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Archive for quick tips – Page 2

The value of editing.

Yes, I mean the editing in the traditional sense, where someone looks at words that you write and gives you feedback on them. At the very least pointing out homonyms that the spell checker didn’t notice.

This blog is inspired by an article I read today in an online news journal. The author suggested that we “search for visual queues” in a dark room. That would seem to be very odd advice, to search a dark room for a line of people waiting for something. Then I realized we probably were actually looking for ‘cues’.

I’m not perfect. I’m sure my blog has mistakes. But there are levels of care that need to be taken that vary depending on the publication and distribution of a piece of writing. Your Facebook status? The odd typo is no big deal. Most people are typing from a smart phone keyboard of 2.5 inches, we almost expect errors. A blog? Well, its nice when you get all the words right, but if you don’t, your audience is likely to be forgiving, depending on your readership following.

If you’re publishing something that calls itself a Business Magazine? I don’t care if you’re all online all the time or not. That is no excuse for not having someone on staff who reads things before they are published to catch the most egregious of errors.

But for some reason, the expense I’m certain, editing has fallen out of fashion. I’m a voracious reader and the more recently a book was published, the more likely it is that there will be some fairly serious mistakes in word usage or placement or maybe that the story just plain needed some tightening up.

Self publishing is no excuse. There are plenty of people in the world perfectly capable of doing a freelance editing job for you. I’m on my second book with the 3rd sitting in my dropbox waiting for my schedule to open up.

So please, if you’re publishing anything more serious than a blog, or if your blog has a readership of more than 100 people on a regular basis, for pity’s sake, please have someone, anyone literate really, read it before it goes public. Your spouse, your buddy, your kid, just anyone.

Because no matter how interesting your subject, your badly structured sentences and your incomprehensible grammar is going to get in the way of me caring.

‘Are’ going to get in the way. See what I mean?

Honey still works better

You remember your mother saying “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?”

It wasn’t really about flies.

My last post was about a problem I had and what to keep in mind when fixing things for your customers. Considering how surprised the nice customer service rep was that I wasn’t irate and screaming, I thought a few tips for the customer side of things were in order.

1. Don’t yell at people who can’t help you.

If you’re angry about a situation, chances are excellent that the first person you get on the phone doesn’t know anything and can’t help you. Wait until you reach the right pay grade.

2. Be clear on what your problem is, and when appropriate, what you’d like the resolution to be.

‘I’m really unhappy’ is not a good complaint. Give them a chance to actually help by providing clear details. Have your paperwork handy.

3. Don’t assume everyone is out to get you.

Business don’t stay in business by intending to deliver a shoddy product. (I don’t want to talk about government departments right now.) Approach each problem with the assumption that it was an honest mistake and they’d like to fix it for you. There’s plenty of time to get irate later if its necessary.

4. Control your temper.

Even when losing your temper is appropriate, don’t. Either the person on the other end of the phone really wants to help you, or they don’t. Screaming about it isn’t going to change them one way or the other. Honestly, when I’m pleasant and restrained most customer service reps I deal with are so shocked that they’re happy to bend over backwards just because I’m nice.

5. If you need to escalate, go right ahead, but don’t assume.

Everyone wants to talk to a supervisor or the manager. That isn’t always necessary. Often anyone in customer service can help you. You’ll always have to wait for a manager, and when you summon one specifically, they’re already on the defensive. Of course, if you get someone who isn’t competent, your issue is complicated, or you’re not getting anywhere, then don’t hesitate to ask for a supervisor, and then let the supervisor know you tried to handle it at the lower level, but it wasn’t working for you.

Mostly, I think a generous application of Calm Down would improve most customer service issues immeasurably.

Its about the fix

When you are in business, you will make mistakes. You will mess things up. You will do things so boneheaded that you want to hide under a rock for a week (or maybe that’s just me). The point is, mistakes happen.

What’s critical to your business is how you fix the problem.

Today I got my order from my food delivery service. It was not at all what I was expecting. A number of critical items were reduced or missing. Apparently when I was placing my order I went well over the ‘points’ I’m allotted by the system. While I was on hold to fix the problem I reviewed the order placed and can see that there was definitely too much stuff.

What went wrong:

So the first problem was the original order. I suppose I should have paid more attention, but really, I don’t have the point system in front of me. I assumed that it was the job of the guy on the phone to pay attention to that and they’ve always done an excellent job in the past. So that’s their first mistake.

