It's time for another guest post, and this week I'm delighted to welcome my friend and colleague, Natalie Hailey.
Natalie is the owner of Hot Content, where she helps small business owners and entrepreneurs with all aspects of their online marketing.
Many of us worry that, despite all the time and care we spend on our blog posts, no one apart from friends and family is actually reading them.
Natalie is just the person to ask for advice in this area, so over to her for some top tips on making our blogs visible to the right people.
Do you get frustrated that whenever you publish a blog post you only get a sprinkling of friends and family taking an interest? Perhaps you do get eyes on your blog post, but it’s not leading to any leads or queries, and you’re wondering if the right people are reading it.
It goes without saying that we have to blog frequently and consistently to attract readers. But what else can we do beyond the obvious to make sure we not only get people to take notice of our content, but the right people? The people to whom we can add the most value and who are, therefore, the most likely to want to establish a relationship with us.
After all, in the words of Mark Schaefer, the economic value of content that isn't seen is zero.
This is, by far, the most important part of the process of attracting the right readers to your blog. Unless you know what themes and topics will actually interest your reader – interesting enough for them to stop what they’re doing and read your posts – you risk putting a lot of time and effort into producing content that will never actually be seen and shared.
So, how do you actually work out what your target audience wants to read? Well, the first step is to make sure you’re aware of who they are. Then, start to think about how you can provide them with valuable content.
Start by listing the problems that your audience has. How can the product or service you offer alleviate or even solve their problems? Begin to address these problems in your content. For example, the owner of a dog kennels, knowing owners may experience feelings of guilt or anxiety at leaving their pet for the first time, may choose to write blogs along the lines of ‘How to prepare your dog for a stay in kennels’.
As well as problems, address your audience’s questions: list all the possible questions they may have about what you offer and the industry in which you operate. So, for the pet sitter, blogging about ‘Should I get a kitten?: factors to consider before deciding’ and ‘How much does owning a dog cost?’ not only educates and informs your reader, but establishes you as an expert in your field.
It’s not always easy to work out what questions and problems people may have about what we do, because we’re too close to it. Try teaming up with someone else and asking each other questions about what the other does. Sometimes people’s suggestions seem so obvious to you but, if one person is wondering, think how many others have the same question.
Once you know what topics are popular right now, focusing on these gives you a much better chance of people taking notice of what you write.
If you have access to the analytics of your blogs, you may see a marked difference between the level of interest in some blogs compared to others. Look at the most popular ones and consider what other angles you could cover with this topic, or address associated topics.
There’s nothing wrong with actually asking your audience what burning questions they have, or what they’re struggling with at the moment, so that you can directly address this in your content. Perhaps you could run a poll on Facebook or Twitter. LinkedIn is also a platform that is getting people plenty of engagement right now, so why not put a post out asking what people are interested in hearing about?
If you’re a member of Facebook groups, monitor them and take notice of what questions people are asking and what topics get the most people commenting.
You can also test the popularity of blog topics by sharing blogs written by other people on your own social media pages. If they get a lot of shares and interaction, it indicates that this is something your audience is interested in and it would, therefore, be well worth writing a blog on this topic yourself.
Don’t forget to use the Google auto-complete function to get inspiration for blog topics. When you start typing a query into Google, the drop-down box appears with suggestions and alternatives, which may just throw up something you hadn’t thought of. The very fact that these suggestions are appearing there means that there are people out there actually searching for that phrase.
Your blog content could be worthy of going viral, but the title could be the difference between your blog post being read and being totally ignored. There are so many free tools on the internet that can give insight into the types of blogs which will actually get attention.
Google’s auto-complete function is again helpful here, and you can also find eight more suggestions in blue at the bottom of Google’s listings, which may provide more inspiration.
If you want to go deeper with your research into your blog titles, use a free tool like KW Finder to see which search phrases and keywords get the most search volume and, from there, work out which title would show up in the most search results.
It’s worth experimenting with headlines. If you’ve published a post which hasn’t gained much traction, why not try changing the headline to see if you can encourage more views?
Of course, where you promote your blog posts will determine whether they’re seen by the right people. There’s no point posting on Snapchat if your target audience have never heard of it and are comfortably going about their daily lives on Facebook.
Consider where your target audience are hanging out and concentrate on building your profile and posting links to your content there.
To get our content in front of the right pairs of eyes, we rely a lot on people liking and sharing our content. This is a vital way of getting in front of new audiences.
In order for people to share our content, though, we have to give them a good reason. Obviously, the content has to interest them in some way but, on another level, people only share content that makes them look good or which accurately reflects their thoughts, feelings and values.
Be mindful of this when creating content for your ideal client. What kind of content would they share that would make them think, 'Yes, I’m happy that all my connections will see this, and I like the way it will make them think of me.'?
Another great way to leverage sharing is to include within your content quotes from, or perhaps interviews with, influencers within your industry. The fact that they are featured will make it much more likely that they will share your content with their audience: an audience which is likely to be new to you and possibly quite a lot larger. This is, quite honestly, only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a good start.
So often, we over-complicate what makes a blog readable. It starts with knowing our audience, and from there working out what is interesting to them, what they want to learn, what problems they have that you can help solve, and what questions they need answering.
Once you know all of that, as long as you know where they’re hanging out online, all you have to do is deliver that content to them on their preferred platform.
The important thing is to keep going and not give up too soon. It takes time for blogs to translate into leads, enquiries and sales, but the results are undoubtedly far-reaching and long lasting.
Natalie Hailey works with entrepreneurs and small businesses to help them build their presence online through content marketing and enable them to draw in more of the right clients for them.
Through consultancy, coaching, mentoring and training, both on- and offline, she helps people to create quality, share-worthy content to build a brand which people are drawn to.
Natalie is determined to show that with the right help and a patient teacher, anyone can take control of their own online marketing and enjoy the benefits of increased brand awareness, audience engagement and leads.
You can find out more about Natalie at www.hotcontent.co.uk
Why not join Natalie's Facebook group to learn more about content marketing for your business?
Natalie's podcast has interviews with experts on marketing - give it a listen!
I hope you enjoyed Natalie's valuable insights. Why not share your thoughts in the comments?
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As a thank you, you'll get a copy of my free ebook, Creating Your Style Sheet, to help you be more consistent in your writing.
Here we are, three weeks into January - how are your plans for 2018 coming along?
Did you sit down and do some serious planning for your business? Maybe you've decided to update your website, write a regular blog or plan a new product or service.
Perhaps you’ve always intended to get to grips with Google Analytics, or attend that networking group, or read that self-development book, and this is the year you're finally, definitely, really, absolutely going to get it done.
Does this sound suspiciously like the plans you made at the start of 2017?
You did the thinking, you mind-mapped and brainstormed, and maybe you even got as far as writing quarterly plans and monthly goals and weekly to-do lists, and yet here you are a year later, not much further forward.
In the nicest possible way, you need a push.
How can an accountability group help me?
Client work always seems to take priority – because it pays the bills, right? But there are equally important things you should be doing, too, whether that’s working on your professional development or marketing your business.
When we work on our own, or even in a small business, there’s no one to make sure we stick to our plans – how helpful would it be to know that there will be someone checking in with you to see whether you’ve done what you intended?
That there’s someone you can talk to who perhaps has done the very thing you haven’t quite managed yet, or who you can help over a hurdle that you’ve conquered?
Accountability groups are the ideal solution to feeling isolated and stuck; they can provide a safe, supportive environment for you to share your highs and lows, without judgement. The group members can give you the encouragement you need to help you move forward in whatever area you choose.
Accountability is a topic that interests me a lot as a solo business owner. Who am I answerable to in moving forward with my plans? How do I make sure that I take action, rather than populating to-do lists and doing day-to-day client work at the expense of working on my business?
I’m in two accountability groups, as it happens, both serving very different functions.
My accountability groups
In my editor-specific group there are six other editors, all Advanced Professional members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and the purpose of this group is to provide a safe space in which to support each other on all aspects of being a professional editor:
I’m also a member of the Content Marketing Academy, and within the membership community I’m also in an accountability group. We call ourselves Actionlab, and there are four other members, working in very different fields: photography, video editing and production, technical writing and web design. In this group we:
How do I set up an accountability group?
First up, decide why you want an accountability group. What is it you need to focus on? If you’re in the early stages of starting up a new business then you might want a group with others at a similar stage in their business so you can benefit from each other’s experiences and provide mutual support.
If you work in a creative field, perhaps you want to start a group with others working in the same field, so that you can focus on your professional development or career progression.
Whatever you decide, it can be helpful to have common aims or be at a similar stage in your careers or business development.
Talk to people who you think might be a good fit with you to explore the idea of an accountability group without obligation.
It’s good to have a mix of experiences and different personalities, but you must feel comfortable at the prospect of sharing private and possibly confidential information with them about your business.
Some questions to consider when you’re exploring the idea of an accountability group with people:
You need to be happy to invest your time and energy in a group, so don’t commit unless you’re sure.
How many people should be in an accountability group?
I think between four and six is probably about right. Any less and you risk not getting the variety of experiences and input you might need. Any more and it starts to get unwieldy and there isn't enough time in a meeting to make everyone feel they've had a fair crack of the whip.
An accountability group is not about ...
Nobody is going to tell you what the next steps in your business should be, but your group members will help you while you work out what they are.
You will not be thanked for negativity, criticism and superiority, so leave that at the door, or don't join a group. Constructive criticism is fine, though, when given in a sensitive and supportive manner.
Nobody has all the answers, and it isn't always necessary that anyone has them in a group. Let people vocalise their problem or challenge. Sometimes it's in the act of talking through an issue that the answer becomes clear. Be the sounding board - it's good to listen.
The relationship dynamics in an accountability group are not that of a mentor and mentee. You are all on an equal footing, working together to set goals and support each other in working towards them. Of course, depending on the nature of the goals within the group, some members may have more knowledge or skills than others in a particular area, and it makes sense to draw on that experience.
How often does an accountability group meet?
It’s up to you. You don’t want to be in each other’s faces all the time but, equally, you don’t want to leave it so long that everyone forgets what they said they’d do! Fortnightly works for my Actionlab group, and we meet virtually using Zoom. In between times we talk using Slack, the private messaging platform.
Take into consideration geography, travel time and personal circumstances. My editors' group has one member in Canada, so we work around the time zones for our meetings.
Should we meet online or in-person?
There are pros and cons for both options – what is right will depend on your group's preferences, and obvious things like whether you live near each other, or even in the same country!
Online meetings have the big advantage of making the most efficient use of everyone's time. As everyone is at their desk, or wherever their laptop happens to be, the time involved is only the length of the call itself, making it satisfyingly efficient! There are a variety of platforms you can use, for example, Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts.
You may feel that meeting in person suits you better in terms of the level of interaction and engagement you get with your group members. To make it worthwhile, as an in-person meeting will obviously involve travelling time, you may want to make your meetings longer. The location also needs to be chosen carefully – you will need somewhere quiet and reasonably private, but with refreshments at hand. A café or bar with a quiet area may work during the day, or you may need to book a meeting room.
How long should an accountability group meeting be?
This will depend on your set-up, and how often you're meeting.
If you're meeting every couple of weeks, one hour should be enough. If there's four of you, this breaks down neatly to 15 minutes of discussion each. However, if one person needs a more in-depth discussion, it can be useful for them to have a longer slot of half an hour, and everyone else has a 10-minute slot that week.
When your meetings are less frequent – perhaps you meet in person every month or six weeks – it makes more sense for them to be longer. In a two-hour session, you could split it evenly to 30 minutes of fairly in-depth focus each, or you might prefer just 15 minutes for individual slots and then give the rest of your time over to a less structured, free-flowing conversation. It's amazing how useful this can be if you can give it the time it needs.
Useful tools for an accountability group
Here are a few tools I've found useful in my accountability groups:
What should I contribute to an accountability group?
Remember that you're not required to give people answers. It's OK to not know something, and you shouldn't feel any pressure to give advice if you're unsure.
It's your job to listen (you should be doing a LOT of listening) and help someone work through an idea or challenge by asking questions and perhaps summarising and reflecting for them to see if you've understood. And sometimes that alone is enough for them to see what their next steps are – helping people find an answer through discussion is the central role of an accountability group.
You can give people the benefit of your experience, perhaps when you had a similar challenge in your business. You can share information and resources, and even make introductions – you might know exactly the right person to help them sort out their tax bill, the best shopfitter for their new premises or the ideal guy to help plan their next advertising campaign. Or perhaps you've read a brilliant article or watched an amazing TED Talk that could lift and inspire them. It's not always about answers.
What is the accountability bit?
Once you've set your goals at a meeting, the next time you meet you should report back on how you got on.
A Google Doc is a useful way of holding the information, and everyone can add in their own results. It's easy to refer back to what you said you'd do!
In my group we have four categories in our document:
While some aspects of your business development may not be tangible, it's always useful to have some things you can measure your progress by. For example:
When accountability groups go wrong
To overcome time creep we've found it helps to have someone chair the meeting and keep things on track and moving. As this sounds far too formal for our group, we refer to this as the sexy seat! Well, whatever works, eh?!
We also use the Google Doc where we've entered our wins, challenges and goals as a sort of informal agenda, just to make sure we've covered everything that people want to talk about.
A lack of action from a member can be another problem. You may find that they're not as interested and don't appear to be as enthusiastic or as invested as they once were. Perhaps they are more distant and less engaged, and they're missing meetings or consistently failing to meet goals they'd set themself.
There may be very good and valid reasons for this behaviour. They could be having difficulties in their personal life, or they may be feeling overwhelmed or lacking direction. Reach out, perhaps via private message, to check in with them and ask if everything is OK. Say you've noticed they've been quiet, or not around as often. They may appreciate the chance to explain, and an honest conversation may be the boost they need to ask for help or rethink some of their goals.
We all face problems and challenges. Trust your peers to help you.
Over to you!
An accountability group is a useful tool that you can put to good use for your professional development and to achieve your business goals.
Whether you're part of an established group or you're thinking of starting one, I'd love to hear about your set up and your experiences. I'm sure there are as many ways of running an accountability group as there are groups!
And if you were at CMA Kick-Off, let me know if you've been inspired to start your own group!
For my take on language and writing, and general musings on working for yourself, why not sign up to hear about updates to my blog?
As a thank you, you'll get a copy of my free ebook, Creating Your Style Sheet, to help you be more consistent in your writing.