Sharing documents and the Open Document Format

What’s The Open Document Format about?

If you ever send or receive computerised documents by email, this is important for you.

Have you ever you received a document that you did not have the right program to read (Word, Office, Adobe, docx, pdf etc), or the contents were rearranged? And isn’t it frustrating to have to upgrade software you are used to just because others do?

The Open Document Format helps.

What is a document format?

When a computer saves something you have typed on the screen, it puts it in a thing called a file. The file is what you attach when you email it to someone, and the format is the way that your program writes the file.

Now, various computer programs write their files in different formats. It’s as if one saves your document in language A and one saves it in language B. The person the other end can only read your document as you wrote it if their program also reads that file format or ‘language’. If you have the same program, about the same age, then you will be ok.

Why don’t documents get saved in the same universal format?

There is a technical argument that some formats cannot cope with new, clever things that software companies invent for us to use. So formats need to change every few years.

There is a commercial fact that if you get enough people on the same software, everyone else has to buy it in order to share information. Equally, if you tweak your format every few years then everyone has to buy an upgrade in order to keep in step, so as a software supplier you sell a new program to write letters even when the old one still works fine.

What is the Open Document Standard?

Adopting the Open Document format is the UK government’s attempt to decide which of the file formats is comprehensive enough to cover most needs, and suggest that is used for all communication. My opinion of the reasons for this are:

  1. in order to make their documents available to everyone, the govt would need to issue documents in every format that was around, and that takes time and cost
  2. it costs UK businesses a huge amount of money each year upgrading when many do not need the functions provided by the ‘latest upgrades’
  3. being tied to one software supplier just to read documents is not a competitive market
  4. most importantly, some software suppliers do not publish details about how their format works. So if that software company goes out of business or stops supporting its ‘outdated’ formats, both you and the govt lose the ability to open and read older old documents!

Why should I use the Open Document Format?

  1. To eliminate the familiar problem of someone asking you to resend in a different format, download a new program or upgrade
  2. to give you the choice which word processor you use
  3. to give you the chance to invest in new software when you need to, not when incompatibility forces you to
  4. so that you will still be able to read your own documents in years to come

How can I use the Open Document Format?

Most software packages now allow you to change the ‘default’ format when you save a file. It will be in your user settings and you will also be asked when you install new software. You certainly do not have to spend any money to start using this standard. There may be a few minutes needed in training, but it is very simple. You only need to alter the default once.

Libreoffice and google docs have automatically used this standard for years. Libreoffice is used by millions and can be downloaded for free, so give it a try whatever you already use – it will look very familiar and does most things well in my view (I’ve used it for ten years now).

Further reading

More details from the UK government here.

Guardian comment here.

An article about how some software suppliers worried about how they might lose the ability to keep you tied in with them here.

writing web pages for better search results

Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation

However good your copywriting, a web page is only useful if people find it. This simple introduction explains the basics of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Remember, this is a basic introduction and not a replacement for getting a professional to work for you. It’s intended for those who add news and information pages to their websites or blogs and want them to attract more web traffic.

Finding Web Pages and Getting Higher up Search Results

  • People find web pages in 2 ways:
    • from a link in a site, because of a good menu structure
    • from typing something in a search box
  • most searches are done on google (so focus on that first)
  • google’s aim is to have one perfect answer to every search, not millions
  • a page should relate to one subject – if you want to cover a lot in a summary, then each term referred to justifies its own page rather than a paragraph later in the same page
  • in the above case, the ‘detail’ page has a link to the main one. A search finds the detail (which is google’s job), your links provide the context (the author’s job)
  • google makes an index of a page based on the following, in order:
    • page title (any reasonable content system allows you to specify this separately from the page name)
    • page description – this does not appear on the page when displayed, it is the 160-character description you see in the results of a search
    • page keywords – the most important words the author thinks people will type in a search box, in order to find your content
    • headings
    • content or web copy
  • the first thing you need to do is decide what people will type in the search box, in order to find what you have written (see paragraph below)
  • then write a page description and title, using these key words
  • then write the headings – use the key words and not more creative headlines
  • finally, write the copy

Searches and keywords

When someone types a word or phrase into a search box, this is called a keyword or key phrase. The author’s job is to anticipate what people will search for – remembering that by definition they are looking for information, therefore they may not use jargon or know technical terms.

