How to quickly and effectively scale your content team

How to quickly and effectively scale your content team

6 minute read

How to quickly and effectively scale your content team

6 minute read

How to quickly and effectively scale your content team

Ashley Walton

VP of Content & Creative, Clearlink

Over the course of six years, I grew a content team from seven to 50 individuals (whilst maintaining 90% retention along the way). I now oversee a team that writes, edits, and publishes over two million words a year. And we’re not talking about churning out subpar content here; our content producers are masters of their craft who produce research-intensive, deeply insightful, unique content.

When I was a few years into my leadership roles, I thought I had hiring figured out. That was before I had to quickly scale a content team to seven times its original size.

Refining my hiring process was necessary to save my time, respect other people’s time, and find exceptional talent.

"The only way to scale a content team is to treat it as a dedicated function."
Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Advisor, Content Marketing Institute

Here’s the honest-to-goodness secret: your hiring efforts will go smoothly when you create a plan before ‘jumping in’. And the truth is, a good hiring strategy isway more work than what most people put in.

Define what a successful hire looks like

The first step is to make sure that you and your stakeholders (for example, marketing managers or directors, vice presidents, or creative directors) are aligned on why you are scaling the content team, and what’s most important in the content you’re creating. This is because it can be easy to get caught up in the idea that you need “more content” without further explanation or clarity from stakeholders.

Meet with them individually or as a group to hash out the reasoning behind your hires, and how it aligns with broader business objectives.

"Is it just the CMO who believes in the importance of the role, or is there a real commitment from the C-suite? If it’s just the CMO, any candidate I send will be doomed from the start."
Sara Noble
Recruiter, Noble Executive Talent

Here are some questions you may want to discuss with your internal stakeholders:

  • “Is speed a top concern when producing content? Are we trying to keep up with news trends too?”
  • “Do we need deep subject-matter expertise?
  • “Are we willing to hire people who might take more time on each piece, but deliver superior quality?
  • “Do we need someone with experience collaborating with other functional areas (SEO, design, etc.)?”
  • “Which qualities or skills do we view as most important for these roles?”

Once you’re aligned on the high-level details of what you’re looking for, you can start your work on developing a plan.

Good to know: Bring clarity to your content team and their roles by using our Roles and Responsibilities Chart [free template].

Do your research

Refer to the objectives you defined based on your initial talks with stakeholders (see previous section) to decide whether to hire:

  • Employees or freelancers
  • Office-based, remotely working (or a hybrid of the two)
  • Full-time or part-time

💡 Important: Ensure that you’re partnering with your HR department for this process, so you’re aware and understand any potential legalities around these decisions.

It’s wise to do some research on how other companies have defined similar roles.

  • Read job postings, and note the things you like or dislike.
  • Seek ‘average market salary’ information, so you understand what people should be rewarded with for the role, and what a fair offer entails.

Your HR department may be able to help you with this because procuring and understanding average market salary data is more complicated than it seems at first. For example, total compensation often encapsulates more than a base salary.

You could also:

  • Reach out to peers in your professional network to learn about how they’ve structured their teams with similar roles.
  • Talk to content directors, content strategists, content managers, managing editors, and content coordinators and ask how their roles are officially defined.
  • Offer to take a former colleague out for coffee to pick their brain.
  • Attend a local (or virtual) content meet-up group — or create one!

When I realised I’d need to structure a job and career path for a content strategy team, I reached out to a VP of UX at another company. I offered to take her to lunch in exchange for her guidance.

That conversation was really invaluable in helping me formulate my thoughts and decide the next steps for building out the team.

And in terms of meet-ups, several years ago, I created ‘Salt Lake City Content Meet-up’ so that I could hear from local content thought leaders. We cover various topics, from ‘designing chatbots’ to ‘how to build a YouTube audience’, to ‘how to use content to change behaviour’.

It’s fun to meet people with similar interests, and it’s been a huge opportunity to learn about roles at different companies and build relationships. As a result of the meet-up group, I’ve learned new things, hired people, and connected with smart people who I can now call friends.

Whichever combination of approaches you choose, your research will pay off. And, by the time you write your job description or begin interviews, you’ll have a solid understanding of job titles, market salary ranges, and the type of employee you really need for your organisation.

You’ll also be able to interview with confidence and hold an understanding of what a fair, realistic offer is — rather than relying solely on candidates to communicate their salary requirements.

Write a hiring strategy

Developing a hiring strategy means deciding how to hire for your needs.

