Write your content for two people

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Yesterday, we talked about creating the kinds of content your audience wants to read. But the subject isn’t the entire story.

Your readers also have preferences regarding how you present your content.

They might prefer you to write formally, like the good lawyer you are, or more casually and conversationally.

They might like in-depth pieces or prefer something more basic. Or perhaps a mix of each.

How about what your content “looks” like? Does your audience like brief articles, 200-500 words, or something longer, perhaps 1000-2000 words? Do they want images or illustrations or is plain text just fine?

Do they want videos or audios they can listen to on the go or do they prefer being able to skim and highlight written text?

One of your most important questions is how frequently your audience wants to hear from you. Is daily too often? Is quarterly not often enough? Would they prefer to hear from you once a month with longer pieces or once a week with something they can consume in a few minutes?

Perhaps a mix of shorter pieces and the occasional longer one is just right.

But here’s the thing. Just like the subject of your content, people don’t always know what they want until they see it. And just because they’re used to consuming other content a certain way doesn’t mean they expect or demand yours to be the same.

If you have the time and resources to research how your readers want to consume the content you provide them, and you are willing to fine-tune your content to suit them, this might be worth exploring.

But you can also go another route. Give them what you want to give them and let them to adapt to you.

Because people do adapt.

Besides, if you’re giving them interesting and helpful content, how you dress it up and deliver it isn’t really that important, is it?

To some on your list, it is important. But you’ll never please everyone, nor should you try.

Instead, write for two people. Write for your ideal reader. The people who love what you do and how you do it.

And write for yourself.

Write what you want, package and deliver it the way you want to.

Because if you’re not happy, if you don’t enjoy writing your newsletter or blog or other content, if it is a chore instead of a labor of love, it’s going to show.

Give people what they want, but don’t sacrifice yourself to do that.

How to write a newsletter people want to read and you want to write

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In my humble (but accurate) opinion

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Risk and reward. That’s what’s at stake today when you publicly state your opinion. You risk offending people who hold a different opinion, losing followers, and even losing clients who didn’t know you thought that way.

On the other hand, you might gain the allegiance of clients and followers who never knew how you felt about an issue and love you more because you do.

Opinion-based blog posts can help you win friends and influence people, or they can explode in your face.

So, lawyers, where do you draw the line?

You draw it on the side of expressing your opinion.

Because that’s why people read your blog or social posts.

If they just want straight news and information, they can get it anywhere. They follow you because they want to know what you think.

They want you to guide them, warn them, and lead them. They want to know how you see things and what you recommend.

They want your opinion.

That doesn’t mean you have to light fires and watch them burn.

Tell them what you recommend, and why. Tell them what you do, or would do if you were in their situation. But also show them both sides, contrary views, and other factors they should consider.

Because that’s what a good advisor does.

But you also convey your opinion without coming right out and stating it.

You do that every time you publish something, by the topics you choose to write about and the examples you use to illustrate them. You also do that by the subjects you choose to avoid.

Your readers might not know precisely what you think about every subject, but they get a sense of what’s important in your world, and for many subjects, a sense is enough.

Finally, while you might eventually choose to play it safe regarding a certain opinion or topic, your default should be to do the opposite.

Be edgy. Go out on a few limbs. Take some chances.

Yes, you might lose 10 followers if you go too far; I’ve done that. But you might gain 100 because you did. I’ve done that, too.

That’s what makes it interesting.

A successful life doesn’t require the complete avoidance of risk. It requires the intelligent management of risk.

Of course, that’s just my opinion.

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Let me entertain you

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Most people read your blog or newsletter because they are looking for information. But you can also use your content to entertain them.

It’s a great way to connect with your audience. Make people smile or think about something besides their problems and they’ll like you and come back next time to hear more.

But it depends on how you define entertainment.

Humor is fine, if it is appropriate and you don’t overdo it. A sprinkling of puns, turns of phrase, wry observations, and colorful asides can show your audience that you are down to earth. Not just a legal machine, but a person they can talk to and might like to know.

