It really sucks to labor over a blog post or sales copy for hours, only to find that it falls completely flat with your audience. Not only is it a deflating experience that plants within you a gnarly seed of self-consciousness and doubt, but it also doesn't get you any closer to your business goals.
This week we're talking about common mistakes that business owners make with copywriting, and how to fix them once and for all. Let's jump right into it with some tough-but-oh-so-compassionate love.
YOU'RE NOT GETTING TO THE POINT
THE PROBLEM: When your audience visits your website or social media accounts or reads your email, they want to know what you're talking about and why, and quickly. Those of us in the creative and service sectors can fall into the trap of using long, languid sentences, flowery but vague thoughts, and lots of metaphors. When we get caught up in the romance of language, we can fail be clear about the point of our content. But if you want people to keep reading, you need to give them a sense of what the heck they're getting into. That way they can buy into what you're putting down.
THE FIX: Get into the habit of letting your readers know what you'll be talking about right up front. There are two quick ways to do this: either state it near the beginning of your copy, or be very clear about it in your title. When you're super clear in your title, you can get away with a little more storytelling and artistry in your opening lines. But even better, be clear in both ways! You may feel you're hitting your audience over the head with the obvious, but I promise it only feels that way to you. Your readers will appreciate being prepped for the meatier content to come, and they'll be reading your piece because they're interested, not because they've had to spend the entire length of it trying to figure out what you were getting at. (Most will stop long before then.)
YOU'RE BEING TOO FORMAL
THE PROBLEM: In an effort to come across as a consummate professional, you strip all personality out of your writing and end up coming across as dull, boring, or too dense with your subject matter.
THE FIX: Loosen up and start injecting some personality into your writing. Talk to your audience as if they were your friends and you want to tell them a story or offer some advice. Let them know that you're a living-breathing person, you're approachable, you speak the same language, and you get them. You don't have to spill your darkest secrets. Start by swapping the boardroom talk for a more relaxed version of yourself. Does something funny or quirky spring to mind as you're writing? Try it out; you can always delete it.
YOU'RE NOT EDITING YOURSELF
THE PROBLEM: Your copy is littered with typos, grammatical errors, missing spaces, and incomplete
(Did you catch that not-so-subtle editor's joke? Oh, I amuse myself.)
But seriously, when we fail to reread our work, edit and revise it, and even ask for a second set of eyes when necessary, we risk putting shoddy work into the world. The rest of your copy may sparkle, but the errors will stand out. That tells your reader a number of things: that you're not careful with your work, you rush, and you don't pay attention to detail, among other things. Not the impression you want to give your potential customers.
THE FIX: Before you publish or hit send, take a break from your copy and come back to it with refreshed eyes. Read it all through again, and anytime you make a revision, read that part over once more for good measure. The most frequent cases of funky phrases and stray words occur when you write a phrase one way, then switch it around to sound better, but one poor, old, orphaned word remains behind in its original location.
If you aren't sure about something, look it up; the Internet is full of free dictionaries and delightfully geeky, yet accessible, grammar blogs. Not only will you improve the quality of your writing, you'll learn something new while you're at it.
YOUR FORMATTING IS ALL WRONG
THE PROBLEM: Your content is worth reading, but you're losing your reader halfway through the first paragraph because it's packed tight as a brick and is just as hard to visually digest.
THE FIX: The fact is, we've become a species of skimmers, especially when it comes to reading digital content. We want to get a sense of the piece and its highlights (i.e. the points), and then if we're interested, we'll invest in the full read. It may be a reflection of the failings of our digital culture (controversial!), but it's a truth we need to work with. So look for opportunities to break your copy up with headings, bolded and italicized highlights, and shorter paragraphs. Give your reader a skimmable overview that they'll then want to dig into more deeply.
YOU DON'T HAVE A CTA
THE PROBLEM: Sorry, I usually hate acronyms because they make me feel stupid when I don't immediately know that they stand for. But in this case, if you can't deduce what a CTA is, you may not be familiar with what it stands for, and you should be. A CTA is a "call to action," and it's how you tell your audience what you want them to do next. You use a CTA to guide them along to a desired result (a conversion).
THE FIX: Not every piece of content needs to ask the reader to buy something; a CTA can also be a prompt to think about something more deeply, to undertake a challenge, or to click from your social media feed to your blog and check out your new post. You get to create the instruction, and people will follow it (the power!). So make sure that when your goal is to use your copy to covert, you include a clear, easy-to-follow call to action.
AND HERE'S THE BIG ONE...
YOU'RE NOT CHANNELING YOUR IDEAL CUSTOMER
THE PROBLEM: Above all, if you're not tapped into who you're speaking to, who you want to connect with, you will have a heck of a time getting through to anyone. Think about what appeals to you and what you could care less about. What is it that makes some things resonate and not others? It has a lot to do with your profile: where you live, how old you are, your gender, your relationship status, where you are in your emotional or spiritual life, whether you have kids, and on and on. You gravitate to the people and things that successfully appeal to your wants and needs. Same holds true for your ideal customers. So if you're not clear about who you're appealing to, what their wants and needs are, and what they need to hear from you, you're going to hit a lot of dead ends.
THE FIX: Take the time to create a thorough ideal customer/client profile, answering demographic, psychological, and financial questions about your ideal customer. Where are they in their lives? What do they desire? What are they willing to invest in, and why?
Once you have a detailed picture of your ideal customer, start writing as if you are speaking directly to him or her. Other customers with slightly different profiles will still find you, so don't worry about your customer pool becoming too narrow. Instead, you'll see that you'll begin making much greater headway selling to, working with, or even fundraising from the customers, clients, and donors of your dreams. Since you can't be everything to everyone, be something truly special to you target audience.
What other mistakes do you see small business owners make in their copy? Help our fellow entrepreneurs and community nonprofits out by adding to this list in the comments.
Want more helpful articles like this, delivered straight to your inbox twice a month? Then you want to hop aboard my email list. Tucked inside some fun chat and a more personal look into my life, I also share my most recent posts. I think you'll like it, wanna give it a try?