Make vs Buy Decisions in Content Marketing

Preview

  • We’ll talk about outsourcing decisions in content marketing initiatives
  • Some components can’t be outsourced - Others probably should be
  • Assess your time, budget, skills and passions to make the right decisions

Assessing What You Can and Should Get Help With

Developing and executing a successful content strategy is a time consuming and demanding endeavor. It stands to reason that many businesses bring on an outside consultant or agency to help.

It’s important to understand what can be outsourced effectively and what requires internal participation. It’s your basic make-vs-buy decision adapted for content marketing.

The goal of a content strategy is to continually build better relationships with potential and existing clients. At a high level, that means two things:

  1. Providing value to your target audience by educating them and sharing your expertise
  2. Conveying the personality and culture of your organization

Authenticity is crucially important as you build relationships and tell your company story. Consequently, some of the work just can’t be outsourced completely. You’ll need to participate - at times deeply - to have great success.

However, an outside expert can be instrumental in many other facets of strategy development and execution. So how do you assess what you can and should do yourself? And what may be best left to an outside expert?

Self awareness is the key to that analysis. Some of the questions you’ll need to ask yourself are:

  • How much budget vs how much time do I have?
  • What skills are required and which of those are possessed internally?
  • Which tactical elements will I enjoy and which will be an unwelcome chore?

Honestly answering those questions will help develop a plan that utilizes external resources to build upon your existing strengths.

Client-Side Requirements for Content Marketing Success

Before we get to all the things a marketing consultant can do for you, let’s discuss some of the things that they can’t do without you. I think a company must participate in the following three elements in order to expect success.

1. Providing subject matter expertise

You and your team are the experts in your field and know your business better than any consultant. Internal expertise is a huge asset that should help provide value to your audience. Some participation is essential.

However, a consultant can be extremely useful for harvesting your internal expertise and doing more with it. A skilled content marketer should be able to  interview a subject matter expert for 30-45 minutes and extract enough information to create several content pieces.

For many people, the biggest challenge in content marketing is sitting down to do the actual writing. Getting some writing and creative help can be well worth it.

2. Conveying culture and personality

One of the key opportunities of content marketing and social media is producing content that is not only useful, but reflects the people and culture of your organization.

People like to do business with people. When you show a bit of what makes your company human it can offer a real competitive advantage with certain customers. If the person running your social doesn’t have the pulse of your business, it won’t ring true and feel authentic. At best, you miss an opportunity - at worst, you confuse and lose credibility with customers.

An outside consultant needs access to and assistance from internal team members to understand and convey a company’s culture.

3. Customer service and response

Digital communication channels present amazing new opportunities - and also present demanding new responsibilities and expectations.

When you open new lines of communication with customers, you must be ready to deliver great service through those channels. Every message, every comment, every reply from your audience deserves your attention and response.

Much of that communication can be handled by an astute consultant. But other situations - unhappy customers, technical questions, order problems - could require internal team members get involved quickly.

Be sure to have systems in place that can always maintain exemplary service levels and escalate issues as necessary.

How marketing consultants CAN help small businesses with content?

Fortunately, there are many places where an outside expert can take charge. Filling skill and knowledge gaps within your organization can have a fantastic ROI.

You may choose to take the lead on some of these internally. But after an honest assessment - other components will likely require some help.

  • Research and buyer persona development - Conducting primary customer research, keyword search volume research and competitive analysis
  • Writing and storytelling - Researching and crafting compelling narratives, clearly conveying complex ideas and elegantly telling the story of your company
  • Content production - Producing value adding blog posts, whitepapers, videos, infographics, podcasts, etc to reach and educate your audience
  • Imagery and design - Professional photography and graphic design
  • Marketing automation and email - Segmenting customer lists, developing automated customer workflows and optimizing for best results
  • Analytics and reporting - Testing, learning, adjusting, testing, learning, adjusting, testing, learning, adjusting, testing...
  • Social posting and content distribution- Sharing the great content you create with the people that need it most
  • Digital advertising - Accelerating growth by expanding reach with paid social promotion, pay-per-click advertising and display retargeting
  • Process design and QC - Designing the processes and systems that ensure your marketing engine runs consistently and efficiently

