How to Implement a Guest Blogging Process with Jess Ostroff from Don't Panic Management

You probably already know all of the benefits of writing guest posts on other people’s blogs, but have you considered having guests post on your blog? Some of the benefits you might enjoy include increased publishing frequency, more efficiency and consistency, higher ranking for your keywords, and a better sense of credibility and trust among your readers. Best of all, this move can help you convert more customers.

Today, our guest is Jess Ostroff, the CEO of Don’t Panic Management, which she describes as a “virtual assistant agency on steroids.” She is also the managing editor at Convince & Convert, which publishes a lot of content from guest writers. She is talking to us about how to become a content management mastermind when it comes to hosting guest bloggers on your website.

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Some of the topics we’ll talk about today include:

  • What Jess does at Don’t Panic Management in her role as Director of Calm and as editor of Convince & Convert.
  • How a marketer can attract the best guest bloggers in their industry and how to prove to potential bloggers that your site is worth writing for.
  • The writing requirements that are most helpful to be sure you get the quality you want out of your guest blog posts.
  • The best way to manage the pitch-acceptance process.
  • Suggested tools and strategies to make the guest-blogging process as efficient and successful as possible, from pitch to final editing and eventual promotion.
  • The one major thing you should keep in mind if you are hoping to build a guest-blogging relationship with someone.

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Transcript:

Nathan:         Hey Jess, I’m really excited to have you on the podcast. Thanks a lot for taking some time to give me some advice on implementing a guest blogging process.

Jess:              Thanks for having me, Nathan. I’m so excited to be here today.

Nathan:         I’m excited to have you because I think this is a really important thing. Lots of people think about writing guest posts for different blogs but what if you could be the blog that accepts guests? I think that’s a great conversation to have. Just to kick this off, I’m wondering Jess, could you just fill me in on Don’t Panic Management?

Jess:              Of course. I am the Director of Calm at Don’t Panic Management and it is a virtual assistant agency on steroids. We don’t just do virtual assistant administrative services, we also have a marketing arm and that actually makes up a large part of our business these days especially because more and more people have ideas and strategies that they want to implement on their marketing side of their companies but they don’t necessarily have the bandwidth or resources to do that. They outsource some of their tasks to my team. We do things like copywriting, social media management, content management, managing things like guest blogging programs but also internal content management, as well as podcast production. And then of course we have the administrative side of the company that does things like booking travel, scheduling meetings, doing research, all the behind the scenes thing that need to get done so that the business owners and managers and executives that we work with can still focus on more important things.

Nathan:         And I know you have a team of masterminds over there. You’re mentioning content management copywriting and now content curation and a lot more. But I’m just curious, Director of Calm, it’s a great title. What do you do specifically at Don’t Panic Management?

Jess:              A lot of things. My role has changed and evolved so much even just over the last couple of years. I started on my own, just kind of freelancing in 2009, and officially started the company in 2011. Even when I started the company, I was still really doing a lot of client work, doing all of the billing and bookkeeping and administrative stuff that needed to get done and it was only about 2 ½ years ago or so that I hired someone on full time to help with client management and project management and sort of making sure the quality was there because we were just starting to grow to a point where I couldn’t make sure that things are getting done and getting done well and also run the business. That happened. In the last 2 years, I’ve also hired some other full time people to help me with the internal side like the finances and accounting and making sure again that things are getting done really well because we hold ourselves as such a high standard of quality but at some point it’s too much for one person to handle.

These days, I focus mostly on the marketing efforts of our own business and trying to get new clients. I do a lot of business development stuff, I’m out at conferences, speaking and traveling, even just attending conferences is always really important to me. I think for me, I don’t ever want to be the CEO that sits in the corner office and stares out the window and talks on the phone all day. I would still want to be in the weeds a lot with the work that we do and so continuing education is really important for me. And then also to sort of being in charge of our culture and our growth. I personally interview everyone that we potentially are going to hire on the team and I also have the first business call with potential clients. I think that being intentional about who we work with and who we hire is really important to keeping our positive culture and making it a place that people want to stay. That’s what I do, I also split my time. I do a lot for Convince and Convert which is how I think you and I got to meet each other. I probably spend at least half of my time working as the managing editor Convince and Convert. I do a lot over there in addition to managing my own team but a lot of the skills overlapped and it’s been mutual growth process among the two companies.

