How to develop a content strategy for your service-based business
When someone commissions a creative service, it’s often for something important to them. Whether photography for their wedding, the interior design of their home or a new website for their business, your client isn’t just looking for someone who can deliver great results; they need someone they can trust with something that means a great deal to them. It doesn’t tend to be an impulse buy.
When I’m personally in research mode, I always see if a potential service provider has a blog or other kind of content to check out. I wouldn’t rule someone out for not tweeting or anything like that, but it can definitely help sway me in the other direction. It’s reassuring to see a real person behind a brand, and content can give you a good sense of a person’s knowledge and vibe.
And of course, it can also help to attract potential clients in the first place. With the right strategy and soul behind it, it can captivate clients-to-be and establish the trust that leads to a booking.
So what does this look like in practice? Today I’m sharing five key areas worth exploring when creating a content strategy for a service-based creative business, which takes into account the different stages a potential client might be at and their specific mindsets and needs, along with some great examples from around the web. For me, a strong content strategy would explore the following:
1. Education and increasing the understanding of your field
Something I’ve noticed over the years is that service-based creatives often have to do more legwork and education to convert researchers into customers. Understandably so, for all the reasons mentioned above. I’ve seen many examples of clients not really knowing how to go about commissioning a service or what it will involve when they do. And why should they, to be fair. It’s not their area of expertise, after all.
As a service provider, I believe the more you can make it clear what you do, what clients can expect when you work together and how to hire you, the more bookings you’ll receive. But you can also go further by using your content to raise the level of understanding of your field and help people clarify their options.
Essentially, this type of content is for people in research mode or looking to commission. They know there’s a service out there that could help them but might not know exactly what that looks like yet or the key things to consider. Your content can address potential confusion but crucially, it can also help deter people whose projects aren’t a great fit or who aren’t really ready to invest in a professional yet, all while being genuinely helpful and valuable.
It can also help people gain a better understanding of exactly what they need, appreciate the value of working with a professional and get the most out of their project when they do.
The key with this type of content is transparency. It’s not about trying to convince everyone that hiring a professional is the right way to go or pretending you’re the only option available. It’s about being as upfront and helpful as possible (yet so awesome the right person wouldn’t want to go anywhere else!).
Tip: I wouldn’t recommend focusing solely on this type of content because it would get a bit dry and is just one piece of the puzzle! But I’d definitely consider adding it to the mix, especially if you tend to encounter confusion around what you do.
- 5 questions to ask yourself before you redesign your website by Nesha Woolery
- What you’re paying for when you hire a designer by Jessica Freeman of Jess Creatives
- Why branding matters by Lauren Hooker of Elle & Company
- 10 steps to finding a great wedding photographer by The Knot
- Web design vs. web development: what’s the difference and why does it matter? by Ashley Gainer of Flywheel
2. Solving problems and sharing your expertise
This type of content is all about being helpful and delivering value. Think tips, tutorials, lists, challenges, checklists, email courses, and all that juicy stuff people love to consume. On the surface, it’s about showing you can do what you say you can do, but it’s also about providing real value that keeps people coming back for more.
I see this type of content as attracting people who aren’t necessarily looking to hire right now, but instead looking for solutions. It can then play a huge role in converting people into customers further down the line.
Put yourself in your dream clients’ shoes and think about their problems, frustrations and priorities. How can you share your expertise to help them?
If you’re worried about giving away all your secrets, keep in mind that just because someone understands the basic principles of good design or photo composition doesn’t mean they have your eye, skills and experience. People love to learn and try things themselves, and the more helpful insights you can share, the more trusted and valuable a resource you can become.
Also, just because your service may be aimed at consumers doesn’t mean you don’t have relevant expertise to share. There are some examples from B2C businesses below. The important thing is to stay audience-focused. It’s up to you to decide how much weight (if any) to give each of these five areas in your content plan, and that all comes down to who you serve, what those people are looking for and what you want your content to achieve.
Think about the ultimate goal your service will help people achieve (eg increased conversions, a room that feels peaceful, more clarity and confidence, etc). This can open you up to more ideas that will attract and resonate with your ideal audience. For example, if you're a web designer, you could create a challenge for growing your blog audience or increasing email sign-ups.
Tip: When planning your content, it also pays to think beyond the technical service you provide and consider what customers are really buying when they hire you. Sure, on the surface they might be looking for a new website, but what they really want is the impact this will bring.
- How to zen out in your kitchen by Emily Henderson
- 10 ways to create share-worthy design by Jamie Starcevich of Spruce Rd.
- Planning your wedding photography series by Laura Babb of Babb Photo (this is an awesome series that encompasses all five of the areas I’ve mentioned in this post)
- 1-minute trick to dramatically improve your Instagram photos by Chaitra Radhakrishna of PinkPot Design Studio
- 5 tips for designing practical printables (+ free cheat sheet) by Kelsey Baldwin of Paper & Oats
3. Thought leadership and sharing your ideas
Thought leadership is a bit of a nebulous term, I know. But to me, it simply means having the courage to stand apart from the noise in your industry and share new ideas or ways of working.
I see a thought leader as someone who’s not bound by convention or the way things have always been done, but instead looks to create their own approach based on their experience and values. This type of content is more about sharing your ideas and approaches than tips or tutorials. It's about using your experience to make connections others may not have spotted, championing good practice or sharing new insights and ways of doing things.
It’s similar to the educational content mentioned above but goes a step further by sharing how you do things differently and being willing to speak up about the things that matter to you (in a constructive way, mind - not through moaning or negativity!). It's the type of content that can really start to set you apart from the crowd, position you as an expert and take your business to the next level.
It can also help position you to attract the type of clients you’ll be able to serve best. Sharing the things you stand for can help attract people who share the same values and priorities, while deterring those who don’t.
