Well actually it's not the New Year yet if you go strictly by the calendar. But Labor Day marks the traditional end of summer and a kick off to new beginnings. Back to school for some and a resumption of regular work schedules for others. It's a time for getting back up to speed, refocusing your energy, and taking on new projects.
Meeting deadlines, delivering error-free copy, and being flexible are all things you should reasonably expect from your copywriter. But that's just the baseline of what you should be getting. Selecting just the right verb, using proper punctuation, and avoiding overused cliches are things every professional writer should be able to provide.
The true benefit of using a freelance copywriter goes beyond the proper mechanics of writing and extends into leveraging his or her experience and expertise. To provide you with a truly value-add service, your writer needs to draw from a broader pool of knowledge to create compelling copy that meets your particular needs.
Here are five areas in which your copywriter should possess a high level of skill and experience.
Crafting stimulating content that attracts prospects and drives action is important, but a crucial first step is gathering information. Source material is typically not simply handed out but must be developed from primary sources. Often the writer will have to spend time with subject matter experts to extract relevant information from their vast wealth of knowledge. These SME's are usually in high demand within their organizations and have limited availability, so the writer has to maximize the time allotted to the interview. That means carefully planning the questions, listening carefully to responses, and being able to pivot from the plan if new and interesting information comes up.
In my past experience as a working journalist, I've learned that not only do you need to be asking the right initial and follow up questions, but you must also establish credibility with the subject in order to achieve the best results.
When the copywriter doesn't have the benefit of mining an SME for input on a topic, he or she will have to conduct research from secondary sources. Google and other online resources makes that a much easier task than it used to be, but the amount of accessible information can sometimes be overwhelming, causing the "can't see the forest for the trees" syndrome. When doing research, a copywriter must focus on what pertinent information to include, when to pursue new angles that surface, and when to avoid being dragged into a black hole of distraction. It takes a special skill to be able to unearth the valuable nuggets of information from the huge mountain of available data.
When creating thought leadership content, it's important for a copywriter to understand the underlying strategy of the client. In some cases, this strategy may be inherently understood, but has never been fully articulated. A writer with experience in developing business strategies can be invaluable in helping to state the strategy clearly and succinctly. I just finished a project with a client who was creating a concept map for business planning and being able to share some ideas from my past business experience helped him sharpen the focus of the piece.
Sales and marketing
Many of the pieces your copywriter creates for you are thought leadership pieces - white papers, eBooks, articles, and blog posts. You likely also have a need for website copy, email blasts and landing pages, data sheets, and case studies - good, old fashioned selling. To make that transition and craft effective sales copy, your copywriter should have some working knowledge of the sales and marketing process.
For several years I was responsible for sales and marketing in a global manufacturing and logistics organization. Working with some outstanding sales and marketing executives taught me about the challenges of building a pipeline, nurturing leads, and closing deals. The experience has come in handy on several projects including helping to ghostwrite books on sales and marketing for two separate clients and polishing a sales presentation another client was giving to a major prospect.
Many copywriting pieces require a working knowledge of finance and financial terms. Your copywriter doesn't have to be a CPA or a financial analyst, but he or she must understand and be able to articulate the basics as it applies to your content. White papers, case studies, and blog posts often need to include a discussion of ROI and how the basic components of income statements and balance sheets affect it. If your business directly relates to finance, such knowledge is crucial. I just finished a corporate overview piece to be used in a presentation seeking a new round of investor financing. The experience from my days as an Executive VP for a venture capitalist-owned company helped me target the piece to what I know investors are looking for in such presentations.
You can't expect your copywriter to be an expert in every possible business discipline, but working with a writer with broad skills and experience in these important areas can provide you with a valued asset when it comes to collaborating on your content needs.
Summer is over and you’re back from vacation. Remember all those things you told yourself you’d get to after Labor Day? Welcome to “after Labor Day.” Some of those tasks growling on your desk involve creating content – an eBook, white paper, or series of blog posts. If you and your staff are buried with other priorities, you may decide to contract with a freelance copywriter to help break the logjam of work you’re facing.
