Content marketing means different things to different businesses.
The Fortune 500 corporation uses a content development team to publish 10 blogs a day on top of regular podcasts and videos. The local bakery uses a blog to talk about upcoming events and the quality of its ingredients. And the e-commerce startup uses SEO-enhanced blog posts to expand their reach and make their marketing dollars go further.
This is the beauty of content marketing as a strategy. It can scale as quickly as you need it to–or remain agile and compact if that’s best.
So, what does a content strategy look like if your team is just you–the solopreneur?
In this article, we’ll provide a path to developing your content strategy in a way that makes sense for a business of one. We’ll keep things simple and, if your situation is a bit more advanced, show you the best ways to take it to the next level.
What is a content marketing strategy?
A content marketing strategy defines the types of content your business creates, focus topics, distribution channels and the goals you want to achieve with different parts of your audience.
It’s worth stopping here to say that complex strategies don’t always yield better results. Focusing on making great content (more on what that means later) and getting in front of the right audience is really what matters.
How content marketing benefits small businesses
Without a voice, your brand isn’t really a brand.
While this may sound dramatic, being able to consistently demonstrate why your business is great for customers is a huge step to long-term stability. Specifically for smaller businesses, content marketing done well will establish and amplify your brand’s voice to the people that matter most–your potential customers.
When you publish valuable content, you’re taking steps to become a trusted voice on whatever topic you cover. Your business benefits from this by educating potential customers and sharing helpful information to keep existing customers coming back. And your customers feel more confident in their purchase and are more likely to mention specific features or benefits to their friends and family.
So, what happens to businesses that don’t make and distribute content?
Your customer journey becomes nothing more than a transaction. Sure, you may meet an in-the-moment need for the customer, but the connection between that interaction and your brand as a whole is minimal without the surrounding, longer-lasting experience.
Second, if you experience a PR crisis (or even a customer-only issue like widespread shipping delays) and have been diligently building a community around your brand using content, customers are more likely to forgive you. If the first non-transactional message they ever get from you is a sincere apology from a faceless company representative, they’ll likely dismiss it as corporate-speak solely looking to protect the bottom line.
New, small companies that latch onto content as a strategy can see more rapid growth in word-of-mouth and referral marketing in addition to an increase in the extremely valuable segment of repeat purchasers.
Elements of a powerful content marketing strategy
Many of the elements listed below assume you have customers. If this isn’t the case yet and you’re truly just getting started, don’t worry. You can adapt these steps to focusing on what competitors in your space are doing or simply take your best guess and move forward.
The important thing to remember is that no matter how clear you believe your vision is now, your content strategy will undoubtedly evolve over time.
1) Understand your average customer’s journey
For the uninitiated, the customer journey (a close relative to the conversion funnel) includes every step a person makes from first discovering your brand to researching your offer, making a purchase and becoming a long-term advocate.
While there are many paths someone can take in this journey, your first shot at documenting should be the average customer.
This is the person who makes up the bulk of your customers and represents a seamless path from discovery to purchase. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean we’re necessarily talking about your “ideal” customer, but rather the most common path currently.
Let’s take a walk through your average customer’s journey.
Discovery: How are people finding your business? Is it through an online marketplace, social media or organic search? Are you running any advertisements or doing any co-marketing? Try to describe what someone is doing when they find your business.
Example: ABC Co.’s customers have a crack in their windshield, so they’re looking online, trying to find the best possible product, regardless of cost. They are trying to avoid going to an auto body shop.
Consideration: After someone finds your brand, they’ll begin evaluating whether your solution is best for their needs. Unless you can convert them immediately, a potential customer will likely compare you against your competitors.
Example: ABC Co.’s customers read reviews and ask friends about products they’ve used to fix their cracked windshields. They watch YouTube videos focused on unboxing, application and long-term reviews. They look for any money-back guarantees available in the market.
Purchase: How does someone go about purchasing your product or service? What steps do they have to take and what information do they need to provide? This is the biggest step forward and turns prospects into customers. NOTE: If you nurture prospects, you may also have a “qualification” stage prior to purchase.
