5 Step process for business writing

5 Steps to Writing a Business Article Like a Pro

Does the prospect of writing a business article make you nervous? Business writing can feel daunting, but if you break down the process into steps, you will realize that writing a business article is like writing for any other genre.

What is a Business Article?

A business article is any content you write with the intent of directly or indirectly sharing information about a business. The different types of business writing include blogs, news releases, newsletters, brochure, flyers, emailers, and presentations.

business-writing-2-1-current-although

Business writing involves a variety of writing styles.

The writing style will vary with the type of business content you have been asked to write. For instance, compared to a blog, an emailer must have a more succinct pitch. Similarly, a flyer will have to sell an idea very quickly, while in a business brochure you have the luxury of being more descriptive.

I have been writing for small and medium-sized businesses for almost seven years now. In that time frame, I have written business articles on myriad industries, such as business technology, software development, renewable energy, educational consultancy, childcare service, virtual assistant service, and medical billing.

Over the hundreds of articles written, I have developed a business article writing methodology that I’d like to share with you today.  My method of researching and writing a business article may not work for you, but it is one you could certainly use as a start point to create your own version of a writing system.

For this post, I am going to stick to the preparation, researching, structuring, writing, and editing stages of writing a business article.

So here goes.

5 Steps to Writing a Business Article

5 Step process for business writing

Let’s paint a beautiful picture…but with words.

STEP 1: PREPARE – Understanding What is Expected From You

Let’s assume that you are working for a client for the first time and you have been given a topic ‘X Reasons to Have a Blog.’  As soon as you take on this assignment, you need to get answers to the following questions:

1. Who is the target audience of your client?

target audience

Understand who you are writing for and what the client wants

Is your client targetting individuals or businesses? The target audience will affect the way you write. For instance, a business targetting individual buyers will prefer a writing style that is more conversational, personal, and maybe even laced with humor. On the other hand, a B2B client may want an article that is informative and highlights the business’s expertise.

Of course, when we say business article, don’t assume that you need to write content that sounds like a management book extract. Today, every content you write has to be easy to read and must communicate the benefit the reader will derive from the ten minutes they spend reading what you have written.

2. Does the client have keywords in mind for the article?
In my experience, most clients will be happy to let you take charge of this and decide the best keyword phrases for an article. Once you have chosen the keywords, ensure that you include them in the article heading, subheadings ( where possible), and at a frequency of three to four times every 500 words of the article.

3. Expected format and style of the article
Most clients will share a sample of the kind of article they want to write. If they do not, then look at previous posts on their website and clarify if the client wants you to maintain a similar writing style.
Also, agree on the format of submission. For instance, a client that I have been writing for a long time is a virtual service provider called Virtasktik. All blogs submitted to the client must contain a meta description, as well as content for social media posts on the article for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google+.

STEP 2: RESEARCH – Evaluate the Available Information and Extract the Pertinent Bits

Online research

You must be a master at both looking for information online and picking the most relevant bits.

As you begin researching the topic think about the two to three key points your article must include. These ideas then become the start point for research on search engines.

Alternatively, type different phrases related to the blog topic you have been given. For example, for the topic ‘X reasons to blog,’ your search phrases could be –

  • Benefits of business blog
  • X Reasons why every business should have a blog
  • Statistics/ Data on the benefits of having a business blog

As you scan through the relevant articles, Google ( or other search engines) will throw up suggestions on other similar search phrases;  look at those as well.

While researching the information available online, I recommend doing the following:

  1. Stay current: Reference articles published no later than three years ago. Since knowledge and technology are evolving rapidly, you must publish content that is relevant and forward-looking.
  2. Use credible sources: Extract your content from reputed websites or blogs of established companies in the industry.
  3. Give credit: It’s important to give credit where credit is due, so include at least one or two links to reputed websites within the article.
  4. Include data: Where possible look for recent developments, industry statistics, or infographics relevant to your topic.
  5. Extract as you read: Highlight or extract the most relevant portion of content as you read the articles. Some writers use tools like Evernote to do this, but I like to do it the old-fashioned way and paste all the relevant content into a single word file. Let’s call this the ‘base document.’
  6. Read multiple articles: As a thumb rule research at least 5 to 6 credible sources of information for every page of 500 words that you need to write.
  7. Include a quote: Depending on whom you are writing for, adding a genuine quote for your article is a great idea.

