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The purpose of this blog is to provide information to help consultants and solo professionals. Please contact us if you're an active SPC member willing to provide content for our blog. 

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  • Friday, January 07, 2022 4:38 PM | Robin Buckley

    My daughter’s high school varsity volleyball team won the State Championships in November. It was an amazing experience to watch, even more so because this group of girls are incredible. They support each other, like each other, visibly and audibly have fun when warming up or playing together, and credit their success to being “14 strong”. They worked hard, enjoyed every minute and achieved their goal.

    But while I am happy for and proud of my daughter and her teammates, their success came due to trickle down. The team achieved success because of their coach, the leader of this group. It was due to this woman’s integration of powerful leadership skills that the team succeeded.

    There were five specific things Coach R did which made her stand out as a leader and brought her team to the championship level:

    1.  She created a platform of unity. Coach R made sure there wasn’t a spotlight on one or two players. There was no “star” of the team. Those on the bench were as valuable as those on the court. When she was interviewed after winning the State Finals game, Coach R said, “The U.S. volleyball team, their motto is ‘23 strong’. Even though only 12 players went to the Olympics, it took 23 players to get them there. And so that’s the model that we’ve embraced this year. It takes all 14 of us to earn the state championship, even though not every player was on the floor tonight.”

    In an organization, this approach is also true. Consider your own organization. Is the success of the organization reliant on one member, or the team? And if the focus is on one team member, what does that do to the organization? The other team members feel devalued. They stop giving their all. They lose sight of the goal. And where does it leave the organization if that one “star” leaves? Left behind is a disjointed, disconnected and dissatisfied group of people. The unity Coach R created became the platform for the team’s approach to the goal.

    2.  She created a shared mission and vision. Winning the State Championship honestly didn’t seem like the sole purpose of the season. While going to States is a vision for most high school or collegiate teams, it seemed that for Coach R the vision didn’t smother the mission she created with the team. The mission was twofold: play their best and have fun. Watching the team the night of the Championships demonstrated that mission. The girls were singing and dancing the whole time as they waited their turn to warmup. They weren’t letting stress or anxiety get in the way of their fun. They were meeting the season’s mission even in what was the biggest athletic night for them. Coach R made sure the girls knew they didn’t have to do anything different than they did every game. She led her team in this mission which guided them to attain their vision of the state championship.

    The same applies to your organization. Ensuring everyone within your organization knows the long-term vision but buys in to the daily mission to get there…and then keeps the mission alive even in the face of the vision.

    3.  She recognized her players as individuals not just players. This was my daughter’s first season with this coach after transferring to the school. My daughter came home after practice one day and when I asked her what she did to kill time between the end of the school day and practice, she casually said, “I had my 1-to-1 with Coach today.” Huh? I had no idea what she meant. Turns out, Coach R schedules time to meet with every player during the season. She sits with each girl and while she certainly asks about the player’s goals for the season, more importantly she connects with each girl as a person. She asks real questions and they get to ask questions to her. They talk as people, not as coach and player, not as adult and kid, but as women and athletes.

    Can you imagine what this creates and what the same practice could do within an organization? Coach R’s players feel a real connection to her and her to them. It builds trust. It builds commitment. It increases performance and retention whether in a volleyball program, in a family or in a Fortune 500 company.

    4.  She demonstrated the behavior and thinking to support the mission. Coach R never yelled other than in excitement. She never demonstrated frustration. She was either smiling, offering praise, giving motivational talks or offering coaching strategies for players to use towards the team’s mission and vision. Coach R’s team saw this every time they looked at her or heard her. Their coach’s attitude and actions became the standard they emulated. She became the model of how to be and they all adopted that model. There wasn’t room for negativity because it would’ve been an outlier, an anomaly, and in fact when typical issues came up through the season, the team quickly dealt with them and positioned themselves back in line with Coach R’s standards.

    As a leader in your organization, you can do the same. Certainly there are times which are challenging, but does expressing anger, frustration or disgust move you close to your vision, or farther away? What behavioral, cognitive and emotional expressions help keep your team on track and focused on the mission and vision?

    5.  She emphasized trying over succeeding. Of course Coach R wanted her players to succeed but the emphasis was not on succeeding. Coach R emphasized trying. Try a new skill. Try a new approach. Try coming to practice when you'd rather quit. Just try. Because what Coach R knew was that the only way to succeed was to try because in trying, her players learned. They learned what worked or what didn't work. They learned they could accomplish things even when it was hard. They learned that sometimes trying meant failing but that they could learn from those failures in order to grow.

