How to Create a Powerful Content Marketing Strategy

(Part one of three)

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt in two and a half years freelancing is that content marketing doesn’t need to be complicated. Especially when you’re running a one-person business.

I write website copy and content that helps freelancers sell their services, and this is my complete guide to creating a simple content marketing strategy that will make your life easier.

In part one we’ll tackle the three key things you need to understand about your business before you can develop a strategy.

In part two, we’ll get more tactical, and start looking at what you’re going to put in place to market your business.

In part three, we’ll look at planning and analysis – that’s how you’re going to bring your strategy to life and then review it afterwards.

Who’s this guide for?

This information is for you if you’re a freelancer with a service-based business model. If you’re looking to find a simple and straightforward approach to marketing your business, and your main focus is social media, content marketing, PR, and/or email, congrats – you’re in the right place.

Simple content marketing, part one: How to research and prepare

Contents

Don’t let the length of this guide put you off. It’s all about keeping it simple, and I’ve included a list of contents below so you can easily jump to the section you’re looking for.

Part one

1. Introduction – The What, The Who, and The Why

2. Goals – What do you want to achieve?

Exercise 1 – Goal setting

3. Audience – Who are your target clients?

Exercise 2 – Client exploration

4. Messaging – Why should they listen to what you have to say?

Exercise 3 – Finding your why

Exercise 4 – Identifying your USP

5. Recap – What have we covered so far?

Part two

Part two will follow in a couple of weeks.

1. Channels – Where will you reach your target clients?

2. Tactics – How will you make this work?

Part three

Part three will follow shortly after.

1. Content planning – When and how will it all happen?

2. Reviewing and refining – What worked? What didn’t? What happens next?

Psst! Not got time to read and digest the full thing now? Bookmark it and tackle it in stages.

Part one – Research and preparation

Introduction – The What, The Who, and The Why

There are just three key things you need to understand if you want to build an effective content marketing strategy.

You need to know what you want, who your business is serving, and why those people should choose you.

I’m not going to tell you it’s easy to get to grips with these things. Even though I do it regularly on behalf of my clients, it took me two years to nail it down for my own business.

What I can tell you is that it is worth persevering. Once you’ve got a good grasp on these things, you’ll find it so much easier to make smart decisions for your business.

I’m going to give you exercises to help you dig deeper in these three areas, but first, let’s cover why they’re so important.

The What

Do you ever feel frustrated with how things are going? Are you working hard but feel like you’re not really getting anywhere?

Perhaps you haven’t spent enough time thinking about what you really want from your business. Setting goals can help you to stay focused, push harder for the things you want, and feel more satisfied with the progress you’ve made.

The Who

Do you struggle to think of ideas for content? Or find it difficult to narrow down your ideas and choose the best ones?

If you have a good understanding of the people you’re marketing to, you’ll find it much easier to deliver content that hits the mark. We’re going beyond demographics here; this is about understanding what’s going on in people’s heads.

The Why

Do you find it hard to sum up your business in a sentence or two? Do you often feel like you’re drowning in a sea of similar freelancers?

Knowing your why can help you differentiate yourself from the crowd. When you’ve found what makes you unique and there’s purpose behind what you’re doing, you’ll be able to move forward with confidence and clarity.

Goals (or ‘The What’) – What do you want to achieve?

Consider why you went freelance in the first place.

Say you want to work part-time while still earning a full-time wage. You want to be there for your kids, but you still want to contribute financially. Do you know what that looks like in terms of client numbers and rates?

Do you dream of being able to work with a certain type of client on the sort of projects that will have you jumping out of bed every morning? What would it take to achieve that?

Or maybe your real passion lies outside of your business. Do you need to raise money to be able to pursue it? How much?

Perhaps you and your partner dream of moving to the country and living a slower, easier life. Have you put a date on it? Do you know how much it’ll cost?

These examples are a great place to start, but they don’t outline the specifics of what you’ll actually need to achieve in your business. To do that, you’ll need to work backwards and break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

SMART goals

It might feel a bit rigid or academic, but the SMART method for setting goals is a good one to follow. It says that each goal should be:

S – specific

M – measurable

A – achievable

R – relevant

T – time-based

By using this formula, you’ll be much more likely to give yourself a clear and appropriate target.

Example goals for freelancers

Each of the examples listed below is a SMART goal. They’re all goals that could be relevant to a service-based freelance business. Some of them are more detailed than others. The amount of detail you give depends entirely on what your goals are and how much of a plan you have. You can always edit or add to them later.

– I want to increase the number of website enquiries I get by 25% in 6 months, and bring in an additional £3k in revenue via the site.

– I want to earn an average of £2k per month this year.

– I want to increase the amount of income I’m getting from existing clients by 20% in 6 months.

– I want to grow my Instagram following to 5k by the end of Q2, and use the channel to offer an exclusive discount for my services. I want to bring in 5 new clients with that discount code by the end of Q2.

– I want to find 3 new retainer clients by the end of Q1.

