As a small business owner, what does this one word mean to you?
Does it mean bringing in a certain level of revenue annually? Increasing your client base to a particular number? Reaching a specific goal or milestone, such as a certain number of products sold or services provided?
Or maybe success means something a little more personal, like finally being able to afford a tropical family vacation or creating a business so strong and sustainable that you can spend more time at home (or on the golf course). Everyone has a different definition of success, but there is one skill that can help you achieve it, regardless of what this one word means to you.
It is writing.
Your ability to write well literally affects every area of your business.
For instance, if you’re composing an email or memo to your staff about a new policy or procedure, you want them to read it in a way that makes them agree with the changes you made, going along with it gracefully versus fighting the newly imposed rule or process.
And if your writing is a grant or proposal, your ability to persuade your reader may just mean the difference between keeping your business open another year or having to shut the doors because you can no longer sustain the costs or pay the bills.
Your ability to write well literally affects every area of your business.
Writing effectively is also crucial if you take care of your own marketing materials (your website, social media platforms, pamphlets, or any other written ways you communicate with your target market). If you don’t write in a way that convinces them to buy your products or services, you’ll never be able to grow.
Thus, honing this one skill can make you a more successful business professional all the way around. And it is more complex than most people think.
It’s About Being “Coherent” and “Composing”
When most people think of writing, they think of simply putting words on a piece of paper to share a thought or idea with someone else. However, writing is actually much more.
In fact, if you look up its definition, you will learn that it involves the “skill of marking coherent words” and “composing text.” Coherent and composing…two results that can sometimes be difficult to obtain.
In some regards, writing is kind of like creating a song. You want your words to speak to the heart of the receiver and compel them to become involved, take action, or do whatever it is you want them to do to support your small business.
So what can you do to become a better, more impactful writer? Here are seven tips to consider.
Tip #1: Keep It Short
Have you ever found yourself engaged in conversation with someone who loves to talk? While it might be interesting to listen to him or her in the beginning, spend too much time together and you’re going to start tuning the words out, daydreaming about your upcoming golf trip or going through your to-do list in your mind while they ramble on and on. And on.
Well, the same is true when it comes to writing. If you’re long-winded and want to give every minute detail, even if it doesn’t matter, your reader is going to start tuning you out. They’re going to start skimming through whatever you send them, trying to figure out the important details on their own. This means that they’ll likely miss something you really wanted (or needed) them to know all because you didn’t just get to the point.
Being brief also lessens your risk of being misunderstood, as sometimes adding words just muddles a message, or even places the emphasis in the wrong spot. So, instead of risking that part of your message will be lost or misinterpreted due to the length of your content, aim to be as brief as you can. Supply just enough information to share what your reader needs to know, then stop. Don’t write another word.
Sometimes you can get away with one word messages. For instance, if you’re writing an email to your management team to get their thoughts on a proposal submitted by a client, just attach the proposal to the email and write “Thoughts?” This is much more brief and concise than, “I’d really like your thoughts on this proposal from ABC, so read it and let me know what you think because this is important to me…yada, yada, yada.” With just one word, it’s pretty clear what you’re looking for and it will save your reader time.
Of course, it isn’t always as simple as just using one or two words to convey what it is you want, but, as Stephen King says in his book On Writing, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” In other words, don’t be afraid to remove your words if they don’t add value to your writing.
Tip #2: Choose Easy-to-Understand Words
One of the most complex things to read is anything related to health. With all of the long names for the different conditions (like “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis, a lung disease caused by dust inhalation), it’s easy to get lost in the words. That’s why a lot of health-based organizations are asking professionals in this field to make their materials easier to understand by writing at a seventh or eighth grade reading level, which is something you should be doing as well.
It can be tempting to try to “pump up” your writings in an effort to make yourself sound more intelligent or to “wow” your readers, but taking this approach may just make them lost. Plus, the easier your writings are to read, the more likely it is that they will actually be read. If your readers find your words too difficult to follow, they may not take the time.
For this reason, stick to words that most people will know and understand. For instance, instead of saying “utilize,” just say “use.” Leave out “acknowledge” and replace it with “admit.” You get the point.
Along with choosing smaller, more common words, don’t forget to watch your use of jargon and slang. While saying things like “Let’s hit a homerun!” or “We need to play like it’s third and ten” may make sense to you, someone who doesn’t watch sports might be completely lost.
Even if it’s a phrase used in common, everyday language in the U.S., if you’re writing to someone in another area of the world, he or she may not understand the meaning. So learning to write this way all the time can help you eliminate confusion or misunderstandings both when communicating with someone in the next cubicle or when conversing with someone who doesn’t even live on the same continent.
