Working Well Together Requires a Process

My mission is to make it as easy as possible for potential clients to start working with me and be pleased by the experience of engaging me at every step. I’ve also had many potential clients ask about this. Similarly, I’m confident you’ll agree that it’s best to work in an organized fashion from the beginning of any business relationship to prevent mistakes, misunderstandings, missed deadlines and missed budgets.

Working Strategically from End-to-End

I created this overview of the Thrive Content Business Engagement ProcessSM to give you a clearer understanding of how to get started with me and how we’ll begin our business engagement. This process precludes your investing significant, unnecessary time to decide if I’m right for your project or organization’s culture.

But, I’m not inflexible and hard to work with because I like engagements to be enjoyable. So, for aspects like scheduling calls, the time it takes to determine your requirements or understand your vision (it could be less timeor more—than shown below) or deciding whether we part of the process by email, this process can be flexible depending on your needs. We can improve workflow by revising parts of the process after we begin our work together. If your organization has established, formal project management or workflow process, we can discuss that, too.

However, I’ve found following a process like this with most organizations gets the best outcomes for us both. To save you time, I’ve structured this overview to make it easier to read than a long narrative is. Please email me with any questions you have about the process before calling me, if you like.

Understanding Your Vision

It’s essential we become well-acquainted with each other, and I comprehend your needs and requirements as fully as possible. Here is an overview of how I propose we achieve that objective.

First Step—Complimentary Introductory Call

If you're a media organization, there is a different, standard process that we conduct, usually by email.

However, if you are a potential content marketing client, depending on how we got connected, we start the pre-engagement process with a complimentary, no obligation, 15-minute introductory phone call. Depending on how busy we both are, typically, we schedule this no obligation call.

During that call, we introduce ourselves and our organizations to one another and gather information from each other to determine if we're a fit. I will ask you several initial questions about your business and type of project you're seeking help to complete. Of course, you can ask me questions you'd like answered. This initial call is how we'll quickly determine whether I can assist you with your project and am the ideal consultant for your business. This initial call should take no more than 15-30 minutes of your time.

If you decide to move forward with the introductory call, please be assured that I also won't make any sales pitch during this call. This first call is strictly a mutual information-gathering conversation to determine if we want to discuss further working together.

Please keep in mind that I do not provide my fees or project rate range during this first call. That will be determined later in the process after I have a clear understanding of your requirements.

If we decide together during our call that I can provide the services you need, we will move to the second step. If we determine I'm not the ideal strategic content communications consultant for your business you can move on and find a corporate or digital communications consultant or strategic content writer who is a better fit.

Second Step—Complimentary Exploratory Call

If we both determine we may be able to work together, we can schedule a 30-45 minute, no obligation exploratory call. That call will include you and the other decision-makers in your organization. Its purpose is gaining deeper insight into your needs.

I will do that by asking a series of questions I create based on our first call and some preliminary research on your enterprise. This call is only about determining your project requirements and learning more about your organization. I will not be making any sales pitch during this call, either.

While I will request your budget range during our exploratory call, I won't provide my fees until next phase, the quote or presentation stage after I've gotten a full understanding of your needs.

Can we "pick your brain" on these calls?

I define "picking my brain" as "consulting" where I provide strategic advice you can use to further research or achieve your goals. I know the high value of my expertise and have invested significantly in professional growth and development.

In fact, I'm investing in Thrive Media, Inc. (which owns Thrive Content) by getting my master's degree. I attend classes in the three-time award-winning Georgetown University Public Relations and Corporate Communications program. My concentration is Digital Communications and because this is an applied master's program, the skills I learn in the classroom I can use the next day to serve my clients better. That increases the value of my expertise.

Just as an attorney won't provide legal counsel or a physician medical advice on introductory or exploratory calls, I don't offer any marketing advice because these conversations are not strategic ones. They are informational only. Their purpose is for us to determine if, based on your unique content marketing requirements, I can provide the right mix of services can help you and I'm a fit for your distinct organizational culture.

So, no, I won't be providing any strategic content communications advice or consulting to your organization during these short calls.

To gain more confidence in my ability to serve your needs, please feel free to read the numerous blog posts I've written that show my corporate and digital communications strategic and editorial content writing aptitude. Also, review my recent article credits and read the significant copy I've written for this site that shows my copywriting, editorial content writing and journalism skills.

I hope once you've reviewed this content and copy, it convinces you I can provide your organization with high-level strategic communications help and related content marketing strategies you need. Then you'll feel more comfortable scheduling these calls to determine how I can serve your enterprise with customized or personalized services that help you achieve your marketing goals and objectives.

I'm not "just a writer" who know something about content marketing. I'm a communications consultant whose professional expertise helps your brand reach specific goals. You can learn more about my paid consulting services below.

Planning the Work

If after the first step, you’re still interested in engaging my services, being clear about what our next steps should be, is vital. This is the structure I suggest for getting the information you need to decide if I’ll be providing the communications marketing solutions you need. It also shows you what I don’t offer even if it’s part of your brand’s evaluation process for consultants.

