About sharon

As the founder and head of TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, Sharon Bailly has more than 25 years of experience as a professional business and technical writer for large and small companies and nonprofits throughout the U.S. Her articles on writing have appeared in Minority Engineer, Women’s Business, New Hampshire Business Review and other publications, and she has presented writing workshops at business groups, nonprofit organizations and individual company sites. TWP provides accurate, exciting and focused content for websites, blogs, brochures, newsletters, success stories, user manuals, presentations and white papers both online and on paper.

Talking’s Easy, Writing’s Hard. What’s Wrong with Me?

Q. I can talk to my customers all day long about my products, services, and company and they are happy and satisfied with their purchases. But when it comes to writing–for my website, blogs, case studies, brochure–nothing sounds right or comes across the way I want it to. What am I doing wrong?

A. The good news is you’re doing one thing absolutely right. You’re talking to your customers in language they understand, engages them, and solves their problem. Here are four ways to translate that great communication from talking to writing.

  1. Write like you talk. Forget about all those other marketing campaigns you’ve seen on the internet or TV; they are cluttering your head with language and techniques that might never apply to your company. Instead, pretend you are talking directly to a customer and record (on your phone or computer) exactly what you say. That spoken information is your strongest possible basis for writing–you already know it connects with customers and conveys your enthusiasm.
  2. Be specific. The one problem with talking is that it tends to generalize. You might say, “Our company is known for our attention to detail,” and people will accept that in conversation. In writing, you should define the how and why of “attention to detail.” You probably should define “known”–according to industry benchmarks, certifications, awards, customer testimonials? The more specific you are, the more weight your writing will carry. If you find yourself adding adjectives everywhere (“superb customer service,” “top of the line equipment”), replace them with specifics or leave them out altogether.
  3. Resist the urge to brag first. When you greet a customer in person, you ask what they are looking for and why. You don’t launch into a 15 minute monologue on everything you can do for everyone. Create the same balance in your writing by opening with a specific customer problem you solve. Then focus on details. Remember, there are always more pages you can write in your website, blog, case study, or brochure; you don’t have to cover everything in the first three sentences.
  4. Consider yourself a teacher. You may know every industry acronym but you wouldn’t litter your speech with them and you shouldn’t litter your writing either. You may know your specialty backwards and forwards, but your customers don’t–if they did, they wouldn’t need you. Make allowances for your average customer’s level of knowledge, just as you would in conversation. If your customers are asking the same questions over and over, address those questions somewhere in your marketing copy. Become the best, kindest teacher your customers ever had.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications has helped companies just like yours to write clear, concise, passionate marketing copy that is specific, addresses customer problems, and educates potential customers. Contact us today.

My Customers Won’t Talk to Me!

Q. My customers must love my products and services because they keep returning. But they don’t send thank you letters, they don’t compliment me or my staff, and if I ask them how we did, they say “Great!” That doesn’t tell potential new customers anything. What’s with them?

A. Customers are only human. They know they are talking to the head of a business they like, so they want to give you what you want. But they aren’t sure exactly what to say (they expect you want marketing jargon and they don’t know how to speak jargon); are shy about revealing their ignorance of the specifics of what you did; and feel resentful about having to invent something right now or about confronting endless surveys. The wise approach is to put a third party into the mix.

Strong Interviews Lead to Strong Testimonials

Here’s how I handle customer interviews to make sure they deliver testimonials and information you can use to market, align, and improve your business.

  • First, I interview you to find out what you think you accomplished for that customer and how how that particular job reflects your overall business and its goals.
  • Then, I contact your customer (after you’ve prepared the way with a brief email or phone call) to ask for a 15-minute interview at the customer’s convenience. That time limit is most important.

I ask the customer leading questions, listen to the answers, and base my next question(s) on those answers. We take a journey together through the customer’s experience, with no previous expectations. I ask the hard questions, too; for example, what would you do differently next time to solve your problem? What should the company do differently? I can ask those questions because I am not the business owner, and I can negotiate confidentiality if that’s necessary. I keep the interview on target and deep dive for differentiators.

Finally, I create one or more strong testimonials, which I then submit to the customer for the customer’s approval. Or I create an entire case study, which I submit to you first (to make sure the content matches your goals) and then to the customer for approval. Because I listen well and ask insightful, respectful questions, most testimonials and case studies return from the customer with minor if any changes.

Strong Testimonials Connect with Potential Customers

The result: You have testimonials that actually say something in clear, everyday language that speaks to potential customers. You learn facts about your business and the customer experience that you may never have expected. You have the basis for or a complete case study that explains exactly what you do and how you do it.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications has over a decade of experience in interviewing business owners and their customers. If you want testimonials that work hard for your business in the marketplace, contact us today.