So for an article on blogging, you can approach popular bloggers for their advice, or reach out to internet marketing specialists for a contribution to your article. You can contact them through their website, via email, or even their Facebook business page.

Tell them who you are, the client you are writing for, the topic, that you are looking for a 2 or 3 line quote, and by when do you need the revert. I often use this strategy and have a 25 to 30 percent success rate, which means I approach at least 4 potential contributors to get a single quote. The research phase will take you anywhere between one to one hour thirty minutes.

STEP 3: STRUCTURE – The Information and Your Thoughts

article writing

Identify key points and decide which piece of information goes where.

If you are writing a 1000 word article, by the time you have researched the information, you should have at least a base document of 2500 to 3000 words. Once convinced that you have gathered all the relevant information, start reading your base document.

Having gone through the document, open another word file and begin writing the key points, or must have information for your article. I like to rearrange and highlight the content in the base document using different colors. For example, the material that I want to include in the opening para is highlighted in yellow, the main body in pink, and article recommendations in green. So what you are doing at this stage is structuring the information and your thoughts before you begin writing.

By the time you are done, you will have your article skeleton – opening, subheadings, bullet points under each, and takeaways from your article ( or the concluding paragraph), as well as the information that needs to come under each section.

If you are working with a word limit of say 1000 words, you can decide to write  150 words for the article opening, 800 words on the main body, and another 100 for writing the conclusion. Of course, its advisable to write the first draft of about 1200 to 1300 words, because as you improve the content during the editing stage, the word count will automatically be reduced.

Structuring the article before you begin writing will take you 25 to 30 minutes.

So you have by this time already spent 2 hours on your article.

Now, let’s begin writing.

STEP 4: WRITING – Write, Don’t Edit

Just+Write

It’s time to just write. Write as you think and speak.

The number one tip at this stage is to write as you think. Write as fast as you can type but keep referencing the base document to see the sub-points and the information you want under each point. Be careful as to not ‘copy-paste’ content from your base file.

As you write the first article draft, I highly recommend that you use a distraction-free text editor such as Write Box to help you write without distractions.

Here some additional tips on writing a business article:

1. Share the article purpose in the opening para: Write an engaging opening paragraph which indicates the central question the article is going to answer. In other words, why should someone read your blog? As an example, here’s an opening I wrote for an article on task delegation:

“Are you a star at delegating things to do in your business? Or are you one of the many small business owners who shy’s away from task delegation because you fear work won’t happen as expected, or that you won’t’ know how things are progressing once you have handed off the task?”

2. Include keywords: As you write, try to include the key phrase(s) where possible, but especially in the article opening paragraph, subheadings of the article, and within the content with a frequency of about 3 to 4 repetitions for every 400 to 500 words.

3. Include external and internal links: Add two to three hyperlinks to articles published on other reputed websites, as well as links to related content within your client’s website. When you add links, use relevant ‘anchor phrases’ to describe them. Instead of saying ‘click here for more information’, add the links within your text.

4. Encourage readers to take action: Close with a takeaway paragraph of what the reader should learn or the final thought you want to leave with the reader. For instance, you could invite readers to register for a monthly business newsletter, leave a comment on their own experiences/ knowledge of the topic, or fill the sales contact form.

5. U.S vs. U.K English: Write in U.S or U.K English depending on which country your client is based.

6. Write in active voice: Minimize the use of passive sentences, write in ‘active voice’ to the extent possible.

Writing a 1000 word article can take about 2 hours. At this stage, depending on your research and writing efficiency, you have already spent between 3 to 4 hours on your article.

STEP 5: EDITING – The Most Important Part of the Writing Process.

polish

Editing is essential to producing a quality article, much like polishing a diamond to bring the shine.

Think of your article ( written so far) as a rough diamond that needs polishing. Spending considerable effort in editing an item is essential to producing quality work that will make your clients coming back for more.

Paste the content from the text file to an MSWord file. Read through the article you have written so far. I find that reading the content aloud yourself or using the ‘Read Aloud Speech’ feature under the Review tab in Microsoft Word, is helpful in identifying sentences that must be re-written or re-arranged to improve the article flow.

