How To Write For Regular Readers

Yes, it’s a guest post! My friend and all-around wise dude Charlie Gilkey graciously offered me this guest post as a way to rouse Remarkable Communication gently from its slumber.

image of shakespeare and a punkThis is the second part of the How To Blog Like Shakespeare series from Charlie Gilkey. Check out How To Write For New Readers if you missed Part 1.

Regular readers are familiar with you and your content, so they’re already keyed into how you write and what you’re about. They’re also likely to be your friends, fans, champions, and customers.

The fact that they’re familiar with what you’re up to, though, can also make it more difficult to write for them. They might have already learned some of the stuff you’ve written for your new readers, so the way you write for your new readers won’t provide a lot of value to them. While they may have some favored themes and topics, to keep their attention, you’ll have to provide them something new.

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A few days ago, Mara Rogers wrote a post for Copyblogger about SpeedBlogging. Her post had a lot of smart tips for writing blog posts more quickly and efficiently, and I don’t disagree with any of the advice she gave.

But I’d like to propose another way to approach your posts: SlowBlogging.

Heard about the Slow Food movement? They’re an organization devoted to food that’s less convenient. No tomatoes in January (or June, if you live in Melbourne), no Lean Cuisine, no balancing a Big Mac on the steering wheel while you’re trying to merge onto the freeway. The Slow Food movement is all about food that’s quirky, local, and tasty.

Blogging is inherently a quick medium, but sometimes you want some handmade content that takes a little more time.

Chris Garrett calls these posts flagship content. Most blog posts are best consumed when they’re fresh, but these keep their value. They act, in Chris’s phrase, as “ambassadors for your blog.” They build your reputation and you can send readers to them again and again.

Solid “pillar” or “flagship” content takes a little longer to put together than routine daily posts do. Here are some SlowBlogging ideas you can try when you’re creating that cornerstone content.

Some ideas need more time

Mara’s an advocate of keeping a bank of ideas for future posts, and so am I. There’s nothing worse than wanting to cook up a tasty blog post and having nothing in the pantry.

Some ideas are topical, and you’ll need to write them up right away. If you’re going to comment on the latest celebrity train wreck, you’ll need to strike fast. But other ideas need more time to mature. You might think of them as bottles of homemade elderberry wine. They don’t taste too good when you first bottle them, but after they’ve been sitting for awhile, they start to get really tasty.

You’ll have some ideas that you’re just not sure what to do with. Park them in your idea cellar until they’re ready. Although some ideas do turn out to be duds, I’ve found that I often get the best posts out of ideas that have been sitting dormant for the longest time. You never know when that idea will ripen up and give you the perfect angle for a classic post.

Should it be a series?

Some ideas refuse to gracefully boil down into a single blog post. If you have a topic that’s getting away from you, consider making it a series.

Writing a blog series lets you give some loving in-depth attention to a topic without overwhelming your readers. And it gives you a wonderful feeling of luxury to know exactly what you’re going to write about for the next 7 or 8 posts.

A well-written series can form a terrific cornerstone for a blog. You might want to check out Brian’s Copywriting 101 series to see how he did it over on Copyblogger. I recently had a great time with a series on Dumb Things Small Businesses Do.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite

I love Mara’s fearless advice to “write and commit, then click Publish.”

I can tell you from personal experience that my method isn’t necessarily the key to optimal blogging productivity. But for me, writing is rewriting. It’s in the editing stages that I find the most important ideas in a post and polish them up to make them shine. (As well as clearing away any murky stuff that makes the post less delicious.)

I try to write a post two days before I want to post it. Over those next two days, I’ll read the post with fresh eyes each day and make changes. I do a last pass when I’m prepping it to post.

I do sometimes write “same-day” posts, but when I do, I still try to run through them at least three times. And if I can give myself a break between rewrites, I do.

This is a time when you want to know yourself. If you’re putting your posts through dozens of rewrites because you’re insecure or perfectionistic, try to force yourself to let go a little earlier in the process.

But if you tend to post your first drafts, try a few rewrites, especially on your authority content. You just may see a new depth and weight appear in your writing.

Write for pleasure

The Slow Food movement is all about taking a long Sunday morning to simmer the perfect pasta sauce just because you want to. You take your time picking out the perfect ripe tomatoes, you make a special trip to the farmer’s market for those really good Italian sausages, not because you have to, but because it’s enjoyable.

Sometimes you need to be efficient and get a point across. But I hope you’re also taking some time to write posts that give you pleasure. Play with language a little. Have some fun tossing an idea around. Let your personality come through.

Life is too short to bore yourself with your own content. No, it’s not all about you, but you’re also not a content-producing automaton. At least sometimes, take the time to savor the process of writing.

