Publish-ready content is helping organizations avoid the extra costs of editing before publishing. In some cases, businesses are saving $1,000 per batch or $80,594 per year. By understanding the publish-ready process, you can better assess content providers. Dig deep and learn which parts of the process they will handle. Understand that your team will have to fill in the gaps where they fall short. If you have the in-house skill and processes, working with a low cost provider may be an option. However, in most cases, partnering with a content service that can provide publish-ready content will save you time, money and headaches in the long run.
A couple years back, I was working on closing a Fortune 500 retailer for our managed content services. The deal was exciting. It was a cool brand to be working with, and they needed a lot of content on an ongoing basis.
In the end, I failed. The deal didn’t close, and they went to another content provider. It’s okay… These things happen, right?
They never disclosed why we lost the deal, but my hunch is it was price. They had mentioned earlier in the process that they could save a few pennies per word at another provider. Especially with large-scale projects, I know total cost is a big deal, so I don’t (completely) blame them.
Fast forward a few months later. I got a call from that same company’s content manager. She was ready to sign on and start working with us right away. What happened?
After digging deeper, she explained that her team was spending up to two or three full days editing and revising content from their other provider before it was ready to publish. It had become a major (and expensive) pain point for them. She remembered that in my original pitch, I stressed that our objective is to deliver publish-ready content, and she wanted to find out if — despite our higher price point — they could actually save money by avoiding the extra time and hassle of reworking the content post delivery.
They could, and I’m happy to say they’re still a client with us today.
The Hidden Costs of Content Creation
To be clear, I’m not trying to toot my own horn here. I’m illustrating a point. We hear the same story all too often from clients contacting us looking for a new content provider. It usually goes something like this:
“At first, the content was great. But then as we scaled up, it became really inconsistent. Most of the writers seemed to be just going through the motions and hoping we didn’t send the content back to them. What’s worse, our provider didn’t commit the resources to help us manage the workforce properly, so it was up to us to spend our time hand-holding the writers or to just revise the content ourselves.”
There are a lot of content creation services out there that simply don’t take the proper steps to deliver publish-ready content at scale. Often, these providers have a writer network at their disposal, but they don’t have the process in place to bring it all together.
Simply put, lack of process from your content provider means you — the client — must fill that gap, and this is where the big hidden costs lie.
So, what do those extra days of editing and revising really add up to?
Well, Glassdoor has the average salary of a content manager at $66,094, and that’s before all the company benefits and perks. Once you add in employer-paid taxes, insurance and healthcare, that employee really costs you at least $80,594.
That annual cost divided by the number of work days in a year (usually 260) comes to roughly $310 per day.
In the case of the Fortune 500 retailer I mentioned at the top of this article, this means they were incurring an extra $600 to $1,000 per batch of content from their other provider.
In another case, we had an agency approach us that had recently lost its content manager. The original plan was to refill the position, but after experiencing the publish-ready difference, they decided they no longer needed someone in that role. In this case, the agency saved the full $80,594 per year.
These are pretty powerful numbers. Of course, results vary from case to case, but the point is that hidden costs can add up, so we need to account for them when assessing what our entire workflow — from creation to publish — will look like.
More From Clayton: Scaling Content Creation: What Can Go Wrong and How To Mitigate the Risks
Do You Have the Skills In-House to Complete the Publish-Ready Process?
Below, I’ve created a high-level outline of the process we use at Crowd Content to create high-quality content at scale. Any provider who can deliver publish-ready content should have a process that looks very similar.
As a business assessing content providers, you need to know how much, if any, of this process is taken care of on their side. If most or all of it is, then that may be reflected in the price, but is probably worth it if they do a good job. If the provider only handles the bare bones of it, then it’s important to understand that your organization will need to pick up the rest when you get the content, resulting in extra work (costs) before you publish.
I’m a true believer that organizations can succeed with either method, but it really comes down to expectations and how well the organization is set up to handle the post-delivery process. If you’re working with a lower cost provider that can’t deliver publish-ready content, you need to ask yourself, do we have the skills in-house to edit and revise this content? Can we do it in a cost-effective way?
If you do have the skill and process in-house, then working with a lower cost provider may be the right option. However, if you aren’t comfortable with taking on that extra work in-house, you’re better off going with a provider that can deliver publish-ready content at scale, even if the price point is higher.
The Publish-Ready Process
Keep in mind, this is only a general outline and does not cover all the details of what goes into creating publish-ready content at scale. However, it should give you enough information to assess if taking on some of this process in-house is the right fit for your organization.
Step 1: Pre-Project Consultation
Creating publish-ready content starts well before you write the first word. Before you do anything, you need to engage in a thorough project consultation.
Your goal here is to determine the scope of the project. It involves asking a lot of questions and providing examples.
Remember, what “quality” or “good” content is differs greatly from organization to organization. No single content style or type could possibly be a fit for every project out there.
Start by understanding the objective of the content. Then, get clear examples of voice, tone and overall writing style. If you don’t have any examples, find some from other websites or competitors that you like. The goal here isn’t to copy another site, but to get an objective view of the style you’re shooting for. Looking at an example is typically much clearer than just trying to explain what you want, especially when a large number of people need to be on the same page.
How much research is required to write the content? Does it require subject matter expertise?
If you do a good job at this step, you set yourself up to succeed throughout the rest of the process.
