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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identifying annual report tasks

Pile of reportsI find it interesting how little many people know about the process of writing and preparing annual reports.

Many people just accept an annual report exists, glance it and forget about it. Other people think annual reports are a good idea and that someone can just sit down for a few hours (maybe a couple of days) to write the report.

If only it was that simple!

I have already started on one client’s annual report – it won’t be released until September, so that gives you some idea of how long it can take.

So here is a list of tasks involved in producing a professional report that meets all legal, business and branding requirements professionally:

  1. checking what legal and regulatory requirements apply and ensuring those requirements are met. I often start with  checklist of topics to include so I don’t forget any of them
  2. deciding on a theme, if suitable, as this will influence the exact wording and design, and possibly some of the actual content
  3. collating relevant information, such as major events, financial reports, directors’ details and performance data
  4. arranging the design and layout – this may mean finding a designer or using an in-house person, but will require time and various drafts
  5. writing the actual content – which may include writing the bulk of individual reports (Chair’s report, CEO Report and so on) and writing marketing material
  6. collating relevant images to be used in the report – or editing and approving those collected by the designer
  7. deciding on marketing elements and then preparing them – you can insert ads for various products/services or even accept external ads as long as you have space and it meets all relevant rules
  8. editing, rearranging and refining to get everything to fit nicely!
  9. coordinating feedback from a variety of people (for example, technical, financial, legal, marketing and company experts)
  10. reviewing final drafts to ensure the report meets the requirements from step 1, meets the business style guide, has all spelling and grammar correct, is readable, appears professional and somewhat attractive, has all correct numbers (check phone numbers, ABNs and addresses are perfect as typos are easily missed) and is approved by the responsible people
  11. arranging printing – even with digital copies available, some printed copies are usually required – and digital access (formatting and uploading the document and adjusting webpages and links to make it accessible)

There also the additional tasks of arranging distribution (so designing and printing envelopes, arranging mailing lists and stuffing envelopes) and any other materials to go with the annual report (such as member statements, renewal forms and marketing flyers) that may be part of ‘writing the annual report’ or managed by someone else.

It is a lot of work and there is certainly some pride in the final result of your hard work, but it can be a little frustrating when you realise that many people just don’t open or read the annual reports they are given!

Choosing a web designer

Without a good web designer, it’s very hard to get an effective website live to grow your business so here are my top tips in picking a good designer for your business.

  1. make sure you are comfortable with them – if you can’t communicate you’re fighting uphill before you start
  2. look at the designer’s (not the design company’s) portfolio to be sure you like their work – and that they don’t all look like replicas of the same site
  3. check their credentials – do they have relevant training? how much experience do they have?
  4. ask others for feedback – check within your network for previous clients of the designer. And that includes asking your social media networks, too.
  5. make sure you are very clear on what is (and isn’t) included in the price – remember to check details like copyright and licensing on tools
  6. ensure you get full access to your site once it is done – you don’t want to be locked into the designer making every little change on your site moving forward (even if you want them to manage it most of the time, give yourself options)
  7. customer service – if it is questionable during the query/quote phase, do you want to assume they will answer emails quickly when your deadline is approaching?
  8. personal contact – bigger companies may give you an account manager rather than direct contact with a designer. Personally, I find it easier to talk with the designer than let my comments go through a third person and to be sure I get the same designer, but if you relate to the account manager you may be happy with that arrangement.
  9. convenience – is the designer local enough to see them? Or are you comfortable enough to work via email/phone/etc?
  10. price – look at what it includes before comparing it and remember that neither the cheapest nor the most expensive are automatically the best. Freelance sites, in my experience, under pay so I wouldn’t look there for realistic prices or the best designers
From personal experience, I thoroughly recommend Web Graphics By Email (although they are booked out for months) and Shel Design (very professional and accommodating).

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

related content – how do you choose a good writer?

Be professional with the little things…

It amazes me sometimes how people ignore some of the little details that are so easy to deal with.

I read recently that someone would never take advice from a financial planner who can’t afford a quality tie (bad taste is a different issue, of course!) My equivalent statement is that I would never hire someone for SEO help/advice or other digital services (social media marketing, web design, ecommerce, etc) if they can’t be bothered setting up a non-hotmail, non-yahoo email address – Gmail and IP provider emails are not really any better.Receiving professional emails on your laptop

The blog I looked at yesterday came to my attention by the owner asking for guest blog posts. He provided a domain name and his Hotmail details. Why on earth doesn’t he have an email based at that domain name? Especially for someone claiming to know about SEO?

This is a pet peeve, but there are some valid reasons to use a domain-related email address:

  • it builds trust to use your domain name – you have taken the time to get a domain name and matching emails so expect to be in business for more than five minutes
  • it looks professional
  • Hotmail does not build credibility – many people use Hotmail as untraceable email addresses so it is not always seen as reputable. Have you noticed a number of places won’t accept a Hotmail address when you register?
  • every time someone receives your email, you can promote Hotmail/Gmail/your ip provider or you can use your domain name and promote your business. No brainer to me
  • it shows you pay attention to the little details in your business so probably care about your products/services
  • it gives consistency, especially when you list your contact details in one place like on a business card or the end of an email
  • you don’t have to change your email address if you change ip providers or the email service stops (or changes rules in a way you don’t like)

When can a professional writer help?

