Your Brand New Website: What It Needs and What It Doesn’t

You may have just finished or are committed to building your first website. Congratulations! Now is the time to look at that brand new website or preliminary design to make sure that  you have checked for the following:

  • Very clear contact information. Your contact information or a link to the contact page should appear on every page of your website–at least the phone number. Make sure that the contact information works by trying it yourself periodically.
  • Navigation that tells people who you are. A tab for each major product or service gives visitors more immediate information and leads them more firmly than a generic “services” or “products” tab. Even Amazon manages to lead people to the information they want right now.
  • Security that is strong but easy to satisfy. If your customers have to click through a dozen different levels of security or figure out some obscure picture to actually buy your products and services they will give up. The same goes for multiple “confirm” buttons–help them buy what they want to buy.
  • Content that speaks to the customer. Aim for clear, concise, accurate, and interesting content that tells customers how your business can help them.  Do you enjoy reading a long list of products or services? Being lectured to about how your health or sanity will suffer if you don’t buy a product? Having to wade through paragraph after paragraph of dense text to figure out what you are getting and why you should get it? Neither do your customers.
  • Content that grows. A blog, a series of articles, a few case studies, all add to the richness and interest of your website and help immeasurably with search engine optimization. If you have trouble developing content or lack time, build a relationship with a freelance writer. 
  • Responsiveness. If your website allows people to make comments or send queries, respond to them in a reasonable time. If your website contains downloads, make sure they download quickly.
  • Few annoyances. Asking customers to sign up before they can access parts of your website may annoy them but is understandable. Covering everything they want to see with ads is not, especially if those ads go on and on and on and…  
  • Pictures. Before and after photos, photos of satisfied customers, pictures of your products and services–they all lure in customers and speak much more loudly than words (though you still need words). 
  • Working links. Check your internal links; never assume you are sending customers to the right page. If you link to outside content, check those links periodically to make sure they still exist and that they still send people to safe, interesting content. Just because they worked right when your new website was first built, doesn’t mean they work right now.
  • No mistakes. Proofread, proofread, proofread. Poor grammar and spelling are one sign of a website that might not be legitimate–and you want potential customers to trust you. 

The pandemic certainly taught us all how important it is to have a presence online. If you are building or have recently built a brand new website , there is no need to struggle through alone. Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications and take advantage of our experience.

From our base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your message with accuracy, clarity, and passion.

Faster, Better Emails

Whether you are communicating with a client, vendors, or staff, a well-written email saves everyone time and frustration. By being clear in the first place about why you are writing, what you are writing about, and the issues you are dealing with, you avoid endless email cycles and misunderstandings.

Why, What, and How

In your opening statement, summarize the most important facts. In three or four sentences you should be able to explain:

  • Why you are writing (in answer to an email? to confirm a conversation? to inaugurate a project?)
  • What you want to happen (does the recipient need to choose, decide, deliver, take action? Are you going to choose, decide, deliver, take action?)

Don’t wait until the end of a long email to tell your readers what you intend to do or what they need to do–they may never read that far. The details can be saved for later in the email; by providing the “why” and “what” first, you let readers know if the “how” is important. You may also find that the “how” isn’t important–you don’t need all that detail.

When you do need a detailed “how,” you may want end the opening statement with a sentence like this: “The following paragraphs provide more details about the Problem, Possible Solutions, Recommendations, and Next Steps.” Insert the titles over each section that follows.

Let your readers know where you are going up front, and they will follow you from first word to last.

Communication Shortcuts

Endless emails result when people base their decision to read further solely on the subject line, don’t realize that a question has been asked, answer the wrong question or delay because the question seems overwhelming, and never realize you need an answer now. To avoid those problems, use these communication shortcuts:

  • Post your most important point in the subject line. This technique works especially well for meetings (“Marketing meeting 3 p.m., room 4”).
  • If you expect an answer, ask a question; make sure that a question mark appears somewhere in your email.
  • If you have difficulty getting the answers you need, break up complicated questions into questions that must be answered “yes” or “no”; avoid multiple choice.
  • Give a deadline for the response or the action you want. The phrase “as soon as possible” is an invitation to delay.

For help organizing and writing your marketing and technical materials, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications today.

From our base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your message with accuracy, clarity, and passion.

Clear Away the Website Confusion

You may be clear about who your customers are and what they want. You may have a strong message. But if you fail to communicate that certainty in your website, your customers become confused and your message becomes muddled.

My job as a freelance writer is to find clear away the confusion so that you feel good about your website–and so do your customers.

