A statement of work (SoW) is one of the most crucial documents developed at the start of a project. Typically, SoWs are agreements between agencies and clients, although there are plenty of compelling reasons to develop a SoW at the start of any project – whether internally or between third parties. Why? It’s the guiding document that sets expectations and outlines objectives, deliverables, processes, the budget, a timeline, and metrics or measurements to be used to gauge success or failure. While a creative brief outlines the requirements for a specific brand asset or deliverable (or set of deliverables), a SoW offers a broader overview of a complete project from start to finish.
It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s time well spent that will save you many headaches down the road. A SoW can be the saving grace in avoiding scope creep and it helps to keep everyone on the same page as far as deadlines, deliverables, and what’s expected of each party. For instance, if one party is waiting on approval before the next phase of the project can begin, the whole project timeline may be derailed. By being able to refer back to the SoW, an agency can easily point out that the specified timeline was contingent on the client holding up their end of the bargain – as in, approving the things that need to be approved (or offering the necessary feedback for revisions) to keep the project moving forward.
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To reap the benefits of a SoW, it must be properly detailed and covering all the necessary bases. Too often, content marketing teams make common mistakes when generating a SoW that lead to frustrations midway through a project. To learn more about these mistakes, we reached out to a panel of content marketing pros and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the biggest mistake content marketing teams make in generating a statement of work (and how can they avoid it)?”
Read on to find out what our experts had to say about the most common (and most serious) mistakes content marketing teams make when it comes to statements of work and what you should do to avoid making similar mistakes.
Erik J. Olson, CEO of Array Digital
“Don’t rely on the client…”
Early on, we would rely on our clients to draft articles which we’d edit and SEO, then publish. Inevitably, clients either wouldn’t write the articles or be late, jeopardizing the timelines and frequencies we had promised.
Several times we jumped in and wrote the pieces for them. That was a mistake.
Now we include content creation in our pricing to all clients. Whenever content is needed we interview the client, create the content, and give them a window of time to review it. If they don’t provide feedback by the deadline then the piece still goes out on time. Deadlines are deadlines.
Stephen Hart, Founder of Cardswitcher
“Failing to specify how many revisions are included in the work…”
Forgetting to specify how many times your client can request changes to your work can end up costing your content marketing team a lot of time and effort in the long-term, potentially leaving you open to working for free for a client. It always makes sense to plan for the client requesting changes to the content that has been produced, so factor these into your statement of work by providing a certain number of revisions for free, and then specifying that any extra ones will need to be paid for.
Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics
“Keep your mission in focus…”
A statement of work is goal-oriented, which means that the essence of what the work is trying to accomplish can easily get lost in the shuffle. For instance, the content marketing team might list “growing the number of
social media followers” as its purpose, but that does not really capture the spirit of how this should get done. The team should therefore consider things from a different perspective. For instance, it should focus on humanizing the brand, which will help the public connect with their products and services, and consequently encourage more people to follow their pages.
Sadi Khan, Content Marketing Manager at RunRepeat.com
“One common mistake is using technical terminology or ambiguous language when describing deliverables…”
They do it to save time or close the deal, but it will backfire once you actually start to work on the project. Make sure you are using clear language and leaving no ambiguity when talking about the deliverables. This is the most crucial part of a SoW and all parties must be absolutely clear about deliverables.
Another common mistake is that many content marketing teams include the deliverables but not procedures. It is important to include procedures and internal/external standards that will simplify the process like draft submission, change requests, or final approval.
Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva
“Content marketing teams which commit themselves to…”
An absolute number of leads/conversions/revenue generated are making a huge mistake. Your content can be out of this world stellar, but how do you know if your client is going to deliver on their end? Once you submit the content/copy (and work through feedback iterations), your client still needs to upload and promote the piece. Never underestimate the power of promotion – if the piece never gets off your client’s site, how can your team hope to deliver on promises of leads, conversions, or revenue?
How to avoid this trap? Make sure that your client gives you authority to work on the back end and promotion (and include that budget in your proposal), or steer well clear of promising anything outside of impeccable copy/content delivered to the client.
Matthew Ross, Co-Owner and COO of RIZKNOWS and The Slumber Yard
“Never place a guarantee or estimate in a SOW in terms of viewership or engagement…”
There’s just no positives that can come from placing an expected minimum on views or impressions for a piece of content. It only inflates the other company’s expectations.
