5 things to avoid in your business writing

The way we write is always changing and evolving. This gradual evolution of language has as much impact in the workplace as it does in our normal day-to-day lives – and that makes it tricky to keep your business writing sounding modern and relevant.

Stop and think how many emails, sales enquiries, business blogs and marketing straplines get written in the average business each week. It’s a LOT, right? With so much riding on these words, your business writing has to hit the mark – and create the right impression of your brand and your company.

But how can you enhance the quality of your business writing and start getting your messages out into the world in the most effective ways possible?

To get you started, I’ve pulled together 5 key things you should avoid in your business writing, with explanations of how to turn these negatives around into proactive writing techniques.

1. Don’t use outmoded or old-fashioned language

We all want to use ‘professional business language’ when we’re writing something to our customers or colleagues. But that doesn’t mean using old-fashioned words, a stern and impersonal tone and out-of-date phraseology to make your point.

Starting your email or letter with ‘Dear Sirs…’ is a one example of this, as was pointed out in a recent content-writing newsletter from Lorrie Hartshorn. Kicking off your email in 2020 with the ‘Dear Sirs…’ intro is basically saying two things:

  1. I believe in being far too formal and may well be wearing a top hat.
  2. I believe no women will be working in your organisation.

Neither of those two things is going to endear you to your customers, colleagues or other stakeholders (unless you’re aiming for the top-hat-wearing misogynist demographic, of course. Which I REALLY hope you’re not!).

By using outdated and old-fashioned language you demonstrate that you’re out of touch with the world around you, that you want to remain aloof, cold and detached from your audience and (by implication) that you believe using these words makes you better than other people. 

In short, DON’T DO THIS. The kind of language that resonates with the average audience is open, honest and modern. Write as you would speak when talking to a good friend over a cup of coffee, not using the writing style of a Dickensian villain.

Business writing, content, content writing, writing, writing tips, writing advice, business, startups, scaleups, small business, marketing

2. Don’t overuse tired business cliches and jargon

In any company there will be people that LOVE to use a business cliche. These people will pepper their speech and writing with wildly over-used platitudes to try and position themselves as a ‘seasoned business player’.

You know the phrases I mean: 

‘Let’s get our ducks in a line…’

‘We need to think outside the box…’ 

‘We’re not going for the low-hanging fruit…’

‘There’s no silver bullet in this scenario…’ 

Having worked in several large corporate environments in the past, I can tell you that these phrases stack up like a giant, steaming mountain of word dung as soon as you invite the average middle manager into a meeting.

However, the problem with these busines cliches is that they are just that – cliches! An analogy or metaphor that was once fresh, new and exciting when dropped from the lips of a genius entrepreneur sounds tired, predictable and (let’s face it) boring as hell when it’s spoken by Nigel in the Procurement team.

Rather than relying on soundbites and quotes from other business thinkers, try actually coming up with your own analogies. Think about what you’re trying to explain, or the concept you want to convey and use simple, fresh analogies, human stories or examples from your own experience that get that message across.

In short, don’t repeat, be original!

3. Don’t be too impersonal and boring

If I’m going to interact with you, your brand and your products and services, then I need to understand your personality. Human beings buy from other humans, so making your business writing cold and impersonal does nothing to reinforce that personality.

Let’s take a look at two different email invites…

Email 1:

Dear Sir/Madam,

You are cordially  invited to an online webinar on the topic of ‘Content Marketing for Small Businesses’. 

The webinar takes place at 2pm on Wednesday 4th November.

Please click the link to register

Yours sincerely

The Events Team

Business writing, content, content writing, writing, writing tips, writing advice, business, startups, scaleups, small business, marketing

Email 2:

Hi Tamara,

Want to give your small business marketing campaigns a real buzz? Then we’ve got some great news for you!

Our ‘Content Marketing for Small Businesses’ webinar hits screens on Wednesday 4th November, and it’s the perfect chance to learn from our marketing experts.

Register now and kickstart your marketing.


The Events Team

Which of those two email invites are you most likely to respond to? Yeah, the second one (at least I hope so, you cold-hearted robot!). 

