There are two types of people – those who think that the process of blogger outreach is trivial (just send the emails, duh!), and those who know it’s not.
Both of them are right.
Whether reaching out to send a guest post pitch or just to discuss some idea, one of the prerequisites of successful blogger outreach campaign is to be natural in your emails.
And being natural is easy if you’re sending an email to another person with the same interests. It’s something you could do in the middle of the night.
And that’s also where the ‘easy’ part usually ends.
Sending an email is easy. Sending dozens or hundreds of them in short period of time, and managing all the conversation threads professionally, is not.
To make things easier, you will need tools, a set of rules and a workflow. And this is what this post is about.
Disclaimer: Setting up an environment that will support a blogger outreach process is individual and can be done in numerous ways. It strongly depends on the specifics of the process and on personal preferences. The environment described in this post is not necessary the best option, but it’s a solution that works for our process and team.
Let’s start with tools.
At this point, there are numerous options you can consider – from simple spreadsheets, to-do list apps, various project management tools, to specialized tools for content marketing. With so many options, the selection is never easy.
A good way to start the tool selection process would be by doing the research first, making a shortlist of tools that meet your requirements ‘on paper’ and trying to actually use the shortlisted tools on a sample project.
One thing is sure – never bring the final decision without actually trying to use the tool on a sample project.
Blogger outreach projects, probably just like any other project types, have some specifics. This means the tool we choose will have to address these specifics.
Our ideal tool had to meet the following requirements:
It should be simple
We gave up on numerous tools we tried just because they had too many options. Too many options will increase the time you have to spend with the tool, and you don’t want this in the long term.
It should be flexible
Our process includes frequent updates of campaign specifications, based on the inputs we get when campaigns are already in progress. As the project is rolling, we often come across new opportunities through communication with other bloggers we reach out to. The tool must support moving/copying/pasting tasks between campaigns. Creating templates for projects/campaigns/tasks is a mandatory feature too. At the same time, the tool must stay simple. I know – the expectations are high. Hopefully, not too high.
It should be fast
Long loading time every time you switch tasks makes anyone nervous quick.
It should support client access with restricted permissions
Adding clients to a project/campaign and specifying exactly what you want them to see, and what not, is a mandatory feature.
It should be visual
Again, because of the complexity of our campaigns, we need a tool that’s visual. Kanban boards would be perfect.
It should have time tracking feature
Some niches are easier to get a reply from people you contact than the other. It’s a fact. If you want to know how your team is performing under different circumstances and drive conclusions in order to improve yourself with time, time tracking is necessary.
It should enable fast and intuitive communication and collaboration with other team members and clients
Mentions and notifications should be a part of the tool, and collaboration between team members simple and intuitive. Also, there should be a possibility to restrict what parts of communication will be visible to clients, and what should stay private between the team members.
It should have calendar view integrated
Calendars make projects clearer and easier to focus on what’s really important. Priority management often plays an important role today.
It should be cloud based
It’s just easier to maintain and access data in a cloud. You don’t have to worry about the infrastructure, hosting or hardware costs and about maintenance. SaaS is a great thing and I recommend using it whenever possible, as it helps us to focus on what’s important and essential.
It should have a mobile app
Accessibility is important. Mobile notifications are important when you’re out of office. And if your lifestyle involves traveling, a mobile app is a must have.
It should have activity log
This might sound like insisting on details, but when working on multiple projects in a team, activity log makes tracking and knowing what’s going on where much easier.
You already can see that the selection wasn’t easy. We tried dozens of tools, including Trello, Asana, ActiveCollab, BrightPod and Jira. Finding a tool that satisfies every single requirement above was challenging.
But not impossible.
The Key Is In The Workflow
Tools are, well, exactly that – just tools. How efficient will they be, depends on those who use them, and how they use them.
Now, when we have the tools, we have to define rules and design a workflow.
What exactly the rules will be depends strongly on the process you’re trying to manage.
What to do when a new client comes in? What if an existing client changes his requirements or upgrades his plan? Who makes the changes in the project specifications? What notifications are seen by the client, and what only by the project team? How do we track the progress on different phases of a specific project?
These and many other are the questions that need answers before we even start setting up the workflow. The idea of well-designed workflow is to follow your business process as naturally as possible. So, the very first step in setting up a project management environment is to know your process in details. As business process analysis is a completely separate topic, we’ll assume that this part was covered correctly.
