Marketing telepathy: what content do my leads want to see?

what content do my leads want to see?

Fifty percent of generated leads are not ready to make a final purchase decision when they enter the sales funnel. To hold their attention until they are ready to buy, you have to understand the process they’re going through and what content is appropriate each step of the way.

The journey

HubSpot splits the buyer process into three stages: awareness, evaluation and purchase. They define the purpose and format that content should fulfil in each:

  • Awareness. Content and offers in the form of whitepapers, ebooks and checklists should educate the buyer.
  • Evaluation. Content will inform the buyer about what will fulfil their need and offers like webinars or case studies should follow.
  • Purchase. Content gives the buyer specific information and access to your brand through a free trial or consultation, even product literature.

When a buyer starts out, they aren’t ready to commit to a consultation with your company or even to sit through a webinar, but as they become more invested in your brand, the likelihood that they’ll accept these types of offers increases.

Giving a lead the right choices of content and offers at each stage determines whether or not they choose to take the next step. This is why it’s essential to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and account for their needs at every stage with the content you produce.

Telling your buyer’s story

If you’re wondering ‘what content do my leads want to see?,’ the process of matching content to the buyer’s journey is called content mapping. To find the answer to your question, you have to understand the buyer’s story.

Using your buyer personas, the fictional representation of your ideal buyers, as a foundation, a buyer scenario will tell each buyer’s story from the initial problem they encounter through to the final purchase decision.

You then determine what content they would look for at each stage and fill your editorial calendar based on those topics and the appropriate content format for where they are in your sales funnel.

If you already use a tool like Hubspot (we do!), this is even easier. You can view the profiles of customers you’ve gained and look at the series of content they chose to read before making their final decision.

You can also map it out in story form. Let’s give it a try by putting ourselves in the buyer’s shoes.

Insert your name here

You are a small business owner with a staff of 18-24 employees. Your company sells and installs audio-visual equipment and systems for home and business. You are always interested in finding better ways to do business so you read online sources and talk to your network of small business owners.

You might come across articles or whitepapers on:

  • 20 real uses for tablets in small business
  • 10 top CRM applications
  • 9 ways to achieve better customer service in the cloud

What’s the problem and how could I solve it?

You’ve noticed a disconnect between your sales people and technicians. Customers are supposed to direct questions and problems to their account managers, but technicians are getting requests or encountering questions on site. These things don’t always get communicated back to the office.

Because of the articles you’ve read, you consider equipping the technicians with tablets and access to a CRM application so customer account information is put in the same place in real time by every employee.

Like most buyers, you start your research online. To find the best options, you look at:

  • Reviews on different sites and blogs
  • A case study on how three companies used tablets to make their business mobile
  • A webinar on using CRM software in a mobile small business

Which products am I actually interested in?

This is where business and personal values come into play. You might have personal preferences toward certain vendors, but you also feel:

  • Price matters, but not at the risk of sacrificing quality
  • With technicians on the move, warranty and customer support matter
  • You need compatibility with the equipment you already have in your business

When you looked at the reviews, you found a few tablets which met your basic criteria, but now it’s time to get serious. You look at product literature like a:

  • Vendor comparison guide for tablets
  • Feature comparison between a single company’s tablets

You’re also influenced by the customer experience at this point-how easy it is to make a purchase and the quality of service if and when you make contact with a representative.

What do I think of my decision?

You decide to purchase tablets for your lead technicians with a CRM software by the same company. Now you’re making your post-purchase evaluation of the equipment itself and any support you receive while integrating it into your business. You refer to articles like:

  • Tips and tricks to using CRM software better
  • Staying connected to a growing, mobile staff

This chapter of the story, or this purchase, is over, but you have one more decision to make as a buyer.

To be continued …

Did you just buy a product or did you buy into the brand? A growing business always has different needs and pain points. Will you return to the same brand for future purchases? These are the questions your customers ask themselves.

It costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an old one, so as a marketer, these questions are worth answering. Does your content marketing simply lead them to your products or does it engage them with your brand even after the sale is made?

It’s all about the buyer

Every buyer making a purchase decision has their own set of values guiding the process which are important to consider as you create your buyer scenarios and content to suit.

In B2B transactions, the company sets standards based on desired benefits, price, quality and internal policies. However, even in business, personal factors like job role, reputation and even brand preferences can influence the outcome of a purchase.

