How to Boost Your Creativity (for free!) With Mind Mapping

Help! Writer’s block? Can’t focus or concentrate? Is your brain cluttered?

A technique called mind mapping may be what you need.  It will help you generate ideas, connect thoughts, and organize information.

For example, last week I was working on a project with pages and pages of writing, but I could not seem to put it in the order I had in mind.

Desperately, I checked out my bookshelf and found a book I hadn’t read yet.  I picked up  Book Blueprint: How Any Entrepreneur Can Write an Awesome Book, by Jacqui Pretty. In chapter two she suggests using mind mapping to clarify your thoughts.  Since I was finding her writing helpful, I figured I might as well try it. In fact, I organized my article quickly and even gained insight into a complicated section. 

Ms. Pretty summarizes the process, “Unlike the linear structure of lists or tables, the radiant structure of mind maps mimics the natural function of our brains. This allows you to see connections and relationships that wouldn’t be as obvious in linear lists, which then triggers more related ideas and enables you to organize these ideas more easily.”

How Does Mind Mapping Work?

There is no question that people have used mind mapping techniques for centuries, probably before the written word. Evidence exists to show that early philosophers and thinkers such as Leonardo da Vinci used the technique.

While there is disagreement about the origins of the modern use of the concept ranging from Dr. Roger Sperry, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1981 for his research into brain hemispheres to Tony Buzan who popularized the word with his T.V. show and books, there is widespread consensus it works.

As humans evolved, we relied more and more on our cerebral cortex for speech, decision making, and processing information from the five senses.

The exercise of mind mapping includes various innate skills such as; logic, rhythm, lines, color, lists, daydreaming, numbers, imagination; enhancing the Gestalt or whole picture.

The visual experience of using lines, color, images, and words not in a linear progression enhances clarity, structure, and organization; which includes input from the entire brain. Even the eye movement required by looking in a circular motion triggers a different thought process, and since we all recall information by association, it stimulates new ideas.

Five Simple Steps for Easier Brainstorming

  1. Write an idea, problem, or concept in the middle of a large sheet of unlined paper, poster board,  or even an old piece of cardboard.
  2. Radiating out from the original idea like spokes of a wheel add curved or straight lines and all the other relevant words that come to you. Use symbols, sketches, or words– let the ideas flow. Use a pen or colored markers.
  3. Next, under each of your second-tier ideas add more spokes and any concepts related to the earlier one.  
  4. Notice subheadings which have longer lists showing you know more about those items.  Observe connections the ideas. Draw connecting lines, cross things out, and continue brainstorming.
  5. Finally; on a separate piece of paper, write your main idea with the subsidiary ones underneath, the essence of an outline.

Use Mind Mapping to Collaborate

This technique is useful for individuals and fantastic for groups. Each person can feel confident that their contribution is valuable to the process.

While there is software that allows you to do the whole exercise, I prefer the free-flow of paper. If coworkers are connecting, these programs could be invaluable in enabling collaboration.  I tried the free access version of this program https://coggle.it/, and it was easy to use and intuitive.

In brief, next time you are struggling with ‘brain block,’ try this technique. It’s easy and free!

Whether you are a writer, brainstorming, or need to organize a complicated problem; I suggest you try it.

If you’re interested in learning more about this valuable tool, here are two sites to check out.

Read about the history and theory of mind mapping

Mind Maps for business

 

Use Plain Language to Quickly Improve Your Message

How often have you read something like this? Does it make you want to visit the library?

MISSION STATEMENT 

The Anytown Public Library provides residents of any age opportunities to find and use information in many formats as they pursue personal growth and education throughout their lives. It helps them develop their ability to find and evaluate information used daily and all life long. It provides materials and programs relevant to contemporary issues and interests that enlighten, inform, and entertain.

One of my favorite tips comes from William Zinsser’s book, On Writing Well, in which he says, “Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other.”

The challenge is to actually think clearly and here are some basic tips.

Don’t Forget the Rules of Writing for the Public!

If people don’t understand what you’re saying what’s the point? There’s a campaign to change the way the government writes and even the I.R.S. site showed improvement when I checked recently!

President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act in 2010 which requires that federal agencies use “clear Government communication that the public can understand and use”.

Can’t argue with that. It further explains that:

     Plain language (also called Plain English) is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Language plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others.

