You trust your team to get their work done on time. In a pinch, you know you can count on them to rush through a project and meet a tight deadline.
Few things are more annoying than rushing to turn a story in on time, only to find out your client’s legal team needs a complete rewrite based on information they never provided. Even worse are those days when an entire project gets put on hold — causing other work to suffer too — because you’re still waiting on a vital client deliverable.
When you’re in the business of content creation, deadlines are critical. You can’t let uncontrollable variables slow things down or create unnecessary obstacles. Your success relies on having a smooth, streamlined content creation and approval process — regardless of who your clients are.
But how can you ensure that your customers do their part? Don’t you work for them? Yes, but you work for yourself first — and that means you get to establish the ground rules. By setting clearly defined expectations and requirements in advance, you can drastically improve the creation and approval process, while developing a system the will meet the needs of you and your clients.
To get your client’s on board with a streamlined content creation and approval process, follow this three-step plan:
Step 1: Get your internal process in order
You can’t expect your clients to play by your rules if you haven’t first established what those rules are. Before you start working with a customer (or before you present them with your new streamlined system), you need to define your methodology.
Standardize your spec gathering process
While every project is different, the information you need to gather is essentially the same. What is the goal of the project? What is your audience? Who will provide the information you need? Document the questions someone needs to ask and who will ask them — and make it standard for all clients. Once you have all these questions established, use them to develop a creative brief template. While your creative brief will be different for each customer, having a standard template to work from ensures your team has the information they need for the project and your client knows what to expect, right from the start.
Establish your in-house approval process
While you can’t always control your customer’s review process, you can develop a set of rules and requirements for your team to help ensure delays aren’t happening on your end. Keep your approval process high-level, and be open to making minor adjustments based on individual client needs. Think about:
- Who needs to review each deliverable?
- How long do they need to review it?
- How will feedback be provided?
- Who has the final say?
Choose a content creation management system
You can manage this yourself, but you don’t have to — and it’s more efficient if you don’t. There are plenty of platforms available that can help you manage deliverables, roles, responsibilities, dates, etc. We use ClearVoice, but I am certainly biased. Do some research, and select the tool that best meets your needs.
Assign a gatekeeper
Every project should have an internal point person who is responsible for signing off before anything goes to the client. This editor/approver should review every piece of content, even drafts, to ensure they meet your internal standards before you share them with anyone else.
Keep everyone on your team in the loop, so no one ever has to hunt for the information they need. The management system you select needs to centralize project details and allow team members to easily track a project’s progress and see who’s responsible for what.
Step 2: Know who you’re working with
No matter how great your internal process, it won’t amount to anything if you aren’t able to apply it to your clients. To do that, you need to understand what’s happening on their side. That means getting to know their people, learning their processes, and figuring out what they expect from you.
Discuss their goals and strategies
It’s important to know you’re on the same page as your clients. What is their marketing agenda? If they’re thinking global and you’re only looking nationally, you’re going to have problems throughout the process. Make sure you understand their strategy so that the content can support it.
Know their legal requirements
If the client is in a regulated industry, you need to be aware of related industry requirements. Request a checklist from the client’s legal team before you begin any writing. Otherwise, you’ll waste time revising content that your team should never have written in the first place.
Review their style guidelines
Many companies already have an established style guide that addresses tone, core values, and sometimes even required terms or phrases. Get your hands on this document as soon as possible, so you can craft content that fits seamlessly with their existing brand. If a client doesn’t have a style guide, work with them to create one. It will save you both time and grief in the long run.
Review your creative brief
Use that creative brief template you created in Step 1 to develop a clear guide to the content you’re going to create. Review each section carefully with the client and get their sign-off. This way, everyone is on the same page. When it comes time to review and approve content, there shouldn’t be any surprises.
Step 3: Get client buy-in
Now that you’ve taken the time to establish your processes and understand your customer’s, it’s time to get buy in. Customer buy-in will ensure that everyone’s on board and ready to play by the rules.
Present the benefits
Let your clients know the advantages of participating in the process:
- A reduction in time and expense through streamlining the approval process
- The timely delivery of a product that lives up to the requirements of the approved creative brief
- No (or at least fewer) surprises and “back and forth” headaches
- Help them achieve their ultimate goal, get results and get a promotion (hopefully)
Review everyone’s role
Set up a meeting with the client-side lead and content approvers so that you can discuss their roles and responsibilities. This session is also a good time to introduce your team and what the client can expect from each of you. Having a clear understanding on both sides will make everyone more confident in the process.
Add users to your approval process or platform
Make certain that you have the right individuals on both sides set up in your approval management system and that they have the appropriate rights assigned to them. This step will help ensure smooth pass-off between your team and theirs, and it should reduce the number of status update requests you have to respond to.
Train your clients
If you’re constantly answering process or technical questions, all that time you saved by implementing your new process will quickly disappear — and you’ll be more frustrated than ever. Skip the headaches and give your clients an easy-to-follow, step-by-step training on your approval process and any software they’ll need to use with it. The easier you make the process for your customers, the less time you will all waste chasing down approvals.
By establishing clearly defined systems and setting the right expectations, managing your content projects will become easier and result in far less frustration. Just remember to keep the lines of communication open and be willing to receive feedback.
Ultimately, this whole process is about providing a better deliverable to your clients, so listen to their suggestions and work together to create a system that makes the content creation and approval process as pain-free as possible.