The age-old debate of the chicken and the egg has always fascinated me.
Somedays, I’m convinced the chicken came first. On other days, however, I believe the opposite; the egg must be the antecedent.
The back and forth spins my head, but you know what else this debate reminds me of?
Founders raising money from investors or VCs.
You see, to grow and scale a startup, founders need lots of customers. Conversely, acquiring and retaining customers requires considerable cash which they often can’t afford. Therefore, they turn to other people to finance their startups: VCs, angel investors, crowdfunding, etc.
That’s all well and good.
And in a perfect world, VCs would invest in the potential of a startup in a heartbeat – even if the said company doesn’t have many paying users yet – because they understand the founder needs money to acquire customers.
But this isn’t a perfect world.
In our world, most VCs don’t invest in ideas (the few who do request huge equity in return). They invest in startups with traction, i.e businesses with many paying users.
Hence, the chicken and egg problem: founders need money to get customers but also need customers to get money from startup investors.
What is the way out of this trap for you as a B2B startup founder?
- You need a cost-effective means to acquire early customers.
- You also need to attract investors for your startup.
A great way to achieve the above is by building a strong personal brand and becoming an industry thought leader. In other words, be known for proffering expert, practical solutions to problems in your product’s niche.
A founder with a good personal brand attracts additional funding, talent, and customers.
Ron Gibori, Head Creative Mind at Ideabooth expressed this same sentiment in response to a question on Quora:
Now the question…
“How do you become a thought leader and build a personal brand?”
By gaining expertise in a field and sharing your knowledge through content marketing. Not just any form of content marketing but thought leadership content marketing.
If you have any doubt about the efficacy of creating thought leadership content, here’s what a prospect (now client) said to our founder, Victor Eduoh, after following and consuming his content on LinkedIn:
Another prospect said this:
Before we jump in, consider:
How Does Thought Leadership Content Attract Investors & VCs?
Thought leadership content is a subset of content marketing under the umbrella of startup marketing:
However, the major difference between thought leadership and non-thought leadership content lies in the writing technique.
Here’s what I mean.
Thought leadership content originates from the Subject-Matter Expert’s unique experience, perspective, and knowledge. In contrast, the writer doesn’t need to have the experience for regular content but can draw from other people’s experience and research.
Some thought leadership content examples are this piece by Nathan Barry, Founder of Convertkit, this content by Dharmesh Shah, Co-Founder of Hubspot, and Leo Wildrich, Co-Founder of Buffer’s article. These content examples have one thing in common: they are all unique to the writer.
The image below captures the differentiating factor between thought leadership and run-of-the-mill content:
A thought leadership article is distinct, a product of deep thinking, and stands out because it brings something new to the reader.
Bear this in mind as there are no two ways about it.
Good thought leadership content must be of excellent quality and have a compelling point of view while solving the reader’s problem(s).
But there might be a catch.
What if you’re not a good writer or lack time to invest in crafting high quality content?
Most B2B founders are in this boat.
The answer is to either outsource to specialized content marketing studios or enlist the help of your content team (if you have one).
Since content comes in different forms: videos, blog posts, infographics, white papers, reports, emails, podcasts, etc., which format should you create as a thought leader?
A mix of everything, with a focus on blog posts or articles.
In a study conducted by Semrush, 91.4% of respondents voted blog posts as the most popular form of thought leadership content. It’s a win-win. These articles can always be repurposed into short videos, infographics, social media content, emails, etc.
Up until this point, I’ve been telling you content marketing can help you, a B2B SaaS founder, raise funding. But I’ve not shown you how.
So let’s look at how the content you create will put you and (your startup) on the radar of investors and VCs.
Thought leadership content marketing…
Establishes Your Credibility As a Niche Industry Expert
When you create and publish B2B thought leadership content, you’re basically signaling you’re an expert on the subject. This boosts your credibility and gives you a competitive advantage over other brands.
Therefore, if early investors stumble onto your content or search for you online and your content pops up, they’ll see you as a topical authority and be convinced of the growth potential of your startup.
In addition, showcasing your domain knowledge helps to build trust which is very important. In this piece, John Rampton, a Founder, Investor, and Startup Enthusiast, said he wouldn’t invest in a startup if he didn’t trust the founder. In fact, he stalks every company he invests in because he invests in people, not companies. Therefore, if the founder doesn’t seem trustworthy, it’s a no from him, regardless of how great the idea is.
Helps You Gain Early Customers
Remember the chicken and egg analogy in the introduction? And how investors won’t invest if you don’t have business results, but also, you need money to gain customers and business results?
Content marketing takes care of this problem.
As I mentioned before, by building your brand (via thought leadership marketing), you can gain early traction for your business and acquire customers.
