The advent and uptake of the world wide web has shifted how we do business. The world has shrunk overnight, meaning we can do business with whomever, whenever, we please. We chat with strangers, we use words that didn’t exist a decade ago, and we expect responses at warp speed. However some things haven’t changed – namely the need to communicate with others effectively in writing. In fact, the need for succinct, successful communication has stepped up! The problem is that business writing isn’t everyone’s natural forte.
When you run a small business you not only need to deliver your service to customers, you need to know how to deliver your ideas, requests, opportunities and information more broadly and in the most striking way possible. Not only are there emails to write, but there are training documents, presentations, proposals, promotional copy, grants requests, advertising, and more to construct. The ability to deliver the right information at the right time and strike a chord with the reader is paramount. But even though writing is a huge component of our business lives, so many people are really bad at it! Learning to write well is not, after all, why most people go into business.
The importance of great business writing
Let’s be clear here however, about what I mean by ‘writing well’. In this context I am not hoping to teach you how to write a best selling novel or become a Pulitzer Prize winner. Rather, great business writing is simply the ability to communicate your thoughts in the most effective manner possible for your desired audience. It needs to help you stand out for the right reasons (your ideas, opinions, offers), not for the wrong reasons (creating confusion, annoying spelling and grammatical errors, vagaries).
If you’re in business and you don’t think having great business writing skills is important, then I’m here to tell you that you are doing your business and yourself a disservice. Spending time improving your writing skills will increase your chance of winning grants, securing new business, hiring the right people, selling your services and products, and being seen as a thought leader in your field. Practise makes perfect, so here are a few tips to make your business writing more effective.
Tips for better business writing
The game, Bullshit Bingo was invented for a reason – because we all hate business jargon! Simply use plain English to say what you mean, even if your audience is in the same field as you and knows the same jargon; you never know when the document may be passed on to someone else for review who is unaware of the lingo you use.
Informal, not unprofessional.
Professional doesn’t need necessarily mean formal. You’ll know if the document requires legal or highly formal language, but mostly nowadays, business comms have become far less formal than ever before. So, say what you need to say succinctly and nicely without the use of fancy language. Do remember however, that this is still a piece of business writing – don’t get too familiar with your reader, and keep the in-jokes and gossip out of your comms.
Less is more.
Everyone is busy. Everyone is time poor. You have a nanosecond to make an impression. It’s ironic that in the ‘information age’ we are less inclined to read long pieces of writing – but that’s the truth of it. Get to the point quickly by saying what you need to in the most efficient manner possible. Cut out the unnecessary description and detail, use short sentences and replace long phrases with a single word.
Write once, check twice.
It’s a bit like the advice I got from my dad the first time I tried to hang some curtains on my own – measure twice, cut once – only the other way round. ALWAYS proofread your work when you are finished. Then let it sit for a few hours or days and reread it again. Silly typos happen…but they can lead your reader to believe you are sloppy or careless (people are harsh!!) So don’t give anyone the opportunity to judge your ideas based on silly errors. Give yourself enough time to read and correct your writing, particularly for large important documents such as proposals and grant requests. The brain is a bugger sometimes – it can ignore its own mistakes unless there is ample time for detachment.
Speaking of templates, be sure to save any awesome writing you do as a template if you think there’s a chance you’ll use it again. For example grant submissions, presentations, proposals and sales emails. Rushing to complete any form of business writing is one of the main causes of typos, so create efficiencies and save the embarrassment of errors by using a pre-written document. Be mindful though, when you are using a template or copying another document be sure you do an accurate Find + Replace on all names etc that need to change.
Business communication is meant to achieve some purpose; make sure that purpose is clear to your reader. Ask them to do something and tell them when to do it. It’s called a call to action (CTA). If you leave it up to your reader to decide what to do with the information you’ve provided them most won’t do anything, or otherwise they’ll do something you hadn’t intended them to do. Be specific and clear in what you ask of your reader.
Remove choice and ambiguity.
Ever heard of analysis paralysis? When presented with multiple choices or vagaries, most people either spend way too long analysing all the options and therefore do nothing, or they freak out at all the possibilities and again, do nothing. Be clear what you want and when. Don’t be dictatorial, but do be direct.
Your audience will always be asking: What’s in it for me? It’s not that they are selfish or narcissistic, it’s just how we humans are, especially when we’re busy or are asked to do something. For your business writing to achieve the desired outcome therefore, you must present the benefits more often than the features. Your reader will be far more engaged with your writing if they can see clearly how their life will be easier or better as a result of taking your advice.
You needn’t aspire to write like JK Rowling or Brene Brown, but your business writing should communicate your ideas and opinions in the most effective way possible so that you are seen in the best light by your reader.