sharon tanton portrait

Category Archives: Writing for clients and customers

Reflect and learn from the highs and lows

iceberg

In the rush to get things finished off this time of year it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Reviewing what’s working best in your business is important, so if you can spare some time to look back and reflect on your successes and the things that haven’t gone to plan, it will stand you in good stead for starting 2012 with renewed energy and purpose.

Jot some ideas down – the act of writing will help you think. And to get you started, here’s a very rough list of the highs and lows of the Valuable Content year – and the lessons we’ve learnt.

Highs

Getting your message straight is the single most important thing you can do. This year we’ve developed and refined a process that helps businesses see their services from their customers point of view. Translating this message into compelling content has created the basis for some great websites that are bringing in new business for our clients.

We’re going to push this service more in 2012.

Getting a book deal. It’s a big pressure, but we know it’s going to be worth it. Writing the book on Valuable Content Marketing will raise our profile, and the process of writing will really sharpen our thinking.

We’re going to publish the book in 2012.

Getting to grips with the importance of design. Of course we knew design was important, but we’re completely converted to the crucial part design functionality plays in making your content accessible.

We’re going to to build our connections with great designers, so we can offer the very best websites for our clients.

Blogging works
. It’s been lovely to see some of our new converts to creating valuable content really getting to grips with it and pulling in leads for their business. Writing is a confidence thing, and it’s been really rewarding to see happy people making it work.

We’re going to keep spreading the message in 2012, and making it as easy as possible for our clients to keep writing for their businesses.

Lows

Most of the projects we’ve worked on this year have run smoothly, but of course working life isn’t all plain sailing. Where it hasn’t worked so well, it’s been partly because clients haven’t been completely sure about the purpose and benefits of our approach. Maybe we didn’t make our processes clear enough, perhaps they just didn’t like the idea. We know ‘help, don’t sell works’ but maybe it’s a leap of faith too far for some. Our approach demands some serious thinking and information gathering from our clients. If you don’t commit to the whole process, we won’t be able to help you.

We’re going to make sure we’re getting our message across clearly. We’re going to make sure top people are engaged in the process before we start. We’ll choose the right people to work with us in 2012

What’s on your list? What have you learnt? We’d love to know.

Oh, and a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

How to write a good enough article.

old fashioned type writer and blank page

You know that writing articles is a sound, cost effective way of building your reputation, and getting more inbound leads to your website. You’ve got a couple of ideas of things you could write, but still, there’s something holding you back. And it’s the big one. How do you actually do it?

This blog was originally going to be called ‘How to write a brilliant article,’ but I realised that  I’d be adding to the pressures holding you back if I threw being brilliant into the mix. So this is a guide to how to write a good enough article, because that’s all you need. Here’s everything you need to know to get you started – a quick checklist to structure your writing and keep it on track. All you need to do is roll your sleeves up, and get writing.
1. Know who you’re writing for.
It helps with relevance, tone and focus. Keep this real person in mind throughout the process – what questions do they have? What issues can you solve for them?
2. Be useful.
Choose a subject and angle that will help your readers with a real problem, and they’re more likely to want to read it.
3. Keep it focused.
The temptation when you start writing is to try and get everything into your article. All those ideas buzzing around suddenly pour out onto paper, and you find you’ve written something that dashes from A to B via L, Z, P and Q.  Tighten your focus, and write clearly about one thing. Save your other ideas for the next one.
4. Use simple words.
It’s not dumbing down to make your writing easy to read, it’s kind to your reader. Pick the shorter word over the more longer one. Make it easy to read, and easy for people to share with friends and colleagues.
5. Beginning, middle and end.
a) Start with a clear introduction – who are you writing for, and why? Set up the question you’re going to answer, or the problem you’re going to solve.
b) Answer it. Structure your thoughts, step by step. Imagine taking the reader with you – you’re guiding them on a journey. Changing track suddenly is like chucking them out of a moving car, so keep things moving smoothly
c) Sum it up. Readers like to know they’ve finished. And they all lived happily ever after isn’t necessary, but it’s a good idea to reiterate your main point again at the end. Add a call to action if you’d like your readers to get in touch. Add a question if you want to keep the conversation going.
6. Basic grammar and spelling matter.
I’m all for freedom of expression and playing with words, but the articles on your website need to demonstrate that you can communicate clearly. If your spelling is a bit wonky, ask a friend to read through and check before you press ‘publish’. Spell check will only pick up mis-spelt words, not mis-substituted ones. Even if you’re confident about your writing skills, getting a friend or colleague to check is still a good idea.
7. Think about headlines.
Your headline is your hook to pull readers in, so give it some thought. (Article on writing headlines for you here)
8. Break it down.
Busy web readers skim using headers to pull them through. Break your writing down with signposts that sum up your points throughout your article.
9. Size matters.
Around 500-700 words works for us as a good length for a website article – room for some useful detail, not so long it’s a chore to read. No longer than it takes to drink a cup of tea is a good rule of thumb.

