Top Reason Small Businesses Struggle

What’s the top reason small businesses struggle? It has a lot to do with inconsistency in the functions you need to perform to develop your business: marketing, sales, and business development. 

When we fail as business owners to be consistent in those tasks, we open ourselves to “feast or famine” cycles that prevent us from enjoying consistent income from our entrepreneurial endeavors. 

Here’s the podcast episode:

Or if you’d rather watch the video:

Today, we’re talking about the top reason why small businesses struggle.

If you are a small business owner, you can probably empathize with what I’m about to say. A couple of days ago, I talked about some reasons why small businesses fail. 

I think those numbers might be a little different if the US Bureau of Labor Statistics was able to include numbers on freelance businesses, and other types of businesses that are sole proprietorships, don’t necessarily require registration, office space, and other indicators of a  thriving business. 

Why Small Businesses Struggle

So for a business like mine, I can work with my team remotely to keep overhead down, and the government didn’t really have a way to track me as a small business (With the exception of the fact that I recently filed as an LLC). So, as quickly as I came into existence, I could go out of existence. Would they count me? No. 

Feast or Famine Cycles

The top reason why small businesses struggle is they set themselves up for feast or famine cycles. I’ve been talking about this a lot with my small business friends in the context of the business planner that I’m designing. 

What does that mean? It means that when business is coming in, it’s great. You’re feasting. Revenue is high and profits are up. But eventually, you hit a schlump and it starts to go down. That’s your famine cycle. There are no clients to be found anywhere. 

Inconsistency is the Main Culprit 

This typically comes from not handling your non-billable tasks. Non-billable means you can’t get paid for them. The tasks I’m talking about are your sales, marketing, and business development tasks. We tend to let these fall off when we get busy with client work. 

This is the difference between working in your business (Working on client work), and working on your business (Doing admin tasks). 

Let’s say you’re really good in person, and you can work those networking events like nobody’s business. Good for you, but that only works if you attend the events. 

So if you attend the events at a time when you don’t have client work, you’ll get clients and stop going to the events. 

Once that client work is done, you don’t have any more incoming clients because you didn’t consistently go out and market your business. You didn’t consistently go out and create partnerships. Now you’re going to hit a famine cycle. 

Another great example, usually more linked to companies, is when you post to your company blog and social media when the workload is right. 

You post, you show up every day, you talk to people on Linkedin, you comment on Instagram, you’re posting once a week to your company blog, you’re consistent. You’ve got good engagement on the social media channels you choose to be on. 

By doing that sort of marketing, you’re setting your company up for inbound leads, which are leads that you don’t necessarily go out, identify, and pick. I wrote a blog post, you found it via Google or through a social share, and now you’re engaging with me. You’re coming to me, as opposed to me going to you. 

Your company’s blog is really healthy and consistent when the client workload is light, but when it’s not light, you fall off. You might go a month or two without posting. 

That inconsistency is bad for you. So when the workload gets light again, you’re back to posting and you get more inbound leads. When you convert those leads to customers, you stop posting. 

When entrepreneurs and small-business owners don’t do these sorts of tasks, you’ll see a revenue dip sometime after. It’s normally a pretty easy pattern. I know the freelancers and solopreneurs listening to this are thinking, “Oh man, now that I think about it, there is a pattern”. 

Too Many Hats, Not Enough Heads

This typically happens when there are too many hats. We talk about entrepreneurs wearing hats. This is my sales hat. This is my marketing hat. This is my Biz Dev hat. 

There are too many hats, not enough heads because typically it’s your head. 

Even if you do have a few employees, they’re likely junior employees, who can’t really help you with these sorts of tasks. Or maybe the senior people are constantly on client work, so you can’t pull them off to do this stuff. It’s all on you. 

Let’s do a quick recap of what some of these tasks are. 

Marketing

Marketing is the action of promoting your products or services, including market research. 

In the first podcast episode, we talked about how 42% of small businesses fail because they didn’t determine whether there was actually a need for their product/service. 

Even if there is a need, if you don’t market, it means you’re not going to have sales. 

Sales

This includes activities leading to the sale of goods/services. Where we typically fail is in the follow-up. We fail to follow up because we get busy. 

When you’re no longer busy and you try to go back to those leads, they’ve gone cold. Maybe they found somebody else to solve their problem because you didn’t follow up with them. You lost a sale. 

Sometimes, we even have to follow up multiple times. John Asher’s premier sales training says we might have to follow up somewhere between 5-12 times. So if you’re someone who stops after the first 3 times, and I’m not saying you have to be irritating, what are you going to accomplish?

We’re hitting the era of what they call smarketing, because sales and marketing are starting to blend together. It’s easier for you as an entrepreneur to blend those two together. 

Business development 

Business development is not like sales. Rather, it’s the strategic development of partnerships to promote your product/service. 

You’re partnering with other businesses in order to get customers. These are always great because you typically deal with a few partners, but you could end up with a lot more sales. This is because they’re the ones engaging with their customers. 

In my case, a strategic partnership for Defy The Status Quo might be a digital marketing company that doesn’t do content but wants to offer it with their services. They either want a referral partner, somebody they can refer a business to, or they want to bring us under as a subcontractor. Those are business development opportunities for Defy The Status Quo. 

There are almost always other types of opportunities that you can take, whether you have a service or a product. That’s your business development. 

It helps when you find people who are in similar fields. What about when you find someone in the exact same field as you? In my case, as a B2B writer, my company does B2B content for consulting and service firms. 

What that means is that, if somebody comes to me about healthcare writing, that’s not my company’s area of brilliance, so I’d think of healthcare writers I know that I could refer to. 

That’s another business development task that doesn’t necessarily bring you revenue, but if you do that for your peers, it’s very likely that they’ll do it for you in return. Also, you’ve avoided giving a potential client who reached out to you a firm no

Make the Best of Outsourcing

So in order to solve this problem, outsourcing or bringing in employees who can do these functions is key. 

Outsourcing is typically what you do first, because you may not have enough for a full-time or part-time employee. 

