Welcome to Business Myths. Here’s the deal: We often hear business “truths” and accept them as true without stopping to question them. We’re chatting with solopreneurs and freelancers who have learned the hard way that these commonly accepted facts may not, in fact, always be true. In this case, Rachel Allen shares her (expert) take on why your client avatar is useless, and what you need to know to really resonate with your readers, instead.
Every industry has its must-have tools. And while those change pretty frequently in the fast-paced, online, small business world — “Webinars are the future! No, Periscope! No, Facebook Live!” — one that’s held steady since the beginning is the client avatar.
You know how it works: You sit down, sketch a stick figure, and write out whether they’re a cat person or a dog person, what they like to do on the weekends, and of course, what their favorite breakfast cereal is.
Just one problem…
When it comes down to it, you still have no idea what to say or how to sell to this person. Funny enough, knowing someone’s cereal preferences doesn’t help you communicate with them in a way that really resonates. Because, just like you, your business, and your brand, your clients are complicated. Multi-layered. And very, very human.
The truth is, most client avatars are absolutely useless.
They’re intended to give you a clear idea of who you’re working for, but they almost always give you a sanitized, surface-level, pod-person version of your audience. And you’re not working with pod people, you’re working with people people, those contradictory, irrational, gloriously-difficult-to-pin-down beings.
It was never about the breakfast cereal.
Client avatar exercises ask you questions about the surface level things in a person’s life as a way of getting at the deeper things about them. But somewhere along the way, the search for that soul-level stuff became conflated with the surface-level stuff — and we started thinking that knowing whether someone owns a cat or a dog can somehow give you insight into what they want, when very often people don’t even really consciously know it themselves.
Why client avatars don’t work
When you do a classic client avatar exercise, you’re primarily focusing on demographics — those quantifiable, external things about a person. But when people fall in love with branding, become a fan of your business, or make a decision to buy, they’re doing that from a place of identity, not logic, and certainly not demographic indicators.
…and that’s why you need psychographics
If you really want to get someone’s attention, develop a relationship with them, and make them want to buy from you, you need to approach them in a way that confirms their perception of their identity. (Which is such a powerful force that people will actually act against their self-interests rather than do something that goes against their identity. Homo economicus, you’re out.)
And to tap into a person’s identity, you need to get a sense of their psychographics — their beliefs, feelings, and assumptions, and why they have them.
Sounds great! So how do I figure all that stuff out?
It’s not as easy as going through a checklist, and there’s no foolproof, six-step template for it (see: “not pod people”).
But that doesn’t mean that you have to fly blind, trying out thing after thing until you finally hit on that magic combination of words and ideas that light your people up…because they’ll tell you, if you know how to listen.
Start with some empirical research
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in trying to figure your target market out is doing it in a vacuum — this guarantees that whatever you come up with is going to be biased towards your own perceptions. Instead of working from the inside out, starting with your own guesses about your clients and learning the hard way whether they’re right or not, start with some objectively verifiable data.
Find out where your people hang out, both online and offline, go there, and <em<listen
And by this, I mean where they actually spend their time. Not relatively general Facebook groups, not generic Twitter chats. Find places that are going to be incredibly specific to them because of their industry, their problems, or where their clients hang out — because chances are, you’ll find them there too, pitching.
Once you’re there, don’t fish for business, or post things like “Hey XYZ-type people, I’m doing some research on my client avatar, what are your problems?” Just listen to what’s being said both explicitly and implicitly, and track any topics you see coming up again and again. This is not a one afternoon thing — you want to do this for at least two weeks to gather enough data.
Once you have an idea of the lay of the land, analyze your repeat topics through three questions:
1. What is this really about?
Try to get below the surface and figure out what this topic is really about for your people. For instance, if you’re constantly seeing people post about wanting a VA, is it because they feel overwhelmed, or because all their business friends are getting one, or because they think they need a VA, when really they need an accountant? What’s the bottom line of both the reality and the belief behind this issue?
