Thursday, July 28, 2011

All in a Day’s Work

Well it’s official. I am a farmer’s wife. I just gained my badge.

Let me explain. This year we have taken on six cows, and like their predecessors, they have tended to keep a low profile, and we only eyeball them when they come up to the trough for water, which given this heat, has been more often than usual.

So as I was driving down our driveway, heading for the office, out of the corner of my eye I spotted one of our cows – in an open field, far from where she should have been. She was guzzling with glee at the new fodder in this field, unperturbed that she now had an audience – a rather well-dressed one at that!

We have a farmer who helps with the cattle, so I went over to give him a shout. Fortunately he was up (it was early) and over we went to round up our delinquent cow.

After quick debate, we decided the best way was for the two of us to get her to voluntarily take herself back to the field.

Hugh chased after her and as a result, she headed in my direction. Now I don’t know about you, but I am not well-versed in what to do when a cow is coming straight for you, or for that matter, on how best to get it to go anywhere.

So I stood firm, waved my arms and shouted Whoa. I know – it’s a cow, not a horse, but hey – it worked and after a couple of shouts of whoa – she jumped, yes jumped, over the fence to join her buddies.

Lesson learned – there may be some merit to the rumour about the cow jumping over the moon – because they can sure jump.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thumbs Up

I have a confession to make – I am container-challenged.

It’s a recent phenomenon, but I know it's not going to get better, only worse.

And it is not selective – cans, bottle tops, lids, jars of jelly – you name it, I have trouble opening it.

Why? One of the joys of aging, I guess, is that I now have arthritis in my thumbs. Let me tell you – you don’t realize what you use and need your thumbs for, until it becomes hard to use them – the button on the electric tooth brush, the can opener, even flushing the toilet.

So for Mother’s Day this year my kids bought me every gadget known to man to help me open those elusive jars and cans. The dog is sure happy – his meals are looking up again.

And now those screw top wine b bottles are opened with a quick twist.

So cheers! I am giving these gadgets the quick thumbs up.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Check Your Motives Before You Write

In a recent blog, Seth Godin advocated keeping our writing simple. So often he points out, people take forever to get to the point, use long words and jargon and are frankly quite boring.

I’ve often found so much depends on the purpose of the writing. Is it to educate and inform the reader? Or is it more about you, and the opportunity to show off your knowledge?

Your reason for writing will impact the way you write. When you are genuinely trying to get a point across, or hopefully educate the reader, then there’s less jargon and the wording is simple. When it’s all about you, and this opportunity to showcase your “stuff,” people tend to trot out their most elaborate vocabularly, try to sound superior with their use of jargon and are often long-winded, reluctant to give up the “written” stage.

Years ago when I was working as a consultant I was asked to synthesize several lengthy research documents into ten pages that would convey the research findings in layman terms to a group of school trustees. I did it but not without some challenges from one person on the committee. She wanted some of her statistical data included but from my perspective it didn’t add to the knowledge of the readers, and in fact could have confused them as it introduced another tangent to an already complex topic.

Truth was she wanted it included because it highlighted her expertise, not because it would add to the learning. Our ego is a funny thing and it can sometimes get in the way of doing what’s right; of forgetting about the reader and putting ourselves first instead.

As an editor I often come up against the writer’s ego, and sometimes the writer can’t take the objective observations about their piece, forgetting that my goal is to make an article understood and valued by the reader.

Contrary to their belief, it is not all about them. It’s not personal. It’s about getting the point across succinctly and in an interesting way that will hold the readers’ attention.

So next time you have to write something, ask yourself why am I doing this? Your answer may shape what you produce and when it is more about the reader, and less about you, you’ll find the right words.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Stiffer Rules Around Spam

Are you ready for the new Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) Bill C28 which will be enforced later this year? This law requires express consent for most commercial-related messages. It also requires that you inform consumers about how personal identifiable information such as an email address will be used.

And ignore the law at your peril, because the fines are steep, with a potential penalty of $1 million for individuals and $10 million per business per day. With C-28, the burden of proof is on the sender and marketers must clearly inform consumers about what exactly they are opting in to and you need to articulate your privacy policies.

Here are a few steps you can take now to get ready for when the law is enforced.

  • Outsource your direct e-mail marketing efforts to a reputable e-mail sending service like Constant Contact
  • Clean up your mailing lists.
  • Get consent from people now.
  • Avoid renting or buying lists.
  • Adopt e-mail best practices based on permission-based marketing.
  • Have an opt-out option on your e-mail marketing

A word of caution, picking up a business card from a display at an event, and then adding the person to your email list, does not constitute permission-based marketing. If the person handed you the card, maybe, but if they don’t remember you, never met you at the actual event, you run the risk of your email being considered spam and that could be a costly error on your part.

Fine Line - Lessons from News of the World

We were in the UK when the demise of the News of the World newspaper occurred. We even purchased the last issue which highlighted the stories they'd run in their long history as a newspaper. You know, much as I disapprove strongly of the hacking and the strategies they used to get a lead on a news breaking story, they actually had been responsible for exposing a fair number of crimes and scams over the years. It is too bad they crossed the line.

Because, it is a fine line between investigative journalism and intruding in people’s privacy, particularly at a low point in their lives when they’d tragically just lost someone dear to them. Now that is both criminal and inhumane.

It speaks to the overpowering ambition of some people/organizations where getting the story and the “supposed” kudos for being the first to reveal all, takes over from decent, human behaviour. I wonder if the journalists involved ever questioned themselves, or chose to ignore their gut feeling that what they were doing was wrong. To them, the means justified the end result.

In business we also face decisions about which path to take to realize our goals. My advice, listen to your gut. Don’t do something where someone will get hurt, because at the end of the day, the person most damaged will be yourself and your reputation, and that can be hard to repair.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Writing My Way To Success

On Tuesday as editor of the Puslinch Pioneer, I had the pleasure of presenting the Pioneer’s award to a young girl at the local school.

It took me back to when I was in high school and was editor of the school newsletter. Little did I know back then that I would end up with several careers where strong writing skills were a requirement.

First it was funding proposals to get funding for the charities that I worked for; and then it was writing a parenting column for the local newspaper. Later I became editor of a national parenting magazine.

During my stint at government, I wrote briefing notes for politicians and a successful $13 million cabinet submission to fund women’s programs. While in my consulting practice, I often wrote lengthy reports with recommendations on service delivery or I would be hired to take a long document and synthesize the main concepts and translate it into terms that the layperson would understand.

I list all this because it just shows that our skills are transferable and my writing skills took me from being a fundraiser to a funder; from being a columnist to being an editor and from being a consultant to being a marketer; and from being a publisher to writing a book. The bottom line is that my writing skills were my entry into a diverse world where those skills were not just required, but valued.

So often I look at young people and they seem paralyzed by fear about making the wrong career decision, when in reality, if they have an employable skill set, they can find work in many industries. It is honing those skills that will bring them a career that is interesting and worthwhile.

As parents we need to help our children discover their talents, because, while it may not always be that obvious, all of us come to this world with our own unique set of skills, attitudes and talents. It is uncovering their passions that will help them to find their way.