How would you guess a startup origin story goes?
Probably something like this: A founder latches on to a brilliant idea. They create a prototype or a minimum viable product. They launch. Through demand generation and growth hacking tactics, they build a list of prospects to nurture into customers. If they’re savvy, they’re using the power of content marketing to grow that list.
But what if it made a lot more sense to start with the content…before even launching the product?
Some of the startup world’s savviest founders create community, drive interest and generate leads – all before launching a single product or service.
How? Through content marketing.
That’s exactly what Nathan Powell at Nusii did. The founder of seamless proposal software for creatives, Powell started creating content for his potential audience before he finished refining his product.
The idea, he says, was to create an appetite and audience for the product, generating leads while he continued to work on Nusii itself. As a bootstrapped business, being able to create demand through content was far more cost-effective than paid methods.
Generating Leads Before Nusii Was Born
If you’re considering using content as a lead generating tool before you have a product to sell, it’s best to come from a position of expertise and understanding of what your audience wants to read.
Powell in particular had great alignment with his target audience before building out his product because he was his target audience.
Working in creative agencies, Powell experienced a classic business issue: creating and sending proposals took an enormous amount of time.
“Being a designer, we’d want things to look great, but these things take time. Especially if you’re using InDesign and spending a lot of time creating templates. Then you have to find the content examples to fill it, over and over again.”
He decided to build the tool he wished he could use. “I scratched my own itch, basically,” Powell says, “And Nusii was born.”
Powell knew he wanted to use content marketing to drive his early lead generation. “Content was there before Nusii was alive,” he says. “The Nusii blog was up and running before the product was. It was our principal source of leads. To this day, it’s still our principal source of traffic.”
The Nusii blog covers topics of value to small businesses, agencies and independent creatives, including agency management, client management, and more.
The success of Nusii’s early efforts using content to drive lead generation trapped Powell in another classic business conundrum: He no longer had time to create content on the schedule that continued success would demand.
“All the content was on me, previously,” he says. “It would take me an incredibly long time. Going from the planning stages to writing to publishing – it would literally take a day, minimum, for one article, and usually a couple of days. The process was incredibly laborious.”
In 2015, Powell heard about Audience Ops’ brand of “done for you” content marketing at the same time he reached a crossroads with Nusii.
“The pressure of producing the content over and over led me to look for a solution,” he says. “It had gotten incredibly difficult to find ideas to write about and the time to dedicate to writing. I wanted someone else to plan the schedule and to free up my time to do other things.”
Nusii’s Content Marketing Effort Today: 125 Percent List Growth
Nusii started working with Audience Ops in 2015. Their list size at the end of 2015? Around 3,000.
List size at the end of September 2016? 8,860.
That’s 125 percent list growth – and all without founder Nathan Powell having to think about the content at all.
“When we first started working with Audience Ops, I’d go through every draft post and check that everything was OK, of course,” Powell says. “I stopped doing that a long time ago. I know the content that’s going out is going to be solid. It means I can literally forget about it.”
Beyond blog posts, Audience Ops also worked with Powell to develop a lead magnet for Nusii – a flagship email course called “5 Days to Better Proposals.” Offered free to interested prospects, the email course works as a drip nurture campaign to attract more qualified leads to Nusii’s proposal software.
The Nusii email course helps businesses, agencies, and independent creatives stand out from the crowd with better, higher-converting proposals.
What’s Next for Nusii
Content marketing continues to be Nusii’s primary source of qualified leads for their marketing and sales funnel. Powell estimates content-related initiatives account for around three-quarters of his company’s leads. “Content amounts for a huge amount of our customers,” he says.
He’s currently testing and experimenting with traction channels outside content, while confident that his content marketing system powered by Audience Ops will continue to roll on.
To any founder considering working with a done-for-you service like Audience Ops, Powell would say, “Sign up and never have to think about content ever again.”
Despite being able to write content for Nusii, as he did in the beginning, Powell values being able to focus on other areas of the business. “Anybody who’s running any kind of small business has a thousand and one things to do. Letting someone else take over an essential and huge part of your business is almost a no-brainer, really.”
Powell’s 2016 goals for Nusii include 50 percent overall growth and to see some of his additional non-content marketing channels gain traction.
He encourages his fellow founders to embrace outsourcing if they find themselves under the same pressure he did. Launching the Nusii blog pre-product generated demand and brought plenty of leads, but content marketing requires consistency. All of that requires time.
Feeling trapped by his own success using content as a lead generator, Powell found a content partner to keep the content – and the leads – coming.
“As founders, we’re all incredibly scared to let other people take over significant roles in our companies,” he says. “But if you can learn to do that with content, you let yourself loose to concentrate on so many other important areas.”