Senior Consultant Cathy McPhail on making every word count with prospective clients, employers and other business contacts
Today’s small business climate demands that many first meetings take place virtually. You might have experienced it yourself; travel was too pricey, the meeting was scheduled last minute and hey, Skype is free. We have reached a point where it’s even possible to manage entire projects and relationships remotely.
This new chapter in professional communication has opened up questions around the importance of the first impression. Salespeople have long understood that the way you are perceived has an effect on your credibility and your ability to influence others’ decisions. Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, included ‘ethos’ (‘showing moral character’) as one of the three elements of persuasion. But good eye contact and a firm handshake don’t really apply on screen or over the phone.
Perhaps we’re exaggerating a little. After all, it’s unlikely that you will land a new client or business partner by electronic or digital means and then carry out a contract without even having looked one another in the face. Still, there is potential to get much further down the path than you would have 15 years ago without actually meeting.
So is there a replacement for the first impression? Well, my answer may surprise you, but only because it isn’t anything particularly new. I believe that what we write is one of the biggest determinants of how we come across professionally, whether it’s to clients, potential employers or a new business partner.
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group notes in his book Losing My Virginity, How I’ve Survived, Had Fun and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way, “In the same way that I tend to make up my mind about people within thirty seconds of meeting them, I also make up my mind about whether a business proposal excites me within about thirty seconds of looking at it. I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.”
Your present thought process might sound something like this: “But my writing is fine. I always read things twice and, while I might not be a wordsmith, I get the job done!” A 2012 U.S. survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP indicates otherwise, finding that 45% of employers planned to increase staff training programs to improve grammar and other skills. If you need further convincing on the need for better writing in offices, take a look at this article from Melissa Donovan of WritingForward.com.
Perhaps you think an extra apostrophe or a misplaced comma doesn’t have much of an effect. A recent LinkedIn study by Grammarly found that professionals who had fewer grammar errors in their profiles achieved higher professional positions than those who made more grammar mistakes. The study also showed that those with fewer errors had racked up more promotions over 10 years. And to cite a slightly extreme example of how poor spelling and grammar can impact one’s job prospects, Kyle Wiens, owner of iFixit.com and Dozuki, wrote a 2012 blog post for the Harvard Business Review in which he explains why he refuses to hire people with bad grammar. “Yes, language is constantly changing, but that doesn’t make grammar unimportant. Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence.”
No one (except maybe Wiens) is saying you are dumb if your linguistic abilities aren’t up to snuff. We all have our gifts and our shortcomings. But if you aren’t taking the extra step of having someone who is a solid writer take a look at your final draft before it goes out the door, you might have a problem.
A seamstress friend once told me it is amazing what good ironing can do. What ironing is to clothes, quality control is to writing and report preparation. If you have someone in your office who has the ability and time to look over your written work, wonderful. If not, take a look online for local copywriters and editors who you can hire on a contract or per-project basis to efficiently handle this aspect of your projects.
In the meantime, here are some great resources to remind you of some of those nitpicky little rules that will keep the receiving end from cringing, or worse!
...Don says it's the way we always find time for some fun!
I have been with MRSB Consulting Services for five years and have had some great experiences here, both working with our clients and spending time with my ever-creative colleagues. We definitely work hard, but we also know how to shake up the work week with a bit of fun.
Often our initiatives center around fundraising or volunteering in the community. To name just a few, we've taken part in Bowl For Kids Sake, Think Pink Day, Run For the Cure and Movember. Another way we like to spend quality time as a team is by getting active through different outdoor and indoor fitness initiatives like the PEI Marathon, bootcamp and the Deltaware Fun Run.
Then there are the events we organize ourselves to keep us connected and motivated. Boat cruises, BBQs, golfing, the MRSB Olympics (yep, we've done that) and parties are all par for the course and, like all true Islanders, we take advantage of the few weeks of summer sun available.
Because pictures speak louder than words, here are a few photos of the team that we've collected through the years. Enjoy!
The hardest thing to understand in the world is the income tax.
- Albert Einstein to his accountant
Audit Manager Jaclyn Waite shares some tips on how MRSB’s Chartered Accountant and Bookkeeping & Reporting teams have become almost addicted to fundraising and local community work
Organizing a group of professionals to take part in an after-hours activity can be challenging, especially if it doesn’t involve food, or drinks, or sitting on a sunny patio shooting the breeze. Take away all of these things and add matching t-shirts, and you’ve got a pretty big challenge on your hands!
If you’ve decided that volunteer work is something that you, and perhaps another interested colleague, really want to tackle this summer or on an ongoing basis, it can be done. And it’s possible to get others involved too. It just takes some organizational skills and a few cheerleaders (the figurative kind! We’re all professionals, after all) to pump up the rest of your staff. Luckily at MRSB we’ve been volunteering and fundraising for quite a few years, and while the art of group volunteering may never be perfected, I think we have some valuable lessons to share.
Our Chartered Accountant and Bookkeeping divisions have selected a few charities and not-for-profits to work with this year, but I'll focus on the Autism Society of Prince Edward Island as an example. We've already volunteered at several events, and organized a few of our own activities to raise money for this worthy cause:
- Bagging groceries at a local Sobeys store on select weekends
- Helped out at a fundraising BBQ at Kent Building Supplies
- Sold tickets at the office for a 'summer treats' basket, which we created ourselves
- Organized a book sale in our lobby area
- Volunteering at an upcoming golf tournament
So, how did we get a group of 18 employees to commit to hours of bagging, selling and flipping hotdogs? There are no hard and fast rules, but here are a few tactics that will put you on the track to success.
1. Plan, plan, plan!
At the beginning of the year, select a small number of events or groups that you want to support, and put it on paper. Assign one staff member to head each of the events or groups, so the work doesn’t end up falling to one person. If you can, draft a schedule of events and spread them out through the year. This will ensure that initiatives don’t get pushed off “until next month” all year long!
2. Persevere past 'Not this time'
You may not get a huge turnout at the first two or three volunteer events. That’s ok. Even getting a few people out these first few times, and encouraging them to share their positive or funny stories in the break room afterwards, will spur others on. There’s no motivation quite like the curiosity factor.
3. Identify your champions
While you will eventually get a group of people on board with your volunteer plans, you will also be able to identify a couple of people who take these initiatives on with gusto, even asking for more responsibility. Embrace this spirit and use these ambassadors to help you stay organized and to gently inspire others to get involved. The positive, go-getter attitudes displayed by your most involved volunteers is priceless in keeping the vibe going throughout the year and beyond.
4. Reflect and celebrate
After an evening of fundraising or an especially involved month, plan a little respite from giving back, and give something to yourselves! Even if it’s just a quick beer and a pat on the back, your team will appreciate that you appreciate their efforts. This can also be a great time to reflect on the nitty gritty stuff, like how much money you’ve brought in so far for xyz organization or how many hours you’ve put in. Maybe it’s because most of us are accountants, but seeing the numbers can be a good boost to the ego!
I can honestly say that the more our team gets involved in our community, the more we seem to want to. I hope that once you’ve taken on your first couple of volunteer initiatives your team feels the same way. Apart from doing good for the community around you, spending time together after office hours helps everyone get to know each other a little better and strengthens your team. And we all know that a strong team of employees can achieve great things, both inside and outside the office.