RSVPs and Following up

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 at 9:20 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Meryl's Notes Blog 2 comments
Envelope with reply card

Image from user miamiamia

As the deadline for the RSVP approached, I grew disappointed each day after checking the mailbox. By the time the RSVP due date came and went, 50% of the replies from one list and 60% from the other came in. So I did the uncomfortable thing of emailing folks who hadn’t replied.

Good thing I did. Some said they never received the invitation, or maybe it got lost with the holiday season mail. By the time I emailed everyone whose email I had and weren’t obvious nos (out of towers, recently widowed, etc.), the replies went up to 65% and 85%. Not bad considering I didn’t have addresses for some of my son’s friends. (He had to hand deliver these, some of which never made it to the recipient.)

When I selected the invitations, I debated whether to do RSVPs by email or by mail. I asked the stationery vendor if one method had more success. She said it varied. Besides, it’s easy to make a mistake in typing an email address. A recent invitation using email RSVP used an email address that wasn’t short — something like I opted for the traditional route: a reply card with a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE).

Working with clients is similar. Sometimes if you haven’t heard from a client, you need to follow up. This makes it easier on them like a reply card and a SASE because they hit “reply” and don’t have to look up your contact information. I have one new client, a very small business. He paid half up front and hadn’t had me do much by the time the first of the year rolled around. I followed up with him every couple of weeks.

Some clients need nagging. Not in a bad way … They actually appreciate it. Every client has a different style of getting things done, and for some, it helps when the contractor or freelancer is proactive.

Even checking in with former clients leads to new business. I worked with one client during the early days of his start up. The business did so well that it bought two companies and closed multiple venture rounds, including one from a top venture capital firm. The company moved its headquarters and hired full-time employees. I helped until they found full-time employees.

I contacted the CEO of the company, who originally brought me on board, to see how things were going. It turned out he left the company and went to work for another start up. He’s been assigning a variety of projects to me.

Another client hadn’t responded to my submission for a small project. I followed up with her to find out the status. She said that we were almost there and to follow up with her the next week.

If you find you didn’t respond to an invite by the time the deadline passed, still follow up. A late reply is better than no reply. I believe many people think they don’t have to reply if they’re not coming. We still need to know. RSVP stands for répondez s’il vous plaît, which translates to “Please respond” not “Please respond only if you’re coming.”

What’s your experience with RSVPs? Following up? How do you decide when to follow up and how often?

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The Joy of a Good Verb

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 at 9:50 AM | Category: Language, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 5 comments

Welcome to meryl’s notes blog (this here place you’re lookin’ at) in Plano, Texas. We’re honored to be a stop in Pesi Dinnerstein’s WOW! Women On Writing Blog tour. We’re giving away a copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys! [affiliate] Read on to see how you can win.

Pesi DinnersteinAbout Pesi Dinnerstein: Pesi Dinnerstein (a.k.a. Paulette Plonchak) has written selections for the best-selling series Small Miracles, by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, and has contributed to several textbooks and an anthology of short stories. Dinnerstein recently retired as a full-time faculty member of the City University of New York, where she taught language skills for close to thirty years.

She has been an aspiring author and self-acknowledged clutterer for many years, and has spent the better part of her life trying to get organized and out from under. Despite heroic efforts, she has not yet succeeded; but she continues to push onward, and hopes that her journey will inspire others to keep trying as well.

The Joy of a Good Verb by Pesi Dinnerstein

I’ve never liked verbs very much.  Adjectives have always been more my speed.  How things look and feel and smell are generally more interesting to me than what they do.  Whether someone sips or swigs or guzzles their coffee concerns me less than the fact that it’s steaming hot, creamy beige and mocha-flavored with a hint of vanilla.

Most of the verbs that are part of my daily life are not particularly exciting.  I drive from here to there; I return a phone call; I lose my keys — I find my keys — I lose my keys again; I unload the dishwasher — I reload the dishwasher; I water my garden; I steam my vegetables; I try to remember to breathe.  It’s all necessary, but pretty boring.

I would certainly rather spend my time in the presence of a flaming orange sunset or an iridescent ocean wave.  Hanging out with an adjective is so much more satisfying.

However, a few years ago, something shifted.  As I was writing A Cluttered Life and thinking about all the things that make my life unmanageable, I couldn’t help but notice that my world was becoming more and more crowded with adjectives and the objects to which they were attached.

