Tone of voice

Business Writing That Sells. Part 8

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at why it’s crucial to think about the tone of voice for all your written communications.

 

Above all other considerations, it is with a view to the manner in which one implements a consumer outreach paradigm, or subset thereof, that the communications professional must concern themselves.

– What?

Playa, words are weapons. Speak in salvos designed to detonate in the brain. Full auto. Aim high, shoot from the hip. Ghetto blaster!

– I beg your pardon?

Think about how you talk to your audience. Make it easy to understand, compelling and tailored to them. Pack it with facts, be entertaining or informative, but above all make sure that you remove any barriers to entry.

– Ah, I see!

 

Was it a relief when you read that last paragraph and something finally made sense? That’s how the public feels about a lot of communications that are broadcast to them, regardless of media. In most situations, they didn’t invite you to communicate with them – you just popped up in their newsfeed or online ads. So don’t make it difficult for them to understand what you’re saying.

 

Who are you talking to – and why?

First understand who your typical customer is, then how they prefer to be addressed. That’s why copywriters spend so much time researching online, joining forums and meeting your customers in person. The end product is often deceptively simple, but it will be based on hours of research.

But if you don’t want – or can’t afford – to engage a professional copywriter (are you sure? Talk to me), then how should you approach your corporate communications? Just remember who you are talking to – and why. Talk to them in their own language – in an idealised, composed and authoritative version of their own language – but in terms they will recognise and identify with.

 

Whose voice do you want your audience hear?

Do you want to invoke the authority of a trusted advisor, or welcome readers like they’re having a friendly chat down the local? Think about the way that every word you choose can affect the way your reader feels about what you are saying. This paragraph opens with words like ‘invoke’ and ‘authority’, before moving onto ‘welcome, ‘friendly’, ‘chat’ and ‘local’. The words themselves are a tonal shift from stark and businesslike to informal and friendly. That didn’t happen by accident.

I always feel that if a reader can hear a human voice in my words, then I’ve massively increased my clients’ chances of being listened to. Words are powerful tools. They spark valuable reactions in the minds and hearts of your prospects and customers. Professional copywriters understand how to harness this to guide your audience’s response. They could inspire aspiration, establish authority – or even use fear as a tool. And the best copywriters know how to deploy these techniques without the average reader even realising it’s happening. That’s where we earn our keep.

 

Plain English

At least make sure that everything you publish is written in Plain English. I could have said, ‘As a bare minimum’, or ‘Your threshold requirement should be’, but save that kind of one-upmanship for the meeting room. It might impress your boss that you’re a sharp cookie, but Joe Public will think you’re a ****er. ‘At least’ says the same thing in a way that can be understood by anyone. So why not use it?

That’s not to take anything away from playful use of words, or the beauty of le bon mot. Don’t lose what made the writing interesting in the first place. I’m just encouraging you to think about how you talk to your reader. If you decide to use a formal tone or colloquialism – and why not? Both can be hugely effective when used well – do it for a reason.

 

Write the writing like you talk the talk

Without a clear idea of what you want to say to who and why (all details I would find out before even putting a single letter in place), the best advice is usually to write as if you’re having an informal but informative conversation with your reader. Great copywriters tend to write like they speak – or how they’d like to speak. The best ones write how you would like your brand to speak if it was a person.

 

Every block builds the wall

Choose your words carefully. Choose every word carefully. If any word fails to strengthen the message, then lose it. 20 words of tight, punchy copy that aims for the bullseye and hits it dead centre will outperform 800 words that take too long getting to the point. People are busy; don’t waste their time.

And finally, an aspect of tone of voice that too many marketing departments forget; content selection. Every piece of content – every blog entry, every press release or article – helps to establish the tone of voice for your brand. Will you choose to share heart-warming accounts of your latest charity fundraiser, or a clinical dissection of today’s market? The decision to share content is exactly that; a decision. Every piece that you choose to broadcast will influence your audience’s perception of your brand, so make sure you know why you are sharing it, how it fits into your overall marketing strategy and what you hope to achieve from it.

