Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Writing Workshop: The Drafting Table

Vicki Winslow rejoins us for this discussion on writing drafts.

Creating text for your business requires that you work through different versions on your way to your final draft. Here are my recommendations on how to approach each stage of the process:

The first draft should have all the basic information worked in, in the order you think it should be presented. It may be nothing more than your original outline (or, as I prefer to call it, list) with a little flesh added to the bones—a truly rough draft. Even if it is closer to final than that suggests, the piece should still be considered fluid. You may use it to seek preliminary opinions from other stakeholders, before too much time and effort has been invested. If you pass the first draft to others for review, mark the passages that you would like them to focus upon, or attach some questions such as: What have I missed? What would you add? If there are sections of the document that are not yet ready for writing—for example, if you're waiting for data that is still being compiled—note this in the draft and highlight it. I recommend highlighting any section in which information must be confirmed or added, or which is questionable in any way. That will make it less likely that the piece will go out the door with missing parts or misinformation.

A second draft is a refined, more fully gelled version of the first draft. There's still a possibility that it will undergo extensive revision, but it’s now time to treat it more seriously. Ask yourself if the length is right, or if it needs to be cut, or if sections should be rearranged for better impact. Even if there's no length requirement for the piece, are there sections that should be eliminated because they’re not serving a useful purpose? Most importantly, have you used phrases or jargon that is perfectly clear to you, but which may not be clear at all to someone outside your industry?  The book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath mentions a study that I found fascinating (and useful). Elizabeth Newton, a doctoral student in psychology at Stanford in 1990, assigned roles to people as either a “tapper” or a “listener.” Tappers picked a song from a list and literally rapped the tune out on a table. A listener’s job was to guess the song title. By the end of the study, 120 songs had been tapped, and listeners had guessed exactly three correctly. Tappers were flabbergasted! How could the listeners be so dense, when the tune was so obvious? The answer was simple: The tapper heard the song in her head while tapping, so it was difficult for them to fathom that the listener couldn’t hear the same thing. The authors conclude: “Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.” Check your second draft to make sure that you’re not tapping out a tune that is familiar to you, but which no one else will hear.

All of the subsequent drafts between second and final—and there may be any number of them, because you're the boss—are less likely to undergo dramatic edits. Check spelling, grammar, and punctuation more closely as you tweak the text. You'll also be gradually adding in all of the information that you may not have had during the first and second drafts.

The final draft is the one that goes to the printer, or in the envelope, or out into the world via the "Send" or "Publish" key. By this point, you and any colleagues who have been involved with the project know the text so well that none of you is reading it closely anymore. Two things can help. First, develop a simple office checklist. The list will vary depending on your specific needs; it will also evolve over time.  Here are some of the items it might include: 
  • Title
  • Author Name
  • Page numbers
  • Subheadings
  • Paragraphs
  • Tables and graphs
  • References
  • Data
  • Font
  • Highlighting
  • Spelling
  • Grammar
Initial each item before you release the final draft. This forces you to look at the document with fresh eyes as you review some of the mundane but necessary elements that make a piece readable and accurate. Is the title shown the same one that was finalized in a meeting, or is it a leftover placeholder that you intended to change? Is the page number correct on each page? Are all the subheadings in the same style? Are any tables or graphs split between pages? Is there leftover highlighting where you needed to confirm a name or add data?   

Second, have someone trustworthy and completely uninvolved to this point read the document. He will see where you used "there" instead of "their" (it happens to us all) and other mistakes that can slip past a spell-check. If there simply isn’t someone else and you have the time, put the document aside for a day or a week, and then read it again yourself.

Happy drafting. Let me know if you have any questions; I’ve been known to tap out an incomprehensible tune, myself.

For free answers to specific questions about grammar or writing, email Vicki at with "Business Writing" in the subject line. You can also follow Vicki by visiting her blog (Vicki Winslow's Blog).

Friday, September 9, 2011

Writing Workshop: A Full Bag of Tricks

Guest contributor, Vicki Winslow, kindly joins us again with insight into the writing process.

Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public. – Winston Churchill

A writing project is an adventure, and one of the first and most important tricks to success is to treat it like one. Gear yourself up for it by anticipating how well it is going to go and how much fun it will be. If it helps, imagine launching a kayak into a river or floating in an inner tube down a mountain stream. The words, like the water, will flow easily and take you exactly where you want to go. Wear a helmet.

