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Cultivate Better Business Writing

A lot of people overlook the impact of business writing but knowing how to fashion an interesting and intelligent email, blog, report or memo is essential to communicating effectively, winning business, and setting yourself apart.

You can have all the great ideas in the world but if you can’t communicate them effectively no one will ever know.

But the great news is that this is a skill you can cultivate with a few basic principles and lots of practice.

Writing techniques vary depending on what you are writing – a blog should be more conversational than a board report, a meaningful tweet will require more imaginative brevity than a LinkedIn post, your ‘AboutMe’ webpage will demand knowledge of how to get people to buy into you whereas a business plan demands a more staid yet just as effective method of conveying information.

All far too much to include in one article so here I aim to layout some general guidelines as a start and write some more specific blogs to follow in the coming weeks.

Take A Minute

“Taking time to do nothing often brings everything into perspective”

Doe Zantamata

Before you pick up a pen or open the laptop, take a minute!

I worked with this great CEO once who came back from a meditation week in California and immediately started making everyone close their eyes for a minute at the beginning of meetings. Needless to say there was a lot of muttering about touchy feely American ideas but personally I thought it was a fabulously effective idea.

The thinking behind it is to take a minute to think about what you want to achieve and focusing on how you will go about achieving it.

Taking a step back to gather your thoughts is a really great idea for writing too. If you wade straight in the danger is that you will work out your thoughts as you are writing which isn’t conducive to a structured approach.

Practice Makes Perfect

“I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times.”

Bruce Lee

A bit of a cliché but true in this case.

I have always loved writing but it is a muscle. No one starts out as a great writer, it is something you learn on the job.

Reading well-written material every day, and that doesn’t mean lots of highbrow literature. Consciously read everything – that article you read in your favourite newspaper, the blog that caught your attention on Twitter, the sales blurb for the new car you would love to buy. Be attentive to word choice, sentence structure, and flow.

And one thing that few people do? If you stop reading something because it annoyed you, turned you off or bored you to death. Spend a few minutes doing the same in reverse, what was it that got under your skin?

Cut The Fat

“Brevity is a great charm of eloquence.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Writers know that brevity is crucial. In writing, as with many things in life, “less is more.”

A great copywriter knows how to trim the fat from any article to craft relevant, engaging content that wins an audience.  Writing for an audience demands that you can both inform and entertain, you won’t be doing either they are wishing you would just get to the point.

Anyone can write huge chunks of rambling content, the real challenge is writing a punchy and succinct piece that gets to the point and captures the readers’ attention.

This is generally my last stage in the writing process … I tend to let my mind wander and my fingers tap away uncontrolled in the first draft but when you have the structure and the content that you want on the page it is time to get to distilling your message.

Reread every sentence as if it stands in it’s own right – does it add value to your piece as a whole? Is it a simple structure? It takes more work to write a short post, you may find you spend twice as much time editing as you do writing. But you owe it to your audience to put the effort in.

Know your own downfalls

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it”

Albert Einstein

I am painfully aware that left to my own devices rambling and over complicated sentence structures are a vice of mine. It is such fun to write in a stream of consciousness style but it is generally not easy or fun for any of my audience to read.

Bad habits are only a problem if you ignore them. Be honest with yourself!

Periodically reread what you are writing

“The first draft of anything is shit”

Ernest Hemingway

As with a great chef who tastes their food as they go along you should periodically take a step back and reread what you have written.

Put yourself in the shoes of the audience you are writing for – Are you still on the right track, could the paragraphs be more effectively ordered, are you rambling or keeping to the point you want to make?

Plan out your structure

Present your main idea as soon as possible

Use words sparingly

Keep sentences structure simple

Avoid jargon and “fancy” words

Strive for clarity

Practice more

Re-read more

Edit out the unnecessary relentlessly

 

 

Give a more imaginative reply than ‘I’m busy’

If you were asked how your day has been, there’s a good chance that you’d include the word “busy” somewhere in your answer.

And, just perhaps, rightfully so!

When we’re not working, we’re doing something for the kids, commuting, working, shopping, running errands, cleaning, cooking, making beds, buying new washing machines, booking in root canal, vacuuming,  writing blogs – and the list goes on and ON.

What little downtime we have is packed with distractions.

We’re busier than ever before!

But worse than all of that …

… ‘busy’ has become  some kind of badge of honour.

And NOT a good one.

We feel weirdly good about being busy.

Kory Kogon, author of The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity thinks people have become too proud of being busy.

She challenges us to think about how we continue to glorify being busy and the toll that this takes on our lives. In an interview with Inc., she asks us to disconnect being busy from being productive, as way to shift the dialogue.

Instead of defaulting to “I’m busy” for an easy answer, talk about your recent wins and projects that you’re working on. Everyone’s busy – we’d rather hear about how you’re managing your priorities – not how your priorities are managing you.

