5 Ways To Communicate Well

good communication

I’ve been away (did you miss me?).

I had a lovely, well-deserved, trip home to meet my new nephew. But as usual the drive south was eventful. Every time I hit the Forth Road Bridge (not literally), once I get over the water, I head down the wrong road. It’s been made worse in recent years due to new roads and roadworks but, honestly, every single time I head south I take a wrong turn. And I’ve been doing it for the last 18 years. You’d think by now I’d have managed to get to grips with it. This time we ended up heading towards Edinburgh city centre.

I don’t have a satnav, so I use road signs to direct me and, to be perfectly frank, the signs towards the south from the Forth Road Bridge are the worst I think I’ve encountered. There’s the M8, M9 and A720 to navigate, but very rarely do the signs direct the driver to The South. This time, for some reason, we ended up heading down the A90 rather than the M9. But hey ho, it only added an extra ten minutes onto a 12 hour drive, so it’s no real problem.

But it did set my work brain tingling.

Communication is the key to everything, without it everyone gets lost.

question marks, lost communication

From crappy road signs to instructions for flat pack furniture and company guidelines, if information isn’t communicated correctly it can cause problems for customers, clients, users and everyone else in-between.

So here are five tips for business communication. Whether you are a small business, a large conglomerate or a sole trader (or in charge of signage somewhere), this stuff is important:

  1. Be Clear.

If the information isn’t clear enough to understand, then the user won’t benefit from your expertise. What is the point in taking time to create documentation if no-one can understand it? Unless your audience is an audience of experts:

              Keep things simple.

              Avoid jargon.

              Use plain language.

  1. Avoid Bad English.

You may have made your documentation easy to understand, but bad English will make your work less credible. To communicate effectively you need to make sure that your English is correct. Check for pesky spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Have your work edited and proofread. Make your writing the best it can be.

  1. Don’t Talk To The Wrong Audience.

When writing you have to make sure that you know your audience. Who exactly are you writing for? Different audiences will have different expectations and subject knowledge. There’s no point going into minute detail when writing about your latest innovation if the readership hasn’t a clue what you are talking about. Pitch your writing at the correct level and communication will be less bothersome.

  1. Don’t Assume Intelligence.

Linked in to knowing your audience, never assume intelligence unless you are writing for a team of experts (and I mean this in the nicest way). Don’t dumb down, but keep in mind that your audience may not have a clue about the subject and is approaching it for the first time. Don’t treat them as idiots, but make things clear to your readership to allow them to digest the information without having to do background reading.

  1. Take Things Step By Step.

If you are writing instructions, be clear and make sure that every single step has been covered. Don’t miss anything out, even if it seems obvious – it won’t be obvious to some people. If you are writing documentation for a product or service, make sure that everything that needs to be covered has been. Check your document to make sure everything is logical and in the right place. By taking it one step at a time your readers are less likely to get lost.

So, there you have five quick tips for effective communication. It isn’t rocket science, but will help you when there is writing to be done. And if you feel like hiring a writer, you can always contact me and check my availability.

 

Fact Checking – Vital or a Waste of Time?

questions, choicesHmmmm.

I spend a lot of my time editing non-fiction; no matter how much I love fiction, the factual stuff takes up more of my time at the moment.

And with factual editing comes fact checking.

Now, you may have a client who says ‘all the facts are correct’ but if, as you are working through the book, or article, or brochure, a ‘fact’ jumps out at you as incorrect, what should you do as a professional wordsmith?

Do you just shrug your shoulders, flag it and move past it, or do you start checking?

What should you do if you’re only being paid for a basic edit, and fact-checking is not included?

If it’s a subject you are very familiar with, you may automatically notice an incorrect ‘fact’, but if you are new to the subject it may not be immediately obvious. And fact-checking is time consuming. VERY time consuming.

time, clocks, rush job

Take, for example, an 80,000 word manuscript that has a lot of company names and personal names.

You spot an error, stop what you are doing and hit the internet.

You need to know if a university professor’s name is correct – so you go to his university webpage and look for the staff list. Easy peasy – but you’ve lost three minutes right there.

You suspect a company name is wrong – again, you look for the company website. Bingo. Three minutes.

But then you come across a name that seems wrong, but he isn’t an academic, nor a company CEO. How do you confirm the spelling? You hit the internet and look at Wikipedia – but beware … although the site is now a LOT more believable than it was, it is still not a primary source, and errors occur. You have to conduct more of a search to pinpoint the actual name, or the one most commonly used. Ten minutes gone. If you are lucky.

