Episode 187:

This has happened at my agency and I’m sure it’s happened at yours.

You start a huge client project and are excited to keep things rolling – both to protect your agency’s production schedule and to exceed the client’s expectations in terms of delivering on time and on budget. But then, you hit the roadblock. The cold silence you hear when you ask your client for the assets you need.

Whether it’s images, video, or copy points – you’re stalled until they cough it up. So much for on time or on a budget!

On this episode, I talk with James Rose about how to streamline the content collection process. Back when he was running a web dev shop, this was a major frustration for him and his team. So much so that his company developed what is now its core business: a content collection platform called Content Snare.

As content increasingly becomes central to much of agency work, solving the content collection conundrum is often the difference between profitability and charity work. Take a listen as James offers many no tech, low tech, and SaaS solutions to help us stay in the black.

James and his business partner, Mark Beljaars, started a single-product SEO software company in 2010. As they networked with other business owners, they heard countless stories about website projects that have gone wrong. They thought maybe they could help things go right.

With a passion rooted in software, they identified a few bottlenecks in the web design process. The worst one, which resonated most with other designers, was chasing down clients for their web content. That’s when Content Snare was born.

Clients don’t think about projects the same way we do – they don’t mean to be a bottleneck, even though they often are just that. Finding ways to keep content flowing ultimately helps us deliver an end result worthy of our efforts and our fee.

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Why gathering content from clients is such a universal pain point for agencies
  • How agencies can set content expectations as a part of the terms and conditions in a service contract
  • How to give clients a firm content deadline and make the stakes very clear
  • Why content collection is more than just setting up reminders
  • How to stop wasting time chasing after clients
  • How agency owners can help clients avoid overwhelming deadlines
  • Why you must manage agency expectations about how much data to expect from clients at one time

The Golden Nuggets:

“You can waste a lot of time following up with people.” –@_jimmyrose Click To Tweet “Having a clear process for content collection can actually help reduce error rates in the content and all the back-and-forth that entails.” – @_jimmyrose Click To Tweet “Whatever tools you use, a system for gathering information and keeping a project moving forward just makes you look more professional.” – @_jimmyrose Click To Tweet “Agencies need to get more comfortable with setting up processes, whether for content or literally every other aspect of the business. You can’t grow and scale otherwise.” – @_jimmyrose Click To Tweet “One of the biggest issues with content is that people just forget.” – @_jimmyrose Click To Tweet

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Ways to Contact James Rose:

Speaker 1:

Are you tired of feeling like the lonely light housekeeper as you run your agency? Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. The Build A Better Agency podcast is now in our third year of sharing insights and how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25+ years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Today, we’re going to talk about, I think one of the most frustrating aspects of agency life and the reality of agency life, which is, we cannot produce what our clients are paying us to produce in most cases, without some help from the client. Oftentimes, we are waiting for information or content or data or a list or something from a client. And no matter how tightly we have built the timeline, oftentimes, those timelines get mucked up because clients are not as quick at turning around things as we need them to be.

And so I wanted to focus in on this both in a macro and a micro level. So my guest is James Rose, and James is one of the co-founders of a software tool called Content Snare. So in James’ world specifically, this is around the idea of pretty much every agency on the planet today is working with some form of content that the clients have to provide, whether it is visual assets, or it is information, or it is content words that we need. It might be sales copy. It might be features and benefits of products or services.

And whether you’re building a website for them, or you are creating a traditional advertising campaign, or you are getting ready to do a series of media releases, whatever it may be, we have to get stuff from the client. And so James has an interesting career trajectory. So he started off as a software engineer, putting together a software designs and tools for clients and in essence, being an agency that delivered software. And from there, you could imagine they got asked often enough to do websites, that they became a web dev shop. And in their infancy of being a web dev shop, they realized how frustrating it was and how budget crushing it was to wait and wait and wait for clients to provide the content that they needed to build out the website.

And that led them to this idea of building out some software called Content Snare, which is what it is called today, that helps agencies and brands collect content and catalog and get it ready to be used in a plethora of ways. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today is how do we encourage clients to participate in the process? How do we help them? How do we create a framework around the collaborative work that we do with clients to try and get what we need in the timeframe that we need it, so we can honor both the budget and the timeline?

Because as you all know, oftentimes, the timeline doesn’t move and the budget doesn’t move. And so what it means is we are often spending late hours or weekends or scrambling to try and get something done, to match up to the original timeline. And we often run out of budget before we have run out of tasks. So I really want to dig into this topic and James is the guy to do it with.

All right. So James, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

James Rose:

Drew, thanks for having me. It’s really cool to be here with you.

