Writing content for your business can be tough! But unfortunately, you need GREAT CONTENT and GREAT CONTENT WRITING for your website, your social media, your marketing materials – everything.

But are you using the right words? Are you using the right language? Is your content writing powerful, engaging, captivating?

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Don’t think that you can’t learn to be a great content writer for your business – because you can!

Here are some fab tips from Kurt Vonnegut to help you hone your content writing skills. Don’t worry too much about who he is – but just absorb the wisdom here.

The 8 Rules for Writing Compelling Stories

Once upon a time, way back in the poodle skirt, sideburn days of the 1950s, a crazy author by the name of Kurt Vonnegut came up with 8 rules for writing compelling short stories.

Now everyone thought that it was ridiculous to condense great writing into just 8 rules, but Kurt had also written some incredible works of science fiction, so it was common sense to listen to what he had to say.

Fast forward to 2020, and we are all trying to write compelling stories that sell our brand, and our business across multiple channels.

We are all trying desperately to create content that stops people from scrolling, connects, and convinces them to buy. But it’s incredibly hard when there is so much noise, so much distortion and so much CONTENT!

But, could Vonnegut’s storytelling rules help us tell better stories and improve our content writing?

His rules for short story writing were:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

  5. Start as close to the end as possible.

  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut also published “How to Write with Style” – another 8 tips for writing compelling stories:

  1. Find a subject you care about

  2. Do not ramble

  3. Keep it simple

  4. Have the guts to cut

  5. Sound like yourself

  6. Say what you mean to say

  7. Pity the readers

  8. Be enchanting…read Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr, who had perfectly enchanting things to say

I’ve done some pick-and mixing from these two sets of rules to come up with 8 principles I think can help us all create better content.

1. Use the time of a total stranger wisely

This is so pertinent to today’s world, where we are endlessly multitasking, scrolling, and flicking. Our time feels more pressured because we are bombarded with content, so getting someone to ‘stop the scroll’ and pause and read your content means it has to be worthwhile.

Try reviewing your writing and asking:

Is it valuable? Does it answer my customer’s core problem? Is it brief? Does it get to the point quickly?

Google released its page experience algorithm changes in May 2021, and it favours sites that are user friendly.

But it is also going to promote sites that have useful content, aren’t spammy, and are not stuffed full of keywords.

This update favours content that is original, comprehensive, relevant, value-laden, and doesn’t cause your reader to bounce! And whether your content makes people want to share it and link to it.

Google’s latest core update makes content king. As such, developing high-quality, user-friendly content is critical for establishing the expertise, authority and trust that can boost a website in the search rankings.

Source: Digital Commerce 360

Applying Vonnegut’s first rule to our writing and our websites will actually not only help improve our content but could hopefully improve our rankings in search too!

2. Have a character your customers can root for 

For your purposes, the main character is you or your business. 

In order for people to root for you, back you, support you, buy EVERYTHING your small business produces, you have to be likeable and visible.

How do you get people to like you in real life? Usually, you make friends with people you have something in common with or, you can empathize with something that has happened to them, or you share an experience.

Show your vulnerable underbelly. Don’t be afraid to show your flaws and your struggles. All this will help people empathize with you

You also need to be visible. Let people see who you are. Show your face and your staff’s faces on your website, in your brochures, and on social media. Let them have a character(s) associated with your business.

3. Embrace your underdog story

If you are a small business in a large pool of competitors — embrace that. Embrace being small and embrace being the underdog. People love underdogs and root for them and promote them.

It’s why so many of us are happy to spend so much on Apple products. The story of underdogs Jobs and Wozniak was a story so powerful that it created a cult-like following.

Another underdog, Vietnamese refugee, David Tran of Huy Fong’s Sriracha sauce has such a credible and relatable story, that brand advocates pretty much do all the marketing for him. 

