Style Guides for an IT Startup

Executive summary: An IT startup needs 3 style guides, one each for Marcomm, Brand identity, and Technical Publications. This article helps non-writers and junior writers to put together the style guides and guidelines to use the style guides effectively in a startup.

Should my IT startup need a style guide at all? You may wonder.

Here are some reasons or indications that tell you that your startup needs to create a style guide.

  • Content that looks or reads inconsistent (online vs. offline, document A vs. document B)
  • When multiple writers or non-writers are in charge of creating and maintaining content.
  • Your customer cares about receiving cogent content, and you want to honor customer expectations.
  • Creating quality content is one of your brand’s characteristics.
  • In the age of the Internet, every customer first searches for products and services online. For a B2B brand, the search platforms are LinkedIn and the business’ website. For a B2C brand, the search may happen on social media as well as the firm’s website. Content that is consistent in how it reads and the message it conveys establishes trust with customers and eases their decision to purchase from your business.

Types of Style Guides

An IT startup may need three style guides for:

  • Marketing communication, aka marcomm.
  • Brand guidelines.
  • Technical publications.

In What Order Should You Create the Style Guides?

You may not need all the style guides at once. But, you may want to start with the marcomm style guide since marcomm is probably the first set of communication artifacts that you want to build.

Marcomm Style Guide

An IT startup needs a marcomm style guide since marketing is one of the earliest activities.

Marcomm in an IT startup flows through presentations, case studies, whitepapers, the company website, blogs, product microsites, and so on. If you want to know how to organize a blog, read our article, How to Organize a Blog.

In many places, this is known by a simpler name, the editorial style guide. The editorial style guide usually follows The Chicago Manual of Style:

  • Business, fine arts, and history writers use The Chicago Manual of Style. It is is the best reference resource in matters of style. Since it is exhaustive, you may want to adopt certain sections.

Note that nothing stops an organization from adopting from more than one style guide.

Template of a Marcomm Style Guide

A marcomm style guide can include:

  • A list of terms that can or cannot be used.
  • Terminology conventions
  • Writing about numbers and dates.
  • Capitalization
  • Spelling convention (British or American) to be followed.
  • Online resources to be used.
  • Links to templates.
  • Image sources, attribution conventions.
  • Other details that are relevant to the firm.

Example

Mailchimp has an awesome style guide called Mailchimp Content Style Guide. As of this writing, the style guide is available both on Mailchimp’s website and on GitHub.

Brand Style Guide

Important

Brand thinking should precede brand creation. It is a prerequisite.

A brand is a set of promises from a business. It is an expectation and memory for a customer. It also includes the story about the brand’s relevance to the customer.

So think profoundly in your decision-making about what promise your business is making, what expectations it is setting, and what memories it is creating for customers.

Why

Brand style guide creates a memorable brand that is recognizable from a mile away.

When

If you are a startup, it may take you sometime before you can identify the best brand positioning for your company. That does not mean you cannot have a brand guide book before finding your niche. Instead, you should adjust your brand book as you progressively discover your position in the market. It is an iterative process for an IT startup.

Template of a Brand Guide

A brand style guide, in its basic form, defines the elements that determine the brand’s online and offline presence:

  • Logo and its variations
  • Color palette with primary and secondary brand colors
  • Typography
  • Stationery
  • Imagery with icons, graphics, and photographs
  • Social Media looks
  • A tone that matches the brand personality

Consider adding the brand story and philosophy to the brand book. They act as lighthouses that guide the evolution of the brand’s look and message.

Example

Many businesses, institutions, and universities have publicly hosted style guides. Please search the Internet for “brand style guide.”

Technical Publications Style Guide

A style guide for technical documentation is a necessity in a startup when publishing software, hardware, API, and other types of user documentation.

The style guide provides guidelines about how to write, format, and present information.

There are at least two style guides that can be used as-is to create technical publications. Or, you can read them before you craft one.

  • Read Me First: A Style Guide for the Computer Industry. It helps in documenting both hardware and software products.
  • Microsoft Writing Style Guide: This guide is aimed at documenting user interfaces. You can download a free PDF copy from Microsoft’s website. (This guide was once known as the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications [MSTP].)

