Garden retailers are often called upon to perform tasks far outside what they’re comfortable doing, from taxes to merchandising to writing stories for your store’s blog or for the local media.
Don’t let anyone fool you – writing isn’t easy. It takes a lot of practice and thoughtfulness. But it is possible to learn a formula or two that can help even the least-experienced writers connect with readers. This six-step formula spells out exactly how you can tap your own experiences to write not only competently, but in a way that allows readers to relate fully to what you want to say.
If you answer customer questions on a regular basis, then this writing hack is perfect for you.
Step 1: Identify the most common question being asked.
It’s always a good idea to get your staff to share customer questions they heard during your weekly staff meetings. Doing so is an easy way to know what customers are thinking and what they want. And it will give you great fodder for your store newsletter and blog.
Each week, identify an issue customers ask for help on. This will be your story’s topic. Most of the time, if several customers are dealing with an issue that week, most of the community is also trying to figure out how to deal with this gardening problem. Timing your topic to when your audience wants to read about it is just as important as how you write about it.
Step 2: Ask your staff to share a customer’s personal story related to your chosen issue.
Now we’ll spell out how you will write about this topic.
Let’s say that one week your staff says they had dozens of people ask for help on keeping deer away from their gardens. Ask them to describe some of the specific stories customers were dealing with. Did someone just plant a full bed of hostas, spending hundreds of dollars in the process, only to have it eaten overnight? Or maybe someone took a video of a doe and her fawn crossing her backyard and shared the cute scene online, only to wake up two days later to find a large herd treating her yard as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
A personal story evokes sympathy and emotion in those hearing it (or reading it). So it’s always a good idea to offer a personal anecdote before launching what you want to share with your readers. The more details you can give, the better. Mention names if the customer permits you to. Describe the types of plants in the yard, the time of day.
As an example, if one of the scenarios I mentioned about deer was real, I could write:
“Arlene Johnson was delighted when she saw a doe and her fawn emerge from the trees lining her North Olmstead home at dusk one afternoon last week. She picked up her phone, then quietly opened her backdoor to video the pair. The video she posted that evening to her Facebook page shows the duo walking cautiously across her back yard, pausing to look around frequently. Arlene loved that she was seeing nature at play.
“Two days later, she sat in front of the same window she first spied the deer from, and checked her Facebook status. Hundreds had viewed the video she took. Just then, she saw a movement out of the corner of her eye, and glanced outside.
“To her dismay, she saw 9 deer in her yard, and they were all standing in her garden beds, enjoying her coleus and rhododendrons.”
Notice I mentioned the woman’s name and the community she lives in. I then describe the problem she’s experiencing in a way that others can relate to.
I also told the story in only 7 sentences. All I wanted to do is set up the problem Arlene Johnson was facing. If you call your customer to get more details, you will likely write down many more notes that you’ll want to use. That’s normal. Just write enough to make readers want your tips on how to handle the issue.
Step 3: State you know how to deal with the problem identified in the anecdote
This step transitions readers from your anecdote to the main part of article. It’s usually just one or two sentences to let readers know you’ve got the answer.
If I continue with the deer anecdote from above, here’s what I might write:
“Arlene had a deer problem on her hands. When she called us for advice, I told her about the five steps I use at home to battle hungry deer.”
Step 4: List the solutions
This step is the meat of your article and where your in-store experience comes in handy. Simply type out the recommendations you usually make, and you’ve got the majority of what you want to say.
Start with the first piece of advice you’d give. State it in a short sentence, then offer any extra information you think they will need to know.
Here’s an example:
“1. Plant deer-resistant plants in beds not next to the house. Think about the types of plants you see when you walk through the woods. Most are thorny and and tough. If the first plants deer come across when they venture out of the trees are sweet and tender, then those plants will not survive long. Luckily, there are many, many plants that are unappealing to deer and most stores will mark them as deer-resistant.”
Continue with the rest of your ideas, continuing to list them. In this example, I added a number to the idea and bolded the first sentence, before offering a brief explanation. This technique makes it easy for busy readers. They can scan the article quickly, making note of which tips they already do or know about, before stopping on advice that’s new to them. This is a technique that not only helps your readers, but it makes writing easy for you. You don’t have to worry about transitions to the next item. Just finish what you have to say, then start the next bit of advice you want to share.
If you take a look at how this article is organized into six steps, you’ll see I’m following my own advice. Organizing this article in this way makes my advice easier to absorb, doesn’t it? The same trick will work for you.
Step 5: Restate how easy it is to deal with the problem if these steps are followed
Once you’ve completed your list of tips on how to deal with the gardening issue, reassure your readers that they really can deal with this on their own and do not need the mythological green thumb to succeed.
Continuing with our example, here’s what I might write:
“These steps have helped me keep my own garden in good shape, despite living next to a wooded park, and they will help you do the same, too.”
Step 6: Offer a follow up of the customer’s story
This final step brings your article back to your opening anecdote. Ask your customer how your advice worked and share her answer with your customers.
Again, here’s how I might write it if I continued with the deer Arlene anecdote:
“I spoke with Arlene yesterday about how the deer situation is doing. She decided to install deer fencing along the back of her yard, and she reports she still gets to watch the deer, but only when she takes her family onto hiking trails.”
So there you have it. This is a formula that can work again and again, because you’ll be changing the topics each time you write to whatever your customers are talking about most.