What does your software NOT do?

Oh, the joys of upgrading computers. For every opportunity to improve efficiency there is a corresponding incompatibility that requires sorting out. A new machine probably also means a new version of the operating system, which subsequently means a new version of most of the software you use. Without this the IT industry would probably not exist.

Another problem is that, when evaluating new software, the marketing material and web sites often tell you what a system can do but not what it can’t. One option is to download a trial version and test it, but this only increases dissatisfaction when you find it does 99% of what you want but not the vital 1% you need. Then you have to start checking out the uninstall instructions, if there are any.

So, while it’s nice to see fancy graphics, screenshots and videos, it’s important that software companies balance the fluffy, exciting feel of using a new system with essential details of its capabilities and practical operation. While I dislike getting underneath the bonnet of my car, I need to know that occasionally I have to fill it up with a specific type of fuel.

Get it right and, if the software is as good as the developer says, more people should buy it because they will be more confident about what it can do for them.

Talking is a tool to help weather the economic storm

Even without the BBC’s financial crisis logo, it’s easy to see that conditions are challenging for many sectors. With Vodafone reported as looking to make £1 billion in cutbacks and BT reported to be making 10,000 redundancies, the fallout will start hitting the wider community now and in early 2009, as it impacts on the suppliers of these big companies. From there it will spread to shops and other service providers of the people made redundant.

This scenario looks pretty bleak when transferred to other big companies and we must take it seriously. But is there anything else businesses can do to weather the storm? Of course, there is.

Communication, as ever, is the key. Companies must not only communicate more effectively with their customers to maintain sales, but they must talk internally. People get worried and want to be reassured. Executives can probably do most to improve performance by getting out there and talking to their employees. Tell them what’s happening. Listen to what employees say. Start to work together.

It doesn’t have to cost anything; the best communication is face-to-face. 

By coincidence, on the 25th anniversary of when I joined British Airways telephone sales, today brings back the memory of when, because there were very heavy call volumes on a Monday, the management asked us to give up our Monday morning tea break in return for free tea and doughnuts. These refreshments were served to us by managers and supervisors pushing trolleys round the reservations floor. It felt a bit like the war spirit: there was a problem and everyone chipped in to solve it. It also led me to say that I’d do anything for a cup of tea and a doughnut.

Anyway, it was a department of some 600 people. Now, say that 200 were manning the phones at that specific time and the tea break was 10 minutes long (from my memory), that’s over 33 extra productive hours available to BA on those mornings. It also meant happy customers, who didn’t have to hang on the phone to get through, and more sales. And all for the cost of some doughnuts and tea. How many companies these days would waste those 33 hours in meetings, agonising over what to do?

So businesses need to respond to their people. Get them on board and who knows what you’ll be capable of achieving? It need not take more than a bit of effort to achieve incredible results. What is there to lose?

It all starts with communication.

Zarywacz enters 15th year of business

I woke up this morning . . . so the song goes . . . and realised that we were entering our 15th year in business.

Phew! Quite a lot has changed over the past 14 years: I remember Simon and I discussing the internet back in the 1990s and how to prepare ourselves to take advantage of it. From taking an Adobe PageMill (remember that?) course, which turned into an html course, Simon built our first web site, which led to my then neighbours commissioning him to build a web site for their international travel magazine.

Now we use the internet and mobile communications without even thinking about what benefits we gain from them. They enabled me to move home and office from the densely populated and business-rich Thames Valley to beautiful and sparsely-populated North Devon. I still write, edit and proofread for clients across the UK and abroad too. It really doesn’t matter where we are located.

So we enter another year with great uncertainty in the economy. With governments nearly always causing more problems than they solve, it’s up to businesses to work our way out of the gloom they have inspired in the media.

Business is not always easy, but we’ve been here for 14 years and we’re preparing to be around for a while longer.

Visit to see what we aim to be doing for clients in the years ahead.

Zarywacz client Two Rivers Travel to increase Reading coach trips

Zarywacz client and newly established Reading coach operator Two Rivers Travel is now preparing a comprehensive programme of coach day trips, short breaks and holidays for 2009.

