I write for a living. Clients ask me to sell their products, services and unique capabilities in print and online. After 30 years of writing direct response promotions, I can handle just about whatever comes down the pike.
Things get tricky however, when friends ask me to comment on, or to tweak the websites, blog posts, email campaigns, brochures and advertising promotions they write themselves. When egos get involved, the road always gets bumpy. So here are a few universal tips to help DIYers write compelling business copy that gets noticed and gets results. Keep in mind that every medium has its own do’s and don’ts. But that’s a topic for another post.
1. KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY
The subtext here is start with something useful, relevant and appropriate to say. Diaries, memoirs and journals are places to let your imagination take flight. If you want to write a business promotion, start with an outline of your main ideas. Then fill in your thoughts under each heading. Extract the most compelling points and use those as headlines. Go over your copy and replace generalizations with specific examples—the more specific the better. Use action words that paint a picture. Read and refine. Then do it again. And again.
2. DON’T GET FANCY
Clarity always trumps cleverness. My manager at the American Management Associations scribbled “KISS” on one of my first assignments. I thought it was an inappropriate compliment. It’s wasn’t—KISS is an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid. It was great advice then and applies now more than ever. With information coming at us from every direction, competition for a reader’s time is fierce and attention spans are limited. So keep your sentences short and crystal clear. Don’t use multisyllabic (sorry!) words or convoluted thoughts to impress. You want to solve a prospect’s problems, not create a new one. Write at the level of an average 6th grader.
3. BE CONVERSATIONAL
Many writing taboos are no longer observed. Your goal is to come across as REAL. Read your work aloud. Do you sound authentic? Would you speak in that same “voice?” If not, it’s time to lighten things up.
4. BE CLEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT
If you want to make a sale, get a job, get information, generate interest or contributions, you need to ask for what you want. Don’t bury your request in a sea of gray type. And always show why meeting your request will mean positive results for the reader.
5. BENEFITS ARE BENEFICIAL ALL AROUND
Everyone is concerned about him or herself. Your prospect wants to know what the product or service you’re selling will do for him. Every day, when we talk or write, we’re selling our ideas, politics or opinions. The best way to convince anyone of your position is to support your ideas with proof. Focus on reasoned, tangible benefits for your reader and you’ll reap benefits for yourself.
6. TAILOR YOUR MESSAGE
Know your reader. Do your homework. Visit the places they visit. What are their fears, frustrations and deepest desires? Read blogs by and about them. Ask questions. Listen for the way they answer. Then write to their emotional core. Caution: Use jargon with great care if you’re not one of them. Play it safe and have your writing vetted by a member of their group before you send it out.
7. A DAY MAKES A DIFFERENCE
When you’ve finished writing something, put it aside and don’t look at it for at least 24 hours. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to improve your work with a fresh eye and new insights after letting it marinate for a day.
Do you have writing tips you would like to share?