As a small business owner, knowing how to write and communicate effectively with prospects and customers isn’t an option: it’s a MUST. Marketing emails, sales pages, social media posts, and video scripts aren’t going to write themselves! And unless you have someone on your team to write, or decide to make an investment in hiring a copywriter to lighten the load, you’re on the hook for producing some of the most important communications for making your business grow.
If it’s so important, why do business owners routinely avoid writing?
“Writer’s block” tends to be one of the main reasons why so many business owners don’t sit down and do the work. But every time you make excuses and ignore it, you’re costing your business valuable opportunities to attract and engage audiences, build brand awareness, and move them through your sales process. But before I jump into some solutions, I want to take a sec to get real about writer’s block (and why I put quotes around it at the beginning of this paragraph.) Simply put: your “block” is fear!
You’re afraid you’ll write something that doesn't matter or doesn’t work. You’re afraid that you’re not enough of an authority on a topic to write about it. Or, you have your 11th grade English teacher or your freshman college composition professor in the back of your mind telling you that you’re not a “strong” writer, or handing you a failing grade because you screwed up the grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
And you know what: You’re right! You absolutely WILL write some marketing emails that don’t convert to leads and sales. Some readers WILL question your authority on the topics you address in your blog posts. You WILL have issues with grammar and other mechanics of writing if you didn’t get a good grasp on it in school or other post-educational training.
I get it. I’m a professional writer. I also spent 10 years as an adjunct professor teaching English Composition 101 and Speech Communication 101. And I still struggle with some of these blocks! But over the years, I’ve developed a mindset and a plan for conquering writer’s block and doing the work that grows my business.
Key mindset shift: your first draft will, almost certainly, suck.
And the truth will set you free! Listen, I know that, for some mysterious reason, many people think that the ideas running around in their heads are supposed to magically appear on their screen in an orderly, concise, compelling, error-free manner on the first try. The reality is that you’d have a better chance at finding a unicorn having lunch with Big Foot at the end of a rainbow with a big pot of gold waiting for each of them!
But seriously, to succeed at a function that’s so vital for your business success, you have to get rid of this idea of immediate perfection. For me, it started during my freshman year in college when I read Anne Lamott’s idea of the “shitty first draft.” In her best-selling book, Bird by Bird, Lamott says that “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”
You are your worst critic. Take the pressure off by acknowledging that the first draft will be trash, stop going back to edit every two or three sentences, and just GET IT OUT.
Defeat writer’s block and save time by making a clear plan BEFORE you sit down to write.
One of the most daunting parts of writing is sitting down with a blank screen or piece of paper (which I still prefer sometimes.) But most people don’t realize that 80% of writing happens before you even write the first sentence. Generating ideas, doing research if needed, and creating an outline of key points you want to make, all happen beforehand.
Write content that converts by keeping your audience’s pain points, interests, and objections front and center.
Your key messages should drive the majority of your content topics. By key messages, I mean the 3-5 ideas that you’ve documented as most important to the particular problems you solve for your customers. For example, two of my key messages are about saving time when creating content, and how to use storytelling in marketing content to increase audience engagement. Key message points can also include overcoming the top objections prospects have for buying your product or service.
Use the notes function in your phone, or create a Google doc to list the ideas you come up with throughout the day. I even include screenshots of social media posts and websites that spark ideas for how to address my audience’s pain points. Next, pick a topic and create an outline. It doesn’t have to be fancy with Roman numerals and a strict information hierarchy.
Again, the notes feature on your phone is a great way to do this while you’re on the go, or taking a break from another task. Write the topic, then list the main ideas you want the audience to take away. One of the easiest ways to do this is to write the topic in the form of a question the reader might ask, then use a bulleted list to organize the answers. And there you have it—a quick and easy outline to work from!
If you don’t think you have enough authority to write about a topic, borrow some.
We’ve all been there, especially when starting out. You may question if you have enough credibility, accomplishments, or sales under your belt to get in front of your virtual audience and tell them what to do. One of the best ways to impart confidence and authority is to borrow it from people who do. That can be through quoting industry experts or citing relevant data from respected organizations. You can also borrow authority from people who know your business the best: your customers! Testimonials are some of the most effective tools you have for building credibility and authority with your audiences and future customers.
To help with mechanics, invest in a proofreader, or use technology as your proofreader.
I put this at the end because it’s the easiest fix! It’s what I call the “known quantity” in writing something you can always go back and make stronger once you’ve nailed the topic, created a concise outline, and written the first and second drafts. Pick a style guide that works best for your business (I use AP Style) so that you have a broad understanding of what’s actually correct or incorrect.
If you don’t have anyone in your immediate personal or professional circles to complete this important, final step in the writing process, services like Upwork, Fiverr, and Thumbtack can help you find a proofreader at various price points. Be sure to let the proofreader know what style guide you use so that he or she is on the same page when correcting errors.
There are also apps and browser plug-ins that help you proof and polish your content. Grammarly is one of the most popular browser plug-ins, and it has a free and a premium version. Here’s a list of a few more proofreading tech tools, including pros and cons for each.
Get over writer’s block and into growing your business.
Whether you need to write emails, video scripts, or a podcast promo, don’t let fear keep you from creating content to help you grow your business and retain customers. Until you’re ready to hire a professional—which is usually the goal of most business owners—consistently using these few steps will ensure that you don’t miss the opportunity to connect with clear, relevant content.