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January 30, 2012

Seven Tips for Better Business Writing – A SPN Exclusive Article

In the fast-moving environment we live in these days, those who jump to the top have fantastic communication skills, and that means superior business writing than the competition. You’ve heard the saying, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Well, in business, you’d better be able to flourish a pen or else you might just fall on your sword. In the Information Age in which we reside, it’s a foregone conclusion that your capacity to communicate is one of the most vital skills you can master. In business, you’ve got to communicate with prospects, employees, suppliers, attorneys, consultants, maybe even legislators. In many cases you can express yourself orally and do just fine; however, you are dead in the water in business if you can’t get your point across in writing.

So why is business writing so necessary? Come on, you didn’t know? As an expert, you need to be able to prepare effective pitches to management and customers, provide meeting agendas to colleagues, and update others as to the current goings on of your company. You may be responsible for writing ad copy, handbooks, or legal contracts. These are the obvious ones, but just remember that there are people you need to communicate with, share ideas with, and persuade who just aren’t in the same place at the same time as you are. Your aim is to provide your valuable pearls of wisdom to be read at any time suitable to your audience.

There are a number of key times in the course of business where it’s utterly vital to write rather than talk. I’ll give a solid, but certainly not complete, list here:

1. Visible Impact. Do you buy into the fact that you learn more if you not only hear but view material? Just think of any talk you’ve ever heard about setting goals and the vital importance of listing your objectives. Sales trainer pro Zig Ziglar, in his book Secrets of Closing the Sale, highlights the significance of using your writing pad when persuading customers of the value of your products and services. Why? Seeing it in writing makes something more credible, increasing recall. In addition to sales, the written message is appropriate for work instructions, company objectives and mission, and updates about your industry. If you want something to really register with your audience, you ought to write it down.

2. Keep Records. You can’t have a spoken employee handbook; it just won’t suffice. The spoken message gets manipulated and changed throughout the chain of command. If you’re responsible for policies or practices at a firm that absolutely must be followed to the letter, you need to put them on paper and submit them for the appropriate parties. Just imagine telling your OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspector that, “we’re very careful, we just don’t keep any documentation.”

3. Complaints.
Have you ever been ripped off by a provider? If you want to get it resolved, I propose doing it in writing. You’re trying to convince someone to your point of view, and your written complaint will have legs. For starters, you now have a documentation of communication. More importantly, it’s possible that the individual you originally complain to won’t be the one that resolves the problem, meaning that your complaint must be transferred. If you give your complaint over the phone, it goes up the chain of command verbally. Remember in grade school when the teacher whispered “The Easter Bunny will be here on Wednesday” to the kid in the front row, who in turn spread it around the room by telling his pal behind him. By the time the last little girl recounted the initial message back to the class, it came out “Godzilla can beat King Kong in a fight because he breathes fire.” Write your complaints down to eliminate the confusion.

4. Kudos. People like to get compliments on a job done well. Managers today are discovering that an important part of an incentive program is to make these kudos available to the top employees. Funny thing is, when the praise is received in private over a cup of java, it’s nice. When it’s posted in writing on the office newsletter, it’s like giving the staff member an unpredicted bonus. Just think of the volume of work and commitment that the fortunate employee will show now. Congratulate people in writing and publicly to get considerable results.

5. Express Complicated Ideas. If your firm has accomplished ISO 9000 Certification or is going through that procedure now, you can relate to why the ISO auditors require written documentation. You must illustrate procedures for corrective action, for example, telling people just what to do when things go wrong. ISO has to do with precision or repeatability, and putting something complex in writing leads to consistency during application. Whenever you have to describe or report intricate ideas at your company put them on paper. And keep in mind, avoid esotericisms and lingo.

6. Protect Yourself. We all know this one, don’t we? It’s become the leading use of email on the company intranet. If you’re involved in questionable problems at work, or if your actions for whichever reason are under the company eye, you definitely must document your positions for posterity and future defense. You can use paper or electronic messages, but always protect your assets.

7. Agendas. If you’ve ever attended a meeting that was an ordeal because no one knew the goals or what they were supposed to do, raise your hand. Alright, put it back down. You know firsthand the importance of a written agenda for a meeting. It focuses people on a common target, designates duties, and helps the meeting leader maintain time control. Never, never have a meeting without first creating a written plan and sharing it ahead of time with the meeting attendants.

I’m sure in your specific line of work that you can come up with other circumstances. The point is that for the reasons given here and many more, it’s extremely essential that you clearly express your ideas on paper. It will help your bottom line by saving numerous man-hours typically lost in confusion, you will increase efficiency by getting people on the same page immediately, and you can eliminate the headaches that come with communication failures on duty.

So go ahead– do yourself a favor — and pick up a pen.

Karl Walinskas is the CEO of Smart Company Growth, a business development firm that helps small to mid-size professional service firms build competitive advantage in an online world of sameness. He is author of numerous articles and the Smart Blog on leadership, business communication, sales & service, public speaking and virtual business, and Getting Connected Through Exceptional Leadership, available in the SmartShop. Get your FREE LinkedIn Profile Optimization eBook & Video Course, Video Marketing video and course, or Mastermind Groups e-course & video now.