by Laura Brown
Originally Published Oct 23, 2013
Writing is a critical skill for all small business owners and entrepreneurs. Steve Strauss, senior small business columnist for USA TODAY, is also a contributor to How to Write Anything, with a terrifically helpful sidebar on using Twitter for business. Steve’s own new book is The Small Business Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Succeed in Your Small Business (Wiley), and it contains invaluable guidance for anyone who runs their own business or who aspires to launch one.
Steve, known as “the country’s leading small business expert,” offers his expertise on choosing the right business, calculating start-up costs, branding, pricing strategies, human resources and legal issues, and technology, among other critical topics. He also offers his expertise on a variety of writing tasks critical to success for entrepreneurs, including business plans, marketing and advertising, and using social media to promote and grow your business. The book includes tips, insider information, stories, and proven techniques for success. Even if you’re an experienced business owner, this useful book can bring you up to speed on the latest business and technology trends.The Small Business Bible truly is a comprehensive guide for anyone who is self-employed–or wants to be!
Check out Steve’s website, TheSelfEmployed.com, for a wealth of information for anyone interested in being their own boss. And buy yourself a copy of The Small Business Bible here.
by Laura Brown
Originally Published Sep 22, 2013
A strong resume is one of your greatest assets in the job search. A resume is more than just a record of your past employment and educational background. It’s a targeted marketing tool that, if done right, can make you stand out from the crowd and catch the attention of managers and recruiters. Competition for most jobs is stiff, and most resumes are skimmed rather than read. Avoiding these five common mistakes can help keep yours out of the reject pile.
Mistake #1: Not adapting your resume to the specific job you’re applying for. No matter how many resumes you send out, each one must be tailored to match the requirements of the job. If you use a one-size-fits-all resume, you’ll miss opportunities.
Mistake #2: Not including keywords from the job description in your resume. Many companies use an automated tool to scan incoming resumes. If yours doesn’t contain the keywords the machine is looking for, it may never be viewed by a human.
Mistake #3: Including too much content on the resume. Your resume shouldn’t provide complete job descriptions for each of the jobs you list—just the highlights, and especially those highlights that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for. When it comes to content, more isn’t always better.
Mistake #4: Using non-standard formatting. Unusual formatting can make your resume stand out…but not necessarily in a good way. Using non-standard formatting might make the reader think you’re not professional or you don’t know what’s expected of you. Find other outlets for your creativity–in most fields, your resume isn’t the place for it.
Mistake #5: Allowing typos, spelling errors, and grammatical errors to remain on the resume. Recruiters and hiring managers are often looking for any possible excuse to eliminate a resume from consideration. You could be the best fit in the world for the job, but if your resume is sloppy, it will likely be discarded. To be safe, ask a friend–or even a professional editor–to proofread your resume before you send it out. It’s well worth the extra step.
Avoiding these common mistakes will take a little extra effort on your part, but it can help set you apart from the competition and pay off in the form of more interviews and, with luck, job offers.
by Laura Brown
Originally Published Aug 26, 2013
In last week’s post, Demystifying the Comma, part 1, we looked at the most basic rules for comma usage. Today we’ll delve a little deeper into the mystery of the comma, and you’ll emerge fully confident in your command of the comma!
Use a comma after an introductory adverb that modifies the entire sentence.
Unfortunately, the guacamole was gone when they arrived.
Alternatively, we could take the train into the city.
On the other hand, it might be better to work on the taxes in the morning.
Use a comma to set off a nonrestrictive modifier or appositive.
(A nonrestrictive element is not essential to the meaning of a sentence. If it’s deleted, the sentence still makes sense and retains its meaning.)
The car, a black Lexus, was parked in the underground garage.
The sweater, which was too small anyway, shrank in the wash.
Use a comma to set off sentence modifiers and sentence elements out of normal word order.
The new software, unfortunately, is even harder to use than the old version.
Urban living, I think, will become the norm soon.
Although it’s tempting to insert a comma wherever you might pause in speech, you’re far safer to follow the rules than to punctuate “by ear.”
Don’t expect yourself to memorize all these rules right off the bat: the best way to remember grammar and punctuation rules is through using them. You can bookmark these posts and refer to them whenever you have a comma-related question.
by Laura Brown
Originally Published Aug 21, 2013
In this week’s post, we look at the comma–the most frequently used punctuation mark and one that causes more than its fair share of confusion. Most people have at least some uncertainty about when to use a comma, and most people punctuate by the seat of their pants–whenever it “feels right.” Luckily there are clear rules about when to use a comma, so you don’t have to guess every time. Learn these few rules, and you’ll never wonder if you’re doing it right again. Let’s start by looking at the most common uses.
