5 tips for writing a better LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn social mediaI’ve been doing some research for a workshop for L&D professionals on how to write a better LinkedIn profile. It was quite a revelation – I’d thought my profile was OK. It turns out I’ve been missing out on some handy tricks and tips. And a quick look at some of your profiles suggests I’m not the only one!

So I thought I’d share five tips to help you get found, and create that all-important good first impression.

1. Know your purpose

Decide what you are trying to achieve. If you are looking to further your career, the focus will be different to someone who is developing their business.

For example, if you are trying to attract recruiters, say how you add value to an organisation. What makes you different?

If you’re aiming to attract clients, focus on the value you bring to them or their business. How many other clients have you helped, and how? Ask them for recommendations.

2. Spend time on your headline

Your headline is your tagline, visible even in Google search. What does your headline say about you?

Look at your competitors’ LinkedIn profiles. Don’t copy, but look for keywords and unique selling points. How can you differentiate yourself?

Why not just copy? Because when people view your public profile, they can also see links to similar profiles. I saw that two of my competitors had almost identical headlines, summaries, everything – right down to their interests (walking dogs).

Of course, you can’t stop people copying you, so update your LinkedIn profile regularly.

3. Your summary is your elevator pitch

This is the most important part of your profile. Think of it as a cover letter or 60-second elevator pitch – if you don’t attract interest here, your audience is unlikely to look further.

In the first paragraph introduce what you do and how it adds value – not a chronological history of your career to date. Think about how you’d introduce yourself at a speed-networking event.

You can then go on to explain multiple business interests or ‘odd’ career moves. Don’t forget to include plenty of keywords. Use Google Trends and Google Adwords Keyword tool to find related keywords. For example – Organisational Development, Organisational Change, Development Consulting…The specialities section is also good for keywords.

4. Customise your public profile

There are description boxes in the qualifications and experience modules of your LinkedIn profile – use them! For example, what made you decide to take on a role or pursue a certain qualification? And how does it to enhance your work?

LinkedIn also has modules for publications, projects and languages. You can customise the order in which modules appear in your public profile, and in how much detail. You may want to focus attention on your most recent role, for example, and hide the detail of your past roles. Or put your qualifications in order of relevance rather than chronological order.

5. Check your LinkedIn profile in Word

It’s boring, but your credibility depends as much on the accuracy of your writing as on the content itself. Nothing says ‘careless’ as much as grammatical and spelling mistakes.

Write out your summary in Word, and use the grammar and spelling tools to check it. Then copy and paste it back into LinkedIn.

Finally, a bonus tip. Don’t forget status updates. Even if you don’t have a blog or Twitter account, use this section to tell people about important projects, client wins or industry events you’re attending. This shows your network that you’re active, and they’re more likely to refer or recommend you if an opportunity arises.

Good luck – I look forward to seeing some killer LinkedIn profiles soon (which reminds me – I must update mine!)


PS Do you or your organisation need help with writing skills? I offer business writing courses and one-to-one coaching as well as writing consultancy services.

Image courtesy of JanPietruszka at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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How to use a semicolon

Two simple tips for using the semicolon correctly…semicolon

You can think of the semicolon as a strong comma or a weak full stop. That’s probably why it looks like a full stop floating above a comma.

This is one of the most misunderstood punctuation marks (after the apostrophe). You can probably get through life without ever having to use it, especially if you don’t plan to write any fiction. But used accurately, the semicolon can be useful.

1. Use the semicolon to join two complete sentences into a single sentence

Take these two sentences:

John wrote the report. It is a masterpiece.

To join them together, it is grammatically incorrect to simply replace the full stop with a comma – this is called a comma splice. What you can do is use a semicolon or dash.

John wrote the report; it is a masterpiece.
John wrote the report – it is a masterpiece.

2. Use the semicolon to break up a complex list

For simple lists, the comma is enough to separate each list item. For more complicated list items, using the semicolon can be clearer:

The annual report stated that the company’s three main objectives are: to grow sales revenue by 15%; to cut manufacturing costs by reducing wastage, raw material costs and lead times; and to expand geographically within Eastern Europe.

You can also format the sentence above as a bulleted or numbered list:

The annual report stated that the company’s three main objectives are:

  • to grow sales revenue by 15%;
  • to cut manufacturing costs by reducing wastage, raw material costs and lead times; and
  • to expand geographically within Eastern Europe.

Note the position of the semicolon stays the same as in the non-bulleted version – after each list item and before the joining word on the penultimate point.


