Why Words Can Kill Your Business (And What To Do About It)

Words on a cafe wall

 

Your business thrives on words.

Ok, you might think I would say that, being an editor and all, but stop for a minute.

How do you get your message across to your clients and customers?

Fabulous, eye-catching images and words. Lots and lots of words.

Your words define you and your business.

Business words

Your brand identity is defined by the words you choose.

Your company culture is defined by the words you use.

Your customer focus is defined by the words you use too.

 

Words can entice, excite and entertain. Or they can confuse, alienate and drive away business.

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Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: bad writing can kill your business.

For example, how are your emails being received?

Email communication

The problem:

You don’t get to the point.

The point gets lost in jargon.

The point gets lost in meaningless drivel.

The emails are so long getting to the point that the reader loses the will to live.

The solution:

Don’t worry about getting straight to the point. Your recipient probably has a million and one things to do other than read your mailing. Lower the chances of them hitting the delete button by telling what you need to tell in a straightforward, professional manner.

Ditch the jargon, unless it’s absolutely necessary. If your recipient is unsure what you mean they’ll delete. Use plain language. No one ever complained about easy to understand emails.

Stop the waffle. Seriously. Just stop it.

Avoid the tl;dr culture. If you have a special offer, let your recipients know sooner rather than later. If you have something to tell them that will benefit them, tell them at the beginning. If your emails are so long they aren’t going to be read, split them up.

contact us emails

Top tip: If you find that your business emails are taking up too much time, they’re being binned before they’re read and are not giving a return on your investment – simplify the process by spending time creating templates that you can reuse. A few hours of template writing will free up your time later on and will make things so much easier for you … just remember not to leave in dummy text!

But it’s the same for all your business writing.

Your website is your virtual shop window. It’s also a way to talk to your customers and make them feel valued. Common business writing mistakes that will lose you customers and cost you money are:

Spelling mistakes

Incorrect information

Broken links and bad navigation on your website

Complicated language, jargon and inconsistencies

Information overload

As well as all the points I noted above.

Brochures, flyers and advertising material, along with your website and business communication, need to be straightforward and to the point, without forgetting that your customer is your main focus.

Here’s how you fix it, and make your business words work for you:

  writing for business

  • Take your time and really read what you’ve written. Seek out spelling mistakes and fix them, and if you’re not good with words, hire someone who is. Spelling mistakes and sloppy writing will lose you business. Seriously.
  • Take time to write your business information. Research, draft, write, read, rewrite, read, rewrite again if you need to. Don’t just write something and stick it out there (unless you’re writing very quick, to the point, blog posts that don’t pretend to be anything else).
  • Focus on your customer, not yourself. Make things as easy as possible for them. Use words they will enjoy reading, and words that are not overly complicated. Using plain English is NOT dumbing down, it’s making your writing as easy as possible, for as many people as possible, to understand.
  • Don’t tell your customers too many things all at once. Let them digest each nugget of information before they move on. And give them the choice to know more – don’t force it down their throats. Use separate pages for each area of your business.

There’s a reason that copywriters and editors exist. You may be a whizz at your business, an engaging entrepreneur with fabulous ideas, or a nuts and bolts trader of essentials, but you may be rubbish at writing. Hey, not everyone is good with words. That’s why we train to be good editors and writers. I’d make a rubbish entrepreneur.

marketing-1320699_1280

While your business thrives on words, try not to make mistakes like these:

The online wine shop I happened upon in my search for a fizzy German wine made from strawberries (a favourite of mine back in the 1990s when Safeway stocked it for £1.99 a bottle!), where well-known varieties of wine were spelt incorrectly. I left without purchasing. I never did find that wine.

The local restaurant who advertised in our post office, on the little TV screen that blinks at you as you’re waiting to send off your parcels, and who couldn’t spell the name of the street they were situated on. Probably wouldn’t affect trade that much, unless someone who wasn’t local was trying to find the establishment, but it’s just sloppy.

The well-known department store that accidentally missed out a digit and sold an expensive necklace for only $47. Huge mistake, which was honoured before anyone twigged what had gone wrong.

The British bank that right now has a glaring typo on their home page. I won’t put up a link as hopefully it will have been rectified by the time this post is made live. Let’s just say there’s a Northern Santa who doesn’t like surprises, but a dictionary should be on his gift list. People, respect your business and we might respect yours.

