The biggest culprit contributing to small business failure? Not surprisingly, it’s a lack of revenue. Without a steady stream of leads, strong visibility, and a healthy budget, lifting a small business off the ground can be nearly impossible.
This is why building revenue in the digital age is so important, even though it’s especially challenging because of the major changes we’re seeing in buyer habits, including shoppers shifting toward shopping online for goods and services at a rate that has nearly doubled since 2014.
“When people wanted to make a big purchase about 15 to 20 years ago, they’d go to a website looking for a way to talk to the sales department or see demos,” Liz says. “This isn’t the way things work anymore. Your buyers have become much more into self-service and are a lot more hesitant to reach out to someone in sales.
“It used to be a conversation dominated by building that face-to-face human connection, educating prospects, and quickly earning their trust. Small businesses no longer have control over these conversations. Now, creating content is one of the only ways to get in front of your ideal buyers fast.”
In short, content marketing is no flash-in-the-pan concept or latest marketing trend. It can truly help small businesses both short- and long-term, but many small businesses are hesitant to tie up limited time and resources implementing a marketing strategy they’re not sure will work.
If using content marketing for your small business seems like a heavy undertaking, read on. Getting your content marketing strategy right could be what separates you from the small businesses who don’t make it 5 or 10 years – landing you alongside the other 30% that do (and, we hope, beyond).
One of the biggest challenges small businesses face is effectively reaching potential customers. Creating healthy brand awareness is difficult to support without large budgets to fund massive marketing campaigns. This is why building an ever-growing library of valuable content that speaks to both your customers — and search engines — is key.
Think of content marketing like a garden: After a few long, laborious days at the beginning of the growing season — planting seeds, adding nutrients, providing enough water and sunlight — your beds reward you with lots of blooms and beauty that last the entire growing season. You’ll have to weed and water regularly, but once a garden bed is fully established, it grows well for some time.
When you publish content online that helps educate your ideal customers and find you, the content continues working for you long after you wind down for the day. And, as you add to this content, your online presence grows steadily stronger. For small businesses, the fact that content never sleeps and continues working, gathering prospects and leads, even while you sleep, is only one of the many perks.
Shorten sales cycles: You can create sales enablement content designed to close deals faster. This is what we call assignment selling, where sales reps use educational content about products and services to resolve concerns and answer prospects’ questions before they get closer to making a purchase.
Establish thought leadership: This is where you showcase your subject matter experts (SMEs), which could be you or someone you hire who knows your products and services inside and out. When SMEs write your content or appear in your videos, your prospects will learn so much more — and the more people learn from you, the more they trust your business and feel comfortable buying from you.
Build trust with audiences: The more people learn about your business and how you can help them, the more honest content you create for them to consume, the more they get to know you and want to buy from you.
Now that you understand why you should be implementing a content marketing program for your small business, let’s take a closer look at how small businesses do it.
Using content marketing for small businesses does not have to be complicated, but it’s way more than just blogging (although blogging is one of the biggest contributors to a healthy content marketing campaign).
IMPACT partner and author of They Ask, You Answer Marcus Sheridan learned this when he nearly lost his swimming pool company, River Pools and Spas, to the 2008 recession. As a last-ditch effort to save his small business, he stayed up all night, publishing blog article after blog article, posting as much educational material around fiberglass pools as he could.
Shortly thereafter, his company’s web traffic, leads, and sales went through the roof. (Learn more about Sheridan’s success story and how you can apply this effective approach to inbound and content marketing here.)
Even though blogging is an integral part of content marketing, content creation should also include:
Hire a content manager
Because of the time and effort it takes to effectively implement a marketing initiative like this, one of the most important things you can do for your business is to appoint someone to be in charge of the entire process.
Your content marketing undertaking won’t work the way you need it to if it’s reduced to a once-in-a-while effort. You’ll need to be publishing content regularly — as in three pieces of content per week — to really see results. Bottom line: You need to hire a content manager.
We’ve also seen firsthand how hiring a content manager can influence results. Our 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.
