When a business owner decides to dip a toe into the waters of marketing, the choices can seem overwhelming. Should she buy a few ads? Sponsor some events? Put out a few press releases?

Short of jumping all the way in with a full-fledged marketing plan, entrepreneurs can start with one tactic that is inexpensive and pays big dividends: content marketing in the form of bylined articles, or article marketing.

Today's media landscape is not the closed-door fortress it once was. True, traditional media relations still hinge on convincing the right reporter or editor that your story is worth telling. However, many publications and online outlets are hungry for content written by guest bloggers or authors. At a time when media are short-staffed, highly competitive, and niche-oriented, subject-matter experts have an opportunity to talk directly to readers.

When you get such an opportunity, use it to solve a customer problem, shape a market conversation, clarify a confusing issue, or introduce a new concept. Contributing content isn't about direct sales; it's about positioning yourself, your colleagues, and your business as industry thought leaders.

The benefits of getting this high-value tactic right are many. You'll gain authority in your market, you'll improve your search engine optimization (SEO), and you'll spark conversations that can generate leads.

Follow the following three steps to get started.

1. Write articles that humans would want to read

You have two elements to consider: First, you have to come up with some ideas that appeal to your target market. Second, you have to write for real readers, not search engines.

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image of Cathy Caldeira

Cathy Caldeira is a co-founder of Metis Communications, which employs a unique combination of journalism, content marketing, and public relations to help clients get in front of the right audiences at the right time. She has more than 15 years' experience positioning, launching, and supporting companies, entrepreneurs, products, and services.