Early last week, I peeled back the curtain to finally announce something I’ve been working on for months.
It’s an online event that starts in two weeks from tomorrow. And, to be candid, this is one of the biggest things I’ve ever done. I think you’re going to love it.
For one, the summit is completely free.
Secondly, it’s all online, so there’s no travel required.
You sign up. I email you each day with links to that day’s videos (which, by the way, will be available fully on demand).
This is somewhat similar to the free Elements of Focus class that I ran last year. In that, this is a chance to put something together around the topics of creativity and focus just in time for the New Year.
But what’s different is that this year I’ve invited 13 brilliant speakers to participate. (Seriously. Check out that lineup.)
Over the course of the summit, you’ll walk away with ideas and advice related to time ownership, working on your passion, balancing your work life and your personal life, showing up every day, doing your best creative work, growing an audience, and so much more.
So go check it out, and then register for free.
As I type this note, it’s a crisp Friday morning and my hot coffee is keeping my keyboard company.
Here in Kansas City the weather is beginning to cool down, and it finally feels like fall.
It’s in these final weeks of the year that my thoughts always turn to the next year, and I begin to think about what’s next. What will the upcoming year hold for my work? For my family? What hardships will we have? What adventures?
As you may know, I was recently in Austin where I had the privilege of speaking at the seanwes conference. While there I had some fantastic conversations with my friends Sean McCabe and Nathan Barry. They both gave me some excellent advice and new ideas for The Focus Course.
Combined with the nearing of 2017, and needless to say I’m excited about what’s to come for my work, my family, and many other areas of life.
And I hope you can say the same as you look ahead to what’s next.
To give you an idea of a few things we’re working on for you:
We’ll be hosting our first Focus Course winter camp in January. And it’s going to be awesome.
Before that, I have something else in store.
Something my team and I have been working on for months.
Something that is unlike anything I’ve done before.
To be candid, I was nervous about this new project. But now that it has come together, I can’t wait to pull back the curtain.
While I can’t tell you what it is just yet, I will be announcing it this coming Tuesday, November 15th.
In the meantime, here is a clue…
It’s the little things, in aggregate, that can make the difference between something being exquisite and delightful, or else being full of friction.
When done well, the little things add up to make an overall positive impression. And, on the flip side, when ignored or done poorly, the little things add up to leave a negative impression.
This is why “good enough” can be the enemy, and why implementing many features poorly is actually a worse plan than implementing a few features very well. Though the princess slept on many mattresses, just one pea under the whole stack ruined her night’s sleep.
* * *
A few years ago I was replacing all the flat slab doors in our home with new 6-panel slab doors. A slab door is just the door itself — I wasn’t replacing the jambs and frames, which means for each door I hung I had to cut out the grooves for the hinges. These are called mortises, and I used a router to cut them out.
Over several weekends I worked my way through the house, doing one door at a time. And as I did, I became acutely aware of all the shortcuts the previous owner had taken when they were framing and painting the doors I was now replacing. All the doorknobs had paint around their base, the door hinges were painted over, and so were the strike plates.
After I had hung about half the doors, I began to understand why there was so much sloppy work I was replacing. When you’re in the middle of a project like this it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the little to-do items, and thus begin cutting corners in order to speed up the completion of the project.
As I was routing out each mortise and measuring the spot for each new strike plate, I felt the temptation to sidestep a detail here or there. I’d have to remind myself that I couldn’t take a shortcut — not even once. What would seem like a negligible issue in the moment would soon snowball into another sidestepped detail and then another, until there was an overall feeling of sloppy work.
When you’re in the middle of the project, you think, “well, a one-off here and a one- off there is not the end of the world.” But shortcuts add up, and those little details — for the good or for the bad — come together in aggregate and make the difference between something that is either exquisite, ordinary, or poor.
When I was done with my project, the difference was significant. Just as the sloppy work on the previous doors and knobs and hinges had added up to exude an overall “cheap” feeling, having new door knobs that weren’t tainted with paint slops, new door hinges that were clean and not painted over, and having doors that were free from scuff marks, all added up to an overall “classy” feeling that was greater than the sum of the parts.
