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How to Build a Content Strategy Discipline in a Small Organization

Andrew Nhem • 6 minutes

Content strategy departments are common-place in mature, established organizations like Facebook, Amazon, Intel, Disney.

These larger, experienced teams deliver intelligent content that informs, inspires, and entertains.

Building success through sustainable content disciplines shouldn’t be exclusive to larger brands.

Forward-thinking, smaller organizations can do just the same. Smaller organizations use great content processes and policies just like their larger peers. It’s just more difficult without the resources that bigger organizations have access to.

Achieve Buy-In, Then Build Content

Getting buy-in for your content discipline can be challenging, but worthwhile. Successful content professionals usually take a close look at how the business benefits from content. They convince leadership about those benefits before developing those processes or assets.

They achieve the buy-in: the trust, approval, and confidence from their leadership and stakeholders to develop their content disciplines.

When an organization works with a small budget, every investment is critical. Using people’s time and skills wisely requires gaining the confidence of your leadership team to believe in your plan.

Achieving buy-in in a smaller organization comes from explaining how your content initiative will generate value. Empower this plan by setting honest, informative expectations about why investing in content is crucial for success.

The amount of confidence and buy-in can determine how successful your content discipline will be at your organization. Knowing that you have the full support of your team to build your content strategy and tactics is an encouraging feeling and often leads to your best work.

I love planning, authoring, and managing content and want to bring value to my small organization. If you’re in my shoes, know that it’s possible and that I hope you find this article useful.

The journey begins with achieving buy-in by your leadership into your long-term content ideas.

Speaking From Experience

I’m fortunate to manage a successful content-centric discipline at my small company. I plan, publish, and manage internal and external content for a telecommunications company in the U.S. called Stephouse Networks. We’re a small team of 11 people who provide internet access and wireless planning in the Northwest and around the world.

Like any small organization, everyone has many duties and obligations from day-to-day. I manage all the communications of the organization, but I’m also no stranger to taking sales and support calls.

Our processes and tools use principles of content strategy. Regardless of any role at the company, there are going to be customer interactions. Our staff solves problems or relays information by delivering advice or accessing content.

This content-centric mindset affects our workflow. When we fix customer problems, we also document and share this knowledge. That way, any teammate who encounters an issue has the means of solving it on their own.

Our crew respects documentation and content. We understand that the more we can educate our customers and ourselves, the easier it is for us to run the business and continue to grow.

Other than lowering our costs of support, our content publishing process promotes content reuse. This is great for small organizations with tight budgets. For example, support information adapts into educational marketing material. We can reconfigure the same content into educational materials for our customers. This allows us to reduce costs of sale while expanding our web presence within our market.

We’ve been at it for a few years now and it’s been great. We don’t have all the bells and whistles that a Disney or Amazon content team might have. But, we make a difference for our company by using principles of content strategy that fits our business.

In roughly two-and-a-half years, we’ve:

  • Upgraded our custom CRM and lead management for our wireless internet customers
  • Published an internal library of content about our wireless internet services
  • Streamlined our lead capturing processes on our website and intranet
  • Established a publishing system between our support and service staff and our web development team
  • Made quality internal and external content an intrinsic part of our company’s culture
Each of these content initiatives created value for the business by reducing costs of sale or support for our team. These cost savings opened up more opportunity to improve other parts of our business. The ease of serving our customers strengthened our relationships with them as well as the overall customer experience of our brand.

It wasn’t an easy start. I had limited resources to work with. Yet, I knew that we had an audience that supported our mission and that we had a gap to fill in regards to how well we serve these loyal folks. Great content was the answer. Creating processes and tools to reliably serve and manage that content became the mission.

The mission began with convincing my leadership team that content initiatives were worth the time and money.

You’re the content advocate– your leadership team isn’t

Content is a hot topic for many large brands and organizations. The people making the most buzz about content are likely content professionals like us. We enjoy spending time tinkering with the web, data, information science, and editorial-type things. We’re the ones feeding social timelines and communities with what’s new and useful.

While it’s all over our favorite social networks, it’s likely to not even be a blip on the radar for our employers.

It’s not that they don’t care about serving great content to your market and your customers. Many bootstrapping organizations typically have a heavier focus on what they need to get done during the day. Daily operational tasks, like purchasing orders, fixing things, and payroll, take precedence. Management may not have time to think about implementing best-in-class content practices.

How we get our employers and leadership to acknowledge content is to make it equivocal to value. This is because value brings positive change to an organization.

