Good copywriting, good small business

CLEAR and effective communication is key to winning business, so it's important to choose your words wisely.

CLEAR and effective communication is key to winning business, so it's important to choose your words wisely. But for some small-business owners it can just be too hard, and it keeps on getting put off . . . until tomorrow.

The head of the Australian School of Copywriting, Bernadette Schwerdt, says writing involves the fine crafting of words, and many small-business owners make the error of sitting down to write off the top of their head without giving their selection of words enough thought.

Ms Schwerdt, whose background in advertising and acting underpins her communication style, says there are common mistakes that people make when they write material for their business.

Before anyone ever writes anything, they should be able to answer three questions: "Why this? Why you? and Why now", says Ms Schwerdt.

Customers will be making instantaneous, often subconscious, assessments when they read the words on your website or in your e-newsletters, and answering these three "whys" will help your business maintain the interest of the right customers, Ms Schwerdt says.

They want to know why this product will make their life easier, richer, happier or healthier, she says.

Answering the "why you?" question addresses the difference between your own business and that of your competitors, and "why now?" is the urgency factor.

"People think I could do with a financial planner but I don't really need one now, or I could do with a trip but not now. It's about creating content or copy that encourages people to do something right now," she says.

Ms Schwerdt recommends that you ask a friend or staff member to ask you these three questions so that you can give the answers out loud.

"There's two different sides of the brain at play . . . speaking it out is very important, it creates new connections and gives you ideas you don't get to by typing it or writing it by hand."

Ms Schwerdt says speaking out loud also helps you think about the style of writing you might choose that will appeal to your target audience. Your writing can be greatly improved if you write in the way you might speak to someone, and have the picture of a particular person in mind when you write. "If you write for everybody, it's not personal, not conversational," she says.

"When I'm writing copy I am channelling my market, I need to feel what it feels like to be a lady about to go into a nursing home if a retirement home is my client."

Ms Schwerdt says writing is a skill and some business owners don't have a natural flair or time to develop it, so it can be worthwhile outsourcing this important business function to professional copywriters.

"What is the value to you in having the website looking fantastic, and increasing sales? Get it done once, it's done properly, and it doesn't need to be done again," she says. "Some small-business owners need to think how they might have allocated their time more effectively."

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