Employers Value Good Writing, But Good Writers Are Hard to Find

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Many years ago when I worked for a property manager, I frequently drafted the manager’s correspondence to customers and residents. One day as she prepared to head out of town for business meetings, I happily volunteered to write a speech and a magazine article that she was obligated to write for a local association she belonged to. When she returned, she had two rough drafts on her desk to review. Needless to say, she was impressed. Not only had I saved her valuable time, but I showed that I brought added value to her management team. In fact, she was so impressed by my writing, she gave me more opportunities for writing beyond drafting her usual correspondence to the residents.

That’s just one example of how valuable writing skills are in the workplace. Even with the added emphasis of visual content, websites, podcasts and social media in today’s business environment, good writing still counts – a lot. If you can come to the table with strong writing and communication skills – skills frequently requested by employers – you can increase your value to bosses exponentially.

Despite the demands for strong writing skills, however, employers reportedly are having a difficult time finding qualified candidates with those skills.

In a recent study by Burning Glass Technologies, which provides job analytics to employers, employers reported have difficulty finding candidates with basic soft skills, such as writing, communications, customer service and organizational skills. According to their 2015 study of employer job postings, one in every three skills requested by employers is a soft skill. Even in highly technical jobs, like engineering and information technology, 25 percent of skills requested in job ads are baseline skills.

In another survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, employers were asked to prioritize the skills they sought most from college graduates. Some 82 percent of employers cited written communication, which ranked third behind speaking skills (85 percent) and teamwork (83 percent). Also high on the list of priorities are critical thinking and analytical reasoning (81 percent) and innovation and creativity (65 percent).

Why is good writing important for business? Writing is the fundamental basis for communicating with employees, customers, vendors, colleagues, and fans of your product. It’s a way of expressing thoughts and transporting messages, writes Jeff Bradford, President and CEO of the Bradford Group in Forbes magazine. “Good writing is good thinking that follows a logical path and is easy for someone to follow. Writing out what you want to communicate forces you to organize your thoughts.”

This is good news for professional writers everywhere. There’s still a place for us in the business environment despite recent technologies and growing emphasis on visual communications that seem to undermine good writing. Before you develop your visual presentation, website or podcast, you need good writing first.

Whether you describe yourself as a good writer or aspire to be one, here’s what good writers bring to the business environment, according to Business World magazine.

1. Good writers can make a positive first impression. When readers receive messages that are well-organized, well-thought out and grammatically correct, they form a positive opinion of the writer, and by extension, the organization the writer represents. In contrast, a message that is poorly written with misspelled words and grammatical errors gives the impression that the writer is disorganized, unintelligent and unprofessional.

2. Good writers demonstrate courtesy. They keep the writer’s information needs in mind as they draft their message. By paying attention to the tone of the message, writers show respect for readers.

3. Good writers have more credibility. Employers and clients view good writers as being more reliable and trustworthy. A well-organized and researched message also shows that the writer is knowledgeable and takes the time to plan their message rather than rushing to send it out to readers.

4. Good writers are more influential. There can be a persuasive quality to their writing. They know how to present messages in a way that influences people to take action, whether it’s to donate to a cause, join a membership organization, elect a political candidate, or purchase a product.

5. Good writers are sought-out for their writing expertise. Once word gets around what a word hound they are, co-workers and colleagues may ask for their assistance in editing their pieces or helping them write it. Good writers can gain more responsibility and recognition for their achievements.

6. Good writers understand that an online presence starts with good writing. With so much information on the Internet, good writing is needed to tell clients and customers about business goals, the company’s brand and products. Presentation matters, and it begins with good writing.

7. Good writers make good team players. People with strong writing skills are able to share ideas, give clearer explanations, and coordinate projects easily. Work partners value the clarity of their ideas and explanations. It makes working with them more enjoyable.

8. Good writers gain professional confidence. With each successful writing project, whether it is the launch of a website or a business proposal that wins a new client, good writers gain confidence in their abilities and are inspired to pursue new writing opportunities.

Not every employee has good writing skills. That’s why they are so highly valued in the workplace. If your writing skills are lacking, there are several things you can do to improve them. Take a few classes at a community college or grab a book and read about writing techniques. Most important, practice, practice, practice.

