Issue #8 - Everyone Should Be a Content Marketer
Before we begin, can you do us a quick favor?
Once each quarter we conduct a survey of participants involved in the small business community to capture and analyze current reflections on the market from the people who are closest to the action. This information, as far as we know, is not available elsewhere and our inaugural report was well-received, so we'd like to keep it going. To that end, if you are active in the small business community (CEO, investor, service provider, lender, etc.) and could spare 5-10 minutes to answer a few short questions, it would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you and now back to the newsletter!
A New Era...
Popular culture made celebrities out of reality TV stars. Some of those people have even gone on to leverage their audiences and fame to become billionaires. As society has gotten more comfortable with Average Joe's and Jane's monetizing their audiences, I've noticed that there's a growing group of social influencers among the business community, some of whom are following a similar path and using content to build a personal-professional brand. Before you turn your nose up at this approach, consider that the forces of social media can be used for good. Some of these new business influencers are relatable, down-to-earth, and great communicators sharing hard-won insights and helping large numbers of other people, often for free.
My own process of investigating this new world of personal brands as an element of career management and business gain started a couple of years ago when I had fewer than 100 followers on Twitter. I'd noticed what my friend Brent Beshore had been able to accomplish with great content marketing and I was intrigued. Here was someone that lived in a small college town in middle-Missouri who had:
Built an amazing global network
Developed an impressive funnel of inbound proprietary investment opportunities, and
Raised over $300 million to build a highly unconventional long-term private equity firm, while, along the way, earning the reputation of being this era's Warren Buffett with his down-home, wholesome, and very Midwestern approach to small business ownership.
I was curious: what had Brent and others done, specifically, that created these outcomes?
With this as my inspiration, in early 2020, I set out to explore this new world with the objective of cracking the code to building a personal brand and audience. Coming from the Midwest, with its strong belief in modesty, this was well outside of my comfort zone. But, I only had a few dozen followers on Twitter, so the risks felt manageable.
Building an Audience
Starting was interesting and I spent a not insignificant number of cycles thinking about what value I could bring to the table. I discounted my experience in search fund investing and small business operations because it all seemed so familiar to me that I assumed most of what I knew was common knowledge and thereby not worth sharing. But, not really knowing much else, that's what I ended up writing about. And, it turns out, I was wrong. A lot of it wasn't common knowledge and I got lucky in that, at that time, few others were writing about the things that I was. This led to unexpected and rapid follower growth - over 1,000 people in my first month (my goal had been 500 in the first year)!
Now that I actually had people following along, I was feeling the pressure. One thousand people is a lot and I didn't want to let them down, but I also wanted to be authentic. That was my first key insight: being yourself is not only okay, it is preferred. Look at the difference in audiences of individual influencers versus popular corporate brands. The individuals almost always outpace them by a large margin in terms of the sizes of their follower count. People are relatable and talk like we talk. Companies don't.
As I continued my writing and sharing online, my audience continued to grow. Sometimes quickly and sometimes not. The responses and feedback loop provided clear signals about what people were most eager to read and learn. Using that information, I was able to better anticipate what would drive growth, which led to my second insight: two types of content seem to perform best. First, deeply tactical and practical tips based on real experience. Sales playbooks, software tools, board meeting agendas, etc. And, second, what people call Fortune Cookie Wisdom. These are those little soundbites that state something somewhat obvious, but in a clever or memorable way. Writing exclusively in the first category is hard and few have the raw material or the stamina to stick with it over extended periods. The trouble with the second is that it just isn't that interesting once you've seen enough versions of it and, as a result, it starts to feel less valuable and a bit less aligned with the core audience being built - though it is very good at creating new followers.
The final tip I will share about audience building is that, especially when starting out, focus matters. If there is no consistency to the topics you are writing about, you'll lose people. A few people can do this, but they are special. For the rest of us, it is often best to pick one or two topics or themes and stick to them until you feel like you've built a solid and well-known brand. This is a core point and an area that requires some thought before you begin. You want to be thought of as the [x] person, where [x] could be used car transactions, Texas industrial real estate buyer, Northern California wildlife expert, SBA acquisition lawyer, or anything else you know better than 98% of the rest of the general population.
At this point, you might be wondering why I think all of this is so important. Let me share what it has done for me -- and remember, I am no one special and many of you are far more talented with far more expertise in some area than I am...so, yes, you can do it and, I'd argue, you should do it!
I Drank the Kool-Aid
While my activity on social media has dwindled a bit (because I really only do know so much and I feel like I've shared a lot of it over the past 2 years), I still find tremendous value in the network and audience that I've built - which today is made up of almost 21,000 people, a number I can hardly believe. Some have become friends, some investors in Majority Search (thank you, if you're reading), and even a new business partner. My audience has helped me to source job candidates, help others find jobs, and have access to subject matter experts for specific questions and projects that would have been impossible before Twitter. I also like to think that my writing has improved, but at a minimum I'm writing more and that helps my thinking. Ultimately, I don't think I'm overstating it to say that my simple experiment has turned into something unexpectedly life changing.
Everyone has something worthwhile to share and there are so many ways to do it across so many platforms: email newsletters, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok (yes, really), podcasts, creating original content, curating content for others, making thoughtful replies, and so on. It is not too late. Media is so fragmented at this point that everyone has the potential to become their own niche publisher. The world has shrunk and every corner represents more people than you could imagine. Most are looking for help that you can provide and also for community, which you can help to create. Helping others and building new relationships is worthwhile and fulfilling by itself, but, as I hope my small story illustrates, it can lead to so much more.
The first article below touches on how to think about the benefits of a personal brand as a business owner (external audience). The second article is more of a how-to and focuses on intracompany situations and career management within an organization. Both are easy, worthwhile reads.
Separating your personal brand from your business both strengthens your business and allows individual autonomy and professional growth. A branding expert shares how to build them both, strategically.
We often confuse our reputation as our personal brand. But that’s not true. Everyone has a reputation. The first impressions you make, the relationships you form with managers and peers, and how you communicate — all of these things impact how others see you. Your personal brand, on the other hand, is much more intentional. It is how you want people to see you.