Category “Business Tools”

Finding Inspiration When Blogging

Tuesday, 17 September, 2013

It’s often really hard to just launch into writing a blog. Beyond the possible technical challenges, there’s also the inevitable questions like “what do I write about?”, “what should I sound like?”, “will anyone even read this junk?”…. I find one of the best ways to get inspiration, ideas, and hopefully peace of mind, is to start by reading other blogs. Don’t copy them, but pick out what you like and don’t like about them. What works? What doesn’t work? What makes you want to keep reading?

Once you have built up some ideas, then start writing. Ensure you use your own voice in your blog and focus on writing something that you could imagine yourself reading. Start a list of topics so you don’t run out of steam and keep practicing.

For some ideas, you can take a look at this list of blogs that a colleague at BCIT and I developed for a recent Tech Writing Alumni Lunch:

For Business/Writing:

For Pleasure:

Whether you learn from good blogs or bad, don’t let anything stop you from just going for it!



Don’t Hide Behind Email: Tips for Better Verbal Communication

Tuesday, 22 January, 2013

Image of  a telephoneYou know how it goes… you have to have a really important but potentially very difficult business-related conversation. You know that calling the person would be the best approach to get a direct response, but you don’t want the stress. What if you stumble over your words? What if the person doesn’t listen properly? Misunderstands? Gets really angry? So you do one of two things… you dial when you know the person is likely to be busy and pray for voicemail and then mumble awkwardly if they happen to answer, or you chicken out and send an email instead.

While written records can be essential in certain business situations (whether positive or negative), sometimes conversations have a time limit – you need immediate feedback and you need to be able to ask/answer questions right away, so a phone call is really the best means of communication to achieve your purpose.

Tips for Improving Your Verbal Communication

It can be really hard to ensure a conversation goes smoothly and that you get results, so here are seven tips for improving your chances of success:

1. Analyze your audience. Consider your audience’s reaction/response. Would they react better to a more direct approach to the issue? Or should you consider “sandwiching” the bad news in between any possible good/positive information?

2. Decide on your main point. Work out exactly what the outcome that you need is and clarify your exact purpose for contacting your listener. Gather any resources you may need (copies of previous correspondence, resources, legal notification, etc.)

3. Write yourself a script. You shouldn’t read this off word for word, but brainstorm your main ideas and put together your supporting evidence. Organize this into a logical order (direct or indirect) of information. Maybe write down a few really important points that you can recite exactly, to help ensure the main message is understood.

4. Keep your tone and language neutral. As tempted as you may be to get angry, all this does is distance you from your audience and often it escalates the problem, because the audience gets defensive and stops listening properly.

5. Make the audience’s next step clear. What do you need your audience to do? Is it clear for them? Have you ensured they have all the information they need to resolve the issue (including relevant contact info)? Make this very easy to follow to ensure you get what you want.

6. Know when to end the conversation. Conflict can drag on or escalate. Make sure you’ve written down a ‘conclusion’ to the conversation. Make it clear to the audience that your time is up and you have to end the call. Try to close off with a positive thought and a reminder of the main idea.

7. Follow up in writing. If there are specific steps the audience needs to take, ensure that you follow up your conversation with an email that briefly summarizes the conversation and that lays out the next steps (including a deadline, if appropriate/relevant) in an organized list. This ensures you still have a written record and that you’ve doubled the chances that the audience will understand the message.

This doesn’t have to take you a long time, but organizing your information, being clear on your audience and purpose, and writing a script will make you feel more confident and in control of the conversation.

So don’t hide behind email when a phone call is more appropriate. Make your own life easier and ensure you get the job done, with a well thought out, well planned, old fashioned phone call 🙂


A Fascinating Infographic on Canadian Internet Usage

Saturday, 24 November, 2012

One of my favourite digital marketing companies in Vancouver is 6S Marketing. Beyond the services they offer, they share a lot of really interesting, applicable information with their network. Their’s is one of the few company newsletters I receive that I actually take the time to read through in its entirety. Their most recent letter had this fascinating infographic about Canadian Internet usage.

I already knew that a huge percentage of the population is online and that a vast majority use the Internet for product research etc, but some of these stats astounded me! It’s well worth noting the importance and impact that mobile devices and smartphones are having on business. Our clients are moving, and we need to follow.

Take a look.

Canadian Internet Usage Statistics

Why should your business have a blog?

