Friday, 30 March 2012

Business Writing Essentials: What Counts as Proof

Despite all the importance of social media now, we should remember that many types of businesses need substantial and ongoing proof of their effectiveness in the products or services they offer.  What counts as proof in writing about your business?

Proof is anything that helps your reader to accept what you say about your product or service. Anecdotal evidence is not sufficient in some areas and each business needs to look to the market it serves and assess the best type of proof it can build up. 

These are some of the types of proof to consider.


I’ve talked in detail about how to construck effective testimonials in business writing in another blog (INCLUDE LINK).  I won’t cover the same ground here except to say that like any other part of business writing you need to understand how to produce them and how to use them.


Articles are a way of underlining your expert status and now are a major part, especially online of proving expert status.  But offline publications should not be disregarded. . In exactly the same way as happens with such sites as EzineArticles, you can build up your reputation by creating a body of work which over time shows your knowledge and expertise.

Placing these articles should be part of your marketing strategy, online, via the article submission sites, your blog and online journals. Offline you can offer your articles to a range of publications. Think beyond your own narrow specialism and work out who could use your knowledge.

Approach specific professions where articles on your knowledge may be rare.

White Papers

White Papers are an accepted means of transferring knowledge in scientific and technical sectors. Keeping up with new developments in any sector is a challenge. Users of products or services welcome short, jargon free information to lighten their workload.

Case Studies

Case studies are extended testimonials. In a testimonial there isn’t time to go into too many details because they need to be read quickly.

Producing case studies about your most successful projects can build up your reputation. If you have a history of tackling challenges many companies in your sector find too difficult,  case studies on your successful work can offer persuasive evidence to prospective clients.

The way to look at any proof that you create whether articles, case studies or white papers is to imagine that they will provide the backbone of any proof that you need. And while you’re taking the time to do this, think about how else you can use what you create. Such as a book you might want to write. Many business people amass a large amount of writing without making full use of it.

Consultants in any sector produce articles, workshops and other written material without considering where else they might place it.. Even if you think a book is out of the question, place the material where you can direct your prospective clients towards it as proof of your expertise.

Monday, 26 March 2012

How to create a winning speech with a few golden rules

Speaking in public ranks as the number one fear for most people. But it doesn’t have to be like that if you’re prepared to put in some effort and follow some simple guidelines.  These are based on my experiences, good, bad and positively humiliating.

Accept you can’t wing it

No professional speaker would give any kind of speech without preparing it. And the ones that seem the most spontaneous are those the speaker has spent time, thought and energy on preparing. Think about comedians. Their routines are honed till they know in which places the audience will react well. The jokes that don’t receive any response are chopped out of the routine.

So you need time to prepare.  And the shorter your speech, the more time you'll need because you have to be focused on the essentials.

Create an outline

Giving a wedding speech? Then you know the elements people include; thanks, anecdote, graceful praise to the bride.

All effective and memorable speeches have a structure. Think of the occasion, think of your audience and work out what they need to hear. What will make them go away telling others you're a great speaker? 

Take the time you have for your speech and divide it into the elements you want to include. Allocate a time to each and then work out what you want to say in the time.

Be concise

Rambling is one of the worst nightmares for a speaker and the most boring for an audience. Trust me, I still have memories from a long time ago.  If they’re kind, they feel embarrassed for you. If they aren’t kind they’ll be hostile. Your outline helps to keep you on track.

When you’ve made your points at any stage of your speech, stop. Your audience won’t thank you for talking down to them.

Be careful using humour

Leave the jokes to the comedians. If you forget the punch line it’s embarrassing and unless you know your audience well you run the risk of offending someone. Comedians are paid to take that risk, you aren’t.
You can try funny, real stories, preferably about your own shortcomings or situations. But be sparing until you’re confident doing it.


This goes back to not winging it but you need to practise in a particular way.

Take your outline. Then take what you have written for each part. Now read it out loud at a normal speaking pace. Time each section. If you’re new to speaking it will surprise you how long it might take.

Record your practice if you can because it will help you work out where you need to include more or take out some of your speech.

