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!

10 Biggest Writing Mistakes

As a professional writer and editor, I see many writing mistakes repeated. Here is my list of the top ten.

  1. Not knowing your audience. Writing is a form of communication. You need to know who you are communicating with.
  2. Giving your audience too much credit. You know your product and service better than anyone. You’re the teacher; your customers are the students. Everyone appreciates a teacher who takes the time to explain.
  3. Giving your audience too little credit. Your customers are tired of empty claims. For example, every company in the world has great customer service. Prove you deserve that claim through testimonials, case studies and awards.
  4. Using language poorly. Are you sure that’s what you meant to say? Are you sure you cannot say it clearer, more accurately, more concisely or with more conviction?
  5. Listing features before benefits. Everyone wants to know “can you solve my problem?” All the features in the world will fall flat if the customer’s problem remains a problem. Start with benefits.
  6. Burying your message. You would not read every word of a 50-page computer manual to find the ON switch. Your marketing message is the ON switch for potential buyers. Make your strongest, most important points first.
  7. Not delivering your message. Are you agonizing so long over a brochure that the opportunity is lost? Are you sending tweets to people who don’t use Twitter and writing rack cards for people who never pick them up? Marketing writing can only work for you if you send it out on time and on target.
  8. Ignoring basic grammar and spelling. Okay, I admit it: one of my pet peeves is using “that” instead of “who” to refer to people and using semicolons (;) where commas (,) are correct. But I care about those things because they actually do make a difference in how your message is perceived. When you say “people that” instead of “people who,” you turn people into things.
  9. Being concise before you are clear. People have less patience than before with long messages; but if the message isn’t clear, your customers will give up on it even faster. First be clear, then try for concise.
  10. Using a professional writer who is not a native speaker of your audience’s primary language. A professional writer will help you avoid mistakes 1-9. That writer should be a native speaker of your audience’s primary language to avoid mistakes of culture and nuance in your message.

As founder and sole proprietor of TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, I have a long history of helping B2B and B2C companies deliver a clear, concise, accurate and passionate marketing content to their customers. I’m ready to help you.

The Ethics of Hiring a Writer

I’ve occasionally run into business owners who object to hiring a freelance writer on ethical grounds. They find something dishonest in allowing someone else to write for them. They believe they should write their own website, blog posts, case studies, brochures and business letters because otherwise they are misrepresenting themselves.

Ethics are important to me, which is why I will not write anything that I know (or may suspect) to be false, misleading or harmful. How do I justify being a freelance or ghost writer on an ethical basis?

First, writing may not be among the business owner’s strengths. As a result, instead of offering content that clearly states the benefits and achievements of the company, the owner inadvertently slips into false, confusing, misleading or harmful statements through mistakes in word choice, grammar and organization. Everyone loses when bad writing leads to false information.

Second, an outside perspective is often valuable. Business owners may not know what to say to attract customers and differentiate themselves from the competition. Or they may know exactly what to say but not how to say it. Or they may emphasize obscure features of their products while ignoring real benefits their customers need to know about.

Third, a business owner can be a great communicator on many levels and still prefer to let someone else write his or her marketing materials. This is called “delegation” and it is something business owners do when they hire employees and professionals to work for them. No one considers it unethical to have a sales team, help desk, accountant or graphic designer on staff. Business owners could handle everything themselves, down to making their own gasoline from crude oil for the car they drive, but most business owners prefer to concentrate on their core business.

There is nothing about delegating business writing that somehow makes that choice less ethical than delegating any other business function: it can be done well and professionally or badly and amateurishly. I like to write well and professionally.

Professional writers are professionals for a reason. Years of experience and training, plus an instinct for the just right word, make us more efficient and more likely to achieve the business owner’s goals.

I work with a variety of B2B and B2C business owners and nonprofits, in every field from home renovation through clinical trial research and from executive coaching through organic farming. Contact me today and let’s talk.

Squelching Fluff in Writing

Fluff in writing is fairly easy to spot. You hold your hand over the contact information for the company website, blog post, newsletter, success story–and then ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do I have any idea what this company is/does/sells?
  2. Do I have any reason to use this company rather than its competitor?