If you are a business owner or manager who doesn’t have good writing skills and doesn’t have time to do some self-study, look for someone who can help you. Hire a freelance writer, an administrative assistant, or editor who can help you formulate your messages and make you look your best in writing.

No matter what field you work in, the ability to write simply, clearly and concisely will help you become a valued member of the team.

How to Be Productive During Downtime at the Office

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As summer crawls to an end, you may find yourself in the middle of some serious downtime at work. Every business has its busy seasons and not-so-busy times. For some businesses, the months of July and August are the slowest, while for others, the slow time may fall in January and February.

No matter where your slow season falls, don’t hang your head. Those slow times happen for a reason. Think of them as breathing room, a chance to catch your breath, recharge your batteries and prepare for the busier season that lies ahead.

Instead of feeling bored or hanging out on Facebook trying to look busy when you’re not, here are a few ways to be more productive during those inevitable downtime periods.

1. Follow up with your clients. If your company relies on regular or frequent client interaction to be successful, downtime might be an opportune moment to check in on them. What’s happening with their business? How are they using your products or services? With a more relaxed pace at work, you can take your time with your client and enjoy an easy conversation with them. No pressure. Not only are you helping to maintain your business relationships, you might unearth a need that your business might be able to solve for them.

2. Do some housekeeping/clean out old files. Got any old files still lying around the office taking up valuable space? Downtime is a good opportunity to roll up the sleeves and dig through them. Depending on how old the files are, you can either put them in storage or if they are really, really outdated, say more than seven years old, bring them to a recycling center. Just be sure to clear things with the bosses before you destroy any important documents. If in doubt, ask.

3. Catch up on billing and record keeping. During busy times, it can be easy to let receipts and bills stack up. Downtime is the perfect time to sit down and go through all your receipts, process paper work to your accountant and just get organized. Imagine how good you will feel when you are all caught up.

4. Catch up on reading and studying industry news. Like most professionals, you probably have a stack of magazines or clipped articles from your favorite business websites that you never had the chance to read. Now is the time to do that. You might pick up a tip or two that you can implement right away.

5. Brainstorm and innovate. Throughout the year, you’ve probably had a few insights about how your business operates. Perhaps you realized that there might be a better way to get customer feedback or an easier way to update your database. Jot them down. Grab a note pad and brainstorm all the different ways you can improve your business. Better yet, keep a small notebook with you throughout the year and jot down ideas as you think of them. Then during these downtimes, review these collected ideas to see if there are any worth implementing.

6. Attend a conference or workshop. Perhaps you’ve read a few magazine articles that have whetted your appetite for more knowledge about a particular topic. Take the next step. Check listings to see if there are any workshops or conferences that would fit your interests. If you can’t step away from the office, consider one of the free online courses that you can do at your desk, such as Udemy.

7. Review your business and marketing plan. Plan for the year ahead by reviewing your business and marketing plan. Are you on track with meeting your goals? Is there something you can do differently now to meet those goals by the end of the year? Downtime is ideal for reviewing your business goals, revising them if you need to, and figure out way to market your business so you achieve them. Don’t have a business and marketing plan? Downtime is ideal for getting started on one.

Don’t let downtime go to waste. Downtime is a gift to catch your breath after a long hectic stretch of meetings, sales calls and presentations. Downtime is the best time to review the past and prepare for the future.

Decoding Nonverbal Cues in Interviews and Presentations

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Have you ever watched a comedian’s performance on stage when the jokes are making his audience laugh? Conversely, have you ever witnessed a comedian falter badly, knowing the jokes have fallen flat? The comedian knows, just by reading the audience’s reaction during the performance, whether his jokes are hitting the mark or not.

The ability to read an audience while performing is a useful skill in business too. Every time you interview for a job or make a presentation to a potential client, you have the chance to read the audience the way the comedian assesses theirs. But in the midst of performing, we can often forget to check in with the audience to notice how they are reacting to our message because we are more focused on our own behavioral responses.

How do you know if you have impressed your audience with your knowledge and credentials? How can you determine if the client is buying into your proposal? How can you determine if your responses are hitting the mark or if they are falling flat? There are numerous articles about how nonverbal communication can support our language during an interview or presentation. (You can find links to a few of them at the end of this article.) But few suggest how to “read” your audience’s nonverbal cues.

