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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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AWPA Dinner

As a writer and communications consultant, I spend much of my working time at a computer and it’s not too glamorous, so it is nice occasionally to do something more interesting in the name of work!

Last night is a perfect example as I went to a function with a client (as their Communications Manager).

The Australian Women Pilots Association (AWPA) held their annual conference in Bendigo this year, so I went to their gala dinner and had a great night. In particular, it was great to see a male dominated industry have a strong female element supporting each other and encouraging young women to enter aviation.

CHinese dragon welcome in Bendigo

Some of the highlights of the night were:

  • a welcome from two Chinese dragons
  • hearing an Air force Captain {I wish I had written down his name at the time!} announce that the air force expects to have 25% female members by the mid 2020s, with 25% of applicants in the last year or so being female
  • sitting at the same table as the granddaughter of Nancy Bird-Walton, and hearing so much admiration for her and her peers
  • meeting various women with fascinating stories about how they (and others) got into aviation and how they have interacted with other pilots (such as one couple having may pilots visit them in bad weather as they had a runway on their country property)

I would love the opportunity to interview many of those women and write their stories. As a collection, I think it would be interesting, inspiring and a historical reference and record.

Do you know any female aviators? Or been inspired by any of their stories?

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

 

A new way to get creative!

We’re all creative, it just gets a bit lost under all the stuff we have to do as adults.

I think it’s sad that so many people say “Oh, I’m not creative – can’t draw a thing”. Creativity isn’t about being able to draw (well, not exclusively about being able to draw!) and certainly isn’t about doing things to some external standard (who’s to say the drawing I made for fun or to capture a memory isn’t any good? It may not sell for millions or get an art critic’s approval, but that doesn’t mean it’s no good for me.)

Creative just means being able to think in different ways. It’s useful for problem solving, innovation and having fun as well as for creative pursuits such as drawing, writing music and knitting a jumper.

I even think you need to be creative to write well for business materials – it’s not just fiction writers who use words and ideas creatively.

So I believe in doing things to encourage creativity – I try for myself and my children.

And I could write heaps more on developing creativity!

Song writing makes you creative

Yesterday, I had lunch with my young children and somehow we got onto rhymes and songs. As you do with two and three-year olds!

My son then challenged us to write songs. With rhymes. On topics he chose.

All while thinking of a tune to put the words with.

It wasn’t easy – and my songs wouldn’t win any awards or go platinum, but it was fun.

It also woke me up and I returned to my computer fresher and with great ideas. Getting creative sparked my brain into being more creative.

Try writing songs for yourself…

You don’t have to have a three-year old urging you – just spend five minutes writing some songs. And singing them, of course!

topics in creative song writingSome of the topics I was given yesterday were…

  • doctors and the sick people
  • cows eating grass
  • potatoes eating yoghurt, potatoes eating carrots
  • a cat with sticky tape

At worst, you’ll have a laugh and a change of pace. At best, you’ll be more creative and think of new ways to use words.

Feel free to share some of your lyrics in the comments, too, to give us all a giggle and some inspiration!

Are you brave enough to run this as an activity with your business team?

How to get writing, no matter what

Finding it hard to write on demand, struggling with ‘writer’s block’ or doubting your ability to get something written?

Staring not writing on laptop

Do you have the time to waste on not writing?

Long ago I decided I didn’t have the luxury of ‘writer’s block’ and I can write on demand rather than waiting for inspiration or the right mood. There are certainly times when I really don’t feel like it, but I have found ways to keep writing anyway.

Some people will say writing when you don’t feel like it means your writing isn’t as good. That maybe true for creative writing (although many novelists would disagree) but if you write professionally you have to meet deadlines for clients whether or not the whim takes you.

Tips for overcoming writer’s block – or writer’s hesitation

Here are some useful techniques, some are well known and some have been really valuable for me over the last nine or so years.

If you have any great tips on how you overcome writer’s block, please share your ideas in the comments section below.

  1. just write. It doesn’t matter what you write – just sit at a keyboard or with pen in hand and write for five minutes without stopping. It gets ideas flowing and sometimes gets doubts out of your head. You may find you are ‘in the mood’ well before your five minutes is up…
  2. forget the start. If you’re sitting in front of a blank page not knowing how to introduce a document, or what title to give it, start writing the middle of it. For an article, write the middle and come back to the introduction and title; for a longer document, choose any chapter but the first and write that. Apart from getting you started, an intro or title often needs revising once the rest is written anyway so leaving it to last makes a lot of sense
  3. if you know broadly what has to be written, write out all your headings and sub-headings for the document. It’s much easier then to just fill in the text between headings in whatever order you feel like
  4. give yourself permission to just write – don’t worry about typing perfectly, getting spelling and grammar right, or having the perfect word in every instance. Get your first draft written and your project is underway – much better to have it all written and spend time proof reading than to have only a paragraph or two written in the same time.
  5. know yourself so you can set up the best conditions for writing. It may be first thing in the morning, after doing some exercise, with music playing or in silence, at a keyboard on a desk, or any combination of circumstances but use your environment to encourage your writing
  6. like that proverbial elephant, don’t expect to tackle a big project in one go. Set yourself small targets – yes it can be ‘have the first draft finished by Thursday’ but it can also be goals like ‘write for 20 minutes then check emails’ as doing something hard or unpleasant is easier to face for a short time
  7. build habits – if you sit at your computer to write at 10 o’clock every day, your mind will expect that and be ready to write

When it comes down to it, the only solution is DO IT!

