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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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Define ‘you’ for clarity

A clear message will get the best results.

An unclear message will literally cloud the waters, giving you confused, low quality or reduced quantity in results. For example, an unclear question will get meaningless answers and unclear shopping cart instructions will get fewer sales.

The word ‘you’ can be used to add clarity or obscure it.

When writing ‘you’, is it specific to the reader, a general term or someone associated with the reader? That needs to be clear, without thought, for the word to work as part of your message.

I just did a  quick survey which was aimed at parents and asked “How often do you make school lunches at home?” then “How often do your children get canteen lunches?”

In  my case, both answers were ‘never’ which may give the impression my kids starve! The reality is that I do not make their school lunches – they make their own.

Was the question specifically after how many lunches parents make or how many lunches are made at home? If the question was about home-made vs canteen, it was worded poorly and would have been better as “How often do your children take a home-made lunch to school?”

Have you seen other examples where ‘you’ is potentially misleading or confusing the message?

Price your message in context

At about the same time as I learned about aiming your content at your target audience, we looked for and bought another house and I learned another lesson from real estate agents.

In this case, the lesson was to understand your product specifically in the selling context.

First, the story… We found the house we wanted (and still happily live in) and decided to go for it at auction. The agents had shown disinterest in selling us the property (there was no way they would open it up outside of the allotted inspection times for instance) which is symptomatic of the whole situation.

We won the auction – yah!

The price was great – still a lot of money but cheaper than we would have expected. A house in the same block but on a main road and in bad condition sold for $500 more just a week earlier.

Signing the paperwork, it was obvious the owners and agents were very happy with the price as it was well above reserve.

Good to see a win-win for everyone.

Of course, the agents were less happy when they heard about the $500 more house near by. And were last seen driving towards it to see for themselves.

The point was that the owners had used non-local real estate agents who obviously thought our suburb was “lower” than the houses they usually sold so they devalued the property. They hadn’t done any research in the area so did not know the value of the land or comparisons with house styles in the area.

Our win but a valuable lesson – if selling, use someone who knows the product in the context of how it is being sold.

It’s like knowing you won’t get the same price for something at a school fete as you would in a craft shop in a tourist area.

Do some research to know your product, the context and what prices the market will accept.

Adjust your content to match, too – for example, ‘excellent value’ will work in many contexts, ‘exclusive touch of luxury’ will be out of place and ineffective at a school fete and ‘bargain bin’ does not inspire high prices.

Have you seen prices skewed because someone hasn’t understood the context or target market?

Unintended meanings

I was recently reminded that it is important to take care not to communicate anything different to your words and intentions. That is, your words may tell one story but the context will also communicate a message and you want them to match.

A sign in our motel during last week’s trip to Canberra read

Due to “health regulations” no pets allowed in rooms

The quotation marks are completely unnecessary and mean either the person writing the sign didn’t know that (not a great message to send out, but common enough) or they were making a point about the regulations. That is, the writer thinks the regulations are silly, inappropriate, ineffective, irrelevant or such and therefore calls them “regulations’ to point out they are not well accepted.

Maybe disagreeing with the regulations shows some support of pets and pet lovers, but to me it is not very professional or reassuring. If you have no respect for the regulations, how can I be sure you are sticking to them in ways I would want you to? If a health inspector visits, how will they respond to implications of inferior regulations?

When you consider every word you write, remember to also consider the surrounding details such as punctuation, images and placement so that you are not giving any unintended messages.

Communications is more than marketing

Although there is some overlap in the roles, there are distinct roles for a business or corporate writer, communications manager, marketing person, designer, web manager and social media manager or monitor.

Many people don’t realise there is such a range of roles behind the public presentation of a business, so here is my summary of the roles.

A communications manager oversees many of the processes involved in producing materials to promote a business. For example, a communications manager ensures an annual report is written, designed, printed and added to a website with all necessary people approving it. A communications manager may do some of the tasks themselves, manage a team of people to do the tasks or outsource specific tasks. Communications managers generally have a writing or marketing background.

A business or corporate writer actually puts the words together to effectively communicate a message in a style that suits the business and its customers. The writer also often edits material written by other people such as a letter from a sales manager or a marketer’s brochure. Sometimes a writer will also help implement the content such as posting to a blog or working with a print-based or online-based graphic designer to tweak the message to fit.

A web manager obviously manages the website, which can include tasks such as making changes, optimising the site for search engine results, updating the design or navigation, and maintaining data.

A designer makes the message as visually appealing as possible, whether that is a simple letterhead, a website design, branding or preparing some advertising banners and posters.

A marketing officer or manager is a little harder to define. It is a creative role of trying to get the business/message to as many appropriate people as possible. Marketing includes deciding where to promote the business as well as the key messages to promote, such as a tag line, campaign theme and suitable formats.

A social media manager or monitor is obviously a newer role but no less important for that. Social media is becoming more important as a means of promoting and building your business, but it can be time consuming and has some elements that (like most things) require specific skills and knowledge. You can get someone to monitor your social media appearances (ie they check various platforms each day to see what people are saying about you) or someone can manage your social media overall (such as making posts for you, planning a strategy and replying to mentions).

