Brands Pay More But Save Big With Publish-Ready Content

Quality content production is not a simple process. If you want results in content marketing, you need top-notch content that hits the mark, speaks to your audience and engages each reader. Creating this same calibre of content at scale is a challenging proposition.

Many brands depend on content agencies or services to hit the volume they need. But in some cases — especially with low-cost providers — additional revisions and editing are required before the content is publishable. The result is a higher overall price tag as your in-house team spends time and energy finessing the content after it’s delivered.

While this may be an acceptable strategy for brands with in-house talent and processes, other businesses are saving big by choosing a publish-ready provider. The key is deep-diving into a provider’s content production process to understand what they cover and what gaps — if any — your team needs to fill.

In most cases, paying more for a partner that delivers premium, publish-ready content saves time, prevents headaches and, over the long haul, saves a lot of money.

The Real Price of a Low-Cost Provider

Not long ago, Crowd Content was pitching a new client, a trendy Fortune 500 brand needing exceptional content delivered in large volumes. As Clayton Lainsbury, founder and CEO of Crowd Content, put it, “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, the deal fell through.

The company never disclosed why they chose another provider, but Lainsbury expected it was the 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.”

A few months later, the company’s content manager called back. They were ready to sign on with Crowd Content and start production right away.

But what happened?

A little digging revealed that the company’s content team was putting in two or three full days of editing and revising each batch of content they received from their provider. As a popular and successful brand, they needed content that shined. The content they got didn’t live up to expectations and polishing it was a major — and costly — pain point.

As Lainsbury recalls, “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 they did. To this day, they’re a satisfied Crowd Content partner.

The Hidden Costs of Content Creation

The same story unfolds time and again. Brands partner with an “affordable” content provider and everything goes well until they start scaling. As workloads increase, quality drops. The incoming content is droll and repetitive. It’s full of typos, cliches and grammatical errors. It seems the only thing the writers are engaged in is churning and burning.

The content is just plain bad.

In an effort to stem the hemorrhaging quality, the brand looks to the content provider for help. But they find their partner has minimal resources for managing their writers, let alone putting the content through an editing and quality assurance stage. In the end, the responsibility of making the content publishable falls to the business.

Many content services don’t have the proper steps in place to deliver polished content. They’re set up to deliver scale — not quality at scale. They may have a network of writers at their disposal, but they don’t have the processes or know-how to bring it all together.

In short, a lack of processes and expertise on the part of content providers means brands must fill the gap. The in-house staff must now:

  • Manage ineffective feedback processes with writers
  • Oversee multiple rounds of revisions
  • Pass the content through an internal editing and QA stage

It’s not a small gap.

The Numbers

Glassdoor puts the average salary of a content manager at $84,921. With all the taxes, insurance and healthcare added in, that number jumps to over $100,000. And that’s not including any other company perks or benefits.

Divide that salary by the number of workdays in a year and it comes out to a little over $380 per day. You need to ask yourself if the overhead incurred from polishing content produced by a low-cost provider is worth it.

For the Fortune 500 retailer mentioned above, it was costing an extra $750 to $1,250 for every batch of content.

In another example of a satisfied client, an agency approached Crowd Content because they lost their content manager. The agency needed to fill their content gap while they searched for a replacement. But after experiencing the publish-ready difference, they found the role wasn’t necessary.

In other words, the agency saved the whole $100,000 per year.

Every situation is different, but the numbers don’t lie. And these numbers are significant. The bottom line is that you need to account for hidden costs in the entire content production process, from ideation to publication.

The Skills Necessary To Produce Publish-Ready Content

Content production is an involved process. There are several crucial steps to get an idea through production to a quality finished product. If your brand is looking at content providers, it’s imperative to understand their production processes before you partner with them.

