We could spend all day talking about how critical content marketing is to the success of brands today, but we’re pretty sure you’d get tired of hearing us yammer on. So we asked someone else to do the talking for us.
Meet Dequiana Jackson, CEO of Inspired Marketing Inc. and entrepreneur extraordinaire.
“Content marketing is extremely important to brands,” she says. “It allows them to inject personality into the brand and tell stories that get customers talking.”
And it doesn’t only have to come in the form of blog articles. Dequiana recalls that in 2010 when Old Spice introduced the Old Spice guy, in addition to traditional commercials and print ads, the brand spent a day having the Old Spice Guy respond to real tweets via YouTube.
“These videos helped tell the story that Old Spice was not your grandfather’s cologne anymore,” she says. “It was young, funny and cared enough to actually speak back to customers.”
In addition to injecting personality into your brand, content can also be used to help customers. Dequiana says many of her blog posts are inspired by client questions, adding that brands shouldn’t be afraid to re-use content – blog posts can be used for eBooks, short videos, audio tips and newsletter blurbs.
On her blog, Entrepreneur Resources, Dequiana offers her fellow small business owners advice on everything from marketing to finance to technology. Here, she talks about her passion for small business and offers more of her insight on effective marketing.
When and why did you start your site, Entrepreneur Resources?
I started Entrepreneur Resources in December 2005 when I was a first year at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Growing up, my family encouraged me to go to school, get a “good job” and work until I retired. While that was great for them, it wasn’t the path I wanted to follow, and I knew there had to be others out there who felt the same way as me. I know I was blessed with the opportunity to learn from some of the best business minds in the world at U of C, and I wanted the blog to be a platform where I could share that knowledge with current and aspiring small business owners. I wanted them to know that entrepreneurship is a viable career option.
Why are you so passionate about helping small business owners?
I’m so passionate about helping small business owners because I see the impact they can have on the larger community with the right help. While profit is important, small businesses have the flexibility to come up with products and services that solve some of their customers’ most pressing problems without the red tape that can be found in many larger corporations.
While enthusiasm is good, I know firsthand that it is not enough to run a viable company. I’ve loved small business my whole life. As a child, I remember selling friendship bracelets, lemonade and art to classmates and neighbors. That drive continued as I started my first company, a web design firm, in 2003. Though I had passion, I didn’t have the business skills to back it up. It took me six months to land my first client! I don’t want other entrepreneurs to go through that, so I provide resources to help them land clients and turn a profit sooner.
What are the most effective tools and/or strategies you’ve used to build the audience to your site over the years?
It starts with having valuable content. I can pay for advertising, run contests and tell everyone I know, but no one will stick around if the content isn’t good. I love to post up articles with advice an entrepreneur can start implementing right away or an inspirational profile of someone who has already had small business success.
Another way I’ve been able to grow the audience is by building relationships with other business owners and bloggers who can contribute to the site. I offer guest posting opportunities and am able to post up many of the articles I receive. It ends up being a win-win, as my readers get to learn from a variety of experts, and the contributors get great exposure. Not only do they get a permanent link on the blog, but their posts are also sent out over social media (mainly Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn).
What’s one piece of inspirational advice you’d offer every small business owner?
The simplest piece of advice I can offer is always remember your “why.” Your “why” is the reason you got into the business in the first place. It may evolve over time, but during those days when you feel like tearing your hair out, crying and throwing something at the next person who asks for a discount just because, remembering your “why” can keep you grounded.
I have two things that keep me going. One is the belief that everyone deserves the chance to succeed. That’s why I post up a ton of free information on the blog in addition to any paid programs I run.
My second “why” is actually two things: my daughters. I have two girls – one teenager and one in elementary school – and I want them to know that they can create their own “American dream.” I will encourage them to pursue higher education, but if they want to open up an art studio rather than go after a sales job, I’ll be there to support them. I want to show them that this entrepreneur thing can be successful. My oldest is writing her own book of poetry, and my youngest ran a lemonade stand this summer. I think they are well on their way.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs today?
Outside of the more practical issues like financing your business and marketing it in a way that actually attracts customers, I think some of the biggest issues are internal. There are classes that can teach you how to develop a marketing plan, but there are few classes that teach you how to transition from an employee to an entrepreneurial mindset. For example, even if you save money before branching out on your own, it can be quite a shock to lose that steady paycheck. Let one client miss paying an invoice, and your “I can do it” attitude can plummet into “I’m so stupid for quitting that job” negativity.
Another challenge can be family and friends who don’t understand that you have a real job. Working from home doesn’t mean you have time to run errands for your grandmother or text your best friend all day. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with people and ignore those nagging, “What do you do all day anyway?” questions.
What are the most exciting aspects of launching a small business today?
One of the most exciting aspects of launching a small business today is that almost anyone can do it. The Internet, and especially social media, has opened up a whole new world of entrepreneurship for people who can’t afford traditional advertising. Building relationships across the globe has proven to be more important than having a fat marketing budget. When I started my marketing coaching business in 2010, one of my first clients was a woman from New York who found me on Facebook. Even now, many of my blog advertisers come from Europe. These are people I could never have reached without the Internet.
What basic marketing strategies do you recommend to every small business owner – no matter what their business is?
1. Pick a target market. I have spoken to so many business owners who enthusiastically say, “This service is for everyone!” No, it’s not. There is a specific group of people who want what you have to offer AND are willing to pay for it. Find that group.
2. Solve a problem.People can spend a lot of time and money developing a product only to find out it’s not what the customer needs. Don’t guess at what your customers need. Ask them, and develop products and services accordingly. Then when you offer it, make sure you highlight the benefits that matter to them the most.
3. Include yourself in the brand.People buy from those they know, like and trust. Don’t be afraid to put your picture on your company’s website. Ask former clients to provide testimonials on how great it was working with you/your company. Let your true personality shine through.
What are some of the most unique/interesting/under-the-radar marketing strategies you’ve come across? What do you like about them?
I really like the Coke sharing campaign because it helped make customers and relationship-building part of the brand. I loved the commercial on the college campus where a student’s bottle of Coke wouldn’t open unless he or she found another student with a bottle that matched. Making friends as a new kid in college can be tough. Coke recognized that problem and used its bottles to provide a solution. The Share a Coke campaign with names on the bottles also gets people involved, though I’m pretty sure I won’t find one with Dequiana on it.
While you may not be able to afford mass producing products with random names on them, you can take a note from Coke and find innovative ways to address your customers’ needs.
How can all business owners improve their online content? What are the best practices for creating content that’s not only read, but also shared?
Be authentic. While it is great to look around and see what other business owners are doing to be successful, you have to have your own voice. I’ve seen many entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to sound like someone else because they think it will sell more. It won’t. Instead, write about something you’re passionate about that will resonate with your audience.
Have an opinion. General how-to articles can be good, but don’t be afraid to talk about current issues, too. Don’t just report on them. Take a side. This is a great way to get your content shared because you’ll have those who agree with you going, “Hey, check out what this smart entrepreneur said about X,” and those who disagree saying, “This person really got it wrong, and here’s why.” Either way, your content is being shared.
Don’t forget SEO. While your main goal is to create a relevant piece of content, don’t forget to maximize your title or headline, keywords, description and meta tags. This will help your content get found long after it’s off the first page of your blog or company site.
Follow Dequiana on Facebook and Twitter.