Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What 4-letter word can make or break a sales team?

Andy Miller of Big Swift Kick and many experts believe that this often-overlooked element can determine the success or failure of your sales strategy.  Do you know what it is?

I interviewed Andy recently, and wrote about what I learned in a post you'll find on  Dave Stein's Blog.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

“What’s Your Specialty?”

When I’m talking to potential clients, I am sometimes asked, “Do you have a specialty?” I used to grapple with how to answer. My career as a freelance writer/editor began after full-time administrative-type stints in pest control, insurance, a trade association for commercial contractors, and the non-profit sector. In the past 18 years, I’ve written and edited for magazine publishers, designers, ad agencies, a sales training research firm, and even a charter school principal. No two have had the same needs, style, or goals.

A specialty? Apparently not. 

Wait – not so fast. After this many years of working with so many different kinds of people and businesses, I’ve come to realize that I do indeed have a specialty. Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Content. Meaning.  Communication. 

I learn about what my clients need to say and I help them say it in writing, in a clear, straightforward way. Sometimes my understanding of the subject is based on something as simple as a phone conversation, with me listening and asking questions. Other times, I am asked to extract a cohesive message from existing materials that need to be adapted or updated to another format. Often, I am given something that is already written and asked to improve it. What’s the common thread here? Someone wants to communicate something, and I facilitate the process and the message.

I am reminded of my first conversation about four years ago with my current hair stylist. I wanted her to put some highlights in, and harking back to some bad experiences I’d had with other hairdressers, I started telling her what products she should use and not use. She stopped me cold. “You just tell me what you want your hair to look like,” she said. “Let me figure out how we can get you there.” In this case, my “specialty” may have been my own hair, but she was able to draw upon a wealth of experience in all kinds of hair and hair products to help me achieve the look I wanted. I put myself in Lynda’s capable hands and she has come through for me every time.

So if we’re talking about a writing project, I urge you not to focus the conversation on what I may already know about your specialty, but instead on where you need to go. Then, when the time comes, I’ll embrace your subject whatever it may be, make it my own, and help you create a message that speaks (or sings or whispers or roars) to your audience.

That's my specialty.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Favorite Customer

My favorite customer is the one who points out my mistakes. It may be counterintuitive, but it’s true. The client who tells me I missed something or wants me to make a change is engaged in the writing process. An engaged customer winds up with text that is more than simply correct; it captures their voice and style and articulates their unique message. Client input and feedback are essential components in developing powerful and nuanced communications.

Early in my writing career, a designer hired me to write copy for a corporate brochure. The customer – a hauling company, if I remember correctly – didn’t have any existing literature, so I had to start from scratch, by interviewing the business owner. I approach these discussions with two general goals, to get the facts about the company and to gain an understanding of its character. He gave me neither. Me: “What’s different about your company?” Him: “I don’t know; you’re the writer.” Me: “How do you approach your customers?” Him: “Aren’t you supposed to tell me?” It was an uncomfortable conversation. When I sat down to write the copy, I had no choice but to be generic and vague. I might have even made some stuff up. I suppose he was happy with what I wrote; he paid me. I never actually saw the brochure, but when I think of how much better it could have been, it still makes me sad. Did he think so little of his own venture that mediocre was okay?  I wonder if he’s still in business.

A little back and forth is not a waste of time, and I won’t be insulted or defensive if you identify something that you don’t like. Vibrant, compelling communications are the result of dynamic interaction and the end product is worth the effort that you, as a paying customer, put into it. When you notice something, no matter how trivial it may seem to be, don’t be afraid to ask about it. Experience has taught me that it’s the most effective, and perhaps the only, way to ensure that you’ll get the product you want. I’ll be flattered that you took the time to read the piece carefully. I’ll welcome the opportunity to fine-tune the text to represent your goals more accurately. I’ll thank you for staking your claim in the process, so we can both be successful.  

And you’ll be my favorite customer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

As a writing professional for the past decade or so, I’ve eked out my living translating other people's ideas and thoughts into written words on a page. It’s not generally my job to insert myself into the conversation, but rather to lay low and facilitate the communication between others. So I am unaccustomed to asserting my own observations and opinions. A few years ago, that wasn’t a problem. Now I think I need a blog. My own blog, that is.

If you know me, you may have heard me, over the years, scoff at the blogosphere. I might be heard saying things like, “Why does everyone think that everyone else cares what they think?” At bottom (and I apologize to those-who-have-blogged-before-me), I still have some scorn for the apparent ego it requires to opine with any assuredness, but if I’m being honest, I have to confess that what I’m really feeling is trepidation, which means,  “Why do I think everyone would care what I think?” I know it’s likely that most will not care, not even a little bit. Still more will never read past the first sentence or two. And everyone else will take a pass. Yet, I think I need the blog.

In my line of work, I see smart people successfully using blogs to promote their objectives, whether the reasons are personal, professional, or recreational. They position themselves into whatever conversation they want to be having, create a presence, take a position, and build a brand. Many of them, I’m sure, have a bunch of followers. Some blogs may even generate money. (Dare I hope for that kind of outcome?) Blogging, if executed properly, works.  I'm fairly certain I need one.

I’ve written and edited blogs for others – can I make a blog work for me? Do I even have a clear idea what I want to blog about? Should I steer my posts toward professional matters, like promoting my business (freelance writer and editor!) and my clients’ too, for good measure? (Hmm, don’t want to scare off my friends, who may be the only people reading.) Do I share insights and observations from my personal life? (Don’t want to spook the customers and colleagues who might prefer a veneer of professionalism.) My political opinions? (Does anyone need to know how far to the left I really lean?)

What do I want to accomplish – thought leadership?  General acclaim?  Generating more traffic to my website?  I don’t have any answers yet, but I am here at my desk, proverbial tail between my legs (there’s been a lot of scorn), earnestly crafting my first blog entry. Figuring out what I’m doing here. Thinking “out loud.” Blogging about blogging. And, yes, scoffing at myself.