Summary

  • Limits to your time, skills and interest areas mean hiring a marketing consultant or agency may make sense
  • Some aspects of content marketing will require your participation
    • You must: Provide expertise, infuse company into content, maintain service levels
  • Other aspects can - and often should - utilize outside marketing expertise
    • A consultant can help with: Target market research, storytelling, writing, content creation, photography, video, design, marketing automation, email campaigns, content distribution, social posting, digital advertising, process design and quality control

 

Getting Started With Video Content Marketing for Small Business

As you can see, I’ve been working on my first video blog post - or “Vlog post” when I’m trying to sound cool. Haha. I tried to share a bit of how I’m thinking about the challenge of getting started with video content and what I’m learning through the process. I hope it helps my readers think through video as a content tool and makes starting the creation process seem more approachable.

I’m getting started with video because I think it’s such a valuable customer communication tool. No other channel - apart from face to face - is able to convey so much context and personality. As my business grows, video presents an opportunity to communicate and share information with my audience in a format that is scalable and also helps them get to know me better.

Believe me, getting started is intimidating and I feel that as much as anybody. There is a lot of strategy to work out, as well as a daunting list of tactical concerns.

At a strategic level, you need to figure out your goals, who you’re talking to and how you can be of service to them.

Then there are tactical concerns about equipment, lighting, audio, scripting - or maybe unscripting. You also need to think about your distribution strategy. Where and when will you use this video? It’s a lot to figure out.

I take comfort in knowing I don’t have to get it perfect. Thank goodness because, especially at this point, my work is FAR from perfect!

But I’m a big believer in the power of honesty and authenticity. I think people respond to the realness of a less manicured version. So while it’s scary, I think putting myself out there - flaws and all - has real upside. If I can manage to share openly and honestly, I think my audience will forgive the weaknesses in my production quality and stage presence.

Consequently, I’m just not that concerned with putting together perfectly polished videos. Anyone with significant TV or video experience would probably be horrified with my final product. I can live with that and i think my viewers can too.

I’m more interested in finding the 80-20 balance with my videos. How can I get 80% of the way to a perfectly polished video presentation, yet only commit 20% of the time and money that you could easily spend. This first piece is still far from reaching 80% polish, but that’s the longer term goal and I’m confident that I’ll keep improving and get there eventually.

Don’t get me wrong - I want my work to be engaging, both from a visual and content perspective. So I’ll keep experimenting and getting better with every piece. I’ll try different styles, formats, etc. Some things will fail but I’ll find others that work.

To try to keep things visually interesting, I’ll experiment with different shooting locations and camera angles. Inside, outside, whiteboard presentations, guest interviews, walk and talk selfie style - I don’t know what will work yet but I suspect I’ll know success when I see it. Plus, I’ll get feedback from my audience… so that’s on you.

I know I need to work on some of the basics as soon as possible. For one, lighting makes a big difference in the presentation. But I’m also not going to get too worried about it or make a big lighting equipment investment. With some more research and creativity, I think I can continue putting together a functional lighting setup with a small budget and visits to the hardware store.

Audio is another key component in production quality. Terrible audio is distracting and unprofessional. That’s one area I did make a bit of an investment, but again, not a huge one. There are also some creative ways to hack together good audio. If you’re inventive, you can do a lot with a well placed smartphone or standard earbuds that have a built-in microphone. It takes a few more steps in editing but it’s doable.

I’ll fight the urge to knit pick small mistakes and then hide those failures. Imperfection comes across as transparent and maybe even likeable - at least that’s what I’ll tell myself.

By far my biggest focus with video - and any content creation really - is sharing my story honestly and producing work that will be useful to the small businesses and organizations I aim to serve.

Please forgive all this talk about me - that’s generally a red flag in creating content. But my hope is that by using myself as an example, I’ll encourage others to take the leap into video. Your final product doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, I see advantages to imperfection.

So take a risk. Start exploring video as a way to better introduce yourself, provide value to your audience and share your expertise. There is so much to gain - and you may even find that it’s fun.

