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I write and I love it.

In fact, throughout my writing career, I’ve been ridiculously lucky. My clients are awesome and — fingers crossed — I don’t expect to run into a nightmare client anytime soon. But in order for a content team to be successful, managers need to learn how to effectively work with their writers (freelance, in-house or otherwise).

We queried founders of successful startups and members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs, for their best piece of advice for the following question:

Q. What’s one great tip for communicating abstract requirements (like tone or voice) to the person creating your company’s content?

Provide examples for your content team and writers

1. Provide Examples

“When communicating subtle and abstract things such as tone of voice, words aren’t adequate,” tells Dustin Lee of Playbook.

Lee continues, “This is because the definition of words like innovative, cheeky and trustworthy vary greatly depending on who you’re talking to. Instead of trying to describe it, give examples. Find two to three other brands that have achieved the tone you’re striving for, and share it with staff.”

2. Explain Why

Sam Saxton of Salter Stairs knows, “Adjectives are great, but every preference should have a purpose. Take the time to analyze why you like something before you ask your vendor to emulate it. They’ll better understand your goals and have more input for suggesting further innovation.”

3. Spend Time With Them

“At ZinePak, the quickest way to figure out who we are and what our tone and voice are like is to spend time with us,” shares the company’s co-founder Kim Kaupe. “With our young and energetic staff and our passionate and high-profile clients, there is a fun and creative atmosphere that can be quickly absorbed and understood with quality time in our office.”

Emulate Great Writing Style

4. Create a “Swipe File”

Thursday Bram, principal of Hyper Modern Consulting, recommends, “As you read content produced by other companies, bookmark or save anything that resonates with you — swipe it for your own use.

“Make sure to tag anything that fits what you have in mind for those abstract requirements, such as tone. Then, when you’re working with a content creator, you have plenty of examples to share and your requirements aren’t nearly so abstract.”

5. Use Audio Notes

Of course, some words are simply better spoken.

“When we need to communicate nuanced things such as tone or voice, we send audio notes (specifically through Evernote) but there are numerous other ways,” says Leah Neaderthal of Start Somewhere. “It provides a much richer experience because our designers can hear our voice, the emotion behind our words and those intangible things that are hard to communicate over email.”

6. Hire People Who Know What Those Words Mean

Mary Ellen Slayter of Reputation Capital believes, “Tone and voice aren’t abstract concepts to professional editors and writers. If you weren’t a literature major yourself, you can still communicate what you’re looking for by getting concrete. Start with your buyer personas: Who are they? What are their challenges? Share specific examples of publications they are likely to read. A good content marketer will be able to work backward from there.”

Explain How You Want to Make People Feel

7. Explain How You Want to Make People Feel

“A creative person tends to be imaginative, so if you paint the right picture for him, he’ll typically understand the tone or voice that you’d like to use,” notes Andy Karuza of Brandbuddee. “To do this, I explain how I want to make the reader or viewer feel when interacting with the content.”

8. Iterate With Feedback

Nurture your writers. Doreen Bloch of Poshly Inc. is a strong advocate of an iterative approach which allows you to also mentor your team members.

“When creating company content, it’s likely you’ll need to review text and images a few times before publishing them. Instead of just providing corrections, make sure you explain why a certain edit was given so the content creator can refine her work over time. It’s unusual for a content creator to get the abstract elements of content perfect on day one, so be comfortable giving feedback.”

What’s your best tip for managing a content team? Leave a comment! Also, want to help us grow our content discovery and sharing platform? See our openings.

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  • Judie S

    Great tips and expertly explained! I always start with a thorough Creative Brief – which includes all the tips you’ve listed – and more. But what I really appreciate about your approach is the person to person communication and the methods you suggest for conveying the visceral, intangible aspects at the heart of any project. Nothing takes the place of human interaction – but once that takes place, it’s very helpful to have as much as possible culled into a clear and concise brief. Thanks for your insight.

    • Thanks Judie! All the credit definitely goes to the entrepreneurs who contributed to this article though :)

      Agreed! As I develop real relationships with my clients, I tend to write better.

      • Excellent article Danny! I am sharing with all of the writers I work with so they can share with the teams they support.
        Thank you for your efforts and to those who contributed!
        Cheers,
        Cheryl

        • Thanks, Cheryl. I’m so glad this is useful!

  • Mike Bailey

    Hi Marcus – I wish all clients appreciated the writer’s challenge like these guys! Just getting a proper brief is sometmes a struggle …

    Love the Edwin Armstrong pic!

    • I am confident that, in due time, the client-writer relationship will improve as we all become a bit more empathetic and learn how to communicate our thoughts better.

      Thanks for the kind words!

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