Author Archives: Sandy

About Sandy

Sandy is the director of client accounts with The Simons Group. In addition to her responsibilities of managing the day-to-day operations of The Simons Group, Sandy’s duties include reviewing current industry trends and best practices and working with clients to help them meet their strategic goals. She is a devoted runner and enjoys whipping up culinary masterpieces (and eating them)!

The copy editor: Content’s superhero?

editorial oversightTo get started, let’s review some key items that you need to accomplish as you create content for your business.

Content checklist:

  • Tap into experts and thought leaders when creating content for your company (easy if you know who they are).
  • Produce a variety of content that speaks to your audience in various stages of your sales lifecycle (easy if you have a formal content plan).
  • All content that is created should have editorial oversight (not easy unless you really know what you’re doing).

Let’s focus on the “not easy” part of this equation — editorial oversight.

What is editorial oversight?

Briefly, it’s ensuring that all the content pieces that are created for your company have a consistent voice and tone while also satisfying your marketing goals. This is no easy feat, so you need a content editor (aka content superhero) to fearlessly lead the way.

A content editor’s most impressive superpowers follow:

Power: Omniscience

A content team that has a strong editor at the wheel can fine-tune your company’s voice and help you reach your long-term communication goals. This do or die world of SEO, where content is king, demands that you adopt a dependable and trustworthy voice.

Your copy editor’s key role is to know everything there is to know — from voice and tone to audience makeup and Associated Press style rules. With the power of omniscience, copy editors make sure that all content contributors understand the rules and follow them. They ensure writers adhere to the unique voice that defines a company. They’re the final eyes that make sure all content produced is consistent, understandable and relevant.

Power: Invisibility

As you can imagine, managing an editorial workflow requires significant thought and time. Most of the effort occurs behind the scenes. It all starts with defining your content objectives (voice, tone and style guidelines) and finishes with a final editing and proofing pass to ensure that your readers are not being subjected to typos, missing punctuation and redundant information.

Copy editors also encourage content creators to push further and answer unasked questions. They ensure that all content is well-produced and showcases your credibility in understated and authoritative ways. The goal is to have the team produce content that educates and demonstrates thought leadership. They want you to stay engaged and read each piece from start to finish because it’s constructed well and guides you to a place of learning.

Do you admire any editors?  What superpowers do they possess? Let us know in the comments below.

What my dog’s taught me about business

Mika Chillin in the parkThis is Mika and she means business! If you’ve kept up with my other posts, you’ve come across this little lady before. She is quite the little showstopper and gets attention wherever she goes.

Mika recently turned 2 ½, which prompted me to reflect on how much she has changed my life for the better – including how she has made me better at my job! She has taught me how to be a better communicator, how to live in the moment and the importance of listening to my gut. Here are some ways that my Mika has schooled me in the art of business:

Communication is in the details

Not much escapes Mika when it comes toSleeping with eyes open humans. She is even known to sleep with her eyes open (which is sort of creepy) to ensure that she doesn’t miss anything. She is always paying close attention to body language and context to assess what our human words really mean.

My husband and I sometimes try to trick her into thinking we’re sad or angry by changing our tone or inflection. She never falls for it, no matter how convincing we think we are. She sees – or hears – right through us by reading the other unspoken cues.

Sometimes in our haste to close a contract, progress a partnership or hire a new staff member, humans can fail to do our own due diligence. Carefully examine those with whom you wish to develop a relationship with and look beyond what they say – even if it is what you want to hear. Pay attention to the tone of their voice (do they sound genuine?), their actions (do they say one thing yet do another?) and their follow-through (do they say they want to be part of the team but never volunteer?). By combining these cues with their words, you’ll get a much clearer picture of their true intentions.

Being present in the moment

Mika does not spend her days dwelling on the past or fretting about the future. She lives her life in the now. She experiences all of life’s tastes and sniffs in the moment.

Mika In GooglesWhen Mika goes to the lake to swim, to the park to play or eats her favorite food (cheese), her enthusiasm never fades. She truly is living in the moment and not taking anything for granted.

When you’re in a meeting, be in the moment. Be attentive and listen and really give your fellow meeting members your full attention. Always aim to pay attention to the moment you are in right now. Be mindful of your actions and understand that the simple act of being present will impact those around you for the better. Do not fill your head with past or future situations. Folks can tell very quickly if you’re really “there” or if you’re just plotting your next step.

