In the first half of 2012, small business spending on IT grew by 6%. More and more, small businesses are jumping in with the big boys, spending more on technology across the board. This trend is good news for both those businesses and the vendors that serve them.

Content marketing across multiple channels makes a lot of sense for small businesses with limited marketing budgets. But oftentimes it is the last item on a to-do list (and sometimes, it’s not even on the radar).

Creating good content is expensive. Whether you opt to strategize, create, and run your own campaign, or hire an outside firm to do the heavy lifting, there’s expense (time or money). But for small businesses, there’s no better cost-effective way to grow and retain your customer base. A coherent, engaging content campaign does something that no other type of marketing can do as well: It makes your brand a trusted name and it puts grassroots marketing in the hands of a powerful ally, your customer.

What can you do?

  1. Get your strategy straight
    What does your company bring to market? Do you have this clearly laid out? What’s your purpose, and what’s your mission statement? Define this, and build your messaging (every bit of your messaging) around your purpose. If a blog, a tweet, or a white paper doesn’t support your purpose—even in a tangential way—toss it.
  2. Determine what you can spend
    Are you hiring a content strategy firm? Determine what your budget is, and communicate that. Are you hiring a strategist to work in house? Be realistic on the time spent on content strategy (this isn’t a part-time position). You need someone who can do more than write; you need someone well-versed in digital strategy, trends, and what’s on the horizon. S/he should also be a wicked-savvy writer, editor, and SEO aficionado.
  3. Blog
    A resource for potential and existing clients (when done right!), a blog is a powerful communication tool. Set up an editorial calendar and stick to it. One post every six months won’t net you the traffic and search engine results you want. Marketing disguised as a blog won’t fool anyone. Make sure you have something to say before you tie a post to your business.
  4. Dive into social media
    Twitter. Facebook. Google+. YouTube. Customers expect a lot. In the same way they expect a professional website, folks also want to be able to see and follow their favorite companies and brands via social platforms. Have a presence, make it relevant, and keep it interesting. Listen to what they’re saying. Interact with thoughtfulness. And watch your followers and fans grow as you build a community loyal to your business.
  5. Newsletters and email marketing
    Emails and newsletters can be great ways to connect. Newsletters, published as blog posts, provide a bridge from social media to commercial relationships. The same is true of emails. Once a prospective client signs up for your email distribution, though, be careful not to overload. An email a week is enough, and it should offer something—a coupon, unpublished information, special services. Don’t hit send until you know what the purpose is. Countless emails do nothing but land you on a spam list.
  6. Press releases
    Another reason to get yourself a professional copywriter who knows your company well? Being mentioned in your local business publications creates great buzz and word-of-mouth awareness. You should know what your local publications are, down to the name of the contact for press releases. When your company produces read-worthy news, get those releases rolling. No one is going to toot your horn; that’s up to you.

That’s a Lot!
Can you do all these things at once? Probably not. If your resources are slim, all of these tactics are impractical to tackle in-house. If you go that route, it’s better to start small and get it right, figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

You can’t buy loyalty, and traditional advertisements don’t build trust.  But with positive, customer-centric engagement marketing, small businesses have a unique, hugely relevant opportunity to engage in meaningful ways that also help their bottom lines.

Sara Fraser – Director, Content Marketing

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