7 Critical Content Concerns

me-me nametagNobody likes a braggart. On the other hand, if you’re in business, silence is deadly.

How do we market our businesses without being either of these?

There’s a fine line we have to walk when it comes to content.  If we keep the idea of quiet confidence in mind, it can help us avoid falling one way or the other. So let’s look at some techniques that can work as guide ropes for us.

  • It’s the customer, dummy! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (until I’m blue in the face if I have to), it’s what the customer needs or wants that’s important. We can have the niftiest product or service the world has ever seen, but if the customer doesn’t need or want it, it is all for naught.
    So, go from, “This is the greatest thingamajig you’ve ever seen!” to “This is how our thingamajig can make your life better.”
  • Headlines matter. Those bold snippets of information grab readers and draw them into the actual content. Great headlines are hard to write. Don’t get too cutesy or clever, and never leave a grammatical error. Headlines should cause folks to keep seeking more.
  • What we say is important. Flashy animation and pretty designs are great, but it all comes down to the information and how we offer it to our readers. If what we say isn’t clear or doesn’t meet the readers’ requirements, we get nowhere.
  • So are looks. Although what we say is vital, the way things look is also important. A pleasing or interesting layout that highlights our content is what we should strive for as well as ease of use for the reader.
  • Get the right attitude. Remember, we want to be quietly confident in how we approach potential and current customers. We all know people who are constantly telling us about all the people they know and all the great things they do. They’re rather annoying and actually come across as a bit desperate. On the other hand, the people who state things with confidence without feeling compelled to be the brightest star in the sky are the ones we tend to gravitate toward and trust.
  • Change is constant. If we try something and it isn’t working, we must analyze the problem and adjust what we’re doing. Nothing is written in stone; everything is open to revision.
  • Content needs nurturing. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to set up content then leave it alone. Our content is our relationship with our readers, customers, and prospects; it needs maintenance to retain the connection.

These are a few things we need to keep in mind when we’re marketing ourselves, our services, and our products. I’ll investigate each of these in more detail in my Monday posts over the next several weeks, so stay tuned.

What do you think of these points, and how do you deal with them?


6 Tips for Working with Writers, Editors

You’ve decided that investing in the services of a professional editor or a writer would be good for your project or business. The next step is finding one that fits your needs.

You can do an Internet search, tap into online services like Elance, check local writing organizations and workshops, or get referrals from people you know. No matter how you get a name, there are still things you need to do to make sure you have a good fit.

  1. Check the work. Any writer or editor, if she doesn’t already have examples on a website, will be happy to provide a prospective client with examples. However, don’t get too caught up in whether those products are exact matches of what you want. Look more at the style and how the content gels with your goal. Don’t eliminate someone because she hasn’t produced a three-fold brochure. Mechanics can be learned quickly; it’s the skill and tone you want to concentrate more on.
  2. Kick the “tires” before committing. Just like anything else you invest in, spend some time reviewing the process the writer or editor uses. Is the writer or editor willing to sit down with you and get a feel for what you are looking for? Does the writer or editor work in a way that jibes with your process? Are you more a face-to-face type person or do you find “flying e-mails” an efficient way to work?
  3. Don’t forget the logistics. In an age where electronic communication is so prevalent, make sure you and the person you hire have compatible systems. Do you use Microsoft Word or some other program? Can your e-mail handle large chunks of data or are you still in the fax age? Can you Skype instead of having in-person meetings? Are you providing a written piece electronically or is it hand written? (Note: Most editors will not accept hand written products; hire someone to transcribe it first – it’ll be cheaper in the long run.)
  4. Make sure everyone knows what is expected of them. Don’t go into a situation assuming everyone knows what to do. We all know what the problem is with “ass-u-me.” Be very clear about what you expect. Editors and writers should also give you an idea of what they think you should provide and what they are willing to do. For instance, are you expecting an editor to do deep rewrites? How many revisions do you expect for a project with a flat fee? How will the information be gathered or presented? If everyone knows up front what to expect, there will be no nasty surprises.
  5. Get it in writing. You wouldn’t put an addition on your house without a contract to protect you, so don’t enter into a writing or editing relationship without some sort of written agreement. A good writer or editor would probably suggest it anyway for her own protection. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out contract. It could even be a letter of intent. Just make sure that somewhere you have in writing what work you are agreeing to pay for.
  6. Remember that you get what you pay for. Quality is not cheap, but it tends to pay off in the long haul. Don’t always go for the cheapest option; go for the professional who will give you a good return on your investment. (Hey, if that person’s rate is inexpensive too, it’s a bonus!) Also, don’ be surprised if the editor or writer you hire expects payment at certain milestones of the project – maybe even a percentage up front. This is the way professionals work.

Keeping these six things in mind when hiring a writer or editor will help create a good experience for all concerned. It might even be the beginning of a “beautiful friendship.”

When to Seek Professional Help: Writing

business writersAnyone in business knows there are times when we must communicate in writing. And any business person who is not a writer probably feels a root canal (minus anesthesia) would be more fun.