Edelman and LinkedIn conducted a study in 2020 with interesting results to prove the impact of thought leadership. Notable among these results are: almost ½ of decision-makers in B2B companies spend one hour, or more, reading thought leadership content per week, and 49% of these decision makers’ purchasing decisions can be influenced by thought leadership.
With more customers resulting from your content efforts, investors will be drawn to your startup because they see your product can make money. In John Rood, Ex. Founder of Next Step Preparation exact words,
VCs are in the business of making money. Even though they know the investment business is risky, they still don’t like losing their money. By showing business results, they will be willing to take a chance on you.
Another benefit of gaining traction is it gives you an avenue to test your business idea in the market with an MVP or the actual product.
Helps You Make More Connections and Expand Your Network
Like-minds attract, they say.
By building your expertise and influence as a thought leader, other thought leaders will gravitate towards you, thereby expanding your network.
And you never know, some of these people might have the necessary influence to connect you with potential investors. But this cannot happen if you don’t have some sort of brand (which you can build with content) that people are attracted to.
It Highlights Your Focus And Dedication
Another way your thought leadership articles help raise funds is in the image you project to the public.
When investors see such quality content being created, they see a founder well-versed in his field, believes in his product’s vision and is determined to succeed. These traits are very attractive to VCs. As Shubhankar Bhattacharya, Venture Partner at Kae Capital said:
In other words, VCs are partial to business owners who create original content because they see them as knowledgeable and dedicated.
Improves Your Visibility And by Extension, Your Startup’s
The more you create original content, the more your brand grows, and the more popular your brand (and your startup) becomes. Edelman and LinkedIn’s study cited earlier also revealed B2B companies who produced high-quality thought leadership content were more recognized and had a better reputation than their counterparts.
This was also the case for Alex Turnbull, Groove’s founder. After creating thought leadership content on the blog, here’s what he had to say:
Logically, an investor’s chances of coming across your content and taking an interest in your startup are higher than otherwise.
Helps to Drive Company’s Story
Finally, by employing this approach to content marketing, you’re also building your startup’s story. As you may already know, brand storytelling is essential as it communicates the authenticity of your company and strengthens the emotional connection with your customers. Thought leadership was how Alex Turbull was able to drive the story of Groove. It was also how Rand Fishkin engineered Moz’s brand story.
As a Product-Led Storytelling Studio, we specialize in helping B2B startups tell their stories better. SaaS founders reach out to us for this very reason:
At this point, you’re familiar with how thought leadership content creation can help you raise funding. How about we look at the mechanics of creating this content?
How Founders Can Build Thought Leadership Content Moat
The nine steps detailed below will help you get the best results from thought leadership content marketing.
Step 1: Know Your Target Audience
Before creating and implementing a content marketing strategy, you need to know your target audience first. By ‘knowing them’, I mean you need to understand their pain points, beliefs, and the solution they are looking for.
You should create an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) to do this better.
To this effect, we have a proprietary framework called ‘ICP StoryScript’. It contains internal and external pain points, philosophical beliefs, and the expected transformation of the ICP.
For instance, as the target ICP for this particular piece, here is the StoryScript created and referenced before writing:
Knowing your audience is key, and you shouldn’t start creating content without it.
Step 2: Create a Content Strategy
Next, create a thought leadership content strategy. You don’t want to create content that solves no problem for the reader.
Therefore, to get insight on the questions your target audience have, conduct keyword research. Another way to get content ideas is to pay attention to communities like Quora, Reddit, or plain ol’ Google. As your audience then grows, you could simply ask them to share their problems.
After compiling content ideas, set SMART goals and identify your preferred visibility channels to create a workable thought leadership strategy.
If you need a guide on how to create a content strategy, you should check the Topic Clusters Content Strategy. Although this guide is best suited for creating a demand-generating content strategy, with a few tweaks, it can be modified to suit your thought leadership content marketing needs:
Step 3: Create Content With a Unique Perspective From Your Hard-Learned Experiences
Now, it’s time for the actual content creation.
Reverse engineer successful content from other thought leaders and create your content with a unique spin even if the idea is not totally new or original.
Remember, your perspective is what demonstrates your expertise. So tap from your experiences and struggles as a founder to write engaging content people are interested in reading.
To ensure that people take your content seriously, only share valuable stuff. Don’t write for the sake of writing.
One hack to effective thought leadership writing is to keep journals or recordings of your experiences, so you don’t forget a thing.
If you decide to outsource your content creation, share the recording or journal of that particular topic with the writer so they can immerse themselves in the whole experience. This will then help them write just as you would, in your voice.
Step 4: Distribute And Promote Effectively
Of what use is great content if nobody gets to read it?
