When it comes to content marketing, you don’t need a full newsroom or a large budget to be effective. Whether you’re an enterprise-level organization or a startup, a lean content marketing strategy can take you a long way.
I had the pleasure of speaking at Seattle Startup Week 2017 about building a content team, creating a content marketing strategy that goes the distance, and getting to know your audience – on a budget.
When it comes to statistics around content marketing, my go-to resource is The State of Content Marketing from CMI and they didn’t disappoint. Here are the numbers I focused on at the beginning of my presentation.
- 68% of consumers feel more positive about a brand after consuming content from it.
- 70% of people would rather learn more about a company through articles rather than an ad.
- 75% of marketers are increasing investment in content marketing
These numbers alone prove that content marketing is here to stay. The methods and the platforms may be evolving, but at the heart of it, great content marketing builds trust, loyalty, and engagement.
So, if you’re a startup or a small business, where do you begin?
Your content marketing should ladder up to your business goals.
Content marketing cannot be an afterthought. Every piece of content that’s out in the world for your customers to consume should be aligned to your business goals. Content planning falls flat unless you’ve identified clear goals. The questions you should be answering are:
- What are your business goals for [the next year/quarter/month]?
- What are your marketing goals? How do they ladder up to your business goals?
- Who is your target audience?
- What is your budget?
- How will you measure your success?
The answers to these questions will give you a roadmap for your content marketing strategy to help you create content with a purpose.
A content strategy will fall through the cracks without a dedicated employee or consultant.
As a startup or small business, you have two options when it comes to building your content team.
- You have the budget to hire a person who will be in charge of everything related to your content marketing strategy & execution. (Hooray). This can be a full-time employee or a consultant who takes ownership of your content strategy and creation (that’s me – hi!).
- You have a team member who takes responsibility for all things content.
There is no option three. If there’s no dedicated person making sure your content strategy is being executed properly, it will fall apart. Things move pretty fast in the startup world. If you don’t stop and look around, your content could miss the mark.
So, what are the qualities of a great content marketer?
In order to be an effective content marketer, you need to be a good communicator. This doesn’t just mean “great writer” although that obviously helps. The person responsible for your content strategy will not only communicate externally, but they’ll also be handling internal communications.
This is the individual helping your developers, engineers, and sales people understand not only the value of content marketing but why your audience is asking for it.
They, in turn, will be the ones translating the incredible technical specs of your products into writing that will provide value to your audience.
A good content marketer also has great people and project management skills. Whether it’s making sure your editorial calendar is not missing deadlines or coordinating your freelance writers, the job of the marketer requires discipline, patience, and persistence.
There is a lot of information coming at you fast about your industry, your customers, and best practices about marketing in general. An effective content marketer not only creates excellent content, but they’re content consumers as well. They should be reading industry blogs, your competitors blogs, marketing best practices to stay ahead of the game and relevant.
You’ve got your goals, the person in charge of content…now what?
Content marketing goes the distance with a documented strategy
According to the 2017 State of Content Marketing, 46% of marketers said their organization has a documented strategy for managing content as a business asset. 44% said they don’t, and 10% didn’t even know.
I want to talk to those 10% because how can you not even know whether or not you have a documented content marketing strategy? What are you using to guide you in your actions?
I know content marketing can feel overwhelming, especially as a small business owner or a startup trying to grow, which is why it’s crucial to have a written plan you can follow throughout the year.
Here’s an interesting statistic from the same study. The documented content strategies are more prevalent in micro & small organizations. Enterprise is only at 40%.
This is huge for startup and small business owners. Use your small company size to your advantage. This means you can be more nimble with your content marketing efforts, the way you interact with your audience, and how you respond to events in real life.
But you still need a plan. Your content marketing plan should address the following.
Who: Identify Your Target Audience
If you’re a small business owner, your audience is your existing and potential customers. They’re the ones with the pain points and the content you create should be valuable to them at every step of the way. Identifying your target audience boils down to the same question—what are the pain points you’re trying to solve?
