The Biggest Reason Why Companies Fail at Writing Policies and Procedures–It’s Not What You Think

Exhausted female office worker resting on stacks of manila foldersWe need written policies and procedures! If you’ve been in business  more than a couple years, you’ve probably heard that statement. If you’re a business owner or manager, you’ve probably made that statement.

But the sad fact is that the effort seldom succeeds. If the work of writing policies and procedures (P&P) is ever begun, that work almost always fails to produce effective documentation. Why? Because business management almost always underestimates the resources needed to write P&P.

systematizing a Business

Systematizing a business means writing the P&P that form the systems within the business. There are dozens of systems within a small business and far more in larger businesses. There are

  • Sales and marketing systems to get customers and revenue
  • Operations and customer service systems to provide products and services to those customers
  • Administration and finance systems to run the company itself
  • Strategy and management systems to lead the company

In Five Situations that Mean You Need to Document Your Business Systems, I wrote the most common reasons for business owners and managers to want written P&P for their company or department. A key element of all five reasons is time. Time is the scarcest resource within a business and the major reason why systematization efforts fail.

Business owners and managers usually fail to set aside enough time to write the P&P for the systems within their business. When owners and managers undertake the task themselves, they expect to be able to do the work after or before their normal working hours. When they assign the task to employees, they often add that work onto existing workloads.

Whether management or staff are assigned the work, within a few weeks or months the systematization effort stumbles to a halt. Momentum is lost and attention is turned toward perceived higher priority work.

What happened? Management didn’t recognize two characteristics of systematization:

  • Policy and procedure writing is technical writing
  • Systematization is a project

Let’s look more closely at each characteristic.

Policy and Procedure Writing is Technical Writing

Writing P&P is not the same as writing business reports, proposals, or correspondence. Writing P&P is a subset of technical writing. Even those skilled with business writing in general rarely have the technical writing knowledge and techniques needed to write effective P&P.

Writing P&P is not simple. There are several components to it. Some of those components include identifying

  • Who are primary and secondary audiences for the P&P
  • Policies in measurable ways
  • Costs and risks associated with policies
  • Step by step tasks involved in work flows

Writing this information in a readable, interesting way is a challenge. Most non-technical writers tasked with this kind of writing find it tedious because they are ignorant of its requirements and skills. They often inadvertently omit important information.

For example, if the P&P writer doesn’t consider the primary audience and its qualifications the resulting procedure might skip over important information needed for someone new to the task. Or writers might go to the opposite extreme and provide so much information the reader quits reading.

Primary AudienceInstruction
Familiar with steps, needs a quick referenceUse the Purchase Order template to request items that are about to run out in storage.
Unfamiliar with steps, needs detailed informationWhen there is less than five instances of any item in storage, use the Purchase Order template located in P://documentation/finance/supplies/templates/ to order the item(s).

Systematization is a Project

Systematization generates a library of P&P with supporting documentation such as templates and forms. Often this library is printed in one or more business operations manuals or stored online in a database or folder structure. The library holds the P&P needed to complete the myriad tasks involved in providing services and products to a company’s customers. Creating this library of information is as much a project as opening a new store location or changing a back office computer system.

Simply telling employees to write out their business processes dooms the effort failure and lessens management’s credibility in the eyes of those employees. Like other projects, creating written policies and procedures requires a commitment of time and effort and the same kind of interactive management as any other project.

Piling on systematization responsibilities to existing workloads is unfair to those responsible for creating, testing, and reviewing the P&P. When management prioritizes and readjusts existing workloads to accommodate systematization efforts, it underscores its support for those efforts. Failing to do so, tells employees that management doesn’t really value the systematization work and lessens employees’ confidence in management’s understanding, competence, and priorities.

Achieving Systematization success

Systematizing a business is a critical milestone in a start-up or small company’s growth to a medium size company. Without written P&P to refer to, new employees fail to understand the company’s systems and so the employees create their own, individual systems. Confusion breeds dysfunction and costs slowly increase and sometimes eclipse revenues.

When management understands that systematization is a major project and requires specialized writing skills, owners and managers are better able to shepherd the company’s growth from small to medium size business.

For more information, see

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at jim@writingjim.com or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

 

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How to Punctuate Names that End with a Punctuation Mark

Yum brands include A&W, KFC, Long John Silvers, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell.Punctuating Names That End with Punctuation

Editors are often faced with tough questions. For example, which of the two sentences below is punctuated correctly:

  • The corporation Yum! owns Taco Bell.
  • The corporation Yum owns Taco Bell.

Thankfully, this particular question rarely comes up, but if you’re a freelance business writer and editor like me, you might need to write about a company whose legal name ends with an ending punctuation mark (period, question mark, and exclamation point) and be faced with a few dilemmas.

And if you’re a small business owner or work in a company whose name or one or more of its products or services ends with a punctuation mark, you’d likely be faced with the problem on a daily basis.

