The Power of A Value Prop

Most business owners can clearly describe what their company does. But how many can clearly describe what they do for their customers? These are two very different statements, and the latter is far more valuable than the former — and in marketing circles, that statement is called a “value prop,” which in plain English translates to “what’s in it for me?”

The purpose of a value prop.

A value prop’s main purpose is to illicit the following response: “Yeah, I want that for me!” And more specifically, “Hmm, if I hire/engage/partner with this company, this will be the end result.”

It’s important to keep this construct front and centre as you’re working through your value prop because it’s all too easy to fall back into what you do versus what your customer or client is going to get.

Why does your company need a value prop?

Because a potential customer doesn’t care about what you’ve done, who you’ve worked for or all the capital investment you’ve put into your company to make it cutting-edge, profitable or viable. None of that has anything to do with them, so why should they care? 

What they really care about is what all that means for them.

Imagine two wedding photographers sitting down to talk with prospective customers. The first one says:

“I’ve been a wedding photographer for 15 years. I use a top-of-the-line camera and I have a top-of-the-line retouching studio. I’ve shot weddings all over Canada. And I was trained by Hudson Taylor, the foremost wedding photographer in the city.”

And the second one says: 

“You’re going to remember your wedding day for the rest of your life. When you look at your pictures, you’ll feel the love you and your husband shared that day and if you ever feel like the spark is fading, the pictures I give you will reignite the flame.”

Which is more compelling? Clearly the second one is because it’s about the value you’re going to get from the photographs.

You don’t know anything about photography or cameras so you don’t care what kind of camera he uses. You don’t know anything about studios so you don’t care about how top-of-the-line his studio is. You don’t know who Hudson Taylor is so that means nothing to you. And your wedding is happening in your backyard so the fact that he’s shot weddings in Banff National Park means nothing to you.

But what is important (and valuable) to you isn’t what happens on your wedding day, but what happens the days, months, years and decades after the wedding. What is important to you is how those pictures will make you feel and how those pictures will make your life better.

We call that the “happy future state.” And THAT’S what your value prop should be conveying.

How to write a compelling value prop.

Step 1: Write it simply. It’s easy to overwrite a value prop, weaving in big phrases and clauses that make you look amazing. But remember: it’s not about you. It’s about them. And remember also that they’ll want to understand it quickly. So put yourself in the mind of your customers or clients. What’s their pain point and what does their happy future state look like? It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it shouldn’t be complicated. Because it’s too easy for someone to click back on their browser or phone and choose the next option. And if someone gets to your site, gets confused and leaves, the chances of them returning are slim to none.

Step 2: Keep it real. Don’t overpromise something you can’t or won’t deliver. This requires a deep understanding of your capabilities as a business (which we’re sure you have). Our second wedding photographer from the example above would never say that your photos will be so good that they’ll appear on Page 6. And while that might be a compelling value prop for some people, unless he works for Page 6, he can’t guarantee that. The worst thing you can do with a compelling value prop is not make good on your claims.

Step 3: Make it unique. This requires a bit of competitive analysis, but it’s well worth the extra legwork. A well-crafted value prop will set you apart as offering something that no one else is. So in the case of our wedding photographer above, while everyone else in his industry is talking about the gorgeousness of the wedding day, he’s taking about the longevity and health of the marriage. No one else is saying/selling that. 

A last point about value props.

Having a compelling value prop will make any future marketing communications you put together so much easier because your value prop is like your North Star. In a perfect world, every blog post, every ad, every direct mail, every presentation and every microsite will ladder back up to that value prop. Which means every time you reach out to clients, customers, prospects, investors, employees or anyone else, the value you bring comes shining through.

Then all you have to do is deliver. And if you’re good at what you do, that should be no problem.

5 value props we dig.

As you can see, they’re all written simply, they’re easy to understand, and most importantly, they paint the picture of the happy future state.

Value prop: Bring everything you need without checking a bag Value prop: remember everything Value prop: Soundtrack your life Value prop: send better email Value prop: Small business accounting software designed for you, the non-accountant

The demise of email has been greatly exaggerated

Morpheus to Neo: What if I told you that email is still very important

So, about that prediction a while back that email was going to go the way of cassette tape — looks like that was a whole lot of nothing.

