Good testimonials: how to make them write themselves

Back in 2011 when this article first was published, testimonials were still relatively simple to do – perhaps because most business audiences were not as cynical as they are today, so believed what was written in them unconditionally.

Sadly though in recent times we have been plagued by businesses “creating” testimonials – many based on the real thing, but not quite the real thing – and sticking them up in writing on websites. And sadly, that has given rise to testimonials having a dubious complexion.

how to get good testimonials on HTWB

If you simply ask someone to give you a testimonial without giving them any guidelines, you’re leaving it up to luck as to the quality and nature of their response. BUT, there’s a big difference between that and putting words into their mouths.

It’s only in comparatively recent times, when advertising in most industrialised countries has been regulated, that readers know testimonials have to be genuine – or else. There may still be the odd person or two who sneers at testimonials and endorsements, but in the main people now accept them for real, and believe in their honesty. This makes them powerful.

However getting a good testimonial isn’t easy, and for a variety of reasons must not be “written” by someone other than the person giving it. Without putting words in someone’s mouth, then, how do you go about getting good testimonials for your business, website, CV/résumé, etc? [Read more…]

What can you blog about? Seasonal topics

small_2493066577In this article we look at business blog ideas based on seasonal topics and how to use them in a more interesting way.

Some seasonal aspects are obvious – Holiday Season gifts … winter checks for your car … time to submit your tax return … etc. But there are more subtle uses for the seasons when it comes to choices for business blog ideas. [Read more…]

How to write powerful proposals that win you business

Although any form of business writing should be benefits-led, with proposals it often doesn’t pay to be too blatant about “what’s in it for them.” To head such a document with a line that says “back my suggestions for a new company gymnasium and your promotion prospects could be enhanced” might be true, but you won’t score many points by rubbing readers’ noses in the fact. Benefits to the reader should be strongly implied rather than spelled out.

Don’t be intimidated by format constraints

Some proposals need to follow set formats – either those of your own organization, those decreed by institutions (e.g. public sector tenders), or those decreed by etiquette like, for example, business plans. Even with the latter category, the etiquette for which was developed by bankers and accountants and management consultants and other noble professionals not normally known for their creative writing skills, you can still write in a way that grabs and holds readers’ attention. The trick is not to be intimidated by the formality of such formats. By all means stick to the defined sequence and format, but that needn’t stop you writing simple, clear stuff that’s benefits led.

People are people, even when wearing expensive suits and stern faces

Always remember that no matter how faceless and terrifying you imagine business angels or venture capitalists or senior civil servants might be, they’re all human beings who react in a human way to human words. In fact if anything they will warm to good, clear, strong, human writing (provided the proposal itself is valid) rather more than they will to the long-winded, boring, stuffy prose they probably have to wade through in 95% of cases.

Make sure the structure is solid

Another key issue with proposals is getting the structure right. Assuming you don’t have a set format to follow and you can choose your own way forward, it’s worth remembering that some if not all of the people who will read your document haven’t got much time to spare. Even if they have, they’re likely to want to move swiftly on from a business document to the sports page of the newspaper or an e-mail from a friend. So no matter how much detail you and your colleagues feel should be included to substantiate your proposal, keep that in the back and focus the front on the key points.

In fact try to get the key points of the whole story into one page, using subsequent pages for expansion. Your readers will be grateful to obtain the gist of your proposal quickly, and assuming the rest of the proposal makes good sense that will place you in the front line for a “yes.”

Create a logical flow

Staying with the structure issue, it’s also important to work out the flow of the content so that your information and your argument are presented in a logical way. This is not as challenging as it sounds.  Once again, assuming you’re not obliged to follow set procedures it pays to forget whatever old-fashioned precedents may exist and trust your instincts. Provided that you have informed yourself thoroughly about the people who will be reading your proposal, your instincts will tell you what they will want to know, what elements of it will really ring their chimes, and in what order. If the audience is diverse (e.g. some management, some finance, some technical) you can attach their individual categories of detail as appendices, keeping the central flow of the document focused on the main issues that are common to all. That makes it much more powerful.

Write simply in an informal “tone of voice”

Finally, whatever you do don’t think that because you’re writing a business proposal the style has to be dry, dull and boring. Especially if you know the people who will be reading it (but even if you don’t) be informal and use friendly, natural language.

My old boss years ago – one of the best direct response copywriters the UK has ever seen – used to say that the right tone of voice for good sales copy is as if you were standing next to the reader, chatting to him or her in a pub. 

With business proposals I suppose we should forget the pub, but I believe they should be written in the same tone of voice as if you were talking to the reader over a cup of coffee at an informal meeting. One of the great advantages of written communication is that people don’t have to live up to their external images when they’re reading it. Even if they’re pompous, conceited bigots in company, when they’re alone they’re just like you and me.

That means they are likely to respond better, in private, to informal, straightforward, honest words than they are – ironically – to the sort of elaborate garbage they themselves speak and write to others. It helps to remember that point when you’re writing anything for business, and especially when you’re writing in a politically upwards rather than sideways or downwards direction.

And now for some more help with your business proposals:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“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

How to tweet on Twitter without strangling the birdie

Twitter,tweets,micro blogging,blogs,writing,Suzan St Maur,online marketing,social media

What are your favorite terrible tweets?

