10 top content marketing blogs you need to follow

Content marketing blogs: old fashioned blog reader

(Hat tip to Mike Licht for the photo)

You’re busy – too many blogs to read, not enough time.

You haven’t got the time to trawl through search results for content marketing stats, facts and figures.

These are the blogs you can trust and revisit time and time again to keep up to date on the world of content marketing and get the tips and tricks to run more effective and profitable campaigns.

Content Marketing Institute blog

Content Marketing Institute screenshot

Lots of excellent stuff from the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), whose mission it is to advance the practice of content marketing. It covers all aspects of content marketing, from specific, practical advice to more general industry trends.

What is it good for? – all things content marketing

Example posts:

How Content Creators Can Provide the Actionable Relevance the C-Suite Needs

Inventions and Reinventions That Are Changing Content Marketing

Convince & Convert blog

Convince and Convert blog screenshot

Named the number one content marketing blog in the CMI’s final Junta42 Top 42 Content Marketing List, you’d expect it to be good, and it doesn’t disappoint. Much of it is written by the respected marketing consultant, Jay Baer, and there’s a strong focus on results. Lots of good video content as well.

What is it good for? – getting results with social media marketing

Example posts:

This Is The Usually Absent Secret Ingredient of Content Marketing

What Every Marketing Department Needs to Know About Google+

Copyblogger blog

Copyblogger blog screenshot

A frequenter of the Junta42 Top 42 Content Marketing List (while it was still running), Copyblogger continues to pump out great content about copywriting and blogging, and content marketing more generally.

What is it good for? – copywriting and blogging

Example posts:

How to Turn Bland Text into Sparkling Online Content

Agile Content Marketing: How to Attract an Audience That Builds Your Business

TopRank blog

TopRank blog screenshot

Another highly regarded blog, Lee Odden’s blog focusses on online marketing, dealing with everything from content strategy to general industry news and trends.

What is it good for? – online marketing and industry trends

Example posts:

5 Steps to Content Marketing Awesome – You Can Do This!

10 New Media Trends Shaping the Lives of Modern Consumers

MarketingExperiments blog

MarketingExperiments blog screenshot

MarketingExperiments was the first internet-based research lab to conduct experiments in optimising marketing and sales processes. The blog complements the research and case studies published in the MarketingExperiments Journal, putting some much needed data behind marketing claims.

It also wins brownie points because, unlike all the others, its titles aren’t quite so plagued by a rash of redundant capitals letters.

What is it good for? – data-driven marketing tips

Example posts:

Email Marketing: Change in CTA copy increases clickthrough 13%

Lead Generation: Great results don’t always have to be complicated

Quick Sprout blog

Quick Sprout blog screenshot

Written by serial entrepreneur and online marketer, Neil Patel, this blog covers many aspects of online marketing, but focusses on SEO and driving up visitor numbers.

What is it good for? – SEO and building traffic

Example posts:

Your Content Marketing Will Fail without These 10 Features

How Long Should Each Blog Post Be? A Data Driven Answer

HubSpot – Inbound Hub

HubSpot Inbound Hub screenshot

Deals with content marketing down the entire funnel, from attracting strangers to delighting customers, and gives sage advice to both marketing and sales teams, encouraging them to work together. Also has a ‘stat of the day’ on the main blog page, which is handy.

What is it good for? – content marketing for marketing and sales

Example posts:

4 Marketing Metrics You’re Probably Not Measuring (and Should)

Close With Content: 7 New Ways Sales Can Leverage Marketing Materials

Buffer blog

Buffer blog screenshot

Filled with the sort of great content you’d expect from the folks that brought you the go-to social media management tool.

They blog about writing, productivity, content marketing, company news and, of course, social media.

What is it good for? – social media marketing

Example posts:

How to Perform an A/B Test on Headlines, Tweets, Traffic, and More

The Ultimate Guide to Repurposing Content: 12 Ways to Extend the Life of Every Article You Write

KISSmetrics blog

KISSmetrics blog screenshot

It has a strong focus on conversions, analytics and testing to help you tighten up your content marketing efforts.

What is it good for? – analytics and conversions

Example posts:

17 Advanced Methods for Promoting Your New Piece of Content

7 Types of Landing Pages That Will Make Your Website Visitors Stick Like Fly Paper

Bad Language – our very own content marketing blog

Ours isn’t too bad, either. We focus on copywriting – that is, after all, our bag – but we cover everything from how to work with copywriters to boosting website conversions to building a compelling business case for content marketing.

