Content marketing can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing for small businesses. What may seem like the easiest discipline of all marketing strategies is actually one of the hardest, most time consuming and can be the most expensive.

As the founder of Pinetop Group, a content and video-marketing agency, I often get asked by small-business owners how to improve their content marketing strategies. While it isn't easy, it does pay off.

For those looking to get their feet wet in video, here is a list of best practices, along with actionable steps.

Initially, focus on quantity. Content marketing can be scary to start for any business and sometimes people are so concerned about quality, they don't make videos live. Don't be that person. One of the first things to learn is how to hit the publish button regularly and confidently. There will always be an excuse not to publish content, but what good will that do for your brand? Push yourself to create meaningful and relevant content.

Tip #1. Create an editorial calendar. Your editorial calendar will outline all of the content pieces you’d like to publish during the month. Create titles, set dates for publishing and stick to the calendar.

Tip #2. Set a goal to publish one piece of content each day. Content can be anything from updating your evergreen pages to creating a blog post.

Related: 3 Tricks to Create Premium Video Content on a Budget

Do not penny pinch. Only 32 percent of marketers say they are producing enough content, according to content-marketing software Kapost. The reason being is most companies that are new to content marketing quickly realize how time consuming and difficult it is to create quality content. Far too often these same companies resort to outsourcing their content for pennies on the dollar. Do not expect to receive any results with $5 blog posts. (It is better to publish nothing than to publish low-quality content.)

Tip #3. Research and find reputable content-marketing agencies or writers who can produce content for your site. Partner with agencies who have a track record of success and who don’t outsource content to low-quality writers. 

Tip #4. Create internal content guidelines. These guidelines should outline what is both acceptable and unacceptable when publishing content on your site. Determine what you consider to be quality content, and stay true to those guidelines. 

Have clear, defined goals. Save time and wasted resources by writing down clear goals for your content marketing efforts. These goals should include some (if not all) of the following:

  • Traffic increases
  • Lead increases
  • Conversion increases
  • Revenue increases
  • Bounce-rate reduction

Tip #5. Set realistic timelines to accomplish each of your goals. As mentioned earlier, most content marketing strategies take time to develop sustainable results.

Tip #6. Identify tactics that will help you accomplish your content-marketing goals. Remember to diversify your efforts by producing different types of content such as interviews, blog articles, slideshows, infographics and videos. 

Know your audience. Content marketing can quickly become a hamster wheel for companies who don’t know their audiences. Eliminate guesswork by compiling demographic and psychographic information about your audience.

Tip #7. Dig into your site’s analytic data to compile useful information about your audience. Compile lists of your most trafficked and socially engaged blog posts and essay to identify why they were so successful.

Tip #8. Check out your competitors' blogs to get a glimpse into their audiences. Track who is commenting on their blogs and engaging on their social networks.

Related: 3 Tricks to Create Premium Video Content on a Budget

Tip #9. Place polls on your site asking your audience specific questions about their interests. Aggregate and analyze the poll information to better understand your audience.

Don’t overestimate your skills.  I get it, you see 12-year-olds creating blogs and building massive followings so you think creating and managing a blog is easy. Warning: bubble about to burst. Creating and managing a successful blog is not easy. There are over 27,000,000 pieces of content shared and published each day on the internet. It takes a lot more than a fun quote or meme to get your blog seen by the right audience.

Tip #10. Recognize that successful content-marketing strategies require a significant amount of skill, time and resources.

Tip #11. Audit yourself often and ask these questions:

  • What kind of content do I like to read?
  • Why does certain content appeal to me?
  • How can I produce similar content?
  • What are others doing that I am not?
  • What innovations am I missing out on?

Seek out influential team members. It isn’t enough to hire just anyone to produce content for your site. Seek out the most influential people in your industry to create content for your brand.

Tip #12. Identify influential people within your industry with whom you can team up. These people should have large social followings and be published on major sites.

Tip #13. Reach out to your identified list of influencers and ask them to produce content for your site. Be prepared to pay a pretty penny for their content, but trust me, it’s worth it.

Related: 7 Ways to Rejuvenate Your Dead Blog

Tip #14. Finds ways to make your influencers happy. While money is a good start, try to give back by providing author bios on your site with back links. 

 

Don’t be socially awkward. Treat your social networks as a way to engage with your audience. Content interactions are happening more and more within the social networking realm. Use your social networks to discuss your content and interact with your community.

Tip #15. Define your purpose on each social network. For example your purpose on Twitter may be to share discounts, news and tips while your purpose on Facebook may be to post article and discuss content.

Tip #16. Do not limit yourself to Twitter and Facebook. Pinterest, Google + and Instagram all have empirical evidence as to why companies should be using their networks. Diversify your social networking efforts.

Related: A Simple Trick for Finding Top-Notch Writers to Create Your Content

Tip #17. Be relevant on your social networks. Don’t use your networks to simply publish your articles are speak at your audience. Use your networks as a vehicle to engage and start conversations.

You don’t have to be a one-person band. Did you know 16 percent of companies say it’s their policy NOT to share third-party content? This doesn't make too much sense, when 32 percent of marketers feel they don’t produce enough content. Be prepared to open the doors to contributors from across the web to help produce awesome pieces for your brand.

Tip #18. Create guest posting guidelines on your site. Allow other expert and authorities to publish content on your site in the form of guest posts.

Tip #19. Develop partnerships with complimentary brands or companies to help produce content for your site. These partnerships should be mutually beneficial so remember to also provide value.

Stick with it. There will be a time when you want to give up on your content-marketing strategy. Don’t. Content-marketing results take time and often take months of consistent hard work.

Tip #20. Audit your strategies to determine what is working and what is not working. Eliminate actions that are not producing results.

Tip #21. Consult with experts if you’ve realized you can’t manage your own content-marketing efforts. Remember to use only the best.

Tip #22. Continue publishing quality, relevant content on a regular basis.

Content marketing is an incredible vehicle for companies to reach their customers, because it doesn’t feel like advertising. Follow these best practices and your company will be on its way to content-marketing success. 

Related: Overcome Short Attention Spans with 'Micro-Content'