How to craft a winning content marketing plan

Content Marketing PlanDo you want to be a successful business content marketer? The excitement and potential of creating content that builds your reputation as a thought leader often gets in the way of doing the simple stuff first. Like planning. Content editorial planning to be specific.

Unfortunately, you might start out with two or three great blog topic ideas, and then, you’re stuck. You got nothing. No new topic ideas, and your commitment to regular blog posts means there are deadlines. If you had only taken a bit of time up front to plan your content. Well, it’s not too late, and you’ll be glad you did.

As a professional service or small business person, you don’t want to spend loads of time planning. However, a little time and thoughtfulness can allow you to create a simple, actionable content plan. Let’s review the essential elements of a content marketing plan.

Business objectives

Business objectives are two-fold: financial and marketing. It’s the same for any business plan. Financial objectives include quantitative goals, like “achieve a 12% growth in revenues,” or “increase revenue by $100,000” or “gain 20 warm leads.” The time frame might be monthly, quarterly or annually, and the time frame must be included in order to measure results.

Marketing objectives help you achieve your financial objectives. They might include: [Read more…]

KCIABC’s 2013 Business Communicators Summit

Chakisse Newton image

Chakisse Newton presents communications tips to Kansas City’s International Association of Business Communicators

Speaker and communications consultant Chakisse Newton offered business communicators “practical tips and techniques to improve every communication, whether written or verbal, professional or personal,” at KCIABC’s 2013 Business Communicators Summit. The whole day included breakout sessions on topics from “Integrated Online Marketing” to “Understanding Mobile Content Marketing” to “Developing Your Professional Presence and Get Results.”

How fancy is your firm’s capabilities brochure?

Just when I thought nobody wanted a firm brochure anymore, I get a call from an upstart accounting firm. The sole proprietor had already created a “do it yourself” website, and she also wanted to have a printed brochure to provide clients and prospects.

capabilities brochure

Print brochure samples courtesy of Kelly Palmer

The capabilities brochure banter

“What kind of capabilities brochure options do you have?” she asked.

“What kind of information do you want to disseminate, and who is your target audience?” I asked.

The usual answers came forth,

“Something about me and my background, a description of my services, my contact information and I really want it to sell them on me. My prospective accounting clients are small businesses and individuals with fairly complex tax filing needs.”

“Don’t you have a listing of options from me to pick and choose from, you know like the way I did in choosing the level of website I just acquired online?” she asks.

“Well, no I don’t offer a canned brochure product. I try to make each brochure unique to the client.” I replied.

And frankly, between you and me, it seems everyone is the best at what they do, or at least they think so. It can be a real challenge to write something about a person or firm that makes them truly stand out. Isn’t everybody client-centric, skilled beyond human limitations, etc.?

So, you write good copy that flows well and tells their story as best as it can be told; and by teaming with competent art directors we can make a brochure stand out as coming from a professional, quality-minded professional service firm.

The request for a list of canned options did get me thinking, especially since the CPA firm owner did not have much in the way of budget. So, I offered her a brochure option using the “good, better, best” analogy. Here’s the basic description of each:

Good, better and best capabilities brochure options

  • Good Brochure: a simple sheet of 8.5 X 11 or 11 X 14 (legal size) that is ultimately machine-folded in order to fit into a number #10 envelope or perhaps a desktop brochure holder. Most businesses today go with color, versus one-color or two-color that might be a bit more economical to print.
  • Better Brochure: a presentation brochure/folder (approximately 9 X 12 when folded) that includes copy on a stapled insert (usually 8.5 X 11), and may have a pocket for additional materials, plus a slit for a business card. Printed on heavy 15PT card stock and 100# Gloss Cover, giving it durability and a higher level of impressiveness, versus the “good” approach.
  • Best Brochure: an “image” brochure is a capabilities brochure on steroids. It might be a unique size and shape, and with a unique paper stock. It might have “see-through” tissue paper when you open the first page. It might have a folder pocket. It can be a bit costly, but if one wants to impress, the image brochure will do the job.

My capabilities brochure recommendation

As a startup accounting firm, she was in the early stages of building her solo, professional reputation and client base. She offered accounting and financial services to individuals and businesses, as well as tax services and QuickBooks services/training.

If your accounting doesn’t have much money, then the good brochure may be your only option to get a professional quality capabilities brochure, written by a skilled copywriter and designed by a proficient graphic designer. It was just right for her startup accounting firm for now, and she can step up to a higher quality level as she grows her accounting practice.

However, if you really want to stand out, and you have a reasonable budget, you should consider the “better brochure” or the “best brochure.” They have size, which makes an impression. Think of how you get your mail. If you get a letter in a #10 envelope and another in a 9 x 12 envelope, which do you open first? Hands down, I bet it’s the larger envelope because it grabs your attention. It’s perceived as more important, even if the smaller envelope holds a check for you.

It’s good to know that even though I’ve jumped headfirst into online marketing, content marketing, inbound marketing, or whatever handle you might use, there are many people and businesses who still value the qualities of printed marketing collateral. This begs the question, do you have a firm brochure, and how would you describe it?

Note: read more about marketing brochures.

Professional service firms grow faster with online marketing

Online, or digital, marketing delivers faster growth and higher profits for professional service firms. That’s according to Hinge Research Institute and their findings from an online survey of 500 professional service firms.  Their findings include:

Online marketing by professional service firms increases their profitability

Greater online lead generation leads to greater total profitability. The survey found that firms generating more than 60% of new business leads via online marketing are two times more profitable than those generating less than 20% of new business leads online.

