You know the story: for days or weeks or longer, you lobby for the integration of content marketing into your overall strategy, and one day, it’s finally approved.
But when you go to your exec team to discuss resources, they balk. Prove it out, and then we’ll talk about money, they say, and even though you — in your heart of hearts — know that content marketing needs some budget to succeed, you agree.
First off, you’re not alone. But, more importantly, your solo content marketing efforts are not doomed from the start.
You just have to be smart and realistic about your plan. On your own with no budget, you will not be able to:
- Transform your tiny company blog into the next HubSpot (despite what the experts say).
- Consistently and reliably drive thousands of sales (or downloads or whatever your business’ acquisition needs are) very quickly. Ramp up times vary, but they tend toward the two-to-six month period to really get your content machine churning at full steam.
But let’s be honest: you weren’t expecting that. You know that content marketing isn’t a quick fix or a hail mary. It’s a slow, concerted effort to build organic acquisition and generate leads while establishing a meaningful, knowledgeable brand identity.
Building an effective content marketing strategy for one
Before you even write a word of your strategy, you need to answer a few questions:
- What is your measurable goal for content marketing?
- Who, specifically, are your audiences (a list of all segments)?
- What are the pain points they experience (that your product helps to solve)?
- What are the top 20-30 blogs for each segment (make a list), and what topics are relevant to your business or solution (make another list)?
Only after you’ve done this research and really know the state of content marketing in your niche should you proceed. Without this, anything you do will fall flat on its face.
When you’re ready and ultra-knowledgeable, it’s time to build the strategy. To begin, assemble the following info:
- Your answers to the above questions
- Any sort of existing brand deck to help you ensure consistency and that the messages you’re delivering are the right ones
- Ad stats from any successful paid acquisition / lead gen campaigns
- Stats from any previous social / content marketing based efforts
- [Optional] Audit data from any of the target blogs you choose, to learn more about engaging titles, first paragraphs, writing styles, structures, etc.
This information, when synthesized, will guide your strategy from the top down. Depending on what your goals are — acquisition, lead gen, company culture, branding, executive PR, etc. — you’ll have everything you need to get going.
Your strategy from a thousand-foot view
First and foremost, you have to understand what you’re doing. Think about it this way: any content marketing strategy is essentially a goal being reached via a message being delivered through campaigns that are visible and relevant to your particular audience(s). In other words, each piece of content you create feeds into a campaign which feeds into a large-scale message which achieves a measurable goal.
Your task, then, is to map this all out.
Start by using your brand deck and/or any official company positioning/messaging to develop a high-level message that feeds your goal and stays on brand. This statement, however generic, will be the lynchpin of your entire content strategy.
Then, start thinking campaigns.
Using any stats you’ve collected, develop campaigns around the message you’ve created that 1) appeal to your audience, 2) help you achieve your goals, and 3) are aligned with the needs of the publications you researched. You will only need one-to-two of these per segment per year (as general guidelines for your content development), but, by tying them to your large-scale message and your goal, you’ll ensure you aren’t wasting any time.
Finally, it’s time to start producing.
But before you do, I’m going to suggest something radical: aside from company news and product information, write NOTHING on your company blog. Crazy, right?
The truth is that, with one person and no spend, you cannot physically write enough to generate an audience that's sizable enough to justify your efforts.
Instead, you’ll leverage that blog research (remember those 30 blogs per segment that are already aligned with your needs), pitch their editors, and begin creating and delivering regular guest blogs (two-to-four per week is a reasonable, ambitious goal for one person) to these sites.
Because your posts are already parts of campaigns feeding larger goals, this gives you an opportunity to take your message where the audiences already are rather than trying to redirect traffic to your own site.
When interacting with these editors, be nice to them. Deliver things on time. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver. In the process of boosting your business, you’ll also network and build relationships with others in the field who can help you out in the future (we’re all a happy family here).
This is, basically, your content machine. Once your strategy is set (you have your goal, your message, your campaigns, and your audiences), you’ll spend the rest of your time pitching and cranking out a sustainable amount of content that will drive your goals forward.
That is unless you forget one thing...
Replicability is key
Replicability is key to this process. You are, after all, a one-person show.
Don’t go pitching wildly different things to each of the blogs you’re looking to publish on. Stick with your key message, your campaigns, and remember that these blogs are all in competition with one another. If one has a great piece on, say, the best apps for business travel, another may want one as well to capitalize on the interest.
Don’t be shy about sending off something similar to multiple places, but never send duplicate content (unless you make them aware of it beforehand) and pay attention to their editorial guidelines (as some sites forbid it).
And then just go for it. Build a sustainable daily calendar that offers you time for researching, pitching, writing, and revising. Like I mentioned above, you’ll find your weekly output sweet spot (somewhere between two-to-four pieces per week) that will help your business make measurable, meaningful gains and will give you all the ammo you need to “prove out your plan” and scale up your efforts.