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Content Inc. for Entrepreneurs Free Chapter by Joe Pulizzi

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Introduction The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. GEORGE BERNARD SHAW I left a six-figure executive publishing position in 2007 to start a business. Even though I had been thinking about leaving my job for a while, and I had a product in mind to sell, the product wasn’t going to be ready anytime soon. So I had no job and no product to sell (and no income). It wasn’t a good position to be in with two small children (ages three and five at the time) and a mortgage to pay. The web developer I was working with didn’t believe we could get the online offering ready for at least nine months. Ouch. What to do? Without a product to pitch, I focused all my attention on building an audience. In a few weeks, the blog was up and running. xvii


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Introduction Three to five times a week, I was creating and distributing helpful information targeted to marketers in large companies—the audience I wanted to reach eventually with my new product. A few months later, I was starting to build a small, loyal following. Fast-forward to the present day. Our company, Content Marketing Institute, has been named to the Inc. 500 fastest-growing private companies list for three years running, becoming the fastest-growing business media organization in North America. We have consistently grown our revenues at 50 percent per year for the last four years. In 2015, we’ll top $10 million in revenues. Through a lovely accident, I stumbled on a powerful way to build a business in the digital age—and now believe there is no better way to go to market. By focusing on building an audience first and defining products and services second, an entrepreneur can change the rules of the game and significantly increase the odds of financial and personal success. Let me repeat that: I believe the absolute best way to start a business today is not by launching a product, but by creating a system to attract and build an audience. Once a loyal audience is built, one that loves you and the information you send, you can, most likely, sell your audience anything you want. This model is called Content Inc. But did I develop a method that is difficult to replicate, or are there other entrepreneurs and start-ups that used a similar strategy? The True Story of David and Goliath The challenges facing every entrepreneur who dreams of success can be summed up in one of two interpretations of the biblical story of David and Goliath. Growing up in the Catholic school system, I heard the David versus Goliath story often. David is the ultimate underdog; Goliath, the Philistine giant, the most powerful warrior on the planet. David, a young boy, doesn’t have a chance to defeat such a powerful and skilled warrior. But through David’s faith in God, a handful of smooth rocks, and perhaps a small miracle, David defeated Goliath. xviii


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introduction Jack Wellman from the Christian Crier asserts that “Goliath had everything going for him. He had every advantage possible. He had great ability and he was trained, equipped, experienced, battle tested, and battle hardened, and he was completely fearless. He was totally confident but it could also be said that he was overconfident.” He was also about 6 feet 9 inches tall. And then here comes David, small and totally outmatched. Just a boy, David won because he had supreme confidence in the Lord, who was with him, and the giant lost the seemingly unlosable battle. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. (1 Samuel 17) David beat Goliath because of his faith in God. Of course, David had confidence in victory because the Lord was with him. But perhaps there is another way to interpret this story . . . Goliath: The Underdog Malcolm Gladwell gave me a new perspective on this story in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Gladwell’s version makes perfect sense to my entrepreneurial spirit. According to Gladwell, Goliath was indeed a giant, who was also extremely slow to move. Add to that, he was wearing 100 pounds of armor. Some medical experts believe Goliath was suffering from acromegaly, a hormone imbalance that causes a human to grow xix


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Introduction to extraordinary size. If that was the case, his vision was most likely impaired as well. How about David? Yes, David was small in stature, but he was an accomplished “slinger” and could target and strike large beasts from great distances. Light on his feet, David could move unsuspected on a target and still win an attack from far away. The biblical interpretation tells us that David, the underdog, was shown favor by the Lord, which helped him defeat Goliath, the heavy favorite. Actually, Goliath had no chance to win. God favored David by helping him discern a better strategy. The fight was over before it ever began. Changing the Game David won because he played an entirely different game than Goliath did. If David would have fought Goliath as tradition demanded, one warrior in hand-to-hand combat against another, he would have lost. And this is what happens to almost every entrepreneur dreaming up an idea that will make him or her successful. Entrepreneurs, whether bootstrapped or funded, have no resources compared with those of the large enterprises they are competing with. ENTREPRENEURS ARE GETTING BAD ADVICE According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the first step in starting a business is to develop a business plan. The standard business plan includes things like “defining what you are selling” and “creating a sales and marketing plan.” Of course it does. I’m sure if you search the thousands of different business plans on the web, they all look pretty much the same. Every start-up essentially plays the game by the same rules. Even Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook, focuses all the attention in his book Zero to One on developing an amazing product unlike the world has ever seen. While I believe Thiel offers some excellent advice to entrepreneurs, the premise is the same as all the other expert advice out there: create a product first. Find xx


