Content creation and curation are undergoing a sea change, which smart entrepreneurs are not only embracing but leveraging. They’re doing it to heighten awareness, forge strategic partnerships, and drive their bottom line.

In fact, 61 percent of consumers feel better about a company that delivers custom online content and are more likely to buy from that company (Custom Content Council). And that BtoB entrepreneurs with blogs generate 67 percent more leads per month than those who don’t (Social Media BtoB).

So if you’re a new or growing business looking to keep your clients, stave off the competition, and grow, you’d better consider whether and how you should be adding content to your to-do list.

What is content creation and curation?

This is just a way to describe the way companies create--and share from other sources--stories and information that their audiences find compelling. Those channels have attempted to disintermediate the traditional relationships that existed between, say, Inc. Magazine and entrepreneurs or IBM and CIOs of global banks. Any company with an online presence can now be a publisher and curator.

The biggest change for small businesses is marketing. It’s no longer just about your products and services--it’s now also about your customer’s wants and needs.

Sure, you know that already, and hopefully you base your sales strategy around it. But your content and online presence may still be mired in the old marketing mentality.

So become a content creator and curator. You can get pretty far with these five steps.

1: Know your audience.

Do you sell tractor parts to farmers? Today, ranchers and farmers are increasingly sophisticated mobile Web users. In fact, according to a recent Pew Center report, 72 percent of all American adults now have a social media presence.

Find out what social media channel farmers visit. Facebook? Online agriculture trade journal? Chat room? Familiarize yourself with the topics and issues being discussed, and think about how you can participate.

The same holds true for any customer of any BtoB organization. Your customers are gathering information, sharing issues and trends, and making informed decisions online. Find the ones they’re using. Then find the relevant content that your audience would benefit from reading.

2: Create a platform for your brand ambassadors.

This isn’t as daunting as it may sound. Many small professional services fields (law, consulting, insurance, etc.) are already churning out white papers and opinion pieces. Those can be edited and sent out daily or weekly via Twitter feeds, LinkedIn updates, blogs, or wherever your audiences most like to engage. For a great example, check out Forrester.

Whether it’s a graphic, a blog, or some other form of thought leadership, your custom content will be shared or “favorited” by customers, reporters, analysts, and other influential professionals.

If your leaders aren’t known as experts already, start with a search engine ( is a great source). Share news and analysis from secondary sources that your audiences will find of interest. Just compile and vet the most interesting news to share online. Check out, for instance, what our client EY does with their EY Global Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.

3: Pick your channels wisely

A small business should not be all things to all people. Which online forums are most highly trafficked by your largest target audience? Make sure you have a robust company page, and key executives build out their profiles, join relevant groups, and regularly share insights through their status updates. Is an industry blogger truly influential? Follow them, share their content, and respond when you have something to say. Soon they may do the same in return.

4: Start commenting today.

Get your entire business involved by commenting where interesting discussions are happening. Smart entrepreneurs have entire account teams deeply listening to online destinations that are most highly trafficked by their clients.

Think about the interesting information you glean when attending events, industry conferences, and trade shows. If you see or hear something that you think would interest your target audiences, tweet it.

5: Measure the impact.

Content creation and curation drives the bottom line. The average cost to generate an inbound marketing lead (one that’s created by content creation or curation) is $143. The average cost of an outbound marketing lead (think old school website or telemarketing) is $373 (Hightable).

Set up an account with Meltwater (or Sugar, or Vocus), and track the traffic to your site, the number of inquiries you receive, and the meetings you set.

And track qualitative feedback. I can tell you from personal experience that BtoB, C-level clients conduct online searches before they select a vendor, supplier, or partner. Do you want them to see a retro website that’s all about you while your leadership doesn’t have much of a footprint? Or do you want to be seen as an influential source of thought leadership across multiple online platforms?

Here’s one final statistic that should serve as a wake-up call: LinkedIn generates more leads than Twitter or Facebook for the average BtoB business. But only 47 percent of BtoB leaders use it. They use Facebook instead. That’s a huge missed opportunity.