As we have emphasized before, when you’re the managing partner of a law firm or the owner of a medical practice—or any business owner, for that matter—you need a fundamental shift in your outlook. You need to think like an entrepreneur. This can be a difficult adjustment to make, because your professional education probably did not stress business administration.
But you’re clever. You’re eager to rise to the challenges before you. So maybe you went ahead and read a few popular business management books, or maybe you even attended a business course or two at your local college. You think you’re starting to think like a business leader. Mission accomplished, right?
Not so fast, buddy. You now know enough to get yourself in a heap of trouble in very short order.
A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing
It’s all too easy for someone who has dipped his toe into business management practices to plunge headlong into deeper waters. Unfortunately, that business school mindset you’re trying on also tends to foster use of business school jargon…and that jargon filters into your web content.
We’ve warned about the dangers of technical jargon before. Attorneys should avoid legalisms; healthcare professionals should shy away from medical terminology. Well, it’s much the same with business jargon. Forbes magazine quotes Jennifer Chatman, a management professor at the Haas School of Business, as declaring, “Jargon masks real meaning…People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others.”
Worse still, jargon increases the distance between the writer and the reader. Buzzwords become a secret password: a code that demands the reader prove he is cool enough to read this content. Rather than welcome a reader to a deeper understanding, buzzwords tell some readers they are unworthy to share in the secret mysteries that will be revealed. If that’s the sort of subtext you want to project to your readers, it’s time to go back to page one of your marketing books.
We Have Real Issues With This
A good place to start is the word “issues,” because it’s not exclusive to office jargon but has seeped into popular conversation. Lately, I’ve often noticed “issues” in written and spoken English, as a vague replacement for “things” or “stuff.” And yes, I’ve even seen it in recent website content writing, as these real-world examples show:
- “What You Need to Do Right Now to Protect Against Security Issues From Adobe Flash.”
- “Uncertainty and worry can make even the smallest challenges difficult, let alone issues that could have a serious impact on your future.”
- “Watch Our Law Firm Videos to Better Understand Your Injury Lawsuit Issues.”
- “Several issues will determine where you will be happiest living out your golden years; it is best to think about them now.”
- “Examples of bad stress include issues with staff, payments, and overhead.”
“Issues” isn’t a bad word; it’s just too often a lazy choice. It tells your audience, “I don’t think my readers are important enough to spend the time looking for a more precise word. So here’s my minimal effort toward effective, clear communications.” That’s probably not a message you want to send.
These Will Be First Against the Wall When the Revolution Comes
Now, we’ll turn our attention to a handful of business school buzzwords guaranteed to kill enthusiasm and boost apathy about your website. Or, to put it nicely: put these phrases down and back away slowly.
Using an acronym without explaining what it stands for guarantees that newcomers will consider you a snob. “If you don’t understand this, you don’t belong here,” is the not-too-subtle message you’re communicating. Even worse, in this case you’re probably using it wrong. ROI stands for “return on investment,” the benefits you capture for your business expense in some area; but most of the time, the intended meaning is “marginal return on investment,” the benefits that accrue from $1 more spent on marketing or some other initiative.
A slogan phrase that pretends there is some industry standard for an activity—likely, a “standard” recently created by the company’s own staff, so no other company meets the criteria. The best way to do something is always a moving target, because what can be done is always changing. The result? You can’t get away with claiming your company is following the best path without backing up the claim with hard evidence.
Buy-in—a noun—is the process of getting agreement to or finessing objections against a proposed course of action from all the stakeholders—the people who would be affected by the decision. In practical office politics, it’s a strategy to deflect later criticism if the decision turns out to be a poor one: “I had a buy-in from all the senior objectives, so the money we lost from buying those three elephants really reflects on our upper management.” A pretty transparent CYA strategy.
This is the first of two verbs constructed from perfectly good nouns that would rather have been left alone. Leverage is taken to mean “applying a resource from one area to another, in the hope of eking out a substantial advantage in the new area. However, many people from outside the business are now wise enough to recognize this often means, “We’re going to move people or technology from an area of success to somewhere we desperately hope to get an improvement, even if the resources don’t quite match the needs.” Consider these two examples:
- “In 2015, we will be leveraging the courtroom success of our personal injury team to broaden our core competencies in criminal defense.” Translation: Our PI business has been chugging along fairly well, so we’re stretching our best lawyers to try to cover criminal cases too—even though our attorneys haven’t studied criminal practice since law school.
- “Our hospital plans to leverage its robotic surgery suite to move beyond urogenital surgery to other minimally invasive procedures that promise shorter recovery times and fewer complications.” Translation: We’ve spent millions of dollars on this robot tool, and we’re going to try to recoup the investment by using it for as many operations as we can.
Another hybrid verb formed from a noun, this means “to figure out how to make money off something that heretofore wasn’t a profit area.” Now, making money is nice, and it’s one of the key reasons you’re in business. But do you have to realize a profit from every aspect of your business? Are you going to charge customers for printing their bills? Will you lock off parts of your website behind a paywall? At some point, the attempt to squeeze every cent of profit from routine office functions becomes unseemly and scares off your most-desired clientele.
Utilize; Touch Base
A key warning sign of jargon is that the new, preferred terms are longer or more complex than perfectly serviceable everyday words. Don’t say utilize; say “use.” Don’t touch base; instead, you should “talk,” “write,” “phone,” or “mail” your contact. Complicating your communications doesn’t make anything better.
It’s a friendly word that is meant to sound natural and wholesome; in practice, it means “spontaneously arising, not planned.” The questions that users type into search engines, for example, are all “organic” in this sense.
You might think that “organic” is a broadly useful adjective. Think again. Recognize that all your marketing efforts—including your entire website—are planned and strategized to the utmost degree, not spontaneous or unplanned. Business web content (except, perhaps, for customer feedback) is the antithesis of “organic” content. Now, there’s nothing wrong with strategic web content; it can be lively, interesting, informative, and persuasive. Just don’t let some SEO marketer bamboozle you with the jargon term “organic” that you will then adopt into your online vocabulary.
And One Concluding Note
It would be regrettable indeed if we failed to note that September is just a few weeks away, and—as you’re no doubt aware—September has been designated as Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month. Yes, it’s a real thing. I want to thank the people who work so hard to edit these little essays every month, and the many Foster Web Marketing writers and editors I have been so lucky to work with.
Which brings us to a key question: who is writing and editing your website content? Odds are, you owe your content and editorial team a pat on the back for their diligence and artistry on behalf of your business. Writers work at their peak when they know their work is being read, so a kind word to your writing staff will both buoy their spirits and also encourage better output.
This month, we’re not going to issue a call-to-action telling you to pick up the phone and dial Foster Web Marketing if you have a problem; you’re smart enough to figure that out. Instead, get in touch with your own writers and editors and share your appreciation. You’ll find that sincere praise has an enormous (ahem!) return on investment.