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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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Highlight the important information

Let me guess – you’re busy. You don’t have time to read everything you ‘should’ or want to read. You often skim read things to decide if you will bother reading it in full.

Guess what? Many (if not all) of your clients are also busy and tend to skim read anything you send them, no matter how much effort you have put into every tiny detail.

Solution? Make sure the important information, and key attractors, are prominent and easy to find.

How can you make the important things stand out?

  1. make use of sub-headings
  2. put important things first – and by important I partially mean what people will be looking for. You can put things first by having those words at the top of the page or just more prominently. For example, putting tickets in larger font for a notice stating ‘Buy your tickets from the left cashier’ or write ‘tickets available this way’ will be more effective than ‘the left cashier is the only place to buy tickets’
  3. use white space around key points (for instance, in an invitation, leave the date, time and address lines short and uncluttered)
  4. use a bold font for critical information for people to skim across

Important information comes first…

Leading up to Christmas, we put together a sand pit for my son (and eventually his baby sister) as one of his gifts. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

I was very happy to see that all of the pieces were numbered so I didn’t have to figure out which piece went where, and the instructions (mostly in pictorial form) seemed simple enough to follow. However, it wasn’t always clear that each piece of wood had an up or down side so I had to undo and re-screw some bits.

Worst of all, though, was the fact that the kits came with screws of two lengths and it was only in step 8 of 9 that there was any mention of this. Continue reading

Chain reactions…

I came across a blog post about the domino effect and it got me thinking.

Obviously, one little thing left undone can cause another little thing to happen and so on until there is a problem – for example, miss one weeks back up of your computer doesn’t seem like a big deal until you have missed many weeks back ups and then your hard drive fails…

This is where contingency plansand attention to detail are important. Sometimes we get busy and it is easy to leave things until later (and the reality is that with only 24 hours in a day, some things have to be left until later) but we need to watch out for the important things not being forgotten. Maybe a set time each week to review important things could be a valuable use of time.

Here are five things I think should be regularly checked before they become a problem:

  1. overall safety – broken chairs, loose power cords, overloaded power points, faulty machinery can cause serious damage if left to get worse
  2. back up systems of data and software
  3. suppliers – little issues may build up until you are left unable to fulfill client needs so check suppliers are on track before it gets critical
  4. customer service – if you have staff, are they treating customers the way you want? are you keeping your word on things like sending out newsletters? how long does it take to reply to emails?
  5. accounts – is data processed with some regularity? do you pay invoices on time every time? are you aware of those customers who are slow payers?

Of course, not all domino effects are negative, so I’ll post about that tomorrow!

Importance of words

I have been reading an old newsletter and came across a message I thought I’d share with you – words are important to humans.

Think about the impact of the words you choose and use.

Think about what words have done to/for our world:

  • started wars
  • made people cry (or worse)
  • made people laugh
  • started deep emotional relationships
  • ended people’s lives
  • made people rich
  • given a lot of pleasure (doubt that? Think of your favourite book…)

Think of the impact of words on the careers of

  • ACDC, Midnight Oil, Silver Chair, Michael Jackson and Cold Play – would their music be as popular without their lyrics?
  • Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Kate Winslet, Cameron Dias and Bud Tingwell – how good would their movies had been without a script or with a mediocre script?
  • Kevin Rudd, Barack Obama, Julia Gillard, John Howard, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi – a speechless politician wouldn’t get very far
  • your favourite school teacher, sports coach and music teacher all needed words to make a career and help you

So remember the importance of words, and using the right words, when planning your business and your marketing. Don’t be fooled – the words you choose in your promotions and materials will impact on your success – or not.

Words are important so

  • choose appropriate words
  • proof read to be sure your spelling and grammar support your choice of words
  • check how words are perceived, not just what they mean (as a drastic example, the word gay means happy and cheerful but many people perceive it differently now)
  • use as few words as necessary to get the message across – think of words as important and limited

Use your words wisely!

What’s essential?

With the bushfires and floods, the global financial crisis and swine flu, every business should be thinking about having contingency plans in place. I gave some tips on preparing for a distruption to your business and being prepared, but real contingency planning requires even more effort.

A key step in ensuring your business can survive a major issue is understanding what is essential. Protecting and replacing the essential is what helps you survive – other things may be important  but are of little use if the essential factors are missing.

For example, it is important to have the Word Constructions website online but it is essential that I have a computer and software for preparing documents (yes, I can write with pen and paper but it isn’t very professional to hand that to a client!)

So what is essential in your business? Think about the essential equipment, skills, people, services and resources you rely on.

