Writing the Perfect Proposal

I’ve worked on many proposals and executive summaries for industries as diverse as oil & gas and green products. I’m always impressed by the amount of information offered–and depressed by the problems.

Problems That Undermine Proposals

Two problems stand out in imperfect proposals.

The writers are so close to the product (or service) and so enthusiastic that they no longer see the proposal through the customers’ eyes. Belief in your product or service is an excellent trait and should inform any proposal. However, you yourself wouldn’t make a purchase based solely on someone else’s enthusiasms; neither will your customers. They don’t want a sales pitch; they want you to solve their problem.

Because multiple writers are assigned to a proposal, it doesn’t hang together and important information is either left out or repeated so often that it becomes annoying. Proposals take teamwork, but at some point one person should be assigned to ensure consistency, clarity, and conciseness throughout the proposal.

Characteristics of the Perfect Proposal

Your potential customer has a specific issue that you need to resolve. The perfect proposal assures the customer that you understand the problem and have a solution–one that the customer can understand quickly in easily understood terms. The perfect proposal:

  • Identifies the problem or mission of the customer.
  • Explains (in everyday words) how your particular product or service resolves the problem.
  • Focuses initially on the benefits, not the features, of the product or service.
  • Differentiates the product or service to ease the customer’s process of choosing.
  • Delivers the message clearly and efficiently, keeping overall length (including attachments and links) to a minimum.
  • Gives clear contact information, including a specific person’s name, so that the customer doesn’t have to plow through your entire company directory for someone familiar enough with the product/service to answer questions.

At TWP Marketing & Technical Communication, we have over 25 years of experience writing proposals that give customers the information they want in words that clearly differentiate the product and service while exciting the customer’s interest. We can do the same for your proposals. Contact us today.

4 Habits of Really Successful Websites

Your website is your introduction to people, and first impressions are just as important online as face-to-face. So here are the 4 habits of really successful websites:

  1. Successful websites deliver what they promise. Does the entire website follow through with the same emphasis on certain products or services–or have you changed product and service names, added or omitted some, or gone off on another tangent entirely? If you have a page with a generic name like “locations” or “industries,” have you provided more content than a simple list? Real people are reading and they want compelling copy.
  2. Successful websites solve a problem. Whatever your customer’s problem–a comfortable pair of shoes or training to operate a fractionator–you need to address it, show through videos or case studies or testimonials that you have successfully solved the problem before, and establish your credentials through awards, metrics, blog posts, articles, or insight papers.
  3. Successful websites are careful with acronyms. Technical websites are particularly apt to throw around acronyms as if everyone should automatically know what they mean. Even worse, often the website’s own search function fails to recognize the acronym, a customer’s last hope for a definition. But non-technical websites are also prone to acronym problems, especially when the company has created its own acronym for a process or program (e.g., “our ABAFIN financial program”) without ever defining it.
  4. Successful websites are kind to their readers. Successful websites get to the main point right away, use everyday language, and break up text so that the customer can scan quickly and go back, if desired, to read more. As more and more content is viewed on mobile devices, successful websites will adapt to the smaller screen by making every word and image count. That means boosting nouns and verbs, not adjectives (“wonderful,” “unique”) and adverbs. Creative is important (color, video, formatting) but clear and concise must come first.

Want to boost the success of your website? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications and visit NHBusinessBlog for more advice on delivering content that connects with your customers..

4 Marketing Tips for Manufacturers

Some marketing sites will urge manufacturers to use phrases like “state of the art” and “precision engineered” in their marketing copy. Unfortunately, no one searching for manufactured products or manufacturing services ever searches on “state of the art” or “precision engineered” or any other vague term: they search for what they want, whether that’s a Phillips head screwdriver or an industrial generator.

