Writing effectively in your startup
Communication between a team or with customers is key to business success. The way that we do this is usually through writing. E-mailing is part of almost everyone’s day, but sometimes we’re expected to write presentations, training materials, proposals, and lots of other equally boring things.
But getting it right isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s never easy. Especially considering that many of us have never really been pushed to write; or, we’ve either entered a job where it’s just been expected of us.
Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts to becoming better at writing. It’s one of those instances where there’s no substitute for practice. To get you started, or to make you feel queasy, I’ve noted a few pointers to consider when writing within your startup.
Less is more
This always used to confuse me growing up (‘how can less be more?! More is more’). But in your business this phrase should apply to your writing. You’re trying to convey a message as clearly as possible. Nobody over the age of 11 is impressed by long words. If anything, people are turned off by long words as it seems like the user is trying too hard.
You should also consider the length of your piece of writing. Because everything is so accessible to us, people are less inclined to read long pieces of text before they move onto something else. Use words sparingly and avoid long sentences. The most important thing is that your message is read and understood, so get to the point!
Business writing is generally unfriendly. What makes it even worse is when words are ‘dressed up’ unnecessarily. It interrupts the flow of the reader if they have to stop and think what the writer means by ‘strategic synergies’.
On a side note, I went to the pub the other day and it said that my beef was served with ‘jus’. In fact, what ended up being on my plate was Bisto gravy. Sometimes it’s actually more meaningful to use the simple word. If the menu had said ‘beef with gravy’, I’d have known what the deal was from the offset.
Apparently, writers who frequently use jargon are trying to disguise the fact that they have little to say. There’s maybe some truth in this, but there are often cases where jargon can’t be avoided.
In my opinion, it’s the worst part of the writing process. This is probably why you’ve picked up so many typos in my writing so far. Typos happen to everyone, but that still doesn’t stop them being treated harshly by your reader.
When proof reading, it’s important to leave some time between checks. Proof reading straight after you’ve written usually doesn’t reveal many errors. Set your piece of writing aside and come back to it a few hours later and you’ll be amazed at how many errors you missed.
Reading out aloud is also a good practice to get into. It’ll reveal any missing words and typos that reading in your head doesn’t normally pick up. I also find putting my writing into a ‘text to speech’ programme useful for noticing mistakes. It’s a bit weird though.
What’s your tone like?
Not all business communication is formal. Formal language is sometimes unavoidable, but like jargon, it can often hide the real truth in what you’re trying to say.
But what are you trying to say?
You’re writing because you have something important to say. You’re writing should answer all these questions: who? What? When? Where? Why? And how?
This is the most effective way to get your message across. This is why a news story will use this same structure.
Another part of your writing is that you’re expecting the reader to make an action based on what you’ve said. A good call to action gets its reader to act straight away. Any hesitancy or confusion in your message will result in a delayed response and probably turn away business. Think about how often we make spontaneous purchases. Giving your reader too many choices can cause confusion amongst your audience, so be assertive.
Most importantly though is that your reader understands what’s in it for them. A good call to action is useless if the reader can reply ‘so what?’ to your writing. For example, few people will care about the technical details of a cars new engine. What they will care about is how this engine is more fuel-efficient and so will save them money. People want to hear about benefits, not features.
If all else fails…
Get someone else to do the writing for you. There are tons of freelancers who can produce just about any content your business needs. Although you’ll probably still have to write birthday cards for yourself.