Dan Furman is a Writer, Business Author, and Entrepreneurial Consultant. Each day, wherever he goes, he brings with him 25+ years of writing, business, and sales experience. Supermarket? 25 years of experience rides in the shopping cart. Dentist’s office? 25 years of experience waits patiently in the corner. Laundromat? Dan Furman doesn’t go the laundromat. Yeah, the Furmans bought a new washer and dryer set two year ago… runs like a charm. Anyways, point is, Dan’s not just a man, he’s also the man. He runs Clear-Writing.com and has written several books including “Do the Web Write: Writing for and Marketing Your Website.” Yup, he knows his stuff. He graciously let us ask him 10 questions about the keys to writing for the web and beyond.
1. You provide a wealth of writing services, from copywriting to press releases to blogs. Does wearing so many hats mean you’re the owner of a larger-than-average hat rack?
Not really – my style of writing fits pretty well for most writing needs. I’m just as likely to write web copy for a large corporation as a sales letter for a small store. I like to call my style “professionally casual” – it’s “corporate” enough for most companies, and engaging / plain-English enough to be easily understood.
2. What does professional writing do for a website that regular writing doesn’t?
Well, it’s not so much the “professional writing” (in terms of a thing) as hiring a professional writer. I write to get an action. I look to address readers and let them know why they should do business with whatever website I am writing for. There’s a definite art in writing to persuade.
3. What are some telltale signs of subpar corporate communications writing?
If the intended reader is the least bit confused, the writing has failed. Also, the writing should be enjoyable to read – look, we stopped reading things because we had to the minute we graduated school, right? So the writing has to make people want to read more. Most people cannot write in a way that makes people want to read it.
4. What are “two-second scanners” and what are the keys to lassoing in these wily creatures?
Two second scanners are people who go to a website, take a quick glance, then make a decision to move on or stay. You need a few “easy to see” words/phrases (subheadings / bullet points) to grab them. For example, if they are looking for deep sea fishing lures (and that’s what your website sells), you need to make this extremely apparent right away. But you’d be surprised at how many companies would rather talk about their longevity and awards instead of telling people right away what they do.
5. Press releases can often be drier than new Arrid Extra Dry. How do you make a PR fluff piece pop?
I like to use quotes from company principals (generally, I write them for them.) That livens things up nicely. But one of the big misconceptions about PR’s is they are NOT straight marketing pieces – nobody is making a sale from a press release. It’s not supposed to be “wow, I need this product.”
6. How do you turn an SEO-laden blog post or article into something that’s actually entertaining to read?
Truthfully, I don’t really worry about SEO in my writing. It’ll just happen naturally in writing about whatever subject I am writing about. Yes, I may write an article slanted towards a certain keyphrase, but any six year old can get the keyphrase into the title. I worry more about my reader than stuffing keywords (which doesn’t work anyway – SEO has become a huge joke. Just be the best site you can be for your industry and the SEO will work itself out.)
7. You bill yourself as “America’s Plain-English Business Expert”. Does that mean slang, smileys, and hash tags? Or is there a line you have to draw between trendy tech-related talk and professional-yet-casual copy?
Nah, I’m not a huge fan of that stuff. Smileys can be ok from time to time, but the other stuff changes quickly. Are Hash Tags going to matter in a decade? Probably not. I also sometimes cringe a little when I see some button down professional using a hashtag on his site. If you use a hashtag anywhere, you’d better be a twitter fiend. Otherwise, it reeks of dishonesty (it’s like when VP nominee Paul Ryan said his playlist started with AC/CD and ended with Zeppelin… I wish somebody would have asked him to name five Zeppelin songs.)
8. What types of companies do you find are often desperately in need of some polished prose?
Almost all of them. Small companies write their own copy, and are generally very boring to read (the boss wrote something and said to his or her spouse “is this good”, and the spouse, in the interest of not fighting, says “yea, sure”). Large companies tend to try and be like everyone else and sound really corporate. Lots of “solution-based solutions” and the like. Again, business writing has to make you WANT to read it, and you have to totally understand it. Otherwise, it failed.
9. Have you ever written copy for a client that they didn’t really like at first, but then wound up loving the results?
Indeed I have. In fact, lots of times I write things a business owner would never have thought to write. But the proof is in results. I’ve doubled/ tripled/quadrupled sales overnight just by changing some copy on a website.
10. When ghostwriting, how do you find the voice of the person or company you are writing for? And is wearing a white sheet and speaking in a high-pitched tone necessary, or is that just us taking the term too literally?
See, I think a low moan and a black sheet is waaaaaay scarier. To answer the question, however, in general terms, I become the voice. While I do sometimes alter my style to my client (for some clients, I can be super casual, for others, more professional), in the end, they are getting “Dan Furman’s take on their stuff”.
Dan Furman is the author of “Do the Web Write: Writing for and Marketing Your Website” and the writing force behind Clear-Writing.com.