What to Do When Your Professional Web Writing Demands Multiple Personalities

Have you found your voice as a web writer? You probably have, even if you can’t articulate or define exactly what it is that makes it unique.

Voice includes your word choice, tone, attitude, point of view, sentence structure, ideas, conventions, even grammar. Your writer’s voice is your personality in print, or on the digital “page” for us web writers.

So what happens when you’re writing for a client?

Instead of your own writer’s voice, you need to capture your client’s voice — their personality — and use it in your web writing so your copy sounds like it’s coming from them, instead of from some random writer.

In a sense, you have to become your client!

Writing in your client’s voice is obviously necessary when your client is an entrepreneur who essentially is the business, or when there’s someone who is the public face and voice of the company. But it’s also true for big companies without that single public persona, because they need a consistent, personal voice in their content as well.

This challenge is magnified when you have multiple clients, because now you have multiple personalities to capture and use. The work you do for each client has to have its own clear, consistent, and unique voice.

Is your head spinning yet?

Before you panic or lock yourself in a padded room, consider using my technique for keeping my multiple web-writing personalities manageable …

The Client Avatar

You may be familiar with the technique of creating an avatar or buyer persona to represent your reader. For example, I know that my writing is strongest when I’m writing to “speak” directly to a specific person who represents my target audience, so I develop a reader avatar for that person.

I know who he is both demographically and psychographically. I visualize what he looks like and imagine him sitting across from me as I write. You may do something similar.

When you’re writing on your own behalf and speaking to your own audiences, this is enough. But when you’re writing for and as a client, the avatar exercise has to extend to the client as well.

5 Steps to Developing a Client Avatar

1. Read stuff they’ve written to study their writing conventions.

Read a variety of their writing samples — emails, blog posts, articles, special reports, courses, books — really, whatever you can get your hands on. And take notes.

For example, do they like to use:

  • Bulleted lists?
  • Numbered lists?
  • Ellipses?
  • Em dashes?
  • Italics for emphasis?
  • CAPS for emphasis?
  • Short, direct sentences?
  • Long, descriptive sentences?
  • Quotes from famous people?
  • Numerical stats?
  • Conjunctions to start a sentence?

What kind of descriptive words do they use? Do they like to use sports analogies, and if so, what sport? Cooking, parenting, aviation, or military metaphors? Are there any phrases frequently found in their writing?

Do they use Hey, Hi, or Hello?

Now, you may be wondering how you’ll know if it’s really their writing or some other writer’s. That’s a valid point, and while you’d hope that everything they make public is a valid representation, sometimes it’s not. In fact, it may have been written by the writer you have now replaced.

The very best thing to do is simply ask for samples of their own writing, or samples they feel best capture the company’s voice. Be up front and explain why you want to study them — to provide a better final product.

If they don’t have writing samples for you to study (and even if they do), move on to Step 2 …

2. Watch them on video to study their body language and get a sense of them as a person.

Marketers are using video more and more, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find a video of them somewhere.

Browse their website. Do a Google search and then look at the results under the video heading. Search directly on YouTube. Ask if the company has any internal training videos you can watch featuring the “voice” of the company.

It doesn’t really matter what the topic of the video is, you’re doing research on “voice.”

3. Listen to them on podcasts, or interview them yourself and listen to the recording to pick up nuances of speech.

Podcasting is popular right now, and listening to a podcast featuring your client is a great way to immerse yourself in a client’s voice. This works if your client is the host of the podcast or a guest on someone else’s podcast.

But if your client doesn’t have a podcast and hasn’t been a guest on one either, record your own interview with them. I use FreeConferenceCall.com to record a phone interview and then listen to the playback to study and take notes on speech patterns, word choice, tone, etc.

4. Follow them on social media and observe what they’re interested in and how they communicate.

Social media is, of course, great for getting to know more about people. The fine line that you have to straddle with this strategy for getting to know a client’s voice is separating the person’s private persona from their public or business persona.

For example, maybe they don’t want their customers and clients to know that their brother recently started a 12-step program, or that they themselves are cancer survivors, or whatever their personal situation is. Even though these details add to their story, you can’t use them if they don’t want you to. If in doubt, I always ask.

On the other hand, if they’re a fan of a particular sports team, or known for their love of horses, or for their cooking skills … perhaps they’re okay with customers and clients knowing these details. If so, you’ll definitely add personality to their voice by using details like these.

5. Create a Client Avatar reference file for your ongoing use.

Once you’ve done your research and taken notes, you’ll want to create a file or document where you can easily access those notes.

In mine, I keep a photo of the client, some pertinent demographic and psychographic facts about them, their interests, and a list of common catchphrases they use. I also include my research about tone, sentence structure, conventions, and anything else I picked up about them.

The goal is for my writing to sound as if they wrote it themselves — just better and with the benefit of my training and experience.

With my Client Avatars, I’ve been able to easily go from writing as a 50-something male bankruptcy attorney in Florida, to a 40-something female videographer on the California coast, to a 30-something male personal trainer in Washington D.C., to a 60-something female service business owner in my own hometown.

And that was just one productive week!

I’d love to hear what you think of my technique of using Client Avatars to assume multiple client voices in web writing — or what other tactics have you developed? Please comment below!

This article, What to Do When Your Professional Web Writing Demands Multiple Personalities, was originally published by Wealthy Web Writer.

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Published: May 27, 2015

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