Content Marketing on a Shoestring - Tips for Small Business Owners on a Tight Budget by Chris Tomlinson
Why Content Marketing Matters to Your Business
“Marketing used to be about making a myth and telling it. Now, it’s about telling a truth and sharing it,” explains Marc Mathieu, Unilever’s global SVP of marketing. If you haven’t wrapped your head around that seismic shift, then now’s the time. The marketing game has changed, and it’s done so radically. It’s no longer a one-way street, where you send out a marketing message and your customers lap it up loyally. Today, it’s very different.
“Behind every tweet, share and purchase, there is a person. Care more about the person and less about the share,” says Shafqat Islam, CEO and cofounder of NewsCred. His point illustrates the change in marketing perfectly. It’s all about forming connections and caring about the relationships you have with your customers. It’s no longer about slick ads, memorable slogans or catchy jingles.
Consumers are savvier than ever before, and they’re doing their own research long before they make contact with a company. In fact, between 50% and 90% of a customer’s journey is over by the time they speak with a salesperson.
Simply put, content marketing is the single most important aspect of building a successful business in the modern world. Even if you have only a minimal online presence, it’s absolutely vital. Not sold? Consider these compelling statistics:
- 78% of customers trust brands that create customized content.
- Content marketing leaders experience 7.8x higher year over year site traffic growth.
- 65% of people remember a piece of visual content after three days, but only 10% remember audio marketing three days later.
- 49% of marketers report that blogging is their single most important type of marketing, followed by photography, at 34%.
- Content marketing can decrease your cost per lead by up to 13%.
- Content marketing provides 54% more leads for the marketing funnel than outbound marketing.
- 57% of a customer’s journey is already complete before they contact a sales rep.
Those statics should clearly illustrate why content marketing is so vital for your business. Now we get to the crux of the issue. How do you engage in it without a massive budget? It’s no secret that creating custom content, distributing it and making it visible online can be expensive. Ostensibly, that would seem to put smaller firms or those with limited funds at a disadvantage. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be the case. There are multiple ways that you can ramp up your content marketing efforts without a corresponding bump in your budget.
Your Content Team
The magic starts with your content team. And, yes, you need a team to support your content marketing efforts. What if you’re a one-person operation, though? In that case, you’ll be the team and wear all the hats, but you will need to get a little help from outside your company. Who should be on your team? A lot of that depends on your content plan, but there are a few essentials.
Owner: You definitely need this person, whether that’s you or someone else within your business. The owner is the person who is completely responsible for every aspect of the content marketing operation, from planning content to ensuring that it gets distributed. They may or may not have a direct hand in content creation, but they’ll be your go-to person when it comes to all things content marketing. Think of this individual as your chief content officer or director of content.
Editor: Content should never, ever be sent out into the wild without at least one editing pass, and usually at least two passes. Your head editor, chief editor or main editor (whatever you want to call them) is responsible for the quality of the content that you create and distribute. He or she will also be responsible for planning, ensuring consistency across channels, managing the blog and a great deal more. Again, this may be a hat that you’re forced to wear, but it’s usually better to have the editing position and the ownership position handled by different people. It can quickly get to be too much for just one person.
Content Creators: If you’re stressed that there just isn’t enough money in the budget to hire content creators, turn your eye to your staff. Many businesses encourage employees to create content, from blog posts to infographics to reports to slideshows and entire eBooks. In fact, many businesses find that encouraging their employees to take ownership of content creation helps bolster organizational culture and even morale.
One positive aspect of having your staff create content for you is that you can often do it for less than if you hired someone outside the firm. For instance, you can offer incentives to encourage them to be more active about blogging or social media marketing. Simple incentives like branded products, an extra day off, or a company-wide dinner can do the trick.
A Note on Outsourcing
If your business is small or your budget particularly limited, you may find that you need to outsource some of your content creation. Don’t worry – this can be more affordable than you think, and it can also be of great benefit if your staff members struggle with content creation. There’s no shame in outsourcing your content, so long as you do a little research into the provider to ensure that they have a reputation for creating 100% unique content that’s tied directly to their clients’ brands and product/services.
Planning Your Content: Types, Schedules and More
You cannot begin content marketing without a firm idea of the what, where, how and when of the situation. Let’s break each of these down for you.
