How to Profitably Scale Blogging for Clients on Retainer

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Are you looking for ways to create predictable revenue for your agency? Have you considered creating blog content for your clients on an ongoing basis for a monthly retainer? If not, you are missing out on a huge opportunity.

We all know that the number one way to drive traffic and conversions (which leads to new clients and customers) is to create content and then to promote the heck out of that content. When you create content, you position yourself or your firm as an authority, you provide value to your audience, you benefit from the social sharing of this content, and you build trust – which ultimately leads to a more engaged audience, more traffic, and more conversions.

But, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, right?

So, if blogging is working for you, why not offer it as a service to your clients? Just imagine how good it would feel to have 10 or 20 clients all paying you a monthly retainer of $500, or $1,000, or $2,000, or more.

Never Start a Month at Zero Again

Just imagine never having to start a month at zero ever again.

When I ran my prior company, we had $80,000 a month coming in on retainer every month, and let me tell you, that made running my company a LOT more fun and a LOT less stressful!

It also made my company a LOT more valuable, which is why I was ultimately able to sell it for $1.2 Million – far more than it would have been worth if I didn’t have $80,000 a month in PREDICTABLE retainer income.

Many of the agencies that I have interviewed on my show are already producing blog content for their clients on an ongoing basis and they report that doing so has not only added to their bottom line, but also really deepened their client relationships.

Position Yourself for Higher Value

Now, instead of being seen as just the web designer, these agencies have elevated themselves to the status of “Director of Inbound Marketing” for their clients.

That is the kind of positioning that happens when your clients start to see you as a valuable strategic partner, instead of just a service provider, and it’s positioning like this that will give you pricing power and long-term client relationships.

If you are already blogging and seeing good results in terms of traffic and social sharing, then you are perfectly positioned to begin offering this service to your clients. If you aren’t yet getting traction with your own blog, read how we here at Bright Ideas have recently started to see a HUGE increase in our own traffic as a result of some new content promotion strategies that we have recently begun to use.

Why is Scalability Important?

If you are going to begin to offer this service, or you already do and want to increase revenue (more clients on retainer), then there is an issue that you are either already facing, or will face as soon as you reach 4 or 5 clients on retainer. The issue that I’m referring to is how to scale your services (add more clients) without the wheels falling off and destroying your profit margin.

Consider this challenge: what happens when you have 10 clients that each want one blog post per week. That is 40 posts a month to produce, edit, and publish. That is also 10 editorial calendars to manage. Then there are all the people (clients) involved in the review of this content prior to it being published. Then, there is the team of writers to manage, and the time it actually takes to create all this content. Oh, and don’t forget that you will also need to promote all this content, too.

Can you see how there are a lot of moving parts here?

You bet there are. But with the right tools and processes in place, you can definitely do this very profitably.

For example, when my IT services firm started to remotely manage our clients’ desktops it was pretty easy to do when we had just 50 desktops spread over 3 clients. However, when we had 800 desktops to manage, things became infinitely more complicated. To solve this problem, we had to invest in some productivity tools as well as to create very specific (and repeatable) processes for how we delivered our support services.

Starting From Scratch

For the remainder of this post, I’m going to assume that you aren’t yet offering this service. If you already do have a few clients on board, it’s my hope that you will still find value in the tools and processes that I’m explaining. If you have pearls of wisdom to share, please do so down in the comments as I definitely don’t know everything there is to know about this topic and would love to hear from you.

START WITH AN EDITORIAL CALENDAR

Even if you have just have your own blog to manage, I’m a big believer in having an editorial calendar. We use one here at Bright Ideas and the goal of the calendar is to help us to ensure that the posts that we plan to publish all fit together with our strategic plan for that quarter, as well as to tie into the products that we are promoting.

If we didn’t have this editorial calendar, the posts that we would publish, while still valuable on an individual basis, would not be nearly as effective at helping us to increase our revenue because they would not be aligned with our strategic plan and the products we have to sell.

Instead, I’d just be producing a post here and a post there on a whim, plus, I wouldn’t have a clear idea of whether or not we had enough content in our production queue to ensure that we keep on publishing our posts on schedule!

Creating an editorial calendar is pretty easy to do. In our case, we have a dedicated Google calendar which we always look at in the monthly view. Then, each post is shown as a day-long event with a color coding to indicate the status of the post. Red = planned, but not started. Yellow = in progress. Green = Proofed and ready to publish.

