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I hope you find my writing and business tips and observations useful. My business and blog are dedicated to helping businesses communicate clearly and reach their potential. Read, subscribe to my newsletter, enjoy! Tash

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Who can read the sign?

Sign wanring against climbing walls

The sign was big, but on an angle for most people

We attended an indoor play centre recently for a child’s birthday party.

I spotted a sign on a wall opposite an inflatable slide, within the enclosed rock climbing area, that I think was missing the audience.

Where  the sign was

The sign was up on a wall and printed in a large font so it should have been useful.

However, it was on an angle that made it hard to read except for by children rock climbing.

Surely putting it above the inflatable would have been more effective as it would be visible at the time you would be considering climbing up the forbidden walls.

What the sign said

Remembering this was in an indoor play centre where most of the patrons are under eight years of age, the sign was not written for the audience.

Apart from the very young children who can’t read at all, many youngsters would not be up to reading ‘inflatable’ and many would not know the word ‘banned’. Even for those who can understand the sign, it will be most effective if people get it instantly, without having to think about its meaning.

The inflatable is more known to children as the big slide, so that is the type of language they would be better using.

A much simpler sign would be “Do not climb up the slide”.

I think this is simpler and more effective, but also has a second meaning as it tells children not to climb up the slide itself, as well as not climbing on the support walls.

 

It is always important to know who you are aiming your communications at, and aim for clarity more than cleverness.

Why alienate your audience?

I have just finished reading a book my daughter has read a few times. I was actually keen for her to read books by this author as she is Australian, writes about the meeting of cultures and seems to give a positive outlook to teenagers.

Now, I’m not so keen.

I actually found parts of this book (and admittedly it was her first) unsettling – and I’m unlikely to read another. by this author.

Writing about Melbourne

Australia has it's own culture

Australia has it’s own culture and terminology

The book is clearly set in Melbourne – the characters live in Camberwell, eat Vegemite, visit Lygon St for pizza and gelati, Acland St for cakes and belong to the Debating Association of Victoria (DAV). All those details are named and a theme of the book is a girl finding her identity as a ‘hyphenated Australian’.

So why does she ‘catch a streetcar’ to a ‘mall’ with her ‘mom’  wearing ‘flipflops’ or discuss clothing choices for a 58 degree day or ‘keep to the right’ when skating at St Kilda beach?

I’ve never caught a streetcar or worn flip flops in my life, but have been in many Melbourne trams and often worn thongs. Australia is metric so her 58 degrees farenheit would be known as 14 degrees (ah, now her comments about the girl being under-dressed make sense!) and if you stick to the right on our roads and paths you’re likely to get arrested if not killed!

Consider your audience

I often read books that were written for other countries, including the USA. I mentally ‘translate’ them into my experiences. So someone is facing a difficult left hand turn in the book and I picture it as a right hand turn to understand the context. I read ‘mom’ as ‘mum’, ‘color’ as ‘colour’ and struggle over imperial references.

That’s okay when I’m reading an American book.

I resent it in an Australian book.

If you are sharing an Australian experience with readers, make it authentically Australian by using Australian terminology and spelling. To do otherwise alienates your Australian audience.

Maybe her purpose was to write for the American audience because it is larger. Then why make it so clearly about Australia? Why insult Americans to say they can’t read a book and ‘translate’ terms into their context?

In a book trying to show how cultures are different but can co-exist, I found it uncomfortable that she didn’t stay with the Australian culture. It felt hypocritical. And that she was demeaning Australian culture.

Back to business…

You may not be writing books about cultural clashes, or even in a business that has much cultural diversity to deal with, but the point is the same.

It’s important to know your voice and stick to it.

To know your audience and understand it – not just what they can understand but what could be insulting or offensive.

To really think about what you are communicating between the lines.

To realise that the USA is not the world and that it’s ok to do things in a locally appropriate way instead of copying the American way by default.

Make your offers relevant

Whether it is a direct email, marketing campaign or even a cold call on the phone, it’s really important to make the offer relevant to the other person – if you want results anyway!

