20 year content strategy veteran, Sharon Burton. Sharon Burton consults about content strategy, content business issues, social media and managing post-sales customer experience issues.

Business issues – predicting the cost of content

Business issues – predicting the cost of content

I’m interested in the business issues around creating content. I find those problems the most interesting to think about, to identify, and to solve. It’s an intersection between my background as a technical writer, a business owner, and my graduate anthropology work.

Towards that end, I’ve been thinking about how do we know it’s time to invest in a new tools/new processes? How do we know that’s coming and when will it happen? When does it make sense financially to start looking for new tools and processes? Is this predictable in some way? If it’s predictable in some way, how would it be predictable? And what kind of tools would you need and how do you know?

Is the cost of creating content tied to the tools we use?

Is the set of tools we use for creating content tied to the overall cost of that content? I think it is. It’s not the only variable, certainly, but I think it’s an important one.

If you’re trying to write 300 pages manuals in Word and manage 4 localizations of that manual in Word, you have issues. If you’ve ever tried this, you know you have issues. Word was not designed for large manuals in any language and it’s fraught with instability. Having done this myself, I can tell you that at least 30% of your writer’s time will be spent holding Word’s hand and speaking calmly into its ear. This is not the right tool.

I’ve been thinking recently about the variables that determine the cost of content development and delivery. Everyone says their situation is special and so is their content. But I wonder.  Are we all that special?

What if this could be know-able and predictable?

I’m working with a programmer right now to develop an online tool that can show you the cost of what you are doing now and when it’s time to look at new tools.

We’re going for a release after the first of the year. It will be available here on its own page.

It won’t tell you which tool is the right one for you, but it will tell you if it’s time, based on the numbers you provide for today and a year from now. I do plan to suggest what kind of tool you should be looking at, depending on where you are.

Would this be helpful to you?

By Sharon Burton


  1. Sometimes I think we forget what a quality person costs to create and maintain content.

    Software has made content deceptively ‘simple’ — while the links might not be broken, the content is!

    Recently I’ve come in on a short-term contract basis to work with customized websites – so easy that the admin staff was given the duty of content. Common online tools like Joomla, Adobe Business Catalyst, WordPress and ZenDesk, (even Facebook and Pinterest) are *so* easy to use — that the company’s management gauges the content management task on the sophistication of the software — overlooking the quality of the person.

    I’ve seen these admin staff not only overlook outdated info on the home page, but become apathetic to keeping pages updated. These content ‘costs’ might include

    * Copying photo or text content that borders on copyright infringement
    * Not making scheduled news / social media posts or frequently updating the site
    * Not including links to the email / page / product / service
    * Having too many topics (pages) scattered about with similar but different instructions or attachments
    * Allowing directors and executive bios to become outdated (remove the ones that left, add the ones that joined)

    While these issues are not maintaining a manual, there are a lot of similarities. I know that one of the largest costs in a business is staff and efficient software — in the right hands — can save money and improve effectiveness.

  2. Sometimes cost is tied to management decisions. Tools are but one of them. In one organization, nepotism was so rampant, that the organization structure was so skewed. In that company, the average cost per page was around $9k.

    An early productivity study placed per-capita output at 15 pages per quarter. This had nothing to do with tools. just pathetic management.

  3. Every project seems to come to a point where everyone realizes that changes are needed. In my experience this is usually caused by broken processes: either old processes no longer support current reality, or processes weren’t any good in the first place. Tools are an issue when they’re not well suited to the processes. But tools are rarely the problem all by themselves.

    You ask a great question, Sharon: how do we attune ourselves to spot the breaking point before we come to it? The answer is hard to quantify, I think, because it goes beyond simple dollars and cents. It also has to do with things like requirements not being met and unnecessary work being performed. So I’ll be interested to see what your online tool can do.

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