A Twitter friend shared this passage from Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s Rework last week:
It got us thinking.
The ability to write clearly and concisely, particularly in our screens-in-faces age, is indeed a valuable skill to look for when you’re hiring. For early entrepreneurs, though, hiring might be a few minutes off yet. Which means it’s a skill you probably want and need to shape in yourself.
Some of us have it easier with coding, designing, or making sense of numbers than dealing with words. Even if writing isn’t exactly your thing, though, you’ll probably have to do some of it — populating your website, cobbling a few Facebook ads. If you can’t hire that stuff out, fine-tuning your scribbles is worthwhile — if nothing else, clear communication speaks to your professionalism.
So, since writing is something we’ll all have to wrangle to some degree as entrepreneurs, we thought we’d share the key stuff we try to remember when working with words:
Write like a person.
We’ve all fallen victim to trying too hard — letting biz-speak creep in in hopes of sounding more professional, rambling in an attempt to make things seem more impressive. It’s always transparent, and always makes your audience work too hard for a murky payoff. When you write, shoot for simplicity, clarity — approachability. Write like you’d explain the idea to a friend, and trust that readability and honesty will always impress more than buzzwords do. “Our new product is poised to move the needle significantly” makes folks’ eyes go grey; writing about what makes your new product cooler, or faster or friendlier than anything else people can find, in human terms, gives a much more approachable idea of how you’re setting up for a fantastically positive response.
Think of words like ammunition.
This isn’t a weird deadly/powerful simile. More: Imagine that you have a finite supply of words in your… Rambo bullet belt? Sure. Use only what you need to get your point across cleanly. Find the one word that more effectively conveys what seven words try to. (Y'know, "eat" instead of "consume mass quantities.") Aim, nail your target and walk away.
Here’s where it’s worth using that ammo. “We serve Nashville’s best cheeseburger” tells us little, other than your opinion. “We serve a 100-percent grass-fed beef patty topped with Applewood-smoked bacon and aged cheddar cheese, which has won the Best of Nashville ‘favorite cheeseburger’ award four years running” paints a clear picture in our minds. (And puts dinner plans in our future.) Wherever you read vague or empty, try to inject specifics. What we’re reading is more evocative that way, and more credible.
Wherever you can, avoid things “happening to” whatever you’re writing about. Meh: “Writing advice was given to me by this Skillery blog post.” Less meh: “The Skillery gave me writing advice in a blog post.” Active sentences — in which the subject is doing, rather than having things done to it — always feel more powerful. And they’re easier to read, too.
Don’t assume your audience knows everything you do.
There’s a certain amount of inside baseball inherent in every business. Unless yours is a business-to-business… er, business, you won’t want to assume the people you’re appealing to know as much about your industry or products as you do. That doesn’t mean you need to over-explain everything, it’s just worth being aware of places where a little clarification would help someone new to your business. “Cobot makes keeping track of Skillery members’ space use easy.” Anyone who doesn’t run or regularly work in a coworking space is probably thinking, “What’s a Cobot?” So, easy: “Cobot — the coworking space management software we use at The Skillery — makes keeping track of members’ space use easy.” A little help goes a long way toward ensuring that newcomers don’t click away confused.
Have someone else do the writing.
So, yeah, this runs counter to the point of this blog post. But if writing doesn’t come naturally to you, or you don’t enjoy it, or your time is too taxed to really fit it in, it might need to go high on the list of things you want to delegate as soon as a few bucks materialize. (Or a good barter situation comes about.) The Skillery started with one person (our founder Matt) doing all the class planning, all the words-wrangling, all the other business stuff. It was overwhelming, understandably. Matt considered what he liked to do, what he was good at, and what his time was best used on, and prioritized the help he needed. Writing help was second on the list, right behind events planning. He brought me into the mix, since I really enjoy writing (and tend to do it for a living). These days, we collaborate on the words stuff. And we both try to stick to these little tips as best we can.
While we like to think every entrepreneur can improve the writing they have to do with a few tips like these, sometimes the best course of action, when possible, is to pass the writing off. If it’s not possible yet, the above should at least make for a few more readable tweets and email newsletters.
Find any of this helpful? Have some writing thoughts you think should’ve been in here? We always appreciate thoughts and feedback, especially when it might make our attempts at being helpful better. Hit us in the comments, or give us a tweet.