Five simple strategies for better non-fiction writing

1. Write what you know
This seems basic and all writers – fiction or non-fiction are given this advice – but its particularly true in non-fiction writing. We write non-fiction to share our expertise, skills and experience with others. It’s very likely that that has brought about the desire to write in the first place.
The whole process is easier and frankly more fun if you’re basing it on what you know.


2. Ignore everything you learned about writing at school and university
Unless your readers are going to be academics then put aside everything you’ve learned about writing correctly.
If your message or information is important enough to writing a book, blog, article or report on then its important enough to do in way that your readers will find engaging. Simple language is the way of the world. People don’t have the time or the inclination to have to ‘translate’ complex language.
Write the way you like to read. Clear, easy and consistent. Your readers will stick with it and understand the message or information you’re trying to convey.


3. Plan
Whether you are a plotter or a pantser (see Getting Started: Topic 2 ‘What type of writer am I? for more information on these types) there will need to be a bit of planning for non-fiction work.
Write a bullet point list with what topics you want to cover and make them your chapters. Then include a note on any sub-topics you want to remember to include under those.
Then, if you’re a plotter, continue padding this document out until you have a synopsis of what each chapter will cover.
Remember that outlines or plans are organic documents and can be added to or subtracted from as your book evolves.
If you’re a pantser – once you have a basic idea of your chapter headings – start writing. Just populate those areas, adding in others as they come up and just get writing. There is no reason for non-fiction writing to be any less creative as a process. You can cut and paste at the end. If you’re a pantser then you may need a more thorough editing process at the other end.


4. Don’t edit as you write
Even if you are writing non-fiction if your creativity and words are flowing – don’t stop to research, edit or check facts. Make a note in your text or on a post-it note and come back to it when you edit. Getting into the flow is hard to manage in a world full of ‘noise’ and distractions.
There is always time to edit and make changes at the end.


5. Write every day
Successful writers are not successful because they are talented – they are successful because they are persistent and consistent. They show up and write every day! Even if its only ten minutes a day – commit to it. Your writing skills will improve with practice.
If this book, blog or article is important to you – carve out time in your day. Find the best time in your day for you to write and make it happen!

Why should we blog for our business?

The days of flooding email lists with advertising and marketing are gone.  There is too much ‘noise’ on the internet now for that to succeed. Even if you are an organisation with an established loyal customer base, then content marketing is the way to extend your reach and retain your existing customers.

Blogs have taken the world by storm – with claims that there are 175 000 blogs starting up daily.  With more readily available and affordable access to social media more people and businesses are taking up what is largely a free or very low-cost marketing and communications tool.

Entrepreneur.com state that in a survey of marketing executive in the technology industry showed that blogs were voted 4th most effective tools for generating sales leads.

So, should you blog for your business?

The short answer is yes, and these are some of the reasons why:

Great to engage, inform and entertainment your customers

Blogging provides an invaluable method of engaging your customer base.  Providing information in a blog in an entertaining or a useful way where there is no pressure to buy a product or service is helpful to build customer engagement.

You can wax lyrical about the benefits and expertise of your business

You get the chance to write about the strengths and benefits of your product or service, promote the skills and experience – the expertise – of those in your business in a non-salesy, useful and informative way.

Comments can provide valuable insights into your customers

Many blogs allow comments.  These can provide useful and free insights into your customers’ opinions, concerns or questions.  You can use these to tweak or target your product/service or marketing.

Free value-add

Providing free information to your customers is a way of adding value.  It builds trust and establishes you and your business’s expertise.  If customers have had good value content from you, they’ll be more inclined to use your business in the future.

Customers will spend more time on your website/blog

If customers feel as though they are getting benefit from you then they are likely to spend more time on your website, page or blog, increasing your chances of selling to them.

Makes your business ‘feel’ more accessible

Showing your business’s personality in a blog can make it feel more accessible to your customers.  If they relate to the content it can build loyalty for your brand.

Inexpensive, easy to use and effective

Blogs are inexpensive and are largely very easy to use – with free and low-cost sites available.  The internet, including Youtube, have straightforward instructions for even the least tech savvy amongst us.

Great for SEO

Perhaps the greatest reason for using blogs for your business is that if they are picked up, read, shared and engaged with by customers they can be great for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). As any business knows anything that ranks well in search engines is a bonus for any business.

Conclusion

Blogs are a no-brainer, using our expertise to write valuable, interesting, entertaining or useful content in an inexpensive way can reach, engage and retain customers.

Seven tips to make your blogs pop

1. Find your niche

This might sound obvious but the better you know what your topic – the more successful your blog will be.

In business we know that targeting a specific audience is more likely to succeed than trying to be all things to all people. Blogging is the same. People are going to read your blogs if they reflect or represent something that your tribe really wants or needs to know about.