What is it good for? – copywriting and content marketing for techies

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We’re giving away our copywriting briefing checklist

Hand ticking checklist boxes

Without a clear copywriting briefing checklist, marketing copywriters and their clients are (sometimes) like two people divided by a common language. I’ve written before that writers are from Mars and clients are from Venus. Perhaps we speak Martian and Venusian. But the costs of miscommunication are high:

  • Project delays
  • Avoidable rework
  • Unnecessary frustration
  • Less effective copy
  • Hair loss

Yes, sometimes good writers produce bad copy, but in my experience most projects that go wrong fail because of a lack of communication at the earliest stages. A good briefing checklist can reduce these risks and contribute to a great agency-client relationship.

The checklist manifesto

Checklist Manifesto coverI’m a pilot and I sometimes make passengers nervous because they see me calling out items from a dog-eared checklist at various points in the flight. ‘Don’t you know how to fly?’ somebody asked once.

Checklists are the best way to make sure I don’t forget any of them. It can be embarrassing trying to lower the landing gear if you forgot to raise it in the first place. Military pilots and airline captains use them too.

Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto, came to the same conclusions:

Today we find ourselves in possession of stupendous know-how, which we willingly place in the hands of the most highly skilled people. But avoidable failures are common, and the reason is simple: the volume and complexity of our knowledge has exceeded our ability to consistently deliver it – correctly, safely or efficiently.

The thing with flying is that you are busy all the time and there are a lot of things to remember. It’s the same in the office. It’s easy to forget to ask a client the right questions and it’s even easier to assume that you know the answer without asking.

Benefits of a copywriting briefing for clients

When I run writing training courses for Articulate clients, I ask them to complete a five-minute exercise. I give them a simplified copywriting briefing sheet and ask them to complete it for their next project. It always comes as a surprise that it takes so little time and yet highlights so many areas that need to be decided.

The cost is small – it doesn’t take long to complete a brief – but the benefits are significant:

  • Align the project with your business goals.
  • Set specific deadlines.
  • Highlight differences before they become problems.
  • Clarify your own thinking.
  • Check you haven’t forgotten anything important.

Benefits of a briefing checklist for writers

For writers and agencies, too, the cost of the briefing process is small but the benefits are large:

  • Reduced risk of rewrites and negative feedback.
  • Increased chance of getting the copy right first time.
  • This all makes your client happy.
  • A brief makes a contract enforceable and reduces the risk of a conflict.
  • Reminds your client about all the things you need to do a good job.
  • A client that spends the time to prepare a brief is likely to be conscientious in other ways.

11 things every writing brief should contain

A writer’s brief, like a pilot’s checklist, is necessary and useful. But what should it cover?

  1. Business goals. What does the client want to achieve with this project?
  2. Audience. Who is it for? Personas help, if available.
  3. Copy length. We charge by the word so this is very important.
  4. Key messages. Specific themes or points that we have to include (or avoid).
  5. Style guidelines. Links to client style guides or just ‘Economist Style Guide’ or similar. US or UK English? Also, it helps to know if the document will be translated.
  6. Delivery format. Word? Web? PDF?
  7. Use case. Blog post? White paper? Case study? Etc.
  8. Call to action. Is there a specific action we want readers to take?
  9. Sources. Links or documents with product or market information. Interview contacts.
  10. Approval and feedback. What happens after we submit our first draft?
  11. Deadline. When is it due? (Too little time = bad copy.)

Download our four-page briefing checklist

Alternatively, you can freelance Dilbert-style.

Dilbert marketing brief

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14 misconceptions about working with agencies

Truth and lies about working with agencies

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘content is king‘, but research has shown it’s more than hype. When it comes to B2B purchasing behaviour, customers will contact a sales rep only after they’ve independently completed about 60 percent of the purchasing decision process.

This means potential leads and customers have been to your website, read your blog and probably downloaded a white paper or a brochure all before making first contact.

Working with the right agency therefore matters more than ever. You don’t just need on time and on budget, you need on message and on the ball as well.

