When many new business owners hear the phrase “content marketing,” their thoughts immediately run towards clickbait-type headlines or SEO terms. However, the most successful content marketing does more than just generate leads. It allows you to build a relationship with your potential customers by presenting yourself as an expert in your field. So, how do you create engaging content for your readership? In this episode, Jon Aidukonis and Gene Marks, along with special guest Jason Morrison of JJK Digital, discuss how the pandemic has impacted the type of content we consume and how small business owners can capitalize on these trends.

Executive Summary

0:24—Today’s Topic: How Do I Use Content Marketing to Build My Small Business?

1:28—For small business owners, content marketing serves as an essential tool for both generating leads and building lasting relationships with your customers. Long form content is particularly valuable because it allows you to demonstrate your expertise on a specific topic.

3:01—Content marketing is less about advertising and more about educating; effective content marketing should provide your readers with the answers they need.

4:49—Although centering your content around SEO terms might funnel more traffic into your website, you still need informative and engaging content to retain your audience and help your readers make the right decision.

8:02—Because of the shifts occurring in the way that search engines rank pages, there is a greater need for long form content among small businesses.

9:38—Whether out of necessity or curiosity, COVID-19 has motivated many people to start their own small businesses from home.

12:20—Thanks to technological advances, you can easily start a new business with a modest amount of startup capital. With so many people telecommuting for work, you might also find that you have more time and flexibility to pursue an additional side hustle.

14:48—If you are currently in a position where you have both the time and the resources to invest in a small business, this pandemic is an ideal time to launch your new venture.



The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.

You’re listening to the Small Biz Ahead podcast brought to you by The Hartford.

Jon: Hello everybody, and welcome back to another episode of Small Biz Ahead, the small business podcast presented by The Hartford. I am Jon Aidukonis, and joined today by my always co-host Gene Marks and a special guest, Jason Morrison from JJK Digital.

Jon: Today we’re going to be talking a little bit about content marketing, the growth of that channel, and how you might be able to think about that as a tactic to your marketing mix. And also what it’s like to start a business in the middle of a global pandemic, when all you hear about in the news is small businesses closing. So excited to get into it. And Gene and Jason, how’s it going?

Gene: It’s going well, Jon. It’s funny, I was just writing about today. I wrote for the Inquirer, and I have another piece that’s coming out about startups. You mentioned about starting up in a pandemic, and I know we’ll get into it with Jason, but it has been a banner year for startups in 2020. More than a 20% increase in startups compared to 2019.

Gene: And there are a lot of factors behind that. I’m kind of curious to hear Jason’s story about that, but you would think that in such an unprecedented bad economic year, a lot of people would be hunkering down, but that’s not the case this year. So very interesting data that’s coming out from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Jason: Absolutely. And Jon, nice to meet you.

Jon: Yeah. Nice to meet you too, Jason, and thanks for taking the time to join us. We’ve talked a lot in recent episodes about content marketing and how folks can think about that as a channel to really be a good proxy for engaging their constituents, whether they’re prospects or actual customers, helping setting themselves up as experts or authority in this space, and really helping to surround that need to create demand, but also comfort for that organic growth in their business.

Jon: With the world being so different from it was 16, 18 months ago, and with this new normal that’s all being in front of our screens all the time, can you talk a little bit about content marketing as a channel and what you’ve seen happen over the past year?

Jason: Yeah, absolutely. Content has really grown since 2019 and 2020 and the pandemic. We’re seeing it used as a resource to really build an education piece for the small business owner. We’re in an unprecedented time. Gene actually hit it right on nail on the head there with the 20% growth in startups. We are very much a part of that. And what we’re trying to do is build a reciprocal relationship between the content or the publisher on this side, and the brand, such as The Hartford.

Jason: And we see great attribution and great recognition with that with long form content to build that education piece, to help build a cadence around the question that a small business owner goes to Google to answer. And then basically how do we drum that down to a decision maker, as in buying an insurance policy? So, that’s what we’re really focused on. And we see that the more informative and engaging the content is, the better that those attribution numbers are.

Jon: Awesome. Yeah. And I think that’s one thing we probably get a lot of questions around is like, what is content marketing, really? And I think this might be easier said than done advice, but I’ve heard this a couple of times and I’m not going to fairly attribute it, so I’m just going to say it’s an unknown author, but it’s really about solving and not selling.

