Derriere in chair

Tequia Burt ’98

Grant Faulkner ’87 says the best way to learn how to write a novel is to just sit down and write it.“Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s story matters,” he explains.

Encouraging people to put pen to paper and helping them find creative inspiration is his daily mission in his role as executive director for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which challenges participants to write 50,000 words — the length of a short novel — in 30 days.

The 30-day writing challenge, which takes place during the month of November, provides a community of like-minded individuals a variety of ways to collaborate, support, and encourage one another in person and online during the brief, but highly intensive writing period. The program has grown every year since its inception in 2000 when 150 people participated; last year, more than 300,000 writers signed up. Though NaNoWriMo targets neophyte writers, it is also designed to help seasoned pros and has yielded thousands of published novels and multiple bestsellers.

“What makes the program really effective is that we’re very inclusive. We make writing accessible and inviting, and that’s important because it can sometimes be intimidating,” says Faulkner, who has led the nonprofit since 2012. “Many people are blocked when it comes to writing because they hear their inner editor’s judgments, or they don’t believe in the value of their story. We emphasize the imaginative exploration and the creative journey of writing a novel.”

NaNoWriMo provides several other writing programs throughout the year to more than 500,000 people — including 100,000 kids and teens who participate in its Young Writers Program — but Faulkner says the 30-day writing challenge is a particularly galvanizing recipe. “The pressure of a constraint often holds creative benefits. It’s important to bang out that first draft and just get the words on the page, because you can’t edit a blank page.”

Giving writers advice on how to keep that momentum going is the motivation for his recently published book, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo.

“I’ve talked to so many writers who want to write year-round, who want to finish their novels after National Novel Writing Month, but it can be challenging to keep writing,” he explains. “I want people to prioritize creativity and develop a creative mindset so that they’re not just creative in November, but every day of their lives.”

Studying abroad in France as a Grinnell College student — and spending many hours reading novels in cafes — is what convinced Faulkner to eschew becoming an economics major and to focus instead on English literature.

“My English degree equipped me to think critically about art and aesthetics, so I’ve brought Grinnell’s intellectual intensity to my reading and writing in many ways,” he says.

Though Faulkner has been writing since his mother gave him a journal on his seventh birthday, leading an organization like NaNoWriMo has taught him that no writer’s process is perfect.

“Writing is just so challenging, and every story holds new mysteries and problems to solve, so I’m always learning, always fighting the same inner battles, always experimenting with my approach.”

Welcome to the most useful content marketing blog, ever

Welcome!

If you know who I am, you’ve probably followed my work as a journalist covering the B2B marketing space. Crain’s BtoB magazine was my first longtime gig after I got my masters from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. After Crain, I shaped the editorial vision for a newly launched digital-only publication, FierceCMO, which grew to a strong 20,000 by the time I left two years later. The next natural step in my career was leading the US digital expansion for the UK’s leading digital media resource, B2B Marketing.

Then I struck out on my own. To my delight, my skills as a journalist were highly prized by brands and marketing services agencies. And, it turns out, that I picked up a thing or two in all that time I spent covering B2B marketing since my beats covered everything from marketing technology, data and analytics, to content, email, social and events.

So that has apparently made me a unicorn — someone with business and marketing know-how as well as solid journalistic chops. My work these days as a digital storyteller tends to focus on helping brands boost their content strategy, as well as generating content for them like white papers, ebooks, case studies, press releases, email and social campaigns, and more.

I’ve also started merging a long-time coverage of racial and gender diversity and inclusion in the marketing industry with my content strategy work. Recently, I gave an Innovation Talk at Content Marketing Institute’s CM World, “Is Diversity Really Important for Content Marketing Success,” which I will share with you in a new blog post soon. Spoiler alert: diversity is vitally important and my life experience coupled with diligent research has given me a unique perspective on how to handle the many opportunities that arise from choosing inclusiveness/diversity as a key aspect of your core business strategy.

