How to Create a Small Business Style Guide

Style guides? Hmmm. A nice idea but are they really worth the effort?

One of the difficulties for small companies is that the time and effort it takes to create a style guide doesn’t seem to justify the effort. There is always something more important to do.

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The problem is that the moment you bring someone into your team or decide to outsource some work to a freelancer, you need to supply them with some guidelines. Otherwise you do it yourself, right?

How to create a practical style guide

Here’s one way to get a style guide without spending too much time:

  1. Adopt another style guide as your primary reference, say, the MSTP.
  2. Create a shorter guide that captures the exceptions or unique terms not covered above.
  3. Choose a default font (or family) for all your documents. Make sure it is not too esoteric and can be found on most machines by default.
  4. Give examples. This helps others understand the rationale behind your guidelines.
  5. Create Styles in your MS Word templates, for example, for bullet lists, chapter headings, and warnings. This helps that you documents all look the same. It indirectly supports the style guide.

Most writers get defeated by trying to take on too much at the same time. Your style guide – your exceptions to the rule – may only be four or five pages. You could write it in a morning. Then once you have it, ensure that it’s implemented.

How do you do this?

  • Review documents against the style guide.
  • Check that the correct styles have been applied.
  • Add new terms, phrases, and examples when you see gaps.
  • Encourage others to help build the style guide. Create a place online where people can ask style questions. This encourages others to embrace the guidelines and adopt them.

But…

  • Take your time, review them very carefully before you release your new style guide. Once it goes out there, and people use it, it becomes very, very difficult to undo anything.
  • In the long run, style guides improve quality, increase the turnaround of document creation, and help develop a ‘voice’ for your content.
  • See it as a project. Assign time to it. Do it right, check, check, and recheck, then use it.

Any style guide questions, drop me a line.

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