This is a guest post from Steve Lazuka, founder of Interact Media, the software development firm behind the Zerys Content Marketplace and question-and-answer website, YoExpert.
If you read this blog regularly, you understand the impact inbound marketing and, more specifically, content creation have on a business' lead generation and customer acquisition efforts. Problem is, marketing agencies who deliver inbound marketing services for their clients somehow need to find the bandwidth to create a high volume of quality content that drives ROI for their clients, and do so profitably, efficiently, and across a number of niche business areas.
Even more difficult, most agencies don't have the budget and management resources to maintain a staff of in-house writers. This is where agencies can leverage the power of a large writer network to effectively manage an outsourced content team. Based on my experiences running a content agency and through case studies from power users of our Zerys content marketplace, I’ve learned what works and doesn’t work for an agency outsourcing content creation. Below are the seven very distinct peices of advice I always give to agencies who are getting started with a content marketplace.
1) Invest Time in Learning the Platform
Most people don't like writing; or if they like it, they certainly can't find the time to do it. So what's the next natural step? Outsource it!
Anyone who has outsourced content creation, however, knows there are lots of moving parts you have to manage to get the quantity and quality of content you're looking for. To put it plainly, businesses don't want to spend the time figuring it out, which is why we see so many businesses out there struggling to keep up high levels of content creation. But as an agency, this affords you a great opportunity to learn and master the process of outsourced content creation on behalf of your clients!
When you settle on a content creation platform -- like Zerys for Agencies, for example -- set aside time to start experimenting. Start simple, placing a few uncomplicated orders (think blog posts, not white papers) and sampling a variety of writers. Over time, you can start to learn the more advanced features that can make your process more efficient and streamlined. Think of it like a science experiment -- if you test too many variables at once, you'll have a hard time identifying what specifically contributed to your successes and failures. And if you do run into trouble, whether with processes or specific features, leverage the platform's available support resources. That's what they're there for!
Once you feel comfortable with the ins and outs of a platform, you'll be able to invest time in things like writer development without getting caught up in those little snags that hinder your productivity.
2) Sample Lots of Writers
Agencies that sample one writer, throw up their hands in frustration, and then quit are never going to find the writers that make their clients' content creation dreams come true. In order to build a solid team of trusted writers for your agency, you’ll need to sample plenty of writers, and identify which ones are capable of giving you the content quality you need, ad the price you're willing to pay. It is possible to find great writers at lower price points, but only if you're willing to invest time in searching for those writers, and teaching them about the intricacies of your clients' needs.
One of our main goals when designing Zerys was to make the process of sampling writers fast, simple and risk-free. Get started by posting an initial batch of 10-20 simple assignments to the job board. This way, you can sample work from many different writers with no risk, since you only pay if you’re happy with the work you get back. Once you identify the writers you like, you can save them to a list of your favorite writers for quick access to your arsenal of killer content creators in the future.
3) Get Good at Providing Instructions
If you want to create amazing content for your clients, you must provide amazing instructions to your writers. And it's a tricky balance to strike -- instructions must be at once comprehensive, and concise. But mastering this skill is critical to your success at outsourcing content creation, because your writers simply cannot read your mind, or that of your clients. As you work with writers more and more, however, they will get to know what your clients are looking for and require less instruction.
Let's take a look at an example of a brief and comprehensive set of writer instructions, and an incomplete set of writer instructions for the sake of comparison.
Write a short blog post about email marketing campaign best practices, and reference features from this tool: http://www.hubspot.com/products/email-marketing
Write a short blog post -- 700-900 words -- about email marketing campaign best practices. While there may be other best practices you hit on based on your research, but it should definitely explain the importance of list segmentation, email design, copywriting best practices, personalization, and performance analytics. Pepper in references to this email marketing software throughout the post (http://www.hubspot.com/products/email-marketing), as it helps you implement all of those best practices and will be a nice visual counterpart to the text. The tone should be educational, but a little light hearted; we don't want people to get bored reading it!
If you sent a writer that second set of instructions, it's much more likely you'll get a piece of quality content than if you sent the same writer the first set of instructions. Investing a few minutes really figuring out what it is you want, pointing writers to external resources they can use to inform their writing, and establishing the right tone for each piece of content will save you time in revisions down the road.
