How To Sell Content Marketing
The Comprehensive Guide for Agencies
Here’s what this post covers if you need to jump around:
That process is time-consuming and, if it leads to only one-off projects, often is ineffective with little to no return.
According to Agency Spotter, there are more than 120,000 marketing agencies in the U.S., and the industry has become increasingly competitive as agencies continue to proliferate, diversify, and niche-ify.
If your agency business model focuses on one-off projects like web design, you’ll inevitably spend more time looking for new clients than selling to existing ones. Customer acquisition becomes the crutch that can set your growth back (and bottleneck it) dramatically.
And that's where selling content marketing comes into play—by helping you bust the never-ending cycle of customer acquisition and sell more options to existing clients.
Providing ongoing services to existing clients (like a content marketing package) has plenty of benefits to your bottom line, and it can help you grow in ways you might not expect.
And doing so produces better lifetime values and increasingly loyal clients. Not only does it open the door for new revenue streams, but it works as the perfect add-on to existing projects, like developing AND fleshing out a new website’s content.
Even if you haven’t started selling content, or don't consider yourself a 'content marketing agency' per se, we’ll show you how to start a content marketing agency and start pitching that content to clients, too.
Editor’s note: Part of the content playbook is updating old pieces of content, which we’ve done for this pillar page as well. Our original guide has been stripped down, edited, and updated—so you can rest assured that the info you find here is USDA-Premium quality (or whatever Google uses these days).
Smart agencies look for solutions that offer both benefits to the client (as the first priority), and then the agency.
No matter what your lead product is (website development, design, SEO, Google Ads, etc), your clients will get big benefits from content marketing services, and you'll see a number of benefits from selling content marketing services to your clients.
Why do we believe that?
First off, it's a natural way to produce an ongoing revenue stream with clients.
Since content marketing is never really "done" (in contrast to projects with a more distinct beginning and end like building a website), you'll have an ongoing way to engage with clients, and create value for them.
Whether it’s creating new blog posts or e-books, there are nearly endless topics to cover, giving you significant opportunities to pitch projects.
Beyond having projects to pitch, your client's bottom line is directly impacted with content marketing. Want to produce big wins that keep clients around for years? Content marketing is the king of ROI for clients and you.
And a high ROI for clients is likely to produce continued business and increased lifetime values for clients of your agency.
HubSpot’s 2018 data showed that 53% of marketing leaders credit content marketing as their strongest ROI source—and their 2020 update reported that 60% of marketers still see content as “very important” or “extremely important.” Despite this, only 24.26% said they actively plan on spending more with content in 2020.
This reads to us like a huge missed opportunity—especially when you look at the success stories.
One of the greatest examples of a successful agency content strategy in recent years was Hotpads, a company dedicated to helping people rent houses and apartments in new cities.
Like any other business, they had the goal of building traffic from organic search. Paid search worked, but they wanted natural visitors to find them too. The problem was, their blog was only generating 400 views a month, and most of the users already knew Hotpads.
The current content they had just wasn’t engaging enough. Hiring a full-time in-house content marketer limits your scope on topics to write about, while also costing you a small fortune. Hotpads had to outsource their content marketing strategy to improve keyword targeting strategy and topic expertise.
In just seven months, they invested in and produced 270 new articles for their blog, resulting in a 4,000% increase in blog traffic.
Starting out small is inevitable, but what separated them from most companies is their willingness to take action. There are tons of companies out there looking to increase their content marketing efforts, giving your agency a big chance to step in, produce more revenue and loyal clients as a result.
Content marketing has taken the digital marketing world by storm, for good reason: it works.
So, how do you start to confidently sell it if you don’t have a dedicated in-house staff of writers or a solid plan in place?
Getting into content marketing for agencies can be a misleading prospect.
Most think that you have to first hire tons of dedicated in-house writers and content strategists. Then you have to build out systems to get the job done and report back to clients (not to mention fielding edits).
But these steps don't necessarily ring true anymore. The modern agency isn’t a dozen in-house writers that explode overhead costs.
Doing it on your own isn’t feasible either, though...
You’re already strapped for time as is, so cranking out blog posts, pillar content pieces, and long-form guides for clients isn’t really an option. After all, what if clients want dozens of blog posts written a month alongside ebooks plus white papers or pillar pieces? Does that mean you have to hire new employees (writers) to fulfill their needs?
Of course not. Hiring new employees is expensive and far less easy to scale.
