Easy Content Scheduling for Bloggers

I know what you’re thinking: a content schedule? How hard can it be? Get a calendar, drop a blog post onto each day, and you’re done. Right?

Well, sort of. That approach might be fine in the early days of a blog, when you feel the need to cover every topic in your niche, and you want to write about everything. But that kind of scattergun approach can be less than appropriate. Knee-jerk writing might get content onto your site, but it won’t necessarily meet the long-term strategies you’ve set for your blog.

If you take a completely reflexive approach to content, you also run the risk of publishing filler, rather that killer.

I have to admit that my approach to content scheduling is anything but high-tech, but I thought I’d explain it here, specifically in terms of how we schedule the content for ProBlogger. I’d love to hear how you schedule content — perhaps together we can come up with an Ultimate Content Scheduling Approach…

Step 1: Strategy review

Darren has a pretty clear strategy for the directions in which he wants to take the content here at ProBlogger, and he listed for me a range of topics that he wants to cover in more detail. You may have seen them listed in our Guest Post Guidelines—they’re things like blog SEO and design, WordPress tips, and so on.

Step 2: Category mapping

Once you’ve nailed down where you’re trying to get to, it’s not a bad idea to create some information categories that you can use to define the pieces of content you’ll publish. If you have a solid post categorization system on your blog, you’d be best to map those content directions to your existing information architecture.

So, for example, Darren wants to include WordPress tips in our content, but the categories we have set up for the blog’s content don’t currently include WordPress. We have two options. If the content direction isn’t a major one, we could decide to categorize WordPress content on the basis of the outcome of each tip. A tip that explained how to apply a new theme to your blog would appear in the existing Blog Design category, for example. If WordPress is a major content direction, then we may need to update the IA to include a WordPress tips category.

Step 3: Schedule proforma

I always seem to wind up creating my schedule proformas in a spreadsheet. Here’s the little template I created:

As you can see, it’s pretty straightforward: dates, days, spaces for post titles. Simple, right? In fact, there are two aspects of this template that reflect core values of our content strategy.

First, I included two rows for each week: I’ll schedule Darren’s posts in the top row, and guest posts in the bottom row. Darren’s voice is, obviously, crucial to the site, so I wanted to keep track of his posts separately. This way, I can tell at a glance if we don’t have enough Darren in a week.

Secondly, I’ve color-coded the various post topics we identified in step 2., as you can see at bottom-left. Every time I enter a post into the schedule, I color-code it. Again, this lets me see at a glance if we have too much of an emphasis on a given topic in a single week.

Step 4: Content scheduling

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: scheduling content. Here’s how my content schedule looks after I’ve dropped in all the content that’s been entered into WordPress.

Compare that with the WordPress Edit screen below, and I think you’ll agree, the color-coded spreadsheet makes it much easier to get a quick overview of where things are at, and what kinds of content we need to source or reduce in the coming days and weeks.

Step 5: Content management

With my schedule in place, it’s a simple matter of adding post titles (which I keep identical to the post titles entered into WordPress), and making any notes about them — like the DO NOT MOVE note on the post that published on Wednesday 13 October.

I created the schedule as a Google Doc so Darren can see it and add or move content as required. At the start of each new week, I delete the previous week’s content record from the schedule, but you might like to save it to a second spreadsheet, so that you can track the evolution of your content direction over time.

I also added a second spreadsheet to this file, where I can keep track of any content sourcing efforts. If you don’t actively source content, you could use a second spreadsheet to plan your own writing — again, this spreadsheet could be color-coded to ensure you posts align with your content strategy.

This very basic content scheduling approach works for me. How do you manage content scheduling on your blog?

The Blog World Paradox: a Blog Action Day Case Study

Today, Darren and thousands of other bloggers are congregating in Las Vegas for Blog World. It’s fitting that Blog Action Day should coincide with the world’s largest blogging conference. Particularly this Blog Action Day, which focuses on water.

When we think about water issues, we don’t need to close our eyes and conjure up the African desert or the Australian outback: we need only think as far as Blog World, Las Vegas.

"Watershow", Las Vegas, by pgl

Las Vegas is a modern, developed city that’s built in a desert. As you might expect, it’s facing serious water problems. Like many communities around the world, Nevada’s currently experiencing a drought, and Las Vegas is struggling to source water from elsewhere in the state to meet the needs of both its rising permanent population and its booming tourism industry.

