Email Writing Perfected

Now that you’ve completed your business plan, you’re ready to put it in motion. Here’s the guide that will make sure you know how to get your entrepreneurial groove on! In Be Your Own Boss, Part 2: The Implementation and Beyond, you’ll learn to recognize the strengths or weaknesses in your proposed business model and develop an effective customer acquisition plan. You’ll get insight into what you should consider when choosing the right legal entity for your venture. Learn to implement savvy marketing, branding and social media strategies, get real about business financing options and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream. Thursdays April 18 & 25 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

Every day, the typical professionally employed adult sends and receives an avalanche of emails. In response, dozens of articles that address the challenge of email management have appeared in business targeted media outlets. Those articles are all somewhat helpful but my feeling is, when emails are effectively written fewer of them are written, because writers express themselves clearly and recipients understand how to respond.

As luck would have it, an amazing and highly organized polymath named Kabir Seghal, who is a U.S. Navy veteran, former Vice President at J.P. Morgan, Grammy Award-winning producer (Afro-Latin Jazz) and author of seven books in both the children and adult genres including Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How its History Has Shaped Us (2015) has stepped up to guide mere mortals in the fine art of email writing. Seghal applies lessons he learned while in the military when advising us on how to write the ideal email communication.

Subject line

Subject lines are crucial. They can determine when or even if your email is opened. The wrong subject line can result in your email being ignored or deleted. A powerful subject line communicates the purpose of the email and the action the writer would like the recipient to take. A sampling of subject line verbs include:

Action                                 Meet

Decision                             Request

FYI                                      Sign

ACTION:  The recipient must do something, usually within a certain time frame.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         frame.

DECISION: A decision must be made by the recipient, or a decision that impacts the recipient has been made.

FYI: For Your Information messages keep the recipient in the loop. Action is not required (choice of the recipient).

MEET: Consult your calendar and reserve time.

REQUEST: The writer seeks approval or permission from the recipient.

SIGN: The recipient must read and sign a document and return it with a certain time frame.

Bottom line up front (BLUF)

Begin the body of the email with a short statement that concisely answers Who, What, When, Where and Why to explain the purpose of your email and what you’d like the recipient to do. The BLUF distills the message and allows the recipient to easily digest the information you share and how s/he will be impacted. Seghal suggests that the writer lead with the heading Bottom Line to call attention to your email’s core messages.

Active voice

Seghal recommends that we use the active, rather than passive, voice when composing emails. It’s important to be clear about who has or is taking action, or who will be required to take action (and when) and the impact of that action.

Cut to the chase

Short emails are preferred by military personnel, but sometimes longer communications are unavoidable. Should your email exceed three paragraphs, follow-up your Bottom Line (BLUF) statement with bullet points, so the recipient can quickly focus on critical information.  Rather than adding files as attachments to the email, embed hyperlinks to the files and enable faster access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Typist, circa 1930s.

 

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Write an Effective Business Letter

All writing is about the intended reader (that is, the audience).  Whether it’s a book, song, movie, opera, website, marketing brochure, grant proposal, or fundraising letter, the one priority for the writer to keep in mind is that the intended recipient matters most.  Writing is a basic means of communication and we have many reasons to choose to express our thoughts or requests in writing, rather than verbally.  Usually, we write to make our thoughts official, to communicate with someone whom we do not know, or to communicate with a large number of people.

We write to express our point of view or to make a request.  We may write to persuade the reader to take a particular action based on information that is presented or to consider a new perspective and modify his/her opinion.  In other words, writing is selling. Writers will benefit from the following guidelines:

  1. Purpose: Why are you writing?
  2. Audience: Who is the reader (audience)?
  3. Outcomes: How can you persuade the reader to care about your subject or request?

The first question is actually about you, the writer.  What motivates you to write? Are you in search of funding for a project that you would like to advance and so you must write a business or grant proposal? Might your objective be to write a sales or marketing letter that will be sent to those who you feel are potential customers for your product or service? Are you producing content for a website or other promotional material that will communicate your expertise to potential customers and give them the confidence to contact you? You will be an effective writer only when you develop the self-awareness and confidence to acknowledge what you would like your written material to achieve, so that you will choose vocabulary that reflects your intent.

