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    The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Low Cost Content Marketing

    Creating new content is challenging. Especially if you’re in a competitive industry like personal injury law or real estate.

    How do you stand out when there are literally millions of businesses doing the exact same thing as you?

    What can you say that hasn’t been said?

    When you’re in an industry where the average cost per click is $40, how do you get traffic without decimating your marketing budget? What can you do to set yourself apart?

    Everyone is telling you to start a blog, a YouTube channel, they’re telling you to focus on LinkedIn, Instagram, Snap Chat, email marketing, chatbots, podcasting. They say you should be building brand awareness and marketing funnels.

    Meanwhile, there are over 2 million blogs published every day and over 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every hour. The internet is literally overflowing with content that no one will ever see.

    It’s no wonder the task of content production can feel overwhelming and completely hopeless.

    When you have six employees depending on you, orders pending, inventory to order and books to keep, you don’t have time the to write a 2000-word blog post or the time to create Instagram stories. When you’re training clients, teaching classes and your gym is going bankrupt, growing your Twitter followers is the last thing on your mind.

    Trying to run a business and keep up with marketing is tough. With a constrained budget and only 24 hours in a day your options are limited. But, if you believe like most people that time is the most valuable commodity you possess, then you need to start finding the most effective low-cost marketing options that also minimize the amount of time involved.

    How can you spend your time as effectively as possible creating fresh, new content? What will produce the greatest ROI?

    Trying to do everything won’t work. In order to be effective, you need to experiment with different platforms and strategies, eventually homing in on what drives the most engagement which hopefully, in the long run, translates into sales.

    Sometimes it’s best to bring in an objective third party who specializes in marketing to help you. Being so close to your business can blind you to the realities of what works and what doesn’t and bringing in a new set of eyes can be extremely helpful. Everyone needs a coach. Often it is as simple as directing your efforts towards tactics that are already generating business. Email marketing worked in the past? Double down on it. Had success with Facebook ads? Buy more. Focus on what works and squeeze every ounce you can out of it until it doesn’t work anymore.

    Realistic Expectations

    There are things every business needs to do marketing wise but does every business have to be on Instagram? It depends. Does a plumber need to be on Twitter? Maybe. Should you focus on blogging? Probably. Do videos get the most engagement on Facebook? Yes.

    Before we get into the nuts and bolts of content marketing, we need to reevaluate expectations. Don’t write your first blog and expect overnight success you can’t post once and expect to become an Instagram influencer.

    Content marketing is a long-term strategy, think more than six months probably closer to a year, possibly 2-5 years. Although it’s difficult to think long term you’ll have to if you want to survive beyond the 18 months most small businesses last.

    When developing a content strategy, it’s best to adopt the mantra many expert marketers use of: give, give, ask. Translation: blog post, video, call to action or put another way free content, free content, buy something from me.

    This is just a general rule and each campaign will require a slightly different strategy but it’s still a good rule to live by.

    It also important to start looking at who the influencers are in your industry. Who is leading the way in original content? What are they doing that makes them unique? Don’t become a carbon copy, look for patterns. What is it they’re doing that you can do or possibly do better? Better yet what are they not doing?

    Don’t create content for the sake of creating it, do something original and be honest about yourself. Most successful advertising campaigns are rooted in honesty, notice I said most campaigns. Think of the best ads, the ones you remember, they’re either funny or play on some deep-seated emotion that provokes a reaction. Before you start adding to the ocean of content that is the internet, consider if what you’re about to produce is going to add value to your customer’s lives.

    For example, I recently traded my email address for a guide to aggregating blog posts. The guide was developed by a digital marketing company that often produces quality blogs and podcasts, I downloaded it, started reading and immediately regretted my decision, it was basically just a step by step guide to ripping off listicles from other blogs and then turning them into your own. Creative plagiarism but really not that creative. The guide suggested finding a trending topic like fidget spinners. They then proposed checking Google trends for high volume searches and checking the content that came up first in a search. Once you found a trending topic, then you would find the most popular articles and rewrite them in the template format they provided. It was click bait dressed up as a useful tool that wasn’t useful at all.

    Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t write about similar topics or that you won’t produce blog posts that are very similar to ones that already exist, especially if you’re in a competitive industry. But you should make an effort to create original content, please don’t scrape trending click bait off the internet and copy it into a template, enough of that exists already. I’m not suggesting you have to write a masterpiece just provide people with something useful, something that answers the questions your customers are asking. At the very least it will help your SEO efforts, as Google’s search algorithms get smarter the more they will elevate quality writing. Long form content already ranks better on Google, so it’s important that your content strategy reflect this.

    Define Your Goals

    What are you trying to accomplish with content marketing? More traffic, sales or awareness?

    Kevin Kelly the founder of Wired Magazine has a theory that if what you’re doing is creative, then you only need 1000 true fans to make a living. A true fan means someone who will buy almost anything you produce. You can apply this theory to your small business and you might only need 20 true fans if they’re paying you $500 a month. It’s easily scalable but the idea remains the same, aim to create content for the people that already support your business and the people like them.

    It’s important to note that a blog post isn’t going to directly lead to sales conversions but your customers will find it helpful if it’s well written, if you’re an authority in your industry customers will pay you more for your expertise and one way to establish that expertise is a blog. Blogging is a relatively cheap form of marketing and with social media you can easily target very specific people at a very low cost. Not to mention its crucial for SEO.

    Are you the best electrician or the most knowledgeable probate lawyer in your city? Establish it with a blog, people are curious about your opinions and looking for answers. There are 40,000 Google searches performed every second. The chances that someone in your area is searching for a question you could answer are pretty good.

    Take the time to establish trust and I promise you it will pay dividends down the road.

    If you can’t write or aren’t willing to hire writer, then maybe videos are the way to go. Empires have been built with YouTube. Empires built on bizarre topics that no one thought anyone cared about, like a hydraulic press crushing random objects and slime recipes for five year olds. We’ve all heard the success stories but they didn’t happen overnight, they took planning and consistency. Above all, consistency, transparency and originality are the most important aspects of successful content marketing.

    Make a Plan

    Make a plan. But don’t be afraid to deviate from it, don’t overthink. Commit to writing for 20 minutes a day, if you’re good in front of the camera spend 15 minutes a day recording something interesting about your daily routine. You never know what people will find interesting.

    Set up a make shift tripod or have someone film you while you talk about your area of expertise. Have a friend or employee follow you around with an iPhone and film 10-15 minutes of your day at work, edit it on iMovie and post it on YouTube or Instagram, use Facebook live, Snap Chat, whatever. There has never been a better time to be in business with so many new free platforms available to everyone, advertising has never been easier for small business owners.

    Do you have a face made for radio? Start a podcast. Buy a microphone, use free tools on your iPhone like GarageBand to edit the audio. Don’t impose artificial barriers on yourself, if you own or have access to a smart phone you’re capable of producing a fairly decent podcast. The important thing is to get started.

    Create a schedule and stick to it you’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish in 20 minutes a day. Make sure what you’re creating is original. If you can’t do this hire someone. It doesn’t have to be complicated but marketing is a critical if you want to grow.

    A Word About Automation and Third-Party Software for Social Media.

    A great way to save time with social media is third party software apps like Hootsuite, Sendible or Crowdfire. They let you pre-schedule content, see who’s followed you or unfollowed you, do hashtag research (yes, that’s a thing) and suggest content you can share that’s in line with your industry or interest. Paying $29-49 a month to schedule all your social media posts one day a month is invaluable. These apps also let you monitor all your social media accounts on one dashboard. Most plans allow for up to 10 accounts and will immediately simplify posting and analytics.

    Automation will save you an enormous amount of time but I’d still suggest going into the actual platform occasionally to make sure everything’s working. Sendible seems to have a hard time delivering content especially on LinkedIn. Crowdfire has become useless for Instagram but is still useful for Twitter, allowing you to schedule posts for the best times when your followers are most active.

    Using third party software on Instagram can also get you “shadow banned,” which basically means they cut your engagement to zero and don’t allow your posts to come up in hashtag searches. Shadow bans will be a topic of another blog post so I won’t get too far into them here but realize that just because your engagement sucks on Instagram doesn’t mean you’ve been shadow banned.

