April 13, 2023

Thinking About Working With a SaaS Content Agency? What You Should Know [+ Tips From In-House Marketing Leaders]

Derek Flint
Derek Flint

Partnering with a content marketing agency can be a game changer for the right SaaS company and management styles.

They’re an immediate route to expanding your bandwidth and production while simultaneously accessing additional experience and expertise in an area of marketing you might not be as familiar with.

And while a contract with a content agency is a considerable investment for startups compared to lower-risk, lower-cost options like working with 1 or 2 freelance writers, it’s significantly less expensive than hiring all the necessary full-time employees in-house. More on costs in the article below.

In light of this, we’ve put together a guide to not only highlight whether or not an agency is right for you but also to offer some tips on how you can best leverage this type of partnership.

The last thing I want when I hire an agency is for us to start publishing content that sounds like it was written by a generic agency. It has to have the technical chops, sound on brand (even as simple as using direct language, second person, etc), and read like more than SEO space garbage.”

Zoe Hawkins, Principal Content Manager at Sumo Logic

Is partnering with a content marketing agency the right move for you?

Before we dive into the checklist below for deciding if your company will benefit from a content marketing agency, it’s helpful to consider a couple of personal and cultural hurdles that partnerships struggle to bridge, no matter the talent levels in-house or agency-side.

Is the in-house POC ready to be a great manager? →

If you’re used to directing the strategy, writing and creating the narrative for each piece of content, and generally being the brains behind your company's marketing efforts, transitioning to working with an agency requires the art of growing into a stellar manager and caring less about your personal style.

In this new role, you’ll need two very important things to satisfy you:

  1. Fall in love with designing and managing processes that allow others to help you build content that you and the agency are proud of. It’s SUPER satisfying when you see content come in that needs very few revisions because of your own process design.

  2. Have writing and brand guidelines for what’s most important, and learn to understand what is a style preference.

    You want the agency to succeed, so teach them how to represent the brand with guidelines that create consistency.

    Avoid too much subjective commentary in which there isn’t a universally correct answer or brand-related rationale for the feedback. This makes it challenging for the agency-side team to satisfy the POC and can lead to longer, frustrating timelines. 

The in-house team wants a set-it-and-forget-it experience with a thought-leadership quality output → 

All content marketing agencies wish they could do this for you, truly.

The truth is that partnership onboarding takes effort, esp. for highly technical, product-forward content. And this is going to be the case whether you’re working with an agency or a few freelance writers.

To make engaging, interesting, and KPI-aligned content, an agency’s team will need occasional SME intake, in-house first-party data when relevant, leadership’s POV, a round of revisions/edits, company and product updates, and the usual monthly communication - like insight meetings and loom recordings.

Checklists to see if a content agency makes sense for your company

There are two ways to understand whether or not a content agency is right for your team.

The first is about what your team currently cannot do given your set of resources, bandwidth, and talents/skills.

For this, we’ve compiled the following checklist to audit the assets and hurdles your marketing team has in front of them.

The second way to understand if you’re ready to use a content marketing agency is to evaluate what’s needed to make an agency partnership flourish.

We highly recommend having the following checklist items in place to get the best results from your agency partnership.

If you're currently comparing SaaS SEO & content agencies, book a free 1:1 call with our team at Ten Speed to see why companies like yours love us.

Looking for more highly tactical content marketing advice?

The benefits of working with a content marketing agency, aka what they’re really good at

1. Have proven workflows to increase productivity (& remove bottlenecks)

Every content agency is built and optimized to achieve significant content productivity levels. That’s the bulk of their work and how they structure their teams. 

If you think about it from the agency's perspective, they have to be ready to onboard new clients or expand with current clients at any time. You can guarantee they have a strong, well-documented workflow, management, and hiring process.

When you work with a content agency, they’ll work to understand the shape of your team and where they can bring in their workflow to support that. Their job is to make life easier for you, so their workflows are often compartmentalized in such a way that they can easily remove and add parts of that workflow as your two teams need.

You’re also likely basing your continuation of work with the agency partially on the results they achieve for you. If the two teams recognize a bottleneck, such as in-house delays in scheduling in-person SME interviews before creating briefs, you can bet they have multiple solutions to solving that problem.

