Challenges of running a content agency
Running a content agency may sound easy — “just hire writers and find clients” — but it’s actually a very challenging and complex undertaking. As such, we’ve decided to interview three content experts with years of experience in the marketing industry.
- Kinga Edwards, Creative Owner at Brainy Bees
- Olga Mykhoparkina, Founder of Quoleady
- Derek Flint, Marketing Manager at Ten Speed
With decades of combined experience in the world of content marketing, these experts will go through the DOs and DONTs of running an effective agency. Specifically, they’ll be answering these pressing questions:
- How do you find your agency’s writers
- How do you land clients for your agency?
- What do you think most content agencies get wrong?
- What are your tips for retaining writers and clients?
- Which tools have the biggest impact on your content agency operations?
- What are your top tips for creating B2B content?
- What are some SEO strategies or best practices your agency lives by?
Without further ado, let’s have a look at the insights they’ve shared with BacklinkManager!
- There are three main ways to find good writers: draw on freelancers from other campaigns you manage, leverage platforms like LinkedIn, and/or manage an internal talent pool.
- The easiest way to overcome client acquisition challenges is to execute at a much higher level than the competition. If you manage to provide exceptional service, the referrals will start rolling in sooner than you think.
- Most of the challenges that content agencies face are caused by being overly competitive, neglecting human capital, and slashing prices in a race to the bottom.
- Retaining clients/writers comes down to transparent communication, an emphasis on KPIs, and a steady work volume.
- Surfer, Asana, and Slack are must-haves for any digital marketing tool stack.
How do you find your agency’s writers
Finding and retaining quality talent is a never-ending challenge for content marketing agencies. In fact, trying to acquire exceptional employees for new projects is one of the most common challenges since not all applicants will be on the same page or suit the job description.
To get around this, Kinga tends to rely on finding talent from her existing connections:
“I look for experienced writers from prior projects I had the pleasure of working on. I also mentor and develop new talent so I can nurture junior-level writers into fully operational professionals under my supervision and guidance. Time-consuming but you need to consider it an investment rather than an expense.” -Kinga
On the other hand, Olga finds her employees by leveraging social media automations:
“We use LinkedIn automation to set up the outreach process and have a clear algorithm of the next steps our recruiter usually takes.
We tell potential candidates who we work with, explain what kind of writing we are looking for, and ask them to send samples/pricing info to our email. Whenever we get irrelevant samples or better yet a link to a 500+ piece portfolio, it’s a red flag that the candidate doesn’t care.
Those who get accepted go through the test task after reading our guidelines. If the candidate comes up with a great piece, follows the deadlines, and meets the requirements, we continue working together.” -Olga
Derek and the Ten Speed team take an internal approach by having their own set of writers readily available in their talent pool:
“We’ve been transitioning to more direct client relationships and with our own contractors by building our own source called the Ten Speed Writer Network. These writers mostly come to us as a result of seeing our company on LinkedIn.
Additionally, we’ve brought on specialists we’ve worked with on other projects who were direct freelancers for past clients and wowed us with their expertise in traditionally hard-to-understand niches within tech.” -Derek
How do you land clients for your agency?
Client retention should always be a priority but seasoned digital marketing agency owners know that new clients coming in the door is essential. However, most top content marketing agencies don’t have to sacrifice their profit margins for advertising campaigns to reach their target audience.
“I almost exclusively rely on word-of-mouth recommendations as we don’t have any sales or outreach teams. We prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to scaling up our services. We’ve been working with some of our clients since 2018.” -Kinga
“Most of our new clients are referrals from the existing clients. We also get some clients from organic search (via our own blogging efforts) and social media (LinkedIn or Facebook). We’ve been experimenting with Google Ads and cold outreach but it’s too early to share specific results. “ -Olga
“We receive the majority of our clients from various referral opportunities — either clients recommending new prospects or other marketing, advertising agencies, and consultants we’ve worked with referring us to companies.” -Derek
Kinga, Olga, and Derek all get the bulk of their customers through referrals from other businesses many agencies that they’ve worked with. This is the power of word-of-mouth advertising — something that can only be achieved through a solid track record of client success.
