Flexing Your Word Power–with a Little Bit of Help from TWP

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog on finding and building your brand in which I asked you to consider three questions. Today, I’d like to answer those questions for TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Why Do I Do What I Do?

Aside from the fact that I love to write–I used to scrawl stories on paper before I even knew the alphabet–I consider communication one of the most essential human activities. How does anyone know, support, help, share with, or advise anyone without communicating in some form? Yes, communication can be used to destroy–we know that all too well–but the only way to restore balance in that case is to speak up or, in my case, write. Words are powerful, I respect their power, and I want people to find what they are looking for with their words, whether snow blowers or peace.

What Do My Customers Gain by Working With Me?

They gain an experienced perspective outside of their own and attuned to their customers–I am the consummate customer in my role as a writer. They gain an honest advocate for their products or services. They gain more than they bargained for, as I always pour 150% into each project; writing gives me too much pleasure to skimp on it. They gain clear, concise, accurate content that communicates their passion for what they do from someone who can draw on 20+ years of experience writing for every industry and field you can think of. With the possible exceptions of cat burglary and politics.

If I Didn’t Provide This Service What Would My Customers Do?

They’d muddle along. They might not communicate clearly or concisely or even accurately, but communication is such a strong human need that they would charge ahead anyway. They might agonize over commas versus semicolons, looming deadlines, inconsistent content, and how to say what they want to say. They might produce copy with misplaced apostrophes, wrong (and sometimes baffling) word choices, proofreading errors, and incredibly convoluted and impenetrable sentences. Yet, they still deserve credit because they tried to communicate–and communication is the most important thing.

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 Better Ways to Talk Tech

A while ago, a LinkedIn user complained about his frustration in explaining technology to nontechnical people. His customers became resentful, bored, and impatient with the very information they asked for. When you feel the urge to talk tech to a non-technical audience–whether in print, online, or in person–try one of these approaches first:

  • Listen. Why is that particular audience seeking you out for this particular technology? What is their problem or need? What do they expect?
  • Accept your role. Your audience has turned to you because of your expertise. Therefore, you do not need to baffle them with technology. They know they don’t know as much as you.
  • Accept their role. Consider this: when you consult your physician, you want answers, not a medical education. When your audience consults you, they also want answers, not a degree in engineering, robotics, quantum computing, or biochemistry.
  • Define the problem. Make sure you are talking about the same problem. Your audience may have diagnosed the wrong problem; they may have the right problem but misguided expectations; or they may not realize they have a problem.
  • Concentrate on benefits. How does your technology solve the problem and benefit them?
  • Use analogies. When possible, compare your technology to something nontechnical and within the experience of your audience. For a great example of how analogy makes it easy to talk tech, see this article in Cosmos about quantum physics.
  • Use pictures. People understand diagrams, photographs, simulations, and tables where words confuse them.
  • Use stories. Everyone loves a good story. Case studies, testimonials, videos, and insight papers bring people along in part because they provide context and in part because they appeal to the story-loving heart of us.

If you struggle to translate technical information into everyday language, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. I have 20+ years of experience writing and editing website content, insight papers, blog posts, articles, proposals, and manuals that bring customers and technology together.

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 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.