There are really only five ways to grow a business:

  1. Advertising
  2. Paid referrals / affiliates
  3. Direct sales
  4. SEO / marketplace placement
  5. Content marketing

(All five ways can lead to word of mouth and “earned” media — and paying for PR is analogous to paying for ads — so these models don’t qualify as a separate mechanism in my universe.)

I’m not a fan of options 1 through 3, personally. They’re expensive and shape your entire business in a way that I am mostly not interested in.

And while number 4 can be vital for certain use cases (and I’m paying someone to work on it for me), it just isn’t my jam. I don’t like relying on things that are black box, under the control of a faceless megacorp.

I like things under my control.

That’s why I’ve built my empire on content marketing — and it’s a 7-figure empire, hey hey, not too shabby!

But recently I found myself in a debate with a friend of mine, who built his own empire with SEO.

He tweeted that content marketing doesn’t work.

And, you know what?

He’s right.

Content marketing doesn’t work as executed by most people.

You can’t just slap some random content willy-nilly on your blog and expect results.

Which… is what most people do.

I see a lot of folks out there creating content that is extremely niche — such as how to solve an incredibly specific technical problem, which is fine if it leads directly to a broader world of industry discussion (or directly to your product)… but if it doesn’t, it’s a flash in the pan.

I also see a lot of folks writing stuff that is so vague, it could theoretically apply to the whole world. Even when you write about universal themes, you should tailor it to your audience or it won’t resonate. (Case in point: this essay of mine about the human condition that continues to get shared many years later.)

Content marketing is powerful because you create something once and it builds trust, reputation, and traffic.

You have to get strategic.

Content that is…

  • scattershot
  • too narrow, niche, specific
  • too broad, vague, general
  • of unclear value
  • of limited value
  • of limited endurance (ages quickly)

…will waste your time for not a lot of impact.

Luckily, there is a way that works!

For staying power and impact, you want to create content that is…

  • thematic
  • specific enough to make your audience cry “it me!!”
  • broad enough to be applicable to a large segment of your audience *- of clear *value, and preferably something they can apply soon
  • enduring enough to be reusable for at least 12-24 months

What it boils down to… is content marketing that is empowering. Educational. Valuable. Resonant.

Content that feels like a gift twice over: first, when your audience receives it, and second, when they share it with someone else.

I call them “ebombs.” Because they’re educational and impactful.

You dropped a bomb on me, baby.

And the best content – aka ebombs – are a lot more like mini products.

And here’s an example I’m really proud of:

☃️ Freelancember


It’s an advent calendar for freelancers, with 31 full days of my best advice, drawn from over a decade as a freelancer and consultant at all levels.

I made Freelancember in 2012 to promote my time tracking app, Noko, naturally, but like all the best ebombs… it’s not about the product itself. It’s about the audience.

Freelancember is my investment in “building a better user,” as Kathy Sierra put it, by helping my audience achieve what they want.

Freelancember is…

1. Thematic: And the theme is how to become more effective, happier, better paid in the New Year. (Time tracking is a natural part of that plan… doesn’t have to be shoehorned in at all!)

2. Specific enough: It’s for creative freelancers, specifically, rather than employees, or consulting agencies… and every day covers a topic in juicy detail (like a 4-week preparation checklist for a real vacation).

3. Broad enough: There’s something in it for every freelancer, regardless of what type.

4. Valuable: It delivers clear value every damn day! Worksheets, checklists, or scripts you can use.

5. Enduring: I made it in 2012! It’s generated tons of good will, word of mouth, and sales for us. I even made an evergreen summer version called The Institute of Awesome because biz skills aren’t just for Christmas, they’re for life.

Here’s the thing…

I’ve fallen down on marketing Noko over the last couple years because I was just so. damned. sick. We didn’t run Freelancember in that time. Noko shrank everrrr so slowly, thanks to our low churn rate… but now that I’m getting back on the horse…

Freelancember is right here waiting for me.

Yep, it took some polishing and revision. Nope, it wasn’t nearly the amount it would require to create something new. Because the problems freelancers face may differ in slight details, but overall they’re semi-permanent human problems that just keep happening.

My next email will be all about how I came up with the idea, designed, and planned the content.

In the mean time, check out Freelancember for yourself.

Learn how it works so you start to apply the same rules to your content marketing.

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