Here at the 7 Graces Project, the majority of our clients are small business owners who come to us for help in building their online marketing platforms. While they certainly come to us for practical and strategic advice, the reason they come to us specifically (as opposed to another marketing consultancy) is that they are attracted to the ethos we embrace. They don’t like to use loud, pushy, aggressive marketing strategies, because such strategies don’t resonate with their personalities or values.
But although they know what they don’t like, they don’t know how to create an alternative that feels right for them. They find themselves in what feels like an impossible space: they don’t LIKE marketing, but they know they need it if they want their businesses to succeed.
Fortunately, there is an effective and relatively painless online alternative to old-school marketing – blogging. From my experience, it’s the best way to do marketing without actually doing marketing. That’s why I focus so much on blogging with nearly all of my clients.
So hooray! Our problem is solved. Start to blog, and our marketing woes are over! Right?
Well…it’s not so simple. There is an art to turning your blogging into an effective and ethical vehicle for marketing. It has many ‘moving parts,’ and if you neglect to oil them properly, you’re bound to end up with one big squeaky wheel that doesn’t turn very smoothly at all.
One of the most important moving parts is something that many independent business owners find very daunting – choosing the right topics to blog about. So many of my new clients admit that they really don’t have a roadmap for what they write about on their blogs, and they tend to blog about whatever they feel like in the moment. This ad hoc approach to topic selection can create many problems down the line:
- It will make for inconsistent blogging, which will negatively impact your web traffic, subscriptions and Google rankings.
- There is likely to be a lack of congruence between your blog articles and the direction you want to take your business.
- It is unlikely your articles will provide your audience with what they are looking for.
- It is unlikely your efforts will result in sales/clients/customers.
- Ultimately, when you gain little from your blogging efforts, you are likely to give up on blogging altogether.
The Importance of Choosing the Right Topics for Your Blog
I don’t own a TV, but I confess that I still watch a handful of programmes online. As I originally started in the music industry, I (shamefully!) still like to watch shows like X-Factor. Even if you’ve ever watched that programme, you’ll probably know that the judges and contestants are always going on about ‘song choice’. If a contestant happens to choose the ‘wrong’ song (one that doesn’t suit their voice or appeal to the audience), they’re at risk of being voted out of the competition. In fact, a good singer can often lose to a so-so singer if they make a poor song choice.
Similarly, choosing the ‘wrong’ topics for your blog can put you ‘out of the race’, in that your readers won’t bother to read your content (which kind of defeats the whole purpose of writing it). Some people think good blogging is all about being a great writer. While having well-written posts is certainly crucial, choosing the right topics for your articles constitutes, in my opinion, at least 50% of your success as a blogger. The other 50% is split between how well the article is written and how well you optimise and distribute the article on the Web.
The bottom line is this: even if you’re the world’s best writer, if you don’t put care into choosing the right topics for your ideal audience, there is little chance your blog will be an effective marketing tool that gives value to your audience and your business.
My Four-Step Formula for Unlocking Your Best Blog Topics
Because choosing the right topic is so crucial to blogging, I thought you might find it useful to see the process I use with my own clients in our Platform-Building Package. It has evolved over time and become so ingrained in me that I don’t even think about it anymore. While our clients often find it easier when I guide them through the process (because they often miss things when they try to do it on their own), I think you’ll see that it’s not at all rocket science.
I break it down into four steps:
- Define your audience clearly. Being able to define your audience in detail is absolutely vital to any business or marketing strategy. Nonetheless, it is often the biggest challenge for many of my new clients. Defining your audience means getting beneath the surface and really digging down into their hearts and minds.
- Define your audience’s chief challenges and concerns. Many new bloggers make the mistake of thinking their blogs are all about them and their businesses. They’re NOT. Your blog is all about your audience and what they are searching for when they go online. Your job as a blogger is to know your audience so well that you understand – in minute detail – their most pressing challenges and concerns. Ultimately, you need to be able to anticipate the questions they will be typing into Google (I’ll talk more about this below).
- Define your core message(s). As a business owner, if you wish to connect with your ideal audience, it is also essential for you to be able to define who you are, what you stand for, and why you do what you do. When you can articulate these things clearly (to yourself and to others), they become your ‘core message(s)’. If you’ve been doing business for some time, you might also tailor this message to the particular area of your business that is most relevant at this point in time. For example, if you have a product launch coming up, look at how your overarching message is expressed through that product.
