7 Years of Blogging: Lessons Learned

I have been writing blog posts for various customers for over 7 years–weekly or bimonthly–and I’ve learned several important lessons about regular blogging.

Three Important Facts about Blogging

First, regular blog posts gather dedicated readers over time. They prompt comments, requests for contributions from industry organizations, and discussions on LinkedIn.

Second, blogging and the reactions to it often clarify customer expectations and what a company should be doing. It may lead to a shift in the company’s entire marketing plan or become the basis for an insight or white paper that confirms the company’s expertise.

Third, writing a great blog post is a matter of following a few basic rules:

  1. Focus on one idea at a time–there’s always an opportunity to write another post.
  2. Aim to educate, not sell.
  3. Keep the post short; but concentrate first on quality content, then size.
  4. Write with a recognizable and consistent voice.
  5. Deliver details (e.g., 10 steps to…), not vague generalities.
  6. Make sure blog posts appear regularly, whether once a week or twice a month.
  7. Recognize your blog is one tool in a marketing toolbox–not the entire box.
  8. Obey the rules of all great marketing content: concise, clear, concrete, and passionate.
  9. Take time to find an interesting title.
  10. End with a next step for readers.

How to Rescue a Faltering Blog

Are you hesitating to write a blog, are you running out of ideas, or has your blog languished, untouched, for over a month? Consider asking a professional freelance writer to take over.

One of the advantages of having a professional writer handle your blog posts–besides the savings in time and energy–is that you may be too close to your business to understand what customers find interesting and informative. What seems to you to be a boring detail or information that “everyone” knows may actually be fascinating to customers.

A professional freelance writer adapts to your comfort level: submitting ideas for approval, researching content, interviewing customers and employees, tracking the competition–whatever you need. You can review individual ideas before a post is ever written and/or approve the completed post before it appears online..

Conclusion

For a professional writer, blogs posts are interesting and fun to write, and I have written them for many businesses in fields as varied as home construction, clinical trials, executive consulting, and marketing.

Contact me if you need help setting up and maintaining your blog content; that’s what I’m here for.

10 Questions for Your Freelance Writer

Here are 10 questions to ask a freelance writer before you start a project–and the reasons why those questions are important.

  1. What is your native language? You want a writer whose first language is the same as your audience’s to avoid cultural, idiomatic, and other missteps.
  2. How long have you been a freelance writer? You want a professional freelance writer with a track record who won’t abandon you the moment a “real” job comes along.
  3. What software do you use? Every freelance writer should be expert at Word and Acrobat (the editing version, not the reader). In addition, you may need expertise in FrameMaker, Excel, etc.
  4. What is your process? Find out if the writer charges separately for multiple iterations and for nudging to get a response to a question.
  5. Do you travel? Some freelance writers are willing to go to your site; others prefer telecommuting only.
  6. Do you have samples? The samples should show you the freelance writer’s style and whether it will align with your goals. They also are proof that the writer has completed assignments successfully in the past.
  7. Have you worked in this industry before? Lack of experience in your specific industry may or may not be a deal breaker; breadth of experience in your type of project (blog post, website copy, case study, etc.) may be more important.
  8. What are your typical prices and what is your turn-around time? Often a freelance writer cannot answer these questions without a better idea of your project–but do find out if the writer charges an hourly or project rate. Usually, a project rate is better for you.Also share your deadline and find out if it’s feasible.
  9. How do you want to be paid? Some freelance writers take credit cards; some don’t. For a long project, you may be asked to pay at milestones or at the end of each month.
  10. Do you offer any services aside from writing? Don’t assume that “writing” includes interviewing, graphic design, public relations, publishing, or proofreading. Ask if you have a specific need.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is a sole-proprietorship that offers writing, editing, and proofreading services to a wide variety of industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, consulting, and energy. For nearly 20 years, I have written blog posts, website copy, case studies, user manuals, insight papers, and more. Please contact me if you have questions or want to discuss a project. I welcome inquiries.

10 Things to Never Say in Your Marketing Copy

Are you looking at your marketing copy from your customers’ viewpoint–or your own? Is your marketing copy creating honest communication between you and your customer–or is it leaving them with unanswered questions?

