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Content Marketing

Content marketing for startups: How any new business can get started

For startups, the challenges of growing your business are many. Here’s how content marketing can help make your venture successful.

By Kimberly Marshall

Content marketing for startups: How any new business can get started Blog Feature

For startup founders, there is no greater thrill than witnessing your vision become reality. With investors lined up, a stellar workforce in place, and a pool of buyers steadily growing, you need to scale up fast or risk being unprofitable. 

With so many people depending on your business’ success – including you – there’s a lot on the line. 

To ensure your business venture is successful, you need a strong, reliable, unique-to-your-business content marketing strategy — and you need to implement it from the start. It’s a highly effective solution for generating revenue and drawing in new customers, as well as other common startup challenges.

Speaking of startup challenges, here are a few you’re up against.

Common challenges for startups

The sobering truth is 90% of startups ultimately fail, and most within a year or two. While the biggest reasons are lack of market demand and difficulty generating business, 14% of startups fail due to poor marketing programs and even neglecting customers.

[Source: Findstack]

With everything you need to delve into when starting a new business, it’s easy to understand how a startup’s marketing efforts can fall flat; between navigating new technology systems, managing budget restraints, developing products, encouraging employees and investors, and doing everything you possibly can to get your startup running efficiently and growing, many new business owners are stretched thin. Others imagine their product alone will float the business and don’t properly invest in marketing. 

This is typically because one of the biggest challenges for startup founders is ensuring your business makes money. As a result, the natural inclination of most decision-makers is to cut costs by scaling back on marketing (which they interpret as a cost) and investing more in sales (which they view as a revenue generator). 

Falling into this mindset can cost you your business. The reason? 

Your prospects don’t want to speak to sales (at least at first), and they’re more driven to search for products online on their own, so it’s important to meet your customers where they are, and not where you think they should be. Building a content marketing strategy that helps prospects find you (aka, inbound marketing) means you’re adapting to the way people prefer to shop today, even though it can be tempting to do it the way it’s always been done. 

Most startups spin their wheels when it comes to reaching ideal customers online. They often try all the latest marketing trends and end up frustrated when they put in all this effort and nothing sticks. But you want to give content marketing the old college try because wooing prospects and turning them into living, breathing endorsements and brand evangelists is what content marketing done right can do.

And it’s a lot easier and more affordable than you think.

Here’s why you should consider it for your startup.

🎓 IMPACT+ course: Creating memorable, money-making content for dummies

Why startups need content marketing 

Content marketing is just a portion of an overall inbound marketing strategy. It starts with companies creating honest, transparent, and educational content on a consistent basis. By regularly publishing content on your website, you are increasing the likelihood that people will find your company, learn about your products and services, and come to you ready to buy.

The goal is to have prospects know so much about your offerings that by the time they reach you, they already have an idea about whether they’re going to buy from you, not only increasing conversions and shortening the sales cycle, but also getting them excited about your company in general.

Imagine your business helps people create gleaming, high-end custom kitchens. Now, think about how much easier and quicker it would be for your sales team if, before a prospective customer set foot in your store, they used an online tool where they could draw up and see the plan of their very own custom kitchen, including pricing, and material specs. Along the way, they sign up for your newsletter, so you can now send them information about the cabinets they’re interested in, or a comparison between those cabinets and another comparable brand that might be just as good in quality yet a better economic choice.

You can already see how content can help your prospects learn about your products and come to you excited and ready to buy. Will you need to help them tweak their design and talk to them about different choices based on their needs?

Yes, probably, but they’ve already done a lot of the groundwork, which can save your sales team time, especially when many of your prospects are likely to ask the same questions. (Learn about how to tackle commonly asked questions in your own 80% video.) This can help your team focus on closing deals rather than having to do all the explaining it takes to get there. 

When content is generated and distributed in the right way (according to your customers’ needs), it’s proven to:

  • Increase organic web traffic. 
  • Improve brand awareness.
  • Boost qualified lead generation.
  • Increase lead conversion rates.
  • Help your sales team close more deals faster.
  • Establish thought leadership in your industry.
  • Lower marketing costs and increase ROI.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Now that you know why you should invest in content marketing for your startup, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it effectively. 

How startups can implement a content marketing strategy

The biggest thing to focus on when crafting your content marketing strategy is making sure each piece of content helps your ideal buyer in some way. For example, are prospects constantly asking how to use your product? Make a video and write a blog article that takes them through the process, step-by-step. Do they want to know how your products and services compare to your competitors'? Create an in-depth, unbiased comparison between the two. 

This makes it easier for prospects to understand what you offer and builds relationships with them as they get to know you and your values. 

Embrace the mindset, and establish a culture

When you’re creating content for your buyers and explaining your business, the most important thing you can do is be fully transparent and honest about your offerings, even your weaknesses. This is because your prospects are looking online for solutions to some pretty hefty problems, and they want to buy from someone they can trust, which means your content marketing strategy should take on more of a value-driven culture than a money-making tactic. 

