Improving Car Buyer Trust with F&I Transparency

Improving Car Buyer Trust with F&I Transparency

Anyone who has ever bought a new or used vehicle from a car dealer has most likely dealt with the F&I Manager or their department. F&I or finance and insurance Managers are an essential position in an auto dealership.

Introduction to the F&I Manager Position

Unfortunately, the subjects of finance and insurance tend to complicate anything they touch. And not just in car sales. As I’ve often explained to new insurance agents and advisors over the years, “keep it simple, complexity leads to confusion and mistrust.”

The F&I department is no stranger to this issue. Which is why, after writing about it for years, I decided to create an overview on improving car buyer trust with F&I transparency along with an introduction to the F&I Manager position.

What is the F&I Department?

In the world of car sales, the F&I department plays a critical role in the successful operation of auto dealerships.

The primary function of the F&I Manager is controlling the sales process through vehicle delivery. A car salesperson handles the initial steps in the sales cycle and eventually helps a buyer pick out the type of vehicle, colors, and options, but the F&I Manager handles everything else.

Job Duties of the F&I Manager:

  • Control the Sales Process – Once a buyer commits to purchase a vehicle, the F&I Manager will step in to handle the rest of the sale.
  • Secure Financing – F&I Managers act as middlemen between the bank or financing company and the car buyer. Experienced managers will work with banks to find the best rates for their buyers based on their credit rating.
  • Add-on Products and Service Sales – The F&I Department directly influences a considerable number of departments and profit centers in a dealership. From warranty and vehicle service plans to value-added after-market products such as truck bed-liners.
  • Handle Vehicle Delivery – the F&I Manager is also responsible for the sales documentation, along with making sure the right vehicle gets delivered to the customer.

Since every car buyer eventually ends up in the F&I Manager’s office, the job they do has the potential to influence the opinion of every customer that buys from a dealership.

Industry Best Practices

F&I is an important position. So how do auto dealerships maintain impeccable standards and the use of industry best practices within the dealership F&I Department? After all, one bad day for an F&I Manager can haunt a dealership on social media for months or years.

Profit Motivations of F&I Managers

It’s no secret that F&I Managers are often the highest-paid dealership employee behind sales managers or owners.

The F&I Manager position involves hard work. But the pay level also lends additional insight into the importance of this job within the dealership operation.

According to salary and income website, payscale.com, F&I Managers have the potential to earn a significant income.

Average F&I Manager Income

  • F&I Manager annual pay ranges from $33,346 to $145,461. That includes salary, bonus, profit-sharing, and commissions. (Payscale, Average F&I Manager Salary.)
  • Experience directly influences annual income ranges for F&I Managers. The national average salary increases to $83,000 annually when it factors in the amount of expertise. (Payscale, Average F&I Manager Salary.)

We’ve covered the various job duties, income, and strategic role of the F&I department. Now let’s discuss how to improve the transparency of the F&I process to help improve car buyer trust.

 

Fundamental Distrust

The profit motivations of F&I Managers are frequent discussion topics throughout the internet, especially in scenarios where disgruntled customers feel slighted by their buying experience.

Unfortunately, this leaves the F&I manager in a vulnerable position that could negatively impact both sales and the performance of other departments within the dealership.

If the customers of a business have a fundamental distrust of the sales process, then that business won’t survive.

Skepticism and Mistrust

Your customers need to trust that you have only their best interests in mind. Otherwise, they will find someone that does.

When that trust doesn’t exist, the relationship is adversarial. Everything you do or say meets skepticism and mistrust of your real intentions. It also removes loyalty from the sales equation.

Service-Driven Customer Loyalty

Without customer loyalty, you are essentially turning your business into a commodity operation. Competing solely on price might work for Amazon, but car dealerships need service-driven customer loyalty to remain profitable.

So how do you fix this? You can talk all you want about how building car buyer trust is your goal, but words are cheap.

You need transparency in the dealership sales process, including F&I, before you can build trust with customers.