Knowing this will help you figure out the language you need to use to share your message and services with them, and makes a great starting point for an about page.
2. Where does it come from?
What beliefs, assumptions, and needs underlie these issues? Are they actually true? If so, where do those needs overlap with your message and your services?
This gives you insight into their beliefs, the chance to debunk false assumptions (and show off your expertise), and guidance on how to tap into your clients’ aspirations.
3. What are the stakes?
What happens to your people if they solve this issue? What happens if they don’t? What do their life and business look like next month if this issue persists? What about next year? And how do you fit into that equation?
Knowing this not only helps you focus on the things your people really need help with, it also gives you a starting point for talking about these issues in sales copy.
It takes time. It’s not a simple process I can upsell you in a 45-minute webinar. But it’s worth it. Because ultimately, you don’t need a client avatar. You need a human-to-human relationship — and there’s just no way to get that from a stick-figure sketch.
These are three things we all want our audience to feel when they read our website.
And the way to allow them to feel all of this? It comes down to your brand personality: the words you use, the images you share and the colours that tie it all together.
But what if, when it comes to personality, your website just… falls short?
Read on. Here, I’ll go into the detail of pinpointing exactly what your brand personality is, and how to use it effectively to attract, engage and connect.
1. Know your audience
Your brand will stand for nothing if it doesn’t connect with your audience.
Which is why it’s important to understand who they are, so you can tailor your messaging to them specifically.
Here’s an exercise that’ll help you understand them:
Look at all the interactions you have with your audience: blog post comments, emails, social media interactions, call notes, etc.
Go to sites your audience engages with that you might not (think forums like reddit.com, news sites, other sites in your niche) and make a list of the questions they ask, advice they want, struggles they detail.
Write down what personality traits you notice, their profession, demographics, etc.
To organize your findings, create a spreadsheet with the following headings and copy and paste the relevant text you found in the steps above into each section:
Problem/Struggles – What specific issues are they writing about? (for example, I don’t know how to start a Facebook group; Creating a header for my website’s a nightmare! or I have too many business ideas and don’t know which one to choose!)
Desired solutions – Note those sentences that start with phrases like: I want help with …, I really want someone to…, I wish I could…
Service or post ideas – Using the text in the above two sections, write all the ideas you now have for services you could offer, or posts you could write, that help solve the problems your audience is struggling with.
Demographic – In this section, write any details you find about their personalities/lives – age, location, cultural interests – anything that helps you define which demographic categories the majority of your audience falls into.
For your copy, the table you populated above is a goldmine of ideas. What patterns do you notice in the kinds of struggles they discuss? What pain points have you identified that you can you address as part of headlines, opening lines or sales copy? Also, what ideas do you have for blog posts, services and products as a result?
2. Simplify the complex
Your personality is yours and yours alone, but it’s never simple. With a personality (and history) that’s complex, how do you simplify this down to core messages that represent your brand and resonate with your target audience you’ve worked so hard to get to know?
The key to brand consistency is to repeat certain, relevant messages, so they stick in the minds of your audience and become associated with you and your brand.
You don’t have to share every detail. To figure out which parts of your personality are significant to share (and worthy of repetition), answer these questions:
What life experiences connect you with others? What difficulties have you experienced, and what risks have you taken (or not taken)?
What are your beliefs? What do you stand for?
What are your cultural influences?
Decide which stories/anecdotes are part of your bigger message, and most significant to the audience you most want to connect with. Start including these in your marketing messages.
From there, pinpoint your brand vocabulary down even further by paying attention to the words you use in your everyday communication. Try this exercise:
Keep a notebook (or app like Evernote) with you for a week and notice the words you use. Which ones do you use repeatedly? Which ones feel satisfying to say?
Jot these down.
Next, take a page on your website, or a blog post you’ve written, and edit it with the words and stories you noted. Slowly edit your work over time, and infuse your brand vocabulary into new work you create. Over time, with enough repetition of these words, your brand personality will start to shine.
