New Year, New You? Not So Fast!

 

New Year, New You-

Wow! We cannot believe that Christmas has already came and went. Hopefully, you spent the past weekend kicking your feet up, relaxing, and patting yourself on the back for all the work you put into making your holiday events happen, while conveniently ignoring that mess you’ve been meaning to clean up. Yet, now you are faced with the daunting realization that a new year is upon you. So, are YOU ready for 2015?  As you form your personal and/or professional New Year’s resolutions, keep these 5 things in mind:

1. This year will only be different if you make it different. It is so easy to convince yourself that this is the year that you will finally do things better. Yet, you are inevitably setting yourself up for failure and disappointment if you don’t have a personal strategy or solid business plan in place to help you achieve your resolutions. In fact, Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School, reveals that the destructive habit of continuously setting unreasonable goals actually does more harm than good by raising levels of anxiety and lowering feelings of self-worth when these goals aren’t successfully realized. In short, focus on the realistic process of what it is going to take in order to reach your goals instead of on the goal itself.

2. Less is more. A list that is too long is overwhelming and likely to be unsuccessful. If you write down every single goal that you want to accomplish in your lifetime, reality will quickly remind you that “ain’t nobody got time for that”. Simply choose the ones that are the most realistic to accomplish so that it will be a major motivation and confidence boost when you are able to start checking those things off your list.

3. Vague goals will impede your ability to succeed. Not only will too long of a list put you at a disadvantage, so will a list that is too vague. Get specific and narrow your focus to tasks that are actually easy enough to squeeze into your busy schedule. If you want to “be cleanlier”, don’t expect to be cleaning your whole house and organizing your basement weekly. Instead, set your sights on tasks that are more attainable, such as aiming to make your bed every. single. day.

4. Hold yourself accountable. Every year, like so many others, you probably make your New Year’s resolutions, and every year, sooner rather than later, they get swept under the rug just like that fad diet you did really awesome on for like two whole weeks. Guess what happens when you do this? Probably nothing because there is no one or nothing to hold you accountable for ceasing to make good on these promises. The upside is that this year can be different. This year you can get on social media and outline your goals and deadlines to your followers and propose a consequence to happen if you don’t follow through. Because it is public, you will feel obligated to do whatever it takes. Moreover, make it a financial consequence and see how fast you get things done! For example, you can tag a friend or a colleague (who also has a goal set) and compete by saying that whoever doesn’t complete their goal must buy the other one dinner. Additionally, what this whole public accountability thing also provides you with is support to show you that you aren’t in this alone.

5. You can begin NOW, if you want. If you are totally convinced that the actual symbolism of marking the New Year will essentially create the New You then feel free to wait, it is your choice. But just remember that you really don’t have to wait until January 1, 2015 to get started. There is no time to start that is better than the here and now, because after all, we aren’t promised tomorrow!

Can’t figure out what your resolutions should be? Follow our new Pinterest board “Try This in 2015” for some amazing ideas to get you started!

Already have your goals in mind? Share them below and we will be your accountability partner!

Professional Writing: The Planning Process

GM Planning Process

You probably heard about this concept way back in elementary school and your educators continued to drill it into your head all the way through high school and perhaps even college. For professional writing specifically, planning what you are going to write about and how you are going to write and deliver that message should almost be second nature to you by now. But how many of you honestly take the precious time out that you are allotted to write documents to just sit there and do nothing but plan? It might even sound like ineffective time management to you if you are confident in your ability to write up a flawless document on the first try. However, it cannot be overstated the amount of mistakes that can be prevented if you just devote a little bit of time toward planning (and proofreading). Planning is not only recommended, it is absolutely vital for conveying an effective message. Contrary to the opinion some writers have of planning being a waste of time, the planning process actually conserves creative energy and saves time for both the writer and the reader.  During the planning process, it is expected that the writer analyzes the situation, gathers information, selects the right medium, and organizes the information effectively.  These steps of the planning process are key to delivering a message with meaning and direction.

Planning effectively means planning thoughtfully and carefully. Always take the time to understand your reader’s needs, gather up the information that you need to satisfy those needs, and deliver that information in the best way possible.  That is, if your information is best assimilated or digested on a certain social network or by a certain medium, then choose the most effective way of communicating with your readers. Planning not only makes your writing go more quickly and smoothly, but it can certainly spare yourself or your company from embarrassing mistakes.

Analyzing the situation can aid you in determining the general purpose of your message (i.e. inform, persuade, collaborate). Once the general purpose is chosen, the specific purpose must be identified.  Furthermore, the purpose should be tested before going any further (i.e. will anything change after your message is composed, is the purpose realistic, is the time right, and is it acceptable to the organization).  If the answer to any of the questions is unfavorable, the planning process already saved time in scrapping a message that would otherwise have been futile. Developing an audience profile, that is to analyze the audience sufficiently enough to determine their needs and expectations, is also important in communicating effectively.

Gathering information required to provide the reader with the information they need to be informed, persuaded, or called to collaborate is also done during planning. Gathering information helps to uncover audience needs, find your focus, and present factual supporting evidence for whatever argument may present itself. However, it is of utmost importance to ensure the information gathered is accurate, ethical, and pertinent.

The selection of the right medium is important in appealing to certain audiences and each choice has advantages and disadvantages to be considered. Media choices include oral media (i.e. face to face), written (i.e. memos, letters, reports), visual media (PowerPoint presentations, videos, etc.), and electronic media (emails, social networks, etc.).

Organizing wandering thoughts and scattered ideas into a comprehensible and moving message is also essential in the planning process. Organization can mean the difference between your audience receiving your intended message and it failing to reach them completely. Thus, it is very important to take the time organize effectively so that the reader can understand the message, accept the message, and save time. Planning ensures adequate time to develop ideas thoroughly and get your message across in a way that is clear, concise, polite, and meaningful in meeting the reader’s needs. Without planning, you are unable to analyze your audience sufficiently and determine the goals of your message or even to gather important information needed to answer your audience’s questions.

Since this is such a well-known topic, we didn’t want to drone on futilely. However, we hope that we were able to highlight the importance of the planning process to you and provide you with sufficient reasoning to begin planning before your write (if you aren’t already an avid participant)!

What does your writing process look like? Share your comments below, we love to hear from you!

Business Communications: Are You Flatlining?

GM Business Communications Flatlining

 

You may be a really good writer. You might even be a really good speaker. But are you a good communicator? It is so easy to get lost in all the noise of today’s world. So, make sure that you are heard and that your intended message is conveyed appropriately and effectively. Business communications is not only about what you say, but how you say it and even what you don’t say at all. For your convenience, we have compiled super condensed tidbits of information to help improve your communication skills around the office, across the web, and on good ol’ fashioned paper.