When looking to start selling content marketing through your agency, an ideal starting point is with a freelance team of writers (or using a writing service) that fits your needs. This gives room for scaling and profit from the start.
Then, you can work on the details of determining a client’s need, selling to them, pricing your content, and building out a workflow.
And that brings us to step one how to sell content marketing at your agency, where you will learn how to secure freelance writers to help produce your content rather than hiring a full team.
Step 1. Secure freelance writers
Freelancers and writing services can help you produce content for clients without providing a salary, benefits and a 401k, as many lean, modern agencies know. Need 10 posts for a client each month? Freelancers and writing services can provide that.
Getting into the content marketing game is easier than you think:
You don’t actually have to produce most of the content you create for clients.
Your first step is hiring a freelance writer based on your budget and content needs.
Let's say you have a new client who is looking to bolster his or her online presence quickly after launching a new website. They need to build traffic and brand awareness on a faster timeline. In mapping out a strategy, you mutually decide that you need to publish many content pieces to reach that end in 3 months' time—which might come to 12 blog posts, 10 website pages, and 2 pillar pages, as an example.
Hiring a more specific, marketplace-style freelancer will be your most sustainable (not to mention cheapest) route. Plus, the marketplace option gives you the benefit of searching for industry-specific freelancers at a higher volume:
Also consider your costs here.
Hiring individual writers will cost more, especially when doing higher volumes. If clients increase their content demands past your in-house team’s bandwidth, you’ll be struggling to hire great writers fast enough to meet demand, leaving customers waiting potentially months for their content. That can be devastating to customer relationships, future loyalty, and your client’s bottom line.
STEP 2. DETERMINE YOUR PRICING
Once you have a freelance writer solution, you’ll need to nail down a pricing for your new service. But where to begin?
Pricing is always a tricky subject, no matter what you sell or who you sell it to. We all want the best deal, and agencies often deal with money-related questions from their clients.
Adding content marketing will, in many ways, be no different than how you handle the rest of your billing. According to early findings from our agency survey of 2020 (which you can participate in here), 87% of agencies build the price of content into the retainers they sell to their clients.
So for most agencies, your real question is more along the lines of:
“How aggressively do we price our content so that it lives effectively in (or grows) our clients’ retainers?”
That said, we’ve seen at least three distinct outlooks that agencies take when deciding how they want to price their content marketing:
1. The Unicorn:
Your agency places content at the center (or close to the center) of its mission and services offered. This pricing model is the least common of the three, but if your agency is positioned to pull it off, this forward-looking approach can establish fruitful client relationships that are built to last.
2. The Workhorse:
You retain content as a significant piece of the puzzle and you work hard at it because it provides a helpful value-add, but your primary services and offerings are elsewhere such as SEO or web design.
3. The Racehorse:
Your agency does not mess around with content very often, and it’s certainly not a significant part of the vision. However, occasionally you have clients with a strong demand for content, and you deal with those demands as they come and race to find a short-term solution to what they need.
It’s highly recommended that you consider which of the three your agency falls into.
Where you fall in this model can ultimately help determine how aggressively you price your content—but it will also help you make sure that you’ve done enough freelancer-finding in step one.
But we don’t want to get through all this talk of pricing without giving you some firmer numbers to consider.
In that same agency survey quoted above, the results fell (startlingly) into three distinct, completely even groups:
- Group One: Sells a 1,000-word content piece for less than $100
- Group Two: Sells a 1,000-word content piece between $100-$300
- Group Three: Sells a 1,000-word content piece for more than $300
So the data is split, and we suspect that the niche of our agency partners helps determine how high the dollar sign climbs in each of these scenarios.
All that said, we hope this gives you a target to aim at when determining how to price your content marketing. You may have to adjust your aim a bit, but you can rest assured you’re aiming in the right direction.
STEP 3. FIND CLIENTS THAT ARE NATURAL FITS FOR CONTENT MARKETING
Now it’s time for rubber to meet the road, so to speak. It’s one thing to nail down pricing, and another to have a fulfilment method lined up. But it’s another thing altogether to really determine how you get those content marketing clients.
Thankfully, there are some low-hanging fruit opportunities for most agencies to consider.
You already have a pool of clients with varying needs. They know you, trust you, and are in the perfect position for an upsell.
Start with the clients you already have!
