How to Simplify your Business Communications like The Barefoot Investor
Scott Pape, better known as The Barefoot Investor, demonstrates the art of brilliantly simple business communication. And the results speak for themselves. Here’s what your business can gain from the Barefoot strategy.
If you work in professional services such as law or financial planning, you’ll know that your website needs words and plenty of them. Copy, as it’s known by those of us in the biz. But how do you get your message across without giving away all your trade secrets? And how do you do it without making yourself (and your business) look like an unprofessional nitwit?
The answer can be found in an analysis of The Barefoot Investor’s communication strategies.
The business communications dilemma
Presenting information in easily-digestible language isn’t a new concept. But often, these professional communications prompt a dilemma. As a legal writer, I work with many private law firms, and in my experience, the issue is widespread.
Law firms, as well as other professional service organisations, are highly regulated. Much time is spent dotting I’s and crossing T’s. It’s a serious business. If any one of them were to cross their I’s and dot their T’s, there’d be trouble. Regulatory authorities would weigh in. There’d be bad press. There may even be criminal charges. And carefully cultivated careers would be at risk.
So if your firm is communicating anything to clients and potential clients, including online content, no doubt you’ll tread carefully.
Maybe you’re mindful that negative consequences can flow if clients or potential clients perceive your firm as unprofessional.
And then there’s the issue about how much information you’re giving away for free. You want your clients to pay for your advice. Otherwise you can’t possibly expect to make a buck.
How The Barefoot Investor reflects best-practice client communications
The Barefoot Investor, aka Scott Pape, is big in Australia. HUGE.
People love him and devour everything he publishes. He also seems popular with the media. Imagine. Universal popularity.
Why? Let’s break it down.
Scott Pape has a professional background in financial services. It’s a serious kind of profession. Serious advice given, serious consequences for getting it wrong.
He runs the Barefoot Investor website. His newspaper columns are syndicated nationally. He:
- Is regularly called upon by both the media and government to give expert advice
- Has written books on money and investing
- In Australia, is probably the most widely recognised expert in his field.
He’s enormously successful.
Why? A big part of the reason is his copy. It’s a useful example to anyone who’s involved in client communications.
Why The Barefoot Investor’s communications strategy works
Here’s the thing.
Whether Pape has intended it, his work is reader-friendly content that informs, rather than sells.
And because its primary aim is clear and simple communication, his books have sold like hotcakes. In other words, because he gives out the information, his products sell and sell and sell. He’s built trust with his readers.
To date, his book The Barefoot Investor – the only money guide you’ll ever need has sold more than 1.6 million copies and has been in national bestseller lists not for weeks, or months, but years.
A money book has been a best-seller since its release in 2016.
They’re powerful statistics.
Pape’s masterstroke is simplified language with a sprinkling of humour. He takes tough subject matter and breaks it down to digestible, easy-to-understand content.
He structures his copy as if he’s chatting to someone.
Even better, it’s fresh, engaging and funny. Here’s a random example on page 17 (2017 edition):
You need to earn a decent interest rate on your savings. Granted, when interest rates are low, earning enough interest each year to buy soap on a rope is almost mission impossible.
And this on page 41:
Now, your fund will probably offer a (tax-deductable) default level of life cover (if you’re dead), total permanent disability (if you’re nearly dead) and income protection (if you’re crook).
Although the subject is serious, the copy is a little quirky, a little funny. So it’s memorable, which in turn means it’s easier for the reader to process.
I’m not going to lie. I’m a Barefoot devotee. Hallelujah. I’m no money expert, but after reading it, I felt good because I understood everything. Had I not understood, I would have felt like an idiot, and I’d never have read anything else by Pape.
His communication style is a smart business move.
Why you should use simplicity in your online business communications
The Barefoot Investor example doesn’t mean your website’s copy needs to discuss whether witches flying on broomsticks should obey standard traffic laws (although it’s an interesting topic).
But it does show how making content accessible to a broad audience can generate plenty of interest. And lightening the tone makes it memorable.
Pape’s business hasn’t suffered because he’s given out a bucketload of financial information.
On the contrary, it’s flourished.
Pape may be the first to admit his writing isn’t perfect. But honestly, who cares? It ticks all the right boxes:
- Delivers valuable information
- Honest and transparent
- No jargon
Pape’s accessible, informative style has inspired loads of people to seek out more information. His success has been astonishing.
And yet, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.
He proves clear business communications make great copy, and has converted browsers into buyers and searchers into clients.
How to apply this example to your online client communications
Because information is freely accessible, excellent communication is essential. Consider potential clients who are looking for a lawyer. They find a couple of websites and compare.
Will they choose the website with scarce information or the site answering their question?
Will they choose the website they can’t understand or the one with information that’s reader-friendly and jargon-free?
Potential clients will naturally choose to make enquiries on the website that’s informative, straight-forward and easy to navigate. They want to be able to understand the law as it applies to them. They don’t want to feel stupid for being unable to grasp the legal concepts.
The words on your website should reflect this. It’s the KISS concept: Keep it Simple, Stupid.
My advice for simplified business communications
When you’re writing communications to your clients and potential clients, a few pointers can go a long way. Here are my tips for writing reader-friendly business communications:
1. Don’t be afraid to inform your reader
Put useful information on your website, answering your clients’ common questions.
2. Avoid trying to impress readers with your expert knowledge
You don’t need to dump all the information on them at once. The aim is to provide enough information on the website (or newsletter) to encourage the reader to get in touch. Strike a balance: provide the information but don’t overwhelm your target audience.
3. Avoid using legislation names and section numbers
Unless your client is a highly sophisticated corporate, this kind of information is useless to most people and creates confusion. Instead, use sentences like “the law says …”
4. Avoid using case names and citations
For similar reasons.
5. Consider whether you need to explain some legal terms
For example, the meaning of contributory negligence may be obvious to you, but a potential client may not know what it means. And they may not bother to ask you. They’ll just take their business elsewhere.
6. Put a bit of personality into your words
Personality will make your communication memorable and will help your website stand out. Don’t overdo it. For example, it’s not necessary to compare Australian industrial law with a sock-wearing, jig-dancing, spotted hippo. But a smattering of light-hearted copy can give your words a boost. (Some words about the hippo would also work the same magic, but let’s not go there.)
I can help your business communicate effectively
If you’re looking for copy that’s simple and straightforward, you’ve landed in the right place. I create reader-friendly words for legal and business websites. If you’d like to transform your website, let’s chat.
By Kate Crocker
Does this article strike a chord with you? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
I am not in any way affiliated with The Barefoot Investor. All opinions are my own. I just happen to think he’s the ant’s pants and the cat’s meow.