You want to create some whitepapers, an e-book or maybe a brochure but none of your great product people are great writers.  No problem, you think to yourself, we can just hire some outside folks to write them for us.  You can, but it won’t be as easy as you think.

Your Writing Probably Sucks (not that there’s anything wrong with that)

Not everyone is a great writer even if they write a lot.  My writing is a perfect example of what a typical product marketer’s writing looks like.  People tell me my writing is “fine” but I know my grammar is lousy and I’m prone to using sentence structure that could politely be described as “creative” (hey, I’m an engineer by training and that English class I took in grade 12 is only going to take me so far).  I know this because I’ve had professional writers edit my work.  if you’ve never had a professional edit yours you might be shocked at how bad your “fine” writing is.

But my lack of writing skill hasn’t stopped me from writing dozens of whitepapers, brochures and articles and literally hundreds of pages of web content (not to mention 156 blog posts).  Most of the time good enough is good enough, particularly if you’re a cash-strapped startup.

But sometimes you will have some content that you know you are going to use like crazy in various forms and you don’t have the skills in-house.  Here are some tips on what to be careful about:

  1. Decide Why before Who – You might be launching a new product and need someone to help crank out a lot of content in a short period of time. You might just want help reviewing and editing pieces.  You might be looking to get content created by a recognized industry expert to back up your claims. Deciding why you need the help will make it easier for you to get a short list of who could help you.
  2. Industry Experience is Important – I can spot professionally written content from a mile away and sometimes that’s a bad thing.  The good side is that the language has a smoothness to it that few untrained writers can master.  The bad side is that it’s sometimes painfully clear that the writer has no clue what they’re writing about.  If I had to chose between smooth but stupid vs. a bit rough yet informative, I’m almost always going to go for the latter and I bet your customers will too.  Assume you are going to have to invest time in educating outside help on your product, messaging and value propositions.  Ideally you won’t have to start from scratch on your industry.
  3. Get Samples and Decide if the Style Matches What You’ve Already Got – Some folks like more flowery language.  Personally I like more journalistic-style writing that’s pretty plain. Make sure your writer is going to deliver something that fits with the tone of what you already have.
  4. Great Writing doesn’t Ensure Great Content (Great Management Does) – I’ve seen folks throw projects to outside writers with little direction and then they accept almost anything that comes back. Which is nuts!  A great case study, for example, is really hard to write.  You need to decide which parts of your value proposition the story will highlight, how to structure the story to best bring those points out, what quotes you will want to re-use from the story, what proof-points you would like to have to back up the value, etc. If you don’t clearly lay that out before the story gets written up, it’s going to be a crappy story.  No outside writer is going to nail that without a lot of help from someone who is much closer to your messaging.

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