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And one of the most essential first steps you take when embarking on a content marketing journey is to hire a content manager.
Knowing you need a content manager and not having one creates urgency, but hiring this key team member is something you want to get right. Your content manager will be in charge of everything that gets published on your website, from articles and interviews to case studies, and more.
This is one of the most common questions we get from business leaders and digital sales and marketing teams. They're ready to get started creating revenue-generating content right now, but how do they do that effectively while they're still looking for someone to sit in that content manager seat?
I sat down with Marcus to discuss this pivotal first step, as well as companies can best handle this transitional period.
John Becker: Who would be in the position of asking this question and needing to hear this message?
Marcus Sheridan: The biggest reason why a company would say that they don't have a content manager hired yet is because they lack the resources. But that's actually not generally the case now.
It's certainly sometimes the case, but it's not generally the case. Because that same type of company is going to be putting their money and their resources in other areas that they simply deem more important.
If you said to a company, "You can spend $50,000 next year on a content manager, and I promise you they'll make you a half a million dollars over the next 18 months," everyone would find the budget. Everyone would all of a sudden have the resources.
The problem, generally, isn't about resources and budget. It's that there's a lack of buy-in. And the lack of buy-in stems generally from the fact that there's either, a lack of vision, a lack of faith that it's going to work, or ignorance is prevailing because they haven't had somebody really help them catch said vision.
The other issue that you generally have, too, is that for the most part, businesses and leadership teams, they tend to react versus act upon. If somebody is in financial trouble, if somebody is hurting for traffic and leads and sales, if somebody is hurting to make payroll, they'll think about doing things they haven't done before.
When a company's fat and happy, they oftentimes will not do the things that those who are in pain would do.
So, there's a group that has the resources but are reluctant, then there is the group that legitimately just doesn't have the resources yet.
Now, I was in that group when I started.
When my swimming pool company was going out of business in 2008 and 2009. There was no way at that point that I could hire somebody. But still, I put HubSpot on a credit card because I knew I had to have something to help me in this process of reaching my inbound potential.
I literally went from eight hours of sleep a night to six hours of sleep a night. And I was like that for the next few years. Because I didn't have a choice, I did that which was uncomfortable in the moment. I became my own content manager.
That’s why, when someone tells me they just don’t have the time or the resources, I think, well, you actually just don’t have the pain.
The reality is, someone has got to own the position. It might be that you, as the CEO, as the entrepreneur, whatever you are, you might also be the content manager for now.
In business, you can't escape the need to be seen as a teacher in your space. You just can't escape it.
Now, what you might change is how you do it, how you scale it. You might say, "OK, I can't necessarily produce so much written content, but I could do video because I can scale that out faster."
If that works for you, you're winning, because you're balancing it out and producing. So, I'm not saying everything is possible just with harder work.
But you can't make excuses — you've got to speak in terms of realities. And many just don't.
JB: If you are out to hire a content manager, what do you suggest for a hiring process? Are there certain things you look for in a resume? Are there questions to ask or tasks you give?
MS: The biggest thing that you have to find is somebody that truly is a good writer. They can't be an eight out of ten, they've got to be a nine out of ten or higher.
So, they've got to be a great writer. That's number one.
But at the same time, they've got to be strong at asking questions, which is why we generally target recent journalism graduates because they have been trained to take a topic they don't necessarily know a lot about, and ask the right questions and then formulate it in a way that the average Joe or Jane can understand what is being stated.
A lot of companies think that they have to bring in a subject matter expert, somebody that already knows their industry. That's not true. And sometimes it actually doesn't help.
The reason for that is because it's good for [the writer] to think like an ignorant buyer because companies need to think like a buyer to produce the best content.
Well, I would start with a general round of interviews to see if a candidate is a good fit.
As a next step, I would have somebody come in and then I would say, "OK, I'm going to have you interview me. In fact, I want you to interview me on the following topic. And you can ask me any questions that you want, and I'm going to need you to produce a 750-word post in the next 48 hours."
It's almost like a pop quiz test for the content manager candidate in this case.
JB: So, in a way, you're evaluating a skillset, not a knowledge base?
MS: Right. So, what we can do with that simple activity is see how they react to something unexpected.
We are able to see how well they ask questions about something they don't know much about. Do they get deeper, or are they surface level? We'll be able to see if they can meet deadlines because a big part of being a good content manager is that you can turn around content pretty fast.
