Building high quality content for your firm requires a lot of thought and planning –- sometimes, filling in your editorial calendar is harder than you’d like. Over the years, I’ve identified roughly 10 content themes that A/E firms can use to demonstrate their expertise.
This post shares some background on three of my favorite article themes:
- The How-To
- The How-To-Work-With
- The Informed Review
#1 – The “How-To”
Your prospective client is hiring your firm – or your competitor – to achieve a specific goal. If you can create content that shows you can help with that, you’ve likely got an edge on the competition. Often, I do this through what’s called “how-to” content – content that gives instructions in how to do something. But not just any topic will do.
Take, for example, an energy audit, in which your firm goes into a client’s premises to determine how they use energy. The report your firm produces is your end product, but it’s just the start of the client’s process towards reducing energy use. Your client wants to use your report to set priorities on which energy-saving steps to take. The report, for example, might indicate that the existing simple-cycle boiler is inefficient, and investing in a combined-cycle system can mean big long-run savings.
You might choose to write an article describing How To Do an Energy Audit, and that might be useful to clients. But, since you’re looking for clients who want to hire your firm to complete an energy audit, it might make more sense to produce How-To content around the best ways to use the energy audit report you produce – how to use it to convince their head office, or their banker, that the money invested in a new boiler would be worthwhile. I call this a “tangent” topic – something your firm is knowledgeable about and has credibility discussing, but that doesn’t give away all your firm’s “secret sauce” about how your team actually does its work (for that, they’ll need to hire your firm, right?)
Be sure that your How-To content is about something that the prospective client wants to achieve, and would be able to achieve.
Here’s an outline for effective How-To content:
- Describe the outcome that you’re going to discuss
- List the tools, information, and other inputs required to do the work
- List the steps to be followed — in order, or as key success factors
- Indicate the problems and challenges, and how to deal with them
#2 – The “How-To-Work-With”
Signing a contract is a stressful situation for any client. Some projects are for very big money. To relieve that stress, your client wants to be sure that the job will get done right. They want to know that they can trust your firm to make them look good.
You can show this, through a variation on the How-To content type, what I call the “How to Work With,” or “HTWW” content theme. This type of content tells your prospect how to get good results from a firm like yours. If you can help them this way through your content, you have an edge in being seen as a trusted service provider.
To see how this works, let’s go back to our energy audit example. HTWW content might talk about who should gather the information for the audit. Is it best to save money by having employees gather it, or to avoid pulling them from their regular tasks by having consultants do the work? What’s the best way to transfer information from client to consultant? How can the process be done to minimize disruption to operations?
How-To-Work-With content should contain these points:
- Describe the process your firm follows in its work
- Think of the factors that help you do your best work possible – and list them
- Also, think of what gets in the way – and provide steps on how to avoid these problems
- Think of ways clients can save money and time in working with a firm such as yours
#3 – The “Informed Review”
Clients need to know that you’ll do more than just follow the steps in the brief. They want to be reassured that you’ll use your experience and knowledge on their behalf, to help protect them from problems they may not expect.
One way to do this is through what I call the Informed Review content. Publications have been producing reviews of products and services for centuries, and professional firms can do this too. The purpose of this type of content is to show your prospective clients that you have their best interests at heart. Show this through developing content that helps them make smart purchases, and avoid ill-advised choices.
To do this, a review has to be about a product or service that you can credibly discuss, and which is also something that you prospective client would consider purchasing.
For example, say that you’re seeking DOTs as clients. Your firm, and your client, spend a lot of time gathering data in the field. So, your firm is in a strong position to provide a thoughtful, informed review of a field-friendly mobile device, such as a ruggedized tablet. Or, it could be software that’s designed to gather inspection data and then upload it to head office for later analysis. It could be something as simple as a review of a new set of power tools that’s been approved for use in potentially-explosive environments.
Review-type content needs to cover these points:
- Description of the product or service
- Who might want to use it, and in what circumstances
- The differences between the new product/service and what’s been available
- Good points and bad points, based on your experience
- Recommendations on whether to buy, and about any configurations or models
“How To” Apply This Article
So, there you have it — three of my favorite themes for article content. Consider it a “How-To” article to help you identify topics for your editorial calendar. To get you started, here are a few suggested next steps:
- Look through your editorial calendar and see where you can use How-To, How-To-Work-With, or Informed Review content
- What insights does your firm have, that could be used to generate content on these three themes?
- Who would be the authors, within your firm, of content that meets these three themes?
As you’re doing this, remember that your immediate purpose is not to sell your firm’s services. It’s to show that you’re a good source of solutions to the issues that your prospective clients face. You don’t need to sell. Your readers, viewers and listeners will understand that you’re able to help them achieve their goals.
About The Author
Carl Friesen is one of a handful of expert content developers we work with at Rattleback to help our clients drive their content marketing efforts. He earned his MBA from the University of Toronto, and is Principal of Global Reach Communications Inc. To learn more about Carl’s approach to content marketing for AEC firms, visit www.showyourexpertise.com, and subscribe to his blog.