Finally, pay attention to your use of industry-related terminology. When you’re communicating with other professionals in the field, it’s okay. But if you’re writing to someone who isn’t familiar with what a “spectrometer” is or knows about “calibration,” you’re better off choosing other words so they can easily understand your message.
Tip #3: Use Small Paragraphs
Another important writing tip is to use small paragraphs. The bigger you make the blocks of words, the easier it is for the reader to feel overwhelmed or get lost in the message. Reading large paragraphs can also be difficult for people with certain conditions, such as ADHD or some types of learning disabilities.
That’s why you’ll find that my articles consist primarily of two to four sentence paragraphs. It’s easier on the eyes and it enables me to break my points down into small sections so they’re more enjoyable to digest.
Sometimes a paragraph can even be one sentence. This is a trick often used if the writer wants to give a particular set of words more meaning, as it makes the point stand out more predominantly.
It makes it more important.
Tip #4: Think Like the Reader
No matter what it is you’re writing, the first thing the reader is going to say to him or herself is, “Why should I care?” In fact, if you pay attention to your own thoughts every time you read an email, article, or news piece, you’ll notice that you do the same. Remembering this when crafting your own writings can help you come up with words that are more appealing to the reader.
Put yourself in his or her position. Think about what you would want to know first, second, and third. What types of questions would you have that need to be answered? And if the message you have to send isn’t a pleasant one, such as denying a promotion or handling a complaint, what could you say to help the reader see that, while you may sympathize, you’re unable to give them what they want?
The more understood and valued the reader feels, the better your message will be received. So take a look at your words and see how you’d feel if you were the one who received them. If they don’t sit right with you, modify them until they do.
Tip #5: Give Your Words Life
Have you ever read something and thought, “Wow! There’s more life in my carpet than in those words?” Well, that’s the last thing you want your reader to think when taking in your content, but luckily it’s something that’s completely avoidable, simply by inputting some of your personality into your writings.
People fall in love with other people. This means that the more you can get them to realize that you’re a living, breathing human being, the more likely it is that they’ll want to do business with you. It’s the basic premise of the three keys to marketing success—getting others to like, know, and trust you. They’re all critical to your growth!
One of the best ways to give your words life this is to write like you talk, something that’s known as conversational writing. This helps others get to know you on a more personal level because they feel as if you are having a conversation with them, versus just talking at them.
Granted, this isn’t always possible, like when you’re working on grants or contracts or proposals, as these generally require a more bland approach to writing. But it is something you can do with emails, memos, and other slightly more informal pieces.
Give your readers something to look forward to. Make them happy to open up and look at whatever it is you send. Get them excited about who you are so they’ll want to read your words over and over again.
Just one word of warning: be careful if you use humor, as it can really backfire on you, especially if what you consider funny can be considered offensive or demeaning to someone else. If you do want to make your writings a little on the funny side, Social Media Explorer recommends that you use your humor selectively and “pick your targets carefully.” The last thing you want to do is make a statement in jest just to have it hurt your brand.
Tip #6: Tell a Story
Storytelling is an effective writing tool for a number of reasons. One, it can help make complex ideas easier to understand. Two, it can compel a reader to want to know more about your business, it’s products and services. And three, it gives you a more personable image, which works in your favor because people want to do business with other people…not just buildings with four walls.
In fact, this one tip alone is so powerful that TED has published six talks on how to present a good story. The point is that storytelling can do great things for your business. That is, as long as you use it at the right time.
Blogs are great places for telling stories, as are newsletters. People love it when you let them into your life, sharing recent happenings and giving them a glimpse of what it’s like to just be you.
Your “About” page on your website is another great place for stories. It enables your readers to understand your journey and really get why your business is so important to you. The more they can connect with your thoughts and values, the more likely it is they’ll want to make you their primary product or service provider.
Tip #7: Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
This final tip cannot be stressed enough. Proofread, proofread, proofread. And do it to absolutely everything you write.
When you send out emails, newsletters, memos, or marketing materials that have mistakes in them, you come across as either someone who is sloppy or just doesn’t care. Either way, you lose.
That’s why it is so absolutely important that you take a couple minutes to go over your content once you feel like it’s complete. Do a spelling and grammar check. Look for missing words, words that don’t belong, or any wording that doesn’t make sense.
Something that I’ve found to be extremely helpful as a full-time freelance writer is to read the words aloud. This makes it easier to pick up on any problem areas, because if I can’t say it easily out loud, it isn’t go to be easy for the reader to process in his or her mind either.
Use these seven tips to hone your writing skills and you will ultimately be more successful in business. Any that you think should be added to the list? If so, feel free to comment below!
I’m always interested in learning other small business owners’ thoughts on relevant topics and issues, so if you have a unique article idea, feel free to contact me at [email protected] (put “Businessing Magazine” in the subject line, please). If I use it, it’s a free link to your website!