What are you bringing to the table? Who do you want to see your content?
Don’t be tone-deaf to your audience. Create content that’s relevant to them and their needs, not what you think they want to hear.
Once you’ve identified your audience, you need to make sure you’re creating content they care about, which is where keywords come in.
Some great free sources for getting to know your audience: Google trends, Google alerts, Quora, Twitter insights (if you’re on Twitter), customer surveys, and your customer service team.
What: It’s All About the Keywords
You want to create content your target audience will actually care about. This is where the beautiful and free keyword planner tools come into play. It’s hard to be creative all the time, especially when you have a business to run.
If you’re just getting started, I highly recommend this resource from Moz.
When: Break Out the Calendar
This is my favorite part about creating a content plan. As a small business owner with a limited marketing budget, timing is everything.
You know the big shopping days, but it’s important to look beyond the obvious promotional opportunities on the calendar.
- What are special events happening around your industry?
- Within your community?
- Around your customers’ lives?
Mark these days on your calendar and plan relevant content around them.
Why: Channel Your Inner Five-Year-Old
There are two million articles posted every day. Why should anybody read yours? Even if your content isn’t selling something, it should have a purpose.
How many times can you answer the question “but why?” about your content idea?
Don’t forget to put that content marketing plan in writing! I’m offering the same content planning and editorial template I use to help you with your content marketing execution. No email signups required! Just go to http://bit.ly/amplifySSW and make a copy of the doc.
As you can tell, this is just scratching the surface when it comes to lean content marketing for startups, but I hope it’s been helpful. You can feel free to reach out to me with your questions on Twitter @BerrakBiz.
The phrase “startup culture” brings to mind images of foosball tables, fancy coffee machines, and interns flittering around in the open office. Sure, that can be an accurate snapshot of a startup company, but that’s all it would be: a snapshot. The culture of a company isn’t defined by its perks – those perks are a side effect of the values instilled in the company culture.
When it comes to strategy at the beginning of a company’s journey, most entrepreneurs will focus on sales, marketing, and product development. After all, these are the most important strategies. However, the most successful startups will also have a well-defined strategy for the company’s brand. What are the values behind the product? Who are the people you want to attract to your workforce? Are you creating a positive and rewarding environment for your employees? These are important questions every founder needs to answer in a clear startup strategy.
Your company is built in your image.
If you want to begin to understand the culture of a company, look no further than its founder. Your values, your weaknesses, and your vision are what will become the foundation of your startup’s culture.
For example, if the CEO of a company is competitive, then the company will tend to be more aggressive and competitive. If the CEO is too analytical, it may mean that the startup may have a harder time moving as fast as it should. A creative CEO will bring a more design-focused attitude to the company.
Consider these questions as you evaluate your values:
- What are my strengths?
- What do I value about the people around me?
- What leads me to make good decisions?
- Which characteristics do all of the people in my life have in common?
- What qualities do I dislike in other people?
- What are my weaknesses?
“We’re all stories in the end. Make it a good one.” – The Eleventh Doctor
Fast forward to two years from now.
What do you want people to be saying about your company? At the beginning of a startup, the focus is on product development and growth, which is why it’s important to look into the future. There’s no crystal ball when it comes to how successful your company will be in two years, but there are a few things you can control about your story.
Your culture. Your values. The je ne sais quoi that helps you stand out among a sea of startups.
Think about the way you want your employees to talk about what it’s like to work at your company. You want them to have a twinkle in their eye, a passion in their voice, and most importantly, a defined story.
“When you have a well-crafted, specific, controversial company story, it can guide everything from who you shouldn’t hire to how you settle arguments,” says Molly Graham, who was brought on to build a shared vision for Facebook in 2008.
