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Sample Chapter: From Solo to Scaled

This is a sample chapter from Natalie Marie Dunbar’s book From Solo to Scaled Building a Sustainable Content Strategy Practice. 2022, Rosenfeld Media.

Chapter 1: The Content Strategy Blueprint

I’m fascinated by buildings: single family structures, high-rise dwellings, and especially office towers. As such, I’ve always had a healthy curiosity about the construction process. For example, Figure 1.1 shows a Habitat for Humanity building that I worked on. From the initial breaking of ground to the completion of a building’s façade, I find comfort in both the art and order of construction—how foundations support columns, columns support beams, and beams support floors. When the building plans are followed as written, every element comes together perfectly to create a strong structure that is capable of withstanding natural elements like wind and earthquakes.

Figure  1.1

I worked as a volunteer on this building with my UX team.

In my career as a content strategist, I’ve heard colleagues speak about “standing up a team,” or “standing up a practice.” There was familiarity in the concept of building a figurative structure that had a specific function or purpose. And, of course, that familiarity stemmed from my fascination with buildings, so the construction metaphor made sense to me.

That metaphor also reminded me of one of my favorite books, Why Buildings Stand Up, by Mario Salvadori. Before writing and content strategy became my full-time job, I worked in various roles in residential and commercial real estate. All of those roles exposed me to various phases of building construction and tenant improvements, and reading Salvadori’s book helped me understand construction and architecture in an engaging way.

The familiarity I felt when hearing the phrase “stand up a practice” in the digital experience world often stopped short of the idea of the building metaphor. For example, practices were “stood up” with no attention to order. Foundations were poured before soil tests were completed, often resulting in skipping the addition of the footings that might be needed to support the foundation, or in the case of the practice, doing the work to ensure that the practice followed the necessary processes to create digital experiences that met the needs of users as well as the goal of the client or business. And inevitably, the structure—or the practice—began to crumble.

And sometimes those practices failed completely.

From the Ground Up

Having had the opportunity to build an agency-based content strategy practice from the ground up, and later expanding and maintaining an existing practice within a mid-to-large-sized organization, I began to see that failures often happened because steps crucial to supporting the structure had been skipped. Or perhaps the structure had been compromised because the framework used to build it—if one was used at all—couldn’t withstand the constant stress of tension and compression.

When I started to think about what caused these seemingly strong practices to crumble—I returned to the building and construction metaphor to look for possible answers. That’s because it’s sometimes easier to, er, construct a mental model that’s more tangible than the nebulousness nature of digital information spaces.

If the building metaphor still feels a bit weird to you, then try this: think of the last time someone asked what you did for a living. If you’re a UX practitioner, or if you collaborate with members of a UX team, you’ve likely experienced the feeling of the listener’s eyes glazing over as you tried to explain the concept of user experience—or as I once saw it described, “making websites and apps stink less.” Then think of what might happen if you described the user experience using a more relatable metaphor, such as one of the following:

  • The internet is a space.
  • A website or mobile app is a destination within that space (and in the case of websites, a space complete with its own address).
  • The work you do helps people avoid getting lost in that space.

In keeping with this theme, now imagine that the opportunity that’s immediately in front of you—that of building a UX-focused content strategy practice—is a pristine plot of land. Provided you have a solid plan and the right materials and tools, this untilled soil is ready for you to break ground and to stand up a healthy content strategy practice.

So this figurative plot of land you’ve been given needs someone—you—to till the soil and prepare the space for a structure to be built. And the creation of the plans for that structure, as well as sourcing the building materials and the tools you’ll need to build it, has also fallen to you.

Lucky for you, this book is your blueprint.

Nuts and Bolts: Tension and Compression

In construction, tension happens when building materials are pulled or stretched. In the process of standing up (or building) a content strategy practice, tension can happen when you are asked to take on tasks that pull you away from the core functions of the practice.

Compression happens when building materials are pushed against or squeezed. As you’re building your practice, compression may present itself as pushback from departments outside of your immediate cross-functional team. You’ll find more details on how the concepts of tension and compression can impact your practice in Chapter 3, “Building Materials.”

Department, Team, Practice: What’s in a Name?

So, why the focus on building a practice? Why not focus on creating a new (or expanding an existing) content strategy department, or focus on hiring a team of content strategists? First, the focus on buildings and structures is intentional. That’s because I’ve learned that for the work of content strategy to succeed as the function that happens within the structure you are building, it must begin with a sense of permanency—a firm foundation. Ask any content strategist how many times they’ve been asked “when the content strategy was going to be done,” and how many times they had to explain in response that “the content strategy is never done”—that content has a lifecycle, from content creation to archival; that there will most assuredly be legacy content that will need to be maintained in some shape or
form; and that the creation of new content (or the addition of newly curated content) starts the cycle all over again.

Content departments and content strategy teams often sit in a variety of places within an organization or agency, including marketing or some variation of digital or user experience. There are also content strategy teams embedded in different organizational functions, such as customer care; or teams that support a specific product or feature, such as video content; or those that are aligned with a single line of business within an organization, such as in a healthcare organization where practices support individual and family products, healthcare plans offered by businesses, or Medicare and Medicaid plans. These teams tend to be highly specialized, and they focus on creating strategic approaches to content geared to a particular business need. But no matter where that team sits within an organization—and even if content strategy as a function is distributed throughout the organization—establishing a structure where content strategists can practice their trade goes a long way toward supporting the strength and longevity of the work of content strategy, or the core of the practice.

Also, departments and teams can be absorbed or completely dismantled. I’ve seen this happen where content strategists were reassigned to other types of content work, or worse, laid off or let go. I’m not saying that building a content strategy practice will safeguard you against those outcomes. But I am saying that building a practice with the support and buy-in of cross-functional teammates, product owners, and stakeholders might make the complete dismantling of the practice a less desirable option, especially after so many people have invested their time and resources into co-creating it with you, and especially because they have undoubtedly reaped the benefits of the practice as a result.

Beyond Copywriting: Meeting the Unmet Need

Imagine this scenario: You’re the solo “content person” in your department or agency. You write copy for digital experiences, have a good understanding of UX principles, and you likely know a little bit about search engine optimization, or SEO.

You’ve heard of content strategy, but there’s so much to learn. Then a client asks (and therefore makes the case) for the establishment of a content strategy practice, saying, “We hear that content strategy can help us create content that is performance-driven, useful, and reusable. Do you have anyone on your team who can do that for us?”

If you can relate to (or are currently experiencing) the previous scenario—or if you’re a digital creative director, a content manager, or a user experience lead, and you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, take a deep breath, grab your favorite beverage, and settle into your favorite reading spot. There is ground to break and some structures to build. But first, you’ll need to create and review the specs for getting it done.

Power Tools: Resources on the How of Content Strategy

Since you’re reading a book about building a content strategy practice, it’s a safe bet that you’ve either done your research on, or know a thing or two about, what content strategy is, and you have a good idea of how it’s done.

If, however, you’re building a practice while simultaneously learning how to do content strategy, don’t fret! Here’s a short list of books to get you started:

  • The Web Content Strategist’s Bible by Richard Sheffield
  • Content Strategy for the Web (2nd edition) by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach
  • The Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane
  • Content Strategy at Work by Margot Bloomstein
  • The Content Strategy Toolkit by Meghan Casey
  • Writing Is Designing by Michael J. Metts and Andy Welfle
  • Content Design by Sarah Richards
  • Managing Enterprise Content by Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper
  • Content Everywhere by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

The first five books will dive into the “what and how” of content strategy. The next two track the evolution of content design from content strategy, and the last two take a deep dive into “back-
end” content strategy—structuring content intelligently to make it future-ready and device agnostic. You’ll learn more about front-end and back-end content strategy approaches in Chapter 4, “Expansion: Building Up or Building Out.”

Blueprint Components

The second entry in Merriam Webster’s online definition of a blueprint reads, “ . . . something resembling a blueprint (as in serving as a model or providing guidance) especially: a detailed plan or program of action.” It’s that last part—a detailed plan or program of action—that parallels the concept of a blueprint as a tool for providing guidance as you consider the components necessary to build a content strategy practice.

There are five components to the practice building process that I’ve come to call the Content Strategy Practice Blueprint:

  1. Making the business case
  2. Building strong relationships with cross-functional teams
  3. Creating frameworks and curating tools to build with
  4. Rightsizing the practice to meet client or project demand
  5. Establishing meaningful success measures

In this chapter, you’ll learn how each blueprint component will help you build a practice that’s both sustainable and scalable. In subsequent chapters, you’ll learn about the people, procedures, and processes that support these components.

One last thing: Before you break ground, let’s get aligned on the kind of content strategy practice that you’re constructing. While this blueprint could apply to building a variety of practice types, our focus here is specifically about establishing user experience-focused content strategy practices—a practice that has the mission of creating and supporting a brand or organization’s digital experiences and information spaces across digital channels, including websites and mobile apps, and that might extend to include AI, blockchain, and beyond.

Although the work of the practice may well include conducting content inventories and auditing content in social media spaces and on third-party websites, this book is not about content marketing strategy, which focuses on placing branded content (or content created in-house by a brand or organization) on third-party sites, social media, and similar channels.

Making the Business Case

In the building and construction trade, the circumstances that lead to breaking ground on a new building site are many, such as inheriting a new plot of land, or the need for more space, which necessitates acquiring adjacent plots to accommodate growth.

And so it is with building a content strategy practice.

Like a homeowner seeking a real-estate loan to make improvements that add value to a home, you’ll want to show how building a content strategy practice adds value to your agency or organization. That’s why the first component of the practice blueprint is making the business case. As well, every component that follows helps you implement this first step correctly and establish footing that is critical to creating a firm foundation for your practice as you build.

Conversely, there are other times when the business case is made for you. For example, there are creative leaders who realize that a client project—say, a website design—requires more than just a reskin and copy refresh. They know that something more deliberate and permanent is needed to support the sheer amount and types of content necessary to meet the needs of users and achieve the goals of the business, so they search for a content professional who can bring a critical skillset to complement an existing UX team.

Other times, there is a fierce advocate for content strategy of the user experience kind, who is willing to sponsor the establishment (or growth) of a practice that is distinct from marketing content operations a practice that is focused on things like content structure, content hierarchy and the flow of information from one part of the experience to the next, and how things like navigational labels and visual cues help users find what they need and successfully complete tasks. That advocate may have hired a content strategist or two, or elevated an existing, seasoned, UX-leaning digital content pro to transition from content creation to content planning and other strategic functions to begin building out a practice.

Then there are situations where someone within an organization recognizes that adding content strategy to their user experience capabilities provides value to the business, where content is created and maintained as an asset. In this case, once a decision has been made to establish a team or practice, a UX or CX (customer experience) lead, manager, or director is tasked with staffing a content strategy team, and the people who comprise the team may eventually choose to formalize the practice.

No matter which of these scenarios you identify with, take the time to execute on the following steps to establish your footing and make the case for building your practice.

  • Know what you want to build before you break ground. This book is about building a structure, or a practice, in order to house a function, which is known as content strategy. While it’s true that there are overlaps between a team and a practice—and maybe you could argue that you can’t build a practice without a team—you can, in fact, start a practice team of one and expand (or scale) that practice as the demand for content strategy increases.
  • Identify the value proposition that you’ll share with business stakeholders. This step involves communicating the value that the practice brings to your agency or organization, whether it is an expansion of agency capabilities and services you offer to your clients, or, for a midsized or enterprise practice, demonstrating how the practice can foster alignment around the strategic use of content to meet business goals and user needs.
  • Find relevant case studies—or create one from a past client or project. Take this step to show how the establishment of a practice dedicated to delivering sustainable content strategies can make the difference for your clients—internal or external—by introducing repeatable processes for ensuring that content is useful and usable and supports the digital experiences created by your UX team.

So, whether you’re lucky enough to have advocates clamoring for the creation of a content strategy practice that will create, curate and manage content as a vital asset to your agency or organization, or the business case is made for you, taking the time to walk through these three preliminary steps will help you avoid the risk of establishing your practice on an unstable foundation.

Notes from the Field: Making the Case for Content Strategy

Barnali Banerji, Design and Research Manager, McAfee

When Barnali Banerji inherited a legacy team of UX writers (later called content designers) at McAfee, she knew there was a need to introduce content strategy into the mix. “The strategy part was essential because we have very complex apps and complex products that interconnect over different operating systems and different form factors. You need a content strategist who is able to see how to present content in an organized way—how to make content reusable, how to repurpose it, and how to establish consistency.”

In order to differentiate between the types of content roles and the value each one could add, Banerji sought to better understand the role of the content designers on her team. “There was a lot of overlap with product design. So you start to ask, where does product design start? Where does it end? Where does content design start? And what is content design supposed to do?”

“I’ve done a lot of work on mental modeling and top task analysis, and how that reflects the information architecture of a product.” The content designers were adept at storytelling as it related to products and services, but Banerji’s team needed expertise in both areas—content design and content strategy.”

Banerji now has a mix of content disciplines on her team. “In my opinion, content strategy is very different from content design. When you look at strategy, you’re actually talking about how might we present this offering, and how might we scale it? How might we measure that we’re doing the right thing?”

Making the business case for (and showing the value of) content strategy at McAfee was easy to demonstrate for Banerji. “From the front-end perspective, because we have such complex apps, and because there are so many features on those apps which don’t make sense to the user, that’s where content strategy shows up.”

The first content strategist to join Banerji’s team helped to improve the information architecture. They showed how to organize information, and how to surface that information on the front end. The second strategist she hired helped to build a reusable and scalable content management system for their products.

Banerji has plans to add a third strategist to the team as well.

All of the content strategists are loosely embedded in product teams because Banerji wants them to have time for (and control over) being part of content governance discussions and driving more content-related initiatives at the broader level of the organization. “In order to do their best work, content strategists need to have a really good understanding of the business context and the larger product vision.”

Building Strong Relationships with Cross-Functional Teams

While the crafting of content may be a solo endeavor or one that’s relegated to a team of writers, the effort it takes to bring that content to a screen or similar modality doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are many hands that your content must pass through before it becomes part of your digital experience, and the people (and disciplines) that those hands are attached to should be involved in the formation of your practice before you break ground. At the very least, these cross-functional disciplines should include the following:

  • Visual designers
  • User experience/human-centered designers
  • User researchers
  • Information architects
  • Developers/engineers
  • Product owners/managers
  • Project managers

Introducing the concept of the practice and articulating its benefits, especially to the people you collaborate with the most, is a crucial step toward establishing practice longevity. At the early stages, you’ll want to focus your efforts on understanding the functions or disciplines that are a part of your team; on helping every member of the team understand how content strategy will impact their work; and ultimately on helping everyone individually and collectively see the value that a strategic approach to content brings to your combined efforts.

You’ll also want to consult with your colleagues as you begin the work of constructing a process framework. Involving them at this stage not only gets buy-in, but it also creates a sense of co-ownership in the practice. Chapter 2, “Structural Alignment,” takes a closer look at how a content strategy practice can benefit each of the disciplines listed previously and provide you with some conversation starters on specific ways the practice can add value. You’ll also learn what a process framework is and how to create one in Chapter 3.

Creating Frameworks and Curating Tools to Build With

To ensure stability and longevity, every structure, no matter how big or small requires a solid framework to help it stand. From the foundation to the footings, to the columns and beams and walls, every element that comprises a building’s framework, along with the tools used to construct it, contributes to the strength of the structure, allowing it to withstand forces that would otherwise cause it to fail.

It’s the same with the practice you’re building. Creating a process framework—testing it and improving upon it—will help your practice stand strong. More than just a building metaphor, you will learn to create a repeatable framework that considers all the trades (cross-functional disciplines), tools, and elements that contribute to and are impacted by the work of your practice. You’ll “soil test” your framework—meaning that you’ll test the environment you’re building in to ensure that you can create a firm foundation for your practice—with a variety of agency clients or in-house projects to show where you might need to add additional footings to further support the foundation of your practice, all with the goal of avoiding structural failure.

The following elements are critical to this blueprint component:

  • The involvement of and collaboration with cross-functional teammates to establish alignment with the goals of the content strategy practice.
  • The creation of an end-to-end process framework to identify responsibilities, dependencies, and critical handoffs in the development of a website or similar digital experience.
  • The evaluation of a variety of tools to use within your practice at the project or client level to help you find what works best for your agency or organization.

Rightsizing the Practice to Meet Client or Project Demand

After you’ve successfully made the business case for the establishment of your agency or organization’s content strategy practice, your next step is to rightsize the practice to fit demand. Rightsizing can sometimes have negative connotations, such as when an organization has to reduce its workforce to adjust to a downturn in business or market conditions. But in keeping with the building and construction theme, rightsizing in this instance refers to “creating a structure that’s optimized for the size of the agency or organization—and for the number of clients or projects—where the practice is being built.”

Even if there aren’t any immediate projects on your radar, think bigger and consider the potential for future expansion of the structure you’re currently building. This blueprint component requires you to think beyond the current project plans that are right in front of you and to consider how intentionally planning for future expansion can help you sustain practice growth. But how can you do that if the demand for the practice isn’t there yet?

You create it. You use what you have in front of you to show how you’ll grow the practice when the demand comes. Here’s another way to approach it: most content strategy projects begin with a qualitative audit of the current state of the content and with a future state goal (usually informed by product requirements) in mind. If you are adhering to best practices, that future state goal usually includes plans to fill gaps in the content that might occur as a business or brand changes and grows.

You may not currently know what those changes will entail, but it’s reasonable to assume that changes in your business goals will be constant. So you create a core content strategy that considers the content components you’ll need to meet the current requirements, and one that also identifies content elements that may be needed in the future to support growth and change. And you’ll also consider how that content can be structured for reuse across digital platforms.

Additionally, you should consider the people, processes, and tools needed, not only to maintain the core strategy, but also to accommodate change, including the estimated number and types of roles you’ll need to fill, along with the workflows and governance needed to make key content decisions that will undoubtedly impact growth. Since you’re likely already familiar with these processes from the how of content strategy, you can take a similar approach to rightsizing your practice.

If you are a sole practitioner at an agency or looking to rightsize your content operations into a more strategic position by expanding your practice to accommodate growing demand, consider adopting these approaches:

  • Are there current clients or projects you’re involved with that will allow you to demonstrate the benefits of taking a more strategic approach to content? If so, you can turn these projects into test cases by identifying a few quick wins that won’t compromise the timeline as you demonstrate how the practice can scale to take on more work:
    • Take a proactive look at the organization’s content through the lens of a sample inventory and audit (sometimes called a spot audit) and measure that content against attributes that map to future state goals.
    • Conduct a comparative analysis among similar brands or industry peers to identify potential content gaps that you can strategically turn into future content opportunities.
  • If there aren’t any immediate client opportunities for you to work with, find out what’s on tap with potential clients. Determine if there is a chance for you to position content strategy as a value-add and to show how the practice can grow to accommodate more work:
    • If your agency is pitching its services on a rebranding project, ask to review the creative brief with an eye toward understanding why and how the potential client is planning to rebrand. Then do a quick spot audit of content on their website or app to see if current content offerings map to their future state, post-rebrand goals.
    • Determine if there are clients in need of an updated style guide or voice and tone guidelines. These are content deliverables that sometimes get overlooked and a demand that your practice can easily fulfill.

If you’re a solo practitioner or the lone “content person” in a medium-sized organization, or if you’re part of a small content team that wants to begin building a foundation for establishing a practice, the previous approaches can still work for you with a slight change of perspective:

  • First, you’ll be looking at the content as an insider. Hopefully, that means you have access to things like product backlogs and roadmaps to identify upcoming initiatives. You can take a proactive look at the types of content that may be needed to support those initiatives, and you can strategically turn the results of that review into content opportunities to demonstrate value.
  • Second, familiarity with your organization’s content likely means you know a thing or two about the editorial process. Conducting a few informal interviews with content creators, editors, SMEs (subject matter experts), and others involved with this process may reveal gaps or missed steps in that process that you can use to identify opportunities to improve the editorial process within the practice structure.
  • In many organizations, there’s no single source of truth for information on who those content creators, editors, SMEs, and others are. As a result, when the time comes for a site refresh or redesign, or migration to a new content management platform, the content team is left scrambling to figure out who owns what. This situation presents another great opportunity for you to demonstrate how the practice can meet another demand by creating a sample content matrix to show how a tool like this can save time and resources.

Establishing Shared and Meaningful Success Measures

There are several ways to measure the success of a singular content strategy, whether for an agency client or an in-house project. And there are just as many ways to determine whether the content created and curated based on that strategy is delivering against established metrics. Whether you use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), or some other metric du jour, your choices for measuring content effectiveness are many. There are also many ways for you to measure the success of the practice. Working with your client, content lead, or in-house digital experience team, along with product owners or managers and business stakeholders, can help you establish measures that are meaningful to the success of the practice and the overall success of your digital experience team.

Measuring effectiveness at both the project and practice level should:

  • Be collaborative, involving colleagues and partners from multiple disciplines. If at an agency, this collaborative approach can (and should) be introduced to your client(s), and the results should be shared with those on your team who are responsible for delivering success for your client. Or your team can offer to lead a workshop to help clients establish this collaborative approach.
  • Be documented, with the understanding that as business goals, user needs, and technologies change, so too will the things that you or your clients measure and how you measure them. You’ll want to create a living document or repository of documents to track and update success measures as the practice matures.
  • Be shared, not just as a finished artifact that gets circulated among teammates, or delivered to a client, and then shelved or archived never to again see the light of day, but to ensure buy-in and support from other departmental partners, as well as leadership for agency clients and in-house teams alike.

