by Kelly Burgos Harper
Kelly Burgos Harper Communications & Vocal Coaching
The beautiful, colorful items in the accompanying photo are a few thank yous I received that wowed and delighted me.
Gratitude feels good.
BUT... it's more than a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Science confirms the significant physical and psychological benefits of expressing and receiving gratitude. And in business, we know it can set us apart, build brand loyalty, and strengthen relationships. It can boost productivity, sales, fundraising, and retention.
Still, studies show we are missing plenty of opportunities to communicate our appreciation. I know I am. Too many times, I've made a note to offer a special thanks only to have it slip off my radar. Does that ever happen to you?
Maybe it's a time issue. Maybe we struggle with how to put our gratitude into words. Maybe we're under the impression that it needs to be a grand gesture and we get stuck overthinking it.
How can we do better?
I'm issuing this reminder to myself to take more opportunities to express gratitude all through the year. And they don't have to be extravagant expressions to be meaningful.
I'll just focus on three of the most fundamental expressions that don't require overthinking, overspending, or overextending. I'm sharing this with you in case you could use the reminder, too.
1. Simply saying, "Thank you!" is powerful!
Whether we say it in person, via email, include it in our invoices and forms, or all of the above, research shows that these two little words have a greater positive impact than we might think.
One of my clients sometimes ends an email with "I appreciate you." Just a few simple words that take seconds to type. And the message that comes through, for me, is that I'm more than a hired hand; that she genuinely values my work and that she values me as a human being.
2. Thank you cards are super delightful!
Not everyone is a card giver, and it does take some time and effort. But for inspiration, we only need to recall how we felt the last time we got a thank you card, especially a handwritten one. Now we get to be the sender and inspire that awesome feeling in someone else.
If we struggle to find the time to shop for cards, we can:
If we struggle with the words or where to start, help is a click away:
3. Even small thank you gifts can make big impressions!
These are a bit more of a commitment of our time and funds. Even with a gift-giving budget and the time to shop around and coordinate the effort, deciding on the gift itself can feel daunting. But we don't have to go it alone. Here are some thoughts:
The bottom line is: showing gratitude is an investment in ourselves, our business, and humanity.
Let's find out.
by Kelly Burgos Harper
Kelly Burgos Harper Communications & Vocal Coaching
Did your small business or nonprofit miss the chance to give your communications a spring cleaning? No worries. Fall is a great time to do a little dusting and tidying. It’ll prepare you for the holidays and maybe even set you up to hit the ground running in the new year.
Depending on your type of business or organization, the fall – which runs September 23 through December 22 this year – may be the busiest time of the year. We’ve got big holidays, fall fundraisers, and year-end giving campaigns that bring out the big spender in all of us, but that also require an extraordinary amount of marketing time and energy.
If your marketing efforts work, you’ll stir up lots of traffic to your website, generate an incredible amount of engagement through your social media platforms, and get the phone ringing.
But then what?
What will potential customers or donors see when they start flooding into your website or social media platforms? Will they get the best possible impression of you? Will they find all the information they need to easily make a purchase, a visit, or a donation? If they call, how will they be greeted and routed?
We can't underestimate the power of even our most basic communications, Yet these can be the ones we set up and then forget or push to the side as other tasks rise in priority. Before we know it, they’ve collected a heap of dust. So here we are with our feather dusters, mops, and buckets, ready to go.
There are so many things we could tackle, but let’s just get started with a simple, four-point cleanup plan. For now.
1. Dust off Your Website
If you can’t remember the last time you read through your website copy, it’s probably time for a little look-see. Take a stroll through the pages and see what you think. Could it use refreshing? Does it need a rewrite? Does it need some quick and straightforward updates? Or is it all good?
If you need a rewrite but don’t have time to tackle that now, then start with a little refreshing.
Is there any seasonal or holiday-related messaging you need to add? Is there any outdated information you need to correct? Are there any pesky typos and glaring grammar issues? You know, those are an easy fix with apps like grammarly. If you didn’t know, you do now. You’re welcome.
And those very basic things you’re tempted to skip over? Don’t.
Check your contact info, your hours of operation (especially if your hours change with the seasons or holidays), and your links. Broken links are really disappointing for viewers. Make sure all your links work and that they lead to the right places.
