Everything you need to know about inbound marketing for small businesses—and how to use it to grow your company.
One of the biggest challenges facing any business owner is consistently finding and bringing new customers or clients into their business.
But what if there was a strategy that, instead of you having to find customers or clients for your business, those customers or clients found you?
There is a strategy that delivers on the promise—and it’s called inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing is, hands down, one of the most effective digital marketing strategies for driving a steady stream of qualified leads into your business. But what, exactly, is inbound marketing? How does it work? And how can you leverage this content marketing strategy to grow your business?
What Is Inbound Marketing—and Why Is It So Effective?
Before we jump into how to use inbound marketing to grow your business, let’s first touch on what, exactly, inbound marketing is—and why it can be such an effective strategy for small businesses.
Inbound marketing is a growth strategy that generates leads (and then helps convert those leads into customers) through relevant, targeted, high-quality content—and, when done well, it’s one of the most effective marketing strategies for small businesses.
Inbound marketing is extremely effective for small businesses for a number of reasons, including:
Inbound Marketing Brings Clients to You
Other marketing strategies require you to chase down potential customers. But inbound marketing brings those clients straight to you—no chasing necessary. Not only does the content drive qualified leads, but it also helps you to build your reputation within your industry and establish your business as a subject matter expert (SME)—which can drive even more leads and customers.
Inbound Marketing Drives More Leads Than Outbound Marketing
If you look at it from a strictly “bang for your buck” perspective, inbound marketing is just more effective than outbound marketing strategies. In fact, according to HubSpot, inbound marketing delivers a whopping 54% more leads into the marketing funnel than traditional outbound leads.
Inbound Marketing Continues to Drive Leads Over the Long-term
With inbound marketing, you have to put in the effort to create the content. But once the content is created, it’s done. You only have to do the work of creating the content once—but the content will continue to to do the work of driving leads for months (or years!) to come.
Clearly, inbound marketing is a must-try for your business. But how, exactly, do you get started?
Let’s take a look at the steps you need to take to develop an inbound marketing strategy that will help take your business to the next level:
Figure Out Your Message…
Inbound marketing is all about attracting clients through helpful, relevant content.
But before you can create that content, you need to figure out your inbound marketing focuses—or, in other words, what you want your content to say.
In order for your inbound marketing strategy to be successful, you need to be clear on your messaging—and what results you want that messaging to drive.
So, for example, if the goal for your inbound marketing strategy is to get potential clients to sign up for a free trial of your new product or service, your message needs to focus on the problem your customers are struggling with—and how your products or services solve that problem.
If your inbound marketing strategy is more about establishing your business as a go-to resource in your industry, you would want your content to build trust and authority—and, as such, would focus your messaging around education and sharing helpful and relevant information.
The point is, if you want your content to land with your audience (and drive leads in the process), it’s not enough to just create something and hope for the best. You need to be crystal clear on what you’re trying to say, why what you’re trying to say is important, and what you’re trying to accomplish with your message.
The clearer you are on your messaging, the clearer and more targeted your content will be—and the better your content will perform as a result.
…And Who Your Message Is For
Knowing what you want to say is important—but so is knowing who you want to say it to.
You can’t create targeted, relevant content if you don’t know who you’re targeting. Taking time to define your ideal customer will help ensure that the content you create is relevant—and will help your content convert at a much higher rate.
For example, let’s say you want to target C-level tech executives with your inbound marketing strategy. The type of content you would create to attract and connect with a C-level tech audience is completely different from the type of content you would create if you were targeting mid-level marketing managers, HR directors, or other small business owners.
Defining your ideal customer and crafting buyer personas (and keeping that customer/buyer persona in mind when you’re developing your content) will ensure that your message is relevant, helpful and on point for the audience you’re trying to reach.
And the more relevant, helpful and on point your content is, the better results you’ll be able to drive with your inbound marketing strategy.
Determine What Type of Content You’re Going to Create…
There are a TON of different ways you can leverage content to drive leads—and a big part of building a successful inbound marketing strategy is knowing which types of content you want to focus on.
There are a variety of different content mediums you can leverage for your inbound marketing strategy, including:
- Blog posts
- Case studies
- Customer stories
- How-to guides
- Audio content (like podcasts)
- Social media posts
Every inbound marketing strategy is different; you may decide you want to focus all of your efforts on one or two types of content—or you may decide you want to leverage multiple content forms to target your audience.
Either strategy can be effective—as long as you make sure you’re creating the type of content that’s going to a) best connect with your audience, and b) drive the results you’re aiming for.
So, for example, if you want your content to convince small business owners to hire your consulting firm, you might consider writing a series of customer stories—and leveraging your existing customer base to convince would-be customers to work with you (social proof is a powerful thing!).
If you want your content to help establish your company as an authority in your industry (and drive the kind of business that goes along with that authority), you might consider writing long-form educational content (like blog posts, eBooks and how-to guides) to show off your expertise.
Bottom line? Whatever type (or types!) of content you decide to create, make sure it’s going to drive the results you’re looking for—and drive results with the audience you’re targeting.