Google has a tool to help you here (if the link fails, find it by searching for “adwords keywords”).

How it works

  • you type in what you think people will search for in the ‘word or phrase’ box (i.e. your draft keywords) and click on ‘search’
  • the screen will show the phrases google will look for in its index, in order of relevance, in a few columns
  • the competition column indicates how many other sites are trying to get found – high competition means a load of search results
  • the ‘local monthly searches’ column indicates how many searches with this phrase take place each month, in your country

The list will indicate what google interprets from your keyword, and how people would typically search. This is the most important part of writing a web page because it helps you decide on the most common, not the most precise searches. You can only educate people by starting where they do, so the fact that people may search in an imprecise way is your job to cope with!

A Worked Example

I entered ‘asbestos guidance’ in the search box.

  • it has low competition and about 390 searches in the uk each month
  • the most relevant phrase was ‘asbestos awareness’, getting 9,900 searches
  • clicking on the top of the ‘local monthly searches’ column sorts it in order – the most searched for, relevant phrases are about health and safety – the first ones about asbestos then follow

From the 2 minutes spent on this keyword, I would be using the keywords ‘about asbestos, what is asbestos, asbestos removal, health and safety and asbestos survey’, all of which attract many more searches than the title I had in mind, asbestos guidance.

Conclusion to Copywriting for the Web

How ever well-written, a web page is useless until people find it. By considering what people will search for in general, you will be able to help google offer your page high up in a search. You then write your page taking the key words people understand, and educating them to the overall level of understanding that you want to deliver.

Expecting people to search for your jargon from the start is a guaranteed way of communicating with nobody.

Making the copy both engaging and attractive to a search engine is another skill, not part of this article.

Enjoy your writing.

Andover Personnel Group

Meeting and LinkedIn presentation

28 November 2012


There is a lot of guidance on the internet and in publications, on how to do things step-by-step on social media and particularly LinkedIn. However, it is not so easy to find out how to evaluate and create a relevant plan for best results for your organisations. Members of the Andover Personnel Group wanted to explore how to form a plan, rather than just diving in and assuming they need to know every feature, so we held a discussion during a meeting.


The discussion was wide-ranging and started with some facts and figures about social media usage, before moving on to ‘what’s in it for us?’ Some of the points that were particularly noteworthy were:

  • the levels of use and demographics of visitors
  • the amount of time people spent (or did not spend) on the various sites
  • how simple it is to input information with almost no validation
  • the impact of employees’ individual profiles to an organisation
  • separating the substance from the background noise


There was no doubt that asking ‘why?’ before ‘how?’ is better than simply diving in because everyone else is. As a result, everyone went home with a series of actions they would take to ensure that their organisations reviewed their social media plans in a considered way.

Although we talked around the slides a great deal, the presentation slides (pdf format) are here for those who want them for review.

Contact me to arrange facilitation for specific projects for ideas in your organisation.

Regulations for Online Sales

Internet Sales

As we lead up to the festive season a lot of people will be buying and selling online.

If your business relies on internet sales, or (selling online) then you need to know about website compliance – distance selling regulations that will apply to you. There are loads of guides to do with website marketing and how to sell online, but it is well worth reading a good guide on how to comply with the rules and regulations that protect people who buy online.

Online Selling Rules

Items bought via your online shop will be subject to the Distance Selling Regulations, and there is a lot of information in the Distance Selling Hub run by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in the UK. The five key principles below are taken from the OFT website and if you want to find out if you are doing the right thing, click our links and go straight to the web compliance tips on their website.

We will add more posts when they issue more guidance on internet sales or internet rules and laws.

Excerpt from the OFT site:


Five of the simplest ways to make your website more compliant with distance selling regulations are by doing the following:

Providing a full geographic address
Providing a proper email contact address
Flagging up hidden or unexpected charges early in the buying process
Being clear and open about cancellation rights
Providing a full refund plus refund of delivery charges when things go wrong

Click here for more information on how to make sure your website is clear and accurate


As you can see – straightforward, practical and useful reminders. Do please google+ or rccommend this page using the links below to share it with your contacts.

Ideas and inventions. Part I – is it viable?

