Welcome!

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

Refer to older posts…

Blogging services

business info & tools

How to use important points…

Notes on teh end of tree branches

Conferences notes can lead in many directions, every one can be important and strong. You just need to find the right notes for you.

There are great quotes around. Some of them can be very inspiring or lead you to new ideas that can change your life.

I think we all come across great sayings, lyrics, words that make us think. Yet it is so easy to forget them in the everyday or hear so many at once that the wisdom doesn’t have the opportunity to really sink in.

Seminar and workshop notes

As I am watching the twitter feed for PBEvent, I can see many nuggets of information and wisdom that are great and worth taking note of.

For example…

Final roadblock – the comparison trap. If you’re compelled to compare, compare yourself now to when you started. Not to others. Darren Rowse

How do we do what we were born to do?, asks @ClareBowditch. We Begin. Carly Findlay

The best businesses and blogs solve a problem in the world. ProbloggerEvent

I am trying to write down those that really stand out to me – which is sometimes a challenge to keep up with the feed speed and write. But it is obvious that getting information solely through the twitterverse is limited in two ways.

For one thing, it is going past so fast that I can assess something is important and/or useful but not really process it.

The other is that there is no background context. This means I may be missing part of the point, of course but also that there is less opportunity to absorb the bigger picture and get my own ideas sparked by little things said.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m loving the technology that allows us to share in the event despite not being there! Twitter is live and awesome, virtual recordings later, it’s all good!

And I often shares tidbits of information when I attend a conference, webinar or whatever, too as it helps me cement ideas and I like to share. And I figure tidbits are better than nothing.

Making use of those tidbits or information and wisdom

So how can we maximise these bits of stuff we’re getting via tweets or quote websites and the like?

Please share your ideas and how you learn from others in the comments below – I want to learn rather than get overwhelmed or miss the very points I notice!

So some ideas from me to get us started…

  1.  focus on one medium at a time – trying to keep track on twitter and Facebook while listening to recordings will send you mad I think! I’m watching twitter now and recordings later.
  2. write down some of the points that really stand out for you – you just can’t write them all down!
  3. if following on Twitter, retweet some of the good ones. It helps share the love obviously but also gives you a reference point to go back to for information later
  4. if people share links, open them but leave them until later for reading – blog posts and the like will wait 🙂
  5. I know tweets are short, but feel free to shorten them if it helps! As long as it still makes sense to you, skip words and abbreviate other words
  6. Join some conversations where you can – it can add depth to things. Obviously not easy on a busy twitter feed but it is interesting and works along the usual social media premises.

Have you ever followed a live feed for an event?

How did it go? Did you learn enough to make it a worthwhile experience?

 

 * image courtesy of 123rf

Communications can win or lose votes

I don’t watch politics for fun. In fact, I don’t like politics very much at all and I often find their behaviour childish. Childish in a way I wouldn’t tolerate from any actual children…

Yet I am going to write a blog post inspired by a politician and Saturday’s election. It is mainly about their communications so no need to hide from another political statement!

Checking my options

Boat allowed to enter Australia

I am proud of Australia and am willing to welcome refugees.

Earlier this week, I went to a number of websites to find out more about the smaller parties. Namely because I can’t bring myself to vote for either major party this year – blocking refugees asking for help is simply wrong.

On each site, I looked at their policy ideas and details on their candidate in my area.

Learning from their websites

Based on reviewing a few sites covering the same basic idea (ie what the political party stands for and why we should vote for them), here are some useful website tips for us all:

  1. Summaries and simplicity are good.
    A short summary of each policy area with a link to greater details made one site much easier to read and quickly gave me an overview of the party. The lists of actual policies were also brief and to the point. It was therefore easy to decide whether or not I liked them.
    Other sites waffled on or gave me a long list of policies to choose from which was more intimidating than  a single-page summary.
  2. Dead links are frustrating and reduce your credibility.
    One site had my local candidate listed but every link on his name took me to an error page. Given I found the rest of the site a bit vague, I really wanted an impression of him to make a decision. Instead, I was frustrated and didn’t feel the party was very professional or reliable.
  3. Explain who you are fast.
    One site (and I spent very little time on their site once I started reading their offensive nonsense, so maybe there’s a reason for their web design!) had a huge banner and blog posts on the home page. It gave me no idea of who they were (not even that they are in fact a political party) which is what I wanted to know – their latest news is in the realm of politics I don’t care about!
    A clear tagline, an introduction or useful imagery can give information to site visitors quickly and makes life easier for people.
  4. Show information, or don’t – changing is annoying.
    I clicked through to an inner page which was basically a list of questions. Initially, I saw questions and answers but as I was part way through reading the start of one answer, it disappeared to show me a list of questions. Obviously, their software is set to narrow the content to just the questions but the loading time was so slow it showed answers first. Very frustrating to deal with as a site visitor.
    Have you checked how your clever settings actually work for site visitors? Often a simple solution works consistently so is better than a fancier option.
Choices about who to vote for - clarity, trust, briefness and more