Why Can’t I Finish My Website?

Q. I’ve been writing my website content for weeks–okay, for months–and none of it makes any sense. I should know my business better than anyone, right? Why can’t I finish my website?

A. Right now, your competitors are flaunting their websites (and other marketing collateral) everywhere. If you want to compete with them, you have to finish writing. If you can’t finish your website, you are probably facing one of these problems:

  • Your content is being written or reviewed by committee–even if the committee is in your own head. Committees, whether real or imaginary, quarrel over every sentence, demanding a better, different, more creative, briefer way to say the same thing. There are thousands of ways to write good copy; thousands of ways to write this very sentence; and committees will argue until doomsday over a single comma.Stop the endless self- or committee-editing, and let your website compete in the real world.
  • You are hoping that if you gather enough information, it will magically coalesce. Unfortunately, lots of information may actually operate against a coherent website. You have to focus and prioritize. View all that information from the perspective of your customer–and decide on your most important message. You cannot appeal to a vague “everyone” or properly deliver dozens of competing messages on your website’s first page.
  • Your vision of the future or success in the past is preventing you from describing the business you have now. You know what you want in your future, you know what you offered in the past, but you’ve lost sight of what your customers want now, in their present. Websites can always be modified; in the meantime, customers want to know what you can do for them today. They won’t search for the information with fingers crossed; you must clearly tell them.

Is it time to let go of the stress of being a business owner and a writer–and let a professional writer take over? If your website (or other marketing collateral) is bogged down by self-editing, too much information gathering, or wishful thinking, contact TWP Marketing and Technical Communications. We’ll give you words that energize your marketplace and start your website working hard for you!

What Your Freelance Writer Needs to Know

Before you hire a professional freelance writer, you want to know the writer’s experience, rates, process, and reputation. But as a professional freelance writer, I also need to know five things about you:

1. Your deadline. I want to complete your marketing or technical writing project on time–even ahead of time–but that necessitates knowing your deadline. If your deadline isn’t realistic, I’ll let you know up front. If it is flexible, I’ll provide a ballpark on when to expect a first draft or finished project.

2. Your audience. What audience are you are trying to reach with your blog, website, success story, brochure, proposal, or user manual? “Everyone” is not an answer. Your audience will differ in their knowledge, problems, resources, and so on. How will you reach them? I may have suggestions for building an audience or selecting the most efficient marketing approach.

3. Your process. Will you correspond best by email, phone, or Skype? How easy will it be to connect with the people you want me to interview? How open will you be with information? Will your reviewers start editing each other’s edits? What is your approval process?

4. Your budget. I’m not asking because I want to gouge you; I’m asking because I don’t want either of us to have a surprise at the end. I’m happy to give you estimates on the basis you prefer: project, per page, hourly.

5. Your goal. Are you trying to educate, entertain, or inform your audience? Do you intend to follow up with them or do you expect them to contact you? Where does this project fit in your overall marketing plan? Would you be open to suggestions on how to meet your goal?

If you know your deadlines, audience, process, budget, and goal, you are ready to speak to a freelance writer. If you don’t, at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we have years of experience in helping companies just like yours figure out a solution that meets or exceeds your expectations.

That’s what a professional freelance writer does.

 

Two Fast Ways to Improve Technical Marketing

You have a high-tech product that you’re marketing to high-tech customers. So to convince those customers that this product is truly amazing, you use complicated sentences, multi-syllable words, acronyms and jargon–and you lose them.

No matter how informed your audience or how well educated, if your product is new to them, they are beginners. They need a slow introduction that focuses, not on the technology, but on the problem that technology solves, especially if it solves the problem faster, cheaper, more reliably and more easily.

Improving Technical Marketing: Simplify Your Message

For example, take this 47-word sentence: “Our product avoids the traditional approach of splitting up the DCS and power distribution system into numerous sub-contracts, which is not an optimal solution because the operating company has to operate, maintain and periodically evaluate a multitude of disparate products and subsystems over the project’s life-cycle.”

In that sentence, a very simple concept (basically, “too many cooks spoil the stew”) has been made difficult and obscure.

My suggested rewrite is 11 words shorter and a lot clearer: “Traditionally, the distributed control and power distribution systems are made up of products and subsystems from many different subcontractors. Operating, maintaining and evaluating all those different subsystems is difficult. Our product provides an efficient and cost-effective solution.”