Your content should appeal to these internal values, but the way you present your content should be influenced by how people make choices. Sheena Iyengar, in her TED talk on the science of choice, asserts easier choices stem from:

  • Cutting. One company experienced a 10 percent sales increase when they cut their product offerings by approximately 50 percent.
  • Concretising. Buyers are more likely to move forward if they understand the concrete benefits of their choice.
  • Categorising. Buyers don’t want more options, but are more likely to purchase a product or service when they can easily locate the type of product they are seeking.
  • Complexity. In a series of decisions, buyers want the simpler choices first if you expect to keep them engaged.

When you are executing an inbound strategy, a buyer makes a choice whether or not to read a piece of your content or sign up for an offer.

Your goal is to create a logical series of choices for each buyer based on their needs to lead them to the final decision-to convert and become your customer.

You are here: content mapping

(Photo: Stefan Shambora)

Content cartography

Content mapping means seeing an inbound marketing strategy to attract, convert, close and delight from the customer’s perspective. Your buyers want it to be first about their problem, then what would solve the problem, and finally, your products or services.

By seeing a purchase through a buyer’s eyes, you can better curate content, master offers, close sales on quality leads and continue to reel in those buyer’s until you’ve made brand advocates out of every single one.

(Hat tip to Matt Jiggins for the photo)

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Essential business grammar lesson nine: hyphenation

hyphenation: two hands putting together jigsaw pieces

Hyphens are short dashes that join two words in a variety of circumstances. These words might be adjectives describing a noun,

  • Everett is a forty-seven-year-old analyst.

Or prefixes to words, which modify them without confusion.

  • Oliver is semi-involved in that project, but he’s more focused on manufacturing practices.

Compound adjectives

A compound adjective is a descriptor made of two or more separate adjectives that act as one.

When a compound adjective comes before the noun, a hyphen is required. When a compound adjective comes after the noun, there is no hyphen.

  • The well-written ad copy helped boost awareness of our campaign.
  • The ad copy was well written.

Many websites have lists of commonly hyphenated phrases and words like ‘well’, which is often part of a compound adjective.


Prefixes like pre-, re- or mis- are added to words to change their meaning. You can understand or misunderstand directions, without any hyphen.

However, you can sign the report or re-sign the report; you cannot resign report because resign is a word in itself that means to quit. A hyphen clarifies meaning.

When the prefix ends with the same letter the word it modifies begins with, a hyphen is also necessary.


Numbers above twenty aren’t commonly spelled out, except when discussing age,

  • I am forty-seven

or starting a sentence,

  • Twenty-three employees attended the seminar

In these cases, use the written version of the number, where numbers above twenty use hyphens.

Examples of correct usage of hyphenation

  • Josh’s plan was well implemented.
  • The well-documented report included a thorough analysis of outdated practices.
  • It’s her two-year anniversary here at our company!
  • The out-of-date software needs bringing up to date.

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Flying high with Business Superbrands 2015

business superbrands 2015: superhero

Monday 2nd March marked the annual announcement of the Business Superbrands rankings, with British Airways (BA) not only topping the list for the first time, but also topping the 2015 Consumer Superbrands, firmly establishing them as the UK’s favourite brand.

‘It’s an incredible achievement for British Airways,’ says Stephen Cheliotis, Chief Executive of The Centre for Brands Analysis (TCBA) and Chairman of the Superbrands Council. ‘Indeed, the theme of this year’s results is very much about leading brands consolidating their brand equity and extending the gap over rivals.’

Business Superbrands 2015: the highlights reel

So we know about BA: what else was noteworthy about the 2015 list?

  • For a start, 17 of the top 20 were the same as last year. Some switched and shuffled positions, but as Stephen Cheliotis pointed out, this year was all about consistency.
  • The strongest sectors were payment (MasterCard, Visa, etc), delivery (FedEx, Royal Mail) and technology (Apple, Microsoft, Google etc). Obviously classy travel was up there too with BA and Virgin Atlantic taking first and third places respectively.
  • Google dropped five places while Microsoft climbed two and Apple climbed one. Perhaps this is about trust and the ‘right to delist’ controversy with Google. Or maybe Microsoft’s push on cloud has succeeded in resonating with businesses.

What’s in a Business Superbrand?

