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Director of Training, Host of Creator's Block Podcast, 10+ Years of Project Management Experience
March 1st, 2021
You probably feel the small flutter of butterflies in your stomach. As excited as you are to be embarking on this new journey as a content manager, it is also — sometimes equally — intimidating.
You’re most likely a team of one and while you thrive on being the person who’s nimble and able to manage whatever is thrown at you, you also can feel alone.
But today is a new start. A new role, a new challenge, a new company perhaps to show just how skilled you indeed are.
You’re ready to hit the ground running.
Though I’ve never worked as a content manager myself, I do manage the team that currently works with 50+ content managers every single day. We help content managers, like you, overcome common challenges every day and see first hand what it takes to be successful in your role.
This article will walk you through what to do in your first 90 days to crush your role and make your boss love you, with advice provided directly from content managers who have been where you are today.
1. Set expectations of what your role truly is
The content manager role is such an important one; you are the “customer whisperer,” bridging the gap between prospective (and active) customers and your company. But what does that actually look like? And does everyone at the company have a good understanding of what your role entails and how you’ll be working together?
John Becker, IMPACT’s revenue and features editor, notes “You are not a pen-pusher. You are a communications expert who knows what needs to be said, who needs to say it, and how it can be made most useful to your audience.”
This sentiment is so powerful and something that everyone at your company needs to be aware of. A content manager isn’t someone who simply writes.
You’re there to cultivate relationships with every team that works with customers at your company — sales, service, product development, customer service, etc. — and leverage their expertise to create content that will position your company as the most trusted voice in your industry.
Yes, writing is most definitely part of the job, but it isn’t the only aspect.
Because content creation is going to involve everyone at the company in some way, it’s important they know that and view it as an exciting opportunity and not an added item on their to-do list.
Now, I know it may be intimidating to come into a new company and have this responsibility looming over you, but content strategist at Veryable Steven Calhoun (an IMPACT client) actually encourages you to lean into your newness and view it as an advantage.
“One big thing for me has been embracing the fact that I'm new to the company. It's a great excuse to ask as many questions as I need to drill down into concepts for articles.”
Take the time to introduce yourself to your colleagues and set clear expectations of what you will be doing and what your role is responsible for. A quick video is a perfect format to help get you started on the right foot.
2. Establish your content creation process
OK, the team now knows who you are and what you will be doing as a content manager. Now you just start writing, right?
You shying away to a content cave won’t do any good — you’ll waste time writing content without any idea whether or not it is truly needed.
Keep the excitement and momentum going by involving the right people to participate in creating content and get some basic processes in place so you can have new content published on your site within the first two weeks of work.
Establish your “must-haves” now vs. nice-to-haves” in the future
Nothing is perfect the first time around. Know that you will iterate and change your process as you become more familiar with your role and your team over time.
With this in mind, my biggest piece of advice to you is to keep your process as simple as possible when first starting out — focus on what is truly needed in order to publish quality content as quickly as possible.
So, what needs to be true in order for you to do that? You need to:
Know what the most important topics to write about are
Determine who is the expert on those topics
Outline the approval process (and remember to keep it simple. Ideally just you and the subject matter expert, SME, needs to be involved in reviewing and approving content)
Learn how to stage and publish an article in your content management system
Who needs to be involved and how
Remember, you’re new — you’re not expected to be the expert in your company’s industry quite yet. What you are expected to be able to do is interview those who are the experts and extract that info to share with the world.
Every single person who has contact with your customers should be involved, in some capacity, to creating content. Now, that doesn’t mean every person will write content. Some will, but likely most will not.
Those that don’t write, however, may create quick videos for you to use on your website and in your articles. They could also be the people you interview to write the content or to share the content with prospects in the sales process.
Writing is just one piece of the larger content creation puzzle. Schedule time with department heads and individual team members to learn where their skills lie.
Many will be excited to participate in their own way.
If you won’t be the one to actually publish content and doing so requires your IT or web team’s involvement, it’s imperative you create a strong working relationship with those responsible for this part.
Once you have your starting processes in place, share them with the team that will be playing a part in creating content. Then, keep a running list of other future needs to add to your process over time.
Laying the foundation of your content creation process in your first 90 days is going to set yourself, and your team, up for success. Your boss will also love you taking the initiative to get critical details ironed out upfront and owning the creation process instead of relying on them to dictate what they think is best.
This meeting will enable you to brainstorm the most important topics you need to write about and identify who the subject matter expert is who will be involved in each topic.
Start by setting aside one hour and inviting anyone contributing to content per the processes you just set. Depending on the size of your company, you will want to invite sales as well as most likely the department directors or managers of the people contributing content. For example, the sales manager and marketing director.