Here are 4 marketing tips for manufacturers that actually work:

  1. Use Long Tail Keywords. These are search terms that are very precise and usually several words long (for example, “150 watt portable generator”). Long tail keywords in your marketing copy attract people who are actively looking for what you are selling–and are well on their way to becoming buyers.
  2. Keep Your Website and Social Media Active. The more reasons you create for people to click onto your site, the better. But if your website has become stagnant, without new blog posts, videos,news releases, or case studies, you have nothing to link to with your social media posts and your customers have no reason to return. According to one survey, 82% of manufacturing marketers attribute more content creation for an increase in success over last year.
  3. Write in Clear Language Focused on the Customer. Yes, your customers may be experts in their field but they aren’t experts in your field; that’s why they are coming to you for what they need. If your just-in-time, flexible manufacturing system is worth boasting about, let customers know how it helps them. Define acronyms, even if you believe everyone knows them, and do not ever invent your own jargon (“advanced processing system application scenario”).
  4. Use photos and video liberally. The Content Marketing Institute discovered in its 2018 survey that the top three successful content marketing approaches were social media, email newsletters, and video. Post videos showing your manufacturing processes, use or maintenance of your product, or your equipment working at a customer’s site, to create an instant connection to potential customers.

If you have trouble finding the time and resources to create content–whether for website, newsletter,  videos, or social media posts–you may want to hire a freelance writer with experience writing for both international and local manufacturers, including manufacturers of medical equipment, borewelders, and cables. TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is ready to help.

The Who, How, & When of Hiring a Freelance Writer

As a freelance marketing and technical writer, I find that people are sometimes confused and daunted by the who, how, and when of hiring a freelancer. Here is a little information to help with the decision to hire a professional freelance writer.

The Who: How to Recognize a Professional Freelance Writer

A professional freelance writer is not anyone with a liberal arts degree. In fact, many marketing writers and technical writers have degrees in exactly those subjects. A professional freelance writer is also not a laid-off marketing or technical writer who is between jobs. You want someone who will be around for your entire project and for your next project a year from now–not someone who will abandon you for the first full-time employment offer.

So a professional freelance writer:

  • Has a degree in marketing or technical writing and/or years of experience
  • Can provide you with a portfolio of completed freelance projects
  • Is committed to being a freelancer.

The How: How to Work with a Professional Freelance Writer

Successful freelance writers have multiple clients and aim to give all of them stellar work on time and on budget–including you.

You deserve a professional freelance writer who is honest about working with:

  • Your deadlines
  • Your budget
  • Your review process
  • Your feedback.

But you need to be honest about your deadline, budget, review process, and desires before the project begins. The better you know what you want, the better and faster the writer can provide it.

Every professional freelance writer deserves to receive:

  • Reasonable expectations from you–a writer’s magic wand and mind reading abilities are extremely limited
  • Clear communication from you–which may mean limiting the number of reviewers, since review by committee always leads to chaos
  • On-time payment of every invoice.

The When: Benefits of a Professional Freelance Writer

The four main reasons business owners consider a freelance writer are (a) lack of time, (b) lack or confusion of ideas, (c) limited resources (they don’t have the budget or work to justify a full-time hire), and (d) some level of sheer panic over the task.

That’s the time to use a professional freelance writer.

A professional freelance writer relieves you of a task that is not in your primary skill set; helps spark and focus your ideas; is available exactly when needed and for no longer; and takes responsibility for a writing project that has become onerous rather than fun and exciting.

Conclusion

I hope that clears up the who, what, and when of freelance marketing and technical writing. If you need an experienced and dedicated professional freelance writer, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. I work with businesses and projects of every size from sole proprietors to corporations and from single blog posts to entire websites. Contact me today at write [at] twriteplus.com.

English the Right Way

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

What Is Editing and When Do You Do It?

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

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

What to Look for When You’re Editing

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

Why I Hate Online Grammar Checkers

Grammar checkers drive me crazy. Here’s the problem with online grammar checkers–and yes, I mean Grammarly also–they can’t think. When confronted with the slightest complication in a sentence, they default to “wrong, wrong, wrong.”

Recently, a client used an online grammar checker on a sentence like this:

We give sales, marketing, and executive teams greater visibility into financial performance.

In context, the grammar checker insisted that “teams” needed to be a possessive: team’s or teams’. In truth, the sentence was perfectly correct as it stood. Adding an apostrophe would make it grammatically incorrect.

Grammar checkers break down over possessives and contractions. I often catch them preferring “you’re” to “your” in a statement like “what should you do if your house collapses?” They are also baffled by capitalization: the Word grammar checker insists on capitalizing company even in a sentence like “we all went to the company picnic.”

Here’s another example of grammar checker bungling:

If you are going to send someone a long email, make sure that you start by listing the topics under discussion and that you are being as concise as you possibly can.

