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Writing for Business 

During your college years, you were expecting to write papers, draft letters, and take part in all sorts of writing, right? Who knew that would be such an integral skill once you got to your “real” job later in life. Writing for business is a given nowadays with emails, reports, and presentations given on a daily basis no matter what field you are in. 

Don’t think you write often enough to worry about your writing skills? Think again. According to a study conducted by Carleton University, professionals spend one-third of their time at work reading and answering emails. You might spend more than this, or less, but chances are that a significant portion of your day is spent writing something.

Why Writing is Critical to Your Business 

Solid writing skills can mean the difference between being taken seriously in your position or being seen as less professional. Poor writing skills can lead to miscommunication, lost opportunities, and even a loss of business. Think of the number of times you have read an email or report that did not communicate the central message well. It is frustrating to decipher what the message really says. 

Let’s take a look at a few aspects of your writing that can help improve your reports, emails, or marketing materials. No matter what you are writing, it is a good idea to brush up on these areas as you progress in your career. 

Know Your Audience

As with anything in life, it is good to know who you are dealing with when you present, send an email, or write a report. Knowing who you are talking to can give your writing a sense of purpose and direction. For example, an in-office email could be short and informal, but a customer email or a PowerPoint presentation should follow the guidelines of courtesy, clarity, and conciseness. Your audience should be your compass; keeping in mind what the recipient seeks to learn narrows down the possible directions your writing should take (SkillsYouNeed 2019). Think about what they know already, especially as you determine the terminology to use. If you’re writing to a specific person or group of people, look for ways to personalize the document by considering their interests.

Think First 

Take a few minutes to mentally define the goals of the written piece. Do you know the main content: the who, what, when, where, and why of your writing? Think through it first before you even reach for the pen or keyboard. Thinking in broad terms first will help you to focus your message and make sure that you highlight all the important points you want to make. 

Be Brief 

Workplaces are busy places. Take the fluff out of your writing and get to the point. Be direct and short in your writing, unless the type of writing dictates added details and expansion on the topic. Readers will appreciate not having to sift through extraneous information to find the real message. 

Be Careful with Word Choice 

As just stated, it is important to be clear, concise, and direct in your business writings. It is also important not to use too many buzzwords or jargon that could turn off your reader. Jargon often makes you sound pretentious, and it can further alienate your reader. Instead, write the way you talk. Keep it natural and direct.

Edit, Edit, Edit 

It is always a good idea to have someone else read through your work whenever possible. Small mistakes can be easily missed by the original author. If you have no one to proofread for you, copy and paste your writing into Google Translate and have it read the document back to you. Usually, mistakes are obvious when you hear them aloud. Also, Google can usually catch flagrant typos or spelling errors. 

Need some help with your business writing? Join us at our workshop entitled Writing for Business and Grammar Skills on October 23, 2019. 

Accessibility in the Digital Space

Your business office is probably physically accessible for clients or employees who have a disability. The accessibility components might include handicapped parking, curb cutouts, ramps, or elevators. This is not news, though. In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, commonly referred to as the ADA. The ADA mandates that public and private spaces be made accessible to individuals with disabilities. But is your company website digitally accessible? 

What Does Digitally Accessible Mean? 

If you are not quite sure what it means to make your business or business website digitally accessible, whether it is viewed on a smartphone, tablet, or desktop, then read on. According to MediaWire, Digital Accessibility addresses the ability of people with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive disabilities to access electronic resources such as the Internet, software, mobile devices, e-readers, etc. It also includes people with changing abilities due to aging or illness. Basically, digital accessibility is technology put into place to allow a wide range of users to easily navigate the digital space.

Think for a moment about your digital correspondence and website. Are there text or audio alternatives for someone who can not visually focus on small letters? Can your website be navigated without using a finger on a touchscreen but rather the arrows of a keyboard? Is the text written in an easy-to-read font and color? These questions probably have you thinking about how someone with a physical, cognitive, or sensory impairment views or navigates your digital world. 

How Can You Make Your Website or Digital Correspondence More Accessible? 

Thankfully, as technology evolves, so too does the assistive tech that can help make the digital world easier to manage. Assistive software has come quite a long way since the digital world came on the scene. Now, there are technologies or programs that include: programs for screen magnification, screen reading, speech recognition, text-to-speech, Braille printers, Braille scanners, touch screen displays, oversized mice, and oversized joysticks. 

Another example of universal design that can adapt easily to different users’ needs or preferences is the alt text tags for graphics or videos. For the hearing impaired, videos are unusable. For the visually impaired, images on a website are extraneous. Alt text provides captions for the hearing impaired trying to watch a video and audio alternatives for the visually impaired. 

Some users have physical difficulties navigating a website using a cursor alone. Digital accessibility means that websites are now able to be navigated using only the arrow keys on the keyboard. 

When the ADA was created in 1990, the Internet as we know it now did not exist and there is now a great need for updated laws concerning accessibility in the digital realm. The ADA requires that “places of public accommodation” be accessible to the disabled. Most businesses are now beginning to access their digital accessibility. Do you need to reassess your website in business digital realm? Check out our workshop on this topic on October 17, 2019. 

How Can Your Business Attract Top Talent? 

All businesses have one thing in common when it comes to hiring employees. They want to find the best talent that fits their company, at the best possible price point. While it may be easy to assume that salary is the main component to attracting and retaining top talent, there are other things to consider when searching for top talent. Read on to find out some innovative ways to attract talented individuals to your company. 

Competitive Benefits 

Obviously, the pay scale is a major factor that a candidate will weigh when making a job change. Make sure your salary scale is competitive with companies in your field and shows how increases may occur over the years. In addition to salary, make sure you have benefits that will attract top candidates. 

If you’d like a benchmark on the types of benefits are available, this article on 16 types of employee benefits is a good place to start. Benefits may include: medical, dental, vision, gym membership reimbursement, flexible spending accounts, health savings accounts, life insurance, profit sharing, disability, retirement plans, and the list could go on and on. 

Workplace Culture 

A recent Robert Half survey showed that 35 percent of the more than 1,000 workers polled said they would decline a job offer if the role was a perfect fit, but the company culture wasn’t. Take a close look at whether your office culture promotes job satisfaction. Are people happy to be there? Is there a personality and positive vibe about your workplace or is there a “nine-to-five drudgery” sense about it? Carefully examine your workplace culture and make changes to attract and retain top talent. 

Some changes that could impact workplace culture is flexibility when it comes to work hours and locations. Consider allowing for remote working days or flex days for parents who need to pick up or drop off at school/daycare. Help your employees forge bonds with non-work activities such as pizza lunches, after work gatherings, or fun office competitions. You may also want to consider the way that your office is physically configured, which will determine how your employees are able to interact with one another. Do you want to shift to an open workspace, private work cubicles, or a mix of the two? 

A Chance to Give Back 

One factor that employees have reported as a way to remain loyal to a company is their ability to give back to the community. Most people don’t just want to work for a paycheck. They want a sense that they are contributing to the greater good in some way. Consider allowing your employees to have days off for volunteering in their community or volunteering as a group on a project that your employees choose together. This will not only boost morale, but also give your employees a chance to make a difference outside the halls of your offices. 

Do you need assistance finding and retaining talented employees? Join us for our workshop on October 10, 2019 on Attracting a Talented Workforce

Organizing a Business Event 

If you work for a small or medium-size business, chances are that your staff does not include a professional party planner to organize those all important seminars, networking events, open houses, customer appreciation events, or company dinners. That means that planning corporate events falls to one (or several) employees that have a handle on details and can stay organized. If that person is you, read on for tips to organize your next business event. 

Corporate events can be tricky to plan since they have so many different components including the venue, budget, food, technology needed, atmosphere, guest lists, speakers, and the list could go on and on depending upon the type of event being planned. Here are some of our suggestions on how to get your ducks in a row and plan your next business event. 

Start With the Big Picture and Your Goal 

Start with what you hope to accomplish during the event. Ask yourself what the purpose of the event is and things will be clearer on how you should proceed. For example, if the goal of the event is to host an educational seminar for your clients, then the venue will be different than a black tie cocktail event. Or, if the goal is to have a social atmosphere and network with other companies in your field, then you know that you will have to find an appropriate venue for that. 

Create a Calendar and “To Do” List 

Once you know what the goal of your event is, you can plan accordingly. You will want to create a list of things to accomplish and give each a suitable deadline. This could include booking a venue if you are not hosting it in-house, finding a caterer and ordering food, creating a guest list and sending invitations, booking speakers, lining up any technology you need and, of course, staying within the budget set for you. 

Booking a Venue

Many corporate events happen outside of the walls of your typical office and finding the perfect venue is something you will need to arrange well in advance, depending upon the popularity of the spot you are choosing. Be sure to take into account travel time, how many people the venue can accommodate, and the atmosphere. When you book a space, an event planner may be assigned to your event and thus make your job a bit easier. If not, you may be required to work through even the smallest of details. 

Guest List and Invitations 

The venue and purpose of your event will help determine how many attendees your business can handle. Be sure to give ample time for a response from the people on your list. Remember that the average “no” response is usually around 20% when making your final guest list. Keep accurate records of who will be attending for a food, drink, or snack count. It will also help you when it comes time to print up any brochures or paperwork that will be a part of the event. 

Food and Drinks 

Depending upon the type of event you are having, food and drink is usually an aspect that needs consideration. Be sure to find out if any guests have allergies or any special food considerations. Venues are usually good about making special meals and will work with you on how to identify those guests when serving time approaches. As for drinks, this one is something your business leaders will need to decide. Do you want your guests to have the option to a cash bar, open bar, or are you having a dry event. All of these decisions need to occur early in the planning process as to allow for the budget to remain on track. 

Tech and other Materials 

Many events focus on some aspect of business and, as such, require technology, whether it is a presentation board, slide projector, smart board or, at the very least, a podium and sound equipment. Be sure to make a list of all the equipment and specialists you will need for your event so they can be secured well in advance. 

Presenters and Schedule of Events 

Once you have the venue, catering, guest list, and technology all set, you will want to line up who will be the master of ceremonies or presenter(s). A run through of the schedule can help ensure that things go smoothly on the day of the event. It will also ensure that small details like name tags, table gifts, and printed materials are ready to go for the event. 

Do you need help planning your events? Check out our workshop on Planning Events from Start to Finish on October 2, 2019. 

 

Instagram for Business 

Imagine being able to connect and interact with one billion people about your business. As of 2018, Instagram reached the 1 billion monthly active users mark (TechCrunch, 2018). There are more than 500 million active users using the mobile photo sharing platform daily! If you haven’t tapped into this social media network yet, it’s not too late. Read on to find out about how Instagram for business can get your brand noticed. 

Why Use Instagram? 

The question should really be “Why not use Instagram?” Instagram is currently developing and evolving rapidly. Being a part of that growth is a way to help your business do the same. Once used mainly by teens and young millennials, Instagram continues to grow as one of the most popular social media platforms, and the data tells us that’s not going to change anytime soon. If your target demographic is anywhere between 20 or 30 years old, then Instagram is the place to advertise, post, share, and comment (Oberlo 2019). In fact, of all the social networks, Facebook and YouTube have more daily active users than Instagram. 

If that is not enough to convince you to hop on the Instagram bandwagon for your business, then this one just might. More than 80% of users follow business accounts on Instagram. That means that 200 million Instagrammers actively visit business profiles everyday. They click on photos, share videos, and tap into “stories” to find out what is new with your business – every single day. 

Getting Started 

If reaching your target audience through Instagram seems like it might be a good marketing strategy for your company, you can get started here. When you sign up for an Instagram account, be sure to create a business profile. Business profiles have access to tools and features that help create a business presence on the platform. Once you have signed up through Instagram, you will want to add details about your business, including your name, username, profile picture, website URL and a short biography. Be sure to include contact information so your followers can connect with you. 

Before you start posting photos, videos, or stories, you will want to come up with a calendar and strategy of what and when you will post. Is your goal to teach others about your business, highlight products, introduce services, connect with consumers or, maybe, give some insider info that viewers love? Decide what your ultimate goal is so your posts can have a direction. 

As for when to post, we suggest that you take a look at the metrics on when to post to get the highest engagement. Sprout Social offers up some pretty compelling data on when to post on Instagram. In general, these findings show that the safest time to post are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m–3 p.m., while the peak times during the week are Wednesday at 11 a.m. and Friday between 10-11 a.m. These windows of high engagement can likely help to generate even more likes and engagement, especially for brands that just starting out.

Tips to Engage Your Followers 

One of the biggest mistakes that businesses make when adding Instagram to their arsenal of social media platforms is to treat it like Facebook or Twitter. Instagram is less wordy and more visual. Be prepared to show what you do or who is in images or videos rather than words. This means getting creative and looking at what you do from a different lens, per se. 

Get smart about hashtags to expand your reach. Instagram has always been big on hashtags, and they’ve always been an effective way to expand your reach on the platform. Now, Instagram allows for 30 hashtags per post and Instagrammers can now follow specific hashtags, meaning that they can keep tabs on relevant conversations by using hashtags alone.

In order to add to people who follow you, or at least follow your hashtags, collaborate by mentioning them with the @ sign in your posts. Take into account that not everyone is monitoring hashtags on social media, so tagging an account is usually a better choice if you want to get noticed.

Just like any other social media platform you will want to analyze your efforts. Check out the metrics often so you can see how certain posts are doing. Change your strategy according to those numbers. 

 

If you need more info on Instagram check out our workshops. The Instagram 101 workshop is on October 1, 2019, with more workshops offered all the time. 

 

Rules for Superb Customer Service

We’ve all heard the mantra that customer satisfaction is imperative when it comes to running a business. In fact, customers are the lifeblood of any business, large or small. That’s why maintaining and, in some cases, improving customer service is imperative to any company. Let’s review some rules for keeping your customers satisfied and loyal to your brand.

Most companies already have a customer service policy in order to maintain strong relationships with their customers, but a smart company will always ask the question, “What is good customer service?” This is especially true as touchpoints with clients and customers become more technology driven.

Deal with Complaints

We know it is no fun, but handling complaints head on is the best way to turn a disgruntled customer or client into one that may value your efforts to make things right again. This is critically important in our social media driven world where one post about a bad experience could spread like wildfire. Sites like Yelp, Google Reviews and other online review platforms should be monitored so you can make things right with a customer as soon as possible. Be sure that you respond online as well as through other more personal avenues to show others who are reading that you value your customers’ experiences and are trying to rectify the situation.

Know Your Product or Service

Honestly, every person who deals with clients or customers should know the intricacies of your product or services. When a customer has a question or problem, a customer service agent should be able to talk him/her through the issue easily. That means knowing the product forward and backward and being trained on potential issues that could arise. For service-related fields, agents should understand what the service entails and what it is limited to including a warranty policy.

The Ability to Read People

Reading a client’s emotional state is important to being able to successfully help them. If you are face-to-face, body language and eye contact should be fairly easy to pick up on. On the phone or even through an online chat, things get a little more complicated. Look and listen for subtle clues about the client’s current mood, patience level, and personality. This will help you go far in keeping your customer interactions positive.

Survey Your Customers

As your company grows and evolves, it may be worth your time to take a gauge of how well you are really doing in terms of customer service. A short survey could give you some insight into both what is working and what could use improvement.

Need more information on providing superb customer service? Check out our workshop on this topic September 20, 2019.

Best Practices for your Sales Team 

How does your sales team operate? Are they cooperative and open, or do they like to keep all their strategies secret? Chances are that there is a little bit of both going on in offices across the region. The balance can be hard to maintain, especially when numbers are measured and compensation relies on quantities sold. Here are a few ways you can encourage your sales team to maintain a healthy balance between competition and cooperation. 

Brainstorm Targeting Techniques

Criteria for Success online suggests asking your sales team a few important questions. “Does your company have a set plan for targeting? Is every salesperson on the team executing the targeting plan the same way? Want to mix things up?” Ask yourselves who your best customers are and where they are coming from. Why are they your best customers? Take some time to look at where your targets are found and what other areas can hold similar customers. 

Develop Success Stories 

Whenever someone is considering investing in a product or service, they want to hear from other customers and how they fared under your company. Create a series of success stories that can help you explain how your business has helped others succeed. For example, if your company is an IT support company, have a few short stories that can illustrate how your company has guided or supported other companies that needed IT services. Maybe a business that you have serviced has seen an increase in traffic on their website or and increase in clients of their own due to the work you have done. Stories like those can help sell your business without being a hard sell. 

Ask for Referrals 

We all have those loyal customers whom we adore. When the opportunity arises, ask for a written testimonial for your social media platforms or possibly a write up on an online review site like Yelp or Google Review. Most clients are thrilled to be able to help grow your business. These reviews or testimonials can really help the sales team when it comes time to close a deal. 

Not only can loyal customers help out with testimonials or online reviews, they can verbally refer you to other people in their field of work. It never hurts to ask for a referral or a mention to others. 

Build Relationships 

Finding customers can happen in the most unlikely places. Not all sales are made at networking events, seminars, or workshops. Many times, the sale happens months down the road after someone has gotten to know you during community events, volunteering opportunities, or through valued referrals. Building relationships and talking about your business can be something you do in many venues. You never know when someone may need your services and suddenly your name comes to mind. 

Do you need help with your sales team? Check out our workshop on September 19th titled, “Secrets of Effortless Selling.” 

 

Impress Your Investors with your Business Plan 

In order for any business to grow and evolve, it needs financing. For some, that means taking out loans through traditional banking institutions while, for others, it means finding investors to support your company. But how do you get those investors? One way to gain them is to impress them with your business plan which includes finding customers, improving your service or product, and growing the business over the course of several years. 

Entrepreneurs around the nation are always on the hunt for investors for their business. According to HackerNoon, “Searching for an investor is not easy, especially when there are high chances that your idea might get turned down. Looking to raise funds is an entrepreneur’s version of taking a job interview where you need to say the right things at the right time.”

The Role of the Business Plan 

A business plan is a written description of your business’s future, a document that tells what you plan to do and how you plan to do it. Most business plans are written to not only impress investors but also to provide direction to a young business hoping to be successful. The U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) suggests having the following categories:

  • Executive summary – a snapshot of your business
  • Company description – describes what you do
  • Market analysis – research on your industry, market and competitors
  • Organization and management – your business and management structure
  • Service or product – the products or services you’re offering
  • Marketing and sales – how you’ll market your business and your sales strategy
  • Funding request – how much money you’ll need for the next 3 to 5 years
  • Financial projections – supply information like balance sheets
  • Appendix – an optional section that includes résumés and permits

These categories will be able to tell your potential investors a lot about who you are as an entrepreneur and what your company will look like in action. The more concise and consistent you can be in this plan the more you will reassure investors that you have a well-thought out plan for your business, its services and/or products. 

In order to let investors know that you have done your due diligence in researching your field, be sure to include charts and graphs that make it easier for investors to grasp the projected evolution of your business financials. In addition, you will want to demonstrate that your projections are achievable and not just a pipe dream.

Investors like to know that every conceivable issue has been hashed out, so be sure to include possible challenges and how you will overcome each one. Look ahead a few months into your company, a year and then several years to find potential obstacles. That means you will need to be as honest as possible in revealing what you see as your potential strengths and weaknesses as you start your business. 

Do you need help writing your business plan or finding ways to impress your investors? Check out our workshop on Creating a Business Plan that is Investor Ready or Understanding your Business Financials

 

Perfecting Your Sales Pitch 

Making a sales pitch can be a balancing act that not many people can do with ease. You don’t want to come off as aggressive and you surely don’t want to be meek in your approach either. What is the right tone, pace, and level of authority that you should take when making your sales pitch?

Know Your Audience 

Obviously, you wouldn’t talk to an audience consisting of a panel of experts the same way you would talk to people who are just now entering the field. The same goes for your sales pitch. Always know to whom you are speaking. Research what their specific needs are and what they are hoping to get out of the pitch. Gear your level of information toward their level of need. The more you know about the group you are pitching to, the better. Include stories that may apply to them and their field as well as gear all slides or handouts in the same manner. 

Keep it Short, Simple, and To-the-Point 

Business people are inherently busy. The fact that they made time for your pitch is good, but you want to value that time as much as possible. Keep your message clear and to the point. Try to avoid straying off topic or relying on small talk once you have started your presentation. Keep all graphics or slides easy to read and direct. Your audience will appreciate that you value their time and will know immediately if you have a deep knowledge of your product or service rather quickly. 

Anticipated Questions Early 

If you have been in the marketing field for a while, you can probably anticipate the questions that inevitably come up at the end of your pitch. Instead of waiting to be asked, build the answer directly into your presentation. Your audience will appreciate that you have anticipated their concerns and that you have already considered a response or solution. 

Don’t Just Talk, Listen! 

Many salespeople have perfected their pitches within the first few months of working with a certain product or service. Make sure that your pitch doesn’t sound scripted. Change it up and use different stories or updated information whenever possible. In addition, don’t take up the allotted time by talking endlessly. Listen to what your audience has to say as well. You may have inadvertently missed some information or confused members of your audience. Take the time to hear their questions and follow up, even after you have completed your time by text, email, or voicemail. 

Be Yourself 

We all live busy lives and setting time aside to hear another marketing representative drone on can be painful. Try to be yourself and sprinkle your personality into your presentation. This may be the thing your audience remembers most about your presentation. It will also let the group learn about the human side of your business/product. 

Do you have questions about how to improve your sales pitch? Check out our workshop on Sept 12th called Pitch Panel Session.

Building a Positive Company Culture 

Not all of us can be Google, which prides itself on a unique and happy employee culture. In some ways, Google Headquarters looks more like an adult playground than a corporate office. In fact, there are people employed at Google whose sole purpose is to create a happy and positive employee culture. How about that? 

Ok, so not all of us can afford to have a gym, playroom, or spa retreat inside our office, but we can still do some fairly simple things to maintain a positive company culture. Here is how. 

Create a Safe Space 

Not all offices have extra room to build an adult playground with a ping pong table or video games, but almost every office can carve out a small area where an employee can relax, enjoy their lunch, and chill out away from their desk. Sperling Interactive in Salem carved out an area in a room that was not very functional in order to build a “nest” where employees can relax, hang out, and sometimes just have a different place to get work done. 

 

Show Gratitude 

When something good happens at work, thank the people responsible. This might mean an email, short letter, or maybe even a small gift to show gratitude for the hard work. Make sure you are consistent in doing this or employees may notice that you gave a shout out in one instance and not in another. 

 

Encourage Positive Thinking 

Encourage your team to think in a positive way. This means in your thoughts, actions, and words, you should keep it upbeat and happy. Obviously be genuine, but try to always have a “glass half full” attitude. This outlook can be contagious. 

Don’t Just Talk… Listen 

Everyone likes to be heard, whether it is complaints about the dishes in the break room building up in the sink or a company policy that someone would like changed. Truly listen to your employees and they will feel valued. It does not mean you need to do everything that it asked but, rather, listen and respond. This sense that feedback is welcome can make employees feel valued and want to stay at your company for years. 

 

Encourage Employee Learning 

Whether you can afford to subsidize a masters program or certificate programs or not, you should be encouraging your employees to learn more. If you invest in them, they will invest in you. I can not say enough about this! 

Check out our events calendar for more workshops on nurturing a positive company culture. We all can’t be Google, but we can make out employee culture a happy one.