The second trick is to maintain perspective. Remind yourself that you are good at what you do. You are intelligent, and capable, and interesting. Once you leap into your writing project, all of those characteristics—and thousands more that are unique to you—will be at your disposal to get you moving. When negative thoughts intrude (I hate to write, I will never get this project completed, my English teacher Miss Grimace told me I'd never amount to anything) dismiss them and replace them with a positive thought. If you can't think of a positive thought, use this one: Soon this project will be done and I will never have to think about it again. It's at least better than the negative thoughts. Plus, it's absolutely true.

The third trick is to focus your attention. Your project will not be as successful if you are not giving it your full attention. This does not mean straining and forcing your mind to labor over the task; it means thinking about your topic and your purpose and then applying the first two tricks by reminding yourself: This is an adventure I am well-equipped to enjoy. It also means carrying the attention with you as you go about the more routine parts of your day—touch on it lightly as you drive, as you have lunch, between other tasks.

Enhanced Creativity Through Mental Tricks
If after gearing up mentally you find that you still face a blank screen or page with an equally blank mind, try this: Recall a time when you were feeling particularly creative. It can be from as far back as kindergarten, when you were happily stringing colorful beads on a piece of yarn. Writing is simply a more complex type of bead-stringing, after all. Banish your fears and concerns about it, and try to regain that spirit of calm absorption you feel while doing something relaxing and enjoyable. Alternatively, visualize a special success that you have achieved. Remember in detail the elatedness, the feeling of accomplishment you felt. Revel in it. Isn't it wonderful that you can bring back that same feeling right now? And isn't it much nicer to look at the blank page while feeling that way than it was to slump down and bang your forehead on the keyboard in frustration?

Tricks to Get Started
Beginnings of any kind are tough, so sometimes I postpone writing the beginning and write other parts of my document first. Whatever your writing project is, make a list of all the elements that must be contained within it. Keep the list handy so that you can tick them off as you write each section. Notice I call this a list instead of an outline. They are the same thing, but I hate outlines and love lists. This list serves two purposes: It reminds you of what will need to be in your document (like a recipe!), and it gets you started in a fairly painless way.

When all else fails, another trick I use to get started is to pretend that I am writing a letter to my friend, Ruby. I write to Ruby regularly, and it's funny how helpful it is to put down, "Dear Ruby," and then launch into a letter telling her about, oh, nonprofit board governance. I think this trick lightens my mood enough for me to get over myself and just get writing. Try this with your first draft, and later you can rewrite or simply delete the silly parts that served only to prod you forward. (Oddly, even when I don't begin with "Dear Ruby" I find that my first paragraph is often completely unnecessary, and with only a tiny amount of tweaking the second paragraph makes a better beginning–probably because I dance around a lot as I try to get started, and I say too much. By the second paragraph I've settled down. This may be true for you, too.)

The Sincerest Form of Flattery Trick
Obviously, I don't write to Ruby exactly the same way I would write a proposal for a client. So if I begin by writing "Dear Ruby," sooner or later I will have to pick a more proper tone for my actual audience. Try to write the way you would talk to a colleague or customer. Remember to keep the feeling of flow, of a natural, positive adventure.

If you're still having difficulty, think about an author whose tone appeals to you and imitate it. This is a powerful tool. It may also help you when you're stuck and not sure where to go next. Pick a favorite author and use one of her chapter titles, sentences, or subheadings to start you down a slightly different path. Again, you may end up deleting whole paragraphs, but they may help get you through a difficult patch.

Difficult Patches Happen, the Trick Is Not to Let Them Thwart You
If you don't like the wording you've used and a thesaurus isn't helping, it might be time to call in another reader. The same is true if you're stuck in terms of the general direction of the piece; a colleague who understands your intention can be invaluable in helping you figure out what works in your writing, and what doesn't. That being said, there are situations in which it is best to let the piece be for a little while, if your time frame allows. Walk away from it, do something else, forget about it entirely for at least an hour. When you come back to it, you may see right away what it needs. If you don't, then consider the possibility that it may be perfectly fine as written.

Loosen your shoulders, consider what you need to accomplish, and approach it with joy and anticipation in the firm knowledge that you have everything you need to get the job done, and done well.

For free answers to specific questions about grammar and writing, email Vicki at with "Business Writing" in the subject line. You can also follow Vicki by visiting her blog (Vicki Winslow's Blog).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Check Out these Fall Events

If you've been looking for some great events to attend this fall, check these out.

  • August 17, 2011 - Join the Jacksonville Chapter of the American Marketing Association as we visit Speckled Hen, a local gastropub. Networking Happy Hour will be from 6-8 p.m. More info can be found on the JAMA website.
  • September 20, 2011 - All of the social media, marketing, advertising, and public relations groups in Jacksonville will unite for this event at 927. Great crowd, cool venue. Keep an eye on JAMA's website for more details.

