The Society of Professional Consultants

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SPC Blog

The purpose of this blog is to provide information to help consultants and solo professionals. Please contact us if you're an active SPC member willing to provide content for our blog. 

  • Wednesday, May 04, 2022 11:26 AM | Erica Holthausen

    As an expert, you have extensive knowledge of a particular subject garnered through research, education, and experience. This ever-deepening knowledge informs your perspective; it is at the heart of who you are and how you want to make a difference in the world. You are always listening, learning, and taking the time to understand the problem behind the problem.

    You've built your career on your hard-earned knowledge and experience. And while you are well-regarded by your colleagues and clients, you still feel like a well-kept secret. 

    Being great at what you do isn't the same as being known for what you do.

    To be recognized as an authoritative expert in your field, you must do three things:

    1. Share your ideas. You cannot build your reputation as an expert if you don’t share your ideas publicly. Giving voice to your BIG idea — your bold, insightful, and galvanizing idea — forces you to think more deeply so you can communicate it clearly. When you test your idea in the marketplace, your audience can evaluate it. The feedback they provide allows you to refine your idea further. Every time you share your idea, you demonstrate your expertise, expand your influence, and magnify your impact.
    2. Demonstrate your credibility. You cannot build your reputation as an expert if you don’t demonstrate your credibility. In a world where everyone claims to be an authority, you can stand out by clearly signaling to your audience precisely what makes you a credible expert. Your credentials may include degrees and certifications, where you studied or worked, testimonials, and public appearances, including speaking engagements, podcast appearances, media mentions, and bylines.
    3. Cultivate your community. You cannot build your reputation as an expert in a vacuum; you need a community. Your community includes the people to whom you wish to be of service. It also includes your colleagues, friends, and collaborators. Your community challenges and celebrates you — and you do the same for them. They expose you to different perspectives and help you refine your ideas by providing thoughtful and relevant feedback. They also help you spread the word by sharing your ideas with their communities.

    When you write articles for publication in industry trade journals or business magazines like Entrepreneur, Inc., and Fast Company, you not only share your idea with the publication’s readers, but you demonstrate your credibility. These publications vetted you; they reviewed your credentials and, by choosing to publish your work, are signaling to their readers that your perspective is valuable. You can reinforce that perspective by sharing the most relevant credentials in your contributor bio. By writing articles that provide smart, actionable advice, you build your community even further.

    There are many ways to become recognized as an authoritative expert. Still, it is impossible to achieve that goal if you don't share your ideas, demonstrate your credibility, and cultivate your community. The world is a noisy place. By sharing thoughtful and actionable insights, your audience will come to value your perspective, and your voice will be heard.

    * * *

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications and a strategic thought partner to consultants who wish to build their authority and increase their visibility by publishing articles in industry trade journals and business magazines like Inc., Entrepreneur, and Insider. To learn how to raise your profile, register for Pitched to Published, a free monthly Q+A focused on writing, pitching, and publishing articles. 

  • Wednesday, April 13, 2022 5:47 PM | Laura Burford

    Or, how are you getting to First Base?

    Scout: “Why do you like him?”

    [Billy Beane points to Peter Brand.]

    Peter Brand: “Because he gets on base.” (Moneyball)

    Is client relationship building like baseball? I didn’t think so until during the pandemic I watched the 2011 film Moneyball. The film is based on Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball: The Art Of Winning an Unfair Game.

    Background

    In the movie, Brad Pitt portrays Billy Beane, the general manager for the Oakland Athletics. The year was 2002. Beane was regarded as an excellent general manager but the Oakland Athletics’ budget was $39,722,689 compared to the New York Yankees budget of $174,457,768*. He simply couldn’t financially compete with the other major league teams bidding for talent and Beane hated to lose.

    “I hate losing more than I want to win.” Billy Beane

    Moneyball highlights how one person’s drive changed the baseball industry forever. He didn’t do it by himself, but he realized that

    “No matter how successful you are, change is always good.” Billy Beane

    The Bases are Loaded

    So, how is client relationship building like baseball?

    When building a relationship, a consultant (or freelancer) needs to get on base if they want clients. They don’t need to have all the money in the world, the best website or the slickest looking brochure to get on first base but they do need to connect, get to know, and build trust with people.

