Q: Steve – I attended a webinar you gave and you suggested that these days most small businesses also have to be content creators if they want to get noticed online. My issue is that I didn’t finish college and I don’t think that writing is my strong suit. So what does someone like me do?
(Part 1 of 2)
A: More than ever, these days, most small business people do a lot of writing – letters, blogs, tweets, email – you name it. The good news in that regard is that you don’t really have to be a great writer to be an effective one; with the workplace being more relaxed, everything is less formal – including writing.
But “less formal” does not mean sloppy. It also does not mean boring, or jargony, or dense. Indeed, far too often, business people think that they need to use big words to convey the fact that they are serious or important or whatever. Wrong.
Example: Back in the day when I was working at the big law firm, we were required to take a legal writing class. Now, maybe it seems strange that a group of overly educated, high-priced lawyers needed a class on how to write, but it is actually not all that surprising. Here, for instance, is a sample of bad writing from the Legalese Hall of Fame:
“I am herewith returning the stipulation to dismiss in the above entitled matter; the same being duly executed by me.”
Writing that bad takes some real effort. But the funny thing is, not a few lawyers write that way; hence the class. Fortunately for me, that boring, dry way of writing never fit me well, so the class was easy.
But the broader lesson is an important one. Bad business writing is not the sole domain of my legal brothers and sisters, no, in fact, plenty of business people are bad business writers in their own right. Whether it is a letter, an email, or a business Facebook update, there are all sorts of ways to either impress, or trip up, as the case may be. And in this e-age when so much of our writing can be, and is, shared with more than just one person, writing well is more important than ever.
So what I would like to do in this column and my next one is share what I believe to be some essential rules for writing for business today. Certainly this is something I think about more than most people given what I do, but even though good business writing is something I take seriously, that does not mean it should be too serious.
And that is lesson #1.
Rule No. 1: Don’t be boring
: No, I am not suggesting that you be lighthearted when writing about an important matter, in fact, you probably shouldn't be, but I am suggesting that your writing should not be like a good Martini – you know, extra dry. Instead, by using even a little creativity, your writing will be more memorable, and the better results you will likely get.
This is especially true when you are creating content for public consumption. Being dry when writing a letter to a client may be understandable, but it is practically unforgivable when what you are writing will be digested by the public. The fact is, there is so much content available online these days that boring writing will be nothing more than a waste of time - theirs, and thus as an extension, yours.
So if you are going to take the time to write something, make it snappy, pappy.
(Next week: Rules 2 through 5.)
Today’s Tip: Speaking of good writing, a great book recently came across my desk: It's Your Business: 183 Essential Tips that Will Transform Your Small Business by JJ Ramberg. JJ hosts a show on MSNBC called Your Business, and the book is a distillation of some of the best tips her guests have shared over the years (I even got to write one.) Reading over the book, I found the tips to be interesting, specific and actionable. Steve says check it out.