External content creators, part four: DIY

We’ve finally reached the fourth post in this four-post series. If you missed posts one, two, and three, follow the links.

The series, based upon an article by Andrew Wheeler of Skyword, address four possible concerns that companies may have in using external content creators. Lack of expertise. Lack of brand knowledge. Lack of quality control.

And this one.

The concern

Wheeler’s fourth concern is as follows:

It’s faster/easier to just do it ourselves

By Marjory Collins, 1912-1985, photographer, for the U. S. government – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8021781

There are two reasons why a company may decide to turn to external content creators. One of these was addressed in a previous post: the company is so swamped that it’s hard to get all the work done that needs to be done.

There’s a second reason: the company doesn’t know HOW to do the work that needs to be done. For example, a salesperson might walk up to a technical writer in the company.

“Our customer just published an RFP. Even though we have a really good relationship with the customer, I didn’t know this RFP is coming. Of course we’ll win it if those idiots in finance don’t gouge the customer with a high price. We have to respond to the RFP in three weeks.”

In some cases, the technical writer may turn to the salesperson and ask,

“What’s an RFP?”

Regardless of which of the two reasons is prompting the company to bring in outside help, the company may dread the whole idea of bringing outside help up to speed. Even if the outside help has the required expertise, understands the company’s branding, and can provide accountability and quality control, it’s such a hassle to bring someone new onto a project. If we adjust a schedule here and there, and maybe work just one Saturday, we can take care of all of this ourselves without bothering with an outside vendor!

What Andrew Wheeler said

Again, I encourage you to read the entire article. This is but a short excerpt. But the article makes an excellent point about it being faster/easier to do things in-house.

It is—until it isn’t.

As we all know, internal bandwidth gets eaten up as soon as it’s created. Unless you anticipate zero business growth—and then I’d say you have another problem—you’re going to need creative skills tomorrow that you don’t have on hand today. It makes more sense to work with external resources who can be changed up or tapped the moment you need them than it does to try and hire a team that can cover everything.

From https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/the-truth-about-trusting-external-content-partners/

I won’t go into the flexibility that project-based contractors can provide, but I can say that it’s not only helped Bredemarket’s business, but the business of Bredemarket’s clients, to bring someone on for a few hours or a few weeks to get a particular project done.

It’s better than overloading your in-house staff. I know from experience.

What I say

Let me expand on a story that I’ve briefly referenced before.

In the summer of 1994, Printrak proposal manager Laurel Jew went on maternity leave. This left Printrak in such a bind that the company had to bring on TWO consultants to replace her.

So one day in October 1994 Kimtech sent me out to Printrak’s office on Tustin Avenue in Anaheim to write AFIS proposals. I had never written a proposal, but I knew how to spell AFIS (and didn’t know much more about AFIS at the time). That first day on the job I stayed in Anaheim until 11:00 at night. In a way it was nice because I was getting paid by the hour, but it was a tough road for the next several months. We even worked on Super Bowl Sunday in 1995. The employee who had to cancel his Super Bowl party and bring his TV to Tustin Avenue was not happy.

Eventually both of us consultants were hired and became permanent employees of Printrak, and we weren’t pulling all-nighters any more.

But a few years later our business was expanding, the number of proposals that we had to write was expanding, and we had to bring in a new set of consultants to help with the workload.

I remember one of these consultants was stressed by the heavy workload, and adapted his behavior to fit the environment in which he had been thrust. We realized this when he published his proposal schedule, complete with Saturday meetings.

“We don’t meet on Saturdays,” we told him.

“Why not?” he replied. “We’re working every Saturday.”

Eventually he ended up leaving and presumably took up a more relaxing activity such as high-wire balancing.

And all of this stress happened WITH consultants. Imagine if the decision had been made in 1994 and 1998 NOT to hire consultants. Perhaps Printrak would have scheduled Sunday proposal meetings.

A less stressful example

Fast forward twenty-plus years, and I’m consulting again. And I’ve noticed something.

When a company contracts with me to work on a project, I am focused on that one project for the company. Now perhaps an hour later I am focused on another project for another company, but during that initial hour the project receives my undivided attention.

But the company itself is focused on all the other things that the company has to do. There’s the project for which I’m helping out, and then there’s all the other stuff that the company needs to address. If I’m helping a company with a proposal, few if any of the company employees are dedicated 100% to that particular proposal. Proposal specialists may be simultaneously working on other proposals, and subject matter experts (SMEs) are working on the proposal in addition to their “real” jobs.

Depending upon the craziness of the other work that the company’s employees are doing, I may be the only person who is thinking about the project on a regular basis. If it’s a proposal project, I’m the one who always has the due date in mind, and occasionally have to remind the employees that the proposal has to be submitted in two weeks, or one week, or two days. Sometimes my content projects have due dates of their own.

Enough storytelling.

Doing it yourself doesn’t work if you have too much work to begin with, and doing it yourself doesn’t work if you don’t know how to do it. So in those circumstances, you want to contract with a company such as Skyword (or another company) to help you with your writing project.

And if you contract with Skyword, maybe I’ll be assigned to your project.


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