And that’s all there is to it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, the important thing is to start. (It might make you feel better to know that Sonja and I are both a bit embarrassed about our early blogging efforts – I fell into the trap of trying to say too much, Sonja slipped up on trying to be too clever.) Once you start writing, it will get easier. The more you write the better you get. And once you start seeing results, it will become more rewarding.
So, now there’s no excuse. What are you waiting for?

You might like this too:

Stop, look and edit, five things to do before you press publish

Writing rules you should break

Five reasons not to blog

closed sign - reasons not to blog

You don’t have to write a blog. It’s not the law. Here are five popular reasons not to do it.

1.You can’t be bothered. Really, what’s the point? Your marketing is working fine, you don’t need any more clients, thank you very much.

If you’ve got a steady stream of leads, and more of the kind of work you want to do than you can handle already, then maybe you don’t need to blog. But if you’d like to pull in additional leads, get referred more, and build your business, then maybe you should give it a go.

2. You don’t want to give information away. And why would you? You worked hard to learn all this stuff, publishing it for free is a crazy idea.

People buy from people they trust, and it’s hard for people to trust your expertise if it’s all locked away in your head. Sharing some of your ideas and experiences in a blog is a great way to show not only what you know, but your individual approach. Being helpful and sharing pays off. As far as know I haven’t lost any writing work through writing about how to write.

3. You’ve got nothing new to say. The internet is awash with blogs. The world doesn’t need another one.

Well, yes, that’s true. But you do have something original to say. Think about the way you solve your particular clients problems and write from that perspective. Don’t worry about being a world authority on your subject, just be the great guy who knows his stuff and gets it done.

4. You’re not a writer,you’re a lawyer/architect/IFA/designer/*insert your own job title here.

True, but you probably can write well enough. Be clear, to the point, and avoid jargon. Don’t think of it as an essay written to impress, write it as you would say it, and you’ll find your voice. (And if that doesn’t work, you can always cheat and get someone like me to write it for you.)

5. You’ve got writer’s block. You know you need to do it, but the blank page is staring at you and try as you might, it just won’t work.

We’ve all been there, but the way to get out of it is to take action. Write something silly, write something provocative, write anything. The act of crafting ideas into words will get things moving, and once you’re in the flow you can switch back to the subject you’re supposed to be writing about. Or not. The best blogs sometimes start in the strangest places.

This blog was supposed to be ‘How to write a brilliant article,’ but I was distracted by helpful Twitter responses to my question ‘what holds your writing back?’ That one’s coming next, so watch this space.

How content gets you found

illustration of man on top of a mountain

I’m doing some research for a new project – writing landing pages for a Pay Per Click web campaign – and I’ve been assessing my client’s competition.

The pages are for a legal practice, so it’s a very crowded market, yet one firm keep coming up top, again and again. And the thing that’s keeping them there is a very simple piece of valuable content.
This firm has created a straightforward and well written pdf document that answers all the ground level questions that I, (and I presume potential clients) will have on the subject. It’s not flashy, or particularly visual – nowhere near as comprehensive as an e-book – it simply lays out the key areas you need to understand.
Their expertise in the area isn’t explicitly referred to – but is implicit in the fact that they have created this ‘all you need to know’ document, and put their name to it.
For me, and potential clients at the information gathering stage of a project, resources like this are invaluable. We don’t want to ‘ring for a free appraisal’ – talking is something that comes a bit later, when you’ve orientated yourself in the area, and you know what you don’t know, and where you need help.
However their website would be the first I’d go to, if I wanted more information. And were I looking to pick up the phone to someone, they’d be top of my list, because they have already shown themselves to be understanding of my situation, authoritative, and ready to help.

