Growing a content agency is hard. You have to deal with all of the following:
- Hiring strategists
- Finding and keeping writers
- Finding and keeping editors
- Finding clients who will pay enough to make it worth your while
- Investing in operations, to handle increased content production volume
All the while, you need to protect your profit margins. While some of this can be made a lot easier by billing in advance and bringing writers on full-time, as opposed to keeping them as 1099 freelancers, profit margins are always tight in a content agency and thus employing an editor full-time can be a nonstarter for many.
Because content isn’t a high-margin service offering, you need to take advantage of every opportunity you can to find efficiencies in the business. If you don’t, you could be out of business faster than you think, or find yourself stuck doing work that you hate and you feel is below your pay grade (because it is!).
So, without further ado, here are the nine (9) most common mistakes we see content agencies making when scaling content production. In each section, we’ll also outline how content agencies can avoid making this mistake.
1. Hiring Junior or Cheap Freelance Writers
The biggest and most common mistake content agencies make is hiring cheap freelance writers who don’t know a space and aren’t actually great writers.
Content agencies usually do this because they’re not charging clients enough and therefore can’t afford top-quality freelance writers who write top-quality content.
The solution to not being able to hire top-quality freelance writers is to charge clients more for the content you’re producing. Most agencies can’t just raise their rates without offering higher-quality content or better results, but most agencies can offer higher-quality content and better results when they’re paid more.
2. Hiring New Writers for Every Client
It’s not uncommon for a content agency to bring on a new client and then work for 1-2 months of “on strategy” in order to have enough time to recruit new writers for that specific niche.
Not only is this horribly inefficient, it’s a big risk. The client will quit if the content isn’t up to their standards, it may be very hard to find qualified writers in specific verticals, and you can’t expect to get top-quality content writers if you’ve already defined how much you can pay, without also knowing the space and how much writers in that vertical cost.
A better way to do this is to consistently have a deep bench of writers you’ve worked with who you can call on a per-piece basis. At the start of this process you will still be recruiting new writers for new projects, but over time this should decrease in necessity as you build up your network of qualified writers in multiple industries.
This brings us to our next common mistake and solution.
3. Going Wide Instead of Deep
Too many content agencies write content for *gestures broadly* everyone. They’ll do B2B content. They’ll do B2C content. They’ll do social media content. They’ll write blog posts. They’ll write sales copy. They’ll write technical content and fluffy kitten content.
This is a mistake. Going wide instead of deep is tempting because it feels like you’re not closing off any opportunities — and at the start of a content agency this is a decent tactic. You can sign a bunch of clients that are across the board and see what type of content you enjoy creating.
But if you’re going to scale, you have to focus. We recommend focusing across two planes:
- Business model (such as B2B) and/or business type (such as SaaS/ecomm), and
- Verticals, such as dev tools or natural foods.
It is significantly easier to market to new leads, sell new prospects, and deliver top-quality content with trusted subject matter experts when you do this.
Our founder John’s first business, called Credo, started with the philosophy, “We help any type of company find any type of marketing provider.” Credo got some initial traction, and they learned a lot, but it was only when Credo niched down to four specific marketing channels and three specific types of companies that revenue and traction really took off.
Going deep on specific verticals also makes finding great editors a lot easier because niche content created and reviewed by subject-matter experts internally can then be finalized by outsourced editors, who are much cheaper than in-house editors.
4. Going Cheap on Editing
Too many content agencies undervalue editing.
There, we said it.
They undervalue it because they are not tying their content back to business results (we’ll get to this in a minute), and therefore they’re only trying to not get fired by their clients (which leads to very weird power dynamics between the client and the agency).
As Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, once told me, “The magic is in the editing.”
Well-edited content converts better, ranks better in search engines (do you not think search engines can identify typos and bad grammar at scale and reduce rankings for content with it?), and makes clients happier.
But great editing isn’t cheap. If you look at current content editing and proofreading rates, you should expect to pay, on average, $30-$50 per hour, with the average piece taking 1-2 hours. If you can’t afford to pay editors around ⅓ of what you’re paying writers, you need to rethink your pricing.
