how to get people to read what you send them

You want people to read what you send them… or at least skim it and pull out the most important parts. We all do, or we wouldn’t send stuff in the first place. We’ve all felt the frustration when you carefully craft your message and someone asks a question that is answered in the information you originally sent. Of course you want to help, but if they had just read the original message…

You need to remember:

It isn’t about you.

It’s about THEM, and they’re busy. They have 100 things competing for their attention; they don’t have the time (or interest) to dig through and find the most important pieces of what you’ve sent them.

So, how do you lay it out so it is more likely they will actually read what you’re sending? Let’s walk through it using a recent example.

Hockey letter: Before

This is a simple informational letter the Mankato Area Hockey Association sends out to hockey teams who have signed up to play in a their hockey tournaments. Here is the original, formatted in Microsoft Word (click to get a closer look):

How to get people to read what you send them: image of letter before edits have been made

Things I noticed right away:

  • Bold text: When you bold a lot of text, that text no longer stands out from the rest of the content. If it’s all important, none of it’s important.
  • Unorganized text layout: When your content isn’t organized and laid out well on the page, it’s hard to follow. Your reader will struggle to follow along and move from item to item. Group related items together, and use bulleted or numbered lists with indents to help the user easily navigate the information.
  • Lack of headings and hierarchy: Break content into smaller groups and add headings to help the reader quickly identify the sections. Then they can choose what is important for them to read and respond to right now and what they can refer back to later. (Pro Tip: When you format the document carefully, they will prioritize the content that YOU want them to.)
  • Partial sentences and symbols: Your organization will look more professional when you write in complete sentences and use words rather than symbols. For example, spell out the word “number” rather than use the symbol “#”.

Hockey letter: After

Here is the version I submitted back to the committee, still formatted in Microsoft Word. This is a basic framework for them to build from as they finish adding information and finalize the content.

How to get people to read what you send them: image of letter after edits have been made

Changes I made:

  • Reduced bold text: I limited the use of bold text to just what I want the reader’s eye to be drawn to when they are scanning. This allows them to pluck out what is most important.
  • Created lists: I paired the bolded text with the list format to really make the items clear and call out what the reader needs to do. Readers mentally check off each item as they move through it.
  • Added headings: I added headings and subheadings to help break the content down into smaller pieces. I wanted to help the reader know what needs to be done before the tournament, and what they will need to know when they travel to the tournament. Subheadings also help pull the reader through the material.
  • Rewrote text: I rewrote the text to add a friendly but professional tone to the letter. I also wanted the content under the bullet points to be consistent in format and the information easy to understand.
  • Other changes: As I worked, I thought about what elements produced even small barriers for the reader. Some small changes that may make a difference:
    • I included the email address that teams are to send information to right with the information they need to send. Sure, they can just reply to the email, but this eliminates any question of where it needs to be sent.
    • I typed the rink address in one line so readers can easily copy/paste it into their map app on their phone.
    • Since tournament apparel is available by pre-order only, I moved that information to the “Prior to the Tournament” section. Also, when the original letter referred to the apparel orders, it did not reference the attachment with additional information. I added a quick couple of words to help the reader make that connection.

The goal

Ultimately, the goal of this letter is to make sure the tournament registration, check-in, and weekend goes smoothly. Tournament organizers want more teams to submit their pre-tournament materials on time, be prepared at tournament check in, and know important information. As the tournaments start rolling, we’ll find out if these changes will help the committee better achieve those goals.

Any time you send out information, there will still be people with questions, there will still be people who don’t read the information. That’s a given. But, I’m confident that making changes like this will make it easier for your audience to read what you send, thus reducing the time you spend answering questions.

MANY thanks to the Mankato Area Hockey Association Tournament Committee for trusting me with their communications!

How will you put these ideas to work for you? How can I help? What questions do you have? Please comment below or send me an email kate@bluesundesigns.com.

cover photo credit: Pixabay.com

taking your communications to the next level

start somewhere

You don’t have to be perfect to get started.