It isn’t only people who ‘can’t write’ who use the services of professional writers like me; in fact, many of my clients can write reasonably well. However, there is a misconception that hiring a writer means you are stupid or can’t write so I thought I’d share a few examples of where people find it helpful to talk to a professional writer.

1. writing about yourself. I’ve had a few people who are excellent writers ask me to write their website about us page or a business profile as they don’t feel objective enough to write about themselves

2. writing specific items. It takes some different skills and knowledge to write web content and technical reports for instance, so I have clients ask me to write their procedures but write their own web copy.

3. they don’t like writing. I don’t like doing data entry or researching differences between mobile phones, and I don’t expect that everyone likes writing as much as I do 🙂 Many of my clients are relieved to be able to hand me their written needs so they don’t have to face it themselves – and because it leaves them time for what they do like doing (hopefully!)

4. writing takes time – and we’re all busy. For my clients who can write, time is usually the biggest reason they hire a professional writer – they are simply too busy to write their own material. In many cases, I can write it faster than they would have anyway, so it saves them time in two ways really.

5. consistent and effective results. I write all the time and can set aside blocks of time for clients so what I produce for them is consistent (within that document but also with their other materials) and effective whereas they have more distractions if they try writing it themselves so the result is often less than optimum.

Can you relate to any of the above reasons for using a professional writer? How do you deal with such situations if you don’t hire professinoal help?

6 reasons to use a professional

As a business owner or manager, there are always many tasks to do, and often not enough time for them!

Yet many people hesitate in getting outside, professional help for things like writing, design, website updates and bookkeeping; for some, they don’t think they can afford help, others like to maintain complete control, some think it will take longer to find someone than to just do it themselves and another group just wouldn’t know where to start looking for help.

Whatever your reason for putting off getting help, here are my reasons to look and ask for help…

  1. a professional will do the job well – so might you, of course, but at what cost in time? Sure, I could design a website – it  would look horrible and cheap, but it would be done! So for things out of my skill set, it is worth looking for an expert
  2. it saves you time – even if it only takes you an hour a week to maintain your blog or two hours a month to update your accounts, think what else you could do (and how much money you could earn) in that four to eight hours a month…
  3. it clears your head as you don’t have to worry about fitting in that task anymore nor the details of how to do it. A clear head lets you be more productive, creative and relaxed
  4. a professional will probably do it much faster than you – meaning the job will be done and potentially increasing your profits much sooner, especially if you factor in that you would do the task around all your other responsibilities
  5. a professional may be more objective which can lead to better results. For example, I write very concisely and to the relevant point so often cut out a lot of information the business owner includes because he or she is passionate about the topic
  6. the professional can offer an outside opinion and fresh ideas. I don’t know how many times designers I have worked with have taken my outline and come up with something perfect and totally unlike what I had envisaged – in fact, I often ask designers for their input rather than giving them rigid briefs

I know it can take time to find the right professionals to work with. I know it may seem out of budget (but factor in time savings and better results and you may be surprised at the affordability). And I know building trust in others to care as much as you can be hard. Yet I believe it is often worth talking to a professional to find out how they could help.

Do you have any stories about an outside professional helping your business?

Being professional with complaints

Continuing on from naming publicly

Have you ever lost respect for a professional or a business because they complained/whinged about a peer?

Even if it is warranted (and sometimes even more is deserved than is given!), criticising a supplier, colleague or competitor can backfire and damage the complainer’s reputation. It just doesn’t look professional to say “Business M is unethical” or “Don’t use Business N”, and there are of course legal implications.

It is different if someone approaches you to ask about a business or person, but I think that using a public forum to criticise is a very risky action.

Of course, it can be very frustrating to always be the professional party and not publicly denigrate someone, but it is the better long term action.

I am curious, however, as to how people feel about a calm review  (ie factual and non-emotive) of a supplier on sites that warn people about disreputable businesses – not good enough, ripoff report, etc. Is that as damaging to how you view a business?

Is social media changing this? For example if I tweet “ABC always delivers late” or “designer Z copies others’ work”, is that more acceptable than blogging about it because of the chatty and short term nature of Twitter?

Supplier control

Sometimes suppliers and clients don’t agree on the  best way to do something – that is natural and understandable. But if the client is paying for the work, I believe that the client has the deciding vote.

I have had situations where a client has insisted I do something a particular way against my better judgment as a professional writer. A few times, I have done what the client asked for and an alternative version the way I think it should be done and given both versions to the client. In all these cases, once they have seen it in context, the client has agreed with my version. Other times I have just done what the client asked.

But what happens when a supplier decides their way is correct, or at least better, and just implements it without even telling the client they are making that decision?