PS Do you or your organisation need help with writing skills? I offer business writing courses and one-to-one coaching as well as writing consultancy services.

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Business writing vs technical writing

Technical and business writingIn last week’s article we looked at the differences between business writing and academic writing. Today’s post looks at business writing vs technical writing.

What’s the difference? The simple answer is that we define technical and business writing by their subject matter.

Technical writing deals with science, engineering and technology. Typical documents include specifications, manuals, data sheets, research papers, field reports and release notes.

Business writing is just about any other kind of writing people do at work, except journalism and creative writing. It includes reports, emails, proposals, minutes, letters, copywriting, bids and tenders.

However, there is some crossover. Many bids and proposals contain technical data and specifications. So business writers may find themselves editing technical content, and technical writers may be called upon to write persuasive documents for a non-technical audience.

A different language?

The main objective for both business and technical writing is to be useful – to inform, help make a purchase decision, build something or operate equipment.

Mistakes can be costly, even dangerous, so the language for both needs to be clear, concise, unambiguous and accurate. Wordiness, repetition and unfamiliar words that the audience may not understand do not belong in either business or technical writing.

Of course, you can use technical jargon in documents where the audience all have the same technical background. You probably don’t need to explain what a capacitor is to an audience of electrical engineers, any more than you need to explain return on investment to finance professionals.

However, in both technical and business documents, too much jargon tends to be a much bigger problem than too little. If in doubt, avoid jargon or explain it.

Style and structure

It goes without saying that correct grammar, spelling and punctuation are just as important in technical as in business writing. Errors damage the writer’s credibility, as well as causing confusion for readers.

However, some business documents need to be persuasive in style, whereas technical documents tend to be neutral and objective.

This doesn’t mean that bids and proposals aren’t clear, factual or accurate. Their structure focuses the readers’ attention on business benefits, such as cost savings or increased revenue, rather than on technical features. The technical detail supports and validates these benefits.

On balance, there are differences in the content, language, style and structure of technical and business writing. But they also require similar skills – both need to be clear, concise, correct and tailored to the audience.


PS Do you or your organisation need help with your writing skills? I offer writing courses and one-to-one coaching as well as writing consultancy services.

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Business writing vs academic writing

business writing boxing academic writingI wish someone had explained to me the difference between business writing and academic writing when I started my career.

Like most novice writers in the workplace, I carried on doing what I’d been trained to do since secondary school – writing up experiments and essays.

But there are some key differences. Understanding these can make the difference between your reports, proposals and emails being effective – or not.

Multiple audiences

At school and college you are writing for a limited audience – often a teacher or professor, who knows at least as much about the subject in question as you do.

Business documents usually have multiple audiences. A report, proposal, business case or bid is likely to be read by any number of people with various functional backgrounds, priorities, technical knowledge and language levels.

Knowing who is going to read your document and what they need to get from it is key. You may need different sections for different readers – an executive summary for decision-makers, for example. The structure, language, level of detail and style may very be different here to sections aimed at technical or operational staff.

Inclusive vs exclusive

The purpose of most academic writing is to dazzle the reader with your wide knowledge of the subject. It is inclusive in content, to maximize your chances of picking up precious marks.

There are no marks in business writing. Business environments are busy and readers are often distracted. They value documents that get to the point quickly. To be effective your writing therefore needs to be exclusive and concise, so that key points stand out.

Long-winded and passive sentences are replaced with short, punchy, active ones: ‘we recommend’ rather than ‘it is recommended.’ Every word earns its place as waffle dilutes the message.

Invert the structure for business writing

For the same reason, good business documents turn the chronological academic structure upside down. Start with conclusions and recommendations, rather than with background and methodology.

This doesn’t mean a rigorous methodology isn’t important, but the details are of less interest to decision-makers. It may even belong in the appendix. Seriously – in terms of detail, be prepared to kill your darlings.

Skimming and scanning readers

Academic readers, arguably, have time to read your document from start to finish.

Not so the business reader. Most executives spend less than two minutes reading any business document.

Many will skim or scan your document like a newspaper, looking for ‘headline’ information. Some may delve into the detail in some sections, depending on their individual priorities. If they don’t see something compelling on the first page, they may not read any further.

Therefore your document has to be easy to skim or scan. Break up the text with headings, sub-headings, lists and graphics.

Keep paragraphs short and don’t cram words onto the page – leave plenty of white space and margins.

Good business writing does mean that you’ll have to unlearn some skills and learn new ones. But the pay-off is that these new skills will serve you well throughout your career, in whatever medium.


