I write for a living, and have a great team of writers who work with me. Most of us have our domains – technology, academic and business writing is what we specialise in. Much of our writing is centred around the world of inbound marketing nowadays – hence the term “content marketers”.
We mostly do it because we love to write. Writing – or any form of communication – is deeply satisfying work when it is appreciated and published. It’s the same high you get when a product launches, for example.
Today, two of my best writers wrote in to drop out of a project. They were being asked to revise a piece of writing for the nth time. They just did not feel it was worth their time to engage with this client, and go through their increasingly subjective (the writers’ opinion) and nitpicking feedback.
This is perhaps the biggest issue in many content projects – a client who revises every word, phrase and nuance, and a writer who disengages with every successive revision. Project Managers rush back and forth trying to align the two and end up doing patchwork. Or, just give up for the day sometimes, like my team did today.
If you’re contemplating getting a bunch of content written for your product, site or marketing campaign, here are some ground rules that will help you extract the best work from the agency/writers –
A Clear Brief – Have the PM make 10 revisions of the writer brief. Make 20 if you want. In fact, write the brief yourself. Specify who the target audience is, what the dictionary should be set to, give examples of what you consider to be acceptable and not acceptable. Should they cite sources? List the citation style. Should they put in image suggestions? List the acceptable image sites. Put everything in there.
Timely feedback – Feedback on a blog 15 days after it’s been sent to you is bad. Send feedback within 2-3 days after submission. The topic and the blog will be fresh in the writer’s mind, making revisions sharper. Prioritise this in your calendar if you’ve got an ongoing content project.
Writers are filters – Remember, the writer can’t read your mind. You need to be explicit in your requirements (see #1 above). You also need to make your feedback detailed. Open the Word doc, turn track changes and type in your comments. To learn how to do that, click here. If you’re using Google Docs, here’s how you review. A single line email stating “It’s too complicated and doesn’t align to our message” for a 1000 word white paper draft doesn’t cut it.
Collaboration is key – If you think you can outsource and forget with content, think again. Intense collaboration with the writer/editor is required, at least in the initial few weeks. The more you give of your time and insights, the better writing you shall receive. After all, it will be published under your or your organisation’s name. So it’s worth your time.
After all this, you may think “Is it really worth it?” It is, if you don’t have the time, inclination or skill to write about your product or service.
If you do, I recommend that you go ahead and just do it – write it yourself. It will be faster and easier. In fact, we recommend that startup founder teams write their own content for the first couple of years. It helps maintain the sanctity of your positioning and your message.
Many CEOs and product leaders are prolific writers. They do a great job at telling their stories, articulating their product messaging and have unique insights to share that no external writer can do justice to.