7 Steps To The Right Content Marketing Plan For You

Just like real-life in-person networking, content marketing is an effective way to drive awareness and leads to your website and your business. It includes not only blog posts and social media content, but also the core content on your website that helps people get to know you and compare you with your competitors.

Content marketing pays dividends in brand awareness, leads, and access to prospective customers at just the point when they're deciding they need help from someone just like you. And if the thought of attending a networking event makes your blood run cold, it's an effective way to get your name out there without having to mumble your business plan to a single stranger.

What's it worth?

According to research from the Content Marketing Institute, UK marketers spent on average a third of their entire marketing budget on content marketing in 2015, with two thirds of marketers expecting their content marketing budget to increase this year. Clearly medium to large companies consider content marketing an effective way to spend marketing pounds.

How much it's worth to your business depends on how well you do it. Great content strikes a chord with exactly the right audience. It finds and helps them at the precise moment they need help. In fact, the right content can be all you need to attract and convert exactly the people you can help the most.

To do it well, you need to know yourself and your audience. You need a thorough understanding of your customers' buying cycle to tell you what people need at each step.

You certainly don't have to be the most imaginative or eloquent writer, as long as you give your customers exactly what they need, when they need it.

Set aside around half a day to follow the steps in this article, and you'll come out with a clear idea of the content you need to provide, and plenty of ideas to get you started.

1. Who are you?

To create content that holds together as a body of work, with a consistent theme, you need a written statement of your intentions; who you are, what you do and how it benefits the world.

You also need an idea of your tone of voice — the personality you want to put across. A consistent personality helps your audience understand and relate to you. It allows them see you as a person, rather than a faceless business or website, which is essential because people buy from people, not websites.

Your business personality is a product of what you do, what your audience expects, and — crucially — your own individual personality. If you tend to take most things in life fairly seriously, you'll appreciate customers who give your products and services appropriate gravity. A bit of infantilised quirk will clash with the reality of interacting with you. Being yourself may be a reality TV cliché, but when it comes marketing your own business, a consistent personality between you and your site is key.

Write down a few words to describe your business personality and stick them on the wall near your desk as a reminder.

2. Who do you serve?

Personas are mental pictures of your customers that remind you who you exist to help. You can flesh each persona out with a name, age, lifestyle, motivations for using your products and general personality traits. You can give each one a name and draw a picture of them.

Large businesses go all out on detailed persona biogs. Why? Because the better you know your customers, the more able you are to define what they need and how to speak to them.

One of my personas is Sarah, a mum of young children who makes unique new-baby gifts. She already uses social media, but she doesn't know where to start with listing her products and gaining payments through a website, or even whether she needs the hassle of running a website at all.

Knowing who she is enables me to feel her pain points. I can imagine the questions she Googles and what she asks her friends. I can create content she needs, for her to stumble across on the web.

Document your personas, whether it's by drawing them and listing their traits on scraps of A4, or compiling their every personality trait and motivation in a gigantic spreadsheet. The more detail you add, the better.

3. What's your unique benefit?

Once you're sure about who you are and whom you serve, think about what makes you special. Are you the cheapest in the market? The highest quality? Do you have an awesome success rate in helping your clients? Do you have a super customer-centric way of delivering your services or an irresistible brand story?

What you do is meaningful to you. What's meaningful to others is what you do for them. So try to say as little as you can about what you do and stick to what you do for people. Sarah makes baby gifts, but on her website, she helps people show how much they care for the new baby (and mum) they buy for.

What makes you special is your message, and it should play a part in every communication you make with your customers. Make sure everyone knows it.

4. What is your content goal?

Your research so far should be leading you to the common business goal for your content. Your content should help you build your customer base by…

For me, I provide simple solutions in small modular chunks to help small businesses build up a presence on the web. My content goal, then, is to help small businesses understand what each of these chunks means to them, which should lead to more customers.

Working back from my goal helps me come up with themes (web design, branding, content, social media marketing etc) and individual content ideas.

By the way, if you think making a final decision on your content goal is something to skip over, think again. It's one hundred times easier to define subjects and ideas for your content if you know who you are and what you would like to say.

5. What content do you need for your buying cycle?

You should provide content at each step of the buying process that helps people move on to the next step. The buying cycle has four broad steps:

a) Awareness

Before awareness comes the motivation that leads people to find out you exist. If you're a plumber, your prospective customers probably have a plumbing problem. They may know they need a plumber (in which case they'll Google "local plumber", so you need a search engine optimised website) or they may just not be sure why their radiators are cold. You could answer the question "Why aren't my radiators working?" in a video or blog post.

Newborn baby gift maker Sarah's customers are searching for ideas for special baby gifts, or for ways to make a gift. She could post videos demonstrating how to make small gifts. What else do people who might need a baby gift (but don't know it yet) be searching for? How to support a new mum? How to hold a newborn? Advice on becoming a grandparent?

Awareness content should answer any question your customers have, as long as it at least relates to the thing you do. If that means publishing your professional secrets, so be it. You are the expert. Your customers can't do what you do as well as you can no matter how eloquently you describe it, and they will appreciate you generously sharing your knowledge.

b) Research

Once someone is aware of you, draw them in and make them want to find out more by making a human connection. You can do this via your individual and consistent tone of voice and by presenting a coherent story about you on your website.

To prompt potential customers to add you to the list of potentials, be clear and upfront about how you benefit them. Don't hide behind jargon. You may need to get into the technical detail somewhere (see below), but not on your homepage. Homepages are for benefits.

c) Comparison

Comparison content is anything that helps people compare you with the competition. Think carefully about the message and visual identity you present front and centre on your homepage. A strong message encapsulating your benefits may be all you need to swing the vote in your direction.

Comparison content also includes case studies, portfolio examples, testimonials and price lists. If you are a consultant, your pricing may be hard to define, but I'd urge you to try. Chunking down what you do helps prospective customers understand exactly how you can help them, and avoids the need for a lengthy and potentially off-putting quotation process at an early stage.

d) Purchase

The purchase phase, also called 'conversion' is whatever prompts someone to commit to you. This often happens offline, once you've located a lead and spoken to them directly. Conversion on your website may mean contacting you via your contact form.

Online, conversion rates can be improved by upping the attractiveness of your product pages, making it easy to book a table at your restaurant, or rephrasing your "Buy It Now" calls to action.

6. How do your competitors do it?

What kind of content do they produce? Could you do better? How are you different? What do you offer the industry conversation that they don't?

Competitors are a great place to get inspiration, but checking them out can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Remember they were once where you are, with a small site and no content. With time and effective planning, you can do better.

7. Now make the plan

Spreadsheet, notebook, Word doc, back of a cigarette packet, it doesn't matter where you write your plan, as long as you write it down. A spreadsheet is the obvious choice as it allows you to list everything you need then swap things around.

List every single piece of content you need — the web pages and blog posts — into the plan, then start to move it around and decide who will write it.

Website content should be higher priority than blog posts etc, but making a start on your blog as soon as you can will help with search engine optimisation.

One last tip: Be realistic

Unrealistic goals are a secret plan sent from your subconscious saboteur to trip you up and get you down. Running a small business is tough, and many other priorities — especially those that will make you money directly — constantly tug at your attention.

Set deadlines on your plan, but make sure you can meet them. Ask yourself exactly when you will write. Schedule writing time into your calendar and you'll be more likely to stick to the plan.

And, if you need to, hire someone to write your content for you.