How to Write an Effective Out-Of-Office Reply

Use even small communications well

https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithpr/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithpr/

“I am OOTO until (Date) I will return to you as soon as I can.”

I received an automated reply like this from an employee of major, recognizable company. (No, I’m not going to tell you which one.)

It came across to me as clipped. Casual. Non committal. Unprofessional even.

You probably make use of an out of office responder at some point in the year–maybe regularly. Responders are helpful. They can be a great way to leave a positive impression on the writer every time you use them, so take the C+ approach.

Be clear. State that you are out of the office until a certain date. You do NOT have to say why.  Avoid the use of acronymns. (Did any of you wonder what OOTO meant?)

Provide a contact. Give the writer an alternative contact, if appropriate, especially if you’ll be out for an extended period.

Change it up. If you use out-of-office replies regularly, change the wording so it does not become overly familiar to those who write you.


State your committment to respond. Let people know that you will be reviewing your email and that they should receive a reply by ______. (You are not obligated to respond to every email, so a good way to put this is: “I will be reviewing my email again on Friday April 10. Should your email require a response, you can expect to hear from me by Monday April 13. Otherwise, thank you for the information you provided.”)

+Plus: An out of office reply is a great opportunity to be appropriately clever, and leave a pleasant vibe.  A short motivational quote, or a unique way to say “thanks” for their business is appropriate.

Let’s re-write the example above. Instead of

“I am OOTO until (Date) I will return to you as soon as I can.”

How about:

Thanks for writing! I am out of the office speaking at a conference (near the beach–rough life I know)  and will be reviewing my emails again on Friday, April 10. Should your email require a response, you can expect to hear from me no later than Monday, April 13.  In the meantime, XYZ company appreciates your business very much. Thank you for trusting us with it.

Other pointers:

  • If you choose to be clever, make sure you are appropriate to your industry. (A marketing pro may write differently than a lawyer.)
  • If on a vacation, it can paint a positive image of your company by saying, “XYZ company believes in employee wellness, so I’m currently enjoying a vacation.”
  • Turn the out of office reply OFF upon your return (or set the right on/off dates.)

Every bit of communication you do reflects either positively or negatively on you, and your company. Make even the small, routine ones like these, count!

For another resource with some helpful ideas on crafting out of office messages (some that even oppose what I’ve suggested)  click here.

 

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Introducing our new logo!

A subtle rebranding

BB HOPE full LOGO plant on Left 1

 

Not long ago, a billboard that had been present at the entrance to our city for as long as I can remember (turns out it was 14 years or so) was changed. I didn’t see it myself because I don’t travel that route frequently. But a local radio personality pointed it out, and I knew right away which billboard she meant. She felt a void when driving past the billboard now–the familiar smiling face of the realtor featured was a sort of joyful greeting in the morning. Fortunately, the realtor plans to bring it back at some point.

Who would think that something like a billboard would make that much difference to commuters?

In a similar fashion that’s what branding is about. We get used to seeing familiar logos and colors to represent organizations we’ve become comfortable having around. But like a room that needs a fresh coat of paint once in a while, a strategic “re-branding” can bring new life to the familiar. (With that in mind, I look forward to seeing the new billboard.)  It’s a risk. After all there have been re-branding disasters. But many are successful in portraying their foundation while being more relevant to where they are going–and growing.

H.O.P.E. Unlimited is going through a bit of rebranding. Back in the latter part of 2014, I felt it was time to narrow the business focus a bit and specialize in virtual assisting. I also had regular opportunities to teach in the business soft skills niche (non-computer skills like team building, leadership, communication, time management, organization, etc. all in professional contexts.) So I subtly changed my motto from Helping Other People Excel to Helping Overwhelmed Professionals Excel.

Finding this direction to be working, I’ve continued on the path to focusing on helping entrereneurs, NPO’s and individual business execs with their everyday tasks, while also teaching or speaking to groups of employees. This meant reframing some of how I was writing blog posts and what resources I am considering writing or developing.

The most recent step was to do a little freshening of HOPE’s logo and brand palette.

Other than the motto change, H.O.P.E. has had the same logo since I started my business back in 2010.