I find that if I don’t feel like it but start typing I get into it and can write the document easily – and often finish it ready for another! If none of the above helps get you writing, your other option is to ask someone else to write the document or web content for you.

Top six skills in a communications consultant or manager

I was recently asked to name a skill that has really helped me as a communications manager/consultant and for running my business.

The conversation got me thinking about the skills and abilities that help make a good communications person, and this is a list of the top six traits I came up with.

  1. ability to write well
    quill on paper by candle

    Writing basics are a good start in communications

    It sounds obvious, but you need to be able to write documents as required or at least recognise quality and issues  for provided documents and materials.

  2. coordination
    I spend a lot of time collating and implementing feedback, communicating client ideas and needs to designers, pulling together information from various sources and so on – if you can’t coordinate multiple people and tasks, managing communications projects will be a tough call.
  3. understand various tasks and roles
    I think it’s easier to work with designers, printers, marketers, programmers and the like if you have an understanding of what they do. It gives you common ground when discussing a project and a better idea of how long is required to get something done. That doesn’t mean I think I could do their jobs (I know I couldn’t!) but at least have an understanding of their expertise helps.
  4. confidence to take feedback professionally, not personally
    Not all clients will be nice about changes to work you’ve done, and sometimes criticism is harder to take than others, so you need to be able to work with feedback rather than get offended. You also need to know when to disagree with feedback
  5. good communication skills
    Being able to manage a communications program, maintaining website content, preparing reports and so on are the duties of a comms person BUT they must also be able to communicate with clients and suppliers to get the job done. Clear communication saves making errors and builds goodwill which you sometimes need to call on for urgent or difficult jobs
  6. be versatile and creative
    Different clients like to work in different ways, projects require various amounts of work and different tasks, some projects will develop in unexpected ways – there are many times that flexibility and creative problem solving come in handy.

    connecting jiqsaw pieces

    Finding how things fit together is a valuable skill

 

What other traits would you look for in a communications person to work with?

Have you come across a successful comms manager who doesn’t have all these skills and abilities?

7 reasons to write efficiently

So Ron Denholm showed us the costs of writing inefficiently, hopefully inspiring people to write succinct documents with simpler words.

However, reading costs aren’t the only reason to write efficiently…

  1. a shorter document is visually more appealing so is more likely to have people start reading it
  2. It saves people reading time and therefore money – great if the people are in your pay and good service for your customers
  3. if it is easier and quicker to read, more people will actually read it so your message will reach a greater audience
  4. quicker and easier to read also increases the likelihood that your readers will absorb the information and/or be persuaded by your argument
  5. the proportion of relevant keywords will be higher in a reduced word count so it’s probably going to do better for your search engine results
  6. it is much easier to proof read fewer words and shorter words so it will also save you time, especially for documents that end up with multiple rounds of feedback and editing
  7. shorter documents require less paper which can save money and the planet! It also means that designers have more space to add images or adjust the layout to best suit the document

 

Making web content attractive

As you work on your website, there are some key activities to making the site more attractive (and therefore effective) for both humans and search engines.

Of course the key feature of a successful website is providing useful information – great navigation and design won’t do much if the content is lacking – but the following activities will make the content more accessible.

1. write for websites

Website content is not the same as content you would write in a letter or a printed brochure. Our eyes work slightly differently on a screen compared to a page and people have different expectations so web content needs to be short and start with the most important information.
Website content also has the advantage of hyperlinks so it is easier to refer to other information directly, including defining words and terms away from the main content.

2. utilise keywords and phrases (we’ll cover this further in this series, too)

A keyword or phrase is what people and search engines look for to judge if a web page is relevant; so keywords for this blog post could be web content, content, website, effective and SEO.

In general, the more you use a keyword, the more your page will get noticed in relevant searches so it is important to know your keywords and put them into your content. However, you need to balance adding keywords with readability of the content.

3. tell people about your site (check on Friday for the next post in our series for ideas)

The best website in the world won’t bring in business if no one knows about it so get the message out there! Whether it’s telling your friends or paying for a TV ad, or a multitude of options in between, you need an ongoing process of telling people your website exists.

4. keep the site fresh and current

fresh apples or old

Fresh fruit & content has more appeal

Websites need to be updated and changed – you can’t just make it great and then leave it for years. While some content really doesn’t need regular updates (there’s only so many ways you can write “our phone number is 1234”!), frequently adding new content to your site gives people a reason to come back and makes it more attractive to search engines.

