Six Steps to Prepare for Media Interviews

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

When I worked at a real estate trade publication, I often interviewed members to report on their business practices and housing trends. Many of these individuals had never been interviewed before, so naturally they were a bit anxious about the experience. Invariably, one of them would ask me, “What do I have to do to prepare for this interview?”

No matter what type of business you are in, doing media interviews can reap several benefits: to share your knowledge and expertise, gain exposure for your business, improve your credibility and expand your portfolio of work. It is an inexpensive and fairly easy way to create publicity for you and your business.

Despite its advantages, many executives and professionals shy away from doing media interviews. Some people fear being misquoted while others are afraid of looking foolish. Yet others feel they don’t have anything meaningful to say or that there will be a backlash from consumers or colleagues.

But the reality is these individuals lack the preparation needed to feel more confident during interviews. Once you know how to prepare for it, you can relax and enjoy the experience.

Here are a few tips to help you prepare for media interviews so you come across intelligently and confidently.

1. Understand the topic of the news story. The writer should explain what the story is about and why they want to interview you. If you are still unsure, even after they’ve explained it to you, ask for clarification. Ask: What kind of information would you like me to provide? What can I do to help you with this story?

Keep in mind that most reporters will not provide you with their questions ahead of time. They are either too busy to do that or it’s simply not their practice. Don’t get discouraged. As long as you take notes when discussing the topic beforehand and ask for clarification when needed, you should be well prepared to plan what you will say.

2. Develop a few talking points. Once you have a better understanding of the topic and the information the interviewer is looking for, come up with three to five main points that will answer their questions.

3. Do your homework. If the story requires some background research or statistics, such as the history of women in medicine or the percentage of apartments located near public transit routes, find the data ahead of the interview and have it ready so you can talk about it. You will come across as smart and organized, which writers appreciate because they don’t have to waste time following up with you later to get the data.

4. Provide examples and tell anecdotes to explain your points. In most cases, those examples do a better job of making your points than the individual points themselves. These anecdotes are more descriptive and helps readers visualize your meaning.

5. Keep your responses brief and succinct, but provide details. Think in sound bytes, especially if the interview is being recorded. Give the interviewer the information they asked for, then be quiet, indicating you are done talking. If the interviewer wants to know more or needs you to clarify something, they will ask follow up questions.

Remember, many interviewers have limited time to allow for the interview and they want to be respectful of your time as well. Make your points, but don’t run on and on or go off on tangents. Stick to the subject. There’s nothing more embarrassing than having a reporter cut you off because you talked too much.

6. Keep your expectations realistic. Just because you’ve been sought out for an interview doesn’t necessarily mean that it will lead to more sales, more clients or a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, it’s possible that once the interview is done, the writer may not use any part of the interview. This can happen for a number of reasons. Either the article ran too long for the publication and the editors had to cut your comments, or they changed the focus of the article and your comments no longer fit in with the topic. Don’t take it personally. This happens far more frequently than you can imagine.

Doing media interviews is a great way to build your professional credibility and portfolio. Following these steps can help you build confidence in your ability to speak with the media. With enough practice, in time you may become the go-to expert that reporters go to for insightful commentary about your industry.

Charles Schwab’s CEO Takes An Innovative Approach to Hiring

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Several months ago, the New York Times interviewed Charles Schwab’s CEO Walt Bettinger about some of the company’s hiring practices. Before offering candidates a job with his financial institution, Bettinger wants to know what type of person you are. The questions he asks are simple, but he explains the rationale for asking them. His responses were enlightening. (Author’s note: I do not work for Schwab and never have, although I am a current client.)

For example, during the hiring process, Bettinger asks, “What are your greatest successes in life?” He asks this to find out how a candidate defines success and how they view the world. Do they see the world as revolving around others, or around themselves?

He also asks about their greatest failures. Do they own those failures, or do they blame them on someone else?

But it’s the final exercise that reveals a candidate’s true character, as well as Bettinger’s hiring motives.

