In this episode:
01:45 – A short history of Kyle’s career
05:06 – Handing over the reins
06:49 – When your trainee moves on
08:35 – 2 different approaches
10:23 – If you need a content manager…
13:35 – What type of content works best?
16:09 – SOPs that made a huge difference
18:31 – Should you get guest writers?
20:58 – Driving content quality
23:11 – Where to get content team members
25:02 – Effective ways to promote content
30:20 – Tips for making a good process
40:02 – Main points to remember
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James: James Schramko here. Welcome back to SuperFastBusiness.com. Today, we’re talking about content marketing, which is a very popular topic, one that I’ve been publishing about for some time. I brought in another expert today. Kyle Gray from ConversionCake.com. Welcome.
Kyle: Hi James, thanks for having me.
James: It’s great to catch up. We’ve had a good sort of friendship for a while now. I first heard about you when you were working at WPCurve. I saw your name on the bottom of the posts there, and I used to actually send the posts to my own team and say, “Hey, you should check this out. This is what I would consider best practice in the industry.” So that’s how you got my attention.
Kyle: I remember.
Kyle: You were one of the very, I think you were the first comment on the first post that I published on the WPCurve blog. So that was a good first connection that we’re making.
James: That’s how I met Clay Collins too.
Kyle: Oh wow.
James: It was when he responded to a purchase that I made and we had a quick dialogue. I’m often early in. I obviously follow the WPCurve site because up until recently, I had my own website development firm. It’s always good to keep an eye on what’s happening in the marketplace because the boundaries keep moving, and I think to a large extent, you’re responsible for driving that content program. I’d love it if you could just give us a short history of how that came to be. How did you end up in that role and then what happened after that?
How Kyle joined WPCurve
Kyle: So, I came across the role, I had a little bit of a relationship with Dan Norris, the founder of WPCurve before then. I was working at a business incubator or startup accelerator called The Foundry at the University of Utah. It followed the format of most mastermind groups, where a group of people will come together, they want to start a business, will meet in person once a week. And then we had a couple of documents and processes that help keep each other accountable and help us communicate really efficiently.
So everybody was kind of teaching each other how to start a business. Just using that, I wanted to bring some expert advice in. So I started doing a short podcast where I interviewed business experts and then shared the conversation with my students, and so that’s where I first met Dan, was interviewing him. This was probably right as he was starting to announce his 7-Day Startup book and talking about WPCurve and his success with content marketing.
We had kept in touch sending emails back and forth, and a couple of months later, he said he was hiring for the position. I think I saw the email on my phone and I just dropped everything I was doing, opened up my laptop and wrote this super excited email. Within a few weeks, I was on a plane heading to Asia to meet Dan at the Dynamite Circle conference.
A lot of what I was doing while working with WPCurve is just making sure the first bit was understanding the quality of content we wanted to create, how to get a good feel for the attention to detail that was being paid on the blog. And then once I had a good feel for that, then it was time to kind of take that feeling and put it into processes that we could scale up our content production and make it so that we get a consistently good result, whether it’s a guest post or how we design our landing pages, how we go through our lead magnets. We wanted to make it as scalable as possible. So as the team grew and as our guest writers grew that we could maintain this quality that Dan had then carefully crafting over many years.
James: I think of the goals for Dan was to be able to step aside and not be involved in content. He mentioned that when he spoke at my event, which piqued my interest because that’s quite an achievement. It’s hard to delegate the things that you’re actually good at, and I think Dan used to make great content for several years. Certainly how I became aware of him was making a review of my own product, Traffic Grab, many, many years ago.
So how hard was it for him to step back and to hand over the reins?
Handing over the responsibility
Kyle: It was definitely a slow process. I was definitely green coming into content, and Dan was working with me a lot on showing me, OK, well we should reframe the headers on this post like this and kind of giving me feedback to improve the post and each time, I got feedback from him, I tried to keep it into a little document which is like, OK, well headers are going to look like this, images are going to look like this.