Some ways to keep your site fresh and current are to avoid unnecessary dates, removing old dates (e.g. for events in the past), add a blog or a feed (whether from a RSS feed or social media) and to add new portfolio items and testimonials.

5. link to related information

There are two main reasons to add links throughout your website content. Firstly, it can make things easier for your site visitors as they can find related information very easily. Being easy for your visitors gives them a good feeling about you and also means you can lead them along various steps to your action points.

Separately, search engines use links as part of their formulae in ranking your site against similar ones, so having more links to your web pages can help your search engine results – even links from your own site count.

 

This post is part of Word Constructions’ Setting up a website series
1. having a website helps more than you
2. what’s involved in setting up a website?
3. Learn about web hosting
4. Preparing your initial website content
5. Managing website design 101
6. Choosing a web designer
7. Basic web pages
8. Navigating your site

Saving time in blogging

Upfront let me say that I don’t think blog posts should be about a quick job just for traffic – a blog is a means of communication with the best blog posts having been considered and offering value to the readers.

However, there are certainly times when getting a post or two out fast is helpful or even necessary. For instance, if you’re writing a group of posts to cover an absence, a client has given you a rush job, or you’re writing guest blog posts and forgot to write your own then a quick-to-write post is better than no post at all.

So here are some tips on putting together some quicker posts without making low quality posts no one would ever want to read!)

  1. make a list of related posts you’ve written in the past. This still takes time but you don’t have to think of a topic or plan your words. It also helps linking within your blog and can be very handy for a reader looking for that topic. Regular readers may be less impressed, however, if this is a big deviation from normal or they have just read those posts anyway
  2. Delegate various tasks  to your team or outsource to someone else (a VA or ghost writer for example)
  3. prepare a list of quotes or stories that you can post quickly as needed. An inspiring quote can create an interesting post by itself, or you can use it as the starting point of a discussion
  4. keep a list of blog post ideas – a notepad, computer document or private blog post can be a handy reference point. It still takes time to write posts but it does save time if you don’t have to think of topics first
  5. Split a long blog post. If your current post is turning out to be very long, splitting it up gives you multiple posts and also is probably easier for people to read and comprehend
  6. get someone else to write the posts! Hiring a ghost writer is covered by point 2, but your other option is to use guest bloggers. This will definitely save your writing time but may take a fair amount of time depending on how you set up the arrangement.
  7. make some set blogging times each fortnight or month and write multiple posts in that time. It saves time to write a few posts at once because you have the program open and are in the right mindset. I like to have the occasional big writing session and schedule a post a week for as many weeks as I can manage so that I know I have posts coming up even if I’m unable to write for a few days. Alternatively, have a series of posts written and upload or schedule them at those times you really need to save time.
  8. look at some plugins as they can automate things to make life easier, depending on what you do with your blog. For example, I use subscribe2 to enable people to sign up for an email each time I post (rather than having to send an email myself) and leenk.me to tweet new posts to my twitter profile

What are your favourite time savers for blogging?

Meaningful posts that people love to read

happy readerI’m going out on a limb here but I assume you write blog posts and articles because you want people to read them for some reason (promote your business, share your point of view, etc). If I’m wrong, perhaps another post will be more meaningful for you!

I see two simple rules for getting people to love reading your posts/articles/newsletter:

  1. providing substance is more important (meaningful if you like) than just stringing together relevant keywords
  2. people who like what you write are more likely to come back to read more, and recommend it to others as well

I was prompted to write about meaningful posts by reading an article that sounded interesting. That is, the heading was about whether or not to build a website and it started by discussing the increased sense of needing a website in the small business sector in recent times. However, that’s as far as the article went – it gave a case study of someone struggling to get their web designer to finish a job and then learning building the website wasn’t the end point anyway.

From this example, I think we can learn

  • if you create a question or interest in a heading or introduction, you need to answer it within the article
  • each post/article should be on one topic – not reasons for website growth, optimisation and a case study rolled into one. One topic is simpler to read and understand, and splitting other topics out gives you more articles/posts to write anyway!
  • include something that makes it worth the time to read the article or post – generally this means give some information or insight, but it may mean entertain in some way. The article on building a website left me feeling I learnt nothing and therefore wasted my time – the result being I won’t be heading back for more of their articles

So next time you write for your blog, website or newsletter, ask yourself if you have made it meaningful and of value or if you have just put together some space filler. And then check if there is anything you can do to make it more meaningful.

Does it make sense?

I just read a blog post that jumped topics so I thought I’d give you a quick reminder to watch the flow of anything you write.

In the example I just read, one paragraph was an overview of a business change and the next paragraph commented on how a specific target seemed hard at the start. The target hadn’t been mentioned before so it didn’t make sense to me – a sentence or two in between these paragraphs would have explained the target and made the post flow nicely.

The reminder is to always check you haven’t skipped anything important for someone else’s understanding.