Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Writing for your business: building a firm foundation

When you decide to set up a business from home, you may not have much experience of writing for a business.  What I know from my experience and that of clients is that when you think about writing for your business, it helps to be clear about three things:

1. Your passion for your business

2. What you want to communicate to others about your business

3. The result you want from the communication

As with any aspect of a business, the more you can refine what you do into a system or method, the more efficient you’ll become. That means you’ll not only save time, you’ll be able to respond fast to opportunities to promote your business.  Let’s look at the three points.
  1. Your passion for your business
Very few people go into business solely to make money. Many home based businesses grow out of a hobby, a passion or a talent you have.  This is important because the passion keeps you going when other things fail. But it’s also a vital part in communicating what you have to sell.

How many times have you read brochures or websites and bailed out because the words didn’t involve you? Here’s where one of your major strengths lies.

You love what you do or you wouldn’t bother to do it.

So tell people. Use that passion in everything you write. Remember what fired you up enough to make you want to be part of it.

2.   What you want to communicate to others about your business?

Write down all the positive words you can about what you’re doing. Keep going till you’ve run out of space and breath.

Now go through all the words you’ve written and choose the 3 words that are most important to you.
These may be feelings you have about the way you carry out business; ethical, friendly or green. They may be about the results you can achieve for those who use your products or services.

What ever it is, focus on those. If those were the only three words you could write or speak about your business, would they tell people exactly what you want to say?  It may take you several attempts to come to a conclusion. Please make the effort because being clear about your core values, will pay off every time you write about your business.

3. The result you want from the communication

Make sure it’s clear what you want them to do as a result of reading your words. This might seem obvious; you want them to buy. But remember there may be important stages in between and they need to be spelled out to create the long term relationship you want.

Apply these simple tests to everything you write and you will become a more effective writer.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Writing for your business: How to avoid being stale in your writing.

Last year I had to make a trip to the Far East on family business. The trip was sudden and in some ways unwelcome. But like any experience rather than concentrate on the negative parts of the trip, I’ve found myself more and more thinking about the positives.

One of these was a change of perspective. Not only on a personal level because of the nature of the situation but also as a writer. When writing for your business it’s so easy to become jaded and think along the same lines all the time.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been down in the dumps about a business problem and had the chance to run it past someone else. Don’t you find that even if they know nothing about business, talking the problem through suddenly offers you a solution?

By extension being out of your normal setting can make that even more of a benefit. That distance from all the day to day stuff like the firefighting you have to do that leaves no time to consider the bigger picture.
Being out of my business for a week certainly had an effect on me and it led me to think about some pointers that maybe you can weave into your writing to give a fresh approach or feeling to what you do.

1. What does it look like from over there?

However much we try to put ourselves in our customer’s place it can be difficult. Needs time and sometimes energy.

One way of doing it is to physically move. You may have come across this technique in a therapy setting but it’s very useful in business too.

a) Place 3 chairs in a triangle shape facing each other.

b) First position is that of the service or product provider. From here outline what you have to offer.

c) Now move to the chair facing you (2nd position). Imagine that you’re a person who needs what is offered and make an instinctive response to the offer.

d) Now move to the chair in between (3rd position) and reflect on the two positions, the offer and the response.

It’s surprising what can come up in this exercise. If you feel embarrassed to do it, nobody else needs know about it. You can do it when your home is empty of everyone else. Be open to what might come up. If it’s an objection you haven’t previously thought about then you’re gaining valuable feedback to address in your writing.

2. What can you learn from another type of business?

We often look at our competitors to see how they are writing about the business we’re both in. It’s more fun and offers a different dimension if you look what other people do in another type of business.

You may remember about the delivery companies such as Fedex and UPS who moved to using hubs having seen the idea work to great effect in other businesses.

What businesses can you learn from in writing about your business?

3. Why do the same as everyone else?

The series Mad Men became a runaway success and has influenced so many areas of life such as clothes and decorations. We’re often fascinated by other periods of history.

Some of the most successful marketers of our time have produced great results by using what might be considered old fashioned ways of approaching customers.

If you check out the internet, you’ll find many websites devoted to older styles of advertising and marketing. Not that I’m not pretending that every approach will work in our time. But what you find is that the emphasis was on building relationships with prospective customers and talking to them in language they understood. No barriers of jargon or cleverness.

