Content Strategy for Startups: 8 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Agency


Oren Todoros

Like many brand owners and CMOs, you want to create a cohesive content strategy that helps guide your brand forward. But how do you evaluate potential partners in your ecosystem who can help deliver on building and executing a solid strategy? With everything happening so quickly in digital marketing, it’s difficult to tell which agencies and vendors have the expertise to work with you and which ones are just hyping up their capabilities. Hopefully, this article will help you make the right decision. 

Here are eight key questions to ensure you evaluate a partner that will help deliver relevant, engaging content and a content marketing strategy built on data and insight.

1. What sets you apart from your competitors?

Asking about their competitors helps you understand if the agency has a clear sense of what sets them apart. An agency should have a clearly defined value proposition, which gives you insight into the kind of work and how they position themselves in the market. By asking what makes them unique, you can determine how well they know themselves as an organization and whether or not they’re able to differentiate themselves from other agencies and businesses in your industry.

2. What types of clients do you work with?

Having a firm grasp of a specific industry knowledge doesn’t make or break a hiring decision. It’s just one of many factors to consider. If a client hasn’t had experience in the field, they should offer up some legitimate tools and data-driven strategies. The demand for content is high, and quality ranks over quantity, so their explanation is essential.

  • How does the agency’s experience fit with your industry?
  • What is the size and scope of their work?
  • Do they work with companies similar to yours?
  • Do they have experience with your business goals?

3. How would you describe your company’s culture?

Culture is not just a buzzword — it’s a powerful indicator of an agency’s success and yours. For example, if one company tells you they are collaborative, but every person on their team works remotely, that raises some red flags. You want to understand that collaboration is part of the content strategy DNA and not just a nice-sounding word they use in interviews or on their “About Us” page.

Here are some questions to ask to get clarity around culture:

  • How do you build rapport with clients?
  • Can you give me an example of how your team collaborated on a project?
  • Who makes decisions at your company? How do decisions get made?
  • Do you have any examples of how your culture helped solve problems for clients or internally?

4. Do you have a content capabilities statement that outlines what services you can provide?

A capability statement outlines what an agency or content service provider can offer potential clients and provides the essential details to help them decide whether to do business. It can also be used to open doors to new suppliers. Capability statements could be a couple of paragraphs through to several pages – depending on where and how it’s used.

If the agency can’t provide a capabilities statement or seems confused about what you’re talking about, run. This is one of the easiest and most fundamental ways to vet a content agency.

5. Can we talk to your references?

You will want to talk with the agency’s current and past clients. This step is imperative, as it can help you determine if the agency is a good fit for your needs. You’ll also get valuable information about what it’s like to work with them.

The references should be able to speak to:

  • Their experience working with a content strategy agency (e.g., how much time they spent onboarding, how many meetings they had, who was involved in their project)
  • How they met their business goals (e.g., number of new leads generated by content on their website)
  • What the process was like working with their project team (e.g., communication style, frequency of updates)

6. Do you have a questionnaire or a similar process that would help us work more efficiently?

Questions are a natural part of any consultation, especially when determining whether your business should work with a content agency. But the questions that you ask can be as important as the answers you receive.

To help guide your thinking, consider asking:

  • Do you have a questionnaire or a similar process that would help me and you get to know each other better?
  • What types of questions will I be asked?
  • What will I learn about the agency through this process?

A good questionnaire or consultation process is designed to help both parties know each other more thoroughly. The more information that an agency has about your company’s content marketing goals, challenges, and opportunities, the better they will understand what success looks like for your organization. This helps inform how they can create content practices tailored specifically to your needs. At its best, it’s also an opportunity to make sure their services are right for you and vice versa.

7. How much will it cost to work with your team, how many people are on the team, and what are their roles? (SEO strategist, copywriter, graphic designer, etc.)

You want to know how much you’ll be paying the agency, how long the project will take, and what you’re getting for your money. You also want to know who will be working on your business!

While it’s understandable that some content agencies don’t have a set rate for every client, most do have an idea of what it’ll take to get the job done based on past projects. Make sure they can give you a ballpark estimate.

A typical content strategy team consists of a strategist, writer, designer, and SEO specialist—but if their team is smaller or larger than this, make sure you understand why.

You should also ask about deliverables and when you can expect them to gauge overall progress on the project. Lastly, make sure it’s clear how long the contract lasts before asking any questions about renewing it in the future.

8. How do you define success for your clients? (Hint: They should be able to answer in terms of business goals and audience needs.)

How the agency answers this question will tell you how they think about success and how well-aligned they are with your goals. Success should be defined in terms of business goals and audience needs, not just meeting deadlines and budgets. 

Good agencies know that their work is done only when it solves a real problem for their customers. For example, one agency defines success as “Improvements to a site’s traffic levels, conversion rates, or click-throughs resulting from content. Another goal might be audience growth or increased customer loyalty, trust, or advocacy because of the quality and usefulness of the content. There’s no one size fits all in terms of customer success.

In short, developing a strong content marketing strategy is a considerable undertaking and will require the right partner to guide you along the way. So when you’re looking for a good fit, make sure to ask these questions in your interviews.

Quick Takeaways before you hire a content strategy agency

  • Tell me about your company culture.
  • What are your agency’s specialties?
  • How much do you charge for content strategy services?
  • What’s the agency process when working with clients?
  • Can you give me some references I can talk to?
  • What sets your agency apart from other agencies in success and client satisfaction?
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