Should you treat the punctuation mark as an intrinsic part of the proper name? If yes, you’d write something like Yum! owns Taco Bell.

Should you treat the last character as a punctuation mark and drop it when writing the name? If yes, you’d write something like Yum owns Taco Bell.

There is precedence for each choice. Prior to 2013, The Economist magazine chose to follow the first approach. In 2013, the magazine decided to instead follow the second approach. See Yum! no more for an explanation of why they decided to make the change.

If you choose the first approach, you’re showing respect to the company’s branding. If you choose the second approach, you’re, like the Economist, essentially deciding it’s more important to reduce distractions that could keep your reader from understanding the meaning of your sentence than to respect the company’s legal name and branding.

Handling Company Names with Punctuation Marks at the End of Sentences

If you decide to go with the second approach, you face an additional set of problems when the name appears at the end of a sentence. Consider these examples:

  1. Two companies whose legal names end with an exclamation point are Yum! and Yahoo!
  2. Two companies whose legal names end with an exclamation point are Yum! and Yahoo!.
  3. Two companies whose legal names end with an exclamation point are Yum! and Yahoo.
  4. Two companies whose legal names end with an exclamation point are Yum and Yahoo.

Example 1 indicates you know there should be only one ending punctuation mark at the end of a sentence and that seeing two ending punctuation marks side-by-side, as in example 2, will be jarring to some readers.

Example 2 indicates you’re showing consistency by treating the exclamation point as a part of the name no matter where it appears in the sentence and are using a second punctuation mark to tell the reader this sentence is a statement not an exclamation.

Example 3 indicates you’re compromising. You’re showing respect to the company’s branding when the name appears in the middle of a sentence, but also recognize that (1) side-by-side ending punctuation is distracting and (2) ending punctuation—especially exclamation points and question marks, because they’re used less often than periods—carry added subconscious impact and meaning.

Example 4 indicates you’re ignoring each company’s legal name in favor of obeying standard English punctuation rules that help readers understand sentence meaning.

It’s a Matter of Style

The problem with names like these is there is no universally accepted rule. There are pros and cons for each of the examples above.

One solution to how to treat company names and services with ending punctuation is to check the company’s own website. Does the company include the punctuation mark in their marketing material? If they have press releases, check those too. Chances are they use the ending punctuation in their marketing material, but remove that punctuation in the more formal setting of press releases and general business prose.

Another option is to decide for yourself what approach you want to use in your own writing. If you’re a business writer or editor, you might follow an external guide like The Associated Press Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, or Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Unfortunately, none of those specifically address this particular question.

The most important things to consider are your audience and purpose. Choose the approach that you believe will most accurately and consistently convey the meaning you want your audience to receive. After making that decision, record it in a company or document style guide and refer to the guide when and if faced with the choice later on.

Based on my own experience and knowledge, I’ve decided to follow the Keep It Simple Stupid principle by removing the ending punctuation from the name—unless my client adamantly disagrees with me.

For related tips, see

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at jim@writingjim.com or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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Pick Up the Darn Phone and Talk

Business Man Talking on PhoneI’m worried. I’ve been worried about the quality of communication in the United States for a long time. For longer than I can remember, I’ve said the hardest thing for humans to do is communicate effectively. I think our increasing reliance on written communication is worsening the situation.

Which is a strange thing to say as an introvert who makes his living as a business writer specializing in copywriting and policy and procedure writing. Perhaps I’m biased in thinking that writing well is difficult. As a freelance writer and editor whose purpose is to help business owners and managers have more compelling and easy to understand writing, I see a lot of bad writing: marketing copy that confuses rather than motivates readers–or even worse–is simply ignored, and operations policy and procedure manuals that don’t provide enough information or are outdated.

Maybe I think the increasing reliance on writing is worsening the quality of our communication because of my age. I’m 53 now, and I remember the time before texts and emails replaced handwritten letters. Back then more care was taken to write well. Sentences and words couldn’t be quickly corrected, so more forethought was given to what was written. Consequently there was greater reliance on telephone and face-to-face meetings to quickly provide information. Writing took too long.

In 1967 Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, concluded that body language conveyed 55% of meaning, tone of voice 38%, and words 7%. That’s the study people have used for years as a source on how important body language and tone of voice are to verbal communication. While the study’s results and findings have been greatly overgeneralized, Dr. Mehrabian states on his website that his findings are applicable to communication of a narrow range of subjects (feelings and attitudes), I do believe physical cues and tone carry more weight in conveying information than the words used.

With written communication, there is no body language or vocal tone readers can use to clarify what the writer means, so structure, word choice, and  grammar become extremely important. Besides body language and tone, there’s another element that’s often overlooked in communication–the listener’s or reader’s own subconscious biases and unquestioned assumptions. Together those biases and assumptions filter and reshape meanings—especially when the sender and receiver have different biases and assumptions.