What do you think most content agencies get wrong?
There are thousands of content marketing agencies but only a handful rise to the top of their respective niche. We asked our three experts about the things that most content marketing agencies are doing wrong to shed some light on these mistakes.
Kinga highlights the drawbacks of the digital marketing agencies and advertising agencies that choose to compete instead of collaborate:
“Content agencies are too quick to compete with each other instead of collaborating. They often focus too heavily on short-term gains and neglect building long-term business relationships.
Success in the content agency industry is all about having a long-term vision. Working with others can be helpful since it gives you a chance to gain valuable insights.
Too many agencies also fall into the trap of leveraging technology instead of people. You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the tech. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to sell it.” -Kinga
Olga points to the lack of focus from content teams, ad agencies, and digital marketing agencies:
“Most of the agencies make the mistake of spreading themselves too thin and working on every possible task a client wants (newsletters, ebooks, landing pages, blog posts, etc.) We’ve decided to niche down, our agency specializes in creating SEO blog content for the B2B SaaS industry.
By doing so, we can develop deep expertise instead of becoming a jack of all trades but master of none. When the client reaches out for tasks we don’t cover, we’re happy to send them to our colleagues on the market who are experts in those types of content.” -Olga
Derek worries that too many content marketing and ad agencies see their business as a race to the bottom:
“A lot of content agencies have a tendency (without strong leadership or experienced staff) to devolve into the fastest, cheapest version of the service they offer because they sometimes feel like they’re competing with individual freelancers.
As a result — instead of becoming a true strategic partner who is committed to growing leads, pipeline, or revenue — they end up becoming their client’s ‘blog writers.’ Strategy, operations, analytics, sourcing writers/editors, and identifying problems all become devalued.
Secondly, it’s tough to stand out when you offer a breadth of services that plenty of other folks are known for. Differentiation is one of the most challenging things for most content and creative agencies — especially when the service they offer is effective but not new or revolutionary.” -Derek
What are your tips for retaining writers and clients?
Whether it’s retaining quality talent or improving client and customer retention and rates, keeping both employees and customers is crucial. After all, high employee turnover or client churn rates will be one of the biggest challenges that keep creative agencies from achieving rapid growth.
Kinga relies on transparency for customer retention:
“Clear communication should be maintained at all times as frequent check-ins will help address any issues that may arise. Establishing clear expectations helps avoid misunderstandings down the line while maintaining a balanced relationship between professionalism and friendliness.” -Kinga
Olga emphasizes the importance of focusing KPIs (rather than raw traffic) to nurture client relationships:
“The only way to retain clients is to keep delivering positive ROI and great quality. We do our best to get our clients not only traffic but, eventually, sign-ups (what they’re really after when committing to our collaboration). As for writers, we have a system in place where their compensation grows over time — the longer they are with a client retention us, the more they are able to earn.
We also make sure to listen to our writers’ feedback and prevent burnout by switching them to different projects. This brings some variety and fresh interest to their work routine. Writing about the same product over and over again can be really exhausting in the long run.” -Olga
Derek cites a steady flow of creative work Ten Speed’s main approach to retaining quality talent:
“For writers, it’s often about being able to give them consistent work at a rate in which they feel respected. From there, your writers and managers can develop relationships so everyone feels like they have a level of freedom and accountability over the craft and strategy.
For clients, having a comprehensive enough set of service offerings to solve several pain points so you’re ‘stickier’ such as various channel offerings (SEM + SEO +organic social + paid social). There might also be several types of content: ebooks, long-form blog content, social copy, etc.
Executing on those services at a quality level that makes the client’s company look good, the manager in charge of you look really good, and reduces the type of work they hired you to do.
When they’re kind enough to give you feedback on something that’d make the partnership more useful for them, do your best to iterate quickly and clearly communicate that you hear them loud and clear. You can’t grant every wish, but you can always explore options together.” -Derek
Which tools have the biggest impact on your content agency operations?
