How Better Writing Gets You Better Treatment

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Today’s guest contributor is professional writer, blogger and digital entrepreneur, Men With Pens‘ James Chartrand.

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The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them:

“When you dress properly and look clean, people treat you better. They’ll think you’re smart. And that you come from a good family with money. They’ll be nicer and pay attention and help you more. Don’t you want that?”

After I’d spoken, I fell silent and felt guilty. What an awful, biased, discriminating thing to say – and worse, I’d said it to my six-year-old daughter.

Some role model I was, right?

But I hadn’t been thinking when blurted that out. I’d been frustrated and irritated because I needed to take my daughter to the hospital, and she’d been (loudly) refusing to brush her long, curly hair.

I don’t blame her. She’d been sick, it was tangled, and it hurt.

Here’s the problem: No matter how much we wish the world to be a fair place that judges people for their inner worth and not their outer appearance… it just doesn’t work that way.

Sad, but true. Clean, well-dressed people are perceived to be more educated, skilled or experienced. And they get better treatment because of it. Disagree with me? Go stand next to a beggar and ask the first person to pass by for some help or a few dollars.

In business, things are much the same – and we know this. We dress well, have nice websites, and put our best foot forward for our clients. We realize (sometimes intuitively) that our appearance directly influences our reputation, our potential, and our chances of making the sale.

We want to look capable. We want to create a good impression. We want prospects to think, “This could be the guy we’re looking for.”

Let’s take things online, shall we?

Online, there aren’t any face-to-face interviews. It’s all websites and blogs and newsletters and emails. Sure, you have some Skype calls and videos thrown into the mix, but for the most part, people learn more about you and your business through written communication.

And how you present yourself in words means everything to your success.

It starts with design. People land on your website and in seconds, decide whether it looks appealing enough for them to stick around. If they like what they see, they start to read.

And they start making all sorts of judgements about you.

They decide whether you’re smart. Whether you’re sassy or friendly. Whether you’re professionally skilled or specialized in your field. Whether you’re experienced enough for what they need. And whether you’re nice.

They haven’t met you yet. They have no clue who you are. But they make decisions and assumptions about you and your business based on how you present yourself… in writing.

That means that what you write and the way you write it directly influences people’s perceptions – and in turn, how they treat you and whether they should buy from you based on those perceptions.

If they think your home copy sounds expert, they’ll assume you’re a good choice for their project. If your About page sounds personable, they’ll assume you’re a nice guy. If your Services page is clear and concise, they’ll assume you’re on the ball.

And if your sales copy speaks to them… they’ll trust you with their money.

They don’t even know who you are. Or whether you can do what you say you can do. Or whether your product is going to work or break.

But if you write compelling, engaging words… they’ll believe you’re everything your writing conveys.

The problem is that most business owners don’t know how to write in a way that reflects the image they want to present to readers. They might write well enough, sure, but does their writing create trust, build a bond and convey the right image to pull in sales?

Very often, no.

And if you’re writing your own business content, you’ll want to think about learning better techniques. Why? The answer is simple: If your copy is awkward, if your blog post is clunky, if your newsletter is boring… you’ve lost a sale. Probably several.

You’re leaving money on the table.

That’s not something you want to do, so here are 3 tips (and a bonus!) on how can improve your copy to instantly improve your business credibility – and of course, get better results.

Focus on “you”, not “I”

When businesspeople write about their company, what it does, and why it’s a good choice, it’s tough to write using a “you” focus. But the alternative is writing “we” all over the place. “We do this, we do that, we, we, we.” That gives readers the impression your business is arrogant and doesn’t care about them much. Go through your copy now. Rewrite every “we” so that it reads “you” instead – and see the difference yourself!

Cut the fluff

Most business people are long winded, especially when it comes to writing their own web copy. They think longer sentences sound more professional. But short, easy-to-read, easy-to-understand words create a better impression – yes, even if your visitors are high-level executives. Why use 20 words when 5 will do? Cut out all the fluffy words and trim your content down so that even a teenager could read it – your bottom line will thank you, and so will your readers.

Add some spunk

Some people think that “professional writing” means informative, bland and devoid of personality – but people (and customers) much prefer seeing a more human side, even in business. So go ahead and add personality to your web copy, with little phrases that make people smile or a bit of witty prose. Not too much, though: Personality is a seasoning best used with gentle moderation.

Cut back on the catchwords

Some people use so many catchwords and trendy phrases that it’s nearly impossible to figure out what they’re talking about. (Normstorming? Sounds cool, but what the…??) Trying to be too cool with your copy ends up losing you customers who think you’re just crazy. Be clear, never clever, and make sure you use simple phrases that site visitors understand at first glance – without having to think about it for 10 minutes.
Your online success directly hinges on your content and copy. So learn the techniques. Improve your writing skills. Put every chance on your side.

Because just like my daughter’s brushed hair and clean clothes got her better treatment, your polished words and well-written content bring you better sales and business results.

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Men with Pens’ famous writer James Chartrand recently launched Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners.