Email is STILL the most influential source of outward-bound B2B information. In fact, the only two sources of information that rank higher are co-worker recos and advice from industry-specific thought leaders.

That puts email in pretty impressive company. But some people are still not convinced. They think email is archaic and that platforms like Slack are superior — at least, that’s what these platforms are touting. But they’re not having very much success.

Email isn’t going anywhere. It’s easy. It’s universally accessible. It’s become part of our behaviour since we all got our first hotmail addresses in the late 1990s. And kudos to all the contrarians out there who had a “coolmail” address.

But here’s the best reason for sticking with email:

A recent study found a $44 return for every $1 spent on email marketing.

Yes, you read that right. A well-thought-out email marketing strategy can deliver a 440% return. So the million-dollar question becomes this: “What’s a well-thought-out email marketing strategy? The way we see it, it’s a 4-step process.

Step 1: Build a robust list

Take every opportunity to add more email addresses to your list. There’s no wrong way to do this. Some of the more common tactics include:

  • Offering exclusive content in exchange for email addresses
  • Inviting people to enter a contest by giving you their email addresses
  • Adding a request for email addressesat the end of a blog post
  • Creating social media posts that ask for email addresses
  • Collecting email addresses one-to-one at trade shows or events

We came across this blog post that breaks down the value of an email address. It’s an interesting read, but the money shot of it all is this:not only is email the most effective form of marketing, it’s also the most profitable because you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get email addresses. You just have to give people a reason to offer you a place in their inboxes. And from there, the following equation applies:

# of contacts x Conversion Rate x Average Order Value = Revenue

 Now simply plug in your conversion rate and your average order value and you start to see what a quality marketing email campaign can do.

1000 contacts x 2% Conversion Rate x $10/order = $2,000

You didn’t spend any money. You didn’t run an ad. You sent an email.

 

Oprah screaming "You get an email, you get an email!"

 

Step 2: Increase your conversion rate

This is the key to maximizing the equation above: you have to get through people’s natural inclination to delete emails before they read them. And this is where you need a good copywriter.

We approach an email this way:

Subject lines— They’re everything. If they’re not compelling, the email won’t get read.

Headlines— Email readers really don’t have a lot of time. Get. To. The. Point.

Offer— What’s in it for the recipient?

Strong Call to Action— Get good at being direct in a friendly way. Tell people what you want them to do and why they should. Do that and they probably will.

 

Lionel Ritchie singing "Hello...is it leads you're looking for

 

Step 3: Be consistent

It doesn’t matter how often you communicate with the folks on your list. But whatever schedule you choose, stick to it. You win when people start to expect and look forward to your presence in their inboxes.

We send out a monthly email. People like it. And you will too. Sign up for it on the bottom left corner of our home page.

Half of copywriting is knowing when to stop writing

Young scribes new to copywriting have a tendency to overwrite. And they do it for different reasons. Some want to show off their vocabularies. Others want to be super-diligent in their explanations. A few draw their writing inspiration from the verbose masters of English literature like Charles Dickens who, while we love the guy, was most likely allergic to short sentences.

But here’s the thing about copywriting that separates it from every other form of writing out there: no one wants to read it.

That’s not to say they won’t read it. They will, but they have to be convinced. A big part of that convincing process comes down to time: you can’t waste a split-second of it because it’s without a doubt the most valuable commodity you, we and everyone on the planet has.

The reality of brevity

To write a little takes more time than to write a lot.

Axiomatically, that doesn’t make sense. But think about your own writing (like an email to a friend). If you just spew out whatever’s on your mind, you can write it, send it and be done. But if you go back, review what you wrote, take out sentences you think might offend them or be interpreted improperly, shorten your thoughts so you get the response you want and make sure your recipient fully understands what you’re saying, it’s going to take a lot longer.

