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The Secret to Killer Copy? Be Direct.

When writing it is so tempting to want to add more, but there are times when this is completely the wrong thing to do. People are busy. I’m sure you are. Do you really want your audience to disengage early on and skim through your text, missing most of the key details? Of course not.

People are reading what you write for a reason, usually because you are answering a question or solving a problem for them – so get on with it. Consider a few of the most basic questions we are asked all the time – What? Where? When? How easy is it to answer these? Just change the first letter – That! There! Then!

Maximum Impact Writing

Putting yourself in the shoes of your audience is vital here, you know what you are trying to say, go through your text and check that your message comes across. Anticipate the questions that people will ask and answer them in your text – don’t make them do any additional work.

So, if you are drafting a press release the first paragraph needs to cover what you are doing, or have done, why, when and where. Spell it out, but briefly. Add more detail after, but hook people right from the off by letting them know exactly what you are going to talk to them about.

If you are raising money for charity by doing something outrageous make sure you tell people how to donate or get involved if your story has inspired them. Sharing details of an event? Make it as easy as possible for people to attend, let them know how to get there, what facilities there are, how accessible the building is – those little details you assume everyone knows and don’t include could well make the difference between people choosing to come or deciding to stay at home.

In short, be direct. Get straight to the point, if you have the solution to their problem don’t leave them wading through waffle – tell them exactly how to solve it.

To find out more about Active Outcomes and our maximum impact copy writing services visit http://www.activeoutcomes.co.uk.

Changes

I’ve been wanting to write about approaching “change” for a while. With the sad news about David Bowie’s death today, it seemed like an appropriate topic.

Here was a man who lived in a constant state of artistic flux, capable of flowing between movements, genres and careers. Embracing new ideas and giving older ones a new lease of life. He committed so much to a musical concept that he would be forced to create an entirely new character to encompass it.

Change can be daunting. It can be huge, overwhelming even. It can be hard to know where to even begin. You may know something is missing, you might have an end goal in sight, but the thought of making the change can be enough to put some people off even trying.

Be brave. Commit to your idea. Throw yourself into the change, because if you want it, if it is worth your effort, you’ll find the time to make it happen. That’s how I got started working as a freelancer, setting up Active Outcomes, I wanted a new challenge. I wanted to write for a living. It hasn’t been the easiest path, sometimes I wish I was working for someone else, that I could leave the office at the end of the day and switch off from everything. (An almost impossible task when you are running your own business!)

So in honour of David Bowie, a man who inspired me (and probably a lot more people around my age) from the moment I watched The Labyrinth as a kid – here are my thoughts on bringing about change, quoting the lyrics of David Bowie’s ‘Changes’.

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“Still don’t know what I was waitin’ for…”

The first step is the hardest. You want to achieve something. You can write another to-do list, or you can stop procrastinating and take the first step.

Break down your goal so that it is in smaller, more manageable chunks. If your first task will take five minutes, for example, you want to run your idea by a collague and need to set up a quick meeting, you’ll have that one done today. If you can achieve something quickly you’ll feel far more motivated to keep on racking up those quick wins. With your head down solving the problem you’ll see the progress you’re making rather than the stack of work and potential obstacles ahead.

“Turn and face the strange…”

When you’re not working on a specific task – try and anticipate any obstacles before you run straight into them. Plan how you’ll overcome them. Brainstorm as many ideas/solutions/issues as you can think of. You may never need these ideas, but you’ll feel a whole lot better knowing you have them in your back pocket. Plus, sometimes it just feels good to let rip with your creativity and throw a few wild ideas around. What’s the worst that can happen?

“A million dead end streets…”

Test your ideas. Ask around. Chances are, others will have made the mistakes and can point you in the direction of a solution, or at least tell you where the pitfalls are. Be flexible. If at first you don’t succeed that doesn’t mean it’s not still worth pursuing your goal. There isn’t usually a straight path between points A and B. Besides, you tend to learn a lot more on the scenic route.

“Every time I thought I’d got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet…”

If it isn’t going well, get some perspective. Step away from the problem. Better yet, get someone else to take a fresh look at it. If they are completely new to your issue they might pick up on something you’ve missed because you’re too close to the problem. I find explaining an idea to someone with absolutely no prior knowledge helps me to understand and describe it in clear and simple terms. It is far too easy to overcomplicate things when you are bogged down in a process fighting against the way you’ve always done something.

Adapt. Be willing to strike an idea off the list, even if it was your favourite. If it isn’t working, there is no sense clinging to it, working around it or tweaking it so that it fits a bit better. You need to define what is good enough. If you have a solution that only just solves the problem, if you look at it sideways, with your head tilted at a certain angle, then it probably isn’t the best possible option. You’ll save yourself a lot more time and trouble down the line if you admit that you need to go back to the drawing board to get the change you need made.

“So I turned myself to face me…”

Following on from the last point, it helps to periodically take stock of what you are doing to achieve your goal and why you are making this change. Life is complicated, things change, priorities shift on a day-to-day basis. Understanding the change, what it involves and why it is important to you can help motivate you to push on and achieve it. If you’re running out of steam, visualising the end result can get you back in gear. If you are no longer filled with an all-consuming passion to get this change made it will help to understand what has happened in the meantime.

