Content marketing is the best way to grow your small business in the digital age but, as with any business strategy, it’s not without its challenges.

In my conversations with business Owners and Directors, the same issues come up again and again which are preventing companies from getting started and, crucially, keeping going, with content marketing.

It’s understandable that you would want to know what these challenges are before you begin producing your own content. This way, you can be prepared, and make informed decisions about the best way to implement your strategy to mitigate potential problems.

So what are the main problems with content marketing strategy for small businesses?

Problem 1: It’s time consuming

There’s no denying that producing exceptional content, and distributing that content, takes considerable time commitment. Not only that, but you have to sustain the commitment on a regular basis, over a long period of time, in order to see results for your business.

The solution to this problem is to, first, break down your content production process into bite-sized chunks. This makes it more manageable, giving you flexibility to schedule the various tasks appropriately throughout your week, rather than assigning a full day to do it all at once (which, let’s face it, never happens!).

But it also allows you to delegate parts of the process to other people, whether they’re recruited internally or an external service provider.

Either way, breaking it down into its component parts, such as editing, graphic design, formatting/optimisation, and social media marketing, to someone else, will reduce the time commitment involved from you, improving consistency and, in turn, results.

Problem 2: It can be expensive

Having said that, reducing the time required for content marketing, by insourcing or outsourcing, comes at a price. When you start working with employees, consultants, agencies and freelancers, the costs of content marketing can soon mount up.

To mitigate this, you need to plan ahead. Create an implementation plan before you embark on your content marketing strategy; weigh up the different options available to you, and the costs associated with them.

Consider which is the most feasible for your business right now, bearing in mind that you’ll need to allocate these resources on a continuous and sustained basis. Then make sure you include this in your budget and financial projections for the coming year.

If you do need to keep costs to a minimum, then the solution is to do more yourself, accepting that that is going to be the more time-consuming option.

Problem 3: It can be difficult to measure success

For most small businesses, increasing sales is the ultimate goal of their content marketing strategy. The tricky thing is that there’s not always a direct path between somebody reading a piece of content and making a purchase.

For example, you might meet someone at a networking event who eventually becomes a customer, but you won’t necessarily know whether that person read your content as part of their decision-making process.

There are sophisticated tools available which do the hard work for you, providing details of exactly who is visiting your website, and allowing you to trace them through their buying journey.

But if you don’t yet have these systems in place, then it can be difficult to attribute a growth in sales directly to your content marketing activities. Especially in the first few months, where the impact on sales may be minimal.

Measuring content marketing ROIWhat can you do instead?

The simple answer is to ask! Speak to your customers and ask them if they read any of your articles before they contacted you, or during the sales process. If so, which ones?

But don’t just look at your primary measure of success, likes sales and leads – look at other metrics and small wins which will signal your progress along the way.

In terms of website analytics, you should monitor: the number of unique website visitors; the sources of those visitors; average time spent on your website; number of web pages viewed per session; most visited pages/articles; and bounce rate (the percentage of visitors who leave as soon as they arrive on your website).

You should also look at things like the number of blog comments, mailing list sign-ups, ebook/brochure/price list downloads, social media followers, reach and engagement (likes, comments and shares).

Growth or decline in these metrics will give you an indication that you’re on the right track, even if your efforts have not translated into sales just yet.

And remember to also look out for other, less quantifiable, signals too. Have you received more speculative job applications? Have you been asked to speak at more events? Have people mentioned your articles during networking conversations? Have you been invited to be a guest on another blog or podcast?

Pull all of this information into one place so that you can measure your progress from month to month, and spot patterns that let you know your hard work is paying off. This will be especially useful if you need to report on the success of your content marketing strategy to other people.

Problem 4: It can take a while to see a ROI

Results from content marketing compound over time; the more content you create, the more keywords you put on your website, the higher you rank on Google, the more you build an audience, the more brand awareness you achieve, etc.

For this reason, it can take a while to reach a tipping point where your content marketing is automatically generating sales for you.

It also requires a lot of up-front investment, both in terms of time and money. So if you’re not seeing results from an early stage, it can be easy to get discouraged and become demotivated, which affects that all-important consistency we discussed earlier.

The best way to combat this is to be really clear about what “return on investment” (ROI) means to you, from the outset, and ensure your content plan is closely aligned with what that objective to give you the best chance of success.

However, you can speed up the process by being proactive with the use of your content, integrating it into your sales and customer service processes from day one. Whether on the phone, in emails or in meetings, you could be continuously pointing customers to your blog articles in response to their questions.

By directing people to your content on an individual basis, you can help to move people along your sales pipeline. This way, you’re not relying on a growth in web traffic in order to get results from your content marketing, and can allow that critical mass to build up organically.

Problem 5: The internet is increasingly noisy

The internet is doubling in size every year (at least), yet the amount of content we can consume, as individuals, is finite. This poses a big challenge for content marketers, as we deal with the realities of content shock.

It’s increasingly difficult to be unique, because there are fewer and fewer topics and angles that haven’t been done before. And for businesses, it means that ranking for keywords is becoming more competitive too.

The way to overcome this challenge is by focusing on quality over quantity. Every piece of content that you create should be the best version of that content that’s on the internet (shoot for the stars, as they say!).

You’ve also got to be proactive and methodical with the way that you promote your content, to make sure you’re putting it in front of the people you want to read it. You can’t rely on them finding it, because they are already overwhelmed with information as it is.

So try to be strategic about who you’re targeting with your content, where you’re promoting it and how frequently.

Be consistent with your content production and promotion so that you can build an audience that care about what you have to say. If you can do that, they’ll come back and read your content time and time again, because they’ve built a relationship with you.

That’s the ultimate goal: to develop an unfair advantage due to your emotional connection with your audience.

Content marketing trends and tacticsProblem 6: Keeping up with the trends

Digital marketing is a continuously evolving landscape, with lots of “shiny red balls”. New technologies, platforms and techniques come out every single day. And for each one, there is an expert offering their opinion on the best way to use it.

Needless to say, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed.

Who do you listen to? Who are the real experts? And which of these trends and tactics will actually get results for your business?

There’s a real temptation to spread yourself thin by trying to “be everywhere”, which can lead to a loss of focus on the things that are important to you and your business.

My advice here is to pick one or two media formats and stick with them. For most businesses, the easiest format to get started with is blogs. But, with video on track to make up 80% of all web traffic by 2019, you may decide to focus on this as your primary medium.

Whether blogs or video, I would suggest you pick one and hone your content production process over a period of time (say, 12 months). Then, once you’ve found your footing, and you’re starting to see results, then you could look to diversify into other areas.

The same logic applies to social media channels; choose the one that’s most appropriate for your target audience, and put your time and energy into building relationships there.

Rather be effective, than be everywhere.

If you do start to suffer from information overload, try to reduce the amount of content you are consuming. Hone in on the people and resources that you trust the most, and which resonate with you, your ethos and your business.

There are endless ways to approach digital marketing and, specifically, content marketing, but you can’t do everything, it’s just not possible. Choose one media platform, one channel and one tactic at a time – this will really help with overwhelm and the pressure of keeping up with all of the trends.

Over to you…

  • Have you encountered any of these content marketing problems?
  • How will they impact your approach to your content marketing strategy?
  • Are there any challenges you’ve experienced that I’ve missed? Leave a comment!

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