I’ve had many a boss and worked for many a client, who didn’t invest much time, money, or resources into their company’s written content or their writers.
Most writing jobs are simple fulfillment positions. You’re given an outline and are expected to churn out copy so marketers can get a URL to rank for a desired keyword.
That’s just how it is at many companies.
The work can border on soul-sucking when there are no opportunities for growth.
That’s why I’m glad 97th Floor has a culture of self-ownership. Here, you can expand your role and work on other projects or take on more responsibilities if you want. All you have to do is ask.
Nobody says no when you offer to seek out additional growth opportunities.
My goal is to expand my role from writing blog posts and landing pages, to taking over the entire content creation process wherever writing is involved. As a writer, I’m willing to bet on myself and say that I can do ideation and content creation as well as anybody else.
I started by completing a couple of certifications in organic marketing and PPC fundamentals. From there, I moved on to learn more about keyword research, content ideation, and page optimizations.
One of my coworkers said that keyword research, page optimization research, and content ideation is about a third of his workload. The way I figure, since I’m the one who writes that content, I’m in a better position to do that work anyway. So I might as well learn how to do it and lift some of that burden from my already-busy coworkers.
In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, I, along with other writers at the company, am learning how to write better ad copy, a job previous held solely by our PPC department.
I’m finding tasks, usually done by other departments, and learning how to apply my expertise to them so I can add value to the company and to myself as an employee.
The Benefits Of Cross-training Employees
There are lots of benefits to cross-training employees. Here are three critical ones I’ve identified.
- Cross-training makes employees better at their job
- Cross-training adds value to the employee
- Learning new things keeps employees engaged1. Cross-training makes employees better at their job
First, cross-training makes employees better at their job. If you’re hired to do a job, you can get better in one of two ways. You either learn how to do your job faster in a vacuum, or you learn where your work fits in the greater scheme of things.
The reality is, you can only optimize your skill set so much by yourself.
You can only write so fast, edit so fast, and work so many hours before you have to stop and take a break.
Even Elon Musk has to sleep.
If you’re trained to do work that’s adjacent to your own, but usually done by others, you may think of a better way to organize your workflow. It’s possible to find more efficient ways to streamline work processes or find ways to make everyone’s jobs easier.
Sometimes it takes fresh eyes from a different department to optimize things.
Cross-training adds value to the employee
Cross-training adds value to the employee.
As already mentioned, cross-training helps employees become more efficient. The better they can do their job, the more valuable they are to the company, and the more valuable they are in general.
No company wants to train their employees just to see them take those skill sets elsewhere, but I’m of the firm belief that taking the time to cross-train your employees is worth the risk if the alternative is bare-minimum, uninspired work.
If you invest in your employees, they are more likely to invest in you.
Learning new things keeps employees engaged
Cross-training is all about learning, and learning new things keeps employees engaged. As a writer, I’m fine with writing articles about protein supplements or electronics, but if I’m not learning anything new or interesting, eventually, that work becomes drudgery.
And a bored employee is more likely to leave than an engaged employee.
Luckily for me, I expressed the desire to learn more and my campaign manager and coworkers were all willing to help me bite off as much as I could chew. Their willingness to help me grow and learn has led to some new, exciting opportunities for growth.
8 Tools To Make All Of Your Employees Better Writers
Since I plan on taking advantage of every learning opportunity I can find at 97th Floor, I decided also to provide such a learning opportunity and give back to our employees as well as our readers by sharing some tips on improving your writing.
The fact is, being literate does not make you a good writer, nor does having an English teacher for a mom.
I know many people who think they’d be better off saving their money and writing content themselves, instead of hiring someone else to do it.
I can also promise you that you are not better off writing your own content.
At least, not without a little more training.
In my last blog post, I shared some ways you could cut your way to clean copy, but this time, I wanted to share some tips to improve your writing without cutting your problems out.
Below are eight tools and resources you can use to learn how to write better.
- Grammarly - Grammarly is a free, online tool that scans your text for grammatical errors. All you have to do is copy, paste, and correct. There’s a premium version of Grammarly that you can pay for, but in my experience, I don’t find the premium version that amazing. It picks up some errors that the free version doesn’t, but I don’t think you’re missing out on much by using the free version.
One thing to keep in mind is that no grammar-check software is perfect. Grammarly will pick up some errors, but it’ll miss others. Sometimes it’ll even catch a mistake while missing the same mistake elsewhere in the copy. Language is complicated and it’ll be a long time before someone can create the perfect grammar checking algorithm.
In my experience, people tend to make the same typos over and over again. If Grammarly found a mistake in your copy once, it’s probably in your copy somewhere else. So make a note of the kinds of mistakes Grammarly is flagging and look through your content for those kinds of mistakes on your own.