Mara’s SpeedBlogging techniques are definitely useful. And sometimes you want a nice, quick stir-fry list post for your blog. But when you need a long-simmered blog post Bolognese, give SlowBlogging a try. Variety is the spice of life . . . and blogging.

If you liked this post, please link to or Stumble it!

Flickr Creative Commons image by lepiaf.geo

5 Recipes for Success (and 1 for Tomatoes)


By Sonia Simone

Seth Godin did a great post on how to read a business book, in which he pointed out that good business books are 95% motivation and 5% recipes for acting on that motivation. My own struggle with Godin’s books is that I come out of them motivated as hell, but then I lose steam trying to translate the big idea into a recipe I can act on.

In fact, you could probably classify a lot of what I do as writing recipes people can use to act on the motivation they get from brainy strategists like Seth Godin or Tom Peters.

Anyway, here are some terrific recipes for your own professional and communication success. Plus one for when you have not-that-great tomatoes, because hey, we’ve all been there.

  • Cold Calling: Destined for Failure. If you’re doing any cold calling, this great post gives specific suggestions for tactics that will get better results with less pain. It’s also an excellent example of how to do a little seat-of-your-pants marketing through conversation, also known as the anti-elevator-pitch.
  • The Pocket-Sized Guide to Blogging. Skelliewag hasn’t posted much lately, but she’s back with an excellent comprehensive (and succinct) guide to what makes a blog work well. Follow this advice and you will see results in your blog. Nice to see her return!
  • How to Handle Customer Email. Terrific post about the right and wrong way to handle email from your customers. Yes, it’s common sense, except no one is doing it. You could be.
  • If you ever have to present information to anyone, allow me to grab you by the lapels and recommend that you pick up the book Beyond Bullet Points. While you’re waiting for Amazon to deliver it, check out the slide show How to Avoid Death by Powerpoint, which will whet your appetite and get you thinking in the right direction. You don’t have to actually use PowerPoint to use this–it’s a killer recipe for any kind of talk, speech or presentation you might make.
  • While we’re on the topic of PowerPoint, go see James Hipkin’s post about the Thread of Steel. He happens to tie it to PowerPoint, but it’s an important exercise for any communication–an ad, a newsletter article, a blog post.
  • You know how you get tomatoes from the store and they look like they will be amazing, and then they’re . . . not amazing? The charming and witty food writer Casey Ellis has a solution. The Tomato Wars.

Creative Commons Flickr image by jackie-dee

Monkeys and Bloggers and Tribes (oh, my!)

By Sonia Simone

hangin' out at SOBCon08

Have the past couple of days been driving you nuts (here and on some other blogs you might be following)? All this inside baseball from SOBCon–lots of us Twittering like crazy, mostly for the benefit of the other 130-odd bloggers who were there.

The worst part is, most of us are so exhausted that our notes are terrible. "Brogan said we should care about people! OMG he is such a freaking genius. BRB, I have to go schmooze Brian Clark."

(Note: this is in no way to suggest that Brogan is not a genius.)

There were exceptions, but I’m afraid I wasn’t one of them! I hope my fragments held some value for some of you, at least.

But I did pick up a lot of ideas to riff on, and the heart of SOBCon itself is one of them:

Community Is Fundamental
Community, along with ego and family and mortality, is one of those primal driving forces. If you want to tap into something deep and fundamental in order to deliver your message, community is one of the options.

When we were just starting out as upright monkeys, you kept your tribe solid or you all died. Finding stuff to eat was not so easy, and finding stuff that wanted to eat you was way too easy. We needed an intense bond that kept us connected, even when we wanted to kill each other. Connection was not optional. It’s why we, as a species, are still here.

Creating a community around what you do is still a great way to survive in a hostile landscape. If your customers can form a tribe around your product or service (or church or nonprofit or whatever your particular gig might be), you win. Their loyalty to your tribe can become completely disproportional to the merits of what you have to offer. (cough Apple cough cough).

Tribes Aren’t Indestructible
They can be wrecked by cluelessness, carelessness, shifting priorities. Back in the day, there was a rich collection of tribes on GE’s online forum (GEnie). Gardeners, romance writers, gamers, Forth geeks–you name it, there was a GEnie RoundTable for it. Then one day, GE decided to sell its weirdo little project to a company that couldn’t handle it. Chains were yanked, prices skyrocketed, and eventually GEnie was killed off by a failure to patch it up for Y2K. Bye-bye tribes.

Those of us who were there can tell you that the tribes didn’t die because they weren’t real. They died because tribes are fragile, and (assuming you’re not an Inuit on an ice floe trying to survive the winter) we have other options.

As powerful as community can be, it hurts to be on the outside looking in. Inclusion feels safe and natural. We find our little monkey place in the community, and that feels right. Exclusion feels dangerous and wrong. There is no hatred like the hatred of the monkey who feels she’s been shut out.

