Marketing, and in particular content writing, always seems like an unpredictable path. Customer’s change their minds, people go on holidays, unexpected additions creep in; and before you know it you’re a month past due and people are screaming.
It’s not like you’re slacking off, so why are people so upset?
I like to think of this as the project horizon, where most people are focused on the end point rather than the steps it takes to get there. As marketing professionals, it falls to us to be project guides as much as writers; building a delivery plan, creating expectations and managing each change as it occurs. It comes across like covering your butt more than project management, but it’s necessary.
The first real step in the process is controlling expectations.
Don’t Rely on Project Dates, Set Milestone Dates
Everybody wants to set a completion date, it’s the nature of services work regardless of your profession. Having a date penciled in is important, but it shouldn’t be the driving force for timelines. Rather, construct a system of stage-gates that reflect the major deliverables in your content writing. This not only separates responsibilities from you and the client, but it enables you to manage expectations on deliverables.
For content writing, I have several major stages that take place before I can say the final copy is completed. These are the most common steps I take with my customers when doing copywriting and hypothetical timelines.
Week 1: Client interview and research
Week 2: Tone draft
Week 3: Tone review with customer
Week 4: Draft 1 writing
Week 5: Draft 1 review with customer
Week 6/7: Draft 2
Week 8: Draft 2 review with customer
Week 8: Finalized copy proofing and launch
Total Time Estimate: 2 months across 8 major stages
Account for Delays
The project might be penciled in for two months, but more importantly, each step has a delivery expectation. For example, the tone draft may take a week to do and you may give the client a week to review it. You should be able to meet your deadlines as a content professional, but if the client misses their expectation, it has to be accounted for. A one week delay turns a two month project into a two month and one week project.
I can’t tell you how many times a customer got angry at project delays they were responsible for, and without documentation and communication, you can’t sit there and yell back at them. Well, you can, but you probably won’t be in business long. Keeping a simple spreadsheet of estimated timelines, stage-gates and delays will make sure everything is in check.
Let’s say my hypothetical project now grew in size, perhaps the website grew by five pages and it requires more writing. Those have to be accounted for, approved in a change order and added to the bill. It doesn’t have to be a difficult conversation, just a simple confirmation.
“We went from ten pages to fifteen so the cost will have to increase accordingly and it will add two more weeks to the project. Is that alright?”
Most customers are completely fine with this and aware of the costs, and the others might just be trying to get some free work. So they will agree, or decline which takes the scope back to the original contract anyways.
You’re a professional at whatever you do, so defend your value. Just be very clear about changes. You don’t want accounting to try and figure out the changed project value, or have the customer first learn about the increase cost at the end.
Having this simple stage-gate approach documented means you can do a final review with the customer and go over every element of the project. Any delays are clear, and changes are marked and approved, and final billing should be cut and dry.
I’ve been using this approach for some time now, and it works wonders to keep the client conscious of the project and accountable for time. Try it, and see if you get less flak in the future from project delays.