Writing as a Designer

desk-and-penIt is ironic that a time when we have so much content in various formats and on different forums, there remains a vacuum in information.  It would appear that instead of sharing knowledge, there is a lot of noise generation.

The herd mentality has taken over the content creation arena.

People seem to think that throwing around popular (often misunderstood) terms such as “personae”, “editorial calendar”, and “reciprocity”, they can magically transform poorly researched article into insight.  Not so.  The truth is that no matter how many catch phrases they mimic, the underlying shallow creative process shows through.  This begs the question:  why do content marketers bother investing time and financial resources in a strategy that will not deliver on business integrity and growth?

As business writers and content creators, we need to drop the charade.  We need to invest in more credible motivation.  If we can’t find it within ourselves, we can borrow from other practitioners.  I have looked around and I’m happy to say there is an abundance of good practices business writers can adopt to nurture our skill.

My latest source of inspiration is the design field.  Somehow we all know when things are “designed right” – they give us a glimpse of what makes good design.  It turns out that it is no accident; there are fundamentals of good design.  I imagine all good designers know them and consistently deploy them in their craft.

I think good business writers need to define and commit to some fundamentals.

Before we begin stringing together our words, we need to start with basics like questions.  What is the problem? Why is it important? Why is it important that we understand it correctly?  What are the consequences of addressing the wrong issue or providing the wrong answer?  Is this a ground-breaking topic?  Is there a current consensus on solutions?  The more questions we raise, the more open we are to critical thinking.

Questions help us clarify.  Questions help us uncover what we might otherwise miss.  They help focus on the essentials.  They help us define the parameters of best solutions and write convincingly about them.

My search has shown me that good designers are skilled at asking questions.  For them, no question is silly if it helps the design process.  I am honing my question-asking skill and learning some of the basics of design, which might help me do a better job as a business writer.

Here are 3 things I have learned so far:

  1. Design is truly a process; not a task.  Process denotes a method, intent, a procedure, a course of action while a task often denotes a chore or an assignment.  The way I see it, adopting a process approach is more likely to expand expertise and efficiency.  It is more likely to diminish reliance on rote mentality inherent in a task approach.
  2. Even if the project is not an original idea (it may have been done a million times before), it is important to find a way to instill some creativity.  I agree that it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel.  However, it is important not to simply echo others.  Good designers replicate purposefully.  The challenge is to make each final product memorable.
  3. You are on the right track if your process includes these 3 fundamentals:
  • Looking        →  see/prioritize/understand
  • Thinking      →  research/sort/organize
  • Doing            →  informed action/draft/edit/finalize/share

It is fairly obvious that skipping any of these basics undermines the design process.  In terms of good business writing, failure to pay proper attention to the LOOK, THINK, DO aspects weakens the impact of the content we create.

My challenge to my fellow business writers is to toss that template that promises to help you generate a-hundred-and-one unique articles and white papers effortlessly.  Sounds great, but (always) true.  Let’s spend a little more time (I know, who has more time?) on the fundamentals.  It may mean that we write less volume, but it could mean that what we do write will be a cut above the rest – and memorable.

 

 

©Rachel Agheyisi, Report Content Writer, Report Content Writer’s Blog

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Upcoming Business Blogging Workshop

Heads up!  Here’s info about an upcoming, informative workshop: Blogging Fundamentals for Business

This fully online event will help you master the fundamentals of successful business blogging and is taught by the founder of one of the world’s largest business blogs — Michael Stelzner of Social Media Examiner, author of the book Launch.

He will cover a broad range of topics, including:

•How to implement a blogging strategy that helps you attract quality prospects, elevate your industry prominence and improve your sales

•Creative ways to craft content that your readers will love to share and you’ll enjoy creating

•Unique tactics to launch (or re-launch) your blog with the support of industry experts

•How to leverage social media to maximize the reach and influence of your content

•How to track, monitor and enhance your blog for a unique competitive advantage

Plus, you’ll learn in a live environment with the support of your peers.

If you want to make blogging work for your business, this hands-on course is just what you’ve been looking for. Click here to register at a 50% discount (this is a limited time offer!).

The workshop starts on July 10, 2012 and it is spread over two weeks to improve learning and accommodate your schedule.  All attendees will get recordings and transcripts of all live sessions.

Registration is limited. Click here to secure your spot at the limited-time 50% discount.

Best wishes for your continued success.

