You probably know the feeling. You looked something up on Google, only to find your new favorite website. Or, you might have even ordered a product online just because the website explained it well.
If you’re nodding right now because yes – this has happened to you – then congratulations.
You’ve seen good content marketing in practice.
And here’s the thing: you can use it, too.
Content marketing is one of the best ways to bring the story of your very small business closer to your (potential) customers.
Today, I’m going to show you everything you need to know to DIY your way to content marketing for your very small businesses or very small non-profit.
Let’s dive in!
What Is Content Marketing?
If you’re doing any kind of business online – even if it’s to get foot traffic to your brick and mortar store – you need to attract your potential customers (AKA leads) somehow.
Content marketing is a great way to create demand for your awesome.
Think of content marketing as the digital version of a sandwich board in front of your store.
Just like a sandwich board that draws people in from the street, content marketing draws people in from social media, search engines, and other websites to your website.
What Is Content?
If you’ve done any kind of research on online marketing, you’ve probably come across a lot of marketers saying: “Content is king.”
That’s all well and good, but what is content exactly?
Generally, content is everything you consume online:
- Social media posts
- Videos (e.g. DIY or fashion vlogger Get Ready With Me videos)
- Photos (e.g. makeup artist before and afters)
- Articles and blog posts (e.g. useful disease education articles by pharmaceutical companies)
- (Even Buzzfeed personality quizzes!)
And if it’s online, you can use it to market your business.
Defining Content Marketing
With that in mind, the definition becomes clearer:
Content marketing is a method that uses education and entertainment to attract and delight potential customers without directly promoting your products.
Unlike ads, the goal of content marketing isn’t to just shout at your customers: “Hey, I got great stuff! Why don’t you buy some?”
Instead, you’re getting them to trust you by being helpful and entertaining them.
And yes, down the line, that converts into sales. People want to buy from businesses they know, like, and trust, and content marketing is the digital handshake you need to start a relationship with your customers.
How Does Content Marketing Work?
Let’s say you want to remodel your room, stick some snazzy wallpaper on the walls, or repaint them.
Chances are, you’re going to look that up on Google, for either inspiration or lifesaving hacks. And when you get the results, you’re going to see plenty of tutorials; videos and posts:
- How to measure your room
- How to choose the right paint
That’s content marketing in action.
You might even land on Home Depot’s site, but you won’t be invited to buy their products. However, you might see they’re running a sale or offering paint in the right shade.
And since you’re there already, why not purchase the things you need?
That, my friends, is the magic of content marketing.
But there are subtler ways to sell through content marketing.
For example, you can offer a lead magnet (a resource like an eBook) for free.
The only condition is: the lead has to fill out a form with their email address to get it. This allows you to continue marketing to them through email.
And if you’re wondering how to make your first steps with content marketing as a solopreneur or a small business owner, here’s what you need to know.
Step 1. Market Research
The first step to any marketing strategy is market research.
Your content, ads, or anything else related to your marketing could be the ripest peach in the orchard, but if your customers prefer strawberries, you’re not gonna get far.
So here’s what you’re going to do:
Eavesdrop on Your Customers
No one can explain what your customers want better than they can. And where do they hang out?
On social media.
I’m a big fan of using social media to listen in on your customers and see:
- What their goals and problems are
- How they think
- How they behave
- What their questions are
- How they feel about their current providers and situations
My personal social media faves for “eavesdropping” are:
Reddit is actually a goldmine for marketing research.
It’s a message board divided into sub-boards (“subreddits”) specific to interests. For example, sewing aficionados have their own subreddit, and so do gamers, marketers, and pretty much any target group you could imagine.
You can find actual questions to answer with your content on social media. That’s all you have to do to get started.
Similarly, Twitter allows you to be a part of the conversation, or at least listen in on it to find out what your customers really want. I personally prefer Reddit since people are anonymous and more honest, but Twitter is still a veritable goldmine of information.
Facebook Groups are similar to Reddit, in the sense that there are so many groups your potential customers are a part of – and they might be directly related to your business!
And based on what you’ve learned on social, you can go right ahead to…
Step 2. Building a Buyer Persona
Once you’ve found out who your target customers are, it’s time to visualize them with a buyer persona.
A buyer persona is a fictional representation of your clients.
You’ve got thousands of potential customers, and it can be hard to personalize and create content for all of them. It’s much easier to take a look at their shared characteristics, and turn them into one person – your buyer persona.
What Do You Have to Know about Your Buyer Persona?
The real magic of buyer personas is that they don’t just look at how old your clients are. Instead, buyer personas help you deeply understand your customers – including their goals, fears, and questions.
Remember the fourth point from eavesdropping on your customers? This is where it’s going to come in handy.
Buyer personas normally contain information such as:
- Job titles
- Major challenges
HubSpot’s Buyer Persona Tool
Visualization really helps a lot. Instead of dealing with data, you’ll have a clear image of a person you’re creating content for.
