Content marketing is hard, mostly because creating high-quality content takes immense effort.
The trick is to start small and expand your definition of content creation.

Why You Should Be Creating More Content

The way to become popular is to create content that people care about. This is an often overlooked fact but it’s obvious when you look around.
Even before the internet, film, music, tv, books and radio were all powerful channels through which individuals achieved wealth and popularity. The internet is the newest and, in many ways, most efficient medium for reaching people with content.
I’ve been thinking about this as I talk to our customers and also as we continue to build Ginzametrics. There are a growing number of companies who have built large, successful businesses online, due largely to their content marketing strategies. Some examples that come to mind include Salesforce.com, HubSpot, SEOmoz, OkCupid and more. Chris Dixon wrote about this recently as well in his post on the Rise of Enterprise Marketing.
I was just interviewed along with the founders of SEOmoz, KISSmetrics, Thrillist, Buffer, Rafflecopter, Onboardly, and Unbounce for the Treehouse blog (a blog I follow regularly) about our #1 user acquisition tactics. One thing that stood out to me was that, in the case of almost every company interviewed, their content strategy was the most important factor in achieving their growth.
For all of these reasons, content marketing should clearly be considered as a priority for almost any type of business. However, regardless of the size of your business, if you’re just getting started, it can be a little intimidating.
You may sigh with envy at the beautifully produced white papers of the companies above, gape in awe at their prolific blogging abilities and bow down before their Twitter follower counts and, as a result, lose hope (and motivation along the way) that you will ever be able to achieve the same.

The Buzzkill-free Way to Get Started

So how do you avoid despair? Start small and start with the lowest hanging fruit. It helps to redefine what you think of as your content and also what you think of as your product.
As a business trying to build a high quality product, it is hard, sometimes, to justify spending your time on writing blog posts, setting up webinars, or creating ebooks. The thing is though, all of those other things are your product. Every aspect of your brand and your company that your customers experience is part of your product. Put that way, investing in creating content that the same as in investing in your product. And when you think of it as the very first thing your customers see when they see your product, it makes a lot of sense to treat it seriously.
The other problem though is just in getting started. If you think about all of the different types of content you could be working on, from blog posts to webinars to events and ebooks, it is daunting because you know how much work is involved in doing any of them. The key here is to redefine what your content is in order to give yourself the opportunity to start with the low hanging fruit and build from there.

What We Are Doing – A Few Examples

At Ginzametrics, I’ve started reviewing a lot of the holes that we had in our own product that, if filled with better, bite-sized pieces of content, our customer’s experience would become much better. Ginzametrics is a relatively complex product and while we’ve tried to help our customers make the best use of it, some of the more consistent feedback we’ve gotten has been that small things like better tooltips and more documentation would go a long way to help. So, before investing weeks at a time in creating ebooks and new designs for our website, I decided to start with a few small things.
These are just examples but will hopefully help you find similar small things in your business that you can start with now.

Email Users More

Email is probably the most bite-sized thing you can do right now to start connecting with your customers more and it definitely qualifies as content. Over the last few months, I’ve focused on simply emailing with my customers more, listening to their needs and doing my best to explain how they can achieve more of their goals with our platform. It has had a dramatic impact in our sales and customer retention so far.
This is the first step in email marketing — just start doing it manually until you get to the point that you have to automate it.
The next step (this is most relevant for SaaS businesses perhaps but I think it applies also to many online businesses) is to automate the process in such a way that you can still reach your customers with personalized messages. There are a variety of new tools out there that are starting to help with this, including Vero, UserFox, and Customer.io. These tools let you set up drip marketing (although I really hate the phrase) or lifecycle emails (a much better phrase, IMO) that are targeted at each one of your customers as individuals.
I created an email editorial calendar for myself in Google Docs and started mapping out the different emails I wanted to write to my customers. The first batch of emails, I simply call “The first 7 emails.” It’s a simple set of emails that my new customers and free trial users will receive, based on their own unique needs, when they sign up with us.

Better Tooltips

Another tiny thing we’ve started to do is just create better tooltips. It’s almost crazy how small this one is but it has made the users we tested it with very happy. We’re actually releasing these new tooltips today to our entire customer base and will soon be enabling them all over the main dashboard.

Our new tooltips. A much better solution to what we previously had in response to some of our most common FAQs”

Improve Product Documentation

Documentation is sometimes almost as hard as writing blog posts and articles but it’s something that you can iterate on a little more effectively. The key here again is to start small. Just start writing up FAQs. If you’ve done this, start creating one piece of documentation per day, or even per week.
This also works with new features. We’re releasing new features at Ginzametrics on an almost weekly basis. Just highlighting them in our tour section is a challenge but, for obvious reasons, helps us grow.

Once You’ve Done Small Content, Work on Big Content

The real goal and a helpful way to think of content is to think of creating content as the means with which you increase the surface area of your company’s reach. With this in mind, this means that all of the following content types are valid projects to work on as part of your overall content marketing strategy.

  • Email
  • Tooltips / Getting Started Tours
  • Product documentation
  • Feature descriptions
  • User forums
  • Platform integrations / plugins (think of the copy / marketing process for bringing people through those integrations)
  • Apps
  • Blog posts
  • Research Reports (take some of your data and turn it into a report)
  • Ebooks
  • Videos
  • Events
  • Webinars
  • Newsletters

I find it helpful to arrange the above types of content on a “ladder.” When I have time to work on content, I try to find something as high up the ladder as I can (height being both a factor of both difficulty and impact). If I “fall off” — meaning I don’t have enough time or energy to work on one type of content, I take myself down a few rungs to work on something easier. I’m still being productive and I stay motivated. Here is an example of our ladder.

Avoid Procrastination

I’ll end with two final lessons that I’ve learned.
First, we procrastinate paying attention to small details that really matter because we don’t feel like we have the ability to control them, or at least influence them. If you find yourself lacking the energy or motivation to do something, whether it’s creating content or anything else, determine if it’s because you feel like there will be little impact as a result of your doing it. If this is the case, figure out why and deal with that problem first.
Second, we also procrastinate doing certain things because we have never been trained on how to do them or, more importantly, how to incorporate them into our daily workflow. These tasks, depending on your background, include things like writing, programming, making cold calls, tracking metrics, etc. Creating content was and is a big one for me and, based on the many conversations I’ve had with others, I’m not alone.
The solution to both of these problems is easy but not always obvious: start small. Just do one small thing and practice it until you get better. Then add another one. Eventually you will gain confidence and find yourself doing things you never imagined you could do before. This is how everybody learns. For startup founders, this gives you an advantage because the actions of every individual in your company have such a big impact. For larger companies, you need to train your people how to start with small steps as well and build processes gradually.