Creating a valuable document to signpost people to your company

It’s not difficult to create this kind of valuable document, it just needs a clear understanding of your potential clients’ problems and a willingness to share your expertise. Here’s what you need to remember

1. Choose the right topic. What terms do people search for in your business? What are the most frequently asked questions from your newest clients? Build a document that addresses this, and get it up on your website as a simple download.
2. Don’t write the book. This law firm’s pdf worked because it answered the basic questions, and laid the ground rules. Going into too much detail would be a mistake here. Signposting documents aren’t the place to show off everything you know, rather they should answer clients first questions, and lead them to the next stage.
3. Think ‘quality’. Had this document been poorly written – stuffed with SEO filler words or simply not good to read – it would have had the opposite effect on me. Constantly being sent to a poor resource is irritating. If it’s going to surface again and again, make sure it stands up to all the attention.
4. Consider design. You don’t need to go overboard and invest in something too polished. Nor do you need images, it’s fine to produce something text only. However do think about typography –
a) pick a user friendly font.
b) consider judicious use of headlines to make your content easy to read on the web.
c) allow enough white space to give the words room to breathe.
d) break the text up into chunks. Potential clients are hungry for information, but they’ll still thank you for making it easy to digest.
e) Clear calls to action. This kind of document is the opposite of a hard sell sales piece, however you do want potential clients to know where you are once they’re ready to talk. Include some suggestions for further reading, and do include your contact details.

If you’d like my help putting together a valuable ‘signposting’ piece, call me on 07985 015300

Related posts:

How to stand out from the crowd

How great content gets you referrals – six rules to follow

Apostrophe catastrophes and how to avoid them

the wrong 'it's' sign

I saw this today, and it stopped me in my tracks.

I wondered how many people had okayed the copy before it got made into a sign, and how many people who walked past noticed. And does it even matter? I still understood not to walk down that path, so you could argue that the sign did its job just fine.

As a writer, I think it does matter. Getting it wrong muddles the meaning. This sign is confusing, and signs should be clear.

And I know there are bigger things going on right now than apostrophe catastrophes, but it’s just as easy to get it right as get it wrong, if you think about it like this.

The it’s/its rule

It’s is short for ‘it is,’ while its is possessive. Its is just like his or her or their or your – think of them as a family. Reading your sentence aloud should make it clear to you which it’s/its you need. In this case ‘it will seriously damage it is health’ doesn’t make any sense, so it must be the other one. To check, try substituting another of the possessive family of words, and read it aloud again. ‘it will seriously damage his health,’ is a clear sentence, so that’s the one you need.

And the you’re/your rule

Another one it’s easy to get wrong is your and you’re. I see it a lot in blogs, and on websites that you would have thought would have known better. And it’s such a silly mistake to make. Your means it belongs to you, while you’re is short for you are. Again, if you’re not sure, say the sentence out loud. Test ‘your gorgeous, darling,’ by substituting a different possessive word. ‘Her gorgeous, darling’ won’t get you the girl, while ‘you are gorgeous, darling’ just might do it.

Of course, even people who know this get it wrong. I get it wrong in first drafts. We type faster than we think. So always check, and re-check before sending something off to print, pressing publish on your blog, or whizzing off that email.

Make your offer crystal clear

ice cube or make your offer crystal clear

It’s the one thing that holds so many companies back, and it comes up time and time again. It seems obvious yet it ties people in knots. We’re talking about the question of clarity.

This month at Valuable Content we’ve been working on several projects distilling the messages of new clients, and working on masses of content creation for existing ones. We’ve been wrestling with the importance of getting those most basic messages clear, so we thought we’d share our thoughts with you.
Before you think about starting your marketing, get your story absolutely straight. If you want to get really good results out of marketing, put time and effort into making sure your proposition is crystal clear.
No amount money on your website, no amount of tweeting, blogging, or public speaking will get you the results you really want if people don’t really know what you do. Want to get more referrals and leads? Be clear on what you do and who you do it for. Let people know what you want to be famous for, and then spread the word.
We know it’s difficult. Many business owners fear closing the door on potential opportunities, and see being pigeonholed as a recipe for lost sales. The temptation is to want to be all things to all people, but this leads to nebulous positioning. Dilute your message and it becomes weaker. The result?  No one truly understands what you do. So what can you do?

