The Value of Content

Whilst most of our readers will not necessarily be looking to generate direct revenue from their content,  the importance of recognising the value of your content is still highly relevant.

It is this concept of valuing your content that I would like to explore in this blog post.

A word about my hobbies

To illustrate my point, I would like to talk a little bit about a couple of my hobbies, namely photography and playing bass guitar. Both of which I am looking to improve.

Do a Google or Youtube search on either of these topics and you will find the internet awash with “Free” resources. to help you on your way.

I started out teaching myself using these free resources available. Whilst this was great up to a point, it quickly became both frustrating and limiting. I therefore decided to put my hand in my pocket, selecting two paid resources to support my learning:

Bass guitar – www.scottsbasslessons.com

Photography – www.52frames.com

The first based on the paywall model, and the latter on the patreon model. Both these models allow for a level of free content, that can then be augmented by paid content as you get into it.

Because both of these organisations are getting commercial gain from their content, they are able to put significant sustained resource into generating it. The result being that the quality and overall value of the content steps up significantly compared to the free content available.

And the point is?

So what’s my point? As I have already acknowledged that neither of these models will necessarily work in the niche markets where most of our readers find themselves.

My point is that good content should deliver enough value to allow you to commit significant & sustained resource into generating it,  Good content has a significant cost of production, and so must deliver a return.

That return can come in two key forms:

  1. Financial Return – People are actually willing to pay for it
  2. Marketing Return – The content delivers real marketing benefit to you as an organisation as it re-enforces your message and attracts people who are in your target market, motivating them to buy from you.

Whilst financial return is the easiest to measure, it it the second (marketing return) on which I want to focus as this is where I believe most of our readers interests lie.

Assessing the Marketing Return

When you put together a marketing plan, you will no doubt allocate resources based on the value you expect the plan to deliver to your organisation. Some of this resource will be financial (paying other people to do stuff) and some will be the “cost” of using internal resources to drive the activity. In either case, there will be a cost, and you need to be sure that this is justified by the value that the content delivers.

A word of warning

Whilst sustainability in marketing is important, It is not the end of the story. Whilst using content to say “Hi its me again” has value, you have to recognise that people will read it, so if the best part of the piece is the subject line, you are not doing yourselves any favours!

Content needs to deliver value at all levels.

You are the expert

Remember, the basis of your marketing is that you are an expert in your field. Your content should therefore reflect that. As a result, the content should give the reader the benefit of your expertise thus delivering value. But remember not to “give away the family silver”. You are not providing this content as a public service. You are doing it to encourage people to contact you, and you should not forget that when creating & publishing content. Whilst interesting, the content should not remove the need for people to get in touch with you should they need your products or services.

The pay off

As mentioned above, your content should all be about increasing the likelihood that your readers will take notice and get in touch. Whilst  often subtle, there needs to be a connection between free content and your paid offering.

How not to do it

A good example of how not to do it is the website wpbeginner.com. Whilst they offer some useful content, that demonstrates their skills & knowledge around WordPress, I don’t believe that the content draws you in to purchasing their paid offerings (WordPress plugins). In fact, whilst I often end up on this site after doing a technical WordPress related search, it was only whilst researching this post that I actually realised what their paid offering is. And whilst I have used their plugins, I do not think there free content really re-enforces the quality & value of these plugins.

I do however suspect that much of their content is focused on the first business model (delivering an audience) rather than on promoting their plugins, so maybe I am being a little harsh and It would be interesting to know where their revenue comes from in reality.

A better example.

52 Frames on the other hand, constantly drops subtle promotion for its paid offerings with the free content, and occasionally makes the paid content available to everyone so they can see what they are missing. The free content is in the form of albums of community submitted photos on which members of the community are encouraged to comment & critique. However within the first few rows of the album, there are always elements promoting the Patreon scheme & content. Subtle, but it draws you in.

In conclusion

So if you are including content in your marketing mix here are 2 things to consider:

  1. You content needs to deliver value to your audience, and re-enforce your expertise in your field. So it need to be high quality
  2. Producing this content will have a cost in either time or money, so you need to fully understand and commit to the value that this content is adding to your marketing.

There is no doubt that, when done well Content marketing really works, but it has to be done both to a high standard, and sustained manner, so when developing a strategy, be sure that you understand the cost of production and the value it delivers.

If this has got you thinking about your content Strategy, and you would like some expert input – feel free to get in touch. We are always happy to chat.

 

Free software. What’s the catch?

