There’s no magic formula or pill to take, but these (mostly) old-school techniques still work
As the famous line from Alice in Wonderland goes: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
Not to be your high school English teacher, but trying to write something without an outline is like trying to build a house without blueprints. You might be able to throw up a wall or two, but sooner or later you’ll get painted into a corner or the whole structure will come tumbling down on itself. That only leads to wasted time, money and frustration.
Outlines for real-world business people
With all due respect to my superb high school English teach Mr. Hallowell (see Stop Clearing Your Throat When You Write) I hated the academic outline protocol: Roman numeral I., subtheme A. and supporting point 1. That doesn’t work for many people who aren’t in academia and I won’t subject you to it. Instead think about how you’re going to “sell” your content to your target audience. I know you know how to sell!
- Identifying the problem. Start out be clearly stating the problem you’re trying to solve for the reader. Even better, assure them they’re not the only one facing this problem. Sharing stats from a reliable source, quotes from a recent article/broadcast clip or a client example are great ways to draw readers in and convince them why they need to read your words right now!
- Explain what happens to the reader if they continue to ignore the problem. Life gets worse, they lose money, the leave big opportunities on the table, they have a less than satisfying life. Maybe explain why skeptics don’t want you to address this problem. You get the picture.
- Briefly explain the solution, i.e. “there’s got to be a better way.”
- Show the reader how much better their life will be by following you the solution. Include compelling stats or anonymous examples of clients who followed the advice and are much happier for it.
VERY IMPORTANT! Don’t give away the whole solution here. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a short post or a feature-length book. Just give them a taste….not the whole meal. Show readers you know what you’re talking about, but if they want the full solution, they must book a discovery meeting with you to learn more. Make sure your Contact Me link is working on all of your digital points of presence and make sure it’s not too salesy.
5. Conclusion. Summarize the argument you just made and inviting them to contact you for a more detailed conversation about the topic. Share links to related resources on your website if possible.
Your finished outline should look something like this:
1. Intro: Identify the problem
2. Find common ground. Show readers they are not alone with this problem.
3. Explain dangers of ignoring the problem.
4. Introduce the solution.
5. Show reader how much better life is with solution in place.
6. Conclusion (with calls to action).
Outline complete: Now sell the Content
Now that you’ve completed the outline, don’t start fleshing out your piece yet. First think about how you’re going to sell it. You need to think about your headline (or book title) and Key Takeaways.
Start noodling around with some catchy headlines to hook in your busy readers. I’m not suggesting you engage in click bait or search engine optimization. Just ask yourself what will make a super-busy person you’re targeting take time out of their busy day to read what you have to say.
TIP: See what the headlines you’re considering look like in the subject line of an email. Do a few test-emails to yourself or better yet, send to unsuspecting colleagues and see which one gets the most (or quickest) reaction.
What are the three key things that you’d like the reader to take away from your article, post, white paper or e-book? Many of you follow our Key Takeaways protocol at the top of your writing. Trust me, in this attention-starved mobile age, there’s no better way to make your content skim-able and worth reading (and saving).
Now that you’ve got the outline and sales pitch for your content, you’re almost ready to start fleshing it out. But first, think about how this content will fit into your overall content schedule for the weeks and months ahead. Will it be duplicative or overkill? Should it be standalone or part of a series? Should it be the intro 101 version of your expertise, or is it more of your “advanced course”?
Map out your content schedule
Just as we never recommend writing anything without an outline, we don’t recommend writing anything in a vacuum, i.e. without thinking about how it fits into your overall content cycle. Think of yourself as sharing a body of work—not a series of random one-off takes about a subject. We recommend laying out your planned topics 12 to 24 weeks in advance. You don’t have to stick to the schedule as real-world conditions make certain topics more urgent than others. But following these tips will ensure you have solid “blueprints” in place and you’ll never be up late at night staring at a blank screen wondering: “What should do I have to write about next?”
Even better, once you have your content calendar laid out in advance, it’s amazing how many nuggets of great information you’ll start accumulating weeks, if not months, before you have to write your piece. It’s like having a “rainy day fund” for your content ideas.
You wouldn’t have clients invest their money without a plan. You wouldn’t hire an architect to build your dream house if he or she didn’t use blue prints. So, why would you start pushing out content to your universe of followers without a plan? Familiarize yourself with the 1-7-30-4-2-1 principle. My post The Power of Content Calendars has more.
#betterwriting, #outline, #writersblock, #productivity