Category Archives: Project Management

The Right Writer

Like many of you, I’ve operated on both sides of the content “fence” in that I’ve worked as an editor in the position of hiring a writer,and as a writer myself. For those of you who are in the hiring seat currently, how do you know you’ve chosen the right writer for a given assignment?

Whether your product is a brochure, speech, video script, commercial script, article, or book, you ultimately need a writer who will accomplish the goals of your project and make you look good. So how do you know when a candidate is the “right one?” Here are some tips to consider in identifying the right writer for the job, and for working with him or her productively in pursuit of your content goals.

1. Hire What You Like.  You’ve just read an article in a relevant trade magazine that not only piqued your interest but also held it long enough for you to read the entire article. Aside from clipping the piece and perhaps saving it for reference, what’s next? Track down the author. Even regular columnists may be interested in additional assignments, so make no assumptions that a writer will not be interested in a corporate assignment. If you like a writer’s style, expertise and grasp of a given subject, reach out and see if you can’t make a deal. On the flip side, while professionals do tend to charge more than writers with little or no experience, it’s almost always worth it. Don’t try to cut corners by using college interns or someone’s nephew who “likes to write.”

2. Show Me the Samples. Always ask for samples. A professional won’t balk at this request, but rather, will likely be delighted to show off a recently published piece. If a writer hesitates, or takes more than a week or two to get you the stuff, move on. However, samples are critical in gauging how well a writer can address a subject fluently and effectively, and, how well she or he can write for a given medium.

3. You Get What You Pay For. Pay the prevailing rate, or better, if you can. Why? A writer is more likely to deliver his best if he’s treated as if he’s valued and appreciated, much like other humans do. If you don’t know what the going rate is for a given project, don’t panic–it’s a common bind for many content managers, and one that can be solved. Contact your local chapter of either IABC or another communications industry trade organization, and ask for help. Many organizations are more than happy to assist their members, or at least, aid in furtherance of the profession.

4. Play a Role in the Writer’s Success. You wouldn’t ask your roofer to slap some shingles on the roof “in a hurry,” or tell him/her, “I need this done yesterday.” Why, oh why, then, do corporate managers do the equivalent of this when hiring freelance writers? I’m not correlating the writing profession with roof repairs; I’m asking why something as important as your work product and reputation deserve less attention and care.

Give a writer a reasonable amount of lead time, if possible. If you truly need the draft in 24 hours, then pay accordingly, and provide the highest level of direction and guidance to enable him/her to write something cohesive in that timeframe. Provide the writer with samples of the style, approach and format you need in the end result. Offer to be available for a “check-in” call at some point in the short term, so you can answer questions or even scan a partial draft. Working at the front end will absolutely save you trouble and grief at the back end, I promise you.

5. Stay In Touch. When operating on a more realistic timeframe, stay in touch with your writer. Don’t be so hard to reach that she or he cannot possibly get critical feedback when needed. I’m not suggesting you install a red “hotline” phone and have it glued to your hip; I’m suggesting that you at least make a good-faith effort to be available for a 5-minute call to gauge progress and answer questions. Scheduling this call might be a good idea. Otherwise, use email. And never, ever be afraid to call on a writer mid-assignment to ask how things are going. Silence is never “golden” when a project is in progress, unless you’ve worked with the writer several times before and have faith in a demonstrated track record of solid deliverables.

When the project is finally delivered, try to assess it objectively. Did you set realistic goals? Did you communicate them clearly? Did you provide meaningful and timely revisions and/or feedback in the draft stage? Did you find it easy to work with this writer? All of these questions can help you determine your own style of management and detect areas that you can control and therefore, improve upon.

All of that said, if you have stories of what to do/not to do when hiring freelance writer, please feel free to share. Nothing is more compelling than experience…and yours matters. Thanks in advance.

Project Management Software: Is it Worth it?

God bless those of us who take it upon themselves to earn a PMP–Project Management Professional–certification from the PMI (Project Management Institute). The undertaking is not an easy one, and fairly expensive, at that. It’s one of those efforts that I view from a distance, warily, and avoid unless absolutely necessary (translation: new job requires or demands that I pursue the additional letters after my last name).

For the rest of us, project management seems to be a skill that we learn and execute somewhat informally. I worked with a woman on Wall Street who could run circles around portfolio managers when it came to performance measurement and reporting, but she “managed” her workload off the hundreds of Post-It Notes that decorated every available piece of surface area in her office–even her handbag, at times. That can’t be the best way to do this, no matter how well it worked for this particular whiz kid.

Personally, I find myself on the fence even when it comes to what I consider a happy compromise between colorful sticky notes and a new certification: project management software. Is it necessary? If so, when? To answer those questions, I’d have to first actually understand what it does and how it works. Like most everything else, if you are struggling with something, chances are, there are others like you.

My cautious foray into the world of project-management software has revealed a few things. First, most, if not all of these products can help you manage complex, overlapping or multi-participant schedules. If your project is big enough to involve more than, say, five participants and a slew of tasks-to-be-completed, you may want to begin researching PM software. Another capability these products can offer–one which I’ve found to be equally important as schedule management–is information sharing. (See my article on this site entitled, “Surviving the Office Demon.”) When you work in a highly competitive, aggressive and even hostile environment, posting your project’s progress and status for select users to view can be a boon to your career and reputation.

Next, given what PM software can do, it’s important to consider whether or not such software is suitable for your project. Better yet–research and determine which software packages are more “friendly” to your office’s technology platform, your budget, and your own tolerance for tech and/or learning curve. Some projects simply don’t warrant the investment in a new software package, and a well-prepared Excel report might do. Others will require so much training to get to a basic level of competence, they may not be worth it. And so on.

If your project is so potentially unwieldy that you do need some computer-based help, think of whether you’d be better off using a desktop system or a web-based one. Also, some PM software products are designed for personal use, single-user or collaborative (multi-user) capability. For those of you braver than I, look into software that can interface, or be integrated with, other company programs, such as individual calendars, and the like.

It’s also important to research user-reviews and criticisms of any package you are close to buying. Another tip: Have someone in-the-know show you what the software looks like and feels like to operate. I saw one PM software-generated chart that looked like something NASA produced. It should not be so sophisticated or convoluted that no one can read or understand what the program is spewing out.

Another thought: corporate or workplace life is difficult enough without yet another shield behind which people can hide in order to avoid personal contact. Don’t use a PM software program as a way to avoid having to actually speak to your co-workers, unless, of course, you are working with or near the company’s Office Demon. Then, by all means, go find the most user-unfriendly, complicated, what-the-hell-is this-chart-saying software program that money can buy. The complexity of the output, hopefully, will put at least a temporary muzzle on your office nemesis, and buy you a little bit of peace in the process. And for that, personally, I’d pay top dollar. 🙂