We know the old saying don’t we, ‘If we carry on doing what we’ve always done, we’ll carry on getting the same results.’  This applies as much to our writing as any other aspect of our lives so a change of perspective could be all you need to make a breakthrough.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Writing for your business: How do you start a conversation?

In a quiet moment last week, I was tidying up the files on my computer and came across something I’d downloaded a couple of years ago and put on the to read pile. Some headings caught my attention, one of which was about the nature of Web 2.0. Even if you aren’t comfortable with these computer terms you’ll probably know what they mean because of how you use the internet. They were talking about the differences in the way our lives are now bound up in using the internet compare say with even five years ago. This has huge impact on how you write for your business.

When I first started networking years ago, I didn’t feel too confident about walking into a room full of strangers and establishing myself as a credible business person. So I decided to ask for help from people I could see were comfortable doing it and then to take some training.

Like any other skill networking needs practice unless you’re one of those naturals. What I’ve also learned is that even the natural networkers work out what they do that gives them results and concentrate on the successful techniques they use.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with writing for your business but the truth is that you can transfer networking skills to your writing when you have decided who you want to approach.

These are the main tips I’ve been given about networking and all of them can be applied to writing.

1. Prepare before you write

At many networking courses, the speaker has reminded us that networking is just that. Working. Not socialising, enjoying the lunch, though of course that’s part of it, but working.

And I’ve talked in different articles about the need to do your research… before you start to write. The clearer you are about your reader, the more likely you are to make contact with them.  With networking, if you know a particular contact you’d like to make will be at the event you’re attending, it’s best to do some research about their company, their possible needs and how you could find a solution for them.

That’s also essential with your writing. You could meet two companies networking who might need your services, but not quite in the same way. So when you write you might talk with two people who have needs for the services or products you provide but would buy for different reasons.

You have to be able to include flexibility for people when you’re asking them to buy, particularly online. Payment plans if you’re offering a high end product or service. Ways to access your material if you’re offering information products. It will vary according to what you sell.

2. Make sure you’re not selling but building relationships

We’ve all met them at networking events haven’t we, those earnest people who are convinced that they and only they have the answer for you and can’t understand why you don’t sign up instantly.

Your conversation should be about the person you’re talking to. Not you. And even if they ask you about your company, you should tailor the information you give them to what queries they may have brought up. Not a blanket assertion that you’re the greatest.

If your focus is on them, then they’ll be interested.

3. Follow up on your contacts

That’s where often we fall down isn’t it after events? We arrive home with a pile of business cards, some notes and an honest intention to do the follow up tomorrow. Or at least within the week.

Then other things intervene. A problem with a supplier, a difficult customer or anything really. And it takes discipline to put those on one side and stop firefighting long enough to do the follow up.

But all the business gurus tell us that is where the business is won or lost. And it’s the same with your writing. Takes a lot of discipline to keep up with monthly updates, whether print or online. Takes a lot of positive thinking when you don’t receive any feedback, good or bad.

Many times I’ve thought of giving up on mine. I’m no different from you in that regard. Except that two or three times a year, that’s the way I acquire a new client. Because I’ve been talking not at them, but with them, sharing what I’ve been doing, my ideas and my tips.

We all like to see major progress in our business development such as the big contract that will keep us going for months. Often we overlook the smaller steps we can take that may not in the first instance pay off. Longer term though they can produce results in loyal clients and repeat business.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Writing for your business: going back to basics

Recently I carried out a website update for a client and I thought it might help to share with you how we went about it. This client has been in business some three years, not a very long period for a business but hers has changed in a number of ways since she started which meant looking afresh at the existing text. When.

To help you I’d like to flag up 3 areas for development we looked at which might apply to your business.

1. The purpose of the website.

When my client began her business, she was an already established illustrator as part of a team but it was the first time she had worked for herself. Proving her credentials as a single source creative was important even given her years of work. Over time her creative output has been proven with her own clients, gained from her previous reputation and now built on.

Because of that her attitude to her website has relaxed in terms of proof needed. Now she is ready and able to offer more services, that are additional proof of her growing personal reputation.

If you are a creative or a consultant coming out of a team, then your business might go through a similar process and at some point you need to check if the balance of proof is correct.

2. How to extend what you offer to visitors

When you start your business, there are 101 things you have to do. Your overall strategy will work best if you can divide it into time periods where you can add in extras. As far as your website is concerned that means ongoing editing but major revision will follow partly in response to your market’s possible needs but also according to your strategy.

For instance you may have decided that a blog is a good idea, but have neither time nor maybe writing experience to make the best of such a tool. Adding a blog at an appropriate point for you can be part of your strategy but it could also come as a response to requests from possible clients to know what else you are involved in.

3. How to strengthen what you can show about your achievements.

One of the areas I see new businesses mishandle in the information they offer prospective customers is not explaining clearly what they do. There is a tendency to assume that because we as the expert know what we do, other people can immediately grasp the same level of detail.

That’s not the case and it often takes many approaches to your market for them to be comfortable with what you offer. This is particularly the case if you have a new product or service.

Eugene Schwartz the great copywriter, divided markets up into different categories and concluded that the most difficult one to write for was the new product market. With every new product or service you’re moving people out of a comfort zone, always a tricky thing to achieve.

So you need to be aware of the maturity of the market for your product or service as part of your strategy of offering information on anything you’re adding on to your current range.  As your business grows, you will have different challenges to meet in all areas of your business; for example recruiting staff, financing your business and so on. It’s no different writing for your business but just as your passion for what you do helped you to gain customers who trust you, so your increased confidence will help you take your customers with you as your business grows.

Which Book

I was just renewing some books online at Derbyshire libraries site.  Instead of racing off the site like I normally do, I had a look around.  Looking for events.  What I found was something called Which Book that gave you suggestions under different categories.  I put some categories in and then let it search.  It was quite fun what it came up with.  One of the guest lists was a librarian from East Dumbartonshire, so it's obviously a country wide system.


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Writing for your business: your New Year resolutions

1. Write little and often.

Writing a 300 word blog entry every day will make more impact on your search engine ratings than a 3000 word article every month. Search engines love content and consistency and whether you post it to a blog, your website or an article bank, over time this produces results for you.

2. Write to one person at a time.

Only one person reads your words at a time even if two people are reading together. Each interprets what you’ve written using mental filters, life experience and needs that are unique to them.

3. Create a story about your reader.

Make sure you know as much about your customers as possible. If you have several different categories of people buying your products then you need to create different stories for them. For example; a financial product for a retired couple and a young couple with a baby needs to achieve different results. Approaching them the same way will miss the target for both of them.

4. Listen to your customers.

It’s too easy to assume we know what our customers think. We need to think about our product or service from their viewpoint. Many businesses think they do that but then write about themselves not about their clients.

5. Break your message down into small chunks.

People need the full story but what they don’t need initially is an essay. However much content you need to include and for some products that’s a fair amount, make sure that they have the headlines of each topic to guide them then make each section clear and easy to understand. If you are hiding something in the text by using long words and difficult jargon, you will lose their interest and potentially their sale.

6. Use rhythm in your writing.

Good writing is like good conversation. It flows, is clear and keeps the interest. Short sentences should be mixed up with longer ones. Avoid including too many ideas in one sentence. And repeat ideas several times in different ways if necessary; that way you’ll underline the important points for them without insulting them.

7. Join the conversation in their head.

How busy are you? Mega busy probably, juggling responsibilities for home, children and work. And that’s before you start juggling the challenges in your business.

Your customers are no different and when they begin to think about buying your product or service, they are already talking to themselves about the pros and cons of finding the perfect solution to their problem. You need to join in that conversation by addressing all the likely issues they have. Avoiding them is not an option. They’ll think you’re fudging for a motive of your own. Be clear about the challenges and be clear about the solutions you can offer.

And prove it.

8. Be specific.

To follow up on number 7, when you prove your case be specific about it. If you have a 100% solution then of course say so. But understand that we’re all sceptics and we want to prove you wrong. Whatever sounds too good to be true usually is.

9. Decide what your message is before you start writing.

The worst thing you can do is sit down and write and then let it straight out to customers.

First; it won’t be the best you can do. I know no professional writers who will allow work to go to clients without checking it at least once.

Second; it won’t be clear enough. At least rough out your ideas in note form before you begin. And at have all your research to hand so you don’t have to keep looking things up as you write.

10. Enjoy your writing.

If you think that writing is like having teeth pulled then that’s how it will read. This is an article to encourage you to write for your business but if you are a beginner it may take you some time to become expert. In the meantime seek help at least with organising your writing if you need to. Pay an expert and pick their brains about how you can improve your writing fast.

Writing needs to crackle with energy and passion. The same energy and passion that you had to set up your business. Use the same approach and even if your writing may not be grammatically perfect, it will say what you want and will connect your enthusiasm for what you do.

And to finish, I wish you all the best for your business in 2012.