How To Start & Grow Your Business

We visit with Sujan Patel, Co-Founder of ContentMarketer

Asher Fergusson
Mar 17th, 2016
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  • Biography

    Originally from Los Angeles, Sujan migrated to San Francisco, then Minnesota, and finally settled in Austin, Texas. Sujan, with Colin Mathews, created

  • #1 Tip for Startups

    Before you do anything, you have a business idea. You’re starting with just this idea. Go talk to people you think you would sell to, and pitch this idea; go get feedback; go pretend like it’s out there and sell it already.

Sujan discussing Industry Weaknesses

From Agency to Content Marketing

I had an agency called Single Grain for about nine years and the amount of diversity all stems from that. Eventually, I got bored of going to a job and doing one thing over and over again. It got really, really boring. I had time on my hands, waiting on things, so I started ContentMarketer. Before it was fully-fledged and ready to stand as an independent entity, ContentMarketer existed as a small set of tools to help our agency run more efficiently.

One of the things about content marketing that got me hooked was how you were able to quickly reach out to people and find people’s contact information and perform outreach. We had bits and pieces of that functionality internally at Single Grain, so it was simply a matter of pulling it all together.

Sujan Patel working on Content Marketing

You see, SEO was our bread and butter at Single Grain. We did over a million outreach emails to build links, to go and create content. And so, I easily achieved 10,000-hours of experience. I probably got much more than that. And I figured out the pain points and use-cases for doing outreach in general.

At the time, I was primarily doing SEO, but as the industry shifted towards content marketing and it was rising quickly, similar problems were happening. If you asked people “What is your content marketing strategy?”, you would hear a very, very elaborate answer on what they do. But if you broke it down further into “What do you do to promote your content?” that is when it gets really quiet.

And so, Content Marketing exists to solve that pain point and to help people with content promotion. What I found was: I’m a firm believer in the 80-20 rule, or put more simply, the least amount of work to get the best ROI. I found what that really means is that when you’re promoting content, you must include influencers or include people that help you validate and prove a point. Letting them know is the least effort you can do to get them to share it— and then build a relationship. And so, that’s really what focuses on.

Sujan Patel on the Startup Stage

Once people know that their name is up in lights somewhere, they are more than happy to use their own resources to disseminate it even further. In combination with BuzzSumo, or any type of research tool, you can find people that have done “X”, linked to you, or shared something, and it begins to behave like a list-builder. Then, ContentMarketer on the backend helps to find all that contact information.

Standing out from the crowd

I find that a lot of people keep mirroring what successful people do. And that works to an extent, but then at best you’re just the 10th best person in that category. I say “at best” because there are always 9 other people that are better than you when you’re just emulating successful people.

I think it’s about figuring out your own voice or your own angle that’s important. It took me a while to figure that out—and it will take people a while to figure out what their own angles are. It’s not really just writing on something or producing something that’s a popular topic, but then adding an angle on top of that.

“Angle” could be anything. It could be something controversial; it could be something newsworthy. You could be the person that always breaks the news on category X; you could be the person that always writes on something controversial. It could be a mix of things.

Sujan Patel in boxes

But at the end of the day, find out what’s popular. Find out what categories are doing really, really well and then put some sort of spin on it. Be unique, because you multiply those things together and usually there’s no competition.

For the longevity of that article, adding in keyword research and having a little SEO in mind really helps; not just the big blast when you first release it.

Industry Weaknesses

I perceive two big weaknesses in the industry. I have a community of content marketers and just marketers in general. I talk to a lot of them, and what I found were two common things:

Problem one:

First, they look at what else has been successful. They look at what is going on right now and they don’t go deep enough, beyond what the surface level information is, to determine whether it’s noise or is it an awesome winning strategy.

You could be making a lot of waves and noise and people can be misled by that; or that could be mistaken for success; or it could be misinterpreted as, “Hey, this is really, really working.”

Laptop and coffee

A lot of people come to me and say, “Hey, I love what you’re doing with blog” and “Tell me the strategy there”, and “I see you’ve been doing this and this and I’ve been trying to copy it.”

And I tell people, “Hey, hold on. Don’t copy the ContentMarketer blog. We’re brand new. We’ve been around for four, five months. I’m still figuring it out. Don’t copy what I’m doing. Copy what CrazyEgg is doing. Copy what Content Marketing Institute did, or look at those big, big players that have a great job.”

So I think the first weakness is not looking past the really superficial. It’s the iceberg below the water more than it is what you see exposed.

Problem two:

The second thing is not doing the SEO research, or not even the keyword research. That’s really the preliminary research. Look at Google Trends; look at what the BuzzFeed is doing. It could be mediums; it could be keywords; it could be channels.

What I mean by this is, for example, Periscope is pretty new. You could dominate Periscope in marketing, it’s fairly open. In fact, I did a test for a few weeks where it worked really, really well. By that I mean that is I ended up getting a few hundred visitors to each video, people engaging, people are talking about and sharing it.

Sujan Patel on his laptop

There are also channels that are very, very open. Facebook is a very-tapped channel. But there may be Facebook groups, or there may be pockets within different mediums, that are open. I think you can explore them.

