Writing business articles is one of the quickest, most effective marketing tools for professional service providers to gain exposure for their firms and for themselves. What better way to demonstrate your expertise in a subject area to potential clients than to write about it?
As a matter of fact, 62% of buyers of professional services claimed they would be “Very” or “Somewhat” likely to initially identify and learn more about a potential service provider through an industry website article or story (How Clients Buy: The Benchmark Report On Professional Services Marketing And Selling From The Client Perspective).
The good news is that, as an experienced professional, you already have valuable advice to share. The bad news is that just “knowing your stuff” isn't enough to write a successful article that will be picked up by publications and read by potential clients.
So what is it about an article that gets it published in an e-newsletter or on an industry website? What makes an article soar to the top of page-view and click-through charts? As an editor at RainToday.com, I read a lot of articles and have come to learn what separates the everyday from the great. Here are six basic guidelines that will help you make the content in your articles really sing:
1. Start With A Great Hook
You could write the most fantastic, helpful article ever, have an OK title, and it would never get read. This is one of the most tragic things that can happen to a great piece of writing. The trick here is to have an appropriate hook.
Readers want to know that if they're going to spend time reading your work, it had better be worth it. As much as I love creative titles, they historically lose out to simpler, more straightforward ones. The best titles express exactly what the reader will take away from your article.
Some of RainToday.com's most successful titles include:
How To Get Smarter About Pricing by Andrew Sobel
From Layoffs To Payoffs: How To Get Your Practice Out Of A Revenue Slump by Cal Harrison
Five Myths Of Professional Services Marketing by Michael McLaughlin
Legacy Of The Three Martini Lunch: Seven Guidelines For Effective Networking by Mike Schultz
2. Cut To The Chase
Your introduction is your second impression on the reader and it is also critical. If I see an intriguing title, click on it, and start reading the first paragraph only to find it irrelevant or uninteresting, I'm not going to waste another two seconds to read the second paragraph, let alone the rest of the article.
One of the most common mistakes that professionals make when writing an article is that they think they need to “build up” to something great. There is no need to warm up your readers. They're there, so take advantage of their attention while you have it.
Write something bold. Write something controversial. Add a famous or entertaining quote (that is relevant). Tell them you're going to reveal how to build their business (or whatever the topic of your article is) and then jump right in!
3. Know Your A, B, C's And 1, 2, 3's
OK, so now you've got a great title and opening paragraph. Everyone is clicking on it, they can't wait to read what the 10 Most Effective Ways To Earn Double Your Profits Next Year are, or whatever secret it is that you're about to share with them. The next step is to make your article web-friendly.
Reading an article on the web is much different than reading one in print. In general, people on the web tend to skim rather than read, regardless of what the content is. Therefore, organization and readability are key. Chunk out your article into short, direct paragraphs. A good rule of thumb is after four lines or so, you should start a new paragraph.
Use subheadings, numbers, and bullets. Create bold subject headings or bulleted points throughout your article to guide your readers' eyes and help speed-readers grasp the concepts quickly and more effectively.
4. Don't Be Vanilla If You're Really Rocky Road
There is nothing more refreshing early in the morning than reading an insightful article that also expresses a sense of humor or individuality. When people read e-newsletters at work, the last thing they want is to be reading something dry, deeply technical, or incomprehensible. There is, of course, a time and a place for this kind of writing, but it is not here. (Well, never the incomprehensible part, but the technical part anyway).
Be yourself! Don't necessarily write like you talk, but write in language that expresses your personality. Beware of using too much technical jargon – it is better to err on the simplistic side of language than the unintelligible side. And stay away from the thesaurus. Big words do not equal a smarter article.
5. Once Upon A Time
Everyone loves stories. Why? Because not only are they entertaining to read, but they are one of the best ways to learn. Articles with examples get the points across more effectively than those without them. Stories and examples engage the reader by putting the topic at hand in context and allowing them to see how the takeaways may be applied.
Plus, by writing about your own experiences, you are able to demonstrate your expertise to prospects in a completely legitimate manner.
6. Save The Selling For Sales
This may be disheartening for those of you excited about writing your next article and your next marketing piece all rolled into one, but it's not a good idea. Another common mistake that professionals make is trying to position themselves as experts by spelling it out in their articles. While this might be fine for your next brochure or piece of direct mail, it is not OK in an advice piece.
Give your examples, tell your stories, offer advice, and explain your strategies. But, let your readers decide on their own that you're an expert and they need to hire you for their next project.
Do not tell your readers that you're writing this because you want their business. Share prescriptive tips prospects can apply directly to their business and they will begin to trust you and turn to you when they are ready, as you have already proved that you are a valuable resource.
Do not write things along the lines of, “My firm, ABC Accounting, currently works with the top financial institutions in the U.S., and are well-versed in all aspects of financial accounting.” Save this for your short biography and keep the article focused on valuable information.
Selling yourself in an outlet where you are supposed to be offering advice is cheesy. Whichever publication you submit your article to, salesy language will be deleted. Or, worse yet, it will make you come off as just another salesperson to your prospects – when what you really need to be working on is establishing trust.
Writing business articles for the web as a form of marketing is a different kind of writing than what most people are accustomed to. Your target audience is made up of busy professionals. They want their information in an efficient way while still being entertained.
So remember: Write catchy titles to stand out from the plethora of other articles. Get right to the meat of your advice. Organize your thoughts. Have personality. Share your stories. And don't even think about selling. With an effective article, the sales will come naturally.