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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Celebrating fantastic teachers of my past

Do you often think how important teachers can be?

I just read a post from Mummy Smiles that is basically a letter to a teacher she appreciates for the impact he made on her life. It’s a lovely idea to reflect and thank those who made a difference as part of World Teachers Day 2012 (which I have since discovered was on 5 October, but that doesn’t change the sentiments of my post!).

It got me thinking about some of my great teachers – and I’m sticking to the formal definition of teacher for now as distinct from other people who have taught me things along the way.

Inspiring biology teacher

First to mind is my year 12 biology teacher, Mrs Bennett. I loved how she knew her stuff well enough to not need notes – she just stood at the front and spoke to us about whatever topic we were studying. It really stood out to me that she did that, and could answer random questions thrown at her, whereas most other teachers worked more closely to their class plan.

The fact she just spoke and I could take notes in my own style (rather than copy whan was written on the board) was something I enjoyed and value.

  • I like freedom so choosing what to note suited my style
  • It was great training for uni the next year – and subsequent seminars and conferences I’ve been for that matter. She gave us a real life skill.
  • I learn more by having to figure out what’s important enough to jot down when listening to new information – scribing someone else’s words doesn’t have the same impact. So her style probably helped me get a great final score for biology (don’t ask what I got because I can’t remember! It was certainly above 85% anyway)

As many students didn’t grab the opportunity as I did, Mrs Bennett finished each discussion with a set of notes on the board for people to write down. I spent that time, thinking about what she wrote or helping my less-science-minded friend understand the lesson – again, I love the fact she respected me to do that as she knew I had already taken notes and absorbed the topic.

Ahead of his time

Grade 5 teacher, Mr Hughes

School photo of Mr Hughes

My other favourite teacher was Mr Hughes (a coincidence of names that I loved at the time!) who taught me in grade 5.

Again, I think it was the respect he gave us and the ability to learn at our own pace that inspires me about this teacher.

He was probably the eldest teacher I had (and that’s not just a 10 year old’s version of old! He was definitely older than my parents and from looking at photos I would say he was in his late fifties when he taught me.) Yet he used so many techniques that I now see teachers using with my children.

For example, in maths, he used worksheets that he had prepared. He assigned us individually to a level in each maths topic (eg divisions, multiplication, measurement) and that’s the worksheet we started on. During class, we each worked at our own pace to complete the relevant sheet – if we finished, we simply moved onto the next level. Mr Hughes walked around helping as required and checking our work.

That means of teaching was unheard of in our school and from any of my friends.

Yet it gave us all a chance to learn – the smart kids were challenged, the struggling kids were supported and no one was judged or felt inadequate (or superior for that matter).

Mr Hughes also gave me my first school report – he taught us how to create our own total marks by compiling our test and project results. It was fascinating to see the impact of each result on the total and made the transition to formal reports in secondary school much easier.

My eldest daughter got her first school report as a prep student; her younger sister got a report in kinder! That is 7 and 8 years respectively earlier than I got my first formal school report!

My children are often put into groups at school to work at different academic levels.

Mr Hughes taught me a lot and was definitely ahead of his time with his methods. He benefitted me and I wonder how much he influenced some of the following educational changes?

No English teachers?

It would be nice to say I am a writer now because of my English teachers.

But I’d be lying.

That’s not to say my English teachers were poor teachers, not at all, but none of them were as inspiring as Mrs Bennett and Mr Hughes. And no one ever encouraged me to think of my writing as a skill while I was at school.

I got good marks in English and found writing essays and the like easier than many of my class mates, which all makes sense now! But English was just seen as a means to an end, not as something to follow for its own sake, in my school experiences. It’s a pity really, but I gained other skills and knowledge in doing a science degree instead.

With gratitude…thanks teacher message on a blackboard

I say thank you to all my teachers for what they have taught me and their efforts (I know teachers do more than sit in a classroom all day). Even the teachers I resent (and that’s a different story altogether) taught me things.

For Mrs Bennett, Mr Hughes and the other teachers who gave me great moments of insight and development, I am truly grateful.

What teachers are you grateful for?

Do you value your life teachers differently to your formal education teachers?

Being nice with your guest post refusals

handwritten note of no thanksWhether or not you want them, as your blog gets older and more popular it is extremely likely that you will be offered guest posts for your blog.

And assuming you want to maintain a certain standard (in writing quality, content value and staying to a style and topic range), you will need to reject some, if not all, of those offers.

I’m not going to cover why we should reject posts nicely – or reject them at all rather than just ignoring them – that’s a topic for another day. And I’m ignoring obvious spam for this post, too.