Tips for No-Pressure Content Writing

Sidebar:  I read the following article, titled “An Easy, No Pressure Way to Make Your Copy Sell More”, written by Roy Furr, a contributor at the AWAI.  He makes some solid points about the value of intelligent content marketing.  When we give our audience beneficial information, we create opportunities for mutually rewarding interactions.  So, let your readers know you took the time to research their needs and designed your piece just for them.  Read Roy’s helpful suggestions, and go try them!

Education is a powerful form of salesmanship!

Okay, okay … I’m going to have to explain a couple of things here. Because I’m not saying you could take any good high school teacher and put them out on the street and they’d be a star salesperson automatically. It takes a bit more than that.

But there is a way to sell more by taking an educational approach – if you have the right steps to follow.

And I’d like to give those to you today.

Probably a lot like you, I never really wanted to “sell hard.” And because I didn’t, I unintentionally shifted my approach to finding out what a prospect would want to know about my product and offer, and then simply shared that information with them.

In other words, I figured out what they’d want to know before they made the purchase, and then I told it to them.

And surprise! Prospects actually liked the approach – and would buy as a result!

Because I had thoroughly researched the answers to their buying questions and was upfront in presenting to them without any hard sell, they were happy to have a conversation with me that frequently resulted in a sale.

There was no pressure. No hype. I wasn’t seen as a huckster. Or a used car salesman.

I was just a guy who had some valuable information for my prospects … And a good offer to boot. I was happy to explain it all. And inevitably, I’d give them a chance to buy.

Now I apply the same approach in my sales copy, and it’s leading me to writing promotions that break clients’ sales records and earn me great royalties, too.

5 Places to Use Education in Copy to Boost Sales

So you get it. You can sell more, without hype or pressure, by adopting a more educational approach to selling. That’s good news. Now let me show you how to put that lesson into practice.

There are actually five places in your copy where you want to use education to increase sales. And here they are with a “how to” description for each:

1.   Educate about the problem.

Your prospect has problems. Tons of them! (Don’t we all?) And it’s your job to help them find the solution. (Wait! Before anybody throws a fit: I’m classifying unfulfilled needs, wants, and desires under “problem” here. So if your product fulfills a desire, it’s solving the “problem” of an unfulfilled desire.)

Your first educational goal in making the sale is to make clear what the problem is – and why it’s such a big problem.

So, for example, I used to sell newspapers. One problem that can be solved, or eased, by a newspaper subscription is the high cost of groceries. You could lead off in selling a newspaper by saying, “Did you know you’re paying too much for groceries? That’s right. In fact, the average resident of Lincoln, Nebraska, could save at least 10% off their weekly grocery bill while eating the same foods.”

Well now, that’s a problem that wasn’t at the front of my mind, but now that I’ve been educated that it’s a real and solvable problem, I’m sure interested!

2.   Educate about the solution.

Now it’s your job to educate the prospect that a solution exists and specifically what the solution is. Continuing with the newspaper example, you could reveal that using grocery coupons and specials could save the average local resident 10% or more off their grocery bill every week.

So you’d say … “That’s right. You could be paying 10% less every week for your groceries, and it’s easy, too. A recent Wednesday issue of the Lincoln Journal Star ran ads from five different local grocery store chains with an average total of $543.73 savings PER AD.

“Now sure, you’re not going to get every deal or use every coupon. But the average savings per item was actually 11%! So by simply reading the ads, using the coupons, and buying what you were going to buy anyway when and where it’s on sale, you can save more than 10% – $15-$20 or more per week – off your weekly grocery bill.”

(Note, I’m making up these figures, but I’m sure the average town newspaper has similar figures. Sure makes a $3.00/week newspaper subscription seem cheap, doesn’t it?!)

3.   Educate about your company and methods.

So you’ve presented the problem and the solution – educating the prospect about the benefits they’ll receive by following along with your solution. Now it’s time to demonstrate your credibility in providing the solution by educating about your company, methods, and anything else that proves you are best equipped to solve their problem.

Continuing the newspaper example, using stats from Wikipedia … “The Journal Star is uniquely equipped to bring you Lincoln’s best grocery deals, along with everything else you care about that’s going on around the capital city. Serving over 80,000 households every week, we’re the leading newspaper in the city and have relationships with the community going back decades. Whether it’s grocery deals or local news, you can count on us to bring it to you in the comfort of your home.”

4.   Educate about your product.

The more complex your product, the more valuable it is to educate your prospect about it. I recently watched a 90-minute DVD before I bought a home beer brewing setup. I was happy to sit down and be educated as part of the sales process.

