When you work for yourself, running your own little empire of one, all the jobs fall to you. You are operations manager (delivering the core function of your business), you are the finance manager (paying the bills, raising the invoices, taking the money, keeping the books, managing the budget), you are the marketing manager (promoting your business, managing the website/social media/PR/advertising) and you are the admin assistant and tea lady as well – the buck really stops with you! This can be less daunting than the above might first appear because each of these functions could potentially be quite straightforward, but you certainly need to have a handle on all of the above.
This generally means getting up to speed on a range of things you may never have considered before and the learning curve can be steep. One of the most valuable skills you can equip yourself with is being able to write good copy. Being able to write will have a positive impact on all of the above areas. From having good content on your website, being able to create a well-crafted press release and communicate with your customers to making sure you have the tools, such as well worded credit control letters, to make sure you get paid – being able to write well will pay dividends across your whole business.
Here are my tips for improving the quality of your writing:
1. Keep it Simple
The biggest mistake that people who are not confident writers make it to over complicate it. Don’t use longer, more obscure words just to make it sound clever if it doesn’t sound right and don’t add in complicated phrasing when a simpler structure could be used. The Plain English Campaign publishes a guide on writing in clear, plain English and it’s a really useful read.
2. Be Accurate
If your writing is littered with errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling the first thing it will communicate, before any of your intended messages, is a lack of attention to detail. I am a pedant, so rogue apostrophes and badly conjugated verbs leap out at me but even those with a reasonably normal tolerance to mistakes will notice them and they will colour their opinion, regardless of what you’re actually trying to communicate. I may not be the average customer but I could never bring myself to use a garage who offered “MOT’s” or a café who served “panini’s” (but then I am a fine upstanding officer of the Grammar Police!).
I appreciate that writing does not come naturally to some but I cannot stress the importance enough of improving your skills in this area. Take some time to learn the basic rules of punctuation – they are actually easier than you think once you know the rules (as patronising as it sounds, children’s grammar books can be a good place to start they cover the basics and are easy to understand), and use spell check. Get someone else to check your work as it’s difficult to proof something you’ve written yourself and ideally this should be someone who doesn’t necessarily to know your business as they will be able to tell you whether the message is clear (use your partner, mum, friends etc – most people actually like to be asked their opinions so don’t be shy).
Remember, punctuation is your friend: its purpose is to aid understanding. Incorrect punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence entirely. See below:
A cop just knocked on my door and told me my dogs were chasing people on bikes. I told him, “That’s impossible. My dogs don’t even own bikes.”
3. Structure It
Plan out what you want to communicate in advance: jot down the key points and arrange them into a sensible order. You could do worse than to follow the AIDA model used in marketing – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Capture their attention early on, offer something interesting to hold that attention, create a desire for your product or service and provide a call to action – understand what you want them to do as a result of reading that piece (eg call you, e-mail, place an order etc) and make it easy for them to do that.
4. Be Relevant
Always write with your audience in mind and make it appropriate to them, both in terms of content – addressing how your product or services helps them, and tone – using language and terminology that they will identify with. Don’t try and be all things to all people, just focus on the needs of your customers
5. Be Honest
As a marketer I would always advise that you present your products and services in their absolute best light, however be very careful about over-promising because the danger of over-promising is under-delivering and nothing will destroy your reputation more than a perceivable gap between what you have described and what you have delivered. Focus on the positives, but don’t state things that aren’t true.
Like any skill, the more you write the more confident you will become. Why not include a blog on your website and pledge to update it regularly? Not only will it be great practice at writing about your business, it will have additional benefits in terms of visitor experience and search engine optimisation. Above all, don’t be scared of writing – it is any business’s greatest ally!
About the author
Sarah Ainslie is a freelance marketer, copy writer, blogger and mum of two girls. Based in West Yorkshire she offers a range of marketing services to small to medium businesses and also writes a personal blog under her alter-ego Perfume & Trumps! Follow on Twitter @marketingmummy and @PerfumeTrumps.