How To Get Read, November 2013
These days, anyone can be a publisher. All you have to do is start a blog, a Facebook page, or a Web site. Build a following among your customers, and then just tell your story. If it’s a good story, your readers will look forward to listening to what you have to say. This is a great and cost-effective way to build a business but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it, and even though this isn’t necessarily about heating, I wanted to chat with you about it. I’ve watched a lot of otherwise-smart businesspeople fail when it comes to writing to their customers, be it in print or electronically, so here’s some food for thought if you’re thinking about doing this (or doing it already).
Talk on paper Just like I’m doing right now. I started doing this in 1972 when I worked for the manufacturers’ rep in New York. My boss liked my memos so he asked me if I could start a print newsletter for contractors and wholesalers. I called it The Problem Solver and we sent it to 5,000 people each month. That same year, Rudolph Flesch wrote a book he titled, Say What You Mean. I stumbled across a copy of it in a local bookstore and it taught me that the most-effective way of writing was to just write the words I would say to my reader if she was right there with me. I began to imagine this reader sitting across from me and I just talked to her, typing the words as they came out of my mouth. I’ve been doing it ever since? You’ll never catch me writing stuff like, Enclosed please find. I wouldn’t say that in real life so why would I write it? Just talk.
Talk to one person When you read, do you get together with a big group of people, or do you sit quietly by yourself? I sit by myself. You probably do, too. So why do some people write things such as, “As you will all remember,” and, “Well, people, this is the way it is,” and so on? Where the heck are the other people? Go ahead and look around. It’s just you, right? So why would I talk to anyone other than you? You’re the only person in the whole world who is reading my words right now, and you’re the only one that matters to me. If you want to get your reader to really listen, talk only to him.
Be humble I always begin by believing that my reader is smart. You are; we both know that, and I know my subject. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing to you and you wouldn’t be reading me, so let’s take that as a given. But (and it’s okay to begin a sentence with but) you also have an interest in that subject, whatever it is, and I respect your knowledge. If I were to come strutting up to your computer screen or mailbox, acting like the guy who is oh-so-bright about this or that, you would quickly get tired of me because I would be a pompous boor, which I don’t want to be. I’m learning every day and I know how hard you have worked to get where you are. I have something to tell you, and I will, but I won’t do it in a way that makes me sound superior to you. If I do that, I’ll lose you as my reader. So try your best to be humble when you sit down to write. It’s a respect thing.
Don’t make threats Gosh, all those anti-smoking ads and yet people continue to smoke. There’s a lesson there. And all those warnings about texting while driving and, well, you know how it is. Just look at that guy over there. Thing is, most people never think bad things will happen to them, so if you include threats in your writing they’re probably going to stop reading. But I see it all the time. Someone will tell me that if I do this or that I’ll be sued or lose my business. Those writers treat me like I’m stupid and I don’t think I am. Do you think you’re stupid? I don’t either. How much better it is when someone just shows me the right way to do things, and tells me stories about the rewards others have received for doing things the right way. Then just let me draw my own conclusions about screwing up. I’m capable of that. Inspire me. Don’t threaten me.
Make fun of yourself, not others If you want to make a point about how someone screwed up, make yourself the brunt of the story, even if you have to make it up (never let the truth get in the way of a good story). If you make fun of someone else that makes you a bully. You’ll hurt that person and your reader won’t like you. Nobody likes a bully. And besides, haven’t you ever screwed up? I mean really. Be kind. It’s a good way to make friends.
Respect your competitors If your reader is currently your customer there’s a reason for that. You’re doing a lot of things right and that’s wonderful. There’s no reason to tell your reader bad stories about your competitor. She is already with you. And if you’re trying to attract your competitor’s customer by telling your reader about what a bum your competitor is, all you’re doing is telling that guy (and potential customer) that he’s an idiot for buying from those folks. Would you buy from someone if they just implied that you’re stupid? I wouldn’t either. Besides, in this industry, you never know who you’ll be working with (or for) next year. Right?
The reader is seeing other writers Have you ever read an article or blog post where the writer begins by saying, “You’ll all remember my article from 2003,” and then carries on as though you’ve been hanging on his every word for the past decade with a memory like no other. What this writer doesn’t realize is that all readers see other writers. They also have lives of their own. Chances are they’re not going to remember something you wrote or said years ago, or even days ago. This is where humility comes in. You’re not the center of that reader’s world. Don’t expect her to remember what you said. Just quickly retell it and get on with what you have to say now. Expecting people to remember all that you’ve said in the past is pure hubris and it’s a fine way to lose your audience.
Be consistent Decide how often you’re going to write to your customers and stick with it. If you’re doing an e-newsletter, send it out at the same time and on the same day every time you do it. Your reader will come to expect it and look forward to it. And have the same person do the writing each time. Readers get used to a writer’s style. It’s part of what makes them open their mail. Be consistent.
Seek permission Seth Godin (Google him) is brilliant at marketing. He wrote his book, Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers, in 1999 and it changed the direction of our company. He showed me that the most important part of marketing (and the writing that goes along with it) is to seek permission from your customers (who are your readers), to tell them more. Once you have that permission (and you have to work hard to get it), magic happens. I urge you to read Seth Godin’s book, and I hope you allow me to write you again next month. Thanks!
Love your reader Yes, thanks! I believe that the reader is more important than the writer. Without you, I have no voice. I’d be sitting in a lonely room, writing a diary no one would ever read. You make all the difference when you read me. You complete me. So I will always love you for that and never take you for granted. If you want to be read, love your reader.
You had me at hello.