PS Need help with your business writing? Check out my business writing courses or one-to-one coaching.

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Writing a business case – FAQs

the business case answers the who, what, why, how questionsIf you need new staff or equipment, or to change a policy or procedure, you may well need to write a business case. But where do you start?

I run a course on How to Write a Business Case, and here are five of the most common questions that come up.

1. Is a business case different to a proposal?

Some people use the terms interchangeably. In my experience, a proposal is usually directed at an external client, whereas a business case is a document for internal decision making. Consultants or suppliers may still write part or all of a business case. The key point is that it is robust – it compares the costs and benefits of more than one option. One of these is the status quo, which acts as a benchmark for the others. See my previous post What is a business case? for more on this.

2. Where should I start?

Start with a clear brief – identify as clearly as possible the problem you’re trying to solve. This might be saving costs, increasing revenue, or reaching a strategic objective such as environmental sustainability. This is a key step as it defines and narrows the scope of your case, so that you know what to include and what to leave out.

Don’t define the brief so narrowly that there’s no room for alternatives – that defeats the object of the business case. It’s also a good idea to get approval at this stage. Trust me, it saves time later.

3. How long/detailed should it be?

It depends on the audience. After you have approved the brief, analyse the audience and find out what level of detail they expect. If you can’t talk to them directly, look at previous cases that have been successful, and check if there is a preferred template.

Even if your organisation insists on a one-page summary, you will still need the supporting evidence to back up your recommendation. So understanding your audience is key. What are their priorities and biases? What questions will they ask?

4. How many options should I analyse?

It depends on how you defined the brief, but the minimum is two – the status quo, and your recommendation. This applies even if ‘do nothing’ is not a viable option.

For example, if there was a new law coming in, you would compare your option against the risk of not complying with it – such as potential fines and damage to corporate reputation.

Too many options may confuse and distract your audience. Three or four is optimal for a robust case. You may be able to eliminate some from your detailed analysis due to high risk, or conflict with other projects. Remember to state what options you eliminated and why.

5. Isn’t money the only thing that matters?

Not necessarily. Obviously it’s easier to justify investment in the project with the highest ROI (return on investment) or NPV (net present value). But common sense, timing and strategic fit are also crucial in executive decision-making. I’ve seen financially attractive cases rejected because a more strategic opportunity took priority. So try to link your case strongly to strategic objectives or values such as sustainability, innovation or faster decision-making as well as building the financial case.

Good luck!


PS To learn how to write better business cases, check out my How to Write a Business Case course.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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What is a business case?

Scales representing justice and business case“Great idea – write me a business case for it,” says the manager. And another great idea bites the dust.

Why? Because it’s often unclear what, exactly, is required. The definition of the business case has become very woolly in recent years. Depending on who you ask, it can be a highly structured formal document, or a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

With no clear guidelines, the hapless employee risks delivering a document that misses the mark. This can be costly in terms of time and credibility.

Demystifying the business case

A business case is a decision-making tool for comparing several options, and making a robust recommendation.

It’s exactly what many of us do when we are deciding which TV to buy, or where to go on holiday (assuming we are not making these decisions on impulse). We look at several alternatives, compare the costs and benefits of each , make a decision, and work out how and when we’re going to make it happen.

The advantage is that by comparing our proposal to other viable alternatives, we have more faith in our decision. And it’s easier to sell our ideas to others.

In the business case we compare at least two alternatives – our recommendation, and the ‘do nothing’ or status quo option, which acts as a benchmark. This would be like comparing going to the Maldives for two weeks with staying at home.

Obviously my case for the Maldives might be strengthened if I also compare it to, say, a fortnight in the Cotswolds (risky with the weather, almost as expensive).

Business case elements

A business case can be a one-page summary or a seventy-slide presentation. It depends on the audience and what they need to make a decision. Broadly speaking it will cover the following elements:

• The problem or need your case is addressing
• Your proposal, its features and scope
• The options you considered
• Your rationale for choosing the recommended option
• The implementation plan
• The expected costs
• The risks, and how you will mitigate them

A good business case can earn you the resources you need. It can be good for your career if it demonstrates your clear-thinking business acumen.

If you’re inspired to have a go, look out for next week’s article: “Business case: FAQs.” Good luck!


PS To learn how to write better business cases, check out my How to Write a Business Case course.

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Is management jargon costing you business?

Man hiding face from management jargonManagement jargon is regarded as a “pointless irritation” by nearly a quarter of UK managers, according to a survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM).

