Gain Credibility and Customers With Free Reports and White Papers

With direct-mail campaigns often financially out of reach, many small businesses have turned to email marketing instead. Yet standing out in your customers’ crowded in-boxes can prove difficult.

Enter content marketing, which is becoming increasingly popular. Here’s why: When you offer customers something of value — something that benefits them — you drastically increase the odds that they’ll connect with your brand.

Moreover, using free content is an excellent way to establish yourself as an authority in your industry. However, with so many people sharing content through social media and blogs, it’s easy for a small business to get drowned out by the noise. (And, if you are short-staffed, it can also be difficult to keep up the frequency required to build an effective social media presence.)

A simple and effective way to break into content marketing is to offer a free white paper or report to your customers. Here are a few tips for getting started.

1. Pick a topic. Your best bet is to focus on a pain point for your customers that’s supported by current research and data — and then offer actionable advice that they can put to use. You may include relevant information about your business, but don’t be overly promotional. (Want to make someone angry? Make them read an entire document only to arrive at a conclusion like “Contact XYZ Co. to find out how to solve this problem.”) The goal here is to give your customers something of value, so that they see you as a reliable source. Once they believe in you, they will be more open to hearing your promotional pitches.

2. Choose a writer. The content of your report needs to be well-written and free of errors. If you don’t feel confident in your own skills or those of your employees, hire a freelancer. If you send out a piece that contains mistakes or inaccurate or outdated information, you will lose credibility.

3. Present data in an easy-to-digest format. Create — or ask your writer to create — a short executive summary at the beginning of the document. The report should include learning objectives and a conclusion summarizing your main points. Make the document visually appealing by using headlines and sub-headlines, display type, boxes, graphics, and bulleted and numbered lists. Save the file as a PDF, so that anyone can open it and the formatting is consistent for all readers.

4. Launch your report as you would a product. Although your content is free, you can still “sell” it. Set up a landing page on your company website, send a press release to the media, share details of a report during an audio conference or webinar, and promote the document through your social media channels. If your information gets picked up by a media source, the coverage can bring a lot of traffic to your site and allow you to reach prospects you would not likely reach with standard marketing practices.

5. Offer the report different ways. Email your existing customers, offering the file as a free download. Offer the PDF on your company website, too, to engage people who find you organically through web searches; typically, you want to at least capture a person’s name and email address in return for downloading the report. Tip: Capturing these details will allow you to segment your mailing list and tailor future promotions to customers with specific interests.

About Jaimy Ford

Jaimy Ford is a business writer and editor. She writes subscription newsletters, training tools and blogs that focus on professional development, leadership and productivity. Her goal in everything she writes is to provide actionable advice that can be put to use immediately.
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