You’ve selected the perfect keywords and artfully crafted content that will drive tons of relevant traffic to your client’s site.
The draft is still sitting in their inbox.
Sometimes, getting your content reviewed is the hardest part.
As digital content professionals, our success is inextricably tied to content performance (whatever the unique goals of that content may be), but that content doesn’t have a chance to perform if it never gets published.
How do you, as a writer, get your content reviewed and approved faster?
I’ve been there. More times than I can count.
Thankfully, throughout many years in the digital content space, I’ve picked up some tips along the way. Ten to be exact, and I’m excited to share them with you.
1. Adapt to Your Client’s Internal Workflow
Does your client use Jira? Trello? Google Docs? Do they only review drafts on Thursdays?
Whatever their process, that’s your process now, too.
Anyone with clients will quickly realize that it’s much easier to get what you need from your clients when you adapt to them, rather than expecting the reverse.
In order to adapt to your client’s internal workflow, you have to know it. The easiest way to find this out is to just ask!
Try adding in some process-related questions to your client onboarding, like:
Do you use any project management software?
What tools does your team use to stay organized?
How would you like to review content, if at all?
That’s right – you may find out that your client doesn’t even want to review drafts. I’ve been in situations where, after weeks of sending drafts over for review, the client responds with “Why are you sending me this? I don’t need to look at this stuff.”
2. Acquaint Yourself with the Client’s Internal Teams
You’ll also want to get acquainted with your client’s internal teams. It’s much easier to get what you need from your client when you understand how their business operates.
When it comes to removing blockers, you’ll want to find the people who will most directly impact your job. Try to figure out:
Whether there’s a legal department: If there’s a legal department, you should know about it, because that’s often where content gets tied up – especially in large enterprises.
Who the decision-makers are: Is your point of contact the one who actually approves your drafts? It may be, but not always.
Who influences the decisions: “Influencer” is obviously not an official title within an organization, so you’ll have to do more than just look at the titles in email signatures to find these people. This may be difficult, but time and careful observation can often tell you who really pulls the strings.
If possible, get to know these people, and make sure they get to know you. Just remember to respect the boundaries your client has set regarding who you can and can’t contact.
Warning: You don’t want to bypass their chain of command and thereby upset their internal processes (see point 1). For example, it’s probably inappropriate to email your client’s CMO every time a publishing deadline is missed. This will make your point of contact feel tattled-on and it’ll probably bother the very-busy CMO, so just use your discretion when applying this method.
3. Identify a Point Person
Content developers often benefit from a “man on the inside” – a point person at your client’s organization who can help push your drafts across the finish line.
This option is helpful when the content approver who you’ve been put in contact with isn’t acting, but you’ve identified a more responsive individual.
In my experience, this person is often:
An executive assistant.
Someone in customer support.
Make friends with a responsive person within your client’s organization. You’ll likely increase your chances of getting the content approver to act.
4. Ask for a Branding Guide Upfront
It’s best not to venture to write content without first having materials that tell you who your client is. I’m not talking about obvious things like their name, their location, or even the product/service they offer. I’m talking about things like:
Their preferred tone: Do they want to come across as playful? Professional? Something in between?
Their unique stylebook: You’ve heard of APA, MLA, and Chicago, but did you know that your client might have a style all their own? This might be official or unofficial, but you should know things like whether your client prefers the word “customers” over “users.”
Their value statements: Know what sets your client apart from their competitors (and no, it isn’t that they’re “experienced.” Aim for specific value propositions!)
Their “why”: Why does your client do what they do? Your client might have a mission statement, but I’ve also found it helpful to watch any “about us” type videos they have. Hearing their “why” in their own voice can make a huge difference!
How does this help you speed up the content review process? Because content that fits seamlessly into your client’s brand image will get approved far faster than content that tells the client you have no idea who they are.
If your client doesn’t have an official branding guide, they almost definitely have an unofficial one. Take note, over time, of their common edits and turn them into your own style book to reference when writing for that client.
5. Build Trust with a Stellar First Asset
First impressions matter, and content is no exception. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been brought into “salvage” situations where a client is about to quit over their content, only to be confused at how little I find wrong with that content.