The first email gives you all the facts, but none of the personality or humanity. It feels distant, overly formal and (let’s be honest) not very exciting. The second email feels more chatty, more honest and, for most people, more engaging and human.

Try to write in a way that gives me a more genuine feel for the people, values and atmosphere in your organisation. Talk to me like a human, not a robot – and, if you’re lucky, then I may well engage with your invite, sign up to your social media channels, or hand over my email addy for your monthly newsletter…maybe.

Business writing, content, content writing, writing, writing tips, writing advice, business, startups, scaleups, small business, marketing

4. Don’t be too wacky or zany

Being overly formal and impersonal is one issue, but it’s also possible to go too far the other way – into the dangerous waters of being intentionally wacky.

Some brands have made a feature of this kind of zany, over-the-top writing. Innocent Smoothies became renowned for their ‘wackaging’ (wacky packaging) style, with messages on their smoothie bottles telling you to ‘call the banana phone’ or including random things like ‘a small car’ in their ingredients.

In small doses, a bit of humour is great. Humour can help to enhance that human, personable side of your brand, but when you start to ramp up the ‘We’re all crazy here, don’tcha know!!!’ vibe, you can very easily move into dangerous territory.

Show a unique and distinct personality to the outside world, and include jokes, puns and funny asides sparingly. A good way to guage this is to ask yourself this question: ‘Would I say this joke, or repeat this phrase, when meeting the client’s CEO in a meeting?’. If the answer is an emphatic ‘No bloody way!’ then it’s probably not suitable for your email or blog either.

5. Don’t just talk about your own business

Whether you’re a business owner, a sales manager or a marketing executive, the temptation when writing to customers and stakeholders is to wax lyrical about your own business. But only talking about your business, your products or your services can start to sound very pushy and one-dimensional.

Imagine you’re at a party (yes, parties – do we remember those in these Covid-ridden times?). Who are you most likely to gravitate towards?

  1. The guy who spends the evening telling you in great detail about his house renovations and how the property is now ‘worth twice what we paid for it’. 
  2. The person who asks you how YOU are doing, what you think about that latest single from so-and-so and asks you if you want another drink from the kitchen.

Unless you are George Clarke (of Amazing Spaces fame), I think we’ll all have a better night chatting with person #2. They will tell us some stuff about their own life, but they will also involve us in the conversation, will ask our opinion and will make this a genuine dialogue – where we both get to add something.

The exact same thing is true in business writing, sales copy and marketing content.

If you only talk about the amazing new features in your app, and never address the issues I may be facing as a business or consumer, then I’m quickly going to disengage from your content. Don’t talk about functions, widgets and updates: talk about how your product is going to solve my problems, save me time or add some real value.

Business writing, content, content writing, writing, writing tips, writing advice, business, startups, scaleups, small business, marketing

Making your writing stand out from the crowd

With so many different ways of communicating with your customers, it’s never been more important to have the right writing skills. Whether you’re answering an email enquiry, posting a new tweet on the company Twitter account, or writing the copy for your latest marketing campaign, you need to make those words sing.

Let’s recap on those 5 key points again:

  1. Don’t use outmoded or old-fashioned language – and keep your writing open, modern and conversational at all times.
  2. Don’t overuse tired business cliches and jargon – and take a more simple, original and naturalistic approach to your messaging.
  3. Don’t be too impersonal and boring – and make sure you show the real personality and humanity that lies in your business or brand.
  4. Don’t be too wacky or zany – and use humour and jokes sparingly and effectively, to show your human side.
  5. Don’t just talk about your own business – and remember to put yourself in your clients’ shoes for a moment.

So, there you have it. 5 crucial ways to enhance your business writing, connect with your audience and improve the impact of your brand. 

Ultimately, there are no hard and fast rules for writing. Styles change, conventions evolve and approaches will come and go. But by being honest, engaging and straightforward with your writing, you’ll definitely find that more people listen.

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The tips and advice you need to make the most of your business writing and content marketing are available in my book – How To Write Killer Content For Your StartUp.

My book gives all the advice you need to write, plan and improve your content marketing, broken down across ten easy-to-read chapters – giving you the detail, tips and hacks you need to kickstart your content. 

Do your business writing a favour and read this 101 guide to killer content.

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