The “what” is the type of content you’ll be creating. Will you be blogging? Will you create eBooks? Will you be using infographics, or online videos? Defining the what requires that you know your audience very well. That starts with creating buyer personas and understanding the buyer journey.
Creating Buyer Personas
Buyer personas are used in all aspects of marketing, not just the content side of things. Essentially, this is nothing more than a generalized profile of your ideal customer. You’ll need to know:
- Your customers’ general background
- The average income for your customers as a whole
- The average level of education for your customers as a whole
- The geographic area where your customers live
- Your customers’ goals when interacting with your company, or purchasing your products/services
- Your customers’ pain points – the reasons that they’re looking for whatever it is that your business offers
Mapping the Buyer Journey
While your content needs to be tailored to specific buyer personas, it must also be targeted to where each customer is in the buyer journey. That can be tough to do if you don’t have a good idea of how your customers learn about your business, research your products or services, compare you with competitors and ultimately choose to do business with you. Generally, the buyer journey looks something like this:
- A problem occurs or the customer realizes they have a specific need.
- The customer begins researching potential solutions to their problem.
- The customer compares their options, pitting your product/service against others available.
- He or she gets recommendations (from coworkers, business owners, friends/family, or even just online reviews).
- The customer makes a decision on how to fix the problem or handle their need.
- They make contact with your business (or your competitor if you haven’t done your job of educating them through content to encourage them to choose your product/service).
Each step of the buyer journey requires specific content created to inform and educate, and to position your business as the go-to solution.
Once you’ve created your buyer personas and mapped out their customer journey, you need to consider the types of content that you’ll create. You need specific types that match not only your potential customers’ needs, but where they’re at in their journey. For instance, a service price list will not do much good if your customer is only at the stage of realizing they have a need. An informative report about a specific problem and possible solutions won’t provide you with any traction if the customer has already realized their issue and begun comparing their options to solve that need.
You will need to create a wide range of content, from blog posts to infographics to online videos and presentations, and each must be tailored to both your buyer personas and different points in the customer journey. You must also tailor your content types to your audience makeup. For example, older consumers are less likely to watch online video, while younger consumers are less likely to read a lengthy eBook. Know your audience and cater to them.
Your Content Creation Schedule
Now it’s time to tackle the “when” of content marketing. When will blog posts go live? How often will you post? How frequently will you publish eBooks or reports? How often will you create videos? The answers here will be dictated by several factors, including:
- Your budget
- Your team’s capacity
- The size of your audience
- The number of problems you can solve for your customers
- Seasonality, particularly with seasonal demand for products or services
To put the last point on the list into better perspective, consider what Thorntons did regarding chocolates and the Easter holiday. “As our customer demographic is so broad, we use a mixture of data insights coupled with Thorntons’ unique qualities to explore concepts and develop our content schedule. For Easter, this process combined our customers’ interest in our chocolate factory with the heritage and craftsmanship of Thorntons Easter eggs. The end result was our ‘Ultimate Guide to Eater Eggs,’ which included an interactive chocolate factory.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to creating a content production schedule. Take a long, hard look at your ability to create content, and ensure that you’re consistent.
Now, what options offer the most traction for the lowest cost? Budget-strapped businesses will find a lot of value in the content types we cover in the next few sections.
Starting a Blog
Blogging is perhaps the single most important thing you can do as a business in terms of content marketing. Sure, social media marketing is “hot” right now, but blogs were the original social media, and they’re still going strong. There are many other advantages to blogging, as well.
You’ll need to decide on a couple of things first off. Will your blog be tied to your website, or will you use a standalone solution? Both can work well, but they’re not the same. If you will be regularly blogging about topics tied very closely to your business, there’s a lot of good that can come from adding it to your website, including the potential for readers to click directly over to your product or service offerings, your business contact information and more.
However, if you’re looking to build a reputation as a thought leader in the industry, or plan to regularly create posts that don’t tie directly to your business’ offerings, then a standalone option might be the better way to go. Of course, a standalone blog will come with additional costs.
A regularly maintained blog can be a tremendous marketing asset, particularly if your content is correctly optimized. Write for human readers first, but don’t neglect search engines. You might be surprised at how much organic traffic your posts pull in, but you may also find your posts shared by loyal readers and by other blogs or websites as well.
