Louise Harnby: Building an oversubscribed business using content marketing

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Louise Harnby is a fiction editor and proofreader who has been creating content since the dawn of her business.

Louise believed in developing content for her business as a way to give value to her audience and build trust. Her content resource not only saves her time, she now has people waiting to work with her.

The Interviews:

Additional Resources:


Chris: Well. Good morning, Louise. Thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Louise: I’m very well, thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me.

Chris: So good that you’re here. I’m so excited to meet you because we’ve been connected online for a long time. We’ve got a really good mutual friend, Denise. We’re connected on social media. I see all your stuff, and then when we were doing the CMA awards this year, there’s a nomination came in for you. I was like, oh, that’s interesting. Let’s have a look at what you’re doing, and you’re doing tons of great things, which I’m really excited about speaking to you about as well.So, it’s really great to meet you, Louise, and thanks so much for being here. Tell the listeners a little bit about who you are, what you do, what keeps you busy, and why you love your work.

Louise: My name’s Louise Harnby, and I’m a fiction editor. I work exclusively with indie authors, particularly those who write crime, thrillers and mysteries. Basically, I’m helping them get their books ready for market. I’m looking at line editing, copy editing and proofreading.

Chris: Cool. What do you love the most about that work?

Louise: Oh, just finding the magic in the story, Chris. Because a lot of people think that the kind of stuff that editors do is just about finding typos, but it’s not. It’s about finding the magic in the story and making sure that that story is alive on the page. That’s what I love doing. I love just bringing it to life and making sure that it’s going to be exciting for readers.

Chris: That’s cool. I love that. You’re really super passionate about it. I can hear it in your voice.

Louise: Yeah, I do. I love it. It’s nice to be paid for something you love doing, isn’t it?

Chris: Yeah. That’s it. You get the magic of having your work as being your hobby as well at the same time. Which is luck in some ways I think for a lot of people. The other thing is, the passion doesn’t just come through in your voice; it comes through in everything that you do. We had like 120 nominations or something I had to work through …

Louise: Did you?

Chris: Yeah, something crazy … for the CMA Awards. So it took us a bit of time to get through it all. But in the blogging category, the category that you won – the Blogger of the Year there was no question about your dedication to your work. When we started to sift through your content for the last seven or eight years, or back to 2011! You’re almost in your 10-year anniversary in terms of your blogs. There was almost no question really about your dedication and your commitment to your work, but also the results you’re getting from that. We’ll talk about all of this. And I’m just curious: where did content marketing start for you? Where did you get that vision from to start creating content for your audience, to start to build it all out?

Louise: I’ll tell you this, it had nothing to do with content marketing! I didn’t even know that term. What happened was, back in 2011, I created this resource for editors – which I don’t need to go into the details of now because it will be boring to anybody who’s not an editor – but I wanted it to be visible; So rather than people having to email me, I thought, I know, I’ll start a blog and I’ll put this resource on there so that people can download it, and I’ll explain what it is.

That was great. What I found was that lots of people started visiting that page and it was saving me time as well because if somebody emailed me asking about it, I could just link them straight to the blog.

But then a weird thing happened. After a couple of years, I noticed that I was becoming more visible in the search engines because obviously this blog didn’t just contain this resource. It had all these keywords that were relevant to the editing industry more generally.

I thought: This is extraordinary. You create something that adds value, and it works for you online. It’s like a business tool.

When I wrote my marketing book for editors, I had a section in it called value-added marketing and I talked about things like blogging. Another mutual friend of ours, John Espirian, was talking in the Society for Editors and Proofreaders forum about this thing called content marketing. I was so shocked because I was really into marketing. I was really into that side of running a business. It wasn’t just about editing for me. I felt that, yes, you have to be trained and of course you have to be qualified and experienced and know what you’re doing, but you have to be visible.

I texted another friend of mine quickly and said, “Oh my God, I’ve just heard about this thing called content marketing. I’m completely behind the times. I don’t know what this is. I haven’t been doing this.” My friend Nick said to me, “Stop, don’t worry. You’re doing it. You just don’t call it content marketing. You call it value-added marketing.” I was like, “Oh, what a relief.”

Then I started to take more interest in the fundamental principles behind content marketing. That’s where the rest of the journey came from.

Chris: That’s funny, because a lot of times I think people, especially around about that time, sort of 2008 to 2011, around about that time a lot of people that were doing what we now call content marketing back then have a very similar sort of story. That they were doing it. It just felt like the right thing to do. Then we’ve called it content marketing.

Even for myself, Louise, I have this relationship with the name. I try not to use it too much. Obviously it’s in our actual business name, but when we’re presenting or when we’re talking to other people, we try not to use the term content marketing, because oftentimes it does actually confuse people. I think that whole value-added marketing, that makes a lot more sense – that you’re adding value, which is awesome.

You started to see it work for you in terms of search results and things like that. How have those results developed? We’re going into eight, nine, ten years of generating this content. It’s not like you’ve got results and now you’ve stopped, and you’re just resting on that. You’re continuing to make progress. What is driving that? How are these results changing for you? How is this shaping your business?

Louise: The first thing is, it means that I can build a waitlist, and I can talk a little bit about that more in a minute. The second thing is that it’s a massive time-saver for me. I think this is something that people are often worried about with content marketing or value-added marketing. They think: it’s going to take me a lot of time to create stuff. But, actually, to me it’s a time saver.

With regards to the waitlist, what I find is that every time I answer a problem that I see a potential client having, I’m more likely to get found.

There are always going to be people who are writing similar content because they’re going to come up with clients with the same problems as well. I want to stay visible and I want to have the choice. I don’t want to be worrying about how I pay next month’s mortgage. I want to be worrying about how I’m going to pay the mortgage in October 2020. I want that buffer.

I’ve found that because I get leads, I can convert that initial person getting in contact with me because they find my content online … because I can then use that to sell my business. I’m much more likely to attract the kind of people I want to work with, and who will pay my price, and who will wait for me because – and I think it’s this thing that you talk about a lot, and that other marketers talk about – it’s this issue of trust.

I want to continue maintaining trust. I don’t want to be seen as someone who says: oh, just created a load of blogs because she wants to be visible. I want people to see that I write about this stuff – and I talk about it on my own podcast with Denise I do this stuff because I’m interested in this stuff. I’m engaged with the stuff that my clients are engaged with. It’s a long-term strategy that’s focused on engagement and relationships and trust. Not on putting words on a blog, if you see what I mean.

The other issue that I mentioned is about saving time. It’s something that I talked about a little bit earlier. I’ll give you an example. It’s much easier to tell a story. A client – rather, a potential client – got in touch with me and said, “I’ve just been looking at your website. You’ve got all these amazing resources on there. Can you do a sample edit for me? I’ll pay you whatever.”

I did the sample edit for him. During the sample edit, there were several problems with his story. It was a great story, but there were some problems with it. I made comments on the side of the text.

At seven different stages, just in this 1000-word sample, I was able to say: “For more information on this, read this blog.” I sent him to that more in-depth information about the problems he was having.

My blogs ended up being a teaching tool for him. He came back to me yesterday evening and said, “That was an amazing sample edit. Thank you so much. That stuff’s been really useful.” He hired me for the full edit. That’s several thousand pounds’ worth of work.

That content is a business tool that saves me time when I’m doing reports or sample edits or quotes, but it’s also, again, just reinforcing that message that I have the skills and the knowledge available to my authors, and I can give it to them, and I can give it to them quickly. That helps reinforce that trust and turn that initial little sale, or just contact, into a more valuable project.

