How to get good ideas for your business blog: lessons from industry

Many people imagine that good ideas for a business blog post appear by magic, like those cartoon lightbulbs that switch themselves on over a character’s head with a caption that reads “Eureka!” The bad news is, they don’t; the good news is, there are ways of generating enough electricity to light up that bulb yourself!

Okay, inspiration can happen spontaneously. But what most people don’t realise is that there are thought processes and mind-triggers you can use to feed and nurture your imagination … ways to ensure you spot opportunities and make sure that inspiration happens. In the case of many, many businesses and non-business activities, creative inspiration comes about through method – not madness.

Nowhere does this apply more vigorously than in my own background as an advertising copywriter. In that business, you need to have good ideas on demand. Multi-million spend advertising clients do not expect to wait around until light bulbs switch on over the “creatives'” heads. Ideas, and damned good ones, are required on schedule. It’s “I want a new campaign by Monday morning – or else.” Happily you’re unlikely to find yourself under this kind of pressure, which in some ways is a shame … it’s surprising how well that pressure can work!

Opportunity spotting

A key trigger for creative inspiration is opportunity spotting – to see where there are gaps in your readers’ knowledge about your topic, your niche, etc. and fill them with inspired new thinking. Let’s look at some examples in the business world…

Think Dyson vacuum cleaners: paper bags were fiddly, dirty to handle and tended to break. Solution? Bagless vacuum cleaner.

Think no-frills airlines: all this paraphernalia of fancy meals, drinks, snacks and lavish pampering by a large group of grinning cabin crew was a hangover not only from 1950s and 1960s commercial air travel, but also from ocean liner travel even before that. It made modern air travel too expensive. Solution? Get rid of all but the essentials and make airfares more affordable.

Think sushi bars: people – especially in the USA – grew to love Japanese food, and hey presto, it just so happened that it could be made quickly and theatrically. Solution? Combine the concept of that entertainment element with the popular fast-food culture.

– and so-on. The people behind these good ideas followed processes to gain inspiration and use it profitably – from entrepreneurs to engineers, from scientists to artists, from writers to inventors.

There is the potential for expensive mistakes here, though:

Avoid solutions that are looking for problems

The sadly pot-holed roads of many developing countries could be repaired and paved successfully with solutions to problems that don’t add up to a row of beans in real life. In your blog you want to grab readers’ attention by addressing an issue or problem they know they have – not have to persuade they have a problem in the first place.

For an example of how that works we should look at the IT industry in the 1970s and 1980s. This was in the era when techies swanned about in white coats working in air-conditioned buildings closed to anyone without a PhD in wizardry. They were paid to come up with great ideas for magic boxes which would then be sent over to the sales and marketing wallahs with a message saying, “here’s an M-9-24 Version X. It does this, this, and this. Now go and sell it.”

In those days when most of us were in awe of technology, the method worked; businesses and other organisations didn’t have very much at all in terms of information technology to make things run more efficiently so in a sense, anything was better than nothing. However once IT had become more common, customers became increasingly picky until one day the MD or CEO of some relatively important organisation turned around to their IT suppliers and said this:

“I don’t care how the box works or how many gadgets it has; what will it do to improve my bottom line? And I want the damned thing to speak English, not computer gibberish, so you had better translate all that cr*p that appears on the screens. I want to understand what it’s achieving for us, and pronto.”

Shock, horror!  For the first time in history, the IT industry was obliged to become “customer-focused.” No longer could the IT giants of the era come up with magic boxes that achieved what their engineers thought was a cool performance and then expect their customers to find something useful to do with them. No longer would customers buy solutions that were looking for problems.  And those of you who are old enough to remember the way the IT industry went through a throat-grabbing culture change in and around the 1980s will know what – and who – I’m talking about.

Reality checks – worth their weight in gold

I think it’s a cruel truth to say that no matter how good you think your idea is, you need to conduct some sort of reality check before developing it beyond a single thought. Some people worry that if they discuss their ideas openly someone else might steal it and do it themselves. Sadly this is true; it happens. That’s a hard fact of life and we have to get over it. But 99 percent of the time your ideas will not get pinched and even if they do, whoever pinches them won’t have your unique expertise and slant on the subject.

A reality check conducted with people whose views you trust and respect is only a very small risk, and it’s well worth taking. It doesn’t have to be a major research exercise, either; all it might take is a question to your closest Google Plus circle or Facebook group, to find out if they think you blog idea will be of interest. Good luck!

Now, let’s get you writing that business blog – beautifully:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

How to get good ideas for your business blog: brains and noses

Business blogging can be a very lonely exercise when you’re trying to come up with fresh content on a daily or almost daily business and brainstorming is one way to speed up the flow of ideas.

The brainstorming technique has been around as a quick-fix way to generate ideas for a long time now, and even has been teleported into the hi-tech age with such methodology as Tony Buzan’s “Mind Mapping.”

Both hand-written and electronically generated spider charts plus various other systems have been developed which formalize what many people had been doing for decades anyway, which basically involved doodling on a piece of paper.

Verbal brainstorming is popular, too, especially in its form of “think tanks” and “retreats” often used by corporations and other organizations to whip their people up into a frenzy of new ideas that ultimately will benefit the organization, and – we assume – the recipients of its services. Whatever method suits you, beware of brainstorming for new ideas when the ground rules have not been set properly, though.

Brainstorming thunderstorm

I remember being asked to attend a brainstorming session for a very large chain of estate agencies (real estate brokers) some years ago. They had developed various new, hi-tech methods which bypassed many of the traditional ways of buying and selling homes and as such wanted to promote their uniqueness in a video. I was brought in by the production company to attend as the writer/producer and help them develop their thoughts.

