Category Archives: communication

4 Tools to Help You Write Better Content

Writing content isn’t every entrepreneur’s strong point, but bootstrapping startups don’t always have the funds to hire professional writers or marketing firms to craft content for them.

Fortunately, some online tools are available to help even the most unaccomplished writers among us improve our writing and make a great impression.

4 Writing Apps to Help You Create Better Content

Hubspot’s Blog Ideas Generator

When you’ve hit a wall and can’t think of what to write about, Hubspot’s blog topic generator can help you break through writer’s block. It prompts you to add up to five different nouns of your choice, and then it will generate seven blog topic ideas related to those nouns. While some of them might not be a perfect fit at face value, you can modify them to your liking, or they might help you develop new ideas.

Hemingway Editor

The Hemingway app helps ensure your writing isn’t too complicated and over the heads of most readers. It assesses your content and tells you at which grade level it is readable. Anything above a grade-9 reading level is flagged as less than ideal. Hemingway also alerts you to overuse of adverbs, use of passive voice, and complex phrases and sentences.

Power Thesaurus

If you love the assistance of online thesauruses but get annoyed by the advertisements on their websites, meet Power Thesaurus. For the most part, the app is ad-free (except for some non-intrusive advertisements by premium sponsors). It has a simple, uncluttered interface that suggests synonyms for whatever word you type in its search box. Fast and effective, Power Thesaurus helps you power through finding just the right word more quickly than when using other thesaurus websites.

Grammarly

Grammarly is quickly becoming a tool of choice (for writers and non-writers alike) for fine-tuning writing. Its free version detects critical grammar and spelling errors. Grammarly Premium has enhanced capabilities including offering vocabulary suggestions (if you appear to have used words out of context), flagging complex sentence structure, and evaluating content according to its intended purpose, audience, style, and emotional impact.

Bonus Benefits

Not only can these tools help you fix weaknesses in your content, but also they can help you improve your writing skills over time. As you use them, you have an opportunity to learn to think out of the box, increase your knowledge of grammar rules, and broaden your vocabulary.

Of course, apps can’t do it all! Another resource available to help you assess the content you create for your business is a SCORE mentor. SCORE volunteers have experience and expertise in all aspects of entrepreneurship, including marketing, and they are here to offer honest feedback to help your business succeed.

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Communication Tips Part 2: Speak Like A Pro!

Small business owners need to hone many skills to succeed and communicating well ranks near the top of the list. In last month’s post, we shared tips to write effectively. This time, we’ll focus on verbal communication, specifically on how to speak more confidently and comfortably in front of groups of people.

 

For some people, public speaking has about as much appeal as having a root canal. Whether delivering a short and sweet elevator pitch at a small networking event or addressing a few hundred people at an industry conference, putting yourself out there can be intimidating at best. Here are some tips for making your time in the spotlight less traumatic and more effective.

 

Four Tips To Help You Present Your Best Self When Speaking In Public

  • Prepare. “Winging it” will likely leave you stuttering and stammering over your words. Well in advance of your speaking engagement, think through and write down the key points you want to cover. If there are specific details you think you might forget, write them down, too. Although you don’t want to appear scripted and stiff by reading verbatim off of an index card or iPad, having notes will help keep you on point and enable you to recall important information when under pressure.

 

  • Rehearse. Practice. Practice. Practice. The more familiar you become with the message you’re delivering, the more at ease you’ll be when it’s game time. Rehearse using any supporting visual aids (like Powerpoint presentations, product demos, etc.) to make sure you work out any “technical” bugs that might disrupt the flow of your message. Also consider asking a SCORE mentor, colleague, friend, or family member to serve as a “dress rehearsal” audience. That will help you acclimate to being in front of people as you talk through your points.

 

  • Look them in the eye. Making eye contact with the people in your audience builds rapport and helps keep them interested. The more they feel a part of the presentation, the more likely they will be to stay engaged in your message.