  • Maintain the “you” attitude when providing constructive feedback. You might be afraid to give any sort of negative feedback to anyone because of how it may be received. However, feedback is a necessity in improving everything from customer service to the product itself that is being sold. In fact, you can (and should) provide feedback in a way that doesn’t sound negative and actually motivates the recipient. Constructive feedback, supported with that “you” attitude approach that we talked about last week, is much more appreciated and serves to persuade the receiver into action in a positive manner. The “you” attitude and constructive feedback are actually tools that enhance business communication and productivity.  In both instances, the focus should not be what the receiver can do for you but what you can do for them and what you can do to help them achieve their goals. That is, by using the “you” attitude, you outline their needs and how you can fulfill them. For example, in providing constructive feedback to an employee, you wouldn’t merely say “I don’t understand”, you want to say “your presentation can be more effective if you clarify the steps you are going to take to achieve the goal in mind”. Thus, you are helping them to improve. In any circumstance, do not forget to be polite, understanding, specific, and emotionally intelligent. More importantly, make sure that you are careful to say exactly what you mean so that your message is not misinterpreted.
  • Effectively communicate non-verbally in an online environment. Non-verbal communication is very important in depicting and deciphering the mood of the intended message.  While face-to-face contact has the advantage of always being able to see someone’s facial expression, gesture, posture, vocal characteristics, personal appearance, touch, time, and space (giving many more opportunities to translate a message), the online environment also provides tools to convey non-verbal communication. One common tool used to simulate face-to-face conversation is the use of a webcam. In this instance, all aforementioned non-verbal communication categories would resume normally, just as it would occur during a face-to-face interaction. If a webcam is not present, another tool commonly used is “emoticons” in emails or chat sessions and can signal if a person meant something in a certain way.  For example, if you feel that your intended message may be misinterpreted, you can easily add a smiley face to convey your good intentions. Emoticons are the internet’s way of providing the ability to analyze facial expression when you would otherwise be “left in the dark”. Besides emoticons, certain keyboard buttons are available to help you get your message across. Take “caps lock”, for example.  A simple button pressed and PEOPLE ASSUME YOU ARE YELLING AT THEM. Or consider the use of italics to emphasize certain key words so that you don’t lose the focus on them (note: both caps lock and italics can be considered signals of vocal characteristics).  The use of time is another non-verbal action in an online environment. For instance, if you take a long time to email/instant message someone back, you send the unspoken/unwritten message that you are too busy to talk to them or that they are not important to you at that time. Conversely, if you spend an entire chat conversation responding very quickly to someone you like and then your crush says something like, “I love you”, for the first time…and you take a…long…time…to…respond. Are you not showing how you feel, without saying anything at all? Ironically, it is even what you aren’t saying that is now sending a message! Additionally, let us not forget the power of punctuation! Like the exclamation point used in the previous sentence conveyed excitement, didn’t it? Or how about now that you are being questioned? You get the point.  That being said, it is important to learn how to use nonverbal communication effectively, whether you are planning to converse face-to-face or via internet.
  • Analyze your writing habits. Writing habits dictate how your message is received. Like most people, your writing habits probably consist of both some good habits and some bad. A good habit to adopt is to maintain standards of etiquette by being thoughtful and careful not to offend anyone. Sometimes this can seem impossible but you can at least minimize potentially damaging messages. This thoughtfulness is comparable to using bias-free language, another important concept to utilize. Another good writing habit is to frequently utilize transitions because it lets the reader know the direction your message is headed. Interestingly, using humor in your writing can be considered a “bad” habit because it can confuse or offend the reader, as well as it may draw attention away from your intended message. Also, refrain from using passive voice, rather than active. Likewise, it is bad practice to use “hyperbole” (i.e., I have a million things left to do) and “idioms” (i.e., I didn’t come in to work because I am as sick as a dog) because they can both really impede your intended message, thus it is best to avoid them completely.

Even if your communication skills are a self-admitted work in progress, many errors can be avoided through applying the aforementioned concepts along with careful planning and proofreading, which we will talk about next time!

What do you feel is the most difficult part about communicating in a business environment? Share your comments below, we love to hear from you!

How to Write and Communicate Professionally: The Basics

 

GM How to Write and Communicate Resized

Regardless of how much you have already learned about writing, it is our opinion that writing skills can always continue to evolve and improve. So, we hope to help transform your professional writing habits and guide you in a successful endeavor to make your writing skills that much better and you that much more successful. Here are a few things to remember that will help you write and communicate more professionally whether you are writing to your boss, your colleagues, or your potential consumer audience.

Know your audience. Before you even begin formulating writing plans, figure out who it is that you are going to be writing to or communicating with. That is, make sure that you are using your time effectively by speaking only to your target audience so that your words aren’t falling on deaf ears. Ask yourself, what are your audience’s potential likes, dislikes, or biases? What is their likely demographics? What are their needs? Do they need something from you or do you need something from them?

Write only what is necessary. There is a difference between writing academically and writing in a business environment. For example, you could have been in the top of your class for your writing skills but communicate very poorly with your colleagues. You can see how different the two writing styles look if you were to merely read an essay and then examine the layout and content of a resume. With an essay, there are usually a surplus of descriptive or “filler” words and information, while a resume usually contains more straightforward factual statements. Additionally, if you aren’t writing to any single person in your business communications, then you must attempt to write from a multi-perspective standpoint. The difference is that while you know your academic audience (usually your professor), your business audience might be more of a mystery to you. Moreover, with academic writing, there is a tendency to write a lot more information than is necessary and that being an acceptable practice. In business communications, however, the reader is usually pressed for time and does not have time to read any extra information that is not pertinent to them.  In short, provide your recipient with need-to-know information and nothing more.

