Why do you divert time from other uses (like sleep, or billable work …) to create blog posts, prepare and present speeches, as well as write articles for publication? I’d say that this activity has just one purpose. It’s to help you get noticed and stand out, so you can get more of the work you want to do, become the preferred choice in your field, and earn more.
Given that focus, wouldn’t you want those blog posts, speeches, articles and other content to be as effective as they can be?
I think that there are four “levels” of content that business professionals can produce. In increasing levels of effectiveness, for helping you succeed in your work, these levels are as follows.
1. Stuff that’s interesting to me
Many business professionals start at this level. They think of topics and stories that are interesting to them, besides that’s what their content is about. It might be a case study of a particularly thorny problem, or a story about how they discovered a brilliant work-around nobody used before. Maybe, they did a project in a faster way, or they used some technical device in a way it’s never been used before.
In short, it’s stuff that’s interesting to them. Of course, I agree that furthering the cause of human knowledge is a good thing. It just shouldn’t be a business priority.
My point is, it’s “stuff” that won’t likely be not interesting to their clients – aka the people able to get them more assignments. As I’ve observed before, clients don’t want to know how you do your work. Clients want a result, and they may want your wisdom in other areas. But the reason they outsource the work to you is that they don't want it as a core competency.
So, content around “stuff that’s interesting to me” might be fun for you, but it won’t further your business purpose as effectively as the other three kinds of content below.
The only reason it might work is if you get a substantial amount of referral work from people in your own profession. For example, geologists in mining companies depend on geologists from outside the company to meet overload requirements. Or, they might outsource the work if the external professional has skills the company doesn’t have in-house. In that case, “stuff” that interests you might also be of interest to people with the ability to hire you. Maybe, they’ll even appreciate the finer points.
However, they would probably be more interested in articles, speeches and other content along the lives of the third and fourth type below.
This means that “stuff that’s interesting to me” content can help you get work from people who are of your profession, but it’s not particularly effective at that, and is a waste of your efforts in reaching into the markets where most clients are to be found.
2. What I want to sell
The second level of content includes at least a passing thought to the needs of the client – it’s about the products and services you want to sell. We see this in a lot of the “white papers” produced by the IT industry – the document is really just an extended specification sheet for the product. It’s not thought leadership content at all.
The “what I want to sell” kind of content, which talks in detail about the company’s offerings, is useful to prospective clients who are well along the path to deciding on whether to make a purchase. So, it’s a potentially powerful way to nudge a prospect across that gap to “buy.”
To be effective, “what I want to sell” content needs to give a clear idea of the problems you’re solving, the relative merits of your solution, and the pricing plus time commitment required. To design it effectively, think of the questions your prospective clients have just before making a decision. Then, be sure you answer those questions.
Realize that in most cases, your clients have options – (1) they can do the work themselves, (2) they can in some cases just decide to not work at all, or (3) they can bring in one of your competitors. You need to address those issues, including the advantages and disadvantages of each.
It helps to mentally put yourself in the prospect’s position – what would be their questions, worries, concerns, hopes and dreams? Then, prepare your content from their perspective.
3.Information that meets an urgent need
A stronger type of content is about a topic that prospects and clients understand is urgent, and provides information that helps them (we call this ‘newsjacking’ in blog post #28) to either avoid a problem or gain a benefit (referred to as “greed and fear” in post #24).
Anyone in business is more likely to take action on a situation that is both recent and urgent – a new regulation, law, disruptive technology, ruling or other event. It helps if the news is what I call “narrow” – that it’s for a highly specific market, people who just happen to be your ideal clients, and is information that they’re not likely to find elsewhere.
To generate this kind of content, you need to burrow into your clients’ world and understand the trends and new developments affecting them. Read their trade media, follow influential people on Twitter and LinkedIn, and attend their industry events. Put thought into trends in your world and how they may affect the people you want to serve.
Then, put yourself in the position of a potential client who’s looking for someone to help them with that issue – what would you want to know? Then, build your content in a way that answers your clients’ needs.
4. Information that will help them look good to their boss
This fourth, and most powerful, type of content is what you should strive for. It’s hard to define, but this is the question referred to in the headline – “Will content on this topic make my ideal client look good to their boss?” As a question, it’s kind of clumsy, but you get the idea. Asked another way, “Will this content help my ideal client do their job better?”
All of your clients and prospects want to do good work, to be seen as an indispensible member of the team, downsizing-proof, and be in demand by other organizations. You want to be seen as a new best friend by your ideal client.
For instance, I recently had a problem with uploading some videos. I needed to reduce the file size without reducing quality. So I tried using a rather geeky, insiders-only program called Handbrake. My urgent question was what simple steps I can take to reduce the file size. A bit of poking around inside YouTube delivered the insight that converting the file from stereo to mono would chop the file size by more than half. So I was deeply grateful to the people who had put this information online.
This fourth-level content might involve:
• A summary of a new environmental regulation, with recommendations on how to comply
• A how-to about fixing a technological problem, such as my video-file-reducing issue
• A bird’s-eye perspective of trends in the client’s industry
• A review of a new software package, piece of equipment or new offering that you understand, and that is also relevant to the client (see Post #10 to learn more about generating good “review” content)
In summary, from a business-generation point of view, the most effective content is thoroughly wrapped around not “what I want to say” but rather, “what my ideal client wants to know.”
Responses to Post #54, “Articulating your ‘why’ gives you an edge”Last week’s post (#54), “Articulating your ‘why’,” received some interesting responses. I was on a holiday in Spain at the time, walking part of the Camino del Santiago, an old pilgrimage route that is probably more popular now than it was in the 1200s.
Post #54 used the analogy of a stonemason – how some might view the job as just chipping away at rocks, while others would see themselves as being part of a noble enterprise, such as building a cathedral. The “hero” image for this week’s post is of a Romanesque chapel built by an ecclesiastical military order of knights that protected pilgrims from bandits and other hazards, which I saw along the Camino.
Tim Prizeman at Kelso Consulting in London noted that not all professional work is interesting or exciting, but pretty routine.
In finding a workable “why” in this situation, I find it helps to take a leaf from the playbook of a friend who did technical support work for a while. He said that many of the callers were frustrated and even hostile, and he found a way to just listen past that frustration and anger, and focus on the technical problem and the outcome that the caller wanted.
While many business professionals don’t have to deal with those levels of disrespect, they do have to get past the drudgery. I find it helps to think about the problem you’re solving or preventing, or about the opportunity you’re helping them to access.
Tim also pointed out that in a medieval rock quarry, not all of the production would have gone on to become part of the soaring spires of a cathedral. I agree -- some of those stones might have gone to building a cattle barn or other building a little less inspiring than the cathedral I saw in Pamplona. But they still meet a need.
Business professionals have the advantage that they usually get to know their clients, and so are able to see the fruits of their work. So even if it’s a lawyer preparing a standard, no-surprises will for a client, it’s possible to focus on how the will has the ability to make life easier for surviving family members, and give peace of mind to the client.