After a very early start and a long drive I arrived at their offices in one of England’s loveliest northern cities, to find the group of company staff looking slightly haggard and worn after two hours’ debate over the bacon rolls and coffee. I was presented with a long list of reasons why their service was better than everyone else’s. Not wishing to wee-wee on their bonfire but also not wishing to spend the following two days there, I said, “OK, that’s great. But what is it we’re really doing here, with all these features that make the process easier?”

Blank looks all around.

“Isn’t it that we’re taking the stress out of buying and selling your home?”

More blank looks. Followed by smiles. And what had I done? Merely turned around that hairy old chestnut of features versus benefits. Now, because we were no longer looking at features, we could come up with ideas that were benefit-led and therefore far more likely to grab our audience.

Brainstorming is great – provided you set it up right. Remember, what we don’t need is solutions looking for problems.

What problems need to be solved?

Having warned you about the dangers of solutions looking for problems, whatever you do, don’t assume there aren’t any problems to solve. There are plenty. What you need to do, though, in your search for a good idea, is to ensure that you keep your eyes open for real problems in your particular market or topic area, and keep aware of what’s missing from whatever options there are currently to solve those problems.

Time, probably, is on your side. Solutions put forward to problems 10 or even 5 years ago, may no longer be appropriate and may indeed have been superseded by better solutions. Your solution might be even better still.

What are you really good at?

This may seem obvious, but have you really thought the uniqueness of your idea through? You know all there is to know about your topic, but in all fairness there may be other experts out there who are in the same position.

What is unique about you, though, is what will sell your idea. You may not even be aware that your ideas on your topic are unique, but hey – have a look back through your earlier musings, notes, essays, articles, papers, speeches, presentations, advertising, press releases, etc. I’d put money on the fact that you have a unique take on your topic. Find it, develop it, and make it happen.

Be nosey

If you have even the inkling of an idea, don’t be shy. Get out there and try it out. Ask around. You have a great deal to gain by sniffing out whatever sources you can to seek out to see whether your idea – or your germ of an idea – is worth taking further. Look for problems, in your area of expertise, that need solving – really need solving. Those can appear when you least expect it, so be vigilant. And keep asking around!

Watch your topic

This may seem glaringly obvious, but once you have an idea you need to watch very carefully to see what is being discussed about that particular topic. Or, should your idea be moving into uncharted waters, you need to keep abreast of everything that might be relevant.

So keep your eyes open!

Now, let’s get you writing that business blog – beautifully:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

Learn how to spell or lose millions, says UK online boss

According to a recent article on the BBC News website, bad spelling is costing the online industry a fortune in lost revenue. A far-fetched notion? Not really – here’s why…

The BBC quotes a Mr Charles Duncombe, a director of a company called JustSayPlease Ltd which offers lower priced shopping to consumers by going direct and cutting out the advertising cost hike.

The BBC article goes on … Mr Duncombe says when recruiting staff he has been “shocked at the poor quality of written English.” He says the big problem for online firms isn’t technology but finding staff who can spell… “I know that industry bemoaning the education system is nothing new but it is becoming more and more of a problem with more companies going online.”

“This is because when you sell or communicate on the internet 99% of the time it is done by the written word.”

So why could bad spelling be such a disaster in terms of lost revenue?

Well to start with, according to the Confederation of British Industry it seems that many UK employers are obliged to provide “remedial literacy lessons” for their staff.

The BBC article continues… Mr Duncombe says that it is possible to identify the specific impact of a spelling mistake on sales. He says he measured the revenue per visitor to the website and found that the revenue was twice as high after an error was corrected. “If you project this across the whole of internet retail then millions of pounds worth of business is probably being lost each week due to simple spelling mistakes.”

A credibility problem ?

I have to admit I hadn’t thought of this one before, or at least not in monetized terms, anyway. But if you cast your mind back to the most recent piece of “phishing” spam in your inbox, do you remember what tipped you off that it’s spam? Usually it’s some silly mistake in spelling or grammar. And the BBC’s article bears this out…

William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, says that in some informal parts of the internet, such as Facebook, there is greater tolerance towards spelling and grammar. “However, there are other aspects, such as a home page or commercial offering that are not among friends and which raise concerns over trust and credibility.”In these instances, when a consumer might be wary of spam or phishing efforts, a misspelt word could be a killer issue.”

OK – what can we do to reduce the chance of making spelling mistakes?

Use your spell checkers BUT don’t rely on them totally. They don’t recognise homophones (e.g. to-two-too,) words which correctly spelled but wrong in context, misplaced apostrophes, etc.

Take note of your grammar checkers but don’t take them too seriously, either. Remember they are basically unintelligent machines and don’t always understand the impression you want to convey – especially humor.

Decide whether you will use British or American spellings and stick to it. I know I’m a bit schizoid over which I use in my articles but a) my readers are from all over the world and b) I’m a North American living in the UK … but you probably don’t have those excuses! Be guided by your market and your audience.

Use dictionaries. I find very helpful because although it’s US-based it normally provides you with the British spellings of words, too. And don’t discard your old printed dictionaries; sometimes it’s quicker and easier to find a word in one of those rather than open up a new window and wait for the internet, if it’s busy or your connection’s bad.

Use a thesaurus if you need inspiration. This way you open up your choice of words and can pick from there knowing that the spellings are correct. I use the dear old Roget or

Take a course in spelling if yours could do with some improvement. I just Googled “spelling courses for adults” and there are over 5 million entries, so shop around and you’re bound to find one that works for you.

As spelling does seem to have become quite an important issue I’ll be adding some more posts on that topic soon. In the meantime if you have any particular spelling questions you’d like me to look into for you, jot them down here in the comments.

Now, make sure your spelling is up to speed

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand