I joined CallRail in 2014 as a customer support specialist. On my first day, I was a bundle of nerves and excitement as I sat down at my new desk. I was finally working downtown at a promising startup, but I had no experience in the tech world. How was this ex-salon manager going to teach people to track marketing campaigns if I’d never done so myself?
Despite feeling completely out of place, I hunkered down in technical support and learned everything I could about CallRail. And after a year on the frontline with Michelle McCurdy, I transitioned into a new role as a ‘help writer’ for CallRail.
I started writing articles for CallRail’s Help Center and blog because I wanted to build a reputation with customers and team members as a knowledgeable source. After talking to customers in support for a year, I knew what people liked and disliked about our app, and I was determined to join the product team and share our users’ feedback. I started writing every support document I could think of and made small development requests to update content in our application.
Growing into this role wasn’t always a comfortable experience, and I often felt like the dumbest person in the room. Deep down, though, I knew I was a writer, and I held onto the affirmation that my skillset was valuable every time I invited myself to the table.
TL;DR: It worked. In March of 2016, I hired my first employee, and the UX content team was born. Here are the lessons I’ve learned along the way, as our team has grown to six full-time employees in just three years.
Be patient with others (and yourself)
Fun fact: Our UX content team is comprised of exactly zero people with a UX writing background. We have ex-journalists, freelancers, content marketers, and PR specialists, but no one who exclusively wrote help docs or content for software interfaces. Teaching new employees the ropes and helping them adjust to their new role requires patience, understanding, and a desire to meet people halfway.
One of the first challenges I encountered was how to shape our team’s mindset about creating informative content — almost everyone I’ve hired had prior experience writing flashy and eye-catching articles to attract readers. At times it felt counterintuitive to strip that personality out of their work, but we had to keep an eye towards our mission of providing the right information at the right time. Our users need help completing tasks, and although it’s fun to inject our personalities into our writing, we have to be sure that our voice doesn’t distract from the goal of providing transparent and helpful information.
Solving problems and creating content for users with a range of skills absolutely takes patience. You have to be patient with the feedback you receive, and patient with the length of time it takes to write something meaningful. When your team sees you approach challenges with patience, it shows them they can be thoughtful with their craft as well.
Hire the right people, no matter how long it takes
As our team grows, it’s extremely important to hire the right people. We’ve carefully built an ecosystem of support and curiosity, and this environment is only possible because we actively foster this type of collaboration.
Hiring the right people also means hiring different kinds of people: If my team came from backgrounds and experiences just like mine, we wouldn’t be able to solve unique problems or build processes that scale. Each time we hire someone, we return to our onboarding process and make adjustments so that they know they can be successful in this role.
When interviewing candidates, we want to understand what makes a person feel valued and where their passions lie. We want to know how people nerd out, and how they approach challenges. Listening to people talk about how they tackle tasks is one of the best ways to understand if they’re the right fit for your team.
Express your opinions at the right time
One lesson I hold onto from my college editing class is that “there are a million ways to say one thing.” When reviewing my team’s work, I remind myself that just because I would have written it differently doesn’t mean what they wrote is wrong. Of course, there are times we have to tweak our words to be as clear as possible, but if the message is true and helpful, then they’ve accomplished their goal.
Expressing my opinions at the right time also helps build trust between myself and my team. If I red-pen their work to death or correct them every time a thought enters my head, how likely are they to think I’m supportive? The last thing I’d want is for someone to feel anxious about sharing their work with me because they’d fear arbitrary criticism. There is always a time and a place for feedback, and respecting that guideline helps my team feel confident and safe when asking for my advice.
Share your excitement and your passion
For companies as big as CallRail, incorporating content strategy on the UX team isn’t as common as you might think. I often find that when I talk to people at other companies, they’re surprised by how well-embedded we are in the product design process.
I truly believe our UX Content team has grown the way it has because each of us shares our excitement about this discipline with one another. One of the first things I give new employees is a spreadsheet with hundreds of resources on UX writing and content strategy. We’re constantly sharing articles with one another, talking about other companies and their approach to content, and brainstorming new resources to create.
Sharing and growing with your team shows them they can take ownership in the decisions they make. And, if you’re as lucky as I am, you’ll be rewarded with a team that is hungry for knowledge. You’ll watch them branch out into other areas of user experience and grow in their careers. They’ll build relationships with other teams across the company, and they’ll feel empowered to advocate for themselves and their decisions.
Building the UX content team at CallRail was a completely new experience for me, and I’m still learning how to be a better manager for my team. On days when things aren’t sunshine and butterflies, my team of five reminds me why it’s important to show up as their support system. I’m their biggest fan, and I truly believe that they’re mine as well.