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Tag Archives: clarity

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.

How to make Linkedin love you

Linkedin heart made from ribbon

Some business owners feel happier on Linkedin than Twitter. It’s less frivolous. It focuses on work, side-stepping the ‘I’m eating an apple’ updates that some people find irritating and pointless. I’m not saying they’re right – I love Twitter – but I know what they mean.

But if you’re looking to win more work and putting all your eggs into Linkedin’s basket, you really need to make the most of it. So how do you do that?

First of all this means filling it all in properly. Linkedin makes it easy for you – just fill in the boxes with all your contact details, your previous experience, and some testimonials, and you’re away.

That’s a good start, and lots of people leave it there, but they’re missing out. Past experience and recommendations are important, but what can really sell you is the summary and specialities section. Not filling these in is like going to a party and sitting in the corner not speaking to anyone. This is your chance to answer ‘and what do you do?’ in the most compelling way, so give it some thought.

As much thought, I’d suggest, as you would your website home page. And in the same way that your home page should demonstrate how you help your clients, make it clear here how your experience solves clients’ problems.

5 ways to write a better Linkedin profile

1. Make it clear what kind of projects you’re looking for – what work do you want? There’s no harm in being upfront, and it makes it easier for potential clients to find you. Don’t leave contacts to read between the lines to find the things you might be good at, spell it out for them.
2. Tailor your experience to fit the projects you want. Linkedin works best when you treat as more than an online CV, so pull out the details that are relevant to projects you’d like to have and add them to strengthen your case. BUT
3. Be succinct. I don’t mean all the details. Pick and choose, and think in headlines rather than essays.
4. Think about clients needs first. A section on ‘how I can help’ makes your profile stand out. Ask for help yourself here by getting feedback from clients, or asking a copywriter to work on your message with you.
5. Keep it up to date. Linkedin profiles are easy to edit, so there’s no excuse for not keeping it current.

And finally, update regularly, read other people’s updates, comment, think, join in. Recommend the good people you work with, and they’ll return the favour. Linkedin is a networking tool, so get networking.

If you need help shaping your Linkedin profile, give me a call.

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

Five ways to make your home page a hit

estate agent board

When you’re trying to sell your home, estate agents recommend clearing out the clutter to show off your best features. I think the same applies to your home page. It’s the first place new visitors land, so you want to make a good impression.

Here are my five tips for a winning home page.

1. Clarity of purpose

Your home page should tell me very clearly and simply how you and your services can help me, so share your mission in a few well chosen words. I’m talking a paragraph at most. About Us will go into more detail about you and your ethos, so you don’t need to say lots here. Keep this page very clear and straightforward.

2. Navigation

I want to know exactly where to go next. Your home page should set the agenda, so your choice of words and destinations is important. Being too clever here can be a mistake. I see an awful lot of websites, and am a fan of the ones with the easiest navigation. The home page isn’t the place to surprise me, or to be oblique. Help me find my way around.

3. Call to action

What do you want me to do now I’m here? Call you? Read more? Look at this? Think about that? Don’t go overboard with your demands, but do try and get me to engage. The right words can pull me further into your site.

4. Evidence of life

Empty houses are harder to sell, and so are empty websites. I’d like to know you’re around, hard at work, helping people like me. Twitter feeds, blogs, video content. Have something on the home page that shows me you’re in business, right now. We’re talking tasters – headlines, logos, boxes – not the whole thing. Use your up-to-date content to lead me deeper into your website, and to reinforce your expertise.

5. Room to breathe

Sometimes I use the home page as a reference point, somewhere to go back to and orientate myself. In a large website, packed with valuable content, it’s good to have somewhere clear and simple to take a breath. (It’s a bit like returning to the blurb on the back of a book you’re reading. That concise reminder of the story that grabbed your attention is useful.) So don’t overload it. Less is more.

If you want Home page help, get in touch.

You are my one and only

love heart sweets

With love in the air it feels like a good time to get a bit Match.com, and to explain what writing love letters got to do with great business copy.

I thought I’d start by sharing a secret with you – who I’m thinking of when I write my blog posts. Because I’m always writing to a person. A real one, that I know in the real world, and I think that’s what makes my writing feel immediate.

I’m usually writing to Sonja, my Valuable Content partner. She’s the one I want to impress. She absolutely knows her content stuff, and I know I can’t get away with anything less than good with her.

Though I’m writing to Sonja, I know that what I have to say will be relevant to more people. And the writing attitude that I take, of talking to a friend who knows as much and more than I do, means I’m writing on a level. Talking either up or down to a reader is a turn off, and I want to keep her switched on.

Of course it’s not always Sonja. Sometimes I write blog posts with a particular client in mind. If I know someone is facing a business challenge that I can help with, I’ll write a blog post and send it to them. (John BD, the newsletters one was for you.) And of course, I know that lots of businesses are facing the same dilemma, so I’ll post it on the website too. The fact that it was written with John BD in mind gives it an immediacy and relevance that makes the copy come alive.

So, here are seven reasons why you should write with that special person in mind.

1. It makes your writing warmer.

2. It makes you think of the best and clearest way of saying something. Friends don’t talk in jargon.

3. It makes you want to impress, make them smile, share something – all good ways to engage.

4. It makes you focus. Cutting out anything unnecessary gives your writing more impact.

5. It gives your writing immediacy. You’ll choose words that connect, rather than distance your reader.

6. It will make your writing pacier. We use active verbs rather than passive ones when we’re talking to friends.

7. It will make your writing more real. Authenticity is valuable, and you’ll achieve it by writing from the heart.

If you liked this, try these too.

The seven deadly word sins

Writing rules you should break

How to make Linkedin love you

Five ways to make me leave your website immediately.

tumble weed

There’s lots of great advice out there about how to make a good first impression with your website, so I thought it would be interesting to look at how to make a really bad one.

Here’s how to turn people off your website instantly.

Turn off 1
Pop up ads

My biggest pet hate. In your face and in the way – pop up ads obscure your message. They’re as subtle as white stilettos and orange fake tan …..like being seduced by Kat Slater in Ann Summers or Peter Stringfellow in Spandex.

However much they’re paying you to put them there, it’s not worth it. They don’t make you look good.

Customer surveys can be offputting too. The experience is akin to being asked round for tea by a new neighbour who opens the door and asks for help unblocking the sink before you’ve even taken off your coat. Obviously I wouldn’t mind helping a friend, but we don’t even know each other yet! It feels wrong to ask for something before a relationship exists.

Turn off 2
Tumbleweed sites

You know the ones. Christmas pics in June. News page last updated 6 month ago.
Your website is often the first and best chance you’ll get to promote your business. If it’s like a ghost town -peopled by ex-employees showcasing lost clients it won’t do you justice.

Keep your website at the heart of your marketing strategy – feed it regularly with valuable content, and people like me will be happy to stay and look around.

Turn off 3
Primark at 5 pm on a Saturday sites

Chaotic websites. Everything’s all over the place, falling off the rails and in heaps on the floor. Lots of offers but you don’t know where to start looking. The sheer amount of it makes you doubt the value, and you can just tell the customer service is going to be bad.

See your website from your customer’s point of view. Is it in order? Can you get around it easily? What exactly are you offering?

Turn off 4
Bedroom websites

Not as exciting as they sound, I mean the kind that have obviously been designed by your neighbour’s son on work experience.

Professionalism shows – in the design, the layout, the use of headlines, the quality of the copy. You can see if it’s not there, without even reading the page.

Turn off 5
Woolly sites

Your home page should tell me how you can help. I shouldn’t have to look hard to find the essence of your offer, and it should be obvious where to look next. Don’t make it hard for me, I don’t want to burrow through fuzzy layers before finding out if you’re what I’m after.

So what do you have to do if you want me to stick around? Clean looking sites appeal. Clarity is important. Demonstrate value, show you’re alive and buzzing, be relevant, engage with me.

First impressions are important. If you want help with getting your website content and copy right, call on 07985 015300.

Six steps to great web writing

A funny thing comes over some businesses when they start putting together their web copy. Rather like having a posh ‘telephone voice’, they write about themselves in an artificially ‘proper’ way.

Instead of saying ‘we run coaching workshops for new businesses’, they’ll write ‘we facilitate training sessions to leverage success for business.’ It’s a bit like having Hyacinth Bouquet answering your office phone. More than a little off putting.

When I’m writing web copy, I imagine I’m telling someone in the same room. My tone is conversational. I use the same words to explain something that I’d use if you were sitting next to me. Good web copy makes a connection with its reader. Lacing your sentences with unnecessarily long words puts your readers at a distance, and that’s not where you want them.

Sometimes I think it’s a confidence thing. People don’t feel they’ll be taken seriously if they talk in everyday language. Big words are good for hiding behind. My advice would be to take a deep breath, and just tell it how it is.

Top six web writing tips

1. Be clear. Say it out loud before you write it down.
2. Use short sentences. They’re easier to understand.
3. Keep technical language to a minimum. Of course some pages demand it – especially if your offer is a technical one. But your Home page and About Us copy should certainly be straightforward.
4. Be accurate. A conversational tone doesn’t mean you can forget your grammar. Good grammar makes your writing make sense.
5. Get to the point. There’s no room for rambling digressions in web copy. Users want information fast, so cut anything superfluous and give important stuff room to breathe.
6. Be yourself. Connect with your reader.

Untangling difficult messages

picture of ball of tangled wool

So your project is crucial, but it’s not straightforward. People glaze over when you try and explain it to them. Not good.

Perhaps you’re too close to it. Maybe you’ve fallen into that dark place we call the jargon trap. The place where words get tangled, jargon creeps in, and meaning evaporates.

Jargon is like mumbling. Sorry, what did you say?
It stops people from understanding you.

Even the most complicated business message can be written in beautiful plain English. It’s the opposite of dumbing down.

I can help you untangle your message,
and write it in the appropriate language for your audience. Speak loudly and clearly.

Top tips for successful newsletters

  1. Get sign up first. However lovingly worded and beautifully designed, if they didn’t ask for it, it’s spam.
  2. Be brief. People are busy. Even scrolling down too far is too much. One page max.
  3. Grab their attention. Headlines matter. Newsletter 73 isn’t going to get anyone rushing to click, but a great offer just might. Be careful though. We all love a bargain, but too many once in a lifetime sales make you look desperate.
  4. Use your voice. Newsletters need to follow your brand guidelines, in a tone of voice that matches the rest of your communications. So no text speak if you’re a firm of solicitors, and no stiff formality if you plan parties. (Actually, no stiff formality anywhere. Straightforward, honest and warm covers most bases).
  5. Reward. People on your mailing list are your special customers. Make them feel part of an exclusive club and they’ll reward you with loyalty. Money off deals work, but so does information. Letting your favourite customers in on the news before the rest of the world makes them feel important.
  6. Get the timing right. Once I signed up for a diet newsletter and they mailed by twice a day. Way too much. Once a year, and your customers might have forgotten who you are. (Unless you sell Christmas trees).
  7. Share success. Letting your clients know about your latest award makes them feel happy to be associated with you. It’s an affirmation that they might the right choice in working with you. We all like to be right.