Every decision about ‘what’ to share affects your tone of voice; before you even think about ‘how’. Ask yourself what you want to share with whom, and why. Only then can you think about the how.

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

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The power of corporate storytelling

Business Writing That Sells. Part 7

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at the power of corporate storytelling to really connect with your customers.

 

Telling Stories

Isn’t that what your parents used to accuse you of when you were being economical with the truth, stretching it – or telling outright lies? Is that why a lot of business owners shy away from storytelling? Do they feel it’s something best left behind in childhood, along with hopscotch and conkers? Or are they wary of any message that isn’t data-driven, fact-oriented and results-based INFORMATION?

But telling stories isn’t just the preserve of Pinnochio; you might also have heard of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling. Four pretty famous storytellers who have nothing in common other than a shared ability to capture our imagination and connect with what it means to be human. What it means to be alive.

 

Your Customers Are Human

Here’s something that any business owner should remember: every single one of your paying customers is a human being. And human beings have brains that are hardwired to receive information as stories. That’s why our species has gathered around the campfire for millennia to experience the myths and legends passed down by word of mouth through the generations.

The campfire has now been replaced by the computer screen, but we still flock to its light to ‘hear’ stories. Why else do you think regularly trending items on the internet include what name the next royal baby might have; which Hollywood star is dating which pop star; and what their ex has to say about it? It isn’t because these things intrinsically matter, but because they interest ‘us’. And by ‘us’, I mean the general public – your customers.

 

Branson? Brand-On!

The most successful business people and entrepreneurs know how to tap into this thirst for stories – or they employ writers and marketing execs who do. Richard Branson is arguably the highest profile British business leader today. Despite an out-of-date goatee and bad taste in jumpers, he remains an iconic business leader because he has communicated his story so effectively.

Let’s just look at Richard Branson: The Early Years from two perspectives:

1) Man signs musician to his record label; offers him a car as incentive to perform; goes on to become one of the richest business people in the world.

2) In 1971, a young entrepreneur – Richard Branson – borrowed £30,000 off his aunt to make his name in the music industry. As an underdog battling the established labels and their stranglehold on the charts, Branson discovered a talented 18-year-old session musician, Mike Oldfield. He backed Oldfield to produce what would become one of the most famous albums of the 20th Century. But celebrity didn’t come easy to Oldfield, who was reluctant to perform his magnum opus live. He tried to back out of his first big gig even as Branson gave him a lift to London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in his Bentley; a wedding present from his parents. With radio airplay non-existent and desperate to see the young musician succeed, Branson offered Oldfield the very car he was riding in, if only he would perform his album live. The rest, as they say, is history…

 

Facts, Story – Or Both?

So which version of Richard Branson: The Early Years will stick in your memory? The fact-based account, or the story? I’d stake the house on it being the latter – and I’m not a gambling man. Who can resist this narrative of an underdog who is so dedicated to succeeding in business that he’s willing to part with his luxury car – one that also has sentimental importance?

Richard Branson. It’s become a household name. That is the power of stories. And that’s just one example; also see Sir Alan Sugar, David Gold or Innocent Smoothies. Corporate storytelling has nothing to do with lying, nor does it have anything to do with works of fiction. It has everything to do with the power of stories to inspire action.

The very best copywriting plugs your business into the consumers’ – read human beings’ – desire for satisfying stories. Ideas are great, but in order to connect with an audience (ie: your customers), they should be brought to life with images in the form of stories to make them feel real.

 

The Two Essentials Of Corporate Storytelling

So how do you turn your business into a story? Well, there’s a huge range of techniques and tricks that a professional copywriter will use, but let’s focus on the two essentials of corporate storytelling here.

1) Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Think about your favourite film or book. Even if it opens mid-action and closes with a question, the protagonist will always embark on a journey between the first frame or chapter and the last. Just about any story begins with ‘business as usual’, followed by discovery and growth, and ultimately, triumph.