Within a few hours, social media was buzzing with the buzzwords that people found most annoying. Top amongst them were “going forward” – meaning in the future – and “reach out” – which translates as call, write to, or meet.

There’s a serious side to this. “Management speak gets in the way,” says Chrissy Mahler, founder of the Plain English Campaign. “It acts as a barrier to procuring new business.”

My experience supports this. When I ask people on my workshops, “what makes a bad bid or report?” jargon always tops the list of gripes. If your aim is to generate new business, take note.

“When you cut away the management school jargon, what you usually find is a manager who hasn’t really got a clue,” was a popular comment on the Telegraph website.

“Management jargon is used most by intellectually insecure people who would struggle to construct an elegant sentence in plain English,” was another. “It’s a fig-leaf which, when worn, proclaims the wearer to be a bit thick.”

Management clichés are not the only issue. Overused, empty phrases were also cited as evidence of lazy, meaningless writing. For example, “we take these matters most seriously,” “a full investigation will be conducted,” and “there are lessons to be learned.”

And my personal favourite: “Our company no longer has problems, only issues. We overcome them by devising and initiating robust staff motivation measures and incentives, by teamwork and offering solutions to customers.” As opposed to what, exactly?

Readers are people too, and I’ve never met anyone who was impressed with clichés or waffle. So purge these from your business writing if you want to make a good impression.

What management jargon and empty phrases do you find most annoying?

For information on how I can help you or your organisation write better business documents, including bids, reports, letters and emails, visit my pages on coaching and writing courses.


Posted in Bid writing, Business Writing, Career, Impact, News, Proposal Writing, Report Writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Handling complaints – how to write an apology letter

Man handling complaints by phone
Whether or not your role involves handling complaints, you’ll know that in business things sometimes go wrong. And if you accept that you are at fault, it pays to apologise.

Handling complaints well often creates more customer loyalty. I recently received a very sincere apology letter from an internet retailer after an order failed to arrive. I was so impressed with their response I felt warmer towards them than if they’d delivered on time in the first place.

So complaints are an opportunity to impress your customers – but only if you handle them well. Follow these steps to do just that.

1. Say sorry

Don’t forget to apologise. Often this, together with an accurate acknowledgment of the complaint, will be enough to satisfy a disappointed customer.

2. Summarise and empathise

In your first paragraph state your understanding of the complaint as clearly as possible, and empathise with how the customer feels. For example, ‘I am sorry that we did not despatch your order in line with our delivery promise. I fully understand your disappointment when it did not arrive in time for your mother’s birthday.’

3. Make it personal

Don’t be afraid to address the customer directly, using personal pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘you’. This assures the reader that you are taking ownership of the problem, and are not hiding behind a faceless corporation.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. If your order hasn’t shown up, do you want to hear some vacuous statement about how committed the company is to excellence? Probably not.

4. Tell the customer what you’re going to do, and when

Your sincerity will be self-evident if you act on the complaint. Again, make it personal and state what is going to happen – even if you aren’t offering compensation. For example, ‘I have told our warehouse manager about your complaint, and he is now reviewing the processes to make sure this does not happen again.’

5. Say thank you

A complaint is a gift. Think about it – companies spend thousands of pounds every year on research to find out what their customers think of them. A complaint is free market research, and the customer has gone out of their way to tell you what hundreds more may be thinking. A simple ‘thank you for bringing this to my attention” is fine.

Finally, read your letter and ask yourself – if you were the customer, how would you feel reading it? If the answer is less than positive, go back to point one and start again.


PS If you want to learn more about handling complaints by letter, email and phone, check out my Handling Complaints & Enquiries course.


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Business writing – less is more

One of the first rules of business writing is to be concise.

Do you know someone who’s a bit of a wind-bag? Then you might appreciate this little article I found down the back of the internet:

Pythagorean theorem:………………………………………24 words.

Lord’s prayer:………………………………………………….66 words.

Archimedes’ Principle:……………………………………..67 words.

Ten Commandments:……………………………………..179 words.

Gettysburg Address:………………………………………..286 words.

US Declaration of Independence ……………………..1,300 words.

US Constitution with all 27 Amendments:…………..7,818 words.

EU Regulations on the sale of cabbage:…………….26,911 words

Thanks to Paul Lewis, Acting Director of Communications at the RSPB, and Andy Maslen of Sunfish Ltd for this.

Do you have any similar examples to share?


PS To learn how to write more clearly and concisely, check out my Business Writing Skills course.