There’s a scholarly paper that’s been cited, but it looks odd. Go to the publisher, institute or author. If it’s not there, hit Google Scholar and search. Bang. Ten minutes.

question mark

Say you have an average text of 80,000 words, with an industry standard of 250 words per page. That’s 320 pages.

And there are two possible errors every five pages. That’s a very generous 128 facts to check (I have worked on documents where there have been four or five (or more) facts to check per page!).

Say each fact check takes you on average three minutes – that’s 384 minutes taken over the whole book. Have you done the maths yet? If I’m right, and admittedly I’m rubbish at maths, that means that throughout the course of the edit, you will add on around SIX AND A HALF HOURS for fact checking. SIX AND A HALF HOURS!

Makes you think doesn’t it.

Bet you’ve never looked at it like that have you? It certainly opened my eyes.

worry shock stepping out of comfort zone

So now, with this information, what do you do when you come across a factual error in the work you’re editing?

Ideally fact-checking should be done before the manuscript reaches the copy-editing stage but, if you are required to fact check, get it in writing exactly how much checking you will do, and what types of information will be checked. No matter what you are required to check, be aware of potentially libellous or damaging statements, and flag them up.

You may decide that you can’t live with moving past potential errors – consistency and accuracy are part of a copy-editor’s brief after all. As a professional it’s something you have to be aware of and address.

But errors can creep in in all kinds of ways:

names – personal, place, business.

dates – of anything and everything.

addresses – includes email addresses and websites as well as physical addresses. Addresses are important, especially with company documentation; an incorrect address can be devastating for business.

titles – personal and published. Think nobility, governmental and honorary titles as well as titles of books, periodicals and anything physical, published or not.

instructions and directions – I was taught to write down instructions by breaking them down to the smallest action, something that comes in very handy for checking instructions. Break them down, people, and see if they really make sense.

Remember if you do fact-check – never take the first answer you find, always verify facts with at least two independent sources, and primary sources are your friend.

clock, time, watch

There are a number of ways to deal with fact-checking, and it’s best to lay it down right at the start:

  1. Make it quite clear to the client that fact checking is not included in the negotiated price, but consistency will be attempted and obvious errors flagged for checking.
  2. Allow for a certain, small, amount of fact-checking in your time working on the manuscript. Encompass this in your base rate and don’t charge any extra for it. Flag up any time-consuming searches that may appear – the ones where you know it’s going to be difficult to check them.
  3. Negotiate with the client for an additional flat-fee charge for fact-checking, or an increase of hours quoted for, if it becomes apparent from the editorial sample that there may be an issue with factual information (you do get a sample to look at before agreeing to take on a job, don’t you?).
  4. Negotiate with the client for an additional charge for fact-checking, with a proviso that only XX number of minutes will be spent per manuscript and if work exceeds that, you will return to the client to negotiate further.
  5. Say hell, yes! Dive in, correct all the facts, take as much time as you like, and watch your profits slowly slide away.

It may seem a difficult subject, but some people make a living from fact checking and nothing more. Don’t shy away from talking about this with your client, and don’t take it for granted that you have to fact-check as standard. Negotiate, get it in writing and remember that although a copy-editor’s job can be fascinating, you are a business owner, and must think like one.

A Five-Step Business Communication Model

business, freelance, communication

 

Good communication is important.

Great communication is desirable

Bad communication can be bad for business.

 

This week I’ve come across all three.

A lovely example of great communication came from a large retail company. In July I bought a USB cable for my iPad. By October it had stopped working. It took me two months to get to Inverness, so I duly took the cable … and couldn’t find my receipt. Bugger – no receipt usually means no replacement. But a lovely lad in Stormfront treated me well, he explained that I had plenty of time (there’s a three year warranty) and that if I’d lost my receipt I could take in a bank statement, as long as it showed the correct amount and that it was paid to the store all would be well. I bought the cable in Stirling. No problem, he said.

Yesterday I managed to get back to Inverness, with a one line statement from my bank. Another lovely chap was pleasant, polite and within minutes I had my new cable. No quibble, no hassle. And a new receipt should this cable prove problematic.

