Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Write Way: Effective Business Writing

It’s hard to overstate the importance of effective writing to the success of a business endeavour. The words you choose to describe your idea, product, or service can make or break a prospective transaction, and attract or repel clients. Furthermore, proficiency in writing can make the difference between being perceived as a consummate professional, or an overweening amateur.

The basics always matter

In the era of spell-check, it’s easier to avoid egregious spelling errors than it was in the past. But there is a pitfall: when we rely on technology to correct our mistakes for us, we risk indulging in complacency—which can yield errors of a different kind. Nowadays, “correct” misspellings crop up frequently, like the following:

Delivery service is available in over one hundred countries, on six contents.

...a conveniently located house with an ensuite bathroom and specious kitchen.

Some misspellings/grammar mistakes are distressingly common, even among highly educated people:

The French Revolution lead to the ascendancy of Napoleon Bonaparte.

It is always important to chose one’s words wisely.

For more on grammatical faux pas, see this page at Copyblogger, and this (more advanced) one at Lit Reactor. Where spelling is concerned, this comic strip at The Oatmeal is both humorous and instructive.

Proofread your work, twice

As an entrepreneur, you are certainly conversant with time pressure and tight deadlines. But there is no substitute for carefully proofreading your work. Pay particular attention to your company website and social media, the foundations of your brand. Don’t underestimate the value of a disinterested second pair of eyes; ask someone you trust, with strong spelling and grammar skills, to peruse your work before you publish it. A credible reputation for attention to detail is a priceless asset in the business world—sloppy writing, on the other hand, is a red flag.

Aim for clarity and economy of words

If there is a rule of thumb for effective writing, it is that clarity and economy of words nearly always yield a superior final product. Whenever you write something, ask yourself: “Could I convey this concept more clearly, or in fewer words?” You may be surprised at how often the answer is “Yes.”

Think of yourself as a journalist who is attempting to shoehorn information into a limited word-count, highlighting the most salient details.

Show, don’t tell

Adjectives can be useful and illustrative in proper measure, but many prospective customers are wary of being “over-sold.” Accordingly, err on the side of too few adjectives rather than too many; emphasize the tangible properties and past successes of the product or service you offer. Testimonials from satisfied customers can be useful in this regard. What particular want or need does your product fill? How, exactly?

Know, and cater to, your readership

Understand the level of familiarity of your prospective clients with your product. Avoid jargon wherever feasible, and use your discretion in clarifying ideas and defining terms.

Clients will invariably ask questions, and some queries may arise repeatedly. Keep a list of those that recur, and set up a FAQ page on your website.

Read in your spare time

One of the surest ways to enhance any skill is to learn from others who excel at it. Read widely—news, press releases, literature, magazine articles. Reading will help you expand your vocabulary, learn new figures of speech, build linguistic precision, and gain general knowledge. Staying abreast of current events and the latest advancements in your industry is useful for networking purposes, too. The more you can impress people with your expertise, and your ability to articulate it, the more your prospective client base will grow.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Establishing Success in 10 Seconds

It’s an old cliché that you only get one chance to make a first impression, but unlike with the opposite sex, if practice made perfect it means that all that time spent practicing amounts to dollars left on the table just trying to get it right. You can read over the volumes of thick tomes dedicated to unraveling the mystery as to what to say to make the perfect first impression, or simply be aware of the fact that a first impression of you is made even before you open your mouth – the implications this has for business are unfathomable.

A couple of compelling theories to consider

In a study out of Harvard, published in Psychological Bulletin in 1992 by Ambady & Rosenthal, it was found that there is strong evidence supporting peoples’ ability to quickly and accurately judge others. So when people tell you that they are “excellent judges of character”, statistically they are, if unwittingly, telling the truth. What Ambady & Rosenthal concluded was that you could know someone for a few seconds, or for a year, and your impression of them would be the same.

In a much less scientifically controlled environment, Art of Charm founder Jordan Harbinger explained on the Bulletproof Executive’s podcast recently, in the context of men seeking women at a night club, that a group of women will develop an impression of a man the moment he walks into the club – or as he charmingly puts it, “the moment he appears on their radar” – and not when he musters the courage to approach them.

What do these examples mean for business?

Haven’t put it together yet?

For years, a lot of emphasis has been put on the importance of, and how much you can know about someone, from their having a firm handshake. Well the truth is just about everything in business, from networking, to the job interview, to landing a major deal relies heavily on everything you do before you even shake on anything.

It was often said that a firm handshake projected confidence and self-assuredness - traits that bosses and CEOs looked for in those they wanted working for them or wanted to make deals with - but the truth is the level of your confidence has been established by others not when you first shake, but when they first lay eyes on you. That means that a job, a contract, or a major deal is signed off on courtesy of communication that is non-verbal; communication that is not interactive, or even intentional.

Networking and unlocking the secrets of non-verbal communication

As superficial as it may seem, success anywhere happens in about 10 seconds and comes down to a few exterior traits. So no matter how lovable you may be, or how brilliant your ideas are, it’s essential to at least master a few surface qualities so that these deeper traits have a chance to see the light of day.

In much the same way that a handshake was once regarded as the way to communicate confidence and self-assuredness, people like Ambady, Rosenthal, and Harbinger are now proving that what you wear, how you enter a room, and how you walk and carry yourself have the ability to project the same thing. Neglecting these facts could be the difference between a payday and planning on not making the same mistake next time.

Ten seconds. That’s all it takes. So don’t wait to work up the courage to connect because statistics show that the longer you wait the more your opportunity to make a perfect first impression slips away. Establishing contact the moment you appear on someone’s radar is just another way to project the confidence they are looking for. So don’t waste time second-guessing your lovability, or your great ideas, because you, in fact, wear those on the outside.