The crazy thing about starting a content business is that it’s not like launching a more traditional business.

You don’t make a plan and a few months later open a storefront, stock it with products, and market it to bring in customers.

Nope, you have to plan your strategy, construct your base, bring in audiences, and then start the revenue-earning opportunities.

Unlike a traditional business, a content business requires you to construct a base and bring in audiences BEFORE you earn any revenue, says @AnnGynn. #startup #contententrepreneur #creatoreconomy Click To Tweet

And that takes an average of 18 months, according to Joe Pulizzi, founder of The Tilt and author of the recently released Content Inc., which details a model that works for content businesses.

The Tilt Advice

Let’s explore the seven stages of a content business start-up. And then, we’ll touch on the similarities a content business has with any new business.

For regular readers of The Tilt, some of this should sound familiar. The success differentiator, though, happens when you put them all together.

  1. Identify your content sweet spot. I like to think of this as a Venn diagram with your knowledge and skillset in one circle and your audience’s interests in the other. The overlap is the sweet spot for your content business.

    Let me emphasize your circle. It is not about your interests and passion; it is filled with your knowledge and skills. Now, if your expertise intersects with your passion, that’s great. But too often, content entrepreneur wannabes put passion over knowledge, and that usually doesn’t work.

  2. Make your spot sweeter with a tilt. Many content creators fall off the content business path here. They never progress to find a tilt. But a tilt is essential – it’s the differentiator that makes your content business stand out from the rest. 

    Amy Wilson and Margaret Ables
    didn’t just launch another parenting podcast. They gave it a tilt – the sticky bits of parenting. And their business name reflects that: What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood.

    Yes, we talk about having a content tilt every chance we get and even named this content brand because it’s that important for a successful content business.

  3. Build your base. You need to pick a single content format and a single distribution platform to start your content business. It takes a while and sometimes can feel like a drudge, especially with all the other attractive formats and sites you see. But grind it out. Put all your efforts into constructing this building before even considering expanding to other “locations.”

    Maria Popova did that with Brain Pickings
    . She focused on her weekly newsletter and points all her social to that. She didn’t even launch a mid-week newsletter until recently.

    Joe says most content creators fail because to become content entrepreneurs they want to be everywhere to encounter as many people as possible. Be far more deliberate.

  4. Grow an audience. Now that you carved out land and begun building, you need people to further the construction of your content business. You need an audience.

    Traditional businesses often operate as transactional businesses. Without customers, the business’ asset value is in its inventory.

    In a content business, the audience is the most valuable company asset. Without an audience, the business has little or no value. Ali Carr knew this. She cultivated a Facebook community (Basecamp Outdoor Jobs & More) of people interested in outdoor-related work before she brought in brands to post job listings.

  5. Earn revenue. Yep, you’re at step five – and your content business is probably about 18 months in. Now that you have something of value to monetize, you can bring in some revenue because you’ve got something of value to monetize. Some content entrepreneurs start by partnering with brands eager to connect with their audiences through affiliate links or sponsored posts. But the opportunities are limitless. You could sell subscriptions to a premium version of your content, develop a membership program, etc.

    Ryan Brainard’s Rybonator brand started earning revenue on YouTube, then added Amazon affiliate links, Patreon, and some brand deals.

  6. Diversify. Money is coming in the door because your audience is strong (and growing) and your single content format and platform are working well. Now, you can look at those other shiny formats and platforms you’ve been ignoring. As you expand your content business, don’t forget your content tilt –  that shouldn’t change. You should only grow the avenues to communicate it.

  7. Sell or go big. It may seem like odd advice to think about your exit strategy now, but you always should be thinking about the future of your content business. Your end goal should influence how you operate the business from day one. For example, if you plan to sell the business, you may not want to tie your personal identity to the business name. But using your own name might be OK if you plan to grow a big business with you always as the face of it.

While the “content” part of your business is different from a traditional business, that doesn’t mean you can ignore all aspects of traditional businesses. In the early days, you should create a legal structure and open up a business checking account.

Setting up a content business still requires thinking like a traditional business to. Create a legal structure and open up a business checking account. #startup #contententrepreneur Click To Tweet

Also, establish a simple accounting system. Even though you aren’t earning revenue in the first phase, you are spending some money (computer, website hosting, etc.) and that will affect your taxes from day one. As your content business grows, you’ll add in other traditional business aspects, such as owner compensation vs. salary, outsourcing vs. hiring, expansion of marketing and promotion, etc.

By following the Content Inc. business model and addressing all the regular start-up business requirements, you put your content business on the right path to lead to big success.

About the author

Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. An IABC Communicator of the Year and founder of G Force Communication, Ann coaches and trains professionals in all things content. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.