If you’re an established course creator, you need to know about content marketing so you can build a warmer audience in the off-season (i.e. when you’re not launching!).
I recently turned 40, and to celebrate, I’m giving away a big present to all of my loyal followers–a comprehensive guide to content marketing for established course creators. This guide covers everything from creating and measuring your content to multiplying your efforts for sustainable success. I’m a big believer that sustainable success is built slowly and quietly over time, and that the key to success is having a strong content marketing foundation in place. This guide will help you do just that.
In this episode you will learn:
- A full content marketing plan for course creators
- How + why different 3-step methods work together and build upon each other for a full plan
- What makes up your content marketing foundation versus your content implementation
- The overall goal of each piece of content you create
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Highlights in this episode:
[00:01:44] My love and hate relationship with listicle-style topics
[00:02:45] Putting 3- and 4-step processes together to create a full content plan
[00:04:42] Is this applicable to more than course creators?
[00:07:23] Make, measure, and multiply
[00:11:04] How to bust through content planning hurdles
[00:14:23] What makes a content system
[00:16:30] Content marketing foundation versus implementation
[00:18:44] Healthy and balanced content planning
[00:24:37] Weaving content together in a kaleidoscope of options
[00:25:42] The ultimate goal of each piece of content
Content marketing is a big topic! And even narrowing it down to a full content marketing plan for course creators is a lot. So I’m going to listicle it.
I have a love-hate relationship with listicle-type topics. I love them from a hook point of view (3 Ways to Talk To a Difficult Client), because it’s a clear topic for your audience. They know exactly what they’re going to get from that article.
But I don’t love them because they often undersell the amount of work involved. That topic, for example–we all know there’s way more nuance in the subject than just three ways to handle them.
Over the years, I’ve introduced a lot of concepts that relate to building up the Know, Like & Trust factor in your business. And many of them are the three steps to this or the five steps to that.
These 3 or 4-step processes are not meant to be used in a vacuum but together, building upon each other.
That’s what we’re doing here. We’re putting them all together.
Sustainable Success for Course Creators
Before I dive into these 3- and 4-step processes, I want to very clearly say something. Sustainable success is built in the shadows.
I participated in an ethics forum hosted by Eliya Finklestein and Chrissie Riese of Data Driven Rebel this week, and was so encouraged. Now, the people participating were already interested in the ethical conversation around marketing, so grain of salt and all–but we all largely agreed that marketing based on exploitation isn’t sustainable.
Rather, using your values to guide your marketing and build a business of like-minded people is the goal. And, often the difference is going to be between marketing tactics and marketing processes. I’m covering processes here, frameworks, and I’m gearing them towards profitable course creators.
While I shifted away from personal branding as an overarching topic and delved further into content strategy and authentic, automated marketing, most of the concepts I’ve introduced are backwards compatible. That is, if a content strategy is effective for a profitable course creator intent on nurturing their audience well between launches and not just popping up and blasting people during their launch, it’s also going to be effective for others I’ve served over the years, like service providers offering anything from nutrition guidance to marketing for local businesses to parenting coaches.
This article is going to focus on a full content marketing plan for course creators. Can a service provider use it? Of course! A course creator has two distinct content marketing periods (launching and nurturing), while a service provider is always in the nurturing zone unless they’re introducing a new offer.
Can this article guide someone offering a membership? Yep! A membership provider will have very similar patterns to a course creator, though they may be selling into the membership even outside of an official launch.
How about someone offering cohort-based group programs? They’re likely following the course creator method closely and will find this helpful.
Overall, we need to set something straight: I’m not talking to course creators who only sell during their launches and then disappear till it’s three or four weeks before the next launch. I know you’re tired after launching. That’s why I’m all for evergreen content plans.
So, where do we go from here? We start with the foundation of your content marketing plan.
Content Marketing Foundations
We’re going to start with two sets of 3. You need to consider them so you can stay on top of creating/managing content:
Make, measure, multiply
My general content philosophy is fairly simple. First, you make content, then you measure its effectiveness, then you multiply your efforts.
All marketing is a test. Good marketers make educated guesses (some more so than others!), especially at the beginning of the process.
Every new client, every new offer, every new offer–you’re starting with assumptions even when you’ve done great audience research. Making content, seeing how it resonates and how it performs–that’s the first step.
You have to start somewhere, and starting with content is an easy lift. Most of us are already creating it anyway.
Measure your current content
Once you have content to test, it’s time to start measuring its performance. There are two main things to measure, regardless of the category of content (email, blog post, video streaming, social media posts, etc).
