Communicating

Finding your voice

One of the biggest challenges when writing for business is in selecting the right tone of voice, both for you and your readers. There used to be a tendency to write in a very cold, formal, unwelcoming style, while now some people write very informally and can be too familiar. Depending on your target audience, the best style is probably somewhere in between these extremes.

What’s important is to develop a style that feels comfortable for you and your business and which your audience likes too. It’s no good developing a highly individual style of writing which your audience can’t understand, as business text has to be practical. If your main objective is to persuade people that your product is worth buying, they have to be able to understand that easily.

Style develops over time, so don’t agonise over your writing: you can only develop your style through practice. Also, most business materials have a very short shelf life these days, so focus on improving your writing every time you write a new brochure, report or blog.

While it’s important to be aware of the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling, any piece of writing has to be interesting for people to read it all the way through. Finding the balance between a style that is easy to read and which also reflects the character of your business can take some practice, but it is worth it. There is so much boring text printed and published online that most people welcome the opportunity to read something interesting. This gives you the chance to shine through with an effective writing style.

So think about this every time you write something for your business, whether it’s a report, a letter or promotional material. It will also help you to measure what works as you see the effects of your developing style in terms of increased responses. If responses drop, you’ll know your style isn’t suitable for your readers and can work to change it.

We’ll talk more about this in the future, but bear it in mind for now.

After our last blog, have you thought about what interests your customers?

z2zine tomorrow: Know why you’re communicating

Follow us on twitter @z2zine

It’s not what you want to hear

I started my career at British Airways in the days when it was the ‘world’s favourite airline’. I loved working there and loved talking about how great it was. How I must have bored people!

If we’re not careful, it can be the same with business. We love what we’re doing and want to tell people about it, but other people don’t always want to hear. Perhaps they have different interests and needs.

That’s why, when producing promotional material, it’s best to consider what customers find exciting rather than what interests us. Something which appears mundane to us, such as a way of reducing costs, could excite our customers considerably and that’s what we should focus on.

We can only find out what our customers are interested in by building relationships and developing conversations. We can do this through activities such as web site forums, printed and online newsletters, questionnaires, surveys and, of course, speaking directly on the phone or face-to-face.

Perhaps our interests are the same as our customers, perhaps not, but we have to find out. Once we know, we can tailor our communications to meet what they want.

After yesterday’s blog, have you started or reviewed  your communications plan?

z2zine next week: Finding your voice

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Continuous communication with a plan

Last week I went to see a production of The Wizard of Oz that was very slick, probably because the cast had rehearsed the show again and again to make their hard work look very easy. This can also apply to communication, especially the production of marketing and promotional materials.

Some people are natural writers with the ability to jot down text almost without thinking, while others can stand up in front of hundreds of people and deliver an informative and entertaining off-the-cuff presentation, but many people probably can’t do either or lack the confidence to try. That’s where planning and preparation come in. While tight deadlines can aid creativity to some extent, they can also result in slapdash presentation full of errors when there really isn’t enough time to do a job properly.

Focusing on deadlines and schedules enables you to manage communications more effectively.

Deadlines vary from hours and days for the internet to weeks and months for magazines and up to a year for annual directories. What’s important is to find out what the deadlines are for relevant publications, to put the dates in your diary and to schedule your activity so you get everything done in time.

Creating a communication or marketing plan is useful because you can see from it in an instant when a specific trade journal is published or an event takes place and what the deadline is if you want your contribution included. It’s easy to forget deadlines when you’re busy with other aspects of business, only to remember when the magazine drops on to your desk without the article or advert you wanted in it.

Planning also enables your communications to continue when you are busy.

It can also prevent a stop-go pattern from developing when you don’t have much time to keep your communications flowing. Many activities, such as blogging, web sites, articles and PR, can actually be more effective when you do a little on a regular basis rather than leaving large intervals when you do nothing.

What should I include in my plan?

The planning process should raise important questions, such as: What do I want to achieve for my business? What activities will achieve these objectives? When do I need to do them? Are they working? Your business objectives should suggest some of the answers and, if you’re not clear about them, it’s worth spending time considering precisely what you want to achieve.

A communications plan can be as simple or as complex as you choose. A single side of A4 text is better than no plan at all. A spreadsheet or schedule linked to an automated diary or customer relationship management system sounds ideal, but only if you have the time to use it properly. Whatever you choose must work for you and it’s a waste of time to prepare a vast plan if you don’t have time to put it into action.

Knowing what activities to choose can be difficult and we will examine many of the options available in the coming days and weeks. What is important is to start thinking about what you want, what you need to do and how you will do it. This puts you firmly in control of your communications and enables you to start thinking about how you approach the actual activities.

Plan today

Just thinking about your communications will help you to start planning and preparing them effectively.

 

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.

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