15+ min read
The number of stories published daily on the internet, blogs, and magazine websites is pretty unfathomable. On WordPress alone, 70 million blog posts were published each month in 2020. We live in a time when an online voice is of vital importance to position yourself as worth hearing. Whether you're an expert, thought leader, entertainer, or just a business owner trying to make your brand stand out from the crowd, you need to put yourself there to show that you are an authority with a say, or yourself with a potential audience to deal with. However, the reality is that most of the people who create content are not trained writers, journalists, or storytellers. As a result, they have not been taught how to develop a fresh perspective on stories, structure a compelling narrative, or write headlines that attract people.In addition, there are seldom editors who veto or improve their articles – a sounding board relationship that even works for the best writers is necessary. Publishing with editors is often expected to publish so many stories per day that it is difficult for them to find time to make each story the best they can. Not to be too bleak, but all of this has resulted in something of a huge, sprawling junkyard of content.
So how do you write something that glows and catches the light in the junkyard? How can you develop stories that are so compelling that people click them, read them, and then come back to find out more?
You don't have to be a professional writer to post something useful or interesting. But to come up with ideas that will captivate readers, you need to get out of your mental box. Good ideas start with learning to pay attention and look at things from a slightly different angle. This is why journalists always talk about finding the best “angle” for a story. Just having knowledge is not enough to get people interested in you. You need a fascinating “in” to share the knowledge.
I went through a few pieces that did particularly well on Entrepreneur.com last year and spoke to the writers about why they thought these stories were getting so much engagement. Based on their responses and my own experience as a writer and editor, I've made a few suggestions on how you can make 2021 the year you write something people actually want to read.
1. Write about your life
The entrepreneur editors always ask our writers to break down their own experiences for interesting takeaways. People are curious beings, and we love hearing stories from other people's lives – especially when they turn out to have a lesson that we can apply to work because it makes us feel productive.
Exploring the details of your daily life is also surprisingly a way to set your stories apart from most of the blog jerks. The main mistake non-authors make is not being specific enough and not anchoring their points in colorful real-world examples.
If you're an entrepreneur, you might be wondering what anecdotes from your personal life have to do with business consulting. Well, companies exist in the real world to meet human needs. That's why good business stories are always human stories.
And as I wrote earlier, writing about your personal life can actually make you a better entrepreneur. My main argument for quoting myself (do what I say and not like me – quoting yourself is tasteless!) Is, “Writing about yourself for others is a skill that requires being true to yourself staying while creating something you create Readers will find value in it – a balancing act inherent in entrepreneurship. "
There is a lot of talk in the business media ecosystem about adding “value” to readers, and this is often interpreted as concrete, concrete business advice. But I would argue plenty of stories that offer advice without making the anchor of the author's personal experiences feel vague, flat, and unrealistic. Not to mention boring.
Related: Why Writing About Your Life Makes You a Better Entrepreneur
2. Hold a notebook and write down weird little things that happen to you
Yes, the Notes app on your mobile phone counts as a notebook! This recommendation is a page from the average writer's process. When I say you should write down "weird" things, I don't mean that you were stopped by a street lamp and a clown jumped into your front seat and asked you to take him to Walmart. I just mean things that make you say "huh" or "hmmm". If a moment surprises you – maybe someone makes a strange comment in passing, or you react to something that surprises you, or you get into an uncomfortable exchange where you wonder why it was so uncomfortable. – It is often worthwhile to break down this experience and take a closer look. These are opportunities to learn about yourself. Plus, this type of observation exercise is likely to make you a better entrepreneur, as so much innovation is about being alert enough to identify small problems and then find ways to fix them.
One assumption that many new writers make is that they must tell the greatest and "most important" stories of their lives, provided the weight of those stories makes them worth reading. But these “formative” narratives are often too biting. Strangely enough, if not handled carefully, they can appear cliché because many of the great human dramas boil down to the same types of heartache and suffering. However, certain, temporary moments are often more reserved, manageable, relatable and surprisingly more original. Describing a comment a boss gave you in a meeting or a judgment you made on someone in the grocery store doesn't need to be explaining generations of family dynamics or exploring every facet of your personality. In that one moment you can only concentrate on the aspects of yourself and those around you. But remember to characterize yourself – what you think and feel. Action is great, but what really draws the reader into a story is when they can really see the world through your eyes.
3. Browse trending news for relevant lessons
For most of us there is a limit to how much we can be inspired by our own lives. Fortunately, the 24-hour news cycle features an all-you-can-eat buffet of juicy stuff every day. There's always something going on – whether it's the latest tech company not meeting its IPO expectations or someone apologizing – that can be broken down and interpreted or viewed as a metaphor with unexpected lessons for entrepreneurs. Let's face it, most of us would rather read the latest news or gossip than work. So, if there's a way to combine professional improvement with a conversation about current events, it's usually a winning combination for clicks.