This is something many entrepreneurs, especially women, struggle with. We want everything to be *JUST* right before we put it out in the world.

I’m here to say again: It is OK to not spend money on professionally-designed materials when you’re first getting started. It is just fine to start with a free tool like Canva.com to create your lead magnet or other communications. You can find templates, articles, and more that will help you use basic design principles so what you create has a more professional vibe than if you just try to go-it alone.

That said… as you grow your business to the next level, you’ll want to make sure your communications grow with you. A well-designed marketing piece will align with your branding and speak to your target customer. It will elevate the impression your customers have when they first engage with your brand and draw them in to learn more about what you have to offer. Professional designers have the ability to make sure your marketing pieces do all of that.

design up(scale)

Taylor Johnson Interiors (Greenville, SC) was at that point. She had used Canva to create the lead magnet for her website a while back; it’s a free guide to shopping for durable, pet and kid-friendly fabrics and decor. Photos engage the reader, the content is valuable, and it has a basic visual appeal.

Taylor referred to this original as “sad”. Although I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, I do think it needed a boost. The fonts don’t align with her branding, the stock photos and spacing are inconsistent in size, and the visual aesthetic is missing some of the elegance that Taylor employs in her interior design style.

So, we scaled up to better appeal to her target clients and align with her sophisticated brand. Check it out:

I replaced the stock photos with some that Taylor had of a home that she had beautifully styled. Her logo, fonts, and colors are classy and sophisticated, so by employing those in the design, it immediately gave the piece an upscale feel. I increased the white space, giving the images and text room plenty of room to breathe. The original lacked her business name, logo, and contact information, so I added a cover page with her logo and business name as well as a back page (not shown) with her website and social media icons.

Note: I changed/blurred the text in the images to protect Taylor’s valuable content. If you want her tips to everyone-proof your home, you’ll have to visit her website and sign up for her emails. (She also does virtual decorating, so she can serve you wherever you live!)

are you ready for next level design?

So, ask yourself:

Has your marketing kept up with your business? Is it time for a redesign?

I’d love to help polish your communications when you’re ready. If the time is now, let’s get started.

If you’re still in the DIY stage, I’ve linked some of my previous posts that might help you get up and running below.

Any questions? I’m happy to help! Comment below or send me a note: kate@bluesundesigns.com.

{Many thanks to Taylor for allowing me to be a part of her growing business!}

cover photo credit: Pixabay.com

related links:

5 steps to reduce your content

As a business owner, you LOVE what you do. You breathe it. Every aspect is important to you – every little nook and cranny, every small detail.

BUT…. is all of it important to your customers too?

I often see businesses and organizations so excited about everything they’re doing, they want to tell everyone about all of it. They want to make sure to include every last detail and nuance so the customer fully understands just how awesome it all is.

The thing is, if everything is important and exciting, then nothing is important and exciting. And if you include all of it? Well, then it’s just plain overwhelming and your audience won’t read it.

So… how do you learn to trim it down?

How do you go from this…

…to this?

1. Start by laying it all out

Put it ALL in there, like I did in the first image above. When I was working with this client, we knew the final version was not going to include all of that text; but by laying it into the document, we could see our starting point. We could see just how much we needed to trim out in order for the pages to look like we envisioned.

2. Ask questions

Keep asking questions to determine what actually needs to be included. Questions like:

  • WHY is this important to include?
  • Does the AUDIENCE care about this? (Not, “Do I want to TELL the audience about this?”)
  • Is all of this information necessary for this particular marketing piece? (Should some be shared at a different time, perhaps further in the onboarding process?)
  • Are these details necessary for understanding the message, or can some be trimmed out?
  • Will someone from my team be present when this marketing piece is being used? (Rather than including all of the information in written form, consider using bullet points and fill in details through a spoken explanation.)
  • How can I say this with fewer words? (Can you shorten/simplify sentences? Use bullet points instead of paragraphs?)
  • Can I tell this part of the story with a photo, image, or graphic?
  • Would it make sense to direct them to a website for more information?