Then, one day, an old friend came to visit.  She had never seen my house in quite the state it was in at that moment, and her eyes opened wide as she stepped through the front door.

“This place feels very . . . stuck,” she said, expressing many layers of meaning in  that one well-chosen word — which, interestingly enough, just happened to be an adjective.

She was absolutely right.  My home was stuck; my things were stuck; and I was feeling increasingly stuck myself.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that what I needed were a few dynamic verbs to help me break through my own inertia.  The ones I was currently engaged with — observing, reflecting, writing — were not creating much movement in my life.  The situation clearly called for action.  Organize; fold; file; recycle; throw out — do something!  I immediately put the book aside.  It was obviously time to stop describing my mess and start dealing with it.

And, then, a strange thing happened.  When I returned to the manuscript, I found myself dissatisfied with many of the chapters that had seemed perfectly fine to me before.  Now, they felt stuck as well.

So, I began to delete adjectives and add verbs.  It was painful at first, but, before long, light and air seemed to flow into my sentences — and I could feel the manuscript beginning to breathe.

But change is not easy to hold on to.  Although I’ve come to appreciate the value of a good verb — in my life as well as in my writing — I continue to prefer the comfort of a friendly adjective.

And when I take my morning walk tomorrow, I probably still won’t notice the running and skating and bicycling going on because, once again, I’ll be too busy enjoying the beautiful, brightly colored, deliciously fragrant world around me.

A Cluttered LifeAbout Dinnerstein’s Book: Insightful, unsettling, and wildly funny, A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys (Seal Press) is the story of Pesi Dinnerstein’s quest to create a simple and orderly life—only to discover that simplicity is not so simple and what constitutes clutter is not always perfectly clear. When a chance encounter with an old acquaintance reveals the extent to which disorder has crept into every corner of her existence, Pesi determines to free herself, once and for all, of the excess baggage she carries with her. Along the way—with the help of devoted friends, a twelve-step recovery program, and a bit of Kabbalistic wisdom—her battle with chaos is transformed into an unexpected journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening.

Comment and win: The prize: winner gets a copy of A Cluttered Life: Searching for God, Serenity, and My Missing Keys!. For a chance to win, please leave a comment about clutter, getting organized, changing your vocabulary or whatever comes to mind after reading this post (other than you wanna win!). You have until 11:59pm on January 31, 2012 to qualify for the drawing. The unbiased and robotic has the honor of picking the winner.



Thursday, January 19th, 2012 at 9:39 AM | Category: Business, Life Tips, Meryl's Notes Blog No comments

Darth Vader Halloween costumeOne Halloween while helping my mom pass out candy, I saw a kid in a cute Bugs Bunny costume. The costume was made out of nice material instead of the weird smelling plastic mask and the stiff vinyl bodysuit. See Exhibit A for an lovely example of a vinyl Darth Vader costume. What’s up with my reaction in the photo? I wasn’t happy someone took my picture before I could get my mask on.

I can’t recall exactly how the cute Bugs Bunny costume looked except that it wasn’t the vinyl most of us wore those days unless we were lucky enough to have a parent who could sew or pull pieces together into a clever costume. It was probably some variation of these bunnies.

That costume stuck with me. When it came time to pick a costume for the following Halloween, I told my mom I wanted to be Bugs Bunny. I smiled as I pictured myself wearing that awesome costume instead of the plastic vinyl mashup.

What did I get?


Bugs Bunny Halloween Costume

Think I was a happy wabbit?

Mom and I both understood what “Bugs Bunny” meant. The problem stemmed from her not knowing about the costume I saw the year before. And I didn’t provide more details because I assumed she’d find the right one. The costume I wanted was probably not available in any store. There I go again with an assumption that it was a homemade costume. The only way to find out was to ask the girl about her costume.

Assumptions lead to disappointment. How do we know what to communicate to a coworker, client or colleague? We’re stuck in our heads that we forget the other person doesn’t know XYZ. Learn to over-communicate and remember the other person may not have all the facts you do. Another helpful tool is to share examples. For a web design project, for example, clients can make a list of websites they like and explain why they like each one. Maybe it’s the color scheme in one design, the layout in another, the writing in another.