Now imagine you’re trying to sell something: a product, a service, an idea. You’re competing with everyone else in the world trying to sell products, services and ideas, so you have to do it quickly. You’re competing with modern attention spans (that really shouldn’t be called spans at all because for something to span it should at least be more than two seconds long) so you have do it compellingly. And you’re competing with consumers who demand more than the facts. They want to be entertained. Their entire relationship with social media is about being entertained. They willingly give up their personal privacy to be entertained. So you have to make them laugh, cry or think.

And you have to do all that in a matter of seconds, lest you fade into the background of obscurity.

So when we come across a piece of copywriting that says everything it needs to say in a few choice words, we graciously tip our hats because it’s not easy.

Great copywriting: A print ad by the Economist that reads "Utter Brilliance"

The Economist has a rich history of brilliant copywriting. It helps that every ad they put out has the same message: read The Economist and you’ll be smarter. Each one’s better than the last one, but for us, this one sits alone at the top.

Great copywriting: A print ad from the Canadian Literacy Foundation for Dyslexia research that reads "EFORBE/AFTER"

This one’s for Canadian Literacy Foundation’s fundraising for dyslexia research campaign. They could’ve spent all day going on about the science of dyslexia, its effect on children, and why it has to be researched and eradicated. But instead, in two words (well, one word and one kinda word) they demonstrated their value to the world. Genius.

Great copywriting: A print ad from the UK Conservative Party that reads "Labour Isn't Working"

We talked earlier in this post about being quick, compelling and entertaining. In three simple words, they nailed all three. You can’t read this headline and not feel your eyebrows and sides of your mouth rise uncontrollably.

 

Great copywriting: A print ad from the Cancer Patients Aid Association that reads "Cancer cures smoking"

Another three-word ad that says it all. Again, they could’ve gone all doom and gloom, showing sick people and dirty lungs or heart-broken widows. But instead, they did quick, compelling and entertaining in three words.

Four ads. Four categories. One copywriting style.

Publishing, charity, politics and health. That’s diversity right there. But the approach to the copywriting was the same: say it straight with a bit of style. In each of these cases, the writer had every opportunity to wax on for paragraphs. And they could’ve.

But they chose something else. It’s why their work is so respected. And why it works so well.

Technical Writing is The Opposite of Writing Technically

A mug with five words that will help you with technical writing: thingamabob, dealie, whatsit, plug thing and electrocution

When you think of technical writing, do you think of big words and bigger equations, text that could put a person drowning in Red Bull to sleep and a complete lack of anything resembling creativity?

If so, then you’ve been exposed to bad technical writing.

Good technical writing is the opposite of all that. It has to be, or it’s not really doing its job.

What is technical writing and why is it so in demand?

Techwhirl provides a bang-on definition of technical writing: the practice of putting technical information into easily understandable language. It’s in high demand for two polar opposite reasons: too many experts and not enough experts.

Let’s look at both.

Too many experts means not enough understanding

The age of the generalist has gone the way of the dodo. Today, everyone is a specialist, sub-specialist or sub-sub-specialist. They know more about their narrow field of expertise than anyone else, and that knowledge acts as a bottleneck to understanding for everyone else.

Oftentimes, when one of these specialists attempts to explain what they know, it’s wrapped up in far too much jargon and inside information for anyone without their level of learning in the field to have any idea what it means.

And you can hardly fault the expert for that. After all, they understand the material perfectly well, and they probably spend most of their time with people who understand it too. To them, the complexity of the material is what makes it simple; they have no need to simplify further and no practice doing it.

This is where a good technical writer comes in. A technical writer worth his or her weight can read through the text and find the key messages or benefits that would impress a reader who needs to understand what the specialist is saying but doesn’t.

Served up simply, a layperson can understand what the material means, but more importantly, they can understand what it means for them.

Not enough experts means too much misunderstanding

Think about the typical business unit and how many roles are represented: technicians, operators, analysts, communicators, sales reps, account managers and lord knows how many more disciplines. Each of these people have a client they have to answer to, and the only thing more frustrating to a client than having to wait for answers from their suppliers or vendors is getting the wrong answers.

The problems with big multi-role teams is that (a) no one can be an expert in everything, (b) not everyone is available to answer technical questions about their part of the job when a client needs those answers and (c) if an expert is available to answer the question, it might not be satisfactory for the client (see previous section).

