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Plain English – what are the business benefits?

My colleague Laura Ripper is an expert in Plain English. In this excellent article, she explains the benefits of plain language. A must-read for all businesses, and if you’re looking for Plain English editing and proofreading, head her way!

Laura Ripper | Proofreading and copy-editing

A picture of a piggybank

If you run a business, you probably know that customers appreciate clear communication. They want to be able to find important information quickly – for example, about products and services, how to find you or how to return an item they’ve bought. Direct, concise and jargon-free text saves them time, frustration and effort. It gives your customers a better experience of working with you.

But what are the benefits for you – and your company? How can writing in plain English help you achieve your business goals, such as making a profit or building your brand? Is communicating clearly anything more than ‘doing the right thing’?

Using plain English can help your business in three main ways:

  1. It saves money
  2. It saves time
  3. It builds your reputation

It saves money

– and it makes money, too.

If your marketing materials, letters and newsletters present information clearly, your customers are more…

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Posted by on April 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Small business chat update – Paul Alborough / Professor Elemental

Small business chat update – Paul Alborough / Professor Elemental

Welcome to an update with chap hop star, writer and one of the most entertaining people I know,  Paul Alborough, or as you will know him better, Professor Elemental. When I met him back in the 1990s, he was rapping like a pro but hadn’t quite achieved worldwide fame. Flash forward and here he is with comics, a tea brand, a novel and more. I was lucky enough to persuade him to join this series in February 2013, catching up in February 2014 and February 2015, March 2016 and March 2017, and here he is again – I definitely recommend popping back through those links and reading his earlier interviews, too! When I asked the Prof where he wanted to be by now back in March last year, he replied ” I have a really big project that I want to complete this year. I want to use a new album as a springboard into making a creative hub where people can share ideas and tips (much as you are doing now I guess). Plus I have a plan to use some of that to fund charities. It’s very ambitious, but achievable with the help of friends and collaborators. We’ll see how I managed it next year.” So, is that what he’s been getting up to? Read on to find out!

Hello again, Prof! So, are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Nope. Not in the slightest. I mean, in terms of the overall picture, it’s going really well, but the specific and ambitious project I had in mind last year hasn’t really taken off. On the plus side, I’ve got so many smaller projects that there should be more than enough to compensate. At the moment there are four books, three albums, two videos, Patreon, a lengthy tour and some new merch – that should do nicely. Small is beautiful, as they say and lots of smaller manageable projects are a lot easier for me to deal with than one large one I think. Stops me getting bored, too.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

I think I’ve grown more at ease with my status, as well as the idea of maintaining and diversifying without the business necessarily growing larger. I’ve got a decent office space of my own now which allows for much more writing and actual creativity (rather than just admin) and I’ve worked out how many shows I need to do to maintain finances. I’ve also spent more time working on individual themes for shows – working on my best stand-up material rather than creating a whole new show for each event. That process has been a lot of fun. I’m still collaborating like crazy, travelling the world and spending a lot of time working my way through emails and chatting rubbish on social media though – it’s all very nice.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

Hmm. Not much. I mean, I’ve had lots of adventures, but they are quite specific cautionary tales and their mishaps are usually only applicable to me. I have definitely learned to worry less and follow a more stoic approach to business. It might be a dangerous thing for a creative person to say, but I am pretty content.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Here are five tips vital tips for anyone considering making their living rapping as a Victorian steampunk explorer:

  • The people of Cambodia who come out to see large-scale pop concerts do not want to be introduced to chap hop, particularly after the main act has already been on. In fact, if you try it they will run away screaming and crying. Literally. It’s a really bad idea.
  • If you’re going to let your children introduce a band of pirates in front of a thousand people, it helps to learn the band’s name before going out, or you run the risk of scarring the children for life as they stand there staring into the abyss without anything to say.
  • It is possible to wear silver leggings that cross the boundary from ‘fun’ to ‘obscene’.
  • Never, ever go on to the after-party. And particularly a party that goes on after the after party.
  • Corporate gigs are usually a bad idea. But corporate gigs where the business writes your script are the worst idea of all.

I always love your hints and tips! And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Is it possible to maintain a small business without expanding and ruining what made it good or shrinking so it becomes untenable? Can a creative business remain contented without losing its spark? Why didn’t I spend the previous 5 years taking the train to shows instead of the car? Find out the answers to these questions and probably less in exactly 365 days’ time …

As usual with the Prof, a fab mix of important learning points and laughs – great stuff! I think it is possible to maintain your small business but it’s hard. I was chatting to someone the other day who’d reached the point with her food business where it had taken over her life and she didn’t know where to go to next, so she stopped! It’s hard after those first few years to decide what to do – and although Paul and I have VERY different businesses and business models, they’re both based around ourselves and the services we provide, so it’s hard to know how to move forward sometimes (I’ve done it by diversifying but also specialising, Paul’s done the same and collaborated, and my good editing friend, Laura Ripper, has recently started a collaboration project, so that’s a way you can go in our business, too). I can’t wait to read the next update from Professor Elemental, whatever he gets up to in this coming year!

