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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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Check questions are answered

Clear writing needs to flow so that each statement or each point you make follows on the previous one. As soon as your reader has to stop and think about how the ideas connect or gets confused from a jump in topics, your message is weakened.

It is especially important to directly answer any questions you may raise at the start of any communication*. For example, if the title to your article is ‘retire now or later?” then the article must give information about when to retire; if your article is really about building your super by retiring later, use a title such as ‘super and delayed retirement’ or ‘retire later with more super’.

Likewise, if you include the question ‘should I have a blog?’ you need to include positives and negatives to help a reader make an informed decision; if you just want to list advantages to blogging, use ‘ 10 good reasons to have a blog’ as the topic.

As well as being effective writing, answering questions you raise

  • gives you the opportunity to show (and share) your knowledge
  • allows people to quickly find what they are after (which they appreciate)
  • gives you a structure that makes the writing easier
  • avoids annoying readers with irrelevant information and misleading titles wasting their time

* Of course, this applies to informative writing – if you are asking questions to gather interest, don’t give an answer but you still need to ensure the question and following information are obviously related. For instance. “Too busy to cook from scratch?’ needs to be followed by ‘our recipes give you quick, nutritious meals’ or ‘our flavour sachets save you time and effort’, but not by ‘Whatsit Saucepans are dishwasher friendly’

Allowing learning…

I read a blog post called Tilda Virtual Services is moving – again! and I was impressed enough to write an answering post, as well as leaving Kylie a comment!

The background is that Kylie started a VA business from home a few years ago. As things were going so well, she moved into an office earlier this year – a big step for her and an exciting one! After nearly 6 months, Kylie has decided to close the office and operate from home again.

 Kylie took a risk and left her comfort zone by moving into an office. In doing so, she was able to change her work habits (no more midnight work) and define work and family better.

What I found inspiring about this is that Kylie has realised she is better suited to work from her home office, and has set up her business so that doing so is still feasible. Instead of just accepting the office as what she ‘should’ do as a successful business or worrying that moving out after 6 months is a ‘failure’, Kylie is doing what is right for her.

So often people let themselves get stuck into a rut because they think it is expected of them or don’t want to admit a previous decision was wrong. But why not admit a decision wasn’t right, but was worth trying?

As Kylie said “If I didn’t, I would have wondered if moving out was the right thing to do and I wouldn’t have developed my good habits so I don’t regret it at all. Life is a series of learning experiences and this was another one of those.”

Taking a risk doesn’t mean closing off options – it just means giving something new a go and then deciding what to do with the new knowledge and skills you gain from the experience.

Have you ever taken a risk and then decided to go back to how something used to be?

Too ignorant to know…

For many people, knowing what they don’t know is just about impossible. These are the people whose behaviour led to the saying “A little knowledge is dangerous” as they don’t understand how little they really know.

Consider a young child who has just learnt that 2×3=6. That child will proudly tell you she knows what multiplication is and how to do it. Yet if you asked her 34×76, she would have no idea how to solve it. As adults, we expect her to have limited understanding and give her time to learn more about multiplication – and encourage her learning to date.

What is a bigger concern is adults who act like that child – they know a few things and assume that makes them an expert – and charge people as if they have an extensive knowledge. Or use their assumed knowledge as a basis for applying for jobs above their level.

I have dealt with suppliers who believe in their own expertise to the point they can’t admit any ignorance or lack of knowledge. They assume a superior attitude to their clients and tell them how to do things, even if they are wrong. And even argue with clients who suggest or request an alternative.

The hard part is in dealing with these people as they aren’t likely to listen enough to learn how little they truly know, or even recognise how much someone has been coaching and helping them.

In some situations, I have taken the time to lead someone towards a greater understanding – and sometimes they have accepted the new knowledge, too! Some tips I have found to be more effective are:

  • never patronise them – they don’t like it any more than the rest of us!
  • occasionally add in why you are doing or requesting something even if you are in the position of being able to tell them. For example, I may say something like “I didn’t include that example because it was negative and I think a positive example will be more effective”
  • maintain their self-esteem by asking questions to either help you or confirm your understanding. Remember that they will have some expert knowledge even if not as much as you want or need!
  • if providing them with resources or information that may help them learn, present it carefully. Instead of “here, you need to read this”, try “I found this article very interesting – what do you think of it?” or “I’m not sure I agree with this document – do you?” or even “I want to go to this seminar – would you mind coming with me in case it gets too technical for me to understand?”
  • put your expected answer in the question so they can be involved in decisions and learn from the process. For example, “I assume that the second quote is better because it includes delivery as well. Do you agree?” may work better than “Which quote should we choose?”

We all have things to learn – and usually the more we learn, the more we realise we have a lot more to learn! So we can hope that giving bits of extra information to an annoyingly ignorant person will lead them to an understanding of their own limitations!

Use your words wisely!

Allude to an illusion

If you’re not careful with the pronunciation, allusion and illusion can sound very similar, and they are occasionally incorrectly swapped for each other.

An illusion is not real; so someone may have a false idea or see something that isn’t really there – they are facing an illusion.

Allusion is a reference to knowledge you assume your reader/listener understands, especially when referring to literary or art knowledge. For instance, I will make an allusion to Shakespeare’s work when I write: the young couple considered themselves to be as tragic as Romeo and Juliet. I can assume that most people know the story of Romeo and Juliet so the allusion explains a lot in few words.

To remember which is which, consider that illusion starts with I and often relates to a trick of the eye. Allusion starts with A and usually relates to Art and literature.

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?