At a Brighton Chamber of Commerce event focusing on networking tips for creative industries, I met a fellow freelancer who offers very similar services to me. He asked me a question that I thought was a fantastic way of looking at content writing, because it says a lot about what how, and why, we write online: When you’re writing content, do you sometimes feel like you’re working the room?
This is an ideal analogy, because writing online is a form of networking, with many similar motivations and problems. And it’s possible to take some of the best tips from networking and apply them to your writing. Worthy, I thought, of a whole series of articles. So, to get started, how exactly is writing content like working the room?
How writing content is like working the room
The aim of any business blog is to reach new customers, the same as networking in a room full of strangers. And, just like networking in a room full of strangers, you don’t achieve new custom by simply blurting out what you offer and why they should hire you. You need to build relationships that foster trust and a sense of value. So while we can cynically say we are writing content to increase business, actually the nuts and bolts of it is that we are writing to let people get to know us, and to give them an opportunity to see if we have knowledge and values suitable to their business. In that course we may also write to share advice and help others, so, done properly, the goal of increasing business isn’t anywhere near as cynical as it sounds.
In addition to the help if offers others, blog content gives people the opportunity to see you as a person, and to engage with you in a real way. There may not be the back-and-forth interaction of a casual chat at a networking event, but the information you impart can endear others to you. It’s designed to give people an understanding of who you are and how you operate professionally. Above all it should make an impression.
It also has the opportunity polarise; just as not everyone you meet in real life will take an instant shine to your personality, what you write online may not please everyone. But when it does appeal it will appeal in a meaningful way, and when it turns people off you it’s likely to save you from an uncomfortable business relationship. (Mind there’s a limit for this justification, I’ll cover the implications of personality in a later part.)
Telling what you do versus showing who you are
If you approached everyone in a room and told them, for instance, you specialise in fixing washing machines, and listed the machines you work with, you might get lucky and find someone with a problem in that area. But how likely is that, and much more likely is it to rile other networkers? In the long run, when you’re working the room you’re better off actually having a real conversation with those you meet, relating in a personal way and offering your input in a meaningful way. In a few months’ time, when the strangers you meet do have washing machine problems, or know someone who does, you want them to remember you, not a list of services that anyone in the field could offer.
Your website can list the things you do, and those searching for a specific service should be able to find that information when they want it. But when you’re writing content for a business blog, filling pages with details about your services is similar to giving a sales pitch at a networking event. Offering stories or advice that people relate to, however, or genuinely interests people outside your area, is the way forward to making a lasting impression and building business relationships or referrals.
Thinking about content as a two-way street
This is only a starting point for successful networking, though. Conversations should never be one way. For content to work successfully it has to be written with your audience in mind, even if it’s not a back-and-forth exchange.
Consider approaching a stranger at a networking event and telling them you run a pilates class. How might she respond? Maybe she does pilates at a local club. Maybe she’s interested in pilates but is worried it’s bad for her knees. Maybe she wants to do it but can’t find the time to fit it into her schedule. Maybe she has never heard of pilates. Each of these angles could be addressed with examples and advice that don’t simply focus on your services as a business. That advice would then appeal to your new friend on a personal level, make them interested to learn more, or at least make them remember you. And, amazingly, that advice might even produce a call to action.
Thinking about these different responses to what you do and addressing them through a business blog is a great way to use your content to work the room. Don’t spew your services into people’s faces, but try to appeal to strangers in a meaningful way.
In the following parts, I will discuss specifically how approaching content from a networking perspective can help you to prepare, write and follow-through with your online writing.