The task of pricing content might seem arbitrary, but getting it wrong carries significant risk for your content marketing agency.
Charge too much, and your clients won’t have enough remaining budget to be successful. Charge too little, and you’ll devalue your worth and set unreasonable expectations.
The key question to ask yourself isn’t what you should be charging (though I’ll address this below) but rather how you should be pricing your content services. There’s a big difference.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that content — despite what many proclaim — is not a commodity. Behind every blog post, whitepaper, or case study is a system of people and processes designed to ensure long-term value and ROI.
There’s strategy, interviews, ideation, edits, distribution, and measurement, to name a few.
All of this must be factored into your pricing model, as it is part of your cost structure.
Content Pricing: Fatal Flaws
In my time at nDash (which started as content agency then pivoted into a content community platform), I’ve seen a lot of agencies lose a lot of business by failing to price accordingly. The biggest mishaps can generally be categorized as follows:
- Siloed Services: Where content is priced separate from strategy, design, social media, and other ancillary services. This makes content an a la carte item separate from the core service offering.
- Lack of Upside: Where all clients are charged the same amount for content, regardless of their requirements and (more importantly) their respective budgets, leading to slim margins.
- Content Cadence: Where content is delivered infrequently in terms of volume and inconsistently in terms of quality, leading to increased churn.
Conversely, I’ve also seen a fair share of agencies grow their operations with a content-first approach They’re just the opposite in that they incorporate a regular cadence and value-based pricing as part of highly structured, ongoing retainers.
Case Study: The Credit System for Content Services
How does this look in reality? Let’s focus on one example of an agency that used a credit-based system.
In this system, as part of the retainer agreements, clients purchased a set number of “credits” per month, with credit values assigned to different deliverables. For instance:
- Short blog (500-800 words): 3 credits
- Long blog (800-1100 words): 5 credits
- Whitepaper (2500-3000 words): 15 credits
- Website page: 3 credits
- Email: 2 credits
- Case study: 5 credits
- Sales collateral (2 pages): 5 credits
This approach set up both the client and the agency for long-term success in several ways:
- Flexibility: Each month, the client and agency would decide how the credits would be allocated. So instead of asking the client to commit to a rigid retainer (i.e. 5 blogs, 2 case studies, 1 whitepaper, etc.), they were both free to strategize on a monthly basis and set priorities accordingly.
- Commitment: Though it was a flexible model, it also forced the client to maintain a consistent publishing cadence, which then amplified all of the other services the agency offered. Content is the foundation of all successful marketing programs, and the commitment here ensured that the client ended up realizing these benefits.
- Value: While the number of credits remained fixed for most clients, the price per credit did not; it was negotiated on a client-by-client basis. Enterprise brands would pay a higher cost per credit, while smaller startups would generally pay less, putting into play the concept of value-based pricing and enabling the agency to deploy resources accordingly.
Perhaps the key advantage for the agency was that the price per credit factored in all the other services that come with content creation.
Instead of pricing credits equal to the deliverable, they were priced according to their overall value provided by the agency.
This is only one example of a system that works, but any approach that meets these key criteria will end up mutually beneficial for both your agency and your client base.
Your Cost of Content
Now comes the tricky part: In order to provide content in a profitable, scalable, and sustainable way, you need to have a firm grasp on the factors that affect the cost of delivery. This includes:
- Workload: How much of the writing will be done with in-house writers versus freelancers? Your in-house resources come at a fixed cost but often get overwhelmed with bandwidth. Freelancers come at a variable cost but can be expensive if overused. In both cases, you need to know the unit economics of delivery, which should improve over time.
- Expertise: Does your writer need to be a subject matter expert with 10 years of experience in your client’s industry? Or should he or she be a generalist who’s able to craft content based on interviews and background materials? These are two very different writers who come with very different price points.
- Volume: Is your client expecting four blogs per month or four blogs per day? The amount of content being generated will likely affect the price for clients (in the form of volume discounts), so make sure your writing team is still able to deliver in a cost-efficient manner.
- Process: Does a piece of content go through two revisions or 20? The more streamlined you can make content delivery, the more you’ll save as an agency (and vice versa). This is by far the most overlooked aspect of content pricing and profitability. Make sure it’s in the contracts.
Although you’ll eventually have to settle on a dollar amount (both with your costs and the client’s), it’s far more important to understand these factors before you begin selling content services.
Price Your Content Services Effectively
Ultimately, the cost (and price) of content all comes down to how well your clients understand its value.
If they see content merely as words on a page, it will be reflected in the price. If they see content as a core part of their ability to grow as a brand, then the prices will be higher, but everyone will be much happier as a result.
About the Author
Stephanie Roulic is the co-founder and head of customer success at nDash.co, the world’s first open content community platform. When she's not growing nDash, you can find her planning events for Boston's startup community.