This morning I delivered the following speech to the Townsville Ladyboss group who are brought together by the vivacious Creative Business Coach and Do-er, Elle Roberts. I probably would still be stuck in my horrid government admin role if it weren’t for Elle’s guidance a few years ago when I was setting Monk script up.
ELLE, IT’S VERY POSSIBLE I OWE YOU MY LIFE – your help has definitely saved my sanity and creativity. THANK YOU!
For anyone who wants to learn more about how to back yourself and be a person “in business” you might like to head to the upcoming Artful Business Conference that Elle has beautifully directed for a few years now. Loads of information and inspiration to help you quit your day job and live life in your own business – as I have.
So here’s my speech from today….
Hello everyone. I’m Alex from Monk script. I run a small professional writing, editing and proofreading business. That is, I help people with their words in business. Today I’m going to share part of my business’s story and also some tips on how to make your website’s words sing.
I started Monk script about three years ago and this might make you laugh, but I did so exactly when I started a Ph.D. I thought, hey I can start both things at the same time, no worries. They can’t be that hard. I wanted to quit my full time job as a grants officer in local government, and supplement my casual uni teaching with some editing and proofreading projects like assignment editing and maybe some proofreading of business’s pamphlets and reports. I guess you could say I started a side-business in the easiest of settings! :-/
My PhD. is in the area of art museums and galleries and I did start it hoping that I might be able to land a higher position in one of these spaces, or become a full time researcher as I do love art and writing and those passions have never died and never will.
But as I went along in Monk script, and I worked with every new client and comprehended the scope of professional writing, I realised that business is one of the most exciting, creative things to do – and looking back at my life there were little indications of this creative business brain when I was young.
I was one of those kids who were equally wild and creative, but also dreaming up business ideas with that creative mind. I would, while staying with my grandparents in dreary England, sit at the dining table while the bread was in the oven (because the kitchen was warm – and oh the smells!) and I would design restaurants. For those who know me, that makes sense, because I do love food. I’d design what their interiors were like, what their menus looked like, what the menu items would be and how much I would charge for them. I would then calculate how many dishes I needed to sell in order to make myself some money. I went to that extent! So I’ve always been kind of business-minded, creative (and food obsessed).
My love of writing came from I don’t where, it was just always there. I can’t really explain it. Somewhere along the line, I told people that I wanted to be a journalist and Dad got me to read the newspaper every weekend. (Imagine tiny blond child sitting up at the kitchen bench, legs swinging on the chair, flicking through a newspaper she couldn’t possibly read). So I kind of thought that’s what I’d do when I grew up. But by the time I did grow up a bit, I had fallen in love with Art History so I actually studied that and English Literature instead.
After that somehow I fell into working in administration and museum and gallery operations, which were really wonderful. But in that time, I had completely forgotten that I liked to write my own stories, and paint and draw and create for myself.
To bring this back to Monk script, I’ve spent a lot of time building skills in business, administration, local government operations, marketing, other arts presentation arenas, and research – and I’ve also for the last six years been teaching about all of that in various subjects at uni. In all of these various roles, I had to write to communicate – not just to express – and I became the editor or the writing improver in the office or with my students. I have also always been that friend who goes over the CV or the job application or the difficult email. Writing and writing improvement has been a developing skill even if I haven’t always focused on it.
When I wanted to find a way to make some money on the side at the time of starting my research it was natural to look to editing and proofreading as a start, yet it has grown from simply marking up papers. Now I want to work with people specifically on building their voice, their words and communications, because that’s really natural to me. And I want to do that to support my own creative development in the arts and writing too.
So, that’s a little tiny bit about my young business’s story. And the reason I tell you these aspects of my background is that they all contribute to my business (and me) now being, what I confidently deem, rounded and robust.
I don’t feel like I’m just a professional writer, editor or proofreader. While I obviously do feel like I can offer advice around business writing tasks, I also feel like someone who can also offer general business advice and development, administration advice with an understanding of systems, marketing and communications knowledge with an added understanding of art and design, a way to integrate educative activities to inspire and empathise from being a teacher, and so much more.
Sometimes I think that people must see editors and proofreaders as people who just have a big fat mean red pen and a focus on grammar. Or like our nasty high school English teachers. For me at least, apostrophes and syntax are just the tip of the iceberg of our skillset.
So before I go into tips for website writing that sings – which has become a much-loved specialty area – I thought I’d just give you a little prompt to think about. It has to do with words in how you define yourself in business.
- What terms do you use to describe yourself in business? For example a Videographer, a Photographer or Business Coach?
- Are these words really indicative of the wholeness of you?
- Consider all the things you don’t necessarily say about yourself, as they can’t fit into your job or business description.
Get comfortable with the latter. And consider how these extra, quieter descriptors actually make you a better or more rounded XYZ. The world tells us we need to distill our skills into one or two words or titles, and sometimes that might make us feel less than we actually are.
I’m not asking you this simply for business reflection – it is strategic to the next part of my presentation – it actually connects with what I want to share about singing website writing.
If you want to make your website’s words sing like you sound in the shower – crisp and clear and delightful – you really need to know yourself and you need to become aware of what you offer, why you’re offering it, and who you offer it to.
In doing so, we bloom confidently, to speak and say who we are and what we can offer to the world. I think I’ve heard Elle Roberts say this recently, that being in business is the most profound personal development activity you can ever do.
And I believe that that self-development and awareness is really part of the mindset required to have a rich and exciting business (and life) and is also the key ingredient to writing a rich and rousing website. Website’s are one of those key communication avenues that can be your stage – and they’re not going to go away anytime soon.
