Have you heard of a style guide before? Chances are, unless you’ve done a whole bunch of research on branding or you work in the editorial field, you haven’t.
And that’s the exciting news, my business-building friends, because this is your chance to get ahead of the game and really make a splash with your branding.
What is a style guide?
Editors use style guides to help them deal with things like the Oxford comma, capitalisation of headings and other details that might seem insignificant to non-writer types. It’s a comprehensive document that outlines exactly how things should be done for each project.
So what does that have to do with you and your business?
Well, the purpose of an editorial style guide is to ensure consistency in your eBook, your novel or your thesis. And consistency is what a style guide will bring to your business too.
What are the benefits of creating a business style guide?
The number one benefit, as I’ve already mentioned, is consistency. Consistency in branding screams professionalism; it helps you stick in people’s minds and makes you instantly recognisable. Mixed messages in your content and branding can make you seem unreliable and could seriously undermine your marketing efforts.
A style guide is even more vital if you have multiple people handling your marketing content, if, for example, you outsource blogging to a content writer or you employ a PR company to write your press releases.
Any graphic designers, copywriters or social media managers you use, all need to be on the same page when handling your brand and a business style guide will make sure everyone stays on message.
I’m a sole trader — do I still need a style guide?
Absolutely. Even if you aren’t yet at the stage where you can afford to outsource to other professionals, a style guide can save you loads of time when you’re creating your own content.
Once you’ve created the document, print it out and have it to hand every time you write any type of marketing content for your biz. Instead of having to go back over previous blog posts to look at your heading sizes or to double-check the specifics of your brand colours, you’ll have it right there beside you.
What should my business style guide include? (And what can I miss out?)
I know you’re probably pretty tight for time (boy can I relate to that!) so I’m going to outline the absolute essential things you need to add to your style guide to get you started — you can always add to it as you go.
Let’s start with the biggies. These are the things that you should have a quick look over before you write ANYTHING for your business.
Your brand message.
Anyone with shiny object syndrome will know that it’s easy to get distracted in your business — most entrepreneurs are teeming with ideas and it can be a struggle to stay on target sometimes. The first thing I want you to add to your new style guide is your brand message.
What are you all about? What is the key purpose of your business? This will save you from becoming side-tracked and help keep you on message.
Your brand values.
Are you uber-professional? Elegant and classy? Fun and dynamic?
Now, personally, I like to think of myself as all of these things (don’t laugh!); some days I find that my writing is more inclined to the super-serious, other times I want to let loose and really have fun with it. Both versions are authentically me but to have such a mix of styles on my blog or social media platforms wouldn’t work (consistency, remember?) so I’ve tried to find a balance between all of these elements.
When it comes to your style guide you should pick three or four words that sum up you and your business and use these to help you keep the tone and pitch of your content consistent across your marketing.
Your avatar, also known as your target customer, is who you’re writing for. I’m going to delve further into this in a future post, but it’s so important to nail this early on in your branding journey. This is the person you’ll be writing for when you blog, when you update your FB page, when you write your web copy.
You need to have this person really clear in your mind and pitch your content to suit them — think about what kind of terminology they’ll relate to and what kind of language will put them off.
So those are the biggies. Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty, the finer details that will make your content look consistently professional.
The fonts you use matter. If you don’t believe me, ask Fiona Robertson, my go-to graphic designer. She’d happily chew your ears off for hours on this! When she designed my logo for me, she sent me a whole package of stuff to help me keep my branding consistent, including fonts.
Now I use the same font whenever I send out a client proposal, a quote, an invoice or any other documentation. It just makes everything look a little more polished.
Ditto brand colours. Colour is such a powerful way to help your brand creep into a person’s psyche. Just think of Coca Cola red or McDonalds golden arches. You want to use your brand colours across your marketing channels. Whenever anyone sees your signature rose gold, electric pink or cool grey, you want them to instantly think of you.
I actually went to a networking event in my signature blue the other day although I confess that I only realised after I got home that my frock matched my logo! Wearing nothing but your brand colours might be taking things a step too far…
It’s worth having a think about the kind of you want to use — as well as the kind of language you might want to avoid — and your client avatar will play a huge part in that.
We’re well past the era when swearing in your marketing would be completely unacceptable and you’ll find plenty of credible, professional business owners throwing around all sorts of f-bombs. Whether or not profanity is acceptable in your business content comes down to your target audience. Would occasional swearing help them relate to you or would it make them block your twitter feed? Make sure you’ve figured this out and stick to whatever decision your research leads you to.
Think too about jargon and industry buzz words. Will using them confuse your audience or will they lend you credibility? Again, make a decision about the kind of words that’ll be appropriate for your audience, and stick to it. If you find yourself drawn to jargon when you’re writing, it’s worth having a list of the words you’ve decided to avoid and a few alternative ways of saying the same thing that your readers will prefer.
Tone of voice.
This links back to your brand values. The words you’ve chosen as your essential brand values will direct you to the right tone of voice to use. Add a couple of lines to your style guide as a reminder of the overall tone you want to hit when writing your content.
Keep your content layout consistent by noting which heading sizes you use in blog posts, how you lay out your call-to-action and the different ways you break up the text in your posts.
Okay, this is the part where you might start thinking I’m getting a little picky. You probably have a point but paying attention to these details can have a bigger impact than you’d think and they’re pretty easy to get right so trust me on this one!
Spelling and capitalisation.
Your customers may be global, but you want to keep your spelling local. It’s best to write in either UK English or US English — try not to mix the two. Favourite and favorite in the same piece of content is just confusing. Likewise using an ‘ise’ ending or an ‘ize’ ending: choose whichever one you prefer and stick to it!
It’s also worth noting whether you capitalise heading and post titles. Whether you capitalise full headings, significant words only, or the first letter matters less than whether you stick to one method. Again with the consistency; there’s definitely a theme here!
A couple of final tips.
Your style guide is something you’re going to want to refer to weekly, if not daily, so make sure it’s easy to use.
Remember that, even if you’re the only one using it for now, in the future you may want to outsource your content so make sure your guide is easy to read, easy to skim, and super-easy to follow.
Over to you now: are you using a style guide for your business? Will you be creating one after reading this? Is there anything I’ve missed that you’d add to my list of style guide essentials?