F&I Manager Transparency

The F&I department handles complicated finance issues for a dealership. As I mentioned above, anytime you complicate something it adds a level of mystery for customers. Unfortunately, that can also lead to a general distrust of the entire process. People don’t trust things that seem overly complicated or takes a lot of time to understand.

F&I Manager Transparency can be accomplished in several ways:

  • Utilization of new advancements in technology and equipment, such as transactional video recording.
  • Introduce customer training to focus on the needs of the customer. Servant leadership training is an excellent resource for this.
  • Management should include the F&I Manager in future discussions about incentivizing bonus and compensation plans. You might be surprised by the quality of the ideas generated.
  • Create behind the scenes videos, explanation videos, and “how things work” long-form content, similar to this article, to show customers how everything works at the dealership.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and anticipate their questions and points of confusion. Then create content to answer those questions before they even set foot in the dealership.

Focus on What Makes Money

In any sales compensation structure, employees quickly learn to focus on the activities needed to earn the most income.

Thus, if you tie your F&I Manager’s pay and future employment prospects to product sales metrics, then increased product sales is what you will get.

Protecting the F&I Manager’s Income

If the F&I Manager has nothing to gain out of a particular sale, they can easily adjust the terms. Fortunately, most F&I managers look at the bigger picture and do what’s right for both the customer and the dealership.

Motivating your employees to do what’s right for the customer is essential to your success — unfortunately, many dealerships design F&I compensation without understanding all the possible outcomes. So protecting the F&I manager’s income becomes a source of contention instead of motivation.

For example, let’s say you had a customer with bad credit that turns down every product sale offered. In this situation, the F&I Manager might be less motivated to close the deal when they consider the extra work required and the negative impact on their PVR (per vehicle retailed) ratio.

Safeguard the Integrity of the Sales Process

Many experienced F&I Managers have workarounds and other techniques to pull from to put the customer in a car without taking a hit to their income or performance numbers. Newer managers don’t have that skills set built yet. Either way, it shouldn’t be an issue in the first place.

That’s why it’s crucial to Implement various transparency steps to safeguard the integrity of the sales process. Otherwise, how would a dealership know that this was happening?

TRAINING TIP:

Transactional Video Recording offers dealerships an additional safeguard to protect the sales process and build employee integrity. For example, your F&I manager may have ideas for solutions that can save deals like the above example, without the negative income aspect. Video provides an additional benefit since the F&I manager can show examples of situations where their ideas would work in real-time.

F&I Manager Tips and Tactics:

  • Understand compliance requirements and be the F&I expert for the dealership.
  • Be aware of their profit goals for the dealership while also protecting the interests of the buyer.
  • Control and guide the sale through the dealership.
  • Be accessible to sales staff to answer questions that might help them close the buyer before they reach your office.


TRAINING TIP:

Ask your manager to practice their F&I presentation and sales process while on camera. Invite them to do this alone until they start to feel more comfortable with the process. Then you can slowly introduce other dealership staff to review videos but only allow positive feedback. A poorly executed or ill-timed joke, regardless of the intent, has the potential to destroy any progress you’ve made. Eventually, your employees should be more comfortable on camera.

Consequences of Inaction are Far Worse

Achieving real transparency in your sales and F&I process is possible only with the buy-in from every employee. That takes time to introduce and train properly. Without it, the essential trust aspect will always be missing from your organization.

The consequences of inaction are far worse than the perceived costs associated with the time and resources necessary to implement a program such as this.

Any unhappy customer can broadcast their negative opinion of your business via the public bullhorn of social media. The reputation damage can take months to fix and cost thousands of dollars in missed sales.

Improving Car Buyer Trust with F&I Transparency

Trust is critical for business success in any industry. That’s why improving car buyer trust with F&I transparency is the keystone of a solid foundation of any size dealership.

Transparency is always a good thing.

And a happy customer will provide you with many years of continued business and priceless word-of-mouth advertising.

The Need for Final Expense Insurance is Already Here

The Need for Final Expense Insurance is Already Here

The saying goes “two things in life are guaranteed, death and taxes.” Unfortunately, the costs to the surviving family after the death of a loved one can be a significant financial burden.