Jon: It’s getting under that notion of, what is the question and how can you think about a solution? And hopefully if you can provide that insight that your product or your service would become that solution, because you’ve done the work to be a fair, trusted advisor.

Jon: It’s interesting how you think about it legitimately in solving and answering a question. And I don’t think we’ve really ever talked about that as a channel to distribute thoughts before, which I find really interesting.

Jason: Yeah. We look at it as a question, because the best way to answer this is to just look at small business insurance. It’s a wide open blue ocean, in the terms of a budding vertical. If you go back just three years ago, it was a vertical that was really emerging to answer those questions. And the best reason as to why we look at it that way is because someone going to Google and surfing best small business insurance or best small business insurance company is literally asking that one question. They don’t want to read about, necessarily, what is small business insurance, they’re ready to make that decision.

Jason: And if we’re not providing that clear answer for them and utilizing our knowledge and expertise in the space to best assist that answer, then they’re just going around and around and around, trying to find a solution for their business. And because we’re in a digital ecosystem more and more and more, we want to be able to provide those touch points digitally through the content and make it, essentially, a seamless transition from content to provider. And in this case, The Hartford.

Gene: Jason, I have a question on that. I have another client that I work with, they’re a pretty well-known corporate brand. And it used to be back in the day, they would have content written about improving your business or some advice or some whatever, and really would not drive that much traffic to their website.

Gene: And what they’d started doing a year or two ago is, they just started generating content articles that had lots of keywords for their products, unrelated products in there. The articles themselves weren’t even that great, but because the keywords were in there, and because they were being published frequently, and they moved them or they mixed them around.

Gene: They even put content on their website that was not even visible, believe it or not, to website viewers, because they posted it like really, really tiny font. But they still showed up on the website, and Google likes that kind of stuff.

Gene: I guess my question to you is, is that where content is going, Jason, where it’s really just SEO driven, and how can I drive people to my site, and are we getting away from more narrative, more informational or educational content? Where do you balance all of that?

Jason: That’s a great question. We really focus on building a holistic view, and I think that’s what you were touching on Gene, where people are trying to grab as many SEO terms as possible to get you within their respective funnel. But we’re actually seeing that the long form knowledgeable content, as in, we want the more informative pieces of content, because those are going to drive home the decisions or the answers to people’s questions. So we’re seeing the more informative the content is the better that not only the brand retention is, but the better that the reader is self-educated to make a best decision for their small business.

Jason: So, it’s a little bit of both, to give you a convoluted answer. The first part of that, yes, people are just kind of slapping all of these keyword terms and SEO strategies on their pages to rank higher. But in a lot of ways, we are actually seeing pages that provide more long form content perform a lot better, because they’re better answering those people’s questions.

Jason: So yes, to get people inside the funnel, sure. They’re using a ton of SEO strategies and using minute fonts to grab people’s attention at that point of question, but the more that they are able to inform the reader on a specific topic, we’re seeing stronger performance on said articles.

Jon: Yeah. And Jason, I think that’s an important distinction. So I think it’s more of like, go slow and grow it and then maintain your ranking. So Gene, I think when you have people who look for those down and dirty tactics, it might be a nice flash in the pan. Almost like a semi-permanent hair dye, it looks really good for an hour, and then it gets wet and it’s like, what happened? And it might do more long-term damage than good.

Jon: But maybe that’s a good question for the listeners. If you guys want an SEO hacks tip, maybe that’s a good follow-up article. So let us know in the comments and we can maybe find out what works versus what’s more sustainable, because I think that might be kind of a compelling area to go.

Jon: But I think with that, Jason, this need now to think about long form and to respond to this new world of people asking questions and really wanting to get the what behind the service or product, it created an interesting opportunity for you, right? Because you actually decided in the middle of 2020 to start your own company.

Jason: That is 100% accurate. My business partners and I, hence JJK, there’s three of us, we really wanted to leverage our own expertise in using the content to start our own business. And we did exactly that.

Jon: Awesome. And then, JJK, you have two other partners. So can you tell us a little bit about, was this a new opportunity that you saw? You had a little bit of history in the content marketing game, correct? And it was more just the time had become right?

Jason: That’s exactly it. We all three work together just by pure chance in the company we were all at. And what it allowed us to do is really… Once COVID hit and just before COVID, there were some innate changes within the Google structure and algorithms in how they ranked pages, and we saw it as a perfect opportunity to start discussing our own business idea.