And so, when you’ve committed to not take shortcuts, you quickly learn that sweating the details is where most of the hard work lies. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s that 80/20 rule: 80-percent of the project gets completed with the first 20-percent of effort, and then it takes the remaining 80-percent of the effort to complete the final 20-percent of the project.
But it’s worth it because in these details lies the overall feeling of the product. The underlying “truth” of our product is found not in the feature set but in the details we implemented well. The details make the design.
* * *
This article was from my book, Delight is in the Details.
I wanted to share it with you because it serves as one side of the coin.
When it comes to our goals, our projects, and/or our businesses, it is important to sweat the details.
However, there is another side to the coin: perfectionism will kill your project. We’ll get into that next.
When you’re living a focused life, it’s your personal vision and values that serve as the foundation for how you spend your time and energy.
Start with what’s important to you, and then use that to direct where you spend your time, energy, and attention. (Many people do it backwards, and they allow their time and energy to be spent on things that are important to other people.)
When you have core values as a business, they too can help drive the choices you make as you grow.
As you know, there are so many options for how you can grow your business or side-project…
Do you focus on awareness, traffic, conversions, subscribers, followers, opt-ins, downloads, customer lifetime value, customer satisfatcion, membership churn, new products, networking, hiring, or something else altogether?
And since there is no singular path to success, it’s not a cut and dry roadmap. Each business or side-project is unique in terms of why it exists and what stage of growth it’s in right now.
When you’re not sure what to do in a situation, your business’s core values can help.
Moreover, as your business grows, new opportunites will present themselves. Your core values can help you choose what to say yes to and what to decline so that your success doesn’t end up leading you to failure.
Our Core Values
Until recently, we didn’t have Blanc Media’s core values written down or articulated. Now that we do, I wanted to share them with you.
We follow through on our commitments. We put our audience and customers first and condisder it our responsibility to take care of them on an ongoing basis.
We are honest. We teach what we know in order to help others who are on a similar path. We do not overhype or overexagerate our work, but neither do we downplay or undervalue it. By being transparent we hope to earn the trust of our audience and build customers for life.
In business we always seek to provide value first and foremost, without expectation of return. We also seek to increase charitable donations every year so our giving grows along with our business.
We create opportunities for people to connect in a vibrant community where they can connect with one another by sharing their challenges, opportunities, and successes; building a creative career is challenging, and a strong community can help mitigate the fears that go along with that. We are also building an internal team of employees and contributors who practice integrity and pursue generosity in order to create something greater than the sum of their individual abilities.
As a business, or as a “brand”, your biggest challenge is overcoming obscurity.
In his book, The 10x Rule, Grant Cardone writes that as he was trying to get his business off the ground, he was working extremely hard to gain initial traction. His problem, he writes, “wasn’t competition; it was obscurity”. No one even knew who he was.
“Since most people don’t know you or your product or service,” writes Cardone, “the only way to burst through obscurity is by taking massive action.”
Content is the price of admission for relevance.
If you want to burst through obscurity, you need to show your work.
As many of you know, it was in 2011 that I quit my job to begin writing my blog for a living. At the time my content strategy was simply this: “write stuff that didn’t suck.”
And my business goals were about the same: “be profitable.”
Which means my overall plan was to simply to write as well as I could and hope that it generated enough traffic to earn a living through sponsorships and memberships.
The “simplicity” of that whole setup is actually why I think things worked.
Long-time readers will remember that most of my writing centered around Apple, tech, and design. And while these topics are what first drew people in to my website, those who stuck around to become readers and members are those who also connected with me, Shawn, as the writer.
Don’t discount the importance of putting passion and personality into your work. Let who you are show through.
Back in 2011, in the first article I published as a “full-time blogger” I quoted Anatole France: “a tale without love is like beef without mustard: insipid.”
So too is a blog writing without personality.
If you happen to be good with words then congratulations. Dispassionate beautiful prose, however, is still dispassionate.
When you think about content strategy, think less about your skill and more about emotion, honesty, truth, and passion. These are the backbones of writing. And these are the very things that can be the hardest to put into our writing.
