Content marketing for startups and small businesses: step-by-step guide

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An introductory guide explaining how to use content marketing to find new customers and increase value.

  • Create a clear strategy that fits your brand, business goals and vision
  • Take a consistent but not uniform approach to content creation
  • Focus on your analytics to develop optimal performance

Sharing valuable content such as blog posts, videos and whitepapers is a great way to attract an audience, build trust and educate potential customers. It’s also one of the ways to develop relationships with existing customers.

This step-by-step guide explains effective ways to invest in content marketing, how to do it effectively and the importance of measuring your performance to achieve success.

Step 1: Create your content marketing strategy

Establish your purpose It starts with your ‘why’?
Consider your company’s core mission and use this as a guiding light to develop a strategy that fits your brand, business goals and vision. Your content marketing strategy is a plan that should demonstrate who you are, your value and your expertise.

Ask questions
A content marketing strategy should be a constantly evolving reference point for team members to check into. It should answer questions that include:

  • What are your content goals?
  • Who will be reading your content?
  • What problems is your content solving for your customers?
  • What does your customer journey look like?
  • What makes you different?
  • What content formats will you use?
  • What channels will you publish and distribute through?

Set tangible outcomes
Be clear on the goals you are trying to achieve as this will depend on who you are as a company, the industry sector you’re in and the resources at your disposal.

These aims could include: increasing brand awareness; boosting audience engagement; building loyalty and customer advocacy; growing and diversifying your customer base; improving search rankings; media coverage; and becoming a thought leader.

Step 2: Plan your content creation and distribution channels

With your purpose and goals in place, you can begin to look at your content creation, distribution and management plan to grow your business. Content marketing can include any written, visual or downloadable assets you create and own. Take note of how content is currently being consumed - mobile devices, excluding tablets, generate about half of all website traffic globally, according to Statista.

Take a consistent but not uniform approach
Create content with a consistent and human voice to engage your audience and post regularly to keep your users engaged. An editorial style guide and creative brief templates will help your content creators understand your audience, messages, brand voice and personality. Consistent does not mean uniform, so consider how you will differentiate your content for different platforms.

Answer customer questions
Help customers. Answer the questions your audience is asking to make their journey as pain-free as possible - map your content to the pain points and choose the best type of content for that problem. What obstacles can you solve for customers in their customer journey from awareness and consideration through to purchase, retention and advocacy? Use customer needs to create a better path for your audience and help you become more searchable online.

Establish workflow and governance
How will you manage content creation and publication? Develop a simple content calendar and workflow to begin with, including stages such as creating, reviewing and publishing. Then build into the process key decision points and decision owners. Review content carefully as typos or factual errors can quickly undermine your brand.

Experiment with formats and distribution
Look at which types of content you want to create (blog, video, infographics, white papers, case studies, user-generated content, podcasts etc.). Think about evergreen and more tactical content, and explore how you will distribute this to your audience (e.g. social channels, influencer outreach). Test content in different formats and pivot towards what content is resonating and driving results – don’t spread yourself too thin. If something is working for you then it often makes sense to double down and focus your resources where you are getting results.

Create a content experience
Be careful not to focus solely on individual pieces of content – consider the customer journey as a whole experience and create content that has a logical flow.

Be aware of your customer personas as well as your competition. Demonstrate your unique points as a business, the added value you will bring to your customers, and what step you’d like a customer to take after consuming your content.

Keep it fresh
Include a content ideation and review cycle, so you can regularly take the opportunity to step back, ensure input from different stakeholders and create a steady flow of diverse ideas. This process should include audience insights, identifying collaborators to support content efforts and checking back on business needs.

Step 3: Measure and optimise your success

It is critical your content efforts are supported by intelligent ways of measuring success and clear KPIs.

Act with purpose
Use content experiments to assess which platforms work for your audience and then focus your content efforts there and differentiate yourself to shine. Try A/B testing on your main landing pages, newsletter subject lines and social posts.

Focus on your analytics
Adopt a clear policy to analyse and review metrics data (e.g. host a monthly meeting). Respect the data, keep agile and shift content tactics to develop an optimal performance. Try to be rigorous about making your content as accessible as possible.

Be visible
Creating great content is only half the battle. You need it to be discovered and hopefully shared. Ensure all content is optimised for search and use all the channels at your disposal to push your content to the target audience. Identify stakeholders such as mentors and investors who have relevant networks and encourage them to share.

Use data
Are your customers or clients taking the next step in their journey after consuming your content? Analyse who is accessing the content, how regularly and what their next step is afterwards. Experiment with data capture to turn visitors into leads.

Automate reporting
Use analytics tools, content management systems and social listening tools to do the heavy lifting for you. This will help you assess depth of engagement with ideal prospects and audience. The importance of different metrics will vary from business to business. Don’t mistake volume for quality, especially if you have a B2B focus and are looking to engage with a small number of potentially high value prospects.


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