So, if you want to make the most of your business, keep potential customers engaged and have them return for more here’s what to do:

Seek out, locate and destroy spelling errors.

Keep things simple and avoid jargon unless it’s needed and expected.

Use plain English wherever possible.

Respect your clients by investing in your businesses writing.

Write for your clients, not for yourself.

Take time over your content.

And if you need professional help find a copywriter to write your content, an editor to help you polish your content and a proofreader to give it that final check.

It’s not as expensive as you may think, and good content is key to a successful business.

Contact me if you think I can help your business to thrive.

5 Pros and 5 Cons of Hiring an Editor

pros and cons of hiring an editor

When you’re a writer at some point you’re going to have to decide on whether to use the services of an editor or not.

There are writers out there who pride themselves on ‘not needing an editor’, and there are those who will always set aside an editing budget in their publishing schedule. But there are many writers who are unsure what editing entails and whether it’s really needed or not.

So how about looking at the pros and cons of hiring an editor?

looking at a book

Five advantages of hiring an editor:

1. An unbiased critique

When you hire an editor they’ll tell you, in a professional and unbiased manner, what works and what doesn’t. Family and friends won’t want to hurt your feelings, and beta readers may feel the same. They may skirt around certain issues for fear of offending, or they may not want to tell you that your book just doesn’t read well. Reviewers of books that you give away for free may feel that they want to give a positive review in return for the book.

There are many reasons why you may not get a thorough critique from your friends and beta readers or reviewers. A professional editor, whether carrying out a full developmental edit or a copy edit, will let you know, gently but firmly, if something really doesn’t work. They’re not only looking at the book from a professional viewpoint, as readers they’ll also want your book is as good as it can be.

Pad of Paper and Pen

2. A professional, easy to read document

When you have your book or document professionally edited, all those problems that you’ve failed to spot will be addressed by your editor. When we write and edit ourselves there are things we miss no matter how many times we go through the document. And that’s true for editors who write too!

A structural edit will uncover plot holes, pace that is too slow (or too fast) and other ‘big picture’ problems. A copy or line edit will eliminate bad grammar, spelling errors, badly constructed sentences and suchlike.

When your document has been edited your authorial voice will still be intact, but the words will flow and the reader will enjoy the experience more than with a raw, unedited manuscript. We all have word ticks, bad habits and, on occasion, sloppy writing. An editor will sort these out for you.

glasses highlighting a book

3. A chance for better reviews

You’ve put your heart and soul into your work. You’ve spent months writing your masterpiece. Why risk snarky reviews? Readers pick up on those spelling mistakes you’ve missed, the plot holes and the inconsistencies and some delight in telling the world.

A professionally edited book will lower your chances of a bad review. You will never make every reader love your work, but you can stop those reviews where ‘Mr P of Plymouth’ spots that the character’s eyes changed colour midway through the book, or the book switched from UK to US spelling in the final chapters.

thumbs up, great service

4. A better chance of being traditionally published

With so much competition out there it can be hard to be noticed by agents and traditional publishers. Even if an author bypasses a structural edit, a copy edit will make your manuscript more polished and less likely to end on the slush pile without a second glance. An edited manuscript won’t guarantee success, but it will show that you value your work and respect the agent or publisher enough to submit something of quality.

bookshelves full of books

5. It sets you apart from the rest

The majority of self-publishers still think that getting their friends, family and readers to edit their book is a good idea. Entrusting your book to your old friend who is an English teacher may seem like a no-brainer, but nothing can beat a professional job by a professional editor. Having your book edited is an investment in your writing future. It shows you are serious about your writing and you value your readers.

 editorial budget

 

Five disadvantages of hiring an editor:

1. It’s tough getting critiqued

You need a thick skin and a certain detachment. Every writer dreads getting back an edited or critiqued document – it’s your baby, you want to think it’s perfect.

The fact of the matter is, very, very, few books are perfect. There will be corrections, even if it’s just spelling, grammar or the odd clunky paragraph. When you get a manuscript back from an editor you need to have a quick look, put it down for a little while then, when you are ready, go through it page by page in a calm, matter-of-fact way. Leave emotions behind if you can and know that at the end you will have a much neater piece of writing.

editing proofreading publishing

(c) Nic McPhee Flikr

2. You may feel that your work is no longer your own

Writers love to write and, unless you are collaborating on a manuscript, the work is yours and yours alone. But you might think that once an editor starts to suggest changes that you are no longer in control.

