Excellent Content Requires Excellent Project Management (Steal Our Workflow)
It's a hectic Tuesday morning and your boss asks for a timeline to publication.
You take a deep breath. You're scrambling to get this week's piece out the door (in addition to your 243 other responsibilities), but you've uncovered more loose ends to tie:
- Has legal reviewed this? Do they even need to?
- What distribution channels make the most sense once it's live?
- Is that feature image ready yet?
As a content marketer, things can start feeling chaotic—fast. Next thing you know, you’re gripping your computer mouse like a stress ball, wondering what else might pop up.
You need a system, stat. A way to organize the messy to do list in your brain and see your work through to (glorious) completion.
As Head of Client Strategy + Success at Beam, project management is my jam. In this article, I walk you through why you need systems to produce great content, give you our exact workflow, and offer tips to implement your own new processes.
Our workflow won’t fit yours perfectly (we're an agency, after all), but you can take this as a map for what’s possible.
Why you need systems to produce successful content
When you work with a team, a single piece of content lands on many different (virtual) desks. People need to know exactly what they’re in charge of and when it’s due if you want to keep the ball rolling.
With the right content management workflow, you do just that. You make sure:
- Content gets completed instead of floating in the ether because of responsibility question marks.
- Clients know exactly what to expect at each stage of the process—and what’s expected of them.
- You create a smooth, enjoyable experience for everyone involved.
So how do you build that smooth-as-glass workflow that delights clients and internal team members?
Swipe our start-to-finish content management process
Every content team has a slightly different process for producing pieces in an organized, timely fashion. Here’s ours straight from the depths of ClickUp:
Confirm topics and inputs
This stage is about confirming what we want to write about and who we need to talk to for it to happen. Typically, it involves me chatting with a client during one of our bi-weekly calls, usually at the beginning or end of the month. I pitch some topics and refine them with the client’s input.
If an idea gets the green light, we discuss potential subject matter experts (SMEs). Often the client has someone in mind—“Oh, Barbara would be great to talk to about this!”—but we also source from our network.
Create a WIP brief
Then, I'll tag Anthony, our Head of Content, who researches the topic and puts together a work-in-progress (WIP) brief. He deploys a new brief template, fills in the information he has at that point, and creates his initial questions for the SME interview.
We deliver this WIP brief to the client and SME and say, “Here's everything you need to prep for our call. Please feel free to drop us comments, notes, or clarifying questions!” That way we’re all on the same page with aligned expectations between the client, the SME, and our team.
The SME interview is a pivotal part of the process. (Our tagline is “good content starts with good conversations” for a reason!)
Anthony hops on a video call with the SME and gets the discussion going. Sometimes, he runs smoothly through his prepared list of questions; other times, the interview shifts and turns in unexpected and interesting new directions. Either way, he records and transcribes the call using Otter.ai so that we can pass the notes along to the writer.
Create the article brief
Anthony updates and completes the brief while the expert conversation is still fresh in his mind. He also links any additional resources the writer might need. Here, the brief goes from WIP state (70–80% finished) to tied up with a bow and ready to go.
Anthony assigns the articleto the writer on the account, attaching the brief and dropping them a note in ClickUp. They take it and run. 🏃
We give our writers two business weeks to write a piece. We have incredible freelancers and know they’re super busy people. To ensure the best creative outcomes—and happy writers—we give them time to process the brief and create a stellar draft.
Deploy associated tasks
We don’t always need this step, but we’re glad we have it when we do. For some clients, we create social content alongside each long-form piece. So, I deploy a separate social task here. I take the writer’s first draft and pass it on to our social superstar, Kate Erwin. She starts creating social posts, so we can deliver them at the same time as our final long-form draft.
Pro tip: It’s easier to remove a subtask than to add one in. Bake all possible subtasks into your workflow—even if you don’t need them right now. If a client asks you for something new, you know how long it will take and who’s responsible for it. Crisis averted.
Edit draft (Round 1)
When the writer finishes their draft, they upload it to ClickUp and tag our developmental editor, Olivia Adkison. She leaves the writer high-level comments on the organization and flow, checking the content carefully against the brief.
Edit draft copy/accept revisions
The writer revisits their draft, accepting Olivia’s suggestions and responding to her comments. Sometimes, they go back and forth about what might work best for the piece.
Collaboration is our favorite thing on the Beam Team. Olivia recently told me, “I love working with writers who push back and say, ‘Actually, here's why I think the way I have it right now is better.’ Once that back-and-forth, collaborative trust is established, developmental editing feels nothing like nitpicking and everything like partnering together to produce something wonderful.”
Line editing and pass to HOC (Round 2)
The writer then tags in Kelly Fiorini, our line editor. She pores over the piece, cutting extra words and phrases to make the piece sharper, checking for flow, and eliminating punctuation errors that may have crept in.
Complete final edits (Round 3)
Are we still talking about editing? Yes, yes, we are. That’s because our editing process allows us to consistently deliver exceptional content to our clients. 🙌Anthony takes the final pass. Nine times out of ten, he’s making sure we dot our i’s and cross our t’s. But sometimes he catches something the rest of us have missed—and we breathe a collective sigh of relief. It’s times like those when we’re glad we have a rock-solid quality control process.