Your job is to capture the journey of your business in a way that captivates the crowds through a narrative structure they not only recognise, but also yearn for. Where did the business come from? Why does it exist? What’s the landscape around it? And how did/does it change it?

2) Conflict is the essence of drama. Whether you’re thinking about Chaucer, Chekov or Game Of Thrones, conflict is at the heart of why the audience is interested in the story. The trick with corporate storytelling is to rationalise conflict in terms that will benefit your customers. Simply demonstrate a conflict your clients will experience that your business can resolve for them. And if that doesn’t sound ‘simple’; talk to a professional copywriter. Of course, I’d humbly suggest my services at this point…

 

Congratulations – That’s A Bestseller!

Apply the basics of good storytelling that any charting novelist uses to your business marketing and communications and you will see the results. But this time, the outcome isn’t an increase in sales of the story – it’s an increase in sales.

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

How to turn your ideas into words

Business Writing That Sells. Part 6

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at how to turn your ideas into words.

 

Turning Ideas Into Words

You live your brand every hour of every day. It excites you. Maybe it consumes you. But how do you distil that passion into a soundbite that is readily understood by everyone? How do you communicate just why your business fires you up?

If you’re like most of the business founders and owners I work with, then you’re so caught up in the day-to-day that you find it hard to express why you do what you do to an ‘outsider’. And that’s my tip for this week; take a step back – even better, step outside your business entirely – and look at it from the outside. Become an outsider for the day. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers and prospects. What do you see?

Now what would you like them to see? If you could be a fly on the wall when one of your customers describes your business to other potential customers, what do you want to hear? Is it value for money? Great customer service? The fact that you ‘get’ your customers?

It could be all of these, or it could be none of these. That’s one thing I’ve learned from working with hundreds of start-ups and SMEs; every business is different. That’s why you can’t buy a one-size-fits-all marketing plan off the shelf and expect it to work, whatever your agency promises.

 

Ideas Are Based On Understanding

There’s no substitute for understanding both why you wanted to start this business in the first place – and why your customers are your customers. If you really – really – want to communicate effectively with them, then you need to ask some probing (and often difficult) questions about who you are, who they are, and how you see your relationship with them.

It’s only then that you’ll be able to turn your ideas into words. At least, words that connect with your audience. Most clients would rather outthink their competitors than outspend them and putting in this groundwork will put you ahead of the pack.

 

Forget The 60-Second Sell!

As a professional copywriter, I meet some incredible and inspirational entrepreneurs – and many of them have sadly failed to really engage their audience. You know that ‘elevator pitch’ that all the business books tell you to practice? The 60-second-sell that sums up your business proposition? Forget it. Sure, it might be great for convincing Richard Branson to invest millions on that one-in-a-billion lift ride that will never happen, but in terms of talking to regular people? It’s worse than useless. In fact, it’s counterproductive; you need to learn a new language.

That’s why I spend most of my time creating words that capture what my client wants their customers to feel about their company, but can’t quite articulate. A huge part of my work is acting as a translator to communicate what businesses needs to say to everyday members of the public. Everyday members of the public who happen to have a wallet with a debit or credit card in it.

Although I like to talk to my clients regularly and gather as much information as I can, I’ve found that when I write for a new client – if time is short, or I just can’t get more answers for some reason – there are just two things that I really need to know:

  1. The big idea
  2. The brand personality

To get to the point where you know these two things, you’ve already asked and answered a lot of questions. You’re good to go.

 

Don’t Get Lost In Translation

If you don’t want – or can’t afford – to hire a professional copywriter (are you sure you can’t afford one? Talk to me!), then you should try to be your own translator. To mix metaphors; take off your business hat and put on your consumer shoes. This is one time you won’t get strange looks if you talk to yourself…

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

The answer to ‘So what?’

Business Writing That Sells. Part 5

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at how to overcome your biggest obstacle to sales; the question “So what?”

 

So what? 

