What’s Your Business GPA?

What's Your Business GPA?Did you think high school was the last time you’d have to worry about your GPA? If you’re in business, you’re still chasing that 4.0.

I call it your Business GPA.

Customers get to see it all the time. So does your boss (if you have one). Wondering why you haven’t discovered it yourself? The odd thing about the Business GPA is that you’re the last person to see it.

This all-important score is relative to the people it affects most. The people you work for, the ones who make the decision to pay you in exchange for value. It’s based on their perceptions – how you stand out from others like you, the quality of the work you produce – and the things you do each day to be the best you can be.

So, while you may never see your score yourself, it’s a good thing you know about it. That’s Step 1 – understanding that it exists. The next step is to understand how to earn a score that’s judged by others … and what to do to get it to a 4.0, even if you never see it yourself.

Here’s a quick article that should inspire you.

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A Year of Shameful Subject Lines

Shameful Subject LinesLike most inboxes, mine receives a heaping helping of spam throughout the year.

Some of my personal favorites are the offers for male potency pharmaceuticals. I appreciate the discretion some of these trustworthy wholesalers use in their subject lines. That way, my wife and kids will be none the wiser. Some real examples:

  • Fw: Fw: Love Store
  • I’ll still love you, come to me, I’m in a hotel!
  • Never pay a monthly phone bill again

It seems the flim-flammers have improved their spelling, at least. I’m seeing fewer creative typos for commonly flagged words, like VI*AGR4.

For some reason, I get a lot of offers for replica watches (Best Seller Watches : Rolex Gold = 119$ , Rolex Sport = 119$!!), penny stocks (PBGC is the King’s Special Alert- Find Out Why Inside…), and online poker (Exclusive gaming with HUGE!!! payouts!).

Do people really follow those links? I want to believe that the human race is smarter than that. And yet, someone has invested the time to produce this stuff, so logically there exists a complementary group just as dimwitted but too lazy to act as the purveyor.

I wonder where these spammers get their mailing lists. Maybe they received an email with a compelling subject line, like: Max BEST Mailing Lists will make you M1LL*IONS overnight!!!

They’ve obviously mistaken me for a watch junkie who’s looking to make a fast buck and pleasure my partner despite my dysfunctional, er, equipment.

If they had quality mailing lists, I’d be getting skillfully penned emails with subject lines like:

  • Piping hot, golden french fries – printable coupon!
  • These Multi-Billion Dollar Corporations Need Copywriters … NOW
  • Grow Your Own Gourmet Coffee for Pennies – in Your Kitchen

You know, with tempting offers like those, I’d allow a typo or two.

Why Full Service Means No Service

Do you rely on the phrase “full service” to:
– advertise your company?
– explain your range of capabilities?
– appear bigger than your competition?

Full service may mean everything to you, but that’s because you know your business better than the rest of us. To a general audience, full service has all the impact of a blurry photo.

By telling us you are full service, you’re saying it’s cumbersome for you to list everything you do. Therefore, in order for me to get some meaning from the term, I have to do the thinking. While you’re busy selling me, I have to process what it is I think you do.

Worse, if you actually do everything, you specialize in nothing. If you do have a specialty, you blew it when you said you’re full service. See where I’m headed with this? Instead of adding meaning, full service has become meaningless.

I know only a few of the many products and services that make up your total offering. By relying on two words to give meaning your business, you ignore what differentiates you.

Decide what’s important about your business. What should people know to understand your capabilities and specialties? If you can, keep it short and specific. Memorable and digestible.

Put it in writing on your Web site and commit it to your own memory so you can pull it out when the time is right. You’re sure to create a sharp, focused picture in people’s minds that outperforms the promise of “full service” every time.

It’s Only News If It’s New To Your Reader

How fresh are your posts?

With the proliferation of information available to us on our computers, smart phones, and traditional media sources, one item remains in my Top 3 all-time must-follow rules of audience engagement: News must be new.

In a recent Press Association article, Google’s own  Maile Ohye says that unique content will spur the search engine to drive more unique visitors to your site.

Interesting topics alone fail to capture interest. Compelling news alone fails to compel your readers to return. So your goal must always be to act as a true news source.

How to make your job easier

Start with Google. If you’ve chosen a subject, search Google for the latest coverage. Notice the dates of the pages Google returns. For example, as of this writing, a search of the term “triglycerides” returns pages dated June 19, 2009; March 22, 2011; June 11, 2008; and December 11, 2001 among others.

On the left sidebar of the search results page, Google gives you additional tools. You may have to expand the Search Tools link to see these options. When I click on “Latest,” I get at least three pages dated April 23, 2011 — today’s date as of this writing. You must actually read the articles to know if they contain quality information, and check the source as well. I am always disappointed when bloggers link to articles provided by dubious sources. If the list of recent articles provides nothing but garbage, click the next search tool option, “Past 24 hours.”

Check Social Media. Sites like Twitter will always provide a mixed bag, but be diligent in your research and you’ll definitely find valid resources. Searching Twitter for the term “triglycerides,” I just found seven posts that were tweeted in the last hour. One is from a doctor. Again, read the articles before you link to them.

BONUS TIP: Include an Expert. Always try to add an expert opinion. I tend to go right to the industry leaders. For our triglycerides example, I’d search sites like WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, etc. Quoting authorities gives your article additional credibility that wins over your readers.