Anyone who spends time on Twitter will gradually see a pattern of different tweet styles emerging, not all of which contribute much to the greater good. Having only been a keen Twitterer for a year or two I can’t claim to be an expert, but speaking as a professional writer I cringe at the time and energy that’s wasted on what I think are bad or inappropriate tweets.

Of course, everyone has their own view of what constitutes good tweeting. Already large sums of money have been spent generating analyses that tell you your tweets should consist of XX percent personal and YY percent business content, they should go out at intervals of no more or less than ZZ minutes, they should contain no more than XX @ symbols and YY hashtags, and so-on. Who would have thought so much science could be found in a mere 140 characters, huh. And not surprisingly, few people seem to take any notice of it.

Before I launch into my attack on what I think are bad tweets, it’s only fair that I should reveal how I put my own together. And please feel free to critique this! They fall into one of these brackets:

  • Observations, articles, news stories etc. that interest me and/or make me laugh
  • Conversational posts with people I know, but out of courtesy to them and other readers I try to include a précis of the original topic, or respond via a retweet
  • Retweets of friends’ and followers’ posts when I feel they’re worth sharing
  • Posts about HowToWriteBetter.net and one or two of my own recent books

I try to create a good balance of all four. In every case my main criterion is to write something everyone can understand, either in the style of a newspaper headline, or as a short but self-contained thought. Here, now, are some of the stereotype tweets that irritate me. Do they irritate you?

THE ENGLISH EXPERT:  You need free artikles for the webbsite and we got some you want so clicks here go for free stuff you enjoy read. (If you can understand what this is all about, that is.)

THE STRONG, SILENT TYPE:  http://xxxxxxx.yyy (That’s it – no text. You are commanded to click on the link and I don’t need to tell you why. Now just f***ing well do it.) [Read more…]

Why we should be wary of the fashion for business storytelling

These days everyone in the business communication world seems hooked on “storytelling,” right?

And of course, this story telling phenomenon is part of the touchy-feely, let’s-get-down-to-real-human-to-human brand of communication that the internet and its associated offshoots have engendered in the last few years.

Communications experts far more qualified and experienced than me have published articles, books, blogs, speech excerpts and umpty-dump other expressions of their sincerity claiming that telling a good story about your business and its successes is the way forward in getting customers and stakeholders to uphold your values and think you’re a bunch of really good guys.

Stories for marketing purposes

I know I’m a cynical old goat, but to me much of this story telling stuff stinks to high Heaven of boring old case histories – glammed up with a bit of magic, sprinkled with a little fairy dust, and told to inspire customers, stakeholders and whoever else with what basically amounts to “this is what we achieved way back here for customer X, so we could achieve the same or better for you.”

Don’t get me wrong; I love a good story. And that’s the point. What makes a story “good” from a marketing point of view?

Stories in a marketing context, like case histories, are only of interest to existing and potential customers when they expose – and pretty damned quickly, too – what’s in it for the reader/viewer/listener. That’s because he or she wants – nay, needs, and rightly so – to know why they should be reading or listening to this story. It’s the old line – “what’s in it for me?” So if your story is going to work, it should relate itself to its audience ASAP.

Stories as part of the company folklore

Cuddly stories about companies and their histories are useful PR. For example, there is the story of what I assume was a boozy session in a pub back in 1967 when one of the UK Heinz ad agency creatives hummed up the lyric “a million housewives every day, pick up a can of beans and say, Beanz Meanz Heinz.” “Beanz Meanz Heinz”(minus the un-PC housewives bit) went on for over 30 years and became a true icon of British pop culture.

Similarly, the story of John Pemberton’s recipe for an (originally) alcoholic drink with an embarrassing connection to the naughty coca plant is a much-loved part of the Coca-Cola empire.

The bad news, though, is that unless you are Heinz, Coca-Cola, Ford, or some other humongous corporation, the story of how your grand-mammy baked hundreds of blueberry pies in her rustic kitchen and started off your local catering business isn’t going to impress more than just your friends and family.

Where these stories are potentially useful, though – in my view, anyway – is in strengthening and deepening relationships with stakeholders like employees and share(stock)holders, provided that they add value to the company’s ethos and commitment. An interesting anecdote about how the firm was founded told at the company’s AGM, or an amusing story about the company’s early beginnings told at a staff party or informal meeting, can go a long way to breaking ice and giving stakeholders a greater sense of ownership.

If you like the idea of business storytelling (and please don’t let me put you off…) there are numerous sites all over the internet which show you how to go about it … such as this one in the USA, this one in the UK …and articles such as this one in Australia.

For now, let me leave you with my own favorite business story … which reminds me how grateful I am to be self-employed…

The American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.” The American then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The Mexican said, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s needs.” The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” The Mexican  fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should  spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you will run your ever-expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?” To which the American replied, “15  to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the Mexican. The American laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions?…Then what?” The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Make sure  you write your business stories right:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

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

The 10 most helpful business blogging posts on HWTB

Although there are nearly 250 articles and tutorials about business blogging here on HTWB, we thought you’d like a reminder of the 10 posts readers find the most helpful of all…10 most helpful business blog posts on How To Write BetterBlogging for business goes in and out of fashion today, particularly as new platforms, apps and other means of communicating proliferate on the internet, diverting our attention away from the humble blog post.

But not for long. It’s interesting how, despite the periodic flutter away from it, blogging for business continues to provide us with a solid, reliable means of communicating with our readers and customers.

To find all 243 articles on blogging for business here on HTWB, click here.

Meanwhile, read on! [Read more…]

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