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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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?

Give ideas time to develop


Ideas & plants take time to grow

Last night I read a blog post on guest blogging (or SEO outreach) as it is something I am interested in and enjoy doing. There were some great tips in this blog post, but there were also a couple of points that I reacted to.

Post ideas can take time

Researching blogs to offer posts to is obviously an important step in guest blogging, but I disagree with the following statement:

If you don’t have any ideas for articles the first couple of minutes of scanning the website, better spend the next minutes looking for another website to scope out.

Many people will never find a host blog if they used that criteria!

A couple of minutes may show the blog is not suitable for you (eg the wrong topic or demographic) but it often isn’t enough to get ideas. Sometimes I get ideas from the first sentence I read in another blog, but other times I have to read a few posts to get a feel for that blog and allow inspiration to strike.

Creativity is in all of us, and I believe it can be developed, but even so that’s a lot of pressure to state you need to find ideas so quickly while also assessing the blog overall.

Fast fix or quality results?

There’s a business concept about giving clients a choice of two elements – well done, fast or cheap. They can’t have all three options in the same project.

I think that’s true for guest blogging, too. You can do it well – quality writing on well researched blogs to build relationships with bloggers and their audiences – or you can work at getting a lot of posts online in a short time frame.

It’s that old quality vs quantity argument, I guess.

And to be frank, if you give me the impression of trying for maximum posts rather than quality the chances are I won’t accept your guest post. So I would never tell people to only spend a few minutes researching  a potential host blog – it looks fast rather than in-depth to me.

Developing ideas

How do you develop ideas, whether for a blog post or anything else?

Do you give up if no idea hits within a couple of minutes?

* Images courtesy of 123RF

Collecting annual report content

Writing an annual report for many people is a big chore done over a stressful month or two just before it is due to be released.

I have suggested before that the process is better spread across the year by keeping notes so that the actual preparation is easier.

Another way I work on an annual report throughout the year is to copy chunks of text into an annual report document as well. This is content worked on during the year for a specific topic or use – for example, descriptions of a new service or product launched during the reporting year.

When it comes to writing about those topics in the annual report, I can pull out the existing, correct content  and adjust it to need. It is much quicker than reinventing the wheel with new text or wasting time searching for that text “I know I wrote back then”.

Although a style guide often includes sections of useful text to be reused, it doesn’t always include text about specific events or external factors.

Can you imagine how organised you will feel and look when you pull out a page of pre-prepared text when you start writing your annual report content?

Saving moderating time

Part of running a community-centric blog is moderating the comments. I mentioned that it is a time consuming task when I gave the reasons for moderating so today I’m sharing some ideas for saving time when moderating comments on your blog.

In no particular order, here are my tips:

  1. ensure you have a spam filter on your blog so the really obvious spam is off your list to moderate
  2. consider outsourcing the comment moderation. However, make sure you still look often so you can reply to any comments or have your support person tell you if there is a comment waiting for your reply
  3. set up some rules so certain people’s comments are automatically accepted – they see their comment instantly and you save a little time. You may do this for a select group or perhaps for everyone who has had a comment accepted in the past
  4. have a procedure that includes rules for your blog as this will save you time in deciding if a comment is acceptable. For example, they must have a real name not a tagline as their username, use a real URL not a shortened URL and can only include a link if genuinely adding to the conversation.
Do you have any other tips for saving time with your comments?

Social media is not all good

Like it or not, social media is here and is a major part of our society.

I think it is important that we all have some understanding of social media so we can make informed choices about participating or not.

Unlike some, I don’t think every business MUST be on social media to survive or thrive. Although it is becoming more important as more people expect it.

Mark Schaefer recently posted about social media sewage… and hope. He lists a number of the negatives social media (including blogging) has brought with it – I totally agree that leaving heaps of spam comments in a blog, disreputable SEO approaches and practices, and stealing people’s content are unacceptable behaviours and I don’t understand how people can live with such actions.