    They can’t assume that the first time they connect with a person, they will hit a home run and the person becomes a client. I wish that was the case but it rarely happens.

    To build relationships, a consultant needs to concentrate on getting on first base because if they don’t get to first base, they never get to second base and they don’t win.

    “You get on base, we win. You don’t, we lose. Billy Beane (Moneyball)

    In the Dug Out

    It is your turn at bat. You take a deep breathe, evaluate the field, and picture yourself at the plate. You know that if you can get to first base, you’ll be able to get to second base, third base, and finally home. In your mind, you walk through your STRATEGY and GAME PLAN. You’re ready to hit the ball.

    Home Plate: The Connect Stage

    Connecting can be one of the hardest consultant activities when building relationships because the consultant needs to decide with whom and how to connect. How will the ball and bat connect? The best way for consultants to connect and help people get to know them is with one-on-one strategies such as strategic networking, referrals, and reaching out in a personalized manner.

    Can you connect by writing, speaking, podcasts and videos? Yes, but it is like standing still with a bat, not swinging it, and hoping the pitcher throws the ball directly at the bat and they connect. The ball needs to find you and that may never happen.

    Here is a link to the entire article.

  • Friday, March 25, 2022 10:07 AM | Laura Burford

    Because TRUST is the Glue In a Relationship!

    We are constantly reminded that people hire consultants, freelancers, and independent workers that they trust. 

    But what is trust? Or a trusted relationship?
     
    As I put pen to paper for this blog, I remembered a conversation I had years ago with a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) partner. After meeting with a client, the partner asked for a few minutes of my time. He was concerned that “I was a little too honest.” He felt I needed to be more aware of what it took to maintain a positive relationship with a client.

    I apologized to the client, however the client explained to both of us that it was refreshing to work with someone who was “honest and blunt” because blunt worked best in their organization. She had no concerns what-so-ever and it was her trust in me that led to add-on work.
     
    That day I learned several valuable lessons about trusted relationships.

    The first being that I wasn’t too honest; however, my style was too rough. I’m softer now when presenting difficult messages, at least I am most of the time, but I’ve never stopped being honest. Trusting relationships require honesty and being able to deliver the bad news in a manner that does not offend. It was that incident and additional conversations with the PwC partner that helped me realize the words I used impacted my credibility and actions my reliability.
     
    Overtime, my professional and personal experiences as well as books such as The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey, and Business Relationships that Last by Ed Wallace impacted how I regard building trusted relationships. Each author’s view on how to earn trust varies slightly but there are common themes starting with the observation that trust is multi-faceted and balances several essential qualities.
     
    When someone asks me what I mean by a trust relationship, I fall back on my earlier training and, just like the authors, talk about the multi-faceted aspects, necessary qualities, and the balancing act of a trusting relationship. The balancing act begins with three common everyday behaviors-talking or the use of words and images to convey a thought; actions and how we behavior in a situation; and our feelings or our ability to be true to ourselves and others. I continue by discussing the related essential qualities for each behavior because it is the combination of the all three behaviors and the related qualities that enable a person to build and maintain trust.

    Here is a quick comparison.

    • Words and Images — Credibility and Competence
    • Actions — Reliability and Integrity
    • Feelings — Genuine and Authenticity

    Words and Images

    Published articles, diagrams, speeches, and your point of view highlight your knowledge helping you build credibility and competence. Words and images assist you with being known as the go-to person but that does not mean there is a trusted relationship between you and another person. Have you ever been in a situation where someone has strongly recommended a person but after you met them you were not sure? You were uncomfortable but you couldn’t put your finger on the reason. Maybe it was because you were unsure of their reliability or you didn’t feel they were genuine.

    Actions

    Actions is about doing the right thing. It is about making commitments and not only delivering on them when you say you will but exceeding expectations. You build confidence with the other person by being reliable. Not only do you do what you say you are going to do showing reliability but you do it with integrity consistently displaying your values through your actions.

    Feelings

    Feelings are about being honest with yourself as well as others. It requires a consultant to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and thinking about how you would like to be treated before speaking and acting. Feelings require a consultant to empathize, be genuine, and authentic with the other person. It you make a mistake, you admit. If something you did was not quite right, you admit that as well.
     
    Let me provide a personal example.