Drew McLellan:

So before we get into where I think most of our attention is going to focus is the whole idea of content and not only what your tool does, but some best practices that you’ve observed. One of the things that I have found interesting about your story is that… and correct me if I’m wrong, but you were software developers. And then people said, “Hey, can you make websites?” You in essence became a web dev shop and became in essence an agency. And then as you were developing websites, you were realizing your own personal pain point of, “Oh my God, getting content from clients is horrific. There’s gotta be a technology solution to this.”

So you went back to your roots in terms of developing software. And so started working on something that ended up being Content Snare and software as a service. But for a period of time, you were both an agency owner, serving clients day in and day out and doing this side hustle of creating the software. What was that like?

James Rose:

Yeah. I think a lot of entrepreneurial people suffer the whole bright shiny object syndrome and I’m no exception. There’s still so many things I want to do that aren’t either agency work or software like coaching for automation, for example. That’s my shiny object right now. Yeah. It’s a battle to not take on too much, but to be honest, we’ve got a pretty good set up now between me and my business partner that have made it pretty easy. We’ve got a logical separation between the agency side of things and the software.

And I think that was really important. That’s helped us get through a lot of that. And as well as, so the web dev shop was another thing. So we had the software agency, the software actual product business, and then we had the web dev shop and I’d fairly created a lot of processes for that, but our team were able to do a lot of things without me. So that separation really helped.

Drew McLellan:

And did you, at the end, decide to keep all of those separate entities and try and juggle all of those balls? Or did you, at some point in time, decide to bet on one channel or one outcome and scuttle the rest?

James Rose:

We’re very close to that. So the web dev is basically gone. We got rid of everybody except our project manager and our lead WordPress developer, because those guys help us with our internal sites now and [inaudible 00:06:42] editing and all that kind of stuff. So they are still very utilized. And on the software development agency side, we have stripped it back to basically one client. We have one really large client that’s kind of just supplementing, I guess, Content Snare at the moment because Content Snare is, I wouldn’t say it’s comfortably going to support the entire business yet. So we still have this little thing on the side, that’s helping fund further development.

But yeah, the end goal is to eventually get rid of that. But like a single client that we have left.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I just think that for all of us, it’s difficult to stay fragmented for too long. And so unless your businesses are so tightly aligned that they’re the yin and yang of each other. I think it’s difficult for an agency owner to take their eye off the ball without an impact in the business. And so my guess is, as Content Snare and the software agency continued to grow, the part of why you ended up shutting down the web dev shop is because without your attention and time, it starts to wither on the vine a little bit.

James Rose:

Yeah, absolutely. And I recognize this and I was talking to a coach at the time and I remember one sentence that he said, it was just like, “You need to stop doing websites.” And I was like, “Oh.” It gave me permission to start shutting down that part of the business. Yeah. And it was really big because even though I wasn’t required for a lot of it, it’s like a mental fog, I guess. It’s always there and it’s always taking up some of your attention. And it made a really big difference when I was able to focus on the software products. And doing both definitely really difficult.

What made it easier, like I said, is having that business partner. I’m not sure if you’ve read Rocket Fuel about the visionary integrator combo, and we kind of have that sort of thing going on, except he’s, we both overlap a little bit. But we’ve got very distinct business units that we can manage ourselves division of roles, I guess.

Drew McLellan:

So as the business evolves and as you guys get more focused, and as Content Snare becomes a more viable entity and more people are using the tool, liking the tool, I’m sure giving you feedback on the tool of what they would like you to see, I’m curious… first of all, describe for the listeners what Content Snare is in case they’re not familiar with it, because that tees up the question that I want to ask you.

James Rose:

Okay, cool. So right now, well, Content Snare started as a very simple idea to streamline the content collection process for websites. It was very specific. When we were building it, it was built with a website in mind. So there’s pages and there’s sections within a page like a header, and then fields within say a header. So like, I don’t know, a headline, a background image, whatever, or makes up a hero header. And we basically just wanted to streamline that process because we knew it was a massive roadblock bottleneck for us in getting content from clients, which delayed jobs, delayed us getting paid at the end and all that. It just sucks.

And we talked to a lot of people that had the same problem. So yeah, that’s what it started as. It’s moving more towards collaboration platform where more people can work on that content, rather than just a one directional client give me all your content for the website. And it was also getting used for other things now too, like all kinds of content. We’ve got someone from a visa company that process visas for people, collecting documents and stuff from people. So it’s kind of broad.

Drew McLellan:

So that lends itself to the question that I wanted to ask you, which is, you are observing all of these people going through the tool, using the tool, gathering content. And I’m guessing that this shift in the business towards a more collaborative model may be partially the answer to my question, but what trends are you seeing? So you guys have been doing this for a while and when you step back, you were doing it even as a web dev shop. So you were doing it yourself, then you built the tool to make it easier.