And the last part of this second problem is the keyword research. It could be going back to the traditional things that just work. I think those main traffic sources are emails. You can get traffic from building an email list.

SEO and PPC can cost a lot of money so you should probably be prepared to spend some; and it could be social, or it could be AdWords or the traditional places, like Outbrain, or things like that. So I mean those channels are not really going anywhere. Try to master those.

Sujan Patel on a ladder

Favorite cloud services

Dropbox for just sharing everything is a great tool.

ilos is a lot like Jing or Screencast. The difference with this new program is that I could be on live chat with you and going back and forth in email and it’s a great way to do customer on-boarding, or customer support live, and show them what their problem is, and make that video specifically for them, within your product, even if you didn’t want to leave the screen. So, that’s one of my new ones.

I love SumoMe. I’m revisiting it again and it has quickly become my favorite. It does a lot of things really, really well and it’s really an MVP.

Hotjar is another great tool that I love. And again, it does a lot of different things. It does heat maps; it does surveys; it does funnels, and for content marketer, that’s all I really need to do. I don’t need crazy bloated, or when I say bloated, I mean more expensive software.

Steal the Show by Michael Port

Influential Book

One book that I’m rereading again is called Steal the Show by Michael Port. It’s all about presenting, and presenting your best self. It could be really useful for sales pitches; it could be used for marketing; it could be used for public speaking, and a lot of different things, such as interviewing.

I like it because it’s about communication, and I’m in the same boat here, as guilty as many people out there. I feel like people don’t do a good job of communicating offline. Marketing copy is great; that converts. But how do you present yourself through somebody who doesn’t know what you do; who is not part of your profession; or to someone that is not one of your customers online?

Work/Life Balance

I work probably six days a week and actually about 80 hours. I measured it for a while and I stopped. But the reality is, I think of life as life and work and personal, all as one thing. I don’t think of that as “I need to go make time for my personal life.” I feel like I don’t want to do anything in life that I don’t love doing. I truly wake up in the morning and I’m excited for solving a challenge at ContentMarketer. I’m excited about the people I’m going to meet that week.

What that means is I’m not as productive as I could be, but that’s OK. I spend probably two hours a day writing content that doesn’t generate me much money. It helps me build my brand sometimes, but I find it is a great way to put into words my lessons that I’ve learned, and it’s just an avenue that makes me feel good.

Sujan Patel speaking to a crowd

So in business terms, writing for me has a very poor ROI, but in overall life terms, it has been the best thing. The same thing occurs with building relationships at meetings. I meet one person a day and it’s really hard, and probably not a great ROI, but I just love doing it. Being stuck on the internet or focusing on all these things I’m working on… meeting real people helps me get out of my own worldview.

I’m also an adrenaline junkie; it’s all part of the formula. You see, I like skydiving and I love racing cars (not professionally obviously), so I go to the racetrack a lot. There are business relationships that can come from that; these are business lessons.

I wrote a post that I never published about what I learned from racing cars and what I learned about business. Racing cars actually made me quicker on my feet because when you’re going 120 miles an hour and there’s a sharp left turn and maybe you might not be able to brake in time, or there’s a car next to you, that really makes you think, or it teaches you to be quick to react, and that makes me better at business.

Ninjas vs. Zombies

I’ll have to go with the ninja and that’s mainly because one person can make a big dent in the universe. I think a few people in life have proved this. Henry Ford, Elon Musk — we’re witnessing it now — and previously like Steve Jobs, just in the consumer world.

So, I would go with those guys who are ninjas to me. They’re fighting against a bunch of… I wouldn’t call it zombies… they’re fighting against mediocrity of the masses.

Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft?

Google Logo

Among those it’s Google — although Microsoft and Google seem to have switched places, which was interesting. It’s almost like all of these guys have been switching places. I would say Google just because of the amount of innovation that comes out of that company.

I like the move that they recently made switching to Alphabet, and really saying, “You know what? We have all these companies that make us no money or may not ever make us money. They’re moon shots; they’re going to either be huge or do nothing.” And I like the fact that they continue to do that and still be such a large organization.

Sujan Patel on stage

Parting advice

Go talk to people.

Before you do anything, you have a business idea. You’re starting with just this idea. Go talk to people you think you would sell to, and pitch this idea; go get feedback; go pretend like it’s out there and sell it already.

Put a website up and spend a thousand dollars, a few thousand dollars on paid search. Do all of those things and you’re going to learn a lot.

You’re going to learn about customer support; you’re going to learn about what the people will pay, and what they won’t pay; you’re going to learn about what problems arise; and you’ll learn what people really think about your idea.

The traditional product market fit, you are solving it before the product is created, or as much of it as possible, before it’s created.

About the Author

Asher Fergusson

Asher has a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) degree and was the CEO of his own startup Internet marketing business for 6 years before selling it in 2014. He specializes in fields such as Search Engine Optimization and Facebook Advertising where he's helped countless small businesses successfully compete with large corporations. He is now the full-time CMO at bizHUMM sharing all his knowledge of how to start and grow small businesses in the most powerful and cost effective ways.