Listening to your instincts

 Mika forms opinions and makes decisions based on her “gut.” She is blessed with an intuition that allows her to assess friend or foe in an instant. If Mika doesn’t like another human or dog after a few sniffs, she will follow her instincts and avoid them. If she senses hostility, bad intentions or instability she will let them know that she’s on to them.

Even with her ability to make split-second judgments, Mika is extremely well-balanced and friendly. She amazes me when she stands up for her other doggy friends if she senses that another dog has inappropriate intentions. She has a keen instinct for right and wrong and has been taught not to ignore that sense.

Animals have to rely on their gut instincts to stay alive. As humans, we sometimes try to block out our own gut feelings. We have all had that feeling of an employee that is not giving their job all that they could, yet we continue to make excuses for them hoping that they will eventually make a turn for the better. Or maybe you get a bad feeling about a prospect during the sales process but ignore it, just to have those issues amplified once they become a client. If you had listened to that gut instinct sooner rather thanMika nose later you can end up saving yourself a lot of grief down the road.

What animal instincts do you incorporate into your business practices? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

 

To accomplish more, lead with kindness

ducks-in-a-row-1316756-1598x1062Growing up, the only business role model I had was my dad. He was wildly successful and ruled his company with an iron fist. He led with fear, and people in his wake were often left shaking in their figurative boots.

His motto was, “Look out for number one.” As you can probably tell, this motto was not based on the pre-flight safety demonstration that instructs passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others. My father did whatever was best for him without considering how it might hurt those around him.

I remember visiting his office on rare occasions as a child. Sometimes he was there, and other times, he was not. When he was not in the office, there was a great energy and buzz. People were relaxed and happy while getting their work done. When he was around, no one would speak to each other unless they absolutely needed to. It was a very stressful vibe, to say the least. I thought that this was normal and okay (and boy, was I wrong).

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How empathy can help you reach your goals

eye-closeup-1526251-1279x960Since I met my husband (flashback to Boston 1994!), he has consistently reminded me to put myself in others’ shoes so I could truly understand their points of view. When I was younger, this was hard for me, to say the least. Growing up, I had a clear set of rules about what was “right” and what was “wrong.” This rigid worldview left me struggling to see the unique perspectives of others and made it hard for me to connect with people. 

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Flavorchem shines at the IFT15 Expo

I recently had the pleasure of attending the IFT15 Food Expo at McCormick Place South. The reason for my visit was to check out the new booth exhibit for our client Flavorchem. This yearly expo houses the industry’s largest collection of food ingredients, equipment, processing and packaging suppliers. While I knew that there would be well over 1,200 exhibitors from around the world, I was still awestruck by the sheer magnitude of the expo.

Thankfully, Flavorchem had prepared me (and its other guests) with personal invitations well in advance of the expo, so my experience was seamless. Flavorchem had a record number of visitors at IFT15, and that comes as no surprise. Here are a few of the ways the company took care of us throughout the process. 

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Start your new year off right

clock

As 2014 wraps up, make sure you take some time to reflect on your accomplishments, as well as areas where you think you could have done better. Here are a few resolutions that can help you take your company into 2015 full steam ahead:

  1. Get rid of dead weight. It can be difficult to swim upstream or even stay afloat when you’re weighed down by poor productivity and low morale. Are you holding onto employees and vendors that have lackluster performance, are poor cultural fits or don’t add any real value, because you’re comfortable with the devil you know? Are your clients and staff suffering as a result? If so, it’s time to break the toxic ties and move on.
  1. Market to prospects that can afford your products and services. When a prospect comes along, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and not vet them to see if they are a good fit for your company and services. In addition, they may have the qualities of your ideal clients, but if they can’t afford your offerings, they’re not that ideal. Learn to cut the cord sooner rather than later so you can move on and focus on prospects that are a better budget fit.
  1. Evaluate where you’re looking for prospects. If you’re finding numerous prospects that can’t afford your services, it’s time to evaluate your lead generation and marketing efforts. Test new strategies and, eventually, you will start to hit a few sweet spots that will yield better results. One caveat: An approach that worked in the past might not work in future — this is an ongoing process.
  1. Stand by your pricing. When times are slow, you may be tempted to reduce your prices. If you’re confident in what your company offers, resist the urge to go cheap for the sake of working with unqualified prospects. Even if you continue to work with those clients, you’ll be setting yourself up for disaster because your low rates will negatively affect your upward mobility. Instead, find the right kind of prospects and make sure that your company’s messaging, speaking points and marketing materials are up to par.

