Everything I Know About Business I Learned from Writing

typewriter

1. Get clear on your purpose. What value are you uniquely qualified to provide to the world?

2. Know how you want your story to end. Without vision, you’re just rambling.

3. Create an outline. Give some structure to your plan by splitting up and prioritizing your work into smaller tasks.

4. Know your audience. Appeal to your ideal customer.

5. Put it all on paper. Give it all you’ve got. The best stories are risky.

6. Expect writer’s block. Accept your limitations but don’t let them stop you for long. Tap into resources to push through obstacles.

7. Check your tone. Attitude is everything.

8. Create margins. Give yourself a little breathing room to rest, exercise, and have a little fun.

9. Expect mistakes. The first draft is usually rough.

10. Seek feedback. Surround yourself with people you trust who are wiling to say the hard things.

11. Reflect. Give yourself time to take another look tomorrow with fresh eyes.

12. Edit. Prune out the clutter that distracts you from your purpose.

13. Meet your deadline. Stay accountable. Honor your commitment to yourself and others.

14. Sign your name. Own your brand. Share the successes and take responsibility for the failures.

15. Get published. Accept that you’ll never reach perfection. Put yourself out there and be vulnerable.

16. Keep reading. Learn from others’ style and techniques. Stay humble.

17. Celebrate each step of the process. You’re never totally done, so recognize your milestones along the way!

Ella Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based editing and writing company that delivers quality content on time to business leaders, publishers, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

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Is Your Writer a Robot?

Image courtesy of https://tctechcrunch2011.files.wordpress.com.
Image courtesy of https://tctechcrunch2011.files.wordpress.com.

Quick: Can you spot the writing of a robot?

Exhibit A: “WYNN-US’s return on assets has declined from above median to about median among peers, indicating declining relative operating performance.”

Exhibit B: “Despite an upper single digit sales CAGR through 2025, limited margin leverage mutes earnings momentum. Intuitive has the highest high OM/GM ration in devices even following recent softer top-line growth pressuring operating margins through 2015.”

These were the two samples that Stephanie Yang presented in her Wall Street Journal article, Is Your Wall Street Analyst a Robot? If you guessed that a robot generated Exhibit A, you’re correct.

Yang explores the rising trend of financial-services businesses to rely on software for computer-generated news like this sample. In fact, she says automated writing has become so popular that financial firms make up 60% of the client base at Narrative Sciences Inc. Other startups that use artificial intelligence are clamoring to get in on the action.

So, what does trend this mean for financial advisors and investors?

Let’s start with the good news: Automation brings with it a world of efficiencies. Although Yang couldn’t get firms to talk cost, sophisticated software programs that use algorithms to synthesize information enable business to publish thousands of corporate summaries and marketing materials quickly and relatively cheaply. Analysts, in turn, are less preoccupied with reports and more free to focus on higher-value time with clients. And they apparently don’t need to be concerned about being replaced by a robot: Yang cited a 2013 Oxford University study in which financial analysts were ranked as safer than 70% of other occupations.

But automation comes with its problems: Just take a look at two writing samples again. Whereas the machine reported quantitative facts in Exhibit A, the human writer who composed Exhibit B weighed each word for quality. Yang points out the ability of a human to cut through industry noise to bring insight, advancement, and nuance to financial information. Every businessman worth his salt knows business is about relationships, and a human writer can build relationships with words that a machine cannot (yet).

Ultimately, even this writer has to admit that automation in writing is an interesting and worthwhile development. But as with any novel shortcut in business, recognize its limitations or risk alienating your investors. Only a human writer can truly leverage words to build business-sustaining relationships.

Ella Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based editing and writing company that delivers quality content on time to business leaders, publishers, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

How to Get Your Writer to Write Like You Talk

talkingheads“This sounds nothing like me,” a client recently confided about his content from another writer. “It’s not what I wanted.”

His disappointment was evident–and not uncommon.

What do you do when you read your first draft of content from your writer in high hopes . . . and feel disappointment instead?

Some people give up on their writer and return to cobbling together their own words. Some seek another writer, hoping to find The One that will magically breathe life into their content.

To be sure, not all writers are equal. Some are better than others at certain forms of writing, such as blogging, business, or advertising. And some are simply just better writers.

But before you ditch your writer, consider this: Have you provided her with enough guidance? Have you taken the time to tell her about you and what you want? Writers are a bit like hairstylists: Provide little instruction, and you’re likely to get a mohawk instead of that simple trim you wanted.