    A few years ago a speech was not one of my best for various reasons, some of which were in my control and others were not. When asked how I did, openly I admitted that there were aspects of the presentation for which I was not pleased even though a fair number of the audience loved it (and others hated it-very interesting results). I apologized to a few people with whom I have trusted relationships. I was honest with myself: it was not the best presentation I had ever given. I considered the feelings of other people, apologizing to a few, because I believed my actions and my speech impacted by credibility.

    Building trusted relationships takes time and effort. Successful trusted relationships require a consultant to be aware of their behaviors and related qualities. As Stephen Covey (not Stephen M.R. Covey) said “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
     


  • Saturday, March 12, 2022 6:36 PM | Robin Buckley

    The uncertainty you are feeling is an evolutionary leftover. Early in our history as humans, uncertainty protected us. Uncertainty made us cautious, made us carefully evaluate situations and avoid situations that were too tenuous. Fundamentally,  the experience of uncertainty encouraged us to avoid situations which might be dangerous or risky in order to maintain our survival. 

    In our modern times, however, there is less mortal risk when we are feeling uncertain versus us doing things that are uncomfortable or unknown. Uncertainty is less about survival of the fittest at this point on the evolutionary timeline. Instead, it can actually create the opposite experience wherein those of us who learn to control our uncertainty come out ahead.

    While there aren't saber toothed tigers outside our front doors, not knowing the details of a situation, what a solution is to a problem, or the timeline of an event (take for example the pandemic quarantine), still produces that emotional experience of a threat. It is this evolutionary residual that gives us a bad perception of uncertainty.

    How can uncertainty hurt you?

    With uncertainty playing less of a role in our physical survival, there are still ways it can undermine our progress and success.

    Functioning on autopilot. Uncertainty creates doubts in regards to how to accomplish tasks and be successful so we fall back on past habits, behaviors and thinking. Functioning on autopilot may be safe, but it hinders our development. On autopilot, we don’t try different approaches. We don’t learn new things. We stop thinking creatively and resort to routine practices. Overall, we stagnate.

    Reducing risk taking. We feel vulnerable when we experience uncertainty. The unknown of what could happen increases our insecurities. To reduce these feelings, we fall back on safe ways of acting. We hesitate to the point of inaction. By doing this, we reduce our opportunities because we aren’t willing to take a chance on something different or novel.

    Fixating on the negative. In moments of uncertainty, we tend to focus on the bad things that could happen. The “what if’s” our uncertainty creates tend to focus on potential negative outcomes. Once that happens, we unconsciously start to prime our brains to pay attention to information which supports the possibility of negative outcomes. This becomes a characteristic in how we view the world and sabotages our functioning.

    What is the role of rumination in your uncertainty?

    When we are determining a direction to take, we often consider all options or sides to determine the best step. As our uncertainty builds, however, we continue to weigh all information. We lose our trust in our ability to make the right decision. We might pull in additional input from multiple sources, clouding the process even more. Our “what if’s” start to dominate our thoughts and we vacillate in how to move forward. In other words, we are caught in a cycle of rumination.

    Rumination plays a significant role in uncertainty. Essentially, ruminating involves overthinking and obsessing over the same ideas, options and thoughts. A recent client experienced this as she was determining whether to accept a position with a different company. Her thoughts kept flipping between the relationships at her current company, her longevity there, the close proximity to her house and knowing her job responsibilities versus the opportunity for advancement, increase in salary, fun and challenging projects and a downtown office. She didn’t move beyond these; instead, she bounced between the factors sometimes hourly. Rumination like this doesn’t result in a productive outcome or decision and can create an experience similar to getting an annoying song stuck in your head that just keeps replaying over and over. Overall, rumination plays into the uncertainty about the situation, about the decision and about yourself.

    What are some strategies you can use to manage uncertainty?  

    In order to ensure that uncertainty doesn’t unravel your plans for success, there are ways to control it:

    1. Identify the thought creating the uncertainty. Since all emotions are generated by thoughts, knowing what the thought is allows you to zero in on the source. Once you know the thought or thoughts creating the uncertainty, you can focus on changing it.

