plan for achieving those goals, and brainstorm with others about new ideas or ways of looking at business.

I just returned from one of these events. I took away a lot of stuff from my time there. I mean, a LOT. But there was one thing in particular that was potentially life-changing for me.

I was discussing a particular program with one of his elite-level coaches when she told me to (gasp!) not be afraid of letting things be messy.

WHAT? Me? Afraid of things being messy? Um, yeah.

I do not enjoy messiness. Well, at least when it comes to my work. Not so much when it comes to my house. I doubt you’ll see me on an episode of Hoarders any time soon, but I do tend to view cat hair as a condiment and hand out lint rollers to guests as soon as they walk in the door. 

No, it’s not that kind of messiness that bothers me. It’s the idea of sending something out into the world that’s not perfect.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve put off starting a blog post because I was afraid my idea wasn’t good enough or fleshed out enough.

Or the times I had a great idea but researched it to death without ever putting it into action.

Or the times I hesitated reaching out to a potential prospect because I was worried I wasn’t quite prepared enough.

But it’s okay, I told myself, because some day I will be prepared. Just a little more work, a little more research, a little more rehearsal and then I’ll be ready.

The truth is, though, I have to learn to let things be messy sometimes. Because if I wait for perfect, “then” will never come.

Does that mean I’m not going to do my absolute best whenever possible? Of course not. I know me. I will always strive for perfection, especially when it comes to client work.

But it means learning to be okay with the messiness of creating. It means throwing a little figurative paint on the wall and seeing what happens. It means letting ideas flow freely into the world instead of holding them tightly because they’re not flawless.

It means, as the old saying goes, not letting perfect become the enemy of good.

So what about you? Are you R&D’ing that new product concept to death? Do you keep putting off that new website you know you need? Are you hesitant to get that next blog post up because “I’m not a writer”? Does the thought of putting something out there that’s not quite fully formed scare the bejeebus out of you?

If so, I challenge you – even if just for a day or a week – to embrace the messiness. Allow yourself to create, to experiment, to be something less than perfect. Go all Jackson Pollock and splatter some paint without worrying what anyone else thinks. 

You might find you’ve created a masterpiece. Or maybe just a mess. But who cares? The point is you’ll have created something that is completely, uniquely, wonderfully you. And you are exactly what the world needs…hot mess and all.

Your turn: Are you afraid of getting messy? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments.