“Let’s Keep in Touch!”

How often have we said that, and really, really meant it? And how often have we followed through? Keep in touch photo

How important is it to keep in touch?

I want to tell you about something terrific that happened just this morning. I’d finished the usual “get ready for the day” tasks, and was settling in to do some serious work when the phone rang. Much to my delight – and I have to admit, surprise – the woman on the other end of the line had been in one of my workshops probably 10 or 15 years ago, had found my website, and was calling to order some materials for her staff.

It just does not get any better than that!

Yet much as I like to provide helpful materials – and we are working on some new materials right now – the biggest thing to me was that she remembered me, looked me up, and called!

So what are some of the reasons some of us may fall a bit short in the “keeping in touch” area? And what can we do about them?

Well, for one thing, there is always so much to do on the job that keeping in touch, especially when there is nothing immediate or pressing, somehow falls to the bottom of the “to do now” stack. Too busy? Most of us are – I rarely hear from anyone who is looking for “something to do”!

Maybe it’s because we feel a little awkward, or nervous about our writing skills, worried that because of our writing skills, we might lower ourselves in this reader’s estimation if we were to email him or her, just to keep in touch. And perhaps we don’t want to telephone because we fear that the person on the other end of the line will think that any time we call we want something.

Or realistically, we may understand that the person we want to keep in touch with is just as busy as we are, and we don’t want to become a nuisance.

“Nuisance” can happen, as we all know. Rule of thumb: Communicate at a comfortable contact frequency level not only for your reader (or call recipient), but for yourself as well. Is that interval for keeping in touch once a year? Quarterly? Weekly? Daily? Clearly, we do not want to make pests of ourselves (and that’s another reason we don’t keep in touch, or get back in touch), but I am willing to bet that even if you have not been in touch for a year or more, that person will likely be pleased to hear from you, particularly when you have something of interest, or of value to share with him or with her.

How do you do it?

Here’s one way: From time to time, you’ve probably read an article, or a blog post that made you think of something you discussed at one point, maybe even years ago, with that person or persons. If you think it might be useful to him or her, attach it to an email, or clip and postal mail it with a quick note. The advantage of the email is that it is easy, takes very little time, and most people check their email fairly often. But will they open it? The advantage of postal mail is that it is rather unusual to get something from the letter carrier, which may enhance your chances of having it opened, especially if it neither looks like, nor is, an ad.

If your contact has been more recent, perhaps offering your blog posts or newsletters may be an unobtrusive way to keep in touch. Just be sure the receiver requests, and wants to receive this material from you, that the material could be of value to him or to her, and that you don’t confuse blog posts and newsletters with sales letters and advertising. Advertising, sales-oriented, and promotional materials and campaigns are a separate issue, and not an appropriate “keep in touch” device.

We invite you to subscribe to our blog, and to our newsletter.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Get Local With Your SEO

This week’s blog entry is provided by guest blogger Alan Taylor, owner of Alpine Technical Group

There are many, many ways to make sure your website is visible and attractive to Google – meaning that when Google takes a look at your website, it sees information that is relevant and useful to potential visitors to your site. From keywords to citations, meta tags to site indexes, there’s enough to keep a person pretty busy. Even more so, there are tools and features outside of your website that can have a big impact on its visibility. One of those features that is especially important for local and regional businesses is Google Places.

When you perform a search in Google, say “Wallpaper near Walla Walla, Washington,” you get the search results shown below. The Google Places listings in this image are the ones denoted by the teardrop-shaped pointers.

wallpaperSearch

By ensuring your Google Places listing is accurate, you too can be a red point on the map and a listing at the top of the search results (of course not for “wallpaper” but for your own business and location). The process in short:

  • Go to the Google Places page. Either search for “Google Places” or use the URL here: http://www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness/.
  • Sign into Google (or create a new account).
  • Find your business (usually by providing a telephone number).
  • Claim your business and provide information about your business (hours, specials, etc.)
  • Verify your business listing via telephone or postcard.

