Get Over It: Good Business Writing is Easier than You Think (and more important than you can imagine)Read Now
When people hear we run a business writing consultancy, they often respond with a grimace or uncomfortable smile and say things like:
Wow, you must be really smart.
Oh, I’m a terrible writer.
I’ll have to watch my grammar around you two.
Oh, don’t look at my website.
And so on.
Very few people launch into a discussion about having written a great proposal or grant or rallying a team with a stellar call to action through email. Even fewer dive in with questions about how writers work or what it takes to write with success. Instead, we hear about the barrage of ill-written emails and ‘just good enough’ proposals.
But we’re here to tell you that writing well can be one of the most gratifying and powerful skills of your career. In fact, good business writing can lead to promotions, improved relationships, client retention, and higher profit margins for companies. Empirical evidence suggests good writing matters especially in business. (Read more in our Newsworthy section.)
So it makes sense to care about writing and foster better provisional communications. It makes sense that anything we write should take priority if we want to make money, be promoted, or retain clients. So why do so many shrink away from writing better or writing at all? It could be that the very thought of writing poses a bigger problem rather than an opportunity, despite the obvious benefits.
This tendency is the likely result of having a fixed mindset about writing. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has explored and developed a theory of fixed versus growth mindsets. In a nutshell, Dweck discovered that people have two perspectives when it comes to intelligence and abilities. “Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence is simply an inborn trait—they have a certain amount, and that's that. In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their intelligence over time."
Those with fixed mindsets, according to Dweck, fear looking bad in front of others. They believe that things (like writing) should come easily without effort. This comes from being overly praised for the result rather than the process. On the other hand, those with growth mindsets, are less worried about how they look. They tend to see difficulties as opportunities to develop. Dweck writes, “Instead of thinking they were failing (as the students with a fixed mindset did), they said things like ‘I love a challenge,’ ‘Mistakes are our friends,’ and ‘I was hoping this would be informative!’ This more productive perception results from being praised for actions versus results and understanding that failure is part of a bigger process. Ultimately, Dweck believes that once you identify a fixed mindset, you can convert it to a growth mindset and take charge of the situation or activity. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept10/vol68/num01/Even-Geniuses-Work-Hard.aspx
Here are some tips for finding your way around a fixed mindset with writing:
Starting with the basic incentive of profitability is understandable, but for real change you need a commitment to being a more powerful writer and communications leader. Instead of thinking about the bottom line, consider the results of good business writing: increased confidence, engendered trust, greater collaboration, innovation. Imagine knowing the communications produced by you and your team with provide the platform for growth, and yes, profitability.
If you can clearly articulate the dream or the goal, start. Simon Sinek
How did you feel when you began your business or took leadership of a team? What were your intentions, goals, and ideals? Use those feelings and core values as your communications’ GPS.
Maybe you’ve lost sight of your core values—that spark that motivated you? If so, go back to your mission statement. Or grab a pencil and write out a new one, one that reflects truly and deeply what you want your business to stand for. Think about what you offer your clients. Ask why they return time after time, or why they don’t. Consider the impact, positive or negative, of your written output—the emails, the proposals, and memos. Do they truly reflect what your business stands for? Are they building relationships or driving clients away? Make sure you are not creating platitudes that are empty but sound good. Think consistency, authenticity and clarity.
Here are three ways to get you started.
1. Think about content.
Start by asking how you can uphold those ideals in your written output. What do your communications look like if values are based on innovation? Or community? How do these values translate into your marketing, internal directives, proposals and reports? Do you represent yourself accurately? Does your message reflect your dedication to the community—even when firing an employee? Does your love of innovation shine even when you are communicating a setback in product development? If your core value is integrity, are you willing forgo using euphemisms to soften the blow of an uncomfortable admission? So you see, your messaging must speak to the ideal as often as it can.
2. Think about writing fundamentals.
Choose a vocabulary that reflects who you are. Sophisticated? Intelligent? Simple? Trendy? Accessible? Traditional? Also, sentence style matters. Keeping ideas simple and to the point suggests efficiency and authority. Once you have the writing style and tone, remember grammar. You can be conservative; however, knowing when to break from tradition and relying on less formal choices support certain values.
3. Think about practice.
It isn’t just what you write; it’s how you handle the communication.
The choice to 'cc' all those involved in a communication, for instance, sends a clear message of transparency and integrity. Responding to emails quickly suggests a value of efficiency and respect. Proofreading your work reflects excellence.
As your ideas develop, strategize with your team. Once the mission is understood, discuss goals openly as they relate to communication. To get everyone on board, encourage the contribution of ideas about how a strong communications plan can better reflect the company’s value system. The more buy-in you have as a team, the clearer your message will be.
The wonderful thing about aligning with core values (if you remain committed), is that your communications will become a constant reminder of why you do what you do and how that translates into what your organization stands for. And that is really saying something.