Usually business owners and employers are fairly practiced in maintaining a calm, non-committed demeanor. But if you pay close attention, they may send a few nonverbal signals showing the level of interest in you or your services. At the end of a meeting, the client or employer usually gives only a vague response, such as “We’ll get back to you next week.” Yeah, right, you think.

Any job seeker can tell you that the most frustrating aspect of interviewing is waiting for the call back. It’s difficult knowing what your fate is when it lies in someone else’s hands. By reading and understanding the employer’s or client’s nonverbal cues during the presentation, you can gain control of the process and keep the ball in your court.

It’s a delicate balance, staying aware of your own nonverbal communication while recognizing your audience’s. That can be difficult to achieve when you’re in the “heat of battle.” When you are focused more on your own nonverbal communications – remembering to smile, extending a firm handshake, making eye contact with each person in the room — it’s easy to miss the nonverbal cues your audience is sending you.

Generally speaking, nonverbal communication can reveal more about their intentions than anything they might say. Further what they say may not reflect what they’re really thinking. It’s up to you to cut through the clutter to read the message they’re really sending.

Here are four things to look at during your “performance”:

* Look at their body posture. Are they slouched or sitting up straight? If they lean forward, they’re paying close attention to what you’re saying. If they’re leaning back, they are cautious. If they’re leaning back in their chair with their arms folded in front of them, they’re not buying what you’re selling.

* Look at their head. Similar to their body posture, if their head leans in, they are paying close attention to you. If their head is tilted back, they may be more thoughtful and cautious. Watch their facial expressions too. If their eyebrows shoot up, they may be surprised. If their eyebrows are furrowed, they may be confused. Ask if they need you to clarify a point.

* Look at their eyes. It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul. With that in mind, notice what kind of eye contact the client or employer is giving you. Are they looking at you or at other things, like their mobile phone, the note pad they’re writing on, or something else? The eyes can show pleasure or pain too. Do they look bored, like they can’t wait for the meeting to be over with, or are they enjoying something you said. Their eyes may be smiling even though their lips may not be.

* Look at their hands. What are their hands doing? Are they sitting calmly in their lap? Are they twisting a pen or playing with their wedding ring, which might be a sign they are nervous and eager to do something else. If they are taking notes, do they continue to scribble as you speak, or do they suddenly stop writing when you say something that gets their attention?  That might be a sign that you said something that did not sit right with them.

By staying aware of your surroundings and noticing the subtle signals from the people you are meeting with, you maintain control of the meeting process and you can leave with a clear idea where you stand with the client. You won’t have to wait for them to tell you “we’ll let you know next week,” because you’ll already have their answer.

Related Reading:

10 Nonverbal Cues That Convey Confidence at Work
How to Interpret Nonverbal Communications in the Office
Using Effective Nonverbal Communications in Job Interviews

Tips for Self-Editing Interpersonal Communications

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Our personal communications is as vital to our success as our marketing and sales strategies, maybe even more so. The way we present ourselves to the outside world says more about who we are personally and professionally than any strategic plan. More often than not, what we do and say can either help our business or hurt it. For evidence of that, you only have to look at public figures like Roseanne Barr to see how swiftly things can change with one poorly thought out comment.

That’s why it’s important to learn self-editing techniques. Self-editing is the process of reviewing, revising and correcting your own communications. It is similar to the self-editing process for a manuscript, except it is geared toward social media, emails and correspondence, such as cover letters.

A poorly worded email can make you look ignorant, while a well-crafted letter written in an angry tone can make you look unprofessional. Neither one will help you achieve your business goals.

What you say – and how you say it – gives the recipient a clear idea of who you are. Further, what you say or write may not always be exactly what you mean. Ever write something that sounded fine in your head but when you or someone else read it back to you, it didn’t have the same meaning? Somehow the meaning got lost in the transition from your head to the paper or computer.

More important, what you write or say can have lingering and sometimes devastating impact. One poorly thought out tweet posted in a knee-jerk reaction can cost you clients and customers. In conversations, what you blurt out cannot be taken back. Ditto with social media and emails. Once it’s out there, you can’t get it back, and the damage to your business and reputation is already done.