I get many emails from people with ideas that they want help in funding or getting to market. I thought I would do a couple of blogs about what you need to consider, dealing with the more common issues first.

Is the idea or invention viable?

So you have a great idea or invention to launch to the world. You are sure it will actually work and you may even have made a prototype. However useful the idea is, you must check it is viable – this means that:

  1. a significant number of people would pay for it
  2. what they are happy to pay is more than it costs to make and deliver AND
  3. there is also enough money to cover the setup costs

There is some fairly simple maths in steps 1 to 3 which I won’t cover here. The principles of 1 and 2 are more significant than the sums.

What problem are you solving?

To be successful your idea must solve a real problem for your customer. Somehow they manage to go through life without your idea – you need to know how they manage now, and be sure they would consider your idea to be a better alternative. It has to be good enough for them to abandon their current arrangements (however imperfect they are).

It is much harder to sell something that is ‘nice to have’ than a real solution. Write down “the problem I am solving is …..”

What is the solution worth?

The world is full of items that are a little better than the last. Your idea must be so much better that people will part with money for it now. Instead of asking “do you agree my idea is better”, ask “is my idea worth throwing away your old one and buying mine now?”


So, the first part of assessing ideas is to ask yourself 2 questions and be honest with yourself about the answers:

  1. What significant problem do I solve?
  2. Is my solution so much better that people will pay for it?

All the steps of assessing your business idea are in the online course “Up and Running“. Contact me to be one of the first to use the new course material.

Succeeding in demonstrations and events

A couple of times I have recently got involved in helping people make the most of their opportunities at events or exhibitions, and someone suggested that I put up a few hints for anyone planning to do a demonstration or have a stand. The notes below are just a short taster of the thought process that can really give you results.

How do I choose the right exhibition to attend?

It can be so tempting and flattering when you are invited to attend or exhibit at a show – with privilege tickets, a guaranteed audience, early discount or other carrot. So always do a bit of research to find out and decide:

  • who typically attends
  • what competition will be there
  • do people visit the event to sell or buy
  • what do you expect your time and money to get you?

What resources do I need?

To some extent, that depends on the answer above – what your aim is. Do you want people to take a sample, book an appointment, experience your product or style of presentation?

If you want people to stop to talk with you then make sure that you have some refreshments ready and space where you can talk undisturbed. All too often people are geared up to give away leaflets and samples but have not planned to help anyone who is really interested. Always have a diary and plenty of business cards, but avoid thinking that success means how many cards you have given out.

Who should be on a stand?

If you are just attending an event, then people on the stand need not necessarily be the subject experts, but they should know what your business or organisation does and does not do. As a minimum they should be able to:

  • make a visitor at ease
  • enquire what the visitor wants and be able to understand their answer
  • explain what your organisation does WITH RESPECT TO the visitor’s needs
  • be able to get them time with the ‘expert’ e.g. book a time for them to chat now or later
  • be able to take detail and make an appointment for a follow-up discussion
  • know when to stop talking and let the visitor think!

Be very aware of the keen helper, who loves what you do but cannot explain it in simple terms or relate it to a visitor’s needs. Equally, a keen helper who is not an expert can provide a good welcome and act as a very good triage system to make you as effective as you can be.

What should I give away?

Basically, something that will remind people of you and which they will not take purely for the sake of it. For example, sweets and pens disappear rapidly but have little benefit to you. Ensure that anything you give out is asked for rather than thrust into people’s hands, and it must contain your contact details and ideally a hint of what you do.

What about doing a demonstration?

In crude terms, do a demo or presentation either when people would not understand what you do from a description, or if they need to see you do it in order to spot the difference from your competition. So a presentation should fit the audience needs, not be a sales pitch. And a free taster session should educate the recipient about you, not just give them something for nothing.

A golden rule is that when you want to demonstrate your skills and not all of the audience can interact, you must have helpers on hand to give people some sort of commentary. Very often an expert can be doing great things and getting a lot of interest, but their helpers cannot capitalise on it by highlighting some of the special bits that they have done to the visitor standing next to them.

Keep your demonstration relatively short (it is not a free training session after all), so that people who found it engaging can speak to you within a very short time and take it forwards. If your slot is too long, they may hang on until you stop but then dash to look at the rest of the show.