You can read my blog post (or watch the video) on how Outsourcing With a Virtual Assistant Can Generate More Revenue here.

3 Things You Need to Know to Use Upwork as a Client

Thinking of scaling up your business and hiring a freelancer on Upwork to outsource some of your tasks? Here are the top 3 things you need to know about being a client in Upwork.

1. Your Job Post Will Define Who Applies

The first thing you need to know is how to write a great job post that attracts highly skilled freelancers. A lot of times, highly skilled freelancers will pick apart low-quality job posts. You don’t want to be one of those.

So as a client, if you don’t write a good job post, you’re not going to attract the sort of skill that you want.

You also want to make sure that you set clear expectations. If you don’t know what you should charge, be clear about that. Sometimes, skilled freelancers will respond and let you know “if you’re looking for someone with these many years of experience, or that attains these sorts of results, this is what you can expect to pay.”

Either way, you can research the general rates before posting your job. You want to be able to communicate that you’re willing to pay for value or if your budget is low. With a low budget you need to be willing to work with someone who’s just getting started. Don’t be a terrible client and demand $100/hour quality work from somebody to whom you’re only able to pay $20/hour.

2. Test The Waters Before You Make a Decision

After you have a couple of proposals on your job post, you should conduct a thorough interview, including a phone call. I think hearing someone’s voice, letting them hear yours, and getting a feel for how they act, lets you know that they’re a “real person.”

Remember, you can interview as many people as you want to.

I also recommend having a test project – a paid test project, because you can’t ask for free work on Upwork. Just don’t do it – they’ll report you. You can choose something small, a week or even less if you’re paying by the hour. You could do three hours in the first week, to see if you like working with that person.

Even if you don’t get on well together, you probably had a positive experience. Thankfully, you haven’t committed to a long term involvement with the freelancer you tested.

Some people try to get away with tricking freelancers to do free work. If they want a tagline, they’ll say “send me five taglines and whoever writes the best one, I’ll pay them.” That’s still an unpaid test project because it takes a lot of effort, research, and creativity in order to produce a great tagline.

Instead, I would say “describe your morning cup of coffee in three sentences or less.” I feel like most people would be comfortable with that. Not to mention, it’s something completely random.

3. Keep It on Upwork

Another thing to keep in mind as an Upwork client is to never offer to pay outside of the platform. The freelancer can also report you for this and your account will be shut down. If this is something that you do as a scammer, then no big deal. Obviously, scammers don’t care – they’ll just make a new account. If you’re a legitimate client who doesn’t know better, Upwork will still shut down your account. That’s obviously going to cause some trouble for you.

Make sure you read the Terms of Service because that’s what you agreed to when you signed up. You won’t be able to tell Upwork that you didn’t know because they’ll just say “Well, you agreed to our Terms of Service.”

Fixed-Price Projects

Something to note if you decide to go with a fixed-price project: once you set up a milestone for that project, Upwork will take that money and hold it in escrow. This means it won’t be paid to the freelancer right away. You will only release that payment once they submit their work and you approve of it.

You have two weeks to release payment or ask for changes. If you don’t do anything, Upwork will release it automatically. If you see they submitted their work and you’re not happy with it, hit the “request changes” button. That stops the two-week timer and keeps your funds from being automatically released.

This is a way for you to feel confident in working with a freelance web designer in Italy. You don’t know that person, you only met them on Upwork. That money in escrow is their assurance that you’re going to pay them for their work. However, you can also rest assured that they won’t be paid unless they provide the quality of work that you both agreed upon.

Ready to Use Upwork as a Client?

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide. Following these top 3 points will help you avoid most of the issues clients experience on Upwork. Upwork isn’t (just) for bargain basement contractor deals. You get what you pay for after all. Upwork can be a great connector for you to freelancers around the world. Learn how to use the platform, and knock those projects off of your to-do list.

Looking to outsource your blogging to a freelancer? Make sure you arm them with our Blogging for Business Toolkit to see the most return on your investment!

Outsourcing With a Virtual Assistant Can Generate More Revenue

You’ll need to outsource long before you have any employees. At least that’s what you need to do if you want to avoid 80-hour weeks. 80-hour weeks working on anything besides your areas of brilliance isn’t the best use of your time.

That’s where outsourcing comes in. In this video, I talk about the first level of outsourcing many business owners explore: the virtual assistant.

What is a Virtual Assistant?

virtual assistant (VA) is a person who provides support services to other businesses from a remote location.

Randy Duermyer, The Balance Small Business

The right virtual assistant can become your right hand. When the relationship is right, you’ll wonder how you ever worked without one.

Make Your Business Outsourcing Profitable

One of the best tips I present in this video is about how you can use outsourcing to make your business more profitable. No, I’m not going to tell you to take your client work and “farm” it out.

When work is farmed out, it means you’re using a subcontractor to complete contracted work agreed upon by you and your client. I’m not a fan of the phrase as an all encompassing descriptor. It has a connotation of cheap work associated with it. There is nothing wrong with building long term relationships with contractors to satisfy your contracts. You just need to be up front about it.

Anyway, how do you take spending money on a contractor like a virtual assistant and turn around and make more money? By ensuring that all of the tasks that person finishes are your nonbillable work.

Can you charge your clients your social media marketing?

What about the time you spend writing blog posts?

If you want to write all of your marketing content, do you have to be the one who drafts it?

What about all of the images you create for social media and your website?

What Can a Virtual Assistant Do?

Virtual assistance can do….. well pretty much anything. It depends on what they have experience with. This is why you need to decide what you want BEFORE you start looking for an assistant. Every virtual assistant has different things that they specialize in. Which means some may specifically work with online businesses, and some assist with admin work like you’d see in an office.

Here are some of the things a virtual assistant can do for your business:

  • Respond to client emails
  • Schedule appointments
  • Plan, write, and schedule social media posts
  • Write blog posts
  • Do research for client work or your content
  • Edit video and audio
  • Manage online communities
  • Enter data into your client relationship management (CRM) system
  • Design and create images for your social media and website
  • Answer customer calls
  • Get creative!

If you decide what you’d like to outsource to a virtual assistant, then you can take the next step and find one that suits your needs.

