Describing features versus benefits

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When I tell potential clients about what I do, I tend to focus on features, as it is relatively easy to describe what I do. I provide writing and editing services and support. I have experience with writing and editing different types of documents. I can describe the different types of editing. What I need to do is focus on the benefits – what the client will get out of hiring me to provide the required service.

To pay more attention to benefits, make a list of features, and then the benefits of those features (and then, if possible, the benefits of the benefits, etc. until you reach the most ridiculously extreme benefits). You can also identify one principal benefit that you can focus on in your marketing.

Feature – Editing services (proofreading, copy editing, structural editing, stylistic editing, rewriting, indexing)
Benefits – Ensure that your sales and marketing materials (and your company’s message) are clear and accurate
– Allow your employees to focus on their jobs instead of trying to edit every document that leaves the office

Feature – Writing services, including press releases, website content, articles, sales and marketing material, educational/training documents
Benefits – Your company’s content will be clear, clean, easy to read and complete
– Your company will receive greater publicity from well-written articles

Feature – Project management and consulting services
Benefits – Allow an external resource to manage your projects without tying up employee time
– Develop new information products and content that will draw customers to your business

Feature – I provide writing and editing services, solutions and support
Benefit – Gain security from working with an experienced professional who will ensure the accuracy, clarity and integrity of your message

What are your company’s best features, and what are the benefits to your clients? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David Gargaro

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Investigating and implementing good business ideas

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I enjoy reading blogs written by editors, writers, marketers and entrepreneurs, as they have a lot of great ideas that I would like to implement in my business. One such blogger (who is much more than a blogger) is Seth Godin, who has a lot of great advice on marketing your business. He wrote a posting called Making a ruckus in your industry, which inspired me to think (or rethink) my business model. How could I apply some of his ideas to my business?

Bring forward a new idea or technology that disrupts and demands a response

I’ve thought about a web-based project tracker designed for freelance creatives, but with a twist. Members log onto the site where projects are posted in real time. Creatives would click on one project at a time (no more than five creatives at a time could join a project) and wait to be approved by either a client or the board monitor, who would make decisions based on the creative’s experience and feedback. Its key differentiators are the real-time aspect, the limited competition between suppliers, and the direct connection between supplier and client. I am not a software designer, but I am sure that there are many talented people who could develop such a useful application.

Redefine a service as a product (or vice versa)

I provide a service (copy editing). I believe that turning this service into a product would allow me to scale my business and make it more profitable, while expanding the appeal of copy editing in the business world. For example, I could sell a block of editing services (in 10, 20 and 40-hour blocks) to small and medium-sized businesses as a package, and they could customize the options they want (e.g., only editing, some editing and writing).

Organize the disorganized, connect the disconnected

How about floating co-working groups? Co-working from specific locations already exists, but what about a co-working location that changes from week to week, or depending on the needs of different groups of solopreneurs? It should be doable, as there are many available spaces out there. I bet it’s already being done but it is a good idea.

These are just some ideas on how I could improve my business and perhaps contribute to my industry. I would love to hear what you have to think. Send your suggestions – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David Gargaro

Top 10 grammatical complaints… from 1986

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I came across a top ten list of grammatical complaints, which came about from a survey on the BBC Radio 4 series called English Now. This list dates back to 1986, so it was interesting to see how things have (and have not) changed in 30 years.

  1. Do not use “I” in “between you and I.” The pronoun should be “me” after a preposition, as in “Give it to me.”
  2. Do not use split infinitives (e.g., “to definitely ask”).
  3. “Only” should be next to the word it relates. People should not say, “I only saw Jane” when they mean “I saw only Jane.”
  4. “None” should never be followed by a plural verb. It should be “None was left on the table,” not “None were left on the table.”
  5. “Different(ly)” should be followed by “from” and not by “to” or “than.”
  6. A sentence should not end with a preposition. We should say, “That was the clerk to who I gave the money,” and not “That was the clerk I gave the money to.”
  7. People should say “I shall / you will / he will” when they are referring to future time, not “I will / you shall / he shall.”
  8. “Hopefully” should not be used at the beginning of a sentence as in “Hopefully, Mary will win the race.”
  9. “Whom” should be used, not “who,” in such sentences as, “That is the man whom you saw.” The pronoun is the object of the verb “saw,” and should be in the objective case.
  10. Avoid double negatives, as in “They haven’t done nothing.”

What are your grammatical pet peeves? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David Gargaro

Ten principles of clear legal writing

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Legal writing has often had a problem with being long-winded and difficult to read. Current legal writing is moving toward plain language and being easier to understand. Many of the following principles apply to good writing in general, and I’ve written about some of these ideas in past postings, so these should be good reminders. I would like to credit The Elements of Legal Writing by Martha Faulk and Irving Mehler for providing the idea.