There’s no need to go out and start selling content marketing services from scratch, at least not only selling them from scratch. If you’re already working on projects with other clients, they’re naturally positioned to take you up on your new service.
Consider this scenario:
Let’s say you’ve sold SEO services to a client for a retainer. Many SEO’s see the initial phases of these services as technically-intensive efforts to fix what’s already on a website, which often leaves no room for content—even though said content is a huge part of long-term SEO.
That means one of two things happen:
- No content is created because there’s no budget, or
- The agency asks the client to produce the content they need. For reasons we cover in Section 3, below, that’s not always the best idea.
The solution here is simple: create a strategy that has content baked into it from the beginning, while still utilizing the full budget of the retainer. With the pricing you developed in Step 2 (and the freelancers from Step 1), you’ve already sold your first content marketing client!
Of course, each client is going to be different and have varying needs, but you can creatively approach their pre-existing strategies and find ways to add content marketing.
And then moving forward, look for ways content can benefit future clients as you sell to them. Including content from the start can help you increase the value you deliver over time, meaning loyal and satisfied clients.
Step 4. Determine content needs and goals with client
Once you’ve found a partner to work with to outsource your content marketing efforts, you should start collecting essential data or intake from clients that can help produce better content for them.
- Company goals for content: Are they looking to drive traffic? Increase brand awareness? Close leads?
- Target markets and personas: Demographics and firmographics like job titles, age, hobbies and more. These will all impact the content style and organization: i.e, high-level CEOs don’t want to read about implementing technical SEO, as they aren’t the ones doing the optimization themselves.
- Tone and style they prefer: Witty, more serious, professional, thought-leadership, or any of the shades in between. This is a great opportunity to ask them for content examples they admire and want to emulate for their own business that demonstrate the desired tone in action.
- Keywords and topics: Which are top priority? Would they want help developing these?
All of these factors and more should then be directed to your freelancers to improve content quality and personalization to each client.
Step 5. Turn client goals into content briefs for freelance writers
When you are working with freelancers, you want to be sure to give them content briefs on each project that your client is expecting to complete.
For example, if your client wants a post on Crossfit nutrition, type up a detailed paragraph or bulleted list/outline with their expectations and goals for the post when handing it off to your freelance writer.
The reasoning here is simple: how can a writer be expected to deliver to a specific set of goals if he/she doesn’t know what they are?
This also ensures that nothing gets lost in translation and the content is produced smoothly with less of the dreaded back-and-forth client exchanges.
Finding a great platform or freelancer group to work with will open up doors for you to sell content marketing to clients—without a DIY approach where you’re barely able to sleep from work overload. BJ Enoch, former VP of Enterprise Accounts at SocialSEO, was in that position himself:
Last night at 10pm I was writing a blog post for one of our nutraceutical clients about the best skin care products for women in their forties.
Is that something a VP should be doing? Probably not.
What BJ learned was that he could hand off work like that to a freelancer—so long as he gave them the info they needed. He could focus on SEO, selling, and relationship building instead.
And that opens up a whole new playbook for your business, which we’ll talk more about in Section 3.
The benefits of selling content are relatively obvious.
But overcoming common objections from clients is more daunting.
It’s your job to take those benefits of content marketing and use them to your favor to conquer objections head-on.
Here are some main objections that we've heard in talking with our agency clients and how they effectively overcome them in the initial selling process.
Doesn't content marketing take a long time to show results?
As discussed, agencies we've seen be most effective in selling content do two things to mitigate this common objection:
1. First, they start early and pair content packages with other services in the beginning.
If you're creating a content strategy and beginning to execute on it early in the engagement (with a minimum engagement period of 3-6 months), you'll have a crucial head start.
While you're doing other exciting work at the beginning (redesigning a website, setting up ad campaigns, etc.), your content marketing package can be humming along in the background and gaining traction.
New websites can only thrive when paired with fresh content. Content marketing is SEO, and without it your client's site will struggle to gain traction.
Pairing a new site with an executable content marketing strategy right out of the gate ensures that traffic will steadily rise, benefitting your client and ultimately your bottom line.
2. Second, agencies who are effective at selling content set good expectations and show example results.
Did they get impressive results in any of the following areas?
- Organic CTR
- Reduced bounce rates
Compile data on these metrics to show how impactful your content marketing services were. Predetermine what valuable checkpoints would be to talk through these with your client.
Case studies are an excellent form of social proof, helping you to build strong credibility, a key driver in closing sales.