Bettinger invites the candidate to breakfast, but he arrives at the restaurant a little earlier and arranges with the manager to mess up the candidate’s meal — intentionally. Bettinger says he wants to see how the person responds in situations like this and how they deal with adversity. Mistakes happen, he explains, and how a person responds when someone else makes a mistake reveals the type of person they are. Do they get angry and upset, or do they remain calm and unflappable? Can they remain respectful of others while addressing their mistake?

Berating someone for a messed up breakfast order, or not saying anything at all are messages you don’t want to reveal to a potential employer. On the flip side, these types of questions and hiring practices reveal a lot about the employer too.

It is one thing to ask a candidate in an interview how they deal with adversity, or how they address problems with co-workers and clients. Candidates can respond in any way they wish. But setting up a scenario to observe in real-time how candidates behave in adverse situations, which may not match up with what they said in their interview, is gutsy and inventive.

Hiring practices and interview questions like the ones presented by Bettinger also reveal a lot about him as a CEO and what he values in his employees. If you are looking for a job, consider how they conduct their interviewing process. Is it complicated and cumbersome? Are there multiple tests to pass? Do they do group interviews, or a string of one-on-ones? How many people do you have to see before an offer of employment is given?

Good communications and respectful behavior on the part of the CEO tends to have a trickle-down effect. If a CEO expects it of himself and his employees, chances are his managers and directors will also expect it of their staff. However, if the CEO is unscrupulous and dishonest in his dealings, he indicates his lack of integrity and shows that such behavior is acceptable and tolerated in the company. Is that the type of leader you want to work for?

These might be good questions to ask the next time you interview for a job: What is your CEO like? What are their goals and expectations for the organization? Do the CEO’s values reflect your own? How do they treat their employees?

Using the Schwab story above, Bettinger reveals a lot about his company at the same time that he observes a candidate’s behavior in a restaurant.

* Innovativeness – By inviting a candidate to breakfast, asking the restaurant manager to intentionally mess up their order and observing their behavior shows an innovative approach to hiring. You are likely to find out more about someone by observing them in real-world settings like a restaurant than you do in a formal office environment.

* Emotional intelligence – When asked, most job candidates would say they get along well with others and handle problems professionally. But the breakfast scenario shows their ability to do so in real terms. How they interact with others in public reveals more about a candidate than any of their responses to interview questions in a private office.

* People-oriented – Financial services is a people-oriented business. How you treat people in that kind of business environment is critical to the company’s success. Bettingers practice reveals a desire to hire people with strong character, not just strong professional experience. All things being equal between two candidates in terms of education, knowledge and professional experience, strength of character may prove to be the deciding factor.

The next time you interview for a job, sit back and observe the communications patterns of the hiring manager. You just might learn a thing or two about the company.

Speech Writing Tips to Avoid Plagiarism

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Like many people, I read about the plagiarism accusations over Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Granted, I did not see the whole speech in which portions were nearly the same as sections from Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC eight years ago. The speech writer, Meredith McIver, a long-time employee for the Trump organization, took responsibility and admitted wrongdoing. McIver admitted that when she worked with Melania on the speech, they reviewed Michelle Obama’s speech and lifted several sections that they liked.

Why bother looking at previous speeches from other individuals when the best source of information is the person sitting in front of you?

I’ve written a few speeches in my career. Small potatoes compared to a highly visible presentation during a major political convention in front of millions of TV viewers. Speech writing isn’t difficult, but there are a few factors to consider when preparing one.

1. Get details about the conference or meeting that’s about to take place. Who is the audience? Where will it take place? Does the conference have a theme? A speech geared toward a room full of women will have a distinctly different tone and content than one geared toward a mixed-gender audience. If the conference has a specific theme, say the organization’s 50th anniversary, you can weave in historical facts about the company throughout the speech.

2. Interview the speaker. Ask lots of questions about their motivation for speaking. What are their goals for speaking, their main talking points? What hot button issues are plaguing their industry? What issues keep you awake at night?