Let’s continue with a sample blogger outreach campaign. The workflow could look like this:
- A new client comes in.
- A member of our team is assigned to the client as a campaign manager.
- Campaign manager takes care of the following:
- Setting up a project in Breeze.pm
- Assigning all the tasks to the right team members
- Inviting the client to the project in Breeze.pm
- Assigning the client related tasks to the client
- Emailing the client with essential info about the campaign start
- Tracking of execution of all the tasks on a daily basis
- Communicating all the important events in the campaign with the client
- In case of support requests by client, one of the followings can happen:
- Campaign manager responds to the support request
- In cases when it’s not possible to resolve the support request immediately, the request is escalated to the 2nd level support through Breeze.pm and it’s resolved there
Tools In Action – Project Setup
We have the tools and we have the workflow. Let’s have some fun and see how all this looks in action.
We’ll skip steps 1. and 2. from the workflow, as they are not relevant to the topic, and start with the project setup.
To make things faster and to be sure that each project is set up in an optimal way, based on experience with previous clients, we’ll use templates. This way we ensure that all our projects are set up following the same formatting and structure. If there are some specifics on the project, templates can be adjusted once applied to the current project.
In Breeze.pm, the process starts with project creation.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the project creation is quick. All you have to do is to name the project, add an optional description, invite team members and choose the template for project creation. The budget and group options are both optional.
Templates in Breeze.pm are actually just regular projects pre-filled with lists and task placeholders. A sample template looks like this:
I won’t go too deep into the Breeze.pm interface here (it’s pretty simple). The main part of the template/project screen is covered by task lists. Each column (Todo, Doing, Done, etc.) represents a list, and each box is a task.
The key here is a task lifecycle. Each task starts its lifecycle in a Todo list. As the task gets assigned to a team member, it moves from Todo to other lists, usually in one of the following direction:
- For internal tasks (for example, ‘Campaing setup’ task)
- Todo -> Doing (when a person assigned starts working on it) -> Done
- For tasks that need to be visible to client too
- Todo -> Doing (when a person assigned starts working on it) -> Outreach progress list
Here we come to another important feature – client integration. Breeze.pm allows us to add clients to the project and define what parts of the project they can access.
On the template screenshot above, the project is defined in a way that 4 dark gray lists are private and 3 light gray lists are visible to the client. This makes access control very neat – any task can start as private or shared with a client and move through the various lists during its lifecycle.
Once the project is created from the template and customized based on the specifics of the specific project, we send an invite to the client.
For each client, it’s possible to do fine tuning of the permission configuration (as shown in the screenshot above). The client will be notified through email about the invite and all he needs to do is to click on the “Accept the invitation” link.
Here you can see how the same project looks like from the client’s account:
As you can see, only the light gray columns are visible here. In our process, client’s interface contains three columns: tasks and reports related to the outreach process, the to-do list where we assign tasks to clients (when we need additional info or an answer to some question) and the column that contains important campaign-related documents and notes.
Both, lists and tasks, can be customized by changing their properties.
For example, with lists you can do the following:
- Make them hidden or visible to clients.
- Prevent tasks in some specific list from being visible on the tasks page (useful for “Docs & Notes” lists for example).
- Define a default status that’s given to the task that gets on that list (for example status “Done” for the list of tasks that are completed)
Tasks have even more properties.
Here are few of the most useful ones:
- Each task can be marked with 4 different statuses: Done, Ready, On Hold and Blocked. Based on the tasks status and filters you use on the task list, you can, for example, choose to show on your daily tasks list only those tasks that are ready to be worked on. This feature is useful when you want to remove noise from your tasks list (for example, tasks that can’t be worked on because they are blocked for some reason)
- In addition to status, each task can be marked by color too, which also can reduce the noise. Most people are visual and colors make things easier to track when there are dozens of tasks on the screen.
- Breeze.pm is integrated with all the major file sharing services. The feature I would like to mention here is that you can get even more visual with tasks by assigning an image to it.
- Assign and Due Date options
- Mostly self-explanatory. Each task can be assigned to someone and a due date can be defined.
- Time Tracking
- Time can be tracked manually or using the timer.
- Comment section
- Each task has a comment thread that can be used by all the team members assigned to the project, including the client too.
The permission control goes a bit further on the task level. Even for tasks that are visible to clients, it’s possible to control what comments you want to keep private and visible to internal team members only.
At this point, we have all the basics covered and we are ready to move on.