The second question ensures that you tailor your message and vocabulary to resonate with your intended reader or audience.  The successful writer will consider the point of view of the reader and craft a message that is likely be understood and accepted by that reader.  If it is a proposal that you will write, then you must address the interests of several stakeholders who will be able to speak favorably or unfavorably of your request.  Grant applications and business proposals always include financial information as well as operations and marketing information, for example, to satisfy those three important decision-making constituencies.

The final question addresses the perceived benefits that the reader or audience can expect to derive from what you have written.  Here, the writer must tightly focus on the readers’ priorities and preferences and consider the outcomes attached to the expression of the thoughts or creative expression, or the relative value of your request.  What will be in it for the reader if s/he buys your book, devotes time and money to attend a performance of your music, or approves your grant or proposal?

The writer is advised to utilize a communication style and vocabulary that are familiar and reassuring to the reader or audience,  as a way to build confidence, encourage acceptance and approval and result in mutual success.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

So You Want To Write A Book?

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago and learned that she is in the process of writing her fourth book. She’s not a great writer and she addresses only one topic but she self-publishes, which guarantees that her books will always be available as long as she has the money to bring them to the page and she even sells a few, mostly to people who know her and likewise have an interest in that topic. I laughed and said that I would never write a book. And yet…..

For business owners, business executives and of course Freelance consultants, writing a business book is good business. A business book is a the ultimate self-marketing tool and it conveys much respect. If you’re looking to wear the crown of credibility, write a book. If your book addresses its topic cogently and is reasonably well-written, you can dine out on the self-promotional benefits for the rest of your life.

Business authors recommend that you treat your book like a new venture launch. A business book has the potential to broaden your audience, raise your stature and notoriety, help to get you quoted as an expert in business-themed articles, get you invited to give interviews and host webinars and best of all, generate leads that bring in more business. You probably assume that writing a book is a tremendous and all-consuming process and I’m told that is correct. However, business owners and executives only need to write one book and their reputations will be set.

Be prepared to work enormously hard to research, outline and write your book. If you have money consider hiring a ghost writer, who will interview you and put your insights and anecdotes on paper. Be prepared to spend several thousand dollars to self-publish, because unless you have a national or very strong local reputation, no publishing house will sign you.

Finally, brace yourself for low sales and expect to buy dozens of copies of the book yourself. Give signed copies to good friends, family members and clients. Here are a few items that will help you evaluate the decision to become an author:

Subject Your biggest challenge may be choosing the subject. Content matters and one is advised to have something relevant to say to potential readers. Moreover, you are advised to choose a subject that you enjoy and will not mind speaking about ad nauseum, because you must promote the book and its topic and when you use the book as a way to get speaking engagements, the topic will be the center of your talk. There are two basic subject options:

  • A creation story, an inspirational memoir that tells how you either overcame adversity or bounced along on good fortune and quick wit and used your competitive advantages to launch and sustain a successful enterprise. The first is sincere and compelling, the second ought to be humorous and fun.
  • A how-to book shares your special expertise and shows readers how they can become better marketers, sales people, customer relations managers, public speakers, business financial managers, Freelance consultants — you get the idea.

Publish Expect to self-publish your book. Hire an experienced copy editor, so that you won’t embarrass yourself with grammatical or continuity errors. Most self-publishing houses will offer these services at an additional cost. Hire a graphic artist to design the cover and a professional photographer and make-up artist to ensure that you look wonderful on the (front, back or inside) cover.

Promote Even if you manage to persuade a traditional publisher to accept your book proposal, do not expect the company to promote your book. You must develop a proactive marketing plan that will get your book noticed and validated as worthwhile. Consider hiring a public relations specialist to help with book promotion, if you have the budget. Create a website and/or a Facebook page for your book as well as a podcast that features you speaking about the book (maybe in an interview format). You or your PR specialist will approach the local cable access station and inquire about you appearing on a program that includes segments about local business people; ditto for radio stations (think Sunday morning radio); and local newspapers and magazines to interview you about your business and the book.