Here are some examples where personality branding with consistent messaging and vocabulary works swimmingly:
Ashley Ambirge: Talks about life in Costa Rica and her experiences as an entrepreneur with a sarcastic and ever-entertaining tone. This connects her to her audience who are entrepreneurs (or aspiring to be) that enjoy the freedom that travel brings and the snarkiness of someone who tells it like it is. Her consistent message: smart businesses don’t do boring.
Danielle LaPorte: Her social media and blog updates consistently mention her spiritual side, her dog and her son. Is it a coincidence that her audience have these things in common with her? I think not. Her consistent message: it all gets back to desire.
Ramit Sethi: His audience largely consists of 20-30 year old men, so Ramit references his college scholarship applications, the bi-coastal life he lives and the fun he’s having in New York. His audience both relates to his past and wants his present to be their future. His consistent message: I will teach you to be rich.
How will you use the significant pieces of who you are to build consistency in your messaging and connect with your tribe? (Editor’s note: All three of these examples ended up on our 100 Best Sites for Solopreneurs list for a reason!)
3. Try something different
If writing isn’t your thing, find what medium is.
Whether it’s videos, podcasting, infographics, photos – find something that both you and your audience are comfortable with, that genuinely reflects your personality.
To discover which medium works best for your business, try these ideas:
Are you confident on camera? Rather than writing your blog posts, or having a PDF download for a teaching document, record videos instead. Don’t worry about “wowing” with technology in the beginning – get some videos out there and see how your audience reacts.
Do you interview experts as part of your business? Record the interviews and offer replays using voice alone – but don’t hesitate to offer the transcript for those who prefer to read.
Change text documents to infographics to appeal to visual learners.
What other interests do you have that you can bring into your business? For example, if you’re into photography but your business is unrelated, use your own photographs with text overlays as images on your site. It beats paying for them, amIright?
Being creative takes the limits away from how you present your material.
Branding takes less investment than you may think…
We often look at personality-driven brands and assume some huge branding exercise went into creating the brand we see today. While that is, indeed, sometimes the case, to create a brand around your personality doesn’t always require that level of investment. In fact, what the owners of brands like Ash Ambirge, Danielle LaPorte, and Ramit Sethi have done is decided to use their unique selling point – themselves – to differentiate their brands in the market.
In turn? This has meant their audience is always absorbed, connected and engaged.
Now, I’m curious: What aspects of your personality do you infuse in your writing to attract the kind of audience you most want to engage? Tell me below.
Welcome to One Woman Experiments, where daring business women experiment with different parts of their business in order to find best practices. We hope these mini-experiments help improve your business and inspire you to test-drive new strategies. Have an experiment you want to test out and document? Check out our ideas and guidelines! This experiment was diligently embarked upon by author, editor, and writing coach Amanda Shofner.
I set out on an experiment with Grammarly, an automated grammar checker. The question I wanted to answer was simple:
Can Grammarly replace the need to have an extra pair of eyes on your blog posts?
As an editor, I know how important it is to have someone else look at your writing — and how awful grammar checkers like Microsoft Word can be.
In the online business world, especially when you’re going it alone, it’d be convenient to have something to catch potentially embarrassing mistakes before you hit publish. If Grammarly could be that thing, I was determined to find out.
Tell us your methodology.
My Grammarly trial lasted three months. Because I was looking specifically at blog posts, I only used the Grammarly app when I was getting ready to schedule posts, which is when I proofread.
Being unfamiliar with Grammarly, I didn’t have specific measurables, but planned to pit Grammarly’s corrections against my own thoughts about editing. For every correction, I asked, “Would I have suggested this?” or “Would I have caught this?”
What were the results of adopting Grammarly into your proofreading process?
Full disclosure: I had mixed feelings.
What worked for me:
Each flagged item included an explanation so you can a.) decide for yourself if you want to correct it, and b.) learn from it.
The dashboard and app is very intuitive. If you can copy and paste, you can use it.