Ultimately, while there is no one single best measure of success for the practice, the measures you choose to gauge practice success depend largely on a few factors:

  • Agency-based or in-house practice: Measures that matter to an agency practice may not apply (or may be unimportant) to an in-house practice within an organization. By the same token, the measures you ultimately decide upon to test the overall success of your practice will determine what measures make sense for your situation.
  • Overarching client or organizational goals: While you can count the construction of your practice as a measure of success, your work doesn’t end when the practice has been built. After the practice is standing and operational, project or client work will likely begin to increase in frequency and intensity as the word gets out that the practice is up and running. That means the success of the practice will be measured by meeting the goals that have been set by your client or dictated by the requirements of the project you’re working on.
  • Quantifiable business goals: These goals track the success of your practice for things that can be counted, usually as an answer to the question “How many?” as in “How many clients have we successfully provided content strategy services to?” or “Of the five most important content strategy initiatives we’ve identified, how many projects have we successfully completed?” Keep in mind that an increase in the number of clients or projects is only a single factor among many to consider as you create and track success measures. You’ll also want to look at whether projects were completed on time and to the satisfaction of the client contract or product brief.
  • Baseline number of clients or projects handled by the practice: You may be tempted to assume that this number will always be zero, but if you’ve applied content strategy how-to to even a portion of a client or in-house project, those efforts count toward the establishment of growth measures, and will show where you are currently as you map out where you want to go in the practice’s future state.

Renovations While Occupied

Chances are, if you work in content at an existing agency or organization, you’re likely working on building a practice while simultaneously taking on your first content strategy project. While
that might sound a bit like living in a house while an addition is being built, a.k.a. renovating while occupied, the truth is that in most cases, you simply can’t avoid it. And that’s OK. It’s how you learn to build resiliency—and the strength and tenacity you create while doing so is how you’ll eventually succeed.

This book is going to guide you as you build the structure where content strategy can happen—a solid container where the work can be done with minimal disruption. You’ll learn the best ways to augment that structure so that the practice can function under different loads, whether at an agency with several clients, or within a medium organization or large enterprise.

You’re also building a practice that invites stakeholders and teammates to co-work with you, both as trusted advisors and SMEs, and when it’s time to hand off to another discipline in the product development process.

Establishing structure or building a practice gets buy-in at the earliest stages. If you decide to scale from a practice of one to a practice of many, you’ll find that having that buy-in from stakeholders and teammates will make it easier to garner support from leadership as the practice grows.

Notes from the Field: Tips for Building a Content Team

Andy Welfle, co-author, Writing Is Designing, Head of Content Design, Adobe

Andy Welfle knows a thing or two about building a UX content strategy practice from the ground up, having grown a team at Adobe from a solo operation to a team of ten, all without the benefit of a blueprint or guide. “I probably could have ramped up a lot faster if I had a book that talked about some of the common scenarios and things to look for.”

Welfle had given little thought to organizational structure before joining Adobe. “I wasn’t prepared for the open-endedness and ambiguity of everything.” He soon figured out that work structure matters. “Who you report to and who your boss reports to sets you up for success—or failure.”

Among the many books that have been written about organizational structure, Welfle wished there was one for content teams—especially teams that sit within a larger design org—and one that addresses typical organization structures and their strengths and weaknesses. “I was really lucky that I had a boss who let me figure things out and empowered me to say no to certain things.”

Welfle was the lone content strategist among some 200 designers and 30 researchers. So knowing when to say no—and that it was OK to do so—was of particular importance to his personal well-being. Trying to be everything to everyone simply wasn’t sustainable. “I definitely burnt myself out.”

His boss suggested finding a product team to embed in and told Welfle that he wasn’t expected to help everyone. “But I would get Slack messages from everyone looking for help. And I didn’t want to say no. I wanted to show my value far and wide.”

Getting product stakeholders to understand what he did and how his work added value took some work. “I tried, through a lot of trial and error, to get them to understand what I did and show my value as a content strategist. Some of it was hands-on explaining ‘I’m going to help you through some of these content problems.’ And some of it was just presenting a slide deck.”

