How to Succeed as a Content Team of One

Many of the content marketers we talk to operate as a content team of one.

They share a common backstory: as companies scale, engineering is the first team to grow, followed by sales. Marketing lags behind, quite significantly, so there are lots of big, rapidly growing companies still staffed by skeleton marketing teams. Even in well-resourced marketing teams, content is often a lonely department of one.

Content teams of one can still produce incredible work—they just need to be smart about it.

I chatted to a handful of the best solo marketers and content marketers I know—Maria Barrera (head of marketing at ChartHop), Emily Byford (content marketing manager at SaaStock), and Ash Read (editorial director at Buffer)—to get their advice for succeeding as a content team of one.

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1. Prioritize Ruthlessly

Emily captured the core challenge shared by everyone I spoke with: “My resource and my time is the blocker on quite a few projects. There’s only so much I can write in one week!”

As a content team of one, you serve the needs of an entire company: marketing, sales, customer success, product—you name it. Left unchecked, requests for content will fill your entire bandwidth. You must prioritize ruthlessly.

“My resource and my time is the blocker on quite a few projects. There’s only so much I can write in one week!”

Emily Byford, SaaStock

Evaluate Every Request by Your KPIs

Ash sets clear performance metrics for every content channel and evaluates every request through that lens.

Having a fair, unbiased rubric for evaluating ideas makes it easier to make decisions without relying on personal preference: if a request for content is unlikely to move a KPI, it doesn’t make the cut.

Ash shares:

At Buffer, we don't just have content, we have various content properties, and the way we use each of them is very different. . . . The best example of this is our content library, which is our house for SEO content. And the goal we have for that is just increasing opportunities for Buffer to be discovered. And that focus means we won't do anything that doesn't impact that goal.”

Pursue High-Impact Content

Not all content is created equal. Ash, Emily and Maria all recommend focusing on the content types with the biggest, most tangible impact, whether on traffic, lead volume, or closed deals.

As Maria explains, this can mean cutting content that you’re personally excited about in favor of content that serves the business:

“As a marketing team of one, what I had to do for myself is be extremely ruthless around my time . . . even though there's things that I really want to do, they're not necessarily things I should do.”

Write Less, Research More

Writing isn’t always the best use of your time. Maria shared that content creation can create a dopamine hit—a sense of tangible accomplishment—that often dissuades marketers from pursuing harder, less tangible and more important activities, like content strategy.

Having the greatest impact with your content often requires getting off the content creation treadmill, and prioritizing work in other areas.

Emily realized that her time would be better spent promoting content instead of creating it. Ash is particularly cognizant of the importance of research for creating credible content:

“Content is so much better when it's firsthand data or firsthand stories. And as a team of one, that can be hard to prioritize. For the study I'm working on, I need 10 experts to come in and comment on their opinions. . . . I want someone to be able to speak specifically, and not rely on me interpreting their problem.”

“Content is so much better when it's firsthand data or firsthand stories. And as a team of one, that can be hard to prioritize.”

Ash Read, Buffer

Done Is Better Than Perfect

While Ash and Emily both operate within a larger marketing team, Maria is ChartHop’s sole marketer, responsible for the entire gamut of the company’s marketing operations.

With so many demands on her time, she recommends adopting the Pareto principle:

“There are certain types of content that need to be really well done, at a hundred percent quality. And there might be others that don’t need to be, that might be more of an 80% . . . being okay with that differentiator is key, especially when you're a team of one and you just need to pump stuff out.”

In practice, Maria’s publishing schedule is one place she’s willing to be flexible, choosing to pursue topical, timely content instead of sticking to a rigid weekly cadence:

We're informal about the blog calendar. . . . It doesn't matter right now. We have to prioritize the biggest ROI activity for that week.”

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2. Lean on Your Team

As a content team of one, there’s an understandable drive to shoulder the entire burden of content. But Ash, Maria, and Emily have all found ways to lean on their teams for support, peer review, and mentorship.

As Ash points out, running content solo can be detrimental to the end product:

“Last year I was working on a podcast series called Breaking Brand . . . and it got to the point where I realized, I've done the interviews, I've come up with the messaging, the branding, I've written the landing page copy, and no one else has touched it. And I was just like, this isn't okay!”

Source Ideas from the Rest of the Company

Everyone I spoke with had a process for sourcing content ideas from the rest of their team.

Ash has an open-ended “Ideas” section in Trello that he describes as a “free for all”—anyone can, and should, share their ideas. Emily has a weekly marketing and sales meeting that her team uses to keep aligned and to brainstorm new ideas. Maria uses Slack to take the pulse of the sales team and shares recordings from support calls to brainstorm new content ideas:

“We have a Slack channel for content marketing ideas. So when they talk to clients or when, you know, they come across something in their own lives, they're like, 'Hey, this would be a really good blog post.' . . . I'll listen to a lot of Gong recordings from our customer success team and use that for inspiration.”