This is why content distribution and promotion are as essential as content creation. After putting all that effort into creating your content, you need to map out a distribution channel.
First, you need to know which channel your personal brand will predominantly be built on. Twitter? LinkedIn? Email? Facebook? Quora? Or a combination of different channels?
Before choosing a channel, consider where your ICP & potential investors typically hang out. Then after creating your content, distribute massively on the channel you’re active on. Effective content distribution will increase your visibility and highlight your industry leader status. In the words of Kennedy Nunez, a Business Development Associate for Swyft,
NB: The next five steps don’t have to be executed in the sequential order presented, and the purpose is to increase your visibility.
Step 5: Engage With Your Audience
The fifth step to building a personal brand with content is relating with your audience. Over time, with proper content creation and distribution, you will be noticed, and more people will engage with your content. When this happens, don’t neglect to interact with your audience.
Respond to as many comments and questions as possible, and engage in meaningful conversations with your followers. This might seem like a lot, but it is necessary to humanize your brand and make it more approachable.
Step 6: Interact With Other Thought Leaders Content
Apart from engaging with your audience, engage with other thought leaders and investors (a few minutes daily will do).
Look for their profiles on social media or communities, follow them, contribute to and share their content. Over time, you’ll have a well-rounded network and develop some sort of relationship with these people, which might come in handy.
Step 7: Guest Post on Sites Where Your ICP Hangs Out
Guest posting is underrated. As a part of your content marketing efforts, create guest posts on influential sites your target audience (business investors and prospects) hang around. This will help in increasing your visibility and expose you to a broader audience than you are currently connected with.
Step 8: Podcasting
Podcasts, a type of content, are also a great way to demonstrate your expertise and authority as a thought leader. When you first start building your brand, you might need to approach some podcast owners to secure an invitation. But as your brand grows, you’ll be inundated with invitations.
Apart from guest starring in other podcasts, you can start your podcast and invite other people. This makes for great content.
Step 9: Share Your Customers’ Success Stories
When building an effective thought leadership content marketing moat, the final piece is publicly sharing your customers’ success stories. This goes a long way in convincing people to use your product and investors that your company has the potential to make them money.
Another use of your customers’ success stories or testimonials is to infuse them directly into your content. It entails including how other customers solved their pain points with your product as the vehicle in your content. This method is called Product-Led Storytelling, and it is our flagship framework for content creation for B2B SaaS companies.
Here’s a short case study on how Victor Eduoh followed the steps listed above to land a $60k per month client. Per step 1, the first thing he did was create an ICP StoryScript of his target audience. Here’s what it looked like:
Then, when brainstorming content ideas, he identified an information gap and created this extensive guide in response. This guide was written based on his experiences, and what has worked for him. In other words, it was thought leadership content:
He then used the Product-Led Storytelling formula when he shared customer success stories in his content:
He didn’t neglect distribution (Step 4). He shared this content in communities (even before it was published) and on social media.
See it for yourself when he made a post (another distribution tactic) about it on LinkedIn:
If you look closely, his LinkedIn post above ticked three steps: distribution of the post (Step 4), engaging with his audience (step 6), and sharing customer success stories (step 9).
Remember, the 9 steps to building a thought leadership content moat start from creating content to promoting content, then boosting your visibility. Here’s a condensed version of these steps:
And following this path would help you get great results for your startup.
Aside from the case study above, let’s look at how a B2B SaaS company achieved similar success:
How CopyAI Raised $11 million in Series A Funding
Paul Yacoubian and Chris Lu are the founders of CopyAi, an AI tool for generating marketing copy faster.
They are both thought leaders in the AI writing industry and are active on social media. They regularly create and post content to help their target audience. For example, here’s a Twitter post by Yacoubian on how to increase startup velocity (he’s an expert in this as he is also an angel investor):
Chris also creates thought leadership content on LinkedIn:
And Paul Yacoubian recently published a blog post on How to build a social media following (with advice from those who have done it).
The result of their topical authority-building efforts when they first launched an MVP of CopyAI?
2000 users in 48 hours:
This opened the floodgates to investors as they raised a seed round of $2.9 million not long after, then just recently $11 million in Series A funding.
This wouldn’t have been possible without the interest they generated by building in public. Their launch tweet in October 2020 went viral, and currently, the company has an ARR of $2.4 million.
Well, that’s the power of having a personal brand. You’ll attract investors and customers alike.
Remember, Consistency is Key
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, building a brand isn’t a day’s job. Establishing your brand and topical authority takes time and consistent thought leadership content marketing.
This means you shouldn’t give up when the going gets tough. And it will.
It might seem like you’re shouting into a vacuum when you start, and no one is listening to you. But if you persist in creating quality and problem-solving content, people will begin to recognize you, and your brand will take off.