How to successfully blog your expertise

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I’ve been blogging for over 10 years and I’ve written thousands of blog posts across multiple sites, not all of them under my byline. I’ve spoken with dozens of clients and even colleagues about blogging and I get the same questions and concerns over and over again, which means lots of people have similar things that hold them back.

Blogging about your expertise can be intimidating and it can also feel like you’re giving away what you do for free. Will you give away a lot of your expertise? Absolutely. Will it impact the business you get? Highly unlikely.

  1. The person who will only ever read your blog and book a free consult with you without signing a contract isn’t in your target market. There are ways to filter this person out.

  2. You can blog everything you know about what you do and it will never equate to you providing the experience that backs up your expertise for that person/business.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to share some of my blogging expertise with you that I’ve gained over the last 10 years in a couple of posts that I hope will help you gain more comfort and confidence in the process. Today, I want you to write down a single topic you can write about and I’ll break down a process you can use to craft a blog post on the topic you’ve chosen.

1) Write down 3-5 key points you want to make in your post

This doesn’t have to be a well-crafted outline. By writing out the points you want to make before you start filling in your post, you’ll stay focused on the most important things you want to say and you’ll be able to decide how you want to organize the content.

One option is to have a free-flowing narrative (I don’t recommend this for readability reasons). Or you might lay it out with headers breaking up the different points you’re making. Another option is to make an orderly numbered list (or “listicle” = list + article). This post is a step-by-step how-to, which is another option.

2) Draft your first paragraph to hook the reader in

This paragraph is critical. It needs to have enough information help the reader determine whether to keep reading. Not everyone will and that’s okay. But you don’t want people to stop because the first paragraph is rambly or vague.

Give them a clue about what value you’re going to provide in the rest of the post that makes it worth their time. There are too many things competing for our attention in the world right now to waste time on a blog (or any other content) you don’t need to read.

3) Fill out the rest of your post with more detail

Take those 3-5 points you wrote down and expand on them:

  • Why are they important?

  • How will they help your reader?

  • What practical action can they take with them?

When you’re fleshing out your content, the 5 Ws+H (who, what, when, where, why, and how) can be a useful way for you to get into the mind of your reader to help them.

4) Make your post easy to scan

I mentioned readability up above because it’s one more way you can help your readers digest your content quickly in today’s fast-paced world. And it’s easy to do:

  • Add headings to break up longer blocks of text.

  • Use bullets or numbered lists to further break up your copy.

  • Keep paragraphs short - 2-3 sentences max.

  • Avoid using all caps. (IT’S TOO SCREAMY!)

The headings and bullet lists are also good for search engine bots that scan your website. They’ll index your post to include in search results and good headings that include the right keywords and rich media (see #5) give you a boost and put your post in the right context for search engines.

5) Add pictures, videos, and links that support your content

Pictures add visual interest and illustrations can can help you explain more complex concepts. They also help make the post more scannable for the reader. (You should also learn how to add images and videos using accessible methods, but that’s a post for another day.)

Videos and links to content that support your points are valuable validation, even if it comes from another source. I just wouldn’t advise using your competitors as a source. External sources do add credibility to your thoughts and ideas by showing you stay up-to-date with what’s going on and you know what you’re talking about.

6) Reiterate the most important points in your conclusion

I avoid using “conclusion” as a heading and I don’t open the concluding paragraph with “in conclusion.” These are both fairly formal practices that don’t fit as well in the blogging world. However, you don’t have to reiterate all of your points. You can stick to a key takeaway based on applying the whole of your post.

7) Indicate the next step for your audience

Figure out what you want your reader to do next and ask them to do it. Every post should have a call to action (CTA), whether it’s directing them to a resource, offering up your time for a call, or asking a question for them to respond to in the comments.

Just avoid salesy CTAs and your audience will be more likely to take action.

8) Finalize your headline

You can write your headline anytime in this process. If you know what you want it to be before you start writing your post, that’s fine.

No matter when you decide the headline, always revisit it after reading through the entire post again. That gives you the chance to ensure it’s still relevant and fitting to the content of your post.