The real big mistake was, when the error was discovered, they did not contact me to ask me how I’d like my order adjusted to fix the differences, and by the way apologize for not paying attention. They just made some assumptions, all of which were completely wrong. This just sets up their customer service department for dealing with irate customers. Not a nice thing to do to your coworkers. This is the mistake that lingers and could encourage me to talk badly about their company for months.

What went right:

The delivery driver (who is a great guy by the way, always pleasant. Always someone I’m perfectly willing to have in my home) knew what I needed to do. Call the guy I placed the order with and find out what happened. He’d arrived early for my delivery and since he had the time, he didn’t give me any trouble when I insisted he wait until I got a resolution. He played with my cats while I was on hold. Teach your people who is responsible for handling problems.

I asked to be directed to ‘the guy’. When I got his voice mail I went back to the switchboard and said “I have a problem with my order, I need to talk to ‘the guy’ right away before the driver can go.” He was on another call, so Switchboard made the intelligent decision to find someone in customer service who could help me right away. Timely response cuts down on the time your customer has to think about exactly how upset they are.

Right away turned out to be Hannah, who was pleasant, cheerful, apologetic, and apparently shocked that I wasn’t screaming at her. (hmm. I see another post in my future.)Be pleasant and apologetic.

She had all the answers from “send the driver on and you and I’ll will work this out” to “lets look at your account” and “wow, we really messed this up”. So we worked out a fair exchange, and then she threw in some extra stuff as an apology. Know what you can and can’t do to resolve problems. Be proactive with ‘can’.

And then she didn’t rush off but asked me about quality and service and took the time to discuss things with me as long as I wanted. Take the time to add a positive human component to the experience.

Thank you very much Hannah at Town and Country customer service. You did your job excellently today.

Break it down

Last week we watched The Next Master Chef on Food Network. It’s yet another reality show, if you don’t watch it. Their task was to cook for 400 hungry Marines. (I need to make the Marine solidarity noise now that I’m related to one. My baby sister just got married.)

The cameras caught just about everyone participating on that show talking some variation of “400 people!!! I’ve never cooked for 400 people!!!” And they proceeded to run around like headless chickens and ignore that critical part that they didn’t feel they knew how to tackle. Not a single one stopped and thought it through.

The team who made the best food? They lost, because they ran out. You can’t be feeding soldiers and run out of food. seriously.

I’ve never cooked for 400 people either. But I know how to break it down.

I’ve never cooked for 400 people. But I’ve cooked for 10. So I look at those giant pans they use for military cooking and I say ‘If I’m cooking au gratin potatos for 10 people, my pan is so big. How many of those pans fit into this one.” And then its a just matter of math.

That’s really how you have to handle any big scary project. Figure out what you do know, and use those pieces to help you figure out what you don’t know. The more complicated (or the more scary) something is, the smaller you may need to break down the pieces. Often you can figure out the parts that you don’t know either by handling the parts around it, or by breaking it down small enough to figure out who to ask for advice.

Ignoring the parts you don’t understand isn’t a sound strategy.

Personalizing your professional voice.

They say “you have to be personal on social media”. So we get people talking about the most narcissistic stuff. There’s personal and then there’s over sharing and many people are definitely over sharing.

The problem is, a lot of the people who use social media are entrepreneurs and business owners. What that really means is, we have no life apart from business. Or does it. Maybe what it really means is that business is an integral part of our real life so personalizing it is really easy, once you realize what ‘personalize’ means in this context.

There are a lot of levels of ‘personal’. Lets go with beach-personal and water cooler-personal.

At the beach, you’re really letting it all hang out. Fish belly white skin. Grey hair. Saddlebags. Beer guzzling, really bad volley ball, whatever it is you as a person are and like to do, its all out there. And the beach is an appropriate place for most of that.

At the water cooler, that’s still in your office, but its become axiomatic for a place for relaxing a little. Talk about what’s new in sports or your favorite TV show. (I’m so ready for Big Bang Theory to start the new season!) We had a great weekend up in Estes Park. Things you could tell your boss (assuming you aren’t embarrassed by your choice of television viewing) or your grandmother with equal confidence. But here there are definite limits. When asked what’s up for your weekend you might say “My mother in law is coming to visit” and roll your eyes, and that’s just the right side of appropriate. You’ll get some commiseratory groans and eye rolls and then the conversation will move to the next person in line. It is definitely NOT the time to explain, in detail, about the time when your mother in law did some horrible thing. That would be crossing over into the wrong side of the line. Definitely.

