More than numbers, more than facts, more than merit. The 2016 US election was won through speeches, shouts, tweets, jokes, sound bytes, hashtags, insults, words, words, and endless words.
Over the past few months I’ve been trying to anchor my business and body of work in something substantial. I’ve been trying to determine my impact; struggling to define the bigger conversation to which my work contributes.
It is that words rule. The words we choose are important. Inarguably they have great power. We are evolved animals graced with the gift of language. And as such, I believe there are Word Rules it is incumbent on us to follow.
I’ll leave it to others to pursue truth, justice, progress and healing. I simply offer, to the very best of my ability, the most precise, intelligible, intentional, careful and artful word-craft I can in support of their efforts.
In my old neighbourhood, you could yell “Olly Olly Oxen Free” and everyone would come out of hiding. I don’t know why it worked, but it was common knowledge that it meant the game was over, dinner was ready, the street lights were on, or someone’s big sister had come to pick them up. It also meant you couldn’t be tagged, chased, or ‘it’.
Come out of hiding, you’re safe. (Of course I googled it, and I’ll tell you where it came from in a minute).
Olly Olly Oxen Free. I wish it was that easy, to come out of hiding. “Putting it all out there” is important when you’re promoting a business, but for many people, it doesn’t come naturally. Of course I want to be top of mind when a start-up or entrepreneur is struggling with wordblocks and wants to hire a copywriter. But life is fast with lots of noise, and it feels like I need to do a LOT of promoting to stay in mind, let alone top of. So I make a lot of lists. When really, what I need to do, is get out there.
That can be hard. Not only do you need to explain what you do, but you need to explain it really clearly. Which means you have to know, and admit, and articulate what you’re good at, and decide, very specifically, how you want to spend your time working. You need to know what kind of clients you want to work with. And you need to know why. Whether you’re a barrista or a barrister, something is driving you to show up each day and do the work. Something is pulling you, not just the paycheque. Knowing that Why is a very important part of business strategy, making decisions, finding clients, and delivering the goods.
Declaring your Why takes guts. Especially when your business is you: your way of working what you love to do. Promoting your business means stating your talents, your style, and your voice. Running your business means asking for work and declaring its value. Marketing means putting it out there and opening yourself up to feedback (that’s the gentle term). Entrepreneurship is definitely hard and scary – a bit like joining those late evening, take-no-prisoners games of hide and seek throughout Wychwood Park.
And then you find a group of muddy kids who are happy to Olly Olly Oxen Free you. In business, that looks like a group of friends, masterminds, association members or a virtual community that gets what you do, respects how you do it, and cheers you on. You get to come out of hiding, and feel free to be you. Freezies all around.
Who’s out there for you – coaxing you out and keeping you safe?
It turns out Olly Olly Oxen Free probably comes from the German “Alle alle auch sind frei” which loosely translates into “All all are now also free”. Music to my introvert ears.
For a few more tips on promoting your business, even when it goes against you nature, I’d love you to grab Out There For Introverts – it’s filled with tips that have helped me get out there without feeling like a fraud. It’s totally free and totally oxen.
Recently I was working on some uber friendly copy for a client that would cover all the back and forth involved in subscribing to a list. You know: “get this free e-book now” + “okay great, enter your name & email” + “thank you, now go check your email for your download” + “please confirm that I’m allowed to use this email to send you stuff” + “ok thank you now finally the free e-book is yours!”. It’s an important process to ensure your leads don’t get lost and a great opportunity for your personality and point of view to shine through.
Anyway, just to double, triple, quadruple check I was doing the most I could at every step, I, of course, needed to walk through 2, 3, 4 opt-in processes myself… just to peek at what, say, other copywriters were doing – y’know, as examples. And in the process, I started to tumble down the rabbit hole of other copywriters’ gorgeous writing. Their quirky turns of phrase? Their lovingly constructed sentences of support? Their amped-up superhero metaphors? Yeah. I was soaking in it. Doorbell rings. Inner Critic appears – and not just with a basket of donuts, but with good friend Impostor Syndrome who brought lattes.
There is a fine line between Market Research and Self-Flagellation. That rabbit hole of what other dudes are doing is one I peer into often. As my wise friend Krista warns me: “Compare, and Despair.” Strangely enough, that VERY AFTERNOON, I got a cry for help from a different client. But in their case I found it very easy to talk them off that very same rabbit hole ledge. Their special brand of greatness seemed pretty clear to me, but for a moment it fuzzed out for them. My point is, we ALL do it. There is ALWAYS somebody out there offering a similar product or service who is going to appear Better, More Knowledgeable, More Experienced, and/or More Successful.
So here’s what we need to remember:
Tina Fey is hilarious. Amy Poehler is awesome. There will always be enough laughs to go around. Tina does the perfect Palin. Amy gives us Kaitlin (“Rick, hey Rick!”). Then they host the Oscars together. It’s gonna happen. You will run full speed into what you consider Better, More Knowledgeable, More Experienced, and/or More Successful. Back away from the edge of Compare & Despair. Look for inspiration, watch for ideas, emulate greatness.
Then just go do your thing.
In general, I’m a thinker, not a doer. I’m one of those people who take capital-P Planning to a beautiful, spreadsheeted, colour-coded new level.