Your company has demonstrated 28% growth, year-on-year. So what? You’ve moved to new, bigger premises. So what? Your staffing levels have doubled. So what? (Here’s a clue to the public’s mindset: think of any statement about your business, followed by the question, “So what?”) There you go.

It’s only natural that you want to celebrate success, but every time you want to publish how the business that you have nurtured is growing, stop and ask why you want to share this information with your customers. You’d get a warm welcome in your business network or from your friends, but why does the world at large care? In short, it doesn’t. Sure, a press release to the industry can’t hurt, but as far as the real world goes? Sorry to break it to you, but nobody cares.

So before your audience can even think “So what?”, put yourself in their shoes, become your readership and ask “What’s in it for me?” If you can translate your success into something that will benefit your customers and prospects, then you’re onto something.

 

So this!

Let’s go back to our opening examples. Your company has grown 28%, meaning more buying power and lower prices. You’ve moved to bigger premises, meaning higher stock levels for quicker dispatch. Your staffing levels have doubled, meaning faster service, or more personal attention to every customer’s order. Every. Thing. Is about the customer.

But even if you aren’t banging the evangelical drum for your brand’s success, you should still ask yourself why anybody (ie: a completely random anybody) would want to read what you are putting out there in the world. And yes, that applies to your adverts, too.

Think about the ads that have connected with you in the last month. What brands have connected with you? Chances are they were informative, entertaining or engaging – or maybe all three. As advertising innovator Howard Gossage puts it, “No one reads ads. They read what interests them.” So peel back the layers of your proposition, understand why it appeals to your market and express that in a way that one real person will find irresistible.

 

Don’t Be A ‘Me-Too’ Brand

Today’s corporate marketplace is swamped with me-too, us-first whitewash. Your customers are not only wise to it; they’re bored to tears with it. Don’t give them a reason to be bored with your brand before you’ve even made friends. Don’t be bland. Don’t play it safe. Don’t thump your tub. It’s outré, passé and just plain done. Somebody started your business with a vision – and even if that vision was just to make a truckload of money – that vision will connect with someone out there. Be upfront about it, be open about where you’ve come from – and where you want to go – and invite the public along for the ride.

Love him or loathe him, but Quentin Crisp (well worth a Google) hit the nail on the head when he said that, “Everyone who tells the truth is interesting”. Of course, in a commercial setting, you should avoid being too provocative or outrageous – unless that’s your marketing strategy. In any event, don’t publish anything libellous (your copywriter understands libel for journalists, right?) and don’t give away the secret to your success, but true stories carry more weight than any abstract claim could ever hope to.

 

Interest = Spend

And why are we expending all this effort to simply interest your customers and prospects? Interest is a prerequisite for understanding and action. This is all about encouraging people – don’t forget those sales numbers are people – to engage with your brand. Understanding means they are sympathetic to your cause, but the action – oh, the action – is to put their spend with you. And if you gauge the relationship well, spend with you frequently.

Every word has to carry its weight. Every sentence must grab your audience. Every paragraph should persuade your prospects to invest in your dream. In the course of my work with new clients, the most frequent problem I encounter is that even if they understand the need for content, they don’t understand why that content needs to be great. I’d argue that if you care enough about your brand to talk about it to the general public, then you should care enough to present it in the best light. And if you don’t care, why should they?

 

Make The Ordinary Extraordinary

I believe that the best copywriting makes the ordinary so extraordinary that you are compelled to stop and read it, whether you’re interested in the subject or have no knowledge of it at all. It isn’t easy and committing eight-tenths could be more damaging than not even trying at all, but get it right and your brand will engage your customers and prospects like never before. Does your business deserve anything less?

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

Know your audience

Business Writing That Sells. Part 4

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I’ve worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at who you’re writing for – and why it matters.

 

If there’s one golden rule for commercial copywriting, it’s that you should always – ALWAYS – remember who you are writing for. And why. For it to have value, any interaction must be meaningful and to accomplish that, you need to know who you are talking to.