Template of a Technical Publications Style Guide

The template can include:

  • Style guidelines related to headings, capitalization, lists, numbers, acronyms, and so on.
  • Typographic conventions.
  • UI conventions.
  • Graphics conventions.
  • Procedure writing.
  • Template standards.
  • Lists of sources for reference.
  • Standard and non-standard usage of words.

Example

Microsoft Writing Style Guide is a great example of a style guide for technical publications.

Tips for Style Guide Creation and Maintenance

The creation of style guides takes effort and commitment in an IT startup, whereas adherence requires a process:

  • All your style guides are short, very short, if possible. Content creators should be able to implement the guidelines easily.
  • The styles are intuitive, not pedantic, to ensure compliance.
  • The style guides are accessible to all.
  • Update at regular intervals and when needed.
  • The process to update the style guides should be simple and quick. If you have a complex process to update the style guide, try to make it simple and straight forward. The goal is to be able to make changes in time to roll out the content with style updates.
  • Anticipate the changes. Keep a watch on emerging trends and how they may impact your style needs and the style guides.

Important: All brands, proprietary names, registered trademarks, and the content at the location of the links mentioned in this article belong to the respective owners. All opinions expressed here are my personal opinions.

How to Start a Blog

This blog post tells you how to start a blog as opposed to how to write a blog. That is, it explains the background work you need to do to start a blog. Also, this blog does not include the details about using any one platform.

If you want to start a company or corporate blog, typically it is published on your company website. Company blog posts have to observe strict guidelines. This post helps you start a personal blog.

Choose a Topic

There are two paths you can follow. If you want to publish your thoughts and impressions online, you can do so. 

Or, you may want to choose a particular topic, say, SaaS (Software-as-as-Service). You can discuss a wide range of sub-topics such as SaaS technologies, SaaS marketing, SaaS apps, SaaS Analytics, SaaS training, SaaS startups in town, and so on.

Pick a Name

Once you know what you want to write about, choose a name for your blog. If your blog is about your personal impressions, you can very well name it after you. Else, choose a name that reflects the topic of the blog.

Choose a Blogging Platform

You can use WordPress, Blogger, or any other such platform. These platforms provide a virtual space to publish your blogs. It is similar to setting up a shop. However, there are both free and paid platforms. Technically speaking, this is called hosting your blog. (The platform hosts your blog.)

If you are new to blogging, the best place to start is Google’s Blogger. Once you gain some understanding about what it takes to blog and how to use a blogging platform, you can explore WordPress. You can get a lot of helpful content about WordPress at wpbeginner.

Understand Keyword Research

Keywords or key phrases are the words or phrases people type into search engines to find information on the Internet. When your blog uses those very keywords or phrases, it appears in the search results.

However, understand that appearing in the search results and appearing on the first page have vastly different value propositions. After all, you want people to read your blog. It is unlikely that people will find your blog unless it appears on the first page and more importantly, in the first 3 places. Since only 3 results can occupy those 3 slots, competition is intense. That brings us to the aspect of blog distribution.

There are many tools, both free and paid, for keyword research. Type “free keyword tools” into the search bar. You shall find a plethora of sources.

To know more about keyword selection, read Keyword Selection for Websites and Blogs.

Distribute Your Blog

Distribution helps your blog reach a wider audience. Also, note that whether you use keywords or not, you need to distribute your blog.

  • After you write a blog, copy and share the link on your Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media pages. A word of caution. If you are writing about funny cats, avoid LinkedIn since the audience prefers professional content and not content that entertains. In a nutshell, respect the content preferences of the audience.
  • You can post the blog link as your WhatsApp status.
  • Create an account on Medium and import your blog.
  • Add the blog link to your email signature. (Don’t include personal blog links in your professional email. It’s a big no-no.)

Time to Act

Once you set up the above, set aside some time to write regularly. When you write regularly, and about a chosen topic, people know what to expect and choose to return.

Blogs attract comments if you enable the comments facility for your blogs. They generate interaction with your readers. Enable comments when you think you have the time to respond to comments.

Publish Your First Blog Post

Even after one or two edit cycles and assurances from your friends that your blog post is good to go, you may have butterflies in your stomach to push the Publish button for the first time. This is normal and you will overcome this feeling very soon.

Resources

Here are some pointers to develop your blogging skills.

