Marketing Copy for Nonprofits

Over the years, I have worked with several nonprofits, serving on the boards of two and helping others volunteering in different capacities. In every case, marketing the organization–in websites, events, social media, local newspapers, brochures, flyers, and case studies–was a primary concern.

I have learned that marketing copy for a nonprofit is most successful when:

  1. It concentrates on hope, not fear. For example, a nonprofit that works with children with dyslexia changed its marketing copy to stress a child’s ability to overcome reading challenges, while acknowledging but not wallowing in the struggle. Parents already know their child is suffering. They need hope.
  2. It offers facts and figures as well as anecdotes. The anecdotes are very important, to reinforce how the nonprofit helps people or animals or the environment. But especially for donors, feeling good is often not enough. They want to know the hard facts, including how their donation (large or small) will be used.
  3. It shows as much as it tells. Photos and videos are very important whether on websites, newsletters, or letters to donors.
  4. It explains the mission in very direct terms and makes contact information easy to find. For example, an organization helping families in crisis spent so much time on its website asking for donations that there was no way for a family in crisis to figure out how to actually apply for services.
  5. It celebrates volunteers and donors; they are the lifeblood of any nonprofit. Not only do you make the volunteers and donors feel good about donating their time but their involvement inspires others to participate.

What is your audience looking for and what do you want them to do? Is feeling bad about a situation or feeling good about your organization enough? Is there a next step that is even more important?

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications helps nonprofits connect with the right audience in the right way for the right reasons. Email us today.

6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Writing

Before you start writing any marketing copy, whether website content, blog post, success story, insight paper, brochure or article, you should know the answers to these questions:

1. Who are you talking to? Are you targeting the purchaser, user, or maintainer of the product or service you are selling? Does your audience have a little knowledge about your products/services or a lot (when in doubt, presume a little)?

2. Where do your customers get their information? Are they likely to be online, walking into your store, reading newspapers, or randomly searching for someone in your field? Do they attend trade shows or networking events? You want to write copy that your customers will actually see.

3. What do your customers want and what do you want to give them? Every customer arrives at your physical or e-door with a problem, whether finding out what shoes to buy or how to train operators at a nuclear energy plant. Your marketing copy must provide a solution for the customer’s problem. You have to target the problem, be able to solve it, want to solve it, and know how to communicate all that to the customer.

4. What are your resources? How much time are you prepared to spend? A regular newsletter or blog takes time; so does tweeting and maintaining a Facebook presence. Do you have enough money? Do you adequate writing or technology skills or do you need to hire someone?

5. What is your deadline? A website or proposal that is due in a month but takes four months to finish is worthless. Your marketing copy can’t start working for you until it reaches your customers.

6. Do you really need this additional marketing copy? Don’t send out a brochure because “everyone” in your field sends out brochures. Maybe customers will be more captivated by an unexpected postcard or email.

If you are having trouble defining and reaching your audience or finding the resources and time to complete writing projects, contact me. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our words mean business.

English the Right Way

The English language is joyful–and exasperating. It provides so many ways to say what you mean, and all of them are correct. Or in other words: No matter what you want to say, there are dozens of ways to say it right.

So here are four guidelines to help you make sure you are using English correctly:

  1. Recognize the limits of words. An engineer once asked me for a single word that meant cost-effective, high quality and efficient. No such word exists. If he tried to create one, he would be asking customers to read his mind. If you are not sure whether a word exists or you are using it properly, look it up in a dictionary. Online dictionaries are as helpful as paper ones; just make sure you rely on a dictionary and not a spell checker because spell checkers will happily let you use the wrong word, as long you spell it correctly.
  2. Follow the rules of grammar. Grammar gives writing its spine. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook is a good source. The glossary and index alone are worth the price. Do not rely on online grammar checkers. They will send you in the wrong direction; they question perfectly grammatical sentences and promote howlers like using “that” instead of “who.”
  3. Listen to your ear, and write like you talk. This is a harder rule to follow if your native language is not English. Read everything you write out loud. If it sounds stilted, pompous, long-winded and confusing, then it probably is stilted, pompous long-winded and confusing. When you talk to your customers, you use clear, familiar language that lets your excitement about your product or service shine through. Good writing is good talking. If you need help, turn to The Elements of Style by Wlliam Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White. In less than 100 pages, this classic book will transform your ideas about style.
  4. Limit yourself to one or two trusted reviewers. Because English is so flexible, heated debates arise over a single comma or a single synonym. If you find yourself fighting your reviewers, then check the sources suggested above. Or find new reviewers. Writing by committee is impossible. If you must work with several authors to finish a project, place one of the authors in charge of the whole–that’s the only way to ensure consistency and clarity from page to page.

Perhaps the most important writing advice is to know when to stop revising. With the flexibility of English, you can second guess yourself into stagnation. But your website, blog post, brochure or success story can’t start working for you until you send it out.