Get Feedback on Your Content

As a solo marketer, it’s usually necessary to write, edit, and copyedit your own work.

In an effort to inject some outside perspective and peer review into their work, Maria, Emily, and Ash all solicit regular feedback from their team—albeit in slightly different ways.

Ash shares drafts with a couple of teammates and, eventually, wants to build a process akin to that of Buffer’s design team: “Our designers have peer reviews and design reviews where they just get together and share their latest designs and kind of critique each other . . . I think that really helps.”

Emily often solicits help from subject-matter experts: “I'll show it to people who have more knowledge in a specific area to be like, have I missed anything? Have I made any factual errors?”

For ChartHop’s latest article series on diversity, equity, and inclusion, Maria took an especially rigorous approach to peer review:

“I had at least two people review it internally who have a pretty good eye for typos or grammar . . . And then I actually sourced from a couple of friends who are more involved in the DEI space, too, to get a deeper sense of, okay, does this work? Does any wording rub people the wrong way?”

As Maria explains, this outside perspective is often more useful than internal feedback from your team:

“Leveraging friends and peers that may not have all the context on your company . . . can actually be a better proxy for how the audience would react.”

Maria Barrera, ChartHop

Find Leverage Through Agencies and Contractors

As a content team of one, time is your biggest constraint.

Maria solves for this by partnering with specialized agencies and contractors, outsourcing crucial-but-time-consuming parts of her workflow—content design, and the creation of search-optimized content—to specialized agency teams:

“I love playing around on Sketch and designing things, but that's something that takes up a lot of time and I can easily give that to our agency . . . Because that's my biggest constraint, figuring out how I can gain leverage through different agencies or contractors is key.”

3. Do What Big Content Teams Can’t

Being a content team of one isn’t all stress and brutal prioritization.

Sometimes, what feels like a weakness in one moment can become a strength in another. Solo marketers can experiment more, gain exposure to a broad cross-section of skills, and, ultimately, breathe life into their own unique vision for content marketing.

Experiment More, Iterate Faster

Being part of a big content team provides more resources, but it also introduces more bureaucracy and more barriers to experimentation (in some cases, even hamstringing traffic growth).

Maria places huge value on her freedom to quickly iterate and pivot, especially for creating topical content in response to changing social media trends:

“The feedback loops are much shorter. . . . I can very be very nimble, right? If a conversation on Twitter turns to something completely different, I can adjust very quickly. Whereas, with a bigger team, it will take more time to execute.”

Get Wide Exposure and Level-Up Your Career

The broad responsibilities of a content team of one can translate into accelerated career development and new skills.

As Ash explains, “You have a lot of the time to work on strategy and produce content. It's hard to balance both, but there's a real chance for career growth. I think when you're in a team of, say, 20 writers, making the jump up to editor might take longer. But when you're forced to edit your own stuff or change the strategy, there are career opportunities to level up.”

Emily has felt this acutely since stepping into her new role at SaaStock. Because her boss—the company’s head of marketing—is busy with meetings and strategic decision-making, Emily has found herself stepping into the breach and offering support to the wider team:

“I realized that I'm the next port of call. . . . That's cool.”

Emily Byford, SaaStock

Bring Your Vision to Life

Ash and Emily feel like custodians of their companies’ narrative and tone of voice.

As Emily explains, “As a content marketing team of one, it's so much easier to have a consistent tone of voice across all of your content.

This extends to the broader vision and narrative for content—instead of subjecting every style decision to a death-by-a-thousand-cuts style process of dilutive review, you can ensure that every article supports a single, clear narrative.

Ash shares:

“Narrative is something that is always in the back of my mind as we kind of go from idea to production. Does this align with the story we want to tell in the world? Because if not, we probably shouldn't cover it. . . . We don't want to be everything to everyone.”

4. Be Realistic About What You Can Achieve

As Ash explains, it’s not always possible to create everything you’d like to—and that’s okay:

“We know data studies are really good for us at Buffer. . . . They generate thousands of backlinks and lots of long-term traffic. I've had one in my drafts since February that is like 80%. . . . Just because something doesn't get done doesn't mean it's a bad idea. Sometimes you have to kill good ideas.”

It’s tempting to look to the likes of Intercom and First Round Review for inspiration, but the output of big content teams is rarely a helpful benchmark for solo marketers.

Emily has felt the implicit pressure of looking to other companies for inspiration. She wrapped up our conversation with sage advice:

I think one thing I've really felt right now is the feeling that you should be doing something better . . . but it's worth remembering that they're a 400-, 500-person company. They have more people in their content team than we do in our entire company.”

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