Telling Your Business Story Online

I think it’s possible that the recession might be coming to an end. I can’t base this view on hardcore economic research, but I can base it on the fact that there’s been an upswing in people looking for my business writing services. I’ve written lots of web content in the last couple of months, and just today, I met another client to get a feel for what they were looking for on their website.

When I’m writing web content, I draw on my journalism training and my creative writing skills. I use the journalism to help me gather the content and the creative writing to come up with words that will create the right impact. The overall aim is to tell the story of a business in the way that makes it stand out.

Why It’s Important to Get the Story

I like to meet the people before I start writing their content, so I can capture the commitment and passion they have for their business. Words like story and passion sound a bit wishy washy to most business people. They just want to get the job done. Besides, they figure that the content they already have will tell me what I need to know.

Yet they also want their business to stand out in the marketplace, and a storytelling approach is one of the best ways to do that. I explain that to them, and depending on who I’m talking to, I explain that talking to them about their business will help me to understand their business better and will help me create content that’s individual to them.

People find the idea of gathering their thoughts together intimidating, so I gather the information from them in a way that causes them the least hassle. They’re not supposed to spend hours answering my questions – that’s why they’ve hired a writer. Some people are happy to answer questions by return of email, some will chat through them on the phone, and others like to do it face to face.

The list of questions I draw up are based on four central questions.

Why – I always start by asking them why they set up their business. It connects them to the passion that led them to start the business, and it gives them a chance to show how innovative they are, as they may have spotted a need that no-one else was fulfilling. I also ask them why their customers should choose them over their competitors, which gives them a chance to boast.

What – This is the question that comes down to brass tacks, but what a business actually sells can get lost in the rush to sell yourself. People go onto your website because they want to know what you do, and search engines also want to know what you do, so you tell them.

Who – Of course, businesses want to sell to everyone, but there are certain people who are more likely to buy from them than others. It can be helpful to define who they are, so you can use the language that will appeal most to them and show them how you can meet their needs.

How – People don’t want to be bored by a lot of technical detail, but I always ask the businesses how they create their products or deliver their services. It gives them the chance to show that they’re experts, and also demonstrate that they go the extra mile for their customers.

How do you tell the story of your business, or the story behind your book, in your online content?

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My Big Fat Funded Writing Project

I’ve realised for a while now that if you want to cut it in the arts world, you need to get yourself some funding. It’s second only to publishing as a writerly status symbol. I was always a bit daunted by the idea, the questions on the application forms, especially the money ones, and all that extra documentation you have to gather. It always seemed that there were too many hoops to jump.

But I also realised that if I want to take my practice as a facilitator of creative writing workshops to the next level, I needed to engage with the wider arts community. And if I found a project I was really passionate about, that passion would overcome the fear of jumping through hoops.

Lightbulb Moment

One day I received a link on Facebook from the Director of Arts and Disability Ireland, for an arts project called Arts and Disability Connect. It’s a project which encourages artists with disabilities across all artforms to collaborate with arts organisations. It can be any kind of project. Being visually impaired, I qualified.

When I read the link, a lightbulb went off in my mind. I had been thinking for some time about doing creative writing classes for blind and visually impaired people which would culminate in an anthology of their writing. Here was the perfect opportunity to make it happen. I was planning to go to the Irish Writers’ Centre (IWC) for a conference and I decided to ask them to be my partner organisation.

Many Meetings

When I went to the conference, I was introduced to the Director by another writer who I knew, and I blurted out my little spiel. I happened to be going to Dublin again a few days later for a meeting, so she said she’d meet me then. My pistons were firing, and I decided to also arrange a meeting with the Director of the National Council of Ireland’s (NCBI) training centre, who I had tentatively approached about doing a creative writing class.

So I had my whirlwind of meetings and plans began to fall into place. The NCBI Director said I could use his centre and that he would help me find people to take part in the project. The IWC Director said that they would be my partner organisation if I sent her a draft application and draft budget within a few days, as she was heading off on a week’s holidays. Gulp.