One of the challenges agencies face is which software to add to their tool stack. Every subscription is money out of their pocket so the solutions they pay for need to provide a tangible ROI in the form how many hours of team productivity.
Kinga has the most extensive tool stack with a combination of SEO tools, project management software, and team communication tools:
“We leverage a range of in-house tools built with our own bespoke formulas and workflows to ensure things run smoothly. As the founder, I’m constantly inventing new data-driven tactics — such as an original content matrix called SOAP.
Our go-to favorites include Frase and Surfer for SEO, Asana for a project management software, Vidyard for asynchronous communication, Slack for daily standups, Scribe for documentation, and Notion for building knowledge bases.
We also use additional smaller tools for keyword density, videos, and graphics design.” -Kinga
Olga’s team doesn’t shy away from new technology like ChatGPT and Zapier integrations that streamline workflows:
“We are heavy users of Ahrefs like most SEO/content agencies. Other than that, Surfer, Grammarly, and now ChatGPT are our go-to software tools helping us streamline the content marketing process.
When it comes to communication and collaboration, we are big fans of Notion, Slack, and Zapier. The latter helps us automate our day-to-day operations to save time and effort.” -Olga
Derek has begun experimenting with new technologies like ChatGPT internally while keeping the human touch alive and well for the businesses they work with:
“Slack, Asana, Clearscope, Ahrefs, SEO Minion, and Sitebulb. We’re testing various AI tools (outside of our current client workflows) like ChatGPT and Surfer to see where we can supplement our specialists in building briefs and outlines more efficiently.” -Derek
If large tool stacks seem too daunting then we’d suggest just starting with three types:
- Team communication platform (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Chanty, etc.)
- Project management solution (Asana, Trello, Basecamp, etc.)
- SEO tools (Ahrefs, Surfer, Frase, etc.)
On the SEO side, you should definitely try outBacklink Manager too. The free plan lets you monitor and manage up to 250 backlinks. You can even invite three team members to collaborate with you (or 15-30 if you get one of our paid plans).
What are your top tips for creating B2B content?
Agencies face many other challenges of running content agency, but none more important than the actual science and art of creating B2B content. Unless your content marketing agency can manage to create content that actually drives growth, customers will take their money elsewhere.
Kinga encourages agency owners and managers to look at every client issue as a golden opportunity to provide solutions:
“Every company is different, in a different stage of what their funnel looks like and requires, with different target groups, resources, and assets — so I’d always advise looking at what you already have.
Make ‘issues’ your challenges, not blockades.
Can’t get someone to share their inputs for a thought leadership piece of content via email? Ask them to record a video message on Loom or even Messenger.
Want to increase the reach/traffic of your publication on a tight (or non-existent) budget? Use formats like round-up posts and optimize/repurpose your existing content from afar.
Can’t publish more than two pieces of content a month because they get stuck in review? Ship something that’s 95% perfect and let it get noticed.
You can optimize it afterward, but you can never get the time you’d spend on further pre-publishing corrections back. That time is something your competitors can happily capitalize on. Velocity is a beautiful word!” -Kinga
Olga stresses the importance of effective keyword research for content marketing campaigns and agencies:
“We like to start by covering the high-intent keywords first as we’ve learned that they bring the highest ROI for our SaaS clients. We have plenty of case studies where we’ve implemented this exact strategy and it works for our clients every single time.
The right choice of keywords is only half the battle. Once the strategy is sorted, you have to focus on creating quality content that’s packed with valuable insights and SEO-optimized. We make sure to haveinternal linking in place so algorithms understand our content clusters.
External link building is also an important part of our SaaS content marketing strategy. Last but not least, we regularly update well-converting articles to ensure they have the highest chances to rank at the top of Google SERPs.” -Olga
Derek reminds clients that a business should never lose track of what makes it different from its competitors:
“B2B content marketers benefit the most when they:
1. Have a type of content that is truly differentiated. This could be a widely creative newsletter/video series, sharing first-party data sets that prospects find interesting, or live entertainment-style shows. Always have something that’s clearly different from what others are doing.
