As a community college instructor, I often hear students complaining about required courses that are not related to their major.
“I’m never going to use this,” they grumble about certain classes. However, I like to challenge students about how core classes can help them succeed in almost any endeavor. Although writing classes frequently top the list of courses students dislike, developing writing skills can reap huge benefits for business.
Today more than ever, small business owners can use writing skills to connect with customers and to attract new clients. For example, a well-written blog can boost your reputation in the community. A carefully crafted email or newsletter editorial can attract top team members.
Good Writing Can Help You Target Your Audience
Have you noticed how some companies’ websites and social media copy seem to be written with a one-size-fits-all mentality? Well-written, error-free copy that is targeted to your audience enhances your image and helps convey your company values.
First, decide who your target audience is. Then use a style and tone that speaks to that group of people and their specific needs. If you are a financial planner looking to work with baby boomers who are in retirement or nearing retirement, for example, you would use different verbiage than if you were writing for millennials.
One audience primarily is looking to safeguard their assets, while the other is in more is interested in building their assets. If you get your message wrong, you could quickly lose your reader’s attention; and remember your competitor is usually just one click away.
Your writing can reflect your knowledge of your audience in subtle ways by the examples you use and the cultural references you make. Knowing your audience also enables you to make decisions about what details to include in your letter or article and how you should arrange that information for the best impact.
Knowing your audience will also determine the tone you use in your writing. Many blog articles use a conversational tone that works well for connecting with your readers on a one-on-one basis. However, that same casual tone may not work in all circumstances. For example, if you are informing your audience on medical signs and symptoms and options for treatment, you may need a more professional/academic tone.
Good Writing Can Help Persuade Your Audience
In those writing classes my students grumble about, their instructors stress the use of resources. A popular assignment in 100-level courses is the persuasive essay, and credible evidence is an important key to persuasion. Once again, developing your skill in this type of writing can benefit your small business.
After you have determined your audience, you can use your words to persuade that audience to buy your product or service. In addition, as a small business owner, you may use persuasive writing in a business loan application or in a letter to your city council for a zoning change request or permission to add a sidewalk seating area.
Effective persuasive writing incorporates research using reliable sources. If you are trying to convince your customers to switch from the product they are using to your product, or to try out your service for the first time, you will need to convince them that it is worth it. Motivating factors include saving time and money, but most readers will not simply take you word for it. They will want hard facts and figures to back up your ideas.
The internet offers great resources for finding case studies and surveys to back up your points. Be careful to use timely sources and relevant statistics. Quote experts in your field and use reliable testimonials from people you already serve.
Good Writing Can Clarify a Complicated Issue
Thomas Jefferson once said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
Mark Twain advised, “When you catch an adjective, kill it.”
Ernest Hemingway said, “If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”
Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
These great writers all believe in the importance of brevity and clarity. Aim not to write to a certain word length or to fill a certain space, but instead to deliver a certain message.
Clarity can mean the difference between a ho-hum piece of writing and a provocative piece of writing, Choose each word with care, and, as Twain suggests, if you have included words that do not add to your meaning, take them out.
One of the best ways to be clearer in your writing is to read your work over carefully after you have written it. This proofreading process need not be immediate. In fact, you tend to be more objective about your own work if you let some time pass – overnight, if possible – before judging your own prose.
If you read your work for content and for errors too soon after you write it, you may read over errors. We simply get too close to our words when we are writing them, so let a little breathing room take over. Not only will you have better insight as to clarity, but you also will catch more typos if you wait a while before editing.
Another option is to ask a trusted friend or colleague read your work. Ask for honest feedback on your tone, your style and your message. Ask this proofreader to put himself or herself into the place of your target audience.
Good Writing Needs to Be Accessible
Your potential customers or clients are bombarded with a vast array of reading material each day. Websites, email, social media posts and print material vie for their attention. How can you make your work stand out?
The way your work looks on the screen or on the page is critical. Create plenty of breathing room around your words by using bullet points, numbered lists and subheadings. Think about images that can be used to illustrate your words. Breaking up large sections of text offers your reader’s eyes a break and helps maintain interest and attention.
Use short paragraphs and vary your sentence lengths with a variety of short, medium and long sentences.
Create a sense of positivity. How will your information help the reader? You should let readers know the benefits near the beginning of your piece of writing. Demonstrate the value they will gain by reading your work. You can be specific with phrases such as “five ways you can learn…” or “seven tips for a better…” as part of your introduction or sub-heading.
Whenever possible, use the active voice (He read the book) rather than the passive voice (The book was read by him). The active voice is stronger and conveys a more positive tone than the passive voice. Also, try to maintain a positive tone in your work that lifts up the reader – particularly if he or she follows your plan of action.
Another way to “be positive” is by using positive statements. For example, write “be sure to …” rather than “Be sure you do not …”
Avoid the ambiguity of vague phrases. A deadline should not be “upcoming,” it should be in 10 days. A report should not be “lengthy,” it should be 5,000 words.
Good business writing should have the goal of completeness. Try to think in terms of what your readers already know and what they need to discover from your writing. If you are writing an instruction manual for your employees, include the reasons behind those safety precautions, for instance. If you are writing a financial report, be sure to include previous facts and figures so that your reader can make appropriate comparisons.
Good Writing Builds Your Image and Your Team
Your company’s written communication reflects the character of you and your team. Clear, concise writing demonstrates that you value quality.
If you are serious about growing your business, you need to pay attention to all the details of your business. Don’t fall into the trap of churning out blog article after blog article if you really don’t have anything new to say. Focus on quality over quantity. It will serve you better in the long run.
Share your company story – which in the case of many small businesses, is your story. Think about how much we love hearing about the founding of Facebook in a Harvard dorm room or the founding of Apple or Amazon in a garage.
Do you have an interesting story to tell? Tell it in your writing. How you got the idea for your business and built it from the ground up can build a connection with your audience that motivates them to try your service or product.
Another way to use storytelling is to share specific stories about how your product or service has improved the lives of your customers. Don’t shy away from humor when you share these experiences. In addition, poignant stories or dramatic turn of events stories really resonate with readers.
Good Writers Are Readers
One of the best ways to improve your writing is skills is by reading. You will pick up on new ideas, new styles of writing and new information. Read newsletters and websites of your competitors. Join professional organizations and read their periodicals for industry best practices and even anecdotes about your industry.
You can further expand your reading list by delving into the written communications from other small businesses even if they are in a different industry. Learn from the experiences of the small businesses in your community.
In addition, you can use an internet search engine to find out who is doing what you do in other parts of the country or even in other parts of the world. How do they write about what they do? Can you benefit from their examples? Keep a running list of article ideas to use in the future.
Finally, realize that you are the expert in your small business. As such, you have much to offer to your company, your industry and your community. Make every word count by carefully considering your audience, tailoring your message to your audience, aiming to be clear and concise and carefully proofreading your work.
Yes, you can use an online service that checks for spelling and grammar mistakes, but nothing beats two or more sets of eyes to catch typos and grammatical errors. Most spell checks will not catch if you type “form” for “from” or “us” for “use,” for example, but your reader will.
Have a “you” attitude when it comes to your business writing. You are writing for the “you” (your customer), not for yourself. When you keep your audience uppermost in your mind, your company will be the beneficiary.