Survivial Skills for Freelancers

Introducing a consistent tone of voice for an IT company

The client: Priority IT, Trowbridge, Wiltshire

Priority IT has over 10 years’ experience of providing expert IT support for small businesses in Wiltshire and beyond. The team help businesses in all kinds of sectors to get the best out of their computer systems.

The need

Priority IT were using a wide range of materials to communicate with their customers and prospects, most of which were too long, too technical, and didn’t work hard enough to convince customers of the benefits of professional IT support. Because these documents had been written by various staff, they lacked a consistent tone of voice and a coherent message that supported the company’s strong, jargon-free brand.

The solution

I rewrote a range of materials used by Priority IT to communicate with their customers, from emails to proposal documents. I also wrote blog posts for the company’s website and case studies that the team could use to promote the work they do for local businesses.

In the client’s words…

“Sarah has transformed the way we communicate with our clients. She has a great understanding of the marketing process, and how the right words can persuade potential customers to take action. She’s worked her magic on everything from case studies to emails, proposal documents and blog posts. I highly recommend her.”

Kieran Thomas, Managing Director, Priority IT
www.priority-it.co.uk

Editing new guidance for sex and relationships education

The client: Brook, London

Established 50 years ago, Brook provides free and confidential sexual health and wellbeing services for nearly 250,000 young people UK-wide, each year. The charity also provides sex and relationships education (SRE) and training courses for professionals working with young people.

The need

Brook, in collaboration with the Sex Education Forum and the PSHE Association, decided to produce supplementary guidance to bring outdated sex and relationships education into the 21st century.

The project involved managing and editing a lengthy document, and incorporating often contradictory comments and feedback from industry experts in a number of organisations. Brook needed someone to take charge of the document, ensuring the key messages remained clear throughout the process.

The solution

I worked closely with the team at Brook, taking charge of the editing process and coordinating the draft to ensure the document never lost its meaning. Though the process involved an incredible 14 drafts and a number of challenges, it never became frustrating.

Despite the document’s length, the resulting guidance was clear, inspiring, and easy to understand. This was a rewarding project with the chance to make a real difference to the lives of young people in the UK.

In the client’s words…

“Sarah is a brilliant copywriter, editor and proofreader. She makes our copy engaging, and ensures it always sounds just right, but more than that – she becomes part of the team and thinks carefully about her recommendations, why she makes them and how they might benefit the organisation.

“I love working with Sarah and I know that Brook’s communications have improved as a result of it.”

Jules Hillier, Interim Chief Executive, Brook
www.brook.org.uk

Sweet tweets…

Thanks to ‪@STEcopywriting who worked on ‪#SREAdvice and did a marvellous job with our 14 – yes 14 – drafts!
Jules Hillier ‏‪@rosylight

Our new SRE advice wouldn’t have been the success it is without exceptional help from ‪@STEcopywriting – thank you.
Joe Hayman ‏‪@JoeHaymanPSHE

Working with ‪@STEcopywriting on the ‪#SREAdvice has been a delight. We could not have asked for more! ‪#ff
Brook ‏‪@BrookCharity

‪@Simonablake‪ @David_Cameron @PSHEassociation @sex_ed_forum I’ve never read such absolute common sense in all my life! #greatwork‬
Sharon Munnings ‏‪@smunnings01

‬Thanks to ‪@STEcopywriting for brilliant work. I recommend you check her out! ‪#SREAdvice
Simon Blake OBE ‏‪@Simonablake

Why failing to proofread is losing you business

Whether you like it or not, mistakes in your marketing cost you customers and sales. Online errors can affect your search rankings, and sloppy spelling drives potential customers to question your credibility, and buy from your competitors, instead.

We’ve all seen examples of pitiful proofreading that make us cringe. How do you make sure your business isn’t next in line for the hall of shame?

We’re all under pressure – our inboxes are full of unanswered messages, our ‘to do’ lists get longer when they should be getting shorter, and there are never enough hours in the day… it’s no surprise we end up cutting corners.

You’re too close to your own work to proofread it yourself, and your colleagues are just as busy so there’s no point asking them for help.

Avoid the pitfalls of pitiful proofreading

Your marketing literature, website and social media accounts are often the first contact potential clients have with your business. You budget for design and print – even copywriting – yet how often have you risked your investment by skimping on proofreading… then found embarrassing typos in the finished product?

