Content marketing – could I build a business on it? I glanced down at the check in my hand, then glanced up at the two kids playing in front of me. I shifted my baby a little on my lap, studying the check again. Should I use that check to buy groceries, or to buy web hosting?
I made a gamble with that money – a small inheritance I received when my grandmother died. I banked that money on a website and a content marketing plan to build it into a business (except we didn't call it “content marketing” when I started this game).
In the years since I made that decision, I've often wished my grandmother could see how I've multiplied that little check over, and over, and over again countless times 🙂
I built my business on the back of content – and I built it by myself. Recently, Scott has come home from corporate America to help in the business, but for a long time, it was just me, one of the little gals, building something pretty big.
Can content marketing work for beginning digital marketers? Beginning niche businesses?
Let me tell you how…
What's Old is New Again
It's important to realize that “content marketing” is a buzzword today. You hear it everywhere. It's like it's some new, fresh thing that you just have to do.
The problem with that perception is that it's wrong. Content marketing has been around a long time. It's just that it wasn't really called that (I'd say that the Content Marketing Institute really helped push the lingo ;)).
We used to call it “article marketing” or just “recording training” or “writing great blog posts” or “writing consistent posts that your visitors love.”
Of course there were many variations back them, and some of them were kind of spammy and even black-hat-ish (if you don't know, “black hat” search engine optimization (SEO) means trying to fool the search engines into giving you higher rankings – it's not a good idea).
But many people honestly just created great websites.
The Content Marketing Juggernaut (or, everyone thinks it matters)
Today we still believe in creating those great websites, only we call it “content.” To be fair, content tends to be distributed farther today than it was in the past – there are many more channels for marketing with content. Plus, there are so many accessible channels for every medium:
- Videos (Youtube, Youtube Live, Facebook Live, Vimeo, etc.)
- Audio (podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, GooglePlay)
- Text (your site, your blog, guest posting, social media properties, email)
- Images and Graphics (infographics, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr)
I only named a few channels and only covered mediums that are prominent today – it's hard to imagine what might be coming. So there are complexities in content marketing that weren't there even five years ago, and certainly not a decade ago.
But the core of all of that is still high-quality content that keeps your audience coming back for more.
Content marketing is essential to most corporate strategies today for good reason: people want quality information. They want to know, like, and trust.
In the past, we had heroes and fables, the people and stuff of legends. People looked to that for inspiration and guidance.
Maybe you still do look to something higher for guidance – but many people just don't. They're looking for a “hero,” or for a “wise elder” of some sort to lead them. Today, brands fill that role!
When brands build credibility and trust with their audience, the audience is likely to remain loyal – and to buy. Content marketing opens the door to access your audience and to grow that relationship with them. It brings people onto your mailing list (arguably the most important part of your marketing strategy) Savvy corporate marketing departments realize this key, and they build entire teams to deploy well-rounded content strategies.(NOTE: Want to put together a content marketing plan fast? Use this blueprint to plan and execute a content marketing plan that works - even for the solo entrepreneur and small teams. Get yours here.)
Content Marketing for the (much) Smaller Business
Where does that leave you, the (much) smaller business? If you're like our business, you are likely a team of one, or maybe two. Maybe you're where I was for a long time – running the business by yourself with a little bit of help from a spouse here or there to read over a blog post before you publish it. Or you've got a virtual assistant to help with some of the grunt-work, but really, this is mostly you.
Is a content marketing strategy worth having if you're only one person? Is it even possible?
And, most importantly, does it make a difference when you're a very small fish in a very big sea… a sea filled with well-organized marketing departments going after your target audience.
**The answer is a resounding YES. You should have and execute a content marketing plan **
On NBBC, my primary website and the business I've been building for the past decade, I am essentially a one-person marketing team. I am a one-person content team. I am also fighting against very big fish in my niche. One key for NBBC has been that I sit firmly (and unapologetically) in a sub-niche. But the SERPs (search engine results pages) are still dominated by corporate websites with content written by paid “experts.”
Even with this reality, I am still able to rank relatively well in the search engines, and more importantly, my content helps me to connect with my audience on a deep, personal level. I bring them something that a corporation can never bring. I bring something that a bunch of “experts” can never bring. There's a human side, an “I've been there and understand you” side…
…that's something you can put into your content strategy.
