If you’ve clicked around much, you’ve heard me squawking about how to write for a business for a few weeks now. First touting the lucrative benefits on The Write Life, then a free webinar with Andrea Emerson on how to get started, and then today on the Horkey Handbook.
Now, all this talk about making a great income doing great writing is well and good, but most writers don’t have experience writing for a B2B audience. You can make your own experience, but there are some basics you need to get a grip on so that the spec work you develop is as compelling as possible.
Today, I’m going to dig a bit deeper into the nuts and bolts of B2B writing to help you get your head on straight and write for a business. So, please let me introduce three important business concepts for writing for businesses:
Write for a Business Concept One: Understand the Hierarchy of Business Needs
The mindset of writing for a consumer is very different from writing for a business. While consumers have certain needs — to get a deal, to solve a problem, to avoid a danger — businesses have others. Fortunately, Seth Godin put this into an easy-to-remember hierarchy of business needs:
- Avoiding risk
- Avoiding hassle
- Gaining praise
- Gaining power
- Having fun
- Making a profit
Every business is motivated by different variations on these six goals, and this helps you write for a business in two ways:
First, you’ll use this list to inform how you approach writing when you write on behalf of a business. You address the business’s customers need to avoid risk and hassle and have fun and make a profit, etc.
Second, you’ll use this list to inform how you approach a business to write for them. You show them they are avoiding risk by working with you to market their company effectively and having fun and making a profit because you’re such a great writer, etc.
Write for a Business Concept Two: Don’t Be Afraid to Come Back to the Bottom Line
Last week I had a phone call in which the client explicitly told me that they’re investing in their content to help them grow their revenue. And here’s the thing: even if your client doesn’t say this out loud, this is what they’re thinking.
So while “making a profit” was already mentioned in the business hierarchy above, it’s worth it’s own bullet point to encourage you to think about your writing from this perspective.
Even if your client doesn’t say it out loud, they’re thinking about the ROI of hiring you.
It’s very American of us, but business writing always comes back to the bottom line: What the business does for its customer and how you can communicate that in the most compelling format, tone, and style possible.
As you write a white paper, article, or case study, you must keep this mindset at the top of your mind and every word you write must refer back to the bottom line.
Write for a Business Concept Three: Understand How Businesses Are Structured
If you’re like most people, you’ve been an employee all your life. You know that HR is in charge of benefits and if you have any question about your salary you should check with payroll. But other than that, we don’t really think about what a business wants and what it does beyond how our job plays into it.
Every department within a business has its own identity
In reality, every department within a business has its own identity. If you want to be hired by one section, you need to understand its values and its place within the company. Here’s a very, very simple and basic breakdown of the different departments and stakeholders within a typical corporation that you can use as a jumping board for researching potential clients and B2B writing markets:
What you write and who you target will depend on the type of writing you do and the client you prefer to work with. Understanding that target client’s motivations and place within the company will give you deeper insights into that client’s specific business needs.
For example, since HR is often seen as a necessary expense within a company, the department is likely more concerned with gaining praise and avoiding risk than it is with making a profit, while sales is definitely concerned with making a profit over all the other factors on the hierarchy of business needs. How those departments interact with others will determine how you can talk about them, to them, and to their stakeholders.
Again, this insight helps you in two ways:
First, you’ll want to identify which groups you prefer to work with within this organization chart. You may be more comfortable with HR or accounting, or you prefer to work with leadership directly.
Second, when you’ve identified the person within the company you prefer to work with, you need to understand their motivations and challenges based on how they interact with other departments within the company. In general, this means understanding how that department reflects its value to the C-Suite and how it works interdepartmentally to accomplish its goals.
Not Quite B2B-Ready?
These three concepts can go a long way toward getting your feet wet in the B2B content world. However, if you’re going from newbie to B2B, this post alone won’t help you feel confident about writing for businesses. The best way to do it is to do it (AKA create homework for yourself and practice, practice, practice) and continue to research and try new things. Check out these awesome B2B writing resources:
- B2B Launcher (Ed Gandia’s Podcast)
- B2B Writing Success (AWAI)
- 5 Tips for B2B Writing (The Next Web)
- Better Business Writing (Forbes)
- How to Write for B2B (SkyWord)
- Crazy Successful B2B Marketing Content (Marketing Zen)
- B2B Marketing Examples (HubSpot)
Ask Away… and Check Out the B2B Writing Institute
You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers. Let me know in the comments below if this post leaves something to be desired and I’ll add it!
And of course, I’d be silly not to mention The B2B Writing Institute, which explores the art and science of B2B writing with a forever free foundations course.