Buttons, Calls-to-action, and Conversions. Oh my!
Let’s revisit those all-important calls to action. Are they clear and strong? Even without rewriting all your web copy, you can add a little spark just by reworking call-to-action copy, particularly on your buttons. How can you make them more action-oriented and direct? Instead of saying, “Click here to save on your next purchase,” what if you tried, “Shop now and save 20%”? What if instead of saying, “Click here to purchase a ticket,” you tried something like, “Reserve my seat”?
Once you refresh the language, let’s not waste those awesome call-to-action buttons by placing them alllllllllll the way down at the bottom of the page where folks have to scroll for days to find them. Put them above the fold. And colorize them for visibility.
There’s no shortage of info out in the world about creating effective call-to-action buttons. Do a little experimenting and see if it helps move the needle for your conversion rates.
And before we switch topics, if you realize that your website needs a total redesign, I know some great folks who can help you with that.
2. Tidy up Your Social Media
Take a stroll through your social pages/accounts and make sure your profiles are up to date. Correct any outdated info and make any seasonal or holiday-specific updates such as hours of operation and office closures. And, of course, if you have fall or holiday offerings, promotions, and events, get ’em up there.
As you’re looking around, if you realize you’re still sportin’ old cover photos and graphics, get your graphic designer on the case. What’s that? You don’t have a designer at your beck and call? Okay, that’s not an impossible situation. Try the Canva app. It's certainly not a substitute for a professional designer, but it is an easy-to-use design app that even non-designers or amateur designers can use to whip up good-looking graphics for a variety of applications.
While thinking about your social media, if you start to get a little nervous about how you’re going to manage regular posting during the busyness of the season, you might want to try a social media scheduling app like Hootsuite. They have free and premium options that are simple to use and will help you stay on top of your social game while saving you time.
3. Perk up Your Pics
From your website to your Google page, revisit your photos to see if they’re communicating the right things about your business. If not, it may be time to call that photographer friend. No budget for pro photography? Click here for ideas and tips.
4. Freshen Up The Forgotten Messaging: Forms & Phone Greetings
Form letters, inquiry forms, and newsletter sign-up forms may all suffer a bit of neglect. But forms need love, too. I’ll bet that if you take even a few minutes to peek at them, you’ll find some quick and simple adjustments you can make to get them current and more effective.
Nonprofit friends: If you’re sending out a seasonal or year-end appeal letter in print or via email, be sure to challenge yourself to refresh and strengthen it rather than simply plugging in new dates to old letters. Need help with your nonprofit messaging? I know a girl.
Now, about those callers. What impression are you making on them? Might as well take a listen to your voicemail greeting and any pre-recorded, automated attendant greetings, options, and prompts. When does “Hello” need to change to “Happy holidays!” or something else? Does any essential information (such as office hours or prompts) need to be updated? Does the system properly route callers?
Have you ever been stuck in an automated phone routing system that gives you incorrect direction or simply doesn't work? Yep. It's pretty frustrating. Don't let it happen to your customers and supporters.
And final question on the phone front...
Do the tone and personality of the recorded voice and script represent the tone and personality of your brand? Or might it be time for a little script update and a fresh recording?
There are probably a hundred other points we could touch on, including your core brand messaging, print collateral, emails, signage, and more. But I promised a “simple” fall cleanup, so we’ll stop here.
Need some help assessing or developing your communications? Let's talk!
Happy cleaning! And may you enjoy a happy and prosperous holiday season!
by Kelly Burgos Harper
Kelly Burgos Harper Communications & Vocal Coaching
I hate winter. Even though I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, or should I say, PittsBRRRgh, I have never made friends with winter. Then I moved to Los Angeles for ten years, which allowed me to estrange myself from the unspeakable season altogether.
When I began to contemplate moving back to the Brrrgh, my family and friends were very encouraging. “Come back! Don’t worry about the winter…our winters have been so mild,” they said. “We don’t get the snow we used to get,” they said.
Lies! All lies!
My second winter back home, there was a two-week, continuous stretch of snowfall that made me wonder if I’d ever get out of my house again. That year, icicles that resembled giant stalactites hung from my roof and awnings.
