Finding new clients can be a major challenge as a freelancer or for those running their own design agency. There are a variety of techniques and tactics that can be used, but one that many agencies in the Shopify ecosystem benefit from is content marketing.
Content marketing has been the go-to tactic for consumers brands over the past few years, but it can also be tremendously valuable as a promotional and lead generation tool for B2B businesses, like your design and development firm.
Producing high quality, relevant content can help you build exposure among prospective clients, while also positioning your business as a thought leader in your respective industry. Best of all, it can also be an extremely effective tactic for filling your pipeline with new and highly qualified leads.
We chatted with three different web design firms about how they use content marketing to promote their businesses. Each agency approaches content from a different angle, but all have achieved success by placing content at the heart of their marketing.
Here’s what they had to say.
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1. Build a qualified audience through niche blogging
When most people talk about content marketing, they immediately think of blogging — and for good reason. Over the past few years, blogging has quickly risen to one of the most dominant forms of content for B2B companies due to its low cost and low barrier to entry, especially when compared to other outbound, marketing tactics.
Design agencies like Shopify Plus Expert Codal, leverage their company blog as a platform to convey their brand’s unique personality, engage with prospective clients, and position themselves as a thought leader in the ecommerce industry.
While those goals are commonly shared by most companies who blog, it may surprise you that self-promotion isn’t Codal’s top priority. Beyond brand awareness and lead generation, the primary focus of the 120-person agency’s blog is to educate readers through insightful articles that showcase how to get the most out of Shopify, and build better ecommerce businesses.
“Not only do we want to keep the merchant audience aware of our brand, but we also want to keep them educated on things that they could be doing to improve their online stores,” explains Codal’s Marketing Manager, Jenna Erickson. “When producing any content, you need to make sure that it offers practical and actionable tips that the reader can apply to better their own business.”
Codal’s focus on producing useful articles for their audience is the core tenet of good content marketing — but sometimes that’s easier said, than done. That’s why it’s important to always keep your target audience top of mind while writing your blog content. An effective technique you can use when brainstorming potential topics for your blog, is to look at your existing client roster and ask yourself what major pain points or challenges frequently face their businesses.
“These are platforms where users simply ask questions, and the community responds with detailed answers and resources,” Jenna says. “When you write a blog, you often make an assumption about questions the user may have. When you’re on Quora or StackOverflow, you know with certainty what their question or challenge is.”
You can use this information to produce your own blog content, or you can respond directly to the queries themselves with existing articles. If the content you create and share is able to solve a major issue in a prospect’s business, they’ll immediately see value from interacting with your agency, and will be more likely to come back to your blog for advice down the road. While this recurring traffic is something every blogging agency should strive for, the increased interaction with your website presents increased opportunities for you to convert visitors to clients.
“Lead generation is another metric that we use to measure the success of our blog, and with more website traffic, we have seen a higher conversion volume at a similar conversion rate,” Jenna explains. “If the rate of conversion stays the same, but the traffic increases substantially, your conversions will increase proportionally as well. In our case, a conversion is having a user fill out our contact form.”
Not sure where to start? A great place to begin your journey into blogging is by publishing case studies. Try to gather all the relevant details about your most successful client projects, and repurpose them into narrative-based blog posts.
This approach offers real advice based on your previous projects, while showing off your agency’s technical proficiencies and impact on client business.
2. Educate your audience with an in-depth email course
While blogging is the main entry point most agencies take when first approaching content marketing, there are many other viable options for formatting and distributing your content.
One tactic that has recently started gaining popularity in the content marketing world is the email drip course.
This technique requires you to set up a time-released email campaign that sends individual emails automatically at designated intervals (daily, weekly, etc.), over a pre-established period of time (five days, a month, etc.). Each email you send acts as a lesson module, and should be packed with actionable advice and tips related to the overarching theme of your course.
Jonathan Kennedy, founder of Shopify Expert agency Carson, leverages the newfound power of email marketing courses to educate readers on running a profitable ecommerce business, while also building strong brand awareness for his firm.
“We understand that our website visitors may be at different stages of their buying and business cycle,” Jonathan explains. “So we wanted to have a way to help potential clients learn from us, trust us, and understand what we can offer their businesses.”
In their attempt to provide that value, Carson created a five-day email course that uses an overlap to prompt visitors to sign up and “build a thriving ecommerce business” when they land on the firm’s homepage. The course covers a common challenge facing novice or new entrepreneurs; the fundamentals of marketing an ecommerce store.
