Posts Tagged business advice

You’re just one word away from being a better writer

There is a simple secret to improve your writing — and your communications in general. Okay, it’s not really a secret, but it is very, very simple.

Use “you” more often.

Yup, I’m serious. Do that and you’re on your way to being a better writer and communicator.

Have a conversation
Using “you” (or forms of it) shifts your messages from talking at someone to speaking with them, making your message more personal and conversational.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to illustrate:
Old School: “Benefit enrollment packets will be mailed to employee’ homes in November.”
New style: “Look for your Benefit Enrollment Packets, coming in the mail in November.”

Old School: Students should return their permission forms by Tuesday.”
New Style: Please return your permission forms by Tuesday.”

Old School : “Members and their families are invited to attend the annual banquet….”
New Style: “You and your family are invited to the annual banquet…”

Be casual and clear
As you can see, incorporating “you” makes your writing more casual, conversational, and clear, while the old school way of referring to your audience in the third person is impersonal, and frankly, a little boring. And “you” is almost like calling someone by their name, one of the best attention grabbers available to communicators.

So give it a try and let me know what you think. While you’re at it, toss a “we” or two. I think you’ll like what you see.

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21 bits of investment wisdom from the years

I’ve been intrigued by investing for years, and lately find myself engaged in frequent conversations about the topic with friends.

Here are some of the best tips I’ve picked up over the years. Please keep in mind that I’m not a financial advisor, and you may want to consult with one if this motivates you to dabble in the market.

  1. Keep your costs low, whether you go with a low-fee mutual fund or a stock reinvestment program offered by many corporations.
  2. Time is your greatest ally – start young.
  3. In general, the greater the potential reward, the greater the risk — and many people don’t think enough about risk.
  4. Read everything you can about Warren Buffett.
  5. In most cases, your home is not an investment.
  6. Think twice about investing in things you don’t understand.
  7. Pay yourself first. A 401 (k) plan where you work is a great option and you’ll probably never miss the money from your paycheck.
  8. Playing too safe brings the risk of not keeping up with inflation, and seeing the purchasing power of your dollar drop.
  9. Putting your investments on autopilot is an easy way to save. For example, you can make automatic, monthly contributions to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) from your bank account.
  10. Every little bit helps, and adds up over time.
  11. Put enough into your employer’s 401 (k) to earn the company match. If the plan matches the first 6 percent of your contribution at 50 percent, you’re immediately turning $100, for example, into $150.
  12. People know the mantra “buy low and sell high,” but often do the opposite. A dip in the market might bring an opportunity.
  13. Diversifying your investments helps spread your risk by avoiding “too many eggs in one basket” syndrome.
  14. The web has a wealth of investment tools. Use them to help you make decisions about investment options, risk, retirement planning, and more.
  15. Spend less than you earn.
  16. Know your tolerance for risk and invest accordingly. It’s very likely different from mine, from your neighbors, co-workers, etc. Be realistic about how much you can risk, and how much of a loss you could tolerate.
  17. Building an emergency fund is a top priority.
  18. Follow the data, and invest in something because it makes sense, not because you love the company’s product line or because your neighbor says it’s a great investment.
  19. On the other hand, if you really like a product, consider looking into the company to see if it makes sense as an investment.
  20. While the stock market is generally considered the best long-term investment, making money in stocks is far from guaranteed.
  21. As with anything in life, if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

Your turn. What’s the best investment advice you know?

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5 Lessons From the Sharks

I recently discovered ABC’s Shark Tank, a show that brings together entrepreneurs who ask a group of billionaire “Sharks” to invest in their product or service.

Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, the show is interesting and provides some good tips about business and finance:

Prepare
Whether you’re interviewing for a job or applying for a loan, the person on the other side of the table will have a list of questions for you. Anticipate what they might ask, and be ready with responses — and data to back them. How? See the next bullet….