It isn’t easy to translate our message or information into an effective marketing piece, blog, or report. Most business people would rather spend the hours it takes to write a good brochure concentrating on their core business.

Luckily, there is an army of people who love to write and can do it well. They’re the ones that can transform your message into something that makes your business look good.

So, when is it time to call in a professional writer? Let’s look at a couple of the factors.


Businesses constantly need to put their best face forward to stay competitive. No matter how great a product or service, a brochure or blog needs content that can grab and keep the reader’s attention. The content needs to show readers why they should spend money with that particular business. Readers will put aside what is difficult to read or isn’t logical, and that may cost customers.

Experienced writers know how to construct pieces to entice readers to stick around, pieces that make it easy for readers to “see” the message. We know how to work with business people to pluck the message out of their brains with minimal discomfort and present it in the best possible light.

Cost Effectiveness

We all feel that we are capable of doing things ourselves. Writing is no different.

There are templates, spell checkers, and grammar checkers that make you believe you can easily produce a finished product. Well, that isn’t exactly true.

Templates can help format things like reports and brochures, but they don’t help much with content. Spell checkers don’t work for words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly. Grammar checkers, well, I’ve had to turn mine off because it is wrong about 50 percent of the time.

I’m not saying that these things can’t be useful – as long as we remember their limitations.

DIY writing relates back to the importance of the piece. The more important it is that it be the best it can, the more time it will take to get it there. The more time a business person must spend on creating quality writing, the less time she is spending on what makes her business thrive.

I’m terrible with math, so taxes give me a real headache. I realized that it was costing me a lot of money to do my own taxes (not to mention I didn’t really have the expertise to do them right). Instead of creating billable hours for my business, I was bogged down in something I wasn’t good at and hated. Now I pay an accountant to do them.

The same concept holds true for getting professional writing help. Let’s look at an example.

Say you are an investment adviser and charge an hourly rate of $100. You want to provide a monthly e-newsletter to your clients, but you spend five hours a month researching, writing, revising, and disseminating the newsletter. That’s $500 you’re not putting in your pocket.

If you hire a writer to do the newsletter each month for $250, you actually will be ahead $250 each month. (Warning: I’m using really low, round figures here because I’m bad at math. The $250 newsletter rate is not set in stone. Price depends on a number of factors.)

Not only that, but the newsletter (the product) will help you retain existing and grab potential clients.

Of course, there are lots of things I’d like to farm out, but I’m not at a point in my profitability for that to be possible – yet. So I pick and choose what services to invest in, services that will provide the best return for the funds I have available.

When you get to the point where you can pay someone to write cheaper, faster, and better than you, grab them! It will make your life that much easier and your business that much more successful.

To contact someone, who loves to wallow in words, about professional writing services, visit AIC Communication Services or e-mail info@aic-communication-services.com.

The Power in ‘Once Upon a Time…’

Once uponThe house creaked as the winter wind howled outside. Although it retained some of its 1870s grandeur – the cherry moldings, the columned entryway to the living room, the kitchen’s wainscoting – the house had undergone many changes over the years.

“Trying to tell me your life story?” she thought as she snuggled deeper into her recliner. “And what stories you could tell…”

Stories – they are the most powerful way humans communicate. Every writer – sometimes deep, deep down – wants to write a great novel. (C’mon, you know you do!)

Why? Why do we “torture” high school students with 500-year-old Shakespeare plays? Why are Aesop’s Fables and fairly tales by the Brothers Grimm still being told or read to children? Why do we read works like The Lord of the Rings over and over again?

What gives a story its power? All stories offer some universal truths, but it is the way they put them before us that make them powerful.

I could tell you to forgive your kids for foolish choices even if they blow all their money and need to move back home. Or I could say that you may think you’re a nice person, but it is your actions that are the real test.

Who is going to remember that? But more than 2,000 years ago, Jesus told the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. Those stories were so powerful, their titles have become part of our everyday language.

Yet stories are not just for fiction. Businesses large and small know the value of telling their “story.” Every business or organization has an “About Us” page. A good story keeps the company in the customer’s mind.

So, how do we tap into this power? Well, we need the secret ingredients. (Okay, they’re not so secret, but we often forget them.) We need:

  • a protagonist (hero, heroine – whatever) with a problem
  • the conflict between the problem and arriving at the solution
  • the protagonist solving the problem
  • life with the problem solved

Simple, right? Hold on there! Not so simple. We need to be able to combine these in the right way to make it successful.

So here’s my attempt to tell you the story of John S. Pemberton.

It was 1886, and Atlanta, Georgia had just passed prohibition. This meant renowned local pharmacist and chemist John S. Pemberton could no longer sell Pemberton’s French Wine Coca there.

He had created the drink, based on a French formula, to aid digestion, give strength to muscles and the nervous system, and provide a boost of energy. It was all based on the “miraculous” properties of the coca plant, sacred to the Native South American. Since a main ingredient of the formula was wine, it was now banned from Atlanta.

