Starting a garden and developing content for your small business can feel like very similar endeavors. You can find all the right tools, do copious amounts of research and put whole-hearted effort into sowing, but that doesn’t always mean you’ll have a blossoming wonder before your eyes. Gardening is a process that is both tedious and messy. It has all of the artistry of a painter, carefully placing each stroke, yet all of the grit of a mechanic covering their hands in oil to fix a part. Does that sounds eerily similar to planning and creating content for your small business? There is a reason why.
Green Thumb Content Creation At the recently held ConFab Central, a conference geared specifically towards content strategist, Facebook’s Content Strategy Director, Alicia Dougherty Wald presented. Wald’s session on “Managing with a Green Thumb” presented tangible insight for larger corporations with full-size content teams, but fascinatingly many of her tips translated to small business owners forging content single-handedly. Whether it’s a team of 20 writers or just you, the core of what good content creation requires doesn’t change much for different size companies. While resources will flex in great amounts developing attractive pieces of content has universal tactics.
1. Plan before you plant
A garden can fail right from the beginning if the proper planning isn’t put into place. In a garden, planting broccoli next to tomatoes can inhibit growth, while planting basil can help repel harmful insects and improve tomato flavor. Your content is similar. Your content can be cannibalized or elevated depending on the prep work you do before getting started. Develop content plans business wide so that all employees, whether that means 2 of you or 8, have a clear understanding of them. Make those big ideas business or product-specific and be sure to include feature level ideas that get more specific. The breakdown of the different levels of content might look similar to this:
- Company wide: Set guiding principles, set content standards, and share them with all employees.
- Product-specific: Audit the competitive landscape, invent concepts, set nomenclature, maintain consistency across the small business, and test your ideas.
- Feature-level: Partner in design, write for the customer, tie messaging to bigger patterns you see in your industry, build consistency, add delight, measure results, learn, and make things better.
2. Learn to love the mud
While the hands on experience of developing content may not be as noticeably dirty, the first delves into creation can be pretty filthy. Embrace the “mud” of planning and developing strategy so when someone makes a suggestion, make it your job to say “Yes…AND.” While this process might get a little muddy at times, there will inevitably be some ideas that develop that require minimal hosing down. When you elaborate, you become part of the solution, so be strategic, whether stakeholders ask for it or not. Offer a why with every what. There is a small field of what you can control as one person or as a small group, so you want to plan and focus on what’s within your control, but deliver beyond what’s expected by your customers. Over time these little spots of control start to tie into much bigger areas of influence. You have to be willing to get your hands a little dirty when digging deep into a strategy.
3. Know what will grow
Even beginner gardeners know that not everything grows in every environment. Bananas won’t thrive in the desert and few vegetables will survive extreme cold. Content consumption climates vary as well, so you need to be thoughtful about what kind of content will thrive in the conditions your small business provides. Past behavior often determines future success. So, which content reader behaviors lead to a successful content strategy? These can vary from business to business. Before you start production, get to know industry trends and news, research your target audience’s consumption habits and take a hard look at the content you have in place already. What gets downloaded most often? By looking at the types of content you have (e-book, whitepaper, webinars, or Slideshare presentations) youcan determine the form of content that your customers prefer, and by looking at subject matter, you can likely see where you shine and what holes you need to fill.
4. Don’t make square watermelons
Successful small business content isn’t about creating something 100 percent unique. In fact, it’s not even about reshaping the content landscape. When you’re beginning, it’s about creating something that serves the need of your customer. Whether a watermelon is square or round, the part that matters (the part that you eat) is the same. So don’t get wrapped up on how you package your content. Focus on leveraging the strengths in your small business. Tell the stories and provide the information that your customers have already been seeking. Struggling over whether to do video or blogs or infographics is the gardening equivalent of deciding on whether your watermelons should be square or round. Know that what you really want to deliver is the information (the meat) of your business.
5. Replant, repeat and multiply for success
When your garden finally produces, it’s natural to want to try and grow something different the next year. That can be just as difficult as starting for the first time. When you find the process that works for your content, don’t assume that the next step is starting all over with something new. Continue to cultivate and prune what’s working. And when you are ready to introduce something new to your content, do it one seed at a time. Building something from nothing takes time. The timeline between starting a garden and actually harvesting your first vegetable can be a little painstaking for the planters. The key is to avoid measuring your success based solely on whether you have food ripe for picking or not. Successful gardeners know that moving from a seedling to a sprout is a huge leap. And that seeing blossoms is a miraculous sign you’re on the right path. Your content will also be a slow moving process. Take pride in the little achievements and gear every step towards growing just a little bit more every day.