    Written material is in plain language if your audience can

     Find what they need;

     Understand what they find; and

     Use what they find to meet their needs.    (from PlainLanguage.gov)

Tips to Improve Your Message With Plain Language

  1. Know your audience- if you are writing an academic paper, dissertation or an article for The Atlantic Monthly; your style will differ from a memo, website, or blog post.
  2. Use a conversational style and common, everyday words.
  3.  Imagine yourself speaking to one real person.
  4.  Write short sentences and use an easy-to-read format.
  5.  Avoid jargon prevalent in your industry such as: core competencies, scalable, or other corporate gibberish. Say what you mean.
  6.  Use an active voice. Your writing will be more interesting.

If you are an avid reader and word geek, you may find the ubiquitous presence of a plethora of complicated words invading your prose. (hint: don’t write like this).

Can We Improve the Library Mission Statement?

The Anytown Public Library has books, movies, music, computers and more for your education and entertainment.

You can learn a lot at the library, and we can help. 

Enjoy our programs for the whole family.

Make writing plainly part of your mission.  Your readers will thank you.

I have been working with my local Bastrop Public Library as they update their mission statement and evaluate how they can better meet the needs of the community.

The staff has chosen this great tagline, “Connect, Learn, Enjoy”, which incorporates all the products and services that they provide and is short, clear, and memorable. It meets the suggestion of Peter F. Drucker who stated in this essential book, “The effective mission statement is short and sharply focused. It should fit on a T-shirt.”

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” David McCullough

Tested Methods to Create Your Unique Value Proposition

I think you’ll agree with me: it’s difficult to brag about ourselves; whether it’s the ‘About’ page on our website or crafting a Unique Value Proposition, it can be super-hard.

However, if we can’t define what’s special about ourselves and our business, how will we convince customers to spend their money with us?

Unique Value Proposition/ Unique Selling Proposition, It’s the Same Thing

The tricky word in these statements is Unique, so take a look at the definition in the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language:

Being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else. Belonging or connected to (one particular person, place, or thing). Particularly remarkable, special, or unusual.

What Makes Your Business Unique?

Remarkable? Special? Unusual? Not easy, but take a look at what Seth Godin said about it.   He can take a complicated concept and make it clear like nobody else. To quote him, “What do you do that’s worth talking about?” It’s what he calls, “The Purple Cow,” and it gets attention.

Your Purple Cow can be hard to come up with, so keep reading for a couple of tips.

 Why are you doing what you’re doing? (if you didn’t need the money, why would you do it? What do you love about it?)

  •          Your answer to this question often reveals your passion. Without question, loving your work is not too common, and it differentiates your business.

For instance, if you own a bookstore and are a raging bibliophile, you will be able to recommend titles better than a clerk who had worked at only a hardware store! Amazon still doesn’t talk to you and share their favorite book as you do.

Look at what The Strand Bookstore in New York City did to emphasize the level of knowledge required to work there! And it just so happened they got a write-up in the NY Times, too.

 What one thing do you do better or different than your competition?

  •  Without a doubt, you better come up with something here, or your business will be in trouble! For instance, you may not be the biggest or cheapest, but you can be more experienced or friendly.

So, brag about yourself!  If you run a pizzeria, talk about how you use Grandmama’s recipe, organic fresh-picked San Marzano tomatoes, and cook every pie in a wood-fired oven for taste ‘just like you’re in Italy.’ And nobody else in town does all these things just like you do, especially the franchise on the corner.

  What do your customers like about you, your product or service?

  •   Actually, you can ask them! Conduct a brief survey of existing customers and find out why they choose you.

Ask things such as: What do you like most about my service or product? Why have you kept returning for five years? If you were to encourage your best friend to come here- why?

You may be surprised at the answers, but it will give you an insight into what your customers like about you.

The Unique Value Proposition of Bob’s Auto Repair

Let’s go back to the example I used in the Mission Statement article.

Bob’s Auto Repair is an auto-service business serving Central Texas. Our passion is providing honest, efficient service and repair at a fair price.

Here’s Bob’s answer to question one about why he loves his business. It gives us  a clue about how his business is Unique:

“I  love diagnosing broken autos and figuring out how to repair them. I am restoring an old Bronco at home in my  garage. It makes me happy to see people excited to get their car back, running again.”

He believes his Unique Advantage is, “I am crazy about what I do, and I love having satisfied customers. They know my shop is honest, reliable, and efficient.”

His response to questions two and three shows us how it provides the Value Proposition:

“Customers tell me over-and-over they trust me and my honest mechanics. My shop almost always gets their vehicles back when promised. If there are unexpected delays in getting a part, I keep them updated. I often hear other shops suggest unnecessary repairs and pad their bills with extra charges.”