Dispelling the myths of working with agencies

It’s time to cut through the chatter and shatter a few myths to make finding an agency, which takes the value of your content as seriously as you do, that much easier. Below are 14 common misconceptions that will help you separate the wheat from the chaff:

1. All agencies are created equal

Not every agency produces excellent content, has knowledge in your industry and is able to form a lasting business relationship. Look at an agency’s own online presence to get a clue as to whether they’ll be a good fit for your company, industry and working style.

2. It takes too much time to find a quality agency

If it takes a long time to find a marketing agency, you probably don’t want them in charge of your online presence, right? An agency should be reasonably easy to locate if they are capable of meeting your needs.

3. They’re doing the same job my employees could be doing

If you’ve assembled an incredible team, they might possess the talents, skills and drive to create great content. But it’s usually at the expense of the tasks for which they’re already responsible. Outsourcing means bringing in the experts for specialist tasks so that the day-to-day performance of your own employees isn’t compromised.

4. I’ve no idea who is producing the content

You shouldn’t feel like you are sending your briefs into an abyss and hoping it spits out great content. Build relationships with agencies that you can trust because you know who at the agency is responsible for your content.

5. I get no control over the content produced

A good brief gives you more control over the final product than you think. A professional, competent agency can turn a good brief into the content you hoped for. It also gives you something to refer to if expectations are not met.

6. Outsourcing content is not efficient

Working with an agency shouldn’t add more stress to your job. A good agency will work alongside your wider marketing campaign to deliver content when and where it’s needed. Plus, once you find an agency that suits the company, working with them again and again will build trust and familiarity making outsourcing even smoother.

7. Agencies are one-dimensional

Don’t stick with an agency that only promises more Twitter followers when you told them your goal is more leads from your website. The agency you work with should be able to tailor their content, strategy and delivery based on your specific campaign goals.

8. A marketing agency will put me over budget

Ineffective content will cost your company when it fails to produce results. A quality agency makes outsourcing worthwhile by producing content that beckons customers to your business. Plus, the best (achem) agencies have fixed budgets that you can plan around up front.

9. Less costs less

It’s important to learn the value of each product an agency sells, so you can handle your budget effectively. It’s not always just about the word count. Research-intense or interview-based editorials and reports take a lot more effort and input than say a blog post.

10. Agencies are just after the pay cheque

A good agency understands the role they play in your wider marketing goals. The right agency will want to build a working relationship with you and make those goals theirs, and thereby consider your success their victory. It’s about more than creative wordplay: it’s about measurable results.

11. Generating content is the easy part

Marketing isn’t magic. An agency needs time to do the work you’ve asked of them. Have realistic expectations for deadlines, provide a great brief, be available as needed and leave them to it.

12. Agencies can get everything they need off the company website

For best results, let them get to know your business beyond what’s already on the website. Provide adequate resources on the company, products, services, goals and strategy to get accurate, detailed content that is aimed at your ideal audience and fits your greater purpose.

13. Every client is a number one priority

Every client is important to an agency, but it’s impossible for every client to be number one. Understand that it is an agency’s business to meet all of their deadlines and each client’s expectations. Trust that they will meet yours as well.

14. They always overpromise and under-deliver

If this is the case, you’ve been working with the wrong agencies. An experienced agency knows and can communicate the value of effective content and accurately plan for the time it takes to produce it.

Nobody has time to work with poor agencies that perpetuate these common misconceptions. Take some time to find a good agency, and the right agency for your market, and then be sure to keep working with them.

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12 top copy tips to boost your website conversion rate

Writing on post-it note – copy tips for website conversions

(Hat tip to stanjourdan for the photo)

Your website is the front line of your content marketing strategy, so don’t cut corners with the copy.

Visitors tend to leave websites within ten to 20 seconds and only read about 20 percent of the content on each page. Your copy therefore has to be something special to grab their attention, inspire action and drive up your website conversion rate .

But it’s not brain surgery – just tweaking and slimming your existing copy can make all the difference. Indeed, changing the description of a shipping charge on a DVD trial offer from ‘a $5 fee’ to ‘a small $5 fee’ increased conversions by 20 percent in one study.