But you have to be careful. Especially today, where it’s difficult to know what is and isn’t acceptable.

You have to know your audience. And maybe have an editor or someone who can tell you when you’ve gone too far.

But entertainment isn’t just about humor. Sports, games, books, and music are also entertaining. Use them, either to make a point or add context or color to your information.

If you’re writing about winning a case, for example, and you’re in a hockey town, go ahead and use phrases like “hat trick” or “shutout”. Or talk about something you saw or heard when you were at a game.

What we’re really talking about isn’t so much about being entertaining, it’s about being interesting.

Not just the facts. Not just the law. Something else people will recognize and relate to or like hearing about because it’s different.

Speaking of different, did you see Heidi’s latest Halloween costume? Girlfriend did it again.

Unfortunately, I can’t think of a way to fit that into a blog post for lawyers. Wait, I just did.

How to write interesting articles and blog posts

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Hope

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We’re really good with the how-to’s, you and I. We know our stuff and we’re good at explaining it to our readers and listeners.

We’re also good at sounding alarms, warning them to watch out for things, protecting our flock so they don’t get eaten by the big, bad wolves of the world, and letting them know how we can help them when those wolves come around.

But we can do more.

We can inspire our readers and show them a better and safer future. We can tell them what we see (and predict), and share quotes and stories and words of wisdom from other smart people.

We can make our readers feel better and glad to have us in their life.

We can do this by reframing the bad news and putting it in perspective. And share things they don’t ordinarily see because they’re too busy worrying about their problems and working to pay their bills.

Distract them from their troubles. Comfort them and give them hope.

You may say this is not your province, you should stick to the things people look to lawyers for and not wander off that path.

But you would be wrong.

Because the people who follow us want, more than anything, to hear that everything is going to be okay.

Use your credibility, knowledge and persuasive skills to show people why they should be excited about the future. You’ll make a lot of people happy and want to hear more.

How to use a newsletter to build your practice

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Passion is contagious

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I don’t know what you write about on your blog or newsletter or on social media posts, but I do know that if you’re passionate about the subject, your readers will be too.

Because passion is contagious.

Is that true about esoteric legal topics, the kinds that appeal to a lawyer or allied professional but are too “heavy” for regular folks?

It can be, if you write about the people as much as you write about the law.

Write about your clients, the litigants in a case you read, or anyone else who has a connection to the subject. Tell their stories. Talk about their fears, their pain, their triumphs and tragedies. Talk about why the issues are important to them, or might be in the future.

This is also true if the protagonist of your story is you.

Why do you care about the subject? People want to know.

It doesn’t matter if your readers have never had the issues you write about, or ever will. They will relate to the characters and plot in your stories, and enjoy hearing them, for the same reason they like novels and movies.

You don’t have to have the talent of a novelist to get your readers involved in your story. If you’re passionate about the subject, they will feel that passion and get caught up in it.

And in you.

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How to get 4 articles out of one idea

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Leverage is my name. Content my game. If you want to play this game, behold a simple way to turn one idea for an article or blog post, video or podcast, into 4.

Choose a subject. It doesn’t matter what it is—anything you know something about. It can be as simple as “torts” or “trusts” or “the rule against perpetuities” (JK).

If you’re not sure, choose something at random.

Once you’ve got a subject, write down ways you could write about that subject based on these 4 categories:

  1. Actionable (How to Do X, How I Do X)
  2. Inspirational (You Can Do X, You Can Get X)
  3. Analytical (How X Works, The Details, The Steps)
  4. Explanatory (Why it Works This Way, How Things Used to Be, What I’d Like to See Changed About X)

Let’s say you decide to write about “negligence”. Your 4 articles might be:

  1. Actionable: How to Represent Yourself in Small Claims Court, 3 Things I Always Do Before I File a Lawsuit, How to Maximize the Value of Your Case
  2. Inspirational: You May be Entitled to A and B and C, How I won a ‘Lost’ Case, What Happened When My Client Tripped and Fell and Thought it Was His Fault
  3. Analytical: How Damages are Calculated, What You Need to Prove to Win Your Case, What is The Reasonable Person Standard?
  4. Explanatory: How Our System Developed (and Why), How to Improve Our System, Why Legal Expenses Are So High

Hold on. We’re not done.