9) Read it one more time

I’m writing this post roughly three weeks before it’s going to be published. I’ll mark it “needs review” and come back to it for another read-through in a day or two. This gives me some time and space between writing and reading so I’m able to catch errors and refine anything I think is unclear.

No one expects absolute perfection in grammar, sentence structure, and spelling. But the more errors you can eliminate (if you don’t have an editor at your disposal), the better for your readers.

Your blogging challenge for this week

I challenge you to try it out. You don’t have to publish it. Just go through the nine steps in a document. You can even send it to me; I’d love to read it!

And next week, I’ll show you how to use a content map to keep a steady stream of content. That way, you can do this over and over as you grow your blog!

Strategic marketing vs. marketing as a service

Marketing is an interesting discipline in today’s world. In some companies, the team ends up relegated to service status, playing a reactive role in supporting sales. I’ve started referring to it as marketing as a service, or MaaS, since everything as a service is all the rage these days. For larger organizations, I’m not a huge fan of this approach since there’s usually significant investment to salaries of qualified individuals who understand the business strategy and build plans that help move it forward.

Relegating those people to reactive roles isn’t the best way to get a return on that investment, though there are times it can make sense. Sadly, this structure means marketing doesn’t have the impact it could if it was given a place at the table to have more strategic influence in the business.

Why should marketing be a driver of strategy?

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This may be an oversimplification to some, but marketing can’t effectively communicate to market what your organization has to offer if it’s always jumping every time sales or a senior executive says jump. When this happens, it’s a possible sign that there’s a lack of understanding or respect for the true impact marketing can have in helping businesses grow.

Instead, broadly speaking, marketing needs to develop messaging, validate it with the appropriate input from other departments and then manage how that message is disseminated so it’s compelling, cohesive and consistent.

But it can’t just be compelling. It has to be compelling to the right audience and meet them where they are. The cohesiveness and consistency should flow through pre- and post-sales touch points, a gargantuan effort that requires working cross-functionally across most of the organization. Marketers have to become adept jugglers of objectives, audience and message to inspire action.

If your marketing is fluff, you’re doing it wrong

Someone once made the argument to me that we should be getting subject matter experts (SMEs) to write content instead of marketing so the content isn’t fluff. My experience with marketers is that the good ones become experts in their particular discipline (content, product marketing, digital marketing) and they work hard to learn as much as humanly possible about the industry as well.

The marketing team that works together well is its own SME. We combine the message we need to communicate with valuable thought leadership to create compelling, useful content. Any team that can’t do this without constant oversight and involvement from SMEs outside of marketing is offloading their job to others. This may sound harsh, but it’s much harder to take something written through a different lens and make it marketable. It’s easier to get SMEs to validate content that was written for marketing purposes.

The marketing team isn’t fluff either

I alluded to the lack of understanding of marketing’s role earlier. We have a reputation of being the fun, social, wine-drinking folks who spend all their time taking selfies and tweeting, but this not-entirely-wrong-but-rather-superficial view doesn’t account for the hard work we’re celebrating on these occasions. It also doesn’t recognize the continuous learning good marketers do to maintain a depth of knowledge about business, marketing trends, best practices, and what’s going on in our industry of focus.

Marketing, despite popular belief, is  not exclusively a lead-gen machine. Generating a high volume of leads isn’t the goal. Generating high-quality leads isn’t even necessarily the goal. After all, there needs to be a robust process in place to leverage leads that come in. If the infrastructure and process aren’t there, that may be the priority over generating leads in the first place. This is why choosing the right marketing approach and activities is a natural extension of knowing what you want to accomplish. Then marketing can and should have a powerful impact on business results.

The challenge? Many marketing orgs are still reporting on leads generated but since that isn’t a metric that shows on the financials (thank goodness), it’s important for the work of marketing to be tied to revenue in reporting to reflect their true importance to the business. Speaking the language of revenue can get us there.