If a business is willing to say, “We might not be the best choice for you, and here’s why,” your prospects will see that you value their happiness more than taking their money. Might you lose a few customers along the way? You could, but for those who appreciate your honesty, this can send a powerful message that your company is trustworthy. And remember, we’re going for brand evangelists here, not one-time purchasers who buy your products and then forget about you. You want to make their experience working with you memorable. 

🔎 Related article: Why trust is the true currency for any business

IMPACT partner and author of They Ask, You Answer Marcus Sheridan found out how effective this honest approach to content marketing could be when his business was on the brink of bankruptcy and he had to do something quickly or lose it all.  

When Sheridan nearly lost River Pools and Spas to the 2008 recession, he made a last-ditch effort to save his small business by staying up all night writing, publishing blog article after blog article, and posting as much educational material around fiberglass pools as he could. He even included reasons fiberglass pools might not be the right choice for his customers (they only come in certain sizes, etc.) and who the best pool companies in the area were (without naming his own). 

Seemingly overnight, his company’s near failure became a success story, and web traffic, leads, and sales skyrocketed.

By going through this process and seeing the incredible results firsthand, he learned that by sharing everything you know about your products and services in an open and honest way — even discussing your faults and competition — not only does the content you produce please search engines, helping your potential customers find your company, but it also helps customers understand whether your company is the right fit for their needs.

🎓 IMPACT+ course: They Ask, You Answer fundamentals with Marcus Sheridan

There’s more to content marketing than blogs

Blog articles, which are an integral part of any content marketing strategy, aren’t the only formats you should be working with and creating. 

Content marketing formats can also include:

  • e-books
  • video tutorials
  • checklists
  • infographics
  • comparison guides  
  • newsletters
  • webinars
  • case studies
  • podcasts

Using these formats can help connect you with your prospects at different points of their buyer’s journey, wherever they are in their “How can I solve my problem?” research.

But don’t try to make them all at once. It’s always best to start with a few content formats that offer the strongest return (ahem, blogging and video) and go from there. You can easily repurpose your content into other formats, but establishing a strong base of traffic-building and deal-closing content should come first.  

Here’s how to pull it all together.

First month

In the first month of setting up your content marketing plan, you need to establish the framework. Based on your level of knowledge, you can skip around and plan accordingly, but below we tried to be as thorough as possible to cover all the bases.

Your objective in your first month is to lay out the entire framework. Start learning about your audience, train your team in content marketing, take the time and put in the resources to build the foundation for your content marketing program so that everyone’s on the same page and working together. This will make it easier to scale up in the future.

This is also the stage where you’re going to assemble your content marketing team. We always like to recommend hiring at least one content manager and one videographer. But if you’re going to start somewhere, the content manager is the first hire. These two positions will be the backbone of your content marketing strategy. They will organize and implement everything, start to finish, and keep your marketing plan running smoothly. 

Establish content marketing goals with KPIs

The first step to implementing your content marketing plan is to establish your goals. KPIs, or key performance indicators, measure the success of your content marketing strategy. Using KPIs will make it easier to see what content is working and what needs to be revised.

Semrush has a helpful list of 23 metrics you can use to measure content performance and how to measure each. 

These include:

  • pageviews
  • dwell time
  • conversion rates
  • average time on page
  • pages per session

Deciding which of these to track will ensure that you have clearly defined targets and ways to ensure you’re meeting them.

Hire a content manager

One of the most important things you can do for your startup is to appoint someone to be in charge of the entire process. Hire a content manager so you can keep your content creation ongoing. If you try to do it yourself or designate this to someone who is also in charge of, say, managing your finances or trying to land more sales, your content marketing can go off the rails quickly. 

You need someone who can draft a plan, participate in the content creation process, and keep the content flowing. Ideally, you want to work up to publishing at least three pieces of content per week to get the type of results you’re looking for, so keep this in mind as you develop your content marketing strategy. 

IMPACT clients who’ve seen the biggest business growth from their content marketing initiatives have someone on staff who owns the content creation and management process from start to finish. (See West Roofing's full success story.)

Commit to hiring a content manager to ensure your content marketing undertaking not only hits the ground running but also is steady and continuous.

🔎 Related article: How to Interview and Hire the Right Content Manager for Your Company

Invest in team training 

Make sure your team has the proper training in the latest digital sales and marketing tools and practices. 

IMPACT+ offers a library of in-depth courses for beginner through expert-level digital marketers. You can also hire a team to coach your employees. Whatever it takes to get them up to speed as fast as possible is what you need to do. 

Lots of different digital marketing and sales agencies can help train your team. Some do the work for you, and others, like IMPACT, make it their mission to teach your staff everything they need to know, so you eventually don’t need the agency anymore.