While a newspaper may be fairly straightforward and well understood, it may be worth educating about what sections it contains (besides the ads in this example), who it features, and especially about delivery services offered.

5.   Educate about your offer.

After you have gotten your prospect excited about your product, it’s your responsibility to educate them as to how they can get it. This is where you have to put on your salesperson’s cap, but don’t worry because you don’t have to sell hard. Simply describe the terms of your offer in a clear, direct, and easy-to-understand way that makes it hard to say no. And don’t forget to include a guarantee or risk-free trial period.

So your newspaper sales pitch may conclude with, “You can take 21 days to try our home delivery service at no risk. Just say ‘Yes’ today and we’ll start your delivery 7 days a week. We’ll also send you a bill due 21 days after your subscription starts. If you’re not completely satisfied – and haven’t saved at least double your subscription price off your weekly grocery bill – you can simply write CANCEL across your bill and send it back. Otherwise, send in your payment and you can enjoy our daily delivery service for just $3.00 per week for the next 13 weeks. We make it risk free to try so it’s easy for you to say ‘Yes’ today.”

Try this on the next piece of sales copy you write. Instead of upping the over-the-top promises and using far too much hyperbole, up the education factor. Make sure you take your reader through the natural educational points outlined above. And see what kind of sales results it generates.

  

Endnote:  This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI) The Golden Thread, a free newsletter that delivers original, no-nonsense advice on the best wealth careers, lifestyle careers and work-at-home careers available. For a complimentary subscription, visit http://www.awaionline.com/signup/.

 

  

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2011.

 

To Niche Or Not To Niche

It’s a safe bet to say every freelancer has heard of and pondered the issue of “a niche”.  Colleagues swear by it.  Business coaches recommend it as fundamental to success and revenue growth.

So, what is a niche?  Perhaps a better starting point is what a niche is not.  Here are a few…

  • It is not sameness of daily activity (aka boring or tedium).
  • It does not mean being boxed in a corner (aka feeling trapped).
  • It does not spell inflexibility (no wiggle room).
  • It does not necessarily involve prolonged re-training (if done correctly).
  • It does not necessarily have to be novel (no need to re-invent the wheel).

 

If a niche is none of those things, what then is it?

According to the Encarta dictionary, a niche is a position or activity that particularly suits somebody’s talents and personality or that somebody can make his or her own.

Put in those words, a niche certainly has a strong appeal.  It conveys the desirable feeling of being in the right or suitable place for somebody.  I am yet to meet a freelancer who doesn’t want to be in a suitable place.  For many of us, that’s precisely why we went solo!

In business terms, a niche denotes specialization.  A freelancer with a niche is a specialist.  On the other hand, a freelancer without a niche tends to be a generalist.

I have a niche.

I am a business writer who writes white papers, case studies, and marketing content used by IT companies.  I think of myself as a specialist and act as such in the various ways I market my business.

I’ve read and heard of freelancers who routinely agonize over practically every decision: what to charge, who to market to, who’s “the competition”?  The underlying reason always seems to be the fact that these freelancers (typically generalists) offer such a wide array of services it’s hard for them to develop meaningful hard sticks.

I like the clarity that the choice of a niche brings to the decisions I must make as I build my practice.  You probably know freelancers or solo practitioners like me.

Each specialist has at least one fundamental reason for the decision to specialize.  In what follows, I share three of my reasons for choosing “to niche”.

  1. Positioning:  Prior to putting up my “Open for Business” sign, I decided that I didn’t want to get lost in the crowd of freelance writers.  Along with that decision, I also knew I had to consciously set aside the “team skill pool” marketing approach I’d used in corporate consulting.  As any specialist will tell you, it is vital to create and effectively implement an individualized marketing platform to gain acceptance as a subject-matter expert (SME).  Nothing boosts a solo practitioner’s credibility as being widely recognized as a SME.  Working in a niche facilitates positioning, so you’re not just open for business, people know that you’re open for a specific business.
  2. Productivity:  Economists and strategic management gurus have written extensively on the efficiencies associated with specialization.  Mastery in one business segment translates into timesavings and productivity gains, which in turn fuel profitability.  What freelancer couldn’t use a little more profit?  Specialization allows you to hone your research and writing skills in your field, which in turn helps you to be more productive and profitable.
  3. Practical:  Unlike some freelancers, I’ve never been comfortable with marketing my services.  Sure, the fear of rejection is a factor, but the greater issue initially was not knowing exactly what to say about my services.  However, once I selected my niche and created a simple value proposition, marketing became less formidable — much less of a chore.  Of course, it’s never really “all done”, but the clearer you are about your business, the quicker you get to doing it.  Incidentally, this is true of practically all aspects of running the business, including prospecting, networking, pricing, and planning for growth.  A focus is practical.