New.logo.without.white.space cropped

I’ve always liked the bright colors, the leaves representing growth, and the fluid feel. I didn’t want to make a major change. Still, I felt some tightening was in order, and thanks to my graphic design co-hort, Amy of AT Your Design,  (who also serves on HOPE’s team) we made some subtle modifications and are happy to introduce them. (See the new version at the top of the post.)

Here are some points about the re-brand:

  • The change is intentionally subtle and is more of an update than a complete re-do
  • Many of the meanings mentioned below came to mind after the logo was re-done…it was amazing how reflecting on the changes opened my eyes to so many things I want HOPE to portray…it happened very organically and naturally!
  • We maintained some consistency with the past, so that materials branded with the “old” logo are not dramatically different than the new one and there isn’t a need to go back and change everything on which the former logo appears. I see this new logo as one cooperative with the other.
  • We changed the four leaf cluster to something more modern and minimalistic. The potted plant represents:
    • A connection with many professionals who have a plant on their desk or in their office
    • A contained (organized) foundation which acts as roots.  I want to give clients a reliable foundation, and center for their admin work and professional growth
    • Three areas of service: virtual assisting, teaching/speaking, and writing
    • Upward growth: helping others excel and achieve their vision
    • Minimalism: aiming for simple, logical systems that foster results
  • We used three types of fonts:
    • Blocked font represents strong support and a clean, efficient, stable professionalism
    • Script font portrays handwriting, elegance, and friendliness
    • URL font represents creative, standout and solid resources with space to reflect and refresh
  • We maintained most of the color palette used in the past although we have added purple and replaced the black with brown, knowing that black or white can be used when appropriate as classic colors. Each color has meaning that ties in with characteristics I want to be vital parts of what we offer clients and students:
    • Brown – down to earth, stable, having substance
    • Green – growing, natural, refreshing
    • Blue – visionary, dependable, peaceful, committed/loyal
    • Orange – bright, fun, friendly, energetic
    • Purple – elegant, excellent, spiritual/faith centered

All in all, we HOPE all the elements that went into the rebrand achieve the goal of presenting HOPE Unlimited as a vital member of your business team and/or your personal development plan.

BB-HOPE-plant-LOGO

2016 Reader Survey Results

Thanks for the feedback!

Blog SurveyThank you to all that participated in the reader survey in the month of April. The feedback was helpful and I thought I’d share the results and my corresponding conclusions here, as a transition back into the regular educational blogging that will pick up again next Monday.

The following statistics are based on the feedback of the respondents and hopefully may also reflect the feelings of the general readership. I’m also including what I’m considering, based on the feedback and my schedule and thoughts.

How may times a month do you read the blog?

Nearly 60% read the blog posts everytime they come out with 20% reading it at least three times a month. Given that about 80% read it so consistently, I’m planning to continue blogging regularly.

What frequency of content is ideal for you?

While close to 60% like a weekly post, a significant number (33%) would welcome twice a month.  One mentioned that it depends on their workload at the time, which is understandable. This is interesting, and I am thinking that I might take one Monday a month to send something very simple or visual, particularly if it is the week the 5 on the 15th comes out.  I also conclude from this that there is no need to add something separate on a different day of the week, which I had originally tried as an experiment.

Rank the types of content in order of favorite type.

Here’s the order:

  • Blog Posts
  • Quick tips
  • 5 on 15th
  • Hope & Henry
  • Video

Hope & Henry and videos only took about 10% of the votes. This helps me see that this type of content is much less preferred than regular posts and tips. Thus, I’ve decided to table Hope & Henry. I still plan to do a video here and there, but may concentrate that type of thing into other resources like courses.

Do you read/interact with my material on social media?

A little over half of respondents admitted to “not much” interacting on social media. The other almost half do occasionally or even frequently. So it’s about 50/50 whether social media activity is that valuable to my business. I’ve got an active presence on several channels, and since nearly half of people do use it, I will continue to be active. I will be, however, giving thought to reducing the level of activity.  One thing I believe I will do is to put some blog posts directly onto Linked In more often, given the business audience there.

If someone asked what HOPE Unlimited is or what Beth Beutler does, what would you say?

This had interesting responses, includes “help keep us sane” and giving practical tips. The seasoning of faith seemed well appreciated. Notable is that only a few specifically mentioned my services as a Virtual Assistant. Since HOPE Unlimited has moved toward VA and Business Soft Skill education as our main focus, I am feeling the need to be more intentional in helping readers understand what we do to help overwhelmed professionals excel. However, with my faith being very important to me, I believe there will still be a noticeable flavoring of it in my resources and services.

Bonus: How does reading this blog affect your work and your overall life?

Most, if not all, respondents, decided to answer this bonus question, which I greatly appreciate. Some quotes:

 

Reading the blog helps me to slow down and focus on things that matter.

I appreciate the honesty and personal touch.

It is a weekly break to learn new things.

I feel supported in my efforts to be organized and effective in my business.

Gets my mind to think about my work in a more organized manner so I can do it and still be calm enough to look for Jesus along the way and be a blessing to others, too.

Perhaps the most touching feedback of all came from a professional who experienced a major loss in recent years, and was slowly gaining her passion for work again, finding organization to be her biggest issue. She thanked me for doing this and “caring about us.”

That brought tears to my eyes. This is the reason we work folks…not just to make a living, but to impact lives.

Thanks for letting me into your worlds.

 

I’m back…sort of

snorklineHello readers,

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was taking a blogging break during the month of April.

April has been a full month. I turned 50, and we took a birthday cruise, surprised by dear friends that showed up on the cruise itself! I spoke for an Administrative Professionals luncheon, and got booked for a few more training classes.

Honestly, I found it pretty challenging to “re-enter” the routine after vacation, and still don’t feel that I’ve quite fallen into a rhythm yet.  It’s great that business is on a positive trajectory, and it’s requiring wisdom to balance my responsibilities.  The wall of pollen we’ve returned to hasn’t been the most agreeable. (Ah the blessing of sea air!) I realized that April was coming to an end and I didn’t feel like I’d completely rested as I’d hoped.

So while the blog is technically back, I’m extending another week or two to myself before publishing regular educational content again.

I’ll pick up next Monday with a summary of the reader survey results, and the weekly post should resume after that!

In the meantime, thank you to those who took the survey, and if you didn’t get a chance, it’s still open for a few more days.

Blessings,

Beth

Friendly Reminder: 2016 Reader Survey

Let your voice be heard! Please take the survey! Click here if you do not see it on this post or in the email.

Create your own user feedback survey

Create your own user feedback survey CA-forget remember

A blogging break

May I make a confession?

Relax

 

Dear readers,

I’ve been publishing a blog post per week for over two years, and have written or co-written at least one book a year since 2012.  May I make a confession?

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. And tired.

The good news is, business and opportunity has been growing. I feel certain in this season that the direction I’m going with HOPE Unlimited is the path it should be on right now. I am thankful to be serving several clients, slowly building a team, and having regular opportunities to teach business soft skills.

The one area that feels dry is writing.

Generally, I try to do a little writing each week, and ideally like to be 3-4 weeks ahead on my blog posts. I also like to have at least a small book in progress at all times. I have ideas filed away and even some videos in raw form, but as I think about trying to add more to the blog right now, it almost feels like a duty.

So I’ve decided to take a blogging break, and get some feedback from YOU!

For the month of April, the anniversary month of HOPE Unlimited and also the month of my birthday, (which happens to be a milestone one this year) the blog will go temporarily dark. However, I’ll be collecting feedback from my readers through this year’s 5-question reader survey.

After you’ve taken a few minutes to do the survey, may I encourage you to use this opportunity to visit some of the blog posts from the past, which I am linking to below? It never hurts to re-read things and try some new applications.

Meanwhile, during the month, in addition to carrying out responsibilities to clients, a speaking engagement for administrative professionals, and prep for a local Lunch and Learn series starting in May, I will be taking some time off to relax, rest, and refresh myself. I’ll enjoy some birthday celebrating, and while I may do a little writing and brainstorming to “get ahead,” you won’t see anything published until May other than reminders about the survey.

I am grateful for my readers–and in the days before making this decision, I received a couple of very encouraging emails mentioning the blessing of the blog. So with those bits of energetic encouragements to kick me off, I go into a publishing sabbatical that I trust will recalibrate the workflow, creativity, and quality of writing, to be an even greater blessing when it returns.

Here are some links to blogs you might enjoy reading in place of the ones each Monday:

Thank you for being part of my audience. I wish you a refreshing spring season!

Beth

 

If I Were Helping Overwhelmed Politicians Excel

Some things I would remind him or her

CA-American Flag

The political climate in the United States right now is, in a word, embarrassing. We’re full of bravado, emotion, and just plain ridiculousness.

Normally, I help overwhelmed professionals excel. Professionals that are far more decent than what we’ve been seeing. So just for a few minutes, here are a few things I would do if hired to consult and help an overwhelmed politician excel. Feel free to apply them to yourself as a professional!

Remember what integrity means.

Integrity isn’t a word you throw around to sound credible. It means you live out what you say. (Which in some cases could be pretty scary.)

Honor your platform.

You have a lot of people who follow your lead. They defend you, they look to you for hope. That’s a huge responsibility. Steward it well.

Know your stuff.

It’s not enough to have big ideas–even to be able to communicate them. Do you sincerely know how to accomplish great things? Learn all you can about what it will take.

Show respect.

Some topics are just off-limits. Show some respect for your family and candidate’s families.

Surround yourself with good people.

You aren’t Superman or Superwoman. You’ll need a great team to help you along. Pick people of character that won’t stab you in the back later or use you just for their own ambitions.

Know when to quit.

Sometimes, you just need to stop. No project will go on forever. If you keep doing it for too long, it will waste time, resources and energy that can be used for new projects that have great meaning. Discern good timing.

What would you add to this list? While I don’t have the opportunity to help overwhelmed politicians, I CAN help myself and you. Contact meif you’ve reached the point of needing a little help, training or encouragement.

 

What ONE Thing Can You Do?

An imperfect work environment doesn't have to mean a lousy day.

Aloft

Aloft Greenville

OPP: You are having a hard time being productive because someone or something is not a perfect fit into your workday rhythm.

A few weeks ago, this was my office. One blessing of my own business is the freedom to work…well, just about anywhere.  I enjoy various locations and coffee shops and sometimes being in the presence of people, while at others working alone in my home office. So here are some thoughts I had the day I worked at Aloft Greenville, during the cooler month of February.)

 

Sitting up here, I have a different perspective of a familiar location in our city…a plaza outside of a pretty new building called “One.” Most of the time I see that from street level. But being “Aloft,” I can notice a few more things.

In our professional life, we can easily get stuck in a rut and start seeing things only from one familiar perspective. Maybe we should take a differenct look at the things that can overwhelm us? Let’s do that, and tie in the idea of ONE:

People: are you getting tired of working with certain people? A variety of people are passing by the plaza below, although it’s still on the cool side here so it’s not as full as it would be. It’s almost lunch hour and I bet it will change! Take a different look at that person you just can’t stand. Can you find ONE thing that you have in common with them? Maybe you both have dogs or like coffee or have both worked at your organization more than 10 years. I dare you to start a conversation over something you have in common.

Workload: I’ve seen workers pulling a tree for landscaping, pushing a trash bucket, and making a delivery. Others are having coffee or clicking away on computers. Everyone probably feels overwhelmed with their workload from time to time. So what ONE task today do you really enjoy? Even if you have a lot of it to do, what about it do you enjoy? Concentrate on the joy.

Environment: as I sit here, while I love the uniqueness of the view, it’s not an ideal environment for working very long. Music is playing that isn’t my first choice for work. An outdoor fireplace is running, but it’s just a bit too far from a table to feel its warmth. The sky is both blue and cloudy, and the wind is active, but the sun can’t seem to stay out.  But I am determined to embrace this environment today. I’m getting over being sick for a week and wanted to be out in fresh air. And you know what? I did some client work, I started this blog post, and I handled a business call, even though the environment wasn’t perfect. What ONE way can you be more productive today even though your work environment may not be perfect?

You see, it’s up to US to change our perspective. Sometimes it means we venture to a different location to do some work, or strike up an unexpected conversation. What ONE thing will you do today to make it better?

As for me, I’m packing up to go to someplace warmer for a lunch meeting.