Can you explain in writing your business does? Really? Can you describe it in say, thirty words? If you met a stranger in an elevator and she asked you what you do, could you tell her before the doors re-opened?
One of the problems that I come across in dealing with all sorts of organisations – small-businesses in particular – is the inability to describe in writing what they do. They know their business inside out, they eat, breathe and live it so what’s the problem?
You’ve seen it yourself. Someone decides that you need a brochure/website/Facebook page etc. A budget will be allocated to graphic design to make the thing look the perfect but little thought is given to the words. And yet words are something we use every day to describe what we do.
A few years ago I came across the writing of John Simmons. At the time I was sort of casually hunting about looking for something to give me fresh ideas on writing copy for business. I had worked in a University where the management and the administrators wrote deadening, stultifying prose that was teeming with ‘best practice’, ‘deliverables’, ‘cutting edges’. . . the whole effect of course was to create a ‘centre of excellence’. (Aren’t they everywhere?) The effect was to emasculate language, to cut off its you-know-whats.
I knew that this sort of tripe most definitely wouldn’t do when writing for other people. Although I could write with the best of them, I could feel myself gradually getting mired in this nonsense. I had to make a deliberate and conscious effort to shake it off.
The problem I still find when I work with businesses is that some to stray into corporate-speak. It is easier to talk in jargon than say anything meaningful. That is a trap you must avoid. To help, there are many sources out there on writing for business.
But many books of the books on writing copy seem to be written more in the form of self help books by American copywriting gurus, full of big bold headlines like ‘How to ensure your email is opened’ or ‘Twelve ways to write a sales letter.’ All good stuff I’m sure, but I personally didn’t feel the immediate need for a writing recovery programme.
So when I discovered John Simmons work almost by accident, it was a breath of fresh air. I think the first book I read was The Invisible Grail. The opening sentence reads:
‘The basic narrative of this book is the quest for the ‘grail’ that will enable brands to build better relationships with their audiences.’
Hmmm I thought, interesting but not rocket science. As I read on however I became more and more enthused. John Simmons advocated an entirely new way of writing for businesses. Creative. Engaging. Using humour. Poetry. Taking inspiration directly from great works. He says:
‘Words are a creative force: words that write poems, tell jokes, engage people in conversations. Words that tell stories.’
This last sentence in particular intrigued me. Telling stories. Reading The Invisible Grail, I quickly moved onto his other works, We, Me, Them and It and Dark Angels. These books tell the story of how you can write well for any purpose without lapsing into corporate-speak. But more interestingly how to bring your work alive by being daring, adventurous and using the influences that are all around you. Anyone who is interested in improving their writing should read them. Now.
His latest work is excellent, highly enjoyable and very stimulating: ‘Twenty-six ways of looking at a blackberry: How to let writing release the creativity of your brand‘
If you have the chance and the time, try reading John Simmons. You’ll find at least 26 ways to improve your writing.
In the meantime don’t settle for dead prose that turns your customers off. Tell the stories, have a joke or two. Engage them by talking directly to them.
You never know what might happen.