Have you been developing thought leadership content that does a good job of showcasing your skills, but it’s not working? It’s not showing up in topic searches on Google, and it’s not effective at convincing clients to get in touch?

Some people think that solving this is all about the right keywords and other forms of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). And I agree, it’s important to have those elements in place. But go deeper to genuinely serve the needs of the people you want as clients.

Make your content focus on your clients

So, turn it around – prepare content that’s about THEM, not about YOU. You need to be sure that your content discusses issues, problems and opportunities that relate to your clients, and potential clients. Only then will these people come to see you as someone who understands them and can meet their needs.

To do that, you need to build a ghost.

Specifically, you need to develop an image of the person you want to have as a client.

This means creating what is called an avatar or persona of one’s ideal client – a clear picture of the kind of individual that you most want to do business with.

Let’s say you’re a logistics consultant with a focus on distribution center management, and you’re planning a speech for a logistics conference. In thinking about it, you realize that there are really two markets that will be represented at the conference. One includes the customers of logistics services, such as retail stores and manufacturers. The other is the carriers – the trucking companies, rail carriers, courier companies and ship owners.
These are two very different markets, with different needs. A speech that has one group glued to their seats will have the other group walking out to check their voicemail.

So think of which market you most want to address – by thinking of the avatar you want to reach. Here’s how:
Think of a real-life person to symbolize your avatar. Let’s call this avatar “Nadine.”
• What work does Nadine do? What are her concerns? What does success look like for this person?
How does your service fit into Nadine’s needs?
What information will best persuade Nadine that you have what it takes to meet her business needs? Will it be a case study, analysis of a trend in Nadine’s world, a how-to on solving an issue Nadine is facing, or something else?
• What’s the best way to convey this information, from a podium – will it involve stories, charts and graphs, pictures, video, or maybe a substantial question-and-answer session?

Base your avatar on a real person

I find it’s best to think of a real, genuine person who symbolizes your ideal client. Give this person a name, as I’ve done above. That then becomes your short-hand expression for your prospects: “Would Nadine be interested in this idea? How would she use it?”

You can build your avatar best by getting to know some people who represent your client base. In a not-that-obvious way, get to understand their concerns and issues. Find out what keeps them awake at night. Buy lots of coffee, take time to get to know them.

You can also do this through reading their trade media – business magazines, association websites, their LinkedIn groups, and through following them on Twitter. Learn about the issues facing their industry, their profession or occupation, and their part of the world.

As you’re doing this, think of your own service or area of expertise, and how you can become a solution to that person’s issues. If you’re not able to meet any burning issues that your avatar is facing, it may be time to either find a different market to serve, or morph your service line so you are addressing the concerns they’re facing.

Then, develop your content in a way that shows your ability to meet the needs of the “Nadine” that you want to serve.
Thinking through these issues can help you understand your service, not as skill you use, a function you perform or even something you want to sell. Rather, think of your service as something to be shaped into something that will solve problems for Nadine.

Let your avatar guide you to the right vehicles for your content

One benefit to the “avatar” approach to communication is that it helps you find out the best ways to reach your potential markets. So, after you have a clear idea of your avatar’s world view, find good ways to get your ideas in front of her or him.

• Check the LinkedIn profiles of people who fit your avatar’s profile, to see what LinkedIn groups they’re part of – and if you can, join in and participate in those groups.
• Consider the professional or industrial associations they’re part of – and again, consider joining those and getting involved. Go to their conferences (just don’t make it look like you’re trolling for business).
• Find out what online or print publications they follow, which blogs they read, which podcasts they listen to, and which Twitter feeds they follow – and then do the same.
The benefit is that you’ll develop not just content that meets their needs, but the service you provide will be better tuned to their needs as well.