The myth of ‘sounding professional’ in B2B writing

“I struggle to sound professional when I’m writing for work.”

It’s not an unusual comment from people who aren’t in communications but might have to write stories for internal newsletters, intranet or even external stories.

So how do you sound professional when writing for work? I would counter that questions with: What does professional B2B writing look and sound like?

Close up of a man in a business suit straightening his tie. Representative of the false image of a professional 'look'.
Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

There is a common misconception that sounding ‘professional’ in B2B writing means using a different language to what you would use in a normal conversation.

That sounding professional means using long, fancy words, jargon and ‘corporate speak’.

And following certain rules that were drilled in when studying English at school, such as starting a sentence with ‘and’ as I’ve just done.

But that’s like saying that you aren’t professional unless you wear a suit and work in an office.

It’s stuff and nonsense. Being professional is about being skilled at what you do first and foremost.

The key purpose of B2B writing

And, just as labelling a certain way of dressing as professional misses the point, so does the idea that you have to write in a certain way.

Yes, correct English and spelling are good ideas, but using words and phrases you wouldn’t use when talking to people ignores the key purpose of B2B writing: To communicate.

If you want to communicate a piece of news, pass on information or get people to do something, you need to write in a way that is clear, concise and engages your audience.

And the easiest way to do that is to use familiar words and phrases – the language you would use in conversation.

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And another thing…How to keep B2B writing focused

This is something I get asked about a lot: How do I keep my B2B writing focused and to the point.

There is a temptation to cover a lot of ground in articles and stories, particularly when it’s a big topic. Sustainability is the one I find hardest to keep succinct.

Slightly out of focus picture of the word Focus spelt out in lights
Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

It can be difficult seeing the wood for the trees when you have a lot of information to work with and so much seems relevant.

Writing for print can be easier because you have to keep to specific word counts, but most content is online these days, so word counts are far more flexible.

In my early years as a magazine features writer, I quickly learnt how to hone in on what is critical for the article. We were time-poor, and overwriting, then editing down just wasn’t an efficient way of working.

Going a little bit over was fine as it was easy to cut words tightening up the copy in the edit. But having to cut out huge chunks to make it fit the page just made the writing process more time-consuming.

There would inevitably be far more information than I could include in a feature, so I learned to plan out my features and keep it focused.

Carefully plan your article

Spending time planning before you put your fingers on the keyboard makes writing much quicker and can stop you from getting overwhelmed by too much information – or sidetracked. Here’s what you can do.

List of the main points you want to make. If that list is getting long, then think about how you can trim it down or break it up into more manageable chunks.

Remember, stuff you dump from this piece can be content topics for another day, so don’t bin it completely.

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How to create B2B content around an award win

Every industry has awards, and winning is great, of course. But how much B2B content can you create around your win?

Picture of a gold winners trophy cup.
Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

A lot of work goes into putting together an awards entry. Pulling together the information, data, images, testimonials and writing a submission that will grab the judges attention.

Your awards entry is the story of your business journey and achievements. It’s the story of a particularly successful project or product.

It’s the story of why you do what you do and what makes you stand out from your competitors. It’s all about what makes you or what you do the best in your industry.

All of which makes fantastic B2B content on your website, social media and a potential press story.

Leverage your win

This is more than writing about how ‘delighted’ you were and posting a picture.

It’s making the most of the work you did putting the entry together – and the work that won you the award.

Here are a few ideas for how to create B2B content around your award win:

1. Tell the story of what won you the award

Lifting the shiny new award was the easy bit. Getting to that point no doubt involved hard work, so write about what was involved.

What were your goals and how did you achieve them?

There were probably some ups and downs along the way. So tell the story of what you had to overcome, what the challenges were, how you solved them, and what you learned along the way.

Use that to frame what the award win means to you and your business.

You could also tease what’s next to move the story on.

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Is your B2B content alienating your readers?

I read a piece of B2B content yesterday. Well I tried to read it.

The content writer was obviously well-educated and had tried to be clever in how they presented key points but instead had made the piece inaccessible.

Notice board that says 'Insert Something Cleve
Photo by Olivia Bauso on Unsplash

It was already a technical topic but was peppered with historical references to illustrate what they were trying to say.

References that didn’t mean anything to me and had to look up.

I was so busy trying to work out the historical references I ended up not really understanding the points the content writer was trying to make.

The thing is, if your audience finds your B2B content difficult to read and understand, there is a good chance they will probably throw in the towel rather than persevere.

Or if they don’t get a particular refererence, they may misunderstand your point.

Using unfamiliar references can also alienate your audience, which is the opposite of what you want.

Your copy may even give a whiff of showing off or sound slightly smug and knowing.

Encourage reader engagement

None of which is particularly good for encouraging reader engagement.

If your target audience is engineers with a love of medieval literature, then fine, reference The Wife of Bath (Chaucer) in a piece about designing steel supports for large glass feature windows.

But if the majority of your audience don’t have a penchant for old English fiction, then it’s probably best to leave Chaucer on the bookshelf.

You could explain the reference if it’s easy to do so, but only if it doesn’t hugely detract from the flow of the piece.

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3 ways to turn a conversation into B2B content

If you write B2B content for your business, there’s a strong chance you’ll have to create blog posts and articles based on conversations you’ve had with colleagues/clients.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

There are different ways to approach it depending on how you want to use the conversation and get the information across. For example, how much of the ‘interviewees’ voice do you want in your piece of B2B content?

Here are three different styles of write up to consider with pros and cons:

1. Simple Q&A

This can be the easiest way of getting across someone’s thoughts and ideas on a topic.

Writing up can be easy, too, particularly if you carefully plan your questions.

If you can, order your questions so that there is logical flow to them.

This means, when you come to write up your Q&A, you’ve already got a structure, so it’s just a case of trimming and editing the answers into coherent (and concise) written English.

If it’s been a more organic conversation, it can make it more tricky to pin down specific questions and answers. And you’ll have to work out a logical structure.

Q&A style interviews, because of their structure, means it’s harder to give context and background or set the scene (planning your questions can help).

But while you can rewrite your question to introduce a particular point, you don’t want them to be long and rambling.

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