Often when I meet other content strategists the talk is of inter-departmental horse-trading, corporate politics, and satisfying the great gods in the boardroom. At the recent London Content Strategy meetup I wanted to chip in what it’s like from my perspective, where there is only one department – our whole company, sitting in one room – where the politics are more to do with whose tea round is up next, and the boardroom is populated by laity whom we address by first names.
Of course, once I had talked about it, I found that not everyone in the room was quite as corporate a type as I had assumed. Even those who were quickly pointed out that it’s all the same thing really, because at any one time they are only working with a small set of people, trying to sell something to the next person in the chain.
So what is it like doing content strategy for smaller companies? New article follows the video and slides.
Budgets are squeezed and projects are little
I’m sure everyone would say that money is short. Seriously, in three years, I am yet to work on a single project with enough money apportioned for a thorough job on the content.
Our clients vary from a one-off-website-in-three-days to businesses with employee numbers in three figures who pay for continual development. From a content point of view, it is rare that a project would entail more than two week’s work.
No one buys content strategy
We talk about content strategy in our sales pitch because it shows an intelligent and ordered approach to projects. But we don’t write it into proposals because no one will pay for it as a discrete set of items.
Clients will, however, pay for design, because they have an opinion on colours and fonts and don’t know how to implement them. They will pay for development because they have no idea how that works. Same with SEO. Many clients will also buy blogs, blogging help and copywriting. All of these things act as Trojan horses for sneaking content work through the gates.
It should be said, that with longer-term clients, they begin to trust us and like what we do, so content strategy is less of a snake-oil concept. (Although take a moment to appreciate the initial topsy-turvy world where SEO is paid for hand over fist and content strategy is suspected as a con).
They may or may not have content
Some want to lift the iceberg, and put every bit of corporate marketing that they’ve ever produced on the website somewhere. But a problem that is just as common is a client having little or no content at all. This is a bit disturbing, especially when combined with a small budget and short timescale, but it’s also a fine opportunity to shape all of the content from its inception, and have a lot of input into the final substance of the application.
Doing a bit of everything
My job title is Content Strategist, although sometimes in the office I’m simply called Microcopy Man. I do a healthy amount of copywriting, and have to look at everything I do, including social media and mailing, through the lens of user experience, information architecture and marketing. To clients I’m a content expert, so that turns into consulting as well.
Smaller businesses are simply not loaded with people creating content, never mind content that is any good. Working at this level means being prepared to fill in gaps and make content happen, even if that means taking the photos or inventing the business model.
Nowhere to hide
That’s a rather negative way to say that your mistakes will be noticed and you can’t hide from the client. So good relationships from the outset are vital, and depend on constant communication. A content strategy of some sort is essential to relationships too, even if it’s basic, even if it’s not billable. Having on paper a record of what is needed and who is responsible gives you a schedule and language to deliver the project smoothly.
Satisfyingly hands on
All of this means that I get to create, and my work brings a little sunshine to those corners of the web in which it appears. It means I get to educate, to train, to see clients learn how to blog well, or start to take more care with their content. It means that I get to work closely with a fun team, doing a variety of jobs for a high turnover of projects.
Doing content strategy for small businesses is challenging, and sometimes I feel like there is not much of a roadmap for what I’m doing. But ultimately it is satisfying, and I love it when a great website comes together.