I think it should go without saying that good writing is an essential skill for any successful small business owner. Unfortunately, that does not always go without saying. When is the last time you read something poorly written from a fellow small business owner? I bet not long ago, and I bet it was memorable for all of the wrong reasons.
No, this does not mean you need to go out and try to be the next Faulkner, but what it does mean is that you should step away from the email you are writing, and don’t press send just yet.
There’s an old commercial you may remember – “People judge you by the words you use.” This is true, especially in business. As small business owners, we all know what a huge difference a great first impression can make (or a bad one, for that matter). Especially today, many first impressions happen through the written word: emails, online articles, blogs, social media, brochures, and so on.
So you have to write it correctly.
We are living in a very relaxed business age (I don’t miss my tie, do you?), but that does not mean that your business writing should be super relaxed. People judge you by the words you use. Here is what I suggest:
Aim for clarity: Above all, you need to get your point across – clearly, succinctly, and professionally. That said, there is a lot that can get lost in translation when you are using the written word; after all, you don’t have the advantage of hand gestures, intonation, and inquiry that you get during an actual face-to-face conversation. As such, you have to be extra careful that your writing is communicating your exact thought or idea.
Here are some of the top writing faux paus that can make ideas nebulous:
- Run-on sentences. Be mindful of where one thought starts and another ends. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the passion we have for our idea and thereby put it all on paper at once. Make sure your thoughts are organized and separate.
- Sentence fragments. Every sentence requires a subject and a verb at the very least.
- Length. Nowadays it’s very easy to lose reader interest. Usually it is better to be short, sweet, and to the point. See?
Aim for professionalism: Improper grammar and spelling mistakes make you appear unintelligent and unprofessional. Period. I think it’s already pretty obvious that you should never spell “you” as “u” or “are” as “r,” but there are definitely some trickier rules that I think would behoove us all to brush up on and watch out for:
- “its” vs. “it’s”
- “their” vs. “there” vs. “they’re”
- “your” vs. “you’re”
- Confusing the possessive with plural. For example, more than one puppy is NOT spelled puppy’s. The apostrophe makes it possessive – “That is the puppy’s collar”.
There are a lot of grammar rules that would take a long time to master, and I don’t think we should worry too much about trying to do so. The important thing is to be mindful of your grammar. The point is to express your ideas clearly and have the person reading them take them seriously. You achieve that with good grammar. Accordingly, my essential rule of writing is this:
Writing is re-writing: Is there anything worse than sending off that email with a typo in it? Well, yes there is, but you get my point. The good news about your writing is that you can take the time to have it say exactly what you mean. But that only happens if, well, you take your time.
Writing is re-writing.
What if re-writing isn’t your thing?
Hire a freelancer: If we are talking about bigger projects and writing just isn’t for you, I suggest hiring a freelance writer as needed. There are plenty of fresh college graduate English majors who are knock-your-socks-off good at writing and are chomping at the bit to beef up their resume with professional writing gigs. Not to mention, they are usually very affordable. This can be a solid investment for your company’s success and welfare.
P.S. Finally, please note that if we are talking about Twitter, nix everything I just said.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.
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