The truth is, it doesn’t matter what your product or service is.  If you rely on online marketing to get the word out, build your list, engage with your prospects and customers then you, my friend, are in the CONTENT MARKETING business.

Facebook, blogging, email marketing, tweets, pins, shares and the like, are DAILY business building activities. It’s no longer social media, it is just marketing.  We can belabor the guidelines and changes that online platforms seem to adapt daily or we can just get down to business and do what we know we need to do.

Do you need to blog? Damn straight you do.  Do you need to post/tweet/pin? If your audience posts/tweets/pins then yes. Should you use email marketing? Only if you want to talk to your prospects and engage with your customers. Stop wasting valuable time with your opinions about the different platforms and get down to business. I will make one important statement here — when I say content marketing, I’m not saying that all businesses need to tweet 20 times a day or create 15 blog posts a week. When you do your research, you will discover the pattern that is best to reach your audience. The key is to accept that pattern and then build a content marketing plan around it.

Before I go any further, let me define content.  Content is everything from the copy you have on your website and promotional materials to blog posts, social media posts, images, graphics, email sequences; basically any words and images you use to convey your brand story to the world. Content Marketing is the strategic plan and use of those words, images, graphics organized to accomplish your business objectives.

Here are a few tips to get you focused, keep you on track and reach your goals.

  1. Know Your Strengths — what qualifies you to do what you do? What experience or skills do you have? Have you perfected your process? Why you? You may be the best widget maker on the planet but if you can’t organize your product/service strengths and communicate the why behind them, you shouldn’t waste your money.  Get clear, very clear on what you can do and why you are the one to do it before you create your content strategy.  If you can’t articulate it quickly and effectively, you will struggle with every word/image/graphic that needs to be created to help you market your business. Once you have answers, good answers to those questions, you can put it in writing and that is content.
  2. Know Your Audience — who is your target market? What influences their buying decisions? How will your product solve their problems or make them happy? Where do they buy what you are selling now? People buy what they want, need or are persuaded to need.  In order for you to sell anything to anyone, you have to know who your target audience is and how to communicate with them. What words evoke the response you want to evoke? What images are compelling to that audience? Recently, Good Morning America had a social snafu.  They intended to communicate that Monday’s are tough and instead they offended millions of people because the missed the visual cue in a gif that they posted on social media. Be very clear on what your audience will read and see in all that you do. Your content marketing plan should always be focused on reaching your audience — both prospects and customers.
  3. Know Your Competition — every business has competition. Who is your competition? What do they do to market and sell their product or service? Why do people buy what they are selling? How do you compare? What are their strengths? More than likely you are selling a product or service that someone else sells. Before you embark upon your content marketing plan, take the time to dissect your competition. Somewhere in that research you will discover the gaps and the opportunities for you to shine.
  4. Perfect Your Product/Service — stop building the airplane while in flight.  If you want to do 10 things all at once, stop. Perfect your product/service and the systems needed to execute those before you add too many things to your plate.  Most businesses start with multiple half baked ideas that may be brilliant but because they didn’t take the time to perfect them, will only be marginal at best.  Whatever your widget, make it great before you lose customers and create a brand reputation that you cannot recover from.
  5. Develop Your Sales Plan — how much does it cost to acquire a lead? What is your margin? What touch points do you need to create to move your prospect to becoming a customer? What marketing collateral (content) do you need to have in advance to move them through the funnel? How many leads do you need in your pipeline to close one customer? As you grow in business, these questions become paramount to success.  As you are moving forward, take the time to clarify the steps in your sales cycle so you can craft the content you need to make the best connection.
  6. Share Your Secrets — blog, blog, blog…yes, blog your secrets.  By giving your prospects and customers a peek behind the curtain, you engender them to you and you create social proof.  Social proof is not new. It is not a child of social media.  Social proof has always been necessary to sell your product or service.  Blogging is one of the best ways to increase social proof. The more you share and show that your product or service is a relevant player, the more social proof you garner.
  7. Create a Daily Plan — go where your audience is and give them something each day.  There are a lot of tools out there to create schedules for social media. Just Google ‘social media calendar’ and they will pop up. The idea here is that you have a plan and that you execute on that plan daily.
  8. Set Goals — a plan without goals is hard to track and improve upon. Depending on the content created and the tool used to disseminate that content, you will have different goals. You can set goals around social shares, open rates, click through rates, opt in rates, sales rates etc.
  9. Measure Your Progress — once you have those goals, you have to measure the results.  Know your starting numbers and then track your results.  You should know fairly soon for most marketing tactics if you are getting the results you need. The numbers don’t lie. If you have invested in an online ad and it isn’t resulting in the primary goal then it isn’t working. You need to fish or cut bait as my daddy would say.
  10. Test & Adapt — most of the time you don’t know what will happen with a tactic until you test it.  Split test as much as possible to refine your content marketing efforts and gain better insight into your audience. If you split test, you will most likely see a trend and then adapt your efforts toward that trend to increase your results.  BUT none of this can happen without CONTENT.

Sales and marketing, whether through social channels or otherwise are constant projects. The only time you stop marketing and selling is when you go out of business.  It always surprises me when I talk to small business owners and solo entrepreneurs and they are frustrated with the process.

What did you think? People were going to hire you on your good looks and ideas? Real businesses have to have a product or service that can be sold and unless you are the only player in an in-demand niche, you have to market to get business.

Launching a business without an understanding of what it is going to take to market it creates an uphill battle that does not need to exist. I’m not saying that you won’t discover a lot once you start, but going into a business without first doing the research to determine what your sales and marketing strategy will be is expensive and there is a big chance you will not succeed.

When I encounter struggling small businesses, I always ask to see their plan.  98% of them have NO PLAN.  Here’s the truth — NO PLAN=NO PROFIT.   Do you need a formal business plan? If you want funding you do. If you are boot strapping it, then you don’t need a comprehensive formal plan but you do need a plan. A thorough, well researched and intentional plan on how you will move the needle, fund your project and recoup your investment. When you look at most successful startups you will see that content marketing, use of social platforms and email marketing are a big part of their plan.

Your business success depends on an excellent product, great service, and the right messaging (content) to reach and persuade your audience to act.  For most businesses today, without a content marketing strategy that leverages social channels, email marketing and blogging, it will be difficult — down right impossible — to reach the people you need to reach.