  1. Use short sentences for complicated thoughts. Do not put too many important ideas in one sentence. The sentence will become too long and difficult to read (and understand). State one important idea per sentence.
  2. Use active voice verbs. Active voice verbs carry stronger meaning and impact than passive voice verbs. Writing in the active voice helps to shorten sentences. Make the doer of the action the subject of the verb.
    Passive: The proposal to promote the organization through social media was developed by our marketing department.
    Active: Our marketing department made the proposal to promote the organization through social media.
  3. Make verbs do the work. Use a verb in place of a verb + noun combination to make your sentence more powerful.
    Verb + noun: Please make your recommendation for a new insurance provider.
    Verb: Please recommend a new insurance provider.
  4. Remove unnecessary or extra words. Replace phrases with single words where possible (e.g., “if” instead of “in the event that”). Also remove unnecessary adjectives and adverbs to streamline your writing.
  5. Remove redundant (legal) phrases. Certain phrases pervade legal writing. Replace these phrases with one word (where possible) or remove them completely. There are too many to list here, but you can easily find a list of them online.
  6. Use everyday language. Avoid jargon, latin phrases and antiquated phrases where possible. Do not try to impress the reader. The goal is to ensure understanding.
  7. Choose specific and concrete words. Avoid abstract statements. Be as direct and clear as possible.
    Abstract: One of the things we are trying to accomplish is to increase the understanding of laws that affect new immigrants.
    Concrete: We would like to clarify legislation that affects new immigrants.
  8. Use modifiers carefully. Make sure that your reader understands the meaning of your sentences. Ambiguity often occurs when the subject of a particular statement is unclear.
  9. Avoid the use of too many subordinate clauses in one sentence. This makes the sentence too long and difficult to follow. Using too many subordinating conjunctions (e.g., that, which) in one sentence can confuse the reader.
  10. Use conventional punctuation marks properly. There are two key rules here:
    a) Use commas only when necessary.
    b) Use semicolons to separate two independent clauses (unless joined by “and,” “or,” “but,” etc.).

What principles would you suggest for improving legal and business writing? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

David Gargaro

Home office or coffee shop?

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In the past, I have had to run out to my local coffee shop (either Tim Hortons, McDonalds or Starbucks, depending on my mood) to email a project to a client because of spotty Internet access. I don’t usually bring my laptop when I go out to grab a beverage, but I have in the past when I had to kill a couple of hours or knew that I had to do some work while away from home. I’ve since learned that there are many solopreneurs / freelancers who prefer to work from the “coffice” (turning the coffee shop into their office). In my case, I know that I can, for the price of several coffees, do most of my work from a coffee shop. But I’ve grown accustomed to working from my home office.

So what are the pros and cons of working from home vs. the “coffice”?

Home office

  • My office is set up with a second monitor that enables me to view two documents at once, while still viewing email and websites.
  • Commuting involves walking from my bedroom to the office, stopping at the kitchen along the way.
  • My clients can reach me via business phone or cell phone (or email), so I am easy to access.
  • I can take a break anytime I want to watch TV, go out for a snack or shop, or just to relax.
  • I can entertain my daughter when she is home, along with the dog, while I am working.
  • Working alone can cause me to become a bit stir crazy from time to time.
  • It’s difficult to be motivated or creative when I am in the same environment all the time.

Coffice

  • I can interact with other people or at least be around other people when working.
  • There are many tasty food items and beverages to try while I work.
  • There are many creative distractions when working.
  • I have many different offices to choose from depending on my mood.
  • I have to drive or bike to get to my desired location.
  • I cannot simply leave my computer to go to the washroom, as it might disappear.
  • If I leave for lunch, my spot might be filled when I return.
  • I have to spend resources (money and time) to use the other office.

Are there other pros and cons? Let me know what you have found as to why you should work from the coffee office – contact@davidgargaro.com.

I think that I will spend a bit more time away from my home office, especially when working on more creative writing endeavours. Balancing both worlds is probably the best way to go, as I don’t think I will abandon my home office for a “coffice” – at least not for the immediate future.

David Gargaro

Four ways to write concise sentences

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Have you ever read a sentence that was so long that it lost its meaning along the way? Business writing is plagued by overly long sentences. Concise sentences are powerful and effective. Get to your point more quickly to get a better response from your reader.

Here are four ways to write more concisely:

  1. Remove unnecessary words. Eliminate lengthy phrases by using fewer words. Use one word that does the job of several words, such as “to” instead of “in order to” and “because” instead of “due to the fact that.”
  2. Do not repeat yourself. Avoid repeating the same idea in one sentence. Stop saying the same thing again and again. Do not be redundant by repeating yourself. (See what I mean?)
  3. Avoid flowery language. Cut down on the use of adverbs and adjectives. Be clear and direct by eliminating overly descriptive terms.
  4. Reduce the use of expressions. You can shorten your writing by avoiding “there were” and “it was” at the beginning of sentences. Replace “There were six people at the meeting.” with “Six people attended the meeting.”

David Gargaro

How do you make your writing more concise? Do you need help with writing more concisely? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.

How to write effective press releases

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I recently edited a client’s press release, which he uses to promote his clients’ products, services and businesses through social media. It was relatively well written, but it did need some fine tuning, beyond the usual copy editing.

There are many great resources on writing effective press releases. Here are six tips on how to improve your press release.

  1. Be clear. Write a clear, concise headline. Keep it below 10 words if possible. Make sure that your audience (the media) understands the topic of the press release. You don’t want to waste their time or yours, and you want the media to publish your press release in the right venue.
  2. State your point. Tell the reader what you are announcing in the first sentence or paragraph following the headline. Be direct and concise. You can use the rest of the press release to explain the main point, and make it more interesting for the reader so that they will want to know more.
  3. Be consistent. Be very careful about how you refer to people, products, services, companies, etc. If you spell a product or service a certain way, then follow that rule throughout the press release. It might seem obvious, but it is a very common error, especially with new products and services where standards have not yet been set in stone.
  4. Watch your language. This applies to jargon, abbreviations, acronyms and other industry-specific terms. Your audience might not understand your industry- or company-specific lingo. Provide brief explanations where necessary, as well as external links with more information.
  5. Check your facts. Make sure that the contact information is accurate. Also verify that your web links work. These common mistakes often get overlooked. If your audience can’t reach you, then your press release is not much use to you.
  6. Read it again. Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation one last time. Grammar and spelling mistakes can be embarrassing, and can make you look unprofessional.

David Gargaro

Do you need help with writing press releases? Let me know – contact@davidgargaro.com.