It’s a loaded question, of course. But do you really want to help your clients? I’m sure you both want to and actually do. The reason I ask is that I was re-reading Andy Maslen’s extremely useful book “Write to Sell” and, in particular, the chapter on getting to know your reader.
He writes about “away” and “towards” motivation. You’re probably familiar with the terms; the concept’s been around for a while. Maslen suggests using them as the basis for writing to your clients.
The exercise he proposes is that you start off with three adjectives describing people, for example “busy”, “tired” and “ambitious”. Then you decide what a busy person might want to get away from (their endless to-do list) and what they want to go towards (more time), and do the same for all the other adjectives you’ve come up with (for example, tired: away from stress, overwork/towards sleep; ambitious: low status/money, power).
So what adjectives describe your clients and potential customers? What are they heading towards? Away from? The more you can come up with, the better you’re getting to know your target customer. And the easier it will be to write to them.
OK, you say, but I’m not just writing to one client; I’m writing to hundreds. Maybe they are all tired, busy and ambitious, but they’re not all going to have exactly the same motivations.
Fair enough – but you can’t write hundreds of different newsletters every week, you’ve got a business to run. So you have to write to an aggregate of your mailing list, the client you want to help: someone you can chat to and make friends with, even if only virtually.
You could draw a picture of him or her, if you’re good at that sort of thing. If you’re really arty you could add all sorts of bits of their life, especially the bits where they’re using your product or service. If you’re not, “draw” the picture in your head (as someone once said, all the best pictures are on the radio!).
It’s a bit like having an imaginary friend. Perhaps you had one as a child. This one won’t get you into trouble as that one may have; in fact they could well be your saving grace. The better you can visualise them, the easier it is to write to them, to the point where it becomes like having a conversation with a chum – the sort of conversation that comes to a temporary halt one day and picks up where you let off next time you see them.
(And while we’re on the subject of writing to friends, may I climb on a hobby horse for a moment? Thank you.) It doesn’t matter if you’re writing to a business and don’t even know the name of the person who’ll open your missive: it’s still a person who reads your words, so write in human language. If you’re a lawyer writing to other lawyers by all means use appropriately legal language (and obviously that goes for any other conversation with a technical audience). If you’re writing to people who don’t talk the talk, just write English!
And only one person at a time will be reading it, so avoid “some of you”, “many of you” and other such disorientating phrases. (OK, I’ll get off the hobby horse now.)
If you want to help your clients you have to get to know them and then write to them as personally as possible. That’s it. It’s simple really.
And it’ll save you – busy, tired and ambitious as you are – loads of time and effort in the not-very-long run. “Write newsletter” will be off your to-do list almost before it’s on it, you’ll have oodles of time to sleep and socialise and plenty of money to do it with, your peers will fall over themselves to pay you compliments, your boss will recognise your talents and promote you…