To keep customers up-to-date Two Rivers Travel is launching an online newsletter with details of its 2009 Days Out programme as they are announced – you can sign up and have the chance to win tickets for a Day Out at its coach day trips, short breaks and holidays web site.

Marketing in a cold climate

Although we seem to be surrounded by bad economic news, life has to go on. With reports of job cuts, marketing and advertising cuts, and sales slowing down, it’s easy to panic.

It is wise to control expenditure, but at the same time businesses have to continue marketing and selling if they are to survive, let alone thrive.

There is so much that any business can do. Much of it is common sense and costs little:

• Keep your web site and marketing material up-to-date.

• Identify products and services that are more likely to be required by customers: what do you provide that they cannot do without?

• Focus on any of these areas that are most profitable to you.

• Package products and services so that they are more attractive in a difficult market.

• Keep in contact with existing customers to retain them and/or increase your sales.

• Explore other ways of applying your products, services and expertise. It could be just a case of adding new pages to your web site, a public relations campaign or approaching customers in different sectors.

Whatever happens, your business needs to remain visible and able to reach any customers looking to purchase.

Managing long documents effectively

When commissioned to proofread magazines, newsletters, reports, manuals and web sites before they are sent to print or published on the internet, often we find major inconsistencies throughout the document, which require considerable rewriting or editing. Sometimes there isn’t enough time to do this and the document is produced with only the worst errors and typos corrected.

Anyone producing a long document can avoid this by assuming the role of editor and managing production from start to finish. By using style guides for both the visual and written content, you can ensure consistency through contributions from many writers, illustrators and designers. 

And because you’re monitoring progress all the time, you won’t be faced by the need to make impossible changes just before going to print or publication. 

It’ll save you time, money and hassle, and also result in a better publication.

Download our free prompt sheet on managing long documents effectively or if you want someone to edit your long document for you, call us on 0845 200 7830 or email us.

When you need information from busy people, tap into their enthusiasm

When you need information to be able to do a job but someone is too busy to give it to you or just never gets round to doing it, try tapping into their enthusiasm.

People love talking about their likes and are pleased to have a keen listener, so try to catch them over a cup of tea or a drink for five minutes and ask them about activities they like talking about. Take a genuine interest and ask them questions so that they talk about what you need to know.

Instead of making them sit down to spend time thinking when they don’t want to, you’ll be conducting an informal, enjoyable interview to achieve the same result.

They will feel good because they’ve had an opportunity to talk about what they do to someone who wants to listen to them and because you’ve got rid of one more task for them. You will feel good because you have the information you need and can get on with your job.

What’s more, it’ll promote better understanding in your organisation, because you’ll both know a little bit more about what you do.

Try it to see if it works.

Would you like to improve your understanding and use of English grammar?

Sadly, millions of people educated in the UK over the past 40 years who were not taught about the use of English grammar at school are often unsure of themselves when writing and speaking.

However, it’s never too late to learn and a book I would recommend is Collins’ Good Grammar (available from Amazon and other stores) by Graham King.

Exceptionally well written, this book is very easy to read and understand, and many people will realise that they know more about grammar than they thought they did, even though grammar was not taught to them at school.

It’s quite an entertaining book and demonstrates what a beautiful and practical language English is.

Robert Zarywacz

Avoid the credit crunch!

There’s quite a bit of doom and gloom in the press and media about the credit crunch, house price falls, consumer confidence and all manner of economic disaster.

As a business, what do you do? Bury your head in the sand and hope it doesn’t happen? Or panic?

Well, there is another way. Make sure your business is fit to compete in a toughening marketplace.

One of the ways to do this is to increase your marketing efforts when others are cutting them. How? Assess all your marketing material: brochures, web sites, sales letters and all customer communications to make sure that every one is up-to-date and promotes your current products and services.

Will it increase your costs at a time when you want to reduce them? A freelance copywriter, proofreader or other specialist should be able to help you revitalise your material at a reasonable cost. And if they help you to increase sales, it won’t be a cost at all.

On the other hand, there are many things you can do yourself and we offer a range of useful free prompts and checklists to guide you through these.

So don’t panic – strengthen your marketing armoury and win more business.

Robert Zarywacz

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