Content marketing gives a lot of editors and proofreaders the willies. Too little time, too much work, don’t have enough ideas, can’t work out what to blog about, don’t even know what it is … those are statements I’ve heard aplenty.
So when John Espirian and I agreed to lead a 2-hour workshop on content marketing at the 2017 Society for Editors and Proofreaders annual conference in Wyboston Lakes, we assumed we’d have our work cut out for us.
How were we going to convince a room full of wordsmiths that content marketing is valuable, doable and enjoyable?
To cut a long story short, we asked them to throw their split infinitives, comma splices, dangling modifiers and restrictive clauses out of the window for 120 minutes and have a bit of fun with us.
Did they rise to the challenge? You bet!
The problem with marketing
Every business owner needs to do marketing. And if you love it (like I do, like John does) that’s great. But what if you find it a bore? What if you’re someone who prefers the work you do to the work you do to get the work you do? Still with me?
Editors and proofreaders are just as time-poor as anyone else. Marketing takes time and effort. And content marketing requires commitment because you won't see the impact overnight. One of the best things about content marketing, though, is that it’s ripe for playfulness. And that’s the case whether you’re doing it or learning to do it.
That playfulness must be on-brand, of course, but creating useful, helpful, valuable content that solves clients’ problems needn’t be a dull process if you keep an open mind.
John and I asked our colleagues to open their minds and go a little bonkers. And if you think you can’t do content marketing, perhaps you can try this exercise too.
The Whacky-business Workshop (or how to develop a content marketing mindset)
We spent the first hour on the why and what of content marketing so that our friends understood the principles that underpin the approach.
And just in case you don’t know, content marketing is basically about creating and delivering useful stuff that inspires people to trust you, engage with you, even buy from you.
Next, we asked them to get into groups of two or three. Then we handed them a list of businesses and asked them to choose one. And so began the Whacky-business Workshop.
There were no businesses related to editing and proofreading, mind you. None of the jobs in that list is something any of us has ever done; some of them aren’t even real, though not many. Instead, we gave them a list of whacky businesses – that way, our delegates would be forced away from their existing editorial business focus, and free to embrace a content marketing mindset.
Here’s what they had to play with:
20 minutes to think, 1 minute to present
We asked them to think about what problems those companies’ potential customers or colleagues would have – what they might ask before they decided to engage with or buy from one of those businesses – then generate as many content ideas as they could in 20 minutes. There were 2 rules:
Those who made our bellies ache the most would receive a chunk of content marketing goodies – well, books; we are editors, after all – written by industry experts.
Why does being silly help?
If you can take everything you’ve learned in an hour, apply it in 20 minutes, and generate a framework of solutions in 60 seconds – and with a company and customers you know nothing about – what might you do if:
Believe me, if you can generate 10 questions that a client might ask before hiring a human scarecrow, 3 videos about the benefit of fart-reduction underpants, or 6 reasons to hire a professional mermaid – in the time it takes to bake a cake – coming up with ideas for a year’s worth of content for your editorial blog, vlog or podcast will be a walk in the park.
And our session proved it. Our colleagues were amazing. Some were content marketing novices when they walked into the room, others were looking to hone their skills, but all of these perfect punctuators, grand grammarians and artful amenders slipped easily into the shoes of their new businesses … and their audience.
Of course, there can only be one winner … well, two in this case: our friends and fellow pro editors Kate Haigh and Kia Thomas. If you’re seriously thinking about setting up as a human scarecrow and you need help with your marketing strategy, just call them.
Some might think it’s difficult to make straw interesting, but Kate and Kia know different. Here's the content marketing magic they came up with in only 20 minutes:
Outstanding in the Field – Human Scarecrows!
To make our website a valuable resource for other human-scarecrow professionals
Content ideas – solving potential clients' and colleagues' problems
Editors are born content marketers
It's true. Editors and proofreaders are problem solvers by nature. We spend our working days finding problems and working out how to fix them … not with blunt force but with elegance, with respect, with our writers in mind. We query kindly, we tweak tenderly, and we never forget that if our clients don’t have problems, we don’t have jobs.
And that’s pretty much what content marketing is all about – identifying problems, offering solutions, and doing so in a way that makes the potential client trust you.
So if you think you can’t do it, that it will be too hard, will take too much time, that you won’t have enough ideas, that you’re an editor not a marketer, then try being silly. Pick one of those whacky companies and ask yourself what you’d want to know before buying from them.
Turn those queries into a list of ideas for blog posts, videos, PDFs, infographics, booklets or podcasts. There are no rules – you’re just having fun. When you’re done, think about your editorial business and your clients. What are their problems? And how might you create and deliver the solutions?
No problem is too small, and no question too basic. If you’ve thought of it, chances are there’s a potential client who’s thought of it too. Why not be the one to fix it and have that solution on your website?
If you have a question about content marketing for an editorial business, drop me a line or leave a comment. I’ll do my best to help … unless it’s about human scarecrows. In which case, you know who to call.
Louise Harnby is a fiction copyeditor and proofreader. She curates The Proofreader's Parlour and is the author of several books on business planning and marketing for editors and proofreaders.
Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader & Copyeditor, say hello on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or connect via Facebook and LinkedIn.
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Winner of the Judith Butcher Award 2017 in respect of 'highly visible contributions to the SfEP and its membership'.