Tag Archives: writing

Top 5 Reasons an M.A. in English is Useful in Business

26 Feb

People often ask me if I think my Master’s Degree in English is useful in business. I find it a curious question since the answer seems so obvious to me. However, since it’s asked so frequently, I’m offering the following top five reasons:

  1. Communication Skills: My coursework improved my written and oral communication skills. When you’re pursuing your M.A. in English, you learn to write clear, concise, well-documented research. You also learn to orally communicate your arguments in classroom discussions with peers and professors. It’s one thing to have an opinion and another to be able to clearly and cogently discuss it with others. And, whether you’re writing emails, blogs, or reports for your colleagues, these skills are timeless.
  1. Critical Thinking Skills: Writing, research, and critical analysis are the foundations of a master’s degree. You learn how to accept constructive criticism of your work and use that criticism to improve and grow. You learn how to conduct research, organize that research, and then use inductive and deductive skills to facilitate an outcome. Regardless of your business environment, this is a skill set that transfers beyond the classroom.
  1. Consideration of Varying Viewpoints: An essential foundation in the study of English literature is literary theory and criticism. Literary theory is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for its analysis. By studying the many schools of literary theory you learn to view literary works through a variety of lenses. Learning to analyze information from many different perspectives offers the opportunity to grow your thought processes. Understanding the various schools of thought translates into the ability to do so in the business world. You learn to be open to new business models and methodologies.
  1. Commitment to Long-term Goals: One of the most arduous tasks a student will undertake is the research, writing, and presentation of their master’s thesis. The process generally begins as you reach the final semester of your coursework. The length of time it takes to complete your master’s thesis will vary — but it always takes longer than you think. I was given great advice by my thesis chair to, “pick a topic/writer you feel you can live with for the next year or two.” As in business, you may not enjoy every task your job requires, but if you’re pursuing your passion, it makes it all worthwhile.
  1. Conceptual Thinking Skills: Individuals who have strong conceptual skills typically have excellent cognitive abilities. These skills include thinking creatively, formulating abstractions, and analyzing complex situations as well as understanding issues and solving problems. Conceptual skills allow a manager to visualize the entire organization and work with ideas and the relationships between abstract concepts. It also enables an effective manager to weed out those variables that are inefficient and/or detrimental to a successful outcome.
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Top 4 Sales Tips for Success

28 Jan

While there are many great tips for increasing your effectiveness as a sales person, these consistently prove to be among the top 4 sales tips.

  1. Demonstrate Respect
    When you take the time to learn a client’s business and her professional needs, you’re demonstrating respect for her as a client and a person. This might sound simple, but it is no longer the norm and therefore bears repeating. Given the easy access to information via the web, there really isn’t any excuse for not doing the homework needed before calling. A “cold call” should be “warmer” with our present day access to data.
  2. Respond Promptly
    There is nothing that loses a sale faster than not returning a phone call or email in a timely manner. Understandably, you won’t always have an answer to a client’s questions or share the same sense of urgency that she has, but at least demonstrate “signs of life” when she leaves a message or sends an email. By responding to her call/email, you’re at least acknowledging receipt and providing an estimated time for delivery of the information requested. That said, be sure to meet that deadline with the necessary information and/or a status update.
  3. Communicate Effectively
    Many of you who know me are aware of my personal disdain for written or electronic communication that includes multiple font types, font colors, and font sizes. The most flagrant of these occurs when someone has obviously “copy/pasted” a section of the email from another email or document. If you’re going to do this, at least take the time and demonstrate the professionalism to ensure that ALL fonts are consistent throughout your communication. Failure to do so gives the impression that you are not a person with attention to detail. For me personally, this would make me question your attention to detail in the handling of my business.
  4. Create a Long Term Relationship
    Granted, not every piece of business will be the right fit, at the right time, at the right price. However, the care, respect, and attention given during the sales process will provide future success. If clients are treated as partners in business, they will be more likely to refer others and use your product or services in the future. Customer service is the most frequent differentiating factor in making a sale.

We can automate many processes, but people still do business with people, and there’s not an app for that!