Do You Have to Be the One Who Does ALL of the Work?

Do you see where I’m going with this? Your top question should be “Do I have to be the one who does this?” If someone else is taking care of nonbillable work for you, and you turn around and do more billable work, you will make more money in the first week.

Watch the video, you can learn more about my thoughts on bringing in a virtual assistant (and other contractors) onto your team.

If you’re considering bringing on a virtual assistant or someone like a social media manager, but haven’t, tell me why in the comments. We’ll hash it out. Outsourcing with a virtual assistant could be just what you need to free up time and generate more revenue.

If you want to outsource your content marketing to a virtual assistant, make sure you give them these tools!

Infographic: Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile for Business

A lot of people are getting curious about LinkedIn. With influencers like Gary Vee talking about all of the business potential for LinkedIn, it’s a great time to get onto this social media platform.

But how do you get started? With a great LinkedIn profile that attracts the right sort of connections to you. You need to optimize your LinkedIn profile for business.

Who are the right sort of connections? They come in many forms:

  • Peers in related industries (can refer work to you)
  • Experts in your industry (great if you’re a writer or designer who focuses on that industry)
  • Connectors (people who know people, or can offer marketing opportunities)
  • and of course, potential clients

So we created this infographic to help you optimize your LinkedIn profile for business. You should have an engagement strategy for LinkedIn as well, but your profile is where you have to start!

Want to use this infographic on your blog or website? Be our guest! Courteous guests link back to this post though!

I asked my LinkedIn network for tips on optimizing your LinkedIn profile to attract great connections. Here’s what they said!

On LinkedIn Keyword Research

Do your keyword research. LinkedIn’s search and algorithm operates similar to Google. If you are a UX designer and want people to find you on the platform, then incorporate keyword rich text related to UX design into your profile.

Jason Firch, Digital Marketing Nonprofit Specialist, Nonprofits Source

Modify your LI public URL so that it includes keywords for better visibility on the web. I have “freelance content writer” in mine, for instance.

Peter Jenkins, Freelance Content Writer and Editor

Think about what words someone would use to look for someone like you. Be searchable. Be succinct.

Alison Tedford, Freelance Social Media Writer, AlisonTedford.com

On LinkedIn Profile Content

It can be a good idea to include a very brief testimonial or some evidence that you are what you say you are. Especially if you don’t already have testimonials on your profile page.

Victoria Doxat, Freelance Writer and Editor, VictoriaDoxat.com

Take advantage of all the various sections that LinkedIn offers you – awards, volunteering, publications – there are so many. They give you an opportunity to showcase a talent or aspect of your personality that you might not be able to share in a traditional resume format.

Cara Imperato, Content Writer

Write your summary to your audience, solving their problem, positioning yourself as their hero. It’s all about them, not about you.

Carol J. Alexander, Freelance Sustainable Living Writer, CarolJAlexander.com

On The Value of LinkedIn Activity

This might not be profile based but in general, try and post 3x a week on the newsfeed to increase your visibility to have your profile be found. And, pay for premium so you can see who is looking at your profile and then connect with them! 

Kate Talbot, Content Marketer, KateTalbotMarketing.com

The Content Marketing Status Quo and How You Can Do Better

Content marketing is going strong. Every day more content gets created, via writing, video, audio, and photos. What’s the result? A content marketing status quo of mediocrity. What’s the good news for you? You can still stand out and above your competition by creating great content.

More businesses are getting excited about content marketing. And why wouldn’t they, when mega marketing influencers are saying things like:

“Content Marketing is all the Marketing that’s left.” ~ Seth Godin

“Content Marketing provides 4x the ROI of our traditional marketing spend.” ~ Julie Fleischer, VP Marketing, Neustar

“Content is king.” ~ Bill Gates

“Great content is the best sales tool in the world.” ~ Marcus Sheridan

In some of the latest research, we discovered some compelling numbers explaining why the content status quo is the way it is. Here are our big three takeaways.

Companies Are Churning Out Content Without Checking ROI

Companies are starting to understand exactly what content marketing can do for their businesses. They also realize that at least one of their competitors is doing it. So if they don’t jump on the bandwagon, they won’t reach their full potential. So what does this FOMO incite?

A LOT of content. Tons of content. Content about everything they can think of that relates to their product or service. And that’s the problem right there. They produce content about everything THEY can think of. Without checking what is actually working (or not, as the case may be).

What is their content actually doing for them? 91% of content doesn’t get organic visits. That’s right. All of the search engine queries lead searchers to just 9% of the internet. Now you may get some views from social media, or your email list, but that’s push distribution. Search engine traffic represents pull distribution…. Er, pull attraction?

When you have a new site, you shouldn’t expect to get much organic traffic initially. If you’re putting out great content, then you may get some if you have a strong content marketing strategy.

More Than Half Aren’t Measuring

51% of content marketers don’t measure their content’s return on investment (ROI). More than half of professional content marketers can’t tell anyone exactly what their content does for them. And that’s a mistake. With the freelance workforce expected to reach 16% by 2020, ROI has become more important than ever.

If you’re a CMO, then you need to be able to justify any of your outsourcing. You can’t? Then your company may find someone who will. Even the largest companies outsource, and it isn’t a problem. As long as you can prove value.

If you’re a contractor, then you may be asked to justify your services. Not because they’re trying to nickel and dime you, but because they hired you to handle “content”. That includes reporting on the results.

KPI’s to Check for Happy Site Visitors

I’m not going to bore you with the obvious answers (another affliction of the content marketing status quo) like “overall blog traffic.” That seems like a big “DUH”, but a segment of your site traffic should be very interesting to you. And that’s your returning site visitors.

Returning Site Visitors

You can find this pie chart under the Audience tab by clicking “Overview” in Google Analytics. Considering the Defy The Status Quo site is only a few months old at the time we published this post, I’m pretty happy with this result.

When site visitors come back, they’re telling you they’re happy with your content. They’re likely either on your email list or a member of your social media network. They saw you published a new post up, and they went to check it out. A returning site visitor doesn’t need as much convincing as a new site visitor.

