If you’ve been lurking around these parts for a while, you’ll know how much I love talking about creative content, and the impact it can have on your business – but what does it all actually mean?
Creativity is that special spice mix that makes your content stand out from the (literally ENDLESS) masses.
If you’re working your arse off, churning out regular content but not seeing any tangible results, I can help with this one nugget of truth: Your content is REGULAR. Regular people don’t command armies.
To stand out, to make an impact, to get people talking about your brand (the good and the bad) you have to do something unusual. Don’t do what you always do. Embrace the unexpected. Try new stuff. Play. Create. Enjoy.
Don’t worry – I’m not here to hurl vague orders your way, I’m here to present you with 28 specific, actionable lessons to help make your content more creative, now and forever.
Use old pop culture references that people can relate to.
Here’s something you need to know about me – I’m a binger. I do not watch shows as and when they’re on TV, I record the full season , or burrow through Netflix and watch EVERYTHING in one go.
So that subtle Stranger Things reference? I’m not going to get it. Or worst case scenario, your carefully crafted metaphor might have just ruined something I was waiting to watch.
Instead, why not play around with slightly more retro pop culture references? Let’s talk about Buffy, Bon Jovi or Bewitched instead. You’re more likely to appeal to a wider audience, you’ll have the nostalgia factor working for you, AND you’ll stand out from all the other writers drawing parallels between content marketers and the Lannisters.
Experiment with your formats.
I am a die-hard blogger. I’ve been interviewed on one podcast, one time, so I can’t call that my thing. Video make me babble like a drunken fool – and that’s before we even start on LIVE video.
BUT when your audience starts expecting the same old stuff from you week in, week out, it might be time to give your strategy a refresh. You don’t have to stick with these new forms of content, but you might just discover a new love.
If the thought of actually being SEEN by people make you want to hide/vomit/punch things… calm the f* down. Instead of awkwardly sitting in front of a webcam, experiment with the types of blog post you publish. You may not be discovering new frontiers, but you’ll be keeping your readers inspired, engaged and interested.
Here are a few ideas to get you going:
- Share a tutorial
- List out a series of tips
- Publish an interview
- Collate a series of links and add your commentary
- Share a client case study
- Write the story of your business
- Show a sneaky preview of your next product or service
Make the mundane magical.
When you run a business of your own, your everyday life is of interest to people. We’re fascinating creatures, you and I. Those people that take the time to like, comment and subscribe want to know more; they want to learn about how you’ve achieved everything you have.
Share that. Talk about the brilliant bits of business advice you have (or haven’t received). Show how you structure your time, and keep yourself on track. Highlight how you work towards that mythical work/life balance. Share behind-the-scenes snaps of your favourite coffee drink, your planner, your work space, your furry office companion…
Share your idea generation process.
Ok, so maybe it’s because I’m all about the big ideas, but I LOVE reading about how others tap into inspiration. In fact, from where I’m sitting right now, I can see four books all about idea generation. It’s interesting. Your people want to believe that they can be just as brilliant as you, so give them a boost.
My favourite example of this tip in action is Jo Gifford’s Brilliance Ignition Blueprint – check it out here.
Mix up your imagery.
One surefire way to make your content easy to skim past is to use formulaic, templated imagery.
Now I’m not saying don’t use templates – I love a good template – I’m just saying you need to mix it up. Have a few on hand so that you can alternate your graphics, and make a greater impact.
With regards to tools, I recommend Canva to anyone and everyone that will listen. Not only does the drag-and-drop functionality make it RIDICULOUSLY easy to use, but you also have a series of seriously gorgeous templates on hand. I use these templates to inspire my own designs, tweaking the colours, fonts and photos to fall in line with my brand.
I would recommend having around three different blog image templates, and another three social media templates. That way you can mix ’em up, and keep things interesting, while still looking visually consistent.
For visual inspiration for the creatively challenge, check out this post.
Drop the “pro” edge. Be more conversational.
I think the desire to sound “professional” is a remnant leftover from the days of day jobs. As an indie business owner, people are buying into YOU, not just the business.
That means sharing your values, your personality and your quirks via your content. One really simple way to get this done is to be more conversational in your approach.
I don’t mean you should write exactly as you speak – that would be like dropping a kebab in a puddle then trying to sell it to you most loyal customer (silly). But think about some of the features of conversation, and see how you can work them into your writing. For example:
- Opt for shorter, digestible sentences. You don’t want you readers to take a breathing break between paragraphs.