If the answer to both questions is no, you are reading fluff. Sometimes that fluff is generated by the company itself for a variety of reasons (for example, no one on board is a professional writer or the company is frightened that customers won’t understand its technology if more specific information is given). Sometimes the fluff is bought as a package from a content-generating company or from an extremely low-cost writer who relies on imagination rather than reality.

Because reality is what makes content stand out: the reality of your company, your leadership, your relationship with customers, your experience. Think of it this way: if you were hiring a new employee, would you appreciate a resume full of lyrical praise and generalities or would you prefer a resume describing experience, skills and passion clearly detailed and supported by accomplishments? Why should your customers be any different when they are hiring you?

The four easiest ways for squelching fluff in writing are:

  • Watch those adjectives. If you load your writing with adjectives like “state of the art” and “unique high-value” and “finely engineered,” you are missing the opportunity to explain why your product or service is state of the art, unique, valuable and finely engineered. You are writing fluff that any company can duplicate, even your least skilled competitor. Throw out the adjectives and rely on verbs and nouns instead.
  • Give the details. Testimonials are wonderful if they are specific. Success stories (case studies) are even better because they show exactly how you helped a customer like the customers you hope to attract. How-to instructions are always helpful to customers. Before and after photos, videos of a project in progress, examples of how your products could be used–they all connect with your customers and distinguish you from the competition.
  • Make yourself known. Step up and give your own perspective on your industry. Share your techniques. If they are the same techniques everyone else uses, be the first to embrace transparency. Share your passion for what you do.
  • Hire the right writer. The right writer talks with you about your goals and the future of your company; researches your industry and your competitors; grows in understanding with each writing project, no matter how far apart the projects are scheduled; and absolutely hates fluff. Whether in-house or freelance, you need a professional writer like that.

Now read through this blog post and count the number of adjectives, check for details, including how-to information, consider whether you have found out anything about my priorities and passion (no fluff!) and then decide if I’m the type of freelance writer you would want to hire to bring reality and passion to your company’s content. I hope to hear from you soon.

 

Six Truths about Freelance Writers

Among freelance writers, the following truths are self-evident. We like:

Freelance Truth #1. Honesty. You are working with a professional writer. Most of the time, people are happy with my first draft but I never want them to walk away unhappy because they failed to point out something I could correct. Tear my work apart, criticize and question it but please be honest–I can take it.

Freelance Truth #2. Freelancing. True freelancers won’t be taking a job offer and abandoning you mid-project. I’ve been freelancing for 16 years. I’ve experienced the corporate world and I truly like freelancing better. I enjoy my clients and the interesting projects they involve me in whether websites, case studies, blog posts, newsletters, proposals or other marketing collateral.

Freelance Truth #3. Returning clients. Your needs for a professional writer may be intermittent; that’s fine. In fact, I am used to completing a project for clients, not hearing from them for 3 or 4 years and then getting a phone call or email when they have a new project. I keep my records for years, so I quickly come up to speed on the latest project.

Freelance Truth #4. Creativity and confidentiality. Freelance writers work with clients in every industry you can imagine and sometimes with clients in the exact same industry. We love the challenge of creating new content, and we always preserve confidentiality.

Freelance Truth #5. Referrals On behalf of every freelance writer everywhere, thank you for your referrals! Client referrals have broadened the reach of my company from my home base in Peterborough, New Hampshire, all the way to west to California, south to Arizona and Florida, North to Ohio and Vermont and even east to Europe. I’ve worked with sole-proprietors, small- to medium-sized businesses and Fortune 500 companies in almost every B2B and B2C business you can think of.

Freelance Truth #6. Paychecks. Freelance does not mean “free.” We have to eat. Therefore, if I finish your project and you (or your accounting staff) hold up my check for three months, I am not only annoyed, I am hungry. Please: When a freelance writer invoices you for work you’ve approved, pay in a reasonable time. You probably expect the same courtesy from your customers.

Freelance Truth #7. Clear communication. Whether by phone or email, professional freelance writers keep clients informed about progress and help those clients stay on schedule with reminders about providing information or completing reviews. My technical background also means I value clear, concise content. So send me an email or phone me today. I’d love to hear from you about your project.