Bounce Rate and Session Duration

Blogs often have higher bounce rates than other sites. Sometimes people find the answer they need early on and leave. If a site visitor only visits one page and then leaves, that counts as a bounce. Even if they read the whole article. However, a high bounce rate can also tell Google that people aren’t finding what they need.

When you land on your Google Analytics home page, you can see what your bounce rate for the last 7 days looks like.

This bounce rate is a combination of all of my sources though. If you want to see what your bounce rate looks like for your different traffic sources, you need to:

  1. Click on the Acquisitions tab.
  2. Click on Overview.
  3. Scroll down past the pie chart until you get to this table/bar chart.

As you can see, for the small amount of organic search traffic I’m getting, the bounce rate is a lot lower than my social traffic bounce rate.

In my chart, you can also see that my session duration is low, but as we add more content to the site, that will change. Internal linking on pages helps increase your “pages/session” number. That number tells you how many pages someone viewed during a single visit to your site.

None of these numbers can tell the story on their own. That’s why performing a comprehensive content audit on your content at least once per year is critical to measuring ROI. Quarterly would be ideal.

No Documented Content Strategy

Only 39% of organizations have a documented content marketing strategy. It’s even lower in industries like manufacturing, at 21%. Best-in-class marketers document their strategies because it helps them align the team with the company’s goals. Also, prioritizing which types of content to create and distribute becomes much easier.

How can you be sure that everyone is on the same page if you’re all not looking at the same page?

Only 42% of marketers feel like their content strategy is mature or sophisticated. This is likely because they’ve never taken the time to write it down. How can you measure and improve your content marketing if you don’t have a record of where you started?

An undocumented content strategy usually happens when your company is doing content because someone said you should. You’re blogging because “everyone” is blogging these days.

One of your C-suite executives says that you need to be on Instagram, so you’re posting pictures.

Or maybe a family member or friend insisted that you post on LinkedIn, because “that’s where all of the business people are!”

Tom Fishbourne create a great cartoon about this haphazard marketing “strategy” phenomenon. I thought about including it here, but the license is $50. So instead, I’m linking to it so you can go see it for yourself.

When you stop looking at content as something Millennials do for fun (the oldest Millennial is over 40, FYI), then you’ll realize that you have to treat your content like assets. Marketing assets, and sometimes, even sales assets.

You might be thinking, “Sales assets, really?” YES. Case studies and white papers are the most recommended content types for converting leads among B2B marketers.

What Goes Into a Great Content Marketing Strategy?

Creating a great content marketing strategy is going to require some time. If you have a team, then it should be a team effort. If it’s just you, well that’s okay too.

According to Julia McCoy’s book, Practical Content Strategy & Marketing, there are four keys to creating a solid content strategy:

  1. Discovering who you’re helping with your content
  2. Understanding what you need to do to help them better than your competitors
  3. Learning how to create content they actually see
  4. Analyzing your content performance by auditing, updating, and measuring

Need more direction to start creating your content marketing strategy? Download your copy of our B2B Content Marketing Workbook.

Not Putting the Reader First

I found some conflicting numbers from the Content Marketing Institute’s latest B2B research. Are you ready?

So 73% of marketers say they prioritize the audience’s needs over their marketing/sales message.

But…

Only 42% of marketers actually engage with their customers to confirm what sort of content they’re interested in.

And

56% of marketers increased spending on content creation last year.

Oh boy. This is a recipe for disaster. You aren’t sure exactly what it is your readers want to see, but you’re increasing spending and making MORE content? This ties back to the points about having a content strategy. You’ll know what content to create because you did the research needed to create the strategy.

So, 39% of marketers have a documented strategy. But 73% are putting the audience’s needs first? I don’t think so.

You’ll increase spending on content creation, and then be upset with the creators when that content doesn’t generate the ROI you expected to see. But you never laid the foundation FOR high ROI.

What do you do?

Buyer Personas: Know Who Your Ideal Audience Is

As part of your content marketing strategy, you’ll need to create buyer personas. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of a target audience for your company. Most people think of basic demographics like age and gender. That’s true, but a buyer persona should also include your target audiences challenges and goals.

Even more valuable? Their key questions at the various stages of the buyer’s journey. With this information, you can create content that meets your reader’s needs at each phase of their buyer’s journey, gaining their trust along the way.

Thanks to the internet, there’s a lot of secondary research out there on a variety of groups and group segments. Secondary research is incredibly valuable for businesses who don’t have the budget to do primary research.

Primary research is when your company pays to have a survey or customer focus groups done to gather information. It can be very expensive, which is why many turn to secondary research. That is, a review of research already done or available.

If you can find this research online, then you can probably build buyer personas that can at least get you started. Or point your primary research in the right direction.

If you know your buyer personas, then you’ll know where they hang out online. Being in the same LinkedIn and Facebook groups, Reddit threads, and Quora topics can give you some insight straight from the horse’s mouth.

You can use social media engagement to guide your content marketing strategy as well. I’ve written blog posts and recorded videos based on great responses I’ve received on LinkedIn.

Consider the Content Marketing Status Quo the Bottom. Do Better

Depending on the size of your business, you might not be able to execute a comprehensive content marketing strategy. But whatever you do, you can stand out by doing it well. The content marketing status quo is mediocre content. It’s checking the box.

But the status quo leaves off some very important practices, like documenting your content marketing strategy, that best-in-class marketers just wouldn’t advise.

Your clients and customers deserve better than that. Give them your best, and you’ll earn their trust in return. Make your company memorable through content, and customer trust and loyalty will increase.

Want to receive more great information straight into your inbox? Subscribe to the Defy The Status Quo Newsletter

Video: Starting or Repositioning Your Freelance Writing Business?

When your business is new, you’re in a “take what you can get” mindset. This is just as true for freelance writers as any other type of business owner. So our businesses can take on weird forms. Don’t worry about that though. Because the power is in your hands to fix it.

Learn what you need to do to set your freelance writing business up properly and profitably. These steps are often skipped by new freelance writers, but shouldn’t be. If you’re interested in starting a freelance writing business, or repositioning the freelance writing business you have to be more profitable, this video is for you.