Grammarly picked up tiny mistakes I didn’t catch — e.g., ‘roadblocks’ is one word, not two.
It pointed out vague words and suggested alternatives.
What didn’t work for me:
The “business” mode is formal, which means it flags contractions, prepositions at the end of sentences, and conjunctions (and, but) at the beginning of sentences as wrong. In blogging, though, if want your personality to shine through, those things are good, not bad. You can use the personal mode for blog posts, but it doesn’t catch as much.
The explanations provided were filled with grammatical terms, which only helps those who know them. (It’s unavoidable, I know, but it won’t benefit those unfamiliar with grammatical terms.)
Grammarly may be better than MS Word, but it’s still a software program, which means it can’t grasp all the intricacies of grammar — numerous times it told me something was wrong when it wasn’t.
Here’s an example of my last point:
“When your binge on writing”? Not exactly. Problem: Grammarly wants me to use binge as a noun. I used it as a verb. Binge can be a noun or verb.
Based on what didn’t work for me, I suspected that Grammarly wouldn’t help proficient writers. You might catch a few minor mistakes here and there, but you’re probably smarter than you give yourself credit for. Read your post out loud — that’ll catch mistakes too.
But I wasn’t ready to give up. I formulated a new question:
Can Grammarly help self-proclaimed ‘less-than-proficient’ writers with their blog posts and online content?
I roped The Stacey Harris into helping me, because she’s talked about not being a fan of writing multiple times. Using the same methodology above, we took one of her sales pages and ran it through Grammarly.
Here were some of our mutual observations:
It’s easy to use.
It’d be great for her son once he hits the point in school when he’ll be required to write papers.
Some of the suggestions weren’t helpful. (Stacey would say, “But I liked it the way I wrote it.”)
I had to explain what some of the explanations meant, like the one on passive voice, and how to fix it.
The cheapest subscription plan was $139.95 for a year (or $11.66 per month). A monthly plan is $29.95 per month.
My edits of her sales page (which I did for comparison’s sake) were more in-depth, but that’s because Grammarly is a proofreader, not a copy editor.
Side experiment: a quick run with Grammarly Lite
We discovered that Grammarly has Grammarly Lite, a free version of the browser plugin.
The free version checks contextual spelling, commonly confused words, article use, capitalizations, and comma use in compound sentences. Sounds decent, but the pro version checks for word choice, subject-verb agreement, pronoun use, run-ons, and comma splices, where the majority of people’s troubles lie.
If you want the browser plugin, the pro version will catch more of those embarrassing mistakes.
Conclusions + Summary
In the end, I had two questions to answer. Can Grammarly replace the need to have an extra pair of eyes on your blog posts? and Can Grammarly help self-proclaimed ‘less-than-proficient’ writers with their blog posts and online content?
The answer is yes, but you need to understand what you write and what you want you want.
Grammarly was created for students and corporate businesses, and for those purposes, it’s a great tool. Having Grammarly when I was writing my Master’s thesis would have been awesome.
But because Grammarly is best with formal language, bloggers or brands who pour their personality into their writing may struggle. The business option suggests changes that are too stuffy; the personal post option doesn’t catch enough. A business casual option would go a long way toward easing that struggle.
My final note for you: remember it’s a proofreader, not an editor. An editor digs into who your audience is and what your post needs to accomplish. She’ll rearrange your sentences for clarity or make suggestions to better develop your post. If you’ve got that down and want to focus on surface issues, Grammarly will work for you.
In addition to proactively searching for writing jobs yourself, you can also market yourself so that future clients will come to you. Sounds pretty ideal, right? While it takes a little time, creativity and some good-old networking, you can successfully attract clients by putting yourself out there. Here are a few tips to get writing gigs by making them come to you.
