Absolutely thrilled to be working with Melinda Barlow on an increasing number of projects, I recently asked for her take on the content strategy buzz that seems to be all around. For entrepreneurs and small business owners with no time or money to waste, understanding the foreground is vital. And so this international content powerhouse was happy to break it all down to a 101 level. The following were her top tips for getting ones bearings in this important area of business.

For small business owners and entrepreneurs, the term ‘content strategy’ is often a relatively new concept. If you google it or search #contentstrategy on twitter you will find millions of results. Overwhelmed, it can be impossible to know where to start.

In its simplest form, content strategy refers to the information you give people about your business and how you choose to give it to them. The strategy part just means there has been some thought put into it; that you have a plan around the information, how to share it and how often.

A good content strategy has a clear and defined content plan and asks the important questions about your business – what do you have to tell people and why do they need to know? Refining the big picture so you understand your purpose will ensure your message is clear and effective.

Quality content is essential for your day-to-day operations. It’s the most powerful way to do the two most important things: engage your market and expand your network. Therefore it’s essential that you’re involved in defining your plan, but you can still get outside help if you think you need it. You may not have the time or the inclination to write blog posts or manage social media accounts regularly, but the best content strategies factor this in and make sure your plan is not beyond your capacity to deliver it.  It’s important to understand your time constraints and identify your strengths so that you actually deliver your strategy! If it’s too complex you won’t engage with it and it will never happen.

So if you haven’t already done it, ‘2015 content strategy’ should be on your priority list. Each of us has our own approach, but here is a handy guide to ‘the basics’ to create a focused strategy for the year.

  1. Know your business. What does your business do? What do you want people to know about your business? Who is your market? Keep it brief – an overview is enough but asking the right questions helps to get to the important points. If you want to go into this more deeply, time with a business consultant is a couple of hours very well spent.
  1. Scroll your newsfeed. If you are already on social media, a scroll through your activity for the last 12 months is useful. You don’t have to read it all, but you should certainly look at it in some detail to get a sense of how your past communications have been received. If you are NOT on social media (OMG) then identify your closest competitor and do the same thing with their profiles.
  1. Form a picture. You should review the content so far and jot down any recurring topics. Make a note of things people engaged with a lot and which posts people liked the most. Note down any ‘why did I/they post that’ moments that come to you as you scroll through. Now compare the overview from step 3 with your thoughts at step 1 and see where things align, or where they don’t. This is a good place to call in a content strategist too, who can provide a valuable ‘second opinion’ if needed.
  1. Find your story. Now that you have familiarised yourself with your business and your content, it’s time to refine your message. Decide who is responsible for the different parts of your strategy – this means who’ll write your blog posts, who’ll tweet, post to facebook, pinterest etc and what the tone of the writing will be – enthusiastic, corporate, spiritual, humorous. Whatever the tone is it should somehow reflect the personality of the business. Draw a new picture, and write a new story that will become the central and most powerful part of your marketing for 2015. Once you have this, the rest is a walk in the park.
  1. Network that six degrees. The value in followers and likes is not in quantity but quality. If you have 1000 followers and could only sit through a coffee with a dozen of them, you’re doing something wrong. The value in social media is creating a community people feel a part of and that is engaging and active rather than incidental and passive. Make sure you follow others in your field online too. They will share handy tips to their community so you can learn as you go and also understand their approach better, and then use it to refine your own. Follow the best of your industry, the most successful, and the most inspirational. Find people who are doing what you want to do, or are where you want to be and follow them. Follow your clients, your suppliers and anyone you think can be a contributor to your bigger picture. If someone shares your content – interact with them. Conversations connect and also attract others.

How you tell your story to your market should be uniquely different from everybody else. Most important is to define your personal brand and refine the voice of your business. This helps you to recognise what’s not working and make changes when needed to keep you on track. It’s all very well to be ‘on social media’ and ‘have a website’ but if you’re not using it properly what’s the point? What matters most is that you are saying what you mean and meaning what you say, to the people who matter. The internet is the most accessible and powerful tool small business has ever had, we just need to use it.