The Founder’s Guide to Creating Great Content — Without Writing a Word

by Dennis Hammer

There’s no doubt that content marketing is a powerful tool for startups. A study by WP Curve found that 89% of all startups are using content marketing as part of their growth strategy. With so many companies taking it seriously, so should you.

But you’re busy. Really busy. You’re trying to grow a business, manage employees, and create an awesome product. You don’t have time to blog. Of the startups in that WP Curve study who aren’t using content marketing, 71% said they aren’t creating content because they lack the time.

It’s a myth that only a founder or key employee can craft suitable content for the company’s content marketing strategy. No, you can’t buy content off a shelf. Someone at the company has to play a role in its production, but that’s the rule for all outsourced services. Even buying the team’s morning coffee requires someone’s input.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be a content creator. In fact, you don’t have to write a word. If you’ve hired a quality content team, your thoughts and voice can easily be translated to your blog.

Startup consultant Mark Evans recommends outsourcing anything that isn’t part of your core competency, including content. “Early-stage startups, in particular, can benefit from external marketers to do strategic planning and tactical execution. […] Like sales, outsourcing marketing lets a startup leverage a specific skill set or expertise such as public relations, strategic planning, and content development.”

Keep in mind that a majority of content creation is about educating your audience. Your savvy business insights make nice touches, but most of the content you produce should solve problems. With proper research, your content team can uncover those problems and provide solutions.

First, let’s talk about the writer’s job.

Use our checklist to help you serve as an excellent subject-matter expert for your content team.

The Content Production Process

I’m using the term “content team” because “writer” isn’t comprehensive. An effective content team includes writers, editors, designers, assistants, and a project manager. Each role requires a separate person with a specialized skill set. At Audience Ops, multiple people touch a piece of content as it moves through our streamlined pipeline.

By the way, up until now, we’ve hobbled together various tools like Trello and Google Spreadsheets, but we’ve designed our own software, Audience Ops Calendar, to streamline our production process. Learn more about it here!

Generally speaking, most content teams follow a similar process. They use a top-down approach that takes a big idea and makes it small enough to communicate. It works like this…

1. The Founder Interview

Every relationship should begin with a lengthy interview where the writer pulls out details about you, your business, and your market. There’s no bad information here. Anything you say could lead your content team down an interesting path. Feel free to use jargon, just be prepared to explain it. The writer should come with a stream of prepared questions, but more will come up as you talk.

2. Generate General Topics

Often this isn’t clear right away. The writer may know what they want to talk about, but it’s not clearly defined. For example, he/she might choose the general topic “SaaS onboarding.” The article could talk about onboarding customers quickly, or maybe determining when a customer is onboard.  

It’s not uncommon for founders to suggest topics to writers. In fact, this is an excellent strategy. At the end of our founder interviews, we always ask, “What are some topics you hope to see covered?” Generally, every founder has something they want said on their blog.

3. Complete Preliminary Research

Before your team recommends topics, he or she will do some research to make sure there’s enough information available. If the topic is so niche that there’s no public information, the writer may have to change topics. Even though you can provide information, a writer can’t create something valuable without a well-rounded understanding of the topic.

4. Send Topics to You for Input

If you have an ongoing content arrangement (which you should because content marketing takes time), it’s smart to generate at least a month’s worth of topics at once. At Audience Ops, we create several months’ worth of post ideas for our clients. We use the same system for our own blog. We divide each topic into predetermined categories, assign production and publishing dates, and include basic notes. This detailed calendar assures founders that the content they are about to receive will be quality.

content-editorial-calendar

5. Outline and Draft

Blog content is often divided into manageable sections (like this article), so writers typically start with an online. Then they’ll flesh out each section. During the drafting process, your writer may consult with you about a point, ask for clarification, or (if applicable) get your permission for a quote.

6. Approval and Publishing

Your website is part of your brand, so you should approve everything that gets published. At Audience Ops, we schedule posts one week ahead so the founder can read the content, request edits, or provide any feedback. This gives us enough time to make any changes without disrupting the publishing schedule.

7. Measuring and Reporting

Don’t trust a marketing agency or service that isn’t willing to report on their results. You should receive regular updates and reports on what the marketers produced and what they achieved. If they’re smart, they’ll use this information to zero-in on your customer and improve their content over time.

It’s worth noting that this basic breakdown doesn’t include the behind-the-scenes magic. Your content team will work among themselves to generate ideas, tighten language, and create value. At Audience Ops, we use Trello boards and a Slack channel to communicate regularly.

So that explains the writer’s role in your content production. What are your responsibilities?

How to Be a Good Interviewee

50% of a writer’s time is spent researching. As a founder, you shouldn’t be blogging, but you are a valuable primary source. Part of the content team’s job is to pull information from you. It’s important that you respect the research process.

Here are the three most important ways you can be a better interviewee.

1. Make Yourself Accessible

Taking content seriously means investing with resources and time. Make yourself available to your writer or content team as much as possible. Expect an email/phone/Slack/Trello question or two as your writer fleshes out the piece.

Naturally, longer pieces of content and highly technical pieces will require more involvement. Your content team is not necessarily full of subject-matter experts. They are experts at researching, writing, and publishing content. You are responsible for passing along enough information for the content, or at least putting your writer in a position to perform solid research.

2. Don’t Parse Your Language

Often a founder will soften their language for the sake of the interviewer. The founder figures the content team isn’t intimately aware of industry terms (not a bad assumption; the team probably isn’t) so he “dumbs down” the language. But this handicaps the writer from creating a great piece of content.

For instance, you may want to say, “Our product reduces or eliminates the post-sales gap, which creates faster onboarding and more renewals,” but instead you say, “Our product helps you interact with customers more often.”

While the first sentence with jargon isn’t easy to understand, it gives the team several launch pads for further research. “Post-sales gap,” “onboarding,” and “renewals” are valuable terms that expedite research. In their own time, the team can learn about these terms and how they relate to the founder’s product. The reduced version of the sentence doesn’t provide much value.

3. Make Yourself Quotable

Have a few lines prepared for the interviewer that summarize your position on a particular issue. For example, you might jot down, “Over time, customer success becomes primarily responsible for a SaaS businesses’ revenue.” If you feel strongly about a particular point, don’t be afraid to repeat it a few times. These statements not only serve as excellent material for the article, but they also create a foundation that helps your writer understand your position.

Your writer may adjust your quote to fit the content, but you’ll have the chance to make changes. Your content marketing process should include time for your review and approval.

When you’re ready to work with a content team, keep our checklist handy to help you serve as a subject-matter expert.

Going Forward

Without a doubt, content marketing is one of the most effective ways to grow your business, but it takes time. Each piece of content written for your website isn’t created in a vacuum. If you stick with the same content team, they will produce better content over time and require less involvement from your end.