I think we were both kind of figuring out what everything should look like as we went along. With each progressive feedback session I got, we actually started to develop the style guide for the site. So yeah, it started out slow, and little by little, we got better and better, and he was able to remove himself more each week. And yeah, half of some of the success he’s had launching his more recent book, Content Machine and doing great stuff at the brewery as well.
James: You’re like a one-man advertising unit for the Dan Norris.
James: Sounds like you had the classic I-we-you scenario, where Dan was doing it, then you did it together, and then you took it over. I’ve got some interesting questions to ask you about the exit.
What happens when he trains you all up, and then you’re doing the job, and then it’s time for you to move on? Why did you move on?
Kyle: So it was kind of part of the deal in the beginning. I think one problem with hiring for a position like this is you want somebody who’s entrepreneurial in a lot of ways because that’s the person that’s going to be a self-starter. They’re going to take care of a lot of these things on their own. They’re going to figure out the problems without a lot of hand-holding. The problem with that is they’re self-starters, and they’re going to start other projects and want to do other businesses.
So Dan was really intelligent and making sure he was hiring people who wanted to be entrepreneurs and then actually designing it so that they would be on the team for a little while, and he would help them start a business. So he anticipated that I would want to start a business right from the beginning and that was part of the deal where I would learn a certain skill set.
I was on WPCurve for about a year. So after that year, I kind of took the skills I’d learned, creating good content, creating good processes, and I was getting a lot of questions on what makes a good content strategy, how do we put these things together. So I wanted to keep helping other startups do that. That’s the current service with Conversion Cake right now. But yeah, it was something that was very anticipated from the beginning, which can kind of be a sore spot for some people who hire a content manager and then expect them to stay on for the long haul.
2 different approaches
James: Well I expect mine to stay forever of course. That’s why I asked you the question. I’ve watched people do this intern model and don’t know if I love that model. I think it would be better if someone could send their team member to listen to this podcast for the stuff we’re about to talk about and then create their own standard operating procedures and style guide, and then to have a team member who’s perfect for that role who can stay on for a long time.
So there’s two very different approaches and I wanted to highlight that. It can be good for a short term but generally doesn’t last. I wonder what will happen with the next one, and the next one, and the next one. I think one of the keypoints is you have to have a centralized standard operating procedure that lives with the business and developing a style guide is exactly what big companies like Mercedes-Benz and Coca-Cola do. It’s great to see that in a small business.
Kyle: That’s exactly right. What Dan did was he was always focusing on processes with me. Everything that I did more than once had to be turned into a process. And so, in the beginning, we didn’t have a lot of processes or they weren’t very well defined, but at the end, we had a nice library of processes of all the major activities that I did. So when I handed over the job to the next content manager Vinay, I had just a doc with all kinds of links to all of the different processes. So that transition went much more smoothly. And I think yeah, because we focused on the processes, losing the team member was not as big of a heap.
James: Right. So what I was wondering is what would happen if you have a content manager need for your own business. What would you do now based on what we’ve just discussed?
The intern-apprentice model
Kyle: So as the business owner, what would I do to get a content manager or how would I help a business?
James: Yeah. Like what would you do? Would you go for the intern model or would you hire someone and give them a set of SOPs now that you’ve planned to have them around for more than a year?
Kyle: Ah well, I have a soft spot, coming from working on a business accelerator and being in kind of an apprentice position myself that I think I would like to give it a try, bringing on somebody new that is ambitious and wants to learn. I do think that the intern apprentice model is a very strong model. It’s a very ancient form of education that’s really stood the test of time. So I think it’s good but I would definitely make sure that the first skill that they’re learning is how to craft really solid SOPs so that when they do go off, we will not lose all of their task knowledge.
James: Gotcha! And this is assuming you’ve got plenty of funds in the business.
Kyle: Yeah. I like Travis Jamison from AMZ tracker. He has a couple of other businesses. He brings on a lot of apprentices. I really like his approach where he has them start part time, maybe offer some $500 a month to get started on a really simple task, and as they prove themselves, more the job will expand to $1,000 a month, maybe up to $2,000, $2,500 a month for those good apprentice kind of salaries.
James: And how often do they churn?
Kyle: I’m not sure with his own apprentices. But I think it’s fair to expect somebody to be on the team for at least a year.
