Working within the content marketing industry is a pretty cool place to be. Just like any other industry there are those that have come before and rocked the world and those just starting out that I can help along the path. The difference is, I don’t have to open my rolodex (does anybody still have one of those?) to tell who’s who anymore.

It’s pretty obvious that companies without regular blogging and special side content aren’t using content marketing to get clients. So it begs the question, if they aren’t using content marketing themselves, how can you be sure they can do it for you?

Of course, I’m not here to point fingers. Instead, I want to provide some answers.

First, let’s tackle the chicken and the egg problem of social proof and content marketing. We’ve all seen the “social media gurus” out there that have less followers than my grandma. And I get phone calls every week from potential clients that want a fully matured content marketing experience, yesterday.

The bottom line is content marketing takes time and a LOT of work. You’ve probably learned the hard way that “If you build it, they will come” only works for Kevin Costner, not your website.

There are countless success stories out there sharing the power of content marketing. And just like rock stars, there is often a very long day, month, or even years of work before their “overnight” success takes place.

Consider Content Marketing Institute. Anybody within our industry knows them and loves them. This company’s message is geared to C-Level executives and those that are working within the content marketing industry. They are a powerhouse of information and an elite icon of our industry.

Do you think that happened overnight? It didn’t.

In a recent post Joe Pulizzi points out that, “When we first started our content marketing strategy in 2007, we had less than 1,000 total visits in the first six months. Now, we see approximately 100,000 visits each month. That’s five years in the making. Persistence is key.”

So how to we solve the chicken and the egg problem? Nobody wants to spend the money on content marketing without an established ROI and nobody is going to establish an ROI without first spending the money.

So how do we do it? The same way we eat an elephant – one bite at a time.

When you are first establishing your content marketing and social proof you should have some fun with it. Experiment with it before you set things in stone. Tackle some platforms you think are fun and stretch your comfort zone.

Test out some personas or brand angles. See the type of people you attract right out of the gate.

There are a few things you shouldn’t “play with” too much though. Sure, you can tweak them along the way, but you should have a solid concept of the following before you launch any type of social or content marketing strategy:

1 – Your message aka, your shtick, your deal, your story.

If you don’t know what makes your company awesome, you won’t succeed in content marketing. Period. This might evolve overtime, but a generic value statement isn’t going to help you.

2 – Your audience

If you don’t know who you are talking to, your content will be bland. Whatever industry you are in, I promise it is saturated. There is somebody out there talking about it – and they have your potential clients in their crosshairs. If you don’t speak directly to them, you’ll never get above the noise.

3 – Quality standards

Just ask somebody who got hosed by Panda about the need to get your quality guidelines established right off the bat. I can’t tell you how many requests I get to revamp hundreds of pages of content because a client changed their quality standards midstream. Note: I don’t take rewriting or revamping assignments, so don’t ask.

Beyond those three things, you should feel free to express yourself and your brand. While you are testing out new platforms or types of content keep in mind the following tips:

1 – Social Media is not about the numbers. Social Proof is also not really about the numbers. Instead, focus on the quality of your interactions. This includes who you follow and who follows you. If you instantly follow back everyone that follows you, eventually your stream will be full of spam. And more importantly, when a genuine person looks at who you follow (or your fans, or your circles, etc) they will devalue your social proof.

By providing quality content and genuine engagement you garner both the numbers and social proof. Anybody who’s spent more than 2 weeks on twitter can spot a spam account. And like it or not, when people get closer to buying your product one of the things they will consider is your social proof.

2 – Nothing of value happens overnight. Both your content marketing and your social media take time. People (or most importantly potential clients) understand that. If your company is new or new to being online, your potential clients will take that into consideration. So stop stressing about it.

3 – One of your greatest strengths as a small business is your ability to touch people in a genuine, meaningful way. Sure the big brands have millions to spend on a nationwide commercial, but they can’t talk to their customers the way you can. Leverage content marketing and social media to make those connections. Use it to speak directly to your clients.

4 – Forget about the chicken and the egg. Stop worrying about where to go first or how to get started. Just get up and start doing it. You’ll find your path, and if you need help along the way there are a gazillion people available to help.

In the end, the issue is more about the elephant. Content marketing isn’t going anywhere and with personalized results social media is starting to overshadow SEO. You can’t wait any longer; you have to get on board. Sure, it might take 3 or 4 years before you are at the place you want to be in your content marketing but when do you want that clock to start ticking? I vote for right now!