Konrad Sanders shares his best insights and practices for creating compelling and converting content in this article.
Here’s the outline:
- Q: What got you into content writing and content marketing?
- Q: What process do you go through to onboard your clients?
- Q: How to build relationships and get your clients committed to an annual contract?
- Q: How can an article support the client’s brand?
- Q: Can you share more details about how you bring the art and science into the client’s content?
- Q: What advice would you give to the community of aspiring writers?
Q: What got you into content writing and content marketing?
The way that I actually set up my agency is quite unusual and quite interesting. I think it will sort of reveal how I got into content marketing. So I was studying philosophy at uni which is kind of one of those subjects that teach you a lot, but also not much practice in a way so I left my university.
I just went and studied that subject and I left the UK and went to Australia to do travel and work at the same time. And that’s when I got my first work experience doing sales. So I was actually doing face-to-face sales in the street, kind of stopping people and trying to get them to sign up for charity, fundraising, things like that.
But the companies I was working for were actually really good with sales, training, and sales psychology. So I was learning a lot about sales psychology, which actually would later on in my life be implemented and used with the written word when it comes to copywriting and content marketing.
So I guess that’s where I began my journey and to try and met my now wife in Australia, who’s from Israel. She’s not only my wife, but she’s also the co-founder, and co-director of my agency, so she’s the managing director.
We met in Australia, we traveled around on a shoestring budget. We were in Southeast Asia as well for six months. So in Australia for two years, and then I ended up in Israel, which is where she’s from, basically living in her parent’s house because we had no money and I was there for a year.
We did come back from traveling and I had no work visa. I had to apply and it was like obviously, I was from Europe and she was from Israel. So I started to teach myself things online, I took courses online, and I’d always been a keen writer.
I loved writing stories when I was young and at university, I was good at writing essays under pressure, which is what I had to do for philosophy. So I studied copywriting, I discovered what copywriting was and I started to learn copywriting online.
I also took this course called the 30-day challenge, and I can’t remember it; it’s by these Australian millionaires, who essentially were teaching you how to use SEO to create a niche blog, which could eventually become a traffic-generating blog and then eventually become a business.
So basically, I learned copywriting and SEO at the same time. And I did keyword research, which was kind of this was my journey into content marketing, right? I started what I call an outside approach to business.
So rather than saying, like a lot of people who start agencies go, right, I’m going to start an agency or I’m going to start a business. I know what’s going on. I know what’s Good for these customers, I’ve got an idea.
Let me invest some money and time into it. And, you know, often it fails, right? Most of the time it fails. My approach was I’d learn this skill, and then I’d learn SEO. And the great thing about SEO is that you are insight-led, right, you’re looking at insights first.
So I was doing keyword research, web content writing and I found that creative copywriting and creative copywriter, and other similar keyword terms had a high monthly search volume, but low competition. So I knew there was a gap there, right.
I knew that there was a niche there and I knew that I could start creating content, and blog content about creative copywriting. So before I was even providing a service, I was blogging, so I was content marketing, doing backlinking and all the things you need for SEO, and creating powerful value-driven content around copywriting and creative copywriting.
I started getting traffic to this blog. So I knew how to get traffic to my blog. And then I turned the blog into a website where I provided my services as a copywriter. But because I was so good at the kind of traffic driving part of it and I was always been a bit entrepreneurial.
I turned that then from me providing a service to I said, Hey, why don’t I get some other copywriters involved? Because I’m good at getting traffic. My portfolio wasn’t huge at that time, I was kind of new.
So why don’t I get some more experienced copywriters, and we’re formula collective, and I’ll bring the traffic in, and then I will feed it to them. And I’ll take a cut. And without knowing it, I was creating an agency, but from this kind of outside-in approach of having traffic and having clients.
So it’s in a very good position to do so. And naturally, really what I was doing for my own brand, my own agency was content marketing, and I was doing it very well. So not only on the SEO side of things, but I got into social media.
I started doing influencer marketing, I started connecting with people like Neil Patel, and Neil Schaeffer and getting them to write on my blog. So I reached out, you know, the list of posts that you see a lot of these days. So I was kind of doing it back in, let’s say 2000 and the 13th of 2014.
When it wasn’t done as much, We were reaching out to big content marketers and copywriters and saying, Hey, why don’t you collaborate on my blog, I’m talking to the world experts on content marketing, and copywriting. So it became a natural progression for us as an agency to offer not just copywriting, but content strategy and content marketing, because they’re very closely connected.
But that’s where my knowledge really was. That’s how I grew my agency. So it kind of came from a place of content marketing. So rather than starting a business, and trying to retrofit the content marketing to make it work, it came from a blog.
So I don’t know where the single aha moment was in all of that, but I guess it was a progression of then understanding. What I did for my own agency was very kind of advanced content strategy.
