Friday, December 3, 2010

Create an entrepreneurial spirit at your firm

Innovation is vital to professional organizations 
During these tough times, innovation is key. Take the best of what you do and embed it into new products or processes. If you produce something of quality (product or service), can you also transfer that element of quality to another aspect of your business to increase sales or ease the cyclical nature of a product or service?  
I recently interviewed a retired V. P. of a large snowmobile manufacturer. At one point, the company's assembly line only worked six to seven months out of the year producing snowmobiles. When the new management team added ATVs to the line-up, sales grew and the production became year-round. Sales did so well that the management team took the company public five years later and the V.P. took an early retirement with his stock proceeds.
In my business as a writer and marketing consultant, when print items such as brochures and newsletters are chopped due to budget cutbacks, the same content can be delivered in more cost-effective ways: websites, blogs, presentations or slivered into social media “key messages.” With my expertise at producing large-scale print projects, I'm now offering memory books for loved ones. These mini biographies tell a person’s story from many different viewpoints, complete with photos. 
If you work at a law firm, create a profile of your ideal client and find ways to reach that audience. Doing pro bono work also opens new doors. Since most lawyers have a specialty, penetrate the markets that could use your legal knowledge and advice. Get the word out by sending e-newsletters detailing successful case resolutions to those market segments.
My marketing adventures included working with a podiatrist who also offered orthotics and diabetic shoes, thereby supplementing office visits with products. I also worked with an internist who added nutrition supplements and nutrition counseling to expand the office practice. These are natural extensions of one's expertise. How can you expand and supplement your professional services?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Entrepreneurs may be the economic game-changers

I attended the Michigan Emerging conference for small business at the Ford Conference and Event Center in Dearborn on Nov. 17, 2010. It was an energizing event, chock full of information and motivation. Naively, I asked the registrar if today was Nov. 11, since I was writing a check for the conference (trying to save the sponsors a credit card fee.) She politely told me that it was the 17th.  Okay, so I was a week behind the times. But the conference quickly brought me up to date.
The business climate in Michigan is electric. People are buzzing with ideas, plugged into the community and depending on social media and phone apps to launch new programs and spread the word about existing services or products.
I met several other entrepreneurs whom I have known over the years. I mentioned to one that this meeting truly embodies a sense of “We can make this work.” vs. “This business climate is dismal; let’s just wait it out.” He agreed that the tide is turning and greater prosperity may be right around the corner.
The conference was electrifying and I believe that Detroit is on the forefront of an entrepreneurial revolution (take off on Chevy’s “American revolution” campaign”). Henry Ford and his good friend Thomas Edison launched successful ventures in decades past. Maybe fellow Michiganders can follow in their footsteps.
The conference ended on an upbeat note. The owner of five Subway shops in a town that fronts Lake Huron is visiting 200 Michigan cities and running five miles in each to promote small business. He asked the audience to say in unison, “We believe in Michigan” as it was video-taped. It only took two takes to get it right. Make no mistake, we, as entrepreneurs in Michigan, are enthusiastic about our endeavors and will work relentlessly to make our goals a reality.           

Monday, October 11, 2010

Getting the donor list right in an annual report

Recognizing donors in an annual report is a seasonal highlight. Their generosity helps drive your nonprofit organization. Yet getting the list right can be a real challenge. Most organizations use software that tracks donors, the amount of their gifts and special categories, such as giving societies. Make sure that it also has a section for how they want their name to appear in print and whether they want to be recognized for their gift or remain anonymous.
When running alphabetical lists, if you have more than one anonymous giver, you may want to put the number after the word – Anonymous (10 gifts) – rather than repeat the word 10 times.
When a donor is deceased, consider putting a small cross after the name and designating it at the bottom of the page. You don’t need to do this for estate gifts, since that’s implied in the gift category.
Amounts of giving: start from the highest and work toward the lowest. It’s a good idea to list gifts of $100 or more. For gifts of $99 or less, consider listing the names of donors on your website. Make a notation of this additional list in the annual report. 
Business giving is often listed along with donors. In-kind gifts should be in a separate section. 
When running your list for publication, have a couple people in your organization go over it with a fine-tooth comb. Look for typos, consistency in titles and credentials: list Dr. (M.D., D.O. and D.D.S.) but not Ph.D.s (professors and researchers), MBAs, CPAs or JDs, unless the donor requests it. Double and triple-check the spelling of your top donors. It’s far easier to proof a cheaper printed list than it is to make changes at layout stage.
Add a statement at the end of the list requesting any changes or corrections to donor names. Follow up promptly: update your database; send the donor a note or call them to let them know the change has been made on your records and thank them for their continued support. Consider adding a “Getting it right” section on your website to indicate corrections to donor names. (Newspapers do this on a regular basis.) You don’t have to include how the name was misspelled in the report, simply list how the name should have appeared. Take care of your donors - they make great things happen.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Please do not hesitate to use it’s correctly

