Have you ever heard the phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out”? It’s as true for data as it is with content ideas. When creating a small business marketing strategy, it’s important to have great content topics that connect with your target audience. If you don’t, you might be wasting your resources on “garbage.”

I once worked with a wellness company that sold high-tech knitted caps that could increase circulation and provide relief to people suffering from migraines. They wanted to execute a content marketing strategy around their products, but the leaders of the fledging business never scheduled time to brainstorm good content creation ideas.

Instead, they worked with a content creation agency that created an article focused on how stylish the knitted caps were. Unfortunately, it missed the mark, wasting time, money, and energy.

These caps weren’t necessarily ugly, but that wasn’t what their target audience was interested in. These potential customers wanted relief from their migraines and needed to understand how this technology increased circulation and could help relieve people’s migraine symptoms. 

I had to break it to them: Their content ideas deserved a major upgrade. They needed to take the time to create a content marketing strategy that included the crucial step of coming up with ideas to share. Many small business executives juggle so many responsibilities that this vital marketing task often gets pushed down the to-do list. 

So many people fail to appropriately plan their content marketing strategies because they don’t want to go through the brainstorming process. But you might be surprised by how many great content topics can come from just one brainstorming session.

Coming up with engaging, useful content ideas is easier than it may seem. The key to creating an effective content marketing strategy is being proactive. When you gather your team and work through a structured format, you can plan up to a year of content if needed.

Learning how to develop good content ideas is important, whether or not you work with a content creation agency. Like my client with the high-tech cap, you’ll always get better results if you are clear about the objective and motivation behind any piece of content you wish to create.

How to come up with content ideas

You don’t need to be a creative genius to think up great content ideas for your small business marketing strategy. Planning ahead with your team makes it possible to create a dynamic document filled with content creation ideas. 

Start early

I’d be rich if I had a nickel for every business owner I worked with who thought they could regularly come up with content ideas on the fly each month. In reality, there are so many other things an owner has to do that it’s too easy to save this task to the last minute.

Instead of operating in a crisis mentality and scrambling for ideas, start brainstorming early. In this instance, the antidote to “garbage in, garbage out” is “plan the work, then work the plan.” Do yourself a favor and front-end the hard part. 

Plan at least six months in advance so that you’ll know well ahead of time precisely what content you’ll create, who is responsible for creating it, and how you’ll share it. If you can schedule your content creation ideas a year in advance, that’s even better.

Carry a notebook or make a running note on your smartphone so you’ll always be prepared when an idea for great content strikes. Then, schedule a dedicated brainstorming session with your team. 

Gather your inner circle

Brainstorming new content ideas is hard to do alone, no matter how well you know your target audience. Take a tip from communications agencies and gather a team to share ideas and hash out your upcoming content plan.

You’ll want to put thought into who you invite to this meeting. If there are too many stakeholders involved, you may risk making the brainstorming session feel too formal, which could hinder creativity. Too few people and you may not get enough engaging content-creation ideas. 

While you’ll certainly want to include the leaders of your company who intimately understand your brand values, don’t limit your team to the top brass. Customer-facing team members have a valuable point of view, especially those tasked with helping solve problems. Salespeople may also provide a good perspective on what content topics could drive traffic. 

Look for creative team members throughout your organization and encourage them to share their ideas. Help everyone feel comfortable by supplying lunch — this process will take more than 30 minutes.

Talk to your current customers

Balance that internal perspective with ideas that come from the outside. Some of the best topics can come directly from your current, loyal customers. There are many ways to ask them for ideas, including:

  • Social media shoutouts
  • Direct email surveys
  • Point-of-sale discussions

Listen to what people have to say. Think of this exercise as another opportunity to better understand your target audience. 

Stay up-to-date on your industry

Another powerful way to prepare for brainstorming sessions and updates to your content marketing plan is to stay current on what’s going on within your industry. You’re likely already following the trade journals, blogs, vlogs, and podcasts from thought leaders, but perhaps you haven’t realized that they are a goldmine of good ideas.