 

 

The TWP Story: Three Words, Three Rules

Words are such powerful, flexible, rich tools for building a link between one person and another. You need millions of dollars, thousands of people, and expensive materials to build a bridge: you need three words to say “I can help.”

I work as a marketing and technical writer because I am passionate about people communicating with people. I want customers to understand where they can find a solution for their problem, whether a reputable building contractor or an expert in regulatory compliance. And, bottom line, I love writing.

I write and edit website content, blogs, newsletters, success stories (case studies), and every type of marketing content for technical and nontechnical companies of vastly different sizes and in vastly different industries. My clients include the MIT School of Science and sole proprietors; Microspec, who needed a website devoted to medical tubing, and resume writers who need proofreading; companies in my hometown of Peterborough, New Hampshire, and companies across the United States, including New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Georgia.

Here are three rules of marketing and technical writing that I never break:

  1. Tell the truth. What use is communicating if you are breaking trust immediately by telling lies?
  2. Keep it simple. It is always possible to find the words to explain something so that someone else understands. Communication is not a contest on who knows the biggest words or the hardest way to explain things.
  3. Find the story. People like stories. If you want to communicate, you need to keep your audience engaged.

All of the people I work for are skilled in their area of expertise. After more than 20 years of experience in Fortune 500 companies and as a freelancer, my area of expertise is clear. I write. Copy writing involves research, interviewing business owners and their customers, editing, proofreading, and rewriting–and I love every minute of it.

Whenever you find yourself struggling to say what you need to say, please remember TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. I have the words: I can help.

Finding & Telling Your Marketing Story: Part III

In my last two blog posts, I spoke about telling your marketing story by appealing to the senses, using visuals and incorporating characters. There are other techniques that great story tellers use to draw in their audience, but in this Part III post I’d like to address how to find your marketing story.

I’ve given some hints along the way but here are a few details about the best sources for writing unique marketing stories:

  • Your former customers are the first and best source for marketing stories about how you helped them. Often customers aren’t forthcoming if they are speaking directly to the business owner or the business owner assumes the answers to basic questions instead of asking or the business owner feels awkward about taking on the role of interviewer. If you have any of those problems, the solution is to ask someone else (a freelance writer like me, for example!) to handle the interviewing for you.
  • Your staff is an excellent source of marketing stories about tricky jobs they’ve successfully tackled or advice they wish they could give to customers or tips and techniques they have used. Let them share their advice and their triumphs in a newsletter or blog or in articles. They don’t need to be great writers, just good talkers.
  • Your current marketing content can provide clues to marketing stories. Do you use “state-of-the-art” techniques or equipment? Why are they state-of-the-art? Do you offer “the best customer service”? What makes it the best? Are you “an industry leader”? How did you achieve that position? Your customers don’t know; they aren’t mind readers. Every time you come across a vague statement in your marketing copy, you’ve found a story that needs detailed telling.
  • Every customer wants to know if you can solve their problem. A great marketing story exists in your approach to problem solving and the standards you apply to make sure a problem is solved to the customer’s and your own satisfaction. You are an expert in your field. If your customers were experts, they wouldn’t need you. Share some of that expertise by writing FAQs, Q&As, articles or blog posts.

When you find your story and write it, you are making a connection with customers that is more powerful than any stark list of tasks or services that you provide. Stories create a bond that no amount of facts can equal. I would be proud to help you find and write your story.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications has helped business owners find and tell their marketing stories in the technical, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, construction and service industries.

Top 10 Reasons for Hiring a Freelance Writer

After 16 years as a freelance writer, I have discovered that there are 10 pressing reasons why business owners hire a freelance writer, regardless of the business owner’s industry, years of experience or overall marketing expertise. Over and over, business owners have shared at least one of these concerns and usually several:

1. I don’t have the time to write.

2. I know what I want to say but I don’t know how to say it.

3. I don’t need a full-time writer, but I do need someone dependable to handle writing jobs when they come along who appreciates my business.

4. My products or services or solutions are complicated and/or highly technical, and I need a better way to explain them to potential customers.

5. I’m constantly dealing with the same questions by email and phone; I’d like to standardize the information and make it easier for customers to find on their own.