Summary

  • Video’s power as a communication tool is it’s ability to convey so much personality and context
  • Getting started is intimidating - but your goal shouldn’t be anything approaching perfection
  • Honesty and authenticity will compel your audience to cut you slack on your production quality
  • Put some thought and effort into getting your lighting and audio to at least a minimally acceptable level
    • Disclaimer - I clearly didn’t nail the lighting and audio in every shot this time around
  • With some creativity and effort - You can achieve 80% polish with just 20% of the budget
  • Let the mistakes be - some imperfection can be charming
  • Put the majority of your effort into being honest and providing value to your audience
  • Get started sooner than later - The sooner you start the sooner you improve

Why I’m Starting Abound Digital

Going smaller feels so much bigger

This post is different than the marketing strategy and tactical ideas you’ll generally find here - look at older posts to see something more typical.

But right now I’m making some major changes and I want to talk a bit about why.

This month I’m launching Abound Digital. Abound will help clients develop and execute their digital marketing plans - focusing largely on content strategy. This is the most excited I’ve ever been in my career - and it’s probably the scariest moment as well. Yet, I haven’t a doubt that it’s the right move.

Here is what has me so inspired and ready to take the risk.

A Focus on Community

My strongest motivation comes from the communities I’ll serve. In terms of my local community, I have a deep attachment to Mystic/Stonington, where Abound Digital will be based. Though I haven’t lived here full time since high school, I’ve always returned frequently and hoped for this time when I’d return permanently.

This town has been home to my family since the 1640’s. For generations my family has lent support to, and been supported by, this community - I hope my wife and I, our kids, their kids and beyond have the same opportunity.

And that sense of community doesn’t stop with my local community. I feel connected to Connecticut, to New England, to the country. I feel connected to the small business community, other entrepreneurs, other families - other people that have similar goals, dreams and challenges. I know I’ll do my best work when it serves those people.

I believe a community’s ability to thrive relies on the success of it’s small-mid sized businesses and nonprofits. For decades, it’s been getting more and more difficult for them to challenge larger competitors.

But the opportunity is here to reverse that trend if we can take advantage of the changing landscape.

The Diminishing Advantage of Large Businesses

People buy when they perceive greater value from one product or service than the others. They are generally happy to pay more if they are convinced they’ll get more value. You don’t buy the least expensive house in town, drive a Nissan Versa (probably) or eat every meal from the dollar menu (hopefully).

But people must be convinced the value is there to pay more. If they don’t perceive a difference in value - commoditization - they choose solely on price.

That gave bigger companies a tremendous advantage when the methods for communicating were more limited and expensive. Big companies could afford to advertise heavily and overwhelm people with the message that their brand offered the best value. It often wasn’t true, but small companies simply didn’t have the means to communicate their superior value - leading to price-focused decisions. When price is the driver, the bigger company will always win.

That advantage has melted as changes in technology have democratized the ability to communicate with customers. Small businesses and organizations that adapt with the circumstances have a huge opportunity if they know how to seize it - and I can help them.

Opportunity for the Little Guy

It has never been more possible or affordable to tell your story and build relationships at scale. Small companies and organizations can reach a highly targeted audience and communicate why they are uniquely positioned to solve that group’s specific problem.

Most businesses and organizations already have nearly everything they need to reach their target audience more successfully. The key ingredients are just some combination of passion, expertise, personality and teamwork - which is usually already there.

The missing piece tends to be a strategy to harness those existing assets to build trusting relationships with customers. That’s my wheelhouse.

I’m really excited to help great businesses reach their ideal customers in a more meaningful and scalable way - to help them show their value and establish their expertise at all stages of the buying process.

The opportunity to help these small businesses and organizations is an opportunity to help the communities they serve - that’s why I’m excited.

New Relationships - New Opportunities

The other part I’m most looking forward to is the relationships I’ll build along the way.

Even at these earliest stages, I’m already getting a taste of how valuable and fulfilling these new relationships will be. I’m meeting entrepreneurs and operators in all different industries and the enthusiasm is infectious.

Just telling people that I’m taking this risk seems to encourage them to talk about their own entrepreneurial dreams, plans, and struggles. I’m learning from them and they from me. I’m feeding off the enthusiasm in a way I hadn’t fully expected.