– I want to build an email community with 500 subscribers and a 50% open rate by the end of the year. I want to launch a course and sell 10 spots to this email community by the end of the year.

– I want to double my income year on year, earning twice as much this year as I did last.

What you’ll notice about these goals is that they each include a financial or client-based result. There’s no point in trying to grow a social media following, increase traffic, or grow an email list, for example, unless you have a plan for what you’ll do with the extra attention. You’re building a business here. Don’t shy away from that.

Exercise 1 – Let’s set some goals

Write down up to three goals that you’d like to work towards. Make them SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.

Use one of the examples above as a template, if you need to.

Each goal might stand alone, or they might follow on from each other (i.e. one bigger goal, broken down into three parts).

Use this as an opportunity to get clear on your finances. Do you know how much you’ve made this year compared to last? Which service is your most profitable? Who’s your biggest client?

Psst! If you’re still not sure, come back to this later. You might find the answers as you work your way through the rest of this guide.

Audience (or ‘The Who’) – Who are you marketing to?

Do you know how to talk to your clients in a way that they can relate to?

Consider what’s going on for them before, during, and after they work with you.

Once you understand those three key stages, you’ll be able to develop content and processes that resonate.

Demographics (that’s things like age, sex, location, income, marital status, etc.) can help you when it comes to advertising. When your marketing strategy is based on making connections and developing relationships, however, you’ll need to dig much deeper than that. It’s about understanding how people feel.

And remember, you don’t have to pull this information from thin air. Read back over emails, testimonials, and feedback you’ve had from your clients. What have they told you they struggle with? What is it about your services they’ve appreciated? What changed for them afterwards?

Go digging on their social profiles. What are they interested in? What do they talk about? What are they trying to achieve? What do they do when they’re not working? Who do they follow? Who influences them? What is it about those people that appeals to them?

You could even create a survey to ask for some direct feedback from your existing clients. Don’t be afraid to talk to people. It’s the only way you’ll ever really get to know them.

Exercise 2 – Let’s figure out what they’re thinking

Answer the following questions about your target clients. (There’s an example in the box below). 

1. BEFORE – How do my clients feel before they seek my help?

What are they struggling with? What are they putting off or avoiding completely? What are the goals they’re not able to meet? What do they wish was happening? How is all of this affecting the rest of their businesses/lives? What’s the worst that could happen here?

2. DURING – How do my services solve these issues, and how will my clients feel during that process?

 Which of these problems can I fix? Which can I give guidance or direction on? What will my client need to change or achieve before this work can begin? Do they need to change their mindset? What will they find difficult about this process of change? Where might it go wrong? What won’t be as difficult as they might have expected?

3. AFTER – How will my clients feel after we’ve worked together?

How will their days be different? Or their weeks or months? What will they be able to do more of? What will they get to do less of? What results will they see? Will it impact their bottom line? What might their next steps be? How will they feel emotionally? Will it make a difference to their key relationships?

Psst! Remember that this should be continually evolving. Every time you have a consultation or get feedback, add what you learn to your notes. Use it to expand on or refine the profiles you keep of your target clients.

An example scenario

Overview

For this example, let’s imagine I’m a virtual assistant whose clients are mostly online coaches.

I’m answering as if I’m the VA thinking about how an existing client felt before, during, and after we’d worked together.

This is an example of how you can take real experiences and reflect on them to learn more about your people.

Before

(How do my clients feel before they seek my help?)

Client X had launched a new service but had no time to promote it. She was stressed and frustrated because she was excited about this new service and believed it had big potential, but she wasn’t making progress with it. She was too busy with existing client work and all the admin involved in running her business.

During

(How do my services solve these issues, and how will my clients feel during that process?)

She came to me because she knew she needed support. She recognised that she could no longer manage everything herself, but she was reluctant to let go of control. She was slow to hand over work because she was worried it wouldn’t be done to her usual standard. She talked about getting more support from me, but she didn’t take action and make it happen. The extra time she did gain meant she saw some traction with her new service, but not as much as she’d hoped.

After

(How will my clients feel after we’ve worked together?)

In time, her trust in me grew and she began to pass more work my way. This meant she had more time to focus on her new service and make real progress with it. She signed 3 new clients in 3 months. She recognised that this was a result of a big mindset shift, and she was proud of herself for achieving that. Being a coach with a passion for helping others, she was keen to share the story of how she’d struggled with outsourcing at first but eventually learned to let go of control. Her confidence as a leader grew and she developed her delegation skills.

You could build up a huge bank of these scenarios based on real conversations with (or observations of) your clients.

You should eventually start to see patterns in the feelings and behaviours you identify in each stage.

While it’s important to have specific details, like in the example I gave, identifying general patterns can help you to understand what you should be aiming for with your marketing.

When you have both a top-level and a more detailed view of what’s going on for your clients, you can then create content or processes that will appeal to them and help them make progress.

We’ll talk more about what you could do with this information in part two.

Messaging (or ‘The Why’) – Why do you do what you do? And why should people choose you?

When I ask you about the why behind your business, I’m really asking you two different questions.