The most important question a marketer can ask

I firmly believe we have to ask why. Always. If there isn’t a clear purpose, especially with out-of-the-blue, one-off requests, the activity doesn’t pass the smell test in my book. Yes, there will be occasional times when you do a thing just because. But if that’s the status quo, there probably isn’t much strategic marketing going on. Here are a few answers to the “why” question that need further exploration:

  • Sales needs it. (Why? What’s the business case for doing it if it’s not in the plan? Is there a critical gap in our existing content/collateral that needs to be addressed?)

  • We’ve always done it. (Why? Do you know it works? What results did you get from it before? Any leads? Sales? Show data that support the decision.)

  • Exec X asked for it. (Why? What’s the impact of doing it and diverting resources from the plan? If something has to be dropped or delayed, is Exec X okay with that?)

I’m not saying the answer is no when marketing is asked to go off plan. But the answer shouldn’t automatically be a resounding yes. We have to be flexible and provide support, but we can’t lose sight of the work we have to do to achieve our goals in support of the business objectives because we’re accountable for the goals we set, even if we spend all our time in a reactive state. And we need to make data-driven decisions rather than relying on instinct whenever possible.

The fun part of marketing

Working in a team that practices strategic marketing is this perfect blend of creativity (coming up with all the ideas), strategy (building plans that lead to results), execution (getting stuff done and delivered), and learning (business, marketing, and industry). It’s a machine that runs so beautifully when you bring the right people together. And we love when a executing a plan generates the results we expect. That’s well worth celebrating. For the business that has a strategically-minded marketing team, they’ll see the benefits of those people and their contributions in the bottom line.

Repurposing content starts with rethinking how you view content

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Don’t you love all those Pinterest pictures of people turning trash into treasure? I remember the first time I saw a coffee table made from a pallet. I was convinced I’d never want one. But they really can be made to be lovely and functional without giving you splinters. And repurposing means less trash!

For anyone trying to market their company through evergreen content that demonstrates expertise in their field, the same idea of giving new, and sometimes unexpected, life to older content can make it easier to maintain a flow of content for your business. Because no one likes to throw away hard work - even if it happened years ago.

Building a comprehensive web presence today means being able to answer questions that come up with your clients or customers before they ever talk to you. That’s one of the many ways a good content program for your business can help gain attention and attract the right people to check you out - by showing them you know what you’re talking about.

But the idea of writing regularly is often a barrier for businesses that lack confidence in their writing skills or the funds for staff or outsourcing content creation. And that can make you feel overwhelmed before you ever get started.

There’s good news, though. It doesn’t have to be that complicated and I bet you can start with content you’ve already created and repurpose it to suit your needs. And if you think you have no content, I’d say you probably do. You just might not think of it as content … yet. That’s a good place for us to start.

What is content?

Content can be just about anything spoken, written or drawn that pertains to your business. A lot of your content may not be polished, pretty and ready for the world to see, but a little tender loving care goes a long way. Here are just a few things you probably have in the way of content:

Emails - you communicate about your business to associates, prospects and customers all the time. There’s valuable information and expertise being shared in these pieces of communication.

Conversations - you talk about your business with everyone (I hope). There can be a gold mine of content in the words you use to talk with others about what you do.

Documentation - training manuals for employees, certain aspects of your business and/or product plan, and other internal documentation can be great fodder for external content.

Obviously, in all three of these, it’s important to filter out anything you need to keep confidential. That should never be part of your content program. But thinking about all types of content as possible fodder for marketing is a good way to make sure you aren’t reinventing the wheel. After all, repurposing is all about finding new and sometimes unexpected uses for things that aren’t working for you anymore.

What are the building blocks you need to develop great content?

If you already have regular content you’ve been creating, that means you can use that existing content to build ideas for new content. The trick to saving yourself time is to think about content like building blocks. A single block could be a tweet or other micro content. Multiple tweets that relate to each other can be stitched together to make a blog post. Multiple blog posts that relate to each other can be stitched together to make an ebook.

And the reverse is true as well. If you have an ebook that’s a little older, you can break it up to freshen it up. Piece by piece, refine and update the content and republish as videos or blog posts.

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This is repurposing at its finest here are the advantages for you and your content:

  • Spend less time thinking about and building content by repurposing.

