Recall the last business conversation that left your mind spinning a million miles an hour — in a good way. Are you smiling? It’s that type of collaboration and brainstorming that fuels my fire. I just love sharing ideas and insight with people who share a similar passion.
Today we’re tackling the final installment of our three-part Q & A with Barb Dittert, a Content Marketing Specialist and Team Lead at Volume Nine, a Digital Marketing Agency based in Denver, Colorado.
We’re presenting ideas that freelance writers and content marketers can use to spark their own conversations to improve workflow and productivity.
Our final four questions dig into writer guidelines, giving instructions, communication tools, cutting ties with a freelancer and being honest about what clients do that drive freelance writers crazy.
Barb: Is it possible to give TOO much instruction? We have been creating more in-depth guidelines for our writers, but is it possible that I am overwhelming them with too much information?
Angela: Personally, I don’t feel I could ever receive too much information related to a new client, the marketing campaign we’re engaged in or the behind-the-scenes research that’s been conducted by the marketing strategists. I find all of it incredibly interesting and it inspires my writing.
However, when a new writer comes on board, presenting them with multiple documents to review could be overwhelming. They might feel as if they are responsible for understanding the broader scope, that goes beyond their writing duties.
I think if you present a writer with the writing guidelines requested from the client (style, tone, examples, voice, etc.) and then a one-sheet synopsis detailing the overall project, how the writer fits into the process (a flowchart is always cool) and the main goals of the client, that should be sufficient.
If you notice a writer really digging into the topics and asking probing questions, offer to share more details about the strategy and fact-finding information.
Barb: We have been on the hunt for a tool that helps us better communicate with our writers, but so far haven’t found anything. The tools out there are usually pretty expensive, or take a cut from the writers. Do you have any success stories from your experiences in the past?
Angela: My favorite way to communicate with content marketers, publishers and editors is through email. It’s simple, free and everyone has it. Plus, it has a more personal feel than using a chat plugin on a website.
I also love being able to collaborate during the writing process. The comments feature on Google Docs is a great way to converse with a writer and ask questions with the document right in front of them.
The key to communicating effectively with a team of people who aren’t your employees is to be consistent. I work with some marketers who send out a weekly email just to let us know where they are in the content creation process. They might mention when new assignments will be available, what they’re looking for in pitches, what’s publishing this week, what the next marketing campaign will focus on, how the current content is performing or relay any feedback from the client that might be inspirational or helpful for writers.
Barb: When I get a piece of content that is not hitting the mark from one writer, sometimes I just end up starting over and reassigning the project to another writer. I have started noticing that if I send the poorly written piece over as an example, the quality of work from the second writer is poor too. I have since stopped sending the poorly written piece over as an example of what “not” to do and have been getting better results. Do you have any insight on why this might be?
Angela: I’m guessing the writer is being influenced by what they’ve just read, even though it’s a “bad” example of what you’re looking for. I say trust the new writer, and just give them the assignment. You probably don’t even need to mention that it’s a re-do situation.
When you share the details of the assignment, highlight the things you know you definitely do need to see in the article, and what shouldn’t be included, based on what went wrong the first time around. If the issues were more about formatting and structure, than voice or content, offer a basic outline that shows how to use the elements the client wants, such as subheads, short paragraphs, bulleted lists or implementing quotes. Although it sounds tedious, taking the time to explain this once will make future assignments for that writer go better.
Barb: What are some of the most common things your clients do that drive you nuts?
Angela: Oh, boy! Well over the past seven and a half years there have been a few things that have made me gnaw my fingernails to nubs or take an impromptu wine and brownie break.
Before I get into semi-nagging mode, I want to encourage readers to face any issues head-on. We’re all trying to achieve the same goals here and want to make our clients happy. Talking through any issues, and being honest throughout the collaboration process is the way to go.
With that said, I’d be over the moon if these things never happened again:
- Being assigned an article to write and offering less than a sentence of direction or guidance. Some words have multiple meanings and could change the whole direction for a piece.
- Not answering emails when you know I’m on a tight deadline
- Changing due dates on a master calendar without reaching out and letting me know personally
- Completely re-writing an article and publishing it without any feedback
- Launching a new website for a client that I’ve been creating seed content for and not letting me know it’s live
- Requesting edits based on one spelling error or the need for one comma
- Lowering the rate of pay for a client halfway through the project, or after I’ve signed a contract
- Assigning an article on Friday that is due on Monday. I do like to take days off (usually weekends) too!
- Not letting me know (roughly) when content will be published. I like to share it on social media and add it to my portfolio as soon as possible.
I understand there’s a learning curve for marketers who collaborate with creatives who are independent contractors. But, I feel safe saying, most of us just want to be treated like another person in the office. Consistent, helpful communication that lets us know how we’re progressing on a project and how we’re performing is what I value most. Remember, we’re all trying to please the client.
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