Ask me – I can help! (Or sign up here for my weekly newsletter!)
“Perfect! You make me sound so smart!”
What writer wouldn’t want to get these kinds of compliments? They came from happy clients, which are the kinds of clients you want. It wasn’t the correct grammar, syntax, and punctuation that made these clients happy, though. They loved the content, which turned out better than they’d expected. How was I able to deliver those kinds of results?
Good listeners make good writers, and good writers make clients happy. However, listening means more than just jotting down the words that someone says. You need to really hear what they’re saying, then be willing to change your strategy if needed. Whether you’re writing articles or business copy, here are four ways you can hone your listening skills to create content that will impress your clients.
- Hear what they say. Do they talk about their hobbies? The places they’ve been? Their education? If your client mentions something a lot, it’s probably important to him. Weaving that into the content will show that you picked up on it.
Example: One client told me all about his wife, daughters, and granddaughter, referring to his wife and his lighthouse and admitting that his granddaughter had him wrapped around her little finger. It wasn’t a stretch to call him a dedicated family man. He loved that I’d noticed that and included it in his biography.
- Hear what they DON’T say. Inflections. Avoidance. All of those show you what a client may not want to discuss or highlight, but that doesn’t mean you should leave it out of your article/content. You need to interpret what those pauses mean.
Example: I once interviewed an award-winning teacher. I was supposed to write an article about him, but he answered every question with as few words as possible. Instead of forcing it, I asked him about his students. I then spent some extra time asking his students about him (not originally part of the plan). In the final article, I talked about his humility and dedication to the school and about not taking the spotlight for himself, then I filled the space with praise for him from his students. His colleagues said the article perfectly reflected him and his teaching style.
- Hear what they’re trying to say. Few people take the time to think before they speak. They’re uncomfortable with silence, so they talk through their thought processes. It’s easy to accumulate 1,000+ words of rambling notes for a 500-word article or blog post. It’s your job to sift through that to figure out what your client really wants to say.
Example: Every year I interview an organization regarding their annual event. Per their request, I email the questions in advance. When I arrive, they give me pages of typed out information, then we conduct the interview. I end up with pages of notes that I sift through to find the heart of the story. It always means cutting entertaining (but unrelated) information, but I end up with a concise, focused article. Every year I receive a thank you letter saying how happy they are – again – that I found the heart of their event and put it into words.
- Hear the real Sometimes you’ll got into a meeting with a page of pre-written questions because you think you know what you’re going to write. If you don’t listen to your client’s answers, however, you might miss the real story. Be flexible enough to make adjustments.
Example: I was assigned to write a business feature about a local entrepreneur. As we talked, however, I learned that she was also a talented singer/songwriter. The longer we talked, the clearer it became – her business wasn’t nearly as interesting as she was. Instead of a business feature, I pitched my editor the idea of a personal feature. Instead of talking about her work, I talked about her passion for people – a passion that fueled both her business and her music. She was thrilled with the final result and how it told her whole story.
When you listen well, you write better because you have a deeper understanding of your clients and their stories. Whether you’re writing web biographies, articles, or books, listening to and processing your clients’ stories will create more accurate, better-developed content that you can both be proud of.
Did you find this information helpful? Sign up now to receive more business writing and entrepreneurial tips right in your inbox! And don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook!
In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, I love words. They’re sort of my thing, and they’re an important part of the content marketing world. Even if you prefer videos and social media posts to long blog posts, you still need to create the content you’ll share (be it printed or spoken). Whether you’re writing 140-character tweets, 700-word blog posts, or 15-minute videos, you have limited time to make an impact, so make the most of your content!
You don’t have to be a professional writer to clean up your content. Learning how to identify and correct the biggest offenders will make an impact without having to hire a professional. To get started, keep this list handy, as these are some of the most misused words:
Accept – to receive, agree with, say yes to (We accept your proposal.)
Except (verb) – to leave out or exclude (They excepted us from their invitation list.)
Except (preposition) – other than (I like all social media, except Snapchat.)
Affect – to influence or cause something to happen (Our new marketing plan will affect sales.)
Effect – the result or accomplishment (What was the effect of your new marketing plan?)
Complement – something that completes (The new logo complements our rebranding campaign.)
Compliment – flattery or praise (She complimented us on our new website design.)
Council – a group/meeting or an advisory group (City council)
Counsel – to advise or consult (We counseled them not to shut down their website.)
Elicit – to bring forth or draw out (The right colors combinations can elicit deep emotional responses.)
Illicit – not permitted (The website contained illicit photos.)
Than – used in comparisons (That’s easier said than done.)
Then – related to time (We hired the design firm, then launched our new website.)