    2. Replace the thought with one which reduces the feeling of uncertainty. Replacement thoughts aren't necessarily based on logic because how our brains interpret the "logic" can vary. Effective replacement thoughts are typically based around data, evidence or personal experience. As an example, you might feel uncomfortable due to the uncertainty of whether you’ll get offered a job you’ve interviewed for. In step 1, you identify the thought creating the emotion: "I'm not sure I gave the ‘right’ answers to the interview questions."  A replacement thought might be "I gave the answers based on my professional experience and if they weren't the ‘right’ ones, that job isn't likely the one for me." Sometimes it takes several tries before finding the replacement thought that is effective.

    3. Create "certainties" and "action steps" regarding the situation. In the scenario we are using, a certainty might be that you gave your all in the interview. Another might be that you haven’t heard back because the hiring committee said the decision would be made within the next several weeks. These certainties create the known boundaries around the situation, balancing or replacing the uncertainties. With that, action steps provide you with a feeling of functional control. Writing a thank you note or email to the hiring committee. Applying to other jobs. Creating a plan for how to handle the situation if you don't hear back by the end of the month - name of the contact person, phone and email information, on what date to make contact. 

    What are the benefits of uncertainty for you?

    Once you apply and use strategies to manage your uncertainty, you can begin to optimize uncertainty towards your goals. Yes — uncertainty can be an effective tool towards success! First, uncertainty provides the space for you to look for different opportunities, new options and overlooked solutions. Second, when you don’t know how a situation is going to turn out, you don’t get locked in to one, specific, end result. Finally, we then get to explore, consider, analyze and identify these other results. This might produce a better path than the one you were originally following.

    Ultimately, it isn’t determining the end result or the one solution that is the goal in regards to uncertainty. The goal when faced with uncertainty is learning to be okay with the uncertainty. It is applying the strategies so the uncertainty allows for possibilities not limitations, and your “what if’s” capture the new opportunities that might occur. It’s also adopting the idea that while you might not know the exact result, you will have strategies or plans to address the result, whatever it may be. In this way, uncertainty becomes a superpower rather than your nemesis.



  • Monday, March 07, 2022 8:51 AM | Sophie Michals

    Over the past five months, we have shared tips to give you a solid understanding of effective business writing, practical tools you can apply immediately to improve your written communications, and guidance on when and where to find the help you need.

    Below are links to all five tips. 

    This month we’re sharing a special gift: Erica and Sophie’s Big List of Writing Resources — a collection of 32 of our favorite writing tools and advice to help you improve your business writing. Get your free copy of the PDF here


    Sophie Michals helps talented subject matter experts simplify complex ideas and condense them into easy-to-understand writing that showcases their expertise and resonates with their target audience. She offers high-touch, personalized business and technical writing and editing designed to help clients reach their unique goals. Learn more at (SM) Edits LLC.

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications, a collaborative of writers and editors partnering with executives, consultants, and coaches to transform their ideas into published articles.

  • Saturday, February 12, 2022 9:23 AM | Robin Buckley

    When we are preparing for significant events in our careers, we tend to focus on our physical preparation. If we have a big presentation to do at work, we practice until we are comfortable. If we have  an interview for a new job, we  research the company and the key players to ensure we have answers to obvious questions. If we have a project deadline, we manage our time and our team to ensure the best results. When we take this approach, however, we are only doing half the work to be effective and successful.

    When you are trying to prepare yourself for a successful outcome in your work or career, how often do you take the time to prepare your brain? What do you do to ensure that you keep your brain in the game, not just your body and actions? You might say that physical  preparation is what controls the brain but there are specific things you can do to ensure your brain is as prepared as your body for those important career situations. 

    The role of your thoughts

    Many people have the misconception that emotions just happen and we have no ability to control how we feel. This leaves us at the whim of our emotions, reacting based upon our feelings. The problem with this is that emotions are subjective and don’t typically allow for logical or strategic thinking.

    The truth is that you can manage your emotions but this starts with controlling your thoughts. Every emotion we experience comes from a thought. The thought occurs, consciously or unconsciously, and then we experience one or more emotions based upon the thought. The challenge you likely have is that you will recognize the emotion but not take the time to identify the thought creating it. This is what leaves you feeling like you can’t control your emotions and you’re right. You can’t control your emotions until you learn to control the thoughts creating the emotions.

