Eighteen Secrets to Becoming an Influential Business Writer

Does it really matter if you can write great emails or compelling company reports? After all, it’s more important to make sure your message gets out, right? Wrong. Unless your business writing convinces people to act, you might as well save yourself time and get someone else to take care of your written communications. Becoming an influential business writer is about more than simply sending your message out to all of your contacts.

Strong writing skills position you as an expert (after all, how can people recognize you as an expert if you can’t communicate your ideas effectively), set you apart from average business writers, eliminate confusion by introducing clarity to your writing and win you business.

Influential business writing

If you don’t feel like your writing skills are strong, don’t give up on becoming an influential business writer – business writing is a skill that can be learned like any other skill.

Here are 18 easy tips you can implement today to become an influential business writer. If you don’t see something here, feel free to add it to the comments section so we can all benefit.

Becoming an influential business writer

Know your objectives and audience. Before you can decide how to write any business communication, you need to know why you are writing it and who you are writing it for. It sounds obvious, but too much business writing is vague because these elements aren’t decided on before writing. And, when you decide these things at the beginning, it’s much easier to get the tone and language right.

Begin at the end. Remember essay writing in high school where you slowly led your reader to your conclusion? Lose that habit quickly for business writing. You only have a few seconds to capture your reader’s attention so get to the point in the first two sentences.

Use a conversational, personal tone. How are you going to build a relationship with people if you write in an overly formal tone? Trust me, we’ve all gotten enough of that in high school and university – we don’t need to be bombarded with formal writing. Write for humans, not robots and write as if you were speaking to a friend. Only a few situations require a formal tone.

Write for your readers. Like it or not, this isn’t about you. Unless you’re writing to tell someone of a milestone you’ve reached, then your business writing should be about your readers. Knowing your audience will help you write for them.

Use real world examples. One of the best ways to influence your readers is to give them examples. Influential business writers use storytelling techniques to convince readers of their message. Stories connect readers on a human level and help them see how something they’ve read can apply in their own lives.Write for people, not robots

Skip the jargon. I bet some of you use industry jargon or buzzwords and don’t even realize it. Here are a few examples: bring to the table, push the envelope, actionable, ideation, streamline, pain point. What’s wrong with them? Nothing, except that they are often tired phrases and words that annoy your readers. Jargon makes it clear that you are an insider and your reader is an outsider – not a good way to build relationships.

Use the active voice. This is so important that I’ll say it again – use active rather than passive voice. If you’re not sure why, think about the words themselves: do you run a passive or active business? Active voice moves your writing forward in a clear manner, while passive voice obfuscates and often omits critical information. As much as possible, tell your readers who is doing what in a clear way.

Watch your nouns and verbs. Much like active voice, your word choices can also propel your prose forward or cause it to stall. Rely on strong verbs and nouns rather than adverbs and adjectives. That doesn’t mean you should eschew descriptive words but incorporate them judiciously.

Follow conventional grammar and punctuation rules. Okay, there’s times when I ignore the rules. So, let’s modify that tip and say it’s important to know the rules so you know when it’s okay to break them. For the most part, following conventions makes your writing easier to understand and keeps readers on your side. There’s no need to sound like a stuffy professor, but don’t make silly mistakes that annoy your audience.

Facts over opinion. Business writing should be filled with facts rather than personal opinion. Of course, if you’re positioning yourself as an expert and can back your opinion up with facts, then do so. But don’t think that it’s sufficient to tell readers that they should believe you simply because you say something. Give them concrete reasons to agree with you.

Shorter is better. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been bored to tears more than once by business documents that aren’t focused. When writing any business document, don’t go off on tangents that detract from your message and can be annoying. You know what it’s like when Uncle Joe starts a “quick story” and 30 minutes later has started three new stories without finishing the first one. Don’t do that to your readers.

Use an outline. Yes, outlines work. If Uncle Joe used an outline, he wouldn’t go off on tangents so easily. Even a short email can benefit from an outline scratched onto scrap paper so you remember all your points, only cover what is necessary and get the structure right.