However, it’s important to note that how you approach this type of content matters. Innovative ideas can push industries forward, but I’m not suggesting shooting from the hip with half-baked theories or anything like that. Always be transparent about where you are on your journey and share the thinking, research or experience behind your ideas (I shared some thoughts on how new writers can create authoritative content here).
Tip: If you’re new to your industry, a good place to start is by sharing your values or the rules you live by as a creative. Another option could be to interview people whose ideas and approaches resonate with you. You could also experiment with new ways of working and document the process as you go, while you refine your own process and unique approach.
- The importance of *really* understanding your customer by Fiona Humberstone for The Brand Stylist
- How to set up a goodbye page for your clients by Nesha Woolery
- Ultimate 2015 web design trends guide (+ predictions) by Jacob Cass for Just Creative
- Shifting your mindset to avoid burnout by Caroline Winegart of Made Vibrant
- Does the length of your blog posts matter? by Lauren Hooker of Elle & Company
4. Sharing your stories and behind-the-scenes
This type of content isn’t so much about building authority in your niche or sharing your expertise, but it can still play a key role in the mix.
People aren’t just buying into your expertise, they’re buying into you. Taking people behind the scenes or letting them see a more human side can help to build trust and forge deeper relationships. I’d personally still keep it reader-focused and share stories I think will relate to the audience I’m looking to serve in some way, but it really all comes down to what feels right for you and what type of balance makes most sense for your business.
If you’re a B2C creative or you work with individuals for lengthy engagements, you might decide that sharing more personal or behind-the-scenes content helps build the trust and rapport that leads people to book.
If you’re looking to package up your expertise into digital products, creating more in-depth ‘how to’ guides and nurturing long-term relationships via your email list might work better for you.
If you work in the visual creative fields, you might decide to put more emphasis on sharing your designs, artwork or photography through your content (see point five, below).
But crucially, none of this is set in stone. These are just hypothetical examples to illustrate how your strategy should have intention behind it. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach and it’s all about experimenting to see what works best for you and then learning and adapting as you go.
And don’t overlook the content you feel called to create, either. Whenever I’m feeling stuck, I ask myself: “What are you excited to create?”. It’s one of my favourite questions for getting back on track. As much as detailed ‘how to’ guides can be great for building a brand, sometimes it’s the more off-the-cuff personal stories that are most enjoyable to write and most relatable for your audience.
Tip: This post from Pat Flynn, the man behind the hugely successful Smart Passive Income blog, is a fascinating look at the breakdown and ratio of different content types that has worked for him, and why it’s important to figure out the right balance for you.
- Life + loving by Kory Woodard
- The week + links by Shauna Haider of Nubby Twiglet
- A typical day (and the productivity tools I use) by Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income
- An open letter confessing my secret fears as an online entrepreneur by Erika Madden of Olyvia.co
- A no-holds barred look at how I quit my job (numbers, meltdowns and all) by Sarah Starrs
5. Sharing your work and process
As a service provider, sharing your process through your content can go a long way towards providing the reassurance potential clients need and helping people decide if you’re right for them. As mentioned, the more people understand exactly what to expect when you work together, the more confident they’ll feel moving forward and the less anxious they’ll be throughout the project.
When it comes to sharing your work itself, if what you do revolves around ideas or words, for example if you’re a coach or a copywriter, you may find the other forms of content mentioned in this post could be enough to show people what you can do.
If you work in the visual creative fields, it’s worth exploring how to incorporate sharing your artwork, photography or designs into your content strategy. For example, you could think about how to use your work to accompany your blog posts or other content as graphics or images.
Another great option is to create free resources for your audience that showcase your creative skills while also delivering value (there's a great example from Angela of Saffron Avenue below) or as 'opt-in' incentives to help build your email list at the same time.
For any service business, it's also worth thinking about ways to share the impact your work has had with real clients - through case studies, for example.
Tip: There are ways to make even this type of content more interesting for your audience by sharing behind-the-scenes insights, explaining why you made certain decisions or incorporating different forms of content (like video or animation) to add visual interest. There are some great examples below:
- My step-by-step design process + recent work for The Bookish Fox by Nesha Woolery
- An inside look at how I designed my e-course by Jamie Starcevich, Spruce Rd.
- New in portfolio: Ellie Saab bridal logo by Corina Nika of Cocorrina
- Well...let’s get shit done free printable to do list by Angela Scheffer of Saffron Avenue
- If you’re in the visual creative fields, check out the ‘Creative ways to share your work and process’ section in this post on content ideas for artists and designer-makers. It was written with B2C product-based businesses in mind, but you may find some inspiration or ideas you could adapt.
And that’s it for now. Some of the examples I’ve included could fit into more than one of these categories and that’s A-OK. Content and creativity doesn’t fit neatly into pre-defined boxes and quite frankly, who would want it to? My intention with this post isn’t to get people producing cookie cutter content. These are just five broad areas to keep in mind when planning your content strategy and to help you be more intentional about what you want to achieve. Embrace the overlap, sometimes that’s where the magic happens!
Variety is one of the fundamentals of a strong content strategy but it’s up to you to decide what sort of balance makes most sense for your business and clients. And if there’s a post or topic that’s been covered a million and one times already, try approaching it from a new angle or doing something else.
Finally, a good content strategy covers all the pieces of content you may need (not just blog posts, videos or the stuff you create regularly), including static pages on your website (‘Work with me’, ‘about’ etc), documents that improve your process (client welcome pack, FAQs etc) and more. These five areas could be explored in different formats to craft the best experience for your clients and business.
Think about how you can do things differently, keep on experimenting and don’t forget to have fun with it. Good luck!
Photo by Michela Ravasio on Stocksy