The reason we are starting this blog… We started operating at the beginning of last year, got a few clients via referrals, and were happy. 

We Never Wanted to Start This Blog

We never intended to create a blog, at least for a few years. These were the main reasons behind this thinking:

1. Our goals were different (not customer acquisition)

A blog takes a huge amount of work to give the intended results—for most businesses it’s customer acquisition. But our business goals were different. We were not focused on acquiring customers. Instead, our focus areas were hiring great writers, training our team, and streamlining our operations. We never wanted to be (and this still applies) a full-scale digital marketing agency. I have tried many agencies while working in-house and was never satisfied working with full-service agencies.  They do all sorts of stuff, from copywriting, content writing, running paid ads, influencer marketing, video marketing, and whatever you can bucket under digital marketing. But they did not have expertize in any. So, we wanted to be a specialist in B2B SaaS and wanted to be the best at it. We wanted the same from our team members. So, there was a huge focus on building our core team. We started a specialized agency because we wanted to focus on and deliver revenue-based results to clients.

2. We didn’t need tons of clients

We convinced ourselves by saying that content marketing was not required for our business model. You need a blog when you want to have continuous streams of highly qualified inbound leads, which you could convert to customers. That was not the case with us. I knew that we would only be working with a few clients. So, I thought I didn’t need a blog for customer acquisition.  We (me and my business partner) were happy with only a few clients. Neither did we have the bandwidth to handle more clients. We knew that as a specialized agency, we didn’t need to play the volume game. Instead, we wanted to focus on a handful of clients whom we could make successful. We wanted to do what we loved to do and what we were good at.

3. Other channels were working for us

We were getting referrals through our networks–much more than we could handle. As discussed, we didn’t have the volume required to make sense of content marketing. We just needed one client every few months.  After working with us for a few months, our clients also started sending startup founders and marketing heads looking to get started with or improve their content marketing our way.  So, it made little sense to do content marketing. Instead, we could grow based on word of mouth and through referrals.  This is the same advice we give to seed-stage startups: focus on 2-3 channel marketing channels. Most of the time, these channels are cold outreach, paid advertising, and content marketing.

But Then We Got Into a Few Issues

We were working with a few clients. Many of our clients were getting great results but a few were not.  Since we had expertise in B2B SaaS content marketing, we thought we could give results to any B2B SaaS company. But we were wrong! Things we had taken for granted when working in-house and when working with successful clients can stall work. Consider these examples from the clients where we couldn’t deliver great results: 

1. Low priority for the leadership team

The founder never showed up after the first few meetings. This in itself is not an issue. But in one case, it translated into us not getting the necessary support to do our job.  Our suggestions were not getting implemented.  They had assigned a single point of contact (SPOC). So, initially, we thought it to be good. We weren’t required to talk to many team members inside their company. Instead, we could ask this person for whatever information we need, and he would provide us. But this guy didn’t have the authority or skills to get things moving inside. So we will discuss something in the meeting, and the same things will come up again during the next meeting. Whatever we decided during the meeting was stuck at the same stage month after month. Whatever help we needed, we wouldn’t get. For example, if we said we need to talk to product, support, or salespeople, they would say okay, and nothing happens. Or sometimes, if we say we need the product or CRM or access or any other account, we might not get a response.  Ultimately, we couldn’t get customers’ insights. Even if they give any information, it would take weeks or months for small details, killing the whole momentum.

2. No design and developers support 

In one instance, a client was using ‘Strapi’ as Content Management System (CMS). It was chosen by their developers.  There is a good chance that you are hearing this CMS name for the first time. When we first heard they were not using WordPress as CMS, though we were a little surprised, we advised them to move to WordPress. We reasoned that by moving to a popular CMS like WordPress, we don’t need to depend on developers to make small changes.  WordPress has a big community. That means, if we are stuck anywhere, we could easily find information and tutorials on it. Further, it has a large number of plugins to implement functionalities that would otherwise require developers’ help. And they agreed with this request. Since the blog had very few pages, we thought moving to WordPress would take 1-2 weeks. Many weeks passed—and then a few months. But it was never done.  Note: WordPress is our choice for CMS. Since we want to move fast and do things quickly, we want to work with a CMS we are familiar with. You could also use any popular and marketer-friendly content management system, like Webflow. We are not against using Strapi. However, Strapi is not for marketers; it is targeted toward developers. When you look at their website, this is exactly what they claim to be: developer-first.
Strapi Homepage

 The result was that there was always a dependency on developers that have no interest in making changes to the website for marketing goals. As a result, we could not even make basic changes like changes in the meta description and page title.

This has given issues like bad on-page user experience, unoptimized URLs, and high bounce rate, leading to a poor on-page SEO. Since the blog design was poor, the website had many technical issues like duplicate titles, short or null meta descriptions, 404 pages, etc. 

All these technical factors could have been sorted in one go by moving to WordPress.

3. Duplication of work

In another case, we created a content piece that the client didn’t publish for many months. Then, they themselves created this content and published it. The reason for not publishing our content was not that it was poorly done. This was an issue of coordination between what they were internally doing with what they were getting from us. Remember, we always make sure to plan this out, but we don’t have any control over what a client does without informing us. This duplication of work only leads to money wasted.  This was a serious issue, which caused a lot of heartburn for us.  But I find it funny as well. First, you hire us to do the job; when we create something, you don’t publish it. Then, you work yourself to create an article on the same topic. Why did you spend money on us if you had to do it yourself?

4. Not publishing on time

You probably would have heard many things about the significance of shipping products. 
  • Done is better than perfect.
  • Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product must have it.
  • The longer you go without shipping the product, the more likely you will never ship the product. – Naval Ravikant
  • If you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, you shipped too late.
The same holds true in content marketing. Though it seems obvious, we see it across almost all the clients where the results are not great.  We faced this issue only with almost all of our clients, even successful ones. In one case, we were begging the clients to publish our articles, but they were not doing it.  They didn’t even publish 50% of the articles we had created. Thus, they were missing out on all the leads they would have gotten from non-published blog posts. It’s not hard to imagine the difference between getting 50 vs 100 leads.

The Lessons Learned

Many times the main reason why content marketing fails is not that the strategy or execution is flawed. It is because startups are not aligned with the nature of content operations. Since there is a dependency on many things, it is bound to fail without proper stakeholders’ alignment. We want to work with people and companies that have similar visions to ours. The blog will also help us removes misconceptions about content marketing. This will help us give more ROI and faster results. We learned these lessons the hard way:

1. For the content marketing operations to run smoothly, alignment on strategy and execution is a must 

The strategy we use for startups getting started with content marketing is something we called is going after ‘in-the-market audience’. This means targeting those prospects who are very close to buying the solution that our clients sell.  As people shortlist products and compare them just before making the purchase, our strategy necessitates talking about our client’s products and their competitors. We discuss this with our clients in the initial meeting before starting the work. But one of our clients asked not to publish it once we created one such article. They told us they don’t want to mention their competitors on their blog.  So, we got on a call with them and explained again why it was necessary. They agreed with our reasoning, and they published it. But after a few days, they unpublished it.  Even after unpublishing the article from their blog section, it was not completely unpublished. It was accessible via the post URL.   Within a few months, it was indexed by the search engine, and we were ranking number 1 for many bottom-of-funnel keywords. Finally, it was taken down by them, but for the short period the post was live, it gave us leads.

Traffic to the blog post

Leads we got to on the blog post

It got us 3 leads with just 171 footfalls from 132 users. That is a 1.72% conversion rate. This is a very good conversion rate. To give you an idea, most blog posts convert in the 0.01 – 0.25% range.  Now, we are very selective on who we work with. We discuss our strategy and working style with our prospective clients in detail and ensure they are comfortable with it before taking on new clients.

2. Founders’ buy-in is required for content marketing to create an impact on revenue

At the seed stage, almost founders’ involvement is a must. It creates a content culture in the startups that make things smoother for subsequent stages. Otherwise, due to its slow nature, content marketing is destined to fail in startups. It requires that the initial runway pick up the speed before content operations take off a company and start giving results. Further, involving someone who ‘gets marketing’ helps move things faster. We have seen that if founders (or something with authority) are involved, things move rapidly. In all the issues we mentioned above, the root cause was that the founders were not involved at all. I’m sure all these problems could have been solved easily with the founder’s involvement. I’m not saying you should get involved in the daily operations. Just being accessible and intervening when required is all it takes. If you are too busy, even meeting monthly just for 30 mins helps clear the bottlenecks.  If articles are not getting published, a single message from the founder will signal it is important, and the person accountable for it will have you publish it. If moving to WordPress is pending for a few months, ask where we are stuck. Sometimes, we are not even stuck. It may be just a priority issue for the person. Now, we only work with startups where there is a founder buy-in. 

3. Keep things simple and don’t track 10 metrics

When starting a new blog, track only a few important metrics: keyword ranking, traffic, and leads. I’ve seen startups struggling with content marketing because they want to do too much in the beginning. They create an ambitious content calendar, make a long checklist to follow, and track 10s of metics. They want to do it perfectly! They make a solid plan that is challenging to execute. Remember, when starting a content marking engine, the only thing that matters is to begin. Once you get the initial momentum, it is relatively easier to scale. Try to keep things as simple as possible. As you will move forward, things automatically get complex. Not keeping things simple also leads to not being able to publish articles on time. If you don’t publish the articles, you will never get the results–traffic, signups, leads, branding, etc. We advise not holding publishing to make minor improvements. Publishing content is very important. There is a cost opportunity of not doing it on time. Our content is very high quality. After reviewing the initial pieces, some of our successful clients don’t review each blog post before publishing.  This is not to say that they don’t review at all, but if they don’t have time, they use our 2 pass review strategy. In the first pass, they skim for major errors. If they spot any major error, we work on it; otherwise, we go ahead and publish it. Then in the second pass, they review it in detail when they have time. By then, it also starts ranking on page 1.

4. Content marketing cannot be totally outsourced 

Marketing, in general, requires a collaborative approach to be successful. You cannot be hands-off with it. Now, growth has extended beyond just the marketing realm. Growth requires the involvement of product, sales, customer support, and success team as well. Since we are not in touch with customers, we rely on the subject matter experts, sales, support, and success team—who have ears on the ground—for input. The salespeople know the prospect’s objections.  Support and support people know what problems customers are facing and how customers are getting value from the product.  Since the product team has built the product, they know how to get the best value from the product.  Not just people, you can help us by providing us access to the right data lying across different tools, like Google Analytics, Search Console, CRM, product demo account, etc.

Our Goals and Expectations From this Blog

In this blog, I’ll share our strategy and working style. So, we would have alignment with everybody who will work with us: our existing clients and team members.  This blog will help us educate our clients and prospects. We believe that it would be easier to work with and give results to clients who reach us after reading these articles. They will know our strategy and working style. Since our customers will understand why we do what we do, small things won’t hold us back as earlier. Things will move fast. Further, we couldn’t take many clients last year due to our limited capacity or their budget limitations. So, we want to share our expertise and give valuable information to those startup founders that want to do it themselves.  I believe these blog posts will also benefit content writers and marketers who will join us in the future.