Running Out Of Ideas? Sometimes You’re Just Too Close

You’d think it’s a problem I’d never face, right? There’s certainly no shortage of questions when it comes to technology.

And yet, every so often, I find myself staring at a computer screen with no clue¬†what to say next. Sometimes, it’s simply because I’m tired of writing about the same topic over and over again1; sometimes, it’s because I’m exploring a new area, like Ask Leo! On Business, and I’m not sure where I should go next.

Sometimes I’m just tired. ūüôā

Over the years, I’ve developed a few techniques to solve the problem. In fact, I used one just the other day that filled up my queue of ideas for some time to come.

It also made me realize something important: sometimes we’re just too close to the problem, and that can blind us to the opportunities.

I want to share a couple of techniques to get the ideas flowing so that when you face the inevitable question, “What do I write about now?” for your web site, you’ll have some strategies that’ll¬†generate plenty of possibilities.

You are not your customer

This is one of the most important lessons every business owner needs to learn. It took me a long time.

We all have our opinions about how things should work¬†and what we value. We create problems¬†when we project those opinions and values onto our prospective customers2. Without fail, we’re wrong.

That applies, of course, to how we go about our business, but more to the point, it also applies to what we think our customer knows, doesn’t know, or wants to know. Once again, we’re often wrong. Particularly when you have even a moderately-sized audience, it’s easy to find individuals who¬†might align with what you expect, but it’s rare that they represent the majority.

It’s something I face on Ask Leo! all the time. I frequently make assumptions about my readers that are, for many, flat out wrong.

The trick, if you want to call it that, is to reframe your thinking. Get out of your own head, set aside your own assumptions, and take on the mindset of your audience.

One of the best ways to do that?


You’ve seen me do it. I’ll periodically post an open-ended question asking what you would like to see me tackle next, or in more depth. Sometimes¬†I simply ask for comments on a¬†post. On Ask Leo!, I periodically post an actual survey.3¬†I then pay attention to the results, and wherever appropriate, use them to help set priorities, generate ideas, and generally guide where I go next.

Unfortunately, this approach also makes an assumption that isn’t always valid.

It assumes your customers know what they don’t know.

Your customers¬†are a good resource, but…

It’s not at all uncommon for someone interested in a topic to have no clue as to where to begin, or how to ask for¬†help.¬†You, then, have an opportunity to guide them.

But what if you find yourself at the end of your list of ideas, in a situation where your readers clearly want more, but neither you nor they have a good idea of what should come next?

That’s where I found myself recently with respect to Ask Leo! On Business. As I write this, my Table Of Contents – the roadmap I’ve been working from – is pretty fleshed out, with just a few open ideas and¬†topics remaining. On one hand, that’s pretty cool. It represents an achievement, and good¬†coverage of what I set out to¬†talk about when I started.

But I also know it’s nowhere near the end. While my recent request for ideas from readers certainly generated some topics, it also left me feeling like perhaps you’re not certain where to go next, either.

I have the good fortune to have working for me an assistant and an editor who have experience in this space. They both work with individuals and businesses that meet the criteria for my Ask Leo! On Business target audience.

And both are great advocates for my audience.4

So I asked them. To get even more specific, here’s exactly what I asked:

What questions or ideas would you think valuable to see drilled into on Put another way, what would you add to or expand on in its TOC?

I now have two pages brimming with awesome ideas, ranging from “why didn’t I think of that?” forehead-slappers, to “really? Well, OK, I never expected that to be an issue” thoughts.

So my question to you is this: who do you have who¬†can advocate for your audience? Friends, family, co-workers, colleagues¬†–¬†anyone who’s familiar with both you and your audience. I’m absolutely convinced you have someone, probably several someones; ask them. You don’t have to take every suggestion, but I’m also convinced you’ll be slapping your forehead at least once.

Speaking the customer’s language

One of the topics I keep coming back to is that it’s important to use terminology and concepts that resonate with your audience – to use their language.

This is another case of “you are not your customer”. It’s rare for¬†your audience to speak¬†about your area of expertise the same way you do. The more you speak¬†in their terms, the stronger the relationship you’ll build with them.

Listening to your audience in every venue you possibly can and asking them specifically what they need can not only get you lots of ideas of what you might want to talk about, but should also help you determine exactly how to talk about it.

When people give you ideas, pay attention to the language that they use. Reflect that language back to them.

Something I’ve commented on specifically with respect to the technical topics I write about on Ask Leo! is that probably 80%¬†of my job is to act as translator. I’m a glorified techno-geek-speak-to-English translator. As it turns out, that adds a lot of value to the world.

I’ve also said it to others in vastly different fields: if you do nothing else, translating your area of expertise into easily understandable English will set you apart in your field in ways you simply can’t imagine.

Your audience can help guide you to the topics that are most confusing to them. Clear that confusion.

Solve your customer’s problems

Honestly, all of this really comes back to finding ways to add value by solving your customer’s problems, without assuming you know what those problems are.

Put yourself in the mindset of your customer. Ask them, or a trusted resource, if you have to, but do what you can to discover what your audience struggles with.

There’s no shortage of struggle.

Then address that struggle, in their language.

They’ll thank you for it.


1: Backing up and lost passwords can only go so far. ūüôā

2: Just a reminder: even if your site doesn’t have “customers” per se, I’m using a business-based model here to make the discussion easier. If you prefer, replace “customer” with “client”, “prospect”, “fan”, “believer”, or whatever makes sense for your specific situation.

3: You can actually build an entire business based on asking people what they want, and then creating that. See the book Ask: The Counterintuitive Online Formula to Discover Exactly What Your Customers Want to Buy…Create a Mass of Raving Fans…and Take Any Business to the Next Level¬†for more.

4: Seriously. Their efforts¬†help me serve you better. I’ll be sure to pass along your thanks. ūüôā

2 comments on “Running Out Of Ideas? Sometimes You’re Just Too Close”

  1. Ideas:
    1. Why: I maximize screen. Then have to click “Allow”.

    You answered/used two of my questions before. Continuing to let me know you did inspires me to ask/tell more.

    • Actually that doesn’t sound like a question for “Ask Leo! On Business” (where I was running dry), but for “Ask Leo!” itself (no shortage ūüôā ). That being said, the question’s pretty vague (which app? all apps? what does the “allow” box look like?). Please reply to any Ask Leo! email with some more details and we’ll get it in the system. Thanks!