Creating Great B2B Content: Finding Your Flow with a Content Firm, with Teri Vannoy

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    Working with a B2B content firm or agency can help you achieve your content production goals more consistently, build brand awareness, provide valuable insight to existing and potential customers, and establish yourself as a resource (among many other possible benefits).   

    You make the most of such an engagement when you pay attention to your relationship with the content firm. If you set it and forget it without giving direction and actively participating in the process, you might not get the results you’re hoping for. And if you just give direction without leaning on the firm for content-related expertise, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to take your content program from good to great.  

    So, what should your engagement with a content creation firm look like? 

    We asked Teri Vannoy, COO of 3 Aspens Media, to chime in on best practices, common mistakes and helpful advice for maintaining a successful relationship with a content firm. Vannoy plays a major role from the firm side of this equation, finding the middle ground where 3 Aspens Media can produce outstanding content that helps our clients achieve their goals, encouraging the two-way communication and feedback loop, identifying process improvements and more. 

    “As a human, I feel that if we all had a better idea of what it’s like walking in someone else’s shoes, we would find more success together,” Vannoy said. “If you’ve never worked with a content firm or had someone ghostwrite on your behalf, just like any process, there are tips and tricks to it. We know those because we’ve done this thousands of times.”  

    When you work with a content firm, you get access to experienced writers, editors, designers and producers.

    We sat down with her to talk specifics, so we could help others understand how best to work with a content firm – and perhaps demystify such engagements for those who’ve never engaged with one.  

    “I believe in what we do,” Vannoy said in our interview. “And I think the information that we’ll cover here will help businesses succeed and be happy with content partners.” 

    Q: What makes for a successful relationship with a content creation firm?  

    What makes a good relationship anywhere? Successful engagements are when the content firm is treated as an extension of their client’s team and valued as part of the business. It’s different than a strictly transactional relationship. It’s a partnership. Ideally, they get the content firm up to speed and informed, just like an internal marketing department.   

    As an example, if the CEO lays out a new annual plan with objectives, priority area, et cetera, it’s natural that the content firm is updated on the change. That’s how integral the partnership should be.  

    It’s also ideal when clients communicate the good and the bad. People hesitate to share negatives, but if they’re not forthright with those negatives, the firm can’t address and improve them.  

    They literally should be thinking: Words = 3 Aspens.  

    Q: Why is it important that the engagement is a collaborative partnership? 

    Collaboration is critical. You are experts of your businesses. Your content providers are experts at content production. Both are better when they collaborate and lean on each other for their individual skills and strengths. It goes both ways. 

    A great content firm always aims for clients to be happy with the content they deliver. They’re the experts in their field and know how to produce great results. When a client isn’t feeling that or something’s not jiving, especially if there’s been a miscommunication or they’ve been limited as to what they’re allowed to do, it creates gaps that can otherwise be remedied with improved collaboration and trust. The firm often knows the solution. If they’re allowed to follow their best practices and apply their skills, they can produce great content and make clients happy.  

    I’ve seen people resist content marketing support. Ultimately, that’s disappointing, because they can’t do it all. They need someone to support content production efforts, so they are freed up to focus on their business.  If they approached it differently, they would have different results and be happier.  

    With a collaborative partnership, the content firm and the client bring their zones of genius to the table. Working together and building off each other’s ideas elevates any content program.  

    As with any partnership, communicating and troubleshooting any hurdles that arise together, is the best path forward.  

    Learn how such collaboration can fuel an effective content strategy >> 

    Outsourcing content isn’t one-sided, it’s collaborative.Q: How can organizations set the relationship up for success from the start?  

    Provide a download of everything. Literally everything. When your content firms sees all your previously published work, it’s a way to communicate your preferences. When I’m starting to work with a new client, I want to see anything that has content on it, especially content that represents how they want to continue. It’s not just blogs. It also doesn’t have to just be your own; share websites and content where you like the style or tone.  

    Most organizations have a lot more content than just their website. Whether it’s a PowerPoint presentation, an annual report or sales collateral – your firm should see all of that to better understand what you’ve been producing.  

    You should also share content and design/brand guides, anything to tell the firm what tone, style, etc. they should follow. Even if you don’t have anything official, it’s good to share your preferences.  

    Also, determine one point of contact who will funnel everything to the content firm. That person is responsible for reconciling conflicting direction. It’s impossible to write by committee. It’s important to have that one point of contact who decides what the firm is doing and serves as a checkpoint to make sure you’re giving them one direction instead of 10. 

    Q: What are best practices for maintaining a successful relationship with a B2B content firm?  

    Honesty is critical here; talking about what’s working and what’s not. This is a relationship that evolves. When a firm is first getting to know a client, they’re not necessarily going to hit it out of the park on their initial work. As they get to know the client, they could still have curveballs in terms of new contacts, new direction, et cetera. So, in maintaining a good client-firm relationship, there must be consistency in talking honestly about how the engagement’s going. 

