Have you heard about it yet?
It’s probably the single biggest consequence of the rise in popularity of content marketing.
It’s called content shock.
People are being overwhelmed by all the content produced, both good and bad.
There’s a lot to be said about it and the way it will force content marketers to evolve.
But I’ll get to those topics in the near future.
First, there’s something more important you need to understand.
A business is more than just content.
Sure, you can build a business on the back of your content, but content itself is not a business.
You might say “duh,” but don’t roll your eyes so quickly.
Many content marketers and business owners are pumping out content without having any clue of how it makes them money.
You need to understand that content is just one part of marketing, let alone a business as a whole.
What I want to show you in this post is how content fits into a business.
To do that, I’ll go into great detail about the major areas of a business you need to keep in mind and connect with your content.
Let’s start with the first area of concern…
Area #1: If you don’t have a product, you don’t have a business yet
People get started with content marketing in two main ways.
The first is to raise sales. The biggest problem these businesses face is connecting the content with their products.
I’ll address this issue later on.
The second way is used by the group of people who come from the newest generation of Internet marketers, who begin to learn and apply content marketing because of what they see.
They read blogs like Quick Sprout, and for the most part, they only see content.
Wanting to build something similar, they start pumping out content.
Some have the talent to get some traffic, but sooner or later (often after years), they realize something:
How the heck am I supposed to make money now?
What they don’t realize is that content is just a part of the business. Even though all they could see was content, there’s a lot going on in the background.
In order for all that to happen, you need a product.
And the common reaction to being told that is:
So what? I’ll just come up with a product down the line.
That’s a very risky approach.
What usually happens is the marketer ends up building a segmented audience. Since they only care about creating content to attract viewers, they create content on all sorts of loosely related topics in their niche.
Different topics attract different types of readers, so by the time the marketer finally creates a product, only a small percentage of their audience is interested in it.
As a simple example, pretend that Joe, a golfing blogger, creates content for both expert golfers and beginner golfers.
His audience will contain both types of golfers. While some products might be attractive to both groups, most won’t.
For example, any products targeted towards beginners, like basic video tutorials or cheap golfing equipment, won’t be wanted by experts.
Similarly, most beginners aren’t going to want to spend a ton of money on the game when they’re just playing it occasionally for fun.
Now, if Joe had only those two groups, he still might do okay. But typically, bloggers like Joe end up with a highly segmented audience, and it’s tough to create a product that appeals to a large portion of that audience.
The end result?
No sales (or very few).
The products behind the scene: My point wasn’t that you need to build a product before you build an audience. You can build an audience before you create a product, but you need to create your content strategically (so that you build an audience that is interested in something specific).
My point is that all businesses have products.
If you don’t have a product yet, then you don’t have a business—you have a hobby.
Those doomed blogs that launch products that don’t sell don’t last very long.
A good business doesn’t just sell products; it sells highly profitable ones.
Furthermore, it sells multiple products to appeal to different segments of its audience.
For example, I Will Teach You To Be Rich sells several products:
All those sales put together amount to a 7-figure business.
You may not know it yet, but I offer consulting to my readers (although mainly through NeilPatel.com). Even though you don’t see it on the surface with all the blog content, Quick Sprout is responsible for a huge amount of revenue.
The main components to profitable products: Before you rush out and create a product, take a step back to plan.
Creating a great product takes time.
Within the “product” area of your business, there are a few main things you will need to decide.
The first part is choosing a product itself. You may have the intimate knowledge of your audience to do this off the top of your head, but in general, you’ll need to:
- survey your audience
- look at competitors
- talk to members of your audience
- “pitch” hypothetical products to small sections of your audience
Based on that feedback, you’ll be able to determine what products they would and would not pay for.
After that, it usually makes sense to make a minimum viable product (MVP).
The MVP is a bare-bones first version of your product you can offer to a small portion of your audience for testing and further feedback.
You can make improvements based on that initial feedback to create a new version.
It may take a few rounds of feedback and improvement, but eventually you’ll have something worth selling.
While all this is happening, you also need to determine how you’re going to sell the product (the technical logistics) and how you’re going to distribute it to customers.
