“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well you might just find you get what you need” [from Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”].
If you want good content from writing services and/or your own writers, you gotta try. Trying requires being specific in your instructions. You can’t get what you don’t ask for.
Also, Never assume, because you’ll make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.
Too often I assumed writers would understand what I would want with scant instructions. Mea culpa.
These are two fundamental rules of outsourcing content that I’ve unfortunately broken way too many times.
For years, I failed to invest the proper time necessary to adequately instruct writers and then scratching my head as to why I’d be disappointed with the work received. It was more often my fault than theirs.
I made the same mistake with accepting guest content. I wasn’t clear about what I wanted and so I didn’t like what I received. You can read how I’ve corrected this and now receive loads of amazing content for free each month here.
But, I have learned the errors of my ways. I’m not getting amazing content from outsourcers and guest contributors. Sure, I need to roll up my editing sleeves a bit, but it sure beats writing it all from scratch.
Here’s how I instruct writers so that the content I receive is excellent.
Step 1: Publish an excellent example
I publish one, two or even three outstanding examples of the type of content I want. I hone it and make it as perfect as possible. This will serve as a tangible example for writers to refer to.
An important point here is “the type” of content. I publish 8 or so different types of content. By type I mean it’s an angle that has specific formatting and media. For instance, a round up is a type of content. A list post is a type of content. A gallery is a type of content. A product review is a type of content. Each site will have its own “types of content.” It’s good to identify those types and have a uniform format for them so writers have a “template” to follow.
Step 2: Create a list of topics
This is obvious. You need to create a list of topics. I prefer long tail, but you publish on whatever you like. The key is that your writers know the topic that you want to cover.
I also make it clear what type of content it is so once they’re familiar with the format, they know exactly how to cover the topic and how to format the article.
Step 3: Video instructions are a necessity
By far the best way to provide instructions is to make a 5 to 10 minute video of you explaining every detail of the example articles you’ve already published. I think it’s helpful to explain why you do what you do so they can understand what you want even better.
Do not assume anything. Comb over the entire examples with video explaining everything.
Video is amazing for both you, the publisher and the writer. The writer gets very detailed instructions. You’re able to provide those detailed instructions with only 5 to 10 minutes of work. You can cover far more ground in a 10 minute video than you can with written instructions.
I use Jing for quick videos.
Step 4: Outline
This is optional, but recommended for longer content. Without a doubt, I get the best content when I provide a detailed outline. I hate making them, but it pays off in the long run.
My outlines consist of all headings and sub-headings. The writers just need to fill in the blanks and get photos when applicable.
I do this for guest post contributors as well.
A good outline takes anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes to put together. It may take longer if it’s a topic that you’re unfamiliar with.
Step 5: Provide resources
You can either show your resources in the video or in your instructions. Regardless, it helps your writers tremendously if you show them where to get the information and to do the research, especially if you’re looking for very specific information.
Of course sometimes you want the writers to do the research, but if you have a batch of resources you use regularly in your niche, provide them to your writer(s).
Step 6: Be Patient
I’m a very impatient publisher. When I think of a topic, I want it published yesterday. Of course writers can’t produce it that fast.
More importantly, keep your eye on the prize, which is getting content that is as close to perfect as possible. This saves you a lot of time and so if you must wait a few extra days, so be it.
Step 7: Give Feedback
This is an important step if you’re going to continue placing content orders. If the content isn’t perfect, say so politely. Place blame on your shoulders that you probably didn’t provide sufficient instructions and then explain what’s wrong and how it should be fixed going forward.
This is one very strong argument for starting with ordering only a couple or few articles. This gives you a chance to give feedback before the massive batch comes in.
Step 8: Place a Bulk Order
Most writing services will discount the cost per 1,000 words if you order in bulk. If you’re happy with the service and you’re ready to open the floodgates, ask about a bulk discount before ordering. Simply ask if they offer bulk pricing and if so how much you need to order to qualify.
That’s a lot of work, isn’t it?
Yes it is. Outsourcing content requires effort and preparation and patience. But, it’s better than writing it all yourself. You will not be able to scale your content business without the help of writers. It simply isn’t possible unless you publish very infrequently.
Can a content business be fully passive?
Yes it can, but you’ll need sufficient cash flow to hire a project manager to do all this outsourcing and editing for you. Project managers aren’t cheap, but once your site is generating serious money, that’s the stage at which you can step aside and simply monitor performance and spot-check content to ensure standards are maintained.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.