Being voted a Superbrand is a pretty big deal for many companies. It demonstrates a brand has ‘established the finest reputation in its field. It offers customers significant emotional and/or tangible advantages over other brands, which (consciously or sub-consciously) customers want and recognise.’

More than that, to be deemed a Superbrand, a company has to score highly on three factors:

  • Quality. Does the brand provide quality products and services?
  • Reliability. Can the brand be trusted to deliver consistently?
  • Distinction. Is it well known in its sector and suitably different from its rivals?

And it’s no arbitrary decision who qualifies for such an accolade. Once the TCBA has established a shortlist of leading brands (this year the list was a little over 1,200 long) it is sent to two groups of people:

  • An independent and voluntary Expert Council. Full disclosure here – Articulate’s CEO is a member of the Business Superbrands Council.
  • 2,000 business professionals ‘working within the UK private sector and with purchasing or managerial responsibility.’

In other words, real, working business professionals decide which brands stands out and are worthy of such praise.

The full top 20

1. British Airways
2. Apple
3. Virgin Atlantic
4. Microsoft
5. Visa
6. MasterCard
7. Google
8. FedEx
9. IBM
10. Samsung
11. Johnson & Johnson
12. BT
13. Rolls-Royce Group
14. American Express
15. Royal Mail
16. PayPal
17. BP
18. Shell
19. Bosch
20. Boeing

What have we learned?

It’s clear that for business buyers, reputation and longevity matter: there are no disruptive startups here. Instead, there are major brands who work hard to remain relevant. So for those B2B businesses out there aiming for Superbrand status, establishing trust and credibility are key: and what better way than through remarkable content and some effective inbound marketing?

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Essential business grammar lesson eight: can you end a sentence with a preposition?


You have no doubt heard the preposition myth: never end a sentence with a preposition.

Well it’s just that: a myth

There are plenty of circumstances where it is correct, acceptable or just plain necessary to end a sentence with a preposition.

For example, which of these would you say aloud?

  1. There were no chairs in the conference room. What did you sit?
  2. There were no chairs in the conference room. On what did you sit?

The answer? Neither. In the first example, we’re missing the preposition ‘on': the sentence is incomplete and illogical. In the second example, the phrasing is archaic. Realistically, you’d say,

3. There were no chairs in the conference room. What did you sit on?

So let’s sort out the facts from the the fiction.

What is a preposition?

Prepositions show relationships between other words.

  • He is in the office.

‘In’ is a preposition; it shows a relationship between ‘him’ and ‘the office’. Sometimes, however, showing a relationship takes more than one word.

Prepositional phrases

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that includes a preposition, a noun or pronoun (object of the preposition) and any modifiers of that object. Prepositional phrases describe relationships.

  • over the tall trees
  • in the big box
  • after the beautiful sunset

Phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs are groups of two or more words that include a preposition and a verb.

  • hold up
  • carry on
  • make up

Even though they end in prepositions (of, it), you can end a sentence with them because they form part of a verb unit. You are ending the sentence with a phrasal verb, not a preposition on its own.

  • Sorry I’m late, I was held up.

If you remove ‘up’ from this sentence is changes the meaning; it forms part of the phrasal verb, so it’s fine being at the end of the sentence.

When to end a sentence with a preposition

End a sentence with a preposition when it is necessary for meaning, as in the conference room example.

That said, if you are writing or speaking in a formal situation, like in a cover letter, do your best to avoid it. Not everyone realises that the preposition rule is a myth, so play it safe in important situations and simply rephrase.

When not to end a sentence with a preposition

  • Where are you at?

A quick glance at this sentence shows it could easily be rewritten without the ‘at’.

  • Where are you?

Don’t use a preposition when it doesn’t add meaning to the sentence. In fact, let’s take that one step further.

When not to use a preposition at all

Don’t use a preposition if it’s not necessary. You aren’t outside of the building, you are just outside the building.

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How we work: what does a copywriter do?

Man at party says: 'I write astronaut banter for NASA'

To those of us in the game, the following exchange will be all too familiar:

– So, what do you do?
– Oh, I’m a marketing copywriter. I write for tech companies.
– Oh wow great.
Twenty minutes after the conversation has moved on…
– Sorry, can I just ask – I mean, what is it that you actually do? I mean what does your job actually involve?

A little catharsis

facepalm Hiddleston

This post is for all sorts of people. It’s for those totally out of the know; it’s for those looking to get into the know; and it’s for those in the marketing profession who think they know, but probably make quite a few false assumptions.