If you want more content like this, head over to the Content Coffee Break Community, a group of writers using techniques to build their businesses that actually work. https://www.contentcoffeebreak.com/

Want to use Upwork to start your freelance writing business? Interested in learning my techniques for creating a great profile and sending proposals that land you clients on Upwork? Check out our Upwork for Writer’s bundle.

Video: These Bad Marketing Practices Have to Go!

Which marketing techniques need to go the way of the dinosaurs? My LinkedIn network is ready to say goodbye to some huge marketing techniques, including the webinar funnel (or at least the way people use it). These bad marketing practices have earned some special enmity in 2019.

With everyone trying to create an online product, the webinar funnel has been misused. Savvy people despise the webinar that promises much, but consistently under delivers. We also talk about email marketing and even robocalls!

Download the ebook version of this video by clicking here.

3 Ways Content Marketing is Like Gardening

Okay, you might be thinking “Really, content marketing and gardening? That’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?” The idea for this post came to me while I was turning my compost heap. I realized that compost and content have a lot in common. Then I realized that the metaphor could be extending to gardening as a whole.

What I mean is that some of the core principles of gardening are the same as those we apply to content marketing. Gardening is something I love to do as a hobby. We live on two acres, but even before that, I gardened where I was. I had a container garden that lived on my townhome deck for two years.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about taking fruits and vegetables you grew yourself and putting them at the dinner table.

I get a similar feeling when people comment on my content, reply to my emails, or discuss ideas on social media with me. I put something out there that stimulated my audience’s minds. When you see my content online, you know I’m giving you something great. You trust me to give you something great. So thank you.

Now let’s get into why you’re here.

1. You Plant Based on Long-Term Potential

If you’re a gardener, January is often when the seed catalogs start arriving in the mail. You order seed catalogs to give you more choices about what to plant each year. Yes, your local garden store or Home Depot has seed packets to pick from.

However, if you order from the seed catalogs, that’s how you’ll be able to bring the heirloom purple and green tomatoes into your garden. It’s easier to go to the local store, but you’ll be able to grow a unique garden when you select your plants from the catalog.

In content, you may not have the purple and green tomatoes in your organization. Sometimes, you have to look outside of your company in order to find that perfect writer to support your needs.

Any content you create now, blog posts, videos, ebooks, white papers, all of it has the potential to do a lot for your business. Does it happen immediately? Well, when was the last time you planted a seed and got an instant plant? Oh right. Never.

One of the biggest content marketing mistakes businesses make is quitting too early. Content is like a perennial plant in your garden. Like asparagus, content will keep giving, year after year. You have to hold up your end of the bargain though. Tend to it, and it will grow.

You want your content to get more views? Well, what does your distribution strategy look like? If your website has 0-100 monthly views, one blog post won’t boost you to 5,000 monthly views. Just like one watermelon plant won’t feed your family for the week. Or one meal.

According to Hubspot, businesses who blog see 55% more traffic than businesses who don’t. I’m not saying you have to blog 16 times per month to make it worthwhile. But if you blog weekly, and each of those posts generates 50 site views, then that’s 200 site views you didn’t get the month before.

That’s four new pieces of content you can share with your social media and email audiences.

Like a Garden Plan, Your Content Needs Planning Too

You have to create your content with an eye for its long-term potential. Just like you plan a garden each year, plan your content each year as well. At a minimum, plan out each quarter. Line up your content with your business goals.

Hosting an event about new inventory management technology in June? Then your content plan should have content about:

  • Inventory management
  • Its role in a profitable business
  • Techniques to make it better, and
  • Anything else related to inventory management that you can think of

Keyword research will help you generate ideas too!

All of this content relevantly ties into your event, which you can gently remind your audience about as you distribute the content.

Repeatedly posting and emailing about the same thing over and over will just irritate your followers and subscribers. Gentle reminders interspersed with direct event promotion will seal the deal. If you really think ahead, you could have your special event guests do guest posts or video interviews. Then include that they’ll also be at the event you have coming up.

2. You Consistently Show Up and Nurture What You’ve Started

A lack of consistency is another mistake businesses make with their content marketing. If you plan your garden, plant all of the seeds, get cute labels for each plant type, build a (mostly) deer-proof fence, and then forget to water it, what are you going to end up with?

Dirt. You have a nice fence and clever labels for dirt.

All of that planning is for nothing if you can’t consistently show up. If you want a flourishing garden that bears fruits and vegetables from the late spring through the fall, you have to show up. You have to water your plants on rain-free days. You need to plant cover crops during the rest season (late fall through winter).

Bugs are going to try and annihilate your garden (I lost all of my bell pepper seedlings one year because I couldn’t figure out what was eating them). You have to get out there before the sun comes up to catch the little devils.

Weeds are going to come and steal nutrients from your garden plants. You have to get in there and pull them out.

You can create the best content plan, but you have to execute it. Even when business is booming, you need to make time to write new content. Even if it’s short, make time. You need to sustain your content efforts. Sure, you’ll have more time when your client workload lightens up, but a light client workload doesn’t feel good does it?

It can be easier to maintain your content marketing if you bring in help. In the case of my garden, my oldest child is 7. He knows what a weed looks like, and now, I don’t have to do it all on my own. My grandpa is my favorite person to have in my garden, because he knows so much more than I do.

Bringing in help for your content may be the best decision you can make for your marketing plan. It needs to be nurtured by someone who cares about it as much as you do.

You can’t expect results from your content if you don’t have any. That’s like me wondering where the zucchini are when I haven’t watered my garden for two weeks. Make your content plan, and then execute it.

3. A Garden is Affected by Many Factors

Pretty much everyone knows gardens need water, but they can get too much and drown. Likewise, plants need sunlight, but too much heat will kill them. Some plants thrive in acidic soil (blueberries, I’m looking at you), while others need more alkaline soil. Certain bugs are great for your garden (ladybugs, butterflies, bees), while others won’t even leave you with a leaf to your name (snails, stinkbugs, hornworms).