Make a true connection by never saying these 10 things in your marketing copy:

  1. Never simply say you’re the best; prove you’re the best. It is far better to show your achievements, through testimonials, case studies, photographs, awards, achievements, and examples.
  2. Never use your marketing copy to disparage other companies. Why give your competitors free publicity? Instead, use that space to educate customers about what they should expect from a truly great provider (like you).
  3. Never threaten your customers with the dire consequences of not using your services. They know they have a problem; what they need are solutions.
  4. Never be vague about what you can and cannot deliver. Rather than saying you finish projects in “about” three weeks, provide a range or increase the time to a definite four weeks and make customers ecstatic when you deliver ahead of schedule.
  5. Never start your marketing copy with features when you can start with benefits; never drown your customer in a long list of capabilities when you can excite them with potential results.
  6. Never switch your audience in mid-stream. Talk to “you” (the customer) and make sure you (the business) know who that customer is at all times.
  7. Never make disparaging remarks about individuals who refused–or eventually accepted–your services. Customers shy away from a mean spirited provider.
  8. Never fill your marketing copy with 10-dollar words, jargon, and acronyms under the mistaken belief that they make you sound more knowledgeable. Your customers are already depending on you to be knowledgeable. Use everyday language they understand to explain what you do and why it works.
  9. Never allow typos, inconsistencies, or grammatical errors in your marketing copy. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
  10. Never write solely for search engines. Your customers are people. Write for people.

Marketing copy that is clear, precise, interesting, and focused on your customers will always be read. That’s the type of copy we write at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Contact us today.

Grammar: When Good Copy Goes Bad

Mistakes in grammar pass by many a writer’s radar but they can cause huge problems with marketing copy.

For example, see if you can spot the error in this sentence: “The operations team reported an upward trend in efficiency, training, productivity, morale, failure rates, and innovation.”  An “upward trend” in failure rates would mean that the rates increased, not exactly something to boast about. The writer could fix this problem by changing “failure rates” to “operating life” or by starting another sentence with information about downward trends.

Many problems with grammar come from relying on the grammar checker that comes with Word. That grammar checker seems to hate the word “who,” leading to a proliferation of sentences where people are referred to as things: “The engineers that are responsible for this innovation….” ought to be “The engineers who are responsible for this innovation.” But try telling that to Word.

Common mistakes in grammar include random changes in verb tense from past to present and back again, indecision about whether a company should refer to itself as “we” or “it,” lists that change in midstream from phrases to whole sentences, and lack of agreement between noun and verb.

Why is bad grammar a problem?

  • First, as shown in our initial example, it can send the exactly wrong message to your readers.
  • Second, bad grammar is one of the markers for online scams, according to the founder and chairman of Identity Theft 911. You don’t want your message to be tagged as spam.
  • Third, bad grammar sounds unprofessional. Yes, the misuse of “that” for “who” is so common now that most people will accept it; but it still sounds bad (or it ought to!) and interrupts the smooth flow of your message.
  • Fourth, more and more companies are international. Your readers who speak English as a second language (and any translation software they use) will struggle needlessly if your English is grammatically wrong.
  • Finally, how can your readers trust the quality of your products and services if you can’t even describe them in standard English?

If you aren’t confident in your grammar, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications to review and edit your marketing or technical writing. Make sure your message goes out the way you intended.

10 Ways to Make Writing Easier

Professional writers love to write. But if writing is not your first career choice, you may find it slow at best and painful at worst. So here are 10 tips to make writing easier.

  1. Write first, edit last. Editing at the same time that you write is like taking a giant step back for every two steps forward. That voice in your head that keeps saying a word isn’t perfect or an idea could be expressed better–ignore it for now.
  2. Let the ideal first sentence wait. Holding out for that golden first sentence is frustrating, especially since the best opening sentence often emerges at the end, when your thoughts have coalesced. Start writing and the perfect first sentence will appear eventually.
  3. Start with the simplest structure–first to last, top 10, 3 ways to do something, or 3 reasons for taking action. Delete whatever doesn’t fit that structure. What you don’t use may become another day’s blog post or tweet. That’s a good thing.
  4. Write like you talk, because even your most sophisticated customer knows less about your product and service than you do. Share your knowledge; don’t struggle to sound like a marketing guru or subject-matter-expert. Your expertise will shine through and more important, everyone will understand your message quickly.
  5. Keep your audience in mind. Your goal is not to make yourself sound and look good; your goal is to solve a problem for your customers. Keep your eye on their problem and your solution.
  6. Know your limits. You may be able to write a 300-word blog but trying to write a 1000-word insight paper gives you an overwhelming urge to run away from home. The solution is to keep doing blogs, but wait until you can hire a professional to write insight papers. Alternatively, you may eventually be able to combine 3 or 4 of your related blogs into one long paper.
  7. Review with a fresh eye. Put away the finished piece for at least 24 hours. But remember to take it out again! The review is important.
  8. Edit, don’t destroy. Your goal is to improve what your wrote, not throw it away. Keep your attention on important fixes: Look for sentences longer than 18 words (no period, no colon), words longer than 3 syllables, strings of adjectives or adverbs, inconsistencies ($5M, $5 million), misspellings, and vague words (“on time”) when you could be specific (“within 4 days”).
  9. Listen to outside reviewers–mostly. Ask only one or two people to review and ask them to concentrate on errors or confusion in the content; don’t start debates over synonyms or serial commas. But pay attention to what they say. If you refuse to listen to your reviewers, find new reviewers you will listen to.
  10. Know when to stop. Your marketing copy starts working for you when you send it out into the real world. Words can always be edited after they’ve had a chance to make an impact. Give them a chance to start.