Once you are satisfied that the article flow is good, check your content on content editing tools such as Grammarly or  Hemingway App to improve readability. For instance, these apps can help identify passive sentences (which you may want to rephrase in an active voice), identify phrases with a more straightforward expression, or rectify the incorrect use of punctuation. You can reduce wordiness – for example ‘ you have to make a decision’ can be written more concisely as ‘ you must make a decision’.

Cross-check the effectiveness of the article header using tools such as Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer.  When you find yourself stuck for ideas on writing a compelling headline, try the blog title generator by SEOPressor.

Paying attention to the smallest details at the editing stage will make it a time-consuming process, but the end the result will be worth it. For a 1000 word article, I can easily spend an hour trying to edit and improve it. On the other hand, there is no end to the amount of editing you can do in an article. So beyond a point, you must decide if the present version of the article is good to go.  Before you publish your business article or submit it to the client, ensure that you do a plagiarism check. I prefer to use Copyscape.

So there you have it, my tell-all post on writing business articles, and would you know it, it also happens to be the longest post ever published on my blog.

Was the reading time worth it? Do leave your feedback in the comments below.

Adios!

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Writing tips

3 Writing Apps to Make You a Better Writer

Writing tipsAs freelance writers, most of us work alone. The good thing about that is that there is no one to tell us how to do our job. Unfortunately, it also means that there is no one to help us become better writers.

But worry not – whether you want to write faster, write content that has a wider audience reach, or write content that is grammatically correct,  there are writing apps to help you improve.

There are three online tools that I use for almost every piece of writing, and I can certainly vouch for how these apps have helped me be a more accurate writer. These are –ID-100144466

  1. Writebox
  2. Hemingway
  3. Grammarly

I first used Writebox in 2013 when I was on a quest to write more articles and increase my earnings as a freelance writer. Writebox is a text-editor like MS Word. The difference is that the Writebox software does not prompt you to correct spellings, improve sentences, or correct grammar as you type content. Because there is nothing to slow you as you type, it gives you the freedom to write as freely as you would if you were to use pen and paper. Writebox is the closest you can get to writing digitally at the speed of thought.

Hemingway App tells you how difficult or easy it is to understand your content. Once you paste the content on the app, the first thing to look at is the readability level of the content. For instance, ‘grade 8’ means that the person reading the content should have at least a U.S grade 8th education. A higher than 10th-grade score means that your content has jargon, complicated words, and complex sentences.

The app claims that Hemingway’s content had a writing ease of 5th grade, despite the fact that he mostly wrote for an adult audience.

The Hemingway app highlights the following
  • Complicated words
  • Passive sentences
  • Adverbs, and
  • Sentences that are hard or very hard to read

Choosing simpler words, writing in an active voice, minimising use of adverbs, and breaking down complex sentences, will allow your writing to reach a wider audience.

I am a recent Grammarly convert. You see I just finished the draft of my first eBook. I speak and write English fairly well, but am not well-versed with the nuances of grammar.  Instead of hiring a proof-reader to do the job, I decided to buy the annual subscription plan of Grammarly.

Grammarly helps write mistake-free on MsWord, WriteBox, Gmail, and social media accounts. Take the one-month subscription plan to get an idea of how the app can help you. The annual subscription plan costs approx $140 and saves you about $19 a month.

These are just some of the writing tips I have to share from my experience as a freelance writer. I am writing an eBook which will help any aspiring freelance writer break into the highly competitive world of online content writing. Follow my blog and Facebook page to stay updated.  

Freelance writer India

Guide on Becoming a Business Freelance Writer

The New Year is all about fresh perspectives and perhaps its time to find a new career for yourself. Have you considered becoming a business freelance writer?

Becoming a freelance writer

Photo: imagerymajestic

Answer these questions truthfully –

  • Have you always had a flair for writing?
  • Do you have the skills to present information in an informative, logical, and original manner?
  • Are you looking for a better work-life balance?
  • Are you a former professional, who wants to use continue to use her experience even as you handle the everyday challenges of managing home?

If you just nodded your head in agreement on more than one of these statements then freelance writing is a possible work-from-home option for you. Here are the basics of what is business freelance writing, the skills needed to become a freelance writer, and how to get started.

1. Who is a Business Freelance Writer?

Today all businesses must have an online presence – their own website, blogs and social media accounts. This means that businesses in India and abroad, businesses of all shapes and sizes, are in constant need for online content that they can publish to keep their websites fresh and their customers engaged. Most business owners either don’t have the skill to do a good job of writing content or don’t have the time to research and write relevant content themselves.