Though you may eventually grow too big to personally reply to everyone who writes you, that day will likely not come for awhile. You can take the questions you receive and create content that speaks to that need. It's highly likely that many others reading your content have the same questions, so you connect on a deep level with all your audience because they feel you know their thoughts, wants, fears, and needs.
Another example of something that has been very successful for me is podcasting. My niche podcast has over 100 episodes and I get emails almost every day thanking me for recording and producing the show. I do have guests on many episodes, but most are me speaking directly to the audience – sharing my thoughts and experiences in my niche, and giving practical advice, how-to's, etc.
This personal voice is harder for a corporation to capture, but it's something you can do regularly in your own niche without too much cost or extra work. A simple budget microphone works well. Share snippets of your story (stories) in your articles.
Live video is taking off right now, and that's another area that being an individual who connects with your audience works well. People like seeing you, and they like hearing your responses to their questions. It doesn't have to be long, 10-15 minutes to answer one a question a week can be plenty. Your phone is good enough, or your phone with an inexpensive lavaliere microphone. Then you just go live and record, respond, and build relationship.
Of course, bringing in some strategy really helps – you can repurpose your podcasts and videos into written content. You can pull together a series of blog posts to create a book. There are many options available to the small content producer.
The bottom line is: content marketing makes a difference, even for the small digital marketer and niche marketer.
It Takes Planning
You do need to plan for content.
At first, you may have the enthusiasm to write excellent articles or to record podcasts or videos, without much planning. The content keeps flowing just because you're full of ideas, or you want to establish a strong base of content about basics in your niche.
But you'll likely come to a time when you need to think about your strategy for a couple of reasons:
- You need to keep ideas for content flowing
- You need to keep up with a consistent content schedule
- You may want to bring writers, editors, etc. onto your team
Truthfully your audience will give you a lot of great ideas for content. If I feel particularly un-inspired, I can just send out an email along these lines:
Subject: I need your help
Body: I sat down to write today and just couldn't think of what to write. So could you take just 2 minutes to let me know what your two biggest questions about [insert niche/topic here] are?
Just hit “reply” and let me know, it comes right to my inbox!
[sign off here]
Once you have a small email list, a simple email like this can get big results. You can also write back with a few lines, acknowledging people for responding you. This is a great way to build further relationship.
Paste all the questions into a document or Onenote (it's what I use!), and you've got a great list to work from when you need content ideas. A little bit of planning will help you keep those content ideas flowing.
Another key is consistency. This is something I have really struggled with throughout the years of running my business. When I started my site, I had 3 kids. Now I have 7 kids! I love my kids, and I love homeschooling them, but life with a large family can get really hectic. There are times when it's just hard for me to produce content.
Staying consistent, however, has always lead to more success in my business. This has been especially true with my podcast, which brings many new students into my program. I want my products and classes to change lives, and to do that, I need people in them! So creating valuable content on a schedule is worth it to me.
You may need to tweak your schedule (often you're too ambitious at first), but planning out how frequently you publish and what kind of content you create is helpful.
A final reason for planning is because you may want to bring in a team at some point. I would eventually like to hire a writer or writers to help me on a smaller niche site I'd like to build out. I know that having a set content calendar and a set plan for getting the initial drafts in, having editing and formatting done, etc. will be crucial to the success of my team.
If you hope to have a team working on your content, you need to consider at least a loosely organized plan to keep everyone on track.
Strategy = Success
I hinted above that content like a podcast or video can be repurposed into further content. Having the plan to do this is crucial.
I've been reading the stories of other marketers recently, and a common theme has been carefully re-purposed content. I've decided to implement this with my live videos.
I did live video for NBBC for months and posted the video on my blog after the live broadcast. That's as far as I went with “repurposing.” After taking a break from live-streaming due to a family emergency, I decided to start again. I polled the NBBC subscriber base and heard (overwhelmingly) that they wanted Youtube Live and were also interested in Facebook Live. So I decided to stream from both services. Another successful marketer (Wardee Harmon from Traditional Cooking School – thank you!) gave me the idea to also repurpose into a podcast.