Chris: Yeah. You have the opportunity there to really show your expertise and the depth of your knowledge as well. It’s like you’re not just giving people individual feedback. You’re saying, “Look, I have written about this stuff at length.” You don’t have to tell people that you know, what you’re talking about. You show them through your content, which I love.

Louise: That’s exactly it, Chris. In fact, that’s a really interesting thing you’ve said there because in the fiction-editing market there is this concept called “show don’t tell”. It’s something that authors a lot of the time come unstuck with.

They write narratives that tell rather than show. I always think it’s funny because that is what content marketing is so much about. It’s about showing your skills and your engagement and your passion and your knowledge rather than just saying, “I’m great.”

Chris: Absolutely. I think, yeah, that’s, for me, the heart of what content marketing is truly all about.

I love a couple of things you’ve mentioned there that I want to pick up on. I love the fact that you’ve got this big-picture thinking with content. Now, a lot of people see the short term, which is the hard work, the blogs, the creating the content, and then really trying to get the result from that blog, get the leads for example. But you’re thinking much bigger picture here.

I think this is good for people to see that over the last seven or eight years you’ve created like a content machine through your company, through your business. With all of this content it’s just building up. It’s like a layer upon a layer upon a layer, over years and years and years, which has allowed you to build up this massive educational platform for your buyers, which obviously gives them more confidence, builds trust with you.

I also love the big picture here as well, which you’ve heard before and we get all the time – the biggest excuse is: I don’t have the time. I don’t have the time to create it. But, actually, when you see the bigger picture, you see that it saves you time. But not only that, if you take it even further, which is like another thing that you mentioned here – is that it doesn’t just save you time. It means that you’re only using your time to work with the best clients as well because it gives you that opportunity to choose the exact projects that you want to work on.

You have this opportunity now, not just to get more leads but to sift through those leads and pick the ones that you truly want, because you’ve got the choice now, which is a complete luxury for a lot of businesses, which I absolutely love that you’ve come full circle on that. Louise, and be able to share that story with us.

Louise: That’s so it, Chris. That’s the thing. It gives you the choice to decide whether you want to work for that person or walk away. Because I can think, actually, yeah, great, that person’s contacted me and asked me to quote. But if they come back to me and they say, “Oh, can you do anything with the price?”, I’m happy to say, “No, I can’t. That’s my price.” I know I’m not going to have a problem filling that slot. I can wait because people are going to find me.

You’re absolutely right that issue … This time issue is a frustrating conversation because let’s say I spend four or six hours on a blog. I only have to do that once, but it will work for me for years and years and years, just like your content, these podcasts you’re recording, the videos that you do, the blogs that you write. That stuff’s going to be available to people forever, for as long as you leave it, make it available to people.

People need to remember that – that you only have to put the work in once, but the content keeps working for you ad infinitum.

Chris: Yeah. I think that’s so true. You can get results from content really quickly if you’re measuring the right things, but the best results are going to come in time. It could be years as it starts to all build on each other. I think that’s the big picture that I hope that people who are listening can start to appreciate and understand and actually have a vision for themselves as well.

Writing is a thing that you do, right? You’re in that sphere. What challenges have you had over the years with content? Has there ever been a time where you felt stuck, or you felt like … I don’t know, just anything that you feel like you’ve had to overcome along the way?

Louise: Not so much from the actual content creation side of things. I never have a problem thinking, what am I going to write about? I know exactly what my writers’ problems are because I see them on the page in front of me. Every time someone comes unstuck with something in a project I’m working on – if I haven’t got a blog post that covers that, that’s my trigger to write it down.

That’s not been an issue. That big issue for me – I think on this is partly a side thing to the content – is the branding side of things. Because obviously you want your content to look like it’s from your stable. I think that was the thing that I noticed I was falling short on a few years back. I don’t think there was a strong brand behind the content I was putting out and my visible presence online … If you think of my website, just my homepage, even that content, I don’t think it was cohesive.

