Guest writers are a great way to create content. They can offer different expertise and perspectives on your blog. The challenge is getting the many diverse perspectives and styles of guest writers to conform to the carefully crafted experience you have created for your audience.
We have two types of guest writers. The first is a one-off post from someone in a related business, or that has something interesting to our audience. The second is from contributors we pay to write us content on a monthly basis.
At first, it was challenging to manage the guest writers. We had a document with pages of details on our expectations, but the message was simply not getting across. Posts were getting bogged down and delayed in the the feedback stage. Sometimes we would have to turn away content that took hours to create, but was not aligned with our audience. Once we added a step-by-step sequence element to the document, things started coming together.
You can look at and download a template based on our document at the bottom of this post.
How to scale your blog and maintain quality content with a process and style guide for guest writers. (CLICK TO TWEET)
The creation process
This is the core of the process. It gives step-by-step instructions and timelines for each step. It’s the first thing our writers see.
The creation process also serves as a table of contents for the rest of the process. For example, in step 5-c we instruct the writer to add images to the post. We also include a link to a bookmark on the same document to our image guidelines. So a writer can jump right to the information relevant to the step.
This keeps the process from becoming too overwhelming or cumbersome with every detail. It also makes it easy to reference. I can say something like: “Your images don’t follow our guidelines, check step 5-c.”
How to create bookmarks in Google Docs
In Google docs you can click ‘Insert’ in the top menu bar and see ‘bookmark’ near the bottom of the list. Place bookmarks in your document to make it easy to jump between different parts of a doc with just one click.
You can add bookmarks in your document and then create links that will jump to the bookmark on the document. The if placed next to a header, the bookmark will automatically be named the same as the header.
These are really useful for keeping the short version of a process all in one place, and using a bookmark to link to additional details further down if necessary.
The first step in the process is ideation. When we are approached with a new idea for a post we instruct the writer to review information about our audience and content. We want to make sure they understand our expectations from the very beginning.
- Our audience – This is two paragraph summary of our audience and our content.
- Features of posts – This is a list of some of what are posts look like.
- Empathy map – This is a detailed write up of the visceral experience of our content. We outline what we expect the reader to feel, see, hear and think when they are reading our content.
- Content examples – This is a list of examples of types of posts featured on our blog. We also give headline examples and links to similar content we enjoy.
Once the writer has reviewed this information, they send a few headline examples of the content they want to create of us, and some links to past content they have created. Once we approve the idea, they have 2 business days to submit an outline.
Idea proposals & outline
We request an introduction and outline with a few catchy headlines and key points to be sent our way so we can do another check to make sure the content is valuable before the guest writer invests a large amount of time in creating the post.
Checklist for value – We check the outline against this checklist and make sure the key takeaways and points on the article are aligned.
- Useful? Does it have utility? Tip: Write to solve an issue or pain point for a single, specific person.
- New idea? Is it a new spin on an old idea or a brand new idea altogether?
- Valuable? Will a reader get value from it?
- Actionable? Are there action steps a reader can take?
- Shareable? Is there an incentive for readers to share it?
- Eye catching? Does the headline make you want to read it?
- Flow? Does the content flow and read well?
- Entertaining? A few chuckles is a bonus
- Long and detailed content generally goes best with our audience
When the outline is checked and approved we move to the first draft. We only accept Google Docs for drafts for a few reasons.
- It’s easier to collaborate and give feedback.
- Using software like Word creates a lot of excess code when you copy and paste into WP.
Getting the first draft right is important for momentum. So we provide a lot of granular detail at how the post should look
- Style guide – How many images should be in a post, what our headers and titles look like.
- Images – What type of files to use for images. What dimensions the image should be. Quality expectations for the images.
- Common mistakes – We have a list of common mistakes our guest writers make so current writers and double check for any of those errors before they send in the draft for feedback.
With most of the details and expectations written in the process, the feedback phase is usually focused on adding to the value of the content. Usually that involves elaborating on an idea, or adding in some information to clarify.
After the feedback phase when the draft is accepted a profile for the writer is created on our site. They are responsible to log in and get the post uploaded. There’s a few extra tasks in this step to get the post set.
- Click to tweets – We give instructions on how to transform some of the highlights of their post. This helps boost the post’s shares when published and get’s the content some attention.
- Backend info – This is elements such as a focus keyword and metadata for SEO, as well as a featured image and excerpt so the post will look good in our archives.
- Kyle’s note – I add a short introduction to the beginning of every guest post. This helps prevent any confusion on who the writer is, and helps bridge trust between our audience and the guest writer.
Managing content and guest writers
I use two separate Trello boards to manage the content pipeline. A contributor board where we communicate and collaborate with our guest writers, and an editorial calendar where we plan out content for the coming weeks.
We use the contributor board to support our contributor team. This board is mainly used to manage and track ideas and the progress of articles as we move through the process. It’s composed of a few lists.
- Ideas up for grabs – Each month I’ll run through Dan’s idea generation framework to create 50 or so ideas for content. All of those ideas are collected into this list for our contributors to choose from.
- Awaiting approval – We also encourage contributors to submit original ideas. They can place their ideas in this list and I will be alerted.
- Claimed ideas – This list is where all of the content we are building lives. It is easy to go through this list, check posts in the attachments and communicate with the writers via Trello.
- Completed – I leave this list here do guest writers can look at article ideas that have been approved in the past.
- Resources – This has cards that link to our process, announcements and anything else relevant to the writers
We used to try and have all of our process as steps on a checklist within the Trello card. There were a few problems with this approach
- You could not get the same level of detail as you can with a Google Doc
- We were basically copying the checklist and pasting it to every card. So if our process changed we would have hundreds of cards in our ideas list with outdated instructions
- Not all of our contributors are familiar with Trello, nobody seems to have a problem with a Google Doc.
This is where all of our content is mapped out and planned. This board contains cards for our internal posts, our contributors, and our one-off guest posts. The board is only visible to our internal team. At the end of each month I take time to plan out the next month’s content. I make small adjustments as the month goes on, but it is nice to have a solid plan of attack at the beginning of each month.
I mainly work in the calendar view on this board and have a colored label system to indicate the status of the post. This gives me a good high level view of where the content for the month is and where I need to focus.
Tips for creating your own process
Be “annoyingly” detailed – Cover all of your expectations in your process. Leave nothing open for interpretation. Being painstakingly detailed in your process will save you hours in feedback and editing in the future.
Use bookmarks – Bookmarks make it much easier to navigate your document. Using bookmarks allows you to put more detailed information later in the process without crowding out your step-by-step instructions.
Without bookmarks, people may miss important information which will mean more work for you later on.
Include screenshots or samples whenever possible – Samples decrease the chances that your instructions will be misinterpreted. Start by identifying areas where common mistakes are made. Samples should help reduce error rates.
Keep evolving – Continuously review and improve this process. Ask your writers for feedback and to point out any points that are confusing or misleading.
A poorly managed guest writer system can end up creating more work than simply creating the content yourself. (\CLICK TO TWEET)
This fine tuned process will help get you out of that rut, so you have more time and energy to focus on creating your own content or work on other areas of your business.