But, What Should I Blog About? 2016 SMB Content Marketing Back to Basics

But, What Should I Blog About Anyway?
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I hear this so often: “Okay, I get it. I’m supposed to write a blog. My SEO guy told me to do it. Something about page rank or search engines or whatever, dude. Fine. I’ll blog. But just what exactly do I blog about?”

When I hear this from clients and prospects, they don’t sound nearly as morose (or like such a dude-bro).

When I hear it from acquaintances and shirt-tail cousins who pigeonhole me at social events, I overlay the surfer dude accent and the GenX-era flannel slacker tone in my mind’s ear, just for grins.

It’s as though people think I’m available for free consultations at pool parties, open houses, and wakes. (The last time I tried that with a pharmacist friend, almost 15 years ago, he told me he’d be happy to answer me. BUT we’d have to schedule an appointment. It would be $150 for the half-hour consult. Come to think of it, that may have been the last time I talked to the pharmacist friend.)

How to Brainstorm Business Blog Ideas

I was going to call this approach “Mind Mapping for Content Ideas.” Upon careful wiki-examination, it turns out that I don’t exactly mean mind mapping. We could call it Bobbing for Blogs if we like, but that’s beside the point.

What I mean is this: Block out 30 minutes alone or with your team. During that half hour, there should be no distractions.

You’ll need something to write on and something to write with. You won’t be writing the posts at that moment. You’ll just jot down short key phrases that will help you to remember, categorize, and prioritize your soon-to-be-written bouncing blog babies at a later time.

I am old school. You can use butcher paper, teacher’s craft paper, or wall-size Post-It notes if that works for you. Be sure to have colored markers also on hand. Other good items to collect include index cards and colored gel pens. Or two-by-two-inch rainbow sticky notes and fine-tipped black Sharpies. Or a yellow legal pad and a pencil. What. Ever. You. Desire. (I’m such a school supply geek.)

Whether you put these quick notes on a whiteboard, slot them into a spreadsheet, file them in an old-fashioned recipe box, or toss them into an antique traveling showman’s black felted top hat, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to capture and collect them.

In this series of posts, I’m going to give you some quality ideas to adopt on your own. Then, we will brainstorm some examples together.

If you happen to have a top hat handy, great! Put ‘er on. We’ll call it your thinking cap!

Answer the 5Ws, the 1H, and then some.

That still doesn’t roll off the tongue the way your middle school English teacher seemed to think. I hope I’m not being remedial. This is how my mind works — leaps, jumps, sidebars, laterals, cross-overs, boing boing.

Over the years, through roommates, loving family members, and romantic relationships, I’ve learned that everybody’s brain is wired differently. I believe it, but I don’t get it.

For me, trying to teach how to brainstorm and come up with ideas is like explaining how to breathe. “Um, you just do?”

The thing is, you know your business inside and out. You already know your blog post topics. But, you may not know that you know them.

In case you missed it in grammar school, the five Ws are: Who? What? When? Where? Why? And the one H is How? We’ll be much more sophisticated than that. Or at least, much more verbose.

Answer key questions about your business.

Pretend you’re at a networking function, like a business happy hour or a Chamber of Commerce mixer. No matter what kind of small to medium business or non-profit you’re associated with, you have almost certainly answered these questions dozens of times.

You probably have canned answers that just roll off your tongue.

In no particular order, they go:

  1. What do you do?
  2. What else do you do? (Because it’s probably more than one thing.)
  3. How are you different than the others who do what you do? (aka unique value/selling proposition)
  4. How do you do all that?
  5. No, really, how does that work? How do you make it happen? How does the sausage get made?
  6. Where do you do it? Or, where do you office? Or, where do you source your goods? Or, where did you learn to do it? Or, where are all of your branches? Or, where can I be trained to do it? Or, where have I seen your work?
  7. When did you start? When did you first have that one idea? When did you get the extra training or the extra capital to do that one thing that was so important? When did you hire your first employee? When did you move to new offices?
  8. Why do you do it? I hear you, but how come you do it the way you do it?
  9. What is your unique stamp that you put on it, which people who’ve worked closely with you would recognize?
  10. Why don’t you do this one thing that’s so much like the thing you already do? Why did you focus where you did? Why do you think you have the best offering on the market? You don’t? Ah, okay, why do you think you provide the best offering for a certain subset of the market (i.e. segment or niche)?
  11. Which brings us to whom: Who is it that you serve? Who best benefits from that thing you do? Why? Who doesn’t need you? Why not?
  12. Who are you? As in, who do you think you are to do the thing you do? And, what made you think that? (Kinda circular with the why questions above, I realize. But, I’m on a riff-roll.)
  13. Who are your staff? Employees? Coworkers? Vendors? Partners? Associates? Who are the people in your neighborhood?
  14. Who is your office mascot? Pet? (I am NOT kidding, that’s a blog post right there, kids.)
  15. Which community groups do you support? Do you sponsor the local softball league? How are they doing this season? Does your office have a holiday toy collection drive? How’s that going? Do you offer pro bono services to clients who lack enough funds? Have them sign waivers and share their stories.