To know more about keyword selection, you may want to read the article: How to Select Keywords for Websites and Blogs.

How to Write a Cover Letter

More and more companies are asking for cover letters from job seekers. So, we decided to bring out a blog on how to write a cover letter.

To write a cover letter, you got to devote time and do a bit of research. This blog tell you how.

Why Should You Write a Cover Letter

While some companies mandate writing a cover letter, some make it optional. However, we suggest that you make it a habit to write a cover letter. If nothing else, it shows that you care about the application process.

Cover Letter Format

There is no fixed format. But you need to include some or all of these sections. Mandatory sections are marked as (M) and optional sections are marked (O). Don’t have to title each paragraph.

  • Salutation (M). Start with “Dear Mr. <insert complete name here.>,” or “Dear Ms.” This is formal addressing.
  • Introduction (M). Introduce yourself. Remember. Your introduction makes the first paragraph (1 to 3 sentences) of the cover letter. Keep this concise and professional (not boastful). The intent here is to establish that you qualify the minimum hiring requirements and launch the reader to smoothly into reading the rest of the email.
  • Thanking. (O). If you have already spoken to an HR professional or the email recipient, thank him or her first for the time on the call.
  • Reason for Application (M). Talk about the job you are applying for and why you make a great fit. Before, you start writing the cover letter go through the employer’s website and show, through your writing, that you understand the employer’s needs. If you can write with poise, you can create a great first impression.
  • Something More (O). Everyone likes a bit extra! Every employer feels good to hire a candidate with a specialist qualification or with unique work experience. If you have special education or experience that is directly relevant to the job, bring it to the employer’s notice. Or, if you are in the process of obtaining a certification that will be useful for the employer, do indicate.
  • Special Needs (O). A job requirement may need you to relocate or travel. Sometimes recruitment aims to recruit certain sections of people. If you must fulfill those needs, mention that you do.
  • Conclusion (M). Conclude your letter saying that you look forward to their response.
  • Thanking. (M). Thank the organization for the opportunity to apply.
  • Sign off (M). Sign off with “Best regards,” or “Regards,”.
  • Also, include your contact information as part of the signature.

Guidelines

If you are applying for multiple jobs, don’t use the same cover letter. Instea, modify the letter based on what the job description is asking for.

Spellcheck and verify that you have spelled the name of the person you are writing to.

Keep your language simple, straightforward, and business-like.

If you are not sure about the tone of the letter, write in the most polite way possible. You will not hurt anyone when you are polite.

Click Send and you are done.

We hope that this blog benefits both fledgling and experienced job seekers alike.

How to Search the Local Language Content

Google helps us at two levels to search the local language content.

  • Google can search content published in Indian regional languages.
  • Using Google’s Input Tools, you can use transliteration and avoid the laborious typing in a local language.

What is Transliteration-based Search?

Transliteration allows you to type a phonetically similar word in English and turns it into the corresponding word in the local language.

How is Transliteration-based Search Helpful

  • Transliteration lets you skip typing in a regional language. The Indian regional languages are phonetic in general and the typing needs a high accuracy to get the right content. Therefore, transliteration saves the typing effort.
  • Also, you can minimize typos.

The Need for Searching the Regional Language Content

Regional language search is of great help:

  • Many local events are elaborately reported in regional languages. However, only some of them make it to the headlines in the press in English. Therefore, anyone interested in a regional happening can find many sources in regional language.
  • Also, some state governments post content such as laws and policies in the local language. They also release news bulletins in local languages. To find this content, you need local language search.
  • How about searching for a YouTube video?

As of this writing in June 2019, the Google Input Tools help you search the regional language content on the Internet, YouTube, Gmail, and Google Drive.

Also, Google Input Tools enable transliterated input in Search, Chrome, and Chrome OS in 20 languages.

To know more, find the relevant help topic by searching for “transliteration Google Input Tools”.

Prerequisites for Regional Content Search

Install Google Input Tools. To know how to install and enable Google Input Tools, read the help article from Google.

An Example of Regional Language Content Search

This video demonstrates how to search for “Namasthe Telangana” using transliteration:

Notes

It is possible that there are other ways to search the local language content. If you know any of them, please write to us at sales [at] lotustech [dot] online. We will publish your inputs with credits.

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