If you’re the editor of one of the many alumni magazines out there, you might find yourself needing to hire for a big project. Maybe you’re in campaign mode. Maybe you’ve had staff turnover and you’ve got fewer people on hand to do a drinking-from-a-firehose level of work. Maybe you’re dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime event that deserves plenty of coverage, like a centennial or other anniversary.
Whatever the case, if you’ve got more work than you can handle, you may have to hire someone to take over a major project.
That can feel daunting. What if your freelancers don’t deliver everything you need? What if they don’t tell you about a major problem? What if they turn in pages and pages of work that need to completely overhauled?
You, thinking about the hassle of working with an outside writer on a project.
Hiring a writer should not feel like a burden. Build in the right processes from the start and you can virtually guarantee a final product you love.
How do I know? I’ve had the chance to work on dozens of major projects with universities across the country. I’ve worked to build airtight processes to make sure that I deliver exactly what clients need, right when they need it.
Great results aren’t about magic; they’re about method.
That’s why I’m excited to share the work I did with Beloit College.
Last year, the Beloit developed a 28-page publication to celebrate the success of the Weissberg Program. The wide-ranging work helps students understand human rights issues in a deep way, and its increasing impact made the publication worthwhile for a variety of reasons.
I worked closely with Susan Kasten, editor of Beloit’s alumni magazine and Associate Director of Communications and Marketing. She was part of a short-staffed team that needed to pull in help to get its many projects done.
Here’s how we made it work.
1. Define the scope.
Susan knew she wanted a lively series of profiles and pull quotes for the document, and during our initial 20-minute call, we discussed who might be featured and why.
But this was only scratching the surface.
We also discussed the deeper reasons for the publication—why was now the right time for this publication? What key messages needed to be woven into the profiles? If this project were a complete success, what would that actually look like?
These details matter because sometimes the project you have in your head is slightly different from the one you need delivered. Working with experienced writers who have done similar projects can help you make sure that you’re not missing anything important that will require you to go back to your busiest and most important sources multiple times, or go through exhausting rewrites.
For example, as I learned more, I offered a few other pieces that clients with similar projects had found helpful:
- Complete source-vetting, so everyone profiled would be 100 percent happy with the results
- An introduction to the publication
- A road map that she and others could use if they wanted to repurpose these pieces for the website, magazine, or other publication
- A weekly executive summary to track progress
By discussing the details in depth beforehand, I was able to create a proposal with both “autopilot” and “copilot” options depending on her budget and staff support. Better yet, we both had a document that we could refer to if we had any questions about what I would deliver and when.
TAKE ACTION: For large projects, make sure you or your contractor delivers an in-depth document that has all the details on process and deliverables. Need ideas? See the exact proposal I sent to Susan here.
2. Build in regular accountability.
With big projects, it’s critical to make steady progress over time.
But how do make sure that your freelancers are staying on track?
For this project, which had a relatively compressed timeline and several tough-to-reach international sources, we agreed that weekly progress reports would help. I developed a simple, four-part template that Susan could quickly scan in 30 seconds every Monday morning. The document helped her feel confident that I was hitting every milestone—and if not, how she could step in and remove some of the road blocks.
This was especially helpful for both of us, since we hadn’t worked together in the past.
For example, when one source proved particularly elusive, Susan stepped in quickly to provide a backup option. When another source turned out to be working in a different field than we expected, I offered a couple of options to move forward so she could make an informed decision.
Instead of sending scattershot emails to her inbox whenever something came up, I sent everything in a simple-to-read document once a week. Susan knew she could simply block out a few minutes each Monday to address the few issues that might come up.
TAKE ACTION: Working with a new writer? Request weekly or biweekly executive reports so you feel confident you’re staying on track. Here’s one of the weekly reports I sent to Susan when we worked together.
3. Check work early on.
There’s no question that it’s demoralizing to get a draft that’s completely off the mark. That’s true even if it’s just 750 words—but for a project like this, the stakes were higher.
I wanted to make sure I hit all my marks. The tone, the quotes, the takeaways—I wanted to get them as close to perfect as I could when I finally submitted a first draft. That’s why I sent Susan a draft of a single profile early on so she could decide if there were any details I wasn’t getting quite right.
While we were both on the same page, that’s not always the case—and that’s okay.
Sometimes I don’t knock it out of the park on the first try, and sometimes a client doesn’t know exactly what they want until they have something that they can react to. The key is course-correcting early on in the process.
TAKE ACTION: Always ask for an early sample as you work on big projects.
Build a process designed to get better results
Getting great work from the people you hire is about more than just picking the great wordsmiths. A rock-solid process can also make sure you’re always moving in the right direction.
These three steps I’ve included here were essential to make sure that this project got done right—and on time. (Check out the final version here.)
A page from the printed piece.
Susan was especially happy that this was a project she was able to manage with minimal oversight. “At a time of flux, it was wonderful to know that our Weissberg project was in your capable hands,” she said as the project wrapped up. “You did an excellent job, and I’m so pleased with how it turned out.”
I’ve spent more than 10 years perfecting a process that works for projects of almost any size, and you can take some of my very best insights and use them in your own projects.