Have a liberal and a conservative read the same factual statements and each will draw different meanings. I’ve begun to think much of the written material we receive is like Rorschach ink blots. The meaning people understand in their brain is greatly influenced by their personal viewpoints rather than the intrinsic meaning of the words themselves as society become more polarized.

Add in external factors such as the information tidal wave and demands for increased output, and it’s a wonder people correctly understand much of anything.

There is still a place for writing–thank goodness or I’d be out business. Marketing products and services still requires writing. When information needs to be referred back to, such as business policies and procedures, writing is significantly more effective than verbally repeating instructions.

Just remember, and this from a freelance business writer, if you need to convey information quickly and clearly to one person, don’t spend time writing a text, email, or letter. Pick up a phone and talk to them or see them face-to-face. You’ll save time and your message will be better understood. There’s already too much misunderstanding in the world. Don’t add to it.

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at jim@writingjim.com or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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Why General Business Writing Techniques Aren’t Always Right

Hex Wrench with Round Hex BoltsEver write something for business purposes and discover you didn’t satisfy your reader’s needs? Hopefully it was just because your reader didn’t like what you wrote. There could, however, be a more subtle reason. Perhaps the writing techniques you used weren’t a good fit for what your reader wanted.

Maybe your reader wanted general information about your products and services, but you sent an email telling them why they should order today. Maybe the opposite happened. Your prospect wanted to buy something now, but the general information you sent didn’t include a call to action telling them how to order your service.

One key to avoiding this mistake is to ensure you understand what your audience’s purpose is in reading what you’re about to write. In the business writing world, there are three reasons to read (shown below in the first column). To satisfy your reader’s need you need to write using the corresponding writer’s goal in the second column.

Reader's GoalWriter's Goal
Learn about somethingInform
Learn how to do somethingInstruct
Make a decisionPersuade

Three Groups of Business Writing techniques

As a professional content writer, I categorize business writing into three broad groups of writing techniques:

  • General business writing
  • Copywriting
  • Technical writing

While all three groups share some characteristics, there are significant differences between them.

Writing GroupCharacteristicsExamples
General Business Writing* Purpose is to provide information to inform reader
* Direct, concise, clear style
* Correspondence
* Reports
* Progress updates
Copywriting* Purpose is to persuade reader to buy
* Conversational style
* Grabs readers
* Satisfies reader's emotional and logical needs
*Marketing brochures and other collateral
* Advertising
* Proposals and recommendations
Technical Writing* Purpose is to enable reader to do
* Provides technical information to reader
* Often uses numbered steps with commands to do something
* Company policies and procedures
* Reference material
* Training material
* "1. Log into the computer."

All business writing should be direct, clear, and concise. But if you’re a small business owner or work in a small business and you’re writing marketing copy or writing procedures, you’ll get a better response from your audience if you use techniques developed for the kind of writing at hand. Otherwise you’ll likely only inform your audience when they want to be motivated to buy or instructed in how do something.

Copywriting

When you’re writing for marketing purposes, you need to attract prospects and move them toward buying your products and services. To do that you must

  1. Grab your reader’s attention
  2. Resonate with them at the emotional level to vibrate their heart strings
  3. Persuade their logical mind to follow the emotional desire you’ve tapped into

Successfully accomplishing those steps often requires developing your copywriting skills or hiring someone with those skills. The purpose and techniques of copywriting, writing to sell something, are very different than general business writing.

Technical Writing

The same is true for technical writing. Whether writing policies and procedures for an operations manual or instructions for a training guide for new hires, there is a distinct set of skills and techniques needed to quickly present information in a way that enables the reader to do something with that information.

Organizing information into small, tightly related groups and providing that information in a chronological sequence of commands to do specific actions is as fundamental to technical writing as the steps listed above are to copywriting.

Use the Right Techniques for the Writing Job

The proverb “use the right tool for the job” most definitely applies to writing, especially when writing for business purposes. Think about what your audience needs from your content and then write using the set of techniques that matches that need.

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides freelance copywriting and business policy and procedure writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at jim@writingjim.com or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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What is Business Systemization and How to Overcome Objections to It

What is Business Systemization?

Policies and Procedures

There are business policies and procedures in every business–even Small and Medium size Businesses (SMB). There’s a process on how to answer the telephone, pay employees, and deliver services to clients. In most businesses, there are many, many processes. Some like answering the phone are simple, others like delivering services to clients are complex with multiple internal processes. All these processes are actually systems. Each system has some kind of

  • Input (e.g., a phone ringing)
  • Activity with a sequence of steps (e.g., answering the phone, talking to the caller, responding to the caller’s needs, etc.)
  • Output (e.g., a satisfied caller)

The act of getting business systems written down is called systemization or systematization. No matter how it’s spelled, its purpose is to clearly explain the system with enough detail to enable it to be consistently carried out.

Why Should Business Owners Systemize?

