Communicating

Starting conversations

So much can start with a conversation. In fact, no business can survive without conversations to communicate with its suppliers, employees and customers.

Communication is the basis of all business.

Whatever your business does, you have to communicate with banks or lenders to obtain finance, with staff to enable your business processes to operate smoothly and with customers so that they buy your product. A conversation ensures communication is two-way, enabling you to receive feedback from the other person, which can help you to improve what you do. One-way communication, when you tell people whatever you want, can risk deterring supporters and suppliers, upsetting staff and driving customers away.

z2zine today looks at a different aspect of communication every day to see what businesses can do to converse more effectively. Better communications can lead to better business, so there’s a big incentive for us all to develop and improve our conversations.

But where do we start?

Take André Preneur, an imaginary business owner, whose company is stagnating. He’s got a stationery cupboard full of brochures designed and printed six months ago, a web site that was launched two years ago and an order book that’s not very full. What can André do instead of sitting in his office with his door closed, worrying about how to get new orders to pay his suppliers’ invoice and his employees’ wages? He doesn’t have much of a marketing budget and he’s already placed adverts in local directories. What else is there?

The answer is: a lot.

And it doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Just updating the web site is a start. Is the information current? Are prices correct? And what about those brochures? Do they promote products or services new to customers? When was the last time customers were contacted? Could they be sent a brochure to jog their memories, excite their interest and continue the customer conversation?

Simple examples, perhaps, but there are many things that every business can do to keep conversations flowing.

And it’s not just with customers. Conversations with employees need to continue as well. When markets are challenging, businesses depend on their people more than ever before, so treating them well is important, especially if additional flexibility and co-operation are needed.

What can I do today?

Conversations require effort to develop over the long term, but there are also quick, easy actions we can take every day. One thing we can do straight away is to make sure everything is up to date. So how about looking over your web site, deleting expired offers and old events, checking prices and current offers? And how about your printed material and stationary? Are addresses, prices, offers all current? Do you have new products you’re not promoting, but need to promote? And if you have boxes of brochures doing nothing, how about distributing them, either by mail or by your sales people or customer service staff?

All these actions are a start. Once begun, it’s much easier to continue conversing.

 

Why are so many communications difficult to read or understand?

With millions of printed and online communications distributed every day, many readers are forced to assess the value of one piece of written material against hundreds of others, often making the read, bin, delete or ignore decision within a few seconds.

Good design can attract initial attention, but isn’t enough to keep readers from losing interest in longer documents if the writing is monotonous, ambiguous or erratic.

In the course of my proofreading work, I often read documents about to be printed or published which don’t make sense, lurch from one writing style to another or are simply boring. Sometimes there’s enough time for remedial editing, but often there’s only enough time to correct the worst mistakes.

Do interest, clarity and consistency matter?
If the purpose of a specific communication is to inform readers or persuade them to take a defined action, it will achieve neither if no one reads it. If we are serious about achieving our purpose and want maximum value from the time and money we invest in communicating, then interest, clarity and consistency do matter.

What can ensure communications are effective?
As usual, it’s good planning and effective management that prevent many problems. Here’s a few suggestions that won’t necessarily cost you more, but could make your communications more effective.

Develop a written house style
If you write a lot or produce long documents, a style guide will help to establish a consistent corporate writing style. Use it to establish your preferred way of writing certain words or phrases, names or jargon, formats for dates, numerical data, use of capitals and punctuation preferences (eg whether to hyphenate: co-operate or cooperate?).

A style guide is not about being pedantic, but about ensuring consistency. Inconsistency can put off some readers and damage your image if valuable brand or product names are written incorrectly (eg MasterCard requires an upper case C, while adidas is written entirely in lower case).

A style guide can be as basic or as detailed as you wish, varying from a single sheet of A4 to an entire book. Distribute it to everyone who writes material in your organisation and ensure that authors refer to it, especially when many writers collaborate on one document.

Take a look at the BBC News or The Times newspaper style guides for an idea of how a style guide can help.

Appoint an editor to manage a project
If you’re producing a magazine, book or long report, a capable editor will manage the separate parts to ensure that they come together as a unified document. Select someone with a good command of English who has project management experience. If you have difficulty finding someone internally and are spending thousands of pounds on a project, bringing in professional expertise could save you money.

The editor should pick up and amend inconsistencies during production and ensure all material is checked for accuracy and proofread. This should prevent the last-minute panics that can occur just before printing or publication, and also eliminate costly reprints required by undetected errors.

Read your writing out loud
Whatever you write, long or short, read it out loud as a test. If any passages sound unnatural, awkward or tedious to you, just think how they will appear to your readers. Effective writing can replicate the natural rhythm of conversational language to convey a message to readers effortlessly.

If you still aren’t sure, read it to a trusted colleague and ask their opinion, like I have done with this article. It’s better to receive practical criticism that you can act on from someone you know rather than negative criticism from customers or industry peers, and it gives you the opportunity to improve material before you publish it.

Achieving return on investment in communications
As new forms of communication such as microblogging (eg Twitter) and mobile blogging develop, demands on readers’ attention from every direction will increase further. Faced with such competition, the three actions above could contribute to changing a document’s status from ‘bin it’ to ‘essential reading’. If people read and understand a communication and take action as a result of it, it will have achieved a good return on the investment made in producing it.

It will also make this proofreader happier to read more interesting, consistent and well-written material.

See this article written by Robert Zarywacz at the ecademy 100K club for entrepreneurs.

Communication overload causes confusion . . . and prevents understanding

We all suffer from it, because modern technology has increased the quantity and frequency of the communications we receive, while traditional editing skills have been largely forgotten.

When we are overwhelmed by so much irrelevant information, we miss or misunderstand those messages which are important to us.

Every wrong piece of information costs you time, money and reputation:

  • A wrongly delivered product requires you to collect and replace it.
  • A wrong meeting date wastes your time and travel.
  • An unclear press announcement attracts enquiries from the wrong audience – who have no interest in the products and services you provide – while missing the target audience who do want what you offer.

As a result, service suffers, product quality plummets, reputation tarnishes and customers shrink away.

Make yourself understood . . .

. . . so your business runs more smoothly.

Precise and accurate messages enable your people to work more effectively. They reduce your costs and increase quality, because everyone understands what they do and why they do it:

  • The right product is delivered first time to a satisfied customer.
  • You arrive for your meeting on time in a confident frame of mind.
  • Your press announcement attracts the enquiries you want.

Your service is seamless, your products are perfect, your reputation shines and your customers multiply.

Speak clear messages . . .

. . . so that every audience you reach understands you in whatever medium you use:

Employees – are motivated by your newsletters, intranets and all other forms of internal communication.

Departments – work together more effectively with less friction, because everyone understands the importance of good inter-departmental relationships to the overall success of your organisation.

Partners and suppliers – understand your vision and their role within it, so that all your collaborative activities succeed.

Customers – understand who you are and why you are important to them – through your newsletters, speeches, press releases, presentations, web sites, sales letters and face-to-face contact with your people.

Business is understanding . . .

. . . what each of your audiences wants and communicating effectively, so that everyone understands everyone else clearly.

Speak less, say more . . .

. . . with effective, professional written and spoken communications from Zarywacz.

We focus entirely on your message – whether it’s a short sales letter or a company-wide communications programme – to ensure that you are understood.

We aim to reduce the quantity and length of your communications to make them all shorter, sharper and more easily understood – to save your time and money, enhance your reputation and boost your success.

%d bloggers like this: