Wendy Lieber | How to Shift From a Boutique Agency Model to a Subscription Model

Wendy Lieber 12:08

yeah. Yeah, I mean, that’s also been something we’ve had to really work on and refined. But we have a really thorough onboarding process where the customer fills out a questionnaire and our team, you know, puts together the overall content strategy. So that, before we start writing anything we’re agreeing on kind of what the overall content strategy is, who we’re writing for, what some of those key themes or pillars are. And then, you know, what, what the topics are. And so there’s agreement beforehand, so that as we’re then creating the content to meet those standards, it’s really based on an overall strategy and, and yes, tone, personality, those things have to be factored in. And again, we pride ourselves and make sure we’re writing in a style that not only, you know, is the tone and personality of our customers, but is written in a way that’s going to connect with their audience. And so it’s not easy on any level, but we’ve really created systems and processes to do that. So that, you know, I mean, I believe we’re the best in the business. And in doing that, because of the processes we’ve created to create the overall strategy that we’re not just creating, you know, a blog here a blog, there a topic here a topic there, there’s a very cohesive strategy

John Corcoran 13:35

right now. You know, your business depends on having good creative team members that you know, that you recruit to work for you. What have you learned from staffing up this company and getting good writers to work for you?

Wendy Lieber 13:53

Yeah, one, we’re always hiring. So we always have a stacked bench. We also have lots of editors. And so that was kind of one of the first big milestones when, you know, as we were writing for PR customers, we realized, wow, like we, you know, like managing writers is not an easy task. And so the editing team really became our secret sauce, because, you know, they could really ensure that if we had to switch out writers if we lost writers that the strategy would stay in place. And then we have team members called content concierge is that you know, kind of our, the interface between the customer and the team to again, just make sure everything stays intact, but we’ve been virtual since we started and that was another great thing because being able to hire writers and editors from all over the country, is you know, gave us just such an advantage to hire the best talent regardless of where they were located. So As the world has gotten more and more comfortable with virtual, it’s been such an easy shift for us because we’ve always been virtual and by nature, you know, I believe people that are in this kind of work that Excel do so because they’re highly disciplined, and they, they can work independently, they don’t necessarily need that office environment. You know, yes, we, you know, we do all kinds of things to interact and create, I think a great culture and teamwork, but I believe the type of people that thrive on our team, you know, are just inherently, you know, just self disciplined.

John Corcoran 15:36

Yeah, it’s amazing the parallels between our businesses that we’ve experienced similar sorts of things. And it’s funny, because I’ve had conversations with my business partner who, you know, is a self professed, not a writer at all. And, you know, at first we were hiring a lot of people that were writers and editors, or he’d say, oh, that writer can edit or that edit can write, and I was like, No, no, they’re different people, like, yeah, we can’t group them together, they’re really different. And one of the challenges with that is, is, you know, if you want to grow the team and give people opportunities to grow within the ranks, is, it’s not like you can say, like, here, you’re going to start as a content concierge, then you become a writer, then you become an editor, they’re very different positions. So how have you, how have you figured that out, creating, you know, kind of opportunities or, or not, maybe it’s just like, you know, people just double down on what they’re doing, and just get more high quality work and what they enjoy doing.

Wendy Lieber 16:30

I mean, there is some of that. So I think some of the writers that have been with us, they get, you know, they get more work, they get, you know, increases. But we’ve also been very fortunate that a lot of the team that might have started out kind of on a contract basis, you know, we were able to kind of, you know, test how things worked. And then as we had openings on our full time team, were able to put it out there to that team, and we’ve had many people step into kind of full time roles on our, our team that started out, you know, as a writer, or, you know, as an editor or, you know, some other position where, again, we’ve been able to, to develop a relationship both ways before they come on board full time. And so, that’s, that’s been one way we’ve been able to offer the opportunity. And then as we grow, you know, we’ve added, you know, lead editor or senior, you know, content concierge. And so, again, we’ve been able to promote from within to, to some of those positions, so that, you know, that the team has, has the ability to to grow with us.

John Corcoran 17:37

Yeah, another challenge that we’ve experienced with you, I know you have, as well as upgrading your technology, as your team grows, you know, the technology that seemed perfect six months ago, all of a sudden, is not working six months later, swap it out. Yeah, talk a little bit about how that’s been affecting you.