If you are employing someone, you may want to think through exactly what tasks you need done before choosing the role to fill, and someone who can do more than one set of tasks may be valuable (for example a writer who can update your website or post tweets for you).

However, if you are outsourcing, remember the roles are different and choosing the appropriate person will probably give you better results than expecting too much from one person (for instance assuming that your designer will proof read your writing or write some tweets to promote your new eBook could lead to disappointment).

Some projects will obviously take more than one role to fulfill, which may seem hard to manage in itself. In this case, outsource to someone who is willing to manage those other tasks for you rather than someone who claims to do it all themselves. I would never outsource design work to me for example, but I have relationships with some great designers so can manage a project by sub contracting to them – the difference in results is huge but the effort for a client is minimised.

Images in email marketing

A picture says a thousand words.

It’s true that a picture can convey a message very quickly and sometimes better than words, and can make any document more appealing. However, you need to be careful relying on images in your marketing.

Before making an image the central part of any email message, remember the following:

  • many people (I’d guess the majority, in fact) have images turned off so they won’t see the image by default. If your email relies on that image, your email is not going to work very well.
    Yes, sometimes people will accept images and then be able to see your message but I rarely do that if the image is pretty much the entire message as I want to know what it’s about before lowering my security – and I guess I’m not alone in that.
  • including a number of images, even if they aren’t the key message, can lead to a poor presentation of your email if images are turned off – not only are there lots of red crosses on view, but it may distort the layout of text, too
  • people have different perceptions and ideas, and some see a half empty glass so think carefully about about how your image may be seen. It’s not so bad if a supporting picture is misinterpreted as if it is a key part of your message
  • including many and/or large graphics makes your email much larger which may mean higher costs for you and again may limit it’s acceptance by all email servers
  • text in graphics and images themselves won’t help your search engine efforts (for emails online as well as sent out) although it does hide words from spam filters. Technology may be changing this but for now it still matters!

So what do you think when you receive an email that is based entirely or predominantly on graphics? Are they as effective in getting your interest as text based emails?

And don’t forget to support your email marketing, too.

Think about the order of information…

Getting frustrated may be part of life, but I don’t find it particularly enjoyable. It’s even worse when it could have been avoided so simply, too.

There is some software I am considering purchasing to use for a client as the freeware doesn’t have al the features I need. There’s a question I need answered first so I looked through their FAQs which didn’t answer my question.

They suggested asking intheir forum so I did. Only to discover, in small print in a directory listing not linked to originally, that the forum is old and questions unlikely to be answered. I wish they had made that clear elsewhere – or stopped people being able to ask questions instead of wasting my time.

So, then I used their contact form – filling in name and email and a nice message explaining what I needed. Form worked nicely but the next message was “You can’t contact us directly anymore”. Again, why not tell people that before they fill in your form? Why waste their time and, presumably, cause more emails to come to their inbox?

Whatever their reasons for not providing customer support, I don’t think there is any excuse for not putting messages in place to save people’s time. It would cost them nothing to have put the message before the contact form instead of afterwards, but would save aggravation for customers and give them a much more positive image.

So remember the sequence of messages can be critical for efficiency and estalishing good relationships.

Sending a Christmas message

Putting some Christmas cheer in an envelope

We’re heading for Christmas and most businesses are trying to be prepared for the December rush.

Many businesses send a Christmas email to their customers, supporters and suppliers so here are some tips for writing your email…

  • if possible, use the person’s name so your Christmas message is personal
  • even if your usual business communications are formal, make this message casual and clearly from you – you are sending the email in appreciation and to share goodwill, so don’t think of it as a business document. However, spelling, grammar and making sense are still basic elements of your email
  • if you and/or your customers are not Christian or simply don’t believe in Christmas, send a “season’s greetings” message instead. Even better, make it an “end of year” message
  • keep it short – this isn’t the time for a sales pitch or news, just give your best wishes and leave it at that
  • still include the basics of a good email – useful subject line, unsubscribe details (if you are using a list rather than truly personal emails) and contact details
  • put your message in the body of the email, not as an attachment or in a graphic

Adding some cheery graphics and/or colour is nice, but not essential; if you do add graphics, make sure the email doesn’t become too big.

New weight loss system?

I was on a walk yesterday, and I noticed a sandwich board out the front of a beauty shop. As well as the usual details, it included some text to the side as if to attract attention. The text was:

50% off new clients

If you are very overweight, you may be happy to know they could remove 50% of you (I wonder if you get to choose where the 50% comes from?) If you aren’t overweight enough to want to loose 50%, we can only hope they don’t remove other parts of you!

Of course, what they really meant was new clients pay half price on their usual services – but it is important to write what you mean rather than assume people can understand you.

How could it have been better?

50% off for new clients {yes, adding one word makes all the difference!}

OR

half price for your first visit {longer, but very clear and also shows the discount is for only one visit}

Have you read your marketing messages to be sure they say what you mean them to?

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?