Allow for your nerves in your timing. Nervous speakers often speed up until they are impossible to listen to. All speakers get nervous before speaking. The difference between professional and occasional speakers is that the professionals know how to use their nerves to power their speeches.

Avoid the number one mistake of reading your speech

This is on a level with reading the contents of a Powerpoint presentation.  Any outline or script you have should be there only to give you the skeleton of what you want to include.
There’s nothing more boring for an audience than a speaker who has their head down mumbling as they read their speech. Practising your speech will help you be familiar with it. Avoid learning it off by heart because unless you’re very good at that, it will come over as stilted.

Instead commit the main elements of your speech to memory so that if the worst happened and you lost your notes you could still make your essential points.

And finally:
Be genuine

If you're not, you will be found out. Audiences will forgive speakers many faults if they feel a connection. One of the best speeches I heard was from a business woman speaking about the struggles she had taking over a business. She was so passionate about what she did and the people she served that the energy in the room was tremendous. In my opinion she outperformed the professional coach who’d spoken before her.

What's important to an audience is that you care about what you're telling them.  That's what will make the all important connection between you.
And when you're connected to your audience, you'll feel it and it's one of the most wonderful feelings in the world.

Good luck.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Editing; its pitfalls and importance

As much as writing scares people with the blank page being a major obstacle, so editing terrifies them.
Thinking about editing seems to bring on different reactions:

1. Complete paralysis

I know many people who manage the writing phase fine. They pour out what they know, enjoy putting the words on the page then they’re stuck. They maybe look back at the text, but because they’ve poured out so many words, they don’t know how to re-work it and are afraid to start.

2. I’m a writer syndrome

This reaction is common among many creative writers but isn’t confined to them. They believe that because the words came from their unconscious mind, they must all have equal value and shouldn’t be touched. This results in 1000 page novels and woolly text on websites.

If you understand the writing stage as being simply that, the stage when you pour out what you think you want to say, then you understand that your work will need pruning. In this stage you’re going to be like a persuasive hairdresser who works on a head of hair to reveal the beauty of the person underneath the hair.

3. The grammar has to be right syndrome

Grammar is important. I spent many years in school learning it. And I’ve had to unlearn some of it to become a business writer. Why? Because the main point of writing, indeed probably the only real point is to make a connection. The connection between you the writer and your reader is sacred, is vital and without it you may as well not bother to write.

So how can I make it easier for you to edit your work? As always I break processes down into smaller stages. It makes it simpler to deal with and work through. I believe there are three stages in editing.

Major editing

Under this heading I include altering the layout of the piece you’re writing. Which if you’ve done your research and you’re clear about why you’re writing, should not be a problem for you.  If you still need a major rethink then one way I do it is to print off all the pages, lay them out on the table or floor and re-assess if each piece is in the best place. It’s odd but physically handling the writing brings new thoughts and connections.

 Minor editing.

Here we’re talking about taking the piece section by section and checking it for inconsistencies of headings, fonts and styles. If you’ve set up all your styles at the beginning you shouldn’t need this but it’s always best to check it out because we all slip up sometimes.

This is where you do your grammar, spelling and sense check. Just because your spellcheck says something is spelled right, doesn’t mean it’s the right word. Think of the differences between their, there and they’re. Spell check programmes show you multiple choices which don’t help you choose.

This is also the place to take out all the prhases you use too much. We all have them and yours will appear without you remembering you used them.

Use the readability stats that you find in tools in Word. After you’ve done the spell check these should come up automatically. They’ll show you whether you have too high a level of passive sentences. Active is better. The text is more alive and moves along faster.

Proof reading

Even when you’ve done major and minor edits you need to proof read. Or better you need to find someone else to do it for you. If you’ve written a major piece of work then this is vital. It will cost you because proof reading is not cheap. Or rather good proof reading isn’t. but it makes all the difference.

If you really don’t have a budget for proof reading then find someone who has the skill and offer barter. Cook them a meal, dig their garden or do whatever it takes.

But please don’t skimp on this stage.

Depending on the length of your piece then this stage can be done in an hour, a day or it could take several weeks. It’s important because clear editing can make the difference between an okay piece of text and a good one. Or the difference between a good piece and one that knocks your reader sideways with amazement.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Writing your book: how to name it

I attended some pretty brutal writing bootcamps in the US.  Their principle of writing for business was quite simple. 

