Why to Write
For a consultant, writing creates your brand. The more you publish, the more widely you are seen. That gives a prospective client something to find when they are researching you. Being published also allows people to get a sense that they know you — it enhances their trust. Since consulting work is based on trust, anything that enhances a prospective client’s sense that they know and trust you will help you sell your services.
Remember that, as a consultant, you’re not selling your secret special knowledge. You’re selling your ability to help the client make use of the knowledge that is out there. Your real value is in helping a client change. No article can do that for them.
Don’t worry about giving away all your expertise. We could all, for example, learn everything there is to know about accounting. Yet most of us don’t. And we’re happy to hire the people who have learned it. Your clients are the same way – they don’t have time to learn what you know.
When to Write
Steve has written widely, and now writes every Friday. It took him a while to get into a habit of writing regularly. Steve’s a big proponent of writing regularly and being disciplined about it. Do write for a block of time, perhaps 1-2 hours. Don’t allow interruptions, and don’t write longer than perhaps 3 hours — you will become fatigued and your productivity will diminish.
Steve will shut down his email, and may shut down his web browser unless he has a specific source to look up to quote in the article.
What to Write About
Steve organizes his ideas by entering each new writing topic into his calendar on the next available Friday. Every time a new writing idea pops up, he puts it on the calendar. Then, each Friday he sits down for an hour or two and writes 500-800 words on his chosen topic.
Don’t be promotional. Nobody wants to read an ad.
Steve started with a monthly newsletter. The discipline of putting out the regular newsletter helped him develop the habit of writing. It also gave him something to pitch to editors.
It’s okay to write about client experiences provided you are careful to avoid betraying confidences. Steve will change names and even create a composite of several real examples. Always get permission. And if your client is a huge firm like IBM, you can generally write about them with impunity because they don’t get offended or self conscious, as long as you don’t single someone out for public humiliation.
As he reads articles, Steve will notice something he wants to write about — he’ll immediately email himself a link to the article, or paste the URL of the article into either the book outline, or some other place where he is capturing ideas for future writing.
Whom to Write For
Then Steve will pitch the article to editors. This usually consists of an email describing the proposed article, why it fits their readership, and 3-5 benefits that readers will get. He won’t send in what he wrote, he just sends the topic description. That way he has the option of revising it to fit a particular audience, and the editor only sees the revised article, not a generic one that might be a poorer fit to their audience and thus turn them off.
As part of the pitch conversation, Steve gets a sense of the length desired, and other parameters that the editor wants. As soon as Steve gets an agreed article, he’ll push that writing assignment into his calendar right away on the next Friday, and bump whatever idea was there out into the future. That way he is flexible and able to respond quickly to the editor’s interest.
Proposals are always short. “Hi, I’d like to propose an article. It’s based on my experience as ___. It’s tentatively titled (something) and would provide your readers with these three benefits (lists them).”
Most articles of this nature are not paid. The benefit to you is that it increases your notoriety. And the benefit to you of landing a $50,000 consulting contract far outweighs being paid $50 for an article. Sometimes you might be paid, however that’s just a bonus and should not be your focus.
Once you have a positive reputation with an editor, you can pitch ideas more interactively and you’ll get more traction — because you are a known quantity.
Steve maintains a list of publications he will pitch. He gets ideas of new publications to pitch by noticing, in the bios of other consultants, that they have an article in thus-and-such a publication. He’ll note down that publication and later research it to see if it’s a good fit for him.
Link to your Articles
On your web site, have a page that links to your published works. Sometimes you’ll capture a PDF of the article and you’ll link to it, for example if the publication doesn’t publish online, or if articles age out quickly. Steve’s page is here.
What hasn’t Worked?
Steve has put out way more proposals than he ever got accepted. Sometimes he’ll pitch a publication every month for six months, and not even get a nibble. It can be hard to do it over and over and over – it’s a slog. However that’s what you have to do. Don’t expect every pitch to work.
From Articles to Books
Steve had responded to a PR lead, which led to a publisher asking for his CV. Then McGraw-Hill asked him to propose a book outline — a table of contents and a sample chapter. Steve had earlier last summer decided he wanted to write a book, and had already gone through the exercise of creating those elements — a table of contents, a sample chapter, and so on. While he couldn’t re-use that summer exercise, he was comfortable with the process, and was able to respond to the request within a day.
Steve is finding that his experience writing articles has made his work on his book much easier.
For example, each chapter touches topics on which he has already written something. He can go review his prior writings and review his thinking on those topics. That vastly accelerates his writing of that chapter.
Also, the practice of writing articles has made him a faster and better writer and has made it easier to sit down and write 2,000 words on the book each day.
Another useful tool has been blogging. Steve blogs his thoughts and the blog works as a journal of his thinking about his work. Often blog postings become seeds for later articles and for the book contents.
For his book in particular, Steve will finish one chapter and then jot down a few bullets on what to include in the next chapter. His brain is already warmed up, and so by writing down a few specifics he primes his brain for his subconscious to work on in the background. This way, the next day when he sits down to write that next chapter, he’s more ready for that writing.
Herbert Benson discusses “Eureka moments” or breakouts in his book “The Breakout Principle.” Among other things, Benson found that working on a topic, then relaxing and “letting go” of it, allowed people to achieve breakthroughs in thinking that they could not get with continual focus.
We find ourselves solving a problem in the shower or while exercising, because we’ve let go of the problem and allowed the physiological processes that Benson describes to take place.
Listen to the full interview here.