We are all guilty of these communication miscues, but there are ways to refine our skills to prevent this from happening too often. I’m just as guilty as the next person, so I’ve learned from my experience to self-edit my interpersonal communications with the same attention to detail as any writer would a manuscript for publication.

Before writing that cover letter or email to an upset customer or responding to someone’s Facebook post, take a few minutes to follow these tips to self-edit your communications.

Step 1. Using a note pad or blank sheet of paper, write everything down that you’d like to say. Spill your guts. By putting it all down on paper, you won’t be in a position to hit Send or Post right away. If you’re angry, or upset or excited about a situation, writing your ideas down on paper first will help dispel some of that emotion.

Keep in mind that you will not use everything you write down in your final correspondence. But just like writing a novel, it will help you get all your ideas down first. Then you can edit it later.

Step 2. Set the letter aside for a few hours. Let it simmer on the backburner. Go and do something else for a while – head to the beach, play basketball, take a nap, watch a movie, anything to get your mind off the letter. Your emotions will simmer down by then too so you will be able to think more clearly.

Step 3. Come back to your letter after sufficient time has passed. I recommend at least a day if you are truly upset about something. Otherwise, a few hours will be sufficient. Review what you have written. Underline or highlight the important points you want to make that still ring true. Keep it to only two or three points however, so your final letter won’t be overly long.

Step 4. With a red pen, cross out the sentences and sentiments that do not belong, things you wrote in anger or excitement, or extraneous content that does not add value to your letter. Whatever is left can be reviewed and edited for appropriateness or to help you support your key points.

Step 5. Rewrite your letter, email or social media post with the highlighted information left over from your draft. Chances are it will be more concise and less emotional than before. That’s a good starting point.

Step 6. Review again for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Misspelled words shows carelessness and lack of attention to detail. It also shows you didn’t take the time or didn’t care to proof your work.

Step 7. Pay attention to the tone of your letter or email. You want to come across as professional, clear-thinking. Although if you are writing a letter to support a cause or persuade someone to take action, a little emotion may be necessary. But don’t overdo it.

Step 8. Avoid personal attacks. Focus on the issues you are writing about. There are ways to express dissenting opinions rationally and intelligently without resorting to personal insults, which only makes you look bad.

If in doubt about your ability to self-edit your personal communications, have someone you know and trust proof it for you.

This same process holds true for social media posts. Write down what you want to say on paper first, set it aside for a few hours, then come back to it. You may decide to tone it down, revise your comment or not post it at all. There is no reason to respond to someone’s comment on social media right away. Buy yourself some time and put thought into your response. What you say and write reflects on you, for good, bad or worse.

Self-editing is an important part of the personal communications process. By following these simple steps, you can communicate with colleagues and customers with greater confidence and integrity, and they will see you as someone with whom they want to do business.

Three Reasons Twitter Helps Your Business – And Three Reasons It Doesn’t

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In recent months, we’ve witnessed countless ways that Twitter has either helped or hurt a person’s business or reputation. It doesn’t take much for a person’s comments on Twitter to stir up an avalanche of responses, for good, bad and indifferent.

Twitter is a platform for sharing news, data, comments, stories, images, videos, observations, and a whole lot more. Marketers love the medium for its ability to help their businesses create brand awareness and connect with new and existing customers. But as we have seen too many times before, it can also hurt your business in terms of lost opportunities, lost customers and damaged reputation.

(Editor’s note: I am currently not on Twitter though I do see benefits of it for customer engagement. On a personal level, I don’t feel a need to use it to gain followers because I value my privacy far too much. Facebook takes up too much of my time as it is.)

According to a Pew Internet survey as of February 2018, 24 percent of Americans use Twitter on a regular basis, or about 67 million people in the U.S. That’s a huge increase from 2012 when only 13 percent of Americans used Twitter. Still, in recent months, the platform has fallen behind Instagram, which boasts 27 percent of American users.

Demographics tell a larger story. Four out of 10 Twitter users fall in the 18 to 29 age group while 27 percent are between the ages of 30 and 49. If your business targets these age groups, Twitter is the ideal platform to market to them.

There are a few downsides to consider when using this platform. Below are three reasons Twitter can help your business and three reasons to use it with caution.

