10 content marketing tips for small businesses

Content marketing can be a great way to build trust and credibility, show you’re an expert and generate leads.

But when it comes to content marketing, too many people focus on the ‘content’ part and ignore the ‘marketing’ part.

Sticking a fancy video on your website isn’t content marketing. Sharing a single blog post on your Facebook page isn’t content marketing. Creating content without a purpose isn’t content marketing.

So what is content marketing?

Well, if you want a technical definition:

 “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” – Content Marketing Institute

In other words, create good content that appeals to people you want to do business with so they want to do business with you.

Easier said than done, right?

Actually, it doesn’t have to be. Here are 10 tips to help you get started with content marketing…

1. Get comfortable with selling

Sales is the most essential element of any business. You can have the greatest product or service in the world, but it’s all for nothing if nobody buys it. Your customer service could be amazing, your operational processes second to none and your branding outstanding, but you won’t have any of it for long if you can’t make a sale.

And yet, so many people feel completely uncomfortable at the idea of selling – the idea of asking for money in exchange for their products or services.

But selling doesn’t have to involve sitting in front of a prospect pressuring them into signing a cheque, or cold-calling your way through the phone book.

If you don’t feel comfortable with face to face sales, pitching or telesales, then you can get your marketing to do all the hard work for you.

And that’s where content marketing comes in. You can use content to attract potential customers, build trust, establish your expertise, show your personality, and make people want to do business with you.

But, as the definition above clearly says, the ultimate goal of content marketing is “to drive profitable customer action.”

And you should feel comfortable with that.

2. Know your audience

As the definition above says, your content needs to “attract and retain a clearly defined audience”. If you don’t know who that audience is, how can you create content they will be interested in?

If you already know who your ideal customers are, that’s great. You can head on down to point 3 below.

But if you don’t know who your ideal customers are, stay with me.

I know it can be difficult figuring it out, especially if you are new to business. For a long time, I had such a variety of clients that I didn’t know who I should aim my marketing at.

But if you don’t get clarity, you end up trying to appeal to everyone, which often means you don’t really appeal to anyone.

So try narrowing it down with one of the following questions:

  • What type of clients do you like doing business with most?
  • What problems do you solve, and who has those problems?
  • Or do your customers have to have a specific trait or characteristic (e.g. recently engaged, buying a house, parent, business owner)

The more specific you can be about who you want to attract, the easier it is to plan your content. You can decide what content will appeal to your target audience, where to find them, and what you want them to do after engaging with your content.

If you don’t have a plan for your content, you’re just creating content for the sake of it. And while this will occasionally get results, it might not get the results you want.

3. Create content your audience is interested in

Before you rush off and invest hundreds of pounds on videos or spend hours writing 3000-word articles, think about what subjects your audience would be interested in.

You might think your company history is fascinating, but will your social media followers want to watch a 30-minute video about it?

Instead of creating the content you think people want, find out what they actually want.

You can do this in several ways:

  • Ask – create a poll or post on social media asking your followers what topics they’d like your insight on
  • Test – create short posts on different topics and see which get the best engagement, and then create more in-depth content on these subjects
  • Research – look at what kind of content your ideal clients are engaging with – what topics are they interested in?
  • Listen – what questions do you get asked over and over? What problems do your clients have in common? What do they need help with most?

People will watch, listen to or read content that informs, educates, helps or entertains them. So before creating any content, ask yourself, “what’s in it for them?”

4. Go for quality over quantity

You don’t need daily videos or blog posts to make content marketing work. Go for quality of content over quantity of content every time.

If you aren’t creating quality content, it becomes like the boy who cried wolf – people will just stop paying attention to you.

So spend some time creating good content. Answer people’s questions in depth. Provide value-adding advice. Share your expert insights or opinions on a subject.

Whether you are creating videos, podcasts or written content, you want people to feel like watching, listening or reading that content was a good investment of their time.

Mediocre content won’t achieve that.

5. Don’t be scared to go long

There was a time when people said, “nobody reads long posts”, but this has never been true.

After all, people will read a book on a subject if it is of interest to them, so they will definitely read 1000-3000 words if the subject is of interest.

My most read post is over 6000 words, and research shows that the highest-ranking articles on Google are often over 1200 words. This article is over 2500 words, and you’re reading it. You might not read every word, but you can scan and pick out bits that are relevant to you.

And the great thing about longer content is it can be broken down and repurposed too (I’ll cover this more in point 9).

Don’t be scared to go long with your written content. That doesn’t mean waffle on and on, repeating the same points. Long content should still be clear and concise. Write as much as is needed to provide the detail you want to provide, but still be ruthless in the editing process – no point writing 5000 words if you can make the point in 500 words.

It’s slightly different for videos. It’s not that people won’t watch a long video; they will. It’s just that it’s harder to skim a video to decide whether it will be worth watching. If you want to make in-depth videos, you might find it easier to create a series of shorter videos rather than one long video and then make it clear what’s covered in each one.

6. Think ‘evergreen’ not ‘bandwagon’

There’s always something in the news or some fad or trend that’s getting a lot of attention, and it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and create content around it. But, while writing a social media post about the latest thing to go viral is fine, you don’t want to spend too much time creating detailed content around the subject.

These things get lots of attention and focus for a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks, even a couple of months at a push. But then they are gone, forgotten about, and everyone has moved on to the next thing.

And when that happens, you’re stuck with a video or blog post that is no longer relevant, that can’t be reused or repurposed anywhere and that nobody is interested in anymore.

As a comparison, the advice in this article will be relevant for years to come. I might have to tweak a couple of points here and there in the future, but it’s unlikely this post will go out of date any time soon. And that means I can keep sharing it and repurposing it over and over again.