So, website words that sing. By that I mean that when a visitor comes to your online home they feel excited, inspired and also safe. There’s a clear message. We know what the page is all about. And I won’t deny that graphic design elements help a long way in that, but words are just as important. Words and graphics need to work in rhythmic symbiosis for online homes. As visitors we want websites to be clear, and we want them to be clear quickly. We don’t want them to make us confused or like we’ve come to the wrong place.
We want websites to be welcoming and easy to navigate, and we want websites to be easy to read. Depending on what we expect, we want the language to match the type of product or service we’re looking for but there’s no one sized fits all approach – and that to me makes writing websites with clients that much more thrilling! But to clients, that much more daunting as there’s no easy template to follow.
The way you stand out from the crowd and sing your song online, is to present as as richly aware business owner, one who uses that awareness to just be you, sharing your unique voice and style; and aligning that with what your client wants and needs to hear. Say it simply with a dash of you. Which is exactly how I like my coffee – just a simple black coffee with a dash of cold milk. No fluffy bits.
Your homepage needs to be so simple with its words that it hurts. It needs to clearly show the words that define who you are – photographer, videographer, yoga teacher – but it also needs to exude all those other aspects of yourself. This extends to your websites menu.
Here’s a tiny example of menu words from a visual communications firm in Brisbane – Soul Stirring Branding. Instead of using the word “Testimonials” Emma uses the words “Kind Words” in her menu. To me, that’s super clear that she’s about being Kind. She values kindness. So just from those two words that are far less corporate than Testimonials (and that word still be right in some instances), makes me want to work with her. Just those two words make me feel like she knows her own voice, she’s confident to use her own words cause she knows herself, and that in business you can have a focus on kindness. Beautiful!
Many people feel that that something extra only comes with design elements and they certainly should help the tune along, but words can actually help you impart that roundedness of what you offer. The whole human and her diverse background of skills and values. You find how to communicate and say what you’re about in finding your voice. And that again, comes in getting to know you.
I go through finding your voice with people in website writing courses and consultations. It’s why I put so much emphasis on meeting up with a client so that I can hear conversations, see the whole person and isolate how they say things. It’s also why I engage story telling in writing a website with clients.
Your About page can tell a story. It doesn’t need to promote what degree you have just with a dot point. Stories can share the specifics of you, like your education and work background, but the way you say that and phrase it, and all the things that sit around your education and working background impart that extra something special in your voice. And visitors that like to work with sexy and heart-centred people like us really get a lot out of hearing your story said in your way.
But for stories to flow out of you, you have to be willing to open something up inside of you to get to know yourself (good bits and maybe not so good bits), you have to go inward and you have to nestle in to a lot more about yourself than simply a CV style. Without that deep self-awareness, which journaling and conversations with casual interviewers like myself, your website words can be lackluster, and actually out of tune with your vibrant self. When we go to write something without thinking, without taking time out to breathe and reflect on the purpose of the writing task and our own voice, our writing is not at its best. We aren’t communicating fully.
So we’ve talked about simple wording on your homepage and stories in About pages, the other area you can really allow your voice and personality to sing on your website is to have a blog.
The majority of our webpages will be fairly unchanging. But a blog page is dynamic, fresh and new. One of the best parts about blogging is that the words really can be – and people even expect them to be – about you, your voice, perspective and opinion. They can be self-exploratory, reflective, inspiring or educative. Or anything you want. It can be responsive too. So writing on a hot topic that’s tickles your thoughts. Blogging can encourage you to stay engaged with your field by connecting your ideas to others and contributing to the online conversation. It can be a way for you to explore your own voice as you go.
One of the best approaches to blogging I’ve found – and I think they make for a more sing-songy website – is to use your blogging as a way to review how you’ve worked on your projects. Reflection is one of the best tools we can employ to learn and grow – and it’s usually free or just takes a bit of our time.
These project or client project posts can be a way for you to communicate to your following what you did, what ideas you drew from, what the successes were, what the learnings were, and how it’s now working for the client – an outcome focus. In this way you are creating what I call, a more a livelier, voiced portfolio in other words. And you’re becoming better connected to your process and the rounded product and service that are unique to you. So blogging helps you figure yourself out a bit more, whilst sharing your voice.
As it happens, I run blogging workshops regularly, and I’d love for you to join them. They’re really relaxed, with a bunch of people like us, and we all support each other to write what we need to, to give our website’s words a tuneful boost on a regular basis. I’m also running a blogging course in June/July and if you’re keen to know more, please let me know.
Just to wrap up… so that we can eat… your website’s words are a reflection of who you are. They can’t be written well without better understanding yourself, in business and out. You can make your website’s words sing a stronger tune if you keep your words simple, tell stories in your own way, and offer fresh content regularly through a blog.
This might sound a bit forward but, if you’re in business,
- Do you really know what you’re offering?
- Do you know the YOU in business?
- Do you know how to define yourself for the sake of easy communication, without forgetting all the other good bits we offer people?
- Do you allow your unique self to shine through in your website’s voice or are you more comfortable hiding behind corporate or standard writing?
- Are you willing to write so simply it hurts?
- Are you willing to tell your story, in your way?
- And are you willing to use writing to regularly build on your website’s compendium of words? And also actively explore your own voice?
Why not take some time to think about it, start some conversations on the topics I’ve raised and see where it takes you. Or ask someone to review your website to see what they gather from it. It’s really hard to funnel our bright whole selves into the confines of a website. If you’ve struggled with it, you’re not alone and there are wordy people out there who’d love to help!