For this reason, big companies will invest in technical writing to put everyone on the same page. They’ll deliver what amounts to cheat sheets for everyone on the team that clearly and simply outlines the features and benefits of everyone else’s contributions so anyone can speak to anything confidently and accurately. 

Technical Writing Isn’t Creative? Ha!

Anyone can drop a zinger or throw some sarcastic shade at someone else. But only a highly creative person can pour through reams of information about hot mold injections, Copper Beryllium and Titanium-Zirconium Molybdenum and come back with something that a plant manager who dropped out of high school would understand, while at the same time pleasing the Double-PhD in Physics and Chemistry who created the technology.

And only a truly gifted creative writer can teach a boomer to program an iPhone.

Two old people trying to work an iPhone. They could us a good technical writer.

4 qualities to look for in a technical writing vendor

 1. A diverse portfolio

You want a technical writer with demonstrated comfort in a variety of material. This shows you they know how to read and research, and they’re not reliant on their background for knowledge.

2. A universally easy writing style

You want anyone who picks up your material to be able to get it. And you don’t want them to have to work too hard.

3. Attention to detail

Technical writing is about getting the facts right and you want people who respect that. These are people who check, double-check and triple-check their work ¾including their emails to you.

4. Respect for deadlines

Technical writing is often associated with a presentation, launch, pitch or another time-sensitive event. Your technical writer should be consistent in delivering ahead of schedule.

Willy Wonka meme: You say you're a technical writer...tell us about your last installation guide.

Content Writer or Copywriter: Which Do You Need?

The difference between a content writer and a copywriter is the difference between a fast food joint and a Michelin restaurant. Both have their place in the world, but their value depends on the appetite of the people in the room.

Content vs copy, displayed as a short order cook vs a high-end chef

A content writer deals in quantity

Content writers churn. And they do it well. Give a content writer a hundred topics and they’ll come back to you with 100 pieces of writing that hit all the SEO benchmarks, meet the minimum-word requirements and deliver the information well enough.

If your aim is to flood the web with drivers to your website and establish your business as one with an interest in (or even a passion for) something, a content writer can do the job amicably. Will you compel real action? No. But that’s not the point. The point is presence, awareness and page ranking.

A copywriter deals in quality

Copywriters persuade. And they do it equally well. Give a copywriter a desired business outcome and they’ll come back with two or three versions of a message that hit all the right emotional and psychological tones, and drive real-world results.

If your goal is to drive sales or sign-ups by establishing your business as the unmistakably right choice and a leader in your industry, you want a copywriter on the case. You’ll pay more for a copywriter’s time and expertise, but you’ll get more than just a pair of eyeballs. You’ll get more feet moving and more wallets opening.

All copywriters write content. Not all content writers write copy.

Content has become this catch-all term to connote the consumable information we find online. And since content has become THE currency of choice in the new economy, people who can produce it en masse have become among the most sought-after folks by ad agencies and marketing departments.

And because so much content has to be created on a regular basis (consumers today will look at three to fivepieces of a company’s content before reaching out for a quote), it makes financial sense to bring in a content writer to pump it out quickly and regularly.

But here’s the question you have to ask yourself: what good is an investment in content if no one wants to read it?

It’s a fair question, especially given how much content you’ll compete with for every keyword and every subject.

This is why, as a marketer, you always want a copywriter

Like a short-order cook, a content writer will fill you up. But like an award-winning chef, a copywriter will make it an experience. They’ll make your reader feel differently about a topic or force them to question their stance on an issue. A content writer can present the facts about an issue. But a copywriter will force you to take a side (and more often, the side that leads to an action). They’ll present the argument in a voice that speaks to readers instead of speaking just to the subject matter. And they’ll get you real results.

An eCard that talks about the benefits of copy over content

Language Legends — Cicero

As copywriters, copyeditors, proofreaders and translators, our heroes are people with a gift for words. In this new regular addition to our blog, we’ll be looking at the men and women whose voices transcend their industries and whose words are quoted, remembered and revered. Today, we’re looking at Cicero.