Did it work or not?

Didn't matter how great your writing, how elegant, how correct.  As far as they were concerned it was useless if it didn't produce a response.

And that attitude underpinned what new products or services they introduced.  Was it needed or not?  They did the research first.  If it came back with a favourable response, they went ahead and invested their money.

If not, they moved on... fast.  While it may seem a harsh approach, it does save money. 

So if you're thinking of writing a book, ebook or traditional, I advise you invest some time to research titles.  Like it or not, they can play a pivotal role in how people view your book.  And as important, if a publisher might be interested.

All you have to do is think Chicken Soup for the Soul.  Hate them or love them, those books are a testament to a successful title.

Do the research.  Please.  You'll save yourself a lot of heartache in the long run.

This post is based on an extract from The Writer's Little Book... with Big Ideas.  For more information on the book see

Monday, 19 March 2012

Writing for your business: 5 ways to generate ideas

Look at your books
Choose 3 books. Write down wny you bought, borrowed or stole them from friends. Analyse why you like or dislike them. Check how easy or difficult they are to use. Can you write something on the same subject in a different way? Or can you write something in the same way on your own expertise?

 Listen to what your family, friends or work colleagues grouse and complain about
Does the same problem keep coming up? Maybe it’s a problem common to mums in your neighbourhood. Or a practical problem with equipment at work. Or some member of your family always struggles with technical whatsits that are easy peasy for you to sort

Start to ask around and find out if it’s the same more widely. What you hear will spark off some ideas.

Do some research
Write down 10 topics.  Needn't be anything to do with what you offer. Now dig for some research on the web, in your local bookstore or newsagent. Find out what is written about them. Out of your 10 words you might come up with a couple of suggestions to create articles, blog ideas or a book.

Make connections
Successful companies are not always those who only innovate. They’re also the ones who make the connections other people don’t consider. Allow your mind to range widely and think about connecting successful ideas, methods and systems from one sector and apply it to another one.

 Help yourself to generate more ideas
Creativity is not some talent only the few have access to. You can increase the flow of ideas in practical ways. Use an ideas capturing system. Can be as simple as a small jotter and pencil tucked in a pocket or bag. Or as complex as a recording system. Choose whatever works for you.

Then make sure you use it.

Just as your muscles react to regular exercise by being more efficient, so you creative juices flow in response to you paying attention.  Of course not every idea will be a winner.  But you know you may only need one to hit the jackpot.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Writing Stage 3: that all important pause

It might seem artificial to create a stage named pause. You could say that when you reach the end of writing you stop and then move on to looking back at your writing.

Based on my experience I’d like you to consider inserting this Pause stage into your writing process. I don’t know what you’re writing but if the piece is longer than a few pages you could be faced with revising or checking a complex layout, dense text and other people’s views.

At this point you need to put some distance between you and the words.  Here are some ways you can make the most of this stage.

Take the time out to do something unconnected with your writing
Mental exhaustion is a common result of intensive writing. You’re written out, wrung out maybe depending on what you’ve written about. Setting aside your work gives you the chance to revive. I know that when I’ve finished a long piece I can’t bear to look at it for a few days. I have no more ideas to add to it.

Check your physical state.
Have you ever finished a piece of writing, got up from the computer and almost stumbled. Although we know that it makes sense to time ourselves when working at a laptop or desk, it’s all too easy to become so involved that we forget to eat, take rest or any of the things that we need.

Now's the time to do whatever helps you restore your physical get up and go. Take a shower, hit the gym, go for a walk or run. All of those things will help to break down the stress chemicals that have built up in your body as you raced towards your deadlines.

Slumping in a chair at this point won’t be helpful. You’ll end up feeling more tired and drained. So get active in whatever way you enjoy.

Get creative
What activity so absorbs you that you forget time and place?  Apart from writing I mean.

Now’s the time to indulge yourself and listen to music, paint, garden or whatever activity you enjoy that isn’t related to work.

What’s the purpose of this?