This is where savvy insurance agents and advisors can step-in to help their clients protect themselves when they need it most with final expense insurance.

What is Final Expense Insurance?

It’s a whole or permanent type life insurance policy with a smaller benefit amount, usually from $5,000 to $40,000. The lower benefit makes it more affordable for older consumers to cover end-of-life expenses like a funeral and burial related costs.

These days it’s not unusual to hear about people outliving their life insurance policies. Unfortunately, most insurance carriers won’t issue new life policies beyond age 75 or 80.

Final Expense Insurance fills this void with issuable age ranges from 40 to 90 years (or older in some cases).

Differences Between Life and Final Expense Insurance

As morbid as this subject may seem, introducing clients to final expense insurance coverage is no different than discussing standard life insurance. If anything, the need is much greater due to the age ranges of the intended audience.

The primary differences between life and final expense insurance coverages are smaller benefit amounts, a much broader consumer audience, and a more straightforward application process.

How so? Let’s review some features and benefits of final expense insurance products:

  • A simplified issue whole life policy.
  • Benefits available from $5,000 to $40,000 (or more depending on the insurance carrier).
  • Easy application process, no health exam necessary.
  • Rate and benefit locked in for the life of the policy.
  • Issuable age range from 40 to 90-years-old (or higher in some cases).
  • Affordable rates due to a smaller benefit amount.

To understand the importance of these types of insurance plans, one only needs to look at the specific reason for the smaller benefit amount — funeral costs.

Death Costs Have Spiraled Out of Control

Death in the United States is an expensive event without even considering all the legal and estate issues involved. So, let’s talk about the actual funeral by itself for a moment.

The NFDA (National Funeral Directors Association) estimates the median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial at $7,360. When you add in the burial vault, which is required in many states, the median cost of a funeral is $8,508. These statistics are current through 2016 and the most recent available when this document was published in 2019.

Please keep in mind that these median costs will also vary depending on the area of the country where you live. For example, downtown Los Angeles will have higher average funeral costs than the suburbs of Pittsburgh.

As death costs have spiraled out of control, insurance carriers saw a need for older Americans to protect themselves and their families from these end of life expenses. Unfortunately, obtaining a life insurance policy above age 65 is often cost prohibitive. Final expense insurance seeks to resolve this with smaller benefit amounts and more affordable rates.

More than one-third of adults are concerned with leaving others to pay for their funeral expenses. With many older Americans on a fixed income, the burden of these funeral costs will ultimately fall on their children or extended family. Nobody wants to be the cause of added financial stress, especially when their family is already dealing with the emotional turmoil from the death of a loved one. Final expense insurance can play a part in helping your clients protect their families from this happening.

The Final Expense Insurance Market

Clearly the need for final expense insurance is already here, but what about the market for this product?

With a target audience of older Americans, the final expense insurance market is one of the fastest growing segments of our population.

It should be no surprise to any insurance agent or advisor that the United States is an aging country. These days, it seems like everybody is talking about Baby Boomers getting older. What you don’t hear discussed very often, however, is their children, the Generation X’ers. Just like their parents, they are getting older too.

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers is the generation name attributed to the massive increase of children born during the period after World War II.

  • Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.
  • At their peak in 1999, Baby Boomers numbered 78.8 million.
  • As of 2017, Baby Boomers range in age from 53 to 71.

Generation X

The children of Baby Boomers make up the majority of Generation X. They are sometimes also called the “Baby Bust” due to their much lower birth numbers or the “Forgotten Generation” from living in the shadow of their Baby Boomer parents.

  • Generation X children were born between 1965 and 1980.
  • There are 65.8 million “Gen X’ers,” but they are expected to be a larger population group than the Baby Boomers by 2028.
  • As of 2017, Generation X’ers range in age from 37 to 52.

An Incredible Opportunity

Together these two generations make up a huge population group of nearly 145 million people. This represents an incredible opportunity for insurance agents and advisors to help these families protect themselves from the burden of end of life expenses. The perfect products to handle this are life insurance and final expense insurance plans.

