This year, content will continue to be one of the most important forms of marketing in nearly every industry — from semiconductors and software right to ecommerce and retailing. Gurus, experts, and pundits will, generally, sing its praises. But for small business owners without the resources to hire a professional journalist, writing content can be daunting.
Fortunately, almost anyone can learn to write content that will attract, engage, and retain customers. You might never become the next J.K Rowling, Stephen King, or Mark Twain, but you should be able to write clearly enough to communicate some useful information to prospects and customers alike.
Here are some tips to help you become a better content writer and content marketer. It will take hard work and practice, so start now.
1. Read More, Read Better
The first step toward writing better is simply to read more. Make it your daily habit to read for at least 30 minutes.
You can start by checking in on Practical Ecommerce every day, but also read blogs on retail websites, read industry news from leading publishers, and read whitepapers and research related to your industry segment.
When you read an article you especially like, take a moment to think about how that article is crafted. Are there particular word combinations that stood out? How did the author get your attention? What was the most compelling sentence or paragraph?
2. Take a Writing Course
There are many good writing courses available online. If you’re serious about becoming a better writer and content marketer, you should take one or two.
Here are some of the top sites to consider.
- Coursera. It has classes in English composition, high-impact business writing, research-essay writing, and grammar and punctuation.
- edX. Also has classes in English composition, business writing, punctuation, and grammar.
- Khan Academy. There are many English grammar and composition classes to pick from.
- Copyblogger. This site has a course devoted to content marketing.
- Lynda. This paid service has courses covering business writing, creative writing, and content marketing.
3. Get a Grammar or Style Manual
Professional writers use grammar guides and style manuals for better punctuation or even word choice. If your content marketing will take the form of articles or blog posts, consider using the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook.
The AP Stylebook can be a good reference for your writing. It describes professional writing conventions that are known to make articles easier to read and understand.
4. Get in the Habit of Writing
Armed with a daily reading commitment, a completed online course, and a style manual, get in the habit of writing.
If you are not ready to start publishing posts for your business — perhaps you want to protect your reputation until you get better — try one of two things.
First, start a blog unrelated to your business. Pick a topic that interests you, choose an easy platform, and just start blogging. Commit to writing something, however brief, every day. The act of writing will make you a better writer. Practice makes perfect, after all.
Second, write for money. Sign up on a site like Crowd Content where you can take on tiny writing projects for pay. Odds are you’ll be asked to compose product descriptions for about 20 cents each, but it will give you regular practice writing.
5. Rewrite Everything
One of the differences between folks who write stuff down and people who are writers, is that writers revise and rewrite almost everything.
When you write something, read it and then read it again. Change it in some way. Make it shorter. Make it clearer.
6. Get Feedback From Friends, Peers
When you write something, ask someone you trust to read it and give you some feedback. Pick someone who reads regularly.
Take the feedback you get and apply it to a revision.
7. Get a Helpful Editor
Finally, there are automated-editor platforms that can help to make you a better writer. For example, in August of 2015, I wrote about using the Hemingway Editor, a writing tool that will help you avoid complicated sentence structures.
When you write a paragraph that might be hard to read, the Hemingway Editor will highlight it, and explain why it might be a challenge.
Why Content Marketing Matters
Content marketing is popular because it works. In fact, content has been one of the best ways to attract customers for many years.
Think about your favorite print magazine. You picked it up at the store or paid for a subscription because you wanted to read the articles, see the pictures, and learn something from it.
Inside that magazine, next to the content you sought were ads. The marketers who bought those ads realized that the magazine’s content had value, it had an audience. Those marketers believed that having an ad next to the content would, in some way, interest the reader, and ultimately lead to a sale.
In content marketing, the advertiser and the content creator are the same. This doesn’t mean you should not buy an ad. It just means that content marketing works for the same reasons that advertising in a magazine or on a popular website works.
In short, if you can write good content, you can help promote your business.