October 28, 2014

Bad communication is frightening! How to banish it for good

words-of-the-monster

What frightens you most? Creepy crawlers in the night, werewolves howling at full moons, haunted houses, or skeletons in the closet? Well, we’re scared of all those things, too, but what really frightens us is how some people communicate.

You may laugh, but it’s true! We have so many ways to communicate these days (some may say that we have a lot of ways to communicate badly) that it can seem like you’re always walking the plank over the treacherous and deep waters of messages and meanings.

Let’s take just the easiest example – and we’ve all done it. Did you hit “reply all” when you wrote a message that was just intended for one person? Did you send the right e-mail to the wrong contact? Or, just after you tossed off that angry e-mail to your (fill in the blank) boss/ex-boyfriend/brother, did dread and fear of the future consequences start to invade your body like a quick poison? For more on that topic, see this recent Wall Street Journal article here.

There are many frightening examples of the scary ways that people communicate. And, in many instances, you can’t blame it on e-mail or digital technologies. In fact, the following examples are downright terrifying.

Take these examples from The Toronto News of July 26, 1977. Keep in mind that they are actual statements from insurance claim forms where drivers attempted to summarize the details of their accidents:

“I thought my window was down, but I found out it was up when I put my head through it.”

“I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.”

“I saw a slow-moving, sad-faced old gentleman as he bounced off the hood of my car.”

If these sentences make your blood turn to ice, check out these examples and figure out what the author is trying to say:

“I urge you to waste no time making this candidate an offer of employment.” (Are you urging the person to hire the candidate or are you saying the candidate is not worth further consideration?)

“You will be fortunate to get this person to work for you.” (Is this person a great job candidate, or is this person extremely lazy?)

So, now that we’ve discussed the perils of communication, here are some ways to get the spook out of your spin:

  1. Chase away the miscommunication. It’s great that you can send an e-mail from a smart phone, but you need to remember that that e-mail is still a professional document. Make sure that you are being very clear and concise. If you’re not sure if you’re getting your message across, ask someone to take a look at your e-mail before you send it. By all means, don’t put a tagline on your e-mails that says “please excuse typos” – that’s for goblins and ghosts. Read over your e-mails thoroughly before you send them. There’s no excuse.
  1. Don’t be scared to pick up the phone. E-mail can be a terrific communications tool – it’s easy, it’s fast, and you can send an e-mail almost anywhere. At the same time, it’s not always the perfect way to get your point across, and your tone in an e-mail can be easily misconstrued. Don’t send an e-mail to someone sitting three feet away from you. And don’t send a four-paragraph e-mail to your printer to clarify how many business cards you need. Before you send a dozen e-mails back and forth in the same e-mail chain, do yourself a favor and pick up the phone. It will be a treat, not a trick!
  1. Bury the jargon. When you’re in a profession like architecture, you’re going to use a lot of words and phrases that help you communicate with your colleagues. Unfortunately, when you use this jargon around other people, they’re going to think you’re Frankenstein. If you really want to talk to potential clients and other audiences – and get them to understand you – then go to the cemetery at 2 a.m. and bury that jargon in a deep grave (full moon optional). Going forward, make sure you use plain language to convey your ideas and messages. You’ll be amazed at how clearly you’ll be able to communicate.

Image courtesy Platt College

October 21, 2014

Raise Your Professional Profile from the Dead

DearZombiesBW

It’s October once again; when bumps in the night and creepy creatures can rattle even the bravest folks. But the scariest thing that can happen to you this season is when you realize you’ve let your professional profile slip into the darkness! Here are a few tips to help you change from an industry ghost into a highly visible professional and raise your profile from the dead.

Jump-start your presence on social media. We know that social media can be a scary prospect for those of you who have yet to become actively engaged in using it to promote your business. In fact, in our next post, we’ll lay out a detailed plan for how you can conquer your social media fears and get with the rest of the cyber-verse. But for those of you already on social media – and who may have let their activity fall into oblivion – a focused approach is the best way to get back into the land of the living.

If you haven’t already, you can create a blog that’s connected to your website. Write about topics that demonstrate your expertise, current projects, or design trends.  Try to post to your blog at least three times per month.

Next, use Twitter and LinkedIn – probably the two most important social media tools you can use to raise your profile – to further augment your exposure to current and past clients, potential clients, and the media as well as to other architects, engineers, and designers. Use Twitter to lead audiences to your website, blog, and vice versa. A LinkedIn profile will help you maximize your professional connections. Additionally, A/E/C industry networks like Architizer, Honest Buildings, Houzz, Porch, and others are excellent ways to network with other industry professionals, build relationships, and get more work. Set a goal to post at least three times per week.

