Hello there. Want to hear the true story behind the School of Valuable Content? It’s been quite a ride. Okay, here goes.
It began with us teaching content marketing to groups of small business owners and marketers in our local British pub. We’d both worked in the content field for many years as writers and strategists for B2B businesses. We were both running our business Valuable Content, and we were writing a lot of our own content (on content, of course!). Then in 2012 a publisher asked us to produce the first UK book on the subject. So we wrote Valuable Content Marketing to help business owners and experts think strategically about what content to write and how to write it, to win more of the work they loved.
Now, writing a book is an amazing thing. It changes things for you. Having released the book into the world, things went a bit mad! We started getting a lot of requests, not just for help with strategic content projects, but requests to teach the valuable content approach to others. Business owners and marketers wanted to dive deeper, to learn how to apply the approach themselves.
We began to run training courses for businesses small and large. We ran workshops for small businesses and agencies here in our hometown of Bristol. We ran them for a fabulous collective of tourist businesses on the rugged island of Lanzarote. Sonja jetted off to Chicago to educate creatives, Sharon to teach marketers from oil businesses in Scotland. We even got a call from Google! They wanted us to run a workshop to help them up the value of the content they were creating for their agency partners.
We were determined to create unforgettable learning experiences for people, so looked for exciting and unusual venues for our training. The landlady of our local in Bristol kindly let us use her beautiful pub in the daytime (when it was empty of drinkers) and we set up the Valuable Content Pub School.
People loved the courses we ran there, nourished with tea, coffee and delicious, freshly made cakes.
We pushed it even further and took groups up to the mountains in Wales to help them think bigger about their ideas and the kind of content they could produce.
It was all going swimmingly, and then life happened. Sonja’s husband only went and had an affair with the landlady’s daughter! Pub School promptly came to a rather abrupt and tragic end. Things kind of crashed a little for Sonja after that – it’s hard running your own business when life goes awry. She got an offer from a UK ethical bank to run their content design team – a fascinating new direction and some necessary security for a while. Sharon was a bit sad, but quickly pulled herself together, in true British form, continuing as a freelance content marketing coach and writer.
Despite stepping away from the business, for both of us, the power of the valuable content approach and the drive to teach never went away. We came to a new level of realisation on how valuable our process for creating valuable content really was. In big businesses and small, the approach worked. Getting people to think hard about their business goals, and who they were creating content for, then going on a quest to research and understand what customers wanted to hear was transformative – it made for stronger, more customer-focused, more successful businesses. The valuable content we’d worked so hard to develop flatly refused to die.
Sonja came back into the freelance fray this time last year. We both landed on the same project – Sonja as content strategist, Sharon as chief brand storyteller and content writer. It was great to work together again. Covid hit hard in the UK but thankfully, the sun was shining in spring last year. Under clear, blue skies we started running together, and chatting, and running, and talking some more, and the idea for a new version of the school emerged. Online, of course – the world had quickly shifted that way. But we were keen to make it as intimate and fun an experience as it ever was, open to more people than before.
We thought hard about the main challenges and problems we saw people facing with their content – the things we were hearing time and time again:
- I just don’t know what to say with my content.
- I don’t want to add to the noise.
- What do we talk about as a business that will differentiate us?
- How do we drive sales results from the content we share?
- And how do we make time for writing and creating it? How do we carve out space to get the writing done?
We set out to find answers and solutions, and to create experiences that would unblock people, and get them writing and sharing their ideas with confidence, consistently.
We designed our first online face-to-face course towards the end of 2020. We called it the Valuable Content Planning Fiesta, and it set out to free up people’s ideas, build their confidence and get them thinking strategically about the content they were to create. We badged it as a ‘fiesta’ on purpose – we wanted to make this an energetic, fun way to learn at the end of a hard year.
We attracted a fabulous group – a mix of small business owners and marketers, including a lovely guy running an agency in South Africa. They came away with a plan, a heap of great content ideas, and a load more confidence and enthusiasm. We’ve built on this course and run it again and again.
And we set up an online monthly writing club to solve that problem that every business owner and marketer we’ve ever met struggles with – namely – how do I find the time to create content? Our course teaches people WHAT content they need to create to attract their ideal clients, but to make content marketing succeed you have to commit to producing it regularly.
The Content Writing Club answers the ‘no time’ problem. It gives people an afternoon a month online with us, and we all write together. It’s a mix of accountability and friendly support, which is building really nicely. Our first transatlantic member has just joined, and it’s wonderful to see the community growing. Writing and running a business can be a lonely old game.
Our learners are of a type – they tend to work in and run expert businesses. We’ve had agencies, creative firms, consultants and coaches, therapists, and politicians, campaigning and social impact organisations. They have stuff to share – brilliant ideas that will help the people they serve, build their businesses, or change the world – but they’re stuck. Sometimes they don’t know where to focus, or where their biggest strengths lie. Or they can’t see the wood for the trees – that thread of the story that will help them connect with their audience.
Often the struggle is with confidence, imposter syndrome reigns. We get it. Writing and sharing valuable content is a brave move. It puts your opinions out there and people find that tough. Our courses, club, and the group structure, help them to break through and reach their potential.
We’re both still freelancing. Projects keep our skills fresh so we can bring in a whole heap of experiences into our teaching. But we really want this school to grow. We believe in business as a force for good. And we’re evangelists for the transformative effect of creating and sharing valuable content. We know that the right content builds businesses, but it goes further than that. Ideas change things and the world needs change. People do too. Writing is good for wellbeing – good for you, your clients, your business, the wider world!
We want to teach people running and promoting good businesses across Europe how to create valuable content to build businesses they love and that do the world good too. We’re committed to building more classes, more coaching, more writing clubs, more affordable online resources, books and guides that everyone can learn from.
Creating and writing content that connects is a brilliant challenge. It’s tough, but learnable. It takes a mindset shift and a strategic approach. Do it right, and it’s valuable to you and valuable to your customers/clients. It’ll stretch you, and develop you, and build great businesses – just look at Romania’s UiPath!
We are so excited to be collaborating with WeContent. Sonja came to Romania as a speaker for the very first WeContent content and was blown away by people she met and the enthusiasm and desire to learn. To be asked back again for conference number two in 2019 was an honour.
Despite Brexit – which we’re no fan of – we believe in the power of collaboration across Europe. Content can unite us.
We can’t wait to see what comes next.
Sonja Nisson (previously Sonja Jefferson): www.sonjanisson.co.uk
Content strategist, content coach, teacher. “Experience has shown me that if you continually focus on producing valuable content for your customers, then good things happen for your business. Over the last 20 years, I’ve been on a mission to help organisations large and small to think strategically, listening to their customers and creating meaningful content that transforms their businesses as a result.”
Sharon Tanton: www.sharontanton.co.uk
Writer and brand storyteller, content coach, teacher. “My background is as a wordsmith and creative content creator. Before writing for business, I worked in radio and television production, and as an English teacher. My superpower lies in knowing what people need to hear. I love helping people uncover the story of their business and turn that into compelling content that makes great things happen for them.”
Sign up for our best valuable content tips and ideas by email: www.valuablecontentschool.co.uk.
Want to learn more from European content marketing thought leaders? Join them at WeContent Festival 2022, a must-attend event for content creators and marketing professionals.