What about Millennials? We keep hearing everybody talking about them. Isn’t our country getting younger? Unfortunately, no. According to the US Census Bureau, “older population” is considered anybody above the age of 65. Back in 1970, that was 9.8% of our population. In 2010, the older Americans group increased to 13.7%. Now it’s growing at a much faster rate. By 2030 older Americans will make up 20.3% of the US population. And 2050 will have an estimated 83.7 million people older than 65.

Annual Death Numbers are Increasing

Sadly, as more people get older, their annual death numbers are increasing. In 2017, there were 2,813,503 deaths in the United States (the latest year stats are available). An increase of 69,255 deaths over 2016. Deaths result in funerals. And funerals cause the end of life expenses that many families need help paying.

The market and the need for final expense insurance is already here. It represents a unique opportunity for the right financial advisors and insurance agents.

Your Focus is Local

The potential market numbers for final expense insurance might sound massive and overwhelming when taken as a whole. But your focus is local and regional customers that are your part of this broader market. Your backyard is filled with consumers that need your insurance expertise.

Even in 2019, it’s relatively rare for insurance agents and financial advisors to be licensed in all fifty states and operate a colossal website serving a national customer base. If this is your goal, great. But you need to start somewhere. So focus on the untapped market in your local community.

The Need for Final Expense Insurance is Already Here

A quick refresher on insurance market statistics from LIMRA’s 2018 Insurance Report:

  • People Need Information: Half of all adults visited a life insurance company website for information on life insurance in 2017. How many of these consumers would have preferred dealing with a local insurance agent or advisor?
  • Online is Popular: 1 in 3 adults either purchased or attempted to purchase life insurance online in 2017.
  • People Don’t Have Enough Insurance: Among the adults with life insurance, about 1 in 5 say they don’t have enough.
  • Insurance Costs are Still a Mystery: Nearly everyone thinks life insurance is much more expensive than the actual cost — especially younger generations. Millennials overestimate the cost of life insurance at FIVE TIMES the actual amount.
  • Most People Don’t Like Needles: Surprise! Those visits by paramed nurses at home or work are still not popular with consumers. Half of all adults say they are more likely to purchase life insurance if it’s priced without a physical examination. Which means most of the consumers you talk to are going to like the simplified underwriting aspects of final expense insurance plans.

The market and the need for final expense insurance is already here. It represents a unique opportunity for the right financial advisors and insurance agents.

Federal Law Prohibits Insuring Marijuana Farms Burning in California Wildfires

Federal Law Prohibits Insuring Marijuana Farms Burning in California Wildfires

This is a sad example of what happens when State Law runs smack into the brick wall of Federal Law. Current Federal law prohibits insuring marijuana farms burning in California Wildfires.

It’s a particularly challenging situation for the approx 15,000 marijuana farms in California. Their crop, marijuana, is listed as a Schedule I controlled substance by the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency). So, technically, it doesn’t matter than states like California have legalized it. Because the Federal Government won’t recognize the state law making it legal, anything that is regulated by the Feds becomes a problem for these businesses.

So, for example, in this situation none of these farms can buy insurance to protect themselves. They can insure their buildings and their homes, but not their crops, which is by far their largest investment.

Wait a minute, if the state has legalized marijuana to be grown and sold, then why does the Federal Government have anything to do with this? Why can’t they buy insurance? Because financial institutions like banks and insurance companies have Federal oversight and can’t operate in violation of Federal law.

Another problem that marijuana farms and business are experiencing is with banking. Similar to the insurance problem, these businesses are having issues because most banks won’t accept their cash and deposits. Trying to run a business without a bank checking account is extremely difficult.

These are just a few examples of the many problems these businesses are experiencing. Regardless of your views about marijuana, it makes sense to level the playing field as far as businesses are concerned.

Federal law prohibits insuring marijuana farms burning in California Wildfires, so now these farm owners are watching their business and life savings being wiped out by fire. It doesn’t have to be that way. If states are legalizing marijuana, then the DEA and Congress should be allowing these businesses to also be in compliance with Federal laws.