Personalizing social media is like that. Had a business lunch somewhere? Well, was the service excellent? Or Terrible? Did you learn something new about the restaurant, or owners, or menu? “I had lunch with Pamela today. Did you know Jason’s Deli serves items on gluten free bread?” Its personal, because we have a friendly relationship, and its about sharing with others. “Went to the Women in Business Breakfast today. Did you know (insert interesting fact you learned.)”

Share your perspective, your insight, in short *you*, the inside of your head, what makes you unique or interesting. If it happens in a business environment, that’s ok, that’s part of you too.

Please keep up.

Facebook is for chatting. Facebook is for connecting with friends. Facebook is for passing information and being available to people you know. Facebook is for building social connections to your business and professional friends. Facebook is for messaging people who’s email address you can’t find…

Yes, it has now become common place to use Facebook messaging to communicate with business connections. Don’t shake your head at me. Its hugely convenient. I may not have your email address handy. I may not be sure which of the 5 emails I have for you is the one you actually check. But I’m betting your Facebook notifications go to the useful one. And I was there anyway.

Facebook has become a one stop shop for all things connectivity. I’m sharing my business blog while consulting with my newly married sister and talking a good friend through moving.  I like it that way. All the pieces of my life jumbled together, just like my life.

The thing about blogs

is that a lot of people, most particularly myself, tend to say too much.

I know better. I absolutely know that if a blog is more than a few short paragraphs, maybe 3, then I’m going to say “I’ll look at that later” when what I really mean is, “too much information, I’m going to set this aside then forget to ever come back.” A blog has to have something I’m seriously in need of to catch my interest longer than about 1/2 a screen.

So why do we fall into the trap of thinking we don’t have enough time to blog, or we don’t have enough to say? If you have a topic you’re interested, anything really, then you probably have enough to say. So here’s a few things to keep in mind when starting to blog:

  • Keep it short. One complete thought per post. If you have more than one thought about a particular topic, make a series of posts rather than one really long one.
  • Post often. You’ll get a better readership if you post regularly. If your blogging software won’t let you write today and schedule it for tomorrow, look into a better blogging engine.
  • Be conversational. Most audiences expect blogs to be personal and conversational rather than strictly formal. It can depend on your topic, but if people are looking for dry facts, they probably aren’t going to trust a blog post as their source anyway.
  • Reread before posting. Posting a great article that’s full of errors and typos and incomplete thoughts isn’t going to build your readership.
  • Don’t revise. If you’ve changed your mind about a stance, write a new post, don’t go back and fix the old one.

I have some more, but that’s enough for one post. I know you’re all watching the clock to see how much longer this is going to take. Off you go.

Don’t procrastinate. Outsource!

Outsourcing isn’t just bad tech support in India.

Computers and other technology have enabled people who are very good at one certain thing to go into business to handle that one thing for others. Outsourcing to overseas has become popular and was really publicized by Tim Feriss in 4-Hour Workweek, but there are a lot of reasons that might not be the right fit for you. Fortunately, a lot of outsourcing is available right in your own business community.

Bookkeeping:

This service is one of the most popular for outsourcing. Taxes, payroll, those are mysteries that most of us would be happier never delving into. Fortunately there are many, many options for this that can be more affordable than the traditional hiring of a full time accountant. There are specialist book keepers who will keep your Quickbook files up to date and pay your bills. There are tax accountants who will handle only your taxes once a year. There are payroll specialists who will take your timesheets and produce everything from the paychecks for your contractors to your monthly or quarterly IRS documentation. Figure out what your needs are and take a look around.

IT support:

This is another one that too many people try to do themselves thinking its cheaper. How cheap is it when its costing you the time you could be generating billable hours for a client? How cheap is it when you spend hours on it and it still doesn’t work properly? What good is a network or computer that’s always down? If you live in a metro area check with your local Chamber of Commerce, I bet there are several businesses who handle anything from setting up your entire office IT pathways to cleaning viruses off your kid’s computers. A lot faster than most of us, and without the frustration.

