Launching a content marketing business has a lot of moving parts. What is the “big picture” of all that needs to be done?
A content marketing business seems straight forward on the surface. You need some content, a place to put it, and relationships that let you monetize it. That’s it, right? But oh, when you get cracking on an itemized action plan, you realize there are a lot of pieces you have to get in place to make it all work. Before you devote a big chunk of each day for six months or a year doing this, it’s a good idea to think about all the sub-tasks that make up the work.
When we itemize things, or build some sort of taxonomy of the work, we could slice it up in two different obvious ways: Hats and Phases
The Hat Model
In the hat model , we think about all the different hats we have to wear to make some money with our content marketing business. One way to think of each hat is to think about who you would hire if you had $100,000 to launch your site:
|HATS (JOBS THAT REQUIRE SOME|
INDEPENDENT KNOWLEDGE OR EXPERTISE)
|Psychologist / Life Coach… but one with an MBA.||Picking a niche||Picking the niche you want to be in can be hard. It needs to be interesting, and strategic.|
|A branding team from a smart ad agency… but with an SEO background||Picking a domain name||The domain name needs to be good. Aged domains are better, but can have problems.|
|IT Department||Choosing hosting and package, keeping WordPress secure, running, up-to-date and fast.||This stuff isn’t that hard, but it can be frustrating if you have no technical background.|
|Designer with a great eye.||Choosing the theme and look||People stay longer on good looking sites. Staying longer = better SEO = more success.|
|WordPress expert||Getting WordPress/Theme working||This also isn’t that hard, but can be frustrating. You just have to power through!|
|Researcher / Strategist / SEO Wiz||Keyword Research||If writing is the fuel, keyword research is the wheels. You need to know what to power.|
|Writer||This is the money! Produce prolifically!||No content, no traffic. No traffic, no money. This is the business.|
|Editor||Editing 🙂||Make those articles look pro! Crap writing will not inspire trust or keep readers engaged.|
|Biz Dev / Researcher||Finding the best Affiliate links||Yeah there are directories, but you won’t find everything that way.|
|SEO Wiz||Optimizing the content||On page SEO, technical SEO, SILO’s, Skyscrapers. Lots to learn and do!|
|Backend Coding Guru||Adding Features||In every business, you want to own your customer! You’ll need a way to capture emails.|
|Promoter / Social Media Manager||Social Media||Yeah, the goal is google rankings, but don’t ignore social media. You’ll want this boost.|
|Outreach manager||Email Marketing||Did your backend coder whip up an email capture? Now you need to use it.|
|Agent / Sales team||Backlinks||For most, a miserable, dreaded part of the biz. Basically cold calling (emailing) for links.|
|Business Manager / Accountant||Financials / Taxes / Accounting||You don’t want the IRS knocking. Keep your books. It’ll help with the exit strategy too.|
|Legal||Trademarks / Business License||Most people aren’t filing for a trademark on day 1, but if you get bigger, you’ll want it.|
|Investment Banker||Selling the Site||You may want to keep your site forever, but if you want to cash out, it’s fairly easy.|
I might have left a few jobs off of that list– I am still really new at this! But I’ll come back and revise it as I gain experience to try to make it as complete as possible. Yet, even if it is incomplete it will give you a great sense of– at minimum– how many different types of tasks are involved. True, at the end of six to nine months, the vast majority of your time will have been spent researching, writing and editing. Nevertheless, there are a lot of roles to fill.
It is obvious that all of these jobs could be outsourced. Or, you might decide to do every last thing yourself. Either way, you have two types of currencies in this game: time and money. For the most part, these two currencies can swap in and out for each other. Not enough time to write the articles you need? Well, you can substitute money and get it done. Not enough money to pay for a WordPress pro? Be ready to spend a lot of painful hours trying to restore a back-up and wasting time waiting for tech support at your hosting company because some upgrade broke your site. (Oh dang, I just got chills imagining that nightmare!)