Step 2: Develop Your Brief and Style Guide
The next thing you want to focus on is creating a clear brief and style guide. These are the main documents that will act as instructions for your writers and editors.
The style guide should contain the overarching elements that will remain consistent across all (or at least most) of your content projects, though you can always opt to use the AP stylebook as your default. The creative or project brief should contain elements that are pertinent to one specific project. It usually includes things such as keyword usage and placement, word count, structure and any deviations from the style guide.
Do not underestimate the importance of these items, especially if it’s a large-scale project with several writers and editors. The bigger your workforce gets, the more likely it is that individual workers could interpret key instructions differently or miss an important guideline.
Take the proper time at this stage to ensure these documents are complete, crystal clear and easy to follow.
Step 3: Assemble Your Workforce
The type of workers you need and the way you recruit them will highly depend on what you discovered in step one where you determined the scope of the project.
The world of freelance writers and editors is vast and diverse. If you know the type of writer you need, you should be able to find them.
At Crowd Content, we currently have around 5,000 approved and active content writers and editors. Depending on the project, we’ll either make jobs available to a large group of them who have the skills and background we need, or we’ll do a special round of recruiting and run with a smaller, more targeted team.
One of the keys that helps us succeed at this step is our platform. It tracks the performance of writers and editors in various categories and content types. We can then quickly search and organize workers based on ratings in these areas from both clients and internal QA staff. Having access to this information makes it a lot easier to get the right people on the team for the specific project at hand.
When assessing a content provider, ask how they will assemble the team for your project. Do they have the infrastructure in place to build the right team? What does their team-building process look like? Do they have a sufficient number of writers to meet your requirements?
If they don’t have a good answer for any of these questions, you may end up paying for it down the road.
Make sure your content provider has the people and processes in place to produce publish-ready content, or you’ll pay for it down the road.
Step 4: The Calibration Phase
At this stage, you’re testing everything you just put together in the previous steps. Many providers jump right in at full speed here, but it’s a mistake. You want to take your time in the early stages of the project to ensure you’re shooting straight — then you ramp up.
I talk at length about how putting in extra work upfront on large projects will save you time and money in this article about scaling content creation. There’s a full section on the calibration phase, so I suggest heading there for more details about this step.
If your provider isn’t doing calibration rounds to get your feedback before they ramp up, that’s a red flag, and you may end up with content that simply doesn’t meet your requirements.
Step 5: Three-Step Content Creation Process
Now that your prep is done, you want to scale up with a content creation process that has several quality checks in place. At minimum, this should be a three-step process of (1) write, (2) edit and (3) QA.
With this process, each level is reviewing the work of the previous level. Content does not get through to the next step unless it matches the brief and style guide you put together earlier in the process. If the reviewer finds big errors, s/he can send the content back to the previous level for revisions. For minor errors, the reviewer can fix them and push the piece to the next level.
When managing the content creation process yourself instead of using a provider, your writers and editors will most likely be freelancers, but your quality assurance (QA) team should typically be in-house staff members. These people make up your final layer of review and must be your sharpest team members. They need to have the ability to see the big picture (to assess voice and flow), but should also be looking for the finer details such as spelling and grammar.
If you identified earlier in the process that your content needs a lot of research done before the writing begins, you may want to add a fourth level. In a case like this, your first step would be to perform the required research. The researcher would then pass their findings to the writer who would start on the writing step.
It’s probably obvious, but you should always have different workers at each stage of this process. You don’t want the same person writing the first draft and then reviewing the same work in the editing and QA stages.
Learn More: How to Create eCommerce Content at Scale
Step 6: Continued Feedback and Adjustments
If you’ve done everything above and you’re able to create publish-ready content at scale, that’s a great start. The main focus now is keeping it that way.
Put a continuous feedback loop in place. This is the responsibility of both the content provider and the client. Too often, one side of the team, or both, get lazy and just assume things will keep trucking along as is. That’s rarely the case.
You want to review and get feedback continuously so you can identify and address issues early, before they get out of control.
You also need to give your workforce continuous feedback, even if things are looking good. Some freelancers — especially those working on ongoing projects — have a tendency to get complacent. When this happens, little things can get missed and quality can drop. If the workforce knows someone is watching, they’re more likely to stay on the ball and deliver top-notch work.
When working with a larger workforce, you’ll see some churn as well. Freelancers will find other opportunities, get full-time jobs, have families to tend to or just get bored with the project. You should be constantly recruiting so you can review and accept new talent to your team. Consider implementing a soft block system to easily bring on new talent mid-project without disturbing your existing workflow.
Is Publish-Ready Content Right for Your Organization?
I’ve tried to give you the whole picture of content creation and the costs that accompany it. My thinking is that if organizations understand the full process required to create publish-ready content, they can better assess content providers and manage budgets more accurately.
When assessing a content provider and price, dig deep to learn what parts of the publish-ready process the provider will actually handle. If parts are missing, understand that you and your team will need to handle those parts in-house. Take those costs into account when considering your budget.
If you’re unsure about the skill level you have in-house or the costs you will incur managing this process yourself, your best bet is to go with a content provider who can deliver publish-ready content. You may pay a higher price upfront, but you’ll save big dollars in the long run and probably be publishing better content.
Keep Reading: Why You Should Worry About Your Content’s Reading Level