James: Right. My people are on the team for about six years, so I don’t like the intern apprentice model. So I just want to point it’s two separate ways to do this. Probably many others. But what I think most people I’m talking to, they’re not in that startup incubator bootstrapping world. I think a lot of them have serious businesses and they want to hire actual teams. So we should probably move into the what-to-actually-do part.
It has been interesting discovering that side of it, but it’s probably not helpful for most of our listeners, because there’s no point hiring someone if they’re going to leave you next year. The only reason you do it is if you don’t have any money or you are a mad, keen, passionate startup person.
James: So, tell me what you found at WPCurve worked the best in terms of all of the different things you tried and all of the different approaches, what sort of content is the low-hanging fruit, the stuff we should go for?
What content works best?
Kyle: So I see a lot of kind of service business or software as a service businesses like WPCurve. I’ve seen it in a few other cases as well, but what I see doing really well is guides to how to use a certain tool to get a specific result. How to use X to get Y result. A few of those articles that I published, I wrote one on How to Use Trello for Project Management, and I gave a bunch of different cases on how we’re using Trello and I gave a bunch of different examples, how different teams and different businesses are using it in different ways. It turned out to be a really lengthy article, but it ended up being shared by the Trello team, shared on their social media, and also locked in some really good keywords and organic search traffic that still produce a lot of results every month.
I had another one talking about Slack and different ways to use Slack. So I think if you can talk about what you’re doing behind the scenes, how you use a tool to manage your business, or grow your business, or get a certain result, I think those kind of how-to guides do really well, even if they’re not talking directly about your service or your product.
James: I think some of these really comes down to knowing who your customers are. I would imagine if this posts are popular, then your average customer for that product or service are probably hands-on in the business using tools like that or struggling without the tools but really needed those tools.
Kyle: Absolutely. Yeah, our target customer was somebody who wanted to grow their business, and we’re working on different ways to market and promote and manage their business better. That was how a lot of our best content geared.
The best processes
As far as kind of behind the scenes, and management, and really great SOPs that made a huge difference, one was the content strategy, that was something that we kept looking at time and time again to see if we were aiming in the right direction with our content, what we were trying to create, what we were hoping for. The strategy gave us a framework to make decisions on: should we do Facebook advertising for this, or is this the message we really want to be putting out, the strategy helped with that.
And then having a process style guide and a process for guest writers was probably the best process that I put together as far as saving me a lot of time and making my life a lot easier. Working with guest writers before was something we wanted to do. We wanted to scale out the content, have at least 10 great articles every month. To do that, we needed a few guest writers.
But we were losing a lot of time on feedback, going back and forth between the writer, and so I combined our style guide with just a step-by-step process. Step one, research our audience. We gave them some information on our audience. Step two, submit a headline with three ideas per post. And they had every single step covered, from contacting me to pushing publish on the post. So we were able to have our guest writers handle most of that process. For a lot of our writers, that made it so that within two or three emails exchanged and definitely a much shorter time than before, we had some excellent articles coming out.
Many people were complimenting on how easy and detailed the process was. So yeah, it saved us a lot of time and enabled us to really scale up what we were doing with our content.
James: How important is the guest writing contributions? Because there’s a number of approaches. Some people have only guest content. Other people only publish their own stuff. And then you’ve got a mix. What sort of percentage did you have split?
How important is the guest writing contribution?
Kyle: I would typically write four of the articles a month and then have six or so, the guest written. It’s always better if the founder is telling the story. The audience resonates with that really well. They resonate with the founder. I think they can connect with that. It’s difficult to switch away. It is a little bit of a transition like it was with Dan handing it off to me, but it freed up time for Dan to focus on creating new content, writing new books, and tackling bigger things because as you know James, content takes an incredible amount of time.
It usually takes your best energy of the day. You’ve got to be really creative, really sharp to come up with those good innovative thoughts that people want to read. And so if you can scale up and have a couple of people giving you that really good creative juice that you want to make your content, then I think it’s worth having some guest writers. I would follow the guest writer process myself when I was writing the content. So it just helped me on track as well.