In short, they show your clients what you can do for them.
I should do content marketing in-house.
It's understandable that clients may want to keep content (or at least the execution of content strategy) in-house. Or worse, still on the plate of the founder him/herself.
After all, content is deeply personal.
We've found the best way to overcome this one is by pointing out that everybody says this, but content marketing is incredibly easy to deprioritize (because it doesn't deliver instant gratification).
By outsourcing to your agency or co-creating with you, you and your client can ensure it gets done and keep everyone accountable.
AND you'll be able to use your expertise in content, SEO, etc. to create the prerequisite strategy necessary to deliver results as a major bonus to prove value in working with your agency.
If they don’t bite, it’s time to bring out the big guns: statistical data.
The truth is:
Content marketing is way harder than it looks from the outside.
Good content isn’t your typical side-hustle blog where you ramble about theoretical strategies. Or regurgitate shallow “learnings”.
Good content is information-rich, detailed, and data-backed.
And writing that type of content takes a long time. No matter who you are, or what industry the client’s business is in.
According to the latest studies, a single content marketing piece of just 1,000 words takes 3 hours and 20 minutes to write:
That’s an hour more than just five years ago!
And when you consider the fact that we’ve known since 2016 that top ranking content marketing pieces usually have more words (between 1,800-2,000), it’s easy to see why it takes so long.
Now, according to Backlinko, you need at least 1,890 words to rank on the top page:
On top of just raw word count, there are many other factors that are time-consuming in the content creation process:
- Editing/review, sometimes by multiple team members
- Keyword research
- On-page optimization
- Promotion: finding the right channels and audience segments that will resonate with your content and then scheduling campaigns to boost engagement
If you asked your current clients about their copywriting skills, very few would likely identify as good writers capable of producing content at high enough quality to rank well organically. Even fewer would be able to do it at a frequency that would benefit their business.
Content is becoming more demanding by the minute. While your clients’ own writing might have been “good enough” a few years ago for a short 500-word piece, that won’t fly on competitive SERPs today, which is why they need your services.
How can you create content marketing pieces for my business?
As an outsourced content creation platform, we hear this one a lot.
And the way to overcome this one is three-fold:
1. First, you need to acknowledge that the client is the expert and let them know you aren't going to be able to create and execute on a content marketing strategy without their input.
Involving clients in strategy, persona development, topic ideation, and final editing can pay dividends if done well, especially early and often.
2. Secondly, find writers that have subject matter expertise in the client's industry.
This will help produce authentic, informative, correct content more likely to resonate with your client and their audience.
3. The last step is to do your research.
Look at their existing blog and compile a list of common topics that they cover.
Read their posts and look for style and tone commonalities. Note any glaring gaps in topics they’ve covered in the past for good future posts to write on their behalf.
What audience are they catering to? Small businesses? First-time millennial mothers? Working single parents? Software engineers at Google? CEOs? Brand-new marketers?
What are their top competitors doing? What topics and keywords are they targeting that you can poach or improve upon for your client’s gain?
Create sample content for them using this information, emulating their current audience and tone goals, to show what you can do for them.
Why would we create content that isn’t directly related to our business products and services?
While not a direct objection, this sentiment can really get in the way of producing a quality content strategy that will deliver results.
It’s common to hear this objection alongside, “Why do I need content?”
If you hear this question or objection from clients, it’s likely that they aren’t well versed in inbound marketing.
HubSpot's explanation of inbound marketing is a good, approachable primer to help explain how modern-day leads find businesses online. We also have a good one-pager to start these conversations with even the most beginners when it comes to the world of content. You can find it and a content strategy worksheet to complete with a client in our downloadable Agency Content Kit.
But to sum those up: you have to explain to them that a brand-new website with a few pages about their company and their products is going to struggle to drive organic traffic that isn’t already brand-aware.
In other words, without content they’ll simply be preaching to the choir.
Without having detailed content marketing pieces ranking for top keywords in their space, traffic is hard to come by.
Give them examples of keyword searches in their industry and the content that ranks on Google.
You can potentially showcase to them that there are zero “about us” pages or product pages in those positions. Instead, content ranking for these keywords are in-depth blog posts, reviews, and research that help customers make informed decisions while establishing your brand as the expert.
Simplify inbound marketing for them, walk them through a quick example of inbound marketing in action for them as a consumer:
- Awareness of the problem. Searching for more generic search terms like “stay warm camping”.
