After all, no outsourced content creator will understand your business like an insider would, right? Well…not necessarily.
Trust me, it’s possible to work for a company for years without really understanding why the company does what it does, how it makes money, etc. Every company needs employees in HR, Payroll, Accounting, etc., who have little involvement in delivering the company’s products and services. This is especially true for internal writers who were hired for…well, their ability to write. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily subject matter experts.
If that’s not the problem, then what is? What is it that sometimes makes outsourcing content marketing so frustrating?
The thing is, outsourcing is a partnership. If you’ve been switching from freelancer to freelancer and agency to agency without seeing any improvement, that’s probably what’s missing.
Even if you’re absolutely certain you’ve just had a string of bad writers, why not consider whether there are things you could do to improve the quality of your outsourced content marketing? I’ve got a few ideas, based on the things that frustrate me from the other side of the table. So let’s take a look.
Know what you’re trying to accomplish
That may sound simplistic, but it’s not. Because if you get this part wrong, everything that follows will be wrong, too. Here are just a few of the decisions that flow from knowing what you’re trying to accomplish.
What kind of writer you should work with
If your main goal is driving traffic
If your primary goal is to drive traffic for ad revenue, the simple truth is that eyeballs are eyeballs. You don’t need to worry about converting those eyeballs into customers.
That may also be true if you sell a general market product or service that could appeal to anyone who winds up on your site. In that case, you need a writer who’s an expert at SEO, keyword research and trending topics…someone who can write engaging copy and clickable headlines. You don’t need somebody like me, with my focus on the business impacts of the content I write. You’d be paying too much, and I’d drive you nuts with my questions.
If your main goal is driving leads that will eventually convert
This may sound like heresy, but all industries are pretty much the same when you look at things from the perspective of business fundamentals:
You need to attract customers who see enough value in your product/service that they’re willing to pay more for it than it costs you to make or provide it.
Obviously, there are many other factors from that point on that differentiate one industry from another. But a writer who doesn’t understand the basics of running a successful business is going to have a tough time connecting a given topic to your business goals. It’s a matter of mindset and context.
And speaking of mindset and context, there’s also something commonly referred to as “the curse of knowledge.” It’s this ailment that afflicts subject-matter experts with a lot of experience: They forget what it was like before they knew everything they know now. So when they write content, it’s often way over the heads of most prospective customers, especially those who are at the very top of the sales funnel. One of the advantages of having a writer who’s a business expert rather than a subject-matter expert is that they’ll ask the same kinds of questions your customers ask. It’s a great way to cut through the curse of knowledge.
How you’ll measure success
Your goals also shape how you determine whether your relationship with an outsourced content writer is “working.” If your primary goal is to drive traffic, then social metrics like shares, likes, and page views are important. If you’re trying to move leads through the sales funnel, then conversion rate and customer acquisition cost (CAC) are important.
Know what level of involvement you want to have
Do you want a writer to whom you can say, “Go write 800 words on this topic using these keywords” — and who won’t bug you again until they send you the finished product? Or are you willing to deal with questions and pushback if it improves the quality of the final content?
Be honest about your reasons for outsourcing content marketing
Are you outsourcing content marketing because you don’t have time to do it yourself? If so, you probably need someone whose experience, knowledge, strengths, and weaknesses are similar to your own…in other words, someone who can be you. That’s my own biggest challenge when it comes to outsourcing content: I want it to sound like I wrote it, and that’s a tall order. (Hint: If you find a writer who can do this, it’s worth whatever it takes to become their favorite client!)
Or, is it because you lack some of the skills needed to produce great content? If so, you need someone who’s strong where you’re weak, and vice versa.
If you know the material inside out but have trouble explaining it in writing, then you need someone with writing expertise.
If you’re a great writer but don’t know all the technical details of what your business does, you need a subject matter expert.
Don’t make your life harder by hoarding information
Seriously, y’all. I can’t tell you how many times clients have withheld info that, had I known about it, would have made a huge difference.
And I’m not talking about proprietary information. I’m talking about basic stuff, like why they wanted the content in the first place. Usually, they either thought I didn’t need to know or that I wouldn’t understand.
Sometimes, it was the curse of knowledge at work: It never occurred to the client that I might not know everything that was in their heads.
So, unless it’s proprietary information and you haven’t had the writer sign an NDA, err on the side of sharing too much information rather than too little.
Here’s an example I use a lot. Let’s say you own a chain of wine/liquor stores, and your rate of damaged returns goes through the roof every summer because people leave wine in their hot cars and then return it when it doesn’t taste good.
- If you asked me to write an article on how heat damages wine, I’d write a rather techy article explaining the process of how heat damages wine.
- If you asked me to write an article for the purpose of reducing the damaged return rate from people leaving wine in their cars, I’d spend a paragraph or so on the techy stuff and then create a list of tips on how people can protect their investment, which would also help accomplish the owner’s goals.
So please, please tell your writer the why, not just the what, of the content you request. The content creation process will be smoother, and the result will be better.
Oh…and the more actionable, the better. “We want readers to understand the challenges of X and the range of solutions available” may be your corporate-speak purpose — the one that pops into your mind when someone asks — but it’s not actionable. It gives neither the writer nor the reader something to do.
Take the time to write a good content brief
The time you invest will more than pay for itself in the long run. There are a thousand (at least!) ways to approach any topic, and it’s up to you to help your outsourced content writer find the right one.
In general, anything that you find yourself correcting over and over, whether from the same writer or dozens, needs to be addressed in the content brief. Same thing if you’re answering the same questions over and over.
Depending on your business, your content briefs might need to cover things like:
- Company size (sales, number of employees, etc.)
- Who your customers are (and aren’t)
- Where they are in the sales funnel
- Their level of knowledge or expertise
- Which of their pain points your product or service resolves
- What the company is currently prioritizing (growing existing markets, entering new markets, introducing new products/services, etc.)
- Whether there are any important obstacles/constraints (like regulatory matters, supply chain instability, technological disruption, etc.)
- The company’s overall goal for their content marketing initiatives (drive traffic, create awareness, educate, etc.)
- What this particular piece of content is intended to accomplish
- Word count (preferably a range)
- SEO preferences (keyword focus, semantic search, search intent, etc.)
- Linking preferences
- Content policies, style guides, etc.
- Preferred sources
- Sources to avoid
- How promotional to be (or not)
- Contact information
On a personal note…
I hesitated to write this post, because the last thing I want is to come across as whiny (just ask my kids how I respond to “…but it’s not MY fault!“).
But for outsourcing content marketing to be successful, it has to be a partnership. So I wanted to tell you about the things you can do to make your own life easier and to increase your chances for content marketing success. I hope you find them valuable.
Want to talk one-on-one? I’m available for phone consultations and would love to help.