‘Always be closing’, Alex Baldwin in GlenGarry Glen Ross.
One of the strange things about writing business documents for a living is that the older I get, the less I write. I don’t mean I do less work, rather the word count goes down. I think this is partly due to the education system whereby long documents are seen and valued more than pithy and sharp summaries. Maybe that’s changed. The mentality longer is better runs deep and for novice business writers it can be hard to resist the temptation to keep typing. So, here I stop!
14 Ways To Improve Your Business Writing
Here are fourteen ways to improve your next Business Plan, Proposal, White Paper or Technical Document, as inspired by Alex Baldwin’s slightly nasty character in GlenGarry Glen Ross.
If you haven’t seen the movie, get it! He’s a monster salesman trying to motivate his sales team on a rain-drenched night. They only have a few leads left. He uses every motivational technique he can. Encouragement. Sympathy. Anger. Insults. Abuse. Lots of abuse, actually. Some make it, others don’t…
In Sales, Always Be Closing
Always be closing. What he means is, look at the prospect real hard, understand their problem, see where, how and when you can warm them up, generate some interest, move them onto the right path, and then make the sale. The best salesmen don’t make it feel like a sale. They turn the situation around. The prospect wants them to accept their money. How does this apply to your business documents?
Business Documents Are Sales Documents, Right?
Business documents as sales documents. Not everyone sees it like that. Well, at least not at first. The purpose of every business document is to move the prospect closer to a sale, transaction, or some other form of commitment.
Every sentence, table, and image should be pushing the prospect towards the finishing line.
‘Always be closing.’
Ok, maybe not today, but at some distant point, you want them to open their wallet otherwise you won’t stay in business too long. So, where do we start?
14 Tips on Better Business Writing
Let’s look at style, format, writing and length:
- Always be closing – while this is a business document, add some sales pixie dust to your text. Every sentence should push the prospect towards making the sale.
- Abstract – The Executive Summary is not an abstract of your business plan, proposal or grant. It’s the ‘ad’ for your business plan. It say, ‘Hey read me, I’m interesting. Want to know more, read on!’
- Introduction – The Executive Summary is not the Introduction. It’s a high-level document that should be able to stand apart from the main document.
- Preface – The Executive Summary is not a preface. Same as above.
- One Pager – The Executive Summary is your Business Plan reduced to one page. Remember the idea of an advert for your business plan. Think of it in those terms.
- Standalone – Investors and prospective customers should be able to read it by itself and understand your business proposition instantly. Write it as a standalone document and you can’t go wrong. Don’t fudge the key points. Every sentence should push the prospect towards wanting to know more. Generate interest.
- Keep it Short – Investors, Customers, Journalists and Business Bloggers should be able to read it in less than five minutes. If you can’t write in less than 300 words, then print it out, review it, and start again.
- Call to Action – Every line should encourage the prospect to move towards taking action. After reading it, they should be prompted to take action, for example, call your Sales team, get more information about your product, sign up for a newsletter, download a trial product, or request more information about your product line. What’s the one thing you want them to do after reading the exec summary?
- Focus – While the Business Plan proper may discuss several areas, focus on the key points. Don’t cover too much. Grab the reader’s attention and make sure they want to turn the page and read more…
- Prioritize the key points – Write your business plan so that the most important points are introduced first. Don’t relegate or bury important points down the first page. Place them in the first or second paragraphs. This is where you hook the reader’s attention. Make sure the most interesting parts of your document are introduced first.
- Framework for main document – if you do write the Executive Summary first, and maybe this suits your own writing style, then use it as a launch pad or cornerstone for the rest of the document. Many business writers prefer this approach. Otherwise write the maintenance chapters first, digest the material, and then write the Executive Summary based on what you’ve read.
- Grab attention – Your Executive Summary shouldn’t be boring. Read what you wrote. Does it excite you? If not, how you can make it more interesting, more engaging, more intriguing. Don’t go overboard but look at little ways to draw the reader in. See if you can add a personal story or human interest element that will interest the reader.
- I’m a Big Deal! – You might be forgiven for thinking that all business writing was meant to be dry. It’s not. Look at best-selling business writers like Chris Brogan. Their style is personal, immediate and factual. It engages you; you want to read more. No-one’s forcing you. Look at how Neil Patel does it on Quick Sprout. He’s a big deal, y’know. Investors read hundreds of business plans every year. They make snap decisions based on the opening pages. Make sure your opening generate enough interest to whet their appetite.
- Write it last – When writing business plans, business proposals, grants or case studies, write the main document first, and then Executive Summary last. Some prefer to write it first and get it out of the way. That’s why I don’t. It’s too important to rush through.