There’s no doubt that content is a great way to attract potential customers to our sites. There’s also no doubt that the right kind of content can drive the right kind of customers. But really, most any content is good content.
It can be challenging for early stage startups to take the time to focus on generating content. There are so many things pulling at us. Many a founder will already be well versed in talking to the audience that our products are targeted at. So we’re going to be able to communicate with our customers at their level and with depth, sincerity, and in a way that resonates. With authenticity.
We’ll also be able to do so in a more efficient manner. It’s easier to write about things we know. As we grow, we bring on marketing teams, but they will need to learn the domain knowledge in order to write content.
But let’s focus for a moment on a few ways to plan for a good long-term content strategy. We’ll just approach this as we might an introduction to creative writing!
Set some goals. Start light, maybe an article a week. The closer we. are to releasing a product and the more we rely on content as a marketing strategy will impact those goals. Let’s say we want to release one a week with a goal of getting 5 in the first month and change and starting to promote the content once we hit 5 (after all, that’s when this stuff seems to become more real).
Set aside some time. This is crucial. Two or three hours blocked off in the calendar here or there gives you the space you need to focus on content generation. As we get better, we might find we get faster. We might find that we can’t focus on more than an hour at a time and so need to do an hour a day three days a week. Things can be a little chaotic in a startup, so we need to give ourselves permission to move the time slots when other demands eek into the allotted time. But we also need to be diligent about the content.
Make a plan for content. Start by brainstorming some words that describe the product. We don’t want to stuff too many into articles we write, but we do want to sprinkle them into our titles and headers. This helps bring focus to the products, we’re developing and our own thoughts around those products. And sure, people will then naturally find our content organically when searching for areas meaningful to them. But let’s not focus on contrived ways to try and get them to do so more.
Consider the mediums. There are so many ways to put content out there. Some people are natural writers and bloggers, others prefer podcasts, and others might choose to focus on instructional videos. We can’t do it all when we’re also trying to keep the accounting, sales, marketing, public relations, product, and development sides of startups going. - so choose one medium and get a good cadence before moving to others. Spreading ourselves too thin will do no one any favors!
Brainstorm 20 titles. This will get the creative juices flowing. Think about the biggest issues from the words that describe the product and ask “what is that” and “why does it matter’ and “what can we say about adjacent topics.” Those 20 article titles could be organized into a thread of articles as a series or could stand alone. We can always come back to these first articles to get our creative juices flowing later, when we feel like we’re running out of ideas.
Write an outline for one article. Once we have some ideas for articles, let’s try and focus on writing just one. Let’s pick the one that’s going to be the easiest. We can always go back to the most valuable articles once we get a little bit of following going. But for now, let’s try and just get an introduction, 3-5 key points we want to get across, some arguments to back those points up, and a conclusion.
Write or record. Armed with an outline, it’s time to write an article. The reason this is “or record” though is because that outline could be used as the outline for a podcast episode instead if writing just doesn’t work out. In my mental maturity model I usually think to start with a blog then do a podcast, but some people are way better with talking and so moving forward with a podcast instead makes sense for some. If writing, put the article to the side once you’ve moved those bullets in an outline into text and edit the article the next day.
Solicit feedback. Whatever time of content we’re producing give it to someone trusted to review. Take the feedback honestly and openly and use it to make the article better. Don’t post it yet.
Repeat the process four more times. How many podcasts are out there with just one episode? How many blogs with just two articles (maybe three if we include the stock “Hello World’ article they come with). There’s no magic number for when content creation starts to become muscle memory, but five is usually a good start - if we can make five, we can make fifty. And once we have five, we can plan an appropriate cadence for releasing the content. Usually once every month to once every other week in pre-release stages or weekly in later stages for software companies is a good cadence to start with.
Find a good platform to host. This might be a blog that comes with our web hosting package, a Wordpress instance, a Libsyn account, or a number of other places. Things to think about are whether it can benefit the main site with search engine optimization, cost, and complexity to design. Don’t worry about getting the branding perfect, focus on content, content, content.
Socialize the material. Most organizations will want to syndicate content on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, newsletters, etc. This is important, as we want more eyeballs on the content, more backlinks, and in general more reach what we’ve written.
Solicit more content. Co-founders, new employees, and others should feel comfortable and welcome to submit content. Again, the early content doesn’t need to exactly follow a plan. But it should be quality material that people will want to engage with. Be kind with the material received though, and don’t apply pressure for others to produce content unless doing so is part of their job description.
Analyze the reactions. It’s simple to see what gets retweeted or reshared. But also take a look at the time people stay on pages as well as the pages people go to. This can be really interesting as it can help us understand what we might want to talk through in sales or in a roadmap. The same will be true for any paid search engine advertising we do. The more content that aligns to the words we buy, the cheaper those words will be and a tighter focus we can have on features we build.
The most important thing with all of this is to have fun with it! Don’t get lost in search engine optimization and overthinking the analytics and branding of the site. After all, the blog or podcast might not actually. become a thing. Starting a company needs to be fun sometimes, ‘cause it can be really rough as well. And if we have fun with our content then we’ll want to make more of it. That means not letting it be overly salesy. That means finding our true, authentic voice as we create the content. That means doing it over and over until we love it!