A tourism industry supported, in large part, by the thousands of conferences held in the city each year. Including Blog World.

Of course, we need a place to hold conferences, and Vegas is built for such events. But it is paradoxical that, while I’m blogging about water issues for Blog Action Day, thousands of bloggers are further stressing a perilously dry city’s water supply in the name of blogging.

It does remind us—whether we’re in Vegas enjoying Blog World or following it from afar—that we all have some responsibility for water availability and quality, and we need to accept that responsibility. These are global issues. They’re not restricted by national borders, coastlines, professions, or socio-economic boundaries.

The impacts of water-preservation efforts are also global. Whatever you can do to preserve water, and preserve water quality, will make a difference far beyond your own backyard. Whatever you can do to raise awareness will also have a valuable impact. Among developed nations, there’s a startling ignorance of water-related issues.

"Las Vegas" by chuckb

When I began researching this post, my search for vegas, nevada + water turned up more results for gross water consumers like water parks, water gardens, and water features than it did water authorities or articles on water issues. Nothing in that first page of results suggested there was any problem with water in Las Vegas—quite the contrary. Without information on the realities of water issues, communities have trouble recognizing the problem, let alone taking action on it.

It’s not just Vegas: there are water scarcity and quality issues in your town, your state, and your country. Perhaps today’s the day to think about what you can do to take action on those issues in your own way. As a blogger in a rural area that’s just experienced a debilitating, decade-long drought, I’m curious: what water issues are you and your local communities currently facing?

Will You Be Blogging for Blog Action Day?

It’s that time of year! This Friday is Blog Action Day — a chance for bloggers the world over to raise awareness of a particular issue.

This year, the theme is water, and the good people at Blog Action Day HQ have announced that the White House and the UK Foreign Office will be joining the chorus to help bring attention to water issues this year.

So will we.

Have you registered for Blog Action Day? How will you focus your blog on the topic of water for the day?

How to Assess Blog Content Submissions

When Darren announced he’d hired a Content Manager, one fan commented that she hoped this would ensure greater consistency in the quality of guest posts published on ProBlogger.

That comment points to a conundrum that every blogger faces: how can we assess guest submissions objectively? We probably find it easy to differentiate between a fabulous post and a terrible post, but it’s the gray areas that are more challenging.

Often, we’re too close to our content to be truly objective, and we can spend ages trying to workout what to publish and what to reject. The frustration associated with that can see us throw up our hands and decide to accept any submission that isn’t an absolute shocker.

Obviously, that’s not a great approach—if your guest posters aren’t up to scratch, your readership is likely to be disappointed. Over time, this can make it very difficult to maintain loyalty and, in the long run, it can damage your brand.

Who are you to judge?

If you’re early in your blogging career, you can take the approach that you’re not really experienced enough to judge others’ work. You’ve only been blogging for x months; who are you to reject someone else’s writing? After all, you’re probably trying to submit guest posts to sites yourself at the same time, and you’ll want them accepted. Should you be rejecting the work of bloggers who are in the same position as you?

I once faced precisely this dilemma on a site I was running. Who was I, I asked myself, to sort the good from the bad? There were plenty of approaches to writing that I didn’t like, but that didn’t mean they weren’t good, or valid, or worthy, right?

There was one author in particular who could clearly write, but I didn’t enjoy her work. It was nothing personal; it just was not my thing. I published her anyway—multiple times. The opportunity she gained through my site helped her to obtain book deals, and she’s now an internationally published author. She’s commented to me many times that her publication on my site inspired her to keep going—it gave her faith that she could succeed and helped increase her exposure to peers and publishers.

That might seem like proof that we should publish everything that’s not overtly awful, but it’s not. That one fabulously fulfilling success story is offset by the multitude of bad publishing decisions I made that reduced the overall standing of that site over time. It was the only site in its niche, yet it couldn’t lead the market, since it didn’t represent the best. True, it did include the best, but it also included a lot of less-than-best content.

Getting serious about submissions

If you’ve been less than stringent with your submissions acceptance policy, it’s probably time to get serious about guest submissions to your site.

The first step is to stop seeing your site as a channel (for the sake of this exercise, anyway), and start seeing it as a product in itself. Every piece of content you publish augments that product—for better or worse. Stop thinking “well, this post could interest my readers” and start asking if it will positively, actively develop your product.

In this context, it doesn’t take bad content to undermine your site. All it takes is content that doesn’t agree with your philosophy, support your direction, or speak to your readers the way you want to.

