Sunday March 22, 2015

Business Writing Basics

A Baker's Dozen - Tips for Effective Business Writing

Baker's Dozen of Hot Cross Buns to illustrate 13 tips for effective business writing

Running your own business means that you have to turn your hand to all sorts of writing: from meeting notes and emails, to social media posts and blogging. How do you make sure that you write effectively, if writing has never been your “thing?”

First of all, don’t panic! No one’s asking you to write a bestseller or channel some elusive muse. All you need to do is to get your message across – simply, clearly and without distraction. This sort of writing is a business skill that can be learnt, practised and improved upon.

No distractions, no excuses

We can all be judgemental – do you trust the restaurant that struggles to spell its menu? Will you sign up for SEO services from an unsolicited email sprinkled with grammatical errors?

Give yourself the best chance of being noticed, read and acted upon by getting your grammar, spelling and punctuation right. That way, you’ll be making sure your reader pays attention to what you’re saying and doesn’t hit “delete” or indulge in a game of “spot the deliberate mistake.” Always check your writing by reading it out loud – mistakes become miraculously easier to spot! For more important pieces such as say, a blog post or email campaign, a second opinion is a good idea – get a trusted colleague or friend to have a read-through.

A Baker’s Dozen

Here’s a baker’s dozen of tips to get you started and help keep your writing on track. Use them for anything, from putting together a memorable elevator pitch to making your website copy work harder for you:

“Don’t go changing…”

Be yourself – don’t change how you express yourself in order to conform to some jargon-laden, business-speak idea of written communication.
Be consistent – so that people can get to know your voice (your business personality – this will vary in tone according to what you write) and make sure your online self chimes with the In Real Life you.

What’s the big idea?

Keep your writing clear and straightforward by planning your piece of writing. Set out everything you may want to include and then rate and reorder items according to their importance. It’s far better to have one strong message that you want people to remember and act upon, than to be sending out lots of disparate ideas and signals.

Keep it simple

This doesn’t mean dumbing down – just use the simplest language that you can to get your message across, discarding anything that doesn’t move the reader on.

It’s not all about you

In fact, it’s less about you and more about whoever you’re addressing. See things from your reader’s perspective and speak to them directly as “you” (singular) – your writing will come alive if you have just one person in mind (your ideal customer for example) when you’re putting something together.

It’s about them!

Use appropriate language and tone depending on the sector you’re in and who you’re writing for, remember a friendly, chatty style may not be a good fit in every sector. Be clear about who you’re writing for and focus on what interests them (and remember this may not necessarily be what interests you!).

Get found

Keep things on message. When you’re writing online make sure you include the most important keywords (search terms your customers and prospects may be using to find you) you want to be found for. If you need more on this, here’s a great guide to keyword research.

Answer the question “Why?”

Don’t just explain what you’re selling (features) show why your reader would benefit from buying, i.e. the advantages and value your product or service can bring them.

Be true

Don’t go for hype – your reader will see through it.

Get specific

Back up the claims you make with proof, for example a testimonial or research information, presented in an engaging way.

Remember: first impressions count

Use a great headline or subject line. If you’re taking a long time coming up with one then you’re already doing something right! Your headline should be based on the most important benefit your product or service brings.

Tell them what to do

Have a clear Call to Action (CTA) and make it obvious. It’s OK to tell your readers what to do next – comment, click, sign up.

Time’s running out…

If you’re crafting a piece of sales material – imply scarcity and/or urgency.

Make it easy

Make sure that the layout of the finished text is easy to read. A clear headline, text broken up into short sentences and paragraphs, sub-headings, bullet points and white space – all of these help with readability.

Just one more thing before I go:

Be interesting – be interested!

And this of course means different things to different people at different times and in different guises. But, ditching the navel-gazing and being more outward-looking, i.e. that bit above where it says: “focus on what interests them,” should do the trick.

Happy writing!

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