As Liz Moorehead writes in Why you need a content manager on your digital marketing team: “We’ve seen time and again with our clients that there’s a direct correlation between the companies that see significant gains and improvements in digital marketing and sales, and those that don't when they have hired an in-house content manager.”
West Roofing Systems is a perfect example, as can be seen in their success story. They hired an in-house content manager and saw a 1,200% increase in website traffic and an 828% jump in lead conversions (among other amazing results) from their efforts.
So commit to hiring a content manager to ensure your content marketing undertaking can hit the ground running.
Know who your buyers are
Creating content for your ideal customer (or buyer persona) is a waste of time if you don’t fully understand their needs. You might as well be throwing words into thin air. Do your research, see what your competitors are doing, and use keyword tools such as Semrush and Google Trends to keep on top of what your buyers are searching for.
Another helpful tip: Perform a Google search for keywords and phrases that your buyers are searching for. In your SERP (search engine results page), there is typically a section under the ads and the first few results that offers other search terms “people also ask” for. Use these terms to create more content by answering these questions too. It’s a simple way to see where Google will be directing your prospects, and if you rank well for these search terms, your content will be showing up there too.
Once you know what your business’s buyer personas are (here’s an in-depth guide on how to build them), you can zero in on meeting their needs and focus on showing prospects how your products and services solve their problems.
You will be answering their questions — again, as thoroughly and honestly as possible — in the formats previously listed.
Here’s how to use each of these formats for your small business’s content marketing efforts.
Blog articles are the meat and potatoes of any content marketing strategy. This is where you can address all potential questions your customers are asking and help educate your prospects about how your products and services solve their problems.
From a search engine perspective, blog articles help you rank for the keywords associated with the questions your buyers have. As a bonus, every time you create a blog article, it creates a new page on your website, and Google and other search engines value websites that are fresh and growing.
What questions should you be answering?
When Marcus Sheridan saved his pool company from bankruptcy with content, he realized five specific topics consistently drove these results.
These topics, which we call The Big 5, should be addressed first:
Cost and pricing.
Problems (theirs and yours).
Best-of lists (best in class, best practices).
Start with these specific questions, and then teach your prospects everything you can think of about your products, services, industry, and process, focusing on your potential customers and how you can help with their needs.
Sheffield Metals, a B2B business that sells metal products to manufacturers and contractors, used this method when writing articles for their learning center. Their comparison article Metal Roofing vs. Shingle Roofing demonstrates the perfect way to structure your own posts.
After working with IMPACT to tackle The Big 5 and other They Ask, You Answer how-tos, Sheffield Metals increased their revenue by about $20 million! (Learn more about how by reading their case study.)
As you get better at creating content, you’ll notice that much of what you create can be repurposed. If you take a group of relevant blog articles, you can combine them into an eBook, which is a way to provide lots of value for your potential buyers. EBooks function like blog articles do, providing educational content and driving search engine results, but they should be longer and more in-depth.
Consider “gating” this content by requiring an email address or similar piece of contact information for your prospects to access them. If you’re using marketing software such as HubSpot or Marketo, the contact information you obtain will be entered into your lead database, giving you the opportunity to reach out to them later.
It’s no secret that video is an effective means of reaching prospects, and as more people turn to video streaming services such as YouTube to learn about different companies and their offerings, it will only become a more vital marketing tool. The bottom line: Your content should be there too.
Aim to make a list of your top 10 questions. Then whittle that list down to your most important “selling 7.” Creating sales videos that clearly address each of these frequently asked questions is what we call your 80% video. The video can be uploaded to YouTube and sent to prospects before they meet with representatives of your sales team. This will shorten sales cycles and educate buyers so they’re further along the content marketing funnel before they reach your team.
Yale Appliance worked closely with the IMPACT team to roll out video content, among other inbound marketing initiatives, and saw incredible results. They now average up to 800,000 visits and 8,000 new leads each month. They are opening a third location and accruing about $117 million in revenue.
Many small businesses, though, can be intimidated by creating video. But honestly, if you have a smartphone and a tripod, you can get started.
