We’ve all had to wrestle meaning out of poorly written material. Perhaps it was a report that highlighted a series of problems but failed to provide a clear and actionable path forward. Or maybe it was that email from a client responding to what you thought was a simple question with an ambiguous and only vaguely related answer. Or that blog post that promised a solution but only added to the confusion.
Poor writing costs time and money.
According to The State of Business Writing, a report published in 2016, bad writing costs businesses an estimated $396 billion a year. That has undoubtedly increased along with the popularity of asynchronous communication tools such as Slack. More recently, Erica Dhawan, author of Digital Body Language, found that the average employee wastes up to four hours each week on poor, unclear, and confusing digital communication, most of which is written. As an independent consultant, your writing has a direct and immediate impact on your reputation and income.
There are two types of business writing: traditional business writing and marketing communications. Below we’ll define each type of writing, examine its purpose, and give you a few tips on how to increase the effectiveness of both your traditional business writing and marketing communications.
What Is Traditional Business Writing?
Traditional business writing includes everything you write in the course of business, such as proposals, reports, emails, and messages in Slack. The purpose of this type of writing is typically to convey information about a specific topic. In many companies, traditional business writing is the engine that drives the day-to-day activities of the business. To increase the effectiveness of your traditional business writing:
- Write with the reader in mind. Tailor the tone of the message to your intended audience. Avoid using jargon and abbreviations unless your audience is particularly savvy. Be clear, not clever.
- Use the right communication tool. Email and Slack are good notification tools, but they are rarely effective communication tools. If you need to convey something important and want to avoid confusion and miscommunication, schedule a phone call or meeting.
- Cut the fluff. Keep it short and simple.
What Is Marketing Communications?
Marketing communications is writing that is in service of business development, such as websites, email newsletters, case studies, white papers, social media posts, blogs, and articles on third-party platforms. Its purpose is to demonstrate your unique value proposition to your prospective, current, and former clients. To increase the effectiveness of your marketing communications:
- Know your audience. Who is reading your marketing communications? Where are they in the buyer’s journey? Are you writing to the decision maker or to someone tasked with vetting a larger list of prospective consultants?
- Focus on what’s in it for them. Why should a prospective client work with you? What does each segment of your audience want? Someone vetting prospective consultants wants to impress their boss. A decision maker wants to minimize their risk and know that they’ve made the right decision. How can you provide them with what they want most?
- Show your impact. Your prospective clients care more about the results you achieve than the methods you use. Share examples of how you’ve helped your clients achieve their goals instead of describing your methods.
If you truly want to be of service and improve the effectiveness of your business writing, treat your reader’s time as more valuable than your own.
Next month, we’ll talk about the importance of knowing your audience and dive in to how your brand influences your writing.
Sophie Michals is a writer, editor, and writing coach who helps brainy, image-conscious subject matter experts deliver clear, concise writing with a consistent brand voice. Learn more at (SM) Edits LLC.
Erica Holthausen is the founder of Catchline Communications, a collaborative of writers and editors partnering with executives, consultants, and coaches to transform their ideas into published articles.