So when you look at the kinds of content people are gathering or how they’re using content or how they’re working on content with an agency and a client together, are there some trends or patterns that you’re seeing that are emerging from all of that observation?

James Rose:

Yeah. And you’re right in that, that collaborative thing is where it is going from what I see. We’ve got, like I said, a pretty broad variety of clients. So it’s hard to focus in on a general direction, but I am getting a lot more requests for, let’s say, collaborative features. So that might be things like Google Documents where multiple people can be typing at once and it’s changing and appearing on the other people’s screens, that kind of live updating thing. People want to comment, back and forth comments, being able to tag people.

So then you start getting… you’re encouraging on project management in a way. Let’s just call it content management. And then being able to push that content into other places. So whether that’s a CMS or whatever. So that is what I’m noticing. Sometimes, three-way relationships where it might be an agency, a copywriter and the client, all working together. So the client might provide some things and say they’re done. And then the copywriter will update it or whatever and say they’re done. Then there’s revisions involved as well. So this is kind of the way we’re having to go with the product. It’s not capable of it yet. I’m going to be honest. But we know this is where we need to go, because that’s what people are doing or want.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting that you see that because what that suggests to me is that agencies are getting more comfortable acknowledging that all the work hasn’t being done in-house. If they’re being that transparent about the fact that they have an outside writer on the team, then the old, ‘I don’t want clients to know we’re not doing it all under one roof,’ maybe starting to dissipate a little bit.

James Rose:

Yeah. [inaudible 00:13:07]. When we were doing the web shop, we would get other people in, other designers or when we were just doing WordPress development, for example, there would be an external designer. There would be a copy writer. I was very transparent with that. I like that model, and I hope people are going that way because it seems easier to me than trying to hide it all, less deceptive too. But there’s still people that… we get requests to white label the platform all the time so it looks like it’s their own content collection software, which I think makes sense in some circumstances and in some, it’s overkill.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, I think our clients are getting very used to agencies using software tools. And so, I think the whole white label thing is becoming less and less of an issue. I think that our clients appreciate the fact that we’re finding something that we didn’t have to put a ton of dev time in, it’s already there, it’s on the shelf and we can use it to make some aspect of our work together easier and faster.

James Rose:

Yeah. And I think a critical thing with all of this though is, even if there are multiple people involved, having one point or place of contact is what a lot of people look for. Like, If they have to go to a designer and get the design done and then go to the dev shop to get it developed and then go to a copywriter in the middle, it’s a bit too much for clients. I think a lot of them still want, especially bigger ones still want that single point of contact, so they don’t have to deal with all this stuff. And that’s, I guess, where we’re trying to go with Content Snare too, because now people are asking for design feedback features to be implemented. And so there’s a lot of steps that people want to use just so that it can be the single point of contact.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Yeah. Well, I can see how that would be challenging from a software point of view of, at a certain point in time, you started with something that was very narrow in its focus and deliverables. And now all of a sudden, everybody’s trying to tack a bunch of other things onto it and make it an all-in-one tool, as opposed to the very specific thing that you had it focused on.

James Rose:

Yeah. I think a lot of software developers… Well, every software, I don’t know, probably has the same thing. Everyone wants every feature. So I think you can find a middle ground too, with integrations. If there’s other products that you can integrate with in some level makes it a bit easier.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I was thinking about the origin story of how the software came to be, and it was really born out of your own frustration as an agency owner and the onerous task of trying to get clients to give content to the agency in a timely fashion. And I hear this every single day where agency owners are saying, “We cannot stay on that timeframe with a client because the framework of the site is all built, but we cannot get the content from them,” which means, to your point earlier, we’re not hitting a milestone. We’re not able to do the next round of building whatever it is, and we’re just treading water.

So I think that’s a common universal problem that is born out of this age of digital assets that we’re building out for clients.

James Rose:

Yeah. And I mean, universal is the right word, I think, because we… well, I did a whole bunch of interviews at the beginning with local agencies that I’ve sort of met in my travels and networking or whatever. And I’d ask them questions about that process, not specific to content, that was always the recommendation when you’re creating new software, don’t try and feed people, lead people down a hole, that makes sense for you. Just talk about their process and what their biggest pains are. And every single person I spoke to mentioned content as one of their biggest pains in some capacity. So that made me go, “Yeah, this is what we need to build.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. So as you’re building this out and as you’re holding these kind of interviews, and I’m sure as you’re having client conversations every day, I know one of the things that you have started to hone in on are that there are certain elements that have to be a part of a process if you’re going to have content collection in any form of streamlined or efficient way. Can you walk us through what some of those elements are?