    Don’t become overly reliant on third-party automation though, it will definitely save you time but you still have to respond to comments and interact or your audience will go away.

    Test Retest Measure

    Not everything you create will do well. In fact, it might be awhile until people start reading, watching or listening to what you’re producing. That’s why it’s important to test new content and test the same content with different titles. People are headline readers. Don’t write boring headlines. If you can’t capture your audience’s attention no one will spend the time reading or watching what you’ve written or produced. Spend some time developing a headline

    Sometimes it’s as simple as a more interesting picture. Stock photography is great, lots of small businesses and even big brands rely on it but original pictures or graphics tend to do better.

    Keep testing new techniques and approaches until you find something that works then measure the engagement of the content you produce with analytics.

    Every social media platform and third-party software like Hootsuite has analytics to measure engagement in a variety of different ways. Of course, Google Analytics is fairly comprehensive. Remember though, analytics are great, but don’t live and die by them. Just because a piece of content doesn’t do well initially doesn’t mean that it’s bad, sometimes things take a while to take off and if you pull it too soon you might miss the

    Promote

    Don’t pay to boost a post, or promote something unless it does fairly well organically first. What does fairly well mean? It depends on the industry as well as how enthusiastic your fan base is. Ideally you want to look at what’s done well in the past and base it off that and for the record I’m talking about Facebook here because they are the largest social media platform, and consume somewhere in the vicinity of one third the worlds ad revenue. They also where the majority of people across all demographics will see your post.

    You have to spend money strategically when you don’t have a gargantuan advertising budget, I always tell our customers to squeeze every last ounce of organic engagement out of a post before spending any money. But again, this is highly dependent on what industry you’re in, I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice a correlation with how boring an industry is and the average size of a company’s marketing budget in that industry. If you’re in accounting or insurance, you will have to spend more money marketing than a micro-brewery or a legal marijuana dispensary and if you’re willing to say highly controversial things to promote your brand you may not have to spend any money at all.

    If you’re not looking for controversy be strategic and use the tools available, Facebook has an app called Facebook Ads, it freezes up occasionally but is useful allowing you to track engagement, placement and pause ads with the flick of a button. With 2.1 billion users and 20,000 employees Facebook can be slow to respond when inevitably the post you’re trying to boost is rejected by their algorithm for violating ad policies but overall, they are an easy company to deal with and they make advertising for small businesses cheap and easy.

    Just remember to keep things in perspective, engagement doesn’t always translate into sales. It’s easy to become obsessed with how a particular post is doing especially if it doesn’t get the same amount of likes as content you’ve posted in the past. This is designed into the platforms, everything about social media is built to tap into your dopamine receptors, it’s addictive. Don’t dump money into something that’s not doing as well as you’d hoped, be patient, be strategic, the right time will come.

    Repurpose

    In digital marketing, the wider net you cast the better but with the internet’s insatiable appetite for content you need to stretch what you already have.

    Write a blog post, make your blog post the subject of your podcast, film the podcast and upload it to YouTube. Take pictures of yourself filming the podcast and post those on Instagram along with short video clips, which you can also put on Facebook. It’s really that simple, take what you create and adapt it for different platforms.

    Doing this is easier than it sounds and it allows you to get the most out of one idea. Every smart marketer knows how to repurpose content and the best ways to adapt it for different platforms. Spend some time learning how to optimize your content for different social media platforms.

    Play the Long Game

    I can’t overemphasize the importance of a long-term mindset. Content marketing is something that takes time, time to build momentum, time to build word of mouth. You don’t create an award-winning podcast in a week. You don’t monetize your blog after your first post. You have to put in the time and the effort, there are no short cuts. Anything worthwhile requires commitment and hard work. It’s a grind that will eventually pay off.

    Social media will change, new innovations will disrupt everything but communication stays relatively the same. Focus on storytelling first and optimize for social media later.

    Creating something original and lasting sounds hard and it is but like Gary Vaynerchuck says, “document don’t create.” This might be the most important take away from this blog if you even read this far, content creation is challenging but it’s a necessary part of the marketing puzzle. Develop a long-term mindset and be consistent. It’s that simple.

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