You’ll want to define the skills needed for the role, as well as any traits that are really critical for your organisation and, perhaps most importantly, your team’s culture.

A hiring strategy will help you to identify any cultural traits before hiring because ‘culture fit’ can mean different things to different people within any one team. If you’re not careful, inherent biases can sneak into your idea of ‘culture fit’.

Skills you may look for:

Also, take time to observe your current team. You may be able to identify patterns, gaps in skills, or certain personality types.

For example:

  • You may find that you’ve primarily hired people who love to brainstorm content ideas, but struggle with execution, or…
  • You may realise that your team excels at written communication, but struggle to verbally communicate the importance of content projects…

Taking an objective look at your team in this way may help surface inherent biases in your hiring process, so you can check yourself on them and become more self-aware, or ask others for feedback.

Teams thrive on diverse perspectives and ideas, so it’s great to keep that in mind when you’re advertising and interviewing for new team members.

Good to know: This on-demand recording, Organising your Content Team, will walk you through some different approaches for organising your content function.

Once you’ve done your research and identified the specific skills and traits you’re looking for, you’re ready to write a job description and a job advertisement. Both are important.

A job description is an internal document that should detail not only what the position involves, but also information such as:

  • The type of professional background candidates should have
  • Whether candidates can be found internally or externally to the company
  • What the career path looks like for the position

The job posting is an external piece of content that should be shared on your company website and on job boards. It should explain the role and its responsibilities, as well as the benefits and selling points of the position — and of working with your organisation.

Define what you need in your candidates versus what’s ‘nice to have’, and then decide how you’ll know when you’ve found the right fit.

You may want to incorporate some kind of test, an assessment element (such as a credible personality test), or certain questions at interviews to help you make a decision on who will be the best fit for your vacant role.

There are many different options in the marketplace when it comes to assessing and testing prospective candidates.

If you do decide to supply a test project to candidates, make sure you align with your HR department as you’ll need to consider whether you pay candidates for the time they’re spending on a project and whether they’ll need to sign any necessary paperwork (for example, an NDA). A careful approach will be needed here, as if there’s any chance you may use any work or ideas from test projects, you should absolutely pay candidates for them.

When it comes to my own team, we ask copywriter candidates to complete a test project that entails writing a short blog post for a specific website.

This helps us see beyond the limitations of what you might glean from looking at someone’s writing portfolio because you’re able to see how quickly they’re able to work — and also what their work looks like without help from an editor or advisor.

"Too many companies make the mistake of simply asking for an existing writing sample and judging candidates’ ability, based only on that."
Kelsey Raymond
Co-Founder and CEO, Influence & Co

Having said that, test projects can be a sensitive subject, so you should make sure it’s aligned with your company’s goals and culture, rather than insisting candidates go through this process, regardless.

Create a thoughtful interview strategy

Before scheduling interviews, you want to outline who needs to be there and what your questions will be.

Since you’ve already done the work to identify the traits and skills you’re looking for, it should be easy to write behavioural questions related to your needs. Write your questions down and share them with the other interviewers, so you’re on the same page. This also helps each interview to flow better, rather than aimlessly shifting from one topic to another.

Some example questions you could ask:

  • “How do you measure the success of content?”
  • “Tell me about a time when you learned something new about users and how you applied it to your work.”
  • “What would be your first steps in creating a content plan for a website?”
  • “Can you tell me a bit about your favourite authors or brands you admire because of their content?”

It’s important that you maintain consistency in how you approach the interview and the questions you ask. Ideally, you want to compare ‘apples to apples’ and see how different candidates respond to the exact same questions, and so being consistent across interviewees allows you to get a fairer assessment.

If you align with the other interviewers ahead of time, this shouldn’t be a problem. Even then, you may run into scenarios where, for example, you’re not able to ask all of the questions you had lined up. In those cases, you’ll need to try to keep consistency as much as possible; keeping the interview on a similar cadence across the board.

It’s a good idea to also plan in a 10 to 15-minute slot at the end so that your candidates have enough time to ask their questions.

Here are some examples of kind of questions you might expect to be asked:

  • “What are this organisation’s goals and/or objectives for the next year?”
  • “What opportunities are there for the successful candidate in terms of professional development?”
  • “What does a typical progression path look like for someone coming into this role?”

So, it’s absolutely worth your time to slow down and thoroughly define your hiring strategy before diving into interviews. Because, if you lay a solid foundation from the start, you’ll save time in the long run, and ultimately, you’ll hire the right people; people who push your content to new heights.