A 2013 study revealed that 59 per cent of UK consumers wouldn’t use a company that had obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing material because they wouldn’t trust the company to provide good quality service. Others were put off due to an obvious lack of care, and considered the business to be unprofessional as a result of the mistakes.

Spellcheck schmellcheck

So you don’t have time to proofread but you’ve run a spellcheck so it’s okay, right? Wrong. Spellcheck doesn’t know if you’ve repeated a word, or left one out, neither does it know if you’ve used the right word – it only knows whether the words you’ve used are spelled incorrectly (that’s one C, two Rs).

Computers can’t check context: they don’t know if you meant there, their or they’re, affect or effect, loose or lose. And – oops! – you just spelt manager as manger. Sorry, it won’t spot that either. P45 anyone?

Each time you rely on spellcheck you risk mistakes and errors in your writing. Homophones – words that sound the same, but have different spellings and different meanings, like the examples below – are partly to blame:

  • your, you’re
  • to, too, two
  • there, they’re, their
  • sight, site
  • board, bored

So, don’t sack your spellchecker, but don’t rely on it to do your job for you – it’s never a substitute for proofreading. Consider professional proofreading as security on your investment. It may be another expense, but it’ll pay for itself many times over.

As the saying goes, ‘There’s never time to do it right, but always time to do it again.’ Don’t learn the hard way.

10 bitesized tips for better business writing

Check out my top ten quick and dirty writing tips, for clever copy and compelling content that gets your business noticed for all the right reasons.

Get noticed

Attract attention by summarising the key points of your message up front. You can do this using a benefit-led headline, or an introductory paragraph that summarises the who, what, when, where, why and how of your message.

Keep it short

These days we’re all overloaded with information. Your writing needs to cut through the communication chatter. Keep it brief. Use short, punchy sentences and paragraphs, and avoid filler words that add nothing.

Keep it simple

Communicate your message clearly using simple language and plain English. Avoid business speak, buzzwords and jargon. See my plain English cheat sheet.

Know your audience

It helps to have a good understanding of who you’re writing for. Once you know your reader, thinking of your writing as a conversation with your audience will help you get the tone right.

Be professional, not formal

Business writing doesn’t need to be formal or stuffy. Aim for a professional and informative tone to keep your audience engaged and interested.

WIIFM?

Focus your writing on the benefits to your audience – the “what’s in it for me?”. Engage your readers by talking about benefits, not features (remember, Canon don’t sell cameras, they sell memories).

Include a call to action

Your communication should aim to inform, entertain or inspire action. Be clear about your goal: what action do you want your reader to take as a result? This could be signing up for email updates, buying a new product or attending a meeting.

Check, check and check again

Don’t undo your good work by spelling your boss’s name wrong, or including the wrong date for your event. Check your language, spelling and punctuation. Get a colleague to read it, or hire a professional proofreader – a fresh pair of eyes will spot things you’ve overlooked. And never rely on your spellchecker as a substitute for proofreading.

Say it loud

When I finish any copywriting job there’s one thing I do, without fail, before sending my work to the client – I read it out loud. Reading aloud makes it easier to identify repetition and inconsistency than reading on screen or in your head. I don’t know why this works, I just know it does. Try it!

Sleep on it

If you have time in your schedule, review what you’ve written the following morning. You’ll be surprised what you’ll spot when you reread your document after some time away.

Cut the waffle: the benefits of plain English

A short, punchy message increases your chances of being heard above the social media chatter.

So why do so many people use long words and complicated language in their blog posts and updates?

Maybe it’s hardwired from our school days. Teachers’ requests for a 5,000-word essay struck fear into our hearts and we resorted to padding and long words in an attempt to sound more knowledgeable than we really were.

It didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now.

Using plain English, and clear, concise language can make the difference between winning and losing business, or a potential client choosing your company over a competitor.

So, when every character counts, here are 18 waffle-busting ways to get straight to the point:

Instead of writing this… write this
as and when when
we will endeavour we’ll try
in due course soon
we are able to we can
in a timely manner on time
additional information more details
in order to to
we have a requirement for we need
regarding about
a significant number lots
in close proximity near
per annum a year
please advise tell us
prior to before
until such time until
please ensure make sure
at the end of the day ultimately
utilise use