  • Shifting audience: A local nonprofit’s website switched back and forth between addressing potential guests, the people they were trying to help, and addressing potential donors. As a result, on the home page, guests became “you” part of the time and “they” the rest of the time. We revised the website to separate the two messages. We also added a help button that let potential guests quickly access help and a donor button that sent potential donors direct to a donate page. With the end of website confusion, clients and donors each understood the message meant for them and were able to act on it.
  • Muddled message: A consultant was transitioning between two main products and considering a new service. As she inserted information here and there into her website, it lost focus and visitors no longer knew where to look first to find what they needed. We went back to her original mission, revised it based on what she truly wanted to do now, and then removed products and services, old or new, that no longer fit the new mission. We cleared up the website confusion, not only for the customers, but for the consultant herself. 
  • Powerful words: More words and longer words don’t equal more power. I like to use the example of two salespeople. One says, “Our professionally engineered, state-of-the-art product has the incredible capability of significantly reducing your annualized monetary outflow” and the other says, “Our product saves you money year after year.” A clear, concise statement that you believe in carries more weight than any string of five syllable adverbs and adjectives.

At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we believe in the power of writing that:

  • Meets your customer’s needs
  • Shows you and your customers in the best light
  • Is clear, concise, accurate, and passionate.

Let us bring those elements into your marketing materials, clear away website confusion, and enable your message to shine. Contact us today.

From our base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your message with accuracy, clarity, and passion.

Working with a Freelance Writer

Are you thinking about hiring a freelance writer? Most often, business owners consider that alternative when their own staff is already overwhelmed; no one on staff is an adequate writer or can agree on content; the business owner has too few writing projects to hire someone full-time; or customers are clearly seeking improved marketing materials, including a new or updated website.

If you are hiring a freelance writer for the first time, here is what you need to know:

1. Find a writer who grew up speaking and writing the primary language of your customers. If the primary language is English, you can certainly find writers from other countries who will write more cheaply than a native speaker–they will also make more cultural, idiomatic, and grammatical mistakes. Look for a freelance writer who considers freelancing a career, not a stepping stone to a full-time job, because you want that writer to be around for your next project. Ask for referrals from those who have already worked with the writer

2. Ask the writer for examples. You need a business-savvy writer with a style that fits your expectations. A portfolio will tell you more than a degree.

3. Understand that writing is a partnership between you and the writer. Writers need to start somewhere to develop content, whether by interviewing you or your customers for information; or by reading all the previous material written about a particular project or product; or by researching your competitors. Even writers who are steeped in your industry–remembering that a writer is a writer first–need access to information or to those who have information about your specific company, products, and services.

4. Keep reality in mind when setting deadlines; writing, editing, research, interviewing–it all takes time. And freelance writers usually have multiple clients who compete for that time. Your freelancer will help you determine a schedule and should keep you up to date every step of the way–if the freelancer fails to meet deadline, and seems to ignore the difficulty that creates for you, find a new freelancer.

5. Know that the customer comes first. 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 the customer’s priorities (“tell me you can solve my problem”). A freelance writer’s main goal is to make sure your message is delivered clearly, concisely and passionately to your customers. So while the writer’s words may not be your words, they will be the customer’s.

You freelance writer should be committed to the work of writing, meeting deadlines, communicating clearly and professionally with you and your customers, and delivering content that you and your customers want to read.

From our base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your message with accuracy, clarity, and passion.

It’s Time for the Yes

Lately, we’ve had a lot of reasons to feel negative. But smart writers emphasize the positive in their marketing copy.

Negative, bullying tactics (“if you don’t wear a mask, you will die and kill people, stupid”) lose their power pretty quickly. People hate to be badgered (or even inconvenienced, for that matter) and would rather deny the problem. Hope has a much longer shelf life.

So the better positive message is: Masks help keep everyone safe–including you and your loved ones.

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

Avoiding the “No”

Negatives sneak in when you aren’t looking; in other words, keeping positive requires attention.

If you want to make sure that your message is positive:

  • Search for “not” and its contractions.
  • Read for negative words like “problem” or “unfortunately”–make sure they are warranted and the only choice.
  • Avoid strong negatives (not in stock) by using a milder positive (out of stock).
  • Keep in mind that customers want solutions–they know they have a challenge; right now they want to hear how you will turn it around.

Questions that can be answered with a negative raise the same issues as negative statements. For example, “why not use a mask?” invites a slew of excuses and protests

Negative Questions, Negative Answers

Fear of the negative can be taken too far. Sometimes “not” may add emphasis.For example:

Masks help keep everyone safe–including you and your loved ones. You want to keep safe and so do we. Wishful thinking won’t help. But a mask will.

However, avoid over-using this technique. .

Finding the “Yes”

One reason success stores are so powerful is their ability to tell a positive story for both the customer (who was wise enough to seek help) and the business (which was wise enough to find a solution).

Success stories are only one way to emphasize the positive. Consider photos of your successes (before and after; smiling customers or employees), articles that present potential solutions, and blog posts that explain your methods.