If you build a community for any reason, you owe it to them to figure out how you will keep the infrastucture going. And you owe it to yourself to figure out–early–who you’ll bring in and who you will keep out. There are many excellent reasons to put up some boundaries (ever been in an AOL chat room?), but you also have to realize it’s going to be acutely painful to someone.

While I’ve been monkeying around with my blogger pal tribe, I hope I haven’t done so to the exclusion of the community that’s grown up around this blog. I’ve just been on vacation one tribe over.

They’re nice folks, thank you all for indulging my postcards. The weather was beautiful, wish you’d been there.

SOBCon Update: Saturday

By Sonia Simone

My head is so overstuffed with ideas that I couldn’t possibly write them all down, but here are some selected scribbles from today’s workshops. I’ve got notes for about five years of blog posts.

Brian Clark:

  • A lot of the keys to good blogging are the keys to good business. What used to work won’t be tolerated any more.
  • Thinking of ourselves as entrepreneurs, not as bloggers.
  • Your revenue model should be: "Yes, please."
  • Attention by itself is not the game. It’s a critical part of the game, but once you have attention, there is more work to be done.
  • You have to know what you want to say, even if you end up hiring someone to help you say it.
  • Build as much authority as you can on one "hub" domain, with satellite pages or additional sites around it for side projects, promotion, etc.

Chris Garrett:

  • If you don’t work out what you want to get out of it, you’ll get the wrong things out of it.
  • A really good question can be better than a really good statement.
  • Create an editorial calendar for the blog. [I didn't get why this was cool until he showed us what that would look like. Figuring out how often to do linkbait, when & how guest posts fit in, etc.]
  • Flagship content is an ambassador for what you do.

David Bullock: (supergenius who I didn’t know before I came here):

  • "I do blogging wrong.  I just do stuff that works for my business."
  • No money will move before the conversation line is in place.
  • What kind of systems do you have in place to pay attention & act on what you learn?
  • How does your story match the story of the marketplace? If the conversations don’t mesh, you get no action.
  • The good stuff is you. Your uniqueness and your experience. Essentially, it’s your thinking people will pay for–the doing can be outsourced, the thinking is yours alone.
  • You will find the language of your market in the testimonials of your clients.
  • The Internet is links and pages. That’s all it is.

Chris Brogan:

  • The big secret is that businesses are full of people.
  • Build stories humans want to tell.
  • Give your ideas handles.
  • Make it useful.
  • Hack–make things your own.
  • Do more than you talk.

Liz Strauss:

  • Come up with something they want (not something they need).
  • Create your message with head, heart and meaning.
  • Blog your experience.
  • Leave room for your community. Don’t wrap everything up so damned neatly.

Wendy Piersall:

  • Everyone is doing business stuff and heart stuff at the same time.
  • It’s not pretty getting outside of your comfort zone.
  • We need a BS filter for the stuff in our own head.
  • Create micro "success for today" goals.
  • There is no more time. Give me more you.

Oh, and a P.S., I met the brilliant Cliff Atkinson, who created Beyond Bullet Points. BBP is required reading not just for creating PowerPoint that isnt awful, but for sharpening and clarifying your thinking so you can create a message that actually conveys something. Very hard to do, but it’s work that has a huge payoff.

SOBCon Update: Friday night

By Sonia Simone

OK, as promised, entirely unfiltered notes:

I wouldn’t have thought Chris Garrett would be so darned sweet. Brogan, sure. But ChrisG–gigantic sweetheart.

There are women here! A lot of ‘em! It warms my heart to see women at geeky conferences.

It’s not your brand. When you put your brand out for social media to play with, it becomes their (our) brand, and you can’t have it back again.

Best line of the night, bar none, by Christine Kane (who is awesome): Copyblogger would rename "Hey Jude" to "12 Irrefutable Reasons Jude Should Listen to Me."

The Digital Cultural Evangelist for Edelman was there. I wanted to talk with her, then got sidetracked. Damn.

When most people figure out that the great New Social Media is just conversations & relationships, those of us who get a little mileage out of being Those Who Get It are sort of screwed. But we keep putting it out there, keep evangelizing, even though we’re sowing the seeds of our own irrelevance.

More Christine Kane: "A great dream, and a history of playing small . . . Right out of nowhere, you open your heart and that changes everything."

Remarkable Communication Lands in Chicago

By Sonia Simone

Landed in Chicago after one of those flights with endless time sitting on the runway without information, snacks, or air conditioning (blog post fodder), reading Fast Company four times through for lack of something better to do (more blog fodder, very cool article about geek TV), then watching documentaries on the airplane about Hitler (still more blog fodder that will probably never get posted) and Bob Dylan (trying to figure out if that one’s more a Copyblogger or Remarkable Comm post).

And Twitter is down, of course, so I can’t wave hello the way I usually would.

