The Challenges of Running a Remote Content Team

When I was brought in to work for Marketing Signals in January 2013, one of my first tasks was to accrue a UK-based team of content writers who could work remotely, charge per-word within our budgets, and had capacity to dedicate much of their time to the potentially large amounts of copywriting work we were able to send their way.

Inhouse vs OutsourcingWhilst we obviously work together as a team from within Marketing Signals towers, as Content Manager most of what I would consider my day-to-day “team” is made up of copywriters working remotely, whether that be from home or in their own offices elsewhere in the country. Most people have their own opinions about whether to employ staff to do this kind of job in-house, or whether outsourcing on an ad-hoc basis is the most effective way to do things. Of course, working with writers who I don’t see on a regular basis isn’t without its challenges.

It was some of these challenges that I wanted to cover in this post, and to talk you through how I go about dealing with these to ensure the content machine at Marketing Signals keeps on running like a well-oiled machine.

Managing workloads

With multiple writers on our books, organisation is key in order to keep track of where everyone is up to, what work they have on and whether anything is approaching a deadline.

Drive LogoDoing all of this purely over email would be a disaster waiting to happen. Instead, I am a huge fan of shared Google Docs spreadsheets. I created a format that was clear and easy to understand for the writers; it explains which client they are working on, gives them details of any keywords they needed to incorporate into their writing, the deadline they need to work to, as well as, most importantly, any information about the site or publication they are writing a post or article for.

I use this same format for all of the writers I work with, as it ensures there is continuity when giving a brief, no matter which writer I am using for a project. I also believe it is a factor in helping the writer feel that they are working “for us” (more on which I will cover shortly).

Google docs are an absolute god-send in terms of productivity for me. They allow myself and the writer to edit the spreadsheets so we can quickly and easily keep track of progress on each project, without the need to clog our inboxes up with multiple status emails.

Happiness is a two-way street!

Happy WritersEven though my writers are all freelancers and can therefore work with whoever they choose, I felt it was important to make them feel part of the Marketing Signals team when completing orders for us. I strongly believe that a happy writer will put more effort into the work they are doing for you, and be more willing to take on extra orders from you in the future.

Whilst my writers don’t come into the Marketing Signals office, I try to keep lines of communication open with them as much as possible by using a combination of Skype, Google Hangouts, email and telephone. Even if the writer doesn’t have any open orders with us at the time, I like to stay updated on what their workloads are like so I know how much capacity they have if we find ourselves needing to get an order turned around in a short timescale.

I also felt that it was important to build a decent sized copywriting team so I had writers who would feel confident in tackling some of the various niches that we work on at Marketing Signals. I quickly got a feel for who would be happy working on travel, fashion or lifestyle topics, and who could write about computing, finance or law, and now am able to assign work to a writer who is happy in dealing with these subjects.

And just a final note on keeping writers happy – it always helps if you pay their invoices on time! Too many agencies treat freelance writers appallingly when it comes to making payments. More often than not these are people trying to make their own living, so treat them fairly and with the respect they deserve.

Monitoring for complacency

RejectionOf course, once a writer has been working for you for a while, complacency can start to creep in to the work they produce, whether it’s down to boredom, over-familiarity or something else. It’s important that your monitor for this and ensure that the quality of work that they delivered on their initial trial pieces does not dip to levels you find unacceptable.

Despite getting a feel for a writer’s capabilities fairly quickly, I always make sure I do a thorough audit of their work on a regular basis. On top of that, every single piece they produce is sanity checked before it takes the next step on its journey, whether that be to a blog we are working with, directly to a client or before we upload it to a website we are building. It’s important to mention to the writer, as politely as possible, if you feel that their standards have dipped; in fact, I have found that they are usually appreciative of the feedback in such cases. A positive reaction to this is a good indication to me that the writer is worth keeping on in the longer-term.

Work may also come back that isn’t exactly how you expected it to be. Perhaps you wanted them to try and write in a different tone, or cover different angles in the piece from what they have done. To combat this, it’s important to share as much of a brief as you can for every single order. Ensure the writer is fully aware of what you expect from them and what the aims of the project are every time and there can be no confusion when the copy comes back into your inbox.

Benefits of working with remote copywriters

OutsourcingTo summarise, I just wanted to share what I believe are the main benefits of using freelance or remote copywriters.

Affordability – Whilst ‘per piece’ you are probably going to pay more to use a freelance copywriter, you are not required to put them on an annual salary as you would need to with an in-house writer. This means you have the flexibility to use them as and when you need to – good when you perhaps don’t have as much work to give at certain quieter points in the month or year.

Scalability – When you have a particularly busy period – perhaps a large project has come in which requires a lot of writing work to be done, it’s far easier to find freelancers to do the job than it is to spend weeks, if not months on recruiting for in-house members of staff.

Flexibility – Similarly to the points above, if you find that you need to stop working with a copywriter, either permanently or temporarily, it’s a lot easier to do this when they are freelancing with you as you aren’t tied to them by employment contract. This allows you to get work done when it’s required, but not necessarily be placed in a situation where you have to pay for a service that you don’t need.

Productivity – Freelancers are kings of their own destiny. As they don’t have the comfort blanket of a salaried job, every piece of work they get is helping pay towards their everyday living costs. As they work for themselves, a freelancer will generally work harder, whilst it’s easy for complacency to set in with full-time members of staff.

Adaptability – Having one or two in-house copywriters means that all of the content you produce will start to have a very similar style, whilst having multiple copywriters means you have a wider range of options when it comes to the tone of voice that you want to adopt. Whilst the former may be good if you produce lots of work for your own company website, if you are an agency that works on multiple clients on numerous projects, having the ability to change this is hugely beneficial.

I hope you found this post useful. If you are interested in any of our copywriting services, please visit our Content Signals page or fill in our Contact Form to see how we can help.

Gareth Hoyle

Gareth Hoyle

Let’s kick this section off with a sound-bite: I graduated in 2006, finishing top of my year in e-Business. As good as that sounds, book smarts doesn’t always translate into business acumen - what people really want to know is how I went from ‘fresh faced uni graduate’ to establishing my own highly successful international digital marketing agency. It wasn’t easy.

Here’s my advice. The formula to success comes down to one word. Leadership. The difference between book smarts and leadership is that even the strongest university degree in the world will only teach you the way, but a leader is able to take that knowledge and combine it with instinct and honesty to show the way. I may not always lead my staff and clients in the direction they want, but I always take them where they need to be.

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