As I shared, my podcast has been a great way for me to personally connect with the NBBC audience. A second, shorter podcast seemed like a good idea too. So when I record the live video, I also have my microphone hooked up and recording just behind the cameras. I capture two live streams and an audio at the same time (I could also extract audio from the Youtube Live recording if need be). As I type this, we're about to launch the second podcast. It will have a post with the podcast and the video embedded, and the podcast will go live to each podcasting directory while the video is on Youtube and Facebook.
This does take a little extra time (mostly to get the blog post together) – but not much – and I'm distributing quality content out that goes to social media, sits on Youtube, and I can share with my subscribers and readers.
Podcasts and videos can also be transcribed to create further content. You can use a short transcript to form the foundation for a longer, more detailed content piece like this one.
All of that takes strategy – and this is just one example of a strategy.
If you're just getting started, choose one content medium and master it.
Then determine how you can repurpose that content strategically to widen your reach.
Remember, even if you don't have the money (or time) to do a lot of fancy work with video and audio, you have a huge advantage with your audience – you are real and relatable – people can form a connection with you easily. Flashy video effects are cool, but real people sharing real information and experiences still wins most of the time (look at reality TV – as “real” as you can argue that is ;)).
After you've mastered one medium and determined how your first repurposing plan works, you can look towards expanding and bolting more onto your business – always thinking strategically about how this advances the whole business.
Another hint: don't be discouraged if something doesn't work, or if you can't juggle quite as much as you're doing. Evaluate what does work and stay consistent with that.
Moving Beyond the Blog Post
I think I've already given you some great ideas for moving beyond a simple blog post, and as I've emphasized several times, I think this is a place where you, as a small content provider, can really shine.
Audio is powerful and simple, even if you're nervous about the way that you look or how messy your house is 😉 Video is a great choice if you want to seem personal and real to your audience. Don't worry if things are rough at first – you'll get better. I'm planning to do some posts here with tips to help you feel more confident from the start… but never forget that the more you write, record, and film, the better you'll get. The same is true for teaching, too 🙂
Remember that you can and should look beyond your own blog, too. Where you look past that point depends greatly on the niche you choose – some niches, for example, are good fits for LinkedIn. Others are not 😉
Look for places your audience hangs out online – those are good places to start sharing content. Today it's very easy to share articles, audio, and video.
Images are also very big today, and can be used to enhance and spread awareness both online and offline. In fact, I think that images should be part of your strategy. A clean graphic can make even an article more eye-catching and appealing to your audience. It can also set the tone for your brand (think about a cursive script font vs. a whimsical, child-like font – font can immediately set the tone).
Images can go way beyond “Pinterest-ready” graphics, however. Your niche may really lend itself to a strong presence on a site like Instagram. Phone apps make it easy to capture and share pictures. If this is a good fit for your niche, it's time to think through strategy (and consistency) – don't go too big too fast 😉 This is something I'm thinking of exploring for NBBC or even here at Milk and Mud – but I haven't done a lot yet so I'll be learning along with you!
The point is, there are many ways to think creatively about content marketing both on your blog and off your blog, and in many mediums. After you've built up a few quality content pieces on your website, and you've gotten a mailing list set up, guest posting can be powerful, so it's definitely an option to consider!
Small Start, Massive Growth
Key takeaways are:
- Consistency is important for building relationship and traction
- Being “small” is a big advantage – you can connect on a very personal, real level
- Start slowly and add on more as you master content mediums (and locations)
- Grow strategically – consider how to repurpose content
If you start slowly you can master each thing you do (or dump what doesn't work and move on to something that does), then bolt on something new. Measure and evaluate results so you know what works for you.
As you refine and built a content marketing strategy that works for you, you'll gain momentum. It's like a snowball rolling downhill – the impact on your business grows exponentially, and the impact you have your audience also explodes. You reach more people, change more lives (including your own), and people like you, respect you, and listen to your thoughts, opinions, and recommendations 🙂
Do you have a content strategy that's working for your online business?(NOTE: Want to put together a content marketing plan fast? Use this blueprint to plan and execute a content marketing plan that works - even for the solo entrepreneur and small teams. Get yours here.)