Cicero —The Original Public Speaker

Marcus Tullius Cicero (or “The Big Cis” as we would’ve called him) was a lawyer, politician and incredibly gifted public speaker. He lived from 106 BC to 43 BC in Rome and is generally credited with writing the rules for effective public speaking: docere, delectare, et movere. This essentially translates to prove your point, make ’em smile and drive action.

A statue of Cicero

But what made Cicero a language legend in our mind wasn’t so much his gift as it was his purpose. He believed that anyone could excel at public speaking, and more importantly, that everyone should speak publicly.

 The right man for the right time

Cicero lived during the reign of Julius Caesar, and it was an interesting time in the history of Rome because Caesar, much to the chagrin of the Roman senators, thought it necessary to greatly expand the rules of citizenship and grant status to infinitely more people. With citizenship came rights, and one of those rights was the right to be heard. The problem, though, was that few of these new citizens had the first clue about how to have their voices heard. They were used to being serfs or slaves or second class.

His book, conveniently titled Orator,was essentially a how-to for the masses. He envisioned a world in which anyone could stand on the senate floor, make his case to the powers-that-be and effect real change.

 The Godfather of Plain Language

A big sticking point at the time was the educated class’s instance that big ornate wording and pretentious construction denoted intelligence. Cicero thumbed his nose at this ridiculous assertion, preferring a return to the Attic style of speech, which is rooted in simplicity and respect for the reader or listener. Incidentally, a short 750 years prior, Atticism was the order of the day, as illustrated in the works of Homer. In fact, many scholars argue that Homer’s work stood the test of time for precisely that reason: he was an educator for all of Greece.

Cicero encouraged people to find their own style of speaking, and that by being true to themselves, they would have a much better chance of being heard.

Many argue that we live in an age where Cicero’s principles have run amok ¾that too many people feel far too comfortable sharing their opinions. And if you read through the comments section of any news article, you may agree.

 But we’d argue that the opposite would be much worse. If our right to speak is sacred, so too should be our ability to speak well.

 For stressing the importance of having a voice and learning how to use it, for believing that everyone deserves to be heard and for legitimately putting his money where his mouth was, Cicero is a language legend.

Cicero in the senate

Proofreading is necessary and here’s why…

We talk a lot here about why you need proofreading. Every service page on our website mentions it in some way (here’s the white paper page, the manuals page, the pitch deck page and the video script page).

Each does a great job of breaking down the value of proofreading. But if you really want to know where proofreading adds value, all you have to do is see what happens when it’s skipped over.

And therein lies the problem: by the time you think you need proofreading, it’s too late. Damage: done. Credibility: shot. You: putz. And all you can do is think to yourself: for $25–$50, I could’ve spared myself the embarrassment and the$2,500 — $5,000 to fix my mistake.

That’s why we say it’s important to think about hiring a proofreader BEFORE you need one. Have a proofreader on your speed dial or in your contact list and have them look at everything before it you hit send or publish so….

1. …you don’t wind up losing a vote of non-confidence.

 

An un-proofread notice from the Nottingham City council.

Come on, guys…you’re city officials.

 

2. …you don’t have the non-enlightened people rolling their eyes too.

A non=proofread sign telling people to learn English. ah, the irony/.

Undermined by irony.

 

3. …you don’t have to take that “awkward” parent phone call.

If guns are allowed in junior schools, certainly proofreaders should be too.

Um…yeah…

4. …your very reason for existence isn’t called into question.

How many proofreaders does it take to correct a "they're?" One!

Seriously right now? You’re educators.

5. …you’re not staring down the barrel of a very painful laser-removal procedure.

A un-proofread text-based tattoo with a typo: than, not then.

Yup…that’ll definitely hurt more tomorrow.

6. …you don’t have to take 1,256 “awkward” parent phone calls.

Another school in desperate need of on-staff proofreading

Turkeys.

 

7. …you’re not leading off the “wait’ll you get a load of this shit” segment on the 11:00 news.

A newspaper article about a spelling bee with a typo. Seriously.

P is for “proofreading please.”

 

8. …you don’t have asshole hipsters parking in your driveway because you “never actually said they couldn’t.”

