How to Empower Writers to Deliver High-Performing Content
This article is the second installment of our two-part content writer & editorial series. To learn how to find talented content writers, check out part one of the series here.
You’re working with freelance writers to produce content. This is meant to free up your time to focus on other tasks. But you’ve somehow found yourself spending hours adding comments, editing for brand tonality and injecting value that should already be included.
It’s exhausting! So, how can you make sure you get traffic that captures attention, drives traffic and generates conversions, consistently? The answer: empower your writers with a detailed & strategic editorial process.
In this article, we cover how to streamline communications with writers to save time and get the best work from them possible. You’ll learn how to produce clear guidelines, build an editorial process and get the best work from your writers.
Step 1: Create detailed content guidelines
Your content guidelines is the first document you should send writers. These act as a point of reference that helps them understand what you expect from them when creating content for your brand. It should describe your company’s tone of voice, vision, mission, how you aim to serve your audience and any expectations on formatting.
Creating detailed guidelines will minimize time spent editing, as well as miscommunication issues between you and your writers.
Your content guidelines will evolve over time, so store them on a platform that allows for collaboration. Use cloud-based platforms such as Google Docs or Notion. Avoid using static file formats, such as Microsoft Word (.docx) or PDFs. Aim to keep your guidelines under four pages long. Use a clear structure with descriptive subheadings, and avoid waffling with chunks of text.
If it doesn’t help the writer create great content, don’t include it. Make it as easy as possible for writers to scan through the document at different stages of the creation process to find what they need, when they need it.
At a minimum, include the following elements:
- Content Marketing Goals: What are you hoping to achieve from your content efforts? Is the primary purpose of your blog to generate leads or sign-ups? Having a clear end game will help writers to naturally guide readers towards a specific action
- Target Audience: Your writers must have your target audience top-of-mind. Provide customer persona documentation, target account criteria (employee count, industry etc.), as well as their aspirations and common pain-points
- Links to your best/top-performing content: List out the top three to five pieces of content from your blog. Showcase content that’s generated the best results, and explain why they performed well. This will give writers an idea of what your audience engages with
- Brand voice & tonality: Should tone of voice be formal or personable? Would your brand use humour and emojis to capture attention? Are there certain phrases that should be used (or avoided) when describing the product? Monzo nail this and have guidelines dedicated to tone of voice alone
- Formatting: Any preferences for use of headers, capital letters and bullet points? Get as detailed as possible to minimize editing Use of images: What sort of visual content should the writer source? Are screenshots and third-party graphs/illustrations encouraged? How should imagery be shared with you?
Use of statistics & citations: How should quotes be presented? Should statistics be linked straight to the source?
Without content guidelines, writers will assume tonality and formatting based on their own tastes. Which isn’t always a bad thing, but you’re likely to end up with edits which could have been avoided with clear guidelines.
Step 2: Produce clear briefs for high-quality content, consistently
Content guidelines set the foundation of what you expect from content.Content briefs, on the other hand, outline what each specific piece of content must achieve.
As important as the brief itself is getting one to your writer on time. Provide briefs at least two weeks before your draft deadline. This gives the writer plenty of time to ask any clarifying questions before starting.
At a minimum, your content briefs should include:
- What the topic is, and the problem/pain-point it’s solving
- What the reader will learn (i.e. what they should be able to execute after reading)
- Who the audience is (include your buyer persona documentation)
- Content outline, or sections and steps to include
- Keyword research*, including a primary target keyword and any secondary/relevant keywords to include
- Useful reference material to help them source any gaps in their knowledge. You can even link to content that is about a totally different topic but has a similar structure you want to emulate.
- Target word count as a rough guide (you can pick a fight with Tom on Twitter about this one)
- A selection of headlines for both editorial and SEO (i.e. meta titles)
- Competing content, to show writers what they’re up against
- Opportunities and challenges, analysing the top five results on Google for your target keyword. Are they thin and lacking in comprehensiveness? Is the keyword fiercely competitive? Make a note of these to give your writers more context
* Keyword analysis is not necessarily required for thought-leadership or product-focused content. Not all content needs to follow an SEO strategy! Create content for the audience and primary channel you’re targeting.
After you’ve experimented with a few variations, it’s useful to stick to a similar format for content briefs. Save a template version in Google Docs with your key headings and simply create a new copy for each brief. Using a similar format for each piece of content will save you time and help your writers get used to what is expected of them.
Step 3: An editorial process for truly polished content
Once a writer has sent you a piece of content, it’s time to get editing!
Here’s your chance to check basic grammar, style and any opportunities to expand on the value you deliver to your audience.
Erica Schneider, Director of Editorial at Grizzle, gives some solid advice about her editing process:
My editing process starts with reading the briefs that were provided to the writer to make sure I’m up to speed on all materials. I’ll open competitor’s articles on similar topics as well as our client’s internal related posts or landing pages and familiarize myself with the topic before I even look at our writer’s piece. Finally, I review the client’s content guidelines to refresh myself on their brand voice and style.
Now that I have an idea of what the client expects and needs, I’m ready to go. I tend to line edit and copy edit as I go, marking up a piece with tracked suggestions and comments. If something small needs to be changed, I’ll go in and rearrange a sentence or paragraph myself. If something bigger needs to change, I’ll ask the writer to change it themselves and, sometimes, I’ll provide an example for the writer to lean on of what I think would make more sense.
I often edit for flow by section first, and then edit for flow by the piece as a whole. I’ll read all sections and rearrange the content within them if need be, or ask the writer to take care of it. By the time I read the whole piece, if I feel any sections need to be rearranged, I’ll do that then.
When I’m done I’ll do a quick once over to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and then send it off!Create an Editorial Checklist
Here’s a quick checklist you can follow to master the bare-bones-basics of content editing:
- Reread the initial brief and materials
- Check basic grammar and spelling
- Check for readability, tone of voice and structure
- Check whether statistics are credible and correctly attributed
- Check referring content sources and quotes
- Check whether headings are value-driven
- Check for opportunities to expand on value
- Edit for on-page SEO
Provide constructive feedback and help writers grow
Once you’ve edited a piece of content, providing clear feedback will help writers understand what they’re doing well and what to adapt for future pieces.
It will also help them become better writers, which means everyone wins.
Erica's feedback process is all about constructive criticism. Give positive feedback when things are good, instead of only pointing out things that are bad. Let the writer know if you think the piece reads well overall, if there were consistent grammar issues to keep an eye on, where repetitive words or phrases were used too often and so forth.
Give as much feedback as possible early on in a relationship with a writer, as this is when habits are developed. If you let something go early on, it will be much harder to correct down the line.
Step 4: Empowering your writers to create exceptional content
To bring out the best in your writers, it’s important to establish a relationship built on trust.
“To bring out the absolute best in your writers, make them feel as if they are part of your team! When you recruit a specialist, they don’t just provide a service you pay for – they free up your time so you can do bigger, more complicated things!
Here are a few ideas for making your writers (or freelancers) feel more at home, and as a result, bring out the best in them:
Pay their invoices on time! Imagine the dissatisfaction of your employees if you’d be late with their paycheck for two weeks. While freelancers are more relaxed, they will be more motivated to work with you on a recurring basis if you pay them on time.
Always provide a detailed brief of the work required. Unless your freelance writer is providing you with strategy services, you’ll need to send them detailed briefs (from keywords to a light outline and potentially, some similar examples). We use the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) framework and always write out why the content piece should exist to enrich our briefs.
Brief them on company changes that might be relevant to them. This could be a new content piece soon to be published, a looming rebrand or revamp of your buyer personas.
Help them out – give a testimonial or refer them to other, non-competing brands.
Remember this is a two-way relationship. Ask for their advice when appropriate and be open to feedback!”
How to make writers love working with you
I asked some of my favourite freelance writers the question:
What do you love most about working with your favourite clients?
Here’s what they had to say:
The ease of it! My favorite clients have nailed down their process and it perfectly aligns with mine. This means that they provide me with a detailed brief on the project we’re working on significantly ahead of time, send me timely feedback on the initial outline, and do everything they can to make the process streamlined. They provide constructive feedback with examples rather than just edit my work, which makes my job not just easier, but really enjoyable, too!
The trickiest thing about working with clients is that it can turn into dozens of back-and-forths just so we can kick off a project, so when someone can reduce the amount of admin while still providing all the key information, it’s invaluable.
– Marijana Kay, Freelance Writer
My favourite clients are easy to work with. They give detailed briefs, their emails are clear and precise, and they just let me do my thing–with no “how are you getting on?” follow-ups after a few days. We both respect each other’s time and skill. Sometimes, they’re better editors than me, and sometimes I’m better writers than them. We both take that on-board and work together.
– Elise Dopson, B2B Content Writer
The people is the biggest thing. My favourite clients are people who I’d be happy to have a coffee with outside of work. I also love that they’re willing to give me everything I need to produce good work with minimum fuss — good briefs, links for research, fast correspondence and quality feedback.
– Gareth Hancock, Freelance Copywriter
I love when there’s a mutual understanding between me and the client, and I want to write for them. Also, many of them are solo business owners, or very small (1-5 employees), and so we have a few things in common as little businesses”
– Jas Hothi, Community Marketer
Obviously, there are things like a good brief, responsiveness and respecting boundaries. But what I really love is clients who are open to collaboration and see our work together as a partnership. Often those gigs are the most fruitful for everyone. I get to have a hand in shaping content and messaging over time, and the client gets someone who understands their business inside out.
– Tamsin Henderson, B2B Copywriter
Step 5: Automating & Outsourcing Your Content & Editorial Processes
As we’ve covered in this post, there are many steps involved to create a smooth process for empowering writers to create incredible content. From creating guidelines, to well-planned briefs to editing & feedback processes, there are lots of moving parts.
This can all become trickly juggle when faced with content deadlines and working with multiple writers at once!
One way to take the entire process off your hands, is to work with a content agency who specialize in managing freelance writers through the entire content creation process.
When looking for an agency take into account:
- Do they produce clear briefs or frameworks that outline goals, competitive analysis and the value to be delivered?
- What does their editorial process look like?
- Do their writers create high-quality work? Make sure you evaluate their work
- Do they cater to your industry and have subject matter expertise in the topics that your audience are hungry for?
- Do they produce content to clients that are similar to your company?
- Do they have positive reviews from other clients?
Most importantly, make sure their content gets results. Whether that be ranking in Google, direct traffic or conversions.
We work with some of the most talented writers, so get in touch if you’d like to speak to us about this. You now know how to bring out the best in your writers to produce content your audience loves. But don’t forget, the first step is to find great writers in the first place.
Treat your talent machine like you would customer retention. Give your writers everything they need to create their best work.
Empower them, and most importantly, let them have fun working with you. This is how you get results-driven content, consistently.