Try to limit their ideas to two or three to keep the speech short. Listen carefully to their responses, but also listen carefully to the way they speak. Be sure to capture the speaker’s vocal tone. How we speak in public is usually not the same as in writing.

3. Review past speeches – of the speaker. If the speaker has delivered presentations in the past, review them to get a sense of how they conduct themselves. Do they use certain turns of phrases that are unique to them? When preparing the speech, you’ll want to incorporate some of those unique phases.

There should be no reason to review speeches from other individuals. Doing so only tempts fate. Borrowing ideas from other speeches may seem innocent, but if they aren’t coming directly from your speaker, those ideas aren’t authentic. And you want to create as much authenticity in the speech to give the speaker credibility.

4. Do necessary research. In some situations, you might need to quote statistics, say about Internet usage among different demographic groups. Make sure those statistics are accurate, current, and attributed within the speech.

5. Practice reciting the speech. Write a draft of the speech first, then rewrite and rewrite until it sounds right. Test out the speech yourself by speaking in front of a mirror or in front of a handful of people. If you find yourself stumbling over certain awkward phrases and sentences, then you know you have some editing to do. Have the speaker review it and practice it. Incorporate the speaker’s revisions and practice it again. Keep doing this process until all parties are satisfied with the speech.

Remember the speech is coming from the speaker, not from you. It’s important to capture their essence, thoughts and personality. If you focus exclusively on presenting the speaker’s ideas, you shouldn’t have to worry about plagiarism.

To Build Your Portfolio and Good Will, Try Bartering

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If you’re just starting out on a new business venture, it can be difficult to gain traction in your chosen industry. Just because you hang an “Open for Business” shingle doesn’t guarantee that clients will come flocking to your door. In today’s competitive environment, bartering can help you gain exposure for your services. It’s low-cost, low-risk approach is ideal for business owners and entrepreneurs looking to gain new clients, or for anyone looking to start a side business.

Bartering is the trading of one product or service for another of equal value. Usually, there is no exchange of cash. The exchange can take place between individuals and businesses, or it can take place through a third-party like a barter exchange company. Learn more about barter exchanges by visiting the IRS website and reading this Bloomberg article.

The concept of bartering is not new. Think of trading Halloween candy with your friends when you were a kid, or exchanging your apple from your lunch for a bag of chips from someone else. But the same concept can hold true today. Wash dishes at a small diner in exchange for a free meal, or clean a fitness center in exchange for free classes. For a small startup business or entrepreneur, bartering can help you get your foot in the door.

Here are a few tips for successfully bartering your product or service.

1. Work with someone you trust. Ask family members, friends, anyone you know, for referrals for potential clients for your services. Working with a business owner that someone you know has worked with previously ups the trust factor considerably.

Another option for finding clients is to walk around your neighborhood. Look for newly-opened businesses that may not have the resources to hire employees. The manager of a fast-food joint might be willing to offer a free meal or two in exchange for social media assistance.

2. Talk out all the details in advance. Do a lot of talking. Be clear about what you want to do for them and what you would like in return. Many businesses are open to ideas that will help their own business. If you focus on how you can help them, they will listen.

3. Put the arrangement in writing. It does not have to be a formal, legal document, nor does an attorney have to be involved, but the details should be written down. Even if the details are worked out through emails, you have a paper trail that outlines what both parties have agreed to do. It protects everyone in case any issues arise.

4. Do your homework. Check the IRS website or talk with your accountant to determine if there are any tax ramifications for bartering. There probably isn’t, but you need to cover all the bases.

5. Understand that this is a short-term solution. Bartering is not meant as a catch-all solution to cash flow problems, but it can put you in good stead with business owners and managers who can tout your services in the future. Even better, they can refer you to other businesses who may need your services.

6. Remember to thank your client. Show your gratitude by posting a positive review on Yelp or writing a testimonial for their website. Likewise, don’t be shy about asking for referrals or a testimonial from them to put on your own website. That’s the mark of a true exchange.

Bartering your services in exchange for like-kind services can help both parties improve their businesses. It can help you gain meaningful experience, attract new clients and help build good will. And that can be the best building blocks for a successful, long-term business relationship.

