When you're evaluating contractors to take care of several projects around your house, do you look for different people who each specialize in one aspect of construction? Or do you want someone who has a broad range of skills and knowledge and can take care of all your needs? It might depend on the project or the timeframe or the cost. But there are certainly pro's and con's for each path.
"Looks like everyone is back from vacation and ready to roll!" one of my clients commented to me recently. The week after the fourth of July! Vacations? We don't need no stinking vacations. Or at least that's the way it seems for many Americans. The conventional wisdom is that activity dies in the summertime as people take weeks or long weekends off away from the office.
Don't believe it. The statistics say something very different.
Meeting deadlines, delivering error-free copy, and being flexible are all things you should reasonably expect from your copywriter. But that's just the baseline of what you should be getting. Selecting just the right verb, using proper punctuation, and avoiding overused cliches are things every professional writer should be able to provide.
The true benefit of using a freelance copywriter goes beyond the proper mechanics of writing and extends into leveraging his or her experience and expertise. To provide you with a truly value-add service, your writer needs to draw from a broader pool of knowledge to create compelling copy that meets your particular needs.
Here are five areas in which your copywriter should possess a high level of skill and experience.
Crafting stimulating content that attracts prospects and drives action is important, but a crucial first step is gathering information. Source material is typically not simply handed out but must be developed from primary sources. Often the writer will have to spend time with subject matter experts to extract relevant information from their vast wealth of knowledge. These SME's are usually in high demand within their organizations and have limited availability, so the writer has to maximize the time allotted to the interview. That means carefully planning the questions, listening carefully to responses, and being able to pivot from the plan if new and interesting information comes up.
In my past experience as a working journalist, I've learned that not only do you need to be asking the right initial and follow up questions, but you must also establish credibility with the subject in order to achieve the best results.
When the copywriter doesn't have the benefit of mining an SME for input on a topic, he or she will have to conduct research from secondary sources. Google and other online resources makes that a much easier task than it used to be, but the amount of accessible information can sometimes be overwhelming, causing the "can't see the forest for the trees" syndrome. When doing research, a copywriter must focus on what pertinent information to include, when to pursue new angles that surface, and when to avoid being dragged into a black hole of distraction. It takes a special skill to be able to unearth the valuable nuggets of information from the huge mountain of available data.
When creating thought leadership content, it's important for a copywriter to understand the underlying strategy of the client. In some cases, this strategy may be inherently understood, but has never been fully articulated. A writer with experience in developing business strategies can be invaluable in helping to state the strategy clearly and succinctly. I just finished a project with a client who was creating a concept map for business planning and being able to share some ideas from my past business experience helped him sharpen the focus of the piece.
Sales and marketing
Many of the pieces your copywriter creates for you are thought leadership pieces - white papers, eBooks, articles, and blog posts. You likely also have a need for website copy, email blasts and landing pages, data sheets, and case studies - good, old fashioned selling. To make that transition and craft effective sales copy, your copywriter should have some working knowledge of the sales and marketing process.
For several years I was responsible for sales and marketing in a global manufacturing and logistics organization. Working with some outstanding sales and marketing executives taught me about the challenges of building a pipeline, nurturing leads, and closing deals. The experience has come in handy on several projects including helping to ghostwrite books on sales and marketing for two separate clients and polishing a sales presentation another client was giving to a major prospect.
Many copywriting pieces require a working knowledge of finance and financial terms. Your copywriter doesn't have to be a CPA or a financial analyst, but he or she must understand and be able to articulate the basics as it applies to your content. White papers, case studies, and blog posts often need to include a discussion of ROI and how the basic components of income statements and balance sheets affect it. If your business directly relates to finance, such knowledge is crucial. I just finished a corporate overview piece to be used in a presentation seeking a new round of investor financing. The experience from my days as an Executive VP for a venture capitalist-owned company helped me target the piece to what I know investors are looking for in such presentations.
You can't expect your copywriter to be an expert in every possible business discipline, but working with a writer with broad skills and experience in these important areas can provide you with a valued asset when it comes to collaborating on your content needs.
The used printing press we purchased had just been delivered and sat forlornly in the middle of our shop floor. Fred Hudson, our plant engineer, just stared at it, one hand on his hip, the other rubbing his bald head. The riggers who shipped the press deployed a unique method when disassembling the machine. Instead of properly disconnecting the wiring, they simply hacked all the wires off at the power source. So as Fred examined the carnage of tangled wiring, he was trying to figure out how to make all the proper connections. And of course no wiring diagrams or user manuals came with the old, used machine.
Luckily for us, Fred was a genius. He walked around the press for a few days and then pounced. Within a day, he connected all the wires and power was surging through our now running printing press.
Electronics wasn't the only thing in which Fred was expert. He knew everything about mechanical equipment, building construction, auto mechanics, HVAC, and safety. He was our resident subject matter expert (SME).
Regardless of your type of business - technology, software, analytics, marketing, healthcare, manufacturing - chances are you have a Fred or two on staff. They are often quiet, unassuming women and men who harbor a vast source of knowledge of your industry and company. That makes them an invaluable resource when it comes to creating content to help market your business. Whether you need a white paper, eBook, case study, blog post, or sell sheet, your SME's can provide the knowledge and insight to make your content pieces relevant and compelling.
Here are four ways to get the most out of your SME's when it comes to content creation.
Tap into their passion
Regardless of how quiet and reserved your SME's may be, they will open up if you can get them talking about something in the business they are passionate about. They carry around a ton of knowledge they rarely get a chance to share. Showing genuine interest and tapping into that passion often results in a treasure trove of valuable and compelling information that will interest your customers and prospects.
Be thorough in your interview
To get really good information from your SME's, be fully prepared for your discussion. Ask open ended questions and listen closely. Follow up and probe to get them to dig deeper. If the subject is particularly complicated, try to strip away the jargon and get them to explain in plan English. Oftentimes, SME's are so well versed in a topic, they forget that we mere mortals may not have any idea what they are talking about. Fred used to start most discussions with "As you know..." before going on to talk about something about which I was totally clueless. Don't be embarrassed to say "I don't understand. Can you please explain?" Have your SME use analogies to further clarify the subject to make it easier to convert your conversation into meaningful content.
Record the discussion
Before you begin, ask for permission to record the conversation. Even if you are master at shorthand - something very few people are these days - you'll never capture all the content gold your SME will share. They may be intimidated at first, but once you get them talking they will usually forget they are being recorded. Having a digital record of the conversation will be invaluable later when you parse the discussion into various pieces of content.
Keep them in the loop
As you convert their words of wisdom into blog posts, ebooks, or white papers, make sure you keep them involved. Let them review anything you write before publishing. This will not only reinforce that you appreciate what they had to say, it will also ensure that you haven't misinterpreted something or simply made some errors of fact. Keeping them involved will demonstrate that you truly care about what they had to say and will also make it easier if you decide to go back to them for more interesting content later.
As you put your content schedule together and scramble to do research, don't look past your internal resources. Engage your SME's and enjoy a bountiful content reward.
How do you use the knowledge of your SME's? What forms of content have you been able to put together with their help?
Pulitzer Prize winning sportswriter Red Smith once said, "Writing is easy. You just sit at the typewriter until the drops of blood ooze from your forehead." That's what it feels like for many people as they stare at a blank computer screen coming up totally empty as to what to write. The pressure builds as a nagging voice shouts in their head: More content! Publish or perish! Come up with an idea!
Writers are all too familiar with "writer's block" when typing that first sentence becomes overwhelmingly difficult.
Corporate marketing teams can sometimes face the same dilemma. You understand the importance of creating compelling content for your prospects and customers and you know it's a proven way to build relationships and drive revenue. Publishing blog posts, white papers, eBooks, or case studies is the best way to get in front of your target audience to convince them of your expertise in your field and reassure them you understand their issues and can help solve their problems.
But that doesn't make it any easier to create compelling content. Instead of a blank screen, though, you're faced with an empty content calendar. You just don't know what to write about. You're suffering from a problem I call "content block."
I've been on a number of calls with clients who want to produce a white paper, eBook, or blog post series, but are struggling with what the topics should be. To break the block, I'll walk them through a number of possible ideas and eventually we come up with relevant areas of interest we can convert into solid content.
Here are six ideas for topics that will get your creative juices flowing and help you overcome your "content block."
Discuss an industry trend. Pick a hot industry topic and provide your take on it. This will show thought leadership and demonstrate to customers and prospects that you're in tune with current trends. The many newsletters you receive contain a wide variety of issues that would interest your audience. You can also check out brochures on industry conferences and review the list of breakout sessions for a number of topic ideas.
Interview an SME. Most organizations have valuable sources of content right under their noses in their product or service subject matter experts. These individuals not only possess valuable company knowledge but they are also well aware of what's going on with your industry as a whole. Unfortunately, we often fail to take advantage of their vast wealth of knowledge. Sit down with them and ask "So what's new?" Chances are within a short time you'll have an extensive list of topic ideas and the actual content to flesh them out.
Present an opinion on an industry article. We are all inundated with both physical and electronic magazines and articles on a regular basis. It's a good bet you've come across more than one viewpoint with which you disagree. That's great. Make it your next blog post. Linking back to the original article and then providing your unique opinion on it provides your customers and prospects with two sides on a topic of interest. That's the best way to get a dialogue going while honing your thought-leadership chops.
Analyze an industry survey or report. Chances are you often find a report or survey lurking in your email inbox containing information of interest to your target audience. Digest the report, cull out the pertinent points, and put together an analysis explaining what the data means for your prospects and customers. Even if they received the same report, your spin on it could make it more specific and relevant to them.