Guest blog approaches

If you want to do some guest blogging and have found some potential host blogs, your next step is to contact the blog owner and offer your posts.

Today, I received a pleasant email offering me some guest blog posts. She wrote clearly, openly told me which site her bio would link to, provided samples of previous posts and offered to write on a topic I suggested.

Sounds good, right?

Yes, up to the point of looking at her URL and sample post topics.

She is representing a housing construction company (the name Word Constructions does mislead at times!) so was offering posts about building topics which is obviously completely irrelevant to my blog.

Check for relevance

alphabet building blocks

Letters are Word Constructions’ building blocks

It all comes back to knowing your audience and your purpose.

If I know my audience are people running a business, then they are not coming to me for building tips but could be interested to read a business book review.

If the purpose of my blog is to share writing and communications information, there is little point writing about the best time to prune a lemon tree.

A little bit of research on the part of the would-be guest blogger would get her posts into more blogs – you don’t have to read much of my site to learn I am a writer, not a builder, and that my name is Tash. I (and therefore my readers) are not her audience so her posts are not relevant and she wasted her time emailing me.

So for every piece of business communications, know your purpose and audience so you can make the message relevant.

Have you considered the relevancy of your blog posts to the people reading them? Are they at least relevant to the audience you want to attract?

Building an effective business blog

Whether it’s new or established, if you have a blog to help promote your business, you probably want it to be effective, right?

An effective business blog doesn’t necessarily mean it sells anything directly – in fact, trying to sell in every post is likely to turn people away and be highly ineffective.

So, what is an effective business blog?

Like so many things, there is no single answer. It varies between businesses.

elements of an effective blog

Some tools for building an effective blog

However, I think the following options cover most (if not all) objectives of business owners when they establish a blog:

  1. SEO value – a blog is an easy way to add fresh content with keywords to get higher rankings with search engines
  2. showcase expertise – giving information, lessons and latest industry news builds your credibility
  3. build relationships – having a community is important for many businesses. Relationships through blogs build trust, show the business personality and let you learn from your audience
  4. communicate a message – this is probably more for non-profit groups that want to educate people about a topic and a blog full of stories and information can be a great tool in that process

Of course your specific definition may include more than one of these options in more or less detail.

To know if your blog is effective, you need to know the purpose of your blog and have some sort of measurement in place to gauge how well you are meeting that purpose.

For example, if your blog is aimed at getting more website traffic, posting once a month won’t be effective but you can measure your success by comparing website stats each month. Testing posting three times a week then five times a week will show you what is more effective at gathering more traffic and subscribers.

Making your blog more effective

I have just read Chris Horton’s post on steps to generate leads online with your business blog. In fact, that’s what inspired this post!

Chris goes through three steps which  go towards the purpose of your business, marketing and blog – namely know your (target) audience well, address your audience’s needs and how to offer your audience value.

His last step is about clear communication – make your blog posts simple, concise and relevant. Heard that before? Well, yes, that is where my blogging tips usually come in 🙂

I think it is important to note Chris gives three tips on developing a purpose and strategy for your blog THEN a tip on how to make each post more effective.

So have you defined what effective means for your blog?

Do you know who your target reader is?

How often do you measure your blog against your effectiveness definition?

Improving your blog’s effectiveness

Maybe your blog is not as effective as you’d like.

Yet you want it effective tomorrow, not in the six months it may take you  to work through everything Chris suggested. And, if you’re like many of other bloggers, you don’t want to shock your current readers by massive changes.

I think this is another situation where step by step is the solution.

Start defining your target audience and their needs in more detail (or some detail as the case may be!)

Each time you discover something that is not ideal in your blog, change that.

Maybe you decide your ideal audience are parents of young children but you have a blog category on teenage activities. That category doesn’t help your audience so stop writing posts in there as a simple step in making your blog more effective.

Step by step will take a while but is easier to face and implement than doing it all in one go.

I’m going to go out on a limb now – for you personally, what one thing would you like changed on my blog to better suit your needs? Let me know as a comment below.

No promises I’ll change it but I will consider all feedback in light of my blog objectives.