I haven’t had Marks ‘hope’ experience but I still believe in sharing information and believe social media has a part to play in my business.

mix of marketing methods

Social media is just one form of marketing

It got me thinking that perhaps some business people need to hear that it’s ok to not be on social media, that it isn’t the cure to all business woes nor is it perfect.

So here are some reasons against using social media which you can weigh up against the advantages when making your decision.

  1. it takes time and patience. You’re unlikely to see more sales or leads in the short term, and it takes time to put up some content (especially if you put thought into it and try adding value to your community)
  2. you open yourself up to more spam, malware and virus exposure, scam invitations and other undesirable people
  3. if your audience isn’t interested in social media, your efforts will go to waste – be sure to only use media your audience uses
  4. if you just want to advertise, rather than share information and build relationships, your presence on social media is probably a waste of everyone’s time
  5. social media gives you the opportunity to speak your mind and get on your soapbox. Great for people wanting to exercise their freedom of speech, not always so good for a business spokesperson – if you can’t moderate your words to suit your business brand, social media may be a little risky
  6. social media is about communication – if you aren’t interested in having a two-way conversation, a static website may be more your style
  7. the message you write is critical to your social media success so if writing and communicating your thoughts is a challenge, consider your social media strategy carefully – short tweets may work better than long blog posts, a ghost writer could help with blogging and videos for You Tube may be your best option
If you are already using social media, have you thought about how it is benefiting you compared to what it is costing you? Is it doing the job you ‘hired’ it for, another job or is it just costing you?


* Image courtesy of 123rf

The rewards of hiring a business writer

Occasionally I am asked what return on investment (ROI) people can expect from hiring a professional writer. And now I have your curiosity peaked, too, I can’t give you a straight answer – sorry!

The ROI of someone else writingI can’t give a dollar figure (or even a percentage) as there are too many variables to factor in – the type of business you run, what aspects you get professionally written (eg just an about us page or your entire website), your profit margins and how you utilise the words the writer scribes for you.

However, I can give you some ideas to assess how a writer can reward you and your business so you can decide on your own ROI…

  • at the worst, you gain time for selling and servicing customers. So if you hire me to do two hours writing for you, that’s two hours extra in your working week – in fact, if you don’t write as fast as me, you’ve saved more than two hours which you hopefully spend on making money!
  • for online content, remember that content is king. Fresh, quality content will result in more links and traffic which ultimately increases your chances of making sales
  • sending out a clear message and ensuring that your website answers all key questions competently will save you phone call and emails asking basic questions. In reality, that saves you frustration, time and the time it takes to get back on task after such interruptions
  • polished and professional content will build your image and reputation as much as your message does, and possibly more so. A stronger reputation builds your credibility which will have a long-term positive impact on your sales
  • a proposal that flows, is spelt correctly, etc is more likely to win you work
  • a well written website will have a higher conversion rate (ie will turn more visitors into buyers) than a site that is hard to understand or uses poor grammar and spelling – remember that doubling your conversion rate will double your turnover…

Have you experienced a good ROI from hiring a business writer?

Let me finish with a quote from Brad Sugars, entrepreneur and multi-millionaire, author and investor:

Communication is the lifeblood of business, and when it comes to sales, it’s vital. It has a direct relationship with sales. You see, the better you are at communicating, the better your sales results will be. You can almost measure the one with the other… Let me put it another way. True communication is the response you get. So if you’re not getting the response you want, you’re not communicating properly.

Repeat what works

“if it aint broke, don’t fix it” is an expression that really makes sense to me. I see no reason to spend time on something that is working when other things need my attention.

Yes, everything in business should get reviewed periodically to check for possible improvements. But reinventing the wheel each time you do something is just a waste of time in my mind.

For example, if your current marketing plans keep you a steady stream of clients that meets your work and profit requirements, then stick to it! Keep an eye on new avenues but don’t drop the past efforts to grab the latest trends like twitter and Facebook – those new things may not work with your audience for one thing, and it will take time for you to learn the most effective ways to use new ideas in your business.