Your content is much the same. People like short social media (most of the time). So you want to be clever and succinct. Trying the same strategy with your blog won’t give you great results. Blog posts answer questions, and the best posts do it with detail.

Emails are another beast; sometimes they should be short, sometimes they should be long. You have to really know your audience to maintain engagement in your email marketing.

Then something like an ebook or white paper, well you had better have included your best writing there, because people normally give their contact info in exchange for awesome downloadables! It needs to be thought-provoking or incredibly actionable. Or both.

While Each Content-Type is Special, It’s a Connected Ecosystem

One year, I overwatered my peas. They got root rot, which I didn’t know until too late. The only sign was discoloration of the leaves and stem from the ground up. Once I pulled up the plant though, I found ugly, slimy, brown tumors growing on the roots. Dismayed, I pulled up the pea plants, and wondered what to do with that spot in my garden bed.

Deciding on something easy, I planted dill. My husband loves dill, and if I let some of the dill plants flower, the bees and butterflies would love it too. Pleased with myself for filling the spot, I didn’t give it another thought until my dill plants started turning red. Turns out, dill and pea plants are susceptible to the same types of root rot, and the spores were in the soil, so….. Sad face. 🙁

You can write blog posts, social media, email, and gated content, and treat them as if they aren’t connected. But you’d be making a mistake.

A strong content strategist will plan to take your blog, distribute it on your social media channels, in your emails, and use it to generate interest in a gated piece of content (like a case study or white paper). Maybe in 6 months, you’ll turn your best-performing blogs into slideshows for videos and for LinkedIn’s SlideShare.

Sometimes, you’ll send emails that don’t have to do with your blog. You’ll share content on social media that’s not yours. You won’t have an ebook for each blog you write. That’s okay. But every piece of content should be tied with a business goal.

That’s another thing a content strategist will plan for. So if you hire one, be prepared to help them get familiar with your business. A great content plan can’t be created without this knowledge. Just like you need to know your soil to plan and grow a truly productive garden.

Gardening and Content Marketing… Who Knew?

I mean really, who expected gardening and content marketing to have so much in common? Gardening isn’t for everyone, just like not everyone can be an expert content marketer. But I know that content marketing can work for any business. Its a long game though that bears fruit over time.

You don’t generally get instant gratification from content marketing, but you do receive dividends based on how much you invest into it. Gardening doesn’t deliver edibles until weeks or sometimes months later. If you plant fruit trees, you won’t get a good amount of fruit for a few years (which is why I’m mad at myself, because I STILL haven’t planted my fruit trees).

Treat your content like a garden. Plan it. Nurture it. Then allow that sense of satisfaction grow inside as you earn your clients trust and generate more business.

P.S. If you liked the images in this post, you should try Stencil, an image creation app. I use it every day to save me time on my social media and blog image creation! Yes, that’s an affiliate link, but I only recommend it because I use it!

How to Create Great Content: Be a Problem Solver, Not a Solution Seller

How do you create great content? The first step isn’t writing or recording it. It’s understanding your target audience. You can have wonderful perfectly optimized content. If you aren’t clear on your audience though, you’ll miss the mark. So yes, you’re going to have to put a pause on creating content for a second until you’re clear on just who you’re writing (or recording) for.

Buyer Persona Research is the Key to Targeted Content

Try to appeal to everyone, and you’ll appeal to no one. You want people to land on your pages and feel like you’re speaking just to them. In order to do that, you have to create targeted content. Of course, you have to recognize your target in order to do this.

Know your audience. Who are you writing for? I’ve written an entire post on the importance of buyer personas, and how you can start creating your own. Buyer personas go beyond demographic information. That’s normally where you have to start. Great buyer personas contain buyer insights.

Buyer personas should always evolve. This is why you should document them, so as your understanding of your target audience deepens, so does your buyer persona information. That document really comes in handy when you hire outside marketing help.

Knowing who your ideal customer is helps you sell better too. When you know someone wouldn’t benefit from your service or product, you can tell them so, and your own credibility goes up. I’ve had consultations with clients who describe their business model to me, and I’ve told them that they don’t need my services. I’ve honestly told people how they can manage their own content until their business warrants a full-blown content marketing strategy and production.

Why would I do that? Because marketing is one of those services that doesn’t work on its own. It needs the investment of everyone involved. There are things that you’d like to have, but your business model doesn’t support it (I’ve been there). Or maybe your budget doesn’t support it (I’m still there!).

It’s kind of like picking a house. What if you connected with a realtor who insisted they knew of the perfect house for you without asking you what you wanted? If you were the realtor, would you take a couple to see houses without asking about their needs and wants? What if you take them to see 3-bedroom homes in a nice HOA community when what they need is a 5-bedroom house and they want a few acres?

Check Out Your Best Customers Online

Most of us have at least a few customers. Some are great, and some aren’t. But you want to use your best customers in order to better inform your buyer persona profiles. I define “best customers” like this: If all of your customers could be like these people, you’d be in heaven.

Use Google to Scope Them Out

First thing’s first: Use Google and look these people up. Check out where they are online. This can show you some of their online profiles and websites that they’re named on. If they’re involved in volunteer efforts, then it’s worth exploring whether or not that’s something more of your ideal customer base is interested in. You may also find indications of hobbies. If you Google me, for example, you’ll find my fitness competition photos, videos from my training, posts I’ve written about knitting. And maybe even my gardening blog!

You’ll Find A Lot of Data on Social Media

Next, you should check out their social media profiles. People have a lot more public (even on platforms like Facebook) than they realize. This is a great opportunity for persona building. A lot of people take pictures with their families, which may help you understand the sort of lifestyle your target audience typically leads.

  • Are they normally single or do they have kids?
  • Do they love to travel? Nationally or internationally?
  • Do they have pets?

How might you use this information? If my best customers love to travel, then I might write a blog post on how you can use your vacation photos in your content marketing on Instagram. I’m still talking about content marketing, but by including the fact that my best customers love to travel in my buyer persona profile, I’ll appeal immediately to more people like them.

