Beginnings are hard. We procrastinate the projects and tasks we perceive tough, complicated, or otherwise messy. Starting a content marketing program from scratch is right up there on the list. Neck-tightening tension separates things we intend to do from the things we actually do. Left unresolved, tension quickly escalates to anxiety, stress, and self-doubt.
Remember the comfort of blanket forts when you were a kid? Yeah. Sometimes it’s more appealing to hide or avert our attention rather than figure out something sticky.
Mistakes Are Amplified For Startups
On a bigger scale, the opportunity cost of not taking care of real business is much more significant for entrepreneurs. Startups and young companies face particularly challenging early years as owners and vested staff strive like crazy to gain precious traction (read: survive). It’s common for these fledgling companies to skip or minimize proven growth marketing activities in favor of first “perfecting” the product.
Timing Is Everything
But is waiting smart? Data shows content marketing is a long game requiring consistent, strategic investment. If you own a startup and decide to put content marketing on the back burner until your product is perfect (or you have more time, or a larger staff, have an uber tight plan in place, or…), you may miss the benefits of early investment.
For Prospects, It’s A Self-Serve World
People want solutions to their problems, and they look online for answers. Which product or service most closely matches their pain?
Startups that invest in content marketing have the means to affirm theirs is the best solution. The information companies seed online can build brand perception as a market leader; compound SEO, reach, and awareness benefits; and create a pathway for critical data acquisition mechanisms.
Prospective buyers in discovery and research phases want information to be readily available, easily accessible, and substantive. If your blog, detailed product pages, customer reviews, and how-to guides aren’t online (or are thin), does your business really exist? How else can a prospect deem your company trustworthy, useful, and reliable? Content has the cues.
Startups, The Odds Are Against You
There are even more reasons to begin content marketing early. An estimated 50% of new businesses fail within the first 5 years of operation. This means the clock is ticking loudly for companies trying to find purchase in an existing market or spark a new segment. Another estimate I read cited business failure at a whopping 96% within ten years of launch. Ouch. Do not pass GO, do not collect $50. It may be useful to read up on companies that help and encourage startup, for example, startup blog.
With such a gloomy outlook, it’s a wonder entrepreneurship is on an uptick, albeit slightly. In 2014, approximately 500,000 new businesses launched each month. Guess what? This competition is – you guessed it – yet another reason to take action against your startup’s content marketing challenges.
Let’s take a look at a few of these challenges:
Content Marketing Challenges Startups Face
Content Marketing Challenge #1: “We don’t have enough time.”
Is that procrastination talking? Because what startup can’t afford to demonstrate expertise in a market its leaders intend to operate in?
Sure, a 5-person fledgling company may really need to spend time fighting code and dancing with bankers. But there are ways to get your content machine warmed up that don’t require a 5-Hour Energy Drink and Red Bull cocktail, too.
- Hire it out. Finding quality support and guidance doesn’t have to be a complicated, time-consuming, expensive commitment. A number of reputable virtual marketing companies exist to serve as an extra pair of hands to companies in need of creative and digital services. Engagements can be as simple as a few blog posts a month written around a prescribed topic or keyword set. Or assignments can be more advanced, like a series of themed posts, an eBook, or email campaign sequence.
Where to Look:
- CloudPeeps is a marketplace for freelancers, startups, and young companies. These businesses post opportunities for projects ranging from social media management to content marketing. Freelancers interested in the projects submit pitches for the businesses to review. Both parties are vetted by CloudPeeps staff.
- Inbound.org is an online community for inbound marketers, includng growth hackers, developers, content marketers, and social media specialists. Their people share ideas and problem-solve. The community features a job board which allows companies to post opportunities freelancers and job-seekers can evaluate.
- Don’t Panic! Management has staff and freelance talent available on a tiered pricing basis. The company can ghostwrite blog posts, plan whole editorial calendars, and cover social media execution.
What To Look For:
- Ask for a custom work sample for which you’ll agree to pay market price. Did the provider ask intelligent questions to inform his work? If they have no prior experience in your industry, is it clear they took the initiative to learn? Was the work well-written and did it meet your stated objectives? Was it delivered on time?
- A simple, affordable content engagement doesn’t mean your dealings should be sophomoric. You should have a non-disclosure agreement, a contract detailing terms, and a scope of work describing expectations and deliverables. These documents will safeguard your interests and provide structure to the relationship.
- A good partner will ask to meet with you to complete a project brief before beginning any work. As part of a larger list of pre-work, the brief should specify the situation, detail your objectives for the assignment, and list any challenges or information that may have bearing. The brief may also specify any industry-specific factors your partner should be aware of, and outline goals or success metrics.
Content Marketing Challenge #2: “We don’t have the staff.”
Small, new companies are inherently short on resources. Sometimes it’s the hottest fire that gets quenched first. But at what sacrifice to long-term success?
If your startup doesn’t have the bandwidth to take on any form of content marketing, it may be time to hire a consultant for a needs assessment. Based on her findings and recommendations, you could determine if a low-commitment route (see potential solutions to challenge #1, above) is appropriate. If a more substantive approach better suits your situation, there are other options.
- Call in a pro. A content strategy consultant like Sara Wachter-Boettcher or Margot Bloomstein can define messaging architectures, draw up processes, and lay out a content roadmap.
- Rally the executioners. An online agency like KoMarketing can further build on a consultant’s findings. KoMarketing can identify keywords, develop content optimized for search, and analyze the results of published content to inform further action.
What To Look For:
- Personality and style fit are a must. Do you prefer a hands-off approach where the consultant and/or agency plan and execute all aspects of your content marketing? Or would you like to be more involved, so you may both influence decisions and learn in order to be more self-sufficient with content initiatives moving forward?
- While your daily schedule may not have much room for play, you’ll be well served with predetermined milestone reports, a project timeline, and success metrics. These touchstones will hold all parties accountable, establish a sense of urgency, and foster a sense of accomplishment about the investment.
Content Marketing Challenge #3: “We (sort of) have a plan, but it isn’t quite ready yet.”
Fist bump on having some groundwork done! Sometimes simply starting a project can be the hardest part of tackling an important task. If you’re stuck because of a fire call, then another, here’s a reminder to focus anew on the content marketing card on your scrum board.
- Bring structure to your tasks. Maybe your content marketing challenge continues to linger because it feels too abstract. Think about ways to strip away the fog to bring actionable clarity to the task. One way to do that is by scrumming it. Scrum is a methodology historically used in IT and software development worlds to prioritize projects and break requirements and steps down into manageable steps. Scrum is gaining popularity among marketing teams as more marketing work has branched out to include multiple departments. Scrum is flexible, and can be adapted to fit remote, mixed, and onsite teams.
- Change your bad habits. Other methods, including Getting Things Done and the Pomodoro Technique, can make you more time-aware and provide a more intentional approach to managing your time (seriously, how many rabbit holes have you fallen down today?).
What To Look For:
- Some people use Trello to mimic the columns and note cards commonly used in scrum sprint planning. Another option is online software tool Scrumblr.
- Alternatively, almost any good project and timeline management tool (like Asana, Basecamp, or Zoho) can be an effective means to advance projects when specific personnel is assigned, used consistently, and in need of realistic due dates. It’s good to have an internal champion who can keep an eye on progression and, if necessary, nudge contributors to comply as scheduled.
Let’s face it: There is no time like the present to get your content marketing program off the ground. While your startup may face challenges such as outlined above, an important first step is simply to get your content initiatives in motion, calling in help if and when needed.
What content marketing challenges have you faced in program implementation and execution?