  • know what you want to achieve
  • aim to provide a useful and memorable experience, not a sale to every visitor
  • give away things for a reason
  • have enough help on hand
  • ensure your help is fully briefed
  • even if your aims are low key, be prepared for a flood of enquiries
  • make sure that ‘experts’ are regularly on hand to deal with the post-demo interest
  • make the demo useful, and leave them wanting more!

I hope that you have found a few pointers, and remember that each bullet point is a subject in itself. Have fun!

Opening of Camping Pods at Two Hoots campsite

Today I had one of the occasions which anyone in the coaching world loves – an invitation to the opening of a new business, them launching a new product or a new product or service.

This time the invite came form Caz and Dave, who run the Two Hoots campsite near Alresford in Hampshire. They were opening their new camping pods, washing block and kitchen area.

Having had the vision when they acquired the campsite, they have been working on the plans for well over a year. I helped them with their business planning and finances, which benefited hugely from the support of a LEADER grant from the Fieldfare area. All credit to the Fieldfare team, especially Ken Brown and Eloise Appleby for their support in making this happen.

What now? Well, with bookings ahead of the budget and superb facilities, Caz and Dave will be working on the presence of Two Hoots campsite in a many places as possible, and of course making sure that their visitors get the best experience from their stay. I wish them the very best in building on their success so far.

Find the site at

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 Explained

As there is a flurry of shopping happening at this time of year, I thought is worth spending a few minutes looking at peoples’ rights.

It can often seem that the SALE of Goods Act is interpreted differently in every place you go to, so I thought that you might like to see some great resources produced by the Office of Fair Trading for both buyers and sellers.

More comprehensive information will be in the Simply Work for Yourself course (launched in January), but meanwhile here is a link to the Office of Fair Trading site for you to have a look at the information yourself. To save time, a couple of the key downloads are listed here.

Sale of Goods Act – guide ‘at a glance’

Sale of Goods Act – explanatory booklet

Is your shop door open?

I heard a debate on the radio this afternoon about whether leaving a shop door closed puts customers off. Amongst those giving their opinions was an organisation called ‘close the door‘, and there was also mention that keeping doors closed when it is either very cold or very hot is compulsory in New York.

What do you think? Is it a myth with no evidence? Is it company policy? Do you work in a draughty shop?

Well, my personal preference is to avoid waste, whatever the proven impact on global warming. So I respect a shop that keeps doors shut but also understand that the business decision is to pay today’s bills, whatever happens to the climate in 30 years time. With my business hat on the issues are:

  1. Do more customers come in if you have the door open?
  2. Is the profit from those extra customers more than the cost of the heating?

How do you get more retail customers?

In short, you need to understand your customers and what they prefer. In this case your role in running the business is to get accurate answers to the two questions above.

  1. The ideal situation is that people know about you, have decided to buy from you and therefore they will come into the shop. So ‘regulars’ are less likely to find a closed door to be a barrier. The focus is to find out why passers-by would notice your window and what would make them come into an open door. Now we are getting to some quality, focused questions:
    1. What makes a casual visitor slow down?
    2. What do I want to say to them?
    3. What extra difference does the open door make?
    4. What can I do that will be as powerful as an open door, in encouraging people to come in?
    5. Could part of my brand be a green or environmental policy and the fact that my shop avoids waste?

      Notice that we are making an assumption that shop windows are to attract new customers; service and value keep them.

  2. To know whether the profit from the extra customers is worth the expenditure on fuel, you need to take careful note of the number of people who come in, at what times, what percentage of those people buy something, how much they spend on average and what your fuel costs are. If you are not measuring this you are only guessing.

    Now you can get back to the kind of questions that will help you find the best answer for your shop:

    1. How can I make those who do come in, more likely to buy something?
    2. Am I open for the most effective hours? Should I work earlier, later or even reduce my opening hours?
    3. Can I get a better deal on my heating, either by better equipment or fuel supplier?
    4. Do the casual customers turn into long-term supporters?

There is no  right answer – what works depends on how your customers behave. Your job is to use focused questions to understand what makes your customers behave like the do, and become an expert on customer psychology.

Have fun finding out, and use my enquiry form if you would like me to help in your decision-making.