This post is about taking a long-term approach to building a successful business, through the creation of regular content that’s relevant to your audience.
Business blogging guide.
This is the first part proper of my definitive business blogging guide.
At the end of each step, there are previous and next options to help you move through the guide.
Summary for busy people.
- Creating regular, relevant and helpful content is the best way to promote your business online.
- Consistency matters: it can take 30 months for content creation to have a significant impact on your business.
- Creating content beats spending money on ads.
- A website is not the end – it’s just the beginning
- Creating content – the way forward
- The 3Ps: Plan, Produce and Promote
- Adopting the 30-month mindset
- Can’t I just pay for adverts?
- Who can help me with content and promotion?
- Let’s wrap up & next step
I’ve used the word ‘content’ a few times already, so let’s be clear about what I mean:
Any piece of information that your audience could consume. I usually think of these in the following categories:
- Digital writing: website pages, online articles, emails, social media posts.
- Digital audio/visuals: videos, infographics (images), audio recordings, live broadcasts.
- Print: flyers, brochures, magazine articles, letters, books.
For the rest of this article, I’ll focus on content that’s a mixture of the first 2 categories, specifically writing blog content for your business. Ready?
A website is not the end – it’s just the beginning.
Some people think that creating or overhauling their business website is the end point. They assume that once the new pages are published, they’ll suddenly climb the Google rankings and that this will automatically lead to more business.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
It’s true that a new website and new content will have a positive effect on your search rankings.
But – and it’s a big but – that effect won’t last long unless you also have an ongoing strategy for adding new content to your site.
Here’s the problem: When sites are left untouched for some time, Google and other search engines are less likely to show them to people searching for information online.
Think about it:
If someone created a website years ago, didn’t update it and then you searched for something on Google and one of the search results was that really old site, would you be likely to get what you needed from there?
If not, it would make sense for Google to show you something fresher and perhaps more relevant to your search. And that’s exactly what happens.
Sites that aren’t updated regularly are far less likely to appear on page 1 of Google.
And if you’re not on page 1 then there’s a very low chance that anyone searching the web will find your site.
Marketing legend Mark Schaefer has a great quote about content:
If you don’t share your content on social media and other platforms, no one will see it.
And if no one sees it, there will have been no point in creating it.
This means you have 2 choices:
- Don’t create content.
- Create content and develop a plan for sharing it.
The worst option is to fall between these stalls – creating content but not having a plan to share it. If you do that, you’ll just be wasting your time and money.
Creating content – the way forward.
Now it’s time for the really big problem:
How do you make time to create and share the content?
If you want to create something that’s actually going to be of value to your ideal audience, you’re unlikely to be able to rattle something off in half an hour.
Some business owners will think like this:
I could manage a couple of hours on this if I needed to.
OK, let’s say then that you can create a half-decent piece of content in 2 hours.
But that’s just for writing a single piece of content. Remember what I said about being consistent? You’ve got to stick at it and keep producing this content.
To generate enough content to make any sort of impact, you need to think about creating and sharing 2–4 pieces of content each month.
All of sudden, you’re considering taking up the equivalent of at least 1 whole day of work time per month to produce content. And that’s quite a conservative estimate.
Does your schedule support you giving away a minimum of a day of your time per month to get all this done?
And besides, there’s more to it than that.
Even if you could spare the time, do you know how to create the content? Do you have the technical skills to:
- write a blog?
- shoot a video?
- record a podcast?
Even if you could create the content, what about the bit where you have to publish and share it with your audience?
Do you know how to navigate the right platforms to get this done?
It’s time to look at the full picture and see what’s really involved with creating content for your business. That’s where the 3Ps come in: Plan, Produce and Promote.
The 3Ps: Plan, Produce and Promote.
The 3Ps make up the process for creating and sharing content.
Here’s an example for writing a blog article:
- Write down ideas for new content
- Research the topic and the ideal audience
- Write a draft
- Add images and links
- Edit the text
- Publish the article
- Share on social networks
- Manage interactions with readers
Creating content is a time-consuming task.
We’ve gone from assuming that an article might take a couple of hours to write to realising that there’s a lot more to do.
And remember that we’d want to commit to going through this process 2–4 times per month.
