5 things not to do if you want people to read your content

Stressed and Overworked Businessman sleepingDo you feel like no one is reading your content? Why bother blogging, sending newsletters and creating other content if everyone is too busy to read it. Giving your clients and prospects valuable information is a proven way to market yourself. But how can you make your content interesting so people will want to read it? There are plenty of dos and don’ts to get you started. We covered some of the do’s previously, here are some don’ts:

1. Don’t just report the news or new developments. There are lots of sources for news. Yes there is value in passing along items you think might interest your audience, but you want to take the extra step. The real difference you want to provide is to talk about how the new development impacts the client’s situation. Offer insights and practical advice. That’s what will help you stand out from your competition.

2. Don’t be self-promotional. It is okay to talk about your activities and awards to demonstrate credibility. However, keep it to a minimum. Think of the 80-20 rule – 80% useful content; 20% promotional content.

3. Don’t use canned content. There are lots of sources of canned content. Even though the content can be well-written, it’s also very basic, generic and boring. It doesn’t focus on the specific issues of your audience, won’t be enticing to read, and doesn’t showcase your unique value proposition. It’s also “duplicate content,” – that is, content that appears on lots of websites. Google will penalize you for that and it will hurt you in search engine rankings.

4. Don’t worry about perfect grammar and syntax. Just recently I read a blog post from Top Rank Marketing that reminded me how we get caught up in writing like it’s a term paper. Write in a way that’s comfortable for a real person to read and also shows your personality. You can still be a professional and not have your writing feel like a treatise.

5. Don’t forget about headlines. A great headline entices people to read more. A lot of lawyers, accountants and other professionals write very dense factual headlines. Give your audience a reason to read on. Even if you can’t find a way to be clever or funny, make sure you’re clear about why they need to know something; how it’s helpful; and what’s the benefit or risk of not knowing.

It’s hard to create compelling content. Keep these tips in mind to help make sure your information gets read.

Do you need help producing great content that will attract clients? Contact me for a free consultation.

5 dos to help you create content that your audience wants to read

Businessman Reading eBook In OfficeIs your content boring? Giving clients and prospects interesting and helpful information is a great way to attract attention and build trust. The problem is how to create the kind of content that gets read. This week I have a few Dos to help you get started developing engaging content.

1. Do answer real questions. I am consistently asked by clients and prospects – what should I write about? Among the best sources for content are the frequently asked questions you get from your own audience. Put together a list of them and start answering them. Don’t worry about giving away too much information for free. You don’t have to go into minutia with your response, but you do want to be genuinely helpful. Highlight what they should know about their problem and possible solutions so they see you know what you’re talking about and can solve their problems.

2. Do listen to your audience and talk about the issues they are following. Where do your clients and prospects turn for information on their problems? As a start you can ask your own clients, but then go deeper. Identify and subscribe to publications your clients read, set up google alerts to monitor areas of interest to them and use social media to “listen” to what topics they care about.

3. Do use stories. This is a great way to demonstrate how you help people solve their problems. Provide case studies and examples to let your audience see that you are dealing with others like them. They also personalize your work as well as your content. It’s more interesting to read a story, than a bunch of facts. And don’t worry; you can omit confidential/identifying facts without sacrificing the value of your story.

4. Do use the same terminology as your target audience. Speak to them in their own language. You shouldn’t talk to potential clients the way you would talk to your colleagues or referral sources. Using the right tone and wording not only will make your content more readable and interesting, but you will be showing that you can relate to your audience.

5. Do keep it concise. Sadly people’s attention span keeps getting shorter. According to Microsoft we’re now at 8 seconds. Think about format. Lists, headings, visuals, and other strategies can help you organize and relate your content in a more readable and compelling way.

Next time I’ll cover the Don’ts – 5 things not to do if you want to create compelling content.

Do you need help producing great content that will attract clients? Contact me for a free consultation.

Why you should give away the secret sauce

Secret ingredient with chain and padlock isolated on whiteMany professional services firms I have worked with tout their superior experience and knowledge as the reason they should be hired over their competitors. Yet those same firms are concerned about truly demonstrating their expertise through public writing and speaking because they would be giving away their “secret sauce” for free. The end result is they put out a lot of bland generic information that sounds like everyone else, instead of specific helpful content that would differentiate them from the pack.