- Talk to a person. I’m not talking “ideal client avatar” nonsense – I mean, write in second person so that your reader feels like you’re speaking to them.
- Ignore the business jargon, bullshit buzzwords and utterly pointless acronyms – the aim is to be understood here.
- Weave in your favourite words or phrases, i.e. the things you would actually say if you were speaking to your clients in real life. That’s why I occasionally swear in my copy – it happens when I’m talking too.
Link it up.
Supercharge the value offered in every piece of content by linking to additional resources. This can be your own brilliant blog posts from the archives, guest posts you’ve had published elsewhere, or (even better) content created by someone else entirely.
This link love has a series of benefits. It helps establish you as someone that knows their stuff. It saves you the time it would take to write all that stuff yourself. It stops you from seeming too self-promotional. It helps you build relationships in your niche. Most importantly, it make your content better.
You can be as subtle or as blatant as you like with this.
Present alternative perspectives.
Offer a viewpoint that isn’t your own. It’s not often that you see a business owner promoting something that doesn’t gel with their own stance, but it can be really interesting. Sharing contrasting opinions on a topic allows your readers to really think, and draw their own conclusions, rather than simply doing as you tell them.
And let’s be honest, we all want to work with people that have actual brains of their own.
The simplest way to do this is to crowd source a piece of content. Ask a question on your favourite platform and collate the responses, adding a sprinkle of your own commentary.
Be brave enough to say what you really think.
We hear a lot about honesty, and transparency, and integrity, and authenticity… but how much do we actually see?
I’m forever bombarded with blog posts and Facebook updates from people telling me how “real” they are, but I’m yet to see the evidence. It reminds me of one of the pieces advice my creative writing tutor gave me years back – show, don’t tell.
Don’t tell someone that something is happening, show them, and let them draw their own conclusions.
So how does that apply to creating content for your business? If you want to be thought of as authentic, be honest. Be brave enough to share your opinions on a topic. No straddling the fence, no umming and ahing – take a stand!
And once I’ve said THAT you’ll start worrying about alienating potential clients, but here’s the thing… great businesses, great thinkers and great content are all polarising. You don’t want to work with people that don’t share your most cherished values. You are the one person that gets to establish the boundaries for your business practices (including your customers) – that’s what integrity is all about.
Embrace the humour.
I like to think I’m a hoot. A select few of my readers seem to agree. Incorporate funny stuff into your content – everyone loves to laugh, even your most serious, straitlaced people.
You could get scary with the sarcasm like yours truly, or keep it light with witty memes and silly GIFs.
Be strategic with your CTA’s.
So that’s the least creative sentence ever uttered, but bear with me here.
Every piece of content you create should end with a call-to-action – we all know this. You might be using it to prompt social shares, or sign-ups to your list, or a thoughtful comment… but I want you to experiment with something new.
Try ending each piece of content with a question that will highlight your readers’ thoughts, opinions or struggles, then use their responses to feed your content plan. This is a fantastic way to make sure you’re creating content that hits the spot, and that’s the point, after all.
Work your content around themes.
My very favourite hack for filling up content plans for my clients is to play around with core themes.
You could start by listing out the niche topics you already focus on, or take a look at key industry dates, and use those to prompt your idea generation.
Giving yourself one theme to work with each month will help you to brainstorm content ideas that interlink – this allows you to work smarter, reuse your research, jam in the link-backs, and take your readers on a logical journey through your work.
Don’t be afraid of language devices.
Do you remember sitting through English class and hearing about similes and hyperbole and alliteration?
Well guess what, there’s a reason all the great writers dabble with these devices. Get creative with the actual language you use and create yourself some beautifully readable copy.
If you need a refresh on the different language devices and how to use them, read this.
Be more negative.
I’m not advocating moaning and groaning here, I’m talking about reframing some of your content ideas. For example, instead of calling a post “5 ways to keep your readers engaged”, I could call it “How to stop boring your readers to death”.
The other day my friend Emma did a Facebook Live talking about how humans are often more motivated by the thought of getting away from negative situations than by their general aspirations. THis technique plays on that concept. (To see her next fab broadcast, join the Freelance community.)
Here are a few post title templates to inspire you:
- How to stop…
- Avoid … by …
- How not to …
- Never… again
Give your community free reign.
