Hey there, my fellow business owners!  If you read any small business journals (Inc., Fast Company, Forbes, Entrepreneur, etc.) then you have probably heard a little bit about the importance of content in your marketing plan.  As a matter of fact, over 90% of companies agree that content is a “business asset”.

What is content marketing?  Really it involves any kind of marketing that is focused more on generating a sense of awareness and connection to your company than on making a sale.

Businesses create content to

  • become a trusted authority
  • serve as a source of information
  • generate loyalty and/or engagement with customers and prospective customers

The Good Old Days of Marketing

Back in the “before” days (aka pre-COVID), sales and marketing worked collaboratively with a clear focus on face-to-face interactions with prospective customers.  Salesmen (and women) attended trade shows, association meetings, and networking events to connect with prospects. Many companies relied on visits to customer sites, as well as cold calls from leads lists (that may or may not be up to date).

And content was delivered directly in the form of a brochure or other print material for these customers to review later.

Of course, it wasn’t just COVID that changed the marketing game.  Newer, younger employees were already embracing technology as a way to connect without having to make cold calls (or any calls, God forbid).

And the rapid growth of websites and social media made it easier for customers to find you online (or you to find them).

So, in the “before days” (before COVID and before Web 2.0/eCommerce) sales & marketing often looked somewhat like this:

sales funnel

In this funnel, marketing is involved up front to provide supporting materials to sales.  And the sales team follows up with any prospects who visit the trade show booth, hoping for a sale.

No More Leads 

Now, think about how you go about making a new purchase – for work or home.  Typically, you start by asking around – do people you already know have any recommendations or connections to suggest?  If not, then we all go to the same place after that:

Google Search

Today’s process looks more like this (with acknowledgement to Chris Gibbons and the National Center for Economic Gardening):

New sales funnel

In this process, the customer is the one deciding they are ready to buy (motivation).  And then the customer begins the investigation process to see what the options are.  And the customer evaluates their choices based on what is found online before contacting a company to express interest in making a purchase.

In this situation, your business isn’t looking for qualified sales leads – the leads have self-qualified and are closer to “ready to buy” than any leads from the original funnel.

So, the question then becomes – how can you be sure your business gets ‘found’ during the investigation and evaluation phases?

And the answer is content.  (Well mostly*). So how does a small business owner with limited time and budget create all of this content?  Let’s look at some important tips to consider.

Know Your Customers 

# 1 Know your customer’s pain points

What problem are you solving for your customers with your product or service?  Be sure that any content that you create focuses squarely on THEM and not on your business.  Consider sharing case studies to show how other customers in the same industry have worked with you.  Or create a story where your customer is the hero, and you help them ‘save the day’. (Check out Donald Miller’s book Building a Story Brand for great tips)

Help them see how your business can make a difference for them.  You might be surprised to realize how much you know about your industry that your customers don’t.  Educate them with your content.

# 2 Know where your customers are ‘hanging out’

Even the best content you could possibly create is no good if your customers don’t see it.  Make sure the platform you choose is one where your customers are already paying attention.  If you mainly sell B2B, then likely Instagram isn’t your best bet.  If you are selling direct to consumer, then perhaps don’t focus your energy on Linked In.

Think about the different types of content (text, audio, video) and the different platforms where you can share them (social media posts, podcasts, blog posts, articles in trade journals, live social media events, etc.). Where do you believe your customers are getting their information?

Engage Your Customers

# 3 Stop Lurking

The general rule of thumb about social media activity is that 1% of users are very active, 9% are somewhat active, and the remaining 90% are lurkers.  They view posts, look at comments but don’t actually participate online at all.

Are you a lurker?  It’s time to get more active.  Your own original posts won’t get much attention if you are never commenting and sharing and liking posts from other people.  Start setting aside time to engage potential customers or referral sources on your social media accounts.  You can start small, with just a few likes or a friendly “Congratulations” to someone with a new job or celebrating an anniversary.  Linked In will even suggest comments for you.

Then build from there – but focus on sharing helpful information, providing feedback, answering questions, and overall supporting other people posting on social media.  Get to be known as someone who’s paying attention.  That’s an important first step.

# 4 Don’t Sell Anything

This may seem counterintuitive, but numbers don’t lie.  People are more likely to engage with you online if you aren’t actively trying to sell anything.  You can start by sharing posts that you think are interesting or helpful for your customers.  Then maybe share some of your own content, with a focus on entertaining and educating.

Multipurpose Content 

#5 Start Easy

How can you possibly come up with something to say that will engage or interest your potential customers?  Think about your current customers.  What are some of the most common questions they ask?  What terms don’t make sense to them?  Can you explain any acronyms?  Or how something works?  Think about the FAQs your customers are asking about and start with some short posts explaining some of the terms and concepts from your industry.

#6 Reuse and Recycle

You don’t have to create original content for every platform.  Don’t overwhelm yourself!  Consider that one blog post might be turned into multiple short social media posts.  Or something that you wrote in the past could be repurposed for another audience or platform.  Give some thought to how much of your existing content, including what’s on your website, is evergreen (meaning it can be used anytime, not specific to a point in time).

You could even record a video or podcast based on past blog posts.  Or take a series of videos and turn them into podcasts.  Think about what you’ve already got for content and how you might be able to reuse it in multiple locations.

Be Intentional 

# 7 Set Goals and Measure Engagement

Finally, pay attention to what you post and how people interact with you.  Be sure to comment back to anyone who comments on your social media posts.  Ask people to share your posts.  Keep track of any data you can find on the level of engagement you get.

Set goals for engagement (likes, shares, comments, impressions).  And make sure you have a clear call to action with any content you share.  Perhaps you want them to answer a question, share a similar experience, or tag someone.  Or maybe you want them to go to your website or request some form of lead magnet that gets them closer to being ready to buy.

The key is to just get out there and start sharing.  Engage with others and be a helpful resource.  The more active you are online, the more you will understand what types of content will be beneficial to your target audience.

Looking to get started?  If you liked this article, then share it online!  laughing

*Okay, content isn’t the only thing that helps.  Be sure you have a handle on your online presence, optimize your website and content for SEO and all the other hard-to-keep-up-with digital marketing tips that you see every day.  And continue to be skeptical about quick fixes and easy solutions.  This sh*t takes time.

My passion is to help growth-minded entrepreneurs like you find ways to plan for your version of a successful future.  I do this through courses, consulting, and a community of like-minded people.  Reach out for a free ½ hour conversation if you’re curious to learn more!

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