After some digging, I almost always find out that one fatal flaw in the beginning caused the client to totally lose faith in that writer. At that point, the client can only see the mistakes, and might even be hunting for them because they’ve been put on the defensive.
While you should carefully craft every asset, the first is undoubtedly the most critical. I would spend at least 80% of your time researching and 20 percent developing the content for the first asset.
Obviously, you’ll want to avoid spelling and grammar mistakes. However, it’s often the subjective, not technically “wrong” things that can cause a client to dislike your content, so watch out for and avoid:
Misrepresenting their brand.
Conveying the wrong tone or message.
Showing a misunderstanding of their industry or audience.
Write from your client’s perspective (which you can only do once you truly know them) and you’re more likely to win on the subjective criteria as well as the objective.
After impressing them with a stellar first asset, they should let their guard down and make future approvals easier.
6. Ask Them to Contribute
Some people just don’t like things because they weren’t involved. People are often much more inclined to like something if they contributed to it.
They’re also much more likely to empathize with you once they realize how difficult it can be to craft an awesome piece of content.
Asking for your client’s assistance with the content is also critical in complex industries where information isn’t readily available online (or you’d need a law or engineering degree to understand).
Getting their subject matter expertise can make the content more robust, trustworthy, and consequently, perform better in search engines.
7. Connect Unapproved Drafts to Wasted Money
If you’re on a retainer and your client isn’t approving your work, they’re essentially paying for nothing, and no one likes wasting money.
The way you communicate this can either make you sound helpful or antagonistic, so communicate this in a way that expresses your desire to help your client get their money’s worth.
8. Run a ‘Blind Test’
I’ve been in situations where clients would repeatedly reject my writer’s work. Stumped (because I thought it was good), I sent them the next few drafts myself, without mentioning who had written it. Other than a few small tweaks, the client was generally fine with both drafts.
The goal here isn’t to trick your client, but rather to see if anonymizing the content might be helpful.
Sometimes, it only takes one mistake for a client to get it in their head that a writer is “bad” (see point 5). If all they can see is the past mistake, they’ll only be looking for the mistakes and will likely always be dissatisfied, so masking the author could speed up future approvals.
9. Select a Writer Whose Style Best Matches Your Unique Client
If you manage a team of writers like I have, you have the benefit of selecting different writers for different projects. This is where knowing your team’s skill sets is crucial.
Have a client who wants to project a fun, light-hearted image? Pair them with a writer who’s great at creating playful copy.
Have a client with strict corporate standards? Pair them with your best technical writer.
If you’re a solo writer and don’t have your pick of writers to pair with certain projects, it can be tough, but don’t be afraid to say no to a project if you’re not confident in your ability to execute.
Editing a less-than-stellar page (at least for me) can take longer than writing one from scratch. That’s why reading even one draft that doesn’t match your client’s style can slow future approvals to a glacial pace. They know they won’t have the time to fix it, so they don’t even try.
10. Just Ask!
Up until this point, you may have been trying strategies that don’t actually address the real issue. So if nothing is working, just ask! You’d be surprised what you can learn from asking plainly why they’re not approving content.
Here are some things I’ve learned upon doing that in the past:
The client has been “burned before”: The task of approving content may have moved to someone higher up the food chain (someone with less time) because of past content mistakes. Learn from those mistakes, if possible!
They feel rushed: You might have internal standards that require you to put out a certain amount of work for your client every week or month, but is that what your client even wants? You may be overwhelming your client writing 10 blogs/month when they only have the capacity to review 5.
The backlog has gotten too big: Your client may stop attempting to approve content altogether if the pile seems unmanageable, so don’t continue to pile drafts onto a backlog.
They don’t know what they should be looking for: Some clients say “yes” to needing to approve content because they feel they should, but don’t know what they should be looking for. This confusion can halt content review altogether.
They have no internal process to handle edits: Similarly, they may have asked for the right to review before publishing with no plan for how they’d handle that on their end. If that’s the case, offer to help them develop a process to make it easier moving forward.
If all else fails, you can always throw the content approval equivalent of a Hail Mary – “It can always be edited – even after we publish.”
Armed with these strategies, go forth and tackle any content roadblock that’s put in your path.
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