My Five Must-Reads of the Week

26 Jan

While attending conferences, enduring airplane flights, and attending networking events, I’m often asked what my own five must-reads are daily and weekly. So, the curtain is lifted.

These are my five go-to sources:

  1. Inc.com / @SalesForce
    Geoffrey James is a contributing editor at Inc.com, where he writes an award-winning blog. Each article offers bite-size pieces of information that can better your work life.
  2. Fast Company
    Fast Company focuses on progressive business media brand, with editorial focus on innovation in technology, leadership, and design. Fast Company inspires readers to think beyond traditional boundaries stretching traditional boundaries to create the future of business.
  3. The Blog of Tim Ferriss – Experiments in Lifestyle Design
    Tim is a writer, lifestyle coach, business advisor, and lifestyle mentor. His books, blog, and podcast offer great tips and hacks for your work life and professional life.
  4. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope is an entrepreneur offering online courses to help you manage your career. She has founded four startups each built with a focus on a community. She documents her experiences in this blog.
  5. HuffPost Small Business
    Featured blog posts, bestseller lists, and reviews. If you’re looking for a quick snapshot of material to pick from each day, look no further.

Let me know what great blogs, articles, or podcasts you can’t do without!

Don’t Font All Over My Email

15 Feb

I just can’t remain silent any longer. Some may call it a pet peeve. Some may call it a frivolous complaint. However, I consider it an impediment to my ongoing obsession with working efficiently and responding to emails in a timely manner. So, what is this thorn in my side? It is the email that contains multiple fonts, multiple font colors, and email signatures that are just as miss-matched as the email preceding it.

So with all of the bigger issues confronting the business world why does this bother me? Well, if you read one of my earlier blogs, The New Normal of Email Communication,” then you’ll know there are implications beyond the simple irritant. I won’t rehash those issues here. Instead, the following explains why I prefer you “don’t font all over my email.”

Reading Made Difficult
When you send an email that contains mixed fonts, you make your emails more difficult to read. Example? An email that is a mix of Arial, Times Roman, and various font sizes instantly creates confusion. The reader needs to determine if these mixed fonts are there for a reason, or if they are just a result of the copy/paste function that the email writer used to send the email quickly. This instantly creates a barrier to reading and responding quickly.

If you are using different font colors to differentiate tasks, requests, or topics, consider bullet points instead. Bullet points make it easier for the recipient to interpret your communication and the information you are conveying or requesting.

Note: In my case, I now need to copy/paste your email into a Word or Text document so it’s all in one font so that I can read it clearly and ensure that I can respond effectively. This takes more time on my part and delays a response to the email sender.

Care Enough to Do It Right
We often forget that emails are “the new memo.” They are a reflection of your professional brand. Sending an email that is a hodge-podge of fonts types, font sizes, and font colors may infer that the sender didn’t care enough to send a “clean” and coherent email. If you are using a mix of font colors, make sure there is a reason and explain that reason in the email. (Example: “Answers to your questions are in “red.”)

Note: Our professional communications (written, email, verbal, video) are reflections of our professional brand. They reflect more than just our aesthetics. They reflect our attention to detail, our respect for the communication we are sending, and respect for your recipient’s time.

Your Signature is Your Last Impression
Make your signature consistent with your email. So what do I mean? It only takes a minute to modify your email signature to be consistent with the font of your email. Accordingly, don’t use multiple colors in your email. When your name is in one color/font and your address is yet another, it loses a professional appearance.

Note: It only takes a minute to click “select all” on your email to ensure that your font types, font colors, and font sizes are consistent. If you are unable to change the font on your signature, then use the same font in the body of your email.

Well, perhaps I stand alone in my “fonting” issues. Or, perhaps I’ve brought up an embarrassing topic that many of you have been afraid to talk about. Well, I’ve done it now. I’ve brought “irresponsible fonting” out of the shadows and into the open.  The topic no longer needs to be discussed in hushed tones.

Your Social Media Strategy – Pulling it Together

26 Jan

The final step in this three-part process ensures that all of the work you did in steps one and two of “Social Media Strategies Made Easy,” are put to good use.

That said, by now you should see a pattern of behavior of your audience and be able to match up your social media objectives with the appropriate platforms to reach each. So, this final step is to ensure you “speak the language” of each of the social media platforms to execute your strategies effectively.

Facebook
If you are using Facebook as a “bulletin board” to announce product discounts, special events, pictures or accomplishments then it’s not really complicated. Build your Facebook Page and start posting. Utilizing coupons or discount codes can provide a method of tracking the efficacy of this tactic. If your business is a hotel or restaurant, include a “reservation link” that you can track a direct tie to your Facebook page.

However, if you selected Facebook to engage your audience in a two-way dialogue to get feedback, suggestions for bettering your product/service, or creating a social community, then it’s a bit different (and more fun in my opinion). You can build a Facebook page open to everyone (although I suggest close monitoring if you’re going to allow posting) or you can build a Facebook group that provides a more selective audience.

A Facebook Group offers your audience the sensation of membership and exclusivity. This also allows you to control who participates while staying engaged in a dialogue with a more intimate audience.

Important: As with any relationship (virtual or otherwise), it is important to be authentic, honest, consistent, and persistent. In a wired world, people expect immediate gratification and immediate feedback. If you just pop in and out, they will lose interest in your site and go elsewhere. Technology has shortened our attention span and a successful social media strategy takes this into account.

Tone: The tone of a Facebook dialogue is casual but tasteful. Your tone should be conversational and informative without being sales pitchy. Personality goes a long way to keeping people interested and returning to the site.

LinkedIn
If you’ve determined that some of your audience “lives” on LinkedIn, then this is where you need to be a thought leader. This social platform provides a great vehicle for demonstrating your knowledge and commitment to your industry. It will take some time to find your company’s “voice” on LinkedIn and some trial and error as to which LinkedIn groups and forums prove successful in engaging your audience. However, persistence and consistency will move your discussions to the top of the groups. The most successful dialogues are the exchange of best practices and participation in the Q&As of the platform.

Important: LinkedIn offers you the opportunity to put your professional face forward. However, be sure to solicit suggestions and advice from others as well. People are more likely to share in your discussion if they feel as though their comments are being considered and respected as well.

Tone: Keep a professional tone. Discussions should remain free of controversy and should not become too familiar. These are business relationships.

YouTube
Whether you choose YouTube or another video platform, adding video to your Facebook group and your company website creates a layer of interest. Keep videos brief, entertaining, and informative. As discussed earlier, the tone and environment for taping need to be professional and without distractions. Unless your business is the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, keep the video free of jumping dogs and flying coworkers.

Note: Adding video to your web site makes it more engaging, and will contribute to search engine optimization organically. Decide on the type of video most appropriate for your products/services. Examples: Training video, How To video, Customer Testimonial video, or Demonstration video.

Whatever your social media strategy, remember that it will require constant review and adjustment. As you progress and monitor your results, try new platforms. Remember to start simple and then experiment with growth. There isn’t a single strategy or template for success that works for everyone. Social media strategies are as unique as the people you are targeting.

Best of luck and have fun!

Social Media Strategies Made Easy– Part 2

5 Jan

The next simple steps are matching your answers to last week’s questions with the appropriate corresponding social media platform options. As the title states, we’re keeping it simple here. With this in mind, don’t bite off more than you can chew. You don’t have to enter every social media platform in existence. Start with one or two at a time. The most important part is to be consistent, committed, and systematic. In other words, do a couple of things great instead of many things half way.

Our first question that needed to be asked and answered was, “what are you trying to accomplish with your social media strategy?” In other words, what is your goal? The answers to this provide the first a major step in planning your social media strategy. Your answer may be one or all of the following:  (1) We want to drive more people to our Web site. (2) We want to let people know what we’re doing.  (3) We want to announce events we have planned and invite people to attend.  (4) We want to get feedback from our clients, know what they want and need from us.

Our second question was finding where your audience “lives” on the Web. This is an important question to answer, as it will be the best indicator for your first couple of entries into social media marketing. The best ways to find answers to is to (1) ask your current customers for the sites they visit, and (2) surf the Internet yourself to identify where your audience seems to show up.