Nathan:         I can say right now that I’ve been really impressed with all the work that you’ve been doing since we met and yeah I was through Convince and Convert. I think 2 years ago now.

Jess:              Time flies.

Nathan:         Yeah. Crazy. I want to dig a little bit deeper into that just to get a little bit more background on Don’t Panic Management and our topic of Guest Blogging Today, you mentioned working with Convince and Convert, I was wondering who were some of the clients at Don’t Panic Management helps with blog management and specifically guest bloggers?

Jess:              We work with several bigger companies, a lot of what we do is behind the scenes. We don’t always mention all of who our clients are but I will say they are some of the other big marketing blogs and digital magazines that you probably know, Oracle Marketing Cloud, we used to work with Spinsocks. She’s grown so much that we sort of outgrew some of our services over there but we worked on Spinsocks for a while and loved them.

And then we worked with some smaller ones as well and a lot of it does relate to managing all of the people that are involved, as you’re growing a blog and any kind of online publication, it’s no longer just about you. I think about that with Jay specifically a lot because when he started Convince and Convert, it was just him writing a blog 4 days a week. It was pretty low maintenance, he had to have the ideas, he had to take the time to write himself but other than that it’s just basically hitting publish and sharing. Now that a lot of the blogs that we work with publish every single day, sometimes they publish multiple times a day. There’s no way one single author could have the bandwidth to write unless that’s all they did, publishing that frequently. That’s a lot of what we’ve done at Don’t Panic is to try to help companies that do want to grow the frequency of their blogging or digital magazine presence, but they aren’t able to manage more than their own writing and their own publishing. We do focus a lot on building those relationships and also the technical side of making sure that the bloggers have what they need to write for us and that we have what they need from them to publish really great content.

Nathan:         I think that‘s a really great transition into this episode specifically. There’s a lot that you can do on your own or even possibly as a small team but by implementing a guest blogging process, you can publish more, you get that consistency, the frequency, you also have more of an opportunity to get some of those keywords. Jess, I’m wondering about getting started with this for a marketer who has never done it before. How can a marketer even attract the best guest bloggers in the industry? Where do they start?

Jess:              I think that you have to prove to your audience that you are a thought leader in your industry, you have to practice what you preach. I don’t you think you can start to even consider attracting guest bloggers until you have a really solid footing yourself with your own content. I think in the beginning, asking people that you trust and respect their opinions to contribute to your blog is definitely a good way to get going but you have to prove to them that your site is worth writing for. More than ever, today, digital marketers especially, are overwhelmed, there’s so many different media types that we’re required to create for our audience and everyday there’s a new tool that comes out. Why should somebody guest blog for you if they could be doing a Snapchat takeover or doing a live Facebook video?

Practice what you preach ... have a really solid footing with your own content.

You’re not just competing with other blogs anymore, you’re competing with other media as a whole. You have to really consider that and think about where your niche is, why your content is important, and what makes your blog and your audience stand out and really think about the fact that you need to pitch these guest bloggers when you’re first starting out.

At this point, a lot of the blogs that we work with have developed that reputation and we don’t necessarily have to go out find guest bloggers anymore, we have them coming inbound but that didn’t happen overnight. In the beginning, you did have to look at your friend and look at your colleague and say who do I know that has a good ideas that really align with my vision and my focus for this blog. That’s another thing that I would say is that before you even consider starting a guest blogging program, you need to get really, really clear with yourself and with your own team what your core values are and where your strategy is going to go and then you need to make sure, and I think that goes with anything related to business.

One of the best things that I did with my team at Don’t Panic is doing that values exercise and figuring out what are the five things that we care about with every single relationship, every single project, every single thing that we do and make sure that anybody that we work with really aligns with those values. I think that goes for your blog as well and your guest blogging program because you need to make sure that everything you do is intentional. The best way to do that is to have those values set up, make sure that people fall in line with them.

Being humble about it, that’s what I’ve been talking about making a pitch, you really have to think about it from a PR perspective. You’re saying my blog is good enough for you to invest your time in writing for it. The idea with great guest blogging programs is that they generate awareness for your writer and potentially for your writer’s audience of your platform. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and you have to remember that you’re starting a program and remember that it’s about pitching them, it’s about creating a mutually beneficial relationship and developing a relationship that’s going to be on going.

