Successful freelance business writers often get to a point where they have to make a difficult decision: Should they keep operating as a one-person shop? Or should they scale and build something bigger?
If you know you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur, you’re probably better off as a solo business. Nothing wrong with that!
But if you think you’d love the challenges and rewards of building a mini content development agency, it might be worth exploring.
In this episode, I interview Paul McKeon, founder of The Content Factor. Paul is a B2B marketing veteran who has built one of the most respected and successful marketing content agencies in the Southeastern U.S.
In our talk he shares how he built his agency, how he works with writers, what challenges he’s faced over the years, and how to determine if this business model is for you.
The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.
Tell me a bit about yourself
Paul is a 30-year marketing communications and technology veteran. He founded Crescent Communications, an advertising and public relations agency, which he sold to Ketchum Public Relations in 1997. He left Ketchum in 2004 to start The Content Factor. The Content Factor creates digital marketing content for clients.
How did you come to launch The Content Factor in 2004?
Paul wrote website content a someone, and the person was happy with the result. Paul started thinking about whether there was a business in it. He formed The Content Factor to create digital content for marketing purposes, such as websites, white papers and blog posts.
He wanted to bring a professional services approach to content writing. A lot of marketing content work is done by individuals and freelancers, who are limited in how much work they can do. He wanted to create a company that could service larger clients. His company builds in project management, workflow, proofreading and editing services.
What are the challenges of servicing clients through a content house or agency?
Larger clients will have three or four writers working on the account. Clients don’t want a different style or method from each writer, they want “The Content Factor” style and approach. This isn’t easy to do. All writers have to apply the same standards, style book and branding. Each writer has different skills, but they all represent the company and that is what the client is buying.
How did you find good writers for this model? What types of writers do well?
Paul started by hiring people he knew. He also found some through networking. He conducts interviews and gives prospective writers a test project to complete. He looks for good writers and clear thinkers.
His writers have a variety of backgrounds. Some are good at reporting a story. Others are good at creating and pulling out new stories.
Most of his writers are experienced in interfacing with executives. They present themselves well, and he can count of them to be professional and astute.
Do most of your writers work exclusively for The Content Factor?
Some do and some don’t. It’s a mix that changes over time. He has about eight writers working for him now, and many take on other assignments. Paul keeps them busy and has for years, so he gets preference. Paul also tries to gives them challenging assignments so they can learn and make a difference. It also helps to keep things fresh.
How often do you bring someone new onboard?
Over the past few years, he’s engaged about three or four new people each year.
How is project management handled within the company?
Paul and his VP do most of the project management. They use a combination of spreadsheets and Basecamp to keep track of projects.
Do your writers have to follow a certain process?
Paul tells the writers how much time they have to complete a project. He builds in time for the client to review and revise the content. The process typically starts with a discovery phase then an outline, then an abstract. They put a lot of emphasis on teasers, headlines and abstracts because these really matter on the web.
They often outsource design or the client does it in house. But they will often provide art direction and style suggestions.
How are your writers paid?
In most agencies, writers don’t get paid until the agency gets paid. This often means a wait of 60-90 days before writers get a cheque.
At The Content Factor, writers are paid when the client is billed. The Content Factor assumes the risk of non-payment. This payment method helps to attract and retain good writers.
Who should consider setting up this type of content agency model?
If you want to build a business like this, you need to have selling and networking skills in addition to writing skills. You have to welcome the challenges of starting and growing a business. You have to be a good editor, and you have to be willing to ask people for money.
How can listeners learn more about you and The Content Factor?