Your answer to each might be the same, but it doesn’t have to be.

1. Why do you do what you do?

Beyond the obvious, like making money and living a more flexible life, what drives you to do what you do?

2. Why should people choose you?

Do you know what it is that sets you apart? If you don’t, then how do you expect your target clients to?

When you have the answers to both of these questions, it becomes much easier to identify the core message that you’ll build your content marketing strategy around.

Leading copywriter Dave Trott once said:

“Strategy is not about adding more and more stuff.

Strategy is about taking stuff away.

Taking away everything, until there’s only one thing left.

One single powerful thought.”

That single, powerful thought is what I’m calling your core message. 

When you have a core message, it makes it easier to create content and communicate with your clients more consistently.

People will start to recognise you for what you stand for and what you have to say, rather than just by the services you offer or the job you do. Because of this, it’s your core message that differentiates you from the crowd.

We’ll talk more about how to use your core message in part two. For now, let’s have a go at figuring out yours.

Exercise 3 – Why do you do what you do?

The easiest way to get to the heart of your why is to keep digging.

1. Write down what you think your why might be.

Why do you get out of bed in a morning? What drives you? What do you want to change? Who do you want to help? What do you want people to say about you? What do want to be remembered for?

2. Once you’ve got your initial statement, keep pushing. Look at it and ask yourself why. Not ‘why is this statement true?’ but ‘why does this matter so much?’ Do that over and over until you’ve reached the centre of it. 

You’ll find examples in the box below.

I’m a small business coach because I love helping people get better results.

WHY?

Because I want to support small business owners.

WHY?

Because I want them to build a business that’s sustainable.

WHY?

Because I believe self-employment matters.

WHY?

Because I want more people to have job satisfaction.

WHY?

Because we each have a right to live a life that fulfils us.

THE STATEMENT COULD THEN BECOME:

I help people build sustainable businesses that fulfil them.

I help working mums learn how to use social media to promote their businesses.

WHY?

Because I know how hard it can be and I want to make it easier.

WHY?

Because working mums deserve more support to build businesses they love.

WHY?

Because it’s not all about the kids. Mums can have lives and careers, too.

WHY?

Because more women leaders and business owners will mean a more equal society, now and in the future.

WHY?

Because empowering the mums of today means inspiring little girls to aim higher. It’s about a brighter future for women.

THE STATEMENT THEN BECOMES:

I empower mums to build businesses that will inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs.

Do you see how each of those original statements has been transformed from something generic to something powerful and memorable?

With a core message that goes beyond simply describing what you do and how you do it, you can transform the way your clients see you. More on that in part two, when we’ll look at building a content strategy.

Psst! The why you pin down today doesn’t have to be a statement you’ll stick with for life. It can change and evolve over time, just as you will.

Exercise 4 – Why should people choose you? (What’s your USP?)

You may have learnt enough in exercise 3 to be able to answer this one without any further thoughts.

For some freelancers, however, there may be more to add. Explore the following questions to find out.

1. Do you have a skill(s) that’s rare or in high demand?

2. Do you serve a niche market, meaning you’re a specialist at what you do?

3. Do you have a distinctive or particularly engaging personality?

4. Have you developed a unique process that makes things easier or produces better results?

5. Are you based in a place that means you can make yourself available in person?

6. Are you doing something to go above and beyond? (Such as giving serious added value or supporting a worthwhile cause).

7. Do you have more expertise, experience and awards than most of your peers?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you’ve probably found your USP.

Is it the same as (or similar to) your answer from exercise 3? Or can you tie the two together in any way?

Don’t worry if not – your core message and your USP don’t have to be linked. What’s most important here is that you have a good understanding of both before you move on to part two of this guide.

Psst! If you can’t identify a USP after looking at these questions, ask someone who knows you well. Maybe you’re being too modest.

If you’re still struggling, perhaps it’s time to think about how you can develop a USP. Maybe you can niche down more, learn some new skills, or develop your services and processes.

Recap

If you’ve read up to this point and completed each of the exercises, you should have the following:

1. 1-3 SMART goals

2. Several examples of how clients feel (or would feel) before, during, and after working with you.

3. A statement that defines your why.

4. A list of any USPs that make you different.

Remember that none of these things needs to be set in stone. You can change and develop them as you learn more about yourself, your clients, and your business.

What’s important is that you do settle on an answer for each of them now. Without them, you won’t be able to progress through this guide and build an effective content marketing strategy.

 

Part two of this guide will follow before the end of December. Until then, thank you for reading and good luck with the exercises. If you get stuck, please feel free to take me up on the offer below. I’d love to help!

Free, personalised feedback on your strategy.

Email the strategy and plan you’ve developed to sophie@kickstartcontent.com and I’ll give you some feedback on it, free of charge. There’s no catch and I won’t sign you up to a mailing list.

If your plan’s not quite finished yet because you got stuck with something, let’s arrange to chat. I’ll do my best to help.

Quick question about something you’ve read?

Hate contact forms? Email me directly at sophie@kickstartcontent.com, or say hi on Instagram or Twitter.