When you become an expert in “yes,” you are welcomed by customers everywhere.

From our base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your message with accuracy, clarity, and passion.

Give Me a Verb

When you write with nouns and verbs–instead of adjectives and adverbs–you write with power. But all too often, writers undermine their verbs, adding empty phrases or using weaker forms of the verb.

Strong verbs are exciting–strong verbs drive excitement. Want to score big with your verbs? Watch out for:

  • The “ing” constructions. Instead of “we are currently manufacturing…,” try “we currently manufacture….”
  • Passive constructions. Instead of “our precision tools are designed by expert engineers,” try “our expert engineers design precision tools.”
  • Noun phrases. Instead of “we are the developers of the first…,” try “we developed the first…”
  • The word “of.” Instead of “we are engaged in the research of…,” try “we research….”
  • Verb tenses you don’t need. Instead of “your process will have been transformed…,” try “your process will be transform.”
  • “There are” constructions. Instead of “there are three ways to solve this problem…” try “this problem has three solutions….”
  • Negatives. Instead of “never buy a car without test driving it first,” try “always test drive a car before buying it.”

Now a word of caution: When you edit for stronger verbs (or any other improvement), re-read the entire sentence to make sure it still makes sense. You might change “we are currently manufacturing small containers” and find that the sentence now reads “we are currently manufacture small containers”–with the “are” left in by mistake.

This problem occurs so frequently that 250 years ago, Samuel Johnson (the writer of the first well-known English dictionary) stated, “The making [of] a partial change, without due regard to the general structure of the sentence, is a very frequent cause of error in composition.” Or as we might say now: Don’t trade your weak verbs for a nonsense sentence!

From our base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your marketing message with accuracy, clarity, and passion.

Writing with Less Stress: Three Tips

In business, you are expected to write. The act of writing can be very stressful. Simply organizing your thoughts takes time. Then you worry if readers will ignore or misunderstand what you send them. If the first message goes wrong, you may find yourself in an endless loop of explanations. Here are four tips to reduce the stress of writing:

Don’t write, talk.

I happen to be a writing person; I stumble when I’m forced to talk spontaneously. You may very well be just the opposite–a person who shines when you talk. In any case, these days we spend way too much time texting and emailing each other and not enough talking directly. When you are face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice with another person, miscommunications are less likely and can be easily cleared up. Surprise someone: talk to them.

Consider your readers.

Talking isn’t always possible, especially if you are reaching out to several people simultaneously. But remember that everyone’s first question is, “What’s in it for me?” Always begin with benefits or results, then explanations. In a long email, proposal, or report, give a list of contents–and then stick to that list–so that your readers know what to expect and have some idea what sections apply most to their particular interest. If you want the answer to a question, make sure you include a question mark somewhere early on; if you are responding to a question, give the answer first and then explain how you got there.

Be brief and specific.

For example, in the executive summary of a proposal, readers are interested first in the solutions to their problem, and then in learning the details. Vague words like “great,” “wonderful,” “state-of-the-art,” and “proactive” merely take up space and your reader’s time. Readers know what they want to know--do you?

If you are frustrated by the results you get from your marketing collateral, proposals, letters, and emails, review them to decide whether you might be better off with a face-to-face meeting; whether you have given primacy to your customer’s interests; and whether you have written as briefly and specifically as you can.

From our base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your message with accuracy, clarity, and passion.

8 First Steps for First-Time Sole Proprietors & Freelancers

Twenty years ago, I started TWP Marketing & Technical Communications (originally called TechWritePlus) as a leap of faith–no business plan, no board, and no idea of the need in the community. I had one client and after a long while I had two. Gradually, I learned what to do and what not to do.

Are you thinking now about starting your own freelance, consulting, or sole-proprietor business? Let me share what I learned:

