Small Business Book Club: 22+ Tips from Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

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Welcome to our 3rd Small Business Book Club, where our team reads a book and identifies key takeaways that enhance small business operations, strategy, or marketing. Check out key advice on how to keep your business healthy inside and out in our recent review of Uncommon Service. In the marketing category, our latest review offers practical and inspiring highlights from Ann Handley’s Everybody Writes.  

Ann Handley’s writing is kind and generous and she treats her readers as friends. And so, in this post I’m calling the author “Ann,” because after reading her book, I suspect she won’t mind.

The ingredients for a warm and palatable reading experience are the main dish of Everybody Writes

No one wants to consume anything bland or blech! And to deepen the metaphor—small, savory bites are the easiest to digest.

Ann serves heaps of good fare meant to fortify writers of all types. We recommend the meal in its entirety. In the meantime, please enjoy some takeaways from the first three parts of this six-part book!

Part 1) Writing Rules: How to Write Better (and How to Hate Writing Less)

  1. Get to the point quickly. You risk losing your reader’s attention and wasting their time with a long intro.
  2. Get in the habit of writing every day. Even a few sentences. Well crafted social media posts are a solid and essential place to hone your practice.
  3. “There is no one way to write.” Free yourself from strict rules learned in school. For example, you may have learned to not start a sentence with and, but, or because. But it’s okay to start a sentence with and. Because it is. And it’s up to you!
  4. And don’t be afraid to write a short paragraph or sentence.
  5. Because white space is good.
  6. Think clarity, brevity, and utility. Imagine that you are writing to your ideal client. Better yet, imagine that you are talking to her! Invite her in and make her a part of the story.
  7. Start creative! Sentences that begin with “According to, In my opinion, The purpose of this is…” are staid and cause your reader’s eyes to glaze over instantly.   
  8. Check out Ann’s 12-step infographic that will help you write your next piece of content. Key takeaway: Don’t fear your “ugly first draft.” Getting it out is half the battle.
  9. Keep asking yourself “So what?” Why will your content creation matter to your audience?
  10. Once you’ve got that first draft, the fun part is slashing unnecessary words and replacing mediocre ones. You may realize, like I did, that you use unnecessary words out of habit. My favorite superfluous adverb was certainly. It was certainly certainly!
  11. We all misplace modifiers. Unlike our keys, they aren’t hard to find, but it may take a minute to figure out where to put them. One of Ann’s examples: “Only publish good content.” Correction: “Publish only good content.” Because you may want to keep the option of Creating good content open.
  12. If you work with a team, give mutual feedback on your drafts after the self-editing phase. Or find a friend who would like to do a trade.
  13. Jargon and buzzwords are tempting. Certain ones are unavoidable or they are fun and can be used humorously; others are pretentious. One of Ann’s examples for keeping it simple: avoid utilize when use works.
  14. Stuck on something? If you can, leave it for the next day or go for a walk to regain clarity of purpose and momentum.

Part 2) Writing Rules: Grammar and Usage

  1. Ann’s recommendations are simply that, her recommendations. She suggests avoiding terms “sprouted from technology”, e.g. bandwidth to refer to time/attention span or lack of either. But you know your audience best! If it’s something you would say to a friend, then chances are that the type of audience you want to attract won’t mind.
  2. Active v. Passive Voice. Many of us write in passive voice, but switching to active voice livens things up. Passive: The business was launched last year. Active: We launched the business last year.
  3. Why use a boring verb when there’s one that is more descriptive and enlivening? In Ann’s example, she asks why you would say that someone cut his finger, when you could say slashed. Definitely more graphic.
  4. There are loads of grammar and usage rules, but let’s move on like Ann does in the book!

Part 3) Story Rules

  1. How to compel your readers with a good story? You’re on the right track if your story is: “true, human, original, it serves the customer, and it ties into a bigger business strategy.”
  2. Only you can write your story, so if it is generic and full of buzzwords, then you’ve written someone else’s story. That’s not a way to create connection with your readers.
  3. Use your same natural voice in all written communication, even in pop-up messages.
  4. While originality of content is essential, look to emulate examples of marketing tactics or story types that have been successful for others. It’s helpful to look for inspiration from businesses that are very different than yours.

The remaining sections of Everybody Writes include:

Part 4) Publishing Rules. This section covers topics such as Brand Journalism, ethical curation, and the basics of copyright and fair use. Not clear on what a copyright is and whether you might need one? Check out this EPW post: How to Register a Copyright

Part 5) Things Marketers Write. Spanning best practices for social media channels to blog posts and a number of mediums in between, this part of the book drills down to specific techniques.

Part 6) Content Tools. The final section of Everybody Writes is a tool kit. Here is a glimpse of Ann’s favorites from her blog: 8 Writing Tools I Use Every Day. My personal favorite: Pocket! I love to tag and save articles for later and Pocket neatly replaces a link-filled bookmark folder.

Finally, here are a few additional ideas on how to build good writing into your business from Ann’s blog: 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Writing.

Have you read or are you inspired to read Everybody Writes? What are your top writing tools, practices, pet peeves, hang-ups, and tips? Talk to us on Facebook or Twitter and let us know!

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