Recommended Reading: Creating a Content Workflow That Promotes Quality and Scalability for Your SEO Growth

2. Bring highly specialized, experienced staff onto your team, instantly

A content agency should give you instant access to skills and knowledge that your in-house team doesn’t currently have.

For example - don’t have a search engine optimization skillset in-house? 

That SEO and content agency can remove the hurdle preventing your team from using a content channel that requires knowledge of search engines, everchanging trends, and technical implementation within various CMS platforms.

And they can use that knowledge and experience working with other companies like yours to bring about strategies that yield better results without as much experimentation as your in-house team would need to do to achieve similar results.

3. Remove the tactical execution workload from your content manager

For in-house marketing teams that are bullish on content but find themselves bandwidth strapped, two of the biggest benefits a content marketing agency offers you are:

  1. Freedom from creating content from scratch 
  2. Freedom from hiring and managing a whole team of writers and editors

When you hire a content marketing agency, your role as the only content marketer can change significantly. It’s not that you’re working fewer hours, it’s that the type of work you do will have fundamentally changed, and the productivity of your program will have gone up considerably.

Instead of brainstorming topics and writing all your content, you’ll move to a management-forward position where you’ll help with the following:

  • Provide continuous supporting documents, first-party data, product updates, and company updates to the agency POC as is needed
  • Streamlining approvals to avoid bottlenecks: from strategy, topic selection, and final revisions
  • Lining up SME intake for the agency
  • Finding and contracting additional help outside of your in-house staff or the agency when other specialized work is required (E.g. custom web design or development resources)
  • Communicating results and insights to company leadership about the agencies work

4. Review analytics and bring regular insights

As we mentioned in the first section of this list, an agency’s continued contract and the following renewal hinges on generating agreed-upon results.

It’s a safe assumption that they’re highly interested in the KPI goals you set together and interpreting the analytics to best advise on what actions will progress everyone toward hitting that goal.

Additionally, in our experience, certain marketing teams don’t fully understand how to interpret data and leading indicators for certain types of content marketing campaigns. We routinely find ourselves walking teams through Google Analytics and Google Search Console to interpret results.

“Agencies are excellent at objectively diving into an organization's data and competitors, speaking with internal-facing team members, and listening to customer calls to identify the organization's best strategic direction and needs.
I.E., NOT letting clients just say, "I love Gong's content - please replicate that same strategy for my company." 

Agencies can always refocus a request like that by asking the right questions to get the POCs a strategy that still gets them what they want and works for their product's specific needs.

They should ask questions like. "OK, well, why do you like Gong's strategy? How is your ICP different than Gong's ICP? How is your sales cycle different than theirs? Do you think your goals are the same?" etc.”

Alli Tunnel, Senior Growth Marketing Manager at Teal
Recommended Reading: Google Search Console: 3 Content Metrics That Matter For SaaS Marketers

5. The cost for a team of 3-4 agency staff is equal to that of 1 mid-senior level in-house content specialist

When you’re talking about spending $5,000 to $20,000 dollars per month, you’re making a serious investment in content marketing as a lever of growth.

For that investment, you’ll receive access to a strategist & POC, editors, writers, and oftentimes another specialist like an SEO professional who makes sure the final deliverable can achieve what you’re paying for.

Additionally, while hiring a single in-house employee might cost about the same, two things are often limited for any one person.

  • Their productivity is limited based on competing priorities or the fact that they’ll burn out if they attempt to produce too much content alone.
  • Few individuals are strong in all the different areas of expertise that a full agency team will provide you.

6. Plug-and-play access to multiple services

While we mentioned above that the quality of content isn’t likely going to be a plug-and-play experience, access to an agency’s various services will be.

For example, at Ten Speed, our base offering is, of course, long-form content that’s optimized for search engines. We do offer more than that, tho. From technical SEO offerings to social distribution content and ebook creation, our clients are able to easily turn on more or fewer services as they’re needed to support their overall strategy.

Each content agency will have various offerings based on its agency-side skillsets, proven workflows, and confidence that that service will be profitable for them to offer their clients. 

Some agencies will try to be the full all-in-one marketing solution, while others might focus more on being the all-in-one writing solution, or all-in-one SEO solution, etc.

7. Ramp up production volume at the drop of a hat

The way that agencies hire, contract, and manage their staffing needs gives you the ability to decide to increase production relatively quickly. You might be producing 4-6 blog posts one month, and then the next, you want to knock out 20.