Create an online portfolio: Having a physical copy of things you’ve written is great for in-person interviews, but you need to keep up with the digital age. Creating an online portfolio of your work is a must for getting freelance writing jobs (and full-time jobs too). Contrary to popular believe, you don’t have to be a web guru to create your own website. There are many free and easy-to-use platforms out there such as Wix, Contently and WordPress where you can upload your information, photos, links and samples. You don’t need anything too flashy or fancy, you just want a website that’s easy to read and features your writing samples.
Link to this portfolio everywhere: I have a “Hire Me” tab on my blog’s navigation bar. While I wasn’t looking for a full-time job, I kept this up for possible freelance writing opportunities. After a few months of having this up, I was contacted by the owner of a fashion boutique who wanted me to help with their SEO strategy and write copy for their store, website and blog. She found me through my blog and contacted me straight from my “Hire Me” page, so I’m living proof that this can work. If you don’t have a blog and you’re a writer, I suggest creating one. It’s a great way to practice your writing, make connections and get your name out there.
One Woman Shop Tip: When guest blogging, include a link directly to this page in your author bio.
Use social media: Much like the tip above, make sure to link your online portfolio/resume to your social networks. They should definitely be on your LinkedIn, but also can be seen by many if you link them to your Twitter bio as well.
One Woman Shop Tip: Consider using standard words like “copywriter” in your bio- while we love fun job titles, they can limit you since most people search for more common terms.
Keep in touch with your connections: I always try to keep in touch with my past clients and organizations who I’ve worked with previously. Maybe that small agency you did a writing project for last month has another client who could use your help. If someone had a pleasant experience working with you, they are far more likely to hire you in the future or recommend your services to a friend.
One Woman Shop Tip: Use a site like Newsle to easily keep up with your network- when someone pops up on your radar, take a few minutes to reach out to them.
While copywriting may sound like an easy job (I partially blame the popularity of Mad Men), it actually requires a variety of different skills. In addition to being an excellent writer, you need to have a bit of wit, a lot of creativity and a persuasive tone. Whether you’re writing for a website, blog or magazine, your basic goal as a copywriter is to effectively convey your product/company to the public and raise their interest.
Much like finding any type of job, looking for a legitimate copywriting job is not an easy task. Many of the positions advertised are poorly defined and offer low pay. So if you’re looking to break into the freelance copywriting world, build up your list of clients, or just earn some extra cash with a freelance gig, here are some tips.
Search the big websites- the right way. Yes, this one is a given, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother searching on large job search sites such as Monster and Indeed. The key to making the most of these websites is to properly utilize the search features to weed out results for jobs that are too junior, too senior, seem spammy, or just aren’t relevant for you. For example, if you have just a few years of experience, look for “Junior Copywriter” or try “SEO Copywriter” if you have some experience with that. Incorporate keywords and their synonyms- for example, you might be happy with either a freelance or part-time role. You’ll have fewer pages of search results to sift through and you’ll find what you’re actually looking for.
One Woman Shop Resource: Minimize the amount of time you need to spend on these sites by setting up Google Alerts and/or Mentions with your keywords- like “copywriting AND chicago AND (part-time OR freelance).”
Use social media. Follow your favorite brands, companies and agencies on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. They often post job openings on their pages (especially if they don’t want to pay the big bucks to advertise them on job search websites). Interact with them, re-tweet their articles and form relationships- this can lead to a possible job or even a short e-mail full of advice. Also follow accounts that post field-specific jobs daily, such as Get Copywriting Jobs or HooJobs.
One Woman Shop Resource: Use FollowerWonk to find even more relevant Twitter accounts for your area.
Cold-call companies (or cold-email). Lots of companies don’t advertise all of their job openings on large sites- they tend to stick to posting open positions on their own company’s website. Usually these are listed on their “Careers,” “Work for Us” or “About Us” pages. If you don’t see any of these pages, you can always go another route and pitch a job yourself. To do this, find a list of companies you admire in your area and spend some time on their site. After getting a good feel for the company, send an e-mail (the “cold call” of today’s generation) to the hiring director/HR manager. Introduce yourself and your background, focus on what you like about the company and the field, and ask if they have any openings for contract copywriting roles. Even if the company doesn’t have any open spots right now, they might keep you in the loop for any upcoming vacancies. Either way, it’s a great way to network!