My clients are usually sure about one thing: They want a writer who can write like they talk. And a good writer changes her tone to accommodate each client as easily as she changes her wardrobe.

But what clients aren’t always certain of is how to communicate what they want to their writers.

To get your writer on board with your expectations, consider these four simple ideas:

  1. Compile a style guide, which is simply a list of what you want in your written communication. The most well-developed guide I’ve seen so far is that of Explore God, a nonprofit organization that invests deeply in its team of writers. In addition to six instructions dedicated to tone alone, the organization provides 15 more parameters as guidance—down to the ideal number of words to include in a sentence.
  2. Provide your writer with any existing corporate materials that help her get a feel for the way you’ve been presenting your company, including your online materials such as your website and social media forums as well as print materials such as article, brochures, and flyers.
  3. Provide direct, specific feedback. You’d be surprised how many people hesitate to tell their writer they’re unhappy with their content in an effort to avoid an awkward conversation. Experienced writers, however, already know that their writing will not satisfy every client, particularly a first draft. They appreciate clients who are honest and specific about what they want to change.
  4. Perhaps the most critical—and most overlooked—piece of information is the published version of your content. Don’t let your busyness or fear of an awkward conversation get in the way of this step. In addition to providing specific guidance to your writer, she can begin compiling a study guide based on the final product. That way, you both win.

With a little effort and communication, you can align your writer with your expectations – and you might get a better haircut to boot. What other strategies have you used to communicate with your writer?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for companies, publishers, and organizations. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website to continue the conversation.

Upgrade Your Genius

Photo courtesy of borntocompete.com
Photo courtesy of borntocompete.com

“Successful people simply practice successful habits.” – Brian Tracy

Successful business leaders are more than great visionaries. Their success is in their everyday habits — the small choices that build an empire over time.

One notable empire is the basketball career of Michael Jordan. Houston business coach Glenn Smith recently shared Jordan’s incredible story of successful habits with me.

“Michael Jordan without a doubt was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA,” he said. “But Jordan was not born a star basketball player. He was actually cut from his high school varsity team.

However, he didn’t let that stop him. He worked hard to play high school ball and even earn a shot at playing in college. He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted to play for — North Carolina State — and he wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have chosen him.

But Jordan never let any of this get in his way. At college, his coaches were taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else. Even at the height of his success with the Chicago Bulls, his coach called him ‘a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.'”

Michael Jordan’s story is a fantastic example of successful habits. Most notable is his daily investment of time and energy toward his vision in spite of obstacles and rejection.

Another notable habit was Jordan’s decision to resist distractions. Surely he was tempted at times to steer his attention toward other promising activities, people, or purposes, but he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he focused solely on doing one thing very well — “upgrading his genius.”

Like Jordan, successful business leaders define their vision and practice successful habits daily in spite of obstacles and rejections. But they also resist promising distractions. Even a worthy task, such as blogging, can prove to be an ineffective, distracting effort if a leader doesn’t have the time to maintain it properly. Business success includes tapping into resources and delegating tasks in order to remain focused on your primary genius.

What daily investments will you make — and what distractions will you delegate — to upgrade your genius this year?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, organizations, and publishers. Connect with her on LinkedIn or on her website.

Become the Media

Courtesy of prosoundweb.com
Courtesy of prosoundweb.com

Jello Biafra, a former lead singer for the punk rock band Dead Kennedys, once said, “Don’t hate the media; become the media.” The songwriter and political activist combined his bold ideas and artistic talent to impact the worlds of music and politics.

As you reflect on this year and prepare for the next, consider this: How will you become the media in 2015? Real change happens in your personal and professional life when you share your ideas with the world.

Identify one goal in your professional and personal life in which you want to make progress. Perhaps you want a better job or to promote a cause.

Now, list the people, resources, and actions with which you can make that goal happen. Be specific about how you will use communication to reach your goal. What action can you take or product can you make to speak to the world? What ideas, images, and strengths will you convey? What misunderstandings, assumptions, and weaknesses will you break down?

Here are some ways to create or revamp your message for the world. Which will add momentum to your goal?