You can also join digital marketing learning platforms to help teach your employees the tricks of the trade. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a helpful article that compares a few, including IMPACT+.   

Learn who your buyers are

As we mentioned, one of the reasons most startups fail is because they neglect their customers and have ineffective marketing strategies. The only way to avoid going down the same path as the other 90% is to, first and foremost, obsess over your customers. 

If you make your marketing outreach all about you, which is what many companies do (“we’re the best at x,” “we are all about y”), customers lose interest. They don’t want to know about you, they want to know how you can help them.

This goes back to that Dale Carnegie advice: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

The same goes for business. Know what your customers want, and walk them through how to solve their problems — whether it’s finding the perfect vacation spot or making weeknight dinners easier for their busy families.  

HubSpot’s buyer persona creator tool is a great resource for gathering the necessary information about your buyers. 

The information you can gather with this tool may seem extremely granular, but the more you know about your customers, the easier it is to understand their needs and meet them.

Assemble your resources and tools 

Start piecing together all the content marketing tools and resources your team will need to do their jobs. You’ll need some type of marketing automation platform to host and track your content. Programs such as HubSpot and Marketo can help your business send and track newsletters, blog articles, e-books, and anything else you need to assemble in your content marketing strategy.

Keyword planners such as Semrush and Google Trends will help you develop a  strategy that remains as close as possible to what your buyers need. And project management tools such as Trello or ClickUp can help keep your publishing schedule and statuses up to date. 

Anything that will help your team make the process more efficient is helpful.

🔎 Related article: Best content marketing tools and apps

Align sales and marketing from the start

One of the major points we like to hammer home here is that, when it comes to developing content, sales and marketing should function together as a team.

Your sales team will be the ones hearing your customers’ questions. They are the front line in sorting through all the information people are looking for, making them the best source for the types of content needed. 

They should also be using the content your marketing team creates for assignment selling. This is when your sales team sends prospects content to review before the meet, which helps your sales team close deals faster. 

Make sure your marketing and sales teams regularly collaborate about content (so sales can tell marketing what content they need) and consider forming what’s called a revenue team. A revenue team meets weekly and is made up of key players from your sales and marketing teams. Based on the most pressing questions of your ideal buyers, this team continually works together to develop and execute a content strategy that can be used in your sales process.

Three-month mark  

Start brainstorming ideas and begin creating content as you refine what you know using the helpful tools and data tracking that will help you streamline and measure your success. 

In short, keep refining your plan and knowledge while simultaneously creating content. 

Flesh out your content marketing calendar

Start slating in everything you’ll be publishing and try to plan about a month or two in advance. This gives your team time to start checking off all the boxes: what you’ll be publishing, who it’s targeting, how it needs to be formatted or written, etc. 

You might want to hire a few freelance writers too, to get your content flowing from the start, but as our editor-in-chief, Liz Moorehead, explains in her article, Should You Rely Exclusively on Freelancers for Your Content Marketing?, using contracted writers can get a bit tricky.

Don’t know where to start?

When Marcus Sheridan saved his pool company by writing lots of blog articles, he began to see a clear pattern of which pieces of content drew the most traffic and landed the most sales.

These topics, which we call The Big 5, are:

  1. Cost and pricing
  2. Comparisons
  3. Problems (theirs and yours)
  4. Best-of lists (best in class, best practices)
  5. Reviews

The best thing is these work in just about any industry.

So start with these areas, and then continue to search for topics your prospects love to learn about. Here are a few more suggestions, but once you get going, your list can grow pretty quickly. 

🎓 IMPACT+ course: How to Write "The Big 5"

Start by producing TOFU and BOFU content

Your prospects will travel through three phases in their buyer’s journey, and different types of content will speak to them in each. These phases make up what we marketers call the content marketing funnel, which is an extremely helpful concept to think about when it comes to putting your content marketing strategy together. 

In general, the three phases of the content marketing funnel are:

  • Discovery phase or top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) content: Aimed to lure in leads who are just beginning to search for information about how to solve their pain points. (HubSpot calls this the “awareness” phase.)
  • Consideration phase or middle-of-the-funnel (MOFU) content: Helps prospects weigh their options and figure out which choice is the best solution to their problem. (HubSpot also calls this the “consideration” phase.)
  • Purchase phase or bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) content: Aids prospects in deciding whether to make their purchase and from which company. (HubSpot refers to this as the “decision” phase.)

TOFU content, such as how-to articles and videos, will help to start driving web traffic and get prospects thinking about their purchase or at least starting the conversation (whether with you or themselves). And BOFU content is what your sales team needs to close more deals faster.

Starting here and then continuing to build in MOFU content down the line can help set your business up so it can be found by potential customers, while at the same time providing the details needed to close deals. 

