Why I don’t believe in outsourcing content creation (and what to do instead)

Producing content can be one of the most daunting marketing tasks for early-stage B2B companies. It requires an almost impossibly rare blend of skills: domain knowledge, an interesting point of view, storytelling intuition, and command of the written word. Even with the right skillset, producing content is extremely time-consuming.

It’s also empirically one of the highest-ROI marketing tactics, as we’ve highlighted in a few recent case studies.

Because it’s important but resource-intensive, many teams will consider outsourcing content to a freelancer or writing service at some point. Unfortunately, the chances are good that these teams will be disappointed.

The Pitfalls of Outsourcing Content

A confession: over the past decade, I’ve never actually been satisfied with the results of working with a content agency or freelancer.

Hmmmmmm. Isn’t Blue Seedling an agency? And doesn’t Blue Seedling produce content?

Yes, I’m indeed drawing a distinction here. Blue Seedling is an agency that operates as a plug-and-play marketing team involved in the strategy and execution of all marketing activities. As I’ll elaborate on below, I believe this is quite different from an outsourced provider whose sole involvement with the team is producing content on demand.

And it’s not that content “guns for hire” aren’t good writers. There are specific scenarios where these services might come in handy. For example, a brand might really need “quantity over quality” quickly for SEO. Or it might need some short and simple copy: for example, a social post announcing that the company will be participating in a conference.

But in my experience, the model of outsourcing content production is fundamentally flawed for three reasons:

  1. You get “meh” content. There’s a huge difference between passable and phenomenal content. Passable content is grammatically correct and coherent. But…it’s fluffy and full of low-nutrient filler. Phenomenal content, in contrast, is both delicious (a pleasure to read) and densely packed with nutritious insights. A high ratio of phenomenal to passable content is a critical source of competitive advantage for a brand. But it requires a blend of deep domain expertise and market knowledge that’s challenging for any external stakeholder to acquire.
“Meh” vs. Phenomenal content
  1. It doesn’t connect to broader marketing goals. Content marketing is most effective when it’s an integrated part of a larger audience strategy. That means that the person writing a piece of content should understand how it supports the company’s brand messaging, editorial calendar, and broader promotional push – i.e., the rest of the marketing strategy. Content that’s commissioned one-off or in isolation rarely hits the nail on the head.
  2. You’re outsourcing an exercise in strategy. Creating content forces companies to crystallize their point of view. We’ve seen time and again that the process of writing a blog post or creating the outline of an ebook helps a CEO chisel her strategy. Think about it: content requires an audience (who are we producing for?), an argument, and evidence. Outsourcing core content production is like outsourcing your long-term company vision.

Okay, so what should early-stage companies in this situation do to augment their marketing team’s ability to produce breakthrough content?

Four Smarter Ways to Crank the Content Engine

  1. Find a great editor. Thanks to their passion and industry perspective, leaders of early-stage startups – like the CEO and founding team – are typically a source of content gems. But these gems often need some chiseling and polishing before they’re ready for the world. That’s where the editor comes in. The single highest-leverage skillset on your marketing team (even more than a brilliant original writer) is the person who can channel and articulate the leader’s vision. This individual will unlock the creativity of leaders who might otherwise hold back because they don’t feel comfortable writing: something we see often with technical founders or non-native English speakers.
  2. Build once, reuse many times. Consider investing in a single flagship asset that you can then transform in a low-effort way into many additional pieces of content. This type of modular content production significantly reduces the overall level of effort compared to creating totally independent content pieces. And it enables you to outsource the versioning while still owning the main work of content production yourself. For example, imagine that you write an ebook outlining the five primary risks of digital transformation for banks. You could then repackage that single ebook into many additional assets with limited incremental effort:
    • Multiple blog posts (one for each risk)
    • Social Posts
    • A one-pager for use in the sales cycle
    • A nurture series for prospecting
    • And on and on…it’s the gift that keeps on giving
  3.  Breathe new life into the classics. Unless you’re starting with an absolutely blank slate, chances are that you have some older content that maybe hasn’t gotten some love in a while. Scroll through the archives and identify “oldies but goodies”: classic pieces of content that can be refreshed to connect with current events or trends. For example, a retail tech company with an ebook on solving the one-time buyer problem might relaunch it with fresh insights for the post-COVID retail landscape.
  4. And check out the ultimate content creation hacks. Revisit a classic set of Blue Seedling hacks for creating quality content on a budget and with minimal writing chops (or even as two Israeli developers!). These tips – including interviews, surveys, and curation – are still as relevant today as they’ve always been.

The bottom line

Great content can make all the difference in the success of a B2B startup’s marketing success. But the authenticity and credibility that make for breakthrough content are unlikely to come from outsourced content.

That’s why we always recommend hiring for strong writing and editing skills early on when building a marketing team. It’s also why we recommend that startups looking to augment in-house content capabilities seek out a full-service marketing team – not a pure-play content agency or freelancer.

This last piece of advice is admittedly self-serving. 🙂 But it comes from years of seeing the magic when B2B brands view content as a core part of an integrated marketing strategy rather than a widget to be outsourced. If you’re interested in learning more, get in touch below for a free, no-strings-attached Content Office Hours.

Jordan is a Managing Director at Blue Seedling. You can find him reading medieval literature, running, or helping B2B startups with go-to-market strategy.

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