You may think that’s just normal customer service, but believe me it’s not. It was a breath of fresh air. As a result I have a new cable, the shop has a new customer (I’ll definitely be going back) and I’d recommend them to anyone.

thumbs up, great service

In total contrast, another company proved so bad on my trip in December that I ditched them there and then and found a company to replace them. Let’s just say it was a large communications company who can’t communicate for toffee. I was stopped from going into the shop as there was a ‘queuing system’ and I had to report to an employee before being allowed to enter (despite there being no queue and no notice of one), and when I did see an assistant he proved so rude and uninterested in my problem that I made up my mind there and then to finally take my business elsewhere. I’m still waiting for the refund the assistant said he would process ‘later on, if I remember’. Great service, eh?

This week’s bad communication wasn’t actually so bad when I think back to December.

cross, bad service

The difference between keeping a customer and losing one can simply boil down to how you treat them. I’m sure many of you have stayed with a provider because, although they may not be the best in the world, they are a pleasure to deal with.

When running your freelance business, you strive to be the best you can be, but how you deal with clients has a huge impact.

It’s true, there are clients from hell who are demanding and those that don’t really know what they want, as well as lovely clients you relish working with, but you have to communicate with them as best you can. And don’t forget – they have to deal with you too!

editor hiding

How to communicate and stay sane.

Putting in order the way you communicate with clients can help streamline your freelance business and keep stress at bay. But I’ll freely admit, sometimes I stray from the path – each client is an individual and sometimes, just sometimes, a more informal form of communication is needed.

The five step process:

  1. Stop talking and listen

The first thing to do when you are contacted by a client is to ‘hear’ what the client is saying, and in what language. Do they comfortably use jargon or are they unsure even when using everyday language? Listen to what your client is asking for and then translate it into what your client is actually asking for. Even if you communicate by email, ‘listen’. You are the professional so use your professional intuition to get to the real meaning of what they want.

2. Ask questions

Don’t assume you know the answer to those questions that you do need to ask. Follow up on what your client is asking for.

Ask about things like:

project scope,

timeframe,

who else is working on the project,

what has already been done,

budget.

3. Establish (and manage) expectations

When talking with a new, or returning, client you have to establish what service you will provide and what you won’t. This is one way of trying to put a halt to scope creep (but let’s admit it, it just ain’t that easy!).

Once you have established what is needed, get in writing what is expected from both sides, even if that’s just in an email. Make it very clear what you will be providing and what you won’t. Mention that anything extra will incur charges. I repeat, get it in writing.

But don’t forget what you expect from the client; give them details of your payment terms and methods, and send them your terms and conditions if you have any (although I must admit, with individual clients rather than companies, my T&Cs can be informal – I’ll do this and in return you pay me this).

However you do it, you must manage expectations or you can end up doing extra, at no charge, or the client can come back unimpressed when they don’t get what they expected.

delivery guy

4. Establish (and manage) delivery

When arranging delivery with a client you both have to be very clear on when the job will be coming in and being delivered.

              This is one of the biggest problems publishing freelances tend to have.

It’s not uncommon for a job to be booked in and the project timeframe to slide. Before you know it the job is expected to come in a few weeks late, you are left without work in the meantime and the delivery date does not change. This leaves the freelance trying desperately to meet unrealistic deadlines, working long hours and juggling jobs when the next project is on time.

Try to have something set in place for when delivery doesn’t happen. If possible have it in writing that if delivery is late either the deadline will be extended, or there will be increased renumeration. But remember, shit happens, so each project should be looked at on an individual basis, even if your contract states how late delivery will be dealt with.

Don’t forget it works both ways. Don’t commit to unrealistic deadlines and if something happens to affect when a project will be delivered, tell the client as soon as possible.

5. Ask for feedback

Heavens, this is the difficult one!

I hate asking for testimonials and feedback, mainly because it’s like trying to get blood out of a stone. However, it’s something freelances need to do, so a bit of perseverance is needed. Ask for feedback on your invoice, in your correspondence or via a feedback form.

Unlike 9–5ers we don’t get job appraisals or yearly performance reviews, so part of good communication is to ask for feedback in whatever way you feel most comfortable.

communication

Communication is never going to be easy; there will always be something to watch out for when dealing remotely with clients, but following these five simple steps will hopefully make work easier. Stop talking and listen, ask questions, establish (and manage) expectations, establish (and manage) delivery, ask for feedback.

How do you deal with client communication? Is there something I’ve forgotten? If so let me know in the comments below.