Sometimes your content doesn’t tie directly to your services or products at all. And that’s okay. Your content isn’t meant to sell. It’s meant to build a relationship. That connection is how you will create new relationships and maintain current ones.

Look at what your customers are posting, who they follow, and how they interact. Like tends to attract like. So if you’re building a B2B buyer persona, you may find some trends across your best customers’ LinkedIn profiles. If you see that many of them like to share videos, then it may benefit you to record a few and share a few videos yourself. Your best customers can help you expand your reach when you share content that appeals to them.

What Problems Does Your Target Customer Have?

What sorts of problems do your target customers have? You can use this information to build your buyer personas. Your target audience’s goals can be the flip side to their problems. It depends on how they express it. You want to make sure you explore everything from multiple angles. I can say that I can’t seem to lose weight (problem), or that I’d like to get more fit (goal).

How they express their problems and goals is important. You can use their language back at them. This is true for more than just your content. Your advertisements and in-store signage benefit from this sort language as well. Don’t forget about any Facebook or Google Ads you choose to run. Buyer personas can increase the effectiveness of your entire marketing and sales strategy.

Where Can You Find Your Customers Talking About Their Problems?

So we’ve already talked about social media, but where else can you find your customers (or future customers) talking about their concerns, goals, and hopes? Online forums are one place. Search for any potential customer hot buttons or goals on websites like Quora. If it’s B2B, then you may find a lot of great information in LinkedIn or Facebook groups.

Your customer service emails may contain a treasure trove of information as well. What about your company reviews? Sometimes reviewers start their review with “I was looking for….” or “I was struggling with” or similar sentiments. Pay attention to these. You may find problems you weren’t aware of.

What Problems Does Your Company Solve?

Not what services you sell, but what problems do you solve? Let’s say you sell hats. The types of hats you sell will tell me what kinds of problems you solve. Do you sell HR services? Then maybe the problem you solve is for the busy business owner who doesn’t have a big enough budget to hire an HR person but has grown big enough to need HR help.

Frame Your Solutions Within Your Customer’s Problems

Here comes some inspiration for great content. If you’ve identified your customer’s problems, you can use that. You can frame your solutions within your customer’s problems. You can describe their problems, show that you understand them, and immediately hook them. When you talk about your customer’s problems, you appeal to their old brain. Your customer will use their logic brain (or new brain) to explain why they should hire you (or not). But the decision is really made in the old brain. You need to engage that old brain in order to gain new clients or customers.

I know it can be difficult, but I promise, if you work at understanding your ideal customer, not only will your content get better, you’ll find more “best” customers than you know what to do with!

Is it time for your business to have a developed content marketing strategy? Click here to get started with our B2B Content Marketing Workbook.

The Next Step in Your B2B Content Marketing Funnel: Lead Magnets

Some of the links below are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you choose to make a purchase.


Alright, I know. I still owe you a “What is B2B Content Marketing” blog post. If you really need me to answer that right now, please just use my contact form. However, this topic has come up a lot lately, and I figured it needed an answer. Not to mention, I have a super awesome tool that I use to create my lead magnets pretty easily*. I gave it away a bit, but lead magnets are a critical step in your B2B content marketing funnel.

What is a B2B Content Marketing Funnel?

Why thank you for asking! A content marketing funnel is a path you’ve created based on a pairing between your ideal buyer persona and the buyer’s journey. Its the content your customers or clients need to consume that builds their trust and your credibility until their ready to make a purchase from you. A traditional content marketing funnel often looks something like this:


I’m trying to keep things relatively simple, so this is the bare basics. So you can see, on the left at the beginning of the content journey, there are blog posts. Now your site visitors arrived at them some way, like:

  • Social media (organic or ads)
  • Organic search
  • Search engine PPC ad (Google, Bing, etc.)
  • Email because they’re already on your list.

However they got there, they’re there and reading your blog post. Then a suggestion comes up somewhere on the page for them to download a relevant piece of content they have to give their email for. In the content marketing world, we call these a few things:

  • Email opt-in
  • Gated content
  • Downloadable freebie
  • Lead magnet

And this gated content, opt-in, magnet can take on a few forms:

  • Exclusive email newsletter (not the best unless you can show you’re providing unique value)
  • eBook
  • Workbook
  • Slideshow
  • White Paper
  • Case Study
  • Research Report
  • Webinar
  • Masterclass
  • Email Class
  • and the list goes on.

A Bit More About My Favorite B2B Lead Magnets

You can turn a lot of things into a lead magnet. Some types though work really well. I think it’s because people expect to have to give their email address for them. My favorite lead magnets are ebooks, white papers, and case studies.

Ebooks Can Be Just The Right Complement to an Article

Ebooks have taken on so many different shapes and forms. They can be just a few pages or more than 100. Many ebooks include all sorts of graphics, and the links can lead to other relevant content. You can take the “Ebook of All the Things” approach, or you can make your ebook very specific. It’s whatever you want to do.

White Papers Satisfy that Numbers Itch When We Have a Big Decision to Make

You have prospects that really like you, so far. But how do you satisfy the logical side of their brain? Or perhaps they need to offer information to a more analytical party within their organization. How can you help them with that? You can send them a white paper. White papers are persuasive, reasearch-heavy documents that use facts to create a compelling perspective.

Case Studies Use Storytelling and Data to Deliver a 1-2 Punch

Case studies show a prospect what it’s like to work with you. Perhaps you have software that will help their business run better. But the question that prospect is holding in their mind is “How?” Case studies, or success stories, walk the reader through the entire process, from start to finish. Not to mention, case studies typically make use of happy client/customer quotes. Paired with data from their results, and you satisfy the emotional and logical sides of the brain. (Yes, I know there aren’t really sides. Humor me.)

We are way past the age where you can say “Join my newsletter!” and get great results. Not unless its a primo newsletter with fans (like a job listing newsletter for example). In order to get the best results, you should offer something special for joining your list.

In This Era of Social Media, Why Do I Need an Email List Again?

According to the DMA National Client Email Report, for every $1 you spend on email marketing, you’ll make $38 on average. That’s impressive ROI!

