Not only is it critical to have marketing and advertising collateral that is visually attractive, but the words you use in those materials are also essential to your success. Without compelling and well-crafted content, your small business's value proposition could be ignored or overlooked. The result: You might lose prospective customers to your competition and possibly make a permanent bad impression.
Unfortunately, copywriting is rarely a strong suit for many small business owners. And whether launching a bootstrapped startup or running an existing company, businesses often lack extra money to spend on hiring a professional copywriter.
If you struggle, like so many other entrepreneurs, with getting your wording just right, don't become discouraged. It's possible to hone your writing skills and make your copy more effective by keeping some best practices in mind.
6 Basic Copywriting Tips for Small Business Owners
1. Know your objective.
Before you write, think about what you want your marketing piece to accomplish. A single objective will help you stay focused and prevent you from bombarding your target audience with multiple messages.
For instance, perhaps you're holding a free workshop or seminar to demonstrate your expertise to prospective clients. You decide to invite individuals via an email marketing message. Your objective is to have those individuals RSVP that they will attend your event. So, it would make sense to share a little about the subject matter you'll present, the credentials of whoever will be speaking, the date and time of the event, the deadline to register, and a call to action to RSVP to reserve a seat. But it probably wouldn't make sense to also include a list of your current sale items with an “order now” message.
2. Consider what’s important to your target audience.
Focus on the benefits of your products and services, not just their features. Tailor your copy to address how you will help customers achieve what they yearn for or avoid what will inconvenience or harm them.
Will you …
- Save them time?
- Save them money?
- Enable them to make more money?
- Decrease stress?
- Make them happier?
- Alleviate a concern?
Also, be careful with your pronouns. Use “you” more and “we” less. Check out the two versions of the same copy below.
- At ABC Company, we deliver fast, reliable service, and we offer cost-effective pricing.
- When you choose ABC Company, you can rest assured you’ll get fast, reliable service and save money, too.
In the first example, everything is about ABC Company. It doesn’t address the prospective customers and their needs. The second example, however, directly speaks to the reader and tells how ABC Company can provide peace of mind and cost savings. After every piece of promotional content you write, revisit your draft and make adjustments to ensure it is customer-focused.
3. Be genuine.
Project your company voice authentically. If your company’s approach to working with your customers is easygoing and informal, writing in a conversational tone will better reflect the customer experience than if you’re overly formal in your word choice and grammatical structure. Your industry, type of business, and the characteristics of the customers you serve may affect how casual or formal a tone is appropriate for your website copy.
To gauge the authenticity of your content’s voice, read your copy out loud. Does it sound like you?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a word of warning about being authentic, though. Easy does it with slang and jargon. If you’re not 100 percent sure your audience will understand certain terminology, find another way to get your point across. The same goes for using humor. Not everyone has the same idea of what’s funny or appropriate. Before interjecting your wit, I suggest asking a small but diverse group of individuals to review it and offer feedback.
4. Realize that less is usually more.
Know when to say “when” with your copy. If you overcrowd your marketing materials with too much text, they will look cluttered. You'll also overwhelm your readers and risk that they’ll tune out. Make sure you include essential information, but do so in as few words as possible. Get to the point, avoiding run-on sentences and big, intimidating blocks of content.
5. Always include a call-to-action.
Don't assume that your audience will know what you want from them. Make it clear with a call-to-action (CTA) that grabs their attention. For maximal impact, consider using a strong verb or question to lead your CTA, coupled with either a reminder of the benefits readers will get if they proceed or what they will miss out on if they don't.
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6. Keep a collection for inspiration.
Rather than view the postcards, brochures, and flyers you receive at your home and office as “junk” mail, consider them copywriting samples that you can use as inspiration. As you happen upon pieces that you find attractive and engaging, keep them for future reference. It's helpful to have a broad variety (pieces of different sizes, from different industries, with different objectives) in your collection and sort through them for ideas on how to make your wording clear and impactful. Collecting junk mail also means you'll have samples on hand to show your graphic designer if there's a specific look and feel you want your marketing pieces to emulate.
A Final Word on Copywriting
Although copywriting may not be your natural-born talent, you can–with practice–strengthen your abilities and create effective messaging for your marketing materials.
Besides the small business copywriting tips above, you can also get helpful insight from blogs dedicated to the art of copywriting. A few worth checking out include Copyblogger, Copy Hackers Agency, and Contently.
Dawn Mentzer is a contributing writer for Straight North, a leading Chicago SEO firm that provides a full suite of Internet marketing services. As a solopreneur and freelance writer, she specializes in marketing content — and collaborates with clients nationally and globally.
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