Content Marketing 101By applying a clear strategy to build and display your expertise to a clearly defined audience, you can break through the noise. Still, it’s hard work, and without a steady approach and patience, you might invest what feels like countless hours to no apparent benefit. This article won’t teach you how to take a world-class squat photo or optimize your settings for Instagram, but it will provide a mindset and practices you can apply to ensure your content strategy is moving you in the right direction.
Content Marketing 101
By: CJ Gotcher, BLOC Academy Director
Although there are ways to succeed without it, most thriving coaches practice some form of content marketing. This stuffy MBA term boils down to a simple practice: publicly and freely share valuable and relevant information that solves problems for the people you want to work with.
Effective content marketing demonstrates your expertise, expresses your values, and in many cases, gives people the chance to engage with you and your ideas, which helps them decide if you’re the coach for them. Content marketing seems like an obvious choice, but it comes at a high cost.
Above and beyond the effort of creating the content itself, success will demand an investment in mastering your craft, learning the details of your platform, and collecting ideas worth sharing. Anyone can create content by taking a picture, copy-pasting generic advice, and hitting the “post” button on their smartphone. The marketplace is flooded with low-quality noise that you’ll need to overcome to see results.
By applying a clear strategy to build and display your expertise to a clearly defined audience, you can break through the noise. Still, it’s hard work, and without a steady approach and patience, you might invest what feels like countless hours to no apparent benefit. This article won’t teach you how to take a world-class squat photo or optimize your settings for Instagram, but it will provide a mindset and practices you can apply to ensure your content strategy is moving you in the right direction.
Should I be marketing now?
Your immediate needs as a coach have to dictate your strategy.
If you’re an experienced coach, getting results with your client but struggling to keep your roster full and pay your bills, the answer is probably “yes.” Content marketing isn’t a golden bullet, and it rarely produces immediate results, but done well, it will pay off in the long run.
If you’re a prospective coach, intern, or new coach operating as part of a larger organization, you have at least one more important immediate concern than pumping out blog posts or YouTube videos: learning.
In the end, you have to have something worth sharing. It doesn’t have to be profound—simple tips and tricks can go a long way toward helping people—but if you’re brand new, you have to do your reading, get under the bar, and coach. Focus on providing the best possible service to your immediate audience, study voraciously, and learn what you can.
This isn’t a rejection of content marketing but a phase of it. As you coach, listen intently to your lifters’ needs and life situations. Study widely and pick out the voices that resonate with you and communicate well. Identify what works and doesn’t with your lifters and in your own training. Pay attention to the questions you’re asked—who is asking them, and what do they do with your answers? In this early stage, you’re trawling for wisdom, collecting it along with experience and testimonials of success.
I still recommend that you share something, even if you’re still new to the practice. Too many coaches buy into the idea that they’re “too new” to say anything worthwhile and never say anything. But don’t get lost in content strategy, SEO, or following the rule of thirds in your Instagram photos. Answer questions, share your journey, and start building the habit of hitting “send.”
What kind of content should I make?
The three big temptations for the new coach are to stay where you’re comfortable, exploit the next trend, or spam every channel. Giving in to these temptations will limit your reach. Your target market might not be in your familiar spaces, hot new trends often prove duds, and even international companies with multimillion dollar marketing budgets can’t dominate every platform.
Start by identifying where you can do great work. There are effectively four ways we share information—text, audio, images, and video. Regardless of which company holds the digital Iron Throne today, there will always be a place for each of these. And if you develop excellent material in one of these four, you can always reformat or reorient to a changing environment.
Then, learn where your market is—both those you currently work with and those you most want to work with in the future. You can start by Googling the demographics of social media users, but the best way is to ask where they are, meet them there, and listen. Remember, if a client asks, “Are you on Snapchat?” they’re telling you, “The best channel to reach me is Snapchat.”
Find the best intersection of your skills and your market. This might seem difficult: Instagram is a visually oriented medium, but if your market is there and you’re more into speaking or writing, you’re not out of the running yet.
First, look for the overlap. In the case of Instagram, the algorithms punish you for trying to link people away from the site, so don’t just put a plain picture with your podcast title and “link in bio.” Instead, stay within the platform’s walls. Dr. Bill Campbell and James Clear do this to great effect, playing with longer, informative captions and simple, clean graphics with text. Others effectively use the Instagram Live and stories feature to capture their spoken advice, or they share podcast highlights as video overlaying a still graphic. With some creativity, you can use your specialty regardless of the venue.
All right, I’ve decided what and where to share. Now what?
Get to work, and commit to creating a single type of content, preferably on a single platform, for at least six months.
With each piece, strive to be better at what you do. Are you a writer? Read good writing and tighten up your work in editing. Infographics designer? Study the best—figure out why they’re so useful—and get familiar with the software you use for your designs.
Hit “publish” often and consistently. You can develop your craft somewhat on your own, but you can’t know how successful it is—how people respond to it—if you don’t put your work out for judgment. And since sharing is the point of content, that’s the real proof of quality.
Publishing often can also help you separate effective content from random noise, where an early success or dud might just be random chance. My second article on the website Medium was picked up by The Startup, one of the largest publications on the platform with over 400,000 followers. As I publish more and the numbers balance out, I get a more accurate—and less optimistic—picture for my skill.
Six months may seem like a long time, but building up a reputation as a qualified expert takes years. Some fitness celebrities appear to explode overnight after a “big break” event, but if you dig, you’ll find these coaches have deep back-catalogs. Jordan Syatt is an example; many first heard of him when he started coaching Gary Vaynerchuk, and since he found that job through a personal connection, you might think he got a “lucky break.” Dig into it, and you’ll find that not only did he write hundreds of blog posts and articles in publications big and small for years before he hit his “lucky break,” but he made that personal connection by engaging with a commenter on his blog posts years before the opportunity came to coach Gary V.
Good content, and the opportunities it creates, takes time.
What if it doesn’t work?
Effective content marketing is difficult, and there are no guarantees, but there’s one way to make sure you don’t feel like you completely wasted your time:
Guarantee that you win.
Specifically, create content that gets you something out of it regardless of whether it’s publicly successful at first. Here are some examples:
- If you find yourself repeatedly answering certain questions or demonstrating a particular exercise, repackage your response into an article, social media post, infographic, YouTube video, or the like. Whenever you get that question, point people to your answer, which not only saves you time but demonstrates your experience with solving this particular problem.
- Use your content to clarify and get feedback on your own thoughts and ideas. This is a form of feedback that helps you correct your mental models as a coach.
- Pitch and submit work to publications with editors to get a second eye on your content for additional practice, feedback, and correction.
- Collaborate with other coaches to build relationships and connections and get an insight into how they work.
- Use your content to help motivate you—for instance, documenting a programming experiment on IG Stories or crafting a YouTube video about how you applied a new productivity strategy.
- Connect your content to a purpose by volunteering your services to something you care about deeply, perhaps a charity fundraiser, cause, or a belief.
- Build content you’d be proud to put on your resume or Linkedin profile. If you plan on looking for work for a specific gym or company, aim your content to what would demonstrate your value for that particular position.
The possibilities are essentially endless.
“Never work for free.”
This concept creeps into the mind of many coaches after they start on an intentional effort to create content. There will be times when writing articles or filming videos feels like an incredible burden and doesn’t seem to be paying off. In these moments, “content creation” starts to take on the same suspect tone as “unpaid internship.”
That mindset is a killer.
I don’t even like thinking of crafting content as an investment. Of course, in many ways, it is: the YouTube video you post today may impress the right person years down the line and secure a job. The compounding interest of years of articles and podcasts may convince your readers that you’re worth trusting until, eventually, you don’t have to market to them—they come to you. Content is part of your business, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Still, the word “investment” is transactional and doesn’t match the feeling I get when I sit down to write.
Content is sharing. It’s having an idea or an experience and trying to craft something in just the right way to reach and inspire others, knowing it could improve their life.
Content is relational. It’s about connecting with people who resonate with you, hearing their stories, and responding to their ideas in a way that moves you both forward.
Content is creative. It’s about taking the hours you might waste perma-scrolling through your news feed and crafting something worth being read by people you care about, respect, and want to help.
When we give, we often get back. When Matthew Inman, creator of the popular comic website The Oatmeal, first asked his readers to donate to his Patreon, they responded to the tune of hundreds of dollars a day.
They didn’t give so freely as payment for a service. They gave because they valued the joy they got from his work and wanted to see more of it.
Don’t even start if your idea of “content marketing” is spending months writing formulaic, SEO-optimized blurbs meant to “hack success.” If you do, you just might find yourself truly working for free—free from an audience, from results, and from meaning.
But if you have something to say and want to reach more people with your message? Get to work.