The Right Way to Say No to Your Customers

We’ve all had customers (internal or external) who ask us to work with a deadline that is too tight, on a project outside our expertise, with too few resources, or with other challenges that we simply can not handle. So here are several ways to say No to your customers and still keep their good will:

  • My schedule is packed right now but I can get to this on [date] and then it will be my priority.
  • This is outside my area of expertise but I can recommend [person].
  • Let’s talk more about what you need. [Look for a compromise.]
  • Some of my other customers have handled this situation this way [explain].
  • May I offer you an alternative?
  • I can do that, but I will have to [charge more, call in help, delay their other project, or ask for some other accommodation].
  • I may know someone who can start work on this [sooner, cheaper, faster]. Would you like a referral?
  • If you will [make a change, talk to someone else about your priorities, do this research or preparation], then I can take care of the rest of the project.

All these statements surround your No with positives to reassure your customers you recognize and want to support their needs and their best interests. Whether in writing or in face-to-face communications, saying No your customers this way may rescue a project that would add to your bottom line and will certainly improve your customer relationships.

If your conflict with a customer involves a writing project that is out of your scope or if your in-house writing staff is currently overwhelmed, please consider TWP Marketing & Technical Communications as your backup. With 20+ years of freelance, remote experience, I have written website content, blog posts, case studies, articles, and insight papers for large and small companies, nonprofits, and sole-proprietors in nearly every industry, including oil & gas, financial, manufacturing, healthcare, consulting, construction, and software development. I’d be delighted to help you.

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.

Writing Manners That Matter

In an age of rapid texting, we sometimes forget that there is such a thing as writing manners. Yet, bad writing manners may result in misunderstandings, missed opportunities to connect, and cultural, generational, intellectual, gender, and racial discrimination and exclusion.

So here are nine ways to show that you care about manners when you are writing:

  • You use the correct name of the person you are writing to. You’re more likely to connect if your email is personal. Double check to make sure you spelled the recipient’s name correctly and use the correct title (Dr., Ms., Hon., etc.), if any. If the person has indicated preferred pronouns, use those. You are not allowed to judge or dismiss someone else’s chosen identity.
  • You put communication first. Not everyone recognizes the double meaning of emojis, abbreviations of the moment, or pop culture references. Your company jargon and even common industry acronyms may be unfamiliar to the person you are writing to.
  • You are clear. if you are taking the time to write, then be clear about why you are writing. Explain your purpose or ask your question early on–details can wait until later. Don’t expect the recipient to hunt through paragraph after paragraph before discovering that you’re calling a meeting tomorrow at 9 a.m.
  • You choose kindness. The other person may have annoyed you but your response, like their comments, will last a long time in whatever device they are using. Kindness and restraint always reflect well on you. If you cannot refrain from nastiness, don’t reply.
  • You know your punctuation. Question marks indicate that you expect an answer–no question mark, no question. Exclamation points (which should never be overused!!!) indicate excitement. Periods show you have finished one thought and are beginning another. Consider punctuation the world’s original emoji.
  • You are professional when professional is called for. Avoid humor, politics, jargon, and reprimands in writing. They are easy to misunderstand and they may be resented if they are understood.
  • You are reasonable. The recipient may not be able to answer your text the moment it arrives or may prefer talking to writing or may need to consider before answering. Becoming angry at a “slow” response is counter-productive.
  • You take time to check. Is your email being sent to the correct John Smith or did the email program chose the wrong one? Is your blind copy truly blind?
  • You know when to call. A telephone call or, better still, in person or video conferencing is less painful than spiraling anger or confusion over a written communication that may be misunderstood.

By using your best writing manners, you will reach your objective faster: to let someone else know what you want, offer, need, feel, and think. If you or your team have difficulty creating form or individual content that communicates with manners, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

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.

Does Your Website Content Strike Fear–in Your Customers?

Recently I reviewed the website of a new company dedicated to cyber security. The proposed design was fine. What caused me to shake my head was the proposed website content.

I am a firm believer that what your customers want when they find your website is the answer to three questions:

  1. Do you have the information I need?
  2. How will you solve my problem?
  3. Why should I choose you?

Navigation presented the first problem for the cyber security website. All the information about services appeared in two places: under the heading “Services” and with precisely the same wording on the home page. That arrangement might have helped with SEO but it left a visitor wondering. Was there nothing more to say? Was the exact repetition an error by a company that should be proclaiming itself attentive to detail?

I’ve never been a big fan of the Services category, especially if in a small website that lacks a search function. I prefer headings that direct customers to the area where they have the most interest. If the big box retailers can do it, so can you.