Can you go a bit further and look way more professional if you invest in equipment such as proper lighting, backdrops, and digital cameras? Of course you can. But if that iPhone is all you have to set up an awesome video-recording space on a budget, so be it. As we like to say here at IMPACT, done is way better than perfect.
Checklists are a great way to convey a lot of information quickly while reminding prospects about your brand.
Try to reimagine blog articles or other longer-form content into a condensed resource your prospects can print out and take with them as they continue their educational search. With a checklist, you’re helping potential customers quickly learn about the topic at hand.
Your prospects might benefit from other tools as well. Maybe you sell real estate and want to offer people a way to calculate their mortgage. As long as it’s helpful to your leads, it’s valuable.
Our attention spans in the digital age are lousy, and infographics are an easy way to help prospects digest information much more quickly and improve comprehension (by as much as 50%).
Similar to checklists, you can consolidate other longer-form content to either sum up what you’ve presented in text or present new ideas. Try to make them fun and engaging, with lots of helpful facts and statistics.
Get inspired by examples posted on Behance or Dribbble. Once created, add them to your blog articles. This is great for sharing on social media or being discovered in image searches.
If you want to help prospects understand the similarities and differences between your products and services, comparison guides are the content you need. These guides can be between your own offerings or between yours and another company’s, but the key here is to be extremely candid and truthful about the benefits and drawbacks of each, even if it means praising your competition.
This establishes trust with your customers by making them feel like you have their best interests in mind, even above your business’s. This might sound counterintuitive, but I’d bet you if a business owner told you his services might not be a good fit for you, that their competitor might better suit your needs, you’d trust this person far more than a competitor who told you to pick their company because everything they do is the best.
Our article 13 great examples of comparison blog articles explains which comparison articles your small business should be writing and includes lots of helpful examples of how small businesses like yours are already doing it (and seeing success).
They may seem outdated, but newsletters are still an effective means of keeping your prospects engaged. The key here is to make sure the information you send to your leads is something they need or want to learn about.
Once prospects have found you and have signed up, providing newsletter content is a valuable way to not only keep in touch but also continue sharing educational materials that lead prospects farther down the content marketing funnel.
It takes an average of eight points of contact, or touchpoints, to make a sale. Newsletters are a great way to keep reaching out to prospects. Just try not to be too overwhelming in your emails. (We all know those companies that go way too far … it’s annoying. And you don’t want to be marked as spam.) And remember — educational and helpful is the goal.
Webinars are a great way to get out there and share valuable insight about your products and services.
Consider hosting cross-branded content by inviting someone from another company who is relevant in the industry to join you, thereby boosting your brand awareness. Record these events and upload them to your website or YouTube channel so they continue educating and drawing in prospects.
Be sure to optimize the recording with keywords and terms so search engines know how to sort your video and offer it in search results when you upload it. This will help you gather organic traffic and lead volume long after your event airs.
Case studies or testimonials
Case studies and testimonials are effective ways to show your prospects how you helped someone in a similar situation solve their problems. They can be a way for your current or former customers to share how their experience with your products and services is working and build your business’s reputation.
Choose a completed project that has measurable results. Make sure the client agrees with your measures of success.
Gather essential information, such as background information, first-person accounts, and testimonials.
Write your case study focusing on the main challenge you helped your client solve.
Design your case study with web design best practices in mind, and also include a downloadable PDF.
People also love to watch videos of your customers giving feedback, so ask if they’d agree to be filmed while singing your praises. Most customers who’ve had a great experience working with you will be happy to help.
Draft your small-business content marketing strategy
Now that you know why you should be implementing a content marketing strategy for your small business, as well as some of the formats that can be used to convey this content, it’s time to shape your plan of action.
Keep in mind that much of the content marketing how-tos out there can be applied to small businesses in general, and if you have any questions about how to implement content marketing strategies specific to your business, reach out to us. We love to uncomplicate the process of navigating what can seem like a wild digital sales and marketing landscape.
The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022
Take your inbound strategy to the next level
Master the 7 principles of highly effective inbound marketing