Getting started with content marketing might seem daunting to some business owners, particularly those who have smaller businesses. But with the right writer on board, the experience can be less stressful and time-consuming — as well as a branding boon.
A year ago, Grant Aguinaldo came across the website for my consulting business, Siteseeing Media. Grant is the owner of Envera Consulting, a Southern California-based agency that advises on environmental compliance. As you might expect, the industry is highly specialized and loaded with technical jargon, which were two reasons that Grant had a problem finding the right individual to help produce content.
After trying out several lower-end freelancers, Grant decided he needed to go with a professional, even though his business was still relatively young and his budget tight. But he believed that content marketing could differentiate Envera from its competitors, so he was willing to make the financial investment. His strategy was to provide value up front by being completely transparent in how his business works, as well as to share some of the tips he’s learned over the years.
Here are Grant’s insights into his experience with content marketing, as well as some advice for those businesses thinking of doing the same.
What drew you to content marketing?
It was different. My field is very traditional, with much of the marketing being cold calls. I wanted to stand out from my competitors in how I branded and marketed Envera. I used to work on the other side of the industry, so now I’m actually selling to the person that I used to be. So I know I’m marketing my company differently than my competitors are. My goal is to provide value up front.
Your blog and newsletter provide lots of behind-the-scenes tips and strategies, many of which are how you tackle your clients’ projects. Why did you decide to be transparent with your content?
First off, I was focused on being different. But more importantly, I developed a mentality that I just wanted to help people. I actually didn’t care if you ended up calling me or retaining my firm. I still don’t care. I know that not every business can afford a consultant, but I can still help them. If the content has helped in any way, then it’s done its job and I’ve done what I’ve set out to do.
You mention that transparency is part of your content strategy. Do you see any downside to sharing your knowledge?
No, and that’s completely counterintuitive in this industry. What I share on the Envera website is viewed as being proprietary or trade secret by other companies. That’s fine. That’s the way they run their business. I’ve decided that I see no downside whatsoever.
How is the content marketing strategy working for you?
It helps because people see that the business is centered around content. We had zero clients in July 2014. Today, we have about fifteen clients, plus a few more in the pipeline. We acquired nearly a third of those clients through content marketing, which has not only led to revenue but has helped from a branding perspective. Envera is the only environmental-consulting firm putting out content, which helps the company stand out.
If you were to have told me a year ago that I would have spent as much money as I did on content marketing, I probably would have been turned off. However, based on the response I’ve gotten from people who have emailed me or sent messages on social media, it’s worth way more than I’ve paid. It helped differentiate the business. My competitors are trying to do it, but I don’t think they’re close in terms of quality.
You first tried working with more junior editors. Tell me about that experience.
I had created a large amount of content that I wasn’t publishing because it wasn’t polished — it wasn’t at the point that I felt it was ready for public consumption. So I went on one of those sites where you hire a freelancer for some piddly amount. Those sites are just a race to the bottom. Their rates were super low, so I guess you get what you pay for, because it never really worked out. I would hire people and get a product back, but there was always something missing. I would never get a product I was happy with.
It took me a while to figure out what I was looking for. I thought that any old editor would be able to take my garbled notes and turn them into something great. Then I read somewhere that there are different kinds of editors, and I realized I’d been looking for the wrong one. I was expecting the editor to come back and say, “This doesn’t make sense” or “Maybe we should elaborate more on this idea.” But what I was getting was like having someone proofread my term paper — just a redline, and maybe some meager notes.
I probably went through four or five editors before I realized what I probably really needed was a ghostwriter, which I knew would be expensive. I wanted someone who could take my material in the shape it was in, read it, make an assessment of what needed to happen to make this a finished product, and then work with me to get it to that point. That’s when I decided I was done messing with low-level freelancers and was going to invest in my content. And I have to say the experience has been awesome. Because everything I’ve ever wanted, you’ve been able to do. And I was really afraid at first, because the content is really technical. But the experience has been exactly what I’d been looking for.
How much time do you think you’re saving?
It’s really hard to quantify. But now I don’t have to stress about whether or not it reads correctly. You’ve saved me a lot of time. What’s really rewarding, and also difficult to quantify, is that my competitors have told me that they read my content. I’ve even been told by officials at government agencies — the ones who write the rules that I advise on — that they’ve subscribed to the Envera newsletter. Random people send me emails about how digestible the content is. That’s all because of you.
It’s easy to sit back and say, “I want to create content.” But to actually put it into motion? It’s really, really hard to do by yourself. It blows my mind how backed up I was. Now it’s pretty simple. You’ve been insanely helpful in getting this done.
What have been some of the unforeseen benefits of content marketing?
One huge benefit is that I can easily send content to people. I often speak with prospective clients who ask me to summarize my points in an email. I say sure, then BOOM! A few minutes later, they have links to five articles on the very topic we were just discussing. It’s such a time-saver. Plus, when the prospect sees not just a few paragraphs with a closing line, but rather long-form content, the response is very different. You can’t put a price on that. Just the mere fact that there’s all this content speaks for itself.
Another benefit is that our SEO rankings have soared since you reorganized the content. When I recently asked my employee to research a topic, our site consistently came up on the first SERP (search engine result page). And the tags index really high. We’ve actually had clients call and say, “Hey, we’re in a meeting researching subject X and your website keeps coming up.” My response: “That’s by design.”
What advice do you have for small businesses looking to start content marketing?
Know what you’re getting into. It’s a lot of work, so make sure you have the bandwidth and right staff, freelance or otherwise. You should also have a client in mind that you write to. One of our clients is a maintenance manager, and I write as if I’m talking to him. Well, I used to write as if I were writing an email to him. Now I just dictate and imagine him sitting in front of me as if I’m talking to him. Then I send the transcription to you.
More advice: You have to be consistent. When I share Envera articles on my LinkedIn profile, I definitely see the needle move, even if it’s just slightly. I start seeing more views of my profile and more people from secondary connections looking at my content. I’m definitely reaching new people.