Campaign In Progress
To make things simple, let’s focus on a single task and see what happens with it as the campaign progresses. As a sample, we’ll take the task to build a strong (Domain Authority 70+) guest post for a client.
The project starts with the task in the Todo list.
The first step in the task’s lifecycle is accomplished when it gets assigned. When campaign manager assigns the task, a small avatar icon will get visible on the bottom right of the task box. We can also define the due date, which will get visible on the bottom left part of the task box. It will also be visible on the assignee task list.
As soon as the person assigned to the task starts working on it, he/she simply needs to drag&drop it to the Doing list. This ensures that up-to-date information on the project status is always available for other team members and campaign manager.
As long as the task is not completed, it will be either in ‘Ready’ status or possibly in ‘On Hold’ or ‘Blocked’. Once we get to the point when we want to make it visible to the client, the task assignee moves it to the Outreach progress list.
In the meantime, the task assignee takes care of keeping the description of the task up-to-date with all the important info about it.
And, finally, when the task is completed, the assignee marks it as ‘Done’.
Task marked as ‘Done’ will still be visible in the project overview, but it will be easy to filter it out from the personal task list, where we usually want to see only tasks that need our attention.
The workflow I just described is just one sample. Similar workflows can be defined for other process types too.
Integration with Slack
If you’re not using Slack for collaboration with your team, you should. In simple words, Slack is a powerful messenger app for teams, focused on business.
Breeze.pm provides integration with Slack by default and it works great.
For each project, it’s possible to define what types of notification will be passed to Slack.
Based on personal preferences, it’s possible to fine-tune the notifications in a way you get the optimal setup.
The environment and setup explained above is an effective way to keep track of projects that are not necessary well defined, like for example blogger outreach or content marketing projects. By combining Breeze.pm and Slack we established a system that works well on desktops and on mobile (both, Breeze.pm and Slack have very functional mobile apps).
Breeze.pm, as a project management tool, is highly customizable and supports some advanced features like time tracking and unlimited client accounts in its basic version. It’s suitable for managing all types of processes that don’t require too complex tools (like Jira for example).
Slack, a team communication and collaboration tool, is a great addition to Breeze.pm. It removes the chat feature from the project management tool which showed as a great thing in our case. When you want to do a chat with a team member, you can do it really quick. Slack is a leader in that field. Add smart notifications to this and you have a perfect setup.
Through the process of establishing a working project management environment for blogger outreach and content marketing project, we learned a lot.
All for one, and one for all
The most important thing with workflows is to communicate the rules of the workflow with the whole team. Without a clear and well-communicated set of rules, the tool, no matter how great it is, won’t do much. All team members must be aware of the reasons why it’s important to use the tool in a proper way. Only when the whole team uses it, the tool has its purpose.
Evolution, not revolution
It is highly probable that none of the tools will be a perfect match for your exact process. You will have to customize the tool. The customization usually works the best when it’s done in iterations. When you notice one thing you want to improve in the tool or in your templates, do it and test it. If tests show that there is more room for improvements, customize again. This can be a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it as you’ll be spending time with this workflow on daily basis. The more you customize the tool to your specific requirements, the better your experience with the tool will be.
Don’t settle for good
Demand the best match. Making compromises when choosing the tool that will support your main processes is agreeing to frustration in the long-run. Accept compromises only if you’re absolutely sure there is no other way of doing the thing in a better way.
Less is more
If you don’t need a complex tool, don’t go with it. It will eat your time and eventually, you’ll probably stop using it because there will be too much work with the tool itself. Balance is important here – the tool you choose should be powerful enough to support your process, and simple enough to give you the ability to do that quick and easy. Clicking dozens of times through the interface just to update a single word in a task is not how you want to spend your time.
Visual is good
If your process includes involvement of team members on multiple projects, consider using a visual tool for the job. Plain text just gets difficult to read and follow after some time. People usually perceive data much better when represented visually. Kanban boards are usually a good way to go.
There is no one-size-fits-all tool that would be suitable for all the processes and projects you want to manage.
The question is how to find the right one.
Usually, this is not simple, but luckily, if you do the selection right, probably you won’t have to do it anytime soon again. Investing time in the proper testing of a project management and team collaboration tool can save you a lot of headache in the future.
My advice is, take all the time you need to do that. Do the research, shortlist tools, test them. And then, test them more.
The tool you decide to go with will be the tool you’ll spend time with every single day.
It’s a selection that’s worth spending time on.