“Poor writing creates a drag on everything you do. It functions like a tax, sapping your profits.”
Writing expert Josh Bernoff holds no punches when it comes to unveiling the devastating impact that poor writing has on businesses. In fact, he goes further and quantifies it, deeming that poor writing costs US businesses $396 billion a year.
But how? It goes without saying that people in communications and HR roles should be good writers. But people in accounts, legal, auditing – do they need to be?
In a word, yes. Everyone in business needs to be able to write proficiently to avoid having a negative impact on a company’s bottom line.
Better writing benefits sales, of course. Poorly written sales materials and presentations get you nowhere. Take Canada’s Royal Insurance Company, who saw sales surge by 38% from $59 million to $79 million when it rewrote one of its home insurance policies.
More broadly, better writing saves a lot of time – to write, to read, to act on. Given that we spend, on average, 23% of our time at work reading – and that increases with seniority – imagine the lost productivity on writing lengthy, convoluted emails, memos, reports and the time spent reading them and deciphering them.
Take the US Navy as an example. They rewrote their business memos for officers, meaning they could read the revised memos in 17-27% less time. It’s thought that if this was rolled out across all naval personnel, the projected cost saving is between $250 and $350 million a year.
Then there’s the time spent in customer services departments, handling enquiries from baffled customers. Before Royal Mail rewrote a customer form about redirecting mail, there was an 87% error rate when customers filled it out and Royal Mail were spending over £10k a week handling complaints and reprocessing incorrectly completed forms. Then they rewrote the form in plain English and saved themselves £500k in just nine months.
Cut open an organisation and dig around and the mortifying impact of poor writing infects every cell, like a cancer. The brilliant ideas lost because of badly written emails and presentations. Rubbish operations manuals that cause unimaginable time lost in product development. Internal comms that damage morale and undermine respect. The list goes on. There’s nowhere in a business that poor writing doesn’t damage.
Why? Because, as Jeff Bradford puts it, “business is fundamentally about getting other people to do things… and you can’t make these things happen if you can’t communicate well.”
Jeff goes on to say that whether you’re communicating by phone, video, email, text, blogging or promotion, all require good writing skills. In fact, he deems writing as the most important skill in business.
I have to agree – with more people working remotely and more reduced face-to-face time than ever before, writing skills have never been more important.
Do you see writing as the most important skill to have in business today? What holds you back when it comes to writing?
Check out our writing masterclass, designed to tackle the common writing woes.