When looking to brainstorm content topics, ask these two questions to your sales team and give each salesperson a chance to respond:
What content created today is something you’d be able to use with a prospect tomorrow?
What are the top questions you’re asked during the sales process?
This will give you a solid list of questions to address in your content, and a starting point over these first 90 days.
Getting a backlog of content topics and needs early on is critical so you don’t find yourself scrambling for what to write about a week from now.
4. Create a content calendar
Now that you have a long list of topics, it’s time to organize them into a content calendar. Again, don’t overcomplicate your system when first getting started.
“Organization is critical. Keep a detailed spreadsheet of all the articles you write, and essential info about each. For me, that's the title, summary, hyperlink, date published, date updated, and if it contains pricing. We recently revised our pricing and this last piece of info saved me a significant amount of time and energy. This sheet also doubles as a resource for my sales team — they can do keyword searches for a topic and find the content they need to send to their customers.”
Setting up your content calendar in your first 90 days will enable your boss to see exactly what you’re going to be working on.
He or she won’t feel the need to micromanage and constantly check in but rather will be able to have more meaningful conversations with you about overcoming any obstacles you’re facing in getting the content written.
Plus, this calendar should be viewable by all internal team members, making it a beneficial resource. Checking this off your to-do list will impress not only your boss but your entire company.
5. Set outcomes to achieve
As you’re first getting started, set objectives you want to achieve within your first quarter — and plan to do this each quarter going forward.
This way, you’re able to report back to your boss tangible metrics tied to your work.
Common objectives you may be thinking about include increasing organic traffic and keyword growth by a specific percentage. While these certainly will be target objectives in months to come, I don’t recommend making this the focus in your first quarter.
Your first 90 days are all about setting the foundation for success, and your objectives should reflect that. Include outcomes like:
Documenting a content creation process
Establish and lead revenue team meetings (this is what your content brainstorm meetings will progress to)
Publishing 30 sales-enablement articles — and remember, written is not the same as published. If the content isn’t live on your site for your sales team to use or people to find through search, it doesn’t count.
A non-negotiable objective should also be to share a certain amount of “content wins.”
I define a content win as a moment of great success for a single piece of content. It could when an article becomes the highest viewed page on your website or a landing page’s conversion rate doubled. My absolutely favorite content win though is when you can tell a story of a recently closed deal and show all of the content.
Adam Stahl, Digital Marketing Specialist at Kelser Corporation (another IMPACT client), also highlights the importance of sharing content wins “through all employee instant messaging groups or have a timely internal newsletter with new and notable content, superlatives (like most views, most clicks, etc.), and highlight when their pieces were used in winning deals.”
This will help keep your team engaged and excited about contributing content. Imagine seeing a specific dollar amount of revenue attributed to an article you wrote or contributed to. Pretty powerful, huh?
By showcasing these wins, you’re establishing a culture of content within your company and celebrating your team’s effort.
In your first 90 days, I recommend aiming for three content wins to share.
It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.
This may seem like a no-brainer but I have seen too many content managers fall victim to what I call “paralysis by analysis” — meaning, so much time is spent planning, organizing, and researching that they never actually “do” anything. No live content to be seen at the end of their first 90 days.
How would your boss feel if you have no published work to show at the end of your first quarter? I’m sure they would rather see you output content and tweak or revise as time goes on. Here’s what you should do with that in mind:
Schedule SME interviews
You have the content topics organized and prioritized in your content calendar. The next step is to schedule out your first several SME interviews.
“Get to know the experts that you'll be working with regularly especially if you'll be writing as them. This might sound obvious given your role but in my experience when you get to know your subject matter experts as people and not just expert wells of knowledge to draw from when needed, you can bring more of their personality into your content. Coming from a journalism background that was a big change for me.”
He goes on to say use silence to your advantage.
“If the person you're interviewing for a piece is explaining something and pauses, let that silence breathe for a moment. Frequently you will find that your interview subject will continue digging deeper into the prompt that was given.”
Write and edit the most important content
Some questions you uncover in your content brainstorm may be a simple yes or no question that can easily be answered on a product or service page while others will require an in-depth article. After your research or interview, write up your first draft and then step away and come back to the piece with fresh eyes.
Nathan Dube, Digital Marketing Specialist at IMPACT client Industrial Packaging, cautions you to remember to “answer questions rather than attempt to sell products.” It’s a simple, yet poignant tip to remember.
Your content should always aim to help your reader become more educated — keep that front of mind when reviewing your draft.
Kelly from Acculevel also hits home on this saying:
“Never forget that you don't write for you or for your company. You write for your customers. Focus on what they want to learn, what they're asking, what they're searching for, and provide it. It's very easy to get caught up in what you want a prospect to know, but that will never produce quality content.”