A No Parking sign that read No Pracking

You’re just asking for it.

9. …you’re not shown to be 100% incompetent by the people you work most closely with.

A gift fron a student to a teacher that should've had a proofreader.

Ugh.

Copy editing: 5 things to keep in mind when you work with a copy editor

Quote from Ernest Hemingway that relates to copyediting: The first draft of anything is shit.

You slaved over a piece for days. You researched thoroughly. You wrote, rewrote, did some copy editing and rewrote some more. You made sure every thought, phrase and word was on point. And you feel great about it.

You shouldn’t. Not yet at least.

There’s absolutely no way you can be objective about anything you’ve written. And that’s true whether you’re a seasoned copywriter or a novice scribe. Why? Because you wrote it. So of course you think it’s brilliant.

But yours is the last opinion that matters. Your natural bias is overwhelmingly powerful, and it will obfuscate obvious issues.

Every professional writer knows this. In fact, we’d argue that knowing this is what separates the pros from the amateurs. It’s why newspapers and magazines have managing editors. It’s why ad agencies have creative directors. And it’s why, if you’re creating content for your business, investing in copy editing before you publish is 100% in your best interests.

A good copy editor gives you and your work perspective. They play the role of your audience and evaluate your work from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been staring at it for seven hours.

They’ll call out the groan-worthy wordplays that made you giggle at 3 am but are actually quite silly. They’ll question the assertions you think hold water but really don’t. And they’ll make sure you’re saying what you think you’re saying.

Think of the copy editing process like a dress rehearsal for your work — a chance to perfect it before it goes live.

But before you hand your “masterpiece” over to a copy editor, internalize these truths:

 

  1. Accept that your work is probably going to get ripped apart in copy editing.

Great quote relevant to copy editing: to avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing , be nothing.Don’t take it personally because it’s not personal. It has everything to do with what’s on the page. This is why you should never have a friend copy edit your work. They’ll pull punches to spare your feelings (sometimes, they don’t even know they’re doing it). A well-taught copy editor is trained to judge what’s on the page and nothing else. And they’re taught to be honest — which is what you’re paying for. Better you get that honesty from one person you’re paying than a million people you’re counting on to take action after reading what you’ve written.

 

  1. Lumberg says it's okay to disagree. Importnatn to remember for copy editingYou are NOT obligated to agree with everything your copy editor recommends.

In almost every case, you’ll know your material better than your copy editor does. If they’ve deleted a thought you know is critical, put it back in. A responsible copy editor will track all their changes and provide rationales for any major changes they made or are recommending you make. This’ll make changes super easy to accept or reject. And don’t feel bad if you reject them. Editors have thick skin.

 

  1. You have every right to ask your copy editor questions.

They work for you. Not the other way around. They’ll tell you what they think, but that’s all it is: an opinion. Now granted, it’s an informed opinion backed by a copy editing education and (hopefully) a ton of experience. But that doesn’t mean it’s the gospel of Luke. If you don’t understand why your copy editor did what they did, speak up. If you want a deeper explanation of their choices, ask for it. A quality copy editor will have answers for you.

 

  1. You’ll get a better end product if you answer your copy editor’s questions.

Every heard of WYSIATI? It stands for “What You See Is All There Is.” Here’s a fabulous explanation from the acronym’s coiner:

It’s a very important concept to grasp if you want to understand the copy editing process, because it’ll remind you that copy editors aren’t mind readers. This is why editors are trained to ask their clients probing questions that help them understand what they see so they can recommend improvements.

And like any other professional, copy editors get into a groove when they sit down to work on a piece. So the sooner you can answer their questions, the more efficient you’ll make them. Since more and more copy editors are starting to charge by the hour as recommended by the Editor’s Association of Canada, more efficiency for them means a lower bill for you.

 

  1. Your writing WILL be better.

And not just the piece you’ve sent through for copy editing. The more you work with an editor, the more little tips and tricks you’ll pick up. And over time, you’ll see fewer and fewer major changes and comments.

Your first draft may still stink, but it’ll be poo instead of shit.

3 keys to writing a better white paper.