The grammar checker objected to the word “being” because (pause for irony) it wasn’t concise enough. This client asked me to remove “being.” But if I removed it, the client would be left with the phrase “you are as concise as you possibly can.” That phrase is simply awkward; compare it to “you are as happy as you possibly can.” Clearly there is a verb missing: if “being” disappears, then the phrase has to become “you are as concise as you possibly can be.”

The grammar checker choked on the original sentence because grammar checkers do not understand subordinate clauses. They also go into tailspins over compound subjects and compound sentences. Grammar checkers make suggestions without recognizing the need for alternatives that make sense.

I long ago reached the frustrating conclusion that grammar checkers are of least use to people who seek help with their English grammar. Those individuals may write a perfect sentence only to change it to something ungrammatical in response to a grammar checkers’ whim.

Should you ignore grammar checkers entirely? Well, like the watch that stopped at 6 o’clock, grammar checkers have to be right some times. But be aware of their shortcomings and that you might benefit more from someone like me, with 20 years of freelance writing, editing, and proofreading experience and skill.

Contact me whenever grammar and grammar checkers are driving you crazy.

Plagiarism and Creativity

In college, I had a professor who failed one of my papers because it sounded like something his favorite author had written. I asked if he had found any word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph that matched that author, whom I had never heard of. This was before online plagiarism checkers, and the teacher admitted he couldn’t find any duplication–the paper simply “sounded like.” This is not the definition of plagiarism.

What Plagiarism Is

Someone who plagiarizes takes another person’s work and passes it off as their own. For that to happen, the plagiarism must do more than merely sound like it might have been written by the other person; it must exactly duplicate the original work. And it has to encompass more than a mere phrase or a word or two.

You are plagiarizing if you quote from any online or print article, blog post, book, movie, or other creative work without permission and without citing the source. You are plagiarizing, for example, if you take a photo off the internet and pass it off as your own. The only exceptions are for information that is clearly marked as free to share. Do not assume that a work is in the public domain or that “public domain” frees you from citing a source: there is only one Romeo and Juliet and if you quote huge chunks of it, you should mention Shakespeare.

Whenever you give a complete attribution for a work by someone else–and there are many online sites that will explain how to do this–you are guarding against plagiarism by admitting that someone else created the content you are using. As mentioned, you may also need to ask the original creator’s or publisher’s permission first.

What Plagiarism Is Not

If you are fooling around with ideas, you don’t need to put quotes around “fooling around” as if you feared plagiarizing; it’s an overused cliché but it isn’t owned by any other person.

If you are writing for a client, as I do, then a work becomes the client’s (not yours) as soon as it is paid for and you cannot duplicate it for another client. But if no one has bought the work, it is yours to duplicate as you wish–in articles, blog posts, website content, success stores, and so on. (If you are writing for an independent publication, such as an industry magazine, make sure you understand their policies on ownership.) Generally, you need not fear plagiarizing from yourself.

It is not plagiarism if, on occasion, more than one person comes up with the same phrase. Let’s say, in the course of giving instructions to a DIY builder, you write this phrase: “Create a tight joint using glue and screws.” I can guarantee you that at least one how-to book, if not every one, contains a sentence identical to that. There are only a few ways to explain how glue and screws create a tight joint.

Creativity versus Plagiarism

These days teachers, managers, and editors can run anything you write through an online plagiarism checker to ensure that you haven’t inadvertently plagiarized from another source. That’s fine, but prevention can easily be carried too far.

Let’s suppose you write a sentence all on your own and the online computer program says that the sentence also appeared in a book someone published in 1918 that you never heard of and never read. Inadvertent repetition is part of the creative process in every field. A little simultaneous creativity isn’t necessarily plagiarism.

For example, scientists often scramble to be the first in their field because so many people are aiming for the same result and may reach it at the same time. They aren’t plagiarizing from each other (one hopes); they are merely following the same creative path to the same conclusion.

Creativity should never be manacled by slavish devotion to computer programs. You can use a computer program to find evidence of plagiarism, but never abandon common sense or devalue the results of independent thought.

By the way, that teacher who falsely accused me of plagiarism ultimately gave me an A for the course. A high standard of writing is not plagiarism, no matter how young you are.

I am proud of my ability to write marketing and technical content that is clear, consistent, concise, and creative. If you need writing like that, please contact me today.