Now if you want that sort of ROI, you’ll need to show some serious love to your email list. Not just random broadcast emails. If you send relevant emails to the portions of your list who want to receive them, you could increase your revenue by 18%. So list segmentation and personalization is key.

Wait, you need me to write another post about email marketing? Well okay. I’ll add it to the list. Subscribe to my email list so you don’t miss it! (See what I did there?)

Have You Heard About the Sales Cycle?

Many of the top marketing minds agree that the sales funnel isn’t exactly a funnel. It’s more like a cycle. At least it is when you consider the fourth stage: Delight.

Another critical point I’d like to make is that the name “lead magnet” is a misnomer. You can use ebooks, case studies, white papers, quizzes and more at all stages of the sales cycle. Let’s just call them content assets.

Some content assets work better at some stages of the sales cycle than others. This is proven statistically. Content variety is a critical aspect of a strong content marketing strategy. Let’s talk this through.

At the awareness stage, an ebook may be a great way to attract new prospects (top of the funnel). However, at the decision stage, a white paper is just what a prospect needs to provide solid data and take the measure of your company’s credibility. 40% of B2B marketers say that case studies move prospects to buy. That’s because prospects are wondering what it’s like to work with you. What results will they get?

Ah, but what about at the delight stage? Well, there are a variety of ways you can delight your current customer with content. That includes training on your software, or even a team building exercise presented in a video or ebook.

Sometimes, you can take content and provide suggestions for how they can use it for their clients. I.e. you’ve written an article for your website, but some of your clients could send it to their prospects to keep communication flowing. Now that’s delightful.

Do People Really Want to Hear From My Company?

Do people want to hear from your company? No.

Does your target audience want to hear from your company? Heck yes, they do! If your offering genuine value and education for your client or customer, then yes they definitely want to hear from you. Although…

They don’t want to hear ABOUT you. Nope. They want to hear about their problems, and how they can be rid of them. That’s how you shape your content. You focus on your prospect’s problems, not your solution.

So you have to show them in your blog and social media that you are the best. That you mean business. That you’re a problem solver. Then they’ll want to see your gated content because they’ll be sure it’s amazing as well.

Did you know that 51% of B2B buyers view 3-5 pieces of content before making a purchase decision or even engaging with your sales team? That’s 3-5:

  • Blog posts
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • Ebooks
  • and more!

So if your competition is satisfying your target audience’s need for knowledge, then they are engaging with those customers and earning their trust. All while you’re waiting for that same target audience to come find you.

And now we’ve arrived at the creation stage of lead magnets (or content assets). This is the piece of content you need to help grow your email list, or support your prospects/customers at every stage of the sales cycle.

What Should My B2B Lead Magnets Be About?

I think the easiest lead magnets are made from repurposed content. What is repurposed content you ask?

Repurposing content sounds pretty self-explanatory — it’s when you take a piece of content and change it so it serves a different purpose When you repurpose a piece of content, you’re doing one of two things (or both): changing the format of the content, and/or changing the target audience for the content.. via The Purpose of Repurposing Content – HubSpot Blog

So repurposing content could be taking a few different shapes:  take a few blog posts and turning them into an ebook. Or even one blog post could do the trick. You could also take the slides from a webinar and offer them as a download or post them to Slideshare. Podcast or videos? Take those transcripts and turn them into an eBook. See how this works?

Also, don’t be afraid to take that existing content and expand on it in your new content asset. You can always add internal perspectives to demonstrate expertise. Or what about addtional examples to further illustrate a point?

As for the topic of that lead magnet….You want that to be the answer to a pressing problem for your audience.

HR services firm? Write an eBook about avoiding compliance issues and why this saves money.

Business development consulting firm? Write about how small businesses in your niche can secure new business. Or better yet, how they’re accidentally driving business away, and how they can fix that.

Corporate wellness company? Write an eBook about how companies can take on the problem of employee burnout and bring wellness back into their company culture.

Financial services firm? Writing about the common mistakes small businesses make with their accounting and how you fix/avoid them is sure to attract your target audience.

In all of these examples, you can ask for an email address in exchange for the content. By giving you permission to contact them, these people prequalify themselves for your message in an email sequence later on.

What About Brand New Content for My Lead Magnet?

Some of the very best content assets are unique and/or hard to obtain information. Maybe a white paper or research report, for example. When you make content assets like this (keep in mind a white paper can be 15-20+ pages), it’s important to make sure that you’re really addressing something your prospect/client wants to hear about.

This brand new content can be repurposed though, and you can create blog articles, videos, slideshows, and webinars with it as inspiration.

How Do You Make a Lead Magnet Quickly?

Well, I have a program I use to make lead magnets for myself and for my clients*. The beauty is that I can turn around a professional looking product and because it’s so efficient, and I can do it relatively quickly. The program I use is called Designrr.

So in the video below, I’m going to show you how I usually repurpose my content for my business or that of a client. That’s right, the video below shows me creating an eBook I’m actually going to use. And it’s only 9 minutes long. I add two blog posts to this eBook and chat at you in less than 10 minutes. Can’t beat that!

If you’d like to learn more about Designrr, you can click here*. (*If you do choose to purchase the application, I will receive a small commission, but it doesn’t change the price for you at all!)

What Does the Content Marketing Funnel Look Like When You Incorporate Lead Magnets?

So when you can create lead magnets quickly from content you’ve already invested in, what does your content marketing funnel look like now?

The reason your funnel changes so much is because it becomes easier to repurpose content for each blog post. If you follow the recommendation of investing in long-form content, you could even make an eBook for one blog post (blog post + workbook anyone?). This offers you more chances to capture lead information. Which means more chances to woo them through your awesome email marketing.

So if you’ve been blogging for your business, or you are thinking about it, don’t forget to consider the “so what” of blogging: your marketing and sales goals. You blog to generate qualified leads. You generate qualified leads to make sales. When you generate leads through content marketing, you generate quality leads that qualify themselves by giving you their contact information. And your content marketing lead generation is open 24/7, 365 days per year via Google. So go for it!


*Some of the links above are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you choose to make a purchase.