* * *
In today’s article I’ve got three things I want to cover:
First of all, I want to briefly unpack what it means to have a content strategy that serves your business goals (and why that is so important).
Secondly, I’m going to share a few unordered bulletpoints about my own experience with content strategy, writing, and business.
And finally, I’ve listed out some questions you can ask yourself that will help you figure this stuff out for yourself.
First, let’s briefly unpack what it means to have a content strategy that serves your business goals…
That’s a mouthful, so let’s break it down.
As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, “Content Strategy” is not a dirty term.
Content: What you create.
Strategy: Your plan of action.
In other words: how will you use your creative work (your content) to move you toward your goals?
Answer that question and boom, you’ve got yourself a content strategy.
You want your content strategy to serve your business goals because otherwise the work you’re putting out there is just a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with a creative hobby, but if you’re trying to earn an income from it then you need to start thinking differently. You need to become a bit more intentional.
You want the work you do align with the big goals and values you have as a business. But also, each piece of content you put out there should help move people along in their customer journey (which is why email can be so powerful, by the way).
In order for that to happen, it kinda helps to know what your business goals are, what your business values are, and what your customer journey looks like.
At the end of this article I’ve listed a few simple questions that can help you consider your business goals.
A few unordered bulletpoints about my own experience with content strategy and writing
As you know, I’ve been writing full-time since early 2011. Here are a few few things that have proven to be immensly valuable to me as a writer who is also trying to grow his business.
It helps tremendously to have a customer “avatar”. If you’re a writer, this is not unlike your ideal reader. Who is it you’re trying to connect with and to help? Unless you’re Coke, you can’t make something for every single person on the planet. And even if you are Coke, there will still be folks who prefer Pepsi, or who just flat out don’t drink soda.
In addition to knowing who our ideal customer is, it helps to know what their journey is. What are the things they need to know, the mindsets they need to understand, and the actions they need to take?
Don’t give in to scarcity mindset. Don’t fear that one person having success means you now have to see failure. It’s not a zero-sum game in the market, nor is it a zero-sum game with your own work.
What’s awesome about growing a business with content marketing is that, over time, you can build the business you want to exist. You can attract the audience, customer base, and even employees who by conveying your values and goals through the content you create. How you share ideas, the way you promote products, your attitude toward your customers, etc.
Watch out for the spiderweb mess of “Content Strategy Tactical Overload”. Off the top of your head I bet you could easily list a few dozen things people say you absolutely MUST DO if you want to WIN BIG in content marketing. Ugh. I’ve been in that spot, where I try to implement multiple things all simultaneously, and it’s exhausting. There’s just no way I can focus on more than just one thing at a time. It is far more efficient and effective to do just one thing and to do it well before moving on to the next.
When people sign up for my email list, one of the first emails they get is me asking them about what’s challenging them right now. For example, when I was working on The Focus Course, as people signed up to get on the waiting list, I’d reply back and ask them about what their biggest challenge is related to focus. And I got tons and tons of replies. Those replies helped direct the content I created for the course itself. My point being: if you can pay attention to what resonates with your readership and also pay attention to what they are saying, then you can be all the more helpful and relevant to them.
For even more, see this list of 50 things I’ve learned about publishing a weblog.
Lastly, here are some questions you can ask yourself that will help you figure this stuff out for yourself
What is the biggest challenge you’re facing in your business right now?
What is your current business model? (Who do you sell to, how do you make money?)
What is your ideal business model? (Who do you want to sell to? How do you want to make money?)
In an ideal scenario, what does your business look like in 12 months from now? In 5 years?
If all other things were to remain the same, what one thing, if changed, would have the most significant impact on your business?
What are your business goals?
What values is your business based on?
Do you want to develop long-term or short-term customer relationships?
Do you have a customer journey? (Where should someone start? What are the best next steps for them to take to get from where they are now to where they want to be?)
* * *
There is quite a lot to digest here. The reason I moved through it all so quickly is because I wanted to give you the high-level view and something to think about for the next few days.
However, I want your key takeaway to be this:
Focus on consistency and honesty.
