The Problem with Writers: What You Can Expect

working with writers

working with writersWe’re a weird sort. Writers. (Humans, in general, but that’s a different blog post altogether.) Writers are wildly neurotic and obsessed with crazy things like word choice.

That’s why it’s hard for business people to hire us. I see their point, particularly those who have been burned by writers who don’t meet deadlines.

Businesses, do not put up with that.

Writing is a business. Someone who doesn’t treat it like that deserves to be begging for work. Don’t make excuses for writers missing deadlines because you think that’s how they all operate. There are writers out there who understand in order to eat, they need to deliver on time.

When I met my first client for the first time (we worked together virtually for 2 years before meeting face-to-face) he remarked on the fact I had never missed a deadline. He said it with a tone of surprise and I laughed. “You mean deadlines are flexible? I never knew.”

If I was winker, I certainly would’ve winked for dramatic effect. Alas, my winks always come out wrong.

 

Increase Expectations for Working with Writers

Whether you’re employing writers or you’re a business writer reading this, here is what all businesses should be able to expect from their writers and writers should look to deliver for their clients:

  • On time delivery. Yes, things come up, but a sunny day isn’t something that comes up (okay, technically the sun comes up but…) it’s not an excuse for not delivering.
  • A fair wage. Regardless of how you feel about the minimum wage, what writers do is real work. They should be compensated and that compensation should be somewhere above a pittance and below what people make as a second-string NFL player. If you expect professionalism from a writer, you must compensate them accordingly. If you’re a writer, don’t undercut yourself by doing things for “exposure.”
  • A social presence. I know some writers won’t agree, but you can’t just sit around selecting words all day and arranging them on paper. You must create a personal brand, understand WordPress, and be proficient in , at least, the major social networks. Your clients may need this help. You should be able to advise them.
  • Content ideas. One of my highest values as a writer is not in my writing. Sure, I hope that’s good because that’s the immediate need of my clients but my real value is in something they probably don’t consider. It’s the vast amount of reading and researching I do. Very few of my clients give me topics. Most of them I glean on my own by getting to know their industry. With each new client I learn their industry as if I was planning a career in it. I do this for my own interest in personal growth. I don’t charge for it. I consider it an investment in making myself a more robust writer. Writers shouldn’t need to be spoon fed with all the information available on the Internet. It doesn’t take long to become an expert in the minimal depth required to write a blog or social media post. If you’re working with a writer who does need content fed to them, you’re going to spend a whole lot of time rewriting their stuff.
  • Connections and news. Most of my clients are busy running their businesses, whereas I am either writing or researching all day long (this is the reason my blog looks like a ghost town). It’s common for me to find industry information and breaking news that I pass on to my clients. Often it allows them to be first with information to their community. Writing is producing a product but the type of writers you want to work with again and again are the ones who act as if they are part of your business and not just delivering a product.

The things I mention here are what I see as the basics of what a writer should be doing in this digital marketing age. What do you think? Am I off base or should writers be a valuable extension of the company’s marketing efforts?

Tips on How to Feed Your Content Need

Feed your Content Need

Feed your Content NeedDid your parents ever tell you, money doesn’t grow on trees?

This was particularly confusing for me because growing up in a half-Italian family, we often gave what was called a “Money Tree” with money in small bills attached to the branches for good luck.

But apparently, as I learned somewhere around the age of 10, even though the tree is called a “Money Tree” the money has to be placed there and doesn’t actually grown from its branches.

This is not true of content.

Content ideas grow on trees and everywhere else. Content ideas can be found while watching television, while reading your twitter feed, while talking to friends, or having a conversation with your child. You can get ideas for your business when answering a customer service call or perusing your competitor’s website.

All those “National ____ Day” designations, as well as holidays, provide content ideas. You can repurpose your old content by refreshing data or stats contained in it or creating a new version in a different form of media.

Since it’s that time of year, I’m going to leave you with

12 Days of Content Ideas:

On the twelfth day of working, my content creator give to me:

12 posts addressing customer questions,

11 customer stories,

10 inspirational image quotes,

9 quick tip videos,

8 favorite things questions,

7 tweetable quotes from blog posts,

6 compliments to others on social media,

5 staff introduction videos,

4 favorite book reviews,

3 best industry practice podcast tips,

2 rebuttals to other industry posts,

and

a behind the scenes video look at our company.

When creating content use multiple forms from whitepapers to blog posts, tweetable quotes to images, video to podcasts.  When you create the content in one form, look for ways to use pieces of it in other forms of media. It is much easier to carve up pieces of things you’ve already created and repurpose them than it is to create something from scratch each time. Plus it is rare that your audience will see everything you create. If someone sees the same content in a different form it will only reinforce the message.

Look around you. Content is everywhere. It’s easy to feed your content need.

You just have to be open to discovery and be creative about how you can use it.

How to Select a Marketing Writer

How do you find a good marketing writer?

how to select a marketing writerWhen I went out on my own nearly two years ago, a colleague then put me in contact with another writer. He thought it would be nice for the two of us to compare notes and maybe she had some advice for me.

