3 Ways to Look Like a Professional (Even If You Have No Clue What You’re Doing)

We all have to start somewhere!  Although you might be new to being a professional biz personality, that doesn’t mean you have to look green.  Maybe you’re not a people person or aren’t sure how to handle your first day on the job.  If you’re lost and need direction on keeping up appearances while managing your fledgling business, I’ve got you covered.  Here are three tricks I’ve learned to help you look like a professional, even when you have no clue what you’re doing.

 

3 Ways to Look Like a Professional… Even If You Have No Clue What You’re Doing

 

3 Ways to Look Like a Professional (Even If You Have No Clue What You're Doing)- WordsbyErynn

 

Dress to impress (online)

Dress for the job you want, not the one you have, right?  We’ve heard the tired line of advice about faking it ’til you make it, but did you know there are statistics to back up the fact that your physical attributes and even professional attitude can impact your career?

Forbes has an entire article about executive presence, and reported that your career advancement is directly connected with how confident and authoritative you appear- and this presence counts for about a fourth of your promotional potential.  While this data was gleaned from an executive boardroom type environment, the bottom line is the same.  You literally have to fake it ’til you make it (and keep ironing those dress pants).  Being meek and withdrawn won’t win you any accolades, since the higher ups are most impressed by forward thinking and an air of self importance.  Physical appearance plays a part, but it’s a small component of the overall package that is uber professional and authoritative you.

But what if your business doesn’t happen in a boardroom or office building with endless rows of cubicles and highly sought after corner offices?

In the digital business world, transactions take place over email, and “face to face” can often just mean via Skype.  In this setting, professional dress and the ability to dominate the company meeting with brilliant biz ideas can only take you so far.  If your business involves regular, digital face time with clients, you already know wearing a tie or ironed shirt will help your image.

For the rest of us that seem to only exist in the cyberspace between our laptop screens and our clients’, this 3 step non-physical-appearance guide translates that physical executive presence into actionable online business communication.  After all, the client on the other end of your electronic communication won’t have any clue what you look like, so there’s no banking on good looks to float you through.

 

1. Don’t say, “I don’t know…”

 

This is a valuable yet straightforward gem I learned from years in customer service.  For a concept so simple, it seemed difficult for many a retail employee to digest.  Bottom line: if I don’t know the answer to your question, it’s my job to find it.  Whether I’m the janitor or the CEO, it’s in my job description to be helpful.  Particularly in my own business, because, after all, I should know everything about it.

Right?

The truth is, we all forget details on occasion (usually the worst occasions).  Another truth is, there’s no excuse for not keeping track of the ins and outs of your business.  If a client doesn’t recall the amount you quoted them on a project, is it really in your best interest to answer with “I don’t know, I emailed you the quote weeks ago”?

Nope, definitely not.  It’s worth the ten minutes of outbox searching (or better yet, taking notes in the first place- hello Google sheets!) to find the exact figure.  But as a conscientious business owner, you wouldn’t dream of being outright rude or unhelpful to a client.  At least, I hope you wouldn’t.

But, there are other ways this lackadaisical approach to information sharing could hurt your business.  If a client asks for a quote on a new project and you’ve never billed for that type of work before, there’s no reason you have to flounder helplessly.  Hopping online can help you figure out how to structure project proposals- and to bill for the work you’re doing- without letting the client know you were desperately skimming Pinterest for invoicing tips.

There were times in my early days of freelancing when I’d head to search engines for advice on any number of small biz topics.  Just when I was praying for expert advice on filing freelance taxes, up came a result perfectly suited to that conundrum.  There’s no one comprehensive guide to making it all work, as a freelancer or any business owner.  However, there is no lack of super helpful information that can be found and stored in your savvy biz owner information receptacle.  And by that, I obviously mean your secret Pinterest board.

 

2. Don’t say, “I think…”

 

You’re the expert.

Your opinions are not opinions, they’re facts.

 

You're the expert. Your opinions are not opinions, they're facts. Click To Tweet

 

If you’re giving advice to a client, or making suggestions for a project, think about why you’re tempted to preface a comment with “I think.”

Is it because you’re not sure about the proposition?  Are you hesitant to put yourself out there for fear of failure?  If these worries are holding you back, you likely shouldn’t be giving that particular piece of advice at all.  If what you’re saying to a client isn’t something you’d want plastered on a billboard, or across Twitter, it’s probably best left unsaid.

On the other hand, if you’re saying “I think” because you’re trying to be friendly and gentle with your client…

Knock it off.

