Profit Minded

What most small business owners still don’t get about blogging

An organic farmer and sustainable agriculture expert told me recently that the proprietor of a farm-to-table restaurant in her community had asked if she would be willing to write a blog about farming for the restaurant’s website. He told her the blog need not make any mention of his restaurant or its menu at all—just write about farming, he said.

She was delighted, but also befuddled. Why would the restaurant want a blog that didn’t market the restaurant?

This savvy restaurateur understands something many small business owners have yet to grasp. The trick to reeling in new customers in the age of online search is to provide content—useful, informative, engaging content that answers the questions your potential customers enter in their browser’s search field.

If you’re unfamiliar with it, the increasingly popular tactic is called “content marketing.” Search the term itself to find reams of information about how it’s done.

I pointed my farmer friend to the most concise and brilliant example of how content marketing saved a recession-blighted business, at the same time reducing its marketing budget from $250,000 to $25,000. It’s the story of Marcus Sheridan, owner of River Pools and Spas, as described in the New York Times last month.

Sheridan, a 30-something father of four, has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and phys ed. But his fiberglass pool business’s marketing overhaul was so successful that he’s now become a content marketing consultant.

Sheridan told the Times that he masterminded his own turnaround by just “thinking more about the way I use the Internet.” In a Q&A with Times reporter Mark Cohen, he said:

“Most of the time when I type in a search, I’m looking for an answer to a specific question. The problem in my industry, and a lot of industries, is you don’t get a lot of great search results because most businesses don’t want to give answers; they want to talk about their company. So I realized that if I was willing to answer all these questions that people have about fiberglass pools, we might have a chance to pull this out.”

He blogged about problems with fiberglass pools, about the best swimming pool builders in his region, and about pool prices—data most companies are unwilling to broadcast. He told the Times that he didn’t include his own business in the post about best builders, “because … I would lose all my credibility.” And he has tracked “a minimum of $1.7 million in sales” to the one article about pricing.

The article has continued to generate a great discussion among small business owners in the Times comment section. And Sheridan now applies the same tactics to marketing his content marketing business. Case in point: Do a Yahoo! (or Google) search for “How much does a content marketing consultant cost?” Your number one hit will be Sheridan’s article under that headline.

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