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Matt-46029
Posted: Friday, January 13, 2017 6:28:54 PM

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Joined: 1/18/2016
Posts: 1
i'd like to get a sense from other writers about how you're taking the document instructions. personally, after reading the full document instructions i'm left with a feeling of wanting. there seems to be no actual description of what the client wants me to write about or what kind of document they expect. i'm speaking of the 250 word auditions from the new client board. so far I haven't found anything in the instructions that directly addresses what they want written. from the forums, i don't think this is a common problem so I'm wondering if the deficiency is in my reading of the instructions or the clients filling out of the instructions. what does a clear set of instructions look like to you?
James-24350
Posted: Monday, January 16, 2017 10:37:04 AM

Rank: Advanced Member
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Joined: 1/31/2013
Posts: 82
I've also experienced a lack of clarity from certain clients. In fact, I actually had to deny a couple of direct assignments because the client offered no specific instructions beyond the title, had an extremely high rate of denying articles (upwards of 40%), and had previously rejected an article they assigned to me for the gloriously clear reason of "other". Without a chance for revisions... and after sending me additional instructions after I had already submitted the article in question.

So I asked them to either send their new assignments back to me with more instructions or assign them to someone else, and they've yet to say anything else to me.

*Shrugs*

This actually does seem like a fairly common problem, although I'm happy to say that my current main client now includes a full outline for each article (which makes writing them fast, painless, and fun). It is a little weird, though. Some companies seem to be actively reluctant to say literally anything about what they're actually looking for, but they're happy to spend a lot of time editing and denying things. It feels like they're actively sabotaging themselves - either that or they don't actually know what they want, but they're willing to see what we come up with and take up our time, happily denying articles and leaving us in the dust if they're not satisfied. After all, they only have to "pay" if they accept something, right? (At least denials from the open board don't count against our ratings anymore, but some of them do it even with direct assignments...)

This is actually one of the things that suggests most of our clients - or at least those looking for new writers - don't understand content marketing or how they can get the most from it. It makes working with them difficult at best, but if I think they're not being clear enough, I can and I will reject assignments. I don't feel like we should have to risk losing time and pay because the client doesn't know what they want. Unfortunately, other than declining to write articles and explaining things to them - with no guarantee they'll listen - I'm not sure there's anything we can do. Maybe some kind of attention-getting popup on the client side, reminding them that creating clear instructions is the best way to get high-quality content...? That'd be good for Zerys, too, since it would probably improve client retention rates.
Steve-Admin
Posted: Monday, January 16, 2017 11:06:58 AM

Rank: Administration
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Joined: 2/20/2013
Posts: -120
Good discussion and good points James. This is a problem that EVERY content marketer, agency, or platform deals with. You are right, some companies don't understand how important detailed instructions are, but more likely, they just dont know how to create them or dont have the time to write them up.

We have to walk a line between forcing buyers to write up detailed instructions vs keeping the process as simple as possible. If you require more instructions from buyers, they will start to say things like "Im spending so much time telling writers what i want, i could have just wrote the article myself!". So, the reason they are hiring you is because they DONT like writing!

We do try to educate buyers in several places in our platform to take the time to provide as much details as possible, but some still dont. We also spent a lot of time and resources developing our new Writer Instructions Guide. The whole idea if this was to make it easy for buyers to give writers at least the basic info they need, but do it using mostly multiple choice questions and answers to make it much faster for them. We are always open to thinking of new ways to get better instructions for writers, so keep the ideas coming.
James-24350
Posted: Monday, January 16, 2017 12:35:00 PM

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Joined: 1/31/2013
Posts: 82
Steve,

At the moment, I think clients are doing pretty well with the project-wide instructions. Those tend to be fairly detailed now (they were all but totally absent in the past), so I think you've succeeded on that end. That said, if the instructions are only for project-wide stuff and specific document instructions receive little attention... maybe some clients don't even realize they need to tell us anything else.

I think there's a difference between doing enough to write the articles themselves and providing at least a basic explanation of the content they're looking for. I'll use another article (from the same instruction-lacking client I mentioned earlier) as an example here. They asked me to write about promotional trends in 2017 - okay, no problem, I did some research and hammered that out. All fine and dandy... except that they messaged me back saying that they wanted me to talk about products instead of advertising techniques, a detail that was completely absent from their instructions. I could not have known that's what they wanted. I ended up effectively writing two articles instead of one - costing me time I could have spent on something else - because they didn't tell me what they wanted the first time around. Revisions are one thing, but a total change in topic is something else entirely.