The need for establishing boundaries—and defining what kind of services were provided within those boundaries—became clear as the team grew. “Pretty early on we started doing office hours. It was really useful, not in solving actual problems, but for understanding the bigger problem space, to see trends and problems across products, and for building relationships. If I gave the perception of being accessible, people were a lot friendlier and willing to talk about that stuff. It worked out really well for me.”

Welfle has spoken about his practice-building experience at conferences and meetups and has developed a list of six tips for growing a content team (see Figure 1.2). They’re complementary to the practice blueprint outlined in this chapter, and they’ll be useful to you as you’re making the business case for building your content strategy practice.

Figure 1.2

Andy Welfle’s six tips for growing a content team are a useful addition to your toolbox and will be quite valuable as you are making the business case for building your content strategy practice.

Notes from the Job Site: A Practice in Need of a Plan

I’ve been herding digital content for nearly two decades, and even now, I’m still surprised at how many content strategists I’ve spoken with who can relate to starting out as the lone “content person” at some time in their career, evolving from solo web copywriters to growing or being a part of a team of content strategists.

Still, as this book started to come together, I wondered if my experience was more of an edge case. I mean, I knew how to make sense of smaller companies and agencies that lacked the resources to invest in building a content strategy practice. I could see how some didn’t understand how establishing such a practice would level up their content creation and curation game—or that of their clients—while enhancing their organizations’ user experience offerings.

And even though more and more books about the importance of the work and how to do it were being published with increasing frequency (in answer to an increasing industry demand), when it came time to stand up a practice—a figurative structure where the work gets done—there weren’t many resources.

For example, when I first joined the agency where I stood up my first practice, I had to learn the hard way how to introduce the work to the staff UX lead. In my desire to do a good job, I inadvertently stepped on toes, and had to figure out, through trials and many, many errors, how to introduce content strategy—and by extension, the content strategy practice we’d eventually build together—to my cross- functional teammates.

I also had to learn how to articulate the value of the practice with everyone from designers to developers, to project managers and product owners, in a way that broke down potential barriers and built strong partnerships that helped the practice grow and thrive as an integral part of the agency’s user experience capabilities.

But just because I was eventually able to get most of my colleagues on board, the work of building the practice was far from done. Like a builder with approved plans, I still had to figure out what materials I’d need to complete the practice-building process. I needed the frameworks and tools to create a firm foundation for building the practice, as well as success measures that I could point to as indicators of bringing value to the agency and its clients.

It wasn’t until I moved to a larger organization with a similar practice- building goal that I began to document what worked (and what didn’t) and to figure out if it could be scaled to fit a larger organization.

This book is the blueprint I wish I had access to years ago.

Persistent Principles to Remember Along the Journey

Wherever you are in your practice-building journey, you’ll find it helpful to remember these principles along the way:

  • You will always be called on to educate (or re-educate) clients, stakeholders, and team members about the value that the practice brings to your digital experience capabilities.
  • You should always keep goals and success measures in mind as the scope of your projects—and the potential impact of the practice—evolves and changes.
  • You’ll find peace in knowing that you are not alone. There is a vibrant community of authors and experienced practitioners who have years of experience and lots and lots of stories to share.

The Punch List

There’s a lot of information here for you to process, and there’s even more actionable information to follow. For now, grasping these takeaways will prepare you for expanding your practice-building knowledge and skills, and set you up for success as you make your way through subsequent chapters:

  • There are only five components to the Content Strategy Practice Blueprint. All five steps are integral to building a practice that can withstand stressors like tension and compression from outside of your practice structure. The order of the components (and the steps and guidelines within them) are important, too, but the main takeaway here is, even if you have to change the order of things, don’t skip a component.
  • The work of content strategy isn’t “one and done,” nor is the construction of the practice where that work happens. Just as a newly constructed building needs maintenance and repair to prevent structure failure, your practice will need similar attention to prevent its failure, too. Collaborating with cross-functional teammates, product owners and managers, and stakeholders to get buy-in and gain alignment will help you build resiliency and resistance to structure failure.
  • Remember the persistent principles: Always educate, always highlight the practice goals, and always, always remember you are not alone. Your practice will always be stress tested, because things will get tough, no matter how hard you work to maintain your practice structure.

As an author and fellow practitioner, I’ve got you. And as a member of a generous community of passionate content strategy practitioners, we’ve got you. And you—yes you in the hard hat holding the blueprint and wondering what to do next—you’ve got this, too. Now let’s learn the tools and tactics you’re going to need to lay a strong foundation for your practice.

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