Nathan:         I think that’s really great advice. If you boil it down, you have to have some credit to be able to build trust so that people will want to write for you and you have to get out there and start communicating that.

                    Jess, I want to explore this just a little bit. Let’s just say that we’ve attracted some really great potential guest bloggers and now we’re working on those pitches. You eluded to this with values but what sorts of requirements are most helpful to make sure that you get some of that quality content that you want out of guest blog posts?

Jess:              Again, it comes back to analyzing your own presence and your own content first and looking at what is the one thing that’s my differentiation factor compared to all the other blogs out there. What the thing in my niche or in my industry that I’m doing better or different than anybody else? Looking at your own content to find that, looking at your own core values to figure out what that is. That’s from a highest level what you need to look at first, and then you can create guest blogging guidelines based on that. For example, some of the content that you may see on Don’t Panic Management is really casual but professional. We get to the point and we try to be as clear as possible but we still have a fun voice. For us, that was part of our values of being approachable and friendly and communicating well. That’s what we would expect if we don’t currently have guest blog program for Don’t Panic but if we were to start one, that’s where we would start is helping people understand that.

Analyze your own content and your own blog posts first.

I think that helping your guest bloggers know who you are first so that they can cater their message and cater their story for your audience is really important. One of the things I see sometimes as I’m going through and reviewing pitches is that they can be really sterile and completely boring and a lot of those it’s clear to me at least in that process that the person who we’re pitching really didn’t even take a look at what we expect or what our voice is. That goes across the board for all clients because while none of our client have the same voice, they all have a voice and a unique voice. I think that’s something that a lot of people, when they’re pitching, overlook because you can find great content about things anywhere.

The sheer amount of content that’s out there is staggering these days. But to create a piece of content that not only provides the information but shares in way that fits with the overall message of the blog that they’re pitching or the overall audience values is what’s really going to make it stand out. I think that as an editor or as a brand that’s looking to start the guest blogging program, you want to be considering that, not just accepting anybody, not just accepting a piece of content that has a lot of data or resources but making sure that the voice and the tone and the style matches who your brand is.

Nathan:         Jess has more advice to help you implement the guest blogging process coming up. If you’re wondering how you can implement the guest blogging process for yourself, there’s a handy tool I call CoSchedule that can help you organize everything behind the scenes. As a podcast listener, you get an exclusive 30 days free with the CoSchedule marketing calendar right now. Just sign up at coschedule.com/actionable. Alright, let’s hear more from Jess.

Nathan:           Something that we’ve actually done too is we’ve analyzed our most successful content here at CoSchedule to be able to say for our internal staff, we value this things in our content and its comprehensiveness, actionable, research driven and keyword driven. I think that spans easily into saying that’s going to be a standard for your stuff, you should have a standard for your guest too.

                       Jess, my next question for you is we have the guest post in, they meet the requirements, what’s the best way to manage the pitch acceptance process behind the scenes?

Jess:                This is something that I feel like I was always working on and fine tuning because this is a good problem to have. I can’t really complain about it but a lot of the blogs that we work with are pretty big publications, we really get an influx of pitches. It can be tough to manage because each one deserves a certain amount of time in the review process.

We’ve done a few things. One is setting up a specific email address just for guest pitches and we include that on the guest blogging guidelines. I definitely recommend having your guidelines public, or at least if they’re not public have a link that you can send to people if they’re interested in guest blogging. Within that web page, be specific about the directions that you have because you can dictate the process.

You don’t have to let them pitch you via Twitter or pitch you via email or whatever. I was getting that for a while where I was like getting messages from people all over the place like hey, can I submit a post? It was like okay, here are the rules, here are the guidelines, here’s how you do it. Honestly at this point, the people who don’t follow those rules don’t get our attention anymore because we’ve just made that be part of the process, it was that if you really are interested in becoming a guest blogger for the site, you need to follow the rules. It’s kind of harsh but it weeds out some of the people that are trying to get around the system and being a little crazy in that way.

Give people a pleats such as a dedicated email address or a dedicated form. We use Google Docs or Google Forms for guest blogging things. With a tool like Google or Formstack or even SurveyMonkey, you can create a nice streamlined system where people can even attach files that way. They can either submit a topic for review or they can submit an actual full draft. Having a process that’s the same every time and goes to a dedicated email address will allow you to then streamline your process overview.