Quotes—For Those Still Evaluating Consultants

After our exploratory call, if you've informed me you're still exploring opportunities to work with other experts, I provide a one-page or shorter working quote (which means it is subject to change based on new information from you). Similar to a Statement of Work, this working quote it provides an overview of what you can receive from me and is very much dependent on our exploratory call. This sample working quote gives you an idea of what to expect from this part of the process.

As you can see by the example, not only is the quote based on our exploratory call, it will give you an idea of what the rate(s) for my services will be and what I can offer you for that investment. However, I prefer to provide a single-page quote based on your stated budget. Without your budget, it will be difficult to quote your investment in my services accurately to reflect what I can provide for your investment level. Like the calls, the working quote provides no strategic advice, and I won't try to pitch you enhanced services you haven't requested.

After you've interviewed other consultants, if you decide I'm the right one for your enterprise, you'll just contact me by the expiration date of the quote, and we'll take next steps.

Presentations—For Those Wanting to Work with Me

If you're reasonably sure you want to work with me after the exploratory call, we will schedule me to give you a 30-minute presentation within a week after that call. Typically, that presentation will occur virtually since I charge fees for travel time or longer presentations. It will show you how I'll work with your business and at what investment. Like the calls, the presentation provides no strategic advice, and I won't try to pitch you enhanced services you haven't requested.

With that information, your organization can decide whether or not my services are a fit for your needs. Of course, you are free to say "no" after that presentation, and I won't take it personally. I may ask follow-up questions to determine how I could have done better with my presentation. But I won't launch into a sales pitch if you're confident I'm not a fit for your project.

Once you decide you want to partner with me, we execute a mutually beneficial consulting agreement; you make your first retainer payment, and we begin the onboarding process, which I explain more thoroughly at that time. You can obtain information about that and other policies on the Frequently Asked Questions page before then, however.

Remember, I will not provide any consulting or strategic advice during this initial process.

ThriveNow! Discovery ProjectsSM vs. Proposals, SOWs or Project Briefs

While I offer proposal writing as a paid consulting service, I no longer write proposals, lengthy statements of work or project briefs for prospective clients. While I haven't found proposals necessary for strategic content writing and related services (hence, the requirement for a policy on them), I recognize corporate communications clients may have different needs.

However, it's nearly impossible to get an accurate idea of what a prospective client needs in a 30-45 minute phone call or even a two-hour consulting appointment and write a detailed, multi-page proposal, statement of work or project brief that will achieve its stated objectives. I provide quotes for clients are looking for a tool they can use to compare my consulting services to those of other providers.

Instead, to get a full idea of what I can offer your organization, rather than providing a lengthy proposal that provides limited strategic direction, I offer clients the opportunity to invest in my paid ThriveNow! Discovery ProjectSM. That is a formal content communications strategy analysis or digital communications assessment.

During this multi-phase project, which can take from six weeks to three months, l use a variety of assessment tools to identify your current digital marketing activities and brand positioning to discover how they're affecting your stated marketing objectives. I define the tools and methodology I'll use for conducting the assessment or analysis based on the resources you invest in the project.

From that process, you'll receive the ThriveNow! BlueprintSM, a 15+ page report that provides the outcomes of the assessment. The report includes any observations made during the discovery process and provides multiple insights and recommendations your organization can use as a blueprint for moving forward toward exceptional content experiences for your audiences.

This roadmap is one you can use internally to execute your renewed strategy or with another consultant of your choice if you decide not to work further with me. It will provide a foundation for creating or redrafting the brand communications briefs you'll use to successfully restructure your corporate or digital communications strategy or aspects of your content marketing.

In my extensive experience, this fee-for-service project is a better way to determine what clients need than the traditional proposal, statement of work or project brief process. And, it's a fairer way to hire communications consultants.

Comm Client Question: "What constitutes paid consulting time for you?"

Because I generate revenue from using my time to provide expertise, I consider pre-engagement meetings, face-to-face presentations or calls that are not part of the introductory or exploratory process identified above to be consulting time. I charge for a minimum of two hours of time, plus travel if you want me to come to your office. I provide these services only when paid in advance.

It does not matter whether those "brain picking" meetings take place in your office, over a meal or virtually (like by Skype or email) if they are designed to elicit strategic advice or have me evaluate your marketing activities. I also charge the same fees to review digital content, marketing plans, and any other business or marketing collateral or tools.

Moreover, I rarely go outside of the Washington, DC area for client meetings but can consider it if all expenses are paid (in advance) by the client.

Clients agree this is the most cost-effective and productive way to meet their marketing needs, especially when they don't have a project to offer me yet or just need strategic consultation in a one or two areas.

Comon Client Question: "Will you take writing tests or do spec work?"

While I recognize the ubiquity writing tests as an 'evaluation' tool in the journalism and blogging industry, I share the perspective of many other journalist-bloggers have about them. They come at an opportunity cost to writers, especially top ones like me. They are a form of free consulting time some prospective clients ask of corporate communicators.