Tuesday, 25 September, 2012

Tips for Business BloggingBlogs can sometimes seem like something only narcissistic weirdos with too much time on their hands  are interested in producing. However, blogs can function as highly effective business tools. Web 2.0 and social media give us a way to connect with our clients and potential customers directly, encourage feedback from them, and find out how they think we’re doing, almost instantly. Done right, blogs can be used by businesses to promote their products and services, cement their brand, share news, and create brand evangelists – a community of dedicated followers and supporters. Blogs can also be used very successfully as an internal means of communication to engage with employees and receive valuable feedback from your own immediate community.

What are some of the main functions of a business blog?

You can choose to use your blog to communicate within your business or to reach out to your clients and customers (existing and potential). Your blog can function to

  • market your company through free media
  • raise your social media/online presence but also add depth to it
  • communicate new products and services
  • recruit new employees, clients, customers, investors, etc.
  • communicate bad news to clients (but also do damage control at the same time)
  • get instant feedback on new ideas/products/services
  • gather information about potential target markets
  • offer customer service and/or technical support
  • and give your company a voice.

Of course you need to blog effectively to ensure the blog fulfills its potential functions.

What are some tips for better blogging?

In order to create a successful blog, you need to first of all identify who your intended audience is, whether internal or external. Next, you need to profile that audience to determine their particular needs and expectations. What sort of tone will they prefer? What types of information will they need and not need? What is their level of knowledge on the topic? Will they understand industry jargon or do they need layperson’s terms? Then you need to determine your blog’s ‘personality’ and the range of topics you are going to cover.

Remember that you are creating a whole channel of communication, not just a single message, so it takes careful preparation  and follow-up to blog effectively.

Here are some of my other tried and tested tips for blogging:

  • Use and develop a readable, comfortable, conversational style of writing (you have permission to be less formal but should still care about grammar, style, spelling etc. as this can affect your credibility)
  • Keep the information valuable, interesting, and to the point
  • Supply readers with links, extra resources, images, infographics, etc. (remember that both internal linking and external linking help with your search engine rankings)
  • Proofread the message and evaluate the content (edit, edit, edit!)
  • Keep your posts short (probably around the 180- 200 word mark)
  • Create a list of topics for you and your team to write about so you don’t run out of steam
  • Use engaging, eye-catching headings for your posts and use sub-headings for longer posts
  • Tag your posts with appropriate tags and categories
  • Ensure all information is legal, ethical, accurate, and not taken from any other source without permission or credit.

Finally, remember that you are trying to reach and build a community of readers who can potentially become clients or customers, so you need to allow for comments and feedback and be a responsive blogger. Reply to comments, consider following your own followers back , and encourage interaction.

Blogging is a great tool if used correctly, and remember that it’s perfectly appropriate for business, not just those navel-gazing weirdos…





Five Tips for Better Business Writing

Saturday, 16 June, 2012

5 Tips for Better Business WritingEmail dominates our lives, often as much in a personal capacity as a business one. Unfortunately, sometimes the bad habits we’ve developed in our more informal correspondence creeps in to our business messages, and this can have disastrous consequences.

If you pay careful attention, however, you can avoid common gaffes when writing business emails:

1. Know Your Audience… But Do Something with that Knowledge

I came across a great quote by Pablo Picasso the other day: “Action is the foundational key to any success”… The number one rule to any business communication or business model is to know your audience. However, this knowledge is useless unless you actually do something with it.

As much as you can, use any possible information (or educated guesses you can make about your audience) to shape, organize, and influence your content. Choose language that your reader will understand, and explain any terms they may need to know but won’t be familiar with. Focus on relevant information only. Always think about how your reader will feel, and subsequently act, upon receiving your message.

And make sure that by the end of your message, you’ve  anticipated any possible questions or objections and included information to answer these before the reader has to respond and ask you, including anything that will help overcome their resistance easily.

2. Edit, Edit, and Edit Some More…

With the sheer volume of email, the kind of multitasking now needed in the business world, and the sort of technology-related short attention spans we now seem to have, people don’t have time to read long messages, nor are they likely to do more than skim even a medium-sized message. So once you’ve written your message, go back and slash it.

Cut out unnecessary information, keep sentences short and simple, reorganize paragraphs for the biggest impact, and place your main ideas at the beginning – at the message, the paragraph, and the sentence level. Get rid of those trite sounding “business” phrases. Get rid of “fillers” like “There are” or “I am writing to tell you” and remember that less is always more in this case.

