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.

Your Internal Writing Critic: Friend or Foe?

Everyone who writes has an internal writing critic or editor who is constantly asking:

  • Did you say that right?
  • Did you spell, punctuate, hyphenate that right?
  • Is there a better way to say that?
  • Is this the right point to make?
  • Will anyone understand this?
  • Will everyone laugh at this?
  • Did anyone say this already?

That internal writing critic may have the best judgment in the world. Yet, when it is exercised at the wrong time, it can stop you from ever writing a single word, let alone a blog post, case study, website content, or insight paper.

The wrong time is while you are writing.

When you sit down to write, turn off your internal critic or editor and concentrate on what you want to say. If you aren’t struggling for ideas, begin by building on the ideas you didn’t know you had, including industry trends, replies to customer comments, and reasons to select your product or service. Research what companies like yours are saying online. Never plagiarize; look instead for ideas that you can expand upon, explain better, or even counter.

Once you know what you want to say, begin writing down everything you know about the topic and everything you can find out. You will end with content that is too long or complex or that wanders off topic. That’s good. That extra content will become the source for a second, third, or fourth piece.

Now is the time for your internal writing critic to step forward.

Prune the content. Are you listing three ways to do something, answering four questions, describing a process, evaluating or explaining a single product? Deliver that content and only that content. Prune the rest.

Organize the material that is left over. If, for example, your topic is “three ways to improve your writing,” make sure you list the three ways, one after the other (not two, not twenty!).

Read the content. Does it flow? Are you clear about the information you want to impart or the point you want to make? Has irrelevant material crept in?

Try to write the entire piece using words of 3 syllables or less. This step ensures that you have not turned your piece into a vocabulary test. It will inspire you to write with clear, precise words that are easy to understand.

Break up any sentence longer that 24 words. Short sentences are fine. But long rambles are confusing and they slow readers down. You want to convert readers to customers fast.

Check for grammar and spelling. Please, please, please do not rely on online spelling and grammar checkers. They make errors all the time.

Put the content away for 24 hours and read again. You will find errors–guaranteed. If you find yourself tempted to throw out the content after 24 hours, ask an objective party to read it instead. It may be much better than you think (internal critics can be harsh) or it may be fixable with a few tweaks.

When you shut down your internal critic while you are writing, you write more freely and creatively. When you let your editor side loose afterward, you write better. If your internal writing critic won’t leave you alone, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications for content that is creative, clear, and concise–and customized to 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.

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.

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.

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.

Words That Show, Not Tell

Recently, I replaced the carpet in my downstairs with maple flooring. I had a very difficult time deciding the type of flooring (hardwood, laminate, maple, oak), until a flooring professional showed me photos of maple flooring he had installed for another home owner. Seeing the flooring in place–not just a square sample–made all the difference.

We all know the power of photography to show, not tell. But what about the power of writing to do the same thing? How do you show, not tell, in words?

  1. Don’t create bare lists. When you simply list your products and services, one after another, you are telling. That list may be important to you; but is it compelling for your customers?
  2. Do think about what your customers want. You might offer 30 different products or services but–and I cannot say this often enough–customers want to get fast to the product or service that interests them. On a website, that means easy navigation; in a brochure, that means a clear and consistent layout; in an article or blog post, that means focusing on a single problem/solution each time.
  3. Build trust. I had a budget for my new flooring. One flooring rep turned me off by giving me an outrageous price (what, he thought I didn’t research on the internet?) and then offering me a “special discount” that brought the price within reason. Games like that are a lose/lose. I paid more to work with someone I trusted.
  4. Let your current customers speak for you. Like photographs of past jobs, success stories (case studies) bring your product or service to life. Testimonials are also great; but success stories provide a larger context and everyone loves a story.
  5. Use exact words. Your writing should build a picture about you and your company that is as singular as a photograph. The more exact you are, the more that picture will truly represent you and set you apart from your competition. Everyone has “dedicated staff” but not everyone can boast: “Our dedicated staff of 15 has 300+ years of experience between them.”

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, based in Peterborough, New Hampshire, helps large and small businesses reach out to customers and keep them engaged through clear, accurate, concise, and passionate writing. Please contact me through the TWP website or 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.

Squelching Fluff in Writing

Fluff in writing is fairly easy to spot. You hold your hand over the contact information for the company website, blog post, newsletter, success story–and then ask yourself two questions:

  1. How can this company help me?
  2. Do I have any reason to use this company rather than its competitor?

Does the marketing content fail to answer those questions? You are reading fluff.