I promised you 4 articles out of one idea, but you can use these categories to dig deeper into your subject and come up with even more ideas.

For example, if you plan to write about why legal expenses and lawyers’ fees are so high, you might come up with 4 (more) articles:

  1. Actionable: Five Ways to Reduce Your Legal Fees
  2. Inspirational: How My Client Built an 8-Figure Business Without Spending a Fortune on Lawyers
  3. Analytical: What I Spend Each Month Just to Keep My Doors Open
  4. Explanatory: Why Hiring a ‘Low Cost’ Lawyer Costs You More, Not Less

And thus, one idea may lead to dozens.

If you find yourself unable to come up a subject to write about, instead of racing around wildly searching for ideas, take something you deal with every day and know well, extrapolate concepts related to it (based on these 4 categories) and come up with 4 (or more) ideas, not one.

Love means never having to say you’re sorry; leverage means never having to say “I don’t know what to write about”.

More ways to get ideas to write about

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We’re having leftovers today, k?

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If you’re like me (and you are), you do too much research and have a lot of material you don’t use. And this is true of most of your writing, but especially long-form: reports, briefs, books, and presentations.

And there’s nothing wrong with this.

Question is, what do you do with the stuff you don’t use?

Do you save it to another file, in case you might need it later? Do you throw out the content but save the citations or links? Do you delete everything and not give it another thought?

What do I do? I set up a folder for each chapter or section of the work-in progress and put unused notes and my first attempts to write something in that folder. I call the folder “leftovers.”

I call it that because it reminds me of how good leftovers are the next day when you’re scrounging for something to eat in the fridge. It may be cold, but there’s nothing like day-old pizza or chicken or hamburgers, yes?

Great, now I’m getting hungry.

Anyway, call this folder whatever you like: notes, ideas, unused, snippets, research, drafts. I’m sticking with leftovers.

But here’s the thing.

While I offload anything I don’t use to this folder, I hardly ever look at what’s inside this folder.

That sounds dumb, doesn’t it? Then why do you save this stuff?

Because the point isn’t just to have a folder of unused bits-and-pieces I can go back to if necessary, and occasionally it is, it is to give me a place to put things I’m not sure about while I’m in the process of writing.

I might need this or want that; let’s put it in a safe place for now and I can decide later, my brain says.

It allows me to stay in a state of flow and write the first draft quickly, without looking over my own shoulder, thinking about how and when I might use one of these gems.

It’s all about the speed.

Yes, there are times when I realize that what I’m about to move to the leftover folder is something I will need or can use in something else I’m writing, or soon will. I put these elsewhere. No, I don’t have a name for this place. I’m open to suggestions.

Anyway, that’s what I do, and it works for me. What do you do?

Actually, I don’t have time to chat. We had pizza last night and it’s almost time for lunch.

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My blog is better than your blog

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Ready for some good news? You don’t have to write a better blog or newsletter.

That doesn’t mean you can write junk and call it a day. You have to deliver value and make it interesting enough for your readers to continue to read it.

Because if they stop reading you, they might forget you.

Of course, the more valuable and interesting your content is, the more likely it is that your readers will see why they should talk to you about their situation, and/or share your information with others.

You also want to attract traffic and sign-ups to your blog and newsletter.

But that still doesn’t mean you have to be better.

It means you have to be different.

If you can, write about different topics than the competition. But that’s not the only way to be different.