Know your audience
It seems as if some of the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank have never watched the show. For example, offering a 5 percent share of your company in exchange for a Shark’s investment pretty much guarantees a black mark on you ledger, yet it continues to happen. Before you walk into a meeting, learn as much as possible about the interviewer, client, employer, etc., to avoid making obvious blunders.

Be respectful
The Sharks can be harsh at times, but the entrepreneurs pitching their products need to stay on the high road. Rudeness often brings a quick dismissal from center stage.

Listen to experts
In addition to their financial investment, the Sharks bring a wealth of knowledge. Some entrepreneurs take their advice to heart; to others it sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. If a successful person offers a suggestion, listen carefully.

Be flexible and realistic
Entrepreneurs often walk away empty-handed after turning down a counter offer from a Shark. One man declined a multi-million dollar deal for his company. Understandably, he has a passion for the product, but $4 million is a big hunk of change to pass up. Think carefully before you turn down an opportunity because it differs from your original plan.

Your turn. What lessons have you learned from watching Shark Tank?

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A dozen tips for graduates entering the real world

College graduation season is upon us, and for most, it’s time to turn in the textbooks and begin your career. I think back to those days — bright-eyed, ready to take on the world, and completely unaware of what waited around the corner. I wish there had been more real-world wisdom to draw from. Would have saved me many hard knocks.

In that vein, here are some thought for those just starting out, or anyone who looking for a few workplace tips.

Network
Get out and meet people. Go to business or social events and introduce yourself. Connect with people on LinkedIn and other social media sites. More connections translate into more job leads, and also to more resources if you have questions or want advice.

Life isn’t fair, but that’s okay
Disappointment is part of life, and bad things happen for no reason: someone else lands your “perfect job,” your iPhone is stolen, or you miss lunch with a friend because you boss schedule a meeting at noon. Sure, that stinks, but what really matters is how you react. You can say, “Things happen,” and move on, or you can sulk and complain. I promise that if you do the former, you’ll be a much happier person in the long run.

Keep plugging — perseverance and patience pays off
My dream out of college was to be a sportscaster at one of the local stations. I learned of an opening that  July, and spent much of the summer and fall helping out (without pay) and learning the ropes, until I finally got the nod from the news director — in December. I busted my butt for 6 months to show them what I could do, and to make sure they never considered anyone else.

Be ready when opportunity knocks
I’m a firm believer that if you prepare, the opportunity you seek will arise, whether it’s a job, a trip, or a date. In the example above, my foot in the door came when I ran into the station’s top news anchor in a parking lot. I introduced myself and asked for career advice. I had a degree from a great communication school, along with some solid experience, so she set up an interview for me with the Sports Director.

Be true to yourself
Look to work for organizations that share your values and personality. I spent 14 years at L.L. Bean, a company that prides itself on treating people — customers, employees, vendors, and its neighbor — with respect, honesty, and integrity. That was very important to me, and was one of the reasons I stayed there. The same barometer works with friends.

Listen
There’s an old saying that you learn more by listen than talking. Very true.

Look into the mirror
The person you’re most accountable to is you. Can you look at yourself in the mirror at the end of each day and be satisfied with your effort and actions?

Ask questions during job interviews
While a big part of an interview is promoting yourself as the best candidate, it’s also an opportunity to see if this is a good fit for you. Plus, hiring managers appreciate candidates who come prepared with questions.

Don’t oversell yourself
One of my graduate school professors told us were didn’t have enough experience for a two-page resume. And if you worked as a lifeguard, don’t put Crowd Control Officer on your resume. I know lifeguard work is tough, and I’ll give you points for that, but if you exaggerate, you’re onto the rejection pile.

Proofread
A former boss of mine left a resume and cover letter from a potential intern on his desk. He’d circled all of the typos.

Do your homework
Check out a company before you meet with anyone. Look at its webpage, Facebook account, etc.

Everything works out
I’m a believer that things always work out in the end. So if you’re turned done for one job, be ready for the next one. You might find it’s an even better opportunity.

Good luck!

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