Successful content managers are pumping out at least three pieces of content a week, assuming they don't have a bunch of other stuff they have to do. I'd like them to do more if they can, but at least three per week is where they need to be.
And if you've got somebody that's working on one piece all week, unless it's some prolific post, this person might be a good writer, but if you take a week to produce one good piece of content, that person's not going to be profitable to the company.
I think one of the other highly beneficial soft skills is whether this person is likable. They’re the ones that are going to be hounding the subject matter experts saying, "Hey, when are we going to make this happen?”
Subject matter experts can be squirrel-y at times and you've got to have that right social wherewithal to apply the right amount of pressure, and be organized and find a way to quickly relate to people so that you win them over and they're not dreading the conversations that they have with you.
JB: What about hiring a content manager internally? Is that a good idea?
MS: I don't recommend it. In fact, it doesn't work 99 out of 100 times. The reason why is because no matter what, everybody still thinks that [internally-hired] person is wearing all the hats they were wearing before.
What makes the position successful is that the content manager has to be willing to say no to all the requests that they get that they shouldn't be doing.
Their singular obsession must be producing the content. “No, I'm not going to produce that cheesy point-of-sale piece that you need. No, I'm not going to go do that industry home show that you need help with. This is what I do.”
If you were there internally before, people are going to still think you wear those other hats. It's going to be very hard for you not to have those hats on.
I've had dozens of companies say, “We've got somebody internally.” I’ve seen it enough times to be able to say, "That's not going to work."
At least now, when they're telling me the person didn’t work out, they're saying it in a way of, "You were right, Marcus.”
JB: You talk a lot about the importance of hiring videographers. Would video production fall under a content manager's jurisdiction?
MS: In a perfect world, the content manager manages the videographer because so much of the video content is going to run in conjunction with the textual content that's being produced.
A lot of people are going to say, "Could my content manager also be the videographer?" Well, yes, it's possible, but you're going to do is dilute the output. We don't want to have a jack of all trades and a master of none.
We'd much rather be a master of one.
If somebody said, "If I can do one article and one video a week or three articles a week, what would you suggest?" I'd say do three articles a week. Assuming the quality is high. More is more when it comes to digital.
I have seen situations where the content manager did help kickstart the video, but it never comes close to reaching its potential when you're serving two masters.
If you're serving the master of text and the master of video, you can be assured that you're not going to reach the potential that you would have otherwise reached. It doesn't mean you won't have some success. It just means you won't reach your potential.
JB: Help me build an analogy: Is trying to effectively do inbound marketing without a content manager akin to treading water? Is it akin to traveling without a map? Do you have a handy analogy that describes this situation?
MS: The analogy that I like to use is that I think every company essentially has an artist within. And the problem is because when we don't hire content managers, we generally have to outsource our content. And it's almost like you're an artist that is telling somebody else how to paint your masterpiece.
You're not holding the paintbrush, they're holding it and you're trying to tell them how to paint. Generally, your painting won’t turn out the same.
Once you have a content manager and you really embrace this culture, now all of a sudden you can be the artist and you can paint your own masterpiece as an organization. That's what's possible. And I've seen it.
JB: When you do hire a content manager, what should that onboarding process look like? What does his or her first few weeks on the job look like?
MS: I think onboarding is too slow in most organizations. When it comes to content managers, they should be producing content immediately. What is the quickest way for them to learn about the company?
Interview the subject matter experts.
There should not be an onboarding that takes a bunch of time. I tell every single company that has hired a content manager, we want at least one good piece of content the first week, at least two pieces of content the second week, and after that, off to the races.
JB: I want you to imagine that you have a content manager who decides to leave. How do you suggest transitioning between two people in the same job who might have different styles and different personalities?
MS: I think it's normal and it's natural for that to happen. You're going to have transitions, and I don't think the rules for that transition change for anybody. You should not skip a beat.
[The new person] should first read as much as they possibly can of the content that's already been produced. Get a sense for the tone, style, voice, all that. And then they hit the ground running, just like the previous person did.
Meet with the subject matter experts and get going, get knowing the people and get knowing the product or the service that you sell by asking a whole bunch of questions.
I've got a “don't look back” mindset. Let's review the content that's been produced. And that's really for any person. All that content is a great resource training ground for salespeople, for marketing team members, for anybody that comes on board.
And then they hit the ground running.
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