I came across a sales page recently which talked about repeating simple procedures – I thought it made good sense and reminded me of the above quotation. The writer made the point that a surgeon follows the same steps every time a certain operation is performed, a javelin thrower throws the same way every time and a bank uses the same forms and processes for every loan they approve.

Having a simple procedure makes it easier to complete a task, but more importantly, it ensures you get the best results in the most efficient way every time – even if different people carry out that same process.

For things that are working well in your business, do you have a simple procedure to follow? And that someone else could follow for you? Once you write out such procedures you can save time to work on the things that are broken – and prepare procedures in those areas to find an effective way to do those tasks.

It’s not quite the same as leave good things alone, but having a written procedure for things that work allows for almost-mindless repetition so things keep running along smoothly.

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?

Valuing business partners

Do you have any partners in your business? I don’t mean a partnership business structure but partners for the business itself, such as a designer, writer or accountant.

I was reading recently about strategic partners often being chosen on price and too quickly. The article went on with “The diligent selection of long-term strategic partners is key to enabling the globally integrated supply chain and helps mitigate the risk of IP theft.”

A true partner (rather than just a supplier you use once for a quick fix) can be a valuable asset to your business and save you a lot of time. So I agree that choosing quickly and without care is not a good plan.

A valuable partner (compared to a any old supplier) can

  • move onto projects quickly and with less fuss because they know your business and the guidelines (for example a designer already knows your corporate colours and brand) – this saves you time
  • use their expertise to help your business as they are in a position to make suggestions
  • be cheaper because they already understand your business and need less time to research and get the basics in place (for example, if I know your business I can write a media release straight away rather than spending time learning what you do)
  • be trusted from experience so you can slowly entrust more complex projects and details
  • have common references which can again save time and ensure clear communications (for example, telling a trainer you want the same format as last time but in a different office rather than explaining your full content needs)
  • reduce the need to keep getting quotes to compare – even if it costs a little more to use a partner on certain projects, that cost is usually saved by avoiding this search/recruitment/retraining phase
  • reduce the number of businesses you have to deal with – this saves time in contacts and accounts and reduces risk (dealing with unscrupulous people, intellectual property or other theft, etc)

I certainly appreciate my business partners – not only do they do great work for me but I can trust them to do so with minimal input from me and maximum expertise from them. So I will take this opportunity to publicly and wholeheartedly thank Ally, Jane (who doesn’t have a website), Michelle and Eva.

Have you thought about where your business would be without those partners?

Free ads can still cost…

In my recent post about saving money in business, I noted that ineffective free ads could be too expensive to run.

While that may seem strange (a free ad costs nothing, right?) it is true.

By free ad I mean any advertising you do that doesn’t directly cost you anything so it may be a free directory listing, adding an email signature, using social media or having a banner in someone else’s newsletter. Free advertising is great for cashflow obviously, and has a number of advantages, but it isn’t always good for business or truly free.

So even free ads need to be reviewed and considered for their value. Consider these examples of how free ads can be much more costly than they first appear…

  1. social media is certainly free in that you don’t pay any fees to join or use those sites. However, you may pay for supporting software and you do pay in time – and the smaller expense of electricity, computer wear and tear, etc. If you are spending hours  tweeting every week (and have done for months) and have never had a sale through Twitter, it is becoming an expensive, ineffective exercise
  2. directories that need regular updating but return nothing are probably not worth the effort, especially as many are only viewed by other business people updating their listings!
  3. notice what response the ad is generating – an ad that brings in a lot of queries but no sales is probably in the wrong place or missing the target. In this case the free ad is costing you in time to answer queries rather than giving you time for genuine customers. Try tweaking to ad or just stop using that free option
  4. ads in disreputable places may also not have a price to add them or take time to maintain, but if they are giving your business a bad image they are very expensive ads. Negative associations are hard to measure as you can’t see which people consciously didn’t come to your website. Just be careful where you are listed, and review sites every so often as they may change over time