Focusing too much on your business (Part 2 / Writing Mistakes Series)

Top 5 content writing mistakes business owners make (part 2)

This is part two of my five-part series on the mistakes business owners make when writing content. Click here to read part one. It explains what you need to do before you start writing. You don’t need to read part one in order to understand this article.

Mistake #2: Focusing too much on your business and what you offer

The harsh truth is, nobody is really interested in your business. Prospects are in “need mode” and are only concerned with how you can help them.
Who is the hero of the story?

When you are writing—even about a boring business—you are trying to illustrate a story. It’s natural to position yourself (or your business) as the hero of the story. However, there’s a much more important role for you to play.

You want to be the mentor. The story is about the hero (the person reading your site), facing a tough challenge (the problem), and finding the right path (your product/service) with the help of a mentor (you).

Pre-sales questions

When considering a purchase, a potential buyer considers four questions:

  1. What are you trying to sell to me?
  2. How much does it cost?
  3. What is in it for me?
  4. Why should I believe you?

These four questions provide a framework for understanding the inner dialog of your prospect. If your content provides compelling answers to your ideal customer, it will be extraordinarily persuasive.

Features, benefits, and problems

Referring back to the four pre-sales questions described earlier, your features are #1 (What are you trying to sell to me?). Problems and benefits refer to #3 (What’s in it for me?).

We often assume the answer to the, “What’s in it for me?” question is obvious based on how we describe the features of our offering. It’s almost never the case that all the benefits of a feature are instantly recognizable.

You may have heard the old marketing axiom, “People don’t want a ¼ inch drill bit, they want a ¼ inch hole.” Taking a step further… Mom and dad are hanging up the high school graduation photo of their daughter, who just left for college. First, they need to buy a ¼ inch drill bit.

Start with the problem

It’s useful to start with the problem that you hope to solve for your clients. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll define a “problem” as the gap between how things are and how the prospect would like them to be.

Converting features to problems and solutions

We can use a couple of simple questions to convert our features into the corresponding problems being solved. Let’s call those “problem statements.” The first question is, “What problem(s) does this feature solve?”

Example Feature: Ongoing website maintenance

Problems solved by this feature:

  • Issues with website security
  • Potential reliability problems
  • Not knowing if your site is working properly

In order to dig down to a descriptive problem statement, we will use a follow-up question for each problem above. That question is, “Why is that a problem?” Like a two-year-old incessantly asking “why?” we will keep asking the question over and over until we drill down to a natural stopping point.

Problem Breakdown: Issues with website security

Why is this a problem?

If your site isn’t secure, it may get hacked.

Why is this a problem?

If your site is hacked, it could be used to distribute malware, and/or show adult ads. Your site could even be destroyed beyond the point of repair.

Why is this a problem?

If your site distributes malware, it is likely to be blacklisted on Google and some browsers. Adult ads would be a substantial problem for your reputation. The process of trying to fix your site is very costly. If destroyed, your site will be down until you are able to get a new website built (completely from scratch) with all the time and expense that entails.

As you can see, when we got to the problem of hacking, we see many problems. Instead of keeping to one statement, you could split off the “sub-problems” and ask the “Why is this a problem?” question for each. We could have kept digging, why is it a problem to get blacklisted on Google? Etc.

The benefit

When starting with a problem, the benefit is solving the problem. The benefit is the solution, described from the standpoint of the customer. Then you end with the feature, if more specificity is required. In other words, you add specifics about features, if you think the benefit statement leaves the reader thinking, “How do they do that?”

Color coded example: PROBLEM | BENEFIT | FEATURE
Hackers can damage your reputation (both with customers and Google), and can even destroy your site. Your hacked site could be used for adult ads and/or to distribute malware (viruses). Worse, once compromised, repairing your site may be more expensive than starting over. With our maintenance program, you will feel secure in the knowledge that your site is actively monitored and updated, providing excellent protection against would-be hackers. Our maintenance starts with creating a secure initial website and is centered around having real people actually looking at and updating your site.

The problem with problems

You may be thinking, “But, aren’t problems negative?” There are two things to consider. First, most action is driven by problems. Second, with the liberal definition of problems as a gap (between how it is and how you want it to be), negativity isn’t baked in.

More about non-typical problems
Sometimes, the word “problem” can be a hang-up. This is especially true when we’re dealing with something not usually described as a problem. For instance, promoting Karaoke at a local bar. What is the problem you are solving with a fun event?

If you are promoting the only Karaoke event on a Wednesday night, your customers might be choosing between singing versus staying home and watching TV. Watching TV at home isn’t a problem; however, there is a potential gap between the fun of that activity versus the one you are selling. Therefore, describing the less-fun option serves the same purpose as describing a more classic problem.

“What are you doing this Wednesday? Do your plans consist of sitting at home and watching reruns on TV? We’ve got a better idea. Sing, laugh, drink, and have fun. Gather up your friends and join us, this Wednesday, for all 80’s Karaoke at K-bar.”

If you were trying to stand out among Karaoke events, you might want to rethink everything. You could ask the question, “What are the problems people face when trying to go out to sing Karaoke?” Solving a problem could give you a key selling point. For instance, some people are probably too embarrassed to try Karaoke, and feel intimidated. You could create an event targeting that market.

“Shameless Karaoke, professionals need not attend. Are you one of the many people too embarrassed to try Karaoke? Good news! Wednesday is Shameless Karaoke night at K-bar. It’s fun to sing, even if you don’t think you can sing. If you’ve always wanted to try Karaoke, but never had the guts, here’s your chance. Join us for Shameless Karaoke at K-bar.”

Don’t go overboard

When really digging into problems and benefits, there can be a tendency to only talk about those. It’s important to balance these emotional appeals with facts. In sales, it’s often said, “We buy on emotion and justify with logic.” The most effective messages contain both. Starting with the emotional appeal creates the engagement necessary for the reader to be interested enough to hear the facts.

When you should talk more about yourself

For about 90% of your writing, the above advice provides the ideal strategy. The main exception is stories.

Sharing compelling personal or business stories helps build a connection with your audience. The most important factor is that the story is interesting. It should also tie into a specific point you are making. Your “about us” page is often the story about how you got into the business and your related background.

Practice makes pretty darn good

When I was in school, the teachers told me practice makes perfect; then they told me nobody’s perfect, so I stopped practicing.Steven Wright

The process of focusing on your audience while writing can be awkward, especially in the beginning. Stick with it and, with practice, it’ll become almost automatic. The rewards are extraordinary.

All things being equal, increasing the effectiveness of the content on your website can easily be the difference between the success of your business and its’ failure. This is no exaggeration. Virtually all of your marketing—even word-of-mouth—will lead people to your website. Your ability to convert those website visitors into sales is one of the key factors to your success.

What do you think?

Was this information helpful? Is anything unclear? Please don’t hesitate to email me (Justin) if you have any questions or comments.

More about content mistakes

If you haven’t yet read part 1 (Mistake #1, Writing Too Soon), you can check it out here. If you’d like to be instantly notified when part 3 comes out, fill in your information below and join my list.