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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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You can write great client letters

I wrote about an officious bank letter that resulted in me closing my account.

two sample letters to show short vs long text

Professional looking letters are part of your brand

There was more to that letter for teaching about good letter construction, so here are some tips for you…

  1. the letter was on two pages
    This was unnecessary, unavoidable and can really annoy readers. It looks longer so is off-putting and is just a waste of effort. With better writing it could easily have been shorter and their letter format included a lot of wasted space.
  2. one line of the letter contained only ‘if:’
    It is best practice to avoid a single word on a line (designers call this as leaving orphans and widows), especially such a short word
  3. every number in the letter was written as ‘three (3) years’
    Frankly, people can either read or they can’t, so ‘three’ or ‘3’ is sufficient – adding both is unnecessary and looks wrong
  4. first sentence is 3.5 lines long…
    It was simply too long, both visually and for comprehension. When in doubt, go for shorter.
  5. lack of clarity throughout the letter
    The letter went from the consequences to the definition to the impact for me so it was hard to follow – I had no reason to care about the consequences until I knew the relevance and definition!
    Remember to explain the relevance of any information first. They could also have improved it a lot by using a sub-heading for the full definition of inactive account – I could skim that section or read it for details without feeling confused.
  6. a missed personalisation opportunity
    The letter stated ‘your account referred to above’ – it’s not hard to mail merge (and they were already merging in my name and address!) so why not use ‘your xyz account’ which is more personal and easier to read
  7. an entire section was irrelevant to me
    why include a long paragraph, including two bullet points, on offset deposit accounts when I don’t have one? Setting up a conditional rule on this paragraph would be easy to do so it only goes to relevant clients. Or at least have it under a sub-heading so it doesn’t clutter the main letter and distract from the meaning

 

Who are you communicating about?

Are your website, your emails, your flyers and your conversations about you (and your business) or about your (prospective) client and their business?

Robert Middleton has written a blog post on turning your marketing around to be more effective. That is, stop talking about your business services and features and find out about your client’s business and how you could help them.

By listening to people you become more personable and interesting to them and you get more insight to help their business succeed.

Think about it – do you care that I run a writing and communications business? Or do you care that I can save you time and worry by managing your communications project?

You want to know how you will be impacted by my services – and your clients want to know how you can help them reach their goals.

 What is your blog communicating?

smiling woman welcomes you

Are you communicating welcome and friendliness?

Have you ever analysed your blog posts for their content?

How many posts are about what you do or your products? And how many are giving information or tips that would help your client?

Are case studies or client stories about what you did? Or are they about your client’s problem and the results of solving their problem? The difference may seem subtle but one is me-centric and the other will be more effective at engaging your readers.

What is your website communicating?

Robert asked the question ‘how often do you see a website that’s “you-centered” instead?’ and it’s worth thinking about.

Do you prefer a homepage that rambles on about awards won, pride in service, years in business and pompous language, or one that addresses your issues and questions?

Have you looked at your own website and thought about its appeal to others? If you can’t see it objectively, ask others (friends, clients and professionals) what they think, what your site is communicating to them.

Even a few tweaks to your homepage could make it more appealing and therefore more effective.

One simple improvement you can make is to remove we/I and rewrite those sentences to include you instead.

Consulting new clients

Last week I referredto a post by Danielle Keister about admitting she is human and may make mistakes before she actually makes any. The other detail I got from her post was her insistence on having a consultation or meeting at the beginning of each client relationship.

I think a consultation is a valuble step in an ongoing business relationship but  it doesn’t matter as much when you are dong a small one-off task for the client. Given you are trying to make relationships with clients, here are some reasons to value consultations:

  • despite our increasing comfort in dealing with people electronically, there is something human and appealing in meeting a real person. Conversations with clients are often easier when you can picture each other and have an idea of who the other really is – think about how surprising it sometimes is to see a picture of someone you have heard or emailed with
  • you can set some ground rules and expectations
  • you can establish a better understanding of each other which can lead to easier communications as you work together. For instance, I have a client who knows me well enough that a brief outline of her requirments is usually enough for me to write what she wants, and that saves us both time
  • it can be a tool in screening out tyre kickers who would otherwise waste your time
  • sometimes you can determine that an effective working relationship is unlikely and move on before you both waste time and energy on it. This is hard for a new business, but having suitable clients and client relationships makes business much more fun and leaves you the resources to be a better job overall

However, it isn’t always practical to meet face to face with clients. Personally, I have had a small proportion of my clients in Melbourne with the rest being interstate or overseas. I have travelled interstate and to New Zealand to meet ith clients but it generally isn’t feasible.