How you communicate is important

I spent the weekend camping with 50 Scouts (from 6-year-old Joeys to 17-year-old Venturers). We had a lot of fun, completed many activities and came home exhausted!

With such a diverse age range, not to mention the range of personalities and other abilities, it could be challenging to keep them all involved and engaged.

Change how you present a message

Making the weekend work was a good example of adjusting your communications to suit the audience.

As leaders, we could have said lets learn how to cook in a fire and use a compass. Instead, fitting with our Harry Potter theme, we created choc-orange cauldrons and searched for the Philosophers Stone.

When a little more time was needed to prepare something, I could have asked the kids to wait patiently or run across the oval to burn energy. Instead I said “Sarah and Wil, see if you can run across to the tower and back before anyone can catch you”. They all ran off, had fun and didn’t notice the delay for preparation.

Scout camp sorting hat communicated groups

Communicating via sorting hat

The best example, however, was putting the Scouts into groups for the weekend. Any other time, we might just read out a list of names and leave it at that. This time, each scout was called up to greet the sorting hat and have it decide on their group. Yes it took longer but there were no complaints nor restless kids as they loved the process.

HOW we presented the activities and our messages was important in making the weekend a success – the WHAT was important too but would have been less effective on its own.

Applied to business

A Harry Potter theme and changing ordinary activities into those with exciting names won’t help in most business situations. But the concept of adjusting a message to suit the situation is perfect for anyone, including businesses and websites.

You have a key message you want people to hear, so you may as well present your message in a way that maximises how many people will listen to it.

There are many ways to adjust your presentation, but here are a few to get you started:

  • put it as a question rather than a statement
  • add some humour
  • choose the words and tone to suit – perhaps more formal or casual, simple words or more sophisticated vocabulary
  • use a short and to-the-point version on Twitter but a friendly and more questioning version in Facebook
  • can the background be livened up to catch interest? For example, I’ve printed flyers on blue paper rather than white to put into conference goodie bags

Of course, to tailor your message effectively, you need to understand your audience. On camp, we knew we were talking to active 6 to 17 year-olds who wanted to have fun and be involved. Our techniques wouldn’t have worked so well if we’d had 50 4-year-olds or a group of business men on a team building exercise.

So how well do you know the target audience for your business? Well enough to adjust your message to suit? Well enough to tailor your message for different segments of your audience (e.g. those on Twitter compared to those attending a workshop)?

Must your website be interactive?

In a series of 10 posts, we have looked at the steps required to get your business online. Hopefully you’ve seen that getting a website up doesn’t have to be hard or very expensive, and that it can provide a lot of value to your business.

Up to a few years ago, that would be all you’d have to do to get a website up and running – with good content and links, it would probably have done quite well.

Now you will hear that people have higher expectations and that static (i.e. simple web pages that are one way only) sites are not effective.

There is an incredible number of websites out there now so competing against them all probably does need an edge such as an interactive site (where others can provide content on your site). However, you will not be competing against all those sites.

If you have been running business for a while without a website, you probably don’t need thousands of visitors to your site every week to survive. Many service based businesses also don’t need large amounts of traffic as they just need localised traffic.

While an interactive site may be more interesting and may do better than an equivalent static site, it is okay to have a static site. Here are some of my thoughts on static vs interactive sites:

  1. a static site is fine for people needing basic information about your site (e.g. a friend referred me and I need to find your phone number)
  2. a static site is better than an interactive site that is not maintained and looks rushed or empty, so if you don’t have the time or expertise to do an interactive site a static site is still valid option
  3. content is king – having quality, relevant content is critical; keeping it updated and fresh will go a long way to making your site successful
  4. know the purpose of your site and the preferences of your audience – both of these answers will influence the need of more interactivity
  5. after you’ve had a static site for a while, built up some traffic and back links and have an idea of what you’re doing, you can slowly introduce some interactivity – it doesn’t have to be done all at once nor at the start of your site
  6. making your site interactive actually isn’t very hard – making it work well is time consuming and can be challenging
So what do you think – does your website need to be interactive? Do you think all sites should be adding interactive features?