Over the course of six years, I grew a content team from seven to 50 individuals (whilst maintaining 90% retention along the way). I now oversee a team that writes, edits, and publishes over two million words a year. And we’re not talking about churning out subpar content here; our content producers are masters of their craft who produce research-intensive, deeply insightful, unique content.

When I was a few years into my leadership roles, I thought I had hiring figured out. That was before I had to quickly scale a content team to seven times its original size.

Refining my hiring process was necessary to save my time, respect other people’s time, and find exceptional talent.

"The only way to scale a content team is to treat it as a dedicated function."
Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Advisor, Content Marketing Institute

Here’s the honest-to-goodness secret: your hiring efforts will go smoothly when you create a plan before ‘jumping in’. And the truth is, a good hiring strategy isway more work than what most people put in.

Define what a successful hire looks like

The first step is to make sure that you and your stakeholders (for example, marketing managers or directors, vice presidents, or creative directors) are aligned on why you are scaling the content team, and what’s most important in the content you’re creating. This is because it can be easy to get caught up in the idea that you need “more content” without further explanation or clarity from stakeholders.

Meet with them individually or as a group to hash out the reasoning behind your hires, and how it aligns with broader business objectives.

"Is it just the CMO who believes in the importance of the role, or is there a real commitment from the C-suite? If it’s just the CMO, any candidate I send will be doomed from the start."
Sara Noble
Recruiter, Noble Executive Talent

Here are some questions you may want to discuss with your internal stakeholders:

  • “Is speed a top concern when producing content? Are we trying to keep up with news trends too?”
  • “Do we need deep subject-matter expertise?
  • “Are we willing to hire people who might take more time on each piece, but deliver superior quality?
  • “Do we need someone with experience collaborating with other functional areas (SEO, design, etc.)?”
  • “Which qualities or skills do we view as most important for these roles?”

Once you’re aligned on the high-level details of what you’re looking for, you can start your work on developing a plan.

Good to know: Bring clarity to your content team and their roles by using our Roles and Responsibilities Chart [free template].

Do your research

Refer to the objectives you defined based on your initial talks with stakeholders (see previous section) to decide whether to hire:

  • Employees or freelancers
  • Office-based, remotely working (or a hybrid of the two)
  • Full-time or part-time

💡 Important: Ensure that you’re partnering with your HR department for this process, so you’re aware and understand any potential legalities around these decisions.

It’s wise to do some research on how other companies have defined similar roles.

  • Read job postings, and note the things you like or dislike.
  • Seek ‘average market salary’ information, so you understand what people should be rewarded with for the role, and what a fair offer entails.

Your HR department may be able to help you with this because procuring and understanding average market salary data is more complicated than it seems at first. For example, total compensation often encapsulates more than a base salary.

You could also:

  • Reach out to peers in your professional network to learn about how they’ve structured their teams with similar roles.
  • Talk to content directors, content strategists, content managers, managing editors, and content coordinators and ask how their roles are officially defined.
  • Offer to take a former colleague out for coffee to pick their brain.
  • Attend a local (or virtual) content meet-up group — or create one!

When I realised I’d need to structure a job and career path for a content strategy team, I reached out to a VP of UX at another company. I offered to take her to lunch in exchange for her guidance.

That conversation was really invaluable in helping me formulate my thoughts and decide the next steps for building out the team.

And in terms of meet-ups, several years ago, I created ‘Salt Lake City Content Meet-up’ so that I could hear from local content thought leaders. We cover various topics, from ‘designing chatbots’ to ‘how to build a YouTube audience’, to ‘how to use content to change behaviour’.

It’s fun to meet people with similar interests, and it’s been a huge opportunity to learn about roles at different companies and build relationships. As a result of the meet-up group, I’ve learned new things, hired people, and connected with smart people who I can now call friends.

Whichever combination of approaches you choose, your research will pay off. And, by the time you write your job description or begin interviews, you’ll have a solid understanding of job titles, market salary ranges, and the type of employee you really need for your organisation.

You’ll also be able to interview with confidence and hold an understanding of what a fair, realistic offer is — rather than relying solely on candidates to communicate their salary requirements.

Write a hiring strategy

Developing a hiring strategy means deciding how to hire for your needs.

You’ll want to define the skills needed for the role, as well as any traits that are really critical for your organisation and, perhaps most importantly, your team’s culture.

A hiring strategy will help you to identify any cultural traits before hiring because ‘culture fit’ can mean different things to different people within any one team. If you’re not careful, inherent biases can sneak into your idea of ‘culture fit’.