    In business this can be detrimental at best and dangerous at worst. If you are reacting from emotion, you might not make the best decision or choose the most effective path for optimal results. You might be distracted by your emotions, unable to focus your energy and attention to productive actions. Instead of functioning from your peak performance level, you get pulled into the whirlpool of emotions that leave you feeling out of control and depleted.

    To avoid this, you can start  with an analysis:

    1. The first step is to clearly identify the emotion that you are experiencing and then asking yourself if that emotion serves your goal. For example, you might experience a heightened level of anxiety regarding a professional presentation. Instead of sinking into the anxiety, ask yourself if the emotion facilitates your goal of doing well in the presentation. 

    2. If the emotions don't serve your goal the next step is to identify the thoughts that are creating the emotion. In our example, the thoughts creating the anxiety might include that you don't want to make a fool of yourself or seem like a fraud, or that people will be staring at you and judging you. The anxiety isn’t just because you don’t like public speaking. The emotion is coming from specific thoughts that you have now identified. 

    3. Once you know the thoughts, you can take the time to break down these thoughts by replacing them with data. By asking yourself specific questions you can replace the detrimental, anxiety-provoking thoughts with information. You can consider how many times you've given successful presentations. You might also do a quick mental scan of your resume to remind yourself of all your accomplishments, training, and education which makes you qualified to give this presentation. You could consider the people in your audience and identify allies who will support your presentation. When you provide your brain with evidence and facts, your brain doesn’t have to fill in the uncertainty with “what-if’s”. By reminding your brain that you do have the skills to give the presentation and you do have the background to be credible on the topic, your brain will create emotions which align with your thoughts, replacing anxiety with  confidence.

    The role of your words

    As a professional, you are likely very aware of the power of words. Words can be used to motivate or demoralize, strengthen or undermine.  But how often do you think about the words that you use on yourself? The words might be the conscious things you say to yourself or the words might be the unconscious or whispered things you say to yourself. Ask yourself, would you say the same conscious or unconscious thoughts to fellow colleagues or to your team? For many professionals, the things that they say to empower others are not generalized to themselves. 

    The problem is that these words create the thoughts and emotions that are detrimental to optimal functioning. It may be the obvious words like when you call yourself an idiot for making a mistake or tell yourself that you aren’t as skilled as others think. You might catch yourself thinking you are likely to fail at something important to you. These words create undermining thoughts which will generate emotions aligned with the thoughts. 

    There are also the smaller words that can create an internal climate which sabotages your goals. These words should, have to, need to and must create thoughts of you not doing enough, not being enough, or that you are falling behind your peers. They also create the illusion that you are being forced to do certain things. These words then generate emotions which align with the thoughts. You might experience pressure, stress or guilt from words you commonly use when you talk to yourself. Because of this, you might make decisions out of desperation to prove yourself or catch up, which ultimately will not allow you to function in an optimal or healthy way.

    To avoid creating an internal climate of negative thoughts and emotions, you can replace these pressure words with power words. Words such as want and will can change the internal dialogue and put functional control back in your hands. For example, instead of telling yourself that you should go into work to review practice for the presentation so you don’t mess up, the internal dialogue becomes “I will go into work to practice because I want to be confident about the presentation.” Changing from the pressure word of should to the power words of will and want, and shifting the focus from making a mistake to building confidence, puts you back in control of your thoughts and emotions.

    The role of your brain  

    Ultimately, your brain is lazy. It will focus on whatever you tell it to focus on. Consider this. The last time you were looking to buy a car, you likely came down to one or two styles you were interested in purchasing. Most likely, you began seeing these styles everywhere you went. Was there suddenly an uptick in the amount of these cars being purchased in your area? Not likely. Then why were you seeing these styles around you when you never noticed them before? It is through a process called priming. We prime our brains to search for evidence and examples of whatever we tell it to. When you told your brain the types of cars you were interested in, your brain found as many examples as possible to support this focus.

    How can you use this same approach when it comes to your professional functioning? One way is to decide what perspective you want to have regarding your work. If you tell your brain that you hate your job, your brain will search for and provide you with evidence of why you should hate your job. All you will see will be supporting data aligned with the thought of hating your job. So how do you apply priming so it works for you instead of against you? 

