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A cool NASA photo of Mercury

If you believe the astrologers, when Mercury is in retrograde communication can become even more complicated. That's because the Greek god Mercury was the boss of communication (and transportation).

We're in the first retrograde of the year at a really inopportune time. With COVID-19 bearing down on the U.S., clear, concise and effective communication is vital.

Communicating about COVID-19

If you're writing content for employee communications or your clients about flu season or COVID-19, your job is to share information, not spread panic.

As our medical director, retired ER physician Ben Hippen, told me, what gets out of hand in an emergency is constant chatter that stresses people out. Keep communiqués to a minimum and deliver only actionable information that:

  • Uses plain language. Explain the complicated terms and complex concepts you need to convey. Get more tips for using plain language.
  • Is concise. Make it easy for people to get the message by keeping it short. That doesn't mean leaving out crucial details. Rather, it means choosing the right details to support your main idea and using vocabulary that tells the story efficiently. Check out these easy-to-implement strategies for improving concision.
  • Links to trusted sources. This enables your audience to get more details if they want them and builds trust in your content for those who simply hover over the link. Learn more about how to increase relevance and trust with content.
  • Is cautious and responsible. Consider having a public health or medical professional review your work before sharing — like I did with Dr. H. It adds a little time to your workflow, but health and wellness are too important to mess around with.

Planning for COVID-19

It may become necessary for you to reduce operations, delay deliveries or have other business interruptions from the virus. Here are a few things to do now to prepare for that:

  • Review your sick leave and related policies and update them as needed (consider changes that incentivize staying home), and establish criteria for approved work-at-home situations.
  • Make sure you have updated emergency contact information for employees, vendors, partners and clients before you need it.
  • Task workgroups / teams with identifying stand-ins in case employees get sick and can't work, and provide time for them to get each other up to speed on projects.
  • Support remote working and video calls with sufficient hardware and platforms that reduce the exposure.
  • Develop plan for responding to a quarantine or large-scale employee absences. Involve your executive team and public health professionals, if possible.
  • Know your organization’s responsibilities. If you have a duty to stay up and running during a crisis, revisit your staffing and operations plans now.
  • Prepare for difficult conversations about challenging situations like being quarantined. You don’t want to wing it when you have to tell your team they can’t fly home from the convention.

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It feels good to help other people be successful. So this week I took time away from the office for two events designed to advise and support entrepreneurs pitching their companies and graduate students looking for jobs.

Executive Coaching: Investor and Business Pitches

First up was my second round of pitch scrubs this for the Council for Entrepreneurial Development. I was part of a team of "scrubbers", an investor, another entrepreneur, an accountant and me, the communications expert. We watched the pitches and gave feedback on content, business model, messaging, presentation skills, slide design and audience.

It's a cool project because I get to learn about emerging businesses and technologies, and meet really interesting entrepreneurs and advisors. I've done this for years now and it's always fun and fascinating.

Learn more about my executive communications coaching.

Career Coaching: Writing LinkedIn Profiles & Cover Letters

Margot Lester giving a LinkedIn workshop at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Career writing coaching for grad students at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Next was helping PhD candidates in the Graduate School at my alma mater, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hone their LinkedIn profiles, résumés and cover letters. I talked to two materials engineering PhDs, a cardiometabolism expert, two data scientists and a musicology doctoral candidate.

I love doing career writing workshops. It reconnects me to my first book, The Real Life Guide to Starting Your Career, and I've been on LinkedIn since God was a boy and really do believe in its value and power -- especially for job searches. It's so gratifying to help really talented people tell their stories in a few hundred words.

Click to download the LinkedIn cheat sheet I used in the workshop and a cover letter slide deck from an earlier session at UNC.

Need help with your own executive communications or career writing? Drop me a line! I've got space for two more coaching clients.

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Freelancer Appreciation Week

How to show freelancers you care, this week and every week.

Heart icon on The Word Factory's  website

Like a lot of agencies, we rely on freelancers. And as a former freelancer myself, I work hard to follow that old golden rule and treat people like I'd want to be treated.

Here are some tips for showing your appreciation to freelancers:

Provide reimbursement or support for payment options and platforms.