It has long been said that…

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch”

…yet all across the internet, there are offers of free software and applications including:

  • Website software
  • CRM (Customer relationship management ) systems
  • Email marketing tools
  • Cloud accounting
  • Social media platforms

These can all be really valuable tools to assist in running your business. Many are sophisticated applications that have taken thousands of programming hours to build. How come they are being offered for free? What’s the catch?

The short answer is there may be no catch. However, the important thing is to remember that there really is no such thing as a free lunch. People and companies offering ‘Free’ software all get something out of it.

What does Free mean?

To understand what it is they get, we need to look at the different types of Free.

  1. Try before you buy

    You can use this software for a limited time before you have to make the decision to buy a licence to keep using it. This can be great to check if it meets your needs before you have to commit but there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, the Free Trial period may be quite short so, unless you are using the software regularly, you won’t really have time to properly assess it. Second, it can take a while to set up and get used to some systems so you might find the free trial is over before you are ready to make a decision.

  2. The Free version

    This time, the free version is not time-limited but it is functionality limited. The software app comes in multiple versions with only the paid options having more sophisticated functionality. In my experience, the functionality in eth free version is always too restrictive and there is a key feature that I need which I have to pay to get!

    Sometimes Try before you buy software might have full functionality for a limited period then drop back to more limited functionality. If the limited functionality works for you then this type of software can be a great option.

    Bear in mind that free software normally includes little or no technical support.

  3. Open-source software

    The Open Source movement is an altruistic band of programmers who believe software should be free for all. they will write applications then release them for anyone to download, use and adapt. There many, highly sophisticated software applications available as open-source (Linux and WordPress to name 2). The main catch with open-source software is that the support tends to be technically based (tech support for techies!). If you can work with this, open-source software has some great opportunities.   By its very nature, open-source software evolves and can even simply stop being developed. To address this, some key open source code has been commercialised where a company will take free code and develop it into their own commercial software which they sell and support.

  4. They want something from you!

    OK, you might not be paying money to use an application but you are paying in another way – with your data! It looks free but it isn’t. Search engines and social media are the biggest players here. If you want to know more, take a look at The Great Hack – a Netflix documentary investigating the story around Cambridge Analytica. It’s fascinating but a little disturbing.

The internet thrives on monopoly

The fundamental nature of the internet is as a data communication platform. It thrives on everyone being able to talk to everyone else. Inevitably if you are developing software applications, the chances are you want as many people as possible to actively use it. In fact, there is normally a minimum critical mass of users that you must reach if you are to be successful.

To achieve this critical mass it can make commercial sense so long as you are confident your app really delivers value.  To keep your software free encourages people to use it. Once you have built your user base (and got people committed!) you can then start the process of monetising.  I have also seen situations where lots of different companies launch different apps into a particular market only to find a single company buying them all up to create a monopoly. In these circumstances, the service to customers can often decline, and/or prices increase.

Using Free Apps in your business

In general, free apps can be a great asset to your business but my best advice is that you should assume that if you are using an app as a key tool in your business, that sooner or later you will be paying for it. And let’s face it, this is no bad thing. Businesses are commercial operations. If you are getting value from another business’s software then it is only reasonable that you pay them for this value. Pay them and you will have a commercial relationship that you both benefit from. You should also see regular updates and proper technical support – both help to keep your own systems running efficiently.

I often come across small businesses where the owner will adapt the way they work to keep within the limitations of ‘free‘ software. In my experience, this is normally a false economy. Invest in a proper, supported software solution. It is much more efficient. You can focus on running your business rather than spending time adapting to stay free. Most software fees are really quite modest. If you feel it is too expensive, are you really getting good value from that app?

In summary, free software can be a great benefit to a business – particularly in the early days. However, it is important that you understand the possible implications of ‘Free’

…and don’t expect it to be free forever!

What if…..

We are regularly posting about the dangers of relying on a single resources (Facebook, SEO etc) for your marketing. But there is a brainstorming game doing the rounds at the moment – “What if elements of your business model became illegal”. That made me think about this subject again.

The aim of the game is to think about how to develop your model in a rapidly changing environment. Whilst this may be extreme, The idea of asking “What if something changed and had a significant impact on my business?” is sound. And it’s not just about things being shut down or made illegal, its about recognising that businesses need to evolve to survive.

Look at the recent Thomas Cook collapse. This was blamed in part on their inability to recognise that their marketplace was changing. People had many more options, and booking a traditional package holiday was becoming less attractive.