Three sound reasons for using Twitter:

1. Brand awareness. If you are just launching your business and you are looking to build your customer base, Twitter can help create awareness for your brand. The key is to interact regularly with followers. Don’t push your product or service too much or too often, which will only turn people off. Being overly promotional is a common mistake with new business owners.

Instead, share your insights about the latest news, your knowledge and your commitment to the industry, related to your brand. Keep it professional, which increases your credibility with customers. Make sure people understand who you are and what you do.

2. Customer engagement. Once you’ve built your following, you have to keep them following you. Keep them engaged by sharing tips and tricks related to your business. If you run a tax business, for example, you might share an idea for saving money or a new update from the IRS that could impact their next tax return.

Many businesses also turn to Twitter for faster customer service. The key is to respond to customer complaints or feedback fairly quickly. That’s important because many customers have short attention spans these days. A recent survey by Sprout Social finds that 89 percent of social media messages to brands are ignored. The average time that a brand responds to a complaint is 10 hours while the average user is willing to wait only four hours. That’s a huge gap of time. The sooner your business responds to customer complaints, the better you look in the eyes of your customer base, and the more likely they will stick with your company.

3. Reputation management. By providing valuable information to your followers, you are seen as an expert in your field, which only boosts your reputation. For example, a physician specializing in women’s health might post links to reports about the latest breast cancer research and follow up with additional posts to comment on it. Each time you post a comment, an idea, an observation or link to a new study or an article of interest to your customers, you are seen as the go-to expert in that field, and your customers and clients will continue to seek out your professional opinions. In fact, they will continue to expect the same level of knowledge and expertise each time.

Three ways Twitter can hurt your business:

1. Gaining followers is more important than gaining customers. Twitter is a communications platform designed to help you develop meaningful connections with people. When you focus exclusively on its ability to tell you how popular you are, however, then those connections have no meaning for your business. At the first sign of trouble, those followers will have no reason to stay and will likely abandon you. Focus on the quality of relationships rather than quantity.

2. There’s no guarantee that your followers will translate to actual customers. Followers are just that – followers. But are they the right followers for your business? Are you reaching the right audience in terms of demographics? If you serve high-end customers but your followers aren’t in the same income bracket, you might have to rethink your marketing approach.

3. It’s too easy to abuse and misuse. As we’ve seen too many times before, comments can spread like wildfire in the Twitter-verse (see Roseanne Barr, Kathy Griffin). Faster than you can say “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to write that,” the damage is done. As your own brand, it’s imperative to mind your manners when you are on social media. Avoid getting too personal on the medium; keep it professional if you use it for professional purposes. Twitter and Facebook are great for connecting with people but it is also easy to post something without thinking about the consequences. That said, it is possible to express a dissenting opinion without resorting to personal attacks or bullying tactics.

Twitter is a valuable platform for marketing purposes, but it’s not for everyone. Not everyone in your targeted demographic will be on Twitter either. As long as you play it smart and avoid the minefield of trolls and critics hiding in the Twitter-verse, Twitter can be an asset for your business.

Related reading:
Why Do Normal People Struggle with Twitter?
10 Reasons You Should Stop Using Twitter Now
Don’t Write Off Twitter

 

Gummy Vitamins May Be the Key to Your Business Success

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I was out shopping for vitamins recently. I was overwhelmed by the numerous options available on the store shelves. How many versions of multi-vitamins could one person possibly buy?

I was especially intrigued by the availability of gummy vitamins. Gummies – those sweet, squishy, fruit-flavored candies that are a favorite of kids and adults alike – were being sold as vitamins. For people like me who have a sweet tooth but hate taking pills, gummy vitamins seemed like a godsend. For years, I had a problem remembering to take my vitamins. Vitamins are a necessary evil. You have to take them to achieve good health, but taking them can be, well, a real pill.

I decided to take a chance on those gummy vitamins. I love gummy candies anyway, can eat a whole small bag of Haribo’s in one afternoon.  Whoever came up with the idea to combine vitamins with gummy candies is a genius. Since I started taking them, I never forget to take them.

That shopping experience got me thinking about other innovative products on the market today. What makes them unique? What do they offer consumers that other competing products don’t? Why are they successful?

The answer is simple. They solve a problem.