The first systems SMB companies will usually document are employee policies and procedures. Some companies will write marketing policies and procedures as a way to control their brand presentation. Relatively few companies, however, will invest resources in systemizing their business operations by creating an online or printed business operations manual or policy and procedure library.

Those companies that do invest in getting—and using—written business policies and procedures begin to experience these competitive advantages:

  • Less time training employees because trainees and instructors have a consistent reference guide on how to do the work and can refer back to that guide for review
  • Increased consistency in work output because everyone doing the same job is following the same instructions
  • Increased effectiveness and efficiency since there is a standard process to work from
  • Increase employee engagement because they have greater clarity on what is expected of them, and how they should do their work.
  • Business can be replicated or franchised

If the benefits of systemization are so great for SMB, why don’t business owners systemize their business—especially when confronted with situations that should trigger them to systemize (see Five Situations that Mean You Need to Document Your Business Systems)?

Objections Preventing Systemization and How to Overcome Them

Staff at all levels within a company often have many objections to writing business policies and procedures. Below are the most common justifications for business owners, managers, and employees to not support—and even thwart—efforts to get written business policies and procedures. Following each objection are tips you might find helpful in overcoming the resistance.

Don’t Have Time or Resources to Write a Procedure

This is one of the biggest obstacles to systemization, and it often appears in businesses that would benefit the most by systemization. The problem is that systemization takes time and effort immediately, but its benefits appear later. If owners, managers, and workers keep postponing efforts until they have more time and resources, they’ll discover there are always other demands on those resources.

Tips: To systemize a business, SMB owners have to prioritize systemization over other demands. The best way of doing that is to imagine what effects using business policy and procedure documentation would bring to your business and decide how valuable those effects would be. Compare that value to other activities’ values and devote time and resources to the activities with the best probable return.

Unless the benefits of having business procedures and policies are visualized, most owners and staff quickly lose their enthusiasm and focus on reacting to problems caused by not systemizing the business.

Think Business Is Too Small to Systemize

Many SMB owners think systemization only benefits larger companies. These owners believe they can directly manage their staff and don’t need to devote resources toward something with limited perceived value. These owners often don’t recognize how much they rely on staff who’ve already created work policies and procedures internally to guide them. When a key person is absent, productivity and quality can plummet until the person returns or remaining people create replacement systems.

Tips: Make the time to visualize what each person in your company does and the likely effects of that person being absent for an extended period. For those people who would not be easily replaced, reprioritize some of their time and make writing a procedure one of their weekly or bi-weekly responsibilities and check to ensure it’s being done satisfactorily.

Over time they will build up a set of policies and procedures on how to fulfill their job duties. If the person doesn’t have technical writing skills, pair the person with a staff person who does, or hire a freelance technical writer to write the policies and procedures based on input from the person.

Afraid of Job Loss

This fear is one of the most common reasons for employees at all levels to resist transferring the business policies and procedures held in their memories to paper. Once those policies and procedures are written, employees fear they will be replaced by a new hire with either lower salary requirements, higher capability, or both.

The fear many employees have of being held accountable to written policies and procedures is a part of the fear of job loss.

Tips: The best way to reduce this fear is for management to reassure employees that the purpose of systemizing the business is to expand the capacity of the business rather than reduce head count. The goal should be to increase capacity with the same number of employees rather than maintain existing output with fewer employees. Increasing capacity is a foundational step for business growth.

This is where business owners and top management need to share their vision of where the company is going and position writing work policies and procedures as a key strategy toward enabling that vision.

For employees who fear accountability, systemization offers a chance for management to relieve employee anxiety about what is expected of them and whether they’re performing adequately. Having staff take part in writing the policies and procedures is a good way to alleviate this fear.

Don’t Want to Change

Systemization often requires changing how one or more employees do their work as they conform to a new set of expectations and work methods. That change is threatening to employees who have gotten comfortable with how they do their work. They’re afraid systemization will mean breaking existing habits and require learning new ways to do their work activities. Some may believe they are old dogs who can’t learn new tricks.

Tips: Here business owners need to acknowledge that employees will have to endure some change, but again position the change as something necessary to reach goals.

This obstacle is another reason to enroll employees in systemization efforts. Employees often know how to do their work better than their supervisors. Once a procedure is written, have other employees who do the same work review the procedure and test it out to see where improvements can be made to the procedure.

Emphasize the team approach to all employees and point out that improvements to policies and procedures will benefit all by expanding their skills and provide the benefits listed at the beginning of this article.

Believe Work Is Too Complex to Document

Many employees believe their jobs require them to base their actions solely on past training and experience. They think there are too many variables involved to create a workable system. In some cases they are right—to a point. Some activities do require advanced training and experience, but within every business system, there are some activities which would benefit from documented policies and procedures.

Tips: Point out that while advanced hospital surgeries require years of training and experience; disinfecting hands, surgical instruments, and incisions sites can be easily documented.