This is where a good author/editor relationship comes in. Remember – any changes to a document are suggestions. You remain in control and although it might be unwise not to follow through with changes made by your editor, if you want to leave something then that’s totally up to you. It’s still your work, even when you work with an editor.

And don’t worry about confidentiality. A professionally trained editor would never do anything with your work other than what has been agreed upon. Your writing is safe.

loneliness of the writer

3. It’s difficult to know what kind of edit you need

Unless you work in the publishing industry or have hired an editor before, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Luckily there’s plenty of help available out there – I’ve written on the types of editor you need, as have a number of my colleagues and professional societies. You just need to take the time to do your research and perhaps ask other authors about the types of edits they have found useful. If in doubt, social media is a wonderful thing … find editors online and chat with us.

What type of edit do you need

4. It can be difficult to find an editor

Once you’ve decided on the type of edit you need, you need to find an editor. Now, it’s not actually that difficult to find an editor. There are loads of sites out there aimed at author services, but quality, and price, varies.

The best way to find an editor to suit your needs is to look for one who is professionally trained and who works in your subject area. There are editors who will happily work on anything but, if your budget allows, you may find it better to look for one who specialises in your subject, or has in-depth knowledge. Look in professional directories such as the one here for the SfEP.

Do your research. Look at an editor’s background and qualifications. See if they are a member of a professional society that vets their editors. Talk to a few editors you’ve shortlisted to see if you are compatible. It takes time to find the right editor, but when you do you can have a great, long-term relationship.

good communication

5. Editors don’t come cheap

It’s true.

There are many out there who work for content mills and will work cheaply. Some may be excellent at their job and have valid reasons for their low fees (they desperately need the work, or they’re new to the business or they need to build a portfolio), but there are many unqualified ‘editors’ out there who haven’t been trained to edit properly. Unfortunately, at the moment, anyone can call themselves an editor and set up in business.

As with many things, you get what you pay for. A professional edit may be expensive to you, but it may not be to another author. And there may be more than one round of editing needed. But if you are looking for a professional edit, look for a professional editor with training. You may choose a newly qualified editor over a more expensive, established one, but expect to pay a professional price for a professional job. You will need to budget for this.

broken piggy bank

When it all boils down to it, what’s good for one writer may not be so good for another. There are pros and cons to having your work edited, but most of the disadvantages are ones of time and perception. It does take time and effort to find the right editor, work through your manuscript and budget properly, but if you are serious about your writing a good editor can make a huge difference to your work.

 

Do you need to like your editor or proofreader?

handshake

 

You’ve finished your book, completed your marketing material or are looking for some help with your PhD thesis. Now you’ve got to find an editor / proofreader / wordy wordsmith.

How to find an editor or proofreader

It’s a tough decision. First you have to find them. You can find an editor (let’s just call them editors so I don’t have to repeat myself all the time) in a variety of ways. You can find them through:

 word of mouth

 places like writers’ groups

social media

or you can actually go straight to society directories (such as the SfEP directory).

I’m sure there are other ways to find an editor. If you use a different way be sure to let me know in the comments below.

Finding an editor can be equally tough if you are not sure exactly what you want. Let’s face it, unless you’re an expert at something, you rarely know exactly what you want and will rely on expert guidance. Do you really know if you need an edit or a proofread? (Hint: unless you have your material completely finished and ready to go, it won’t be a proofread you’re after).

 

thinking businessman

click here to find out whether you need an editor or proofreader

 

How do you choose which editor to work with?

So, let’s imagine you’ve trawled through the available resources and have decided that there are one or two (or more) editors who fit your profile – they are qualified, knowledgeable in your area and fit your budget. (Hint: cheapest is rarely best).

How on earth do you choose which one to work with?

Do you choose the most qualified?

The cheapest?

The one nearest to where you live?

See? It’s a tough decision. One editor may offer incentives (price plans, bundles and packages, discounts), another may just offer one or two services, whereas another may be so highly qualified you think you’ll never be able to afford them or fit into their schedule. If you are a business, budget may be less of a problem but timescale may be – do you choose the one who can deal with you straight away or wait until the one you really think you could work with has an opening in their schedule?