Example: ABC Co. asks customers to provide their name and other basic shipping information in addition to a credit card. They do not currently offer alternative payment methods or buy now, pay later options but do accept all major credit cards and offer free shipping.
Advocacy: Following a purchase, you have the difficult job of converting one-time customers into brand advocates and returning purchasers. This stage can include all onboarding activities and customer retention efforts. The timeline for achieving advocacy can vary greatly depending on your industry.
Example: ABC Co. provides a purchase confirmation email and then a shipping tracking email once the tracking number is available. They also provide a weekly advertisement email and a customer satisfaction survey one week after purchase.
Of course, there are many paths someone can take in the journey, many of which lead them to not becoming a customer. If you have enough information about alternative paths, including that of your “ideal” customer (based on lifetime value, ease of conversion or another key business metric), feel free to add these to your documentation.
DOWNLOAD: Get a free content strategy map
With a strategy map, you’ll have a chance to combine business goals and audience segments with specific types of content. You’ll document your competition at different levels to keep all elements of your strategy in one handy guide.
2) Choose content topics that matter
What topic could you talk about to a room of people without preparation?
While you may not currently be able to pull off talking about your products or services like this, that’s the eventual goal.
Get to know all the quirks and features of your industry so you can take a variety of angles within your content. Regularly consume content from the top brands in your category to see where the conversation goes on specific subtopics.
Here’s our two-part topic breakdown:
- SEO-focused: This content should emphasize how to use your product, comparisons against other options or anything you can discuss around keywords that matter for your business. This should be about 80% of your content.
- Editorial expansion: What other topics can you discuss at length that your readers may care about? These pieces aren’t aiming to rank for specific keywords, but are rather hoping to build a platform of editorial authority and potentially catch fire from a traffic standpoint if the right people find it valuable. This should be about 20% of your content.
There is a deep list of marketing technology available to help with everything from finding keywords monitoring SEO performance to content ideation and (way) beyond. Truthfully, starting with a simple Google search is a great start.
Use search terms combining your product/service with “how to use,” “best options,” “best practices” or “problems with” to find relevant articles.
What are their section titles? What questions do they try to answer? Are there videos or graphics embedded? How long are they? What sources do they use for statistics?
From a strategy perspective, are they promoting a downloadable asset like an ebook? How many CTAs show up and are they in the body copy or in a sidebar? How do they format CTAs (buttons, text links, forms)?
With this information, start to shape your general article approach. If you want to go to the next level, be sure to check out Topic to generate optimized briefs or SEMrush for their SEO Content Template and SEO Writing Assistant.
We’d be remiss if we move forward without mentioning the value of corporate social responsibility as it relates to the content. If it makes sense, consider creating content around a social cause that can resonate with your audience. Whether it’s a STEM initiative or giving a percentage of profits to a specific non-profit, a large chunk of modern consumers prefer to do business with brands that include this angle.
3) Figure out how you’ll create content
Whether you consider yourself a competent writer, video editor or graphic designer–or prefer to stay far away from creative pursuits–you’ll need someone to make your content.
There are two typical ways to approach content development as a small business:
- Create it all in-house: As a solopreneur, you wear many hats–and content creation can easily become one of them. If you decide to do this, spending time creating a content calendar will be a worthwhile endeavor. Focus on quality, in-depth content with an emphasis on distribution, since your ability to create content is solely dependent on your time.
- Outsource some or all: Depending on your budget, outsourcing content creation can be helpful. Be sure to think through if this will actually save you time. If your topics are niche or complex, you’ll need to find a writer experienced with the area–otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time educating them and likely providing multiple rounds of revisions for each new piece.
We suggest checking out UpWork’s freelance network, though there are many others available. These networks will include people who can assist with copy, graphics, development or really anything else you need.
The ideal state here is finding freelance talent to consistently create on your behalf, minimizing the amount of extra time spent getting them up to speed. Expect to pay somewhere between $20-$100 an hour for their time, depending on factors like project scope and their experience level.
Don’t forget that you know more than anyone else in the world about why you started your business and what you hope to achieve. Whether you use your inspiration to power content development yourself or to provide great guidance to freelancers, you’re the one who will make it happen.