This could be an easy solution. All it takes is the DEA and Congress changing marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance. It has been listed as a Schedule I drug since President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances act back in 1970. The Nixon administration didn’t know where it should put marijuana on the substance list. So it added it as a Schedule I.

It’s time to change or at least update this nearly 50-year-old law.

Federal Law Prohibits Insuring Marijuana Farms Burning in California Wildfires

http://fox6now.com/2017/10/15/nobody-has-insurance-california-wildfires-burning-up-marijuana-farms/“Nobody has insurance:” California wildfires burning up marijuana farms | FOX6Now.com MENDOCINO COUNTY, California — Deadly wildfires in Northern California are burning up marijuana farms in the so-called Emerald Triangle.

Blazes have destroyed a number of farms in Mendocino County right before legal recreational sales begin in California.

Cannabis business owners who lose their crops have little reprieve.

“Nobody right now has insurance,” said Nikki Lastreto, secretary of the Mendocino Cannabis Industry Association. “They might have insurance on their house, but not on their crop.”

Cannabis cultivators cannot insure their businesses because federal law prohibits marijuana, which means that financial institutions can’t go near it.

Derek Peterson, CEO of Terra Tech, which grows and sells marijuana in California, estimates that farmers typically invest upward of $5 million in their facilities and as much as $3 million on growing the crop itself.

“If their facilities burn down, a lot of these people won’t be able to get any economic relief for them from an insurance claim,” Peterson said. “There’s no mechanism for recovery to repay them for their loss. It’s a tremendous risk for these people.”

Josh Drayton, spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association, said it’s too early to tell just how many of the state’s estimated 10,000 to 15,000 marijuana farms have burned down.

The 22 wildfires currently raging through California have killed 23 people, with hundreds missing, and burned 170,000 acres along with thousands of homes and businesses. The seasonal wildfires have gotten worse in California in recent years, and this isn’t the first time pot farms have gone up in smoke.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, and recreational marijuana was approved by referendum in 2016. The retail market for recreational marijuana opens on January 2018, and state officials are still working on how it will be regulated and taxed.

Sales totaled $2.8 billion last year, based on medical marijuana alone, according to New Frontier Data.

5 Ways to Build a Brand and Stay Compliant

5 Ways to Build a Brand and Stay Compliant

5 Ways to Build a Brand and Stay Compliant

As an insurance agent, it is vitally important to build your online brand. Unfortunately, insurance agents have very few things going for them when they decide to do online branding of their business. It may not sound fair, but the reality of the situation is you are a licensed insurance professional. As such you are required to be aware of, understand and comply with rules and regulations of state insurance departments and the insurance carriers that you represent.

The best way to stay compliant? Simply focus on you and your insurance business. And limit your online activity to only positive behavior that promotes you and your brand.

Here are 5 Ways to Build a Brand and Stay Compliant

Tip #1:    Understand Rule and Regulations: As a licensed insurance agent, you need always to be aware of regulations that affect your online activities. That includes rules and regulations for both the carriers that you represent and the state insurance departments in all states where you do business.

Tip #2:    Avoid Vague Unverifiable Public Statements: You may think a simple statement like “my agency represents XYZ Carrier, and their products are the best choice for…” That is a no-no without verifiable proof that XYZ carrier is in fact “the best” at whatever you are saying they are. Both the carrier and your state insurance department could take issue with these statements.

Tip #3:    Never Go Negative Online: On the flip side of this issue is the idea of “going negative.” Never, never, never, never go negative. At best, it makes you look unprofessional and childish. At worst, you could lose your insurance carrier appointments or state insurance license for unethical or unprofessional behavior. The best idea is to simply never to do this. Negative statements are hard to prove. It’s also a violation of most insurance regulations to make negative public statements about other insurance carriers, agents, and their products. Look, there are plenty of trolls out there who love nothing better than to pull random people into fights with them online. Do not do this. The world can see all your activities online and the things you say and do never go away. Ever. So, the next time you are contemplating doing something negative, imagine yourself having to defend your behavior in front of an insurance department licensing panel that is deciding whether or not to let you keep your license. Don’t put yourself in this situation.