Now I agree you don’t want to give away proprietary information. However, before you produce another mediocre piece of content (or don’t produce any content at all), ask yourself these 3 questions:

1. Is it really your secret sauce?

Everything you know is not proprietary. Just because you provide some helpful advice, tips, or other information doesn’t mean you’ve given it all away. For years I recruited attorneys and accountants to author 500+ page tomes, yet I never heard anyone complain they lost potential clients because they wrote a book and clients didn’t need them anymore. There are plenty of ways to provide meaningful insights without solving every potential problem your audience might have.

Your real secret sauce is being able to understand and analyze your client’s specific issues as well as the big picture. It’s putting together and implementing a plan of action to help them. Those skills are harder than you think to translate into articles or presentations. Don’t worry about giving it away for free. Focus on showcasing the underlying knowledge and unique value you bring to your clients.

2. What are prospects really going to do with your content?

Professionals fear people will take their advice, do it themselves and they will lose business. But if it was that easy for others to do it themselves, then why did you need all that extra education, training and years of experience? Okay you know they can’t handle it, but they think they can do it themselves and so now you lost the client. But did you really want that client? The one who thinks they can figure out what you do by googling their problem. Do you think they were genuine prospects for you? Most likely they wouldn’t have hired you to do the work anyway. However, when it becomes too much to handle or if they have a future problem, they may remember the useful information you provided them for free.

Educating your audience is a good thing even if it doesn’t result in immediate business. This is the essence of content marketing. Consistently producing and delivering practical and informative content is an excellent way to gain visibility and engage and retain your prospect’s attention. In the professional services world the sales cycle can be very long or very short. Either way you want to become a trusted resource so that when prospects are looking for help, you are top of mind.

3. Can your content help you bring in or solidify new business?

Publishing useful and targeted content is an excellent way to get found by search engines. In fact, content creation is the most effective tactic for search engine optimization (SEO) and B2B marketers rank SEO as one of the top lead generation tactics. (Source: MarketingSherpa) Websites with lots of real content show up higher in organic search rankings so it make sense to put out information that will help bring prospects to you.

What about where someone already knows about you? Maybe they were referred to you or met you at an event or even worked with you on another matter. Word of mouth, referrals, and networking are top lead sources. However, it’s very likely those prospects will also google you and look at your website and LinkedIn profile. Showcasing high-quality valuable information helps give you credibility, enhances your reputation and establishes you as uniquely knowledgeable, trustworthy and client-centric. The reverse is also true. In a recent Hinge survey, 52% of respondents ruled out referrals to professional services firms before even speaking with them. Many of their top reasons focused on the fact that the firm didn’t demonstrate online how they could help clients. Unclear marketing materials that were too sales-oriented and poor quality content all contributed to keeping a referral from following up with a firm.

When you’re thinking about preparing that next article or speech, ask yourself these 3 questions. Hopefully your answers will lead you towards producing the kind of content that will get you noticed and grow your business.

10 dos and don’ts for creating a great presentation

conference photoIn the last few weeks, I’ve attended several seminars with lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors as speakers. Most of the time, they presented a PowerPoint or gave handouts to go along with their program. Unfortunately, too often they didn’t make the most of those written materials – a lost opportunity considering that in-person events are one of the most effective marketing tactics available. (Source: CMI) With those seminars fresh in my mind, here’s my list of 10 dos and don’ts.

1. Don’t bury your best points. Often I see great information lost within a lot of content that is of less interest. Not everything you say is created equally, at least so far as your audience is concerned. Therefore, you shouldn’t put equal emphasis on all your ideas in your written (or spoken) materials either. The real problem here is not being sure what you want to say and how to say it. Make sure you understand your audience’s interests and your message. Organize your thoughts and focus on delivering and highlighting your strongest points in your presentation.

2. Don’t go into too much detail in writing. Your slides don’t need to restate everything you want to discuss. You want this to be an outline and your speech will fill in the blanks. Remember too that if you have a lot of text, your audience may be reading it instead of listening to you. Or else they may feel they don’t need to listen to you because they’re getting all the pertinent information in the written presentation and they can read it later.

