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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Do you need to hire an expert?

Recently, I saw an article called ‘do you need to hire a SEO expert’.

My immediate response was yes and no – depending on what you mean by ‘need’, you may or may not need a SEO expert.

Do you need an SEO expert because you have to be qualified or an ‘expert’ to do it (to at least an acceptable level)? No, not really.Professionals see how pieces fit together

However, an expert may do it faster and have knowledge to work more efficiently and get better results, but it is possible to do it yourself. Of course, if you don’t know anything about SEO and have to study it first, an expert’s value is greater.

Do you need an SEO person to help you get SEO done alongside everything else you do? Then quite possibly, yes you do. It depends on how busy you are and how much importance you place on SEO obviously, but SEO is one thing you can consider outsourcing.

Of course, if you are just after time saving, you may be able to use someone to work on your SEO (such as finding places to guest blog or comment and checking your site for deadlinks and duplicate meta data) rather than finding someone qualified to give you advice and expertise.

Does the same apply to hiring a professional writer?

Again, it is a maybe type of answer.

Do you need a professional writer to help you get everything done in a working day? Yes, you quite possibly do need help.

Do you need a professional writer because you can’t do it yourself? That depends on what you’re after. Most people in business can probably write webcopy and blog posts themselves so a writer is perhaps not necessary to get the content onto the page.

However, some people can’t write well so would get much better results via a professional – and probably find it is done with less time and stress, too.

Some people can write reasonably well, but will still benefit from someone who has a better understanding of business writing and can be objective about the content.

So if you can write with good spelling and grammar, understand about writing for a business audience and have plenty of time, no you don’t need a professional writer to help you!

You’d think the big guys would get it right…

Is it just me, or do you have more tolerance of a small business making mistakes than a big business?

A checklist of items to proofread

A basic proofreading checklist

That is, for mistakes like spelling errors, dead links on their website, out of date information and lack of clarity in a message.

I think if you have the budget for huge campaigns, you have the budget to get a writer or editor to help you avoid stupid mistakes. A sole trader on the other hand often has less money to spend and more hats to wear so mistakes are a little more excusable.

Budget for the details

I was asked by a major entity to complete a survey that they intend to use to produce some data that can impact on the digital media and brands.

It was longer than I expected but more than that, it was very disappointing from a group that is producing such a report.

Having a poor survey through lack of attention to detail reduces their credibility – if they can’t get the questions right, is their analysis going to be any good?

Compared to the time and money they have put into preparing and promoting this survey, and then turning the results into a report, it would have cost little to have had it reviewed by a writer or editor to ensure it would work. It’s like spending a million dollars to build your dream house but not checking the architect remembered to add a front door.

International survey

Some of the issues I came across in this particular survey were:

  1.  I was invited twice (ie via two different .com.au email addresses) to complete this survey. Yet there was a question ‘Please enter your five digit zip code’ – my four digit postcode wasn’t accepted. So are they so ignorant to not realise we don’t all have a US zip code (the error messages actually stated “You must enter a valid US zip code”) or was this survey only meant for US residents?
    Tip: if preparing any sort of online form, make it usable for all aspects of your audience – and make it clear at the start if some groups can’t participate
  2. There were too many assumptions within the questions, but I had to answer them anyway so they are getting meaningless results from the survey. For example, “which of the following do you generate money from?” listed about six possible answers – I don’t earn money from any of them but there  wasn’t a ‘none of the above’ type answer.
    I did get some satisfaction in a couple of those questions if they at least gave an ‘other’ option as I wrote the real answer in that field!
    Tip: always have an answer for everyone in a survey – if people can’t answer, they can skew your results with dummy answers and it frustrates them
  3. One question asked ‘what is your key source for finding companies that don’t meet your requirements?’ followed by a series of criteria that you could use to filter out a company and a couple of other points. In other words, it made absolutely no sense and I couldn’t answer it – well I used the ‘other’ field to say it made no sense so I couldn’t choose from their list!
    Tip: always do a final read of materials to ensure everything makes sense. Edits along the way can change things so read it in full to be sure – and preferably get fresh eyes to view it, too.
Maths error 1 + 1 =3

Poor data can’t result in a good report, whichever way you add it

One better written question they included asked where I got inspiration for my blog posts. I could only select one answer, which is limiting as I find inspiration in many places. However, I again used the ‘other’ option and  wrote I am inspired by poor communications efforts I see – such as surveys like this with poor questions! You have to find fun where you can, I say!

So not a great survey (and I will struggle to trust their results) but it did inspire a blog post and gave me some amusement using their ‘other’ fields!

Costs of a newsletter

News headline catches a client's eye

For many businesses, sending out a regular newsletter is an effective marketing strategy. So I sometimes get asked how much it costs to produce a newsletter.

There is no clear answer to that, but here are some of the factors that will impact on the expenses for a newsletter.