Pemberton did what any industrious inventor would; he went back to the drawing board. He substituted sugar syrup for the wine and renamed the concoction Coca-Cola.

The rest is history.

This information was taken from the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Pursue STEM, But Don’t Forget the Pen

The college I teach at recently had a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) event to encourage students to get involved in those fields. There is a big push on in this country to get our students up to speed in these areas. It’s important because innovations in these fields lead to a country’s prosperity and ability to compete in a global market.

What I’m afraid of (and I do seem to be seeing it) is that the educational system is sacrificing emphasis on writing skills. It’s great to be an engineer, but if you can’t get your ideas across to someone else, you are ineffective.

Man typingGood communication skills — especially in writing — are also very important to a business’s and country’s prosperity. Just read through Carolyn O’Hara’s recent article, “How to Improve Your Business Writing” in the Harvard Business Review.

It’s great to be able to create new innovations, but you still have to tell someone about it.

4 Reasons to Invest in Your Writing

Sometimes I feel like a prophet crying in the wilderness, glumly proclaiming, “You need to know how to write well in your job!”

People look at me out of the corners of their eyes and hurry past me, pretending that I’m not there. I assert an uncomfortable truth: poor writing is bad for business.

I’m not the only one out there saying this. There are lots of people more successful than I who are concerned with the lack of adequate writing skills in the workplace.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask.

I can give you four good reasons. It’s a question of an investment in your future.

1) Your writing is a reflection of you and your business.

Especially in an age of pervasive electronic communication, writing is a direct reflection on the writer. Poorly organized content and multiple grammatical errors make the writer (and by association the business the writer is representing) look disorganized and sloppy. For those seeking employment, how well you write can be the difference between getting the job and not getting it.

Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit and founder of Dozuki, writes about his “zero tolerance approach” to grammar errors in I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.” He says, “In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re.”

2) Poor writing wastes time and is unproductive.

When someone has to stop and take time to decipher an e-mail, a policy statement, or directions, she is not doing her work. That means lost productivity. Lost time means lost money in the business world.

Rick Suttle, in “Importance of Writing Skills in Business,” emphasizes this: “These written messages must be concise and self-explanatory, so workers can be productive and not waste time asking for further instructions.”

3) Being able to pay attention to details when writing is a skill that can be transferred to other tasks.

I’ve been called a fanatic and nitpicky when it comes to grammar. However, the ability to track and correct all the little things during writing and revision is a skill that can be used in other tasks.

Mr. Wiens explains that “programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they code.” Good writers tend to make fewer mistakes when they are doing other things.

4) Companies are putting more stress on writing skills when hiring.

Businesses realize that poor writing skills can cost them money but are faced with job candidates who can’t write clearly or understandably. “As a result, jobs are going unfilled and companies are spending as much as $3 billion per year to bring employees’ writing to an acceptable level,” writes Mark James Miller in Shortage of Writing Skills in the Workplace.”

If companies are willing to spend $3 billion a year to improve writing skills, how much money would they potentially lose if they didn’t? It’s mind boggling!

The good news is that anyone can improve her writing – with hard work and practice. In the long run, it will be time well spent if it gets you that job or that promotion.

A Marriage Made in the Classroom

I recently showed my composition class an example of overblown writing. The paragraph was full of multi-syllabic words that pretty much required a dictionary to decipher.

I asked them what they thought of the paragraph.

“Sounds smart,” one said, a common response.

“But can you understand what the writer is saying?” I asked. As they shook their heads, I asked, “So how ‘smart’ is the writer?”

In business, especially in the digital age, clarity is important. People need to access information swiftly, so writers need to make their point clearly and quickly.

I wonder, though, if we do a disservice to our students when weacademia and work put all our stress on academic writing. Learning the rigors of academic writing helps build research and organizational skills essential to good written communication. It also tends to encourage writing that is loaded with pretentious vocabulary, unnecessary wordiness, and passive voice as the students try to sound “smart.”

Most of my students are not headed toward careers in academia. They need to develop writing skills that will make them successful in the workplace. Even in business writing, they will need to beware the pitfalls of jargon and overused, trendy phrases.

How do I reconcile an academic-based syllabus with the needs of business-focused students? I stress that what we do in class is like the wind sprints football players do to get them ready for game day. I constantly try to point out how what they are learning is relevant to what they’ll need in the workplace.

I show them why good grammar is essential to keep the reader focused on ideas rather than mechanics. I demonstrate why they need to supply adequate supporting evidence for their ideas. We talk about how to write differently for different audiences and purposes.

One thing I try hard to do is to translate what we are learning into real-world applications. For instance, after learning to write descriptive essays, I have the students view a video of a work accident then ask them to write an incident report for their “supervisor.” Summary and response as well as persuasive essays are followed by students finding a job posting then writing a cover letter to apply for it.

I try to wed academic writing skills with workplace requirements. When I show my students that what they are learning in class will be useful in their careers, they see the benefit of working hard to hone their writing skills.