When documenting a complex system, break the system into discrete sub-activities and document the activities that don’t require elaborate decision trees. When documenting business processes, always keep in mind the primary audience of the process—the employees who are expected to follow the instructions. Assume staff has the necessary qualifications to be hired for their positions and create the policies and procedures that govern how each job is done at your company.

Don’t Believe Systemization Is Effective

Many experienced employees have seen owners and managers try to systemize and concluded systemization doesn’t work. Systemization efforts often fail because of the reasons above. The problem isn’t systemization; the problem is how the systemization was implemented.

The problem appears in two forms: systemization efforts were started, but never completed and systemization efforts were completed, but the output (often a business operations manual contained within a thick, three-ring binder) became out of date.

Tips: For systemization efforts to work, everyone involved in the efforts from top management on down must support the initial efforts and make a paradigm shift in how they think about business systems and the underlying policies and procedures.

One way to get staff buy-in is to start with the system causing the most confusion or monetary cost to the business and do the following:

  1. Position this system as a pilot case for the whole systemization effort and responsibility for creating the system’s policies and procedures to an individual or team.
  2. Remind yourself and your staff  of the expected benefits and allocate time and other necessary resources to ensure the work is started. Even an hour a week is enough to make steady progress.
  3. Periodically review progress and hold people accountable for completing the systemization work.prioritize the work high enough to ensure progress is steadily made.
  4. When the documentation has been drafted, share the policies and procedures with everyone in the staff who has a role in the system and seek improvements to encourage employee enrollment.
  5. Once the system is being followed compare its results against a baseline taken before the system was documented or with the efforts of others who are not following the system.
  6. If those following the written system don’t outperform the others, analyze what is causing the difference and update the written system. Repeat this step until the written system consistently beats or matches expectations.
  7. Select another business system and systemize it.

Systemization is itself a system and requires its own policies and procedures to ensure it’s consistently replicated throughout a company. One policy should be to periodically compare the written policies and procedures against current practice and update as appropriate. Another policy is to hold people accountable for following each system’s policies and procedures.

These policies are critical. If not implemented, the resources invested in the systemization effort will be wasted; the policy and procedure documentation will lose its effectiveness and become out-of-date.

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at jim@writingjim.com or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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The Ins or Outs of Ending Punctuation with Quotation Marks

Quotations-2Sometimes quotation marks at the end of a sentence are a problem. Do you put the period, question mark, or exclamation point inside or outside the quotation mark?

Like many rules of punctuation, the answer depends on what meaning you want to convey.

Periods

For periods the answer is somewhat arbitrary and depends on which style you follow. If you follow American style, the answer is the period almost always goes inside the quotation mark.

Clarice didn’t tell Rudolph he looked “sick.”

If you follow British rules the answer is the period always goes outside the quotation mark.

Clarice didn’t tell Rudolph he looked “sick.”

There are a few exceptions, however to American style. One exception is that if the quoted material is the title of something, the period goes outside the quotation mark.

John finished reading “War and Peace”.

Another is if you are using the quotation marks for emphasis. In this case, the Chicago Manual of Style recommends following the British convention of placing the period outside the ending quotation mark. But the Associated Press Stylebook recommends placing the period inside the ending quotation mark. See Using Quotation Marks for Emphasis for more information.

Question Marks and Exclamation Points

For question marks and exclamation points, the answer depends on whether the quotation or the sentence containing the quotation is a question or exclamation. If the quotation marks enclose a question or exclamation, the question mark or exclamation point goes inside the quotation mark.

1. The police officer asked, “Where were you last Thursday night?”
2. The police officer shouted, “Stop thief!”

But if the entire sentence is an question or exclamation, the ending punctuation goes outside the quotation mark.

3.  Did the police officer really ask, “Where were you last Thursday night”?
4. How dare you tell me, “I didn’t hear you shout, ‘Stop this instant’ “!

Notice the two sentences above weren’t written this way:

5. Did the police officer really ask, “Where were you last Thursday night?”?
6. How dare you tell me, “I didn’t hear you shout, ‘Stop this instant!’ “!

Why not? The reason is to avoid confusing the reader with unnecessary punctuation. Both 3 and 5 convey the same information, but 5 causes the reader to stop and decipher the odd ending punctuation. The same with 4 and 6.

If the tone of the quotation and sentence differ, however, each must have its own appropriate ending punctuation.

7. Are you sure the police officer shouted, “Stop thief!”?
8. I’m quite sure the police offer didn’t ask, “Stop thief?”!

Example 7 indicates a question, while example 8 indicates an indignant tone.

Hopefully this article has helped clarify how to use ending punctuation with quotation marks for you. For addition comments about quotation marks, see “Two Uses for Quotation Marks.”

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at jim@writingjim.com or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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REI’s Black Friday Closure Shows Superb Customer Understanding

REI is closing on Black FridayThe aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

Peter Drucker wrote those words decades ago. REI’s decision to keep its stores closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday demonstrates its marketing prowess today.

