If there’s one word that can sum up my approach to marketing independent businesses, it’s this: give. Give and give and give, asking nothing in return, and if your product is right, all that giving will come back to you. The key to modern online entrepreneurial success is to stand out and prove yourself by giving valuable content to your audience.
That’s not to say you’re running a charity. Every act of giving (in this context) is an investment. By consistently offering value to your audience over a long period, you’re earning their business. It’s counterintuitive, I know. You work to produce valuable content- content that costs you time and money- and then you give it away without recouping your expenses. It sounds like the opposite of a smart business model. It sounds like flushing resources down the e-toilet.
It’s anything but.
There are other factors, but on the whole, I firmly believe this: the success of an independent business and the volume of its sales rise in direct proportion to the quantity and quality of free content given away. It’s worked for us here at Business Republic, and it’s worked for some of my most successful colleagues. A commitment to quality content marketing can give your business a huge advantage in our endlessly crowded online marketplace because it builds genuine trust, loyalty, and meaningful branding.
Advertising vs. Trials vs. Content Marketing
When we advertise, we simply make an argument for our merits. When we give to our audience, we prove our merits. We take the risk out of the process for the customer by assuring them of our competence, not by asking them to believe in it. This doesn’t only make sales offers far more tempting, it makes future sales easier by building a stronger relationship.
The free idea validation course at the $100 MBA is a good example. It’s the kind of thing we sell, but we give it away. Yes, we “lose” something when we offer it free of charge, in the sense that the costs of creating it aren’t replenished by its sale. What we gain, though, is every potential customer who knows that our product works for them. They don’t suspect it based on advertising or a small sample of our product. They find out first hand.
How is this different from a free trial? For one, it’s permanent. There is no expiration date on our audience’s ability to access our free content. Also, the idea validation course is just one example of a wealth of free content we’re constantly inviting subscribers to enjoy. This blog, our videos and webinars, and all the other content we produce is a never-ending stream of beneficial gifts to subscribers.
Maybe it takes a month. Maybe it takes a year. Maybe a given subscriber never buys a thing, but recommends our services to someone else. Regardless, the free content more than pays for itself in the amount of overall sales conversions we score by putting it out there. Spoiling doesn’t work right away, but it works for us.
Our free content isn’t a side project. It’s part and parcel of our overall sales strategy. It’s built into our projections for overhead. Its creation is a permanent fixture in our schedule. We’re not offering afterthoughts or mere enticements. The free content is self-contained, and doesn’t require the customer to buy anything else to make use of it. It comes with absolutely no strings, unless you consider the opportunity to occasionally make sales offers a string.
“Occasionally” is the key word. When utilizing content marketing, it’s just as important to limit your sales offers as it is to be generous with the free stuff. Not annoying our audience with incessant offers is just as much a part of how we spoil them as the free content is. Our subscribers can attest to the fact that we send multiple emails a week, but we only make between 3 and 5 actual sales offers annually. I like to think that that ratio of content to offers is something that proves our good intentions. It builds the kind of trust that creates lifetime customers rather than one-time sales.
When spoiling your own audience, be sure to be genuine. Make your emails personable, honest, mercifully short, and above all, valuable. Prioritize what it is you’re giving them, rather than the effect you hope all this giving will eventually have. Yes, the emails are relationship-builders for you. Yes, you want it to lead to sales. For the subscriber, however, each email should be primarily a value-delivery system. What they get out of it has to take precedence. What you get out of it will ultimately come from the subscriber’s conscious, informed choice.
Getting it Right
When a company spoils their subscribers, the eventual sales offers don’t feel like a pitch or an advertisement. What they feel like is what they are: a new level in a genuine relationship. The company/customer relationship is like any other in that actions speak louder than words. Week after week of valuable content without intrusive or annoying sales pitches represents action, not promises.
A great example of this approach is pjrvs.com. Paul Jarvis’ freelancer-guidance service is a great product, but he doesn’t expect anyone to take that on faith. If you’re a writer or other “creative” looking to market your skills on your own terms, subscribe to his email list and see what good content marketing looks like. Justin Jackson is another business-guidance guru who takes the same approach. Their content-based approach to earning sales opportunities, along with our own, is a model for how to profit from honestly-earned trust. That’s why they’ve both been featured as guest teachers on the $100 MBA Show podcast.
I’ve also seen content marketing done wrong. I won’t name names, but there are endless examples of businesses who take a subscription as an invitation to fill their subscribers’ inboxes with junk mail. These businesses are the reason Google blessed us all with the ability to filter “promotions” out of our lives. Badgering, incessant sales offers that give the subscriber nothing may get you a few apples, but offering real value plants a tree. In any relationship, the party that asks for everything finds themselves alone. Business relationships are no different, and work best when they’re reciprocal.
In a nutshell, I believe in creating a solid product, spoiling your subscribers with free quality content, and letting word of mouth do the rest. Like Paul Jarvis and Justin Jackson, you can use this formula to build up the kind of reputation that makes an independent business sustainable.
Understand that business is a long-term endeavor. Take the big-picture approach, and be comfortable with the fact that success is built over time. Your goal in spoiling your audience is to create lifetime customers out of a relatively small number of people, rather than throwing ads at a wider audience and hoping to nab immediate sales. It takes patience, but it pays off handsomely.