Most content agencies have a pool of vetted specialists, writers, and editors that they can bring on quickly and insert into your and your agency’s current workflows and guidelines should you decide that you want to execute your campaigns quicker.

What a content marketing agency will need from you

A trip through any agency’s own marketing materials (even ours) often shines a light on one side of the experience. That is, agencies show off their accomplishments and greatest strengths.

Below we’ll walk you through the various pieces of feedback we consistently find ourselves trying to improve on and what other agencies have shared with us based on feedback from their clients.

Getting feedback while aligning with the brand voice

A content agency will select the writers and editors that it thinks will best accommodate your account. It’s important that the in-house and agency team share substantial feedback with each other in the early days, as missteps around exact language and tone are inevitable.

Even with brand guidelines, some things are tough to fully comprehend as a writer until you have experience under your belt.

The same writers and editors will likely stay on your account, and you should find you’ll need to provide less brand-related feedback as they continue learning your style.

Collecting unique industry POV and subject matter expertise for your content topics, especially highly technical ones

The software companies creating content about topics related to DevOps, APIs, Cybersecurity, etc., often require the use of SME interviews so that the agency team can ask plenty of follow-up questions.

It’s rare that a writer is an ex-developer or cybersecurity expert, so careful attention to sharing educational materials, video recordings, and thorough explanations starting from the building blocks might be required to get the content to a place where it’s able to speak to professionals in that industry.

“Make sure your agency really understands your industry and persona. Even better, find an agency with writers who have worked in your industry or as your persona in a prior role. 

When reading content, it becomes really clear if the person writing it understands your persona's pain points and vernacular or if it sounds more generic. The reader feels a much deeper connection to the content if they feel like it was written for them in their language. 

If you can't find an agency that is familiar with your industry or persona, make sure to provide them with plenty of enablement so they can become familiar. Let them talk to customers or send them customer or prospect recordings. 

Or send them to an industry conference so they can meet with your ICP face to face (we did that this year with our freelance content creator and it was great to also get to meet her in person!).”

Natalie Marcotullio, Head of Growth and Operations at Navattic

Improving their full understanding of your product and its use by your customers

Similar to aligning with your brand voice, every product is different, even if the content agency has writers that previously wrote for a direct competitor of yours.

You’ll likely benefit from doing a live demo of your product (or providing a recorded walkthrough of it) with the agency team you’ll be working with and continually helping them decide which product functions and features are worth highlighting in particular topics.

Otherwise, the agency can tend to focus on the product-related CTAs and features you mentioned was important a month ago.

Over time they’ll be able to more comfortably make critical decisions related to when and how to talk about the product and its value within any given piece of content they’re creating.

Understanding your work visibility needs

Every in-house manager has different visibility preferences for what will make them feel adequately informed about the work being done.

And every content agency sets boundaries that are not meant to impede visibility but are meant to provide some reasonable barrier of communication between themselves and their in-house partners.

For example, some agencies prefer not to bring clients into Slack channels as it can lead to additional, out-of-scope requests or simple curiosity questions at any moment that require substantial responses to answer comprehensively.

That said, most content agencies will have ways of improving your visibility into the work being done whether it’s offering you an always updated spreadsheet, providing you a client portal, access to their project management software, or sending you routine email updates.

Tips to leverage a content agency’s superpowers

Pre-plan and pre-approve longer content roadmaps

The more confidence you have in the initial plan you want to execute and the quality of the content you’re going to get from your agency partner, the bigger the content roadmap you should approve.

Remember, content marketing agencies give you the benefit of increased production, so the longer they can work on an uninterrupted plan, the quicker they can start to return value to you.

Additionally, a commitment to longer roadmaps allows teams to see if their strategy will actually work. It’s very common to pivot your content efforts too frequently to see results.

Write product descriptions and product-forward CTAs in-house

If you’re creating content that will heavily feature your product and nitty-gritty details that you have a specific way you want to present, consider having the agency create the entire article but leave your product section for your team to fill in quickly.

This means you’ll still remove 99% of the creative work and ensure the product is positioned exactly as you want it.

A good rule of thumb for anyone doing work with an agency, freelancer, or contractor is that if it’d take more time to write feedback, and do several back and forths, consider doing it yourself.