In the world of television, another underdog was Schitt’s Creek. scripted TV comedy series that aired in 2015, but became a MASSIVE hit, mainly through word of mouth.

If you’d have read a summary of it on paper, you’d have thought – meh – I’ve heard this before. Rich, snobby family, loses money, works to get back on top.

Even though it was an archetypal story – it was the way the story was told, the warmth of its characters, and its “casually progressive” love story between David and Patrick- that made it so beloved by so many.

The basic story structure may have been as old as the hills, but the sentiment, depth, and warmth the story projected really appealed to audiences. The story was of its time. An anti-Kardashian, anti-reality, apolitical comedy filled with heart-warming nostalgia. It championed the once top dog – now underdog!

It created Schitt’s Creek story advocates that marketed it WAY further than the networks ever could. I think it’s even overtaking Friends in the world of GIFs with its little blue influencer tick! I know – SHUT UP!

But as a small business in a sea of competitors, you too can have a powerful underdog story. Don’t let size stop you.

4. Have a character that wants something

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

You want to sell to your customer. Your customers want a solution.

To make that connection, tell customers who you are and why you do it and why your solution is the best.  

I’ve had clients tell me that they are in it just to make money, but that’s never the case.

There is always something that motivates them to start their business. There’s always a “why” or a belief that they have the solution to that customer’s problem.

If you can convey that “why” effectively you will get your customers to empathize with you, your cause, your product, and your business. 

“Ingvar Kamprad founded IKEA in 1943 at the age of 17, selling household goods like pens, wallets and picture frames. Småland, the landscape where Ingvar grew up, was stony and rugged. Back then, many of the inhabitants had to get by with small means, making as much as possible with next to nothing. Because of this, Smålanders are said to be thrifty and innovative, with a “no-nonsense” approach to everyday problem solving.” 

IKEA – About Page

If I had omitted the word IKEA from that sentence, I bet you’d have been thinking, wow, I really feel for that Ingvar. Let me buy his picture frames!

So tell your customer your story. Explain how and why you started your business and what challenges you had to overcome to get there. 

Here’s another oneThe Cambridge Satchel Company from the Mailchimp guys…

“Ben grew up helping his mom around her hair salon that she ran from their family kitchen, and Dan’s parents ran a bakery.”


Oh Ben and Dan, I love that.

I’ve been a brand supporter of many companies because I relate to their story and like them. They may not even have the best product, but I’m invested in their story.

5. Have a bad guy or nemesis 

For customers to see you as a hero, you need an opponent, a nemesis, a BAD GUY. 

It could be a woman. 

I’ve had three CRAZY ex-bosses all of whom were HORRIFIC and made my life MISERABLE! One, in particular, threw paper at my head, made me get their breakfast, pick up dry cleaning, wrote ranting emails with hundreds of actions hidden inside at 5 in the morning, sneered at me, treated me with contempt, and were generally UNPLEASANT.⠀

But my ‘bad woman’ has made me who I am, fun-loving, professional, supportive, with a desire to nurture and care for small businesses.⠀

For your brand storytelling – there is always a NEMESIS.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a person, but it could be an entity, a competitor, a frustrating process, horrendous customer service, or mass production of cheap items.

Having a ‘bad guy’ in your business story gives it much more meaning and gives you the opportunity to show your heroic qualities. 

They give your customers a reason to root for you – the HERO. and want to buy your product/solution to FIGHT THAT EVIL MENACE or frustrating gap in the market.  ⠀

Both the hero and the bad guy make up key elements in your About me / About us page

6. Have some conflict or strife

By Deems Taylor Published by Simon & Schuster, New York – Pictorial History of the Movies

Every director I worked with always demanded good characters and some conflict. “If I get tears, I’ll be happy,” was something I heard A LOT.

But, really, we all love a bit of jeopardy.

Without it, seeing someone do well, and continue to do well…well isn’t interesting. It’s hard to root for the main protagonist if there isn’t any adversity or any conflict.