That’s where you as a business freelance writer can be of service. Having understood the business – its product/ service, customer target segment, competitors, content requirements, you will be responsible for creating the following types of content –

Types of internet content

Photo: Stuart Miles

  • Website content  – Content you read on various pages of a company’s website.
  • Blogs – Content on informative and current topics pertaining to the business and its customers.
  • Emails – Emails that the business will send to customers to promote its products / services; it could also be an email newsletter that is sent at defined frequency to all customers.
  • Social media updates– Posts and images to keep the content on the business Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest accounts.
  • Business proposals – You may also be asked to create a business proposal document.
  • Press releases – Draft online press releases for new products, campaigns, or major changes at the business that are newsworthy.

2. Skills Needed to Become a Business Freelance Writer

As a freelance writer you will be constantly learning ways to improve the quality of your writing. Also, every client/ writing assignment. will teach you new aspects of managing your business. But to begin with, you must have the following 10 skills to become a freelance writer.

  1. English language: Understanding of the differences between U.K and U.S. English.
  2. Grammar: Basic understanding of English grammar/ punctuation. With time you can build on your knowledge on this aspect
  3. Research: Ability to research information online,  pluck the most relevant bits, and present information in a concise/ logical manner.
  4. Copywriting skills:  Ultimately your writing has to be engaging to your target audience. Website content and emailers, for instance, require a level of ‘salesmanship’ in your writing; or the ability to sell the business without sounding like an outright commercial.
  5. Professionalism: As a the lone person representing your business, you need to be a thorough professional. This means asking the right questions to understand client needs,  delivering consistently high quality consistent, meeting agreed timelines, and being responsive to client messages/ calls.
  6. Multi-tasking: You will be responsible for marketing yourself, bidding for projects, delivering the content, and following up with clients for payments. Customer service will be a daily part of your job profile as a freelance writer.
  7. Positive attitude: Freelance writing is a highly competitive business. You are competing with writers from across the world – writers who are more experienced; who are ‘native’ English speakers and therefore given a preference; or writers who are willing to do the job for a lesser price. It can be difficult to get the first break and to find clients that offer regular paying work. A ‘never say die’ attitude that will keep you going through the tough initial days.
  8. Willingness to constantly improve:  There are as many writers tools and apps as there are writers.  New technologies and concepts are always being introduced, which your clients expect you to be familiar with. Therefore, you must spend a few hours a week researching and reading up on what’s new, and how you can add value to your clients.
  9. Originality: Your writing style is what sets you apart from others. You may not realize it, but you already have an existing style. Build on it, rather than trying to ape somebody’s style.
  10. Time management: With so much to do professionally, not to mention personal commitments, meeting deadlines can be challenging. Plan you monthly goals, and weekly and daily tasks to stay on track.

3. How is Internet Content Different from Content Written for a Magazine?

If you are a person of a few words, then internet content writing is just the thing for you. The internet audience is spoilt for choice – there is an abundance of information available on any topic. The average internet reader spends but a few seconds on any website, before deciding to read on or press the back button. This means that the content has to stand out and be easily grasped. In contrast, a person who picks up a magazine is more likely to be doing so at leisure and is therefore willing to spend more time reading what you have to say.

Content written for the internet must be clear and concise, while also being engaging. As Shakespeare himself remarked, ” Brevity is the soul of wit”. A relevant and succinct article headline, subheadings, bullet points, highlighted text and paragraphs that flow seamlessly are some of the skills that the business freelance writer must use to maximum effect.

4. Getting Started as a Business Freelance Writer

Start freelance writing

Photo: Stuart Miles

Different freelance writers will differ in their response to this question, simply because everyone has different strengths, skills, and opportunities.

In my opinion, a good place to find clients to work with are international freelancing websites such as Elance. Read these previously published blogs to understand how these sites work and what you need to do to reach potential clients.

5. Online Tools to Get Started as a Freelance Writer

Apart from creating your online freelancer profile on two or three job portals, there are several online tools to make your work look professional, help you collaborate with clients, and make it easier to get the job done. In fact every writer that you talk to has their favorite online tools. Here are 20 online tools that I regularly use for my writing business.

In addition, ensure that you have a blog/ website that showcases your work and your understanding of what it takes to write quality online content.