Start tracking data

It’s a little early in the game to get a big-picture sense of how your content is working, but start getting used to what type of data is helping track your content and its effectiveness. 

You might realize a certain tool isn’t helping as much as you thought it would. This is a great time to make sure everything is in place so that when you have enough data to do a better content audit, you can put together your big-picture analysis.

Six-month mark  

By now, your team should be getting into the swing of things and the metrics should be pouring in. Continue refining and see where you can make changes based on data. 

This is the time when you will begin to see what’s working and what isn’t.

Keep interpreting data 

In the first month, you established how you’re going to track your progress and signed up for some of those tools. At six months, you need to amass all the data and see which pieces of content are working and which aren’t.

You can track different metrics that will indicate which content is working in the previously mentioned three phases of the content marketing funnel: 

  • In the awareness phase, when you want your content to help educate potential customers and bring them to your site, you want to evaluate keyword traction and organic traffic results. 
  • Prospects in the consideration phase want to know more about your products and services, so their bounce rate might drop and they might download an e-book or other offer. This indicates they’re spending more time on your site and that they value what you have to offer. 
  • In the decision phase, you will see an uptick in people filling out “contact us” or “get a quote” forms, etc. 

Once in a while, you might chance upon an idea that drives a lot of engagement. For example, a manufacturer of woven wire cloth and mesh materials, W.S. Tyler, recently launched a “choose your own adventure” style email campaign, where they asked unengaged contacts what their biggest challenges were. 

Based on the prospects’ answers, t`hey were sent content directly related to their choice.

These emails achieved a 74.14% open rate, which is the percentage of subscribers that open the email in relation to your total number of subscribers. This high percentage is unheard of, especially for unengaged contacts. (For reference, the open rate for an email campaign is typically 10-15%.)

This shows how effective content can be and also illustrates how you can see the difference between content that is knocking it out of the park, just helping meet quotas, or flat-out tanking. 

Use this data to refine your content strategy. Keep doing what works well and don’t be afraid to ditch what isn’t. Eventually, your customers’ actions will let you know what you’re doing right.

🔎 Related article: How to Measure Your Content Marketing Efforts (& Know If It’s Actually Working) [Infographic]

Continue idea creation 

Now that the content is rolling in, you’re checking things off the content calendar and coasting through your publishing schedule. To keep things going, make sure you have plenty of content on the back burner. 

This is also helpful so that if something you plan to publish falls through, you have things on deck that you can publish instead. 

By now you should have plenty of TOFU and BOFU content, so make sure you also have some MOFU content lined up. This will ensure you’re helping prospects learn about you and how you can help them solve their problems every step of the way. Keep being strategic in what you’re publishing and continue to dig into what really makes your prospects tick. 

You should also have a growing database of actual customers. Reach out to them and ask what they like about working with your business. See if they can help you put personas together that are much more like real life or provide feedback you can use as a testimonial. 

Lean on those who’ve already bought from you to refine and make your process better. 

One-year mark  

By now, you should be seeing a large increase in organic traffic to your site, and leads should be converting more. Sales and marketing are working together swimmingly, and you’ve already gotten a good grasp on what’s working and what isn’t.

With all the lessons learned and feedback given, you should be ready to tackle a new year and be able to go into it with a whole lot of experience in how to do this content marketing thing the right way – for your business. 

Review all data

Now is the time to really dig into all the data. Look at the entire year and see which of your target KPIs you hit, which ones you didn’t, and zero in on the “why.” 

Maybe you were so busy focusing on one form of content for certain prospects you neglected to focus on another. Perhaps one group of prospects is more likely to buy from you, and you’ve finally found out who that group is. Zero in on it, refine your process (see the pattern here?), and begin to build your plan for the coming year with all this data in mind. 

Celebrate any milestones  

It’s so important to share in your employees' success. And don’t feel like you have to wait the entire year to do so — honestly, the more the better. This gives your team a sense of accomplishment and helps them get excited for the year to come. We all need a little motivation sometimes, and it benefits your business to give encouragement and thanks along the way. 

Use all those lessons learned to form next year’s plan

Now that you have a year’s worth of data, you can see exactly where your program hit the mark and where you need to improve. 

Send a survey to your customers. What have you done that they like? What could you improve? This will ensure that all the things you’re planning for the following year continue to drive and delight your buyers. Not only will this help draw in new prospects, but it will also help you convert more leads and build relationships that will last for years to come. 

Get started with content marketing, already!

Building a startup business from the ground up certainly isn’t easy, especially when your prospects are more elusive than ever. But with content marketing, you can finally reach your audience, get them excited about all the ways you can help them, and delight them with your stellar products and services that match exactly what they’re looking for.

If you’re looking for more information or how-tos, here are a few more resources:

We hope you find this information useful as you continue driving your startup business forward! And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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