- Consideration. Browsing multiple sites and blog posts about their pain points, like “portable camping heater”.
- Decision. Comparing products and services to solve their problems, like “best portable heating device”.
Hopefully, that helps with some of the most common objections you'll hear and gives validation as to why they need content other than about pages and product descriptions, or blog posts about those about pages or product pages. 🙂
A good set of content marketing stats can also be helpful in pushing them over the edge or as some follow-up brain fodder to help make their decision easier!
When in doubt, PITCH TACTICS FOR CONTENT MARKETING THAT HAVE WORKED (EITHER FOR YOUR AGENCY OR CLIENTS)
One of the biggest hesitations with content marketing at agencies usually is the fact that it takes a while to see results or know the impacts of the effort expended.
Think about it from the perspective of your client: when money is on the line, it’s a non-negotiable that money should be used wisely on tactics that will produce results.
This predicament is seen in just about any purchase: loss aversion.
Losses loom larger than gains.
Kahneman & Tversky
People would rather not lose their money in the first place rather than gaining tons of traffic at the end.
It’s your job to show them that the content you create will help them grow and become a vital component of marketing their business.
And the best way to do it is by using case studies or social proof.
Has your content marketing package helped another client improve traffic and sales? Showcase it!
Showing potential clients that your strategy has worked for others is a surefire way to build confidence.
It works in the same fashion that reviews work: to build trust. And these days, people trust reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Even if you haven’t sold content marketing strategy to clients yet, you can still leverage this idea with personal experience.
Have you implemented tactics for your own agency that helped you land clients? Tell your clients about it.
Experiment with long-form content and see how it impacts your rankings. (It’s also a good prove-point to test-drive freelance writers on your own content first to make sure their deliverables are up to snuff before you get client work involved!)
Try adding video to see if it increases time on site or within a blog post.
Compile your highlights and include in your proposal and you’ll be selling content marketing strategy to clients in no time.
Your agency is the perfect place to test content tactics that you can pass on to your clients in a way that helps you overcome their objections. And if you’ve lived through that process yourself, sharing in challenges and speaking from the heart about your experience is better, and far and away more authentic, than any sales pitch.
Content marketing isn’t hard to sell when it’s personalized. When it’s not personalized, it’s a shot in the dark.
Merely telling potential clients that they need it or that it’s essential for success aren’t enough to get the ball rolling (and you probably know that already!). Instead, audits work like an icebreaker to get the conversation started and showcase genuine interest in building a business relationship to improve the status quo.
Prospects need concrete proof that it’s going to help their bottom line, that it’s going to get traffic, and that they really need it in the first place.
Audits can start that conversation on the right foot.
A content marketing audit is simple in nature:
First, the objective of a content marketing audit is to look at your potential client’s existing content marketing efforts from top to bottom and seeing where they are lacking and what aspects warrant improvements.
When pitching content marketing as a service to clients, they need to know what you are doing for them specifically. You shouldn’t simply say, “We will produce XX content pieces per month for you!” and leave it at that.
People don’t care about just having content. They don’t really care about filling their blogs with information and posts for the sake of it.
The truth is, nobody does.
Content is a sub-goal of what clients really want. They care about the results and customer conversions that content generates for their brand.
If content marketing and blogging didn’t get results, nobody would be interested.
Downstream impacts are the only thing that matters when pitching content marketing (that, and building trust that you are a knowledgeable source when it comes to doing content right).
Clients (whether they know it or not) want content that showcases their brand. Content that humanizes their company and makes it relatable to their audience. Content that evokes emotion, passion, and a real understanding of their customers.
A content marketing audit shows that you care about the client and want to improve their business rather than just selling content for the sake of content to make a quick buck. When you standardize the process, content audits aren’t difficult or expensive to produce, either. In a few simple steps you can analyze their current content, how it could be improved, and potential next steps. These don’t even have to be dramatically in-depth, just useful.
Remember: this is a basic audit, not a full-on strategy. Use this as the starting point for conversation.
For instance, while conducting an audit on their existing content, what’s the current word count? Could it be improved by adding more relevant sections and LSI keywords? Chances are, the answer is yes!
What about analyzing their current best and worst content and benchmarking that with new/ideal content to sell without selling? Using our Agency Content Kit, you can scale these efforts using templates and a specific, step-based process.