I really love HubSpot’s buyer persona tool.
You’ll be able to not only specify who your clients are, but give them a name (e.g. “Non-profit Corinne”), and put a face to that name. It makes the whole process more accurate (and fun, too).
Look at it as though you’re playing a video game and building your character. You take the information from your market research, and piece the data together to form a person you feel like you can talk to.
In this tool, you’re also going to see quite a few questions such as:
- How is their job measured?
- What are their goals?
- What are their challenges?
These are incredibly important for content marketing.
Now, this tool is primarily made for tech companies. You can still use it, but you can adapt the questions to fit your criteria.
For example, you can look at “How is their job measured?” as: “How do they measure their results?”
If you were operating a consulting business like me, you’d say: “Well, my clients know they’re successful if they’re increasing their sales every month.”
You’re looking at results and metrics here.
When it comes to your content, this question helps you speak your customers’ language. You can tell them what results they’ll achieve by following the advice in your content.
In my case, that’s exactly what I’m doing now: I’m telling you that, by using content marketing, you can draw in more customers.
Similarly, if you know your customers’ goals, you can tell them how following your advice/buying your products/paying for your services helps them achieve them.
Finally, if you know what your customers’ challenges are, you can help them overcome them either through your content or with a little help from your products and services.
I know that a lot of my clients who run very small businesses or non-profit organizations struggle with implementing marketing tactics on their own. So I’m creating this guide to help.
It’s all about providing value!
Where Do Your Customers Get Information?
The final questions in the buyer persona tool are related to getting information and clients communicating with your business.
Translated from marketing speak, this means: where are you going to put your content?
If your customers get information on social media, you’re going to need to create social media content. If they like reading articles, you should roll up your sleeves and get to writing. And if they prefer videos and podcasts, you need to start recording.
This question essentially tells you where to focus your content efforts.
There’s no point standing on a mountain if your customers are chilling by the beach. Instead, you should create the content your customers want, and place it where they can find it.
And speaking of your content getting found…
Step 3. Content Marketing Keyword Research
How do you find information online?
If you’re like most people, you probably put in search terms describing your questions into Google, and fire away. Now, based on the search terms (“keywords”) you entered, Google finds the best content and displays it in the form of search results.
So if you want to use content marketing for your very small business, you have to learn how to use keywords yourself so you get ranked highly on Google.
This process is called search engine optimization (SEO).
How Does SEO Help with Content Marketing?
Back in the day, SEO used to be all about keyword-stuffing. There were barely any coherent articles; everyone just tried to get in as many keywords as possible.
Today, Google understands topics differently, so if you use your natural language and create high-quality content with the right tags and keywords, you’ll get far.
But don’t get confused: keywords still matter, a lot.
Keywords show you:
- What topics people search for
- How your target audience talks about these topics
Keywords can help you generate content ideas and reach the right people by speaking their language.
Every set of keywords comes with a certain intent.
For example, someone searching for “how to paint my room” likely wants to see a tutorial that will help them do just that.
But someone searching for “hairdressers near me” wants to book an appointment and get their hair done.
These two keywords are examples of informational and transactional keywords. There’s also the third kind: navigational keywords.
- Informational keywords: keywords people search for when they want to learn how to do something, or get more information about a topic
- Transactional keywords: keywords people use when they want to perform a transaction, like buying something
- Navigational keywords: keywords people use to find a place on the internet (e.g. searching for “Reddit” instead of typing in “Reddit.com”)
If you create content for transactional keywords, you’ll get a much higher conversion rate. More of your visitors will convert because that’s what they want to do: they are ready to purchase something.
But if you create content for informational keywords, you’ll be educating potential customers and gaining their trust until they’re ready to make a decision.
Normally, it takes a mix of content all kinds of intent to create a successful content marketing strategy. (Remember the buyer journey we talked about earlier?)
And in addition to SEO, keyword research is a great way to understand what your customers want and struggle with, based on how often they look up certain keywords.
Search Volume + a Handy Tool!
Search volume shows you how often people search for certain keywords.
I like using UberSuggest for keyword research.
It offers plenty of information for every keyword:
- Search volume
- Clicks on results
- Searchers’ age range
- Keyword ideas
- Content ideas
UberSuggest does 99% of your content ideation for you, which is really handy if you’re a solopreneur. You can’t do everything yourself.
It’s also free.
Take your time researching your keywords now, and when you’re ready, let’s go straight to the next part of our keyword research:
Create Your Topic Buckets
First, create a list of all topics relevant to your business. Then, connect them with keywords.