  1. how long is it? A longer newsletter takes more time and effort to layout plus requires more content so will cost more than a shorter newsletter. However, the cost of 4 pages vs 2 (for example) may be worth it if it means giving good information and/or being able to produce the newsletter less often
  2. are you doing a print version? If so, you need to allow for paper/ink/power costs to do it yourself or a printer’s bill to have it professionally done
  3. how are you distributing it? Allow $1 for stamps and envelopes if mailing it, plus time to put into envelopes; emailing it will generally be much less than that but outsourcing the sending or using specialised software will still cost money. Having a pile available in store or on your website is cheaper but doesn’t have the same impact and results as getting it to people
  4. do you have a template? Your newsletter will work much better if it looks professional so get a designer to make a nice template that works with your brand. I would suggest getting both print and html versions designed, even if you only expect to use one, so you have both options available with a matching look – it’s cheaper to get two designs at once than as two separate projects
  5. what sort of content will you use? Full articles, article excerpts with the full article online or just snippets of news? Making articles to suit can be time consuming, and specific word counts can make even shorter pieces take longer to write and edit.
  6. who will write your newsletter? Will it all be done in-house to suit, collected from outside sources (e.g. members or clients’ submissions, free or paid articles), outsourced to a professional writer, or some combination? Although paid content and editing may have a higher up front cost it will require less of your time.
    TIP: If outsourcing the content (in part or all of it) you can reduce costs by providing the topics and key points to be covered so the writer can concentrate on writing rather than thinking and research time.
  7.  who will layout the newsletter each time? An expert will place content into your template much quicker than most people – again, there is a cost in time or money. However, the best results often require additional content editing during layout (such as adjusting words to avoid orphans and strange page breaks) so it’s good if your writer and designer (whether in-house or outsource) can work together on the newsletter
  8. although a relatively small cost, uploading your newsletter to your website, and adjusting any supporting text to suit, also needs to be included – especially if someone else manages your site updates

No matter how the newsletter is produced and distributed, you also need to allow time to read the final version before it gets produced. Not only is this a safety measure against typos and layout errors, you can also check that everything is consistent with your brand and objectives. If you produce the newsletter yourself, ideally someone else should do a final review of it for you.

Have you priced your business newsletter? A full costing is important for an accurate analysis of costs versus returns, and many people forget about including their time as a cost.

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.

Communications is more than marketing

Although there is some overlap in the roles, there are distinct roles for a business or corporate writer, communications manager, marketing person, designer, web manager and social media manager or monitor.

Many people don’t realise there is such a range of roles behind the public presentation of a business, so here is my summary of the roles.

A communications manager oversees many of the processes involved in producing materials to promote a business. For example, a communications manager ensures an annual report is written, designed, printed and added to a website with all necessary people approving it. A communications manager may do some of the tasks themselves, manage a team of people to do the tasks or outsource specific tasks. Communications managers generally have a writing or marketing background.

A business or corporate writer actually puts the words together to effectively communicate a message in a style that suits the business and its customers. The writer also often edits material written by other people such as a letter from a sales manager or a marketer’s brochure. Sometimes a writer will also help implement the content such as posting to a blog or working with a print-based or online-based graphic designer to tweak the message to fit.

A web manager obviously manages the website, which can include tasks such as making changes, optimising the site for search engine results, updating the design or navigation, and maintaining data.

A designer makes the message as visually appealing as possible, whether that is a simple letterhead, a website design, branding or preparing some advertising banners and posters.

A marketing officer or manager is a little harder to define. It is a creative role of trying to get the business/message to as many appropriate people as possible. Marketing includes deciding where to promote the business as well as the key messages to promote, such as a tag line, campaign theme and suitable formats.

A social media manager or monitor is obviously a newer role but no less important for that. Social media is becoming more important as a means of promoting and building your business, but it can be time consuming and has some elements that (like most things) require specific skills and knowledge. You can get someone to monitor your social media appearances (ie they check various platforms each day to see what people are saying about you) or someone can manage your social media overall (such as making posts for you, planning a strategy and replying to mentions).

If you are employing someone, you may want to think through exactly what tasks you need done before choosing the role to fill, and someone who can do more than one set of tasks may be valuable (for example a writer who can update your website or post tweets for you).

However, if you are outsourcing, remember the roles are different and choosing the appropriate person will probably give you better results than expecting too much from one person (for instance assuming that your designer will proof read your writing or write some tweets to promote your new eBook could lead to disappointment).

Some projects will obviously take more than one role to fulfill, which may seem hard to manage in itself. In this case, outsource to someone who is willing to manage those other tasks for you rather than someone who claims to do it all themselves. I would never outsource design work to me for example, but I have relationships with some great designers so can manage a project by sub contracting to them – the difference in results is huge but the effort for a client is minimised.

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?

From conference to blog!

Writing a blog seems like an obvious thing for a writer to do and it has been on my to do list for some time, but I never had the time to look into it.

 Two weeks ago I went to the inaugral Business Mums Network Conference. It was a fantastic two days and I came out of it with a lot of ideas and plans for my business. Amongst other ideas, was a further incentive to get a blog started, so here it is!

What else did I get from the conference? Well, I am going to change the way my business works so I get more time for writing (which I love) and less time on background communications tasks for my corporate clients. It is important to spend time doing what we love and are good at, rather than filling our hours with ‘stuff’ that may be urgent and even important, but not fulfilling or the most important.

But for now, back to the writing!

Word Constructions