Marketing writing for small businesses

11th January 2012 | Posted in Small business

A talk for the Women in Business network

Rather than spend 10 minutes talking about what I do for different clients, I thought I would run through some of the issues that I think about when I’m working with customers to create copy for them. These are things that you can think about in your own writing, whether it be web sites, brochures, newsletters, ads, blogs or anything else that requires the written word.

The written word is really important to your marketing. Nothing is as powerful as a face-to-face meeting when you want to persuade people to buy. But we can’t always be there. So your written words have to do the job of attracting attention, convincing people that you and only you offer what they want, and then getting that sale made.

So, to start with, what should you always bear in mind? Two things – what and so what?

What?

Everything we write should have an underlying purpose. The bottom line is to sell stuff and make money. But that’s not necessarily going to be the direct purpose of all our communications.

So if you’re putting together your web site, writing a blog, setting up a mailing campaign or anything else that’s going to be set before your customers, always bear in mind what you want them to do as a result of reading it. In marketing we call it the call to action. Do you want people to add something to a cart and buy? Or fill in a contact form so you can call them? Or email/call you directly for more information?

Make it clear, and make it easy. Instead of expecting potential customers to find your contact page, put your contact details on every page. Help them reach you with just one click, and they’re far more likely to bother to do so.

So what?

This is absolutely fundamental in everything we write.

We’re not writing about what we do. We’re writing about what we can do for our customers.

We are going to answer their needs, wants or desires. So we want to make the connection very clear. Think about your own buying experience. Suppose your back is tense from too much time at your computer. Or you feel you deserve a bit of pampering. You pick up a leaflet at your local gym from someone offering massages. But it’s just a long list of services:” Sports injury massage, Swedish massage, aroma massage, Japanese seated massage…” You’re left to work out what might suit you. Compare that to the flyer that offers you “Muscle ache relief, all-over pampering massage …” (I’m not hugely au fait with the business but you get the picture.) The professional is helping you to make easy choices because he or she is talking in your language.

If you’re not sure how to do this, then that’s where the “so what?” comes in.

Whatever you’re writing, from web site home page to your WIBN profile, keep putting yourself in the shoes of your reader and asking yourself “so what?” You’ll often find you either need to turn your point around or at least add on a benefit.

Where?

Let’s talk now about where we are going to use our writing. It might be a web site, a brochure, an ad, a blog, a report, a white paper, a flyer or a case study. All these are great ways to reach your potential customers, but have different purposes, and some will work better in some markets than others.

Web sites

I won’t dwell too long here on web sites. I’ve written some tips as a guest blogger for e-Vis and there’s a link at the end of this article.

Here are some key things to think about.

Keep your content relevant. One of my clients was putting together a web site about their excellent skills at creating and managing luxury spas. They had a huge amount of background information, including brochures on their exclusive spa treatments. Their first thought was to include all of this on their web site. But … the web site was aimed at the owners of hotels and destination resorts who could be interested in a spa as part of their business. They would want to know what the spa would do for the business’s bottom line, not the softness of their skin. So that content went to another place.

Make your content easy to read and understand. Visitors to your site won’t stay around if they can’t see instantly what you can do for them, and how they can take advantage.

Remember the search engines. You can pay as much or as little as you like for SEO. At the bottom end, use the terms in your copy that your clients are likely to put into search engines. And then make it more special by adding in details that competitors might not offer. So you might talk about being a personal trainer, but add in where you operate or the special skills you offer.

In print

The main thing to remember about anything in print, such as brochures or flyers, is that it might need a long shelf life. If you’re a small business and you get a print run of 500 brochures, you’ll be handing those out for some time to come. So make sure your copy isn’t going to age. Be careful about naming team members, prices or anything else that’s bound to change as soon as the ink sets.

A good approach to writing brochures is to tell a story that will lead your customer inescapably to buying your product or service. With business-to-business stories, we will start by outlining the market today and the challenges that our client’s customers face. That’s empathising and giving the client some credibility. Then we explain our solution and how it can benefit the customer, highlighting the unique properties of our offering. Then we remember to add the call to action, to bring them to the web site for more information, or perhaps on the phone directly to the sales team.

Campaigns

This is something that we do a lot with larger customers, where they might be launching a new product or issuing invites to a seminar for example. Smaller businesses might want to promote a special offer or an event. You can do this in print by direct mail or by email. There are different ways of creating a mailing list, including buying them in from list brokers.

My top tips here are to keep it short, keep it to the point, and make the call to action very clear. If it’s a special offer, a time limit for applying doesn’t hurt either.

Newsletters

Reasons for sending out newsletters might be:

–          a simply hard sell, highlighting offers currently available

–          relationship building by keeping in touch with current customers on the basis that retaining customers is a lot easier and cheaper than currently having to find new ones

Many large companies combine both of these in a single regular newsletter, possibly with a competition too. They are aiming to establish their credibility by offering advice while driving customers to their web site with links from the newsletter, and selling as well.

I have a client who sends out a monthly newsletter that is purely about offering advice on getting the most out of their product. There are hints and tips, case studies, highlights of reports. This is all down to underlying their role as a trusted partner. Any suggestions for articles that even hint at trying to sell get thrown out.

How?

When you’ve decided what to write, how do you actually write it? Copywriting and editing are professional skills, but here are a few tips to get you started.

Get the tone right for your audience. If you’re writing for consumers, you can afford to write in a more chatty way (see Virgin for example) than if you’re selling to other businesses. The profile of your audience will make a difference to how you write too. And keep it consistent.

Aim for clarity above cleverness. Advertising copywriters are a different breed, who do aim to be clever and even intentionally confusing in their writing. For most of us, we want to make our messages very clear. Don’t waffle or you’ll lose your reader. Avoid the jargon of your industry (we all have them – I deal with marketing, technology and copywriting jargon every day). Avoid clichés too. So often terms that once were very useful have become woefully overused – passionate is one – and therefore meaningless.

Be accurate in your language.Check for spelling, grammar and consistency. Lack of quality in your writing could suggest lack of quality in your products.

What to do now?

I have written more blogs around some of the topics above and others that I haven’t covered. You can visit these at

Making the most of a customer interview

Give your newsletters a reason for living

Yes, grammar does matter!

Read my guest blog on writing words for the web.

Need help?

If you would like help with reviewing your content so far, or would like to have copy written by an expert, just get in touch. Email me at [email protected]and I’ll get back to you promptly.

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