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Marketing is a long game, and that’s something that can be frustrating to hear.

If you’re like many business owners out there, you need to make cold, hard sales. A business with very tight margins that’s struggling to keep cash flow healthy can feel like it’s not in any position to worry about anything but getting the next client through the door.

But that kind of short-term planning leaves you trapped in a box: when all you want is one more lead, that’s all you’ll get. You’ll stay stuck in the cash flow box, always wondering when and where you're going to find the next lead. But wouldn’t you rather be running your business instead of scrounging around for more clients?

A Mindset Shift

That requires a mindset shift: thinking further ahead than just one more client. In fact, it requires thinking further ahead than the next ten clients.

Really, it means not thinking about the next any clients, and instead putting structures in place that keep clients coming on their own. And content marketing is one of the most effective ways you can make that happen.

This requires an investment in time, money, and human resources – and it doesn’t turn around an immediate ROI. That’s a hump a lot of businesses can’t get over; “Why am I investing in something,” they think, “that isn’t bringing me new clients right away? I could be spending that money on an ad campaign that nets me ten new clients tomorrow!

And that may be true. But then you’d have to do that for the next ten clients. Because traditional advertising only works as long as you’re pumping money into it. It doesn’t create the structures and processes that drive customers to you even after you’ve spent the money – and it doesn’t do anything to increase the scope of your audience.

So. How do you turn from short-term to long-term marketing?

Embracing Content

There’s nothing wrong with working in the short term. The key is in diversifying, and turning some of those resources to the generation of high-quality content that will drive new traffic, build your reputation, improve your SEO, and generate compound returns. Content marketing is a high-ROI activity that offers powerful long-term benefits that can help your business grow.

I'm not advising you to cut short-term marketing out of your efforts entirely, but as long as that’s what you’re relying on, you’ll never get out of that box.

Imagine marketing as an investment with compound interest. As your investment generates interest, the principal grows – which leads to more interest and faster growth, a cycle that fuels itself more and more the longer it runs.

Content marketing works the same way. As you work, your results increase exponentially relative to the effort put in; if you generate ten content pieces this month, you’ll see results for ten content pieces – but if you produce ten the next month, you’ll see results for twenty. And those results themselves get more dramatic, as content breeds an audience that grows over time, so the relative power of each content piece grows over time.

Know Your Goals

It’s not enough to produce content willy-nilly; an unfocused content plan may offer some benefit, but sheer volume alone doesn’t get the job done. A long-term plan without a clear, measurable goal is just doing stuff. And stuff isn’t a strategy; it’s wasted effort.

So think about your business and what will help you to grow. Do you want to grow your email database? Drive requests for consultations or demos? Improve your social reach? Build brand loyalty among existing customers? These are all trackable goals that you can measure your success against and, more importantly, that allow you to think through how content is going to help you reach them.

After all, not all content is created equal, and neither is every conversion as good as every other conversion. While getting people to sign up for a newsletter has its value, it’s minimal to the business that doesn’t depend on large numbers of new leads, but on a smaller tier of highly-engaged, highly-educated prospects that already come to the table with a firm idea about what they want. But if you have a short, simple sales funnel, generating leads is going to be a much higher priority. You have to tailor your content marketing to reach meaningful, focused goals that serve your business’ real interests.

Know Your Real ROI

ROI is a matter of staying the course long enough for your efforts to bear fruit. Because the goal here isn’t the next sale; it’s all of your sales over the next few years. Content marketing is about developing higher overall sales volume on the foundation of a dedicated and invested audience that propels long-term growth instead of just slapping a bandage down on a bad quarter.

Let’s get concrete. Let’s say you invest a lot of time into the production of a good high-value content piece that answers a lot of key questions people in your buying funnel have. The cost of production can feel like a large expense, but this kind of evergreen content more than pays for itself over time. Here’s how:

  1. It will attract people to your website on an ongoing basis, giving you access to a larger base of potential customers
  2. It qualifies leads
  3. It encourages social sharing, improving your social reach
  4. It gets passed around among both formal and informal offline networks
  5. It can be used as sales collateral to help seal the deal
  6. It develops thought leadership, improving your reputation

In short, that “expensive” content piece can generate, depending on your industry, hundreds of thousands of dollars over the long term, and can pay for itself relatively quickly. Which means that just one little piece of evergreen content involving one little investment can provide value and revenue for years.

And not only that, but it’s adaptable to other content delivery models; it can be converted into a PowerPoint to host on SlideShare, adapted into a webinar, or even turned into a podcast or video. That means it will generate an even greater long-term ROI.

Pulling It Together

Long-term growth requires long-term planning and the willingness to invest in your future. If you want to break out of the cash-in, cash-out revenue box, you need to be willing to take a chance – and start thinking about how you’re going to get to your next big goal, instead of just focusing on how you’ll get to tomorrow.