In today’s business climate anyone can get access to information on just about everything. Consumers don’t just take the words of an advertiser at first glance. They spend more time researching, looking for deals, and searching for a company or brand they can get behind. In order to appease these new savvy shoppers, companies have to get their identity out in the mainstream. You need to be in the search engines, on social media platforms and have information within your own website to be able to stand out. That means in order to get ahead businesses are asked to be content creators. The problem is not everyone is a writer and many feel out of sorts when considering how to approach creating content. So what should a small business owner or freelancer do?
The first step is to realize that you already write more than you know. More than ever, most small business people do a lot of writing – letters, blogs, tweets, email – you name it. The good news in that regard is that you don’t really have to be a great writer to be an effective one; with the workplace being more relaxed, everything is less formal – including writing.
But “less formal” does not mean sloppy. So what I would like to do in this article is share what I believe to be some essential rules for writing for business today. Certainly this is something I think about more than most people given that I’m a columnist, but even though good business writing is something I take seriously, that does not mean it should be too serious.
And that is lesson #1.
Rule No. 1: Don’t be boring
No, I am not suggesting that you be lighthearted when writing about an important matter, in fact, you probably shouldn’t be, but I am suggesting that your writing should not be like a good Martini – you know, extra dry. Instead, by using even a little creativity, your writing will be more memorable, and the better results you will likely get.
This is especially true when you are creating content for public consumption. Being dry when writing a letter to a client may be understandable, but it is practically unforgivable when the public will digest what you are writing. The fact is, there is so much content available online these days that boring writing will be nothing more than a waste of time, theirs, and thus as an extension, yours.
So if you are going to take the time to write something, make it snappy, pappy.
Number 2? Let’s see.
Rule No. 2: Check the jargon at the door.
This is a correlation to the first rule, but one that nevertheless merits it’s own entry. Far too many business people love to drop big words, jargony words, into their writing, apparently under the mistaken belief that it makes them sound smart. Of course, usually the opposite is true.
Example: Here is an email solicitation posted at the website, Clear Writing With Mr. Clarity: “The purpose of this research is to investigate how companies can maximize their innovation orientation by aligning their organizational structures to external situations.”
Huh? That means absolutely nothing. Sure specific industry language (which is usually what jargon is) sometimes has its place, but too often it is simply a pompous shortcut that adds nothing to the synergy of the desired outcomes. See?
Rule No. 3: KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid
This is a very good rule to remember when writing for business. Of course your writing will sometimes need to be complicated, but think about it: When someone is reading your business writing, they have no idea where it is going or what the point is. The easier you make it for them to follow and understand, the better.
Rule No. 4: Say what you mean, right now
Probably the best book on writing is Strunk & White, The Elements of Style. There are all sorts of valuable lessons to be gleaned in its few pages, but I think the most important one is this: Keep it short. Don’t use more words when less will do. Brief sentences rock.
And, while Elements of Style was written long before the Internet was invented, the lessons are even more salient in this e-age because we have much shorter attention spans today. People bore quickly. Short sentences, shorter paragraphs, bullet points and the like, keep things moving along and keep people’s interest (hopefully!)
Rule No. 5: Writing is Re-writing
This is my favorite, and most important writing rule. I always tell my kids this (even the college sophomore English major), and they have long tired of hearing it, but it nevertheless remains true. I know that I certainly don’t like this rule when an editor wants whole chapters of a book re-done. Too bad for me. Good writing, especially good business writing, usually requires a few drafts before it is easy to understand, interesting, and carries a punch.
Writing is re-writing.
Now go give it a try!
Steve Strauss – Senior small business columnist at USA TODAY and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible, Steve is your host at TheSelfEmployed.com.