Bob describes his Unique Advantage as “I am passionate about what I do and about having satisfied customers. People realize we are honest, reliable, and efficient.”

Put all these elements together, and he might come up with a Unique Value Proposition like this:

You love your car- so do we! Fixed right, on time, every time;  no hidden charges.

Or, he could go with a headline and a few bullet points:

You know what you need. So do we. Every time, all the time.

  • Fast service
  • Expertly done
  • Honest prices

Remember, You Have to Sell Yourself Before You Sell Your Product

The upshot of all this is, start considering your Unique Advantage. I guarantee it will be useful to you as we discuss how these three things will make your marketing more efficient:

Know Your Target Audience.

Define Your Mission Statement.

Nail Your Unique Value Proposition.

Let me know if you get stuck or if you need help with these essential business elements; I love to talk business!

 

 

 

 

      

 

 

How to Craft an Easy, Meaningful Mission Statement

You hear it all the time- you need a Mission Statement to focus your marketing.

Yet, your eyes cross and your brain screams, “Overload! Overload!”, every time you try to figure it out.

Without a doubt, you need a Mission Statement.  It not only defines your company’s purpose,  it provides a framework on which to build your marketing strategy.

In every business I’ve owned, I tried to come up with a clear, though simple, statement and never got it right. All I ended up with was a bunch of meaningless buzz words strung together or a vague sentence that meant nothing.

Awhile ago, I came upon an excellent article by Kathryn Aragon.  Immediately the process came into focus.

In brief, we struggle because we don’t know the answers to three easy questions that will give a clear message to our customers. Specifically, we need these answers:

  1. I am a _________________ (what you sell or do).
  2. I provide this service or sell ____________to_____________________ (target customer).
  3. So that ______________________________ (key benefits).

Okay- What Goes in My Mission Statement?

To complete this exercise, you need to:

  • Summarize your target market in one sentence.
  • List the three biggest and most important problems these customers face, relevant to your product/service.
  • Describe how you solve their problem with real solutions.
  • Show the actual results they will get.
  • Reveal the deeper core, emotional benefits they will receive.

For example,  Bob  owns an auto repair business and his target market is:

Auto owners within 50 miles of the shop, including those who are using their warranty.

The customer’s problems are likely:

  1. “My vehicle is broken or needs routine service.”
  2. “I need to get it quickly repaired at a fair price.”
  3. “I worry about being taken advantage of by a dishonest mechanic who tries to sell me unnecessary repairs.”

You can solve her problems when you:

  • Provide quality repair services done by well-trained, experienced mechanics.
  • Run a professional shop, so she retrieves her car quickly at a reasonable price.
  • Display your Better Business Bureau and satisfied customer testimonials and offer a  guarantee on all repairs.

She will get the results of:

A repaired vehicle.

Picking it up when promised, fixed by the expert, honest mechanics.

The customer gets the added emotional benefits of:

Confidence that her vehicle will be fixed quickly by qualified technicians.

Peace-of-mind knowing you will not be suggesting unneeded additional repairs.

 Now we can use these statements to fill in our three Elements of a Mission Statement:

Bob’s Auto Repair is an auto-service business serving Central Texas. Our passion is (2) providing honest, efficient service and repair at reasonable prices so (3) customers are confident in trusting us with their vehicles.

Now you have your Mission Statement and you can shape all of your statements to reinforce the main benefits to your customer.

For example, your website content and blog post can highlight the ongoing training that your technicians receive, customer testimonials that reinforce how satisfied they are with your service and informative articles that illustrate your expertise.

Try the three-step method I have outlined and see if it helps you crystallize the goals and marketing for your business; I’m sure it will.

When you need writing to communicate your business message and reinforce your company’s identity, send me an email and let me know how we can work together to build your successful and profitable business.

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Finding the Job You Want

Preparing for a job interview

Good communication, including reading, writing, and speaking, is the number one skill that employers want.  

Understanding what others are saying and responding appropriately is essential in every job. The ability to express yourself clearly and confidently was the number one skill employers were looking for, according to a recent report.  

Other communication skills are important, as well. For example,  I interviewed a  manager who told me,

“An applicant’s initial response to a job posting is their chance to make a good impression.  Did they follow the basic instructions by answering via email as requested,  and including a resume? Did they spell correctly and include their contact information? If they can’t follow directions up to this point I hit the ‘delete’ key because it doesn’t look promising for their future with my business.”

Continue reading “The Truth About Finding the Job You Want”