Business emails 101 – or SOS?

Grabbing email readers’ attention via email – even when you’re not selling anything – gets harder and harder as every year goes by, as you know. Here are some ideas to convert from what may be your concerns as SOSs, into 101s.

business emails on HTWB

Don’t forget that not all email clients show your email in monochrome.

Below are some tips on how to get that attention you need now in the present climate of 2017, without lifting readers out of their very short, sharp comfort zones … then making your points effectively … so you have the best possible chance of getting the reaction you want/need.

Business emails #1: one point at a time

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Why the dear old business blog’s still alive – and kicking butt

Have you ever wondered why the humble business blog is still the powerful marketing communication tool it was years ago?

Although we’ve seen dozens of digital entities rise up and faceplant months (or even weeks – remember “Blab?”) later, why is it that the humble blog is still in there fighting your business’s corner, establishing your brand and driving traffic to your website?

Why business blogs still work on HTWB

Business blogs today have a robustly successful history that – in online terms – is truly ancient. Why?

Here are some notes from a workshop session I led recently in England, where we looked at the basic strengths of the business blog within the current marketing communication mix. After the event I thought these notes, with a bit of editing, would make a useful summary of where business blogs are today after a history that – in online terms – is truly ancient…

Business blogs may be a bit battered, but they’re still hanging in

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Need some help with your creative writing? Grab these tools now

Writing creative material that’s good enough to grab publishers by the short hairs is always big challenge. Here, guest contributor Gloria Kopp shares her top tips on the tools she finds invaluable for getting manuscripts ready to, er, grab prospective publishers by the short hairs and with luck, lead to a publishing contract. (And best of all, these tools work for most other types of writing, too – for business, blogging, web content, and more.) Go, Gloria …

Essential proofreading and editing toolkit for creative writers

book writing help on HTWB

Writing a book, or thinking about it? Here are some tools you may find very helpful.

Everyone has always got that secret weapon hidden in their back pocket – that trick that helps them get the job done easily, quickly and properly. For creative writers, your secret weapon is right here; a cache of essential proofreading and editing tools to improve the quality of your writing, and turn it from something good to something spectacular. [Read more…]

Advertising vs info on social media – the trolls rage on

If you have a local business group on one of the main social media platforms, you know you’re going to get people advertising their businesses no matter how you try to stop them.

Advertising or content on social media on HTWB

I would have told this troll precisely where to shove his business video.

It doesn’t matter how explicit you are in your “rules” section; the only way to stop the ads is to kick the advertisers out, or at least delete their blatant advertising posts until they get the message.

But not always…

Explaining the difference between advertising and social media content

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Business and marketing messages: think first, write later

There’s no doubt about it, clear
Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterthinking is the most important part of getting a business or marketing message right, before you even attempt to write anything down. Sure, you’ve got all your background information together. But without the benefit of your creative little grey cells, as Hercule Poirot called them, that information isn’t worth much.

To make that information morph into a powerful message, it needs to be brought alive by a clear, unobstructed thought process on your part.

Trouble is, that isn’t always easy with the pressures of modern business to contend with.  Here are some of the obstacles that can get in your way, and some ideas on how to overcome them.

We’ve got to respond NOW or lose the opportunity

Not really. There aren’t many opportunities that can’t wait five minutes, even if it means saying you’ll call right back or email them immediately with a fast message to help close a sale. You’ll benefit enormously from those five minutes even if all you do is walk over to the water cooler and back before responding.

Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterPeople prone to temper tantrums are told to count to ten before they say anything, and the theory behind that works here too.

To react with a knee-jerk can make you look like one, so don’t take a chance on it unless a snap decision really is unavoidable.

The deadline isn’t for another week

This is the other side of the same coin. Because you’ve got other things you have to finish before that week’s up, your deadline keeps getting shuffled to the bottom of the deck.  Before you know it, it IS another week.

Of course, long lead times can be demotivating, and often if you start working on a message too early you then spend the rest of the time tinkering with it. The result is the message loses all its momentum and has about as much energy and spontaneity as a mouldy tomato.

Don’t let deadlines drive you. Take the wheel and drive them, without rushing, but with just enough time pressure to focus your mind sharply on getting your message right.

I know this subject matter backwards

Yes, and that’s the trouble. Familiarity breeds contempt. It also breeds tired, worn-out marketing messages. Don’t reach up to the top shelf in your brain and pull down last month’s solution, no matter how well it worked that time.

By all means add your past experience into the message. But remember to keep experience in its proper place – the past. No matter how many similarities there are in surrounding circumstances, never assume you can get away with producing a clone.

It’s fresh, original thinking that makes business/marketing messages work, and most things in life are only fresh and original once.

I know what the audience wants to read/see/hear

Not necessarily. Just because a message got them clicking or calling or buying in their droves last time it doesn’t mean they’ll respond the same way now. A couple of weeks or even a couple of hours can make an enormous difference to the way an audience will perceive you and receive your message.

A workforce before and after the announcement of a plant closure? Consumers before and after a media exposé about the dangers of a chemical sweetener in your chocolate bars?  Shareholders before and after a market crash?

Always, always take a fresh look at the circumstances of your audience, and ensure your message takes those into account.

I’d love to do something new, but it’ll never get approval

Oh, those corporate politics again. Yes, approval can be hard to obtain, especially when it involves getting through a committee of umpteen experts all with their own agendas and axes to grind. Well, no-one said being creative and original is easy. I’ll bet even the person who invented the wheel got a hard time from his or her committee to start with.