This post is also for Team Articulate because we all shed a little internal tear every time that exchange takes place.

Misconceptions and misnomers

First thing’s first, let’s address a few misconceptions:

  • Not all copywriters are advertising copywriters. This in itself causes some confusion as the latter is the more famous (especially after the phenomenon that was Mad Men).
  • Medical copywriters have their own special niche, which I don’t pretend to know about or comment on here.
  • Copywriting has nothing to do with copyright law.

Ironically, one of the big problems in communicating what copywriters do is a lack of clarity around the definition of the word itself. Turns out, like a doctor that smokes, copywriters aren’t very good at communicating the nuances of their role.

Jesse Forrest, for example, distinguishes between copywriters, who write to get people to take an action, and content writers, who write to inform. But who ever heard of a content writer? Here at Articulate we do both of those things, so are we just plain writers?

No. Because the minute you say ‘I’m a writer’ people think novels, poems and maybe journalism. It’s a linguistic minefield.

Personally, I rather like Iain Broome’s answer:

To be a copywriter is beyond definition, but it’s fair to say that one thing binds us together: we all work with words on a daily basis.

So what DOES a copywriter do?

what does a copywriter do: woman at desk with books

Warning: reality may differ from advertised image

Well, to name a few things, we:

What’s important to understand is that while words are the main output of a copywriter, writing isn’t necessarily what we spend most of our time doing. We have to do a lot of research and thinking, tweaking and formatting, and a bunch of other seemingly peripheral tasks.

In fact, we often say here at Articulate that for a writing project you should spend half your time researching, a third editing and only a sixth actually writing the thing. Despite what some people think, copywriting is a lot more than just ‘wordsmithing’.

Who do we ‘copywrite’ for?

Unlike fiction writers or journalists, copywriters usually write with an agenda: the client’s agenda. It might be to promote a product, but it might also be to educate an audience or demonstrate expertise.

Written content is used in all sorts of ways by companies, especially with the advent of inbound marketing, which is all about talking to and about customers rather than pushing a product or service.

This means copywriters have to be versatile, quick learners and have very little ego. You’ll rarely recognise the name of a copywriter – our work usually goes out under the client’s name. We also have to make edits that not only keep the client’s marketing department happy, but their legal, sales and brand police happy too.

We copywriters care about the quality of our work, but we certainly can’t be precious about it.

A copywriter’s voice

Jessica Rabbit

A copywriter will be whoever you want them to be. (We’re a little bit slutty that way.)

What I really mean is that while every copywriter certainly has their own voice, it is secondary to that of the client. We must adapt our writing style and tone depending on who we are speaking as and who we are speaking to.

There are certain golden writing rules that particular copywriters or agencies will try to adhere to – we have an Articulate writer’s guide, for example – but if the client has their own, that comes first.

And while not every client has a tone-of-voice document, they all have a tone of voice. Write something that doesn’t sound like it, and they’ll soon pull you up and call for edits. Copywriters have to ask questions and delve into existing collateral to immerse themselves in the voice of the client to write the project right.

What do copywriters write?

If you want to talk nitty-gritty, the type of things we write include:

  • Blog posts. These can range from 200 to 1500 words. They’re usually a bit more informal or opinionated, but it varies from client to client.
  • White papers. Not like the government ones though. White papers tend to be 1,500-2,500 words and are informative, educational documents that explain the origins of a problem and how it might be solved. Often that solution will be linked to what the client sells, but the majority of the white paper will be objective and useful.
  • Emails. Email campaigns are there to pique interest, raise awareness and prompt an action. They have to be short, enticing and informative.
  • Social media posts. Those little 140 character tweets and witty Facebook updates don’t write themselves you know. Social media requires copywriting too.
  • Case studies. Short articles that explain how a company helped its customers. Case studies often have a formulaic structure but a good copywriter can find the story inside it.
  • Industry reports. Sometimes we have to get a bit heavy and write some hardcore reports based on real research that illuminates or expands upon a certain issue, industry or trend.
  • Website copy. Writing for the web comes with its own set of rules and guiding principles: it’s a whole other skill set, but one many copywriters have up their sleeve.

A job’s a job

Of course, aside from all that copywriting magic and mystery we also do a bunch of job stuff that everyone else does: admin, management, emails, training, client wrangling and looking at Facebook when you’re, ahem, between deadlines.

