We all can picture the stereotypical writer. She’s whiling away the hours in some cool-kid café, dreaming up the next best-seller. Living the dream, baby. But here’s the flip-side of that pic: Many of us word-folk are deploying our skills in service of a corporate client.
When we’re writing for business, rather than fiction, for instance, or pure-form journalism, our well-chosen words have a commercial purpose. If it’s marketing copy, the writing should motivate readers to make a decision to pursue a product or service, sparking a “call to action.” Content might serve a company’s internal purposes, such as informing employees. Or, content may be outward-facing, to demonstrate a firm’s expertise. Whatever we’re messaging, we strive to capture readers’ eyeballs and minds, holding their attention.
When I’m writing for a corporate client, I keep my ear attuned to its voice, story, and unique positioning in the market. In other words: the brand. In the business space, all of the rules of good writing apply (think: clarity, brevity). For us writers, our tools are words, artfully chosen and drafted to draw and reward customers with, optimally, some kind of delight. To give it your best, read on:
Remember the old motto: Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. With business writing, I’ve called myself a “Jill-of-all-trades.” The word “nimble” is a great description for qualities that make you marketable. Be flexible about what you think you can do. If you have strong skills in researching, reporting, writing, or editing, you can, potentially, write about anything. Assignments can come in many guises: case study or corporate report, Power Point or brochure, e-newsletter or tweet. Go for it.
The Internet is God’s gift to writers. In this day of the Web, you can learn about anything, and fast. Before some assignments, you may need to do your homework. The Net brings speedy research with ease. And in the writing, even if it’s an 8-page white paper, aim for the flow of a quick read. In your last self-editing pass-through, read your piece out loud. If a certain turn of phrase slows you down, it’s time to revise.
Be a Linguist
Whatever the target market, you want to be fluent in the industry linguistics. Before you begin to write your assignment, it’s important to absorb the corporate voice, and then infuse it with your own style. For instance, if commerce and technology are on your docket, learn and understand the tech-speak. Study the industry’s dialect, and make it your own.
Be a Reader
For most of us in the word world, reading is breathing. When I’m writing for corporate clients, I like to put my mind in the game and get a sense of business-writing style by reading key publications. If Harvard Business Review is the Vogue of the trade, read it. Read good industry newsletters to get a flavor of effective business communications.
When you are writing for a client, you need to not only ace the content, but also master the form the client requires. For instance, if you are producing a document in a template or with a restricted word count, embrace the framework. Don’t overwrite: Self-edit your own work ruthlessly and decide what’s vital.
Be a Key Resource
There are a lot of flaky writers out there. Don’t be one of them. Over-deliver: Submit your work way before deadline. Stay avidly aware of the client’s objective and how they will use the copy. Concentrate on how the completed assignment will meet their needs. And deliver work as close to production-ready as possible. Invest in making the assigner’s work easier and you’ll receive more work in return.
What about you, fellow wordsmiths? What are your thoughts on corporate writing that works? And for those who might hire, how would you describe successful business writing?