3. Do leave them wanting more. In many ways, this is the flip side of writing too much, but also brings in the point that you want to engage your audience. You don’t want to answer every question in your presentation. You want to start a conversation. Give attendees reasons to ask questions or make comments during or after the program. You also want to let the audience know how to follow up with you and about where they can look for additional resources, including your own site. This is a great way to bring people to you and drive traffic to your website.

4. Don’t clutter up your slides visually with too much text or images on a page. I know if you are doing a lengthy program, the tendency is to want to put a lot on a page to make the PowerPoint fewer pages, but it’s better to add pages. There is plenty of advice online about fonts, line spacing, number of words per page, etc. Feel free to google it and find what looks best for your presentation. You can also go to SlideShare and look at what other people/companies are doing in your field.

5. Do incorporate charts, infographics, photos and other visuals. Not only will your presentation look more appealing, but it will have more impact. Studies show that 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual.

6. Do use handouts when necessary. One of the events I just attended had dozens of charts and graphs. The speakers showed them onscreen where they were hard to read with lots of detail and explanatory text in small print. Giving everyone a print copy during the program would have helped.

7. Don’t make everything a handout. No one wants to carry all that paper so they’ll just throw it out. Also when you provide handouts, people may focus on reading them instead of paying attention to you. Your materials can always be emailed to attendees afterward.

8. Do check for typos. You should always have someone else proofread it. Few people can actually check their own work well.

9. Do have some fun with it. I know some of these topics can be pretty dry, but try to inject your personality and humor into both the spoken and written materials. It makes it more engaging and memorable for your audience.

10. Do invest time and resources in creating good presentation materials. Too often I think slides are done in a rush. I don’t know if it’s because the importance is underestimated or if the speaker just doesn’t know better. You want it to reflect well on you at the time of the presentation. Just as importantly though, those slides can be repurposed and promoted via different channels to give you additional exposure after the event. The PowerPoint can be posted on your website, on SlideShare, on your LinkedIn profile, emailed to clients and prospects, broken into smaller chunks of content and otherwise reused and distributed. Therefore, if possible, get the help of writers/editors and designers. Ask others for their opinion on your slides.

Remember your written materials are an important part of your whole presentation. They should complement and reinforce your speech. Spend the time to do it right and make the most of it both during and after your presentation.

Hitting your content marketing sweet spot

man with bat hitting sweet spotIn a recent study reported by MarketingSherpa, business owners were asked for their biggest criticism of the information they received from vendors. Not surprisingly, the majority said it was too sales-oriented.

Clients want help with their problems from people they trust, not sales pitches. The way to prove you can be their trusted resource is by providing material that’s interesting, relevant and useful to them. But the problem is coming up with content that is both compelling to your audience and promotes your brand message and expertise – aka your sweet spot.

 

MarketingSherpa chartofweek-how prospects perceive marketing materials 11-11-14-lpIn his book, Epic Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi defines the sweet spot as “the intersection between your customers’ pain points and where you have the most authority with your stories.”

So how can you hit your sweet spot?

Identify your unique value proposition.

How would you describe your expertise? What are you more knowledgeable about than your competitors? Have you worked with particular kinds of businesses or industries? Do you have experience with certain types of issues? Are you well-versed in regional or local concerns? What special skills, education or training do you draw on in doing your work? What passions, values and point of view express your brand and make you stand out?

The good news is it isn’t as hard to figure this out as you might think. One of the easiest ways to start is to consider in what situations do you feel the most comfortable and confident answering questions and giving advice. Also think about when and for what reasons people turn to you for help. When you really know your stuff, you share useful information readily. You can talk at length and people find you helpful.

If you’re still not sure what sets you apart in the marketplace, ask others – colleagues, clients, industry experts, peers – for their thoughts.

Your goal is to be able to clearly explain your unique value so your content marketing consistently expresses that.

Understand your target audience(s).

In a previous post, I talked about making sure you identify the audience(s) you want to target with your marketing and then research their interests and pain points. You should take this even further and actually create buyer personas – that is, develop profiles for each type of buyer you are targeting. What are their key demographics and behaviors? For example:

  • Job title and responsibilities
  • Role in the purchasing process
  • Company size
  • Industry
  • Location
  • Budget and priorities
  • Concerns and stressors
  • Level of knowledge about your products/services

You should also have a good understanding of their decision making process. What issues or circumstances cause them to look for help with their problems? Where else do they turn to for information? When do they hire you and why do they like you?