What characteristics are important in choosing where to vote or spend your money?

Learning from the candidates

Remember how I couldn’t find information about my local candidate above? I found a media release about him and some others in his party which my local candidate had replied to in the comments.

There is both good and bad to be learned from those comments…

His first comment was long. Maybe a third of a page without paragraph breaks long (lack of structure may be due to the software, which is on the party not him, so I’ll give him a pass there!) It started with a lot of impressive words strung into a sentence or two that made absolutely no sense. Instantly I had no faith in him and no desire to vote for him.

The lesson – make sure anyone representing your business online can write reasonably well or do it for them. A genuine message is better than trying to impress readers.

However, I will give him credit for answering multiple people’s questions to the media release. Responding to comments and questions showed enthusiasm and passion, and listening to people is a precious commodity when it comes to politicians.

Yes, some of those answers were long winded and were nice ways of fobbing off hard questions but he was trying.

The lesson – respond to people online to build rapport, show your personality and gain another opportunity to explain your purpose or skills. Remember, people may see this rather than your carefully crafted profile – especially if a link is faulty!

What have you learned from this election?

Have you come across examples where a politician or political party has communicated well or poorly?

Maybe some of the above examples have inspired you to check your own website with a different perspective. If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below…

While I am not going to vote for a party just because they did the best job with their website, being able to easily understand the party does influence my choices.

Just like as a business owner or consumer I am not going to buy something just because you have the prettiest website, but I am more likely to trust you (and thus give you my money!) if your site is professional, simple to use and inoffensive.

But based purely on my descriptions of their websites, who would you vote for from the above examples?

Personally the first site I mentioned would get my vote – their summaries and easy-to-navigate site made it easy.

What do you know about blogging?

On one hand, blogging is simple – put some words into a blogging platform and publish them. Make them good words and you’ll get lots of readers.

On the other hand, there is a lot of skill, strategy and knowledge that goes into running a good blog. And a lot of different measures for deciding if a blog is successful, or not.

leanring ABC of blogging

There is a lot to learn about blogging – but the important aspects are already with you

So what do you know about blogging?

What do you want to know about blogging?

Do you know why you care about blogging?

This isn’t a trick question I can give you an answer to.

I do think it is important to know why you are blogging (or thinking of blogging).

If you know why, you can make your blog suit that purpose and you have something to measure your success against.

For instance, if your aim is to build awareness of topic X, you can decide if 10 targeted readers is enough or if you need thousands of readers a week. Whereas if your aim is to blog to build  a habit of writing 200 words a day, a look at your post dates is an easy measure of your success.

I recently read a post by Rhianna which lists what she knows about blogging. It isn’t a technical list of how long posts should be, the best post frequency or choosing great titles, but a more basic list of what she knows about herself and her blogging purpose.

Like the Cheshire Cat said, how will you ever know you have arrived if you don’t know where you are going?

In a business context, I think this becomes even more important as time blogging could be spent elsewhere for perhaps greater profit – how do you know the blog is ‘working’ and worth the effort if you don’t know what it is meant to achieve for your business?

Even if you hire someone like me to help write or edit your blog posts, you need to know the purpose of your blog to assess it’s worth. And give direction to the writer.

So in the comments below, let me know why you blog. Or put in your ideas of maybe why you blog to help form your final answer and see if that changes how you blog.

* Images courtesy of 123rf

Simplify online forms for everyone’s sake

Filling in the account details on a website form today I was reminded of how difficult things can be when someone assumes knowledge.

Yes, we all KNOW that if you assume you make an ass out of u and me. But that doesn’t stop many of us making assumptions that we shouldn’t.