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28 responses

28 responses to “How Better Writing Gets You Better Treatment”

  1. Great post! I’m totally with you and I believe I present this on my social network website for women; MakeGirlfriends.com! So thank you for the validation that I’m on the right track!

    In gratitude and living in the possibilities,
    Nancy

  2. Paul Overton says:

    While I agree with the premise, and the facts are certainly there to back up the assertions that you make about treatment depending on your presentation, I prefer to live in the land of what could be instead of what is. The day I play the game by the rules is the day you can pull the plug.

    Having said that…of course design is important, of course writing should be crisp and unfettered by catch phrases and fluff. You’ll get no argument from me about that. I am just continually concerned about the homogenization of style and presentation. If everyone is using the same theme and the same color scheme and the same safe tone in their writing because the utmost concern is what other people may think of their business acumen, then who is innovating?

    I would rather be authentic and be unattractive to some clients than be a magnet for people with whom I have little in common just so I can make a good impression and a buck. As George Bernard Shaw said:

    “Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.”

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I’ve not commented on a blog in ages. You fired me up!

    Best,

    Paul

    • Paul, I’m so with you on this comment! “I would rather be authentic and be unattractive to some clients than be a magnet for people with whom I have little in common just so I can make a good impression and a buck.” — amen to that.

      James, I like this article and understand the idea behind it. Of course, if you put your best foot forward with your business, you should do the same with your writing. But I don’t think that “Personality is a seasoning best used with gentle moderation.” I actually feel like these are times where people make the decision of trusting you and your business *because* of your personality, not *in spite* of it. If your identity trickles through in everything you do, your readers will get to know you, even if it’s just through words. And I believe this will pave the way for building a relationship with them, be it as clients or otherwise.

    • Paul and Esther, I’m with you as well.

      I just don’t know about this. For one, it’s the opposite of what it advises. And I really don’t mean any offense here, but the internet is strewn with posts of this sort. Sort of a watered down college textbook style of writing that is fit for everyone.

      Also, I just don’t think it’s necessarily correct. Definitely in spirit and practice some of the points are valid to an extent. But people seek out awesome shit online, and that’s your Square One.

      Yeah, probably people like reading “You” more than “I” and I’m sure it converts better. But I run a six-figure business and I suck huge at writing sales letters. I hardly ever write about “You.” And most of my business pages (About, Contact Us, etc.) and nearly all my blog posts are filled with jokes, color, purple turns of phrase, etc.

      Turns out people REALLY like personality. And that bears out when you look at my clientele: They call me “Dude,” swear at me, send me jokes. It’s an effing BLAST and is exactly what I set out for in the first place.

      So yeah, I’d say take some of the advice here and “trim the fat” as necessary. But beware the milquetoast, unless you want to put your clients (and yourself) to sleep.

      As Paul and Esther said, this is supposed to be fun. It’s not all about the sales and converting. Let your personality shine, even a LOT of it, and that’ll convert just fine.

      • I agree it’s been said, Charlie – “write well” is all over the internet. And yet, most websites have content that’s poorly written and that damages their image, which in turn damages their ability to earn sales.

        Regarding personality, I’m still not sure why that came up – I didn’t say NOT to use it. I said use it in moderation. I use personality all the time, and of course people like it.

        But I’m not all flat-out arse-crazy about it 🙂

        Anyways, good thoughts, and glad to see you here!

  3. Andy Sansone says:

    Fantastic post! Thank you for sharing! Btw, your video about starting your yoga business is fantastic. Very touching. Looking forward to reading the book!

  4. Renee says:

    If your words are true, why is the website of Derek Sivers sivers . org my favorite? There is nothing impressive about it. Why would I trust him as a programmer…there are no bells and whistles to prove he knows what he’s doing. Yet, I return to that site again and again to rattle my own cage. The site is not pretty and hardly professional by “professional standards” but it serves its purpose well. This is where the trust is gained for me….through congruence between word and action.

    • Very cool that you have a favorite site run by someone you clearly seem to trust hands down.

      And sure, crappy sites can and do work well sometimes. But I can’t help but wonder what would happen if that site you mentioned got a good facelift… might end up with spectacular results!

  5. Sarah says:

    James, as a fellow copywriter I share your appreciation for the power of words. Remember this, the best copy is copy that makes your reader feel like you’re talking to them – about their needs, person to person.

    (I just wrote about this here:
    http://blog.healthymarketingideas.com/2011/09/niche-marketing-how-to-find-your-natural-health-fan-club

    As a fellow mom, I hear you. But there’s really nothing wrong with helping your children understand the way the world works. Because it does work this way.

    Dressing well and being well-groomed, however, isn’t just about saying you’ve got money. It’s about paying respect to the people you interact with. It says, I care enough about your impression of me and maintaining a standard of conduct when I interact with you that I dressed this way. Nothing wrong about that. It says, I take you seriously enough to dress for the occasion.