Though I complain my way through every winter, I will occasionally admit that snow is pretty. Especially when it’s that sweet, fluffy stuff that floats down, gently lands on your eyelashes, and makes the landscape look like a Norman Rockwell painting. But when you have to drive in it, clean it off your car, shovel it from your walkway and driveway, salt it before it turns to ice, and get special boots to walk in it, the beauty quickly fades.
And that’s just the snow. I haven’t even gotten to the cold yet, which I hate, or the gray skies and short hours of daylight that I also hate.
Then there’s the lingering. With 12 months and four seasons, each season should get about three months of stage time, right? Nope. Miss Winter is a calendar-hogging diva who steps on the toes of autumn and spring to snag as much of the spotlight as possible, sometimes for five or even six months!
However, if there’s something I hate more than this tedious season, it’s hearing myself complain about it. So, this year, I’m making a winter attitude adjustment.
I guess I realized that I won’t win a battle against Mother Nature. Winter is going to come each year regardless of how I feel about it. So, here are eight things I’ve been doing to help me change my perspective and make the best of the season.
1. Accepting Winter’s Gift
Just after the new year, I asked a friend if she made any resolutions. She said that she likes to take this time of year to get quiet and to open up to receiving rather than making plans and resolutions. She said that spring is when she gets into the planning and goal-setting mode. Her perspective clicked with me. She’s following nature. How wonderful it must be to get in sync with nature rather than trying to fight it. All the more reason I needed to find a way to embrace the season rather than keep wasting energy hating it and working against it.
Over the next few days, her words swirled around in my brain and took me back to a blog post I had just written about the importance of listening. I started to see how winter provides a chance to slow down, go inward, listen to ourselves, receive inner guidance, and re-emerge in spring with renewed energy, direction, and focus. It brought a wave of comfort to my soul.
Almost daily, I feel the tug of email, social media, text, phone, and endless events, as they vie for my attention and for time on my calendar. I love being social, but I need quiet time to recover and rejuvenate, to just be with my own thoughts, and to pursue my creative and writing goals.
And here I’ve been, hating the very season that gifts us cold, bad weather days that make way for the quiet time I so desperately need. This has been the most valuable discovery in my winter attitude adjustment process.
2. Rockin’ A Nighttime Routine
There’s lots of talk about morning routines, but I have to give props to the effectiveness of my new and glorious nighttime routine. My routine is all about comfort, warmth, and paving the way for a restful night’s sleep a little earlier than usual since the cold mornings make it hard for me to get up early.
Normally, I’m a morning shower person, but evening showers are the foundation of my glorious nighttime routine. Since it’s evening and I’m not rushing to get to work or a meeting, I can take the time to enjoy my shower at a leisurely pace.
I put my space heater right near the shower, crank that baby up as high as it can go, and place my towel over the shower door. All this is so I don’t have to step out from a warm shower into a shockingly freezing bathroom that makes me cringe and groan.
I set out my warmest, coziest pajamas and cutest pair of fleece-lined, puppy face slipper socks right near the shower so I can slip them on as soon as I’ve dried off and treated my thirsty skin to my favorite, silky body lotion.
Sometimes I top it off with a cup of chamomile-lavender tea and a quick gratitude reflection.
It’s the little things, right?
3. TV & Movie Marathoning
Fall and winter are the best times for shows and movies, anyway, so I decided to consciously embrace winter as an opportunity to devote some time to exploring Netflix and Hulu shows, and making movie dates with friends and family. And I don’t have to suffer through my inner critic’s “You’re not being productive enough” scoldings because winter gives us a pass to slow down. I don’t ski or snowboard, so what else is there to do?
4. Sippin’ & Soupin’
For me, sipping a delicious hot beverage or savoring a hearty soup can make a cold day totally doable and even delightful. So, this winter, I’ve spent a little time experimenting with new, vegan soup recipes. I’m also allowing myself to indulge in delicious lattes and to expand my tea collection. My absolute favorite herbal teas so far are Winter Fruits and Flowers and Lemon Passion Comfort from Café Kolache in Beaver, PA.
