Small businesses need to take proactive steps to plan and organize their content marketing. Here’s how you can simplify the process.
I have been a freelance writer and editor for over 20 years. During that time, I’ve followed trends in search engine optimization (SEO), social media, and content marketing. The conversations surrounding them constantly change.
In the past, the focus was on quantity. Marketers flooded the internet with multiple daily posts, seeking the holy grail of content: the viral post. That trend hurt small business owners who had too many things on our plates. We simply could not churn out content fast enough to compete with big businesses that were throwing money at massive campaigns.
Luckily, in the last year, the landscape has changed dramatically. Now, the focus is on quality over quantity. This change leveled the playing field.
To demystify what this means, this article will break down the content marketing trends for 2023. We address concerns from the perspective of a solopreneur who makes a living in this arena. Let’s dive into answering the following questions:
- How can a small business master content marketing?
- What is a target audience and what does it mean for content marketing?
- What is a brand and how can it help with mastering content marketing?
- What are a brand’s voice and tone? How do you find them?
- How do I use a content calendar to create (and stick with) a strategy?
- Does AI have any role in my small business content marketing plan?
- What are the essential elements of a marketing budget?
How can a small business master content marketing?
Content marketing focuses on strategically using valuable, relevant, and consistent content to entice your audience. Rather than just trying to sell your goods and services, you provide information that your target audience values. Ideally, that audience trusts you and ultimately buys from your small business.
This content can come in many forms, including blog posts, email newsletters, social media, and how-to videos. Anything you do online should be part of your content strategy.
Mastering content marketing comes down to a few key elements:
- knowing your target audience
- knowing your brand’s voice and tone
- maintaining consistent content
- utilizing a budget effectively
Let’s break these ideas down into manageable morsels.
What is a target audience and what does it mean for content marketing?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who finds value in having your product or service in their lives?
- Who appreciates the time-saving, money-saving, hope-for-tomorrow promise you have available?
- When you envision someone buying your product or service, who makes the purchase? What do they look like? How old are they? What’s their life like?
- If you were to receive a glowing review from someone that made you think, “that’s why I do what I do,” who would the reviewer be?
That’s your target audience. Remember that person when developing your brand, logo, and marketing campaign. Make sure you are talking to that demographic.
Then, ask yourself the same questions again to see if you have more than one audience. If you sell children’s books, for example, your primary market is multi-fold and includes:
- The child who loves the character and begs their parent to buy the next in the series
- The parent who loved that the child was reading a book
- The small bookstore on the corner where you want to place your book in a prominent location
- The big catalog store that you hope will feature the book so that librarians and teachers love it and buy it
- The librarian who you want to entice into featuring the series
- The teacher who might add it to their suggested or even required reading
Each of these target audiences hear about books differently. That allows you to tweak each of your content marketing entities to a different audience.
This kind of strategic targeting can be exhausting and time-consuming. Creating and utilizing a Creative Advisory Board to help is a great place to start. To build that team, see:
Once you know who should be involved in tackling your content marketing, you need to all be on the same page about your brand, voice, and tone.
What is a brand and how can it help with mastering content marketing?
A brand is what makes you different from every other manufacturer of the same type of product. For more prominent brands, we often associate the brand with their slogan or logo. For example:
- What fast food restaurant sings, “have it your way?” Which uses cows to sell its chicken?
- Which store utilizes a target as its logo?
- What travel destination is the “happiest place on earth?” Which one promises that whatever happens there, stays there?
Small businesses can zero-in on their branding by figuring out their uniqueness. A bakery, for example, can utilize locations and name-play to create a fun and memorable logo. Not making muffins? No problem. Branding is about consistent font, imagery, and colors combined with a consistent voice.
When developing your brand and marketing strategy, solopreneurs have additional concerns, including how much they want their personal and business social media platforms to overlap. Learn more about these concerns in Branding Lessons for Solopreneurs.
For more on branding, see:
Once you and your team have an idea what your brand looks like, it’s time to give it a personality through voice and tone.
What are a brand’s voice and tone and how do I find them?
Your brand’s voice and tone personify your company’s personality. A brand’s voice is what it says. Its tone is how it says things to invoke the feelings or emotions in audiences when they see your logo or think about your product.
Have you ever had a child apologize to you with a disgruntled face and fingers you think are likely crossed behind their backs? It doesn’t work. That’s because the voice and tone have to match the picture in your head to feel legitimate.
When you think of an amusement park, for example, you likely think about thrills, shows, and fun. Their ads will be full of smiling people with junk food, loads of laughter, and enormous rides. If the ads were filled with couples taking sunset walks on the beach hand-in-hand with a slogan like, “rekindle your marriage with the highest-speed upside coaster ever created in the history of the world,” we’d all be confused.
To figure out your company’s voice and tone, consider these questions:
- When people think about your business, what do you want them to think about?
- What keywords should be on the tips of their tongues?