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introduction the problem, and then solve the problem with an exceptional product or service. But the results aren’t exceptional . . . at all. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the majority of businesses fail in their first five years. And every other statistic out there on start-up failure actually says it’s probably a lot worse than that. Why do people go to market with their business in the same way? Is humanity so devoid of creativity that we’ve accepted that there is only one way to start and grow a business? CAN CONTENT INC. BE REPLICATED? Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger Media, shares his story in both the Foreword of this book and throughout as a case study. Brian, a recovering attorney, had some amazing ideas about how businesses should market online. Unfortunately (or maybe I should say fortunately), he didn’t have a product to sell. For one year and seven months, Brian developed amazing content on a consistent basis to a targeted audience. He defined his ultimate mission as: To create media assets that depended on the permission to contact my audience, not the permission of a media gatekeeper. Or shorthand: Become the expert resource that attracts the right audience without having to buy advertising on someone else’s platform. And Brian did just that. Today, Copyblogger Media is one of the fastest-growing SaaS (software as a service) companies on the planet. In our research for Content Inc., we’ve been able to uncover countless entrepreneurs in varied industries using a similar philosophy. In other words, Brian and I are not alone. And the better news? The Content Inc. model can be replicated (but more on that in a second). THE CONTENT INC. FUTURE IS NOW In the future, thousands of businesses around the globe will be leveraging a Content Inc. go-to-market strategy. Why? Because having a singular focus on audience, and building a loyal audience directly, gives xxi


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Introduction you the best understanding of what products ultimately make the most sense to sell. Content Inc. tells us that there is a better way and a better model that leads to a better life for entrepreneurs and business owners. You have the opportunity to be like David, who looks like an underdog to the Goliaths of the world, but the truth is that you’ve simply uncovered a better business strategy than all the rest. THE CONTENT INC. MODEL In our experience working with hundreds of businesses, and the dozens of interviews associated with this book, we’ve found that there are six distinct steps to the Content Inc. model (see Figure I.1). Figure I.1 1. The Sweet Spot Simply put, the entrepreneur needs to uncover a content area that the business model will be based around. To make this happen, we need to identify a “sweet spot” that will attract an audience over time. This sweet spot is the intersection of a knowledge or skill set (something the entrepreneur or business has a competency in) and a passion area (something the entrepreneur or business feels is of great value to him or her personally or to society at large). For example, Andy Schneider has built an entire business around his celebrity persona, the Chicken Whisperer. Andy’s knowledge area xxii


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introduction is backyard poultry. To put it mildly, Andy knows more about raising chickens in a backyard than just about anyone else on the planet. At the same time, Andy has a passion for teaching. Andy loves helping his friends with their backyard chicken-raising whenever he can. 2. Content Tilt Once the sweet spot is identified, the entrepreneur needs to determine the “tilt,” or the differentiation factor, to find an area of little to no competition. Claus Pilgaard is one of the most well-known celebrity figures in Denmark, all because of the extraordinary way he talks about chili peppers. Claus’s YouTube videos have garnered millions of views, including one where Claus conducts the Danish National Chamber Orchestra playing “Tango Jalousie” while eating the world’s hottest chili peppers. That video alone (http://cmi.media/CI-ChiliKlaus) has seen more than 3 million views (note that this is more than half the population of Denmark). Claus’s sweet spot was the intersection of his skill at performance art and his passion for chili peppers. But Claus realized there was an abundance of content and experts around the “heat” behind chili peppers, but a content gap around the taste of peppers. As he explains in an interview: I was actually sitting there in this little summer house getting a little bored and I had my camera with me and thought, “What if you talked about chili peppers in the same way as you were told about raising wine?” You talk about all the different kinds of tastes, not about the alcohol but what it tastes like. Is it coffee, or is it food? What is it? So instead of telling about how hot these peppers were, I was getting around the peppers and talking about the different varieties. And then my body started to tell another story [while eating the peppers]. Maybe that’s why they [the videos] became so popular. Claus always had a passion for chili peppers, but it wasn’t until he started telling a different story around “taste” that the business model grew legs. The “tasting” addition to the sweet spot (what we call the “tilt”) is what made the difference. xxiii