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Business documents – keep it short & simple

kiss - keep it short and simple
Have you ever been asked to write a business document about something so complex you didn’t know where to start? Like a winning proposal for multiple readers with different expectations?

Luckily, the KISS (Keep It Short & Simple) acronym can help keep you, and your readers, relatively sane.

We all know that business is becoming more complex by the day. But it’s a mistake to think that complex ideas need complicated means of expression.

Shorter documents, familiar words and concise sentences make your writing clearer. Clear writing is easier to read, and helps you get your message across with more focus and impact. It also indicates clear thinking.

Yet a lot of business people struggle to put KISS into practice. “It will make my writing sound dull and robotic” is a common protest. “My readers will be insulted if a dumb down my language” is another.

These concerns are understandable, but you can avoid them if you follow these five guidelines.

1. Use familiar words

random wordsFirstly, use words that your audience will understand. This may mean avoiding jargon – but not necessarily. If all your readers are lawyers, you probably don’t need to explain what an affidavit is. If they are all IT specialists, they will understand the term “USB”.

If you are writing a business case, your readers are likely to come from a variety of backgrounds and functions. Perhaps your divisional manager commissioned the report, but they will be influenced by other stakeholders – the finance, IT and support staff who may have to implement your proposal.

Whatever their level, function or average education level, few of them will appreciate a document written by someone who swallowed a thesaurus. Use familiar (not necessarily short) words – such as ‘try’ instead of ‘endeavour’ and ‘interpret’ rather than ‘construe’.

Secondly, prefer concrete terms to abstract ones – use ‘car’ instead of ‘mode of transport’ for example. Concrete terms are less ambiguous.

2. Short, but varied, sentences

Yes, shorter sentences are easier to understand. I recommend an average of 15-20 words, but you can still vary the sentence to give the language a natural flow. This paragraph is an example.

There are two main ways to shorten sentences; you can cut out unnecessary words, or you can break up complex and compound sentences (like this one) into two or more sentences.

But if I use shorter sentences, won’t I have to write more words in total?” Maybe. The issue here is clarity over brevity – most people can understand a 15 or 20-word sentence in one go. Once that number goes over 30, most of us would have to read the sentence again.heavy reference book

So I suggest you vary your sentence length, but avoid going over 30 words, even if that means a slightly longer paragraph. It will be clearer. And you’re also less likely to have trouble with punctuation.

3. One idea per paragraph

This has always been a fundamental rule of writing, but I often see it broken when a writer considers a paragraph ‘too short’.

If you can sum up your idea in one sentence – great! I love one-line paragraphs – they are easier to read and show that the writer is confident with being concise. Nothing is more off-putting than half a page or more of unbroken text.

A good rule of thumb is to keep paragraphs under seven lines. You can usually break down a longer paragraph into shorter ones. Arguably this whole section could have been written as one, long paragraph about paragraphs!

4. Clearly laid out documents

What would you rather read – a half page report or 20 pages?

Most of us are so busy we spend, on average, less than ten minutes on any business document, so the shorter the better.

But it isn’t always that simple for the writer – you may have multiple audiences, all needing different information at varying levels of detail. How do you cope with that?

The answer is structure and navigation. For longer documents such as reports, bids and proposals, your readers won’t have to read every word. Your job is to make it easy for them to find the bits they need.

Consider a table of contents, an executive summary (1-2 pages), and appendices for the detail. The body of your report should be broken down into sections with clear headings and subheadings that summarize the content they contain.

Headings are hugely underestimated in business writing. For example, instead of a heading that says ‘Costs’, what is the point you are making about costs? ‘Pay-back in first year’ gets the key message across with much more impact. It is memorable, and will grab the attention of those stakeholders whose job it is to evaluate the investment.

5. Don’t be dull

lightbulbIt is true that many business documents benefit from being shorter and simpler. That doesn’t mean that they have to be dull and unimaginative. Business readers are human beings too, and you won’t make an impact with your writing if you bore them to death.

Rather than using stuffy, formal language to make your point, use figurative language, such as metaphors and similes, to bring it to life. You can also use quotes and illustrations to great effect when you use them appropriately – a graph or table can often summarize several pages of text.

Be careful though –these tools need to earn their place. Simply stuffing an occasional pie-chart in won’t sharpen your message if you can’t justify why it’s there.

In summary, KISS is a great way to think about your business writing – it’s about making every word count. Apply these guidelines and your language won’t get in the way of your message. That’s good for you, and for your business.

For information on how I can help you or your organisation write better business documents, see my pages on coaching and writing courses.

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