“Come up with an editing regimen to hold yourself accountable. A second set of eyes is great, and tools like Grammarly help too. But ultimately, no one else is going to be responsible for the quality of your content. I do several "passes" on any piece of content. Some take seconds; others, minutes.”
Once you’re confident the piece thoroughly answers the reader’s question, share the draft with the SME you interviewed to get their approval on the content.
Be open to feedback
Per your content creation process, you will most likely have at least one other person review your content (typically the SME) before you publish it live on your site. At this point, you’re going to receive feedback on content you have spent a considerable amount of time on.
It can be difficult to remember that feedback is a gift, aimed to improve the quality of your content and not an assessment of your skills.
Nathan says “get comfortable with critiques from the SMEs and the consultants you use. Don't take negative feedback on your work from the SMEs or consultants personally.”
Nika Hancock, content curator from IMPACT client Anchor Foundation Repair, adds that her advice “is to only handle one edit suggestion at a time, slowly and deliberately. Don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed with the plethora of comments raining down on you. Hold on to your *positive reframing* umbrella and you will be just fine.”
This can be a difficult pill to swallow, especially if you’re used to working in a silo. But the more you can view feedback as a positive, the stronger your content will be and the more it will resonate with your readers.
Publish the content
Ahh, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. You’ve now edited the content per the feedback provided and ensured it is approved to publish. Altogether, that process should only take a few days per article.
All too often, though, I’ve seen perfectionism keep content from crossing the finish line. Remember, if it’s not published and live on your site, it’s as if it was never written.
Mark recommends avoiding perfectionism by working with what you have and getting the content out.
“If I wanted to turn it into a cliched aphorism, I'd say "Don't let the great be the enemy of the good." That's true not just of content, but also content plans and company infrastructure. In practice, it often means producing content while the foundations of great content marketing are still being built at a company.
Don't have great lead magnets to include in your blogs and build an email list? No problem, use videos. No videos yet? No problem, use images. No photography budget? No problem, just focus on creating clear visual and conceptual hierarchy in your writing and supplement your work with free-use images if possible.”
8. Find resources to level-up your skills
To help ensure you consistently work to grow professionally and improve your skills, I always recommend finding resources that can help level-up your work.
Your boss — who may not necessarily know exactly what goes into being a successful content manager — will love you taking the initiative to find resources yourself versus being told what to do.
Find other likeminded people
I mentioned earlier that being a content manager can be lonely at times. Though you love your colleagues, they don’t know exactly what you go through each and every day because they don’t operate in the same role as you.
That’s why it’s so important to find your tribe. Look for communities of content managers so you can learn from, teach and connect with others that are just like you.
You can also check platforms you’re already familiar with, like Facebook. Semrush All Stars is a great group to connect with other likeminded SEO gurus and Word Workers has more than 6,000 members eager to talk all things copywriting
With so many other content professionals, you’re bound to build connections that will last your career and push you to grow.
Embrace tools that make your job easier
I’m not a fan of cliche sayings, but “work smarter, not harder” is one I can get behind. I’m all about simplifying life, especially when it comes to work. People tend to make their jobs more complicated than they need to be.
To counter that, embrace tools to help make your job easier.
Nathan says “you will want to make sure you have the proper editing tools. I would start with the Hemingway app and Grammarly.”
I love both these tools and always recommend them to be your virtual line editor. In addition to those, be sure to find a keyword planning tool you can use to optimize your content as you progress. I personally am an advocate for SEMRush but others like Ubersuggest will work well too.
I also use the term tool when talking about any planning resource, like the content calendar shared above. A fan favorite among content managers is the Content Compass.
This tool will help you plan out the who, what, why, and how of your articles before you interview your SME and write a single word.
Attend events (virtual and in-person)
It can be easy to get caught up in the daily grind and get comfortable with your routine. Be careful of complacency.
Your eyes and ears should always be on high alert for new learning opportunities.
Adam encourages you to “Try to attend events, tradeshows, and other things when your company or one of your experts is presenting. These are great opportunities to gather insights, ideas, and observe your audience asking questions first hand.”
He paints the picture of being at a tradeshow booth and noticing visitors asking similar questions or your SME telling a similar story multiple times throughout the day — this could be the start to future content.
You’re ready to crush your content manager role
I know this may seem like a lot...and frankly, it is.
Your role as a content manager is so much more than writing blog articles, but if you’re reading this article, you’re up for the challenge. Remind yourself to keep it simple and do what is necessary in these first 90 days.
Nathan reinforces “this is a marathon, not a sprint. Expect success can take anywhere from two to five years; do not get down on yourself if it takes time to produce the quality of content you are trying to provide.”
These first 90 days should be used to set yourself up for success in the long run. Take a breath, you got this.
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