You need to inject a bit of drama.

Nothing too dramatic. Some mild frustration will do.

Say for example you told me, that you were fed up with your corporate job, had a better way of doing something, fought that oppressor, ate the rule book for breakfast, smashed down that ridiculous system, and taught yourself to come up with an incredible solution and service. 

Well, now I’m invested. 

You sound like me! I recognize myself in your story. How can I buy what you’re selling?

I don’t even have a beard and I want to buy their products!

“Mailchimp was designed as an alternative to the oversized, expensive email software of the early 2000s. It gave small business owners who lacked the high-end tools and resources of their larger competitors access to technology that empowered them and helped them grow.”

7. Sound like yourself & keep your language simple

Vonnegut believed that if you were from Kentucky, then talk like you’re from Kentucky.

Or if you’re Joe Lycett embrace your loquacious Brummieness.

You’ve probably heard people say a million times to ‘be authentic’ when writing for social media. Well, Vonnegut said it first. All it means is write like you speak.

If you’re like Moira from Schitt’s Creek — then please hire someone to do your speaking and writing for you, lest your verbiage confuses the masses of which you desire to attract!!!

Don’t look at Burger King’s Twitter feed whatever you do, you’ll be lost in there for hours.

Innocent are always listed for their quirky childlike banter. But missing capital letters and talking to me like I’m an idiot is very overdone by corporates now.

I also love Slack, Fridababy, Talking Shrimp and Mailchimp for their uber down to earth language. Yes – I say uber. A lot. I have German friends.

Have a strong and consistent tone of voice. Do you have certain phrases that encapsulate you? Try to avoid channelling your favourite celebrity or appropriating phrases  – “just do you!”

Try to keep your language simple, jargon-free and free from blanket empty statements. Chances are if you are using words like ‘optimized,’ ‘ground-breaking,’ ‘leading,’ ‘revolutionary,’ ‘transformative’ you are none of these things.

None of these words tells me anything about what you do or how it helps ME!

“The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Kurt Vonnegut


Explain what you do rather than describing how amazing you are. If you have a fantastic customer experience – don’t say that, explain what that means.

Anyone can say they have a great customer experience, but when you detail what great looks like – well that’s the story detail that will get shared.  So use that simple language and detail in your case studies, your web copy, and your social media copy. 

8. Pity the readers…keep it short

James Stewart philibustering in Mr Smith Goes to Washington National Board of Review Magazine

It sounds so patronizing, but actually, Vonnegut wanted writers to make sure they were considerate of their readers. 

No one wants to read a wall of a thousand words. 

I know my attention span is the length of a goldfish, so unless you’ve peppered your text with images, graphics, quotes, you are likely to lose my attention after 15 seconds.

I’m a scanner. So unless I can quickly scan your text to see if it answers my question or solves my problem, I’m unlikely to read on. 

Your web copy needs to grab the viewer’s attention, and keep hold of that attention right through to the Call To Action (CTA) – the button or message that says – BUY HERE! 

Your social media copy needs to engage me in just the first 10 words to make me press ‘read more.’

Your podcast and video needs to hook me in just the first 10 seconds to get me to commit to the whole episode.  Your video description and podcast show notes also need to be packed with value and keyword-rich content.

If your readers/viewers/listeners are anything like me – and I bet they are, then you can’t be indulgent with your copy.

Basically – cut the crap. Cut the adjectives, cut what doesn’t directly speak to your customer, and cut what doesn’t work.

Use analytics on your social media platforms, or use Google Analytics on your website to determine what people like to read and what makes them bounce away to a better website. 

EVERYTHING you write needs to be engaging, captivating, and scroll-stopping. 

Why not pin this for later?

8 Ways to Transform Your Content Writing and Supercharge your Content. Woman blogging in a cafe.

Follow me on Instagram for more content marketing tips. Or if you need help writing web copy, blog posts or social media captions – just send me an email.