Is writing quality the elephant in your room? Could it be that poorly written proposals are damaging your brand and losing business? And do you worry that nobody in the organisation knows how to tame the elephant?
These statements fit potential customers for me. Once we meet, some people are reluctant to reveal their real needs, and I find that they tend to fall into four categories.
Four types of potential customer
1. Lovely people. These are easy to deal with, keen to listen and ready to take advice. We have a wide ranging and honest conversation and they use my services to raise the standard of writing in their organisation in the way that makes most sense. No problem there.
2. Ostriches. These people realise quickly that solving the problem will not be instant or easy. They immediately push it into the file marked ‘deal with later’ and tell me that they do not require my services. Everything is fine for now thanks.
3. Butterflies. A little more open to ideas than the ostriches, but still more focused on keeping their lives simple than on brokering real change. They agree to a quick fix solution that will tick a box (such as a one-day report writing course).
4. Blinkered horses. Come to the meeting with a pre-formed idea about what they want me to do for them. They heard someone describe it, it sounds good to them and they want some of that for themselves. No matter that the problem was different then and that they are asking me to do it in less than half the time.
Ostriches and butterflies usually have general learning and development responsibilities and may be reluctant to reveal their lack of specialist knowledge about my subject. True professionals in this area, on the other hand, know that they do not need to be subject specialists, have confidence in their role and ask good questions to tease out my ability to help them.
Blinkered horses are more senior people with no time to discuss details. They throw a solution at me rather than a problem and expect it to happen. I suspect that there is a reluctance here as well to discuss internal weaknesses in any detail.
So, I need to give my potential customers easier access to the kind of conversation I would prefer to have with them. My partner, Terry Sheppey, has broken writing quality down into five areas that would work very well as a starting point. Here they are.
Five Access Points
Here are the five points. As you read, think about which parts of the writing process you or your team or organisation is best at and would therefore not need help with.
Approach: finding a focus – knowing what a document is supposed to achieve. Informing, persuading and so on.
Convention: achieving consistency – using benchmarks and a house style guide and using grammar and punctuation accurately.
Voice: finding the right tone – controlling how messages come across to readers. What relationship do you have with them – auditor, lawyer, consultant or therapist?
Craft: understanding the tools of the trade – using paragraphs, sentences and headings and so on to achieve readability.
Presentation: recognising the importance of the look of the page – using visual elements to encourage readers and make the material accessible.
Perhaps if I start my conversations here in future, narrowing down the topics one by one starting with what my customer’s organisation does best, we will have a more productive outcome. Do you find this a useful approach? I welcome your views.