I got this as a question at the end of a seminar I delivered for the Food & Drink Forum on creating compelling content. I think it’s a belief that many people carry around with them.
Why is that?
Were you told you weren’t in school? It’s amazing how many of us are hanging onto beliefs from our schooldays that are just not helpful in our adult lives.
I’m not sporty
Hated PE in school. Never a big fan of team sports and not built for gymnastics.
What it turns out I am keen on is getting outside for a long walk, heading out for a swim, a bit of yoga. I’m interested in flexing my physical body, just not in the pursuit of sport. And yet that experience in school can put many of us off physical activity for years, for life for some people.
It’s the same with creating content.
Creating content is not a GCSE subject
There is no way most of the things I create would get anywhere near an A* in English Language. Hell, I’d be lucky if they graded the paper.
But I put words together all the time that serve the aim of a client, or my own business, to get other people to feel something, to join them, to spend money with some of them. There’s no exam on the syllabus for that (yet), so why let a school report hold you back?
You’ve already been creative
If you’ve started your own business, that’s a creative act. You’ve had an idea, thought about everything you need, and brought it to life. You’ve nurtured it and kept it going.
So, how do you apply that to content? How about thinking about content in a slightly different way?
Content is just stories
We tell stories all the time, without even thinking about it. What you had for dinner, what you’re going to order on that first trip to the pub or to sit in for a coffee.
Whenever you talk about your business, you’ll tell the story of how you got started, the story behind a product. It might be the story of your values, what your mission is.
All of those stories are content in waiting. They’re just waiting for you to tell them.
Anyone can write
If you can tell those stories out loud, then you can write them down.
Honestly, try this.
Record yourself telling the story of how you got started, and then write it up. Microsoft Word even has a new Transcribe to Text function, allowing you to upload the audio file and it’ll convert it into text for you.
Read it through, and correct anything that’s gone awry in the transcription, or that you think you could express differently. Add in some subheadings (see my post here on why that’s key) and some images, and you’ve got a post.
It’s a post that will sound uniquely like you. It may not get you an A* in a classroom but it’s your story. That’s what people want to read.
Creative means you can forget the rules
Look, I am a complete spelling nerd and grammar geek. I’m not suggesting that you throw out a post littered with bad spelling and stray apostrophes, but don’t hold yourself back because you’re not sure about the rules of writing.
You’re not writing an essay, you’re not aiming to please a teacher. The only people you need to think about are your community, and they are not looking for your paragraph structure or whether your verbs are passive.
They’re looking for something entertaining, informative, distracting for a moment perhaps. If you can answer that, it doesn’t matter about the rules of writing. You’re allowed to get creative with the rules to serve the needs of your customer.
If you try to do it “right”, you’re much more likely to end up with something dull, corporate-sounding, lacking in heart, authenticity and any chance of sounding like a human. Leave that to AI. Write as you speak.
Practice, practice, practice
Or, in this case, publish, publish, publish. Make it as good as you can and then publish it. The worst thing you can do is just sit on it and keep tinkering with it, waiting for it to be perfect.
It never will be.
Done (or in this case published) is better than perfect.
Every piece that you put out, every piece that gets a reaction, will help you feel more confident.
Know when to quit
I know I said everyone can write, and I mean that. But it doesn’t mean everybody should.
When you run your own business there are many demands on your time. And sometimes creating content might not be the best use of your time. You have to ask yourself where your time is best spent, where it produces the best return for your business.
For example, you could choose to do your accounts. But you might choose not to. I could dye my own hair, but even lockdown has not made me think that I should.
It’s okay to make a decision not to write your own stuff, just don’t make it because you think you can’t. Do it because it’s not where you add the most value to your business. If you want some pointers on taking on someone else, then have a read of this post before making the decision.
Some resources to help unleash your creative side
There are a couple of books that I still pick up regularly on the subject of writing and also being creative, however you want to define that for yourself.
Everybody Writes by Ann Handley – I’m a big fan of Ann’s work, and her newsletter is also worth subscribing too. Her advice is no-nonsense and easy to put action.
Read Me: 10 Lessons for Writing Great Copy – there’s some inspiring examples in here and some exercises as well. I’d move onto this after Ann’s book.
Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson – if you’ve not watched Sir Ken’s TED talk on creativity then I’d urge you to do that. It might make you think differently about your own creativity. If you want more of the same, then give the book a go.
Most of all, I would say just give yourself permission to try, and permission to get it wrong. I like to keep this quote from Grayson Perry in mind.
Creativity is mistakes, and if you can’t accept that, don’t get involvedGrayson Perry
It’s not a suggestion not to try, it’s a reminder not to expect to always get it right. Be creative in your own definition of what getting it right means.