Of all the tactics that appear on associate business plans, writing articles for publication is a heavy one – in terms of the number of non-billable hours that go into each article.
That said, as you develop your writing skills you will find that you can turn articles around rapidly, particularly if they are for a non-legal audience.
Article writing is a valuable component of many business development strategies if implemented well. The following is a best practices guide for you to follow when you sit down to start developing your next article.
What is your purpose for writing the article? What is the end (can be long term) result you are after?
Example from an employment law practice: I want to write an article about the impact of medical marijuana on company drug and alcohol policies. The article is aimed at HR Directors. I want to be known for having a solution to this emerging issue so that they call me for advice in this area.
Keep it meaningful
I will quickly add that you want to focus on topics that are going to be interesting and engaging for you and that will ultimately help attract this work to you.
Work in small allotments of time
Don’t wait until you have one big block of time for writing. Something will always be more important, instead write your article in small increments following the process I outline below.
Start with these key questions and research
Who is the audience you want to get in front of?
What are they reading? Review samples of these journals to get a sense of the content and style of the publications. Obtain copies of the submission guidelines
Pick the point of view you will be writing from.
Target challenges or opportunities faced by your target audience so that your content is interesting and relevant.
Make sure to write in a language your target reader can easily comprehend, i.e. no legalese for non-lawyers, or unsophisticated readers.
State your angle in one sentence: “How medical marijuana impacts your employee policies and procedures and what you can do about it”.
Having a formula for how you frame your articles can make the writing process much easier and faster. Here are some for you to consider:
The List: This is one of the simplest formulas. It is most frequently used in on-line publications. Example: Top three reasons business partnerships fail.
The straw man: An approach is presented and then knocked down, to highlight a new opportunity or change. Example: The straw man is saving money by writing your own will. A story is told – perhaps drawn from a court case – of a person who thought they would be smart and write their own will. Then the ultimate and costly failure of this is highlighted and the reasons for investing in a will are highlighted.
The other point of view: Sometimes you may have a perspective on a legal issue contrary to common belief. This resembles the straw man approach as you set out the common belief and then explain your different perspective.
The miniature case study: Focus on a particular legal challenge and then tell a few stories that show how it can be handled. The case studies work best for your audience if they can imagine themselves in the same situation.
The interview: This formula is self-explanatory, you simply interview a person or persons about your angle and write up the interview. Or you can conduct a few interviews to gather relevant experiences from your audience.
This is a great strategy for growing your network from your desk. Reach out to a member of your target audience who you know, tell them you are writing an article on a particular topic associated with their work, and ask if you could interview them for a few minutes to gather their perspective on the issue. At the end of the interview ask if they could put you in touch with one of their contacts to speak with on the same topic. In my experience people are always happy to engage this way.
The new development: There are trends that come and go in business and with each one come a host of articles with information about the trend, and important associated information. In a legal context, new case law also presents an opportunity for writing this type of article.
As you begin to get some solid writing experience under your belt you will begin to find those formulas that work best for you.
Work with an outline
Getting clear about your angle and formula before writing will save you time. So will developing a simple outline.
Start your outline by simply listing the points you wish to make. Then review your list adding and subtracting points as needed.
Next review your formula and rearrange your points to fit that approach. You are now ready to start writing and with all this pre-work done it will go quickly,
Essentially the purpose of your writing is not to highlight your brilliance but to demonstrate to the reader the value of them consulting with someone like you.
Mike O’Horo writes: “A general guideline is to give away unlimited amounts of “what” and a modest amount of “how”. By “what” I mean “here’s what you should do” which consists of categorical advice.”
For example, a lawyer might write about key considerations when drafting a will for a married couple in business together, categorical advice, and provide just a couple of actual sample clauses which would be specific examples of the “how”.
Tips on what editors like
- Header: Include your last name, the article’s title, and the page number at the top of each page
- Word count: Provide a word count on the last page of the article
- Headings: Use headings in your article to help the reader follow along with the logical progression of the article
- Exclusivity: State in your email to the editor that the article is being offered exclusively. You can always restructure and make small changes to it if you want to submit it to another publication.
- Relevance: Provide a one-line explanation of why the article will be relevant to readers
- Summary: Provide a summary of one to three sentences in length of the key points
- Author profile: Include a short one-line author profile