My ideal client

7 signs we’re the perfect match

I believe in the power of a sharp positioning. That means knowing who you want to work with/sell to, under what circumstances, and why. That may sound arrogant, but it really isn’t – because if you’re considering hiring me, you need to know this, too.

A good positioning goes both ways. If you’re an ideal client for me, then I can provide bulls-eye expertise and you’ll get maximum value out of hiring me. If you’re too far removed from that sweet spot, I can try my best and might still disappoint you.

That’s not to say that we can’t work together unless we’re a perfect fit. But if you’re in the business of selling things, then you know that there’s a wide spectrum of customer-vendor relationships. Some sales are easy — and feel exciting for both parties — while others drag on, and doubt keeps lingering. The buyer is constantly worried they’re not getting their money’s worth, and the vendor is losing the will to live.

Nobody wants that. I’m looking for businesses who are excited to work with me, and you should look for the same in any vendor. I get excited about companies who are eager to move the needle with their Marketing story. I know I’ll do my best work when I’ve spotted a content/messaging situation that I can find a solution for. And it gets even better when I sense my clients trust me because they like my approach. It’s a bit like dating actually – if we’re both really keen, I just know it’ll be great.

So, at the risk of being swiped out of your consideration set within the 3 minutes it’ll take you to read this, here’s what my ideal client looks like:

1. A B2B tech or services company

Your company sells complex products or services to other businesses. I’ve been planning and writing for B2B tech for most of my career and I have a ton of experience in that weird, niche-y, unapologetically geeky, and often awfully corporate space. I work with small and big tech companies, startups, and agencies, so I get to observe market challenges and trends, and how businesses are responding to them. I get to see different creative approaches and develop ideas for cutting through the noise. And, when I work with agencies, I catch glimpses of new and shiny digital marketing tools and how smart digital marketers are using them for B2B. All of that is the strategic capital I’ll bring to the table when we tackle your specific challenge.

TL;DR: if you need help selling handbags on Insta, I’m probably not right for you. Might buy one, tho.

2. A startup or scale-up

I work with a few B2B agencies here in London and help them with content strategy for demand gen, lead gen and ABM. But to be honest: my favourite client is a direct one, i.e. a tech company that needs help with positioning, messaging, and content.

I’m ideal for startups and scale-ups because I’m really good at this – but cheaper. They get the niche expertise they’d usually only get from a specialist B2B agency – but I can offer it for less because I don’t have the overheads of those guys.

Full reveal: that also means I can’t offer a full-service marketing program that includes design, development etc. But you may not be looking for that (yet).

That is to say: We’re a great fit if you need a B2B tech marketing pro, but don’t have an agency budget. Or: if you have design covered, but need help with the positioning, messaging and content side of things.

3. A degree of marketing maturity

I sometimes work with startups that haven’t yet hired anyone to help with Marketing – like a digital marketer, a marketing manager, etc. That doesn’t technically stand in the way of my work. I can still develop a positioning, messaging and content strategy for you. But as a business you’ll get less out of it because you don’t have the resources to get those messages in front of the right eyeballs, to manage campaigns and measure them, and to own your marketing data.

So if you’re not ready to professionalise Marketing to some degree, that’s a bit of a red flag for me. Of course, I can help you create content, write your website, etc. But B2B tech is all about your niche, and these days, you need someone who knows how to reach that niche digitally. I really don’t believe businesses should outsource that data and knowledge anymore – they’re huge assets that are worth owning. Digital marketing is a completely different skillset from mine, and there’s no way any magic will happen if we have spot-on messaging but can’t marry it with the kind of targeting a good performance or digital marketer can engineer.

In short: Hire someone smart to manage your marketing performance for you and I’ll come running.

4. You’ve identified a positioning, messaging or clarity problem

The best situation for me is one where my client knows they need help with messaging. Maybe because your funnel is leaking. The fish aren’t biting. You’re diluting your sales stats with bad leads. I’m running out of water-based metaphors…

I’m right for you if your website is unclear, or your prospects don’t understand what you do (or why they should care), or how your offer is different from vendor X. That’s kind of my bat signal.

