[Hey there, it’s Katie, taking over the blog for today to share a few of my thoughts on content strategy. And grasshoppers. Keep reading, we’ll get there.]
Last night, my daughter asked me to read “The Ants and the Grasshopper” to her before bed.
If you’re not familiar with the story, pull up a chair.
So basically, there’s this grasshopper, and he’s having an awesome summer. Going swimming, dancing, having margaritas (I may be embellishing a little here). Basically, living the life. Good for him! But all the while, he keeps seeing these ants, working like a bunch of suckers. He manages to convince an ant to call in sick and take a beach day, but he gets caught by the boss and ends up back at work. Rough summer for the ants.
Then autumn comes, and the grasshopper breaks out his favorite sweaters, spends a weekend upstate doing one of those fall foliage walks, drinks some cider, plans a big Halloween party. None of the ants can make it though, because, as usual, they’re working through the weekend. Again.
Then winter shows up. It’s nice at first, I assume, because winter usually is. First snow, nice and white, icicles glistening. But before long, the grasshopper realizes he may have made a mistake. It’s a lot colder than he figured it was going to be, and he forgot to stock up on milk and bread and now the store is out of everything but that weird sprouted stuff that you could build a wolf-proof house out of, if you were in a different fairy tale.
So he goes to see the ants, and they’re having the party of their lives. Huge feast, probably a little too much drinking, big fire going in the ant-sized fireplace. Because this was the Disney version we read, the ants decide to take pity on the grasshopper and let him stay there for a few months in exchange for playing his fiddle and keeping the party going. Aesop is probably spinning in his sarcophagus over the kinder, gentler ending, but I’m glad I don’t have to explain to my daughter what happens to grasshoppers when they freeze to death.
The moral of the story, of course, is simple: If you don’t plan for winter, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Anyone who’s been self-employed for any amount of time knows that business is cyclical. (If you’re new to the party, welcome! Lesson One: Business is cyclical.) Generally speaking, most online businesses, especially service-based businesses, find that the summer is pretty quiet, and things pick up again in the fall.
Maybe it’s because the kids are back in school and you can actually get things done without someone spilling orange juice on your laptop or dangling from your sleeve or asking, “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Can I go [insert the thing they can totally do, later, once you’ve finished sending this one email seriously please go entertain yourself for five minutes]?” Maybe it’s just the natural progression of the year. Either way, summer = quiet, fall = suddenly not (generally speaking).
So why on earth did we choose to launch our new course, Run Your Business Like a Magazine, in mid-April, just as we’re heading into summer?
Producing interesting, informative, entertaining content on the regular is an amazing way to connect with your Right Person (that’s the person who loves what you do, who advocates for you, who buys your services and is a joy to work with).
By giving them something worthwhile to read, you’re not just saying, “Here’s something to think about,” you’re saying, “…and think about me every time this crosses your mind.”
Figuring out what YOU love to write about, what interests you and is relevant to your brand conversation, what your Right People readers want to hear — that is how you set yourself up for success. It gives you the foundation and the framework to write and write and write, all year long, without it feeling like work, and it gives your readers something to look forward to. To bookmark. To share online. It creates a bond between you and your audience — a community. And when it’s time for them to dust off their credit card come those first red leaves of fall? You’re the one they’re thinking of — the expert who entertained them all summer as they sat on the beach with their margaritas, the virtual friend they’ve connected with and want to know better.
As a magazine editor, I had to come up with a lot of content every year, and there were days when I definitely felt like an ant with the worst job in the world while my grasshopper friends were relaxing at the beach. Right around press time, I worked a lot of late nights and weekends. I won’t lie, sometimes it sucked.
But in the end, creating a solid editorial calendar allowed me to gather a lot of really amazing content over the course of the year without scrambling every month.
I got great reviews. My sales went up. People started recognizing me at car shows. (Okay, not super exciting as a non-car-person, but still pretty cool.) Friends and relatives all over the country would find my magazines on the racks at Borders (R.I.P.) and text me pictures. I felt like a celebrity. I mean, not Anna Wintour or anything, but still. And I owed it all to putting out really good magazines, month after month, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring.
Creating a content plan is even more important if you’re in the midst of shifting your brand conversation.
This might be tied to a new direction in who you’re serving, how you’re serving them, or how you’re presenting yourself — basically, if you sit down at your computer (or your workbench or your phone) and aren’t jumping for joy at the prospect of another day of work, there’s a pretty good chance a rebrand is churning around in the back of your mind. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, even if you haven’t admitted it out loud yet. But there is something out there that will light you up again, and figuring out what that is and how to start talking about it is the first step in changing your brand conversation.
Planning how to talk about it regularly is what’s going to build the bridge from where you are now to where you want to be — and make sure your Right People (either the ones who already know you or the ones who are about to discover you) can follow.
Don’t get me wrong, Run Your Business Like a Magazine — or any content strategy planning — takes some effort on your part.
If you want a content plan that you’re going to love in a few months, you need to put some thought into what that will look like. But we’re talking red ink, not blood — this doesn’t have to be painful. And it doesn’t have to keep you from having a nice, relaxing summer. In fact, you’ll probably have a better time if you spend the next few months connecting with your clients over something you really want to be talking about than if you try to muster up enthusiasm for something that’s run its course.
Imagine you’re sitting on your porch, soaking up some sun with a glass of water…but what you really want is an icy-cold glass of mint tea (or that margarita we’ve been talking about — can you tell I’m seven months pregnant and craving something I can’t have?). Yeah, you have to go all the way inside to get some from the fridge, but won’t you be glad you did?
Your content determines your conversation, and your conversation determines your clients. If you want to be intentional about the work you do — whether that’s something new or just more of what you’re doing now — you can’t just put yourself out there and hope for the best.
A content strategy is a business strategy.
I guess if you’re a really great fiddle player and don’t mind low ceilings for a few months, you can cross your fingers and hope the ants have a spare room. But if you want to build your own place, you have to be willing to put in a little work when things are slow and the beach is calling. And right now, heading into the quiet season, is a great time to do it. You can establish what’s really lighting you up, make an easy, actionable plan to talk about it on a regular basis, and build your community. And then, when the cycle shifts, you’re not frantically searching for your next client, because here they are, right here, talking to you on Facebook, checking your site, waiting for your next blog post — or product launch.
Run Your Business Like a Magazine kicks off on Monday, April 18th. We’d love to have you join us. (Margaritas are up to you.)
In the comments, we’d love to hear:
What’s YOUR relationship with content creation — do you wing it or plan ahead? Have you seen a change in your business’s cycle based on how you communicate with your readers?