Content foundations for new businesses
When you read the literature on content strategy — go to the conferences or listen to the podcasts — you can be left with the impression that the serious and important work of content professionals only applies to big business.
It's about giant behemouths of content, with a gross amount of legacy content. Including a million outdated PDFs.
Small and emerging businesses can feel left out of the process. It also means that if — or when — they grow big enough to engage a content professional, they have become the behemouth. They need major change. And change is hard.
The earlier a business can lay good content foundations, the better for the business in the long run. And the better for the content professionals who can enhance a good thing, not perform major life-saving surgery.
I was recently asked, 'if you were starting a new business, where would you start with content?'
First, voice guidelines to play with.
Then, messaging to experiment with.
And finally, website.
When I started my business I didn't take much time to think about the values of my business, the voice I'd use, or the messages I'd share. Because I was me, and I know me, and I was writing for me, I thought I would just instinctively know it. I kind of do.
But if I were starting again I'd take the time to write some things down. Even if it were just an hour or so.
Knowing your brand personality, values, voice, and what makes you different, doesn't lock you into a box. It gives you things to play with. And when you're starting, play is important.
It's what lets you see what people respond to, and what falls flat. As you — or your team — learn what works, write it down. You're creating a style guide.
A style guide should be a living document, and starting early means that when the time comes to engage a content professional — whether it be for marketing support, copywriting, website strategy or something else — you've got a better chance of setting them up for success.
Some of the biggest hurdles when you start handing over content work is describing why (or why not) the content "feels right" for your business. A style guide should help to get everyone on the same page faster.
Balance strategy and momentum
When you're developing a content strategy (or any major strategy) it can feel like you're at a standstill.
I'm not a big fan of stop and wait. But, I do advocate for slowing down to speed up.
In some cases, stop and wait can mean 5 minutes, a day, 2 weeks. If it's longer than that, there are always things you can do in the meantime. Caveat: doing the things in the meantime can mean slowing down the development of your strategy, so that has to be part of decision making.
There are always things you can do around the edges. The danger is in forever working around a strategy, and never fully bedding it down and giving it time to work.
It's not impossible to manage, but it's tiring.
Feeling like you're rethinking every move, second-guessing decisions. Spending hours in stakeholder management, alignment and re-alignment rather than having people working to a single goal. Time lost in approvals and re-work, because the guidelines were unclear.
It's incredibly difficult to reach a maintenance phase, where you can catch your breath, measure what's working, and make considered change.
The actual 'how' of balancing strategy and progress depends on a lot of factors, and it's difficult to give clear answers. But it's an important balancing act to consider at any stage of business.
Letting go of the 'have tos'
Point at blank spaces on Reels. Be on Instagram. Dance on TikTok. Send an email every week.
Does your content work have to encompass all the things?
No. And yes. Maybe.
You don't have to do anything you don't feel comfortable with, or don't think supports your vision for your brand.
But — depending on your audience and what they need from you at any time — you may need to find ways to make things more comfortable. The only thing you really need to do, is think about your audience and what they need today.
For example, recently working with a new service-based business, we began thinking about the journey their clients and referral partners might go through as they became aware of the business.
When I find out that my existing service provider has gone out on their own (we intended to send a letter to specific clients and referral partners)
I need to know if that changes how they can help me
So I can decide if I want to work with them again
If we think through this story, we might start to understand that the audience needs to be able to get a grasp on the services being offered, any price changes, or changes to who would handle their work.
None of this screams 'make reels'.
But it did lead us to:
- focus on writing service descriptions first
- develop a service or pricing sheet that can be sent with the initial letter
- share the service descriptions as social media captions and highlights
- update LinkedIn profiles and do some social activities to help people get familiar with the team and their approach.
It's less about asking 'do I follow the trend?' and more about asking 'how can this help me meet audience need?'
This is by no means an exhaustive list, more a way of approaching content early in a business journey.
It's about embedding content thinking early, more than taking specific steps.