…And Where You’re Going to Create That Content
Deciding what type of content you want to create is the first part of the puzzle—but once you’ve determined what kind of content you’re going to create, you also need to decide where that content is going to live.
There are a huge variety of places you can share content to drive interest in your business. For example, let’s say you decide you want to create blog posts as part of your inbound marketing strategy. You could house those blog posts on your own website and use that content to capture each website visitor’s contact information and email address—or you could offer to write guest posts on a leading industry blog in order to get in front of a different/wider/potentially larger group of people.
Or let’s say you created a series of instructional videos. You might create separate landing pages to house those videos (and drive traffic directly to that landing page to collect lead information)—or you might decide to share those videos on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube and leverage them to drive leads from your social media audience.
Again, think about what you’re trying to accomplish with your content—and then publish that content in the place that’s most likely to help you hit those goals, whether that’s on social media, on your website, or on an industry blog.
Figure Out What Content Is Working in Your Industry—and Then Do It Better
When it comes to developing a solid inbound marketing strategy—and creating content that connects with and converts your audience—there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
You just have to figure out how to make the wheel better.
The “skyscraper technique” is a content marketing strategy that’s built around identifying the top-performing content in your niche—then figuring out how to improve on that content to make it even more valuable.
The skyscraper technique was originally developed as a search engine optimization (SEO)/link building strategy—but it can just as easily be applied to inbound marketing.
So, for example, you might notice that one of your competitor’s blog posts is getting a lot of traction with your target demographic. You already know that content is connecting with your ideal customers, so instead of starting from scratch, you can take the topic or idea from the competitor’s blog post and write your own blog post that adds information, insights, and/or resources—and make sure that your blog post is more valuable content than the original.
And because the original post was such a hit with your target audience, you know your blog post—which is even better than the original—is going to land as well.
Now, to be clear—you never want to plagiarize or steal someone else’s content. With the skyscraper technique, you want to use content that already exists (and is performing well in the search engines) as inspiration—and then find ways to a) improve it, and b) put your own spin on it in a way that adds more value for your audience.
Decide on In-house vs. Outsourcing
Another major decision you’ll have to make when rolling out your inbound marketing strategy is who is going to be creating your content—or, in other words, whether you’re going to handle content in-house or hire an outside company to create and manage your content for you.
There’s no right or wrong way to craft content; there are upsides and drawbacks to both strategies.
When you hire an outside agency or freelancer that specializes in inbound marketing, you get to leverage their expertise and experience to maximize the effectiveness of your content creation and marketing strategy; plus, you get a clear picture of ROI (how much you invest in outsourcing vs. how many prospects/customers that outsourcing generates).
But there’s always a risk when you outsource something as important as content; you have to be really careful to hire someone that understands your brand, your ideal customers and what you’re trying to accomplish with your content.
On the flip side, when you craft your content internally, it’s easier to maintain brand consistency and ensure everyone is on the same page—but if you don’t have any content and/or inbound marketing experts on your team, there might be some trial and error before you figure out the best strategy for your company.
There’s no “best” way to create content; ultimately, you have to figure out which strategy—in-house vs. outsourcing—is best for your business.
Use the Right Tools
In order to be as effective as possible with your inbound marketing strategy, you need the right tools—and that includes tools to create, optimize and analyze your content and performance.
The right suite of tools will depend on your content strategy. For example, if you’re going to focus on written content, you might use an insight tool (like BuzzSumo) to identify top-performing content, a grammar tool (like Grammarly or ProWritingAid) to make sure your copy is on point, and an inbound marketing tool (like HubSpot) to track your content’s performance and manage your prospects.
The point is, if you want your inbound marketing strategy to be successful, you need the right tools—so make sure you invest in those tools from the start and set your strategy up for success from the get-go.
Focus on Quality
You might think inbound marketing for small businesses is all about cranking out content 24/7. But the truth is, it’s not so much about how much content you create—it’s about how helpful, relevant and useful that content is to your audience.
When you’re rolling out an inbound marketing strategy, you always want to prioritize quality over quantity. Remember, the whole point of inbound marketing is to drive leads—and you’re far more likely to get those leads creating one incredible piece of content per month than you would by writing three mediocre pieces of content per week that don’t add any real value to your audience.
So how do you ensure you’re creating the kind of high-quality content that attracts leads? Before developing or rolling out a piece of content, you’ll want to ask yourself:
- How does this content add value to my audience?
- Why would my ideal customer want to read/watch/consume this content instead of other available content on this topic?
- What unique point of view does this content bring to the subject matter? How is it different/better than similar types of content?
- What problem does this content solve for my ideal customer?
- Is there any way I can make this content better before publishing it?
Using these questions to drive your content development will ensure that the content you ultimately put out into the world adds significant value to your audience—and that value will ensure that your content will drive leads and growth for your business.
Leverage Inbound Marketing to Craft Stellar Content—and Drive Leads for Your Business
Inbound marketing is one of the most effective strategies for connecting with your audience and driving new leads for your business. And now that you know the best practices for building effective inbound marketing strategies from the ground up, all that’s left to do? Get out there, develop your strategy and start leveraging content to drive leads—whether that’s from social media, from search engine results, or from content marketing directly on your business website.
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This post was updated in November 2020.