Making the Most Out of Your Writing Consultant: Streamlining Feedback

Contracting out your organization’s writing tasks — from short-term tasks like developing a proposal to long-term tasks like streamlining your marketing collateral — can be a godsend for you and your employees. The stress of the blank page, the stacks of project descriptions that need to be rewritten, the ever-mounting checklist of content that you need developed for your website are gone in an instant. You can hand these tasks over to a writing professional so that you can focus on maintaining great relationships with your own clients.

Simply handing tasks and materials over will, on its own, save you time and, ultimately, money. However, there are ways to make your money go even further when you hire a consultant.

One of my favorite types of contracts is the proposal development contract. Collaborating with engineering and construction pros to showcase what their firm brings to the table — and then getting that “win” notification after the process is done — is hugely inspiring. But the process of putting together a coherent, compliant proposal is not without its challenges.

Most of us struggle to work effectively on teams, especially on complex projects like proposals, where each person brings his or her own complementary strength to the group. Obviously, strong communication is the best way to make sure everyone gets through the proposal writing process in one piece with a fantastic product at the end. What’s not always so clear, though, is exactly what that “strong communication” looks like.

Tip #1: Streamline your feedback

Gold team, blue team, pink team, red team — the review process for proposals can be quite the colorful affair. The goal of these review sessions is to look at the progress made so far, come up with solutions or strategies to address problems, and communicate next steps. In short: feedback. No proposal writing process is complete without lots, and lots, and lots of feedback.

Everyone thrives on feedback, including your writing consultant. Without a clear idea of how well the first draft is doing its job, it’s tough to figure the correct path forward toward the final draft. Still, not all feedback is useful, and it’s easy to end up giving a lot of important feedback that gets lost in the sea of less useful observations.

So, what can you do to streamline your feedback?

Take time to read

First, take the time to truly read each draft. If you’re sitting in a C-level seat, this might mean that you set aside time later in the process to look at a more complete draft. If you’re a subject matter expert, maybe you’ll set enough time aside to closely read the sections you provided information for. If you’re a project manager or otherwise close to the process, you should save enough time to read every draft that you need to read. If you’re not taking the time to really read drafts that you’ve committed to reading, you’re making poor use of your writing consultant’s time — which really means a waste of your cash.

Keep your eye on the goal

While you’re reading, remember your purpose for reading. Which review session are you reading for? If this is an early draft, don’t waste any time looking at spelling, grammar, or anything else that will be cleaned up closer to the end of the process. What is your role on the proposal team? Engineer or project manager? Focus on content and accuracy, and look for gaps in information that need to be filled. Principal? Look at overall strategy and messaging, as well as how well this proposal will play for the review board. Marketing? Make sure the branding and design are going in the right direction. No matter your title, your job with early drafts is to help the writing team make the next draft a hundred times better. What information can you offer — or find — to make that happen?

Focus on your strengths

The corollary of knowing your purpose for reading and reviewing is knowing what isn’t your purpose for reading. If you’re not in marketing, trust that the marketing team will comment on colors, design, voice, and feel. If you’re not a subject matter expert, trust that the engineers and construction managers will chime in on anything that isn’t right.

Take time to send quality feedback

You’ve read what you needed to read, and you kept your ideas focused on what you uniquely bring to the project team. Now: how to share this information so it doesn’t get lost? You have plenty of options, but what they all have in common is that they take time. Or they do when they’re done right, at least.

  • Write ’em down: One strategy to communicate your recommendations, concerns, and questions to your writing consultant is by using the track changes and/or commenting feature in your publishing program — or even just handwriting your comments in the margins the old-fashioned way. The great thing about this approach is that you can convey both granular and broad feedback in one document, and your consultant needs to look at just that document for all of your comments. They can ask you questions about your particular feedback and make notes on the draft you marked up as questions are clarified.
  • Talk ’em out: Whether it’s over the phone with your consultant working on your proposal from another state or across your conference table after the whole-group review session, you can also sum up your feedback while your consultant takes notes. You should also probably have your own notes from the time you set aside to read the draft, so that you don’t fall into the trap of…

The never-ending feedback loop

“Just one more thing.” “Oh, yeah, I had another thought.” “I can’t remember if we talked about this but…”

We’re all guilty of this at one point or another: making up for lost time by sending a few — or a few dozen — emails to everyone on the proposal team for days after the review session, each email containing a snippet of a thought, a nugget of a suggestion. If you’ve been on the receiving end of the “serial reviewer” on your team, you’ve probably found yourself combing through emails from days, weeks, or even months ago to see what they said about this line in a resume or that line in a project description.  You might be the serial reviewer on your team if you’re sending lots of emails a day to different combinations of proposal team members, but it still seems like a lot of your suggestions or thoughts seem to get overlooked.

Instead of spinning your wheels without going much of anywhere, set aside time for communicating with your proposal team, including — maybe especially — your writing consultant. Rather than sending five emails to five different people, start a list of what you need and wait a bit. Think through who should be copied on each email, and try to combine more ideas and thoughts into one email. In the end, waiting a bit to send more substantial emails to the right people will save you time and money in the long run. Think of how much time your consultant is spending — and how much you’re paying her — to go through your one-sentence emails. You can stop this cycle! Stop, think, write, think some more — then hit “send.”

Along these lines, sending a review document with all of your comments is always going to be more efficient than sending your feedback in little bits and pieces. Something will fall through the cracks, and then everyone will spend more time on the back-end looking for stragglers and tying up loose ends.

More to come

This was the first in a series about getting the most out of your writing consultant, so check back for more tips and strategies in the weeks to come!

Coming Soon…

Welcome to the new home page for Peak Composition.  We’re still getting set up, so please check back with us later in Spring of 2014!