2. Be consistent

Whatever you choose to do – stick with it. If you blog daily, weekly, every fortnight or monthly – stick with it. Let people know when they can expect to hear from you.

There is so much content on the net right now. A lot of ‘noise’ and information attempting to distract your readers from their scrolling.

Aside from the fact that the more you engage, connect and post the more likely it is that social media platforms will prioritise your posts, how great would it be if your readers were looking out for your next post?

If you post once a day for two weeks and then don’t post for three weeks you may lose the audience you’ve built up and need to start again. I’m not advocating posting blogs every day – just make a decision that works for you and stick to it.

3. Write about something you’re passionate about

As a reader you know the difference between someone writing about something they love and those who don’t.

Those who write know how much easier the words flow when you’re crafting a piece about something that really matters to them.

The easy way around this is to choose your blog from the things you most want to talk about or do.

4. Know who you’re writing for

Who is your ‘ideal’ reader. If you’re writing about starting a business – then start-ups or those contemplating starting their own business are very likely to be your readers. If you’re writing a blog about how to run events – then your audience is primarily those who can’t afford to subcontract an events company to do it for them – charities and small businesses.

If you know who you want to read your blogs then you can work out what it is they will want or need from you. If you’re blogging on business starts up – what do new business owners need – practical tips, reassurance, resources and perhaps to virtually or directly connect with others doing the same.

5. Not too many statistics

If you’re trying to inform your readers about an issue then some figures can be incredibly powerful. The recent figures about the number of women experiencing sexual harassment, abuse and even rape in their workplaces were shocking. Short, sharp references to figures like this can focus your audience on the ‘problem’ you’re writing about, so you’ve established the importance of your subject early on in your blog.

However, people don’t have a long attention span for statistics. They want to read ‘stories’ about real people and their lives. Preferably they want to know about people like them and their lives. If they have to wade through piles of figures and graphs they’ll move on to something else.

6. Be you

There are so many blogs and articles on the net. What can you do to stand out? Be you. Don’t try to imitate someone else’s style or their content. Its very rare that any of us have anything truly different to say in our writing. What we do have to bring to our blogs is ourselves, our perspectives, our learning and our experiences.

Someone may have heard the same thing from one hundred writers but there may be something about the way you write it or use your experiences to demonstrate a point that will resonate with a specific audience.

People want to connect with people. They don’t want a perfect public face. They want to learn from people who have had failures and success, who have imperfections and flaws. So put down your mask a little and let people know the person behind the blogging.

7. Encourage engagement

Allow comments, shares and likes. On most social media the reach you get is based on this level of interaction. Your writing will resonate with some people and not others. Timing is important – every now and then we read something at exactly the time we needed to hear it. It jumps out and grabs us. Give your readers the chance to tell you that.

Ask them questions – open ended ones that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. We get to know so much about our readers through comments. It will give us ideas on what other content they’d like to see, which will help you plan your future blogs.

Nobody can please all of the people all of the time. Unfortunately there are a lot of people with too much time on their hands and its very likely these will be the people who will post negative or personal comments. If they are expressing a genuine opinion – it may cause more engagement and discussion amongst your readers. Even those who disagree with you can give you ideas for blogs.

If they are just trolls then feel free to delete them. Its your page and I operate a zero tolerance on abusive or discriminatory language or behaviour. Happily I have never had to block anyone for this behaviour.

 

Is unconscious bias affecting your company communications?

Are your communications suffering because of biases you’re not aware of?  We are all much more aware of discrimination on grounds of sexuality, gender, age, disabilities and skin colour and most companies have worked hard to address assumptions made about people on these bases for some years, some more successfully than others.

However many more are not aware of the split second judgements we make about people and situations at a less conscious level.  The brain is designed to categorise information and people – they organise the incredible amount of information we receive in a myriad of ways – into something we can understand.  To give us a way of retrieving that information to use when needed. Some of this is done without us being aware of it.

We are all different but each of us has unconscious biases based on our personal experience, our backgrounds and our cultural environment that we are not conscious of.  When we meet people they are often categorised in our brain, influenced by the factors above without any level of awareness at a conscious level.  Some of these factors may be accents, education level, even the education institutions we chose, piercings, tattoos, haircut and colour.  Some assumptions about these same people are used by our brain to ‘file’ them based on information that may not be correct.  Have you ever been aware of assuming an ‘attitude’ from someone because of piercings, for example, rather than seeing them simply as an accessory choice?

The truth is we all have these unconscious biases and the trick is understanding which yours are and how to mitigate their impact on your organisation, your work and understanding that they can impact on your communications both with your team and clients.