Probably a smart choice, but only if you get the result you want. Here are nine tips to get maximum value with minimum management time.
1. Clearly define what you need
Be precise on what you want in a final product. Determine the topic, content vehicle, target audience, and focus of the piece. If you need help defining some of these points, reach out to your writer for assistance. An experienced professional can help crystallize your need.
2. Get the right stakeholders involved
If someone else in the organization is going to approve the copy, make sure he or she is involved before you and your copywriter begin working on the project. I once had a case where my client and I were totally in concert on what he wanted. We went from concept to outline to first draft and were both happy with the result. Unfortunately the CEO who had final say didn't share our feeling. It wasn’t what HE wanted. We were striving for an objective thought leadership piece and the CEO wanted a sales brochure. We needed to know that up front. Instead, my contact looked bad to his boss and my credibility took a hit as well - even though I delivered precisely what was requested.
To avoid that costly disconnect, make sure you’ve circulated the concept and outline to everyone who might have a say in the piece. Know your relevant stakeholders and engage them from the start.
3. Get off on the right foot
Once you have consensus from your stakeholders on what you're trying to accomplish, communicate the basics of the project to your copywriter in a kickoff call. Agree on the voice, tone, and style of the piece. Will it be an informal second person approach where you address the reader directly or a more formal style using the third person objective case? Do you prefer footnotes, endnotes, or links? Discuss the scheduling requirements as well. Nailing down these issues early saves a lot of confusion, delays, and time-consuming back-and-forth communication later.
4. Agree on source material
Let your writer know what you'll be providing for source material and what he or she will need to research separately. In most cases, this will need to be discussed before your writer can provide pricing on the project. Identify any SME’s your writer might have to contact and do a virtual email introduction. Communicate any source materials you DO NOT want used.
5. Approve an outline
Review and approve an outline before your writer begins the first draft. This will ensure the piece is going in the direction you want. If it’s a short piece – a blog post for instance – you may only need to see a title and a few bullet points. For a longer piece like an eBook or white paper, reviewing a detailed outline before writing begins is a must.
6. Get a Sneak Preview
Especially on longer pieces, request an early look before your writer gets too far along. Reviewing the opening and perhaps a slice of the first section will confirm that your writer is following the agreed upon tone and style. That isn't something you can determine from the outline alone.
7. Be Available to Communicate
Although the point of outsourcing the piece is to free you up for other tasks, there are times when your writer will need you for clarification or direction. If you've hired an experienced professional, it won't happen often, but when you are contacted, make an effort to answer promptly. It may take you only a couple of minutes, but your writer could be at a standstill until you respond.
8. Review and Revise
If you’ve followed the process to this point, you'll likely receive a first draft that will be close to a final version. There may be a quote or fact that needs to be revised, or a paragraph or two you want reworded, but there shouldn't be a need for any major revisions. Usually a brief review call with your writer and one revision cycle should be all that’s needed to get you the final product.
9. Provide Feedback
Once the project is complete, let your writer know how you feel it went. Whether you have some comments about the process or the writing itself, communicate that to your writer so he or she can incorporate the feedback into the next project you do together. Developing an ongoing relationship with a reliable, seasoned copywriter can streamline the process considerably. The more your writer knows about you, your audience, and your product or service, the better he or she is able to deliver the desired final product - the first time - with minimal intervention from you.
How do you manage your outsourced writing projects? What process have you found most effective?
Summertime and the living is easy, as the old song goes. It's true that between vacations, half day Fridays, and long weekends, things tend to slow down in July and August. That doesn't mean you should stop communicating with your prospects and customers all summer. When I was in the corporate world, I was amazed by the amount of time businesses let slip away. Starting around Thanksgiving people would begin their "we'll pick it up after the holidays" mantra. Things got going again in January for a few months but by June everyone would talk about doing things "in the fall." Add it up and you'd be looking at losing three or four months of productive work a year.
