Is Content Marketing Worth the Effort?

image of Rosie the Riveter

We preach it every week.

Attract the right kind of traffic by creating exceptional content.

Engage your audience so they know, like, and trust you. Let them know you’re the likable expert who’s going to give them the information (and eventually the products and services) that won’t let them down.

Then use smart copywriting and conversion techniques to turn those raving fans into customers.

No, it’s not paint-by-numbers, but it is a proven, systematic way to build your business.

But sometimes I hear people say, “Geez, that sounds like a lot of work.”

Well, ok, I’m going to give it to you straight. It’s work.

But a lot of work compared to what? Digging latrines? Losing your mind in a cubicle farm? Spouting half-baked opinions on a reality TV show?

So let’s break it down … building a business our way versus building a business by other people’s methods.

Method 1: What normal businesses do

Every day you probably run into dozens of normal small businesses. Dry cleaners, tire shops, dentists, mom-and-pop groceries.

Here in the U.S., we have organizations like the SBO and SCORE that exist to help businesses like this out — because starting a traditional bricks-and-mortar business is incredibly hard.

Most of them have physical space to rent. Every month, whether they’re finding enough customers or not, they need to pay a hefty rent check. Add to that expensive physical equipment and enough employees to keep the doors open.

Starting a small business usually begins with taking out a massive loan. Then you follow this up by busting your tail every waking hour, staying up late into the night trying to make the numbers work, and praying enough customers walk in the door tomorrow.

“Marketing,” if you do it at all, consists of yellow pages, penny-shopper mailers, or putting a really big bright sign in the window.

If you get incredibly successful, some day you can hire a small ad agency to take a scary amount of your money and (maybe) get the word out to a wider audience.

Because so much cash (and time, and energy) goes out the door, every month feels like rolling the dice. Every month you hope the cash flow goes the right direction.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is hard work.

Method 2: What the tricks and “systems” do

Because traditional business is so hard, there’s also a long tradition of what’s called “business opportunity.”

In theory, these should provide business owners with proven systems that automate some of the complicated parts. Franchises, for example, boil a complex business like a restaurant into a three-ring binder of procedures and processes.

But too often, simplified “business opportunities” devolve into “get rich quick.”

What “get rich quick” really means is “have a business even though you’re too dumb and lazy to figure this out.”

“Get rich quick” makes me angry. Because their basic message is garbage.

They tell you the lie that you can’t figure it out. That you can’t find the drive. That you’ve forfeited your basic birthright of curiosity and working hard and learning and growing.

And here’s the irony — the systems and tricks and game-playing are harder than just doing the work. You’re always trying to stay one step ahead of Google. You’re trying to work with methods that don’t work for any of the other 10,000 other suckers who bought into the same system you did.

You’re fighting the natural order of things by trying to take a short cut that’s ten times harder than doing it the right way.

Here’s the thing — work is what makes it worthwhile

I’m not saying you’re going to love every aspect of running your business. Every business has elements that don’t play to your strengths, or are just plain tedious.

But because our business at Copyblogger Media — like every good business — is about providing real value and helping people, the real work is a turn-on.

Giving a kickass webinar that educates and inspires more than a thousand people — that’s awesome.

Writing a post or an email message that helps someone connect the dots and make a real move forward — that’s awesome.

And yes, doing what works for our own business, making it better, and having confidence that our revenue streams remain strong and healthy — that’s awesome too.

And you don’t have to be Copyblogger to do that in your business. You can do it today. You can be that authority — that likable expert — in your own business. You don’t have to wait for more subscribers or more followers or some kind of magic system.

That’s why we created MyCopyblogger — to distill and focus our best advice on having this kind of business right now.

But I can’t pack it all into one post — so sign up for MyCopyblogger now (it’s free) and let’s talk more. We have 14 Ebooks about virtually every aspect of content marketing, to get you off to a fast start, as well as a 20-part course delivered over email to solidify your understanding. We really want to have you with us.

About the author

Sonia Simone


Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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Comments

  1. Hi Sonia,
    Doing the work is hard, but really actually doing it is the only way you’ll discover your own unique edge. Marketing that is meaningful and that goes above and beyond is what strengthens your brand and draws people in. Of course, mistakes will be made along the way, but sometimes, it’s only through those mistakes that we actually stumble upon the one thing that works!

    Thanks for this awesome report by the way!

  2. Running a business is a lot of work. Running a successful business is even more work. But that is what it takes to come out ahead! If you really want to make your company succeed, you have to be willing to put in the long hours and do everything you can to make it happen.