As Black Friday ends, I’ve looked at several articles focusing on REI’s decision. Some pointed out that since REI is a co-op and not a publicly traded company, it can afford to stay closed on both days. Others mention how REI’s promotion of its #OptOutside campaign is largely based on creating marketing opportunities for itself. Some writers highlight a demographic characteristic of REI’s target market: most of its customers are middle and higher income.

As I wrote in last week’s Three Audience Views to Consider When Writing for Business Purposes, understanding your audience’s demographics and psychographics is key to creating resonance with them. Creating resonance is critical for the success of copywriters and other marketing content writers.

REI’s encouraging its customers to spend Black Friday outdoors with friends is evidence that REI understands it customers very, very well. Their customers’ income and education (two demographic characteristics) are both above average indicating a customer base that can afford to pass up sales and know they can go online anytime to search around if they want to save money.

It’s REI’s impressive understanding of its target market’s psychographic characteristics, however, that interests me. Obviously as co-owners of an outdoor gear store, REI’s customers enjoy being outdoors (a psychographic lifestyle characteristic). It’s safe to say most of its customers would prefer avoiding noisy, jostling throngs enclosed in buildings.

By keeping its doors closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, AND paying its employees during that time, REI elevates its standing on additional psychographic elements. REI emphasizes its respect for family, nature, and its employees. Its decision makes a stand again consumerism and for independence (all psychographic characteristics related to beliefs and values).

REI’s decision to buck the trend of opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday (and lately Thanksgiving as well) not only heightened consumer’s awareness of its brand, it also increased the company’s likability and trustworthiness in the entire market and especially in its target market.

Brilliant marketing move, REI. Peter Drucker would be proud.

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at jim@writingjim.com or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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Three Audience Views To Consider When Writing For Business Purposes

tuning fork resonanceWhen you write are you sometimes surprised your audience misunderstands your meaning? In many cases, the misunderstanding is easily resolved. You can talk to your audience or write again to clarify your meaning.

If you’re writing for business purposes, however, being misunderstood can sometimes cause serious and costly problems. Especially if you’re writing procedures or writing for marketing purposes. Those have direct impacts on business costs and revenue.

In the article, Four Characteristics Needed for Resonant Writing, I introduced the idea of resonance between a writer’s words and the audience. I talked about how creating resonance helps readers understand written information, and I listed four characteristics of writing (catches interest, satisfies needs, doesn’t confuse, keeps interest) that resonates with audiences.

When what is written must resonate with its audience, professional writers know they need a detailed picture of the audience. They get that picture by combining three views of the audience.

Three Views of the Audience

When writing for business purposes, the more clearly you can see your audience,  the easier it is to write something that creates a strong resonance with that audience. Here are three views that together form a clear picture of your audience:

  1. Identify your audience(s)
  2. Understand your audience(s)
  3. Identify needs of each audience

Every basic writing course talks about picturing your audience. What those courses don’t talk about is that to truly picture your audience, you need to stop and notice the details in each view. This article was written to help you find those details.

Identify Your Audience(s)

Notice views one and two indicate you may have multiple audiences. There is always a primary audience in writing, the person or people you’re writing to. If you’re writing for business, the primary audience is usually one or more co-workers, vendors, prospects, or clients.

Your primary audience should never be everyone–at least not if you want what you write to resonate well with a specific person or group of people. If you want to quickly and accurately convey your meaning, your writing must resonate with your primary audience.

In business writing, especially if the audience is quite large or includes people outside a company, there is often one or more secondary audiences who will also read your writing.

Bosses who must approve the writing are certainly secondary audiences. Legal and marketing departments and sometimes outside auditors are also secondary audiences. If you’re doing online advertising copywriting, or writing marketing copy that will be published online, search engines are another secondary audience you need to consider.

For example, many people writing online marketing assume keywords and “long-tail” phrases (such as “writing marketing copy for online audiences”) will somehow automatically come out of their minds as they write. Even worse, they may forget or not understand that in order for Google and other search engines to show their content in the search results list, the words people use to search must be in the content.

Knowing who your primary audience is and whether and what specific secondary audiences you have are critical to the next two views.

Understand Your Audience(s)

Learn how your primary audience thinks and processes information. Having this knowledge is key to writing that resonates with that audience. The more your writing’s wavelength matches your audience’s, the more your audience takes in your message.

Understanding your secondary audiences and writing in a way that speaks to them is helpful. Just remember to keep your primary audience foremost in your mind. They’re the ones you most want to connect with.

How do you tune your writing to your audience’s wavelength? By identifying their demographic and psychographic characteristics.

Demographic Characteristics

The demographic characteristics include geographic location, age, gender, income, education, and language proficiency. These are relatively easy characteristics to identify and give a general sense of how your audience thinks and processes information. They give clues to your audience’s perspective and some of their needs.