Technical Writing: Is This Jargon?

Q. I work for a company provides technology, construction, and other services for a wide variety of industries-—each with their own vocabulary. Plus the company I work for has many specialized, technical products. When we talk about, say, a process analytical technology, that’s a real thing that our customers are looking for, not made up jargon. I want to write clearly, but how do I distinguish jargon from not-jargon?

A. Technical writers and technical companies often rely on jargon in an attempt to be brief. They try to pack the maximum amount of information into one phrase.

However, your first obligation as a writer is to be clear. You want customers to grasp your product and services quickly, and they can’t do that if they’re deciphering jargon. You might as well write in a secret code.

One of my customers boasted online about his software company’s “compatible knowledge component portfolio.” Would you know what you were getting if a company offered you a portfolio of compatible knowledge components? When I asked my customer to describe what the company was selling, he explained in clear simple language: software that helps transfer information smoothly from one program to another. So we replaced the jargon on his website with those clear words.

My customer’s original phrase illustrates some of the criteria for identifying jargon. You are probably reading or writing jargon if a phrase:

  1. Describes something that cannot be immediately diagrammed or understood by your colleague in the next cubical.
  2. Consists of three or more nouns in a row: knowledge component portfolio.
  3. Contains a majority of three- or four-syllable words: in this case, three out of four (compatible, component, portfolio).
  4. Ends with one or more of the following generic nouns: functionality, process, system, capability, service, solution: enhanced reciprocal functionality.

Sometimes jargon marks an attempt by companies to differentiate themselves. You may need a unique phrase to identify a unique product or service. But you should first explain your product or service in everyday English. Once customers understand what you mean by “enhanced reciprocal functionality” or ERF, you are free to talk about it in that shorthand—if you still want to. But make sure the definition is clear in every new document.

Sometimes jargon uses everyday English but is still incomprehensible. We may believe we know what a company means by offering a “strategic planning roadmap process.” The meanings of the individual words are well within our grasp. But in reality, we have no idea if this company creates, delivers, reviews, carries out, or consults upon strategic plans.

If you aren’t sure whether you are writing jargon, please contact me. I will help you communicate clearly, even about the most technical products and services, so that customers truly understand what you offer.

A Bill of Rights for Your Reader

Sometimes I wish there were a bill of rights governing content for customers! Readers have the right to content that addresses their problem, offers a clear solution, is written logically and clearly, and explains what to do next.

You try your best. You’ve produced reams of online and paper content describing your products and services. But sheer volume isn’t enough. Here are the four biggest reasons a marketing message violates the bill of rights:

  • Nobody cares. You’re excited by your achievements. I once had a client whose entire brochure focused on her artistic philosophy and growth. But her customers weren’t interested in her personal triumphs. Their immediate concerns were, “What are you selling, what does it cost, and why should I buy it from you?”
  • It’s confusing. When you cobble content together from old content or have multiple authors writing independently, mistakes enter. For example, I often encounter both marketing and technical content where measurements shift from metric to English and back again; in this case, I recommend giving both measurements at all times: “approximately 10 feet (3 meters).” When customers receive information that’s inconsistent, outdated, or simply wrong, they begin to mistrust whatever you tell them.
  • No one understands it. Your customers expect content written in the plainest possible English, information they can understand quickly and thoroughly. One of my clients stated that “our chemical research has created an absolutely inexhaustible wealth of forms, phenomena, and possibilities.” What they meant was this: “our research has created a wealth of chemicals and new ways to use them.” If you consistently write with 4- and 5-syllable words, business jargon, acronyms, and tech speak or if you skimp on explanations because “everybody knows that,” you’re in trouble.
  • No one can find it. If you dump everything you do or provide into one huge list–or worse, one huge sentence–for the customer to sort out, the customer gives up. I remember a client who wrote a three-chapter proposal: 10 pages in the Introduction, 5 pages in the Conclusion, and 277 endless pages of actual information in the middle. Organize your content so that customers are guided directly to the information they are looking for.

When content aligns with the bill of rights, customers recognize themselves and their problems in your message. They understand that you have the solution they need and how to acquire that solution. And they don’t have to fight for the information because your writing uses everyday, straight-forward, consistent language in a format that is easy to follow.

Having trouble establishing your own bill of rights for marketing content? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Our words mean business.