Phones:

As business picks up, are you still trying to handle all your calls yourself? This one really depends on how big your business is and what kind of service you offer, but there are really excellent answering services out there. Some of them will answer as if it were your own office and can handle simple things like calling up a quote or setting up an appointment. Some can handle very detailed customer support. Some just take the traditional message and text your phone with it. How much would your productivity increase if you weren’t being constantly interrupted, even if those interruptions are really important? Could they wait 50 minutes if you check your messages once an hour? Could they wait until noon? Only you can judge the needs of your business, but give it some thought.

Web Development:

Having a spiffy professional website is as much about having the right tools and knowledge as it is having fresh interesting content. Unless you have training in coding, and graphics, and copywriting, you could probably use professional help with some of the pieces. Systems like Joomla are designed to make it easier to handle some parts, but easier is relative. How much knowledge do you have to start with, and what is the time it will take you to really figure it out worth when balanced with time you could be doing things you’re really good at. Ones that generate revenue? Web developers are a dime a dozen out there. Look at their websites, but don’t just look at the graphics or colors. Do you like what they have to say? Do they have actual content on their site? How do they feel about designing a website with a CMS system so you can adjust the content to suit yourself without having to wait on the developer and pay web developer fees to change simple text? Ask a lot of questions. How long have they been programming? Can they write a store system from scratch? Can they set up your web forum? Do they have customer testimonials or references to offer? Websites are an integral part of business now. Take the time and spend the money to have it done right, once.

Copywriting and editing:

The first rule of writing and editing is to always have someone else read it before it goes out. Even the best editors can and do make simple mistakes in their own work. Do you write well? Is your grammar correct? Does your style enhance your business? A good copywriter will take your ideas and set them out clearly and concisely. One document can be revised into several kinds of content. Often your written presentation is your first impression, either your website or your brochure. Are you making the right kind of impression?

This is just the beginning. Almost every possible task has someone that is devoted to doing it well as an independent professional. Think about what parts of your business you don’t enjoy or that don’t have a high enough return on the time investment and see about outsourcing it.

A growing outsourcing profession is the Virtual Assistant. A profession near and dear to my heart. So they’ll get their very own entry.

Filing is boring

There’s just no getting around it. Filing is boring. Which is why it piles up into mammoth unmanageable heaps and unsteady piles and threatens to take over your office.

Paperless is best where you can, but somethings you just can’t. Phone bills, utility bills, in some places those can be delivered electronically, but mostly they still come by mail.

When you must, you need a system. A nice low key system that doesn’t make you crazy.

Today I did nuisance filing dating back to October. A little embarrassing for someone who’s life work is helping people get organized, but I’m as human as the next non-filer. But I did it this morning in 45 minutes.

I have a file folder that sits on top of the filing cabinet. It gets all the bills as they’re paid, and other things like insurance statements and (rapidly dwindling) investment statements, none of which need to have anything done to them, but I do want to have them available if I need them.

When the folder inevitably gets full, I put ‘filing’ on the schedule, pick a time when I have the office to myself, crank up the music. Then I sort everything in to piles all over every flat surface. A very few things get put into chronological order. Everything else I assume I can sort them on the very off chance that I actually need one.

There’s always a few things that don’t yet have a home. I save those for last. I either decide they should go somewhere loosely related related or I pull out a nice new colored folder and make a brand new one. I try very hard to never let myself put anything back into that folder once I’m sorting. Really I do.

Poof. Six months worth of annoying paperwork done in 45 minutes.

How low can you go?

How close to completely paperless can you get?

I know that certain professions, realtors come immediately to mind, have huge stacks of government mandated paperwork they can’t escape.

For the rest of us, an easy way to stay organized is through keeping as much as possible on the computer. Folders, and sub folders and sub-sub folders, and as many as you need as often as you need. No running out of folders, no stacks of paper, no papercuts. If your electronic files aren’t organized, just put on your favorite music in the background and create folders and drag files around until you’re pretty sure you’ll be able to find things. If you realize the system you’re using doesn’t work quite as well as you’d like, you can try a different one in a matter of minutes.

My professional paper files consist of one drawer of government mandated tax paperwork of various kinds, and one drawer of customer files that contain a hard copy of the signed contract and any notes I took in a notebook. (I think better with a pen in hand than typing. I think it goes back to being in college pre-laptop.) I invoice by email.

Of course, if you’re going to have a paperless office, you need to have an excellent back up strategy with both on and off site copies. I’m hoping to get a guest poster in to write about that. Just remember it isn’t optional and absolutely not worth the risk. Back up early, back up often.