Tip #4:    Focus on You: I’ve listed all these things you should not be doing. So, what CAN you do? Stay positive, talk about you, your business and the reasons people should work with you. Your goal with your online branding efforts is to establish you as the expert in your local area. If you want to discuss industry news or events, do so without mentioning carriers, their specific products, other agents or providing specific advice that would normally be discussed privately with a client.

For example, you can talk about all the ways that disability insurance can help people without mentioning specific carriers or product names. You can also mention vague generalities related to pricing as long as you add disclaimers. Better yet, leave that to carrier quoting systems or tell your readers to call or email you for a no obligation, no pressure quote.

Tip #5:    Get Yourself Online:    It’s hard to build an online presence if you aren’t online. You don’t have to be everywhere to accomplish this. Create a free Facebook page for your business. I have one you can check out if you like, it’s @Copybrander on Facebook. Twitter is another free account that you should have. I have one for @Copybrander and another for me @LanceGurganus. LinkedIn is another great resource, especially if you work in the B2B (business to business) market. My username on LinkedIn is simply “Gurganus.” Do you have a website? You should. Do you own your domain? You should. Domains and websites will start to cost you a little money, but it’s so worth it for building your brand online. Just remember, you are building YOUR brand, not insurance carriers. Don’t ever mention any part of an insurance carrier’s name in your online accounts. That’s a sure-fire way to get your account shut down and possibly lose your appointment with the carrier.

Regardless of how you get started online, the important part is just to get started. If an insurance buyer is looking for an agent, how can they find you if you aren’t online? And I’m not talking about having some free listing on the website of one the carriers you represent. Then you get lumped together with all the other people that carrier has contracted with in your area. The idea here is to separate yourself from the pack. Developing your online brand is important. You should never leave that to a cookie cutter website that lumps you in with thousands of other agents.

Start today. Get social media. Get a website. Buy a domain. All of these steps are important, but the most important one is just getting started. Do it now!

And if you liked this, don’t forget to follow-me for more. Simply add your first name and email address in the subscription box at the bottom of this page to get notified whenever I post future nuggets of insurance wisdom like this one.

How to find your work life soundtrack for more happiness

How to find your work life soundtrack for more happiness

For as long as I can remember I have listened to music when I did anything like work, study, read or even just doing chores around the house.

Music adds a soundtrack to life. It just seems to make everything… Well, more fun.

When I was a kid, I saw a movie called I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988). It’s a parody film that pokes fun at hero movies of the 70’s. In it, the hero wannabe, Jack Spade, decides to go after the local crime boss, Mr. Big. So, he gets his childhood crime fighting hero, John Slade, to help. When they start walking towards the battle, these musicians suddenly appear behind them.

Jack Spade: [looks at musicians] “Who are these guys?”
John Slade: “They’re my theme music. Every hero’s got to have some.”

The perfect song can make anybody feel like a hero with their own theme music.

Boring repetitive tasks and chores around the house suddenly don’t seem so bad when you’re jamming to some great tunes.

And who doesn’t pump-up the volume when you hit the gym? I may be a mid-40’s Dad, but my gym soundtrack is loaded with Metallica, Motley Crue and various songs from different Rocky movies mixed in. Music sets the mood to workout.

Does Music Hurt Your Productivity While You Work?

What about work? Does music hurt your productivity while you work? Or enhance it? Personally, I believe the right music makes me many times more productive.

I have numerous Spotify playlists that are just for work time. I write content so I’m constantly researching and taking notes. For this I need to focus. I have specific playlists that I can choose for whatever type of work I’m doing. For example, while I’m writing this I’m listening to an instrumental category called Epic Music. It’s a non-vocal, powerful instrumental music genre that’s great for helping me focus and stay productive.

Music with vocals confuses my thought process. Instrumental works great, but only certain types. Old classical tunes put me to sleep.

How did I get hooked on this type of music? Well, a bunch of years ago I started listening to soundtracks to movies that had big battle scenes with instrumental tracks. Like the music from Pirates of the Caribbean and similar films. I’m also a gamer and a big fan of the soundtracks in many of the games that I play.