Give your company culture room to evolve
Once you’ve identified your values and the story you want to be telling about your business, it doesn’t just live in a memo buried somewhere in your emails. Picture your culture as the literal backbone of your company. Just as your body allows your spine to grow as you age, you need to allow your company culture to do the same. There will be a natural growth, and once in awhile, it will be nourished by the conversations you have with employees and customers.
It should be omnipresent in everything you do, from emails to product descriptions to coffee breaks by the fancy espresso machine, and even job descriptions.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has this to say about commitment to culture: “Many companies have core values, but they don’t really commit to them. They usually sound more like something you’d read in a press release. Maybe you learn about them on day one of orientation, but after that, it’s just a meaningless plaque on the wall of the lobby.”
Be attractive to the people you want to hire
According to Rand Fishkin, CEO and founder of Moz, company culture “has a transformative power to create remarkable companies and inspire people to accomplish great things together.”
You want to attract the right candidates to bring your vision to life. Well, it’s a two-way street. Working in a startup is tough. It requires vigilance, a lot of long days, and a certain sense of passion for the company that you may not find in a corporate environment. You want your employees to feel ownership within the company (whether that’s a feeling or real stock options, that’s up to you), which also brings a certain sense of pride.
So how do you become attractive to potential employees? Think of it as your way of releasing professional pheromones to create the right kind of chemistry. When writing job descriptions, infuse your company’s story into it, and make it appealing to the person you want in that particular role. When reading a job description, a candidate should think “Yes, this job is perfect for me!” or “Oh no, I don’t want that job.”
Your company will succeed when you have a group of employees who share the same priorities, who are committed to your company’s mission, and most importantly, feel a sense of belonging when they come to work.
Think of it this way: You want your employees to be happy when they come to work? The numbers speak for themselves: Unhappy employees cost American businesses over $300 billion each year. So it pays to make sure your employees are happy.
When your employees and your customers are talking about your company years from now, it won’t be about the shipping mishap that happened on day 43.
Your values, your mission, the impact you have on the world around you – these are the stories that will stop people in their tracks and whisper, “Oh, you had me at culture.”
It’s December, which means we’re all planning for 2017 in our businesses.
According to the latest research from the Content Marketing Institute, only 37% of B2B marketers and 40% of B2C marketers have a written content marketing plan.
This is baffling to me.
I know content marketing can feel overwhelming, especially as a small business owner or a solopreneur trying to grow your business, which is why it’s crucial to have a written plan you can follow throughout the year.
The first question I ask my clients when doing planning for the following year isn’t about their marketing strategy. The first question is “what are your business goals for 2017?” Once you have your business plan and your benchmarks set for the year, then you can create a content marketing strategy that will ladder up to those business goals.
Confession: I’m really good at executing this for my clients, but I let my own marketing fall through the cracks. I know this is a challenge a lot of solopreneurs and freelancers have. Which is why my business strategy for 2017 is to treat myself like a client.
For small business owners, one of the biggest challenges is not being sure where to begin with documenting a content strategy. How do you create an editorial calendar? What should be included on there? How do you measure success? Which dates should you be focusing on?
I’ve got the answer to the first two questions for you. While I’ll be releasing a full content marketing guide for solopreneurs and small businesses in the beginning of 2017, I’ve got a special treat for you today.
I’ve created a customizable content marketing plan template for you to get a head start on getting your content plan down in writing. It’s the same exact template I’ll be using for my own plan, and it’s the same one I’ve customized for my clients in the past.
And I’m giving it to my newsletter subscribers – for free. You’ll also be the first one to get a copy of the guide when it’s completed!
Want to be the first one to get a copy of the full content marketing guide when it’s ready? Sign up for my newsletter!
What’s your biggest struggle with content marketing?
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I do have to let you know this post contains potential spoilers about the show, but it’s mainly focused on ‘Gilmore Girls’ business lessons.
My networks were abuzz about the release of the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix during Thanksgiving weekend. I knew I would have a lot of feelings about the show but I didn’t expect to be writing a post about business lessons from ‘Gilmore Girls’.
