Writing for business exists on a continuum. At one end is the most formal English, like how the Queen speaks and writes (Well, I assume she writes like she speaks – she’s never emailed me.). At the other end is slang, which most people don’t understand– think of teenagers you know. In between is standard English – like TV1 News – and casual – the everyday language of New Zealanders. And, of course, all the other shades along the continuum.
What does this all look like when it’s happening? Well, let’s suppose a range of people go to a seminar, and everyone enjoys it. Their comments might range from, “An excellent presentation, through “It was bloody good,” to “That seminar was hella lit.” (My daughter helped me with that last one.)
Getting the language of your business right involves making a conscious decision about where you want to sit on this continuum. Getting the tone right – so everything you write suits your business, reaches your target market, and sounds like you – can be harder than you think. Small details like your call to action, your punctuation, or your email salutations can help set that tone.
When you’re deciding on a call to action, think about the difference in formality between: ‘Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions,’ ‘Call me. Now!’ and, ‘Hit me in the DM’s.’ The first is a gentle invitation, the second an order, and the third targets the social-media-savvy generation. Your choice will depend on who you’re targeting, but also on what feels the most authentic to you as a person and as a business.
Speaking of Facebook, punctuation has evolved along with the internet. Two markers of casual English are exclamation marks and emojis. It’s become commonplace to use both in online chat (think Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Messenger). However, both should be used sparingly, if at all, in emails and your website. A good rule of thumb for emojis in emails is to use them only when your client does first.
Personally, I find email salutations – how to open and close your email – a nightmare. I think this is because emails feel somehow less formal than letters. With letters, there was a clear hierarchy from formal (Dear Sir/Madam /Yours faithfully) to friendly (Dear Liz/Love) Now, it’s much less clear. Do I use a Maori greeting, like ‘Kia ora’ or ‘Tena koe’? Or do I open with ‘Dear’ (transferring this from my letter-writing days)? Or ‘Hello’? Or ‘Hi’? And when closing, do I use ‘Nga mihi’? Kind regards? Just ‘Regards’? or ‘Cheers’?
Like many pākehā, I suspect, I’d love to use Maori salutations but am nervous about getting it wrong. I’m not going to offer specific advice because of this, but ask a Te Reo fluent friend – or try a website like Victoria University’s https://www.wgtn.ac.nz/maori-hub/ako/te-reo-at-university/maori-greetings-and-phrases or the Te Taura Whiri ‘Maori for the Office’: https://tetaurawhiri.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/c5dd6c6bfd/Te-Reo-o-te-Tari-Phrases.pdf
When beginning an email formally, I like ‘Greetings’ or ‘Hello’. Less formal would be ‘Hi’ or ‘Hi there.’ The least formal – so be careful using it – is ‘Hey!’ As for your ending, you might be able to relate it to the content of the email. For example, you could write, ‘Thanks so much,’ or ‘Looking forward to our meeting.’ Otherwise, formal endings might be ‘Regards,’ ‘All the best,’ or even ‘Sincerely.’ If you’d like to be less formal, you might choose, ‘Cheers,’ ‘As ever,’ or ‘Best.’ In an email chain with colleagues, you probably don’t need an opener at all, and a simple sign off with your first name is enough.
When you’re thinking about the written language of your own business, consider your ideal clients. For example, a lawyer might decide to keep her writing reasonably formal, because she wants to appear knowledgeable and trustworthy. A counsellor might aim for conversational or even chatty, to appear warm and inviting.
Whatever tone you decide on, check that it’s consistent across all writing aimed at your target market.
You can find out more about Jo’s experience and how she helps her clients get their tone right here: https://thewritecoach.nz/