Making superficial changes to your website doesn’t add value. Updating the colors on the next email campaign or letterhead won’t either.

Any organization can appreciate things like reducing the costs of business or increasing revenue. Lowering costs to support customers or sell products means more resources for other things. Increasing revenue means more money for business growth (and if you’re lucky, a raise!).

Connect content with costs and revenue

I’m a fan of the Content Wrangler, aka Scott Abel, who always encourages content folks to solve for value. Before any content person takes on or pitches a new project, Abel recommends that they ask themselves:

Are you reducing a cost for your organization?

Are you generating revenue for your organization?

Reducing costs and generating revenue is a common mission that anyone in business can get behind. Once you identify what the value of your content initiatives are, compare them to the objectives of your business.

Using my organization as an example, we have three typical costs other than payroll, the office lease, and utilities. We need to maintain our network, support our customers, and find new customers. After much research and planning, we now have a content strategy in place that allows us to reduce each these costs.

  • We reduce network maintenance time by making repair info accessible for our Field Technicians.
  • We lower the costs of supporting customers by equipping staff with all the information they need for any phone call or email.
  • We lower costs of sale by publishing informative content for customers to easily identify a product and join our network.
Don’t forget to look internally for content. Many organizations thrive using slick tools and services that assist with the day-to-day functions. It could be an off-the-shelf CRM, fleet management, or documentation tool. If humans use a tool to serve other humans, there’s a case for content strategy to improve the experience and output of that tool.

We design content strategies and use tactics to create a beneficial outcome that we want. Usually it’s accomplishing our organizational goals and serving our users. If there is any opportunity to engage or serve a customer with our business using our content, we need a content strategy to create the most beneficial outcome possible.

For instance, our company uses a homebrew PHP-based CRM and network management tool. This tool assists with a majority of our daily tasks. I’ll admit: it probably looks like every front-end designer’s nightmare.

Despite its looks, we continue to design and maintain our custom CRM to serve the needs of our organization and our customer. It brings tremendous value. It’s worth auditing, evaluating, and updating through a sustainable content management policy.

Identify opportunities to apply sustainable content principles to the everyday routine of your company. Link these applications toward driving value (lowering costs of sales and support, increasing revenue). This is a great first step toward getting buy-in for your greater content plans.

Finding common ground

Most businesses want to gain customers and make money. There are likely specific goals in order for these businesses to win in their respective markets.

Align these goals with sustainable content processes and practices. Use this as a blueprint toward building your content strategy for small business.

If you can’t identify business costs or challenges, start by speaking with your leadership team. Don’t start the conversation with content. Start with the business’ current challenges and their goals.

Take a moment and think about your organization. What’s a recent struggle lately? Is better content a solution? Does better content put the organization on a winning path towards a solution? This is your homework before beginning your next content initiative.

Once you identify these objectives, identify how sustainable content principles can meet those goals. Convince your leadership that you have their best interest at heart. This brings a higher chance of gaining support and buy-in for your content strategy.

Small organizations aren’t alone in this task

Getting buy-in for your content discipline is not easy, but it’s worthwhile. This article infers that there is a LOT of internal selling to do before your next content initiative begins.

Remember that we aren’t the only ones with this struggle. I’ve met folks from larger content-driven organizations like AT&T, Dell, Google, and Facebook. Even people working at the larger organizations struggle with selling better content.

Aligning your organization’s goals with your content-driven ideas leads to an easier conversation. End any concern that you’re concocting some strange Frankenstein-esque web experiment.

Instead, show your leadership that you will lead your brave organization toward better content. Prove that you can create a sustainable, consistent, and powerful web presence. Build internal information systems that your coworkers and customers will thank you for.

Remember that you have to respect the organizations best interests and link them to your content plan. Take the Content Wrangler’s advice and show how you are mindful of reducing costs or generating revenue. Explain how your content discipline brings long-term value to your organization.

Kristina Halvorson once told me that building a content strategy starts with small wins. She was right.

Before collecting the wins, getting buy-in and confidence from your team is the biggest first step. It’s the cornerstone towards building a lasting, respected content discipline at your small organization.

So, are you up for the task?

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About the Author

Andrew Nhem

Content Strategist

Andrew plans, builds, and manages content, based in Portland, Oregon. He digs influencing the entire customer experience, designing killer customer experiences, and supporting web standards. He likes to cook, run, bike, game, golf, and spend time with his family

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