This process is usually fairly straightforward. If you are one location in a large business office or have an auto answer with a phone tree for your main phone number, your only choice for verification is to have a letter/postcard sent to your mailing address. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. If you haven’t received a card in 10 days you can go back into Google Places and request another card. Eventually one will get to you and you can verify your listing.

Also important is to edit your Google Places listing on a regular basis – once every other month or so. Add more information, list a current special or similar. This gives Google new information on your business and helps keep you at the top of the heap.

Our guest blogger, Alan Taylor of Alpine Technical Group, has been providing web presence and marketing consulting for longer than he cares to admit. He loves his job, enjoys his clients and happily keeps abreast of the ever-changing world of web marketing.

Subscribe to our blog – and we’ll see you next week!

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We’ll be happy to come to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, email us at gail@gailtycer.com or give us a call at 503/292-9681. 

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Nine Places to Find Ideas for Your Blog Post

O.K. So you’re convinced. You’ve got to have a blog site, and post to it frequently. The internet is full of articles telling you how important this is to build trust; to establish yourself as an authority in your field; to improve your “findability” with the search engines; to attract the “right fit” for potential clients, customers, and employees; to increase traffic to your website; and to stay top of mind with your clients, customers, and prospects.

Now the next question – whether you are new to blogging, or a veteran – becomes “What do I write about?”TalkBubbleBlog

Here are nine places you can find things to write about:

  1. Build on your own experience. Think of the things you wish someone had told you, or that you had figured out sooner. How did this information solve a problem for you? What problem could it solve, and how, for your reader?
  2. Reflect on conversations with clients, customers, and employees. What is the feedback you’re hearing? Is there a new trend here? What are they interested in? What are the problems they need to solve? How can you help?
  3. Stay current with general circulation media – newspapers, magazines, TV, radio. The internet. Many thought-starters in each, every day, whether on the actual event itself, your reaction to how it was presented, your own unique view of the piece, or just something totally different that you thought about while reading, listening or watching. How could it relate to your field of expertise? Note: If you are commenting on someone else’s post, cite it, and provide a link.
  4. Include trade publications on your personal reading list. Enjoy a broader perspective by expanding your own knowledge base, and sharing it with your readers. Credit the publications you refer to in your post.
  5.  Observe. Without judging. Every business or social meeting, office interaction, or shopping trip gives you an opportunity to identify the natural consequences of specific actions. Everywhere you go, something is happening. What? And why? And why does this matter to your reader? What do you expect your reader to do with this information?
  6. Read books. Use your mortar and bricks library. Become acquainted with the reference librarians, and all the services your library provides. Everything you read, listen to, or watch will bring you ideas – from the new business book everyone is talking about, to a possibly unknown text you’re reading on a favorite topic. What’s your “take” on the best-seller? What did you think about – very possibly unrelated – when reading that unknown text that provides a jumping-off point for your blog post?
  7. Write about what concerns people. Friends, clients, neighbors, grocery checkers. What do they talk about? What concerns them?
  8. Interview an authority. While your authority may be a celebrity, or someone whose name is a household word, or someone with an unusual job or hobby, fabulous posts are very often written by providing insights from people who do everyday things.
  9. Update an old post. If you wrote something in the past that would do well with an update, perhaps this is the time.

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter. We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.

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Plurals and Hyphens: Exceptional Differences

‘Way back in December we talked about the rules for forming plurals, which are actually pretty straightforward:

• Generally, to form a plural, add “s” to the singular word.hyphen

The most common exceptions are:

• If the word ends in a consonant (any letter other than a, e, i, o, u) plus “y,” drop the “y” and add “ies.” For example:  company = companies; bakery = bakeries.

• If the word ends in a consonant plus “o,” add “es.” For example: tomato = tomatoes; potato = potatoes.

• If the word ends in “x,” “s,” “z,” “ch,” or “sh,” add “es.” For example: box = boxes; Jones = Joneses; buzz = buzzes; peach = peaches; bush = bushes; bulrush = bulrushes.

We also noted that there are words that change in the plural form: woman = women; man = men; child = children, and so on.

And there are a few words that are both singular and plural: “deer,” for one example.