The internet thrives on patterns and regularity; showing up every day lets people know they can rely on you to be there.
Secondly, consistently showing up to do the work will help you grow in your skills. As your talent improves, so too will your ability to turn your work from a hobby into something more.
And honesty, as I shared about at the very beginning, is the most important element for building an audience that trusts you. Being honest and sticking to your guns is how you earn the respect and long-term attention of your readership.
Let’s say you’ve created an incredible method for potty training dogs.
You know there are folks out there with dogs that are not potty trained.
And you’re trying to share your ideas and approach to doggy potty training. Because you genuinely care about animals just as much as their owners. You know that doggy potty training is one of the most frustrating aspects of new pet ownership and your methods are so great you’re hungry to share them with others.
Imagine two scenarios for telling someone about your doggy potty training ideas…
In the first scenario, you’re hanging out on a busy street corner. And you’re talking out loud to anyone and everyone who walks by, hoping that someone in the crowd happens to have a dog that needs to be trained.
In the second scenario, you’re at home a get a call from a someone. They’re a friend of a friend, and they just bought dog. They would love to meet with you and learn what you know about doggy potty training.
Which of those two scenarios are you most likely to have an impact?
The second one, of course. There are a few reasons as to why:
First off, the person reached out to you and initiated the relationship. Which means they are the ones interested in the topic and they are asking you for help.
Secondly, you have their full attention because it’s a one-on-one conversation.
If you remember from last week, the whole aim of your content strategy should be to (a) provide value at all times; (b) be relevant to your reader; and (c) support your business goals.
You are far more likely to provide value and be relevant if the person you are communicating with is paying attention.
What we love about the first scenario is that it inflates the numbers. We can say things like “3,000 heard me talking about doggy potty training today.”
Which sounds so much cooler than “I met with one person and spoke to them about doggy potty training.”
It is tempting to spend all our energy on reaching the most amount of people. To focus on mass, shotgun-style messaging. Rather than to focus on individualized, personalized, relevant messaging.
(Side note, you can read more in my article on relevancy over recency.)
But here’s what’s awesome about using email to communicate your message:
With email, you can be relevant and personalized at scale.
What does that mean? Let me explain how how I do it using an email welcome series…
The “Email Welcome Series” has become one of my favorite ways to communicate with people.
When someone signs up for your email list, or when they buy something from you, or when they register for something, that is the moment they are most paying attention…
That is when they are the most interested in you, your topic, and/or your product or service. You know this without a doubt because they have just demonstrated as much by signing up for something or purchasing.
Therefore, this is when they are the most likely to read any email(s) you send them because they are paying attention. They are interested right now.
Here is how I used to do my email welcome series:
After someone would subscribe to my newsletter list or purchases my book, I would send them a “welcome” email or a “thank you” email and that was it.
At least I was sending them something, which is a step above sending nothing at all. But there is a massive opportunity to do better.
What if your email welcome series contained 5 or 10 messages (or more) that were sent out in a series, instead of just a single, standard-issue auto-responder?
What if those 5 – 10 emails contained your most important ideas, your favorite resources, some personal stories, some “quick wins”, and more?
What an incredible opportunity you would have to help people make progress. To be extremely relevant and to have impact.
Like we talked about earlier: when someone asks you for help and is giving you their full attention, that is when you have the greatest opportunity to provide value. This is exactly what the “email welcome series” is — it’s like having a one-on-one conversation at scale.
Here is a little bit of context:
The current industry average open rate for an email newsletter is around 25%. Personally, I think that is terrible. If you’ve got an email newsletter with a 25% open rate, you may be right in line with the industry average, but it also means 3 out of 4 people aren’t interested in what you’re sending. Ouch.
(For the 3 email newsletters I run, our open rates average 55%.)
For most “confirmation” emails (the first email someone gets after they’ve signed up for a list or purchased something), the open rate is more like 75%.
That first email is the one that will be read more than any other email you send.
With that in mind, I recommend you take the chance to send an awesome email (more on that in a minute).
Secondly, did you know that you can keep up that momentum?
Yep. Instead of a single welcome email, you can have a series of welcome emails and carry the momentum through.
