I live in a college town, which is bliss for any parent of small children. This city is teeming with broke, well-educated young people, so the market for babysitters is vast. However, it can be hard to differentiate the candidates. The ones who stand out are those who can communicate their understanding of what my family needs and their ability to provide it.
This is our candidate pool: smart, experienced young women who all charge the going rate. My kids – who are happy to play with almost anyone who is happy to play with them – have liked most of the people we’ve brought in to interview. So how have we picked the two or three babysitters upon which we rely? We choose the ones who make our lives easier.
It turns out that it’s not actually that hard to stand out in a crowded market. When you have a similar product and level of experience as your competitors, it’s essential to make it easy for customers to do business with you.
Our favorite sitter shows up early. She brings craft projects for the kids. She makes their dinner, and she cleans up before I get home. She doesn’t cancel at the last minute. Whether our favorite sitter thinks about her value to us this explicitly or not, she clearly understands our needs as her customers, and she communicates her eagerness to meet and exceed those needs.
For any small business, success can hinge on effectively articulating that one simple thing: I understand what you’re looking for, and I can deliver it better than anyone else.
Barry Manilow isn’t known for making music that spurs athletic enthusiasm, but “Mandy” was booming out of the speakers in Copley Square when I showed up to run last weekend. Around me, 6,000 others slowly gathered to pound out their five kilometers. The next day, the most elite runners in the world would come across the same roads after running 26.2 miles in 85-degree heat, but that morning was for non-elites. Non-elites and Barry Manilow.
Well you came and you gave without taking, and I sent you away, oh Mandy…
I started “running” right after New Year’s. First 60 seconds at a time, then 90 seconds, then three minutes. All of it felt ridiculous. Victories such as, “I ran for five minutes in a row!” are hard to brag about at parties. By the time I felt thoroughly foolish, though, I had already registered for the Boston Athletic Association’s marathon weekend 5K. So, I kept at my 5-minute runs. Then 15 minutes. Then 30.
I was nervous that I wouldn’t finish my first 5k without embarrassing myself. Maybe I should have been nervous. In front of the State House, a 10-year-old wearing a tutu raced past me. A woman yelled at her pre-teen son, “Accelerate! Accelerate!” An obese man carrying a giant toothbrush went about his run with apparent confidence. And all around me, marathoners were using my race as a low-pressure warm-up for their own event.
In the end, none of those potential slights hurt me. I had a plan. I eked out it one step at a time – quite literally – and the finish line wasn’t as hard to reach as I had anticipated. For reaching that goal, I earned the cheers of kind strangers, a bottle of water, an energy bar, a medal, and the knowledge that many, many small steps can take you where you want to go.
I had a conversation the other day with a small business owner about his website. He uses it as a kind of online resume, but he doesn’t have a place on the site where he can talk to potential clients or educate the market about the value of what he does.
He and I talked about why that might be an important tool as he grows his business. We talked about creating an authoritative voice, about giving people quality content they can share on social media, and about SEO. And then he asked, “But what would I write about?” We discussed a lot of topics, but I think he found the prospect of idea generation a bit daunting.
It can be daunting. Luckily, there are plenty of experts out there willing to share their knowledge. Here are some recent, useful blogs on the topic from around the Web:
I’m nearing the end of a year in Cambridge, Mass., where I’ve had the chance to hear many visiting authors read their work aloud. It’s a wonderful thing to hear an author’s voice – his or her real voice, not just what is infused into the writing.
I was thinking about this at an event last week, where a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist was reading from an as-yet unpublished book. His last novel didn’t have a traditional plot structure, and one of the first questions he got from the audience was about how he makes sure the reader can follow him as he moves between different points of view and back and forth in time.
“I never, ever think about a reader,” he said.
In fairness to this author, I think he meant that writing for an imagined reader would corrupt his art. He said plenty of other things about writing that were probably interesting and helpful, but I got stuck on that one comment: I never, ever think about a reader.
Those of us who tell stories for businesses can’t do that. We have to always think about our readers – our customers and potential customers. Business blogs give us a way to demonstrate that we understand the needs, concerns and questions of those audiences. Your blog is where you educate your audience, and you have to be clear in the way you do it.
How do you show your blog readers you’re thinking about what matters to them? Craft blogs that speak to the problem your service or product solves. Let’s say you run an auto shop. Your blogs might explain:
• Which weird noises drivers should fear and which they should ignore
• When do-it-yourself is a good idea and when to invest in professional help
• Myths about mileage and how to discern the truth about mpg claims
• Tips for keeping car maintenance costs low and performance high
• Responses to auto industry news
• Reviews of new makes and models
• How-to instructions for common problems, like changing a tire by the side of the road or picking out a great bargain at the used car lot
None of these topics will win you a Pulitzer Prize, of course, but they are likely to win you website traffic, reader trust, and customer leads.
What was the last blog post you wrote for your business’ website?