Let’s add another: For abbreviations, we generally follow the same rule: Add “s” to make an abbreviation plural if you can do it without adding confusion. For example, CPU = CPUs; 1980 = 1980s.

Then we said that plural words – not plural possessive words, but plural words – never use apostrophes. To paraphrase that wonderful line from The Pirates of Penzance song: “What, never?” “No never!” “What never?” “Well, hardly ever…”

And here is an exception: Note that the following are not possessive words, but plural words, even though they have an apostrophe:

The exception is: When needed for clarity, “ ‘s” is used to form plurals, but only for lowercase letters, or abbreviations with periods. For example: p’s and q’s;  f.o.b.’s.

Changing the Subject: Now Let’s Talk About Using Hyphens

So now you’ve had a chance to assimilate last week’s tips on how and when to use hyphens and dashes – not all authorities agree on all points, and the whole discussion can become quite complicated. The dictionary is your final authority, and last week’s guidelines should help with the most common uses when you don’t have a dictionary handy.

Here comes yet another consideration: Arguably, in addition to dividing words at the end of a line, hyphens are perhaps most often used between two or more words to create a compound idea that describes the following word.

For example: a better-than-average hamburger; a first-rate pitcher. But if these words come after the word they are describing, they are very often individual words. For example: The hamburger tasted better than average. The pitcher seemed first rate.

Another, less-frequently-seen guideline for not using hyphens:

• Do not use a hyphen to link a group of words that includes “very,” or a word ending in “ly.” For example: “Everyone was there for a very specific reason.”  Or, “This is an easily remembered quotation.”

In your reading this week, (1) watch for plurals correctly formed, and (2) see if you can pick up hyphens correctly used – either where they should be used, or not used where they should not be used.

 

Bring Gail to your workplace for an onsite workshopcoachingor consultingOr to work with your team to complete a writing project.

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Tip of the Week: If You’ve Ever Said “I Wasn’t Good at English in School…” Read This!

My mom used to say (and maybe yours did, too!) “If I had a nickel for every time I…”

So now I’ll say it: If you and I had a nickel for everyone who has said to us, “I wasn’t good at English in school…” or “I used to hate English class…” or “I’m not a good writer…” or even “I just can’t write…” we could retire rich!

Let’s talk about this. What many of us were taught in school to think of as “writing” was actually formal writing – writing to be used in the academic environment – scholars writing to other scholars. And we used this writing style for assignments like term papers. Later, perhaps, for theses and dissertations.

Each of us owes a huge debt of gratitude to our long-suffering, dedicated teachers who built the incredibly important writing framework that has allowed us to have the job we have; to have accomplished what we have accomplished so far.

Correct grammar, spelling, and usage are critical for any type of writing. Yet the writing produced to work in the business environment can be very different from the writing produced to work in the academic environment.

Business writing is a tool – a way to get the job done.

Academic writing vs. business writing. Here are two very different types of writing to two very different types of readers for two very different purposes.

Let me give you the five things you must be very clear about before you begin to write if you want to write effectively in the business environment:

  1. Identify the piece you are going to write. A one-screen email? A 57-page attached report? A four-page proposal?
  2. Who are you writing to? What do you know about the reader? You probably know more than you think!
  3. Why are you writing? Are you writing to provide information only, and do not care what the reader does with it? Or are you writing to persuade the reader to take an action? To change how he or she is already doing something? To think a certain way? Specifically, what is it you want the reader to do?
  4. What is the relationship you want to reinforce, or to establish with this reader? What sorts of words or phrases fit this relationship? Tone is the relationship you, as the writer, set up with your reader.
  5. What are the points you want your reader to remember? Make a list. Organize your list into a logical sequence, e.g., time, procedural, importance.

Once you are clear on those five steps, just start writing.Give yourself a draft, something to work with. It may not be perfect at this point, and it doesn’t have to be. “Touch-ups” are so much easier, and so much faster than creating the perfect piece the first time.

Write a strong first paragraph that makes your point. Tell your reader who did/will do/should do what, when, where, why, and how.

Tighten up that first paragraph without losing any of these six elements. Eliminate unnecessary words, information, or phrases. You should have no more than five lines in that first paragraph. Probably one or two sentences will be about right, but not more than five lines.

Not more than five lines will work for at least 50% – probably more – of your emails if you follow these guidelines, significantly improving readership and comprehension.

Follow your organizational structure to complete a longer piece. Check grammar, spelling, and usage, making necessary changes.

To end this piece, you could summarize; tell the reader what to do; use an ending that reinforces the relationship you have set up with the reader; or – and sometimes the best option of all – just quit.

When you have the first five steps clearly in mind, your draft will go quickly. Make appropriate touch-ups – grammatical and content – and you should be good to go.

To get your Tip every week, please subscribe. Forward helpful information to a friend, or share it. Thanks for reading!

Recommend a Gail Tycer workshop for your workplace, or suggest one of Gail’s shorter presentations for an upcoming meeting or conference. 

© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com

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What Should a Title Look Like?

The style you use to show the titles of books, magazines, plays, software, and so on has changed over the years as better technology has emerged. Even so, not all authorities agree on what this sort of “major” title should look like.

Let’s take a time out to take a quick look at the issue of style:

 The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law is arguably the premier style guide for newspapers and publications written for the average adult reader. Also perhaps the most widely used business writing style guide.

The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, probably one of the most often used style guides for academic writing, defines style guidelines for the scholar. There are also specialized style guides for specialized fields and disciplines.

In addition, many universities, colleges, and schools devise their own style guides, addressing such common questions as “where does the comma go,”  “what should a title look like,” and “how many spaces should there be between sentences.” Similarly, a great many public- and private-sector organizations also produce their own style guides, similarly advising their writers how to use punctuation, or capitalize words. 

Thus, we have two major styles: formal, or academic; and informal, or journalistic. Many style guides are available either in paper versions, or online, frequently on a subscription basis.

So, is there a difference between “correct” grammar and usage and style?

Absolutely. And the confusion and resulting arguments – online, as well as around the water cooler – can gobble up on-the-job hours, as well as playing fast and loose with the spirit of cooperation and respect every organization needs to be most productive.

The solution: Standardize on the style guide to be used in your office, or in your organization, and have everyone use the same guidelines.

Many organizations have a style guide that no one knows about. So find out if your organization has its own style guide.  If there is one, everyone needs to use that one!

But what if your organization truly does not have a standard style guide? Then you may use the style that seems to you most effective in making your point clearly – assuming, of course, that you are (1) using that style bit consistently, and are (2) also following the appropriate grammar rules.

Oh yes, back to titles:

 What should a title look like?

The AP Stylebook says to capitalize the main words, including prepositions and conjunctions if they contain four or more letters; and to capitalize articles or short words (fewer than four letters) if it is the first or the last word in the title.

Then put quotation marks around the title, with the exception of the Bible, and reference materials.

MLA says capitalize the first, last, and all principal words in the title, including both words of a hyphenated word.

Then for the major works: books, plays, newspapers, journals, websites, online databases, films, radio or television broadcasts, performances, musical compositions, paintings, sculpture – well, you get the idea – italicize the title.

For titles of sub-sets of the major work, e.g., chapters of the book; essays, stories, or poems published as a part of the larger work; magazine or journal articles; pages of a website; TV broadcast segments – and so on, use quotation marks.

So who is right? As a practical matter, do what your boss says! Just (1) do it consistently; and (2) use the appropriate grammar rules, and you’ll be fine.

If you find these tips helpful, why not bring Gail to your workplace for an onsite workshop, coaching, or consulting. Or to work with you to complete a project.  To learn more

© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com

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Using the Right Word: Accept vs. Except

One of the many reasons that I like Writers INC is that they have a section called “Using the Right World.” This section is great for helping writers figure out which word they want to use. Here’s an example:

accept, except: The verb accept means ‘to receive’ or ‘to believe’; the preposition except means ‘other than.'”

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Review: Writers INC

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Writers INC is a valuable resource for writers of all ages and all genres. While intended for high school students, it contains a wealth of essential information that is relevant to business writers.

A quick look at the Writers INC table of contents:
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