We all need traffic. Targeted traffic to our sites that’ll convert. SEO, PPC ads, organic social media posts, blogs, email newsletters, a culture manifesto — you name it, content must be produced. For us, content has been a major cornerstone of our growth and it’s something we put a lot of time and energy in to.
In the early days, this sort of thing many times falls to the founder. Heck, we’re four years into it at Baremetrics, and the bulk of our content marketing still revolves around me, the founder, producing most of the content.
Lots of founders struggle with writing. They struggle with confidence in their writing abilities. But, that’s not because they aren’t good writers! It just takes practice and a few practical things to keep it from becoming a complete time-suck.
Founders wear many hats, especially in the beginning. So, how do you find the time to dedicate to writing? Well, you’re in luck. We’re going to teach you how to conquer the content beast in a matter of an hour per piece of content.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
You can’t efficiently write if you’re worried about what everyone is going to think.
You might not think you can write, but ask yourself, how many emails have you written this week? Slack messages? Texts? The answer is plenty. Thanks to tech, humans write regularly.
You might say to yourself, “Yeah but, I don’t remember all those rules from 5th grade, who or whom, less or fewer. Plus, I don’t think people would want to read what I write. I don’t know if it’s good enough.”
The fact is, all of those “rules” aren’t important. There’s a fine balance between writing that feels relatable and writing that’s overly professional and boring. The kind of writing that gets a lot of traction is much heavier on the “relatable” side of things.
That being said, there are some easy ways to put a little polish on your writing.
Below are two free tools that many of the best writers are using to correct minor grammar errors.
- Edit grammar: commas, colons, apostrophes, hyphens
- Correct spelling
- Correct word usage: they’re vs. their, who vs. whom
- Can tell you the reading level of your content (aim for 8th grade or lower)
- Highlights sentences that are too complex
- Highlights adverbs so that you can delete ‘em
Write what you would want to read
What good is our writing if no one ’ll read it? Often, the most nerve-wracking thing is wondering, what the heck does my market want to read?
Instead of asking yourself what your market wants, ask yourself what you would want to read. What content do you like? What blogs help you be better at your job? What industry blogs inspire you? Write that kinda stuff.
Write in your voice
Most people aren’t academics, nor do they talk like that. Writing conversationally removes so much pressure. Write more like you talk and less like you’re writing for a scientific journal.
Share valuable information and educate people
Think about the content you like. You probably appreciate it, and share it, because it provides real value. It teaches you a new marketing hack or a new way of fixing some issue.
Give away intellectual property
This might seem counterintuitive, but the fresher the idea, the better. And the best content usually contains some type of tactic or resource that’s unique to the industry.
For example, instead of writing another article about SEO, find a unique angle—something that hasn’t been said. Maybe it’s “HTML hacks for marketers without coding experience that will improve your SEO rankings.” It varies industry to industry, but the more you can giveaway and the more that’s bringing something new to the table, the more traction you’ll get.
A few quick lessons from the greats
1. Avoid adverbs
Ernest Hemingway was all about this little rule.
An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, phrase, or another adverb or adjective. Adverbs are hell on paper. They junk up your writing. They un-clarify.
Example: Have you considered how truly awful it would be to calculate all those metrics without software?
Truly (the adverb) just junks it up, takes up space and doesn’t change the meaning or emphasize the question. When a writer says something’s awful, we believe them. What’s the difference between something awful and something truly awful? It’s just clutter.
Have you considered how awful it would be to calculate all those metrics without software?
Without truly, the word awful can do its job.
2. Don’t use a big word when a little word will do
Mark Twain said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”
Big words are overrated. Don’t come off as a know-it-all when you can be precise and straightforward.
Don’t use too much jargon. When you’re in a defined niche or industry, it may be hard to avoid certain jargon words.
If you cater to SaaS businesses, you’ll likely use some industry jargon…MRR, churn, LTV, etc. This is fine because it’s educational. Just make sure you’re offering a clear explanation of your jargon-talk.
