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How nDash went from Freelancer to Agency to Marketplace

You have good reason to be confused about digital marketing; it’s a world that keeps adding acronyms, tools, and technologies at a frenetic pace. We interview some of the top boutique digital marketing agencies to highlight their specialties and share their insights to help you grow! Today, we interview Michael Brown from nDash.

NXT: What is nDash?

nDash is a platform that connects marketers and agencies with 2,500+ content writers, who are experts in a wide range of industries like manufacturing, SaaS, and dental to name a few.

What’s unique about it is that we encourage content writers to pitch their ideas to clients. This is actually how most marketers get the best type of content!

Popular categories include:

  • Blog posts (price range: $75-$500),
  • White papers ($400-$2,500), and
  • Sales enablement materials, e.g., one-pagers ($200-$500).

NXT: What year did you start, and what prompted you to become a business owner?

I had been a content writer for two similar market places prior to starting nDash. I wrote white papers, case studies, blog posts and any written materials a marketing department typically needed to produce.

In 2014, I decided to break out on my own as a solo freelancer for the first couple of months. Thanks to some business development tactics, I was able to create my own content agency, nDash Marketing. Then in September 2016, the new nDash platform entity was born!

NXT: So you went from being a freelancer to starting your own agency to now building a platform. How did you know when to switch?

I always had the vision of creating a platform but didn’t have the resources. Over time, it became a side project where I wire-framed everything and prototyped the interaction so everything was tested manually during my agency years.

But as an agency, your capabilities to reach a wider breadth of content experts are limited. That was the point when I decided to start a new company.

My previous roles were at crowd-sourced companies so I knew how the business models worked. When the platform launched, we had already taken the guesswork out due to all the testing before.

NXT: What type of business development tactics did you use and how did you come up with them?

Early on, I knew that my agency would solely be focused on content, not like other traditional digital agencies that offered many services like strategy, design, and SEO.

I did a lot of cold emails, cold calls, and other outreach tactics. But what really worked was when I approached companies that I wanted to work with and pitched them content ideas.

If I knew the industry and the space well enough, I could help these ideal companies move the needle. I pitched them ideas with an abstract and source-links. Showing this initiative was what helped me land the first big 4-5 clients.

Since then, no matter what the contract looked like, we were always pitching new ideas and did more than we needed to differentiate ourselves.

NXT: So how did you populate the platform with writers on Day 1? Did you import your writers from your agency years?

Yes, during our agency years we built up a big roster of freelancers. We did some pre-launch marketing to bulk up our email list. At the same time I had the luxury of bringing over existing clients to try out the platform.  They were sold immediately because the price of a blog post dropped from our $300 agency price to $170 because we removed the intermediary. I also kept in touch with companies over the years that weren’t necessarily a good fit for our agency business, but were much more suitable for a service like the platform.

But the most important aspect of our marketplace are the writers.  They are actually the main source of new business, accounting for almost 2/3 of the work on our platform right now. The more great writers we have, the more great ideas that get posted on the platform, and the more great content we have to attract companies!

NXT: Aren’t writers on other platforms… how do you differentiate yourselves?

Of course, content writers are on all the content platforms out there.  BUT, 2 things help us attract the top-tier talent and why they want to work with us.  First, they don’t have to take any tests and “earn” their way to the big leagues.

We get a CMO or a senior technical writer on the platform, and immediately they can earn what they’re worth.  Second, we empower them to come up with their own ideas and pitch clients directly.  This gives them more satisfaction and flexibility, to work with ideal clients on their favourite topics.

On nDash, writers are truly their own bosses, and can earn a great living right away.  Fun fact: we have several writers earning 6 figures!

NXT: And on the other side, how do you win over the companies?

Because of how we’re set up: writers can earn their worth right away, flexibility, etc. we get to attract the best talent.  Having the best talent truly differentiates us.  Companies understand that they can go on ‘budget’ platforms but they will get surface-level content.  They come to us because we have the best writers who can deliver deep content that will further their thought leadership.

Typically, platforms focus too much on the client side and treat freelancers like dirt, making them jump through hoops and bid against each other in a race to the bottom.  No quality freelancers will play that game because they know their worth.  nDash is the only platform that’s set up to reward them for it.

Taking care of the freelancers means that we attract the best talent.  The caliber of our writers include TechCrunch authors, former CMOs, and C-level execs!  Which in turn benefits our clients because they get access to quality.  So by focusing on talent you can actually deliver superior benefits to clients.  It’s funny, but if you focus too much on your clients, you end up hurting them.

NXT: What’s an example of surface level content vs. deep content that can truly help a brand?

Sure, we have a client that works in the irrigation business. One writer might pitch content like “5 Things You Should Know About Irrigation” which is pretty generic stuff.

In contrast, the deep content writer would mention specific products, technologies and procedures that the company’s audience will recognize and search for.

NXT: On the client side, you cater to marketers and agencies. What are the differences in their needs?

A marketing department tends to need anywhere from 2-3 writers to contribute 2-10 pieces of content per month. It’s less of a volume concern than it is a quality concern.

On the other hand, an agency’s primary concern is keeping up with volume. Let’s say you have 10 clients, and they each need 8 blog posts per month, that’s 80 assignments a month that you need to coordinate!

You need to make sure that you’re hitting deadlines, quality is on par, and still price it in a way that you make profit. If one of your clients is a hotel, and another is a hospital, you would have to coordinate different writers that are subject matter experts. It can be quite the nightmare!

NXT: As a B2B company, how would I be able to build a blog with a platform like yours?

Companies can sign on and build a team of freelancers and have them build the content, so you (the company) take on the role of an editor because topic generation can be outsourced. I’ve seen companies publish 15-20 blogs per month, all of which are written by the community of writers on nDash.

NXT: How replicable is your success? Going from a freelancer to an agency owner and a platform owner?

Those two transitions are actually very hard, because you’re moving away from your trade and building a business around it. My advice for anyone building a marketplace is to empower the supply side to build the demand. Traditionally, people only focus on the buyer, but there are a lot of opportunities if you go the other direction.

NXT: Last question, if you had $10,000 of marketing budget a month, how would you allocate that?

I would spread it around and make sure a part of it would go toward advertising, producing various channels of content (video, audio), and investing in people or tools that would help me better analyze data to make sure the marketing dollars are not wasted.

A huge thanks to Michael Brown, the CEO and Founder of nDash. Recently, the company was accepted into MassChallenge Boston’s 2017 accelerator program! They were chosen from a pool of over 1,500 applicants and will be working alongside fellow startups and seasoned entrepreneurs to grow their business. Best of luck to the founding team, and you can read more about nDash’s updates on their blog here.

nDash

Tessa BoardStudios.com

Tess is a Business Development Associate at Board Studios Inc, an animation production agency that helps B2B companies simplify and communicate more effectively. She's passionate about B2B business models & marketing, and spends a lot of time working on partnership development, content marketing, and scouring for the best business books for BookVideoClub.com. Her blood type is an authentic caffè macchiato.

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