[The latest in our series of Q&A discussions on successful writing in the business realm with recipients of JD Supra's 2016 Readers' Choice award:]
Adding blog writing to your already busy daily schedule can be a daunting task. Matt DeVries would know. He not only has a full-time law practice and owns and operates his own blog, Best Practices Construction Law
, but he also has seven kids at home. It’s doable, he says, and it has enriched his life. “We all have different balls to juggle,” he said. “The key is not to get rid of the balls but to learn how to juggle better and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
When and how did you begin your construction law blog?
I began my blog in 2009, a few years after I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I was entering a new regional market and had no ties to the area. To be competitive, I had to differentiate myself from other lawyers who had been practicing in Nashville or had connections to the area.
I started with a newsletter, but then decided to start a construction-related blog. Having a blog platform, as opposed to a newsletter, was more professional looking and gave me a greater depth with readers and audience members. It also challenged me to create more regular content. At first, I was writing five blog posts a week. When I moved to two to three blog posts a week, I actually gained subscribers, in part because I was not flooding their in-box. Also, I wasn’t just throwing up content for the sake of having a blog post that day; my posts were more purposeful.
Were there expectations you had for the blog in the beginning? How have those changed over time?
In the beginning, I fell into the trap of worrying about how many hits I received. As I’ve developed my writing skills and found a “voice” for the blog, my expectations changed to adding value to other people and making meaningful connections. I would prefer only having 5,000 unique visitors a month from people who are in the construction industry who find my content relevant and helpful than having 10,000 unique visitors who are not my target audience.
My seven kids provide great fodder for my construction writing...
What inspires you to write?
I love telling stories. Any kind of construction claim or dispute that comes up is really about a story. I’m also inspired by my family. My seven kids provide great fodder for my construction writing.
Once when our entire development was repaved and I came home to find that my kids had drawn lanes and highways all over with chalk. I thought, “This is crazy, they’re ruining perfectly good asphalt!” Then it made me think about how different parties have different expectations for a project and how important the “contract negotiation” process is to the success of the project.
Another time when I was upset at my six-year-old son for doing something, my older daughter stepped in and said she’d vouch for him. I thought, “This is a perfect example of indemnification…contractual vouching!”
What is your writing process?
I write less frequently than I have in the past (three to four posts a month) because I’d rather write well-intentioned blog posts than just adding words to the internet.
I have a goal of identifying problems and solutions on the modern construction project...
At first, I was writing about anything related to my industry. I equated myself as the Pinterest of construction law. But if I wanted to be viewed as an authority on construction law issues, and hopefully make connections for client development, I needed to change my style of writing. Now, I have a goal of identifying problems and solutions on the modern construction project, whether it’s from a story I read in the newspaper or a recent case decision. Now my writing is more purposeful, and I try to identify some best practices or lessons learned.
How do you benefit from your writing?
The blog writing has strengthened my creative side. You have to be relevant, purposeful, and direct in a blog post. People aren’t going to sit there and read a 2,000 word blog post. I want to go 500 words or less and give them the answer to a problem that invites them to seek more. Professionally, the blog has helped me to stay relevant and up to speed on current legal trends affecting the industry, which ultimately strengthens my own platform.
What is the value in writing?
Writing allows me to put on paper my thought process to find the best finished product, whether it is a blog post, legal brief, or love letter to my wife. For blogging, it is no longer off-the-cuff posting, but rather going through the problem-solving process to share a few insightful words of wisdom. Blogging has also given me a data of resources in that I once Googled a question I was researching and one of my blog posts came up. I was answering my own question three years later!
What does success mean for you as a writer?
Personally, success is if I read one of my posts a month later and feel satisfied.
Professionally, success could be an email saying “Great writing” or “Hey, that just happened to me. Good advice” or “I’ve this same problem and I need your help.”
I’ve often interacted with prospective clients four or five times over email exchanging advice and relevant court cases before they’ve hired me. And they hired me because I invested in that client, gave them value, and the blog post was the introduction. That’s what I call a meaningful connection with my readers.
What specific takeaways can you give readers who are learning blog writing? Word choice, format, titles, etc.
Have a writing schedule and stick to it. If you post on your blog at 4PM on Friday you’re probably not going to hit your readers. The best times to post is early/mid-morning on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.
Practice, practice, practice. Don’t stick your first draft up there. Read it out loud and see how it flows.
Catchy titles are very, very important. I use a lot of questions in my titles and words that I would have used in a Google search if I were to land on this specific subject.
Stick to your niche. Establish yourself as a particular voice in a particular industry.
Research your state’s ethical guidelines and make certain you’re not advertising or giving legal advice.
[Matt is Chair of the Burr & Forman's Construction Law Practice Group. He was recognized as a top author in the Construction category of JD Supra's 2016 Readers Choice awards. Follow his latest writings here.]