Imagine a dentist’s surgery without a dentist, an engineering firm with no engineers, a dressmaker business with no sewing machine, a hairdresser with no scissors and a referral agency missing its directories.

Make a list of what is essential for your business, and perhaps a second list of what is very important but non-essential.

Details count…

I wonder how any writer can downplay the importance of the details – if we all ignored grammar and spelling, our writing would become impossible to understand.

I’m the first to agree that spelling correctly and noticing the small aspects of grammar and flow are boring  – there’s no way to make them sexy or as appealing as catchy headlines or flashy imagery. But that doesn’t mean they can be ignored for good communication and good marketing.

Here are some reasons:

  • details show care – many customers will think “if he can’t be bothered proofreading or checking details, how do I know he can be bothered doing the details when working for me?”
  • details affect meaning –  using the wrong word (consider boy and buoy or assistants and assistance) or moving a comma can make a huge difference to the meaning. In business terms, some of my corporate clients are bound by regulations so little details are important to avoid legal and/or financial consequences – for them (and many businesses) details have to come above marketing
  • errors distract from the document – you want people to read the message of your business writing, not get distracted by lots of errors. As soon as someone notices an error or has to reread it for understanding, they are distracted and your message is diluted.

Personally, I wouldn’t consider using the services of a writer who states (or demonstrates!) spelling and grammar aren’t important in what they do – it’s like a doctor not worrying about the boring details of dosage in prescriptions or an accountant disregarding careful arithmetic!

We’re all human and the odd mistake can slip through, but they should be infrequent rather than acceptable.

To me, grammar is the foundation for good writing – if something is done well, you won’t notice the grammar but the message is clear. Do you notice bad grammar and poor spelling?

tracking advertising

A few days ago, I was reminded of the importance of tracking advertising through a story a friend told me.

The story: a company spent $60,000 or so on an advertising campaign, but didn’t implement any means of tracking the results of the ad. Meaning they have spent $60,000 and have no idea if it raised their brand awareness or brought in customers and revenue (I’m not sure which was the aim of their campaign.) So when the radio stations come back and ask if the company wants to repeat the ad, who knows if they should say yes or no…

The moral: tracking advertising is important for a number of reasons:

  • makes it easy to decide on a repeat of the campaign
  • helps you better understand your demographic (e.g. they may listen to the radio but not respond to the type of ad you ran)
  • assess the ROI (return on investment) and value of the campaign – $60,000 is nothing if it results in $500,000 of sales, but it is a ridiculous amount of money if it results in $100 profit
  • tracking and comparing different ads allows you to decide the most effective advertising for your business (e.g. radio vs TV vs major newspapers vs local advertising) PLUS you can tweak the actual ad to find the best presentation, too

Even if your budget is nowhere near $60,000, tracking of advertising is a worthwhile exercise.

Don’t assume that free ads aren’t worth tracking, either. Why?

  • the results from a free ad can be a useful comparison with paid advertising
  • free ads can be a great place to test different wording and formats for your ad before you pay for its placement (assuming a very similar audience of course)
  • if the ad is free in monetary terms but costs a lot of time, tracking will help you determine if you are getting enough reward for your time
  • a free ad may be attracting the wrong people – people who don’t become customers and use up your valuable time. If you know many false leads are coming from a certain ad, stop that ad even if it is free!

Have you used tracking with your advertising? Did you find it a useful activity, even if tedious and time consuming?

 

P.S. You can read more about the basics of tracking your advertising or assessing the results of tracking in my articles.

Make me feel important…

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important’. Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”
Mary Kay Ash

I just found this quote in the Small Business Diva blog and I  really like it.

From a business point of view, treating people as if they are important is a great way to build relationships and provide excellent customer service – and a good way to get word of mouth referals, too.

But more than that, it is a sensible way of treating every human being you come across – we are all unique and have our own talents and gifts that deserve recognition and respect. You never know who you are talking to – they could be the one who turns your life around or the one who desperately needs to feel valued.

So how do you make others feel important?

What’s in a name?

My daughter recently discovered that people didn’t live at the same time as dinosaurs. She was shocked and didn’t really believe it.

“But if people weren’t alive when dinosaurs were, then how can people know what they were called?” she asked.

It lead to a discussion of why we use names for things – even things that we don’t see in our everyday life. Names save us time, words and energy, as well as individualising us as people.

When writing, the choice of a name can be really important as names also set the scene. Names can give information about the person, such as gender, nationality, personality and age, and about the theme of the writing.

And it’s not just naming characters in fiction stories either. When I am writing something that includes examples, I take care to use names that imply a mix of people – for instance, using male and female names.

Word Constructions ~ for all your business writing needs