I speak daily with CEOs of companies in businesses like machining, and widget manufacturing and financial services. They think they don’t have anything to write about. Their business/industry isn’t “interesting” and they certainly have no desire to write about it even if it were.
You’re on deadline to publish something. You find yourself staring at a blank screen. Create, damn it, create! So you think. Hard. And it hurts but nothing is coming. So you check Facebook. You procrastinate. In the words of a client, you let “a butterfly distract you.”
Other days, the content rolls out onto the screen easily. It’s a dream come true and makes writing a joy. We should only be so lucky to have that every time we sit down.
Much of the bad content in the world comes from the former scenario: Based from a need to fill digital real estate by a certain deadline. I advocate for keeping quiet when you don’t have anything of value to add to the conversation, but we don’t always have the luxury of keeping quiet. Must. Create.
Let’s try to fix that. Having a content mission, first and foremost is important to provide a compass for your decision-making. The exercise is meaningful and creates a foundation for understanding what your audience wants.
But then you have to find ideas to write about.
Finding Ideas for Writing
Always be on.
I’m always paying attention and looking for ideas in every day conversations, listening to the radio, the content I read and what’s happening in the news. Sources of inspiration lay everywhere but you have to be open to receiving them.
Read outside of your industry news and blogs. Just last night, I was reading about Chef Thomas Keller and the French Laundry experience in Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour. Napa Valley’s famed restaurant French Laundry is a quintessential dining experience. A bucket list item for foodies. He said some things about creating his experience that will go perfectly in my talk on better storytelling. I wasn’t even looking for it. For this reason, I carry a small red moleskine notebook with me to jot down disparate ideas.
Also, turn off.
You have to leave quiet time to process those disparate ideas. Great content comes from connecting points that haven’t been connected before. There are no original ideas left. For example, this very post I’m writing now is nothing new. Google returned 94 million articles when I searched for finding inspiration.
I intend to bring a unique perspective to it, because I have my own style and tone, ideas and connections, but also I bring this to an audience that hasn’t necessarily seen all that other content because they rely on me for that type of thing. (That’s the content mission talking) We can’t let the lack of original ideas keep us from talking about it but we can bring ourselves to it and do the topic more justice than anyone else has.
Finding time to think about and process what we’ve heard or learned that day can happen during exercise, or a drive in the car; perhaps on the bus, or in the waiting room. Resist the urge to fill quiet space with a Facebook break or a phone call. Let’s be realistic; it’s highly unlikely you’re going to schedule brainstorming time in your calendar. We find the gems in the stolen moments throughout the day. Creating ideas and sharing new thoughts come from taking more time to be thoughtful.
A few Questions To Ask to Create Meaningful Content
What are your customers and prospects asking before, during, and after the sales process? What are their concerns? Where are areas of pushback you can address? What are common conversations you have every day? Take for example the recent stock market correction. Our client, a financial services firm, found themselves spending a great deal of time on the phone with their clients explaining the situation and the best course of action. There is a great piece of content to be written.
What is happening in the news that affects your audience and ties in with your content mission? A good example, and a classic at that is when Taylor Guitars created a video on how to travel with your guitar and how to repair it best, on the heels of the United Breaks Guitars viral video but be careful with this one. Many brands try to tie in with the news inappropriately. In times of tragedy, they might try to insert themselves in the conversation and come across as trying to profit from the matter. A bad example is when Epicurious tweeted about trying cranberry scones in honor of the Boston Marathon tragedy.
The question or filter through which to run your idea might be – are we really adding value to the conversation or are we just trying to get attention?
For those days when you find yourself abandoned by your muse: out there in the cold, dark misery of the blank screen with a deadline looming, it’s helpful to have that little notebook to turn to, and have it be full of ideas from which you can pull. I do a monthly (or sometimes quarterly) content planning session with clients so we can think ahead, like a publisher and anticipate needs and topics based on conversations with prospects and audience, news and trends, but also seasonality.
Yep, that means it’s time for the gift guides to start rolling out; and the top 10 of 2014, before you know it. As more and more brands jump into the space, bringing your original perspective will matter more and more.
How do you get your inspiration?[ssba]