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When Small Business Owners Can’t Write

Everywhere they turn, small business owners are told that “Content is King.” Many attempt to blog, Tweet, create web content, teach themselves to use Mailchimp, and even design clever ads for Facebook and Google, all in the name of reaching the customer or creating brand awareness.

Let me ask you this: Imagine that you spend almost an entire day writing your first Mailchimp newsletter. Bursting with pride, you send it to your customers, looking forward to positive responses to your exciting Call to Action!

And then you wait.

When you hear nothing for what feels like HOURS, you call your favorite customer and ask what he thought of your newsletter. Lucky for you, he tells you the truth. “My friend,” he says, “I’m afraid that your first Mailchimp newsletter looks and feels like it was written by a real chimp, but I’m sure you’ll do better next time!”

Ouch!! You didn’t think it was that bad. And after all, you can ALWAYS blame the technology! And many entrepreneurs do exactly that. (Bad chimp, bad chimp!!) 

But suppose you read it again. This time you notice that it’s a little long, perhaps. And maybe you forgot to run the spell checker, but jeez. Do your customers expect you to be running a small business and writing New York Times newsletters?

The answer, I’m afraid, is yes. The Internet is more and more forgiving of grammatical errors and even spelling errors. But individual readers rarely forgive content that is too long, poorly organized, and not a good fit for their interests.

Sometimes You Just Need to Call a Professional

As a writer and marketing consultant, I am distressed to see just how bad some of the writing is on the web. Actually, distressed is the wrong word. It makes me crazy.

I have been helping small and large organizations to articulate their identity and tell their unique story for over 25 years, and I continue to do that work through my company. But recently I decided to try to reduce the craziness on the web by creating a writing course for small business owners.

What a great idea, I thought, until I saw that there are about a bazillion courses out there already. But – and it’s an important but – if those courses were working successfully, I would be seeing more good writing and fewer embarrassments, so I stopped worrying about the competition. Started working on a course and began significantly rebuilding my web site to put greater focus on writing.

So Where’s the Course?

I began developing the course by asking small business owners if they enjoy business writing. Some freely admitted that they’d rather be dragged over hot coals than write a business letter, let alone a newsletter or a blog post. Many tell me that it’s one of the most stressful things they do. They are perfectly comfortable with running their business – but when it comes to telling their company story, it can be downright miserable.

In despair, some turn to an inexpensive online service for help and get “word salad” from writers who are not native speakers of English. The result is often worse than their own efforts. And they still have to pay for it.

I can’t identify with that frustration because I’ve been writing – and getting paid for it – for so many years. And there’s a well-kept secret about writing.    

Art + Skill + Practice

Business writing is one part art, 90 parts skill, and 9 parts practice. And the good news is that skill can be taught. That doesn’t mean every small business owner can become a New York Times bestselling author, but they can achieve the writing skills that are needed for their business goals.

I wish I could tell you that I’m here to sell you a course on Writing Your Way Out of the Bag for Small Business Owners, but the course isn’t finished yet, and I’m still gathering input from people who know the reality of the “hot coals” experience. But if you’d like to tell me how writing affects your small business, I’d love to add your thoughts and experiences.

I know that some people have a problem organizing their thoughts into a beginning, middle and end. Others begin all of their sentences with the word “I.” Ouch! Do you think about the people (your audience, your customers) who will read what you write before you put finger to keyboard? So many things to think about. But all of the so-called “problems” are solvable.

What problem can I help you solve? You can send me an email about your writing challenges while I’m working on the course (it could take a while!) or let me know if you need help with actual business writing ASAP.

My kids say I edited the notes they left on the refrigerator years ago because I was picky about the power of language. Today I like to help small business owners use the power of language to tell their story, build enthusiasm – and generate leads. AND have more fun and fewer hot coals!

Let’s talk soon!

Barbara

Content that Satisfies

Nowadays you can’t swing a cat without running into the words web content, social media content, email content, blog content, content is king, content marketing, and on and on. As a language nut, I have become increasingly curious about when and how the word “content” came to mean what it means today.

It took a very deep dive into an Oxford English dictionary to find a definition that fit today’s usage: “information made available by a website or other electronic medium.” Yep. That’s it.

But what about all the definitions that came before it?

Ah, The Content’ We Never Knew!

The first definitions came from the Old French for the adjective, con-tent’ – as in “I am content’ with that decision.” In other words, I am satisfied.

Much later we see the evolution of the Late Middle English noun con’tents – which originally meant “things contained.” For example, “The murderer poisoned the contents of the flask.” Ouch. OR contents could be used for a “Table of Contents,” meaning “All the stuff that’s in this book.”

It is only when we get to “things contained” that it becomes possible to segue to the “information made available…” definition.

 

Why Does Any of This Old Stuff Matter?

When I look at articles that are frantically concerned about consistent messaging and messaging silos and chatbots, I wonder if it would help to know that the word “content” once meant satisfying? What if we were in the business of providing content that is satisfying to the reader. Not necessarily a “Call to Action” for us – but satisfying to the reader. However counterintuitive that may seem, satisfaction is built into the word. And maybe we can have both.

Organizations that know their audience will be able to create content that is truly of interest to them – and satisfying; on the other hand, “buckshot content marketing” is unlikely to be satisfying to the writer or the reader.

There are some simple ways to make even complex writing more satisfying and easier on the reader. For example:

Chunking information into manageable bites. There’s a big difference between satisfaction and indigestion.

Readability is part of reader satisfaction. That can include anything from the use of shorter sentences to avoiding jargon, acronyms, and “insider” language. Make complex points clear and simple wherever possible.

Be a GPS. Leading the way is part of reader satisfaction. If you stay focused and “on message,” use transition words to connect ideas, use images to illustrate whenever you can, you’ll be a reader’s GPS, helping them get where they’re going – and where you want them to go.

Know Your Audience and write accordingly. The tone you strike should be appropriate for the audience. You don’t have to be stuffy, but “Hey Dude” rarely strikes the right note (though I have rewritten articles for people who did exactly that, so you know I am not kidding).

Use humor if appropriate.  This also depends on your audience, but sometimes humor, especially self-deprecating humor, is rather – well – satisfying. I am laughing at myself for being a grammar nut, word nut, dictionary nut, and language nut, so it’s ok to laugh. I’m used to it!!

 

Satisfy Your Audience!

Next time you sit down to write content, I hope you will take a moment to remember where that word came from. You may be satisfying a reader’s desire for information or for opportunity or for new connections. But whatever it is, satisfy your audience and you’ll knock their socks off! If you’d like some help, let me know! I love writing content that satisfies.