Writers are generally not social folks so reaching out to a complete stranger is not high on our list of favorite things to do. Before I was going to reach out to her I wanted to do my research and asked for her website.

He provided it hesitantly and said something like, She’s like most employed writers. Her website stinks.

At the time, his comment meant nothing to me, other than she might have a lack of technology skills. Nearly two years later of being in business for myself, I have a little perspective and it has nothing to do with technology.

If you’re looking for a marketing writer you need someone competent and trustworthy. After seven years in marketing and a couple of decades spent as a writer, I’ll tell you — most people can match nouns and verbs.

Writing is no different from cooking in that way. Anyone can follow a recipe. But to find a masterful chef who can whip something out of nothing, who can make everything in your pantry seem more appealing, that takes skill. Here’s how to find it.

How to Tell a Good Writer from a Lackluster One

How do you find a good marketing writer?I’m going to assume you can read copy on the writer’s website or in a portfolio and decide whether someone has mastered the basics of persuasive writing.

If there are a lot of typos, or the text sounds terrible when you read it out loud, move on to the next person. From the people who make the cut, take a look at the following things:

Her Website is Not Great

Like my colleague said, one of the signs of a successful writer is a terrible website. A successful marketing writer is very in demand these days. Google has done a great job explaining to companies why they need good quality content. For this reason most great writers with competitively priced services are working. They don’t have time to fiddle with their site or their marketing. A great writer has plenty of work and gets referrals so marketing is not a top concern. A working writer probably doesn’t blog every day unless she purposely keeps her workload light to do so.

She Has a Social Presence

Often the quote “Writers write.”, is bantered around writing communities, but writers no longer have the luxury of only writing. It’s a lot more complicated than that. A writer must ensure her content is inline with current search engine optimization tactics and must understand social media since much of her content will be shared that way.

A writer with a following is also nice to hire because (if you both agree to it) you’re getting access to her network as she shares the content she wrote.

She Won’t Work for Free

Links do not pay the bills. A good, experienced writer will not write for free unless you have a great service or product she needs and you’re both interested in a barter exchange, or you are a non-profit and she’s writing for you out of the goodness of her heart or as part of a community service obligation for the Court.

She Wants to Know About Your Business, Your Goals, and Your Strategy

A great marketing writer needs to know about you, your audience, and your objectives for the content. Without this she might as well be writing a persuasive essay for her English prof in 1990. Good marketing writing must factor in audience, SEO, marketing message, a call-to-action, and more. Most professional marketing writers take notes on their clients and write in a tone that matches their needs and appeals to their audience and industry.

If you need help finding a good marketing writer, ask businesses with copy you like. You might’ve assumed they handled it in-house but no always. If they outsourced it, they might give you their writer’s contact information. You can also place a request to your network on LinkedIn.

If the writer you approach is too busy to take on your content creation needs, ask if she knows someone. Most of us have professional contacts and people whose talents we trust.

***

You’ll notice my post is conspicuously missing a call to action — one where I ask you to fill out my contact form and hire me. While I would gladly add this marketing technique to the bottom or your blog posts, my blog aims at helping not selling. It’s up to you as a business owner to decide how heavy-handed of an approach you want to take in your marketing copy.

When it comes to my own writing, I’m an un-marketer — resources not copy; stories over tag lines. That’s what I like to read so that’s what I use here.

How to Work with a Freelance Writer

How to work with a freelance writer

Google has led businesses (albeit somewhat forcefully with the Panda roll-out) to embrace the importance of good content. If you’re one of those businesses who realized your growing need for content, you probably either turned to existing employees, hired new ones, signed on with an agency, or are considering a freelancer.

Working with a freelance content creator is the quickest, most consistent, and least expensive way of handling your need for increased content. But hiring a freelancer is a little different from an agency or an employee. Here are a few things you need to know to ensure the working relationship goes smoothly:

Tips for Working with a Freelance Writer

There’s a Content Creation Schedule (and you’re part of it)

Unless your freelancer is on retainer to freelancers have schedulesyou, you can assume a couple of things:

  • You are not her only client
  • She cannot wait for you to give her work if she wants to eat

People who have never worked with freelancers, or at least in-demand ones, will assume the working relationship is much the same way it is with your employees — when you have work you give it to her.

A good freelance writer is in hot demand these days and adheres to an extremely tight delivery schedule. Last-minute jobs are probably not possible unless you have asked the freelancer to keep a certain date clear and have paid her to do so.

If you have a lot of last-minute work, you either need to rework your content needs and schedule, find someone with zero clients, or pay to work with a freelance writer on retainer who can wait for your work.

No One Can Talk on the Phone and Write Content at the Same Time

Writer’s write. That’s how they pay their bills. If you want the writer to participate in an activity that precludes writing such as being part of a conference call, touring a facility, hosting a webinar, or taking your kid bowling, she will not be writing, and thus not able to make a living. Expect to compensate the writer for things that keep her from writing.