For instance, if a client asks for certain paragraphs to be in italics in a brochure their designer may disagree and not use italics. The client, trusting the designer to do as asked, doesn’t notice this omission until after the brochures are printed and is rightly upset because those paragraphs were quotes and need to look different.

A much more professional approach from the designer would have been to say “I don’t think italics is a good idea as they are harder to read” and then discussed it with the client.

Clients do not appreciate loosing control of their own projects, nor the suppliers who take that control. And once you do something like that, the client is likely to double check everything you do for them which is a waste of their time and goodwill – and not likely to get you more work or any referrals.

As a supplier, you can disagree with a client but you should never presume to control the project contrary to your client’s request. Remember, if the final result is not up to your standard because the client insisted on doing things a certain way, it reflects more on the client than you – their name is on it, not yours. Just don’t add the project to your portfolio!

Font sizes…

Surfing some of my favourite blogs today, I came across a post by Donna-Marie about choosing suitable fonts. As well as being a good summary of which fonts work well in different media, it reminded me of someone recently asking about using different sized fonts – and recent experiences of unsuitable font choices.

 I remember doing school assignments where I’d use different fancy fonts for each heading and changed the text to suit the amount of information in each section, and so on – and I was proud of being so versatile! But looking back (or at children’s work now) I can see that it looks childish and puts the focus on the fonts rather than the content. It isn’t very professional to give the impression you are trying to minimise the content!

As a general rule, it is better to stick to one font style and size in a single document. It is consistent which makes it easier to read (the eye doesn’t have to keep adjusting to different fonts) and it also looks clean and professional. And to be honest, it is also easier to prepare than swapping fonts all the time!

The common exceptions in font sizes would be:

  • heading and sub-headings are often a little larger than the text font
  • labels on diagrams and tables are often smaller to work with the labelled items
  • the ‘fine print’ such as a disclaimer, a copyright notice or unsubscribe information – this text can be smaller but it must still be big enough to easily read so less than 8 point is getting too small in most cases. I recently edited a document which had footnotes to a table in a 7 font and it was too small to read and also looked out of place amongst the 11 font table and general text.
  • fonts within an ad design may show more variation, but be careful to not overdo it

If you are tempted to change font sizes to break up a chunk of text, consider bullet points, italics, bold, more paragraph breaks and page layout as alternatives.


Personal or professional development

I remember some years ago, all employers had to provide training for all of their employees. Yes, some employers and employees didn’t take it seriously and some silly courses may have been undertaken, but I still like the concept of people constantly learning.

As an employer, training staff means they are learning and growing so will be able to their jobs better, and they will respect and value the fact that you care enough to provide such training.

Kylie at Tilda Virtual wrote about the importance of setting a training/development goal and sticking to it, and asked what our goals are in this area for 2008.

To be honest, I haven’t developed a training plan as such for myself. I am going to the Business Mums Conference in July, I read business blogs/magazines/blogs/articles when I can, and I look out at networking and other business events for ones that are relevant to me. Oh, and I am working towards my certificate IV in business (frontline management) and certificate IV in leadership support later in the year, although that has more to do with being a cub leader than a business owner!

Of course, the information I learn about each client, their business and sometimes their industry is development for me, too, but much harder to plan (who knows what industry my next new client will work in!) and not always directly transferable to other work I do.

But there has never been a rule that says business owners must provide training and development opportunities for themselves… And yet this is the group who probably has to cope with the largest number of tasks in different areas.

Kylie has me thinking now, so I will make some time to think of what skills I can and will develop this year. I know I won’t put a huge amount of time into training this year with a baby on the way, client work and family commitments!

How about you? Have you planned any personal development this year? Have you timetabled for it so it won’t slip aside when more urgent tasks arise?

Correcting spelling, yes or no?

I have just been asked if it is rude to correct the spelling of comments added to your blog. An interesting question!

Like so many things, there is no clear answer about what is the ‘right thing’ to do.

I don’t think it is a valuable use of time to check every incoming comment for correct spelling and grammar, but really obvious errors are a bit different. One on hand, it is the person making the comments who will be seen to have bad spelling, not you, so it won’t affect your professional standing.

On the other hand, if the error annoys you or will detract from the message, it is very tempting to fix the error yourself.

If the comment is mostly well written and spelt correctly, I would be inclined to correct any typos or spelling errors. The person who wrote it probably would prefer to appear competent and may be kicking themselves for the error anyway!

If the comment is full of spelling mistakes that aren’t just typos, it is trickier. My instinct is to not have bad English in my blog, even bits not written by me! Someone who can’t spell well may not even notice you correcting their work, and others wouldn’t care either way – but I suspect some people would be offended to find you had corrected their words, especially if the errors were consistent (I’m particularly thinking of people who use SMS shorthand instead of proper spelling.)

Unless you know the person making the spelling mistakes and want to help them and/or know they would appreciate it, I would avoid changing their spelling. It’s harsh, but if they don’t care enough to get things right, it is their reputation they are damaging, not yours.

Of course, your response to their comment needs to be spelt perfectly and sometimes may be able to serve as a lesson in correct spelling!