Here’s Paul’s Professor Elemental Patreon page, and do pop and have a look at his website, www.professorelemental.com. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter, of course.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2018 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Instant or instantaneous?

What’s the difference between instant and instantaneous? Is there in fact a difference?

There are lots of pairs of words that mean the same thing, but one has a precise meaning and the other has a range of meanings. Now, if there are two words with subtly different meanings, I’m all for keeping both of them and retaining the richness of our wonderful language, etc. But when one just covers a subset of the other’s meanings, I’m not, to be honest, quite sure. At least here there seems to be a technical term lurking around which will keep the smaller (yet longer!) word going.

So, instantaneous, to cover the smaller meaning first, means being done or happening instantly. It does have a specific meaning in physics around being measured or existing at a particular time.

Instant means occurring immediately, as you would expect, as well as a precise moment in time or a very short time. It also means something that’s processed to allow it to be prepared quickly, in the case of food, mainly, Also, and I dimly remember this from when I learned to type in the Dark Ages, it means “of the current month” (your letter of the 16th instant) although surely no one uses that now?

Both of them come from the same original source, from Latin for “be at hand” (instare), but instantaneous came through medieval Latin, which added -aneus to the original instant (thank you, Oxford English Dictionary for that information). I would advise using instant unless you’re a physicist, just to save complication and make it easier to read.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
 

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Small business chat update – Matt Rose

Small business chat update – Matt Rose

Welcome again to Matt Rose of Prestige Quoting Limited. I first interviewed Matt in April 2016, when he’d just set up his business. We then chatted in April 2017 – and you’ll see why I’ve got his interview in a bit early this year when you read on! Matt did really well in his first year, and when I asked him how he intended to progress the company, he replied ” I’d hope that employee number one would be on board and the business will have seen some growth, both in terms of clients and revenue.” Let’s see how he’s getting on!

Hello again! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Yes and No. There have been lots of changes in my personal life over the last 12 months. What with marriage, moving house and a baby on the way in April, it’s been a (fun?) challenge managing all of those life events as well as the business. Some people have said I’m crazy that I’ve done arguably the 3 most stressful things in life, all within 12 months. I’d be inclined to agree!

The business has seen steady growth (10-15%), but I haven’t got employee number one as yet.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

It’s still just me in the business and business is continuing to steadily grow.

In particular, my recurring revenue has grown 25% (some of my software follows a subscription model, so having a (95%) guaranteed level of income by just keeping clients happy is useful)

The need for what I provide to small businesses (quotation systems) is still relevant and I’m getting plenty of enquiries.

I’m offering new services to existing clients. I have a ‘QuoteWerks MOT’, where I’ll go onsite for half a day to review a client’s usage of the system and recommend tweaks and efficiency savings. This gets me in front of the client once more, I provide some value and get paid.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

One good client is better than two bad ones. I’m now in a fortunate position to, a certain extent, be able to pick and choose my clients. When clients are evaluating me and my services, I’m also evaluating them.

Will they be a good fit for me? Are they willing to pay a fair price? Are their expectations realistic? Would working with them be profitable? Will I enjoy working with them?

These are all questions I, subconsciously(?), now ask myself.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Don’t be afraid to ‘sack’ a client. I’ve had to choose to no longer work with a few clients over the past 12 months. This wasn’t an easy decision as they helped me get to where I am today, but either their expectations no longer correlated with what I could offer or they were unwilling to (nearer to) my new rates.

In these cases, I was able to refer them to another company to aid their transition.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Hopefully maintaining steady state. With my first baby on the way, I’m not quite sure what to expect and how this will impact my business. With my Wife able to take a year in maternity leave and supportive grandparents, I’m hoping the business won’t be affected too much. A lot of my clients have been able to give advice and, due to my good relationship with them, will be very understanding if I can’t reply in the timeframes they’re accustomed to. I think a key is to set expectations from the outset.

It’s such an exciting time for Matt and I’m sure we all wish him the best of luck in this upcoming year! I agree with his comments about picking clients carefully, and it’s great that he has people he can refer them on to – this is something I do, and I’m much more comfortable saying “I can’t look after this project but you might want to try this person, who will be a better fit for you”.