Online marketing is widespread and poised for growth

  • The survey found that more than 77% of firms generate at least some new business leads online.
  • 46% of firms have redesigned their website within the past year.
  • About 66% of firms plan to increase online spending in the next 12 months. The average anticipated increase is 56%.

Hinge asks, “Why is it that firms that generate a higher percentage of online leads are more profitable?” Their data was inconclusive, but they suggest that is could be due to online marketing being less costly than traditional marketing over the long term. Once a firm is getting good results in searches, the incremental costs decrease.

To add my two cents, I think another factor is that when a prospect chooses to interact with your firm it is “sold on your ability to deliver the goods,” so to speak. They are comfortable and confident in your firm, to a relatively high extent and less sensitive about the fees. Furthermore they probably have reached a pain point where they are ready to act in obtaining a solution for the challenge.

 Online recruiting is also widespread

• 55% of firms recruit employees online.

• About 1 in 4 firms attract 40% or more new hires online.

Personally, I’ve noticed how the career section on websites has expanded and how some of the larger professional service firms have put together video shows discussing their firm’s culture and the benefits of being an employee. I’ve also seen an explosion in job ads on LinkedIn. And many of them specifically state they only want responses from principals, no agencies.

Professional service firms have untapped online marketing potential

Traditional marketing techniques at professional service firms are giving way to online marketing and inbound marketing strategies as buyers of professional services change their habits.

Hinge Research Institute released its 2011 examination of the current state and untapped potential of online marketing in professional services firms. Here are few of their findings.

Results demonstrate that professional service firms embracing online marketing grow faster:

  • Firms generating 40% or more of their leads online grow 4 times faster than those with no online leads
  • High-growth firms obtain 63% of leads online while average firms obtain 12%
  • Greater engagement with online tools is associated with faster growth

Using online marketing also increases professional service firm profitability:

  • The greater a firm’s online lead generation, the greater its total profitability.
  • Firms generating 60% or more of their leads online are 2X more profitable than those generating less than 20% of their leads online.

My take

I belong to several LinkedIn groups, including those focused on professional service firms, such as Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) and Social Media Marketing for Financial Services. There is definitely a growing interest and involvement in online marketing. There is also a lot of confusion about what it is, and how it works. Oddly, I observe a number of professional service firms updating their websites, but omitting the blogging component.

The blogging component, in my opinion and in the opinion of many well-known online experts, is that the website’s blog is the most important part of an inbound marketing effort. Indeed, the Hinge report shows that high growth professional service firms find blogging to be their most important tool, followed closely by search engine optimization (SEO). Of course, blogging and SEO go hand-in-hand.

Read or download the full report, “Online Marketing for Professional Services Firms,  How Digital Marketing Delivers Faster Growth and Higher Profits” at Hinge Research Institute.

Simplified Marketing Plan in 7 Steps

Many organizations state they need to perform a tactic in order to take a step forward in their marketing. In reality, most need a plan, a strategic marketing plan. However, they don’t often warm up to the concept of investing many hours in developing a strategic plan.

Maybe they would be more inclined to plan if they could do so in a concise fashion and end up with a sensible and actionable marketing plan. The plan below may be just the ticket, and  is adapted from the guerrilla marketing plan by Jay Conrad Levinson.

The Simplified Marketing Plan Concept

There are multiple approaches for creating a marketing plan, and there is something to be said for keeping it simple, but actionable. A more formal plan might be 20, 30 or even 100 pages long, and full of comprehensive, detailed research, a SWOT and competitive analysis. This simplified plan is relatively brief (3-5 pages), but focuses on key marketing plan elements. It is intended to help an organization move from planning to acting in a relatively short time. Each of the seven steps should be given thoughtful deliberation.

1. Explain the purpose or objectives of your marketing plan.

E.g., specific increase in revenue over xx months, a stated number of new customers in specific niche, increases in measurable awareness of a service/product, etc. Often a firm financial objective is accompanied by a marketing objective without a specific financial measurement.

2. Describe how you achieve your objectives by describing the benefits you provide to clients

“We help people achieve the best-looking lawn on the block by producing effective fertilizer products.”

“We make customers and their families feel safer while driving (due to our great attention to safety engineering).”

3. Specify your target market

A target market is a group of people or organizations that will need or want your products and services.

E.g., Our target market includes corporate property management, commercial and industrial, hotels, private estates, and apartment blocks. (window cleaner)
E.g., Our target market are technology-loving people that don’t have time to watch TV, with a large disposable income…

4. Describe your niche in that market

Explain how your produce/service product or service is just right for a select demographic or target market. What can you provide that’s new and compelling?

5. Determine the marketing tools you will use

The combination of online and offline marketing tools used to send and receive messages.

6. Focus on the identity of your business

Identity is the ongoing, consistent image and brand that you want to convey. Often communicated in mission and/or vision statements, through logos and graphics and in how a company positions itself in the marketplace.

“Our service professionals are creative, collaborative, highly competent, results-oriented and easy to work with.”

7. Establish a marketing budget

A fixed amount, percentage of revenue, actual estimates of desired marketing initiatives, etc. The marketing expenditures should be linked directly to a series of steps, as stated in an action plan.