You do this through storytelling, quick wins, and unbridled generosity. Here’s a look at the welcome series we send folks after they buy the Time Management class:
That 8-part email series has an average open rate of 74%. (Which is 1.5x better than our standard weekly email newsletter.)
Here’s a different (4-part) email series I sent to folks after they had signed up for an email list expressing interest in a new class I had been working on last fall.
That 4-part series had an average open rate of 75%. And do you see how the open rate starts going back up after the first email? How many email sequences do you know of where the open rate goes UP as the series progresses?
* * *
Here are a few reasons why your email welcome series is so powerful…
You have their attention now more than ever
If you’re passionate about what it is you have to say, you have an obligation to communicate it.
And the best time to communicate it is during the moment when they are the most engaged — when you have their attention.
You can provide additional value in the topic they’re most interested in
How many ebooks have you downloaded only for them to sit in a “to-read” folder within your computer? A lot, right? I have an ebook I give away to folks right here. And after you sign up to get the book, I have a series of emails I send over the next few days that are short and to the point. I know chances are good that whomever signed up for my book hasn’t read it yet, but that they are reading their email.
I do something similar with my class on Time Management. After people sign up for the class, they get a “bonus” series of emails. I give book recommendations, tell stories, and offer quick wins related to Time Management.
You can transition to the next topic and teach them more
Suppose you have two products you sell: one is a book of recipes for healthier cooking at home and the other is book teaching the practicals of meal prep and being organized in the kitchen.
After someone buys your recipe book, you could send them a handful of emails that highlight a few of your favorite recipes in the book, plus perhaps a few new ones that aren’t yet in the book. Then, a week later, you could begin to change topics from the what of cooking over to the how of cooking.
Begin sharing some tips and stories and suggestions about being organized in the kitchen, and then take the opportunity to sell your second book.
Because your email welcome series is fully automated, you can have all of this happening on in the background. Which means that the right person is getting the right email at the right time. This is known as putting relevancy over recency (which I’ll get to in just a minute).
You can build a relationship
This is the whole point right here. Use your emails to tell stories, be personal, and have fun. Because you’re playing the long game with your business, the best thing you can do is build customers for life. And one of the best ways to do that is to give, give, give, and give some more. (See this article and scroll down to the bullet point about understanding the rule of reciprocity.)
Derek Sivers, from his book, Anything You Want:
Never forget that everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision — even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone — according to what’s best for your customers. […]
It’s counterintuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.
When someone buys something from you, or signs up for your list, you have a massive opportunity to surprise and delight that new customer or subscriber.
* * *
By valuing relevancy over recency, you can:
- Help your audience get a deeper understanding of the content
- Establish trust in the relationship
- Make them feel like they’re part of something bigger than just a one-off product or download
- Surprise,delight, and serve them
Last week I said you shouldn’t be focusing on your metrics too much. But that they were still important. Here’s why…
If your open rates, conversion rates, and sales are all doing well it means you’re actually providing value. It means you are effectively communicating with people. It means you have earned their attention and trust.
In the next article I’ll share about how this all fits into your business goals.
It was 2:00 o’clock in the morning, and I was sitting up in bed, barely awake enough to keep refreshing the Apple Store app.
While I was somewhat concerned that the iPhone 7 might actually sell out in the middle of the night, in truth I was mostly awake at that hour because it’s tradition.
It wouldn’t be New iPhone Season without having to wait in a line of some sort, even if it’s a virtual one in the middle of the night.
One week later, my matte black iPhone 7 arrived. It sat at my house for a couple of days because my wife and I were in the hospital that weekend having our third son.
This is my 9th iPhone.
(I skipped the 3G because it was far uglier than the original and so I didn’t upgrade until the 3GS came out. And I have bought the newest iPhone every year since.)
Like many of you have probably done, I used to sell my previous model iPhones for more than it cost me to upgrade to the new one (thanks to my partial subsidies on my AT&T contract). Thus, I’d actually make a little bit of money each year — enough to “upgrade for free”, basically…
Then my wife got her first iPhone, and we started upgrading on a tick-tock schedule with AT&T. In even number years it was my contract’s turn to upgrade through subsidized pricing, and in odd number years it was her contract’s turn.
