Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why Hire a Professional Writer, part 3: I Don't Cut Hair

Parts 1 and 2 established how writing can be used to obscure when it should really unveil, and how good writing engages readers, drawing them in while getting its message across. 

Who, then, should you trust to do the writing for your business?

I have heard managers and business owners say “Well, the employee I assigned to write this has a college degree, so she obviously knows how to write.” At which time I have to remind them that I got through Kindergarten and know how to use scissors, but you wouldn’t want me cutting your hair.

Think about that when you’re ready to hand off that writing project to that employee who isn’t a writer. How much would you hesitate in handing her a pair of scissors to cut your hair? Do you want clients and prospects seeing your business through writing that’s the text equivalent of a bad haircut?

A professional writer is someone with the talent, skill, and experience to create writing that informs and engages readers. A professional writer can help you by

  • Defining your message and audience and working out the most effective ways to get your message to that audience
  • Recognizing tired or clichéd ideas and finding fresh approaches
  • Creating writing that is concise, compelling, consistent, and free from the distractions of grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling errors
  • Freeing you and your staff to focus your time on your jobs and growing your business

Words present us to the world. And the words you choose to present your business to the world affect how your prospects and clients perceive it in much the same way that how your hair looks affects how people perceive you.

Do you want your business out there with a bad haircut? A really bad haircut? Then think about it before handing those scissors to that employee or picking them up yourself. Just because I can use scissors doesn’t mean I can cut hair; just because someone can use MS Word doesn’t mean they can write. Trust your words to someone whose job it is to know words, who can create effective writing to present your business compellingly.

And without leaving the bangs way too short and that little cowlick sticking up.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why Hire a Professional Writer, part 2: You Shouldn’t Need a Magic Eye

In part 1, mischievous but insightful Calvin tells Hobbes he’s found the purpose of writing:

“To inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!”

Remember the “Magic Eye” 3D poster craze back in the 1990s? The ones with the scribble of lines and jumble of shapes that you had to stare at and stare at just so until the picture hidden in them popped out? What Calvin’s describing is the written equivalent of hose pictures: dense, wordy prose that uses big words and overly-formal constructions to camouflage ideas with a presentation that appears knowledgeable and fills up a page. A lot of people learn to write that way in school, where an overworked TA who’s required to review a paper, search out the ideas in it, and provide feedback can be worn down by the slog the paragraphs and award points for style and language more than clear communication of ideas.

But to a casual reader who’s reviewing your brochure or letter or website . . . do you also remember how many people couldn’t see the hidden 3D picture? How many would shrug and walk away from the poster, shaking their heads and grumbling? If your writing is the verbal equivalent of one of those hidden image pictures, most likely you lose a client every time someone who was trying to learn about your company or organization in order to decide about doing business with you gave up on your text and tossed your brochure in the recycling or clicked away from your website. (the digital version of tossing your brochure).

To hold on to readers, writing must engage them personally, draw them in, and – most importantly – create an immediately clear picture of what you want to get across. A professional writer will help you sell your products or services by helping your prospects and customers see instantly what you have to offer them by telling your story, whatever that may be, from simply listing sales and specials to conveying what makes you better than you competitors.

A particular skill itself, it’s one you can’t do without any more than sales or negotiating or the niche knowledge you use to make your business grow.

Next time:Why you can't "get by" when it comes to someone with these skills . . .

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Hire a Professional Writer, part 1

I could start with an essay, but the great Bill Watterson says it beautifully in just four panels:

 Part 2 next week . . . 

Friday, March 18, 2011

How networking made some legendary movie roles ... well, legendary

(Note: This is a repost of my guest article for Kathy Bernard's Get a Job! blog.)

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” goes the old Hollywood cliché. But in job seeking, what’s true in La-La Land is true for the rest of us.

“Who you know” means building relationships and connections with people to help your name come up when an opportunity’s available -- really, that’s all networking is. And if you’ve been neglecting your network in your job search, take a look at some iconic movie roles and stars who made their careers from them, and see how networking landed them the part and created movie legends.

·     The producers of the 1970 WWII epic Patton first offered the eponymous lead to actor Robert Mitchum. Mitchum loved the script, and knew it would be a success with the right actor in the lead – which he also knew wasn’t him. He told the producers they’d need an actor passionate enough to fight to pull the focus from all the spectacle and keep it on his character, and recommended the producers talk to George C. Scott. And for his work in the film, Scott ended up winning an Oscar.

·     When casting1968’s Dirty Harry, the producers’ first choice for the role was . . . Frank Sinatra. Sinatra turned it down, and the part was offered to John Wayne and then Steve McQueen, who both passed as well. When Paul Newman rejected it, though, he suggested they contact a younger up-and-comer he knew and thought would be perfect in the role: Clint Eastwood, who not only made Dirty Harry his own, but returned to it in four blockbuster sequels over the next twenty years.