Why would they impact on your communications with your team?  In fact it could be more significant than that.  It could impact on your recruitment and retention of your team members.  When you advertise – how much of the advertisement is influenced by you wanting ‘people like you’ to join your team?  It is easy to grasp why this might be true – we understand people ‘like us’, there is a presumed ‘way to do things’ and an assumption of shared values.  In a team I worked with some years ago, as part of a development exercise, we were all asked to fill out a Myers Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire.  The outcome was fascinating – more than half of the team shared our boss’s personality type – ENTP.  Nobody was more surprised than the boss herself.  It told us two very valuable things about our team 1) unconsciously we were favouring ‘people like us’ and 2) that we had significant gaps in our team that should ideally be filled.  Myers Briggs is, of course, a type indicator but it did indicate that our team potentially ‘had a type’.

Have a look at your friends?  Are there similarities amongst most of them?  A colleague was once asked, in a team exercise to identify the similarities amongst her own closest friends.  She was surprised to see that most were liberal leaning, regarded as middle class and had at least one degree – in most cases – two.  Her own group of friends had a vast range of ethnic backgrounds and skin colours but still she hadn’t seen that they ‘were like her’ until she did this particular exercise.

A former boss of mine – an extremely successful Australian Minister – who has since gone on to be Australia’s most prominent Ambassadors did not see his own unconscious bias, despite being a particularly accessible leader and an avowed feminist.  He saw young males as ‘like him’, understood their ambitions and was conscious of giving them opportunities to reach these ambitions.  Despite not having a misogynist bone in this body he simply did not see ‘young females’ in the same light.  There was no unconscious discrepancy on the basis of colour or ethnic background.  I suspect he would’ve been horrified had it been pointed out to him that his unconscious bias was giving males a continuing distinct advantage over the females in his employ.  Apply this very common unconscious bias over all male parliamentarians in Australia alone and you can see why women are still underrepresented in most western parliaments.

It becomes easy now to see how recruitment can be and is influenced by these unconscious biases.  The ‘feeling’ a recruiter has as they interview of ‘I can work with this person’ is very likely to come from ‘they are like me’ and ‘they will fit into our team’.  These are no small factors – it is important that a new team member complement your existing team, but is it based on actual qualities or perceived qualities? It is not a stretch to then see how some will benefit from the promotions and bonuses systems in the same way.

Further if you target the people you sense are the ‘same as you’ in your internal communications then inadvertently you are very likely to be unconsciously excluding others who communicate or receive information differently.  Are your recruit advertisements excluding candidates who might feel as though they won’t fit in but may have valuable, diverse skills and experience that would enhance your organisation’s performance?

This takes us on to external communications.  It is fair to say that thanks to globalisation, free movement of people into different labour markets throughout the world and, in particular, from the EU – our clients are now more diverse than ever.  Much has been made about, and to good effect no doubt, of understanding cultural norms and expectations where global companies operate in different markets throughout the world.  However are we excluding people through the nature of our communications because of the assumptions we are making about the people we offer our services and products to?

For a company to excel in an ever changing world the only way to ensure that your clients have the best chance of receiving the best service as they recognise it, is by recognising the diversity of your client base and matching it with a diverse workforce.  Not only in the areas we now recognise as discrimination around physical attributes but the less obvious as well.

In both instances – internal and external communications these biases will show in your behaviour when they are triggered, with us sending equally unconscious micro-messages to your team and clients.

The ideal resolution for your company is to identify your’s and your team members’ unconscious biases and develop a strategy to ensure that your risk of displaying these unconscious biases are mitigated effectively.  This cannot take place until the biases are identified.

A resource you may wish to consider is the Implicit Association Test – a free online test found at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

New to communications?

What do mean when we talk about communications? The definition offered by Oxford Dictionary online edition is ‘…imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing or using some other medium”.

When you’re planning communications for your organisation, it’s helpful to think in terms of who you want to reach, what you want to say, how you want to say it, and when.  I cover each of these points in this blog and provide practical examples as to what you might consider in developing your communications.

Why?

There are a lot of reasons your organisation might choose to communicate with your ‘stakeholders’. ‘Stakeholder’ is a strange word however it is the most simple way of describing everyone who might have an interest in the work your organisation does.

Some examples of the many reasons you may wish to speak to these stakeholders are:

  • To sell or promote a product or service
  • To raise your organisation’s profile
  • To inform people of a change to a service or product you provide
  • To address complaints or concerns; or
  • To ask people take action on a public interest campaign

In order to determine whether your communications have been successful it is critical to be clear from the outset what your objectives are and what success would look like.

If your objective is clear in your head but you are finding it challenging to put it down on paper then a communications professional will be able to help you to do this.

Who?

Who might fall into the stakeholders you need to communicate with?

This list will be different depending on the nature of your message.

Example One:

Your business has decided to offer your customers an additional service. At present you run a high street firm of lawyers with several offices spread throughout Kent. It has become apparent that many of your small business clients would appreciate a ‘one stop shop’ for their legal and accounting needs. You have brought on board an accountant to operate from your busiest office with a view to extending this to the others if it is successful.

