As the lunchtime keynote at this year’s BizConCLE, Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute (CMI), shared his journey of launching, growing and selling CMI.
If you’ve heard of CMI and its mission to advance the practice of content marketing, then you’re likely familiar with Joe and his signature orange color—not to mention his desire to teach brands how to attract and retain customers through compelling, multi-channel storytelling.
The start of something great
Joe knew back in 2007 that he wanted to start his own business, so he left the company he was working for and went out on his own. But by 2009, he was thinking about looking for jobs again. He hadn’t accomplished what he had hoped to at that point and wasn’t making any money—and was getting pretty tired of eating Ramen Noodles.
2010, however, proved to be a pivotal year. Joe moved forward with his idea to build an audience first and provide valuable information to that audience. Once loyalty was built with that audience, the company then proceeded to launch products and services.
Joe started with a blog. Every day the blog delivered a post about content marketing, educating the audience and building a base along the way. He then followed up with asking people to subscribe to their email newsletter. And finally, in 2010, CMI was officially launched.
In 2011 the question came up on how to diversify CMI’s offerings. From these discussions came the idea to start an annual event called Content Marketing World (CMW). The initial goal was to get 100 people to come to Cleveland for an event solely about content marketing. 660 people attended that first year, and, now, CMW is the largest business event in Cleveland.
Right in line with Joe’s initial hope for the company, UBM purchased CMI for $17.6 million in 2017.
So, how did they do it?
Joe provided some steps that he said were important to the launch, success and eventual sale of CMI.
Step 1 Goal setting: Record, repeat, remove
Record: What do you want to do and what do you want to be? Keep in mind that the best goals are other-serving, the ones that focus on community, family and friends. Joe said goals can focus on several things, including:
- mental fitness (Joe’s is to read one nonbusiness book each month);
- physical fitness (to get in better shape); and
Repeat: Joe explained that it takes 66 days for something to become a habit. Set the goals and then review them each morning and every night. The most important thing to reaching your goals is to believe they can actually happen.
Remove: This strategy is about choosing to do more of the things that improve or add to your life, not lessen the quality of it. Get rid of clutter and everything in your way. Perhaps spend less time watching TV or on your phone. Don’t let anything get in the way of success.
Step 2: Follow the formula
Joe discussed how they wanted to be the leading expert in something. The formula that helped them do that can help you, too. Here are six steps they went through to build CMI.
Follow the Formula Step No. 1: Find the Sweet Spot. This is the intersection between who you’re targeting and the knowledge or skill you have that’s unique. Identify the customers’ pain point and learn to help people address these challenges.
Follow the Formula Step No. 2: Tilt the Content. Can customers tell the difference between your marketing and that of other businesses? One way to have an impact in this way is to coin a phrase. Joe explained that nobody was calling it “content marketing,” but from their research they knew that would be a good term to get people excited.
Follow the Formula Step No. 3: Create a content marketing mission statement. This should be something that is easy to generate content marketing around. Figure out how you can make it about the customer by including recognition of the core target audience, what specifically will be delivered and the intended outcome for the audience.
Follow the Formula Step No. 4: Pick one platform and consistently deliver. Instead of spreading yourself thin and confusing your message across many areas, concentrate first on one content type on one main platform. Pair that up with consistent delivery across a long period of time. CMI started with a blog and concentrated on using the top key words that people are searching for on the Internet.
Follow the Formula Step No. 5: Get people to opt in. Many business owners first rely on a Facebook profile to spread their message. But, as Joe explains, that is like building your business on someone else’s land. When you’re on Facebook, it’s Facebook’s audience—not yours. Instead, focus on actual subscribers so that you can get data directly from them. The best way to have the most control over your audience is to collect email addresses and communicate with them directly in their inbox. Joe says that on every page of their website they have an opportunity for people to subscribe. But when you do this, you must have an amazing e-newsletter, and there must be some sort of value to what you’re sending out—whether it’s that they get a free magazine issue or access to free articles, research reports or white papers. People won’t give their email addresses unless they’re getting something in return.
Follow the Formula Tip No. 6: Diversify. Now that you’ve succeeded in your main area (whether it’s a blog, e-newsletter or something else), it’s time to try all of the other stuff. CMI diversified by creating a print magazine, the CMW event, podcasts and more. The key is to avoid trying to do everything to start. Be great at one thing first.
Step 3: Consider Joe’s Critical Tips
So now it’s time to make some money. Joe provided 10 different tips on how to generate revenue. The first five ways to make money are direct tactics and include:
- Banners and buttons for advertising;
- event registrations and paid exhibits;
- subscriptions for magazines or other things;
- premium content in print and audio opportunities; and
- philanthropy—donations for foundations.
The next five ways to make money are indirect. Once you have a loyal audience, they will tell you what to launch from there. For example, Joe said, they didn’t have plans to launch the CMW event until people started telling them they wanted a way to meet other content marketers. Joe’s five indirect revenue streams include:
- services (consulting);
- recurring customers (regular offerings such as twitter chats each week with a guest star);
- yield increases (if a person reads their magazine, for example, they usually end up being by far their most profitable customers); and
- cross sales (if you can get someone to a webinar, for example, then there’s a better chance of selling other products and services).
Joe said there are other things they did well, and these tips can be a benefit to your business as well. They include:
- Hiring as a last resort. Wait until you absolutely have to hire for that position and then start with a small number of hours and build up when needed;
- knowing a ballpark number you want to sell for and not wavering;
- calculating exactly what you would get after taxes when you consider each offer;
- knowing which of your terms are nonnegotiable and standing by them; and
- building relationships with buying prospects early. Have a list of possible companies that you would like to see eventually buy your company from you. Get to know the CEOs and go to them confidentially when the time is right.
Every entrepreneur eventually exits his or her business, but most of them don’t choose the timing of that exit. It is crucial to have a written strategy. Prepare yourself for the exit well in advance, with a solid plan for where you want to be and what comes next.
As a recap, your business can benefit from several takeaways of Joe’s presentation, including:
- Write down and regularly review your goals;
- find a niche where you can be the leading expert in the world;
- develop your content mission;
- focus on one content type, choose one platform and deliver consistently;
- don’t build your house on rented land (social media);
- build an audience of opt-in subscribers (email) and provide them value (something for free);
- create an amazing e-newsletter;
- begin with one revenue option;
- then proceed to diversify revenue streams; and
- make a list of buyers way in advance of when you plan to sell.