A recent article from the lovely folks at Animalz offers some insight into the role a content agency can play on a hybrid content team. It’s a great post and worth a read if you’re growing a larger content team and thinking about how to balance in-house employees, freelancers, and agencies.
If you’re a startup, though, the landscape is different. You may not have any in-house content team to speak of. If you do, it might be just one (tired, hardworking) person.
Or maybe you have dreams of a large in-house team but you recognize that they won’t come to fruition for a while. Meanwhile, you know you can’t afford to wait any longer to launch a content marketing program.
If any of these describes you, you’re in luck. Here, I’ll outline three potential ways a content agency can support a startup content program.
Background: Content Agency vs. Freelancers
Before I get into some potential ways a content agency can support a startup, it’s worth distinguishing how working with a content agency (generally speaking) differs from working with a freelancer. Here’s how we think about the differences at Propllr:
Effort required by the startup
Medium to high (varies widely)
Expect to handle strategy, brainstorming, editorial calendar planning, editing, publishing, and promoting
Low to medium (varies by program)
Expect to have the option to outsource every part of content creation, from strategy to promotion
A single freelancer may have expertise in a handful of subjects
By dint of granting you access to more people, agencies tend to have wider expertise
The more consistently you assign work, the more consistency you can expect from your freelancer.
Again, because an agency gives you access to multiple people, you can expect consistent deliverables regardless of time off.
Low to Medium
Medium to High
The short version: you’ll probably pay more to work with a content agency than with a freelancer, but for that premium, you’ll get greater consistency, access to greater expertise, and the option to outsource a greater percentage of your content marketing needs.
To be clear: we are not anti-freelancer! There are many wonderful freelancers out there. The trouble for startups is that finding a great freelancer can be a lot of work*.
Setup 1: The Full-Service Content Agency
What it looks like: Your content agency handles all of your content needs, from big-picture strategy to developing editorial calendars to writing and editing. Depending on your resources, the agency may even publish and promote your content.
Your main role is to approve (strategy, ideas, content) and keep your agency posted about developments at your business.
Who it’s best for: Startups with very small marketing teams (including one-person teams) that don’t have content expertise
Real-world example: Last year, we started working with a startup that offers professional-grade coworking spaces. The company’s lean marketing team saw that content could add value but knew they didn’t have bandwidth to run a content program internally.
While our primary role for this company is maintaining a blog, we also…
- Draft monthly emails to members.
- Ghostwrite articles for third-party publications.
- Advise on content-adjacent activities that can help the company grow its reach and improve the performance of its content.
Key benefits: The full-service setup lets you enjoy the benefits of content marketing even if you have no in-house expertise or bandwidth for content. It’s not quite plug and play (see the “Key Ingredients” section for more on that), but once your program hits its stride, you’ll see results with minimal effort.
Setup 2: Support for Your In-House Content Team
What it looks like: Your internal content team (or person) leverages your content agency to fill gaps in the strategy they’ve developed. This can range from assigning specific writing tasks to outsourcing full editorial management of a blog or a regular contributed column.
Who it’s best for: Startups that have at least one employee with content expertise who want a long-term agency partner
Real-world example: Since 2018, we’ve been working with a fintech startup that has several in-house content employees. The company’s in-house team handles product marketing materials, social posts, and emails. Our role has evolved over time to meet various needs; at different periods, we’ve offered…
- Blog posts, including editorial calendar planning and management.
- Long-form reports used as lead-gen pieces.
- Award nomination drafts.
- Written adaptations of podcast content.
Key benefits: The support model lets you fill any content gaps as your needs and team evolve. Because the agency is likely to have more areas of expertise than any one employee on your team, they can pitch in wherever you have the most need at the moment.
Setup 3: Your Content Launchpad
What it looks like: Your internal marketing or content person leverages your content agency to lay the groundwork and build momentum for a content marketing program that your startup will eventually take over when it has the resources to hire full-time in-house employees.
Who it’s best for: Startups that know content marketing will be a big part of their long-term growth plan but that don’t currently have the means to hire an in-house team.
Real-world example: From 2017 to 2019, we worked with an insurtech startup whose growth strategy involved SEO-powered content.
The company had an in-person content lead who scoped big-picture strategy and handled all company content outside the blog (product content, emails, etc.) We focused on the blog, scoping ideas and writing weekly posts.
After two years, the blog was driving enough traffic (and leads) that the company was able to hire a dedicated resource to maintain it. Hooray!
Key benefits: The launchpad model lets you prove that content is a viable growth channel for your startup before you commit to a full-time hire. If you decide content isn’t a fit for you, it’s much easier to break up with an agency than to fire a team member. If content proves it does work, you’ll know in part because it’s driving enough revenue to justify that hire.
Key Ingredients for Any Content Program
Outsourcing content marketing to an agency lets your startup achieve more than it could on its own. But even a fully outsourced content program requires input from your internal folks.
Regardless of which type of content setup you have with your agency, you can expect to be asked for the following:
- A kickoff call (or meeting, if we ever have in-person meetings again) where the agency can get detailed information about your business goals, your company, your vision for content, your voice, and more. Without this kickoff, the agency can only guess at what you want and how content can help you get it.
- Timely feedback on strategy docs and content pieces. This helps keep everyone aligned on short- and long-term goals and ensure that all content helps meet your startup’s goals.
- Regular status calls. At Propllr, we usually schedule these either biweekly or monthly. They help us stay in sync on individual assignments and bigger-picture company developments.
- Introductions to internal SMEs. If your agency team needs to interview a thought leader at your company, you’ll have to make the introduction.
- Access to your metrics. Whether you create weekly dashboards or have a Google Analytics account you’ve never looked at, your agency can benefit from being looped in. When they have access to your data, they can learn from it and adjust strategies and tactics as needed.
- Clear communication about division of labor. This helps ensure that your content agency consistently adds value and makes life easier for your in-house team.
To make all these things possible, you’ll need to have at least one dedicated marketing person on your team.
Your agency will likely require more input from that in-house contact at the beginning of your program. As they learn your voice and messaging and connect with your thought leaders, you can expect to spend less and less time on content – while seeing better and better results!
Not Ready for an Agency? Check Out Our DIY Content Resources
If content is part of your startup’s growth plan but you’re not yet ready for support from an agency, take a gander at some of our the most popular DIY content resources from our blog:
- 15 Resources to Help You Level Up Your Content Game (or Career)
- 5 Tips to Get Started Blogging and Jogging
- 10 Ways to Never Run Out of Ideas for Your Blog
- How to Write Better, Faster
- Concrete Ways to Revise for Clarity
*As a former freelancer myself, I happen to know a handful of really amazing freelance writers. If you're in the market for content services but not yet ready for an agency, let me know – I’d be happy to make introductions.