First off, let’s admit that it’s really tough flying solo as a content marketer. It takes strong self-discipline. Since content marketers draw a lot of ideas from talking to other people, you’ll have to put in extra effort to stay connected with people who can help you develop your work.
No content marketer is an island. If you’re on your own, you are well-served by:
- Regularly engaging with thought partners you can brainstorm with
- Trading out services with other freelancers and small firms, so you can sharpen up each others’ skills
- Learning and networking at professional meetings held by the Business Marketing Association, Content Marketing Institute and meet-up groups
- Reading a cross-section of blogs and books that provide practical and technical tips on content marketing, along with inspiration and encouragement.
See limited resources as a blessing, not a constraint. Having worked through years of shrinking marketing budgets in a shrinking company in a shrinking industry, we had to get more and more creative.
That’s how we came to embrace content marketing, out of necessity. We couldn’t outspend our competitors, which included companies 40 times bigger than ours. We could only outsmart them. Content marketing is a slingshot that lets your inner David compete with the Goliaths of the world.
Fortunately, big competitors are slow to adopt new approaches. When you’re small, you can be much more nimble. Our size enabled us to bring new ideas to customers first. And by allowing ourselves to fail and learn from failure, we became more intelligent about taking risks.
Build a solid foundation with personas, a plan, a message map and a calendar. This is tough enough to do with a team: most companies still don’t have a written content marketing strategy. Ugh.
But, it’s even more important to have a written strategy to keep yourself on track when you’re flying solo.
1.) Spend enough time with customers to create solid buyer personas. Write the personas on one page. Pin up that page above your computer, as a reminder about who you’re helping with your content marketing.
2.) Make a one-page content marketing strategy. Pin it up next to the personas.
3.) Make a 1-page Message Map so you know exactly the topics you’ll write about, and what’s ok to say. Pin it up next to your plan.
4.) Make a one-page editorial calendar. Decide which days of the week and which times you need to release and post content.
Vary the lengths of your content to address customers’ short attention spans – 7 seconds, 2 minutes, 5 minutes and 20 minutes. Pace yourself. For example, create 7-second content daily, 2-minute content once or twice a week, 5-minute content once or twice a month, and 20-minute content quarterly. Don’t try to do too much to fast; content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you write faster in the morning (as I do), set your schedule accordingly. Schedule meetings in the afternoon, and conserve the time to write when you write best.
Build up a backlog of at least 2 weeks’ worth of content. This was a trick I learned as a newspaper editor. Sometimes the publisher would lose an ad on short notice and we would suddenly have an extra page to fill, right now. So I kept an “overset” file that enabled us to fill up a page with evergreen stories quickly.
You need to create enough content in advance, so that you can keep up the pace even if you’re not able to work. Your overset file covers you in case you get surprised, you need a vacation or unfortunately you get sick.
Make one big bet and a series of smaller bets. We made a big bet on unique industry analyst studies that looked 3 to 5 years into the future of our customers’ business. These studies created unique content no one else had. They enabled us to provide challenging insights that customers had not heard before, a key to Challenger Selling.
They positioned the company as a thought leader and enabled us to speak with authority in our space. From these studies, we created news releases, videos, magazine articles, blogs, infographics, trade show graphics and more. This work for Tellabs won a Content Marketing Institute award.
Figure out: how can you get the same work done at less cost and in less time? Develop your own skills, find lower-cost providers, trade agencies for freelancers, cultivate people who can communicate with you in shorthand, and coach in-house subject-matter experts to develop their writing and social media skills.
Adopt the mindset that it’s ok to fail, as long as you learn from it. Some of the things we tried worked, and others didn’t. Outsourcing work to an Indian company was a disaster we learned from; the cultural gap was just too big to bridge. We learned it was better to test 4 new freelancers than to commit to one who didn’t work out in the end.
Ask the people you want to work with to figure out how to do so at a lower cost, so you could afford to work with them. Often we identified steps to cut out of a process to save work for us and for them. For example, review work earlier when it’s rough in order to save review cycles later on. Our lower costs resulted from doing less work, not from just paying less. In the end, you get the quality you pay for.
Save yourself time by using all the robots such as Google, Swayy and Hootsuite for what they’re good at. There are lots of good robots who work for nothing. Use them. Let them find content and ideas for you, so you can include curated content in your mix.
Look at everything your organization does as fodder for content. News releases, speeches, webinars, new collateral, a new magazine, employee anniversaries, annual meetings, patents won, a news story that appeared today — all can be hooks that empower your to riff on your message. Find people who are natural storytellers and get them to help you out too.
Flying solo in content marketing takes inventive answers. Finding a thought partner can help you get there faster.
This question came up at my Content Marketing World presentation on How to Speed the Journey from Content to Cash. Other questions in this series include:
- How does a B2B company start content marketing?
- How to deliver consistent content marketing messages to all buyer personas?
- How to keep content marketing always on message?
- How to link specific content marketing activities to sales?
- How to speed the buyers’ journey to a purchase?
- How to help buyers take the first step in the buying journey?
- How to measure meaningful web traffic and give content marketing the credit for it?
- What content marketing appeals to customers? What brings them back?
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.