sharon tanton portrait

Tag Archives: writing

How to just do it!

stop procrastinating with writing

Writing – whether it’s blogs, newsletters or longer pieces of content – is the smartest way to spread the word about what you do.

However, getting down to the act of writing is difficult if you’re running your own business. It’s impossible to just drop everything and focus on writing alone – there’s so much else that needs your attention. And even when you do get the time, suddenly other things seem more pressing. Should I check my email? Tidy my desk? Have a cup of coffee?

Here are some things that help get writing done:

1. Think of the bigger picture.
The words you are writing are part of your big marketing plan. An easy small step in the right direction, not a huge unsurmountable hurdle. Get it into proportion and it won’t feel as hard.

2. Stop wasting time shivering on the edge, just leap in!
Open your computer, don’t turn on Twitter, don’t look at Facebook, don’t open email, just start writing. Once you start, you’ll get into the flow.

3. The sooner you start the sooner you finish.
Anticipate the end. Once you’ve done it, it’s done, and it won’t have to be done again. Get on with it!

4. Promise yourself a treat.
It works for small children and for grown ups too. 400 words and I can go for a walk/have a cake/make that phone call.

5. Remove yourself.
Write somewhere different, away from the distractions of your usual working day. A quiet meeting room, a café, a library, even a different desk. 

6. Make a commitment.
Deadlines work, (it’s the only way we ever get our writing done!)

7. Carve out some real time, and protect it from other demands.
Five minutes a day to record your ideas in a blog diary, half an hour to plan a blog (and write one too, once you’re really up and running), an hour and a half to write something that addresses the question that keeps coming up, and get it up on your website.

Writing really will make all the difference to your business, so set aside the time, and keep to it. What works for you? We’d love to know.

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 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.

Drop the goldfish

goldfish shoal

As cliches go, it’s top of our list. We’ve got nothing against goldfish, (in fact, we used to like them) but they make pretty boring pets and equally dull pictures on your website.

Over recent years they’ve come to represent ‘we’re different’ in a very samey way, particularly in the consultancy space where we have lots of clients. Now, whenever we see goldfish on a website, we don’t think, ‘they’re refreshingly original,’ we think, ‘zzzzzzzz.’

Goldfish aren’t the only offenders. Other visual snooze buttons include:

Jigsaw pieces to represent ‘we make connections/we’re a crucial part of a bigger whole.’

Molecules to represent ‘what we do is technical/scientific/so complicated to explain that we won’t even try.’

Chain
to represent ‘we’re the missing link between x and y’

Handshake to represent ‘we are as good as our word.’

Stock shots of offices that aren’t your own to represent ‘we work in an office.’

Magnifying glasses on newspapers
to represent ‘we pay attention to detail/your news page.’

Hands on a computer keyboard to represent ‘we work on computers/we’re up to date technology-wise.’

This list goes on. We’re sure you’ve got your own un-favourites, please do share them below.

The serious point to this is that design and content need to work together. The right words can explain exactly how you are original and different far better than a hackneyed visual cliche. Clever design engages and makes connections so you really can drop the goldfish.

And just like a good writer has an extended vocabulary, good designers look beyond page one of the stock shots to find arresting and relevant ways to illustrate your message. It means a longer thinking phase, with writer and designer working together to find new metaphors to illustrate your proposition, but that’s good news for you and your business. Thought and collaboration creates stronger brands and smarter websites – and that’s got to be good.

At Valuable Content we work closely with excellent designers. If you’d like us to help with your web project, call me on 07985 015300

More articles to help you with your website:

Seven signs you website needs spring cleaning

How to make your homepage a hit

Five ways to make me leave your website immediately

How to write your About Us page

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

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

Writing rules you should break

Business writing can feel like a balancing act. trinians titles cartoon On the one hand you want to get your point over in an engaging way, on the other you want to appear professional. So how do you get it right?

Here’s a quick guide. Three writing rules you should break, (and three you shouldn’t.)

Rule 1.
Write in proper sentences.
Not a straightforward point, and I’m not advocating the death of punctuation. Rather I’m suggesting you treat your sentence structure with a bit of flexibility. I sometimes think of sentences as hand and footholds for the reader, as they climb their way through your writing. Sometimes it’s good to reach an easy one. A very short sentence, coming after a series of longer ones, makes an impact. Like this.