GoogleEdCalendar

FINDING TOPICS TO WRITE ABOUT

Once you have got your editorial calendar ready to go, you need to figure out what to write about . To do that, we refer to our strategic plan, think about the products we have for sale, and any that we might be launching – like my book.

Once we know what we are hoping to sell, we start to study what our readers are most interested in and consider how we can deliver educational value in the post in such a way as to segue to a call to action at the end of the post that will help us to achieve our revenue goals.

[Ed note: do you think it would be a good idea to write about blogging strategy for your own blog as a tool to help you to convince clients to put you on retainer to create blog content for them?]

Now that you know what your (or your clients’) strategic plan is for the quarter, and you’ve mapped out the content that you want to create in your editorial calendar, it’s time to set to work to actually create the content.

Fear not, it’s not nearly as hard as you might think. In fact, if you are smart about it, it can actually pretty darn easy to do.

CONTENT CREATION STRATEGY #1: USING CURATION

One popular method for content creation is curation. With curation, you are essentially acting like an industry news portal. What I mean to say is that the posts you create need not be all original content. Instead, you could be aggregating industry news that is of interest (that is the curation part) and then expressing your (or your clients’) opinion on the industry news. Just be sure to use proper attribution links in your posts so that you give credit where credit is due.

Curation isn’t anything new. News sites have been curating for years, and if done correctly, your readers will appreciate the value of finding all this good stuff in one place, especially if you have strong opinions about why the news is important.

I suppose you could concentrate entirely on curation, however, when mixed in with my next idea, you might get even better results – not to mention the fact that you will help your clients to realize that YOU will able to help THEM produce epic blog content with very little effort on THEIR part – and that is the kind of thing that clients are going to pay you for!

CONTENT CREATION STRATEGY #2: INTERVIEW YOUR CLIENTS

skype-interview

Interviewing Mike Michalowicz, author of one of my favorite books, The Pumpkin Plan. Listen to Mike’s interview at http://brightideas.co/1 (or just click this image)

Having now completed north of 100 interviews with entrepreneurs, I can assure you that conducting an interview is really easy to do. The key is to know what you want to talk about before you actually start the interview. I’ll cover more on that in a sec.

Once the interview is done, you now have a piece of valuable content that can easily be used as a podcast, or turned into text and published as a post (with some editing), and the best part about this is that the content is not some low-quality crap from someone who doesn’t know jack about the industry. Instead, you now have high quality content that came from the mind (mouth) of an industry expert: YOUR client!

STRUCTURING YOUR QUESTIONS

The key to a good interview session is to brainstorm with your client and figure out what questions should be asked to get the answers that their readers are looking for.

To do this, I always start with the end in mind. What are the major points that I want to cover? How long does the interview need to be? Have I left room for follow up questions so that I can dig deeper? Can this interview be divided into multiple sections that could each be a post?

Whenever I do an hour long interview, I end up with about 10,000 words of text. After editing spoken text down to good written text (easily outsourced), those 10,000 words will probably be reduced to about 6,000 to 7,000 words – more than enough for 4 blog posts of 1,500 words each. So, with the idea of doing one interview to create 4 posts, be sure to structure your questions in a way to meet the needs of your editorial calendar.

Important Point: Can you see how 90 day strategic plan, editorial calendar and interview questions all kind of tie together?

Oh, one more thing. Another idea for interviews is to ask your client to express their opinion on some news items that you have “curated” as doing so will create value for the audience, as well as to further strengthen your client’s position as an authority in their industry.

RECORDING THE INTERVIEW

skype-logoRecording the interview is a snap. Here’s what I do.

The interview itself is done via Skype. If your client doesn’t use Skype, you can simply call their phone from your Skype account. I then record the interview onto an external mp3 recorder that serves as my primary recording. To be safe, I also record the interview with Call Recorder for Skype (costs about $20) so that I have a backup copy.

Having done over 100 interviews, I can promise you that it’s not a matter of “if” your primary recording will fail, it’s a matter of when, so be sure and always have two recordings for every interview.

For a more detailed look at all the technical parts of producing my podcast, read this detailed post.

