You’ve done your research, written compelling copy, studiously put all the pieces together… And now you wait. For a day, a week, maybe a month or more!
If you’ve never been subcontracted to assist with another business’ project, you may not even be aware of it. If you’ve been on the other side of the same transaction, you probably know all too well the biggest roadblock to success in the relationship.
I’m talking about the content approval process. Whether you’re waiting on the client for assets, their legal department to sign off on your carefully crafted words, or just for the sole proprietor to put on the editing hat, approval is a process killer.
You or your team works hard to get everything done by the client’s deadline. But because someone there hasn’t done their job – or has been too busy putting out other fires to address your issues – you’re behind the eight ball. As Tom Petty famously pointed out, “the waiting is the hardest part.”
If it helps at all, you’re not alone. The Content Marketing Institute polled the attendees of their Content Marketing World Summit in 2015 and found 92% had risked deadlines due to the content review process. One in five suffered significant and confusing delays. Even worse, in many cases, timed content was delayed past the point of relevancy.
What the Content Creator Can Do
Set a schedule. – Yes, this is limited still by the cooperation and priority-setting of the client. But the more streamlined and clearly scheduled you can make the process, the better chance it has of success. Plus, a clear plan can help you and the client pinpoint where the bottleneck occurs. This way, you’re not forced to take blame that you don’t deserve. Nor are you telling the manager or CEO that one of their employees is a problem. Either way, you’re more protected.
Get commitments and clear consequences on deadlines. – Once the schedule is set, everyone needs to be clear on the requirements and responsibilities, and what it will cost if the needs aren’t met. This can be as simple: “this post on Halloween needs to publish before the holiday.” Delaying it to November makes it pointless and a waste of the client’s money. And if it’s not your fault a deadline is missed, then the client should generally be the one to take the hit – not you. A more complicated version of this would be the loss of momentum from not posting consistently on social media or blog posts. Whenever possible, try to point towards physical, measurable deficits should a deadline be missed.
Limit the people/departments/etc. that need to sign off – if you can. Again, this will take the cooperation of the client and their people. But if you have a clear point of contact, then you can address issues with them. They corral the other departments or staff. Sometimes just knowing that they are answerable to one of their managers within the system, rather than some freelance person or company, is enough to drive towards solutions and limit delays. Limiting the contact can also help to generate focus within the client’s infrastructure. Fewer hands and eyes means fewer people who feel they must put their mark on the project, reducing excessive or even conflicting feedback.
Be clear on what needs to be accomplished. – This proceeds somewhat out of the limiting functions. The more work done up front and agreed upon, like specific language, color schemes, purpose, audience, strategic approach, not only eliminates confusion, but makes it easier to receive and attend to feedback. If you’re on point with what is agreed to on paper, there’s less chance of someone changing everything at the last minute.
Educate the client on being specific with feedback. – Tread carefully with this one. You don’t want to come off as if you’re telling the client how to do their work. But if you can minimize vague comments and those rooted in feelings, it will make everyone’s job easier. Sometimes you will have to, as we say in the entertainment industry, “figure out the note behind the note.” There will be instances where your clients or their employees can’t express their concerns in language other than feelings. In this situation, delving deeper with directed questions can help.
How the Content Client Can Help
Bring the content creator on board as early as possible. – Yes, this will cost more up front. But the more involved with the process the creator is, the more they can anticipate issues you might not even have thought of. They can also head off problems at the proverbial pass by getting agreements on language, deliverables and restrictions up front, instead of after they’ve put in the work, to discover you’re not all that thrilled with what they’ve created.
Make your employees and freelancers aware of the priority you place on the project. – Let everyone know that this is important to you as a CEO or manager. Knowing that, the people under you will likely be more inclined to do what they can to make the project a success and not create issues. Oh, and this requires you to actually make it a priority. If it’s not, they’ll see that too.
If Legal needs to be on board, do it sooner, rather than later. – Just like setting the priority, this will help in the long run. If there’s even a chance that the Legal department will need to weigh in on the content, call them now. Don’t let the content creator do all their hard work, then be forced to have them rework it two or three times to satisfy the lawyers. People like me are very good at parsing language and using specific phrases in copy – usually for branding purposes. Legal is just a slightly different approach to branding. They’re protecting your brand, so get their advice before the process gets too far.
Work with the content creator as much as possible. – I’m not saying to micromanage them or that you need to be looking over their shoulders. This is doing what you can to make everyone’s job easier, such as working with a schedule, deadlines, consequences, limiting the size and quality of contact and feedback. Basically, read the previous section, and whenever possible, accommodate those requests. Even the littlest thing that moves both sides a little closer and improves the probability of completion will be valuable.
Make the project a priority. – Yes, it seems like I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m talking more granularly this time. You don’t have to jump and respond every time the content creator reaches out. But acknowledging contact and, whenever possible, setting aside time to look at what they’ve sent or asked for goes a long way. Sure, torpedoes will come up. But when that happens, the creator is going to be more understanding and willing to go the extra mile to help everything get done on time if there’s clear communication and not a systemic problem.
Looking Back and Moving Forward
At the conclusion of each project, I recommend a practice appropriated from the medical field. Do a post-mortem. This is something that either the client or the creator or both can and should request. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever do another project together. The diagnoses discovered in this step can strengthen both sides’ interaction in similar situations in the future. This is where everyone has the freedom to be honest and explore what worked and what didn’t…preferably without judgement on either side.
What went right? What went wrong? Where did we encounter problems we didn’t anticipate? How did we solve them? Looking back, was that the best solution? Questions like these, designed, again to diagnose, not place blame, help both sides improve their process for the future.
There’s no way to entirely eliminate the challenges of a content approval process. But a little consideration on both sides and executing even a few of these tips will improve the process. That leads to more acceleration and more accurate completion.
If you’re looking for a third-party to help you with your content creation, or getting started with the strategic work that can further streamline your process, both in house and with freelancers, please reach out. We’ve built our business helping other entrepreneurs grow their dream and we’d love to help you too!