It’s to start those ideas again brewing in your brain. Without you being aware of it you’ll kickstart your enthusiasm to look at the writing with fresh eyes... and ideas.

Trust your unconscious to help you out here. If you’ve been clear of your intentions for the writing, and you’ve allowed yourself free rein in the writing, then that’s fertile ground for your unconscious mind to start sorting. When you sit down to edit, all kinds of connections will come to you that you can add in to your piece and strengthen it.

And stop feeling guilty taking this time out. See it as a separate stage in your writing process and then you can justify it to anyone who thinks that you’re only taking time off.

This post is based on the section in The Writer's Little Book... with Big Ideas.  For more information about the book go to

Friday, 9 March 2012

Article Writing: are you a sprinter or a marathon runner?

I’m not a runner; in fact my PE teacher, and yes I know how old that makes me sound, told me I seemed allergic to exercise.  If I'd had more courage I'd have told her I was only allergic to the kind she promoted, like running on the spot.

But I do like watching athletics and guessing at the psychology that draws people to different events.  I particularly like long distance events because of the need for strategy and planning over a period.

In any kind of running, mental attitude is as important as physical ability.  Particularly in distance running like marathons. It’s you against the road.

You might ask what has that to do with writing?

I link it not only to the actual writing but the activity that drives the writing. Article writing is now one of the strategies that we have to use if we run any kind of business.

And just as in running when a marathon has to be divided into sections, so you’re not overwhelmed by the distance, so your writing has to be broken down into the things you have to write. Marathon runners often talk about ‘hitting the wall’ at a certain point of the race. That might be the equivalent of a lean spell with your writing when it seems like you have to force yourself to write anything.

All writers face dry spells; certainly I do and having recently gone through one maybe it will help if I offer you the solutions I found. To a large extent it’s back to the psychology of writing. If you’re running a marathon  there will be times another single step might seem impossible. But runners keep going because they’ve executed the routine of running a marathon so many times that stopping becomes unthinkable. In writing sometimes you feel ‘written out’ when it’s tiring to type and think of the words you need.

Just as there are strategies in running, so there are equivalents in your writing.

  • Take on plenty of fluid and energy drinks
Take this literally and make sure that it’s not your body’s tiredness that is causing your mind to refuse to work for you. Physical tiredness causes mental exhaustion so make sure you have a balance of activities and you’re not slumped over your computer for too long. Get up, stretch and go outside for fresh air or if that’s impossible open a window. Drink plenty of water. Mental and physical tiredness can also result from physical dehydration.

  • Limber up for your writing
Depending what you’re writing, you need to carry out research. Not doing this basic work before you      start writing means you’re not prepared. Running a marathon without regular and sustained training          sessions would be at the least foolhardy and at worst possibly fatal if you’re not fit.

Speed and fluency in writing comes from being in tune with your subject and knowing what you want to say. Research underpins your writing and gives you the confidence to allow the words to flow.

  • Avoid the boredom
Boredom kills creativity. Stone dead. If the passion has gone out of your thoughts about your business, product or service then you’ll find it difficult to write effectively.

Being in business is tough. We can admit it and know it’s certainly not all good. There are many down times too. Accepting this natural cycle means that you will be better prepared for them.

I came across a great strategy in the work of David Bach some years ago. If you really feel that you can’t achieve anything productive, then have a clear out or tidying session.  Creating space, even if it’s only on your desk, shifts the energy around you and allows a shift in your mental attitude. I don’t know why it works but it does. Maybe it’s because you see a clear desk and then you see your way clear to do something. However small, it’s a break out of that trough you’ve sunk in and then you’re away again.

Being passionate about what you do is the strongest strategy in writing. Keeping that energy level high is vital to keep your writing positive and optimistic.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Being creative doesn't stop you being businesslike

Over the last twenty five years I've been associated with several small businesses, some of them my own.  I can confidently state that if there's a business mistake to make, I've probably made it.

That's why I know if you're a writer of any kind and intend to make money from your writing, you need to adopt some businesslike attitudes.  It might scare you, especially if you think of the tax implications but that's all the more reason to face up to certain facts about being in business.