James: Well what I’m hearing loud and clear is SOPs. SOPs.
James: You know, I was able to separate my service sites away from my main site and then have our team research, create, publish and syndicate the content all by themselves, including emailing the database. And they’re all in-house and very talented. I think this is possible, but some of us in the business are going to think that this is wildly far from where they’re at now. They’re probably plotting away, trying to put out some stuff themselves. An easy win is to get guest content but you’d have to have a very solid procedure for that to work.
Did you ever had any guest content that didn’t go down so well or was too much in favor of the guest, where they got too much value for the amount they contributed?
“SOP’s drive consistent content”
Kyle: There was a couple of times where the post, I just wouldn’t be sure what the post was, it wasn’t the content that I was looking for. It took a couple of times to maybe go back and forth and review it before we turned it down. But more often than not, the guest writer was always really willing to work with us and keep going. So at least, we could take the content that they would have given us and kind of rewritten it and reframed it into something. Sometimes it was a long cycle, a bunch of cycles of feedback, but if they kept going, I was willing to keep working with them, and even though it took a little bit longer, a lot of those guest articles that started slow were some really great content in the long run.
James: Yeah, I did a guest post for Noah Kagan, and it was about podcasting. And it was a bit of back-and-forth process, but it has had a lot of traffic and been linked to many times, so I can see the value in driving the quality minimum. But it was especially hard for me, because a) I don’t write content, and b) I get bored quickly with the hyper detail required for those sort of things. So I definitely, if it’s going to be that long-form written content, it’s better that someone else is creating it. I just like to talk, that’s my preferred medium.
And so, it’s good to keep in mind, if you’re listening to this, work with a medium that suits you, and if it doesn’t, you could probably find other ways to do it by either having guests, or engaging professionals to research and create for you.
“Work with the medium that suits you”
Where to get the talent
So I’m sure a lot of people are thinking, how do I get a Kyle in my team? We’ve given them a couple of choices, you could have an intern model or you could go for an employee. Where do people get content marketers or content managers from?
Kyle: So that’s a good question, and I think it’s something that people are looking for more and more, and the best results I’ve seen is if you have managed to put together a bit of a brand, you have a bit of a following already and maybe you’ve helped people in your business before, I think those are the kind of people that already understand your vision, have already been impacted by and are on board for what you’re doing, and you’re going to get really good people working with you.
If you don’t have that, there’s a lot of places like ProBlogger, job boards, I would ask around for people in your community to kind of put their feelers out there if there are any content marketers looking around. But yeah, I would say the best source is just by building your own brand and creating content that makes people want to join your team right from the get-go.
Not a neat answer, but…
James: It’s not easy. I’ve found it easier just to send people to you.
Promoting your content
James: Let’s talk about the content promotion, because I know that’s a big part of it. When you’ve put the content there on your site, in the beginning, not many people are going to find that. Did you have any secret strategies or… I know that’s a ridiculous thing to say when it comes to anything that Dan Norris does because he publishes everything publicly all the time. What are the most effective ways to promote that content once it’s published?
Kyle: So, it was always good to, once you finished a post, or as you were researching a post, look around for different blogs by different people that were talking about it, and try and quote and refer back to a lot of their content that they had already created and that was already successful, and then when you’re promoting it on Twitter, mention that these people were featured in the article, or send them an email and let them know that they were part of this, and just trying to get some influencers involved in the content that you’re creating is a really good way to promote and get some extra eyes and get some extra push forward on your content.
I think being consistent in your promotion, I’ve heard people say, going with 80% promotion versus 20% content creation is the way that you do it. So focus really hard on getting a couple of really great articles, and then keep consistently promoting them. I liked just setting it up on Twitter so that different tweets go out at different times, and then kind of going back and analyzing and seeing what performed well around what times or what hashtags and then continuing to push around that, finding new topics and new discussions to maybe insert your content into.
James: How do you schedule the Twitter stuff?
Kyle: We had another one of my favorite SOPs, where I had an assistant who did lots of the scheduling itself, and I composed the tweets. So I just had a list of 10 tweets that I would write in and that the assistant could copy and paste into Twitter, and I had a system where I had a certain anchor time, which would be, I would say, it would be 7 a.m. on a Saturday. And then I would set up kind of a table so that tweet 2 is that time plus 2 hours. And then tweet number 3 would go out that same time plus one day, so that I could just pick one time for the first tweet to be scheduled, and then the rest of the different times would be automatically scheduled out relative to that, and the assistant could just figure that all out.
So all I would have to do is worry about composing the tweets and they would be kind of automatically spaced how I liked them. And I like that better than the HootSuite auto-schedule, or a lot of different auto-scheduling kind of tools that I had used before because I wasn’t sure exactly how they worked.
James: So you’re saying that someone would manually send these out according to your pre-prescribed program?
James: OK. That’s interesting, because there are a lot of tools. Generally people are either going to send out the tool, or they’re going to have someone in-house, so you’ve managed to use the human automation thing. I keep seeing a lot of podcasts I was on, from like ages ago, just keeps popping up into my Twitter feed, and it’s almost like a pest. It’s like, yeah, I’ve seen that 50 times. It’s obviously automated. It drops the market down a notch or two in my book.
Kyle: Yeah, yeah. We weren’t a big fan of repeating old tweets, or bringing up old posts. You know, we didn’t want to tweet content that was more than a month old for exactly that reason. But maybe one way I moved around that is I put a lot of click-to-tweets, and within the post there’s some good WordPress plugins that just give you a really nice little box that people can click on and post a link right to Twitter. And so, instead of trying to promote older content, you’d put a few click to tweets on content that was performing well organically and let your audience kind of do the talking for you.
James: That’s really the goal, isn’t it, to make shareable content, share-worthy content that people will want to put out there in front of other people.
“Make shareable content.”
Creating good processes
James: That’s admirable. Let’s talk about when you’re making these processes, you got any tips for making a good process?
Kyle: Yeah. The first tip, I would say, is when you’re trying to make a good process, I’d keep it simple. So try to keep them around 10 steps per item, and so keeping in mind, maybe, log into my email and clean it out: step 1 would be go to Google.com, log in. And so you don’t want a whole lot of… A couple of the processes I’ve made are huge massive ones, but if people see these huge documents, then they tend to miss steps, they tend to not be as precise. But if you have a bunch of small, easy bite-sized processes that you can kind of put together and organize in a library, then I think that does better.
I would say, use screenshots for almost every step in the process. I love using Skitch, which is an annotation and markup tool, to kind of, if I’m saying, go to Quora.com and search for X, then I could use Skitch to take a screenshot and leave a little arrow pointing right to the search bar. Especially if you’re doing this with somebody who’s new, you don’t want to leave any room for error. And having screenshots to kind of visually guide the person through the process will save you a lot of time and hassle that you would normally get.
James: How did you store your master documents?
Kyle: One thing that I would do is I would create kind of a document for Vinay, which would be the job document, and I would have a header with, these are everything that has to do with content. Then I’d have links to the different documents and every task. So the weekly email had a couple of different processes put together, creating lead magnets in LeadPages had different processes put together. And so I would host them all in kind of one master document which was the job role, and then all of the different tasks that fall underneath it.
James: Nice. So you got a system. In our case, we use Google Docs. We have an asset register with a link to all the most important things, and we use Slack to communicate. We actually have created a production line in Slack where we don’t use Trello boards or any of those things, now we just have a For Approval thread or… For example, when this podcast is finished, I’ll drag the raw media into a drive, and then I’ll update my publishing team, I’ll say new media is there, it will be named in the folder exactly as the episode should appear in the blog, and then they’ll go about editing and transcribing, illustrating, tweetabling, and publishing it to the blog and then sending it out to the email list.
And they’ll put it in a For Approval process. If I don’t respond to that, it just gets published the next day. If I do respond to it, I’ll just tune it. So we found a little way that works for us, this content conveyor belt or as some of the older-time Internet marketers call it, a content factory.
To put it in context, this whole process for that particular business you’re working on pretty much drove the bulk of the sales, the content marketing program, as does content marketing from my own business. So I’m a huge advocate of putting in the effort to create these operating procedures and style guides and recruiting the right people. How many people did you have in the team by the end?
Kyle: On the kind of management level content, we had Vinay, who was replacing me and largely the content production guest writers, and then we had another guy, Oscar, come in, who was doing more of the lead magnets, the growth hacking, and so the team had grown to two, and then we have lots of different team members that work as assistants kind of around the world in helping us. But yeah, we keep the team pretty small.
James: In our case, we have 4 or 5 people in the publishing unit, to do everything from illustrations through to content editing, and we’re self-sufficient.
Kyle: I think that’s a beautiful thing.
James: It’s really amazing, if you pitch it against someone’s Adwords budget and you think about the long-haul leverage of creating good content, it’s a winning formula.
Kyle’s conversion business
James: Now you’ve escaped that role, and you went on to do your conversion rate optimizer as well. Why, as if you didn’t have enough talent with the content. What’s this Conversion Cake all about?
Kyle: Yeah, that was kind of my original business that I started, was helping others doing conversion rate optimization and running tests on their site. And I’ve since taken that business and since content is still a big part of conversions and still a big part of driving more sales and more traffic to your site, I’ve offered a new service which a lot of people have been kind of asking about and wanting since I was working for WPCurve.
But it’s basically just content marketing training, and it’s focused on supporting a founder who wants to get into content marketing or maybe a start-up that wants to hire a manager and get them prepared for content marketing. Or if they have a certain problem that they want to solve, like I want to set up a better system for lead magnets, then I can help them do that.
James: Cool. And you help them find people to operate this stuff within their business?
Kyle: I help them with the recruitment and the screening process.
James: And do you do the intern thing there, or the more permanent employee type roles?
Kyle: I’ve done both. I’ve given them different options and different advantages to each of the roles and we let them pick that up.
A brief summary
James: Nice. Well, I appreciate you coming to share some stuff. We should just do a little recap, because it’s nice to finish a good piece of content with something actionable. So I’ll just do a little summary and I want you to see if you can suggest what a listener might do next.
The main things we talked about are setting a minimum standard of quality. You really did bring that point home, and I know that Dan Norris is pixel perfect perfectionist in some cases. Having processes and standard operating procedures around your content production, creation and publishing, having a style guide so that you know what it should be consistently looking and feeling like. Scaling it with your own team and also bringing in guest contributions. It’s kind of what we’re doing here, I’m bringing in a guest to add some flavor to my plain vanilla approach.
And then you’ve talked about some of the strategies around sharing that content. And of interest to me really is the lack of tricky tools and automation. Someone wanting to really develop that conversation should go and listen to the social media podcast I did with Jen Sheahan, she really laid down a fantastic social media calendar, which is like the power booster version of what to do with content.
And we talked about the different sort of categories you might be focusing on with the guest posts, with the lead magnets, the pages where people are coming into. A little bit about conversion, looking at what is responding with people and the X to get Y formula was a good one that someone could have a go at straight after this. And where they might find some writers, and if they really need some professional help, they might look you up at Conversion Cake. So how did that go for a summary?
Kyle: I think that was good. That was strong. Yeah, I would say that the first thing that somebody needs to do if you want to get into content marketing is just really carve out a strategy first, and I can leave a link to the strategy template that I use in the show notes, so people can take a look at that and see if it helps them.
James: Yeah. Send it over, we’ll make it available. Well, I really appreciate you sharing with us, Kyle. I also feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my own content team who publish this show. We’re talking about things close to their heart and I want to express my appreciation for all the good quality work they’ve been doing to grow SuperFastBusiness and give some love back where it belongs. And hopefully you’ll come back and give us an update on what you’ve been up to a little bit down the track. We like serialized podcasts on this particular show, so we always want to develop the story and see what happens next.
Kyle: Absolutely, James. This was a lot of fun, and yeah, thank you to all your team behind the scenes. I feel for you guys, I know that you’re working super hard to make amazing stuff. And so, yeah, I look forward to coming back on and giving you an update in a few months.
James: Thank you. Take care.
Kyle: See you, James.
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