So instead of creating content about the latest craze, focus on creating content with longevity – content that is evergreen.

7. Play to your strengths

Not everyone is funny. Not everyone writes well. Not everyone is engaging on video.

So play to your strengths.

If you aren’t entertaining, then be informative – you don’t have to be a Bantersaurus Rex; you can be a Tiplodocus instead!

If you are awkward and uncomfortable on camera, then create written content or podcasts. Or film interview-style videos, rather than selfie-style (talking head) videos.

If you struggle to write, try using a dictation app and then tweaking what you’ve said to remove any erms, ahhs and word repetition. Or hire someone to turn your audio ramblings into blog posts for you.

People will tell you that you need to do this, that and the other, but you don’t have to do everything. You don’t actually have to make any content at all if you don’t want to – there are other forms of marketing.

So do what you’re good at. If it’s writing funny social posts, do that. If it’s writing in-depth white papers, do that. If it’s sharing your expertise and insight in short videos, then do that.

Which leads nicely to my next point…

8. Worry about your own grass

Whatever one person tells you to do, someone else will always tell you to do the exact opposite.

“This isn’t Facebook – keep it professional!” Vs “Don’t post boring business advice.”

“Content is King – create content that has value!” Vs “Don’t give good advice away for free!”

“Nobody reads blog posts anymore!” Vs “If you’re not blogging, you’re losing business!”

It can be frustrating, and it can knock your confidence. Nobody wants to hear that they are doing it wrong.

But, if what you are doing is working for you, if it is getting you customers, then don’t worry about what other people think. And if something works for someone else, but you don’t think it would be right for you, don’t do it.

If you want to swear in your content or be controversial, then swear in your content and be controversial. If you don’t, then don’t. Some people like it, some people hate it.

If you want to share deeply personal experiences or your political views, then go for it. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, then don’t do it.

People might tell you to be marmite instead of vanilla, but guess what? Some people like vanilla.

And do you want to know the real secret to marketing?

Everything works for someone, but nothing works for everyone.

That’s it. That’s the big secret.

So when people tell you what you should and shouldn’t be doing, they are just telling you what works or doesn’t work for them or which marketing techniques they personally like or don’t like.

And I know that isn’t very helpful when you’re trying to work out where to invest your time and money, but it’s the truth.

So do your research, get a variety of advice, but don’t overthink things too much. Do what works for you, your business, and your future customers.  

Keep your own grass green and let others worry about what they do with theirs.

9. Share, reshare and repurpose

If you bought a new pair of jeans, would you only wear them once? Or would you want to get maximum value out of them?

Sure, you wouldn’t wear them every day, but you’d probably wear them a good few times, and with different shoes, different tops, a different belt even.

And it’s the same with your content. You should make it versatile. Share it more than once. Share it in different formats. Share it on different channels.

If you write a blog post but don’t share it, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t get any views. And don’t think that sharing it once on Facebook is going to attract a thousand eager readers.

People might see an article on their social media feed three or four times before clicking on it.

Good content can be shared, reshared and repurposed for other things. And if you decide you don’t want to give it away for free anymore, you can always add an email sign-up or payment page later down the line.

The only time that creating content is a waste of time is if you don’t do anything with it.

For more detailed advice on sharing and repurposing content, check out my article: What’s hiding in your content closet?

10. Remember your goal

Way back in point number 1 of this article, I talked about being comfortable with selling.

Yes, your content might be attracting people in, but is it ‘driving profitable action’?

While you might be making lots of new friends on social media, are any of them turning into customers? You might be getting lots of lovely clicks through to your website, but are any of the visitors buying? Do your emails win you any business, or are you getting lots of unsubscribes once people have bagged themselves the freebie content?

If you are getting engagement with your content, but your sales aren’t increasing, then it might be time to look closely at the audience you have built. Are they the right fit for your products and services? If not, then you need to change your content to start attracting the right people.

And if you have attracted the right audience but they aren’t buying, then you need to look at why they aren’t buying.

Is your website copy up to scratch – does it make it clear what you offer and why people should buy it? Does your website have clear call to actions, and is it easy for people to take that action?

When you get email enquiries, are your responses well-written, or do they sound dull, generic and disinterested?

When people approach you on social media, are you too aggressive in your responses, or are you too laid back, not asking for the sale?

Of course, the problem might be with your products or services. Maybe you haven’t packaged them up in the right way or targeted the right audience (but that’s a subject for another day).

And sometimes, content marketing works without it being obvious. Sometimes someone sees content you’ve shared and decides to connect with you, then a few weeks later, they see a promotional post you’ve put out and decide to make an enquiry.

The content isn’t necessarily what made them buy, but it is what attracted them to you in the first place. And that is the point of content marketing. So make sure you track where your sales come from. Ask new enquiries how they found you – it might be through your content after all.

But if you aren’t winning any new business, then there’s either a problem with your marketing or your sales (or both) – you just need to figure out which.

Is content marketing worth the effort?

If a blog post takes you three hours to write and only wins you one new customer, but that customer recommends two others, was writing that blog post worth it?

Content marketing is definitely not a quick fix – it’s a long-term strategy. You might get lucky and win customers off the back of your first blog post, but in many cases, it takes a little longer to get results.

But even if you don’t feel like content marketing is working, it’s never a wasted effort. Because as I said earlier in this article, you can reuse and repurpose content for other things. You can take sections of blog posts and incorporate them into your website copy. Or turn articles into PDF information packs for new clients. Or transcribe videos and use sections as social media posts.

Content marketing isn’t the right route for everyone. It works for me, but only you can decide if it works for you.

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