Small Business Content Marketing – Is It Affordable?

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Small Business Content Marketing

I started my blog series a couple of months back wanting to talk about various aspects of  conveying the true cost of developing an effective website.  It is clear that small business content marketing cannot be ignored. Although we have long sensed the changes that have come for SEO and Internet marketing, during a recent short period of time we have seen a significant change in how some of our long-term client’s rankings have been  affected.

 Thus, this topic is taking on a whole new meaning as we can no longer talk about a fairly  “finite” cost of putting a website together and publishing it. The fact is it can no longer  just end there if it is meant to be a major part of your marketing without a lot of post-development effort. To our many clients that have been blessed to not have to do this for numerous past years – the party is pretty much over. This is especially true if we are talking about very competitive online service oriented small businesses such as attorneys, real estate or HVAC companies.

Since I’ve spent a considerable amount of time researching this lately, I figured it might be best to begin the talk about it with this post.

A lot of terms coined for Internet marketing tend to be very broad in nature – “content marketing” being one of them.  In general, it means utilizing creative and continual content pertaining to your expertise or product online on a more personal basis. Everything about marketing on the Internet now seems centered on feeding off of personal interaction – and the associated efforts to perform them.

When it comes to small business content marketing - whether it be a  local company, brand, product or service - these four criteria seem to be the primary factors with online marketing in the future:

  1. what the audience expresses about what they like or don’t like about it (posting to review sites and social media);
  2. how they expect to be interacted with after gaining their attention (provide informative e-books/letters, social endorsements, pre-interaction);
  3. how they are persuaded to convert or commit to a sale (provide informative e-books, demonstrate expertise; perceived brand awareness);
  4. how they expect to be - or are - interacted with after the conversion or sale (e-newsletters, continual promotions and offers, creative involvement)

As HubSpot expresses it with their own coined phrase of “inbound marketing” – a process defined as starting as a “stranger”, then becoming a “visitor” that then becomes a “lead”, then a “customer” and finally a “promoter”. Since 2006, HubSpot has built its business on this concept and, over time, finding it also fits well into the model that Google and Internet marketing in general is headed towards.  I don’t doubt that this concept fits many small businesses in their marketing strategies effectively and it makes common sense that Google would adopt this way of indexing in their ever evolving mission to present the best results for a given search.

Reading between the lines, obviously there is a lot of detail involved with performing small business content marketing and begs the question of who might end up being left out of the game in the process.

Is Internet Marketing for Small Businesses Being Cornered?

I’ll start by mentioning this – as it has crossed my mind. I’ve been working in this field since 1994 and always felt the Internet was where small business was going to be able to compete with the Wal-Marts of the world. As we’ve seen what the big box effect has had on small business retail, I’ve also started questioning whether these same large entities have finally corporatized the Internet to the point where they are now setting the rules for REALLY having to pay to play.

Google and the large Internet marketing agencies want to say this is not the case however both of these entities also have the most to gain from it continuing its current course. Google through the inevitable increased PPC revenue and the agencies from a ton of work generated to service it – from those that can afford it, of course.

I see it forcing established businesses to commit to the expense of internally hiring or contracting an Internet marketing division or agency to completely research and develop an online marketing plan, implement it and perform the interactive follow-ups to do it correctly. I’ve found the level of creativity involved alone to really do this right to be intense – equating to being unaffordable for a small business to do.

Can Small Business Play This Game?

In one respect, we look at the new playing field as an excellent opportunity to expand our business and gain better quality clientele that can afford to pay for the service.

On the other hand, I’ve pointed out enough that start-ups and very small business owners with limited resources have to be asking themselves how they are supposed to be able compete as well.  Aside from the monetary aspect, what is probably even more critical is the time that’s involved.

Most small businesses have a hard time with working with us for their foundation website’s content much less committing to contributing to an on-going content marketing campaign. We’re finding that many of our clients are just not going to – or not willing to - provide the level of participation we are going to require of them.

Regardless, we feel there is no way that anything can be done effectively without a structured commitment from the client to participate to make it affordable. Thus, our challenge with small business content marketing has become finding a “balance” of establishing enough client cooperation for both, an effective and affordable Internet marketing program. There is no way most can afford to have us do everything that is necessary without it.

Works Only If Small Businesses Get Involved

I also found it interesting that a couple of larger Internet marketing sales blogs described where they drew their lines in making a sale. They pretty much make it clear when they meet with new clients; not only do they have to commit to a substantial monthly budget towards the program, but that they also have to be committed to providing the resources within their company to make it successful or they walk away from the deal.

Quite frankly, we also agree with this. If the client does not commit and follow through from their end then it would be impossible for the marketing program to be effective. There is no way we can do it all without it taking substantially more time to do than they can afford.

In a nutshell, the pundits are saying SEO isn't dead and small business can absolutely effectively still play the game. But the answer for small business content marketing most definitely involves more time commitment and monetary expense for the small business owner.

In our reality, despite the best intentions of our many small business and start-up clients, actually getting them to follow through with it is one of our biggest disappointments.  We cannot control their actions – only ours.

So the question remains, will small design and marketing companies and their small business clients be able to adapt to the new small business content marketing requirements and still be affordable?  I suppose the bigger question is - can they afford not to?