How Creative People Can Survive in Non-Creative Jobs

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When you think of a creative person, what images comes to mind? An improvisational comedian? A ballet dancer, an artist or songwriter?  Do you ever stop to consider that maybe business owners and company CEOs have a creative spirit too? It’s not always obvious to the rest of us. But I believe they could not have reached their level of success without having some creative juice coursing through their veins. The rest of us don’t always get to see it.

I believe we are all born with creative gifts. It doesn’t matter if you are the company CEO, the sales manager or the guy in the mailroom. We all have a creative source within us that begs to be exercised. It is no wonder I see so many people leave the rat race to write a novel, pursue a singing career or become a curator at an art museum.

Working in a dull 9-to-5 job can sometimes stifle that creativity – but it doesn’t have to. I worked for 10 years as an administrative assistant, which required little, if any creativity. Between making travel arrangements for VIPs, organizing files, updating monthly spreadsheets and making sure the supply room was well stocked, there wasn’t a lot of room for more imaginative endeavors. But I was also blessed to work with managers who understood my need to indulge my creative talents, even if it was only to design a flyer or write a customer service letter.

If you believe the corporate world has robbed you of your creative edge, don’t lose hope. Your creative spirit is alive and well. It just needs an environment in which to thrive.

But don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Be proactive. Look around the office for opportunities to express your creativity. Here are a few ideas:

* Be a problem solver. Solving problems is a valuable skill in the workplace, often requiring thinking outside the box. To solve problems, you have to tap into that creative reservoir within yourself. Whether it’s coming up with a complex solution to a long-standing customer relations issue or developing a new product that can change the way people work, creativity is at the heart of these innovations. And innovation is what drives businesses to grow and prosper.

* Learn new software programs. Teach yourself to do desktop publishing using Adobe InDesign or create Power Point presentations. As you gain more experience doing design work, you can add samples to your portfolio and become a valuable go-to design resource for your friends and colleagues, who may not have the design skills you just acquired.

* Plan events and parties. In a small office especially, you may have to wear many hats. Event planning may be one of them. Maybe you are assigned the task of planning a co-worker’s work anniversary celebration, a meeting of the board of directors, or the annual Christmas party for the office staff. Surprise parties are even better, because they challenge you to come up with creative ways to keep the party a secret. And decorating the office party room naturally lends itself to creative expression.

If meeting planning is not in your job description and it’s something you want to break into, ask your boss or the person in charge of planning meetings if you can help. You not only show your creative side and your initiative.

* Display your artwork. Are you an artist, painter or photographer? Ask your boss or manager if they are willing to display your artwork in your office. At a nearby yoga studio I regularly attend, one of the instructors recently displayed her artwork around the studio. It was a great opportunity to showcase her talents and sell her work to studio clients.

* Display your writing skills. Writing skills are highly valued and often overlooked in the workplace. If you like to write and have a talent for telling amusing stories, there may be opportunities for writing that can be an outlet for your creative genius. Offer to write customer service letters for your boss or the sales department. Ask the marketing director if you can contribute to the company blog or write articles for their newsletter.

I once worked as a temp at a Japanese-owned property management company that managed multiple hotels around the world. One day, the president of the company, who spoke very little English, asked me to write a thank-you letter to a friend who had taken he and his wife out to dinner. I quickly drafted a letter – only three sentences – and showed it to the president. From his wide smile and enthusiastic nod of his head, I knew I had hit the mark. No matter what type of company you work at, good writing skills will always be valued by higher-ups.

* Get a side gig. It seems many workers are doing side gigs these days. For many, it helps them bring in more money. For others, the side gig does what the day job cannot do – feed the creative soul.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about other ways to add a creative edge to your non-creative job. Brainstorm with co-workers and your boss, and see what you come up with. That alone is a creative challenge.

You can’t always change the circumstances of your job (unless you change jobs), but you can change the way you think about your job. Sometimes, by simply accepting the fact that you work in an unimaginative office environment allows you to see opportunities for contributing your creative skills that you may not have noticed before. And that can make the day job all the more tolerable.