We often do it depending on the client, sometimes we even have two different people reviewing the post before they actually determine whether they’re going to be a good fit. We might have one person go through and do a preliminary chat, did they follow the directions, is this person making sense, does this person have a unique idea, that kind of thing. And then the second tier process is okay, does this makes sense for our audience, is this a topic that we need more content on, is it really well researched, is it really well written. A lot of these blogs that we work with in particular do have really high standards, sometimes they do require two sets of eyes to figure out whether or not they’re a good fit.

My biggest tip is to setup a process, spend the time setting up a process. I know a lot of this may seem like it’s not important when you first start a guest blogging process but then you’re going to find yourself with a hundred pitches in your inbox or between your inbox and your Twitter DM box that you can’t get through because you didn’t set up a streamlined process in the beginning. Using something like a form tool, using a dedicated email address I think are really valuable for that.

Nathan:           I agree. I think if you set up a process like that too and you just expect people to follow it, you weed out those people to your point because you know that they didn’t read the rules, they did not read your guidelines, they didn’t read your requirements, it means that they’re going to give you content that isn’t up to your standards.

Jess:                Exactly. It feels harsh sometimes and I feel bad sometimes when I’m like hey, you’re my friend but I need you to go to this link and I need you to follow this form. I have to really for myself, I have to practice being strict about that. But it’s really made my life a whole lot easier and all of our editors, we just have to because we can’t spend all of our days trying to help people follow rules on a webpage.

Nathan:           I want to take a step back and look back at your process just from a higher level even. It sounds like there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes and I bet there are some specific tools that help you manage that process that you’re talking about super efficiently. What tools do you use to make the guest blogging process as seamless as possible?

Jess:                We are happy CoSchedule customers. I know you weren’t fishing for that but we do use CoSchedule to manage our process because like I said, we do have several people that often work on guest posts. There are a couple of different steps to this. One is the actual creation of the submission process that we talked about earlier. We do evaluate that process pretty frequently, we update our guest blogging guidelines pretty frequently, and that’s because things change. Sometimes, we are looking for these topics and sometimes we’re looking for those topics, sometimes we see people making the same mistakes over and over again so we add those to our guest blogging guidelines so that people will be aware of that.

That’s the first stage of getting through the guest acceptance process, and then it goes through the scheduling and that’s what I always look at first is okay, where do we have a hole so that I can let the guest know and they can get out of my hair. You know, when is my post going to be published? It’s always a challenge to hold people off a little bit because we’re usually pretty far ahead in our scheduling. Getting them out of the equation and then getting into the editing process.

The first thing we do is just popping the title into CoSchedule or if we are using some other tool. Really the only other tool we use is Excel. Some clients have been on that for a while and are happy with it. We pop in the draft title. We do edit titles and we do that for keywords of course but we just use the draft title to start so that we know that there’s a place holder and then we go through and setup tasks for okay, let’s review the post. Usually the first thing we do is go through sweeping edits on the post and that’s for content. Does it make sense, is this what we really believe in. Do we need to add some resources or links to internal posts, things like that.

And then we go to a second time, the first time is really just to make sure the post makes sense and to make sure that the tone and everything works with our audience. And then the second take on the editing of the draft is the more nitty gritty things, like the proofreading elements, making sure things are capitalized, making sure the right punctuation is used, the right hyphen, things like that. I’ll say that I do a lot of that in my first pass too because I’m crazy about those kinds of edits, but I definitely make sure that I read through at least twice because a lot of times when you are going through with sweeping edits, and those bigger content edits, you’re going to miss the nitty gritty edits. I definitely recommend going through that twice.

Once that’s setup, we can really get a feel for the content and determine what the important set of keywords are and that’s how we setup the SEO and the meta data for the post and that’s also how choose a catchy headline. We’ve used CoSchedule’s headline analyzer. We’ve also used some other tools, some of which don’t exist anymore which is very sad but we were always looking for new headline analysis tools and we use all of them. Sometimes, we go through even with just one post we might go through a couple different tools to see how the keywords are doing and what headlines we think are going to be irresistible, if you will, and that’s sort of the last thing in the process is the headline, which I know some people do it the other way, they write their headline first and then they write their post but I think that’s not the best way. I know everyone’s different but the content can evolve in any number of ways as many writers will know. You might start out with the one idea and then it morphs into another idea before you know it. I definitely think writing the headline at the end is great. I hope that’s not contrary to what you guys say at CoSchedule.