Whoever’s contract was due for the subsidized pricing would use that line to buy the newest iPhone. Then, I’d give her my “old” iPhone and I’d get the new one.
But that whole upgrade process changed last year with the advent of Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, et al.
AT&T (and Verizon, too, I think), are working hard to move away from subsidized upgrades and instead offering their “lease to own” options. AT&T calls theirs “AT&T Next”; Verizon calls it their Annual Upgrade Program.
With all of these programs you are effectively getting an interest-free loan to buy your iPhone over the course of 24 months. And then, if you want to upgrade every year the new iPhone comes out, you just trade in your current phone for the new one.
It’s the access over ownership model. And I think it makes sense for folks who simply want the latest iPhone each year. So I finally signed up, and for first time ever, my wife and I both upgraded. (Rose Gold 7 for her, matte black 7 for me.)
The iPhone 7 in Matte Black
First, let’s address the former elephant in the room: My former iPhone 6s Plus.
Last year I bought the gargantuan. The Hercules. The Titanic. The giant. The iPhone 6s Plus.
It took some time to get used to the massive device, but I did eventually acclimate. By far and away, what I loved most about the Plus was its larger screen and the better battery life.
Once it became natural for me to use both hands when dealing with the Plus, it stopped being quite so awkward a device and the advantages of the larger screen were pretty great.
However, as awesome as it was to have the larger screen, the better battery life, and the nicer camera… it just wasn’t worth the tradeoff for the unwieldy size. More often than not I found myself frustrated by my inability to wrangle the phone with one hand and just how clumsy I felt when trying to use it.
After a good year-long run with the iPhone 6s Plus, I’ve returned to the regular size iPhone. And I have no regrets.
There are, I believe, a few reasons it wasn’t too terrible of a “downgrade” to move from the 6s Plus to the “regular” 7.
Basically, the battery life of the iPhone 7 is improved enough that for my own day-to-day usage it’s just as good as it was on my iPhone 6s Plus.
Secondly, my iPhone 7 now has in-body image stabilization just like my iPhone 6s Plus had. And since the camera optics in the iPhone 7 are improved over last year as well, I actually have a better camera.
So, in the end, the only thing I “gave up” was screen size. And that is exactly what I wanted to give up.
Needless to say, I’m glad I went back to the regular sized iPhone.
The new home “button”. It took a few days, but I’ve gotten used to the new “button”. But it doesn’t feel like a button, really. It feels like the whole front of my iPhone is on a hinge, and I’m pressing the entire front bezel of the phone down.
There is also this issue where you can’t press the button with gloves on…
But, at the same time, if you had gloves on you couldn’t operate the home screen anyway. So what do gloves do other than turn on the screen? Well, with raise to wake and the side buttons — is there truly a loss of usability? There’s a loss of functionality, yes. But is there a loss of usability?
The Camera Bump: The iPhone camera bump is probably here to stay. At least for a few more years. Now that they’ve had it for 3 years in a row, it’s become “accepted”. Heck, in this year’s marketing material Apple is no longer trying to hide the bump, they are showcasing it front and center.
The advantage of keeping the bump is that it gives the iPhone engineers so much more space to work with for improving camera optics and lenses. And, well, if the iPhone is anything it’s a camera.
Matte Black: Three cheers! I is so great to have a black phone instead of that Space Gray. I went with the Matte Black over Jet Black because I think the former looks better and because I knew it wouldn’t get fingerprints all over it.
However, the extra grip you get on the glossy finish of the Jet Black is appealing. And while the matte black iPhone is a bit less slippery than 6 and 6s were, it’s still slippery-ish. Oh well.
Future Colors? With the process that creates the Jet Black iPhone, I wonder if Apple will introduce new colors in the future that have the same glossy, grippy finish as the Jet Black? Like a 5c-esque color lineup, but made of aluminum.
* * *
Year over year, the iPhone continues to be my favorite gadget of all time.