Be concise. Filler words are the bane of editors. Here’s some you’ve probably seen and may even use yourself: in my opinion, in other words, to be clear, in conclusion, in fact, to be honest, on this date. The list is almost endless. One of the most time-consuming parts of editing many of the manuscripts I work on is eliminating those filler words. They’re marshmallows: full of air, but with no substance. Get rid of every word and phrase in your draft that doesn’t have a purpose. Your readers will thank you.Influential Business Writing

Say it once. In line with being concise, don’t repeat the same concept with different words. If you’ve written clearly, give your readers the benefit of the doubt – they will get your message without you repeating it. Now, a summary or conclusion is the obvious exception to the rule. And, if something is really important, then repeat it in a way that makes the reader take notice like I did for tip number 8. That’s not filler, that’s emphasis.

Be honest and transparent. Dishonest business writing can come across like sleazy ad copy from the Mad Men era. Readers can usually sense when you aren’t being honest, so you’re better off not writing a dishonest piece that will cause your readers to question you and your business. But, if you’re honest about business challenges, they will appreciate that and trust that you take care of problems.

Build trust. It’s difficult to be an influential business writer if your readers don’t trust you. Word choice, active voice, honesty and transparency, and writing for your readers all contribute to a sense of trust.

Look for layered meanings. This is a challenging tip, but well worth the effort. Hidden meanings, negative connotations and cultural stereotypes can expose your perspective even when you don’t want that. Hidden meanings are most often found in word choices, so carefully think about each word you include.

Include a clear call to action. We most often think of calls to action for marketing materials. But incorporate them into everyday business writing when appropriate. Clear calls to action help you become an influential business writer because they generate action, which should be the goal of the majority of your business writing. If you decide on your objective at the beginning of the writing process, you’ll find it easy to include a call to action because you already know what steps you want the reader to take.

Each of these tips will take some practice to incorporate into your daily writing. There’s no need to do everything at once – begin with a few things that you feel you need to work on the most. Then slowly add the others until they become habititual. Over time you’ll master the art of becoming an influential business writer.

Your Turn

Something missing from this list? Add it in the comments. And if you have any questions, let me know.

If you’re struggling with the technical aspects of writing, here are a couple of my favourite resources.

  1. Grammar Girl: Mignon Fogarty is the guru of grammar. Check out her site for great tips
  2. Purdue OWL: This is a great resource for learning about tone, language, grammar and more

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Canadian Women in Business [Infographic]

This infographic, Canadian Women in Business, is meant to complement my recent post called “What Does it Take to be an Empowered Businesswoman?

As more women choose to open their own businesses, their influence is growing. While many Canadian women in business face barriers such as financing and family obligations, they continue to build on their strengths and diversify the Canadian economy while providing important services for all Canadians. Check out some facts and figures here.

Canadian Women in Business

 

Sources: Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada and TD Economics Special Report

 

 

 

 

 

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What Does it Mean to be an Empowered Businesswoman? 

Being an empowered businesswoman can mean many things. Here’s a few we often hear: being authentic and willing to chase your dreams, fighting for what you want, being bold and creative, and empowering other women. Women business owners in Canada are becoming a powerful force – if you’re interested in some statistics, check out my infographic called “Canadian Women in Business.

We hear the phrases so often that we tend to gloss over them rather than think about what they mean on a practical level.

Empowered Businesswoman

Be Authentic and True to Yourself

When I grew up, women sought guidance and permission from the men in their lives about big decisions. Starting a business? Sorry, little lady, that’s beyond a women’s capabilities. Why aren’t you thinking about marriage and children?

Being authentic and true to yourself means never asking permission. It means setting a course that is best for you. Yes, we have obligations that influence the decisions we make. But, authenticity means finding ways to integrate those obligations into our business goals, not to stop working towards those goals.

Chase your Dreams

I don’t know about you, but I see this idea everywhere. Some days I get annoyed because yet someone else who doesn’t know me is telling me to go after what I really want. Life isn’t always that easy, is it?

But maybe the point isn’t about how easy our dreams are to achieve. Nobody says they’re easy – at least, I hope nobody says that. The point is that we can’t wait for our dreams to find us. To truly be an empowered businesswoman, you have to find ways to achieve your goals. That may mean starting your business dream on paper years before you’ll be able to accomplish it.

Why bother planning so far in advance? Because your business dream likely won’t be a sprint. It will take time and planning and the sooner you start the sooner you reach your goals. Besides, seeing your dream written out can be a powerful incentive to take daily steps towards it.

Fight for What you Want

In line with chasing your dreams, you may need to fight hard to realize them. But that is part of being an empowered businesswoman. When you take control of your life and go after what you want you will eventually get there.