Case in point: Cheryl Snapp Conner wrote a story for us in June that was trending on the website for days: "Kylie Jenner's removal from Forbes' billionaires list underscores the basic rules of PR." Snapp Conner took top news and drew a lesson from their expertise perspective: public relations. It doesn't matter if you love or loathe the Kardashians. polarizing celebrities remain in the spotlight because people on either side of the divide between love and hate can't resist reading about them.
When I asked Snapp Conner why she thought the story was so good, she said, “True stories that are surprising – even shocking – are always good read, and this is especially true when the story speaks on a principle that applies to all of us. Kylie Jenner's PR team managed to get her on the cover of Forbes as the youngest self-made billionaire. However, she was later removed from the list when her company was acquired and the financial data revealed a different story. It was interesting to take into account the mistake of their PR team. When the Forbes team rolled out their bullish numbers, no one thought (or maybe even knew) that an acquisition was imminent … It brought home the point that you should never lie or exaggerate the press because you don't know how to come back may bite you. "
4. In general, people are interested in celebrities
There's a reason we often put familiar faces on the cover of Entrepreneur. Readers want to know more about famous, successful, and hot people. Personally, I don't think the majority of celebrities have more revealing things to say than non-famous people. Familiarity, however, means that we're more likely to pick up a magazine or click on a headline with someone we know who (however subliminally) has been told to take care of it. Love it or hate it, you can take advantage of this by drawing lessons from celebrity successes – and their failures, like Snapp Conner did with Kylie Jenner.
You may even have access to a public figure and an opportunity to ask them some questions. Danielle Sabrina wrote a story for us in December called "NFL Superstar Bobby Wagner About Creating a Vision Outside the Field". The story was a hit with readers, and Wagner was asked about it at a press conference after a play. Sabrina says there is a good chance this happened because: “I shared the article on social networks and tagged the local media that I knew would be at the Seahawks game. I also tagged other players from the Seahawks on the social media post that I knew they had similar business interests in hopes they'd share too. "In general, Sabrina says," The article was interesting because I think people are curious about how the heads of professional athletes work, when and how they decide to invest their money in business ventures. "
5. People want to hear about vulnerable moments
Aside from her fame, another likely reason Kylie Jenner's story went so well was that she was in the middle of some public humiliation. Whether you see it as glee, rubernecking, or real empathy, readers love to hear from people who are going through or have been in a difficult situation. It doesn't come from a very bad place. People are just more reliable when they are down. "Using the most vulnerable moment of yourself or someone in public as a lesson for entrepreneurs is both interesting and helpful," says Snapp Conner. "Brag about yours or someone else's best – not so much."
In the world of entrepreneurship, there is definitely a culture of disgusting bragging rights (proponents call it "selling yourself"). There's nothing wrong with announcing your accomplishments, but editors and readers tend to turn off pitches or stories that hit the same self-congratulatory note over and over again. Stories of eternal success aren't just boring. They are also dubious. When there is a lack of humility in a story – which is solely due to working through failure or being open to current struggles – we are less likely to trust the narrator. Readers often react powerfully when authors report, for example, about psychological problems or doubt themselves.
Related: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Writing a Book
6. But people also like to hear about overcoming mistakes
You absolutely don't have to wait to tell stories of failure until they're tied up in a pretty bow and delivered with a "moral for the story". That said, stories of people who have gone through hell and come to the other side are pretty reliable crowd pullers. One thing I've observed with the best of these stories is that it's usually not just about working hard – it's about working hard on yourself and shedding light on things you were wrong about to have.
This certainly applied to my top story last year: “Max Brenner was ousted from his own company, financially destroyed and banned from making chocolate for five years. But he learned: "Hell has advantages". I think this story got so much engagement because a) the story itself was pretty dramatic and b) the Brenner actually lay down there in our interview. He spoke openly about the mistakes costing him a multimillion-dollar business and what it was like to lose absolutely everything. He talked about the humiliation of not only being a great Sagittarius but also having to call friends to ask for help, and he talked about the harrowing work of rethinking your entire personality. Ultimately, his journey through this dark valley led him to his true passion. And the lessons he wanted to share earned him hundreds of thousands of readers.
