Copywriting for the Small Business

Remember the recent punctuation faux pas in the news? Old Navy reprinted thousands of T-shirts to correct a missing apostrophe:

“Lets Go!! USC Trojans” (original)

“Let’s Go!! USC Trojans” (corrected)

Does it make a difference to you? It might make a difference if viewers took to Twitter to voice complaints the way they did over Old Navy’s error. Here’s another example of the difference in meaning punctuation can create:

Let’s eat grandma! (original)

Let’s eat, grandma! (corrected)

Granted, you probably won’t be creating signage centering around your grandmother, but the example shows an important aspect of copywriting: misplaced punctuation (or spelling errors) can affect the way potential customers view you or your business.

This is not an issue of indignant ex-English majors or professional writers with a complex, because they (or rather we) are not the only the only people who will be viewing your signage. Potential customers, clients and possibly investors will be passing by it (or passing it by), and a poorly written sign and tagline will not present your brand in the most credible light. Customers, clients and investors want to know that you are who you say you are, and mistakes in copywriting imply inexperience or inattention to detail—or possible worse. Since you don’t want your brand to be defined by these easy-to-make errors, consider these five tips:

    1. Don’t rely completely on spell checkers.

Spellcheckers in your word processing software check for spelling, not missing punctuation or grammar errors. They also can’t check the overall meaning of your message. “Let’s eat grandma,” is a perfectly acceptable phrase to a spellchecker.

    1. Draft; then print.

Printing several copies of a sign, flyer, brochure or any other marketing material without first printing a test draft is a risky idea. You may like to live on the wild side, but I can guarantee you that posting flyers with a mis-spelled word (and a word related to your industry no less) is not something you will easily live down.

    1. Run it by someone else.

Having another editor quickly look over your lingo is standard procedure for all professional writers for a reason (not one of us write mistake-free). Even if you are pressed for time, find a buddy.

    1. Keep a style guide on hand.

Writing style guides have life after you use them in college! They are very handy for checking on punctuation and grammar when you are creating the copy for your brand. Many university and college websites also have punctuation and grammar guides specifically for branding copy like business names and tag lines. Anyone can create a brand, but a correctly spelled and punctuated brand—that is credible.

    1. Sleep on it.

This is probably the best piece of advice I can ever give. And what I mean by this is simply to step away from the sign, flyer, brochure or any other piece o’ work containing text. You will come back with much clearer eyes and mind letting you see the piece freshly.

Just one final thought to wrap up this piece. When you read your email, what are the factors pointing to a possible phishing scam? Spelling, grammar and punctuation are the indicators listed on government watch websites, and you don’t want your business to have the remotest association to that side of the market. Punctuation may not literally save grandma’s life, but it may save your bank account. And that is worth the trouble.