It might seem like this perspective will expand the gray areas of submissions assessment—even the good submissions can be bad now?!—but the fact is that having this as the foundation of your assessment process makes the job much easier.

Now that you’re thinking of your blog as a product, work out, in very specific terms, what it is about your product that people like. Perhaps it’s your practical focus. Perhaps it’s your emphasis on a certain specialization within your niche. Perhaps it’s your personality.

Once you’ve identified these aspects, you’ll effectively have a checklist that you can use as a very basic means to assess every submission you get.

Every time you receive a coherent piece of writing, you’ll get out your checklist. Does it have a solid, practical outcome? Does it address your specialization, or is it too broad? Does it have personality? If you answer yes to all three questions, you could be onto something.

The other great thing about this approach? It makes it easy to identify submissions with potential.

Perhaps you’ve got a good submission that just doesn’t quite have a strong enough focus on practical outcomes. Great. Now that you’ve identified this, you can write back to the blogger and invite them to add more practical information—you’ll probably even be able to suggest ways they might achieve that.

This is how I approach submissions acceptance for any publication I work with. What techniques do you use to work out which guest posts you’ll use?

4 Ways to Use Twitter to Support Your Blog

In the race to social media stardom, plenty of bloggers have joined Twitter and are furiously tweeting the titles and openings of every post they publish. When they launch a product or open registration for a seminar, they tweet that.

But surely these can’t be the only ways to support your blog using Twitter?  Your tweets might be limited to 140 characters, but the scope of your tweeting is limited — you guessed it — only by your imagination.

Here are some of the less conventional approaches I’ve seen bloggers employ in using Twitter to support their sites.

1. Tell the story of blog content creation.

This approach can be very intriguing and compelling for your followers. One journalist I know often invites his Twitter followers to contribute ideas for elements of the articles he’s working on. By responding, followers buy in to the story, and become intrigued about the article topic.

Perhaps he’ll follow up that request with tweets mentioning that he’s about to interview a subject for the article, or his research has uncovered something interesting. So by the time he tweets the link to the finished article, at least some portion of his followers — those who have been following his journey to produce the piece — are dying to read it.

2. Tweet interesting comment responses.

Rather than focusing solely on the content you produce for your blog, why not intersperse your article tweets with tweets that point your followers to interesting comments that readers have made in response to your posts?

As well as encouraging regular readers to make considered, valuable comments on your blog, this technique supports your online profile, building your and your blog’s reputation for producing quality content that sparks intelligent, innovative discussion. It also indicates that your blog is a place where thinkers congregate, and a source of information that sparks broader interaction among those within your niche.

3. Run a Twitter competition tie-in.

Trying to plug a new product or service that you’re launching? Perhaps you could add a Twitter competition to your launch strategy. Ask questions that followers can find answers to in one of your recent posts (perhaps one published on the same day), then give away your new product to a winner drawn from the pool of people who answer the question correctly.

This can be a great way to engage readers in a fun, constructive manner, and to take a break from the everyday in terms of Twitter content, and possibly, your promotions. It can also create a few moments of light relief for your readers.

4. Create a Twitter conversation around an event.

If you’re running an event in association with your blog, consider making a Twitter conversation part of your strategy. Watching real-time responses to   events pop up in Twitter streams provides entertainment — and opinion, and education — for countless users every day. A recent festival in my town held some events and discussions entirely on Twitter.

Could you do something like this around your next product launch? Can you invite users to discuss an exclusive post — perhaps one that presents a new take on your niche, or includes an in-depth interview with a niche leader —  at the time you publish it?

These are just a few of the alternative approaches you can use to promote your blog through Twitter. What alternatives have you seen or used yourself?

5 Ways Your Blog is Undermining Your Business

Many entrepreneurs and small business owners start a blog to support their business. A blog, they figure, will allow them to illustrate their knowledge to clients, build a reputation and brand, get people to check out their work, and take the place of that pesky enewsletter they started a year ago but never seem to have time to write these days.

But in many cases, the errors or glitches that these bloggers can make end up undermining their owners’ businesses in subtle ways. Ultimately, their blogs actually serve to lessen the blogger’s reputation among clients and prospects. Here are the most common errors I’ve seen.