What approaches have you found helpful in easing the pain of writing? Please share them. And if you want totally painless writing, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, where our words mean business.

When Marketing Copy Confuses Customers: What Next?

As much as business owners try to communicate clearly, sometimes customers still find marketing copy confusing.

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize four basic ways that marketing copy confuses customers:

  • Confusion over the message. One of my clients began by helping her clients work through financial issues and then found herself offering advice on straightening out their staff and customer relations. Her background and education made her a gifted consultant in all three areas; but her marketing copy stayed focused on finance, creating confusion for potential clients and referrals. We worked together to sharpen her mission and suddenly everything she offered fell into place.
  • Confusion over the audience. Another client, a website developer, never quite defined his customers’ level of expertise. Part of the time his marketing copy assumed customers recognized high-tech jargon and acronyms; part of the time his copy defined basic concepts in excruciating detail. Customers were either baffled or bored. We settled on a middle course, cutting back on the jargon, acronyms, and explanations to focus on benefits to all his customers. After all, what customers want to know most is: What do I get out of it?
  • Confusion over organization. A company started its marketing copy by listing the products it manufactured–but then the rest of the marketing copy ignored those products entirely and focused on the manufacturing process. Customers want to know where marketing copy is headed. If you say you have four products, they want to read about four products, not three products and a process. If you say regulatory compliance is important, they want to hear about compliance. Guide them carefully along or you’ll lose them in poor organization.
  • Confusion over individual words. Sometimes marketing copy uses the wrong word (for example, “intransient problem” instead of “intransigent problem”). Sometimes it piles on adjectives (“this extraordinary, unparalleled, unique opportunity”) as if more adjectives equal more information. In either case, I always advise clients to use the simplest and most precise language they can–to write like they talk when they are talking to their favorite customers.

Let’s make sure your marketing copy never confuses customers. I’ll help you define your message, audience, and organization, and then choose the right words to grab and keep their attention. Contact TWP today.

How Do I Tell a Marketing Story about My Business?

Q. I’m a small business owner, and I carve gift items out of wood. Everywhere I look for marketing advice these days, the gurus tell me to tell a story. I enjoy what I do but where’s the story? I buy wood, I carve an item, people buy it. End of story, right?

The problem with doing something really well is that it’s easy to forget that other people can’t do it. When I hear that you carve gift items out of wood, I want to know more: What drove you to that business, what tools do you use, what types of wood, what advice would you give me for taking care of the item I purchase, what advice would you give me if I were interested in learning about wood carving?

Each of those questions is the gateway to a marketing story, about you, your skills, and your relationship with customers.

How do you tell your marketing story so that it resonates with potential customers? The best stories feature:

  • An appeal to the senses: Write about the smell of sawdust, the textures of different woods, or how a tool interacts with the wood.
  • Interesting characters: Write about a customer who came in searching for a gift for a special occasion. Write about your fellow woodcarvers or your own history.
  • Interesting events: Write about the journey wood makes from the forest to your workshop or the process that turns a random piece of wood into a beautiful gift.
  • A clear purpose: Motivate potential and current customers to purchase or to spread information about your business.

Stories about your small business and your customers are all around you. You may need to take a step back to see them–but they do exist and they are interesting.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes memorable marketing stories for B2C and B2B businesses, large and small. Contact us today and let us tell your story.

How Can I Focus My Website?

Q. You often say that the best marketing message for customers is: I can solve your problem. But how do I figure out what a customer’s problem is? How do I focus my website’s marketing message for a customer I never talk to?

A. You have a point: If you had a storefront, you would know a customer’s problem right way–you would walk up to the customer and ask, “How can I help you?”

In a way, your website needs to do the same thing.