Understanding your audience

Coming along the highway back from my recent business trip, we saw a series of signs for motels and food places encouraging people to turn off into the town. In amongst these signs was one that didn’t show a lot of understanding about knowing who they are communicating  with…

The fabulous Gundagai Pharmacy

All the other signs were aimed at travellers who could well need a break and/or some food so those services had the potential to attract people off the highway. But how many people doing along drive suddenly think “Oh yes, I must visit that pharmacy!”

Sure, the occasional driver will pass with a headache or other minor ailment and will want a pharmacy – even then, they will probably look for a pharmacy near something else that is worth stopping for.

I’m sure the pharmacy could have found a more effective (although perhaps less public) use of their marketing dollars. Or at least put something on their sign aimed at travellers.

This is a really simple example of how you need to understand the audience you are appealing to if you want a successful outcome. Sometimes exposure to a larger audience is tempting but a smaller, interested audience will generally bring in more clients.

Would you pull into a town because they claim to have a great pharmacy?

A rose by any other name…

Have you ever noticed how changing one word can totally change a document or someone’s understanding?

I don’t mean where the wrong word is used accidentally (for example, a typing error changing boy to buoy) but where an appropriate word doesn’t work as well as intended.

Sometimes the word doesn’t work because of the audience. For example, I have seen Australian children (and adults actually!) struggle over American books when they write about pacifiers (dummies) and diapers (nappies) – that’s life if the author was aiming at American children, but bad judgement if the author was aiming at Australians.

Often, however, a word is used that has hidden meanings that can detract from what you were actually aiming at.

I recently had a discussion about the word therapist versus counsellor. While both words can describe a person you talk to about issues and (hopefully) get some insights and direction from the sessions. However, people perceive the two words in different ways – do you? Personally, a therapist implies someone who will help fix a problem (compare to a speech therapist or physiotherapist) but a counsellor is more about working through ideas or situations. So which word is best will depend on what message you are trying to give.

Another example is calling goals or targets ‘milestones’ instead of goals. Michelle of Shel Design was struggling with the concept of setting goals – to her, the word goal implied a final step whereas setting milestones was easier as they were just part of her business process and development. In this case, the word goals was appropriate but had certain hidden meanings for people like Michelle – when writing, those hidden meanings are important to consider, too.

When reviewing your writing, consider your use of words – are some of those words going to mislead some of your readers? Are there hidden meanings you haven’t considered?

Use your words wisely!

Who reads a media release?

Unlike a lot of business writing I do, media releases are not written for the end user.

What does that mean? Well, usually if I write some webcopy, an article or a flyer, I write it in a way that appeals to the consumer of that business. So I would write words to the effect of ‘this will solve your problem’.

With a media release, I am writing to a journalist or other media person who may or may not be part of the business’ target audience. Of course, I am writing to the journalist but in a way that will appeal to their readers/viewers/listeners. So it is usually written in the third person such as ‘this will solve the problem for your readers’

Aiming a media release at your target market won’t work; it needs to catch a journalist’s attention and then be used as the basis of their article. Think of it this way – if you read a company’s website or flyer, you expect them to use ‘you’, ‘your’, and so forth; when you read a newspaper article, it will be one step removed and will not refer to ‘you’ at all.

What to write in a blog…

As I am learning to blog, I am aware of the dilema “but what do I write about?”

Of course, as a writer of many, many articles and two monthly newsletters (one filled with business and writing tips and one with time saving tips and information about the web) I have dealt with the question of what to write many times:)

So what can you write about, other than your daily life?

Let’s assume you have a particular theme to your blog and a particular audience… then some examples of content to get you started are:

  • experiences you have had with customers/clients that others can learn from
  • useful tips you have learned from reading a book/blog/article, etc
  • relevant mistakes you notice in everyday life – and how they could have been avoided
  • upcoming events
  • reviews of relevant books/magazines/websites/programs
  • current news items that affect your audience
  • special offers/deals you are planning or you are aware of that may suit your audience

Word Constructions