This headline links two of my pet peeves in the misuse of the English language. First is the term “do not hesitate” which is commonly used in a formal letter. It is often followed by a request to get in touch, such as: please do not hesitate to call me or please do not hesitate to contact our office for further information. Why not just say, please contact our office or please call me? This gets right to the point without the gate-keeping phrase “do not hesitate.” To me, it’s a fence that I need to jump over. I do hesitate, thinking “Wait, let me think about this.” The reality is if I want to contact someone or am motivated to call, I do. I don’t hesitate. Let’s banish this phrase from formal letters – it's very off-putting! (joking here, otherwise I never use off-putting.)
Let’s move onto it’s. Most of you know that it’s is a contraction for it is. Some people don't know that - including some very educated people. Its, on the other hand, is the possessive form of it and can be used as a pronoun for an inanimate object.  Here is the correct usage: write “It’s raining” rather than “Its raining” or “You can’t tell a book by its cover” rather than “You can’t tell a book by it’s cover.” I plucked this from an association website: The Greater Detroit Chapter xxxx would like to announce to it's members a 100% grant-funded training opportunity in southeast Michigan. It should say its members, because it is being used as a possessive pronoun referring to the chapter. Get it? Got it? Good.
End of English lesson for today, until another pet peeve comes up – give me a day or two.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to work with a writer

You’ve lined up a writer for a brochure, website, annual report or speech (now you’re off the hook). But don’t think your job is over. Prepare the writer for the challenge ahead. Research and background information are vital. Will you provide this to the writer or expect the writer to do that part too? If so, allow her (or him) time to do this investigative work.       
Ask for a bidDon’t be afraid to ask the writer for a detailed bid. This should include time for research, interviews, preparation, drive time to interviews, follow-up questions, writing an initial draft, revised drafts, getting approvals from the client and person(s) being interviewed, making changes and finalizing copy. A smart business person/writer will build in some time for last-minute changes. Or, she or he may keep track of time spent on these changes and charge accordingly.
Fresh information – This is a chief reason that companies hire writers. They want the latest information used in their piece. This usually involves interviews. How will these be conducted? From my experience, it works best for the writer to be alone with the interviewee (a tape recorder is helpful for reference or historical documentation) or schedule a time to interview the person by phone.
Sometimes the person being interviewed wants a “heads up” on what will be asked so they can get the needed detail information. Writers should be prepared to e-mail a list of questions in advance of the interview. Depending on the nature of the interview, the element of surprise can sometimes elicit better responses. The rule of thumb should be: if it involves a lot of fact-finding and verification of dates, finances or tenure, send questions in advance; if you want a more personal and spontaneous response regarding events or relationships, don’t reveal your questions until the interview.
More than meets the eye – A writer’s work involves more than one sees when reading the initial and final copy. A lot of research typically goes into an article, posting, speech, etc. The writer may have written three or four different versions before sending you one marked, “initial draft.”
Finalizing copy - It happens in virtually all writing projects: the need for last-minute changes and tweaks. Things change in the corporation or organization that make the copy wrong; someone learns something new that should be incorporated into the piece; a vice president reads the piece after the deadline and wants changes made; and numerous other reasons for changes.
Nit-picking copy on the client’s end is often a reality, but don’t expect the writer to give you this portion free of charge. A change here and there can add up to one hour plus for a 750-word article. If it’s a major piece with changes on every page, it can quickly rack up additional hours. Be prepared to pay for these last-minute changes.
Read before layout – Many people only want the executives to see the piece when it’s laid out. This can be a big waste of time and money. Plan for your key executive or review team to review copy before it gets to layout and again at layout stage. Things that read well on paper look different when paired with photos, graphics and headlines. It’s all part of the process. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Engage with your audience

How many times have you been to presentations that sound like a boring lecture? Perhaps they were formula-based and didn’t take your needs or interests into account. You probably used the time to daydream or make a mental “to-do” list rather than strive to listen to the message buried within.

As a speaker, have you ever been so intent on driving home your point that you didn’t notice the audience’s interest pique or wane? If they were engaged in what you were saying, did you smile to reward them? If you noticed the audience’s attention wane, were you nimble enough to insert a quick joke? Something like, “I see a few heads nodding, the caffeine must be wearing off.”

Pay attention to how the audience reacts to you so you can adjust your speech accordingly. 
Witnessing lots of yawns is never a good sign. If this happens, change the cadence of your speech or step out from behind the lectern and walk around. Make sure your mike doesn’t yank you back to home base.
Men are more likely to sit stone-faced than woman. Don’t take that as a bad sign, it often means that they are processing the information. When telling emotional stories, expect more facial reactions from women, who are more open in revealing emotions. Visual reactions from the audience can guide you to adjust your presentation to better engage with the unique individuals in front of you.

Don’t be afraid to use props – nothing outrageous, but well-timed objects that relate to the presentation allow for a welcome break. It also reinforces your message. If you’re talking about a general distain for cold calls when making a sales presentation, produce an old-fashioned receiver with a cord and pretend to make a call.  I did just that when I made a presentation to a group of mediators – including many lawyers – and it got a hearty laugh. It also reinforced the message: every professional needs to make cold calls periodically. 

Humor can make a strong connection with your audience. You don’t have to rattle off one-liners, but some of your graphics should have a funny picture or a quirky message. Lighten it up and the audience will be much more responsive.

You have a message to deliver but you don’t have to force feed it to your audience. Take their reaction as a cue to adjust your presentation on the spot and build a better relationship with them. Ultimately, you want your audience to not only remember your message but to remember you.