Recently DD, a top copywriter, e-mailed me for some advice about writing articles as a self-marketing tool.

“An editor has contacted me about doing an article,” wrote DD. “Seems like a good opportunity to generate some publicity for my product – and some nice credentials for myself. Do you have any advice or precautions … like how to maximize this opportunity … things I should consider when writing an article to promote myself and my business?”

Here’s what I told DD …

To begin with, just because an editor wants you to write an article doesn’t mean you should.

If you’re writing articles for free as a promotional vehicle, write for only two types of publications: (1) publications whose readers are the target market for your product or service, and (2) publications so prestigious that your prospects will be impressed by the credential of your having published in their pages.

Now, even though you’re writing the article to promote yourself – don’t promote yourself in the article. The only way your article is going to build your reputation … and get people interested in doing business with you … is with solid content. Not self-promotional blather.

Focus on the reader and the topic – and not on yourself.

For instance, if you’re a consultant, you can include little vignettes in your article about how a few businesspeople applied smart management principles to solve problems. But don’t take the credit. Say “Ned, a manager at XYZ company” … and describe what he did. Don’t say “When Ned called me in, here is what I did” – even if you were responsible for his success.

Give credit to others, and play down your own role in the stories your articles contain. This way, you come off as modest – and not as a blatant self-promoter, which quickly turns people off.

Give your readers useful hints and tips about your topic … short, practical, pithy advice on how to do their jobs or run their lives better. When they read your sage advice, they will nod their heads in recognition of your wisdom … and begin to think of you as their “guru” on this topic.

The only self-promotion or “advertising” should appear in the “about the author” box that usually runs at the bottom of the first column of the article when it’s published in the magazine. Your “about the author” copy should say who you are, what you do, and how to contact you.

As for length, ask the editor. He or she will usually tell you how many words are desired. Stick to that count.

Once the article is published, the contact information in your “about the author” box will generate some response for you. But don’t leave it at that. Make your article do double or triple duty as a promotional tool.

You can:

Include copies of your article in the inquiry fulfillment kits you mail to potential customers.
Hand out article reprints at trade shows.
Do a mailing of your article reprint to your clients and prospects.

Post your articles on your website. Having lots of content on your site makes visitors stay longer – and also raises your rankings with search engines.

If the response is good – and your article seems to have reached the right people (your target market) – immediately send an e-mail to your editor. Suggest a follow-up article … with information you didn’t have room to include in the first article.

If you like to write, and have the time (or can hire a ghostwriter), why not suggest a monthly column in the magazine instead of just an article? The worst the editor can do is say “no.” If she says “yes,” you’ll get your name in front of your potential customers 12 times a year instead of once. And you’ll accelerate your recognition as a top expert in your field.

Those are great results … from one of the easiest self-promotions you can do: writing articles.

“One characteristic of winners is they always look upon themselves as a do-it-yourself project.”– Denis Waitley

(Ed. Note: Bob Bly, a popular Early to Rise columnist, is the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing University: The Masters Edition, a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business.)

Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.

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