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Developing a content strategy on a shoestring budget

The title of this post is perhaps a bit misleading in that the whole point of inbound marketing is to create organic growth in traffic, leads, reputation and awareness on a minuscule budget as compared to an advertising driven approach. Advertising has its unquestionable strengths as we’ll cover in another post but the advent of social media and email marketing has opened the door to a hugely different way of doing business now. Many people are well-aware of this but most people find it to be a confusing and daunting task to develop a content marketing strategy.

The purpose of this post is not to redefine how to develop a content strategy but rather to highlight the importance in relation to our overall objectives with the CMS360 to assist companies to become investor ready and capture the hearts and imagination of investors. A solid content strategy is essential to convince marketing savvy investors that you’ve identified a systematic way of finding business without hiring feet on the street to knock door to door.

Years ago, back around 2000, when I co-founded my first company, our CEO, who was the brother in law of my co-founder, was this big-shot ex-sales guy from a mid-size American insurance company. On one hand he and the Chairman were able to raise $6m in seed capital for our startup, mainly from golfing buddies, but on the other hand they had a corporate mind-set to building the market. Follies included spending $750,000 on back of the bus advertising with an iron fist saying ‘join the revolution’ and equally vast sums on Wall Street Journal advertising and a billboard above the exit to the Holland Tunnel (this was in New York) when we hadn’t even built a product to sell. Such was the naiveté of the day. Well, the internet had only just started and some companies were also going public with only a business plan.

Roll the clock forward 17 years, the world has gone to the other extreme. We can no longer waste a penny on ‘brand building’ unless it’s with free cash flow. Anything we spend to build a business has to have a clear and direct ROI. What’s more, the internet is so crowded that it’s very easy as a consumer of any product or service to be distracted by other options.

Knowing the basics

Broadly speaking, anyone who is leveraging the internet in any way should have a strategy that includes developing high value content and sharing that via relevant web and social channels. This helps the company articulate what it does and connect with their audience. There are numerous excellent texts on the subject but the one I’m going to mention here is ‘Content Machine’ by Dan Norris. Dan has done an excellent job of describing his experiences building his content machine and generating a large amount of internet traffic to his internet service.

A few key aspects of successful businesses are highly significant and worth reflecting on as it also relates to our content strategy. First it’s about quality over quantity. Great products and services put you head and shoulders above the average. In the same way, well thought through and well-researched content wins over sheer volume. Certainly you can be noticed by publishing a lot but the goal is to connect at a deeper level and create loyalty and reputation. Secondly, and an aspect that I’m particularly interested in, is to be building assets over time. Every article, template, diagram, or other piece of content should be considered an asset that together forms a logical collection in support of your business. Third, there needs to be a simple relatable differentiator for the business that comes through in the content strategy. An example might a hotel app that gives something else that everyone really wants such as better deals. Fourth, when building a new business, consistent revenue at a high lifetime value is far better than cyclical or inconsistent business for a variety of reasons. Our content strategy must therefore acknowledge this and be aiming to encourage those aspects. Fifth, but by no means last, is the power of monthly growth. When I first started out, having 1000’s of monthly visitors was a daunting stage. Once I got well into launching the business I realised that it’s like warming a hot iron, and the month to month growth in visitors however small compounds to something very significant over time. For me, this maps perfectly to the idea of going slow at the start, paying more attention to how my product and message fits and connects with my audience than being overly concerned with rapid growth in followers on social media or traffic to my service.

I often meet founders who either underestimate the time it will take to build momentum through their web channels or haven’t thought about it at all. In addition, those that have thought about it often have a strategy of outsourcing it to a PR firm. None of those will win you medals nor do they instill confidence. Finding your ‘voice’ is as important as perseverance in this task so start early would be my first piece of advice. Building a strong following of relevant, interested parties can take years because it’s about building trust, maturity, search optimisation, building a reputation, and learning the art of how to write online. If I was to choose between two founders, one of whom had a technically superior product and team but no presence on the internet, and the other with a massively valuable community s/he’d built over years with strong insight into their needs but an immature product, I know where I’d put my money.

Developing a strategy

A key thing to know is that it is possible and highly recommended to build a content strategy. It’s one of my key questions at startup pitch events, i.e. What’s your content marketing strategy? As I said before most don’t have a plan even though it can be put together very quickly. The main things to include are as follows (summarised and paraphrased from Dan’s book):

(i) Vision, Values, Inspiration, Description – What’s it all about and what values will you base it on? What’s your inspiration and how would could be a clear statement of intent?

(ii) Target Communities, Differentiators, Unfair Advantage, Key Relationships – Who is your content for and how do you find them? What’s different compared to other blogs and what gives you an advantage over them? Who are the influencers that you can look towards to promote your content?

(iii) Metrics, Lead Magnets and Calls to Action – How will you track shares, comments and email replies and what are the next steps such as subscribing to a lead magnet or some other call to action?

Thinking all of these aspects through at the start will help enormously during the creation of content because it will provide you with a clear frame of reference. Not to mention how this will communicate the required forethought to investors.

What the experts say about great content

Finally, let’s take a look briefly at what makes content great. The emphasis again should be on developing a strategy that can get you off to a good start and also have the clarity when meeting investors. If you’re going to be pursuing a content strategy, which most people should be, then developing great content should be the goal which implies great staff and great processes combined with a dedication to the effort by at least one of the founders.

Broadly, great content should be engaging and capture the attention of your audience. If your ideal customer stops by your blog they should find it actionable and valuable for what they are working on even if it’s just to validate that they are on the right track. Your content should be better than your competition in ways that you define it. The best content creates a deep connection with your audience where you find readers commenting publicly or privately wishing to engage with you in one way or another. Your content can provide generous offers, transparency into how you are building your business, contrarian views, and tell stories of your past and present endeavors. The format is also important and can take the form of individual blogs, well-researched articles, slides on SlideShare, podcasts, an e-book or a physical book.

Recommendation

Start by evaluating the strategies you are working towards in relation to your content and establish whether your current approach has the hallmarks of a solid strategy and great content as described above. Of course there’s the need to be practical and not over-complicate your business but a this is an important area to master. In a future post I’ll cover how to keep motivated and organised in the content creation process and how to market your content effectively which makes the crucial difference.

As always, feedback is very welcome. I’m keen to learn what others have experienced and whether the ideas outlined here resonate. Also if you need help with defining any of these elements then get started with our free guide “7 rules for raising capital” available here.

Azfar Haider
Founder, CMS360.org
CMS360 is a set of management practices and solutions designed for today’s high growth companies. Our frameworks guide teams to be successful in launching and scaling businesses and the online program consists of courses, coaching and community. www.cms360.org

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