If your message is hunky-dory, and your content is already hand-delivering salivating, money-clutching SQLs into your Marketing Automation system, you don’t need me. You need an IPO consultant or something.

5. You appreciate the power of content

I believe that great content will help you sell. And it works when you’re proud of what you know, and willing to share that knowledge and all those opinions that got you to where you are.

If you believe in offering up your expertise to customers you respect, then we’ll do great work together. Because we both know they’re smart people who’ll see through thinly veiled, value-free pseudo-content in no time at all and will penalise you for it. But they will reward you if you help them solve a problem.

If you’re willing to invest the time and resources into letting me find your content sweet spot, your angle and your message, I can help you go to market with something unique.

Content is a long(ish) game, but it’s worth it. If you think you can hack your way to success without being useful, entertaining or honest, then we’re not on the same page. You’ll end up disappointed because I can’t give you the quick fixes you expect from me.

6. You’re willing to invest budget into content creation

This follows from the above. If your content is going to be worth anything, it’ll cost ya something. Good B2B tech writers aren’t easy to find. It really helps if you can add visual zing to your smart words, too, so you’ll need some switched-on designers as well.

I know how daunting this may sound, but it’s money well spent. And ultimately, whether you consider my strategy a success or not will depend on your ability to translate it into assets and tactics. I can build a great plan – but it will fail if we can’t execute on it. I’d just rather be upfront about that.

If you only have a budget for strategy, but no resources for execution, you’ll probably think investing in my work was bloody useless. If you’re worried about exploding costs, let’s talk upfront.

7. You’re up for trying new things

If you’ve worked in B2B tech marketing, you know how boring it can be. Unfortunately, for many businesses, the default MO still is to talk about important-but-inherently-unsexy things like efficiency, productivity, compliance and the like in bureaucratic language that makes absolutely no-one feel anything at all.

If you understand the power of non-generic language, and the energy that empathy, good copy and smart thinking can transport, then we’ll get on. And if in addition to that, you’re up for experimenting with channels and formats, and ready to try out what works and what doesn’t, then I think I may have found a keeper.

That is to say the B2B rulebook isn’t entirely stupid, but a few of its top rules are. If you’re undogmatic about them, we’ll love working together.

Is there… is there anyone still here?

Yes?

Then you’re either up for challenging me on some of the above (please do!), or this must be fate ❤️. In either case, I think you should get in touch this minute.

Why you can’t just ‘manage’ content

There’s a job title schizophrenia in marketing. But we can fix the titles later. Let’s fix the thinking first.

I first published this post on LinkedIn some time ago (mostly because I didn’t have a website then)but I feel it’s worth repeating here. It talks a lot about how I feel businesses should start thinking about content – which includes never doing content just for content’s sake.

We’ve reached peak content. The point in time where pretty much every company’s verdict is: content seems to work, so we gotta do content, too.

As a consequence, there are tons of ‘content manager’ jobs going round right now. Across the board, businesses are creating these full time roles – hiring people to keep the content machine humming, and manage the creation of blog posts, videos, ebooks, whitepapers, tweets, the lot.

Businesses are asking for an impossible skillset

The problem is: the vast majority of businesses don’t really understand the skills and processes that go into content creation. And that’s why they’re asking for the impossible when hiring for that role. Let me explain:

Go to any job portal, grab a handful of “content manager” job descriptions and you’ll find them as delusional as most client briefs (You know the kind, where the goals are brand awareness, lead gen, uplift in sales, product launch, PR-ability, and a reduced waistline. There’s no budget, the deadline is tomorrow and the target audience is everyone. Oh, and make it go viral, will ya?). You might as well be headhunting a Siberian leprechaun.