Tips for Naming Your Blog

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Last week, in my post Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business Blog, I wrote about how to determine whether a blog is right for your business. The next step is coming up with a name that best captures the focus of your blog business.

But coming up with a name for your blog or website can be an arduous task. So many names to choose from, so many URLs available.

But I found as I went through this process, that not every name available was suitable for my business, and the names I really wanted had already been taken. I had to get creative to generate a blog name that best reflected who I was and what I offered to the business community. I also had to keep in mind my own personal brand. How did I want clients and colleagues to see me?

For many business owners and entrepreneurs, their full name is their brand, like J.K Rowling or Derrick Rose. In most cases, the full given birth name works because it’s short, snappy and memorable.

But other names are not. I did not think my given name was memorable or snappy enough to use for my blog. I also had a potential dilemma with my last name – Ludes – which has alternative connotations that I did not want associated with my writing business. (Ludes is the nickname for a drug called Quaaludes, a sedative and hypnotic drug. Its official name is Methaqualone.) Naturally, I did not want my writing business associated with a drug. It is not how I want clients and colleagues to remember me.

An alternative is to use initials or a different form of your name. It’s a way of personalizing your blog without revealing your full name. For example, Regal is an abbreviated version of my full name – Regina Ann Ludes. It made sense to use an abbreviated version to create my brand identity. It captures the essence of my personality and matches my ability to communicate with tact, diplomacy and integrity in the business world, just as any member of royalty might.

This naming process also helped me define the focus of my blog – to write stories identifying situations that demonstrate proper use of communication tools and strategies, to show what works and what doesn’t. How you and I communicate is an extension of our personal brand. When you communicate well, you present yourself well. How I write also speaks about my personal brand.

A third option is to create a name that defines the purpose of your blog or website business. For example, writer Carol Tice created a blog devoted to sharing tips and advice for writers called Make a Living Writing (www.makealivingwriting.com). Although she also has her personal website that promotes her own writing business too (www.CarolTice.com).

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating a name for your blog or business.

Determine your brand identity. How do you want people to remember you? Is there a quality about you that stands out – a phrase you use, a piece of clothing, a unique name? Ask friends, colleagues and family members what they think of when thinking of you or talking about you. They are in the best position to know how you stand out. Their responses can help you pinpoint the strengths that you want to emphasize in your blog name.

For example, perhaps they see you as a passionate person, someone who cares deeply about certain issues, like animals, women’s rights or the environment. Consider using the word ‘passion’ as part of your brand identity, then use it as your blog title.

Make a list of possible names. Play around with variations of your key word or phrase, and make a list of them. Then do a Googe search of these names and variations to see which ones have been used already. Check out the availability of the URL on sites like Go Daddy or Register.com. Test out different names with your family and friends and get feedback from them. Which one works best for your blog or website? Does the name accurately reflect what you do and who you are?

Be clear about your business focus. Choose a name that matches that focus. I almost chose Regal Ink as a blog name. But when I searched URLs, Register.com offered an alternative name, Regal Tattoo. Apparently, my initial desire to use Ink as a symbol for my writing business may be better suited for a tattoo parlor – not the impression I wanted to give. So I scrapped that idea.

Consider the cost of the URL. Most URLs are inexpensive, less than $10. But some words are determined to be more popular and sought-after. The word Regal fell into that category. For some URLs, I’d have to pay nearly $2,500 to use it for my business. No name is worth that much money. So I was forced to find another alternative, like hyphenating the URL or adding the word “the” before my blog name.

However you go about identifying your blog name, remember that it should be unique and easy to remember. A well-crafted blog or website name is key to marketing your services to others. Make sure the name you choose accurately reflects who you are and what you have to offer clients.

Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business Blog

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Does your business really need a blog?

Whether you manage a start-up or have worked at a small business for a while, you might wonder whether a blog will help your business grow. One of the biggest mistakes many business owners and managers make is assuming that they need to be on every social media platform and have a blog in order for their business to succeed. But that may not be the case. I know plenty of small businesses that are successful, and they became successful without having a blog.

