Show Your Work. Be Complete

A while back, I recalled the importance of writing your name at the top or your paper just like your second-grade teacher always nagged. My thought was, on your website and for that matter all of your communications, you should first of all make clear who you are and what point you’re trying to make. Don’t force your audience figure it out – because they may get instantly cranky and tune your message out. You really can’t blame them.

Along the same lines, I lately recalled another instruction from the past: Show your work. Be complete. I wondered if educators still said that. An Internet search revealed some of them indeed do. I found the following at the Math Worksheet Center [with my annotations for remodelers in brackets]:

“When it comes to showing work, it is critical to show the work [explain yourself] in a complete and clear fashion. That is, it cannot just be understood by you, but it must be understood by anyone else who reads it. Jotting down loose or fragmented bits of your work [sales pitch or company message] in a sloppy manner will not instill the confidence in the instructor [potential customer] that you have truly grasped the concept of solving the problem [doing remodeling work]. It also does nothing to disprove a notion that you arrived at the answer through guess work [and have no idea what you’re talking about]. So, let's repeat: Show all work completely and in a neat and clear fashion.”

Not Just for Math Homework

Although intended as an instruction for completing math homework, the guidelines apply aptly to much of the content I regularly see on the Web as well as other forms of communication that come my way daily. In fact, a lot of that daily babble is the antithesis of complete or clear. To be fair, I’m not singling out remodelers here. It crosses social, demographic and industry lines.

Now, for a remodeler who endeavors to convince potential clients his company offers an advantage over his competition, my personal view is that clarity would be one of the traits that would make that remodeler stand out among a crowd of price-cutting competitors.

But I could be wrong. Perhaps there is a new paradigm afoot – one under which clarity or making any sense at all has little or no value. Conceivably, I just don’t grasp the appeal of fragmented, incomplete and inaccurate messages. Although I hope not, perhaps there is an audience for whom gibberish makes perfect sense. However, be warned: If I don’t get it, you’re not getting my money or my attention. And I’m betting the majority of your potential customers will feel the same way.

Here are a few examples of annoying, mystifying and ultimately ineffective communications I’ve come across lately from people not showing their work or not being complete:

  • Recently, I came across a blog written by someone who described herself as “generally awesome,” and who gushed she had “seen the power of social media at work,” attributing it to the “power of angry people on the Internet.” Her idea of “showing her work” was to cut and paste some Tweets and add a few unsubstantiated and disjointed comments of her own. Never did figure out what, if anything, verifiably happened. I lost interest and clicked elsewhere, and that’s just what your potential clients will do if you neglect to get to the point. At the very least, don’t call yourself awesome.
  • On an invitation to an event at a major trade show, the time and location for the affair were missing. Not a big deal, maybe, but as a remodeler, what kind of message does a similar omission of pertinent information send about your attention to detail and thoroughness on the job?
  • A disturbingly significant number of CPAs, when asked to verify in writing certain financial information about their clients, fail to mention the names of those clients in their responses.
  • Similarly, some public relations companies seem hard pressed to identify their clients, where those clients are located, the complete and consistent names of the clients, or sometimes even what the product does.

Maybe customers hypnotized by social media don’t expect you to show your work and be complete – but don’t bet on it. I’ll go out on a limb here and strongly suggest otherwise: Exceeding the expectations of prospective customers in your initial contact with them just might be your best business practice.

Put another way, before you think outside the box or muck about with paradigms, make sure to master the basic principles you presumably learned in elementary school: Write your name at the top of your paper; show your work; and be complete. You’ll be awesome.

Kenneth W. Betz is senior editor of Qualified Remodeler.