So it really makes sense to offer that to our clients because if it’s just copywriting, in a way, it could be seen as just that service, or just almost like a commodity. If you’re offering the strategy as well, which I’m sure we’re gonna get into, you know, you’re being more proactive with clients, and you’re really looking at their bottom line. You’re looking at their end goals and helping them achieve them, which are generally financial goals.
Q: What process do you go through to onboard your clients?
Before I tell you about our process, I think that it’s extremely important for an agency or a service provider, or a freelancer, to have a very robust process. And not only, so that you can consistently provide value to clients that have a very good chance of success.
But also, because back to this point, I mentioned before if you have your processes, it helps to create and maintain a healthy power balance between client and service provider. And by that, I mean that often as a service provider, as an agency, or as a freelancer, you can get treated a bit like a commodity.
A client can come along and say, here’s my RFP, send me a proposal by this time, this is the deadline, this is the thing, I’m talking to 12 other agencies, here we go. They can almost bully you into their process, into their deadlines, this is what we want to do.
But if you immediately start by going, this is our process, not just for the methodology of creating a content strategy, but even onboarding from step one, it helps them maintain that balance, it helps to go and they see you as more professional.
So over back to the question, when we first started, we get a lot of leads through our website, because we’ve quite good at content marketing because that’s what we do in SEO, but also referrals.
The first thing we tried to do is weed out anyone that we think is probably not going to be the right fit for us, like by financially or other means. So we get them on a compatibility call, we call it. So it’s kind of like a discovery session, but we call it a compatibility call. Because our argument is, what we’re doing is we’re trying to work out if they’re a good fit for us, and if we’re a good fit for them. And it’s quite a good strategy.
Because we don’t want to work with clients that we don’t think we can help and I know that a lot of agencies will say, Yeah, let’s take it on. We can do everything but the problem is, then you might end up, you know, not providing value to a client or it’s not a good fit. So we’re in the lucky position to be able to make that decision.
So we have a compatibility call. before that, I would like to mention that they fill out a discovery sheet and that’s kind of top-level questions like what does success look like to you? What kind of situation are you in? What are your end goals? What budget do you have? It’s a good question for us.
Not all clients want to reveal that straight away, but they usually have one. So we asked, these top-level questions; what do they think that they’re kind of looking for? This isn’t the discovery sheet, and then on the compatibility call, it’s usually me, I’ll dig further.
I really try to understand the business and how they make money as well. Because obviously, we’re talking to businesses and all kinds of different industries, and you really need to understand it, and what was the journey to where they are, and where do they want to get to?
How do they think content and copy fit in? I think that what’s important is that while our focus on niche focuses on words and strategy, and content strategy, we think holistically about marketing.
Because I think you have to, if you’re a copywriter, words can’t exist in a void by themselves, right? They have to work with design, they have to work with UX, and they have to work with PPC and traffic and all different other elements.
So we naturally have to understand the full circle of branding and marketing and sometimes clients come to us, they say we need blog posts, and they’re talking about the woulds and not the whys and the hows. We want blog posts, two blog posts a month, ebooks, and white papers and I go, Okay, what’s your goal? Like Why? Do you have a strategy?
Because for me, you need to have the foundational stones in place before you do any content marketing. There’s no point in having content marketing funnels, bringing traffic to a website, where people will get confused, and not really understand what’s the unique value proposition, why should I buy this? So that comes into a kind of branding for me.
So we do offer brand strategy, which is really helping them get that value proposition? What are their values? What’s their personality? What’s their tone of voice, and defining something that’s unique. In order to do that, we have to do competitor analysis, we have to look at competitors, we look at any kind of insights and data, which you mentioned before.
So there’s that discovery session, then we create a proposal for them, off the back of that. And again, it might include brand strategy and content strategy. Then we usually just give them an idea of deliverables beyond that.
Q: How to build relationships and get your clients committed to an annual contract?
In the best-case scenario, as an agency or as a service provider, you’d love to have all of your clients on an annual retainer. With us is not the case, unfortunately. But what we do is we sort of sell the strategy.
We’ve basically got two kinds of strategy that we offer; brand strategy, and content strategy. I’d say the content strategy is more robust, we’ve got lots of methodologies that we’ve been developing over a very long time. But sometimes it’s a bit of both because of need. But we sell that often as a standalone piece.
Where we’re saying to them that we’re not asking for you to commit to a 12-month retainer off the back of that. For now, we’re offering phase one, which is the content strategy. And our goal within that content strategy is not to just upsell, our goal is to work out based on your needs and your goals.
Our goal is to provide value to the client, even if it’s not working with us on an ongoing basis. We think that you do that if you provide the value and you don’t just try and be selfish and go, we need blog posts because we can write them. We think they should put most of their budget into PPC, they don’t have any traffic from anywhere.