You’re the expert for a reason.  Clients come to you and trust you for that reason.  You know why formula X Y Z works.  Just because you’re scared to offend a client doesn’t mean they don’t need the help that you’re poised to offer.  A key strategy is to offer advice in the form of “this is great for you because…” rather than “I think this might work for you because…”  There is a huge difference between being approachable and being timid, and we want conversational, helpful input- without the wishy washy.

There is much to be said about the language we use with our customers, but overall the idea is to focus on positive phrasing and a problem solving attitude.  Consider your client’s perspective when answering questions (even if it’s the 100th such inquiry today).  Definitely don’t write in all caps.  Emojis should be used sparingly, since we are serious business persons, after all.

Your clients want results, and you’re [obviously] the pro to deliver them.  Just make sure your delivery comes across pro, too.

 

3. Don’t over-apologize

 

Of course, apologize when necessary.  As in, when you actually screw up.  If you constantly apologize for every little thing, from a misunderstanding that wasn’t your fault, to not answering an email the moment you received it, you risk looking like a doormat.  Also, you look a little guilty, not to mention awkward.

Save those apologies for when they’re truly needed.  Like when you’re so deathly ill you can’t crawl to the computer or get to the post office in time to meet a set deadline.  Or when tech malfunctions keep you from accessing important documents (because even the Cloud isn’t foolproof, right?).  There will be times when your client deserves- and likely expects- a sincere apology.  But over-apologizing can cause your clients to lose confidence in you, because it can start to sound hollow.

As a people-pleaser, holding back the sorries might be difficult for you (*raises hand*).  You  might want to save people from their problems.  Make sure their coffee has just the right amount of sugar, fold their napkin just so, wipe away any crumbs.  But if you’re caught up in fine-combing the less significant details, then you’re not wholeheartedly invested in your actual work.  Besides, it’s highly unlikely that every snafu that comes up is legitimately your fault in the first place.

There’s no point in apologizing solely for your tendency to take up space (or breathe!).  We all miss an email occasionally, mean to reply and forget, or need time to think a prospect through.  If you’re offering customers awesomeness 99% of the time, that 1% of oops will be covered.

 

Keep your eye on the prize!

 

Ok, that one’s just a bonus.

But seriously:

A few months from now, or even years from now, you’ll look back on your new biz owner days with pride.  And without flinching!  Earning an actual paycheck through your ingenuity and hard work is the coolest grown up feeling ever.  So is earning trust and respect from your clients.  After all, without them, you wouldn’t have a business!

We’re all scared to venture out of our safe spaces, but to brand yourself as the expert in your craft, it’s wholly necessary!  Your reputation is intermingled with every sale you make.  The key is being aware of how you portray yourself in your business and in your client interactions.

How do you ensure that your online “executive presence” and your brand are being represented in the absolute best light?  I’d love to know!

 

Your Email Pitch: What Not to Say

I’m a little surprised to say that I’ve been on the receiving end of less than stellar pitches. I would hope that someone who is pitching to a writer would… well, pay more attention to his or her writing. Therefore, I have a few tips for my friends who use cold email pitch tactics to drum up new business.

To enhance cold email pitch potential, I have a few tips for those who use email marketing tactics to drum up new business. [Marketing advice from WordsbyErynn]

Before the actual email pitch- do your research.

Please don’t offer me a service that I am already using. Please don’t call me sir when I’m [hopefully] obviously a woman. Do a little research on your intended target, and your email will come across as knowledgeable and more personal. It’s particularly respectful to find out the name or title of the addressee, so you can avoid that awkward ‘To whom it may concern’ and other vague nonsense.

Besides, you’re better than that. If you’re trying to start a business-client relationship with a contact, you’ve got one shot to impress him or her. Show that you know your stuff, and that you are a professional.

On that same note…

Subject lines: bland = unsuccessful

So, you have an awesome product or service that I might need. You write a short and sweet, but personal, email, telling me why I must have your Amazing Thing. But. And it’s a big but. Your subject line offers me no incentive to click. If I weren’t so interested in picking apart other professionals’ marketing tactics, I wouldn’t have clicked at all. The point is, you’re not guaranteed eyeballs on your email unless the subject line is inviting or at least transparent.