Here is a direct example from the content kit that you can use to scale the process for all content, not just necessarily blog posts:
Start by outlining their three best and worst blog posts on their site. This shows that you’ve broken down their content offering and outlined where it succeeds and where it falls short of best practice.
Then, outline three ideal blog post topics they can write about using basic keyword research and list out how to hit those goals.
Turn pain points and goal blog posts into actionable steps your clients will be thrilled about:
- Revamp content: Expand on existing word count, improve old posts with new data, images, and copy.
- Develop new content ideas: Keyword research, benchmarking existing competitor content.
- Taking action: Putting time and effort into creating the content needed for the goals at hand.
These actionable steps will guide your plan and give potential clients expectations that are realistic and useful.
Audit Success Example: Directive Consulting
Marketing agency Directive Consulting masters this approach, including a “Specific Recommendations” section where they outline and even showcase mockups of their personalized tactics:
This provides tangible previews for clients to look at while showing that they took the time to research what was missing from their current strategy.
Audit Success Example: Inflow
Inflow took the content audit approach with a client, assessing their existing content efforts to see what needed to be improved.
The client already had content, but much of it was either too short or didn’t hit the right topics for their business goals.
Using the audit to start the conversation, their client was able to learn what was wrong from Inflow and together they formed an actionable plan to prune and improve content. This generated a 31% increase in organic traffic and a 28% increase in revenue for the client in just a few weeks.
Let those insane numbers marinate for a second. We’ll wait.
In your content audit, follow Inflow’s example and look at the following areas of the prospect’s current content marketing efforts to see where you can make specific and personalized recommendations for improvement:
- Posting frequency: How often do they post? Is needing more content the issue?
- Content strength: Is the word count high enough? Is the content accurate? Can it be expanded or developed to beat others in rankings?
- Content optimization: Is their content optimized for sales? Does it have a call-to-action? Internal links to drive traffic? Include relevant SEO keywords?
These are just a few points to touch upon when you are selling content marketing strategy to your clients.
Audits will help you justify content marketing as a necessity if your clients are skeptical.
I know what you’re thinking: How can I afford to do this for every potential client without risking revenue or wasting our time?
The answer: By standardizing the process. Create a step-by-step process of conducting your audit and what tools to use for each one you perform.
Develop a slide template that you can simply copy and paste new images and text over. This is not only easy to scale for new clients, but it helps to break up your audit into different sections and feature an image-rich presentation. Rinse and repeat.
If the volume is still too high to complete audits for every potential client, you have two great options:
- Outsource it!
- Reserve audits for the big clients that you can’t afford to lose to competition.
Once you've sold your clients on the concept of you creating and executing a content marketing strategy, it's time to get to work.
At its simplest, there are two significant phases here:
- Creating the content strategy, and then
- Executing on it.
We'll assume you know all about creating and executing a strategy in general, and hyper-focus here on doing this for (and with) your clients optimally, based on what we've seen to be effective with our marketing agency clients.
Creating Content Strategy With Your Clients
The key word here is "with." Content is a co-creation process.
As we said in the objections section, for a content strategy to be effective (and also to get buy-in from the client), you've got to involve them.
As painful as working with some clients close to the belt can be, truly successful content marketing requires it.
Barb Dittert, director of content for the Denver-based agency Volume Nine, places a huge importance on working closely with the client to frame the relationship:
Clients who see us as a partner rather than a vendor typically see the best results. While clients know their business best, the ones who trust our trained eye to put a new spin on content execution see more success than those who are looking for a vendor to churn out content.
How much you'll need to do this probably depends on the client and their industry.
If the industry is relatively straightforward (real estate being a prime example), you'll understand it well enough from the get-go that you don't necessarily need to involve the client as much.
For more niche or technical industries, getting ongoing input from the client will go a long way toward creating compelling content in the long-term. And getting buy-in from the client! Win-win!
In terms of how to involve your client, we've seen a few things be effective.
Review your content audit with them.
As we went over earlier, producing a content audit can be the crucial step in pitching content marketing in the first place.
It’s great for producing need realization and getting clients hooked on the potential they have for growth. It’s smart to light fires under ambitious businesspeople. 🙂
But oftentimes, content audits can seem foreign to clients who aren’t already well versed in content marketing.
Simply sending them an audit via email with statistical figures and a SERP analysis might overwhelm them or cause them to think it’s too advanced for their operation right away.
Instead, review the audit with them. Live.