The first is what I call vanity metrics–likes, comments, etc. They exist largely so others can see how much engagement you’re receiving, hence the vanity sticker. That’s not to say they aren’t worth paying some attention to, because a steady stream of low engagement may indicate you have a traffic problem or a subject problem. But they’re not what I focus on.
I focus on the second thing to measure, which is lead-generating metrics that require action. On an email, that’s clicking through the CTA. On a social media post, clicking the link, as well. On specific platforms, that could be a share or clicking through to the profile/bio. All of these are actionable intel that your audience is willing to do more with you.
Multiply your content
Once you know which content is generating the most action, you can start multiplying your efforts. My recent article/podcast episode on repurposing content covers this topic well.
The idea is, once you know a particular topic resonates, multiply your reach on that topic in a variety of ways. Sometimes that’s approaching the same topic with a different hook. Sometimes it’s posting it on a new platform. I often recommend both. The key? Using the work you’ve already done for more good means you’re working less and your content assets are working more.
How do we do that? That leads us to the next foundation of content marketing for course creators.
Content planning busters: database, system, and strategy
Content marketing leans heavily on content planning. That is, if you’re not systematizing your planning, you’ll probably fall down on content marketing as a whole.
Content database must-haves
Your content database includes all assets related to a specific topic, preferably linked crosswise so you can find them based on topic or based on platform. I use Airtable for this. I’ve also seen others use Trello or Notion, but haven’t seen it done as well as how I’ve set up Airtable.
For example, this topic is in one table. I link it to a Google doc that includes all my planned blog posts, podcast graphics, social media captions, social media graphics, etc. Then in a second table, I automate all posted content to post as a record and I link those records to the original topic.
As you’ve already noticed, I’ve referenced previous articles in here and that’s easy for me to find via the database as well, because I link related content and topics there, too.
Your content system
In previous content I’ve said that creating content on the fly is the mark of an amateur and I stand by that. You need a plan or you’ll plan to fail, right?
Having a system around when to post and how to post it saves you time and takes the guesswork out of it if you’re stressed and not thinking as clearly or if you have to hand it off to a team member.
Your content strategy answers the where to post and what to post daily questions. Which platforms will you post content on? What’s your primary versus auxiliary platform?
Knowing your content goals informs your strategy. I’ve refined my strategy based on measurement (Instagram no longer is my primary social platform, for example, since I’ve seen numbers steadily decline there). But I still need a strategy going in as to where I want to spend my time.
Your content buckets fill in the what to post daily aspect of strategy.
I cover these three content planning items more extensively in an article/podcast episode from a couple months ago.
Those two sets of three have crossover, as you can see. Six things make up your content marketing foundation, weaving in and through each other to strengthen that foundation.
Content Marketing Implementation
Moving on from the foundation, we’re going to get into the meat of what you’re creating on a regular (or not-so-regular) basis. And instead of sets of three, we’re moving onto quads of four things that keep on the healthy side of content creation.
Think of these sets of four things as a mix and match, as a kaleidoscope of options so your content can make sense to your best client in the best way possible–for them–and still feel fresh to you.
How you implement your content plan depends on how you arrange the kaleidoscope of options–and what you do might not be right for someone else. That’s not only okay, it’s encouraged!
There are two sets of four you can mix and match (for 16 combos) of angles for each topic (kinda like how Meyer Briggs has four sets of letters, but 16 total combos):
Old, new, borrowed, and blue for chaos-free content planning
I have a life and I’m assuming you do, too–and my goal for us both is to have a healthy life that isn’t planned around our content and marketing!
Thus, the old, new, borrowed and blue method of content planning. If you’d like a full, free run-down of putting this into place in your business, join the five-day email course. Don’t want to take five days? No problem, I’m pro-binging and acknowledge Netflix has trained us to power through when the mood strikes.
The tl;dr version is that you’re going to rotate regularly through new content, old content, content borrowed from or inspired by others (with your own unique take on it in response), and out-of-the-blue content that helps your audience relate to you as a person.
Keeping this foursome in mind helps you remember–you don’t have to keep creating new stuff all the time. In fact, a healthy content plan balances new content creation with other kinds of content so you can use your time in other ways for your business.
State-of-mind content angles
The S in my BE SEEN method stands for State of Mind. The BE SEEN workshop walks you through the rest of the letters, of course, but your best client’s state of mind is one of the easiest to tackle in both long- and short-form content, so we’re going to cover that here.
The four angles are goals, desires, anxieties, and hurdles.