“It's extremely easy to launch and start marketing a store. When their marketing isn't going the way they expect, it's often because they've missed some of the basics, like having a unique selling proposition, messaging, design, or market validation,” Jonathan says. “Marketing performance issues are rarely because of your copy or product images. So I thought I'd create a mini-email course to address these things.”
Not only does Carson use their email course campaign to share actionable advice to budding entrepreneurs, but they also use it as an opportunity to gather more information on their subscribers, qualify them as leads, and adjust their own business offerings.
“In the first email, we ask what the store owner is struggling with most. We get dozens of replies every day, which has helped us sharpen our own messaging and approach,” Jonathan explains. “After the five day course, these email subscribers get pushed over to a lead list, where we are able to keep them in the loop about our offer, as well as share other blog and community content.”
When launching your own email drip course, Jonathan suggests to hyper-focus your content on a specific audience and their respective challenges. The growth of ecommerce has created many segments of store owners — some are price-sensitive and some are growth-focused, while others are self-funded solo-entrepreneurs. Pick one segment that you think your expert skill-set can serve best and create short, but valuable lessons that serve their needs.
Email marketing courses can be a great way to convert your existing blog readers into subscribers, and subsequently into leads for your business.
Not sure where to start? Creating an email course can be a daunting project to begin. You can simplify your content creation process by repurposing existing and related articles from your blog into a short, consumable lesson plan. From there, you can set up your drip campaign using email clients like MailChimp, Drip, or Customer.io.
3. Connect with your audience by hosting workshops
Content marketing isn’t a tactic exclusive to the digital realm. You can find lots of success applying the same content creation techniques to your approach to offline initiatives like workshops or events.
Ross Beyeler, founder of Shopify Plus Expert agency Growth Spark, swears by content-focused events for merchants, which bolster his firm’s brand as well as his lead generation efforts. He explains how every workshop his agency hosts has three key objectives, with the first and foremost being connecting attendees with each other.
“Some of the most rewarding relationships we've had have stemmed from connecting a potential client to another service provider they needed at the time, to help solve a specific problem with their business,” Ross says. “People value 'connectors' immensely and are always more willing to engage with you, if you've been able to produce immediate value for their business elsewhere. Key introductions is an easy and effective way of doing just that.”
Ross’ second objective for his events is to demonstrate his agency’s expertise in the realms of web design, optimization, and ecommerce.
“In a business that requires deep domain knowledge and the ability to solve complex problems, it's critical to demonstrate the type of thinking you can offer your clients,” Ross shares. “By showing both a range of experience in solving past problems, as well as the ability to answer difficult questions on-the-spot, you build confidence in potential clients that you can reliably help them.”
Finally, the third objective of Growth Spark’s workshops is to provide that actionable information in a way that provides immediate value for participants.
“If you can make specific recommendations for steps that they can take as soon as they get back to their business, it will create a sense of return on investment on their attendance at the event,” he says. “ And this perceived return will help increase the likelihood that they'll attend other workshops down-the-line.”
Like most content marketing tactics, it’s critical that your educational insight is the central focus of your event. Ross’ biggest piece of advice may seem counterintuitive to many, but is crucial for success; you should enter your event without any intention of selling to your participants.
“Everyone dreads the 'timeshare presentation' and doesn't want to feel like they're going to an event where they'll experience a 'bait and switch,' leaving them in a two-hour sales presentation,” Ross says. “Instead, put truly educating your audience at the forefront of your workshop. If they find your expertise valuable and there is a clear need for them to continue tapping into those insights, they'll naturally inquire about further education/engagement. That is the opportunity to sell the potential client on one-to-one consulting, or a project-based engagement.”
Not sure where to start? Hosting a content-focused workshop can be more challenging and involved than producing a blog article or email course. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the logistics and marketing associated with event planning, but don’t let that scare you away.
If you’re unsure where to begin, start small. A small six-person round table can sometimes be just as effective, if not more, at growing your business as a major event or conference. Check out our helpful article on hosting your own Shopify meetup, if you’re looking for tips to get started.
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Start differentiating your agency with content marketing
When done right content marketing can be an effective tactic for positioning your brand, and attracting new clients to your design or development agency. The above techniques are only a handful of the ways our existing ecosystem is leveraging content marketing to grow their own businesses.
If you’re planning on adding content marketing to your promotion mix, just remember that the quality and usefulness of the content you produce will dictate its effectiveness as a marketing tool. So get out there, and start creating amazing, actionable content!
Do you use content marketing at your agency or as a freelancer? Let us know what approach you find most effective in the comments below!
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