So, ultimately I am sorry for having a bit of a rant but I have encountered two terminally and infuriatingly ‘busy’ people today.

One a very close friend who got on my very last nerve today after many months of ducking out of meetings and many emails implying her life is more important than mine.

And one quite stressful colleague who, whilst quite annoying at least once a day, was understandably snappy and short.

Which one is better?

Frankly I could do without either!

And, most importantly, I aspire to be neither!

We’re all busy, we all have too much to do, we are all going grey a little too quickly in a world that refuses to slow down … even just a little bit.

But there is no reason to bore and irritate and tyrannise everyone with it.

And, just in case you are wondering … is the featured pic at for this blog a yawn because we’re all tired with the pace of life or a yawn of complete boredom at people using ‘busy’ as some kind of status symbol to batter the rest of us around the head with on a daily basis?

Frankly I think there is a little of both in there. But the most tedious of the two, the most wearing in my working and personal life … definitely the latter!

If someone asks how you are?

Be positive, be energetic, find something from the sunnier side to say.

Believe me, nobody wants to hear “I’m too busy”!

It will not only be more engaging for them to hear, it will be more positive for you to say.

Rant over 🙂

Thank you for listening! J x

Image result for busy quotes

 

Volunteering for Growth – Two Birds, One Stone

I have long loved volunteering – long been committed to supporting, enabling and celebrating volunteering in all its diversity.

I have done a lot over the years but there has been so much going on in life for the last few years that I am not currently volunteering in any capacity. And I’ve just realised in the last few days that – I miss it!

My new job is great, my little company is motoring along quite nicely (VERY excited to have a new client this week for whom I will be doing a brand refresh and from scratch website build!) and aside from some pretty hefty political turmoil in the world I have no reason to be in the slightest bit dissatisfied.

Yet it has felt that something is missing and my recent realisation was that it was having something bigger than myself and my little life. So …

I usually find volunteering opportunities through http://www.Do-It.org (A great website BTW where you can search a HUGE range of opportunities but location) but in looking over the last few weeks have struggled to find anything that fits.

That’s not to say there aren’t a huge amount of opportunities out there but I need something that fits around work and OurOtherOffice and opportunities with that kind of flexibility seem few and far between.

And then inspiration struck, why not combine my two passions? So today I am putting some meat on the bones of my plan to offer my time and services through ‘Our Other Office’ free of charge to local charities.

And whilst doing the necessary research for writing and building a new web page for this offering and constructing a MailChimp campaign to see if anyone will be interested in taking it up I have gathered the makings of a blog on why volunteering is such a wonderful, life enhancing and personally/ professionally gratifying thing to do.

Herewith my top 5 reasons why you should be thinking about it too …

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  1. It’s Good For Your Health

Many studies have found that when we stop thinking about your own problems and focus on someone other than ourselves we not only have the capacity to help them but reap our own benefits.

Your stress levels start to decrease, your immune system is strengthened and your overall sense of life satisfaction increases.

This is because helping someone else interrupts inward focus and stress building patterns and replaces it with a sense of purpose, positive emotions and high confidence levels. It is all a matter of keeping things in perspective really.

Peer support doesn’t just work one way,” says Dr Casiday. “Even if you’re in a mentoring role, simply talking to someone else who is struggling with the same issue can support you as well. It’s not just an act of charity. In a lot of cases, the volunteer is helped as much as the patient.

2. Develop Your Soft Skills

Emotional Intelligence is a big buzz word at the moment, employers in particular love a candidate with a range of soft skills but they can also enhance all the other areas of your life.

emotional intelligence
noun

the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically

Volunteering without a doubt gives you plenty of opportunity to develop the soft skills that are essential to anyone wanting to be a well rounded and high functioning individual in every sphere of their life.

When volunteering you can be faced with problems on a daily basis, you have to deal with a mix of personalities and all this whilst adjusting to life outside of your comfort zone. This kind of character building and varied experience is immeasurable in helping you to improve your teamwork, leadership, problem-solving and people skills.

3. A Real-World Experience

Another amazing motivator for volunteering is the insightful, real-world experiences that volunteers gain in the field. Get ready to gain a hands-on experience, to get stuck in.

Often in the real world of work it can be difficult to escape the confines of your job description and if you are the kind of person who likes to get creative and be on a constant learning curve this can be quite confining.

Being just that kind of person I have always seen volunteering as an opportunity to flex the muscles that I don’t really get to flex in my day to day role as an Executive Assistant kind of the same reason for starting up Our Other Office really but with a hefty amount of altruism thrown in) There is nothing unusual about having a job that doesn’t tick all of your boxes, there is something wrong with not doing anything to seek out ways to tick those boxes yourself.