Be clear and concise. Some people may think that if they write even more than they need to then they will save time in the long-run from having to continue answering questions that could have already been addressed initially. However, the problem in over-clarifying lies in the chance that you may lose the attention of your receiver before you even get your intended message across. So, if you are someone who battles with answering a lot of questions about what you have written, you will save a lot of time by writing more effectively through providing clarification in fewer words. Some good practices to ensure effective communication would be to read your writing aloud to yourself to make sure that you convey only important information, as well as, ensure that what you wrote sounds good (as if spoken in a conversation). Another tip would be to read what you wrote to someone who has no knowledge on the subject at hand, in order to make sure that they are able to follow, comprehend, and even learn from your message.

Adopt the “you” attitude. If you fail to adopt the “you” attitude writing approach, you are going to lose the attention of the individual reading your document. Just as in a casual conversation, are you truly going to care about what someone is saying if all they are doing is talking about themselves? We don’t think so! You want someone to ask you about YOUR interests, or at least start a conversation about a mutual interest. In business writing that is what has to be taken into consideration in order to captivate the reader. Ask yourself, what does the READER want to hear about? What will THEY get out of spending the time to read your email? Remember, what is important to you might not necessarily be important to your reader. You should treat your business communications as if you want to start a personal relationship with the reader. You don’t want to fill your conversation with “filler” talk or “fluff” and you also don’t want to say anything that isn’t factual or is misleading.  Your audience wants to be cared about, respected, and understood. In order to fulfill their needs, you must put yourself in the reader’s position and ask what information would you like included if you were the reader. You hear the saying, “It’s not always about YOU”, but isn’t it?

Decode the message you’re sending.  You must not only be aware of the message you are sending, but also about how it is going to be received.  As a writer and thus a speaker, you must familiarize yourself with the cultural diversity of your audience.  In order to understand and respect your readers, you must educate yourself about the culture you are appealing to and how your message will be received from their perspective. Question yourself on whether or not any of the words you are using may mean something different in their primary language, or even if shaking with a certain hand is considered a sign of disrespect in their homeland. If you do not learn about the language and customs of your audience’s cultures, you run the risk of offending and doing great damage to your relationship with your reader. The efforts you put into learning everything you can about different cultures, speaking clearly, listening effectively, and so on are skills that can positively transform the way you communicate.  Diversity can create a team unmatched in a competitive business environment and you are sure to encounter diversity wherever you plan to work. Therefore, it is important to educate yourself on as many different cultures as possible so that you don’t end up looking stupid speaking “Spanglish”. If you don’t have a specific audience, write with a sense of multiculturalism and then analyze what you have written and determine whether or not it can be interpreted any other way than what you intend.

We cannot stress how important it is to master successful communication, so we hope you are now eager and interested in learning more techniques on how to write and communicate professionally. 

 

Do you have another important concept for writing more professionally? Share your comments below, we love to hear from you!

Put a Pin in It: 10 Beginner’s Tips for Pinterest

PurplePin3

As simple as Pinterest’s interface seems, whether it is a business or personal account, not everyone has quite grasped what they should be pinning, how exactly they should organize their pins and boards, and what it is that drives traffic to their Pinterest profile.  If you have never used Pinterest before, it is a social network that is filled with endless categories to sift through for the ideas that most “interest” you so that you can “put a pin in it”, essentially saving the idea to come back to when you are ready to start that project, buy a product, or return to a recipe. Once people have, for example, completed a project or made a recipe, they will usually return to comment on their experience and reveal whether or not they would recommend it to others. This is one reason (of many) that Pinterest is an important tool for many businesses. That is, if you make an idea appealing enough for people to want to try it and the idea consistently generates the expected result then the resultant word of mouth will drive more business toward you.

