By Jayne Bodell

You’ve probably heard how important content marketing is to your business. Blogging, sending newsletters, writing white papers or eBooks are ways that you can use your small business content to connect with your customers to provide them with information to help run their business.

You not only have to keep your website fresh and active with new content, but you also need to keep it consistent and professional in order to show that you are an expert in your field. If you have a messy website, you’ll lose your reader in record time, no matter how good the content. Readers are busy people and want something that is easy to read and familiar. Keeping your blog or newsletter consistent assures the reader you know what you’re doing and makes it easier on the reader.

In order to project the professionalism that you should, you need to develop a style guide. Consider the style guide as part of brand building. Even if you’re a small business of one, you owe it to your brand to make decisions on how you want your content published, and it’s never too soon to think of what you want in your style guide.

There are numerous style guides on the internet for you to read and understand what goes into a guide, but be careful to not get overwhelmed. As a small business you don’t need everything that’s in Yahoo!’s style guide. Here are some tips to get you started.

Branding Elements

Anything that pertains to your brand goes in this section:

  • Logo – Include all the sizes and how they should be used.
  • Font, typography – List the primary font and what size. You probably won’t have anything about typography, but if you do, include it here.
  • Templates – You don’t have to put the actual template, just the link.

Content Elements

This is the meat of your style guide. Anything to do with writing your content goes here:

  • Primary style guide – List your primary reference: Chicago Manual, Yahoo! Style Guide, AP Style Guide?
  • Style and tone – How many pictures will each blog post have? Will you always use a list? Will you include a logo? Will you have a minimum of back links? Writing for lawyers will be different than writing for avid video gamers. Do you use humor in your writing, or are you strictly professional? New employees and guest writers will appreciate this section.
  • Grammar – Here is where you list any exceptions to your chosen manual or discuss in detail how certain elements pertain to your specific business. Topics to cover: punctuation, capitalization and a word list.
  • Categories – List your categories for your blogs and define them. It’s recommended that you categorize your blog posts. I would choose your categories and explain what kinds of posts fit into each category. Because I write about grammar, I have six categories that I use: jargon, writing, usage, punctuation, words, and lessons. I’ve defined each one, so when I get done with my blog, I know how I’m going to categorize them. And I limit myself to using no more than two categories for each blog.

If you need some examples to follow, check out the guides from University of North Carolina, Hubspots, or MailChimp. If you’re looking for a good explanation of how to use a logo, check out UNC. Hubspot is easy to read and good for online writing. MailChimp’s guide is extensive, and well layed out. The writing section is organized by type of content: blog, newsletter, technical, etc.

It’s time to gather your writing team and create your company style guide. You may only have your logo colors and whether or not you use the Oxford comma, but it’s a start. Choose one person to be in charge of updating the guide. As specific questions come up, discuss and decide on the correct answer. Then, make sure you update your style guide. As you business grows, so will your style guide.