I got my MBA in 2006. However, I always say that I got my real MBA when I started my first business, Hometown Cinema, at 19 while still in college. I can firmly say that I was employing the "make it until you break it" model in my business. I had no idea what I was doing, but was fearless and believed that I could figure how to run a business and be successful. My business was operational for five years before someone bought the concept from me. I had honed the skills during the time it took me to build my business that would go a long way towards my success in my current company, Your Millennial Money, which offers personal finance tips and advice.
What I learned building and running my own business is that content really is king.
Creating valuable and shareable content is a critical element in growing a small business, particularly when you’re working to engage your audience and develop a conversation with them that will lead to sales in the future. Content is what defines and shapes your business, and will help it stand apart from the sea of competitors. In my industry, financial planning, creating original, brand-centered, and relatable content has helped my small business grow from an idea to a full-fledged business in just under two years.
How did I do it? Here’s my 3 point plan for growing a business using content.
1. Narrow your focus
It’s easy when you’re starting a new business to think that you need to be everything to everyone. I call it "the startup syndrome", and nearly everyone goes through it whether you realize it or not. If I learned anything from my first business, it was that defining a niche for my company would ultimately define the direction of my business. The better the niche (meaning a niche with a laser focus on a particular market segment), the better my chances for success.
A niche is a very specific person or groups of persons that you plan on targeting for your business. Your niche will define your content creation and marketing strategy. There’s a delicate balance when you’re finding your niche. You want it to be a large enough audience so you have plenty of clients who will want to buy your product and service, but also narrowly focused enough so you can keep your messaging consistent and targeted.
The idea for Your Millennial Money came to me after an old blog post from a website that I used to run went viral. The article was all about smart strategies readers could use to manage their money during their 20s, which struck a chord with readers who were working to develop a postgraduate budget and career plan. I’ve since become an expert on the topic and written about it ten times over including several of the topics that I’ve written about here, at PolicyGenius like understanding student loans, how to fix a broken budget, and ways to supercharge your 401(k) savings.
Millennials are the currently the largest demographic in America at 92 million strong and are no strangers to social media and demand original, high-quality content. This generation seemed like the perfect niche for my business: a large enough niche, and yet still precise in their needs and desires.
2. Be original with your content
I spent the first six months of my business studying and watching content that other financial experts were creating. While that was an excellent education, I found myself comparing content, rather than just being myself. The minute I decided to focus on originality in my content, my brand began to grow virtually overnight.
The average person sees as many as 5,000 media ad messages a day. Original messages are what will cut through the noise and help your company stand out from the crowd. While your business doesn’t need to be the next Facebook or Snapchat for you to earn a living, you do need to create content that will get your audience talking. In fact, even Starbucks understands how valuable content is, and is launching original content to further its brand awareness.
One of the best decisions I made as I was setting up my business was to start a weekly podcast, Millennial Money, in early 2015. I had no idea how to create a podcast, but I knew it was an original form of content. I wanted to focus on real life money tips, and since a large segment of millennials have an entrepreneurial spirit, I wanted to feature entrepreneur tips and guest interviews that my listeners could resonate with.
To launch the podcast, I spent around $150, which included my Blubrry hosting plan for $20 a month, a Blue Yeti microphone so I get the best quality audio, and a hosting plan for my web domain with Bluehost for $3.45 a month. For those on a shoestring budget, podcasting is an easy way to create original content that anyone can find online.
The Millennial Money podcast has grown organically over the past year. To date, it has reached over 500,000 listeners in 160 countries worldwide. Many listeners have shared their own stories of paying off debt, starting businesses, and achieving their financial dreams. I could've never imagined that talking into a microphone for an hour a week in the comfort of my own home would've produced those types of results. However, I believe it is the originality of the podcast episodes and my honest approach to talking about money that is resonating with my audience.
I also created a YouTube channel, Millennial Money TV, and started creating topic specific videos. The initial videos were easy to create with a good camera; I use Canon T6i, and a ring light to make sure I’m clearly visible and there’s great picture quality. Starting a YouTube channel is an excellent way to define yourself as an expert in your field, and can be created with a few clicks of a button.
In fact, there are many YouTubers who have created a full-time job out of creating original videos. Lainey Liz, who runs Simply Bakings, started a YouTube channel two years ago and creates two baking videos a week. "My viewers tune in to see what new twist I’m going to take on a baking recipe each week. I never imagined this would be my job," explains Liz.
As my business has grown, I’ve developed even more original video concept ideas that I’ve been able to partner with large companies on. These types of brand sponsorships with big companies have allowed me to grow my brand and awareness to a wider audience. The moral of the story is that original content, even if you have a small budget, will help you gain traction and awareness within your niche, which will ultimately lead to business growth.
3. Build business allies
It takes a village to build a successful small business, and even if you are in business by yourself, you’re going to need allies to help you along the way. Creating a business alliance with a like-minded professional can help you in all areas of your business from sales to marketing to distribution. I’ve found one of the best benefits of an ally is that they can help distribute your content to new audiences and widen your customer base.
In my business, I’ve become allies with PR professionals that help market my content, writers from major publications who will use my quotes in their articles, other financial professionals who I can bounce ideas off of, as well as other professionals in entrepreneurial niches who have co-created content with me. I’m able to trade services with these business allies, where I might offer pro bono financial planning in exchange for a press release or a connection to a TV network that would have me as a guest on their show.
Business allies have also lead to many different speaking opportunities at conferences. These conferences allow me to expand my brand a new group of listeners, which in turn grows my business exponentially. I’ve spoken at entrepreneur conferences, to Fortune 500 companies about marketing to millennials, and at conferences aimed specifically at millennial personal finance for individuals. Most conferences will allow you to attend all the sessions if you’re a speaker, so that’s a great money-saving tip to learn while you’re building your expert status. Plus, you can walk away with a ton of new ideas for fresh and original content.
At the end of the day, it's content that is going to build your business and connect you with your target customers. The content strategy you create for your business will likely be different from mine, and it should be! Whether you're creating an original blog post, putting together an exclusive webinar, or writing the script for a new video concept, your content will stand as your brand message to your followers and customers. Original content builds trust, credibility, and authority status in your field. All of which are benefits to running a successful small business that will rise above the crowd.