Get involved with professional organizations. Participation in key professional organizations can help you build and maintain valuable relationships, be more accessible to potential clients, and get in front of the right types of clients. For example, if you want to reach developers and other real estate industry leaders to get more commercial work, then participating in pro organizations where they are involved is an effective way to reach these decision makers. For greatest impact, you need to attend events on a regular basis, and participate in committees or join boards, in order to gain access to the most valuable networking opportunities.

Share your expertise and thought leadership at conferences. Another thing you can do to pull your low profile out of zombie land is to begin participating in panels and speaking opportunities. These can be excellent ways to share your experience, expertise and personality with your target audiences. If public speaking scares you to death, start off small and practice with colleagues in your firm. For your presentations, focus on topics that demonstrate your expertise in particular building typologies or industry sectors such as healthcare. Once you get more comfortable speaking, participate in a panel discussion at your local AIA chapter. If you find you’re good at it and you enjoy it, you can start submitting yourself to speak at bigger meetings and conferences for greater exposure.

Just because the daily grind has caused you to let your exposure slip into an early grave, doesn’t mean it’s dead. All it takes is a strategic, steady approach to social media, networking, and speaking opportunities to revive yourself and get the professional exposure you deserve. Your audiences will be screaming “it’s alive!”

September 30, 2014

Use SEO Strategically to Raise Your Firm’s Online Visibility

SEO-Optimization-Marketing1

This month we’ve heard from guest bloggers Brad Feinknopf on investing in good photography and Jessica Wyman on tips for designing an effective website. Now that you’ve got a great website with gorgeous photography, how do you actually get visitors? The answer is SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) improves a website’s visibility in online search results in order to increase the number of visitors to that website. Search engines like Google match users with the businesses and services they are looking for. In order to do this, they employ “crawlers,” special algorithms that read through the Internet, index each website, and rank it for different search terms. These search terms are known as key words (a single word, like “architecture,”) and key phrases (a group of keywords, like “architecture design firm”).

The goal of your SEO plan should be to make your expertise more evident to Google and other search engines, in order to increase its exposure and number of visitors. Once you place focused keywords strategically within the website’s text, the website’s ranking in search results will improve. The higher the website’s ranking, the more visitors will find it. In fact, a 2013 study found that 83.6% of searchers visit one of the top seven Google results in a given search.

In order to achieve this goal, you will want to select keywords that closely align with your firm’s signature services. Then, integrate these focused keywords throughout the text of your website in order to maximize your SEO. An effective SEO strategy encompasses several steps:

First, identify the terms that best represent your firm’s identity and services. Identify three or four key words and phrases that concisely convey your firm’s identity and services. These should be general search terms that someone might use to search for you such as “landscape architect” or “interior designer” or “project management.” It may seem like you’re stating the obvious, but for search purposes that’s exactly what you want to do. Once the user visits your website, you can demonstrate how you are different from all of the other landscape architects, interior designers, or project managers out there.

Next, research your chosen key words and phrases. Using a suite of SEO tools like Google Analytics, explore how often your chosen keys words and phrases are searched for. You should also determine if other, similar terms are more popular search terms – such as “corporate interior designer” or “workplace interior designer”. Further, you need to find out the level of competition for your chosen terms, i.e. how often a phrase appears on other websites. Google Analytics can help you find all of this data.

Then, evaluate your research and develop a plan. Once you’ve done your research using Google Analytics, take a look at the resulting data for each word and phrase you’ve chosen and prioritize a targeted number of final SEO keywords or phrases. Determining the most effective SEO keywords and phrases is a qualitative, not a quantitative process. In evaluating each key word and key phrase, you should take into account the following:

  • Value to your firm: All of the keywords and phrases you choose should reflect your firm’s principal services
  • Search volume: A higher number of monthly searches for a term brings more exposure to your website
  • Specificity: Being specific when choosing key phrases ensures that visitors who discover your site through a search will find what they are looking for
  • Competition: The fewer competitors there are for a key phrase, the higher your website will rank

Finally, optimize your website. Place your SEO keywords and phrases frequently and prominently within your website’s text. The “crawler” algorithms that Google uses to scan websites during searches take not only the keywords into account, but how often the keywords appear and even their proximity to one another. Be sure to work these keywords into your text as much as possible without overdoing it or ruining the overall narrative.

A top priority for every business is to direct the right kind of traffic to its website. A well-defined, effective SEO strategy will augment your online presence and ensure that more potential clients find your firm online.

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