  • Article
  • Artwork
  • Biography
  • Blog
  • Book
  • Brochure
  • Business cards
  • Case study
  • Cover letter
  • Email ad
  • Facebook page
  • Flyer
  • Grant
  • Header
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Logo
  • Photograph
  • Performance
  • Press release
  • Media kit
  • Music
  • Newsletter
  • Radio spot
  • Resume
  • Signage for your place of business
  • Speech
  • Television spot
  • Twitter account
  • Video
  • Website

Once you’ve nailed down your goal and the action you will take to reach it, set a deadline for yourself and ask someone to hold you accountable. If you have ideas but need help articulating them, consult with a writer. The right message with the right method will yield results. Share with me the results of your media in 2015!

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for companies, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Freelance Writer

cleaning-suppliesWhat I’m about to say may sound counterintuitive, but trust me on this.

The best way to get the most out of your freelance writer is to provide him or her with content.

Yes, I just said you should provide content to your freelance writer. You may be scratching your head at that logic. You probably think I’m one of those people who straightens her home before a housekeeper arrives.

Actually, I am one of those people. I do straighten my home before it is cleaned by a professional. I’ve realized that if I move some things off the floor and countertops, a housekeeper can do a better job. When basic things are out of her way, she can stop wasting time on straightening up and instead start focusing on what I really need from her, which is deep cleaning.

The same principle goes for freelance writing. When a client takes the time to provide basic information about himself, his business, and his industry, he is freeing the writer to spend less time on understanding industry basics and more time on meeting the deeper, more unique needs of his business communication.

Your writer will welcome any material that helps him or her get to know you and your business. Examples of helpful materials include your website, blog, business card, existing marketing materials, previous projects, and business plan.

If you don’t have existing materials for the project, you can provide content in two ways. First, take the time to answer questions about your business in person or in writing. Your writer will be able to guide you with a list of questions. Second, share the websites and marketing materials of your competitors. They will provide some industry standards.

So, what’s in it for you? When you take the time to provide content for your writer, you receive three benefits:

1. Faster results. The more information you provide, the faster your writer understands who you are and what you need to deliver your work. Unless you’ve hired a writer who is an expert in your field, a brief explanation on your part may save a lot of research on the part of your writer.

2. Cheaper costs. If your writer charges an hourly rate, saving time could mean hundreds of dollars in savings.

3. Greater effectiveness. When you provide information about the basics of your business, your writer can move beyond nuts and bolts and buzzwords to focus on deeper, more meaningful things, like communicating your unique strengths in an authentic way that is most appealing to your audience.

So, before you hire a writer to “deep clean” your business communication, take some time to “straighten up” your business materials. When you receive quality content in less time and with less money, you’ll be glad you did.

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie or check out her website at http://www.stellarwriter.com.

One Lesson From Spanish to Make Your Writing Reader-Friendly

r-HARD-SPEAKING-SPANISH-large570I’ve observed one basic difference between the Spanish and English languages: The languages handle the order of their nouns and adjectives differently. And this one difference can be pivotal in writing effectively for an audience.

You see, the English language places adjectives before nouns. English speakers tell all about something before they tells what it is they are talking about. Take this sentence, for example: The skinny, white, male cat sat by the door. Listeners hear three descriptors — skinny, white, male — before they discover that the sentence is about a cat.

The Spanish language, on the other hand, places nouns before adjectives. Spanish speakers tell what they are talking about before they tell about it. The Spanish version of that sample sentence is translated literally as: The cat skinny, white, male sat by the door. Listeners are told that the sentence is about a cat before they hear the three descriptors.

Although I speak English, I’ve always been impressed with this difference that makes the Spanish language more friendly to its listeners. Spanish speakers give their listeners a heads up as to what they are talking about before diving into details.

So, what does this mean for writing?

When presenting information to readers, consider shifting your mindset to that of a Spanish speaker. In other words, look for opportunities to place your nouns before their descriptions to make your writing more reader-friendly. Your readers first want to know what you are talking about before wading through details.

Take a look at this sentence before and after one of my clients considered the order of his nouns and adjectives.

The largest contributor to infor­mation security related regulations is section 501 (b) of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

The largest contributor to regulations related to infor­mation security is section 501 (b) of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

In the second draft, the writer puts the focus on the word ‘regulations’ before telling more about it. The noun gives the reader something solid to which he can hold on before delving into details.

Look at one piece of your writing today. Where can you change the order of your nouns and adjectives to make your sentences more reader-friendly?

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, publishers, and other writers. Connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.