2. Find other content types that supplement that differentiated content. Aim for content types that are still valuable but much easier to produce from a workflow standpoint.
3. Co-market (especially if you’re on a tight budget). Leverage the team’s professional networks and find people that you share a meaningful audience with. Mutual benefit should always be the goal.” -Derek
What are some SEO strategies or best practices your agency lives by?
The content marketing industry is ever-evolving and ultra-competitive. If you don’t follow the tried and tested best practices then you’ll be fighting an uphill battle against larger content marketing agencies.
Kinga’s team follows a user-first digital marketing ethos:
“SEO is important, but users are more important. It’s users, not algorithms, using your products and paying for your services. Optimize but don’t over-optimize. Don’t compromise UX for SEO. Instead, write something you’d engage with yourself if you were a target group.
We also make sure to complement our strategies with backlinks, which are gaining importance in this age of automation. AI can recreate similar pieces of content but it can’t replicate a healthy link profile or arrange specific placements.
We scale quality, not quantity. That’s why I hire people who are around the processes — like SEO specialists, proofreaders, and editors — to increase quality and value, not cash flow. My best practice is investing in value, people, and relations.
SEO is also about brand awareness. The purpose of our work is to redesign memory architecture to increase the likelihood that the customer will choose our clients’ offer when the time comes to buy what they’re selling.” -Kinga
Olga shared her 10-point SEO checklist that has bolstered her agency’s success rate:
“I’d love to put it in a list:
- Target on high-intent (BOFU) keywords first
- Add 15 + internal links per article
- Add internal links to older articles as well as to the newly published ones
- Reach a Surfer score of 90+
- Ensure the site speed is in the green zone
- Main keyword in the URL, headings
- Add FAQ section to every blog (and the relevant Schema markup for it)
- Update articles regularly at least once a year
- Update high-converting articles more often (ideally once a month)
- Build backlinks to the articles from the relevant quality platforms (no content mills, link farms, etc.)” – Olga
Derek notes that maintaining existing marketing content should be the focus before publishing additional articles or covering a new industry:
“It’s all about building the obvious demand capture opportunities at the shared intersection of product features, customer needs, and internal SME. After that, it’s about finding keywords that match those topics and have long-tail opportunities we can confidently rank for.
Anything from educational blog content to relevant industry templates can help passively generate links as the client builds their authority.
For later-stage companies with existing content, it’s typically a much more comprehensive strategy. We prioritize getting updates routinely on the roadmap so that we can keep traffic and conversions from decaying while ensuring CTAs are contextualized to improve conversion rates.
Technical SEO and internal linking opportunities need to be addressed from the start to make sure content clusters provide an optimal navigation experience for users. Only then can we fill content gaps for topics that have historically performed the best.
New content should focus on as many TOFU and timely topics as their budget/resources allow.
Long-form content that is created with SEO in mind should still be as interesting and useful as anything else you create. It should play multiple roles in your marketing strategy so that the company gets the most out of the investment it’s made.” -Derek
One thing that all three content agencies interviewed for this article had in common was the majority of their clients are coming through referrals. It may not be as flashy as a shiny new sales funnel, but executing at the highest level naturally sends new prospects your way.
Kinga, Olga, and Derek all mentioned that Surfer was a core member of their tool stack. It’s not hard to see why since Surfer bridges the gap between AI insights and human creativity — making it possible for flesh-and-blood writers to create data-backed content.
When it comes to the production side of things, content velocity, keyword research, and differentiating yourself from the competition is the key takeaway. You need to create unique content on the right keywords and publish at a faster rate than competitors.
A few best practices to implement in your own content agency include putting the user experience first, using interlinking to create robust content clusters, and updating your marketing content regularly to avoid decay.
It’s clear that content marketing campaigns are about more than how many hours your time tracking software says you can bill for. You need to show potential customers that you can improve the most important aspects of their business such as growing their customer base.
Prove that your content marketing agency will be more effective at overcoming the client’s biggest challenge. If you put the insights and strategies from this article into action, your content agency is bound to reach new heights and attract more prospects than you can handle!