1. Technical errors.

Technical errors include everything from typos to broken links and missing images. To my mind, they also include the my-13-year-old-cousin-was-the-designer blog skins. Given the usable nature of most blogging platforms today, these kinds of errors shouldn’t exist — and the vast majority of web users know this. If your blog contains technical errors, it reflects very poorly on you and, ergo, your business.

Apart from using all the tools at your disposal to ensure that the content you publish contains no technical inaccuracies, bloggers may need to periodically review old content to ensure that, for example, the links still work.

After a given period — say, a year — few users will expect to be able to rely on the links in your content, but if they’ve arrived at that content directly, through a search engine, they may not realise that the content’s old, so a broken link may still undermine your credibility. If linked content is crucial to a given post, you might need to consider building a regular review of those links into your content management plan to ensure that the post remains usable.

2. Factual errors.

Factual errors are a separate issue from technical errors. If technical errors are a baseline of business competency, factual errors mark the baseline for industry or discipline competency. The first might make you look slap-dash, but when users spot factual errors in your work, your professional reputation slides downhill very quickly.

The only way to avoid factual errors is research. Don’t trust any single source — research to find at least two unrelated sources for the same information every time, and cite or link to them in each case. This will obviously impact the time it takes you to produce a blog post, so you may need to alter your writing and research approach accordingly.

Factual errors are problematic, but they’re even more of an issue when the blogger uses them as the basis for opinion pieces.

3. Ill-informed opinion.

When you use erroneous information as the basis for an opinion piece, you do yourself a serious disservice. It’s one thing to report information that, while you’ve seen it presented elsewhere, is inaccurate. But to build that information into your world view suggests to astute readers that you’re gullible, or ignorant, or both. Now the problem isn’t just a matter of misinformation; it’s a matter of personalities.

Opinion pieces should therefore be carefully researched and planned, and their possible implications considered at length. To me, planning an opinion piece is a bit like playing chess: you need to think ahead as many moves as possible to ensure that, whatever happens as a result of the piece, I’ll have a strategy that lets me respond with grace and intelligence. The problem is, if your opinion piece is based on poor information, readers may simply disregard it — and your blog — as garbage without bothering to comment.

4. Poor comment responses.

If it’s your blog, you need to manage it — and its readership. Failing to respond to comments is poor form; responding off the cuff to negative or controversial feedback can be extremely damaging.

Blog comments represent a huge exercise in PR: this is a very visible forum in which you’re responding to your business’s public. So it pays to think like a PR consultant and plan careful responses to negative feedback that show your professionalism, honesty, and genuine interest in what your readers have to say. After all, your clients and prospects are reading this thing — perhaps they’re even the people commenting. Your responses aren’t just a question of good manners; they may have real financial implications.

5. Poor content planning.

Poor content planning shows on business blogs, and can make the blogger seem flaky. If your blog is unreliable, it’s all too easy for readers to extrapolate that to mean that you’re unreliable. And no one wants to do business with someone who’s unreliable. Readers don’t just need to know what types of content or information themes to expect: they also need to know when to expect updates. As we all know, there’s nothing that’s more disappointing than going to a much-loved blogger’s site to find that they haven’t updated it since you were last there.

Of course, the other question of content planning relates directly to your goals for your business-supporting blog. Do you want to use it to direct clients and prospects to freshly-released projects or your updated folio each time you have something to show? Will your clients have any issues with your discussing their projects publicly? What kinds of content and posts will you use to communicate directly — and productively — with prospects? These questions all come down to your blog strategy. If you haven’t got these kinds of issues straightened out, your readers may find it difficult to work out whether your blog is intended for them.

There are, of course, other content questions you’ll need to consider. Do you want to cross-promote special offers on your blog through your Facebook page? Will you tweet every blog update, or provide a blog RSS feed, so that readers know when to visit? If so, you’ll likely need to consider how your blog updates will fit with the other content your feed through these media. Obviously, having a decent content plan will help support your blog’s — and your — professional appearance.

These are the five most common pitfalls I see on business-supporting blogs. Have you fallen into these traps? What other problems — or pet peeves — do you encounter as you rad business blogs?

Save the Sanctimony: Make Your Blog Sound Like a Trusted Friend

We all know that rapport is essential to developing lasting relationships with readers. Central to that sense of rapport is how closely you align yourself with your readers. Take a look at your last few blog posts. Do you sound like a trusted friend, or a stuffy (or sanctimonious) authority?