Jason: And once COVID hit, and the subsequent aftermath, we basically said now’s the time. And a lot of people would have shied away from it. The reason why we set it now as a time is, I’m a firm believer that statistics are for everyone else, to be quite honest with you. And what I mean by that is that if you’re not going to take the chance now, when are you? And I think COVID presented a lot of opportunities, again, to Gene’s point of 20% growth in startups year over year, is a proof of people taking the leap now to be their own boss, to run their own ideas and to take the chance. And that’s exactly what we did.

Jon: That’s awesome. Yeah. I’m a big believer of all I need is a dare to do something. And I’m also a big fan of trying to capitalize on that character flaw or crazy chance, because if you have one in a million chance, you still have one chance of success. But that’s encouraging, I think, for people to know.

Jon: Gene, interesting to see what you think about that, because I look at you as a good practical balance to some of the more risk advice, but what are some things that… Just curious to your reaction on starting something new in the middle of what we all just saw go down?

Gene: There’s a lot of things that are going on out there. And Jason, I don’t know if you fall into any of these categories, but when I talk to a lot of the people that have started up businesses in 2020, first of all, there was a lot of people that were unemployed. So not only do they have more time, but they needed money. And there’s no better reason to start up a business than to provide an income for yourself and your family.

Gene: So let us not ignore the fact that there was a financial and economic need for people to provide for themselves. And they had to do what they had to do, even if it was just the most menial of tasks. That was certainly one big thing driving things.

Gene: Jason, I’m sure you’ll also find out, and you can comment on this when I’m done, I’d like to hear your thoughts, but it’s so inexpensive nowadays to start up a business. You start realizing you’re working from home, and we’re accomplishing all the normal things we’ve done in offices before. And here we are, we’re able to do all of that. We’re using all the online tools that we have, from Zoom to QuickBooks Online to CRM applications. So the technology has made it really easy for us to start up a business, and look like we’re a legit operation. So I think that’s fueled a lot of things.

Gene: And you know what I think is also fueled a lot of things? And Jon, this goes to… Jon, you work for a big company, a big great company called The Hartford. There are a lot of company employees that work not just for The Hartford, obviously, but for many companies around the country, and a lot of people are working from home. And because they haven’t been chained to a cubicle, they’ve had more flexibility and independence to get their work done.

Gene: And I have found that people I know that have been working for other larger companies have found some extra time to say, hey, you know what? I’m able to get my work done for my day job, and then I’ve got a few extra hours. Why don’t I start up a little side gig that does X, Y, and Z?

Gene: And Jon, I don’t know if you’ve seen that as well amongst some of your fellow employees or even out in the world, but I think corporate employees are adding to that trend as well. So, those are my thoughts.

Jon: Yeah. It’s interesting, because I find myself, and I think this is one of those things where we’ve talked about a little bit before, what did the pandemic do? I find myself working more because I don’t have those defined moments of transition. There is no coming or going.

Jon: And I’m someone, I usually keep myself busy, and I keep a lot on my plate. I like my life that way. And even without some of the activities or engagements I would typically have, I still find myself constantly doing something, but more related to my day job.

Jon: But I think, to your point, maybe some roles or some areas or just behaviors give yourself more freedom. I think that’s more how you’ve lived in this experience, but that is an interesting insight.

Jason: We did find ourselves, the three of us, at this crossroads. Do we go back into corporate and take a chance during a time where people are extremely timid about investing in new resources, because we didn’t know exactly how this was all going to play out? We still don’t know a lot, but things have leveled out, as everybody sees to quite an extent.

Jason: And yeah, it did boil down to, let’s take a chance and make our own money instead of working for the man, so to speak. And taking that leap of faith, basically utilize all these amazing digital tools that have been able to help the small business, which we have helped people do for the past several years, and utilize these tools. How do we utilize these tools ourselves to build this remote professional environment?

Jason: I just wanted to touch on what Gene was saying. We agree wholeheartedly, that’s exactly why we started our business. The costs associated with starting businesses is… I don’t want to say that someone investing in a business is negligible, but to take a leap of faith for a nominal cost to see how everything plays out, while leveraging these tools, it’s just been an amazing experience for us, and me in particular as CEO of JJK, to learn and be adaptable and nimble throughout this process as well.

Jason: And I agree, Jon, as to what you said. I actually find myself working more, but more efficiently. It’s not necessarily a time commitment, but it’s amazing that when you’re not jumping from room to room or area to area within an office, or in y’all’s case, building a building over at The Hartford, how much time an organization can save as to being more efficient.

