Small Business Content Marketing: Make a Big Impact with a Small Budget

Posted by Melissa King on September 30, 2021

GSD

Regardless of the general strategies you employ, content has always been a staple of modern marketing. In a 2020 SEMrush survey of over 1500+ marketers, 94% reported that they use content marketing.

So, if you want to spread the word about your small business, how can you get in on this practice? With the right tools and know-how—plus a little innovation—you can make a big impact with content marketing on a limited budget. The internet has plenty of resources out there, including this one, that will help you get the most out of your small business content marketing efforts and compete with the big leagues.

In this blog post, you’ll learn:

  • The definition of content marketing
  • What skills you will use in content marketing (and how to learn them)
  • Which zero- and low-cost tools can help you get your content marketing started
  • How to create the foundation of your content marketing—your strategy

What is content marketing?

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as a tactic that involves making and sharing content to attract and retain an audience with the goal of driving customer action. In other words, you create content that attracts customers or builds their trust with your brand to drive more sales.

This definition brings us to the question—what is content? By now you've probably heard the word thrown around quite a bit in marketing spaces.

Illustration: A man stands on a massive computer surrounded by different elements of content.

Blogging is one of the most well-known examples of marketing content, but content doesn’t have to be a blog. Ebooks, white papers, educational resources, and newsletters also count as content.

Content can also go beyond the written word. You’ll see plenty of content strategies that use multimedia and dynamic media like interactive tools, quizzes, and videos.

Find out how you can take control of your content with ButterCMS

Skills to have as a content marketer (and where to learn them)

The Content Marketing Institute discovered that half of small B2B businesses didn’t have a dedicated person for content marketing in 2020, meaning that many small business marketers have to wear multiple hats. So, you’re not alone if you find yourself trying to handle multiple aspects of your content marketing strategy. This stat also means that plenty of small business marketers can teach themselves the skills that they need to create and execute a strategy—including you. 

Here are some vital content marketing skills and where you can start learning them:

Content creation

To market content, you have to know how to create it or foster that creation. Content includes a wide spectrum of media, but for this blog post, we’ll look at the skills needed to make the two most popular forms of content: writing and video.

Writing takes dedication and practice to master, but you can get started with writing content by following basic principles for writing for the internet. Usability.gov has a great starter guide to help you write more approachable content. If you don’t feel comfortable writing your own content, you can also consider hiring a writer if you have the budget.

Video creation is another craft that requires time to learn. TechSmith has a comprehensive guide for making YouTube videos that you can apply to other video types. Just as you can with writing, you can also outsource video production for a cost.

Research and interviewing

If you plan on making your own content, you’ll need to know how to support it with quality sources, whether those sources are from the internet or original content.

Illustration: A person sits at a desk surrounded by data and books.

In content marketing, you’ll need to learn how to research for online content specifically and how to follow basic research principles. Content-specific research often requires looking at your competition and finding ways to stand out, as NP Digital explains. When you need to back up your arguments, use the (ironically named) CRAAP test to evaluate your sources.

Interviews can make for great original sources, so consider these interview tips from the Columbia Journalism Review when you want to talk to a customer, coworker, or subject matter expert for your content.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

Search engines drive a large part of traffic to online content. Sites like Ahrefs and Moz have introductory and more specific guides to optimizing your content and website for Google’s algorithm.

Data analysis

Good content marketers use data and analytics to inform their strategies and decisions. This Databox guide offers plenty of methods for analyzing content marketing data and taking action on your takeaways.

Content planning and strategy

High-quality content marketing requires careful planning and strategy to reach the right audience and inspire action. You’ll get an overview of the content strategy process after learning about small business-friendly content marketing tools.

Free and low-cost tools for small business content marketing

Many of the platforms needed for fundamental content marketing tasks come at an affordable price. You can create and execute a content marketing strategy with plenty of free and low-cost tools for:

  • Document and data management: If your company doesn’t have office suite programs already, Google Docs, Google Sheets, and other G-Suite platforms will work just fine for your documents and spreadsheets.
  • Video: Considering video content? Then you should check out Animoto, a cloud-based video creation service, with a free plan that includes unlimited video creation, social sharing, and a music library. For even more options, these eight free video tools recommended by Lifehack also offer basic functionality for beginner videos.
  • Interview transcription: If you plan on interviewing people for your content, Otter’s free plan will transcribe 600 minutes per month. It also has fairly affordable paid plans.
  • Analytics: Google Analytics will help you measure your content marketing web pages’ performance for free.
  • SEO keyword research: Keywords Everywhere is a low-cost Chrome add-on that shows related keywords and their volume when you search for a term on Google.
  • Graphic creation: Canva has a drag-and-drop interface featuring the components you need to make graphics and other visual content. Pixlr offers fundamental graphics program capabilities right in your browser.
  • Spelling and grammar: Grammarly’s free version checks your grammar and spelling as you write and checks for redundant phrases. The Hemingway App is also a great option if you want to tighten up your content and write in a more concise and impactful way. 
  • ButterCMS: Though traditional CMS platforms like WordPress may be free to use, investing in a headless CMS like ButterCMS makes more sense when you have a dev team working on your website. With a headless (aka API-driven) CMS your content can be displayed across several different presentation layers while being managed from a single hub. This not only gives you more control over how your content looks but also makes scaling your marketing content easier while reducing management and development costs. Furthermore, with ButterCMS's blog engine, blog posts come pre-configured for SEO with built-in SEO metadata and description fields enabling you to quickly create optimized content at scale and drive traffic to your site. 

