From the April 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Language is important, but equally important is how language is demonstrated," says Don Abbott, a motivational speaker in Sanibel Island, Florida. In other words, it's what you say and how you say it.

Your voice is a tool that can work for or against you. You may already have a commanding speaking voice, but you may not always use it, especially when you're nervous or overexcited. Developing a consistent speaking voice is a simple matter of awareness and practice. Abbott offers these tips:


  • Practice. The increased confidence you'll feel will come across to your listeners.


  • Breathe. Don't talk nonstop; you'll sound anxious and insecure. Allow yourself time to pause, collect your thoughts, take a drink of water, and then continue.


  • Enunciate. Careless diction reduces your authority and can result in misunderstandings. "Also be sure your pronunciation is faultless," says Abbott. If you're not sure how to pronounce a word, find out or substitute one that you do know.


  • Pace yourself. Rapid speech can be difficult to understand, while speaking too slowly may sound like you're unsure of yourself.

Finally, Abbott says, if you're nervous, be upfront about it. "Say something like, `This is not a normal situation for me, and I'm a little bit uptight about it. I hope you'll excuse me if I sound that way,' " he says. "You'll put everyone--including yourself--at ease, and you'll have more control over your voice if you're not so tense."

Collection Protection

When a customer doesn't pay, your ability to collect may depend on how well you protected yourself upfront by using the right language in your sales documents. Those documents include your credit application, sales contracts, invoices and statements.

Attorney Manuel H. Newburger, a consumer law specialist with Barron & Newburger, P.C., in Austin, Texas, offers this advice:


  • State the due date on each invoice. Don't leave any question about when the bill becomes past due.


  • Clearly state the interest rate and terms under which interest will accrue. In some states, the customer must agree to interest in writing; check with your attorney to see what your particular jurisdiction requires.


  • In your credit application and/or sales contract, include a forum selection clause (which states that the debt is due and payable where the creditor is located) and a choice of law provision (which means the law where you are located applies regardless of where the suit is filed).


  • Include a stipulation that the debtor will pay any attorney fees and collection costs incurred at any time, even prior to suit.


  • Get a personal guarantee. If your customers are other businesses, be sure you know who owns the company and have them sign a document that promises to pay you if their corporation is unable to.


  • Have your documents reviewed by an attorney who specializes in creditors' rights to be sure they are in line with the regulations in your state.

Says Newburger, "We have so many cases where if the creditor did even one of these things, we would be able to do more for them."

Mind Their Manners

The quality of the daily contact your employees have with your customers can be one of your strongest marketing tools. That's why Ron Lutwen, president of SFT Inc., an engineering consulting firm in Toledo, Ohio, provides etiquette training for every employee in his company.

"Everyone in our company is selling for the company when they're with clients, and our clients are watching [them] all the time," says Lutwen. "It's important that all our people be able to properly present themselves."

Etiquette lessons ranging from basic table manners to contemporary business protocol are part of SFT's ongoing employee training program. The training is typically provided at noontime sessions (the company provides lunch), where employees watch educational videos on various topics.

Lutwen says the importance of good manners and social skills cannot be stressed enough. "We teach our people general courtesy, including how to eat properly, how to talk and listen, and how to ask questions," he says. "Our clients aren't hiring a company, they're hiring our people, so we have to be the kind of people our clients want to be with, work with and have as part of their operation."

Contact Sources

Don Abbott, c/o Abbott Enterprises, 1413 Causey Ct., Sanibel Island, FL 33957, fax: (941) 472-6338;

Barron & Newburger P.C., 900 Congress Ave., #200, Austin, TX 78701, (512) 476-9103;

SFT Inc., (419) 843-8200, fax: (419) 843-8020.