There’s no doubt about it; managing a blog is a lot of work. On the surface of it you have the actual blog content production, which can involved hiring and managing writers, or it can include creating content yourself. On top of that, you have site maintenance, keeping plugins up to date, making sure links and posts look right, and so on. Digging deeper, you have advertising and analytics, SEO via tools like Yoast, and iterative testing.
That’s a lot of work for, at the outset, seemingly minimal returns. It’s easy to see why many small businesses try to scrape by without a blog, relying on word of mouth and print advertising to refer people to their online store. When you’re running a businesses yourself, every hour of the day counts for something, and you can’t spend the time necessary to run a blog when you have a thousand other tasks to complete.
That’s why blog managers exist, and that’s the solution for any bootstrapped startup or mid-sized business that doesn’t want to deal with managing a blog internally. It’s a simple matter of numbers. When you consider the man-hours involved in running a blog, and the salaries you pay to yourself and others involved, it simply becomes cheaper to assign those people to other tasks and outsource your blog.
Blog management companies present an obstacle to businesses. If you haven’t done the man-hour math above, it’s daunting to see the prices they charge and still decide it’s right for you. It’s only when you actually perform those calculations that you can tell that it’s actually cheaper. Still, blog management firms come with some additional perks you might not consider in your calculations initially.
What it all boils down to is that blog management companies have the skills, experience, knowledge, and tools to run an effective web presence, and they focus on it without distraction. They can spend more time on it than you can afford, and they can produce better work than you can in your distracted business owner mindset. Unless blogging is your passion – and unless you have the skills to support that passion – they’re going to out-perform you any day of the week.
Now, when you’re looking for a blog management company, you’ll encounter a few different archetypes. They range in skill level, price point, and quality of product, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before you sign a contract.
Going from the cheapest to the most expensive tends to also go from the least to the most effective. Blogging is an arena where you get what you pay for. If your company is charging $5 a month, they’re probably not putting a lot of effort into running your blog.
Heck, a top-tier writer alone can pull in $1,000+ per blog post. That’s probably outside of the price range of most companies, but it’s still an option.
So, you know why you want to hire a blog management company, and you know what tiers of service exist. So how do you find and pick one?
The first thing you need to do is determine the level of service you need. If you want a total communications specialist, make sure you have the budget for it, and go in with realistic expectations. Some of these companies refuse to even do business with clients that have small budgets; they have top-shelf service and charge top-shelf prices. Some will be willing to cut you an introductory deal and hope to impress you; don’t get caught. If you can’t afford the full price, don’t take the introductory offer.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you have a low budget but also low requirements, consider just picking up a freelance writer. Places like oDesk and Freelancer allow you to hire writers directly, and you may be able to establish a relationship with one that is passionate about your brand. In doing so, you can begin to train them to do the other tasks you need, above and beyond writing.
Be aware, though, that not all writers are willing or able to be blog managers. Just because they can write doesn’t mean they’ll take to using the tools of the trade very well. Likewise, just because they know their way around WordPress doesn’t mean they have the people management skills necessary to become a manager for your marketing team. Some might even have the skills but hate the work and want to avoid it if they can.
The second step is to make up your list of potential companies you want to contact. Make a spreadsheet and include their name, their contact information, any communications you have had with them in the past, and the nitty gritty details about availability, pricing, and what services they provide. This list will serve as your baseline for further investigation.
When you start to investigate these companies, you’re going to want to look for third party evidence of their success. We’re talking about reviews, testimonials, and search results here. If there are a lot of negative reviews, or if anyone talks about how their blog went under or lost traffic due to the management company, you might want to steer clear.
This part is going to be particularly hard, and you’re going to have to put your bullshit detector to the test. Remember, these are marketing companies; they know how to manage a reputation online. It’s possible they’re pulling something shady to hide their negative reviews or drown them out. Keep that in mind while you review them.
One major warning sign is the inability to provide references. A good company will have satisfied clients you can contact to verify their quality. A poor company will talk about confidentiality as a smokescreen to keep you from finding out how bad they are at their professed job.
Once you have the list narrowed down, you can start to directly contact them and interview them. Start with your first choice and work your way down. Ask whatever you need until you’re satisfied with the information you’ve been given, then step back to make a decision. A good company isn’t going to demand that you make a deal immediately or lose a deal pricing; they know sales is a multi-step process. Remember, the way these companies treat you is the way they’ll treat your customers when they’re running your marketing.
When you’ve decided on a company, carefully look over the contract you have to sign. Ideally, you’ll be able to hire them for a sample time, which should be long enough to provide results. 90 days is generally sufficient here. It’s enough time that a blogging company can get some action in and show you how they work, without locking you into a year or more.
Once you’ve contracted the company, set things up so they can access your blog and marketing as much as necessary. They probably have a process in place, so work with them. They’ll probably need some access to your blog, either as a publisher or as an editor; full admin control should be retained by yourself at least. The same goes for social media management and ads accounts; most of the time, these companies will be satisfied with publisher or editor roles rather than top-level admins.
You will also have to provide information about who you are and what your goals are. A good company will have an interview packet they can have you fill out, and they will work with you using a dedicated account representative. This person is your contact with the company, and they are the person who knows your guidelines and style. Depending on how much of the process you’re outsourcing, you may have more or less work here than you might expect; be prepared to give over plenty of information about your brand, your marketing, your goals and your image.
Once the trail of the contract is up, determine if you are satisfied with the way things are moving. 90 days isn’t enough time to see major, significant growth in most cases, but it’s enough for you to see how the experience of working with the company will be, and it’s enough to help you decide if their services are valuable. Make that decision, and don’t be afraid to cancel and start over if you’re truly not satisfied.