I don’t recommend going over the top with “Click now for a special deal” or “Limited time offer, act now,” because those feel skeevy. My suggestion is to stick with something simple. For my freelancing business, I might approach a business owner who is apparently lacking a regular writer to maintain its web copy. A suitable subject line would be, ‘Web copywriting inquiry’ or ‘Product description suggestions for your business.’ Not enough promotion to come across as flashy and cheesy, but enough information so that the recipient understands why I’m randomly emailing her.

Did a robot write this? A robot lacking spell check?

Aren’t we all tired of those automated Twitter messages and impersonal product pitches? I don’t mind hearing about your product, especially if it might be beneficial to my business, but if you send me the same message as the other 500 contacts on your list, I will know. And I will shun you. Not publicly, but you won’t get my business or my respect.

Also, please spell check. I can’t beg you enough. I routinely receive newsletters to blogs I subscribe to, and I have seen more than my share of cringe worthy mistakes. Am I not worth your time? Do you not read and re-read your content before publishing? Embarrassing secret- I do, often multiple times. I also re-read days or weeks later and have caught a few mistakes of my own (gasp! how is it possible?!). I suppose I should go back to offering  a Starbucks gift card if a reader catches a mistake and notifies me 😉

The point is, we are human, and minor errors are forgivable. However,  if I know that I’m receiving the same typo-ridden Twitter message that all 800 of your other Twitter followers received, I might just un follow you to avoid further eye strain.

 

Along my freelance journey, I’ve learned a ton of valuable tips and tricks for landing jobs, creating content, and generally just giving good, consistent service. None of that does me any good if my email pitches are poorly conceived with lackluster delivery. Avoid these mistakes, and you just might see better return on your email pitch investments!

Guest Service Strategies: Handling Complaints as a Small Business Owner

Before my career change to freelance writer and web content evaluation consultant, I spent ten years in customer service. I held a variety of front line customer service positions over the years, and at one company earned a few recognition awards for giving great guest service. So, I think I can claim to know at least a few things about customer service. For example, if I had performed any job as abysmally as the staff at an auto service center I visited last month, I would have been counseled extensively, if not fired.

How is my experience relevant to you? If you own your own business, the time will come when you’re faced with a complaint. Or a whole lot of complaints. How do you handle a disgruntled customer when you’re the face of the entire company, from front line service to CEO? I recommend 5 simple guidelines to ease the process.

Guest Service Strategies: Handling Complaints as a Small Business Owner. 5 strategies for handling unhappy customers. WordsbyErynn blog

CEO reality check: Guest service is always my job.

Even if you’re not routinely interacting with your customers (lucky you to have minions to do the work!), you are still responsible for the messages they receive and the way they’re treated. By the time a customer reaches you, the situation is likely to escalate unless you acknowledge that your employees, your website, your written materials, and any other representation of the business are all your responsibility.

It would not have served me well in my former guest service life to have told a customer that something wasn’t my job, or disregard how another person in the business treated them. It doesn’t serve you well to shift responsibility in your own business either, boss person!

Marketing: My customers just want the truth.

If you haven’t completed a project on time, let the customer know. If something went wrong and you need time to fix it, just tell them. The worst that can happen is they’ll be irritated- which will happen anyway if you lie and they find out later!

If you must, be creative in your explanations, but don’t lie! For example, “We’re waiting on a response from the warranty company, and policy doesn’t allow us to release your vehicle” is a hundred times better than, “There’s a lot more that has to be done so we’ll call you when it’s ready.” Yes, that happened to me, and as you can see, I am still annoyed about it. The truth will always serve you better in small business than a lie will!

Guest management: Guest service as a process.

Before I even handed over the keys to my vehicle, I told the service rep that I’d had a bad experience the previous visit and wasn’t thrilled to be back (location and convenience for the win). He apologized profusely and thanked me for returning.

While an apology is a nice way to open, I don’t want people tripping over themselves to tell me how bad they feel. I want action, and your customers do too. If a customer feels wronged, apologizing only acknowledges the error. Let them know how you’ll take action to fix it.

Offer an item or service at a discount (or free!), provide additional support or services that aren’t normally included, or just make yourself available if they have future troubles. Take note of the fact that a customer with a previous or existing issue, might very well continue to have issues, so be proactive in offering ways to help.

Chief Frugality Officer: When good guest service pains your wallet. WordsbyErynn blog. Remind yourself that for the longevity of your business, small sacrifices along the way are necessary.

Chief Frugality Officer: When good guest service pains your wallet.

When I picked up my vehicle from the aforementioned service center, I was well over the one day rental cost allowed by my warranty company. My service rep covered the additional rental fees without hesitation.