Warm ups

First, the obvious ones:

  • Cut your copy. No one has time to read paragraph after paragraph across dozens of pages, no matter how well crafted they are. Cut it down and make sure all the text on your website is pithy and relevant. Highrise, the customer relationship management software from 37signals, saw a 22.72 percent decrease in conversions after increasing the amount of copy on their home page.
  • Be direct. Don’t feel awkward talking about price and prompting people to sign up to something. Being up front and specific tells visitors what’s on offer and exactly how to get it. Skirting around the issue just looks suspicious.
  • Verbs not adjectives. Saying your product or service ‘saves you $15 dollars a month’ is much more persuasive than saying that it’s ‘cost-effective’. Actions speak louder than adjectives.
  • Keep it human. Check the readability of your web pages. Avoid jargon, hyperbole, obscure acronyms, excessive punctuation, etc – they’re all speed bumps for the reader.
  • Be conversational. Write as you speak, within reason. Use ‘you’ and ‘we’, rather than the third person, and avoid florid language.
  • Keep it focussed. One topic per sentence, one topic per paragraph, one message per page. Anymore and you’ll confuse the reader.
  • Stay active. Avoid passive sentences and use active words.
  • Make it scannable. Don’t be afraid of sub-heads, bullet points and maybe even a little bold.

Follow these tips and your website conversion rate will increase. But if you really want to see it sky-rocket then get a little more involved with the four tips below.

Super-boosting website conversion tips

  • Optimise for your personas. SEO optimisation alone is useless. Your content needs to be optimised for both search engines and personas. In fact, by creating quality content that resonates with your ideal buyers, you’ll naturally improve your SEO. This means tapping into the main issues of your personas and the keywords they use in search queries.
  • Benefits not solutions. Customers want benefits, not features and specs. They’re not looking for ‘bigger, better, faster, stronger’. They need to solve a specific problem, so acknowledge that by framing their questions and explaining how your product or service answers them.
  • They’re here. Now what? You don’t want your website visitors to just read something, you want them to do something. Employ clear calls-to-action (CTAs) – like we do at the end of our posts now – to guide visitors to relevant content and offers and use hyperlinks in the content to help visitors navigate your website.
    A CTA leads the visitor to a landing page, where they complete a form in return for an offer. After submitting the form, they’re taken to a thank you page that lets them download the content, arrange the appointment, start the trial or whatever the offer is. It also suggests the next action in the sales funnel with another CTA. This ‘CTA–landing page–thank you page’ process is the heart of the conversion process – it seamlessly converts visitors into leads.
  • Mix it up. Run A/B tests to work out what sort of copy best fuels website conversion. Try ‘sign up for your 30-day free trial’ rather than ‘sign up for a free trial’. This technique is particularly important for CTAs, landing pages and thank you pages but it should be used for every part of your website.

Copy is too often overlooked for the design of the website, but the words are as much a part of the design as the visuals and structure. The copy on your website is what your ideal buyers are there to read so make it worth their time.

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Content marketing: building a compelling business case

Inbound content marketing - lots of clicks heading to a computer screen

‘Inbound content marketing is the worst form of marketing,’ to misquote Churchill, ‘apart from all the others.’ Of course, we would say that because it’s what we do at Articulate.

But the evidence confirms that content marketing is cost effective. HubSpot reckons that it costs 61 percent less per lead than traditional techniques.

Filling the funnel: a top CEO priority

This is more important than ever. CEOs are focusing on their reaching customers and converting them, according to new research. Of course, they always have. What’s new is their use of words like ‘audience’, ‘content’ and ‘proving ROI’.

CEO Marketing Goals - finding the right audience is the biggest bar in the chart

Yet, the most attractive audiences are the hardest to reach. They are blind to conventional advertising and self-promotion. But content marketing cuts through the noise. This means you have to:

  • Go to where people are – social media, search engines etc.
  • Talk about things that matter to them.
  • Use their language, not yours.
  • Become a trusted advisor.
  • Introduce your products and solutions in this favourable context.

Traditional marketing strategies don’t deliver

Think about your own experience. Would you prefer a noisy intrusion into your day or useful, relevant information when you wanted it? What would you think of the companies that used these different strategies?

Again, the evidence supports the argument. Intrusion fails spectacularly. The majority of TV viewers (86 percent) skip adverts if they can. Nearly half of all direct mail (44 percent) is never opened.

Social media is on the up but it’s hard to measure. If you don’t have something to contribute to the conversation, you’re just breaking eggs without making an omelette.

