How to Use Content to Grow Your Business


“Content is King.” - Bill Gates

You work your butt off for your small business and sometimes just keeping the lights on seems like a victory worthy of a parade. I get it. The good part is you’re awesome at what you do, the bad part is the competition is about to get a lot tougher.

All businesses are scrambling to find new ways to reach and connect with customers now that traditional advertising and the first wave of online ads are dying a slow death. You know those horrible banners that you’ve been avoiding since you first logged onto AOL? Their click-through rate hovers somewhere around 1% (that's not good, especially when you're paying for it). It basically means there's a better chance of the average person completing Navy Seal training than ever clicking one of your banners. Millennials laugh at them and the rest of us just tune them out. Direct mail is so dead, the only thing more out of date is the post office (even Kramer agrees).

There is hope … and a solution. It’s better, cheaper, more valuable to your empire, and it serves the world.

It’s content.

Every company, regardless if they sell a physical good or a service, needs to think about how customers find them, communicate, and earn their trust. What does that mean? It means every business needs to be a media company too. Not in the traditional sense of a newsroom, but you need to be creating content that provides value and proof that you’re worthy your customer’s business. But most of all, to show you’re human.

People want to do business with people, not a business.

In the last year, I've worked with a number of small and medium sized businesses helping them write and develop content for their online presence. It's been a stumbling block for most. Branding, copywriting, blogging, conversion rates ... it's a lot to take in. Content professionals, and writers in general need to be the advocate of the user/reader. We need to make sure they can understand, know what steps to take, and get what they need out of sites and apps. But most of all that they have a great experience. So, let’s touch on the online presence of your business as a whole.

When thinking of how you present your business (and yourself) online,  you need:

1) Your own professional looking website that’s “responsive."

This means people need to easily find your site no matter what device they’re on. And it also can’t look like your 12-year-old hacked it together in middle school study hall. Optimizing it to work on any device is so important Google is now making this a big piece of SEO (search engine optimization) and will penalize sites who haven't made this change in April. This means your site needs to look fantastic on a computer, tablet, iPhone, different sized Android devices, an iPad mini and so on … Here’s a great infographic that sums it up beautifully. The site you're on right now gets about 40% of its visitors coming from mobile devices. If you’re not sure how a responsive site works, take a look at this page on your phone or tablet, and then on your computer … See what I mean? It just works, doesn’t it? That genius cost me about $45. Don't blow a wad of money on a designer to get going. Just get a theme and get your message out there. The fancy design can come when you're ready.

2) A crystal-clear message.

A prospect has to be able to look at your site and know what you do, who you do it for, and why you kick ass in 5 -8 seconds. Yes, that quick. Remember, humans have an attention span of about 8 seconds now, which is 1 second less than a goldfish. And if your site loads slow - 32% of your customers will bail within 1-5 seconds. So, your potential customers will give you less than 10 seconds to prove something and then they move on to your competitor. That means your messaging has to be great, your copy needs to be clear and concise, and the actionable step you want customers to take to contact you is right in front of their face. Your presence also needs to reflect your brand, company values, and is not a friggin’ mess of words and links.

3) Show don’t tell.

This is where you show us why we should pick you to sell our house, mow our lawn or remove Barbie’s shoe from our dog’s belly. Don't write your entire life’s story, just make your business human, why you’re the best, and how you got to love what you do.

Testimonials from other customers are like gold. You need someone to vouch for you instead of blathering on about how great you are. Having your customers saying how you've helped them is worth a 1000 pages of you trying to convince us. Any stats, longevity, and community work are good as well. Also, map your content to your customer's needs. Remember, while it may be your site, it’s about them — not you.

4) Add value without expecting anything in return.

Ooooh, this is a big one isn’t it. Expect nothing? Yep. Well, this is where the content piece really comes in. Show that you’re a subject matter expert at your craft without getting something immediately in return. One trend is realtors creating city guides where they sell houses. A site where someone who’s moving to that city can find anything they need, and — oh yeah — someone to find them a place to live too. Another example: if you own a landscape company, explain on your company blog how the different seasons affect the landscaping/grass/plants in your area. Then gingerly go into how hiring you to properly feed and take care of those plants will actually save money, in the long run, and be the envy of the neighborhood. Saving money and lawn envy from your neighbors is a nice message — who wouldn’t want that?

5) Don’t look desperate.

Please do not squeeze everything you’ve ever done or ever thought onto your site. It’s a representation of you and your business, not a biography. Don’t confuse potential customers with all different kinds of price tiers and discounts, and other things you also can do. Give them enough to make a good decision or reach out to you with more questions. Make it about your customer and show that you’re human, with a heart. Also, understand your business is not a fit for everyone, just the right ones.

6) Social Networking.

Yes, it’s a great way to connect with your clients and show your human side, but it’s going to get much tougher to use effectively without paying for it. These “free” social networks are going to make money one of two ways: selling your data and/or making business pay for exposure. That leads us to … Facebook. Let’s talk about this beast for a minute because I know it’s driven a ton of traffic in the past for everyone, including me. It'll continue to be a good place to drive and share content and updates. That being said, it’s going to be tougher and tougher for small businesses to use Facebook as a lead generator unless you’re ready to pay for it. You’ve already noticed that posts only show up in a fraction of your followers feeds, well, it’s going to get worse. Facebook actually states that only about 16% of your followers will see your post or page … unless you pay for it.

Also, never use a social network as your business’s primary site. You want total control of where you place your digital home and don’t want someone else deciding what can and can’t happen on that platform. It would be like putting your office on a Greyhound bus and then wondering where it was after you came back from lunch. You need to own your real estate on the Internet.

7) A call to action.

What do you want prospective customers to do when they land on your page? Call you? Sign up for your email list? Fill out a contact form? Whatever it is, that should be front and center with very clear direction and an effortless experience. Don't have three different things for them to do on one page and don't make them read two paragraphs to figure out how to contact you. Make it easy. The more people that take the next step to becoming a customer means more business.

The proof is in the pudding. Here’s a fantastic story that explains it better than I ever could:

I was talking to a friend who said she was looking for a plumber. One of the kids had done something horrific and now they had to call in the big guns. After searching for plumbers, she ended up going with one because … get ready for this — he had a blog.

Yes, a plumber with a blog.

And why does that even matter? Because a blog lets your customers connect and get to know you, and then eventually trust you. It also allows you to prove you’re an expert at your craft and that you’re passionate about what you do. It doesn’t matter what you do, people want to work with those who love the hell out of their job. Because people who love and care about their work - do a better job. Again, showing someone always beats telling them.

The moral of the story? Get a blog. Connect with your customers and let them know you’re a person and not just a business card. Create content around your expertise, give away a little, and earn their trust.

So, instead of throwing money away on advertising that isn’t working and banging your head against a wall, step back and take a look at where the world is going. This doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. The last person I spoke with about this said he couldn’t afford $3000 for a website. I told him he could do it for $20 a month, and two weeks later it was up and running. Looked pretty damn good too.

And last of all, if your business does something to make the world a better place, make sure and include that on your site. If you do a lot of sponsorships -- put pics up, if you donate profits - show the charities. People want to do business with who care about more than just profits. Especially the next generation customers — according to the 2015 Millennial Branding study,  75% of Millennials expect the companies they do business with to do good in the world.

So, go out there and make the world a better place while building your empire.

(*This stuff gets confusing so feel free to ask me any questions here.)

photo by Jeff Horsager via CC-2.0