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.

 

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.

 

 

Safe Environments for Boosting Confidence

confidence rocket

Let’s follow on from last week’s post about confidence.

This week we ramp it up a little and talk about how to gain professional confidence when you sit on your own all day and the only people you talk to are those annoying individuals calling from fake call centres – the ones who want to help you with your Windows setup or your internet access (with apologies to all those poor sods who actually have to work in legitimate call centres for a living).

It’s bloody hard to remain confident when you’ve finished your training and you’re on your own. Staring at the dog. Wondering if you really did get a brilliant score on your final assessment or whether it was actually intended for the person one above you in the student database.

You may have recently completed your training, or you might have been following your freelance dream for a while, but lack of confidence creeps in and once it’s grabbed you it can make itself comfortable and stay for a while. If you don’t hit it on the head it’ll invite imposter syndrome to come and join the party. Then you’re screwed.

help and support

There’s one very good way to get that confidence back … find yourself a safe, nurturing environment where you can talk with other professionals. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy and these days you don’t even need to leave the house. Find what’s best for you and, once you’ve got over the initial introductions, you’ll know that you are among friends.

Now, this isn’t rocket science, but it’s worth looking at.

He’s my list of safe environments:

 

  • Facebook groups

Closed groups are best but open groups can be useful too. Groups allow us all to have a whinge when we need it, ask ‘stupid’ questions when our brains are tired, and share our triumphs when they happen. A closed group allows its members to feel comfortable that the outside world is kept at bay and won’t see their conversations.

Pros – You can get validation, or answers, from a huge number of people from all walks of freelance life, and from all over the world. If you join a subject specific group you can spend time with your peers, from newbies to old hands, and benefit from group wisdom.

Cons – They can be a little judgemental at times, but the best are moderated well.

 

  • LinkedIn groups

Erm. Well. One day I may find a decent one where there is no tumbleweed, snarking or adverts for useless crap, but people do seem to benefit from LinkedIn groups. The trick is finding one that works for you.

Pros – Again, there is a huge number of people on LinkedIn so there’s potential to talk with professionals in your field living all over the world. Who knows, you may even get some work from contacts you make there.

Cons – Apart from the tumbleweed, snarking and adverts for useless crap, the main con is the difficulty in finding a group that works for you.

internet icons

 

  • Society forums

For me these are invaluable. You are among friends, you all abide by the same rules and there are very few snarks. The groups are also fairly small and concentrated around your professional society so they can do wonders for your confidence levels.

Pros – There aren’t so many people that the conversations are hard to keep track of, but enough people hanging around to talk to when you may need it. Often there are subforums that concentrate on one type of professional area so you can get straight to the point if you need help.

Cons – You can end up nipping in and spending hours hanging around the forums when you should be working.

 

  • Peer reviews

So this is where a group of you get together to help each other, either online or in *gulp* real life. You can share work and ask for feedback, or all work on the same material and see how your work differs from each other. Peer reviews are a safe environment … for the brave.

Pros – It’s very liberating to see how different people approach work. It makes you realise that there’s more than one way to handle your work, and by talking it through you can get validation that your way is just as valid as everyone else’s.

Cons – It really isn’t for the nervous. While peer reviews offer a safe environment it does take guts to sit with your fellow professionals and talk things through.

 

  • Mentoring

If you can get a mentor, they can be amazing. Get one either through a formal process, such as the SfEP mentoring process, or approach a fellow professional who you admire and who you know will be receptive.

Pros – You will be guaranteed a no-bullshit, straight to the point dialogue with a seasoned professional in your field. If you are doing something incorrectly they will tell you.

Cons – Mentors can be expensive, unless you are really lucky and manage to come to an agreement. You need to find someone that you gel with as there’s nothing worse than a personality clash with a mentor.

freelance high five

OK, we may not high-five when we meet up, but editors do like a good get together.

  • Local groups

Joining a local professional group can be amazing. You get to meet face-to-face every month or so, often over lunch or a drink in the local hostelry, and chat with fellow professionals. This is a social occasional as well as a professional one, so can be a very informal form of networking.

Pros – A nice, informal environment where you can learn, ask questions and chat with your peers. Often there are workshops or group peer reviews, but on the whole it’s a very informal affair.

Cons – Getting there. If, like me, you live miles away from anywhere or if you rely on public transport/babysitters/getting up the gumption to move, you may find it difficult getting to, or scheduling in, local group meetings.

 

  • Conferences

My final safe environment. Conferences can be costly but are so worth it. You get to meet people you’ve spoken with over social media, forums and Facebook. You get to meet people you’ve never met and you get to meet up with old friends.

It’s scary but I can’t stress enough how much good going to a conference will do you. Don’t stress over what to wear – hell I gave that up years ago. Be comfortable and be yourself. At a conference no one gives two figs about what you’re wearing or that you’ve come armed with an industrial sized notepad and a year’s supply of Haribo.  Get to a conference. If you are nervous, tell people! They probably are too.

Pros – Conferences are safe environments in which to learn, network and gain validation that you are the same as every other freelancer out there. You are pulled out of your comfort zone safely, among friends and will get the chance to drink lots of coffee with other nervous freelancers. The food is usually good too.

              Cons – They can be costly once you add up conference costs, travel, accommodation and time off work.

 

 

So there you have my confidence-enhancing safe environments for freelancers. I’ll bet I’ve missed some too, so feel free to tell me your confidence tricks in the comments below.