Their – belonging to them (John is their son.)
There – location (The store is over there.)
They’re – contraction for ‘they are’ (They’re going to hire a new firm.)
Who’s – contraction for ‘who is’ or ‘who has’ (Who’s coming with me? Who’s been using the color printer?)
Whose – showing possession (Whose plans are these?”
Your – relating to you (Is that your computer?)
You’re – contraction for ‘you are’ (You’re going to love your clean content!)
Go ahead – print this off and tuck it into your desk drawer. The next time you’re writing content, check for these words. Making sure you’re using the right word will add a level of professionalism (and clarity!) that your customers will notice.
Are there any other words that you struggle with? Let me know and I can help you create easy-to-check rules that will help you create cleaner copy!
Would you like to receive tips like these (plus interviews, ideas, and other tricks) right in your inbox? Sign up now for the Write Now Editing newsletter – weekly posts sent right to you, plus the free, 2-page PDF that will show you exactly when (and how often!) you should be sending press releases! Sign up today!
Writing copy for your blog, website, and promotional materials is easy. Writing copy that grabs your readers’ attention, however, requires a special skill set. A professional writer can clean up copy quickly, but not every business owner can afford a professional writer.
Would you like to see better engagement on your website? How do you write a better blog post? How do you get a better response to your promotions without hiring a professional writer?
There’s no possible way to share decades worth of education and experience in one blog post, but there are six writing mistakes that every business owner can avoid to create more effective business copy.
- Very Irrelevant Words. The word very doesn’t show your readers anything measurable – what’s the difference between colorful images and very colorful images? Similar words include somewhat, really, and rather. If the modifier doesn’t provide a measurable description, cut it. (Instead of being rather punctual, be punctual.)
- Vague Descriptions. Designing pretty gardens doesn’t show your reader what kind of gardens you create as everyone’s definition of pretty Instead, be specific – you design flower gardens using only indigenous plants of varying size and color. (Let the readers decide for themselves whether or not it’s pretty.)
- It’s All About You. You may have the most experience and best education of anyone in your field, but how will that help your clients? They aren’t really interested in who you are – they want to know how you can help them. Show them.
- Starting with Your Pitch. Before you tell people what you’re doing, show them the value of your product or services. Show how you can help, then invite them to try your product or attend your event.
- Using Technical Jargon. My dad was a banker. Growing up in our house, MBA stood for Michigan Bankers Association. My point? Don’t assume that everyone reading your copy will understand technical acronyms or terms (unless you’re a Business-to-Business, or B2B, company). Spell things out so the uninformed reader will know what you’re talking about.
- The Website Introduction. Hi, I’m Karin Beery! Thank you for visiting my website! As long as you have your company name and logo on your website, people will know who you are (and they already know that they’re looking at a website – they are, after all, online). Skip the intro. Get right to the point.
With the exception of #6, you can apply these tricks to any of your copy – newsletters, promotional fliers, blog posts, etc. When you give your readers more direct, descriptive copy, they’ll know exactly what you’re selling and promoting, which increases your chances of turning readers into clients.
“Click here to get your free widget today!”
How often do you see invitations like this on Facebook pages, websites, and Twitter accounts? Do you know why you see them? Because they work!
A call to action is exactly as it sounds – it’s an invitation for someone to do something. If you’re giving away freebies or trying to add names to your newsletter list, a call to action will tell people exactly what to do in order to receive something. When it comes to writing an effective call to action, there are three simple rules:
- Tell people what to do.
- Tell them what they’ll get.
- Add a sense of urgency.
What to Do
A digital call to action (on a blog, website, Facebook, etc.) is almost always a ‘click here’ option. When readers click on a link, they’ll go to a special page where they can claim their freebie, sign up for a newsletter, or receive any other items promised.
Not all calls to action are online, though. If you’re sending a newsletter or magazine through the mail, you can include a physical call to action. These are the post cards and/or forms that instruct people to fill them out and mail them back (often in exchange for a free issue of a magazine or other such item).
Regardless of how you’re asking people to respond, it should be easy and free (pre-pay the postage on any mailers!).
What They’ll Get
Be specific. Don’t promise the idea of something wonderful – tell people exactly what they’re getting for their efforts.
Make It Urgent
Click now! Get it today! Don’t wait – click here!
The call to action doesn’t necessarily expire, but you want people to feel as if they need to act now. Adding the above phrases will give your readers the urgent push they need to respond.
1, 2, 3 – that’s it! Now for the hard part – figuring out what you’re offering with your call to action (but that’s a discussion for another time).
Have you struggled to create an effective call to action? What’s stumping you?