If you use online advertising, you already know the pain of keyword competition, rising costs and falling conversion rates. Worse, you need a PhD in Google Adwords to run a campaign. And you pay per click not per advert. It’s the gift that doesn’t keep giving.

There’s light at the end of the funnel

The traditional view of the sales funnel is too narrow. Half of leads are qualified but not yet ready to buy. Inbound marketing helps you engage them much earlier in the sales cycle. Thought leadership content can help raise your profile and shape the marketplace. Think of it as winning the air war.

Similarly, content marketing helps you extend the sales cycle beyond the actual purchase decision. If you can delight customers as well as close leads, you can turn them into advocates. Word of mouth endorsement is a very powerful sales tool. The right content can empower your customers to get more from your products. It also encourages repeat business.

With content marketing, the traditional AIDA model of the sales funnel gives way to the Attract-Convert-Close-Delight model.

Attract Convert Close Delight flowchart

Content marketing does the business

Research shows that inbound content marketing helps at every stage of the sales cycle:

  • Attract. Inbound marketing delivers 54 percent more leads into the funnel. Content such as ebooks are very effective. Call to actions promoting ebooks get almost twice the click through rate as emails promoting webinars. Blogs are also an essential element. B2B companies that blog generate 67 percent more leads and B2C companies generate 88 percent more leads
  • Convert. Landing pages with persona-targeted copy are a smart way to convert leads into customers. The more, the better. Businesses with 31 to 40 landing pages got seven times more leads than those with only one to five landing pages.
  • Close. Lead-nurturing emails and a drip feed of relevant content helps to convince leads to buy. In fact, nurtured leads make 47 percent larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. Relevant emails drive 18 times more revenue than broadcast emails.
  • Delight. Social media monitoring and how-to guides can turn customers from ‘users’ into ‘champions’.

Measuring the return on investment

To build a business case for content-driven inbound marketing, you need to show that it will generate a better return on investment than traditional methods. ‘Half my advertising is effective, but I don’t know which half’, goes the old Madison Avenue joke. But a staggering 34 percent of businesses do not calculate ROI at all.

This is another area where content marketing shines. It focuses on things that you can control and measure, such as landing pages, calls to action, your social media pages, your website and your content. This means that you can measure the effort required to do it and the results it creates.

With tools like HubSpot, you can link your lead nurturing activity directly to your CRM system. Qualified leads just drop into the CRM system ready for a sales call. This allows you to calculate the cost of each qualified lead precisely.

No wonder that 41 percent of marketers confirm that inbound produces measurable ROI and 82 percent of marketers who blog see positive ROI for inbound, content-driven marketing.

Sometimes these results can be remarkable: Marketers who have implemented inbound marketing strategies see even greater website conversion rates than the industry average, and they reach almost double the conversion rate of non-inbound marketers, from 6 percent to 12 percent. Imagine what doubling your conversion rate would do for your business.

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Cheat sheet: we’re giving away our proofreading checklist

Proofreading checklist mistake

Proofreading. Not the most exciting job in the world, but an absolutely necessary one.

We’ve covered before what happens when you miss a typo (that’s right, the errorists win). Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any easier to turn out entirely perfect copy. And if you work for a marketing agency, delivering clumsy copy to a client reflects badly on both you and your copywriters.

But you’re in luck: we at Articulate Marketing are sharing our Proofreading checklist with you to make life a little easier. (Just click the link).

Why you need a proofreading checklist

Randall Davidson wrote on here about the five secrets of better proofreading, but a lot of people tend to get stuck at number one: create a checklist. He’s not the only one to put it atop the list, and with good reason. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how can you expect to find it?

Proofreading isn’t just about spotting spelling mistakes or dodgy grammar: it’s about that final chance to make the copy shine a little brighter and the headlines punch a little harder.

What to look for as you read

Our single-page cheat sheet is divided into headings that cover different topics to focus on each time you read through your copy. (Yes, you most certainly have to read through it more than once). We also cover some basic techniques for making proofreading that little bit easier.

The following are the areas where we prioritise our proofreading:

  • Readability
  • Consistency checks
  • Words to avoid
  • Headline tips
  • Sharpen up
  • Grammar

Each topic has a subset of specific things for you to look for or eliminate so that you end up with truly outstanding copy.

And no, you can’t just rely on spellchecker…

…and this wonderful poem explains why.