Who needs to know?

  • Your current clients
  • Your prospective clients
  • Your partners
  • Your team
  • Local media
  • The public

In this example, as long as your business can be sure to deliver on the new accountancy services, the more people who become aware of your ‘one-stop shop’ the better.

Example Two:

You run a charity providing care services to sick, disabled and elderly clients. Your funding criteria has changed and it may have implications for any new clients’ eligibility for your services.

Who needs to know?

  • Your current clients
  • Your potential clients
  • Your board
  • Your team
  • Your funders
  • Local media
  • The public

In the case of the care services charity the objective is slightly less clear than the above example. It is to inform those most affected, to communicate clearly and consistently, what the changes will mean to current and future clients. One question you will need to answer is whether to pre-empt media or public interest in the changes and proactively communicate with them. Or whether it would be preferable to simply have answers to questions that may be raised once those impacted have been informed.

No-one knows your stakeholders better than you, but if you could do with some help determining who it is best to communicate with and who to prioritise, please get in touch to see how I can help. I can help with stakeholder mapping, analysis and ascertain priorities or help you to draw up a simple plan to deliver your communications.

What?

What do your stakeholders need to hear from you? Although the key message will be the same, each group may need a slightly different approach. Clarity and consistency is critical in each of the messages you identify. It will avoid confusion and misinformation.

Example One:

Existing clients will be attracted by a different message than prospective clients. Your current clients have already chosen to work with you. They have chosen the service you provide. In their case they are either part of the group who has encouraged the addition of accountancy to your service and therefore will simply need to be informed of the provision of the service and the fees related to it.  Prospective clients will need to understand why they would want to use your services in the first instance so will need to include information about your existing legal services. Your team will need the details of the change in order to address queries. Media and the public will need to be advised that this ‘one-stop shop’ is the only service available locally.

Example Two:

Your existing clients will need to be reassured that this change will not alter their services. Prospective clients are going to need to know how this change will affect them. Your team and board will need sufficient information to answer queries. Funders should understand the changes to the service they are funding part of. One of the choices to be made, particularly if this is a cut to current services, is whether to proactively engage the media and the public. Certainly whichever you decide your organisation must have answers to the questions that may be directed at you when the media and public become aware of the changes.

While clarity and consistency are the critical points in determining what to communicate to your stakeholders, determining exactly what information to provide to each group can appear complicated. If you would like some advice or help on planning and delivering your communications please contact me. I can help identify your stakeholders and define specific messages for each group.

How?

The next question for delivering communications is how to best inform your clients.  There are a vast range of methods available these days, making access a great deal easier.  Should you email, telephone, use Facebook, the media, Twitter for your message.  As has become clear throughout this blog – the answer to this question is as diverse as the messages themselves.

Example One:

As your business has an existing relationship with your current clients email should be fine in this instance. If you wish to launch the new service then a drinks event for current and prospective clients may be effective. Prospective clients can be accessed via the media, advertising in small business magazines and listings.  Once you have identified who they are, it will be significantly easier to determine where to target your marketing.  Depending on the size of your organisation – face-to-face meetings, intranet or email could all work effectively.

Example Two:

Current clients should be contacted in more formal letters, with clear contact details for further queries. Prospective clients will need to be informed, also formally, via a letter as they make contact with your organisation. Your team and your board can be informed by meetings, email or intranet, however the former could be more effective as it’s critical that they are across all implications in order that they can answer queries clearly and concisely. Funders, depending on your relationship could be via email or letters. With the media and the public it is important to, as a first step, to identify questions that may be asked, with appropriate answers for any press queries. It’s best to ensure that all staff or board members are across these answers.

There are range of effective methods to communicate effectively and efficiently with your stakeholders. Selecting which is most appropriate for each group is quite often a practical one, however if your stakeholders are likely to be receiving information that they may not be happy with, this task can be more complicated. However there is much information and advice around on how to manage this effectively. I can certainly help with advice and assistance on planning for straight forward or more complex communications tasks.

When?

Timing is critical. Whether selling a service or product or informing clients of a change to a service, it is important that those impacted find out from you before reading it in the paper or online.

Example One:

If you are paying for an accountant to be available to your clients, it makes sense to promote this service as soon as possible. It is important that this service starts paying for itself. The best way to make this happen is to get details out to your stakeholders once the service is fully up and running.

Example Two:

Your current clients, staff, board and funders need to be informed prior to the change taking place in order that they can give clear answers to queries on the changes.  Prospective clients are going to need to be informed as soon as they make enquiries for services.

In summary I have discussed why your organisation might wish to communicate with its stakeholders; who may be included on your list of people to communicate with; what each of these people may need to hear from you and when it would be best to do this.  All of these factor are critical in any effective communications strategy.