One of the biggest shifts I see when I teach entrepreneursthe small biz writing ropes is the a-ha moment that comes when they realize they've been writing for the wrong person all along - themselves instead of their customer.
When it comes to writing for their business, most entrepreneurs get SO caught up in what they want to say. Every detail about your journey, products, and approach can feel critically important because you're SO close to it. But one of the best things you can do for your writing is to take a big ol' step back and ask yourself if your customer will give a flying... you-know-what.
A call-to-action - which is when you invite your reader to take action and/or tell them what you want to do next - is, in some ways, the most important copy on a page.
It's usually at the bottom, which means that if someone's reading it, they're INTERESTED. In other words, you've got them right where you want them (in the nicest possible sense of the term, of course!)
THIS is your chance to invite them over the finish line - or at least closer to it.
It's NOT an opportunity you want to miss - but many do. They leave out a call to action altogether or missing the mark with wording that's rote or unfriendly.
I've created a short and sweet (< 4 min) video to walk you through what you need to know so you can take full-advantage of this opportunity to convert your dream customer - or at least keep 'em reading. (Hint: even if you are using them, you're probably not doing it often enough!)
If you'd like more tips like this one, hop onto my email list. You'll receive a free download right off the bat, and then I'll send you a couple of emails a month - always loaded with value. Or if you'd like to keep poking around here on the site, that's great too! Here's a link to the main blog page, or you can pop a search term in the footer if you're looking for something in particular.
Oh stock photography. A necessary evil for many of us #smallbiz folk, wouldn't you say? I've spent several dollars on images over the years - but not anymore.
That's because I recently came across a game-changer of a resource: Librestock. It isn't just a free stock image site; it's a spot where you can (super-easily) search ALL the free stock image sites on the web - in one place. I know. Game. Changer.
Click the image below to access the site. Bookmark it. Use it!
While we're on the subject of photos, I always advocate that more = better. In addition to helping break up content, they are a great way to add visual interest and context.
Original photos (of you, ideally!) are ALWAYS best but stock photos are a-ok too - just make sure they're relevant and don't SCREAM stock. You know what I'm talking about -- those cheesy shots of happy business people around a boardroom table, or posey-posey fitness shots. Luckily, there's lots of good stuff out there these days, that's creative and stylish and totally worth the real estate on your site.
Final word of advice: use photos with permission only. Never ever grab an image from Google. If you use a for-purchase photo without permission (even if it's by accident), there's a good chance you'll be served with a hefty bill (we're talking thousands of dollars). Downloading legitimately from a free site is a-ok, and - of course - paying works too.
I've talked about the importance of making sure your small biz writing is customer-focused. But it's on my mind now (even more than usual) because I'm working on the module of my course that will dive deep into this topic.
I've got a simple gem of a tip in there that I wanted to share with you right now - because it's a beautifully simple way to gauge whether your messaging is on-track in the customer-focus department.
When you sit down to write something about your business, do you think about what you want to say or what your customer wants to know?
When I ask this question in person, l I usually witness an 'a-ha' moment as the person in front of me realizes:
a) These are two different things
b) They've only ever thought about the first one
One of the most powerful things you can do in your written materials - and on your website especially - is talk TO YOUR CUSTOMERS, instead of ABOUT YOURSELF.
Here's how to do that.
Because I'm a writer (although I prefer the term 'communicator', which might explain the tip I'm about to share), people always assume I'm analyzing and judging their writing.
But the truth is, I'm not. I'm actually FAR less interested in perfect writing than you might assume - in fact, I find by-the-book grammar kind of boring. I can almost hear the gasps of horror - let me explain.
If we go back to what makes for good small business copy, it's two (main) things:
In my books, it's much more important to nail these two things than to have perfect grammar. If breaking a few rules makes your copy easier to read, or helps you communicate using your authentic voice, I say do it. But (of course there's a but), that doesn't mean you can throw all the rules out the window.
Here's what's non-negotiable:
And, wouldn't you know, there's a handy little tool - called spell check - designed to make sure you don't mess this stuff up.
What CAN you get away with? It probably depends who you ask, but I fully support the following grammatical transgressions:
My hope is that this removes some of the pressure to write perfectly all the time. Perfection is overrated - so long as you've covered the basics above, I'd much rather you have an authentic and unique voice than sentence structure that would meet an English professor's approval - and I'm willing to bet your customers feel the same.
Staring at a blank screen can be daunting - and never more so, it seems, than when you're trying to write web copy. And it's no wonder - the words on your website are super important. They will represent your small business out there in the world and have the big job of bringing customers through your door.
No pressure, right?
