Answering the Question Your Visitors Will Never Speak
(but they’re always asking)

My trial by fire as a writer came from a high-wired Technical Communications professor…a moonlighting novelist who loved coffee and hated Latinate -ize and -ization suffixes with equal passion.

With our latest assignments pinned on the board, he’d read the first sentence of each one aloud, confront the writer, and demand, “SO WHAT? Why should I care about this? What difference does it make to ME?” If we didn’t have a strong answer the first time, he’d demand again and again until – finally – we discovered a compelling reason to read our work. Not one of our first drafts ever survived…

Eventually, we learned that this lesson applies to any writing, whether it’s a user manual, a  sales brochure, a news or feature story, or a business memo. If your writing doesn’t make a personal connection with your readers within the first sentence or two, you’ve lost them.

Especially if you’re writing for the web, especially if you’re a solopreneur whose practice offers, say, energy work, coaching, or a new approach to life, the “SO WHAT” lesson applies. Sure, your visitors want to know who you are, what you offer, and how it differs from everything else on the market. But more than that, if they’re going to do more than glance at your site’s home page, they need you to answer that unspoken first question.

They’ll probably never confront you, demanding fiercely why they should care about your work – but if you don’t tell them, you can be sure they’ll move on to another site in seven (yes, 7) seconds or less.

So how do you tell them? Well, you start by looking at your work from their point of view….

What do your current clients say? What do your potential clients need?

Did your current clients come to you – and are they staying – because of your personal energy, your presence, skill, and expertise within your field – or is it the teaching or modality you practice or you’ve pioneered? Are you the only one in your area to offer this service or approach – the most insurance-friendly – or the most empowering and supportive? What is the core of their need for you?

Take it a step further: if you are thinking of attracting new clients, why should they come to you? What do you offer them, how do your services or your approach fit their needs or the direction they’re taking in life?

In the words of marketing guru Perry Marshall, “Nobody who bought a drill actually wanted a drill; they wanted a hole.” What is the outcome – the hole – your clients need, and you offer?

Speak into their needs, use their language, answer their questions. Even though (you could say) the site is about you, it’s really about them.

Are you the brand – or is your work? Or both?

This will make a key difference in the structure, focus, and content of your site.

When you are a solo practitioner – whether you work in a known field such as acupuncture or naturopathy, or whether you’ve broken open the limits of a strict traditional teaching to create a new modality –  you are your brand: your business depends on the quality and uniqueness of the service you  provide.  This addresses the question of your mission – the point at which “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (to quote Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)…the point at which you are unique and irreplaceable.

Again, the key here is connection with your readers’ needs: your site should reflect both your credibility, your background, your expertise, and the background and benefits of the approach you offer.

Of course, the “SO WHAT” questions will differ. If you are an acupuncturist, for example, why should a mainstream patient try acupuncture at all? Why should he or she come to you as a Five Elements Acupuncturist rather than to a Medical Acupuncturist (who may be likelier to be covered by insurance)? What makes your practice unique among Five Elements practitioners?

On the other hand, if you have pioneered a new approach, why should a client take the risk of coming to you? What is your credibility? Does your approach have a historical foundation, or is it purely your creation? Are you the only person practicing it, or have you trained others? Even if your work has gained media attention in the past, don’t assume that visitors will know about it, or about you. Connect with them now, gain their attention and trust now.

If you have created a modality that has taken on a life of its own, you may want to consider a separate site for it – providing information about the background, the principles, and resources for potential  clients and students (who are the practitioners you’ve trained? Where can potential students learn your approach?). Again, view the information you provide from your target audience’s position: what are the questions you’re constantly answering?

Write as you would speak!

Finally, nothing is more off-putting than finding canned corporatespeak on the home page of a site offering deeply personal services…and nothing is more warm and attractive than a home page that speaks to the visitor’s heart and needs, answering the “SO WHAT” question in personal language. If your business reaches out to your clients’ hearts, souls, and psyches, write in language that resonates deeply. Write as you would speak if your readers were standing in front of you. Don’t fear the natural voice of your passion for your work.

It’s all about connection, from heart to heart and spirit to spirit.

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