I know that for a business of their size, this was not a huge bullet to bite, but to you and me, our work might be worth a lot more than forty and some change. There may be times when granting a full refund might save your business a terrible review, however tough it is to make up the difference for your bottom line. It can be disheartening to essentially throw away the time you spent on a service or product, not considering the cost of materials or supplies. But remind yourself that for the longevity of your business, small sacrifices along the way are necessary.

Public Relations: Reduce opportunities for gossip and public embarrassment.

Have you ever gone on Yelp to check out reviews for a business, and read a particularly scathing review followed by the business itself commenting? I personally will not patronize a business that airs its issues with customers publicly on social media or review platforms. I even take issue with airing my own complaints about businesses on public forums, because I don’t want strangers knowing the details of my experiences. It’s tough to balance the need for validation and the need for privacy.

If someone posts a negative review or complaint about your business, take a deep breath and try not to take it personally. Being defensive will only hurt your business, and further impact that guest’s perception of you. Contact the complainant discreetly, but mention in a comment that you’ll be doing so. Have a plan of action for what you’ll do to fix the problem this customer experienced, and be gracious about it!

I can’t guarantee you’ll never have to deal with dissatisfied customers (though hopefully the number is small), but having a positive attitude and a plan can help alleviate the stress and uncertainty that come with handling complaints.

Readability: Why It Matters: Advice from WordsbyErynn on how to create content geared for your specific audience

Readability: Why It Matters

As a copywriter, I follow specific parameters on different projects depending on client needs. As a business owner, you will find that your copy has the potential to entice new customers, or drive away potentials. The rules of that copy are completely up to you. So why should you consider readability an important component in your copy guidelines?

You’re aiming for a specific audience.

Your audience might be doctorate program peers or a middle school class. Either way, you have a target in mind when you begin writing. To effectively deliver the information that a certain population is looking for, you need to meet them where they’re at.

With your doctorate peers, you want to sound educated and intelligent. This will require a higher level of writing than that presentation to middle school kids. That audience would likely be intimidated by more formal and elaborate writing.

You want to be understood.

If you’re writing to a higher level of understanding than the majority of your audience, they won’t get you. If they’re scratching their heads and thinking maybe they should Google some terms, then you’re not holding up your end of the communication bargain. Remember, our job as communicators is to do our best to get our message across clearly.

I know it’s tempting to use fun words like snafu and expeditious, but don’t use them unless you’re absolutely positive your audience will be receptive. On that same note, don’t use slang or abbreviated terms if your intended audience is made up of college professors or literary geniuses.

[bws_pinterest_pin_it type=”any”]

You don’t want people to get exasperated or bored.

I read at a fairly high level, and apparently write that way too. That said, I have visited blogs and business webpages that had me questioning the need for a dictionary by the second paragraph. If you’re using big words just to sound pretentious, knock it off. Normal people don’t like that (not that I know any personally, but that’s what I’ve been told!).

Most normal people click away from boring content (and don’t think it’s fun to evaluate it like I do), so you’re losing readers if you don’t cater to their expectations. People aren’t visiting your site or shopping for your product because they want a mental challenge, they just want to know what you’re about and why.

Cater to your people, because…

You want to keep people around.

Your readers are what makes your content special! You know your readers are vital, so take the necessary steps to cater to them. Your readers feel at home when you’re clear and honest. You don’t want them to feel like they’re being tricked or purposely uninformed.

The more you concern yourself with how your readers interpret your message, the more you’re able to see things from their perspective. We write for other people to consume our writing. This is true whether it’s a career choice or a necessity through a school project or job.

Being able to produce desirable content + speak in a voice that is relevant to our readers is a formula for writing success. Keep this in mind when writing, and your readers will love you for it!

If you’re a blogger, the Yoast plugin makes keeping an eye on your readability super easy. If you’re using Microsoft Word, it’s simple to activate the built-in readability stats. Navigate to File –> Options –> Proofing and check the box for “Show readability statistics.” Then click for a spelling/grammar check and Word does the evaluation for you. 

Email Tips Classy Words by Erynn

9 Email Tips for Classy Professionals

If you’re not putting your best professional image in every email you send, you’re shortchanging yourself! All forms of communication influence others’ opinions of us, and email is no exception. It’s especially important if email is your first or only method of contact. If the receiving party of your email has never seen your smiling face, you’re at an immediate disadvantage.

So, how can you write to impress in your emails?

First, greet your addressee.