Keep an open mind as you read about future predictions regarding your products and services. How does this news relate to your customers, and what might your customers want to know about your industry? Use this information to position yourself as an expert through your content ideas.

Join the online conversation

Another way to hunt down ideas for your own content is to get in on the conversation happening right now on social media. Join the Facebook groups and follow the YouTube influencers that your target audience does, then keep an eye on the comments. You may discover common themes or questions you can address through your content platforms.

When interacting on forums, be mindful of what you post and avoid trying to sell anything. Instead, offer free advice and helpful information. At most, share links to blog posts that can directly answer people’s questions. 

Make a dynamic document

Once you and your team have drafted a great list of content ideas, you’re ready to create your actual content strategy plan. I like to structure these similarly to the editorial calendars I oversaw as a magazine editor. 

No fancy templates are necessary. Instead, make a spreadsheet — Google Docs will allow you to share with your team — and include the following 10 columns:

  1. Content topic
  2. Targeted keywords
  3. Goal of content
  4. Platform (Where will the content be shared?)
  5. Content Creator
  6. Draft due date
  7. Content Editor
  8. Date of publication
  9. Additional notes
  10. Y/N: Complete?

When you fill in the spreadsheet, try to create a consistent publication schedule. It’s better to post a new blog every other Tuesday than three in one week and then nothing for a month. Tell your customers when they can expect the next piece of content, and then provide it. It’s just one more way to earn your customers’ trust.

Get interactive

Think of a content idea as a way to start a conversation with your customers. Unless you are literally on stage delivering a TED Talk, you’re never talking at anyone. Remember, you can learn a lot from your target audience.

Interactive content, such as polls and questions, is especially effective through social media platforms. Consider adding this kind of content to your content calendar. Weave these types of communication among more substantive content like blogs.

This is different from what’s known as user-generated content, which is content that’s created by a customer. Content created by others won’t always meet your brand guidelines. Always have an editor who is aware of the overall content marketing strategy, no matter who creates the work.  

Create a series

As they say in the communications business, some ideas “have legs.” This means you may find that a content idea can easily become a series. Not only is having a series a natural way to drive readership, but it also makes filling up that content calendar easier. 

Personal brand bloggers often utilize this concept in a slightly different format. They’ll pick a handful of topics they enjoy writing about, then break those main topics into smaller ones to really focus on the interests of their readers. For example, Cup of Jo has a series of relationship articles, including book recommendations.

example of a blog with a series or topic section
Organize your content in value-driven sections, making it easier for your readers to find exactly what they need. Image source: Cup of Jo: What’s We’re Reading.

Connect to meaningful holidays

Celebrating a holiday like “National Hot Dog Day” is probably a waste of your time — unless, of course, you happen to sell hot dogs. Instead, focus on holidays that connect with your audience in some way. Thanksgiving is a great holiday for small business owners to celebrate because customers always want to feel appreciated. 

Though it’s positioned just one day away from the beginning of the holiday shopping season, Thanksgiving isn’t about buying things. It’s based on a set of values that goes beyond consumerism — values that you likely want to share with your customers. 

Offer giveaways

The most popular content ideas are those that involve a giveaway. Everyone wants to have that special feeling of winning, and you can use your content marketing strategy to take advantage of this excitement. 

Giveaways can help increase social media reach when you require participants to share your Instagram story, follow your account for the first time, or tag one of their friends. The better the prize, the more motivated people will be to talk you up and share your content.

Consider infographics 

As you create your content strategy for the upcoming months, consider making infographics to simplify complicated data or concepts that are worth sharing with your audience. You may be able to work with a graphic designer or professional illustrator or recruit a team member that has skills with free design software like Canva.

example of free software that can help keep costs down by doing it yourself
Free software like Canva can make creating content designs and infographics easier and more cost-effective.