Are there jobs on here you can skip entirely? Sure. You don’t need to try to get email addresses from your visitors, but you are leaving money on the table if you don’t. I’ve seen websites that are really, really ugly and in desperate need of a design overhaul. On a few money sites I’ve seen the writing is so wretched, editors around the world can be heard weeping. Should mediocrity (and worse) be the standard we aspire to though? No way! The theory is: the more we do things well, the more traffic we’ll get and the longer the readers will stay. We are making a bet (with our time and/or money) that quality output (in all the different “hat” jobs) is a difference worth investing in.
“Yikes! That list of work looks complicated and way too hard.”
It might look like too many different, and difficult, things to master. You might not even know what some of those things on that list mean yet. (Most of my visitors will know what it means to do keyword research, but if you don’t yet, that’s OK, I’m going to write pieces on all of these “hats” to make it easy to do yourself.) The most important point is that even though there are a lot of different hats, no individual one is is very difficult. If you suck at writing, and you don’t have a budget to hire writers, you may want to consider a different line of business. But as long as you can either write or have the start-up capital to pay writers, everything else on here can be figured out with some determination and time.
In all of the jobs above, you simply need to either
become moderately good at that task yourself,
or find someone moderately inexpensive who is great at it.
So, is this easy or hard? Simple or complex?
Lots of jobs can be understood along a continuum of simple/complex, and separately along an axis of easy/hard. Jobs (and tasks) can be:
- simple and hard
- simple and easy
- complex and easy
- complex and hard.
Here are a few examples of this sort of breakdown:
|DESCRIPTION OF DIFFICULTY||EXAMPLES||COMMENTS|
|Easy and Simple||Opening a door||Easy to do and super simple.|
|Easy and Complex||Driving||Once you mastered driving, it is so easy you might even zone out|
part of the time. And yet, it’s actually a very complex task.
|Hard and Simple||Losing weight||Totally simple: just eat fewer calories than you burn. But, a dang,|
it is brutally hard for many of us!
|Hard and Complex||Summiting Mt. Everest|
Starting a biotech company
|These are both hard and complex! (Climbing Mt. Everest involves|
a huge amount of planning and logistics support!)
With this framework, how does the project of starting a content marketing business look? For the most part, content marketing tasks that are more complex are also easy; tasks we have ahead of us that hard are basically fairly simple.
For example, the job of getting WordPress to load quickly (so you don’t suffer an SEO penalty for a slow-loading site)– well, that can end up being a (moderately) complicated job. You’ll need to do some research and flex your google-fu. You might even have to hire someone with expertise if you are really unable to figure out the source of the problem. But in the end, fixing technical issues with the site is really just a matter of putting in the hours (or the dollars) to get it done; it might be complex, but it’s not hard.
On the other side, a task like getting backlinks is simple, but hard (for most people). It’s not complex. It involves three steps: identify worthy backlink sources, reach out and ask those sources for backlinks; follow up with money or content (or both) as agreed. But no doubt, getting backlinks– despite being simple– is (for most of us) hard! Just like losing weight, or other “hard and simple” tasks, work that is rife with negative emotional potential is going to be hard. Getting backlinks can be charged with the emotional risk of rejection, and that emotional baggage makes this simple task hard.
This framework of easy/hard vs. simple/complex helps us understand the most likely reason someone who fails at starting a content marketing business fails: quitting too early. It is emotionally hard to grind every day and see no results for six month, eight months, twelve months or more. And that is the reality of content marketing. There won’t be any payday for a minimum of six to twelve months.
How many people on content marketing forums mention losing interest after three or four months? No surprise, it’s a lot. And what is notable is that if the work were hard and complex (instead of hard and simple) more people would probably stick with it. The fact is: hard and simple is boring; hard and complex is interesting. But the good news is that every time someone quits, it leaves opportunity on the table for those of us who are going to stick with it.
Is there a psychological hack to deal with the emotional toll the slow results will take on us? Is there something we can do at the outset to mitigate our chances of losing interest and quitting? Yes: change our metrics of success (the first year) from dollars made to the number and quality of articles produced.
Let’s look at building a content marketing business from the perspective of phases.
Another way to slice and dice the project is to look at the phases of a content marketing business. Using a “phase model” we look at the work from the perspective of our timeline, from the initial impulse to start, to a final sale (or some other exit strategy) of the website.
