‘All you have to do is write one true sentence – write the truest sentence you know.’ – Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Effective writing is one of the most important foundations of any business. Words are everywhere – they’re on your website, in the emails you send, the marketing collateral you develop, the applications you prepare for the grant applications, investor pitches and awards nominations that help you fund and raise the profile of your business.
However, despite being one of the cornerstones of your interactions with current and prospective clients and investors, many businesses don’t invest in good writing skills.
Why not? Some people think that writing is a skill on par with typing or filing – a learned skill that most people possess that has very little to offer in terms of helping an organisation to achieve its goals. Others think that good writing doesn’t matter – that if the idea is good enough, it will speak for itself.
Why good writing matters
The most pressing reason to invest in good writing and communications for your business is because good communication can make you money, and poor communication can lose you money.
Ever applied for a grant or an award via a written application process? Ever written a pitch for an investor, distributed a press release, developed marketing materials to lure clients towards your brand or built a website that helps people develop an understanding of what you do? Often, these written communications are your first, or sometimes your only, opportunity to address an audience before they make a decision about the value of the product or service you’re offering.
Careless mistakes – such as typos, spelling mistakes or errors in punctuation or grammar – indicate that you either don’t know, or you don’t care about, how your message is received by the people you’re trying reach.
Writing that lacks clarity – either of direction or of expression – can be equally as damaging. How well you deliver your message is a measure of how capable you are of articulating the purpose of your business, your ethos and your goals, as well as the novelty of your idea and its capacity to serve the needs of your audience.
If you’re asking people to put their hands in their pockets, to trust you or to place value in your work, you writing needs to be one of many measures that you use to convince them.
So what is good writing?
Like any form of communication, the sole purpose of writing is to deliver a message. The message itself can be one of a limitless number of things – buy this product, try this service, read this information, be moved by this story, make this decision. But success relies on two key things: how compelling the message is, and whether it resonates with your target audience.
Know your audience
The first and most important step before you being a piece of writing is spending time developing an understanding of who your audience is. A good communications consultant can help you work through this question – it’s also something that, with enough practice, you can learn to do yourself.
Identifying your audience is all about trying to identify what their needs are, or what their point of buy-in is – essentially, what they need, and how your product or service can be responsive to that need. Should you be appealing to their intellect, their community values, their business goals, their personal interests? These decisions should dictate everything, from the style of language you use to the depth of technical or specialist information you include.
For example, if you’re writing a press release, you need to keep in mind that most journalists will see hundreds of press releases a day and work to specific deadline cycles. As a result, you should be writing brief, compelling content that is relevant to the journalist’s readership. Don’t spend your first three paragraphs ruminating on the history of your innovative idea and how it came into being, and don’t release it at 4.00pm on a Friday afternoon.
If you find yourself sitting down to write and you DON’T know who you’re writing for, stop what you’re doing. There is no message without an understanding of the message recipient.
Craft the message
Every message needs a purpose. Once you’ve identified your target audience, you need to feel confident that you have a real and genuine reason for putting your message out into the ether. Try some of these useful prompts:
- Make sure the message is of genuine interest and importance to the people you’re hoping to reach. Spam has no place in genuine marketing campaigns.
- Keep your content clean and free of bureaucratic jargon – there’s no need to say ‘carefully measured nutritional sustenance plan’ when you can just say ‘balanced diet’. Simplicity really is king.
- Be clear on what you want you reader to do in response to your information – do you want them to call you for more information? Attend an event? Buy your product? If you’re providing a call to action, be explicit.
- Be authentic. If you’re trying to reach a youth market, for example, develop a real understanding of the market before you approach them rather than trying to speak their language or lure them to your product based on an assumption of their values.
- Write well, choose your words, deliver a strong message that shows you are confident with your medium and mindful of your readership.
- Don’t compromise on your brand to make a quick sale – communicate with authenticity that shows your company is about more than just the bottom line.
Article written by Claire Thompson