Here’s a thought – how about also finding one you enjoy working with?

woman with computer

Do your homework and talk to editors

When it comes down to it, once you have your shortlist you could procrastinate until it’s too late to book any of your preferred choices. Remember, good editors usually get booked up pretty quickly and may only be able to fit you in at short notice if they have a project timeline slide.

You will have chosen your shortlist to criteria of some sort, but now is the time to see if you can actually work with them.

How many people actually do their homework when choosing who to work with? You could find that someone who fits your profile academically is a nightmare to work with. Come on, we’ve all had that brilliant colleague who has the personality of a robot, or the colleague who seems mediocre on paper but is a delight to work with.

is your colleague a robot

While qualifications are important, you also need to be able to feel comfortable with your editor.

This is why it is so important to start a dialogue with the editors you choose.

Talk to them.

Ok, email them. Whatever, but do talk to them.

Right at the outset, when you send that first enquiry, you need to talk about what you think you need, ask for their advice and see where you fit into their schedule.

How do you feel when you talk to them?  Gut instinct can work here, but do you feel comfortable with the conversation.

How will they work on your writing? Do your ideas and theirs mix well?

Do they seem to know what they’re talking about? They should, but do they communicate it well too?

Are they too technical? Would they mind explaining things or do you think they are used to working with more technical clients.

 

This may be a teensy bit controversial … but …

If you don’t feel comfortable with the level of communication you probably won’t feel comfortable with the editing process.

comfortable at home

So do you have to like your editor or proofreader?

You don’t have to LIKE your editor, but you do need to be COMFORTABLE working with them.

Some people prefer a more formal editor/client relationship.

Some people like a more informal set-up.

Now, don’t get me wrong, most professionals can work either way, becoming more formal when the occasion demands, or more conversational when it’s preferred. Hell, even I can scrub up and do the formal thing when needed.

Faberge: Imperial Jeweler to the Tsars exhibit

(c) etee, Flikr

But the working relationship, no matter what that might be, needs to be something you can live with. Sometimes hiring an editor is a one-off, but for many writers or businesses it becomes an ongoing relationship that can last a long time. Talking to your editor shouldn’t be a thing of dread, you should look forward to working with them and allowing them to help you hone your writing.

Will you both enjoy working together?

Here are three ways you can figure out if you’ll get on:

  1. Look at their websites.

Some editors have swanky websites, some don’t, but you should be able to get a bit of personality and information from their sites. It’s not the be-all and end-all of a working relationship, but it’s common sense to check them out.

You may gauge something of their working agendas, their specialities and affiliations. If someone highlights their academic work, they may not readily take on your work of high fiction.

You may also get a shock and find out your editor has green hair, and you have to ask yourself if you could work with such a non-conformist.

Sara Donaldson | copywriter | copyeditor | proofreader

Honestly, most of the time I forget it’s green

  1. Talk to your editorial choices.

Before making a firm decision ask them questions about how they’ll work with you, what level of editing they think you need, where you can fit into their schedule and timescale. You should, through conversation, be able to figure out whether you’ll be able to work together.

  1. Have a look at their work

Does their work seem to tie in with yours, or if not are they interested in your type of writing? Going by someone’s past work isn’t always an indicator of their future work. There may be good reasons that there’s little information on their website about the type of work they have done in the past. For example I have a portfolio, but it by no means shows all my past work – working with individuals and companies rather than traditional publishers can mean work won’t appear in a portfolio because of confidentiality issues.

confidential and confidentiality

If you can’t find any examples of their work online, bring it into the conversation. Ask if they’ve worked on your type of material, and if they haven’t ask if they are qualified to work on it. You may find that your editor hasn’t made it public knowledge, but they are dying to work on your type of project. And don’t be afraid to ask about qualifications, your editor won’t be offended.

So, do you need to like them?

In short, go with whatever feels the most comfortable.

You don’t need to LIKE your editor, but you need to take into account:

Are they qualified to do the job?

Do they work in a way that you’re comfortable with?

Can you talk to them properly?

Can you afford them?

Are your timeframes compatible?

If you can actually like your editor too it will make the whole process so much more enjoyable and you’ll look forward to working together.

 

*****

If you think you could work with this green-haired editorial consultant, why not take a peek at my SfEP directory entry? Contact me and we can talk through your project.