Try screen-sharing with them over a video call and walking them through the audit, helping them understand each slide and why it’s important.
Reviewing the audit on a call with your potential client should be the first time that they see it, allowing you to address any questions and stop any potential roadblocks that come up before they grow and fester in the silence.
This shows both transparency and personalization for the client, showing that your agency is putting together expansive documents before the relationship as officially begun, helping to boost trust and confidence in your agency.
Cover each slide of your audit, and explain why it’s essential for them and what plan of action you recommend. It all should be actionable, after all.
After reviewing the audit and landing the client, how do you keep them informed now? What should you be reviewing with them, how often, and why?
Let’s go over how much work you should showcase and where to draw the line.
Show some work, but not too much.
If you go away and simply tell the client the first 10 pieces of content you'll be creating for them, you'll struggle with buy-in.
If you show every bit of work and every tool you used to create the strategy, they'll be overwhelmed and potentially nitpicky.
Walk your client through the basics of how you created their strategy based on their input and feedback—the persona research you did, the buyer's journey you envision, the keyword research you did, and show them examples of each.
Keyword research, for example, can show how much demand and traffic is up for grabs for a given search term:
This data can then help you convince your client of the need for a specific blog post or pillar page. Just don’t show too much data—especially at this early stage—you’ll risk overwhelming your client and losing their buy-in.
Focus their strategy on RCS/big wins.
When creating a content strategy with your clients, content isn’t what seals the deal.
Promising a few listicle posts will get their attention, but seeing real results from work is what drives them.
When you are creating content strategy with clients, it’s key to focus on big wins.
Projects that make a difference in their niche and actually add value to their business.
Doing this practically sells itself.
What is it?
Real company sh** is the idea that most SEOs and content marketers right now are focused too much on shortcuts. On winning links and building link juice rather than creating content that is meaningful and results in actual sales.
Focusing your efforts on another tips post that gets skimmed isn’t RCS. It’s a shortcut to traffic that fizzles out within weeks.
The content is overdone, overused, and gets left in the dust.
Instead, RCS focuses on content that delivers results for years to come.
For instance, OrbitMedia’s annual Blogger Survey is another excellent example of RCS:
Starting year one with just a single question about the time it takes writers to finish a blog post, it’s evolved into a massive data hub that’s years into data collection and showing no signs of stopping.
Thousands of bloggers participate in the survey each year and it garners thousands of backlinks.
This type of content has helped skyrocket OrbitMedia’s domain authority, backlink count, and the total amount of keywords they rank for:
And the beauty of it is that all of those amazing factors happened naturally from producing quality content. Quality content comes in many forms...pillar pages, awesome social videos, pithy social media posts, comprehensive and thought-provoking email newsletters, and yes, even a survey report!
That’s RCS: content that can’t be whipped up in a single day or content that focuses on tricks and link-baiting.
Instead, it’s playing the long game and producing big wins through great, revolutionary pieces of content marketing.
When it comes to working with your client, get their input on big ideas and guide their focus toward RCS-based content on how their brand stands out.
A single hit piece that took months to work on will pay off for years to come. Producing a few smaller pieces that get shared a handful of times on Twitter won’t.
Get their input on the customer journey.
When developing a content strategy with your client, perhaps nothing is more important than understanding how their business actually functions. This means working closely with your clients.
Where do people discover them and when? What stage of the buying journey are they found? What platforms are they engaging on?
What existing “flywheel” measures are they taking to educate leads from awareness to closing a sale?
Chances are, they aren’t doing much but have some amazing untapped potential. It’s your job to make them realize it.
Help them understand that the buying journey is more complicated than ever before. They can’t simply optimize pricing and product pages to drive organic sales. It takes research content too. It takes the average lead 7-13+ touches to buy now.
That’s potentially 13+ visits to a website before deciding to spend their money.
Blog posts or other longer form content pieces are a key factor in those 13+ touches, too. They help to generate awareness of both your company and pain points they might experience. HubSpot proved it, showing that the more you blog, the more leads you generate.
Each one of these potential 13+ steps is a chance to capitalize on intent stages with the help of your client.
This is an area where you can really make your client feel like an integral part of the process.
For intent stages, get their input on common questions that arise with their customers.
- First time visitors: What are they asking for? What do they want?
- Multiple visits: What pages do they keep coming back to? Why haven’t they bought yet?
Questions and research problems are perfect for setting up content that can help solve problems in each intent stage.
