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Writing a Great Reference Letter … and More November-December Questions Answered




A terrific employee is leaving for the West Coast. How do I write her a reference?

Think about the references that have impressed you as a boss. Make it personal. Don’t just repeat her qualifications or you flub the chance to extol her character traits — something a résumé can’t convey. Think of a story when she went beyond the call of duty and how your business benefited. That’s really what a prospective employer is looking for. But don’t go on too long — a page should be enough. As with all writing, the shorter it is, the greater impact it will have.

An employer has asked me to comment on a former staff member’s performance. He wasn’t great. Should I be honest?

Unlike the previous question, this is an area where it’s often best to keep your mouth shut. Unless he signed a release protecting you from legal action, a simple “It’s our policy not to comment” may save you from a lawsuit.

Are you just doing stories devoted to dog/cat supplies?

No. We try to have Pets+ reflect the overall pets market, and since the majority of sales and products center around dogs and cats, you’re going to see more on dogs and cats than on other pets. And we try to focus the ideas and advice on building your business, no matter your pet specialty. But we are always looking for ways to get birds, reptiles, fish and small animals into the magazine, and to that end, we’ll let you in on a secret: The best way to influence content in Pets+ is to join the Brain Squad ( and take our monthly surveys. If you’ve got great ideas, we want to hear them … and share them in the magazine.

What’s the secret to a thank-you note?

That’s easy: Just try to write as you speak. Instead of “Dear John,” say “Hi John.” Instead of “Yours truly,” write “Regards” or “All my best” followed by your name. Before you put pen to paper, type out a draft to compose your thoughts, then copy in cursive. Keep the paper neat. If you really want to wow your customer, order correspondence cards, personalized with your store name and address, or use pet-themed cards.

How can I get better at business writing?

Permission marketing expert Seth Godin did a blog post about this recently. Your question was his headline, and his answer was simple: “Don’t do business writing.” Godin asks, “Have you ever met someone in industry who talks like he writes? You visit a store and the person says, ‘Effective Nov. 1, 2017, we have ceased operations at this location. For further information, correspondence should be addressed to our headquarters.’” No one talks like that, so we shouldn’t write like that either. Before writing your next email blast, social media post or even window sign, say your message aloud — then write that down.

When shopping or dining out, I often meet people who would be great salespeople for me, but I don’t know how to approach them. Any ideas?

Here’s a great one from jewelry-industry consultant David Geller, who advises printing cards that say: “I was very impressed with your sales presentation and service level today when you served me. If you have ever considered changing employers, please give me a call.” Then sign your name. Then, when you go dining, or shopping, or even to another pet business, if you happen upon someone who interests you, just give them the card and walk away. With this approach, if they’re interested, they’ll get back to you. Plus, they can’t talk during business hours anyway.




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