(Hat tip to GiphyNathan Rupert)

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Essential business grammar lesson seven: misplaced modifiers

misplaced modifiers: man covered in post-it notes

He gave the file to the boss with all the Post-its on.

Have you misplaced your modifier?

Modifiers are words or phrases that modify nouns and verbs. This sounds simple enough, but the truth is modifiers often get lost in a sentence, sometimes with odd or funny results.

Knowing what word you are modifying and where to place your modifier will help you communicate more clearly and make sure you avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Placing a modifier

To modify your nouns and verbs properly, place the modifier as close as possible to the noun or verb in question.

  • After an hour of searching, I finally found the file in the wrong folder.

This sentence indicates that it took an hour to find the saved file because it was in the wrong folder. The phrase ‘in the wrong folder’ modifies ‘file’. You could have been searching in the right place; it was the file that was lost. However, what if it was written as:

  • After an hour of searching in the wrong folder, I finally found the file.

In this case, ‘in the wrong folder’ modifies ‘searching’. This indicates the file may have been in the right place; it was you who was lost.

Identifying misplaced modifiers

As shown above, misplaced modifiers can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence. Unfortunately, because of common speech patterns, we don’t always recognise this change in meaning, but someone else reading it will.

Always be sure, therefore, to check where your modifiers are. Are they next to the verb or noun they are modifying? Or have you muddled your meaning?


This is a particularly sneaky example. People often forget it is a modifier and so commonly place it in the wrong part of the sentence.

  • Brad only edited five articles today.
  • Only Brad edited five articles today.

In the first example, ‘only’ modifies the verb ‘edited’. It seems like Brad had a rather slow day editing.

In the second example, ‘only’ modifies ‘Brad’. It seems Brad was the single employee who edited five articles. Perhaps at the newspaper Brad works for this is a stunning achievement, which is a good reason to single him out.

Only, almost, never, and other limiting words are often misplaced in a sentence. Be careful what you limit.

Examples of correct usage

  • He completed the analysis without difficulty and handed it in on time.
  • I asked only Brad to stay after hours.
  • Almost all of our products passed the quality control stage.

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Only the viral survive: does viral content mean marketing success?

Viral content - only the viral survive

Every marketer carries a deep, dark secret: the desire to go viral. That one moment when your brand manages to cut through all the noise on the internet.

Ok, maybe it’s not deep and dark, but creating content which spreads around the globe certainly feels like it would be a marketing triumph.

Why is viral the end game?

Companies that succeed in making viral content, namely videos, have not only increased awareness for their brand, but a few have seen a dramatic boost in sales numbers like in the case of:

  • The Dollar Shave Club gaining 12,000 subscribers after a viral ad
  • Blendtec boosting sales by 700 percent
  • Or WREN, a fashion brand, increasing their sales by over 13,000 percent

Any marketer would be happy to report that kind of return from a single video, ad or blog post. However, there’s no rhyme or reason to what goes viral and those who share viral content are sharing the idea, not the brand.

People don’t turn into brand advocates overnight. So, what will keep them invested in your brand even after the internet has moved on to the next idea?

What comes after happily ever after?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to create a piece of content or marketing campaign that goes viral, but there’s also nothing inherently wrong with your marketing if it hasn’t had its viral moment.

A content marketing strategy relies on a long term plan to continually publish and post content that:

Content can sustain your brand whether or not you’ve gone viral. If you consistently put out great content, people will buy into your brand and not just your moment in the spotlight.

(Hat tip to Pascal for the photo)

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Essential business grammar lesson six: how to choose the correct verb tenses

'The past the present and the future walked into a bar. It was tense'

Sell is a verb. It describes an action most companies would like to complete. We sell for a living, one way or another, whether the customer is purchasing an item or a service. This word can be very dynamic. And, depending on its tense, can communicate different things.

You might think you know present, past and future, but it’s a little more complicated than that. There are four different verb tenses within each of those categories, and each means something slightly different.

Present tense: now

  • Simple present: I sell iPods. This indicates the action is happening now but may not be complete. Is selling iPods your job? Do you intend to have that job tomorrow? Then the action is not complete.
  • Present progressive: I am selling iPods. This indicates the action is happening now and is part of an ongoing activity.
  • Present perfect: I have sold iPods. This indicates the action began before now and is either still going (I have sold iPods for three years now) or complete (I have sold iPods before), depending on the context.
  • Present perfect progressive: I have been selling iPods.  This indicates the action began before now and is still ongoing (I have been selling iPods for three years now.)

