Five (More) Points to Giving Your Writer Better Feedback

Five Points to Giving Your Writer Better Feedback

Following up on the last post, here are five more ways you can give your writer better feedback that helps them deliver exceptional work.

Keep Track of the Feedback You Are Giving

Unless you keep track of the feedback you are giving, you won’t know whether the work is getting progressively better. You can do this by keeping a feedback journal of what has been communicated and what has been implemented. Use a simple Word document or a note taking app like Evernote for this. Note down the feedback, then once communicated to the writer, jot down their feedback on your feedback and then after they have implemented the feedback go back and determine whether they met your feedback goals. This simple journal-keeping can also help you improve your requirements next time you hire a writer as you’ll know what pitfalls to look out for and what feedback is most effective and which isn’t.

Allow the Writer to Thwart Some of Your Feedback

Yes, some of your feedback may actually not be useful or practical so you’ll need to live with that. After communicating your feedback, allow room for your writer to counter that feedback with their own feedback. Also remember the writer may have more experience than you in terms of writing so they may have some deeper insights than you do. The important thing to keep in mind here is that not all feedback is usable, so be willing to dump your feedback if it’s determined that it cannot be used. An interesting side effect of this is that discussing your feedback with the writer could stimulate additional improvements that neither of you had thought about.

Feedback Is a Two-Way Street

Feedback is a dialogue, not a monologue, so be open for counter points from the writer when offering feedback. This a good thing because when information flows back and forth, greater understanding is developed and new synergies formed. When you do offer your feedback, try and elicit feedback from the writer as well. Let them know you are open to hear their thoughts on how to improve the work on hand. Keeping the feedback flowing in a positive loop is the best way to make progress on your writing project without any party feeling like they are just being carried along with no room for their voice to be heard.

Feedback Helps You and the Writer Both Now and in the Future

Think about this for a moment. As you send the writer feedback and journal this information, you are building a wiki of sorts of the sort of feedback that writers will typically respond to best. This can be extremely useful in your future projects as all you’ll need to do is recycle the feedback you’ve already used in the past, saving you time and effort. On the writer’s end, any constructive feedback you give them helps them polish up their skills even more. They can see areas that were previously blind spots and improve accordingly. When you look at feedback this way, it stops being an arduous task and becomes a knowledge management workflow that can fit in well with your overall business strategy. You can also think of it as an opportunity to help your writer become better at what they do.

Do a Postmortem of the Project

Once the project is complete, go back and do a postmortem of the project. What were the major challenges you faced during the project? What was the main issue you had to deal with with your writer? Did the feedback yield any insights on how to run your next project better? Is the writer someone you would hire again or should you start looking for another contractor? Doing all this immediately after the project will help you clearly dissect the project details while they are still fresh in your mind. Do also remember to provide your writer with exit feedback, as this will help them know how they did overall in the project. Although if this is the only feedback you will leave then it’s pointless because the writer no longer has an opportunity to do anything about it.

As a writer, I value feedback highly. I wish more clients would provide it as all the progress I have made as a writer has been as a direct or indirect result of the feedback clients have left me. It’s also true that clients who make the effort to provide feedback tend to be more committed and better clients than those who do not provide feedback.

Five Points to Giving Your Writer Better Feedback

Five Points to Giving Your Writer Better Feedback

When you hire a freelance writer, one of the best ways to ensure you get your money’s worth is to offer then good feedback. Good feedback helps a writer focus their effort and skills on giving you just the right outcome that meets your requirements. When hiring, it’s obvious that you want the best writer. However, the writer is also looking for a competent client, one who can give then constructive feedback. Understanding feedback is therefore crucial to how well the project will progress for both parties.

Praise or Criticism Isn’t Necessarily Feedback

Telling the writer something is great may sound like feedback but it’s not entirely feedback. For example, if you tell me the preceding paragraph is great, I’ll be pleased but I won’t know why you think it’s great. Are the short sentences easier to read; is the grammar not too complicated; etc.? On the flip side, just saying something doesn’t read right also does not help make it better. Remember, the writer is outputting what he thinks is best, helping them understand how to change it is what will make more sense.