If it’s something you expect the agency or contractor should be able to do, consider making detailed notes for feedback even if you handle the execution this one time.

Ask about their other clients who are seeing success

A unique value proposition for most content agencies is that everyone agency-side sees a lot of different sizes and shapes of companies in a relatively short amount of time.

If they’ve been agency-side for years, they’re bringing a ton of practical wisdom about where to get started, what strategies and tactics have a higher probability of success, and flagging important insights more quickly.

Feel free to ask about interesting ideas, tactics, or strategies you stumble across in your own daily learnings.

Request their help in communicating and reporting to executives

Content marketing is one of those fields where attribution can be challenging, and questions of ROI can start making your palms sweat.

Take a deep breath in, remain calm, and ask your agency for help reporting to your executives.

Almost our entire agency has in-house SaaS content experience, and both our co-founders have extensive experience with in-house reporting of content marketing to executives.

Your content agency can help you report the most important leading indicators, influenced conversions, and more in an executive-approved format.

Pro Tip: What an agency helps you report largely depends on the tech stack you have available to you for tracking and can allow them access to.

Other Practical Tips:

Additionally, consider the following pieces of advice:

“Create an evergreen guide to working with your company that can be referenced repeatedly by the agency. For example, I created this Dock writer’s guide that tells writers everything they need to know about our product and perspective.

Give tons of feedback early. Don’t worry about hurting feelings because the longer you wait, the more the issues will drag on.

Talk directly to the people you’ll be working with at least once. i.e. Don’t funnel all communication through a PM. Do some live feedback sessions with writers or designers (assuming you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it…). It will have more of an impact.”

Eric Doty, Content Lead at Dock

Understanding the true cost of content marketing

Working with a content agency fundamentally differs from working with freelance writers or a freelance consultant. And that will come through in the price of their services.

Allow us to explain.

You might pay a freelance writer x amount per deliverable or per word. Your interaction with that writer is largely based on the fact that you only need their time and attention on the writing of the content. And you might pay somewhere in the ballpark of $400 - $800 per article. 

Many of the in-house teams we work with think about cost in terms of payments per month, so a writer for 4-5 articles will run you $1,600 - $4,000 per month.

Now consider the work that you’re doing to make their articles successful:

  1. You’ve already built the strategy
  2. You’ve already created an aligned roadmap
  3. You’re doing a significant amount or all of the editing work
  4. You’re creating additional assets to supplement the writer's work
  5. You’re hiring and managing all the freelancers and contractors yourself.
  6. You’ve set up your own dashboard to measure the success of your content efforts
  7. You’re digging through the analytics and bringing up insights and pivots worth exploring
  8. You have the skillsets and bandwidth to optimize, edit, upload, distribute, repurpose, etc.

That list above is what a content agency offers you above and beyond that of a writer. For this reason, the monthly cost is often significantly higher.

So when you receive 4-5 blog posts per month at $8,000 from a content agency, you might think, “That’s $1600 - $2000 dollars per article. Isn’t that high?”

The answer is, no. You’re undervaluing the experience, administrative, execution, and strategic offerings within a content agency model.

Reducing the monthly spend if you need a content agency but don’t have the budget

Talk to agencies about the ways they’re able to accommodate your strengths to help you cut back on unnecessary costs.

For example:

You need help to execute an SEO strategy. You pursue a partnership with a content and SEO agency like Ten Speed.

You currently have an in-house writer or a freelance writer who you’ve trained to have excellent technical knowledge surrounding your product. You could pursue two ways of partnering with us:

1. If the freelance writer has the bandwidth to produce all the content you’d like to create each month, you could have the agency build the strategy, roadmap, and briefs so that the articles come out optimized, but you save on the cost of their team writing the actual content.

2. Have your freelance writer turn into the final content editor and POC with the agency - speeding up the time from the initial draft to the approved final draft. Reducing the amount of time and structure in which you pay your freelancer.

Here because you’re looking for a SaaS content agency?

Ten Speed was listed as a top agency by Clearscope, Vendry.io, and capital firm, MKT1 for SaaS companies looking to grow with SEO and content marketing.

For a list of highly respected agencies, feel free to check out their resources below:

And feel free to check out our results for yourself →

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