That’s where I invested a lot of time in really trying to understand how my brand identity would come through and really shape that content and the look of that content – the visuals that I used, the headshot that went with it, the voice I used, and the market I spoke to.

Chris: Sure. I think this is a really interesting conversation. Because, looking back on your journey, Louise, would you say that that happened? You started to recognize that because you had a lot of content … In my head I’m thinking someone that’s listening here is thinking, okay, so should I do that first?

Louise: If I could do it all over again, I would have understood my brand identity way before, or at the same time. I wouldn’t have been thinking of those as two separate things – my business brand and my content. I’d have pushed it all under one umbrella and seen those things as complementary. It was only when I met Andrew and Pete, who are colleagues and friends of yours, that I learned how to see it in a more holistic way.

I think I wasted a lot of time, because in the early years what I was doing was … I was desperately trying to just put as much of this information, engaging information, as I could out there. But I don’t think that I’d really understood at that point how to communicate that as part of me. It was almost filtered.

The analogy I always use is that, for years, because I didn’t have my brand identity correct in my head, or even structured in my head, I don’t think I even thought in terms of branding or brand identity. What I was doing … it was like driving down the motorway at 70 miles an hour in first gear. I was getting where I wanted to go, but the engine was screaming and I had to put in so much work, because every time I created a post, I was always like, oh, I’ve got to create a little picture to go with that. I didn’t have any templates set up. I didn’t have any idea about my voice or my look.

Then once I got the branding nailed, it was like slipping into cruise. Because suddenly it was like I could see how that brand would shape that content, and I could create shortcuts to help me do that more easily. I understood how I would structure that content and how I would use visual imagery to enhance it. It just became so much easier.

I would say to anybody listening to this: if you’re thinking, should I do blogging or podcasting or video first and then do branding or should I do branding first and then … just don’t think of them as separate things. Take a holistic view. It’s all one thing; it’s about business ownership; it’s about communicating the message.

Chris: Do you feel that, now, Louise that you’re … Because you’ve set all these foundations up now, that they are continually developing together at the same rate still?

Louise: Yeah, I think so. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to learn. There’s always more to learn. Of course, things are always changing. But I feel in control of it. I think that’s the thing. I feel in control of it. So that when I have to make changes, or I want to make tweaks, or I want to test new things, I don’t feel that that’s something scary or catastrophic. It’s exciting. I feel that there’s a controlled space in which I can make those decisions and experiment. So, yeah. Does that answer your question?

Chris: I kind of feel it’s maturing, if that makes sense. Your journey’s great because you started off with something: You were like, I have this resource, I’m going to put it up on my blog. Then over the years, it’s like, actually, this is doing things I never thought it was going to do. I’m going to create more content. Then you’re like, wow, this is a lot of hard work. I need to make it look sexy sort of approach. Now it looks great. Over the years you’ve built on this platform of … It’s almost as if, in some ways, we’ve all got access to these bricks to build our foundation. It’s just that we tend to put them all in a different order.

I’m just trying to get this picture, as one of the challenges that we have, Louise, with a lot of people is they try to get all the bricks in place before they do their content. I think what you’re saying is good; that it’s all part of the same journey; it’s all part of the same approach. Don’t look at them separately, but look at it all happening at the same time.

Louise: And get it out there as well. Because there’s nothing worse than a blog that is sitting on your desktop. It’s like this podcast. Now, if you don’t do anything with this episode, if it just sits there on your computer, it’s not going to be any use to anybody. It’s not going to work for you; it’s not going to work for me; it’s not going to work for your listeners. So, get it out there.

The other thing I guess is you can always change it, can’t you? It’s like if you create a blog, for example, you can always go back and tweak it and amend it and shift things around and rethink it. You can revisit the content. That’s the beauty of online. That’s what I love about it, that it’s not like when you publish your book in print and there it is with all its flaws forever. You get to tweak and adapt it.