Some folks aren't set up to accept credit card payments, for instance, in part because it costs money to do that. Do your freelancers a solid and allow them to invoice for the cost of processing. You likely won't feel it because it's so incremental, but it makes a big difference to a solopreneur. Similarly, if you use a third-party payment system, offer to help your freelancers get set up. When you consider than one freelancer might have a different platform for each client, you start to see how much of a time suck enrollment can be. We pay via credit card, Venmo, PayPal and even old-fashioned check!

Pay promptly.

a dollar sign icon on Margot Lester's The Word Factory blog

Seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how slow some companies can be to pay. Make sure freelancers know upfront -- before you sign them on -- what your payment terms are. This makes cash flow planning a lot easier for them, freeing their mind of worry so it can focus more on your project. We generally pay our freelancers once the project has been approved by the client.

Share your budget.

We can save ourselves and our freelancers a ton of time over the course of a relationship by being transparent about what we can pay. Maybe it feels fun to be cagey about costs, but it eats up time on both sides of the transaction. If you really don't have any idea, say so from the get-go so you and your freelancer can collaborate on coming up with a fee. Learn more about the value of budget transparency.

Streamline feedback.

Fun icon on Margot Lester's keynote speaker page

This is another thing that seems small, but eats up time across your entire workload. First, if a lot of people need to be involved in reviews, make sure you review all the comments and changes before handing it back to your pro. Make sure you address conflicting comments/changes, answer questions and clear up anything else that might prompt the freelancer to write you back. Second, don't focus only on changes. Make sure to reinforce what's good about the work so those elements don't get changed in the process, and so the freelancer can start to learn what works for you. Get more advice for making feedback more effective and efficient for you and your freelancers.

The good thing about these recommendations is that they're relatively low-drag and yield big time savings across your team or organization. They also build loyalty, ensuring that top freelance talent chooses to work with you and not your competition.

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I've been a ROAD iD user for years, and this year I upgraded to a wristband model. Check out this fantastic packaging that my new gear arrived in:

RoadID's superior packaging
Example of terrific packaging from RoadID

This isn't just packaging, it's content marketing, utilizing a blend of visual and editorial that succeeds on many levels:

  • The padded mailer (far left) protected my wristband during transit and reinforces to me and anyone else seeing it all the cool stuff I can do with the peace of mind the product provides.
  • The box (top right) provided additional protection and the message "Wow, is that yours? It's magnificent. Just like you!" That made me feel like I was smart for buying the product and makes me aspire to magnificence and then get outside.
  • Instead of an anonymous "inspected by" or "packed by" note, I got a little postcard from Serita (bottom right). This is a great way to make me feel cared for and to show me the kind of happy and thoughtful people RoadID employs. That's important for any organization, and especially one that's looking out for my safety. I know this might be a gimmick, but I don't care. I feel like Serita and everybody else at the company has my back.
  • And the coupon (below the box) is funny. And it worked, I did offer the code to a good friend who's an avid runner.

You may not have the budget to make your packaging this deluxe, but use that financial constraint to spark creativity and do what you can to carry your brand promise further, encourage trust and give your customers a terrific delivery experience.

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January isn't just for New Year's resolutions. It's also a good time to:

Update copyright and other rights notices on all your materials, including presentations (thanks to The Reputation Institute's Martin Lieberman for that reminder).

Book icon on Margot Lester's writing coach page

Gather the documents you need for your personal income tax returns (easier to find it now that noon on April 15th, trust me) and make a dedicated place for all your important papers. Learn more about that from this document retention infographic we created for Staples.

Entrepreneurs and founders work with Margot Lester

Improve your work environment. Maybe it's getting a FluidStance or a FitDesk (I love mine). Or getting better coffee for the breakroom. Or installing kinder lightbulbs. I just did that throughout The Word Factory HQ and it's amazing how much nicer it is without so much blue light. I've also switched most of my devices to dark mode.

a dollar sign icon on Margot Lester's The Word Factory blog

Start a business savings account. Talk to your CPA and see you're allowed to create a savings account for your business. I'm kicking mine off with a business version of Michelle Singletary's 52-week challenge. My goal is to save enough this way to cover my 2021 Content Marketing World early bird registration.

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