Lean Content Marketing Tips for Startups

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.

#TuesdayThrees: Keys to Being a Successful Ghostwriter

I’ve always considered writing to be my passion.

My mom taught me how to read and write when I was four, and the running joke of my life has been that no one has been able to stop me since.

However, it was never supposed to be a career path, especially ghostwriting.

When I went into law, writing would be a crucial part of my career, but to get paid to be a writer? That seemed utterly ridiculous. So ridiculous, in fact, I wrote under a pen name for the first part of my freelance career.

I wrote for content mills, for local real estate companies, and for agencies that paid me next to nothing for my work.

I was essentially a glorified ghostwriter, and ironically, there’s really no glory in being a ghostwriter. (more…)

The Importance of Defining Your Company Culture

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.”