Most business owners learn pretty quickly that nothing comes for free. You can pay for stuff with money, or you can pay with your own time. It’s particularly true when it comes to your content strategy and content marketing. And also particularly frustrating.
Because you can’t get second-hand content marketing like you can with, say, second-hand furniture or equipment. You either do it or don’t. It’s probably something outside or your core skill set, but if you do it badly, you lose money.
So unfortunately, the marketing equation for small businesses is trying to balance having no time and no money. While that sounds impossible, it can be made easier if you plan. A clear plan can let you focus on what you have to do, and what you can outsource or set-and-forget.
There are advantages to having a content plan instead of a general marketing plan. If you go down the traditional route—of buying a few Google ads when you think of it and relying on word-of-mouth—your marketing stops when your money runs out. But if you build up a content strategy, you can pause it and your content will still work for you.
So here’s how to set up your content strategy, how to execute it, and how to test it. If you get halfway through and run out of time or money, it doesn’t matter so much. Because with a plan, you know exactly where to pick it up again.
At its base, you should have some short, medium, and long-term goals. It makes sense that your short-term goal would be to get more leads or prospects. Your medium-term goal would be to convert them into leads. And your long-term goal would be to convert those leads to customers.
Writing your plan
The hardest part of writing a content strategy is working out your goals. And that bit isn’t really hard and doesn’t take that long. The way to make goals work is to make them SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Repeatable and Time-based.
It will benefit you to make these goals conservative. So if you say your specific goal is to increase your customer base by 10 per cent, but in your heart you think that will be hard, then reduce the goal. If you achieve the goals easily, you can make them harder next year. But if you don’t achieve them, you’ll be demoralised.
So work out specifically what you want to achieve. Is it more customers? More prospects? Less churn? Then put a number on it. Exactly how many more customers?
Then work out how you’re going to measure that goal. And how you’re going to repeat the result. And how long it’s going to take you. There’s no point in setting an open-ended goal. But there’s also little point in measuring it after a week and changing course if you don’t get results.
Testing your plan
If you spend what time you have sketching out a basic plan, you can spend your budget on the actual content that will do the work. And because you know what you want to achieve, you won’t face spending all the free time you can find pumping out a blog post that no-one will read.
There are various ways you can measure engagement. And of course, because you’ve baked that measurement into your content strategy, doing so will be easy.
Regularly checking the impact of your content against the goals you’ve set lets you know if it’s working or not. For example, if your content is getting a lot of engagement but you’re still not getting customers, are you marketing to the wrong audience? Or are you pricing your own product out of the market?
Testing your plan is also less time consuming than creating content.
Fixing your plan
If you test your plan against reality, and it isn’t working for you, you have a choice: working out if your plan is broken or if reality is broken.
I can tell you confidently that reality isn’t broken. So if your plan isn’t getting results, you need to adjust and fix it.
Once again, adjusting and fixing a plan is easier than adjusting and fixing content. It takes less time and less effort.
The benefits of a content strategy
The big benefit of having a content strategy is it can survive the ups and downs of campaign-based marketing. If you hit a point in the business cycle where you don’t have enough money to produce the content, you can just hit pause. You don’t miss out on a window to access a particular audience. You don’t need to scramble to get the dollars together.
It’s something you can pick up and start again once you have the funds. And in the meantime, while you’ve paused, the content you’ve already done keeps working for you on your blog or through your newsletter.