How to make the most of your writer

Man jugglingKeeping up with the pace of change is a juggling act for internal communicators.

“Restructures, leadership changes, redundancies, new technology, mergers and acquisitions, office moves – you’re expected to do it all,” as consultant Rachel Miller of All Things IC (internal communication) points out on her blog.

Communication pros are expected to be “masters of multi-tasking,” as Rachel says, but it can be hard to keep up. Too much on your plate can leave tasks undone or pushed aside until the last minute. In my corporate days, that task was usually writing.

If you’re in the same situation, why not turn to a freelance writer? Outsourcing writing for your intranet and website, newsletters, social media posts and other content will leave you more time to concentrate on the other work only you can do.

Here’s how you can help make the partnership a success:

  • Plan ahead and set realistic deadlines. Writers can occasionally drop everything to help you out at the last minute (what I call “pulling a rabbit out of a hat”) but it’s unkind to make this a habit.
  • Share the business goal the piece being written will support. What you are trying to achieve? What would you like the reader to do after reading it?
  • Provide essential background info – an executive summary, a presentation summarizing the project, links to any previously published articles.
  • Beware of TOO much information. An executive summary is more helpful than 35 pages that will end up being summarized in one line. Or, if you do share a large document, highlight the most relevant pages or sections.
  • Lay the groundwork for interviews, if required. Tell the person your writer will be calling. Virtually introduce them to each other by email.
  • Share the wordcount, if you know it, or desired length. Be aware that quoting several sources and using lots of detail will be hard to cram into 300 words.
  • Provide a style guide, if you have one, or guidelines. Do you capitalize titles? Do you use the first name or last name on the second reference? Do you like people to be quoted liberally or just occasionally?
  • Be responsive. Sometimes the writer can’t proceed until you answer a question or provide missing information, and delays may affect delivery of the work.
  • During the review process, collect all the feedback in one document and use “track changes” to show your writer what you or other approvers change. It helps the writer learn your company’s style (or quirks) and turn in first drafts that are close to the mark.
  • Help shepherd invoices through your company’s payment process.

In return, a good writer will earn your trust by:

  • Getting to know your company and your industry, which will be reflected in the writing.
  • Offering suggestions, such as other topics that come up during an interview that employees should know about.
  • Maintaining confidentiality. This is a cornerstone of ethical behaviour, with or without a Non-Disclosure Agreement.
  • Keeping you posted on progress, such as letting you know when an interview has taken place, when the first draft was sent for review, when a reply is expected. Discuss up front how often you want a brief report.
  • Alerting you to any issues. Is the interviewee away for two weeks? Has the draft gone to one interviewer and is now being shared with others? Most critical, will there be a problem meeting the deadline?
  • Being responsive (within reason; for example, I seldom reply to business emails at night or on the weekend).
  • Delivering what you ask for, such as length, tone and content.
  • Meeting your deadline, and often beating it.
  • Staying within your budget or agreed-upon fee.
  • Pulling a rabbit out of a hat when you need it most.

If you find yourself juggling a few too many tasks, consider occasionally outsourcing some of the writing. Even better, build a relationship with someone who can be your “go-to” writer when you most need the help.

Find writers through referrals from friends, colleagues and others in your network. Talk to the local chapter of associations like the International Association of Business Communicators, Canadian Public Relations Society or Public Relations Society of America. Some, like IABC/Toronto, have a special interest group made up of solo writers, designers and other communicators. Please, do not support online content mills, the kind that offer services for cheap.

(May I help you? Let’s talk.)

Related reading:
My colleague and friend Sharon Aschaiek recently provided more advice for when to outsource and how to make the relationship work.

Image: mohamed_hassan and Pixabay.

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