Stay curious

Before I dive into some specific content ideas to inspire you, let me remind you that no one should know your business and your target audience better than you! The way to gather the best content topics is for you to stay open to inspiration. 

Watch interviews with successful people. Attend conferences. Read the content of your competition. Google yourself and your work. Track your success. Remember, your content marketing plan is a dynamic document. If something doesn’t work, change it.            

Social media content ideas

When it’s time to develop content topics that apply specifically to your business, it may help to break down the brainstorming session by platform. Social media content ideas may be dramatically different from those for blogs or newsletters.

Go live

A distinguishing feature of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram is the ability to “go live” with streaming videos. You aren’t alone if this sounds distinctly outside of your comfort zone. But you may be up for the challenge — or perhaps someone else on your team is perfect to be the fresh face of your business.

Quick live videos provide an inside, unscripted, and informal look behind the scenes that customers appreciate. Your transparency and vulnerability can strengthen relationships with current and future customers. There’s no need to be perfect.

Host a takeover

You may already integrate influencer marketing into your comprehensive outreach strategy. If not, you can add this to your list of social media-focused content ideas. 

An excellent way to branch into this kind of communication strategy is to approach an influencer with a similar audience to yours. Invite them to “take over” your social media account.

The idea is for the influencer to invite their audience to learn more about your brand in a creative and fun way. Once you clearly express your expectations to the influencer, relinquish control.

example of a Adidas going bold with Glitch
Surprise your followers by relinquishing control of your social media account to a creative influencer. Be bold like Adidas, which “took over” a fast food joint in 2019. Image source: The Caples Awards.

Offer a challenge

Hosting a challenge as part of your content strategy can make for an effective series. Think about something people can commit to doing every day that will help them feel better about themselves and is somehow connected to your business mission. 

Remember that content creation is more about fostering relationships than locking in sales. Just like completing a physical or mental challenge, taking a long view helps.

Give shoutouts generously

With time, your social media content can self-generate if you encourage your customers to tag you in their posts. One way to ensure this is by giving shoutouts generously. Your customers will feel special if you share their content, especially if you add a special GIF or note just for them. 

Be trendy

Are you following the hashtags that your customers are? By adding the right hashtag to your content, you can quickly get an influx of followers. Researching appropriate and popular hashtags can take extra work, but it’s worth it.

Unless you are having a special event or running a contest, I wouldn’t recommend creating your own hashtag. It takes rare magic for these hashtags to gain popularity, so you’ll be more efficient with your energy if you use already-hot hashtags.  

Tease product launches

If you plan to release a new product or service in the upcoming months, ensure the news is built into your content ideas. 

If you plan far enough in advance, you can tease the launch for a week or more. This will make your followers feel like they’re in on a secret. Offer exclusive deals to your followers if it makes sense.

Pat yourself on the back

If your business wins an award, receives a stellar testimonial, or is making a difference with a community organization, share the good news. Don’t worry about being humble; your followers want to see how your values mirror their own. 

Blog content ideas

Nothing beats a blog when it comes to organically improving your ranking on search engine results pages. In order to get noticed and expand your customer base, it’s important to research appropriate keywords and optimize your images and links within your blog. 

Answer common questions

Blogs are rarely shorter than 500 words — or one page. They are typically much longer and will allow you to get in-depth on a specific topic.

If you find yourself getting a question frequently, you’ll do yourself a favor by publishing a blog on it. The next time someone asks, you can direct them to the link on your website.

Offer tutorials

Everyone is a beginner at one point, no matter what the topic. You can help current and prospective customers by sharing tutorials on your products and services. 

For example, I once purchased a silk wrap skirt with two layers. The skirt was designed to be worn in up to 30 different ways. I definitely needed a tutorial.

When crafting how-to blogs, include plenty of pictures with clear captions for those who are more visual learners. And limit the amount of industry jargon.