3. Design an Easy-to-Read Message

Somehow, even though we know what we don’t like in a message, all of those things fly out the window when we write to other people. Nobody has time to spend wading through a long email with no sense of what’s important and what’s less important. White space, paragraphing, bullet points, and numbered lists are your friends, as are headings.

Headings in an email? Yes! Why wouldn’t you use any possible method you can to ensure your message is not only read, but understood, and then acted on? Use bullet points only for your most important information. Use a numbered list for a sequence that must be followed in order.

But don’t overuse themse You want the reader to have a visual sense of what is important, but don’t overwhelm them with so many lists that they can’t focus. If you use headings, ensure they are descriptive and relevant, and don’t use them in a very short email – it’ll just look weird.

Ensure your paragraphs are short and that your message is well spaced, with an easy-to-read font.

4. Proofread Your Document… And Evaluate Its Success

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to read a message that is riddled with grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors, or “text speak”. Ensure you’ve done a proper spellcheck, that you’ve read and re-read the message, and double-check that you’ve included any necessary attachments.

And then ask yourself a few questions:

  • Have I actually said what I mean?
  • Is my main idea clear?
  • Is the next step obvious for the reader?
  • Will I get the response I want?
  • Is my message easy to understand?

Before you hit send, ensure your message is professional, well-designed, and easy-to-read.

5. Follow Up on Your Message

Weeks go by and tThings slip down the ‘To Do’ list , with no response from your reader… Even the best thought out and written business messages can sit unread, purely because of a lack of time on the part of the audience.

If you are sending an urgent message, then you need to ensure you’ve given the reader a clear deadline for response. Don’t assume that just because someone has a smart phone or iPad that they are constantly checking their email. If you don’t hear from them, then you have to follow up. Also, don’t expect someone to respond within minutes or hours of sending your message – wait until a reasonable amount of time has passed before you check in with them.

And sometimes you just have to pick up the phone… Don’t use email as something to hid behind, use it as you would with any tool – carefully and only for its intended use.


Technical Report Writing: Upcoming Seminars

Monday, 15 August, 2011

Hard to believe we’re already half way through August and heading into fall, when we haven’t even really had a summer! (I know, I know, so boring to complain about the weather but I can’t help it, I’m a sun-starved African living in the north).

With the lull over the summer coming to a close, it looks like it’s going to be a busy last few months of 2011. I’m going to be giving a seminar mid-September for SITE BC on Technical Report Writing. As described on their website,  “SITE BC (The Society of Internationally Trained Engineers of British Columbia) is an independent non- profit society founded in 2004 to represent the interests of British Columbia’s Internationally Trained Engineering community (ITEs).” I’m really looking forward to talking to their group about some of the fundamentals of writing technical reports.

I find when I talk to professionals in various industries, their complaint is the same: many people don’t know how to write or organise documents in a professional manner. Part of this issue that I have encountered is that of reader-unfriendly, jargon-loaded language and an overly formal tone. I will be addressing these issues, along with how to effectively  integrate graphics into a document, which I hope will be useful for the engineers.

Fall also promises more teaching, more writing projects (collaborating with my great graphic design partners at Spectramedia), as well as a workshop series with Dina Grskovich of DMG Strategy, so it’s going to be a busy one!

Watch this space for more details.


Outdated Career Advice & Other Tips

Tuesday, 26 July, 2011

One of the exciting though sometimes frustrating aspects of language is how it is ever changing. As business, too, is shaped and changed by globalization, technology, flattened management structures, and an increasingly diverse workforce, so is how we communicate in that realm.

I came across an interesting article, via LinkedIn, about the top 10 things to ignore in career searches, including for interviews, resumes, and cover letters. I was interested (and pleased) to note that many of these items are exactly what I tell my students and my clients when talking about career packages. You can read the full article here. I’m especially please to see that the article warns against the Career Objective on the resume. It has always been a pet peeve of mine, because very few people do them correctly, and I feel that they waste valuable real estate on the resume.

I disagree somewhat with Point 9: “Your resume and cover letter [not] should be written in formal language.” While it is important to keep your tone friendly, and add your own personality, by avoiding formal language, you can err on the side of chatty, casual, slangy writing. I would suggest that you don’t try and sound overly formal by using big words that end up coming across as robotic or pompous, or that you fall into trite, cliche business language e.g. Please do not hesitateThank you in advance for…. Enclosed please find etc., but you do need to keep it professional and polished.

You need to remember that business is about relationships and if you hide behind jargon or cliches, then the audience will never get a sense of who you are, or feel invited to build a relationship with you, whether he or she is a prospective client or that elusive future employer.


