Getting outside the bubble and blowing your own trumpet

[Image courtesy of Eric at Flickr Creative Commons]

I was chatting a few weeks back with a friend of a friend who’s relaunching his website.

He’s spending a small fortune on design, but that’s OK, because he’s making a large fortune in a business that’s so niche you’ve probably never heard of it. I certainly hadn’t.

Naturally, I asked what he was doing about the copy.

“Oh we’re writing that in-house,” he said confidently.

With an in-house writer, I wondered? Not a bit of it. He said he was simply getting the ‘people who know the business’ to put something together that would accurately reflect who they were, what they did and what made them different from the competition.

Now at first glance, that might sound like a good idea. After all, the people who know the business are best placed to write about it, aren’t they? It also means they don’t have to explain to an external writer the ins and outs of a pretty complex operation.

And it’s free, coming out of company time that’s already budgeted for through salaries (and in this case, a generous profit-share scheme).

But let’s just play devil’s advocate for a moment here. Why would it not be a good idea to write copy in-house?

Here are six pretty compelling reasons:

  1. You’re not objective, because you live inside the bubble. Whether you’re the owner or an employee, it’s very difficult to get an outside-in view.  But it’s important to shift your perspective, so you’re seeing your company as others (like readers) see you.
  2. You’ll include too much detail, simply because you know so much detail. And it’s easy to forget how overwhelming that is for the average person who’s not familiar with your world. And if they are familiar with your world, why include that detail anyway? You’re preaching to the converted.
  3. You won’t include enough detail. The flipside of being immersed in your business is that you develop blind spots. You may skim over something that requires more explanation, or ignore a key selling point because ‘everyone does that, don’t they?’ (No, they don’t.)
  4. You won’t be able to blow your own trumpet, which is a particular problem for small and midsize companies without the corporate confidence of their larger counterparts. It can feel awkward to put yourself out there and talk the talk.
  5. You’ll come over all corporate – a problem that has affected virtually everybody who’s ever tried to write copy for their business. They fall back on stock phrases (‘we firmly believe’, ‘our core values’, ‘we pride ourselves on’) which everybody else uses. Which means they sound like everybody else.
  6. It costs a lot more you think. Let’s say you give the task of writing your website copy to your marketing manager, or sales director. How many days will they take? Pro-rata their salary and see what it works out at – and don’t forget to include the opportunity cost of what they could be doing while they’re wrangling words. Plus the knock-on effect of copy that suffers from all the problems in points 1-5.

The bottom line is this that you’re giving a complex writing task to people who don’t write for a living. And defocusing them from what they should be doing for a living – which in turn damages your business.

Or to turn the problem on its head: would you let a professional writer run your business development? Probably not. 

An internal writer may be the answer to your problem, but then again, have you got enough work to keep them busy five days a week, every week of the year? If not, then they’re not paying their way. So that also comes at a cost.

And in the end, did I seize the day and pitch for the work on my friend’s friend’s site?

Not directly, because it might have appeared opportunistic, especially in a social setting. But I did hint at the dots.

Now let’s see if he joins them.