Editor's Note: This is the first article in a five-part series on how to use digital content to promote your professional practice. Part one addresses why a content management system is important and how to begin planning one.
As a professional service provider, you trade time for money, so your firm or consulting practice lives or dies by billable hours. Naturally, you want to maximize hours, but you didn't spend decades accumulating credentials and marketable experience so you can sell services over the phone. Yet without enough time spent seeking new business, income may drop unless you've achieved that enviable state called "backlogged."
Here's a way out of this vexing dilemma: become a source of knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom your clients need and want. Content marketing holds the key to entering easy, natural dialogs that build trust and connections with potential clients. Content distribution enables you to sell by simple demonstration, without self-conscious sales calls or pressurized closes. Your content stream is like a tastefully decorated store window. This approach not only brings more billable hours, but it positions you to pick and choose clients you most want to work with from inbound inquiries.
In this four-article series, I'll show you how to create a powerful and inexpensive content marketing system tailored to your needs. We live in an age of unprecedented online publishing power. It doesn't take much money or time. And it takes a lot less work than making cold calls. Content has become a workhorse that helps many firms establish referral-based practices with a comfortable backlog.
What Is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is publishing information in your field of expertise to an interested audience. You connect with your selected audience regularly in your own voice, demonstrate your expertise, become known as the problem-solving go-to person, and forge connections. Your content provides samples of your work, shows how you think and communicate, tells what you're like to work with, and makes the value of working with you obvious. Then clients call when they need what you do. This kind of reputation helps build and nurture long-term relationships—the essence of complex sales.
Content is useful, meaningful information in a digital format. And a content marketing system is composed of:
- Your editorial calendar
- Your digital content
- An online distribution system you run from your computer
Coordinated action of these parts builds your reputation and clientele, as it sets a context for getting you hired. I'll treat each part in detail as this article series unfolds.
It's easy to sell to someone who knows, likes, and trusts you and who has tried what you offer and knows they need it. People tend to think any CPA is just another CPA until that professional reaches out by sharing what they know. When people know, like, and trust you, they call because they want you specifically. No overt selling is required, though there's no harm in making a low-key offer now and again once you have your audience's attention and respect. When a good-sized, well-selected group reads your content regularly, it's just a matter of time until they close you.
Draw up your plan as an editorial calendar, listing how and when you'll distribute various content items. You might list date, topic, audience, medium, and deadline, along with which kind of client the item is intended for. Then get busy writing on a regular schedule. Items you publish get keyword indexed and found in web searches. They stay available for you to reference. They have a whole life of their own on the Internet.
What to Write About
As in any form of publishing, you have to think like your audience. Thought leadership is wisdom you reveal to help others achieve good results in a particular business, industry, or field. Expert content helps people get on in business, a chosen activity, or their lives. If your content helps people solve problems and reach goals, it will be received well. Pick an area of experience where you are seeking more business or improved reputation. Then prepare your audience to become good clients by educating them.
If you're a business management consultant, for example, you might get ideas from magazines such as Forbes, Fortune, The Economist, Fast Company, or Inc. Magazine as well as relevant industry newsletters.
Here's a list of article suggestions that are often favorites with readers:
- Strategic advice
- Best practices
- Dos and don'ts lists
- Industry trends and intelligence
- News and review
- Behind-the-scenes reports
- Pricing trends and guides
- ROI calculators
- Research with useful findings
- Successful solutions to common issues
- Case studies
- Building specific skills
- Anything that improves profits
What literature dominates your industry and what's in the tables of contents? That's probably what people want to know about. Investigate timely blogs and develop a collection of favorites. What are your clients' big issues? What popular relevant topics match your knowledge, background, interest, and field? Saving time, making money, solving specific problems, and how-tos are perennial favorites.
If you don't like to write but you're well-spoken and think on your feet, get an easy-to-use video camera and some editing software, or a webcam and some webinar software, and record live talks you can host online and deliver in video.
Audio is also a popular format and even easier to produce as podcasts, which are perfect for a commuter market. All you need is a digital voice recorder, sound editing software, a little imagination, and passion for your topic.
If creating original content is not your strong suit, don't worry. Other writers are ready and willing to help you. You could:
Collect relevant articles from EzineArticles.com and similar article marketing sites and republish them
- Partner with a colleague who likes to write
- Interview industry experts and publish what they say
- Invite others to write guest blog posts
Put on your consulting hat and belt it out. Since the devil is in the details, don't be concerned about giving too much away. Say what to do and why to do it, but not so much how. Reserve a proprietary secret here and there. You may be educating your competition, but remember, great execution keeps them behind you. Make your content fascinating, compelling, and infectious, and your readers will fan it out to their friends.
Once you put in some hours building your system, you can enjoy results far beyond any media exposure you could ever afford in traditional channels. Even industry giants with huge marketing budgets use online content marketing because it works. Over time, your e-list will grow and your inbound inquiries will reach levels you could never expect if you keep pounding the outbound sales approach.
So far, we've covered the how and why of content marketing and planning content you could produce. In the next article, we'll begin to plumb the workings of web resources you can leverage to build a publishing engine that will send your content out to the world, to a list of subscribers, and to select social media connections of your choice.