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.

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.

4 Questions before You Start Writing

You’ve heard the maxim “know thyself”? In your rush to spread the word about your products and services, you may have forgotten an equally important maxim: Know thy customer.

All writing is written for someone to read; even a private diary is written for one’s self. So here are four questions you must answer before you start writing.

  1. Whom are you writing for? Your writing takes on a different tone for the new CEO of a company searching for a coach and the homeowner who needs emergency roof repair. Be realistic: you may want to reach the top five billionaires in the world, but is there any chance they will want to purchase a billion dollars worth of your widgets? What you write depends on who your customers are. The better you know them, the better chance you will have of grabbing their attention.
  2. Where do your customers hang out? A daily tweet might go nowhere whereas a weekly blog post catches exactly the customers you want. Your salespeople might appreciate printed brochures to leave with customers after a personal contact; they might prefer e-brochures for online contacts. What you write depends on where your audience looks for you.
  3. How much tolerance do your customers have for repeated contacts? Whether you create an online or paper campaign or both (eblasts, tweets, blog posts, postcards, brochures, newsletters), at some point your customers will become annoyed rather than intrigued. Know when to stop writing.
  4. Will they be interested in what you have to write? Customers are looking for a solution to a problem, whether it is how to etch semiconductors or where to find a prom dress. Details of your company philosophy and history, a laundry list of products and services that are irrelevant to their problem or a recap of your last sales campaign–that can wait. What you write depends on what your customers want to hear.

Are you having trouble figuring out who you are writing for, where they hang out, how much you should write and what you should write about? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications and we’ll help you find the answers.

 

Does Your Website Educate Your Customers?

Your website has many goals, chief among them to introduce your company to new visitors and to convert those visitors to customers. A website that educates through blogs, case studies, e-newsletters, and dedicated website pages gives visitors a reason to return and to trust you enough to become customers. Here are the most important reasons for adding educational content to your website:

You have an opportunity to display your subject matter expertise. Even if every company in your field draws from the same body of knowledge, when you share that knowledge with customers, you establish yourself and your company as experts in their eyes.

Customers truly don’t know as much as you think they know. Customers are always looking for new information and for confirmation of the information they already have–whether that information is, yes, I am a size 8 or yes, hexafluoro-2-butene is used for dielectric etching.

The more questions you answer, the more likely customers will think of you first when they need answers: what product best fits their needs, whether a solution exists for their problem, and whether the advice they are getting elsewhere is correct. You want them to contact you for answers, not your competitor.

Visitors and customers appreciate a website that gathers into one convenient place the information they are searching for. A website that educates becomes a resource that visitors return to again and again. Each visit gives you another chance to convert visitors to customers and to remind customers why they value you.

Your website can anticipate and counter any hesitation by your customers. Your educational content provides accurate answers before customers become tangled in misinformation and before your help line is overwhelmed with repetitions of the same basic questions.

Creating a website that educates alerts you to the intellectual property in your own company. Your employees have knowledge that they have never shared because no one asked or because they mistakenly thought “everyone knows that.” When they become involved in creating educational content, their knowledge enriches your company as well as your customers.

A website that educates is constantly renewed. As information changes in your field, as you offer more details on a subject, or as customers and visitors ask for clarifications, you bring in new content–making search engines happy and increasing the chances that your website will be found.

It’s easy to create educational content. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we have created web pages, blogs, case studies, and e-newsletters that educate visitors and consumers in industries as diverse as extruded medical tubing and home renovations. Contact us today and begin to educate your customers on just how great your company is.

New Business Owners: Writing for Your Customer

New business owners often struggle to understand who their customers are and what those customers want. As a result, the business owners tend to focus their marketing content on what they can do, rather than what customers need.

This “we can do it” approach relies on the customers to identify the solution to their problem and then locate a business that offers that solution. Unfortunately, most customers are not only in the dark about the solution they need, they are barely aware of the ramifications of the problem.