Running & Charity
  • October 15, 2011 - Join Girls on the Run at White Oak Plantation at 8:30 a.m. for this unique running experience. Six or ten mile distance options are available. Registration details and more information can be found here.

  • August 20, 2011 - Speaking of Women's Health will be held at the Hyatt Regency Riverfront. This all day event starts at 7:30 a.m. and includes keynote speakers Kay Frances and Dr. Pamela Rama. More info and preregistration available here.
  • August 15-28, 2011 - Eat Up Downtown is back! Participating restaurants will have 3 course meals available for $25 per person. Reservations required.
  • August 13, 2011 - Experience "A Taste of Riverside" as part of The John Gorrie, a condominium tour. Multiple Riverside restaurants have teamed up to provide discounts to ticket holders of this event. For more details, click here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

2010 Census Data - 2010 Census

2010 Census Data - 2010 Census

This government Census Data site has a wealth of information available at your fingertips. And, it offers a wide variety of ways to stay informed with the latest data releases and conversations on our population and economy.

How will your company be using U.S. Census Data this year?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tax Changes for Small Businesses

This article, available via the IRS website, outlines several tax changes for small businesses in 2010 and 2011. In this article, you can find information about the Health Insurance Deduction, Health Care Tax Credit, Credits, Higher Expensing and Depreciation Limits, and EFTPS for Deposits. Links to further information are also provided.

Tax Changes for Small Businesses

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wow! It's Been a While...

Wow! There's a very long gap between my last post and this one. However, I'm recommitting to connecting via blog to share relevant information (hopefully!) and ask insightful questions about the world in which we live.

It's amazing how much information passes before us now. Hundreds of articles containing fabulous and informative content speed by each month. Thousands of links are shared via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and there are only a handful that I actually allow myself to click. In a world of so much information, how do we weed through the onslaught of information to bring us to our next great thought or business lead? How do we keep track of the latest developments on all of the social media sites and technology platforms? Where do we draw the line between useful and just too much to bear?  

I think one of the hardest things to do in this age of information is to stay focused, stay driven. Distractions are everywhere and available at the speed of light. Minutes easily slip into hours of lost time and productivity. So, I guess the question I'm posing is a world of infinite and beautiful information, how do you stay driven, focused, and committed? And, what rules or techniques do you use to filter information down to the truly useful? What limits do you place on yourself to eliminate distractions and interruptions? Ultimately, how do you cope with the endless feed of new?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring 2011 Events Worth the Walk (or Run)

Here are some upcoming events that I think will be worth your time.

  • April 10, 2011 - Ponte Vedra Chamber Car Show 11a.m.-3p.m. This year's event will be held at the beautiful TPC Sawgrass. Brumos Porsche is the Presenting Sponsor and will have a lovely and expensive display of classic porsches. Over 150 antique, classic, custom, and new automobiles are expected to compete for 25 trophies. Many local businesses will also be present, showcasing goods and services. So, come join us and enjoy a wonderful day at a truly lovely venue! Keep your eye out for First Coast Focus and Girls on the Run!
  • May 14, 2011 - New Balance Girls on the Run 5k at Nocatee. Join Girls on the Run for their spring 5k. The race course will wind through the beautiful trails and neighborhoods of Nocatee. All activities will begin and end in Community Park. Adult running buddies, cheer groups, and fans are always welcome!
  • June 1, 2011 - First Wednesday Art Walk Downtown and Business Expo 2011. Visit the ever popular First Wednesday Art Walk Downtown venues and stop by the Jacksonville Chamber Business Expo housed in the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront from 4-7p.m. While you're at it, join Business After Hours during the Expo from 5-7p.m. Don't forget to stop by the Jacksonville Landing and say "hello" to Helen Cowart at Elemental and Istvan Pono at Pono Visual Expression while out and about!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Good Customer Service Is Not Dead!

Searching for excellent customer service? Here are my top two picks with one honorable mention.

From the initial phone call to the passing back of keys upon completion, these folks know what they’re doing. The appointment setter at the initial service call is professional and efficient. A follow-up email with your appointment time and date is promptly sent. Two additional reminders are made the day before service – one via phone and the other via email.

When you pull up at the service area, a valet greets you and escorts you to your service advisor, opening doors along the way. Your advisor welcomes you by name and if you’ve made arrangements for a loaner vehicle (by simply answering “yes” regarding need during the initial call), a copy of your driver’s license and insurance are made desk-side and a temporary registration issued for the loaner. Completion expectations are discussed and a preferred number to be reached solicited.

