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Running a Content Program as a One-Person Team with Nikhil Venkatesa

Running a Content Program as a One-Person Team with Nikhil Venkatesa

How do you handle being the only content marketing person in a startup? Become a Swiss army knife.

Versatility and a wide variety of skills are vital for solo marketers in the startup world. And there’s no better place to learn than in a startup role.

The wider your skillset, the more you can help your company grow. Nikhil Venkatesa, content marketing lead at Convictional, has worked in all kinds of marketing setups. But he’s sharpened his skills the most working as a one-man marketing team. In this episode, Nikhil shares his tips for working solo in marketing, how to stay focused on long-term goals, and why busy work can lead to burnout.

Show Topics

  • Be a Swiss army knife
  • Test new channels before you hire
  • Create the right kind of traffic
  • Start at a marketing agency 
  • Hire agencies to do specific jobs
  • Build authentic relationships 
  • Orient strategies around your mission
  • Be approachable
  • Check in with employees
  • Don’t get distracted by busy work

Show Links 

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Key Takeaways

08:07 – Be a Swiss army knife

If you’re the sole content marketer at a startup, you need to be highly versatile. So, don’t just focus on one avenue of content marketing.

“When you’re a team of one you need to be like Swiss army knives versus swords. You need to be exceptional at multiple channels and not just rely on only one, because that is essential to creating a conversation in your niche and setting yourself up for the long term. So the risk of only focusing on one channel, like a blog, as an early-stage startup team of one, is that you run the risk of not appealing to your customers very early on when you need to have multiple touchpoints that you can engage with them on. So I learned this, when we recently started a newsletter and we found that there are prospects who actually want to engage with our content that don’t come in through the blog. They want sit on the newsletter, they want to read multiple issues, and then they might enter a sales conversation with us. And then experimenting with things like podcasts, and knowing that they might not work but just doing them anyway. So I think that framework of being a Swiss army knife and having these different tools and testing them out constantly is something that I don’t feel like content marketers are keeping in mind right now.”

14:21 – Test new channels before you hire

Before you make any hiring decisions, determine exactly what kind of person you want to hire. That means testing out the channel to see what skills a new hire would need.

“It also comes down to testing the channel before you hire the person, because you can learn so much just from putting that MVP out there, which is what we’re finding with our podcast, with our newsletter, which are things that we’ve produced on an extremely scrappy level. But just having those touch points and engaging with the audience in those different ways gives you so much more visibility into what people actually resonate with and what they’re actually looking for. And then that gives you more information to hire the right person for the role. You want to be hiring people who don’t just fulfill the dimensions of the role but can exponentially add value to the table. You don’t want someone to just do one thing, because at a startup everyone’s wearing multiple hats. So you want to make sure that that person has the skills necessary to basically take that role and basically expand it, grow it into something else beyond what you intend. And so doing those initial tests are extremely important for hiring the right people.”

30:05 – Create the right kind of traffic

Different types of content drive different kinds of traffic. Determine what kind of traffic you want to drive, then create content around that.

“Our founders were writing on the company blog from the time they started. So, that actually helped us on the domain side, because obviously it takes time to build that up. And so they did have some blogs that were ranking, but there was a mismatch of intent and the kind of content that was being produced. So we were getting a lot of traffic for the wrong articles, and the types of traffic we were getting were not in line with the kind of companies that we wanted to actually appeal to and get traffic from. So, with regards to the blog, there was an existing presence, but taking that over and then adding newsletter podcasts, really running social. Social was a place where they didn’t really have much of a presence, and so actually building a LinkedIn following is something that I’ve also been involved with during my time there.”

33:01 – Start at a marketing agency 

Young content marketers can learn a lot about writing good content by starting out at a marketing agency.

“I think that it’s useful for content marketers to work at an agency early on. It’s probably the most efficient way to learn content marketing and the basics of content marketing, the fundamentals, right in front of you. And so that was pretty helpful. I think where it’s not so helpful is when you want to uplevel your skills from being a pure writer who can get things to rank, to being an actual content marketer who thinks about not just an article but thinks about, ‘Okay, how is this going to tie into the upcoming newsletter issue? To a podcast episode? How am I going to repurpose that piece of content for social?’ Taking a more holistic approach to content marketing than just this atomic piece of content. I think that’s where the agency model didn’t really help me.”

38:20 – Hire agencies to do specific jobs

Think of marketing agencies as snipers who take care of specific problems. Don’t expect them to solve every single problem your company has.