Also, make a mental note of the mistakes Grammarly flags and try to eliminate those in your future content.
- Hemingway Editor - The Hemingway Editor is another great, free, online tool. You can paste written content into the editor and it will flag all of the adverbs, passive voice, and complex phrases in your copy. It will also flag sentences that are “hard to read” or “very hard to read.” It’ll also give you a word count and the approximate reading grade level it takes to understand your copy.
The Hemingway Editor will help you simplify your content and make it easier to read.
You don’t have to fix everything Hemingway flags, but you should be aware of what your copy looks like to your readers.
Again, the program isn’t perfect, but using it in conjunction with Grammarly and the next tool I’ll mention will make your copy better.
- Text-to-speech Reader - I find one of the most effective ways to edit my copy is to read it out loud. The problem is it’s easy to take shortcuts and mumble the words as I read. Sometimes, if I’m in a hurry when I’m reading out loud, I end up saying what I think I wrote instead of what I actually wrote. This causes me to overlook mistakes in my copy.
Text-to-speech Reader can read your copy for you in one of those corny computer voices. It doesn’t pronounce unique brand names perfectly, but it reads exactly what you wrote, word for word, every single time.
I recommend using TTS Reader on your last round of edits. Just paste your copy into the text box and press play. Read the copy to yourself as the program reads it to you out loud. When using TTS Reader, all of your mistakes, clunky wording, and poorly thought-out sentences become immediately obvious. If something sounds weird, you should rewrite it.
Rework your material until it sounds natural.
- Khan Academy - Khan Academy is an online resource center that offers educational videos on a variety of topics for free. Their mission is to provide a “free, world-class education” to anyone, anywhere.
Khan Academy has a series of grammar videos and I recommend that everyone peruse them from time to time. They cover punctuation, syntax, style, and different parts of speech. Each video is short, yet thorough.
Do you know the different ways to use a hyphen? If not, Khan Academy can help you learn about them in a couple of minutes. Do you know what parallel structure is? If not, Khan Academy can teach you all about that too.
In five to ten minutes, Khan Academy can help you learn how to fix those mistakes you keep making according to Grammarly, Hemingway, and TTS Reader.
- Grammar Girl - Grammar Girl is a QuickAndDirtyTips.com property, and in my opinion, it’s one of their best. The site is run by Mignon Fogarty who knows her stuff. She can not only explain what “the rule” is for a given topic, but she can also explain why it’s the rule. Grammar Girl is a great way to learn how to think through style decisions.
Do you know how you feel about the Oxford comma? Do you know which style guides accept it and which ones don’t? Do you use it? Why are you for it or against it? What do you do when you run into situations where your Oxford comma style decision creates a confusing sentence?
Grammar Girl helps walk you through questions like these so you can know what to do when you’re writing, and why to do it.
- Power Thesaurus - The Power Thesaurus is a crowdsourced, online thesaurus. I like it much better than Thesaurus.com because I find that it does a better job finding words that “fit.” It seems to me that Thesaurus.com misses the mark every time I’m looking for a different word. Power Thesaurus is much more practical when you’re looking for synonyms.
- Merriam-Webster - Again, Dictionary.com is useful, but I’m a firm believer that Merriam-Webster made a better online dictionary. Their definitions are better, the website is higher quality, and its examples are clearer. If you need to look up a definition, go straight to Merriam-Webster and stop wasting your time elsewhere.
- Quora - This is a trick I learned from HubSpot’s Content Marketing Certification course. When I’m doing keyword research for a client, I do a Google site search of Quora to find out what people are asking about a given topic. I use Quora because they produce higher quality content than WikiAsk or Yahoo Answers. Armed with one general keyword, I can find three or four solid content ideas by looking at the first four pages or so of Google’s site search returns.
Since this idea came from a HubSpot certification, I assume it’s no great secret I’ve uncovered, but I’ve learned not to underestimate the basics.
If nothing else, it’s a great way to start looking for content ideas that I can build on later.
Don’t Underestimate Good Writing
In the end, marketing is about creating a funnel for customers.
You’re trying to get as much attention as possible and move people through the marketing funnel until you’ve produced a paying customer. Marketers spend their days trying to make the attention end of the funnel as wide as possible while patching up any leaks or inefficiencies they find within the funnel itself so they can maximize the number of paying customers that come out of the other end.
That’s the point of marketing.
Even though marketers do not need Shakespeare-esque soliloquies, they do need good copy. Bad copy turns off customers. It also turns off potential clients.
Bad writing makes you look incompetent.
Good writing is the equivalent of an attractive-looking photo on a Tinder profile. You might not find yourself in a serious relationship because of it, but you can bet the other person will swipe right.
And in the end, that gets them in the funnel.