When your website content focuses on solutions, your customers breathe a sigh of relief: you recognize their pain and you know how to remove it. Instead, the cyber security company focused on the problem. They detailed everything negative that could happen by neglecting cyber security. I could feel my stress level rising with each paragraph I read.

Customers also want assurances of your company’s capabilities. The cyber security website offered one page that detailed the experience and credentials of the business owner and after that–nothing. No testimonials, no case studies, no blog posts. Yes, the owner was well-educated and credentialed but so were his competitors. How were his particular skills used? Did they benefit anyone?

Unfortunately, when your website makes it difficult for customers to find the information they want, harps on problems rather than solutions, and leaves questions about your capabilities, customers are likely to search elsewhere for the help they need. They will choose the company that demonstrates an understanding of both their problem and the potential solutions–and that may not be you.

Make your customers happy and your revenue stream even happier by working with TWP Marketing & Technical Solutions to design website content that attracts customers and keeps them.

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.

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.

What Your Customers Don’t Know…And How It Helps You

I recently visited a website for a company selling beeswax candles. On one web page, the company explained how their candles were made. The information fascinated me. I’ve melted crayons to make candles and simply assumed any candle was made with the same technique. It isn’t.

The beeswax candle company made a smart move: they asked themselves what their customers might not know and supplied it. As a result, customers like me stayed on their website much longer.

If you have been telling yourself that “Everyone in the industry does it that way” or “Everyone knows that,” it may be time for a reality check: never underestimate what your customers don’t know.

  • Do your customers know information that is common in your industry? Probably not. Your customers have their own special interests, which is why they are coming to you. Share your knowledge, educate your customers and you’ve hooked them. 
  • Are your customers comparing you to your competitors? Most certainly. So make sure you include information on industry standards, industry regulations, awards, and baselines that you meet or exceed. Provide testimonials, before and after photos, and case studies that confirm your expertise.
  • Do your customers know what they don’t know? For example, you assume they know what you mean by “extremely precise measurements.” But in reality, there’s a big difference in precision between 0.0003 cm and 0.00003 cm. Be specific and ensure you are both working with the same data and assumptions.
  • Do your long-time, highly educated customers like intellectual challenges? Why push them? Even the most savvy customers get tired of constantly translating acronyms and industry jargon. Make it easy on your customers to understand what you are saying. The faster they read, the faster you can convert them to a sale.

Knowing what your customers don’t know–and want to know–helps you meet their desire for information and makes you stand out from the competition. Need help in figuring that out? Contact me today at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

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 by Committee

I once proofread a proposal where the word “huge” was spelled throughout as “hugh.” (High marks for consistency, though.) I edited the descriptions of presentations for a major industrial conference where presenters used the same acronym for entirely different meanings over a dozen times. 

When any document is written by committee, it seems that no one is responsible to check that it actually makes sense. Basic facts change from chapter to chapter or page to page, including product and service names. Cross-references go nowhere, as everyone assumes that someone else is providing the cross-referenced content. Some writers believe their readers are knowledgeable and the rest believe their readers need detailed information–which means the actual reader is either lost or bored.

You can avert and fix the problem of writing by committee if you:

  • Create a short style manual for writers to reference. A style manual is a brief description (2 pages maximum) of format, grammar (use of the serial comma, for example), spelling, acronyms, and use of copyrighted or intellectual property.
  • Decide early on about tone and audience. Do you address the audience as “you” or “they”? Is content highly technical or relaxed (think the “for Dummies” series)? Who is your audience: executives, purchasers, installers, users? Don’t switch audiences mid-page or mid-sentence.
  • Limit the number of reviewers. Aim for a maximum of three reviewers; say, customer liaison, technical, and executive.
  • Assign one person to read the entire document. With multiple writers and reviewers, sentences become edited into nonsense, words are dropped, and even firm requests by the customer for specific information are overlooked.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. The smallest change or mistake in even a standard document can turn the rest of the document into scrap paper.

As a professional technical and marketing writer, I’m often called upon to provide a uniform voice and structure for documents that undergo writing by committee. That outside perspective not only ensures that mistakes are caught, it also helps to resolve conflict when writers re-write each other.

If your company, division, or group is used to writing by committee, please contact me.

12 Reasons for Hiring a Freelance Writer

After 20 years as a freelance writer, I have discovered 12 reasons why business owners hire a freelance writer. Regardless of the business owner’s industry, years of experience or overall marketing expertise, hiring a freelance writer addresses one or more of these concerns:

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 need someone who isn’t full time but is dependable; will handle my writing projects when they come along; and understands 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’d like to standardize my replies to customer inquiries, my marketing collateral or cold call scripts so that my brand is clear.