A customer decides, “I need someone to paint my house” and looks for a painter who is nearby and cheap. The customer doesn’t consider, “I need someone who understands that paint may be masking structural problems and that fixing those problems is a priority or the house will need repainting again in just a year or two.”

The difference in those two lines of thought equals a major difference in a business owner’s approach to marketing. Are you competing with the zillion other businesses who offer the same laundry list of services and who are nearby and cheap? Or are you different from those competitors, someone who understands the customer’s problem and looks out for the customer’s best interests? Are you someone who always reaches into the same grab-bag of solutions or do you tailor your approach based on your long-term concern for the customer?

Even online retail stores, with no brick-and-mortar customer contact, thrive best when their website narrows down a customer’s preferences and concerns. That ability to customize your offering to your customer–to create a relationship with the customer–is even more important when you do have customer contact. You never want to sacrifice that relationship because you have a limited understanding of who your customer is and what that customer needs.

If you are a new business owner who needs help identifying your customer and writing focused, appealing content, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

 

Are You Undermining Your Marketing Message?

One of the best pieces of writing advice I received from a VP of sales was to search marketing copy for the word “can”–and delete it. Nine times out of ten, the word “can” unnecessarily weakens a marketing message. For example, compare these two sentences:

  • Our software can reduce your project development time by 15 to 20 percent.
  • Our software reduces your project development time by 15 to 20 percent.

If you hesitate to commit yourself to a marketing message unless the word “can” appears, maybe it’s time to rethink the message. Would “10 to 20 percent” or “up to 20 percent” make you more comfortable in the second sentence? If the “can” is absolutely necessary in that sentence, where else might you omit it?

I often call “can” one of the weasel words: a way to weasel out of a written commitment to the customer. The most severe case of weaseling I ever came across was by an engineer who wrote that an improvement “averaged approximately in the range of about 15 percent.” The word “averaged” said all that needed to be said about the precision of “15 percent”–those extra words (approximately, in the range of, about) merely emphasized the engineer’s fear.

Marketing copy that is high on adjectives (state-of-the-art, proactive, results-oriented, customer-focused) and low on specific examples, numbers, and photos also undermines your marketing message. Find me a business that is not customer focused, and I’ll show you a truly unique business model. Otherwise, let testimonials, case studies, awards, and photos of happy customers prove your claims of superior customer service.

Multiple uses of “can,” a refusal to commit to a certain standard of excellence, and a reliance on adjectives instead of proof, all have the same effect on the customer: a growing doubt that you know whereof you speak.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications helps businesses develop a strong, focused marketing message they and their customers believe in. Contact us today and consider us your can-do writers.

Write for Today–and Make It Positive

If you want your marketing material to have a long life, then write for today. Let’s say your website or brochure talks about what you will do next year or what product or service is coming. Then the moment that future arrives–next year or whenever the product or service becomes available–your website content or brochure is outdated and must be rewritten.

The simple past and present are also much easier to both write and understand. People who write in the future tend to tangle themselves into weird sentences: “We would have been offering this service earlier if we had known how many clients might have been interested should we have offered it.” Those convoluted sentences make it difficult for customers to know what you are driving at.

Moreover, writing in the future leaves you vulnerable to negatives. If you spend too much time on all the bad things that could happen (in the future) if customers do not use your product or service, you are likely to turn them off.

Everyone likes to feel they have a choice. Fear tactics (“if you don’t use our product, your house will fall down and your teeth will fall out”) lose their power pretty quickly. People hate to be badgered and would rather deny the problem. Hope has a much longer shelf life.

So the better, present tense, positive message is: Our product keeps your house structurally sound and your teeth healthy.

When you rewrite sentences to emphasize the present and the positive, you guide your readers to immediate, positive action. Every salesman knows that you want your customers to be thinking “yes” long before you ask them for the buy.

Finding the positive words to motivate customers now is one of the specialties of TWP Marketing and Technical Communications. Contact us today.