5 ways to surprise your boss or client

Do you want to be a writing star? Here are some suggestions that might help!

Blame it on my stroke or my house-move but I lost an expensive piece of software recently. I could have sworn it was installed on my computer but when I checked my hard drive the application had disappeared like one of my daughter’s soccer socks.

The software was Dreamweaver (for building websites) and I’d bought it from a mail order source in January. When I thought about it, however, I didn’t remember the software actually arriving and I certainly didn’t recall installing it. Was this stroke-induced memory loss or had the software self-immolated via Fed Ex? I combed through my box of software — nope, nothing in there either.

Then, I contacted the mail order folks. They confirmed I should have received Dreamweaver (they even had the waybill number) and suggested I call Adobe. My heart sank a little because I was woefully familiar with Adobe’s obsession with security codes. But, desperate, I rang them anyway.

Spectacular news!! I didn’t sit on hold for more than a couple of minutes and they found my account right away, had my security code at their fingertips and offered to send me a replacement disc for a mere $20 plus shipping.

Feeling as though I’d just won the nerd lottery, I was transformed from a reluctant Adobe user into a huge fan. And I think the secret to this success was built on one simple platform: Under-promise and over-deliver.

People are always happiest when they get something good they haven’t expected. I think this rule applies to writing, too, so here are five ways you can under-promise and over-deliver to your boss or clients.

1) Don’t write anything until you know what your boss or your client really wants. What’s good writing? You and I could probably agree on what constitutes really good writing and really bad writing. But there’s a huge mass of writing out there that’s neither really good nor bad. And that’s where things get sticky. Much writing can only be evaluated by “taste.” Don’t assume you have the sole correct understanding of good taste. Ask your boss or your client for a sample of what they want from you. Study it. Then replicate it.

2) Make sure your boss or client understands all the steps you’ve undertaken. In my coaching, I inevitably find out that people think of writing as one task — that is, sitting in front of the computer and pouring (or dribbling) words onto the screen. In fact, as I demonstrate in my book, writing consists of at least 8.5 different steps. Make sure your superiors understand what you are doing. Itemize the research involved, the meetings, the re-writing. In short, help them to understand the terrific — and terrifically detailed — job you’ve been given. (This tactic can be particularly useful in justifying your fee.)

3) Don’t just meet deadlines — beat them. Many writers leave their work until the last minute. I call this the college-essay phenomenon. Don’t be a sophomore. Schedule your writing so you get it done early and have plenty of time to double-check it. Then hand it in early. You’ll look like a hero.

4) Use readability statistics. These tools — which measure the readability of your writing — are available at no cost in Windows-based versions of Word. Use your Help menu to find out how to activate them. There’s a bug in later Mac-based versions of Word, however, so Mac users or others might want to try this online version instead. (Ignore the broken English as the top. The software is great.) Please note that you should aim for a grade 9 level or lower. This is not because your readers are stupid — it’s because they’re pressed for time. Furthermore, simple writing won’t sound immature. (This newsletter earns ratings ranging from gr. 5 to 9.) Aim for a Flesh reading ease score of 65% or higher. To improve your scores, use shorter shorter words, sentences and paragraphs.

5) Eliminate all unnecessary words. This advice comes from The Elements of Style by William White and E.B. Strunk. No one likes to waste time when reading non-fiction. Pretend you are going to be paid $100 for every word you can remove. Then do it.

Under-promise and over-deliver. Your boss or client will love you for it.

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