Here are just some of the skills you’re supposed to bring:

  • Be a terrific writer and editor (with several years of experience writing for the xyz industry)
  • Know how to create all types of content (video scripts, “thought leadership”, blogs, short’n’snappy, social, long form, interactive, etc)
  • Have knowledge of desktop publishing
  • Be an amazing project manager, scrum master and organisational talent
  • Be able to run the overall content strategy and nail all the messaging
  • Be able to run social media for your business
  • Commission and review content
  • Understand programmatic
  • Be highly creative – but not precious
  • Have a deep understanding of marketing automation
  • Be a digital wizard who’s up to date with martech
  • Run the global roll-out of content campaigns
  • Have a passion for tech
  • Have experience managing budgets and timelines
  • Know how to track and measure a campaign
  • Be a great stakeholder manager
  • Be able to lead and mentor a team of juniors and get senior-level content out of them

Why is that a problem? Because, in more than a decade of agency-side copywriting and strategy, I’ve never met a terrific writer who was also a great project manager. I’ve never come across a marketing automation hero who would have been happy to commission, creative-direct, and proofread a video script. And I’ve rarely met a creative who wasn’t also a bit of a diva, and wouldn’t have been happy to throw all budget considerations overboard once they’d developed a big vision for a campaign. 

Unrealistic expectations of the person and their skillset aren’t the only problem, though. It’s not necessarily the workload either (though reading through some of those job descriptions makes you want to run for the nine-to-five hills). 

It’s the lack of focus apparent in them.

Few businesses can agree what content is, and what job it’s supposed to do for them. And seriously, the last thing anybody needs is more random acts of content. You can see it everywhere: everyone’s “doing content”. Few are doing it well. Most are doing it without a strategy. That’s what creates the famous deluge of crap that Doug Kessler has so articulately written about. We’re about to be buried in it.

The problem with ‘manager’

The only way out of the crap conundrum is a proper strategy: thought-through content concepts, creative direction, outstanding ideas, and editorial rigour. I.e. a plan. And one that allows you to create a few, really good pieces that hit the mark, not just a ton of stuff.

But the problem with the ‘manager’ job title (whether that’s for content or marketing, or content marketing or whatever) is that it pre-supposes that such a plan exists. Something your content manager can run with. And that’s rarely the case – so as a result, these managers often have no choice but to react to each and every request for content from within their business – which exacerbates the crap problem.

And that’s where those fuzzy job descriptions create a real issue, because the people you’re hiring to manage the content aren’t necessarily experienced in building such a plan.

Content management and content strategy are two different jobs.

I’ve been in an in-house content manager role myself. I’ve seen how hard it is to maintain creative and strategic integrity while staying on top of the production, briefing, revision and sign-off processes and fending of people’s requests for yet another “two-pager” for that one use case or prospect. There are two roles in that job: one is a creative and strategic one, the other is operational. And those roles require fundamentally different personalities and working styles. 

From conversations I’ve had with recruiters I’ve learned that they find it easier to fill the role with candidates that can manage content, while it’s a lot harder to find people who’ve been on the creative, strategic and execution side. That’s not a value judgement. As I said, you need both. My point is that whoever you hire, they’ll fall on one or the other side of the spectrum. And that means that you’ll either overwhelm the more operational types with a strategy and execution remit they’ve not been trained for, or you’re frustrating your strategic and creative resources with operational duties they’re likely not very good at and/or don’t enjoy.

And this much is clear: Conflating the two distinct roles in one ‘content manager’ title devalues them both.

So what’s a business to do?

I think for businesses hiring for a content role, the only way to solve this problem is to think hard about what it they really need, and prioritise that. And I believe that the recruiters that work with these businesses need to do the consulting bit and help them narrow that job description.

Here’s how I’d suggest businesses and recruiters should handle this:

Prioritise. Think hard and prioritise what you’re looking for. Do you need an ideas person or a manager? Do you need them to do the work, or to oversee it? Don’t make your job description a dumping ground for all the nice-to-haves.

Buy some outside expertise. If you decide you need a manager, get help with strategy. For instance, you could get a freelance strategist (like me) in for a few weeks to build you a solid plan (or, if you have the budget, get an agency that specialises in content). Their outsider’s view can be hugely valuable for defining your most important messages. It’s their creative capital.

Create the conditions for headspace. If instead you decide you need a strategist, help them manage the processes. A good project, marketing or account manager can keep timelines on track, giving your strategist that much-needed headspace.

Acknowledge and reward the mad skills. And finally, if you’re still set on finding that elusive creature that can do it all: be ready to accept that your recruitment process may take a while, and that you’ll have to pay a premium for a very rare combination of skills.

…And do let me know when you find them. I’d love to have a chat. We might even come up with the right job title for them.