Effective business writing skills can help you win that million dollar contract, earn a promotion, resolve a dispute, or generate a significant increase in new business leads. Poor business writing, on the other hand, can never be undone; it can cause you to lose business to your competition and even cost you your job. Here are 11 easy ways you can improve your business writing skills:
1. Before you write a word of copy, make sure you know who your target audience is and what specific result you’d like to achieve. If it’s an important business communication, take five minutes to visualize yourself in the shoes of the recipient and imagine what this person’s world is like.
What does their typical day look like? What are their unique needs, goals, and challenges? What problem is keeping them up at night? The more thought and research you invest in understanding your target audience and how you can help them, the more powerful and effective your business writing communications will become.
2. Avoid using your company acronyms and buzzwords. While they might seem cute and clever to you, it’s very annoying to a busy executive who has a pile of documents and proposals to read. Avoid using academic language like ‘ergo,’ ‘henceforth,’ or ‘so to speak,’ and as a general rule of thumb avoid use of technical jargon. Simplify big words: write use instead of utilize, send out instead of disseminate, fair instead of equitable, etc.
3. Use a strong, active voice instead of the impersonal, passive voice. “The meeting agenda could be discussed further” is passive. “Let’s discuss the meeting agenda” is active. Express confidence and decisiveness in your business communications. Instead of writing, “I intend to write a report on sales performance measures,” which comes across as weak and indecisive, write: “I’m currently writing a report on sales performance measures for completion on or before end of the second quarter.”
4. Write in a conversational tone instead of alienating your readers by being too formal and bureaucratic – unless you’re writing to a bureaucrat or someone who prefers formality. Know your audience!
Even if you are writing a marketing communications piece that will be read by several thousand potential readers, make your writing as inviting and personal as possible. You can accomplish this feat by writing to one specific person who you can visualize as an ideal customer. Pretend you are sitting down with this person in a bar and having a casual conversation. Write your piece with this one person in mind and you will positively engage thousands of readers who will feel that you are writing directly to them!
5. Replace hyperbole with solid facts and reputable testimonials. Phrases like, “We’re #1,” “We’re the leader in our field,” or “We provide the best service,” aren’t going to get you anywhere. Instead, use a fact such as stating that the President of a leading association ranked your company with the highest quality score out of 500 certified companies.
6. Convert product features into benefits. Mentioning that you provide automated billing or an automatic domain name renewal service does not engage your customer emotionally. Here’s an example of benefit oriented copy: “Our automatic domain name renewal service will provide you with the added security and comfort of knowing that your domain names will never be hijacked by your competitors while freeing up your administrative time to focus on growing your business.”
7. Don’t rely on editing all your important business documents from your computer desktop. Print out your document and read it out loud. If you encounter any awkwardness in speech it means you need to re-write your piece to make it more conversational and flow better.
By reading your document out loud, you will also be able to spot typos and errors that your computer spelling and grammar check program might not have detected. As an example, you might have written ‘echo friendly’ when you really meant ‘eco friendly.’
8. In writing a business letter or business proposal, it is vitally important to write from your customer’s perspective and what will interest them. Start off by writing about how great your customer’s company is and what specific attributes you like about the company instead of bragging about how great your company is. Too much use of “I,” “me,” or “our company” is a sure sign of ego getting in the way of business. Make sure to generously use “You” and “Your” in your business copy if you want to make more sales.
9. Business writing is very different from writing poetry or literature. Don’t meander or get carried away with flowery language. Write the most important point you want to make in the first sentence. If you are writing a sales letter, you can significantly increase sales by simply including a powerful P.S. at the end of the letter that summarizes the main point in a fresh way, creates a sense of urgency, or adds further credibility. Here’s a powerful example: “P.S. I’ve been invited to speak at your association’s annual conference this coming Friday and hope to see you there.”
10. Be clear, concise, and to the point. Don’t assume readers will know what to do. Guide them by including a specific call to action: “click on the link to get your special report” or “call me to set up a no-cost 15 minute consultation.”
11. Use word pictures to get your point across. Can you imagine the thrill and excitement of driving a rocket-fast, cobalt blue Porsche 911 Turbo as it whisks you to your desired destination? A well-written article or report can be like that Porsche and generate a ton of new business in half the time with more fun! After all, what’s more exciting, cold-calling prospects or having them call you? (If writing is a challenge, consider hiring a professional).