Improving Technical Marketing: Know Your Audience

As mentioned in the introduction to this post, your customers are novices when it comes to your new product, even if they are highly experienced and educated in your field. But your customers may also be divided into end users and financial decision makers. Your end users may understand the value of your product faster and more enthusiastically than the financial decision makers.

Therefore, your technical marketing should address the concerns of both end users and financial decision makers. Research has shown that most readers can absorb at best 5 new ideas at one time. You want to keep your opening message well under that limit. Focus on no more than 3 benefits of the product, including the problem it solves for the end user and its return on investment (in productivity, increased revenue, efficiency and so on).

If your technical marketing is mired in high-tech language and doesn’t quite connect with your audience, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is here to help. Your customers will thank you.

The Website Review You Need Now

Your website has served you well for a long time. But even if a website doesn’t change over the years, the world around it does, including your own company.

Take a deep breath. The following basic steps for a website review will help you evaluate the relevance and consistency of your existing website:

  1. Compare your website content to your corporate goals and values. Have your goals for your business changed? Have you said what you meant to say? Have you said what you need to say in the best words to capture and keep the interest of customers?
  2. Check the navigation. Are you lumping everything you do under one generic “Products” or “Services” page or does the navigation help customers find what they are really looking for? Is your navigation easy to follow and understand? Are the links working?
  3. Really look at your pictures and videos. Are they professional and representative of you and your company? Have you included pictures of actual projects you’ve completed, customers you’ve served, products you sell and staff your customers will relate to?
  4. Check the dates on your testimonials, case studies, blogs and articles. Are they reasonably current (in the last 5 years) and are they still relevant? Do they represent your proudest moments now?
  5. Compare your website to the competition’s. Has your website design kept pace with the designs your competitors are using? Is your differentiator still valid? Are you missing a vital piece of information (for example, conformance to new regulations)? Have you overlooked an opportunity to provide customers with information that other sites don’t carry?
  6. Print out the entire website (every page!) and proofread for grammar, spelling and consistency. The proofreading stage of a website review catches those inadvertent changes and typos that occur over time, especially when multiple people have access to a website’s content. The style used for numbers (0.05 or .05 or $4B or $4 billion), the presence or absence of a serial comma, the reliance on bold or italics for emphasis all need to be consistent. Those details are easy to miss when you proofread online.
  7. Evaluate the ease of use and responsiveness of your contact information: phone number(s), email(s) and forms. If you were a customer, would you feel welcomed?  Are your forms properly set up to qualify potential customers without frustrating them?

Repeat each of these efforts regularly. If you need professional help, please contact TWP Marketing & Communications for an affordable website review or an entire website makeover.

5 Most Dangerous Writing Mistakes

  1. Ignoring your readers. Writing that ignores the reader contains humor the reader might consider inappropriate, an overabundance of acronyms and expert terms and many more “I” statements than “you” statements. This writing mistake includes addressing people in ways that either the reader or the person referred to might consider unacceptable–for example, “a dyslexic” instead of “a person with dyslexia.”
  2. Assuming that you know what a word means. “Consensual” and “consensus” are two very different types of agreement. “Perceptive” and “preceptive” have no meanings in common. This writing mistake includes using an archaic or rare form of a word. Even if you use it correctly, your readers are unlikely to know what you are talking about.
  3. Writing really long sentences–over 34 words. The problem here is that you and your readers are likely to lose track of what you are saying. This writing mistake is compounded by sentences that contain a negative–leading to statements like “we hope we won’t have to cut employees and save everyone’s job.” Grammar checkers choke up when they try to decipher a long sentence and will give you even worse advice than they usually do.
  4. Burying your message. In newspapers, this is called burying your “lede,” the paragraph with all the most important information in the article. When your message falls deep within your story, your readers lose heart and don’t search for it. They simply stop reading.
  5. Losing focus. Research has shown that readers can retain 3 new pieces of information tops. So don’t try to cram everything you ever wanted to write into one sentence, one paragraph or one article. Determine the 3 most important points in your message and focus on those three (or fewer, if possible).

At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our goal is clear, concise, accurate writing that grabs and keeps a reader’s attention. So if you recognize any of the writing mistakes above in your marketing or technical copy, please contact us. Our words mean business.

 

 

Conquer Writer’s Block

Are you searching for a way to say what you want to say? Or are ideas crowding into your mind and fighting for primacy? Or do you have no idea what you should write about?

All of those problems are forms of writer’s block.

