His arms were covered with tattoos. There was even one on the back of his neck and a ring in his nose. His hair looked as if a chainsaw had been let loose on it.
When he took out the order pad and said, “What can I get for you ladies today?” the lady sitting across the table from me raised her eyebrows and tried to hide a smirk. I tried to be polite as I ordered the grilled chicken salad. By the time we left the restaurant, he turned out to be one of the best waiters we had encountered in a long time.
Now I live in Flagstaff, Arizona, a very liberal community where dress is casual. Rarely do you see a man in a suit and tie or a woman wearing heels unless you happen to be in the courthouse or an attorney’s office.
Tattoos, rings in the nose and boys holding hands while their trousers hang below their underwear are commonplace. But that didn’t prevent me from judging this waiter based on his outer appearance. Most of us are the same. We have preconceived ideas of what a person’s appearance says about him or her.
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 the business world, this is even more true. We dress well, have nice websites, and put our best foot forward for our clients. We want to create a good impression. We want prospects to think, “This lady is obviously successful and knows her stuff.”
So we decide to create an online business where we can work in our pajamas and forget to comb our hair in the morning. After all, we aren’t going to meet any of these customers face-to-face, are we? We can pretend to be anything we want to be.
Business is all about websites, blogs, newsletters, and emails. Except for an occasional phone call, networking event, or making a proposal, we communicate with the written word.
In the online world, it’s words, not dress,
that creates that first impression.
But, even though the standards may be different, how you present yourself in words means everything to your success.
It starts with the design of your website. You’ve done your SEO homework and your homepage ranks high in the search engines. 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 from that first few seconds, they start judging you.
They decide whether you know what you’re talking about. Whether you’re sassy or friendly. Whether you’re professionally skilled or specialized in your field. Whether you have enough experience to provide 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.
This means that what you write, the words you use, and how you put those words together directly influences people’s perceptions of you, how they will treat you, and whether they should buy from you.
If they think that the copy and design of your landing page looks and sounds like you know what you’re talking about, they’ll assume your company is a good choice for their purchase.
If your “About Page” sounds personable, they’ll assume you’re a nice person. If your “Services Page” is clear and concise, they’ll assume you’re on the ball and are concerned about the little details that will keep them happy.
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 do what you say it will do.
But if you write compelling, engaging words, they’ll believe you are everything your writing tells them.
And this can be a problem for the customer as it’s all too easy to be anything you want to be on the Internet. It’s easy to fool the customer and convince them to be something you aren’t.
But it can be an even bigger problem for those of you who don’t know how to put words together to reflect the image that you want your readers to see.
You’re a nice person. Honest. Provide great customer service. Build beautiful gift baskets or create unique gifts. Pack them well and ship them the same day you receive the order.
But how does your customer know this?
Most business owners don’t know how to write in a way that reflects the image they want to present to the readers who are their potential customers. They might write well enough (after all, you made an A in your high school English classes), but does that writing create trust, build a relationship and convey the right image to make someone want to buy from you?
Very often, the answer is no.
So what can you do?
You could always pay someone else to write your copy but even then you need to be careful. This can be even worse than bad writing all the time. I’ve seen people who write some of their copy and pay someone to write the rest. They have a dynamic sales letter but awkward, clunky, boring website copy. This is even more confusing to the customer whose conclusions may jump from trust to “I’m not to sure” to “maybe not.” And, you’ve lost a sale.
The only answer is that you need to learn better writing techniques. Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table.
Good writing techniques can be learned just as good gift basket techniques can be learned. There’s no real secret. No magic is involved. If you want to do it, you can.
I don’t have a lot of room here to teach you the techniques that I’ve learned through the years. Techniques that are powerful enough to get an editor to call me and ask if I would be willing to be one of the featured business owners in “A Cup of Cappuccino for the Entrepreneur’s Soul”.
Techniques that had the director of housing for a large Ivy League University call and ask me to do their gifts for new students. And
techniques that get people from all over the world to trust me enough to place orders on my website —- all without ever talking to me on the phone or meeting me in person.
Here are a few techniques that can and will make a difference.
When writing copy, focus on “YOU” and not on “I”
It’s hard to focus on “YOU” when writing about your company, what it does and why potential customers should trust you enough to buy from you. But the alternative of writing about “I”, “ME”, WE”, or “US” will turn your reader off and they’ll click on to the next company on the search engine list. It creates the impression that you’re arrogant, don’t care about them or how you can serve them. They perceive that your primary interest is how you can put their money into your pockets.
So step #1 is to go through the copy on your website, in your blog or newsletter, and see how many times you refer to me or we instead of you. And then change it.
Cut the Fluff. Remember that less is more.
Most business people are long-winded, especially when talking about themselves and they think longer sentences sound more professional. But short, easy-to-read, easy-to-understand words create a better impression even if your visitors are high-level executives. Why use 20 words when 5 will do? Cut out all the fluffy words (think adjectives) 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) 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.
And if you sell in countries other than your own, remember that terms used in your country may be unfamiliar to those in other countries even if the primary language in those countries is English. Remember that gift baskets in the United States are often referred to as hampers in Great Britain.
A multitude of things contributes to your online success but content and how you write it is one of the most important ones. Learn the techniques. Improve your writing skills.
It’s just one more way, but a very important way, to make sure those customers who visit your website stick around long enough to spend their money.
Just as that tattooed waiter got a smirk from my dining partner, a website with poorly written content will get a quick brush-off from your visitors.
For more information about starting and growing your business, check out Gift Basket Business INSIDER