The simple present and simple progressive tenses can often be switched without changing a sentence’s meaning; the same can be said of the perfect and perfect progressive tenses.

Past tense: before

  • Simple past: I sold iPods. This indicates the action happened in the past but may not be complete.
  • Past progressive: I was selling iPods. This indicates the action began in the past and was part of an ongoing activity.
  • Past perfect: I had sold iPods. This indicates the action began before now and is complete. (I had sold iPods for three years before moving on to laptop computers.)
  • Past perfect progressive: I had been selling iPods.  This indicates the ongoing action began before now and ended, probably by interruption. (I had been selling iPods when Microsoft offered me a job.)

Future tense: next

  • Simple future: I will sell iPods. This indicates the action will happen in the future, possibly with an indefinite end point.
  • Future progressive: I will be selling iPods. This indicates an ongoing action will be happening in the future.
  • Future perfect: I will have sold iPods. This indicates an action that will be completed in the future. (I will have sold 100 iPods by then.)
  • Future perfect progressive: I will have been selling iPods.  This indicates an ongoing action that will end in the future. (I will have been selling iPods for three years next week.)

Getting it right

Using the wrong verb tense means you’re communicating the wrong idea. For example, your boss asks,

What did you do this morning?

  • ‘I was selling iPods’ suggests the action is not complete, so whilst you might have been doing your best, your boss could easily assume you didn’t complete any actual transactions.
  • ‘I sold iPods’ clearly states that you have already made the shop some profits and it’s only lunch time.

Examples of correct usage

  • Michael processed the invoices yesterday.
  • Michael is processing the invoices as we speak.
  • Michael will be processing the invoices tomorrow.

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40 essential rules of client management (collected over 10 years)

Life is not that complicated...

For the last decade, I’ve been compiling a list of ‘rules’ for client management based on very personal, subjective reactions to things that happened to me, mainly in the business world. I was partly inspired by NASA’s 100 rules for project managers.

I always meant it to be very personal and some of the rules relate to very specific things that happened to me. But I realised that with proper scrubbing it might be interesting for you too.

  1. Don’t email or call anyone if you’re feeling angry.
  2. If in doubt, brew up or go for a walk.
  3. You don’t have to do things you don’t want to do.
  4. If something can’t continue forever, it will stop.
  5. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
  6. Be a good friend to your emotions.
  7. Wings are strong because they are flexible not because they are rigid; be like that.
  8. Treat everyone as if they were VIPs: polite, attentive, respectful.
  9. Respect people’s time. Write shorter emails. Talk less.
  10. Invoice as soon as the work is done. You might fall out with your client or they might go bust if you wait.
  11. Don’t discuss your schedule and traffic management issues with clients. They don’t need to see inside the sausage factory.
  12. The asshole client rule: three strikes and you’re out. Strikes include: negotiating over an invoice (trying to get a discount after the price has been agreed and the work delivered) and not listening to my advice (they don’t have to take it).
  13. Don’t look over your shoulder.
  14. You don’t have to speak first.
  15. The thing you are cross about is not the thing you are cross about.
  16. A project that starts cocked up tends to stay cocked up.
  17. Warning signs that an agency project is doomed: client in an insane hurry, sloppy briefing from agency, no end client contact, ‘write now, brief later’.
  18. More Gary Cooper and less Tommy Cooper.
  19. If you don’t trust or respect your client anymore, get out. You can’t make bad people good from a subordinate position.
  20. For new overseas clients, get 50 percent upfront or all of the money in escrow unless you know them personally.
  21. If someone does something extraordinary for you, write them a thank you note (and copy it to their boss). This is good karma.
  22. Working weekends for clients: I’ll do it once if there’s a genuine emergency but, unless you pay me obscenely well for your inefficiency, I won’t do it twice. Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.
  23. If someone else is holding your passport, don’t get distracted or leave for the airport without it.
  24. Don’t start a project with a new client unless you have an agreed brief and a formal go-ahead email.
  25. Once a time-waster always a time-waster.
  26. Meetings are marketing, except with time wasters.
  27. If you don’t show up for three meetings or calls in a row, we’re not going to get on.
  28. You’re not as important as you think you are. Graveyards are full of ‘necessary’ men.
  29. Don’t let your ego, vanity and stress get in the way of doing a good job for your client.
  30. Idiotic clients need you more than competent ones. They just have to pay more.
  31. The presentation rule. If you are given an hour for a demo, finish in 45 minutes to allow time for questions. Don’t take 2 hours 10 minutes.
  32. Sometimes the best answer is no answer and sometimes it’s a question.
  33. There is no basis for apprehension.
  34. It sucks to let anyone get between you and your primary customer. They take all your good work and ideas but give none of the credit or feedback you need to do a good job. This is only partly compensated if they bring you new business that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
  35. Everyone’s important. The quiet person in the corner of the meeting might turn out to be the new boss.
  36. If the client repeatedly dithers about a project, just walk way. Manoeuvre X is better for the soul that pandering and pleading and bleating.
  37. A last-minute, urgent rush job does not guarantee that the client will accept anything you write or that the project will be easy, well-briefed, straightforward or profitable. Being in a hurry doesn’t obviate the need for a clear brief; it doubles it.
  38. It’s okay to agree to small bits of extra work for one-off pieces, but scope creep on large projects quickly gets out of hand as you add a couple of hours extra work to dozens of documents.
  39. Don’t write a proposal for an unqualified lead. If price is the only deciding factor, you can answer that in a paragraph with an indicative price. But it’s better to do a qualifying call first.
  40. ‘When you have got a thing where you want it to be it is a good thing to leave it where it is’ – Churchill.

