Biz Ladies: Finding Your Voice

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from Kate Kiefer Lee of MailChimp. Kate has assisted businesses in mastering their communication and brand voices and today she shares a few tips on how to find the voice that best suits your brand/business.  Thanks Kate for this helpful post! –Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump…

Your voice is what makes readers feel like they’re catching up with a close friend when they visit your website. The best brand voices reflect real people, and writing in your own voice should come naturally to you. But as your audience grows and your content evolves, it’s important to make sure your style is consistent and professional. Defining your voice helps you keep your content in check, and it can make your life a lot easier when you start hiring writers or working with vendors. Here are some tips for finding and articulating your brand’s voice:

Be Yourself

If you’re new to the publishing world, you might still be finding your voice. That’s the fun part! Your brand’s voice is a reflection of you—your values, sense of humor, and unique perspective on the world. Start defining your voice by asking yourself some questions, like:

What’s my company’s mission?

What are my publishing goals?

How do I want people to feel when they read what I write?

What makes my company special?

You should be able to answer those questions if you want to have a consistent and friendly brand voice. After some quality brainstorming time, write down your mission statement. A mission statement sums up why your company or blog exists. It’s different from a tagline, which is a memorable phrase you use on your site and in your marketing. Here are a few examples of mission statements from brands you probably know:

[Starbucks]: To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

[TED]: Spreading ideas

[Apple]: Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

[Google]: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

[Gap, Inc.]: A leading global specialty retailer offering clothing, accessories and personal care products for men, women, children and babies. With about 136,000 employees and over 3,000 company-operated stores and over 300 franchise stores, our presence is felt around the world.

You don’t have to publish your mission statement (though you can if you want to!), but it should come through in everything you write. A mission statement is a great reminder to create content that reflects your values. Try reading your work out loud to make sure you sound like yourself, and that your values are represented. Sometimes it helps to read it as if you’re talking or writing to a specific person—maybe a friend or family member. That puts you in a conversational mindset and helps you connect with your audience on a more personal level. It also helps you self-edit for clarity and typos.

We all have a lot to learn from each other, and you probably have favorite blogs and writers you admire. It’s tempting to try to sound a little more like them, but resist the urge.  Be true to yourself and write in your own voice, because your unique perspective is what brings customers back for more. People connect with content that comes from a place of honesty, and your readers can probably spot a fake from a mile away.

If you’re a one-woman shop and you write your own blog, there’s no need to speak in the plural first person (“We’re so excited about this new product”) to trick readers or advertisers into thinking you’re a larger company. If you write, edit, design, and publish your own content, then be proud of that! It means you’re independent and capable, and you call your own shots. Readers don’t know or care how large your audience is—they care what you have to say.

Be Professional

Regardless of your company’s size, a consistent voice makes it clear that you’ve got your act together. Grammar matters, too: No matter how useful your content is or how friendly your voice is, your blog won’t come across as professional if it’s full of technical mistakes. Sloppy writing distracts people from your content and personality. Not to mention, advertisers like to see professional-looking websites—spending a few extra minutes a day perfecting your spelling and grammar can literally pay off. Read over every post and every bit of copy you publish, keeping a close eye on spelling and grammar. You might even want to have a friend look over your drafts before you publish them. Keep a style guide on hand for reference (The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is a great place to start), and make sure the conventions you use all the time are consistent. For example: If you run an online store, determine capitalization and formatting standards for product names and descriptions. If you publish a blog, standardize your post titles, tags, and categories. The details add up.

Make Room to Grow

Your content will get better over time, and your style will change. Embrace that evolution, and trust that your readers will grow with you. If you expand your brand by opening a store, hiring writers and designers, or accepting new clients, then you should put together a brand guide to keep everyone on the same page. Include your style guidelines, voice and tone standards, and brand assets like logos and images.

Analytics and sales numbers allow you to watch your business and readership grow. Those numbers are useful, but there’s a time and a place for them. As a growing business, stats can be your worst enemy. If you find yourself getting obsessed with improving your numbers and attracting advertisers, then take a step back. Think about why you started your company in the first place, and reflect on that mission statement you wrote. When you’re writing content you’d be proud of even if nobody read it, you’ll know you’ve found your voice.

Laura at Rather Square

This is good advice to those of use new to blogging and trying to stay true to our own voices and points of view. Being professional and personal at the same time is a challenge, but a worthwhile one!

Marlene

I’ve been struggling with finding my voice for a long time! I don’t think I have one yet. Can you recommend an e-curse that’s oriented to finding your voice?

Marcia

Another great post! And thank you for addressing my pet peeve – people (women, usually) who write in the first person plural. (“We’re so excited about this new product”). There’s nothing wrong with sending the message — “Hey, it’s just me, working my butt off because I’m passionate about what I do and want you to be, too!” In fact, I find the more you let people know that it IS just you trying to make a go of your dreams, the more willing they are to help you out any way they can!

Christina

This is the golden nugget here: “When you’re writing content you’d be proud of even if nobody read it, you’ll know you’ve found your voice.” Absolutely true!

Jeanne

Thanks for this informative and interesting post. As a copy editor, I’d like to emphasize your point on checking spelling and grammar. If that’s not your strong suit, hire someone to make it look professional. I can’t tell you how many blogs I would delete because of this inattention to detail—blogs that were otherwise interesting. Mistakes show an “I don’t care” attitude.

Miriam Freibauer

Very grateful for a post where women help other women succeed! Thank you for all the insights and inspiration which I will use to help with my small business venture.

Justine

I loved this post. I worked hard to develop my brand voice and found the process surprisingly enjoyable and gratifying. I must confess I am guilty of slipping into the first person plural now and again (though I agree there’s no god reason for it). I’ve made a mental note to keep it in check! Thanks for the great post.

Amy Ward

Thanks so much! This was just a little smidge of information to get me started as I start my website and blog.

FYI: amywardcreates.com is a work in progress. I am just trying out themes at this point!

Melissa McLawhorn

Thank you for this post. I have immersed myself in articles, blogs, and even books on how I can enhance my online handmade jewelry business. I purchased the book “Handmade Market Place” by Kari Chapin and learned about your website. I was not disappointed.

Janie Bartlett

Great information thanks. Its always great to be reminded to stay true to yourself and your own tone of voice. Thanks

Shannon @ Caravan Pacific

Thank you so much for this post! I always feel that the content on Biz Ladies is in synch with my personal life. I’ve found it really challenging in developing my own voice with my business because of my shyness and apprehension to judgement- thanks for giving me some confidence to keep moving forward. It’s hard work expressing yourself!

Shannon

I really appreciate your advice- I’ve heard the ‘speak to one person’ note before. It took me awhile to find ‘that’ person it’s helping me define my voice AND my products. Thank you for the insight!

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