Writing well can be critical for your small business

by Max Berry

You don't need to be a wordsmith to manage your own small business, but marketing materials and business correspondence do benefit enormously from clear, concise, error-free prose. Nothing screams amateur quite like an insidious typo in the middle of an important document. But spell check alone won't turn your writing into a dynamic, valuable tool for your business. Here are three simple tips that will.

1. Edit, edit, edit
While it may seem obvious, you must first and foremost make sure your writing is free of typos and grammatical errors. Edit anything you write once yourself before handing it off to somebody in the office with a sharp eye. "You need someone good at writing and editing to go over your writing," says Linda Coss, owner of Plumtree Marketing, Inc. "Your words represent your company. If you don't have a good editor on staff, it pays to hire somebody to edit your work."

As Coss points out, the quality of your writing may speak to the quality of your service to those reading it, especially those who aren't already familiar with your business. Your words should boost-and not damage-your credibility. Think of what runs through your mind when you notice careless gaffes in someone else's writing.

Still, writing well is about more than avoiding grammatical gaffes. Pay attention to things like sentence structure and be mindful of repetitious words or phrases. "It helps to read the document out loud, pausing at the commas," says Coss.

If you hear something come out of your mouth that rings false, or has been repeated into cliché elsewhere, get rid of it. (Phrases like "big savings" and "we care about the customer" just don't carry much weight anymore.) Also keep an ear out for unnecessarily complex sentences; they will confuse the reader and obstruct your message. Be punchy, be direct, and be done.

2. Remember your reader
"One of the things people do wrong is talk about ‘us.' You'd do much better to flip it around to ‘you,'" says Coss. "Instead of saying ‘we have ten years of experience,' say, ‘you will save money because of our ten years of experience.'"

Keep in mind, Coss points out, that when a customer reads your words, you won't be there to provide a tailored sales pitch, so you need to target your advertising and marketing materials very carefully. Before you even begin to write, do some research about the audience you are trying to reach. "Start with a clear definition of your target audience," Coss advises. "Who is likely to buy your product or service? Your tone needs to reflect your target audience."

Regardless of whom you're trying to reach, be sure to read anything you write from their perspective. How can you show them your product or service is something they need? "In marketing writing, always focus on benefits, not its features," says Coss. "How is your product making readers' lives better?"

Of course, not everything you write will be sent directly to customers. A press release is a good example of a document that goes through an intermediary reader (a journalist who, hopefully, will use the press release to write a story about your company) before reaching the end consumer. Journalists see a lot of press releases in a given week and, as a result, they often read the first paragraph and skim the rest of the release. Hook them early by placing the focus of your story-the award you won, the trade publication that cited your business favorably, the opening of a new location or website-in the first paragraph of the release. More than anything, you want to show a journalist that what you have to say is unique. As Coss says, "A press release contains information about something newsworthy going on with your company, something you can imagine a news source covering. If it's not obvious that it's newsworthy at the start of the release, no one will read it."

3. Take pride in your voice
"You want to come across as confident and knowledgeable in everything you do," says Coss. Whether you're soliciting a potential channel partner or launching a mass mail campaign, you want to do so proudly. Identify a need for your product or service among your target audience, and then demonstrate the ways in which your company is best qualified to meet that need. Again, this doesn't mean drafting a list of all your accomplishments; it means addressing your accomplishments in terms of what they can do for your reader.


Of course, it's hard to write well if you don't take some pleasure in it. Perhaps the surest way to find a voice in which you can take pride is to entertain yourself as you write. Be creative, be funny: A unique tone will stick in the mind of a reader longer than any sales figure you provide. Get yourself into the habit of writing in a way that suits the personality of your business. As the saying goes, you don't get a second chance at a first impression. Make sure the impression your writing gives is the right one for you.