Here are four techniques that should help you regardless of the type and cause of your writer’s block:

  1. Talk. Pull out a chair. Pretend your best customer, the one you feel most relaxed with, is sitting in the chair and asks a question. Talk to the customer. Transcribe exactly the words that come from your mouth.
  2. Make a drawing. Either diagram what you intend to say or just doodle. If you are struggling for ideas, the act of drawing frees up the creative part of your brain. If you are overwhelmed by your ideas, a drawing shows you their logical progression from top to bottom, left to right, first to last or big to small.
  3. List all  your ideas. Once the ideas are listed, see if they fall into natural groups or overlap each other. Concentrate on one group at a time and ignore all the others. You don’t have to jam every idea into one brochure, blog, newsletter, web page, or chapter. There will always be another opportunity to write.
  4. Start writing about anything. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, flow or even relevance. Hold off on editing until after you finish writing. I guarantee that the last sentence you write will capture a golden idea.

If none of these techniques conquer your writer’s block, consider hiring a professional writer. Your marketing and technical content can’t start working for you until your customers receive it. How long do you want to wait for that moment of inspiration?

Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications and we’ll make sure your words mean business.

Telling the Truth When You Write

I began my career as a technical writer and for years I thought of marketing as the evil empire. Technical writers are concerned with accuracy, clarity, and consistency. Marketing writers? As far as I could see, they would say anything to sell–they knew little about the product or service and cared less.

Then I discovered something: customers like the truth. They like the truth as much as I do. They look askance at promises that might never be delivered or at claims that have nothing to back them up. They are tired of hearing empty phrases, like “state-of-the-art, superior, best-in-class service” because everyone, from the airline they fly to the local coffee shop, promises state-of-the-art, superior, best-in-class service.

How do your customers know if you are telling the truth? You provide photos, testimonials, case studies (I love case studies!), awards, and details on industry standards that you meet. You describe continuing education, certifications, and participation or leadership in industry events. You share your expert advice and experience.

The truth is also revealed by the way you write: with accuracy, clarity, consistency and a focus on the information customers want mostdo you understand my problem and how will you solve it? Every customer problem and question is worthy of consideration. Your goal is to find and share answers to the most pressing customer questions. And admit when you don’t have the answer.

Every company has something that makes it uniquely qualified to help its customers, because every company is the result of someone’s unique vision. Let customers know about you. The truth about your company is a major differentiator. Did you start or build your company because you identified a lack in your region, took a different approach in your field, recognized an opportunity that others missed, wanted a chance to help others, found an outlet for your creativity, discovered a neglected customer need? All or none of the above?

My background as a technical writer means that I have worked in fields as diverse as construction, coaching, manufacturing, healthcare, software development, and retail. Regardless of the industry, I have kept and verified my belief that customers appreciate the truth as much as I do. After all, aren’t we all customers of someone?

When you tell the truth about your company, you enable customers to connect with you. You build a relationship based on a firm foundation, which means customers will return again and again. Let me help.

10 Reasons to Hire a Freelance Writer

  1. You have incredible ideas about your website, brochure, blog site, social media, and press releases–and no time. You need a freelance writer to execute.
  2. Your customers and staff keep asking you the same questions, over and over, taking up your time and overwhelming your help desk. You need clear, consistent information and directions for them.
  3. You have a writing project in mind but no budget or reason to hire a full-time writer. A freelance writer handles projects one-by-one as they come up.
  4. You have a great customer to interview but no idea what questions would generate a compelling story. A freelance writer with experience in interviewing not only has the right questions but the right objectivity.
  5. Your blog/website/brochure has fallen out of sync with what you actually do. You need someone to update it and keep it updated.
  6. You promised your customers a quarterly e-newsletter but the last publication was 10 months ago. You need a freelance writer to deliver fresh ideas, write the articles, and make sure the newsletter goes out on schedule.
  7. Five people contributed to your user manual/website/brochure, and now the content is inconsistent and redundant. You need one writer to create cohesive content out of chaos.
  8. No one is opening your newsletter or clicking on your online articles–no one at all! You need a professional writer to give you feedback and add some zest to your marketing copy.
  9. Every time you send marketing or technical content out for review, you get so many contradictory editorial comments that you’ve given up. You need a professional freelance writer to evaluate, prioritize, and make sense of the comments.
  10. None of your staff are confident in their English skills. Access to a freelance writer gives everyone assurance that content is written in standard and professional English.

If you are faced with any of these situations, I can help. With more than 15 years of experience as a freelance technical and marketing writer, for every size of company from Fortune 500 to sole proprietor, I deliver the content you need on schedule and on budget. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our words mean business. Contact me today.