5. Expecting Editing to Fix Cheap Content
The next big mistake we see content agencies make when scaling is expecting editing to fix cheap content. We’ve been quite surprised to see this happen a lot.
A company will decide to scale content. They’ll hire a bunch of cheap freelancers and then try to hire “editors” who are nothing more than more senior writers who come in and essentially rewrite the piece.
I’ve come to call this “content marketing editing” because it is completely different from a classic editorial workflow where a managing editor delegates stories, writers and journalists write, another editor gives in-depth feedback, the writer/journalist then does another draft and a copy editor and proofreader finalizes the piece.
Even so, an “editor” can’t take D content and make it A+ content.
At best, a great editor can take D content and make it B content, though it’s usually C content that they end up with. But a great editor can take B content and make it A to A+ content that really outperforms the market.
The other reason that expecting editing to fix cheap content when scaling is a bad idea is that great editors are even harder to find than writers! There aren’t many cheap editors out there, but there are a lot of cheap writers.
If you try to scale content production with cheap content and highly skilled writers-as-editors, you’ll run into a high-cost bottleneck of not being able to hire enough great “editors” who can or want to do the job.
6. Not Prioritizing SEO within Top-of-funnel Marketing Content
The next mistake content agencies make is not prioritizing SEO within the top-of-funnel content they’re creating. They may give a cursory nod to it in briefs or sales decks, but most content agencies aren’t actually prioritizing content with SEO capabilities or showing their clients how they’re ranking and the business impact their content is driving (once again, more on that below).
Let’s face it — most content marketing is for SEO these days. As much as we want it to be about sales enablement and white papers and thought leadership, most clients want to buy “SEO content.”
So sell them what they’ll buy – content as a way to increase traffic AND business results, and then do a really awesome job and get them those results.
7. Only Creating Top-of-funnel Content for Clients
There’s also the common mistake of ONLY creating SEO-driven, top-of-funnel content for clients. More content agencies should, in our opinion, take the approach of Pain Point SEO, as coined by our friends at Grow and Convert, an SEO and content agency.
Top-of-funnel content is great for growing top-of-funnel traffic, but it’s terrible for lead generation. When you’re tying content to business results, or your clients are (as they should be), then starting at the bottom to tackle common pain points and show, not tell, the solution is the best way to show results. Clients are then much more likely to continue the engagement long enough to really increase the top of the funnel with SEO-driven high-traffic content.
This approach allows for clients to capture leads who are both ready to buy and those who are early on in their decision making process. Lifecycle content and marketing then brings them down the funnel to the point of sale.
When you’re scaling up content production for clients, don’t just prioritize top-of-funnel content. Make sure you’re selling them on multiple types of content at various levels in the marketing funnel!
8. Not Asking About How a Prospect Captures Leads
When producing marketing content, especially for B2B and especially for high-ticket offerings, you have to capture every bit of value that you can. Of course, the ultimate conversion is a qualified sales call, but a lot of readers and finders of your content aren’t ready for that.
So, give them something that will help them on their journey to finally being ready to have a sales conversation with you! This is usually in the form of a “lead magnet” (like the one you’re reading, hint hint), but can also be via:
- Free tools
- Other resources like white papers
Not asking about how a prospect or client captures leads is a big mistake, because a lack of leads will make it harder for you to show business results. Not offering to also create these lead magnet resources for the client if they don’t currently have anything is the second mistake.
This ties back to scaling content production because offering different types of content, like lead magnets, can increase each client’s lifetime value.
9. Not Tying Content Back to Business Results
Finally, the biggest mistake content agencies make when asking for more budget to scale content is not tying it back to business results.
If a client can’t tie your work back to improved business results, they’re going to cut your budget eventually — perhaps sooner than later.
If you really want to scale content production, and therefore your agency, you need to tie content back to business results so that clients are willing to expand their budgets with you to create even more content, because it drives leads and sales — and therefore revenue and business growth.
Scaling Content and Need to Scale Editing?
One challenge to growing a content agency is capacity, both in writing and editing. If you’re scaling content production and focused on finding writers, let us take care of the editing for you.
Book an Intro Call today to learn more about how EditorNinja can come alongside your content agency to help you scale production without the headaches of finding, hiring, and managing editors.