Confessions of a Content Marketing Start-Up
By John Durrant
Content marketing amazes me because it’s creative, effective, frustrating at times, and it’s the future of how companies get found and engage with customers. But my God, running a business is tough!
When I decided to start my own content marketing agency, Juggling Swords, earlier this year, I foolishly assumed that I would simply work out my services, my pricing, build my website and off we would go, confidently into the corporate world.
Ha! Silly, silly me. You see, a content marketing agency, and pretty much every creative agency, has to go through a phase of proving itself unless it was formed by a group of breakaway staff from an established agency who manage to take some clients with them.
Juggling Swords is still in that phase but we’re not daunted by it; we know we’re good. The challenge is in convincing potential clients that we’re good and thankfully, we’ve worked with some awesome companies already.
Building a reputation is difficult for any start-up but I would say it’s even more difficult for a content marketing agency when your services essentially help to build the reputation of other companies. “How can I trust you to help build my brand when I’ve never heard of yours?” It’s a good question.
With a sound proposition and a good sales pitch, that question can be overcome. For a creative whose media roots belong in journalism, selling is a scary word. I’ve never needed to worry about selling anything when I was working for newspapers, magazines and then later publishing firms and agencies. Someone else had already done the sales bit, the business had been won and all I had to do was my work – there was no problem there. I knew I was good at that bit.
Now, as the CEO of Juggling Swords, I’m ultimately responsible for everything that happens with the business. The success or failure of Juggling Swords will be determined by the decisions I make. Gulp! That’s a terrifying thought for a first-time entrepreneur but it’s also hugely liberating and exciting. For the first time in my career, I am calling ALL the shots and it’s a good feeling. Yes, scary is good.
When I first started having thoughts about starting my own content marketing agency, my vision for what it was going to be was completely different to what we are now. Looking back, my ideas were so far off the mark that it’s laughable.
I had a completely unrealistic idea of what we could offer and whom we would be offering it to. I wanted Juggling Swords to be all things to everyone. I had ideas of offering not just content marketing and PR, but also event management and a thousand other services. I envisioned us working on complete digital strategies for multinational companies on massive contracts. Unrealistic at this stage, but of course I still believe we’ll be doing that eventually. For now we have to focus on our core business of planning and producing great content through social media and other channels for our SME clients and then reporting on that.
I’m a storyteller. Producing great content is telling great stories. This is our main strength as a business, it’s our value proposition, but it took me a while to actually realize that. I beat myself up over changing things, which is silly. A new business takes time to find its feet. Being part of the amazing Entrepreneurial Spark program has taught me so many lessons but perhaps the biggest is about reshaping and pivoting.
What the hell does that mean, I hear you say? Well, your initial ideas for your business might not be quite right. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that they won’t be. As you go through a process of customer discovery, you’ll realize there’s things you’ll need to alter and there will be things you’ll want to get rid of or completely change. This is reshaping and pivoting and it’s an important part of the evolution of your business.
I beat myself up during this phase. I reshaped and pivoted so many things that I began to feel like I didn’t know what the business actually was anymore. But eventually it started to become clear and I can actually tell someone what Juggling Swords does in a single sentence. Every business should be able to do this but it’s more difficult than it sounds. We’re still reshaping bits here and there, but the core of the business is set.
My top tips for starting a creative business, or any business for that matter, would be to take time to understand your business. What is it you’re offering? Then spend ages discovering your customers. Who will be you target? Who would want your product or service? What problem does it solve for them?
Then test your concept. Take it to the market. Gauge the response. Is the market interested? No? That’s okay, maybe you reshape or pivot or maybe you’ll go further with a step change (we’ll delve into that one another time).
The biggest piece of advice I could give though is accept that this process is essential in your journey to becoming a successful business and don’t beat yourself up if you have to make big changes. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means you’ve learned. There are very few businesses that hit the sweet spot with their idea on the first attempt.