We’ve learned that the hard way. On a previous project, we guaranteed a brand that the sponsored video would receive 50K views and when it didn’t, they refused to pay. As such, our new policy is to stay away from guaranteeing views, sales, or impressions.
Briana Marie, Founder & Content Marketing Manager at Tanzek Media
“One of the biggest mistakes that I have seen content marketing teams make when generating a statement of work is that..”
They try to outline a single statement for an entire long-term project. Larger projects should first be broken down into different stages, and then a statement of work should be prepared for each of the stages.
You can be more specific and focused in the plan that you outline when you’re looking at a project in terms of its various phases.
Zach Watson, Director of Content at DePalma Studios
“The biggest mistake in generating an SOW for content work is…”
Not including constraints for the amount of work you’re signing up for. While content is in production, the measure of its quality is subjective. There’s no data yet to support one opinion over the other, so the client is free to suggest any amount of new ideas and edits.
Without constraints in place – either for hours or number of edits – projects could easily slip into the red because of new labor committed to fulfilling the client’s whims.
The solution is simple: build constraints into your SoW. This establishes a relationship of accountability between both you and the client. If you drop the ball on the first draft, then you’ll have to work overtime to correct the work before the edits are done. Likewise, if the client decides three weeks after the work is live that they want to make major changes to the landing page, you can control your labor costs by telling them that the editing phase is over, but they’re free to purchase more hours for the new request.
Maggie Schott, Founder & CEO of McKeating Solutions
“Confusing professionalism with hubris is the biggest mistake content marketing firms make…”
When it comes to submitting a statement of work for content marketing firms, one of the largest mistakes is an overconfidence in their ability to deliver the perfect content, on the first try, every time. In other words, they fail to make room for rewrites and revisions. This leads to scope creep and, ultimately, confusion over invoices.
Having worked for various firms in the past, I’ve seen content marketers trying so hard to look like the professional that they can’t or are afraid to admit that there might be room for improvement or revisions.
Stacy Caprio, Founder of Her.CEO
“One of the biggest mistakes content marketing teams make when generating a statement of work is…”
Not including specific enough work outcomes as well as hours spent on a project. When they neglect to include these things, the other party may end up requesting a lot more than was initially agreed upon, making it not profitable for the marketing team.
Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa, Behavioral & Management Psychologist
“As a behavioral and marketing psychologist…”
Allow me to share a few mistakes content marketers make and an Rx to avoid/correct it.
1. The majority of “the statement of work” often focuses on itself, the organization, the company, the business, rather than on the (potential) customer/client. It states all of the wonderful things it can do for the reader along with all of the wonderful things it has done in the past. Is this a mistake? Yes and no; it’s just placed in the wrong place.
The Jaffa’s Rx: Focus on your (potential) customer/client and its needs. Address a few specific needs or problems that client may be facing. Cast the worm or lure first, then begin to slowly reel them in.
2. Rather than talking at the reader, have a conversation with the reader.
The Jaffa Rx: Ask questions, i.e., “Are you confused by the…?” “Are you paying too much for…?” “Are you easily frustrated with…?” When the reader silently responds, “Yes,” you now have him/her hooked to keep reading.
3. Don’t reel the reader in too soon.
The Jaffa Rx: Briefly share a case history: “A widget company was having this same problem. After doing a brief needs assessment with its sales staff, we helped design a….”
4. You sometimes have to admit, “We need help writing the right content for this particular client.”
The Jaffa Rx: Consider enlisting the help of a marketing/behavioral psychologist who knows how your client thinks to steer your own staff onto the right path.
Shakun Bansal, Head of Marketing at Mercer-Mettl
“Not measuring the content performance…”
The biggest misstep in generating a statement of work is not taking into account the results of content performance. While a lot of emphasis goes into delineating the project, the focus is lost when it comes to the success of content campaigns. A statement of work has all necessary elements like content marketing collateral to carry the campaign, the people who will be employed to fulfill the responsibilities, the deadlines for each content piece, and any due payment crucial to sustain the content marketing initiatives. How you are writing your pieces, how they’re performing in the market, increasing the footfall to your website, and the learning curve you are deriving from the results analysis are as crucial as any other parameter.
Illia Termeno, Director at Extrabrains
“The biggest mistake in generating a statement of work for content marketing is…”
The lack of clear objectives and measures with which to identify success or failure. Objectives should clearly describe expectations, because this will allow a company to measure the success of the content marketing team attaining these goals. Clarity is the key in a good SoW, so each element outlined in the statement of work should be precise and adequately detailed to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation. This is particularly important for such a section as the scope of work and project requirements, because they set the goals and bounds of the project. They must be specific and clear.
It would be best if you defined outcomes that indicate success and what outcomes are failures. Ensure that your statement of work defines what metrics will be used to determine whether a project was successful or not. That will help you keep the project on track and ensure everyone agrees on the project’s effectiveness.
Grant van der Harst, Managing Director of Anglo Liners
“Many content marketing teams are far too narrow-minded in…”
Their approach to creating content marketing strategies. Some teams often don’t venture too far beyond updated web content and a series of blog posts, which is frustrating, as there is so much they can potentially do as part of a content marketing campaign or strategy. Digital content includes everything from case studies to online videos – it’s anything that can be posted online for users to see and engage with. Content goes beyond the written word; it includes image based and audio content, too. Infographics, podcasts, memes, and GIFs are all popular forms of content, yet these are avenues that are rarely explored by content marketing teams. The best content marketing campaigns make use of multiple formats to engage users in a range of different ways that are interesting, engaging, and memorable. These content marketing campaigns can be great for PR as well as SEO, generating a high volume of sales.
Admittedly, not all content marketing teams have the resources to create flashy campaigns, but those who do should make the most of what they have to capture the imagination of their audiences. They need to think beyond the blog post and begin thinking outside the box when brainstorming their campaigns. When planning your next content strategy, consider the different kinds of content your team could produce and use these as a way to engage your audience in different ways; your campaigns will be more memorable and more effective as a result.
Shane Barker, Digital Marketing Consultant
“The biggest mistake while making a statement of work is…”
Not including a detailed schedule with timelines for each individual task. Unlike other industries where a mid-project and a final project deadline might be enough, content marketing requires more detailed content planning and scheduling. So making a broad statement of work mentioning something like “X number of content pieces by a certain date” is not enough. Content marketers should always maintain a detailed content calendar which shows what content has to be created and posted by what time and date. And when preparing a statement of work for a client, it should include the same level of detail as you would in your content calendar.
When content marketing teams begin to scale their content marketing efforts, the growing complexity of the creation process, reviews and approvals, juggling multiple versions and content formats, and managing distribution channels can quickly become overwhelming. Download our white paper below to learn more about how MerlinOne’s digital asset management solution can help you better manage the content lifecycle.
Aldo Guzmán, Marketing Strategist at Tailor Made
“A huge mistake is to base the content strategy only on…”
The creative idea that the marketing team developed. It is fundamental to integrate all brand objectives and understand how content marketing contributes to them. Focusing only on the creative can result in deeper issues of inefficiency, because the metrics that influence decisions are mostly vanity metrics and not those that provide organic results to marketing KPIs.
The way to avoid it is with interdisciplinary meetings (marketing, product leader, analyst, community manager, engineer) to develop ideas and measurable experiments aimed at the main marketing objective.
For example: The X brand needs a content strategy to generate records and be able to carry out an email campaign.
Without these meetings, typically the content team will carry out its work towards the segment that marketing has defined with the idea that the creative team is the one that will generate more engagement with the audience.
The interdisciplinary activity will allow you to execute more efficient content that actually drive traffic to the site and optimize on-site registration to build a database for a mailing campaign. If the whole team thinks that the objective is traffic to the site, they will be able to measure what type of content works best in the generation of clicks, which audience responds best to what types of messages, and it will be the work of the web team to ensure that the experience is correct to achieve the desired result.
The definition of a clear objective, design of experiments, and monitoring the metrics that really matter will achieve a strategic integration that generates organic results. What’s more, the information obtained can be used to optimize paid advertising to potentiate results.
Kean Graham, CEO of MonetizeMore
“Narcissism: Too many business talk about themselves too much…”
Potential customers don’t care about you. They care about their problems, stories, and opportunities. Businesses need to talk about their target audience and how they can improve their lives via any of their content marketing statements of work.
Ashish Goswami, SEO Specialist for Zestard Technologies
“There are a few common mistakes content marketing teams make in generating a statement of work…”
Content Without a Plan: For Content Marketing, the strategy is the foremost thing. Creating content without a plan, target-less audience, and non-relevancy would be directionless marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 92% of marketers value content for business while only 46% can manage according to the strategy. Creating content consistently is also essential.
Not Adding Images to Content: Usually, people connect with the visual content more emotionally than they do with plain texts. Along with the images in content, infographic and video content would also be useful for reaching the audience. While adding images in the content, make sure you have optimized your images for a Google search by adding image captions with relevant keywords.
Content not Optimized to Targeted Social Platform: All social media platforms are not relevant for every business. You have to identify the relevant platform for your business. Social media platforms are great for content marketing, as they help you gain more exposure. You have to be extremely strategic while publishing your content, because before doing so, it’s essentials to know what to publish and where to publish.
Not Measuring Statistics: Understanding your stats will help you devise ways to optimize your content that will eventually help you build relationships with your visitors and improve brand loyalty to the point where your visitors automatically turn into customers. To measure your content marketing, you will find many tools to analyze how your content is performing.
Stephen Jeske, Content Strategist at MarketMuse
“The biggest mistake content teams make for a SoW is in failing to conduct a proper gap analysis…”
Proper gap analysis requires going beyond determining what content is missing on a site. Individual pages need to be examined to determine if they suffer from on-page content gaps. Pages suffering from this condition typically have trouble ranking for their intended topic. A typical content gap analysis may lead you to believe you have a topic covered, when in fact you don’t.
Patrick Delehanty, Marketing Manager at Marcel Digital
“The biggest mistake I see content marketing teams make in generating their statements of work is…”
Not clearly defining their target audiences. The reason for this is that so many content marketing teams are so focused on creating more and more content that talks about what they want to tell audiences, that they don’t stop and think, “Who are we making this for? Why?” When we stop and analyze our target audience and prospects, their needs, and the type of content that’s most beneficial to them and their needs, we stand to be much more successful. It also opens doors between the marketing and sales teams to collaborate on content assets that streamline the sales process and make our efforts overall much more efficient. Always focus on your target audience, who they are, and the types of content that aligns your business goals with their goals. Don’t just tell them what you want to talk about – tell them what your research says they need to hear. When you find that area of your content marketing, you stand to be much more successful and increase your content efforts ROI.
Laura Gonzales, Marketing Manager at Mercedes of Coconut Creek
“The biggest mistake a content marketing team can make is…”
Not updating their evergreen content. Once a team publishes a new blog, they don’t think to update it in the future. By not improving your blogs with the most updated data and relevant content, you’re missing out on an opportunity for your evergreen blogs and infographics to receive more traffic. Once you’ve published your blog, set calendar reminders to revisit your content and update as necessary.
Chris Shuptrine, VP of Marketing at Adzerk
“Possibly the biggest mistake that content marketing teams make in…”
Generating a statement of work is in their blowing their own trumpet to the extent that they forget to provide value to their prospects. All your creative prowess would not amount to much unless you can showcase how it is going to benefit the prospect.
Your prospect is a real person or persons, not a faceless bunch of people you could present with a cookie cutter solution. Preparing and customizing is the key.
Vladimir Gendelman, Founder and CEO of Company Folders
“The biggest mistake content marketing teams can make when generating a statement of work is…”
Not being authentic. Research the information your audience needs to make their lives better and deliver content providing an in-depth analysis no one else is providing. If you are being self-promotional or just regurgitating information from the Internet, your audience will know you are not being authentic and get its content elsewhere.
Leticia Mooney, CEO and Creative Director at Brutal Pixie
“The single biggest mistake that content marketing teams make in…”
Generating a statement of work is believing that clients – particularly micro or SME clients – understand their language, terms, channels, concepts, and outcomes. Many of them don’t. As a content studio, we often find ourselves fielding questions about other agencies’ services, which is an indication to me that those agencies haven’t done the work to be on the same page with the client’s level of understanding. If they had done the work to establish that relationship, then we wouldn’t be fielding questions that really ought to be directed at the agency, for example.
Ollie Smith, CEO of ExpertSure
“In my experience, one of the most common mistakes is…”
Not understanding the business or client. They don’t know what thrust of the content needs to be, they usually just talk in terms of words, numbers, and clicks. Spending quality time with clients before commencing a project would make all the difference.
Steven Sedgwick, Freelance Copywriter
“Doing it in isolation – particularly if it’s an agency, but…”
I’ve worked in in-house content teams where we’ve produced great content, delivered on the objectives, but few people outside the marketing team know it exists.
Yes, do the content inventory and the gap analysis, but somewhere in your strategy make sure you have a good internal awareness plan.
All marketing, at its heart, is about providing a need: ads to whitepapers and documentaries serve one need or another. But content can do so much more, it can showcase your brand, product, and people in a very authentic way – so let it.
If content only seeps out into the world in very non human ways, such as the standard web, social, native, etc., you’re hamstringing a lot of its potential. Show it to your sales people, show it to your customers, and show it to your competitors if you’re truly proud of it.
Once you take it out of the SoW plan and the prescribed functions and metrics, the value can increase exponentially: there’s far more chance you hit the stated KPIs (you’ll get a far more social shares for a start), the whole organization will be more bought into your efforts, and little bits of magic often happen.
Danielle Carson, Digital Program Manager at Lake One
“The biggest mistake content marketing teams can make when generating a statement of work is…”
Underbidding in order to win the job. Intentionally underbidding or underestimating your work will only bite you in the butt in the long run. While it is possible to get extremely engrossed in the work and power through to save time, more often than not, marketing takes longer than you anticipate. You’ll almost always end up doing more work than initially estimated. If you’ve already underestimated your SoW, you’re sure to lose money in the deal.
Furthermore, if you were unable to complete the work in the agreed hours or budget, you may end up in bad report with your client. You might have to request more money or ask for more time, neither of which make clients very happy. Avoid finding yourself in this situation by accurately estimating your work. Don’t cut yourself short just to win the business. The old adage “undersell, over deliver” still applies to modern content marketing.
Kimberly Deese, Communications Operations Manager at PACIFIC Digital Group
“The biggest mistake content marketing teams make in…”
Generating a statement of work is forgetting about the smaller tasks that are commonly overlooked, but still necessary for a complete, successful content marketing piece.
Tasks like keyword and question research, sourcing images, optimizing image alt text and title tags, uploading to WordPress, optimizing meta descriptions and key phrases for search optimization, and edits needed after publishing. These activities, while may be only an hour or two alone, can add up with a longer piece, especially when you multiply those hours by the hundreds of pieces that are published for one client each year.
Teams can avoid missing these items by breaking down each and every task that goes into brainstorming, creating, and promoting a content marketing piece and estimating the amount of time it will take. It’s by looking at the process step-by-step, in chronological order, that reveals steps that are commonly missed when rushing to get a SoW in front of a client.
Alex Membrillo, Founder & CEO of Cardinal
“One of the biggest hurdles that we’ve had with…”
Content marketing statements of work were based on how delivery and on-time expectations were outlined.
For creative and content statements of work (SoW), we generally incorporate rounds of revisions and approvals. While this is often the best way to ensure that the client is happy with the final product (or content piece), what is sometimes overlooked are delays as a result of the client. I recommend clearly outlining how many days are factored into a revision cycle for a project for it to still be considered on track. We’ve had instances where the client took an extended period to respond to provide changes. At times, it’s even taken months to simply get a topic approval. Then the client often ends up complaining about the timeline as well. If your project schedule was clearly outlined from the beginning in the SoW, you can nip that issue in the bud.
Suma E P, Marketing Lead at Niswey
“One of the key mistakes content teams make is…”
Not being crystal clear about the expectations on quality (depth, language, voice and tone, etc.) and the rounds of feedback required. The content writer thinks that the writeup won’t go through many rounds of changes, but as the owner of the project, you expect it to be as per the business’ expectations and would want more rounds than the writer is ready for. That means you should account for more time for content creation in your statement of work.
One way to avoid this is to have a guideline document about the quality of work expected, as well as state the rounds of feedback to be expected. Also within the guidelines, add information on the point at which the writeup be rejected, so the writer knows what she is getting into. With that defined, you can give a better estimate of the time taken for creation in your SoW.
Meeting deadlines is a common frustration for content marketing teams. A solid SoW is one way to keep your team on track, but you can supercharge your SoWs by leveraging a robust digital asset management solution like MerlinOne. Download our white paper below to learn more about how a DAM can help your team stay on track.
Ready to gain more control over your content marketing processes? Schedule a demo today to learn how MerlinOne’s DAM solution can transform your content marketing operations.