Social Media in the Classroom: COMM1120 @BCIT

Wednesday, 20 July, 2011

I’m busy talking to my Interior Design students today about using social media wisely, and creating a valuable online presence. I’m going to turn over my blog to them and record any comments, links, questions, or ideas they may have about our discussion or their own social media presence:

  • What about Facebook and the job search? Should you clean up your profile?

  • How/why does a list of people show up immediately when I create my LinkedIn account?

  • What do you do when you’re using photos from somewhere and can’t remember the source?

  • What’s better? Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress?

  • Should you focus your LinkedIn profile as Student, or under your Job?


Integrating Graphics: How to Visually Enhance your Documents

Wednesday, 8 June, 2011

It’s common knowledge that people respond or remember information far better when they view it in image rather than word form. We tend to glaze over when we have to look at a lot of text, so it makes sense to use reader access techniques to help the audience focus on your main ideas: using any eye-catching, visually relevant representation of information can help you quickly get your point across. However, this doesn’t mean you just shove a picture or a graph somewhere for fun; you need to think carefully about what type of image will work to enhance the information, as well as how to integrate it correctly into the text.

What kind of graphic should you choose?

There are so many different ways to illustrate information, but making careful choices around what kind of graphic you use ensures the audience will understand and retain your message.

Here are some tips and ideas to help you decide:

1. Complex data is best represented in a table, particularly when you are representing numbers or trying to make a clear comparison.

2. Photos and web page screen shots are best for literal representation of information and ideas. Photos can be used really effectively to shock, motivate, or challenge the audience.

3. Graphs and charts  come in multiple shapes and forms: bar graphs, line graphs, Gantt Charts, pie charts… Look at what type of information you want to represent and choose your image based on that information. Gantt Charts show project progress on a timeline, pie charts very easily show how chunks of a whole relate to each other, line graphs are great for illustrating progress and movement etc. Don’t forget a key for more complex graphics and keep text on a horizontal plane wherever possible.

How do you work images into your text?

It’s really important to refer to an image to enhance the text in your document and to allow the audience to understand the information quickly and easily. It is also vital to label and title the image correctly.

Here are nine guidelines to help you integrate graphics effectively:

1. Number tables and figures* separately.

2. Use clear, specific, descriptive titles for each – the audience shouldn’t have to refer to the text to understand the image.

3. Integrate graphics into the document by referring to them before they appear.

4. Place graphics at the end of the first paragraph they are referred to in.

5. For larger graphics (i.e. full page images), place the graphic on a separate page after the page it is mentioned on. Raw data or large schematics should rather appear as an appendix to the document.

6. Refer to the graphic  in one of two ways in your text:

e.g. 1. Foreign sales account for 85 percent of the firm’s revenue (Figure 3).

e.g. 2. As Figure 3 shows, foreign sales account for 85 percent of the firm’s revenue.

7. Place the caption or title of a table above the table, and the caption or title for a figure underneath the figure.

8. Precede each graphic’s title with“Figure” or “Fig.” or “Table”  followed by its number and then a period.

9. Always include a source below the graphic if you use data or reproduce a graphic from another source.

Selecting the right type of graphic for your purposes is not difficult, but it is something often overlooked or done sloppily. Help your audience focus on only the most relevant information through using effective, well chosen graphics. By integrating those graphics into your text, you can ensure that your message is clear, concise, and audience-focused, making sure it is understood and remembered.




*Every graphic that is NOT a table is referred to as a figure.

Are you using Referral Key?

Saturday, 4 June, 2011

I recently got invited to join a new online business networking tool by a few different, trusted connections in my network. I do find it overwhelming, sometimes, keeping up with all the various different profiles and tools there are out there and I wasn’t sure about jumping on this particular bandwagon, but…

I decided to take the leap, and what I like about Referral Key is that it is a business referral tool, not another social networking time sucker disguised as a networking tool. Thus far, it seems easy to set up, easy to use, and easy to see the  value. It allows you to build a short, business focused profile (including company info, clients you are looking for, and ratings)  in order to be able to start accepting and making business referrals. You can even offer rewards for referrals (cash, or products).

What I like, too, is that RK seems to have avoided the trap that LinkedIn et al have fallen into – trying to be like Facebook and ending up cluttered and overwhelming.

I’m intrigued to see what it yields and will be staying on this particular bandwagon for the forseeable future…

You can find my profile at Let me know what your thoughts are on this new tool. Will you be joining me?