Lessons Learned from a Crappy Writer

Usually, we go to the best and the brightest to expand our knowledge, skills, and experiences. I have my mentors, my sources of inspiration, and they are wonderful, powerful people in my personal and professional life. I call them my VSPs – very smart people. Recently, however, I was taught some valuable, if costly, lessons from an unexplored and untried source – a crappy writer.

Here’s how it all started…I decided to put together a team of “junior” writers to help with overflow work and small jobs that take time away from larger, more profitable, more complex work. I took to¬† the job boards and found dozens of young guns itching to join up. I knew I needed some way to filter out the crappy writers from the promising ones. I devised a winnowing process of several steps to help identify certain areas necessary to the task of writing for others.

First, I created some pretty precise instructions to follow, to try their hand at following specific guidelines. That step alone weeded out dozens who could not or would not comply. Next, they were asked to provide existing samples of specific types of work. This disqualified many more, as they had no experience with the types of content and copy I was offering to my clients. Lastly, I asked for a writing sample of a certain type on an assigned topic. That brought the number down to less than 10.

All was going well until I began assigning work to the assembled team. It quickly became apparent that somehow, some way, Mr. Crappy Writer had managed to slip through my net and into my small pond of otherwise competent, talented wordsmiths.

How could that happen? What went wrong? I began investigating by asking the culprit himself. And this is what I learned first:

Lesson 1: Samples can be heavily edited.

Crappy Writer had never written anything acceptable on the first draft in his life. Or the second or even the third. Even the sample he wrote for me was presented to an online critique group before he turned it in. Everything he’d shown me had gone through round after round of editing and critiquing. And he expected me to do the same with his work for me – give him endless feedback and rewrite opportunities until he got it “right”.

There were some other lessons to be learned, as well. Such as:

Lesson 2: Some writers actually think it’s the boss’s job to teach them how to write.

Crappy Writer expected me to take the time to educate him on how to write the various content and copy he would be assigned. At minimum, to have samples and examples he could use as templates. Better yet, formulas to follow. Even better still, step by step sets of instructions.

And Lesson 3: It’s perfectly acceptable to be paid in advance for work that you don’t know how to do, have no hope of completing on time, and that needs many hours of editing and rewriting before it can be submitted or published.

At least, that’s what Crappy Writer told me.

I realize that there are writers and content marketers at all levels of experience and skill. I’m certainly no “expert” on many types of copy and content. Or even content¬† marketing. I have learned from the best, discovered some things on my own, and graduated with more than one hard knock, but I don’t know all there is to know. Which, I think, brings me to Lesson 4:

Not everyone has the same definition of professional ethics that I do, or think they should.

No, I’m not an expert. But I also won’t profess to know how to do something I don’t. I won’t take a gig or position or client that asks me to complete work or tasks I’ve never done before, or never completed without the aid of others. At least not without telling them so. And I’d certainly never demand full fees for what amounts to an internship – more learning than working, more learning than earning.

Maybe, in that respect, I’m not cut out to be an “internet marketer”. Truth is, if that’s what it takes,I don’t want to be.

I want to help folks who want to change their world for the better. I want to help the small business owner who knows a whole lot less about content marketing and copywriting than I do. I want to make a difference in my world AND in theirs.

I have skills that I have used for years. Skills that I, and my clients, can take confidence in. Do I always get it “right”? Nope. And I’ll be the first to admit it. But I always work with clients until it IS right, or right enough. Point is, I’d never sell a bill of goods that weren’t the best I could supply.

Mr. Crappy Writer opened my eyes. Made me realize just how easy it is for others out there to find themselves strapped with one of his clan. And made me realize just who I am, what I want, and how I can help others avoid the same mistake I made.

If you’ve had enough of Crappy Writer or Con Man Marketer in your life, why don’t you contact me here at Bloomers Marketing. Together, we can change the world. At least the small part of it we call ours.

Your Content Plan in an Hour or Less

Last time, we discussed how to create a content marketing strategy to keep your content marketing going smoothly. In that article, I promised you that we’d talk about creating a content plan this time around. So, without further mucking about, let’s get to it. Give me an hour, and you’ll have a content plan to put all that strategy we came up with last week to good use.

Finding Your Topics

You’ve got a list of TYPES of content you’d like to produce, and who will doing the producing of it. Now, we need to get down to the nitty gritty and decide just what TOPICS that content will address. And our content plan will keep it all in one place so everyone can refer to it and know what’s what and where.

Here’s a little tidbit takeaway for you…98% of the bloggers who abandon their blogs, and about 75% of the content marketers who throw in the towel on content marketing do so because…they run out of things to write or talk about.

They suffer from topical burnout, and it kills their efforts, forces them back into strictly outreach, typically paid marketing methods, and it has been known to spell the death of more than one small business’s dreams.

YOU aren’t going to do that, because YOU are going to know how to find an almost endless supply of meaningful, relevant, audience-serving topics that they’ll come back for again and again. And by using a content plan, you’ll know what you’ve covered and what you still need to create.

Step 1: Find the Questions

Open the KeywordTool. This lovely little critter allows you to see what questions are commonly used in searches at Google, YouTube, Amazon and several more. Type in your keyword – you can see I used “content marketing” and voila! It returns a list of real-life, someone-typed-in-and-searched-for questions. This is just a small portion of the return I got, by the way. I had to scroll and scroll and scroll to get to the end.

