If you lead a business, you wear a lot of hats. Financial expert, marketing whiz, janitor extraordinaire — to name a few.
Almost every day, you need to put on your “writer” hat. It’s part of running a successful business.
But some of us have writing hang-ups. We don’t think of ourselves as writers. Or we’ve got insecurities about it thanks to Mrs. McGrumpy’s 10th grade English class. As a result, we’re prone to make a handful of common writing mistakes that cause our marketing materials to bomb.
In this blog post, I’m going to explain the three most dangerous mistakes I see small business owners make when they write for their businesses. You’ll see examples of each mistake as well as “rewrites” that show you a better way to approach it.
Once you know to avoid these three mistakes, you’ll be amazed at how much more fun it is to write — and how much more effective your words are.
Making it all about you
This is probably the most common mistake we see here at StoryBrand. When we sit down to write an email, it’s natural to focus on what’s important to us as business leaders.
But you’re not writing for yourself. You’re writing for your customer. It takes a conscious effort to consider what’s important to them in light of your subject matter, and then structure your email accordingly.
One of our StoryBrand staffers forwarded this email to me. It’s from a musician to her fans. This musician had a big idea to share — that she’ll be writing emails with guided meditations. But she frames it up entirely from her own perspective and why it matters to her.
Here’s the copy. Do you see what I mean?
When we read that, it’s hard to care — because we don’t instantly understand how it’s going to add value to our lives as fans. If she’d taken a moment to consider this news from her fans’ perspective, she might have written the email like this:
In my rewrite, I’ve copied and pasted a lot of the same phrases from the original email, but I’ve simply anchored the big idea of the email around the reader’s need. Now, readers can easily see why the meditations are relevant and valuable to them.
If the words you write could apply to anything, it won’t matter to anyone.
In other words, beware any copy in your materials that isn’t specific.
For example, here’s a headline from a local ad in a coupon circular.
“Professional Quality Through Hard Work and Dedication” could just as easily apply to a law practice or a restaurant as it does to this landscaper. The headline does nothing to specifically show prospective customers why their lives will be better by doing business with this company (although the chainsaw image is cool!).
Compare it to this landscaping ad from a different company in the same circular:
This company clearly states the value to their customer: “Get Your Weekends Back.” They understand their customer’s pain point perfectly. You don’t want to spend your only days of free time sweating over your landscaping. They get very specific about how they’ll take away that pain point.
If you’re flipping through this circular looking for landscaping help, you’re much more likely to respond to the ad that speaks directly and specifically to a struggle you’re having. The vague headline of the other ad probably won’t even grab your attention at all.
Using complex or flowery language
For a lot of us, sitting down to write dredges up memories of grammar-obsessed high school English teachers. We feel like we need to “sound smart” in our writing. As a result, we write complex, hard-to-follow sentences. We use five-dollar words. And in doing so, we confuse the heck out of people.
But your readers aren’t taking the SAT. They don’t need to be impressed by your vocabulary. They need to quickly understand what you’re saying. So respect your customers’ time and attention by using plain, straightforward language.
Here’s an example my friend sent me from her eye doctor. It’s an annual check-up reminder, but it reads like someone got drunk one night with a thesaurus.
Hard to wade through, right? Let’s consider how we could rewrite this in plain language and increase the chances of customers actually making an appointment:
This new version is clear and to the point. It’s also 35% shorter. The best way to eliminate flowery language from your copy is to read it out loud. If it sounds stilted or stiff to your ear, it’s time to edit. Don’t say “recognize” when “know” will do. Split longer sentences into two shorter ones. Remember, you’re not trying to win an essay contest. You’re trying to get and keep your customers’ attention.
Writing for your business doesn’t have to be a chore. You can write with confidence, even if you’ve never felt great about your writing skills. When you eliminate these three mistakes from your writing, you’ll be amazed at how much your words can grow your business.