By Kath Walters
Owen McCall is a successful technology consultant based in New Zealand. I know McCall is successful because I happen to know how much he earns in revenue and, even though I am not telling you, it’s a figure that spells S U C C E S S.
McCall estimates that 60% of his business comes from referals within his network. The other 40% comes from his content marketing program. In other words, he gets a 40% lift in revenue as a result of publishing a monthly blog.
That is what I call return on investment.
Interestingly, McCall breaks almost all the content marketing rules: he started without a plan or strategy, and he has no key messages that he tries to hammer home every month. He writes about what is going on in his mind at the time.
Having said that, McCall says that, when he looks back at the monthly column he writes for CIO magazine in New Zealand, the theme is consistent. McCall says: “Everything I write answers the question: ‘How do you actually get the value out of all this technology you have bought and paid for?’”
McCall says he never has won business as the result of a particular blog – it is the sum total of his blogging consistently over eight years that creates the flow of clients, he says.
McCall didn’t start his blog with a view to winning work. At the time (2007) McCall was still a salary man as CIO of one of New Zealand’s largest public listed retailers, The Warehouse. “It’s like Big W or Target in Australia,” McCall says.
McCall didn’t need income; he wanted discipline. He’d observed the rise of social media and blogging and had written a few pieces on Google’s blogging platform.
How often did he write? “When the mood took me; pretty randomly.”
McCall knew CIO’s editor, Divina Paredes, who’d contacted him a couple of times for comment on stories she was writing. He asked her if she would be interested in him writing a blog.
“She was ecstatic,” he says. “The format for columns was a page, which is 650-750 words, once a month, so I did that.”
McCall did have an ulterior motive in his desire to blog. Yes, he wanted to make himself accountable to Paredes in order to impose a writing discipline. And that worked.
But he also hoped to position himself for a return to consulting. “I had been a consultant with [accounting firm] Deloitte for 18 years before becoming CIO at The Warehouse,” he says. “I always had it in the back of my mind that I would go back to consulting in some form. I was trying to position myself with my audience; [to] achieve recognition with my audience for the point when I decided to leave. This happened several years later.”
McCall knows himself. He says he regularly deploys the accountable-to-external-parties hack when he wants to learn something new.
Even so, his consistency and commitment is remarkable. “I have written a piece for every issue of CIO since 2007, except the CIO 100 once a year which has no articles in it. That is 11 pieces a year. Then they went to bi-monthly so it was six issues a year. Just now, they have just stopped printing the paper magazine, and I am back to monthly on their website.”
McCall’s discipline did not extend to being prepared for every deadline, he says. In the early stages, he was pushing it. But he developed a process over time.
“I’d start thinking about my blog, write it down, hate it, and realise I don’t know what I want to say. I’d get frustrated and leave it for a couple of days. Then I’d come down and write it. Some blogs write themselves, and they are the best ones.”
He’s worked out another little hack to smooth the process: he writes drafts in Evernote.
“The single biggest lesson I have learned is to write in what I call ‘draft mode’. I fool myself by saying I can write anything I want in Evernote; no one can see it. I can write any junk I want, and also all of my first draft blogs. I am only serious about it when I take it out of Evernote, and write it into a formal document. In Evernote it can be complete trash because no one ever sees it. It is my draft pad.”
McCall says this process has been freeing. “And most of what I write I am secretly pleased with when I come back to get it. Probably 70% to 80% is alright and it makes some sense.”
Over time McCall’s Evernote blurts have become a log of topics to write about in case he is ever stuck for ideas.
Clients create content create clients
Since starting his technology practice in 2013, McCall has found a new source of ideas. “These days, half of my blogs are generated by conversations with my clients. They will talk about an issue, and I say to them, this is what I do and what I think about that. Then I think: ‘Actually, I should write a blog on that’.”
The consistency of his writing gives McCall latitude with his clients. For example, he recently sent out a white paper to prospects followed a few weeks later by a request to talk about his new project with them.
“I got one response back from a CIO who said, ‘Owen I have been following your stuff for ages, and I love your white paper, but we have people who do that for us. However, what we don’t have is this …’ and he told me all about what he needed.”
In other words, his prospect was confident that McCall could help him even though his white paper marketing did not land, precisely because he had come to trust and value McCall by reading his regular blog in CIO.
Is success a signal to stop?
McCall has a strong pipeline of work. When asked if he is planning to stop his blog, he equivocates. “No, yes, and no,” he says.
“I know it works, and I know it helps drive profile and positioning. What I have considered is whether – as CIO goes out of print and expands its contributor network – whether that remains most appropriate.”
He also wants to own the leads he is generating. “CIO can’t tell me who is liking my stuff, or reading my stuff. It is a blind leap of faith, and while that has value there are potential better ways of doing it.
“My plan is to write three blogs a month: one to CIO, I also started writing for iStart, one goes to them, and one I publish directly on my website and through my newsletter. All get referenced in the newsletter and reposted predominately through LinkedIn.”