Over the past 18 months or so, I've been able to build a content presence that has significantly helped me grow my personal brand and business. It culminated recently with the release of my 80-page e-book, "Modern Sales and Marketing Best Practices" (email required). It is a compilation of interviews I did with 10 leaders in the field, including Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs; Mike Volpe, the CMO of HubSpot; social selling evangelist Jill Rowley; and other very smart people.
My basic approach for doing this is one I learned from Jim Collins' "Good to Great," and it's one that anyone can use. In the book, Collins describes how companies go from being good to being the best in their industry.
It doesn't happen overnight or with one big-change program.
A key concept is the flywheel: Leaders at those companies are focused, and they execute and everything they do gives the flywheel another little shove and a little more momentum. Over several years, the flywheel starts spinning very fast and delivering results.
Another word for this is persistence.
Here are a few lessons I learned from pushing on the flywheel.
1. Activity leads to opportunities
The first push on the flywheel for me was building on a few blog posts I had written for the companies where I worked. I know someone who blogs occasionally for Econsultancy. He liked my posts and told me that he'd introduce me to the blog editor if I was interested in writing for them, too. Even though the writing doesn't pay, I was interested in the exposure and took the introduction.
My first post for Econsultancy turned out to be a hot-button topic: those sponsored links that appear at the end of stories on most news and other sites. They totally confuse editorial with advertising and often link to low-quality content.
That post generated 14 comments. That was a very high number for Econsultancy, where most posts get two or three comments. One of the comments was a response from Outbrain, one of the companies had I talked about in the post. And one of the comments even reached the level of quality that Ann Handley strives for: "Would your customers thank you for that content?"
So, that was a good debut, and the company was happy to have me continue to write for it.
2. What excites or annoys you is likely to excite or annoy others, too
Not only did that post get me some attention, but I noticed in the analytics for my own blog that about 1-2% of people who read my posts on Econsultancy then came to my blog to check out more of my writing. It varied, though, depending on the topic I was writing about—just as the readership and comments on the post varied.
3. Don't just follow your heart; inform your heart with data
(Many of the people interviewed in the e-book talk about how they use data in their sales and marketing work.)
A few months later, I was at a professional association meeting and heard a terrific talk from Jamie Scheu of Hill Holliday on why content marketing is so powerful. The company's studies, and the research of others, showed that when people are showed the exact same content, they have a much higher opinion of it if they choose to see it than if it is thrust upon them.
I was fascinated by this and approached Jamie about doing an interview, which he was willing to do.
But I found out that Econsultancy wouldn't post interviews unless they were done by a staffer. The company had the experience of people at agencies using interviews to promote the offerings of their clients. Even though Hill Holliday wasn't a client—it was a competing agency, if anything—Econsultancy wouldn't take the interview.
Around this time, I had also been getting active in a Boston group called Sales and Marketing Innovators. Its president is an analyst at IDG Connect, which has a blog. I asked him if the IDG Connect blog takes outside submissions, and he introduced me to an editor. Serendipity… She told me that they had just been talking about how they wanted to post more interviews, and they didn't have to be done by staffers.
So, they posted my interview with Jamie.
4. A "no" from one publisher is only a "no from one publisher
There are countless places to get attention for your content. Find one that wants what you're writing.
When I then approached industry leaders about the idea of being interviewed for IDG Connect, which is a highly respected brand, almost all of them were interested. And that's what led to my doing several more interviews of very prominent people in the field.
5. Every blog your write for and every industry leader you interview is another bit of social proof that helps lead to the next one
This whole time, I continued to write other posts for my own blog. I now have more than 85 posts with 30-40 people now visiting it on a typical day. (As is mentioned in the e-book interview with Mike Volpe, blogs really take off once they get 100-200 posts.) Not huge, but that's about 1,000 people a month, and it continues to grow. I expect that the attention from the e-book will jump it up a bit more. Not a massive leap, but a bigger than average push to the flywheel.
I also have a few thousand followers on Twitter, which I find is a very good way to interact with people in the field. And it drives a lot of traffic to my blog, far more than LinkedIn.
6. Find the social platforms that work for promoting your content; experiment and build
There's a new saying, "If you have more brains than money, do inbound marketing. If you have more money than brains, do outbound marketing."
Being in the first category (I hope), I used my content to gain attention for myself. I never spent a dime on advertising.
Many start-ups have a similar ramp-up these days. Though a very few startups take off like a rocket, in the excellent book of 10 startup case studies, "Growth Engines," Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown also describe the years it took companies like LinkedIn, Evernote, and Yelp to get to where they are today. Some were close to bankruptcy before they hit stride.
7. Whether you're growing a company or a content following, that can take a lot of persistence to get to where you want to go. (And once you get there, you probably will push on to a new goal.)
The origin of the word "succeed," after all, has to do with carrying on (as in succession), not with finishing.
Just keep pushing on that flywheel.
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