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To some, a content strategy is like an owner’s manual for a car. You already know how to drive, so what do you need the manual for? Since you already know how to write, is a strategy really necessary?

It’s not uncommon for a business to create content without a strategy in place. In fact, just 27 percent of marketers say they have a content marketing strategy that’s written down.

A content marketing strategy doesn’t tell you how to write, it helps you create content that turns visitors into loyal customers. That doesn’t happen by writing a few blog posts now and then – that happens with an executable plan in place.

We could ask dozens of marketers to weigh in on the best way to create a content strategy, but we wanted to get advice from a small business man; someone that’s taken the time to create a simple strategy for his business, and had success.

We asked Ryan Fitzgerald, the owner of Raleigh Realty, to explain how he created a content marketing strategy. With his help, here are a few tips to get you started:

Define your audience
You need to know who your audience is. You need to go beyond the basics and create buyer personas. You want to collect everything from demographic information to weekend hobbies.

Use this tool, Up Close and Persona to get started.

Define useful content that stands out
Find out what kind of content your audience wants and create it. It should offer valuable tips, teach a lesson or provide savings, and above all else it should stand out, Fitzgerald says.

“You need to differentiate yourself from your competition, because you’re certainly not the only one who sees the value in content marketing within your industry,” he says.

“In order to do this you need to use tools such as infographics, video or other forms of media that makes your content standout above the clutter.”

Set a consistent content schedule
Consistency is key. You want to provide readers with a steady amount of creative content.

“One of the only ways a content marketing strategy will work is if you are consistent with it,” Fitzgerald says. “If you write 10-15 articles and don’t see a direct result because of it, don’t be surprised.”

You want to release articles on a schedule, and keep fresh content coming in.

Set up an editorial calendar so you know when to publish each piece of content.

How much is enough? That’s a decision every business has to make on its own based on time, resources and goals.

Find your tone
As you continue to understand your audience, and create more content, you’ll start to define your brand’s tone.

Whether it’s a buttoned-up professional tone with data and straightforward information, or a more conversational tone with anecdotes that tell a story, you’ll find your own unique tone in time.

Be patient
Content marketing isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme, Fitzgerald says, so stick with it.

“Content marketing takes time, but your audience will only grow stronger with each article you publish,” he says. “It wasn’t until 26 weeks after I started my content marketing strategy that the inbound leads truly began to pick up.”

Now, a full year in, Fitzgerald is giving leads to partners because he simply can’t keep up.

“I had to shutoff the registration form on my site until I can hire additional help,” he says.

With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating a content marketing strategy that works for your business.