It is not an easy task but if you decide to move forward with the concept, becoming an author will emerge as one of the most significant achievements of your life. The book will become your ultimate business card and will give readers an impressive introduction to you and the enterprise that you created and lead. Publishing a book is an event known to bring prestige and momentum to your business and brand.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Better Business Writing

The ability to write well is an asset and poor writing undermines the perception of one’s professional abilities.  Skilled writing is in great demand in the business world,  where content marketing and social media updates require Freelancers,  business owners and corporate marketing teams to write newsletters,  blogs,  white papers,  Twitter updates and press releases.

Some of us hate to write and we are intimidated by the prospect.  From time to time,  even good writers struggle to express their thoughts.  Submitted here are business writing tips that will help you to communicate your expertise to clients,  peers,  prospects,  hiring managers or potential business partners.

Purpose

What is your written communication meant to achieve?  Do you want to write a proposal,  a thank you letter,  a follow-up email that confirms agreed-upon actions that were discussed in a meeting,  or a message in a greeting card?

Inventory

It’s helpful to write down and list what you want to say,  in no particular order.  Don’t worry about vocabulary or grammar,  just grab paper and pencil and capture what information is necessary to convey your intentions.  Save the editing for later.

Concise,  complete and organized

Prioritize your subject matter and lead with what is most important and time-sensitive.  Write a first draft and do your best to express your information clearly and concisely.  If your communication is business,  you may choose to highlight the most noteworthy points in bullets,  so that the reader’s eye is drawn to them quickly.

Active voice

Business writing is all about action and you will convey your command of the subject or events that transpired when you write in the active voice.

Spelling and punctuation

Run the spelling and grammar check that is on your software.

Edit

Review and edit your writing and if time allows,  take another look anywhere from a few hours to a day or two later.  Allowing your writing to “rest” will sharpen your editing prowess.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Headline Hooks That Reel In Readers

Whether you’ve written an email,  blog post,  newsletter,  white paper or press release,  your primary job is to persuade your intended readers to read what you’ve written.  Anyone worth writing for is buried in potential reading material.  Prioritizing and skimming are the norm.  Use yourself as an example.  When sorting through business or personal reading material,  what persuades you to stop and read?  The headline!

The headline is the hook that reels in readers.  Dull headlines do not grab attention.  They do not resonate with or intrigue your intended readers.  They do not communicate the value of the content that you’ve spent time to research and write.  Package and sell your content with a headline that makes your intended readers know that your content,  email or press release contains valuable information.

Headlines alert intended readers to subjects of interest.  Attention-grabbing headlines cause us to read even articles that we may conclude are a waste of time and which we may abandon,  but the subject line was like a siren song to our eyes.  Consider what would be most appealing,  or alarming,  to your intended readers and also descriptive of the content.  The perspective from which you must create your subject line / title is from the intended reader’s ultimate vetting question,  “What’s in it for me”?

The right headline gets you more attention,  more readers,  more buzz and more results.  Keep these headline categories in mind as you create the headline for your next important communication:

I.     How-to headline

Content that instructs and informs will benefit from a headline that motivates intended readers to take action

  • Cold Calling Dos and Don’ts
  • Five Tactics Guaranteed To Make You A Better Networker
  • Headline Hooks That Reel In Readers

II.    Challenge headline

Headlines that pose a question that intended readers are presumed to want answered,  because they likely grapple with the predicament that the content addresses

  • Is Your Business Model Still Relevant?
  • Will Producing Content Take Over Your Life?
  • Would You Like To Scoop Your Biggest Competitor’s Biggest Client?

III.  Targeted headline

Needless to say,  targeting is the basis of marketing and customer outreach and the more specific the headline is to the interests of the intended readers,  the greater the probability that the content will be read

  • Financial Management Tips for the Finance Phobic
  • PR Strategies for Cash-Strapped Start-Ups
  • Teaching Brings Cash and Credibility to Freelance Consultants

IV.   Warning headline 

“Shock and awe”  headlines put intended readers in a head lock and drag them in,  often times even if they would rather not.  Many newspapers and magazines specialize in such headlines

  • What Your Clients Won’t Tell You About Your Sales Pitch
  • Why Your Advertising Budget is Only Money Down the Drain
  • You Can’t Retire On Less Than $2 Million

V.      Story headline

Entice intended readers with a headline hook that communicates the theme of your compelling narrative

  • A Back Bay Grande Dame Celebrates Her 125th Birthday
  • The Client Wore Black
  • From Living in a Car to Living at the Taj: An Uncensored Story of the Entrepreneurial Life

Thanks for reading,

Kim

A Profitable Partnership

Whether you are making a plan to start a business or expand one that exists,  inviting partners to join you may be the best way to achieve business goals.  Ideally,  partners bring some combination of complementary skills,  capital resources and strategic relationships that will make the business grow and prosper faster.

Before initiating a partnership,  evaluate the resources you need to launch your venture.  If you anticipate that start-up or expansion capital may not be available,  then taking on a partner or two may be the only way to take your business from the drawing board to reality.  But if skill sets beyond what you possess are the issue,  you may be better off hiring  a few key employees.  Speak with a business attorney to devise a way to attract key employees for your management team by offering equity in the business,  but not so much that you risk losing control.  Remember to include the option of your being able to buy back shares if you like.

Similar business goals and priorities

Business partners must share a vision of the long-term goals and priorities for the venture.  How big do you want the business to be? How much of your life are you willing to devote to building the business?  Have conversations and brainstorm different scenarios that might happen during the life of the business and how each of you thinks it would make sense to respond.  Partners must be able to agree on a course of action to move the company forward if success is to be realized.  Serious discussions about each partner’s preferred vision of the future will give valuable insight into how to handle challenges and opportunities that might present themselves down the road.  Write a business plan together and as you do,  almost everything will come out in the wash.

Similar approach to customer service

Customer service is an important aspect of the business brand.  Customers must know what to expect when doing business with you.  It will only confuse and frustrate clients if one of you is willing to burn the midnight oil and move heaven and earth to exceed expectations every time and the other is willing to let whatever it is wait until 9:00 AM the next morning.  Whatever approach you take,  devise standardized,  written customer service protocols that all partners can accept and agree to abide by.

Mutually agreeable exit strategy

Is this a one-off project based partnership,  or is everybody in it for the long-term?  Do you envision building the company rapidly and attracting a buy-out offer,  or is this a business you would like to pass to your children? Guided by a business attorney,  discuss the circumstances by which a partner can quit the partnership and how the transition will take place.  Who can buy out a partner? What is the protocol if a partner becomes medically incapacitated and can no longer work in the business? In a divorce,  can you wind up being in business with a business partner’s ex?

Partnership agreement

Your state may not require a written agreement to form a General Partnership,  but you are strongly advised to do so anyway.  A written agreement will clarify the parameters of the partnership.  Specify the share of the business owned by each,  the division of net income (or losses) and the duties and responsibilities of each partner.  Commit to writing everyone’s shared understanding of the partnership business arrangement.

Forming a partnership and going into business with one or more people can be an enjoyable and profitable experience,  but it doesn’t work for everyone.  When partnerships go wrong,  they ruin relationships and bank accounts.  Choose partners wisely,  be realistic and transparent and put everything in writing.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Where the Freelance Money Is

You’ve written a business plan—now what?  Kim is the midwife who helps you take your business from the drawing board to reality in  “Business Plans:  Next Steps”.  Bring your completed business plan and join Kim and other hopeful entrepreneurs in round robin discussions where you’ll get a critique of your business model;  smart marketing/PR/social media  advice;  insights into sales distribution channels that make sense for you and your customers;  and suggestions on how to finance your business in today’s economy.  Wednesdays March 13,  20  & 27  5:30 PM – 7:30 PM at Boston Center for Adult Education 122 Arlington Street Boston.  Register at  http://bit.ly/Zd9dqR   or call 617.267.4430 class ID 9074.