    It’s true. You might not like your job but you can tell your brain that you appreciate earning money at your job while you look for new opportunities. Your brain will search for examples to support your idea of appreciation and it will search for areas of opportunity. You don’t have to create an inaccurate statement about your job and lie to your brain, but you can decide which aspect of the situation your brain spends time and energy on. This strategy again allows you to function at your optimal level instead of being drained of your focus and power.

    The role of choice

    Consider this. When you work on a project for your organization, do you plan to complete fifty percent of it and hope the rest will come together on its own? Of course not but it is likely that this is how you’ve been functioning if you only do the physical preparation for your professional role. Overall, how you function is your choice. You can determine what thoughts you want to practice and implement to create beneficial emotions which get you closer to your peak performance. You can decide what words will generate the behaviors and actions which align with your goal attainment. You can tell your brain where to direct your focus and energy in order to get the results you want in your career. These strategies help you control your brain so it is your greatest tool rather than your biggest obstacle.



  • Monday, February 07, 2022 5:10 PM | Laura Burford

    It is great when a potential client asks for your help, but what do you do when you see the person can use your help but they don't ask.

    I’ll admit that I love it when someone asks me to help them because if they do there is a good chance they become a client. It becomes a win for both of us. However, that does not always happen.

    Sometimes you need to ask them if they are interested in working with you and that can be hard for many consultants (freelancers.) As hard as it can be to ask, you must.

    If you have built a relationship and people are comfortable with you, it can be easier to ask them but for many consultants it is still hard.

    Sometimes the person doesn’t want to admit they have a problem or they can’t see that they have a problem.

    However, there are other times the person is waiting for you to say “Would you like someone to help you?”

    The challenge for many consultants and freelancers is they never think the timing is right but at some point, they need to ask.

    It is very easy to keep nurturing a relationship forever and, in the process, build a great friendship. However, on more then one occasion I’ve watched a consultant lose the chance to help a “client” because they never asked the client if they could use some help. The reason the consultant lost out on the opportunity could be as simple as the “client” didn’t think the consultant (freelancer) would be interested in helping them so they never asked.

    If it is fear that is preventing you from asking, put the fear behind you. What is the worst thing a person can say? No. But the person could say Maybe or Yes.

    This article looks at three scenarios — Yes, No, and Maybe — where a consultant asked a client or potential client if they were interested in someone helping them. 

    Here is a link to the entire article. 

  • Monday, February 07, 2022 3:20 PM | Erica Holthausen

    Hiring a good writer or editor will elevate your business writing. But the idea of working with a writer or editor can be scary for a lot of business owners. What if the writer you hire is not very good and you’ve invested time, money, and effort into a project and have nothing to show for it? What if the editor you hire tears your writing to shreds so it no longer resembles what you wrote?  

    We’ve heard the horror stories, so we know your fears are valid.

    But we also know what you should look for when hiring a writer or editor, and why the writer or editor you hire does not need to be an expert in your field. 

    What Should You Look for When Hiring a Writer or Editor?

    • Look for active listeners. Writers and editors are curious by nature. Our job is to ask good questions so we understand your business and perspective. Good questions stem from active listening. If you speak with a writer or editor and don’t feel like they listened to you, don’t hire them.
    • Ask them about their process. Every writer and editor has a process and a slightly different style. To find the writer or editor whose working style is compatible with your own, ask them to share their process with you. 
    • Do your due diligence. Hiring a writer or editor is an investment in your business that directly impacts your reputation. Review their website and published writing samples. Steer clear of marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork that prioritize speed and quantity over quality.   
    Do I Need to Hire a Writer or Editor Who Is an Expert in My Field?

    The relationship between a business owner and the writer or editor they hire should be collaborative. Professional writers and editors want their clients to succeed, so it’s worth taking the time to find the right person. When hiring a writer or editor: 

    You rarely need to hire a writer or editor who is an expert in your field. In fact, depending on your audience, it may be much more beneficial to hire someone who knows relatively little about your field because they share the perspective of your audience. 

    You are the subject-matter expert. The writer or editor you hire makes sure that the work puts the reader first — regardless of whether that reader is an industry insider or not. 

    As the subject-matter expert, you have the information and knowledge that needs to be communicated to the audience. A writer knows how to ask good questions and craft a clear and compelling story based on the information and knowledge you share. An editor knows how to take that written communication and clarify it so the reader understands the point you are making. Together, you make an unstoppable team. 

