There are many ways to build a business but there isn’t one sure-fire way. Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Content Marketing Institute, which provides education and training around content marketing, believes one of the least risky ways is content marketing. He’s launched a new platform on the Content Marketing site–Content Inc.–geared toward startups and entrepreneurs. Pulizzi interviewed more than fifty entrepreneurs and small business owners who built multi-million dollar businesses around content to find and develop a new entrepreneurial model. The steps to starting a content-focused business are detailed on Content Inc. (and there are other resources for entrepreneurs as well).
Pulizzi started CMI in 2007 based on the premise that if he created useful content and attracted an audience interested in it, he could build a business around it. CMI provides information about, essentially, that very same thing—content marketing. His revenue has gone from $4.3 million in 2013 to more than $10 million today. “I wanted to share how that worked for me,” he says, so put that information into a book (his fourth), which will be released in September, Content Inc. It details the process of building a business using his content-and-audience-first model.
Most people start a business with a product or service and then build a plan to monetize it, says Pulizzi. His model has entrepreneurs building a content business, and then the product and services around that. “You build the content first, then monetize it. You find a content niche where you can be the leading expert in the world—no matter how small. It’s not the size of the audience it’s the focus on a need for information that’s going unmet.”
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He’s boiled the process down to six steps:
1. Find your sweet spot. This is where you start, at the intersection of your passion and your knowledge and skill set, where your specific expertise lies.
2. Content tilt. This is where entrepreneurs go beyond the obvious and differentiate themselves. Pulizzi gives the example of Ann Reardon, a food scientist in Australia who, rather than just writing a food blog with recipes, focused on “impossible food creations,” like how to turn five pounds of Snicker bars into a cake.
3. Build the base. Figure out what type of content you want to create—text, audio or video—and what platform you’ll use to communicate with it. It could be a blog, YouTube, SoundCloud, iTunes, etc. You have to keep communicating over a significant period of time, at least a year, says Pulizzi.
4. Harvest audience. “This is where you’re in subscriber mode, your whole goal is to build audience. On our platform, our sole goal was to get or keep a subscriber; we just wanted to get them to sign up. That’s the conversion.” There’s no magic number, says Pulizzi, it all depends on the business. “For us, it was about 10,000, for others it could be 500,000. Business to business is generally much lower than business to consumer. Ultimately you’re trying to get to monetization but you need a good number of subscribers first.”
5. Diversification. Where can you go now that you have focused on one platform? It could be you start with a blog and then expand to Pinterest to build up your following and then move to integrating brands into your channels. “Look at something like ESPN,” says Pulizzi. “Today they have a magazine, ESPY awards, a television channel. Events are also considered content, they are a physical version of you content, whether that’s a printed book or magazine, eBooks, podcasts, white papers, all of it.”
6. Monetization. This is where you start to build the business. Pulizzi did that with CMI in several ways. “Our big monetization was events. Fifty percent of our revenue comes from our annual conference and then smaller shows in other countries and cities. We also make money off of sponsored webinars, sponsorship on the site and books,” he says.
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Pulizzi also gives a lot of information away for free. He says if you don’t give away some content, “nothing happens. The content itself markets to the audience you’re trying to build, one that is loyal, loves and trusts you,” he says. ”And because they trust the content you send them, they will buy from you.”