Some Freelancers are more likely to earn the coveted but elusive six-figure annual revenue than others.   Maybe you’re there or could be,  with some good luck and timing,  opening doors with the right skills.  Here are six potentially lucrative occupations that attract Freelancers:

Writing

Magazines do not often pay $2.00/word anymore and there are only so many 5000 word articles bring commissioned in this era of short attention spans,   but allegedly there a number of Freelancers still able to pull in big money through writing assignments of various kinds.  This category includes not only magazine and newspaper article generation,  but also technical writing.  I am acquainted with two or three Freelancers who’ve made a nice piece of change in the latter category.  It’s very boom and bust,  but the money is sometimes there.   Also,  Freelancers pay Freelancer colleagues to produce content for websites,  blogs,  newsletters and marketing collateral.   Writers need no special equipment,  other that a computer and writing software like Apache OpenOffice or Scrivener.  

Translating

I have a friend who regularly gets assignments translating Arabic and German to English and vice versa  (hello George!),  although he has other revenue streams in addition.   According to the American Translators Association,  their certified translators average $72,000/year and those without that certification average $53,000.   As you’d expect,  much depends upon the language you translate.   No surprise that there is a big demand for Spanish translation,  with Arabic,  Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin),  French,  German,  Japanese and Korean also showing strong demand.

Photography

Photography has long had the potential to produce a healthy Freelance income.   Wedding photographers have traditionally commanded large sums and they continue to do so,  in spite of robust competition from videographers.   Portrait photographers also command high prices—business owners and corpoate execs need a professional headshot for websites,  annual reports and other promotional uses.   E-commerce fattens the wallets of product photographers,  who make items sold on-line look appealing.  Food photography and fashion photography are lucrative sub-specialties.   Those lucky enough to have an  “in”  with colleges and/or big corporations can make a nice living,   as do those who have relationships with busy special event planners.  The downside is that good cameras and Adobe Photo Shop editing software are expensive.

SEO Search Engine Optimization

Freelancers who hope to drive traffic to their website pay confreres Freelancers for this potentially revenue-generating service.   Those new to the field can expect to bill $50.00/hour and allegedly the best known can command up to $500.00/hour from big corporate clients.  It is furthermore essential to be well-versed in the various metrics that prove your worth to clients,  so that satisfied customers can be recruited to give testimonials that help you obtain more clients.

Mobile App Development

Writing software applications for mobile devices like cell phones and tablets lured one million Freelancers to the field in 2010 and no doubt that number has grown significantly.  App development is like a modern day gold rush.   I recently read an article in the New York Times  (11/17/12)  about those who aren’t making money in the app development business and that is the usual scenario.  As author David Streitfeld details in his comprehensive article,  don”t quit your day job and developing for Apple is akin to sharecropping.   Still,  you may be the one who can retire on the residuals of the next  “Angry Birds”.  Another downside is that you must spend a hefty sum on the technology needed to test your apps in development.

Social Media Strategy

Millions of Freelance consultants and owners of businesses large and small feel that social media cannot be ignored and that in order to maximize its potential and not leave money on the table,  a specialist must be hired.  If you can convince decision-makers that you know how to choose social media that is appropriate for their business,   plan and execute a social media campaign and know how to  demonstrate measurable results,  you can be off to the races.  Newbies to the field can expect to bill $25.00 /hour and top-drawer known experts can allegedly bill $250.00 /hour to big corporate clients.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Ace the Thank You Letter

The month of August seems to have put me on a business etiquette soapbox,  so I’ve decided to conclude the month with a few pointers on how to write a thank you letter.  In business,  one cannot underestimate the importance of expressing thoughts in writing.  It is important for a Freelance consultant to know when and how to properly thank a client or colleague.

Unfortunately,  many people get a little flummoxed by thank you letters.  We know we want to express our thanks,  but we don’t always know what to say.  We don’t want to sound too impersonal and neither do we want to gush.  Keep things in perspective by approaching thank you letters as acknowledgements and understand that they are not entirely different from the email that you write to a client to verify what was discussed and agreed upon in an important meeting.  Best of all,  thank you letters are a lot easier to write.