If you're up against that blank screen - or on your 27th draft - here are some tips to get you focused and on-track. These are three of my best tid-bits of advice, designed to engage your customer and leave them dying to work with, or buy from, you:
1. Know your audience and write as though you're talking to them. Before writing a word, think about your dream customer - the person you'd love to have buying from you. Who are they? What do they already know? What is the need or challenge that led them to seek you out? Once you have a really clear picture, write every word on your site for this person.
2. Write less about you and more about your customer. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? After all it's YOUR site, shouldn't it be about you? I hate to break it to you, but: nope. People don't come to websites to learn every detail about that company. What they're actually looking for is acknowledgement of their need, concern, or challenge, and confirmation that you can help. In other words, they want to know that you 'GET' them.
How do we achieve this? By speaking directly about what the customer gets, as opposed to how you provide it. This is a subtle but very powerful shift. Although I recommend this for all businesses, I realize it can be a challenge for service-based shops (like my own). If you can't eliminate the "I provide"s altogether, don't sweat it (I have one on my homepage right now), but do make sure you start with customer-focused statements so that connection and acknowlegement is established first.
3. Don't overwhelm your reader. When it comes to words, less is more. There are lots of ways you can make your copy easier to read, but the most important one is not to write too much. This is a hard thing to do when you're writing about your own business though - every detail probably feels really near and dear to you.
But give it a think - is the story of your trip to Thailand really relevant to your customer? Is it going to contribute to the feeling that you "get" them? Ask yourself these questions, be honest with yourself, and cut out anything and everything you can.
Once you've whittled your words down, make them easy to read by using short sentences and paragraphs, lots of white space, and sub-heads and bullets. (Click here to download my readability cheat sheet for more details and additional tips). Bottom line: big blocks of content are overwhelming for people and they'll be less likely to stick with you.
Aaaaaaand, if you've given these tips the good old college try and are still banging your head against a wall, it may be time to get some help. Many of my clients come to me after really trying on their own. I fully support DIY efforts, but if it's causing you angst or keeping you from moving your business forward, it'll be worth the investment to get some professional help.
Bottom line: give it a try but don't be a hero! You know where to find me if you want to chat (consultations are 20 minutes, always free, and can be booked online).
Two of the most important pieces of content you'll write for your business are your elevator pitch and the text on your homepage. I think of them as foundational elements, from which the rest of what you say and write grows. So it's really important that you get them right.
A while back I talked about the importance of the visuals that go along with the words that describe your business. I think it's safe to say there is no more important visual for a small shop - especially a one (wo)man show - than your head shot. And I just had mine re-done so I thought the timing was right to have a little chat about why they're important and what makes for a good one.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of a) having a head shot and b) having a good one.
You need to show your audience your mug. But, more importantly, the photo you use should (just like your copy) be professional yet real, which is a balance that is sometimes hard to strike. 'School photo-style' professional head shots often look stiff and lack 'real-ness'. On the flip side, I've seen many people crop their head out of a group shot at a bar. Real maybe, but definitely not professional. What you're going for is something in between.
Although I really hate having my picture taken, I'm pleased to say that I think my new shots (taken by the wonderful Emily Doukogiannis) hit the mark for me. My old photo served me well, but it was taken a few years ago when both me and my business were quite different. I feel like these new shot reflects me and my biz as I am right now.
So if you've got a grainy head-shot, or one that's more than five years old, I'd suggest a refresh - it's a really quick and powerful way to give your potential customers a feel for who you are. After all, a picture really does tells a thousand words.
Have you settled back into your work routine after the holiday break? I hope so. One last reminder that if you've got communications-related goals or plans for your business in 2016, I'd be delighted to help you flesh out your ideas and figure out what makes sense.
All year 'round I offer free consultations most Tuesdays and Fridays. But for the month of January I've extended them from 20 minutes to a full half-hour. These are no-pressure; you won't hear any kind of a sales pitch from me. Just your chance to discuss your ideas and gather some feedback. Times are filling up fast, so book yours now, if you haven't already!
Ok. Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about some resolutions for your copy, shall we?
Firstly, we all know what copy is, right? It's your CONTENT - your written WORDS. On your website, in your newsletters, on your blogs and in your pamphlets.
Good copy is, above all, two things: clear and authentic. It also needs to be easy to read or you'll lose people. Moving the dial on these three things is a surefire way to engage your potential customers and keep them reading what you have to say. Here's how to do that:
Whether you're into setting resolutions or not (I personally am not, for the record), the new year is a great time to evaluate what's working and what's not, and spruce things up for a successful 2016. So give your words a once-over and make sure they are following these oh-so-important best practices.
Happy New Year!
Janet Nielsen is a communicator with a passion for helping small businesses succeed.