Anyway, we want to make sure that you are at the top of your game. Since pinning=winning, here are 10 Pinterest tips to bring you from beginner to pro:

#1: Check out the category “popular” for trending pins. The search results will be a compilation of all the pins that currently boast the most likes, repins, and/or comments. Thus, when you also like, repin, or comment on some of these popular pins, it gives your profile more visibility. However, avoid posting generic comments like “That’s cool” or “Great idea” because it may give the impression that you are not attempting genuine engagement. Something important to remember is to not post more than 2-3 comments in a single day or Pinterest may suspend your account for “spamming”, even if that’s not your intention.

#2: Pin and share photos. Just as on other social media networks, colorful photos and attention getting graphics receive the most likes and repins. Subsequently, to make your boards more appealing, they should have attractive cover photos to get more clicks and remember to change out these photos every once in a while.

#3: Detail what your pin is about. Provide rich content descriptions for each pin that tells the viewer exactly what the pin is all about. Remember, the more key words and hashtags that you use, the more easily it will appear in the correct search.

#4: Avoid pinning generic ideas. Generic ideas are boring and unnecessary; you want pins that are innovative and exciting. For example, if you pin a stock photo of a birthday cake to your “Birthday Parties” board, with the description of “make sure to have a birthday party”, it is going to be meaningless to your followers because that is such a regular idea that you don’t need to save it for later to remember. Instead, you want to pin ideas that will not just be useful for every day events but that will actually elevate them. Therefore, for your “Birthday Parties” board it is much more beneficial for both you and your followers too if you were to post an idea regarding how to set up the food table in the best way or pin some unique cake decorating ideas.

#5: Know what you’re pinning. Don’t pin anything that is offensive or conflicts with your brand or statement you want to make. Likewise, don’t pin things that are not interesting to you or your followers or really, what’s the point? So, make sure to click and review all content before repining so that you are aware of what that pin says about you.

#6: Follow people with similar interests. Not only will those with similar interests be more likely to follow you back but by doing this you make yourself available to the great content flowing from their boards and you can be the first to pass it on to your own followers.

#7: Make your boards be specific and the title appropriate. When you name a board something like “Outdoors”, the viewer doesn’t know exactly what to expect if they click on your board. “Outdoors” could be ideas for yard landscaping, activities to try outside, or even camping equipment. So, it is a good idea to make your title specific and to only include pins that are relevant to that title. For example, if you have a board titled “Party Ideas for Little Boys” then do not pin wine party ideas to that board (yes, we are exaggerating here to make a point).  Additionally, don’t be afraid to have a little fun with your titles to make them stand out, but refrain from making it so abstract that a new visitor won’t know what they are clicking on (or they won’t click at all).

#8: Multiple boards are preferred.  This is the aspect of Pinterest that lets you go be wild and free and make a board for everything that interests you. The more boards you have, the more opportunities for your pin and profile to be brought up by someone’s search. So, the minimalist in you has no need to compact all your ideas into the least amount of boards because more people prefer to have a diverse selection of material to look at. Therefore, if you have a board that is named “Style”, you could separate it into multiple specific boards like makeup, nails, jackets, shirts, shoes, and so on.

#9: Fill your boards up. As previously stated, you are more likely to attract followers if you have a variety of boards to look at but making sure those boards are filled with lots of content that the title promises is just as important. If you were a follower, you wouldn’t waste your time following someone who only had 2 pins located on one single board because you know that you aren’t going to be getting very much content to pass along to your followers from them.

#10: Reorder your boards. The boards that receive the most likes or repins should be organized in the top row of your profile so that they are the first ones viewed upon visiting your page. If you are just beginning, place the boards that are more important to you or that you predict will generate the most interest first.  Also, for your boards to appear in someone’s categories search, you need to categorize your boards correctly when you create a new board (i.e., just choose the category most relevant to your board from the drop-down menu and if your category isn’t listen select “other”).

*BONUS TIP: If you have a business account, remember to link and verify your website address when setting up your profile so that people know that it isn’t a fake, which makes you more trustworthy.

 

We covered some of the most important tips that will get you revamping your profile or starting one off right. Happy pinning!  

 

Did we leave something out that led to your Pinterest success? Share your comments below, we love to hear from you!