There’s really no set frequency for posting on your blog, but you should do so at least once or twice a week and it’s important that you keep a regular schedule.
Make sure that your blog features embedded social media sharing buttons as well. These will let your readers help spread the word on your behalf. A single click and they’re able to share your posts with their friends, family and followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks.
Properly implemented, blogging can cost you almost nothing with the exception of a little bit of time invested. You might pay a little if you opt to use stock photography, but all you need to get around this issue is a digital camera and a minute or two to snap photos of your business, your staff, your products or other elements that tie into the topic of the blog post.
Finally, your blog posts can be used to create other content. Combine related posts and expand on them to create an eBook, for instance. Draw inspiration from top-performing posts to create videos, reports, whitepapers or presentations, as well.
Writing an eBook
At some point, most of us have thought about writing a book. It’s part of who we are as humans – the inner storyteller wanting to come out and play. There are some very good reasons to cut the restraints and let that storyteller out.
You’ll find that eBooks can be tremendous content marketing assets. They can play any number of roles, from free-giveaways and lead generation tools to a means to drive additional revenue. They can be incredibly informative, or they can be customized to fit anywhere along the buyer’s journey, from the realization of the initial problem to positioning your business as the best solution to the customer’s challenge.
Like blogging, creating an eBook can be absolutely free, which makes it a must-have for any business on a tight budget. It only takes a little planning and some time. It helps to have graphic design chops to create a compelling cover, but even a basic cover design can work well enough in a pinch. You also probably already own the tools needed to create a professional eBook. Microsoft Word is the only thing required – you can save the document as a PDF and put it on your website as a download, send it to your mailing list and more.
If you own a Mac instead of a PC, you can use iBooks Author to create an EPUB or a PDF file. Getting your eBook into .mobi format for use with Amazon is a little more work, but there are plenty of affordable software packages that can help.
It’s actually surprisingly easy to create eBooks of varying lengths to suit different stages during the customer’s buying journey. For instance, a larger, informative eBook would be an invaluable asset during a customer’s research phase when they’re attempting to learn more about their challenge and what to do about it. A smaller one could be used to position your business as the right choice for solving the issue.
You’ll also find that your eBooks can be “sliced” into different components. Individual chapters can be broken out and turned into mini-eBooks or reports. Sections can be turned into blog posts, or used as the foundation for a slideshow, webinar or presentation, as well.
There’s a good reason to create more than just blog posts, eBooks, reports and other text-based marketing content. Different people have different preferences when it comes to information consumption. While you might prefer to read an eBook, another person would prefer to watch a video, or see an animation. Thankfully, creating multimedia assets isn’t terribly difficult today.
Creating videos is simple – you can do it with the average smartphone these days. Once recorded, you can upload that content to your website, share it on Facebook or Twitter, post it on YouTube and a great deal more.
Video is one of the most popular types of content today. In fact, YouTube remains the second largest search engine in the world, and it’s only geared toward video.
Of course, there are a few things you’ll want to know about when it comes to video production.
There are quite a few different things you might focus on when creating videos. For instance, a manufacturer or retailer could create unboxing style content, which has grown incredibly popular in the last few years. You could also create “how to” videos that show your product in action.
Service providers could create best-practices videos. For example, a company that specializes in residential gutter installation could create a video detailing how to care for a home’s gutters, from removing dead leaves to spotting problems related to aging or deterioration.
You can also create videos that highlight company culture, how the business works, interviews with key employees and stakeholders, and almost anything else you can imagine. Just make sure that it ties into your content marketing plan, buyer personas, and the customer journey.
Choose focuses that tie into different stages of the customer journey and that inform, educate and position your brand as the solution to the challenge your customer is experiencing.
You don’t need a suite of professional videography equipment to take advantage of this form of content marketing. However, you do need to pay attention to quality. For instance, while smartphones are more than capable of recording video footage, they should be used sparingly. It’s worthwhile to invest a little money into a higher quality video camera.
You’ll also want to invest in lighting, as well as a good microphone or two. This ensures that you’re producing the highest quality content possible for your budget. If you do have a little more to spend here, professional production is definitely worth the money.
With that being said, quick smartphone videos, or even Vine videos can be excellent additions to your content marketing plan and can help you make a deeper, stronger connection with your audience.
Text can be a powerful tool, but it can be difficult for your customers to extrapolate important information from a sea of data. Putting it all in a visual format that combines images with text can be a dramatic way to improve the reach of your marketing. Infographics should be a key component of your content marketing plan.
Infographics are very popular, and with good reason. They combine statistics and other crucial information into an easily digestible format that gives potential customers the information they need at a glance. They’re also easily sharable – chances are good that your customers are far more likely to share a compelling, informative infographic than they are a blog post or a report.
Infographics are eye-catching. As visual creatures, human beings are naturally attracted to images and infographics feed both our visual nature and our need for more information (and for information delivered in bite-sized chunks). By their very nature, they also help to decrease information overload, while increasing the amount of actual usable information for your customers.
There are plenty of reasons to include infographics in your marketing plan, but one of the most important is that they can pull double, triple and even quadruple duty. They can augment blog posts, or even serve as blog posts in their own right. They make excellent social media posts, and they can be used in whole or in part in eBooks. They can also be deconstructed into their constituent parts for use in reports or to form the content of an eBook.
Tips for Infographic Creation
Unlike blog posts or even videos, chances are good that you’ve never had to create an infographic before. There are a few tips that will make the process easier. First and foremost, keep it simple. Too much clutter will actually counteract the benefits offered. Use whitespace to augment your points and to help the reader’s eye follow down the page.
Keep your focus relatively narrow. The entire point here is to transform complex information into something more easily understandable. The most effective infographics focus on a narrow range of elements. If you need to dig into a broad range of topics, consider creating multiple infographics instead of trying to cram them all into a single, large one.
Finally, infographics need a professional hand when it comes to graphic design. If you don’t have the talent in-house, it should be outsourced to someone with the required expertise. This isn’t something that can be left to chance. Good enough is not good enough. Your customers expect and deserve professional-quality graphics, so deliver that.
Now we come to one of the most important considerations for content marketing on a shoestring budget. Repurposing your content allows you to do more with less and to get extra mileage out of existing content without dramatically increasing your costs. Content can be repurposed relatively easily, and in any number of different ways. We’ve mentioned a couple of those so far, but let’s take a closer look at the situation.
How can your content be reused and repurposed? Consider the following:
- Blog posts into eBooks and vice versa
- Blog posts into presentations or slide decks
- EBooks into video content
- Video content into eBooks and blog posts
- Video content into presentations/slideshows
- Infographics into blog posts or reports
- Reports and whitepapers into eBooks and blog posts
- Blog posts into infographics
- EBooks into webinars
- Webinars into a series of blog posts
- Webinars into an eBook or report
- EBook chapters into cheat sheets or sales sheets
Those are just a few examples of how your content can be repurposed and reused to save money and reach a wider audience without having to spend a ton of extra money. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can simply cut and paste your content in many instances. There are a few things you’ll need to know.
Adjust Content for the New Format
It’s simple to say that you can transform blog posts into eBooks, or infographics into blog posts, but there is some work that will need to be done. You’ll need to adjust your content to match the new format. Let’s consider using blog posts to create an eBook as a prime example here.
Chances are good that your blog posts all maintain the same style, tone and voice, particularly if just one person has been responsible for writing them, and you’ve done your job when it comes to determining your brand’s voice. However, that doesn’t mean that you can just add all your blogs together into a Word document, save it as a PDF and then call it an eBook. It might be in eBook format, but it’s just a collection of different posts.
There’s a bit of work that needs to be done to get those posts in shape for their new role. For example, you’d need to remove any writing that implied that a post was a standalone installment, as well as any content that dated the post.
Maybe you referred to “today” in the post, or wrote about a current event as thought it happened “a few days ago.” Those elements need to be removed so that all you’re left with is pertinent information that flows from one page to the next. Otherwise, the reader will feel as though they’re in the midst of a disjointed amalgamation of content cobbled together on the fly.
You also need to pay attention to how the topics of your posts turned content flow together. It’s quite natural to write a post about one topic, follow it up with a different topic, and then to revisit the original topic weeks later. However, for your readers, that poses a tremendous issue with understandability. That will have a negative impact on your brand image, as well.