  1. A little structure underpinning your business from Day 1, will save you headaches in the long term.
  2. Not all accountants are rogues and can also save you pain if you use them with care.
  3. Assuming you will attract clients and behaving as if you know what you are doing pays off.
This is particularly so with regard to terms and conditions of trading.  Doing work for clients is one thing.  Getting paid for it is another.

One of my jobs in a company that employed me was to chase up invoices for goods.  Getting paid was ten times worse if the paperwork wasn't in order.  It gave them the chance to nitpick.

If you're in the East Midlands there's an event that might help you start off on the right foot. The University of Nottingham's Ingenuity Programme holds Breakfast events on a variety of topics. The meeting on 12th March includes a talk by Margaret Burrell, and expert in Terms and Conditions.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Homestaging your book

Have you ever thought about how people will approach looking at your book?  Of course it would be great if they started at the front, read all the way through to the end and considered the whole thing totally wonderful.

From experience as a librarian,writer and observer of book buyers, that's not what happens.

I've seen the following happen:
  • start at the back and look at the comments
  • flick through to see how long the chapters are
  • go to the introduction to learn about the author
In short, every which way happens.  Which is why you need to consider this not only when writing the book but working out the layout.

I'd equate it to how people view houses for sale.  Some are thinking about the plumbing, some about the garden and still others wondering how they can fit in all their ornaments.

And you need to consider how your writing can appeal to all of them.

This is a short extract from The Writer's Little Book... with Big Ideas.  For more information on how to purchase this book please go to

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Writing East Midlands Flash Fiction Competition

Writing East Midlands has teamed up with Derby Telegraph and Waterstones Derby, to launch a Flash Fiction Competition for Derbyshire Writers.

Award-winning author Stephen Booth has agreed to judge the competition, with the shortlist and winning story being published in the Derby Telegraph.
For more information:

Monday, 5 March 2012

Writing for your business: How to move your readers from reading to clicking that button

What’s inertia?  My dictionary defines it as a tendency to do nothing. And a resistance to change

People often tell me I do a lot.  If so it's in direction opposition to the challenge I face every day. Especially in winter when I’d much prefer to hibernate. Curling up and ignoring the world on a day the wind howls outside and the showers catch out the unprepared.

As business people, a head under the blankets attitude isn’t an option at any time. And these days there are so many things we have to keep up with.  Facebook, Twitter, blogging and now Pinterest. Grr. Can you imagine me disappearing in the cloud of smoke of my tailspin.  Which too often ends up in me taking no action at all.

Do it tomorrow is what I think. Or nobody’s listening anyway.

Not true though often we don’t realise they are. Not everybody sticks their head above the parapet to comment or connect.

So I have to carry on as if they need me. Need the help I can offer. A friendly word that might just turn around a difficult day for them. Or a solution so easy for them to take up it’s a no brainer.

As writers we're no different from our readers. We’ve problems and need solutions. We've woken up with a great idea and want to make things happen. Some day. Some day we’ll lose weight, buy the training package or get immersed in social media.

What stops us from sorting out all our challenges? We find out about solutions, we like the sound of them, we tell people how great it will be. Then we stick.

As a reader of a clothes catalogue I tear through it ticking off the items I like. In short I could spend a lot of money… which I’m sure the company wants me to do. But I’ve put in a pre buying strategy that says wait. At least 24 hours and better 48.

And what happens then? 9 times out of 10 I don’t buy.

How to counter inertia in your readers

When I examine all the techniques a company employs to try to break down my inertia I’m doing it both as a buyer and as a professional writer. As a writer I can admire their time deadlines, their offers to pay delivery, their limited availability.

As a buyer I’m deeply cynical and know they’re trying to manipulate my buying process.

How can we make our buying offers so important our readers can’t ignore it?

Dig deep and understand our buyers.  After all, who are we? Can they trust us?

Understand how scared they are of changing. What if it doesn’t work out for them? What if their family, friends, colleagues make fun. We need to make their way to change an easy path.

The change they’re making might have been forced on them. At the back of their mind is always this nagging little voice – ‘but will it work?’  followed up by 'Can I get my money back?'

And the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle is accepting it may take several contacts with your buyer before anything happens.