5 ways to get clear on your message

It’s all very well saying you need to get your offer clear, but how do you achieve this clarity? Here are 5 ways we help our clients to get to the heart of their business message:
1. Look at what you do from your clients’ perspective, not from your own. Your clients don’t care about your products or services, they want to know what’s in it for them. Put yourself in their shoes.
2. Talk to your clients. Everyone talks about knowing what your customers want, and listening to them, but if you want real clarity you should ask them directly.
3. Think like a book author. We find that the clients we help to produce a business book have a blinding moment of clarity on their business proposition too. So, think like a book author. If you were going to distill all your knowledge into a book for your client base, what would it be about? What would it say?
4. Get some emotion into your offer. People respond to emotion, not logic when they’re buying, so appeal to hearts as well as minds.
5. Get some outside help. This is really, really hard to do by yourself.  Get a view from the outside. Hire a copywriter like me to help you here.  Helping businesses get to the valuable heart of what they do, and creating the voice to tell their story, is what I like to do most.
So what are you waiting for? Get thinking, asking, and talking. Cut out the waffle surrounding what it is you do, polish up the jewel at the centre, and shine!

And if you need help getting your proposition clear, give me a call on 07985 015300

More articles to help you get your proposition straight:

Be the expert

How to stand out from the crowd

Know your audience

The 7 deadly word sins

apple with 'sin' written on it

(Or 7 words you won’t find on Valuable Content websites, and which shouldn’t be on yours.)

We write lead generating websites for businesses, so we get through a lot of words – thousands of the things. There are some we try not to use any more – either because they’re overused, or because they’re not clear, or because we just don’t like them.

1. Solutions. Offering solutions to a clients problem is a hackneyed way of saying you can help. Next time you’re sitting in a traffic jam count the number of vans with ‘solutions’ written on them. Dry rot solutions, office furniture solutions, decorating solutions. Be more specific about exactly how what you do will improve your client’s situation.
2. Facilitate. Don’t use it if you mean ‘set up,’ or ‘organise.’ It’s a bit of a prissy word, sounds like you’re trying to make something simple sound more important.
3. Orientated as a suffix, like results-orientated, or worse, solutions-orientated. Of course you work towards resolving the client’s problem. Just bunging ‘orientated’ on the end of a word doesn’t help show your method or describe your USP. Say how you do it, specifically.
4. Focused as a suffix. Or worse, focussed. See above. Results-focused, solutions-focused, we don’t like it.
5. Dynamic. Maybe we’re getting old, but we don’t really like dynamic agencies. For a start it’s a bit of a cliche, a lazy way of saying you’re not lazy. Plus, if you say you’re dynamic we imagine you wearing patterned socks and running round screaming into your Blackberry like an Apprentice wannabe. We’d rather see examples of original thought and genuinely helpful content.
6. Passionate. Being passionate about customer service makes you look a bit silly. No one believes it, so don’t say it. Caring is good, so is attention to detail, but passion? Save it for your lovers.
7. Synergy. Paradigm. Proactive. Just stop it.

If you want help writing the right stuff, let me know on 07985 015300

How to stand out from the crowd

How to stand out from the crowd

Let’s face it, you’re probably not the only one in your field. There are other designers, consultants, suppliers all doing the same as you, give or take an inch or two.

You can niche all you like, but there’ll always be somebody else, with a similar offer, ready to snatch potential clients away.

So how do you stand out? How do you frame your offer to get them to pick you and not them?

Here’s a quick guide to using words to make you stand out from the crowd.

1. Be the clearest. Chances are your business is mired with jargon. Be the one who strips that away and writes about how you help in a way that your clients really understand. It’s refreshing to find someone who tells it like it is – so be that person.
2. Be the most understanding. Always write from the clients viewpoint. Put their problems before your solutions. (But don’t use the word ‘solutions’. It’s on my banned list.)
3. Be the boldest. Copy that’s written with attitude is invigorating to read, so inject some va-va-voom into your words. Active verbs, no conjunctives, short and snappy.
4. Be the brightest. Brightest doesn’t mean complicated – it can mean seeing things from a different angle – making connections that can surprise and inspire. Write thoughtfully and your words will rise above the crowd saying the same old thing.
5. Be the smartest. Invest in good design so that your words look as good as they can. Good design shows you care.
6. Be the most useful. Fill your website with content that’s valuable to your potential clients, so they’ll turn to you first for help.
7. Be the most in demand. People want to work with the best, and the best are likely to be busiest. Use your website and social media to let the world know what you’re up to. Write about the nuts and bolts of what you’re doing – it shows you know your stuff. Walking the walk and not just talking the talk – that’s what get results.
8. Be everywhere. Blog it, tweet it, comment on forums, ask questions, answer queries – spread your words around to raise the chances of being found.

What have I missed? I’d love to know your tips for standing out from the rest. And if you need help with making your copy unmissable, call me on 07985 015300

Our perfect couple – design and content

royal wedding tea towel

We haven’t quite decked Valuable Content Towers in bunting, but we’re getting into the Royal Wedding spirit by celebrating the perfect couple.