 

So, for me the decision “to niche” included those three elements,  among others.

It’s understandable to be afraid of choosing the “wrong” niche.  I can recall my many fears, bouts of disabling doubts, and constantly shifting assumptions.  On hindsight, I can say these are all rational – an integral part of the process that ultimately produces a clear path.  The truth is some of my earlier fears and doubts linger, but they are not nearly as intimidating.

For most people, there is no shortcut to knowing what is a suitable place or a good fit.  It typically takes time and research to define and embrace the rationality of one’s choice of a niche.  I’d say, the due diligence is worth undertaking as the outcome will set the tone for the business.  The more time and honesty you devote to the process, the better the outcome.

To sum up: If you’re still undecided about a niche, or you’re just starting out as a freelancer, I’d suggest that you give some thought to whether “to niche” or “not to niche”.  Consider the potential benefits of specialization for your positioning, productivity and prospecting.  You owe it to yourself to invest your talents and personality into something you can make your own – your niche.

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2010.

A New Online White Paper Class

LEARN HOW TO CREATE HIGHLY ENGAGING WHITE PAPERS THAT GENERATE LEADS AND DRIVE NEW BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES.

If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines and considering adding this highly influential business information medium to your marketing arsenal, here’s your chance.

There’s a new online class designed to teach writers how to plan, build, and enhance white papers.

 

It’s called White Paper 101 – A Step-by-Step Approach to Creating Highly Engaging White Papers.

 

Jonathan Kantor, a white paper marketing professional who has spent the last two decades producing exceptional commercial white papers, put the program together.

This three-part course will walk you through each step in the white paper development process, from strategizing and planning your white paper project, to writing and developing your white paper content, and sprucing up your white paper with visual enhancements that attract reader attention and deliver bottom-line messages.

Whether you work for a business or are self-employed, this class will take your white paper marketing skills to the next level.  By attending this class, you will:

  • Discover how to create highly engaging white papers that generates countless numbers of leads for your business.
  • Learn new strategies that clearly differentiate your white paper from the plethora of “me-too” text-only white papers currently in the marketplace.
  • Understand the principals of format and design that attracts reader attention
  • Leverage social media tools to read new readers and build your lead generation database
  • Ask questions of Jonathan Kantor, one of today’s leading white paper experts
  • And much more!

 

WHEN:  June 15th, 16th, and 17th.  Noon Pacific/2pm Central/3pm Eastern

Each class will be one hour in duration, with 45 minutes of content presentation and 15 minutes for Q&A.

CLICK HERE to find out more.

 

Here’s a gist of what to expect:

June 15th – Planning Your White Paper (First Session)

  • The Importance of Contracts and Agreements
  • Preparing/Accumulating/Organizing Raw Data
  • Organizing Research Information Sources
  • Finding the Right Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)
  • Effectively using Planning and Preparation Tools
  • Creating Outlines to Streamline the Production Process

June 16th – Building Your White Paper (Second Session)

  • Understanding and designing content for the new “Skim Reader”
  • Developing a 6 page White Paper: Page by Page:
  • Creating ‘Call to Action’ statements that create higher quality leads

June 17th – Enhancing Your White Paper (Third Session)

  • Integrating Visual Elements to Gain Reader Attention
  • Crafting a Highly Effective White Paper Design
  • Repurposing Your White Paper Design for Online Promotion
  • How to Use Graphic Enhancements that Simplify Complex Messages
  • Creating an Effective White Paper Landing Page
  • Using Social Media to Promote Your White Paper
  • And lot’s more!

SIGN UP TODAY!

 

What’s the cost of this program?

The cost for the three-day class is only $297.

Please Note: This price offer of $297 is good until June 11th at midnight (PDT) or when the first 100 people are registered, whichever comes first.  After that, the price goes up to $397, so act now!

 

BONUSES:

 

With your confirmed registration, you’ll also receive this additional package of freebies valued at over $497!  Here’s a list of the items carefully selected for your bonus package:

1/2 hour phone consultation with Jonathan to review your completed white paper project (a $200 dollar value alone!)

– eBook: “Crafting White Paper 2.0: Designing Information for Today’s Time and Attention Challenged Business Reader” (167 pages).