Intentionally asking these kinds of questions will help you think through your content, and you will bring focus to what’s really important.

3. Zoom out and look at it

Without reading the content, determine if the page/spread of pages looks interesting. Do this by asking yourself more questions:

  • Is there enough white space, or is the content all jammed together?
  • Are there headings to break up the content into sections?
  • Does the layout make sense? Does it encourage the reader to move their eyes from section to section in the order that you want them to?
  • Is the font easy to read? (Read more about choosing fonts in this previous post about consistency in design.)
  • Are the images interesting? Do they invite the reader in to read more about what the image is portraying?

4. Get an opinion or two

Have someone outside of your organization take a look at it. You want it to be someone who doesn’t know your product or service well; preferably someone in your target market, but that may not be necessary. Explain the context in which the piece will be used (mailed out, used in initial consultations with clients, etc.), then get their feedback.

  • Does it look good?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Do you know where to go if you want more information?
  • Do you know what you’re supposed to do next?
  • Is there anything missing?
  • Is there anything you don’t like?

5. Final product

That’s it! Being mindful during the content development and design process will result in a piece that engages your audience and helps them fully understand your story. Sharing in manageable pieces (rather than excitedly telling them everything in one breath) will make them WANT to come on your journey with you.

It’s how you get from here:

to here:

cover photo by pixabay.com user: janeb13

in these uncertain times

“In these uncertain times…”

We’ve all heard that phrase a million times in the last few weeks. It seems all the big businesses are using it in their commercials. These ARE uncertain times and we as business owners need to be cognizant and respectful of the precarious situation we’re all in. We all fear giving off the perception that we’re “trying to make a buck” off of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But times are uncertain for small businesses too, and “trying to make a buck” is actually just “trying to stay alive”. Suddenly having to shutter your active business, tell your employees their job is done, pivot and figure out if and how you can serve your customer differently… in these uncertain times. Then of course there’s the fear. Will you ever be able to open your doors again?

When Minnesota’s stay-at-home order went into place, I posted only things that would help small businesses for a full week on my Facebook page; things like resources, tips, articles, etc. I’m pulling the best from there (and diving a little deeper in some) and compiling it here for you.

1 – keep the lights on

Your local chamber of commerce, Small Business Development Center, SCORE chapter, and other agencies can help you navigate this new turf you find yourself in. They can connect you with other businesses, help you with applying for the SBA loans if you need it, and so much more.

Our local Small Business Development Center has provided a comprehensive webpage that addresses small business’ response to COVID-19. They host webinars and other online events (most are free) so be sure to check it out. Much of the information there is accessible and applicable no matter where you are located; so if you don’t have a SBDC where you are, I encourage you to check out the resources at that link.

2 – pivot & reach out

Think differently

Is there a way you can support your customers and provide your service in an alternate way? Obviously, adhere to government restrictions, keep yourself and your employees safe, and balance the cost of getting the new service up and going with the benefit of a new source of revenue… but think hard. Google your business type or explore on Facebook/Instagram and learn what other businesses like yours are doing across the country. If you’re not the creative type (or even if you are!), employ the help of others. Get their ideas. Their outside perspective gives them the opportunity to things you may not see.

For example: I saw a post in a Facebook group I’m in from a landscaping company looking for creative ways to market their business. Some suggestions I offered:

  • Provide virtual consultations: customers could use their phone to walk the landscape designer around their property. A simple consultation could be on-the-spot plant suggestions, ideas, etc. from the designer (low-cost option) and a more full consultation could include a full landscape plan from the designer after the conversation (higher-cost option).
  • Social media engagement:
    • Regular video posts about different plants that thrive in their area, maybe with themes such as specific colors, easy-to-grow, or native plants.
    • Provide tips for people trying to DIY some landscaping projects during their time at home.
    • Ask customers what they want to learn about.

