About five years ago, a business owner requested a meeting with my team to help rebrand his company. When we met, he set down a three-ring binder filled with copies of my weekly marketing column and said, “I’ve been reading you and saving your columns for three years. I’m finally in a position to hire you. I don’t want to work with anyone else.”

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The lesson here is that being helpful doesn’t immediately translate to sales, but it does earn trust. Most people hitting the web for information are in the early stages of the sales funnel. But sharing content on your website that makes them smarter -- via podcasts and newsletters -- will keep potential customers coming back. Eventually, if and when they’re in the market to buy, they’ll choose the person they trust.

Case in point: The client who collected my weekly columns has remained our customer for more than five years and brought in nearly half a million dollars since that first project.

So, instead of obsessing over immediate ROI, solve problems by teaching, sharing and being helpful in your content. Some readers may never be ready to buy, but their trust in you may lead to valuable referrals, recommendations and introductions.

In short, invest in the long term. Time is a limited commodity, and it could take years to create a bank of helpful content that draws new clients. But in our case, it’s been worth it. Since launching our agency blog in 2007, we’ve brought in more than a million dollars in billings from the readers we’ve helped. Here are five of our strategies:

1. Share your knowledge.

Content comes in many forms: podcasts, ebooks, webinars, blog posts, newsletters. Employing a variety of mediums will help bring in customers at various stages of the sales funnel. You can lay out essential evergreen content in an ebook or white paper and center blog posts around timely industry issues.

Tip: Regardless of the medium, always craft unique, high-quality content that’s relevant.

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2. Resist the urge to pitch.

I often speak at conferences and always focus on teaching audience members something they can apply immediately. I never mention our work or clients.

Yet those audiences don't forget: We have clients today who heard me speak at a conference two or three years ago. They signed up for our newsletter and have followed us ever since. One client recently said, “You’ve been my marketing partner for a couple of years without knowing it. Why wouldn’t I hire you?”

Tip: No matter how tempting, don’t pitch, in your content. Be helpful, informative and prolific. Prospective clients aren’t oblivious -- they know they ultimately control the decision to buy.

3. Engage readers in thoughtful discussions

Part of building trust is being available to prospects when they need you. Respond to all calls and tweets from newsletter followers. Try to be helpful in brief conversations without giving away the farm.

Tip: While it may feel like a time suck in the moment, these authentic conversations can translate to real business value.

4. Never assume it’s over.

Many of our subscribers read our blog for years before picking up the phone. Just because prospects have subscribed to our newsletter for three years doesn’t mean they’ll never buy. They could be in a junior position or in the middle of a contract with another vendor.

Tip: Be steady and true. Even if it takes 10 years, some followers will become loyal customers and make your efforts well worth the wait.

5. Be authentic.

Nothing’s worse than growing to like and trust someone online, only to find out he or she is very different in person. Embrace your brand personality when creating and sharing helpful content, and follow through on that promise in person. Potential clients who eventually meet you face-to-face should feel like they’re talking to an old friend who matches the online persona they know.

Looking back, I realize now that had I purged our newsletter list of subscribers who never purchased in our business' early years, we would have missed out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales.

Tip: Freely share information that makes potential customers informed buyers. When you set expectations and build partnerships on a foundation of trust, clients will be hooked for life.

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