Monthly Archives: December 2013

Should Professionals Care About Website Content?

Typing

Why professionals don’t have a content culture

It is no easy task to convince professionals – especially smaller suburban firms that make up the vast majority of the totality of employment across all professions – to undertake a task that appears to be a waste of very precious time.

And there’s some truth to that view. The content on your website is not a core function of your firm, and the hucksters who try to tell you otherwise have clearly never run a professional practice, met a professional payroll or dealt with the myriad issues that arise every day. For smaller professionals it can be a daily slog through a minefield. Why the hell should they care about the content on their websites?

Stop raising the bar

There are in fact good reasons why professionals should create informative and productive website content, and I say this as someone who also works as a suburban professional. I won’t resort to the Google Blackmail (“you MUST be on page one of Google”) – it’s rubbish, and anyway, if the rules to potentially achieve this search engine Shangri-La were ever doable, they have changed over the last couple of years.

So it’s a fair question that I have addressed in another post. Do you need an online marketing strategy? If you want to research it in more depth, then take a look at our series of MatureMedia Guides. If you do intend to pursue a content marketing strategy – which need not be more than carefully targeted website content which includes an informative bio, a Q&A section about the firm and your services, a set of information guides about those services and (hopefully) a blog post every week or so – then how do you create the culture to support it?

A creative mindset

If there is one refrain from the principals of smaller professional firms – lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – to explain the reason they cannot write content, it’s that they believe they don’t have anything interesting to say. This appears to be a straightforward creative problem, but that’s only the case if you believe you must wear a creative hat to produce business content. It’s a golden oldie you probably learnt back in your schooldays, with the hackneyed refrain, “I’m just not creative”. You’re older now, and though it’s indeed hard to pick at the scab of wounds suffered at school, you need to remind yourself that content for your website is business all the way. It has very little to do with creativity.

There is a simple mechanism to overcome this negative mindset, that takes it out of the “creative” milieu and back into your comfort zone. You need to establish a system to get it done, in exactly the same way that you have a technology base for your firm, or a set of pro formas, or a well-defined path that takes a client from the first phone call to an initial interview and the opening of a file. You have these things because they make it possible to get on with the creation of work and not be overwhelmed by the minutiae of its implementation. You need the same type of mechanism for content production.

In the next post I’ll lay out some straightforward  rules to establish a creative mindset at your firm.

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5 Rules To Find A Creative Mindset At Your Professional Firm

Creativity for professionals

The principals of smaller professional firms – lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – often complain that they cannot write content for their websites because they don’t have anything interesting to say. Here’s a foolproof system to foster a creative culture at your firm:

  1. Take a holistic content inventory of the firm. Open the doors, tell every staff member (including admin staff) to come up with three ideas that might work as good content for your website. Give it a few days, encourage them to talk to each other. The best ideas will be the stories of clients, especially if they have a happy ending (best avoid the disasters). Stories of client successes are both reassuring and informative, which is a marketers dream combination.
  2. Read something out of your comfort zone. Go for a tour around the internet and look at other websites in your professional area that have ranked highly on Google, but if possible concentrate more on the smaller suburban firms. They generally won’t be the first page results, which are often monopolised by the larger firms that have used professional (and generally high priced) search engine optimisation experts, but it is where you will find your inspiration. The best advice is to set up an RSS reader, which aggregates syndicated web content such as blogs in a single location. Unfortunately Google Reader has shut its doors, so I now use Feedly, which has a nice interface and is easy to use. If you use Feedly (or another aggregator, there are many) to subscribe to a variety of blogs in your professional area, you will be quickly be amazed at the creativity of some of your colleagues. When you come across a useful blog, just add it to your RSS reader and each time you check in it will display the latest post or article. Simple. Believe me, you will get lost of ideas for posts or website information for your clients.
  3. Don’t be judgmental. This is of course good advice in general, but in this circumstance it is a business, not moral issue. If you believe there is no room for content marketing at your firm, then that is what will happen. Perception is reality. A closed mindset can never be creative. If you believe there is no return on the time investment (ROI) then there will be no investment in the first place. It’s a mathematical certainty. If you need something to challenge that prejudice, we have an eBook devoted to the issue, The Business Case For Content Marketing. It’s free.
  4. Look at yourself. What exactly is the problem here?  After all, you have a professional qualification, presumably you are literate and able to research an issue on behalf of clients. As in all psychological blocks, the first step is to properly define the problem. Perhaps it’s the word “creative”? Then change it to something else. How about “client services”, or “enhanced client relations” or “client investment” – you get the idea. Is it about self confidence? Here’s a secret – no one really knows how to write. Remember the Geoffrey Rush character in Shakespeare In Love? He plays the beleaguered theatre producer Henslowe, and in one scene attempts to placate the nervous backer Fennyman:

Philip Henslowe:
Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Hugh Fennyman:
So what do we do?

Philip Henslowe:
Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Hugh Fennyman:
How?

Philip Henslowe:
I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

I have written hundreds of published articles, books etc, and I assure you the only way to produce content is to do it. Remember, you can always go back and edit as much as you wish, but first just do it.

  1. Change hats. This is a reference to Edward de Bono’s “thinking hats”. Content marketing is strategy, more akin to publishing than the customary strategies we might find in a standard business plan. In every other aspect of your firm you need appropriate commercial skills. In this one area, however, those same skills can be more hindrance than help. What’s needed is a different perspective. Dr. Edward de Bono developed the idea of “thinking hats” to attack business problems from singular perspectives. Each hat represents a state of mind, for example emotional, creative or informational. It reminds us to wear different hats for different business needs, each appropriate to that need, otherwise we tend towards unfocussed thinking and cluttered perspectives. When it comes to content marketing, you need your publishing hat and its perspective. That way you can propose the strategic questions a publisher might ask. What are the information needs that I can address on behalf of my clients? How can I take that opportunity, meet those unmet needs, and communicate a compelling response? That’s the hat you want to be wearing when you sit down to write.