  • Make old things new again with updates to relevant (but out-of-date) content.

  • Present new angles to past ideas and reiterate your message.

There are endless possibilities for content that’s valuable to your audience. It takes some planning and creative thinking to get there. Just don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There’s no reason you have to start every new piece with a blank page.

Now that we’ve build a good foundation for developing content, next week we can talk about the importance of planning and how spending more time planning will save time and reduce the stress of execution.

The importance of content curation for your audience

"Content curation" is one of those phrases that gets tossed around the marketing and content creation world practically every second if you're following enough of us. (I might be exaggerating. Maybe.) It's not a buzzword, but it could be construed as jargon because the act and its benefits aren't immediately clear to those who most need it. So, before I launch into why you want to include content curation in your digital marketing activities, I'll explain what it is.

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Content

Dictionary.com defines "content" (the noun, not the adjective) in a few different ways I like for the context of this post:

  • "the subjects or topics covered in a book or document"

  • "something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts"

  • "substantive information or creative material viewed in contrast to its actual or potential manner of presentation"

Content is information that expresses ideas, opinions, facts, etc. Before we had "social media" (and really, social media has existed far longer than the term we use to describe these digital tools), content was books, TV shows, home videos, photographs, journal entries, magazine articles and stories, newspaper columns and reports. The digital age has expanded the mediums we can use to create and the channels we use to distribute or promote.

Curate

The definition of curate is perfect:

"to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation, as music or website content"

The act of curation is essentially digging for those gold nuggets that are going to be interesting for others. Museum curators do this all the time, only they have to work much harder than I do when I'm sitting in front of my computer or other device reading through dozens of blog posts.

How do you curate content?

Good question. I'm glad you asked!

First you need to find people who create the kind of content you want to share

I go about this in several ways, and I've been following, unfollowing, re-following and so on for years now. I need variety and sometimes I need a break from the influx of information or the style in which it's presented. The information you need and want to see will evolve.

I find good content through Twitter chats, list posts that recommend "must-follow" experts/blogs on various topics, Twitter lists, etc. It will probably only take you about 30 minutes to find enough blogs that write in your area of expertise to create a repository of thought leaders to curate content from. 

That said, I try to follow in the way it makes most sense to share. 90% of the time, that's through Feedly, my RSS reader. Which brings me to tools...

Second, you will want to incorporate the right tools to keep content curation a manageable process.

My process starts with Feedly. As I flip through the unread articles in my account, I do one or more of several things:

  • Use a tool to schedule content to one of my accounts.

  • Save a post within Feedly, which automatically bumps it over to Pocket (via IFTTT). I do this with articles that I need time to read and consider what they say and how I want to act on the information. From Pocket, I may delete them, or (more often), they get saved to Evernote where I can reference the information later.

  • When I run across articles that I can read quickly and the value is clear, I may share using Buffer AND save in an appropriate notebook in Evernote. (I reference the same valuable blog posts over and over again when it makes sense. Putting them in Evernote means I waste less time looking for them.)

Within my Feedly account, I've connected Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buffer, Pocket, Pinterest, Evernote and any other tools that I have accounts for and use in my content curation process. From Feedly, I can share content from the feeds I subscribe to with all the major networks I use without worrying that I'm being too repetitive. I mix it up!

Third, establish a consistent process that you run through regularly.

It doesn't have to be daily, but keep in mind that if you're scheduling content as part of this process, you want to be engaged with comments, replies, and other engagement that happens as a result.

I tend to curate a little bit almost every day. I used to try to get every post in my reader marked as read each week - by actually reading all of them. Now I'm content to mark them all as read when I want to focus on newer content coming out.

You don't have to read everything. You can't. Don't even try.

Why is content curation important to add to your social marketing mix?

  1. Sharing content from trusted industry leaders shows your followers that you are actively engaged in staying up-to-date with what's going on.

  2. Idea generation. This is my favourite reason for curating content. All those notes that I save in Evernote? Those are almost always blog ideas or supporting information for blog posts.