As a freelance writer, there is no end to your learning. All you need to do is make a beginning. If you think its too late in the day for you to switch careers, here is an inspiring infographic on how so many successful entrepreneurs started their business much later in life.

Are you a freelance writer with a story to share? Do you have a question on freelance writing opportunities in India? I would love to hear from you and maybe even have you guest post on my blog. 

20 Online Tools for Freelance Writers

Online tools for freelance writersThere are innumerable online tools for freelance writers; these online writing tools make your work look professional, help you collaborate with clients, and make it easier to get the job done. In fact every writer that you talk to has their favorite online tools. Here are 20 online tools that I regularly use for my writing business.

Online Tools to Improve Writing

  • Copyscape – Check for plagiarism
  • Writebox – Use this distraction free text editor to type your words and sentences as they occur, without bothering about spelling or grammar. It helped improve my speed of writing.
  • Dictionary. com – Thesaurus and American English dictionary
  • Oxford dictionary – British English dictionary
  • Brochure writing template – While this is not a tool, the article shows how to use MSWord to format content for a marketing brochure.
  • Keyword analysis – Measure the keyword density of your article to meet client specification
  • Grammarly – Use this automated proofreader to correct grammatical errors in your document. The yearly plan costs $140, while the monthly plan is for $30. They offer a free trial for a few days.

Online Tools to Improve Content

  • Freedigitalphotos.net and Wikimedia Commons – Royalty free photos that can be used with credit
  • Bitly – Truncate lengthy url’s
  • Canva – Design graphics for social media, blogs and presentations
  • Info.gram – Design infographics
  • Picmonkey –  Edit photos; crop images, add text, change texture
  • Google Alerts – Track trending blog topics for your clients by creating alerts
  • Nitro cloud – Convert your documents to PDF and presentation format

Other Online Tools to Improve Your Everyday Work

  • Google+ – Create Google+ authorship profile to claim your online content
  • Dropbox – Cloud storage service for file sharing and storage. Recommend friends and sync your mobile devices with Dropbox to get free additional storage.
  • PayPal – Make and receive online payments
  • Vistaprint – Order your business cards, labels, and stationery
  • HelloSign – Send signed documents without having to print, sign and scan
  • Rapportive – View social media profiles of your Gmail contact before you message

What are your favorite online tools for work?

Tips on Writing Gender Free Content

gender free contentAs a non-fiction writer working mostly with small and growing businesses it is crucial that the content I write reaches out to the highest number of target readers. One way of reaching a larger audience is to write gender free content devoid of gender specific or sexist words.

In most English-speaking countries such as UK, USA, Canada and Australia there is a lot of focus on gender equality in the workplace, and gender biased business communication is viewed as unacceptable.  Here is an interesting 2013 news report on proposed gender neutral language changes in Washington state law ( click to view video).

Undoubtedly, as a freelance writer you need to exercise caution and ensure that your content is gender inclusive. Here are some tips on writing gender free content .

1. Instead of gender biased words such as ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘she’ and ‘he’, use gender free words such as they/ their/ them/. For example –

Gender biased statement: Each student should submit his report by end of the week.

Gender free statement: Students should submit their report by end of the week.

In fact, there are a lot of people who do not identify themselves as either a he or a she. This is why pronouns such as ‘they or their’ work the best.

2. Another way of writing gender-free is to use the phrase ‘he or she’ or ‘his or her’. For example –

Gender biased statement: Every young child should be involved in planning her birthday party.

Gender free statement: Every young child should be involved in planning his or her birthday party.

3. Alternate between using ‘he’ and ‘she’ in your content. So while in some sentences you use the pronoun ‘he’, in others use ‘she’.

4. Avoid using words that exude a gender bias. Examples of words considered ‘sexist’ are actress / mailman/stewardess/ mankind/ policewoman. Substitute these with gender-free words such actor/ mail carrier / flight attendant / people/police officer.

Gender biased statement: We welcome madam chairperson to the 5th annual meeting.

Gender free statement: We welcome our chairperson to the 5th annual meeting.

Here is an interesting video on the use of ‘gender neutral pronouns’ by Tom Scott ( a world speaker about the web and the accelerating pace of change).

Writing gender free content is today applicable to everyone, whether you are a writer, a business owner, or a corporate executive sending out an email to your employees. A small change in the way you write/ speak can increase the appeal of what you have to say. So why not try it?