What do you plan to change at your business in 2015? Do you make yearly resolutions? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.

You’re speaking my language

Letters

Marketing is basically an ongoing conversation with your target audience. Your ultimate goal as a marketer or business owner should be to guide the conversation in a way that allows your audience to interact with your brand in a meaningful way. Here are some tips to help you get the conversation started:

Eliminate jargon. People who work in different industries often use shorthand and complicated language that doesn’t make sense to someone outside those industries, including customers. Cutting unnecessary jargon helps people understand your message and makes your brand accessible.

Focus on benefits. Business owners love the products and services they offer; after all, they are the lifeblood of their companies. They help keep the lights on and ensure that the employees are paid. A strong focus on your products and services in your business practice is a must, but focusing on them in your marketing can be a big mistake. Your audience doesn’t care about how you developed your software. They want to know how much more productive it will make them. They don’t give a whit about how their diabetes medication manages their blood sugar. They want to know that they’ll be able to live their lives normally if they use it.

Address fears. Believe it or not, your audience is often up at night fretting about their business issues. If you can tap into those fears and provide solutions in your marketing, you’ll attract and retain customers. This is a great way to showcase the benefits of your products and services while creating an emotional connection with your audience.

Look (and sound) good. Speaking the right language is more than using the right words and sounding like your audience. Your content should be surrounded by graphics and images that draw your audience in. If your website, newsletter and blog are visually boring or confusing to the eye, prospective customers will leave without reading your message. If they leave, they’ll never learn how you can help them.

How do you communicate with your audience? What strategies work best? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Introducing Mika Asanovic

When staff members at The Simons Group have babies, I write congratulatory posts welcoming the newborns to our family. In March, my husband and I welcomed a furry bundle of joy into our lives, but I didn’t give her a proper introduction.

Mika is an Irish water spaniel and she was a tough little lady to get. Only about 100 are born in the United States each year. The stars aligned perfectly for us when we began looking for our perfect puppy because a litter was on the way and, at the same time, we were accepted as suitable “parents.” We wanted a girl, so we waited anxiously for a couple of months (which felt more like years), hoping that some of the puppies would be girls.

On Jan. 5, we woke up to the great news that six puppies were born — three girls and three boys. One of those girls was ours, but we weren’t sure which one it was. I originally had my heart set on the largest girl, “Miss Red,” but in the beginning, they all looked like little sausages with legs and I couldn’t tell one from the other. As they began to grow and develop actual features, the breeder sent little “passport” photos of the litter and I fell in love with “Miss Lavender.” The look on this little’s one’s face made me fall in love with her instantly.

My husband picked up our little lady at the breeder in upstate New York in March. He had a small window of time to bring her in the cabin of the airplane because she was growing so fast, she would barely fit in the carrier the airline required. On top of that, the winter storms brewing on the East Coast, and related flight cancelations and delays were freaking us out that we would never get her home. As luck would have it, however, she made it to her new home in Chicago!

Mika has grown up so fast and has developed such a grand personality. She has been with us through a brutal Chicago winter, a beautiful spring and a short but sweet summer. She was obsessed with snow as a puppy. We joked that she was defective and was actually an Irish “snow” spaniel. She enjoyed her first Saint Patty’s day (in honor of her Irish heritage, of course), learned to swim like a fish, dock dive like a pro and chase squirrels (and her tail) with abandon. We’re looking forward to what the fall and beyond will bring.

Do you have pets at home? What are they? Can you imagine what your life would be like without them? Share your story in the comments below.

The puppies look like little blobs.

Mika passport

The picture that sealed the deal. I’m in love!

Mika bag

Mika and her carrier barely fit under the airplane seat.

She’s in a snow trance on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Mika is ready for another swim in Lake Michigan.

Mike diving

What a brave dog she is on her first dive.

Mika getting ready for winter

Guess who is ready for fall and winter 2014?

No-nonsense tips for running effective conference calls

TelephoneI am more comfortable having face-to-face meetings. I love the visual clues that you gain from body language. The furrow in someone’s brow or a tilted head of engagement can tell you whether you are falling flat or hitting a home run. In today’s busy world, however, face-to-face meetings aren’t always feasible. Conference calls are a cost-effective, time-saving alternative for bringing people together.

As I know from my own experiences, being the lead on conference calls can be nerve-wracking, particularly when you are new to the game. Inevitably, there will be uncomfortable moments that can run the gamut from awkward silences to people speaking over one another. Here are some tips to help you manage these issues like a pro and make your conference calls go smoothly:

  • Know who will be on the call. Make a list of all participants and their companies. Jot down some quick background notes about them so that you’ll know each person’s role for the call.
  • Prepare an agenda. In my opinion, the No. 1 way to stay on track during the call and avoid awkward silences is to have an agenda. Be sure to send the agenda to all meeting attendees before the call. A simple agenda will do wonders to help you keep the call on track and make sure that you touch on everything you need to cover. Some great basic agenda items include introductions, general roles of attendees, objectives, questions and next steps.
  • Prepare for small talk. Usually, someone will be late. While you’re waiting, put everyone at ease by making small talk. If you’re not able to do this on the fly, make a list of  neutral subjects you can rely on before the call.
  • Direct the call. For example, ask participants to introduce themselves one at a time, so you can avoid people talking over one another. If the participants stray from the agenda, gently steer them back on track.
  • Take detailed notes. Having notes to refer to during and after the call will show that you are an active listener.
  • Summarize next steps and set deadlines. At the end of the call, discuss the next steps. Recap any action items for participants and include deadlines while you’re still on the phone with them.
  • Write a call summary and send it to the participants. Be sure to include a list of action items. This document will be a record of the conversation and will come in handy if you need to clarify anything later. When sending the recap, ask that everyone review it and notify you if you missed anything or if they have changes.
  • Take action after the call. After the call,it’s important to follow through on all the action items that are assigned to you and meet your deadlines.

What makes your conference calls go smoothly? Share your experiences in the comments below.

A simple blueprint for a good hire

PrintAt The Simons Group, we are continually on the lookout for the latest and greatest members of our growing team. Our recruiting efforts always turn up strong candidates with the skills and background to do the job, but for us, a new hire is more than someone who has an impressive resume. Our tightknit group works directly with our clients, so a cultural fit is as important as having the skills and credentials that match the job description.

It can be a challenge to determine whether a candidate is the right fit for our culture and work style. Once an applicant makes it past the credentials stage, the hard part of recruiting begins. We look for traits and values that will make it easy for the right candidates to form good working relationships with our staff and our clients.

Here’s a sneak peek at what makes us tick:

  • We take care of our staff and expect the same in return. We understand that our employees have lives outside work. Some members of our team have children (of the human or animal variety); one of our team members has band practice every Thursday; and another just began volunteering at a local hospital. We understand that a full personal life can bleed into the normal 9-to-5 business day. We make accommodations, so they can be happy outside work, which, in turn, will make them happier employees who are willing to go the extra mile for The Simons Group and our clients.
  • Our staff consists of “can-doers.” When we hire, we always consider whether candidates have the potential for personal growth. We want team members who are hungry to develop themselves and their skills. I have been with The Simons Group for over seven years, and my role has changed considerably since I was hired, because I wanted to take on more responsibility and play a larger part in the success of The Simons Group. Our most senior designer is always experimenting with new technology platforms so we can stay on top of industry trends. Having a can-do attitude will get you far at The Simons Group.
  •  “That is not part of my job” is not part of our vocabulary. We believe in nurturing and developing loyal and capable team members who understand that The Simons Group as a whole is greater than the sum of its team members. We support one another, and if a team member needs help and someone can assist, we make it a point to jump in and pick up the slack. For example, we just wrapped up a 48-page catalog that had a tight deadline and unexpected scope changes, including data entry and numerical conversions. The lead writer on the project did not have time to complete these tasks, so the project’s lead designer and our public relations specialist jumped in to assist.
  • We believe in not making excuses. No one is perfect and we get that. Mistakes happen and we like to view them as learning experiences. A former employee who resorted to making excuses and playing the blame game when something went wrong had a hard time fitting in, because we are more interested in fixing problems than assigning blame. We apologize, take full responsibility for any mistakes, and come up with solutions to avoid making the same mistakes again.

What is your corporate culture? Do you work hard to preserve it with your hiring decisions? Let us know in the comments below.