So of course I got sucked into all the 2016, It’s A New Year, Set your Business Intentions, Resolutions & Goals Now Blog Posts. I read them, watched the videos, printed off the worksheets and cracked open a new 2016 Inspirational Notebook, calendar, spreadsheet, file and Trello Board. (I like a multi-media approach.)
But this January, I wasn’t really feeling it. Over the holidays our community lost a dad/neighbour/beloved teacher to an life-long illness. I didn’t know – of course – that this fun-loving, gentle, always helpful man was fighting hard for his life. But you never know, do you, what’s going on inside other people’s heads and homes. So anyway, our Happy New Year wasn’t that happy, and I couldn’t find the inspiration to choose financial targets and bulk up my mailing list.
What I wanted to do was reach out. In a way that was sincere and meaningful. That’s when my Planning super-power transferred over and kicked in. Maybe I could set up a site, or a community, or a process to coordinate meals and carpooling and childcare for the family. There are loads of kickstarter fundraising apps – surely there’s an app to facilitate varied volunteer services? I could schedule a season’s-worth of meals, lifts and playdates on behalf of the entire community. I could colour-code day parts, set up a system and rally the neighbours. And, aye – there’s the rub.
It’s not actually my job to schedule my entire community. Everyone wants to help, but they need to help in their own way, and not be told how, when and where. Suddenly, my Planning brain dissolved, and my Presence brain kicked in. Let everyone feel what they need to, help how they need to, say what they need to and turn up in a way that they feel…is real.
So what does this have to do with running a business? My January 6 epiphany was, There are times to Plan, and then there are times just to Connect. I’ve been working so hard to nail down my process, simplify my systems, automate my outputs, that I forgot for a moment I have living, laughing clients riding their own business roller coasters. Every project starts with them, and everything I write is powered by their energy. As much as it would be nice, neat, columned and colour-coded to control my creative process, I can’t and don’t want to control theirs. In all my decades of working, I’ve never seen the Perfect Creative Brief. Because we all express complex ideas in wonderfully unique ways. I’ve had clients talk to me, write to me, paint to me, pin to me and playlist to me. And it all works in the end. Whatever it takes to get me inside their head, meet their people and hear their voice, that’s what we do.
I guess Creativity is a lot like Connection. When it’s real, it defies control. What works for one client doesn’t work for the next. What worked yesterday might not work today. For my fellow super-power Planners: I think it’s okay. You can set your goals and imagine your process, but you’re not going to be able to automate genuine feeling and honest connection. Take a moment to appreciate that crazy, can’t-be-fenced-in, timelines-be-damned style of your client or neighbor or friend. Respect their process. Step out of their way. Then show up with your highlighters and invent a brand new way to help them do their thing.
(PS – this is not the Tips Topic I had scheduled for this week. Go figure.)
We all know it’s not what you do but why you do it. That’s what makes people love working with you. Your clients want to feel your passion, catch your enthusiasm, and align with your values. Your favourite clients will identify with your particular Point Of View, get a kick out of working with you, and feel more connected, thinking, ‘I know, right?’
Great entrepreneurs have a solid vision for their business, which includes their ‘why’. You may have worked incredibly hard to identify and name your Why, or maybe it’s always been super clear to you.
Either way, it becomes your elevator pitch, your mission statement, your value statements, a Pinterest board, or (if you’re like me) a dedicated designer notebook filled with random phrases that capture this kind of qualitative framing:
This is the powerful stuff that needs to get out of your notebook and into your copy.
So how do you share your POV with the online world?
Whatever copy I’m working with – words for a website, a sales page, social media posts, newsletter copy, email marketing – the biggest gift I can give my clients is to make sure their Why shines through. And here are a few places you can use those Why statements to make sure it does:
Headlines and subheads
These kind of statements make great headlines. Not only do they break up long copy with a punchy truism, if someone is skimming your web copy and is only paying attention to the headlines, they’ll still get it.
Displaying core beliefs, meaningful quotes, and values in their own framed space is a great way to make them immediately clear. They become an important design element, and as an image can be meta-tagged with a title that improves your SEO too!
Argh – your own tagline can be the hardest thing in the world to come up with! It needs to be short, pithy, clear, memorable, and infused with your personality. So, you’ve got this one core belief that really drives your business…. Why not try that on for size? It doesn’t always work, but it can be a great start.
I got lucky – my persistent belief that words wield great power suited my castle-y logo.
Your Email Close
You can’t just leave an email dangling. You have to wrap it up somehow, and if there’s no clear, immediate call-to-action, affirming a strong belief works too! Like this one:
Some entrepreneurs need to declare their core beliefs strongly and clearly for their audience. Setting them apart in a ‘manifesto’, as a distinct page within their website, feels like the right thing to do. It’s your promise to your clients that you will stay honest and true throughout your work together.
The first step is articulating your own Why – those powerful beliefs that drive you to do business, your way, each day. As soon as you have a few POV sentences, add them to your copy so your Why is clear, intriguing and inviting. Then you’ll find those clients who align. I know, right?
Thanks for reading! Got copy questions? Ever hit a word wall? For more tips and tales visit me at katebcastle.ca.