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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.

Top 5 content writing mistakes business owners make

Writing Mistakes

Avoiding mistakes 1 and 4 will save you dozens of hours and countless headaches. Crappy, painful-to-read content is eliminated if you just avoid mistakes 2, 3, and 5. But, how bad could a mistake be…

The founders of Apple are Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. But, do you know there was a third partner?

On April 2, 1976, Apple was incorporated, and Ron Wayne was named, alongside Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, as one of the three founders. Each had an equal stake in this up-and-upcoming venture. However, just 12 days after the startup—feeling like he just couldn’t keep up with his much younger co-founders—Wayne decided to sell his shares for just $800.

Today, it’s estimated that his equity would be worth several billion dollars. That’s billions with a ‘b.’

It’s unlikely that you’ll make a billion-dollar mistake. However, there are a handful of mistakes people make when writing content for their small business that are quite expensive—both in time and money.

The writing process can be frustrating and borderline painful—even for accomplished writers. This report is broken into 5 parts, covering 5 mistakes. In the process, you’ll learn some simple strategies for making it faster and easier to write compelling website content.

Mistake #1 – Writing too soon

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.Gene Fowler

You will save a tremendous amount of time and frustration if you do some research before you even start writing. Specifically, you’ll be researching the websites of other businesses in your industry. This process will help you choose the main topics to cover within your site.

Who to research

Mainly, your research will be focused on your local competition. Beyond the benefits related to content creation, it’s always useful to have a clear picture of who you are competing with.

In addition to the local competition, it’s a good idea to research sites in your industry within larger markets. This is especially true when you are doing business in a small community. Large markets are likely to have much more competition, and therefore, likely have better websites.

How to research

The video above, as well as the text below will give you a step-by-step process for researching and documenting websites. This process will give you a great foundation for creating your own content.

STEP ONE: brainstorm a list of 3-5 keyword phrases

Your main research tool will be Google. To get started, we need a list of keywords people will use when searching for a business like yours. For example, a roofer might have a list like… Roof repair, roofing contractor, roofer, new roof, etc.

STEP TWO: make a list of sites

In order to create a list of sites, we’ll use the keywords from above, along with a location. For example, a Beaverton roofer would search, “roof repair Beaverton Oregon.” We’ll Google this keyword + location combination.

To find the best websites, you’ll look at the first page or two of Google. You are looking for actual businesses (not directories like Yelp), who are listed in the natural search results. Generally, the top listings will be ads (marked as such). After that are often map listings (with a map and markers). After those are the ones we’re after, the natural listings.

For now, just copy the URL of each site into your preferred tool for making notes on your computer (i.e., Word, Notepad, Excel, etc.). If you use Excel or Word, the URLs will turn into clickable links, making life a little easier later.

Once you’ve collected the URLs for the first phrase, start again with a second phrase. You’ll find that some of the same URL’s will show up multiple times. It’s a good idea to note this, as these sites are likely to be especially effective.

Depending on the number of sites you have now, you may also want to do the same process, except swapping your location for a larger one. In other words, instead of “Roof Repair Beaverton Oregon,” you might use, “Roof Repair Seattle Washington.” This will give you results for an area with more competition, and therefore, more robust websites.

STEP THREE: create a master outline notes

A master outline is one of the tools you’ll use to help you convert your research into ideas for your own content. In the end, it’ll contain the following:

  • A list of the pages you want to include
  • Under each page, the general topics to be covered
  • Under each topic, potential subtopics and notes

To get started, just spend a couple of minutes and create a rough list of the pages you think you’ll include on your site.

You will also want to have a blank document, or even a physical notebook for general notes. If something strikes you as important, write it down. When you are on the third or fourth site—trying to remember your takeaways from the first one—you’ll be glad you have notes.

STEP FOUR: start researching

For each site, you’ll first want to note what pages they include. If they have a page that you think may work for your site, add it to your master outline.

Now, let’s look at the actual content. Start with the home page and visit every page. For each, answer the following questions:

  • What are the key points?
  • What problems are discussed?
  • What facts are shared?
  • What kind of photos/graphics are used?
  • Is there anything else you like about the page?
  • Is there anything you don’t like about the page?

You don’t need to write down the answers to each of these questions. The idea is to read the page (or skim it), with each question in mind. Certain info will stand out, and you can use that within your master outline and your notes.

Playing Jeopardy

Another trick for digging into content is to pretend a specific paragraph or statement, is an answer to a question. What is that question? If you convert the content into questions, you can turn around, answer those questions for your business, and create truly unique content. For now, you’d add the questions under the specific page or topic within your master outline.

Document the questions you create, topics, facts, points, and other notes. Don’t leave a website until you are confident you’ve recorded any and all valuable insights.

Once you’ve finished the first site, you follow the same process for the next site, and so on and so forth. The first site will take—by far—the most time. Once you’ve finished a couple of sites, much of the content will be repeated. Each additional site will go faster and faster.

STEP FIVE: stop researching

When researching, there’s a concept called, “paralysis by analysis.” It’s important not to let research take over all of your time. It’s a mean to an end—creating your own content.

While you’ll need to use your judgment when deciding how long to spend, it’s a good idea to limit set an arbitrary limit. Instead of setting a time-based limit, use number of sites researched. A good number of sites is between three and ten.

Once you’ve researched three websites, it’s time to look at your master outline and see how complete it feels. If there’s a specific hole (i.e., you need more topics for the about us page), you can start researching in high speed, looking for information related to that specific hole. If you don’t feel like it’s complete, go ahead and research another site.

Another consideration is the number of pages you currently have time to create for your own site. If you only have time to create the content for 3-5 pages, documenting fifteen pages may not be the best use of your time. In this case, you are probably better off using your research to decide on the 3-5 pages and targeting your research on the topics within those pages. You can always come back to the process when you are ready to beef up your content.

Quick Tip: If you are going to start out with 3-5 pages, and are planning to add more later, put it in your calendar. In other words, make an appointment with yourself for a specific day and time that you’ll start the process again. Without this step, if you are like most people, it’s never going to get done.

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

Next Step

The second part of this report is posted here. If you want to create content that turns prospects into customers, you won’t want to miss this one. If you want to be notified as soon as more parts are posted, join my email list below.