Ever felt like you should pretend your itty bity business is big enough to hire a receptionist for your receptionist?
Small business is now a big thing. They’re everywhere. And some of them aren’t just small, they’re freakin’ tiny – like, literally one person.
If that’s you, you might think you should try the ‘blowfish’ strategy of puffing yourself up with big words and copy tricks (see also: lies). Surely no-one would hire you or buy your stuff if they knew your business was just you, your laptop and your cat, right? Especially since your cat hasn’t been pulling its weight lately.
So when you go to write your web copy, you try to hide the fact that it’s just you. You write ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. You refer to yourself in the third person as the company’s director, as if you’re managing a big team (as in, “Our director has more than 10 years’ experience in the industry”). You make your team page about your “key personnel”, and maybe even feature contract workers on there to make it look like they work for you full time.
But secretly you feel a bit icky, like you’re hiding the truth and misleading your customers.
That’s because you are. And it can really damage your brand.
Now, there are no absolute rules here. There are times when it’s okay to say “we” (meaning “the company”) rather than “I”. If it’s just you right now, but you don’t want to be the face of your business, it makes sense not to write the whole site in the first person. People will get it.
But that doesn’t mean you should pretend you have a big army of workers doing your bidding. In fact, that whole ‘CEO of a big scary company’ thing is old-fashioned and can be off-putting to your customers. More importantly, there’s a better way.
Here’s why you should step into the new world of business and make your size work for you. (Like an episode of Trinny and Suzanna, but without anyone making rude comments about your bra.)
Less is more
Haven’t you noticed all those big companies that have re-branded to be more approachable and friendly? They’re spending a whole lot of money to seem, well, smaller.
That’s because as a small business, you’ve got something they don’t – something that’s irresistible to your customers.
That something is a face. A personality. You’re a real human being who can respond to their questions without starting every reply with “Thank you for your inquiry“.
Stiff, boring corporations are over, over, over.
The small size of your business can be a major asset, and you shouldn’t try to hide it. Instead, like a youngest child who steals all of mum and dad’s attention, celebrate all the good things that come with being small. Connect with your customers as a real person, and don’t be afraid to show your personality through your website copy and social media profiles.
Copy tips to connect:
- Write in the first person and say ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ if you’re a solopreneur. Even if you’ve got a business partner or two, consider writing blog posts individually (making it clear who the author is of course) rather than having faceless posts from your brand.
- Talk to one person in your audience. If you’re in brand mode, it can be easy to slip into referring to ‘our customers’ rather than talking to the customer who’s actually reading the copy. Or you might inadvertently remind people they’re one of many by saying something like ‘as most of you know…’. It’s not that this is wrong, it’s that it’s less personal. So if you’re trying to connect with your readers, talk to them as an individual.
Your customers are too smart
Modern-day humans can sniff out marketing ploys like our ancestors sniffed out paleo treats.
So it’s best to just be honest. People are going to see through any façade you try to put up anyway.
Even if they can’t put their finger on it, if you’re pretending to be something you’re not, you’ll come across a bit like a creepy real estate agent who uses mnemonic devices to remember everyone’s name and never breaks a handshake first.
If you try too hard, people will definitely be able to tell. And if you’re pretending to be a big company when it’s just you and your business partner working from home, then yes, you’re trying too hard.
No need to go overboard and write “Hi everyone! Just wanted to clarify that it’s only me and my mate Joe running this business!” on your About page. But make sure you’re not deliberately misleading anyone. We all know the difference between feeling a little fake as you find your professional legs, and being worried you’ll be caught out because, um, you’re lying.
Copy tips to be transparent:
- Clean, succinct copy can help show you’re trustworthy. That means cutting out words that don’t need to be there, and using shorter sentences that are easy to read. If people get confused by your web copy or it’s full of mistakes, they’re going to find it harder to take you seriously.
- Answer people’s questions before they ask them. It should be easy to work out who you are, what you do and how you can be contacted. Usually this is easily solved with a good about page and contact page, and possibly some FAQs. And by the way, if you have a contact form but no email, you’re going to seem less straight-up; many people like to be able to email you from their email account, because then there’s a record of what they sent and less chance their message will just disappear into the interwebs.
Authenticity is in
People crave connection with other (real) people – especially in the age of the internet, when even seeing your best friend face-to-face can be a mission.
To succeed in business, you need to be authentic – and that means letting yourself be a bit vulnerable.
If you hide behind a company name or pretend to be perfect, no-one’s going to warm to you. So be yourself when you write your web copy. Be honest about where you’re at and own your smallness.
Copy tips to be authentic:
- Give your story a theme. Stories are powerful and memorable, and help people get to know you. But don’t just blurt out a bunch of stuff about yourself at random. Good stories have a theme that ties them together and captures the reader’s interest. For example, Sarah Morgan of XOSarah tells the story of how she quit the cubicle job she hated and literally ran away with the circus. The theme running through her story is ‘freedom from a corporate job’. No doubt Sarah has a tonne of stuff she could tell you about herself that doesn’t relate to that theme. But to make the story coherent, she focusses on details about herself that relate to the overall theme of the story. Remember your theme should stem from something that’s true about your story. It’s okay to shape your story (no-one’s life is easily captured in a few paragraphs), but it’s essential it’s still a true story.
- Avoid clichéd descriptions of yourself. That means if you’ve seen several others describe themselves in that way, you need to come up with something else. For example, describing yourself as a nerd or geek was endearing back in 2001. But now, the ‘proud to be a nerd’ thing is way overdone. Either give it a new spin or come up with something fresh.