Rejecting with respect

The key to refusing a guest post nicely is to be polite and respectful.

Even if the guest post is irrelevant to you or low quality, someone has taken the time to write a post and submit it to you. If they have really tried, they will have an emotional attachment to the post and your response.

How to reject professionally

  1. be polite
    • use their name with a greeting –  “Hi Sam”
    • thank them for their submission
    • don’t use derogative or insulting words
  2. show respect
    • show you have a reason for the rejection – it doesn’t have to be in detail but adding ‘we don’t accept guest posts’, ‘we only use posts on this topic’ or ‘your post doesn’t suit our style/audience’ makes the rejection less personal and lets them know how to avoid the same mistake
    • don’t be insulting, rude or patronising
    • write a proper response – a single ‘no thanks’ looks lazy and disrespectful so use proper sentences
  3. be positive where possible
    • if you list faults with the submitted post (such as if you like their information but want the writing improved before you could use it), start and finish with positives about the post

The rejection note doesn’t have to be long as long as it is respectful and makes sense – a greeting, one or two sentences and an ending is enough.

Example rejection notes for a guest post

Hi Sam,

Thanks for submitting your “how to treat frog fungal infections” post. It was well written, however, my blog only accepts posts on business related topics.

Kind regards,


Hi Mary,

I received your guest post yesterday, thanks. I won’t be using your post in my blog because it doesn’t meet the guidelines for guest posts.



Thanks Phoebe.

Your guest post, Measuring your social media ROI, was fascinating and well suited to my blog. However, I found it a little hard to understand at points and a couple of sentences seem to stop mid-idea. The questions you posed were thought-provoking so I would be interested in seeing a revised version.

Hope to hear from you soon,


Hi Bob,

While I appreciate you sending me a guest post I don’t think it suits my audience so I have removed it from my inbox.




* image courtesy of 123rf

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?

Disagreeing with clients – the nice way!

If you work for clients, you will not always agree with how they want things done. Sometimes, it will just be a matter of personal choice so you stay quiet and do things their way. Other times, your professional experience and knowledge leads you to believe the client would be better off following your way.

So how do you tell a valued client that you disagree with their request?

Let’s take a simplified situation – the client asks for bright red and you think pale blue is a better option.

The first response to come to mind may be “Bright red won’t work so I’m going to use pale blue for you.”

However, the client is likely to be annoyed at being told they’re wrong and you’re making the decision. Result? They will dig their heels in and insist you use bright red without further discussion – or just find another supplier.

Another response may be “Pale blue is best and applies in 90% of cases” and just going ahead with pale blue. Taking control of the project like that shows no respect for your client and may just end your relationship.

Here are some better ways to approach your client:

  • Bright red would certainly attract attention! However, did you know that colour experts consider red to mean…?
  • Is there a particular reason you want it bright red?
  • I will do it in bright red, but first I wanted to make sure you know you have a choice. The alternative is pale blue, which has the advantages of …
  • I have found an example of bright red for you, and a pale blue example as a comparison. I think the pale blue works better because… What do you think of them both?
  • That’s an interesting thought – I would never have considered bright red for this project. To me, bright red doesn’t always work because…
  • Based on my experience, bright red is less effective than pale blue because… Would you like me to try both colours so you can see the difference?

If you handle it politely and with respect, your client will appreciate you speaking up and sharing your expertise – after all, that’s why they are using your services! You may still have to complete the project in bright red, but at least the client has made an informed decision and you have respected your professional opinion.

Have you had a supplier respectfully disagree with you which has led to a better result? Share your story in the comments area below.

Make me feel important…

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important’. Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”
Mary Kay Ash

I just found this quote in the Small Business Diva blog and I  really like it.

From a business point of view, treating people as if they are important is a great way to build relationships and provide excellent customer service – and a good way to get word of mouth referals, too.

But more than that, it is a sensible way of treating every human being you come across – we are all unique and have our own talents and gifts that deserve recognition and respect. You never know who you are talking to – they could be the one who turns your life around or the one who desperately needs to feel valued.

So how do you make others feel important?

Links in emails

Email marketing is a valuable tool for any modern business, but it can backfire if you don’t use it carefully.

I recently saw an email that was very short, started with my name and included unsubscribe details – all of which are good points in an email. But it also included three links to a web page they were promoting – not three pages, but three links to one page!

In a short email, I am quite capable of finding the link even if I have read further on – it will stand out!

Over do something like providing links, and I begin to wonder why you are pushing it so hard and  I get suspicious. Finish with “This isn’t hype” to convince me this is hype and not substance.