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Introduction 3. Building the Base Once the sweet spot is found and the tilt occurs, a platform is chosen and a content base is constructed. This is exactly like building a house. Before we get into all the paint and fixtures and flooring options, we have to plan and install the foundation. This is done by consistently generating valuable content through one key channel (a blog, a podcast, YouTube, etc.). Today, Content Marketing Institute (CMI) offers a print magazine, research papers, podcasts, ongoing workshops, and more . . . but for the first four years, it was just a blog. The blog became the core channel that initially drew in the original audience. The blog originally started as just me, blogging approximately three times per week. In 2010, we opened up the blog to additional contributors at five times per week. In 2011, the blog went daily, even on weekends. Not until success was found in the blog (the platform) did CMI diversify to other channels. 4. Harvesting Audience After the platform is chosen and the content base is built, the opportunity presents itself to increase the audience and convert “one-time readers” into ongoing subscribers. This is where we leverage social media as key distribution tools and take search engine optimization seriously. At this point, our job is not just to increase web traffic. By itself, web traffic is a meaningless metric. Our goal is to increase traffic to increase the opportunity to acquire an audience. Here’s how Michael Stelzner, CEO of Social Media Examiner, explains this step in the process: We were arguably late to the game, because by the time we launched SME [Social Media Examiner] there were thousands of other blogs that were dedicated to social, but I saw that as marketplace justification more than anything else. But I didn’t doubt once I began, because I knew how to track metrics; I knew what mattered. I knew email acquisition was the key metric and I had decided that we weren’t going to promote (meaning “sell”) anything until we had at least xxiv


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introduction 10,000 email subscribers. And we got to that number so quickly that I knew we were really onto something. . . . last year we had 15 million unique people visit SME. We have 340,000 people that we email every single day. We currently publish 8–10 original articles every single week. The critical acknowledgment for this area: while there are many metrics to analyze content success, the number one metric is the subscriber. It’s almost impossible to monetize and grow your audience without first getting the reader to take action and actually “subscribe” to your content. 5. Diversification Once the model has built a strong, loyal, and growing audience, it’s time to diversify from the main content stream. Think of the model like an octopus, with each content channel being one of the eight arms. How many of those arms can we wrap our readers in to keep them close to us (and coming back for more)? ESPN, originally started as a sports-only cable television station in 1979, began with a $9,000 investment by Bill and Scott Rasmussen. Now, almost 40 years later, ESPN is the world’s most profitable media brand with operating earnings of more than $4 billion according to Forbes.com. For 13 years, ESPN directed its attention on only one channel for 100 percent of its audience-building focus—cable television. Then, starting in 1992, the floodgates opened on diversification, first with the launch of ESPN radio. Then ESPN.com (originally called ESPN SportsZone) launched in 1995, followed three years later by ESPN the Magazine. Today, ESPN has a property in almost every channel available on the planet, from Twitter to podcasts to documentaries. Even though the channels were limited in the 1980s and 1990s (compared with today), ESPN didn’t diversify until the core platform (cable television) was successful. 6. Monetization It’s time. You’ve identified your sweet spot. You’ve “tilted” to find an area of content noncompetition. You’ve selected the platform and built xxv


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Introduction the base. You’ve started to build subscribers, and you’ve even begun to launch content on additional platforms. Now is when the model monetizes against the platform. By this time, you are armed with enough subscriber information (both qualitative and quantitative) that a multitude of opportunities will present themselves to generate revenue. This could be consulting or software or events or more. Rand Fishkin, CEO of Moz (originally called SEOMoz), started his blog on search engine optimization insights back in 2004. In less than five years, Moz had over 100,000 e-mail subscribers. Rand originally monetized the audience through consulting services, but in 2007, Moz launched a beta subscription service for software tools and reports. By 2009, Moz closed the consulting business entirely and focused on selling software to its audience. Figure I.2 shows the results. The best part? Rand’s success looks amazingly unusual, but it isn’t. The more I’ve researched this, the more I’ve found that these are typ- Figure I.2  Rand Fishkin has grown Moz from a struggling consulting practice to a fast-growing, $30 million enterprise. xxvi


