Are you giving customers the wrong impression? Your writing style reflects your attitude towards them. And the voice you use for your website and brochures could be the content equivalent of bad breath. Here are some of the biggest mistakes business owners make and ways to avoid them:

  • Phantom of the Opera. Hiding behind a corporate mask. Meaningless phrases, clichés and unnecessary words abound. Sole practitioners are particularly well suited to writing their own content – the voice of quirky individual writers best capture the quirky individual spirit of the internet. Ironically, those individuals offering personalised services – life coaches, trainers, consultants – favour this impersonal style.

The cause: Rushing to fill up websites with stock imagery (if I see one more person climbing an alpine summit, representing peak performance…) and phrases.

Advice: Try speaking into a dictaphone. It will capture your normal conversational speech pattern. Which is less formal than when when we write. And we use different vocabulary for speech. This is your natural style. And you’ll express yourself, and your personality will shine through.

  • Jekyll & Hyde. You don’t match your website (or brochure). If your website says serious, earnest and factual it will come as a surprise to meet you, the irreverent, chatty, kitchen table business person.

The cause: Trying to be something you’re not. Or hiring a writer and letting their personality shine through. Whose voice do you want the customer to hear? Yours or the writer’s?

Advice: Before beginning, a good copywriter (me) will provide a sample of text. This is my stab at matching tone and language. And my client’s opportunity to give feedback (too formal, less chat, more humour etc), until they are happy I’ve captured their voice. Another tip: Check a writer’s portfolio for the ability to write in a variety of voices. My style of writing about nuclear powered submarines is very different from the one I use to write about tiara making workshops.

  • Big Brother housemate. The one who drives everyone else insane, because ‘I’m mad, me’. We use one voice with our customers, and one with our dog. The part of our brain which lets us develop these different voices might well be busy running a business. And suddenly we’re sharing intimate details of our life with our customers. On Facebook. This can be difficult to spot.

The cause: Many business owners lack self awareness and don’t recognise the reputational damage caused.

 Always go back to the business plan if in doubt – will a photo of you and your dog on the website engage visitors (yes, if it’s a dog walking business)? And when hiring a writer don’t go for the cheapest option. A good copywriter will use their experience to advise – and challenge – you about the appropriateness of content.