Tag Archives | business writing

Why creativity is important in writing for business

Painting of peacock and peahen by Gail Armstrong

Peacock and peahen by Gail Armstrong

During the creative writing workshop I hosted in June, I set a free-writing exercise using animals as a prompt. Gail, an artist who creates paintings and drawings of people and places around the North East, wrote about a peacock.

The idea took such a hold that she returned to it as part of her own free-writing practice. As an artist, she was able to visualise her words and draw the beautiful picture of the peacock protecting a peahen that I’ve used to illustrate this blog post. You can see more of Gail’s work on her website.

I hadn’t planned to use that particular exercise in that workshop, but conversations around the table in Beth’s cabin sparked the idea and I felt confident enough to go ‘off script’ and try it.

Creativity inspires creativity. Look at the world of professional creative art. You’ll hear music inspired by books and poems; paintings inspired by music; dance inspired by stories; sculpture inspired by movement. Creativity inspires.

Why creativity is important in writing for business

For all that’s so impersonal about the word ‘business’, business is essentially about people interacting with other people.

From the simplest of individual transactions (“I want that. I’ll pay you for it”), to more complex and subtle negotiation (“I want to be part of that. I’ll give some of my personal data in return”), business is about the exchange of goods, services and ideas between people.

Writing is a creative pursuit. In a world of business, it’s easy to lose sight of that in the midst of targets, focus groups, measurements and ROI. But I hope that in writing for business I never have lost the motivation and desire to be creative.

Connect with readers through empathy

tango dancersWhen Robert Frost wrote: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” he was talking about the power of poetry to connect writer and reader through empathy and shared experience.

In business writing I say: “Boredom in the writer, boredom in the reader.” If I don’t find something interesting in what I write, why should you read it?

It’s up to me as a business writer to find something that excites, intrigues, delights or concerns me and to use that as a means of connecting with readers, customers, audiences.

All business thrives on creativity. Audience, targets, focus and goals are all important, but playing, trying new things, looking for inspiration outside the world of business is vital too.

Looking for creative inspiration?

If you’re looking for inspiration and time to write, join me for my next writing workshop in Northumberland. We’ll enjoy an environment that nurtures creativity. I’ll give you some prompts and time to explore your own writing. And you’ll be fuelled with tea, cake and lunch to keep your inspiration flowing.

Find out more and book your place.

2

Why use a copywriter for your business?

Most of us can write. Most of us can explain our business, what we do, what we offer, what’s brilliant about it. So why would you hire a copywriter, like me, to write for your business?

Knowledge and experience

Do you need a business website, an advert, a blog post, a flyer, a report, a bid document, a video, a case-study, a speech, or some social media posts?

microphoneA copywriter knows what style of writing works best for different media.

For example, my first job was working with BBC Radio, so I understand the difference between writing things that will be spoken, and things that will be read.

I  can adapt my writing style for print from a detailed business report to a snappy postcard or flyer. I can write SEO friendly content that helps customers find your website, product or service in the vast world of the internet.

A fresh perspective

You’re the expert in your business. But sometimes it’s possible to get a little too close to be able to see things clearly.

spanner, hammer, nail and screwDo you talk the language of your customers? Are you trying to sell a drop-forged, chrome-coated,open-ended spanner, when your customer is looking for a tool to loosen off a nut?

A copywriter will ask questions, find out about you and your business and get to know your customers too.

As a writer, I can explain things clearly, and write about your business in a way that your customers understand and engage with.

Stand out from the crowd

How many other businesses do something similar to yours? How do you attract attention, and make yours the company that customers choose?

A copywriter can help generate creative ideas, and approaches as well as choosing specific words and phrases that can set you apart from the rest.

Quality focus

glasses and notebookHow often do you find yourself in the middle of something, when your phone rings, or someone asks you a question, or an email pops up to distract you?

If you ask me to write something for you, I promise you my full attention. I’ll be 100% focused on writing quality words for your business, with no spelling or grammar howlers.

I’m used to working to deadlines, and getting to know a subject quickly, so whether you need some attention grabbing words in the next month, week or even day, then there’s a good chance I can help you.

Get it done

Hiring a freelance copywriter means you can have writing when you need it, not just when you can get round to it.

Sometimes you know what you want to say, but scribbling it down or typing it out just isn’t your priority. So that blog post, brochure, or website update never sees the light of day and never drives any customers your way.

A quick conversation with a copywriter will set that right. A professional will be able to write it more quickly than you can.

Lee and Beth at The Christmas Farm are really busy growing organic fruit and vegetables and looking after the animals that provide the meat and produce for their organic box scheme. They love sharing recipes and ideas for eating seasonal and local food with their customers, but don’t always have time. I help them out by writing newsletters and adding blog posts and recipes to their website.

Trust an expert

Working with a copywriter is just like working with any other professional who can help your business. It’s a bit like working with an accountant. While you could do the sums and spreadheets yourself, isn’t it reassuring to know there’s someone who understands all the ins and outs of tax and finances; someone who can save you a lot of hassle and money?

A copywriter, like me, can do that. I understand the rules and tricks of writing. I can advise you on the best approach. And I can write for your business, leaving you to focus on the nuts and bolts, or hammers and spanners.

2

Wordstruck 2017 – goals and plans

I believe you can set goals and make plans at any time, and shouldn’t wait until a specific date to set them down. But the start of the year is often a time when people and businesses take stock, and look ahead.

I’ve been doing that myself over the Christmas break, and I thought I’d share some of my goals and plans for my writing and training business with you. Writing down plans and sharing them with other people is one technique for making them stick.

1. Help more businesses tell their story

We all have a story to tell whether we whisper or yellAt Wordstruck, my purpose is to help businesses tell their story through words that attract attention and engage customers.

To help more businesses do that, I need to connect with more of them. At the moment, I’m focusing on raising awareness of who I am and what I do – building the Wordstruck brand.

That means being active as a business on social media platforms including twitter and facebook, joining networking groups, taking part in #northeasthour and attending events like the Mussel Club.

I’m also making use of my personal and professional connections through LinkedIn, contacting people who I’ve worked with in the past and letting them know about my new venture as a freelance writer.

This isn’t about chasing likes and followers, but encouraging real life engagement and conversations. By making connections, I aim to find people and businesses that I can work with, learn from and help in 2017.

2. Expand my writing training and workshops

Writing training workshop table

I love creating and delivering writing workshops. They take a lot of time, and always challenge me, but I learn so much from doing them and get great feedback from people that attend them.

When I was thinking about what to do with my business, I knew that I really wanted to continue doing training and workshops because I know people really get a lot out of them; because I’ve benefited from some amazing writing training and want to give something back.

In my career as a corporate copywriter, I had a captive audience and easy way to publicise sessions that I ran on a monthly basis. As a freelancer, I have a lot more to think about from venues to participants, content and costs. But I find that exciting.

So, rather than retreating behind my keyboard and writing all the time (which I also love doing), I intend to maintain the thrill and the skill of writing training this year.

3. Be a better writer

This is always a given. I have been writing for business for more than 10 years, but there is always something new to learn, or to be inspired by.

This year I aim to be a better writer by making writing my business. That means finding new clients to work with, getting my services and pricing right and seeking feedback that helps me develop what I offer to businesses.

Like many people in marketing, I understand a lot of the theory, but putting it into practice is where I really test my skills. Running my own business is the best way I know to connect with other people who do the same and I’ll be reflecting my personal experience on my blog, and on my business facebook page.

4 Maintain a healthy outlook

Photo of a path through some sand dunesOver the past few years I’ve kept pretty active, enjoying running, cycling, swimming and taking part in triathlons. So I have a good habit for physical health, although there are areas I could improve.

Maintaining a healthy outlook means continuing to make time for those activities as part of my day – making sure that I get up and move around and get out in the fresh air. Walking to my local shops and talking to local business people.

It also means looking after my mental wellbeing too. Accepting that it will take some time to find work and clients; that it’s okay to take a break sometimes. Learning from, but not getting too hung up on analytics about followers and impressions or engagement.

5 Keep my creative jar stocked up

I can find inspiration in almost anything. I once wrote a poem about the cardboard inner of a toilet roll.

Glass jar etched with the words 'Creative juices'I am naturally curious, interested and engaged with the world. I watch and listen to the news, music, read books, see films and theatre, visit art exhibitions, take part in singing workshops!

I generally carry a notebook with me, and use my phone to snap photos or take notes when I don’t.

It is hugely enjoyable to pick up a book I wouldn’t otherwise read; go and see a challenging film at an independent cinema (Oh Tyneside Cinema – how do I love thee!) or take myself off for the day to the Edinburgh Festival.

I’m not going to feel guilty about any of those pursuits. They are part of nurturing my creativity. And we all deserve a little artist’s treat sometime.