3. Avoid passive voice
Passive voice is when the verb comes before the subject.
The kid threw the ball.
Active voice – kid comes before threw
The ball was thrown by the kid.
Passive voice – kid comes after thrown
Passive voice makes for weaker, less confident writing. Avoid it unless you can’t convey your point without using passive voice.
Master the efficient writing process
Now that you’ve got some basic tips as tools for the toolbox, let’s talk about being efficient so writing doesn’t take up all of your time!
Getting a solid process nailed down is key for creative work. Artists, writers, and musicians need habits that get the creative juices flowing. And if you’re also managing a team, you need to get this done in a timely fashion.
1. Research (20% of your time)
I used to spend a good chunk of time on research, but I learned a hack for cutting it down. Instead of writing about unfamiliar things, focus on either the things you are already familiar with or something you’ve read about/learned recently.
When you write about either something familiar or something recent, you’ll crank out your ideas quicker. You will also recall quotes, highlights, and links to research with less effort.
Here are some tools that will speed up your research:
- Evernote: You can save notes to your phone/computer. The web clipper tool is great for saving articles and research notes via the Chrome extension.
- Google Scholar: You can research academic articles to support your points and arguments.
- Spreadsheets: I use spreadsheets generously for recording every random idea I have for a new piece. This ensures I’ve always got something I can write about.
2. Draft (20% of your time)
Now that you’ve got your research down and it’s fresh in your mind, don’t hesitate to fluff everything out. Go all in during the drafting phase. One draft is plenty.
You may or may not want to outline your article before you draft the fluff in between the subheadings. I like working with an outline because it reminds me what my goals are. It’s optional, but will help keep your article focused.
Don’t edit as you go
Editing as you go will only slow you down and interrupt your flow. You want to get the words out and not worry about them being perfect. Don’t worry about organization, spelling, or any of that. Just get the words on the paper.
You’ll be writing a lot more than you actually end up publishing, which is what you want.
Get all of your thoughts out, then move on to editing.
3. Edit/Revise (60% of your time)
Now it’s time to edit. Editing should take up the bulk of your writing time.
Step 1. Walk away from your draft. Clear your head for a few minutes. Eat something, walk, play a game. Whatever you want to do, so long as you’re not thinking about what you just wrote.
Step 2. Come back with fresh eyes and reread the content. Start organizing it. Move that paragraph up to the top if it makes sense. Cut that sentence out, reword your first subheading. Make it make sense. Get rid of the thoughts and concepts that don’t drive the main point home or that waste the reader’s time.
Step 3. Get your grammar game right. Plop your content into Grammarly and edit the mistakes it catches. Next, put it into Hemingway App. Remove some adverbs. Reword the sentences that Hemingway says are hard to read. Make sure the reading level is 8th grade or lower (not because your readers aren’t smart…you just want an easy read as it’s more pleasant for most folks).
Step 4. Polish it up. Add in your research links where you need them. Add a GIF, picture, or any other images you might need.
Step 5. Reread it for grammar/clarity. Grammarly won’t catch everything, so if you’ve got a friend that can read through it, that’s even better. One trick I use is to read the article out loud.
Step 6. You’re ready to post and share!
A few more tools that can improve your content
- Canva — Create free graphics. There are lots of great templates and designs ready to use, including layouts for infographics.
- Coschedule headline analyzer — Check the strength of your title. Shooting for 70% or higher is great, but this is just a suggestion, not a rule.
- Cliche Finder — Get rid of your cliches, leaving no stone unturned (sorry, couldn’t resist).
- Unsplash — Find free, high-res photos to add to your posts. We use Unsplash for most of our article images.
The more time you spend fiddling around with an idea or tweaking a draft, the more time and potential business leads you’ll lose. Be confident, be efficient, and post consistently. You’ll see your SEO rankings and organic traffic grow. Plus, with each piece you publish, you’ll be a better and faster writer.
Remember: It’s more valuable to put out an imperfect piece of content than to spend too much time trying to get it perfect, or worse…never putting out the piece at all.