    Encouraging people within our organizations to try can achieve this same level of success. If we focus only on successes, people are less likely to take chances. They are hesitant to think outside the box. They stick to safe ways of doing things and this will eventually lead to stagnation. So ask yourself what is more important? To create a culture that only values success or to create a culture which promotes trying in order to foster creativity, growth, learning from failures and yes, eventually, success as an outcome of trying.

    Overall, the leadership of Coach R worked for one reason: she led based on her own style. Coach R didn’t try to fit into a prescribed type of leadership. She didn’t base her behaviors on famous coaches in an attempt to duplicate their leadership. She created a leadership style based on her values, her strengths and her vision for her players, not the group’s State Championship vision, but her vision as the leader of a program in which each player grew, personally and athletically, because of the support they gave and received from their team. “It’s the buy in. They buy into each other so hard, it’s ridiculous,” Coach R said. “Their strength is in the group. We work really hard in the gym every day on our skills, but we know at this age level having that cohesion can bring you from a 5 to an 11. They buy into that. They work hard every day, but it’s because of each other … that’s what makes them truly special.” All due respect to Coach R, while it was due to the players’ connection and support of each other, even more it was because as a leader Coach R created and showed what it means to be part of a winning team.


  • Thursday, January 06, 2022 1:34 PM | Sophie Michals

    Editing and Consistency Are Crucial to Good Writing

    Anything you publish for your business is part of your brand image, and sloppy, inconsistent writing can diminish your brand and damage your credibility. Therefore, it’s important to take the time to carefully edit your writing so it reflects well on you and your business.

    You should always self-edit to get your writing in the best shape possible. But you should also hire an editor who can bring a fresh perspective and ensure your writing fulfills its intended purpose and is clear and easy to understand.

    Can’t I just use a writing assistant tool for that?

    While writing assistant tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid are useful, they’re rigidly rules based and limited in what they can do. For instance, Grammarly will always flag passive voice as being wrong, even though it’s useful and often necessary, especially in technical and scientific writing.

    These tools also cannot spot incorrect word use (e.g., complement instead of compliment) or catch when your headline is 11 Ways to Cook an Egg but your list contains only 10 items. They also can't point out that the first two paragraphs are not necessary or that the lede is buried down in paragraph five.

    Similarly, these tools cannot read a piece of writing and determine whether it is clear, compelling, and relevant. While these tools are helpful, they cannot replace an experienced human editor.

    Editing = Quality Control

    Editing is a quality control measure that helps ensure a consistent brand experience for your customers. And there’s much more to editing than checking for proper spelling, grammar, and sentence mechanics. While those things are important, organization, structure, and a consistent brand voice are equally important.

    Good business writing should have a clear purpose, make a clear point using specific information, and be logically structured and concise. The brand voice injects personality into the writing and is the key to holding the reader's attention — it’s also what makes your brand stand out.

    Keep Track of Your Preferences

    My best tip for keeping your writing consistent is to keep track of your writing preferences. Seemingly small things like using the phrases emergency room and emergency department interchangeably or formatting your phone number 555.555.5555 in some places and 555-555-5555 in others can make your writing look haphazard and unprofessional.

    Keeping track of your writing preferences will simplify your writing process, reduce conflict over style and formatting preferences, and ensure a consistent brand experience for your customers.

    Next month we'll discuss how to partner with a writer or editor.

    Sophie Michals is a writer and editor who helps subject matter experts deliver clear, concise writing that showcases their expertise and resonates with their target audience. Learn more at (SM) Edits LLC.

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications, a collaborative of writers and editors partnering with executives, consultants, and coaches to transform their ideas into published articles.

  • Tuesday, January 04, 2022 4:58 PM | Laura Burford

    Before starting any presentation, I listen closely to the pre-session conversations, observe the attendees, and if appropriate, ask questions. During one presentation, an attendee asked if I would mind providing a little consulting career advice. Since the presentation’s title was The Entrepreneur Within, why not!

    As she asked her questions, the people sitting around her lifted their heads and chimed in with their comments.

    “I’m currently working at a company. My position is not in jeopardy, but I’m thinking about my future. I want to become an independent consultant, but I’m not sure if there is anything I can do now to prepare.