I’ll also be encouraging others to make use of their creative muscles, through my work with 26 Characters. Together with my creative collaborator, Sandy Wilkie, we have pitched an idea for a new writing project, which we hope will get the go-ahead very soon. Following on from the success of previous projects including 26 Steps and 26 Under A Northern Sky, I look forward to writing, reading and championing more creative output in 2017.

0

Advice on business writing from Ernest Hemingway

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the simplest way
– Ernest Hemingway

A quote from Ernest Hemingway

Well, of course, Ernest. You make it sound so straightforward. But in the real world it so rarely ever is, is it?

As a business writer, first I have to wrestle with the brief, to try and interpret what my customer is looking for and ultimately what the real world customer thinks, feels and wants. It’s rarely expressed in such clear and simple language as this.

Then I have to understand the product or service, gradually condensing down pages of features and benefits into a simple statement that, if I’ve got it right, will answer the question ‘What does this mean for me?’

Hemingway the copywriter

Mr Hemingway would have made a good 21st century copywriter I think, with his unfussy style. His sharpness, wit and ability to condense things down into a pithy quote would have made him a natural on twitter.

With his journalistic edge for reporting the facts and the details, what would he make of today’s jargon and business speak? How would he have responded to phrases such as  ‘leveraging synergies’ or ‘ monetising cross promotion strategies’.

I like to think he’d be firmly and forcefully opposed. With a loaded gun if necessary.

0

Five handy business writing tips

Want to improve your business communications, but don’t know where to begin? With 10 years of experience of writing for business, I’ve learned a few things along the way. So here are my top five tips for improving your business writing.

1. Get started

Research, ask questions, talk to customers, fill your brain with facts, figures and knowledge, but there comes a time when you just have to knuckle down and get writing.

The first thing you write is unlikely to be anything like the finished piece. But if you don’t start, you can’t finish.

I will often start at the top of the page with a factual statement of my purpose in writing. For example: Write 100 words on the history of the company for an audience of people who are just starting out in business.

Hand with fingers numbered 1-5

2. Be a reporter

As a journalist, I was used to asking the key questions who, what, where, when, how and why? As a copywriter, I still ask them every day.

Most important of all is ‘why?’. Why does a customer want or need this? What difference will it make to them? Answering that question really takes me to the heart of a sales communication.

3: Structure it

Start with the most important piece of information, then add to it. Try to stick to one idea per sentence or paragraph.

  • Give your audience signposts and make sure the text is easy to read.
  • Bullet points and lists are great for drawing attention to key points. 
  • Subheadings help readers skim to the part that’s most interesting to them, or to pick up reading if they’re distracted part way through.

4.  Edit it

It’s not unusual for me to spend longer editing and rewriting than I do writing.

In business communications, I’m always on the watch for jargon and cliches. The handy short cuts that may be familiar language in a specific business can be alien or meaningless to people outside of it. So they need to go.

Cut big, then cut small. I consider the piece as a whole, then paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence before looking at it word by word.

I’ll look for repetition, for unnecessary themes or complex phrases and either eliminate or find a better way to say them.  

Editing tip – leave it

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in something you’ve written, that you lose perspective. No matter how tight the deadline, I like to step away from a piece of business writing – make a phone call, get a drink of water and then try to come back to it with new eyes.

Not only can this be a good way of spotting errors, but it also encourages me to be critical of my own work.

In an ideal world, I shouldn’t have to proof-read my own copy, but in reality, I have to. I use a number of tricks to con my brain into thinking it’s seeing something for the first time.

I read it aloud. Start from the end. Turn the paper upside down. Read every word one by one. If I spot a mistake, I look for the one next to it.

5. Test it

Does your writing do what you set out to do? Check it against your brief or statement of purpose.

Get a second opinion before you publish. Do they understand it? Did they encounter any mental speed bumps? Bits where they had to go back and read it again? Did they spot any errors?

Once it’s out there in the big wide world, what can you learn from your customers’ reactions to it? Are there metrics you can measure in terms of responses, awareness and sales? What can you learn for your next successful communication?

What are your top tips for successful business writing?

0

Life as a trainer

Most often when I write about training, it’s in the context of physical training for the sports that I do, but today I’m thinking about the other training that I do in business writing.

I run writing and tone of voice workshops, to help people connect with their customers with communications that sound like they come from human beings rather than nameless, faceless organisations.

As many of the people who attend are in customer support roles, these sessions are always about how we speak as well as how we write. And increasingly I’m being asked to offer advice on things like webcasts and social media platforms as the range of ways of communicating expands.