Definitely say hello, or depending on the time zone, good morning, good evening, or the like. Jumping right in to the main point of your email can be a little off putting, particularly if you don’t know the addressee personally.

On that same note, I advise against using “dear” because we’re not writing a diary entry, we want a conversation. Snail mail etiquette isn’t always suitable for email, so the word dear can be nixed from our digital communication files.

Also, address your addressee appropriately, using Mr., Mrs., or Ms. as applicable. If you don’t know enough about this person to address them correctly, off to Google with you!

Acknowledge that they’re a human (before getting down to business).

A short sentence addressing the CEO’s recent vacation, or a reference to your client’s stunning website photography goes a long way in showing a person that you care. Because your client is not just a pocket book, and your vendor is not just a means to getting a project completed.

You don’t have to spend nine paragraphs describing every detail of your past meetings, but a short reference to a common experience or something relevant in their lives shows people that they matter to you. And they do, or you wouldn’t bother to send them this classy email in the first place!

Get down to business.

No one likes a conversational, friendly email that sounds like just catching up, only to receive a flat sales pitch in response to their note back. If you just want to catch up with someone, make that clear. If you have business to take care of, take care of it!

Being friendly and personable should always be a component of your email, but fluff has no place here. We’re all busy people, so make sure you get your point across! Also give the recipient a heads up if you require feedback, or ongoing support during a project.

Be cognizant of time differences.

Note your intended recipient’s time zone; know if it’s past their bedtime, or the middle of their weekend, before you hit send. A safe bet is sticking to standard business hours and workweek time frames. Monday through Friday between 8am and 6pm is fairly standard, depending on business specifics.

Sending emails at 2am on a Saturday might work if your contact is a guitarist who plays late shows in a rock band, but isn’t so effective if he’s a CEO that clocks out for the weekend.

The less accommodating you are to your contact’s schedule, the more likely your email will be pushed down on her list, or missed completely. So play to her convenience, and aim for daylight hours.

9 Email Tips for Classy Professionals... WordsbyErynn.com
Write to impress by following these 9 email tips for classy professionals.

Use spell check before sending, every time. 

There is nothing more damaging to your reputation as a savvy business person than an email riddled with preventable spelling errors. Outlook has an option to automatically check spelling and grammar before sending an email. Use this!

If you have a really tough time with spelling and punctuation, forward your email to an assistant, or if you’re lacking in office support, borrow your mom or close friend!

You don’t need a professional email editor, since another set of eyes not familiar with your content will pick up more errors than yours will. Plus, if you’re sending a long email with lots of details, you might skim over those while mom will read more for information, and catch any typos.

NEVER WRITE IN ALL CAPS!

If you have any experience online, you know this equates to yelling at your contact. This is never a good idea, particularly when your message could be misconstrued upon arrival. The number one rule of communication is doing your best to make your message clear and concise.

We can’t guarantee that our readers will satisfactorily comprehend our messages, but it’s our job to make it as clear as possible. Yelling does not help them understand. Plus, all caps is distracting, and makes you look like a novice (when we all know you’re a savvy biz whiz!).

If something is super important, flag it, or note the urgency in the subject line, but please lower your voice.

Don’t use slang.

Hey man, I’m just dropping a line to see if you wanna book me for a gig sometime. Hit me back if you’re interested.

No. Just no. Stay proper and professional, even if your email is addressed to that rock guitarist. Never assume your addressee knows the industry lingo, either, unless you work in the same field.

When addressing someone whose background you have no clue about, it doesn’t hurt to stay simple and proper, especially because professionalism is always admired.

Don’t sign off abruptly.

Wrap up your message with a closing statement, If you expect action back from the recipient, note that you’ll be awaiting their direction on the issue. If you’re sending an FYI, make that clear by referencing the relevant case or appointment and that you’re providing follow up for informational purposes.

Don’t leave them guessing as to what your point is, make it obvious.

Establish a proper signature.

It doesn’t have to be something fancy, and actually shouldn’t be so crazy that it’s difficult to read or burns your eyes. You should provide your basic contact details, your title, and a website link if possible.

Quotes from idols or industry heroes are cool, just make sure they’re legible and don’t overpower the influence of your own stats. Steve Jobs might have some great words of advice, but your contact doesn’t need to know them until after they’ve read and digested your message and taken note of who you are and why you matter.

Now get to work answering that pile up of emails in your inbox. I know it’s not fun, but it’s a necessary evil of the business world- and you’re going to rock it.