Running On Empty

My parents have been married for 55 years. In 1973, just before their 25th wedding anniversary, I distinctly remember asking my mother the following question: “Haven’t you and Dad run out of things to talk about?” (Even back then I was a troublemaker.)

At 13 years old, it seemed perfectly logical to me that after 25 years together, two people would pretty much have used up whatever conversational content they had to draw on.

Today, having been married myself for 14 years, I know firsthand that there’s no risk of my wife Linda and me running out of things to talk about. In fact, if this morning’s 10 minute conversation regarding my daughter’s tuna fish sandwich is any indication, we’ve got enough content for several lifetimes together.

I bring this up today for one particular reason. I’ve had a number of client conversations recently that began with the phrase, “We’re running out of content!” It seems that after a year or two, many people begin to feel that they’ve covered all the ground in their particular industry, and there’s nothing left to discuss.

If you find yourself in a similar position, I’ve got two suggestions:

1. Think “Conversation,” Not “Explanation.” If all my parents did was exchange knowledge with each other, 13 year old Michael would have been right: They would indeed have run out of things to talk about long ago. After all, no matter how much unique information each may have brought into the marriage, neither had 55 years worth.

By the same token, if your newsletter does nothing but explain concepts in your industry (e.g. “Here’s how a pension plan works;” “Here’s how to run an effective meeting;” “Here’s what power of attorney means”), as useful as that might be to your readers, your supply of content will be limited.

If, on the other hand, you approach your content as you would a lunchtime conversation — reacting to industry changes; recounting an incident that happened with a client; voicing an opinion on something you read — you’ll never run dry. Every day something new happens, and every day you, the industry expert, can put it into perspective for your readers.

2. Go Narrow, Go Deep. If I wrote one article explaining E-Newsletter content, one explaining E-Newsletter design and one explaining E-Newsletter distribution (the three big pieces that constitute an E-Newsletter), I could theoretically be out of content with three issues!

If I dive down deep however, and pick narrow, on the ground topics (as opposed to big broad ones), I’ve got a lot more to choose from. In my work with clients, we can often pull as many as ten additional newsletter topics out of a single previously published newsletter, simply by taking each of the key points made and breaking them into microtopics.

Not only does a narrow and deep approach give you more to choose from, the articles that result tend to be much more memorable and actionable than the big concept pieces.

Bottom Line: In my experience, the difference between having a “lifetime” of content, and having barely enough to fill a couple of dozen newsletters, is very much a function of your approach to topic selection. Timely, narrow, conversational topics are not only easier to cover, they also tend to be a lot more valuable to your readers. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got tuna fish sandwiches to make.

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