Of course ‘like this’ is not technically a sentence at all, but if it works to make your point, then why not use it? I don’t have a problem with one word ‘sentences’ either. If they contribute to the flow of your writing and help the reader understand what you’re trying to say, then throw a couple into the mix. Simple.

Rule 2.
Metaphors belong in poems.
Poetry is full of fabulously inspiring literary rule breaking and business writers can steal a trick or two. Metaphors are a quick win. Poets seek images that have an emotional resonance to make lasting connections with readers. Connection is your number one aim with a piece of business writing too.

I don’t mean scattering your website with moonlit walks and hosts of golden daffodils. Rather that you think laterally and creatively when you’re writing. If an image comes to mind when you’re trying to describe a process, or an idea, (like my climbing metaphor in the first point) don’t be afraid to use it. Seek them out and give your writing more impact.

A word of caution. Because metaphors and analogies make real connections with readers, it can get confusing if you throw too many in, or keep switching themes. For example, if you’ve set up your writing with driving metaphors – full throttle, stuck in gear, hair pin bend - and then you change to sailing ones -full steam ahead, stormy weather, choppy waters- your reader will become disorientated. Sea sick, even.

Rule 3.
Long words impress readers.
Your English teacher at school probably gave you a big tick when you managed to wiggle some complicated piece of vocabulary into your essays, but you won’t get full marks for it in business. Simple straightforward words are better. Don’t say ‘cascade’ when you mean ‘tell’, don’t say ‘strategize’ when you mean ‘plan’, don’t say ‘empower’ ever. Just don’t.

And an even quicker guide to those you mustn’t break.

Rule 1. Spell it right. Although our language is flexible and evolving, you do need to spell everything correctly.

Rule 2. Punctuate properly. Don’t forget your full stops and capital letters. Your aim is to make your reader understand. Taking away the punctuation is like taking away the road signs – no one knows when to slow down and when to stop.

Rule 3. Don’t get your ‘it’s’ and your ‘its’ mixed up. People get awfully irate about it. (My rule – see whether ‘its’ could be replaced by ‘his’ or ‘her.’ If it can’t be, you need the other one!)

If you need help with shaping up your business writing, give me a call on 07985 015300.

How to write your ‘About Us’ page.

Picture of Kermit the Frog

Chances are the most viewed pages on your website are About Us and your client list. Who are you, and who trusts you with their business ? Two key things that potential clients want to know before getting in touch.

Client lists are self explanatory – names, logos, testimonials, and soundbites all linked to case studies add credibility to your business.

But what about About Us? The section is a chance to let potential clients see the real you, and to show a bit of personality. But what bit of you, and how much personality? There are infinite ways of doing it, and we thought it would be useful to outline an approach we like.

So here it is, some Valuable Content tips to creating a powerful About Us page.

Do see the page from your potential client’s point of view. Your golfing prowess might be awesome, but how does that help them? Write about your approach to the business, not your hobbies.

Do think about the page as part of your business story. Write about how your role fits and contributes to that story. ‘Before joining x I worked as a sales consultant for fifteen years. My understandings of what can make or break a sale help my clients succeed’.

Do share your mission. What do you believe, and why? Define your audience – what kind of people can your business help?

Do interpret your data with your offer clearly in mind. So don’t just say ‘I worked as an accountant for 20 years before starting my payroll business,’ write ’20 years in accountancy showed me how crucial payroll services are to business success.’ Keep asking yourself ‘why is this relevant?’

Don’t write too much. Remember the rules of good web writing. Short and to the point is good. Strong headlines will draw people in, so link to further pages if there’s more to say.

Do make sure the whole page links well to the rest of your site. Relevant About Us copy will make natural links to your clients and services and approach, so embed them in the site. Fire enthusiasm, and lead people seamlessly to the rest of your content.

Do use good professional pictures of you and your team. People like to see who they will be working with.

Don’t be too obscure. You might feel that you’re best represented by a picture of a lovely smooth pebble, or a snap of Kermit the frog, but not everyone will get it. (However if you do want to go down an alternative visual representation route, make sure your explanation is easy to find and written with wit.)

Don’t be boring but…….

Don’tbe ‘wacky’ or ‘zany’ or anything that could be remotely interpreted as something Timmy Mallet might do. Nothing along the ‘you don’t have to be crazy to work here…..’ lines, please.

Do ask for help. An independent view can be really valuable in helping you see what’s most relevant and most compelling for a potential client. If you’d like us to help you create an About Us page that gets your message across, please get in touch.