If you’ve done your market research to write your business plan, then great – you know who your potential customers are. Now the trick is to talk to them on their own terms. Find out what they like to do, where they go at the weekend and – as I’ve mentioned previously in this series – what newspaper do they read? I come back to this because it’s such a convenient ready reckoner for content marketing that anyone can relate to. Customer profiling and personas are buzzwords in content marketing right now, but if you can picture the average reader of the paper your customers are most likely to buy, then you’re off to a good start.

Write for them. Look at the way the paper structures its content and follow suit. Long sentences or short? In-depth investigation or bite-size tittle-tattle? We’re not into value judgements here – whatever works for your audience works for your marketing plan. Go with it. This will dictate not only the ‘content’ of your content marketing, but also the tone and very possibly the medium too. If you can hit on the right language for the right content for your potential customers, then you’re on the home straight.

 

Talk To Your Audience

Any piece of writing is a series of decisions. You can approach the same topic from any number of angles and the one that makes sense to you just might not appeal to your audience. So stop for a minute. Step back. Think about how you would broach the topic with your prospect in a cafe or bar. Talk to them in their language, with their idiom. Copywriting is part sales, but it’s also part translation: learning how to talk with your audience on their terms. Keep your writing relevant to your audience.

It’s not about what you want to say; it’s about what the reader wants to hear. To be blunt, nobody cares about the year-on-year growth of your business. Of course, you care – and if you’re my client, I care. But beyond a press release to the trade press, the only use for that info is to support the image of your business as an expert-driven success story. And there are far smarter ways to communicate that message.

 

Benefits, Not Features

Talk to your audience with authority about the industry and the marketplace; offer insight into the ways you have innovated; but most of all, explain in clear terms how this will benefit your customers. In classic copywriting terms, any piece should talk about the benefits of a product or service, not the features. In other words, don’t talk about what your business does; talk about what it does for your customer.

Many businesses enter the online space with yah-yah content that is all blah-blah. It’s all about ‘me’; never mind ‘you’. Would you want to talk to that person in a social setting? No, me neither. And yet companies keep on doing it – and wondering why they don’t engage their audience. I’ll tell you why: you’re boring. Brands are like babies. And not just because you’ve given birth to them and nurtured them to grow while the world was busy turning. Your babies are beautiful to you, but to anyone else, they’re just another wrinkly little thing crying for attention.

 

Put The Spotlight On Your Customer

Successful copywriting spins the spotlight from the business onto the consumer. It puts them front and centre throughout the whole transaction, from marketing to completed sale. Of course you want to establish your credentials and it’s only natural you want to publicly celebrate any success, but you must ask yourself every time “How does this benefit my customer?”

Don’t make the mistake of just pumping out content for the sake of it – or even worse, because you enjoy talking about your brand to anyone who will listen. As Roger Horberry puts it in his book, Brilliant Copywriting, “Copy that isn’t written for its reader is almost certainly destined to fail.” If you want to engage in meaningful interaction with your audience, you need to know who they are, what they like and how you can help them.

It sounds simple when you put it like that, but it’s a lesson that many businesses never learn – and then they wonder why their content marketing doesn’t achieve the returns they hoped for. Like the very best games, the basics are simple, but winning strategies come with time and experience.

 

Why Does Your Reader Care?

I’ve spent 16 years putting myself into the mindset of the consumer in industries as varied as interactive entertainment to automotive; with audiences that range from young adults to time-poor asset-rich executives and entrepreneurs. And every time, I’ve boosted sales, increased engagement or grown circulation. It isn’t because I’m a brilliant writer – although I like to think I am – it’s because I always ask ‘Who am I writing for?’ I’ve spent more than a decade-and-a-half getting to the point where I make this look easy. It isn’t. It always takes research, several drafts and a lot of work to come up with words that look like they trip off the tongue. You know that; I definitely know that, but your customers don’t need to. All they need to know is that your business meets their needs. So the next time you write anything for your business, just ask yourself this simple question: ‘Why does my reader care’?