 

  • RelaxDo what you can to keep your nerves at bay. Plan ahead to make your time before your speaking engagement as unhurried and stress-free as possible. Ensure all of your materials are ready to go well in advance of heading out the door. Also, realize that the people in your audience are not there to judge you; they’re there for information. It’s about them not you; reminding yourself of that can help alleviate some of the performance anxiety you might feel.

As an entrepreneur, you’ll never escape occasions when you need to speak in public. It’s often an essential component of presenting your products and services to potential customers. Even if you don’t find the experience comfortable, you can do it successfully by devoting the time and attention needed to planning, practicing, and putting the task into proper perspective.

If you’re looking to improve your business communication skills—whether verbal or written—consider contacting a SCORE mentor for guidance and feedback. Our volunteers have expertise in all areas of starting and running a business, and they can offer valuable insight to help you improve your communications skills.

Communication Tips Part 1: Write Like You Mean Business

writing

Among the many skills small business owners need to hone, communicating like a pro is one of the most critical. Whether crafting an email to a prospective client or delivering a workshop to peers at a chamber of commerce event, your prowess in communicating affects how others perceive you.

This blog post is the first in a two-part blog series sharing practical tips to help entrepreneurs write and speak better.

 

Six Tips To Help You Write Like You Mean Business

  • Set aside dedicated time, so you don’t have to rush through it. The phrase “haste makes waste” is true when writing anything. If you try to squeeze writing in on the fly, you won’t have time to gather your thoughts properly, you’ll struggle to find the right words to get your point across, and you’ll make silly mistakes. That means you’ll need to spend extra time editing—and maybe even completely rewriting—what you originally wrote. Instead, block out some time to tackle writing projects when other priorities—and people—won’t distract you.

 

  • Organize/outline the key points you want to communicate. Never underestimate the power of planning. Before you start writing, think about your purpose and the specific details you want to share. Also, consider in what order you should write about those details, so they flow seamlessly and won’t confuse your audience. A good way to do this is to prepare an outline or simply create a list of bullet points that put your main points and key details in logical order.

 

  • Make sure you clearly state any action you need readers to take. If you need your audience to do something after reading your email, memo, letter, or other written communications piece, say so openly. Consider making calls to action more prominent by using bold font. If you have multiple action items, put them in a bulleted list. Also, make sure you share the dates/times by which you need responses or tasks completed.

 

  • Use tools to edit and proofread. After you’ve written drafts, take advantage of apps and software available (many offer free versions) to help you fine-tune them. For example, the spell check features in Word and email platforms can help you detect misspellings and some basic grammar errors. Also, take a look at Grammarly. It offers a browser extension that checks grammar in your online communications (e.g., when crafting emails and social media posts) and a downloadable version that allows you to check grammar in Word documents. Realize you should still review your writing in addition to using tools. Tools can save time and pick up on items you might otherwise miss, but they’re not 100 percent accurate all the time.

 

  • Read your writing out loud. Vocalizing what you wrote will help you ensure your writing projects the right tone. If your “voice” comes across harsh or angry, you may want to make adjustments to soften your approach. When you read your communications out loud, it also enables you to flag anything readers might misinterpret or not understand.

 

  • Ask someone else to review. This added measure of review provides valuable insight. By getting a third-party point of view, you can get impartial feedback that enables you to fine-tune your writing before you send it to your intended audience.

 

No matter what type of business you run, you’ll need to write to some degree. You don’t need the skills of Ernest Hemingway to do so, but you do need to give the task some concentrated attention. By devoting enough time, organizing your thoughts, checking your tone, and carefully reviewing your content, you can communicate professionally and successfully.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this two-part series: Tips to Help Small Business Owners Communicate More Effectively: Part 2 – Speaking

 

 

Cultivate Your Leadership Skills

Followership

As a small business owner, strong leadership skills make or break your company’s chance of success. Without them, you risk missing your goals and not gaining the cooperation you need from employees and project partners.

Not everyone is a born leader but with some effort, you can develop essential and improve upon essential leadership skills.

