I am the first person to tell you that blogging and podcasting can completely change your business. It has done gigantic wonders for mine: brought clients, partners, a book deal, friends, press coverage and intense joy since I love to write so much.
This is not to say that it is not hard sometimes to balance “giving information away for free,” like writing long blog posts or producing podcasts or twittering or writing ezines, with “real money making activities” like coaching or teaching or writing for pay.
So here is a simple structure to help you balance your “be a mensch and help people” instinct with “pay your mortgage and car note” instinct.
Start with “The Thing”
When you talk about writing content for business purposes, you need to have a focus. I find the best possible place to look for this focus is right in the center of your gut, for the kinds of things that you find totally compelling, fascinating, important, infuriating or exciting.
Your “Thing” may be:
- Teaching personal finance skills to college students and recent college grads or
- Improving the grammar skills of average writers or
- Helping software engineers launch small businesses or
- Distributing free paper toys to encourage parents and kids to spend time making things together or
- Helping Baby Boomers use social media networking tools to ensure they stay employable
The key here is that you must find something that you care enough about to devote a substantial amount of time thinking and writing about it, and you must have a hunch that there are real, live humans somewhere on the planet who have enough dollars or euros or rupees or pesos to pay for it.
This is where some people can get tripped up, when their “Thing” has no real chance at “monetizing” which is the hip word both marketers and parents like to say when they really mean “Nice hobby, slacker. When are you going to get a real job?”
Define “The People”
Finding your area of passion and interest in is a huge step. But it will be irrelevant unless you can define the specific characteristics of the people you want to talk with about The Thing. There are a million ways to describe your people:
- Demographics: Age, race, geography
- Common Interests: Religion, Politics, Red Bull, Social Media
- Professions or Education: Engineers, Stanford grads, Life coaches
- Psychographics: glass half-full, optimistic, heretics, humorists
- Life Situation: Empty nesters, parents of ADD children, single moms, recent college grads
- Hobbies: Jets fans, knitters, martial artists
When you create a really clear picture of the kinds of people that you would love to work with, it makes it much easier to decide what kind of content to develop for them.
For example, if you were a career counselor, wouldn’t it be easier to reach 25-30 year old finance majors who graduated Summa Cum Laude from a top 10 school who live in the greater New York area, rather than “Generation Y?”
Many people wiggle when asked to choose a particular group of people to work with since it feels restrictive. My thought is if you don’t stand for something, you will go for anything. Consequently you will grab no one and earn nothing.
If you gain traction with one group, you can always expand to a broader audience. The opposite is much more difficult.
Define “The Content”
Once you know The Thing to talk about and The People to talk about it with, now comes the fun part: Deciding what to talk about.
In my own experience, this is not something that needs a whole lot of guidelines or planning. When you care about what you are talking about and enjoy the people you are talking with, ideas flow, many times more than you can actually capture in a blog post or ezine article or podcast.
If you do get stuck, I always lean more towards the needs of The People vs. my passion for The Thing. What do they care about? What do they want to know? I use the following content guidelines for people who read this blog (that’s YOU!):
- What problems do they face?
- What really scares them?
- What is not being said on this subject on other news sources or blogs?
- What can I share that will make their life easier?
- How can I make them feel more supported and confident?
- Who can I put them in contact with (via links or references) that will give them good information and advice?
- What will be fun and interesting to write about?
While we are talking about written and recorded content here, realize that this information is the source of every product or service in your business. You should never spend lots of time developing content that is not directly related to work you want to do with The People. Good content can be re-purposed, repackaged, enhanced, digitized and/or turned into a book or workshop or presentation. When you share great information freely with the right people, it becomes your research, marketing copy, sales collateral and branding material.
When people complain about how long it takes to write a blog post or record a podcast, I always ask them where else they would rather spend their time. Usually it is something very professional sounding, like “generating leads for my business” or “marketing.”
To which I usually encourage them to stop writing the time-consuming posts (which demonstrate competence and expertise in their area of specialty) which are sent to annoying people (like those that have been naturally drawn to their content and blog or ezine and have willingly signed up to receive more information) since it is so burdensome (hitting “publish” and instantly reaching thousands of subscribers is so tiring) and focus on something really effective like making cold calls to people on a list you purchased for $5,000 who have never heard of you.