Provided you can justify your marketing message with solid evidence and common sense, most superior beings (even committees) will see the logic and give you the go-ahead. It never hurts to try, anyway, and once your message gets out there and proves itself successfully, the next time should be easier.

I can’t think straight with all this racket in here

Clear thinking is relatively easy if you happen to work in a cozy log cabin set in a verdant pasture or forest or whatever with not a single soul, cell, or cellphone for that matter, to mar the magnificence.

Business and marketing messages: think first, write laterGiven that large offices are to log cabins what express trains are to bicycles, clear thinking in this environment can be more of a challenge.

Here’s a trick. Go and sit quietly somewhere other than at your desk. At the risk of offending some of you, the toilet is a good choice. Yes, in a cubicle, sitting down. I’ve done some of my best thinking and got some of my most useful ideas in precisely these surroundings. (And I’ve heard all the jokes about it, too.) I think it’s because you’re cocooned in a small, plain space with absolutely no external mental stimulation. That frees your mind to focus on what you want it to focus on.

If the restroom doesn’t appeal to you, then go sit quietly somewhere else – like your car, or the staff restaurant outside of meal times, and close your eyes. Discard irrelevant thoughts one by one as they occur, and keep nudging yourself back to the project. Don’t “rack” your brain; just let it work by itself. Soon you’ll find things settling into place and you’ll be able to prioritize and organize your thoughts.

Happy thinking!

An earlier version of this article first appeared on the USA marketing site, MarketingProfs.com

More good thinking for your business and marketing messages:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

photo credit: Humphrey King via photopin cc

Your FAQ page: how to make it help sell your business

Your FAQ page: how to make it help sell your business

Your FAQ page can help sell your business,
but you need to answer real questions.

I really get angry sometimes when I read Frequently Asked Questions pages that don’t answer potential readers’ questions … only questions the site owner would like to answer. Get over it, kids – if you want to come over as honest and open regarding whatever it is you offer, you need to answer the questions potential customers, stakeholders et al really are likely to ask. Warts and all. Not what you’d like them to hear.

BUT: do you need an FAQ page in the first place?

Well no, maybe not. I don’t have one here on HTWB, but in my case of course there isn’t a complex or detailed story to tell.

Where I think an FAQ page is very useful is in the case of products and services that do have a complex or detailed background. That can be for one of the following, and no doubt several other, reasons:

The product/service has many very similar competitors – FAQs can help you differentiate it in a factual and probably more believable way.

The product/service is complex and you don’t want to clutter your main sales/descriptive text with too much technical detail – FAQs allow you to explain the technical issues in a tidy, easy-to-refer-to way.

Particularly with a new business and/or product service, an FAQ page is a useful place to reaffirm your “pedigree” by using questions and answers that highlight key credibility issues.

FAQs can provide you with a helpful “catchall” that covers a relatively random range of topics in one place, and can supply a suitable repository for topics that you can’t quite place anywhere else.

Correctly structured, an FAQ page can deal with numerous queries that might otherwise tie up you and your staff in responding to emails that are not necessarily useful leads.

FAQ and Help pages – are they different?    

On some websites and in some print publications you’ll see that these two functions often are combined. In some ways I can see the point of doing that, but unless you have very few issues to address, overall I think it’s better to keep the two separate.

That way you can split off anything negative from the positive points. Negative or potentially negative “FAQs” – e.g. “what if my order doesn’t arrive” or “what do I do if the goods arrive damaged” – are better contained in a “Help” section. That leaves the FAQ page free to deal only with positive, benefits-led factual information.

Your FAQ page: how to make it help sell your businessHere are my top 10 tips for creating good FAQ pages:

1. Forget what you think your readers/customers/prospects want to know – go out and ask them. Encourage them to be truthful even if it means posing you questions you can’t answer immediately (go and find out the answers quickly though!)

2. Develop your questions and answers based on that reality. Use the questions as asked by your readers/customers/prospects if you can, otherwise make them up based on your honest
interpretation of what readers want to know.

3. This may seem obvious, but make sure your answers really do answer the questions. The questions are not there to provide a jumping off point for a sales pitch or technical essay – you have a duty to provide a sensible answer right away.

4. Even if your product/service is aimed only at consumer markets, in general it’s better to keep your FAQ answers positive without being overtly “sales” orientated. The place for sales copy is elsewhere on the website or printed material.

5. To ensure that your answers do support a sales message, however, focus them – in a factual way – on how readers benefit, not on what features your product/service offers.

6. Keep your writing style conversational, even if the question/answer is very technical. Use believable words and phrasing, based on the way people in your target markets talk. Almost more than anywhere else, the FAQ page is NOT the place to use pompous language and “corporate speak.”

7. Keep answers reasonably short. If you need to go into a lengthier explanation, link to somewhere else where readers can get the full story. Long blocks of “answer” are off-putting.

8. If your product or service is highly technical/complex consider offering two FAQ pages – one for general business purposes and one for the “tekkies.”

9. Make it easy for readers to contact you direct if your FAQ page doesn’t answer their questions – there’s nothing more frustrating than not finding the answer you need and then having trouble getting that answer by email or telephone.

10. Before you publish your FAQ page, run it past a selection of your readers / customers / prospects and ask them to perform a “reality check.” You may find they come up with some very helpful ideas for improvements and edits.

More help with that FAQ page … and beyond:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

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