“If you think of an agency as a sniper who accomplishes a very specific job for you, then you’ll be much more satisfied with the results that they give you. So this could be, for example, a digital PR content agency who creates those specific things to get you those passive links. That could be an example. Another one could be a technical SEO content agency that audits, maybe you’ve reached the point where you’ve published hundreds of articles. You need someone to come in with that technical mindset and basically offer something that your in-house content resource can’t accomplish for you, and doing that on a fixed timeframe. So, in those specific cases I think agencies can be super valuable and add value-add there. But I think if you’re an early stage company that is early on in their content journey, having an agency is basically pushing the problem on them versus actually taking the time to figure out and actually solve the problem.”

42:31 – Build authentic relationships 

if you have a relationship with your target audience, it’s easier to determine what kind of content will best appeal to them.

“When your ICP and your target personas are super high up at the VP, at the C-suite level, you have to think about how do you build a relationship with them that is authentic and that you actually get that feedback loop of what the challenges are and creating content that meets those challenges. One of the ways we’re doing that is having in-person, small dinner events. We had our first one in New York last week, actually. And what that does is it brings this community element into the game where you can have this back and forth feedback loop. You have these high quality SMEs that can inform the content you’re producing. And it’s more of a relationship-driven approach versus if you don’t have that relationship, you run the risk of trading a whole bunch of content that doesn’t appeal to anyone. And so I think that’s one of the benefits of being an in-house content marketer really focused on what’s happening externally is that you can basically take those inputs and actually build content that meets them.”

48:09 – Orient strategies around your mission

Make sure your marketing and content strategies are aligned with your company’s long-term goals and mission.

“We actually had OKRs as part of the company by tracking. We were actually moving away from that to more of a management by missions approach because we found that, and this is true of content as well, OKRs lead to extremely short-term thinking, extremely short-term decision-making. And so we were finding ourselves just thinking about the next quarter versus about the next year or the next couple of years. So, one of the things I’ve been doing on the strategy side is just reorienting our content program and our content production around the mission. So, aiming to produce higher quality content, not holding ourselves to lower standards, but actually raising the standard. So, making sure that we’re actually speaking to SMEs outside the company and producing higher quality content that way.”

51:44 – Be approachable

When it comes to social media, be casual and approachable instead of formal and stuff. Your audience will engage with you more if they can relate to you.

“I prefer to take an ad hoc, fun approach to my personal Twitter. I just have fun with it. And that perspective is something I’ve carried over to Convictional as well, where one of the ways we position ourselves is as a helpful guide to our customers. But another way that we do that is by being super approachable and super fun to interact with. So, some of our competitors in the space are these huge, monolithic brands that speak in an extremely stuffy tone of voice. And so the way that we approach it is the design of our website is much more intuitive. It’s much more friendly to approach. And also we talk in a way that we don’t speak down to readers, we speak up to them, but it’s stuff that you’d be fine with reading. And so if your introduction is starting with the definition, you’ve lost the reader. And so just approaching our language in a very approachable way is something that I’ve taken from my personal side into the business side.”

57:37 – Check in with employees

Stay in the loop with how your employees are feeling. Make sure you’re engaged in their lives and what they’re learning and doing.

“The company runs on Lattice, and we have a thing called weekly updates where at the end of the week everyone across the company shares what they spent their learning time doing, because we’ve got this thing called compound time where we spend four hours a week, five hours a week, essentially building a skill or learning something or reading a book that contributes to our performance. And then we also talk about what’s the most important thing you accomplished this week? What’s the biggest thing you’re looking forward to next week? And then also the sentiment analysis. So, how are you feeling with a smiley face scale? So that’s extremely useful to seeing across the company how people are feeling. And we also do pulse surveys where the people team sends us a bunch of anonymized questions to see across the company how everyone is doing.”

01:00:30 – Don’t get distracted by busy work

Work-life balance is a good thing, but complacency can also lead to burnout. Make sure you’re focused on important work, not busy work.

“This is a contradiction and this is an opposing point of view from the work life balance point of view that a lot of people are espousing these days. With remote work, you have the flexibility to balance work and life. But at the end of the day if you aren’t amping it up in your work, then you’re not going to see the kinds of results that you need to see at an early stage. And I feel like that’s extremely important to keep in mind, and burnout is a challenge in a remote environment. And so you need to just have your finger on the pulse of, are you amping it up or are you doing a bunch of busy work that’s draining your energy and isn’t leading to results? Because it’s very easy to conflate the two and to mistake one for the other.”

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Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.