4) Decide where you’ll share your content
Think back to your average customer’s journey. Where are people consuming content throughout the funnel?
This is where you need to be.
For many businesses, this will lead to a focus on social media channels, community forums, trade publications and conferences, review sites or email. As is with anything else in the content strategy, channel mix (which channels you use) will evolve over time.
Consider whether you can reasonably support content creation for that channel to participate in an active way. Do you have time to develop and post a lit TikTok three times a day? Can you design an ebook once a quarter?
Also, decide if you can reasonably measure success for these channels. While some will be harder to measure than others (like those that focus on brand recognition), as a solopreneur you need to be able to understand what’s working and what’s not. If you’re fortunate enough to have money to promote and distribute content, consider which pieces of information you require to track metrics like cost-per-acquisition for the paid traffic source.
5) A bit more on the relationship between email and content marketing
Email (particularly sent in an automated fashion) is one of the best ways for solopreneurs to level the playing field with larger businesses. Again, we must reference the customer journey to know where email might help. Most of the time, you’ll want to create a series of email drips that repeat for every new prospect or customer with triggers based on various customer events.
Here are a few common email drips that can help your business:
- Cart abandonment: If you’re able to collect email addresses during the checkout process before the final step, then it’s vital you send messages about finishing the process. These emails can provide a discount, mention specific products left in the cart or simply call attention to top available offers.
- Purchase confirmation and follow-up: These should be mostly transactional in nature to keep the customer aware of shipping status and to confirm their order is processing correctly.
- Onboarding: Use your best educational content to help new customers better understand your business. If you’re selling t-shirts, share information about your shirt quality or how you develop ideas for styles. If you run a SaaS tool, provide clear use cases for each feature. This is a great place to use video content.
- Customer advocacy: A bit deeper into the customer journey, shift to building long-term advocacy by encouraging referrals, offering rewards for repeat purchases or tying in your social media accounts to deepen the connection.
6) Decide how you’ll measure success (for now)
Measuring content marketing success is still, in some ways, very much a black box. We can attribute email signups, product downloads and other material returns but even large businesses struggle to map the exact amount of brand recognition gained from a piece of content.
As a solopreneur, set some expectations for easy-to-measure metrics and call it good. At this point in your business, the goal should be creating meaningful content that works towards getting SEO traction and proves useful for a variety of business needs. The worst thing you can do is slow down your efforts by spending too much time worrying about KPIs.
This isn’t to say you should create content just because you should create content. But it does mean that layering in metrics beyond on-page performance (time on page, scroll depth, CTA engagement) and promotion channel performance (social engagement, email clicks, etc.) can be “good enough” when you’re just getting going.
Optional, but cool: marketing automation tools
If you have a bit of money tagged for automation tools, start with email or social media. Aim to find tools that allow you as a team of one to create the output of a team of 2-3.
We use Sprout social to schedule, monitor and report on social media performance. It allows us to keep tabs on all channels, inboxes and brand mentions in one place. Pricing ranges from $99-$249/month depending on number of profiles tracked and other features with things like reporting and surveying.
For email, our team uses Salesforce’s Pardot platform. It has all the powerful features we need (specifically Engagement Studio for email drips), but does have a potentially steep implementation curve and related costs. Consider simpler options that allow you to use email templates, automated lists and provide basic reporting.
What makes a piece of content “good”
Great content is clear in purpose, supported by research and created with a deep understanding of reader intent based on their place within the journey.
The best content provides a unique view, a deeper look or a connection of dots. It will be in support of a business goal–not just created for creation’s sake. All of this requires being thoughtful about the elements discussed above and having the energy to create on a consistent basis. (A content strategy map can help get everything in order.)
It’s best to think about content success as a twofold system.
- Your strategy needs to get content in front of the right people at the right time
- The content itself needs to provide enough value to take that reader in whatever direction you intend.
Conclusion: Crawl, walk, run
Getting a content marketing program going is a big deal. Making one that truly connects with your audience is an even bigger accomplishment. But the fact is that with an understanding of the customer journey and enough knowledge to create impactful content, your business can become a content machine.