    Next month, we’ll share some of our favorite resources, including writing and editing advice, reference tools, and where to find quality freelance writers and editors.


    Sophie Michals is a writer, editor, and writing coach who helps subject matter experts deliver clear, concise writing with a consistent brand voice. Learn more at (SM) Edits LLC.

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications, a collaborative of writers and editors partnering with executives, consultants, and coaches to transform their ideas into published articles.


  • Friday, January 07, 2022 4:38 PM | Robin Buckley

    My daughter’s high school varsity volleyball team won the State Championships in November. It was an amazing experience to watch, even more so because this group of girls are incredible. They support each other, like each other, visibly and audibly have fun when warming up or playing together, and credit their success to being “14 strong”. They worked hard, enjoyed every minute and achieved their goal.

    But while I am happy for and proud of my daughter and her teammates, their success came due to trickle down. The team achieved success because of their coach, the leader of this group. It was due to this woman’s integration of powerful leadership skills that the team succeeded.

    There were five specific things Coach R did which made her stand out as a leader and brought her team to the championship level:

    1.  She created a platform of unity. Coach R made sure there wasn’t a spotlight on one or two players. There was no “star” of the team. Those on the bench were as valuable as those on the court. When she was interviewed after winning the State Finals game, Coach R said, “The U.S. volleyball team, their motto is ‘23 strong’. Even though only 12 players went to the Olympics, it took 23 players to get them there. And so that’s the model that we’ve embraced this year. It takes all 14 of us to earn the state championship, even though not every player was on the floor tonight.”

    In an organization, this approach is also true. Consider your own organization. Is the success of the organization reliant on one member, or the team? And if the focus is on one team member, what does that do to the organization? The other team members feel devalued. They stop giving their all. They lose sight of the goal. And where does it leave the organization if that one “star” leaves? Left behind is a disjointed, disconnected and dissatisfied group of people. The unity Coach R created became the platform for the team’s approach to the goal.

    2.  She created a shared mission and vision. Winning the State Championship honestly didn’t seem like the sole purpose of the season. While going to States is a vision for most high school or collegiate teams, it seemed that for Coach R the vision didn’t smother the mission she created with the team. The mission was twofold: play their best and have fun. Watching the team the night of the Championships demonstrated that mission. The girls were singing and dancing the whole time as they waited their turn to warmup. They weren’t letting stress or anxiety get in the way of their fun. They were meeting the season’s mission even in what was the biggest athletic night for them. Coach R made sure the girls knew they didn’t have to do anything different than they did every game. She led her team in this mission which guided them to attain their vision of the state championship.

    The same applies to your organization. Ensuring everyone within your organization knows the long-term vision but buys in to the daily mission to get there…and then keeps the mission alive even in the face of the vision.

    3.  She recognized her players as individuals not just players. This was my daughter’s first season with this coach after transferring to the school. My daughter came home after practice one day and when I asked her what she did to kill time between the end of the school day and practice, she casually said, “I had my 1-to-1 with Coach today.” Huh? I had no idea what she meant. Turns out, Coach R schedules time to meet with every player during the season. She sits with each girl and while she certainly asks about the player’s goals for the season, more importantly she connects with each girl as a person. She asks real questions and they get to ask questions to her. They talk as people, not as coach and player, not as adult and kid, but as women and athletes.

    Can you imagine what this creates and what the same practice could do within an organization? Coach R’s players feel a real connection to her and her to them. It builds trust. It builds commitment. It increases performance and retention whether in a volleyball program, in a family or in a Fortune 500 company.

    4.  She demonstrated the behavior and thinking to support the mission. Coach R never yelled other than in excitement. She never demonstrated frustration. She was either smiling, offering praise, giving motivational talks or offering coaching strategies for players to use towards the team’s mission and vision. Coach R’s team saw this every time they looked at her or heard her. Their coach’s attitude and actions became the standard they emulated. She became the model of how to be and they all adopted that model. There wasn’t room for negativity because it would’ve been an outlier, an anomaly, and in fact when typical issues came up through the season, the team quickly dealt with them and positioned themselves back in line with Coach R’s standards.