You can write about the same topics (cases, issues, problems, trends, ideas, methods, etc.) other attorneys write about and still make your content unique.

You can do that by offering a different opinion about the subject than other lawyers offer.

You can do that by offering additional information, examples, and resources than others offer.

But the easiest way to make your content unique is to present it in your own unique voice.

Your voice is a depiction of your unique personality. So, be yourself.

Not your lawyer self, necessarily, your authentic self.

Relax and talk to your reader (one reader, not “everyone”), like you would if you were talking to them over your favorite beverage.

Combine that with stories from your practice and your content will be original and interesting and attract the kinds of people who want to hear what you have to say. And after you’ve said it, come back to hear more.

That’s how you get and keep readers, and how you get and keep clients.

How to write an email newsletter that brings in clients

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Tell me about yourself

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Everyone’s favorite radio station, we’re told, is WIIFM—“What’s in it for me?” They tell us that prospective clients don’t care about you or what you want; it’s all about them.

So make it about them.

Make your content, offers, stories, and examples about your reader or prospect. Because that’s why they’re reading your article or copy and that’s why they will hire you (or won’t).

Just tell them about your services and benefits. Leave yourself out of the picture.

No, don’t do that. You will always be in the picture because you’re the one who will help them get what they want.

If you don’t tell them about yourself, if your articles and sales pages are only about your services and offers, that’s boring. And generic. And unlikely to persuade anyone to choose you.

(NB: don’t write articles or sales copy that any other attorney could grab and slap their name on.)

If you want clients to hire you instead of any other attorney, tell them about yourself.

Anyway, aside from that, the reality is, people do care about other people and that includes little ‘ol you.

Sure, they care about themselves a lot more, but don’t for a minute think nobody wants to know anything about you.

They do. They want to hear your story. Especially if they’re thinking about hiring you.

They want to hear about your experiences working with other clients. They want to know what you think about things. They want to know where you’ve been and where you are going.

Because they want to see what it would be like having you as their attorney. But they’re interested in you even if they’re not shopping for a lawyer.

Because people are interested in and care about people.

Something else.

If your reader finds your story interesting, if they relate to you, if they feel that in some way they know you, they will be more likely to hire you.

Knowing is the first step. Liking is second. Trusting may take more time, but the more you tell them about yourself, the more likely this is on the way.

Don’t overdo it. Don’t be one of those people who talks incessantly about themselves.

Me, me, me, doesn’t win friends or influence people.

But don’t hide yourself and talk only about your services. Make your articles and copy mostly about them but also about you.

Because if they hire you, it’s going to be about both of you.

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Time blocking for thee and me

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I’ve struggled with time blocking, aka time boxing or calendar blocking, at least the way I’ve seen others do it. I don’t want to schedule my entire day down to the minute, as some studs do, but even when I mentally block out time for writing or other projects, I still resist putting this on my calendar.

I informally dedicate my mornings (after doing email, some admin stuff and waking up my brain) to “deep work” — writing and other things that require focus and concentration. But I don’t schedule it.

When I’m ready, I go to work. When I’m not, I don’t.

This works for me, but there’s something appealing about the idea of looking at the calendar and seeing my day organized and tidy.

So I will try again.

In my quest to learn how others do it, I’ve watched some videos and picked up some suggestions. I thought I’d pass along a few of the best.

  • Time block email and admin so you can stay on top of it, and not be distracted when you’re doing other things and remember you forgot to reply to your email.
  • For “deep work”—anything that requires concentration—be specific about what you will work on (the case, file, project), and for how long, so you know exactly what to do during your time block. Specifics create clarity, clarity creates focus, and focus is how you get things done.
  • If you’re trying to block your entire day, for each block, (a) give yourself enough time to do the work; (most of us grossly underestimate how long things will take), and, (b) build in buffer time between blocks for breaks, travel, interruptions, and things that need more time than you have allowed.

If you have other suggestions, or would like to share how time blocking works for you, please let me know.

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