    And when it comes to being in the hospital, sometimes you can’t plan for everything – fix your hair when you’re bleeding all over the floor. But if you can do a little grooming it tells the staff – I take care of myself – you better do the same for me!

    • It’s about paying respect to the people you interact with. It says, I care enough about your impression of me and maintaining a standard of conduct when I interact with you that I dressed this way. Nothing wrong about that. It says, I take you seriously enough to dress for the occasion.

      That’s a really good point and one I hadn’t thought of, so thanks for mentioning it!

      A friend of mine has a rule of thumb that’s *never* led him wrong: Always be slightly overdressed for the occasion. It shows that you respected the other parties more than you had to… and also makes you look really good too!

  6. Heather Holm says:

    I think the internet is changing the English language (and other languages too, no doubt). It has certainly changed my writing: shorter sentences, cut the fluff as you say, and clarity above all.

    When I read my son books written 50 or 75 years ago, I wonder how many people are going to be able to understand them 25 years from now. It will be like Shakespeare is to us.

    Nonetheless, I continue to ruthlessly edit my own and my clients’ copy for conciseness and clarity.

  7. Mary Jane says:

    You are right on here.

    I read this post, and went back to my last blog post, rewriting and eliminating. Less “I”. Thanks for the tips!

    While I wish we could be appreciated primarily for who we are inside, that is not the culture we live in.

    I am treated differently, depending on which of my vehicles I am driving. My old 3/4 ton long bed Ford, used to haul horses, parked in the “green” building where I am living temporarily, does not tend to attract positive interactions from others, especially after I dinged in the side of my truck when I hit a post, as I tried to park it in a tight space.

    My newer clean mini-SUV attracts respectful behavior.

    I am the same person, no matter what I am driving. But noting the difference in how I am treated, is amusing.

    • Heh, I BET that truck creates a different impression!

      While I wish we could be appreciated primarily for who we are inside, that is not the culture we live in.

      Here’s how I see it: I do my best to make the outside of me look good, so that people are drawn to me, come closer, learn more about me… and realize that the inside is pretty darned awesome.

      It’s a good philosophy – for life, for websites and for business!

  8. Sheira Furse says:

    Jonathan, thank you for this! I am rewriting the web copy for my company’s website. This infusion of clarity is just what I needed!

  9. I agree with being respectful and being “clean & neat”, I differ when it comes to being all corporate like.

    I do not want to attract clients who will not mesh with my style. While I can create a stellar social media campaign and help an accounting firm create a loyal community that loves their services and raves about them, I am so not going to go after the fortune 100 accounting firm, as I just think they are boring. (hence no interested in dressing that part- capiche)

  10. C Franker says:

    Thanks for the tips, and I agree with them all.

    I believe this sentence is missing something: “But I hadn’t been thinking when blurted that out.” Even small errors like that catch my attention. Everyone can use a proofreader.

  11. Randy says:

    “But if you write compelling, engaging words… they’ll believe you’re everything your writing conveys.”

    Absolutely not so. Sorry, but there’s a millions great books that barely get read. Writing the great words are easy compared to the task of getting attention and changing minds. Ideas are easy compared to getting your message in front of the right people.

    And by the way, the words must match the reader. The text for sales letters and dating websites isn’t close.

  12. […] Chartrand of Men with Pens drives this home in a guest post over at Jonathan Fields’ blog: Online, there aren’t any face-to-face interviews. It’s all websites and blogs and newsletters […]

  13. Marguerite says:

    Just one word: Stellar

  14. David Airey says:

    One thing I’m not keen on is writing my “about” page with “you” everywhere. I’m conscious that it’s not only potential clients who are reading my words, but also designers, entrepreneurs, students, friends… I don’t want to pigeonhole everyone into the potential client bracket.

    So rather than saying, “I help people like you…” I say something like, “I help businesses of all sizes…”

    Maybe I’ll miss out on a sale or two, but the copy sits better with me.

  15. Amy Putkonen says:

    Wow. The comments are pretty hot on this one! Not surprisingly…its definitely an interesting topic. I have often thought those same things about appearance. I have caught myself saying similar things to my own daughter as well. I think it DOES matter how you present yourself, on and offline. You can say that it doesn’t matter and that you don’t care, but you can’t control what others think and the impressions that they walk away with. To some extent, you really shouldn’t care TOO much but it certainly does help to make things easier for yourself in many areas.

  16. […] How Better Writing gets you Better Treatment (Men with Pens) […]

  17. This is a great post-I say that because look at all of the good ideas it generated.
    Sarah, I like what you said. I heard it before from a friend whose great aunt told him that when writing a letter he should always imagine he’s actually speaking to the person to receive it and write as he would have spoken. (He was an excellent e-mail writer).
    I’ve been doing my blog for over 2 years now. I think my writing is getting better simply from practice. I think that because I have had very positive experiences participating in linkedin discussions. I am going to try reversing that and see if I can write more on my blog, as I do when interacting with people on linkedin.

  18. Like, Brilliant. I mean, brilliant! Incisive and entertaining to read.