The best reasons to upgrade (in the author’s order of preference) are:
- New matte (and Jet) black colors
- Better camera (with IBIS for the “regular” size iPhone)
- Better battery life
- Stereo speakers that are also louder
- Water Resistance
First things first…
“Content Strategy” is not a dirty term.
Sure, it carries with it some corporatespeak baggage, but let’s look past that. Let’s look at what the term actually means and why it’s so important for you to have some thoughts of your own on this issue.
Content: What you create.
Strategy: Your plan of action.
In other words, how will you use your creative work (your content) to move you toward your goals? Answer that question and boom, you’ve got yourself a content strategy.
Now, for many folks, they don’t want or need a content strategy. For them, there is no goal beyond just doing the work. The art in and of itself is the goal. And that’s great! I love it. That’s how I am with my photography — it’s a creative outlet and that’s the extent of it. Thus, there is no content strategy with my photography.
But with my writing, it’s different…
I write for a living.
Thus, my writing serves a goal beyond the art of prose and beyond the joy of doing the work.
I write to teach and to sell. These are my two goals.
And in order to do that, there needs to be a strategy for my content; a goal for my writing.
When thinking about your content strategy, it can be easy to get caught up in the metrics of sales, conversions, etc. Now, yes, those things matter, and I’ll explain why in a bit. But I hope they aren’t your driving force behind your creative work.
First and foremost: your content strategy should be focused on serving your audience.
Does your content strategy have only the best in mind for your audience?
Consider if your content strategy does the following…?
- Does it provide value at all times…?
- Is it relevant at the readers’ time of need…?
- Does it serve your business goals…?
Your content strategy can’t serve your business goals if you don’t know what those goals are. What type of business are you trying to build? What level of income do you need to sustain your creative pursuits? Where do you want to be in 5 years time? How is your content strategy moving you in that direction?
As you build a better content marketing strategy, it’s important to balance what works and what feels right for your brand and your voice.
For me, my goal is to build a creative business based on long-term relationship equity. So while there are many email tactics out there that may work, not all of them are things I personally want to do. I want to incorporate what feels right for my brand and my voice.
In order to do build a creative business based on long-term relational equity, it requires trust.
Trust that is built on feedback loops, delivering on my promises, serving others, pursuing generosity, and more. (See my notes here about taking your personal project full-time.)
I avoid selfishness and tricks. I don’t try to squeeze out short-term profits that end up hurting the long-term quality of my brand and voice.
Now, this doesn’t mean selling is bad. The problems only arise when we become indifferent toward our readership, stop caring about providing value, and instead just become greedy for the sale.
* * *
Simply put, if you’re struggling to provide value at every single interaction, then (a) you’re not trying hard enough or (b) you’re over thinking it.
It’s more simple to provide value than you may think.
A valuable interaction can be a helpful tip, an interesting or entertaining story, a tutorial, an educational case study, a behind-the-scenes look at something cool, and more.
Focus on providing value at all times. If that is your goal, then you’ll come out ahead.
In the next article, I dive into the second aspect, which is being relevant to the readers. Click here to read about how I now do this using email automation in my article.
Last week my wife and I had our third (!) boy. His name is Benson, and he’s awesome.
Everyone is doing well, and there is much excitement here at the Blanc house. Benson’s older brothers love having this little guy around. We are all feeling full of love and thankful for this life we’ve been given.
My friend, Ben Brooks and I recorded an impromptu podcast episode to talk about yesterday’s iPhone 7 event. (Those of you who remember the B&B Podcast, you’ll like this.)
Topics we cover include our first impressions of the new Apple Watch, the iPhone 7, the shift toward carrier upgrade and payment plans based, buttons, and more.
Here is a quote from Ernest Hemingway that I often refer to in my own professional life:
I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped.
I added the emphasis on the word “learned”.
You see, I’ve always taken that quote and referenced the part about how he would let things brew in his subconscious. Which is pretty common advice. People tell you all the time that when you’re stuck on a problem you should go take a walk or build a kitchen table or something.
But what I’ve always missed is how he says he had to learn not to think about anything he was writing.
Let’s break it down:
- He would not think about anything he was writing.
- He had to learn how to do that.