A quick note on exit strategies: one of the great things about content marketing is that having an exit strategy is very realistic. If you started a small restaurant and you are ready to move on to try something else, good luck finding a buyer . (I’m not saying impossible, just fairly hard.) In contrast, a website with traffic and sales is relatively easier to sell.
Typically– as of this writing in April, 2020– a content marketing website will sell for around 30x the average of the trailing six month earnings. Is your site in $2,000 a month? You can sell your site for $60k (before brokerage fees). The market for purchasing content marketing sites is robust and liquid. Selling a proven site is a very realistic outcome, and likely a good goal to have. (I’ll explore the exit strategy, and the marketplaces where you can buy and sell websites in other articles I hope to post soon.)
The phase model (unlike the hat model) shows how the nature of the work changes over time:
|o Deciding on which niche you want to be in|
-This will likely involve keyword research
o Researching (and buying) a domain name
o Getting social media account names that match your domain
o Creating initial affiliate partner plan
o Researching, choosing and signing up for hosting plan
o Installing WordPress
o Buying and installing theme
o Customizing site and getting it working
o Seeding the site with a dozen or more initial articles
o Getting tools set up (things like Google Analytics)
(Month 1 / 2/ 3)
|o Keyword research and brainstorm article topics|
o Develop group of trusted outsource workers
–(writers, editors, backlink companies)
o Generate content every week. Better: make new content every day
o Optimize the content for SEO.
(Month 3 /4)
|o Start adding the affiliate partners that have lower traffic requirements|
o Social media posting and promotion
o Backlink target research
o More keyword research. (It never stops!)
o More writing! More! More! More! Keep on writing!
o SEO optimization. (That never stops either)
|o Page views are growing. Aggressively add affiliate partners that|
require more traffic to partner with you.
o Campaign to get backlinks. Outreach! Outreach. More outreach!
o More writing!
o Tweak things based on numbers from analytics
|o Writing, SEO, backlinks have become a reproducible process|
that can be outsourced or done in house. The schedule is
stable at 3 to 7 new pieces of content produced a day
o With more traffic, can try to negotiate better terms with affiliate partners
o With more traffic, can sell backlinks to other sites
(**Months 10 and beyond)
|o Prepare P+L, analytics, and sales sheet to list site for sale with broker|
**A quick note on the comment under “Exit” about selling the site in 10 months, I know someone will write in the comments that their cousin Jack sold a site at 8 months, or they themselves sold one at 7. Cool beans friend! But I went with the (still absurdly quick) guess of 10 months as the leading edge because sales earlier than 10 months are less common and perhaps less wise. Early sales result in prices often significantly lower than it would be if the seller waited another 3 to 6 months. Most content marketing sites do not produce meaningful revenue until– at minimum(!!)– months seven through fifteen. This has to do with how much time it takes to rank for targeted keywords on Google. Since six month trailing income is usually used for determining sales price, more website sales tend to happen later in the life-cycle.
I’m not sure which way of slicing and dicing the to-do list is more intimidating, or more encouraging! Either way, this is a decent 30,000 foot view of what is involved.
So, are you willing to put a year of work into this? Since I first starting thinking about doing this, I’ve been reading stories and case studies written many other brave entrepreneurs who have forged ahead in this space. The biggest takeaway: many who fail simply quit too early. Their early good habits of writing every day get waylaid by life; they see $4.52 in revenue in month four, feel disgusted, and walk away.
I have no idea if I will make any money building my K-12 education site. (That’s the site crunchle.com is documenting every step of the way). But I do know that I am all-in on trying, I will give it everything I can for 18 months. Before then, I might pivot on which niche I am pursuing, or pivot in terms of how I monetize the site, but here I am every day, trying to make it work. I hope you’ll try along side of me! Throw a comment down if you’re in for the ride 🙂
What’s next? Well, the next thing to look at here on Crunchle is my index of all the steps I take launching and running my K-12 education site. Thanks for checking it out!
(Oh yeah, one more thing, if you like my content here– if it helps you in any way– I’d appreciate it if you used my links when you sign up for hosting, or if you are buying other stuff I link to here. You can give “Company Z” $30 to get going (for example), or you can give me $3, them $27. You’ll still only spend the same old $30, but I’ll be able to afford to keep creating great content for you. Throw me a bone my friend! Thanks!)