I got a call the other day from my old college friend Rob, in Vancouver. (Long-time readers with steel trap memories and uneventful lives of their own will remember Rob as the subject of this 2005 newsletter.)
He and I spent a lot of time together in school but gradually lost touch. Having just dropped his own son off at college, however, Rob was feeling a bit nostalgic and, I’m happy to say, he picked up the phone and gave me a call.
It had been at least 10 years since we last spoke. These are the kinds of questions I asked him:
“How many kids do you have?”
“What kind of work are you doing?”
“Do you live in the same house as when Linda and I visited in 1990?”
Compare the Rob conversation to the one I had yesterday with my friend, colleague and frequent collaborator, Belinda Wasser, when we met up at the Inbound Marketing Summit in Boston.
These are the kinds of questions I asked Belinda:
“Where did you take your daughter to dinner last night?”
“Did you start work with that new client yet?”
“Are you going to finish that brownie?”
Clearly, the conversations you have with someone you see once a decade are fundamentally different – in tone, content and specificity – from those you have with someone you talk to every day.
If I asked Belinda, “How many kids do you have?,” it would be as off-key as if I asked Rob, “Where did you take your daughter to dinner last night?” Neither fits the state of our current relationship.
Interestingly, this distinction has everything to do with why your business writing, if I may, blows.
Most businesspeople, when writing for business purposes – whether that’s a web site, free report, newsletter, e-mail or whatever – default to writing the way I spoke to Rob: unfamiliar; broad topics; a view from 30,000 feet. The focus is on the exchange of information.
Nothing wrong with information, but when I write, and whether it’s for myself or on behalf of a client, I deliberately try and write as if I know the reader really, really well.
Why? Two reasons, my exceedingly close friend:
- They won’t hire you until they trust you. As a professional service provider, the more you write as someone who already knows the reader well, the more quickly they’ll become comfortable with you as a person they might want to work with.
- It makes for better reading. I’ve been talking to my wife Linda, daily, for over 20 years and it’s still interesting (usually). Connect with an old friend after 10 years, on the other hand, and after about half an hour, you’re both pretty much out of things to talk about.
It’s the minutiae of everyday life – What did you have for lunch?; What song is that?; How about those Red Sox?; Is it supposed to rain later?; Who stole the remote? – that makes it interesting.
When you remove the mundane in the name of “not wasting time and sharing information as efficiently as possible” (a request that my newer clients often make, until I manage to convince them otherwise), you remove the juice. And it’s juice – not information – that we all crave.
Okay, so here are a few recommendations for the next time you sit down to write on behalf of your business:
- Write in the first person. If you’re a solo, don’t hide it – write that way. If you’re part of a larger organization, be explicit to readers about who is doing the writing at any given time. You wouldn’t have “the senior leadership team” stand up and give a talk in unison (I hope); don’t write that way either.
- Be specific. Name names (“college friend Rob”), locations (“Vancouver”), activities (“Inbound Marketing Summit”), food choices (“brownie”). Just like you do in your personal communications.
- Interject quirky, non-businessy words, like “quirky” or “non-businessy” into your writing. More juice for your parched readers.
Here’s the bottom line. There’s nothing here that you don’t already know how to do – you do it every day with the people you know well. You just forget when it comes time to write.
Let your competitors battle it out for who appears the most “professional.” Learn how to get familiar with readers if you want your phone to ring.
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