Dr. Katherine Northcutt’s favorite word is rhetoric. Knowing this made her graduate-level technical communication classes at the Missouri University of Science and Technology easier to pass.
Rhetoric is persuasive communicating. The arguable part is the level of consciousness applied to the persuasion.
One could argue that technical writings should contain zero rhetoric. That each sentence, paragraph, chart, or table should exist for informational purposes only. The author’s personal opinions of what is important or not important have no business in this type of communication.
But, Dr. Northcutt would argue, every piece of communication is comprised of rhetoric. As long as humans are communicating, we will be unable to completely eliminate our personal opinions from our writing.
I think about rhetoric a lot now, in the age of “fake news.”
These days, fake news is a common term. If you don’t agree with what is reported, you call it fake news, you attack the source and dismiss it. Although no one uses the term rhetoric, it’s the basis behind many of the “fake news” attacks.
So, in a world where everything can be fake news -- where every idea or statement can be ridiculed to the point where people cease to believe its validity -- how do we know what to believe?
I have no answer to this. I’m not writing to get into politics. This is more of a frustrated rant that’s been going on inside my head for a while now.
I’m writing because I’m wondering if we fall victim to the “fake news” rhetoric in other areas of our life. And if there’s anything that can’t be argued as rhetoric or fake news. Is anything universally accepted as true and real and factual?
My dad says that I only frequent news sources that tell me what I want to hear. I reply, “likewise.”
We all do this. We listen to the good parts. Whether it’s politics, our health, or our businesses, we selectively listen for as long as we are able.
I know that I have done this in my business, and I’m guessing that maybe you have, too.
Here’s an example. My mom used to own a business and she used to love saying “I’ll write it off.” Dinners out, her car payment, food for her in-house parrot -- she’d write it off.
Side note. She adopted this 30-something-year-old parrot when one of her clients -- an auto mechanic -- died. Evidently, there was a lot of cussing in this body shop, because the parrot only knew curse words. He eventually had to be rehomed due to his foul language.
Anyway, as a kid, I thought that “write it off” meant it was a free purchase. That it was basically free. To the individual, it is, because the business is paying for it. But if you’re a sole proprietor, the money you spend is still coming out of your own pocket.
I’m not sure if my mom thought of it as “free” or not. And I probably used this mentality in the beginning stages of my business.
If you write off too many illegitimate expenses, not only might you run out of operating income, but your taxes look like you didn’t make any money. Which leads us to another bit of “fake news” we tell ourselves:
That having our taxes show that we didn’t make much money is a good thing. News flash: if your taxes say you didn’t make much money, it doesn’t mean your accountant is great or that you’re a wonderful business owner. It means you didn’t make much money.
Unless you’re a wealthy person looking for a business to siphon money through, you want your taxes to show that you’re in the black. And chances are, if you’re so wealthy you’re looking for a whole business to write off, you’re probably not reading my blog.
I’m not saying don’t expense items that are legitimate. I’m just saying let’s be honest with ourselves when it comes to the money we’re making or not making. And when it comes to your taxes, if you don’t get honest with yourself, try asking a bank for a loan. They’ll get real with you real quick.
Pre- fake news, I was a business owner but did not understand anything about businesses. I didn’t know what the numbers on my Balance Sheet or Profit and Loss Statement meant. I spent no time setting goals or comparing this year’s earnings over last.
As long as there was money in the bank, I was ok. That was the part I wanted to hear, and I ignored the rest.
The problem was, there was also money on the credit cards.
I lived with a Cinderella mindset about my business. One day, my prince would come and save me. That prince could have been in the form of a huge account, or media exposure that skyrocketed my company to stardom. I didn’t know what the prince would look like, but I knew he was coming.
So I kept running my business blindly, using my American Express to pay for things, paying off whatever I could but leaving enough money to pay rent and payroll.
I’d look at my sales for the day or the year and pat myself on the back. But I was giving myself a short-sighted view of the total picture by not looking at expenses or bottom lines. The prince would come, and I would never need to know that stuff anyway.
But - surprise - the prince never came.
And I had to face some facts.
(Side note to the prince, though: If you ever want to show up, I’d still take you. I’m better prepared now, anyway.)
The good thing about numbers is that they are black and white. They have no hidden agenda, political or otherwise. There is no rhetoric available on your balance sheet. Numbers won’t lie to you, for better or for worse.
There are a lot of reasons why businesses fail, but I believe that an overarching reason is that business owners neglect to look at the parts that don’t look so great.
When, in fact, the areas of your business that are struggling the most, could be viewed as the areas of your business where you have the greatest potential for growth!
But before you can start to improve your numbers, you have to know your numbers. And if you’re new to business, please do this now. Sure, if you’ve only made one sale so far, it’s easy to remember those numbers. But set yourself up for success. Get a bookkeeping software and a plan for updating it weekly or at least monthly. And every month, look at those reports!
At least once a month, I look at my Balance Sheet, my Profit and Loss Statement, and my Budget versus Actual report. Usually, they contain no surprises, but I find it valuable to dedicate an hour or two a month to focus on these numbers.
But those aren’t the only numbers you should examine (sorry). Outside of my bookkeeping software (I use Quickbooks for Hattie Rex and Wave for Lightbox), I also set yearly, monthly, and daily sales goals.
I track the number of website visitors we get, and the conversion rate. I track my website load speed.
I track the revenue from my abandoned cart emails, my email campaigns, and my click rates,; the amount I’m spending on advertising and the return on the ad spend, and the number of followers I have on social media platforms.
I know from experience that the first time you sit down to look at your money -- or the first time in a while -- it can make you sick to your stomach. But I guarantee you that if you just face the music, you’ll feel empowered. You can’t change what you don’t know.
And numbers don’t lie. There’s no rhetoric, and there’s no fake news. There’s black and there’s white. And the best news is, you have the power to change them.