    As a leader in your organization, you can do the same. Certainly there are times which are challenging, but does expressing anger, frustration or disgust move you close to your vision, or farther away? What behavioral, cognitive and emotional expressions help keep your team on track and focused on the mission and vision?

    5.  She emphasized trying over succeeding. Of course Coach R wanted her players to succeed but the emphasis was not on succeeding. Coach R emphasized trying. Try a new skill. Try a new approach. Try coming to practice when you'd rather quit. Just try. Because what Coach R knew was that the only way to succeed was to try because in trying, her players learned. They learned what worked or what didn't work. They learned they could accomplish things even when it was hard. They learned that sometimes trying meant failing but that they could learn from those failures in order to grow.

    Encouraging people within our organizations to try can achieve this same level of success. If we focus only on successes, people are less likely to take chances. They are hesitant to think outside the box. They stick to safe ways of doing things and this will eventually lead to stagnation. So ask yourself what is more important? To create a culture that only values success or to create a culture which promotes trying in order to foster creativity, growth, learning from failures and yes, eventually, success as an outcome of trying.

    Overall, the leadership of Coach R worked for one reason: she led based on her own style. Coach R didn’t try to fit into a prescribed type of leadership. She didn’t base her behaviors on famous coaches in an attempt to duplicate their leadership. She created a leadership style based on her values, her strengths and her vision for her players, not the group’s State Championship vision, but her vision as the leader of a program in which each player grew, personally and athletically, because of the support they gave and received from their team. “It’s the buy in. They buy into each other so hard, it’s ridiculous,” Coach R said. “Their strength is in the group. We work really hard in the gym every day on our skills, but we know at this age level having that cohesion can bring you from a 5 to an 11. They buy into that. They work hard every day, but it’s because of each other … that’s what makes them truly special.” All due respect to Coach R, while it was due to the players’ connection and support of each other, even more it was because as a leader Coach R created and showed what it means to be part of a winning team.


  • Thursday, January 06, 2022 1:34 PM | Sophie Michals

    Editing and Consistency Are Crucial to Good Writing

    Anything you publish for your business is part of your brand image, and sloppy, inconsistent writing can diminish your brand and damage your credibility. Therefore, it’s important to take the time to carefully edit your writing so it reflects well on you and your business.

    You should always self-edit to get your writing in the best shape possible. But you should also hire an editor who can bring a fresh perspective and ensure your writing fulfills its intended purpose and is clear and easy to understand.

    Can’t I just use a writing assistant tool for that?

    While writing assistant tools like Grammarly and ProWritingAid are useful, they’re rigidly rules based and limited in what they can do. For instance, Grammarly will always flag passive voice as being wrong, even though it’s useful and often necessary, especially in technical and scientific writing.

    These tools also cannot spot incorrect word use (e.g., complement instead of compliment) or catch when your headline is 11 Ways to Cook an Egg but your list contains only 10 items. They also can't point out that the first two paragraphs are not necessary or that the lede is buried down in paragraph five.

    Similarly, these tools cannot read a piece of writing and determine whether it is clear, compelling, and relevant. While these tools are helpful, they cannot replace an experienced human editor.

    Editing = Quality Control

    Editing is a quality control measure that helps ensure a consistent brand experience for your customers. And there’s much more to editing than checking for proper spelling, grammar, and sentence mechanics. While those things are important, organization, structure, and a consistent brand voice are equally important.

    Good business writing should have a clear purpose, make a clear point using specific information, and be logically structured and concise. The brand voice injects personality into the writing and is the key to holding the reader's attention — it’s also what makes your brand stand out.

    Keep Track of Your Preferences

    My best tip for keeping your writing consistent is to keep track of your writing preferences. Seemingly small things like using the phrases emergency room and emergency department interchangeably or formatting your phone number 555.555.5555 in some places and 555-555-5555 in others can make your writing look haphazard and unprofessional.

    Keeping track of your writing preferences will simplify your writing process, reduce conflict over style and formatting preferences, and ensure a consistent brand experience for your customers.

    Next month we'll discuss how to partner with a writer or editor.

    Sophie Michals is a writer and editor who helps subject matter experts deliver clear, concise writing that showcases their expertise and resonates with their target audience. Learn more at (SM) Edits LLC.

    Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications, a collaborative of writers and editors partnering with executives, consultants, and coaches to transform their ideas into published articles.

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