For the last 21 weeks, I’ve been posting public answers to FAQ’s. Here’s why you should do the same.
Back in June, we launched a new “feature” on the Groove blog: our Friday Q & A series.
I get a lot of questions via email, Twitter and through this blog, and every Friday, I pick three of them and publish my thoughts on each.
Here are a few examples of the more popular posts:
- Three Business Ideas You Can Start Today, Starting a Business From Scratch, and Content Marketing In Developing Countries
- How to Deal With Writer’s Block, Can You Succeed Without Blogging, and Onboarding Difficult Customers
- Importance of .com for Your Name, Full-time Employees vs. Contractors, and Target Audience for Guest Posts
It started 21 weeks ago when we set out to do a single “Q & A” style post from the most popular questions on this blog, but realized that there were far too many for just one post.
I try to tackle as many questions that have short, quick answers in the comments as possible, and often we publish entire posts to answer bigger questions that come up.
But we also see a lot of questions where the answer would fall in between; too complex for a short comment, but not enough to carry an entire post.
We’ve had a lot of requests to do a “Q&A” type post. But as we compiled the list of frequently asked questions from our comments, I realized that that wouldn’t really begin to scratch the surface.
I thought that this new series would be a good way to answer more questions, but I’ve ended up getting huge, unexpected benefits from doing these thought exercises each week.
It’s been even more valuable to me as an entrepreneur than it has been to our business as far as traffic and SEO benefits.
In fact, I’ve gotten so much value from this series, that I’d recommend doing it to anyone who wants to be more effective (even if you don’t have an audience…more on that later).
Here are the reasons why:
1) Answering Questions in Public Forces You to (Really) Think
Most of us spend very little time actually “thinking.”
We all have beliefs. Typically, they’re based on our experiences, or on what we’ve heard other people say that sounded good and reasonable to us.
But rarely do we spend time actually thinking and challenging those beliefs.
I know that this has been true for me, unless I actually set aside time to do it.
This series has been my “thinking” time.
Often I’ll get questions about why I did something.
In many cases, I realize that I didn’t really think that decision through very carefully, but answering the question forces me to go back and do just that.
Sometimes, that strengthens my convictions about the decision I made.
And sometimes, it makes me actually change my mind.
I also get a lot of questions in the direction of “if you had to do [just about anything] over again, what would you do differently?”
Again, this type of post-mortem thinking is tremendously valuable, and we use it for our team projects when we ask how we can do something better next time, but I rarely used to do it on such a personal level.
Now I do, and the constant forcing myself to revisit my beliefs and behaviors has helped me become more mindful of every* *decision that I make.
Takeaway: Asking pointed questions that challenge your behavior is a really effective way to develop and strengthen your beliefs and decision-making. And thinking ahead by assuming that every decision will be questioned later on makes you consider each choice more carefully now, too.
2) Answering Questions Publically Saves Me Time While Letting Me Help More People
I do my best to answer every question that lands in my inbox.
I’ve gotten a lot of invaluable help from entrepreneurs and advisors who have done the same for me, and I try to pay it forward.
The most limiting factor here is bandwidth. Like everyone else, I have very limited time, which means that the amount of time I can spend answering each email is small.
But if instead of spending five minutes considering and typing an answer to help one person, I could spend thirty minutes coming up with a much more thoughtful answer and…
- Help thousands of people who read this blog who might have a similar challenge
- Help people who don’t know about Groove discover us by finding the answer to a question that they’re Googling
- Forever have a link that I can point someone to when they ask me the same question
…then the investment seems like a no-brainer to me.
Takeaway: Answering questions in public is one case where spending just a bit of extra time can pay off in exponential rewards, both in time saved and value delivered.
3) Answering Questions in Public Makes You More Accountable for Good Answers
There’s another powerful forcing function here: because I know that these answers will be public, it motivates me to not be lazy with my thinking.
I know that if I give a bad answer, I’ll probably hear about it.
And in each post, I invite people to disagree with me.
Knowing that I’m not just sharing, but defending my thoughts means that I’m going to make sure they’re defensible.
Readers will see my answers, and some will rely on them for their own businesses and lives, and that’s an excellent reason to work harder and give better answers.
Takeaway: When you know that your answers will be scrutinized by many smart people, lazy thinking simply isn’t an option. Thoughtfulness matters, and that’s helpful both for your readers and for yourself.
4) Answering Questions in Public Helps People See Things in Different Ways
A lot of times, I get questions that I’ve already answered before, but are phrased in a different way from the question I originally answered.
Is not really too different from…
But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t answer them both.
We all think about our questions and challenges in different ways. We use our own words to describe them, and we look for answers to the questions as we see them, not as someone else sees them.
And so even if the answer is right in front of us, we might miss it because it doesn’t look like what we’re searching for.
Answering the “same” question from different angles can help many more people than simply answering it once in one way.
It’s the same reason we sometimes repurpose content from our blog into different forms: a story post can be turned into a list post, a collection of posts can be turned into a single curated post, and so on. Different people get value from seeing things differently; I, for example, far prefer skimmable lists to infographics.
Understanding that this difference in perspective exists and using that knowledge to explore the same question from different angles lets you be valuable to a lot more people.
Takeaway: You might see a lot of questions that you think you’ve already answered before, but pay attention to the phrasing and framing of the question; if your answer doesn’t speak directly to it, then you haven’t answered it. Don’t be afraid to answer the “same” question more than once.
You Don’t Need an Existing Audience to Do This
The obvious pushback to this post might be that while this approach has been valuable for me, it’s harder for someone without an audience of readers sending in questions.
But in fact, I’d say that the opposite is true.
There are more than 6,000 questions per day being asked on Quora. I’d bet that a good number of them might be related to things you’ve had experience with.
That’s a lot more questions than the pool I have to choose from each week.
Then, start answering them thoughtfully. Aim to be as valuable as possible to the person asking, and anyone else reading.
You’ll get stronger in your own thinking, build relationships with people you’ve never met before, and set yourself apart as someone who isn’t afraid to deliver value to those who ask.