(Tip: While many agencies provide too little context and information for writers, providing too much direction can be just as ineffective. Unless you plan to pay the writer enough to spend hours sifting through heaps of documents you send them for reference, you're better off keeping instructions clear and concise.)
4) Consider the First Piece of Content a First Draft
As you build your writer network, consider each post you get back as a first draft that may require a bit of editing and revisions. Even great writers may not capture exactly what you need the first time, but if you like their style and they are well-informed on the subject matter about which they're writing, you can invest some up-front time offering helpful feedback, and nurturing the relationship to the benefit of your client.
You can choose to offer a higher amount of money, and attract higher rated writers who will give you more “publish-ready” work, thus spending less time editing. Or, you could offer a lower amount and save more up-front, with the understanding that you will probably need to spend more time on the back-end editing.
If you choose to work with lower-cost writers that require more feedback, invest time in providing clear, constructive feedback just like you did when writing your job instructions. Let's pretend the email marketing blog post we referenced in the previous example needed a little work -- here's the right way to give feedback to that writer:
Thank you for this first draft, it's looking good but needs a few edits. In the performance analytics section, can you please provide a more comprehensive list of the metrics that an email marketer should consider to evaluate the effectiveness of their campaigns? Right now, you just recommend a few, and say there are others. The readers will want to know everything to consider, though. Also, the email design section get's a little to technology-oriented; the client's audience will likely be outsourcing the design of their emails, so can you please remove the how-to design parts, and simply list some general best practices they should reference when working with a designer? Other than that, looks good. Thank you!
If you give feedback like this that's extremely specific, the writer knows exactly what to change and will be able to turn around revisions much more expeditiously, and accurately.
5) Invest in Building Long-Term Relationships
Platforms like Zerys are tools, but at its heart, content development is all about people. In order to be successful in the long run, you’ll need to invest some of your time in building solid relationships with good writers. It’s no different than if you were hiring people in-house at your office; you don’t hire the first person that walks in, but by the same token, you’ll invest in developing your strong candidates to help them perform at their best.
Once you identify writers that give you the quality you want at the price you can afford, be sure to offer well-thought out feedback like you saw in the previous example, as well as more general feedback that's not necessarily tied to any particular assignment. For example, you might let them know what clients really appreciate about their writing so they continue doing more of that in the future. Similarly, you can tell them what you love about working with them -- perhaps they always format their work very nicely, for instance. They will greatly appreciate this type of feedback, and over time, they will improve their writing to give you exactly what you want.
6) Reward Your Writers
Want to build a team of dedicated, loyal, reliable writers? Treat them well and they’ll reward you by giving your assignments top attention, and always doing their best work for you and your clients. There are a couple of ways to do this, but one of the best ways is to add a bonus every now and then when they do a great job, or go above and beyond your expectations. With Zerys, you can add tips on the content review/approval screen with just one click.
On top of monetary incentives, however, you should also just be good to work with. Set clear and high expectations, but be understanding, too. For example, if you've worked with a writer for several months and they have an emergency come up that will impact the due date of their assignment, don't flip your lid. Instead, thank them for letting you know in advance, wish them well, and reassign the job to another writer. It seems obvious, but when there's a computer screen between two people, it's easy for clients to forget they're working with another human being -- if you're not familiar with the phenomenon, just visit the comments section of almost any blog.
7) Let Your Clients Build Your Team for You
Why not let your clients help you build your team of writers for you? After all, it doesn’t really matter if we feel that a writer’s great. All that matters is what our clients think!
Tell your clients that you work with a network of writers with a wide variety of different skill sets and expertise areas. Tell them you will choose a writer that you think will work well for the client based on prior experience, and have that writer compose the first piece for the client's review. If they don’t like that writer, it’s no problem, and they don’t have to pay for it. You will simply try another writer until the client finds the one they like. But just like you strive to provide specific instructions and feedback to your writer, you should also request that your clients provide clear feedback about what they do and don't want before writing begins, and during the revision process. This will help you better match up clients and writers, and start off new client relationships on the right foot.
Are you an agency that outsources content? What are the outsourced content creation best practices that work for you?
Image credit: Kazarelth