If English is driving you (and your reviewers) crazy, you have one more resource you can count on: Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications (write at twriteplus.com). We’ll help you discover the best way to say what your customers want to hear.

 

 

A New Year’s Look at Your Website

Have you taken a gander yet at the latest in website design?

The Latest Website Design

On home pages, the content is tighter, with more visual interest.

Navigation bars are simpler, so that visitors can quickly dive into the solution they need.

Instead of wading through large blocks of text, visitors click on a photo with accompanying caption to search for more information on a specific topic. Or they listen to a video.

The website is constantly refreshed with blog posts, case studies, news releases, and insight papers.

And there are opportunities on every page for visitors to click through to the contact information.

Help for Your Website

You don’t have to adopt all these changes, but you should take a close look at your website content for wordiness, static copy, and complex navigation. You want to ensure that your website has:

  • Clear, concise, compelling, and factual content that quickly attracts and holds the interest of your audience.
  • Content organized to highlight your most important products and services while helping visitors navigate through your site.
  • Photos, videos, and other interactive elements that take full advantage of the internet’s capabilities.
  • Interviews, testimonials, and exciting insights in blog posts, success stories, press releases, and insight papers to keep your website fresh.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications

Based in Peterborough, New Hampshire, I offer the highest quality writing–with credits in Forbes, the Boston Review, Oil & Gas Journal, and other publications. I work with sole proprietors, large corporations, and anyone in between in both technical and nontechnical fields. Because I’m a freelance writer, you have the option of using me just once on a specific website project or over-and-over as the need for new content arises. Some of my clients have disappeared for years and then resurfaced with a new need–and some keep me busy every week writing blog posts, newsletters, or press releases.

Not clear what your writing needs are? I’m happy to discuss your current website and how I can help bring it to the next level. Keep ahead of the times and your competition! Contact me at write at twriteplus.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

How to Edit: 4 Helpful Hints for Marketing and Technical Writing

The old joke has it that in order to create a great sculpture like Michelangelo’s David, all you do is chip away everything that doesn’t look like David.

That advice may not make you another Michelangelo but it will certainly help you to edit your marketing or technical writing.

What Is Editing and When Do You Do It?

Editing is the process of pruning down your writing so that it (a) fits the space it needs to fit (for example, a magazine may have a 1000-word limit); (b) says what you need it to say clearly, concisely, and powerfully; and/or (c) is easy for readers to follow, because very few people will slog through a logical mess.

Many of us have a little voice in our heads that criticizes our writing. Many of us have no voice whatsoever and cling to our words as if they dripped with gold. Doesn’t matter. You need to edit, and the time to do that is after you are finished writing, never while.

What to Look for When You’re Editing

Editing is not the same as proofreading–although you should proofread every word you write before you send it out into the world. Proofreading concentrates on correct and consistent spelling, grammar, and formatting.

Editing concentrates on delivering a clear, concise, and interesting message that sticks to the topic. To edit your technical or marketing writing:

  1. Introduce no more than 3 ideas. People have trouble remembering more than 7 new ideas and you want to stay well below that mark. As an added incentive to limit new ideas, when doctors are testing for memory issues, they often give the patient three random words to remember until the end of the session. That’s three, not thirty. If you have trouble sticking to and organizing a few memorable ideas, please see my previous blog post.
  2. Check for unnecessary words and phrases like can or are able to and for vague adjectives like cost-effective. Precision motivates readers. Instead of “We are able to deliver cost-effective heating solutions” state “We save you 20% yearly on heating.”
  3. Never be afraid to use more words to gain clarity. In an effort to be concise, an engineer I worked with came up with the sentence, “We offer a broad portfolio of compatible knowledge components.” He meant: “Our software transfers your information smoothly from one program to another.” For two extra words, he gained tremendous clarity.
  4. Stay true to your theme and your audience. This is where you cut away anything that is not David. If you feel frustrated, then write another article, success story, insight paper, blog post, or brochure. But do not switch themes (“how to save money on heating”) or audiences (your average homeowner) in midstream or you will baffle–and lose–your reader.

Conclusion

Editing is a necessary step after you write and before you proofread; in fact, I usually edit three or four times. The first edit, I cut back; the second, I restore; and the third, I find that perfect balance between saying too much and not enough. For writing, editing, and proofreading help for your marketing or technical writing, whether a large project or very small, contact me today through LinkedIn or at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

 

Verbs That Weaken Your Message

While I often stress that nouns and verbs are more important than adjectives or adverbs in developing a strong marketing message, certain verbs and verb combinations actually have a weakening effect.

Take the verb “can” for example. One of the best pieces of advice I received in my career as a writer was to eliminate the word “can” from writing, as in “We can deliver in 24 hours.” Either you deliver in 24 hours or you don’t. The word “can” adds nothing.