It is likely that a meeting precipitated the occasion to thank someone and it is best to send your thank you card or letter no later than 48 hours after that meeting.  Rather than sending an email,  show your business etiquette bona fides by using quality stationary or a business note card  (your own personalized stationary or cards have the most cachet) and sending your thank you via the postal service.   A thank you card will be hand written by the sender and a thank you letter will be typed and signed by the sender.  The tone will be friendly,  yet professional.

Begin you note or letter by expressing your gratitude for the meeting  “Thank you for meeting with me on_____”   or “I appreciate that you were willing to meet with me on_____”.   Next,  reference a key point or two that surfaced during the meeting,  such as the usefulness of information shared,  appreciation for a client referral or introduction made,  assistance or advice given,  etc.   I like to send thank you letters to clients when a project has concluded and thank them for awarding me the contract and letting them know how much I enjoyed working with them.  It’s all about relationship building and creating repeat business.

Thank you notes and letters are typically brief.   After you’ve stated the reasons for expressing your thanks,  move toward the close by thanking the recipient again  “Once again,  thank you for meeting with me…”  Set the stage for future contact with  “I look forward to working with you again…”;  “I look forward to seeing you at the _________Conference…”;  or whatever fits the context and your relationship.

Complete your note or letter with a salutation that suits you and the relationship you have with the letter’s recipient:

Best regards

Kind regards

Warm regards

Yours truly

Thank you letters are an important step in relationship building and maintenance and an important building block of your brand,  that is what you are known for and the image you project to others.  I suspect that many in business do not take the time to write thank you letters.  They may think about doing so,  but find the process intimidating.  They procrastinate and then decide that too much time has passed.  Now that the process has been deconstructed,  you’ll be ready to confidently and expertly write a thank you letter to someone who has come through for you.  It’s a small effort and it will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Buff Up Your Business Writing Skills

Freelance consultants are called upon to do quite a bit of writing.  When we meet a professional contact we’d like to know better,  we send an email to schedule a time to meet and talk further.  We write proposals that help us obtain assignments.  We write press releases,  our bio,  our LinkedIn summary,  thank you letters and sometimes diplomatically written reminders for payment from slow-paying clients.  Some of us write articles,  blogs and newsletters,  too.

Nevertheless,  many of us are a little insecure about our writing ability.  Writing is an important skill.  Written communication helps one to advance and achieve business goals.  It reflects our expertise and our etiquette.  Good writing gets things done,  but it’s not necessary to emulate Pulitzer Prize winning novelists when called upon to express oneself in writing.  All you have to be is a good technician,  not a literary star.   Buff up your writing prowess by following a few easy-to-follow tips:

Purpose     Be very clear about what you must communicate.  A proposal must describe the services that you will provide and persuade the client of your ability to provide those services  (i.e., sell).  When your proposal is accepted,  you write a letter of agreement.  An email might document a meeting or conversation,  or provide follow-up info that was requested.  A press release gives pertinent info about an event or an announcement,  that is expressed in a way that will interest the target audience.

Bullet points     Help yourself complete and organize your message by jotting down the important talking points.  For example, the bullet points of a proposal will describe the services you will provide and benefits that will be derived.  Presenting information in bullet points makes for easy reading and retention.

Format     Once you have your information complete and logically organized,  you might decide to use your bullet points to form paragraphs,  or present the information primarily in bullets.  If you choose the latter,   you’ll want to write at least one opening and one closing paragraph,  so you’ll come across and friendly yet still professional.  Thank you letters,  however,  are generally written in paragraphs and not bullets,  because they are personal and call for a warm and friendly style,  even in business.  Long and ornate sentences are never necessary,  or even desirable.  Clear and simple sentences always work best in business communications.

Edit     Make a draft of what you must write and then begin to edit your work.  After an initial edit,   I like to let my writing rest for a while and then return to it.  Stepping away for even an hour helps me to eliminate wordiness,  provide clarity and continuity,  improve my word choices or add something important that I’ve forgotten.

The task of writing need not be intimidating.  We write when we have a purpose:  to say thank you,  request or recommend a certain action,  announce a decision,  submit a proposal.  Writing is all about being understood and getting results.

Thanks for reading,

Kim