Finding your passionate voice
January 17, 2005
If you don’t regularly add fresh content written in your own personal voice to your small business web site, you are essentially producing nothing but “brochureware”. The net is full of dead-end typed-in brochures; they don’t get traffic, and they don’t make sales.
Think about what you feel when you go to one of those “brochureware” sites. The old gag is that “on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” – in other words, you tend to be perceived as you appear to be. If you put up a remorselessly stolid, impersonal, corporate-looking site, it should come as no surprise that you and your business are perceived as stolid, impersonal and corporate.
Think about the business relationships you’ve appreciated most — have they been cold and impersonal? Or has there been a human face and voice involved, a personal touch? Diva Marketing talks about using business weblogs to try to to re-create the “corner grocery store relationship”, in order to humanize the online business experience. Shel Isreal at “The Red Couch” puts the need to evade the impersonal corporate feel more bluntly — “blog or die”. Hugh Macleod (whose “How to be creative” should be mandatory reading on this topic anyway) sums up the corporate world’s fear of weblogging neatly – “I’m sorry if your calcified little fear culture doesn’t like blogs. Dinosaurs didn’t like meteors, either.”
Regardless of whether you’re using a weblog or not (although if there is a simpler way to keep freshly updated content on your site, I don’t know what it is), you need to let your hair down and and get personal with the people who visit your site.
Finding my voice didn’t (and doesn’t still) come easy for me — too many years of writing corporate documents and consulting whitepapers makes me tend to write in a bland, third person (I’d probably write in the 33rd person if I could find it,) passive voice where I never use one word when 22 will do.
So what do I do when I find myself doing this? I edit (and edit, and edit). I re-write until it’s right. It’s sometimes a pain in the butt, but it works.
What I find works better, however, is writing about stuff I’m passionate about. Things that elate me, or (more often, to be honest) things that annoy me. When I’m passionate about a topic, writing personally comes a lot easier. I’m passionate about the topic of small business web site design because I’m so very, very tired of seeing bad sites, hosting bad sites, and (worst of all) working on bad sites. No more bad sites! (Please?)
Writing about things that I’m passionate about takes a lot less editing. It takes some, because I grew up speaking “fluent mechanic”, and when I write passionately, I tend to lean towards colorful language. That’s okay, we’ll catch it during the edit.
What is it about your business that you’re passionate about? What thrills you? What pisses you off? Write about it!
If there’s nothing about your business that you’re passionate about, you’d better find something — because if you don’t, I guarantee it will be clear to those who visit your site.
If you’re not excited about what you do, why should you expect a potential customer to be?
It’s a big damn ‘net — if your site looks like you’re not passionate about your stuff, then it’s two clicks to go on to the next search engine result.
If I’m looking for information regarding faucets, I want to find the site of the guy who’s absolutely fascinated with plumbing fixtures. Someone who will tell me why I should buy brass or stainless steel, and probably why I’m a moron if I choose the wrong one.
Even if I’m just looking for how to fix a leaky faucet, when the day comes for me to buy a faucet, or hire a plumber, whose site am I going to want to go back to? Somebody who scanned in a set of catalog numbers? Or the guy who’s nuts about faucets? Give me the crazy guy, every time.
The corollary is, of course, be passionate, but be topical. If you want to share your opinions on last night’s movie or pictures of your cat, put them on a personal site somewhere. Writing a personal blog (away from your business website) can even help make it easier for you to get in the habit of writing fresh content for both sites.