Sometimes the obstacles can seem overwhelming. And as women, it often feels like we have to fight harder to get to the same place as men. We’ve all been in that situation where we simply don’t see a way forward. Well, part of fighting for what you want is reaching out to those who can help you. That’s not taking the easy way out, that’s navigating around obstacles. And really, if there is an easier way, why wouldn’t you take it?

Empowered businesswomanBe Bold and Creative

Women can tap into their intuition if they learn to trust themselves. It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve come to realize that my ‘gut feeling’ is often right and I’m learning to trust it. Yes, I  examine why I feel a certain way to make sure my decisions are best for me in the long run. But my first instinct is usually correct.

Using your instincts and creativity allows you to be bold and do the unexpected. Just because others do it one way, doesn’t mean you have to follow. Make your own rules. An empowered businesswoman is willing to look for options and new ways to achieve her goals.

Empower Other Women

Being an empowered businesswoman means you have the strength to help empower other women. I’m part of two grassroots initiatives that are women-centric and I’ve seen first-hand that women who work together become an unstoppable force. I’ve seen women with no resources other than their own willpower create incredible change in their communities. And more women are doing the same in the business world. Being generous with your time and expertise creates a network of strong women that you can draw on when you need to and builds your own capacity as an empowered woman.

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So how do you actually implement this? Because, in the end, we still need to take action to make change. Here are a few ideas – I’m sure you’ll have more and I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

Plan

I’ll go back almost to the beginning of this post. Become an empowered businesswoman by creating a plan. Dream big and don’t be discouraged by the size of your dream. I’m going to go against conventional advice and tell you to forget about SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based). What are your really big business dreams – the ones that seem out of reach. Take an hour and write about what that looks like. Don’t censor yourself – this is not the place to worry about what you think you can’t do.

Now spend some time thinking and writing about the large steps you need to take to get to your big dream. Again, don’t worry about goals that you can accomplish today. These are 5-, 10- or 15-year steps towards the big goal.

Keep your writing and go back to it regularly. This is your lodestone.

Okay, now it’s time to come back down to earth. You know where you are today and now you know what your 5-year goal is. Break those 5 years into 1-year increments. You’re still looking at this with a macro lens, so don’t get bogged down in the details. Regardless of where you are in your business, list the major things you will do over the next 5 years such as business and communications plans, funding, marketing, expanding your current store, or opening new locations. You may be in a position to do these things more quickly – if so, shorten your 5-year plan. Just make sure you are realistic about the time and resources you can commit.

Now you need to set up your SMART goals. What are you going to do in the next year, how will you measure your progress, are your goals achievable and realistic, and have you set firm deadlines for meeting them? Every month, review your goals for the current year and decide which goals to meet that month.

As you reach your goals and continually move towards your big dream, you’ll empower yourself as a businesswoman. Your momentum will continue, and you’ll always have your lodestone to return to when you feel overwhelmed.

Empowered businesswomanCreate a Powerful Network

I said that to be true to yourself you need to follow your instincts and not ask permission to make big decisions. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a one-woman show. Allies, whether family, friends, or business associates, are your biggest resource.

A good way to create a network is to begin with friends and acquaintances who have similar interests. Meet regularly to get advice and support each other.

But one of the best ways to create a network of people that you can exchange knowledge and ideas with is to actually go out and meet them. Now, I’m not a big fan of networking because I always feel awkward when I meet new people. But I also come away from networking events feeling more confident because of the people I meet. If you aren’t comfortable networking, check out this post about networking tips from my friend and colleague Tracey Anderson.

Live Out Loud

I know this phrase is quickly becoming a cliché, but I really think it applies here. An empowered businesswoman isn’t afraid to be herself. Yes, your business may require you to censor your social media posts, but that doesn’t mean you need to deny who you are.

One of the things I strive for in writing for businesses is to help business owners use their authentic voice. If you are naturally humorous, snarky, strong, or shy then don’t hide that. Be you.

I am my business, so if someone isn’t comfortable working with me based on my social media presence or political views (which I save for a personal account), then I may lose them as a customer. But that is likely better for me than working with someone who thinks I should change.

So, whether you do your own writing or hire someone to write for you, don’t hide your true self in your communications. Whether you’re writing a blog, a business report, or a social media post be honest about who you are and how your business works – you’ll feel better and your customers will appreciate your honesty.

Your Turn

What does being an empowered businesswoman mean to you and how do you practice it in your daily life?

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