10 methodical & creative approaches to uncovering what should you write about.
📚 This post is part of my business blogging guide.
One of the main blockers to business owners starting blogs is not knowing what to write about.
In this post, we’ll look at 5 methodical approaches to deciding the topics to cover. We’ll also see 5 creative ways to draw inspiration for your content.
- Cover the basics of content marketing (methodical)
- Look at customer questions in your email (methodical)
- Think about your sales conversations (methodical)
- Think about customer obstacles (methodical)
- Research gaps in your industry (methodical)
- Own a geographical niche (methodical)
- Use a distraction activity (creative)
- Turn a sentence into a short story (creative)
- Do some word association (creative)
- Think of 50 uses for a brick (creative)
- Think up ideas for an unrelated industry (creative)
- Let’s wrap up
Cover the basics of content marketing (methodical).
The following categories form the basis of the content marketing strategy set out in Marcus Sheridan’s book, They Ask You Answer.
- Price: how much does a service cost and what factors influence the price?
- Problems: what are the objections to someone becoming a customer?
- Reviews: what relevant products and services can be objectively reviewed?
- Comparisons: how does one product, service or package compare against another?
- Best of: what are the best-in-class products and services?
- How to: how do you complete step-by-step processes?
Check out how content marketing helped Marcus:
Why this works.
These are the most popular types of content that potential customers search for when researching a product or service. Countless case studies (including Marcus’s above) show that this content marketing approach works.
Look at customer questions in your email (methodical).
Check your inbox and sent items folders. Which customer questions are you answering repeatedly?
If you’re sending out the same information again and again, that’s the perfect candidate for a blog post. Next time you’re asked that question, you can reply with the link. As well as being satisfying, this will save you a lot of time.
For example, when clients ask me about technical writing prices, I can point them to a page that answers most of their questions.
Thought experiment: imagine you’re a headshot photographer.
People must have a stack of questions before they give you cash:
- What is the technical setup like for a photoshoot?
- What about lighting and bad weather?
- How do copyright permissions work?
- Can I publish my photos anywhere?
- How often should my photo be updated?
- How long does it take to get photos back?
- What if the photos aren’t good?
- What if I want to change the location at the last minute?
- What should I wear?
- Can you make fat people look thin?
- Do you do hair and makeup?
If you were that photographer, you’d know the answers to all these questions and more. But why keep it to yourself? Get those questions written down and answered on your blog.
Here’s another example list of questions, this time for an editorial business:
- What do I need to supply you when you edit?
- What format do you give me back the document in?
- How can I put my edited text on my website?
- How quickly can you edit?
- Do you guarantee to spot all mistakes?
- When should I hire an editor?
- Should I pay per word or per hour?
- Can you critique my writing?
- How can I get my team to improve their writing?
- When is it OK to stick with a spellcheck?
- Will editing make my writing rank higher on Google?
- How do you edit PDFs and PowerPoints?
Why this works.
Answering real questions shows you understand customers’ needs. And doing it at scale on your website is far more efficient than repeating the same answers in 1-to-1 exchanges.
Think about your sales conversations (methodical).
What things do you explain to people on sales calls and in meetings?
If you could set that out in a bunch of articles, it would help your potential customers and make your life easier. By writing down the info that you share in your sales meetings, you’ll naturally become better at explaining those same things when you’re face to face with people.
This kind of information is the stuff that customers need to know but might not yet be educated enough to realise they need to know it.
Customers who research you before you try to sell to them will then know the process, and this should take the stress out of any sales calls. And it should speed things up.
Examples to get you thinking, depending on your business:
- How long does delivery take?
- What are the lead times?
- How do you handle free trials?
- What is the warranty period?
- What questions do you need to ask the customer on a sales call?
Think about customer obstacles (methodical).
Ask yourself what might stop your ideal client buying from you.
Your content should help to address your customers’ fears and concerns. Eventually, you should reach the stage where you’ve published so much relevant content that any objections will be easy to overcome.
- It’s too expensive: talk about the factors that determine your price.
- Don’t know how product/service will help: create content that shows the problems you solve.
- What if something goes wrong?: address misconceptions and talk about how you support customers.
- Perhaps there’s something better elsewhere: make comparisons with alternative options.
Why this works.
When you knock all of the hurdles out of the way, the customer’s only reasonable option is to say yes to trying your product or service.
Research gaps in your industry (methodical).
It’s easy to think that everything has already been written about.
But consider this: have you ever searched Google and found an answer that wasn’t exactly what you wanted?
What if one of your clients was searching for an answer and didn’t find exactly what they wanted? Is there a gap that your content could fill?
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and try to do some searches for the kinds of things they might be looking for. How good is the information you find on the web? Analyse the results and ask yourself some questions:
- Is the content clear?
- Are all the facts right?
- Would the content make you (the pretend customer) confident to buy? If not, why?
- Has anything been missed out?
- What hasn’t been done well?
Make a note of what you typed in when searching for this content. Does your own website or blog appear in the search results? If not, could you write some content that provides a good answer to the thing you searched for?
This concept of looking up the words and phrases that customers might be searching for and seeing what content is already out there is called keyword research.
Tools for keyword research.
- KWFinder: my favourite keyword lookup tool. Offers 2 free lookups per day. See also the related tools SERPChecker and SERPWatcher.
- Keywords Everywhere: free web browser plugin to display keyword search data on Google search results page.
- Keyword Tool: free keyword lookup tool.
- Google autocomplete: start typing a search and see what Google suggests in the dropdown menu.
