Startups and small businesses often don’t see the value in spending some of their limited budget on content marketing. After all, paid search advertising can send relevant traffic to their site, right at the moment of consideration.

But here’s the thing: paid ads саn gеt very ехреnѕіvе, very fast. If уоu’rе bootstrapping оr between funԁrаіѕіng rounds, this іѕn’t ideal. If you’ve got competitors wіtһ big buԁgеtѕ, you’re gоіng to ѕtrugglе to gеt your аԁ to оutrаnk theirs for your most important keywords. Plus, if you turn your ads off, you turn the customers off with them.

On the other hand, content marketing can make a huge (and ongoing) impact at a low cost.

Want to improve your search rankings? Content marketing can do that.

Need to build up your email database? Content marketing can do that.

Looking to become a thought leader, or build your current or target audience’s engagement with your brand so they keep coming back to you? Content marketing can do that.

Content marketing can contribute to these various goals, and the good news is that once you’ve created a great piece of content, the ongoing costs are small while the possible return is huge.

So, the truth is, it doesn’t matter how big or small your business is, as long as your strategy is strong, you’re ready for content marketing.

Why is content important – even for startups?

For brands and businesses, creating valuable content is one of the best ways to cut through the clutter and truly engage with customers, build awareness and trust, generate leads, and improve SEO rankings.

As a startup, you’re new to the game. You might have some seed funding from investors and enough money to hire staff, but now you’re faced with the ultimate challenge – generating buzz, attracting customers, and turning all that hard work into profits. This is where content marketing can make a huge difference.

Let’s take a closer look at how:

  • It’s more efficient than PR. Instead of investing a tonne of money on distributing press releases, you could create a guest blog strategy. Because unless your startup is in league with giants like Apple or Nike, press releases won’t make a valuable impact. On the other hand, informative, helpful, and well-written guest articles are a great way to build your authority in the industry, and organically build awareness and SEO rankings – and they usually don’t cost a thing.
  • It’s the cheapest way of generating leads. Down the track you might want to incorporate Google’s or Facebook’s advertising into your strategy, but developing insightful, original and high-quality content is a cost-effective and longer-term investment, helping you rise to the top of search rankings and most importantly, stay there. It also gives you something to share on social media that isn’t just self-promotional; it provides free value to your target audience, which helps to build their positive perception of your brand.
  • You can outsource the expertise. You might not have the time or budget to hire a full-time marketing employee to take care of your content. But by contracting an external writer or a content marketing agency, you can work within your budgets, benefit from experienced writers, brand yourself as an industry thought leader, and scale your growth proportionately.  
  • You can tell your story (without the advertising price tag). When you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to tell your story in the biggest, flashiest way possible. But the truth is, this stage is all about connecting with people on a genuine level and finding your niche audience. Content marketing allows you to tell your story as your progress, whether it’s through blogging, email marketing, social media or another organic platform. Not only is this a great way to produce consistent content, it’s also a way of receiving feedback and suggestions from your audience.

Wondering how valuable content marketing actually is? Let’s take a look at the stats. According to the Content Marketing Institute:

  • Per $1 spent, content marketing generates triple the amount of leads paid search does
  • 80% of business decisions-makers learn about a company through articles – not ads
  • 82% of people feel more positive about a business after consuming original and custom content
  • 60% of people are inspired to seek out a product after reading content about it.

How to get it right

Now, content marketing may be able to be done cost-effectively, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. While anyone can do it, it’s essential that you have the right strategy in place – otherwise you’re setting yourself up for failure.

For startups, what does this involve? While there is no perfect template and every strategy is custom, here’s a basic breakdown of the steps:

  1. Figure out your goals

It sounds obvious, but it’s important to determine your content goals earlier rather than later. Define why you’re creating content, who your content is for, and what exactly you want to achieve from it. Choose a metric or several metrics that you’ll be using to measure the success of your strategy down the track. Some examples include traffic to your blog, SEO rankings for a particular keyword, email addresses captured, and engagement on social media.

  1. Create target audience personas

Who would be interested in your product or service? Spend some time figuring out who your ideal customer is, what they might struggle with, and how your product or service can solve their problems. Get really granular here – think about what kind of publications your target audience reads, what they might have studied at university, what they like to do in their spare time, and what might stop them from purchasing your product. While of course some of these characteristics might differ across customers in reality, the idea is to get a strong understanding of how to talk to your ideal customers and the kinds of messages that would resonate with them and convince them that your brand and products are helpful for them. It’ll also help you figure out the kinds of sites you might want to target for guest blogging, influencers your target audience might follow and how you could collaborate with them, and the kind of targeting you’ll use to promote content on social media platforms.

  1. Research your competitors and industry

Just like in other areas of your business, to be successful with content marketing it’s important to have a strong understanding of what’s going on in your industry. Take a look at your direct competitors and what they are writing about, and whether they’re seeing success from this. Use tools like Buzzsumo and Ahrefs to determine if they are getting any links or social engagement on their blog articles, and if so, which ones. Broaden your research to other content sites that may interest your target audience (even if they aren’t direct competitors). And look at the highest ranking and most impressive pieces of content for your top keywords. All of this will help you determine the level of sophistication needed to beat what’s out there and the types of topics and content formats your target audience finds useful.

  1. Choose your promotion channel/s

It’s important to remember that you can’t just build your content and then wait for people to discover it. Once you’ve done your research and identified your content goals, it’s time to pick the right promotion channels that will have the biggest impact on reaching your target audience. While there are many to choose from, it’s best to keep it simple. Use one or two platforms to begin with, particularly those that will inspire the greatest engagement from your audience (your industry research will be essential here too).

  1. Create valuable content

As noted earlier, it’s important to create useful, original and insightful content – and to do this consistently. Remember that there are millions of pieces of content published every day, and to have any chance of cutting through that clutter, yours needs to be the best that’s out there on the topic you’re writing about. That could mean it has a more user-friendly design, a more engaging headline, or it’s more in-depth, more practical, or more recent. Make it engaging, using storytelling techniques; make it SEO optimised using relevant keywords and links where it makes sense to do so; experiment with length and tone; use high quality images and accurate data. Ensure that the writing is of high quality by contracting an experienced freelance writer, outsourcing the editing to a content marketing agency, or using online tools like Readability-Score and Evernote.

  1. Measure and optimise

The beauty of content marketing is that measuring its effectiveness is easy. You can use tools like Google Analytics to see how much traffic you’re getting, where it’s coming from, what the bounce rates are, how long people are reading your content for, and what your most popular content is. You can even see what users did after they landed on the page, for example, if they converted to a newsletter subscriber or even an online purchaser. Armed with this kind of data, you can begin to refine and optimise your content to make your strategy more and more effective.

There’s no time like the present

Content marketing has proven to be incredibly effective for contributing to several digital marketing goals. But just like any digital strategy, it’s not something you want to jump into blindly. Whether you’re a fresh startup or a big business that’s been around for 20 years, there’s no such thing as a right time to get started – there’s only a right way.

If you have any questions about your content strategy, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll try to assist!