A graphic that says white paper

Writing a white paper?  It should be educational,  comprehensive and formal, right?  We agree with the first two, but we’re vehemently against the third.

This isn’t to say that when you’re writing a white paper, you should be writing in slang or that the material shouldn’t be presented in a well-organized, easy-to-follow-fashion. But if you want someone to actually read your white paper, you should keep in mind that your reader is a person. And a person, no matter how conservative they are, doesn’t want to read something that puts them to sleep.

First: what is a white paper?

According to our friends at Wikipedia, (and we’re paraphrasing), a white paper is meant to thoroughly explain an issue, thoughtfully solve a problem or aid in the decision-making process. But in that definition, there’s no reason why, when you’re writing a white paper, that you can’t be engaging, interesting and possibly even entertaining.

When most people sit down to write a white paper, they flush themselves of anything resembling personality because they think the more buttoned up they are in their writing, the more credible the white paper will be.

That’s hogwash. And here’s why.

Explaining an issue requires comprehension

If you go into writing a white paper thinking jargon = credibility, you’ll have spent all that time writing it for nothing, because no one’s going to read it.

The Y U No Speak Normally meme — a problem when writing a white paper

A probable reason your reader even picked up or downloaded your white paper in the first place is because they don’t understand the issue: most likely due to an inability by everyone else in their personal or professional lives to explain the issue to them.

The last thing they’re going to want is more confusing language.

So while you should prepare heavily, write lightly. Simplify concepts. Choose real-world examples that the average person would get. Break down the issue as invitingly as you can. And don’t be afraid to inject a bit of personality. Like our man Jules Whitfield said, personality goes a long way.

Yes, we’re extremely thorough in our research. Yes, we’re crystal clear on our client’s stance. And yes, we consider the audience we’re writing it for. But no matter the demographic, as we said above, the people reading it are people who want a better understanding, and who don’t want to have to work too hard to get it.

Tip: As you’re writing, ask yourself if you would read it. If you really think you’d glaze it over, the chances are extremely good that someone else will too. And boring your readers is worse that insulting them, because if they’re insulted, at least they’re engaged.

Solving a problem requires direction

We love IKEA for a whole whack of reasons, but a big one is the wordless instructions. As writers (and admittedly non-visual people), we’re blown away by how well they convey concepts. Their style embodies the “pictures say a thousand words” axiom. Mental Floss did a fantastically funny piece about IKEA instructions ¾ definitely worth a quick glance.

Ikea instructions — an inspiration for writing a white paper

But what does IKEA have to do with white papers (besides the fact that IKEA instructions are printed on white paper)? The answer is a commitment to simple problem solving.

Complex problems might require more complex solutions, but that’s all the more reason to present them in the most non-complex way possible. Not many people can take meaningful direction from gobbledy-goop. And if they do, it’ll take far too long.

Tip: If your white paper is of the problem-solving variety, use bullet points wherever you can. They make directions easier to follow, especially if your readers are meant to refer back to it as they solve the problem. Here’s a quick guide to bullet-pointing in business writing from Montana State University’s Bracken Business Communications Clinic (amazing that it’s a “clinic”).

 

Decision-making requires confidence

Have you ever been staring at a restaurant menu, completely baffled by the descriptions of the dishes to the point where you legitimately can’t decide what to order? In that case, it’s the restaurant putting style before substance, and it usually winds up costing them in the long run (especially if that menu frustration is shared on social media).

Think of your decision-based white paper the same way. You want to give your reader the confidence to say “yes, I will try that tonight,” or “oh my god, I need to learn how to do that.” If you want someone to do something — and especially if you want someone to think something, you have to give them the confidence to think it. And that’s only going to happen if they clearly understand their options, which will only happen if their options are presented simply and fairly.

A dog understanding — inspiration for writing a white paper

The more confidence you can instil in your reader, the more likely they’ll be to solve problems. Them doing that is directly related to how well you can teach them. And no one wants to be taught by a rambling, big-worded show-off.

Tip: When you’re done writing, read it over as if you were your ideal client. Do you get it? Do you see the value? If you can answer “yes” to both, you’re in good shape.

