Malcolm Gladwell has five books on Amazon.com’s top-sellers chart (which seems to update by the minute), each of which has been there for at least three years (I guess the minute-by-minute updating doesn’t matter). Obviously, a lot of people like to read his books. What about your writing? Is anyone reading it? Would you like more prospects to peruse your articles, blogs and tweets? If so, adopt the seven tips below.
Tip #1: Pick a Topic, Any Topic
Want to know exactly what topic your prospects are hungry to read about? Yeah, so does everyone else. No one knows.
A magazine’s editor-in-chief once told me, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and still can’t predict which articles will take off.” If you knew exactly what to write about, you’d laser focus your writing there. Since you don’t, take a shotgun approach.
Quantity and breadth are your friend. In other words, write frequently, and don’t worry so much about choosing the perfect topic.
Tip #2: Answer Questions
The tip I just gave you notwithstanding, whenever a client or prospect asks you a question, capture it in your “potential topics” file.**
Every question is the kernel of an article. If no one is asking you questions, that’s a problem—you’re a consultant, for goodness sakes. In case of emergency, you can always ask people to ask you questions.
Thomas Edison quipped, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Wow, that man could sweat! Off hand, I don’t like to work that hard, but Edison’s maxim applies here.
My advice is to write at least fifteen minutes every day. You have to make it a daily habit.
For most people, the best approach is to bang out fifteen minutes first thing—before you look at email, answer phones, etc. Some people have better luck polishing off their day with a slice of writing. It’s only fifteen minutes, so choose a single, consistent time of day that you can commit to and stick to it.
Tip #4: Aim Low
As long as we’re spouting aphorisms, have you ever heard this one: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will still be among the stars.”
Well, not only is that scientifically poppycock, it’s foolish writing advice. Aim lower. Much lower.
Here’s my substitute saying: “Shoot for the chandelier. Not only are you more likely to hit it, you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying crash of shattering glass.”
If you strive to craft every article into a masterpiece worthy of publication in The New Yorker, you’ll quickly become frustrated, overwhelmed, and unproductive.
On the other hand, if you merely crank out basic, decent articles, you will quickly accumulate a body of work, enjoy a sense of accomplishment and position yourself to improve.
Tip #5: Study the Masters
Writing every day (Tip #3) is a good start, but if you want more engaged readers, you’ll need to improve your writing.
Find an author whose books, articles, blog or tweets you usually enjoy, and deconstruct their writing. By dissecting one of Dan and Chip Heath’s articles I learned that only about 45% of their content is the “message” and the rest is the color that makes you want to read their message.
Tip #6: Give Good Headline
Even though you know that the headline, not the content, determines who will read your article, you still spend two minutes pondering the headline then decide it’s perfect.
I know it’s unlikely that you’d follow the best-practice of spending as much time crafting the headline as the article, so adopt this good-practice instead: Come up with ten headlines that could work for each article. Even ten might be difficult, but stick with it.
Then, choose three and test them. Send each title out as the subject line in an email to ten (or thirty or one hundred) potential readers and see who clicks opens the email or clicks on the link to your article.
Trust me, the results will surprise you more often than not.**
Tip #7: Pour on the Concrete
Consultants love theory. But articles about ideas are like vacation photos— the pictures don’t show much and are boring.
To write stickier, reader-attracting articles and blogs, clutter your pieces with examples, metaphors and similes. The Heath brothers’ “color” that I mentioned a minute ago is mostly examples (often in story form), metaphors and more similes than you can shake a stick at. (Whatever that means.)
One easy approach to making your writing more concrete is to give very practical, precise steps for the reader. Readers love lists and bullet points.
Excellent writing can increase your credibility and attract clients.
When you adopt the seven tips above you’ll elevate your writing and stand out from the crowd.
Maybe you can even put together a best-seller for a few minutes.
All images and text are the copyright of David A. Fields. (c) 2014 David A. Fields. All rights reserved.