    Can I start becoming a consultant while still working within my company?

    If so, what do you recommend?”

    What great questions!

    By the way, my response to starting to build a consulting business while working within a company was a resounding YES!

    My response to her question about recommendations is relevant whether you are contemplating consulting, a fairly new consultant, or have been working as a consultant for years. Every person who is a consultant (or freelancer) craves to not only successful but desires to be known as the “go-to” consultant. Or, at least I think they do.

    Before I describe my top three recommendations, I must provide a caveat. There is an ACTION ZERO.

    This action is for people who are thinking about embarking on a career as a consultant. If you are considering consulting, evaluate you by starting with your personal reasons for wanting to become an independent worker — a consultant. Becoming a consultant is not for everyone.

    Action 1 — Clarify Your CORE

    This is my top recommendation — Clarify Your CORE. 

    Sorry - Due to length, it isn't possible to post the entire article here but here is a friendly link with the three action items


  • Friday, December 10, 2021 5:01 PM | Robin Buckley

    If you are an extrovert, you have an advantage in most Western societies. The stereotype of a successful leader is dominated by extroverted characteristics. As an extrovert, you are comfortable with verbal communication and often dominate a conversation. You like to engage in debate and discussion. You thrive as the center of attention, and your energy builds within these social settings. Your social and professional networks are extensive, and you tend to embrace risk-taking opportunities. Overall, because of your extroverted nature, you are accurately or presumptively seen as a leader.

    If you are not in this category of individual, it is likely your actions are often misconstrued because you are compared to your extroverted counterparts. Your quietness might be seen as meekness. Your tendency to reflect on problems to determine a solution is interpreted as indecision. Your preference to work alone is perceived as aloofness. Meanwhile, you might be managing feelings of imposter syndrome because your approach is different from that of many around you. 

    But as we know from diversity education and training within our businesses and schools, having diversification in our work teams provides perspective and variations in thinking. We acknowledge this when it comes to culture, race, age, gender and sex, but little discussion occurs regarding the benefits introverts offer to a society dominated by extroverted ideals. Consider the valuable characteristics introverts bring to the table.

    1. Self-sufficiency

    Because of their preference for independent work, introverts won’t tend to need excessive supervision to get a task done. They are used to relying on themselves and their skills to accomplish a goal. Very often, they will work hard to figure out a solution rather than, or before, going to someone to talk it out.

    2. Reflectiveness

    Introverts aren’t going to talk for the sake of talking. They will take in information and process it before offering a response. This allows them extra time to analyze a problem or project and potentially see roadblocks or alternate options before venturing down a quickly determined path.

    3. Effective social scientists

    Incorporated into their reflectiveness, introverts use their quiet natures to listen and observe the variables within a situation. Because they are not vying for attention and looking for the next opportunity to talk, introverts pay attention to verbal and nonverbal communication and can use this information as part of their reflection.

    4. Connectedness

    Introverts don’t like small talk and forced conversations. When they choose to interact with others, it is typically at a more meaningful level than superficial social conversations. They will take time to explore a topic through one-on-one or small-group conversation, integrating their strength in listening to acknowledge others’ perspectives.

    5. Self-awareness

    Their strengths of reflection and observation also enable introverts to be more aware of their own reaction and feelings. They aren’t distracted by needing to integrate themselves into social situations and are comfortable being alone with their thoughts. While they won’t likely share their feelings in large group settings, it is in the connections they make with individuals that they will comfortably express themselves.

    6. Resilience

    Introverts grew up in a world that promoted and applauded extroverted characteristics. They were the ones teased or overlooked for a promotion or chosen last in PE class. Introverts learn to live in a world not geared for them and survive. They develop strategies and coping mechanisms, which allow them to function in the workforce, rarely needing constant reassurance or praise to keep them motivated.

    Being an extrovert or an introvert is not better than the other. As a team member or a team leader, recognizing the strengths in both is the key variable for success. Celebrating and encouraging what introverts bring to the table benefits the organization, team and individuals who learn they don’t have to fit an extroverted mold in order to contribute. Overall, a heterogeneous mix of both styles can result in more creativity, problem solving and productivity.


  • Wednesday, December 01, 2021 11:24 AM | Erica Holthausen

    Good writing always serves the reader. It delves into a specific topic and strives to explain it so that the reader understands the issues surrounding the topic of interest. It has logic and structure that makes a complicated subject clear and accessible. Good writing is clear and compelling. It serves a specific purpose and is presented in such a way that it meets the requirements of the platform.

    These last two points are vital yet often misunderstood. Below we’ll offer some advice on writing clear and compelling copy and explore how different platforms and purposes impact your writing.

    How Do You Write Clear and Compelling Copy?

    Clear and compelling copy is relevant and relatable. It focuses on one key point at a time and minimizes distractions and tangents. Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought — so take the time to think about the message you want to convey and then say it as simply as possible. To write clear and compelling copy:

    • Write with the reader in mind. Use plain language and prioritize clarity over cleverness. Give the reader the context they need to understand your message. Make it simple but not simplistic.
    • Minimize jargon and abbreviations. Use jargon and abbreviations sparingly, and make sure both are defined unless you’re sure the reader is already familiar with the terms you are using.
    • Incorporate research. Data adds credibility and context to your writing. Figures and tables are excellent visual aids to help the reader understand complex concepts. If you’re writing an opinion piece, root your message in research so your reader understands your perspective.

    How Do Different Platforms and Purposes Impact Your Writing?

    Will your writing be published online, or will it appear in a printed document? Are you writing to persuade someone to take a specific course of action, or are you reporting your findings? Your writing must be responsive to the platform on which it appears and the purpose for which it is written. Before you submit the final draft, you must:

    • Understand the platform requirements. Writing for the web? Make sure you incorporate plenty of white space by using headings, subheadings, lists, and short paragraphs.
    • Know your purpose. Persuasive writing presents a logical argument and makes an emotional appeal to convince the reader to take an action or adopt a point of view. Expository writing presents the reader with the facts and educates the reader so they can deepen their understanding of the topic.

    Writing is an essential skill that anyone can develop with practice. To start, understand the purpose behind the piece you are writing and determine how it will be presented to the reader. Take some time to think about the message you want to convey and distill it to its simplest form. Finally, write it all down — and then rewrite and edit it until it is clear and compelling.

    Next month, we’ll talk about how to edit your work, how to work with a professional editor, and the importance of consistency.


    Sophie Michals is a writer, editor, and writing coach who helps subject matter experts deliver clear, concise writing with a consistent brand voice. Learn more at (SM) Edits LLC.

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications, a collaborative of writers and editors partnering with executives, consultants, and coaches to transform their ideas into published articles.

  • Saturday, November 27, 2021 1:40 PM | Martin Kadansky

    Please note that I'm not an accountant nor a tax expert, but I feel that this information is important to share with anyone running a business.

    The IRS has temporarily increased the tax deduction for many (but not all) business meal expenses from 50% to 100%.

    This change applies to:
    - business meal expenses from 1/1/2021 through 12/31/2022
    - that are also from qualified restaurants.

    The IRS defines a restaurant that qualifies for this 100% business deduction as one that prepares and sells food or beverages to retail customers for immediate consumption, either on or off the premises.

    As far as I understand it, this includes the following types of business meals and vendors:
    - dine-in from restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, pizza shops, bakeries, etc.,
    - take out,
    - delivered directly from a restaurant,
    - and from restaurant meal delivery services, e.g., Doordash, Grubhub, Postmates, Uber Eats, etc.

    A non-qualifying restaurant (for which business meal expenses will remain at the longstanding 50% deduction) sells pre-packaged food or beverages not for immediate consumption, including:
    - grocery stores and markets, e.g., Star Market, Stop & Shop, Roche Brothers
    - convenience stores, e.g., Store 24, 7-Eleven
    - theater concession stands, e.g., Boston Symphony, Roxy Theatre
    - vending machines or kiosks, e.g., Leanbox
    - specialty food stores
    - beer, wine, or liquor stores
    - drug stores
    - newsstands

    The good news

    - This will probably lower your federal taxes by increasing your deductible business expenses.
    - Since Massachusetts automatically adopts federal changes to business meals and entertainment expenses, this will probably lower your state taxes as well.

    For more information, see the IRS web page:
    - https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/treasury-irs-provide-guidance-on-tax-relief-for-deductions-for-food-or-beverages-from-restaurants

    or google: 100% restaurant deduction 2021

    And, if you haven't already, I also suggest that you talk to your accountant soon about this (and the many other recent tax law changes) to find out how your personal and business taxes and deductions may be affected.

    Martin Kadansky
    Kadansky Consulting, Inc.

  • Friday, November 19, 2021 3:29 PM | Laura Burford

    Which of the 5 Basic Consulting Pricing Models is the Right Model for YOU?

    Boy, I wish when a consultant or freelancer asks questions about pricing, I had a quick and easy answer, but I don’t. I don’t have a secret formula that crunches numbers or a magic wand to flick that displays a number.

    I wish I did because just maybe I would never be disappointed when an engagement isn’t as profitable as I would have liked. Or just maybe I wouldn’t struggle to determine the right price to quote.

    What I have learned is that when determining a price, it is important to use the right pricing model. There are five basic pricing models from which to choose. Each model has pros and cons and there are variations of each as well.

    This article provides an overview of each of the five basic pricing models: time and expense, fixed price, value-base, risk-reward, and retainer. Use the posting as a guideline to help you determine the model or models that are right for you.

    OVERVIEW

    Some people believe there is one right pricing model, but I don’t agree. I believe a consultant needs to decide what is the right pricing model for them

    • based on the situation and the consultant’s service offering or approach,
    • the client’s pricing requests, and
    • the consultant’s comfort level with a particular model.

    Two of the models are cost-based models: time and expense, and fixed price. This means that the price you determine is based on the cost of the services to you. This requires having a solid hourly rate or hourly cost that can be used as a basis for determining a price to quote.

    The other three models are service oriented models: value-base, risk-reward, and retainer. You determine the price based on the value of the services you provide to the client.

    Let’s dive into each of the models in more detail.

    ...

    This article is too long to post on the Society of Professional Consultants site.

    Here is a friendly link to the article.


  • Saturday, November 13, 2021 10:39 AM | Robin Buckley

    In your professional life, you are successful. You are moving up in the ranks of your organization. Or you are frequently the “go to” person when your boss needs something done well. Maybe you’ve achieved the rank or salary that you’ve always dreamed about. Yet you still feel like a fraud. As if one day, your boss, or your colleagues, or your clients will see that you really don’t know what you’re doing...even though there is no evidence to support this belief. Then there are people you know who clearly don’t know what they are doing in their roles. They pretend to know information. They find ways to make others do their work because they don’t have the skills to finish projects and tasks. They project confidence in regards to tasks that they have no ability to be successful with. 

    The irony is that imposters rarely experience imposter syndrome.

    Read that sentence again. What does that mean for you? If you are experiencing imposter syndrome, guess what? You are very likely not an imposter.

    What is imposter syndrome? 

    Imposter syndrome is a feeling created by thoughts. These thoughts are never based in reality and, instead, grow from insecurities, fears and self-doubt. The thoughts are not supported by facts. Once the thoughts occur, they create the feeling of being a fraud. You question whether you can live up to others’ expectations. You compare yourself to others in unrealistic ways and come up lacking. You doubt your abilities, skills, education, training and background in regards to effectively and successfully functioning in your role.

    Once imposter syndrome settles in, it blocks your ability to function at your best. You focus on proving yourself rather than doing a task well. You fixate on how to show others you aren’t an imposter which inhibits logical thinking and creative thinking. You stop trying new things and taking reasonable risks. You might even begin to pull away from people in your life because you are either obsessing over how to do things better or avoiding others so they don’t discover you are a fraud. Overall, you end up feeling stressed, anxious and unsatisfied with who you are and what you do.

    Why do you feel imposter syndrome?

    In large part, you experience imposter syndrome because of who you are. Individuals like you who are used to setting goals, working diligently towards those goals, learning and growing to challenge themselves and expecting eventual success are the ones prone to imposter syndrome. Why? To start, highly motivated, driven individuals like you tend to work around other highly motivated, driven individuals. When you compare yourself to those around you, it can create self-doubt because the standard is high. 

    Another reason might be your personality. Maybe you identify as a perfectionist. You are striving to do things to the best of your ability, but then you question whether you’ve done all you could. By setting up these unrealistic standards, you never attain success because the definition keeps changing. Or you might feel inadequate so you work as hard as you can to overcompensate for this feeling. Maybe you are trying to be the expert and by establishing this as your goal, you attempt to learn everything but are never satisfied that you know enough. You tend to downplay your knowledge and your expertise. For many, it is a combination of all three factors which contribute to imposter syndrome. The reality is that if you are feeling like a fraud you’ve had some measure of success in your life. You are either afraid of losing the success or, more likely, you discount the success to luck.

    Why don’t the actual imposters feel imposter syndrome?

    Those people who don’t experience imposter syndrome are imposters for any number of reasons:

    • they haven’t experienced success so they have nothing to lose; 

    • they have a delusional perception of themselves, sometimes believing their own lies or twisted interpretations of reality;

    • they are genuine con artists or narcissists. 

    Imposters present as incredibly confident. When we are around them, we get sucked into their lies, sometimes never doubting them. When we do question them, they support their lies in stronger ways, leaving us questioning why we doubted them.

    Overall, imposters are willing to exaggerate their skills in interviews or on resumes, embellish or create stories about their backgrounds, or put themselves in the spotlight to get the attention and status they want. When they are discovered as the imposters they are, they tend to react in two ways — with aggression or defensiveness, or by disappearing, removing themselves from the situation in which their lack of ability was called out.

    What strategies can you use to manage imposter syndrome?  

    The good news is if you don’t see yourself in that description, you aren’t an imposter. What you are feeling is common in highly intelligent, very skilled, motivated individuals. If you’re feeling imposter syndrome, that alone is a sign you aren’t a fraud. 

    The next step is learning how to manage your imposter syndrome so it doesn’t undermine your functioning. Imposter syndrome is based on illogical thoughts so to stop those thoughts, give your brain the facts. Consider your education and training. Reflect on positive feedback you’ve received from colleagues or supervisors. These become the evidence to replace the irrational thoughts. Also identify situations in which you’ve been successful. Write these down. Ask yourself what you did to effectively produce in those situations, then do those things again. If they worked once, they’ll likely work again. Write those down, too. Then, define what success looks like to you and, you guessed it, write this down. This becomes your standard. When your imposter syndrome tries to convince you that you aren’t successful, use your definition to keep you grounded in reality rather than trying to achieve perfection. 

    How can you benefit from imposter syndrome? 

    By acknowledging your imposter syndrome, and learning how to manage it, you can move on to using it as a tool towards your success. You’ve done the first step by reflecting on what your strengths are, what makes you unique and how you are qualified for what you do. You can even review all these details because you wrote them down for this purpose. Next, use the adrenalin that comes from imposter syndrome to benefit you. Instead of assuming the physiological responses that accompany imposter syndrome are due to anxiety, nerves or fear, think of them as signs of excitement, enthusiasm and preparedness. Finally, imposter syndrome tends to come up in times when you are feeling uncertain or your skills are being challenged — that’s great! It means you are moving beyond your comfort zone where growth can occur.

    When you look around and compare yourself to the brilliant, talented people surrounding you, it might be time to realize that you are one of them, rather than seeing yourself as an anomaly. You were selected to be part of the group because you fit in, because your talents were needed and your successes were recognized. And when you notice someone who is grabbing the attention, reminding everyone of their accomplishments and sticking with completely wrong statements, you might take note of the true imposter in the room.



  • Tuesday, November 09, 2021 2:17 PM | Sophie Michals

    Your brand is about more than your company’s logo, tagline, or brand colors. Anything you write on behalf of your business is part of your business’s brand image — that includes emails, blog and social media posts, marketing materials, and client-facing documents.  

    Write With Your Audience in Mind

    Whether you’re writing a blog post or an assessment report, you’re writing for an audience. But if you don’t write in a way that resonates with that audience, they’ll lose interest and stop reading. For instance, when writing for subject matter experts, you’ll likely use different language than you would for a non-expert audience. Or you might use more formal language in an assessment report than you would in an email.

    Taking the time to identify your audience segments and understand their needs will help you write relevant and relatable content that will keep their attention. No matter who you’re writing for, consistency and clarity are key to writing effectively and staying on brand.

    Keep Track of the Small Stuff 

    Sloppy, inconsistent writing and formatting can kill your credibility. Your voice and tone and your writing and formatting preferences are as much a part of your brand as your logo, tagline, and brand colors. It may sound trivial, but the little things add up, and consistency is part of what makes your brand memorable.

    That’s why you need a writing style guide — a living document that helps you keep track of your writing and formatting preferences, including things like tone of voice, common terms and terms to avoid, how to treat abbreviations, and how to style headings.

    Three ways a writing style guide can help strengthen your brand:

    1. It reduces conflict over style and formatting preferences. Everyone has different preferences. If you work with a team of writers and editors, they are bound to disagree over style and formatting issues from time to time. Having your preferences spelled out in your writing style guide helps keep everyone on the same page.

    2. It shortens the writing process. Referring to old pieces of writing to see how you wrote and formatted things or consulting your default major style manual for the same rule over and over adds time to the writing process. Keeping track of your writing and formatting preferences will make the writing process faster and less frustrating.

    3. It ensures a consistent brand experience for your clients. Consistency helps build credibility and makes your brand recognizable. 

    Your brand is how your company presents itself to the world, so the details matter. Tailoring your writing to your audience and developing and maintaining a consistent writing style will ensure that you present a professional and polished image to your clients, prospects, and competitors.

    Next month, we’ll discuss how to write clear and compelling copy, with a look at how different platforms and purposes impact your writing.​


    Sophie Michals is a writer, editor, and writing coach who helps brainy, image-conscious subject matter experts deliver clear, concise writing with a consistent brand voice. Learn more at (SM) Edits LLC.

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications, a collaborative of writers and editors partnering with executives, consultants, and coaches to transform their ideas into published articles.

  • Friday, October 29, 2021 3:33 PM | Laura Burford

    How changing the form of your questions leads to more inclusive problem-solving and a friendlier approach for everyone.

    A key reason why clients hire consultants and freelancers is to help them solve a problem.

    As a consultant, one of my favorite approaches for problem-solving is Toyota’s 5 WHYs Analysis. I embraced 5 WHYs Analysis while managing software application projects and have continued to use it as a management consultant. However, over the years I’ve changed the form of my questions and I never realized it.

    One day one of my clients said a meeting with one of their potential clients didn’t go well. Actually, it flopped.

    In my work, I frequently recommend consultants and freelancers consider using 5-WHYs Analysis and recommend they include it in their “tool box.” But after talking with my client, I realized that I’ve been leading consultants and freelancers astray.

    I’m now telling them, “I’ve been WRONG!

    Am I saying that 5-WHYs Analysis is not a good technique? No, I’m not. It is an easy and powerful technique to use. However, I believe a modification in the form of the questions makes the approach more powerful and better accepted.

    What is 5 WHYs Analysis?

    5 WHYs Analysis works well when the symptoms of a problem are known but the cause or actual problem is not known. In theory, a person asks five (5) why questions continually diving down to uncover the root cause of the problem.

    Here’s a scenario illustrating the technique. 

    Your car doesn’t start so you call the car repair shop.

    The Mechanic starts by asking you, “Why wouldn’t your car start?” Your Reply: “The engine wouldn’t turn over.”

    Mechanic: “Why wouldn’t the engine turn over?” Your Reply: “The battery was drained.”

    Mechanic: “Why was the battery drained?” Your reply: “I think I forgot to turn the lights off.”

    Mechanic: “Why did you forget to turn the lights off?” Your reply: “I thought they would turn off automatically.”

    Mechanic: “Why didn’t they turn off automatically?” Your reply: “I don’t know. They were set to turn on and off automatically.”

    The 5 WHYs Analysis approach was developed by Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota, to help Toyota Industries Corporation uncover manufacturing problems.  It works extremely well if there is a technical equipment problem or when a feature or functionality is missing as in a software application or with a business process.

    The challenge is everyone involved in the analysis needs to evaluate the situation objectively putting their personal feelings aside.

    That is why am I saying, “I’ve been WRONG!

    Why I’ve been WRONG!

    For the entire article that includes an example of how I recommend modifying your approach, click on this “friendly” link

    Final Thoughts

    Consultants and freelancers are problem-solvers.

    That is why people hire them — to solve problems.

    But before a consultant or freelancer can solve a problem, they need to determine the root cause of the problem. Understanding the root cause of the problem helps the consultant or freelancer get hired as well as assists with determining the right approach to solve the problem.

    There are several ways to determine the root cause. One approach is to use 5 WHYs Analysis. However, before you use 5 WHYs Analysis you may want to modify the approach. Before you ask any questions, understand your client and determine the best questioning format for them. Do why questions work or would it be better to ask exploratory and explicit questions?

    Yes, I’ve been WRONG! I believe this modification in question form leads to a more powerful and inclusive discovery as well as a friendlier and accepted approach for everyone involved.


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