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The Business Writing Toolkit

2517652 156aaa68b4 m1 The Business Writing Toolkit
Image by Neil Tvia Flickr

Whether you love writing or hate it, all business people have to do at least some of it, especially since no one seems to actually talk on the telephone anymore. Even if your business sometimes hires professional writers to save time and bolster quality, there’s no getting around doing a certain amount of writing, especially when you’re a solopreneur. So, I’ve put together a basic toolkit of what you’ll want to have in your head and on your desk to write successfully every day.

1) A Modern Sensibility

Evolution in advertising and a revolution in communication, thanks to digital media, have really changed the way businesses talk about themselves. Business-to-consumer is smarter and less salesy and business-to-business is far less stuffy. We’ve learned that legitimacy can be hip—ala Apple, among countless others. So what does this mean for your business writing? It means that you can be creative, be yourself and get new clients all at the same time.

2) The Cult of Personality

Thanks to the Internet, we are all growing accustomed to learning and perhaps sharing more personal information than ever before. This phenomenon can be tedious at times, especially if you are following the tweets of someone who puts the word out every time they brush their teeth. But in the sea of sites, blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter posts, business today requires at least a glimpse of the personality behind it like never before.

That doesn’t mean that you have to deliver too much information about yourself, but it is appropriate to let clients know where you’ve been, where you’re coming from (philosophically and geographically) and what your plans are for the future. Hence, the importance of profiles, “about me” blurbs and bios is obvious and may be why you’re reading this post.

Whether or not it feels right for your business to blog, tweet and spend a lot of time on Facebook, now is a good time to consider a social media plan. You may be doing the work yourself, or hiring someone to do it for you, but all of this cross-platfrom messaging needs an attitude of some kind. The core principle of branding requires a business or personality to take a position, and in this new world of extreme detail, there is no room left to be all things to all people.

You may be the face and voice of your business or  develop a brand that creates an atmosphere of its own. In either case, being specific is the way to make your business known.

3) Differentiation

Personality goes a long way to differentiate a business from the competition, but if you’re in a crowded field, you have even more explaining to do. Is your product or service better for the environment? Faster? Cheaper? More established? More effective? Do you have unique training? Though you need to be concise, be sure to lay out the details of why clients should go with you. You’d be surprised how far your unique approach to your industry goes in making you the first pick.

4) Price Perspective

In this economic climate, everyone is cost conscious. Don’t be afraid to talk about your pricing and why you’re worth it. This goes back to differentiating your service or product. You can break down the cost or talk about the payoff to the clients, which can be emotional or intrinsic. Maybe what you do delivers peace of mind, makes your client’s clients happy or increases revenue for the businesses you work with.

5) Accuracy

One way of building belief in your business is tooting your own horn. But you’ve got to prove it too. When it comes to numerical details, be precise. Don’t round up percentages, for example. Cite particular rave reviews, testimonials and awards and if you and those on your staff have special certifications, say so.

6) Brevity

We all know that good writing requires clarity, and with the planet’s attention span growing increasingly short, now is the time to cut to the chase. Whether you’re working on an email, web content or a newsletter, make it short, sweet and to the point. It’s tough to edit ourselves, but few people we deal with have the time or patience for rambling, so do the work before you send. That means subject lines that lead the messaging for emails, and, in other formats, bullet points and concise paragraphs to break down the point of your piece. Remember, most readers are attention deficient, so help them out before you lose ‘em.

7) Good Tone

A few words about tone. Yes, we want to be personable, immediate and engaging when we write about our business, but we still need to keep it professional. In correspondence, forget emoticons, unless you are also close friends with the person you’re writing to. Also, leave txt abbreviations out as much as possible.

And be sure to leave out all industry jargon. Approach your writing from your readers’ point of view and don’t obscure your message with language that is either too confusing or formal to allow your audience to connect with the ultimate message: that you are so good at what you do that you don’t have to use off-putting language to explain it.

8) Call to Action

Okay, so you’ve crafted an effective written message about your business that defines your product or service and why clients want to work with you. But now what? All of your persuasiveness could fall flat if you don’t hit it home by inspiring them to talk to you or buy what you’re selling. Don’t underestimate the power of a “call today” message. Why not offer a time-sensitive promotion or coupon to get clients interested? Or offer them something free for calling, writing or visiting your web site

9) Grammar Guidance

Good writing is usually invisible, but nothing sounds the alarm like a simple grammatical error. I recommend the following guides for all desks: The Chicago Manual of Style (15th Edition), The McGraw-Hill Desk Reference for Editors, Writers and Proofreaders and The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation, broken out of and extended from The AP Stylebook, which I also recommend.

10)  Spell Check

The following will seem obvious, but it’s amazing what we forget when we’re in a hurry. Spell check! And after you do, read your copy again. P-i-e-c-e won’t be flagged in a spell check, even though what you wanted to use was p-e-a-c-e. Also, in addition to the reference texts I mentioned, have dictionary.com open when you write.

What’s in your writing toolkit?

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