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How we succeeded at content marketing with no budget

It all starts with your story 

By Daniela Milosheska · February 17, 2021
A hero image with a screenshot of the Bastet Noir blog showcasing the faces of Bastet Noir

There's a sentence written in the first chapter of every business book: "Creating a compelling story around your brand is the first step toward creating a successful business." I've never been one to listen to advice—instead, I've forged my own path, which perhaps is both a blessing and a curse. Had I taken this admittedly cliched advice to heart, my business probably would have been much more successful much sooner. 

So here I go: Creating a compelling story around your brand is the first step toward creating a successful business.

But why? Because we're all suckers for a good story

Creating behind-the-scenes content to tell our story

At my business, Bastet Noir, I realized pretty quickly that we couldn't compete with the fast fashion brands. I mean, how could we? Our total budget for everything (and when I say everything, I mean everything from marketing to purchasing materials to production costs) was less than $10,000. This isn't enough to even get your foot in the door to start negotiating with factories, let alone develop a collection. So it was pretty obvious that we needed to think of another way to produce the clothes. 

I started visiting factories in North Macedonia and learned that, at the end of each season, these production facilities were left with a huge pile of unused materials that were burned in landfills. That's when a light bulb went on in my head. What if we bought these deadstock materials in bulk and tried to design something with them? It would save us massive amounts of money, and it would also help the environment. 

This allowed us to produce the clothes at an affordable price, but it also led to our first content marketing strategy. The bulk purchasing of leftover materials became our core focus when we started working on developing content for the site.

The idea was to create a series of blog posts where we would cover all the different steps involved in the creation of a collection. We weren't really sure whether it would be interesting to our audience, so we tested it out on our Instagram stories. It turned out that people really love behind-the-scenes moments. So from that point forward, we started documenting everything from picking out the fabrics to illustrating the inspiration process, drawing the designs by hand, making and adjusting the patterns, sewing the clothes, and hand finishing all the details. All of these processes were covered in our Behind the Scenes blog and on our Instagram account.

A screenshot of the behind-the-scenes blog posts

You can start small even on social. To help, here are three workflows that can help you automate your Instagram for Business account so you can focus on the more personal parts of marketing.

This was a good start, but it wasn't enough. Bringing traffic to any site when you're first starting out is extremely difficult, let alone when you're located thousands of miles away from your target market. And if you add to that having a $0 advertising budget, it becomes nearly impossible. We needed to think outside the box. Our next step: parallel to the behind-the-scenes blog posts, we developed another series. 

Offering incentives for others to create content with us

We needed to figure out a way to bring women from the U.S. to our website. And not just any women: women who were interested in fashion, were somewhere between 25 and 45, had purchasing power, wanted something durable and timeless, and were eco-conscious and deeply cared about supporting social causes. 

To reach these women, the second tier of our content strategy needed to be something empowering and inspirational. 

We came up with a blog series that would cover the lives and entrepreneurial stories of highly accomplished women who lived and worked in the United States, particularly those who were working in the fashion and beauty industry: editors, writers, social media creators, and women entrepreneurs. 

Of course, we knew that simply contacting them wouldn't be enough—they were busy women, all accomplished individuals in their respective fields. Their time was precious, and their fees for a single post on Instagram were about as much as the revenue we made in six months. The only way to engage with them was to offer something different. That something different was a platform where they could tell their stories while also supporting our mission.

And that's how the Cool Faces of Bastet Noir blog series came to be. All we asked was for them to take few photos wearing a Bastet Noir item of their choice, custom-made to their own measurements. 

A screenshot of the Cool Faces blog series

We also added another layer to it. We launched an IGTV series called "Femme Inspirational Talks," where we started posting empowering speeches of inspirational women speaking on various topics, such as overcoming anxiety, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome—or simply sharing their success stories. This solidified the fact that we were women-owned, and the inspirational content we shared was re-shared across our followers' accounts.

Highlight what makes you different

Bastet Noir had been working with women-owned businesses from the very beginning. But I didn't develop my brand's story around them from the start. I believed it wasn't fair to them, that I'd be using them. I thought that by not doing so, I was considerate. But what I didn't consider—and only later on realized—was that by spreading the word about them, there was a big opportunity to help these women even more. Once I'd figured that out, things became pretty clear on what I needed to do. 

A few months ago, we launched another series on Instagram that covers the incredible journeys of the women single parents we work with. We showed behind-the-scenes footage of their studios, shared how and why they became seamstresses, and asked them what working with Bastet Noir meant for them and their children. 

This turned out to be so successful that, in 2021, we decided to turn these Instagram stories into a blog post series called "Meet the women behind Bastet Noir." Through a series of interviews, our customers will get to meet every seamstress that makes their clothes. Our hope is to bring full transparency to the brand and show our customers how the tips they leave improve the lives of these women and their children. 

3 things I wish I knew before I started with content marketing

There are few things I wish somebody had told me before I started with content marketing.

1. Invest in a copywriter

Your story will only shine if you have someone who's able to communicate it. For our brand, we wanted someone who was witty and funny, but at the same time, knew how to convey the serious side of the business (environmental and social impact). 

Always check references, and have them do a content test for you that includes both writing and strategy. This will confirm whether they understand your mission and share your vision. I did this before hiring a social media freelancer, and the person I was convinced was perfect for the job based on her resume turned out to not only lack enthusiasm, but wasn't aligned with what the brand stood for.

2. Focus on telling your story before focusing on SEO strategy

I spent around $1,500 a month for search engine optimization (SEO) services before I had a clear content marketing strategy. Yes, SEO is important, but in order to have a successful SEO for your website, you first need to have a compelling story to build on. And SEO strategists don't focus on developing that story.

3. Leverage your email list

Once your content is developed, be sure to use it across every possible medium—including email

We use Mailchimp, which is free for the first 2,000 subscribers (meaning it was perfect for us when starting out). We segment our audience, so we have separate lists for press contacts, wholesale accounts, and individual customers. Every campaign we send out has language and messages that target the segment we're speaking to, but we're able to recycle the content—just in different ways.

And across all your mediums, make sure your visuals match your story. We use Canva, which has thousands of pre-made templates to choose from, as well as predefined dimensions specifically for newsletters, stories, posts, and whatever else you might need. Even without a budget, there are plenty of apps that can help you be sure your graphics look polished.

As you start to collect more emails, here are 4 ways to automate your email marketing for better communication.

As much as I want to claim that this content strategy was all carefully planned, it wasn't. And that's ok. As a small business owner, don't worry if you can't figure out the whole thing at once: it'll develop gradually and organically with your story. The important thing is to at least establish a foundation—know exactly what your unique selling point is—and then build up the rest as you go.

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