Add in a comment like “Seriously, this puppy is sick” and the email has no credibility – I deleted it without clicking on any of the three links!

So the lessons from this email are:

  • treat your readers with respect – they can find links in short emails
  • avoid unnecessary repetition – it is boring and raises questions as to why you need to repeat it
  • avoid statements that are cool or trendy – not everyone will agree with you and they age your message quickly. What is cool today is sick tomorrow and wicked the day after, and so on
  • if your content isn’t something (e.g. hype, spam,viral) then you don’t need to write that fact – it is more likely to raise suspicions than allay them

Use your words (and links!) wisely!

Where to place a business card?

Since posting about international business card etiquette, I have read more about different culture’s practices. One site discusses business etiquette in Australia and I couldn’t resist seeing what they advice non-Australians. They wrote:

Business cards are often used in business dealings, but Australians don’t fuss about them. It is acceptable to hand over and receive a business card with one hand. It is good practice to put your counterpart’s business card on the table during the meeting, although some people will put it straight in their pocket.

It got me thinking – should a business card go on the table or into a pocket?

Obviously, if you are at a stand-up networking event, there is no table so cards go into a pocket (or bag or diary). And if you receive a card in passing, a pocket is appropriate.

Personally, if I am in a meeting and receive some business cards I leave them on the table in front of me, face up. Not only is it a good reminder of people’s names and titles, I think it shows respect that I value their card enough to keep it in sight. In those same meetings, I have seen people leave cards on the table and others place cards in holders of their document folder (so they could still see the cards but were also protecting them), and that does feel better than seeing my card go into a pocket (sometimes without even a glance).

I think it may be different at a meal-based networking event, though. In that case, I often put the card straight into a pocket to protect it from food spills and being lost amongst the dishes and table paraphernalia. Sometimes, I hold the card for a while as I talk to the person sitting next to me – it makes me more familiar with the card and the person, plus I think it is respectful to listen as they talk rather than fiddling with cards and pockets/bags/card holders.

Where do you place business cards as you receive them at a table? Is this habit or have you consciously decided to do it that way?

Use your words wisely!

Complaints response

I have often used bad examples of writing, so I thought it was time I acknowledged receiving a good email!

A little while ago, I noticed a discrepancy between an invoice and my bank statement so I sent a polite email to the supplier. I noted the problem and the resolution I wanted. The supplier replied to me email and I was impressed by the response.

The email was:

Hello Tash,

Thank you for your email. I understand you are concerned that, {stated my issue in their words}. I see that you would like {repeated my requested resolution}. Below, I have addressed your concern in detail.

And then went onto to answer my concern.

The email is polite and clearly shows they have read my complaint and are treating it seriously and respectfully. It started with my name and was obviously written by a real person in answer to my email – not just a standard response.

In fact, I think it makes a pretty good template for how to construct a complaint response! As a customer, I felt heard and respected, and my issue was dealt with.

So next time you have to answer a customer complaint, or even a customer query, remember the steps:

  1. use the person’s name
  2. restate their issue to show you are listening (or reading!)
  3. restate any resolutions they suggest
  4. answer the issue
  5. above all else, be polite and respectful

Happy writing!

Business card etiquette

Earlier this month I wrote about one aspect of business card etiquette (i.e. not just giving cards out to people at random), but there are other aspects to this etiquette.

I came across a blog post that discusses how different cultures have different expectations about how business cards should be given/received. It is interesting to note these differences and I think it is respectful to use these different ideas when dealing with international people.

However, I think many of those differences can be used routinely in Australia, too.

For instance, in Japan it is considered rude to give a card with one hand – they pass it over with both hands and presented in a way that the other person can read the card as it is given; the other person then carefully takes the card, reads it and gently places it in a pocket. Ok, giving a card in two hands and bowing may raise some eyebrows between two Aussies, but but why not show respect and read someone’s card as they hand it to you? Why not make sure your card is the right way up when you pass it to someone? And I think etiquette in any language is to place the card carefully somewhere once you have it – don’t shove it in somewhere or screw it up/fold it/whatever.

I also thought it interesting to note that a multi-lingual card (or different cards in various languages) is almost a must in some cultures. Personally, I only deal with English speaking cultures (because there’s no way I could write professionally in another language!) so an English card is sufficient, but I see the value in using another language on the reverse of my card if I was to frequently deal with people in that culture. It shows respect but also makes it easier for them to understand who I am and how I can help them.

Do you have separate cards or techniques for dealing with international business dealings?

Happy writing!