So, when I stumbled on to epic music on YouTube a few years ago, it was the perfect match. I was looking for music to play while I was gaming on Xbox and most of the artists who make epic music focus on gaming.

My Perfect Work Life Soundtrack

I liked it so much that I decided to listen while I was writing. As soon as I did I realized I had found my perfect work life soundtrack.

Give a listen and see if it works for you. This YouTube video is a Best of Epic Music 2014, one of my favorites.

The sweeping, hard-charging, hyper-aggressive, pump-up soundtrack music that you find in many games today is incredible. Gaming is big business. Many of the soundtracks for more popular franchises like Call of Duty and Halo have entire orchestras that do the soundtracks. It’s awesome stuff.

You can find epic music in many places. One of my favorite non-YouTube work playlists is the Total Dedication gaming playlist on Spotify.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my listening choices for more productive work.

The Relationship Between Music and Productivity

When I started researching this subject, I found an incredible number of studies that have been conducted on the relationship between music and productivity.

These studies verified much of what I had already discovered on my own.

How to Find Your Work Life Soundtrack for More Happiness

#1    Non-vocal music is better for linguist work. Meaning, if you need to type words then don’t listen to music with words. All the studies that I read agreed on this and they are they are spot on. My motivation to switch to non-vocal music happened after I found myself typing the words to songs I was listening to in a whitepaper I was working on. I was tired and the lyrics were getting mixed in with my writing. Non-vocal music is the way to go if you are writing. Or you can just take my advice and go with Epic music.

#2    Music helps people do repetitive work faster and more accurately. If you have something mundane or boring to do that involves repetition, then fire up some music to make it go faster. Highly skilled professionals like surgeons even listen to music in operating rooms to ease stress and help with focus.

#3    Music can also help reduce stress in noisy work environments. According to a 2010 article on noise and concentration in Scientific American Magazine, constant exposure to background noise can cause the release of cortisol in the body. Excess cortisol can impair function in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is where functions like planning, reasoning, impulse control and even some short-term memories are regulated. Problems with this area of the brain can disrupt a person’s capacity to think clearly and retain memories.

#4    Turn off the music to study. A 2010 study in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that no music or noise is the best choice if you need to learn and retain any kind of knowledge. An interesting side note to this study was the fact that you can improve your mood by listening to your favorite pump-up music before you start studying. Music played while you are reading or studying, however, was a proven distraction in test subjects.

5#    What about new music? Unfortunately, it’s almost always a distraction as your brain focuses on the new music instead of tasks or comprehension. In nearly all situations, choosing music that you’ve heard before is generally the best choice for work.

In the old days, whistling while you work might have been sufficient. Today we have many more options available to us.

Hopefully this post has provided some insight into how to find your work life soundtrack for more happiness and productivity.

How to Catch Errors in the Content Writing Process

How to Catch Errors in the Content Writing Process

I have come to the realization that I notice errors in writing more often than most people. Maybe it’s because I am so critical of my own work, but I find it difficult not to hold it against writers who make amateur mistakes in their final work. Lately, it seems like the errors are becoming more prevalent. To be honest, if you consider yourself a “professional” in the business of writing, then errors just make you look bad. So, I thought I would share some of my ideas on how to catch errors in the content writing process.

Notice I mentioned errors in “final work”. Like many professional writers, all of my writing projects go through production stages. Generally, the stages are first, second, third, proofing and final drafts. At least this is how I do it.

So here are several ideas on how to catch errors in the content writing process before your final work is submitted to a client or posted online.

Free-form First Draft

While I am in the early stages of a writing project, I don’t worry about mistakes. I just free-form everything. In my writing work process stages, I refer to this as a Free-form First Draft. Type, type and more typing. Whatever pops into my head gets typed into the document. By the time I am done with the first draft I usually have much more material than I need.