- 1 + 2 + 3 = your content topics. The final step in the process is to connect the dots between your audience, their needs and your core message. Consider how your message addresses the challenges your audience face; conversely, consider how these challenges can be a vehicle for expressing your core message. When you do this, your content topics will suddenly pop out and become crystal clear to you.
CASE STUDY: The 7 Graces Project CIC Blog
To show you how this process works, here’s an example of how I might use these four steps when planning my topics for the 7 Graces Project blog.
STEP 1: Our primary audience is comprised of:
- Value-driven and socially focussed independent business owners who want to create ethical online-marketing platforms.
- The majority are sole proprietors, but they might use outsourced staff to support them in a variety of ways, such as admin, tech, billing and social media.
- The majority (probably about 90%) have been operating their business between three and 10 years. This is important because they are committed to the entrepreneurial lifestyle; they have passed the ‘danger zone’ many brand-new entrepreneurs face during the start-up period, when they are still questioning their decisions to be self-employed.
- Also, because I have been working as a consultant with authors for many years, I know that about two-thirds of the people who come to us as clients have also written (or are in the process of writing) non-fiction books that have a close connection to their businesses. This means that most of our audience enjoy writing and find it enjoyable to communicate through words.
STEP 2: Our audience’s chief challenges and concerns are:
- They feel alienated by all the old-school marketing courses they’ve seen or taken online, but they don’t know an alternative approach.
- They want to make a difference in the world, but they often feel alone, small and insignificant amidst all the big-business hype.
- They feel overwhelmed and confused by the technical and strategic challenges of blogging, social media and online marketing in general.
- They often lack the practical skills for their short- and long-term business-planning and marketing strategies. But, because they tend to be creative and idealistic, they don’t feel naturally attracted to dealing with the nuts-and-bolts of business organisation. This can also mean they have time-management challenges. They know these things are important but cannot find the information, training and support that speaks to the unique kind of business owners they are.
STEP 3: Our company’s primary messages are:
- Independent entrepreneurship is good for It gives you more freedom, allows you to express your values and creativity, removes the job vulnerability of working for employers and gives you a sense of achievement when you do it right.
- Independent entrepreneurship is good for the world. It makes the economy more resilient and less susceptible to economic crises; it provides a higher degree of personal service to customers; it enables you to create products and services that are highly relevant to specific geographic and ideological communities; it brings more diversity and choice to the marketplace; a small business is likely to be less damaging to the environment than a big corporation.
- Unethical marketing is bad for the world. It has contributed to worldwide overconsumption, economic imbalance, debt, environmental damage and poor health. (These are all topics I discuss in detail in my book The 7 Graces of Marketing).
- Independent, ethical entrepreneurs can succeed on their own terms. They can succeed in business, contribute to society AND be true to their values when they know the ideological, technical and strategic elements of ethical marketing and business practice.
STEP 4: 1 + 2 + 3 = Our Topics
This is where the magic begins. Let me show you how this formula is working within the very article you are reading right now.
- Define audience: If you look above, you will notice that I have made it very clear, from the very first paragraph, who this article is for: value-driven and socially focussed independent business owners who want to create ethical online-marketing platforms. They also are probably interested in expressing themselves through the written word.
- Define their challenges and concerns: In this case, while I’m touching upon all of their main challenges, I have focused this article primarily on challenge #2: “They feel overwhelmed and confused by the technical and strategic challenges of blogging, social media and online marketing in general.” However, this is way too broad a topic for a single article; I am ONLY addressing the strategic challenges of blogging. Furthermore, I am addressing only one aspect of the strategic challenges of blogging. If I were to delve into the issue in greater depth, I could rapidly come up with a whole range of topics like:
- How to structure your blog post effectively
- Writing the perfect title for your blog post
- How to blog for a launch or other marketing campaign
- Writing effective ‘calls to action’ that don’t alienate your readers
- Ways to distribute your content on the Web
- How, when and why to work with guest bloggers
- Creating a virtual blog tour
- Planning, timing and organising your blog schedule
- Repurposing your content into books, courses, etc.
These are only a handful of ideas that sprang to mind when I looked at ONE aspect of ONE challenge. When you go deeply into all aspects of all the challenges your audience face, the possibilities for coming up with good, solid, relevant topics are almost limitless.
