Most of us don’t write for a living; that is, we are not published authors who make our money simply by the act of writing. (As a writer myself, I can tell you that the words “simply” and “writing” should never even be used in the same sentence, as it creates an oxymoron.)
But, even professional writers often don’t know much about marketing themselves and their work. In today’s world, social media, blogging, and email marketing are a huge part of promoting products and services, meaning that virtually everyone has a need to write (or hire others to write for them). While writing is not easy for most people, writing compellingly is harder still – and compelling is what it must be, whether you’re writing an article, a blog post, or an eNewsletter.
So, whether you’re doing the actual writing or trying to give direction to an outside consultant, here are my best tips for more easily creating articles and blog posts – and, more importantly, ones people will want to read:
First, give the people what they want
Pay attention to the questions you get about what you do; these are natural subjects about which to develop articles, blog posts, and eNewsletter topics. Another can’t-miss tactic: Poll your target audience … ASK them what kind of information they want or what topics they want to know more about.
Make it easy on yourself
Getting something – anything! – onto that blank page (or screen) is arguably half the battle. Start with an outline. Jot down your major points, numbering them I, II, III, etc with plenty of space between each one. Under each, write a couple of sub-points (labeled A, B, C, etc). Under each A, B, C sub-point, fill in the finer detail (1, 2, 3, etc). This will help you organize your thoughts so you can more easily “tell a complete and compelling story” in a cohesive way. BONUS TIME & MONEY SAVER: If you’re not going to be writing the actual copy yourself, this type of outline will provide your copywriter with enough good, detailed information to be able to polish it into something substantial in less time (and, thus, at less cost to you).
Develop quality content
Read, read, read … stay current in your area of expertise. Bookmark sites on the web where you find current trends, forecasts and statistics, or just fun and interesting tidbits about your field. These are source documents for your next article. Writing a synopsis or digest of the “best of the best” in current news about your topic will make you a trusted resource – your audience will appreciate not only the information but also the time you’ll be saving them, as they won’t have to search for and read several long news articles or make sense of confusing statistics on their own.
Turn it around
Instead of a “How-to,” turn it into a “Things to Avoid” … people always want to know what pitfalls to avoid, even more so than “what to do” because you’re directly addressing their worst fear – failing! A “things to avoid” article is actually just a matter of taking the “things to do” and turning them around. Remember: A provocative email “Subject” line or article headline is typically more engaging.
Don’t be “sales-y”
Don’t mention what your business is or does or how it’s “different.” I don’t want to be harsh, but here’s the truth: No one cares (yet) about you – because you haven’t shown them why they should. So, just write your article (which demonstrates your knowledge and expertise) and in the LAST PARAGRAPH say something like, “This is our philosophy on _____, which we’ve been using to help our clients/customers/patients successfully create/achieve _____ for _____ years. If you’d like to know more about how we can help in your specific situation, call us today.”
Pack a powerful punch with case studies
Create a quick “client case study” that explains why someone should hire/buy from you … each case study being basically a paragraph including the following:
- What problem the client came to you with (“The client was struggling with …”)
- How you worked with the client to create a viable solution and how you executed your plan (“Working with their existing ad agency, we…” or “We did a series of one-on-one coaching sessions with their team over a 30-day period focused on …”)
- What the results were (“The client went on to complete the project …” or “The remaining inventory was sold through by year’s end, with profits ___% over their projections …”)
Give the people what they need
What does everyone say they need more of? Time. Save their valuable time and they will not forget you. So, consider this: Not every piece has to be an actual article. When appropriate, consider using bullet points to create easy-to-read lists or helpful checklists, rather than full-blown, text-heavy articles.
Never forget the 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule is simple: 80% free, relevant, useful information to 20% sales pitch – and only allow low-key sales pitches to enter into your content.
Don’t join the devolution
Don’t let your eNewsletter devolve into an electronic (and wordy) print ad. People will come to dread receiving it (who wants more advertisements in their inbox??) and thus will opt out. If you want to send out a “brag” piece every now and again (no more than 1x/month), focus it on one specific thing (an award you received for your work, a project you just completed, etc) – just make sure that “one thing” is going to be interesting to the reader. Heavy on pictures, short on text. All you want to do is remind them you’re out there, doing cool stuff that – if they hired you – could benefit them. Make sure all your contact info is there – links to website, email, LinkedIn profile, Facebook page, Twitter account. Done.
Brainstorm with others
Nothing beats having someone (or a couple of someones) to bounce a few ideas around with. Especially if you work from a home office (like I do), it’s vital to keep connected with others who can help you flesh out your ideas. Plan a “coffee date” with a local business colleague … or schedule a virtual cocktail hour with a fellow business bud based in a distant city. Talk about the projects you’re working on and share the challenges you’re both facing. Just getting out of your own head for awhile will help you feel refreshed and more creative afterward – but my personal experience is that I always come away with a clearer sense of direction and some specific ideas I can run with right away.
And, finally: Stop stressing
I find when I get out into nature – or even just sit out on my deck with my morning coffee or in a comfy chair with a glass of wine in the evening – my mind has an opportunity to relax and wander a little. Allow it to happen. Stop turning over the events of the day or the items on tomorrow’s to-do list in your mind and just BE. You will be amazed at the things that will come into your head when you make a little room for them to enter. I always have a little notepad and pen nearby (I can be “old school” that way) and jot down whatever comes into my head. Sometimes it’s just a phrase that sounds like it’d make a great headline (even though I may have no idea at the time what it may lead me to write). Other times it’s four or five bullet points that I can clearly see coming together as an article. Whatever strikes me, I write it down, and then I promptly focus on … nothing … so other thoughts have room to enter. There’s nothing quite like a few minutes of peace and quiet in this otherwise crazy life to breath new life into your writing! Give yourself that gift, starting this holiday season.
© Linda C. Rooney
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Marketing mentor Linda Rooney teaches writers and other entrepreneurs how to build their online platforms using social media, blogging, and email marketing. Benefit from her 20+ years of award-winning marketing expertise with a FREE subscription to her eNewsletter, “Social Smarts.” Sign up at www.LindaRooney.com.