Allow your readers to inspire your content – and let them know that’s what they’re doing.
I’m in Lisa Sharp’s brilliant decluttering group (more on that here), and once a week she posts a questions thread, prompting members of the group to ask a burning question. She then answers each of these in a Facebook Live every Friday.
Think about how you can use this concept in your own business… perhaps you could email out a monthly survey, or schedule regular tweets, asking your people about their struggles or what they’d like to here from you.
Live tweet and embed.
Live tweet an event (online or off), and collate these tweets into a blog post. You could do the same thing with Instagram snaps.
This would work well with an in-person event such as a networking seminar, an industry conference or a craft fair, but it could also be a really impactful way to build buzz around an online event – think virtual summits, webinars, product launches and more.
Ignite influencer engagement.
Create a hit list of influencers in your industry, and search their archives for posts that relate to your favourite blog topics.
Share these with your followers, along with your own commentary, naturally. And then when you’re ready to share the post, tag that influencer and start a conversation.
Write an A-Z guide.
I always think the best way to inspire creative content is to work with really simple restrictions, so why not hit up the alphabet?
Use the letters of the alphabet to brainstorm topics for your content, trust me, you’ll have to get seriously creative in some places!
Think about types of content that will make your tribe think, rather than simply read. You could embrace the fun with a decision tree, or a quiz, or you could repurpose a webinar, screencast or slideshare.
Weave in unusual quotes, not the same old choices.
Wise and wacky quotes can be really inspiring, and add a nice bit of pizzazz to your writing. Try not to be tempted by the same old quotes that everyone’s regurgitating though.
Pull lyrics from your favourite songs, or phrases from your favourite novels (Goodreads is a fantastic resource for this).
Highlight obstacles and how to overcome them.
Don’t make everything seem so easy – because nothing that’s really worthwhile is effortless. And besides, with all of the stories of “six-figure success” we’re all getting a little jaded. Acknowledge the struggles your customers go through and provide real, actionable help.
It’s like the fairy tale principle – if everything was easy from the offset, there would be no dragon-slaying, no mystical quests and no happily ever after.
It all comes back to the integrity thing again, glossing over the icky bits isn’t real life.
Use hypothetical examples rather than tenuously linked, bland anecdotes.
Storytelling is a bit of a content marketing buzzword right now, but here’s the thing… it can be pretty boring. A lot of us live the fairly mundane lives of workaholics, meaning we don’t have the jazziest personal stories to inject into your copy… so make them up.
Make up a story that illustrates your point. Because, believe me, galloping unicorns can have much more impact than yet another trip to the coffee shop.
Don’t be so rigid with your content plan. If you get suddenly inspired jump on it.
I am all for having a content plan, but don’t ignore the inspiration when it hits you. You make your own rules, so if you suddenly want to write something that doesn’t jive with the schedule, just do it.
A content plan is there to make life easier, not to stifle your creativity.
Cartoons can be for adults too.
Fun little animated drawings can be a brilliant way to add a unique stamp to your content.
If you’re artistic yourself, pull out a pen and get going. If not, have a look on Fiverr for illustrators with great style.
Get cute and furry.
So, surprising imagery is a great way to grab your audience’s attention. A laughing llama may not relate to your niche topics but it will make your followers pause, chuckle and click through.
Dance it out.
Get more fluid with the actual creation process. Personally, I roughly plan out my posts before I start writing, but sometimes it’s good to mix it up.
When I’m looking to loosen up and let the stuff flow, I put on a some crazy music, have a sing and a dance (curtains closed, obvs) and then just let it all out. If you want to get even more spontaneous, put down your pen, and record yourself speaking instead.
Look for ideas in unusual places.
It’s easy to get into the habit of digging out content ideas from the same old sources. Luckily, I have the perfect places mapped out for you:
Find your answers.
Increase engagement by asking followers for input. This could be with regards to content topics, or new packages, or it could be on an even smaller scale. Perhaps you could ask for a book recommendation, or a great playlist.
I recently revamped my office space, and asked my followers to help me pick out a new mouse mat. A totally insignificant purchase, but it encouraged a surprising amount of interaction from my community.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a routine, or a streamlined workflow. Creative content isn’t about over complicating your life, it’s about going against the grain and standing out online.
I’d love to see how you give YOUR content a jolt this year – share a link to your next best piece below!