Some products, like software products, are pretty easy to distribute. But if you have a physical product, you’ll have to figure out which countries and areas you can ship to, how long it will take, and how much it will cost.
Finally, if you haven’t yet, you’ll need to find someone who can create the product. It might be a developer or it might be some supplier in China for a physical product.
Finding the right person or company can take months of searching, so it’s important to plan as far ahead as possible.
Area #2: Your content is only as good as your website
I see it too often these days…
A marketer goes to the effort of creating some really good content, but then it’s put on a website that looks like it was made in the 1990s.
Like it or not, the appearance of your content, and your website as a whole, has a big effect on the perception of your content and product.
Furthermore, remember that potential customers will judge your business based on your content. Most audiences won’t buy or return to ugly content/websites.
So, if you spend all your time on your content, now might be a good time to take a step back and evaluate the look of your website.
Your website needs to reflect your brand and content: Both your website as a whole and your content affect the perception of each other. They both need to give the impression you want.
Let’s take a quick look at a few areas of Quick Sprout.
Here’s a snippet of the homepage:
It’s an extremely clean, modern design. Most would say that it looks great.
The same high quality logo and designs are carried through the blog:
The sidebar isn’t just some random opt-in form; it’s clear that it’s been professionally designed.
Not only that, but the green color scheme from the homepage has been carried through to the blog pages.
Further down in the sidebar, there’s a brief area about hiring me to speak:
Do you recognize that design from anywhere? (Bonus points if you do.)
The color scheme and the main font are almost identical to those of many of my advanced guides (also in the sidebar):
Some readers come to my content first. The things in the content that they’re impressed with are duplicated in other areas of the website.
Other readers come to other parts of the website first. They like the homepage and sidebar design, so they read a few posts. Not surprisingly, they like the content as well since it has the same “feel” to it.
And that’s what I mean when I say that your website and content design are interconnected. They both help build your brand.
All designs go stale, keep iterating: One common mistake people make is they come up with an initial design that represents their business and brand well but never update it.
Obviously, website redesigns are expensive and take a lot of time, but most young online businesses should be overhauling their websites every 2-5 years.
Otherwise, your content will evolve over time but your site won’t, which will create a gap between the quality of your content and the way your readers will perceive your content and your brand as a whole.
A good example is the Crazy Egg blog.
Over time, we assembled a solid team of writers who were producing content on a regular basis.
We even hired an editor to make sure all the content was as high quality as possible.
But the website fell behind. It hadn’t been updated in a few years, and it held back the perception of the content. Our blog posts weren’t getting quite as much attention as they deserved.
As you can see, it wasn’t ugly, but it sure wasn’t pretty either.
That’s why we overhauled it in 2015. We kept the most important elements of the original design, but we essentially redesigned it from scratch.
You can go to the blog today and clearly see that Crazy Egg isn’t just a website with a top quality blog but a top quality business with a high quality product.
The design reflects on everything.
If your site goes down, your content goes with it: It’s easy to forget that most of your content lives on your website.
If it goes down or gets hacked, all of your website files and content can be gone in an instant.
This is the stuff of nightmares for most marketers.
The good news is that you don’t need to be constantly worried about it as long as you take action to prevent it.
The first thing you need to do is to find out from your host whether they back up your content.
Some hosts, such as Hostgator for example, automatically back up accounts of smaller websites (under 20 GB).
You don’t want to rely on this, but it’s nice to know that it might be an option should you need it.
As far as security goes, keep your websites as updated as possible, especially if you have a WordPress website. Old plugins often have vulnerabilities that are the source of hacks.
Even if you are good about keeping your site updated, accidents can still happen, and you can find your site gone overnight.
The only reliable solution is to create your own backups. I know that a lot of marketers get turned off by technical work like creating backups, but it’s really simple.
I’ll walk you through the two main ways you can do this.
Option #1 – Use a plugin: By far, the easiest option is to buy a cheap plugin such as BackupBuddy.
Once you install the plugin and select your basic settings, go to its “Backup” menu.
All you need to do is choose the “complete backup” option, and it will automatically make a copy of all your website contents.
You can store your backups on your computer, an external drive, or on BackupBuddy’s cloud servers (pick from the red buttons). Any of these options will work just fine.
That literally only takes a few clicks, once every 2-4 weeks. There’s no excuse not to do it.
Option #2 – Do it manually: Almost all hosts use cPanel these days, and you can create backups for your site with it free.
There are two parts of a backup that you’ll need:
- databases – which store dynamic content like your posts, pages, and comments
- static files – things like your website theme
Log into cPanel, and find the “Backup Wizard” link:
From here, choose the “Backup” option on the next page:
On this next screen, do not choose “full backup.” You can’t actually restore that if your site goes down.
Instead, you’ll want to use the partial backup options.
You can start with either option, but you’ll need both the “home directory” (your static files) and your “MySQL databases.”
Once you pick an option, click the “Download” button on the next page.
After you’ve done that, repeat the steps, and download the other files you need.
If something goes wrong with your website, go back to the backup wizard, but this time pick “Restore” in the first step. You’ll then upload your static files and database individually (it’s the exact same procedure).
Create a backup once every 2-4 weeks, and you’ll never have to worry about the consequences of your site going down.
Area #3: Your customers are the lifeblood of your business, treat them right
Content marketing is all about giving value.
That’s one of the aspects of it that I love so much. Your content can actually make a difference in all of your readers’ lives.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always carry over to the product.
Businesses tend to understand that content marketing is about providing value, but once they have a customer, they think their job is done.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
A past customer is about 3 times more likely to buy from you than an email subscriber or other reader in general.
You should be providing even more value to someone who buys a product from you. These are the people who make the biggest difference to the success of your business, in both the short and long term.
What I’m really talking about here is customer service.
There are a few key factors that most businesses should focus on more in the customer service area.
Factor #1 – Availability and convenience: Obviously there are many types of businesses out there, but consider the following typical scenario that may or may not describe your process:
A company spends months creating great content to start their content marketing efforts. During this time, they are desperate for audience contact. Comments, social media mentions, and emails of any sort are cause for celebration.
That same company sells products. When a customer calls or emails them for help with their purchase, they are seen as an added expense. The company trains their reps to deal with their customers as quickly as possible.
Isn’t this madness?
The customer—who has given your business money and could buy from you again in the future—is treated like a pest.
Random readers in the audience, who may never be in the market for your products, are treated like gold. Emails are enthusiastically replied to, and all suggestions for content are given special attention.
This happens all the time. And not just in business.
It happens in personal relationships too when someone puts in the effort to come off as a great person to get someone they like to go on a date with them only to get lazier over time and barely give their new significant other the time of day.
Do not let this happen in your business—ever.
Your customers should get as much attention and appreciation as possible on an ongoing basis. Their thoughts and feedback are far more useful than any reader’s.
To start with, make it really easy to contact you.
After someone buys a product from you, take every chance you can get to encourage them to contact you.
Mirasee (formerly Firepole Marketing) does this brilliantly with their products.
Here’s an excerpt from one of the many emails they send to customers who bought their training course “Audience Business Masterclass”:
There’s no hiding email addresses or not mentioning support options to make it difficult for customers to get help.
Instead, they make it clear that if you need support in any way, they are happy to try to help you as soon as possible. Customers don’t feel like a nuisance—they feel valued.
Factor #2 – Go above and beyond to fix the problems: You can encourage your customers to contact you every time you get the chance.
But once you get those emails or phone calls, you need to deliver on your promises.
Yes, customer service costs your business money.
Actually, let me fix that:
Customer service costs your business money—in the short term.
In the long term, however, truly great customer service is the way you win lifelong customers who will spend hundreds or thousands of dollars with your business.
I urge you to not try to solve the problem as quickly as possible. Instead, try to solve it as thoroughly as possible.
Make the customer as happy as possible with your reply.
If they’re confused and need help, schedule a personal call with them as soon as possible. Or record a quick video showing them exactly how to do something.
When you go above and beyond by doing things like that, you show that you really do care about them, and that’s why they will be loyal customers in the future.
Factor #3 – Follow up after purchase, and make sure they’re getting results: If you have a great customer service team and process in place, you’re almost set.
Except there’s still one big problem…
Most people won’t contact you even if they’re having problems with your products.
Many will just forget about your product and never use it again. Guess how likely these people are to be repeat customers.
You’re right, not very likely.