Coloured post it notes laid out  on a piece of paper

My low tech approach to workshop planning helps me structure and balance the session

I’ve had the benefit of some really excellent training throughout my working life. At the BBC it was often technical and skills based as I learned how to edit, first on tape and then digitally; how to ‘drive’ a studio desk; how to interview and construct radio packages quickly. Later I would learn digital skills, working on websites, using basic HTML, photo manipulation, and content management skills.

It was at the BBC that I started training other people. At first, it was just about passing on what I’d learned, helping someone put together a radio report, as someone had once helped me. But again, someone showed faith in me, and actually took the trouble to say “You’re good at training.”

I realised that I really enjoyed it too. I was there long enough to see people I’d trained passing on what they’d learned to others. I get a real kick out of that.

I have a little training mantra: “See one, do one, teach one.” I probably stole it from a medical drama, most likely ER. But I’ve found it really works, as you really know and have confidence that you know how to do something when you  can teach someone else.

In my last blog post, I talked about having doubts and insecurities as a writer. When I’m doing a training session or workshop, if I have any, I can’t let them show. I have to have confidence in my knowledge and ability to deliver the materials and to make them interesting.

Not every workshop is perfect. Some are better than others. But the participants will never know if I rushed through an exercise because we were short of time, or handled a question differently the next time I was asked it.

Sessions can be tricky when I’m expecting a room full and only a handful turn up. I have to mentally rejig how I’ll manage small group discussions as they take their seats and adapt as I go.

Or  when I get the sense that people have been told to come to a workshop, but don’t know why. Sometimes I feel like a stand-up comedian in front of a tough crowd. I just have to believe in my material and keep going, while trying to find the level of the room.

The best sessions are when people are really engaged and ask questions or challenge points I make. When they ask ‘Why?’ or say “But we have to do it like this…” I know they are taking an interest and I have a great opportunity to make that session really relevant.

Most writers are magpies. We steal inspiration, words, phrases and ideas from anywhere and everywhere, then make them our own.

I do the same with training courses. And once again, I’ve had the benefit of some excellent ones, from Dark Angels, 26, The Writer and Scarlett Abbott, to name just a few.

From classroom based to online learning – as well doing my own learning, I take notes and reflect on the content later. Was there a good ice-breaker? How was the session structured? How was the information presented? And when I can, I’ll pick the brains of other people who do training sessions. They are always very generous.

I’ve got some sessions with finance teams coming up. So right now, I’m gathering materials, thinking about aims and objectives for the sessions and looking forward to putting them together.

No one taught me how to be a trainer, or how to put together a workshop. I’ve learned by watching, listening, thinking and doing; through experience and analysis. I’m always looking for things that I can learn from, so I can improve my skills as a trainer.

What are your top tips for training?

0

How readable is your writing?

That 20 page document outlining in detail the research, findings and recommendations of your latest project is easy to read, right? You know the subject in detail. You’ve been working on it for months. It’s obvious… isn’t it?

To you, it may be. But what about your audience? The person who picks it up and reads it for the first time? What does it tell them?

Do they look at it and groan, put off by the thought of reading pages and pages of tight-packed text with long sentences and paragraphs that go on, and on and on? Will they be baffled by jargon? Stumped by acronyms? Wonder why on earth this is relevant to them?

Is it well organised and structured in a logical way? Does it have a beginning, middle and end? Do your conclusions actually conclude anything?

These are all questions and challenges that came up for discussion during one of my business writing training sessions.

There’s lots you can do to make your documents easy to read, starting with thinking about your audience and writing for them, not yourself.

RAdding an apostrophe eadability checker

Here’s one little tip to see how easy your writing is to read:

When you do a grammar and spelling check on a Word document, (because you all do that don’t you?) did you know you can also see how easy it is to read?

Word can show you readability statistics. To turn this option on:

  1. Click the File tab, and then click Options.
  2. Click Proofing.
  3. Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Wordmake sure the Check grammar with spelling check box is selected.
  4. Select Show readability statistics.

Next time you’ve finished checking the spelling and grammar of your document you’ll see information about its reading level.

Sadly, just having the statistics may not help you understand whether it’s easy to read or not. So for a quick guide to what the numbers actually mean and an online version of the scorecard, I like this readability checker from The Writer.

0

Finding the joy of business writing

I gave blood yesterday. There’s sometimes a bit of a wait, so I grabbed a book to pass the time. Having finished my most recent fictional treat, I picked one off my desk – Room 121 by John Simmons and Jamie Jauncey.

