In mid-2014 I started publishing on LinkedIn's Pulse platform. When I started writing I - unlike others who approach building a platform strategically - had no intention of growing a followership or launching a new career.

In fact, I had no Twitter handle and no idea how to distribute content via social media. I had no idea what "influencer marketing" was - and I definitely didn't know why it matters.

I just started writing for the sake of writing. In the nearly two years since I have:

  • Changed careers, and started my own business;
  • Greatly expanded my professional network; 
  • Gained first hand knowledge about what you need to do to increase the odds that your content will get read.

Here is a bit of what I've learned along the way:

1. Write to the only audience you'll ever know: you.

After I had some initial success on LinkedIn I looked around to see what sort of posts were getting traffic, and tried to write about those topics.

I was trying to write what I thought other people wanted to hear.

It was easily my worst writing. I had to learn that if my writing didn't move me, make me laugh, or interest me it surely was not going to have that effect on anyone else.

Bottom line: if you don't care about the subject of your content neither will anyone else.

2. Content must be designed to educate, inspire, or entertain first - and sell second.

Your blog, newsletter, eBook, or any other piece of written content must have value to the reader independent of whether or not they decide to make a subsequent purchase.

Think: how often do you go online or get on a device with the express intent of making a purchase and a totally open mind as to who you will make that purchase from?

If you're like most people, the answer is almost never.

Most of the time I go online to watch Netflix, or to learn something new, or out of sheer boredom.

Sometimes I go online to buy something, but usually when I do I have a pretty good idea of how and where I'm going to make that purchase.

Too often content is focused on the idea of catching buyers in the purchase stage, rather that at the boredom/entertainment stage.

Write your content in a way that catches individuals when they are just looking to be entertained, and if you do that well you may convert them into a buyer.

3. Pay attention to titles.

I have talked with more than one writer who dismissed the value of a good title, noting that there is quality content throughout the post.

Here's a reality few of us would like to admit: books are often judged by their covers, and content is often judged by headlines.

Titles are tremendously important to blog posts, and here a few quick tips:

  • Put yourself in the shoes of your reader who is scrolling through a feed of some sort. That's how much time you have to capture that reader.
  • Don't get too abstract or too direct. Let the reader know what they can expect to learn without giving away the whole story.
  • Err on the side of shorter titles, as long as the title is not so short that it fails to inform readers of what they can expect to learn.

4.  Have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Too often business writing, in any form, is far too long than it needs to be.

That statement is relative, meaning that a book can be 100 pages and still be too long if the last 80 pages restate the same idea over and over again. A book can also be 800 pages and be just right, if each of those 800 pages has value.

Edit your content for repetition. Be economical with your words.

And, borrow techniques from good fiction, including knowing that all writing needs a beginning and a middle.

And an end. 

Published on: Apr 19, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.