The new SharpSpring Agency Growth Series features a curated lineup of some of the top influencers in digital marketing. We could not be more excited about the awesome group of great minds we were lucky enough to pull together for this fun and informative agency-focused series.

The free series is made up of 14 unique web sessions, all with a livestream Q&A segment, and all focused on helping agencies accelerate their growth.

Sessions feature digital marketing superstars speaking candidly about the industry topics they know best and are most passionate about. And we want to make sure to share the love – so, in addition to providing recordings of the sessions and live Q&As, we’ll also be posting key takeaways here following each session.

Here’s a look at some favorite key takeaways pulled from our recent Agency Growth Series session “How to Create Ridiculously Good Content” with writer, digital marketing pioneer, and Wall Street Journal best-selling author, Ann Handley.

Ann Handley on what makes up “ridiculously good content”

It’s content that has clear utility. It’s useful to the people you want to connect with. It’s inspired in some ways by data or by creativity, or both. And it has honest empathy for the person that you are trying to connect with. And that’s what is ridiculously good content. Is it useful? Is it inspired in some way? Is it grounded in data? Is it creative? Could it only come from me? And is it truly useful for the person on the other end? Is it truly useful for the person you’re trying to connect with?

Ann Handley on the skills really needed to create great content

I don’t think you need special skills. I do think that you need to care. I mean, I know that sounds so fundamental. But by that I mean you truly have to love the product or service or whatever it is that you’re marketing. And secondly, you truly have to believe in it and believe in its usefulness to the audience, to the market, to the people who matter. And so I think those two elements are really important.

And basically having some empathy for others in the sense of thinking about not just what is important to you, but what would matter to other people. I think that’s very important, too. But, yeah I think, honestly, that anybody can do it. I don’t think you have to be a good writer to be a good content creator.

Ann Handley on finding your voice

I mean, I’m always finding my voice. My voice changes all the time in the sense that I think it gets better. I can’t say it gets worse because that’s just…that would be depressing. It would be terrible. But I do think that my voice, as I have stepped into it more as a creator, it’s definitely, I’ve honed it over time.

But that doesn’t mean that you find your voice and then you’re done. I think you always are finding your voice. Like right now, in this world that we find ourselves doing business in, right? We’re in the midst of a pandemic, a worldwide pandemic. And that’s changed my voice, too. I used to create content for professionals, right? I used to think about the people that I was creating content for, and I would think about empathy for professionals. What are they struggling with in their roles, for example. And what the pandemic has taught me is that it actually makes me think about the mindset of people personally, as well.

So it’s not just what they struggle with professionally, but it’s also how are people feeling? Like we’re all feeling a little uncertain, for example, right? We’re all not knowing exactly how this is going to play out. There’s just tremendous fear. And so that alone just makes me, it affects my voice because it makes me that much more empathetic.

Ann Handley on empathy

I think it starts with the pitch. It’s like, frame your products and your services, not in terms of your own capabilities, but how those capabilities matter to the client, right? How they matter to others. And that’s a trap that I think a lot of us in content marketing fall into, too. And I get it because we feel so capable. We feel like we’re so excited by our own stuff, our own products and services and who we are that we forget that we need to translate it. We need to make that leap and translate it for the client and say, here’s why it matters. Here’s why it matters to you.

Making sure that you are honestly empathetic in that pitch and that you’re going that extra mile and saying, here’s why. Here’s what we can do for you. Here’s our capabilities and how they will help you, which I know sounds super fundamental in some ways. Maybe too elemental in some ways. But I honestly, in my experience working with agencies, it’s like that’s just the step that can really make the difference between a mediocre pitch and an outstanding one.

Ann Handley on the short-term & the long-term

Think about whatever program that you’re putting out there as both short-term and long-term. And again, this is something that I firmly believe in for marketing in general, as well. But any short-term action, make sure you’ve married it with, or buddied it up with, a long-term growth, as well.

So don’t just think about your content marketing programs that you are connecting to clients with as having just a short-term implication, but really put it in a bigger context. Talk about how that short-term program ultimately drives long-term growth. And the reason why I believe so firmly in that is, I do think it forces us as marketers to not just think about the quick wins. Right? Think about the easy optimizations, but also to think long-term about how do we actually build brand value for our clients.

Ann Handley on the power of email newsletters

As much as I appreciate social media and the ability to connect with people there and understand what’s on there, what’s on their minds and what matters to marketing, in 2020, I just missed that direct access, that direct connection. So two years ago I thought, all right, what am I going to do about that? What can I do? I can start, I don’t know, a live video show. I could start a YouTube channel, I could do any number of things, an Instagram feed. But I decided to do an email newsletter, number one because I’m a writer, and secondly, because I started to rethink how we use the email newsletter.

In my mind, I think the email newsletter is vastly undervalued by most B2B companies, by most companies just in general. I think we tend to use it as a distribution strategy instead of really embracing it as an opportunity to connect directly with one person at one time. And we see examples of this all the time where a lot of brands are just sort of undervaluing that and using it as distribution. And the second reason why I believe so strongly in the email newsletter is because email is the only place where people and not algorithms are deciding what they see. 

Ann Handley on why there’s no “boring” subject matter

I feel like when people say that their content is dry or the subject matter is dry, that is such a copout! Because I think that, you know, it’s valuable to the right person. It’s valuable to somebody. And whether you think of it as dry or not, there’s a way to wrap it, to package it, to talk about it, that makes it interesting.

Whether that means tapping into your own passion for the subject or whether you need to pull it out of subject matter experts within your own organization or external influencers or other subject matter experts, like, it doesn’t matter. But I think any subject, I firmly believe, can feel special, can feel interesting and so, you know, “boring”, I just don’t buy. 

Ann Handley on words vs. pictures

I think both are important! I mean, yes, I am a words person. But I’m also a visual person. Instagram is my favorite social platform of all time, even after it was acquired by Facebook. I still really love Instagram. And why do I love it? It’s because the power of the visual is so important. But it’s even more powerful when you match that visual with some great copy, with some great words. When you tell a bit of a story around the visual. And so it’s the connection of those two things together that I think makes for really, really solid content.

I don’t think it’s a binary question like “are you a words person or are you a visual person?” I mean, we are complex creatures. We can hold both inside ourselves and be okay with it. And I think it’s very true of marketing, as well.

If you’re looking to watch Ann Handley’s full-length Agency Growth Series session, you can find the recording on our website right now!

And, if you missed any of our previous Agency Growth Series sessions, you can easily check them all out right here:

Optimize Conversion Rates for Clients with Neil Patel

Positioning Your Agency with David C. Baker 

Turning Conversations into Clients with Tom Martin

Driving Momentum for Your Agency and Your Clients with Shama Hyder

How Agencies Can Successfully Sell in 2020 and Beyond with Drew McLellan

What SMBS Want From Agencies with Chris Brogan

Influencer Marketing & SEO with Rand Fishkin

Grow & Scale Your Agency with Jason Swenk

SEO for Agencies with Ann Smarty

It’s not too late to sign up for all of the rest of our Agency Growth Series sessions and catch top influencers Karl Sakas and Seth Godin. See you there!

Rebecca Wentworth