    • And you know, I put in really long, tough hours when I worked for someone else. We’re all working hard in this economy. Doing it for yourself is just (IMO) more rewarding and more fun, plus you can define your boundaries better.

  3. Running a business is hard work but it can also be fun if you love what you are doing. I know countless entrepreneurs who kept at the process of building a business despite not making any money. That’s the power of passion. It makes the work of running a business less tedious.

  4. Sonia I love this: “the real work is a turn-on.” Those words really speak to me. I love to work and I get real charge and great joy out of helping people solve problems. I was made for this.

    • I know, how come more people don’t talk about how fun it is to do meaningful work? When it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s so freaking great.

  5. I read Copyblogger daily. I attended the webinar Monday, and am attending the one today. I try to tell my bosses about what I learn here, but they don’t want to listen.

    I am trying now to build up a following for my blog, but I find it pretty challenging. I am trying to see what works, and what does not. The best thing I have found so far is to just keep being myself, and keep making connections.

    I want to get a proper domain and get started with some keywords, but I needed to start blogging everyday because my “inner Seth” got so loud I just needed to get it shipped, even if it fails.

    • Sonia’s post is beautifully written and has fired me up for the rest of the day – thanks Sonia. I have no idea where those links of your’s are going but I’m just about to find out. Copyblogger seems like a very happening place.

      But there is something about your comment – Nancy – that drew me to your site. You are doing a very brave thing – I can feel your vulnerability through the ether! – but I can see on your blog right away that you are a very good writer and in the end, talent will out. It feels like you have a book to write – maybe that’s how your adventure will develop…? Good luck with the writing!

  6. Buying a franchise is really just buying a job. You may own the assets – but they own YOU!

    I’d rather do the work and figure it out myself.

    • Me too. It makes me sad/mad that people sell themselves short — inside each of those insecure people, there’s the smart curious little kid they used to be, who *could* make it happen.

      Now more than ever … I have so much respect for the more traditional businessperson who has so many hurdles that the online biz doesn’t have to hassle with.

      • I hear that.

        I had a contracting business for twenty years. The one thing I remember often was enjoying a Sunday afternoon and then having the thought that 25 people will be back on the payroll the next day and they expect to be paid on Friday! It’s a grind.

        If online work is work – it sure is one of the best kinds. :)

  7. I think one gets better at “being themselves” over time. Blogging is not easy, you may start out with a few killer posts when no one is reading it, and then lose interest. You have to “find your voice” and it takes practice. I read a statistic stating that 50% of blogs are abandoned in one year. It doesn’t surprise me! It is difficult to be witty and interesting and knowledgeable 2 or 3 times a week!!

    Kind regards,

    Grace Bosworth
    President, Global to Local LLC

  8. I love the second point calling out the “get rich quick” programs.

    Too many people are falling for that and calling blogging dead because they either didn’t realize that there was a ton of work involved, or the system had a limited shelf life because Google shut the door on it.

    Business is hard. Blogging is hard. Blogging as a business is hard.

    And it’s so worth it!

    Keep the faith!

  9. Allison Henry :

    Hi Sonia,

    Method #1 – that it oh so true; I had to chuckle out loud when I read it! You hit the nail on the head. The reality is success is hard work. There is no get rich quick solution out there – unless one wins the lottery (still occassionally going for that one – just in case!).

    Thanks for the great post!

  10. Totally agree it’s worth the hard work! Does anyone know of good studies/stats showing that continuously updating content works to drive traffic? I get people coming to my own site looking for that info — I’ve found some on Hubspot, but am always looking for more evidence to show people.

  11. Well said Sonia! I wrote a post about a year ago called “Are You About The Climb?” — (this was obviously before I studied the Copyblogger Headline Writing series) but it discussed many of the same issues.

    I think successful entrepreneurs are more about the climb than summiting the mountain. I feel fortunate every day that I can conduct my business through Content Marketing. It is an ethical and win-win style of marketing that makes me proud to be an Internet marketer.

    Thanks for writing this Sonia!
    Russ

  12. This is a great post. It gets right to the point of why hard work will always win the day in business. Sadly, I have fallen for the siren sounds of the “get rich quick” brigade – more than once. It’s even more pervasive in this digital age (“push a button, go to sleep, then, have a jillion dollars in your bank account tomorrow!”). I’m learning just how much work it is to run a small business, especially a marketing consultancy. Thanks for the great articles; keep ‘em coming!