The client zone
Submit to client
Anthony tags me to let me know it’s ready for the client’s eyes. I usually just ping them on Slack with a casual, “Hey, this is ready for you! Take a look, and let us know what you think!”
A note on content hygiene: We don’t think the client needs to see the entire messy writing and editing history. The writer creates the initial doc in their own drive, but we move that to a fresh doc in our drive, so it’s pretty and polished for our clients.
Return client revisions back to Beam
We give our clients a week to review a piece—although sometimes they need more time. They read through, leaving comments in the margins or explaining feedback in a Loom video.
Apply client revisions
Once we have their feedback, our editor Olivia jumps back in to apply changes. (The writer’s off the hook since they’ve already made revisions for us once.) Olivia highlights her changes in green, so it's super easy for the client to see what’s new.
Submit revised draft
Back it goes to the client, where it gets yet another once over. They read through the piece again to see how we did on the changes.
Confirm client approval
We usually get official approval within a few days to a week, depending on how many stakeholders need to approve the content. Then, we break out the fun emojis because the piece is ready to fly.
Best practices for human-centered project management
You can have an airtight process for managing content production, but if it doesn’t work for your people, it doesn’t work—period.
Here are our tried-and-true tips for getting everything to flow smoothly:
Pick a tool, any tool
For us, that’s ClickUp. Not gonna lie—it took some time to transition everything over—but it was worth it.
Our Chief Operations Officer, Becca Nash, performed some serious organizational wizardry with an assist from the friendly folks at ZenPilot, a company specializing in operations management for agencies.
You may have another PM platform in mind—like a Trello board, Asana, or Monday.com. Whatever your tool of choice is, commit 100%, but be prepared for a learning curve at first. My biggest tip is to check out what other people or agencies do, and then see how you can make it work for you. If it’s in the budget, consult with experts to get you started on the right foot.
Let’s get structural
We couldn’t live without our detailed PM workflow in ClickUp. The structure provides reassuring order and boundaries.
But as with anything else—art, grammar, fashion—you learn the rules to break the rules. Once you understand the process, you can make exceptions and be more flexible with people.
For example, if an editor has to go out of town unexpectedly, I look at the dates and see what’s firm (our client delivery date) and what can be adjusted. Or, I assign someone else to cover that step. Easy peasy.
Choose your naming convention
An often overlooked—but essential—part of your project management structure is your naming convention. You need something easy to use that makes sense to everyone on the team.
For each piece we write, we include three items in the name:
- Budget month: We list ours as the number first. In the example below, that’s 10_Oct.
- Content type: This might be an article, case study, ebook, or guide.
- Topic: What’s the piece about? A topic might be ‘How to create user-generated content.’
Keep your naming convention specific and simple. Determine the two to three things you want to identify up top and run with it. Use the same convention for all your organizational systems—file management platforms like Google Drive, your customer relationship management (CRM) software, and your project management software. Everything should match, so it’s easy for people to find what they’re looking for.
Bring the receipts
If you’re working on five projects at once, you can comfortably store everything in your head for about a week. After that, you’re heading for an “oh, crap” moment where one of the balls you’re juggling falls, skittering away into the next room.
That’s why I love a receipt—and ClickUp is our centralized communication hub. Every time we get an update from a client or an internal team member, we leave a quick comment. When someone’s like, “Where’s this piece?” we check our notes. Maybe we had to wait a few extra days for the interview since our SME was out of town, or a writer was sick.
No one wants to be a nag. 😬So, in a project manager role, you may resist your natural impulse to check in with people.
But my top responsibility is communicating with internal team members and clients. I’ve learned that I need to communicate early, often, and more than I think I need to (especially in a remote environment).
If it feels like you’re overcommunicating, you’re probably not. Remember that people have 101 other things going on. Your writers, for example, probably have a handful of other clients and deadlines they’re juggling simultaneously. Most of the time, people are grateful for a gentle reminder when something slips off their radar.
Lighten the load
You need to understand workloads to create a sustainable system. If your team members’ workloads aren’t realistic, they won’t meet their deadlines—and the wheels will fall off the bus.
Use your time estimates and tracking features if your PM system has them. Eventually, you figure out which tasks take 20 minutes and which take two hours. That way you avoid underestimating and over-assigning, which can cause bottlenecks.
For me, it’s helpful to look at the Gantt chart in ClickUp to see where tasks land on the calendar. You can sync things up with people’s paid time off (PTO) or holidays to minimize changes down the road.
Note: this is also where it’s helpful to establish task dependencies—a hierarchy of tasks where one can’t be completed until another is. Say we get inputs a few days late. I just shift that deadline to the date we received them, and all other due dates fall into line automatically.
Put people before projects
It sounds counterintuitive, but the secret to solid project management is putting projects second. You have to design your system around your people. It has to be something they’ll actually buy into and adhere to for it to work.
Once you create your basic system, keep an eye out for moments when it breaks down.(It will.) Give yourself some grace—take a walk, sip some coffee—and then adjust, optimize, and communicate changes moving forward.
In the end, project management is about empowering your team to do their best work. You give them structure, communicate deadlines, work with them on their bandwidth—and then watch them do their part in creating incredible content.