That’s the foundation. Give it a try and you will soon be producing content with the best of them.

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A Content Ideas Bank

How to create a content ideas bank

Multiple sources for content

Looking for content ideas? You are not going to find enough content from a single source to maintain a blog . Yes, it will be okay at the start, but soon enough the ideas will dry up (at least the ones that are interesting to clients) and the pace will inevitably diminish.

The exception might be if you are a business analyst who assiduously reads the business pages of the newspapers nationally and in your city. In that case you are in luck, because the business sections of newspapers appear to be one of their few growth areas, and of course you can read many more online (I subscribe to the New York Times and read it daily).

A curation strategy

I have previously written about my preferred Reader, Feedly, which has a useful interface and is easy to understand. I subscribe (at the time of writing) to thirty or so blogs that I follow, which means I get around twenty articles directed to my account every day. It doesn’t take long to go through them (all readers skim on the internet), you can usually know whether the article is useful within the first minute. If there are, let’s say, ten articles that might be useful, I will direct them to a file and sort them into appropriate headings.

For instance, if I know I am looking to write a series of posts on changes to SEO and Google, I will wait until I have enough articles collected under that heading and then dedicate a segment of time to plan out the series.

This should be a seamless operation. Don’t waste time by reading every article as research as it comes into the Reader, wait until you have grouped a number of articles under a common heading, it will be far more efficient. An even better way to do this is to annotate each link as you place it in your file. So if I have, for example, found a useful article about developing a content strategy for accountants, I might place the URL in the file under a general heading “Accountants” but use the “Ctrl + K” shortcut to create a hyperlink and rename the entry “Good article that lists 10 ways for accountants to repurpose content”.

Twitter is also a useful source for articles to feed your content ideas bank. If you don’t already have a Twitter account, then please take some free advice and set up Twitter. Even if you don’t tweet you can use it to aggregate content from experts. To do this you create a List in your account, and every time you find a blog that might be useful, add the writer’s Twitter handle (the “@XXX”) to your List. That way you always have ideas in your content bank, accessible any time you have internet access.

Paying attention to questions

How many questions do you get asked a day? Not just from clients, but from colleagues? If you are a mature professional, the answer is likely “plenty”. Can you remember those question two weeks later? Likely not, you have moved on. Instead learn how to mine that database of collected wisdom.

When asked something, take just a moment to place the question in a file, perhaps labeled “Questions for Content Ideas Bank” or whatever. And believe me, because the source is part of a back and forth discussion, the resulting article will follow quickly.

On the other hand don’t rely on representative industry magazines or blogs, some are better than others. Many professional journals are written for fellow professionals and drafted in quite a stilted (believed to be “professional”) style. They also tend to focus on technical detail. Your aim should be to explain technical issues in a discursive manner, ideally by telling a compelling story.

In coming posts we’ll look at other ways to find inspiration for your content creation.

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A Content Creation Mechanism That Works

Content creation for professional websites

A system for content development

We’ve discussed why professionals should place a premium on content and how to create a content culture ate your firm. Now let’s look at the nuts and bolts – the rules that allow that content to be created at a pace that is sustainable. As we have previously observed:

There is a simple mechanism to overcome this negative mindset, that takes it out of the “creative” milieu and back into your comfort zone. You need to establish a system to get it done, in exactly the same way that you have a technology base for your firm, or a set of pro formas, or a well-defined path that takes a client from the first phone call to an initial interview and the opening of a file. You have these things because they make it possible to get on with the creation of work and not be overwhelmed by the minutiae of its implementation. You need the same type of mechanism for content production.

Introducing a mechanism for content creation

The reason a creative mindset is important is that it overcomes the prejudice we all have because writing is beyond the comfort zone of our professional training. I know you don’t always feel comfortable in your work, far from it, but when presented with a problem on behalf of a client, most of us can utilise our professional training to find a solution. To that extent it is familiar territory and an aspect of what we imagine – and are trained to see – as part of the professional process.

Prolific social commentator Malcolm Gladwell created the “10,000 Hour Rule”. In his book Outliers he posits that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in your field. Does this apply to your own professional practice? Think about how long it took you to learn how to advise clients about the taxation benefits of a self managed superannuation? Or the minutiae of writing a complicated estate management plan? Or a business plan for a client’s startup? Or a retirement strategy for a client in their late fifties with a liquidity dilemma?

I promise, it will not take nearly that effort to learn how to write your own content for your website. Without experts or consultants.

First Do it

There is no substitute for action. You will learn more from the worst attempts to create content than all the research you undertake away from the blank pages that so intimidatingly awaits you. The more you write the better it will be, it’s that simple.

The best time to write? When you have a few moments “free”. There is a lot of rubbish written about planning your blog posts, as though your words are precious jewels that must be nurtured and polished. True, the content that appears on your website that rarely changes (the home page, About Us, FAQ etc) requires a lot of thought and should be part of a larger strategy, but for the ongoing content, just do it. You do not need to write it all at once, you will not lose the thread of the article (it’s not The Brothers Karamazov). But often you will find that the simple act of stealing a few moments is enough to create a flow, and ten minutes later you are steaming ahead.

Many of you will say, “I can’t find a voice for my writing”. Yes you can, it’s the one you use everyday with clients. Write the way you speak, it will improve your writing immeasurably. Waiting for the right words is not only a waste of time, it will produce stilted copy that is not directed at any audience (except for you, or that version of yourself that you believe should represent your profession).

In the next post we’ll look at how to speed the process.

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Is Content Really Everything For Mature Professionals?