Any and all of these, just about, would make fine blog or Tweet content for us here at Bloomers, wouldn’t you say? And using your main keyword or topic, you’ll find a nice fat bunch for you, too.

Now, we’re not finished….Go to Quora. Again, search for your main topic or keyword. You will again find real, honest-to-goodness questions posted by real, honest-to-goodness people. And you’ll also find the answers to them, too, which can come in handy for research purposes when you aren’t quite certain you’ve got everything tucked away correctly in your brain.

You can see the top three results for my search in the image below.You can also see the expert level of answers Quora questions often get, so you know your source is top notch should you need to brush up on something a bit.

You can repeat this process on Reddit, as well. And before you’re done, go back to KeywordTool and check out some returns from Amazon. Those are good titles and/or products to use for reviews and product comparison content.

Step 2: Find the Categories

You should, by now, have a fine fat list of potential questions to answer, products to review, topics for producing content you KNOW you’re readers want. Now, we have to DO something with those. Study them carefully and divide them up into 6 to 8 (NO MORE than that, please!) broad categories.

These are the categories for your blog. They are the divisions in your YouTube channel. They are the subsections for your podcast. They can also serve as a catalyst for other content, too. Know someone who’s great in an area related to one of them? Invite them for an interview or a guest post, or add them to your “influencer” efforts.

Your categories will help with corralling all those great topic ideas you’ve just uncovered into more manageable, content-plan-ready content.

Creating Your Content Plan

This is both the easy part, and the part that can make your brain tired, so be warned and ready. Have a drink and maybe a snack nearby. This can take a while, especially when you’re new to creating a content plan.

Step 1: Plan Your Topics

Take a look at that list of topics. Create a “production order” for them. In the filming industry, a production order is the order in which the various scenes are shot. And that;s exactly what your production order in your content plan – the order in which the topics will be covered, the order in which each one will be addressed.

Write them down, in their proper order. Put them in a spreadsheet. Create a calendar. Just get them down somewhere, somehow, that makes sense and is workable for you, and anyone else who might be helping to create content. At Bloomers, we prefer a calendar type critter, but that’s just us.

Step 2: Plan Your Format

Unless you’re a one-trick pony type content marketer, you’ll have various formats for your content. Tweets, blog posts, podcasts, infographics, email goodies, white papers, videos – whatever. You get the idea. (And if you ARE a one-trick marketer, fix that. NOW.)

Take a look at that production order. Decide on each topic will be unleashed upon the world at large. That statistical report – perfect for an infographic. Those guests you want to interview would make great podcasts or blog posts, right? And the behind-the-scenes looks would be fabulous videos.

There are a few things to consider when working your content’s format into your content plan.

  1. Your current efforts – expansion is good, but don’t spread yourself too thin, so stick primarily with what’s working now
  2. Your current audience – again, branching out is good, as long as you keep your current fans happy
  3. Your capabilities – let’s repeat one more time – don’t spread yourself too thin, especially if your content team consists of just one or two people – don’t plan more content than can be created relatively stress-free
  4. Your “mix” – variety is good, if fact some would say variety in content is essential to creating and keeping a wide, engaged, interested audience – don’t go too heavy on any one type of content unless your audience wants it

Step 3: Plan Your Publishing

The last thing to do with your content plan is to plan when the content will be published. Blog posts? Twice a week is good for the team? Great! And a few infographic or image-heavy posts thrown in here and there? Even better!

Daily tweets or pins or ‘Grams? Is Buffer or Hootsuite or some other automated tool ready to go? Awesome!

That white paper for lead generation? How can that be worked in? What deadline works best for it? The end of the month? Superb!

Those videos? Should we wing it and do em live on Facebook? Or practice a bit, polish our presentation, and then create a video channel? Or just do a better LiveStream than most? Put those a bit further down the line, while we iron out the details, please.

What you should have is a production schedule, a publication guideline, for your content when you’re done.

Wrapping Up

Your spreadsheet or calendar or other document is now complete. You’ve got a list of topics, how those topics will be presented, and when. Congratulations! You’ve created your first content plan!

One word of caution before we wrap this thing up…ONLY plan 60 to 90 days at a time. Why? Several reasons:

  1. The less content planned, the less time spent planning it, and the less overwhelmed you’ll be.
  2. A shorter plan allows for addressing current topics – why write a blog post six months’ from now about a topic that matters TODAY? And that evergreen content can be postponed in favor of content focusing on a big event that’s happening or did just happen.
  3. A shorter plan allows for more frequent measurement of your content’s performance. If they didn’t respond too well to that lead magnet, wouldn’t it be better to know and replace it with a new one in 3 months, than have it sit there not performing for half a year or more?
  4. A shorter plan allows for changes to be made quicker. They really love the new videos and have asked for more? Great! Add that to the content plan NOW by switching some topics from blog posts to video chats.

Your content doesn’t have to be elaborate or complex. And creating it doesn’t have to be some scary, unknown drudge of a task. You CAN plan 2 to 3 months of content in less than an hour. Just remember, all the planning in the world doesn’t do you any good without implementation.

Soooo, set the clock, turn off the phone, get your tools ready, and spend the next hour creating your content plan.You won’t regret it. And if you find yourself in need of help, in either the creation, or the implementation, of your content plan, contact us here at Bloomers. We’ll be happy to help!