For example, popular topics for my small business consulting operation are:
- Small business marketing strategy
- Small business content marketing
- Small business advertising
I’ll look up all 3 topics on Ubersuggest, and then add relevant keywords to them to create subheadings:
- Small business marketing strategy – Keywords: (small business) marketing plan example, local small business marketing strategies, marketing strategy for small clothing business
- Small business content marketing – Keywords: small business content marketing examples, why small businesses need content marketing, content marketing ideas for small business
- Small business advertising – Keywords: small business advertising free, small business advertising costs, small business advertising on Facebook
So not only am I seeing the general topics people are interested in, I’m also seeing the specifics they care about. For example, small business owners really want to advertise on Facebook.
Knowing all of this, I can easily create helpful content. For example, I could create a guide on small business advertising with sections on free advertising, calculating the budget, and advertising on Facebook.
Step 4. Create the Content Marketing Plan
Now that you’ve got all the information about what your customers want to see, it’s time to structure the data into a content marketing plan.
What should a content marketing plan for small businesses contain?
- Your audience information/your buyer persona with all the details
- Your value proposition – What problem will you solve for your customers, what goals will you help them achieve?
- What makes your business unique?
- What content formats will you use?
- What channels will you publish your content on?
- How will you create, publish, and schedule your content?
Essentially, your content marketing plan is a set of guidelines. Whenever you get a new content idea, you can just double-check that it meets your standards, and keep going.
It’s easy to get lost without a content marketing plan.
You could have an idea of your buyer persona, but you’re bound to forget all the details. And when the time comes to create your content, you could mix things up and waste your time without getting the results.
Similarly, it’s important to stay on track and adhere to a schedule.
A content marketing plan summarizes all your key findings, and helps you take the next step. If you’re a solopreneur, you know how valuable it is to be able to simply check your to-do list, instead of starting from scratch every time.
Remember: blog posts and videos aren’t the only content type you need. If your customers use social media, you’re going to need to publish social media posts, as well.
Make sure you factor in social media posts into your content calendar, and create a schedule.
Then, you can easily upload them all at once to a tool like Buffer, and they’ll be posted automatically.
Choose Your CMS
In order to have a blog on your website, you’ll need a Content Management System. For example, WordPress is one of the most popular (and affordable) ones.
Step 5. Content Production
If you’ve done a thorough job with keyword research, you’ll have an idea on what to post. Content ideation is really the most entertaining part of this whole process, but it’s important that you keep your audience in mind:
- What kind of content do they want to see?
- Where do they want to see it?
- And how do they want to see it?
How to Generate Content Ideas
You’ll get the best content ideas if you base them on what you see on social media, where people are actively discussing topics you can help them with.
You can also use tools such as:
- AnswerThePublic – Discover the questions your customers are asking
- BuzzSumo – Discover popular topics and great content
- Canva – Graphic design tool with plenty of templates
- Lumen5 – Create videos and turn your posts into videos
- Audacity – Host your podcast
You can get started with all of them for free.
You can create your content yourself, or you can outsource it to agencies or freelancers.
Normally, I’m all for relying on the pros to get the job done. The majority of them are skilled at speaking the audience’s language. Just make sure you provide them with clear details about your customers, and a brand guide.
Promote Your Content
Finally, once you’ve created and published your content, you should make sure your customers actually get to see it.
For posts and videos hosted on YouTube, search engine optimization is everything. Both Google and YouTube function as search engines, so they monitor keywords and content quality.
You should also cross-promote your content on social media. As you might know, hashtags absolutely rule the world of social, so make sure you choose the fitting ones.
In addition to images for networks like Instagram and text for Twitter, play around with different features to engage your leads on social.
For example, you could start a poll around your latest article in your Instagram Stories.
Step 6. Automation & Metrics
Yes, you’ll definitely know you’re doing something right if you see leads and customers pouring in.
However, that won’t tell you what you’re doing right.
For that, you need metrics.
It’s important to keep track of every content piece’s activity:
- How do your leads and customers interact with your content? Do they skim over it, or spend time reading it carefully? Which parts are they most interested in?
- Do your prospects click through on your links, within your content and in search engine results pages?
- What content works best?
But you also need to look beyond that, towards conversion and sales. You should monitor the customer’s entire journey towards purchasing from you.
Yes, that’s absolutely possible!
And the best part is: you can do it all on auto-pilot.
Automation and Content Marketing
When you’re a solopreneur or the owner of a very small business, there’s not enough time in the day for everything you want to do. You’re a one (wo)man army, and you need the right tools.
Today, the most important tool in your arsenal is called automation.
You can automate your entire workflow with the right tools:
- Publish content automatically
- Send leads from an article to your mailing list
- Convert leads to customers
You’ll be saving a lot of time, while making sure you’re converting leads even while you sleep.
Again, this is not an outlandish proposition: automation is just how marketing works in the 21st century. And if you’ve got a very small business or a micro yet might non-profit, the only way of competing with significantly larger organizations are your qualities and your tools.
I look forward to celebrating your success!