But lets focus on Marketing

Lots of people rely on Facebook for marketing, or on Ebay and Amazon for e-commerce. Its unlikely that these will shut down overnight, but their environment is constantly shifting.

Adicted to…
Likes

Much marketing measurement is focused on engagement, and often the level of likes and shares is one driver for others amplifying your message, but there is now a move to remove this metric. Facebook have already trailed this on Instagram and are now considering rolling it out to the main Facebook platform.

If Facebook (or any other social media platform) no longer published Likes & Shares Metrics how would this affect the way you encourage people to share your marketing messages?

Amazon

Amazon recently changed its strategy in relation to First Party Sellers. The shift meant that many sellers who where First Party Sellers were notified that they were being shifted to Third Party Seller status, and would no longer receive wholsale orders from Amazon.

Whilst this would not mean loosing access to Amazon as a Channel, it could potentially have an impact on your ability to handle demand, and the way you relate to and fulfil customer orders.

The fact is that as a marketer you have no control over decisions made by these platforms. On this basis, considering what you might do if the ground shifts is not a bad idea.

Ask What if… when the pressure is off

It can also, strangely, be quite fun to think about these things when the pressure is off, and potentially make life much less stressful when things come out of left field to affect your business:

So what sort of questions could I be asking? “What if….:

  1. I could no longer Market on Facebook?
  2. My Google ad bids increased by 50%
  3. I could no longer send marketing emails to my current list (This one basically became a reality for many consumer focusing businesses on 25th May last year with the implementation of the GDPR regulations)
  4. Delivery costs doubled – would I still be competitive
  5. Google changed its algorithms and all my search listing disappeared

The aim is to look at your business model, and think what could have a serious impact on this, and what you would do in response.

All the examples I have used above are overnight changes. However more likely is that things will change gradually. This can be even more dangerous, as you may not notice the changes until its too late!

Maybe if Thomas Cook had done this 10 years ago asking the question “What if the internet changes the way people buy holidays?” we would not have the CAA needing to repatriate 150,000 British holiday makers!

Another name for this process is Scenario Planning. A tool used by big organisations to model and build strategic plans for the future. But even in smaller businesses, the tool can be a useful part of the long term planning process.

The value of process in an SME business

One of the real benefits of running your own business is the freedom to do what you want when you want. OK, we all have to obey the laws of the land and pay our dues to HMRC but if you wake up one day and think –

Today I want to take my business this way….

…you can do it.

It means you can respond quickly to opportunities when you seem them in a way that would be challenging or even impossible to a large corporation.

Of course, you are responsible for actually making it happen and the results that you get when it does but you are free to choose.

This agility can be very attractive to your customers as well. The freedom to be flexible to their needs can make your business a more attractive proposition. However, there are limits.

Agility has a downside

If you aren’t careful, your flexibility means you can end up starting from scratch on every task you undertake. This might be great for your customers in terms of the highly bespoke service they receive but having to do everything from afresh is hard work – and time-consuming. Not having processes in your business can stifle your success.

While SMEs succeed through flexibility and agility, big business succeeds through effective process. Whatever you may think about your Telecoms provider or Utility company, they aim to deliver their service as cost-effectively as possible to as many customers as possible. There is no room for real agility. Big company success derives from building a well-trained workforce focused on repeatedly delivering to customers through well-designed and consistent business processes. Even the small players in these markets are quite big and are often backed by huge investment as they grow and work to become established – and profitable!

Learning from the big boys

So, if processes are central to the success of many big corporations, is there anything here that could be valuable to the SME world? Of course there is!

Even the smallest business has routine.

  • Picking/Packing/Despatch in E-commerce
  • Bookings and client communication in personal services and consultancy
  • Accounts and administration in every business! – Often dealt with by handing over to your accountant
  • Even the creative world of marketing can benefit from process – more of this later

The value of process for SME businesses

The more time/money you spend on the routine stuff, the more it impacts on your ability to deliver great service to your customers – the agile stuff.

By finding better, more efficient ways to do the routine is a key step in growing your business effectiveness.

Don’t just pass the job to an outsider

There are plenty of people who offer to take tasks off your hands but often this can just mean you shift from spending a lot of time on something to spending a lot of money on it.

This isn’t to say outside help is a no-no. Wouldn’t it be better if you could just find a different way of doing something so it was done more efficiently, either by you or your service supplier. The important thing is that you understand the processes so that you know what you are paying for if you use an external resource.