Also think about what stage in the buying process is your marketing going to target. Are you trying to attract prospects doing initial research online? Or are you nurturing a lead and trying to move them closer to a sale? Your audience may have different needs and interests as they move through the sales funnel and your content needs to be targeted accordingly.

Don’t skimp on the research. Survey your market, monitor industry developments, and look at what your competitors are doing as well as what the competitors of your customers are doing. Also analyze your own data – email and social media statistics and website analytics – to determine what topics or content types are getting better results with your audience. If you have multiple audiences, then make sure you understand each one in this way.

The point is the more you know about their needs, the better you can tailor the substance of your message as well as how you promote it to them.

Bringing it together.

Going back to Joe Pulizzi, think about “where can you be the leading expert in the world that truly matters to your customers and your business?” Your content won’t resonate unless you can speak credibly (and passionately) about topics your audience cares about.

So where do your expertise and audience’s pain points collide? Hopefully this exercise will help you hit your own content marketing sweet spot.

No one wants to write. Now what?

frustrated man 2One of the top challenges of content marketing is motivating the people who have the subject matter expertise to share it with others. These individuals are often busy professionals with lots of priorities working in an environment where writing isn’t as highly valued as other work. Add that these experts may not have the greatest writing or speaking skills and it is easy to see why they aren’t the most motivated bunch. But how can you as a marketer or manager get past that?

Start with a good example.

Is there someone in the firm who is motivated? Begin with that person and explain to everyone all the ways his/her content is going to be distributed and promoted by the firm. Provide data on how many people are in the firm’s direct network and the additional reach via social media. Then make sure you showcase the results. For example – Is the content being viewed and shared? Are other sites linking to the content? Has the person or the firm heard from clients, prospects or the media? Are there improvements in search rankings and web traffic? Ideally your test case will also become an influencer within the firm and help get others to participate.

Promote the internal benefits.

It’s great to be acknowledged by clients and prospects for your work, but praise and recognition within the firm is pretty good too. You should make sure articles, speeches and other efforts are recognized by everyone internally. Even if there isn’t a tangible reward attached to writing, the internal exposure might be especially valued by those seeking raises, partnerships or other benefits.

Get them help.

Do people need help coming up with ideas? With writing? With research? There may be resources within the firm. Have individuals in the firm work together. Someone great at brainstorming ideas paired with a researcher who can fill in the details. A writer paired with a speaker who can come up with great presentations. A marketer or junior staffer can interview a more senior member and write up the interview. For topic ideas and research, there are online services and “social listening” tools to help curate information on a particular subject area and find out what your target audience is talking about online. If those options aren’t enough, consider getting outside help. Writers and editors can transform ideas into great content. They are a worthwhile investment to ensure your content pipeline is high-quality and consistently maintained.

Create a schedule and realistic targets.

An editorial calendar with clearly defined dates means everyone is on notice of their obligations. Guilt and a sense of responsibility about missing public deadlines can be great motivators. Remember to secretly build in extra time to account for late material.

Have them write about what they know and are genuinely interested in.

Not surprisingly, it’s easiest to get content from someone who feels very comfortable with the subject matter. But sometimes firms want to position themselves as experts in new areas or take advantage of media interest in a topic. Realize that you need an exceptionally motivated person who wants to develop that expertise to take on the project. That person needs to be really interested in the subject matter or it will never happen. Threats from above may work for a time, but it’s not a long term strategy.

Make it a competition or contest.

There are lots of options for this – most articles written in X period, article with the most page views or shares, etc. Rewards can include periodic parties, gift cards, day off, etc. Even just announcing the winner to the rest of the firm can be a good motivator.

Tie it to compensation.

For content marketing to succeed, it needs to be valued and treated as a firm-wide initiative. That means not just talking about the rewards, but also the consequences of not participating. Make it a part of each employee’s evaluation.

When I was in publishing, I worked with hundreds of professionals to get them to write for our publications or speak on topics. Even as someone giving them media opportunities, my role often resembled a professional nag. I used logic, polite reminders, motivational speeches, guilt, threats and anything else I thought might work. I learned that no one strategy works with everyone and even the same individual might react differently at different times. So try them all, mix them up, rinse and repeat.