Pick your passion and then you get to live your dream in real life!

4. Career Boosting

Did you know volunteering is an excellent way to boost your career prospects? So just what makes employers love volunteers so much?

It helps you create a positive impression in any interview!

Broadly it will make you appear more innovative, creative and gives you a range of useful skills. Not only that but there will be an immediate impression created that if you are a volunteer you are a greater team player, inevitably an all round nicer person for having done something for nothing in a world where this is increasingly rare.

It’s not just us that believe this, recruiters do too!

In a competitive job market, prospective employers want to see what makes you different from all the other candidates, and volunteering is a great way of standing out from the crowd. By demonstrating that you take part in meaningful activities in your spare time, you will show an employer that you are a well-rounded person with some interesting life experience.

Kate Edwards, Volunteer Services Manager, The Abbeyfield Society

5. Making A Real Difference

Volunteering, in whatever form, gives you the chance to vote every day about the kind of community and world you want to live in.

If you, like me, think that that is something that is particularly important in a country, a continent, a world and, ultimately, a species that seems to be pulling itself apart discussing how much we should give and to whom.

It gives you the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than yourself and to do something for the greater good.

There is a lot of antipathy and hatred in the world at the moment and whilst there is very little we can do as individuals to combat that there is much we can all do on a more individual and local scale.

Without people who are willing to sacrifice their time and skills to meaningful causes, a lot more people and animals would be worse off.

This is one of my favourite quotes of all time

JFK Try.png

Not sure where to start in your volunteering journey?

Your reason for volunteering should begin where your passions lie, be led from a place of talent and intention.

That way all the hard work to come will be worth it. You will naturally be more committed to the cause and as a result, your impact will be that much bigger!

And if you want to get some ideas on the kind of thing you can do you should definitely visit http://www.do-it.org. Enjoy 🙂

 

Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals

As a small business owner I am fascinated with the idea of setting long term goals – for both myself and my business.

And Big, Hairy, Audacious ones are just, quite simply, the best kind!

It’s Sunday morning and I am having a pretty great weekend so far … right now I am watching ‘Walt Before Mickey‘ and it has inspired me to think about going for what everyone else would tell you is impossible, a pipe dream.

They are audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible.
Think about investing money – how much would you earn if you opted for risk free investing. The likely answer is that you wouldn’t earn any interest at all!
The same effect occurs in your body. If you never strain your muscles to push beyond their current capabilities, you won’t just stay at the same level of strength and not grow stronger. In weight training failure is your goal for each session. Hitting the point of failure is ultimately what helps you grow stronger.

Setting a goal and failing to achieve it doesn’t have to be regarded as some terrible thing to be avoided at all costs.

Feelings of disappointment can either drown you or shape you. Sometimes, it may just be a new beginning – Walt before Mickey

Goals are vital for everyone, but especially on a Small Business and Entrepreneurial level!

The USP and main driving element of a BHAG is willingness to completely change your mind set and commit to doing something differently from the way you have been doing it.

If you can envision the big picture and are ready to take a bold and life-changing step, then it’s time to develop a BHAG.

If You Can Dream It You Can Do It

The first step is taking the time to think through what it is that you want. Where do you want to be in 10 years? Where do you want your business to be in 10 years?

Let go of constraints, think only of what would be your ideal and let your imagination take charge.

If it isn’t very ambitious and seemingly unattainable it isn’t a BHAG.

Conceptualize a goal that will change your business and/or your life.

Next … How Do You Get There?

So, lets assume for a minute that all you have imagined in the first step is eminently possible.

Quiet that inner voice for a moment!

It is likely that if your dream is audacious enough it might seem a bit on the scary side.

You can break it down into smaller, measurable chunks, or mini-goals. Take it one step at a time!

Commit

Just like you do with any goal, you will need to commit and start forward progress immediately.

If you are thinking long term, at least 10 years, it might seem like you have lots of time.

But if your goal is big enough, scary enough and audacious enough you had best get started, your dream awaits you

 

 

Small Seeds #8 -Automate Your Decisions

Did you know that your brain power functions much like a battery?

This means that each decision you make throughout your day will drain this precious resource.

Luckily, people can mitigate behaviours that drain them – simply by automating decisions.

This is precisely why Steve Jobs wore the same jeans and black turtleneck everyday. Streamlining his decision-making around clothes preserved mental energy, allowing him to focus on his critical objectives.

And then there was Albert Einstein. It has been reported that the famous physicist bought several versions of the same grey suit because he didn’t want to waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning.

According to a Forbes article, President Obama is another one that finds these kind of repetitive habits useful!

“You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Barack Obama

We may not have the kind of insanely hectic and pressured life that a world leader has and you may not have a trusted staff to automate every food decision.

