Good writing can help a startup succeed

In her Boston Globe article “Failure to communicate,” English professor Kara Miller writes:

as anyone who has received a poorly written e-mail, assessment, memo, cover letter, or report knows, writing — both good and bad — has real power.

How is good writing important for entrepreneurs? Here are two situations where good writing can make a difference for a startup.

Public relations

PR is a key way to get low-cost publicity. Often, the entrepreneur submits a write-up about his business for inclusion in a newsletter or trade publication. Let’s say the publisher receives two last-minute write-ups from two entrepreneurs (they’re often last-minute because entrepreneurs are always busy).

Which one will the publisher be more likely to include? The one that needs less work to meet its standards.

If the entrepreneur’s writing is clear, and he has followed the publication’s guidelines by looking at previous examples, the publisher has a lot less work to do. For example, when the Community Business Partnership asked me to provide a write-up about White Glove Apps for its newsletter, I looked at previous newsletters to check the format, length, and tone of similar pieces. Even though I submitted our write-up at the last minute, it was included, and I got this response: “This is really excellent… Thanks so much for writing it well and including the links.”

The entrepreneur eliminates a potential headache for the publisher by doing the editing and formatting work. This increases the chance the publisher will be receptive to a story pitched by the startup. Publishers are busy too, often with deadlines, so they’ll appreciate it if an entrepreneur makes their lives easier.

Communicating with customers

When a startup is selling a new product, customers – especially corporate ones – have every reason to doubt it will work. As the saying goes, "no one ever got fired for buying IBM" (back when it was the established, safe supplier of computers). One way an entrepreneur can increase customers’ confidence is by ensuring the written materials about her startup’s product are easy to understand and free of flaws; any mistakes could confirm a potential customer’s belief that trying an untested product is risky. (Digital delivery of many written materials – help guides, web pages describing the product, and online ads – makes it easier to correct errors quickly.)

Groupon believes good writing in its daily emails is one of the factors behind its success. Chief executive Andrew Mason said that “having well-written, engaging content is a key part of convincing users to keep reading about new shops that they might never have heard of.”

Good writing isn’t something an entrepreneur could convince a venture capitalist to fund her based on, but it might be key to the startup’s success. As Professor Miller says, “In an increasingly digital world, writing acts as a vehicle for knowledge — giving it short shrift… is a serious mistake.”

Update: The New York Times is once again riding our coattails ;-) with a 5/28/11 article titled "Funny or Die: Groupon’s Fate Hinges on Words."

Image credits: Pencil: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.netMan and woman: photostock /