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How case studies help you sell more

Increasing money piles – sell more with case studies

Good case studies win business. Telling the story of how real customers have successfully used your product or service convinces others to buy it.

Having written hundreds of case studies for a wide range of clients, we at Articulate know a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t.

The power of case studies

Case studies are too often seen as inert website furniture. But speed and reach is key – case studies have a short half-life.

A good case study should take about a week from first contact to final sign off, which is easy with an efficient external agency such as, ahem, Articulate, dealing with the fiddly bits like contacting and interviewing the customer and dealing with release approval. And, ideally, you want one person to approve the case study. Having a committee edit a case study results in endless drafts and a lifeless finished product.

With a quick turnaround, you provide your sales team with hot ammunition and you can broadcast the case study across your social networks – why not send it out to some prospects in a related industry who have yet to bite?

That’s the beauty of the case study. Used well, it’s a powerful piece of targeted marketing and your case study database on your website should reflect this. Rather than arranging them alphabetically, organise them by industry or, even better, by benefits. ‘Want to boost your sales? Here are some customers who’ve done just that.’

But, more than that, case studies are useful tools down the entire marketing and sales funnel, from top to bottom. For those just getting to know your business, they provide a brief, relevant overview of what your product or service offers; they give those further down the funnel the final push with a story they can relate to; and they delight your existing customers by exhibiting their success.

Ultimately, case studies make your business easier to relate to and the value of your product or service more tangible.

What makes a good case study?

First and foremost, the story.

This requires interviewing the right person. You need a case study champion – someone in the company who’s been successfully using your product or service. But avoid marketing and PR people; you risk getting a repackaged, hollow story that won’t ring true.

Your prospects don’t want a rejigged press release or a list of facts – they want a story that they can relate to. This means finding the unique heart of your customer’s story. Don’t just write the story you want to hear; companies don’t tend to grow by 250 percent in six months. Write the story they tell. This could be expanding into new markets, saving time and money on paperwork, or increasing productivity without an increase in personnel. Whatever it is, make sure it drives the case study.

Too many case studies fall into the formulaic ‘challenge–solution–results’ structure, making for a very dry, monotonous read. And that’s if they’re read at all.

That’s not to say case studies shouldn’t have structure. They should, but don’t rigidly stick to it. Structures are there to emphasise the story, not shackle it. Tweak your headings and layout if the story calls for it.

Equally, don’t sterilize the customer story with PR speak and jargon. You should try to let the character of the person you interview shine through the story with short, snappy quotes dotted sparingly through the piece. No frankenquotes.

And, just because it’s a story, it doesn’t mean it has to be long. Five hundred words is plenty. Anymore than 750 and no one will read it.

Real, narrative-driven and brief.

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Great agency, great client: how to be excellent to one another

Two hands holding jigsaw pieces

Hiring a marketing agency means paying someone else to sweat the specialist stuff so you don’t have to. But it’s no good unloading one set of problems just to get as many back in managing and chasing that agency.

And that’s why finding and hiring great agencies, rather than just any agency, is so important.

Here at Articulate Marketing, we believe it’s our job is to help you achieve your goals. In this article, I want to outline what that means in terms of behaviour, expectations and our aspirations about how we want to work with clients. It can also serve as a checklist for evaluating the greatness of any agency you’re considering hiring.

Great agency

This is what you should expect from us (and any good content marketing agency):

  • Available. Unless you want War and Peace by Wednesday, we’re available to do your project. We have three writers on staff and we can call on trusted contractors for extra capacity if we need it. We’re not going to say ‘no, we’re too busy’.
  • Enthusiastic. We’re geeks and proud of it. We like what we do. We like our clients. We are entranced by technology. We love helping our customers grow their business.
  • Competent. We have whip smart writers and experienced editors. We’ve been working in B2B technology copywriting for more than 12 years. We’ve produced more than a million words of copy for the world’s best-known tech companies.
  • Knowledgeable. Our experience in the industry means that we already know a lot about the technology world but we make a special effort to understand your products, company and market.
  • Hassle-free. We ‘solve for the customer’ to try to make the process as easy for you as possible. Of course, we’ll chase you for anything we need to get the job done but our fundamental goal is to make your life easier.
  • Part of your team. We like it when clients ask us for advice and involve us in their thinking and planning. The earlier we get involved the more effective we can be.
  • Responsive. We respond to messages and queries promptly. We try to react to feedback within two working days.
  • On time. Your deadline is our deadline. If you give us what we need to do the job, we’ll get it done according to the agreed schedule.
  • Honest. If there’s a problem, we’ll tell you. If we’re fed up about something, we’ll tell you. If we make a mistake, we’ll tell you.