Put It All in Writing

Now that that’s out of the way, you’ll want to make sure you put it all in writing. Even if you prefer speaking to the writer, it’s best to first send them the feedback via email or chat then call them up to discuss it. That way, it’s clear what is being addressed. Also, remember feedback can mean the writer doing additional work so you need to be very clear as to why you need them to do so and that you are feedback is not merely superfluous. It’s always good to remain on the same page so the work proceeds smoothly and in good faith.

Feedback Has to Be Actionable

When you read the drafts from your writer and they just don’t read right, don’t just send them back and ask for a rewrite. Take time to figure out why you think they don’t read right. Think of some actionable things that may help the writing get closer to what you are looking for. For instance, if the writing has many long and complicated sentences (these are easy to pick out), note this down and ask the writer to redo the work with shorter sentences. Then go over it again and see if the readability has improved. Keep iterating until the work reads just right. While at it, do avoid vague and unactionable feedback. An example of vague feedback would be, “Please rewrite these three paragraphs to sound more interesting.” That’s as vague as can be.

Prompt Feedback Is Best

To provide prompt feedback you’ll need to factor in feedback sessions before you start the project. If it’s a short project like say an article, you can have the writer do a paragraph first and then see if they are on the right track. Also, give it as short a turnaround time as possible. As soon as you hire, let them know that you require the first paragraph written and submitted within an hour. This has the added advantage of ensuring your project takes priority with the writer. On delivery, provide them feedback within a similarly short turnaround time. Once the feedback has done a full loop and you are both on the same page, proceed with the rest of the project.

Focus on the Work, Not the Person

Sometimes you’ll hire a contractor who’s gifted but has some personality quirk that doesn’t make them very likable. For instance, they may not be very eloquent in speech, or be extremely brief in chats. While these can be irritating, it’s the work that matters. As you provide feedback, please do not provide feedback based on personality and character traits as far as they do not directly impact the project. In the example above, feedback should not include asking them to take public speaking classes or beefing up their chat replies. Stick to the work and what will make the work better.

Feedback in any project is crucial. I’ll be publishing another five points to better feedback tomorrow so be sure to check out the next post.

How to Hire the Right Freelance Writer for Your Project

How to Hire the Right Freelance Writer for Your Project

As a startup or small business, you’ve doubtless turned to freelancers to provide you with some service. It’s the easiest way to get talent without making a big commitment on hiring them permanently. Platforms like Upwork and Freelancer have also made this very easy. What’s not easy, however, if picking the right freelancer, especially when it comes to finding a competent freelance writer who will deliver. As a veteran 10-year freelance writer who has both been hired and hired other writers, I know the ins and outs when it comes to finding the best writers for your project. Here are several important things you should consider when recruiting.

Determine What You Need

Ask yourself, when the project is done, what do I want to have in hand? How does the content look? How many words/ pages will it be? What will it read like? Put yourself in your readers’ shoes and imagine reading the content, what does it sound like, what does it make you feel? How do the sentences read? Are they long or short? Write all that down. If you are also looking at keyword optimization, also write this down. This is a needs assessment and will guide you on developing requirements for the job you are about to post.

Your Job Description

Using the points you came up with above, write out a job description that’s as detailed as possible. The clearer the job description, the easier it will be to recruit the right writer. I’ve read dozens of job descriptions on Upwork where the client isn’t clear on what they need. In many cases the job description is just two or three sentences. Ironically, these short descriptions tend to attract a higher number of mostly low-quality writers while long and detailed descriptions attract a shorter roster of high-quality writers. While brevity is sometimes important, you don’t want to be brief when looking for a freelance writer. Be as detailed as possible in your job description and don’t worry about not getting “many” applicants. Getting 100+ applicants is tedious and a huge waste of time. A detailed job description will snag you fewer applicants with the added benefit of helping you determine who has read through it when you begin reading application letters. A good writer will always mirror your requirements in their cover letter, a sign they have read and internalized what you require.