  13. That’s probably the issue – most people think there is an easier way to get something done, and they’ll spend a lot of time and effort trying to shortcut the system, when the best approach is just to put all of the effort into creating good, quality content. Then put the work into getting the word out about that content. While it might take awhile, it will be worth it in the long run when you have built yourself up as an authority in your industry.

  14. It IS a lot of work, but a little perseverance and patience go a long way. And in the end it’s all worth it a million times over! There’s nothing so satisfying as seeing those numbers work themselves out.

    Thanks for the post Sonia!

  15. Thanks everyone for indulging me in one of my ranty/fierce moods. :)

  16. Great post Simone, one large aspect you left out however, is that doing the work is the only way your learn and improve. Much of the research for my blog provides a learning experience. Continually focusing on self-improvement is a trait commonly found in highly effective people, and here, the focus cannot be avoided.

    Keep up the great work!

  17. We’ve had our business for 2 years now and although we have been lucky enough to grow at a good pace there have been so many times when I have been exhausted, burnt our, ready to cry and just depressed. The good thing is that 99% of the time you don’t notice that sort of thing because the sheer joy of having your own business far out weighs all those negatives. Although tough it really tests yourself as a person and is a great way of finding out things you never knew about yourself!

  18. You’re right that work is the key. Bloggers have to learn to juggle their time, and marketing effectively on the Internet is a moving target. I’ve come to the conclusion that my blogging efforts will be long-term and that I must work each and every day to create good content and promote it to the best of my ability. The passage of time will take care of the rest. Thanks for the tips!

  19. I think building an online business continues to be viewed by the vast majority of people as not having a “real” business. They don’t associate blogs with lead generation, as a means to sell things. So even though your chances are much better online of making it than in a bricks and mortar setting, traditional business is familiar, and therefore viewed as more realistic than online.

    • That’s partly a matter of perception – the ‘real’ business thing.

      I would argue that many content marketing businesses present themselves as too much like a blog than a business.

      I agree with Sonia about the importance of content marketing – if done right, though I don’t agree with how many go about it, by presenting themselves as a blog with a friendly smiling face online. The impression it gives is ‘you’re a blogger’.

      I think one of this week’s Copyblogger posts hit on a very important point about personal perceptions and how it’s important to come across correctly. There’s a good reason my own face is rarely seen. ;)

    • It really depends, I’ve seen it work extremely well both ways. A lot depends on your business goals and also just how comfortable you are having your personality at the forefront of your business. There are some great brands built on faces, and also a lot of great smaller businesses where the business owner is the “star.”

      I definitely agree that it does you no good to identify primarily as a blogger (unless you’re someone like Darren Rowse, obviously, who serves bloggers). That’s one reason we’ve moved more toward the term “content marketer.”

  20. Sonia,

    Thank you and Chris for an Oh so inspiring webinar! Words can not express how helpful is it to hangout with you all.

    You all are like the “Cool Seniors” in high school and I’m the freshman, and every webinar, radio show, post I read of the “Cool Senior” group helps me to really focus on value and not just spitting crap out for quantity’s sake.

    I look forward to the next webinar.

    Thank you tons – Theresa

    • You’re such a sweetheart. :)

      I like your metaphor because it contains something important — the realization that it’s really a timeline. We start as newbies, but we progress through and learn and grow, and some day we get to be seniors too. :)

  21. Good post, thank you!

    I’ve been Blogging for a while now and it does take time and effort, people shouldn’t expect immediate results! If they do they’ll be disappointed.

    One of the most rewarding aspects to me, is the positive comments people leave. People who appreciate and learn stuff from your posts, people that have that ‘Eureka’ moment because of what they’ve read on your Blog. That proves that your message is getting across and that you are doing something good!

    Good work Sonia, it’s great to inspire, isn’t it?!

    Best regards, Peter

  22. That was a good webinar that you and Brian Clark hosted.

    This is a coincidence, but early this week, I wrote a blog post that had a theme similar to this one! We must have been thinking similar thoughts!

    My blog post will be up in a while at http://www.thesba.com/blog/

    Joanna Galuszka

  23. Really great post. Work is definitely hard, but it’s what gets us to what we have. It’s always easy to buy work, but it’s much harder for people who don’t have the financial resources in order to start work. We should be applauding those who have come from nothing to very big..not the ones who have bought their way into work/company.

