You probably think I work from home. It's a reasonable assumption; most solos do.
But I've always had an outside office.
I think it's mostly because when I started my business in 2000 I had three children under the age of seven. At that point, I was just looking for an excuse to get the hell out of the house.
But it's not far; my office is less than three miles away in the center of our little town.
One of the cool things about it is that it's right next door to our town's kindergarten and first grade. And so as you can imagine, there are little kids all over the place, throughout the day.
Which means that when I leave my parking lot and take a left in front of the school, I go very, very slowly. I mean like four miles an hour slowly (that's 9,200 cubits per fortnight, for those of you on the metric system).
Do I drive at that speed all the time?
Of course not. I speed up when I get past the school and drive even faster when I get on the highway.
Which is why it makes no sense to ask someone, "How fast do you drive?" It's a meaningless question since the answer in all cases is, "It depends."
It depends on the road. It depends on the traffic. It depends on the weather conditions. It depends on whether or not there are six-year-olds wandering around.
You can't answer the speed question without knowing the particulars of the situation.
Likewise, you can't write something (that's any good) without also knowing some particulars.
Audience is a particular that matters a lot.
And that's why when I begin a content project for a company, my first question is always the same: "Where's my check?"
As is my second question: "Who's the audience?"
Interestingly, the initial kneejerk response is nearly always an enthusiastic, "Everybody!" But it doesn't take long before we all agree that "everybody" is pretty much the same as "nobody."
Like figuring out the appropriate driving speed, you want to match your words to your audience.
These are the three audience-related questions I try to clarify early on:
1. How familiar are they with the subject matter?
Using acronyms that only the experts understand (for example) is confusing to novice readers. Explaining things that "everybody knows," on the other hand, is annoying.
When you get specific about the audience, you quickly figure out how "inside baseball" you can afford to be.
2. Why do they care about the topic?
In a perfect world, readers would care about everything we wrote. Of course in a perfect world, harp-playing unicorns would leave chocolates on our pillows every Tuesday morning.
Neither one is going to happen; most people don't care about most things.
So unless you can figure out why your target audience cares about the topic at hand, you're out of the game before it even begins.
3. What do you want them to feel/do when they're done reading?
Think of you as an expert? Worry that maybe they need more help than they realized? Pick up the phone and call you? Click a button on a page? Decide that they can trust you?
Whatever outcome(s) you're hoping for, it's extremely helpful to figure it out before you sit down and start typing away. Not only does it make the end result better, knowing where you're headed makes the writing easier.
Here's the bottom line. Writing is a solitary thing; it's easy to forget that the whole point is to connect with a human on the other end.
And, as with effective driving, one size doesn't fit all ... try and answer these three important questions before you leave the parking lot!