Releasing Perfection When Outsourcing Your Content

Hey, guess what?


And thank goodness, too, because how boring would that be?

But here’s the rub: We often expect ourselves and our work to be perfect.

Like, say, a blog post for example.

It can be extremely hard to outsource a task that we connect with a sense of worth or worthiness, and very often our content is mentally and psychically linked up with our self-worth. But as I’ve discussed before, there often comes a point when you have to let go of tasks that don’t represent your highest contribution to the business.

At that point, the question becomes, how do you release the perfectionism around that task enough to allow someone else to take it over?

Is perfection holding you back?

My last “real” job before I struck out on my own was for a local magazine, and it was a damned good publication. We were proud of every issue we put out.

But the publisher had trouble letting go of a lot of jobs and tasks that really shouldn’t have been her responsibility any more. For example, she insisted on approving new ads instead of trusting her graphic designers and sales team to do it. She insisted on going on sales calls with her sales people far more often than was necessary. And many times she was rearranging the pages of the magazine at midnight when we were on deadline to send the issue to the printer because she didn’t like how it was laid out or didn’t trust us to make the changes.

It turned into a very hostile work environment for a lot of us, because in her pursuit of perfection she was not only insinuating that she didn’t trust us to do a good job, she was holding back the entire team. And the business began to suffer because — surprise! — it was tough for one person to do all the jobs of a team of eight.

On the one hand, as a business owner, I get it now — I really do!  When you’re putting out a product that’s your name, your brand, your baby, you want to make sure every detail is correct.

But on the other hand, as a business owner, I can now fully appreciate how much she was getting in the way of her own success by not trusting her team.

The same goes for content creation. If, for example, I felt like I had to go over every piece of writing my team creates with a fine-toothed comb and put my own spin on it I would never do anything else. I wouldn’t be marketing or selling or writing my own pieces. And I would be working a heck of a lot more. Instead, I’ve hired people I trust to do the job — and then I trust them to do the job.

In fact, I’ve hired several people whose strengths are different than mine. That means those women can not only do the work, but do it better than I could. What an incredible relief! Some of my favorite comments from our clients are when they say, “It’s like I wrote it myself — ONLY BETTER!”

If you’re interested in the idea of outsourcing tasks like content creation (or anything else, really), but your perfectionism is getting in the way, read on for some suggestions on getting out of your own way.

When is good enough, good enough?

When it comes to hiring or outsourcing for a task like content marketing, it can be difficult to give up creative control — especially if you’re used to being the one who does all the writing, and your name is on the post.

Some of our clients are frankly relieved to hand over the task of content creation, but others are undeniably nervous, and we completely understand that. A good content writer will get as close to emulating your style and voice as is possible — but even the best content writer doesn’t live inside your head. We cannot know your anecdotes, your experiences, and your exact word choices.

But, over time, we should be able to get very, very close.

The trick, then, is being able to decide when good enough is good enough.

And when I say “good enough,” I’m not saying that you should ever settle for less than the same level of quality content you would produce. But there has to be a point at which you can say, “That’s not exactly what I would have written, but it is a good piece of content, and it’s valuable to me to publish it as is.”

And if you can’t get to that point, either you have hired the wrong writer, or there’s something happening with your mindset.

In my seven years of running this company, there have only been a couple of clients that we have parted ways with because we couldn’t get to that point with them. So what was the difference? Was their voice so unique or their content so special that we somehow weren’t up to the task?

I’m biased, of course, but I don’t think so.

Looking back, I believe those clients simply weren’t ready to give it up. They couldn’t let go of making it exactly their way, and so outsourcing content wasn’t a good fit for them.

That’s OK. We parted on friendly terms. What bothers me, though, is that they desperately wanted to give up that task. They just couldn’t… quite… let it go. And we couldn’t help them do so.

What are the end results?

In some cases, people get frustrated when an employee or contractor approaches a task differently than they would do it.

(This is also sometimes accompanied by the phrase, “But this is the way we’ve always done it,” which should be a red flag.)

But honestly, in many cases, it doesn’t matter how it gets done, as long as the end result is the same.

My daughter is almost eight years old now, and she’s been folding and putting away her own laundry since she was five. At first, it was a MASSIVE exercise in letting go for me to watch her “fold” her clothes, but I decided that, as long as they ended up in the closet and the drawers, and they weren’t a huge mess, it didn’t matter how it got done — because I wanted to give up the job. Now she has her own folding and organization system that works for her. It’s not what I would do, but they’re not my clothes! And the end result is the same.

Will it actually happen?

A great question to ask yourself is, “Will this actually get done if I take the job back myself?”

My friend and team writer, Beth, mentioned that she hired a dog walker when she realized that she was not giving her dog, Moose, the kind of attention and exercise he needed. She realized she wasn’t going to take him on an hour long walk in the middle of the day every day, so she hired someone to do it.

And maybe there’s not really a wrong way to walk a dog, but her perfectionism might have gotten the better of her in another way: thinking she had to figure out how to do it all herself.

I see this all the time with solopreneurs: “I should be able to figure out how to build my website / write my blog / do my own social media / set up my shopping cart / write a sales page myself.”

When your perfectionism is telling you that you should be able to do whatever it is yourself, you actually become the bottleneck in the situation. Letting go of that should and outsourcing is liberating!

Is it actually wrong?

Sometimes our perfectionism also tells us that something is “wrong” when, objectively, it isn’t. Just because something isn’t done the way you would do it, doesn’t mean it is wrong.

This makes me think of times when we’ve given clients a piece of writing, and they’ve spent hours making minor changes — like changing “beautiful” to “lovely” — that don’t actually affect the overall quality or efficacy of the piece. It’s their prerogative to make those changes, of course… but was it really worth it?

Our team manager, Teri, said,

“I try to remember that everyone has different perceptions/interpretations/definitions of the ‘right’ way to do a task. They might think their way of doing something is just as perfect. However, if it’s something that’s super important to you to do a certain way, communication and training are always key. And assessing it on the critical continuum helps you determine if it’s something worth talking about with the other person. How many of us rearrange the dishwasher because there’s a certain way to do it? (Hmmmm, maybe just me?) Do the dishes still get clean or are you always have to re-wash them? If I’m always having to re-do the work, it’s worth it to me to discuss with the person. If they still get cleaned, it’s just a matter of perception.”

Concrete strategies to overcome perfectionism

OK, so these are all mindset things, really. And that’s all well and good. But let’s talk about some concrete strategies for overcoming perfectionism when it comes to outsourcing your content (or any other task):

  1. Invest in training — if you can create standard operating procedures or some kind of training around the steps you want someone to take, you can feel more confident that they know how to do what you want them to do.
  2. Offer constructive feedback — especially with content, constructive feedback is important for the writer to know what she is getting right and wrong. Clients are sometimes reluctant to tell us what they didn’t like about a piece, but when that kind of feedback is given professionally and constructively, it’s more valuable than people just saying, “It’s great!”
  3. Use training wheels — if you’re really concerned about giving up a task, create regular checkpoints and check-ins so that you can see how things are going along the way. And be sure to leave extra time for this kind of work; for example, if you want to see an outline, a rough draft, and then a polished draft for a blog post, at least double the amount of time you would expect it to take so that there’s room for back and forth and changes. You might keep “training wheels” on a project for just a few weeks up to a few months, depending.
  4. Create guardrails — guardrails prevent cars from going off the road, and you can create similar rules that prevent team members from going into forbidden territory for a task. For example, you might tell a writer, “Here’s a list of words and phrases we NEVER use,” or “Here are some topics I want to avoid.” Then, as long as they stay away from the guardrails, they’ll be OK.

In truth, the best way to start overcoming your perfectionism around a task like content writing is simply to start! It takes practice and it takes time to build trust with the person you want to work with. Try outsourcing a few less important pieces of content first to give it a try, and see how it goes. What can you learn from the experience about yourself as well as your team member? Then use some of the strategies above to help improve the process as you go.

Another tip? Go with a contractor or team member with experience in this sort of thing, so that they can help guide you. We  happen to have 7+ years of experience doing just that. Click here to fill out an application and talk to me about your unique situation to find out if we would be a good fit to help you outsource your content marketing!

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