How To Build a Sustainable Content Practice

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You know something your executive team might not: Content doesn’t “automagically” happen.

Someone plans it, creates it, curates it, reviews it, maintains it, and decides when to sunset it. And someone must craft the guidelines and governance for each of those steps. While most brands and agencies in this digital era understand how important content is, few understand how to build a practice.

#Content doesn’t automagically happen, says @TheLiterati via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

I did it when building my first UX-focused content strategy practice (and I wrote a book based on everything I learned.)

I distilled all that into a five-point content strategy practice blueprint to help others build content practices. Although created through a UX content strategy lens, the blueprint can work for content marketing, SEO, design practices, etc.

The following elements make up the framework:

  1. Make the business case.
  2. Build strong relationships with cross-functional teams.
  3. Create a foundation of frameworks and tools.
  4. Right-size your practice for demand.
  5. Establish meaningful practice-level success measures.

I describe each component in this article. If you prefer to watch and list, I also gave an overview at ContentTECH Summit (registration required, but it’s free) and in the Ask the #CMWorld Community discussion embedded here:

 

Let’s look at what goes into each component of a sustainable content practice.

1. Make the business case to build and scale your content practice

Getting buy-in from leadership sometimes happens organically. A content practitioner, someone who’s savvy about content, or a champion of content realizes someone needs to manage content as an asset.

But if that hasn’t happened, you can make the case. Look for projects or internal use cases to show how content can move the needle. Maybe you show how a properly managed content process can help get a website, app, or service to market faster. Or you could show how the content process can increase revenue or save money.

Get buy-in by showing how a properly managed process can help get a #content service to market faster, says @TheLiterati via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Look for a sponsor who has the attention of executive leadership. You want the kind of person who can say to the execs, “We need to get this in front of you because content is an important business asset.”

2. Build strong relationships with cross-functional teams and departmental partners

Once you make the case with executives, bring coworkers onto your crew. Articulate the benefits of content strategy to them and the organization’s mission.

You can act like developers planning an office park would. They go to city council meetings to publicize their intent (and get the necessary zoning or permit approval.) That step ensures the key stakeholders understand the project, can ask questions about it, and air concerns before it’s built.

In a content setting, explain your plans to designers, information architects, web developers, and other related teams. Let them ask questions and raise concerns before you finalize the plans. If your work as a content marketer or strategist affects their roles, they know and have been part of the conversation before the work begins. You don’t want to announce, “Hey, I built this thing, and this is how it’ll impact you,” when it’s too late for them to have input.

3. Create a foundation of content frameworks, processes, and tools

Now, you can bring the internal partners into the vision for your content practice and figure out the phases, whether it’s publishing a new website, creating content for an app, or another digital experience.

You can work together to outline the stages of product development, the durations of those stages, the teams responsible, overlaps, and handoffs. Represent it visually (Gantt charts work well for this) so everyone sees their role.

Map the stages of #content product development, the duration, responsibilities, and handoffs so everyone sees their role, says @TheLiterati via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

I worked at an agency that didn’t know how to integrate a content strategy practice into its existing processes. I gathered the people. With sticky notes, markers, and a whiteboard, we mapped the process framework by answering these questions:

  • What is the order of operations?
  • How do we work together?
  • What will the content team do?
  • What will the product team do?
  • What will development do?

You also need tools and processes for inventorying, auditing, and managing your content. You don’t need anything fancy – Airtable, Excel, and Google Sheets all work fine.

Create an inventory of existing content. Use a website crawler to figure out how much content, how many pages, and how many URLs you didn’t even know existed.

That inventory gives the starting place for assessments. Can this content be trimmed? Should this asset be eliminated? Does any traffic go to this website section?

If you work in an agency, you can inventory your client’s emails, social media presence, etc. You don’t have to list every post, but you want to understand the quantity on each channel or platform.

Now, you can consider how the existing content supports the audience’s needs and the organization’s goals and plans.

4. Right-size your team

Right-sizing is not about shrinking the staff. It’s about adjusting the size of the content practice as the demand for services grows.

An agency hired me as a content strategist because it needed the expertise for a client. Once the agency’s management and ownership saw the value, they offered content strategy as an add-on service for their digital experience work. Eventually, I needed to assemble a team and added one person. As demand grew, several more people joined the team.

This happens in organizations all the time. Once your practice partners appreciate the value of those services, they ask for more. It’s a good problem to have. But I don’t advocate for burnout. I advocate for adding more people to meet the growing demand.

5. Define success measures

Finally, make sure to establish clear success measures. I don’t mean the typical key performance indicators (KPI) and objectives and key results (OKR) at the project level. I mean metrics significant at the practice level.

Has the practice met its OKRs? Has the team established and maintained office hours (if that’s something important to your organization)? Have those office hours, offerings, and frequency increased? Establish service-level agreements with practice partners and track whether you’ve met them.

Choose metrics that demonstrate the practice is successful, that it’s worth continued investment, and that it’s brought value to the organization.

Start building your practice today

At the end of my ContentTECH presentation, CMI’s Robert Rose asked for advice on how people could build a practice right away.

Here’s what I said: Measure (or at least notice) the number of inquiries for content expertise. Increasing requests indicate your practice is positioned to grow.

Think about the skills and resources needed to efficiently get those kinds of projects across the finish line. What’s missing from your practice? Decide if you can increase your team’s skills or if additional members are needed.

Then you’re ready to make the case for what your practice needs to thrive.

All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.

Missed ContentTECH Summit live but still want to learn how to manage and scale great content experiences across all your platforms and channels? Register today to watch it on demand (it’s free). 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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