Everybody Knows How to Write, Right?

A friend of mine recently asked me a question on Facebook:

I was browsing some business pages on FB and happened across this description: “We help our clients expose themselves at trade shows, presentations, conferences, events and celebrations.” Is it just me, or should this be worded a bit differently?

Um …

The smart-aleck response to this would be Get your mind out of the gutter! but let’s face it, that’s what you thought, right? It’s certainly what I thought. Yet the person who posted that to a company Facebook page didn’t even see it.

You’ve heard me say this many times, and it’s the truth: if you’re in the communication business—and if you use words at all, ever, you’re in the communication business—you need an editor.

And sometimes you could use a copywriter.

Some years ago (it was 2005, about a year after the launch of Facebook at Harvard), when I had just begun freelancing and was doing a lot of networking, I met with an active local chapter of a national business organization to speak with their members about why they should hire a professional copywriter (that is, me) to manage their written communication.

Big companies do. The have a “communications manager.” Or they hire a PR person. One requirement for either job is undoubtedly strong writing skills, with sides of creativity and self-editing experience.

For the presentation to this group I took examples of Yellow Pages ads, websites, client letters, pamphlets and brochures, and so on, all with communication mistakes like the one above. Some were obvious, some were less obvious. Sometimes I just showed them how the message could have been more clear. Or simpler, so the reader got the idea quickly. (A teacher friend of mine tells me that recent research shows that our attention span has fallen from twelve seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2015. Eight seconds, for pity’s sake.)

So if you want to grab someone’s attention, you’d better do it fast.

But my presentation didn’t convince anyone. These were all small business owners, and they were simply not interested in spending money like this. Pay someone to write? Every person at that table already knew how to write! They’d learned how to write in school. They didn’t need a copywriter.

I don’t mean to be insensitive. I have a small business myself, and I know businesses have to make budget allocation decisions. A professional copywriter has to be paid (though perhaps not as much a you think). But the person who wrote the post above likely didn’t even consider that he or she was writing copy. That’s how little people value words these days.

Still, I’d tell any small business owner that investing in a freelance copywriter is money well spent. And if not a copywriter, an editor to look things over (sometimes you get both for the price of one). An editor would have noticed that expose right away. That one sentence might have become …

We help clients put their best foot forward at trade shows, presentations, conferences, events, and celebrations.

Sure, best foot forward is a cliché, but when you only have one sentence (sixteen words!), a cliché will be understood by many. Or you could say …

We help our clients present their goods and services at trade shows, presentations, conferences, events, and celebrations.

It’s boring but does the job. Eight seconds, remember. Or …

We’ll help you look good at trade shows, presentations, conferences, events, and celebrations.

I’d go on, but you get the idea. A copywriter and/or an editor can save you time and face. Don’t expose yourself to ridicule!

Tweet: Everybody knows how to write, right? It’s debatable.
Tweet: Small business owner? Investing in a freelance copywriter is money well spent.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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