Offer up your services. This one is a little daring, but has certainly worked for many go-getters. Find websites, blogs and e-commerce shops that seem to be lacking good copywriting- or any copywriting at all. Come up with a short write-up of what copywriting services you offer and how that could benefit their company. Give concrete examples, include links to your previous work, and explain any confusing terms. Yes, this takes a little time, but if you’re able to convince someone to hire you to help their company, then it’s all worth it.
Not all of us can be stellar copywriters. Even if you’re writing to your target audience, you could still be making some basic mistakes. If you’re not ready to turn things over to a pro, here are some steps you can take to jazz up your web copy.
1. Take action
Your website’s traffic is meaningless if people aren’t buying your product or engaging on blog posts. But you can’t expect them to hire you if all you’ve given them is vague, cloudy copy!
Instead, use your writing to inspire action in your readers. That means choosing strong verbs, seeking out specific nouns, and avoiding the passive voice. Adjectives and adverbs might seem helpful. But if they’re generic or unnecessary, cut them out!
Verbs to watch out for: is, determine, acknowledge, establish, help, make, find. Replace them with words like show, signal, support, control, assist, create, discover, and investigate.
See the difference? You can probably picture someone doing the things in the second list. But the first? I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a vivid image of what it looks like to acknowledge something.
2. Emphasize the good stuff
Every sentence you write has an emphasis—even if you never use bold, italics, or the dreaded ALL CAPS. Thanks to the way we stress our words, the last word of a sentence is automatically emphasized. Because of this, most English speakers pay extra attention to the end of a sentence. That’s where they find the most important ideas.
You can highlight significant info or call your readers to action just by tweaking your last words. Give your homepage a quick facelift: restructure your sentences so the final words are ideas you want to stick in your readers’ minds.
3. Find your rhythm
Have you ever had a teacher who spoke in a total monotone? It was probably boring, right? The bad news is, you may be writing in a monotone without even realizing it.
To inject your writing with good rhythm, you need to pay attention to breath units. A breath unit is a group of words you can speak without taking a breath.
Take a minute to test the rhythm of your writing. Choose a section to read out loud, and print it out. As you read, draw a line between words when you need to stop for air.
The words between each set of lines are your breath units. Are they mostly long? Short? Ideally, you’ll have a healthy mix of both. Long breath units can overwhelm readers, and short ones can make you sound like a robot. Keep them balanced to create a killer rhythm you could dance a mamba to.
4. Get friendly with punctuation
You may not love grammar, but you can still use punctuation to give your writing some extra zing. Here’s a quick guide:
Dashes: These handy punctuation marks are perfect for getting your clients to pay attention—especially to the end of a sentence.
Commas: Use commas to create a pause if your breath units are getting too long.
Question marks: Sure, you know how a question mark works. But asking rhetorical questions will cause your readers to stop and ponder their individual situation. It can be a useful tactic for making them realize they could benefit from your service or product.
Semicolons: These guys may feel a little old fashioned, but they still work. Use a semicolon to separate two full sentences that are closely related in meaning; it gives your readers a place to pause while helping them make the connection between ideas.
Exclamation points: Keep these babies to a minimum. At best, you’ll sound forced and salesy. At worst, you’ll sound like a teenage fangirl at a One Direction concert.
5. Make it punchy
Most bloggers know the “rule” of tight copy when you’re writing for today’s ADD Internet audience. But short sentences have the added bonus of giving your writing some KA-POW!
The key to making this tip work is to vary your sentence lengths. If all your sentences are short, they’ll lose their punch. But if you throw in a few longer sentences, readers will feel the full weight of a short one.
Go through your website with these ideas in mind, and your copy will be sparkling in no time.
Do you have any quick tips to whip your copy into shape?