While I’m 100% focused on launching Abound right now, I can’t help but think about future possibilities as well. What other opportunities will arrive through the relationships I develop while building Abound? What chances to invest time, expertise and money in other businesses or community organizations will surface?

The future could go in so many different directions - I’m just excited for the process of getting there! ...Plus, a little part of me hopes doing what I love will make me filthy rich in the end. Haha. But I want to do it either way.

Building an Audience Before Building Your Small Business

If it’s true  what Jim Rohn says, that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” then I am feeling pretty good about myself.

I have been lucky recently to spend time with a number of fellow entrepreneurs at early stages of their dreams. Some were close friends and family - others are new friends and new business. All of them impressive and inspiring.

I have found myself discussing a variety of business plans with varied leaders. Two newlyweds taking steps toward opening a locally sourced food and wine business on Long Island. Another the co-founder of a Charleston, SC based brewery. Another a distiller and expert on Korean Whiskys planning his own Brooklyn based brand. The last is an innovative furniture maker in the midst of raising a series A in New York.

These are all vastly different businesses that I felt emphatically compelled to give the same advice: Begin building your audience before you begin building your business!

People tend to humbly and quietly go about their planning, waiting until they are farther along and can more thoroughly prove themselves. But the smart move - and the brave move - is to take a risk by putting yourself out there much sooner.

Start interacting and building trust with the audience your business will serve. Learn what they like, what they want to know, and what they need to know. Then start giving it to them.

Launch a blog, or a video blog. Start a podcast or make series of educational videos. Host a webinar or interview an industry expert. Write - take pictures - network - design - create - share… Whatever!

Just honestly and vulnerably share what you know and love with people. That inspires excitement, trust and eventually loyalty. The sooner you start the better off you will be.

I have been giving this advice so much that it was clear I needed to write it down. Here are some of the benefits to beginning to build an audience before you are ready to open your new business.

Develop the habit

Creating a habit of content creation is a real challenge. Start developing that muscle as soon as possible.

Get in a mindset where every part of your journey is viewed as a content generation opportunity. Everything you learn - every challenge you face - every connection you make - All can be an inspiration to create something interesting and helpful.

People think they will immediately begin pumping out great content when their business launches… It doesn’t work that way. You need to cultivate the habit of creating and sharing until its part of your identity.

Get to know your audience

You will learn about your audience as you build it. The process of building that relationship will teach you what your audience responds to, who influences them and what they need.

You will be in a much better position to design and sell your product when you better understand your target customers.

Steepen your learning curve

Immersing yourself in the audience development process speeds up the rate at which you learn all sorts of things.

You’ll be researching posts, sharing data, interacting with people, meeting influencers, answering questions, finding new distribution channels, testing tactics and much more. Content creation puts you in the role of teacher and teaching is often the best way to learn.

All that work naturally increases the pace of your own learning. As an entrepreneur you need to be learning as much as possible and audience development can be a key driver.

Hone your message

Creating content for your audience is a great way to continually hone your messaging.

As a small business or startup owner, you likely won’t have a team of top copywriters to start. You will need to work exceptionally hard to develop messaging that will resonate with customers.

They say “if you want to be a better writer… write!” Committing to building an audience will force you to practice your craft and hone your messaging in time for your business to benefit.

Reach early adopters

A new business needs to be strategic about who they are targeting at each stage of their growth. Beginning your audience development at the earliest stages can help your reach the all-important early adopters.

The broad-market customer you may target when you are established is precisely the wrong group to target at the earliest stages. That’s because a broad-market customer won’t consider an unproven new option - they won’t consider you.

However, there is a small portion of the market comprised of early adopters that want to be first to try something new. This group will also be interested in your struggle to build something new.

The story of your entrepreneurial journey may catch the attention of this early adopter customer. And that customer type is the single most important factor in the early success or failure of your business.

As your business grows, the early adopter crowd will lose interest in you because you are no longer the hot new thing. But by then you are a proven entity which is now attractive to the broad-market audience that ignored you in the beginning.

Use content as a networking tool

Becoming a content creator can be a great way to support your in-person networking efforts.