I’ve seen a cute antiques shop in our town doing live sales on their Facebook page, many businesses transitioned their stock to a website and do curbside pickup or shipping, others are providing phone or video consultations as support for DIY-ers, and fitness facilities and gyms are providing at-home online workouts.

Some of these could be continued after “life” resumes as a new way to engage their audience and/or secure different revenue streams. What could YOU do differently to serve your customers?

Connect with other businesses

How can you collaborate and cross-advertise to reach a wider audience? Our local chamber of commerce created a Facebook group for local businesses to post and advertise in, and within just a few days it had a couple thousand members (as of this post, it has 4,500). Could your community do something similar?

“Attend” online events that would have been in person. Our local chapters of 1Million Cups and Social Media Breakfast are still holding presentations via Zoom (like this one about the importance of customer reviews). Those are great ways to learn about other businesses, make connections, and learn about business-related topics. Make the time for these; you’ll be surprised you how benefit. Also, it’s a good way to show these organizations support as they’re working so hard to support small businesses. (And you can keep your camera covered so you can still attend in your pajamas.)

3 – communicate, communicate, communicate

If your customers don’t know how you have changed your businesses practices to continue to serve them, you’ll fall off their radar. If they don’t know you’re open, they won’t know they can buy. If they don’t know you care, they won’t care.

Utilize your email list

Don’t have one? Start one. If you have one, now’s the time to grow it. Use your social media accounts to ask people to sign up. Offer a discount in exchange for their email address. Promise (then provide) tips and resources for them related to your business.

Continue to post on social media

Even if you’re only operating minimal hours and providing minimal services. Even if you’re hard closed – not operating at all. Even if you’re not sure you’ll reopen when all is said and done. Don’t fall off your customers’ radar.

Even if it feels like you’re posting the same general message – use different pictures, post at different times of day, reword the text. Chances are the audience that saw your post at 10am on Tuesday on Facebook won’t see it at 9pm on Thursday on Instagram. Plus, even if they did see it, it may not have stuck with them, or they may not have had time to act on it right then… so seeing it again is a reminder. In fact, people NEED to see the same message multiple times before they act.

Gary Vaynerchuk says we should jab, jab, jab THEN throw the right hook. Meaning: give, give, give THEN ask them to buy. (Never heard of him? You can Google “Gary Vaynerchuk jab jab jab right hook” and you’ll get a wealth of information. Here’s an article to get you started.)

The point is, CONNECT. Give your audience, your customers something to care about. Teach them something, help solve their problem for free (from home), show them that you’re there because you care about them. Help them feel good about supporting your business. Help them get to know YOU. Then ask them to buy or subscribe or do something.


{If you still want it to look good but the budget is a little tight, here are some low or no cost tools you can use to create your own designs for social media or print.}


Tell your customers how they can help

Everyone is overwhelmed by the state of our country, our world. Everyone wants to help in some way, but often don’t know how. TELL your customers how they can help your business. Your customers are your customers for a reason. They like your service, your product, your business, you. They will want to support you. Tell them exactly how they can do that.

I created a series of images that I posted on my social media during that first week, then wrote text to accompany each post. I wrote them as a broad “how to help small businesses”, so they can be used that way as a general support to your community. Some of them can also be tailored to be specific to your business.

I’m providing these images, the original post content, AND suggestions for how you can customize the post at no cost to you. Just click the DOWNLOAD NOW button below and you’ll get the five images and a PDF with the content. You are welcome to use them in any order, edit the text to fit your business, use completely different text, etc. (If you use any of them, I would appreciate a tag @bluesunmn on Facebook or Instagram.)


As always, please let me know how I can be helpful as you navigate… these uncertain times.

All images in this post (aside from the social media assets included in the download) are from pixabay.com.