Generating leads involves a lot of hard work. But what if you could work smarter by creating an amazing piece of content, promoting it and letting the leads roll in over time?

Before you work on developing and publishing that one stellar piece of content, get some essential basics in place to prepare for the potential influx of customers.

For example, make sure that before business starts booming you have the right business insurance. If all goes well, you could soon be meeting with many potential customers and closing new, exciting deals.

Also consider setting up a customer relationship management (CRM) system to manage the new leads you collect with your content. Doing so early on will help you make the most of your leads and give you a better shot at turning them into clients or customers down the road.

If you already have a blog or some other type of content on your website, use it to understand what topics and keywords attract the most online visitors. This information can help you choose the best format and most compelling topics for your audience.

Now, let’s look at how a small business owner can create one stellar piece of content to use as a lead generation tool for weeks, months and even years in the future.

Select a Topic That Draws in Customers

The first order of business is deciding what information is most useful to your target customer base. One way to begin brainstorming is to envision your ideal client or customer. Determine their age, gender, job title and the main challenges they face. Imagine you’re having coffee with that client and think about what they’d want to pick your brain on or how they’d ask you for help.

A second way to generate possible topics is to consider the following questions:

  • In what areas do others come to you for advice or help?
  • What common mistakes do you see your customers making that you could help them avoid?
  • What expertise do you have that your customers or prospects want?
  • If you already publish a blog, what posts have you written that have generated the most interest? Could one of your top performing posts be expanded and fleshed out into a longer format?
  • Do you have a unique take on a topic in your field that goes against the conventional view on the matter?

A third strategy is to look to thought leaders in your industry for ideas. To quickly see what’s generating buzz, turn to social media. Is there a hot topic, a trend or new research that’s inspiring a lot of conversation?

Keep in mind that if you choose to cover a trend, you will likely need to update your flagship piece of content more often. So if you have limited resources, consider choosing a topic that’s relatively evergreen, meaning it doesn’t change much over time, so your content will stay relevant well into the future.

For example, a roofing contractor could write an e-book on how to hire a reputable roofer, and include information about licensing, bonding, insurance and referrals. A home organizer could write a how-to guide on decluttering an entire home from the entryway to the garage. A benefits consultant could pen a white paper on inexpensive ways to promote employee wellness. In all cases, the information likely wouldn’t change drastically from year to year and therefore may only need to be reviewed annually for updates.

Choose the Best Format for Your Anchor Content

When it comes to format, you have several options, including e-books, white papers and how-to guides. Learn more about each of these types of formats and then choose the one that best suits the purposes of your small business.

E-Books vs. White Papers

Two of the most commonly used lead generation tools are e-books and white papers, but many small business owners are not clear on the difference between the two. To clear up the confusion, digital marketer Christopher S. Penn downloaded and analyzed 50 examples of each content type and found these major differences between e-books and white papers:

  • E-books tend to be longer. Penn found the average ebook length was about 7,800 words compared with the average white paper length of about 3,900 words.
  • E-books are generally written in simpler language than white papers. The average Flesch-Kincaid readability score for e-books was between 10th and 11th grade, whereas white papers came in at almost 12th grade reading levels.

Generalizing based on these findings, e-books are geared toward a broader audience with time to pore over a longer read, but not necessarily in search of very complicated or technical ideas, says Penn on his blog. He writes: “White papers are intended for a narrower, more educated audience that can tackle more difficult to read, complex ideas – even if those ideas are packaged in fewer words.”

How-To Guides

A third option would be a simple how-to guide, shorter than a traditional e-book and more simply written than a white paper. If you often get asked how to do something related to your business, this might be the right format for you.

The Decision

When deciding which format is right for your purposes, weigh these three major factors: your business, your audience and the information you wish to convey.

An e-book might be well-suited for a business or consumer audience eager for a detailed overview of a certain topic. A white paper would work best for a sophisticated B2B audience seeking analysis and in-depth information to help them in their business.And a how-to guide could work for either type of audience if those readers are clamoring for step-by-step instructions on how to perform a certain task.

You Decide: DIY or Hire a Content Creator

Once you’ve settled on a format, it’s time to move into content creation mode. Your options include creating the content yourself, assigning the task to an employee who handles your marketing, or hiring an outside content creator. If you’re working with a shoestring marketing budget, it might be best to produce the content yourself or do it in-house. If you’ve settled on writing a white paper, here’s a relevant guide to that process.

In addition to creating the content, you’ll need to create a landing page on your website where the content can be promoted and downloaded. This is the place where a prospective lead will land when they click a link to check out your new content. The landing page has one goal: to turn that web user into a lead, usually by asking them to fill out a form before they can view or download the content.

Toward that end, landing pages typically contain some short, sweet copy explaining the benefits to be reaped by reading this content. Ideally this copy convinces the prospect to submit a lead form— with at least their name and email address —in order get the e-book, white paper or how-to guide for free. Browse these 17 examples of landing pages to get ideas for your own page.

Promoting Your Content

You’ve got a brilliant new piece of content and a landing page, but your work is not yet done. Your content will only begin to generate leads when you get it in front of the eyes of prospective clients or customers. Now it’s time to promote your content. Here are some content promotion strategies that work well for small businesses:

  • Create a content promotion timeline, which is a set period of time during which you regularly promote your content to help it gain traction. For a small piece of content, like a blog post, your timeline might be shorter, while you’ll probably want to set a longer timeline for a bigger piece of content.
  • Use any email lists you already have to promote your content–as long as this new content will be useful to that audience. Tailor the email copy to match each audience list in your system.
  • Share a download link along with an enticing “teaser” on all company social media platforms, and encourage your sales employees and followers to share the post.
  • If you have an email newsletter, feature the new content in its own section of the newsletter, giving readers a small excerpt or “taste” of your new e-book, white paper or guide. Also, suggest to your loyal readers that they share the download link with anyone who might find it helpful.
  • Tap into your own business networks and those of your employees. Craft an email about your new content to share with your colleagues, asking them to pass it along. Also send the email to your employees and ask them to spread the word to their networks (no pressure, of course).
  • Keep promoting your content in the coming weeks and months. A great way to do this is by repurposing pieces of your e-book, white paper or guide into smaller pieces of content. These can be blog posts that drive more traffic to your landing page–or even an infographic. Further promote this related content on social media.

By using these simple, affordable strategies, you’ll get your content out to the broadest possible audience and increase the number of leads generated.

Make the Most of Your Incoming Leads

So, you’ve put your content out there and it generated new leads. Now it’s crucial to use your CRM system to separate these new leads from established customers so you can nurture them—and turn them into new business—without irking the people with whom you already do business. If you run your business without a CRM system, manually create an email list of your new leads, to ensure you communicate with them separately until they are ready to be folded into the larger list of existing customers.

If you have a CRM system, use it to divide your lists in order to isolate new leads. Add these leads to your conversion funnel, or marketing funnel, which is the process you use to nurture a lead into a customer and a customer into a fan. Marketing funnels often use periodic emails to offer relevant content and advice to prospects. As these prospects get more engaged, you can start to include information about your products or services.

Over time, and with the right strategy, you can turn a healthy percentage of the leads you hooked with your content into loyal clients or customers.