To me, that is a real problem. Outlines are the best - in fact, from my interactions with clients, those who take the time to create them tend to be the happiest with the final results of their content - but if the client instructions are so lacking they're literally not telling you what to write and they end up effectively halving your pay for time spent on them as a result... *Shrugs* Well, it certainly doesn't make me want to write for them anymore. Maybe if there was a reminder like "Sometimes article titles can be interpreted in different ways - be sure to tell the writer the actual subject and direction you'd like the content to take" on their end?

I'm not asking them to spend an hour for each article. I'm not asking them to spend half an hour. I am, however, asking them to spend the thirty seconds it takes to actually explain what they want. There's a minimum threshold of needed information that many clients just aren't reaching, and it impacts all of us. Right now, I think getting clients to provide specific project instructions is probably the single most helpful thing you could do.
Steve-Admin
Posted: Tuesday, January 17, 2017 10:50:28 AM

Rank: Administration
Groups: Administration , Member, Moderator

Joined: 2/20/2013
Posts: -120
Again, you make some good points James, but I would argue that there's a big difference between the instructions writers would want in a perfect world vs what the average buyer is willing or able to provide. If it actually took only 30 seconds, as you suggest, to write an outline or tell you what they want, I'm sure they would be doing it. Writing up an outline or coming up with the bullet points to cover in an article, in my experience, can sometimes take longer than writing the entire article, because there's so much thinking that has to go into it

The reality is, buyers genuinely struggle with even writing up a few sentences of instructions, because they either don't know what they want, or just cant put it into words very well. (Remember, that's why they are hiring an outside writer, because they cant or dont like writing!) Even when it comes to coming up with the topics to cover in the article, right or wrong, buyers often want you, the writer, to do the thinking for them to some degree.

We educate buyers that there are various levels of instructions to provide writers:

1. Keyword/topic only
2. A specific title
3. Basic guidelines
4. Detailed instructions, including bullet points to cover

Which level they provide depends on how picky they are, how much time they have or are willing to spend, and how much they want to control the direction of the article.

Keep in mind that the title itself usually does provide some direction for the article. However, when the buyer only provides the title, there is no doubt the writer is left to have to guess a little bit about which points to cover in the article. We've made some progress in this area, but havent been able to fully fully solve this dilemma in a way that keeps the process simple for the buyers and writers.

Again, we are open to any concrete suggestions on how we can encourage or steer buyers to provide more detail in a way that doesn't cause them to spend so much time that they decide the whole effort is not worth it.
Tami-25632
Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2017 9:12:22 AM

Rank: Advanced Member
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Joined: 1/24/2013
Posts: 118
Location: Belleville, ON Canada
The best way to ensure writers can take an educated guess at what the more ambiguous titles or descriptions are trying to accomplish for the buyer to include a link to the site where the content is to be published, or a related site. I would estimate 99% of AG and DC clients know what their competitors are publishing and most who are seeking new writers have some content published already. A writer of substance should be able to refer to the websites offered to gain the context required for the piece requested in most cases. Not an entirely perfect solution, but it's worked well for me.
Mary-46074
Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2017 2:52:30 PM
Rank: Advanced Member
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Joined: 10/12/2014
Posts: 22
I wonder if it would help when clients are assigning articles if they're asked, "Is there any information or question you'd like the writer to specifically address or answer in the content?" That way, in James' example, hopefully the client would say something like, "What products are trending?" This might prompt their thinking and get them to include a request for something if it's really important to them.

And I guess that just as clients are different, we writers are, too. I'm not a big fan of outlines, for some reason. I had a regular client who would do them in great detail, and I felt as though it was too constricting. They've since gotten much more broad, which I think actually lets me write with better flow. I also like a little more freedom in deciding which points to address.

With direct clients, I'll sometimes write a general note to them if I've noticed a pattern of scant instructions that leave me wondering. what they want. "If there are ever any specific points you'd like me to address, please just let me know and I'd be happy to include them" - that sort of thing.
Nancy M-49020
Posted: Monday, January 23, 2017 11:22:39 AM

Rank: Advanced Member
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Joined: 1/7/2015
Posts: 70
Location: Los Angeles
FWIW, for jobs I get that only have a title, I write to the client and ask if what they're looking for is (whatever I think they might be looking for). 9 times out of 10 they say yes, that sounds good. I think a lot of clients are extremely busy and I try to accommodate that. For those who rate poorly or reject, I just don't write for them. Better clients have always come along - always!
Deb-Admin
Posted: Monday, January 23, 2017 11:57:18 PM

Rank: Advanced Member
Groups: Administration , Member, Moderator

Joined: 2/6/2013
Posts: 70
Hi Mary,

Thanks for the feedback! I've made note of your suggestion for the next time we are discussing changes to the writer instructions. We do ask if there is anything else they'd like to tell the writer, but I like the idea of asking them if the writer should be answering a specific question. Definitely something we can discuss internally.

We always value the suggestions our writers make - you are a big part of our success!
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