And I suspect that online forms is one area where people just get a form put together quickly without really thinking about making the form easy to use and highly effective.

Excerpt of an online order from on Love Santa's website

Simple text, plenty of white space and provided options make a form much easier to fill in.

Contact forms need to be simple to use

Today, I was faced with two boxes under the title ‘Your name’.

So I had to figure out if they wanted Tash then Hughes or Hughes then Tash, or maybe Tash Hughes and the second box shouldn’t have been there at all.

It was obvious to the person creating the form what they wanted, but not so obvious to me, the paying client.

With just a little more effort on their part, the form could have been better labelled or set out and thus been much simpler to use.

Complex and unclear forms lose sales

I reread a blog post recently that gave a perfect example of how a simple form impressed a potential client – and a vague form (that was also hard to find) turned that client away from the business.

A poor form can be that serious – people may not be patient enough to work through the issues so you could lose a customer. And possibly earn some bad comments elsewhere.

Making your forms simple

There are many ways to simplify a form, whether it is an order form, contact form or an online survey/feedback form. And what works with one form may not work well with a different form, so there is no simple answer for making your forms effective.

However, here are some generic tips to help you keep your forms simple:

  1.  think about what information you really need to meet the purpose of the form THEN write the questions to gather that information. And decide which of those answers is a must-have, and which can be optional
  2. think about who is going to use your form then choose wording and question styles to suit them as much as possible
  3. use one label per box*
  4. provide options to choose, rather than text boxes, where possible. So a street or suburb field needs to be empty but you can give a choice of states
  5. in a select an answer question, don’t give more options than necessary – if your provided answers don’t cover all possibilities, add ‘other’ or ‘custom’ as your final option
  6. reduce clutter around the page
  7. use clear wording to explain what you expect in each field
  8. use consistent wording. For example, if the first field is ‘your name’ make sure the next field is ‘your address’ not ‘my address’
  9. make the final button obvious – both in placement and size but also in the text you use. It is more effective to have a button that says ‘place order’, ‘send message’ or ‘request quote’ than plain old ‘submit’ – just like the ‘tweet’ button on Twitter and ‘publish’ button in WordPress.

Got any questions about making your forms simpler and effective? Why not ask below as a comment, or send me an email?

* If you are using a form with one box per letter (usually only for printed forms), this tip becomes use one label per obvious group of boxes.

Image of form courtesy of Love Santa

How businesses can use templates

So I’ve posted about poor template use and given some tips on maximising your use of templates.

But maybe you’re wondering what sorts of templates you could use in the first place. Or whether it is worth the effort to prepare a template.

What are templates for?

Advanatges of using templates - and diadvnaatges of not using templates

Templates have so much to offer a business…

Templates are great for

  1. saving time as you don’t have to start a document from scratch each time you use it. This applies to commonly used documents (so you save time regularly) and infrequently used documents (so you don’t have to search for the ‘last time you did something like this’ to find the details).
  2. ensuring consistency over time and between staff members. A template means everyone says the same thing so there is no confusion.
  3. building your brand through consistency in style as well as consistency in the actual message. Imagine one staff member writes formal letters while another writes casual letters in the same circumstances – a template means both use the same style.
  4. ensuring all important details are included. In the rush of everyday, it is easy to write something and forget a particular detail; a carefully prepared template will have those details (either in full or as a field for you to enter the correct information)

So, what templates can we use?

Ok, that’s as easy as answering ‘what letters can we use in our business?’

There are many different things that can be put into a template for improved efficiency and branding. So this list is a sample to get you thinking of what can be changed in your business.

  1. one-off use of major business document templates like a style guide, marketing plan, business plan and personnel manuals. (Note by one-off I mean the template is generally used once but the document itself is updated periodically).
  2. regularly used documents such as sales letters, enquiry letters/emails, welcome letters, overdue accounts notices
  3. briefs for suppliers such as writers, designers, programmers
  4. an outline template for items such as blog posts, management reports and media releases
  5. general stationery can be set up as templates – for example, a letterhead can have the date/name/address/greeting fields prepared and a prepared minutes format can make reporting on meetings much easier
  6. technical and/or legal documents such as terms and conditions for competitions, customer contracts and instruction manuals/guides.

What other templates have you used that have made your business life a bit simpler and easier?

