The growth of email and social media has made that truer than ever. You may be brilliant on the phone, hugely impressive faceto- face but if you can’t write your message, you are going to struggle.
The truth is that a lot of business owners do struggle – they have never really been taught how to write, so we shouldn’t be surprised. I have seen some brochures produced that are at best semiliterate – one was for a fairly large printing company, others have been for consulting engineers and high tech manufacturers.
Every time I see badly written English from such businesses it surprises me. In each of the above cases you would expect that accuracy was an important part of their promise, otherwise how do they stay in business? This is why it matters – if your brochure or selling email or social media posts are littered with spelling mistakes, bad grammar and missing punctuation, consider what message that’s sending to someone who knows the difference.
Putting it right is not a mountain to climb. First up you have to be honest with yourself. Admitting, even to yourself, that your written English skills are poor is embarrassing – it’s like admitting that you can’t read.
The basic solution is blindingly simple: don’t do it yourself, get someone else to do it. That ‘someone’ could well be working for you; it could be your spouse, a child or best friend from school days. If you don’t have such a resource or you think they are no better than you, professional help is at hand. A copywriter, journalist or English teacher will sort out the problem in double-quick time. To get best value, enthusiasm and availability add ‘recently retired’ to each of those professions.
If you are paying someone to write for you, it will have certain benefits. You will be forced to give a proper brief which you have thought through. You will be keen to get it right first time and not keep changing your message as I have seen done many times. You will (I strongly recommend) have consistency of message, whether that is a brochure, advert or email.
But you would probably like to improve your own skills as a longterm investment. The simplest start is to master the spelling and grammar-checking programme on your computer. This alone could be all the improvement you need. Being hectored by a computer is very annoying but do what it tells you and you will find you are writing better English immediately.
Try your local college. Do they run a ‘writing for business’ evening class, one day a week? (If not, why not?). You will benefit, you will probably enjoy it and you might meet a new client (or two!) – very satisfying and tax-deductible, too.
People worry about what tone to adopt when writing for business purposes. Well, stop worrying because the answer is easy: just be yourself. Dressing up your communications with a string of four syllable words doesn’t make you look clever, it makes you look pompous. It also makes some readers feel foolish when they don’t know those words. Click; goodbye sale.
The best advice I have read on this issue came from Maeve Binchy, the highly successful fiction writer. She said, “Write in a conversational style, but remember that there is such a thing as intelligent conversation”.
You may well be conversant with the ‘For Dummies’ books. I have read several and I rate them highly. ‘Business Writing for Dummies’ is one of them and I recommend it. OK, it’s American so you have to screen that out but the rest is a good guide. Not much money (£11.75 on Amazon new; used copies elsewhere from £3) and money well spent.
Edit your writing or get someone else to do it. Editing your own work can be really difficult because you thought those extra words were important first time around so you are inclined to still think so when you reread.
My favourite author is the American, Elmore Leonard (sadly dead now). His writing is often described as spare – his rule was, “If in doubt, leave it out”. Good advice.
Too many words is a classic error (I confess to it myself ). It comes from a wish to explain a product or idea fully but you end up with the subject suffocating in an excess of words.
Similarly are you writing sentences that are just too long? Your readers will find three short sentences a lot easier to absorb than one long one.
Punctuation. Aah, does this ever sort the sheep from the goats. In some cases it looks and reads like someone has got to the end and thought, “I’d better put some commas in” and sprinkled them like hundreds and thousands.
Read Lynne Truss’s book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It’s actually funny and it was a surprise best seller, which tells you how many people struggle with punctuation and how many are ready to pay to improve that weakness. Amazon are selling at £6.47 and there are used copies from less than a pound. Buy a new one – you’ll be using it regularly.