Your service advisor escorts you back to the service area where your loaner vehicle is waiting for you.  He wishes you a happy day and you’re off!  Upon returning, you’re promptly greeted again, doors are opened, and closing out the invoice is quick and efficient. Loaner keys are taken by the service advisor and your freshly washed and vacuumed car is brought around without delay. Your advisor bids you a final happy farewell while wiping down any remnant drips on your bumper from the wash.

Chick-fil-A is one of those places where you can expect to receive hot food and excellent service in a quick and efficient manner, even at the busiest of times. Having a teenager reply, “my pleasure,” must be priceless to millions of parents around the world! Managers roam and chat with customers, employees are always quick with a refill or tray removal, and seriously, you just can’t beat the cow marketing!

Panera deserves an honorable mention in this category. Food is now delivered to the table, trays and dirty dishes are often swept away by lobby attendants upon completion, and the new rewards program is amazingly generous.

I often conduct business breakfast or lunch meetings in Panera. It’s quick and there are a wide variety of food options to satisfy a myriad of tastes. I visit Panera about once every two weeks or so. But, I already feel that I’ve been rewarded with the new Panera card. I haven’t broken through to the “high ticket” items yet, but the promise of a free sweet or beverage is a fun way to start the day!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

500 Words or Less: Business Writing in the 21st Century

Please help me welcome my dear friend, Vicki Winslow.  She's provided this month's guest post.

If you have a business, you have to write—and when you write, someone whose good opinion you value will read it. I am here to help make sure that you don't lose that good opinion through poor writing. Here, then, are two simple steps you can take today to improve your writing and enhance your company's public image: 
  • Use spelling and grammar check. I use Microsoft Word, and the squiggly red lines that indicate misspelled words are lifesavers. Don't like having grammar check turned on? Neither do I. It's annoying to see that squiggly green line appear—especially when it shows up beneath a perfectly good sentence. Right now, on my screen, a squiggly green line under the word "I" indicates a grammatical problem in the sentence "Neither do I." According to the Word Grammar Pixies, "I" should be "me." That is flat wrong! But keep grammar check turned on anyway, just in case.
  • Never hit "Send" on an email until you've read through it carefully. I've heard that it is therapeutic to write an angry letter, pouring into it all of one's pent-up feelings of bitterness. Afterward, one must burn the letter, symbolically releasing the anger and letting it drift away on the wind. The destruction by burning is key; one doesn't want those negative feelings getting out where they can create misunderstanding and pain. Keep this idea in mind when writing email messages to vendors, clients, and business contacts. Review each message for accuracy and clarity, then make certain that the message is free of snark, petulance, and spite. Even if you're writing with a light touch, remember that the reader may miss subtle nuances of tone and see the message as sarcastic rather than amusing. Keep email correspondence professional and brief.  Because, you see, here is the thing: Ultimately, you have no control over what the recipient does with your email. Assume that every email message you write may be forwarded to dozens of other people. Especially keep this in mind if you are commenting in your message on another person, product, or company.
Now, having averted the minor disaster of a misspelled word and the potentially major disaster of an earth-shattering email faux pas, we can relax and approach our writing from a calmer perspective.

21st-century Writing Tip: Some people write email; others use e-mail. Either spelling is correct. The important thing is to use one version consistently. The same is true of website and Web site (or web site). Pick the version you like and stick to it or risk appearing indecisive.

For free answers to specific questions about grammar or writing, email Vicki at with "Business Writing" in the subject line. You can also follow Vicki by visiting her blog (Vicki Winslow's Blog). 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Wave and Engage

There are three people that I’d like to highlight in today’s post, but I don’t know any of their names. All I know is that I’d like to be just like them when interacting with customers, clients, and strangers.

Observed Party #1: There is a school crossing guard on Baymeadows Road near 9A that I’ve observed in what I consider to be the wee hours of the morning while stopped at the traffic light.  Even though it’s bright and early, he’s smiling and waving to each of the cars as they pass.  As children approach to cross, he initiates a conversation with every single one.

Take-Away: He is a pleasure to drive by and the lesson that he makes me remember is to engage everyone, even complete strangers. We all crave connection in a world that can be surprisingly impersonal, and this man has mastered how to make a genuine connection in less than three seconds. All it takes is eye contact, a smile, and a wave.

