If you’ve looked up “marketing trends” in the past three years, chances are good you’ve heard of content marketing.
Content marketing is exploding in popularity—so much so that you’ve probably heard people tell you how you need to start a blog and start creating content.
Of course, content marketing can be difficult for small businesses. You already need to manage so many other areas of business. It’s hard to make the time for content—not to mention the time it takes to learn how to start content marketing for small business in the first place.
This guide serves as a primer for small business content marketing. It covers:

  • What is content marketing? What is the definition of content marketing, and why should you care?
  • What are the benefits of content marketing?
  • Does content marketing for small business really work?
  • How can you start content marketing for small business?
  • What kind of content should you make?
  • What content formats make the most sense for your business?
  • How can you do customer research to develop a deep understanding of your audience?
  • Once you have content, how can you distribute it to make sure it gets seen?
  • How can you learn more about content marketing?

By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to start content marketing for your small business—as well as resources to learn more.

What is content marketing?

“Content marketing is the practice of using relevant content to provide value to a target audience with the goal of growing a business.”

There are a wide variety of content marketing definitions out there, but all of them will be in some way similar to the above. Let’s break down the different components of this definition.

“Relevant content”

First, the content you create should be relevant—both to your audience and your business. That isn’t to say that the content you create needs to be constantly focused on you, but it should be in some way connected to your business and your audience’s needs.

“Provide value”

The content you produce should be of benefit to the people reading it.
You would think this goes without saying, but it’s actually helpful to keep in mind. Many, many brands produce content that’s focused entirely on their business operations.
Updates on your business practices can be helpful for some people, but the cornerstone of content marketing is solving problems. Your content should provide value based on the problems your customers have—not just what your business does.

“To a target audience”

Content marketing, and all marketing, is more effective with a narrow focus.
When you can zero in on the problems of a specific, niche audience, it’s easier to build trust and create compelling content.
Even if the answers you present have been talked about before, recreating them in the language of a specific audience can help people see how general principles apply to their specific problems.

“With the goal of growing a business”

In content marketing for small business, it’s important to not lose sight of the ultimate goal: growing your business. The goal is to make money blogging (or with other content).
Especially in online marketing, it’s easy to get caught up in “vanity” metrics. Knowing how many people visit your website can be important—but it’s also important to connect that metric to your larger goal of growing a business.
As you track your content marketing metrics, it’s important to make sure you are working towards the goal of growing your small business with content marketing.

Other content marketing definitions

That’s our definition of content marketing. But as you might imagine, a topic as hot as content marketing has lots of influencers weighing in with their own definitions.

We like our definition of content marketing, but it can be useful to see a few different perspectives. Here are 10 of the top content marketing definitions from other marketing influencers.

  • “Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” – Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute
  • “Content marketing means creating and sharing valuable free content to attract and convert prospects into customers, and customers into repeat buyers. The type of content you share is closely related to what you sell; in other words, you’re educating people so that they know, like, and trust you enough to do business with you.” – Brian Clark, Copyblogger
  • “Content is the emotional and informational bridge between commerce and consumer. Building that bridge requires more than a budget, editorial calendar, and vision. It requires people who care, who love content, and what it can do for people. Not just what it can do for revenue, but rather how it helps people live their lives.” – Jay Baer, Convince & Convert
  • “Content marketing is just solving the same customer problems as your product but through media you create and distribute.” – Jay Acunzo, Unthinkable
  • “[Content marketing] is a strategy of producing and publishing information that builds trust and authority among your ideal customers.” – Neil Patel, Crazy Egg & Hello Bar
  • “Content marketing is engaging with your community around an idea instead of a product. What it is is to try to serve the community first, and sharing information, ideas and experiences that benefit others without directly asking for anything in return. What it isn’t is just a veil in front of a sales pitch.” – Dan Blank, WeGrowMedia
  • “Content Marketing provides consumers with useful information to aid purchase decisions, improve product usage and entertain them while achieving organizational goals without being overtly promotional.” – Heidi Cohen, Actionable Marketing Guide
  • “The difference between “marketing with content” and content marketing is a digital publishing platform that your brand owns. Creating an article for a publisher. Or an ebook. An ad. Or sales collateral. These are not content marketing. Content marketing means committing to publishing content people actually want. On a platform you own.” – Michael Brenner, Marketing Insider Group
  • Content marketing…is the art and science of attracting an audience toward a brand and it’s website, then inspiring that audience to take action. This is done through the publishing, promoting and measuring of content. The form of the content is often written text, but may also be video, audio, diagrams. The function is often educational or useful, but may also be entertaining. Content marketing contrasts with advertising, which seeks to interrupt or distract an audience with a brand’s message. – Andy Crestodina, Orbit Media
  • “Content marketing is what we like to call owned media. It’s anything you produce—blog posts, white papers, podcasts, videos, eBooks—that lives on something you own, such as a website or blog. The advantage, of course, is you get to tell your story and have direct access to your customers and prospects.” –  Gini Dietrich, Arment Dietrich & Spin Sucks

What’s the difference between content marketing and traditional marketing?

The difference between content marketing and traditional marketing is in many ways one of timing.
In a lot of traditional marketing, the goal is to convince people in your audience to make a purchase. Even in longer term brand-building campaigns that don’t push for a sale immediately, the goal of marketing is still to put your business in front of customers.
Although that’s true of content marketing in some ways, the method of getting in front of potential customers is very different.
Instead of touting the benefits of a product, service, or company, content marketing is focused on solving problems.
The logic is simple: if you solve people’s problems, you build a trust and a long-term relationship. When it comes time to actually make a purchasing decision, they’re going to turn to the people who have been helping with their problems from the beginning.
That’s why content marketing works. It solves problems to build trust.

What are the benefits of content marketing?

Of course, the ultimate goal of content marketing is to grow a business.
In the course of reaching that goal, there are a few other benefits that content marketing can help small business owners realize.

  • Building broad awareness of your business
  • Increasing traffic to your website
  • Raising the number of people on your email list
  • Building a following on social media
  • Increasing sales
  • Improving customer retention rates
  • Increasing the number of customer referrals
  • Building professional networks

And the list goes on.
Content marketing is a powerful tool because it authentically raises the profile of your business. By consistently creating relevant, valuable content for a specific target audience, you can become known as an expert in your space.

Does content marketing work for small business?

Content marketing sounds exciting, but all the definitions in the world can’t teach you how to do content marketing for small business. Does content marketing work for small business?
The answer is a resounding yes! In fact, as we’ll cover in-depth later, small businesses have a variety of advantages over larger enterprises when it comes to content marketing.
As a small business, you have the ability to have close, personal, one-on-one conversations. You can create compelling content without worrying about the bureaucracy of a large enterprise. And you can showcase your unique personality.
Joe Pulizzi, the creator of the term “content marketing,” has even argued that small businesses beat large corporations every time when it comes to content marketing.