I've never sold anything in my life. A lot of young entrepreneurs get their seed funding based, in part, on their experience from their days manning lemonade stands and garage sales. Not me, guess I'm a late bloomer.
When I started my company, iDoneThis, the biggest question on my mind -- and I'm guessing it's top of mind for other young founders too -- was: "Hmm how do I sell this?" When I read up on it, the standard answer was ads, cold calling and PR. But none of those options actually worked for me.
Only one method of acquiring customers proved itself again and again: content marketing. It may sound like mumbo jumbo you read on blogs or websites like YoungEntrepreneur.com, but content marketing -- that is, the creation and sharing of content for the purpose of promoting a product or service -- is real. And it can really help.
In making my first $10,000 for iDoneThis through content marketing, I learned some valuable tricks that gave me a huge edge. Here are five:
1. Know your audience.
The first step isn't to think about an awesome idea for content, it's to think about where you can plausibly get a piece of content published. That frames what comes next: Who reads content there? Why do they consume it? What kind of content do they like?
There's no such thing as quality content without the context of who's going to read it. My rule is simple: Think distribution first.
2. Don't just blog, get published.
Contribute to democratic content distribution channels instead of trying to get your content published on sites guarded by gatekeepers. On social news sites like Reddit, Inbound.org, and Hacker News, the votes of the people rather than an editor who sits on high determines what articles get featured.
Trust me, it's hard to get articles published on sites like Forbes and Harvard Business Review when you're a nobody. You've created awesome content, so make your case straight to the masses. When an article becomes popular on a social-news site, it can mean more than 50,000 visitors to your site. Some fraction of them may buy your product.
3. Draw in the big guys.
After you've had initial success with driving eyeballs to content, the most important thing is to tell the story over and over to anyone who will listen. Content publishers want nothing more than content that has been de-risked. Once I've been successful with one piece of content, I go to every content publisher I can find and tell them that I can write a guest post on their blog on a topic that I've previously written about, that more than 50,000 people have read and loved.
4. Follow up.
After the publisher has agreed to run your article, it's vital that you produce content of the highest quality and then work tooth and nail to drive traffic to the published article -- just as you would for a blog post on your own site. Making others successful will make you successful.
5. Say thank you.
Content marketing isn't about publishing one article after another. It's about building a community around the interests you share with your customers. The best way to build community is to say thank you to everyone who engages with and shares your article.
It's especially important that you pay attention to any fellow bloggers who share your article. Keep an eye out for any bloggers who tweet the articles you write. I will send them an email with only one thing to say: "Thank you." Often, the conversation that develops turns into another guest post.
What are your best content-marketing tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments section.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Walter Chen is the founder and CEO of iDoneThis, the easiest way to share and celebrate what you get done at work, every day. Learn the science behind how done lists help you work smarter in our free eBook: The Busy Person's Guide to the Done List. Follow him on twitter @smalter.