So they’re trying to spend all their budget on content, but who’s going to be reading the content? So we really think about where they should put their budget and sometimes after the content strategy, we think, especially for startups that content marketing is the magic formula.
They’ll be able to start posting content, and suddenly they’ll get traffic and make money. But it’s really more complicated than that. You do need traffic from somewhere to start with. So sometimes we’ve startups, we would do the strategy, and then we say, to be honest, your monthly marketing budget is not huge and we think you should put most of it into Pay Per Click advertising, or social ads, or a combination.
We’re kind of giving them a bundle of value and we think that to be honest, you shouldn’t spend all of your marketing budgets with us. The best results you’re gonna get from having some copy and content, and then pushing traffic towards it, and then testing and seeing how that works.
Q: How can an article support the client’s brand?
The reason why I’m bringing it up basically is, that it’s a methodology of quality assurance, and it’s a way to analyze and optimize your copy and content at every step of the funnel, sharpen it into focus, and make sure it’s ticking all of the boxes that it needs to tick because there’s a balancing act with content.
One of those lenses is called the brand lens, which comes back to your question. You know, it’s crucial when it comes to branding, to remain on brand, right? Because for me, brand branding is the personification of a company, because people are social beings.
We people buy from people as humans. We’re very social so that’s why, when it comes to brand identity, it’s an identity, personifying is turning into almost like a human being. That’s why we give it a tone of voice because we’re almost trying to say this company is like a human that you can relate to, talk to, and have a conversation with.
So when it comes to articles, the brand articles need to remain on-brand. So they need to kind of talk in that voice. So that it’s a touchpoint. Really, if anyone lands on that article, and that voice has been clearly carved out because it’s gone for a strategic process, they can immediately relate to that brand.
They can read that content and go, Okay, I understand the values of the brand, even though I haven’t read their values, I haven’t gotten to their about page, because I can get it from the way they’re talking. If your values align, and your personalities are in sync, you start to warm up to that person.
When it comes to brand, and how an article can support the brand, I would say an article can be a part of a funnel that can pull leads towards the end goal, which is conversion. But it’s also there as a touch point as like a part of that personality.
So content marketing is about building trust and relationships over time. Because most people aren’t ready to buy. Most people are not in buying mode at any one time and that’s why content marketing exists.
Q: Can you share more details about how you bring the art and science into the client’s content?
For us, art and science mean a few different things. I think strategy itself has to be quite scientific. As I said, when we create content strategies for clients, we always start from a place of insight.
So keyword research is one type of research. Then buyer interviews are other. Jumping on calls with them, their customers, and potential buyers, then we transcribe those calls, then we collate them.
Then we pick out words and phrases. So we call it to call this voice of customer data collection, which is a really powerful way to find content ideas and to create copy that resonates. You can also send surveys out to get data, you can do implicit data collection, where you go online and look at what people are saying on Quora, and other online forums.
You can do social listening and things like that. So that’s quite scientific in a way, right? It’s data collection where the data comes into and that always feeds the decisions that we make. So the decisions are not just assumptions led by their demand-led like how I created the agency?
So that’s kind of scientific. But we also have, when it comes to creating content as I said, I’ve got this 13 lenses methodology. I can’t give you it all now, because I could talk about it for hours. But it’s like a framework where we’ve got these 13 lenses, and then we have a kind of checklist for each one.
So for each type of content, we’ve got a checklist. And those check those, that list applies to each lens. We’ve got the intrigue lens, which is about making sure you use the power of intrigue and curiosity like the cure curiosity gap, especially in headlines to make sure that people are curious enough to click through to read your content.
So again, too much to pack into this one session. But the way that we are scientific is that we kind of we tried to package up what was in my Brain and what was in the brain of our copywriters into a framework, which we then made a bit more scientific by putting it into checklists, which you can score into a scoring system.
Q: What advice would you give to the community of aspiring writers?
When you say aspiring writers, aspiring content writers, and copywriters, do you want to write for marketing purposes? We actually have our own kind of community as well, because we have an online copywriting course, and the academy is more focused on copywriting than content marketing.
I often have our students or learners asking what advice would you give? I think that one thing I’d say is to try to understand and learn marketing. You know, even if you’re a writer, you’re not planning to become a content strategist, like me, your passion is writing and you have a way with words.
I think that to be a really valuable content writer for the purpose of marketing, right? You’re not writing a novel, it’s really important to try to understand the stuff I’ve been talking about today, understand the strategy, even if you’re not going to be doing the strategy, you’re just gonna be writing because you’re right.
You’re going to be writing pieces that fit in somewhere and there’s a reason why those words are there. It’s not just fluffy. It’s not just to look pretty, right? It’s to take people on a journey. So if you really understand marketing and branding, it will help you create more valuable content, not just well-written content. So I think that would be one piece of advice.