Goals and desires
Goals are spoken, desires may be unspoken. Think of goals as the first answer you get when you ask a client what they’re hoping to accomplish with a certain course or program. It’s not a lie, but it’s also usually not the whole truth. These are really easy to call out in your content:
- Make more money with ___
- The three easiest ways to ___
- Save time with ___
Desires are the deeper, sometimes unspoken side of goals. If the goal is saving time on content creation, for example, maybe the desire is saving time so you can devote an extra few hours a week to meal planning and eating in a healthier way. You have a deeper need than just saving time; it’s using that time in a meaningful way.
Desires are also pretty easy to call out in content if you know your best client well.
Anxieties and hurdles
Anxieties are pain points. It’s a prettier name for them, sure, but that’s what they are. That doesn’t mean you need to dig into pain hard, but that you acknowledge it. I see this poorly done often in social posts.
There are good, productive ways to do this:
- Make your therapy appointment more effective by ____ (this both acknowledges therapy can be expensive and you’re making the most of it, while also acknowledging therapy is work)
- Make a wiser investment with ___ (again, you can acknowledge they’ve made poor investments prior without harping on it and starting your content in a positive way)
Hurdles are the things that might prevent your audience from buying. All the anxieties are also hurdles, so you’ll want to overcome those worries with good content practices. But hurdles can also encompass money issues and time issues, both of which have nothing to do with your offer (unless your offer is specifically talking about money or time, of course!).
I firmly believe that you can have the best offer that’s incredibly targeted to your best client, and you still might not make a sale. Unless your offer is around crisis management, for example, there’s not a single business offer you could make to a person while their parent is going through a long death process. That’s not crass, it’s just reality.
That said, if your offer is around studying tactics for the nursing exam, you may want to handle some hurdles around time management, since your program is likely going to recommend a certain amount of studying time, and your best client is likely trying to juggle work and studying with regular life.
Weaving a content kaleidoscope
If you want a full primer on multiplying your efforts, I highly suggest you check out my BE SEEN workshop. It will teach you how to repurpose past content from different angles so you can address different perspectives your best client may be dealing with–and it covers the state of mind portion incredibly well.
If that’s not an option, look at the combo of these two sets of four. How can you take last month’s best piece of content and reapproach it from the borrowed point of view–are there any thought leaders who have covered that topic that you either agree or disagree with?
Or how can you take that same piece of content and cover two big buying hurdles with it?
This is how you start repurposing with ease.
Each Content Piece’s Goal
Finally, remember the final three (listen, comprehend, apply) for each piece of content you create, whether it’s brand new or repurposed.
If you have kids, you know that listening means more than hearing. It means comprehending and then doing. That’s what each piece of your content should do for your audience. WALK your audience through the piece.
A good example of this is my email writing template: hook, line, sinker. I hook them in with a subject line (listen), hold them on the line with a story (giving them time to comprehend), then sink it with a way the story applies in a business sense.
The world depends on story to help us make sense of things; it’s why Aesop’s fables are popular to this day. It’s why the Native American legends and the Greek myths gave us reasons for thunder.
Stories serve your audience by helping them connect the dots between where they are today and where they need to be to consider purchasing from you–so they can get to their ultimate goal. And ensuring you’re using listen-comprehend-apply in each piece of content you share walks your audience through that journey.
Putting It All Together As a Content Marketing Plan
Admittedly, this is a lot of work. I’m not going to play internet guru and tell you it isn’t work. I have a client right now about half way through a done-for-her content plan and she’s specifically messaged me and asked, when do I get off the treadmill? I feel like we’re just treading right now. She’s right, she’s still treading until she has some good evergreen content to lean on.
I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: attention shouldn’t be easy. In the I-used-to-walk-uphill-both-ways-in-the-snow kind of olden days of marketing, small businesses placed expensive ads in telephone books, created infomercials, and paid for media placements.
Creating content can be free, but if you’re not paying for it in money you are paying for it in time; that isn’t going away.
Look at the 3-3-4-4-3 I shared today. List out each item and give yourself a rating on them each separately. You’ll see where the holes are, where you’re excelling, and where you’re growing. If you need help with that, I created a quick tool to guide you on your next steps.
If you’re already operating with a small team, at least some VA support, many of these steps are easier–but you, as the CEO and founder, need to know how they work to lead. And the best way to do that is get your hands in it for a while.
Give your audience a reason for thunder next time you create. Spend your time in the shadows creating a sustainable, successful business with content that nurtures your audience along the way.
- The Show Up System 2.0
- BE SEEN
- Content-Planning Busters
Music by Michael De La Torre. Thanks, Mikey!