It’s much simpler going the other way – from eBook to blog posts – but the same considerations need to be made. Content from an eBook can make excellent posts, but you’ll need to take the time to change the tone, rather than copying page for page, particularly if your blog has a more personal, one-on-one tone and the eBook is more academic.
A word or two must be said about distribution – that is, getting your content out into the wild. Organic SEO can do some good. Optimized blog posts will be visible in search engine results and drive some traffic to your page. It’s hoped that those readers will then share your posts with their own audience. However, you must do more to really leverage the power of content marketing. Thankfully, there are quite a few options here, and most of them cost you nothing.
Share to Social Networks
You can take some of the legwork out of finding your content for readers by sharing your posts, reports and other items through your social networks. Facebook is good for this, and Twitter can also be a powerful tool. However, few platforms have the reach that LinkedIn does in this respect, particularly if you run a B2B company.
It’s quite easy to share your posts and other content through LinkedIn, but it’s important to realize that this is different from sharing a link on Facebook or Twitter. LinkedIn’s program virtually demands unique content, so you’ll either need to repurpose existing content, or create something new for that purpose specifically.
Chances are very good that there are some exceptionally popular blogs and websites within your vertical or related niches. These can provide inspiration for your own content creation, but they can also be outlets for the content you create. Guest blogging (or guest posting, if you prefer) is really nothing new. It’s been around for quite a few years, and remains an important component of a successful content marketing plan.
Essentially, you’ll be arranging to post your content on another site. You’ll need to follow their rules in terms of content type, tone, pictures, and linking, but this can allow you to take advantage of an audience that you would never have reached in any other way.
If you’ve done your due diligence, you’ve created an opt-in form on your website and started gathering contact information from customers and potential customers. This is an invaluable tool in your content marketing efforts. Anyone who has opted in to receive emails from your business is definitely interested in what you have to offer, and one step closer to being an actual lead.
Use that list to your advantage. You can send links to free eBooks and reports, updates on blog posts, news about developments, new product or services offered by your business, how-to content and a great deal more.
When everything is said and done, content marketing doesn’t need to cost a fortune. Even cash-strapped businesses can get into the act, and it’s essential that you do so. Without the right content, you cannot reach your customers and prospective customers. You’re cut out of the conversation, unable to do anything but engage in traditional, one-way marketing that yields virtually no traction in the modern world.
The high costs associated with marketing don’t need to hold you back here, though. Many of the methods used can be harnessed at little to no cost, even if you have little in the way of staff to whom you can delegate content creation and management responsibilities. Really, how long does it take to write a blog post? How difficult would it be to compile the information for a short eBook over the course of several weeks?
The real hurdle here is for business owners and decision makers to come to grips with the absolute need for content marketing in the first place. Simply put, you cannot afford to ignore it.
Start by identifying your customers and their challenges. Who are they? Where do they live? What are their backgrounds and financial situations? What challenges are they facing and how can your business help alleviate the pain from that issue?
Next, you must plot out your customer journey and create content specific to each point within that trek. You’ll need content that offers information, guidance and advice with very little selling for customers in the early stages of their journey. Shorter, more sales-oriented pieces of content can be used for customers in the middle and particularly the later stages of the process. Make sure that all of your content, from blog posts to eBooks to webinars to infographic is branded appropriately and ties directly into your core value.
Finally, have patience. Content marketing is not a once and done type of thing, and it’s not a path to overnight success. Building relationships takes time, and that’s precisely what you’re doing – nurturing relationships in the hope that your potential customers will develop a sense of loyalty to your brand because of the value you’ve provided them.
Content marketing can be done on any budget, so long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort yourself. If you find that you need a little assistance along the way, we can help. At Peppersack, we pride ourselves on delivering an end-to-end solution for our clients’ needs, from web design to content marketing, analytics and a great deal more. We invite you to get in touch today to learn more about our content marketing solutions and how they can serve your business.
Peppersack is a digital marketing agency base in Manchester, UK. Peppersack specialises in Inbound and Content Marketing. We build websites for our clients and support them with a range of services including campaign development, SEO, Content Generation, Social Media Marketing, Technical Support and Analytics.