Father, Forgive Me: I Failed to Provide Value

Father, forgive me. It has been 24 years since my last confession*. These are my sins: 

  • I created content solely for the purpose of creating content;
  • I distributed useless content; and
  • I failed to offer value to my readers.

Childhood Excuses: Sharing my professional blunder throws me back to my youth, when I knelt in the confessional, trying to remain anonymous before Father Ciaola, though I was fairly certain he could see through the dark linen cloth.

To ensure a light penance, I relied on the same three sins every kid my age did: I lied, I fought with my brothers and sisters, and I disobeyed my parents. (If you weren’t raised Catholic, just ask someone who was.) Anyway, like I said, I knew I would get off with a light penance if I admitted to these three rote, somewhat-acceptable sins.

A Teenage Error in Judgment: One time – one time, mind you – I told Father Ciaola the truth. What I had done was a bad thing for a 14-year-old girl (I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t THAT bad). Anyway, I confessed it, thinking my honesty would create a sense of mercy in Father Ciaola. It didn’t.

He told me what I already knew, “You shouldn’t do that!” Then he gave me a harsh penance and sent me on my way.

The Shameful Blunder a Professional Content Writer: I didn’t have to confer with Father Ciaola, or anyone for that matter, to know that I had gone astray. All I had to do was look at what I’d written and say, “I shouldn’t have done that!”

I’m a content professional, and I believe I’m good at what I do. When it comes to sharing a business message, I guide my clients in the following practices (which are also detailed in The Archery of Good Communications: 4 steps to convey value).

  • Figure out who needs what you offer.
  • Respect your own expertise; believe that you have knowledge worth sharing.
  • Share valuable ideas and useful, concrete tips.
  • Don’t write to sell.
  • Write well.
  • Give your audience something worth remembering or something worth doing.
  • Find out how your audience wants to receive information, and follow their lead.

Takeaways: The takeaway here is that professional blunders come with a cost, and that cost can be a lot more than a light (or even harsh) penance from Father Ciaola.

We should always think about what we have to lose before we push ideas or content or products or services that provide no value to our audience. We could lose:

  • Relevance
  • Credibility
  • The patience of a faithful audience
  • Our place as a trusted expert

Even worse, the failure to provide value to our audience can and will eventually result in a loss of business. So, whether we are delivering knowledge, services, or products, the onus is on us:

  • We must always put the needs of our audience first.
  • We must always respect the time of our audience.
  • We must, to the best of our ability, always deliver value and quality.

Sometimes the hardest lessons come in the form of failure, and that’s something even Father Ciaola could not have instilled in me.

*This content should not be construed as a religious or doctrinal statement; rather, it is a sarcastic bit of self-deprecating fun.

Double your audience with relevant content

Would you like to double your audience? You can do it with content that is buoyant and fluid – content that keeps on giving.

To get the most of this conversation, we need to begin with one premise in place: Content is an asset. For a little background on this, read Content Marketing: Fairly Tales or Business Sales.

BUOYANT CONTENT is relevant and worth sharing. 

Every minute of every day, gobs of content are tossed into a virtual Mariana Trench. Some content sinks immediately, never to be read or retrieved. A smaller percentage of content is read and absorbed. This content is buoyant; it remains relevant and worth sharing.

Shark Tank-investor Mark Cuban said in an interview with Business Insider that every entrepreneur should read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. What’s interesting about this piece of advice is that Rand penned The Fountainhead in 1943. The book started off with slow sales, but eventually it reached 6.5 million print copies sold. Instead of sinking into oblivion, the content remains buoyant; it is relevant and worth sharing, even today.

Buoyant content remains relevant, visible, and worth sharing.

Your content is unlikely to reach an audience 6.5 million, and that’s to be expected, and probably even preferred. Few businesses are prepared or capable of serving a million-person audience.

It’s more likely that you are trying to reach a community, a list of top-ten clients, a selection of mid-sized companies, or some other targeted market. The only thing that matters is that YOUR content is relevant to YOUR target market.

Buoyant content has greater lead potential.  

A client who received 117 initial LinkedIn views within one week of sharing content had 451 LinkedIn views six weeks later. The numbers aren’t high, but the lesson is valid. This client experienced a 400% increase in audience touch with a single, brief blog.

FLUID CONTENT remains visible and worthwhile.

The Fountainhead was initially available in print only (no surprise in 1943). Its audience continued to grow, however, for two reasons:

The Fountainhead has intrinsic value that makes people want to share it. There’s no way that a book authored in 1943 would continue to grow a modern audience if it weren’t relevant. Something had to be significant enough about the work to make a splash on the Internet, some 75 years after it was written. It’s buoyancy results from its relevance and its appeal to its target market.

The content’s visibility results from the fact that Rand’s story became fluid; it was shared across many channels: magazine interviews, professional testimonials, and Internet searches.

 

Fluid content is visible in many places, so it can be retrieved and recirculated by many people, long after it was first penned. This is residual value.

Content can’t pick up the same traction in one channel as it can in several. This is a lesson for every business dabbling in content creation. Don’t get stuck in one mode of communication; explore opportunities to share your message in print and in multiple digital channels.

When your content begins to slip into oblivion, it takes only one, two, or more people to revive it, to recirculate it, and to bring its knowledge back into view for a completely new audience.

You might not be Ayn Rand, and your content will likely never reach an audience of 6.5 million. What you might achieve is a 5%, 15%, or 25% increase in audience touch and lead potential, and that’s a worthy investment.

 

Bitcoin, Block Chain, and Other Things I Knew Nothing About

Five weeks ago, I knew nothing about Bitcoin and Block Chain. Four weeks later, an international firm published my article on the investment potential of Bitcoin and Block Chain.

Why would a company hire a writer who knows little to nothing about the topic they want to communicate? That’s a fair and logical question.