Enthusiasm generates interest

young girl cheerleader with pom poms

You don’t have to have cheerleaders to show enthusiasm…

Enthusiastic sponsor mentions generate interest for the sponsors and the supported organisation. I’ve been watching it happen.

I’m sure you’ve seen lists of sponsors before, whether it is for a conference, a charity event or a local club or group. Listing sponsors is fine, but how often do you really take notice of many of the sponsors in such a list?

An enthusiastic thanks

Recently, I have seen some gratitude to sponsors that stood out – and made me truly notice the sponsors. Ok, I haven’t actually used those sponsors since then but I have a higher opinion of them now than before!

The Heartkids 24 hour bike-a-thon is basically promoted via a Facebook page. Whenever a new sponsor joins in, an enthusiastic, heart-felt (sorry, no pun intended) update is added to the page to thank the sponsor.

Occasionally, other mentions of the sponsor are made as an update, too.

Heartkids charity bike marathon poster for 5 to 6 October

The Heartkids charity bike marathon – a good cause and a good business example.

And as a shameless plug, the bike marathon would love more sponsors or donations if you feel inclined. I’ll be doing a small part of the bike riding, but the more support generated for Heartkids, the better.

Adding enthusiasm…

For the Heartkids bike marathon, this is not a marketing ploy – there is genuine gratitude and excitement behind those status updates.

If you have real enthusiasm, how can you show it in your business?

If you don’t have real enthusiasm, it will probably show through so what can you be enthusiastic and passionate about to gain that interest?

Put the enthusiasm and passion in – someone like me can always tweak the words to read well – and people will instinctively been drawn to what you are saying.

Winning despite poor template use

I may soon be $5,000 richer.

Australian money falling into email

Money pouring into my email – a lovely idea!

Then again, I may not be as I know my chances of winning a competition are somewhat less than 100%!

Reading the competition terms…

I just entered a competition, after looking through the terms. I don’t read the terms in full but I always check if there are unexpected uses of my email address before I give it to someone.

In this case, adding me to a single mailing list was acceptable so I entered.

However, I also noted a few things in the terms that were silly.

I think they have used a generic set of competition terms, adding in a few specific details but leaving everything else as it was in the template. To me, this looks like they were too lazy to bother writing or editing their terms.

Let’s assume they had permission to use that template rather than breaching copyright by copying someone else’s terms. They could still face legal issues if something in the template doesn’t apply to their current situation – like how winners are notified.

Dubious terms

To enter, I gave my name and email address – no postal address or phone number.

According to the terms, if I win, I will be ‘contacted by phone and email’. Interesting idea given they don’t have my phone number…

A single prize of $5,000 is on offer to the winner. Yet, ‘the prize… is not transferable as cash.’

This competition is ‘only open to everyone worldwide…’ The use of only and everyone doesn’t quite work  – presumably it makes more sense for competitions where ‘only open to customers’ or ‘only open to Australian residents’. A quick read of the completed sentence could have shown the wisdom of deleting ‘only’.

Have you ever seen someone use a template without thinking to update all the relevant details in it?

Was the result funny or did it damage the business’ reputation (or both!)?

Giving a wealth of choice…

I often pick up surveys for errors they make – it is unfortunately a common occurrence.

Today I spotted one that used perfect grammar and made perfect sense. The question listed the following options for someone’s gender:

  • male
  • female
  • intersex
  • other (please specify)
  • prefer not to say

For a question where I am used to see two possible answers (male and female), such a long list surprised me!

How much is too much?

Blank page over a list of bullet points

When talking to clients, I talk about writing from their points or from scratch – I don’t list writing blog posts, webcopy, disclosure documents, annual reports and letters. Fewer options make their decision easier.

How many choices make it hard to choose?

For a question with a clear answer (like how old are you or do you live in Australia), a lot of choices can work as you can skim across the options to find the relevant response.

But at other times, a large choice can hamper people actually making a decision.

I think there is a balance between not restricting people, offering them options, and overwhelming them with choice. Especially if some of the options are going to be chosen by a very limited number of people.

In business, too many choices can result in people being indecisive and not buying.

I know it can be hard to not offer something (what if my next potential client wants exactly the thing I don’t mention?) but considering if less is more can simplify and help your customers.

You can always add a note somewhere to the effect of ‘if what you want isn’t listed, give us a call’.

