Every content marketing endeavor, no matter how small or low-budget, needs a strategy. Without a strategy, content marketing is like a pile of puzzle pieces. They make no sense until you put them together and form the whole picture.
I’m a content strategist but I work mainly with small businesses, so while I’d love to be able to recommend intricate strategies that require a lot of resources, the truth is the majority of the time I’m working with one-man-bands with a tight budget and almost no time. So, with that in mind, is it still possible to implement a content strategy? The answer is yes, but it takes some creativity, and a lot of understanding about the business, the industry, the market, and how to run a content strategy on a budget! Here’s where I always start:
Understand Content Strategy for Business
I’m a consultant, and I jump between different projects for various clients across different industries. I don’t specialize in one particular industry, and I’m just as comfortable to work in one I have no experience in, as I am one where I have tried and tested strategies in place. The first step is always the same: understand the business. This doesn’t just mean understanding the industry and the latest trends, but actually taking a deep dive into the client’s business to get to the root of why the business started in the first place, what makes it special, what is the process of buying from this company, etc. Oftentimes, having experience in the industry means marketers tend to skip this step as they assume they already know what this business needs.
Understand the Business Objectives
As well as understanding the business, it takes time to get to the root of the business objective, in order to determine the content objective. It’s all well and good creating a content strategy that’ll help the business rank on page 1, drive traffic, gain back-links and so on, but is all of that actually helping to reach the business objectives? Find out what those are first, and only then will you know how to structure your content strategy. It could mean that prioritizing PR and relationship building would take priority over SEO objectives, but you won’t know that until you’ve taken the time to understand the business and its objectives.
Understand the audience
Target audience is so important! I always like to work with clients to create target personas. Some people also refer to these as ‘ideal client avatars’. This part can sometimes be overlooked, or not given enough attention. Using data is fantastic, whether it’s from analytics, keyword research etc. but it’s also important to communicate with clients and understand who they’re actually interested in going after, and making sure the content strategy aligns with that. There isn’t one particular template that works better than others, as it depends on the business, but this customer avatar worksheet is really detailed and easy to work through.
Inspiration from Competitors
It’s likely that direct competitors (i.e. other small business in the same industry/location) won’t have implemented a detailed content strategy. This puts your client at a direct competitive advantage. However, take inspiration from the market leaders and their content strategy. What type of content do they create? Through which channels? What seems to be their distribution strategy? What level of engagement do they receive? I tend to run a content audit on the top three businesses, and will use that as inspiration, or as a starting point.
Prioritize and Make it Realistic
After all this research, it’s a case of building a content strategy that works for the client. It needs to be realistic given the resources available, which often means prioritizing elements and sacrificing those that are less important or urgent. I rely on two main documents to keep things simple: a content calendar and a distribution/augmentation flow diagram. This tells me and my clients what content needs to be created and when, and what to do with it once it’s published. I tend to plan about three months at a time if I can, as this gives clients something to work with that doesn’t feel too overwhelming.
I try to stretch out content and make it work harder – for example a thought leadership article that can also be turned into a blog post, a handful of social media posts and a video.
Metrics that Matter
If you’re short on time, the last thing you want is to spend hours poring over data and analytics. As well as keeping the strategy simple, measurement needs to be simple also. This is why the objectives are so important, as they set the tone for what you need to measure. I tend to focus on five key metrics that’ll tell me and my clients whether they’re achieving their objectives. What those metrics actually are is highly dependent on the objectives of the brand and content strategy overall, so there is no easy answer here.
For example, if a business is quite new and they’ve never done content before, I like to start with a strategy that drives relevant traffic to the site. So, naturally overall traffic, referrals, time on site, and pages viewed become important metrics. However, if the objective is more around building a community, expanding reach and positive sentiment, then social media engagement and growth becomes more important, as well as establishing links with reputable websites within the target audience’s interests. If the overall goal is to drive sales, then being able to track where that sale originated from determines how well the strategy is working.
Timings & Refinement
How long a content strategy takes to work will be highly dependent on the activity itself, the resources available, the industry and the level of competitiveness. Once again, there is no straight forward answer for how long before you start seeing results. I like to start with an initial audit to set a benchmark, and then measure on a monthly basis. About six months in, I’ll do a deep dive and re-structure the strategy based on how it’s going. Most of my clients aren’t interested in just getting traffic – they want that traffic to result in sales, phone calls, bookings. So, if the content is not achieving that, then it’s time to think about where to improve it.
So, what does it take to create a content strategy for a small business? A very good understanding of creative content marketing on a budget, a deep understanding of the business, the industry and the target audience. A lot of organisation and finally, keeping it simple so that it can be sustainable.