Nathan:           No. You’re fine. I think there’s a different approach like write the headlines first. I sometimes write the headline first so that I can get that angle in it. How to the XYZ that will help you do XYZ. There’s an angle which feeds my writing but I can see it both ways, really.

Jess:                Yeah. I’ve been doing that as a draft and I guess that’s just not being married to it because the end if you go through and you realize oh, I thought my post is going to be about this but the stronger keyword is actually this and I can maybe find tune some of the content to speak more to that keyword and get that in the title. That’s sort of the editing process but then for us we also create social posts around the blog, we create graphics based on the title or based on certain tweetable moments depending on the blog’s guidelines and that frame and then publish. That’s pretty much the big editing process.

Nathan:           I was going to say that’s great advice. It can be as detailed or as simple as you need it to be. I really like that idea of different phases to where it’s like that quick edit, is it good enough, should we give it back to the author? All that makes a lot of sense. You have this blog post done, the next step is probably publishing that as you just hinted. What do you ask of your guest bloggers once you publish their blog post? Do you ask them to promote it? How do you go about doing that?

Jess:                This has gotten also pretty crazy just given the volume that we have now. Ideally, we would just be having some sort of email or some message depending on how we’re communicating to the guest blogger, letting them know hey, you post is live, ready to share, but I will say that that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it ends up being more like we just need to get the post out and we need to share it. Often times then, our social media will tag the author and say thank you that way.

We try to get an email out and we try to send them some snippets, we use different tools for creating shareable moments in blog posts. Sometimes it’s like the click to tweet tools, sometimes we use the tool on Convince and Convert that allows you to highlight things and it automatically creates a tweet from them. That’s one thing that we do. We also use the graphics, of course. We try to give people easy ways to share things and to share more than just the title. I think there’s I forget what the exact stat is but there is a large number of people that share headlines without ever reading that article. We want to try to encourage people to read, so giving them snippets of the post as opposed to just the headline, we think helps with that.

But I definitely think that promotion in general is something that we need to work on and I think a lot of people need to work on because it’s like huh, I just went through this whole big review process and editing process, publish process and I’m like, I’m out of here. But the promotion is such a big part of it because if you publish something and nobody sees it, it doesn’t matter.

I would say that at the very least getting out to the author and letting them know, I try to be very clear in that beginning process. Okay this is when your post is going to go live, so make sure to keep an eye out and make sure you’re ready to share. I say that upfront when we do accept the guest blog so that they’re prepared. I can think of so many other ways, send them a calendar invitation, it’s like okay your guest blog is going live, send them a direct message to share it, you send them an email but it’s just one more thing in the process that does not always happen.

Nathan:           To your point, working with guests in general is nice way for someone setting up their own guest blogging process to be like, I want to reach a larger audience, what’s a good way to do this? People who would like to guest blog for my blog likely have a similar audience and if those people write a post for you, they’re likely to share it with their audience. By default, you just publish someone else’s post, they’re going to share it with their audience, your reach increases. It’s like a win-win.

Jess:                Exactly. That’s the goal, right? We are talking about earlier with being intentional with your messaging and with your values is so important because you’re not going to be able to create that mutual beneficial relationship without having it be a good fit for both sides.

Nathan:           And I love that. Jess, I have one last question for you. It’s a big one. If a content marketer could do just one thing to get their guest blogging process off to a great start. Just one essential thing. What would you recommend that they do?

Jess:                Get really, really clear and granular about, again I mentioned this before but, who you are and what your differentiation factor is. Because I really think that that is the main thing that’s going to drive everything that you do, whether it’s your guest blogging guidelines or your editing process. You can even begin to work with anyone else. It’s like the same thing that I would give to a relationship person, some kind of love quote. You have to work on yourself, you have to know yourself and you have to understand what your core competence really is before you even start working with anybody else.

Get really clear and granular about who you are and what your differentiation factor is.

Nathan:           I love that, Jess. That’s it. Thanks a lot for sharing your advice on just implementing a guest blogging process in general. I really like hearing your take on the process behind the scenes, moving and phases how you edit, and everything that you’ve done at Don’t Panic Management. Thanks Jess.

Jess:                Thanks Nathan.

 

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