In today's competitive environment, that's a luxury most businesses shouldn't tolerate - especially when it comes to your content marketing program. Several studies estimate that 60% of the buyer's journey is completed before a prospect reaches out to a vendor. If a buying cycle is four months, that means prospects are out there making preliminary decisions for two and a half months before they even contact you. If that time frame falls during the summer and your content is lying in a beach chair somewhere, chances are you've already lost the business.
Taking time off is necessary to recharge your batteries but you need to make an exception when it comes to your content. This is no time to shut that down. Not only is it a bad idea to go dark with your inbound marketing for a few months, it might actually be the perfect time to do the opposite.
Here are a few reasons you should make sure your content is alert and on the job all summer.
Stand out from the crowd. The fact that so many companies let their content go stagnant during the summer months can work to your advantage. It will highlight the fact that you are up and running. Prospects in the early stages of the buying process can get frustrated if they don't find the information they need. Providing the fresh content they're looking for puts you on the fast track to a potential new customer.
Downtime means more time. Things do slow down in the summer but that actually can work in your favor. People that are in the office during vacation season may find additional time in their schedules. Freed from the normal hectic pace and never ending meetings, they may actually dig deep into their "to do" list to get to things they've put on the back burner. Some of those could require spending extra time researching a product or service they're considering. This is the perfect time to get fresh, longer content pieces - an eBook or white paper - into their hands.
Prospects are mobile. You might even reach those prospects that are out of the office at the beach or in the mountains. Unfortunately the days of completely unplugging from the business world are long gone. Smartphones and tablets are too hard to resist and most people will take the opportunity to tune into some work related reading while they're away. Advertising Age states that the average US adult spends almost two and a half hours a day using a mobile device. Chances are the number's even longer during a vacation. You should have some content out there ready for them when they start doing some business related surfing.
Front Load Your Fall. The problem with "holding off until after vacations" is that eventually summer ends. All those "to do's" you've been "holding off" on - including your content schedule - continue to build and then explode on your desk right after Labor Day. Summer is the perfect time to get a head start on those content needs so they won't get lost as the early fall activity ramps up.
Go ahead and enjoy yourself this summer. Just make sure your content is still hard at work while you're gone.
What are your content plans for the summer months? Can you afford to unplug from your customers for 20-25% of the year?
Happy New Year! Are you already sick and tired of the avalanche of advice on reevaluating the state of your business and things you should be doing to succeed in 2014? The barrage of ideas can be overwhelming and confusing.
I'm offering only one suggestion. Clear out the clutter and keep it simple.
A project I did with one of my technology clients a few months ago illustrates the point. The process we went through was basic but effective. The result is three simple questions that you should ask before starting every content project in 2014.
1. Who are your prospects/customers?
My client was producing a ton of good content as part of the company's marketing program. That put them in the majority since according to the 2014 benchmarking report from the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, nine out of 10 B2B marketers use content marketing to help drive their business. But my client wasn't satisfied with the download traffic or lead generation activity generated by her content. So the first question we asked was: "Who is the target for all this content?"
After some discussion, we determined that the hands-on IT staff would be the ones most likely to research the problems my client's product solved. They would be the ones googling for additional material, visiting relevant sites, and downloading content that would address their problems. These operators would be the ones generating traffic and leads for my client.
In reviewing the existing content we realized that it was aimed primarily at the more strategic IT operations people - folks at the higher levels of management. My client's company was not going to show up in searches aimed at detailed problem analysis and solutions with that type of information.
I suggested we shift the content focus to the IT folks in the trenches.
2. What's important to them?
Once we identified our target, the next step was to create appropriate content. What was relevant to them? What challenges did they face and what possible solutions existed to overcome them? What kind of information did they need to help them do their jobs better?
Looking at the current content we discovered that much of it centered on the business benefits of the products. That was obviously important to the more senior level IT managers who were concerned with ROI and strategic edge.
However we realized that while the IT staff running the data centers surely appreciated the financial benefits of the product, they were more focused on the functionality and productivity improvements it could bring.What products would solve their problems? How could they free up resources that could be used to allow staff to tend to other urgent daily tasks? What would help get the business owners the information they needed in a more timely fashion? Those were the issues IT staff faced every day and the ones for which they needed answers.
3. How do you reach them?
Once we nailed down the target audience and what was relevant to them, we needed to determine the best way to get to them - to attract them to our site and our content. My client had been producing blogs and eBooks which provided a higher level, strategic view of their product. We realized that the folks we were trying to reach would not likely be downloading those pieces of content. We needed something that would appeal more directly to their needs.
We ultimately determined that our tactical audience was more likely looking for in depth information that addressed their issues and discussed possible solutions. I ended up expanding on some of their existing content, developing several detailed white papers and case studies. These pieces effectively framed the challenges IT staff faced and outlined potential solutions available in the marketplace. This new content also outlined how my client's product was a particularly effective solution and one they should consider. I followed that up with a series of blog posts that linked back to the various white papers. The result was a dramatic uptick in traffic, downloads, and overall lead generation activity.
This exercise shows that your content marketing plan doesn't have to be overly complicated. Outline your goal, determine your target audience, find out what's important to them, and use a content vehicle that will best reach them. Use this simple process as you begin work on any piece of content and your chances of success will increase significantly.
How do you determine what content you're going to produce and the best way to reach your prospects?
Content, content, content. If you have any responsibility for the marketing function in your organization, you're well aware of the steady shift to Inbound from Outbound Marketing. You're also no doubt being badgered by every blog, article, and webinar about the need to continually feed the content monster. More content. Relevant content. More frequent content.
All that pestering is valid. For your Inbound Marketing program to be successful, you need to be providing content on a regular basis so your prospects can find you and eventually become customers. But it's more than just pouring content into the top of the funnel and waiting for the revenue to flow out of the spout. To be really effective, you need to be providing the right content at the right time.
You know by now that prospects don't want to be sold. But they do want help to buy. The information they need differs at each stage in the buying cycle. That's the key point. A successful Content Marketing plan matches the appropriate content to the needs of the prospect at each step of the Customer Journey.
From your prospect's perspective, the Customer Journey can be separated into three steps: Discovery, Research, Purchase. From your point of view, the corresponding stages are: Awareness, Credibility, Sale. To get to the final stage and close the deal, you need to be aligned with your prospect by providing compelling content at every step.
Here's how to approach each phase from a content perspective.
Your prospects have a need to be fulfilled. At the beginning of the journey, they're casting a wide net looking for possible solutions. Your goal at this stage is to provide content that makes you part of the catch. Introduce yourself to prospects in order to advance to the next stage.
There are numerous ways to present your organization to potential customers. Blogs promoted on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube), infographics, and video are among the most effective content pieces to help you get noticed. Your website, logo, and ad campaigns all contribute to your visibility. plan a route . You have to be out there with content that people can find and share so when they have that need, they think of you.
Once you make the cut and become a potential source to fulfill the prospects' requirement, the validation stage begins. Prospects will be conducting more in depth research at this point to determine who is best suited to meet their need. You must prove that you can provide a credible solution. You can best do this by providing content that illustrates your knowledge, expertise, and ability to help them. Content pieces that establish your credibility include ebooks, white papers, articles, and webinars.
If you've done a good job establishing your viability, you'll hopefully get a chance to close the deal. The prospect has invested a lot of time and energy getting to the final candidates. Your goal now is to differentiate yourself from the other contenders. Why should the prospect choose you? What makes you the best solution to solve their problem? Content that can nail down the sale includes vendor comparisons, case studies, company presentations, and proposals.
Don't cut corners when it comes to the final proposal. If you've been fortunate enough to be selected as a finalist, your last chance to seal the deal is with your proposal. Take advantage and make sure you use this final opportunity to convince your prospect that you can provide the best solution for their need.
Yes content is crucial. Your content plan is much more effective, however, when you have a strategy that puts the right content in front of your prospect at the time it will do the most good.
Do you have a comprehensive content strategy? If not, why not?