Yet, here we are. Inspiration strikes me at the oddest times.
When my brother’s car broke down last month, and the dealership quoted him a ridiculous price for fixing it, we turned to the internet to find a local mechanic. He’s new to this city, and I’ve never actually needed to get my car fixed – so we went down the list of small businesses that came up.
There was the specialty shop where I had gotten my oil changed. We went there first without looking at any reviews. His quote was lower than the dealership, but we didn’t want to commit before shopping around a bit more. There was a little muffler shop with 55 reviews on Yelp – and what’s more, they were all POSITIVE reviews. I looked up the address for the muffler shop. It was located on a street I’ve driven down hundreds of times in the past two years, but had no idea it was there.
We drove up – I actually passed it the first go. The location itself is hidden by trees, and even walking by it on the sidewalk, I would never notice it. The little garage looked run down – and the lot is tiny. We walked in to a tiny room with just a desk, two chairs, and the owner at the computer. He was on the phone when we walked in. He asked us how he could help, we told him our predicament, and he said he would call us in 15 minutes with a quote after doing some research.
If we had walked in without seeing those positive reviews, I would’ve told my brother we should move along and find another option. He called my brother with a quote, and we decided we would have his car towed there. When we went back in with the car, he asked us how we had found him. When we told him he had great reviews online, he was genuinely surprised. As an unassuming small business owner, he had gotten two new customers simply because of word-of-mouth.
My brother and I were part of the 90% of consumers who read online reviews before visiting a business. According to a survey from business2community, a one-star increase on Yelp leads to a 5-9% increase in a business’ revenue, and a negative review can cost you 30 customers.
There’s no longer any doubt when it comes to the power of online reviews. So, how can a small business owner encourage their customers to leave those reviews? (more…)
Starting your own business and defining your own path is literally the “American Dream”. In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to throw up a website and say you’re now running your own business.
But let’s not get too hasty.
Even though it’s technically easier to START your own business, and you could literally start it from your living room, the questions you need to ask yourself remain the same as if you’re opening up a physical small business on Main Street.
I’ve already told you that you shouldn’t start your own business – but if you’re going to ignore that advice, then keep reading.
- Why am I doing this? Understanding your motivation is the key to starting a business. Is it because you love what you do but no longer want to do it for another company? Do you want to expand existing freelance work you’ve been doing (because there’s a definite difference between being a freelancer and a small business owner) ? Are you hoping to shake up the landscape and make a difference?
- Who are my customers? If understanding your motivation is the KEY, identifying your customers is the FOUNDATION to starting your own business. Who are the people you want to connect with your product or service? What are their needs? Why would they care, and more importantly, who would actually buy what you’re selling?
- Who will help me? The reality is that you won’t be able to do everything yourself. We’ve briefly discussed the importance of a support system – but this goes beyond your friends and family. Who are your mentors? Who are the people you’ll turn to for legal and financial advice? How will you connect with other small business owners in your industry to build a network?
- How much money do I need to get started? If you’re taking the dive and leaving your full time job, be sure to factor in living costs in addition to the expenses you’ll most definitely incur when getting your small business off the ground. Don’t forget about hidden costs such as licensing fees, rental deposits, equipment, and taxes. Experts suggest having at least 12 months worth of living expenses saved up before you start your own business. The Small Business Administration has a plethora of great resources to help you plan and figure out potential costs as you’re starting out.
- How will I handle setbacks? This could be the most important question to ask. There are lots of ups and downs (I mean, LOTS), and your days could be filled with more disappointments than successes in the beginning. Are you the kind of person that gets discouraged easily? Are you prepared to heard the word “No” more often than your favorite song? Be brutally honest with yourself. Ask family and close friends if you have to – truly understand yourself in order to anticipate your behavior as an entrepreneur.
I know, it got really existential all of a sudden, didn’t it?
What advice would you give to someone at the start of their entrepreneurial journey? Tell us on Twitter and use the hashtag #AmplifyYourBiz.
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