I hope this blog has helped you to find an inroad into the art of copywriting and how it can benefit your business. If that’s all the insight you need, then great – glad I could help. All I ask is that you tell your friends and favourite or link to this article. If you want to take it further and you think I can help your business with words that sell, please get in touch today.

 

Next: The Answer To ‘So What?’

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

Briefing: Agile Project Management

A lot of my current work is helping clients with Agile project management to develop software and web content. I’m by no means an expert, but I have learned a thing or two over the years. I produced this no-nonsense, plain English overview to help managers and stakeholders get to grips with this ‘new’ way of working and make the most of the very real benefits it has to offer. And then I thought, why not share it with you?

What Is Agile?

Agile is a popular working methodology that enables people and businesses to efficiently create new software by following familiar steps. It focuses on continuous improvement, scope flexibility and teamwork. You’ll also hear it referred to as Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum or Lean Development.

A Brief History

The “Flexible, holistic product development strategy where a development team works as a unit to reach a common goal” was first proposed by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in 1986’s The New New Product Development Game. Their writing formed the core of the methodology first developed by Schwaber, Beedle and Sutherland in the mid-1990s, but it didn’t gain the now familiar Agile name until 2001, with the publication of The Manifesto For Agile Software Development.

How Does Agile Work?

Unlike many development processes, Agile puts the focus first and foremost on the end user. And for that, I love it. The project’s lifespan should begin with gathering user stories to understand their needs and how they would like to interact with the end product. This phase of Discovery is crucial in determining the product’s functionality and user interface when it comes to Delivery.

The overall project is broken down into a series of stages, called Sprints or Iterations. These last between one week and one month and you could have multiple teams running sprints alongside one another. The idea is to focus on one achievable objective at a time, meaning that you don’t need to worry about the daunting prospect and enormity of the whole project.

Within these short Sprints are even shorter Scrums that last a single day. This refines the focus even further, breaking the Sprint objectives into daily deliverables. It’s good practice to review both the product and the process at the end of each Sprint, to see what work remains to be done and how your project cycle could be improved. Then it’s time to start another Sprint.

Rinse and repeat until your product is ready to publish…

The Agile Roadmap

Any Agile project is broken down into a number of stages. The exact number will vary with whoever is leading the project and how they want to implement an Agile environment, but the principle remains the same.

Some practitioners work to just three stages:

  1. Discovery (research and planning)
  2. Development
  3. Review

But that seems a little simplistic for any complex project.

It’s more usual to split Agile projects into seven stages:

 

The Discovery Phase

Stage 1: Product Vision

Stage 2: Product Roadmap

Stage 3: Release Planning

 

The Delivery Phase

Stage 4: Sprint Planning (also called Iteration Planning)

Stage 5: Daily Scrum (also called Stand-up Meeting, or Daily Commitment)

Stage 6: Sprint Review (to assess the product)

Stage 7: Sprint Retrospective (to assess the process)

 

Post-release Phase

You might want to add two further stages:

Stage 8: Product Release

Stage 9: Ongoing Maintenance

 

In theory, it’s the four stages of the delivery phase (stages 4-7) that you will need to iterate for the majority of the project’s lifecycle. Although you may find that you need to revisit stages 1, 2 and 3 as a result of work in this phase.

 

Artefacts

Agile teams need to be able to measure their project’s progress, so for the most part, they refer to six main artefacts. These are also often referred to as deliverables. Keep an eye on yours for a ready reckoner of your progress.

  • Product vision statement: A concise explanation of why the product benefits your company. What should it achieve?
  • Product backlog: A comprehensive list of the projected work in order of priority.
  • Product roadmap: An overview of requirements, with a rough schedule for developments.
  • Release plan: An approximate timetable for the release of working software.
  • Sprint backlog: Your goals, user stories, and tasks.
  • Increment: The functionality at the end of each sprint.

Of course, you can add more – and more specific – artefacts to suit your project, but these are the most frequently used.