·     After Robert Vaughn was cast as Lee in John Sturges’ soon-to-be classic western The Magnificent Seven, actor Sterling Hayden dropped out of the project, leaving Sturges with a sudden hole to fill in his roster of gunfighters. Vaughn immediately thought of his good friend from college who was a huge fan of the The Seven Samurai (the Japanese original they were remaking), and suggested him to the director. The result: James Coburn won the role of Lee, the knife expert, with the added bonus that the character he’d get to portray was the American version of Kyuzo, his favorite character from the original. Coburn and Vaughn remained lifelong friends and often helped each other get parts, but this was the only movie they made together.

So the lesson here? These were all landmark roles, characters that defined and propelled these actors’ careers, and none of them were won by open audition or talent agent finagling, but by friends and colleagues who respected them and their work and recommended them to the right people at the right time.

That’s networking -- getting the people you know to help you into the positions they know of, allowing you to leverage their existing connection to a decision-maker to land a job.

How different would those movies be if Mitchum or Newman or Vaughn hadn’t had anyone to suggest for those parts? How different could your career be if you had someone to suggest you for the next great job that comes open? So get to work on your network -- like they say, it’s who you know.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Before You Say Anything: Seven Seconds to Stronger First Impressions

That 30-second elevator speech you’ve worked up to impress prospects, interviewers, or potential partners when you meet them? It’s more than four times too long for making an effective first impression – at least according to results from a study conducted by New York University’s Stern Graduate School of Business that showed people make decisions about others in the first seven seconds after meeting them.

Seven seconds – count that out “one-Mississippi”-style. Done? Then you know there’s nothing you can say in that amount of time to get your best self across in that first impression. Which means you have to rely on non-verbal cues if you really want to impress in that first meeting. So, based on suggestions from executive coach Carol Kinsey Goman, here are seven things to do – without saying a word – to create stronger connections and stronger first impressions in those crucial seven seconds:

1.  Warm up – When you go to a rock concert, does the band play immediately? No, they send out a warm up act first. Warming up changes the energy of an interaction, whether it’s between an audience and performer or a professional and prospect. And warming up before a meeting is easy, too. Simply chat with someone before the meeting – a receptionist at the prospect’s site, or someone you already know at a networking event. Doing this will change the tone of your interaction, taking you out of “pitch” mindset and getting you into a more connection-building conversation mindset.

2.  Stand up straight – Posture says a lot about you, so stand up straight, square your shoulders, and hold your head up. People are attracted to confidence, and that’s what this posture communicates. Want to see it in action? Check out Christopher Reeve in 1978’s “Superman” right after he and Margot Kidder have their romantic flight over the city and, as Clark Kent, he contemplates telling her his secret. Without costume changes or special effects, Reeve goes from Clark Kent to Superman and back to Clark Kent in a matter of seconds, and does it all with body language, simply through the way he stands.

3.  Smile – Smile when you meet people. Human beings are hard-wired to respond positively to smiles, which actually stimulate the reward center in the viewer’s brain. So smiling at a prospect creates instantly in that person a positive association with you.

4.  Shake hands – According to research, a good handshake can develop the same rapport as three hours of verbal interaction, so you can’t emphasize it too much. Reach out, take the prospect’s hand, apply some pressure (no one likes a limp or bone-crushing handshake), apply the “one-two” pump business coaches recommend and then use this little technique to establish greater connection: hold on to the other person’s hand a moment longer. Non-verbally, that fraction of a second of extra contact communicates your interest in the other person, lending additional depth and sense of sincerity to that contact.

5.  Make eye contact – At least in North American culture, lack of eye contact can suggest disrespect, boredom, or just plain lack of interest. Looking someone in the eye indicates you’re paying attention and interested in the person. But as much as too little eye contact is bad, too much can make the person you’re meeting uncomfortable. So a good rule to follow when meeting someone for the first time is to make initial eye contact long enough to note to yourself what color eyes the person has – actually say to yourself “She has green eyes” or “He has brown eyes” and you’ll maintain that contact to make your prospect feel more connected with you.

6.  Raise your eyebrows – A squint or knit brow communicates judgment or confusion, and nobody wants to feel they’re being judged or perceived as confusing. So to further put your prospect at ease, raise your eyebrows, which signals openness and interest.

7.  Lean in – It’s no secret that we lean toward things that appeal us, so leaning forward, toward an individual, communicates that you're engaged and interested. Even when you’re sitting you can apply this: Instead of sitting straight up or with your back against the chair’s back, scoot forward and lean in – how do they describe an exciting or thrilling movie? That’s right: “edge of your seat.” Sitting like this communicates your enthusiasm to the person you’re speaking with.

All that you can do in seven seconds, before you say anything, strengthening your first impression by creating a more powerful sense of connection.