Tailor intent based on keywords and what content you create for clients, which is a tried and true tactic:
In each of these funnel stages where potential customers turn to research, providing the right content and calls-to-action for a good user experience can accelerate their learning process leading to easier, more natural sales.
Focusing efforts on buying intent keywords only (like “buy 70-inch tv”) can result in sales, yes. But targeting all stages of the buying journey before that buy-ready stage with intent-based content will win the day and keep your client’s entire funnel fat and happy.
And to do that, you’ll need client input, creating a mutually beneficial partnership that both sides will gain value from.
Executing on Content Strategy With Your Clients
Executing on content strategies is a common place for agencies to get tripped up—especially as you try to do it at scale, and across a wide variety of clients.
Here are a few pointers that will help you avoid common pitfalls.
Keep it all organized with an editorial calendar.
Having a physical plan you can point to will help keep the execution on track, keep all the pertinent parties in-the-know, and allow you to explain why you're doing what you're doing and where this is all headed.
Involve clients more at the beginning.
Having your clients involved in reviewing work from writers, editing drafts, etc. can feel painful, but will increase buy-in and teach you what your client is looking for.
Consider a flexible, scalable resource for content creation that can provide subject matter expertise.
But, in-house resources are hard to scale up and down as content creation needs fluctuate.
There's also a very finite limit on the number of industries an in-house writer can be an expert in.
When hiring a content writer in-house for high volume clients, you run the risk of copywriter burnout, too. And in content marketing, you will need a lot of pieces for clients looking to grow their traffic.
Outsourcing for scale also has its benefits if you need to scale down: you aren’t paying a heavy salary when content needs die down or become stagnant.
We've lost money on content creation every single quarter for the last four years.
BJ found himself writing on topics that he had no expertise in for clients, delivering less than what he wanted and stressing out more than he ever was, working insane long hours just writing and writing for clients.
On top of that, BJ was utilizing multiple in-house writers for his highly successful agency’s business model, supplementing with very few freelancers involved in creating content.
This caused him to spend a fortune on salaries, headaches with high writer burnout and turnover, and money lost during the content creation process.
To combat it, BJ decided to "use Verblio to create between 60 and 70 percent of all [our clients’] content."
Use Verblio to create between 60 and 70 percent of all [our clients’] content.
He outsourced content creation efforts to FINALLY make content creation profitable at scale without continually hiring expensive writers for full-time jobs.
Blending in-house content creators with outsourced resources can provide the best of both worlds.
Many of our most successful agency clients have elevated their in-house content creators to content strategists who manage a platform solution like Verblio, select content from it, and provide the finishing polish—edits, final SEO optimization, etc. on the content they purchase from us, as well as coordinate and communicate closely with the client, continuing to fostering the relationship.
Leverage your clients for their strengths.
Different clients will have different strengths in-house.
If your client has a great network, ask them to help you with content promotion and linkbuilding.
If they have folks in-house who are an absolute wealth of knowledge about their industry, conduct in-depth interviews with them and use the results of those interviews to create great content each month, like getting their input on customer journeys and FAQs.
It’s more than likely that your client already knows common pain points that can save you hours of research in the content process. So, ask them about common objections to converting and hesitations that customers face.
Our agencies routinely swear by the importance of leveraging client strengths in the content production process.
Selling content—both strategy and execution—can be a powerful tool for creating stabilizing, ongoing revenue for your agency while simultaneously keeping clients excited and engaged.
Not only does content marketing benefit your clients, but in turn, it as a service benefits your agency by creating new upsell potential and revenue streams.
Simply put: The happier your clients are with performance, the more they will spend with you.
By helping your clients understand the benefits of content marketing, being prepared to overcome inevitable objections, and having a solid plan in place to co-create a content strategy and then execute on it with your clients, you'll be well on your way to helping yourself, and your clients, achieve revenue goals.
Now is the time to sell content marketing to your clients.
To make the process easier, we’ve developed a one-page sell sheet and content strategy worksheet to engage and sell your clients on content marketing.
Download our exclusive Agency Content Kit here to jumpstart your selling process ASAP. We've even included Verblio-branded OR white-labeled versions that you can immediately brand to your agency to start bringing to client meetings.
And if you have further customized needs in content creation or are interested in outsourcing some of those chronic content headaches, schedule an agency-specific demo of Verblio here—we'd be happy to help you strategize.