My cat often makes several half hearted attempts to go out of the house in the morning before he gets all the way outside. He's sniffing the air, checking for intruders, thinking if he stays put we'll feed him again.  When and only when he's ticked off all his worries does he take the plunge.

 We as buyers aren’t much different from him.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Writing for your business: Clients or customers?

How do you describe the people who buy from you?

It’s not unusual to hear people say, ‘This job would be fine without the customers’. And since we’re all human it’s obvious that sometimes people coming to us for our products or services can drive us mad. I put my hand up and confess I've had clients who caused me irritation and impatience.

Some large companies get rid of 10% of their worst customers each year on the basis that they make no profit from them and yet that 10% are as demanding as the top 10% of their high buying customers.

When we write for our ideal reader, what view do we have of them?

If we understand marketing, then we know we have to create a picture of their way of living, find out as much as we can about their needs and pitch to that.

But are we investing in them as real human beings, similar to us? People we might meet at the school gate or in the supermarket queue. And are we offering them the respect that they deserve and treat them accordingly?

Recently I read something about treating people not how we would like to be treated but how they wish to be treated. It made me stop and think about my attitudes. Of course I want to be treated with respect, and as an individual, not lumped in with hundreds of thousands in my so-called social category. I don’t want to be pigeon holed because I live in a particular area or type of house. In short I don’t want to be seen as anything other than an individual who has conflicting thoughts about life and how to live it.

That’s how I've always tried to behave towards others  Do I now need to go an extra mile?

I believe that it is possible to run a business, treat those who come to me with respect and turn a profit. To do so may need a shift in thinking. It may require me to say goodbye to some clients who aren’t a good fit for me.

And I certainly it starts from how I think about them and write to them.

Despite the fact that traditionally only professionals such as accountants or lawyers used the word ‘client’ in describing people they deal with, does the word we choose have an effect on the way we behave?

How would you like to be described?  Are you a customer or a client?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Writing for your business: how to create a winning testimonial

What is a testimonial?
A testimonial is a favourable assessment of your services or product by someone outside your company.  In short it's someone else singing your praises.

How do you create effective testimonials?
Online by encouraging feedback on your website, in your blog and product pages.
Offline by asking face-to-face clients for their feedback.

Isn’t this scary?  Yes it often feels so especially if you're new in business. Even if you're scared,  think of the advantages of clients telling others how you've motivated them, solved a problem or shown them a new way of doing something.

How do we ask for feedback that won’t turn into all criticism?
It’s tempting for us to think that we know what our buyers want, and what they like about our product or service. But we’re deluding ourselves if we think we have it right all the time. Less positive comments give us the chance to improve our performance.  And wouldn't you prefer they give us that chance?

Here are some easy steps to end up with winning testimonials
First: ask what they like about what you did for them.

Asking for the positive first allows the focus to be on what they like rather than giving them a blanket permission to destroy us.

Second: ask for a couple of ways to improve what you do
Doing this proves to them you value their opinion. Shows them you take their business seriously.

Third: construct a testimonial or review from what they’ve said
Clients will say they're satisfied with what they receive. But they often put off telling us . The problem about getting that positive feedback is many people are hesitant about writing it. That’s why it’s better if you guide them. Here’s a formula that avoids general feedback like ‘fabulous’ ‘or wonderful service’ which convinces nobody.

  1. Take the problem that you help them solve
    2.   Add on the way you helped

   3.   Plus the result

And you have a specific viable testimonial.

For example:

Before buying your product, I’d always struggled with my accounts. So I was hesitant to buy yet another program. But your helpful 30-day trial convinced me to try it. And I have to say the results were better than I hoped. Not only did I find it easy to use with clear instructions and help feature, but also it worked exactly as it said it would.  Now my accounts are up to date every month, taking me only a couple of hours to complete. Thank you for your product and service.

Anyone reading such a testimonial can find specifics to relate to and will be reassured.

Finally and most important.
When people offer you feedback, you need to have their permission to use their names and to edit if necessary their feedback. Not to change what they’ve said which will be illegal, but to shorten sections where needed.

Reliable feedback built up over years will produce results for you far beyond the effort you make to acquire it.