At this point, enough businesses have found success with content marketing for it to merit serious consideration for even the most cautious of businesses.
Good content marketing does require a considerable commitment in time and money. For small businesses with limited resources, that makes it a risky proposition.
Nonetheless, successful small businesses know that most things worth doing require some real work and risk. If you approach content marketing thoughtfully and strategically, you can find ways to get more for less out of the process.
There are a few steps you absolutely shouldn't skip if you want to find success with content marketing, but with some creative thinking along the way you can find ways to save money throughout the process.
Step 1: Decide on a budget
Before you can really decide what you can do, you have to decide what you're willing to commit. And that isn't just a matter of money: Make a budget that includes the time commitment you're willing to make as well.
Determine how much you can manage in-house, based on the time available to you and your employees, and the strengths of your team. If you have some great writers or artists in the bunch, you've already made a good start. Now you just have to be willing to move some responsibilities around so they have time to give to content development.
Money-saving tip: If you can afford to set a time budget for you and your current employees to devote to content marketing, you'll save on the costs of outsourcing or hiring someone new to help develop content.
You want to be careful not to put new obligations on already overwhelmed employees, though. Either find a way to lighten their load elsewhere, or consider offering bonuses or added benefits in exchange for the extra work.
Step 2: Create a strategy
A strategy is an absolutely crucial part of the process, but many businesses tend to skip this step.
At this phase of strategy creation, you need to...
- Determine what your goals are in content marketing.
- Think carefully about who your audience is: What they want and need, and where they're seeking their answers.
- Choose which formats and platforms to focus on. Hint: Don't get too ambitious. If you decide you need to develop a presence on every social media platform, you'll spend your time on nothing but social media. Focus on where your audience is.
- Create a schedule for specific pieces of content you plan to develop over the next 3-6 months.
Money-saving tip: Keep your budget in mind during this step. If you plan for more than you can accomplish, there's a good chance you'll either give up or you'll create sloppy, rushed content.
Don't commit to a blog post a day if your team can produce only two good blog posts in a month. You're better off with less, but really high-quality, content that you have time to promote, than you are with an excess of mediocre content that no one pays attention to.
Step 3: Hire the help needed to carry out the strategy
This step might not be necessary if employees have the time and skills necessary to fully accomplish your strategy, but there's a good chance a small business will need some extra help.
Content marketing isn't just about creating the content. You also need strategies and tactics to make content more user-friendly, persuasive, and optimized to help you accomplish your marketing goals. Learning all the best-practices takes time, and you may be well served by bringing someone in, at least in the beginning, to help you and your team learn some of the basics.
You may also have ideas that you just don't have the skill to realize on your own. If you don't have any crackerjack graphic designers or anyone with experience making videos on your team, you're better off hiring someone to help you produce content in those formats than spending endless hours producing something sub-par on your own.
Money-saving tip: Shop around at local firms and with contractors. Be willing to ask for alternatives to set rates. I don't mean you should ask to get the same services for less; rather, see whether there's a way to bring the cost down by bringing the level of work down for them. If you're hiring someone to help you blog, ask whether providing notes to simplify their research process could make that $100 post into a $75 one instead.
You can also hire student interns who specialize in skills you need. Graphic design students, filmmaking students, and marketing students can get good experience and some cash out of working with you, and you can get budget content that meets your needs by working with them.
I do urge you to pay any interns you hire. They'll do better work and they'll respect you and your business more if it's a relationship that benefits both of you rather than an arrangement that feels exploitative.
Step 4: Refine your plan, as needed, to meet budget requirements
Predicting how much time and effort something will take is hard to do before you get started. You might find you need a leaner plan. Or you might get lucky and realize you can get more done than originally anticipated.
A strategy is extremely important to have, but don't decide once you have it that it's set in stone. If you can't keep up with what you've planned, you need to decide whether you're willing to invest more time and money, slow down the strategy you have now, or figure out what you can live without.
Money-saving tip: Be willing to scale back. Producing content that reaches and resonates with your audience is more important than producing a lot of content just to meet your quantity goals.
If something requires more time or money than you expected, don't be surprised; that's not uncommon early on in a content strategy. What you learn as you go teaches you what to expect in devising your strategy in the future.
Step 5: Track what works
When you refine your strategy, be sure to focus on tactics and platforms that give you the best results. If you've gotten a lot of traction on Twitter, but way less engagement on Facebook than you expected, be willing to cut out whatever's not working.
Making that determination can take some time. You might not have much of an idea of what's working, or why, until you've been at it for a few months. If you pay attention to trends in traffic, search results, clicks, and social media engagement as you go, you'll start to gain a clear picture of the strongest aspects of your strategy.
Money-saving tip: Between Google Analytics and simply asking leads how they found you, you can get through this step without paying for any tools. You cut out any platforms or tactics not getting any traction, saving time and money that you can then invest in those that do provide ROI.
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Yes, it takes time. Yes, it can be overwhelming at first. Running a business, you learn pretty quickly that those are both true of most things you have to do.
Content marketing isn't just about gaining leads and search traffic (although it does that). It also lets you build relationships with your prospective clients. It's the modern version of what customers have long valued in small and local businesses: nurturing that personal connection.
If you want customers to trust you, value you, and think about you first when they need a product or service you offer, a good content marketing strategy can help you get there.
Of course, it works best if you get started before your competitors also figure it out. What are you waiting for?