Jason: And we’ve been able to give a lot of time back to our own families throughout this whole process, which has just been wonderful. We’ve found that to be incredibly rewarding, which has actually translated to more success on our end in the last several months.

Gene: Jason, I have to ask you, to start up a business in a capitalistic society, one needs capital, right? I think capital comes down to two things. There’s time and there’s money. And you just mentioned time. You’ve been able to be more targeted with your schedule and more efficient and more productive. And that’s good. That’s given you the time to start up the business.

Gene: I’m also kind of curious, and I’m only asking you this because it’s another topic I want to touch on in the future, is actual money. As far as capital. I read, and I see that our savings rates in this country… There are plenty of people that are suffering. So I certainly don’t want to minimize their plight and their issue. But the fact of the matter is, is that savings rates are double what they normally are right now. They’re usually at around six to 8%, and they’re now hovering it around 12 to 14%, in 2020.

Gene: And on top of that, you, U.S. Household wealth is at an all-time high. So people have more money. And I’m curious, obviously you don’t have to share with us your specifics, Jason, but did that play into your conversation as well? In other words, did you look at your own personal financial situation and say, you know what? Myself and my partners do have a little bit of extra cash on hand that we can sustain ourselves as we start up this business, and that was also a factor in helping you start things up this year?

Jason: Yeah, that’s a fantastic question. I actually think it was the single biggest factor. We found ourselves again at this crossroads. We had more capital personally than we had ever had before. Yes, the economy was going in a different direction, but to directly answer your question, I think that’s exactly it. If the time wasn’t now, when were we going to feel comfortable doing so? And so to invest the personal capital is exactly what we did.

Jon: If someone’s at home thinking they have a good idea but they’re nervous to take the risk, I think… I’m a big fan of the inspirational poster advice. You’ve got to separate your fear from your intuition, just go for it sometimes. To your comment earlier, they call it a leap of faith, it’s not a jump over a safety net of faith.

Jon: What are some considerations or things people might need to be prepared to do to get started in the world we’re in today? And when you think about your business, you’re a service business to other businesses, so anything you’d share about how you went about getting leads or reaching out to old contacts, or how do you replicate that, what typically is a really on the street hustle, in today’s climate?

Jason: For those wanting to start their own businesses, I think now is the best time to do so. Nothing creates innovation more than the need to innovate. And we see that playing out in real time over the last 12 months.

Jason: Yes, Jon, we are a service that sits in between other businesses, but what we’re able to do is leverage the contacts that we’ve made over the past… Wholistically, our company has 60-plus years of experience in marketing. And we’ve able to use this hustle mindset to basically apply it in a digital world.

Jason: And what does that look like? To Gene’s earlier comment, that looks like all these digital tools. The CRM tools, the contact tools, so that we can cold outreach to people. But in our particular case, we were incredibly fortunate to have a very robust partnership with The Hartford.

Jason: And without The Hartford’s backing and understanding of what we’ve been able to provide, not only to Hartford, but all of our other clients, we were very unsure as to how that was going to play out. And essentially with The Hartford’s backing, we’ve been able to leverage this amount of trust with our partners. And it’s just been an incredible experience for us.

Jason: The biggest point to me is that again, to my first point, it’s the best time to start up businesses right now, because that means the idea is fresh in your mind. It’s exciting in your mind. And that’s exactly what happened to us. So, we jumped all in and just have taken off with it.

Jon: Awesome. Well, congratulations. It’s a big accomplishment in any climate, but especially the world we all live in right now and the year we all went through, good news is much needed, and it’s always good to hear about someone taking their vision and bringing it to life and succeeding. So, very much appreciate you sharing that story with us, and wishing you much continued success there.

Jason: Thank you so much.

Gene: Jason, thanks for coming on.

Jason: Thank you guys. It’s been my honor.

Jon: Yeah. Thanks again for joining us. Jason, I think we could probably have many more talks on the value of SEO and content, so hopefully you’ll join us again in the future. Gene, thank you, as always, for the great questions and insight. And thank you all for listening. We wouldn’t be here without you.

Jon: Enjoy the rest of your day or evening or whatever time it is when and where you’re listening to this, and we’ll catch you on the next version of Small Biz Ahead.

Gene: See you guys next time. Thanks.

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