Content marketing is fast becoming the way to market professional services. Create great content and you will attract prospective clients who are looking for exactly what you offer.

The next logical iteration of “thought leadership,” content marketing is more than a great concept. When implemented correctly it produces impressive results.

But how do you develop great content?

Here are ten practical tips to improve the readability and usefulness of your content. After all, if no one reads it, is it really content marketing?

1. Try to make your content really, really useful.

Forget scholarly. Forget technical excellence. Stop trying to show the reader how smart you are. Write something very useful and very practical. An in-depth analysis of an issues is fine. But a step-by-step plan for solving the problem it creates is much better. How is better than why.

2. Write to a real person.

Think about someone you know in the target audience (you've got a target audience, right?) and write it for them. Some firms create detailed personas of fictional readers to write to. That's fine too. Remember, audiences don't read things. Individuals do. Write it so the reader feels it's written for them.

3. Your reader is in the 5th grade.

A 5th grade reading level is a great target. Most adults find this accessible and comfortable. This means lose the big words, technical jargon and complex sentence structure. Your English teacher may have loved it. Your readers won't. Clear, easy-to-understand arguments makes you seem smart, not big words.

4. The title is the most important part of your content.

Don't be mysterious or clever. People don't generally read things because they are intrigued. And search engines even less so. A keyword rich title that says exactly what the piece is about is easiest to find on the web and will attract the right readers. Would you be reading this if it was titled “Principles to Facilitate Reader Engagement in Professional Communications”? Sometimes a provocative or clever title can work, but don't expect a search engine to get your drift.

5. Make it easy to scan.

Numbered lists, bulleted lists, descriptive headers, call outs, short paragraphs and white space are your friends. Long sentences, long paragraphs, large blocks of copy and long pages are your enemies. Most content is scanned and skimmed. Write accordingly.

6. No sales pitch please.

Content marketing is not an excuse to launch into a sales pitch. It comes across as bait and switch and is an instant credibility killer. Don't be that person. Content marketing is a way to attract and nurture prospects, not close them.

7. Always offer a next step.

Offer an additional, related piece of content, another resource, or a sign up for an informative newsletter. More information or a way to maintain the relationship is appropriate and often appreciated. While it may seem similar to a sales pitch, it is not. When prospects are ready for the pitch they will let you know. Subtle is the watch word here.

8. Tell a story.

Once upon a time there was a story. And when people heard the story they listened and learned the lesson. As time went by they remembered the story and repeated it to their friends and colleagues. And soon they began to contact the story teller because they wanted to know more. As word of the story spread, the story teller made many new friends, grew a fat book of clients and lived happily ever after. The end.

9. More specific please.

Generalities are okay. Specifics are better. Offer a specific example of a general principle. List specific steps rather than a general approach. Adding specifics may force you to narrow the focus of your content. That is generally a good thing.

10. Add a touch of personality.

As professional service providers, we are taught to be objective and dispassionate. Our writing should be “professional” and even a tad obtuse. That approach does not translate well into content marketing. Sure, it's appropriate to take a more academic tone in a research report. But when it comes to your blog posts, try delivering  a little personality. Photos help. So do anecdotes and experiences. Your personal experience can be the foundation of your stories (see number 8 above). Don't go overboard though. No one cares about your cat.

My colleague, Sean McVey, recently wrote a column with more tips on creating your content library. For an example of effective content marketing, check out our free e-book on high growth, high value professional services firms. It illustrates the points I'm trying to make here and has been a great generator of qualified leads.