The education system and the media have convinced many of us that, to sound like we have authority, we have to be formal, we have to present a bullet-proof case in a verbal flack jacket, and we must either accept no argument, or if one comes up, shoot it down in flames.

This is far less than ideal; in many cases, I think these perceptions can lead us to sound pompous and self-advancing — even when that’s not at all the kinds of people we are.

Fortunately, breaking those habits isn’t too hard. There are a few basic  steps that I take when I’m preparing a blog post to ensure my content is as  friendly and trustworthy as possible.

1. Respect your audience.

To respect your audience, you have to know who they are and how they use your information. I realise, for example, that readers of the blogs I write for tend to be big content consumers. They’re not just reading my content — they’re sourcing information all the time from a variety of locations. They’ll weigh up what I say against the information they find elsewhere, and will want to use it to build an overall picture on a given topic. They’re also short on time.

This kind of audience insight automatically puts me in a certain frame of mind. I’m competing for my readers’ attention. If I don’t give these guys the goods, they’re going to stop reading pretty quickly, so grandstanding is out. Long-winded hyperbole is no good. I need to speak to these people. Automatically, that affects my tone.

2. Imagine your audience member sitting next to you.

If you’re writing for what you believe to be a faceless mass of people, you can feel distanced, and that can lead you to write more formally. That, in turn, can make it seem like you’re trying to sit ‘above’ your audience, rather than ‘alongside’ them.

If you find your writing tends to sound distant, try this trick: imagine as you’re writing that an audience member is sitting beside you, and you’re explaining your content topic to them. For me, this technique helps keep my language and sentence structure on the level.

3. Stay off your high horse.

Grandstanding, show boating, getting on your high horse — whatever you call it, avoid it! If you want to come across as a trusted friend, you’ll need to present your case reasonably and in an appealing way. Ration and reason are the blogger’s allies here; self-righteous opinion is not.

You’ll also need to be able to back up every claim you make, and every piece of research that has contributed to the argument you’re making. And whatever you do, don’t take the approach of trying to ram an opinion down readers’ throats. Avoid the bombastic; opt for reason and sense.

4. Use personal phrasing.

If you want to be your readers’ friend, sound like one. That means: stay away from jargon, explain things in user-friendly language, and avoid language designed to imply that you’re experienced or skilled — if you are those things, just say so up front.

There are many small tricks you can use to make your content sound friendlier. These are some of the phrases that I use almost unconsciously in my posts to build a sense of friendliness and to put me on the level with readers:

  • I think (not ‘I believe’ or ‘It’s my opinion that’)
  • When I’ve been in this situation or When this has happened to me (not ‘In my experience’)
  • I, me, my (if too many instances of ‘you should’ or ‘you can’ the content sounds like I’m lecturing)
  • you, your (if the post sounds too self-centered)
  • we, our (if I need to align myself or my actions with readers, or to obtain ‘buy-in’ to my argument)
  • Why not…? (not ‘you must’ or ‘it’s imperative that’)

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that casual means sloppy copy. Saying ‘It’s imperative that’ is very different from saying ‘Why not do X?’  One clearly presents a necessity, the other sounds like a suggestion. But the second option gives us very broad scope for putting readers in the picture.

5. Put readers in the picture.

If you think about it, the blogger has limited scope to be the reader’s friend. I can’t come over to your house for coffee on Saturday. I can’t feed your dog while you’re on holiday. All I can do is be your friend through content.

Focusing on readers is the ideal way to show I care. That translates to the kinds of topics I write about, but putting readers in the picture filters right down to the words I use to communicate with you.

For example, I just wrote two paragraphs speaking directly to you and talking very personally about me. And here’s another. I didn’t refer to you as being part of a group of readers — ‘you guys’ or ‘you all’. It’s just you and me, talking about blogs and readers. Isn’t it cosy? I’m enjoying it.

Now let’s look again at ‘It’s imperative that’ as opposed to ‘Why not…?’ The first puts pressure on the reader: it says, ‘you must do this.’ It dictates a course of action. The second sounds like a mere suggestion — but it doesn’t have to be.

By asking a question, you can invite readers into the content, and get them thinking about themselves. You can then back up your “suggestion” with a clear outline of all the reasons why it’s actually imperative. This way, you can allow the reader to draw their own conclusions (and direct them to draw the conclusions you want them to) without telling them what they should think.

When I asked you if you thought the tone of our conversation was cosy a moment ago, I invited you into the content. To cement my point, I told you I was enjoying it. This (should, I hope) help to convince you that this technique is a good thing. Even if you’d thought, ‘No, it’s not cosy, it’s boring’, the fact that I told you I was enjoying it would likely have softened you a little. Why? Because we love to know that the people we’re with — our friends — enjoy being with us. It’s that simple.

As you can see, being a friend and trusted authority ultimately involves you and me. It’s a matter of finding the right balance between providing information and inviting a response; talking from your perspective and seeking that of your readers. That’s how being friends works, after all.

What techniques do you use to ensure your readers see you as a friendly authority?

About the Author: Georgina has more than ten years’ experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. She now blogs for WebWorkerDaily and SitePoint, and consults on content to a range of other clients.

Avoid Blogger Burnout: 5 Tips to Save Your Sanity

For the beginner, the blog learning curve can be steep. As well as all the technical and blog visibility issues, there are questions about focus, content types and research, and of course reaching readers.

You’re plugging away, day after day, and getting little in the way of recognisable success. How can you stay motivated during what can be a very trying time? Here are the techniques I use.

1. Do what you love.

Staying motivated is a whole lot easier when you’re constantly thinking about, and dealing with, the topic you blog about. If you love your topic, you’ll find it easier to think up content ideas, engage with readers, and establish a warm and welcoming voice that encourages rapport and develops readership.

2. Take it one step at a time.

When you start a blog, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the things you feel you should be doing to help it grow. Realise up front that your blog isn’t likely to be an overnight super-success and pace yourself. Instead of focusing on what you haven’t done yet, spend time each week assessing the things you have done, and considering ways to build on those results.

If you’re going to avoid burnout, you need to be kind to yourself. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to tell yourself it’s too hard, you don’t have time, and to give up.

3. Plan, plan, plan.

If you haven’t already, develop a flexible, but clear plan of attack for building up your blog’s content and reach. A focused plan will help you to keep your expectations of yourself in check, and to test and assess the results of what you do.

This kind of periodic review will give you information that you can feed back into your efforts to make each new promotional approach more successful, and helps you avoid the must-do-everything-now, scattergun approach that quickly exhausts even the most motivated blogger.

As you plan, you’ll likely identify some easy wins — things that you expect will be fulfilling or gratifying on some level. Perhaps these are tasks that will pull in a lot of readers, or maybe you just know you’ll really enjoy doing them. Try to space these jobs so that when the going gets tough, you know you have a favourite task just around the corner. This can make a big difference to your motivation over time.

4. Allow for downtime.

Once you’ve got a plan, fit some downtime into it. Make sure you’re not always operating at breakneck speed, or that if you are, it’s only for a short, manageable period. Be sure to build in time out for family and friends, and to be flexible about your schedule.

Above all, let yourself really enjoy that time off — don’t spend it guiltily obsessing about all the things you should be doing to build your blog.

5. Realise that everyone has bad days.

It’s true. Some of us even have bad weeks! And months. It doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel or that you don’t have what it takes. Of course you have it — the thing is, you need to manage it to get the most out of it. If you have a bad day, don’t beat yourself up. Accept that this is part of life.

If you feel like giving up, let yourself feel it. Stare your discomfort in the face and see if there isn’t some way you can overcome it, or work around it, and make your blog better in the process. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes, it’s the thin end of the wedge that gives us the impetus to innovate solutions that make our blogs — and our work on them — infinitely more enjoyable.

These are the main ways I keep motivated about blogging. What kinds of techniques do you use?

How to Outsource Your Blog… Or Part of It

You don’t need to be a big-time blogger to need to outsource some aspect of your blog. A beginning blogger with a serious business plan might want to contract a designer to create a skin for their blog. A entrepreneurial blogger might want to outsource some writing, or have an agency provide social media strategy for the blog.

There are plenty of reasons why you might outsource some aspect of your blogging. But once you’ve identified the need, how should you proceed?

Don’t make your first step trying to find good candidates! Before you go hunting for help, you need to do your homework. Here’s the process I’d recommend.

1. Define what you want.

“I need help with my blog content” is not a clear directive. If you’re going to source help, you need to know what to look for, which means you need to have a clear idea of what, specifically, you want.

Don’t just think in terms of contractor skillsets. Think in terms of your audience. So you want to have a new interface designed for your blog. Great. But what do you want it to do? Do you have a visual identity you want the design to reflect or match? Are there interactive elements — like social media buttons or a subscription box — that, in accordance with your readership objectives, you want to prioritise in your design? Do you have user and usage stats that can help to drive the technical specifications you provide to a designer?

Work out what you think you want, and why, before you start thinking about who might do the work.

2. Make it measurable.

The word ‘measurable’ really gives the game away — if the first step in this process was to define specific objectives, the next one is to make them measurable.

Some tasks are difficult to measure — the “success” of a new homepage design might seem like one of them. But look a little closer and, whatever the task you’re setting, you’ll likely find ways to assess the results. Perhaps you’ll assess your current traffic metrics and set new goals that you expect the new site design to help meet. Perhaps you’ll require the designer to show you the results of usability testing.

Alternatively, your goals might be internal — related to your time or operations. Maybe you want to save time — say, two days a week — by outsourcing some of your blog post research and writing tasks. Fine. But make sure you’re prepared to track the time you spend managing your contractor, to make sure that you haven’t simply replaced two days’ writing with two days’ contractor management!

As part of setting measurable goals, don’t forget to apply a timeline to each! This is the most basic way for you to assess whether your outsourced work is on track.

3. Set a budget.

Now that you have an idea of what you want, and what benefits you need it to bring, you should be able to translate those benefits into a dollar value, and decide on the investment you’re willing to make to achieve that goal.

You might want the new design for your blog to increase average per-session pageviews by 1.5 within the first three months. Great! What will that do for your advertising revenues in that time? And how much can you afford to invest to generate this return?

Setting a budget is an essential step in the process. This will help you to qualify candidates early in the process, and save you from spending time talking to “prospective” contractors who really aren’t in your market at all.

4. Seek recommendations.

Unless you have experience in a given market space or discipline and believe you have the skills to select good talent off the bat, you might consider asking peers and colleagues for talent recommendations. Whether you’re outsourcing blog content production or your accounting tasks, personal recommendations are the best way to have some assurance that you’ll get what you expect.

Alternatively — or additionally — you might call for expressions of interest through your blog, your social networks, your professional networks, and other likely sources. To me, these approaches are still better options than advertising blindly on freelance networks, or scouring the web in an effort to find that needle in a haystack — good help that you can afford and trust. Recommendations are best.

5. Research the provider.

However you obtain recommendations, research the provider before you contact them. Conducting your own research is important — you never know what information a quick web search will turn up. Hopefully it’s the same information the contractor in question will provide to you, but if it’s not the kind of detail they’d likely share, you’ll be glad you looked into their work yourself.

If the contractor is local, your peers or colleagues may know them, so again: ask around. Encourage people to be candid and to give you their honest opinions, but also be sure to find out the bases for those assessments. Try to remain as open-minded and objective as possible at this point, so you can create a shortlist of at least two — but hopefully three or four — providers you believe might suit the job.

6. Make contact.

Make careful observation of each shortlisted candidate from the moment of your first contact. Everything they do and say will provide clues as to how well you may be able to work with them. If something makes you uncomfortable, try to work out what it is and why it’s a problem.

Again, it’s important to try to remain reasonable and objective at this point. The fact that your potential designer is wearing a suit and tie doesn’t mean he’s not as creative as the previous candidate, who rolled up to the meeting in ripped jeans and cool runners.

Try to get all the information from the candidate that you’ll need to make your outsourcing decision. The things I want to have in hand when it comes time to assess my options include:

  • contact details
  • competent past work examples
  • a pitch, brief, or written document that explains what they’ll provide, for what value, and shows that they understand and agree to my expectations, goals, and time and budget constraints
  • great references from current clients
  • personal experience with the candidate (it doesn’t matter whether I’ve met them to discuss the job over coffee, or over Skype: I want to meet them one way or another!).

Now, the hiring decision is all yours. To make sure you’re protected, though, you might want to ensure:

  • you both sign a legally binding written contract that explains the work and the work arrangements
  • your contractor has any insurances you feel are necessary
  • you’ve discussed and agreed upon any copyright and intellectual property considerations
  • you’ve had the contractor sign a non-disclosure and/or anti-competition agreement if you feel that’s necessary.

These steps aren’t substitutes for good research and gut instinct, but they may help you if your research and instinct don’t pay off for some reason.

Have you outsourced any aspects of your blog? How did the process work for you?

About the Author: Georgina has more than ten years’ experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. She now blogs for WebWorkerDaily and SitePoint, and consults on content to a range of other clients.