Case study: Small business content marketing success

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By Kate McQuillan, {grow} Community Member

When I started Pet Sitters Ireland back in 2010 it was really just a way for my husband and I to solve our own pet care needs. We hated putting our pets in kennels and when we looked for an alternative there was nothing, other than asking friends or family.

After researching the market, we realized that pet sitting was a service that other pet owners just like us wanted and needed.

After six years in business, Pet Sitters Ireland is Ireland’s largest Pet Sitting and Dog Walking company, with thousands of visits competed every month to hundreds of pet owners across Ireland. Most of this growth is attributed to our content marketing strategy. Here’s how I did it …

“Traditional” marketing didn’t work

When we started the business, we thought traditional marketing methods would bring in customers. We put out flyers, hung up posters, ran some newspaper ads, and gave out business cards.

And in the first year of business we attracted 40 customers. Not too bad, but we were stuck there and it was clear that if we wanted to scale the business, we needed to be online in a bigger way. So we set about re-designing our website and testing some Google ads.

Like many small businesses, our problem was cash flow. We simply didn’t have thousands to spend on advertising, nor did we want to spend that type of money. It wasn’t until 2012 that we started a content program that led to high growth with little cash outlay.

Small Business Content Marketing

I had read enough online to know that social media and content should play some role in our business but I could not connect the dots. I never felt I was a pet care expert, so I didn’t think I had credibility or anything to say that would interest people.

In 2012 I saw a video of Marcus Sheridan talking about the concept of blogging as a way to simply answer customer questions. Up until that point, my first attempts at blogging had mainly been about customer reviews, telling people what events we were attending, and general announcements about how great we were. In other words, not too interesting.

But this new idea made sense to me – certainly I could answer questions.

I read everything Marcus wrote about blogging and set to work on answering every question our customers had ever asked us.

By answering questions consistently on our blog three times every week, in 18 months we had reached more than 10,000 website visitors per month and developed a Facebook following of more than 30,000 fans! The content acted like a magnet to our website with the help of our social media promotion.

It was time for a big decision. We thought this content model could be scalable and knew that if we wanted to expand, we needed to bring on franchisees to promote the business at a local level.

The Results

In three years, we grew our revenue 450 percent, primarily on the back of our small business content marketing success.  We now have a full-time office manager and three franchisees on board.

Opportunities have arisen to work with brands reviewing their pet-related products. Speaking opportunities have come to us because of our success story and we’ve been interviewed on podcasts and radio. In early 2016 we were finalists in the Irish Franchise Awards.

I’ve also had the opportunity to re-purpose our content and expand our reach by distributing our content at sites like The Huffington Post.

Following the interest in my story, I’m now using my love of blogging to help other business owners grow through small business content marketing.

Here are some of the tips I provide in the hope that they will help you, too.

Consistency

I believe consistency is the biggest factor in our success. When I committed to blogging three times per week, I didn’t stop.

Even when I got tired of blogging, and wondered if anyone would ever read my posts, I carried on.

I just knew that if this guy with a pool company could build a massive business with blogging then why couldn’t I? Marcus wasn’t a blogging expert that started a pool company, he was just a regular guy who learned the skills to blog about his business.

As time went on, my blog posts got better, and to this day I continue to improve my blogging skills. If you don’t start and stick with it, you’ll never improve.

A Learning Center

With more than 700 blog posts under my belt, I found that it probably wasn’t easy for someone to find anything on the website. So I created a resource center, which I recently developed into a learning center.

This is now a place where customers can see the answers to most commonly asked questions. They can watch videos or download e-books about our services or different pet topics.

Customers are telling us that they love the learning center. They tell us they have read everything and are ready to book business with us.

kate mcQuillanBuild a List Using E-books

E-books have been a great way for us to build an email list and then distribute our blog posts to potential customers. The content from the e-books and blogs have been great to share on social media as well.

We have plans to further increase conversions to our list with surveys, customer intelligence, and optimized strategies.

My Top Blogging Tips

If I was starting my blogging journey again, there are definitely some things that I would have liked to have known when I started.

Be Committed and Patient

I had total blind faith this would work for me and was totally committed to blogging, but I know this is something people struggle with. I think sometimes we expect massive results too quickly. Whereas we need to realize that if one person reads your blog post and becomes interested in your services, then that is a result.

Have a Good Title

Your titles should be interesting, but also be something that people will search for on Google. When you answer customer questions, take some time to do some research on how people are asking those questions on Google and make sure you are phrasing things the right way in your title.

Use Subheadings

A longer article which is broken up via sub-headers will allow you to rank for other phrases as well as the main title. Take some time to research the topic and make the most out of title and sub headers.

Have a Strong CTA

If you don’t tell people what to do, then they will do nothing. You need to make it clear to people to contact you or book services at the end of each blog post. Keep testing different call to action options and see which work best for you.

Use Strong Images

Every blog post needs a strong image. If you can take your own good photos that’s great, but if you aren’t good at taking pictures then stick to stock images. Just try to pick the better stock photos or use many of the free image sites on the web.

Pay Attention to SEO

This is something I really didn’t do enough of in the early days and I would strongly recommend getting to grips with this from day one. Get yourself an SEO plug-in for your website and learn how to fill it in properly. It’s a painful job going back to update old blog posts!

Share Your Content

You need to tell your audience about your content. Build a following of people who are likely to become customers and share your blog posts with them. It’s likely if you are not seeing readers then you are not telling enough people about what you are doing.

Analyze It 

Whether you opt to use a free analytics tool like Google Analytics or you opt for a paid solution it is important to analyze your results. Spend some time each week looking at what people are enjoying and what you should write more about.

I hope you have enjoyed our story and these ideas. We’re committed to continuing our content journey as well as expanding it to our new franchise system. I will be overseeing it myself, at least at first, until I can train others in the skills I’ve learned.

We are also committed this year to working on growing our organic traffic and also developing our email marketing strategy. We also are looking for the right franchisees to join our team in Ireland so that we can expand Pet Sitters Ireland even further.

pet sitters ireland blogging success

Kate McQuillan owns a Pet Sitting business with her husband Michael. She’s turned her love for animals into Ireland’s largest Pet Sitting business and is fanatical about growing her business and helping others grow theirs through blogging.  

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Anton Ruiz

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  • Donna Beckett

    Thank you Kate – what a wonderfully inspirational story. Great blogging tips too!

  • Kate McQuillan

    Thanks Donna 🙂

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  • Claytonjay101

    Great article, would you say that your focus on solving customer problems at their time of need (by your answering questions) was the foundation for your content strategy? How did you get people asking you questions? Did you ask anyone that came to you if they had any questions or did you clearly say on your website to ask you a question?

  • Kate McQuillan

    Customers are asking questions all the time – on social media, via email, in person. It’s just a case really of listening to what they are saying to you. Also, there are lots of common questions you get asked and that is where I suggest you start. Hope that helps.

  • Alexis.Gil

    Thanks a lot for sharing your experience, Kate! Great tips! I like the idea for the beginning simply answer questions. It’s not so frightened than to start posting.

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