The headcount hustle: How to grow your UX writing team | by Selene De La Cruz | Sep, 2021


UX writing (or content design, or content strategy) is still a somewhat nascent field. And I say “still” because, although representation of UX writers has grown across the tech industry, we’re usually operating at a minuscule ratio compared to our UX design counterparts.

Reality for most content designers

The virtuous growth cycle

Here it is: this is how growth happens. You do strategic work. Your work demonstrates your value. You’re rewarded with more headcount.

When you’re operating alone, or on a small team, it can be hard to tap into the virtuous growth cycle and get the flywheel spinning. But even the smallest of teams or solo practitioners can find ways to grow. And it all starts with…

Hurdle number 1: you’re gonna need budget. And the best way I’ve seen to get budget, is to never go it alone.

Luckily, UX writers naturally form alliances. We partner with almost everyone along the product lifecycle. We work with product to understand requirements and define a strategy. We work with legal to correctly place and refine any required language. We work with our marketing and sales partners to develop messaging that’s appropriate for UI and demos that reflect the true experience. We work with our developers to write content that accurately conveys any technical constraints, or suggest better ways of building. We work with our research teams to draft pertinent questions, analyze results, and create prototypes for testing. We work with support teams to create FAQs and call center scripts that align with the experience. And, of course, we work with UX designers to bring experiences to life.

Allies can come from anywhere. Acknowledge them, partner with them, and support them where you can. Because these are the people who will go to bat for you when you ask for resources. And you might even be able to dip into their budgets.

Allies can come from anywhere

At Mastercard, we turned our research team into strong allies. They were originally testing concept prototypes with content that was, frankly, not written by content professionals. And they were getting confused responses, instead of feedback on the concepts themselves. We dedicated time to helping them polish up their prototypes, and suddenly they were getting more valuable insights. This helped them see the value of content design, and when we wanted to convert a contingent worker to full-time, our research partners were there alongside us, helping drive the ask home. (Full disclosure, that contingent worker was me.)

Another method to grow investment is to toot some horns and encourage content-minded action. I created the Mastercard Content Cup with digital badges to gamify participation with our practice, and reward the behavior that our team embodies.

We award Eagle Eyes for people who spot typos or incongruities, Word Wizard for those who use our style guide or pattern library to create their own content, Accessibility Ace for those who look out for everyone, and Meeting Minder for our friends who forward invites our team was left off (yes, this still happens).

The Content Cup and badges

People were excited to play and win badges. And by having more content-minded folks out there, we’re not only strengthening our experiences, we’re also sneakily deepening people’s understanding of our work, why it’s important, and the need to have more of us.

On the flip side, while you’re busy hustling and working your connections on a personal level, you’ll also need to prove and share your value.

This goes back to doing strategic work. If you understand the goals of your business, then you know that every piece of content has a job to do beyond delivering information. It might be there to sell, guide, influence, or fix problems – all things that can impact your organization’s bottom line.

From a UX writing perspective, you can show your impact by setting benchmarks, revising and iterating, and measuring improvement. What you measure will depend on your organization’s goals, and must ladder up to them – because when you can talk about impact to the bottom line, asking for headcount will get a lot easier.

Here are some more resources to learn more how to test and prove the value of your content:

When your aim is to grow your team, content optimization is an opportunity to point out that:

  1. Content work makes a difference.
  2. Your capacity is limited.
  3. Therefore, your impact is limited.

Which will direct the discussion where you want it: The larger impact a larger UX writing team could have.

Show and tell

All along the way, document the awesome work you’re doing. Every impact. Every win. Every decision.

And then, talk about it! Really, don’t be shy. Bring up your value every chance you get*. That could be…

  • Team meetings
  • Department meetings
  • Your own dang meeting

*Bonus points if you invite some of your allies to present with you. Double bonus, you’ll have case studies ready for your own portfolio.

Onboarding made easy(er)

Once you’ve found your allies and documented your work, then onboarding new team members will be easy…or a lot easier.

You’ll have evidence for decisions you’ve made (ideally codified in style guides and pattern libraries), research and testing histories with rationale behind your choices, highlighted areas for continued improvement, and allies who are ready and willing to help onboard your new hire.

And speaking of new hires…

After getting buy-in, showing your value, and setting the stage for growth, it’s time to hire – strategically.

Some people say to look for unicorn hires. I say you should look for a Pegasus. It’s like a unicorn, but I’m really interested in the wings. You need someone who can help expand on your vision, and even bring it higher. Aim for the best wing-person and messenger for your team.

Find your Pegasus

Think about where your team could be stronger, and intentionally hire someone who will bring in new ideas, new insights, and new perspectives. That’s the person who will keep the flywheel spinning, and help you get headcount again and again.

If you’re working with recruiters, ask that they bring you a diverse set of candidates to meet these requirements. Use resume blinding to remove implicit bias from your screening decisions. If you don’t have a recruiter, look into the content communities around you to make connections.



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