Some content marketing agencies want to cut others down to win business. Here's why we don't play those dirty games.
Last month, I received an inquiry from a guy who seemed like an unlikely prospect for our content marketing services. He was a solopreneur, when the vast majority of our clients are larger businesses or organizations, and his business was already built around blogging.
We realize that we’re not a fit for everyone, and most solo entrepreneurs don’t have the budget to hire us. The majority of our engagements start at around $3,000 a month, and we’ve built enough of a client base and portfolio of high quality work that we don’t need to bargain ourselves down. If prospects aren’t willing to invest in our services, we’d rather cut them off at the chase than wait until after a half hour call to play the budget game, so I mentioned our typical pricing range in my initial response to this prospect. He still wanted to talk.
I was surprised, but thought maybe I’d underestimated his business after all. So we had a 10-minute chat, and he asked me to send through a proposal. I did—and got radio silence.
After checking in a week or so later, he told me he’d gone with another agency. I shrugged it off—it happens.
Before long, though, I discovered something interesting about this “other agency.”
It was his own.
Since I'd connected with him on LinkedIn, I noticed when he spotlighted his newly launched content marketing agency website there a few weeks later. He’d been using me (and no doubt, numerous other content marketing agency founders) for marketing research.
Was I annoyed? Sure. He’d contacted me under false pretenses and taken up some of my valuable time.
But honestly, it was his loss. If he’d had questions about starting a content marketing agency, and asked me without hiding behind a false persona, I would have been happy to answer them. He would have gotten a lot more high-quality information out of me that way then he did by pretending to be a prospect—and maybe even gotten referrals for some leads that weren’t a fit for our agency.
Our pricing details are no secret—in fact, we’ll plan on listing package examples publicly on the next incarnation of our website. And in terms of what we provide in our proposals, we realize that it takes time to understand a brand well enough to outline deliverables, so our clients generally pay for a set amount of monthly hours, with specific deliverables and strategies to be defined once we’ve started working together. He didn’t get any information out of me that I wouldn’t have passed along willingly.
We don’t try to hold on to any trade secrets, and we don’t believe in competitors.
Back when I was a freelance writer, I joined some online forums, where we’d share advice, spill publication contact and rate details, hold each other to our goals, and commiserate over late payments and curmudgeonly editors. Without fail, everyone I talked to was incredibly helpful and always willing to share advice and insight. When I could share a contact or tip in turn, I always did. (And in fact, several of those writers work with our agency regularly now.)
Even now that we’ve grown into an agency, I still appreciate that generosity of spirit, and know that the more referrals and help that we pass on to others, the more we’ll get back in kind. Recently, we got a lead that fell a little outside of our main focus areas. Instead of struggling to put together a team for the project, I introduced the contact to Gina LaGuardia, a fellow agency owner I worked with for years as a freelancer. I know the prospect would be in good hands with her, and I’m avoiding the hassle and frustration of getting up to speed on a subject that I don’t know well.
When you know a project isn’t a good fit, or requires skills that your team doesn’t possess, passing it along to a good referral is a great way to help both your prospects and your fellow agency owners. We’ve built up solid referral relationships with partners in other specializations including website development, videography, and graphic design for this reason too.
As a content marketing agency, we’re not competing only against the 100 or so agencies out there that clearly define themselves as content marketing agencies (though that number seems to grow every day). We’re competing against bloated, do-it-all marketing and PR firms; against SEO firms who are trying to convert into content marketing agencies; against agencies whose main goals are reselling software; and against the companies that sell content by the piece for bargain-basement prices.
In general, the businesses that call themselves content marketing agencies (if they’re genuine about it, and not just jumping on the latest buzzword) are the ones that we most respect and are happy to communicate and collaborate with. They typically approach marketing from a perspective that highly values well-written content, and have a solid background in developing strategies to execute and promote it. We’ve corresponded with numerous content marketing agency founders about agency life, and look forward to more thought-provoking discussions in the future. Agencies like Content Harmony, TopRank Blog, and Distilled produce well-written, genuinely useful content that we’re happy to share with our social followers, and we always appreciate it when other agencies take notice of our work.
We find that by trading tips and information with owners of overlapping (or “competing”) businesses, we can help get a better pulse on our industry landscape, and gain valuable advice on managing our growing business. And when we’re approached in an authentic manner, we’re more than happy to share advice of our own.
As a service-focused agency, there’s only so large that we can grow our business before it becomes unsustainable. As things stand, Jeff and I, as principals, communicate directly with each and every client. We know when they’re headed to technology trade shows or Vedic chanting workshops, and sometimes we’ll send chocolates or flowers to mark a special occasion. And it goes both ways: A thoughtful client sent us an embroidered baby blanket to mark our son’s birth last year.
We probably won’t always stay this small. We work with an ever-growing team of pro freelancers, and we recently hired our first full-time employee (the phenomenal Jesse Baines), with more likely to come—but we never want to grow so big that we lose the personal connection to each of our clients.
Even as we grow our team, we’ll keep our client base small enough to make sure they feel cared for and supported, focusing on developing long-term retainer-based relationships. Maybe it means going up to 15 retainer clients, maybe 20. Our client base is national (and sometimes international), so there’s no reason we’d feel threatened by other agencies when we’re only interested in working with a handful of new clients each year as it is, and we have a global pool to draw from.
So welcome, competitors. Play fair, and there’s room for all of us.
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