Many business professionals like the idea of creating thought leadership content, but they don’t know how to start – to move past that blank screen.

They may be facing a deadline for a blog post, article, speech or other content, but no topic comes to mind. They’ve clicked on “open new document,” and that’s where they’re stuck. There’s that cursor, and it hasn’t moved. Blink blink blink.

How can you help them develop content that meets your firm’s business objectives?

Here are three questions that will help you coach your business professional towards constructing content that meets their business objectives. It’s only partly around what your firm wants to say – it’s more around what prospective clients want to hear.

Here is some of the advice I’d suggest you give your would-be content creator.

It’s not what you want to say, it’s what clients need to know about

Some business professionals want to focus their content on what they want to say – specifically, “Hire me,” describing the benefits of the service they want to sell. That doesn’t work. No potential client is going to read that kind of stuff. Rather, content needs to be done with the problems and opportunities facing the people your firm wants to serve as clients.

To do that, of course, you need to have a clear idea of who those ideal clients are.

In blog post #5 I talked about how to build an image of your ideal client, called an “avatar” or a “persona,” and how this helps you tune your marketing to this person’s challenges and opportunities. If you haven’t read that post yet, please do so, because that will make this one more useful to you.

To find the ideal topics for your content, consider three circles that overlap, so that there is a ‘sweet spot’ in the middle. The topic the author chooses should fit within that sweet spot. By focusing there, that blank screen they’re facing will fill itself with content that meets the needs of the people the firm wants to serve.

1. Find a topic matching your audience’s concerns

The first circle should involve topics that cover issues of pressing concern to your avatar. If the people matching your avatar aren’t concerned about the topic, they won’t take action.

That concern can involve a problem they need to solve – such as a new regulation. For example, some parts of the world are in the process of implementing carbon cap-and-trade. This means placing a limit on the amount of climate-changing pollutants organizations can emit, and if they exceed that limit, they will be subject to fines unless they have bought credits from another company that is emitting less than it is allowed to.

Alternatively, it can be an opportunity they may want to access. Carbon trading can also be an opportunity – by putting in place rigorous environmental controls, a company can build up carbon credits that it can then sell. This company can benefit two ways – from spending less on energy, and income sold to companies that are less environmentally forward-thinking.

But in any case, your topic must match a new or developing situation that will affect the people you want to serve. In Post #22, I’ve described how to use “trendspotting” – the analysis of a slow-moving trend – to demonstrate thought leadership.

2. Be sure it’s a topic you can discuss credibly

The second success factor involves credibility. I could write a blog post about carbon cap and trade. And in fact, I’ve ghost-written many articles on this topic on behalf of clients. But it’s key to note that while the articles were ghosted by me, the author and the source of the information was in each case a qualified expert with a technical background.

I don’t have credibility to discuss carbon cap and trade, energy management, or greenhouse gasses, largely because I don’t have an engineering education or professional designation. Anything I’d say would be about as authoritative as anyone spewing a thought-free comment on the bottom of an online news article.

So, the topic you choose must be one for which you have recognized credibility. In some cases, this is easy – in order to provide legal advice, it’s essential to be a lawyer in good standing. Same with architecture and engineering. So, if you’re to be taken seriously on your topic, be sure that it’s one for which you can demonstrate qualifications that others will accept.

3. Be sure it’s a topic on which you want to be known

Third, the topic you choose should be one on which you want to achieve status as a recognized subject-matter expert, because it meets your business purpose.

I first bumped into this concept when I was doing media relations for the Canadian head office of the accounting/consulting firm KPMG in the mid-1990s. My role included helping partners and associates to get their ideas published in trade media – at the time, mostly print magazines.

I took a call once from the editor of one small-circulation publication, asking for an article on a highly specific topic. My first reaction was, “Great! Here’s an idea I don’t have to sell to the editor.” Then I thought about it – out of all the firm’s partners in Canada, I couldn’t think of any who had the given topic as a specialty focus for their professional practice. It wasn’t a topic for which the firm at large wanted to be known, either. So I got back to the editor and declined the opportunity.

I think you need to be equally intentional about turning down ideas on topics that aren’t related to your area of focus.

Hitting a topic in your sweet spot

This process-of-elimination procedure can help to reduce the large universe of potential topics to those that further your business purposes. Just back away from topics that aren’t of interest to your avatar, on which you’re not qualified to discuss, and that don’t get you where you want to go.

So… what’s left, for you? Go there, and just make it happen.