Last month’s Valuable Content Award went to the fantastic team in HSBC’s Expat division, but as this month’s award proves, you don’t need to be a major corporate with a large marketing budget to win at this game. We are delighted to present May’s Valuable Content Award to a far smaller company with no less creativity.
Our award goes to Bristol-based Finance Directors F-works for their imaginative and collaborative content, pulled together in their redesigned and content rich website. We applaud their determination to pump personality into a subject that could be drier than dry, and love the way they use their content a way to build a community first rather than broadcast sales messages. The result is streets away from your average financial website.
Here F-works director Steve King answers our questions.
Q. Please tell us about your approach to content
A: “Our aim is to make what we do – providing finance expertise to help entrepreneurs build their business – easy to understand. Too many finance people perceive there to be money in the mystery of finance and connive to perpetuate the deceit. Ridiculous. In our experience the few key things an entrepreneur needs to know are easy for them to grasp if conveyed in the right way.
But we have a tough challenge on our hands. Who in their right mind wants to read about finance? We have to work hard to appeal to the ingenious, creative, tenacious and driven entrepreneurs we help and want to help.
How do we do that? In my case, when I’m creating content for the website I imagine I’m sitting in a pub and chatting over a beer with the entrepreneur. A chat that conveys something useful and relevant to the situation they’re in, in an interesting and enjoyable way, with a bit of banter thrown in (never forget the banter).
Oh, and I try to remember what it’s like to know little or nothing about the subject – that helps me communicate in a way that’s easy to understand.
Have we got it 100% right? Probably not. There’s always more you could do. We try and learn, learn and try…”
Q. What type of content do you share?
A: “We give away copies of a book I co-wrote – Finance on a Beermat (published by Random House) – written to show entrepreneurs how to turn finance from something scary, dull and backward-looking or incomprehensible (sometimes all four!) into a clear, powerful tool for building businesses.
Also we write articles we feel will help people running service businesses develop their business and have the relationship they want with it.
And we are co-creating a book called F-words with a community of entrepreneurs in which we share the tips and tricks only a seasoned entrepreneur knows.”
“The common aim is to place financial management in the context of everything else that needs to be done to build a successful business. The context hopefully increases the reader’s understanding of which aspects of financial management are important to them now, and which will become important as their business develops. And by slapping finance into context we are able to demonstrate our understanding of the issues the reader is facing. And that us finance people know our place.”
Q. What results has this brought for your business?
A: “Clients. And a good relationship with a large community of potential clients, who through our content are more able to build their business and have a good grasp of the situations in which they should call us in to help them.
A community of people who trust us, respect the way we do business – with an overriding desire to help – and who have some understanding through our tone of voice of what it’s like to work with us. And hopefully we put-off stuffy, self-important people we wouldn’t enjoy working with.”
Q. Example of some content that has worked really well?
A: “Usually, when I first meet a business owner I give them a copy of Finance on a Beermat. Almost all owners I meet a second time have read it, feel we genuinely understand them and the situation they’re in, and have a good appreciation of situations in which we help them. I know this, because they tell me (though I like to think they feel I have some understanding of the situation they’re in at the first meeting). And I have to say, when I produce the book at the first meeting their perception of me often changes. “This guy was asked to write a book by a proper publisher, he must know what he’s talking about” (and yes, they know I’m not ‘the Stephen King’, though of course I am!).
F-words is a monthly conversation with a community of entrepreneurs that we’re part of. We’ve identified twenty-four aspects of building a business and given them all a name beginning with the letter F. Each month we email a new F-word to a few hundred entrepreneurs with a few pithy words on the subject, together with a link to a page on our website where they can contribute their views and read the contributions of others. Twenty one entrepreneurs have contributed so far, most of them many times (we’re up to word 10). Everyone that contributes to the book will have an opportunity to be named in it, along with a few words about their business.”
“If another business owner asked you for a small piece of advice, would you offer it? Of course you would. Building a business is hard, which is why there’s a huge amount of camaraderie amongst those trying to do it. (I should perhaps point out we’re not a professional services firm offering our services to a community of entrepreneurs, we’re an entrepreneurial business embedded in the community.)”
Q. Who creates the content? How do you manage the challenge of continually creating high quality content?
A: “We encourage everyone to create content and all do, but I seem to find it easiest, so create most of it. Continually creating high-quality content requires discipline, but I enjoy finding ways to share what I know. I find it fulfilling – so I don’t find it hard to nudge it to the top of the list.”
Q. The F-Words campaign is visually striking. How important is design?
A: “Design is very important, for two reasons:
- For people to get value from our content they need to read it, which means we need to grab their attention and stimulate some interest, and good design helps us do that (as does a great headline).
- Many of the people that read our content think visually so appreciate the visual representation of the essence of our message.”
Q. What’s next for your content?
A: “We’re been approached by Quent … sorry, a famous writer-director, to contribute to a screenplay he’s writing. A musical.”
Q: Any valuable content tips for other businesses?
A: “It’s important to bear in mind there are two often over-looked benefits of creating valuable content:
- It exposes the huge amount of hard-earned and valuable knowledge you’ve acquired and squirrelled away.
- It forces you to find a crystal-clear way of communicating your knowledge, which can then be used in conversation after conversation.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the first draft of anything you write needs to be anywhere near close to what the reader sees. It may end up that way, but don’t consider it a requirement. It will inhibit you. The first draft should be a written record of a stream of consciousness. Blurt it all out and return to it later – perhaps a few times – to turn it into something humans will understand and enjoy reading. Or call in a professional translator to do that, like Valuable Content.”
Great advice. Congratulations Steve, Antony and the F-works team. A well-deserved Valuable Content Award is on its way to you.
We hope this helps to reward you for all that hard work.