Matt Rose’s website is at www.prestigequoting.com and you can email him or phone him on 07490 096232

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2018 in Business, Small Business Chat

 

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Why are my blog statistics so low? Who’s reading this thing anyway?

Why are my blog statistics so low? Who’s reading this thing anyway?

We all know by now that it takes time to build a blog audience and that you need to keep plugging away, writing interesting stuff and engaging with your readers.

But sometimes it just feels like no one is listening, like no one is looking at your carefully crafted posts. Why is this?

Why are my blog statistics lower than I would expect?

I use WordPress for my blogs, so I’m familiar with the statistics it offers (read more here), however, I know it doesn’t record all of the views of my posts, which can be very frustrating. This is how that happens.

People read your blog via email

Hopefully you’ve set things up so people can subscribe to your blog via email. Every blogging platform will have a plugin or menu item that will set this up for you so there’s a “Subscribe by email” button on your blog.

People who have subscribed to receive your articles via email will receive the text of the post in an email with a link to view the post on your website. They can open the email and read all of your article, but WordPress won’t know they have done that unless they click through to your website, at which point it will record the click. If they just read the article in the email and don’t click through to like, comment, etc., you won’t know that they’ve read your material.

People read your blog via a blog aggregator

People can also subscribe to the blog using a blog reader, either through WordPress itself, for example, or another service such as Feedly (which I use).

A blog reader uses what’s called an RSS feed to gather articles someone has said they want to read and display them all in one place (the RSS feed works in a similar way to the emails going out to people who’ve subscribed via email; instead of sending a person an email, it sends a blog reader the text to display in the reader). The text of the post will display in the person’s blog reader software with a link to view the post actually on your website.

Again, someone can read your post in their blog reader, but unless they click through to view it on your site, your blogging platform can’t know they’ve read it and won’t record that they have done so.

So what are my statistics showing, then?

Your blog statistics will record visits from …

  • People who subscribe to your blog via email and have clicked the link in their email to visit your blog
  • People who subscribe to your blog via a blog aggregator and have clicked the article in their aggregator to visit your blog
  • People who have seen your article shared on social media and have clicked through to read it on your blog
  • People who have done a search, found a link to your article in their search engine (Google, etc.) and clicked through to read it on your blog

In other words, there are fewer people recorded as having read your blog post than have actually read your blog post.

Note: If you want to experiment with only offering blog aggregator (Feedly, WordPress Reader, etc.) and email subscribers the first few lines of your blog post with a link to click through, hopefully encouraging them to visit your website to read the whole article, this article (third-party content recommended by a fellow blogger) explains how to do that.


I hope this has reassured you that those dismal stats are not as dismal as you thought they were! Please share and/or comment if this article has been useful for you.

Other related articles on this blog

Keep an eye on your stats

Scheduling blog posts and keeping going – scheduling the posts and the writing of them

Five ways to drive and increase engagement with your blog

How to keep people engaged with your blog

Six things you can do to increase your SEO

 

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2018 in Blogging, WordPress

 

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Small business update – Yvonne Donald

Let’s say a big hello to Yvonne Donald from delicious cake company, Kake and Cupkakery. Yvonne’s first interview was in September 2012, and we had catch-ups in in October 2013 and then November 2014, January 2016 and January 2017. I’m so pleased to see Yvonne still going strong: this is where she wanted to be by now, “After all this time I finally realise my main priority is to see Kake and Cupkakery grow and flourish whether that’s online, through a store front or both. So for the year ahead I want this to be my main focus as I see Kake and Cupkakery as a brand which I would like to become stronger within the local community and Birmingham as a whole. I want to have more of a presence amongst the wedding market as I still have a little concept that I haven’t given my full attention to. And maybe look into having an app, as we all have mobiles and I think an app alongside my website might be a good idea to save customers even more time and have ease of access for ordering.. So if any fellow small techy businesses reading this can help with this, I would love to hear from you: I’m happy to give you cake …” Lots of lovely aims there, so let’s see how she’s getting on!

Hello, Yvonne, it’s lovely to chat with you again. Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
Hello! I think I can safely say it’s been a good year. Am I where I thought I would be? It’s a big yes and a little no. I’m still operating from home in my registered kitchen but a big yes regarding the business overall, as last year I wanted the business to grow and flourish and I feel that it has due to the volume of orders I am receiving.

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

Well I didn’t look into the app, I basically didn’t have the time to, as I built a new website. I’ve taken a another tiny step into the wedding market as I’m getting commissions for a few more wedding cakes every year, it’s not my primary market like some cake makers but I feel I’m an all-rounder so I’m keeping one foot in the wedding camp.