– eBook: The Best of the White Paper Pundit Blog: Tips, Tricks, and Techniques. (70 pages)

– eBook: Creating Next Generation White Papers (30 pages)

– eBook: Low Cost White Paper Marketing (16 pages)

– eBook: 3 Way Panel Discussion with Mike Stelzner, Jonathan Kantor, and Gordon Graham (33 pages)

 

Also, you’ll get:

– Unlimited Access to Video Recordings of the Session Presentations.

– All Presentation Slides

– Written Transcripts of the Sessions

CLICK HERE TO SAVE YOUR SEAT FOR THIS EVENT.

 

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2010.

3 Things That Don’t Belong In A White Paper

How is it that as writers we start out with the right subject matter and focus (squarely on our target audience), but somehow (sometimes) end up with content that serves only our egos (a.k.a. off target)?

As a white paper writer, I’ve asked myself that question more times than I care to admit.

Speaking as someone who’d been there and done that, I can truthfully say that a common thread in my less-than desirable outcomes is failure to keep an eye (unwaveringly) on the primary purpose of my content.

In other words, I lost sight of the right answer to the question: Why am I writing this stuff?

White papers are stellar marketing tools used primarily (though not exclusively) in the B2B arena.  Companies that sponsor white papers use them to inform and educate their prospects, while building rapport and credibility.  For these reasons, effective white papers are distinctive marketing publications.

Successful white paper writers know this and apply the necessary discipline to develop persuasive content with superior marketing appeal.  To achieve that goal, it is imperative that the interests of the intended audience drive each project.

In addition to maintaining a clear focus on the target readers, it is important to omit anything that might act as a “turn off” to the audience.  The truth is, there’s no shortage of potential distractions.  This article discusses three distractions that don’t belong in a well-written white paper.

  1. Hyperbole

We recognize it when we see it and know it when we use it.  Hype is exaggeration.  While rhetorical language may sometimes help us make a dramatic point, an unbridled use may undermine the information value of a white paper.

How?  The simple reason is that by definition, hype often stretches the truth and lack full proof.  However, truth and proof are two essentials that enhance the marketing appeal of white papers, particularly white papers that target tech audiences.

So, if hype is a no-no, what helps?  Fortunately, what helps is also simple.  It requires straightforward and factual language that addresses the interests of, and proposes options for the target audience.

The good news is that factual language often is the best way (successful way) to provide useful information, to connect with the reader, and to encourage specific response from her.

2.      Sales Talk

For many (prospective) buyers, a sales pitch conjures up the image of a loud person wielding a high-volume megaphone.  Not a welcoming picture.  It is definitely not the type of image you’d want associated with your marketing effort.

Intrusive sales language has the potential to turn an otherwise informative white paper into a direct mail copy.

If no sales pitch, what helps?  What helps is a more subtle pitch that works from the point of view of the prospective buyer.

One way to create a powerful stealth-style pitch is to include a list (a pseudo- guide) of what to look for in a solution/provider in the white paper.  It is effective because it provides actionable tips that anticipate the needs of a prospect in the buying process.

Without overtly asking for it, the guide has the potential to pull prospects back to your solution when they are ready to buy.  Meanwhile, it reinforces your credibility as a provider.

No megaphone necessary.  Instead, amplify the benefits a prospect might reasonably expect from using your product/service, and make it easy for her to reach the purchase point.

3.      Glitz and Fluff

Viewed in the context of traditional marketing publications (brochure, magazines, etc), white papers are not glamorous.  Slick, colorful, and flashy packaging are typically unnecessary in white paper production.

This is good news.

It means that the cost of producing white papers is concentrated on developing the proven characteristics of effective white papers, namely informative, persuasive, and targeted content.

While glitz looks at exterior packaging, fluff tends to obsess about space – the filling-up of pages.  The downside is that fluff, such as unsubstantiated factoids, does not facilitate the pre-sale affinity-building process.  Fluff does little or nothing to enhance the education value of a white paper.  More importantly, savvy readers/prospects see right through fluff and are not impressed by it.

Leaving out fluff is consistent with creating white papers of desirable length (typically 6-10 pages), with right focus (that respects the time constraint of readers), and tight narrative (appropriate to the profile of the target audience).

No major production required; just good planning and diligent follow-through.

Conclusion

It’s easy for ego and distractions to get in the way of good marketing content.

If your goal is to use informative, credible, and viral white papers as part of your marketing program, leave out distracting hype, overt sales pitch, and unnecessary fluff.  Keep the focus on connecting with the reader, not turning her off.

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009-2010.