Observed Party #2: On a nice weekend, at least most of last year, you could find a sign waver advertising a builder on the corner of Alta and New Berlin roads. Regardless of how miserable he must have been after hours of standing in the sun, every car that went by got a smile and a wave. Every soldier or police officer that passed received a salute. It really can’t be a pleasant job. It’s hot, there’s no shade, the grass on the side of the road is tall and the ground slants significantly, there’s constant noise from the traffic and the threat of crazy drivers.

Take-Away: What I appreciate from this particular sign waver is that he takes it all in stride. But, what I most admire is his ability to genuinely smile and enthusiastically wave at every single car that passes. So, the next time I am participating in a networking event or waiting with fellow shoppers at the check-out, I want to make sure that I convey energy and authenticity with each and every person.

Observed Party #3: My third pick for this category is the dancing sign waver advertising for a sandwich shop in the Town Center. For quite some time, he was stationed at Town Parkway and St. Johns Bluff. Last time I saw him though, he’d moved to an even busier intersection near Gate Parkway and 9A. What I most admire about this young man is his ability to boogie in front of the masses. His enthusiasm is fabulous. I caught a newspaper interview with him a while back. Apparently, he’s wasn't the fastest sandwich maker but he was willing to work, so the owners handed him a sign. He even practices his dance moves before revealing them to the public! I don’t know if it’s true or not, but he looks like he’s having a blast. And, he must never need to work out…think of the number of calories he burns!

Take-Away: I think the biggest lesson from the dancing sign waver is to enjoy what you do. Make your job have meaning. His dance moves have actually caught quite a bit of attention – I saw him on some local tv spots over the holidays.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Take a Look at Jacksonville Advantage - The Resource for Small Business

As a small business owner with limited time but a great desire to learn new things, I thought it might be helpful to share some information on sites that I’ve found useful on my travels through the web.  Hence, the beginning of weekly posts under the heading, Romp around the Web.  Each post, I’ll try to give you a quick, but honest, take of the site’s pros and cons. 

To kick off this segment, I thought it’d be fun to stay local.  Did you know that videos and podcasts are available at Jacksonville Advantage – The Resource for Small Business?  After landing on the homepage, choose workshop from the options across the top.  Then select either videos or podcasts.

If you’ve ever missed John Bryan giving his networking seminar or are curious as to how Jason Sandler monetizes his social media efforts, this is the place to go.  I have to say, I enjoyed being able to watch and listen to these presentations from the comfort of my own office.  The biggest drawback to these sessions is that they are filmed with a single video recorder from a distance.  Background noise can be an issue as can the lack of camera movement (i.e., can’t see Sandler’s slide presentation, can hear phones ringing and other noises in John Bryan’s presentation).  Also, in order to see the videos, you have to enter your email address every time.  Podcasts are also available but aren’t as exciting because you can’t see the people and they have the same sound quality issues as the videos. 

Overall, though, I’d recommend seeking out a few of these and watching.  It’s always great to see the local experts share their business knowledge.  So, kick back, relax, and pick up some insights that can be applied to your business along the way….for FREE!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Unscientific Study of Facebook

In observing those younger and more adept on Facebook, I’ve come away with several thoughts that I would like to consider implementing in my business.

Observation:  Everyone is their friend.  Some have more friends than the number of people I’ve managed to meet throughout my entire life.  Do they know them all? Certainly not.  They use “friend” loosely to define a wide variety of relationships.

Take-Away: What this teaches me as a business owner is to be open to all.  Accept friends of friends and acquaintances into my network.  Any one of them could become my biggest fan, promoter, or client.

Observation:  If alliances shift and there is a terrible, unfixable break in a key relationship, the original Facebook account is closed and a new variation is opened.  Some old alliance are sought, others ignored.  But, soon, they are back to having hundreds of connections, posts, and pictures.

Take-Away:  The lesson here, I believe, is the ability to reinvent oneself and rally after a devastating event or disappointment.  The need to change direction is completely acceptable.

Observation:  They post with seeming ease, often, and mostly without regard for spelling, grammar, or offense.  They allow their personalities to shine – funny, witty, serious, studious – in short statements that demonstrate their frustrations, knowledge, and excitement.

Take-Away The potential lesson to business owners is to promote a message, with personality, on a regular basis.  Without consistent presence, the company will get lost in the crowd.

Personally, I enjoy the glimpses into the minds of my younger friends.  I enjoy reading their perceptions and reactions to the world.  But, I am fearful for them too.  I wonder about their ability to establish meaningful relationships and the effects of endless self-promotion.  I worry about their safety with constant revelations about their comings and goings to such a wide group of loosely connected individuals.  They have lessons and insights to share though, to be sure.  And, in many ways, there is much to be learned from their ability to gain relevance and comfort in an age of social media.