Wendy Lieber 17:55

Well, this has probably been our biggest opportunity. And challenge is, you know, exactly what you’re saying, when, you know, when we started, you know, we use different different software, as we would grow, you know, we bring in something else and, and it all kind of works, but it feels like a little bit like duct tape together. It doesn’t feel like a cohesive system. But to move to a new technology when you’ve been using and you know, so much like we’re we’re just busy, like we’re in a way like a magazine, right? Like we’re publishing a bunch of content, and then guess what the next month comes and we’re publishing, you know, even more content the next month, so it’s not like there’s ever downtime. So, you know, from when we started this company, we always knew technology was going to play a big part. And we almost developed technology first, because we kind of had a vision of what we thought it should look like the customer portal and and you know, we got some really sound advice like no, don’t be a technology company, be a content company, go out, validate your model, really figure out what you need, and then build the technology. And we have tried on three occasions to custom build some software, and it’s failed all three times. And so now we’re, you know, we’re kind of dealing with it again, and I think probably, you know, looking back, the reason it failed is, you know, the people trying to manage it and do it, it’s not their full time job, and it’s not their primary area of focus. And so that goes back to like needing to upgrade the team where you get to a certain point where even if it’s a fractional CTO or someone that that’s really their area of expertise, I think, you know, we’re at that point where now that’s how we’re dealing with it and the accountability around you know, what we’re trying to accomplish is with someone who’s got a track record of success versus us trying to do it ourselves and figure it out, which again, has worked really well and gotten us to here but it won’t get us to our next level. It is challenging. Very challenging.

John Corcoran 20:01

Now take me back to march of 2020 as this pandemic becomes evident that something’s that something big is afoot yeah How did it affect you What were you thinking going into that it’s it’s really fascinating how it affected different businesses in different ways

Wendy Lieber 20:20

yeah yeah i mean i think like everyone else like scared shitless like oh my god is our whole business going to go away like what what is going to happen and so we very quickly as a team, you know, like started having you know, meetings about like, what what might happen what could happen we do a daily huddle every morning and we added one at the very end of the day so that we could also just deal with our team on a personal level you know, how they were feeling and what they were starting to go through with family friends just being scared and so one of the things we did out of the gate we were just very productive with our customers so normally we’re very planned out you know, we’re working on your content 30 60 90 days out and you know, we’re subscription model so again being planned having plenty of time so we moved into more of like real time What do you need, what can we do for you and just we’re in like very proactive communication with our customers to let them know anything you need or hear and they needed a lot you know, because they needed different types of communication. And we just did it, we didn’t charge anyone any extra. We just you know, we just rose to the occasion and just became very, very responsive to our customers no matter what they needed. And we did that for a good you know, 90 days where you know, my team was just like, you know, working you know, balls to the wall just like all out and we were very lucky we had maybe two of our customers go on pause because they just needed to you know, conserve some cash and see what played out and they came back otherwise we we had very little attrition and then come like end of summer we just started experiencing a lot of growth where a lot of companies that had put their digital needs on the back burner because they were doing well at traditional networking events or trade shows or traditional sales methods. And now didn’t have those at their fingertips and we’re like what are we going to do like how are we communicating and so that helped us as well you know, just continue to grow but I think the the being very proactive with our customers and just getting out in front of it I believe was was key to them, you know, just knowing that they could count on us.

John Corcoran 22:50

Yeah, yeah. Interesting. I wanted to ask you about, you know, there’s so many different platforms, social media platforms that are coming up, there’s the TIC tocs, there’s the Instagrams and stuff like that. And I imagine it’s got to be a temptation for you, you know, do we go into this other area or not? Or do we remain, you know, committed to our roots? And you know, for what you guys do it seems like it starts with the written content and then you take that and then you can create other social media posts off of that as well. But for the most part, you’ve remained true to your roots. Is that an accurate assessment? And do you feel like attention like you often say like, Oh, we should be going in this other direction or adding this service?