James Rose:

Yeah. So we’ve obviously talked to a lot of people who succeed with getting content quickly and those who don’t. A lot of people are coming into Content Snare for the first time and then setting it up, we see what people are doing right and wrong. And now we wrap it all up into one training because we’ve worked it out, I think we have anyway. But I think the biggest one is setting expectations. Well, not the biggest one, but it’s the first thing, right?

When a client comes on board, if you let it get to the point where you’re requesting content from them and they didn’t realize it was their responsibility, that’s like a failing on the agency’s part, right? Some people will just have it as like a dot point in the terms and conditions that all content must be provided by you and all images, blah, blah, blah. And it’s like on the 15th page of the terms and conditions right down the bottom. No one read that. So I’ve done it various ways, setting expectations. I’ve seen it done a lot of ways.

I think it’s important to do it from step one. So if that is like a initial questionnaire, this is where we used to do it. And I’ve seen a lot of people doing it now is asking, in that initial questionnaire, where will the content be coming from? And there might be some options in there like we are writing it, you can pull it from our current site, we need help with it or whatever. So that’s the first thing that they realized, “Okay, we’ve got to work out where the content is coming from.” Then you mentioning it in the initial meeting or phone call. Some people have a process page as well, where it’s like, this is our, whether it’s a web design process or if you’re setting up marketing campaigns, there would be a page on your website that says, this is our process, right? Whether that just goes to new clients or it’s public, it doesn’t matter.

But somewhere in there, it should be mentioned like, “This is the step that we wait for you. And this is the most common roadblock.” That’s what we used to like to say in our proposal as well. Making it really clear that if this is a big roadblock, if you hold us up here, then the entire project is going to be delayed. And we went as far to say that if you don’t provide content within, say, seven days of this date, then the project gets archived or goes back into the queue. So that might mean your project gets delayed for however long, because we don’t know how long the queue is going to be when we get back around to your website.

And we found that really helped get people moving when they’ve got that deadline. And it’s like, if they don’t hit it, then things are going to take even longer.

Drew McLellan:

Did you ever charge… One of the other things I know some agencies do, along with the… basically you’re going to have to go back in line, but there was also what they call the dormancy fee, which is, “Look, if we haven’t touched your project for 30 days and we have to crawl back into the code and learn it all again, then there’s basically a restart fee of $1500 to $5,000, depending on the size of the project.” And what they would use that for is it was never their goal to actually charge the client the dormancy fee, but it was to say them, “Hey, look, we’re on day 28. We got to get some stuff you, otherwise, this thing goes back in the queue and when you’re ready to start up again, there is the dormancy fee.”

James Rose:

Yeah. I’ve seen a lot of people do that varying levels of success, I guess we. We didn’t, mostly just because we had that initial deposit, say, of like 50% on the job. So if we put that project into archive mode or whatever, we were already winning, I guess. We had more money than what we’d spent. So it didn’t really matter if they wanted to reactivate it then. Yeah. I would probably recommend longer periods for that. 30 days might be a little tight. [crosstalk 00:21:29]. You’re probably going to be lenient too, right? Like if something happens.

Drew McLellan:

Sure. Of course. It’s more of a talking point, right? Like, “Hey, we want to avoid this. So let’s keep things rolling.”

James Rose:

Yeah, absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Okay. So I’m hearing clear expectations and really explicitly clear expectations. And he had multiple places either in documents, in process documents, in your scope document, but making sure that everybody understands that here’s the content you have to provide and here’s the timeframe in which we need it, otherwise, all things halt, right?

James Rose:

Yeah. And not buried in the terms and conditions. Even in our proposal, we would have it on the front page as a quick summary of all the most important things. Like, this holds up most projects, we’re gonna need this from you on a certain date or this is what’s going to happen.

Drew McLellan:

Alright. So they nod their head, they sign the document, they move on. What are the other elements that I need to have, to have a streamlined content collection process?

James Rose:

I mean, one of the biggest issues with content is that people just forget. I mean, we’re all busy people. We’re all doing business stuff. And we just tend to forget some things. Like, if you just email a client and say, “Hey, we need this content from you.” You’re going to need to follow that up because they’re most likely going to forget. So this sounds oversimplified, but it really is as simple as just staying on top of reminders with clients.

I mean, that was version one of Content Snare. It was pretty much our way to put content in and automatic reminders. That was our MVP. That’s all we wanted to have because we knew that was so important. And that was something I was, I guess, on top of in our agency. I used other tools that would bounce emails back to me if I hadn’t got a response yet, and then I could go, “Okay, that client hasn’t actually given us anything yet. I’ll send them another email.” So I used to have these emails constantly bouncing back into my inbox to stay on top of things and it was kind of ugly. So that was one of the main things.

Drew McLellan:

I’m trying to think of what the tool is where you blind copy…

James Rose:

FollowUpThen.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s what it is. Yeah.