 

Typical Roles

Who works in an Agile environment?

Development Team

The people who create the product. (programmers, testers, designers, writers.)

Product Owner

The person responsible for connecting the customer, business stakeholders and the developers.

Scrum Master

Supports the developers, clears obstacles and keeps the process consistent.

Stakeholders

Anyone with an interest in the project.

Agile Mentor

An Agile veteran who can guide new project teams.

 

If you found this briefing useful, please share it via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need Agile project management or professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

 

What does a copywriter do?

Business Writing That Sells. Part 3

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at what you can learn from a good copywriter to grow your business.

 

Q: What does a copywriter do?

A: They use words to make more money for your business.

 

As long ago as 1904, archetypal copywriter John E Kennedy described copywriting as “Salesmanship in print”. More than a century later and that description is still every bit as true as the day it was first written. The only difference is that a copywriter’s words are now more likely to be published onscreen than in print.

Copywriting is all about using the right words, to say the right thing, to the right people, to get the right response. Being a copywriter is to be a professional persuader. The difference between a salesperson and a copywriter is that it’s so much harder to evaluate the return on investment in terms of numbers – or in other words, sales. Effective copy can lead directly to sales, but it’s more likely to succeed as an influencer, where those foundations can be built upon by a sales professional, a promotional offer or a marketing call to action.

So what’s the difference between copywriting and that report, essay or dissertation you were so proud of? This time, nobody has to read it. You have to convince your reader to engage with your writing – and by extension, your brand. You’d better make it interesting! Whether you want to be entertaining or informative, just remember to provide value to your readers. And never forget that your readers are also your prospects. Your writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it exists to serve your business objectives. That definitely does NOT mean you should dump a sales hook at the end of every piece of content, but you should bear in mind what you want it to achieve.

One of my clients’ most frequent objectives is to better articulate their brand. I’m often given a vague customer demographic and what the business offers, but I’m rarely told why those customers want to buy the product or service. Why would any customer want to spend their money with you? The answer is usually found by talking to the founder, CEO or MD and finding out about their values and beliefs. More often than not, the business is closely aligned with these and that helps me to determine the brand identity. The person in question usually can’t put this into words because ‘it’s just how things are’. It’s normal to them. What they don’t realise is that it isn’t ‘normal’ for everyone and that communicating a strong brand message is an important convincer in winning new business from like-minded people.

Human beings have always been tribal – just look at football fans and band T-shirts for evidence this continues into the 21st Century. People like to belong and if your proposition helps them to identify with your brand, then you are much more likely to win their business. Consumers are fatigued by traditional marketing that shouts ‘BUY MY STUFF!’ But at heart, your customers are still every bit as tribal as they have ever been. Are you in touch with them?

The copywriter acts as a conduit between the company and its potential customers. Part translator, part salesperson, the copywriter distils ideas into words. They are imagineers. Copywriters not only need imagination to create interesting ideas, but they also need craft skill to capture those ideas in the form of words that appeal to their readers.

And with the advent of the internet and social media, copywriters now explore the power of memes; memory devices that spread words and ideas from brain to brain. In the words of veteran ad man, Robin Wright, “The role of the copywriter today is about the idea, which could even be wordless.”

Next: Know Your Audience

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

 

 

You need words to make money

Business Writing That Sells. Part 2

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs on a regular basis. I will share some of my secrets and tricks of the trade with you here. Today, we look at why you need words…

Whether your business needs words for a direct mailshot, a press release, blog entries or a brand new website, you should always ask yourself one question: why are we doing this? Some of your answers might include improving customer engagement, raising brand awareness and growing traffic – or it might be because ‘marketing’ told you that you had to. And every one of those answers is wrong.

We are doing this to make more money.

Remembering that one fact will make your words more effective. Guaranteed. Making money is why you started or joined your business – and that is why you want it to grow now. Even if your requirement for words is as far from a sales pitch as you can get – say, a comprehensive explanation of your customer service processes – remember that every single syllable supports sales. So don’t waste them with fluffy filler.

