In the fall of 2008, I had every aspect of running my online copy editing business carefully mapped out — but the unpleasant reality that callously illuminated my pretty little map was that there wasn’t much of a business to run.
I had a few clients to keep me busy, but I put way too much hope in my bare-bones website.
At the time, I thought that the mere presence of a website would make clients flock to me and graciously ask for writing help. I’d have a steady flow of clients who were happy to pay me substantial fees, and to pass the time between copy editing work, I’d recline comfortably, eat bon bons, and file my nails.
I was incredibly disappointed and frustrated not only because that scenario was not my reality, but also because I didn’t know the most effective ways to promote my digital business.
I pressed on and remembered that a former co-worker once mentioned a blog about content marketing called Copyblogger.
Customize your content marketing
After discovering that content marketing seemed like a great way to promote my digital business, I realized I had a lot of work to do.
What was I going to write about?
If I just copied what other freelance copy editors wrote about on their blogs, my writing wouldn’t stand out.
I didn’t want to invest time creating content that would just be ignored.
As I carefully studied all of the online content I consumed, I discovered that you can observe and implement best practices without duplicating other content.
There is a truly-you version of what someone else does. You don’t need to duplicate their style to get their results.
In fact, someone else’s approach probably won’t work for you, because when you write in someone else’s voice, the content sounds lackluster. Copycat content reeks of inauthenticity.
How do you know when you’re going in the right direction?
I always say there should be people who hate your writing. When everyone likes your writing, you haven’t made enough impact.
For instance, there should be someone who thinks it’s really dumb that you wrote about the serendipitous way you discovered your favorite recipe for an organic, non-toxic bathroom cleaner.
Because for every person who thinks it’s dumb, there is another person who is delighted you shared your recipe; it’s exactly what he was looking for — and he feels a connection with you because your story is his story.
Since you contributed a personal anecdote rather than just listing the ingredients in the recipe, you’ve helped a reader get to know you. Now, he values you as a resource.
It’s these individual moments of connection that help you build your audience.
So, don’t aim to please.
Aim to connect.
Aim to show you are an individual who has a unique perspective that can help others.
Once you stop being afraid of showing all of the personality quirks that make you you, your writing will shift.
It will begin to become an effortless extension of yourself. That’s how you develop your own writing voice over time.
Writing advice for the digital age
You don’t necessarily want to follow the advice, “Write the way you speak.” When you write the way you speak, your text may be a convoluted mess.
Your lumpy, raw message needs to be revised into razor-sharp, intentional, refined content that guides your readers in a way no one else does.
When you become the Editor-in-Chief of your own digital media platform, your content plays a central role in your business and allows you to be a mentor — the same way Copyblogger was my mentor during my online business journey.
Ultimately, your content will help you achieve your business goals.
Craft your individual marketing story
If I was going to write about the same topics discussed on many other websites, I had to intentionally infuse my content with my personality and interests outside of copy editing and proofreading in a way that could provide value for readers.
I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, so I created an environment on my blog that was more than just writing and editing tips.
My marketing story treated “writing” as the choices you make in life, and “editing” as the ability to stay vigilant about the changes you can implement to improve anything you do — in any part of your life.
And that story has evolved into the content on my podcast Editor-in-Chief.
Warning: there’s a fine line between “personality” and “train wreck”
On a recent episode of Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer, Sonia Simone beautifully summed up an important disclaimer I have to make about infusing your personality into your content.
“Personality matters, but train wrecks die broke.”
While you want to express your personality in a way that makes your communication engaging, you don’t want to just vomit the minutia of your daily life in an unfocused way.
That activity may be therapeutic for you, but those musings work best as private content. They’re different from the type of strategic content you want to publish for your business.
Balance thoughtful, useful information about a topic with your distinct worldview
Every time I sit down to write, it’s still a constant challenge to create not-to-miss, valuable, unique content that will benefit my readers — and the answer to how I do that is still me.
For your content, it’s you.
Here’s your task:
First, balance thoughtful, useful information about a topic with your distinct worldview, and then synthesize your ideas through a cohesive, focused lens that keeps your readers interested from the first word in your headline through the last word on the page.