Find out how you can take control of your content with ButterCMS

How to create a high-impact content strategy on a budget?

A solid strategy is the foundation of effective small business content marketing, and you can craft one with dedicated research and careful execution.

Illustration: A woman low on funds realizing that it's possible for her to create an effective content marketing plan

Buffer and Hubspot have in-depth guides to creating a strategy from the ground up that boils down to these five steps:

1. Set goals for your content marketing

Just like with other types of marketing, every piece of content you create should be made with a goal in mind. What do you want your content to accomplish? Broadly speaking, common content marketing goals include:

  • Brand awareness: Teaching more customers about your business
  • Thought leadership: Building customer trust by becoming an authority in your subject
  • Customer retention: Keeping current customers informed of your business to encourage ongoing sales

However, if you want to track your results, your small business content marketing strategy should have measurable goals. For example, if you want to increase brand awareness, how will you quantify it? CoSchedule offers ideas like tracking your website traffic, net promoter scores, social media engagement, and customer reviews.

Once you have a grasp on the goals you want to meet and their benchmarks, you can organize your goal by its broader mission (such as brand awareness) and break it down into smaller, more quantifiable goals (such as "reach X number of Facebook followers" and "X number monthly visitors").

Start with small and simple goals, then work toward more ambitious goals as you become more familiar with content strategy and its role in marketing.

2. Research your audience and create personas

Illustration: A man at a desk analyzes four different customer personas.

Your content should speak to your audience, and you can only know what your customers want through research. To understand your audience’s demographics and needs, try conducting some basic market research. According to Hubspot, you can perform two types of market research:

  • Primary research: Getting first-hand information through surveys, interviews, and other original research
  • Secondary research: Gaining second-hand information from existing sources such as government statistics, commercial reports, or your existing marketing data

With the information you can find, you’ll then create a customer persona—an imaginary person that represents your audience. Optinmonster has tons of templates and examples to help you understand what a buyer persona is and how to use it for your marketing efforts. A customer persona often conceptualizes your typical customer’s:

  • Demographics
  • Background
  • Challenges (that you can solve)
  • Buying behaviors
  • Possible objections to your product
  • Motivations

Many businesses create multiple personas to represent different segments (distinct groups) in their audience. You can get ambitious and make more than one persona, or start with one and adjust as needed while you get more familiar with your audience.

3. Analyze your content and your competition’s content

Now, it’s time to figure out where your content will stand out against the rest by looking into the current content available in your industry and niche—including yours.

Start with an audit of your existing content. Collect all of your previous content pages in a spreadsheet that includes any performance data you have on them. Then, look for trends in the content that performs well and think about how those trends relate to your content marketing goals.

(If you don’t have any content yet, no worries. Go ahead and focus on researching competitor content).

Illustration: A man with binoculars spies on his competitors. He's surrounded by webpages, emails, and images etc.

Once you have an overview of your current content, you need to research what your competitors are doing. Search for keywords or concepts related to your business and see which content ranks high on Google and social media. Pay attention to each piece of content’s:

  • Format
  • Length
  • Tone
  • Visuals
  • Possible goals (any calls-to-action at the end will usually say what they want the customer to do)

Having this competitor information on hand can make it tempting to mimic what they’re doing, but this approach will make content marketing more difficult, especially if you’re a small business.

Instead, you want to ask, “What can we do well that our competitors haven’t done yet?”

The answers to that question will give you spaces where you can make a name for yourself.

4. Decide what kind of content you want to create

With your goals and research set in place, you can start thinking forward. Keeping your goals, audience, industry landscape, and resources in mind, what types of content will work best for your strategy? Examples include:

  • Short-form blog posts (~500-1000 words)
  • Long-form blog posts (2,000+ words)
  • Downloadable ebooks
  • Text or video interviews
  • Video guides
  • Interactive quizzes

As you choose the content types for your strategy, consider what’ll be realistic for your team. If you’re a team of one, it might be hard to commit to multiple content types without outsourcing some work. Or, if you want to make interactive content, you’ll need to find a good tool or developer who can help you create it.

5. Develop a content organization, creation, and distribution plan

Illustration: A team standing around various graphs, charts, and calanders.

Time to bring everything together with a detailed small business content marketing plan. Use all of the information and plans you’ve collected so far to establish these aspects of a content strategy:

  • Capacity: How many of each content type do you want to create?
  • Schedule: When will you complete each step of your content pieces?
  • Workflow: What steps will your team take to plan, create and distribute content?
  • Assignments: Who will execute each part of your content strategy?
  • Distribution channels: Where and how often will you share the content you create?

Go into as much detail as you can when writing up these plans or adding them to your project management platform. You’ll want to have a clear picture of how much work your strategy will take and how it relates to your content marketing goals. 

Where to go from here

Now that you have the basics down pat, get started with your company’s content marketing by:

  • Creating a learning plan for the content marketing skills you want to gain
  • Establishing a toolkit to support your content marketing, such as a headless CMS that lets you manage multiple channels with one interface
  • Build an actionable, data-informed content marketing strategy

Now, go forth and make content that converts.

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Melissa King

Melissa King is a freelance writer who helps B2B SaaS companies spread the word about their products through engaging content. Outside of the content marketing world, she writes about video games. Check out her work at melissakingfreelance.com.

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