How words can get your startup going

Nail your pitch and impress investors
Language is a big part of any startup. Senior Writer at Brand writing agency Reed Words, Sam Russell, shares five ways to get your words working harder…

Every business relies on language. But when you’re starting out, your words are one of your most important tools. From persuading investors to attracting customers and recruiting new talent, words will be fundamental to your success.

But no matter the industry, we’ve seen time and again how the most exciting startups make intelligent, creative use of words.

Take Revolut, who ditched their old T&Cs for ones you can actually read. Or Public Rec, the clothing brand that stood out from the crowd with a clean-cut tone of voice.

But language is slippery, and it can be hard to know you’re using the right words. Here are five ways to get started:

1. Take a step back

Remember: nobody cares as much about your startup as you do. So how do you get through to them?

For you, it represents years of planning and hard work. For others, it’s an opportunity to make money. Or an interesting new job. Or just a way to make splitting the bill easier.

But when you’re obsessed with bringing your idea to life, it’s easy to forget not everyone else shares your passion.

So before you start writing, ask yourself:

● How is my idea different?
● How is it better?
● How can I describe it in a hundred words (or ten)?

Of course, none of these questions is easy. But once you’ve found the answers, you’ll be ready to start writing for your audiences — not for yourself.

2. Put your reader first

Take a random sample of startup homepages, and you might see lots of sentences that say something like this:

‘We’re on a mission to transform/disrupt/revolutionise the world of finance/energy/laundry.’

The problem? This is all about them, not their readers.

You might be passionate about revolutionising insurance, but your reader probably won’t be. But if you tell them how much your new approach could save them, they may well listen. Because that’s valuable to them.

So write from their perspective, not your own. Focus on the benefit, and what your idea means for them.

Take this line on Monzo’s homepage:

‘Spend, save and manage your money, all in one place.’

It’s clear. It’s simple. And it’s all about the reader. Now let’s imagine an alternative, written from the company’s point of view:

‘Monzo is committed to offering a single access point for every aspect of consumers’ financial management.’

It’s the same information, but doesn’t sound nearly as compelling.

3. Keep things simple

Technology powers lots of startups. But while that tech is vital to your business, it’s not always essential to your communication.

Let’s say you’re ‘utilising blockchain technology to validate and secure personal information’.

Language like that is relevant to a technical audience, but it won’t connect with consumers. Instead, you’ll need to translate it into something consumers can understand, like:

● Take control of your personal data
● Keep your data safe with blockchain
● Use blockchain to make super-secure payments

And remember: even ‘sophisticated’ audiences like investors don’t want to be overloaded with technical details. They’re much more interested in what this tech can do for consumers — and, more importantly, how many consumers will be attracted.

4. Reinforce your story at every opportunity

Startups tend to spend a lot of time crafting a few key pieces of communication, like their website or opening pitch slides.

But what about your job ads, app copy, and customer emails?

They all depend on words. They’re each a chance to tell your story. And yet they almost never receive the same level of care.

Let’s say you’re ‘on a mission to simplify insurance.’ But your latest job ad says you’re ‘actively seeking an exemplary individual to build effective working relationships.’

That sounds like two different companies talking. Which makes you sound inauthentic, and could put off talented people who would have been ideal for you.

5. Be specific and actionable
To be effective, your words need to mean something. Otherwise, they can come across as fluff — easily dismissed and forgotten.

Take your company values. You might tell employees that:

‘We work hard to create a You-centred organisation, where unbridled creativity can flow from every team member.’

Sure, that sounds nice. But what does it really mean? How can employees apply it to their everyday roles?

Instead, you could say:

‘We’ll keep 10% of your time free to work on side-projects you’re passionate about. And give you a £5,000 personal development budget.’

This time, you’re not just talking about a ‘you-centred organisation.’ You’re demonstrating it, with real, tangible examples.

Moving forward…
Every day, your startup will use words, in all sorts of different ways. Getting those words right takes time and focus. But once they’re in place, those words will become an essential part of your business.

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