6. Our proposal (or report or manual) writing process is complete chaos, with everyone editing everyone else and important information left out entirely. I need someone to take charge, sort out the problems and unify the content.

7. My website and marketing collateral no longer reflect what my company actually does, but I’m not sure what direction I should take. I need a collaborator who can clarify what I should be writing and then write it for me.

8. I’m writing a blog and I’m out of ideas for posts.

9. I need more publicity online/in print but I don’t know how to go about it.

10. I hate writing.

A professional freelance writer is adept at clear and accurate communication, organizing information, collaboration, addressing customer concerns and priorities and providing creative content. If you recognize yourself in any of the top 10 reasons why business owners hire a freelance writer, please contact me. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our words mean business.

White Papers: 5 Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them

When I am asked to edit a white paper or long report, especially one to which several writers have contributed, I often detect the following problems:

  • A gap between what the introduction or executive summary promises and what the actual white paper delivers. Usually, this is caused by someone writing the executive summary first, so that it reflects wishes and intentions rather than the actual content. Or the executive summary includes information that didn’t quite fit in the white paper. Executive summaries should always be written last and should always summarize the white paper–not introduce new content.
  • Inconsistent ways of organizing data. Headings, subheadings, bullets and other graphic devices are guidelines to the logic of the report. If you say that data fits into three categories (say, past, present and future voting patterns) but then present the data up in three entirely different categories (location, age of informant and political beliefs), you lose your readers. They’re busy wondering what happened to the past, present and future.
  • Conclusions buried in the text. Your readers won’t go hunting for the main points in your white paper or report. You are familiar with the points you want to make and may not even realize that you have reduced them to a brief aside. Before you start writing, list your goals, your main conclusions and the data that supports those conclusions. Then before you publish, make sure the conclusions are easy to find.
  • Grammatical and spelling inconsistencies. What style are you following: US, U.S., United States, USA? Are you using a serial comma (comma before “and” in a series)? Are headings bolded or italicized? Working with a style guide should prevent and help you fix those inconsistencies.
  • Cross-references that go nowhere. Multiple writers are a key cause of this problem. The writer of chapter 3 assumes a diagram appears in chapter 4 but the writer in chapter 4 places it in an appendix; the reader following the cross-reference in chapter 3 searches chapter 4 in vain. Electronic links are especially likely to go nowhere or to the wrong place.

Whenever multiple writers contribute to a white paper or report, it is wise to have an editor examine the entire report for problems before it goes to the intended audience. As a professional editor and writer, I know what to look for and am prepared to solve the problems that I find. Contact me today.

How to Work with a Professional Writer

You are thinking of hiring a professional writer to handle your marketing collateral or technical documentation? Congratulations! Here are four tips on working with a professional writer:

1. Writers need to start somewhere to develop content, whether by interviewing you for information or by reading all the previous material written about the project or by researching your competitors. Nothing great is ever written from complete ignorance. The writer needs access to information or to those who have information.

2. Research takes time; writing takes time. If you hire a freelancer, you are hiring someone with multiple clients who compete for time. Deadlines should account for research, writing, proofreading, revision, and production. Writers aren’t born with a magic wand and the ability to bend time. When you set a deadline, keep reality in mind.

3. The right words may not be the exact words you would use. Listen to the professional writer. What seems perfectly clear to you, with your inside and specialized knowledge, may confuse a potential customer. Your priorities (“let’s list every product we ever manufactured”) may conflict with your audience’s priorities (“send help!”). Your writer’s goal is to make sure your message is being delivered clearly, concisely and passionately to your audience.

4. Every liberal arts major is not a writer. I once worked in a technical company that assigned me an assistant who majored in drama–it’s all liberal arts, they said. The assistant hated writing. In fact, some English majors hate writing. A portfolio will tell you more than a degree in a specific subject. Make sure the writer’s style and experience fit your writing needs. If you are using a freelance writer, make sure the writer is dedicated to freelancing and not simply waiting until a full-time job comes along. You want someone who will finish your current project and be up to speed for future projects.

If  you keep in mind that professional writers need information, time, respect, and a passion for writing, you will develop an excellent relationship with the professional writer you hire.