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introduction ical numbers for a Content Inc.–based business. The key is following the six steps as outlined above and being patient enough for the model to work. THE AUDIENCE FOR THIS BOOK Forty years ago, Harvard Business School professor Howard Stephenson defined entrepreneurship in this manner: Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled. Before starting the research for this book, I believed that the term entrepreneur was relegated to start-ups. According to the above definition, this is an incorrect presumption. As Eric Reis contends in The Lean Startup, when you look at the entrepreneur in this way, it should be “regardless of company size, sector, or stage of development.” At the same time, Reis explains that “a startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” This combined look at the core definitions of entrepreneurship and start-up plays into Reis’s argument, that neither one means that these terms are owned solely by new companies. From this perspective, and leveraging a Content Inc. methodology, we have: 1. A pure start-up. You are creating a new organization, launching a content-first model. You are using funding from various sources to keep the lights on until you discover your revenue-generation product or service. An example is Brian Clark and copyblogger.com. 2. A start-up inside a large organization. You’ve received buy-in to develop an audience around a current customer segment. Your goal is to build an engaged audience around a content niche. Once that’s complete, you’ll look to monetize the platform into new or current product sales, or perhaps use it to keep customers more loyal. This is where most enterprises are with content marketing. They believe that if they launch a content platform, it will help their current business, but they are not 100 percent sure how it will unfold or what the ultimate benefits might be. xxvii


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Introduction 3. A stalled business. You currently have a number of products and services you sell, but you are not happy with your growth. You believe that building an audience around content can lead to new opportunities for the business. An example of this is LEGO. Years ago LEGO’s growth stalled, so it took a fresh look at its audience and platforms. Today, LEGO is a vibrant, growing company. Much of this credit goes to the multitude of content platforms the company was able to build. The majority of examples in Content Inc. revolve around the creation of a new or young organization, one that is developing processes around building a new audience that becomes loyal and engaged through content creation and distribution. Even so, I believe this book is relevant for any of the three “states of business” above. HOW THIS BOOK IS ORGANIZED Years ago my friend Henry and I were talking about how long a blog post should be in terms of number of words. His response was priceless. Henry said slyly, “A blog post is like a miniskirt . . . it needs to be long enough to cover the essentials but short enough to keep it interesting.” And that’s exactly what you’ll find in each chapter of Content Inc. Some chapters will be long, because I feel depth is needed in those areas. Some will be short. Needless to say, this book has been heavily edited to keep subjects interesting and relevant to you. In addition, I’ve included key themes, action steps, and resources at the end of most chapters. One of my big pet peeves of nonfiction books is having to always go to the back of the book for resources. So, problem solved . . . we just put them at the back of the chapter. And finally . . . This book is not a personal memoir, but I will be sharing all the secrets about how we built our business using the strategies in Content Inc. I’ll also be sharing multiple case studies, like Brian’s and many others, to show that the Content Inc. methodology is not a one-hit wonder. Any entrepreneur in any industry can, by following a few important steps, develop a successful business by focusing on building audience first and product second. xxviii


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introduction Thank you for taking the time to make this journey with me. If today were the last day of your life, would you want to do what you are about to do today? STEVE JOBS Content Inc. Insights • The majority of start-ups around the world begin their journey in exactly the same way as every other company. Why are we doing this since the majority of start-ups fail? The formula needs to change. • I fell into a happy accident with the Content Inc. model. And I wasn’t alone. The great news is that, by reverse engineering my success model and dozens of others like it, there is a systematic way to create a Content Inc. business that works. • Whether you are a solo start-up or an innovative group within a large enterprise, Content Inc. can and will work with patience and the right content plan. Resources Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Little, Brown and Company, 2013. Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Crown Business, 2014. Scott Shane, “Failure Is a Constant in Entrepreneurship,” NewYorkTimes.com, accessed April 7, 2015, http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/15/failure -is-a-constant-in-entrepreneurship/. Jack Wellman, “David and Goliath Bible Story,” Patheos.com, accessed April 7, 2015, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/04/15/david-and -goliath-bible-story-lesson-summary-and-study/#ixzz3H9qKZLbb. Holy Bible, New International Version, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984, 1 Samuel 17. Eric Schurenburg, “What’s an Entrepreneur? The Best Answer Ever,” Inc.com, accessed April 7, 2015, http://www.inc.com/eric-schurenberg/the-best -definition-of-entepreneurship.html. Eric Reis, The Lean Startup, Crown Business, 2011. James Andrew Miller and Thom Shales, Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, Little, Brown and Company, 2011. xxix


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Introduction “ESPN.com Facts,” accessed April 7, 2015, http://espn.go.com/pr/espnfact.html. Claus Pilgaard, interview by Clare McDermott, January 2015. Andy Schneider, interview by Clare McDermott, December 2015. Rand Fishkin, interview by Clare McDermott, January 2015. Mike Stelzner, interview by Clare McDermott, January 2015. xxx


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