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Essential business grammar lesson five: phrases and clauses

Phrases and clauses: pen knife

If it’s not a subject, predicate or object, then what is it? In order to fully understand grammar, you must understand all parts of a sentence.

Sentences are made of phrases and clauses, such as modifiers, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions, which add information and context to a sentence.


Recall that even the simplest sentence has a subject and a verb.

  • I work.

When you add more information, you form a phrase.

  • I work every weekday from nine to five.

The phrase ‘every weekday from nine to five’ is called a phrase because it has a noun (weekday), modifiers (every) and a prepositional phrase (from nine to five). It does not have a verb.

Phrases have either a subject or a verb but not both. They cannot stand on their own.

Writing ‘Every weekday from nine to five’ as a sentence is grammatically incorrect and is called a sentence fragment.

Phrases are offset by commas unless they are essential appositives or split around verbs.

The many types of phrases

Noun phrases have a noun and its modifiers.

  • many errors.

Noun phrases can be split around a verb. Eg, Many errors were found that made the report unintelligible.

Appositive phrases modify other nouns.

  • Fred, employee of the month, is being promoted

Prepositional phrases include a preposition.

  • in the vicinity of
  • on top of

Infinitive phrases include the ‘to’ form of a verb.

  • to be heard
  • to go boldly

Gerund phrases include words that end in -ing.

  • racing against the deadline

Gerund phrases are usually used as nouns.

  • What is a bad idea? Procrastinating until the deadline is a bad idea.

‘Procrastinating until the deadline’ is used as a noun to answer a what question.

A participial phrase includes a participle, which is a verb used to modify a noun rather than describe an action; participles often end in -ed, -n, or -ing.

Participial phrases function as adjectives in sentences.

  • Paul, worn down by too much overtime, is taking a personal day.

‘Worn down by too much overtime’ describes Paul.

Absolute phrases modify entire sentences. They include a noun, a participle and other modifiers and adjectives.

  • Their status as winning competitors assured, both Sam and Beth took a bow.

‘Their status as winning competitors assured’ is the absolute phrase that explains (modifies) the independent clause that follows it.


A clause has both a subject and a verb, but that does not mean it can stand on its own as a sentence. There are two types of clauses: dependent and independent.

Dependent clauses rely on the rest of the sentence to make sense.

  • When I heard about the new contract.

This clause has both a noun (contract) and a verb (heard), but it does not make sense on its own. It is dependent.

Dependent clauses can be joined to independent clauses with commas.

  • When I heard about the new contract, I was excited about the possibilities.

Independent clauses are sentences in their own right.

  • I was excited about the possibilities.

Two independent clauses must be joined with a conjunction like and, yet or but, otherwise you get a run-on sentence.

  • I heard about the new contract, and I am excited about the possibilities.

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