Sometimes it takes practice and experience. One client has a unique way of communicating his wants. He’s not a poor communicator, but a different type of thinker than I am. Not good or bad. Just is. That’s where understanding personality types helps. When he hired an intern, she confided that she had trouble understanding what he wanted. I admit feeling relieved knowing it wasn’t me and helped her learn from my experience.

Overcoming assumptions sounds simple. However, some folks think you’re not a self-starter if you keep asking questions and talking about it instead of running with it. Some fear asking too many questions reflects poorly on their abilities. Which would you rather have? Someone who erases assumptions with conversation and gets it right the first time, or someone who gets right to work and produces plastic vinyl results?

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” – John Wooden.

How can you communicate better to avoid assumptions?

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Is a Blog Right for Your Business Update

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 at 8:50 AM | Category: Blogging, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech No comments
Black Notebook

Image from user typofi

Although I wrote Is a Blog Right for Your Business? in 2007, people still mention the article or contact me with questions after reading it. Blogging has changed a lot since then, but one paragraph remains true.

Some people like to read blogs, others like to read newsletters, still others like to rely on feeds and some read a few or all of them. No matter the method the information is distributed, each medium has one thing in common: content. Having a blog connects your newsletter, your website and your business with all of these readers.

More people probably ask whether they should start a blog for their business today in a world where we have zillions of blogs and social networks vying for our tired, information-overloaded eyes. In my original post, I say the biggest factor in starting a blog is how often you can update it.

I don’t believe that anymore. I’ve been updating this blog once or twice a week for a long time as I’ve gotten busier with clients and volunteer commitments. I’m not going to throw up a blog entry just to keep up my “blog X times a week” quota. You don’t have time to waste and I’m not going to take advantage of your time by posting garbage.

If you can post a valuable post, do it. Even if it means you can only write a post once a month. It’s a way to give your website fresh content, something search engines love to gobble up. You may not have much traffic, but at least your site won’t look too static. If you’re active in Twitter, it may help to add a Twitter feed to your website. This adds more freshness to your website to keep it looking alive.

Part two of the blogging for business article discusses the use of blogs to manage a website. My my my. We’ve come a long way. When WordPress added “Pages,” it simplified using the blogging app as a website content management system. Many other blogging apps followed suit adding website features for easier management. Many of those blog apps don’t call themselves that anymore. They say they’re good for creating blogs and websites.

How has blogging changed? What do you think of blogging for business? How often should blogs be updated, or does it matter?

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One Wrong Way to Get Business

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012 at 3:44 PM | Category: Business, Meryl's Notes Blog 5 comments

Michelle Rafter posted a letter of introduction (LOI) from a writer who took an ego trip. Instead of an ego trip, I heard from an accountant who must be taking a trip to find blockhead clients. The email introduction implies she thinks writers don’t have business sense.

The email makes a bad first impression coming from a free email service provider using “free_lancer01” in the address and “abc efg” in the display name. (Maybe the “D” key didn’t work.) Not only that, but she sent it to two others, one of which was someone I knew. Here’s the message with only one part redacted.

Hi Dear:

You are a freelance writer and you know it needs a lot of time to make accouting records and financial statement and at same you also need the accounting knowledge. So to help you i would like to offer my services as a freelance accountant for you.

I would like to introduce my self . I am [sender’s name]. I am a proffessional accountant and studying for ACCA and CA degree. I have indepth experience in the field of accounting and auditing as I am working for a multinational audit firm. I have compiled many accounts.

You will just need to your data to me through this email and i will make accounting statements for you.

Please refer to others as well who need a virtual accountant.

Looking forward to a positive response from your side.

Best Regards.

The email ended there. She didn’t even sign her name. Sure, I’ll fork over my financing information. Obviously, she put a little effort into it because she knew I was a writer. (And so is the other recipient I knew.) That’s why I assume she thinks writers aren’t business savvy. It’s tempting to write back offering my writing services. but I’d rather not continue the conversation.

Not that free email services are bad. However, if you’re going to use it in business, at least, display your name and have a less generic ID. Back it up with a signature that reveals more information. I use Gmail more than email because spam is less of a problem. I also include a signature that links to my websites and social media profiles.

Have you ever received an unusual email introduction? What was it like? (I’d love to see it, if you have it.) How would you introduce yourself to prospective clients?


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