So here are some other ways to build client relationships in the early stages:

  • use a phone and include some chatting as well as business talk – voip makes this an affordable option
  • invite the client to add you to our favourite chatting software (msn, yahoo, etc) so you can chat about projects
  • have an information sheet or webpage that outlines some expectations and procedures – use a friendly tone but make it clear
  • add friendly comments and questions to emails (e.g. how did your team go over the weekend? has the weather warmed up yet? how was your day/weekend?)
  • have a client questionnaire for all new clients to complete so you can learn about them quickly
  • take extra care to paraphrase their instructions and information to ensure you are understanding them and their communication style

How do you establish good relationships with clients from the begining? Do you insist on some sort of start up meeting?

Making an offer

A few days ago I wrote about a beautician sign offering 50% off clients, focussing on the poorly communicated message.

I have another issue with that sign, and their special offer for new clients.

Offering new clients a major discount (50% is big) may well bring in more customers and keep them busy, which is obviously a good thing for  business. However, there are some other parts to this offer:

  • how many of those clients will come back to pay twice as much for the same service? Does the business make enough profit from one half price service to warrant the discount if they never return?
  • are they cheapening their services with this offer? are they giving a message that their services are so over priced they can afford to take off 50%?
  • are they concentrating on new clients at the expense of existing, repeat customers?

There are other ways they could attract new clients through specials, such as:

  • new clients get a discount voucher for their second visit – even if it is the original 50% discount, at least they have paid full price once and you are teaching them to come back
  • customer rewards where they get a free {specific service} every five visits
  • new clients get a free {extra service} when booking over $x in services
  • new clients get a goodie bag on their first visit – include discount vouchers, relevant product samples, vouchers from complementary businesses, a chocolate, a branded pen/magnet/etc, and so on

What’s imortant to remember with special offers is that you continue to make a profit and that the offer won’t hurt you more than it helps.

Managing feedback

When I’m writing for some of my corporate clients, a number of people need to be involved in the document – usually a mix of technical experts and legal advisers, along with a manager or two. If you have ever had to deal with a committee consensus, you’ll know that this process can be frustrating and time-consuming.

The best results arise when everyone has the appropriate input with one or two people having responsibility for the final result – usually the writer and a senior manager.

Here are some of my tips to keep this process under control:

  • have all feedback come into a central place so it can be collated – and if a technical expert can collate it for you, even better!
  • as much as possible, get everyone involved to review the same draft by a specific deadline. This way, you can blend all of the feedback into the document in one go rather than having many drafts and missing details in the confusion. Most stakeholders then do not get another review – legal, management and you get to do final checks.
  • get the document as accurate as possible with one or two client representatives before it goes to the group
  • explain any potential issues before they start the review. For example, I often write ‘refer to page xx’ in a draft document rather than ‘refer to page 10’ to allow for layout changes. I warn clients of this when I give them the draft to save them and me dealing with page numbers unnecessarily
  • understand as much as possible who is who amongst the stakeholders. If Jane and Mary give opposing feedback – which should you rely on as technically correct and which is an opinion?
  • be willing to give way on some points if they aren’t important so that you can stand your ground on points where it is important – remember that the same information can be written in multiple correct ways, and it can be personal choice as to which is ‘better’

As a writer, it is my job to take their technical knowledge, legal requirements and document intentions and provide them with a clear, easy to read document. So sometimes I do exactly as their feedback requests (e.g. changing a measurement from 5mm to 5cm) and at other times I adjust their feedback for clarity.

Use your words wisely!

Unethical or ignorant?

Is ignorance an excuse for giving the wrong advice? Or is it as unethical as someone deliberately misleading a client for their own gain?

I have previously written about the integrity of businesses misleading clients, but how different it is if the supplier gives bad advice from ignorance?

If you are paying someone as an expert, you have a right to expect their information to be reliable and trustworthy. Let’s face it, if you had the information and knowledge yourself, you wouldn’t have asked them in the first place!

Some supppliers will give advice based on out-of-date information (“it worked in 1995 so why should we change it?”), personal opinion (“I don’t like brown therefore it is a bad colour to use in every situation” reasoning) or no knowledge at all. And they mean absolutely no harm by it and probably think they are helping you.

Personally, I don’t think that is professional or ethical – if you are charging people money for your knowledge, then you should have that knowledge to start with! And you should keep that knowledge up to date.

Have you come across this sort of ignorance in busienss? Did you consider it unethical for them to charge for knowledge they didn’t actually  have?