The answer, at first glance, might not seem as logical, but here it is:

Content writing has little to do with industry expertise.

Does that scare you? If you are going to pay someone to convey your coveted expertise to customers, why hire someone who possesses none of that expertise? Three reasons, actually.

Three reasons why you should hire a content writer to convey your message:

Internal technical people have little time to write. What company wants to pay their brightest technical minds to write, when they could be developing new products, driving operational efficiencies, or improving the company’s bottom line? Expecting your engineers or business development people to write is a poor use of your resources.

Technical people aren’t always the most capable writers. I’ve been told this dozens of times by the technical experts themselves or by their managers. Writing is a skill, and unbeknownst to many people, it is a time-consuming and somewhat painful process. Not everyone is going to be a strong writer, and that includes the most intelligent and forward-thinking members of your team. And that’s okay. It’s no different than the fact that only one person on a team is going to be the best goalie, the best three-point shooter, the best salesperson, or the best motivator.

Experienced writers can deliver what you need. A qualified, experienced writer can deliver timely, accurate, and effective content. (See samples of industry-specific content writing.)

There is no magic to content writing. Writers rely heavily on independent research and expert interviews. (For example, I read more than 40 articles and interviewed three people before writing my own Bitcoin piece.)

Writing is a craft that blends technical expertise with the flow of appealing, persuasive copy. Pure technical content belongs in the realm of user manuals and research papers. Marketing content has another purpose, and that is to call a targeted audience to action. Whether you’re positioning yourself as an industry expert, working to stay ahead of the competition, or pushing a particular product or service, a content writer is best suited to speak directly to your target audience.

A writer thinks like a customer. If I don’t understand what you have to offer, it’s likely that your customers won’t either. Your expertise is your selling point, but it’s important to share that expertise without losing the interest of your audience. A content writer gathers, absorbs, and distills information to fit the needs of your target audience through subtly-persuasive content.

Investing in an expert writer is a good call when you’re ready to get results by increasing awareness, positioning yourself as an industry expert, or calling your audience to action. Just be sure to find a writer who can understand your business and translate your message in a way that is understandable and impactful to your audience.

The Archery of Good Communications: 4 steps to convey value

I had six weeks of archery training in eighth grade, so you can trust what I have to say next.

Effective business communications are all about delivering value. To deliver value, you have to know your audience, know your value proposition, and be able to deliberately and successfully deliver your message to an audience that is positioned to receive it.

If any one of these communications components is missing, your efforts will result in wasted resources and disappointment.

Identify your target

It goes without saying that an archer must know his target before he pulls back that bowstring. The same goes with communications. Too many times, businesses and professionals throw out a message without being intentional about the audience they hope to influence. You know the saying, “You can’t be everything to everyone.” Well, in business communications, that means that you’re wasting time and resources if you pitch your business value to everyone you meet.

Carefully select your bow

You’ll never hit a bullseye if you don’t choose the right bow, and choosing the right bow in archery requires two pieces of information: what is your dominant eye, and what will it take to bring down your target?

In business communications, your “dominant eye” translates into your value proposition. I like Kissmetric’s definition of a value proposition, adapted here in part:

a collection of the most persuasive reasons people should notice you and believe that you can deliver what they need

Another way of saying it is a “compelling description of the benefits you provide.”

Knowing your value proposition is beyond important, but so is knowing what your audience expects. You can’t deliver buffalo wings to a vegan and expect them to eat just because it is what you served. Think about how your message will (or will not) resonate with your target market. And then decide if your message needs to be adapted, or if you are simply focusing on the wrong audience.

Position yourself in relation to your target

Once you have identified your target, make sure you position yourself for optimal results. And keep your eye on your target at all times. If you get distracted or decide to go after a new target at the last minute, you probably won’t be successful.

The same is true in business communications. Failing to fix your target means that your message will keep shifting to accommodate different audiences. You will lose sight of your value proposition, you will waste time, and you will probably miss your target.

Draw, aim, and release

While draw, aim, and release seem to be three separate steps, the truth is that they are one. That’s because they must be completed in one fluid motion. Otherwise, you will not maintain control or concentration, and your chance of hitting your target will be greatly diminished. (Don’t feel badly if you don’t have this down; it takes lots of practice to perfect your delivery.)

You might not consider the value of “practicing” your business communications, but you should. Now, please don’t jump to the conclusion that this is the same as an “elevator pitch.” The reason I don’t like the reference “elevator pitch” is because it is so you-centered, and too often it is delivered in such a practiced manner that listeners immediately hit the off button.

While I get the theory of downloading all you need to say in the length of time it takes to ride the elevator down a few floors, the analogy is off-target. Let’s face it, your pitch isn’t really intended to be delivered in an elevator to a person you just met who is already uncomfortable being beside you. And think how more uncomfortable that are when you unload your entire business model because they happened to say, “How are you,” or “And where do you work?” The only thing they are thinking is, “I can’t wait to get off of this elevator.”

Your entire communications process should be fluid and second nature. That means that your value proposition must be delivered naturally, in the course of discussion. It has to be more of a give and take than give, give, give.

Caveat: Social skills are a huge factor here. Every interaction is a potential business opportunity, but only if you handle the interaction with class and confidence.

If you’re uncomfortable determining your value proposition, connect with a communications professional who can help you narrow your message and deliver a strong value proposition.

If you recognize that your interpersonal skills are lacking, that you freeze when you do have an opportunity to zero in on a business target, or you know that you deliver a less than best verbal pitch, consider professional groups that help improve communications, such as Toastmasters International. It’s almost a guarantee that you will find a group that meets near you, and your returns will be well worth your time investment.

Remember, your ability to draw, aim, and release is the only way to hear the victory cry, “Bullseye!”