So I’ll wave hello from here to my lovely blog friends, many of whom I’ll meet shortly at SOBCon. My plan is to take lots of notes and post about the stuff I think you guys would find most interesting. I managed to get three fountain pens here with no ink disasters, so I am ready to be a note-taking maniac. This SOBCon is all about business uses of social media, so I plan to fly out of Chicago ready to give Darren Rowse a run for his money.

This plan may get entirely wrecked by staying out too late trying to get Brian Clark to say something indiscreet by pouring tequila into him, but we’ll just have to see. (If only Naomi was here.) If nothing else, I’ll have 50 pages of notes to use for blog riffs for the next 6 months.

So if you’re not a fan of messy, possibly rant-y, unpolished posts, you may want to avert your eyes for a couple of days. I’ll be back home next week. Note to potential burglars: my husband is still home and he’s much, much meaner than I am.

What Do You Really Do?

By Sonia Simone

yoyogi-girls-3 by ehnmark

Ittybiz is one of my two or three favorite blogs, and one of the few I read religiously every day. She helps small businesses with their marketing, and she has an amazing ability to cut through people’s self delusion and help them figure out what they really do.

Naomi gave us five questions to answer–privately for ourselves, and publicly for our customers. So far I’ve resisted the "meme" phenomenon (IMO not the right word for it, but I can’t think of a better one, damn it), but I liked these questions a lot, and answering them did help me see some things more clearly.

If you have any kind of regular connection with customers–a blog, a Squidoo lens, a newsletter–you might consider answering these questions to get to the heart of what you do.

(If you blog these or put them on the Web in some way, let me know with a trackback or a comment and I’ll post a link so we can all swing by and get to know you better.)

What’s your game? What do you do?
I’m a shrink for businesses–both big businesses and small ones. I help them build better relationships with their customers by creating better communication.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?
I love it and I have one of those creepy knacks. Somewhere along the line I got good at seeing through to what folks were really good at, and helping them put that into words.

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?
Folks who hate marketing but don’t want their business to die.

What’s your marketing USP? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?
The kind of marketing I do doesn’t require you to choose between your soul and the success of your business. You can have both–in fact, that’s where you find the greatest successes. I can help you with that.

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?
I’m putting together some products that will help people learn effective, ethical marketing for themselves. Straight info–no sleazy, unethical tricks and no feel-good fluff. My motivation for this has been my notable lack of success in working 48-hour days to keep up with all of the people I want to help.

Flickr Creative Commons image by ehnmark

Anyone Coming to SOBCon08?

Sobcon08_logo189x60imtherebadge I am entirely tickled to announce that I’m going to Chicago to attend SOBCon at the beginning of May. (As a marketer, I have to say the name of this event causes me physical pain, but never mind.) I can’t wait to meet some virtual pals and make a whole lot of new friends.

The conference is being billed as "Biz School for Bloggers," and there are some heavy hitters coming. Brian Clark’s going to talk about online business models that work, Chris Garrett will be riffing on editorial ROI, and I’m especially excited to hear what Chris Brogan has to say about new media communities.

I’m even more excited to be meeting my blogging cohorts F2F. When I started out with all this social media stuff (we used to have modems that attached to our computers and made funny squawking sounds, my children. And we walked twelve miles in the snow, uphill in both directions, just to be able to log in . . .), there was a significant F2F component–the rowdy and invigorating WOPs (another bad acronym–WELL Office Parties) thrown by The WELL. Virtual community has never been just about pixels to me–I’ve always associated userids with quirky, difficult, lovable, annoying, messy and unpredictable human beings.

Plus, maybe I can convince Liz Strauss I should be on her "SOB list" (that’s successful and outstanding bloggers).

If you’ll be there, leave a comment and let us know! And if you’re a blogger and you’d like to become a better businessperson (or a businessperson who wants a stealth tactic to deeply, quickly "get it" about social media . . . ), think about registering. The conference fee is very fair as these things go (half what the Ragan PR organization will charge you for their social media conference), and the group promises to be first-rate.

Ready to Start a Blog? Check out this Handy Resource

I downloaded this free ebook by Caroline Middlebrook, and it’s a wonderfully helpful resource if you want to create a blog. It walks you through creating a WordPress blog on your own hosted server (which I would have done myself if I had known it was this cheap and easy). You don’t need to have an actual physical machine, or a geeky nephew who understands computers, or really anything at all other than the $7 a month for the service she recommends.

The ebook is aimed at creating static sites for niche affiliate marketing, but it will work just fine for a blog, or for a simple informational site for your business or project. If you want the absolute quickest and easiest way to create a new blog or simple Web site (other than Squidoo, which is even easier but doesn’t have as much flexibility), this is a great way to go.

Thanks to Caroline for putting such a useful resource together. She doesn’t even ask for your email in exchange. (Which she should, but that’s another story.)