For example, if your audience is in a specific regional area, such as the San Francisco Bay Area where I’m located, referring to “the City” tells your audience you mean “San Francisco” and helps establish a common kinship. Your reader subconsciously feels you understand and know them. Knowing your audience’s language proficiency is important if your audience includes readers whose proficiency level is lower than yours. In this case, you know you need to simplify your writing to avoid confusing your readers.

Psychographic Characteristics

To create real resonance with your audiences, however, you need to understand their psychographic characteristics. These characteristics include belief and value systems, lifestyle, and life stage. Psychographics are important because people who share the same demographic characteristics may process information in very different ways if their psychographic differ.

Perception of Clothed WomenBelief and value systems include religion, politics, and culture. Belief and value systems instill subconscious assumptions and views that can greatly affect how certain words are understood. For example, conservatives and liberals have very different definitions of the word “entitlement.”

Lifestyle include health, hobbies, entertainment, and non-work pursuits. Someone in good health has different “pain points” than someone suffering from physical pain.

Life stage refers not to age, but to whether your audience members have children, are single or partnered, are working or retired. A 40-year-old divorced woman with children who depend on her income has a different perspective than a 40-year-old, dual-income wife without kids.

Identify Needs of Each Audience

The last view to consider is the set of needs that causes each audience to read what you’ve written. This view includes four details and each audience will have different details:

  1. Why is the audience reading your writing? Is it to make a decision, learn how to do something, or learn about something? Knowing the answer to this questions helps you identify what information to present and how it should be organized.
  2. How familiar is the audience with the subject matter? Someone who knows a lot about the subject will feel you’re wasting their time or insulting their intelligence if you explain everything in detail. On the other hand, someone with little knowledge of the subject needs explanations in non-technical language to understand the material.
  3. How interested is the audience in your subject. Someone whose employment depends on absorbing your information will make time to ready your user guide. Attracting the attention of someone who doesn’t care about your company’s newsletter and getting them to read it will require someone with copywriting skills—a skill set not every business writer has.
  4. Finally, how will your audience consume your writing? Will they read it from beginning to end or refer to one or two sections for additional information? Will they be able to read the information at their leisure, in an emergency, in repeated sessions a few minutes long? Will the information be published online or in print? Your answers to all these questions influence how the information is organized and formatted.

Think Before You Write to Increase Resonance and Save Editing Time

Thinking about all three views can help you plan your writing and save you considerable editing time. More importantly, all this work to deeply understand your audience will greatly improve your writing’s chances to successfully convey the information you want your audience to understand and often take action on.

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides freelance copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at jim@writingjim.com or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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Five Situations that Mean You Need to Document Your Business Systems

Clip art figures building path to successEvery company has business systems. There are systems for getting clients, providing products and services, getting paid, etc.

Unfortunately those systems are usually developed by the employees, locked away in their memory, and changed without considering the impact on connected systems. As a business owner, how do you know when you need to invest the time and resources to get those systems written down?

Five Signals It’s Time

Here are five situations that signal it’s time.

  1. Your costs are greater than your income
  2. Your company has proven it’s profitable, and you want greater sales
  3. A key employee announces he or she is leaving
  4. One or more positions have a high turn-over rate
  5. You’re thinking about selling your company

Let’s briefly consider each one.

Your Costs Are Greater than Your Income

This situation often happens when a company has left the start-up stage (thus showing it’s consistently profitable), but then expands too quickly. The existing business systems aren’t robust enough to support the additional load brought by higher sales.

Another common cause is ignorance and confusion about the unwritten policies and procedures that compose the systems needed to execute business operations. When new employees are hired, they lack the system knowledge your existing employees gained while those systems were developed. Unless the existing employees are very good trainers, their trainees will lack the company policy and procedure knowledge needed to capably fill additional positions at the trainers’ level. The result is time and resources are increasingly lost due to putting out fires and dealing with employee frustration.

This situation also happens during the start-up stage while the informal, unwritten systems are still being developed. Here you need to quickly identify and resolve problems before they kill your company. High-level cross-functional flow charts that reveal problem areas and coordinate employee efforts are especially useful here.

Your Company Has Proven It’s Profitable and You Want Greater Sales

By the time small businesses experience this situation, management and employees have developed sound business systems. Everyone knows how to do their job and works together well enough to consistently get the work done. The problem is the policies and procedures are locked inside everyone’s memory.

Similar to the situations above, this makes training new people (the ones you’ll hire to support additional sales or will replace departing employees) difficult and effective only for the people who were lucky enough to be trained by skilled teachers. The difference with this situation compared to the one above, is you have time to create written policies and procedures before the chaos and frequent need to put out fires appear.

A Key Employee Announces He or She Is Leaving

For most small businesses, when a key employee leaves a wealth of knowledge leaves as well. The employee(s) who fill the open position usually lack the departing employee’s knowledge of how to do the work, so they create new, different processes to get the work done. Those processes, like torn jigsaw pieces, initially don’t fit well into the surrounding business systems and all the systems have to adapt to lock together again before work is reliably done well.