  • You need a clear idea of what you offer–not a vision or mission statement, but a 1 minute, 2 sentence summary of what you offer and why it is important to other people. If you don’t know, no one else will.
  • You have to commit. Revise your LinkedIn profile so that it features your accomplishments and experience that make you a great freelancer or consultant. Build your website around your business. If you are simply running in place until a full-time offer comes along, people will notice and you will never build loyal clients/customers.
  • Luddite is good. Yes, you need a website and a LinkedIn profile, but you also have to take advantage of off-line, real-life opportunities like speaking before the Chamber of Commerce or joining local networking groups or writing a press release (or even a column) for the local paper and industry magazine. You want to get your name out? Get yourself out.
  • Think about pricing. Pricing can change as your business grows but do not start by undervaluing yourself in relation to everyone else. Think about pricing in terms of your experience and your profit, not your speed or big heart. What do you need to live on? I began by charging by the hour; moved to charging by the project; and now charge by the word, except in the case of very small projects.
  • Consider your customer/client. Always, always, over deliver–for deadlines especially. Always be calm and reasonable but do not deal with unreasonable people. They are the ones who will end up not paying or delaying payment or never referring you and they raise your stress level. Not worth it. But the ones who appreciate you? Do everything for them! You might even consider a “preferred customer discount” once in a while.
  • Ask for referrals and make the most of testimonials. Let customers know their referrals are welcome (I mention that at the bottom of my invoices) and thank them when they come through. If a customer sends you a particularly nice thank you, ask if you can post it on your website or online profile or use it in your marketing material. Do not hesitate to ask for testimonials–or even a case study interview–when a project has gone well but remember to always make sure the customer comes off looking good. They were smart enough to hire you, right?
  • Get help. You are great at what you do but are you also great at bookkeeping, writing, motivating, organizing, publicizing, and so on? All of those tasks are available from other freelancers, consultants, and sole-proprietors and sometimes for free (for example, your local Small Business Association). Consider whose help you need most, and add them one-by-one to your team when you can afford it. Don’t fail for lack of help.
  • Act but not recklessly–and don’t give up too soon. Don’t delay because of your fears. However, make sure you have a year’s income to keep you going. If you or your family cannot risk that one year of income, definitely rethink. Most businesses do not take off in less than 6 months and most need the full year. Once you are past that point, you should re-evaluate–but if you decide to go for it, let yourself reach that point.

From our base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your message with accuracy, clarity, and passion.

The Success of Success Stories

A case study or success story not only raises the appeal of a website but also opens up other ways of promoting your business. Too many business owners rely, in vain, on their customers (or clients) to provide testimonials, when most would be delighted to tell their stories if only they were asked.

As your business returns to partial or full operation, now is the time to remind your customers, your employees, and yourself of your past successes.

The best case studies or success stories always:

  • Present the customer’s perspective on the problem. The problem you believe you solved may not be the problem that drove the customer to you and may not be the reason why the customer most appreciated your efforts. But that is the problem your future customers will relate to–and the one you should focus upon.
  • Show both you and the customer to advantage. After all, the customer had the intelligence and initiative to call you–and specifically you–to solve a problem.
  • Explain what you did from your point of view as well. Many testimonials fail to give a complete picture; a case study or success story fills in the missing pieces.
  • Has a plot. After all, if nothing went wrong and you did nothing to fix it, where is the story? Simply stating that you did “this thing” for “that person” isn’t a story. A story includes the who, what, why, when, and where–and most of all, the who cares?
  • Includes quotes. Direct quotes lend immediacy to the story and help you build a direct relationship to the reader.

Putting together several short case studies creates a white paper or an informational article that you can publish on your website and in industry or local magazines and newspapers. Testimonials drawn from the customer interview are usually more specific and more interesting than one-off testimonials because the customer has been transported back to the original situation, rather than focused solely on the results.

In earlier posts, I detailed the three steps to a great case study and explained how to conduct great client interviews. But if interviewing, contributing to, and writing success stories or case studies appears like an overwhelming task, please reach out to me. I’ll be happy to send you samples that show the excitement you can generate with successful success stories.

From our base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your message with accuracy, clarity, and passion.

The Wonders of Humor

During this pandemic, I’ve received many emails from family and friends with jokes about muddling through. I’ve listened to funny songs about staying safe and watched hilarious videos about the difficulties of sewing a face mask for the first time. Humor often turned around a tedious and boring day. I love humor.

Here is why that humor works:

  • It includes all of us. When humor is aimed at one particular group on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, or any other grouping, and especially if it aims at belittling that group, it is not humor but attack.
  • It is good-natured. When humor aims to demean another person, especially a person with less power, it is bullying.
  • It is appropriate. Suffering can be laughed at but not at the expense of the person who is suffering.
  • It invites us to laugh at ourselves. Laugh at yourself whenever you like but think carefully before laughing at someone else if they did not invite the laughter.
  • It doesn’t need an apology. “I was only joking” is not an apology. It is the last retreat of bullying, aggressive, and clueless adults–and perfectly normal five-year-olds.

When you use humor in your writing–and you should–make sure that it fits all the criteria above. As Jerry Seinfeld says in one of his specials, people think that what he does is easy. He just gets up on a stage and says humorous things and people laugh. But he spent years finding the right combination of words that made people laugh–instead of, for example, running him out of town, tarred and feathered.

Even appropriateness, possibly the easiest criteria, can be hard to judge. I once had a client, a plumber, who wanted to fill his website home page with bathroom humor. But most people who desperately need a plumber are not in the mood for bathroom humor. If you don’t know your audience or their circumstances, be cautious.

Humor that is aimed at yourself or that plays on words is almost always safe. But if ever your humor misfires, apologize–really apologize. For humor gone wrong, it’s the only grown-up response.

Need words to engage your audience and keep them engaged? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.