  24. Well, one question: ok, you have to write extremely good content. But how about when you are in a hurry and you have to post the news before your competitor does it? How can you post magnificient when there is no time?

    • I would say you probably take the approach that traditional news media do — you get the story out as quickly as you can, then you write follow-up stories that are better-researched and more carefully written, and finally you supplement with “editorial” content that analyzes and interprets the news event and tells us why we should care.

      That kind of content will get you a lot further than just breaking news.

  25. Great read Sonia.

    I plan on working for free for a couple months just writing the best posts that I can. I don’t plan on monetizing until the people have spoken that what I deliver is what’s wanted. So, yes, it’s hard work with no financial reward, but if I can help one person, then I know the work is worth it.

    Thanks!

  26. Great post you’ve got here. Running a business takes a great deal of time and concentrated effort. It is important to ensure the business grows and remains successful in the longer term. Thanks for the share. Really loved the read.

  27. Well put, Sonia. One advantage that I’d point out that an online business has over a traditional bricks-and-mortar one is that all of our hard work continues to work for us even while we’re asleep. The majority of small business owners are really just self-employed people who don’t make money if they’re not actively working.

    The secret to lasting success, both online and offline, is hard work. Those who don’t earn their success this way are almost always parted from it shortly afterwards or hoard it fearful someone will take it away while they have no idea how they’d make it back again. I’ll take a little hard work every time.

  28. Sonia, I really enjoyed reading your post, especially as you compared traditional business with online. I would have to disagree with you on your comments about franchising though. There are many ethical franchise businesses available who provide a proven blueprint for success without making outrageous claims. In fact, most of them will not make any earnings claims at all; Biz Opps are a bit different in that they are not as regulated as are franchises. I have come across a few that say things that make me wince. That is why I always advise clients to dig deep when doing research about any business.

    Where many franchisors and business opportunities fall short, IMO, is in marketing; even the good ones rely too much on traditional outbound methods that just don’t work anymore…..or are too expensive. Some state emphatically that they have a “full suite” of marketing tools that will “make the phone ring” during the first months of operation. Inbound marketing is a foreign concept to many of them and frankly they don’t have the time and personnel to develop a strong inbound program.

    I consider myself the Jerry Macquire of the franchise industry because I am determined to figure out a more effective and less expensive way to help clients who are looking to start a business. The same goes for other consultants who are using the same tiresome methods of buying leads and dialing for dollars. Most just havent found a better way to close business.

    A couple of days ago, A fellow Hubspot user showed me a graph of his organic traffic over the last few years. The first several months were very rather uneventful; the traffic did grow….although very slowly….as he continued to work hard to produce blog content and offer value to visitors, the traffic started to really take off. If you have ever looked at a graph depicting the effects of compound interest over time, you can relate to what I am saying…..gradually the number of visitors gathered momentum until it eventually went through the roof. I was really encouraged by that because I am still in the initial stages of my inbound marketing experience. But the passion is there to make a difference and become a voice for consultants who don’t have thousands to spend and are tired of chasing the dream by using worn out outbound methodology.

    So, I agree that working hard to produce content and finding your voice should be the focus of anyone who wants to attract quality visitors and turn them into long lasting clients. Remember, most people quit right before they are successful…..Very good blog. Thanks

  29. I think for every business, without the hard work and without the long hours, it will not bear fruit. There’s no such thing as a business that will work in an instant without putting in blood, sweat and tears. I think this is similar both online and offline although there are some who argue the failures are substantially more than those who start a brick and mortar business. If anyone truly wants to be successful in their business, they have got to work hard and then harder and work through all those failures until they see the light. Those who are committed to making it work will persevere through and will be successful.

    • Angelica, I could not agree more. The key, IMO, is to find something you are really passionate about and work as hard as you can; improve every day; never give up; learn from mistakes; don’t let naysayers sap your energy…..until you are successful. I always say, “if it was easy, everybody would do it and it would become a commodity with no value”….As long as you feel that you are doing the right things consistently…with online business you can see if you are headed in the right direction buy looking at the marketing data. I find that encouraging especially when the numbers improve month to month. You are correct, perseverance is the key.

  30. Hi Sonia,

    Great post. I come across many people who think they are entitled to get rich quick schemes. Sometimes it’s not normal any-more. As a career coach I see very similar parallels. People want a well paid job but don’t want to work hard. They want a nice career but refuse to start at the bottom of the chain. You never are going to get a lot out of your efforts if you don’t put in the work and buying yourself into success is not possible.

    Nik