Julia McCoy is the founder of Express Writers and of Content Hacker. One agency produces amazing content for a variety of different businesses, the other provides an educational framework for freelancers or agencies to learn how to create a consistent set of processes and frameworks for building your business on content.
Julia is a prolific content creator herself. She’s written four books (with one on the way). Her writing has been featured in the Huffington Post, Search Engine Journal, Entrepreneur, Marketing Profs, and countless other prestigious publications. She even creates videos for her own YouTube channel.
Garrett joins her today to talk about all things content and agency-building. Tune in for some great insights on the role of content in 2021 and beyond.
The importance of content for growth
Julia notes this has been a good year for demonstrating the importance of content.
"In January, there were 3.6 billion searches happening per day on Google. That went up to 6 billion in March. That hasn't changed."
"Business owners are seeing the need to get online, especially when so many brick-and-mortars had to completely rearrange how they do things. The importance of an online presence ballooned this year. Not the way we would have wanted. You don't want a pandemic. The result is, so many people now see the need for content that didn't before.
Going into the New Year, that is a huge plus for us content creators. I think we're needed in more ways than ever now, not just from writing and creating great content that stands out, but also teaching it to others. We now have this craft that's suddenly more on-demand like you wouldn't believe. People really need our help and our guidance."
Why It's Never Too Late to Invest in Content
Julia recounts the story of teaching a 70-year-old fledgling affiliate marketer how to do content.
"It's never too late to start content. Especially if you have a perspective of I'm not going to create something that adds to the noise. I'm going to create something from my own unique perspective that's really going to stand out and add value."
She says that many companies just try to check the box and get content out.
"That's not how you do content in 2020 and in the next year. You really have to create it from that unique vantage point. How am I really going to stand out and add value?"
She says she's often asked where to start.
"We say the written word never goes out of style. Even in the early days, cavemen were writing stories. Written content? That will never change. That is your campfire story. Start there. Get great content written on your site. It is never too late."
Content differentiation and how it’s different from your USP
Julia advises brands who are creating their content strategy for the very first time to take a step back and do so from a position of having something real value to share.
"What's the thing of value that will make you stand out? That's what I teach in the Content Differentiation Factor."
She says this is different from your USP.
"It's your unique perspective on what you have to share that's valuable. That can be like wrapping your story around your differentiation factor, telling your founding story in a very vulnerable way. I don't think we see that enough. That's one way to hugely stand out."
Help for freelancers who struggle to create their own brand
Julia acknowledges the struggles that many content creators and freelancers in our industry struggle with.
"It's really true that the cobbler is the last person to build his own shoes. So if you write, your greatest weakness is probably writing and telling your own story in a way that really puts you out there."
She runs two agencies now, both focused on content, and she does it by letting her team craft and publish her stories.
"It'll be my draft, but it's another talented writer that forms the final piece. Getting a partner to pull it out of you because you're so subjective. It's hard to be objective when you're in that place and it's your story. You don't know if you're putting yourself out there too much or if you're not putting yourself out there enough. It's really good to get a concept partner to say: hey, write my about page, or take this draft and make it better. You'll go so much further."
The best way to get educated in our industry
Garrett asked if people who want to get into marketing should go to school, get certifications...or just start teaching themselves?
The answer is easy to find in the title of Julia's upcoming book: Skip the Degree, Save the Tuition. She's writing it with Dr. Ai Zhang.
"We have done thousands of interviews and the majority of people we are able to hire are freelancers that self-started. Unfortunately, the people fresh out of college, relying on that degree? Those people we can't hire because they don't know how to write online content.
That's an art that's the opposite of AP English. If you write essay-style, you will kill your online reach."
Her partner, Dr. Zhang, dropped out of teaching at the doctorate level, despite having multiple degrees.
"She saw her students were not learning real-life techniques. They were exiting the classroom going: I don't know how to use Pinterest. So we both partnered on this book.
Yes. I do think you're going to get much farther if you study YouTube instead of going to lectures and trying to learn content marketing in that outdated theory classroom. As hard as it is to hear."