Similarly, another story we really liked back in November was by Nick Wolny: "The now billionaire CEO of The One Thing Instacart has changed after 20 failed startup ideas". Although Instacart founder Apoorva Mehta's losses may not have been as devastating as Brenner's, his story is also about pushing through many failures to ultimately find success in the form of his true passion. Wolny believes that the biggest mistake in this story was repeated failure. "From examining Mehta, I realized that I was not failing enough," he told me. “It feels like we can't fail as entrepreneurs and all we ever see are success stories that happen at warp speed. But successful leaders keep failing. Reading up how Mehta failed 20 times in two years inspired me to be more agile and try new things, and it seems like other readers thought the same. "
7. Be contrary; Reconsider the assumptions and think against the grain
One unique article that killed it for entrepreneurs was written by Scott Greenberg. It said, "OK, maybe you should run your franchise like a circus." The story was a continuation of another article Greenberg wrote in October: "Stop running your franchise like a circus." After the original story ran, Greenberg was contacted by an actual ringmaster who complained about the clichéd characterization of a circus as a chaotic freak show. Indeed, the ringmaster argued, running a circus required immense coordination, attention, and organization.
Greenberg was smart enough to put up with this correction and use this interesting – and fact-based – perspective to his advantage. He interviewed the ringmaster Carl Barltrop, and it resulted in both an interesting glimpse into a little-known profession and a really educational guide to running a business like a highly complex production with lots of moving pieces.
"In addition to the ideas in the piece, a lot of people commented on it as an apology and Mea Culpa," said Greenberg when I asked why he thought readers loved it so much. “They appreciated my restoration of the dignity of an industry (the circus) that is often ridiculed. I think ultimately readers prefer positive examples that people celebrate rather than cautionary stories that point out flaws. That speaks to our deep need for more than information; We also need motivation. "
If you ever find that you did something wrong, don't push it under the rug and pretend it didn't happen. Study the new information to shed more light on what you want to understand or explain. What is true may not always fit your assumptions well, but being open to thinking about things in new ways will make your work – and its message – more and more compelling. And if you ever come across provocative headlines, think of a tired saying or worn piece of advice you heard recently. Then try to come up with an argument as to why it is wrong. Don't argue for something you don't believe in, play with interpretation.
8. Write headings that offer "small improvements for big results."
Humans are crafty, ingenious beings, but we also kill for shortcuts. Readers hope that there is a super simple, easy, and quick solution to all of their problems, and they hope to achieve these results with very little effort or financial risk. We're always optimistic that there is a magic formula out there – and there might be one every now and then (but no, there will never be a single healthy or simple trick to lose 10 pounds in a week).
I definitely do NOT advise you to write misleading headlines that promise unrealistic results. These types of click-baity stories make up a lot of the junk in the content junkyard. However, I suggest that you think carefully about the advice or discovery of your story and find some phrase that will make the takeaway more accessible.
Nick Wolny describes this headline positioning as "small tweaks for big results" and he believes that's another reason why his story ("The now billionaire CEO of One Things Instacart changed after 20 failed startup ideas") so well has cut off. The only thing Mehta did differently when she started Instacart was "create a company that solves a problem you're passionate about," says Wolny. "Not exactly earth-shattering advice." But the wording makes the concept simpler and more workable. “A lot of us want to improve, but a list of 100 steps sounds intimidating,” says Wolny. “I find that it only feels like a few action steps, or even just one action step. I also think this heading worked well because readers know what they are getting into when they click. "
Similarly, Neil Gordon wrote a story for us last July called “How to Make an Elevator Slot That Will Make People Chills in Less than 20 Seconds.” Our readers loved it, and the story was trending for days. What Gordon advises in the article is troublesome, but he believes the draw for readers was, for the most part, the great promise in the headline.
"Perhaps the most critical element in writing something people want to read is the heading of your content," says Gordon. “You could write the most compelling and powerful piece ever written, but if you give this piece a terrible title, no one will ever look at it – let alone share it with others. I think "How to make elevator clearance that gives people chills in less than 20 seconds" works because, in an unlikely context, it offers a strong promise (an elevator clearance that causes chills) (this can be done in as little as 20 seconds) . This tension between what is promised and what actually seems possible has piqued enough curiosity to make people click. "
9. Find an editor or at least a trusted reader for your work
There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. The most talented writers then write, and then rewrite, and then rewrite, refining and clarifying their sentences until the reader slips easily to the intended message. One of the best ways to edit your own work is to read it aloud.
But writers also need editors and readers – to point out confusing sentences that mess up the meanings or the chronology of a scene, to show them the gaps in their logic, or to let them know if a punchline lands or a headline falls flat. If you really want to improve your ideas and writing skills, hire an editor with you. If you can't, find at least a small group of readers whom you trust. If they are members of your target audience, even better. Having readers to test stories with or work in workshops with is an integral part of the writing process.
Related: Easy reading is damn hard to write