TRANSCRIBING THE INTERVIEW

Once the interview is complete, the next thing to do is have it transcribed. You can either use a VA for this, or you can outsource it to a transcription service. I have used both. The service that we are currently using is called Speechpad and they charge $1/minute and take one week to do the transcription. If you want it faster, you can just pay more.

MANAGING THE EDITING PROCESS

Now that the transcription is done, you are going to need to have it reviewed and edited. The reason for this is that a transcription of spoken text, while full of valuable content, makes for awful reading because the way most people speak is full of um’s and ah’s, etc… Plus, they may ramble a bit here and there. This editing should be done by someone who is a good writer and has a strong grasp of the primary language you are writing for.

To ensure that this editing is as easy as possible, I strongly suggest that you structure the interview questions in such a way as to help your client give you the most direct answers possible. If you don’t plant to publish the interview as a podcast, this is easier to do as you needn’t concern yourself with producing an interview that is pleasant to listen to.

Oh, and by the way, these interviews don’t need to be done by you. This is a task that can, and should, be outsourced to an intern or VA that speaks English very well. The portion that you should not outsource is the planning of the interview and coming up with the questions.

GETTING CLIENT APPROVAL

Once the content has been edited and saved as a draft post, you are going to need to get your client to review and approve it so that it can be scheduled for publication. They key here is to have process that ensures that nothing falls through the cracks. I do not recommend relying on email alone for this as, at some point, something is going to slip through the cracks, especially if you have 10 clients on the go all at once (which you will, at some point).

One method that I have devised to address the issue of basic project/task management is to set up a Google spreadsheet that you and your client have access to. In each column, you list the title of the post you are working on, and then in each row, you make a list of all the activities that need to be done for that post. One of those activities is going to be the editing and approval. In our spreadsheet, we use color coding to make it easy to manage. Blue = new task. Yellow = task in progress. Green = task complete.

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The benefit of the Google spreadsheet approach is that it’s FREE and it’s very visual – which works well for most people.

PUBLISHING THE CONTENT

Once the content has been approved, it’s time to publish it. On the surface, this seems like a pretty simple thing, right? Well, let’s consider it when you have 20 clients and 5 writers.

Who is going to be in charge of what? How is access to client blogs going to be managed so as to not allow access to client blogs for writers that have left your team? Even password/access management can become a big issue as the number of blogs you manage increases.

My suggestion is to either have ONE dedicated person on our team in charge of publishing content, or to make use of the spreadsheet technique I spoke of earlier. Just be sure that whatever you are doing now will also work when you have 20+ clients.

A good tool for managing access to clients’ blogs, along with many other ongoing tasks that you can charge for is ManageWP.com. I have used this tool for several years and LOVE it.

PROMOTING THE CONTENT

speakingContent that is written and not promoted might as well not be written in the first place. That’s a strong statement, but I make it only because for much of the first year I ran this blog, I completely sucked at promoting my content. Actually, it wasn’t so much that I sucked at promotion. The truth is that I didn’t really do much in the way of content promotion! Shame on me.

Once we did start to aggressively promote our content, our traffic numbers went through the roof.

It’s because we struggled for our first 11 months and then got such amazing results so fast that I formed the opinion that if you aren’t going to promote it, don’t bother writing it.

At the time of this writing, our weekly traffic numbers are about 4x what they were before we began aggressive content promotion.

INCREASING PROFITS WITH TIERED PRICING

Content promotion is one area where you could actually tier the pricing for your clients. Tiered pricing can significantly increase your profits, as my business partner Nathan Barry wrote about in this post on WPEngine founder, Jason Cohen’s blog. (disclosure: I’m a happy WP Engine customer)

When it comes to your blogging service, you should offer 3 tiers of pricing; each of which will offer a specific number of posts per month as well as a different amount of content promotion.

SCHEDULING SOCIAL SHARES

spreadthewordSocial sharing is actually something that could be completed as a completely different service that you could charge a retainer for and I plan to cover this in a future blog post. If you aren’t yet a subscriber and don’t want to miss this future post, become a subscriber today and you’ll be notified when that post is live.

For the time being, we’ll consider social sharing as a part of the blog creation/promotion process.

Like everything that we’ve discussed so far, the key here is to have a scalable process for social sharing so that, as your client roster expands, the wheels don’t fall off and kill profits.

If you have already created an editorial calendar and you have a Google spreadsheet for task management, you are in good shape. All you need to do is to create some extra entries in the calendar so you can plan the social sharing in advance (and discuss it with your client), and then create more row(s) in the task manager so that you and your team can easily track when social sharing has been completed.

In our case, we pre-write all of our social shares in a spreadsheet and then we upload that spreadsheet to Hootsuite ($10/mo) so that we only have to deal with it once per week. If you have 10 clients, you will need to repeat this process 10 times.

REPORTING RESULTS TO YOUR CLIENTS

Whenever you have a client on retainer, it is critical that you regularly reinforce the value of what they are paying you a monthly fee to do for them.

Back when I was running my IT support company, this was especially important because the better we did our job, the fewer IT support incidents our client’s would actually see. In other words, the better we did our jobs, the less it LOOKED like they needed us!

As you might guess, this can make client retention quite a challenge, UNLESS you are regularly reinforcing the value of what you are doing. The way to do this is with concise reporting.

For a marketing agency, the key to reporting is to show your clients the positive trends that are the result of your work.

How much has traffic increased? How many leads did we get? How many calls did we receive? How many sales have been made?

These are the key metrics that all your clients are going to care about, so the reporting that you create for them must cover these items as succinctly as possible.

There are many reporting platforms from which to choose. Here’s a short overview of four tools for social media analytics from the Social Media Examiner: http://goo.gl/5hYEfY. Hootsuite also provides fully customizable reports. So does Google Analytics.

Creating SHORT reports that drive home the VALUE of what you are doing can take a LOT of time if you don’t have the right tools, so make sure that you determine what is right for your business and then find a way to create these reports in as short a time as possible. If I’d found just one tool for this, I would have shared it here. Sadly, I’m not (yet) able to point you to one such tool.

Managing all the Moving Parts

jugglingAs you can see, for just one client, there are a lot of moving parts to manage. Just imagine having 10 or 20 clients to look after. While that can be challenging to do, I can assure you that, speaking from experience, once you have clearly defined processes in place, supported by tools that are easy to use, the value that you create, both in terms of cash flow, and the value of your company, will have made this all very worthwhile.

Plus, with all that retainer income coming in, you will never have to deal with the stress that comes from the peaks and valleys that are the result of relying solely on project-based revenue.

Let’s Review

If you do a good job for one client, you will get more clients. The key is to create a scalable process that will allow you to steadily add more clients without the wheels falling off. Here’s how you make that happen:

  • Develop a 90 day content strategy for every client: sit with your client and figure out what their goals are
  • Create an editorial calendar for every client: research what your client’s audience is interested in, then combined with your clients strategic plan, and populate the editorial calendar accordingly
  • Use curation and interviews to easily create content for each client so that you are able to create high quality content quickly
  • Create a process to handle content editing so that the finished product is something you are proud of
  • Create a process for content approval so that nothing is ever published that your client hasn’t already approved
  • Create a process to support content publication so that you don’t have to deal with the wild west for password and access management
  • Create a process to support content promotion so that clients actually see a lift in traffic from the content they are paying you to produce
  • Create a process to support social sharing to maximize content promotion and traffic
  • Create reports and a process to continually reinforce the value your client is getting for the monthly fee

Automating the Process

As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts to manage as you grow your retainer income from blogging for clients. Earlier I mentioned that I’ve interviewed many agencies that are already doing this, and, in every case, when I asked them how they were managing all the moving parts, the answer that I got was the same: “we use spreadsheets and email and it’s killing us”.

Each time an agency told me that they didn’t yet have solid processes in place, I thought…hmmm…there must be ONE tool that could be used for this. I wonder why no one has told me about it. Maybe it doesn’t yet exist for small agencies?

As it turns out, I was unable to find an affordable version of such a tool, so my business partner and I have decided to build one.

As of the writing of this post, we have showed our tool, which is still in development, to over 20 agencies and they have all said some version of “Wow! That would help us to save a LOT of time! When will it be ready?”

I’m happy to say that we are just about a month away from releasing our tool to a small group of users for beta testing. Click here to apply to become a beta tester. If you are a good fit and are willing to help use ensure the best product to market fit as possible, when we come out of beta, you are going to be able to get a lifetime license for less than it would cost you to use the tool for a year.

There is no fee to become a beta tester. To apply for our beta program, please click here.

If you have any thoughts to add or comments to make, please use the comment form below. Thanks!

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