Great client

There are some things you can do to help us do a better job for you:

  • Understand our planning cycle. We have adopted a weekly sprint working model so we plan our week on Monday afternoons and allocate work for the whole week then.
  • Learn to love Basecamp. We use it for project management and collaboration. We open it up to clients and we love clients who embrace it for feedback and monitoring progress.
  • Give positive feedback. We expect feedback and comments on our work but we leap like performing seals if you throw us some fish: praise, results, colleagues’ comments, customer feedback etc.
  • Remember that we’re human. Delays, typos and mistakes sometimes happen and so do illnesses and temporary attacks of stupidity. We’ll do our best to correct problems if they happen.
  • Give good briefs. Your brief should cover business goals, target audience, format and length. We love customers who have clear style guidelines and audience personas.
  • Set realistic deadlines. Writing is much more than just ‘writing’ and it takes time. We try hard to pull deadline rabbits out of late-briefing hats but we do our best work if we have space to plan, think and edit.
  • Remember that we’re a business too. Approve invoices and pay bills on time. Sort out the paperwork such as purchase orders quickly. Nothing kills our buzz more than a bad debt.
  • Don’t forget the human dimension. Here are 11 things to do at the start of a business relationship. For longer projects, regular meetings and in-person phone calls are a good idea.

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7 secrets that will guarantee a timely turnaround from copywriters

Deadline on a calendar for timely turnaround from copywriters

The constant battle that writers have with deadlines is well known, but when it comes to business writing there’s no room for tardiness.

It might feel unnerving handing over an assignment to a freelance or agency copywriter, wondering if the finished copy will ever come back out of the mysterious writing black hole, but there are a few things you as a client can do to guarantee a timely turnaround from copywriters, leaving them with no excuse to be late.

  1. Get everyone to the starting line. Some fair warning is helpful for everyone, not just writers. Your design team will need to know there’s a document to spin up, your boss will want to know they have something to sign off on and the social media team can start tailoring posts. But for copywriters, especially external copywriters, you need to remember they have other clients, concerns and deadlines. If they know something is in the pipeline, they can start to make room for it when you want it, rather than when they can squeeze it in.
  2. Give a good brief. Nothing makes timely, quality copy appear quite like a good brief does. We’ve covered what to include before, but vital elements include word counts, demographics, will it be in print or online, what products or topics should it definitely touch on and budgets.
  3. Have collateral to hand. If you want copy to touch on or talk about particular products or topics, make sure you have to hand the information your writers need. Good copywriters are happy to do their own research, but that will of course take longer. If you have product brochures, internal sales sheets or previous white papers then hand them over. Even better, set up an interview with a subject matter expert. The more you feed a copywriter, the faster they can turn copy around, and the better it will be.
  4. Know and agree the editorial and sign-off process. However brilliant the agency is that you use, there will always be at least one round of edits to do. Agree with the writers in advance what the process will entail: how many people need to review and approve the copy, how that feedback will be sent back, and what the turnaround will be from the writers. Often it’s this stage that drags out the longest, simply because there are more people involved – have them lined up and ready, and give your writers the feedback in one go, and things will go a lot quicker.
  5. Be explicit and specific about the green light. You’ve warmed your copywriters up, you’ve agreed on a brief, everything is at the starting line ready to go. But you need sign off from your boss, which means the copywriters will wait to hear you’ve got the go ahead. They won’t start work on the off-chance the work will go ahead. So be very clear about when the project is good to go and the writers can start, safe in the knowledge they won’t be putting in hours that will go unused and unpaid.
  6. Get your finance department in line. It’s really quite amazing how motivating a signed-off purchase order can be for writers. Think of it from an agency perspective: they have four or five projects at the starting line, they’re considering which to prioritise and one sends through an approved purchase order. Who’s going to get their copy first? It’s not that copywriters are purely mercenary, but often finance departments, especially in larger enterprises, are complex and slow moving. Writers have to manage cash flow just like any other business, so purchase orders inevitably hold sway.
  7. If you’re asking for more than copy, understand it will take longer. Some projects might be a little more complex, or have more moving parts. Perhaps it’s a case study that relies on your customer’s availability. Maybe you want an infographic or a video as part of the project. Or maybe you’ve got an idea for a campaign but want to tap the wisdom of your marketing agency when building out the brief. All of these things take time and effort. They are not magic add-ons that will fit in the same time frame as drafting out copy. This isn’t to say agencies can’t work fast, but just be fair in your expectations.