But you should also consider removing the day to day problems from your life, the things that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day.

Is your precious morning, the first impactful moments that define the rest of your day, really worth cluttering up with wondering which clothes to wear?

However, imagine if you could commit to the same nutritious breakfast everyday! Not only will your body thrive, but your mind will be primed to conquer the day too.

I had a lovely boss until recently who used to have the same boring sandwich every single working day. A £1.25 Tuna Mayonnaise Sainsbury’s sandwich. I could never figure it out, how boring and mediocre. But it just now occurs to me that it was for this very reason! One less thing to think about when there are so many more important things worthy of attention.

Perhaps you too should consider the things in your life that you could automate.

Until recently I always used to think that my work attire of almost exclusively black trousers and a variety of pretty but quite muted (grey or purple being my colours of choice, I’ve no idea where the brand colours came from!) was just a little bit boring and perhaps I should liven it up a bit.

It’s not something I spend time worrying about any more.

It is worth spending some time considering this question in relation to your life – what daily decisions could you do without?

Small Seeds #7 – 21 Days Positive

So I’ve recently decided to take  a break from the negativity of the world … this obviously includes the TV News, Newspapers, Trending Twitter Feeds, Current Affairs shows, Question Time to name just the obvious ones.

That also includes a few friends but don’t tell them I said so 😉

Because, frankly, the lens through which we are asked to view humanity at the moment presents just the most unrelentingly miserable view.

I had started to notice that it was seeping into my bones!

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely.

Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you.

Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behaviour, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information.

This makes it much easier to repeat that behaviour in the future—so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.

If you are not careful complaining becomes your default behaviour, which changes how people perceive you.

So I have been doing a bit of wandering around the internet this evening in search of positivity and inspiration and I found an absolute gem.

I can’t believe I have never heard of Will Bowen before but being a bit of a positivity junkie, however much I might be having a little wobble at the moment, I am very happy that I have now.

He has a challenge for us!

To go 21 days without complaining.

Every time you complain, you must reframe the complaint into an opportunity (within 1-2 minutes). Will Bowan advises wearing a bracelet on your wrist, and with each complaint, you must switch the bracelet to other hand and restart the clock.

An invaluable benefit of the challenge is the building a mechanism that transforms every complaint into a positive.

In other words: complaint triggers solution.

Now I don’t think I am too bad at that but in all honestly I think perhaps I will be surprised by how much I complain without thinking about it.

Apparently, if you can go 21 days on the same wrist you’ll not only be more likable to others, but you’ll become a better leader too.

Sounds good to me.

So starting tomorrow morning I am on a mission.

21 days to rewire my brain?

It seems like such a small price to pay!

But I don’t think I will be going back to Question Time any time soon 😉

“You can complain because roses have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.” Ziggy 

PPT1. Why You’re Losing The Power Of Your Points

Now anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a little evangelical about the wonders of PowerPoint.

Microsoft tells us that over a billion copies have been installed and Anthropologist and Designer Georgina Voss explains PowerPoint’s success in this way:

“PowerPoint has become the default for what a presentation is – more than just ‘Biro’ or ‘Hoover’ describing any ballpoint pen or vacuum cleaner, but actually moulding in its affordances and user behaviours such that using any non-PowerPoint program becomes more difficult. People in the global north who have come through standard schooling and workplaces understand, broadly, how to use PowerPoint.”

But there is an issue with PowerPoint … ‘Death By PowerPoint’.

Have you experienced that sinking feeling upon being told that you are being forced to sit through yet another presentation at work? I certainly have!

And, just to be absolutely clear, this is no fault of the software.

User error is the culprit.

Perhaps it is because PowerPoint has become so woven into our consciousness that everyone who knows where the bullet point button is thinks they can put together a presentation.

General Stanley McChrystal, the leader of Nato and US forces in Afghanistan, was once confronted with an intricate PowerPoint slide detailing American military strategy.

“Once we understand that,” he said, “we’ll have won the war.”

I always think it is rather like expecting just anyone to be able to write a good novel or produce a good TV programme or come up with a great idea for an advert.

It is an exercise in creativity and document production skills and really rotten presentations are far too common!

I myself have been forced to sit through 2 in the last couple of weeks … mental torture for someone who just wants to grab the presenters laptop and show them how they could be engaging their audience rather than boring them to death 🙂

So here it is … the beginning of my PowerPoint series.

I have put together a presentation on how to improve your own skills in this area but it is 80 slides long (yikes I hear you cry, but it is lots of good stuff I promise) so I am going to break it into sensible groups and turn it into a series.

Click on the following link for the first instalment:

You’re Losing The Power Of Your Points

“It feels like it’s a play.

It is a really weird way of designing.

This is a whole other way of communicating”

Stefanie Posavec, Designer