Like free consulting time, I have learned clients don't value free writing work. So, I will consider fully-compensated short-term or trial period projects to evaluate the potential for us to work together. But, I do not take uncompensated writing tests or provide any spec work.

Again, this website offers plenty of copy, blog content, writing samples, and endorsements. The site thoroughly overviews my many years of corporate and digital communications, strategic content writing, and journalism experience. It proves my ability to write any copy or content you require in my niche areas (and several subjects outside those areas). So, please review that material to determine my value to your communications team.

However, I will consider taking a paid writing test upon request. I bill by the hour for the test with a minimum of two hours charged and paid, in advance. I also can accept no less than your full article rate for editorial content. I won't take a reduced rate since test content takes as long to write as regularly assigned content. I get started once we agree, in writing, about which fee you will pay.

Finally, I will consider paid journalism assignments.

Taking Action—Getting Started on the Work

This represents a general overview of the onboarding process after we complete an engagement agreement. It’s my goal to make it as easy as possible to work with me while managing any projects efficiently and carefully. Obviously, how we work together depends on the type of project, its length, and other factors. Here, I review how we’d get started with and maintain our working relationship.

Small, Trial or Short-Term Projects

If you’re an editorial client, you just send me an assignment by email. If it's our first editorial project together, after establishing the assignment parameters, deadlines and other fundamental aspects of the relationship, like contracts and payment, I begin the work. For subsequent assignments, you send me an email with an overview of the task, and once I accept, I start the work and get the assignment to you on deadline.

The process is similar to an agency or corporate client for whom I’m conducting a one-off project, a trial project or providing only blog content on specific subject areas. We first put all the formalities in place in writing. We usually do that through an email or a short Letter of Agreement or your more formal contract, if you have one, and we're establishing a longer-term relationship for projects with a small scope. Once that process is completed, which typically takes only a few days, I get started working.

These relationships can get started quickly, and we can maintain them by email and occasional phone calls.

Longer-Term or Larger Project Retainer Clients

If you've retained me to rewrite all the content on your website or to provide a variety of content monthly, I typically break projects down into phases depending on the type of project.

For clients like you, the first step is executing a formal contract. It can be a short one or lengthier one depending on the client and the project complexity or requirements. Retainer clients make their first retainer make their first payment, and we get started once it clears.

The second step is onboarding, and it's the process with which I begin most client relationships where there is a significant digital or corporate communications project involving more than strategic content writing or extensive writing required that you'll integrate into your strategic or content marketing plan.

It's essential we undergo this process for me to collect the necessary knowledge, information, and understanding of your brand and culture as well as your workflow. It's the way I can partner with you to most efficiently with you to execute your project.

Because I work remotely with all clients, completing all work from my location, I'm open to a variety of ways for us communicate. Contact can take place by phone, e-mail, IM (like Slack), on a project management platform, web conferencing or Skype audio. I'm open to other suggested communication tools as well.

At the beginning of the onboarding process, which can take several hours to several weeks, depending on your organization or the size of your project, there is usually a 90-minute to two-hour phone consultation. We can divide that time into two calls, if necessary. During our initial conversations, we will discuss your specific needs, goals and objectives, and timelines in more detail than we did during the pre-engagement process.

If this is a project that requires me to know as much as possible about your organization's leadership to complete the project, I request conversations or interviews with those key executives or team members by phone, email or other means and may participate in virtual meetings to obtain the information I need to execute your project efficiently. Please expect to schedule ample time for those interviews, primarily if I must conduct them over several days.

Concurrent with those initial conversations, I will request you provide as much background information and material as possible which I can use to complete your work. This information or these materials include (but are not limited to) brochures, data sheets, marketing e-mails and other digital communications, digital analytics, annual reports or white papers, web content, interviews, organizational charts or additional corporate information.

I can conduct this information gathering phase with your marketing team. At that point, I usually begin the actual writing work. If I'm doing a communications assessment, I will talk to employees and other stakeholders, too.

After I submit my first deliverables to you, I require that you thoroughly review them and provide your feedback. If this is a writing project, please expect that your content or copy will need revisions, perhaps extensive ones (though that's unusual with my work unless multiple people are involved in the process). Also, remember that all messaging content may need to be a highly collaborative a process.

Once we get started with your engagement, please expect to devote the time resources and personnel to onboarding for the several days or weeks it takes to complete the process.

Success Through Effective Communication

I hope that you’ve found this general overview of my business engagement process helpful and you see value in the organized manner in which I serve clients most successfully.

We can organize this workflow process to make it consistent with your internal policies and processes. Flexibility is essential to creating a productive working relationship, too. But, working with no project management or workflow process is too costly and therefore infeasible for this consultant.

We can discuss the process further at any point during the evolution of our relationship and any details once we’re under an agreement. While nothing on this page or site guarantees that our working relationship will be perfect or achieve any goals you have, open communication is critical for me to perform with excellence as your remote strategic content communications consultant. It leads to the most favorable outcomes for our work together.

Now you have a clearer idea of how we’ll get started, so please contact me today about your work. I look forward to hearing from you about your project.