Wendy Lieber 23:35

Yeah, I mean, listen back in December I was telling my team like we need to do something with the clubhouse and then like, you know, look at it so it is a big big thing. It is a temptation and I think you know, what, again one of the lessons learned with this business that you know, I did not ever do with with my previous company is is staying very true and operating in your lane and saying no to things that are not your area of expertise and so about three years ago we you know, we really went through a period of you know, the year of simplicity and paring down our menu and being very clear about what’s on the menu, what’s not and so we we do you know, we do stay true to our roots but we also always want to make sure that we’re in line with what’s happening today. So you know, Instagram is something that you know, is important to our customers, we’ve been doing Instagram for years and we have to up our game in certain areas with different types of visuals to make that a meaningful channel and so we just, you know, as a company we we, you know, we’ll sometimes launch a new product and we’ll you know, we’ll kind of beta tested and, and get to a point where you guys do you think this goes on the menu permanently or, or not. And I think where I’ve learned, instead of being the dictator, kind of saying this is going on the menu, because I’m excited about it, and I can sell it, which is usually what I would do if I would sell it, before we even had a process for it. And so now, you know, I really rely on my team to, you know, be part of the conversation, be part of whether or not we are going to offer it. But yeah, sometimes I have to push a little bit because, you know, the team can get comfortable, and we have to stay innovative, but I do believe staying in your lane is really important and not trying to be all things to all people. And when we’ve done that, you know, we’ve, you know, it’s certainly, you know, kind of come back to bite us. So I’ve learned that lesson many times. And I’ll probably have to keep learning that, but because it’s a tough one, and you don’t always know where the right balance is, I’ve definitely gotten better at it. And mostly because my team has really, you know, gotten more involved and helped make better decisions around it. 

John Corcoran 26:05

Yeah, talk a little bit about building a leadership team, building an infrastructure and some of the challenges around that.

Wendy Lieber 26:12

Yeah, I think like I mentioned earlier, you know, giving up control, giving your team the space to make mistakes, and having it be safe is really key. You know, I’m a natural born problem solver, and I thrive on solving problems, like I don’t get stressed, I don’t get freaked out. And I think that I can often see what I believe is the solution for my team, maybe before they can, and I really had to, like learn to not jump in and see things for them and really let them see things to build competence and, and build that strength. And so, you know, I think just empowering your team to do what, you know, you’re hiring them to do clear expectations, you know, scorecard reviews, so that they know, they know what winning looks like, they know what putting points on the board looks like I think is key. And, you know, developing systems and processes, I think when you can set your team up for success because they know what right looks like and what you know, instead of trying to figure it out, I think they are again, just building more confidence. So those are things that you know, we’re still constantly evolving and, and refining. And then I you know, I think getting to a point where, you know, sometimes like, you have to bring in like heavier hitters, like you get your business to a certain point with a team and you know, but as you grow, you might need to bring in players that had, you know, had done, have already been where you’re going. And so that’s also a little bit where we’re at, which I think is extremely exciting. And you know, it’s also a little bit scary, but in a good way. But I think that giving your team the tools to be successful and letting them know, like one of our core values, is we’re no bullshit free zone. And that just means clear communication. And people that thrive in our company culture thrive because they like that, and people that don’t, a lot of times they cause themselves out and they say they want that because you know, in order to get hired, you kind of have to exhibit that but you often can’t really test for some of that until someone’s you know, been with you a while and sometimes people just they they don’t like straight communication.

John Corcoran 28:39

Yeah, yeah. Well, this has been great. Wendy, I want to wrap up one last question. So I’m a big fan of gratitude. So expressing gratitude, especially to peers, especially your contemporary. So if you look around your peers and your contemporaries in your industry, however you want to define that it could be other IE ours, it could be clients that you work with, it could be strategic partners, could be referrals, referral partners, who do you respect? Who do you admire who’s doing good work?

Wendy Lieber 29:09

Gosh, 70-70 people, I mean, one, I’m going to, I’m going to acknowledge you, you know, you and I got connected not too long ago, you’re on some of the same communication channels that I’m on and you are always just giving, giving ideas, giving solutions, giving referrals. And I think that’s incredible. And that to make you is, you know, is when you’re giving and you’re you’re really trying to help people I think that’s you know, such such a great quality and and yeah, I mean, my you know, my team like I really am so appreciative to have team members that you know, are excited about what we do every day and take such good care of our customers and they’re willing to challenge me and challenge each other, and it’s the There’s a saying that you know I always screw up sayings but it’s like you know big companies are scared of smaller companies that like each other or something like that my team I mean they really like each other and they support each other and it’s for me like I just get so much fulfillment from seeing that because at the end of the day it’s like yeah you know I love what we’re doing and you know I want to make money and all of that but I also want my team to live like empowering lives and I want them to feel good about just their life and you know I feel like we’ve we have created that culture and so I’m I look up to that and I’m very appreciative of that with with my team

John Corcoran 30:45

That’s great All right, Wendy, where can people go to learn more about you and connect with you?

Wendy Lieber 30:50

Yeah, so contentbacon.com is our main website and [email protected] You know, I’m all over social media, some easy to find. I love having conversations about content. I’m super accessible. And so I’d love to hear from anyone and everyone. Excellent. 

John Corcoran 31:08

Wendy, thanks so much.

Wendy Lieber 31:10

Thank you.

Outro 31:10

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at smartbusinessrevolution.com and while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.