5. Doing Mornings My Way
Dark, cold mornings make getting up and preparing for the day a slow process for me. This year, instead of beating myself up about it, I’m choosing to work with my natural tendencies. So, I’ve embraced a morning routine that begins at a doable time for me, and I’ve made it a point to not book meetings before 10:00 a.m. if I can help it. The core components of my morning routine include The 5 Second Journal and exercise in realistic doses for me.
6. Movin’ & Groovin’
My energy and spirits can get low in the winter. I know that exercise helps, so I cleared the cobwebs from my elliptical machine and yoga stuff and created a few different workout routines for myself – a shorter one and a longer one, so I can do whichever I have time for based on the day’s schedule. I try to do mornings because it sets me up for a better day, but if the morning is full and I need to push it to evening, I let myself.
Bonus: I get my body warmed up without turning up the thermostat.
7. Checking Off Pesky Little Projects
I’ve been dedicating some of the winter “hunker down” time to little projects I tend to put off. Even things as trivial as rolling the coins we collect all year or going through the junk drawer or organizing clothes or files. And if I can do these while watching a show, even better!
8. Cozying Up My Home
I love a cozy home, especially around the holidays when the tree is up and the house is adorned with festive decorations. So, this year, I let the tree and decorations stay up a little longer to hang onto some of that warm and fuzzy vibe it gives me. And guess what? The Christmas tree police never showed up to issue me a citation. Also, I installed a fireplace app on my Smart TV. It gives me the illusion of fireplace warmth and crackle. I have it on right now.
So, how’s it working?
Four things are happening:
I’d say that it’s working quite well. But this may all go out the window if it’s still snowing on Easter as it has been known to do here in the Northeast.
In the bigger picture of my business...
In the bigger picture, as I experiment with shifting my perspective to improve my relationship with winter, I’ve been thinking about how I can apply the same tactic to help me embrace some other things I dislike.
In my business, for example, there are a handful of buzzkill tasks that I have to do to run my business. Because I dislike them so, I sometimes put them off until they become looming beasts that will now be more difficult and take more time to tackle. Meanwhile, I’ve also wasted time and energy dreading them or complaining about them. Just like all the years of whining about winter, my negative attitude toward my buzzkill tasks created behavior that does not serve me or my business well.
So, in the year ahead, I’ll be challenging myself to shift my perspective and make the best of these tasks just as I’m learning to do with my new BFF, winter. I’ll keep you posted.
Here’s a TED Talk and some articles you might find interesting, helpful, and inspiring:
Perspective is Everything
7 Ways to Make the Most of Winter
How to Motivate Yourself to Do Things You Don’t Want to Do
How to Make the Most of Your Workday
19 Powerful Nighttime Routines That Will Help You Wake Up Happy
by Kelly Burgos Harper
Kelly Burgos Harper Communications & Vocal Coaching
Photo by Cassie Brkich, Brkich Design Group
When we think about good communication, the first thing that comes to mind for most of us is how well we communicate through our spoken and written words or our actions. However, there’s another key element of communication that we don’t tend to give as much thought to: listening.
Seems like a simple thing, but research shows that many of us kinda suck at listening. In fact, we only retain about 25% of all that we hear.
It’s not our fault, really. We’re taught how to read, write and speak, but most of us aren’t taught how to listen. Plus, there are a heck of a lot of folks we have to listen to in a day. There is SO much noise, so much to do, so many distractions, and so many words and messages coming at us in so many ways that it’s easy to feel too preoccupied and overloaded to fully engage in the act of listening.
Luckily, listening is a skill we can learn and develop. And it may be worth the effort when we consider that experts say active listening creates understanding, is necessary for connection, and is an essential skill for effective leadership. In a recent Forbes.com article, the writer suggests that improving listening skills is “a simple way to save your business.”
If we count ourselves part of the majority whose listening skills could use improvement, we’d have to wonder how it might be affecting our lives and our businesses. How much are we missing? Where might there be disconnects?
In personal relationships, the lack of listening can cause hurt feelings, frustration, and misunderstanding. In business, it can cause the same problems and can result in wasted money and time through miscommunication, errors, ineffective decision-making, and ill-informed marketing.