So often I bring my work with me wherever I go. And by “bring my work” I mean that I keep thinking about it when I leave my office, or go on an errand, or go out to eat with friends.
A few months ago I decided to stop reading business books in the evening before bed. They would get my mind too fired up to sleep. So instead I read fiction.
It is a challenge to stop thinking about the things I’m currently writing or working on. It’s a skill to be able to shut off work. To learn to give my mind a break and not to think about what I’m currently writing. But I’m working to learn it.
One of my goals with my creative business is to continue the work I’m doing now for several more decades. And a big part of that requires that I work at a sustainable, healthy pace. A marathon pace, if you will.
And to do that well, means leaving work at work. It means learning not to think about anything I am working on from the time I stop working until I start again the next day.
Not only does this lead to a higher quality of work produced, but it also leads to a less stressful lifestyle. Win-win!
And I don’t care.
A quick survey of my Amazon order history for 2016 shows me that I’ve bought 30 books so far this year. Which is about one new book every week.
While I’d love to say that I also read about one book per week, the truth is that I only finish about one or two books per month.
But that does’t stop me from buying books. Because…
The First Rule of buying books is to not be a wimp about it
Here is my criteria for if I should buy a book or not:
If a book sounds interesting at all, then I buy it. (If it sounds interesting then it’s a topic I’m hungry to learn more about.)
If there are a lot of folks I follow who are all talking about the same book, then I buy it. (What do they know that I don’t know?)
If someone I know recommends a book to me, then I buy it. (They read a book and it made them think of me. So what’s in that book that can I glean from in order to to better refine my own message and thinking?)
Basically, I don’t debate over if I should buy a book or not. I just buy it.
And I feel no guilt whatsoever about buying books and not reading them. Because…
The Second Rule of Buying Books is to not care about reading them cover to cover
Once I’ve got the book, if its content and writing grab me then I read the whole thing. But if not, then no big deal. If I lose interest half-way through, then I just move on.
All I care about is getting one good idea or story from that book.
If I get that, then it’s worth it to me.
Chances are good that that single idea will impact my personal life as well as my business.
A life- and business-changing idea for $10 or less? Sold.
However, as a human, I don’t have a very good memory. So sometimes these ideas don’t stick too well. Which is why…
The Third Rule of Buying Books is to make notes and mark up the margins
I try to only ever buy physical copies of books.
Why? Lots of reasons, actually.
A physical book is easier to grab right off my book shelf. It’s more approachable than a digital book. It’s easier to thumb through and skim quickly. I can skim around to any chapter that sounds interesting to me and read a few pages.
Moreover, it’s nothing to have 3 or 4 physical books all open at once, spread out on the floor or my desk. Something I find so very helpful when doing research and getting lost in a topic.
I also love leaving sticky notes in my books. And highlighting them. And writing notes in the margins. And dog-earing the corners.
I also create my own alternate index on the back pages.
Then, once you’ve got all those ideas and notes and highlights…
The Fourth Rule of Buying Books is to share what you know
I recently bought The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, and I haven’t yet read all the way through. But it has already impacted me significantly.
On page 14 Twyla Tharp tells about her routine of going to the gym every morning. The “extent” of her workout routine is to get dressed, walk outside to hail a cab, and then tell the driver which gym to take her to. After that, her routine is complete.
This hit me at just the right time.
After hurting my ankle in Colorado last fall, I completely fell off the running wagon and hadn’t been running regularly for about 9 months. I read Twyla’s story and realized that I could at least put my running clothes on and drive to the gym. If, by the time I got there, I didn’t want to run, then I could go to the coffee shop instead.
That was well over a month ago and I haven’t missed a day at the gym since. Not bad for a used $7 paperback. And there is still the whole rest of the book left to read!
Other ways to share what you’re learning:
At dinner with friends, bring up something you just read in a book.
Summarize your favorite books into 3 sentences or less.
Start a book club and invite your friends to join…
I’m Starting a Book Club. Join In.
If you’d like to get my personal book recommendations along with my notes about that book, then sign up for the book club.
Once a month I’ll send you an email letting you know what that month’s book is and why it’s so great.