Make your list of keywords and the emotions you want your target audience to feel. Weave those words throughout all the content you produce. Make sure the keywords you choose match the target audience. Don’t try to sell love to 6-year-olds or skateboards to 96-year-olds.
It may seem awkward initially, but if your team genuinely buys into the words and focuses on the target audience, the keywords and ideas become an organic part of the culture. When this happens, you have captured the voice and tone of your brand.
How do I use a content calendar to create (and stick with) a strategy?
According to Sprout social, internet users spend more time than ever on social media–151 minutes daily! If you aren’t utilizing social media, you’re missing out. But, like all of your content, social media should have a strategy. You have to decide which social media platforms you will use, how often you will post on each, and what the focus of each platform will be.
Start with these steps:
- List your content branches. Perhaps you are starting with Instagram, a newsletter, and a blog.
- Then, list the target audience of each branch.
- List the keywords for each branch.
- Define how often you want to create content for each.
Shutterstock’s Creative Flow offers a free option as well as paid plans. If, for example, your creative team would like to focus on sharing a link to someone else’s content for cross-marketing every Tuesday, a link to a review on Thursday, and a fresh blog post on Saturday, you can simply add those words to the calendar. This simplified approach keeps your team on the same page.
You can take this further with the paid version of Creative Flow. When you type Easter into the calendar, for example, a catalog of premade options appears.
In addition, there are also templates you can utilize and edit to match your branding.
To learn more about what kind of content works on different social media platforms, check out the following articles:
And remember, your strategy can be tweaked and changed. If your initial plan proves to be overwhelming, revisit your options. If you find it is easier than you thought, you can always increase the frequency.
Does AI have any role in my small business content marketing plan?
Business News Daily says, “Whether rosy or rocky, the future is coming quickly, and artificial intelligence will certainly be a part of it.”
AI is for more than just big businesses. According to AI Time Journal, in the coming years, small businesses will likely use AI for the following:
- Increasing work efficiency
- Boosting customer satisfaction
- Reducing business costs
- Allowing for a more rapid expansion and better consumer insights
- Reducing the risk of Cybersecurity Attacks
Rather than fighting the unknown, an easy way to begin dabbling with AI technology is to utilize it in your marketing strategy. For example, rather than importing only Shutterstock library images into the Creative Flow tool, you can use the AI image generator tool to create precisely what you are looking for. The tool generates images that match your needs. For example, here is a silly set of words I typed in the AI tool:
And it rendered these results.
The options are only limited by your imagination. The tool is free to try. Consider typing in your text descriptions and see what exciting images return.
To understand more about AI for small businesses, see:
What are the essential elements of a marketing budget?
Mastering your marketing plan means budgeting both time and money. Just like when a solopreneur is trying to determine when to make their first hire, it is essential to check your resources before diving in.
According to NewPath, businesses under five years old may spend 12–20% of their revenue on marketing. 56% of that marketing budget will go into digital marketing.
When considering your marketing budget, account for the hourly wage of the person doing the work.
To create your budget, ask these questions:
- How much can I afford to put into marketing?
- How much time do I (or my teammates) have available to give to marketing?
- Where is the best place to invest that time and money?
- How will I hold myself accountable to that budget?
Given your time and financial restrictions, decide where to invest. For example, you may start with the free Creative Flow tools before diving into monthly plans. You can slowly add more flash and pizazz as you find your rhythm.
In addition, consider adding an intern to the marketing mix for a fresh perspective that is mutually beneficial.
Set your budget, make it public for everyone on your marketing team, and stick with it. A simple spreadsheet in Google Drive can work.
How will I know if my marketing is working?
Your marketing team needs to have measurable goals to define its success. This is often broken into the acronym SMART.
Consider questions like,
- Am I trying to increase engagement on my social media platforms? If so, consider using polls or asking questions.
- Am I after shares? If you aim to increase the number of times your social media posts are shared or your blogs are linked to, focus on the value you add to the audience.
- Am I after more likes? Beauty may be the best way to go.
Then, put metrics to the goals. For example,
- We will increase our Facebook followers by 10% in 6 months.
- We will increase our newsletter subscribers by 20% in one year.
- We will create two blogs per week for the next 6 months.
All of these forms are measurable. Just like with the budget, keywords, and target audiences, it is a good idea to physically write the goals to see your progress. Your team should revisit the plan on a consistent schedule to see what is working and what needs to be tweaked.
And remember, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The business tools in social media are an excellent resource for tracking metrics for each platform. The Meta Business Suite, for example, offers statistics like this:
Final thoughts on how to master content marketing
Mastering content marketing is manageable if you take it one step at a time. Recognize that marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. And like any marathon, it takes training and commitment. It will take time to grow your online presence, but you don’t have to tackle it alone. Creative partners Shutterstock can enhance your team’s work with its easy-to-use tools.
Take your business to even greater heights: