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Writing tip: Why are you telling me this?

“Why are you telling me this?” I ask this again and again as I read articles written by nonprofessional writers. Their articles don’t capture my attention because they don’t give me a reason to care about their topic.

Why nonprofessionals fall short

Nonprofessional writers display admirable enthusiasm for their topics, but they often have a hard time putting themselves in the “shoes” of their readers.

Nonprofessional writers often fail to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM). Readers look for the WIIFM when they decide whether to read your article. If they’re reading online, they’re often looking for a solution to a specific problem they face. They’re not going to read your article just because you publish it on your blog or in your newsletter.

If people start reading your article because they have a relationship with you, they still want to learn the WIIFM, even if the answer is only “You’ll learn an interesting idea that you can share with your colleagues or on social media.”

Nonprofessional writers often suffer from the “curse of knowledge.” As I discussed in “Why hire a writer? Three powerful reasons,” it’s hard for them to explain things to outsiders because they know too much. They may use words that are too technical or they get bogged down in details. They can also forget to say why their topic is important because its importance is so clear to them.

Questions to help you

Here are two questions that can help you figure out why you are writing an article.

  1. How do you want this article to help you or your organization?

For example, are you writing an article to gain new newsletter subscribers or to interest readers in a specific product or services offered by your company? Do you want to correct a misconception about your company being too conservative (or too aggressive), or not up on the latest investments, or not well-run?

You may not explicitly mention this goal in your article. However, understanding this goal will help to shape your article. And, your article may benefit from an explicit call to action, such as “For more tips, subscribe to our newsletter!” or “Schedule a call to learn about our XYZ service!”

  1. What’s the WIIFM for your readers?

What is a problem that your readers face that your article can solve? It could be something specific to your firm, such as how to explain to their bosses why they’re sticking with your firm instead of switching to a firm with a better-known name. Or maybe it’s solving a challenge with their organization’s budgeting, or the need to have something interesting to discuss at their next social event.

I explain a way to identify your reader’s WIIFM in “Identifying ‘WHAT PROBLEM does this blog post solve for them?’

Tell readers why you’re telling them

Once you’ve figured out your reader’s WIIFM, don’t forget to incorporate it into your article. Don’t phrase it as “I’m telling you this because.” Instead, identify the reader’s pain point, and say how your article addresses it.

I share one way to do this in “Make your writing easier with my fill-in-the-blanks approach for structuring articles.”

Focus on WIIFM, not the article

Nobody gets excited about reading an article. That’s the thought that crossed my mind when I received a newsletter that opened as you see in the image below.

 

The person sending the newsletter had good intentions. He knew that the SECURE Act brings changes that can affect the retirement planning of his clients and prospects. However, he didn’t convey that the changes were going to offer opportunities for readers to gain—or to experience pain. As a result, few people are likely to click on the link to read the article. It might be a great article. But the newsletter doesn’t give readers a reason to click.

Readers care about the WIIFM—What’s In It For Me. They want to know how they’ll benefit—or how they can minimize their pain.

The SECURE Act offers both gains and pains. That could inspire better headlines, such as:

  • GAIN: Avoid required minimum distributions—and the related taxes—for longer under the SECURE Act
  • PAIN: New limits on “stretch IRAs” mean you may need to adjust your retirement plan.

If you think about it, I bet you can apply this lesson to create better headlines.

Stop being happy–and win more readers

Does the following sentence inspire you to dig into the writer’s newsletter?

The XYZ Financial team and I are happy to bring you this month’s newsletter.

It doesn’t inspire me. I doubt it inspires you. However, I often see financial professionals start their emails, letters, and newsletters with similar sentences. If they’re not “happy,” they’re “pleased,” “delighted” or something similar. This is so wrong. Stop being happy!

Why to stop being happy

stop being happyPlease stop talking about how great your content makes YOU feel.

Unless you’re writing to close family members or friends, no one cares about your emotions. They care about WIIFM—what’s in it for me, your reader. When you talk about your happiness you sacrifice the opportunity to appeal to their WIIFM.

In addition, focusing on YOUR emotions may make you seem self-centered or self-important. It’s as if you’re saying, “We are great. Bow down at our feet and worship us.” Okay, I’m exaggerating. Still, I hope you get the idea that I’m trying to communicate.

Your alternative to being happy

How else can a writer open their message? Start with something that solves a problem that your reader has. This will appeal to their WIIFM.

For example:

Curious about how the new tax law affects you? Avoid problems with the IRS by learning about the three things you may need to do differently, as covered in this month’s newsletter.

In addition to focusing on the reader’s WIIFM, this new introduction also gets to the point quickly. That’s essential to grabbing the attention of readers whose email inboxes are overcrowded.

Not sure how to identify your unhappy topic?

If you have trouble identifying your readers’ problems, read “Identifying ‘WHAT PROBLEM does this blog post solve for them?’” The same issues apply to blogs and newsletters. In fact, today’s newsletter articles often originate as blog posts.

 

Stop being happy and start attracting more readers and clients!

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net