Many years ago, I worked in tech PR. My job was to get the press to write about subjects like routers, ERP systems and storage area networks. It was gripping stuff. I understood none of it. But I had to be able to translate the tech complexity and put it into words that a journalist or reader would understand. I used to sit with the tech client and ask them to explain it to me in a way that a four year old could understand. I didn't tell them that, actually, I didn't understand and I was the four year old in question...
But I didn't just used to ask how the technology worked, I'd ask why anyone should care. What problem was it solving? Who would use the tech? How would it make their life easier? What business impact did this tech have? I would ask questions until I was sure that I had at least a semi decent understanding as to what it was about. And then I would write. I would use the simplest language I could find so that I understood it. I would ask myself, 'Does the reader really need to know that widget x plugs into widget y?' If it didn't add to the reader's comprehension, I'd leave it out.
Turns out that my tech ignorance gave me the best grounding in writing for an audience anyone could hope for. I learned the acronym KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid.
I regularly have clients come to me asking for help with their web copy. Regardless of the client or what sector they are in, their copy almost always has the same problem: it's too darn long. There are a number of reasons for this:
What they end up with is reams of repetitive text that still manages to say nothing to convince a client to buy. Their mistake? They aren't keeping it simple.
Here's how I fix the problem - and how you can fix your own web copy by following the same approach. I should warn you that although the end result is simple to understand copy, the process itself takes a bit of work. But if you put the effort in, you will end up with simple, easy to read and effective copy. As someone once said, 'If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.'
Step 1 - Get clarity of vision and general business purpose
I have a clarity session with my clients first in which I get a really clear understanding of what this business of theirs is all about. Often, this clarity session helps them get clear on this too! What they thought they wanted the business to be can end up being something entirely different by the end of the session.
Step 2 - Get into the head of your ideal clients
I ask questions. Lots of them. The same way I used to ask my tech clients about their complex products, I ask my clients all about their clients. You need to ask yourself the same questions.
Step 3 - Get clear about your offerings
It may seem obvious that you know what you do. But many of my clients get stuck when it comes to putting that down in words or structured into packages. Clients want it to be simple and clear how you can help them, so make it easy for them to understand in a logical step by step way.
Step 4 - Get your own story clear
An About page is where people turn to learn more about you the person or the back story to the company. This is where you can really inject your personality if you're a solopreneur, but be sure to back up the passion with your professional credentials and information.
Step 5 - Write
Once you've done all this thinking and clarity work with some rough writing thrown in, you need to get it into a first draft. By going through the clarity process though, it should be a lot easier. You've done the thinking bit, now it's simply a case of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Some tips to write effectively:
Need an example? I worked with a lovely client who offers Free Motor Legal Insurance. I know. Legal and Insurance all in the same breath. It's hardly an excitement-fest. But it's a very valid problem that people face, so it was all about writing about a complex thing in an easy to understand way that will make people want to sign up to his free service. I took the long, detailed legal explanations of how it all worked and just kept it super simple. You can see the results here. It is now clear what people have to do and the benefits they'll get.
I did the same for a solopreneur who creates Global Mobility Policies for HR teams. Again, not an easy to understand, super sexy offering, but for the people who need this help, it's a lifesaver. I stripped back all the complexity and kept it simple. You can see the results here.
If you would like similar help, take a look at my Clarity package and my Copy & Canvas offering. I know everyone thinks writing is simple, but there are many steps to it. Sometimes having an outsider see you for who you are and translate that into words, is the best investment you can make for your business. As one recent Clarity, Copy & Canvas client said:
'O M G!!! I've just had an initial read through while I'm sitting at the hairdresser and it is looking and sounding AMAZING! You are so talented - taken my garbled messages and woven your magic to make them sound wonderful. I almost cried when I was reading through it - it is really reflecting what my business and I are about. Thank you'
And then she followed up saying:
'You are truly amazing and I'm so happy with how much you've helped me in such a short time - Clarity workbook prep prior to meeting; chat to understand my business last Tuesday; summary of discussion and ideas for moving forward on Wednesday; (major) draft copy produced by Friday. I would definitely recommend Melissa to help you gain clarity for your business - she is extremely talented. Thank you.' Catherine Bowyer.