And while we wish Kate and William all the luck in the world, our perfect couple is something quite different. At Valuable Content, the marriage made in heaven is ‘content and design.’

As wordsmiths, you might expect Sonja and I to argue for the supremacy of the written word. But the deeper we get into the world of brilliant content, the more strongly we realise the inseparable link between what we do and design. The greatest words in the world won’t get read if the design’s all over the place. The smoothest design in the world will trip up if the words don’t make good sense.

As Lizzie Everard, one of our favourite graphic designers puts it,

“Flashy, superfluous and self-indulgent design that exists for itself is like having a Prada handbag filled with Superdrug costmetics.

but…

Brilliant, well-crafted words and insights that are not dressed for the party will miss all the fun.”

People won’t take your words seriously if they’re not professionally presented. And they will be equally disappointed if your design makes empty promises.

Iain Claridge, the Valuable Content web designer agrees.

“First Impressions are lasting impressions.

The visual design of a company’s logo, its products, its website, printed matter, etc should not be optional concerns. In a split-second someone can look at a shoddily designed website and decide “This company doesn’t look professional enough.” There is a critical period in the very first moments a potential customer sees a logo, product or marketing material that informs the rest of their relationship with that customer. There is always the danger that without an appealing aesthetic front, a potential client will have written you off mentally before you ever make it to delivering the meat of your pitch. Oh… and consistency is key.

Strong visual design generally promotes a clear, consistent identity, which in turn reinforces trust.”

So, to inspire trust and instill confidence and to give your content the very best chance of being loved, you need both; the great words and strong design.

All our projects start design and content simultaneously – and we run the two together – design and content, back and forward. It means we’re not just thinking of the message, but of the way the words work on the page. We favour clarity and simplicity of both text and visuals, always approaching both with ‘what does the reader/user want here?’

Get the marriage right, and your content will live happily ever after.

Five things to bear in mind when designing your content:

1. Readability. Can your reader quickly find the information they need? Pay attention to the layout and look of your copy. A clear structure and hierarchy, carefully selected typography, use of headers, bullets and call outs all help.
2. Images for interest. Give your words a focus and your readers pause for thought with graphical interest – helping you tell your story and hold their attention.
3. Consistency. As Iain Claridge says, a consistent theme or a thread to your content design will give you a recognisable identity and means the reader knows what to expect. Keep it neat and tidy and make your content more usable.
4. Space. It’s a busy, crowded world. Give your readers some thinking space by not over-stuffing your content.
5. Attractive content works better. Look professional. Show your readers that you care.

That’s our view from the content perspective. We’d be fascinated to know what the design fraternity thinks. What do we all need to consider when designing great content?

Be the expert

open book

‘Expert’ is in danger of becoming meaningless.

It’s going the way of ‘passionate’ as a business buzz word so heavily overused its become detached from its real meaning. The world is apparently passionate about customer service, fresh ingredients, packaging, air fresheners, consumer risk reduction. Passionate? Really? Are you?
And ‘expert’ risks slipping in the same direction, which is a shame, because its a useful term that should carry weight. It means you absolutely know your stuff, your opinion can be trusted, and you’ve got valuable knowledge to share.

So here are some ways of proving you’re the real deal.

1. Demonstrate your expertise. Just saying it means nothing. Use your website to show me your expertise in action. Deliver that talk. Write the book.
2. Share it. Be generous with your expertise. Social media is a great place to help. Don’t worry about giving it away for free, people will like you for it, and likeability counts for a lot. It means you’ll get referred, recommended, and in front of the people who can pay. Spread the word.
3. Learn more. Experts know there’s always more to find out. So read around your subject, ask questions of other people in your field, dig deeper.
4. Be niche. Carve out your space and stick to it. The longer I go on copywriting, the clearer I’m becoming on my own space. I think mine is knowing what people need to hear, and saying it clearly. And that’s it. Tiny! It makes me perfect for getting messages spot on or web projects – creating high performing websites that really make a difference – but if it’s a white paper you’re after, I’m probably not your girl. I distill the essence of things, I’m not a reams of detail writer.
5. Have a story. What brought you here? Experts are made, not born, and understanding the steps that led you here will help you be clear about how your knowledge fits into the bigger picture, and how exactly you can help.

What have I missed? I love to know your thoughts on how you can prove it’s expertise and not empty words.

If you need help distilling your business message, call me on 07985 015300.