If during your branding journey you discover something, and you think, Oh, actually I want to go and make sure that that blog reflects that, you can do that. Don’t wait, just get going with it as soon as you can.

Chris: Yeah, it’s a great message. I think it’s good for people to listen to your journey. Everyone’s journey’s slightly different. I think it’s good to hear the stories about how people have got started and how they’ve approached it. I really don’t think that even though your journey goes back ten years or so, I don’t think much has changed really if you were to start now.

I think there’s … I don’t know if you agree or disagree with this. I think there’s just as much opportunity now for people listening that want to create, like you, their very first resource and put it on a blog. I think there’s as much opportunity now as there ever has been for people to be successful with that.

Louise: I agree with you. Because one of the things that a lot of my editing colleagues say to me is like, oh, there’s no point in me writing a blog about that because you’ve already done it. I might as well just link to yours. I’m like, “Yeah, fine. You send your potential clients over on my website. Thanks very much!”

I remind them that if somebody’s on their website looking for answers to problems, they want to find that information there. They don’t want to have to go somewhere else for it. So you’re absolutely right. If you’ve got something to say and you can say it in your voice and with your personality behind it, then that should be on your site regardless of whether other people are talking about the same thing.

That means that just because I wrote a blog seven years ago or whatever, it doesn’t mean that one of my colleagues couldn’t write a thing on the same theme now and get results from that because the potential client wants to see what that person knows, not what her colleague knows. So, yes, I absolutely agree with that.

Chris: Exactly. Yeah. I’m just thinking about wrapping up here, Louise, and thinking this is an amazing story. I’m so glad that we got to have the opportunity to talk. I think you’ve shared a lot of information about helping people to start their own journey as well, wherever they are.

When you think back across your whole journey through content marketing, what would you say has been the most significant lesson that you’ve learned, either personal or professional?

Louise: I think that for me, it’s the one thing that has allowed me two to communicate in my own space with the people I want to work with.

There’s been a lot of tools online over the years that we can use. Various different social media platforms. There are always opportunities, like you can write a book or you can do this, you can do that. The thing is, that stuff always ends up on someone else’s land.

I hear this analogy of renting, renting space. Well, I think when you start to create your own content and place that in your space, you get to keep control; you get to define it.

I think the one thing that really strikes me when I think about the content platform that I’ve built is that, it’s mine, it oozes me. That’s an incredibly empowering thing. It means that I get to choose what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it reads like and what I do with it, where I make it available and whether I want to change my mind. As a business owner, that’s a really empowering thing.

Chris: Yeah, that’s an amazing lesson for everyone to learn as well. I love that whole all your content is yours. You want it as an asset for you and your business and for the future of your company. For example, all the stuff that you’ve created so far, Louise, is just going to help you to be even more successful as time goes on, which is just awesome.

It’s been great speaking to you, Louise. I’m so grateful that you were nominated for an award and that we got to see your content and in the right light. Obviously, I’ve seen you online, I’ve seen all your stuff, but to actually look at it properly has been great and I’m so glad that we got the chance to speak as well.

I’m really looking forward to whatever you go on to achieve over the years as well. It’s fantastic to have this time together, share your journey. If people want to get in touch with you, pick your brain or connect with you, where’s the best place for people to do that?

Louise: They can find me at harnby.co/fiction-editing.

Chris: We will pop that into the show notes for everybody to connect with you, which I highly recommend doing, and if anything, take a look at your website as a great case study for what a great blog should look like.

Of course, you’ve got your podcast with Denise as well. So anybody that’s interested in all of that stuff can go over and check you out.

Thanks for joining me today, Louise. It’s been amazing. Your story is fantastic and I hope that people listening today can take something away from that, if anything, a little bit of inspiration, a bit more vision to do the work themselves. So thank you.

Louise: Thanks so much for having me. It’s been a real pleasure to talk to you. I love what the CMA is doing. So thank you for making me part of that.

Chris: Thank you, Louise.