Website: Your Storefront
The first goal of social media marketing is to drive traffic to your Web site. That Web site is your virtual storefront. It needs to be clean, offering robust content, easy to navigate, and representative of the tone and tenor of your company/organization. The following social media tools will “lead the horse to water.” Your Web site is what will determine “if you can make the horse drink.”

Facebook: Transcends the Generational and Technological Divide
Facebook is certainly the most globally accepted.  Parents use it to share pictures and information with family members. Kids use it to communicate with one another. Grandparents use it to stay engaged with their children and grandchildren. Associations use it to stay in touch with their membership. Subsequently, if you have a broad audience you are trying to reach, Facebook is a great place to start.

LinkedIn: Connectivity to a Mobile Workforce
LinkedIn provides a great professional platform to track and stay in contact with your clients, colleagues, and competitors. You no longer have to carry a stack of business cards in order to try to track down your essential business contacts. Equally important are the LinkedIn discussion forums that provide you with an array of knowledge leaders that can offer advice, Q&As, or simply provide feedback. If you are in region of the city, country, or world where you do not have easy access to your professional peers, LinkedIn provides a valuable resource. It also provides a great opportunity to generate your professional profile/resume (including recommendations) that establish your level of experience in your field.

YouTube: Short Videos Add Personality
YouTube offers an opportunity to include videos on your Web site as well as videos to embed in your marketing proposals and presentations. You can start simple and then progress into your own YouTube Channel. Added benefit, Web sites using video in their online content increase the likelihood of your site appearing on a Google search.

Take this week to match your goals and your audience with the appropriate platform(s). Next week, we’ll discuss how your content matters. What is your message, how to say it, and why does that matter? Until then…share your thoughts!

Don’t Waste Your Time

15 Sep

Let’s face it, we all do it, whether we realize it or not. When we’re setting up our Fantasy Football team during working hours, we know we’re wasting our time. However, if we’re conducting a 3-hour Board Meeting each month, we may not be aware we’re wasting our time.

So what are the implications? Does it really make a difference? Well, actually it makes a much bigger difference than we might realize. Using our time ineffectively zaps our time and energy required to make truly important decision. Do you want to test it?

Weekly Diary: Track Your Week
Add up all of the hours you spend in meetings, on conference calls, and answering long trails of emails in a given week. Don’t just guess. Instead, track it like a diary for the week. In just one week, you will notice a pattern. Then, create a list of the “to do’s” that you did not have time to get to and see if they would have fit into that wasted time.

Analyze Your Meetings
Any meeting longer than one hour is ineffective. We’ve all sat in on those meetings or conference call meetings that last 2-3 hours. So how do you ensure you are not guilty of wasting the time of your meeting attendees?

  • Provide a clear agenda in advance so everyone on the call will know what they are expected to be prepared to bring to the table.
  • Limit the amount of discussion on less critical items and decisions. The primary reason meetings run too long are discussions that run off course or simply last too long.
  • Avoid redundancy. Do not review items that have already been covered in other meetings with the same people in attendance. Detailed meeting minutes from committees and departments can eliminate the need to rehash these issues.

Email Energy Zap
How often do you check your emails? If you’re like me, it’s probably too often. If we’re not disciplined in the time that we spend answering, responding to, or writing emails, our entire day’s productivity can be zapped away from us. Learn when to step away from your emails. Reducing the number of times we check our email or interrupt the project we’re working on, the more time we’re wasting. Moreover, each time we interrupt our workflow, we increase the amount of time it takes to complete the project.

The key to not wasting our time comes down to asking ourselves these questions: First, is this the best use of my valuable time at this moment? Second, am I doing what I want to do or what I need to do? Third, do I need to reassess my priorities and adjust my work plan?

One of my personal time-saving tips…since our office is very casual, I usually wear a white t-shirt and jeans to work. I can always throw a blazer or sweater over it should someone unexpectedly stop in. This tip saves time and energy. I don’t need to waste either in the morning.  The time I save in deciding what to wear to work frees up my time for important decisions.

I hope you will share your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions for better managing our time.

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