One thing that is certain is that change is hard. If you are managing a big change that impacts on others, either personally or professionally, you can feel crushed by their resistance to your ideas. I’ve always found that the best antidote to this is passion. If you can get other people to share your enthusiasm, if you can convince them of the potential reward and invite them to take the journey with you, you’ll make your job a lot easier.

You have to be the biggest cheerleader for your change, you have to live and breathe it, you have to get others excited by the idea and make sure that they know you are the person to see if they want to help make it happen. Throw yourself into it. Genuine enthusiasm is contagious. It might not be the way things have always been, but trailblazers like Bowie never let a thing like that stop them did they? And look at the legacy he has left in his wake.

 

If you need help managing change, or if you just want to talk through a problem, Active Outcomes can help. Contact us today for more information.

Book Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Stephen R. Covey, (2004), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.

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As its headline boasts, this book has been a huge seller since it was first written in 1989 with over 15 million copies sold. I read the 2004 U.K. edition of ‘7 Habits’ when still quite fresh to the self-help/business book and found it was not as full of irritatingly obvious common sense advice as I had expected.

This book focuses on understanding yourself by assessing your own personality traits and working to develop the principles and values within your own character that will enhance your personal and professional effectiveness. The argument Covey makes is that by understanding your habits, how they are unconsciously formed and the process of breaking them, you can then replace them with more effective habits. He tells us that personal change must precede any public change.

Habits are defined as being the intersection of ‘knowledge, skill and desire’ and these are the three main points he makes with regard to habits that make a lot of sense; first you need knowledge, you must recognise the need for change before you can implement it. After that you must learn the skills you need to bring about the change and, last but not least, the only way to actually make the change stick is a burning desire to change that specific habit.

Covey goes through the ‘7 Habits’ in sequence and asks the reader to complete the associated tasks sequentially in order to make the changes permanent and effective. Each of the accomplishments leads step-by-step on to the next, moving you from personal dependence (the paradigm of you), to independence (the paradigm of I), and finally to interdependence (the paradigm of we). index

 

There are several useful templates that are set out as part of the approach, along with personal success stories and anecdotes. In the chapter on ‘Putting First Things First,’ his time management matrix and weekly worksheet were both useful resources to help you allocate your time wisely and discover how to make time for what is most important and will bring about the best results for you in the longer term. It helps you understand the tasks that need to be prioritised over those tasks that can distract and ultimately waste your time.

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In order to create win/win scenarios that make you a more effective person and leader Covey argues that you must be willing to assess your own life and habits, to questions your values and whether you are being true to them in order to battle against doubts or a lack of self-confidence and take the risk of changing and developing new behaviours.

The approach set out in the book is simple to understand though undoubtedly less easy to actually follow. Covey describes his own personal struggle to live these principles on a daily basis and the same will undoubtedly apply to everyone else who has read and tried to follow the habits. There were several ideas contained in the book that I found useful and adopted at Active Outcomes in order to increase my own productivity, planning and effectiveness.

Overall, it contained some good insights. Although as a personal choice, I try to find my own way rather than follow any prescribed self-help methods, especially those that don’t seem to be the right fit for me.

For more information see: https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits.php

The Story of Active Outcomes

Active Outcomes started with an idea. The same is true of most organisations, but this idea wasn’t exactly my own. I had left my job as a Policy Officer in local government and was considering what I really wanted to do after moving back up north to the beautiful city of York. One of my former work colleagues suggested that I look into training as a proofreader and copy editor as she thought I would be really good at it.

This seed lay dormant for a while as self-employment was not a career option I had considered. I had studied English Literature and Politics at the University of York, followed by a Masters in Public Administration and Public Policy, it had never occurred to me that the world of business and self-employment was a niche I could comfortably fit into.

I struggled to find any opportunities that I really wanted to take advantage of. Job specifications weren’t a good fit, I felt they would not challenge me, or that I would not have a chance to use and further develop the skill set I had already spent years building up.

There was no perfect fit available for me and so I decided to go my own way. Offering a service which used my skills as a writer, researcher, communicator, pedant, manager and analyst. One which might be useful for other small businesses and organisations that may lack that specific strategic skill set that I possess.

Being a solopreneur is challenging. You have to wear a lot of different hats and be flexible and adaptable to rapidly changing circumstances. Having the right skills in place can make all the difference, even if only for a few hours, and that is where I come in. I can offer a fresh pair of eyes and a brand new perspective and find it rewarding to help others see past the problem to find the perfect solution.

For me, no two days are ever the same. I get to work with a huge variety of clients from various backgrounds and sectors. All of whom present me with interesting projects to get stuck into doing the type of work I love, writing, researching, planning and managing projects and performance. Working for myself gives me a chance to indulge my creative side, except for when I’m doing my accounts, of course.

If you want to know anything else about my past experience check out the About Us section of my website, my LinkedIn profile or feel free to get in touch – I’d love to chat.