“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.
What 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.
Writers are strategists. A well-written story looks deceptively simple but actually requires a great deal of planning.
One of my favorite ways to approach the structure of an article is the Diamond Method. This method mimics the shape of a diamond: The focus of the writing starts small, grows to span more information, then returns to its original small point.
This method provides two benefits to your reader. First, it allows the reader to slowly ease into your information. As a result, he or she is able to fully absorb your message. Second, this method establishes trust with your reader. Starting small entices your reader to follow you to larger, unfamiliar places. And when you return them to their original location, they are glad they went on the journey.
Here are six steps to a well-structured article.
1. Find the heart.
Dig through your notes and find a small, single, most poignant item. An item works best when it includes a satisfying result.
For example, I was hired by a nonprofit art organization to write about its volunteer efforts at a home for neglected teenagers. When I visited the home, I felt most inspired when a group of teens — some troubled residents, some volunteers — set aside differences to record lyrics together into a microphone. I decided to use this as my “heart” of the piece.
2. Open with a small anecdote.
After you identify your heart, give your reader a glimpse of it in a personable first sentence. Consider your first sentence a “tease” with which you can appeal to the emotions of your reader to get his or her attention.
This was the first sentence of my article about the nonprofit art organization:
“I’m nervous!” says a Fort Bend County high school student as she steps up to a microphone.
3. Take one step back to provide informative context.
Now that you have the attention of your reader, you can give slightly broader information about your anecdote.
The next few sentences in my article provided more information:
She is one of 150 student volunteers who have mobilized across Fort Bend County one Saturday. One group records spoken word compositions alongside foster children at Parks Youth Ranch in Richmond; another group stamps clay designs at an ARTreach studio in Sugarland. A third group cooks traditional meals with teenage refugees in the community of Rio Bend in Richmond.
4. Zoom out to include the big picture.
The role of the next few paragraphs is to step further and further away from your anecdote until you have covered all of the information that you need to get across. These paragraphs reveal the big picture to your reader; they are less emotional and more informative.
Because my article covered the collaboration of several groups, my writing zoomed out several times. Each paragraph covered a different aspect of the collaboration:
These emerging leaders are part of the Youth in Philanthropy (YIP) team, a group of 11th and 12th grade students selected by the George Foundation to experience volunteerism and philanthropy in the nonprofit sector. “Every Fort Bend County high school is represented by these kids,” says YIP coordinator Dee Koch. In addition to developing students’ generosity, leadership skills, and connections to the community, Koch says participating in YIP is an eye-opening experience for the students. “Many are surprised at the commitment it takes to be a true volunteer.”
The unifying thread between these programs is ARTreach, a nonprofit organization that is celebrating its 10th anniversary of partnering with social service agencies to provide art-related programs to the underprivileged and underserved. Executive Director Terri Bieber says collaboration produces many benefits. “When we partner with others, we share resources and expenses, are more efficient, and combine our creative energy.”
5. Tell medium-sized details.
After you have reached the widest, or most informative, part of your story, now you can scale back from the information. Give your reader some examples, stories, or quotes to warm the article and make the topic more tangible. This part is not as big as the big picture, but this is not as small as your heart; it is an area of the article that supports the two parts and serves as a sort of bridge.
For example, in my article, I dedicated the next six paragraphs to telling about specific people in and results from the nonprofit organization. I told about the contributions of a regional director, the feelings of a teenage resident, the observations of an executive director, and other happenings at the event. I also talked about ways that readers could donate or contribute to the cause.
6. End with the small anecdote.
This is the step of the Diamond Method that makes this approach so satisfying to your readers. Now that you have teased the emotions of your reader, have zoomed out to provide big pieces of information, and have told medium-sized stories, it’s time to deliver your reader back to the familiar starting point. End the article by providing the second half of your heart, or anecdote.
Remember the nervous teen who was recording a song into a microphone at the beginning of my article? My article concluded with the rest of the story:
At the end of the day, Gamez plays back the words and music that were recorded by the group at Parks Youth Ranch. The students clap, hoot, and high-five in celebration of their completed product, talking excitedly as they file outside and back to their lives. The record continues to play, even after the room is empty, a lingering legacy:
“To my dreams I strive;
Determination is where truth lies.
Love is here; love is now. Love will never leave you down. . . “
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 http://www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritche.
I’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.
This truth was clearer than ever last week, when I was terrified on a flight to Houston.
You see, I’m no frequent flyer. On the spectrum of regular business travelers to fearful hermits, I’m somewhere in the crowd of white-knuckle advocates of all things road trip. The fact that I was flying for the first time in a few years was notable.
And then this happened: A young flight attendant announced in a microphone that there was a “surprise” for us passengers. That’s right, he had to tell us about a surprise.
And let me just tell you – a surprise is the absolute last thing I want mid-air.
In the space of that single word, my body instantly launched into panic mode. My hands started sweating, my head pushed stiffly into the headrest, and my breathing stopped.
The attendant went on to say that the airline was offering a great deal. Yes, we travelers all needed to know about the credit card that combines the perks of miles and savings. I don’t remember any of the details beyond that – I was busy regaining feeling in my limbs.
We make the same mistake, don’t we? Sometimes we say and write things without thinking through the effect that our words might have on others. As a result, our readers are left to make sense of our words the best they can – which can lead to misunderstandings.
So, how can we improve our words in order to reach our audience as effectively as possible?
1. Slow down.
Your timeline for every project should include time devoted to reviewing your work. Resist the temptation to work right up to your deadline without letting your work “cool.”
At the very least, give yourself 24 hours to revisit your work the next day with fresh eyes. At best, give yourself a week to perfect your work. When I revisit a piece of writing without making any further changes, this is my signal that a project is ready for submission.
2. Let someone else read or hear your words.
Having something to say is one thing, but it’s an entirely different thing to say it in a way that is received well by your audience.
Case in point: A college hopeful used words in his entrance essay that implied a negative attitude toward his high school teachers. Forget the fact that the essay was well-structured – he was putting down educators, the very people who would judge his essay!
Luckily for him, he sought another set of eyes before submitting his final draft. Just a few changes in his choice of words shifted the tone of the essay from arrogance to confidence. (He got accepted.)
3. Be receptive.
Letting others review your work is useless unless you’re willing to consider their feedback.
Recently, an executive practiced a speech with me before a work function. Although I advised that he replace a questionable joke, he decided to keep it for laughs. Unfortunately, the joke didn’t sit well with an employee, who later complained. He resolved the issue well, but the incident could’ve been avoided if he had heeded another’s gut instincts.
Taking these simple steps can go a long way toward determining the best choice of words and avoiding negative “surprises” for your audience. What resources or tips do you apply to your own writing to improve word choice?
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 http://www.linkedin.com/in/ellaritchie.