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Texting and Writing

§ March 1st, 2011 § Filed under communication, small business, training, writing § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” – Joseph Priestley

In response to my request for communication pet peeves, one of my readers emailed, “I dislike the fact that kids, with texting, are using “shortcut” language.  This definitely will not help their spelling & written skills.”

Texting! Just like my reader, I worry about the writing skills of our youth. I teach writing classes on the college level, and I see omitted punctuation, lack of capitalization, and words that I have to read aloud to decipher the meaning.

Is texting ruining the writing skills of an entire generation? To be honest, probably. But the problem may not the obvious one.

English teachers throughout history have had to help students understand the difference between formal and informal language. (Growing up in Texas, we all had to learn that “ya’ll” was not an acceptable pronoun when writing a school paper, but then neither was any second person pronoun.) Texting adds a layer to that concern, but with some training, students can move between the formal and informal writing easily. Research shows that students, especially those with some college, tend to understand the difference in requirements when writing formally.  If you are interested in how teens perceive their writing skills, the Pew Research Center has done a fascinating study on teen writing and technology.

The bigger problem may be that texting requires quick, to-the-point, no-nuanced writing.  Conversely, good writing requires supporting detail, more explanation, and additional depth.  One of the concerns pointed out in the Pew study is that most writing assignments in high school are short – a few paragraphs at the most. The combination of texting, Tweeting, and sharing short messages on Facebook, plus a lack of opportunity to learn how to write lengthier and more in-depth prose may be hurting our students’ writing skills much more than the abbreviations and shortcuts.

I have my pet peeves when it comes to spelling and grammar, but I can usually decipher those mistakes easily. The harder task is sorting out writing that is illogical and unsupported, and I seem to find a higher frequency of poorly thought-out writing these days whether in my classes or in the marketing materials of businesses. We need to teach students to think critically and write fully thought-out papers. Businesses need to learn to communicate from the reader’s viewpoint, answering questions before they are asked. I love the idea of communicating quickly through text messages or 140 character Tweets, but to be decent writers, we have to be able to provide detailed, coherent information.

As we embrace our new forms of communication, there will probably come a time when “your” will become “ur.” I can’t find a good argument against the shortening of some words, leaving out letters that serve no meaning except to confuse non-native speakers and to point obscurely to the mongrel history of our language. The only argument that I can fall back on is that we have rules for the way we have always written, and I know that is a miserable excuse. So I won’t be surprised, and I won’t fight the inevitable. I won’t completely give in just yet, either. So, instead of “thx 4 rdg,” I’ll say, “Thanks for reading all of my letters, even the unnecessary ones.”

Growing Small Business

§ December 10th, 2010 § Filed under small business § Tagged , , , , § No Comments

For the past ten years I have had the opportunity to serve on the Bexar County Small, Minority, & Women-Owned Business Enterprise (SMWBE) Program Advisory Committee. This committee makes recommendations to Commissioners Court on issues that affect contracting and purchasing practices within the County. The focus is on finding ways to create a level playing field for small business and those businesses that are run by minorities, women, and Veterans.

Shortly before I joined, the committee had recommended and the Commissioners had agreed to hire Renee Watson as the Manager of the SMWBE Program. To those of us in the small business community (and San Antonio is primarily a small business community), Renee has been the smartest decision our County Commissioners have ever made. I’m sure there are people all over the country in government or private enterprise who understand contracting and participation of small, minority, women, and Veteran businesses, but I would hold Renee up against anyone in the nation for her knowledge. She has guided us in helping to oversee a race-neutral program since Bexar County has no set-asides or points awarded for participation by particular groups. Our committee has consistently requested that any organization that uses County funds open the purchasing process to small business. That includes County departments and organizations such as University Hospital that are funded by taxpayer dollars. That also includes companies that get large contracts from the County. Beyond that, Renee advises any company that comes to the area in how opening up their purchasing to locally-owned business will help save them money and give them positive publicity and support in the area the company serves.

There have been a number of successes that have grown out of the County’s SMWBE office including a very successful mentor-protégé program for construction companies. The AT&T Center and the J.W. Marriott have posted record percentages of purchases from small, minority, women and veteran businesses in the San Antonio area, partially due to the involvement of Renee and the committee.

One of the most helpful programs has been the Contracting Conference that is held in December each year. We just completed our tenth event. This year’s event featured 170 exhibitors, nearly all purchasing managers who were there to let small businesses know that they want to buy goods and services. The event provides the over 4000 small business owners who attend a chance to talk one-on-one to purchasers from every government agency and a number of private firms. There are workshops and briefings and the entire event is free to the attendees.

The volunteer force at this event has grown to approximately 150 people who donate two or more hours to help register and check in the attendees, provide directions and answer questions, and relieve the exhibitors when needed. There are four of us who have volunteered since the first years of this event who help guide the rest. We all believe strongly in the importance of opening up opportunities to small business.

Small businesses are indeed the engine that fuels this country, and nowhere more than in the San Antonio area. When small businesses grow, they tend to stay in the area. The owners of small businesses are from here. Their families are here. They have a commitment to the area. When businesses such as the J.W. Marriott purchase goods and services from local business, those businesses build capacity and hire more people from the area.

This week, I talked to a number of small business owners who made contacts that will likely turn into contracts. I am honored to be a part of this effort and very thankful to Commissioners Court, Renee Watson, and her team for making this possible.

Five Low-Cost Marketing Solutions

§ June 19th, 2010 § Filed under communication, marketing, small business, training, writing § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

If you are a small business owner, you know how difficult it is to get publicity in order to let your potential customers know you are available. One of the ways you can jump-start your marketing efforts is to brand yourself as an expert in your field. Help people discover that you are the one to come to when they need your type of service. Here are some suggestions to show off your abilities in your particular area of expertise:

Teach a class. Offer your topics to the community education department at your local school district. These classes usually don’t pay much to the instructor, but the exposure may be perfect for your business. The trick here is to offer some real help or information, not just market your business. One coffee shop owner offered a class on the different types of coffee drinks, providing participants with samples of espressos, lattés, Café Americanos, etc. A website design company can offer a class on search engine optimization. Find something your company does well and teach people the basics. They will come to you for the more difficult tasks.

Donate your services. No matter what your area of expertise, there is a non-profit that can benefit from your help. Provide your service free of charge in return for using the non-profit as a reference.

Provide a sample. Samples give prospective customers an idea of the quality of your work and help them see how they can benefit from your services. One desktop publisher received a newsletter from a real estate agent. She created a mock-up of a redesigned newsletter and showed it to the agent. He loved the first page, but when he turned it over the flip side was blank. She explained, with a grin, “If you want the rest, you’ll have to pay for it.” As a result, the agent became a long-term customer. Give potential clients samples of your work and let them know how to obtain more of your products or services.

Do a newsletter. Include short articles related to your area of expertise and send the newsletter out to your email or postal mailing list. If you need help writing or don’t know how to put a newsletter together, contract with a writer, desktop publisher or communication coach. Send it out once a month or once every other month. The focus needs to be on helpful information, not on selling, although highlighting current sales can be a portion of the content.

Write articles or start a blog. If you don’t want to commit to a regular newsletter, pitch your article ideas to a local newspaper or webzine. Associated Content is a great place to start. You might also want to start a blog. Again, the focus needs to be on information that is helpful to the reader, not sales copy. If you don’t have time or don’t feel comfortable writing, hire a communication coach or writer to do it for you.

Consider the time and money you spend on these activities part of your advertising budget. You’ll find they pay off in ways you never anticipated.

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