Offer an objective discussion of a technology you offer. This one can get tricky since if your goal is to be a thought leader, you don't want to jump up on the podium and give a sales pitch. A well written brochure is helpful at certain points in the sales process, but for thought leadership purposes, you want to present a broader look at the topic. For example, one of my clients is a leader in the waterjet cutting field. We did a series of white papers and ebooks discussing the benefits of waterjet technology without specifically mentioning the company's products. We wanted to help educate our target audience and by doing so, we helped cement the company as a thought leader in a growing manufacturing space.
Give a first person problem solving example. These occur on a daily basis but often go unnoticed and unreported. That's unfortunate since they can be among the most powerful pieces of influencing content. Check with your customer service team or sales group for examples of where your product or service solved a customer problem.It can be difficult to get permission from a customer to use their name, but you can make it generic and get the same impact. The result will be similar to a case study with the familiar formula of background, problem, solution, results. This is a great way to provide your prospects with an illustration of what you might be able to do for them.
You may feel the well has run dry when it comes to content will interest your target audience, but that's really never the case. Spend some time thinking about your company, your clients, and your industry and chances are you'll be tapping away at your keyboard in no time.
What have you done to break your "content block?" Where do you find your best content ideas?
George Bailey sat slumped over his keyboard, shaking his head in despair. "Who reads this stuff?" he mumbled as he worked on the copy for a client website. "What difference does any of it make? I'll always be just a lowly copywriter. I'd be better off covering high school football for the local paper."
"Of course it makes a difference, George," a voice suddenly called out. "Your clients love what you do. They're generating leads, finding new prospects, and converting sales. The content you provide is a big part of that."
Startled, George turned to see a shadowy figure sitting in the ergonomically designed side chair in the corner of his office.
"Who are you?" he stammered. "How did you get in here?"
"My name is Clarence," the figure answered. "In a former life I was in marketing. I was in charge of working with freelance writers. I'm here to help."
"Help how?" George replied, eyeing him warily. "And it doesn't matter anyway. I should never have started writing business content."
Clarence thought for a moment and then smiled.
"OK George, have it your way."
"You're going to find me another job?" George asked.
"No," Clarence replied. "I'm going to show you what the world would be like if you had never gone into this business."
George dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "You're crazy. Now get out of my office."
He turned back to his computer which suddenly flashed and displayed the spinning beach ball of death.
"What's going on?" George asked, sitting up straight in his chair.
"Oh, nothing," Clarence said with a twinkle in his eye.
George's screen then flashed to his Twitter home page. He noticed the first tweet from Acme Consulting, one of his bigger clients.
"Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you," it read. Followed by a second tweet which said: "I guess it wasn't meant to be."
"What's that all about?" George wondered aloud.
"Looks like they went out of business," Clarence replied.
"How is that possible?" George asked in disbelief. "They were landing clients left and right. They were looking to add staff to handle the workload."
Well it seems you weren't around to help them with that big content marketing campaign. You never wrote those eBooks and case studies that generated all those leads. They all went to the competition instead."
Facebook then popped up on George's screen. It was Sam Wainright's home page. The top entry read, "Killing it on Candy Crush. Being unemployed has some advantages."
"What???," George exclaimed. "Sam runs a huge manufacturing operation. He's a wealthy businessman. He doesn't have time for playing games online."
"He does now," Clarence answered. "He never read those white papers you wrote on the benefits of using the cloud for IT infrastructure. His costs kept rising and he never could figure out why. He couldn't compete in the global economy and went down the tubes."
"No, no," sobbed George. "Not Sam."
A Kickstarter page appeared on the screen. It was a request for contributions for Ernie the cab driver who was developing a hot new app that automatically scheduled your ride and ordered coffee from Starbucks which was ready for you when you were picked up.
"Ernie launched that app two years ago," George exclaimed. "I wrote a series of blog posts that helped it take off. He's retired and living on an island in the South Pacific."
"Nope," said Clarence. "Never happened. You weren't there to write those blogs. He's still trying to get it off the ground."
George turned and grabbed Clarence by the arms.
"Okay Clarence," George said. "I get it. I get it. Let me go back. I want to go back. I understand now."
Just then George's screen flashed to his email inbox. It was filled with new emails from several customers. The first thanked him for the email campaign he wrote that generated dozens of new leads. Another outlined how much business spiked after they released the new catalogue he wrote. A third told how a client closed a big deal thanks to an eBook he wrote for them. They emails just kept coming.
George turned to show Clarence, but he was all alone.
"Must have been a dream," he said quietly, rubbing his eyes.
He closed his inbox, went into his dropbox folder, and opened the file for the ghost feature article on data analytics he was writing.
"You know this isn't such a bad life after all," he thought as he began to type away. "In fact, it's kind of wonderful."