Nobody expects to enjoy a white paper

We say it on our website. And it’s 100% true. Buck the trend and surprise your readers.

6 elements of a winning pitch deck

As entrepreneurs, we’re big fans of Dragon’s Den, Shark Tank, The Pitch and every other showcased opportunity for dreamers to present their ideas to people with money. And while we get to see their spiels, we never get to see the pitch decks. And it’s too bad because without a good pitch deck, they’re not getting any money.

We think it would be interesting for all budding entrepreneurs to see how others articulate their thoughts. What works? What doesn’t?

We’ve put a lot of pitch decks together for a lot of clients. Most were successful. Some weren’t. But when it came time to submit, the pitch decks all had these six things in common:

  1. A table of contents

It seems like an afterthought, but it’s actually critical. Think of your pitch deck’s table of contents like a primer for your potential investor. It sets them up for what they’re about to read, and it pre-organizes their mind. You’re telling them “I’m going to talk about this, then this, then that.” And if you can keep it short (more on that later), you’ll increase the chances that an investor will read it. No one wants to read a 30-page deck.

TIP: Use the table of contents language to establish positivity. You might have a page that details the business problem. And you can absolutely call it the “business problem.” But you can also call it the “opportunity.”

  1. A demonstrated understanding of the space you want to be in

If you’re at the point of standing in front of investors, you’d need some kind of balls to not have invested a ton of time to attain expert-level knowledge of the industry, the market, the audience, the competition and the trends. This needs to be in your pitch deck because it instils confidence that there’s a need for your idea and, therefore, a reason to fund it.

 

TIP: Pick six to eight stats that tell the story and put them on one slide. Then include the rest as an appendix. And when we say tell the story, actually think of the stats as story-telling: beginning (this idea doesn’t exist ¾ and closest competitor is XXX); middle (XX% of people report that they would use this product); and ending (we can expect to convert XX% of the market in year one).

  1. A competitive advantage

Something has to make your idea different or no investor will have a reason to fund it. And that point of difference has to be clearly stated in your pitch deck, as close to the front as possible. Again, if you’re at the point where you’re in front of investors, you should know what makes you special.

TIP: Think of your competitive advantage as an “unfair advantage.” It’s what should be keeping your competition up at night with cold sweats. And when you articulate it, it should induce those cold sweats. Consider “our competitive advantage is the way we make our silk” versus “our competitive advantage is the proprietary silk production process. It turns 3,000 years of silk production on its head, making it infinitely cheaper and faster.”

  1. An exit strategy

Here’s the thing about investors: eventually they want their money back and then some. And they’ll want to know how that’s going to happen. In other words, what company is going to value your company at 100 times what you’re asking your investor to currently value it at? Now, obviously, a lot of things have to go right for this to happen, but investors want to know that you’ve thought about this and can make a legit case.

TIP: Be specific. If you think a telecom will eventually buy your company, indicate which telecom and why. In Canada, if you’re an entertainment property, you’re much more likely to get bought out by Bell. If you’re a technology company, you’re much more likely to get bought out by Rogers. As a founder, you need to know this, because a savvy investor will.

  1. Team bios

Yes, investors buy into ideas and companies. But they’re really buying into people. Without confidence in the human beings being the concepts, it doesn’t matter what the concepts are.

TIP: Keep bios short and on-point. Investors don’t need to know where you went to high school (unless you’re still in high school). But they might want to know what your passion has been since you were a kid.

  1. A clear offer

What are you asking for, what is your investor getting and what will you be doing with their money? There’s no room for conjecture here, and definitely no room for wishy-washiness.

 

 

TIP: Give a high-level expenditure plan in the deck, supported by a full financial plan as an appendix. The more specific you are, the more confidence you’ll create.

Last word about pitch decks

Investors receive hundreds or thousands of pitch decks a year. They have no patience for loquaciousness and no desire to read through a novel. If your idea is solid, it won’t need a lot of verbiage.

Tip: Approach your pitch deck like you’d approach an elevator pitch. If this document was in a person’s hands for 30 seconds, what will it take to get them to the offer?

 Not sure? Let’s talk about your pitch deck.