As Director of Content Marketing at Salesforce, I get a lot of questions about how smaller companies should go about building a content marketing strategy from the ground up.

Usually, my answer surprises people. It seems like the easy answer would be to start a blog, populate it with as much content as you can, and then think about how to publicize, optimize, and grow it.

In my view, that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do. While creating a bunch of content may seem like an easy first step, it can be a trap. Soon, you’re obsessed with “feeding the beast,” and you suddenly can’t find time to build a jumble of blog posts into a cohesive content marketing strategy.

My advice? Start with these five steps to ensure a solid foundation for your content marketing efforts — then start blogging, sharing, and generating new business.

Step 1: Figure out how content marketing fits into your company’s overall strategy.

I don’t mean just the marketing strategy; I mean the entire business model. Every business sells something to someone, so how does marketing — and specifically, content marketing — fit in?

At Salesforce, we use the V2MOM (vision, values, methods, obstacles, measures) approach to prioritizing business goals. This makes it really easy to know what our CEO, our sales team, and our marketing colleagues are working toward — and where content marketing can align to those goals.

If you don’t have a clear view of your company’s overall goals, talk to your sales and marketing teams and figure out where their pain points are. Content marketing is unique, and these kinds of internal conversations can trigger useful ideas. Also, remember that if you’re unable to express your value in the language that the rest of your company speaks, you’ll have a hard time growing your team or justifying your budget.

Step 2: Figure out what you can track and measure — and what you can’t.

Modern marketing is data-driven, and content marketing is no exception. Too often, I hear content marketers getting hung up on the wording of a blog post or the subjective beauty of an infographic. Don’t get me wrong: Quality is absolutely important, and your content must be great. But your content is also only as good as your ability to measure it (which goes back to being able to express your value).

So, once you know your overall goals, figure out what you can track and measure. A good starting point is assigning metrics to each of your goals, then knowing whether you have the tools you need to measure them. For instance:

  • Goal: Grow brand awareness
  • Metrics: blog traffic, social followers, social media mentions, social shares, and third-party articles
  • How we’ll measure them: Google Analytics for blog traffic, social channels for follower numbers, Radian6 for social media mentions, Google Alerts for third-party articles

If you can’t measure something — or if doing so will be costly or labor-intensive — then consider whether it’s crucial to your strategy, or whether it’s something you should de-prioritize.

Step 3: Define your distribution strategy.

Amazing content without strategic distribution is like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest: if no one’s there to witness it, it didn’t happen. You could have the most beautiful infographic on Earth, but without an audience to enjoy it, it’s all but worthless.

So, before you start creating content, think about how you’ll make sure every piece of content you’ve taken the trouble to create reaches its target audience. Especially if you’re starting from scratch, focus on free and low-cost channels: SEO, social media, sites like Medium, and owned channels like your company’s blog and website. Once you get a better sense of where your audience is and what types of content work best, you can start investing in paid tactics like digital advertising.

Step 4: Examine everything through an ROI lens.

One of the great things about content marketing is that you can create and distribute content at minimal cost. So before you hire a bunch of people or pour a lot of money into high-end design, technology, or advertising services, go back to Step 1 and consider how you’re planning to express your value to the overall organization. If part of that hinges on being relatively low-cost, you’ll need to actually keep costs low until you know what works and what doesn’t.

Step 5: Run a pilot campaign.

The best way to hone your content marketing strategy is by taking it out for a spin. Keep your test small — maybe one core asset, like an e-book or webinar, plus some supporting content (blog posts, social posts, fun gifs, etc.) — and run it like you think an ideal content campaign should be run. Make sure the content is awesome, be exacting about distribution, and track results rigorously. In doing so, you’ll learn a lot about how you might refine your process, strategy, and results going forward.

Then — and only then — give yourself permission to start writing those scintillating blog posts you’re dying to write.