It’s no wonder that a lot of businesses who take content seriously employ content managers. Their sole job is to coordinate the efforts needed to step through the above process.
The good news is that small businesses don’t need to make the massive commitment of employing an in-house person to handle all of these tasks.
Instead, it’s possible to bring in external help as and when needed. We’ll get to that in Who can help me with content and promotion?
Adopting the 30-month mindset.
Understandably, most businesses are going to be reluctant to spend anything on any marketing activity unless they can understand the Return On Investment (ROI).
Once you become convinced that creating and sharing content is the right thing to do (and trust me, it is – I wouldn’t be at the top of page 1 of Google if it weren’t for this strategy), then you have to prepare to commit to it for the long haul.
But how long is that long haul? (Clue: look at the heading of this section.)
The hard truth is that when it comes to creating and sharing content on your website, it takes a long time before you see results.
I see business owners saying things like this:
OK, we'll try creating blog posts for 3 months and see what happens.
Bad news, Tony: This approach WILL NOT work.
Unless your product is so amazing and revolutionary that everyone wants it, the chances of you making any sort of dent in such a short period is virtually zero.
A reality check.
If you have a 3-month mindset, don’t waste your time and money creating content. Devote your energy elsewhere.
If you’re sticking with me here, it’s time to forget the 3-month mindset.
When it comes to getting results from creating content, you need a 30-month mindset – that’s 2.5 years! But where does this figure come from?
For his 2017 book, KNOWN, Mark Schaefer interviewed more than 70 people on their journey to building a personal brand that would help them support and grow their business.
In almost all cases, it took around 30 months for the people mentioned in the book to see clear signs of success with their content marketing plans.
Mark’s analysis shows that everyone who has had success via this route has demonstrated a few key characteristics: focus, consistency and grit.
Business tip: place a relentless focus on what you want to achieve. Don't let anything sway you unless it's truly amazing. pic.twitter.com/reV0HoEwPC
— John Espirian (@espirian) August 2, 2017
I’ve written about my own journey up the Google ladder, which you can read here: Being on page 7 of Google sucks.
Can’t I just pay for adverts?
Some business owners might find the idea of content creation all a bit much, preferring a more traditional method of promotion: advertising.
I think there’s a place for advertising as part of your overall strategy, but keep in mind that people are becoming more and more blind to online adverts.
Think about it:
When you search on Google, do you pay close attention to the search results marked ‘Ad’ at the top of the page? Or do you scroll past them to get to the useful information you were actually looking for?
Advertising platforms are getting better at allowing you to run targeted ads, which means you can display your ads only to the sorts of people who are likely to be interested in your product or service.
That’s clearly a good thing, but as this sort of advertising intelligence grows, so does the need for you to learn how the platforms work.
Adverts will help you make a quick impact if you don’t have any content to promote yourself. I’d suggest you consider them to help get the ball rolling, but the best long-term strategy is to invest your time, money and energy in producing content that will answer your customers’ questions and bring new business to your door.
If you create a good body of content, it will keep working for you forever, even if you take a break.
On the other hand, if you use advertising and then stop, it’ll be like turning off the tap: the traffic to your website will dry up immediately.
Don’t just take this from me: the State of Inbound 2015 report by HubSpot states that content-driven marketing:
- increases leads by 54% when compared with traditional methods, and
- reduces costs per lead by 13%.
Compare this with the growing apathy for traditional ads and you’ll see that a content-driven approach to marketing is the sensible way forward.
Who can help me with content and promotion?
If you’re too busy to implement a content creation and promotion plan or if you don’t have quite the right set of skills to do the job, the good news is that you can call in external professionals to help you with some or all of the tasks.
I’m doubtless biased here, but I’d say that bringing in freelance pros is far more cost effective than employing an in-house person to do the job, at least to begin with.
Hiring freelancers means you side-step the hassle of employment – training, tax and NI setup, holidays, sick pay, all of that stuff – and can scale up and down easily.
Bigger businesses hire in-house content managers, but it doesn’t matter if you’re not at that point yet.
So, who can do the job?
If you look back at the 3Ps, you’ll get an idea of the services you might need. Here’s how I would break it down:
- Planning stage: The creative ideas, research and drafting are best done by someone who can understand your industry, get inside the heads of your intended audience and create something compelling that will get your message across. The natural choice here is a copywriting service.