So keep the “new” in your news. It takes a little more effort, but your reward will be quality followers who care about your content, are more likely to come back to you and link back to your pages.

Keep Your Reader Engaged

Professional salespeople have a clever rule while engaged with a prospect.

Every so often, they ask questions like:

  • “Are you with me so far?”
  • “Does this sound good to you?”
  • “Am I on the right track?”

Pure genius! If the prospect says yes, the salesperson scores a win, he has permission to continue. And more importantly, he knows he’s moving in the right direction. If he hears a “no,” he wins again – because he doesn’t waste his or his prospect’s time, and he can hang a left or bank to the right.

Are you with me so far?

In writing articles, blogs and similar fare, we typically avoid stopping to ask if we’re on the right track. That would be weird.

What’s the solution?

First, stand in the readers’ shoes. Read your post as though it’s brand new to you. It takes a little bending of the mind, but you can do it.

Next, lean on your colleagues and friends. Send your draft to one or two of them and ask if it makes sense to them. More importantly, ask if they felt compelled to click your target button or link. Promise them some reward, like a mention in the article itself.

And finally, walk away. Take a few hours to work on something else; if you have the time, abandon the project for a day or two. Your brain gets a chance to reset itself, and you will almost always find a word or 20 to replace with something more powerful. The goal is to guide the visitor to a link, a button, a form, etc.

Remember, your client (and that might be you) wants sales. When the medium is written, do all you can to keep your prospect “with you” all the way to the “click.”

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Looking for Madison Avenue marketing impact on a Shady Lane budget? Me too. But until one of us finds it, Kendall Avenue will have to do. That’s where the writers of Bold Copy throw darts at pictures of $2-a-day content providers while patiently awaiting the opportunity to serve you.

It Is What It Is

Paper is paper. Pen is pen. Have you learned anything new so far?

Clearly, I am bothered by the phrase: It is what it is.

If I tell you, “Time is time,” have you come away more informed? Richer for the experience? What if I say, “Time is money”? Ah-ha, now we’re getting somewhere.

Sure, it’s just an expression, right? Yep, and I avoid expressions (like the plague). Expressions have less impact in writing because the brain is accustomed to the order of the words. Mix your words and synapses fire, the brain pays attention. Bury your communication in clichés and your audience loses the desire to focus.

Some might argue that those five short words do mean something. I’d agree. They mean, “What can you do about it?” And actually, I like that phrase a lot more. It invites a solution. Saying “It is what it is” really means, “There’s nothing I can do,” or worse, “There’s nothing I’m willing to do about it.”

Those of you lucky enough to have read Ayn Rand’s infamous Atlas Shrugged will remember the novel’s catch phrase: Who is John Galt? It defined despair, helplessness. It certainly bothered the story’s heroine, Dagny Taggart. She, a woman of drive and purpose, had no use for phrases that suggested that one give up.

It made the Banned Phrase of the Week on one blog: http://bit.ly/en6wbu

Can we just let it go? After all, if I offer no suggestion, I’d be guilty of saying “It Is What It Is” is what it is.

The solution is to say what you really mean. If you splatter red wine on your white dress shirt and the stain becomes set, say, “Well, I guess this one’s going in the DONATION pile.”

If traffic is moving at a crawl and you’re going to be late, say, “We need to require an advanced class for drivers every five years,” or, “I’d rather be driving my helicopter.”

If the members of your volunteer group never get things done, say, “I wonder how much they would get done if we threatened to publicly distribute a list containing their names and the things they refuse to do.”

A little can-do attitude is just what we need to kick useless expressions to the curb – I mean, out of our communication.

Do Not Write Not

Huh? Do NOT write not?

Either it’s one of those existentialistic word traps (I eat, therefore I burp) or else this author is pulling off one of those contradictory grammar lessons (never say never).

Lucky for you, it’s the latter. Lucky because the lesson is far more valuable. Though I am simultaneously pondering the wild ride we could go on if taking the other direction. Maybe some other time.

The question of the day: How often do you use the word “not” — or forms thereof?

“Don’t forget to come.”

“You can’t have the blue one.”

“It’s not brain surgery.”

“Do not touch this.”

In his book, Remember the Ice, author Bob Nicoll reveals what I consider to be one of the greatest rules in all of the communication arts: tell a person what TO do. Whenever you tell a person what NOT to do, you accomplish two things. First, you get the person to think mostly about the thing they are to avoid. And second, you create another kind of chaos, that is, the concept of doing nothing.

Think about it. I say to you, “Don’t think of the color blue.” Two problems emerge. First, you think of the color blue. Second, your mind grapples with how to act upon the concept of not acting. In fact, there’s a third problem. What would you have me do instead? Don’t walk … does that mean stand still? Run? Knit a sweater?

Tell people what you want them to do and they are more likely to do just that. Here’s a fun exercise … let’s reconstruct those samples above:

“Remember to come.”

“You can have the red one.”

“It’s actually quite easy.”

“Keep your hands at your sides,” or, “You may touch anything but this.”

Wow … wow.

So, fellow communicator. Want more bang out of your writing? Every time you write the word not (or its n’t forms), reword the sentence to say what you really mean. You’d be surprised what it can do to your conversion rate.