The front cover proclaims it “a masterclass in writing and communication in business”. I say it’s a really good read.

It takes the form of a dialogue, a conversation between the two writers, sharing their thoughts, wisdom and experience of writing for many different kinds of business. And having spent many wonderful hours in their company on a couple of Dark Angels writing courses, I can hear John and Jamie’s voices in my head as I read it.

I opened it at random to find John speaking to Jamie about the joy of writing (page 119 if you’re interested). As a copywriter for a large company, it’s sometimes something hard for me to find. It’s a challenge to keep things fresh when you’re covering the same subjects or writing about the same products over a sustained period of time.

But I find ways. Sometimes I take a sideways approach, starting a draft in a deliberately different style, or with a word chosen at random from a nearby book. Or I begin the assault on the blank page by free writing, just spending 15 minutes or so taking my pen for a walk, writing non stop, banishing the inner editor and seeing where it takes me. There’s usually a phrase or combination of words, a nugget that gives me a way in to the next, more focused draft.

Yesterday’s moment of joy came from using the word ‘palaver’ in a piece I was writing. Palaver – what a wonderful playful word. Doesn’t it just make you smile? Don’t you want to say it? To feel it tumble around your mouth?

It’s not a word you might expect to see in a piece of business writing. But it was a direct quote from a customer, a fish and chip shop owner describing the experience of using his software saying: “There’s no faff. There’s no palaver.” Perfect. Real words. Authentic, natural and robust language. They gave me a small moment of joy. I reckon we need more of that in business writing.

Read more from John Simmons and Jamie Jauncey on their blogs.

0

What does a copywriter do?

I’m never quite sure how to reply when people ask ‘What do you do?’ If I say I’m a copywriter, they either look at me blankly or start asking questions about the little c in a circle symbol (that’s copyright – something different entirely).

If I say I’m a writer, people start talking about novels and films, or ask me to read something they’ve written.

Basically I write things and read things. ‘Great!’ I hear you cry, ‘I can do that…can I be a copywriter too?’ And yes, my job does use basic skills that most of us have. I just choose to specialise in them.

So what do I do?

Writing

A copywriter will generate language to express ideas, themes and concepts. Part of my job is to be inspired, to come up with new ways of saying things. To find the truth at the heart of the thing.

One of my skills is in recognising what language works and what doesn’t, then tweaking and refining it so that will appeal to potential customers. My aim is to choose words that will attract their attention and get them to read on. It’s my job to put myself in your customers’ shoes and ask ‘What does this mean for me?’

And that’s just the start of it. Explaining what a business does and how it does it, can be tricky. I work from research and commercial information available, that’s often technical and jargon filled. My job is to take that and out it in terms that customers understand, and more importantly, relate to.

One of the most exciting parts of my job involves working with other creative  people, including designers, to come up with ideas for campaigns, websites, adverts and other forms of marketing. Together we will develop the themes, look, feel and design that a business will use on brochures, leaflets, emails, websites, product boxes and all over the place.

The finished idea may only include a few words of copy – a sentence, a line, three words or less – but in the process of getting there I’ll have written many more that your customers will never see.

Reading

I also read. Good writing starts with reading. And I’ve been a voracious and experimental reader of everything, ever since I first learned the skill. When books were banned from the breakfast table, I’d read the back of the cereal packet.

postercorrectionIn business I often read factual reports, documents and insights that help me understand the subject that I’ll be writing about. My skill is to take those words and turn them into something that a customer will understand, and engage with – to make them think ‘oh, that’s just like me.’

Because I work with words all the time, I’m good at spotting when there’s one that’s spelled incorrectly, or picking up on a bit of grammar that doesn’t make sense.

Sometimes I read with a red pen in my hand and filter out mistakes. I don’t profess to be a professional proofreader, but by acting as another pair of eyes to check over your writing, I can stop you from making the kind of mistakes that put people off dealing with your business.

Understanding

I also help people and businesses understand the importance of language in their communications. That means talking about and demonstrating tone of voice in action and applying it to different businesses. I do this though workshops, training sessions, writing examples, offering advice and constructive feedback.

Communicating clearly with customers is just one part of business writing. Doing it in a way that gives a real sense of connection, showing the face behind the business, being authentic is what really drives me as a writer.

There’s often a bit of a debate about the term copywriter – and whether there’s a better word we could use to describe what we do.

Personally I use the term writer, but then put it into a business context. In any case, what I call myself is just the start of the story. Keeping you interested is the real skill.

0