- Producing stage: The raw content needs to be edited, polished and then published. These tasks are best done by someone who is highly organised and efficient. The natural choice here is a blog management service.
- Promoting stage: Finally, you need to get the message out there and amplified. Without this part, there will have been no point in creating the content to begin with. The natural choice here is a social media management service.
An analogy using diamonds.
- Dig up the diamonds (blog writing)
- Polish the diamonds (blog management)
- Show off the diamonds (blog promotion)
My business focuses on the Planning stage, as I research and draft content for my clients. But what about the other stages?
The Producing stage is best handled by an organised and efficient service provider.
I’ve found a good fit with Yva Yorston’s Content Boost. Here’s Yva’s take on content creation:
Between planning, writing, publishing and promoting, creating one piece of blog content can consume an entire 8-hour work day (if you know what you’re doing).
I would argue that it’s simply not sustainable for small business owners to make that time commitment, on a weekly basis, for 30 months.
So what are the other options?
You could hire an intern, but they’ll need training and guidance, particularly in the beginning.
You could hire an experienced content manager, but they’ll come with all the costs and obligations of employment.
Or you could work with specialist freelancers, who are experts in their field, yet offer the flexibility that small businesses need.
A blog management service like Boost takes care of all the administrative and technical tasks involved in preparing your content for publishing, ensuring that it’s not only optimised for Google, but for humans too.
Once it’s live, we kick-start the promotion by sending an email broadcast to your list, scheduling social media posts and submitting it to social bookmarking sites.
Then, after a week or two, we also repurpose it for article platforms like Medium and LinkedIn, to help you reach new audiences.
With a super-star team by your side, that 30-month milestone doesn’t seem so daunting after all. It’s all about playing to your strengths.
(Yva’s organisation can also handle part of the Promoting stage, which is a nice bonus.)
The Promoting stage is best handled by a service provider who knows how to get your content in front of the right people.
Organisations who know how to use social media well are at a distinct advantage when it comes to getting people to take notice of their business and their content.
Here are the thoughts of social media manager Cathy Wassell of Socially Contented:
Social media is easy, right? We all have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Just post a link to your blog there and everyone will see it, job done.
Well, not quite.
Facebook shows your posts to about 5% of your followers, depending on how engaged your following is.
Twitter is so fast moving that posts can easily get buried, never to be seen again.
You need to post at the right time, consistently and to do that you need to understand your audience and their relationship with your chosen platforms.
You need to study the analytics for each platform to understand when would be the best time to post, and test different forms of content to see which performs well.
Sounding like hard work? An agency like Socially Contented has a proven record of increasing social media engagement when managing their client’s social media accounts. They do the hard work for you, and they have the expertise to make the right decisions on placement and timing.
Content marketing works, and you’ve put a great deal into producing the content consistently, so make sure it gets seen. Make sure you get known.
And here’s what another social media expert, Ashley Davis of Skyline Social, told me:
As a social media agency focusing on generating leads, we sometimes get a few prospects coming to us without any content, asking if we can help them. The answer is usually no.
Without good quality content, it’s very difficult to generate any good quality leads.
If you’re a business owner interested in generating leads and winning more clients, content needs to be at the forefront of everything you do.
By creating content on a regular basis, and by promoting it on social media, you will be able to track what content performs the best and what content would most likely perform well as a lead generation offer.
Once you know your best performing content, you can re-purpose it as a guide, video or something else people can download.
Stick it on a landing page and you now have an awesome lead generation offer that you can promote via social media to your potential customers.
Let’s wrap up.
I believe that creating content is the best long-term way to promote your business. It’s what I’ve used to help me become known in my technical copywriting niche, and it’s the approach that I recommend to all clients who want to take their web presence to the next level.
But there’s no point in dabbling with content. A short-term approach simply won’t work – and that’s backed up by the evidence from dozens of success stories in Mark Schaefer’s book, KNOWN.
Think about whether this is right for your business. And if you can commit to ‘going all in’, think about where your business might be in 30 months’ time.
Continue the business blogging guide
This post is part of my definitive business blogging guide.
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