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How to help your clients with content creation

We don’t treat content with the respect it deserves.

It’s a line item in our web projects. Something that we expect our clients to hand over when it’s time for “content loading”.

We assume that they’ll have the content ready to go and that we’ll plug it into the beautiful website we’ve built for them.

To streamline the process, we may even lean on tools line GatherContent or Content Snare.

And if the client still fails to deliver the content on time? We reach for penalties, punishing the client for failing to meet their commitments. The project launch gets delayed, and we may even charge extra fees.

As web professionals we tend to focus on design and development. The look and feel, the features and functionality. These things are important, but we can’t treat the content as an afterthought.

Content as a client deliverable isn’t good enough.

Unless your client is a publisher, or their content game is already on point, content will be a bottleneck.

This is especially true when it comes to the small and medium-sized organizations. Why do you think they’re coming to you in the first place? They need help with their web presence, and they’re looking to you as the expert.

Half the time, these clients don’t even have the information they need to produce the content. I remember once working with a client whose product data was completely scattered. When we asked for it, they pointed to dozens of Excel spreadsheets and physical binders. A lot of the information was out of date or inaccurate – the staff had learned how to work around it.

And even if they have the information on-hand, these clients don’t know how to turn it into content. Technical specifications and procedure descriptions don’t convey benefits.

Your clients need your help.

I’m not saying anything new here, by the way. Pepi Ronalds wrote about this very topic on A List Apart almost ten years ago.

Despite that, not a lot has changed in the last decade. Sure, we’ve come a long way with the technology we use to build websites. But we’re still collecting content from clients in 2017 like we were in 2007.

Which brings me to my main point. There’s a massive opportunity here for you to help your clients with content creation.

It’s a valuable service offering that addresses a real challenge – and you should charge for it.

Here’s a few ideas for adding content creation to your services:

Option A: Run a paid workshop. Take a day to go through your sitemap, wireframes, or prototypes. Get your client thinking about the context in which the content will appear. Get them to outline the important takeaways for each page. Then get them to write the content themselves. You’ll still charge for facilitating the workshop.

Option B: Treat content creation as a project add-on. If your client doesn’t have the skills in-house to produce content, tack it on as another service. Determine the scope and cost based on your clients’ needs and what you’re capable of producing.

Option C: Add content creation to your care plans. Ongoing content creation is the new normal. Content is what your clients need to succeed, and they need a steady supply of it. So if you’re already in the business of getting your clients online, content is a logical next step. Deliver weekly or monthly batches of written articles, videos, podcasts, images, etc.

You could also do everything above. Follow up your paid discovery sessions with a paid content workshop. Use that as the basis to develop the content. Then continue delivering new content each month as part of your website maintenance plan.

Make sure you can deliver on what you sell.

I want to make one thing super clear here: don’t sell something you can’t deliver on.

I realize that there’s a lot of encouragement out there for “sell before you build”. But failing to deliver will create a bad customer experience and burn a bridge.

(Those bridge fires spread quickly.)

So, before you go jumping into selling these services, you gotta do some R&D of your own.

Option A: Develop the skills in-house. This might mean learning how to do it yourself or hiring someone else. The upside here is that you’re centralizing everything within your business. You’ll know what you’re capable of, and you’re not dependent on the availability of others. The downside is that the cost is higher – both in time and dollar amount.

Option B: Contract it out. This is a classic setup for agencies. They’ll tap into their network based on the project needs. In your case, this might range from finding someone local to hiring via a site like Upwork or 99Designs. The upside is scale and cost effectiveness. The downside is the risk of dependability and quality of marketplace talent.

Option C: Partner with professionals. This is a middle ground option. You’re building strong, ongoing relationships with a small network of people. The upside is usually in quality, dependability, and risk mitigation. You’re not on the hook for their salaries, and you’re not investing tons of time in learning a new skillset. The downside is that partners will cost more than marketplace freelancers. You’re also restricted to your partners’ capabilities and availability.

My recommendation is to test a little bit of each.

Develop your skills around writing, editing, video, and audio production. Apply those skills to your own sales & marketing activities. Likewise, you can use your own business as a guinea pig for outsourced content creation.

Aside: Great copywriting, impactful visuals, and engaging video content all support marketing funnels. So why not start there? (Hint hint.)

Treat content like an opportunity, not like a bottleneck.

Adding content creation to our projects gives content the respect that it deserves. It also helps our clients and adds new revenue to our bottom line.

Workshop it with them in the planning stage. Produce it as part of the project deliverables. Then keep producing new content for monthly recurring revenue.

Develop the skills in-house for more control. Farm the work out to contractors for scale and affordability. Or partner up with professionals for a mix of both approaches.

We’ve spent so much time chasing after clients to provide us with content. That constant struggle is unpleasant for everyone. Let’s bring it to an end, and make some profit along the way.

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Andy Mcllwain

Andy McIlwain wrangles technical content and community projects for the GoDaddy blog. On the side, he writes about content strategy for small businesses. Connect with Andy on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.