Riding solo: content marketing tips for lone rangers

I’d like to debunk a pernicious myth: content marketing is NOT the sole preserve of big firms.

Small businesses, right down to one-man & one-woman bands can and do learn the skills needed to create and share valuable content, and attract a pile of great business as a result. You don’t have to have the budget and clout of Coca Cola. Sharon and I are proof of that – we built our freelance businesses and now Valuable Content purely on the back of sharing useful content.

If you work for yourself, by yourself I want to show you that content marketing is possible, right and manageable. Here are a few stories, tips and some inspiration from owners of micro-businesses I admire around the world. There is loads to learn from these guys – they are making content marketing work and getting it just right.

Chris Brogan – Human Business Works

“Content is the work I do to drive business.”

Chris Brogan

“I run a three person organization for the most part, and I’m the core of the content part of the business. What makes this manageable for me is that I make it a requirement of my days. It’s not a ‘better get to that’ kind of prospect. It’s the work I do to drive business. I sneak in the work where I can, in between other projects. But I don’t leave the desk for the day until it’s done.”

Get digital inspiration from Chris’ content at www.chrisbrogan.com

Charles H. Green – Trusted Advisor Associates

Content marketing is the best thing going for you.”

Charlie Green

“For a solo or small operator content = brand = integrity = point of differentiation = (saleable) asset. By which I mean it is the best thing going for you, and it is more important to a small business than it is to a big one.  A big business can coast an awful long ways on channels, barriers to entry, customer habits, and old perceptions. But for a small business, if all you have is clever spin, or promotion, or speed, or cost, you haven’t got much – you need significant content.

To me what a small business must do to receive the value of content-based focus is you have to feel it personally. You have to be committed to it. You have to be embarrassed by its absence, you have to say “no” to people who want to guest-blog you just to get links, you have to love quality, and you have to personally feel hurt and pain when it’s not evident. You need standards, and you have to not be able to imagine doing business without those standards.

I remember once getting involved in a dispute over plagiarism.  One person had plagiarized me and some others, and we piled on the offender online and gave him a very hard time.  One of the plagiarist’s defenders wrote to me, “Come on, now, you can’t tell me that you wrote every word that appears on your website by yourself?  So why are you getting all high and mighty?

I wrote back, “You are completely mistaken. Every single word that goes out over my name is written by absolutely nobody but me. Anything written by anyone else is explicitly identified as such. I am shocked that you would even doubt this; it is a sad commentary on the low standards for quality and the lack of trust in the blogosphere that you would think such a thing, and I want nothing to do with that kind of thinking.”

If you have any integrity at all, your content is where it ought to show.”

Learn about trust from Charlie’s content at www.trustedadvisor.com

Henneke Duistermaat – Enchanting Marketing

“One-man bands have a huge advantage”

Henneke Duistermaat

“Content marketing provides a great way for microbusinesses / solo-entrepreneurs to market themselves.

To make it work you need to focus on a small set of priorities. I blog once a week; and I email my list when a new blog post is available. I write guest blogs maybe once or twice per month (it varies). Overall, it’s been much easier to make a living by marketing myself online than I had anticipated.

My advice for others when it comes to content marketing? Focus your activities, do what you love doing, and let your personality shine through. Try to measure what works and what doesn’t work. One-man bands have a huge advantage: it’s so much easier to make a blog more personal and build relationships with readers and email subscribers.”

You can find Henneke’s enchanting content at www.enchantingmarketing.com

Iain Claridge – freelance web designer

“It doesn’t have to be words – content can be visual.”

Iain Claridge

“As a designer, with limited skills or experience in writing engaging copy, it’s no surprise really that the vast majority of my blog posts are visual rather than pithy words of wisdom. But I would hope that my digital scrapbook of ocular delights is more than simply eye candy and can serve as an example of how as a designer you can build an audience and even gain work through being a curator of engaging content.

I started my blog as a means of organising material that I found inspirational to my work as a creative working on web projects. Web design is a curious mix of disciplines that can draw inspiration from many aspects of design including product design and architecture as well as print. Most of my blog posts reflect my approach to design and form a rich seam of material on which to draw upon whilst seeking inspiration in my work as a digital creative.

My blog started out purely as a personal repository but soon became a destination for many who share my aesthetic, seeking inspiration for their own projects, and has helped to start several working relationships with likeminded individuals. It has actually been more effective than my online portfolio in attracting the type of people and organisations I really like to work with.

