If we've ever worked together on a project, or if you've been reading my blog or newsletter for a while, you've probably heard me say that you should keep your website simple and focus on the content.
So now let's talk about another way to focus on your content: content marketing.
You're no doubt familiar with more traditional advertising, where ads show up in magazines, newspapers, on TV, the radio, and all over many of the websites you visit every day. It's marketing that shows up whether you want it to or not. Maybe it's something you were looking for, or maybe it just annoys you.
Content marketing is different. It's all about creating valuable content your target audience (that is, the types of people you hope will hire you and give you money) will want to receive. Instead of putting up ads, you write blog posts, create podcasts, do YouTube videos or publish email newsletters that people will find through search engines, social media, and good ol' fashioned referrals from people linking to your stuff.
The other thing about content marketing is this: your goal isn't only to make people aware of your services, but also to engage them in conversations. This is the big difference between more traditional advertising and content marketing: instead of a one-way message, you're hoping to start a two-way conversation with people. In this way you'll build a dedicated, loyal audience who actually care about what you have to offer.
But how do you do content marketing? Do you just start producing stuff and hope for the best?
Well, you could take that approach. You might get lucky! But really, it's much smarter to do a little planning so your efforts will be a lot more effective.
Your first step is to actually figure out who your target audience is. What sorts of people are the best fit for your services? Who do you want to work with? What's your speciality? What sets you apart from the crowd?
It isn't enough to say your services are for everyone, or you want to cast your net wide to make sure you don't leave anyone out. If you do that, you're going to find it doesn't work in your favour, as people are going to have a much harder time deciding if your services are right for them.
Instead, be crystal clear about who you work best with, and say that in your content marketing. Maybe you focus on new moms needing more 'me' time. Maybe you help freelancers learn to market themselves more effectively. Maybe you assist small non-profits with grant proposals. No matter what your target audience, be super clear about it right from the start, so they know you share their values and you've got their back.
Once you've got the audience part nailed down, your next step is to decide what medium you want to use. Ask yourself two questions: what are you most comfortable with, and what will appeal to your audience? You need to find something that is a match. If you really love writing, for example, a newsletter or blog is a good choice. If you hate writing but are totally comfortable speaking about a topic, consider starting a podcast. If you love social media and use Facebook every day, that's probably a good place for you to reach out to your audience. No matter what you use, just make sure the people you want to reach are interested in that medium. If your target audience isn't usually on, say, Twitter, that's probably not a good choice. Not sure if your audience likes podcasts, newsletters or social media? There's only one sure way to find out: ask them.
The next step is to figure out what kinds of questions your target audience has and start answering them. There are many ways you can approach this. Often the best way is to engage people directly and ask them what they need help with. If clients tend to ask you the same kinds of questions, or if people are emailing you wondering about certain things, those are usually great topics for your content marketing. But if you're just getting started and don't have a pool of questions to draw from, you can always reach out to people on social media, by email, or any other methods you can think of and ask them directly, then build your content from there.
Every time you produce new content, you have to look at it through the filter of your audience. Will they be interested in what you have written? Will it help them solve a problem they have or teach them something they'd like to know? If the answer is no, you probably should look for another topic.
You also need to think about being consistent and responsive. If you're going to produce a weekly podcast for an entire year, you'd better make sure you do it every week (or almost every week - people do understand vacations happen). If you tell people to please email you with questions but then never respond, that's not going to help you or your audience. Make sure people know what to expect from you and can trust you to follow through.
A final important note about content marketing: With any content marketing you're going to be faced with various metrics. How many 'likes' does your post have? How many 'fans' do you have? How many 'shares' have you gotten? How big is your email list? It's so easy to get lost in that stuff, because let's face it, it inflates (or deflates) your ego.
But with this type of marketing, you aren't looking to reach just anyone. You're looking to reach the right types of people for your services or products. Remember what I said about building a loyal audience made up of your target people? Yeah, that. Those are the people you want on your email list, liking your posts, or sharing your stuff on the intarwebs. So try to keep your ego in check and don't spend much time looking at your metrics. Worry about the quality of your interactions over the quantity, and it will help you build your small business much more effectively.