copywritingA guest blog from Rachel Williams, professional copywriter.

A few weeks ago I was driving down the A3 and had to smile as I overtook a small van. It belonged to a decorator and the company name and logo was emblazoned over its sides and rear, supported by the strapline ‘decorative specialists’. The image that sprang instantly to mind was a bunch of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen-types standing around trying to look lovely – but not doing much of anything useful. Probably not quite the vision this particular company intended.

On another day I read the latest Ofsted report on my son’s old nursery but found myself completely distracted by the quality (or not) of the writing and the fact that the report was littered with mistakes. And these are the people who make judgements on our children’s education?! I’ve always endeavoured to believe in the worth of Ofsted, but this one report has seriously dented my opinion and I am now questioning whether I am right to put my trust in an organisation that clearly doesn’t check the reports it publishes.

Okay, so the first example is a harmless mis-use of an adjective, and the second is not about marketing communications, but they both affected my reaction to each business/organisation. I know that I am a complete pedant and not everyone will be as bothered as me about spelling, grammar or punctuation, but anyone running a small business should never underestimate the importance of well written copy. Maybe you have to do it yourself because your marketing budget is tight, that’s fine, but if spelling is your weakness keep a dictionary nearby – or, even easier, run your copy through a spell check before you upload it to your website or send a leaflet to print.

At the end of the day it’s all about how people perceive you and your business. Just as a professionally printed leaflet will look better than something that has been hastily cobbled together and badly photocopied because the inks are running out, sending out marketing messages that are poorly written will not fill any of your potential customers with confidence in your ability to deliver a good service.

It’s always a good idea to ask someone else to be a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ (something that even Sarah and I do often!), to proofread your copy for basic mistakes and to give it a sense check i.e. do they understand what you’re trying to say and, more importantly, do they understand what you want them to do as a result of reading the copy. If they don’t realise that you want them to make a phone call to find out more about your service or that your product will change their life forever, then it’s time to go back to your keyboard and do some fine tuning.

Of course, we’re all only human and mistakes do happen, messages get muddled (and it’s not the sole preserve of small businesses mindful of spending the pennies – believe me, I’ve seen some howlers in lots of heavyweight corporate literature too), but just a little careful thought about the words you use will help present your business in a much more positive light – reputations are hard won and how you come across in any piece of communication goes a long way to giving your business real credibility.