James Rose:

Yeah. That’s the one I’ve used for ages. And I mean, that’s such a great tool because it’s platform agnostic. You don’t need a Gmail plugin or something. If you’re using a Gmail plugin, then you can’t use it on your phone. Right? So it’s great because you can always just use the BCC field no matter what you’re on. And then it’ll bounce back that email in three days or four days, whatever you say.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So however you do this though, the idea that you have to be constantly nudging clients to remember their deadlines, which again, you would think that your account executives or account managers would serve in that role to a certain extent. And if you’re doing status meetings with your clients on a regular basis, some of that would be covered. However, it’s nice to have some of it automated too.

James Rose:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you can waste a lot of time just following up with people. So yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Well, in fact, I think a lot of times when you look at a project that’s gone over budget, especially a digital asset, like a website or something like that, it’s often in the account service role because they are constantly chasing after and nagging. It’s sometimes on both sides, both the internal agency side and certainly the client side. So you’re right. If you can do something that automates it so that you’re not taking up a billable hours, a beautiful thing.

James Rose:

Yeah. And it’s not just content either. It’s any client interaction point seems to be where the time gets wasted, whether it’s designed feedback and that kind of thing.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. Absolutely. Okay. So I’ve got to set clear expectations. I need to recognize… And it’s interesting a lot of agency people get their undies in a bunch about this idea that they have to keep reminding clients. I’ll have people say to me, “These people are grownups. Why can’t they manage their…” But I think you’re right. I think, oftentimes, we don’t really put ourselves in our client’s shoes and understand that they are literally in meetings from morning to night, and they’re juggling lots of priorities, and we are just a small portion of what they’re juggling.

So would it be great if they remembered everything? It would be awesome. But isn’t it better to nag at them or remind them and actually try and get stuff done on time, as opposed to sitting around and twiddling your thumbs while you wait for them to remember?

James Rose:

Yeah. And we can complain about it, it’s not going to change anything. People [inaudible 00:25:54].

Drew McLellan:

Right. We’ll just do it.

James Rose:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

James Rose:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

James Rose:

And it’s also a really difficult… Sorry.

Drew McLellan:

No, that’s okay. Keep going.

James Rose:

Well, I mean, it was basically going to feed into the next step anyway.

Drew McLellan:

That’s what I was going to ask you. So that’s perfect.

James Rose:

Yeah. I figured that might be the case. But I think another reason it gets pushed back, they might see your email and then just ignore it is because it’s such a big task.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It feels overwhelming, I’m sure.

James Rose:

Yeah. Especially if it’s still… “There’s 20 pages on this website,” or, “There’s always constantly need for a brochure,” and, “We’re running eight campaigns and we need all this ad copy” or whatever. There’s so many things they need to provide. And especially if it looks like they have to provide it all in one go, it’s not going to get done ’cause it’s a hard task. It just gets put to the back of the pile, because, I tend to do that. Things that are difficult, if I’m done at the time, it gets put off, and off, put off.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right.

James Rose:

So that is the next thing. And I guess it’s called structure. And what I mean by structure is breaking it down into small pieces that they can understand first and complete in small bits of time. So again, it goes back to, like the website example with the hero header. We need a headline and we need a button, texts and we need a image. So that’s three discrete pieces of information that they can fill out, upload an image, put the headline in, and then they could go away and that’s saved, right? They don’t need to submit it all in one go.

This is how it works in Content Snare anyway. They type those things in, they hit complete on that section and then they can just use… the next reminder email will come in and get them to complete some more later on. So that’s basically what I mean by structure. And so, I kind of touched on this before. Right? We’ve got the page level. So you have a homepage and about page or in an advertising campaign, that might be several campaigns. and then you can break the campaigns down into ad sets, and then within ad sets, you’ve got ads. And then within an ad, you’ve got a heading, a link and all those kind of things that you are requesting from the client. Back on the website example, you’ve got pages, sections within the page and then bits of information within those sections.

So breaking it down into these small bite sized pieces that they can come and fill out any time, and it’s really obvious for them what they need to do, that’s pretty much it.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s such a good point. We were thinking about the big picture. And so we probably presented in a way that A) is overwhelming, and B) there’s no way on God’s green earth, they’re going to have time to sit down and give you everything that you need in one fell swoop. So if we recognize what their day is like, and that they’re doing this in 10 minute breaks, and they have an opportunity to either get us some information or go to the bathroom or grab lunch or whatever it is, then we have to give it to them in task sizes that fit their workday.

And so probably saying, “Look, we got to break this down into 15 minute increments. If somebody can’t get this done in 15 minutes, it’s too much.” And so what that means is we’re not going to get anything. I’d rather get four 15 minute increments over the course of a day or two than have to wait for the one day when they have an hour and a half free, which, think about your own work schedule how often is that, for them to sit down and just focus on this huge chunk of content that we’re asking.

James Rose:

Yeah. And this is why I’ve had this in my mind for a long time to do something like gamification for Content Snare, where we encourage clients to come in and provide… maybe it’s like only five fields today. That’s what we’ve got to do. It takes 10 minutes only.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

James Rose:

And then have these automatic emails based on how much they’ve got to go and how long until the due date, saying, “Okay, to stay on the schedule, you need to do at least 10 things today.” Something like that. That would be really cool, I think.

Drew McLellan:

Right. And it plays into this psychology. And so whether you gamify it officially through a software tool like you’re talking about, or you just gamify with a client in terms of, “Hey, I only need seven minutes today. Tomorrow, I’m only going to ask for three.” I mean, you could certainly appeal to their human desire to A) win and give you what you need from them. But B) also to make it feel like it’s a manageable.

James Rose:

Yeah. And moving on from structure, I think, again, this ties into the final point, which is, I think one of the most critical because what it comes down to is the fact that as agencies and designers, we can visualize what the end result is going to look like. For example, the website thing, again, as soon as we’re talking to a client and they’re showing us other websites they like, or competitor websites, we’re formulating a picture already of what this website is going to look like.

And on the ad campaign side, I mean, we know what Facebook ads look like. We know there’s some text under the picture. We know what the pictures going to look like. And all this kind of stuff. We know the picture have too much text. So the client doesn’t know that.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

James Rose:

Yeah. And it’s really important to communicate this to them somehow. And usually, that should be where you’re actually asking for the content. There’s two parts to this. It’s basically text-based instructions and some kind of images that help them visualize what it’s going to look like. So for the website example, that’s going to be a wireframe.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

James Rose:

I mean, it can be an actual design if you’ve already got that. But then I can see, if it’s a picture of a hero header, they can see where the background image is going to go. They can see where the headline is going to go. It helps them visualize it and go, “Okay, that’s where my headline is.” Then there’s the text instructions again, below that, then you would say, “Okay, this is how you write a headline. Aim for six to 12 words, no fluff, blah, blah, blah,” because they might not know how to write a headline.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

James Rose:

They’ll probably give you a hundred words.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because I think this is a truth that we often forget about clients is that many clients have a hard time seeing it, or someone will say to me, “My client can’t edit anything until we show them it almost finished. And then all of a sudden they can edit it.” I think that’s exactly what we’re talking about. So on the agency side of my world, we have a client. She describes it as we have to put the furniture in the room and then she can rearrange the furniture. But when we just talk about the room that we describe it, she can’t tell us what she wants, but the minute we put the couch and the loveseat and the coffee table in the room, then she’s able to move it around how she wants it to be.

And you can either get frustrated by that and say, “Well, but we’re going three steps further than we have to.” Or you can say, “Okay, I know that this client needs this level of detail or this visualization to be able to actually react to what we need them to react to. So let’s just give it to them.” And give it to them in a rougher form. It doesn’t have to be as finished perhaps. But let’s get to that stage faster. I think that’s what you’re saying is lets give them some context around what we’re asking for so that they have a better chance of giving us actually the details that we need.

James Rose:

Yeah. And like you said, it doesn’t have to be a finished product. And that’s why I mentioned wireframes because you can have a generic website wireframe for each section, a standard content section or a blog post or whatever, and it’s not their final branding. It’s just a layout. And as long as they can say that, that still helps them. And you can read that same wireframe for every client. You don’t need to be creating special things for every single client. You can say, “This is what a hero header might look like. This is what your headline is going to go.” That simple.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. I want to ask you about the business side of all of this in a second, but first let’s take a quick break. I want to take just a quick second and remind you that if you head over to the agencymanagementinstitute.com website, one of the things you’ll find there in our effort to support agency owners is some on-demand training. We know that many of you want to attend our live workshops, but for some reason, that doesn’t work out, maybe you’re outside of the U.S. or maybe you have little kids and it’s tough to travel, or it may just be that our calendar and your calendar do not align.

And so what we’ve done is we now have three courses that we either regularly or occasionally offer as a live workshop. And now we’ve got them in an on-demand training version. So you can now find a Biz Dev workshop or Agency New Business Blueprint course, you can also find our AE Bootcamp. And our most recent addition is the Money Matters workshop. So all of those are available. If you head over to the website and you go under training, you will see on demand training under that tab, and you can check out all three of those courses.

And obviously those are courses that you can take at your leisure. You can get through the whole thing in a weekend, which I don’t recommend, or you can space it out over time. You can do it individually. You can do it with your leadership team, whatever serves your agency best. We just want to make sure that you know that they are there and available for you. All right, let’s get back to the episode.

All right. We are back with James Rose and we’re talking about content and content collection and helping clients be successful by creating a structure or a framework that allows them to get us what we need in a timely fashion. And so we’ve been talking pretty pragmatically about how to get it done. But what I want to talk about now is the business case for all of this. So you’ve been working with a lot of agencies and clients now for a while, you’ve certainly experienced it in your own business, but as you’re looking through the content center lens, what are you hearing agencies say to you about when they go to the effort of using some sort of a construct, whether it’s Content Snare or it’s some other tool? When they actually put a framework around how they collect content, how does that impact the agency? What does that do in terms of deadlines and budgets and all those sort of things? Because I have to think it has a positive impact.

James Rose:

Yeah. And we obviously hear a lot of different stories because people… some of the language I’ve heard people’s say is… I mean, I shouldn’t say funny, but it kind of is like, I’ve had people say that content made them want to leave the industry. Like, they were so sick of the delays that it made them want to quit their agency entirely, just because of this one thing.

Drew McLellan:

Wow.

James Rose:

Some people have said verbatim, it was the biggest pain in the ass. I’ve just got so many quotes from those interviews and from our clients that I ended up using in various revisions of our website and our copy, because it’s really shows how big of an issue it was for people.

But, I mean, results vary based on how much effort people put in. We definitely have some people that come in that expect Content Snare to be a magic bullet. Like you just have this software tool and suddenly you press a button and all the content comes back to you. But no matter what system you’re using, that’s never going to be the case. And that’s why we’ve created this training and everything we’ve spoken about today, Drew. Like the setting expectations is important, which is completely external to Content Snare. It doesn’t matter what system you’re using, you need to do that.

But inside Content Snare, you still need to break it down into small pieces. You still need to add wireframes and visualization and instructions. So we try to make that easier for people that come in. We’ve got templates for things with [inaudible 00:38:13] built in for this reason, to try and get people started faster. But actually a really good friend of mine who’s now become one of our biggest testimonials, he signed up and just thought I don’t have the time for this. And it went on the back burner, I guess the same as clients do with their content.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

James Rose:

And then he came back in and he said a few things up and had this aha moment where he realized it’s done now and I don’t have to do it ever again. So he’s a more templated things. He builds out templated apps for people. And he’s saving so much time on that now. So like I said, various things people said. But one guy had found by putting in a proper content process and I quote, “It helps a two year plus project get its feet off the ground” because it had been sitting in this great content limber for two years.

And I think we’ve all been there in some level. But just by putting a decent process in place and showing the client how to actually fill out the content, it got moving again. We’ve had people… Sorry.

Drew McLellan:

No, that’s okay. Yeah. Well, I was going to say I have a lot of agencies say to me “We scoped out a website or whatever the project is. We built in enough profit, but when we got stalled, because we couldn’t get something from the client around content or data, and then we spent a month nagging and chasing and whatever literally that account person’s time, just trying to extract what we needed, burn through all of the profit of the agency.” So from a pragmatic point of view, having something that helps you build a system. Because I think your point is a valid one that it’s not just a matter of subscribing to some software and then magically the solutions there. You still have to build it out.

But once you’ve done it, and then you have a framework that helps you maintain it, now all of a sudden, every project you do is going to be more efficient moving forward.

James Rose:

Yeah. And there’s one more thing to that. Someone said to me, and I didn’t even really consider this, but they said it had reduced the amount of errors in the content that came back from the client. They’ve estimated by about 50%. And this is specific to them providing the wrong content or whatever. Maybe it’s too many words or too few words. So by getting it right the first time that then eliminated back and forth emails. I’ve seen email trails well over 99 in Gmail that are like, they start freezing the Gmail interface.

Like I can’t even go back to previous emails and open them because my browser can’t handle it anymore. And that was the kind of thing you try to avoid with no matter what process you use. So that backwards and forwards and just getting it right in as few revisions as possible, that’s the thing you get when you have a decent process.

Drew McLellan:

And I also think it says something to the client about the agency, that when you have a process that makes it easier for the client, that they can very clearly understand what you need, when you need it, how you need it, it also, I think, elevates their opinion of us as an agency that we actually have our act together.

James Rose:

Yes, absolutely. Yeah. And that’s another thing we talk about a bit, is it makes you look more professional? Absolutely. We’ve had people say that their clients have commented on the system as well. They’re like, “Oh, this is easy to use” or whatever. It sounds like I’m doing a sales speech, but I mean, this is all I hear now as comments from clients side.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and your point is whether it’s Content Snare or some other tool or mechanism for gathering it, every agency should have a process that is been tested and does all of the things that you talked about in terms of setting the expectations and sending the reminders and breaking it up into bite sized pieces and really giving somebody something visual to understand what exactly you’re asking for. So I get the Content Snare as one of the tools that does that. But what I’m hearing you say is, regardless of the tool, you still have to have these best practices in place. And when you do, the client feels like their investment is a solid one, because clearly this is not your first rodeo. And you’ve thought this through, and you’ve made it as easy and convenient for them as possible, which I think most clients appreciate because they are so time-starved.

