Hi Michelle, There are a number of ways to monetise and "market" with little or no money. You need to position yourself as an expert in your niche, use a blog and promote it via social media and forums.
The best format is a website with a blog where you can add content, showcase published articles, media features etc and publish case study testimonials. Obviously you need to optimise SEO etc. Latest trends say use video rather than ads so get a You Tube channel that links your videos to your web site or opt in page.
You have to have a sales funnel that builds a relationship with the prospect before directly asking them to "buy". We run an online business coaching and training academy which is desigend exactly for preople like you in this position.
The 'best' format to showcase your content can only be determined by your audience and your industry.
As Carrie says, you need to test a variety of formats and based on the one that resonates most, you invest more of your time and resources into same.
In terms of monitisation, as you have already been adviced (and for best results) you will need to get a self hosted wordpress blog.
Regarding doing little or no advertising, this will be dependent on the 'quality' or 'perceived value' that your audience derives from your content. If your audience sees your content as awesome, then they will most likely help you spread it to their network of friends/colleagues via social media and word of mouth.
It really depends on what kind of content you are showcasing. One thing you could ask yourself is "What would Google do"? If you follow a Google like model, offer great, and most information for free, and then offer the premium information or forum access at a cost.
A great platform that is easy to use and offers some great scalability options is WordPress. Our company works with WordPress exclusively because it affords the administrators ease of use, thousands of plugins for different and specific solutions to needs.
A scenario you could employ:
Create a website that offers great information on Widget A using static pages. Information like - What is Widget A? How does Widget A help people or businesses? What are the benefits of Widget A over Widget B? Testimonials from people who have used Widget A before. This sets the stage for people being interested in Widget A.
Next - Offer an active blog with content revolving around Widget A and what widget A is doing in the industry. Mention information that talks about how widget A is on the rise (QR Codes for example). This shows people that Widget A is becoming more widely known and used. Offer blog posts on your opinion of company's utilizing widget A and how they are using it. "Company Z grows 30% in 30 days by implementing Widget A..Why?" This creates buzz. Make sure that you use a WordPress plugin that auto publishes your posts to social media channels, or Sign up for a Social Media management system like Sprout Social - a great tool for easily and effectively managing Social Media to a T (I nor my anyone in my company work for them, we just use their service and swear by it).
So now - you have static pages about Widget A, your creating buzz through your blog and social media, making you sort of an expert on Widget A. Now you should be getting activity on your site. People commenting on your posts, people asking you questions about Widget A, etc. You are effectively creating a community about widget A, and your the mayor.
Finally - time to monetize.
Offer private video access to videos you created about how to grow your business with widget A, how to achieve something with widget A....remember, you now are the know all of widget A, so people are more likely to pay for premium information. Write an ebook on widget A and watch daily sales come in. Sign up as an advertising website on many of the ad marketplaces like http://buysellads.com/ so you don't have to physically be involved in the advertising process. Offer a paid forum where the community can have direct access to your knowledge of widget A and have access to other people who have implemented widget A using your videos, ebook, etc.
A great entrepreneur employing all these tactics can be found at http://ecsimplified.com. Of all subjects, widget A in this case is infant potty training. Launched early in 2012, it was profiting instantly. It all revolves around the ebook and then branches out from there.
Creating a profitable online money machine takes time, but if you do it right dedicate yourself to building it in the beginning, it will generate income and keep growing as you implement new ways and new information, widgets, etc.
Hope this helps!
Blogs will be a good place to start with but free blog accounts may have some restrictions. But it has some benefits too (like site management is easier). After getting some reputation you can change over to your own website. :)
Depending on the type of content I believe we will see an increasing move toward domain specific content management and delivery/presentation solutions. In other words general purpose publishing and delivery tools such as blogs and websites will give way to solutions that present information in a way and format that is specific to the content type/customer needs.
A great example is http://flyer.io/ for real estate - watch the video.
I have no connection or involvement with flyer.io
I do like your emphasis on "little or no advertising" - be great to see more creativity in business models than simply subjecting visitors/customers to ads.
Again depending on the nature of the content you may be able to deliver value-added content/services to core customers who are willing to pay.
Promotion - my preference is Twitter and Google+ and not just promoting your content but also related content that your customers/visitors may find interesting.
Actually the format will find you, once you build your audience - via social media, blog posts and your website audience a following will develop and the format that gets the largest following is your format. That is one way to determine your format, you have to test the waters to find the group that is most in tune with your product, service or information. Most social media platforms are free and comes with a diverse audience looking for content.
When I help a new business get on the web, I always suggest having a main website. Something simple with the story, hours, contact, and some relevant pages. But I also strongly suggest having a second site with a separate domain running Wordpress (blog software) then optimize that second site to be more engaging and broad for your industry. The second site is more likely to get more of a conversation and Social reverberation. For example if you are a dog groomer, have your main simple main site and also start a second blog on dog hair styles that is more set for anyone, anywhere, that likes dog. Maybe colored dogs, or punk puppies, ect.. Good luck!
I agree with Carrie that a variety of media channels to produce content in order to figure out which works best for you. All organizations need their own stand alone website and blog as their unique platform. Moving out from there, you can choose social media sites that your target market use daily and work to network on those sites, pointing back to your main site.
Again, consistency is absolutely critical. It is easier these days to set up 'dripped content' so that you aren't necessarily writing new posts everyday. Planning is important as well so that you build up a collection of content that you can distribute over time and then manage comments, conversations, prospects, sales, and clients.
Michelle, To monetize "content" I'd go the route of a blog and like Carrie said tie all social channels to point back to the blog. You can use Wordpress, set up a shopping cart, have discussions and don't need to have advertising if you don't wish to. I've got both a blog and website and the website is great for products, though the blog is much better for content. Check out Smart Passive Income for ways to monetize content on a blog, has some good post & videos. Good Luck.
Thank you all for the very helpful feedback. I have read different articles and books on this but always felt a bit mystified on the how of "making money" piece if I focused on content first. As a person on the Internet a lot, I've become so weary of all the advertising. Do we really need to be reminded again and again about a mainstream product? My personal peeve :) Thanks much!