When you started your business, you must have identified some need in the community or industry that your business would fill. Whether that need is for shoes with velcro fasteners or software to fly a drone, your marketing message should concentrate on the specific types of customer who have the exact need you are aiming to fill. You can not reach “everyone.” Whether by walking in your physical store or by searching online, most customers will self-select based on the problem they believe you can solve. Your website should focus on those customers and your solution.

Are you wondering whether your customer’s needs have changed? Your website’s “contact us” page should allow customers to email or call with questions. By keeping track of those questions, you’ll have a good handle on what your customers are looking for and whether your website and mission are meeting their needs.

Q. My company offers lots of products and services and we’re great at all of them. How do I know what marketing message I should focus on?

A. Let your customers help you decide. First, as explained above, you should ask yourself what what problems your customers need you to solve. Your marketing message should focus on providing solutions. Then ask: What solution brings you a steady income you can live with and the most satisfaction in providing? The hope is that a clear match occurs between what your customers need most and what you need most. Finally, go to the website of your favorite major retail store and study how they let customers drill down through multiple products and services. Give your customers some control over the solution they reach, and they will listen.

Do you have a question about marketing or technical writing? We’re happy to provide answers. Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, where our words mean business–and give your website just the right focus.

 

Exact Words Make for Stronger Writing

Your product is best-in-class; your projects are completed in a timely manner; your company is at the forefront of technology.

So what? Those claims can be made by anyone–by any competitor or even by a company in an entirely different field. Vague phrases tell your customers nothing. When you use exact words instead, you stand out.

Vague words come in two types: Generalities and bad grammar.

Generalities

What industry or internal standard did you meet to qualify as best-in-class; does “timely” means within days or within weeks; and what brought your company to the fore in technology? The answers to those questions are different for every company. They separate you from the pack.

In addition to stock phrases, such as best-in-class, companies often use words that sound specific, but aren’t. For example, they will say, “Our precision measurement …” or “Our expert engineering…” without explaining whether “precision” means to the inch or to 0.000035 cm or explaining what their engineers do that shows their expertise.

Facts, figures, examples, awards, case studies, testimonials: these all require exact words.

Testimonials are a special case. You never want to prod your customers into saying something they are not comfortable with. But you can ask them to relate a specific way in which you helped them or specific results they appreciated.

Bad Grammar

Vague words in marketing copy often confuse customers about who did what. For example, “We introduced the app to the marketplace once before but they ignored it.” Who is “we” and who are “they” and what “it” (the introduction, the app itself) did they ignore? Make sure all your pronouns have clear antecedents.

If you address the customer as “you” in your marketing copy, keep track of who that “you” is. For example: “I tell my customers that you should always update your virus protection software. You should take that advice, too.” In this case, the “you” in the first sentence (all current customers) is a different person from the “you” (the reader, a potential customer) in the second sentence.

When vague phrases take over, your marketing copy is harder to read and your message loses its zip. If you want to be sure you’re using the liveliest exact words possible, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’re experts at giving marketing material a memorable edge.

Writing Smooth Marketing Copy

Marketing copy should give readers a smooth ride forward like a gentle stream under a water tube–or, given that it is December, like a beginner’s slope under skis.

But all too often readers are faced with sentences like this: “We help companies effectuate change through the innovative utilization of technological solutions.”

The main problem with that sentence is not what it says but how it says it. The sentence is weighed down by 2 three-syllable, 2 four-syllable, and 2 five-syllable words. And so the sentence weighs readers down. They figure they ought to know what it says because all the words are proper English words arranged in a proper sentence but they are fighting their way upstream and uphill.

Now consider this version: “We help you control change by using new technologies.”

It says exactly the same thing but the only word with more than two syllables is “technologies.” That’s a hard word to replace with anything simpler, which is fine.

The revised sentence is also three words shorter. It makes its point and moves on. It immediately engages the readers by addressing them directly (“you”). It carries them forward fast and smooth, which is what marketing copy should do: keep readers reading.

Why do writers bog down their marketing copy with unnecessary multi-syllable words? Partly because they hope a big vocabulary will impress their readers. But marketing copy should never be a vocabulary test. And even people with doctorates in the field do not know a product or service as well as the business that provides it. If they did, they wouldn’t need that business.

Another reason for using obscure and complicated language is that writers think that’s the way marketing copy should sound. So many businesses use phrases like “innovative utilization” that writers feel they have to use them to compete. However, those same writers in the role of consumers–of readers–absolutely hate struggling through dense, static sentences. Why keep doing what clearly doesn’t work?

Readers want marketing copy that moves. They want information they can understand fast. They want clear, everyday words. They want a smooth, fast ride to the buy button.

Do you want to help them? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Our words truly mean business.