Part 3 – Managing the revisions process
So you have finally made the big decision: you will hire an outside writer to improve and expedite your communications and marketing. Perhaps it is to whip your web content into shape? Drive better results with sales collateral or an email campaign? Or maybe you want to create a whitepaper, blog series or industry article to underscore your sector leadership?
The decision to invest in a quality content writer is well-justified. 74 percent of marketers claim they could drive more than twice as much ROI, lifetime customer value and “brand lift” if they had an expert content team at their disposal, according to a 2015 digital marketing survey. I would argue that one savvy content writer can often generate similar results, depending on the needs of your business.
This three-part series aims to demystify the process of working with a writer. I will outline the common pitfalls, and arm you with some guidelines to ensure the best kick- off to your new supplier relationship.
Managing the revision process:
The first draft of copy is in. Woohoo! Your writer has now done the bulk of the required work for you and can breathe an initial sigh of relief. Don’t be surprised if he/she invoices at this stage. This is normal practice. After all, as we enter into the dreaded revision stage – which can last days to weeks to… months – your writer should be paid for the work completed (unless totally off-target, below par, in which case a free rewrite should be offered). He/she should not be asked to wait until all your decision makers – like the vast stars in the sky — finally align, agreeing that the project is complete (AMEN) before receiving the cheque.
Revisions can be scary. Many moving parts — like a centipede with dozens of legs scuttling across the kitchen floor. Handled systematically though, copy revisions can be a relatively painless, pest-free and a totally manageable process.
A word on paying for revisions:
Some writers include one or two revisions in their upfront quote, and that is a very good thing. If they have not included at least one round of revisions, ask them to do so. At the very least, get an idea of how much they will charge per revision. A word of caution: a revision is not a total rewrite. If your stakeholders are likely to do an ‘about face’ on messaging or change their communication focus half way through a project, it’s best to wait to get your ducks in a row before engaging a writer. It is only fair, if asked to do a total rewrite because your direction has changed, for a writer to charge as if for a new project.
Here is the wrong way to handle revisions:
Send the first draft to all your stakeholders and ask them to reply with their comments to the writer… ‘when they have a minute’. Then, as the marked-up drafts slowly drip in, forward them gradually to your writer to sift through all the comments, suggestions and changes, in all their different forms (highlights, comments, tracked changes, fuschia & lime green coloured text, email bullets, voicemail, bar napkin notes, etc) …and kindly apply them all for the next draft. This is a sure fire way to irritate your writer and potentially rack up additional billable hours. It’s also likely to result in a subpar rewrite, riddled with confusion and missed changes as your writer will be left to guess at which feedback over-rides other feedback and how to address open ended questions like “do we need an extra sentence here?” or “Should we add a paragraph on our exciting new ‘X’ product ?”. There are bound to be slow downs, contradictions, mixed messages, questions – and many more costly revision rounds to follow.
Here is a smarter way to handle revisions:
Limit the number of approving parties and give them each a deadline for applying requested changes – in tracked changes – on the document. Can just one or two approving parties review the copy? (Too many cooks in the kitchen are never a good thing!) Where there are several who must review, be sure to receive all feedback yourself first and review/clean up the marked-up document to remove those contradictions and questions before it goes to the writer. If feedback/changes are likely to be heavy-duty, why not call a meeting with everyone to review the document? Your writer could be present for the meeting or skyped in, as you see fit.
Design comes last:
In most cases, it’s wise to finalize the copy before getting design involved. Once your designer lays it out, your writer absolutely needs to take a final pass to catch errors – and also ensure all indicated headers, subheads, call outs etc. have been treated properly, and receive the right impact.
Paying the writer:
A lot of the time we writers are sole proprietors who rely on your pay cheques to pay the bills and afford our daily Starbucks. For this reason, prompt payment within a 30 day or less window is much appreciated. It is also common to pay the writer 50% up front before work begins, especially when you know your accounting department may be slow in making the final payment. Most reputable writers will not make you pay unless you are happy with the copy – and will work hard to deliver it to full satisfaction. If not, and they prove stressful to work with to boot – terminate the relationship quickly and politely. Fortunately for you, there are lots of bright, talented writer fish in the deep blue marketing sea these days. I’ve been told I am one of them – so cast out a line and I may bite!
Also see parts one and two of this series:
Laura Ranieri of CopyBard Writing Services is an award-winning Toronto-based copywriter with 20-plus years of experience writing online, corporate and marketing communications and creative campaigns. She continues to service a wide range of small and large clients in the finance, professional services, technology, travel and cultural sectors. Visit her at www.copybard.com