Choose “The Vehicle(s)”
There are a lot of ways you can distribute content freely and effectively these days. In broad categories, using things like:
- Blogs (these days I am an overwhelming WordPress admirer even though this blog started on Typepad)
- Podcasts (you can record using a paid service like Audioacrobat or a free one like Skype, hosted by a whole range of companies, my favorite being Libsyn)
- Video or Vlogs (from the popular YouTube to Viddler, there are many other options which smart, technical people can tell you about)
- Ezines (basically, an electronic newsletter which can be sent to your list anywhere from once a week to once a month. I use Infusionsoft to manage my list, although when it was smaller, I started with AWeber)
- Webcasts (using things like UStream, where you can simultaneously share and record video, audio and chat)
- Good old fashioned mail (someone, somewhere, must still appreciate getting a hard copy of news from you).
The way to choose your best vehicle(s) is to think about the consuming habits of your People. Do they spend a lot of time on the internet? If so, a blog may be the answer. Do they own iPods and commute long distances on public transportation? Podcasts may do the trick. Are they more old-school email users, who get wigged out with too much technology? Ezines may be a good solution. Are they more versed in video than Chris Pirillo? Do a webcast.
Depending on the needs and interests of your audience, you may choose a variety of these communication vehicles to regularly broadcast your juicy, useful and interesting content.
Position “The Sticky”
Unless you are Kevin Costner, “Build it and they will come” is not necessarily a common occurrence on the internet. “Build good stuff for the right people and make yourself easy to find” is a bit of a better strategy, but not without a good, well-placed equivalent of fly paper, to forge an ongoing connection with people who stumble upon your site.
You certainly don’t want to jump in someone’s face like an over-eager door-to-door vacuum salesperson, but at the same time, you want to make it crystal clear how to subscribe to your blog or join your ezine list. Some nice examples of clearly placed and obvious “sticky spots” include:
- Social media wizard Chris Brogan. Notice how clearly his subscription button stands out on the right-hand side of the page.
- Finance expert Ramit Sethi, who I talked about earlier, has a super-clear newsletter box right at the top of his blog
- I am going to tease my friend John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing a bit, since I don’t think his subscribe button necessarily jumps off his blog page. But check your eyes when you visit: he has 225,000 subscribers! Holy smokes, Batman, something about this is working.
The key is to not make new waves of visitors have to scratch their heads and figure out how to stay connected with you. Create a clear, compelling sticky part of your website or blog, so that you can start to communicate with Your People on a regular basis.
Once you build a list of subscribers, feed them with good stuff, nurture them, ask their opinions and be of service. Just don’t become the internet version of a jewelry salesperson on the beaches of Acapulco. I totally understand everyone needs to earn a living and rich, fat tourists are good prey. But it can be exquisitely annoying to be approached every five minutes when you are trying to lay on a beach, get sunburned and read a John Clancy novel. The same is true for your list. An occasional “would you be interested in this” message is fine, but constant vending will make people either get really rude or run screaming. I only send a maximum of two messages a month to my list, and I still get people unsubscribing due to email fatigue.
Execute The Commerce
If you have set up all of your Thing, People, Content, Vehicle and Sticky elements the right way, your business should flow like a silk nightgown skimming a beautiful woman on a Saturday night.
Hopefully, you haven’t hid the fact that you write about web design and usability because you are a web designer. Or that you write about social media and Hawaii because you are a Hawaiian social media powerhouse. Or that you write about location independent living because you run a guesthouse in Culebra or travel the world teaching people how to live and work anywhere. Or that you write about productivity and organization because you are a productivity consultant.
Don’t be embarrassed to tell people what you sell! If you have been delivering good content over an extended period of time, most people will be more than happy to support and promote your business as thanks for all the great stuff that you provide for free.
As for those who will call you a sellout the first time you sell an ebook for $5.95 after spending years helping them for free, that is why God created comment moderation and the delete key. Haters thrive everywhere, and you cannot let their selfishness get you down. You have every right to make a living and should not be ashamed to sell your products or services.
As for a (there isn’t any but why not throw out a number anyway) magic formula between sharing content freely and charging for it, I like the percentages Robert Middleton told me many years ago when describing the philosophy he termed being an Infoguru: Give 80% of your information away for free and change a premium for the remaining 20%.
This seems to have a nice “good karma vs. pragmatism” ratio and will allow you to live with yourself while you make a living.
This post developed out of a talk I did at PodcampAZ in November, 2008. My 22-year old son Jeffery Slim hand-drew the illustrations which I scanned and used as backdrops for the talk. I think you can see that his “Thing” is hand-drawn art. Thanks for sharing your work so generously Jeffery! You can see how the image translated to the screen courtesy of Chris Lee: