Are you a founder with big ideas but no time to write about them? Or perhaps writing doesn’t come naturally to you and you need help getting your thoughts out there? Founders and executives usually have tons of experience in their industry or a great vision for thought leadership, but no time to write it.
It’s a common content conundrum: people with the most to say write the least, and people with the least to say write the most. But you can’t be a thought leader without regularly publishing and building a track record as someone with good ideas.
Outsourcing your thought leadership content can be a great solution, but it's not without its challenges. In this blog post, we'll guide you through the process of outsourcing, from finding the right freelancer to nailing your tone of voice (TOV) and avoiding pitfalls.
If you’re ready to elevate your own voice and ideas with help from someone who knows exactly how to turn your thoughts into clear, interesting writing, keep reading.
Many companies approach the Superpath Marketplace wanting to create thought leadership content. They’ve found it can be difficult to find a freelancer or agency who can match the tone and voice of the person with the ideas. This is especially true if internal documentation (style, brand, voice, and tone guides) isn’t readily available.
As we mentioned in another post about setting your freelancers up to win, you have to give clear input to get the desired output.
There also needs to be a repeatable process in place for the articles to be successful, which can be difficult to establish. Freelancers who specialize in thought leadership know exactly how to extract ideas from a founder and pull them into a persuasive piece of content.
We’ve asked a few of our Marketplace freelancers who specialize in ghostwriting thought leadership to explain their process below.
When you're outsourcing thought leadership pieces, it's crucial to find a freelancer or agency who can capture your TOV accurately. One way to ensure this is for you (the founder) to write the first few pieces yourself. This will help set the standard of writing for the rest of the articles.
“I was lucky when I was writing thought leadership for Dock because Alex Kracov, our CEO, already had a personal blog that I could draw inspiration from,” said Eric Doty, Content Lead at Dock—who contributed ghostwritten thought leadership content for Dock before joining full-time.
If you don’t have time to write, you could point the freelancer to tweets, LinkedIn posts, or outsourced thought leadership articles that fit your tone and voice.
It's also important to have a briefing process in place for each article. This should include giving the freelancer access to the documentation we mentioned earlier: style and brand guidelines, and any other internal docs. You should also give them a rough outline of the article. It can be something as simple as:
1-2 sentence summary of the argument
An outline will help steer the direction of the piece and set up the next part of the process: the interview.
We know, you’re a busy founder. But having a 30 to 40 minute interview with the freelancer is key to ending up with a finished product that sounds like you.
“Before the interview, I do independent research on the topic to try to get to the point where I can ask meaningful questions. The end goal of the thought leadership content is normally intended for experts, so you don’t want to waste too much interview time on 101 stuff, or you won’t have time for the juicy thoughts,” Eric explains.
“In the interview, I normally just let them riff thoughts on the subject until they’re done talking, asking clarifying questions along the way,” he adds.
If you can’t squeeze a call into your schedule, you could send a Loom, audio message, or past recorded webinars or podcasts talking about the subject. But there is a certain magic that happens in a live call that’s hard to replicate asynchronously.
In the interview, the freelancer should ask you questions that help you make your case about the topic or give enough detail to form a narrative. Thought leadership is the sharing of “learned secrets,” as Ryan Law says, which is what makes it so valuable. Thought leadership can be:
Depending on the angle of the piece, your writer should know which type of questions to ask. But you, the founder, can also come prepared with anecdotes and arguments.
“When I ghostwrite for leaders, I ask open-ended questions and, since I type really fast, record their answers in their exact words. I use as much of their original language in the article as possible. I also ask "counter questions" about customer objections, adoption challenges, and other factors that allow them to make a solid case for their argument,” explains Anthony Garone, Co-founder of Edify Content, an agency that specializes in executive ghostwriting.
At this point, you should receive an article that’s essentially your spoken thoughts written out into a logical piece that flows. The next step is to collaboratively edit the piece, which will look different depending on the freelancer-founder relationship.
The editing process is similar to that of an in-house marketing team, but there may be more in-depth edits when working with a freelancer, explains Seth Merrill, Content Marketing Manager at Lucid Software, who contributes thought leadership content for the Marketplace.
“The first few article editing rounds are as much about getting the article in a publishable state as they are an educational period for the writer to learn more about the brand and person they're writing for,” Seth says.
“The most helpful feedback at this stage is comments that get at "why" certain things need to be changed vs. feedback like "I'm not feeling this line" or "This doesn't make sense to me." A good TL writer will be able to synthesize learning during the feedback stage, apply them, and over time they will feel more and more like an in-house writer,” he adds.
After going through these steps, lots of executives burn out. They get content fatigue, see what is required to do good thought leadership content, and lose interest. Yet, as we mentioned earlier, you can’t be a thought leader without publishing at a regular cadence. Handing over the process to the Marketplace can be a good way to keep publishing content without getting fatigued.
When outsourcing thought leadership, it's important to avoid common pitfalls that can lead to subpar content. One such pitfall is not vetting potential candidates thoroughly enough and making sure they’ve written TL for other founders and executives. Another is not making time for the interview, which helps get the partnership off to a good start.
Having a “download call,” as Seth calls it, helps freelancers capture the way you speak about a subject, whether that’s giving personal anecdotes, using metaphors, or citing lots of statistics.
By following these tips, you can make sure you get high-quality content that accurately reflects your company's voice—and most importantly, establishes you as a credible thought leader in your industry.