So how many options does your business offer?

Have you considered if it is too many, or how it could be simplified?

Without context, messages get lost

In an article about Australian Standards on what I thought a national-focus site,  the following section stood out…

The retrofitting of automatic sprinkler systems became a mandatory requirement for existing aged care facilities in January 2013. Similar requirements also exist in Victoria and Queensland.

Fire sprinkler image over WA, not rotecting the rest of Australia

Does a national law only cover one state?

So two states have similar laws to the national laws? Why are the national laws not, well, national?

Or is the author just assuming everyone knows he is writing about a particular state because it is so important and somehow obvious?

Or was something edited out that made it clearer in the draft?

Fire safety is important – but so is clarity so people understand your message.

Clarify your context…

When proof reading and editing, always make sure you read your writing from start to finish to check the correct context is in place.

A better way to write the above sentence (and I’m guessing which state is the assumed one!) would be…

 

In January 2013, the retrofitting of automatic sprinkler systems became a mandatory requirement for existing aged care facilities in Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland.

I think it would also be nice to add another sentence along the lines of “The other states are reviewing their laws” or “Currently the other states have this as a voluntary measure”. I prefer to get the whole picture, but that could just be me!

If you want to avoid similar errors, let me know – I offer proof-reading and editing services as well as writing 🙂

Social media – quality or quantity?

Quality vs quantity – this question comes up many times in life, and the answer can vary between situations.

So what do you think is important for social media?

Positive results from quality followers vs poor results from quantity of social followers

Some of my thoughts about quantity vs quality of social media followers

Quantity…

Is it a matter of ‘she with the most social media followers wins’?

How far can you go to get new followers – should there be boundaries or just get as many as possible?

Quality…

Or is it better to nurture a smaller number of followers who actually are interested in what you have to say?

Quality followers, to my thinking, are those who will read my updates, maybe respond or follow through on links, and hopefully share my comments and/or links.

A hand connecting people in a diagram

You can give a quality audience a hands-on approach

Quality followers are the ones worth building a relationship with – and that’s easier with a smaller number, too.

Choosing a strategy

I don’t think you can get quantity and quality.

That is, you can get a lot of quality followers and growing your base is not a bad thing in itself. But if you focus on getting many followers the odds are many will not be quality followers and are just there because they were paid or get some other benefit from it.

Like anyone, I like to see my followers increase in number (there’s a bit of that school yard popularity desire in us all I think!) but I don’t make it my priority. I prefer to gain followers who genuinely want to hear from me.

Which strategy do you prefer?

Do you think it varies with different purposes of a social following?

Building quality followers

The obvious technique is to provide quality content on your social media platforms.

I won’t follow anyone (no matter how popular they are or how important others tell me they are) if their social media pages are full of boring chatter or self-promotion. If I’m going to invest my time reading their updates, I want them to be worth reading. So I assume my followers (and potential followers) feel the same way.

Not every update will be awesome, and some chatting is also good, but the bulk of the updates need to provide some sort of value – even if I can see the value despite it not applying to me at that time.

Requesting followers

Asking people to connect with you in social media is fine – to a point.

On platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook, you can only connect with an individual (as distinct from a company page) by inviting them to be a contact. But I resent getting invitations from complete strangers who don’t even bother to add a note to the invitation. A friend can get away with that, as I know who they are, but why I should I connect with a stranger? Especially a stranger who is giving the impression that spamming is ok – I don’t want connections who will bombard me with nonsense.

My advice – if inviting someone on LinkedIn, add a few words to show you are a real person asking and that you know who you are asking. For best results, show how you can give them some value for connecting.

Gary Loper recently tweeted “Begging people 4 a RT is sitting on a corner begging 4 change. Let peeps RT u naturally”. And I have to agree – I don’t like tweets that ask to be retweeted and have never retweeted one – including some that I was inclined to retweet until I saw the request (yes, I can be stubborn!) If someone likes my tweet, they’ll share it anyway is my thought. Asking is like young children asking ‘will you be my friend?’ or asking a stranger to pay for your lunch.

Yet I have heard statistics suggesting asking for a retweet increases the chances of being retweeted. I don’t understand it, but there you go!

How do you build your social media followers? Are you focusing on relationships or numbers of followers?

* Images courtesy of Word Constructions and 123rf