As a person who spends most of my working hours writing copy, consulting, or coaching singers, it is imperative for me to be mindful of my listening skills. When I do it well, it feels amazing and I’m able to establish powerful connections and understanding that are invaluable to my work and my relationships, both professional and personal. Still, more often than I’d like to admit, I catch myself not being fully present in the act of listening. So, I’m choosing to put some work into developing better listening habits. Care to join me?
Quick story on this listening thing
I spent some time working for a guy I’ll call Mr. G. He was a wildly successful entrepreneur and certainly the most financially successful person I have ever known. Soon after I began participating in regular meetings and discussions with him, I noticed something very interesting about his communication style.
After a person had finished presenting information or answering a question, Mr. G would often leave a long pause before responding – sometimes challenging our four-second silence comfort limits. I could see the wheels turning in Mr. G’s head, which was usually a good thing, but if the other person didn’t know him so well, the silence would make them a little squirmy.
When Mr. G would finally respond, he would often present another question. After the person answered, there was usually another pause and another question. Some of his questions seemed a bit odd because they didn’t have an obvious connection to the main topic of discussion.
Sometimes after a meeting, I would end up talking with the person on my own, and they would ask about it. “So…how do you think it went? I mean, he was really drilling me,” or “he got so quiet there for a minute, I wasn’t sure what he was thinking.”
After getting to know Mr. G, I understood that what others perceived as “drilling” was just Mr. G exploring his curiosity. And the uncomfortable silences were just Mr. G honoring what the person had said by actually taking a few seconds to absorb it rather than jumping back with a quick response.
As time went on, I saw the direct correlation between his listening style and his success.
One day, Mr. G and a few colleagues are stopped at a red light in New Jersey when a car hits them from behind. Funny enough, it was a police car that had hit them. A cop quickly comes over to the driver’s side door apologizing and explaining that they need to fill out a report. A second cop shows up to Mr. G’s passenger door. Mr. G starts inquiring about the items on the police officer’s belt, then hits him up with questions about the reporting process and the process of pulling folks over. And he listens. Why not? They were stuck there for a time – might as well learn something, right?
Within two months, Mr. G announced that he was going to invest in new technology to help police officers pull data and create reports more efficiently.
Only Mr. G could turn a conversation at a traffic accident into a business opportunity.
What I learned
There were many meetings, business and personal, in which I witnessed Mr. G giving his conversations the space to unfold. Often, he was humble enough to know that he didn’t know everything and to believe that the person speaking might have something to teach him. His questions were genuinely aimed at discovery. When he didn’t understand something, he wasn’t afraid to admit it and to ask for clarification. And he listened intently, not out of obligation or politeness, but out of genuine curiosity and desire to learn.
Now, I’m not saying that all of Mr. G’s conversations were like this. I can’t imagine it’s possible or even healthy to listen intently to everything everyone has to say all the time. We do have limited time and energy. But let’s save the topic of conversational boundaries for another day.
In a final reflective thought, it warms my heart to consider the two-way gift we provide when we actively listen to someone. We are honoring them, their thoughts, and their feelings. At the same time, we are honoring ourselves by seizing the opportunity to learn and to experience the other’s perspective. Whether in a personal or professional relationship, I can’t think of many gifts that are more endearing or that foster greater connection. And if you’re like Mr. G, you just might find listening to be lucrative!
I’ll wrap up with the lyrics to one of my favorite 80s songs, “Words” by Missing Persons:
My lips are moving and the sound's coming out
The words are audible but I have my doubts
That you realize what has been said
You look at me as if you're in a daze
It's like the feeling at the end of the page
When you realize you don't know what you just read
What are words for when no one listens anymore
What are words for when no one listens
What are words for when no one listens it's no use talkin’ at all
Do you hear me?
Do you care?
Do you hear me?
Do you care?
Interested in this topic? Here are some stories, talks, and tips I found helpful and inspiring:
Test your listening skills (Psychology Today)
Discover "The Power of Listening" by William Ury (TED video)
Check out "5 Ways to Listen Better" by Julian Treasure (TEDx video)
Get 10 simple tips on "How to Become a Better Listener" by Henrik Edberg (article from The Positivity Blog)
Learn 4 things good listeners do (School of Life TEDEd video)