  3. When I read through the posts in my reader, I spend some time commenting on other blogs. Blog comments have decreased significantly over the years, but their value hasn't declined. The blogger that gets a thoughtful comment these days is more grateful than ever. Each comment you leave on that blog is one small step to building a relationship.

  4. It forces you to get away from thinking about creating content and learn from others. (Well, until you get an idea inspired from something you read.)

A caution about content curation

Read what you share.

Don't fall in the trap of scheduling content you haven't properly vetted just because you don't have time to read. There is no quicker way to lose credibility than to schedule something that doesn't fit your brand and principles. 

One final bonus tip

Subscribe to your own content.

Whether it’s by email or through a feed reader, you'll always know that your feed is working and you can mix your own content in with other content you're scheduling to share.

My process is not the only way to do it and you should definitely figure out what works best for you, but I hope this gives you a framework to getting started sharing excellent expert advice that supports the work you're doing!

Guest blogging? Bring your "A" game!

I really enjoy guest posting on other blogs. It's like being invited to come to a dinner party at a friend's house where you may know some people, but probably not everyone. The dinner party is your chance to meet new, interesting people with fresh perspectives and you might even walk away with newly formed friendships. Let me step away from the analogy now and say it in plain English. Guest blogging gives you:

  • exposure to a new audience
  • backlinks to your site
  • the opportunity to share your expertise
  • potential for increased credibility

Now, let's go back to the dinner party.

Would you show up unwashed in your Saturday schlepping clothes? 

Do you come in poised to sell to every human with a pulse you interact with?

Is the bottle of wine you brought as a host gift worthless or wonderful?

Don't squander guest blogging opportunities 

The guest who walks in prepared to socialize, with their most charming anecdotes and winning personality on display is a guest who will draw the interest of others and have a greater chance of creating meaningful connections.

Understand the rules of etiquette 

Dinner party etiquette is fairly standard. Most people know about BMW (bread, meal water) and using the outside fork first, and waiting until everyone at the table has been served. Blogs are a tad different. 

Know what is expected of you as a guest blogger - from language to content to engagement. Blogs that welcome guest bloggers regularly probably have comprehensive guidelines that will help you get to know their community and what they expect from content on the blog.

When you deliver on those expectations, you leave a good impression of your host and the community you're interacting with. 

It is better to give than receive

Inviting someone to share their expertise on your blog is a risk. Granted, editorial veto power is a must - always. But you also hope you don't have to exercise that all-important veto power. As the host of this guest, you're rooting for them to give you great quality content that resonates with your community.

It's deflating and disappointing to see an email that contains a blog post-sized sales pitch that has no redemptive value. It's too much like opening a bottle of your favourite wine only to find the cork is black and the wine is undrinkable.

Re-gifting isn't a good idea

When I guest post, I will sometimes re-publish a version of the post on my own blog, but I like providing original content. I'm not going to bring an already-open bottle of wine to the dinner party that I got from someone for my birthday. No, I provide new, original, fresh content and if I want to repurpose it for myself later on, so be it (if the blog is okay with that practice).

Impressions matter

All of these things serve to give your host and their audience an impression of who you are as a person, as a business, and as an expert. If you don't bring your "A" game, chances are most blogs simply won't publish what you provide. If they have to heavily edit, they may be slightly less reluctant to invite you back. But if you bring your best work and dress to impress, you will make an impression that won't be forgotten.

Quick tips for successful guest blogging

  1. You're there to give value, not a sales pitch. You have to earn the right to pitch and you're nowhere near that point in a guest post.
  2. This audience is not your audience; make sure you understand who you're talking to, what will help them, and how information is usually presented to them.
  3. Pay attention to social media and the comments on your post. Reply to comments and say thank you for shares. (Your parents will be proud.)

Brutally honest tip: If all you want to do is publish all of your blog posts on a higher authority site, you're better off syndicating. That is not guest blogging.

You can be a highly valued guest blog contributor fairly easily if you keep all these things in mind. Those are the contributors who are asked to come back over and over again. And eventually, they build relationships that cross over into their own audience, which is lead gen gold. 

So, bring your "A" game, and go for the gold. It really does pay off.