You should follow up multiple times after someone purchases your product to make sure they’re having a great experience with it.
The more complex your product is, the more you should check in with them.
Remember that example email I showed you above? Here’s another one that Danny Iny (founder of Mirasee) sends his customers a few months after they buy his training course:
That’s only a snippet, but you can see that he again encourages anyone who isn’t getting the ideal results to contact his team for more help.
This shows his customers that he truly cares about their success, which makes them more likely to reach out and get help.
If his team goes above and beyond, he’s going to turn a lot of those customers who might have been on the verge of giving up into successes and, in turn, lifelong customers.
You should follow up after a customer receives a product to make sure they got it in good condition with no problems.
But you should also follow up at least once more after your customer has had time to test out the product thoroughly.
Factor #4 – Content isn’t just for before the sale: There’s another aspect of producing content that people don’t consider, which I just can’t understand.
You produce your content and publish it free because you know your potential customers will find it valuable.
So, why on Earth wouldn’t you send customers premium content after they purchase a product?
If they liked content before, I’m sure they’ll like it after.
In fact, they’ll probably like it more because your product will help them put your advice into action.
And no, I’m not just talking about regular blog content. While you should still send them that, you have the opportunity to create even more useful content just for customers.
If you sell a link building tool, you can send posts or e-books on how to use the tool for specific link building tactics. I guarantee almost all of your customers would enjoy that.
Create more content specifically for the people who matter the most to your business: your customers.
Area #4: Content is a great start, but without sales, it’s unsustainable
By now, I really hope you understand, if you didn’t before, the necessity of having a product.
We’ve established that there are two main components to your business: content and a product.
But you need to find a way to link these together, which is where sales comes in.
More specifically, you’ll need to develop a sales funnel.
A sales funnel just describes all the steps a person will go through from becoming aware of your brand to becoming a customer.
With typical outbound marketing (e.g., PPC advertising), it’s pretty easy to define a concrete sales funnel. For example:
- awareness – the ads themselves
- education – a sales page you link your potential customers to that educates them about the problem they have (this is usually where you capture lead information)
- engagement – continued interaction with the lead to increase awareness about your products
- purchase – where they become your customer
But inbound marketing funnels are a little trickier to define.
Potential customers can arrive on your site through any number of pieces of content. Or they might first become aware of your brand or product from the content you produce on other sites.
However, you can still define a rough funnel:
- awareness – your content on your blog or other sites
- lead conversion – getting visitors to sign up for your email list
- engagement – a continuous process of sending email subscribers valuable content and trying to establish a relationship
- education – when you’re ready to begin your sales process, you start educating subscribers about the problem you’re solving with your product(s).
- pitch and purchase – you present your product as the simplest or best solution in hopes of converting those leads into customers
As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between the two, but the inbound sales funnel is typically a bit more generalized.
Yours may not look exactly like that, and that’s okay.
Furthermore, a sales funnel like the one above is just a starting point. You want to break down each section as far as possible.
The most important section will be the product education phase. This is where most businesses would send a series of emails leading towards a sales.
Ideally, you need to create the exact emails that you will send ahead of time. You want them to relate to each other and build towards the sale.
Effective funnels aren’t made overnight: I’ve written full posts about sales funnels and barely scratched the surface of creating effective ones.
The truth is, there’s no right or wrong way to make one because it depends on your business.
One other thing that I do know is true is that your first funnel won’t be great. In fact, it might not even be good.
The good news is that you can steadily improve its overall effectiveness through split testing.
After several rounds of split testing, you’ll start to see really good conversion rates.
Focus on the part of your funnel that’s leaking the most (has the poorest conversion rate to the next step), and split test that until it’s producing acceptable results.
Then, keep repeating the process with the next worst part of the funnel and so on. Only stop this process when the gains you’re getting are consistently insignificant, which won’t happen for a long while.
Content is a great asset to almost any online business.
However, it’s just one component of your marketing.
If you truly want to build a successful business, you need to think about four other areas of your business I’ve shown you in this post.
If you haven’t given enough attention to your products, customer service, or sales, I’ve also given you specific things you can get working on right away. Start implementing these as soon as possible.
I’d love it if you could share any experiences you’ve had while building your own business in a comment below.