Use a comma:
When joining two full sentences with and, or, but, nor, or for.
– Jennifer worked for the agency, but I never knew her there.
– The CFO liked Marco’s resume, and I think we should interview him.
Between items in a series.
– They are looking for people in marketing, sales, and account management.
– The caterer offers vegetarian, gluten-free, and kosher selections.
(The comma before the “and” is optional. It’s known as a “serial comma” or “Oxford comma,” and we’ll talk more about it in a later post.)
After a long introductory phrase or clause.
– With the presentation behind him, Paul was able to enjoy the rest of the trip.
– Because of the shortage of housing in the city, they moved to the suburbs.
(It’s up to you to decide if your introductory phrase or clause is long enough to justify using a comma. If you think there’s any risk of confusion, you’re better off inserting a comma.)
Those are the basics! In Part 2 of “Demystifying the Comma,” we’ll look at a few more rules for comma usage. Don’t expect yourself to memorize these rules right off the bat: the best way to remember grammar and punctuation rules is through using them. Bookmark these posts and refer to them whenever you have a comma-related question.
by Laura Brown
Originally Published May 26, 2013
Many of my clients tell me that one of their most pressing needs is getting through their writing tasks faster. We’re all in a terrific rush these days, and writing has become a critically important part of many jobs.
Here are a few tricks to help you write faster:
Use a template. If there are writing tasks you do frequently, take a few minutes to create a template that you can use over and over again. The point here is to avoid reinventing the wheel every time you write. Your template can be as simple as a paragraph outline. Refine the template as you continue to use it, to make it as efficient as possible.
Make a time for writing. Mark out a time in your day just for writing—for answering e-mails or working on any other writing tasks you’re facing. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day; it just has to be 100% dedicated to writing—no phone calls, no other interruptions. You can get a lot of writing done in 20 minutes if there are no other demands on that time.
Think before you write. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking some time to plan out what you’re going to write can save you a tremendous of time in long run. When you start writing before you know what you want to say, you often end up spending more time later reworking and rewriting your text.
Finally, get into the habit of proofreading what you’ve written. Even the most experienced writers make more mistakes when they’re working in a hurry. It may take a few seconds to proofread your work, but catching errors before they reach others can save you a lot of time in cleaning up the misunderstandings or confusion that can result from typos or muddy expression.
For customized help in getting through your writing tasks more quickly, contact me to set up a needs review and individual consultation. I look forward to helping you work more efficiently!
by Laura Brown
Originally Published Jan 28, 2013
Do you ever wish that government and business documents were easier to understand? You’re not alone. The proliferation of legalese and other gobbledygook in official documents can render important information almost completely inaccessible.
The folks who run The Center for Plain Language are trying to do something about this problem. The Center’s mission includes the following:
by Laura Brown
Originally Published Dec 17, 2012
Sending instant messages at the office seems as quick and simple as having a conversation, but that very simplicity carries some risks. A little attention to etiquette and common sense will make your instant messaging with colleagues even faster and more effective.
Here are some dos and don’ts to guide you:
by Laura Brown
Originally Published Nov 9, 2012
Over 85% of the clients I’ve worked with report experiencing writer’s block. It’s a very widespread phenomenon—and an absolutely miserable feeling. There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting in front of your computer, the minutes ticking by, and not getting any writing done. The good news is that writer’s block is a completely curable condition. Here are a few tricks to help you get started writing when you’re feeling stuck:
Reward yourself. Instead of procrastinating by getting a cup of coffee or checking Facebook, why not use those distractions as rewards once you’ve done your writing? Set yourself a modest goal—say, writing for 15 minutes—and then give yourself a little reward once it’s done. You’ll enjoy the treat that much more if you’ve accomplished something you’re proud of.
Try freewriting. If you’re having trouble warming to your topic, try writing about something else instead. Set a timer, and spend 10 minutes or so writing about anything you want. Don’t pressure yourself to write about any particular topic—just write. You can write about your morning commute, you can write about last night’s game, you can write about the thing that’s worrying you the most, or you can pick another topic that appeals to you. The point is just to start writing somewhere. Once you’re warmed up, you can focus on the topic you need to write about.
Write it badly. Writer’s block often results from anxiety about the quality of our writing. Somewhere deep down, we feel that our writing product isn’t going to be very good, so we hesitate even to begin. Defuse this problem by deliberately writing badly. Focus on your content, and then write it out ungrammatically, colloquially…as badly as you possibly can. By writing out your content badly, you’ve tricked yourself into writing a first draft. Once you have it all written down, you can set about revising your draft and making it more presentable.
I’ll be sharing more tricks for overcoming writer’s block in future posts. With one or two of these techniques in your arsenal, you’ll soon be writing freely and comfortably.