The future tense often results in the same dilution of your message: “We will make sure your project meets all specifications.” The more powerful statement is: “We make sure your project meets all specifications.” The future tense is irrelevant because this action is one you always take.

If you, as the business owner, want to hedge your bets, then promise delivery in 36 hours or retract a statement entirely, but do not insert “can” or “will” as a first line of defense against failure. If you don’t deliver on time, people will notice–and that’s a correct use of the future tense.

The verbs “is” and “are” may also create problems. For example, “We are manufacturers of quality toys.” The more concise and powerful statement is: “We manufacture quality toys.” Look through your documents for the is/of or are/of combination in a sentence and you will likely find a more interesting verb hidden away.

“We are engaged in the manufacturing of quality toys” should be “We manufacture quality toys.” The ing/of combination is another sign of an undermined marketing message.

The phrases “we always try to” or “we always strive to” are almost never needed. Whatever you are trying or striving or aiming to do, be like Nike and just do it.

When you own your actions, your readers credit you with more power, authority, and wisdom than when you pussyfoot around with “can,” “will,” and “try.” Be the authority they want you to be.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications specializes in communicating strong messages fast. Contact me today.

 

Customer First: What That Really Means for Writing

Imagine this: You enter a brick and mortar store and the sales person comes up to you and recites, “We have books, clothing, housewares, electronics featuring a sale on cell phones, a real coffee bar featuring freshly baked coconut muffins, superior customer service, with great prices, fast delivery and…”

How quickly do you interrupt?

You know what you want and the rest of the sales person’s monologue is irrelevant. Now let’s take that concept to the written word. If you want to customers to read your writing, you should never start with a monologue on “what we do and why we’re great at it.”

Putting the Customer First

As I’ve often said, “We can solve your problem” is the most powerful promise a business can deliver to a customer. But to deliver that promise, you have to listen before you speak. Let customers tell you what their problem is–a new dress, a home renovation, a drop in sales–and then offer your solution.

Remember, there is always another web or brochure page, blog post, success story, or article that you can write. Don’t pack everything into one toss of the printer. You are better off targeting and serving a single type of customer than trying to pull in everyone at once.

Even very large online companies, like Amazon, provide a way for customers to quickly move from their website’s first page to the information they are really interested in. If Amazon can start with the customer’s problem, so can you.

How Navigation Bars (and Subtitles) Help or Hinder

On websites, one of my pet peeves is the ubiquitous “Services” or “Products” category on the navigation bar. That may be justified if you provide many different services or products. But if you have a few specialties, consider mentioning them directly on the navigation bar. (By the way, the same applies to subtitles in marketing and technical copy–lots of precise subtitles make everything more readable!)

For example, one of my clients is a sales consultant whose original navigation bar and home page focused on “Services.” But once we determined that she excelled in three main areas, we changed the navigation bar to read “Generate Leads,” “Increase Revenue,” and “Close More Sales.” We also made sure the home page text centered on those three services, with individual links to later pages. As a result, customers immediately felt that the consultant understood and offered a solution for their most pressing problems. And each customer could go directly to the page that mattered most. The faster readers get to the information they want, the more likely they are to stay and buy.

Conclusion

Ready to change a boring monologue into a helpful conversation? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications today.

 

What Comes First When You Have Too Many Great Ideas?

Sometimes the hardest part of writing is figuring out what to say first. If you dump everything you want to say into one web page or one article or one blog post, you are likely to end up with a mess that no one understands. And yet, how can you let those great ideas slip away?

The first rule of organizing any writing is that there is always another sentence, paragraph, and page. You do not need to cram everything into one opportunity. What you need is focus.

A Basic Structure for Organizing Ideas

Let’s say you run a car repair shop and want to draw in customers by performing annual car inspections.

  • First write a “thesis“–a central idea–that takes this form: You (the customer) should (do this) to get (that). In this example, the thesis states, “You should have your car inspected every year to make sure it is running properly.”
  • Next write the reasons why this thesis is true: “The inspection checks for problems with safety equipment, such as brake lights, and for violations of regulations, such as emission standards.”
  • Next write a conclusion based on the information you have given. “If your car passes inspection, you will know it is safe to operate for another year.”
  • Finally, call the readers to action. “Sign up for a car inspection today and we will give you a 20% discount.”

When you are finished, look through the content to make sure your opening sentence is as strong as it can be. Sometimes opening turns out to be buried in the conclusion–by then, you’re thought out exactly what you want to say. But this structure keeps your thoughts on track–in this case, you stay focused on car inspections.

Other Ways to Organize Content

Here are a few other ways to organize your ideas:

  • Write about three benefits/features of your product or service (Our car inspection service covers three safety concerns…). Three is usually the optimum number.
  • Create a list (10 ways to keep your car safe).
  • Set up a Q&A. Create a question (“I’m afraid to have my car inspected. What should I do?”), building up a scene that might have prompted a real customer to ask that question. Then answer it.
  • Tell a true story (“One of our customers wanted to buy a car that had no record of inspections. We suggested…”).