For example, my accountant and her business partner have been in business together for nearly 20 years. Their business is thriving. They don’t have a blog and they don’t need one because they provide good service to their clients. They built their clientele the old-fashioned way – word of mouth advertising. Good service always breeds repeat and referral business – with or without a blog.

Granted, there are plenty of reasons to have a blog. Small businesses with blogs generate 126 percent more leads than businesses that don’t have a blog, according to Social Media Today. (Check out their awesome infographic about blogging.) Also, 81 percent of consumers trust the advice and information from blogs, and 61 percent of consumers made a purchase based on a blog post. Think of a blog as one more tool in your arsenal to market yourself. It’s the cherry on top of your banana split.

But deciding whether to have a blog often depends on two main things: what type of business you operate, and who your clients are. For example,  not-for-profit groups can benefit from a blog as a way to build community support for their cause. Likewise, it’s important for associations to keep a blog to keep its members informed of industry news and association events. While it’s important for a business start up to have some sort of online presence, a blog may not be the most important concern for the short term. Business owners have many decisions to make; whether to start a blog should not be one of them. Focus instead on providing good customer service, and clients will reward you with follow up business.

Before starting a blog for your business or group, here are a few key questions you should ask yourself to decide if having one is worth your while.

1. Do you have the time to devote to it?

Blogging takes a lot of time. Writing one story can take up to three or four hours, especially if you do a lot of research for it. Multiply that time by three to five times per week, or whatever number of weekly posts you strive for, and you can see how easily the work load can pile up, just for your blog. That can take a huge chunk of time away from managing other aspects of your business.

To have any impact, your blog must be updated frequently with good, valuable content. For example, I commit to posting to my blog twice a week. Other businesses I know post at least once or twice a day, while smaller businesses might only post once or twice a week. As long as you post regularly, your readers will learn to expect it from you. Any sudden absence of posts and your readers will wonder where you are. If you cannot commit to working on your blog on a consistent basis, your clients may wonder how committed you are to them.

Bottom line: if you don’t have the time to commit to writing regularly to your blog, then you may be better off without one. Of course, if you still desire to have a blog but don’t have time to work on it, the best solution is to hire someone to manage it for you. Be sure they are good, experienced writers who understand your business and are available to prepare stories on a regular basis. Be prepared to pay them well for their time.

2. What kind of business are you in?

Some businesses are better suited for a blog than others. But I know plenty of small businesses that are successful on their own, and they don’t have a blog. Their success comes from building strong relationships with their clients. Dental offices, accountants, attorneys, and other service professionals usually succeed without a blog, while not-for-profit groups and associations who want to stay in touch with their members or promote their cause can benefit.

3. Why do you want to have a blog for your business?

Are you trying to sell a product or service, demonstrate your knowledge and expertise, or attract new clients? Be clear about your goals. If you want a blog just because you think you should or because your techie nephew says you should, then you may be better off not having one for the time being. If you don’t know why you are doing it, your blog will lack focus and you will quickly lose interest in it.

4. Who is your audience?

Knowing who your clients and customers are and why they do business with you is key to understanding whether or not they will read your blog. Are they reading it because they like the content you are sharing? My accountant doesn’t have the time or the inclination to write a blog for her business. She doesn’t need to because she knows her audience well enough to know that they will keep coming back to her for her service and expertise, not because of a blog.

5. Do you have specific expertise or perspective that other professionals in your industry do not have?

Clearly, if this is the case, you might want to invest the time and energy to manage a blog. However, if you have nothing unique to share, it will be more difficult to come up with compelling content for your blog that sets you apart from competitors.

6. How comfortable are you with writing, and are you good at it?

Let’s face it, many folks just don’t have good writing skills. You could have the best ideas for stories inside your head but if you don’t write well, those ideas will come across as inarticulate and confusing. You could hire a professional writer to translate your ideas, but be sure that the writer has industry knowledge and is able to grasp the concepts you are trying to convey.