Is it worth it to hire a coach?
One way Julia learned the business was by hiring a coach. Is it still worth it to hire one?
"If you hire the right coach."
What should you watch out for?
Julia says to look out for people selling you the "million-dollar pathway."
"In the end," she says, "you want to hit a goal. Can you hit that goal with that coach? Test the waters. Am I going to hit this? What happens if not? I have this conversation with my students all the time. We're always just creating new models, new things to help them grow that are more relevant to the times."
She says some coaches are still teaching things from five or six years ago.
She also gives a shoutout to Jon Morrow at Smartblogger.com. She recommends reading his blog if you want to learn how to write really good online content.
Julia’s philosophy on agency building
Julia talks a little bit about the process of building an agency.
"At the beginning, I was focused on the outside. How do I reach my clients? How do I sell them on this service? How do I retarget them?"
She says there are better ways to get an agency built.
"What worked better was going internal. We focused on our internal processes. How do we deliver content and serve our clients in a really good way with a seamless process?
That got so intense that 9 years later this October we actually just launched our custom-built content eCommerce platform. You don't have to do that! We couldn't find anything out there. We tested more than 50 CMS’s, project management systems.
None of it catered to our very custom content creation pipeline, where we have about 5 content creators involved. Editors, strategists, writers, designers...a project manager. We found nothing. We were on two different systems and it was kind of a hack."
You don't want to live in a hack, so they built their own.
"It took us $200,000 to build, and about 4 years of work. We did it and it came out this October. That was really exciting. You don't have to do that, but it could be something you aim towards in the future. We didn't actually think of it until we were 5 years down the road and realizing we don't have a tech platform.
And that, I think, is one differentiation factor as well. If clients know you've created something to solve their needs in such a custom way, that sets you apart. You're good to go. You're going to stand out in the market."
Building trust in an industry that struggles with trust issues
There are a lot of scams in the content marketing industry, and Julia discusses what it takes to overcome client trust issues in such an environment.
"I had a couple of clients tell me: This company just took my money and disappeared. I was like: Really? This happens in our industry?"
She investigated for herself. Sure enough, she went to a company that took her money and rendered no services.
"This is what we're up against. We actually have clients that come in and say: How do I know I can trust you? We have to build fundamental trust. What we've learned is to really focus and start there, because if we don't, if we focus too hard on what happens after they buy, what happens to retarget, remarket."
She urges agencies not to get too focused on sales.
"I think a lot of agencies are salesperson focused. In the end, if you're in an industry where you have to fight for trust as we do, we don't want the first interaction to be: Well, how do I send you a quote. How do I take your money?
You want the first interaction to be: How can I help you? Let's listen to your pain points. I'm really sorry that happened.
Maybe we just empathize with their experience with other firms. That alone can build so much trust."
Agency reputation versus founder reputation
You can build an agency reputation without having a founder reputation. Having both helps.
"I am definitely that founder who also established a personal brand presence. You can look me up. I am on the about page. You can see my name. You can see my picture. My founding story.
We've really made it public that I started with nothing but $75. That's a story our clients love.""But what's funny is...there are so many clients that find us from our organic content rankings. So one ranking is ‘copywriting services.’ We still rank #1 for that keyword, last I checked."
They find them that way, hit a landing page, and go straight to the content shop.
"I would say there's a growing percentage that doesn’t even know about me."
She says that despite her reputation they still have to work to build trust.
"We don't know if they've interacted with me or not. We have the other side that has had touch with my personal brand. They've read my book. They've taken a course."
So if it's not going to build stress?
"Build that personal brand too. Write that book in your weekends or your spare time alongside running your agency."
Trust, she notes, is one of the top 3 buying factors for 70%+ of all consumers.
"People don't want that sleazy marketer. Especially now. More than ever. You can't do that."
What’s your right now cause?
Julia wants readers to consider becoming involved with Operation Underground Railroad, an operation where she's donating time and money."They partner with our public safety departments and they lead and conduct sting operations to rescue trafficked persons. They're doing so much good."
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