A direct marketing campaign is relatively straightforward to implement and assess. It is required to meet specific objectives (such as increased sales or website visits) in a specific timescale. Every word needs to carry its weight, but the results are largely measurable. Content marketing is immensely more nebulous, but ultimately more valuable.

The most frequent problem I see with my clients’ existing content strategy is that they simply publish ‘stuff’. They’ve been told by a contact, supplier or the internet at large that their business needs an online presence and that the best way to grow that is content. It’s not bad advice, but there’s one word missing: meaningful.

The world won’t thank you for clogging up their timeline with another marketing message. It WILL thank you for providing content that is informative or entertaining. Get it right and boy, will they thank you! You – literally – cannot buy that kind of goodwill.

As a business, you’re not a charity, so it may feel counterintuitive to give away something you could charge for. The traditional business model would expect to command a premium for expertise and entertainment, but never lose sight of the end goal; investment at this stage will be rewarded by both new and returning customers.

Too many of my clients have previously invested in content marketing without remembering that the primary objective should always be an increase in sales. Admittedly, content marketing is difficult – perhaps impossible – to quantify, but throwing enough mud at a wall and hoping something sticks is like sending money straight down the drain.

Even if your content marketing doesn’t contain a direct call to action – and there is a strong argument that it shouldn’t – you must understand why it is beneficial to your business to publish each and every piece. You want to make more money. So ask yourself how each piece of content fulfils that objective before you create it. The answer could be as simple as driving traffic directly to an offer, or as complex as establishing brand values that will drive future business.

The ideal is that your content is highly valued by your customers and prospects, but at the end of the day, every decision must be driven by one consideration: will this make more money for your business?

 

Next: What Does A Copywriter Do?

 

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

Business Writing That Sells

Part 1

Why isn’t your marketing collateral converting into sales? What do you need to do to drive more traffic to your website? How do you engage your audience – and turn them into customers? All these questions and more will be answered…

Introduction

I’m in the business of selling words to other businesses. Many of the words are nothing special in their own right, but their value lies in the way that I put them together. The right words, in the right order, can set up a start-up for success, turn around an ailing business, or propel an established one to new heights.

I’ve been a professional writer since 1998 and as Editor for The Business Show and Business Startup, I have worked with literally thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs to improve their content marketing. As a freelance copywriter specialising in content marketing, I regularly meet and talk with many entrepreneurs, start-up founders and owners of SMEs. And I’m surprised by how often I’m asked to provide advice or training for business writing. This series will share my secrets with you. It will offer a behind-the-scenes look at some of the tips and tricks of the trade and why they work to grow your business.

Next: You Need Words To Make More Money

If you find the series – or any of the articles in it – useful, please share them via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or your own blog. I’d really appreciate it, thanks. If you need professional copywriting for anything from your new web copy to marketing collateral and press releases, I’d love to hear from you. Get in touch today to find out how I could help your business.

SuperBowl XLIX – All About The TV Ads?

I find it fascinating that in all of my news feeds / social media, yesterday’s superbowl rated exactly ONE article about the game itself.

OK, so I’m UK based and don’t follow NFL feeds, but by way of comparison, I lost count of the number of updates about the half time show and – even more so – the TV ads. My feed was PACKED with superbowl advertising articles! They were repeatedly linked, reported and dissected. As someone who works in content marketing, I find this fascinating.

For me, the night was about Matthews stepping into the spotlight with his first NFL receptions, Wilson literally throwing the Seahawks’ chances away in the dying moments of the game – who called that play? – and Brady’s questionable MVP award (I hope he hands the keys for the winner’s Chevy to Matthews or Butler!) But none of that was even referenced in my newsfeed.

Has the superbowl’s importance as a marketing vehicle overtaken its importance as a marquee sporting event? Is this indicative of a sport in crisis (from a pure sports perspective?) Does this reflect a global capitalist focus on commerce over champions? Or is it just business as normal? I’d love to hear your thoughts.