Experts say 95 percent of blogs are abandoned after only 120 days. There is nothing more frustrating than visiting a blog that hasn’t been updated in several months. If your blog looks neglected, what does that say about the way you handle your business? Will your clients feel neglected too?

While having a blog can help you attract new clients and showcase your knowledge and expertise, it is not a requirement for success. If anything, it’s a luxury. If you can’t do a blog right – post consistently and provide meaningful, valuable content for your readers – then you are probably better off not doing one at all.

How an Editorial Plan Can Help You Create Better Newsletter Content

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Newsletters are a valuable tool to help promote your business to clients and customers. When done well, they help keep your business top of mind so clients will contact you when they need your product or service. They also help you engage with your clients and customers on a regular basis — key when building a relationship with them.

But coming up with fresh content can be a challenge. After all, there are just so many ways you can write about decluttering your home or saving for retirement.

If you feel your newsletter content is getting a bit stale, here are a few ideas to rejuvenate your stockpile of story ideas.

  • Check out industry magazines and websites for stories that might be of interest to your clients and customers. Notice how they present information. Do they use graphics, photos or other images to enhance their material.
  • Consider adding infographics. Many businesses use infographics to present survey data in an interesting, more reader-friendly way. Infographics is one more tool you can use to make your content more interesting while getting your message across.
  • Sign up to receive newsletters from similar types of businesses, including competitors. Note what kinds of stories they are sharing. Are they covering different topics than you are, or are they writing about topics in a fresh and interesting way?

As you review these publications, take notes about what you like. There’s always something you can learn from what other organizations do.

Next, sit down and brainstorm potential story ideas. Feel free to borrow ideas from competitors, industry publications and the news headlines. If needed, hire a writer who can help you find different angles for old story lines that you’ve covered before. They can also help you organize your content for each issue.

It might also be helpful to think of a theme for each issue. For example, when planning the August issue, think of summer, vacations, the beach, and barbecues – and try to connect your articles to the summer theme. September might be an issue related to going back to school, so the newsletter might include articles related to education and learning. Having a theme adds a specific focus to your content, and because each issue has a different theme, no two newsletter issues will be alike.

Finally, start planning. The key is to think of content in blocks of information. Structure the newsletter in equal chunks and separate them by topic. For this purpose, use a simple template that includes blank spaces to fill in the month, the theme and three or four slots for story ideas. Below is an example:

Article 1: Message from you, the company president, vice president or CEO. The message can be brief, no more than 300 words, and can be written by the CEO himself or another representative of the company on his behalf. Be personable and conversational. Talk about any new changes at the company.  What do you want your clients to know about your business that they did not know before?  If your CEO or director is uncomfortable leading off the newsletter, use that first article to introduce a new product or service, or any major company news your clients might find helpful.

Article 2: Highlight a specific feature of your business, something that has been established for some time that people may not know about. For example, an apartment community might feature the reopening of the outdoor patio and swimming pool for the summer with gentle reminders for using it safely. Another idea for this article is to do a Q&A with a key member of the management team.

Article 3: Share a light-hearted, general interest story that your clients will appreciate. This could be a focus on neighborhood news, like a list of local street festivals, or tips for keeping pets cool during the hot summer months. For an apartment community, ask residents what they enjoy about living at their community.

If you really want to be organized, plan several issues at a time. By organizing your content this way, you can be sure you aren’t repeating stories.

Conclude each issue with a call to action. Mention any special offers, ask for feedback about your business, or end with a thoughtful, meaningful inspirational quote. Be sure to include your business contact information so clients and customers can reach out to you if they have questions.

Perhaps the biggest challenge many managers and business owners have about newsletter content is not that there are not enough ideas, but that there are too many. With so many topics and angles to work with, it can be difficult to whittle down the most important ideas you want to present.

Setting up an editorial plan for your newsletters will help you focus on three or four ideas for each issue that will help you engage with your clients, promote your business and present your name and company in the best possible light.