Developing your own processes enhances your business

By developing (and understanding!) processes that allow you to do the routine stuff as efficiently as possible, you can drive some real efficiency. Tasks can be completed by people who simply know how to run the process, they don’t need the knowledge and experience to make decisions on the fly. Also, you can effectively use and manage external help. Process can also save time. This can be particularly significant if you work by yourself. It is less a case of trying to pass tasks to others and more about reducing the time it takes you to do the routine stuff, so freeing up time for more creative activity!

Remember that it can be well worth investing in process. I come across many businesses trying to run everything using free software and apps. They end up making compromises in their business processes to stay within the limits of the free stuff. Being ready to invest some money in setting up your processes using paid-for software and apps (which normally come with much better support) can save significant time and stress in the long term!

Remember marketing?

For many SME businesses, marketing can slip to being the ‘Cinderella‘ activity. Often, marketing is ad-hoc and ‘make it up as you go along’. With this approach, it can be easy for marketing to slip down (or even off) your to-do list. Not doing marketing has no impact on anyone except you so it is easy to let it go when you are under pressure from customers and too busy doing your accounts.

According to business management guru Peter Drucker, marketing is one of the 2 most significant functions of a business so not doing is often a recipe for failure. Not only do efficient processes free up time which can give you more opportunity to focus on marketing, but you can also go one step further and develop processes to help keep your marketing up your priority list.

‘Marketing Automation’ is a real buzz-phrase just now but I think this is more about marketing service suppliers (well, some anyway) dangling a carrot of the (non-existent) marketing magic wand in front of frustrated business owners, than a fully hands-off marketing solution.

I don’t believe that real marketing can be entirely process-driven. Effective marketing needs creativity. However, creativity is primarily around your marketing messages. Communication of those messages is a prime candidate for a process.

If you find you struggle to get your marketing messages out to your markets, maybe process can help break the blockage and make things happen.

Process is undoubtedly a valuable tool in the business arsenal but remember:

Focus on efficient, sustainable process, not just getting the job done.

Balancing Agility & Process

If you start a new business, ultimately the goal is probably to turn a profit. This requires growth in turnover, whilst at the same time controlling costs.

The best way to maximise profitability is to run a lean business model driven by efficient processes. But in reality, this tends not to deliver growth.

The Balancing Act

In small businesses, success comes from innovation and agility. You can have an idea on Monday and be on the way to implementing it by the end of the week. Whilst big organisations have more resources and can outspend you, the same process would take months or even years for them.

This agility leads to great competitive advantage and through that, to growth. So for small businesses, agility is often the key to growth. But there is a cost. Being agile means that your efficiency will suffer and ultimately it will restrict the ability to scale your business model. So agility on its own is not a recipe for long term success.

To be efficient, you need to install processes to manage your business. These will bring down costs and improve profitability, but rigid process can stifle significant growth.

The value of process is another post entirely. Here, I want to focus on how to balance agility and process to deliver manageable, sustained profitable growth.

Planning for the future

The key is long term planning and the acceptance that the development profile of a business is not going to be linear.

Growth at the cost of profitability

In the early days, the priority will be growth, and the focus should be on agility. The aim is to work with the market to hone your offering to deliver maximum impact. This is likely to involve being willing to quickly change the way you do things in light of your developing a better understanding of the market.

But even here, the aim is not an unplanned free for all. In an earlier post, I talked about the planning philosophy of “Do stuff and iterate“.

Yes, I do see the irony. To be agile, you need a structure to manage things. The issue is where the focus lies. The process should create an environment where development and growth are planned, but where the process supports and drives activity rather than controlling and stifling it. Without this structure, the danger is that activity will be either erratic and ineffective, or worse still will not happen at all as the day to day takes over.

Show me the money

The approach above should allow an organisation to identify and quickly transform to meet the needs of the market, and through this agility, to grow. However, it is likely that this will be at a price; and that price will be profitability.

So at some point, the focus needs to shift to building processes that put structure into the organisation, making it more efficient and thus more profitable. Whilst this step in the planning cycle is likely to stifle growth, it is a necessary step, but one that does not need to be open-ended.

Time to repeat

Focus on process should bring costs under control, and improve the manageability of the organisation. This will then allow scope to “give the organisation its head”, focusing again on growth. And thus the cycle repeats.

The result is a classic saw-tooth growth curve which in the long term delivers both growth and profitability.

The key to this process is planning. To manage it effectively, you need to understand where in the cycle your organisation is and manage your way forward accordingly. The irony continues. Even when focused on agility rather than processes, you need a process to manage your agility! The trick is:

Make sure the process works for you and not you for the process.