Get Help from TWP Marketing & Technical Communications

You have lots of great ideas for marketing content. If you find your writing wandering all over the universe and back, contact me. I’ll make sure your marketing content is always organized to show off your best ideas.

Great Customer & Client Interviews: Dos and Don’ts

Client and customer interviews are the basis for testimonials, case studies, insight papers, and videos but getting valuable content from customers or clients is not easy. All too often, you’re struggling to find that one accurate, clear, well-phrased, and interesting quote. So here are a few dos and don’ts of interviewing based on my 20 years of experience working for businesses across industries and borders.

  1. Let go of your preconceptions. What you delivered for your customers or clients may not be the part of the project that they remember most fondly. Maybe you thought you built a great deck suitable for family gatherings or lounging in the sun; the interviewee remembers how you took their idea for the railing design and made it work. A testimonial about a specific benefit to the interviewee has major long-term value because it sets you apart.
  2. Be prepared but have fun. Start by letting your interviewee know that they will have the chance to review and change the final case study, insight paper, or testimonial. Then, ask a few prepared questions. But let the interviewee lead; if an interesting insight comes up, follow it. Skip around in your prepared list of questions if the interviewee mentions a topic earlier than expected. Relax and your interviewee will relax with you.
  3. Ask the questions you don’t want to ask. It’s easy to ask, “What did you enjoy most about this project?” But sometimes the most complimentary responses come from more open questions: “What would you do differently next time?” “What would you advise someone else looking for a deck builder?” “How can we improve our services?”
  4. Choose your interviewee wisely. Sometimes an interviewee will offer platitudes and jargon in the mistaken belief that a business owner wants to hear “all’s right in the world and proactive, too.”  Sometimes talkative interviewees use a lot of words to say very little. I know how to politely interrupt, seek out deeper answers, and keep an interviewee on track. The rustier your interview skills, the more you need to make sure your interviewee is absolutely right.
  5. Be careful when editing. In 15 minutes, I can draw out many fine testimonials from an interviewee. Then it’s a matter of weaving those testimonials and insights into a narrative. Conversations tend to ramble, so no one complains if I rework quotes to make them flow and to emphasize a point–but I never ever put words into the interviewee’s mouth. You want to respect the identity and honesty of the interviewee; the surrounding narrative is your chance to expand on what they say.

If you haven’t interviewed any of your customers or clients, you’re missing a great chance to build rapport, marketing content, and differentiators. Contact me through LinkedIn or TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. I can help.

Reap the Rewards of Hiring a Freelance Writer

I want my clients to succeed in their marketing because I’m passionate about clear, honest communication between people: business owners, customers, vendors, and employees. And every successful client project means more word of mouth marketing for me. But what do my clients get out this relationship?

  1. Competitive edge. Like you, my clients know what they do is special; but sometimes customers fail to recognize the true value of a product or service–beyond its price. I work with you to find and celebrate the differentiators that make you stand out from the competition.
  2. Objective answers to hard questions. If you asked your customers, “what can we do better?,” you’d receive polite responses at best. But when I ask, your customers open up.
  3. Concise, clear, creative, and passionate language. Subtle changes in wording make a tremendous difference in the tone and interest of marketing content. When your customers come to a website, it’s the website’s job to keep them there; when they take a brochure, it’s the brochures job to urge them to read.
  4. Less pressure. Very few goals are reachable by someone acting completely alone. If you find yourself spinning in multiple directions, call me. Whether a client wants to edit and rewrite together or hand the whole project on to me, I’m ready to provide the exact type of freelance writing or editing that each client needs.
  5. New ideas. As a remote, freelance writer, I work with multiple clients; their cross-industry, cross-geography background sparks new ideas and new configurations of proven ideas. Besides, having a clear, organized mind is essential for a writer. Your next great idea is probably already within your reach; you just need someone to put it in words.
  6. Consistency and accuracy. The wrong wording can bore customers; even worse, it can mislead them. Consistent and accurate content builds trust between a company and its customer, whether on the level of good grammar or of good faith.
  7. Trust. After nearly 20 years as a freelance, remote writer, my current clients know that I’ll be ready when their next project arises–whether that is next week or several years from now. I’ll remember them and their priorities.
  8. Partnership. My clients know that I will deliver their projects on (or before) time, on (or under) budget, and to the highest standard–that’s why they keep coming back. For the length of your project, whenever you need me, I am a full partner.
  9. Fun. Being a remote writer means I work with clients from across borders, industries, and functions; and with every client I learn something new. I enjoy that adventure, which means that you and your customers get to enjoy the results!

Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications today and let’s talk about how I can show you the love.