A blog is a great way of communicating to potential clients your depth of understanding of your field, how you tick as a person, and transmitting both your personal and professional manifesto in a non sales-pitchy way.”

Have a look at Iain’s stunning design blog at www.iainclaridge.co.uk/blog

Vaughan Merlyn – IT strategy consultant

“New consulting clients come to me because of my blog.”

Vaughan Merlyn

“The content I share varies. It is mostly things I’ve learned from my consulting – insights into the way the IT management world works, sometimes musings on the future; occasionally lessons learned from my hobbies (musician, scuba diver) that can be applied to IT management. I try to post weekly, but don’t manage to make every week.

It took time to see tangible results (several years). I hung in there because blogging helped me process what happened to me in my consulting work, and I was getting a strong and growing readership, so I sort of believed that good things would happen/were happening, even if I could not see direct results.

Then I started getting new consulting clients who told me they came to me because of my blog. One in particular made an astounding comment. She said, “Vaughan, we selected you as a partner not just because your blog demonstrated deep knowledge and a passion for your work, but also for the way you handled reader comments. You responded to every comment, no matter how inane, with grace and humility. You convinced us that you were the kind of consultant we could work with!”

I use Evernote to keep track of ideas for posts (generating ideas is the hardest part!) Then I try to set aside a couple of hours on a weekend to write a post to publish the following Tuesday – which is a good day for readership. Also key is reading blogs – I spend quite a bit of time tracking the blogosphere in the domains I operate in. I learn a lot through that.

My tips for other independents:

  1. Don’t blog because you want to attract business. Blog because you want to engage in a global conversation about topics you are passionate about.
  2. Be prepared to give a lot of content away – the more you give away, the more the client base is going to pay you to help them apply it.
  3. Be in it for the long haul.”

Lots to learn from Vaughan’s fantastic blog – IT Organization Circa 2017 – at vaughanmerlyn.com

Small is beautiful

Far from the sole preserve of big business, content marketing has real power for micros businesses and independents. I hope these wonderful people help you to see the possibilities. We’re here to answer your content questions and would love to know what you think.

Thanks so much to Chris, Charlie, Henneke, Iain and Vaughan. You’ve generously given your time and real value here.

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  1. Ian Tomlinson

    I enjoyed this article Sonja. The thing that came across to me from all of the contributors is the passion they feel about what they do. Clients want to work with passionate people so that in itself is an attractive feature. Maybe I could blog about that?!

  2. Sonja Jefferson

    Hello Ian – and thanks; I’m very glad you enjoyed it.

    I love what they all have to say and their passion shone through for me too. I back up Vaughan’s tips on blogging: if you blog purely as a lead generation activity it’ll get you nowhere, for you can’t fake value.

    Genuine excitement and interest in what you do and a real desire to help the customers you serve is the attitude that’s needed to produce great content. And great content is what draws customers to you and builds the trust that leads to success.

    Look forward to that blog!


  3. Henneke

    I like the point you’re picking up there, Ian.

    To me passion is the key ingredient for blogging and content marketing, and for running your own business.

    Good writing skills help, but enthusiasm is more important than perfect grammar.

  4. Tania Shipman

    Sonja, thanks so much for this post and gathering these comments and tips from some pretty amazing people.

  5. Sonja Jefferson

    You’re welcome Tania. They are all superstars in my eyes. Loads to learn from them.

  6. Christopher Butler

    Good stuff.

    It’s certainly time that we normalized our approach to content marketing (as in, considered it standard operating procedure and not the “new thing”) and turned our attention toward changes to the content marketing landscape so that when they hit, we’re not caught off guard. In other words, we’ve got to be able to say that we’ve got this text thing down, we’ve got a scalable system for it, and we can actually do it in a measurable and adaptable way without borrowing from unquantified time to make it happen. If we can do that, we can start to give some thought to how we’ll adapt when:

    1. When our clients need more sophisticated marketing automation systems (this is very much a contemporary issue, but no one is in a position to handle it without having mastered content marketing and produced results)
    2. Delivery systems extend beyond email
    3. The indexability of formats no longer prioritizes text
    4. The economics of content marketing reduce the fringe benefits

    I just gave a talk on this stuff called “After Content Marketing” and reproduced it as an outrageously long article here: http://www.newfangled.com/the_future_of_content_marketing.

    Would love to hear your thoughts 🙂

    Keep up the great work, Sonja!



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