- Google related searches: when a search is complete, look at the list of suggestions at the bottom of the page.
- Answer The Public: enter a topic or industry and see what related questions are shown.
- Quora: search for relevant topics and see what questions are being asked and answered.
- Amazon reviews: good for checking customers’ phrasing and understanding their frustrations.
Once you’ve found some keywords that are relevant to your business, create helpful content that includes them.
If that content is good enough, it will eventually start appearing in Google search results when your clients look for those topics.
Why this works.
Using words that your clients are searching for is an ideal way to match what they want with what you’re talking about. This is how you generate high-quality traffic to your website.
Own a geographical niche (methodical).
If your product or service is relevant only to a particular region, you can strengthen your chances of being found by adding your location to the keywords you want to rank for.
Let’s say that the previous tip helped you find a keyword such as this:
freelance blog content writer
If you wanted local clients, you might tweak this to:
freelance blog content writer in Newport
There might be a lot of competition from people who base their content around the first keyword. There will be a lot less for the second. And while the second keyword will naturally be searched much less often than the first, anyone who does search for the second keyword will have a much higher chance of clicking through to your site and ultimately doing business with you.
Even if the location of your business isn’t relevant (e.g. you make products that could be shipped anywhere or you provide a service that could be delivered online), it doesn’t hurt to add your location to your content so that people who want to buy from or hire a local person can do so.
Why this works.
There’s less competition for a smaller niche.
The 5 methodical tips above are covered in this episode of the Content Marketing Academy podcast.
Use a distraction activity (creative).
Don’t stare at a blank screen. Do something completely different rather than worrying about what to write.
If you give yourself a task that requires some physical activity but no mental effort, you’ll leave your mind free to wander.
Here are some examples:
- Go for a walk
- Take a shower
- Peel potatoes
- Shuffle cards
- Play with a fidget spinner
- Draw simple pictures
I almost always come up with my best blog ideas while doing some sort of distraction activity.
Why this works.
These activities are simple enough that your brain won’t be working too hard while you’re doing them.
Let your mind wander and see what turns up on the horizon.
Turn a sentence into a short story (creative).
This one’s simple but powerful:
- Pick a book (fiction works best for this) and select a sentence from anywhere in it.
- Spend a few minutes constructing a short story based on that sentence.
Why this works.
A mundane starting point can lead to an interesting outcome.
Someone else has come up with the initial source content (the sentence) and you’re just developing it a bit.
It’s almost as though you have permission to be creative because you’re riffing on someone else’s idea. But what you write might be a complete departure from that starting point.
This is an excellent creative exercise and is particularly relevant for bloggers who want to turn a base idea into lots of additional ideas.
Do some word association (creative).
This classic method lets your mind run free:
- Think of a word (related to your business or not).
- What’s the next word that comes to mind? And the next?
- Construct a chain of words by thinking only about the previous word.
- Try it for a minute or so, ideally saying the words out loud. If you want to capture the process, do it in a voice memo.
Once you’re done, consider the chain of words. You shouldn’t have thought too deeply about any particular link in the chain, but the whole sequence together might make for an interesting examination of what’s in your head. What further ideas does it give you?
Why this works.
Again, you’re freeing your mind, and you don’t know what the outcome will be.
The creative process may reveal an idea that was lurking in your subconscious.
Think of 50 uses for a brick (creative).
Take something boring and think of new uses for it.
A brick is the classic example, but it could be anything. Look at whatever it is and think about it differently. Give your brain a workout and have some fun.
So, what could we use a brick for?
- Hide and seek zone for fairies.
- Ping pong ball holder.
- Raised plate in case of table floods.
- Strongman juggling equipment.
- World’s worst percussion instrument.
- Donald Trump skin tone matcher.
Why this works.
This method gets you to look at things from a different angle.
A new perspective is sometimes needed to help you understand a topic, and that can give you ideas for what to write about.
Think up ideas for an unrelated industry (creative).
Take the pressure off yourself by thinking about a job that’s completely unrelated to your field.
It doesn’t even have to be a real job – you could make one up. Here’s an example:
Imagine someone whose job is making decorative flags out of custard.
They might write about the following topics:
- How big should a custard flag be?
- What food dyes can be used in custard?
- How long does a custard flag last?
- How do you make circles in custard?
- Duck or chicken: which yolks set best?
- Can I take a custard flag inside a football stadium?
Some of these ideas might sound whacky and stupid, but remember that producing the same boring content as everyone else isn’t going to help you stand out or be remarkable.
Look for opportunities to add some personality to your content – it will make you more memorable and, over time, can help you to attract the sort of clients who ‘get’ you. Remember: be less boring.
My editorial buddy Louise Harnby and I had some fun on this topic when we presented our introduction to content marketing at the SfEP conference in September 2017.
Make yourself stand out; no one chooses to engage twice with drear. Don’t say: ‘I can’t promote myself like that – it’s too out there, too off-brand.’
Think deep until you find a way to make it on-brand. There’s always a way.
Why this works.
It’s easy to be stressed about your own business, but taking the shackles off and thinking about something unrelated can be empowering.
Once you’ve done the exercise, you’ll probably find that you can come up with similarly creative ideas for your own business. It’s often just a case of giving yourself permission to be creative.
Let’s wrap up.
The brain is like a muscle – it needs exercise.
Keep adding analytical and creative practice to your writing routine, and you should find that good content ideas start to come naturally.
Continue the business blogging guide
This post is part of my definitive business blogging guide.
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