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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Finding the obvious may lead to jobs…

What opportunities are you missing by taking things for granted?

I am not an expert in Microsoft Excel but I can use it competently and am aware of its capabilities even when I don’t use some features.

A graph produced in excel showing members vs unique visitors

This simple graph was produced from a table of data in excel for one of my clients. For me, it was an obvious way to produce a graph; for my client, it was a major challenge to know how to produce it at all.

And it hadn’t occurred to me that someone who uses Excel for various tasks wouldn’t know that you can easily create graphs from the data entered into Excel. It’s just obvious to me so I took it for granted that it was obvious to others.

Yet, that isn’t the case.

Graphs in Excel – not so obvious to everyone

A couple of weeks ago I did a presentation which included a simple graph on one slide. Afterwards, I was talking with a client and he mentioned wanting some graphs for a report he was working on.

 Long story short, he didn’t know excel would do that for him.

I set up that simple graph for him and now am managing a larger excel-based project for him. I say managing because it is a more complex graph so I have outsourced it to someone I know who is an Excel expert!

Missed opportunities

It has me thinking though. How many more graphs could my client have used, in reports or presentations or for his own use, if I had told him about excel graphs sooner?

How many clients could I have referred to my excel expert?

When we know something, it’s hard to remember that many others don’t know it or at least know it as well as well as we do.

Are there some obvious tasks or skills you aren’t seeing for your business?

I wonder what great opportunities you could find by spotting those obvious tasks and skills…

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?

Making your business independant

Following on from my posts about identifying and protecting the essential elements of your business, another way to prepare for the unexpected is to reduce how much your business relies on you.

Here are some ways to reduce that reliance:

  • train someone else to do some of the tasks, even if they don’t do it every time some knowledge will help if the key person can’t do it
  • have some written procedures so someone else can ge the job done – it may be slower but it would be done. This also helps if you want to sell the business or hire a new person for the task.
  • have critical knowledge stored somewhere other than in your head – have a document with passwords & contact details where it can be accessed by limited people. For some of my clients, I prepare a document register so they can track versions – I usually add comments about who designed thdocument so the client can quickly arrange a change if I wasn’t available. It also saves me remembering the information myself so it’s a good plan anyway
  • identify back up people for critical tasks/roles
  • ensure any staff understand the entire business and functions of other staff, and preferably be able to do a couple of other people’s tasks if necessary
  • have a shared calendar for your team – if someone is then sick for example, any appointments and deadlines can be managed
  • be flexible as much as possible – a team member who can’t come to the office for a few weeks may still be able to do some tasks at home or online, or work part time or unusual hours
  • build relationships with professionals who can replace key skills – for example, I have relationships with other writters so in an emeregency my clients’ work could still be written even if I was unable to write myself

As part of your contingency preparations, there are a few related tings yo can do:

  • test how reliant your business is on specific people – find out how long the businesscan manage without someone, how skilled others are at filling in for the key person, how many people can be missing from your team before it is critical, and so on
  • plan some altered work practicesfor certain levels of staffing – for example, if a key person is sick for one or two days, everything continues but if they’re away for a week reduce client hours or produced items by 10% and if they’re away for a month, reduce by 50%. This would be particularly relevant during a prolonged event such as a pandemic or natural disaster if you have a team
  • establish policies about how much leave staff are entitled to and how they are paid for such leave, including any leave without pay or make up hour arrangements
  • have as much information and work available on a computer as possible so that remote access is an option and back ups are also easier

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?

Blogging skills

I found a post  about developing your skills at blogging which I thought worth mentioning. It is also relevant on the whole for newsletter writing.

It doesn’t mention ‘be yourself’ directly, but I think that is the only major point I would add to the list.

In summary, Chris Garrett gives 10 points that lead to successful blogging:

  1. blog by example
  2. blog with passion
  3. be organised (well, I can’t always get 10 out of 10!)
  4. delegate
  5. take ownership & responsibility
  6. communicate effectively (hopefully, that’s where my tips come in handy!)
  7. be brave & honest
  8. listen
  9. know your readers
  10. be a reader

I found number 7 interesting – I am always honest in my blog but don’t feel I am particularly brave as communications isn’t usually very controversial 🙂 But then I read Chris’ comments about this to find him saying pretty much the same thing and suggesting there is bravery in choosing and presenting topics.

Which of the above points do you find most challenging in your blog writing?

Why use a professional writer?

Not many people actually ask me outright, but you can almost see the thought cross their mind – “why would I pay someone to write stuff for me? I know how to write a sentence.”

One very important reason some people choose to hire a writer is simply to save time. It is a task to be outsourced so you can spend more time doing what you’re best at. This is especially true for people who struggle over every word and find writing very time consuming.

Another reason is distance – a professional writer is not so close to your business so will have a clearer perspective of what needs to be said. When you are close to the business, it is easy to get caught in details that aren’t necessary in a marketing document for instance. And when it comes to something like an about us page on a website, many people find it hard to write about themselves anyway.

A professional writer (or editor) may just review what you have done – finding those little errors you can’t easily find in your own work. It is handy if you work alone and don’t have anyone else who can proof read for you.

Of course, a major reason for using a professional writer is to get words that work well, are easy to read and are grammatically correct. For some people this is easy to achieve, others have to work hard at it and some people just can’t get it no matter what they do. Even if you can write fairly well, if you aren’t experienced at writing in a certain way it may be worth getting a professional to do it for you. You can always use their work as a model for future projects.

I think of it this way – I can hold a pencil or paint brush and make marks on a page but I would pay someone else to actually paint something to hang on my walls. We all have our talents and I’d prefer to outsource to experts than try to find time to do everything myself. Which of course leaves me with more time for writing…