Here are several leadership skills you’ll want to hone as you build your business:

 

  • Listening

As important as it is to share your guidance and thoughts, listening to what others have to say is equally—if not more—important. Your customers and the people who work with you have valuable insight that can help you make decisions that can improve your business. Want to learn how to be a better listener? Forbes has some helpful tips for strengthening your listening skills.

 

  • Communication

The importance of expressing your goals, guidance, and vision clearly and professionally should never be underestimated—whether through email, phone, face-to-face interactions, or in presentations. Improving communication skills requires a multi-focused effort involving attention to: organizing your thoughts, keeping emotions in check, refining grammar and spelling, and more. This list of 17 tips offers ways you can give your communications skills a boost.

 

  • Time management

Without a grasp on how to effectively manage your time, critical tasks and responsibilities can fall through the cracks. The keys to time management are being organized and knowing how to prioritize your to-do’s. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for managing time, these six tips provide a good foundation upon which to improve your ability to make the most of your time.

 

  • Delegation

Even if you’re a solopreneur, you can’t always do everything on your own. Whether you have employees or opt to use subcontractors, there will be tasks and responsibilities that should be done by someone other than yourself, so you have time to focus on critical business-building objectives.

While this Harvard Business Review article addresses delegation from the perspective of larger companies, it provides many takeaways that small business owners can consider for improving their delegation skills.

 

  • Motivation and self-discipline

Leading also requires maintaining enthusiasm and embodying the drive to accomplish what needs to be done. When you’re the boss, you’re responsible for motivating yourself and staying on track. Contributing editor Geoffrey James at Inc.com has shared an interesting perspective and helpful tips to help entrepreneurs strengthen self-motivation skills. This thought from his article might help motivate you to become more self-motivated: “Use self-motivation to make yourself successful at life rather than just at work.”

 

Don’t believe “leaders are born not made.” While leadership is easier for some small business owners than others, you can get better at it with effort and practice. If you need guidance on ways to become a stronger leader, contact us about talking with a SCORE mentor. Our volunteers have a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of starting and growing a business.

Five Tips for Uncluttering Your Inbox and Boosting Productivity

Emails

According to a recent eMarketer blog post, Adobe research in July 2015 found that U.S. business executives spend 3.2 hours daily checking work email on weekdays. They spend almost as much time checking personal email: an average of 3.1 hours each day. As a small business owner, it’s likely that you also spend a great deal of time communicating by email with customers, colleagues, vendors, and project partners. While email is critical to your business, your inbox can easily become a constant distraction preventing you from getting other tasks accomplished if you’re not managing it well.

Here are some ways to take control of your email so it doesn’t thwart your productivity:

  • Schedule time to tend to your email inbox. Reserve blocks of time every day for checking and responding to emails. Knowing you have dedicated time to deal with your email, you’ll be less likely to interrupt your other work to sneak a peek at your messages.
  • Mark important emails as unread if you don’t have time to respond to them in the moment. That will make them easier to find when you finally do have an opportunity to give them attention.
  • Use your email platform’s filtering capabilities to automatically send email messages from certain senders or about certain topics to specific folders. It will keep your inbox less cluttered and save you time by taking away the manual step of filing your messages.
  • Don’t subscribe to email newsletters unless you’re really interested in reading them. And assess whether those you’re already subscribed to are providing value or if you find yourself deleting them without even opening them. If the latter, consider unsubscribing so they don’t add to the noise in your email inbox.
  • Make sure your email communications are clear and to the point. Pay attention to writing in plain language and structuring your messages logically so they make sense to recipients. Also, be direct about what action (if any) you need from the recipients. Clarity from the start will help avoid a lot of wasted time spent sending emails back and forth to explain what you meant.

Managing your email effectively will help you stay more organized and productive overall. While it may take some time and practice to get your inbox fully under control—and keep it that way—your efforts will pay off in the long run.

For additional expert insight and guidance to help you run your small business more efficiently, reach out to Portland Maine SCORE to connect with a mentor.