Luckily, I was meeting a savvy business friend for lunch two days later, and she was a great help in the struggle to decide what my expenses to submit. But between us, we managed to get the books to balance.

Drafting the Application

I had already made notes based on some of the questions on the application form. On the advice of the writer I knew at the conference, I had tried to use the words used on the application form, like collaborate, develop, feasible, relationship etc. I formulated these into proper answers to the questions, based on my notes and the information I had gathered at my two meetings.

I fired off my draft and was rewarded with a phonecall from the IWC Director saying she was impressed with my application and was happy to be my partner organisation. She supplied me with her signature for the application form and a CV for herself and for the IWC.

Still, my work wasn’t done. I had to assemble various bits of documentation. My savvy business friend scanned the signature page of the application form and sent it to me. Again, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was on the home stretch now. But the thing is, there’s always more to these applications than you think.

Scramble for the Finish

Three days before the due date, I took a casual look at the checklist of documentation I had to submit, which actually included a document containing a list of supporting documentation! It said I needed a letter of commitment from the IWC. Major gulp. The Director wasn’t due back from holidays until the day before the application was due. I’d mentioned the letter to her, but it had slipped both our minds.

Luckily, I came up with a solution. I rang the Assistant Director and suggested I draft up the letter, and then the Director could sign it when she returned. The signed letter pinged into my office on the afternoon of her return. I decided to sprint the home stretch and put all of the final touches together.

I fine tuned my wording, gathered samples of my work, tweaked my CV, went onto the file transfer site, uploaded the many files, checked them and checked them and checked them, then hit send and allowed all the air to go out of my body.

Current State of Play

The application is now with the good people at Arts and Disability Ireland and awaits their approval. If I am successful, the funding will be from them and from the Arts Council. I will also give you updates about the project on this blog as it unfolds. If am unsuccessful, you will hear no more about it. I will be in a corner, licking my wounds. But I am quietly confident (or deluded, depending on your point of view) that I’ll succeed.

Have any of you ever applied for Arts Council funding or any other type of arts funding? How did you find the experience?

How to Lay Out Dialogue

One of the issues that regularly crops up in my creative writing class centres on how to lay out dialogue. Beginning writers tend to write their dialogue in one big block. ‘Did you see that Anna got her hair cut?’ said Sadie. ‘No I didn’t,’ said Yvonne. Laying out dialogue like this makes it hard to read and means the manuscript doesn’t flow as well as it might.

There are a few simple techniques you can use to ensure that your dialogue is laid out in a way that makes your manuscript look more professional for publisher, and more importantly, makes your dialogue easier to read.

Separate It Out

Every time a character speaks, their dialogue gets its own line. When one person finishes speaking, you move to the next line and write the other person’s reply.

‘Did you see that Anna got her hair cut?’ said Sadie.

‘No, I did not,’ said Yvonne.

‘Looks horrible.’ etc.

He Said/She Said.

Another trap beginners fall into is to tag each line of dialogue, telling the reader who said what. The reader will figure it out from the flow of conversation. When two people are speaking, you only need to indicate who starts the conversation. The reader will will know from the story who they are.

‘Did you see Anna got her hair cut?’

‘No I didn’t.’

‘Looks horrible.’

If there are multiple people taking part in the conversation, you will need to indicate who’s speaking, or it’ll get confusing. But you still won’t need to do it all the time, because the reader will pick up who is speaking.

Quotation Marks

It’s standard practice in UK English now to use single quotation marks for dialogue, and double quotation marks for quotes within a sentence. US English uses the reverse. So it’s:

‘Did you see that Anna got her hair cut?’ said Sadie.

and

‘Did you see that “The Ice Queen,” as we call her, got her hair cut,’ said Sadie.

What issues do you struggle with when laying out your dialogue, in terms of physical layout and style?