Successful networking can be vital to the planning process of your business. Whether you are raising funding, looking for a co-founder, recruiting early employees, or prospecting for your first clients - you need to be taken seriously.

But it can be difficult to establish your expertise in the early days when you don’t have an established business - or even a business card and website.

Pointing to content you have created gives something tangible to showcase your expertise and make you memorable. Having a blog, a YouTube channel, a podcast, or some other creative output can really help bolster your credibility.

Head start on SEO

Getting a jump on content creation is going to provide you with a big SEO advantage when it comes time to actually launch your business website.

Google values unique, relevant, frequently posted content above all else. Quality is the most important factor but it is unrealistic to believe that quantity has no impact.

The majority of new small business websites launch with only a handful of pages - which makes sense. Your site should be easy to navigate and should focus only on what is most important.

But if you are able to tie in an existing blog - or other resources like video, infographics, podcasts, etc - you add additional content without distracting users. In fact, it will improve the user experience - which is what search engines reward.

Don’t worry if you don’t know your eventual company’s name or have its domain. The majority of any SEO value you gain can be passed to your site later using 301 redirects or canonical tags.

Your business will have a big advantage at launch if you have already built a treasure trove of content.

Build a photography collection

Building your community will have the side effect of forcing you to develop your own photo library.

Getting attention online generally requires great images to pair with your written work. Your posts will perform far better with a visual to help tell your story.

Getting in the habit of producing content will also get you in the habit of collecting great photos. I have written in the past about the importance of building your business photography collection.

Start producing content and you will likely become your company’s first photographer without even trying.

Build while you still can

Another advantage to building audience before launching your business: you don’t have the distraction of running your business.

The best marketing is a great product or service. I recommend you remain exceptionally focused on design and execution in the early days.

That won’t leave much time for building an audience. You will be distracted from developing your product - or you won’t have an audience to tell when the product is ready.

An audience-first approach allows for extreme product focus at launch. When the product is just right, you’ll already have loyal fans eager to hear about it.

SUMMARY

  • Begin cultivating an audience long before you launch your new business
  • Don’t wait until you are ready - Take a risk and just start creating and sharing
  • Develop a habit of being an “always-on” content creator
  • Start learning about your audience by interacting with them
  • Force yourself onto a steeper learning curve
  • Craft, test, iterate and improve your messaging before the pressure is on
  • Reach early adopters by sharing your journey as an entrepreneur
  • Use your content to accelerate your early SEO results
  • Use content creation as the impetus to build your own photography collection

Planning & Collecting Photos for Small Business Marketing

Everyone hates stock photos… yet they are used constantly. How can that be?

It’s because collecting good photographs and imagery is much harder than you think. Without a large budget for professional photography, it requires long-term planning and a cultural shift in your organization.

You will need many photos in the course of marketing your business. Websites, print brochures, blog articles, social media posts, PR opportunities, etc. All will be improved with good visuals.

If you only think about photos in the moments you need them for some particular project you will be way behind. With a good plan, you can effectively create your own stock photo gallery that is far more personal and authentic than anything you can purchase.

The difficulty of producing quality photos is easily underestimated. You may routinely dazzle your personal Instagram followers but when you are on a deadline and need something that feels professional you’ll realize how few photos are keepers.

But you can rely on amateur photography if you approach the task strategically.

A big piece of the puzzle is committing to consistency and volume. With amateur photography, you’ll want a large collection of photos from which to pluck the gems.

You should harness the creativity of your entire team. Make it clear that creating a collection of photos to draw from is the responsibility of the group. Everyone has a phone camera and everyone can participate.

Look for ways to incentivize contributions. Try a weekly photo contest that recognizes people for their creativity. Try giving out little rewards to those that are making a real effort. It can and should be a fun process. Get your staff on board and you’ll suddenly have a team of iPhone toting photographers continually building a collection.

You can improve the results by providing your team with creative inspiration. Nurture a culture where everyone is constantly thinking about the imagery that defines your personality, story, process and product.

Hold routine brainstorming sessions and keep a running list of specific shots you want to capture. Get your team involved in that ideation process to harness their creativity and entice their enthusiasm. Establish a Dropbox or Google Drive account where people can easily upload their photos. A tagging system to keep pictures organized is also a good idea.

Coming up with the creative ideas for imagery is a big part of the challenge. Below are some photo types and examples that can provide a framework for brainstorming and hopefully trigger additional ideas.

Focus on the community

If you serve a particular geographic area, take pictures that reflect the community you serve. That could mean shots of local landmarks like a distinctive building or a gazebo in the town square. It could also be a landscape photo taken from the highest point in town.

Think about local visuals that all your customers will immediately recognize and associate with the community.

Showcase your toolkit

Collect images of the tools you use to get your job done. For a fine home builder the tools are quite obvious… they’re tools. Snap a few photos of the nail while framing or the cement truck when it arrives to pour the foundation.

For other businesses, the tool kit may be less obvious but it exists. A lawyer has a legal pad. A real estate agent has a sign. A yogi has a mat.

Those images become the static equivalent of B-roll for a website, blog or social post.

Reflect your customers

What photos would reflect the customer you serve? An inn can use visuals of the luggage their guests will certainly be toting. A caterer might want bride and groom shots.

Portray an event

Don’t miss the opportunity to gather photos at any events you and your team visits. If your staff attends a tradeshow, walks for charity, or has a ribbon cutting, be sure to have cameras out through the whole thing.

Diagnose the problem

Use images to document the problem you solve. An accountant serving small businesses could capture the unwieldy box of receipts from an unorganized client. A stone mason could show a collapsed rock wall or a crumbling chimney.

Before and after

Now that you have documented the problem, be sure to the capture the solution for a powerful before and after sequence. A landscaper can show the beautiful space salvaged from an overgrown mess. An engineering firm could display the detailed schematic that grew out of a rough sketch.

Highlight your personality

Not every photo has to relate directly to the work you perform. What images would reflect the personality and spirit of your brand and team?

Demonstrate creativity with photos of your team working on an artistic personal project. If you’re fun and like to cut loose, get some pics of the team clinking glasses at happy hour. Get shots of office dog under your desk.

Introduce the team

Your most important asset is likely your team. Get as many pictures of them as possible. Candids, portraits, solos, group shots, in the office, out and about, with their pets, pursuing their hobbies, hard at work, hard at play… everything!

That collection will convey the human side of your company.

Show the work getting done

An author could show herself parked in front of the computer, signing books or at the podium of a speaking engagement. A university should collect shots of professors engaging with students. A chef peeling an enormous pile of potatoes conveys the work that goes into every step.

Feature your workspace

Provide additional context for your audience with images of your work spaces. Include your office or desk but get more creative with it as well. A law firm could capture shots of an empty courtroom. A bakery might take close-ups inside the oven.

Document your process

Try presenting visuals from your planning or creative process. You could use a series of images that show the evolution of your product design. Or capture your team gathered around the whiteboard in a brainstorming session.

Display your raw materials

Get pics of the raw materials that drive your business. A farm shouldn’t just shoot the produce – photograph the seed. Caterers could snap shots of the grocery delivery. Manufacturers might have a huge rack of sheet metal that would make a perfect background image.

Show products in the wild

Don’t stop at staged product images – document your product or service in use. A builder could bring life to a client’s kitchen renovation with shots of a family dinner. Or a designer could show where their work is being displayed.

Get artsy

Get a bit more abstract and symbolic with images that represent your value. A sapling could convey personal growth. A rocket ship could represent business growth. Just don’t use those ideas exactly because they are really cliché - but you get the idea.

SUMMARY

  • Stock photos suck – collect your own imagery whenever you can
  • Have a long term photo collection plan and weave it into the company culture
  • Enlist the help of your team and inspire their creativity
  • Create a system that makes it easy to contribute and organize photos
  • Provide a framework of the types of images you want

Photo types to consider:

  1. Focus on the community
  2. Showcase your toolkit
  3. Reflect your customer
  4. Portray an event
  5. Diagnose the problem
  6. Before and after
  7. Highlight your personality
  8. Introduce the team
  9. Show the work getting done
  10. Feature your workspace
  11. Document your process
  12. Display your raw materials
  13. Show products in the wild
  14. Get artsy