Cutting, Deleting and Erasing

So, the obvious next part is cutting, deleting and erasing. Everything that doesn’t work or flow how I want, gets cut. I don’t trash those parts though. I cut and paste them into Microsoft One Note for possible use in future projects. This has resulted in enough extra material in One Note to write a few thousand projects. I probably write too much, but it’s something I love to do.

I Prefer One Note to Evernote

As an aside here, I have used Evernote for many years. With the updates that Microsoft made to the latest Microsoft Office in 2016, now I prefer One Note to Evernote. It works seamlessly with Word and the other Office programs like Excel and PowerPoint. There are many note taking apps and programs out there. As long as you use one that works for you, that’s all that matters.

2nd and 3rd Drafts

After I am done with my Free-form First Draft and the cutting phase, I switch gears into editing mode for the 2nd and 3rd drafts. I edit, move, cut, paste, and basically do whatever it takes to make my project flow to my satisfaction.

It’s worth mentioning here that I also never complete anything in one day. I always write and then walk away and do something else. Usually downtime like playing with the kids or clean-up something around the house. Basically, anything to take my mind off the current project. When I’m in downtime mode my mind usually continues thinking about my latest writing project. I have come up with some of my best ideas during these between work down times.

The Proofing Stage

After I have edited everything to my satisfaction, I move on to the proofing stage. This is where I get serious about finding and fixing mistakes. I fire up my Grammarly add-on for Microsoft Word and let it scan everything for errors. Usually it finds at least a few issues that need my attention. For example, I have a habit of writing in passive tense and it catches when I do this. Some passive writing is acceptable, an entire document filled with it is not.

Personally, I believe Grammarly makes me a better writer. It catches mistakes, but it also explains the reasons why there is a possible error. Grammarly isn’t perfect, however, so don’t rely on it exclusively. It’s just a great tool to find and fix nearly all your spelling and grammatical errors. Your own common sense is always going to be your best tool in the proofing stage. If it doesn’t sound right when you read it, then investigate it further for errors.

My Proofing and Editing Crew

The next step is get your writing project reviewed by people you trust. I have a group of friends and family that I affectionately call my proofing and editing crew. It’s made up of my wife and some friends that are good at reviewing and catching errors. Depending on my deadline, I will send my final draft over to each of my proofing crew and ask them to review it with brutal honesty. I want them to find obvious errors like grammar and spelling, but I also like more general feedback. If they hate it or don’t understand the point I’m trying to make, I want them to tell me. That’s the brutally honest part.

This step doesn’t cost you anything and gets the people around you involved in your life’s work. Your friends and family should be more than happy to help you out. A simple email, text or call is usually all it takes. Tell them you would appreciate their help reviewing your writing projects before you post them live. Then move on to something else and give them time to do their thing.

I usually set aside one day in my work process just for the proofing crew. They are doing me a favor and it’s rude to send them something last minute and expect them to drop everything to review your writing project. Give them time to get back to you and your final product will have a much better chance of being perfect.

Internet Trolls

I’m sure most people would agree that it’s much better to get feedback from a friend or family member than a troll. Internet trolls tend to be rude and impolite. They are more interested in embarrassing you publicly than helping you write better. It’s unfortunate that people are like this, but it is what it is. You should expect to run into them at some point. So, don’t give them a reason to target your work by posting error filled projects.

Pay It Forward

In this same line of thinking, don’t you be a troll either. When I find an error in content that I am reading, I will take a few minutes out of my day to email or message the writer privately with something quick and polite. Basically, I say something like “Hey John, I really enjoyed this article, but I found an error in the 3rd paragraph where you typed “and and” so I thought I would mention it. As a fellow writer, I appreciate it when people let me know when I’ve made similar errors. I look forward to reading your next post.” Call it professional courtesy or whatever you like. I know I appreciate when other people have helped me like this over the years, so I pay it forward. I always receive a quick reply thanking me for pointing it out and they fix it. It’s simple and you make a new friend.

How to Catch Errors in the Content Writing Process

Hopefully this brief guide on how to catch errors in the content writing process will help you produce better work. Errors happen, but they don’t have to. Adding these steps to your writing process will improve your writing and build your credibility as a professional content writer.