- Add your core message. So far, we have put together 1 and 2 of the formula. So what about 3? How does that come in, and why is it important? Well, yes, I might be speaking to my perfect audience. And my article might be exactly what they are looking for. But the truth is that many other bloggers in cyberspace might publishing very similar information. So what will make readers want to read my articles when there is so much other content out there? This is where Part 3 of the formula steps in. To make my content relevant to my ideal audience, I need to marry their challenge(s) to at least one of my core messages. In this case, I’m focussing primarily on message #4: ‘Independent, ethical entrepreneurs can succeed on their own terms.’
Again, there is an art to this. You don’t necessarily need to come out and say, ‘This is my core message’; you can embed it within the context of your article. In fact, I’ve been expressing this message in one form or another throughout this entire article, and I will also emphasise it in my ‘Closing Thoughts’ at the end (leave me a comment to let me know if you notice).
Oh, and by the way, bringing your core message into your blog articles helps to define your brand. But that’s a big topic I shall leave for another day.
Why Choosing Your Blog Topics Systematically Is Great for Business
Whenever I work with a new platform-building client, we begin our work together by finding and choosing exactly the right blog topics (or vlog topics, if they do video blogging).
While I use more or less the same process I just showed you, it’s slightly different in a one-to-one scenario. I ask my clients lots of key questions. I listen very carefully to the words they use and take lots of notes (my past experiences as a coach and college lecturer have certainly helped me in this regard). Then, often to my clients’ amazement, all their blog topics appear – as if by magic – right from their own words. I still find it impressive to see how rapidly we can come up with as many as 20 topics – in just a few minutes. Think about it: if a client is going to post one blog every week, that’s about four months’ worth of blog topics all lined up and ready to go. Typically, we choose 12 from this list of 20 and then organise them into a schedule we will follow for the next three months. All they have to do is go through the list and write the content.
Having our topics decided in advance also allows us to create a marketing strategy for the next quarter of the year (or longer). Sometimes, we can break the topics down into even greater detail and come up with blog topics that can be developed into a multi-article series that spans many months. Often, this can become the focal point for the launch of a new product or service.
Having your topics lined up in advance also frees up a lot of head space. Once my clients learn some basics about structure and how to speak to their audiences appropriately, the act of writing the content is often a far easier task for them than figuring out WHAT to write. Knowing what topics they will be blogging about that week also means that their brains will be unconsciously composing the articles many days before they actually sit down to write them, making the whole process easier and quicker.
Closing Thoughts – The Confluence of Values and Value
I believe that, when done correctly, blogging is one of the most natural and organic ways for you as an independent business owner to express your values while also providing great value to your audience. It is a way to tell the world about what you do and what you stand for, without the need to compromise yourself through aggressive, hard-sell marketing strategies. It gives you the power to create, mould and cultivate a brand that is relevant to the specific needs of your audience, providing you with substantive marketing content that – unlike short-lived advertising campaigns – can serve both you and your customers for the long term.
If you’re thinking about using blogging to build an online marketing platform for your business, you might consider our Platform-Building Package here at the 7 Graces Project. The programme is delivered in 13-week blocks. We use blogging, social media and other strategies to develop a comprehensive marketing funnel with you, so you can create a steady, sustainable flow of business (and income). If you’re interested in exploring this programme with us, drop us a line via the contact form on this site and ask how you can set up a free 30-minute Skype consultation with us.
And for those who would love to have an all-in-one handbook on the subject, you might wish to check out my upcoming book, The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. If you’d like a sneak peek at it, you can download a FREE five-page template for writing effective blog posts at http://the7gracesofmarketing.com/blogging-book (you’ll also receive a reminder from me when the book is released in 2015).
I do hope this article gave you some ideas on how to come up with your next batch of blog topics, and that the next time you sit down to write a blog post, it will be one of the highlights of your week. Let me know! Come back and leave a comment (or question) after you’ve tried it.
7 November 2014
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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media. eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. To receive an update when that book is available, just click here. As a thank-you gift for showing your interest, you’ll get instant access to an exclusive, free 5-page PDF revealing the exact same blogging template we use with our clients and we teach to participants on the ethical marketing training courses at the 7 Graces Project.
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.