A Writer is Not an Operations Manager or Project Manager

You should expect that a freelance writer writing for business in today’s world will understand:

  • SEO
  • WordPress
  • (a little) HTML
  • Grammar and how to right good (Just kidding. Write and well.)
  • Content marketing
  • Your audience, tone, and industry (or be willing to learn or research it)
  • How to write attention-grabbing titles
  • The importance of scannable content and other design elements
  • How to find topics that appeal to your ideal customer

Writers must have a host of skills outside of crafting a beautifully written paragraph. However, if you expect your content creator to manage other operations within your organization, you need to make that clear in the beginning. Most writers are not project managers. They cannot bring cohesion to your team, or organization to your business, without taking time away from the content creation. If you need a more organized operation or increased efficiencies, hire that specialist.

Remember a Freelancer is (Probably) Not in Housefreelance writers aren't project managers

A lot of what people know about the day-to-day operations of a business is picked up because they sit in the office and “hear” things. Your freelancer isn’t going to overhear you telling your assistant that you’ve rethought your content strategy.  Failure to communicate with your freelancer, means she won’t know about the change of mind.

If you run an entirely in-house operation, outside of your content creator, this may be the hardest part of the working relationship to get used to. When you all sit under the same roof, some things get communicated by osmosis (or office gossip). This will not happen with an outside person.

Always Ask for a Deadline

Most freelancers work by a strict schedule and will make sure they can meet your deadline. If one is not provided, most freelancers will ask when you need your project completed. If he doesn’t, ask him what his schedule looks like and when he expects to have it done.

Just because the project only takes about an hour (in your mind), doesn’t mean he can do it the hour you turn it over. Asking for a delivery date means everyone is on the same page.

Working with a freelance content creator can be a wonderfully rewarding experience as her skills can bring a lot to the team. Where else can you find an employee you can pay based on productivity and deliverables but reap the benefit of someone who has the latest knowledge on content marketing and social media best practices? (You have to keep your skills up-to-date when your paycheck depends on them.)

A truly skilled content creator can also help you with content strategy and analysis of how effective your content is. Before you turn to your next-door neighbor to write your business content, look at what a content marketing professional can add to your content mix.

Are Women Better at Telling a Business Story?

Are women better at telling stories than men?Have you ever asked a man about a newborn?

When a friend, boyfriend, spouse, or male co-worker proudly announces that someone in his life just had a baby, and you ask for details above and beyond gender and name, have you noticed the glazed look in his eye?

A woman will not only tell you the exact length and weight of the child but also:

  • what the date and time of the child’s birth means including any similarities it shares with the other hundred people she knows
  • how the mother’s birth sign will mean a stressful relationship between the two
  • and how the child also has Aunt Mildred’s nose even though no one has seen Aunt Mildred since that issue from a decade ago that no one will talk about in a normal tone.

Women capture more of the details.

We also use more words. (Not that a large number of words is preferable in telling a story.) So…

How Do You Tell an Effective Business Story?

What is preferable in creating an effective story are the following details, and let’s face it, women know details.

Setting the Stage

A story must have a context and a setting for your audience to identify with it. Trying to make it fit in “any old place” is giving away an opportunity for connection. Luckily, most business stories incorporate place if for no other reason that their business is located in one.

Baiting the Hook

Again, women reign supreme on this. How often do men ask us “What’s wrong?”, and we reply with a muttered nothing. It’s not because there really isn’t anything wrong. We just want to make sure our audience is paying attention when we finally divulge exactly what’s eating us.

We also do this on Facebook. How many of your women friends post things like “<sigh>” waiting for someone to take the bait?

Creating a Character

Women are always creating characters and assigning shared characteristics to completely oblivious people. For instance, we won’t date a certain man because he reminded us of our high school guidance counselor who wore the same pair of shoes, shirt and pants every day and no one wants to marry that guy. But it’s not that this new guy wears the same clothes every day. No, he gets lumped into the guidance counselor role because they both said the word “fire” like it was pronounced foy-yer.

But that’s okay, because you already have a mental image of this guy now don’t you?

Setting a Goal

All good marketing needs a goal and here I’m going to give men their due.  A tight marketing campaign (and business story) is going to contain a measurable, defined goal and men are just as capable as women in defining and analyzing the effectiveness of a marketing campaign.

I wrote this post to annoy several professional friends of mine. That was my goal. I’ll let you know how it worked.

In all seriousness, the reason storytelling is so effective in marketing is because it gives you a feel for the personalities behind the brand. A vibrant storyteller will make your audience feel something and say it in a way that is both memorable and inspiring. It doesn’t matter if that person is male or female, works for the company directly as CEO or mail-room clerk, or an agency person who gets ready every morning by acting out scenes from Mad Men.

They just have to be skilled at sharing that one true point that builds an indelible impression and leads to a connection that drives a purchase.

Do you think women are better than men at business storytelling? Let me have it below.