Skill vs. Experience

I find this to be a major dilemma website owners face when it comes to hiring writers. Here’s the thing, while getting someone with experience is great, I suggest you go for a blend of experience PLUS skill. You see, someone may have been writing for years and years, but their skill isn’t top notch, while a newbie may have just started but they are a natural when it comes to writing. The best way to determine a writer’s skill is to look at their cover letter. How does it read? Is it well crafted? Does it sound like the kind of writing you would like for your project? Poorly written cover letters are usually a sign of things to come so don’t get carried away by someone’s extensive experience, vet their skills as well.

Interviewing

The interview, whether via phone call or chat, is the clincher. While interviewing, do more listening than talking. While you may be tempted to go on and on about your project, what you want is to get a feel of the writer’s thought processes. How well did they understand your job requirements? Do they understand what the content is about? Have they done any additional research on your business industry? What are their thoughts on how best to position the content? And so on. These leading questions will give you a clear understanding of the kind of writer you are dealing with. I always say how someone thinks is how they write because all writing begins as thoughts in the writer’s mind. So, if you can get a sneak peek into their thinking, you have a good idea of how they will write.

Feedback

Feedback is crucial. I must repeat this: Feedback is crucial. Think of a soldier who goes to the battlefront and then all communication is cut off. How do they advance? Do they need reinforcements? Is the enemy retreating or advancing? It’s the same for a writer. Once the task begins, it helps to be available to provide feedback on a regular basis. There’s nothing that kills creativity like working while wondering whether you are on the right track. To remove this speculation, plan regular feedback briefings with the writer to keep them on track and the whole project on track. Be open, candid and most importantly, clear about what your feedback is about. Just saying it doesn’t sound right isn’t much of helpful feedback. Saying instead you would like it to sound friendlier/more serious/ less serious/ funnier/ etc. works better.

There’s nothing like a perfect writer out there but there are some great ones. If you find one of the great ones they can be a real asset for your business. When hiring, be sure to follow these steps to avoid finding yourself stuck with one of the bad apples.

Five Things I Thought Content Marketing Was But Isn’t

Wrapping one’s head around the concept of content marketing takes quite a bit of time. I’ve been a content marketer for almost four years now and I still find new things to learn about content marketing. If you are a continuous learner like I am, you know there’s never any end to learning anything. Technology is constantly evolving and what you swore was the truth yesterday today isn’t. So I’ve decided to take a look back on my four years of content marketing, and six more of writing copy to dig up the myths about content marketing I had believed but turned out to be bull.

#1. Content Marketing is Advertising

dondraper

You’ll forgive me for thinking content marketing was advertising. Although it can be argued that advertising is a form of content marketing, I had this notion that when you run a PPC campaign, you were conducting content marketing. It sounds odd now but back then, coming from a background of being a copy writer, I understood the important role content played in advertising. As such, I approached content marketing as a form of advertising. So, if that was a wrong view of content marketing, what is the right view? Content marketing augments advertising. Whereas advertising drives awareness and calls to action, content marketing builds and nurtures communities. Advertising is all about clicks, content marketing is all about shares, likes, re-tweets, etc.

#2. Content Marketing Generates Instant Results

Panic-Mode

This second myth had me in a panic more times than once. Whenever I took up a client, they’d be looking for the same results as advertising has from content marketing. It also did not help that I thought I could deliver advertising-level results using a content marketing campaign. So we’d develop a blog for the customer, custom content for their social media properties and some additional syndicated content such as press releases and infographics but the most they’d generate were a few likes and shares and then that was it. We’d look for actual conversions but nothing. In most cases, the client would feel content marketing failed and so move back to digital advertising such as PPC. In hindsight, I see the long-term benefits that content would have had on the client’s brand and image. If both the client and I had a more realistic picture of what content marketing is and the value of building long-term communities around your business, then we would have stuck it out. Today I start all my clients off with a summary of what content marketing is and what it isn’t. And providing instant results is one thing content marketing hardly will ever do.

#3. Content Marketing Is All About Creating Viral Content

Going hand in hand with number 2 above, I believed the marketers who could create viral content were the ones who had content marketing correct. You’d see a video released (Old Spice anyone?) and it would have millions of views in a matter of days. It therefore seemed that if your content marketing strategy were to work, you need to develop viral content that would take your client’s web traffic from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand in days. But this too has proven to be a myth. Viral content is a unicorn, an outlier in the universe of content marketing. The real winners in content marketing are those campaigns that have a long-term benefit to a target market. Let me repeat: it’s not about getting the most YouTube views or the most re-tweets on Twitter, it’s about delivering long-term value to your target market. Whether that content goes viral or not, it’s true success is measured by how much value it delivered and whether it helped cultivate your online community further.

#4. Content Marketing Is Creating Content For the Sake of Creating Content

keyword-stuffing

Back in the wild west SEO days, when keyword stuffing was the in thing, people created content for the sake of creating content. In fact, I’ll wager to say that still happens today. This is because there’s this sense that the more content you develop the more leads you’ll get, or something along those lines. It was also a given that if you were conducting content marketing, no one expected you to provide any deep analytics or reports on how that content was performing. It was enough to just say X number of pieces of content were developed and published and that was it. You’d then look at your Google Analytics dashboard and hope the traffic bumps up. That was part of the myth I believed. Today, I look at a piece of content and it speaks to me. It tells me whether it’s optimized for a particular channel or not. It tells me whether it is useful or not. It tells me whether it is ready to be syndicated or not. Content marketing has become more of a science today and the technology to support this transition is rapidly emerging.

#5. Content Marketing Is About Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

GoogleCrawler

Finally, and this is my favorite myth, is that content marketing is about search engine optimization. Remember those days when people didn’t matter and all that mattered were Google bots? Yes, those dark days. Well, I believed that lock, stock and key. If I undertook a content marketing project, I’d scour the web for all the information I could get on the latest Google search algorithms so that the content would obey its conventions. This could not be further from the truth. The truth is that content marketing is about people. It’s about helping people get the right information to help them solve their problems. It’s not about tricking search engine algorithms into ranking your site higher. It’s about being helpful. SEO is important and it does play a part but this part is rapidly shrinking as Google fine-tunes its algorithms to rank for usefulness and quality.  In a not-so-distant future, these algorithms will be able to correlate information like a human and this will weed out a whole bunch of content that may have been well developed but not useful.

So there are my five myths on content marketing debunked. Any myths you believed that turned out to not be true? Let’s continue this conversation in the comments below or on Twitter @wordmarketer

Content Marketing Is A Journey, Not A Destination

Having worked on a number of content marketing projects, I’ve come to appreciate the journey aspect of content marketing compared to the destination motif. When I first got into content marketing, I thought it was something like SEO, where you just stick some keywords into a website and wait for the magic to happen (that too is an oversimplification). Over time, and as I learnt more about what content marketing is, I discovered that the guys who’ve been doing content marketing for the longest time and most effectively are media companies.

These are publishing houses that have editorial briefs and armies of writers and designers and photographers and videographers all working in concert to create the next great story. And stories are at the heart of content marketing. As I dug deeper into the subtle nuances of content marketing, it finally dawned on me that there is really no end to content marketing. If the stories are to be told, the narrative must go on. And this is where I concluded that content marketing is a journey and not a destination.

When I meet new clients, they have the same assumptions I used to have: let’s do this content marketing thing and drive traffic to our site. This creates high expectations of content marketing that almost always are disappointed within the first few weeks of the project. I’ve had clients abandon content marketing when they realized it was too much work and that they had to commit to it for an extended period (with or without me) for it to work.

I once had a client who had me develop an email marketing campaign series and landing page, only to give up when he realized we needed to first build an email list in order for these two campaigns to work. This is a terrible reality that has been brought on by the hype-masters of the Internet. Content mills tend to latch onto any new or novel thing and sensationalize it unnecessarily. So when I work with clients, I try to tone down this hype and help them understand the true nature of content marketing.

Content marketing is about telling stories. It’s sitting your customers on your virtual lap and giving them a good story that uplifts their spirits and gives them hope for tomorrow. And it doesn’t matter which business industry you are in, every business has human beings as customers and those human beings have emotions and that is what stories appeal to.

So the journey of content marketing is about finding stories that appeal to your audience and sharing them. These could be stories you develop yourself or they could be stories you’ve curated from other sources online. These stories could be videos or graphics or blog posts or even just photos that you share with your community. This storytelling nurtures a community around your central themes and ideas. If you have a theme of inspiration, you’ll attract and retain a community of people who believe in your brand and in inspirational ideals.

What I have come to appreciate most about content marketing, however, is that we are all natural storytellers. That makes content marketing a more natural and wholesome form of marketing than the gimmicky type of marketing where you are constantly trying to trick people into buying. When you tell stories, people gravitate towards you on the strength of the truth behind those stories and not based on any tricks.

When such people converge around your brand, they become genuine members of your community and are more likely to become long-term customers as compared to those acquired through slight of text. This is the message I carry to all my customers and my hope is that they come to see the joy and excitement of content marketing and to appreciate the slow yet steady organic results that accrue over time.

What Is Content Marketing?

I’m a content marketer so it’s befitting that the very first article I write here be my definition of content marketing. I first came across the term “content marketing” around three years back. I was a freelance writer, or a content developer, as I liked to call myself, and I was very interested in the role content played in the marketing matrix. So when I heard the term, I went looking for definitions and I read as much as I could on the topic. Unfortunately, back then, it was all hype and no substance because most people were touting content marketing as the new snake oil to fix all your digital marketing woes.

I dislike hype, and especially the type that is used to take advantage of people. Businesses flocked to this new magic pill and many fell by the wayside when content marketing did not deliver the immediate and astronomical results the hype masters were peddling. But over the last two years, as the idea behind content marketing has matured and more and more industry giants have adopted it, it’s now possible to see the true power behind content marketing.

Defining Content Marketing

The definition I love most of content marketing comes from a story that unfolds in the late 1800’s, to be precise, in 1895. John Deere, then a fledgling company selling farming equipment decided to publish a periodical that would provide farmers with some useful information. You see, the magazine, called rather aptly, The Furrow, providing information to farmers on how to become more profitable. It was an instant hit.

Farmers needed this critical information and by providing useful information to them, John Deere became a valuable partner, not only in the farming equipment arena but in the high stakes that the farmers played in, their businesses. This is a beautiful story to me because it shows that the real function of any business is to be helpful to their customers, not sell them a bunch of stuff. That is the change that businesses need to make and content marketing just happens to be the vehicle to carry out this transformation.

With this in mind, content marketing to me is the process of humanizing a business. Turning it from a mechanical, indifferent selling machine to a friendly, personal and empathetic entity that we can allow into any area of our lives. It’s saying, people don’t need more sales messages and marketing gimmicks to get them to buy.

Do you get me?

They need to know instead that you “get” them and they are not to you just another receipt but they are people with feelings, hopes and fears. Content marketing opens up this bidirectional conversation and sets you on a new footing with your customers. Content marketing turns your customers into a community, which rallies around your brand, value systems or even just the ideas you all share in common.

If this is content marketing, how do you make it work for your business? I know many people give very technical definitions of content marketing and supply a ten point plan on how to make it work. I, instead, have just two words: “Be Helpful”. Your business may have the best products in the market, or you may even just be starting off but the fact is, people buy with their emotions and emotions are hardly ever rational. So if this is the case, then being helpful goes beyond just trying to trick them into buying. It reaches right into them and touches their heart and feelings, and they know you are the one they’ll buy from. To bring this closer to home, let’s assume you’re a web design company.

How can you be helpful to your customers?

Step into their shoes, understand the challenges they go through with their websites and address those challenges through content. That is the primary reason I’m writing this blog post, because I know my clients struggle in trying to wrap their heads around the concept of content marketing. So I want them to know not to get caught up in the hype. I want them to know content marketing is just them doing what they do best: being helpful to their customers. I also want them to know there’s no magical snake oil in content marketing. It’s hard work, just like anything else, but it pays, and pays, and pays, over the long term.

Finally, as I bring in this definition to a landing, I want to encourage you to take a moment to think of all the ways other businesses you patronize can be helpful to you. If it’s the local deli, how can they be more helpful to you? If it’s the gym down the road, how can they be more helpful to you? Once you begin to understand your needs as a customers and what you wish other businesses did better, you’ll find it’s easier to understand the needs of your customers and how to be more helpful to them.

So remember, there’s nothing more to content marketing than this: “Be Helpful”.