what should I write about

If you’re a small business, I’ve got some good news for you: There’s a whole crew of potential raving fans out there, ready to support you in any way they can. In a survey conducted by UPS:

  • 41% of respondents said they’d rather support a small business over its larger counterpart — even if prices were higher.
  • 94% said that supporting small businesses is important.
  • Respondents perceived goods and services sold by small businesses to be of higher quality.
  • They also stated that they believe small businesses have a positive impact on the local economy.

See what I mean? People out there want you to succeed.

The challenging part is giving them a reason to fall in love with you. They’re already halfway there…you just have to court them a bit to prove you’re worthy of their loyalty and affection.

There are a lot of things that make a small business worth loving: products, services, customer service, pricing, etc. It’s part substance and part style…and then there’s content marketing, which is a bit of both. You have to create content that your target audience wants to read because it satisfies some need or desire they have (even if it’s just to be entertained), and you have to deliver it in way that’s…well, entertaining. Or, at least, not a chore to read.

The first and most basic step is knowing which things to write about: the substance of your content. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

A lot of small businesses make the mistake of assuming they know what kind of content their customers (potential or otherwise) want to read. It’s an easy mistake to make: After all, those of us running America’s small businesses tend to eat, breathe, and sleep our work. It’s not just work, it’s a passion — and so we give it everything we’ve got.

But that passion can sometimes make it tough to look at our business from any perspective other than our own, so we make false assumptions about our customers and what they want. That leads to a few content marketing missteps:

What not to write about

Blabbing on and on about yourself or your business

Don’t be the guy who pulls out pictures of his kids, dogs, cars, etc., and shoves them under the nose of anyone who will look. Yes, you want to be transparent and authentic — that connection is one of the things that make small businesses so appealing — but if everything you post is, “Me, me, me!”, the people you’re trying to reach will soon run just as fast as they can in the opposite direction.

You’ll be the guy at the cocktail party who’s so annoying the other guests make “rescue pacts” to pry each other away from your constant prattle. Good content marketing is about your audience, not about you.

Writing for people who do what you do

I see this a lot, especially with B2Bs: They write for people who do what they do rather than people who buy what they do. Sometimes they’re one and the same, but, more often, they’re not.

I learned this one the hard way, because I did it myself when I first launched my business. In what one of my former bosses would have called “a blinding glimpse of the obvious,” I realized that I was writing for other writers rather than for people who might need to hire a writer. Oops.

Similarly, I’ve seen startups post content about things like “how our remote team stays productive” or “how entrepreneurs can maintain a decent work-life balance.” There’s nothing wrong with those topics, but unless you’re selling to other startups, your customers aren’t likely to care.

Writing for your customers’ customers

Let’s say you sell supplies to grocery stores — things like shelving, coolers, carts, registers, etc. Writing about things like couponing, recipes, seasonal ingredients, etc., might seem like an obvious choice. And it would be…if you were the grocer.

But, if you’re the distributor, you need to write content that is relevant to grocers, not end consumers. Instead of publishing recipes, write about things like innovations in shipping, new trends in grocery store design, outstanding customer loyalty programs, etc.

If you want to write about couponing and recipes, fine — but package it in a way that your customers (the grocers) can use in their stores. Never forget who your real audience is.

Where to get ideas for relevant content

Sure, you can hire somebody to do market research so you’ll have an in-depth window into the minds of your customers. But a lot of small businesses don’t have that kind of budget. In that case, I can sum things up in one word: Listen

Sales

Are there any objections your sales staff hears over and over? If so, why not use your content platform to defuse them? So many people — B2B customers, especially — do online research before talking to a salesperson that defusing objections through your content could save a lot of time — not to mention upping the quality of the leads that do eventually reach a sales person’s desk.

Customer service

What issues do your customer service employees — or whoever it is that works with customers after the sale — hear repeatedly? Do the same problems crop up over and over? If so, address it through your content and let your customer service employees focus on issues that really do require human intervention.

Social media

What are your customers and others in your target market saying to you and about you? Two-thirds of social media users expect to be able to satisfy their customer service needs via social media. What concerns are they bringing up?

Obviously, things like poor products or bad customer service can’t be fixed by content alone, but you can certainly acknowledge any legitimate problems and write about what you’re doing to correct them.

As far as what they’re saying about you, it’s not just “influencers” who make an impact. 91% of company and brand mentions come from people with fewer than 500 followers. That means there’s a pretty good bet your customers are posting and Tweeting about you. So you have an opportunity to “eavesdrop” that simply wasn’t available 15 years ago…don’t let it go to waste. What are your customers saying about you, and how can you turn that insight into content they’ll be eager to read (and, hopefully, share)?

Real life

Whether you’re at a cocktail party or your kid’s soccer game, somebody will inevitably ask, “What do you do?” How do you answer? Can you answer the question simply and satisfactorily, or does the other person still have questions? If the people in your own social circles don’t understand what you do without a lot of explanation, it’s a good bet that potential customers might have similar questions. If you find yourself giving the same answer over and over, put it online, whether in a sticky blog post or on your “About” page.

 

Bottom line: Write about the stuff that keeps your customers up at night..or the stuff they can’t wait to dive into after a long day at work. If more than two people ask a question or raise an issue, get the answer out there on your content platform just as quickly as you can.

The hardest part about writing content that your customers can’t wait to read is putting yourself in their shoes. You have to write about what’s important to them, not what you want them to know. If you can do that, you’ll have a fantastic competitive advantage.

Stay tuned for a blog post on the style of good content and why it’s important.