Skills you may look for:

Also, take time to observe your current team. You may be able to identify patterns, gaps in skills, or certain personality types.

For example:

  • You may find that you’ve primarily hired people who love to brainstorm content ideas, but struggle with execution, or…
  • You may realise that your team excels at written communication, but struggle to verbally communicate the importance of content projects…

Taking an objective look at your team in this way may help surface inherent biases in your hiring process, so you can check yourself on them and become more self-aware, or ask others for feedback.

Teams thrive on diverse perspectives and ideas, so it’s great to keep that in mind when you’re advertising and interviewing for new team members.

Good to know: This on-demand recording, Organising your Content Team, will walk you through some different approaches for organising your content function.

Once you’ve done your research and identified the specific skills and traits you’re looking for, you’re ready to write a job description and a job advertisement. Both are important.

A job description is an internal document that should detail not only what the position involves, but also information such as:

  • The type of professional background candidates should have
  • Whether candidates can be found internally or externally to the company
  • What the career path looks like for the position

The job posting is an external piece of content that should be shared on your company website and on job boards. It should explain the role and its responsibilities, as well as the benefits and selling points of the position — and of working with your organisation.

Define what you need in your candidates versus what’s ‘nice to have’, and then decide how you’ll know when you’ve found the right fit.

You may want to incorporate some kind of test, an assessment element (such as a credible personality test), or certain questions at interviews to help you make a decision on who will be the best fit for your vacant role.

There are many different options in the marketplace when it comes to assessing and testing prospective candidates.

If you do decide to supply a test project to candidates, make sure you align with your HR department as you’ll need to consider whether you pay candidates for the time they’re spending on a project and whether they’ll need to sign any necessary paperwork (for example, an NDA). A careful approach will be needed here, as if there’s any chance you may use any work or ideas from test projects, you should absolutely pay candidates for them.

When it comes to my own team, we ask copywriter candidates to complete a test project that entails writing a short blog post for a specific website.

This helps us see beyond the limitations of what you might glean from looking at someone’s writing portfolio because you’re able to see how quickly they’re able to work — and also what their work looks like without help from an editor or advisor.

"Too many companies make the mistake of simply asking for an existing writing sample and judging candidates’ ability, based only on that."
Kelsey Raymond
Co-Founder and CEO, Influence & Co

Having said that, test projects can be a sensitive subject, so you should make sure it’s aligned with your company’s goals and culture, rather than insisting candidates go through this process, regardless.

Create a thoughtful interview strategy

Before scheduling interviews, you want to outline who needs to be there and what your questions will be.

Since you’ve already done the work to identify the traits and skills you’re looking for, it should be easy to write behavioural questions related to your needs. Write your questions down and share them with the other interviewers, so you’re on the same page. This also helps each interview to flow better, rather than aimlessly shifting from one topic to another.

Some example questions you could ask:

  • “How do you measure the success of content?”
  • “Tell me about a time when you learned something new about users and how you applied it to your work.”
  • “What would be your first steps in creating a content plan for a website?”
  • “Can you tell me a bit about your favourite authors or brands you admire because of their content?”

It’s important that you maintain consistency in how you approach the interview and the questions you ask. Ideally, you want to compare ‘apples to apples’ and see how different candidates respond to the exact same questions, and so being consistent across interviewees allows you to get a fairer assessment.

If you align with the other interviewers ahead of time, this shouldn’t be a problem. Even then, you may run into scenarios where, for example, you’re not able to ask all of the questions you had lined up. In those cases, you’ll need to try to keep consistency as much as possible; keeping the interview on a similar cadence across the board.

It’s a good idea to also plan in a 10 to 15-minute slot at the end so that your candidates have enough time to ask their questions.

Here are some examples of kind of questions you might expect to be asked:

  • “What are this organisation’s goals and/or objectives for the next year?”
  • “What opportunities are there for the successful candidate in terms of professional development?”
  • “What does a typical progression path look like for someone coming into this role?”

So, it’s absolutely worth your time to slow down and thoroughly define your hiring strategy before diving into interviews. Because, if you lay a solid foundation from the start, you’ll save time in the long run, and ultimately, you’ll hire the right people; people who push your content to new heights.

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ashleywalton

About the author

Ashley Walton

Ashley Walton is VP of Content & Creative at Clearlink, where she oversees 50+ copy, design, content strategy, and video marketing professionals. With over 10 years of marketing experience, Ashley develops frameworks for creating user-friendly, best-in-class content and creative. Follow her on Twitter for content marketing tips and self-indulgent food pics: @AshleyGeekGirl.

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