Hopefully there’s enough time to have the employee’s replacement(s) write down the departing employee’s processes during training. Have the departing employee review and correct the inevitable misunderstandings that occur during verbal training. If the key employee is leaving quickly, review what the employee does and prioritize the knowledge to be transferred.

One or More Positions Have a High Turn-Over Rate

This situation often occurs when employees are disengaged and comes from a variety of causes.

Employees often disengage when they’re confused about what they’re supposed to do and how they’re supposed to do their work. If they’re afraid to show their ignorance to their supervisors to get the training and support they need, such workers often quit to avoid the uncomfortable situation.

Another cause is disagreement between individuals or groups about what work should be done and when it should be done. The disagreements create silos and frustration when teams are pulling in different directions.

This is a great opportunity to create written policies and procedures to solve a high-cost problem. When the new hire is being trained, have the new hire write down the processes and review the processes with the new hire and trainer. You’ll likely find the trainer needs some additional training as well.

You’re Thinking About Selling Your Company

For some prospective buyers, seeing there are written business systems in place significantly increases your company’s worth to them. Other prospects often require the business owner and existing managers remain available for consulting/training purposes while the prospects absorb what information they can about how to run the business they’re considering buying. Creating a good set of written policies and procedures in the form of an operations manual largely frees you of the requirement to consult when you’re ready to move on.

Getting your existing business systems written down is especially helpful if you are positioning your company as one that can be used as a model for franchising. Doing so can substantially raise your company’s perceived value.

How to Systematize Your Company

Getting your company’s systems written down, reviewed, and approved is not a small task. Depending on company resources and complexity, it can take several months to more than a year to complete. Employees and managers often resist the effort for a variety of reasons, and the effort will certainly fail unless you as the business owner enroll them in the effort.

Planning for and regularly updating the written documentation is critical for the long-term success of the systematizing effort. All too often the investment of time and resources to create an operations manual is wasted when the manual becomes dusty and out-of-date as the company’s systems improve and adapt to new requirements.

Getting well-written company policies and procedures often requires skills and time not commonly available from employees who must continue to produce their regular work output. In such cases hiring a professional writer or editor at least, is a wise investment.

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at jim@writingjim.com or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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When and When Not to Put a Comma Before an And

CommaDo you know when to put a comma in front of an and in a sentence?

There are several grammatical rules that apply in that situation. Some rules dictate using the comma, other rules dictate not using a comma.

In The Series Comma, I wrote about the rules involved when using and in a series of items. This article is about another common problem I see when editing people’s writing.
Here are two examples:

  1. I carried my ladder out of the garage, and I climbed the ladder to get on the roof.
  2. I carried my ladder out of the garage and climbed the ladder to get on the roof.

See the difference?

The Comma with Independent Clauses

The first example has two independent clauses joined by the conjunction and. An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate and makes sense when it stands by itself. A conjunction is word such as and, or, and so that unites parts of a sentence.

The first example follows the rule of putting a comma in front of a conjunction when the conjunction is linking two independent clauses. You can tell both clauses are independent by removing the conjunction and seeing whether each sentence makes sense on its own.

“I carried the ladder out of the garage.”

“I climbed the ladder to get on the roof.”

Both of the sentences above make perfect sense by themselves, so the comma is correct. Using the comma tells the reader “You just read one complete sentence, and I’m using and to join another complete sentence to this one.”

The Comma with a Phrase

Although the second sentence in the example looks like the first, there’s a big difference. The words after the and aren’t a clause, they’re a phrase. A phrase is a group of words that does not contain a subject and a predicate.

Let’s remove the conjunction again and try each part of the second example as a separate sentence.

“I carried the ladder out of the garage.”

“Climbed the ladder to get on the roof.”

When the two parts are separated you can easily see the first sentence is an independent clause. It makes perfect sense by itself.

The second part, however, doesn’t make sense because it’s missing a subject. The sentence doesn’t say who climbed the ladder.

Not using the comma in the second example tells the readers, “You just read one sentence, and I’m telling you more about what the subject of that sentence did.”

Sometimes whether to use the comma in front of a conjunction is difficult to see. Just remember to break the sentence apart where the conjunction is and determine whether each part is a clause or a phrase. If both parts are clauses, use the comma in front of the conjunction. If one part is a phrase, don’t use the comma.

As Writing Jim, Jim Driggers provides copywriting and business process writing to owners of small and medium-sized businesses. His clients gain sales through marketing text that better resonates with their customers, and they save money when their employees follow guides rather than impulses. His clients give themselves the time to focus on what they do well when they leave their writing to Writing Jim.

For copywriting help with your print or online content or for help systematizing your business processes, contact Writing Jim at jim@writingjim.com or 925-231-5825. Visit www.writingjim.com for more information.

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