Once you understand what content services handle on their side, you’re left with two choices:

  1. Go with a provider that delivers publish-ready content, or
  2. Go with one that delivers bare-bones content, which requires more work

If you choose a partner that delivers content that’s ready to go, it may cost a little more. But if the content is good and doesn’t require any effort on your behalf, it’s likely worth the price. If you choose one that delivers bare-bones content at a lower cost, expect to invest more on your side to polish and prepare the delivered content.

That’s not saying one option is ultimately better for every brand.

It comes down to expectations and how well your business handles in-house content production. If you’re working with a provider that doesn’t deliver publish-ready content, you need to assess whether your business has the skills to cover the second half of the content production process.

If your brand has the talent and processes ready to go, working with a low-cost provider might be a good choice.

On the other hand, if your team can’t handle the added workload of revising, editing and polishing content, you’re better off choosing a provider that delivers publish-ready content from the beginning. The same certainly goes for brands that simply don’t have the talent or processes in place to finalize content production.

Below is an outline of Crowd Content’s content production process. If you need high-quality, publishable content at scale, any partner you consider will follow a very similar process.

The Publish-Ready Process

Keep in mind, this outline doesn’t cover every detail required to create publish-ready content at scale. That would require far more than a single article. But it does hit all the major points. There’s enough information to determine whether handling aspects of the process in-house would be a good fit for your business.

Step 1: Pre-Project Consultation

Producing great content requires planning. It starts before anyone writes a single word.

The first step is a thorough project consultation. The aim is to determine the scope of the project through exploration and discovery. That means communicating business goals, answering lots of questions and providing content samples.

The consultation stages help determine the kind of content your brand needs. Keep in mind, the definition of quality content is subjective. It differs quite a bit from brand to brand. Every project requires a different style and approach.

It starts with understanding your content’s objectives. For example, you may want to:

  • Increase website traffic
  • Generate leads
  • Improve the customer experience
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Become a thought leader in your industry

Once you understand what you’re aiming for, you’re ready to find examples of the kind of content you want to be produced. This helps illustrate the voice, tone and overall style you want for your content. While you’re welcome to source samples from anywhere on the web, your competitors are a good starting point.

The goal isn’t to mimic another brand’s content but to gain objective insight into the style you want. Examples paint a clearer picture than elaborate explanations, especially when the project involves large groups of people. They also provide industry-specific insights that help determine other project requirements — for example, the research requirements of your content and whether you need someone with industry expertise writing it.

A good job during consultation helps ensure success throughout the project.

Step 2: Develop Your Brief and Style Guide

Your content partner will work closely with you to distill all the learning from the consultation phase into two important documents: the content brief and the style guide. These will serve as instructions for your writers and editors. Getting these documents right helps ensure you receive content that’s ready to publish.

A style guide contains overarching elements consistent across all or most of your content. It might include details such as whether to write in a casual or more professional voice. It also covers grammatic styles and rules about spelling and capitalization that your company follows. Your style guide might reference another style guide here, such as AP Style.

The creative or project brief contains elements specific to a single project. It often includes keyword usage and placement, word count, structure and any deviations from the style guide.

Don’t underestimate the importance of these items, especially for bigger projects with multiple writers and editors. The larger your workforce, the more chances workers may misinterpret key instructions or miss an important guideline.

In other words, make efforts to ensure your briefs and style guide are thorough, crystal clear and easy to follow.

Step 3: Assemble Your Workforce

The insights from the first two stages largely define the kind of writers and editors you need and how to recruit them. The world of freelance writers is vast and diverse. Knowing the type of writer you need narrows things down considerably.

In assessing content providers, ask questions about how they assemble project teams:

  • Do they have the infrastructure in place to build the right team?
  • What does their team-building process look like?
  • Do they have sufficient 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.

Crowd Content has over 5,000 active freelance writers and editors. Every project is different. One may require a large group of freelancers with the appropriate skills. Another may need a round of recruiting to build a smaller, specialized team.

A content platform makes everything run smoothly. It tracks writer and editor performance across various metrics and content types. With this information, finding the right people for a specific project is a breeze.

Infograph showing the process Crowd Content uses to create high-quality publish-ready content

Step 4: The Calibration Phase

Some providers dive into production mode once they think they understand your project, but that’s a mistake. You wouldn’t buy a new car without test-driving it first. The same reasoning applies to scaled content production.

You need to take it slow in the early stages of production to ensure the provider can meet your expectations. Smaller batches of content help you test the efficacy of the instructions and the output of the workers. You may need to adjust your brief to clarify certain aspects. Or you may need to tweak your roster to produce the desired results.

Calibration is crucial, especially for larger projects. Taking your time during this stage saves a lot of time and money once you start scaling. If your content provider isn’t taking steps to refine your process before scaling, you may end up with content that misses the mark.

Step 5: Three-Step Content Creation Process

With preparation complete and the production process dialed in, it’s time to start scaling. This is a three-step process, which includes:

  1. Writing
  2. Editing
  3. Quality assurance

If your producer doesn’t follow these three steps, for every order, it should worry you. At Crowd Content, content isn’t delivered to clients unless it passes every stage. Editors proofread content, checking that it adheres to the brief and style guide. If the editor finds a minor mistake, they may fix it themselves and pass it to the next stage. But if any serious issues come up, the content moves back to the previous stage for revisions.

If you’re managing content production in-house, you’ll likely leverage freelancers for the writing and editing. But you’ll want in-house staff for the quality assurance stage. This is the final layer of review, and it requires a combination of trust and sharp skills. Your QA people should have the ability to focus on the broader strokes of your content strategy as well as the finer details such as spelling and grammar.

You may need to add stages to this step. For example, if you determine your content requires more research earlier in the process, another stage may be necessary. You might add a research stage prior to the writing stage. Or you may want a subject matter expert reviewing the content at the end of the process.

Step 6: Continued Feedback and Adjustments

If you’ve made it through all the above and your team is producing publishable content at scale, it’s an amazing start. You should be excited and proud.

But keeping things on track requires continued effort. If you’re working with a provider, this effort comes from both sides. All too often, the team’s focus drifts — they assume great performance will simply carry on, especially if things exceed expectations at the start. But that’s rarely the case.

You need a continuous feedback loop in place so you can identify and address issues early and often. This is especially important when you’re working with freelancers. Some freelancers tend toward complacency on larger projects. They start missing little details, or their quality dips. Providing continuous feedback helps keep them engaged.

When working with a large workforce, some amount of churn is inevitable. Freelancers find other opportunities, change gears or their career or simply disengage with the project. Constant recruitment is necessary to ensure a full roster and consistent output. Implementing a soft block system to bring new talent in mid-project without disrupting production is a good strategy.

Is Publish-Ready Content Right for Your Brand?

If your organization understands the entire process necessary to produce publish-ready content, it can more accurately assess content providers. This helps refine expectations and, of course, manage budgets for creating high-quality content at scale.

When looking for a content partner, don’t take the end result at face value. Dig deep into its production process and find out how it move from start to finish, be it workforce management, recruiting or quality control. If you find gaps in their process, understand that your business may need to fill them with in-house team members. Add those costs to your content budget.

If you’re unsure your internal team can fill those gaps or you simply don’t have people in place to handle it, your best bet is a content provider that delivers publish-ready content. It may be a little more expensive in the beginning, but you’ll end up saving a lot more in the long run. You’ll probably end up publishing better content, too.

Carlos Meza

Article by

President and Chief Executive Officer at Crowd Content.

Carlos is a guiding voice in an SEO and content creation industry brimming with turbulent growth. He has leveraged his past experience as a technology executive, engineer, and corporate financier to bring innovative end-to-end content creation solutions to SMBs and enterprise clients around the globe — delivering high-quality, scalable products through the marriage of human talent, technology, automation, and artificial intelligence.

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