The Reason for Fluff

Sometimes that fluff is generated by the company because no one on board recognizes what it is or because the company is frightened that customers won’t understand its technology if more specific information is given or because the company hasn’t settled on an audience. Sometimes the fluff is bought as a package from a content-generating company or from an extremely low-cost writer who doesn’t ask important questions or research answers.

Reality is what makes content stand out: the reality of your company, your leadership, your relationship with customers, your experience. Think of it this way: if you were hiring a new employee, would you appreciate a resume full of lyrical praise and generalities or would you prefer a resume describing experience, skills, and passion clearly detailed and supported by accomplishments? Why should your customers be any different when they are hiring you?

How to Squelch Fluff

The four easiest ways for squelching fluff in writing are:

  • Watch those adjectives. If you load your writing with adjectives like “state of the art” and “unique high-value” and “finely engineered,” you are missing the opportunity to explain why your product or service is state of the art, unique, valuable, and finely engineered. You are writing fluff that any company can duplicate, even your least skilled competitor. Throw out the adjectives and rely on verbs and nouns instead.
  • Give the details. Testimonials are wonderful if they are specific. Success stories (case studies) are even better because they show exactly how you helped a customer like the customers you hope to attract. How-to instructions are always helpful to customers. Before and after photos, videos of a project in progress, examples of how your products could be used–they all connect with your customers and distinguish you from the competition.
  • Share your perspective on your industry. Share your techniques. If they are the same techniques everyone else uses, be the first to embrace transparency. Share your passion for what you do.
  • Hire the right writer. The right writer talks with you about your goals and the future of your company; researches your industry and your competitors; grows in understanding with each writing project, no matter how far apart the projects are scheduled; and absolutely hates fluff. Whether in-house or freelance, you need a professional writer like that.

Now read through this blog post and count the number of adjectives, check for details, including how-to information, consider whether you have found out anything about my priorities and passion (no fluff!), and then decide if I’m the type of freelance writer you would want to write your company’s content. I hope to hear from you soon.

Writing for Customers Who Read English as a Second Language

Major companies often write websites in the major languages of their international customers. For smaller companies, that option is too expensive, especially if they are unfamiliar with the primary languages of their readers.

Whatever your limitations, it is possible to write in English for customers who read English as a second language.The bonus? The following techniques also help your customers whose first language is English!

  1. Limit hypenation. It’s hard enough to understand a word like “fractionation” without hyphenating it as “fraction–ation.”
  2. Respect cultural differences. Others have as much pride in their heritage as you do in yours. Remember, even “football” has different meanings here and in Europe (where it refers to “soccer”). Humor is different; use humor cautiously. You should never ever mock an accent or entire group.
  3. Limit the use of synonyms for important ideas. Those who learn English as a second language often have trouble with synonyms: “chattels” seems to mean the same thing as “assets.” On the other hand, if you switch from “assets” to “property” to “effects” to “estate,” any reader might suppose you are writing about four different items.
  4. Use short sentences and paragraphs. Short sentences and paragraphs give readers time to understand one idea before moving on to the next. Sentences should stay under 24 words and paragraphs should keep to 5 sentences maximum.Breaking up text with bullets, numbered lists, and subtitles also helps.
  5. Choose the simplest word. In Item 3 above, I originally wrote “important concepts” before choosing “important ideas.” The words mean the same in this case, but “ideas” requires less knowledge of English.I stayed with “synonyms,” however, because the synonyms for “synonym” are even more difficult.
  6. Pay attention to grammar and spelling. I was once asked by colleagues from China why English needed the articles “a,” “an,” and “the.” I offered this reason: English has many words that sound exactly the same as nouns and verbs. The articles help alert us to the difference (startup and start up, vent and vent, run and run, and so on). Correct grammar and spelling help understanding.
  7. Do not mix abbreviations and expressions from other languages. Someone struggling with English is thrown off by a sudden switch to Latin (etc., e.g.) or French (c’est la vie, c’est chic). Use “and so on,” “for example,” “that’s life,” or “it’s stylish,” at least the first time.
  8. Define acronyms. You are sure you know what FDA means–Food and Drug Administration. But it is also the abbreviation for Fuji Dream Airlines of Japan, the Forest Development Agency in India, and many other companies and ideas.

If you follow these seven rules, your marketing writing will become clearer for customers who read English as a second language–and for all your customers. Need help with clear, accurate, concise, and creative writing? Please contact me at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.