What’s the one thing that will help you:
Gold star for everyone who said content marketing!
If you’re running a small business, you probably already have a content strategy in one form or another. If you have a business blog, content-based newsletter or post on LinkedIn, you’re doing content marketing. And if you’re producing white papers, webinars, eBooks etc. you are already advanced at it.
Regardless of where you are, a mistake many businesses make is producing content without a clear vision. How to avoid this? Develop a content strategy. Our own Content Director Jane Flanagan (aka the brains behind FreshBooks’ wildly successful content strategy) shows us why you need a content strategy and how to put one together like a boss.
Content marketing is an opportunity to stay top-of-mind of clients and reach potential customers with relevant information. It typically involves dispensing valuable tips and helpful insight about the work you do.
“A very simple example would be an interior designer who makes content about their projects. Rather than just uploading the finished photos to their portfolios, they might share the process along the way in the form of blog posts, sharing everything from fabric selection and paint color to installation day to final styling tips,” said Flanagan. “This shows a little bit from behind-the-scenes which helps a reader/potential client understand the process, but also connect with the business and designer in the way a portfolio of pretty pictures does not allow.”
When you give someone a piece of information they can use, you will automatically become a trusted authority. So the next time a reader (or someone they know) is looking to engage with a business like yours, you will be top of mind.
“Imagine I follow an interior design blog because I simply love the work they do. Every week, I see these amazing makeovers and am inspired by them. I save them on my Pinterest boards or share on my own blog. Three years later I buy my dream fixer-upper and know I’ll need some help. Odds are, I’ll turn to this brand I’ve built a long-lasting connection with rather than start looking in the Yellow Pages. Their content marketing efforts kept me engaged in that interim period where I could have easily forgotten about them.”
Another case for content marketing? Google rewards regularly-updated, content-rich websites by bestowing higher ranking in searches. The more relevant content you produce, the more you’ll attract customers searching for your services.
Despite recognizing the importance of producing content, many businesses overlook creating a business strategy that guides their activities. According to a report published by Spiceworks in 2014, only 30 percent of companies have a formally documented content strategy.
It’s easy to see why. “Producing content can sap a lot of time and energy. If you’re not a writer, or adept at photography or video or other storytelling forms, it can feel like a new skill to master,” said Flanagan. And content doesn’t always pay immediate dividends in terms of converting new business, so a time-strapped entrepreneur can be forgiven for putting a content strategy at the bottom of her list of priorities.
But here’s the magic of a content strategy: the act of creating one will simplify what you should really do for the betterment of your business, including what your goals are, who your audience is and what kinds of things they’re interested in.
Essentially, a content strategy is an outline or vision of the reason you’re producing content, who that content is for (considering what your audience needs and wants), in what format you’re producing (blog posts, social media, etc.), how you’re going to create that content, how you’ll promote it (get more readership) and how you’ll measure your success so your efforts are efficient.
Here are the basic sections Flanagan includes in her content strategies:
If you’re a solopreneur or very small business, your content strategy can be a simple outline of what’s above. If you have time and resources, you can layer in a lot of research, stakeholder interviews etc. But no matter how much content you produce, it’s important to address all the elements of the strategy in order for it to be effective.
Flanagan says businesses of any size can benefit from a content strategy. “The content strategy helps you set your expectations, decide what time and resources you’re going to dedicate [to content marketing]. It also helps you decide the channels you’re going to play on (blog, social, Medium, LinkedIn Pulse, etc.)”
The content strategy also helps you decide the kinds of things you should write about and in what way. For example, “an email marketer could easily write information on best practices for clients with very large teams, budgets and design resources. But if their target customer is a small business with a small budget and no design resources, this content won’t really help their business”.
“Similarly, posts that snarkily call out ‘mistakes’ or ‘bad design’ might alienate potential customers (unless your whole brand is based on being a tongue-in-cheek snarky brand!) so you’ll want to consider the tone, point-of-view and content types that will actual resonate with your brand and your customers.”
In fact, sometimes a content strategy will actually inform how you should grow your business. Flanagan cites the new trend for interior designers offering a “room in a box” solution for out-of-town clients or those on a budget. “This may have been a new line of business that grew entirely from their blog presence,” she notes.
Flanagan recommends creating a content strategy once and then updating it annually in conjunction with your content calendar. “Every month you’ll want to check your traffic and adjust as necessary. Maybe after a year you find the most popular posts consistently fall into one category and so you decide to just focus on those. The beauty is that it all becomes obvious once you’re following a strategy rather than floating blog post-to-post with no guardrails.”
“Many businesses put up posts because they think they’re cool or funny or they just want to rant about something. But they don’t really help their business goals,” said Flanagan.
A content strategy will help you avoid frittering away business opportunities with pointless posts. “Content can start to feel fluffy if it’s not grounded in strategy. You want to give it a robust role to play in your business. Your content strategy sets that scene for success.”
As with business planning, you can certainly operate on a day-to-day basis, but your chances for long term success increase exponentially if you have a strategy guiding your activities. If you’re thinking about your results, you can connect them back to the kind of content you’re offering. Having a strategy guiding your activities immediately creates a feedback loop so you can measure success.
To enable that pipeline to keep flowing, Flanagan says it’s important to employ:
Tone-deafness is something that happens occasionally with brands, says Flanagan. Businesses can become so focused on executing their own content strategy that they forget what’s going on in the world. This is something Flanagan works to avoid.
“During the US election result day, we suspended posting on FreshBooks social channels because we understood people really wanted news updates on the election more than our blog updates. The same thing applies during tragedies.”
On a more positive note, if your content calendar takes into account events, celebrations and seasons, you can easily generate content ideas that fit with those themes. “Our hypothetical interior designer might plan a whole series of seasonal decorating posts well in advance of the holidays and line up all the resources she needs to produce that in a timely fashion for her readers.”
If all of this seems overwhelming, here’s Flanagan’s caveat: “Understand that when you start publishing content you’re just one drop in a very vast ocean. So, while I think it’s important to have a plan and to put a solid effort into the content you produce, don’t overthink it. So many people get paralyzed publishing their first posts. But the truth is, nobody’s really watching. As long as you have some basic guidelines in place, get started. Be brave!”
Flanagan loves the Priceonomics Content Marketing Handbook. “It’s very squarely focused on creating data-driven posts, which may not be your thing, but it’s full of useful nuggets.”
Siegemedia also offers a handy guide called Content Curation for Marketers. “Again, it may not apply to all business’s content strategies, but it’s an approach worth considering,” according to Flanagan.