If there are two primary objections we hear from busy lawyers and other service professionals when it comes to engaging in thought leadership, they are, a.) the limits of time, and b.) not knowing where to start. We’ve addressed the scarcity of time recently in a couple of posts and offered tips on workarounds, so now let’s turn our attention to the other obstacle standing in the way of carving out a thought leadership niche.
Stefanie Marrone leads the business development, marketing and communications functions at Tarter Krinsky & Drogin, a growing, entrepreneurial, full-service 80-lawyer firm in New York City. She also heads up The Social Media Butterfly, a blog dedicated to the art and profession of content marketing and social media. And importantly, to us at Harrington, she will be a guest on an upcoming episode of The Thought Leadership Project, the podcast we launched in August. She knows full-well how to overcome life’s hurdles to successfully churn out meaningful and effective content.
Having heard an early edit of the soon-to-be-released episode, I was inspired by how Stefanie addresses what she refers to as “content paralysis” within her firm as it relates to content development. In her telling, too often attorneys allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good, and get so hung up on perfecting the content they write that they run the risk of interminably delaying release of their work to the point that it never sees light of day. Or worse, they get so hung up on trying to conceive of the perfect topic, they fail to put pen to paper at all.
My partner and podcast co-host, Jay Harrington, picks Stefanie’s brain and explores tactics to overcome this paralysis-by-analysis. While Jay and Stefanie certainly do the topic its due justice, I thought it was one well-worth exploring myself.
Sometimes content paralysis is caused by the impossible pursuit of perfection; but other times it’s plain old writer’s block. Where to begin?
In either case, I would contend that attorneys, CPAs and other consultants are making things more difficult on themselves than they need to be. To reference a cliche, the forest is so often right before one’s very eyes, if only you allow yourself to see the trees.
If you’re looking for inspiration, consider these thought-starters to discover your muse, from the most basic tip to a few advanced techniques.
Logging Inbound Queries
Keep a legal pad or notebook near your phone or computer. Jot down a note whenever you field an inbound question from a client or prospect, either via phone or email (or even in person). What are people asking about? What problems do they need solved? What issues keep coming up, again and again? What expertise is the market seeking? That list will become the genesis of a content calendar. When you start to see repetition, you’ve identified a topic of interest on which you can opine, provide perspective, and deliver thought leadership. After all, you’ve now received first-hand evidence that your audience is looking for such expertise.
What Are the Media Covering?
If you’re looking for inspiration, or to see what the broader market within your niche is focused on, visit the websites, trade journals, and associations that cater to your prospective clients. Note topics that are covered with frequency and/or depth. If available, scan the comments section of such articles and posts, and note the questions being posed by users within the community. The media has already done some legwork to vet what’s important to your audience, and that audience likely is already engaged in online conversation about topics important to them. Leverage those two resources and you can skip some of the legwork that might be preventing you from diving in.
What Is Your Competition Writing About?
Similarly, don’t be afraid to check out the websites and e-newsletters of competitors in your space. I wouldn’t advocate that you mimic their content as a copycat, but maybe you can find areas of distinction, or make counter-arguments, or go deeper into a particular area of subject matter. This is an opportunity to both take the temperature of the market (vis-a-vis the lens of your competition), and differentiate your voice from others competing for your market’s attention.
Float a Trial Balloon
It takes time to create effective thought leadership. But in addition to some of the “shortcuts” we’re advocating in this piece, think about a trial balloon as a potential time-saver as well as a vehicle to get past your writer’s block. If you’re not confident that a topic is worthy of a 1,200-word blog post, try it out as a simple LinkedIn status update...about 150 words or so. We call this “beta testing your ideas on LinkedIn.” By floating your content ideas into the marketplace, and gauging interest and engagement, you’ll be able to decide which topics to flesh out further in the form of thought leadership and which to leave as only a status update. Whichever reaction you ultimately receive from your social network — interest or ennui — you’ll be saving valuable time by focusing only on the most interesting subject matter.
Ask your marketing department to do an analysis of your site’s Google Analytics. Which pages or topics are generating the most clicks and page views? What blog posts have performed the best? On which page or section of the site are users spending the most time? Those are the areas of interest to your market, and those are the topics you should be providing additional perspective on. In the end, those are the questions your market wants answered, and those are the pieces that will attract the most eyeballs and influence.
Email Data Mining
Similarly, your marketing team should have analytics on your firm’s emails and newsletters. Which emails get opened the most? Which topics generate the most clicks? Double down on those issues, and create unicorn content around those ideas.
Keyword Planner Tool
An expansion of the Google Analytics topic above, you should have access (or you should gain access) to tools that show your webmaster which keyword phrases users are using to find your site and the firm’s content. Keyword phrases that ask questions or explore topical expertise are what your market is seeking from professionals like you, and by extension, your thought leadership. Determine what people are searching for, then give them more of that. Also, think about the people who aren’t visiting your firm’s website. They are likely searching for the same answers, so you should provide those answers in fora outside of your website, such as on social media and by guest posting on third-party websites that serve your market.
Even more advanced, there are keyword planner tools that allow you to enter a keyword search phrase, such as “medical malpractice,” to take just one example, and see what related searches are generating the most search volume online. Go where the questions are...provide the answers...and you will become a thought leader.
Removing Barriers to Entry
Doing any of these suggestions will likely you move out of content paralysis and on toward becoming a thought leader. By converting the subject matter expertise you already have (and which your market is seeking) into thought leadership, you can convert that thought leadership into new business opportunities.
It’s actually a proven practice. To hear from another expert on this topic, and to hear about a real-world example in which a single piece of thought leadership generated very lucrative business development returns, look out for our next week’s episode of The Thought Leadership Project podcast entitled: “Episode 6: What to do When You're Suffering from ‘Content Paralysis’ with Stefanie Marrone.”
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If you’re interested in increasing the returns on your marketing investments, contact me at email@example.com or 313.432.0287 ext. 6 to set up a free consultation to discuss how we can work together to define clear goals, create a specific plan of action, and implement marketing tactics that will help your firm grow.