This month we discuss the use of article writing in your marketing and positioning yourself as an expert in your industry. Like video, the more written material you get out on the Web, the more links will be displayed when a prospect Googles you. When prospects discover articles authored by you they immediately begin to perceive you as an expert and want to do business with you. There are several different types of article writing available to you. These include: newsletters, e-zine articles, blogs, white papers, online publications and offline printed publications.

The smart agent will make use of two or more venues for creating information products. In the words of Jean-Francois Lyotard when talking about the modern world: "Knowledge is produced to be sold." You are selling in the sense that you want your prospects to use your services when purchasing benefits. Each of these venues offers a different value proposition from a marketing perspective and you must consider that when choosing your tools.

In my own marketing as a general agent and sales coach to benefit professionals, I utilize e-zine articles, white papers, newsletters and both online and offline publications. As a point of reference, this article is an aspect of my marketing strategy. Having recently started marketing ancillary products to local businesses with a focus on dental insurance, I am utilizing white papers and e-zine articles for now. In time, I may approach the publishers of this magazine about writing for its sister publication, Employee Benefit News, which focuses on HR professionals. I know that the more I write the easier finding clients will get.

Newsletters

Every insurance agent selling group insurance products (voluntary or employer-paid) should write a newsletter. At a minimum you should send your newsletter at least once per month. If you can, I recommend a twice monthly newsletter. If at all possible avoid those prewritten newsletters that contain multiple articles with a link to "click here to read more." Your open and read rate will increase if you offer no more than one topic and your readers know that the article will be no more than three paragraphs.

At least once per month you should write an article that has the potential to lead a prospect to calling for more information. An example might be an article on how to use voluntary benefits to reduce employee pressure for increased wages. At the end of the article you must have a call to action such as: "Click here for more information on how we can help you reduce employee pressure for increased wages."

There are a number of great online systems for your newsletter. I use iContact, but you can use Constant Contact or some other system. Whatever you do, do not use your Outlook email program for your newsletter. The online systems are inexpensive and provide important tools for your use. The first benefit of the online system is that they store all of your newsletters in an accessible online portal. This makes it possible for Google to find your articles. The second benefit is that you will know exactly how many recipients opened your newsletter, how many clicked your links, and who those people are - great for follow-up.

E-zine articles

There are several online article repositories designed to help people raise the rankings of their websites. But writing articles and posting on these repositories is also great for expert positioning. Just to give you an example of the impact of using these online article repositories, let me share some statistics with you from my article, "Five Steps to Critical Illness Sales Success." I published this article on Dec. 8, 2011. At press time that article had 987 views resulting in 119 people visiting my website. I would love to tell you that it resulted in a sale, but it has not. Nonetheless, it did result in 119 people visiting my website who now know my name.

It is relatively easy to write for these online article repositories since the average article size is less than 750 words. Your goal should be to write two to three articles per month. In December I wrote three articles: two on dental insurance and one on critical illness insurance. My goal is not necessarily to generate traffic to my website (although I will take whatever I can get) but to create a large database online for someone Googling my name. Of course as I write these I place links on the appropriate product-specific website.

White papers

Where newsletters and e-zine articles take very little time to produce, a white paper will require a little bit of work. These are longer, more in-depth reports on specific subjects. My white papers tend to be four pages to as much as 27 pages long. These utilize 12-point type, the Aria font and use 1.5/2.0 line spacing to make for easy readability. Before writing I spend several hours researching my topics so that I can reference my facts for credibility. When completed, each article is posted to the appropriate website where it can be opened in a browser for those individuals who prefer not to download information.

There are three primary uses for white papers. White papers are the basis of my "call-email-call" prospecting system. The idea of this approach is to call prospects and introduce yourself, but instead of asking for a sales appointment you ask for permission to send your white paper. The next day you follow up as a courtesy to insure the prospect received the white paper. Those people who are intrigued are your best prospects. I have written a white paper on this topic, accessible at alifetimeofleads.com/downloads.html.

White papers posted to a hidden page on your website are also a great tool for the prospect that asks for more information. If the prospect allows you to email him a link to your website where he can download a free report on the topic, you accomplish two goals: permission for further conversation and permission to add the prospect to your newsletter. When the prospect visits your website to download the report there is a good chance that he will also look around. If you have a good product or idea-specific website, you will create the impression that you are the expert.

Finally, if you do any public speaking, white papers are a great tool to use to capture the business cards of attendees with an interest in learning more. I always utilize white paper giveaways in my programs to insurance agents. At the end of my talk I say the following: "If you would like to receive my free report on (whatever topic) just take out your business card and write a 'W' on the back so that I know you want me to email you the report."

As I said previously, I send a link to a hidden page on my website where the paper can be opened in the browser or downloaded. And of course I can now add these individuals to my newsletter database.

Online and offline publications

I am not going to spend much time on this topic because writing for these publications will take the most amount of time. That said, it is these publications that have the most impact on your expert identity because they provide immediate credibility. As a general rule these articles will be 1,000 to 1,500 words in length and require that you really know your topic. It is much more difficult to get published by trade and professional publications because your articles must pass the review of an editor who will be looking at both content and writing style. Nonetheless, if you like to write, these are worth looking into.

Article writing is an amazing tool in the quest to establish an expert identity. By scheduling time in your calendar you can begin to create information products that will help you create credibility with prospects, drive now opportunities and close more sales. An added benefit is that you will become infinitely better educated about your industry and that will also translate into increased sales. You might also have some fun!

Schlesinger, RHU, REBC, is president of the National Association of Health Underwriters and a sales coach specializing in working with employee benefits professionals. Reach him at (336) 777-3938.

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