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Outsourcing Is Broken: Why We Need to Rethink the Relationship Between Client & Agency

Outsourcing Is Broken: Why We Need to Rethink the Relationship Between Client & Agency Blog Feature

Marcus Sheridan

Keynote Speaker, Author & Partner, Author of ’They Ask You Answer”, Presented 250+ Sales, Marketing, & Communication Workshops Worldwide

September 12th, 2019 min read

If a company is new to inbound or content marketing, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the idea of producing a website full of content — not to mention maintaining content production going forward.

This is especially daunting when it means changing your entire company culture to expect everyone to produce content.

When companies approach this set of needs, and they feel like they are incapable of handling it themselves, they are tempted by the allure of an agency.

It sounds like the perfect idea: “I don’t really have to lift a finger other than to write a check and I will see great results.”

And the truth is, that was probably true — 10 years ago.

The age of content saturation

The thing is, at this point, content marketing is not a new idea.

What is happening now is what I call content saturation.

As more and more companies across all industries embrace content marketing, it's becoming harder and harder to stand out. 

In life and marketing, you need to be different to get noticed.

If you’re outsourcing content like so many organizations out there, chances are your content is going to be like everybody else’s content, and the majority of content today generates mediocre results.

When companies are producing content like everybody else, they tend to get the exact same results as everybody else, which is where we are today. 

Content is the soul of your business

I believe that hiring an agency to produce the content your company website needs runs counter to the true spirit of inbound marketing.

I like to say that your content represents the digital soul of your business. Allowing someone else to create something so important can be a dangerous prospect.

Imagine you had someone come up to you and say, “Why should I do business with you?"

Would you rather them talk to you or to someone who doesn’t really know your business or your industry?

Business owners have put their blood, sweat, and tears into their companies. They know every inch of their industry.

I’m pretty sure they’d want to be the one answering that question.

I hear so many people complaining that their content is soulless — that it has no personality.

Well, there’s a reason for this: it's because someone else is speaking for you, and speaking for your business.

If you outsource content, it’s almost guaranteed to be bland because the individual writing it won’t have anything new to say. They likely don't know an industry the way a true insider would. They might be going off of generic research. They won't have the insight or experience to take risks or share a new perspective.  

It's difficult for an outsourced writer to access the insights of actual experts within the company. Accordingly, the content they produce is not going to stand out, and it’s not going to represent a business with passion and precision.

Furthermore, many agencies are only producing three or four articles per month for their clients.

Content creation is not something for you to just dip your toes in the water.

You have to go all-in.

When you do, you can get astounding results, presuming you have the right people on board.

You need to own the process. You do that by insourcing your content.

Outsourcing only seems cheaper

Assuming you’re following the They Ask, You Answer methodology, you need to produce an average of three pieces of content per week — at least for the first year.

That's 150 pieces of written content. 

If someone were going to outsource this, let’s say they plan on paying $200 to $250 per piece. That ends up costing $37,500 for the year. 

But isn’t that cheaper than hiring a content manager, whose salary would be more than $40,000?

The answer is no — and here’s why.

Beyond the actual writing involved in content creation, you have to think about some of the other details.

Someone needs to determine the topics. Someone needs to prepare those 150 pieces of content for publishing. Someone has to add the images, optimize each one for search, write social posts, and do everything in between.

If you asked your agency to do all of this, would they charge more?

The beauty of insourcing your content is this: Not only is it easier to dictate your own best practices, but your internal writers can do a lot of other things for you as well, including running point on social media campaigns, editing posts written by other team members, and interviewing leadership and other experts — all while forming deeper relationships with your team.

Relationships matter

It can be hard to wrangle busy subject matter experts.

The only way to do this is to have someone who’s organized enough to constantly stay on top of them to schedule meetings and turn those meetings into content. 

Universally, a subject matter expert is going to be more receptive if they’re with a team member.

In order to get the most out of the subject matter experts, in order to nudge team members to produce their best work, a writer needs to build rapport with the entire company.

They must navigate the different needs and styles of Executive A and Subject Expert B, who might have very different personalities. 

Is there a way for an outsourced writer to do this well? Yes, but here’s what has to happen:

Outside writers would have to essentially embed themselves in your company.

They would have to get to know your people and build relationships. They would have to become familiar with your product or service, your processes, your methodology, your technology. In other words, they would basically have to become an employee.

If you work with an outside agency expecting, you will likely pay more and get less than if the writer were a direct employee.

Insourcing at scale

If you’re a company of 100 or 200 employees, you can probably imagine absorbing another salary into your expenses, but what if you are a company of 10 or 20 employees?

I would argue hiring a content manager is even more crucial for a very small business.

Think about this: Most entrepreneurs got into business because they like to control their own destiny, and if they’re successful, they’re doing it well. 

If you have a writer on staff, CEOs don’t have to try to schedule time on some agency’s calendar to create content. They can walk across the office and have a conversation with a writer who is always there for the team — and they’re not paying extra for each meeting.

With a content manager, the business leaders can do what they do best. 

The content manager is there to help build the brand, spread awareness, and establish the company as a leader in its space. They can encourage all team members to produce content around each area of expertise.

This is why individual brands and companies grow way more quickly when they insource content. 

Content creation as professional development

But beyond a dedicated content manager, I recommend that you ask all employees to write content because it naturally forces them to get better at their job.

This is especially true when it comes to sales teams.

It's impossible for a salesperson to write an explanation of a particular product or service, and then not be better at explaining that thing to a customer.

You might think you know a product you’re selling, but if you have to write a review that’s going to be published online, I guarantee that you’re going to be forced to go deeper than ever before.

Another benefit is that, by creating content, you build a systematic and organized representation of the collective knowledge of your company.

Think of it as a library; one that can be accessed and digested by your team, clients, and prospects. 

If you set up They Ask, You Answer the right way, your content will be an invaluable resource that can be used by people outside your company and by those on your team. 

Content creation is a long-term journey

Content creation is not something you do for a few months then stop; It is a continual practice. And the traditional agency-client model for content creation doesn't account for this.

Think about it.

Unless you’re planning on working with the agency forever, you’re assuming that your content creation efforts can be finished by the time your contract ends.

It’s wrong to think that you need to reach a certain threshold of content and then you’re done. 

There are always going to be more articles to write. You're always going to have new things to say. You're always going to be getting new questions. There are always going to be new technologies and new subjects that come up in every single industry. On top of this, platforms and channels may change.

A good in-house content manager will stay on top of these developments and make adjustments to position your business to stay relevant, topical, and ahead of the curve.

The key to inbound marketing

The bottom line is this — the traditional agency-client relationship isn't set up to produce the quality and quantity of content you need to win business. The cheaper, smarter, more genuine, and more effective approach is to insource your content creation and own the process.

Hire a full-time writer to handle the bulk of the work. This should be someone who can learn your industry, build rapport within your team, and organize and strategize what's being produced and published. 

What's more, ask your team members to write content as well. That way, they share their expertise, address customer questions head on, and truly get to know what they're selling.

These unique voices are crucial to standing out — and accurately broadcasting your business. When you own your content creation, you own the soul of your business. 

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