Finally, the more that I work with clients, the more I wished I could help them with some basic content tips and tricks so that our time together was spent more efficiently. And it is with that end — lucky you! — that I’ve decided to launch a blog providing content marketers with strategic and operational advice on topics ranging from how to create an editorial calendar to maintaining a full pipeline of ideas. I will also explore how to create inclusive content for a diverse audience. If there are any areas you want to see me investigate, let me know in the comments.

As a little teaser, I’ve already posted 5 Tips for Creating a Successful Content Plan as my first blog post. Enjoy and more to come soon! –Tequia

5 tips for creating a successful content plan

Lack of an effective content marketing strategy is the No. 1 barrier to a B2B marketer’s success, according to a recent Ascend2 survey. The report found almost half of marketers don’t have an effective strategy in place. The five following bits of advice can help B2B marketers either build a plan from scratch or fine-tune an existing one.

1) Set business goals

The first step in nailing down a documented strategy is to determine the elements that differentiate your company from the competition. Come up with at least a couple of unique selling propositions that show how your business stands out from the crowd and that help you tell a bigger story. Brainstorm compelling content around these points.

It is also important during this stage to define business goals. What are you trying to accomplish with your content? Is it lead generation? Brand awareness? Customer retention? This step might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to figure this out. Each piece of content you create must push this goal forward.

2) Write an editorial mission statement

I am a big advocate of creating an editorial mission statement to help your content team stay focused on goals. Getting a handle on the big picture – why you do what you do – can help your team rally around an overall vision. It also helps you stay on track and prioritize. If what you’re doing doesn’t fit your editorial mission, then you’re doing something wrong.

To craft an editorial mission statement, first identify your core audience, the kinds of content you want to provide and the value that content will provide. Your mission statement should tell everyone who you are and why they should care.

An example of an editorial mission statement:

Tequia Burt’s content blog is the B2B marketers’ go-to resource for top-notch content marketing strategy, analysis, how-to pieces, blogs and great advice. She will help you face your biggest challenges and prepare you to adapt to an ever-changing B2B marketing landscape.

3) Define your audience

Once you’ve zeroed in on your mission, it’s time to drill down into who your audience is. How can your content help them?

If the idea of creating a working buyer persona has you fretting, take a step back and keep it simple. First figure out your audience’s likely job titles, their interests, their locations and their content consumption habits. Narrowing this down can help you personalize your content and make it engaging for your buyers. It can also help you determine the best channels for sharing content.

4) Establish content roles

Many organizations don’t have the budget that big enterprise companies have. So how can you act like a 5-person team with two people on staff? First things first: One of you must be the editorial lead who guides your content strategy. This person will manage the editorial process, writers and editors, as well as content projects. They will ensure that editorial, strategy and design mesh well and stick to the mission.

One of you must be the dedicated content creator, the person responsible for writing, curating and posting content. If even a two-person team is out of reach, consider hiring a freelance journalist to help pick up the slack. Outside experts, bloggers and your own brand advocates can also serve as contributors, helping you beef up your content roster.

In some situations, the editorial lead will also have to write content. The trick here is balancing that workload with a strong hold on the editorial mission. If the editorial lead is too focused on deadlines, they may lose sight of the overall strategy. If this starts to happen, you’ll need outside help. Keep those freelancers on speed dial.

5) Create an editorial calendar

I am a fan of editorial calendars. As a journalist, I believe in firm deadlines. It gives you a schedule for posting blogs, research, social media and other content, so you’re not left trying to think of a great idea at the last minute. However, don’t go overboard. A three-month plan will give you plenty of elbowroom to adapt your message to current industry news and trends.

An editorial calendar also can encourage much more focused thinking around the kinds of content your audience wants to consume. One of the worst things a content marketer can do is create a piece of content just for the sake of creating a piece of content. Another recent study, this one from Forrester, found B2B buyers also want less, but more targeted content. Half of the participants in the survey said vendors give them useless content, and two-thirds report that vendors give them too much of it. Using these tips can help you avoid giving your buyers too much of a bad thing. –Tequia