Outsourcing aspects of your business is actually not new. Companies have been doing this quietly for years.
However, it’s more than simply a tactic to help you increase production while lowering costs.
As the online world rapidly expands and we get even more connected, companies are realizing they need to outsource to stay competitive in our global economy.
And in their rush to take advantage of this – some firms are entering the outsourcing marketplace without considering possible drawbacks. One of these drawbacks is all too common when outsourcing Writing projects – especially to content creators scattered around the world.
You have to be sure these writers understand your culture, business and brand – irrespective of their location – before contracting out your white papers, email campaigns or other copy.
So how do you get the content you need; in a format that meets your written standards?
Use a Style Guide
It’s a “go to” handbook for everything you do, and don’t do with your brand across all communications – no matter what medium you’re using.
It’ll save you time, money and lots of frustration and will give clear direction on your position, when there are several possible answers to a style or grammar question.
It also tells people you care about your brand and business identity.
Do I Really Need a Style Guide?
That’s a good question. And the answer is “Yes.”
Some people have a love / hate relationship with these guides.
Reactions range from, “creates too many rules” and “stifles creativity” to the geek who drools over every page and illustration.
But think for a moment why your brand is so important.
It’s a group of associations people make about your company, and your product or service, from that first contact. And used well, your brand can speak all languages.
For example, if I describe a huge blue building with a bright yellow logo, you immediately know it’s Ikea.
If I mention “Coca-Cola” you instantly visualize that shaped glass bottle with the script logo or the red and white can.
Think of Apple products and the easy-to-read user instructions and you begin to understand why brands are so powerful and need to be protected.
These three are great examples.
The brands are not only consistent in their appearance and use, they trigger specific emotions in you and me just by mentioning their names.
If you’re still not convinced you need this document, consider another angle. If you’re publishing regular content, you need to keep control of the style, tone and look of everything you produce. You’ll achieve this using a Style Guide.
Your Style Guide Layout
It usually has two sections to it.
The first part describes your brand standards. This is the part you or someone within your business is going to create.
The second gives user information for your company logo and is typically supplied by the graphic designer who creates your logo.
NOTE: If you’re developing an online presence, you should also create a separate Web Style Guide. (More on that in another article)
Section 1 – Your Brand
This part of the guide keeps your advertising and marketing messages consistent and gives editorial guidance on your copy style and character.
It clearly defines your content standards – how text, images, video and other formats appear across your communications – for online and hard copy.
Incidentally, your style guide should be the first document given to anyone writing anything for your business, whether in-house or freelance.
It won’t turn them into a fabulous writer, if they’re not already, but it’ll help them nail 90% of your message in the first draft and meet your copy criteria.
Getting back to your guide, start it by giving the reader a sense of your company; what it stands for and how it likes to be seen across its communications.
For example, media heavyweight Bloomberg L.P. makes it very clear in its style guide introduction, what sort of story it wants writers to produce.
“Bloomberg stories must be clear enough for a dope to understand and substantial enough for a professional to appreciate…”
In another example, Chef Jamie Oliver has a brand guide that to me, perfectly describes him and the energy-driven way he prepares and cooks food. It starts by introducing Jamie as himself then describes how his personality and values are reflected in the brand.
Remember, your guide is a resource to help content creators, so keep it brief.
Section 2 – Your logo
This marque characterizes you and your business.
You can breathe a sigh of relief – you don’t have to create this section.
When you had this professionally designed (if not, why not?) the graphic designer almost certainly gave you a Graphic Style Guide for your logo.
Nevertheless, like a lot of others, you maybe didn’t give much thought to it or understand its significance and dumped it in a file somewhere.
But it’s really important.
If you don’t use it, you can’t complain when your logo;
- is the wrong typeface and size, or
- printed in the wrong place on a page, or
- appears blurred or pixelated on your website because the wrong file format was used.
This document gives information on your primary typefaces for print and web use. It usually offers secondary typefaces that work well with the primary font.
It illustrates sizes and widths of the logo elements and how to place it alongside a third party logo or with other marques.
It provides alternative versions of your logo that can be used if the original doesn’t fit a project or your logo needs to be enlarged or reduced in size.
It shows your RGB, Pantone and CMYK colour values and file formats, and explains how and when to use them.
All good reasons for retrieving it from wherever it is right now, and keeping it with your brand style guide.
Work in Progress
Your Style Guide is a work in progress. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
It can be as complex or simple as you choose to make it and it’ll evolve as your company grows.
For example, if you add podcasts to your content marketing arsenal at a later date, just add a new subheading covering scriptwriting, episode lengths and other key information.
It’s as easy as that.
Keep your style guide updated and make it user-friendly by creating a searchable .pdf version. You can publish it on your company intranet for your staff and give your outsourcing team access via secure cloud storage like Dropbox.
And ask for feedback from anyone writing for you; on how useful they find your guide and if it’s easy to understand.
Kill Those Writing Jitters
I hope I’ve convinced you that this is a must-have business tool.
But if the thought of creating this guide brings you out in a cold sweat, download this template Style Guide Blueprint to help you get started.
It gives you a basic outline and contents checklist. You simply choose the elements that relate to your business and develop them to fit your needs.
Although this is a broad list, it’s by no means exhaustive and there could be essentials unique to your type of business that you’ll need to add e.g. industry-specific terminology.
And finally, a little bit of motivation…
If you think creating your guide is challenging, explore the Europa Interinstitutional Style Guide.
It’s the “go to” reference for creating written documents across all European Union agencies – in 24 European languages.
It’s a remarkable document and a useful guide too if you’re doing business with European companies.
Lauren Mackenzie is a web content & commercial copywriter