6. My proposal (or report or manual) writing team needs someone to unify the content and figure out what’s missing, repetitive or contradictory.

7. My business has changed; I need a collaborator who can clarify what I should be writing now 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’m not detail oriented–at least, not with writing. I need someone who actually enjoys grammar and spelling.

11. My current marketing collateral sounds exactly like my competition’s; I need a way to differentiate myself.

12. 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.

Why would you hire a freelance writer?

If you recognize yourself in any of the top reasons for hiring a freelance writer, please contact me. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, based in Peterborough, New Hampshire, our words mean business.

More Words? Less Power.

There are two things that great marketing copy is not:

  • Sesquipedalian
  • A vocabulary test.

“Sesquipedalian” is one of those vocabulary test words. I could have easily chosen “wordy” or even “verbose” and made the same point. Yet, many writers of technical or marketing copy believe in using long words, no matter how obscure.

By contrast, professional writers know:

  • You can reach more readers faster with everyday language.
  • Unnecessary 4- and 5-syllable words (functionality, maximization) slow readers down even when they do understand them.
  • Clear is better than concise; if it takes 3 extra words to be perfectly clear, use them.

All writing is communication. Even the most difficult content is trying to communicate. So if “difficult” is not your priority, why make your audience work hard for what you desperately want them to know?

Small Words

I challenge you to take any marketing or technical copy and circle every word over 3 syllables. Now replace those words with words of 3 syllables or less. You will be amazed at the power your words achieve when most of your writing relies on 1- and 2-syllable words. And your readers will understand what you have to say faster, a major benefit in turning them from prospects to customers.

Short Sentences

Once you have simplified your words, you should shorten your sentences by aiming for an average of 18 words per sentence. Shorter sentences are fine; very few if any should exceed 24 words. For this purpose, a colon before a list counts the same as a period–just make sure you are using the colon correctly.

Short Paragraphs

Now that you have small words and short sentences, review your paragraphs. Most paragraphs should be 5 sentences long (or 120 words) at most. Any document that contains 10 paragraphs would benefit from subtitles; as shown here, you can also use subtitles for shorter documents.

Alternatives to Words

Finally, consider the alternatives to words: graphs, photos, illustrations, video, graphic design. Words are not the only way to communicate, and it is absolutely true that a picture is worth 1000 words–if it’s the right picture.

With these techniques for writing marketing and technical copy–using small words, short sentences, short paragraphs, and graphics–you will communicate with more power, more speed, and fewer sesquipedalian failures.

Sharon Bailly founded TWP Marketing & Technical Communications 20 years ago to help large and small businesses communicate with their clients through articles, case studies, insight papers, newsletters, and blog posts. She can be reached through LinkedIn.

How to Know When You Need Help with Your Content

I’ve often written about the qualities of great content, but how do you know when you need help with your content? Here are five big danger signs:

  1. You are writing or reviewing by committee. Nothing good ever gets written by committee. Committee members contradict each other; they argue over every comma; or even worse, they don’t care about details, so that your grammar, spelling, and emphasis changes from page to page. Your content should help create your brand. You don’t want your brand to be “chaos.”
  2. You are writing too much. If you pack that first page with an endless rush of words, your audience will run. At the very least, provide headlines, bullets, and graphics to break up the text. Modern content tends to be sparse, not overwhelming, but sparse content is difficult to write. It is easy to be verbose.
  3. You are writing the same thing over and over. Repetition helps reinforce a message; but if you repeat yourself too often, your customers will be bored. Even worse, you may give up writing entirely. You have a lot more content than you realize–you just haven’t properly mined what you have.
  4. You aren’t sure what makes you different. You are convinced that every business like your own is identical and, therefore, you can’t possibly have anything to write about. Or you are afraid to admit that your competition might know more than you do and, therefore, you shouldn’t write because it will expose your limitations. Sometimes we find it difficult to see ourselves as we really are, and celebrate that.
  5. You keep putting it off. You need to finish the writing project that’s on your desk now, and you need to write regularly. Your content can’t communicate with customers until you send it out. Similarly, if you write once and never another word, you are missing opportunities to connect with past and future customers–because your business, industry, and marketplace are changing even as you procrastinate.

As a freelance marketing and technical writer, I help companies create a cost-effective, time-sensitive balance between writing by committee and writing by totalitarian decree; between writing too much and too little; between copying the competition and striking out into unfamiliar lands; and between never starting and never ending. Contact me today and let’s work together to give you help with your content.