Be the expert you are

Blogs also let you position yourself as the expert you are. Share what you know if you have wisdom or thoughts based on years of experience. If you feel awkward giving away this information for free, know that content marketing demands a long-range vision. 

You may wish to share your favorite book recommendations or YouTube influencers who help you as a business owner. Or, you may want to share your personal backstory to inspire others with your success and explain your motivation for working so hard in your business. Leave the imposter syndrome behind and write confidently.

Discuss current events

Your content creation plan is a dynamic document simply because you never know what will happen next in the world. 

Use the blog to share thoughts on current events impacting your business, but tread gently regarding the usual hot-button issues. You may have strong political leanings, but be careful not to alienate a segment of your customer base who may disagree with you. 

Conversely, announcing your company’s values can also help you strengthen relationships. For example, Spotify is just one company proud to support Ukraine. 

an example of writing about current events to see what resonates with your audience
Blogs are an opportunity to discuss how current events align with your brand identity. Image source: Spotify Newsroom.

Share case studies

Case studies are real-world examples of how your products or services are making a difference in someone’s life or business. These go beyond the shorter testimonials, which are also valuable and worth including on your website. Case studies go further in-depth, fully telling one story to provide context for your work.

To find case studies, you can send out a survey through a direct email to your current customers. You can follow up with an interview if someone is willing to share their story. The subject of the case study may also want to write their own story. 

Newsletter content ideas

Newsletters nowadays are more likely to be digital than printed and sent through the post office. Email newsletters allow you to be more interactive and help you better connect with individuals who want to learn more about your business.

Create departments 

When creating a newsletter, you first need structure. I like to take a cue from the magazine publishing world, which has “departments” at the beginning of every issue. You can do the same. Perhaps you’d like a calendar of events or a team member of the month in every issue. These can be your first departments.

When you pick a template for your newsletter, have the departments in the same place every time you publish. This gets readers comfortable with your format and gives them something to look forward to. Plus, it becomes easier for you to create content.

Include photography or graphics

You’ll want to include visuals, even when you write a short newsletter. Often, business owners will want to rely on stock photography. I don’t recommend this. 

Instead, if your budget allows, hire a professional photographer for a photo shoot you can use throughout the year. If you plan far enough in advance, you should know what visuals will complement your topics. 

Celebrate your milestones

Consider weaving in congratulations to team members who deserve the accolades as well. Many small business owners don’t want to “toot their own horn,” but trust me — we all want to see you succeed! Anniversaries, impressive sales, and all kinds of success are worth mentioning. 

People want to read the good news. Highlight your team members, share stories from happy customers, and let everyone know how proud you are of your good work.

Provide handy resources

One of the best things about e-newsletters is your ability to share helpful and important information from other sources. When it comes to curating content, ensure you are familiar with the sources you share and organizations you connect with, as they may make content decisions that conflict with yours. 

Wrap up other content

Newsletters are an excellent place to recycle all the other content ideas you’ve used in blogs and social media. You can’t presume that everyone has read everything; newsletters give them a second chance. You can edit blogs to reduce the length or simply link to your blog page directly from the newsletter.

Content ideas: your next step 

When you’re ready to begin your content marketing plan, the first step is identifying which platforms you’d like to focus on. If it all feels overwhelming, start with what you can do now. If you discover that your team members cannot complete the content-related work delegated to them, you may want to rethink your plan.

Content creation ideas, when executed correctly, can be a powerful tool to expand your reach, strengthen your connection with your target audience, and increase loyalty with your customers. Be comfortable with improving the plan as you go.

Most importantly, when it comes to creating content ideas on any platform, always have fun. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn are designed to be pleasant distractions to everyday stress. People read blogs to learn or just relax their minds. Newsletters help people feel connected and engaged.

There’s no need to take yourself too seriously or worry about being perfect. Content marketing can be a rewarding and enjoyable extension of your mission rather than just another thing on your to-do list.