Now, can you imagine just how very patient my parents were when I was a child? But, Mom, why? How come? Well, yeah, but why? What about this? How about that? Well, I just wanna know, Ma.

Think about your branding and messaging and answer these questions.

  1. What is your elevator pitch? What is your tagline?
    • How did you decide that these two things would be your elevator pitch and tagline?
    • Why do they resonate with you? Do they resonate with your audience? How? Why?
    • That’s a post. Tell us that story — the time you got your elevator pitch, tagline, and key talking points nailed down. Was there champagne?
  2. What are the most common sales objections your team hears from prospects? And what are the best ways you’ve found to overcome those objections?
    • That’s a blog post for each and every one. For example, “I can’t. It costs too much,” becomes a blog post titled, Why Buying Our Thing Is an Investment You Won’t Regret. Does it sound like an infomercial? You betcha. Can it be finessed? Of course it can. Does it make a worthwhile piece in your growing content library? Heck yes!
  3. What’s your mission statement, purpose, and vision? If you’ve got all those lined out, make a post about how you’re achieving each of them. Make it a quarterly feature of your blog. “This quarter, we strode toward our mission of _____ by doing _____.”
  4. Got any really great customer testimonials? Ask them for a quick interview. What did they need from you? How did they find you? Why did they choose to go with you? What did you do for them? Before and after shots, if appropriate. And, how their life or their business or their family or their health or whatever has improved because of working with you. (I’m serious. That’s an easy post. Takes some time, sure. But, simple as pie.)

Answer these questions about the climate, culture, field, and industry that your business is in.

  1. How’s the overall business doing? What are pundits forecasting for your industry this year, and/or the next five years?
  2. What geopolitical, socioeconomic, or greater societal themes affect your business? Weather? Wages? Retiring Baby Boomers? Mobile spending? Disruptive tech?
  3. What’s going on in your professional community? Is there an annual conference that everybody’s looking forward to, to see and be seen? Will you be there? Will you have a booth? Are you sponsoring or appearing in any panels? Are you skipping it this year to build out a new package offering?
  4. What’s the “safe” office gossip in your business?
    • Did Jack and Diane finally get engaged? Those lovebirds. Did their mortgage close on the little pink house? Adorbs. One in the oven? Congrats!
    • Everybody’s favorite septuagenarian is retiring and there’s a party coming up? Invite blog readers who live nearby!
    • New office photocopier? Selfies with the service tech.
    • Seriously, I’m not kidding. These could all easily be blog posts. They don’t have to be cherished works of original research and thought-provoking exposes on whatever huge topic you think is worth covering. They just have to be entertaining, compelling, worth a quick look, and around 500-600 words of  copy.

You Guys, That’s Only the “YOU” Content!

We haven’t even gotten to the “CLIENT” content.

Because, after all, good content marketing is about engaging, compelling, entertaining, educating, informing, questioning, listening, interacting, getting to know you, building rapport, developing relationships, establishing credibility, earning trust, and maybe even gaining access.

Good content marketing is NOT about broadcasting.

Bad content marketing is all focused on talking about how great you are. Nobody wants to hear it. Your own momma don’t want to hear all that.

I always tell clients that self-promotion or blatant broadcast content should be kept to a minimum. The content mix to which your budding blog should aspire includes no greater than 10-15% of all of the foregoing “you” content. Some of it can even be pivoted easily to be not-you content with a little nuance.

For example: extraordinary content.

“Not-you” content is client and prospect-centric. It’s anything that’s valuable, shareable, meaningful, worthwhile, and helpful to your client.

It’s possible that, when we get there in the next post, you will think I’m advising you to give away the whole farm. I’m not.

I’m telling you to educate the reader about the farm, including all the workings of the farm. Take the time to teach your city mouse friends the difference between all-natural eggs, cage-free eggs, grass-fed chicken eggs, and duck eggs. Teach them about how one egg can have more Omega-3 oil in it than the others? That is fodder for 2-3 posts all by itself.

Now teach them, with pictures, why some eggs are white, some are blue, and some are brown.

How do you size eggs? How do you know if an egg could turn out to be a baby chick?

Remember, country mouse, you’re talking to city folk who just want to eat healthy. In fact, maybe throw in a post for the after-eight crowd about how eggs actually get made.

How many roosters do you need to have in the yard? Did your milkshake bring them there? What kind of chickens do you keep? How often to you have hatchlings?

You’re not giving away the farm. You’re educating your consumer until they finally they say, “You know what? I wouldn’t take this farm if you  gave it to me. I don’t want a farm. Can I just buy a dozen eggs please?”

And right there we have it – the beauty of content marketing and blogging.

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Suzanne Hoenig is a strategist and writer helping small businesses, nonprofits, and private practitioners craft their marketing copy, grow their online and offline community, and navigate the changing tides of social media and digital content marketing.

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