The gummy vitamins provide a solution to individuals like me who have a hard time remembering to take vitamins. Turn them into a sweet treat, and people will gladly seek them out and take them regularly. Who can say no to candy?

Self-adhesive stamps is another genius idea. What problem do they solve? While most people don’t use stamps these days, choosing to use email and online billing to conduct business, stamps still come in handy for sending greeting cards and donations. (Yes, I still mail my donations and greeting cards by snail mail.) Self-adhesive stamps save time and I avoid the yucky experience of licking stamps before affixing them to envelopes, and I don’t get a horrible aftertaste from the glue the way I did with traditional stamps. Instead, self-adhesive stamps affix to envelopes with minimal effort, and makes mass mailings much easier to complete in shorter periods of time.

There are numerous examples of products like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps that solve a problem. What makes them special? What makes them successful? Like gummy vitamins and self-adhesive stamps, these products solve a problem.

Think about your own business, product or service. What problems does it solve for your clients and customers? How will it make their lives easier and better? Once you understand the problem that your product or service can solve, it’s much easier to market that product to the people who need it.

The same concept holds true if you are the product you are marketing to potential clients. Think about your own talents. How are they unique to the marketplace? What solutions can your talents and experience provide? The more you understand your own talents and qualities, the better able you will be able to solve a client’s or employer’s problem. And the more successful you are likely to become.

What do you think is the most innovative product or service on the market today? What problems do they solve? Share your thoughts below.

What We Can Learn about Client Service from Nursing Professionals

first-aid-kitWhile recovering in the hospital after surgery recently, I had the chance to quietly observe the nurses and medical staff as they performed their jobs each day. Of particular interest to me was the way they interacted with me and the other patients on the floor. Their bedside manner spoke volumes about their integrity and professionalism.

These nurses earned my respect and admiration because, no matter how complex or dreadful the task – from cleaning bedpans to taking blood pressure readings – they always remained cheerful and courteous. They never let the pressure of the moment or the messiness of the task get them down. More important, they never allowed any personal judgments, prejudices or emotions they might have had to interfere with their interactions with patients.

Observing them in action made me think about how we interact with clients and colleagues. What kind of bedside manner do we show to our clients as we go about our business day?

I believe there is a lot we can learn by observing nursing professionals in action. What practices can we adopt in our own businesses to make sure our clients – our patients – are comfortable? What kind of “bedside manner” can we develop that reflects positively on us personally and professionally while giving our client-patients what they need? If we adopted the same cheerful disposition of most nurses, how would that impact our relationships with clients?

1. Be cheerful and courteous.

No matter what kind of day we are having, or what we may be experiencing in our personal lives, we can’t let those emotions interfere with our interactions with clients. Set aside whatever prejudices and personal dramas you have. Always be positive, and always put the client first. This is what they mean by “service with a smile.”

2. Offer assistance at every opportunity.

Check on your client-patients often. While in the hospital, a nurse or assistant checked on me every couple of hours, even if it was to ask, “How are you feeling? Do you need anything, any pain medication? Let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.”

Schedule time to call on your clients, even if it’s just to say hello. Ask them how they are doing. Remind them that you are there to help them with whatever projects they have. Even if the call does not produce any immediate results, the fact that you called tells your client that they are important to you. And they will remember that the next time they need someone with your expertise.

3. Be patient with clients.

Hospital patients who have gone through surgery need time to rest and recover. They don’t move or respond quickly. They may feel groggy and achy. Give them time to heal. Allow them to move at their own pace. Your clients too may require extra care and patience when making a big decision that could impact their business. Give them the information and resources they need, but be gentle and patiently guide them to the decision that’s best for them.

4. Be thorough and efficient.

It’s natural for clients to ask questions, just as patients ask lots of questions of their medical team. This is an opportunity to really show your knowledgeable and compassionate side. Provide the information clients request, share different options for business solutions, and be clear with your instructions. Offer to repeat the information if clients don’t understand something. Doing your job thoroughly and efficiently shows that you respect your client’s time and demonstrates your professionalism.

Clients are our patients, and our “bedside manner” is our customer service. If we performed our responsibilities as cheerfully, competently and compassionately as nurses do, consider how much better our relationships would be with our clients, and how much better that would be for our business.