Plus, here’s one extra tip for free. Always set a hard and fast deadline. It might seem like a paradox, but writers respond well to numbers: word counts, invoices and dates all make them (us!) move faster.

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10 step guide to working with a freelance writer

Notebook that reads Field Notes on the front cover re freelance writer

(Hat tip to Derek Schille for the photo)

I have been working as a freelance writer for Articulate Marketing for about six months. In that time, I’ve learnt what to expect from a positive business relationship between a freelance writer and the person who hires a freelance writer.

1. Find the right freelance writer for your business

To find the writer best suited for your business, you can search online, post the opportunity or ask for recommendations. I live in the United States and connected with the writers at Articulate Marketing through the Bad Language blog. I liked what they had to say and how they said it. So when they posted the need for another writer, I applied. The advantage of the internet in looking for writers is that you aren’t limited to local talent, but can form relationships worldwide.

2. Understand the value of a writer’s portfolio

Take hiring a freelance writer as seriously as you would hiring an employee into your company. You want evidence of a freelancer’s writing skill, but you also want to know about their business acumen and associated knowledge. Find out what kind of work they do and what experience they bring to the table.

3. Know the importance of first impressions

Have a conversation with potential writers to find out if they are a good fit for your business. A freelance writer also needs to make sure they can meet your needs as a writer. A freelancer doesn’t just know how to write. They consider the logistics of a business relationship with your company and will have questions for you too.

4. Discuss ownership and fees

Before the first brief is sent, talk about ownership and fees to make sure both parties are in agreement. Ownership and fees can be touchy topics, but it helps to deal with them in a straightforward way.

5. Ask about editing

At Articulate Marketing, every piece gets peer reviewed. This is key. If you plan to hire a freelance writer, ask about editing. It’s to any freelance writer’s advantage (and yours) to have a second pair of eyes look at their writing.

6. Give access to tools

Determine what tools you will use for communication, assignments, submissions and billing. Then make sure the appropriate accounts are set up or access is given. I get my assignments through Basecamp, work in WordPress and do my billing through Freshbooks. These are all applications that Matthew and Clare introduced me to and they play a key role in working together.

7. Appoint a spokesperson

Anytime you have a remote worker, you want to make sure they aren’t getting conflicting instruction. I primarily communicate with Clare and she edits my work as well. I’ve noticed that when I hear from Matthew regarding a new assignment, Clare grows a little quiet. This gives me a definite point of contact for each assignment when I have questions or concerns. Make sure the writer knows who can answer what questions for each assignment.

8. Focus on writing a good brief

Every brief needs to contain certain elements. For client work, I get longer, more detailed briefs because there are certain elements that must be included. Other assignments have shorter briefs that discuss the main point, but leave it up to me as to how to get there. The questions that should be answered in a brief include:

  • What is the main point you are making or goal to achieve with the piece?
  • What resources does the writer need from you that they can’t find on their own?
  • What audience are you targeting?
  • Are there specific points to make or products to mention?
  • What is the final product? Blog? Whitepaper?
  • What is the word count?
  • When is the deadline?

9. Give feedback

A good freelance writer appreciates feedback whether positive or negative. As build a relationship with a writer, your comments help them become familiar with your needs and make it easier for them to meet your expectations.

10. Maintain the relationship

Communication is the key to any relationship, but it’s absolutely necessary in a remote relationship. Whether in small talk, giving assignments, providing feedback or handling billing, remember that your emails and communications become a freelance writer’s total impression of you. Clare and Matthew communicate well so that I am always happy to hear from them, good or bad.

Hiring a freelance writer is about the service they can provide to your company. Working with a freelance writer is about good communication. Put in the extra effort to make sure your freelance writer is invested in the goals that each assignment presents.

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