[IMGCAP(1)]We are obviously fans of creating a strong content marketing strategy for professional services firms.

We write about it. We speak about it. We help firms get started on it. And we even follow this strategy ourselves. But we also admit it’s not right for everyone, and if you don’t get started on the right foot, it will typically die a sad and lonely death.

So why does this happen for some while others reap the benefits of a productive content marketing effort? In most cases, the difference in success and failure comes down to careful planning. If you are just starting to think about adding content marketing to your firm growth strategy, or starting to see the signs of impending demise, we recommend you answer the following questions before heading down the road.

Who are you trying to reach? While this may seem painfully obvious, it’s surprising how often firms don’t identify the specific audience they want to reach. Is your content going to be written for individuals, business owners, those in a particular niche like attorneys or doctors, up-and-coming middle managers or some other group? Remember, it’s nearly impossible to write something that will appeal to “everyone” so think about whom you really want to reach first.

What will be your focus? Sort of in the same vein, what will be the focus of your content? Once you’ve identified your audience, think about the kind of content that will engage and hold their interest. What action do you want them to take after reading your posts? What information will they find valuable and, ideally, share with their colleagues and friends? Are you sharing tax-planning tips for new business owners or offering broader financial advice for people who make less than $250,000 a year? Remember to keep your end game in mind as you create the content that will lead your readers to your firm.

Who will be responsible for creating your content? This is where many content marketing efforts wither and die on the vine. It takes time and commitment to create regular content, whether it is going to be blog posts, white papers or video. Is one person responsible for all of it, or can you divide the labor among multiple people at your firm? Or is it best to hire a ghostwriter who can create it for you on a consistent basis, leaving your team to focus on their core work? Perhaps some combination of these strategies will work best in your situation. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but you must identify how your content will be created and schedule regular additions for your plan to work.

How often do you plan to add new content? Once you know who is creating the content, how often can you reasonably expect to add new posts? Are you going to write weekly blog posts? Do you plan to post a new video once a month? Consistency is key to a good content marketing strategy, so consider the other tasks you have to accomplish and put together an editorial calendar that is reasonable for you and your team. Then stick to it come hell or high water. No one likes to visit a blog with three posts that were written 18 months ago.

In what ways will you promote it? Unlike Field of Dreams, this is not a case of “if you build it, they will come.” You have to let people know that you are creating all this wonderful content for them to enjoy. Include a link in your email signature, and put it at the bottom of your invoices or purchase orders. Drive readers to it through your social media pages and feature it in an e-newsletter to your contacts. The more people who know about it and find value in it, the more awareness and readers you’ll have.

Who will be responsible for managing the process and assigning tasks? Ultimately, someone has to be responsible for managing the process. The chosen one also needs to have support from the top of the organization and enough authority to edit posts as needed, turn down submissions that aren’t appropriate or on target (even if it’s from a partner), and light a fire under those who are not sticking to the agreed upon schedule. This person needs to be interested in taking on the role in the first place. Reluctant managers thrust into the position because no one else is available will lose interest quickly and your blog will suffer the consequences.

How does your content strategy integrate with your other marketing tactics? Content marketing should not exist in a vacuum; it’s just one piece of your overall marketing strategy. All of your marketing efforts should work in tandem towards your ultimate objectives. Your blog should drive readers to your Web site. Your e-newsletter should drive people to your blog. Your webinar should allow people to see how smart you are and want to learn more. The overall messaging and firm positioning should be consistent across all media.

How do you measure effectiveness and define success for these efforts? Why are you doing all this work in the first place? Are you trying to create broader awareness so potential clients know about your firm and referral sources send business your way? Are you looking to grow a particular service line or industry niche? Do you want to establish a partner as an expert in a particular arena and get more press coverage and notoriety? Establish what constitutes success from the beginning and measure your progress on a regular basis. You may need to make adjustments in your tactics, frequency or focus from time to time to make sure you ultimately reach your goals. But if you have none established, you’ll never get there.

A lot of work goes into putting the content in content marketing, as this list of questions illustrates. All that effort is worth it, though, for those who are inclined and able to spend the time. In addition to building your client base and creating recognition and appreciation for your knowledge, you may find that sometimes creating content to share with your audience adds to the depth of your own understanding.

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk is president of bbr marketing, a firm that provides marketing strategy, training and tactical implementation for professional services firms. She can be contacted at www.bbrmarketing.com, or you can read their blog posts at www.bbrmarketing.com/blog or www.marketingideasforcpas.com.