Every small business owner knows that marketing and sales are the most important parts of running a business: no sales, no business. But how can a small business owner most effectively market his/her company? Especially when budgets are tight, time is short, and you’re the only employee?

If you’re reading this blog post, you’re looking at the answer: content marketing. I believe that content marketing is the best, most cost-effective, most measurable way for small businesses to spread the word about their products and services, build an online following, and become leaders in their field.

In the old days, businesses had to “buy” attention from prospective customers, by purchasing ad space. More recently, public relations (PR) has grown in popularity as companies try to “beg” for attention by getting free publicity and mentions in the media.

Content marketing is the ultimate evolution in media, where companies can create their own unique media platforms and intellectual property to engage customers and get their attention.

How Does Content Marketing Work?

With content marketing, the small business creates its own “broadcast channels” to share information and create conversations with customers. For example, CorpNet uses content marketing by writing articles on the CorpNet blog, and then sharing the articles via Twitter and Facebook.

The point of content marketing is that it’s supposed to be about “sharing what you know.” The information you share needs to be relevant, informative and valuable to your customers. The idea is to share information that your customers would want to know – and not be too self-promoting in the tone of the message. For example, a traditional print advertisement might use a lot of “sales language” and encourage people to “call now for our special offer.” Content marketing takes a longer-term approach. The idea with content marketing is to build an audience over time, earn the trust of your customers over time, and become recognized as a go-to resource for good information about your industry.

For example, if you run a shoe store, you could start a blog to talk about trends in shoes, shoe designs, interesting new shoes coming on the market, customers’ favorite shoes, the best-selling shoe of the week, and on and on. You can post photos on your blog of customers trying on shoes, the most exciting, colorful shoes, most expensive shoes, lowest-priced “clearance” shoes, and any other fun concepts.

If you sell professional services or more technical products, your business can publish white papers to help create “thought leadership” in your field. For example, if you’re a management consultant, you could write an original paper on “Emerging trends in production management,” or “Five underutilized methods for boosting productivity.” You could also post short videos of you discussing recent news or trends in your field, offering advice, or sharing your perspectives. Share what you know.

A good content marketing program can serve to introduce your business to clients for the first time, and build up credibility over time as an expert in your field. Content marketing serves as a 24-hour-a-day “interview” with potential clients. Customers can read your blog and watch your videos at any hour of the day, anywhere in the world. You can refer customers to specific blog posts again and again as a way for them to get familiar with your business, your thought process and your approach to work.

Content marketing is cheap. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on advertising; instead you can just spend a few hours a week updating your blog and creating new content.

Another advantage of content marketing is that it’s based on permission: your customers have the option to follow you on Facebook or sign up for your e-mail list. This ensures that you’re steadily building an audience of people who are sincerely interested in what you have to say, unlike traditional advertising where you are constantly interrupting people (with a 30-second ad) or interfering wit someone’s day (through telemarketing). Instead, content marketing lets you put the information out there and share ideas with people who are actively looking for (or at least receptive to) the kind of products/services you’re selling.

And best of all, content marketing is fully measurable. You know how many people clicked on your blog post, you know who’s talking about you on Twitter. You can run special promotions on your blog and on social media that make it easy to track the results.

Perhaps the biggest reason why content marketing is such a great option is that it’s a natural extension of each business owner’s passion and expertise. It lets you take the kinds of conversations you’re already having – giving advice to customers, discussing business trends – and lets you share them in an online repository of knowledge and helpful conversations that you’d most like to share with your customers.

In addition to small business marketing, one of the most important aspects of starting a business is deciding how to incorporate a business with the right corporate structure. CorpNet offers free tools and resources to help entrepreneurs complete the necessary business filings to launch a new business.