James Rose:

Absolutely. And you can do the same thing in Google Documents, for example. You can copy and paste images into your wireframes. You can turn them into worksheets in a way, if you have fields or boxes or some areas for your clients to type in, you can have instructions. Yeah. It becomes a little bit harder to manage when a document is so free form, but you can make it work.

Drew McLellan:

Right. But I think it starts with thinking through the process. And again, what many agencies, sort of, we want to be so responsive to our clients and I get it. Clients want quick turnaround. But we have to take the time to invent the mechanism that then makes all of the work easier and better. And that’s true, whether it’s a traffic system or a process of how you get work through the agency. Agencies tend to be leery of process, but it’s very difficult to scale and grow your business if you don’t have some.

James Rose:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

James Rose:

Yeah. I mean, you’ve hit the nail on the head there. Content is just one of those things, but process has gotta be from start to finish really. And that’s how I was able to somewhat step out of our agency towards the end of it anyway, where we had the team that would do a lot of stuff without me even talking to clients.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And this is probably a great way to wrap up this conversation. I have never met an agency owner who has not said, “I want to get out of the day to day. I don’t want to be as quagmired in the work, because I have to work on the business, not in the business. I have to figure out how to do that.” And the reality is that until you create a process that other people can run your clients through or run your internal teams through, there is no escape from that. So as content becomes a bigger, bigger part of what we do for clients, and content in all varieties, whether it’s video or written content or visuals or whatever it may be, this problem is not going to get smaller. It’s going to get bigger and it’s going to get more complicated.

And so all of us need to figure out how our agency is going to manage these assets, collect these assets, and then best archive and use these assets on behalf of clients. Otherwise, we’re going to stay stuck exactly where we’re at today.

James Rose:

Nailed it. I don’t think I can even add to that.

Drew McLellan:

This has been a great conversation, James. Thanks for making the time to be with us. If folks want to learn more about Content Snare, want to track you down, what’s the best way for them to find you and to learn more about your work and Content Snare if they’re interested.

James Rose:

Sure. Yeah. Well, it’s just at contentsnare.com. That’s the main website. If you want to grab me on Twitter, I’m @_jimmyrose. That’s pretty much it. I’ve got a podcast too, if they want to listen, if that’s okay to share.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, tell us about that. Absolutely. Tell us about that.

James Rose:

Got to agencyhighway.com and it’s, again, just to help agencies grow and do less work, and we interview awesome people like yourself Drew. Your interview will be due out very soon.

Drew McLellan:

It was fun to do. So James, thanks very much for being here. Appreciate it. And thanks for sharing your insight. You have a very unique lens into agency life as a former agency owner, who is now serving agencies. So thank you.

James Rose:

Awesome. And thank you so much for having me.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. All right guys. So as always, I’m hoping that while this was fun to listen to and entertaining to listen to, that you also took a couple action items out of this that you can take back to your leadership team to talk about. Content is, for most agencies today, just the reality of the work that we do. And I don’t care if you’re a PR shop or a media shop or a social media shop. I don’t care what label you put on yourself, you are dealing with your client’s content.

And so thinking about a framework in which you can collect it, because I can’t think of an agency that doesn’t talk about this as a pain point. And as James said, whether you do it in a Google Doc or you use a tool like Content Snare or whatever it is, you’ve got to have process around this. And the process has got to be consistent, and it’s got to be something that everybody on your team knows and uses and that the clients understand and value. Because ultimately, what that does is it tees you up to get projects in and out of the shop on time and hopefully in a more profitable way. So, hope you took some action items, would love to hear what those were. I will be back next week with another guest to help you think about your agency in a different way, or to give you something new to think about.

In the meantime, please remember that we are doing our monthly contest. So if you go to iTunes or Stitcher or Google, wherever you download the podcast and leave us ratings and review, take a screenshot, shoot me an email of it, and we’re giving away a free workshop seat, either to one of our on-demand workshops or one of our live workshops. Every month we’re doing that. So your name would go in a drawing for that. So we appreciate the ratings and reviews. We appreciate the shout-outs. And we’re trying to encourage you to do that more so that we can see more of you inside our workshops.

So, I will be back next week. In the meantime, if you’re looking for me, [email protected] [inaudible 00:48:13]. Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefits survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcast giveaways @agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.