The beginning of 2017 I bought a biz planner that made me take a good look at my biz from the inside out and one area which I wanted to get right was my branding, I know I have focused on this before with little tweaks here and there but this planner really made me think, as I really wanted a strong look to make me stand out in what is a very competitive market. Rebranding became an even clearer goal as in march 2017 I was chosen as Theo Paphitis (previous dragon on Dragons’ Den) #SBS (small business Sunday) winner on twitter. I had entered this many years ago and basically you tweet Theo your business and his fave 6 he retweets on a Monday. I decided to enter for the first time in years and won (wooo hooo). I got to go to a #SBS event with other winners who come from many other industries, and even got to meet him [see a photo of Yyonne and Theo on her Instagram).

My #SBS win and rebrand I feel has really helped boost my business, The decision to invest and get the job done properly to have a clear brand identity was the best decision ever, I now have a new logo, brand colours, specific fonts, brand patterns and a new website. Both of these (#SBS/rebrand) have helped propel me on to the coveted page 1 on Google for my specific search terms so I’m getting noticed on the web, resulting in increased orders.

I also took the plunge and entered the most intimidating cake competition ever, which is Cake International: people come from all over the world to enter. There are a number of categories and I entered the wedding cake category and pushed myself by using royal icing which is a medium not used that often but is creeping back in vogue. I didn’t place, but I haven’t let that deter me as the competition was fierce and standards extremely high plus it would help if I read the competition schedule properly. (Roll on November).

I also now have help with my admin regarding the everyday recording of figures etc.. I do use an accountant but my sister is kindly helping me and freeing up more of my operating time for baking, planning etc .… so she’s not exactly my first employee but kind of is.

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

This year I have learnt me time and work life balance are so very important. This area has improved a lot for me. I still continue to schedule in down time and actually managed to fit in a holiday and went alone, which was a huge personal goal of mine and I would definitely recommend. But also being much stricter with myself and allocating specific days and times for the business to operate as well as a (no compromise) day off has made me feel much calmer less frantic and more in control and more organised.

Any more hints and tips for people?

Challenge yourself often as that’s how we grow, being judged by your peers can be tough but entering competitions etc.. within your industry or outside of your industry can be very exciting and rewarding.

Don’t underestimate you’re “ME” time. If you’re not functioning 100%, your business will suffer and we are our businesses.

Your business is more than just a name or a logo: going through the design process really helped me clearly identify who my market is, so every now and then take time to do a little audit on who you are selling to, is it a good fit, are your prices right, are your products right?

Studying your social media analytics can be a great way to instantly see who is connecting with you as well who your social media is reaching.

Don’t be scared of change as it can work wonders.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

Bigger and better that hopefully I can seriously make a move to work full-time in the business. This business is self-evolving – I plan but things never go to plan so I set myself small goals.

Within the next year ideally I want or rather need a bigger space to work, so I think for this year I either need to think of extending or looking for a separate kitchen/workshop space, but I will continue to seek out opportunities and increase sales even more.

I’m so pleased Yvonne’s been able to take some me time this year and even a holiday – a big step for a small business owner! Sometimes running your own business does take over a bit, and that’s fine, as long as it’s only sometimes. It’s so important to have space and time for you. As usual, I can’t wait to find out what Yvonne gets up to in the next year!

Twitter @Cupkakery
Phone: 07837 876604
 
 

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Complicated or complex?

DictionariesThis one was suggested by Neil Langley posting on my main Troublesome Pairs post.

So what is the difference between complex and complicated? Is there one?

The answer is that their meanings overlap. The main dictionaries in the US and UK (Oxford, Merriam-Webster, etc.) define complex using the word complicated, so the adjective complex means made up of many different parts, or complicated. Complicated means consisting of many interconnecting parts, or intricate. So very similar.

The noun complication moves on to describe something that makes something complicated, a complex state (there we go again) and in medical terminology, a disease or condition that is secondary to the main one but makes it worse.

Complex as a noun can mean a few more things – an interlinked system (the military-industrial complex), and then Oxford links but Merriam-Webster lists separately, a group of interlinked buildings. It also has a meaning in psychology of a group of emotionally significant but repressed ideas which cause an abnormal kind of behaviour or an abnormal state (a persecution complex), and by extension, a more pop-psych preoccupation or exaggerated reaction (I have a complex about spiders). There’s a chemical meaning to do with connections, too.

So the nouns vary, but if you’re describing something made up of lots of different things that might be a bit confusing or intricate, it can be complicated OR complex.

Having done some rooting about, I did discover this Washington Post resource claiming to delineate a difference.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.

 
 

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