Skip to main content

Mission-Driven Content for Small Businesses with Melanie Deziel

Mission-Driven Content with Melanie Deziel

Small businesses are an essential part of our economy and Melanie Deziel believes it’s our responsibility to help them thrive. 

Formerly the editor of branded content at the New York Times and director of content at Foundation, Melanie is the co-founder of The Convoy, an online marketplace for small business owners to save on everyday expenses. 

She is a writer, speaker and the author of “The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas.” 

Melanie talked to us about the role that small businesses play in our neighborhoods, the importance of being authentic both online and in-person, and why sharing knowledge is the best way to help others.

Show Topics

  • Support communities through small business
  • Work with subject matter experts
  • Break large tasks into smaller chunks
  • Use examples to enhance your writing
  • Remind people of their creativity

Show Links 

Listen to the podcast

Watch a video clip

Key Takeways

08:18 – Support communities through small business

When small businesses have support, they enhance the local economy and enrich their communities.

“An independent small business owner should be able to have that community support, should be able to have other small business owners they can team up with to get the kind of rates that are usually reserved for the national chains and part of why it’s so important to us is this is really, at a macro level, about redistributing wealth back into our communities. Because what we know is that small and independent business owners, the local mom and pop type shops, like they do so much more good for their community than big box stores, not to hate on any sort of corporate charity giving programs. Please keep it up. But what we know is that these small and local businesses, they retain jobs better in times of high unemployment, they typically have higher-paying jobs than big box stores. There’s more involvement in the community. They’re sponsoring the local little league team. They’re way more involved. Having a rich community of all these small and like unique businesses, as opposed to just chains actually attracts more people to the region. So, it’s good for the local economy. There’s almost an endless number of benefits to having supported small businesses in our communities. And yet, they’re out here struggling because they’re trying to do it themselves.”

10:40 – Keep main street intact

Consumers would rather spend their money at a locally-owned business, even if it means paying more for the same goods they could get at a box store.

“It’s tough because you can’t blame consumers. They’re in a tough position where sometimes these big chains can come in and offer better pricing, or faster delivery or other conveniences, but there’s a lot of data that shows that most consumers are willing to pay more to support a small business. We feel better when we’re supporting somebody’s dream, as opposed to buying from a faceless conglomerate. So, the more we can keep that main street intact and make those options still available, consumers value that. It’s a good thing. Hopefully, nobody’s losing sleep because there isn’t a Walmart close enough.”

16:28 – Work with subject matter experts

Using experts who can write from their experiences is a more reliable and scalable way to produce content in any niche.

“I see it more as my job to curate information than to actually know everything. Using expert sources is a big part of that or referring people to other resources. To me, it just naturally made sense. It was like, I know a lot about marketing. I can talk about marketing all day, but running a small business, hiring, there’s a lot to running a small business that’s outside of the realm of marketing and I don’t want to overstep my bounds. It would take me hours to do research and write something with any level of authority that someone else probably knows like the back of their hand. So to me, it was just, let’s get folks who know their stuff, who want to share and give them a chance to fill in on that platform.”

35:02 – Have a plan

Writing longer-form content like a book takes more preparation than shorter-form content like a blog.

“The biggest thing for me that time was really having a process that worked because I think what you don’t realize about a book until you’re really in it is that it’s a massive undertaking. We’re used to sitting down and writing an email or an article and you work for 25 minutes, an hour and you have something to show for it. When you’re writing 50,000 words, it doesn’t come that fast and it’s a lot of anguishing over things and trying to make all the pieces fit together. It’s just a bigger animal. It’s like when somebody runs their first marathon, you generally don’t go into it without a plan and prep and having worked to get ready for it. This is sort of like running a marathon when you’re just a casual runner with no warning. So, you need to have a plan. You need to prep for it.”

36:17 – Break large tasks into smaller chunks

Large writing projects become manageable when you break them up into smaller assignments.

“For me, it was about having a clear outline of what my content was. For me, I already knew what the structure of the book would be. I knew here are the key topics that I’m going to touch on. I knew which chapters were going to go where, and each chapter needed to have a story and statistics. It was very structured, at least for me, to know what I was working on at any given point and to be able to break that out and say, in order to meet my word count, I need to do this many pieces per week. I need to finish this by this date. I really made a training plan for myself, to make sure I made it to the finish line, was planning it out and having a really clear idea. When I sit down, I’m not ‘writing my book.’ I’m writing chapter seven, the anecdote that opens the chapter.”

38:53 – Make the time you need

Schedule time to make progress on your writing goals.

“People write books as their job, their full-time thing. They spent all their time doing it. And we’re trying to squeeze that in, in between work and taking care of yourself and getting groceries and picking up the kids and taking the dog out for a walk. It’s a lot to fit in. There are definitely times if you don’t have a plan, if you haven’t put that time on your calendar to work on it, it’s very easy for it to drag on a lot longer than you expect because it’s so easy for it to get pushed out in the grand scheme of everything else you have going on in life. It’s a lot of work. But if I enjoy the work, it’s good. I like writing. So, you just have to find a way to work it into your life because it’s not going to happen by accident.”

42:22 – Use examples to enhance your writing

Statistics, evidence and real-life examples support the concepts in your writing and help explain abstract concepts.

“I really like those authors who bring in the evidence. That’s something that’s important to me. Whether that is stats or expert quotes or something like that, that was important to me. So, I had to include certain statistics. I wanted statistics or evidence of some kind to be present throughout the book. The first book was about generating content ideas. It’s a very intangible topic. There’s not much to point to, or hold in your hands for this kind of topic. So, I knew the tangible examples were going to be key. Folks like Malcolm Gladwell do a really good job of that, of giving an example in a tangible form to give life to a concept. That was another thing where I needed a ton of tangible examples for everything that I’m talking about here so people understand from the concept theory to actual execution.”

50:05 – Be yourself

There’s no need to dress up as the image of what you think others expect of you. The best way to present yourself is by being your truest self.

“When I was 24, I got a job at the New York times as the first-ever editor of branded content. And when I tell you there was hardly enough room at my desk because of all the imposter syndrome in that office. It was crazy. I recognize these people have kids my age and I’m making business decisions. There was imposter syndrome. I was wearing blazers and suit jackets to work. And one day my boss, actually to his credit, came over and he was like, ‘Dude, when I interviewed you, you were wearing Converse.’ And [he] means, you could still do that here. You don’t have to be somebody else. Just be yourself. You don’t need a blazer to be taken seriously. That was probably one of the best gifts that he could have given me because it was permission. You don’t have to dress up as what you think this person should be like. Just be yourself. And, God, that makes life so much easier because you don’t have to divert all this energy to acting or costume or whatever else. You could just do your job.”

01:03:10 – Share what you know

Gathering knowledge only helps people when you share that knowledge with those who need it most.

“If I can walk away from a conversation knowing, ‘Wow, I made their life easier,’ or ‘I helped them find a way to save money and that’s going to be good for their family,’ or, ‘Oh, with this thing that I share with them, hopefully, they’ll be able to get more customers.’ To me, that’s a much better impact. I want to see that I’m making a difference. I think sharing, it’s like the teach a man to fish analogy. If I’m the greatest fisherman in the world and I’m sitting alone on a boat and other people are starving, that’s the worst possible scenario I can think of. I don’t fish, so this analogy is going to go south pretty quick, but I would much rather run a fishing school and teach lots of people to fish so that they can all fish and provide for their families and eat healthy. That, to me, is way more rewarding. I don’t know where that comes from. I don’t know necessarily the building blocks of that, but that is where I get my fulfillment, is knowing that I’m helping people.”

01:07:16 – Remind people of their creativity

The best way you can help others create content is to show them how creative they already are and give them the tools to recognize how that creativity is innate.

“It breaks my heart to hear people say, ‘I’m not creative. I’m not a creative person. I can’t come up with ideas. I’m not a writer.’ I don’t cuss. I want to right now, but I don’t. It’s such garbage. Society has made you believe that you cannot do something that is so inherent to you as a human being and taught you that it’s out of your reach. That’s horrible. There is such innate creativity in all of us. We all think this way. My best example that I always give is, you don’t think you come up with good ideas, but how many ways have you thought of something going wrong? You’ve got a million different scenarios of how wrong things could go. Your brain is good at this. You just have to give it a different prompt. I feel really strongly about this because it would drive me nuts and people were like, ‘Oh, you have so many. How can you come up with content ideas?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s not special. I guess you just need to know how. Let me teach you.’ Some of it is that. If somebody could walk away from that workshop or that experience and be like, ‘Wow, I can do this.’ Man, that’s the best difference you can make for someone is to help them believe something about themselves that’s going to push them forward in the right way.”

Get the Field Notes

Weekly learnings from working on B2B content & SEO for dozens of companies.

Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.