    That’s also for the firm. For example, if your firm needs access to subject matter experts and it holds up their progress, they should be honest that the situation is a barrier to success or to hitting deadlines. That’s an example of an honest concern a content firm might raise, discuss and troubleshoot. 

    Also, beyond the initial download, your firm needs to be updated as an extension of your team throughout the year. Do you have new services, solutions, products? A new CEO who’s changing the way things go?  

    Learn how we manage content production for – and with – our clients >> 

    Q: What are some common mistakes people make when working with a content firm? 

    Rewriting instead of telling a firm what they don’t like about the content. Rewriting doesn’t allow your content team to understand what you don’t like or what’s wrong. It’s best to be specific about your edits and, instead of rewriting, give your firm feedback and allow them to amend the draft. This doesn’t have to be time intensive. It’s simply writing a comment like, ‘The tone was off here.’  

    Not letting go or agonizing over every little word. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. If the quality of the content is good, there aren’t grammar mistakes and the main message is accessible to your target audience, you can let go. You can’t do it all. You cannot write every piece of content you need, and you must accept that it might not be precisely how you wanted it because that’s impossible. We’ve delivered content, as an example, that is ranked an overall performance score of 99% on Grammarly. So, I guarantee the content we produce is effective, well-written and carefully edited. People get bogged down in the nitty-gritty. Those little details aren’t as important to their audience and they’re allowing that to hold them up.  

    Not releasing approved content out into the wild. If you have several approved pieces you’re not releasing, people can’t access them and your content marketing efforts will suffer.  

    Worrying about hurting the writer or editor’s feelings. Most people are trying to be nice. I would rather have someone edit heavily and tell me what they do or don’t like about a piece than hold that in and leave me guessing their intention or preferences. Tell it to me straight. You’re not going to hurt my feelings. Most writers and editors I’ve encountered would say the same. We just need to understand what you want from us.  

    Honesty and communication are key in working with a content firm. We welcome your edits – and we want to know your “why.”Expecting the content to deliver direct leads. People expect content to do things content isn’t going to do for them. There’s not a direct line of proof for generating leads from content. The ROI on content is often a long game, and much of its value is adding up in indirect ways. Talk to your content firm about the real value of content and how success can be measured.  

    Not understanding that edits are part of the process. Professional writers and editors expect them. When some people first start working with a content firm they worry about the future of the engagement if they send too many edits back on a piece. I think they assume a lot of edits means the content firm doesn’t get it. That’s why we lean on subject manner experts at 3 Aspens Media. We aren’t the experts on the topics we write about. We produce the content based upon someone else’s input. So, yes, we do expect edits. They are part of the process. That is not something to be concerned about.  

    Not providing enough detail to help the content firm understand preferences. If you edit and just write ‘wrong’ or ‘this isn’t right,’ you must tell the writer what’s wrong and why something isn’t right. It’s crucial for their understanding. It ramps the content firm up quicker as an extension of your team. Writers aren’t mind readers. It’s not enough just to edit or rewrite. Help us understand why because that helps us learn what you want.  

    Not providing enough access to necessary resources. Our visibility into the organization is limited. We rely on your team to help us get up to speed and to keep us informed. For example, access to the subject matter experts at your company is critical for our success. We aren’t experts in your business or company. You have so many layers to your business. We need resources, like in-depth content request forms or access to people who have specialized knowledge, for us to make heads or tails of the information.  

    Unrealistic ramp up expectations. It takes content firms time to get ramped up. The timing is different for every relationship. Consider how long it takes a new employee to onboard to your organization for perspective. As an extension of your team, we will need similar time to acclimate to your company. If our assignments cover a diverse range of topics for you, the on ramp may be even longer.      

    Q: What tips do you have for getting the most out of outsourcing to a content firm?  

    As mentioned before, it all starts with honesty, trust, constructive criticism and communication. Respect your content firm’s expertise and role in the process, just as they should respect your business expertise.  

    Understand that an outside content team brings a different and valuable perspective to your content.  

    The more you share with your content firm about your goals, objectives and vision for a piece, the happier you will be with the outcome.  

    Writers are deadline-driven, so do your best to stick with the agreed-upon timelines. It’s not efficient for you or the writing team if things pile up. Faced with that scenario, it’s time to schedule a meeting to figure out if the schedules or number of deliverables need to be adjusted.  

    It doesn’t have to be complicated or scary working with a firm like ours. It’s our goal and passion to produce highly effective content for our clients, and we aim to make it as easy as possible for you and your team.  

    Learn more about the ins and outs of content outsourcing >> 

    Regular check-ins are a must for a successful content engagement.

    Start Your Content Engagement Off on the Right Foot 

    As you can see, working with a content firm is a long-term and collaborative experience. Finding the right fit for your business and working style is essential to starting off on the right foot – and staying harmonious. If you’re looking for content support but you’re not sure how to vet content firms, we have a worksheet to guide you through the process. 


    3 Aspens Media is a B2B content creation agency. If you’d like to learn more about our services and how we help clients reach their content goals, reach out at [email protected]. 

    Creating Great B2B Content: Finding Your Flow with a Content Firm, with Teri Vannoy