As a business owner, you need to convey your messages directly and clearly. Whether it’s a short note, a business email or a blog post, you need clarity in your communication. Clarity, above all else, is king. If people don’t understand what you’re saying, they won’t get it. And when they don’t get it, they won’t do it. Simple.
So what do you do to be clear? You may think, “Does that mean I have to dumb it down?” The simple answer is no. Simplicity is completely underrated. So many messages are coming at us from every angle, every day. Articles. Banner ads. Emails. News feeds. The list goes on. To get noticed, what you really need to do is keep it simple.
What’s Your Point?
Ask yourself what you want your readers to understand. Write it out in plain, simple English. Leave the buzzwords and business speak out. Then walk away. Come back later or the next day and read it again (first thing in the morning, preferably). Did you get the message? Was it clear to you?
Here’s an example of a company email that’s overly complex, repetitive and needlessly wordy:
“It has come to our attention that in the past month many of our employees are submitting vacation requests for the last two weeks of the year and are expecting those requests to be approved. In order for your vacation request to be approved, you must speak with your manager first to make suitable arrangements.”
Not only could you prune the paragraph to make it clear, you could change the tone to be more empathetic, while still being instructive. Here’s the same email with a simpler structure and a warmer tone:
“Many of our employees have requested the last two weeks of the year off. We understand that time with your family is important, so we will work with each of you individually to find a solution. Please set up a time with your manager to discuss your vacation request.”
Remember, you want your readers to understand your message, but you also want them to feel good about it – so they act on it.
Find Your Inner Editor
Next, edit your draft. Go ahead and spice up your words if needed. Just don’t overdo it. Make sure everything you wrote flows from one sentence to the next. Did you pause somewhere? Stumble across a word? Change it. Change the word. Change the sentence. Don’t get attached to it. Again, think simplicity.
Suppose you have a limited-time offer and you need to convey urgency. What you don’t want is a sluggish start, clunky transitions and mind-numbing information, like this paragraph:
“There are hundreds of books that you can read on how to succeed in your first year of business as a startup. In an effort to better serve your customers, while maintaining your profitability in your first year, you can stock up on many of these popular titles at a fraction of the cost with BusinessBuilder’s limited-time special offer that ends on December 31, 2014.”
Instead, try something short and punchy. Make it a quick-and-easy read that offers a hook, benefit and call-to-action, all at a glance. Check out the revised paragraph:
“Hundreds of books are available right now that can help your startup succeed. Want immediate access to the world’s most popular titles? Get it now with BusinessBuilder’s special offer – 50% off the regular price – but only until December 31, 2014.”
Say more with less.
Run It through a Sieve
Finally, show what you wrote to someone whose opinion you respect. Someone who’s logical, but open to new ideas. Did they get it? Did they like it? What did they take away from it? If their answers were “no,” “no” and “nothing,” you’ll have to take a step back and reframe. Consider it a blessing. If you need to, start over, but don’t lose your original idea. You had that thought for a reason.
Go Back to Square One
When you have your final document and you’re ready to push “send,” “reply” or “publish,” stop. And go back to square one. Not to write it over again, but to read it over again – with fresh eyes. Read it from the bottom up. Read it standing up. Ponder it. Print it out. Trim the fat. Maybe even show it to someone new. If possible, sleep on it. A little breathing room goes a long way. If your deadline is that day, go for a short walk or run an errand, then come back for one final review. Like it? Check. Is it clear? Check. Are you ready? Check.
When you do this again and again, it becomes easier – and more fun. You’ll look at every opportunity to write something as a chance to communicate clearly and connect. And when you do connect with your customers, employees, friends and family, you’ve succeeded no matter what the outcome.
Are you writing with clarity? What method works for you?
A versatile copywriter with more than 15 years of advertising / marketing writing experience, Gus Hulander knows a thing or two about turning ideas into words and words into results. He’s written for small- to mid-sized companies and large corporations in a variety of industries, including health & fitness, retail, financial services and insurance. Currently, he lives in Los Angeles, California. You can check out his work here.